Saturday, 1 October 2011

On proper cooking

Recently a couple of friends and I had the idea of getting together to write a student cookbook and see if we could get it published.  That project now seems to be on hiatus while we all deal with unexpectedly busy periods in our lives.  But something occurred to me in the preliminary stages that, to my mind, highlights a problem with the way most of us look at food that sometimes holds us back from cooking decent meals and experiencing the pleasure and health benefits that go with it.

If you go into a bookshop and look at the cookery section, you will notice that vast swathes of it have titles like "[Insert foreign food type here] Made Easy" and "Retard-Proof Student Cooking - Recipes with just two ingredients!".  The selling tactic they use is to perpetuate the myth that basic home cooking is something we're not capable of and we need them to give us simpler alternatives.  And it's not just in the cookbooks either - our fear of proper cooking is played upon by processed food manufacturers eager to sell us some new gimmicky product.  I feel that this is a particular problem in the UK, because although we have all these TV chefs going on about how great our produce is and how proud we should be, the reality as I see it is that eating properly in the way that most other countries do is still a bit of a niche interest here.  Supermarkets are still steamrolling independent butchers and greengrocers, and even our chain "restaurants" and gastropubs are guilty of cutting corners at times.

But home cooking really isn't all that complicated in the first place.  It's a bit trite for anyone who's ever seen an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, but it bears repeating: get good quality ingredients and you will be able to make nice home food without either mucking about or having to resort to processed sauces in jars.  You don't need to be at Michelin Star levels - if you can make bangers and mash properly then you will be surprised at how impressed your friends will be in comparison to the crap they probably eat most of the time.  Most classic recipes, in fact, are fairly straightforward, as it's not all about poncey restaurant cooking.  So if you want tomato sauce for pasta, do what the Italians do and get some tinned tomatoes, garlic and herbs and chuck it all in a pan - it doesn't take any longer or cost any more.  If you want oven chips, cut up some potatoes, part-boil them for a few minutes and then roast them in the oven.  It's a small investment for a big return.

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