I don’t cook. I actually cook.
Actual cooking derives its name from the reaction I get when I tell someone that I decided to make something complicated, as exemplified below:
Me: I’m thinking of making veal picatta tonight for dinner.
Not me: You mean you’re going to ACTUALLY cook?
Actual cooking is the highest form of dining, the pinnacle of the five levels of in-home food consumption.
Level 1: Eating in. Eating in involves the least preparation, and usually produces the best results. The secret to eating in is that it involves only transportation. Find pre-prepared food somewhere in the world (or “out”) and bring it to your place of residence (or “in”). Works best for cold foods like sandwiches and fast food from nearby restaurants (5 minutes or less away). (Note: It is not a requirement that you personally commit the act of transportation. You can outsource this to many local establishments for a small fee.)
Level 2: Dining. Dining involves one step — changing the temperature of your food. Taking the leftover spaghetti and meatballs from the refrigerator and reheating it in the microwave is an excellent example of dining. Bringing food home from Wendy’s and popping it in the microwave to reheat the fries also qualifies as dining. Note the distinction — consuming cold pizza from last night is eating in. Warming the pizza up in the oven is dining. TV dinners also qualify as dining, even if you have to stir the vegetables and/or cobbler halfway through.
Level 3: Cuisine. Making cuisine involves the combining of two ingredients to make one meal. Making spaghetti by boiling the pasta and dumping spaghetti sauce on it is cuisine. So is making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Disclaimer: Bread does not count as an ingredient. It is simply a peanut-butter-and-jelly delivery system.) Cooking two foods separately and placing them adjacent to each other on a plate can also qualify as cuisine; for example, reheating leftover spaghetti and serving a side of steamed broccoli is quite cuisine-y.
Level 4: Gourmet cuisine. Gourmet cuisine means the addition of two or more ingredients. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is an excellent example. To successfully make it, you must add cheese powder, milk, and butter to the macaroni, an impressive THREE ingredients. A balanced breakfast of fruit or juice, toast, milk, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes also meets the gourmet cuisine threshold, particularly if you put the fruit and milk IN the corn flakes.
Level 5: Actually cooking. Actual cooking is the zenith of food preparation. It involves one or more of the following: purchasing raw food (and not eating it raw); following a recipe; heating one or more components using something other than a microwave; cooking vocabulary (simmer, dredge, degrees, etc.); and/or a measuring apparatus (scale, thermometer, timer, etc.). Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff is an excellent way to actually cook. It involves a skillet, raw hamburger, measured amounts of water, and simmering. Yum!
The risk of actually cooking is that the resulting food is unlikely to meet expectations vis-à-vis the five senses. Usually it will sound about the same as a professionally prepared meal, and might even feel similar to the touch. But it has been my experience that food I have actually cooked rarely if ever smells or tastes as expected, or even looks like the picture on the box. (Disclaimer: sometimes it does taste like the picture on the box.)
There is also probably a reward of some sort associated with it.
Sadly, it is now too late for me to actually cook. Looks like I’ll be eating in this evening.