What Do I Cook For Someone Who Hates Everything?

Illustration for article titled What Do I Cook For Someone Who Hates Everything?

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.



I'm a relationship of one and a half years to the woman I truly love. However, when it comes to cooking and eating, it is not overstating it that she has the palate of a 5-year-old.

Has she hosted any cookouts recently?

Among the many rules of her dinner plate are: no pork of any kind, no seafood of any kind, no burgers, very iffy on vegetables unless they have as much salt as a Chicago highway in winter, nothing spicy, no thick cut chicken breast. Any juicy (i.e. tender) meat? Nope, too slimy.

Oh man, I can definitely understand why you truly love her.

Some of the time it's taste, but most of it she says gives her stomach problems. As in, "I will puke if I eat any of these things". As far as I know, she has no actual food allergies. And she WILL NOT BUDGE ON ANYTHING.


I was being sarcastic.

I can't even get her to taste it. You know, the whole "Don't you want a bite?" "No, and I can't believe you're even asking after I've told you countless times!!" thing.


[rubbing temples]

My go to's for "What can I make for dinner?" are mac and cheese, chicken and rice, breakfast food, or the blandest stir fry you can imagine. Besides dumping her (which I haven't completely ruled out), anything more I can add to that list?


Look, Bob, there are a couple of possibilities, here. The first is based upon my taking a mad jaunt way the fuck out to the flimsiest limbs of the Crazy Unfounded Speculation Tree (quercus speculatus), and hazarding a wild, totally unsupported guess that your lady-love's, um, persnickitude about food is of a piece with her personality as a whole, or at least isn't the only area of her life where she is as inflexible, high-strung, and intolerant as a colicky infant. If that's true—and really, you're the only one of us who can make an honest (honest, Bob) (fucking honest) (no, but seriously: H O N E S T) assessment to see if it is—then the first thing you need to do is break up with this unapologetically narrow-minded and incurious weenie, followed immediately by undertaking some serious self-examination to figure out how you wound up blinkered by such an objectively unattractive person to begin with. I mean, cook whatever the hell you want as you go (I recommend doing all of this before the summer ends, so you can make some soft-shell crabs for yourself), but definitely do break up, and then never date anyone like this ever again.


The second possibility, which I consider the less likely of the two, is that Persnickathy really and truly is a flexible, adventurous, openminded person in all other respects save for her absurd, sad, infantile, and kinda pathetic dietary preferences. Consider whether you would like to spend the entire rest of your life never being able to go on a date to a sushi restaurant, or to slow-cook a pork shoulder, or to take your girlfriend down to the fish market of a coastal city and get a basket of shitty fried seafood and sit on the dock and eat it and watch the birds, or to read about a new recipe for some exciting unfamiliar ingredient and decide that you are going to take a chance on it and share the experience with your life-partner. Consider whether you'd like to spend the entire rest of your entire fucking life making separate dinners anytime you want to try anything new, or indulge your craving for some friggin' shrimp, or eat anything outside of the preposterously narrow menu of foodstuffs which will fit through this incredibly finicky eater's window of tolerance. Consider whether food, and your taste in food, and the experience of trying new food and thinking about food and talking about food in a non-hostile way, are things that you are willing to give up on sharing with the person you love for the entire rest of your entire fucking life. Consider how this difference, which might seem minor now when you are 18 months into a relationship and still growing into it, might seem five, ten, twenty years from now, when you have spent an enormous chunk of your adult life conforming the otherwise vivid and exciting experience of making and eating food to the reality that you paired yourself to the kind of person who would happily go the whole rest of eternity without ever being exposed to any foods but the meager handful she already liked by the time she lost her first tooth.


There are many, many fish in the world's seas, Bob. You will never get to experience any of them if you stay with this lady. Conveniently, that works both as a metaphor and as a literal statement of fact.



How do I "adult-up" my childhood favorite meals? Grilled Cheese w/ Tomato soup, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, etc. You know, the classics.


