The Real Cooking Quandry

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The Real Cooking Quandry

Decades before Julia Child tried her hand at making boeuf bourguignon as captivated and salivating television audiences watched, cooking shows were independently produced and starred field-trained amateur chefs flitting around steamy kitchens, strategically avoiding counter corners and owning their self-honed domestic talents on public broadcasting stations across the country.

Florence P. Hanford, host of Philadelphia's "Television Kitchen" in 1949, qualifies as one pioneer of what CUNY Professor Kathleen Collins called the "early period" of television cooking programs in her article for the online journal Flow. According to the obituary journalist Stephen Miller wrote for Hanford in the Wall Street Journal after her death in 2008, "Television Kitchen" ran for 20 years and saw its 1,000th episode, a milestone that most modern cooking shows will never reach. While I have no doubt that Hanford and Child each met with slippery pressure under extra buttery circumstances every time they faced camera crews and studio audiences and attempted to cook meals that could've easily turned out to be only memorably edible, they were probably unfamiliar with many of the bizarre hurdles modern cooking show contestants must clear to achieve some combination of restaurant-quality meal or investment-quality check.

Since the birth of Collins's early period, it seems that cooking shows have split into two subgenres: in the first, cooking is a conservatively paced art form, and in the second, a sweaty "Double Dare"-esque feat that must be accomplished in under 20 minutes for the amusement of stimulation-seeking viewers who may or may not be chowing down on boxed macaroni and cheese as they watch.

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For the average family's go-to amateur chef, who is quite possibly a working parent in charge of producing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for his or her hungry spouse and children, the cooking experience lies somewhere in the middle. The kitchen clock is constantly narrowing that crucial space between bus stop pickup and bedtime, and the only available ingredients seem mismatched on the cosmic level, but there will always come that tiny moment when the sweetness of a meal-well-done stops by and kisses the cook for meeting the daily challenge of warming so many bellies so quickly. There aren't any judges and the cash prize is nil, but the reward is as potent as dried oregano.

My mother was (and still is, during the feasting holidays) one such chef. She worked full-time and raised seven children in a two-bedroom apartment, which is still a more typical New York City experience than you'd guess. One of her favorite recipes, spaghetti carbonara, includes several pantry and fridge basics and can satisfy a hungry brood in less than half-an-hour. The recipe is as follows and will serve you well, should you again find yourself in the usual spot between Hanford's "Television Kitchen" and "Cook a 30-Second Roast in a Thermos or Be Eaten by Jaguars!"

Barbara's Spaghetti Carbonara (serves 4-6 hungry people)

  • 6 quarts water
  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced bacon
  • 1/2 cup diced deli ham (substitute prosciutto if desired)
  • 3 well-beaten eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Lucatelli cheese
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring the water to a rapid boil and add dry spaghetti. Boil for approximately 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the sweet butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add ham and bacon and sauté. Once the bacon is crisp, remove the skillet from heat. As the meat is cooking, add the cheeses to the beaten eggs and stir gently until mixed. Just before draining the pasta, which should be placed in a large bowl, add the egg and cheese mixture to the skillet and stir quickly for no longer than 30 seconds. Pour the warm mixture over the just-drained spaghetti, add pepper, and toss until noodles are coated. The heat from the spaghetti will cook the egg mixture. Bon appétit!

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