I must’ve missed the news when putting food on a dish officially became plating and how you arranged it became presentation.
I cook with a fast-food, convenience-store mentality I’m not even sure qualifies as cooking.
It’s more like “throw together with utter disdain.”
Food as art – i.e. presentation – is something I might like visually but relate to about as well as I do the lost art of Shaker chair caning.
I haven’t put a timer to it, but if I start cooking and it takes more than 10 minutes, things start falling, veggies fly and food splatter gives the kitchen an Andy Warholesque crime scene look.
I should put up yellow police tape to keep the evidence from being contaminated.
Sometimes my wife cooks, which I’m thankful for but don’t expect. She doesn’t plate food or present it, thank goodness, but she does bring patience to the kitchen that I lack the way the Visogoths lacked subtlety.
I inherited my cooking temperament from my mother, who, by banging pots and pans in the kitchen, never failed to let us know she didn’t appreciate being there.
To make matters worse, sometimes she’d go to the other extreme and try to bring a certain Continental flair to her creations, God help us.
My father literally couldn’t open a cupboard door without her help, so I know I didn’t get my cooking skill from him.
I have two, maybe three dinner standbys I make, all relatively foolproof – and, more to the point – all quick. I’m not saying they taste good or anything, but as I see it food taste is inversely proportional to the time it takes to make it.
Baked potatoes with melted mozzarella cheese are my old standby, as in I’m old and stand by while they cook. If you let the microwave do the thinking – just push the “potato” button – only rarely do they catch the house on fire.
I’ve had to balance my fast-food, convenience-store bent with a heart-healthy diet I’ve been on since I learned an artery of mine was clogged with a golf-ball-sized plaque deposit.
So despite sticking with my cooking credo – cook quick, eat now – I’ve been on a low-cholesterol, low-salt diet that’s rich in grains, fruits, veggies and long, pathetic stares at steakhouse ads.
Aside from my classic Baked Potato Simplistique, I like the low-fat pinto-bean-and-tomatoes-with-green-chiles-and-onion concoction I put in burritos, on tostadas and nachos, or scoop up with low-sodium tortilla chips.
Typically, I accompany each of those with a side of vitamin A-rich baby carrots that make a person feel good about himself.
I top the bean creation with melted mozzarella cheese, of course, since it’s good on about everything but corn flakes and meat loaf.
Sometimes when I’ve had an especially trying day and don’t want to spend even 10 minutes cooking, I’ll make nachos with reduced-fat mozzarella, minus the bean glop, and be on the couch eating in under five minutes.
If there are garden tomatoes around and I’m not feeling pathetically over-wrought, I’ll cut some up and microwave them on top of the nachos. They’re more optional than the baby carrots, which not only make you feel virtuous but get stuck between your teeth.
And then there are my salads. Salads have been a BFF ever since the Pizza Hut with the all-you-can-eat salad bar in Jenks, Okla. That’s where these hallowed, salad-powered columns got their start.
I’d eat two large bowls, always duplicating whatever I took the first time on the second trip. Had they charged by the pound I’d still be in the Oklahoma Medium Security Correctional Facility for Debtors.
My compulsion to fill the bowl or stack the plate continues today. So when I make a salad for dinner – granted, even with bagged salad mix and baby carrots this can take some time – I fill the bowl or plate to the brimmy-brim-brim.
If my wife happens to be around or is drawn to the kitchen by my enchanting, expletive-laced cooking commentary, she never misses the opportunity to counsel me about using a larger bowl or plate. This, she says, will reduce the probability of reduced-fat, Thousand-Islands-dressing-slathered-lettuce adorning my shirt and the couch.
I appreciate her sage advice, but whatever plate or bowl I choose, I know I’ll fill it to the top, so the size doesn’t really matter.
On nights when I choose to go with salad – all that chopping and trips to and from the refrigerator and pantry can take 15 minutes – there’s extra clean-up time to consider, thanks to the veggies that scoot from the counter to the floor and on into the next county.
I’m not complaining, mind you. Think of all the bending and stretching I get to do to pick up after myself. When you add that to the weight training involved in carrying a brimming salad into the family room, fitness-wise it’s a win-win situation.
Share your time-saving meal tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.