Get cooking, sonny

Get cooking, sonny.

Too many people in this country have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked, flim-flammed, conned, and hustled. They’ve been bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from the freezer at the nearest Walmart. They’ve learned to believe that cooking is a chore — like laundry or washing windows — to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when it can’t be.

I understand that some people just plain don’t like to cook. That’s fine. But there are also those who would actually enjoy it, if they hadn’t been conditioned to think cooking is too expensive, in terms of time or money or both, to be practical. As a result, they’ve forgotten anything they were ever taught about how to cook — if they were taught anything at all. Those of us who learned at our grandmothers’ apron strings, and then kept cooking into adulthood, are becoming a rare breed.

But a cooking demo I gave at the farmers market last Saturday taught me something: There are still plenty of people who want to get back into the kitchen. I’m hoping the economic situation is not the only reason, but it’s a good one. While proving that cooking is easy and fun, my wife Kim and I also managed to debunk the notions that it’s too time-consuming to cook and that it’s too expensive to shop at the farmers market.

We faced down some stiff competition. Our country’s marketing machine has conjured up a King and a Clown designed to convince us that it makes more sense to zip by the drive-thru (they even shorten the word “through” — damn, they’re quick!) than to prepare a healthy, delicious meal at home. They’ve used pusher-like techniques on us since we were children, so that as adults we think it’s normal to fuel our bodies in the same fashion as our cars. Yet in 45 minutes at the market, I was able to demonstrate four different dishes and sample them out to all 50 people for less than $30.

I made a summer ratatouille, a chopped salad that creates its own dressing, auflaufs (a type of Austrian crepe) filled with raspberries and cherries, and a breakfast dish my kids call “diggity”: potatoes, onions, and peppers topped with eggs. Granted, I’m a classically trained chef with nearly three decades of experience; but seriously, none of the things I made require much more than a skillet, a knife, and an opposable thumb or two. My grandmother’s recipe for auflauf batter calls for “two forkfuls of flour, an egg, and enough milk.” She was admittedly a bit vague, but it really could not get much simpler.

In today’s world, it’s unrealistic to expect people to cook every single meal for themselves. Heck, I own a restaurant — I’d lose my livelihood if they did. But to sacrifice one’s respect for the creative process of cooking and the reverent act of eating in order to mistake frenzy for efficiency just seems downright sinful to me. Eating is important — more important than sex. Think not? When’s the last time you went a week without eating?

Chef Kurt’s Grandma’s Auflauf Recipe

Doing Granny proud.

Photo: Kurt Michael Friese

2 forkfuls of flour (seriously, that’s what she wrote, but it comes to about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 egg
“enough” milk (I’ll explain in a minute)

Heat a 10-inch skillet (non-stick, if you prefer) over medium-high heat and melt a teaspoon of butter in it. While the butter melts, crack the egg into a bowl, add the flour and beat. It’ll get thick and pasty. Mix in enough milk to get the consistency you like. Thinner batter makes a thinner, more delicate auflauf.

When the butter is melted, pour the batter into the pan and tilt side-to-side to spread the batter out thin. As bubbles begin to appear on the surface, the auflauf is ready to turn (usually 2-3 minutes). Flip it with a spatula, cook 1 minute longer, and remove to a plate to serve.

Auflaufs are fine plain, but are more interesting filled and rolled. Your favorite jam is always a good filling, or brown sugar, or orange liqueur. At the farmers market, I simply sautéed some sour cherries with raspberries and added a little honey. With a little imagination, the possibilities are legion.