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Cooking For One: Fed up with food gimmicks

Thursday, September 14, 2000

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Dennis Miller does it on HBO. Andy Rooney does it on "60 Minutes." Dr. Laura does it on radio. They rant. When they have a belly full of annoyances, they rant. Well, my current cup of professional annoyances runneth over, and I'm due for a rant myself.

Since caveman times, when the family got hungry, Moog hit the trail, conked some beast, dragged it to the dwelling and hoisted it over a logo-free charcoal grill to roast. Fetch, cook, eat. Simple enough. Do it again tomorrow, if you're lucky.

But now? Oh, please. It's hard to believe the current state of the food world. We have become so soft, so spoiled rotten and so dependent on so-called time-savers and gimmicks that a whole lot of us are just a big bunch of babies who need to be coddled to get us to eat.

Here are some of the latest bulletins from the food world.

For those who think sticking a knife into a jar of peanut butter is labor intensive, we have individually-wrapped slices -- SLICES -- of peanut butter.

Smucker's, which should know better, has come out with a line of frozen peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

To prevent us from expending precious energy draining oil from a can, StarKist has new vacuum-packed tuna pouches.

For the child in all of us, IncrEdibles microwavable macaroni and cheese comes wadded onto a stick swathed in a paper wrapper. The company also makes Good Humor-style push-up scrambled eggs on a stick.

Is Ums so busy-wizzy, so fussy-wussy, that Ums has to resort to bribery? It gets worse. "Fun Food" for the kiddies is manipulated so it's as full of thrills as a video game.

Soon we'll be able to buy Blastin' Green ketchup from Heinz, complete with dropped G, a spelling cue to consumers to make this abomination sound like fun. (With blue and yellow coloring added to the red of tomatoes, why didn't the ketchup turn charcoal gray?)

You want blue oatmeal? Add boiling water to Quaker Oats Sea Adventures and the cereal turns inky-blue. Should the breakfast eater be burdened with early morning ennui, he might scoop onto his spoon the occasional tiny colorful form of a shark, treasure chest or diver cast from sugary crystals.

Last spring, Nabisco test marketed Oreo Magic Dunker cookies, which when dunked in milk, turned the milk blue from a water-soluble dye.

Dannon makes yogurt with colored Pixie Dust sprinkles clinging to the lid that, when stirred around, tint the yogurt -- the green dust turns the yogurt blue, the yellow turns it pink, the red turns it yellow, and the blue turns it green. Go figure.

The experts say kids live in a Technicolor world, so why not make food colorful? A Mott's spokesperson was quoted as saying, "There's something about eating blue applesauce that appeals to kids."

Baloney. There's something about eating blue applesauce that makes me want to retch.

We all live in a Technicolor world. So what? Does everything, even Nature's own food, have to be tarted up into a cartoon?

It's not enough for brands to be identified anymore, either. Now grocery products invite dialogue. "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" shouts a carton from the cooler. "This Tastes Like Cream" purrs a cylinder nearby. Well, I have a few of my own chatty brand names for you. How about "I Don't Give a Damn" chocolate sauce? And how about "If God Didn't Want Me to Gain 20 Pounds, He Wouldn't Have Invented Cream Cheese"?

Food doesn't have to do something. Food doesn't have to be dumbed down. What kind of people are we becoming?

If these kinds of doofus products are as repugnant to you as they are to me, vote with your dollar bills. Spend your hard-earned money on good food, fresh food, pretty food -- but nothing that entertains you.

So how does this tirade affect you, Solo Cook? Lots of times you will be too tired or too busy to cook. But lots of times you will want to enjoy time spent in the kitchen when you have only yourself to please.

You might as well pamper yourself with steak, and savor it in your own good and unique company.

Here's an easy top-of-the-stove menu. Pan-grilled beef tenderloin fillet, sauteed new potatoes (peel, slice and saute in olive oil until golden brown) and sauteed cherry tomatoes (nick each one with a knife to prevent explosions, saute in olive oil until collapsed, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with chopped parsley).

For dessert, there's nothing quicker and more delicious than moist Macaroon Pillows (get these 2-inch-wide cookies in The Strip at La Prima Espresso's bake shop) and smother one, just one, with Hershey's chocolate sundae syrup.

Filet Mignon Balsamico

1 (1-inch-thick) piece of beef tenderloin
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and butcher-grind black pepper

Place the meat on a shallow plate. Pour a few teaspoons olive oil and drizzle a few drops of vinegar over the meat. Let the steak marinate about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Remove meat from marinade. Sprinkle salt on both sides. On one side only, press some butcher-grind black pepper.

Coat a grill pan lightly with olive oil. Heat it until very hot, and cook the fillet on both sides for about 3 to 4 minutes for medium rare.

When fillet is done, transfer to a plate and drizzle with a few drops of vinegar.

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