Photo by Donna

Photo by Donna

When she said it to me, it rang in my head clear as a bell.  I’ve repeated it a hundred times.  I was talking with Carol Blymire last spring about Ratio, and how to promote it.  I was biting my knuckles over this, terrified no one would understand it or even care—it used weights, required a scale, looked like math might be involved, was incredibly presumptuous, etc.  Carol was behind me all the way and said, “No, you’re right.  The book is good.  Americans are being taught we’re too stupid to cook and it’s simply not true.”

That one sentence crystallized the issue for me, turned my frustration from a wall into a lens.  Americans are being taught that we’re too stupid to cook.  That cooking is so hard we need to let other people do it for us.  The messages are everywhere.  Boxed cake mix.  Why is it there?  Because a real cake is too hard!  You can’t bake a cake!  Takes too long, you can’t do it, you’re gonna fail!

Look at all those rotisserie chickens stacked in the warming bin at the grocery store.  Why?  Because roasting a chicken is too hard, takes FOREVER.  An hour.  I don’t have an hour to watch a chicken cook!

Companies that make microwaveable dinners have spent countless R&D dollars to transform dishes that used to take 7 minutes in the microwave into ones that take 3 minutes.  “Hey, Marge, that’s four minutes of extra TEEvee we can watch!”

In practically every single cookbook produced today, the message is, buy this book because we show you easy things to make fast.  Only takes a second.  Whether it’s Rachael’s 30-minute meals or the quick-and-easy columns in the food magazines.  That’s all we hear.  Real cooking is hard and difficult so here are the nifty shortcuts and tips to make all that hard stuff quickly and easily.

It’s the wrong message to broadcast (unless you’re a prepared foods exec, in which case you want people to go on believing cooking is difficult—they want your money!).  We’re not too stupid and lazy to cook.  Of the top five books on the NYTimes advice and how-to bestseller list, half are about cooking—not about losing weight, not about finding god, how to be as rich as your neighbor or how to find love in 30 minutes.  Book sales generally are stagnant but cookbooks keep selling.  People want to cook but they’re told at every click of the television remote, in every cookbook, in all the magazines, this is HARD people, so here are the shortcuts!

Next cookbook I’m going to write?  It’s going to be called, Recipes That Take a Really Long Time and Are Too Hard For People To Do. (The only problem would be coming up with enough recipes where that was actually true.)

I don’t cook every day.  Last night, we wanted wanted to squeeze in an extra game of pool, kids at home were getting hungry, the intended stir fry was going to take 45 minutes to get on the table.  Decision?  Chipotle, beef and chicken burritos, chips and guac.  Sometimes work goes on too long and we don’t even have 30 minutes to cook—fine, fry a burger and mic some frozen peas.  Order take out.

I’m not an idiot.  I know people are busy.  I don’t always feel like making dinner.  And I know a lot of people who simply don’t like to cook.  If I had to knit my own clothes I’d be really bummed.  But the notion that cooking is hard and that it takes a long time and we’re just too stupid to cook is wrong.  And I want people to recognize the truth from the bill of goods they’re being sold.

The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe

Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not).  Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so).  Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity.  Put the chicken in the oven.  Go away for an hour.  Watch some TV, play with the kids, read, have a cocktail, have sex.  When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes.  Finito.

(But be careful, you might find this so boring that you’ll start thinking about making stock next.  Don’t. Too hard.  Takes too long.  You’ll have to clean the pot.  I’m telling you now.  Don’t risk it.  Consider yourself warned.  Don’t blame me if you wind up with something delicious on your hands.)

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210 Wonderful responses to “America: Too Stupid To Cook”

  • ravenrose

    If you had ever tried preparing ANY food in my mother’s kitchen, you would understand the “too hard” concept. If you never have the right pans or sharp knives, etc., it’s torment. I am not suggesting one needs a specialized batterie de cuisine, but a few good basics make the experience so much smoother. And lighting! Did I mention the lighting?

    It’s difficult for people to commit the money to buy cooking gear before they are convinced they are going to want to use it. If you really want to sell them on giving it a go, come up with half a dozen great recipes that use only $25 worth of kitchenware. Source the kit somewhere. Say a oven-proof pot that could both roast a chicken and make a stew? A good enough knife. A good enough “cookie sheet” so they don’t make a mess in the oven–that is a real turnoff for beginners. An oven mitt or hot pads. A pot scrubber.

    And I agree with the comment that the recipes for beginners should take them through getting all the ingredients out and measured and ready to hand before they start cooking. Of course we do six things at once and manage it, but you can’t do that when it’s all foreign!

    The book that gave me the courage and enthusiasm to cook when I was first on my own was Tassajara Cooking. I would still recommend it to beginners.

  • Michael Long

    Michael, this is one of the greatest articles that I have read in a long time. It hit’s it right on the head… With your permission I would like to link this to my blog or what ever it is… so that my readers can see what your saying here… Let me know, Thank you, mike long

  • BobY

    Every so often you hit it just right and you’ve done it again. An idea I hadn’t thought about and a lightbulb turns on. Bravo!

  • Shelisa

    I thought this post was wonderful. My friends are always asking me to cook for them, they also think that cooking is so hard. When did it get hard before or after the internet? I am so shocked at how people react to cooking but they post and read every line of FB and MS and other social networks, I know they can read a recipe. Come on people, lets get in the kitchen!

  • shopper

    @ravenrose

    $169 is the best I could come up with. But you’d be able to cook almost anything with ease too. Could anyone do better?

    All from amazon…

    $30
    Victorinox 8-Inch Chef’s Knife, Black Fibrox Handle

    $6
    Victorinox 3-1/4-Inch Paring Knife with Large Handle

    $15
    Progressive International 11-1/4-by-17-1/​4-Inch Cutting Board

    $44
    Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 12-Inch Open Skillet with Helper Handle

    $15
    Amco Food Service Half Sheet Pan

    $59
    Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron 6-Quart Dutch Oven

  • Tags

    Eurekapiphany!

    Just because they don’t want you to cook doesn’t mean you can’t..

  • Robert

    I borrowed the French Laundry and Bouchon Books from a friend for about a month. Of course many of the recipes are not something I want to cook. I will leave that to the French Laundry crew. However Keller’s roast chicken is something I now can’t live without. I use it all the time and have you and him to thank for that.

    I dare someone to call me too stupid to cook. I will quickly carve them into primal cuts.

  • derek

    Actually, I do kind of hate the cleanup/storing of stock. Also, some people have whined about not having a convenient place to find organic, farm-raised chickens. Unless your quibble is ethical, this isn’t really a great excuse, as you will be able to make a pretty acceptable roast chicken with a crappy bird.

  • Andrew Grumet

    Perhaps it’s the psychology of the sale at work. A $100 power drill or pair of shoes is a lot more interesting if one is told that regular price is $200.

  • Lone Wolf

    I don’t think that Americans are too stupid to cook (I cook and I’m American) I think its just many are too lazy to cook and there tastes have been dulled by crappy boxed food and even worse fast food so they don’t know what good food tastes like.

  • Pat in Belgium

    I would just like to go on record as offering myself as a volunteer to EAT (or at least sample) whatever is being cooked (from “scratch”) by whomever.
    I’m not a big meat eater, but that crackling crust on the chicken has me salivating like a Pavlovian dog.
    I’m American. I cook, creatively (which means I often “tinker” with recipes or make up my own). (And I live in Belgium which has absolutely THE best chocolate in the world!)

