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Wadda Ya Think?

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HistoricFoodie View Drop Down
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    Posted: 23 August 2017 at 09:59
I’m sure you’ve heard that comment, originally credited to Jacques Pepin. “There are more people watching cooking shows, but fewer people actually cooking.” Or some variant of it. That’s gotten to be a buzz phrase among foodies and celebrity cooks.

But is it true? I’ve come to question it. Not the part about watching cooking shows and videos. There’s no question that doing so has become an American pastime. Nor is there any doubt that such shows have upped our knowledge of, and interest in, good food. Any restaurateur will confirm that his or her guests are more knowledgeable than ever before about what’s being served to them.

I work in the hospitality industry, running the night desk in a major brand hotel. I speak to dozens of people every week, and cooking is just one of the subjects we discuss. From where I sit, there are more people actually cooking today than ever before. Sure, they watch the shows for entertainment. But also for inspiration, and to learn new techniques, and to just pick up recipes.

Don’t get me wrong. Without doubt, the number one dish being eaten in America today is called “take out.” But alongside that is a growing number of people who cook at least one meal a week at home. For many of them, they cook most meals. Interestingly, a fairly large percentage of these people grew up as part of the population that uses “cooking” and “microwaving” as synonyms. For various reasons, not the least of which is the diversity of cooking shows they watch, they’ve grown away from that, and are doing real cooking.

Could it be that my view is skewed? It’s possible that the folks who stay at my hotel represent a disproportionate sample. But I don’t think so.

Contributing to my view are the number of companies now offering do-it-yourself meals. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads. They ship you a box that contains all the ingredients needed to cook a dish; or, sometimes, even a whole meal. There are at least four such companies. And what they supply doesn’t come cheap.

Without researching it, I don’t know for sure. But I suspect there are, primarily, two groups these companies appeal to.

First, there are those who, as members of the microwave generation, lack the basic skills to plan and prepare a meal truly from scratch. They want to cook at home, but lack the necessary skills and confidence. A box with all the ingredients, and step-by-step ingredients, lets them get started on the way to becoming cooks.

Second (with, I’m sure, some overlap) are people whose lives are just too hectic. They’re busy with their careers, or with hauling the kids to soccer practice. But they still want to provide their families with home-cooked meals. These boxes cut down the time and effort needed to get that sort of meal on the table.

Yet another indicator is the volume of cooking blogs. Certainly, some of the millions (yes, millions) of people who view them are the same people watching cooking shows for entertainment. Still and all, given the number of hits these bloggers receive every day, I have to believe a sizeable number of those viewers are cooking at home.

Despite all this, it’s quite possible I’m wrong. Pepin et als might be right on the money. So, I’m wondering, what the rest of you think? Are you seeing a greater number of people cooking at home? Or am I just seeing the world the way I want it to be?
But we hae meat and we can eat
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 August 2017 at 10:16
On one hand, I am definitely seeing it, and I do believe that a lot of it is driven by the cooking shows raising awareness. The boxes are indeed a natural extension of them, as well as the world we live in today.

But it seems to me that the knowledge of basic methods - or even the projects that they take on - is rather shallow. This could be my own bias creeping in, as I hardly ever take on a project without diving really deeply into it and learning all that I can. Sometimes, I would probably do just as well to grab a pan (or bowl, or mixer etc.) and just do it.

I guess it is like a lot of things - if it is getting them into it, that's good - I would hope that those who truly have a love or talent for it, eventually step away from them and start learning on their own. As you say, the shows are good for inspiration, and the boxes can be useful in the same way - as a "gateway" to learning more and "better" things as people find their niche.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 August 2017 at 10:59
Honestly, I think asking here is going to get a skewed result, but will entail a good conversation none the less. the people here tend to be foodies and cooks and quite possibly their circle of friends / acquaintances will be into the same types of things as well, leading to a biases reaction.

Personally, I'm not sure. I can definitely see your points here, and from my own experience I think the wealth of cooking knowledge being presented can lead people to want to try something new. Take for example, my wife. Her previous husband beat into her head that she couldn't cook and her food tasted like crap, yet she was still the one in the house that did cook as he wouldn't except rarely. Consequently when we got together she hated cooking and would rarely do it. Still to this day I do 90% of the cooking. However, with all the cooking shows that I watch and the recipes being shared on facebook, etc. she will often point out a recipe to me and say something along the lines of "I want to try that"  and she will. Often with great result. Now, I have no idea if the result is good because of the type of knowledge that's available now, or because she really is a good cook to begin with and her ex is just a POS (oops, my bias just slipped out! lol) or what.

