Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Foodie Blues

I'm a terrible cook, primarily because I have no patience for the activity, and derive no enjoyment from it, even on those rare occasions when I luck unto something that actually winds up tasting good. This provides a positive disincentive to spend more time in the kitchen, so I remain a terrible cook. But I've always had this nagging feeling that I should learn to cook, if for no other reason than it's healthier to make things yourself, using fresh ingredients. It's a lot easier to cut back on the chemical preservatives and salt that way.

And it's also cheaper. While it's obvious that making food yourself is cheaper than having someone else make it for you, I'd never really stopped to consider how much cheaper. But it turns out that the rule of thumb is that a restaurant shouldn't spend any more than 32% of the menu price of a meal on the actual raw materials that go into making it. Somehow, knowing that makes some places that seemed to be just a little overpriced before now seem like sheer highway robbery. But it also helps quantify the cost-benefit analysis of learning to be kitchen-competent. (It also makes your really wonder just what's in some of these ultra-cheap pizza deals you see on television.)

With the price of food rising, restaurants that don't want to visibly increase their prices have come up with some remarkable ways of hiding the fact that they've trimmed the amount of food that patrons get for their money. Using smaller plates, or using cooking techniques that make the food appear larger seems to be a no-brainer, but it would never have occurred to me to buy lighter tableware so that the food feels heavier. Which I suppose adds another incentive to cooking at home - a marked reduction in gamesmanship.


ben said...

I love to cook and, like a little Rachel Ray sans-tits, I can show you how easy it is. Pick your dish, invite me over, and I show you how. :)

But - I have to disagree - for a single or a double I've found it cheaper to eat out at teriyaki (pick your ethinic group) type joints. Cooking for 1-2 involves buying a lot of thing that only come in 10-20 people sizes. This means eating the same thing for a week or wasting a ton of money. Example - try making pizza sometime.

Also - from my 10+ years in restaurants... the food markup is generally pretty small. They make their money on the booze.

Drew Kime said...

Actually, I'm working on doing some of the gamesmanship to myself. The thing about using smaller plates really does work, so I'm getting smaller ones for home. I'll admit that I sometimes want to eat half a cow, but really, six ounces is plenty of filet for a normal human.

As for the food that only comes in 10-20 people sizes, don't buy it. Meat and vegetables always come in whatever size you want to buy. You can get a single steak or chop at the butcher, one head of lettuce, one tomato, one onion, etc.

And when you cook real food from scratch, you don't need to eat as much. Processed food is designed to be bland and unstaisfying so you'll buy more of it.

How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

ben said...


I still disagree. Your pizza recipe is a good example. You've got enough sauce for 4-6 pizzas. Where did you buy cheese for just one pizza? Making dough for just one pizza is tricky at best. You can't buy 10 slices of pepperoni anywhere I've ever shopped. When you're done - you're going to be at or above the cost of even fancy gourmet take-out pizza not including your labor.

Not that that stops me from making pizza a few times a week... I just have tons of left overs. But - if you don't really enjoy making it - it's kind of stupid not to just get take out.

Drew Kime said...

Then you're not shopping at the right places. :-) The cheese and pepperoni both came from Alesci's, the local Italian market. And yes, I bought exactly enough for one pizza. I also bought the crusts there, two to a pack, and put the second in the freezer.

You're right about how much sauce there was, but I know I'm going to use it. And if I don't, I can freeze it in one-meal portions.

If I'm just thinking about cost and time, there's a place I can stop on the way home from work to get a large read-made for $5.99. So no, it's not all that much cheaper to do it myself. But it's better, and more fun.