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Is it me? - am I a boring cook?

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

"Woolworths knows the power of content to inspire" Suddenly

For inspire read buy. Well, inspire you to buy. From them. The above being from the company who produces the magazine for Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine I think. It's marketing speak.

Let me confess at the outset that I am not a Woolworths supermarket fan - of the three in Eltham - Woolworths, Coles and Aldi they are the bottom of the heap for me. I also confess that this is an entirely illogical and unjustified view. I have tried to find a logical reason but honestly it just comes down to personal preference. Maybe I've just been frustrated more frequently there than at Coles. Maybe someone on the staff was rude to me or at the very least not very helpful. Maybe it's an inbuilt and by now almost automatic desire to be different from David. Which is rather sad, so I won't dwell on that. Woolworths, you see, is his favourite. Aldi is sort of a special case and not strictly comparable.

And like the supermarkets themselves, I prefer the Coles Magazine. Which hasn't appeared as yet this month. And again, logically I can't really explain why.

Anyway, yesterday I picked up the above copy of the Woolworths magazine and found a few relaxing moments to leaf through it in the afternoon. As you will have noticed by now these days my main sources of inspiration for new blogs, are the two supermarket magazines, and The Guardian's newsletter (not much in it this week). Of course there are other sources but these are the main ones.

But I was not inspired by Fresh Ideas (the magazine's new name - formally it was just Fresh). In fact I ended up feeling that I just wasn't cooking food like the rest of the world is these days. So much Asian food of the kind that is not favourite; so much vegan and vegetarian food; so much 'healthy' food. So after this superficial read I threw it in our recycling box.

Overnight though, I wondered whether I had been fair, whether I had missed anything, and even if I hadn't wasn't there reason to look at it again to try and understand my source of disappointment? After all this is a magazine that has a readership in the millions, and which is focussed on ordinary people - their supermarket customers. That's me. Mr. and Mrs. average of Australia - all the minority Australians too. Everyone shops in a supermarket at some point surely? Maybe not those way out in the outback, but surely everybody else, however much they might be philosophically against them. Everyone runs out of something sometime, and the local supermarket is generally much easier to access than all those specialist outlets. Do people really buy things like toilet paper other than in a supermarket?

One of the stated aims of Nicky Harper the magazine's manager is as follows:

“Our readers can also learn about the latest food trends and how you can hack fantastic food products that are available in the supermarket and make the dish your very own.”

Well she's right about the food trends I think - hence the stress on health, trendy ingredients and the cooking genres that dominate the current scene. And well done them really. It shows that they are interested in responding to those trends. And below are a few of the pictures of the recipes that illustrate this: There's some beef brisket tacos, slow-cooker chicken fajitas; pumpkin and mushroom quinoa risotto, vegetarian miso ramen and dan dan noodle soup and let's not forget the best wonton noodle soup on the cover.

Jamie's section is almost completely vegetarian and even the cake section has a beetroot cheesecake and a carrot cake. The vegetarian and healthy stuff is all very laudable, and admittedly their selection of soups is headed Noodle soups, so I can't really complain that they do indeed all feature noodles of some kind. Mostly the kind of noodles I don't often use. So I don't fancy any of these things, but that's my fault isn't it? My personal preferences obviously don't stretch to quinoa, ramen, Mexican food and miso - though I must admit I have pondered on giving miso a go of late. And if I'm totally honest there is nothing wrong per se with any of these dishes or any of the others in the magazine.

Mind you I did find it a bit strange that a dish of beef stroganoff was featured in the slow-cooker section. Slow-cooker - now there's another trendy thing and I don't have one. Beef stroganoff to me is a quick, last minute dish, but then as it says in the big print next to the photograph of the dish "a cheaper cut of meat becomes so tender and rich in this easy to make set and forget dish." If you make the traditional stroganoff then you need quality steak because it's only flash-fried really, so I guess you could label this a poor man's version. A Mr. and Mrs. Average version. And why not?

Going back to Nicky Hunter and her aims for the magazine:

“Each month in the magazine, we take great pride in ensuring that all of our recipe ideas focus on the beautiful fresh in-season produce that is available at that time alongside healthier, easier and convenient meal options that are suitable whether you are feeding a family, friends, a partner or yourself."

"In season, healthier, easier, convenient." Mission accomplished really. Because there is also a section on the month's chosen 'in season' product - avocados. Two of the recipes were pretty ordinary - well a variation on the smashed avocado on toast which added fried halloumi and another version of guacamole, but then there was also avocado and chicken nigiri - that looks like a sort of sushi and most interestingly cheesy avocado crackers. But avocados are expensive. Would you waste one on making crackers?

It's an example though of why I am dissatisfied - the avocado section that is. First of all I'm not a huge fan of avocado and David definitely isn't. Japanese sushi kind of things? Pretty but not for me, and not easy to make in advance because avocado goes brown. I would be interested in the smashed avocados and the guacamole - just as a show-off kind of thing, but, as I said, avocados are expensive.

Throughout the magazine all those fashionable vegetables - pumpkin, sweet potato, kale, beetroot, Asian greens of various kinds feature frequently. Again I am not a huge fan. None of them are my favourites although I will use them from time to time.

The Woolworths magazine is also very consistent with its design. There is always a lot of dark blue and dark green and their 'real' recipe pages often butt up right against an ad. As does Coles, but I think because of the Woolworths colouring - which, ought to mean there is more distinction between the two things, somehow, for me anyway, there isn't.

Near the end there are more obvious ads, one of which was for a product called Prep set go. The range is mostly various frozen vegetables that have been precut, but the latest additions are these - little frozen cubes of crushed garlic and ginger and chopped coriander and basil. They cost $4.00 a 90g pack! What a nerve. Mind you I have been known to buy jars of crushed ginger, but no more. Not since my ex almost daughter-in-law gave me a very nifty ginger grater, and I learnt that to keep ginger fresh longer you put in a jar of water in the fridge. Anyway - it's very simple to do the freezing in cubes thing. People must be very, very short of time, and/or really hate cooking.

And although Nicky Hunter might talk about 'making the dish your own' there are actually not that many tips on how to do that. And Coles definitely does that rather better.

Like Coles - this is a marketing exercise after all - many of the recipes use Woolworths products in the ingredients list which is fair enough if you are spruiking your business. And that they certainly are. But a bolognaise mix in a chicken noodle soup? Well I suppose it's different and it did look quite nice.

Anyway the point of all of this is that having now looked at the magazine rather more closely I see I am possibly being a bit unfair and bowing to entirely personal prejudices not based on reason. I also am a tiny bit depressed because I am obviously not with it. I'm a boring cook, stuck in my favourite cuisines and unwilling to venture further. Perhaps I should go out and buy that miso and experiment a bit. Well follow a recipe or two that I might not have otherwise tried. But not those various noodle soups. It seems wrong to me to be trying to eat large chunks of Asian Greens in a soup, and I prefer the creamier soup to the consommé type, and as for eggs floating in soup ...

But on the whole, in spite of the chief aim of the exercise - to sell product - I applaud these two mega businesses and their magazines. They are beautifully produced using very high quality food stylists and photographers, not to mention spreading the word about what is currently hot, how to eat healthily, how to do basic things - like poach eggs in this edition - and how to save time. The aim is to get you to buy, buy, buy but it does this by making you try to cook something different and new. And that can't be bad can it? And lets not forget - they are FREE.

Oh and final disclosure - we have shares in both Woolworths and Coles. So I suppose we are interested in seeing them do well.


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