How Do I Trick My Date Into Thinking I Can Cook?SWelcome 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.

Wes:

I've been seeing a girl for a couple weeks now and, in an effort to talk myself up, may have overstated my cooking abilities.

Oh boy. Wes. Never do that.

Long story short, I'm making her dinner next week

You have stepped in some shit, Wes.

and while I'm generally solid at following recipes,

From Wes's Match.com dating profile:

  • Hobbies: Cooking Michelin-star-grade dinners for people, following written directions
  • Dislikes: THE TRUTH

I haven't been struck with the particular inspiration I'll need to cook something that she'll take one bite of and then inevitably fall hopelessly in love with me. Got a go-to dish for this spot?

Wes, my man, have I got exciting dinner plans for you and your gullible lady-friend! We'll start with some bacon-wrapped scallo—

(p.s.: I'm Kosher-style [i.e., no pork or shellfish],

[kicks dog]

and as far as I know, she has no dietary restrictions. Thanks!)

[rubs temples]

[apologizes to dog]

Well shit, Wes. This is quite a pickle. Let's see what we can make of it. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think two weeks into a relationship is a bit early to be serving your lady some exotic fancy haute cuisine-type shit. As this stage, you want the dinner you serve to fit with an overall motif of casually getting to know each other with minimal pressure; you want it to say This is the kind of person I am all the time, as opposed to, say, I have been planning this dinner ever since I began stalking you in 5th grade, and if you do not love it and me, I will light myself on fire with this candelabra and stagger around waving my arms and moaning your name, and then plunge through the window and into the river below, so get your cellphone camera ready because Twitter goes nuts for this sort of thing. That doesn't mean you ought to be serving your date warmed-over Spaghetti-Os on an Eggo waffle, but it does mean you can scale your ambitions back a bit. Save the homemade foie gras with white truffle marmalade and friggin' gold leaf for your (still totally hypothetical, there, Hinckley) first wedding anniversary.

Here's what you need: Something easy to cook, so that you're not slaving over a hot stove all evening while your date twiddles her thumbs and imagines the better time she could be having with the dude two floors down with the dreamy eyes and muscular forearms; something neither messy nor undignified to eat (so, like, not a bunch of barbecued chicken, for example); something tasty and exciting but not wildly exotic, so that your date does not feel like you might secretly be filming an episode of Fear Factor. Something like...

...Alfredo sauce! (Um, with fettuccine, of course.) It's a great date-food: rich and tasty and indulgent, gently transgressive in the we-are-living-for-today-because-soon-our-hearts-will-be-dead sense, fun and easy to eat (all the fork-twirling), and, when well-made, silky and smooth to a degree that is downright sexy. Fancy without being ostentatious—fancy because of your patience and care and attention to technique, rather than because you spent a bunch of money on Wagyu beef to show off like an asshole. Make the version with cream, serve it in moderate amounts, and park some salad next to it on the plate.

Of course, that's assuming you haven't "forgotten" to mention your deathly allergy to dairy, Wes, you goddamn liar.

Scott:

My fucking 5 year old son refuses to eat any kind of protein other than salmon. That's fantastic other than its expensive as fuck. Any suggestions other than dropping him off at a hospital and starting over??

Scott, a common mistake parents make is thinking that they must coax or tempt or trick their children out of their weirdo dietary idiosyncrasies—Oh, little Mykkynz'y doesn't like vegetables, so I purée a serving of broccoli, mix it with panko breadcrumbs, and use it to coat her mozzarella sticks so that she won't die of not eating vegetables—when, really, the solution to this type of thing is to grow a spine and be a friggin' parent.

Here is what you do:

  • Step 1: Make whatever you (and your spouse, if you have one) want for dinner.
  • Step 2: Cut some of it into small bites and put these on a plate.
  • Step 3: Put this plate in front of your child.
  • Step 4: When you child complains about not wanting chicken or beef or beans or whatever, say, "Oh, I'm sorry, but that's what we're having for dinner tonight."
  • Step 5: Visibly and audibly enjoy your own food.
  • Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 974 times, as patiently as you can, until you are done eating.
  • Step 7: When dinnertime is over, take all the plates off the table; put your kid's plate on the counter or in the fridge with the food still on it, so that when your kid complains about being hungry later, you can offer him his plate and invite him to finish his dinner. Let him know, gently, that if he is hungry, he has to eat the food that you made for dinner before he can move on to anything else.
  • Step 8: Repeat one trillion times until your child turns 18 and can move the hell out.

Seriously, though, this shit's not magic. Make it clear to your kid that everybody eats the same thing at dinnertime, and that if he's hungry he should eat what's offered, and eventually he'll figure it out. And then, when he does—when he takes a flier on something new and eats his tiny little portion of it—give him an ice cream cone for being brave. You'll probably have to go through a few iterations of this with different new foods before he gets the idea that trying new things is better than being hungry, and/or packs his racecars into a tiny bindle and lights out for the coast.

David:

I am an Italian and when I was taught to make orzo, I was taught to toast it first. Twenty years later I am still slavishly devoted to that principle. But I don't know why. Any chance you do?

Why, yes, I do know why you toast your orzo, David. You toast your orzo first for the same reason you toast pinoli before making pesto: because toasted things taste better than not-toasted things. Toast your orzo with the aromatics in a tiny bit of oil before adding the cooking liquid (water or broth or whatever) and you'll get a final product with a livelier, deeper, and, uh, friggin' toastier flavor than if you'd left your orzo untoasted.

If you'd like to prove this to yourself, David, I suggest you make some untoasted orzo, then eat a bite of it, compare it to your usual experience of toasted orzo, note how comparatively bland and uninteresting it is, then sobbingly pour it into the garbage disposal and go hug those of your living Italian forebears who had the good sense to teach you the right way to do things.

Ian:

I enjoy cooking things that entirely lack restraint and dietary restrictions, and I also enjoy sharing my cooking, so I don't end up with 80 lbs of meatloaf slowly putrefying in the back of my fridge during the 6 months it takes me to eat all of it. However, my roommate is gluten and lactose intolerant, which makes it difficult for her to taste the thunder of my cooking without becoming violently ill. Is there an easy way to take normal, real people recipes and turn them into something that won't turn my roommate into a hive-covered and vomiting mess, without forcing me to scour local health food stores looking for ridiculous and overpriced substitute ingredients?

No. There is no way to do that. The foods that you like to make—rich, indulgent foods of the sort usually described as "rib-sticking" even though that's kind of gross—are not going to be OK for your roommate to eat unless you go to weirdo health food stores for weirdo health foods with frightening scientific-sounding names. Cheese which somehow contains none of the constituent elements of cheese; cream made of the reduced "milk" squeezed from foodstuffs which most certainly do not produce milk; flour made from friggin' ground-up sharkbones or some shit. You are going to have to shop for this shit, or you are going to have to find a new roommate. Or, you are going to have to make some new foods.

I think we know which of these you are going to choose. The nice thing to do would be to at least go out and buy a bag of almond flour to give that poor defective woman as a going-away present.

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. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.

Image by Jim Cooke.