Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Food glorious food

This morning I sat through an advert break and was astounded at the number of adverts for ready-made food.

Make a delicious chicken dish - simply place the chicken in a bag, scatter in a packet of some herbs and spices and flavourings (the exact contents are undisclosed here), shake it all up, put it in the oven and voila, you have a tasty chicken dish.

Alternatively you might like to make a tasty Bolognese for dinner. No need for all that messing about with tins of tomatoes and chopping onions and garlic now is there? Just buy a jar of sauce, add to your meat and pass it off as homemade.

Gone is the need to spend time in the kitchen peeling and cutting vegetables - you can now buy them ready prepared in the local supermarket. The fact they are about 50% more expensive than unprepared veg seems inconsequential; the time it saves you in the kitchen is priceless.

One could deduce from this that we are being encouraged to become a nation of lazy individuals who cannot be bothered to cook for ourselves but who instead choose to rely on the ready-made food industry to provide us with the means to put together a meal which has not quite been made for us, but which is now more about assembly rather than preparation. In fact it could be argued that we as a nation no longer need to even learn to cook, as there is a whole industry out there that will do it for us.

But all is not lost. The forces of cookery are fighting back, and we have only to turn on the television to watch numerous programmes about how it ought to be done.

Our screens are covered with the images of fabulous dishes and desserts, things we could only ever have dreamed of eating out in restaurants, but which we are now being given the knowledge to prepare in our very own homes. And with that knowledge comes new terminology.

Gone is the humble sauce, instead it has been replaced by the jus, or reduction. No more do we serve a dessert with biscuits, now we have tuilles. And the mashed potato? Forever confined to the history books - now we crush potatoes instead. And the question has to be asked - do people really cook these things at home?

There is certainly a place for the ready meal and the ready-made sauce in most houses. If you're in a rush to do something but have to eat then I can see why you might buy a jar, or even a meal to put into the oven/microwave. Equally there are some things which would seem like far more hassle than they are worth to make from scratch; I can distinctly remember looking at a recipe for puff pastry and thinking that it would take me several hours to complete the process, which seemed a bit pointless really when I can buy a pack for less than £1 in the supermarket.

Equally I can see the market for the more elaborate meal - my kitchen is not unfamiliar with chocolate soufflé's, homemade pasta made in the pasta machine I requested as a Christmas present, or duck breast served on a bed of Savoy cabbage and pancetta. My one attempt at a red wine jus are perhaps best left unexplored however.

But I do wonder whether there is middle ground somewhere. Do people still cook the more basic meals from scratch or is it just easier to buy jars of sauces?

Have we turned cookery into an art form, where we only enjoy doing it if there is a fancy meal at the end of it?

Or is the basic art of cooking just too boring to warrant discussion?

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