  • Natalie Sztern

    Maybe it’s the timing, maybe the vulnerability we feel in this economy, I know the restaurant industry especially New York is hit hard and whoosh the ‘celebrity chef’ is even getting down and dirty…but this post is so far, the best of the year and so aptly appropriate coming into 2010. We must go back to old ways, cooking ways, ways that bring us closer to home and closer to the hearth.

    What is faster than a chicken roasting in the oven? What is more delicious than a roasted chicken. If a parent can teach their kids one thing it’s how to roast a chicken and that kid will never go hungry.

    Before my son moves out he is roasting a chicken whether he wants to or not….now that is another post: how to get kids in the kitchen who don’t want to be there.

  • James

    Oh so that’s how you roast chicken. Always wondered.

    If everyone cooked their own meals they’d save so much money too. How much more those ready mixes cost than the base ingredients, and ready meals to their component ingredients (how small are some of those meat portions, and how much of said meat is actually added water?). Those supermarkets really know how to make money out of you!

  • Jessika

    Unfortunately in some instances fast food is cheaper than cooking your own.

    Now, I’m a food enthusiast, I enjoy cooking and find it relaxing. I don’t have any children and although I can be pressed for time I usually cook in batches and can find something in the freezer to heat up in the microwave. I also have quick emergency dinners, pasta with pesto. I’ve been allergic forever which made cooking from scratch more convenient than reading labels to the death, especially when food producers decide on “new and improved” formulas without much notice on the packaging.

    I blame the fear of cooking on high rate food shows and cook cooks that are really just for display. I might find that a wild flower salad sound wonderful but then pragmatism should kick in. I do cook out of some of those books but Thomas Keller or Heston Blumenthal isn’t adapted for the home kitchen.
    Get a basic cookbook. Chose recipes from food sites and their search engines. When I was at university I didn’t care for cooking and I failed more often than not. It is a trial and error thing. The thing to start with is most likely not de-boned chicken.

  • Bob

    @Natalie:

    My Mom always said she was teaching me to cook so that I ‘wouldn’t starve when I became a bachelor.’

  • Peggy

    I taught my 9-year old daughter how to roast a chicken last night. It was so funny. All girded up in apron, hair tied back, serious look on her face. When I got to the “put it in the oven” part she said, “Okay, now what?” I told her to come back in an hour and I’d teach her to carve it. She was so disappointed! Roast chicken is her favorite meal and she thought it was some horribly elaborate process full of secrets only Mommy knew. HA!

    I have a list of things my children must know before they are 18. Sewing on a button, conversing intelligently and comfortably with people of all ages and backgrounds…number one on the list, though is cooking from scratch. If a child of mine lives on Cup ‘O Chemicals in college, it is their own choice. They will know better.

  • S. Woody

    If the manufacturers of those microwave meals have reduced the nuking time, it’s because the majority of those meals are being eaten for lunch at the workplace, and the typical worker doesn’t get a lunch hour. She’ll more likely get thirty minutes, tops. Compound that by one nuker in the lunchroom, being shared by a trio or more workers, all competing for the same lunch time, one meal cooking at a time, and someone isn’t going to get the time to both nuke and eat her meal. And, no, nuking two meals at once isn’t going to work, because right on the packaging it states that two meals means doubling the nuke time.

    Even if the workers have brought leftovers, they need to be heated up, one at a time. (They could all eat sandwiches, of course, but that would be cold – literally.)

    The solution should be to lengthen the lunch break, and to add microwaves, but I don’t see that happening. The overhead is the bottom line. Those workers are needed on the job where they can make whatever the product is for the company, not sitting in the lunch room. (And adding a microwave usually involves adding proper electrical circuitry, so that the fuses don’t pop every time two people use both nukers at once – more money being spent on something that doesn’t add to the company’s profits.)

    And a note to James, a few commets above: Don’t blame the supermarkets for the products. We’re just the middlemen. I grind my teeth every time a customer buys that pre-packaged junk. I’d much rather see customers buying real food. But the customer can either buy that pre-packaged junk, or waste their time waiting in line at the fast-food joint, not to mention the time it takes to get to and from said ffj. I’m lucky, I work at the supermarket and can grab something decent from the deli, but very few of my customers are also co-workers, and they don’t have that option. They’re planning a week’s lunches around a single trip to the market and stocking up on whatever is on sale.

    Charles Dickens would have a field day, writing about the current state of the workplace. For all the surface flash and glitz of our modern world, if he scratched the surface he’d find that not much has changed from the world he knew.

  • Frank M

    Excellent piece. I can safely say that I can safely blame you about 85% for me having a freezer full of stocks (4 kinds), a homemade fresh loaf of bread at all times, a pantry free of canned goods (OK, some tomato paste/sauce/chipotles in adobo-the usuals!), and, did I mention that I make my own stocks?? Thanks and Happy New Year!
    Frank M

  • Erin

    I have a friend who makes hummus from a box. Yum, dehydrated, pulverized garbanzos. It is disgusting, watery and takes the same amount of time to make as the real stuff. I love her to bits, but considered slapping her for a moment when she told me hummus was too hard to make.

    I agree with you completely, keep doing that thing you do so well.

  • Andy Coan

    That’s a great point, Erin–so much of the packaged stuff actually takes just as long as doing it right. It would be an interesting study to pick a handful of things like that and compare time, effort, and nutrition.

  • Henry

    In regards to your next cookbook; If you want a starter of recipes that take a long time and are too difficult just head over to Ideas in Food, while I love to cook and have been doing it professionally my entire life I don’t think I would ever use more than some elements of their recipes in my repetoire, unless of course I was leading or training a brigade, ala Fat Duck, or Alinea. Cooking can be fun, enjoyable, quick, and easy. Or it can be difficult, messy, time consuming and nigh on torture. Depends on your training, equipment, environment, etc. So many techniques, so many recipes, so many cuisines, so many ingredients, In the end it’s like the old Nike commercial says, “Just do it”, successes in the kitchen are wonderful, and failures are a learning experience, (and that’s when a good Plan B is a good thing to have)

  • michelle

    Great article and wise words. It’s a shame that so many fall for the processed pre-packaged food gimmicks as “real cooking”. I am gulty of that in the past but I recently found that it’s not that hard to bake bread or make homemade pasta. Really, it’s not. But there are times I want a quick meal and will settle for take-out or pre-packaged and that is ok. At least I cook real homemade meals 90% of the time.

  • luis

    I see your point but there is more to it than that. The better the cook the more ingredients they tend to use. The more complex the flavors and so on.

    These complex flavors are lost on most people. The cost of keeping a lot of fresh ingredients on hand makes the cost of this particular cooking style skyrocket. Even with Rachel Rays recipes she keeps quite a hefty pantry going. Expensive and Un necesary.

    When it comes to something like roasting a bird… and making stock from it you are 100% correct. The issue there is plain laziness.

    I was watching Batalli in Aspen talk about making a fritata and he commented that Italian food requires few ingreditents but he stressed the quality of each ingredient needs to be the highest.

