I’m proud to say, I’m a pretty good cook.
I’m also fairly humble about it (opening sentence aside). To me, cooking is no big deal. All you’re doing is following a recipe. Ergo, if you can read, you can cook. I suppose there are even a few illiterate chefs out there, who can create dishes from scratch using nothing but their own creativity. (And thyme. Thyme is the secret ingredient in all things good – trust me on this). I suppose there are some dishes that require a bit of knowledge. You have to know how to fold an omelette properly, for instance. And make sure it isn’t brown on the outside and runny in the middle. But overall, cooking is a snap.
My mom is always telling people how both her sons are better cooks than she is. While this may or may not be true (see? humble!), I can point to a few culinary sins she is committing that, if corrected, might catapult her cooking into the echelons of haute cuisine. Like mine. (Oops…oh, well. Humility is overrated). So, mom, if you’re reading this – or any other aspiring cook, for that matter – here’s a bit of sage advice on how to improve your cooking.
1. Stay away from Miracle Whip.
The only thing miraculous about this product is the fact that people A) buy it, and B) actually like it. Ugh. Miracle Whip is no substitute for real mayonnaise. It’s got a weird, tangy flavor that turns my stomach just thinking about it. Even the scent is borderline nauseating. Kraft Foods invented it in the 1930s because sales of mayo were slipping; apparently, during the Great Depression, when people weren’t leaping off tall buildings, they were thankful just to end up with a scrap of bread on their plates. Mayonnaise was a luxury, so the food scientists at Kraft cheapened it by blending their product with less expensive salad dressing and running the whole thing through an emulsifying machine called the Miracle Whip. They then took it to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, where it was (for some bizarre reason) a runaway hit. That world’s fair was dubbed “Century Of Progress.” Seems to me like they took a step backwards with Miracle Whip. Here’s the thing I don’t get: if people were too poor to buy mayonnaise, how could they afford tickets to the World’s Fair?
2. Velveeta is evil.
Just as Miracle Whip is not mayonnaise, Velveeta isn’t cheese. In fact, it isn’t even remotely close to any food product that I’m aware of.
My hate-hate relationship with Velveeta dates back to childhood. I came home from school one day and asked my mom, innocently enough, what was for dinner.
“Grilled cheese,” she replied.
Mmm. Only she LIED. Whatever she slapped between two slices of bread was cut from a foil-wrapped loaf with a butter knife!!
Oh, the shame. Maybe I had overly developed taste buds, even at the age of six. But she wasn’t calling that stuff cheddar and getting away with it.
And then, horror of horrors, she tried to pass off a platter of tortilla chips with melted Velveeta as “nachos.” HA! That ain’t workin’ either, lady. Err…mom, I mean.
So, okay. Fine. Maybe I’m a food snob. I just happen to think that cheese should actually come from cows. Now, I suppose technically, Velveeta does. But in a very roundabout way. If this were the six-degrees-of-separation Kevin Bacon game, Velveeta would be the Ernest Borgnine to Kevin’s cheese, if you will. Instead of, say, the Kyra Sedwick.
Anyway…I looked up the ingredients. Velveeta does contain things like milk and whey. But it’s also got alginate and apocarotenal.
I apologize if your mouth is watering right about now.
Anybody who tries to pawn Velveeta off as cheese is a cheater. In fact, I’ve coined a new term for such a person:
It’s catchy AND accurate. I love it.
3. Spice things up a little.
Don’t be afraid of a little kick. I’m not suggesting you suddenly start adding habanero peppers to every dish, but a little bit of spice is a good thing. It adds flavor (or flavour, as they spell it in Canada – something that I will never understand, and yet, find oddly appealing…much like European police sirens and espresso cups the size of thimbles).
You can take baby steps at first. A dash of tabasco sauce in your spaghetti sauce. Or a pinch of red pepper flakes in your macaroni ‘n cheese. Spice doesn’t even have to mean “spicy.” It’s worcestershire sauce in your meatloaf, cilantro atop your burritos, a dollop of dijon in your deviled eggs (alliteration is always awesome). Just a little something to make your food announce itself more boldly.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with olives. Or fresh basil. Or mushrooms. Or steamed clams. Even liverwurst has its place.
I still draw the line at brussel’s sprouts, though…