This is much the same with her daughter, who is now 21 and out on her own. She often finds new things to try on the interwebs and tries them out. Very little of it I would consider "microwave cooking". And most of it is very good too. Now, whether or not I can attribute that to the cooking culture that's prevalent today, or the fact that her grandmother was a cook and shared a lot of her knowledge and passion for cooking with her during the few years when they lived together, I don't know.

Most of my stories would be something similar to the above, but on the flip side I do have some friends that either eat out, or eat "tv dinners" or the like all the time. I don't really see them changing their ways much.

What I suppose I see the most is those friends/family that are disposed to cooking already are expanding their cooking repertoire using the knowledge gained from cooking shows and blogs, rather than just sticking to the same old recipes handed down through generations.

As to the boxed meals, I can definitely see the appeal of them, on both fronts that you mention. Those that need a little helping had in planning and cooking, and those that need the extra time savings.  Personally i fall into the second group, and would consider trying one of the services if they weren't so expensive. Not having to plan a weeks worth of grocery shopping and meals ahead of time, and/or stopping at the grocery store every day would definitely be a plus for me. However even if the cost were discounted, I'm not sure that it would be a good fit for my picky family.

anyway, now that I've thoroughly side-tracked your thread, what was the question again? :)
Mike
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 August 2017 at 20:25
Mike, I don't think you've side-tracked it. Rather, it addresses the very point.

Ron, you're dead on with your comment about basic methods. But that, too, is part of the syndrome. We're now in the third generation that uses "cooking" and "microwaving" as synonyms. In other words, while the desire to cook is there, the basic skills are not, because they weren't learned at their mothers' knees.

One downside to the TV shows, and blogs, and U-Tube videos is that, by and large, they teach viewers how to make a specific recipe. Rarely are they shown how to achieve goals through techniques.

That, too, is why my own classes are directed towards technique. Rather than teaching my students how to, say, make a particular pan-fried chicken dish, I teach them about pan frying. That way they can make hundreds of dishes.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 August 2017 at 08:45
Mike - danged good stuff there. I agree with Brook...not side-tracking at all. (and if it is, so what? that's what discussion forums are for! )

Brook -

>>>Rather than teaching my students how to, say, make a particular pan-fried chicken dish, I teach them about pan frying. That way they can make hundreds of dishes.<<<

I see this so much on various media; folks are so focused on the recipe that they don't notice the method, and therefore miss the forest because of the trees, in my opinion. See my "Cucumber Kimchee" post in the Korean forum. The friend who shared the "recipe" with me said that it is more of a method than a recipe, and I was impressed. Not too many get the difference these days, for many of the reasons we've been discussing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 August 2017 at 09:34
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

One downside to the TV shows, and blogs, and U-Tube videos is that, by and large, they teach viewers how to make a specific recipe. Rarely are they shown how to achieve goals through techniques.


I definitely notice this effect. Judging by the comments on many blogs it seems that people are definitely afraid to "step outside" the recipe and try even something as simple as different spices on the same recipe. It has to be by the book for a lot of people, which is really too bad. If they were to realize that they're learning a technique instead of a "recipe" they could apply that technique to so many different things.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 August 2017 at 11:13
Absolutely right, Mike.

Problem is, without somebody right by their side to teach them that there is no box, and without the necessary gestalt, they are fearful of making mistakes, so slavishly follow the recipe.

Is there a solution? Probably not a universal one. But, what comes close, is Julia great advice: "Don't be afraid! You can always eat your mistakes."

Contributing to the lack of confidence: Many bloggers and editors for the recipe dump sites are neither recipe writers nor editors. So numerous mistakes creep in. For an experienced cook, that's not such a big problem, because we can, usually, spot the errors, and correct for them. But for newbies, who already lack self-confidence, this is a real bug-a-boo. When the recipe doesn't turn out right, they blame themselves.

A shame!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 August 2017 at 08:39
Maybe it's just lack of sleep, but I got to thinking that a drawback of the box, is that it might keep people..."in the box."

What I mean is, the planning, shopping, ingredients, ideas and everything else are already done for a person. There's not much room for imagination, and not much incentive to think beyond the kit.

On the other hand, if it sparks an interest that leads to further learning, it could be good. Still - to me - there's no real substitute to having a spark ignited by chance - reading about it in a book, seeing it on a travel show...something like that - and having that spark grow into a real, in-depth dive into a whole new world.

Okay - coffee's ready - maybe I can think more clearly after that.

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Ah the box services.  I have a bit of experience with one of these so thought I'd chime in.