    Another thing which complicates this issue is that everyone develops a palate along the way and that becomes the NEW ingredient standard.

    ex:. I prefer using a synthetic slice of yellow supermarket cheese on my Egg Mc Muffin than say a 3 yr old aged sharp cheedar. (The latter just seems too rich and overwhelming ).

    This is an aquired taste thing and probably stemming from the cost of buying a brick of cheese and shreding it yourself vs a stack of yellowish velveeta thing. (Collateral damage to the American palate).

    A lot of it, is laziness though, Cakes are non starters…the amount of sugar and fat you need makes them..the enemy. There the issue is that If the average American doesn’t have to plop in the butter and the sugar themselves then it doesn’t count and its ok to eat. I mean if all you ad is water….how bad can it be?.

  • Teri

    Sandra Lee followers are everywhere…

    Among my family a fancy appetizer is a block of cream cheese with canned mini shrimp on the top and cocktail sauce poured over.

  • Melleah

    You bring up an interesting point, and I think as a cooks we should replicate these “ready made” products in our own kitchens-most of the time they can easily be replicated at home. Society tells us that we are too busy to do anything but work, pick up dinner at the drive-thru window, and sit in front of the TV for the rest of the evening.
    When you take time to cook a meal, you really appreciate the time and effort you put into it. Something as simple as cooking dinner and eating it with your family can really help you appreciate all the things in your life. Before I learned to cook years ago, I frequently ate take-out, fast food, and snacked on candy bars, and needless to say I was overweight, unhealthy, and didn’t feel great about myself. Once I began learning to cook, I became much healthier, gained a greater appreciation for “real” food, and gained confidence in and out of the kitchen.

  • rockandroller

    There are actually people who ARE too busy to cook, and/or too tired. I have worked 2 jobs on and off my whole adult life. There is really no free time when you work 2 jobs. What time you have available is spent running errands – picking up prescriptions or going to doctor appointments, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, etc. There is no sit down dinner time and when you get home, you flop into bed because it’s late and you have to get up early. Many more people than you would think are working 2 jobs, especially in this economy. I know of at least 7 people on my floor at my office job alone who have 2 jobs, and that’s just because it’s come up in conversation, who knows how many others are doing so, or at least doing something for extra income (that requires time). Almost everyone I worked with at my last retail job was someone working there as a 2nd job in addition to a full-time job, and they were people from 20s-50s in age. There was only one person who had it as a full time, solo job, and one person who worked retail PT as their only job.

    I have a 7 month old baby now (why I quit the retail job), and while I have a tiny bit more free time than when I worked 2 jobs, I can really only do one thing a night before I am completely pooped. After picking up baby from daycare, getting him home, fed, bathed, changed and put to bed it is usually 7pm. I have to be in bed by 9:30 or I do not function, as baby wakes up 3x during the night and we have to get up for the day at 5:30, so to get enough sleep, 9:30 is my max, and I’m also completely beat by then. We have to do laundry every day. So that has to be done, and the previous day’s stuff folded and put away. Clean up the high chair and kitchen floor, etc. There are bills to pay, calls to make that couldn’t be made during the work day for lack of privacy, bathing/showering of the 2 adults and several times a week I’m supposed to be working out as well, which at this point is limited to maybe 15 minutes of weight lifting while I watch the news on TV, as that’s all I have time or energy for. By 7 I am already starving and tired, and I really can’t wait an hour to eat. The baby does not understand if I haven’t seen him all day and I bring him home and stick him in the pack and play so I can fuck around with a chicken for 15 minutes getting it into the oven, he’s just going to cry the whole time. Plus, you don’t eat chicken alone if you want a balanced meal, so you have to have a side dish of some sort, and a veg. These take up the “free time” over your hour of cooking time, and instead of doing that, I need to be getting his food together, getting him bathed and dressed, etc.

    We try to cook ahead on the weekend so there are things to just heat and eat, but many days we are out almost all day both days running errands or visiting relatives out of town and we can’t just sit at home and cook multiple dishes for the week. We do the best we can but sometimes, there just is no time or energy. And maybe I do suck as a cook, because I’ve never made a roasted chicken at home that is as soft and flavorful as the rotisserie chicken, probably because we don’t have a rotisserie to cook it on, and roasted chicken has a different texture, I don’t know. I’ve found all my roast chickens to be bland in comparison to ones I get at the store. I’ve even tried to duplicate (most) of their ingredients by writing them down, but it never comes out the same. And yes, the bird costs more, sometimes a lot more. I took the effort to make homemade fried chicken last weekend because I now have to be on a no dairy, no soy diet and cannot eat Popeye’s or the delicious broasted chicken from the place up the street. It was awful. Bland, and took freaking FOREVER to cook, and left me with a huge amount of oil from the melted shortening and no place to put it, along with a big mess on the stove which took, you guessed it, more TIME to clean up. This is better than Popeye’s take-out why?

    My boss literally has no free time to cook. No desire, no ability, but also really no time. Both her kids are very active in about 80 billion sports, which is quite common among the mothers I work with, and all her time is spent getting them to and from their various sporting activities, fundraisers for the sports, banquets for the sports, tournaments, traveling to these events, etc. In addition to other sports, they both play hockey which involves extensive travel to play the games (this weekend, Ontario Canada). They do not sit at home and have an hour to eat, almost all meals are on the road and convenience is a high priority. Because they live a “convenience” lifestyle, it’s inconceiveable for her to then have to slow down and take time to cook something when she can just microwave stuff for them and get them out the door in a half hour.

    Not everyone has a lifestyle where they are leisurely sitting around watching TV and wasting their time. I am all for cooking at home and cooking from scratch as much as possible, but I think the rotisserie chicken has it’s place.

  • JasonAU

    My wife works hard taking care of our little one and keeping the house clean and tidy; she’s a fine cook but I love to cook. I came home last night, pulled a package of my from scratch pasta sauce, roasted garlic, and Italian sausage from the freezer. 30 minutes later with a little fresh basil and Parmesan we are eating pasta and sauce better than anything from a jar…it just took a little (and I mean little) extra time a couple of Saturdays back.

  • Sally

    Michael, It’s sad but true: there is a collective belief that cooking is just way too hard. I know some really smart people who now wear (on the surface) their lack of skill in the kitchen like a badge of honor! It’s a bit like the battle of the stay-at-home v. working moms. There is no winner. As you said, iit should not be an either-or situation; there is a time and place for take out–but please, not every night! People should feel good about doing a little something in the kitchen without having to morph into Julia on day one.

    Maybe the economy will push more people to cook, or at least try to make a go of a few meals. So I add my voice to the rant. On the hopeful side, I am finding more people interested in cooking classes and thrilled to learn the little tips that competent cooks take for granted and to see what decent kitchen equipment looks like.

  • Carey

    You DID write a book called “Recipes That Take a Really Long Time and Are Too Hard For People To Do”: The French Laundry Cookbook.

  • Fuji Mama

    I just snorted milk through my nose because I’m laughing so hard…but you’re right and it’s sad. I recently had a friend ask what frosting I used on a carrot cake and I told her it was an easy recipe that I’d send her if she was interested. Her response? “Oh, it’s not store bought?” Whaaaaaa?!?!? Sometimes I’m a bit naive, because I was seriously shocked to hear that someone actually buys that storebought frosting. I mean, “Eeeeeeew!” I’m all for more impossibly hard recipes that we should not attempt. I received a copy of Ratio for Christmas and am looking forward to tstupifying myself with that as well. :)

  • Jasileet

    After hosting a last-minute dinner party, I’d realized how sheltered I’ve been. My friends stood over the roasted chickens and gaped. “How do you know how to make this?” And all I could think… “What? Your dad never taught you to roast a chicken?”

