I live for food TV. Ted Allen on “Chopped” is reason enough to spring for cable (or, um, to ask sweetly to “borrow” your parents’ Comcast login). You can keep your Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts—the celebrities who make my heart skip are the Alex Guarnaschellis, Tom Colicchios, and Michael Voltaggios of the world.
That said, I do think that cooking shows can sometimes have the unintended effect of making good food feel unattainable, impractical, and expensive to the amateur cook. After all, the food you see on television is always beautiful (thanks to a small army of on-set food stylists) and often prepared with high-tech, pricey equipment by trained professionals. It’s easy to watch Bobby Flay pour foie gras-infused custard into the Iron Chef America industrial ice cream machine and think to yourself, “Yeah . . . no.”
But guys, it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t worry: I’m in no way advocating that we all buy industrial ice cream machines. Rather, I think we need to change the way we look at food and cooking. Truthfully, if you like to eat, chances are good that you already possess the skills necessary for cooking food that you enjoy—but you have to get out of your own way first.
Instead of attempting long, complicated recipes with hard-to-find, expensive ingredients, start with simple, satisfying dishes. Taste your food as you cook. Don’t fear salt and fat—they give food flavor. Always opt for fresh vegetables over frozen or canned. It’s much cheaper to learn a few basic techniques than it is to buy a fancy piece of kitchen machinery that you might only use once.
To help build your confidence, start with this wildly easy cheese preparation: marinated goat cheese. It literally could not be easier. It’s just stuff you probably already have on hand (and if you don’t, it’s common, affordable stuff that you can find at any grocery store) that’s sealed in a jar and left in the fridge.
Just let it marinate for at least 3 days (and up to a week) and serve with slices of crusty bread, crackers, sliced vegetables, or over a salad. It couldn’t be easier, and it’s a great object lesson on the joys of simple food. The flavored oil left in the jar also makes a wonderful base for a salad dressing.
6 ounces goat cheese (chevre) $3.50
3-4 small sprigs of fresh rosemary, chervil, or thyme $1 for a bunch
A few grinds of black pepper or a few whole peppercorns pantry
Extra-virgin olive oil pantry
Estimated total cost of ingredients: $4.50
Run a sharp knife under cold running water, just to wet it.
Use the knife to slice the log of cheese into medallions about ½-inch thick.
Layer the cheese medallions into a small glass jar.
Tuck the sprigs of herbs into the jar, in between the cheese medallions.
Sprinkle the pepper or peppercorns on top of the cheese.
Pour in extra-virgin olive oil to cover.
Seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 days, and up to a week.
Serve with bread, vegetables, or on a salad.