Food Without the Wrapper

Too many people in this country, I have learned, have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked. Flim-flammed. Conned. Hussled. Bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from a freezer in the nearest Wal-Mart and that cooking is a chore, like laundry or washing windows, to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when absolutely necessary.

I understand that there are those who just plain don’t like to cook, and that’s fine. What I think is unfortunate is when folks think that it is too expensive, in terms of time or money or both, and have therefore forgotten anything they were ever taught about how to cook, if they were taught anything at all. Those of us who learned by their grandmother’s apron strings are becoming a rare breed.

If the turnout at my cooking demo at the downtown Iowa City farmers market one Saturday is any indication, however, there are still plenty of people who want to get back into the kitchen. I’m hoping the economic situation is not the only reason for it, but it is a good one. While proving that cooking is easy and fun, my wife Kim and I also managed to disprove the notions that it’s too time consuming to cook and that it’s too expensive to shop at the farmers market.

The King and the Clown would both have you believe that it is better to zip by the drive-thru (See? They even shorten the word “through.” Damn they’re quick!) than to prepare a healthful delicious meal at home. They’ve used pusher-like techniques on us since we were children so that as adults we’d think it’s normal to fuel our bodies in the same fashion as our cars. Yet in 45 minutes at the market, I was able to demonstrate four different dishes and sample them out to all 50 people for less than $30.

I made a summer ratatouille, a chopped salad that made its own dressing, auflaufs (a type of Austrian crepe) filled with raspberries and cherries, and a breakfast dish my kids call “diggity” of potatoes, onions and peppers, topped with eggs. Now granted it’s true that I am a classically trained chef with nearly three decades of experience, but seriously, none of the things I made require much more than a skillet, a knife, and an opposable thumb. My grandmother’s recipe for auflauf batter calls for “2 forkfulls of flour, an egg, and enough milk.” She was admittedly a bit vague, but it really could not get much simpler.

In today’s world it is unrealistic to expect people to cook every single meal for themselves. Heck, I own a restaurant – I’d lose my livelihood if they did. But to sacrifice one’s respect for the creative process of cooking and the reverent act of eating in order to mistake frenzy for efficiency just seems downright sinful to me. Eating is important. It’s more important than sex. Think not? When’s the last time you went a week without eating?

Chef Kurt’s Grandma’s Auflauf Recipe

  • 2 forkfulls of flour (seriously, that’s what she wrote, but it comes to about 2.5 T)
  • 1 egg
  • “enough” milk (I’ll explain in a minute)

Heat a 10-inch skillet (non-stick, if you prefer) over medium-high heat and melt a teaspoon of butter in it. While the butter melts, crack the egg into a bowl, add the flour and beat. It’ll get thick and pasty. Mix in enough milk to get the consistency you like. Thinner batter makes a thinner, more delicate auflauf.

When the butter is melted, pour the batter into the pan and tilt side-to-side to spread the batter out thin. As bubbles begin to appear on the surface, the auflauf is ready to turn (usually 2-3 minutes). Flip it with a spatula, cook 1 minute further, and remove to a plate to serve.

Auflaufs are fine plain, but are more interesting filled and rolled. Your favorite jam is always a good filling, or brown sugar, or orange liqueur. At the farmers market, I simply sautéed some sour cherries with raspberries and added a little honey. With a little imagination the possibilities are legion.

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