  • Jamie

    I’m a bit late to the party, but this was an excellent post Michael.

  • Jill Silverman Hough

    Thank you, Michael, for this laugh-out-loud rant.

    It’s a pickle for those of us who create recipes and write cookbooks – I want people to cook, I believe people HAVE to cook to eat well, but so many are so daunted that I feel I have to constantly reassure them that it’s not hard. They see a long ingredient list and think that equals hard – without even realizing 75% of the list is stuff they have on hand. They see that you have to stir constantly for 10 minutes and think that equals hard – when, what’s so hard about stirring?

    I think that, at least partly, at the heart of this concern about difficulty is fear that it won’t turn out. God forbid. We become adults and think we’re just supposed to be good at everything – we forget that we had to fall off the bike a million times before that worked out – and so, when something doesn’t work out once or twice, when it’s not easy off the bat, we say “that’s hard” and hang it up. So – the recipe writers resort to constant reassuring.

    Maybe your approach is better – tell them they can’t, challenging them to prove you wrong! I love it.

  • Stephanie

    I completely agree. I’ve been a working mom and I know what it’s like to get a meal on the table fast after a long day. Those microwave meals are a wonderful thing then. I’d rather someone whip out a box of Hamburger Helper or buy a rotisserie chicken than get McD’s!
    Too many people I know are overwhelmed even by the thought of a simple “30minute meal.” They just have it in their head that it’s too hard or will take too long.
    For Christmas, I made my two oldest sons each a little cookbook with some of our family stand-by recipes. Some have cream-of-whatever soup in them but it’s still a simple, edible, fairly healthy meal to put on the table. My boys don’t need to be gourmet chefs but I feel a responsibility to teach them to be at least competent in the kitchen.
    Don’t you worry about all the family recipes that have been passed down and are now being lost?

  • Darcie

    Excellent post – I believe that in addition to thinking they are too stupid, many people feel that other things are more important than cooking for your family. In the case of rocknroller’s boss, she is choosing to let the kids’ sports take priority – she doesn’t have time to cook by choice, not by necessity. Her kids don’t HAVE to be in “80 million sports.”

    As for rocknroller herself, I sympathize. I am on a similar schedule, but with a 3-hour commute instead of baby. So it’s up at 5:30, drink coffee, drive 1 1/2 hours to work, work 8+ hours, drive 1-1/2 hours home, run errands, pay bills, keep up blog, write food columns, do freelance PR work, yada yada yada. But since cooking is a priority for me, I do it. Some nights it’s just leftovers, and some nights it’s go to the local pub, but I cook most of the time.

    I save time with shortcuts like the crockpot – last night seared chuck roast, softened onions, deglazed, added seasonings, put in crock in fridge, rinsed out cast iron pan, wiped stove: 10 minutes. Took out today and plugged in. Making spaetzle, but could easily just boil noodles, add butter, nuke frozen peas. Much better than fast food, but really fast!

  • limoncello

    I make a pot of soup every week, no shortcuts, yet people are always suggesting recipes that require opening a couple of cans and reaching into the freezer. So imagine my joy at seeing a book called “The Soup Peddler’s Slow and Difficult Soups”. And the book was a delight.

  • rockandroller

    “I cook most of the time” sums it up for me too. I just don’t like the snark directed towards those who don’t have the time. Sometimes “time” also means “energy” or “money” (in the case of the rotisserie chicken, where it’s often more expensive to buy a whole fresh one than the cooked one). Energy cannot be put aside. Yes, my grandmother cooked all the meals for her family from scratch, but she didn’t have to work full time outside of the home to make ends meet (and yes, commuting each way, so I’m gone 10 hours a day).

  • GG Mora

    I think some of the cooking blogs are complicit in the dumbing down. While readers may love lots of photographs, the step-by-steps, with 4 photographs demonstrating how to chop an onion and 3 showing how to pour melted butter into a bowl can make the simplest kitchen tasks seem like nuclear physics.

    I know the intention is to be helpful, but it seems to me it has the opposite effect.

  • Nancy

    Phew!! I think you hit a nerve with this one judging by the varied and passionate comments!!! What a terrific topic to discuss!! I have to say that I don’t completely agree with you on this one. Convenience foods (like cake mixes) were introduced for just that reason – convenience. The vast majority of women did cook back then because there simply weren’t many options unless you were well off – there weren’t a plethora of restaurants in those days and people didn’t have the same level of disposable income they do today to spend on eating out. With the rise of “convenience” foods , women entering the workforce in greater numbers and more disposable income, most of my generation (i.e. late baby boomer) didn’t learn to cook at home. So, I don’t think the message is so much that we are “too stupid” to cook but that we simply don’t know how and don’t believe that the time invested to shop, prep and cook is necessarily worth the effort compared to what is available ready made. To me “the message” is meant to convince people that it is – not that they can’t do it but that it is worth doing!!!
    As someone who does private chef work and teaches, I always need to remember that what is elementary to me is not always elementary to my students. Thus, for me to roast a chicken or throw some meat on the grill is almost as easy as breathing but represents a much bigger challenge to my students and my clients!

  • DayOff&Cooking!

    Thanks for mentioning the lower cook temperature if folks don’t have ventilation in their kitchen. We have avoided roasting meat for that very reason. Might more cook time be needed if cooking at a lower temperature, though?

    BTW, fast/simple isn’t bad per se. Yes there are many wastes of time built into our lives that quick-cooking might only enable. However, for lower-income people, who might work more than one job to make ends meet, or single parents, time is of the essence. Also, I am willing to bet that lower-income folks eat disproportionately more unhealthy foods and have higher incidence of obesity, diabetes and other diseases caused by poor diet. Some solutions lie in the work of Frances Moore Lappé’s writings, including a collection of healthy-but-fast recipies in her book Diet for a Small Planet.

  • Eric L

    A lot of good points in the comments.

    There is a definite economic element to the American movement to convenience food. When you do an analysis of diet from a $/calorie perspective, the fast/convenience foods win the battle. When you are tight on cash, this becomes a significant factor (of course, all of the “fake” ingredients (HFC and other corn derived chemicals) that pack these foods create a host of new problems (obesity, type II diabetes, etc.)).

    I do have to half-heartedly offer up a defense for Rachel’s 30-minute meals. Although not a fan, I’m more inclined to view these recipes/shows as a “baby step” in the right direction for people. If she can show people that you can make food in 30 minutes that tastes better than your 7-minute microwaved dreck, they might give it a try. Once you get them to that point, how long before they take the next step to truly good cooking (top quality ingredients, genuine care in preparation)?

  • Kelly

    Bravo! Thank you for writing this.

    My apologies if this has already been mentioned in the comments: Laura Shapiro’s book Something From The Oven was a read I really enjoyed. The book details how Americans (and particularly American women) have being told for decades that cooking is “hard”, and that tips, tricks, and shortcuts are essential. And of course, the American’s response to that which is: we continue to cook.

