Whenever I try to feed my friend Adam anything that I've cooked, he refuses to eat it until I've "presented" it to him. Top Chef style.
Sophie and I will have dug into our cupcakes or pasta or whatever it is that we are eating at that moment and he will be sitting at the table, leaning back in his chair, hands folded in his lap. Waiting.
Usually I am knee-deep in enjoying my food and am completely oblivious to the whole situation (situation being the critical word - Houston, we have a problem. We've got a non-eater over here. Better send in the troops. Pronto.).
Then, out of the corner of my eye I will spot him. A multitude of sighs will ensue as I disengage myself from my plate. And begin to think about what exactly it is that I have been eating.
Adam is, apparently, not alone in his obsession with adjectives and descriptors. At least not when it comes to food. A certain craze has swept the nation. A passing fad, perhaps, but one that is nonetheless present in the here and now. Which has spurred the conception of a new scientific field - menu psychology.
You heard it here first. (Okay, maybe you read this article in the NY Times first, in which case you heard it here second.) Restaurant owners are, in fact, analyzing the way we as consumers think about food in order to strategically design their menus so that the more profitable dishes are those which are ordered most frequently.
For example. We tend to like items that are attached to the names of family members. So this dish would fare better if I called it Mom's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups. Why? I'm guessing it's because we like the idea of it having a history attached to it. It is tried and true. And therefore must be good, since it has stood the test of time. Or maybe it's because we all have moms or grandmothers or Aunt Jane's. And thus can identify with the dish. Forge a personal connection. Bond.
We also have a predilection for the romantic. The wordy. The verbose. Stick as many adjectives on there as you can and we will be happy. It's as if the more descriptors a dish has, the more bang we think we are getting for our buck.
Not only is this dish rustic, but it is also oven-roasted, savory, succulent, and hand-shucked. And don't forget that Southwestern flair. All for the low price of 14.95 (Notice that there are no dollar signs - we don't want to remind the customer that the numbers refer to actual money...we'd rather allow them the illusion that they are an abstract concept, a figment of the imagination, unit-less. Also, keep in mind that 95 cents is the new 99 cents. If you choose to include cents at all, which is always a gamble. People want good, solid integers. And isn't the whole point that the customer is always right?)
So how do we, as consumers, navigate this? And is it even necessary that we do so? That all depends. Do you want to order a dish because it really appeals to you or because the restaurant wants it to appeal to you? Are these two preferences even distinguishable?
Maybe the dish they want you to order most is actually the tastiest dish on the menu. In which case, I'll take two. Or maybe it's all just a ploy to get you to unwittingly order chicken liver so that they can get rid of the stockpiles of it that the chef ordered by accident the previous week (very little of which has, surprisingly, moved off the shelves since its arrival). To which I respond, I'll take the vegetarian dish, thank you very much.
Either way, I'm going to keep all of this in mind the next time I'm trying to get Adam to eat whatever it is that I have cooked. Here. Let's practice.
I present you with My Good Friend Heidi's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups. A rustic dish made up of a sweet and organically-grown oven-roasted acorn squash that is then stuffed with a savory corn pudding, flavored with the earthy notes of fennel and scallions, and baked for a second time. It is finished off with the sharp notes of a cheddar cheese topping. For that perfect combination of sweet and savory that we all know and love.
My Good Friend Heidi's Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash Cups
Serves 2, adapted from 101 Cookbooks (i.e. Heidi Swanson's blog)
1 3 lb acorn squash
1 tbsp butter
1 cup almond milk (or regular milk)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup corn
1/4 tsp fennel seed (originally aniseed, which I didn't have on hand)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Cut the squash in half and deseed. Rub the insides with the butter. Place cut side up on a baking sheet. Cover the squash with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
3. In a bowl, combine the milk, eggs, corn, fennel seed, half of scallions, nutmeg, and salt. Fill each of the squash bowls 3/4 full. Carefully transfer the squash bowls back to the oven without spilling. Bake, uncovered, for 30-50 minutes or until filling is set. At the last minute, sprinkle with cheese and broil until browned. Serve sprinkled with remaining scallions.
This is the 10th entry in my 12 Weeks of Winter Squash!