2 Cans of… What?!?

I was swooping around the Net this afternoon, searching for useful recipes. Lime and I got ourselves a little oven, not a full-sized one but a bit bigger than a toaster oven — big enough to roast a chicken inside it, for example, but too small for a turkey.

Anyway, I noticed something about the recipes some people post. One of them is that anyone who includes ketchup as an ingredient in any recipe, I don’t need to ever look at any other recipe he or she posts — they’re all going to be unlikely to appeal to me.

The other one is that either food companies have been engaged in guerrilla marketing, or people are really dependent on prepared foodstuffs. I know, I used to be too — “Honky Helper” being a big one I used to love using to make various completely inauthentic versions of Indian dishes. (It’s not called “Honky Helper,” mind. I think the company was, ah, yes, Patak’s.) But living in Korea, a lot of those kinds of prepackaged foodstuff s simply aren’t available — unless you can reconcile yourself to the rather different local version, and the Korean version of instant curry horrifies me — or else one gets so used to cooking without such prepacked “help” that one finally prefers the superior homemade-from-scratch version.

For example, the soft chicken tacos we had tonight. I was thinking of making enchiladas — why not use the oven? — but the banana bread was in there, so I changed my plan. But  the recipe I linked above called for things like “two cans of Old El Paso enchilada sauce” and a bunch of other Old El Paso products to boot! It puts me in mind of the spice packets that you often see people using when they make tacos. What’s in them? I mean, besides the MSG? Me, I finally discovered the secret ingredient, that is, besides the vinegar and cayenne pepper and lime juice, cumin, touch of cilantro, and some other assorted spices in my kitchen. The secret is a healthy dose of the vinegar in which the previous, emptied jar of jalapeno peppers was packaged. This fluid probably has some preservatives and gunk in it, too, but I’m telling you, it makes the meat spicy and otherworldly all at once.

Anyway, the interesting thing for me is that one doesn’t need Old El Paso anything to make these foods. A little judicious experimentation and research can free you from the prepackaged stuff, and the food becomes a lot more delicious and trustworthy, too. The jar of salsa on the table got used, but I was much more excited about the slightly more expensive, and much more flavorful, organic tomatoes we bought — the kind with the vine still attached? Soooo good. I’m going to have to make some fresh salsa with a couple of packages of those babies sometime this fall.

For my next trick: a couple of beef pies, and a chicken biryani.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nice, cooled-off banana bread to attend to.

Oh, but before I do: there’s a neat website that Maura‘s husband Martin recommended to me over in Yokohama. It’s called Open Source Food. Yes, some people use ketchup as an ingredient there. But it’s a neat site nonetheless.

5 thoughts on “2 Cans of… What?!?

  1. My dad once told me this was an American thing. According to him, Americans tend to use prepared food in their cooking. Just his opinion, any way.

    We do get many recipes off the wire and in promo stories that contain processed ingredients.

  2. Food companies will release cookbooks that frequently call for the inclusion of an ingredient that the company makes, like Ketchup. It was quite common in the fifties, and these recipes would find their way into notebooks, church cookbooks, and eventually onto the net.

    As for prepackaged, I’m flexible about it. Nigella Lawson pointed out in one of her cookbooks that the French don’t apologize for serving a baguette from a nice bakery, so why should the reader feel guilty about using nice pre-made pesto or baked products.

  3. blue_lotus,

    Yeah, it makes sense, since most of the prepackaged products come from there.


    Yeah, I agree about something like pesto, as long as it’s good — hell, I used jars of pesto all the time, because I don’t know how to make the stuff and besides, it’s hard to find the ingredients here — though I’m considering trying to make some pesto with local ingredients, sometime. But I don’t grow my own jalapenos and pickle them, and I’ll even stoop so low as to buy kimchi at E-mart. Hell, good mustard is pre-made, too, and I’ll be damned if I ever make sausages.

    But for things I can quite easily prepare myself, I can’t understand why one would buy two jars of stuff instead of making it from real tomatoes I’ve chosen myself, with ingredients I select. I actually want to learn to make all kinds of pasta sauces, since I suspect it’ll be more delicious (and of course healthier) than the prefab stuff, since yes, I am dependent on Ragu for my spaghetti and I don’t like that. I find the things I cook and bake are usually better than the stuff in shops. And it seems to me a lot of people will never really discover that, because they it’s so much “easier” to get the jars of Old El Paso whatever.

    There is a line, though, beyond which a refusal to use prefab goods is a kind of puritanism. I wouldn’t go that far. For example, tomato paste can be useful. If you find a good bakery, baguettes from there are better than anything you’d make at home. And who has time to make all his or her cheese and beer at home? But I guess what I’m commenting on is the mirror opposite of that — a kind of cookery that uses almost no fresh ingredients, but rather a list of preprocessed ingredients.

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