Cooking at home reclaims its appeal

For years, the restaurant industry has trended toward wholesome dining: locally sourced foods with rustic presentations. The effect is meant to comfort the diner through “organic” eating, a reminder of a simpler era of literal farm-to-table meals that most diners have probably not experienced.

And nothing gets much more wholesome, or comforting, than a true home-cooked meal.

Many recent events in the past year have welcomed the revival of the home cook: the dramatic makeover of Bon Appetit magazine, the Food Network’s ever-growing catalogue of cooking shows and the Food52 Cookbook — a published tome from the ultimate home-cooking blog.

Perhaps most indicative of this trend, ABC’s The Chew is a daytime talk show that began airing for those who prefer chef Mario Batali to talk-show host Nate Berkus.

Yes, Americans are spending a lot of time in their kitchens. And they’re doing so with the intention of making quality food.

For the college student, it’s never too early or late to get out the pots and pans. An evening of cooking is, if done properly, as rewarding as any restaurant meal.

But where to start? For students who do not often find themselves in the kitchen, it’s important to first overcome the intimidation that can come with the thought of cooking.

I would know; I was intimidated too, never wanting to go near a stove.

At 14 years old, I began my first foray into cookery with a brown sugar explosion in my microwave. Deterred by the frightening sound and the impossibility of cleaning up the sticky mess, I stayed away from cooking appliances for the next few years. When I finally returned, I did so with the intention of making everything “semi-homemade.”

Gripe all you want about Sandra Lee’s show Semi-Homemade Cooking, her lowbrow tastes, Stepford Wives appearance and her amusingly insulting Kwanzaa cake. The lady is onto something novel with her approach to everyday cooking.

Her use of some prepared, store-bought components along with fresh ingredients in a meal is a wonderful introduction to the world of cooking for those who might be new to it.

Available at most supermarkets and certainly online, flavored pasta is a great purchase. A chili-flavored linguine pairs well with shrimp. A green-olive-flavored version will do wonders with spinach-and-feta chicken sausage, as it did on a recent weekday night at my apartment. This pasta is a pantry item that’s simple to cook and will do half of the work for you with its flavor.

If inspiration and time are of the essence, purchase prepared side dishes. Whole Foods Market currently features a spicy eggplant dish that would be excellent with a quickly seared chop of meat.

Another tip: Invest in one great spice you know you will use time and time again. Smoked paprika, a type of chili powder available at most specialty food stores, is a personal favorite. I discovered it while making paella, a famous Spanish rice dish, but it can instantly transform meat, fish or grain with an earthy heat worthy of a Southern barbecue.

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to re-examine the pantry, and a complex spice is the right way to start restocking.

Still don’t think getting into the kitchen is worth it?

I made dinner for my roommates the other night — pork chops, braised in cider vinegar, with cabbage, carrots and fingerling potatoes.

They returned the favor by cleaning the entire apartment.

That’s motivation enough to tie on an apron.


 Bernard Leed is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His columns “Amuse-Bouche“ runs Wednesdays.