  • maurinsky

    I suppose there are some people who are too stupid to cook, or believe they are, but I think the prime reason the Rachel Ray’s and the Everyday Food magazines are successful is because *time* is a premium for many of us. Like someone else above, I have 2 jobs, I’m about to be a single mother, and I don’t want to spend my entire evening in the kitchen, so I love those 20 minutes to the table recipes. They don’t have to be full of prepared foods – I daresay that Everyday Food has introduced several new vegetables to our dinner table that I never really thought about preparing before – and it helps me put together nutritionally well-balanced meals without having to spend a lot of my precious free-time poring over cookbooks and planning meals and shopping at various small ethnic grocery stores for just the right ingredients.

    And maybe I live in some kind of real food lover’s hamlet, but I truly don’t know anyone who can’t roast a chicken!

  • Jasileet

    Hey, there’s a difference between tossing a salted chicken in the oven, ignoring it for an hour, and baking your own bread. Some things take more attention and time and for most people with families that time comes at a premium. So I think what he’s saying is roast your own damned chickens, toss some bones in the oven for stock -when you can- and stop being so intimidated by real food.

  • maurinsky

    And there is a fair amount of unexamined privilege in the “anyone can cook real food” being mentioned here. What about urban dwellers who don’t have grocery stores, just convenience stores with sad bananas and tons of prepared stuff? Top quality ingredients cost money, and there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are out of work right now.

    I love real food, and I rarely use anything that I haven’t prepared myself, but I loathe the snobbery that seems to come with the foodie community.

  • Jackie Gordon Singing Chef

    GREAT POST!!! Thankfully Americans are getting “smarter” everyday as we become more aware of where our food comes from and the high “cost” of not cooking and of eating processed food, etc.

    I am very excited about our cooking future!!! America turn on your stoves, cook with your kids, enjoy our local bounty!!!

    Delicious, nutritious meals don’t have to be super complex and hard to cook! Your taste buds will thank you!

  • Christina Gremore

    Americans are being told we’re too stupid to do a lot of things. I blogged a response this summer to Michael Pollan’s NYT article about how the rise of celebrity chefs and the Food Network has turned us all into passive consumers. Because the focus of my blog is the industrialization of education, I thought of quite a few parallels to our schools:

    -we are told that reading is hard. It takes at least a couple of years with a phonics kit, along with in-utero training, if you want your kid to ever be good at it. Did you know that in the 19th century, learning how to read was considered so pathetically easy to do that teachers wouldn’t allow children to attend school until they had mastered this simple, basic skill?

    -we learn, therefore, that reading is unpleasant. After all, if we *liked* to do it, they wouldn’t have to spend so many years training, cajoling, and pleading with us to do it.

    -we probably won’t be able to do it “right” without proper supervision. Very few adults bother to acquire skills outside of a classroom, venturing into self-teaching. Because they are lazy? No, they have simply been conditioned to believe that they need a “trained expert” to teach them every step of the way. They have never been allowed to just mess around on their own, do their own research, and basically figure it out for themselves.

    And since we don’t teach home ec in schools anymore, how are they ever supposed to learn how to cook, without enrolling in culinary school?

  • Curious - Lissa

    I really appreciate the view you are presenting here. But I also have a different view. I work in a university town where my friends and colleagues are very educated. I am a rarity though. I cook a meal 7 days a week most weeks from non processed foods straight from the source. Why do I do it? It relaxes me after a hard day at work. But my husband and I don’t have kids so we don’t have as many time constraints.

    The majority of the people I know don’t mind cooking. They aren’t ‘afraid’ of it because they are intiimidated by cooking’s ‘difficulty’. They simply don’t enjoy cooking so they prefer to spend their time doing other things or at least minimizing the time they spend on what they few as a ‘task’.

    Yes, there are alot of books out there about shortcuts and tips. Probably because the majority of people don’t want to cook like you or I. Is there anything wrong with cooking that? In my mind, only to the extent that the option they reach for is processed and full of artificial ingredients that have created an unhealthy public.

    Keep ranting and educating

  • Debbie

    I can roast a chicken but about four months out of the year it is too hot to turn the oven on in my small apartment even on low heat. My stepmother grew up during the depression and to her food was about feeling full and not about nutrition. What was cheap always won out over what tasted good. For some reason she was completely enamoured with anything instant, frozen, powdered or canned. Perhaps it was advertizing or perhaps it was the idea that things wouldn’t go bad. I can’t tell you how many nights I had to choke down instant mashed potators made with powdered milk and margarine.

  • Marc

    So perfectly stated, so true. I blame the 50s and Birds Eye for some of the damage, but the real blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. populace, who chooses to believe that they are indeed too stupid to cook. And thanks for publishing ‘Ratio’….my now clamor for scratch pancakes every weekend and I’ve moved on to making bread, choux and look forward to keeping the beat going.

  • amy

    I wrote on this topic with a similar bent a few days ago in the National Post. My story starts like this:

    “Making toast counts. Whipping up an omelet is cooking, too. So is adding a can of tuna to some arugula, croutons and cherry tomatoes, then tossing them with lemon vinaigrette. Even if you just slice some bananas and top them with yogourt, blueberries, granola and honey, that’s cooking, in my books.

    And all of these dishes have one thing in common: They take two minutes to prepare. Think about that….”
    http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=2398414

  • Joanne

    My mom had me roasting a chicken once a week when I was in high school. She worried that I wouldn’t learn how to cook since I never made an effort to cook unless told to, unlike my brother who would cook because he was always hungry. I paid attention since I helped prep veggies with her. When I got married everyone worried that I would starve my husband. I surprised them. Now everyone realizes that I have known how to cook it was a matter of laziness when I lived with my parents. I think laziness is also matter of not enjoying the acts of preparation and cooking. I have friends who do not enjoy cooking and so they eat out all the time, or do the really simple and bland recipes you find in those little cookbooks sold by Pillsbury.
    I look at those people and their families and I can see the effects of eating such foods. Their weight and general health is not as ideal as my family. While my family are held hostage by my need to cook for them, of course their preferences are applied to our meals, they have an appreciation for full made from scratch meals and desserts. Some boxed items are great for teaching beginners how to cook. Cake mixes are great for a young child who wants to do it themselves, requiring less than 5 ingredients and just a bowl and wooden spoon. Baking a cake from scratch is a bit more complicated for a 9 year old, the buttermilk, cake flour, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and flavoring can be daunting at that age. Also unless you order King Arthur’s cake flour in the 5lb bag by mail, you are hindered by $3 box of cake flour at your local grocery store. Cost comes into play also with regards to prepackaged foods. It’s cheaper to buy a box mix than made from scratch. How does a family on a tight budget reconcile that? Rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, buy several in the cold case marked down because they need to be eaten in 2 days. Take them home shred the meat freeze in small bags, take 3 bird carcasses and make your own chicken broth. Convenience foods do have their uses.

  • Jeannie

    Well, excellent point and so true, then the next thing is, to teach people to choose the local option, that buying a local bird versus a grocery store version…and that whole issue of dollars/cents for what you buy…for example,, the chicken in the picture, what kind is it. who did you buy it from? The one issue is some of my friends just do not get that if you buy local it is going to taste better and they take saving money and saving time over cooking at home and buying local…
    But I need to take your point, it is not hard to throw a chicken in the oven…but you know.it may sound corny..but too some.looking at that whole chicken is intimidating…I think the issue is encouraging people not to be intimidated..and I have to say, your blog/zine totally helps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Doug

    Why are people not only scared of cooking, but eating food cooked at home?

