These days, everyone is cooking—not so much for the sheer joy of it, but because, other than take-out, they are the chosen feeder of the family. Wish I had what it takes to bake bread. I had a grilled cheese sandwich the other day made with Ginny’s home-baked sourdough bread that was, without a doubt, the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten—I’d gladly stand in line and pay $6.00 for a loaf, but make my own, not so much. Pork shoulders are a no-show at the grocery shelves, chicken is scarce, eggs are expensive, and where is all the tahini? Celebrities are elbowing their way onto BuzzFeed, eager to share their latest home-grown kitchen culinary delight: rappers making lobster-laden grilled cheese sandwiches (not as good as Ginny’s, I’ll bet), Kristen Bell deep-frying Oreos in her air fryer, Ina Garten beaming with her waffles, Cindy Crawford tackling her grandmother’s brisket recipe.
Back in The 80s, the Sweetie and I watched Great Chefs of the World on PBS—some travel, some exotic scenery, always ending up in the kitchen of a world-class hotel restaurant, the camera focused on toque-wearing men making soufflé tarts, frenched lamb chops with demi-glace, ballottine of braised poultry, beef tournedos filled with foie gras, tall cakes frosted with Italian meringue, chanterelle-stuffed poussin with raspberry vinaigrette—astoundingly complicated dishes with no easy tips, shortcuts, or substitutions and not even a hint of “If I can do it, you can do it” baloney. We knew, that they knew, it was far beyond our skill level. There were no wry comments into the camera, no yelling, and little commentary.
I stopped watching cooking shows on television after the first season of Iron Chef America. “Let the battle begin!” marked the start of an hour that featured Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay or Mario Batali trying to out cook Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora, or Rick Bayless. How did this showcase of extraordinary culinary techniques, palates, creativity, and ingenuity become a parody starring “the sexiest chef in Asia” slinging hash with “the worst cook in America?” Or even worse, a two-year old with his own YouTube cooking show?
So, here’s my pitch for a new competitive cooking show: three contestants crowd into a small, dark corner, known as a hotel-room kitchen, to prepare dinner for two. They have one glass-top burner that stops at warm, a microwave with two settings, a stubby refrigerator that opens the wrong way, with vinegar, black pepper, and breakfast room bacon and eggs as the “surprise ingredients.”
Watch the fun, enjoy the mayhem, cheer for the cut-throat competition. See the tears as “Chef” number one is whacked in the face opening the microwave; share the hilarity as “Chef” number two struggles to dice an onion on a towel with a cheap, dull knife; laugh with delight as “Chef” number three spills his finished soup on the floor; thrill with the drama as “Chef” number two melts down, jabs number three with the cheap, dull knife, slips on the spilled soup, and is “fired” for taking an unauthorized rest break. “Good”, mutters number one, “More counter space for me.” Winner gets an eight-week stay in a hotel. Should be a winner.
Ina Garten’s Waffles
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
- 1 package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 cups lukewarm whole milk (90 to 100 degrees)
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the waffle iron
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Sliced bananas, toasted coconut, warm maple syrup, and crème fraîche, for serving
The night before, combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a very large bowl (the batter will expand enormously). Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves and the mixture has started to foam, which tells you the yeast is active. Stir in the milk, butter, honey, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit overnight at a cool room temperature.
The next morning, heat a Belgian waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions and brush the top and bottom with melted butter. Beat the eggs together with the baking soda and whisk them into the batter until combined. Pour just enough of the batter onto the hot waffle iron to cover the grids (⅓ to ½ cup each, depending on your waffle maker), close, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat, until the waffles are golden brown. Cut them apart with a small knife, if necessary, and remove them with a fork. Repeat the process until all the batter has been used. Serve the waffles hot with sliced bananas, toasted coconut, maple syrup, and crème fraîche and let everyone help themselves.