I used one of these recipe/ingredient shipping services for a couple of months this past Spring.  March and April I think.  When researching these companies, and there are a lot more than four, reviewers all seemed to fall into one of four categories.  Those who loved it, those who hated it, those who could not put them together in a reasonable amount of time and those who did not own enough simple kitchen equipment to pull the recipes off.  Invariably the last three groups did not know how to cook.  Folks these days seem to think everything should be automatic with as little personal participation as necessary.

I really liked the service I joined for several reasons.  The ingredients were high quality and fresh.  Some ingredients were unavailable in my area.  Spices and seasonings were top notch and some I had never played with before.  Shopping for some of these ingredients would be cost prohibitive as I would have to  purchase much more than required for a specific dish and maybe never use it again. 

The dishes were all top notch chef quality creations.  Excellent stuff and I was never let down so the the cost of these meals was relative.  They averaged $11.00/plate or about the same as the cost of a double Mcbaconwopper burger with fries and sugar water would cost.  And without trips to potentially several markets to gather ingredients.

A few examples:

Ramen Bowl with gingered amaranth greens, watermelon radish and brown rice noodles in a tamari and coconut miso broth


Crispy Turnip Cakes with quinoa tabbouleh, zaatar yogurt, red peppers and kumquats


White Lentil Rissotto with meyer lemon and cashew gremolata


Saffron Paella with walnut chorizo, tomatoes, peppers, brown basmati rice,artichokes and fresh fava beans


Pretty nice stuff for weeknight meals.

The reviews that disliked these services were almost always related to the amount of time required to produce these meals.  They are advertised as taking 30 to 45 minutes at most to prepare.  Well, 30 to 45 minutes perhaps if you know what you are doing and are really going for it would be a more accurate description.  There were times when I found myself getting ingredients ready to fry via food processor while things were baking in the oven and stuff was boiling on the stove top.  Not many novices can multi task like that.  Not to mention the amount of dishes dirtied during the prep and cooking process.

For a novice, these meals are a trial by fire in the art of many and varied kitchen techniques.  Don't know how to cook?  Can't boil water?  Wanna learn fast?  Order one of these services and you will be exposed to all sorts of methods and techniques.  You will either learn a lot and learn it fast or quit.

For me, I dropped the service for reasons of tiredness.  As I said earlier, the ingredients are fresh and there is enough to make 6 meals (2 meals for each of 3 recipes).  Box arrives on Tuesday so I had 3, maybe 4 nights to cook them.  Some day I come home from work so exhausted the idea of running in the kitchen afterwards is not a good one and I began to slip.  I threw more than one dinner's ingredients out as I watched it go South in the fridge.  When the fun disappears and cooking becomes a chore it's time for a break so I now order these boxes occasionally. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 August 2017 at 09:36
Awesome - it's good to see some feedback from you, gMan, since you've actually tried these.

They look great, and a lot of the benefits that you mention are pretty good, too. But, I can easily see the same thing happening to me: I'd get behind due to our work schedules etc., and eventually drop out, because of that.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 August 2017 at 04:38
Invariably the last three groups did not know how to cook. Folks these days seem to think everything should be automatic with as little personal participation as necessary.

Kind of ironic, Graco, considering that these are, in many cases, marketed specifically to people who do not otherwise cook. The overall message being, "you can prepare a home cooked meal, even with no skills, cuz we've done the heavy lifting for you."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 August 2017 at 04:51
There's not much room for imagination, and not much incentive to think beyond the kit.

I'm not sure I fully agree with this, Ron. Remember, the same folks who buy these kits are likely to be also watching cooking shows, and being influenced by them. So, after making it once fully in the box, a certain percentage are sure to say, "Hey! That worked out. But I wonder what would happen if I.....?" And that puts them on the road to becoming cooks.

Sometimes, too, we extrapolate too far from our own experiences. Judging from the many recipe dump sites on the web, and comments made on blogs, there are an awful lot of home cooks who make most of their meals, but who do not vary from a printed recipe.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 August 2017 at 11:26
I tried this service as a perceived time saver and a means to try out a few dishes I would not have tried otherwise.  Get me out of the grocery store?  I'm in.  Your point is well taken but I think the advertising pushes the envelope when it comes to ease of preparation.  I see nothing easy with the meals that show at my doorstep.  But, and its a big but, they are awesome dishes.  Truly excellent.

I am surprised at the complexity of some recipes. Of the three meals each week, one would be simple but the other two complex.  Sometimes the included recipes were incomplete and I had to extrapolate.  Luckily I was able to do that but I could see where some would have problems.

Spice blends are kept secret and usually labeled as spice blends.  This would make any home replication different but I don't see that as a bad thing.