    Case in point. My wife is a fantastic baker. She turns out cakes and pastries that wouldn’t look out of place in most bakeries (unless you’re looking at the nicer bakeries…but she’s getting there…she’s been wheedling the owner of the local French bakery for lessons…). So what does she do when there’s a potluck at the office? She actually takes 30 minutes and makes something that looks nice and professionally-made, then puts it in her tupperware container to take it to work…where it sits. People are scared of it because she made it herself. But put it in a leftover container from the grocery store and it’s the first thing gone…go figure…

  • luis

    I think Michael hit another post out of tha ballpark here. And I feel a strong bond with the posters here. We all seem to be working types with similar issues and concerns.
    For myself I can say I appreiciate any great technique such as sous vide and any great calorie friendly recipe. What I do is make one or two or more great recipes when I have the ingredients and the stamina on hand and then I will bag them and freeze them in portions. This way nothing is wasted. NOTHING. I look for quality stuff and specially love the two for one deals. I cook the stuff portion it off and freeze it. Sometimes I vacuum bag the stuff other times I just put it in freezer bags. This way I cook family size which is way more economical and then I just freeze what we don’t eat right off the bat.
    Far as I am concerned…that is the only way to go.

  • Lynn @Mama_Says

    So is the message, MAKE time to cook whether it is a simple and quick that you pull together or something that takes a bit longer – when you have the time. Great post!

  • Mochene

    Are you sure it’s about stupidity or convenience? Because a lot of foods were made to save the consumers time. People didn’t want to work 8+ hours, to come home and cook for another 2 hours (I know you touched on this above). Also, a lot of people don’t want to buy, or can’t afford a lot of expensive equipment, so you have cake and brownie mixes in a box. That’s what I think is being marketed, simplicity and convenience.

    But then again, I never really new people who felt like cooking was too hard or anything. My mom cooked at home, we rarely ate out. I was introduced to other ethnic foods in the homes of my friends’ families instead of restaurants. Maybe this is a reality for some people (I now think of the Food Network show America’s Worst Cooks), but I’ve never met or shared a meal with them.

    Am I too sheltered and need to get out? I don’t know. I do know that I want to learn how to cook new things, so I seek out the methods and ingredients that are out there. I can’t imagine any other way to eat. I’ve never thought I was too stupid to do something, maybe intimidated about a certain method or two, which, once I tried it a couple of times, I lived.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  • Tenina

    You are a breath of fresh air, and I am LOVING your book, just linked to you on my latest post…excited to see iPhone app…YAY! Thanks for your work…BIG fan!

  • alexis

    i was always taught that salting meat before its cooked draws out the moisture (the same reason why you salt and press raw eggplant)

  • Kevin

    Michael -

    First of all, thank you for Ratio. It is my new go-to book, and I am probably going to buy the app for my iPod. It is very freeing to have such simple guidelines. And yes, I trained, but I never put it all together to see what is now so obvious. My food is improved, and my creativity is soaring.

    I find with my friends/family that if I make it social – invite them into the kitchen, make them part of the process, that slowly I am making an impact on them. Cooking does not have to be a means to an end (fuel), the journey itself is satisfying.

    Quick story from the Farmers’ Market on Sunday: two women of a certain age are at the stand with me; I’m looking at the blood oranges, they are looking at the navel. One says to the other, “Oranges are too much work. I just drink some juice.”

    “There’s all the peeling and cleaning up, too, once you are done.”

    I had to butt in: “Hahaha – you really had me there.”

    “I wasn’t kidding.” She turned to her friend and asked when they were going to go to Starbucks, and then they left. No purchases.

  • Rob Pattison

    Michael: I live to cook, and I’m a huge fan of your work, but I am puzzled, saddened, and more than a little put off by your rant.

    To begin with, I saw you quoted on the LA Weekly website when Ratio hit the NYT bestseller list saying that “Ratio has been the most successful book I’ve written”. This would seem to contradict the concern expressed in the opening – your fear last spring that ”no one would understand [Ratio] or even care’. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case, so just what set you off?.

    Just as America (like my country of Canada) has diverged into two countries on other issues (fitness freaks and couch potatoes, conservatives and liberals, etc.), the same is true of those who cherish good food and like to cook it, and those that don’t. Are those that don’t like too cook stupid, or merely ignorant of the delights that await the cook? Probably the latter – people are woefully under-educated in school about cooking and nutrition, and the purpose for some time consuming steps is not always obvious to the novice unless explained in the recipes.

    I endeavor to buy as little as possible from the centre (sorry – Canadian spelling!) aisles at the supermarket – I was convinced of that by Jack Lalanne and Michael Pollan; however, do you really want me (or youself) to have to give up soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha sauce etc.?

    People don’t always do what’s good for them, even when it’s an activity that you, I, and other readers of your blog find enjoyable (cooking’s the only hobby I’ve ever engaged in that I can do several times a week and enjoy it more every time I do it – I mean seriously – ski, sail,or play poker every week? Kill me now).

    Ultimately, like a smoker deciding to quit, non-cooks simply need to find the way on their own.

    I don’t believe that you’ll ever win people over by hectoring them (I attended a dinner in Toronto at which Carlo Petrini and several other speakers scolded the audience, most of whom seemed to be low food true believers – the event was comically off-putting, and as far as I,m concerned the slow food people are a bunch of lunatics – despite the fact that much of what they stand for is sensible) – and I hope that’s not what I’m doing here.

    Now, I personally find Rachel Ray to be a bit much – but that’s a matter of taste. To criticize her for giving people a similar message to yours (relax, coking is no big thing, and – look! – you end up with food at the end!) seems a little churlish, and to suggest (as one of your correspondent’s does) that the Food Network is turning people into passive consumers and putting them off cooking is, frankly, bizarre. I say this as someone whose way into cooking was Harold McGee and your “…Of A Chef” boks. One of my first of my one-hundred plus cookbooks was the FLC, and I was nearly hysterical awaiting Ratio once I first heard about, I love to cook and serve simple food as well as black olive stuffed strawberries and other goofy stuff. The fact is most actual cooking shows are about demystifying cooking, and many could just as accurately be called Thirty Minute Meals, and they do in fac inspire people t say “hey – I can d that!”.

    Read MFK Fisher and Julia Child and speak to your parents or their peers: I hope we can agree that more people in your country and mine are more knowledgeable about good food than at any time in the last hundred years (which doesn’t by any means suggest more people are more ignorant about food at the same time).

    Please keep doing what you are doing, and I hope that your frustration with people who don’t cook (and their enablers) comes back down to a slow simmer. You’re doing a great job getting the word out.

    Best wishes to you and yours for a happy healthy, successful, and well-fed new year.

