For years, I have religiously made my own stock, feeling virtuous and akin to the Good Foodies I revere. Then, one day I realized that I could not tell the difference between a store-bought packaged broth and one I had coddled and steamed in a crockpot for 10 hours. Don’t tell my editor, but this was a revelation. Why suffer unnecessarily? And hey, most of my dinner guests are so grateful that I finally get something on the table that they don’t give a hoot either.
Purists will howl. I am A Bad Foodie. Will food fanatics chase after me brandishing pitchforks of marinated papaya? But this is my stance. These days, if I want to eat, it has to be easy.
Years ago at a dinner party I had ill-advisedly hosted for the city’s major foodies, I pulled out a bottle of store-made salad dressing. The look of horror and disgust on the face of a woman I admire greatly nearly did me in. She quickly instructed me on how to make a dressing from scratch, which, to me, sounded awful. Luckily, I never have blue cheese or squid in the fridge, or she may have forced me to use it. I am just saying: if I am going to put dressing on a salad, it’s going to come out of a bottle or it’s not going to happen. Otherwise we won’t eat until midnight or later while I dither around anguishing over the dressing. (My only concession is a jar of marinated artichokes which can really jazz up an otherwise uninteresting salad.)
I take shortcuts all the time. Shhhh. Like the Hungarian cabbage noodles (Kaposztas Kocka) I made last weekend, only I didn’t stand in the kitchen for hours grating cabbage and then scrubbing the counters and floor. I cheated and used packaged coleslaw. It wasn’t the same as my mother’s but as long as I added sugar, it was close. Ditto the cold cherry soup (Meggy Leves) beloved by Hungarians, which I attempt every few years. Who is going to complain that I weasel my way around the recipe when they are busy being awed by the fact that anybody would serve cold cherry soup? They don’t utter a peep. Just a little whimper of joy. (Or maybe temerity.)
To clarify, I am not a total food philistine. I have spent years slaving over dinners from scratch. I have fussed over arcane menus, colour codes, artistic presentation, napkin folding (not in my skill set) and have even dyed entire meals to match the holiday or the season (pink potatoes for Valentine’s Day!). Sadly, these efforts have not always been met with praise or appreciation. I don’t think these dinners were awful, I just think the art of the compliment is fading. I remind myself that the ultimate reward is the satisfaction of serving a dinner to loved ones or valued friends.
But now, I am OVER! DONE! No more! Throwing down the gauntlet! Until somebody emerges from the closet or pantry and tells me it has all been worthwhile, slaving over a five-course dinner is not happening! Fear not, I am not going to throw KD or KFC on the plate either. Instead …..KS (aka Kupecek Surprise). So there.
Linda Kupecek is a best selling Canadian author who also co-wrote The Enchanted Christmas Cake, a Lifetime/CITY TV holiday movie which aired December 2021.