There is a troubling movement afoot in American cooking and it seems to be based on ingredients found at WalMart and other budget supermarkets. However, it is not the retailers who are to blame but rather a facet of internet culture that allows the free expression of every idea however half-baked (if you’ll excuse the pun).
In the days of publishing scarcity, book sellers owned the means of distribution and so limited the amount of recipes that made it onto our bookshelves. To make this system economic, despite the tsunami of appalling cookbooks, there was some degree of editorial control. Some editor, somewhere, said no. Move forward twenty years and any home cook, hopped up on cooking sherry or mescaline can hangout in blogs and share vile recipes with any idiot prepared to try them.
Many of these are revolting or insane and in some cases both.
I’ve spent time trying to classify the problem and I think it boils down to three things:
Randomness: The infinite monkey problem
In an earlier post called Weird American Food: Tales from the store cupboard I touch on the idea of randomness in the way some cooks seem to combine ingredients. It is said that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys typewriters, eventually they would produce Shakespeare. Maybe true but along the way you’d also get a lot of this “This is the hamster of our incontinents, let glorious bowel remedy, by this son of mackerel”
Yes it is English but nothing you’d like to read for too long. The same with food. I recently saw a stuffing recipe that combined sausages, sweet corn, bread and orange juice plus seven different herbs. I just can’t imagine how vile orange juice flavoured with sweet corn, thyme, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, oregano etc would be
Transmogrification: What works one way won’t another
This is the belief that what works I one form will be even better in another. Using this theory gravy browning can double as mascara and honey can become hair gel. But would you really?
I recently found a recipe for Bacon Double Cheeseburger Soup. A cheeseburger is a fine dish, a classic so why do I need it in soup form? This recipe calls for beef, beer, dill pickle,potatoes, lettuce, ketchup, in fact every part of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese except the box it came in. So why not finish it of with a pinch of Styrofoam?
The creator admits to his insanity thus
I came to realize that my meals were boring and that I had been eating the same few dishes over and over again for years. It was time for a change! I now spend my free time searching for and trying tasty new recipes in my closet sized kitchen.
It’s this sort of attention-seeking nonsense that is ruining home cooking. By the way, he has over 35,000 likes on Facebook.
If you’re looking for another revolting example try Thanksgiving Pizza (image above) which combines gravy, mashed potato, turkey, stuffing and cheese. The creator of this Frankenstein mess concludes as follows
Serve with a side of gravy for dipping or with dollops of cranberry sauce. This is the tastiest way I have found to use leftovers. I love Thanksgiving Pizza!!
This is like saying that you love Turkey & Chicken so find cat food the most convenient way of eating them together.
Substitution: When cutting corners just won’t do
The truth is that some dishes cease to become viable when you replace the core ingredients with others. If you swap a frankfurter for a sausage you get a sausage in a bun not a hot dog.
I came across this triumph recently. Sushi for people who don’t like rice or fish.
I am trying to come up with an alternative for Sushi for a few people who don’t like a)fish and b)rice. I know – what’s the point? I guess I want the experience to still be there. As for the fish, I think I can find decent substitutes (realizing I am not going for flavor here) by using things like Prosciutto and thinkly sliced roast beef or ham, or stick to vegetable styles. Still thinking about the Nori – still from the ocean, so maybe some kind of leaves/cooked spinach? Again, I think I can work around not using a Nori style sushi. But the Rice has me stumped.
I had thought about Couscous, but I dont think it is sticky enough. Also thought about Polenta, but that is too sticky. Any other ideas?
My favourite part is “realizing I am not going for flavor here”.
Enough for the time being. We must be on our guard, if you are offered Peking Duck cheese cake, a cheese burger milkshake or a spam au vin and you’re not eating at Heston Blumenthal’s do drop me a line.