  • Elaine

    I LOVE to cook, love to go in kitchen stores and dream, love to watch
    food Network. I am amazed when people say they can’t cook. Why, it’s not that difficult. The chicken recipe was perfect and perfectly easy. I dare anyone to try it and not have it come out right. I am going to post this on Facebook and see what kind of comments I get. Can’t wait. =]

  • Jessika

    @Alexis. It’s a myth about the salt, a VERY well entrenched myth. If you have access to it you can read about the qualities of salt in Harold McGees On Food and Cooking. Available at libraries if not online but I imagine searching on Google should yield results.

  • Sharon Scott

    Love the easy roasted chicken recipe. I think people who don’t cook think of food as something that doesn’t require a bit of time management. Meaning roast chicken = store bought rotisserie or 5 min of reheating in the microwave. And to add to your recipe, I’ll add, “Trussing for Dummies”…tuck the wings behind the chicken’s back “yoga style” and criss cross the drumsticks at the “ankles” and tie with kitchen string – total time: additional 5 seconds.

  • Anna

    Not to worry, Mr. Ruhlman, no more knuckle biting, please! I live in Romania and I bought it. When I read about your book, my prayers were answered, for years I had tried to work up my little (unsuccessful) system of cooking by ratios. In my kitchen, your book is queen now.
    Thank you, never doubt the utility of your efforts.

  • Amy

    Much has been said on this topic from many angles. In the end, I think the best way to approach this issue is to have the GOAL of eating as much good, unprocessed food as possible.

    There will be times when the “quick” meal will do it. I served my family shrimp in spicy orange sauce, brown rice, and blanched snow peas last night. This came from a “quick” cookbook but was still tasty, nutritious and contained nary a processed ingredient.

    Then there will be times when we can delve into more complex dishes. At both Thanksgiving and Christmas I served homemade stuffings made with from scratch bread and “homebrewed” stock (using Ruhlman’s brilliant oven technique). My MIL was concerned that I “worked too hard” (she is the queen of processed food) but I assured her the effort was a pleasure.

    I think we sometimes get into too much of an “all or nothing” mindset. Take your own circumstances into consideration and do the best you can with the GOAL always in mind.

  • Jason Sandeman

    Michael, this is why I love and am inspired by your writing. You hit the nail on the head here. Why must we accept packaged, shelf-stable goods? They are more convienient? Only in the sense that we do not need to think about ingredients.

    I find that people, especially women, are vehement about cooking today. We have been conditioned to believe that EVERYTHING is too time-consuming, too difficult, and too “homesy” for the average person. Why else would we have someone like Rachel who literally throws things together like my mother did back in the day? What makes her food the highlight of culinarians today?

    Indeed, I think one would be very disturbed at the true “cost” these convenient products present. If it costs 3 times as much to buy that rotisserie chicken than it does to make it, then we are not really gaining anything. We have to WORK HARDER to buy the food that is supposed to be saving us time. Ironic, no?

    Keep up the good work, and if you do choose to do that book, I have some “long and complicated” recipes like Pork Loin roasted with Pan Juices that you could feature. Maybe the ever complicated Applesauce, or Tomato sauce could have a feature as well.

  • Bob

    @Mochene wrote:

    “Also, a lot of people don’t want to buy, or can’t afford a lot of expensive equipment, so you have cake and brownie mixes in a box.”

    A bowl, a spatula, and an old fashioned egg beater is what my grandmother used. We’re victims of the idea of convenience, with convenience becoming the norm instead of the exception.

  • Pilar

    Stupid is a little harsh…I bet you were thrilled when your Iron Chef audience put off real cooking to throw a couple of Michelina’s in the microwave: those “4 extra minutes of tee vee time” probably did your ego proud. Imagine being a judge on a made for tv cooking competition…and no stupid people watched?

  • Katy

    Excellent!!!! (and your post made me laugh which was much needed today! thank you! :).. I DO think that people are in too much of a hurry and over-scheduled these days with the added “fear of cooking” so that’s where all the fast and convenience foods come in… processed is easier (ugh)

    And, sadly, I am seeing more and more that people aren’t taught how to cook while growing up (those are my fondest memories–cooking with mom and grandma!) and so they don’t know how to do anything past boiling water and are afraid to try!

    Quick and easy foods CAN also be made from scratch and be unprocessed and inexpensive, but people just need to be taught “how”–for some reason good, unprocessed cooking has gotten the bad rap of being either too expensive or too time-consuming and it really isn’t….there is sooooo much marketing for the fast and processed foods out there that THAT is the first thing that people go for!… it’s a learning process just like anything else.
    And, you don’t need a lot of expensive “bells and whistles” in the kitchen to make GOOD food—as your roast chicken shows! :)

  • Bob

    Wow.

    I’m seeing way too many comments along the lines of ‘How Dare Ruhlman Call Us Stupid!’

    That isn’t what he’s saying.

    He is targeting a stereotype, perpetuated by the marketing of modern convenience foods, that we a) don’t have the time to cook, b) it’s too complicated and takes all sorts of high-falutin’ tools and arcane knowledge, and c) convenience foods taste JUST AS GOOD!

    If anything, that observation SHOULD jar something loose, it should make us re-evaluate an essential need/process in our lives. That it stings may suggest that we’re all too aware of our shortcomings – we’ve bought into the marketing, we know it … but we’re unwilling to admit it. We’ve allowed the almighty boxed dinner scare us out of the room.

    Ruhlman’s own words in the introduction to Ratio – about the difference between ‘perfect’ and ‘good enough’ are applicable here. We’re not after perfect; we’re after ‘good’ – because once we know good, we can build on that. There’s no reason that frozen bag should be our baseline for ‘good’ (even though that means cooking-for-real is a vast improvement).

  • Diane

    You do not need to spend money on expensive equipment to cook. I use my cheap knives bought from Meijer and college era crap pans more than I do my fancy Japanese knives and Kitchenaid appliances and All Clad. All it takes is confidence.

  • Susan

    Thank you for reminding me how easy it is to roast a chicken. Did it last night and it was wonderful!!

  • David in San Antonio

    Think Japanese hot pot. Grab whatever you find in the fridge, add it to the pot, and pour in some stock. By the time you’ve gotten comfortable and ready for supper, your supper is ready.

  • Ward

    Ruhlman: WTF, man. Come on.

    The whole “cooking is hard” Rachael Ray wave means girls think I’m some kind of uber-chef just because I can combine food and heat, and guess what? I like it that way.

    Next time, stop and think of us single guys before you enlighten the masses.

  • Liz

    As somebody who cooks and bakes a lot, im astounded that people prefer to pay more for things than do it themselves.
    A boxed cake mix contains flour and flavouring and baking powder, this is usually only half the ingredients and doesn’t really save you any time. You still have to add the egg or milk, or even just the water and beat it. In the time it takes to make a boxed cake I can make you a real cake.
    As for roast, heck, i love roast because its the easiest option for me. Ovens have had timers since forever and it leaves hardly any dishes. Just grab the frozen chook out of the oven in the morning, whack it in the oven tray with some vegs etc. set the timer to cook it for several hours and finish at 5pm when i get home.
    Another favourite healthy option is using the slow cooker. Pack it with meat and veg and a stock in the morning takes 10 mins, then come home to an amazing dinner, and so many variations.
    Most recipes require only couple mins prep time an an oven timer. I think its perception that its hard more than anything.

  • Bob

    @Ward:

    There’s a BIG difference between ‘It’s easy and I can do it myself’ and ‘Wow, Ward’s so cool, he cooks FOR me!”

