Buying stuff is not a recipe

I’ve been reading a lot of little recipes here and there. You know, on the back of cereal boxes, jars of sauce, cans of vegetables, that sort of thing. Admittedly they’re not intended to be great culinary accomplishments, but they really stretch the definition of a recipe.

Consider “Texas Two Step Chicken” on the back of my jar of salsa. The two steps are basically “buy some chicken” and “bake it.” I mean, you do put the salsa and some other prepared condiments on it before baking, but that hardly qualifies as a recipe.

My wife gets a magazine whose purpose is to provide simple recipes. One of the ways they keep costs down is to print readers’ suggestions. Let me tell you, there’s some pretty non-creative readers out there. For example, one recipe consisted of essentially store-bought ravioli, with a store-bought alfredo sauce, and topped with bacon. Since when is buying stuff at the grocery store and heating it up a recipe? Hey, with that as the benchmark, I could make all kinds of “recipes.” Just replace the store-bought alfredo sauce with store-bought marinara, or bolognese, or vodka sauce, or anything else. Top with gratuitous bacon.

There’s another pet peeve, while we’re here. I live in the South. Everything is better with bacon. Potato salad? Yeah, put some bacon in there. Corn chowder? Make it with chicken stock and add some bacon on top. My friend Ryan over at vegblog.org became a vegan a while ago. He told me a story about the subsequent family Thanksgiving dinner. A well-meaning relative told him “since you’re vegan now, I made my fish entree without the bacon.” “Well,” he told her, “there’s still the fish.” Oh. Right. People just don’t think about the gratuitous meat.

It’s really no wonder that Americans are so fat and so culinarily deprived. We get vegetables that are flavorless and bland because we breed them for shape, color, and durability during shipment (none of which favors flavor). Then, when we try to spice things up, we add a bunch of fat (chicken fat, chicken broth, bacon, etc.) to make up for the bland taste. Nutrition goes down, calories and bad stuff go up. Simple equation.

Since so few people cook much sophisticated food any more, what qualifies as a recipe has had to shift. Nobody knows how to make a roux any more (I always have to ask my wife the proportions), much less a sauce based on a roux. So we resort to so-called “recipes” that are little more than shopping lists for prepared foods and heating directions.

How many recipes can there be? One might say “an infinite number,” but I think that’s too generous. There’s only so many unique combinations of stuff that are likely to appeal. And remember that we’re trying to appeal to the most basic of people. When you look at the recipes I’m talking about (on boxes, jars, cans), these are written for people who have little more than the box, jar, or can of product being promoted.

So, for the challenged marketing wonk who has to put some passable “recipe” on a product, here’s Paco’s Special :

  • Take 2 chicken breasts (it’s always 2 chicken breasts)
  • Apply 2 tablespoons of
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Bake 15-20 minutes or until done (duh. Don’t bake more or less than ‘done’)

Congratulations.