she who keeps this diary

21 July 2005 - 11:49 AM

Slow Food, Redux

I am pinning hope of recovering my cooking mojo on Rachael Ray.

Ray, on the offchance you don't watch Food Network obsessively, as the Viking and I do, is a cooking instructor turned TV star. Her '30 Minute Meals' series and cookbooks are close to ubiquitous.

Plenty of people dislike her. Sara Dickerman, in a column in Slate, wails about the 'hausfrau offerings' on food television and deems Ray the worst of the TV chefs, denouncing her as one who 'who dines out on the cheap and cooks on the fly, chirpily renouncing such culinary values as elegance, subtlety, and perhaps even flavor.'

To be fair, the recipe Dickerman cites (Mini Cheeseburger Salad with Yellow Mustard Vinaigrette) doesn't look particularly appealing, at least to me. Ray's TV persona makes me a little twitchy, too. Nevertheless, it is hard to take seriously this criticism from someone who, in a more recent column, advocates the highly practical cooking technique of sous-vide which is sure to be sweeping American home kitchens any day now.

('scuse me while I pull my tongue back out of my cheek. While I'm doing that, see Jill Hunter Pellettieri's Slate column in defence of Ray.)

Ms. Dickerman, I think I speak on behalf of all us hausfraus and working wives when I say: get stuffed. Preferrably with some Stovetop brand stuffing mix. Much as we would all like to be slow-poaching our foie gras in little plastic baggies, for most of us, it's not going to happen. I dine out on the cheap because I can't afford expensive restaurants; I cook on the fly because that's what time I have available between commuting and working and doing laundry and dishes. And I don't watch Gordon Ramsay's new show on BBC America because he's not funny, he's a flaming arse.

I object also to the idea that cooking must necessarily be time-consuming and expensive in order to produce meals which are elegant, subtle, and flavourful. That's the same notion I took issue with in my previous rant against Slow Food -- it takes good cooking out of the hands of the ordinary middle-class citizen and hands it over to some kind of culinary seigneurial class. Sorry, but this peasant is tired of being chased away from the kitchen door, and this time I'm bringing my torch and pitchfork.

Yeah, Ray uses boxed baking mixes and canned stock. If I had time to make dumplings from scratch every night, I wouldn't be ranting on this topic. I'd probably be complaining about how hard it is to get leaf lard or something.

On the other hand, her Cream of Mushroom Casserole actually involves mushrooms and cream, no soup cans required.

I've flipped through some of Ray's recipes on the Food Network website; they meet, for the most part, my requirements. Excepting the baking mixes and canned stock, they use fresh ingredients that I know I can get at the local grocery store. The directions are clear. The methods are sound. While most of them might not be deemed 'company fancy,' they look like perfectly fine family dishes. Which is just what I want. If I need something spectacular for company, I'll consult the holy writings of Saints Julia and Elizabeth.

I've ordered, as an experiment, 30 Minute Meals and 30 Minute Meals 2. I'm going to try to cook suppers out of them for 2 weeks -- start date to be determined by the arrival of the books. I'll post comments and results here.

Wish me luck.

verso - recto

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