Don't Listen To The Snobs: Cook With Cheap WineS Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to albertburneko@gmail.com with the subject "Feedbag." All of them.

James:

What's a reasonable standard for cooking wine? I've always heard, "don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink," but my girlfriend tends to think that's a waste,

It is.

and I think maybe she has a point.

Listen to the woman.

I'm not going to cook with anything that smells terrible, but once it hits the stovetop, is there really much difference between a $6 bottle of mass-produced fermented grape juice vs something with notes of floral and oak?

No, there is not. Look, please take a minute to appreciate the torrent of wine-snob-dipshit and culinary-school-fartbag abuse I'm unleashing upon myself by saying this, because holy shit I am about to get stabbed in the neck with a broken-off bottle of Château Cheval Blanc, and then I will be dead. The whole "cook with what you drink" thing is bullshit. Complete and total bullshit. Not only because wine tasting itself is bullshit, but because, when you have combined it with other vividly flavorful stuff and cooked it for more than a few minutes, wine is wine is wine is wine, and the only difference between a $50 bottle and a $9 jug with a handle on it is how fucking stupid you feel about having used 50 bucks' worth of wine to braise 10 bucks' worth of cow ass.

James, there's a perfectly understandable reason why puckered wino scum tell you that you have to cook with what you drink, and that you have to drink expensive shit in the first place, and it's that they want their own desperate, wasteful elitism reflected back at them so they can preserve for themselves the ludicrous fantasy that it isn't stupid. Don't fall for that shit. No matter how many TV chefs or wine dorks or predatory wine retailers tell you otherwise, cook with the cheapest not-totally-horrible wine you can get. Even if it comes in a jug.

But not if it comes in a can. Have some dignity, for chrissakes.

Jason:

My girlfriend and I are vacationing with a vegetarian couple in a few weeks and need your help. We have vacationed with these veggies the last two years. We always alternate which couple makes dinner each night. The problem is, that when my girlfriend and I make dinner we ALWAYS make them a vegetarian option out of respect for their preference. And, really, what choice do we have? However, they NEVER make a meat option. I understand that their preference is weighted more heavily than ours, but this is bullshit right? Note, the other guy in the couple is a professional cook at a non-vegetarian restaurant. Any advice for increasing my vacation meat?

Jason, it might help for you to step back and try to look at this from the vegetarian couple's perspective. They're vegetarians, I'm assuming, because they have an ethical complaint with the slaughter of animals for food. (That's not for you to judge or gripe about, by the way, since, outside of the one week or however long each year that their admirable concern for the plight of food animals deprives you of a couple of meals' worth of meat, it's not doing you or anybody else any harm or inconvenience whatsoever.) Dude is forced (there really aren't that many chef jobs, unless he's friggin' Mario Batali or some shit, and there's a much tinier number of vegetarian restaurant jobs) to spend his entire working life handling disembodied hunks of dead animals; when he finally gets a vacation, it seems reasonable that he'd also want it to be a vacation from that, right? So maybe you can understand why he's not so eager to spend his vacation cooking Bambi and Wilbur for his friends, yes?

Yes. You can understand that. You don't expect your mortician friend to spend his vacation dealing with all the dead bodies in your cellar, do you? Of course not, because you're not a dick. Are you a meat-eater? Sure. Are you a murderer? Of course. Are you wearing a diaper? Undoubtedly. But you're not a dick.

So, here's a few ways you can deal with your dilemma, such as it is:

  • 1) The first night Veggie McNoKill is scheduled to prepare dinner, you can ask him whether he minds if you sock a steak onto the grill next to his tofu kebabs or whatever. This will be mildly rude, since the polite thing to do is to gladly and gratefully eat the food people make for you and tell them how delicious it is, but it probably won't break your friendship in any kind of permanent way unless your friendship was a lie—a damned dirty lie, it's all goddamn lies!—to begin with.
  • 2) You can sneak some friggin' beef jerky into your luggage, and gnaw on it in the dark after everybody has gone to bed like some kind of psycho. This will be less rude than the above option; whether that's negated by how objectively weird and kind of creepy it is is a valuation you'll have to make for yourself. You goddamn lunatic.
  • 3) You can appreciate that you have a professional goddamn chef cooking you free fucking meals, and that those meals are likely to be goddamn delicious whether they have meat in them or not, because the person cooking them is a professional chef, and you can get over your fixation on meat for long enough to enjoy some tofu or beans or whatever the hell, because you are a human adult and not a fucking werewolf. Unless you are a werewolf. I'm assuming that if you were a werewolf, you would have mentioned it. Or that your jagged claws would have prevented you from typing this email in the first place.

Really. Eat the vegetarian meals. Enjoy them. Be glad someone else is cooking food for you. I promise you can handle it.

Brye:

Ok, let me start off by saying I am fully aware of how obnoxious I sound.