"Adult them up?! That's crazy talk!"
- Bob's girlfriend

In all seriousness, Chris, so long as your childhood favorite meals aren't the only things you're willing to eat, I'm not so sure you have to adult them up. Part of the appeal of, say, shitty orange cheese-rubber grilled between two pieces of cheap-ass sandwich bread is its nostalgic value, and there's nothing wrong with that being part of what you enjoy about it. (Also, shitty orange cheese-rubber grilled between two pieces of cheap-ass sandwich bread just tastes really fucking good, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.) These things—grilled cheese and tomato soup, boxed macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly—are childhood classics because they're tasty and satisfying and user-friendly. And also because parents are harried desperate cheapskates who would feed their kids wet paper pulp if it'd get 'em to take a peaceful nap.


Of course, if you really want to adult-up your childhood favorites, that's OK too, and fairly easy to manage so long as you have a reasonable conception of what adult tastes should be. That is to say, your grilled cheese sandwich does not need to have fennel pollen in it to be credible grownup food: Slice some real cheese onto some good bread that you sliced yourself, and you have a respectably adultified grilled cheese sandwich. Make some homemade mac and cheese with real cheese (choosing for yourself whether you want your mac and cheese to be a gratuitous bacchanalian obscenity or a grim statement of fundamentalist severity), and you will have perfectly grownup mac and cheese. Make your peanut butter and jelly sandwich on cheap sliced wheat bread with store-brand peanut butter and hilariously artificial grape jelly, then eat it proudly and shirtlessly in the middle of a busy intersection, because peanut butter and jelly is awesome and none shall judge you, although they may honk a little or run you over.


What is your preferred tomato for us in a homemade marinara? Is it fresh (and if so, what kind?) or is it one of those San Marzano canned numbers?


Eh, fresh tomatoes are fine, if you happen to be making your tomato sauce in the middle of the summer when you can get local (or home-grown), ripe-picked tomatoes that can actually be counted upon to taste like anything at all. If you're going to use fresh tomatoes, use plum tomatoes; these are specially bred for saucemaking, have a higher ratio of solid flesh to seeds, and readily dissolve into a thick, lustrous sauce when cooked for a while. Blanch 'em, shock 'em in cold water, peel 'em, cut their cores and seeds out, and then cook 'em with aromatics, salt, herbs, a bay leaf, and tomato paste yes damn you a little bit of tomato paste for intensity of flavor shut up.

Let's just make clear one more time, though, that if you can't get local (or home-grown) tomatoes which ripened before they were picked, you're better off not wasting your time with fresh tomatoes at all, because most fresh tomatoes taste like water and have the texture of compressed cream of wheat. That may seem like tomato snobbery, but it isn't. If you use shitty truck-ripened agricorp tomatoes, they will contribute nothing but mass to your sauce.


As for canned tomatoes, the mildly unfortunate truth is that yeah, San Marzano tomatoes taste a lot better than the rest of what's available. This is unfortunate because San Marzano tomatoes are more expensive than other varieties; it's only mildly unfortunate, because the price difference isn't all that extreme (maybe a buck-fifty or two bucks per can), and because even though San Marzano tomatoes taste better than other canned tomatoes, other canned tomatoes still usually taste pretty good and will yield a perfectly tasty result. It can be kind of a pain in the ass to remove the seeds from canned tomatoes; frankly, I've made outstanding tomato sauces without even bothering. And don't let any kitchen dweebs tell you that you need a tomato press to make good tomato sauce. They're just trying to make themselves feel better about having wasted money on a single-use specialty item.

OK, so, we've pissed off finicky eaters, fresh-tomato zealots, kitchen equipment nerds... what else do we need to cover before we move on? Oh, right: Woody Allen has literally never made a good movie.



Why do people hate olives? Do you hate olives? Disclosure: I have (at least once) raided an olive bar at a supermarket and ate them from the container like they were potato chips while driving home. I like olives.


People hate olives for the same reason that people hate mayonnaise: People are stupid gutless nincompoops. Olives are fucking amazing.

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 Sam Woolley.