Cooking television programming is now devolving into reality television. It was bad enough to see actors, writing and production degenerate into whatever's clever (or cheaper in the case of actors). Now we are no longer expected to watch cooking programs in order to learn something; producers now assume that we are entertained by watching people sabotage each other's attempts to cook, or people that we have never heard of trying to outdo each other, or qualify for consideration for employment as chefs.
If you want to be a chef, be prepared to take anything from anybody in order to get from your diploma to your restaurant kitchen. That's the mantra, and we are supposed to watch the permutations of it day after day, with little or no differentiation between any cast members or celebrity chefs, who don't seem to mind what kind of stereotype they have decided to palm off on the public about what it is to be a chef.
The first step down was Iron Chef, in which some rich man from Japan set himself up as a kind of mentor/expert who was qualified to pass judgment on culinary excellence--with a distinct bias towards his own stable of chefs. The judges were also people I never heard of when I first watched it; later when new judges were introduced and sub-titles and translations were no longer necessary, I was not watching any more. Iron Chef was the seed-bed of cooking competitions which have now devolved into cupcake, sugar and doughnut contests. The only thing I can say about Iron Chef that is still operative is that at least the chefs were versatile whether they were Asian or Western. Now that is no longer necessary.
I also notice a continuing neglect of food safety, from Emeril Lagasse making snide remarks about "food police" when he washes his hands, to him using a kitchen torch to brown--not cook--a meringue made from raw egg whites. This isn't helpful for those who watch cooking television to learn about cooking--and I hope the audience can recognize a non-example when they see it. But at bottom we are still faced with the hard fact that there are some things we need to know about cooking and recipes. To that end I took a look at an article containing a list of things every cook ought to know how to prepare.. I also added to it, and I am going to share them all, one by one.
The first thing I will discuss is making a spaghetti dinner. Basically, if we want to prepare dinner, there are two ways to do it: the hard way and the easy way. By that I mean that there are quite a lot of products that can help you get things made, if you wish to get dinner on the table quickly. For example, there are prepared meatballs. Some of them are quite authentic, such as Mama Mancini's, and some are meat-free if you want to go vegetarian and Italian at the same time. This would be great on a Meatless Monday when you are having friends over. Look for these products at any Tucson supermarket, since the meat-free products are available just about anywhere nowadays.
You can also use ground beef or vegetarian shredded protein to make a meat sauce. But how do you do it? I mean, you can know what spaghetti sauce is but not know how to make it. And this is what some people think of as cooking: being able to take ingredients and make something out of them. This skill does not require a cookbook, but it does require cooking skills. Basic skills include how to make a sauce, how to brown meat before cooking, how to make a simple soup and so forth.
So the easy way to make a spaghetti dinner is to get a pint or a quart of good marinara sauce at the supermarket. You won't have any trouble finding it. Then you cook some pasta, following the package directions, and pour the heated sauce over it. This will make it as dinner, but you might want to go farther with preparation. In that case, here is how to do it.
RED MARINARA OR MEAT SAUCE
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes packed in juice
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
Beef broth, boxed or canned, at least 1 quart
1 pound ground beef or meat substitute, not frozen
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground pepper
Spaghetti or other pasta
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Before it is smoking, break the ground beef into the oil. Add the chopped onions and minced garlic and stir it until the meat is no longer pink.
Open the three cans of tomatoes and add them to the meat mixture. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer (bubbling a little around the edges). Taste it for seasoning but don't add anything yet.
Add 2 cups of the beef broth (or substitute vegetable broth) and taste the sauce again. It will be slightly more salty. At this point you can add 1 Tablespoon of Italian Seasoning to the sauce, and 1 teaspoon of ground pepper. If you are using a meat-substitute, add it now.
Lower the heat and allow the sauce to simmer on the stove top for as long as you can, at least 1 hour. It will become more flavorful as it cooks.
When you are ready to serve, remove the sauce from the heat. Put a quantity of water on the burner (measured for the amount of pasta you are cooking) and bring it to a rolling boil. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of olive oil on top of the water; this prevents boiling over.
Add the spaghetti noodles, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for the length of time specified by the manufacturer.
When ready to serve, drain the spaghetti into a colander that has been placed safely in the sink to allow the boiling water to drain away. Replace it in the pot it was cooked in. Stir in enough sauce to cover the spaghetti lightly, whether it has meat or not, and serve with more sauce on the side.
If you find spaghetti sauce overly acid in flavor, add 1 teaspoon of sugar to the pot. If you did not put in ground meat or substitute, you can also serve the warm meatballs on a serving platter to go with the spaghetti. If you would like to skip meat altogether, you can add mixed vegetables or chopped fresh vegetables for a Pasta Primavera; just allow time for them to cook in the sauce.
Spaghetti is commonly served with garlic bread and green salad. Come by tomorrow for a discussion of the joys of garlic.