I need help. I've been a vegetarian for 15 years with no problems. Almost 5 years ago my doctor told me I had a gluten intolerance which is annoying but whatever, the world keeps turning. For the last 2 years I've been living in China; not really a dairy heavy culture. Also, drinking the milk here is kind of like Russian roulette so I basically haven't consumed dairy for 2 years. However, the last 4 times I've had milk/cheese I've wound up crying onto my keyboard while WebMDing lactose intolerance. Because I so rarely consumed it, my body has forgotten how to process it, something about enzymes, intestines, blah blah blah.

So my question is: what the fuck do I eat? I am officially the least desirable dinner guest.

Any recommendations for a vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant asshole? I swear, I love food, really I do. It is not my intention to act like a wispy, juice-cleansing fairy who only eats lawn.

Brye, this is the saddest goddamn email I ever received. You can have my food. I'm not gonna eat it. I'm just gonna sit in the dark and think about having the sensory experiences I love stripped away from me one after another. How do you live? Why? The universe is such bullshit. Let's drive off a cliff together.

No? Still want to live some? Well, shit. Let's see if we can't figure this out, then. Foodwise, the answer's pretty straightforward, and it's to make the paltry list of foods you can eat without bursting into flames taste awfully good when you eat them. Be daring with spice and heat and acid and salt and oil; if you're going to have to eat salad and plain tofu and kale and shit for the rest of your entire goddamn life, dress those foods up as excitingly as you can. They can still taste good. I promise.

There's another part to this, though, and it's figuring out how to replace the exciting variety of food with something else so that your life doesn't feel like the barren hopeless wasteland it so clearly is. I think you should take up an interest in something indulgent and sensorily vibrant and rewarding, to replace the thrill of having a digestive system which does not mark you for dismissal from the gene pool. Something like ... booze! Take up booze. I'm not suggesting you become an alcoholic. I'm suggesting that you become an aficionado of booze, to fill the sad void where blue cheese used to go.

Oh, fuck it. I'm suggesting you become an alcoholic. Life's got no meaning anyway.

Sam:

I don't consider myself an incredibly picky eater, but there are a bunch of foods that I just don't like. I don't like mushrooms,

Huh.

I don't like shrimp or shellfish,

Sacrilege!

and I can't stand bananas.

[faints]

Bananas are fucking bullshit.

Well, when you put it that way.

Here's my deal. We're on this earth for precious short time. If there's a food truck out there that makes just, the best goddamn seared scallops wrapped in bacon on the planet, I don't want to miss out. Plus, I really feel like I'm ordering an incomplete dish when I pick all the mushrooms out of my steak and gravy like I'm a goddamn 5 year old.

So I guess my question is: What's the best way to acclimate myself to these new foods? Should I just try them? Bury them in sauce? Sneak them into other dishes I like? I'd really love to be able to extend my palate and be able to enjoy these foods.

Sam, good for you. Sincerely. You somehow managed to make it all the way to adulthood with the palate of a file cabinet, which sucks—but now you're trying to do the work of becoming an adventurous eater, which is fucking awesome. That's a task many people never have to consider, and many, many more people are too chicken-livered to attempt. So, bravo to you, sir.

Here's the thing. The foods you don't like, it's not as though they're, like, friggin' fresh bat-blood or fermented lichen or Bill Plaschke's beard clippings—they're not genuinely out-there foodstuffs. They're perfectly normal foods, no less commonly enjoyed by the rest of the world's populace than, say, celery. They're good. People like them. You just haven't figured out why, yet.

The popularity of those foods is good news for you, because it means that there are, in aggregate, roughly 10 bazillion different preparations of these foodstuffs, and somewhere among those many different ways to consume mushrooms or shrimp or whatever are the ones that will help you to figure out why people like them. Pick a cuisine whose flavors and preparations you particularly enjoy (like, say, if you really like Thai food), and have a go at some of it that contains shrimp. Do it when you're fucking famished and in the company of friends who won't make you feel like shit if you pull a stinkface, pick something exciting and indulgent and kind of pricey, and remind yourself going in that this is good food made by expert cooks, and that if millions and millions of other people can enjoy it, wolf it down, go fucking nuts for it, then certainly you can, too. Don't feel like you need to eat mushrooms with every meal for a month; just, maybe, a few times each month, when you're really furiously goddamn hungry and looking for something to eat for lunch, pick something otherwise exciting and appetizing that also has some mushrooms in it. Close your eyes and fire it down. Feel how happy it makes your grumbling stomach. Give your body and palate and mind a chance to associate mushrooms with sweet, sweet sustenance.

I don't know if that's going to work. I'd say it gives you a decent chance. Try these foods when you're literally going blind from starvation, and eventually you might grow to like them.

Good luck, Sam. I'm proud of you, buddy. An exciting world of new, delicious foods awaits!

Except bananas. Seriously. Fuck bananas.

I hope you die soon.

Send your Feedbag questions to albertburneko@gmail.com, subject line "Feedbag."

Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home, or in shorter form on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.

Image by Jim Cooke.