Michael Ruhlman had an interesting blog today admitting that although he is a heavy hitting foodie/gourmet/writer he had a humble culinary beginning. Recently, his wife reminded him that they indulged and enjoyed Knorr Fettuccine Alfredo, Ruhlman winced.
After justifying his packaged food past he noted that even if he had been given the right recipe, the right ingredients weren’t readily available. Gourmet times in the ‘60’s.
When you are young, hungry, and want to eat, you open the fridge and throw things together. It has nothing to do with a recipe or technique. You eat what you like in whatever fashion you desire. It's a big hit or miss.
I remember going to a friend’s house. No parent around and the older sister making lunch. What a revelation! Elbow macaroni, ground beef, and ketchup. I had died and gone to heaven! Why hadn’t my mother been feeding us this great meal?
Later in the cooking section of Home Economics class we were taught how to take tubes of Pillsbury dough, flatten the discs, and top them with butter (probably margarine) and cinnamon sugar. I can’t tell you how many of those ambrosia tasting discs I “made” for my family.
I was given a childrens Betty Crocker cookbook with a cake that amazed me! Using box cake mix, a square and round pan, you could make a heart shape cake to be decorated with icing. I loved the how it was done part.
I had a boyfriend who loved Rice A Roni and I did too. I read recipes on the backs of cans and gathered the processed ingredients to make sublime sodium laden creations. There was a wonderful stewed tomato recipe on the back of a can of diced tomatoes that taught me how to make sugar coated croutons and layer them with the tomatoes, sautéed onions and dried basil. It was delicious.
Would I make it again? Yes, to go down memory lane and either love it again or say goodbye. That is how our palates grow up.
The bottom line is that with all of the bumbling and experimenting I was gaining confidence in the kitchen and feeding myself and friends. Gourmet was another revelation. When I first saw the august magazine ingredients were embedded in the method. It read like food porn. Notebook at hand I would laboriously copy out the ingredients and transcribe the recipe to make some sense to me. More often than not I didn’t make the dish, but the process of understanding a recipe started to take hold.
Following in my mother’s footsteps, I became a recipe snipper from any newspaper or magazine around. Mounds of snippets were divided into food categories. I stroked them and fantasized about dishing them up. Notebooks,3X5 cards,files they have grown and grown.
I can’t tell you what was my first cookbook-I do know that one time I asked my mother to buy me a Joy of Cooking only to find a Betty Crocker under the Christmas tree. I soon bought my own JOC copy. My copy wasn’t as magical as my mothers. It wasn’t food stained and I didn’t know where the magical family recipes lurked.
When I first started to put regular meals on the table, I was anxious to please my first husband. We had many differences but there were times when he was spot on. At one particular meal that I wasn’t happy with, he told me that in the course of a year we eat a bit more than 1,000 meals. There is no way they can all be perfect. A few stumbles and stellar meals are to be expected.
With that thought resonating in my mind I rise each day to confront my ingredients and trick them into memorable meals. We’ll see where the pendulum swings- hit or miss-and don’t forget to open a can or box and go down memory lane. That's what eating and food is all about.
Michael Ruhlman’s article and recipe-
The real deal a la Ruhlman
Fettuccine Alfredo Recipe