I also received 2 shipments with missing components.  One had what looked to me like a hand made rip in the insulated bag.  This shipment was missing an entire meal.  The company refunded my money both times but it gave me pause.  The shipments are likely packed by minimum wage folks who possibly grab what they can just before packing.  This was the other reason I quit the service.  Just who is handling my food before it it packed? 

I see these services cropping up everywhere.  There must be a huge untapped market for this type of thing.  There must be dozens of them at this point.  Each catering to a specific niche.

I generally try and follow new recipe instructions to the letter first time out and then change it up to suit my own personal tastes the next time if I feel it is a keeper.  This is not always possible when changing techniques out of the starting gate.  My preferred method of cookery is over fire and that alone sometimes requires a bit of playtime to make it happen.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 August 2017 at 12:17
Originally posted by gracoman gracoman wrote:



I see these services cropping up everywhere.  There must be a huge untapped market for this type of thing.  There must be dozens of them at this point.  Each catering to a specific niche.



I just came across this one today...

https://www.burgabox.com/

$65 for a kit to make 2 burgers, some fries and mac-n-cheese side? c'mon, I think we're going a little too far now. I mean, really who doesn't know how to make a burger?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gracoman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 September 2017 at 10:41
Originally posted by pitrow pitrow wrote:


I just came across this one today...

https://www.burgabox.com/

$65 for a kit to make 2 burgers, some fries and mac-n-cheese side? c'mon, I think we're going a little too far now. I mean, really who doesn't know how to make a burger?
Wow!  I've got a bridge for sale if anyone is interested LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 October 2017 at 06:38
Interesting coincidence. When Friend Wife went shopping the other day, Kroger was giving away its version of these products. Seems a bunch of them were approaching the use-by date, and, rather than throw them out, Kroger decided to use them as an introductory deal.

Friend Wife choose the Vietnamese-Inspired Spicy Lemongrass Pork with Coconut Rice & Cabbage Salad, which she prepared last night.

Overall, I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. Kroger is one of two distributors of the Prep + Pared brand, and those folks did a good job. Instructions are clear and understandable. And all the ingredients come individually packaged and ready to go.

What’s more, they include an ingredients list, with amounts, just as if you were making the dish from scratch. Not that that mattered in this case. This is not the sort of dish Friend Wife would ever attempt on her own. So, score one for the concept. She’s now prepared her first Vietnamese style meal. Which, as it turns out, came out very tasty.

On the downside, they would be better served just calling it South Asian style. Calling it Vietnamese is a stretch. In fact, it’s closer to Thai than Vietnamese. For example, the Vietnamese put Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) on almost everything. Yet, it is not part of this dish. Missing, too, is cilantro, which would be integral to both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.

This would only matter to purists, or course. And that’s not who the product is directed at. So it’s a minor point. A more major problem is the cost. This meal, which is designed to produce two servings, normally would sell for $18. To me, that’s a little pricey, as I could buy that same meal at a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant for less, and not have to put in my own labor.

This cost factor looms even higher when you look at ingredient amounts. Against only 10 ounces of pork are 3 cups of cooked rice, and 2 cups of what they call Slaw Blend (red and green cabbage and shredded carrots). In other words, the meal is bulked up with inexpensive ingredients. I know that in SE Asian cuisines proteins are often used more as flavoring ingredients than as main components. But this one takes that concept too far.

On the other hand, for somebody who hasn’t cooked SE Asian before, trying this from scratch could become costly because they might not have basic ingredients as staples. If you have to buy a whole bottle of sweet chili sauce or a jar of hoisin just for the quarter cup each you’d need, that drives the meal cost way up. For them, or for folks whose knife skills aren’t up to the prep work required in most Asian cookery, going with the meal in a box might make sense, despite the price tag.

With this brand, too, prep time is pretty close to the mark. Friend Wife wasn't watching the clock, but, in hindsight, 20 minutes---which what the company claims---she says, seems just about right.

So, basically, while I can see these meals (well, this one anyway) making sense in some cases, I think the price points are too high for anyone with a well-stocked kitchen and basic knowledge of cooking techniques.

FWIW, other meals in the Prep + Pared line are:
Stuffed Poblano Peppers       $14
Chicken Enchilada Rojas          $16
Cuban-Style Mojo Pork          $16
Athena’s Lemon Chicken Sauté     $18
Chimichurri Steak          $16
Paprika Crusted Salmon          $20
Crispy Fish Tacos          $20

That last, btw, truly proves my point about cost. I mean, really? Tacos for two for 20 bucks? When the fish is cod? I don't think so.
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