    I don’t think the single guy who cooks will suffer much.

  • marlene

    Bob said
    about the difference between ‘perfect’ and ‘good enough’ are applicable here. We’re not after perfect; we’re after ‘good’ – because once we know good, we can build on that.

    So very very true.

    I was in the grocery store today at 4:30 or so (remind me not to do that again), the line ups were huge, and because of this post, I paid attention to what was in people’s carts. Rotisserie chickens, prepackaged salads, lasagnas from the hot table. I’m not sure I saw any fresh veggies, although in Ontario this time of year, they are in rather short supply. Every one of these people were in business clothes so I assume the were shopping on the way home. I think that at least buying stuff from the hot table is better than buying frozen TV dinners or the like to throw in the microwave when you get home.

  • Susan

    I don’t agree that “Americans are being told we’re too stupid to cook.” I believe that all the pre-mades and shortcuts are about time management. That “Americans are too busy (or maybe too lazy?) to take the time to make a good meal” I think of them as “option” foods and techniques for those who are busy and tired and lazy! They’re for those times when you don’t feel like cooking (lazy?) or have 3 places to go to pick up kids, drop them off or go workout yourself. What I do resent about those foods are the heavy salting and/or seasoning that those preparing them assume we want. Americans are being told by Chefs (on TV, through printed publications, the internet) and the Food Service Industry that we don’t know how to season food. That food isn’t good without a fistful of salt or layers of cream and butter or bacon fat or sauces made with all of the above. That we’re just unsophisticated home cooks if we don’t keep pine nuts, truffle oil, capers. wild mushrooms and fresh herbs on hand to prepare a weeknight dinner. We’re being bullied from both sides! And the asumption that our taste choices in the foods we prepare are “too rich, too sweet, too bland, too boring” are too much! We have a culture as varied and valid as any other country in the world and the resources to make it anything we want! In fact, we aren’t proud enough of what we do prepare with the ingredients available only here in this country. It’s about time we started getting as proud of our cuisine as the rest of the world is about theirs. So..there!

  • Shannon

    I think you have hit the nail on the head. I’m tired of the message that I’m too stupid to do anything (cook, parent, garden, whatever) without buying a bunch of books and other products from so-called experts.

    What makes me angriest about this attitude is that it’s being foisted on the poorest in our society. I read some comments to a recent article by Michael Pollan on his Food Rules book that effectively boiled down to: poor people can’t eat healthy because they don’t know how to cook beans, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Yet all of our grandmothers did it without thinking twice. I feel like it is a way to excuse addressing the real problems of poverty, which is access to reasonably priced, healthy foods.

  • Jarrett

    if i have to do all of that within an hour of waiting, then it IS the most difficult roast chicken recipe

    -gastronaut jones-

  • oilandgarlic

    As someone from an Asian culture who grew up in the U.S., I think cooking is a “lost art” among many Americans. While my mom was making delicious home-cooked meals (and working by the way) my American friends seemed to eat a lot of fast food, frozen meals or not very good home-cooked meals.

    Well, now these same kids are trying to make up for their lack of good home cooking by watching cooking shows and turning into self-proclaimed foodies, i.e. making cooking look like an elitist and difficult endeavor. A whole generation seems to have missed the idea that cooking and eating well is just a part of life, whether you’re rich, poor or middle-class.

    Cooking is not rocket science but it does take considerable skill and patience to learn. Most of the best cooks I know learned from watching their parents. If you didn’t have that, you start off at a disadvantage. From my observation, those who learn from recipes and cooking shows seem to have a less freeform approach to cooking, and that also contributes to making cooking seem difficult.

  • Laura

    Thomas Keller recommends cooking the chicken sans lemons, onions, or anything else in the chicken as it will cause moisture to form and he’s looking for a crispy chicken!

  • brandonb

    I like the the new edgy, testy michael,,,new years resolution from dealing with people that are to stupid to cook?

  • Rico

    Buy a smoker. They’re real easy. Light fire, put meat on, come back tomorrow. But I do have a question about this article. If I have sex too fast, will I get Salmonella?

    Honestly, people, the last thing I want to rush is my food. Turn off the TV and get some good food in ya. Buy a crock pot. Re-work your schedule to get things done while things cook. Make a cream of broccoli soup. Bake some bread. Sheesh, you might find it’s fun.

  • Emily

    Amen! Whatever you tastes or schedules there are ways to include some healthy, homemade food in our diets. Our hearts need it as much as our bodies!

  • Paulo

    I am an international student currently living in NY, and I just wanted to add my two cents. I am not a chef or anything like that, but i know how to cook soups, meat, fish whatever and they usually turn out quite good. My american friends love my dishes. I don’t agree at all that Americans can’t cook. Everybody can cook people just have to put time and effort into it. I am not going to focus on the hectic life that everybody has in here along with the little time left to cook. I am going to focus more on different perspectives. America is a country with a great standard of living and is more developed than many other countries, economics of scale made food cheaper, accessible, and convenient. If instead of paying 30 bucks for some delivered pizzas for the family you had to pay $100 I think we would see people cooking more often. In some other countries the ratio income/order food is much bigger than in the US. Sometimes it is just cheaper, easier and just as satisfying to call and order food. Also in less developed countries you tend to have a scarce choice of ingredients. That scarcity leads the people to season more their foods to change a bit their taste. No one would eat potatoes cooked the same way 6 days a week. Another aspect is the incredibly vast and diverse number of cultures in this country. If I had this “melting pot’ of foods in my country i would love to try them all as well. And all this also that leads to cook less and less. Practice makes perfect. I Also think “oliveandgarlic” has a point there. Learning from watching your parents cooking gives you for sure an advantage! And don’t say american food sucks, american gastronomy is the most diverse in the whole world dishes from other countries get incorporated in your cuisine just like people. Maybe I got a little excited… Oh by the way, try some Portuguese food, you won’t regret (I never met anyone who did) Oh and also put something more in your chicken than just salt.

  • Kate at Serendipity

    You know, I agree with you. People are told that it’s too hard, and then they see cooking shows with things that are either stupidly easy or waaay too cheffy. As Nigel Slater says, “you’re just making something to eat”. I moved to Europe about 9 years ago and bought my first kitchen scale. What freedom! I think it should be standard equipment in all kitchens.

    I also agree with you that it doesn’t have to take a long time to prepare real food. Almost all of my favorite pasta dishes can be prepared in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Add a salad and and some fruit for dessert and you’re good to go. It’s not hard, it doesn’t take a lot of time. It just takes a commitment to eat REAL food instead of the (xxx) we’re sold by the giant food companies.

    Ok, I’m finished now. Except to say that I love “Ratio”. It’s as important in my kitchen as my scale. Thank you.

  • Aaron Strich

    Roasted a chicken for my ‘rents for dinner tonight. Halfway through the roasting time I harvested some chicken fat to toss the root veg in, and an hour, total, later dinner was on the table. So difficult a ten year could do it, with minimal supervision. Stock simmering on the stove as I type, and pot pie for dinner tomorrow.

  • Nicole

    Give Rachel a bit of a break. I just flipped through one of her cookbooks and the most offensive ingredient I can find is canned broth. Good ingredients, prepped in advance, so a family can have a dinner on the table at a reasonable hour is not such a bad thing.

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