Why do we settle for things that are mostly crap?

I have a bag of Jolly Ranchers in my office. At my suggestion, it was given to me as a Christmas stocking item.

Now, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. But I noticed two things about the Jolly Ranchers after I opened the bag:

1. The overall quality of Jolly Ranchers has really gone down since I was a kid.

2. Cherry Jolly Ranchers are my favorite, and there are very few in the bag. It seems like it’s over half watermelon, my least favorite.

I started to think about how Jolly Ranchers are a little like a can of mixed nuts. Most cans of mixed nuts sold proudly advertise “less than 50% peanuts” which, to me, means the can is 49% (or maybe 49.99999999%) peanuts.

Peanuts are OK, but they’re definitely the bottom rung of the nut ladder. (Bad metaphor.) There’s a reason peanuts — filler, essentially — dominate the proportions in a mixed nuts can: they’re cheap and plentiful.

I’m not so sure why the proportion of flavors in a Jolly Ranchers bag wouldn’t be evenly distributed; I can’t imagine that some of the artificial flavors cost that much more than the others. But I just wonder if people have become so accustomed to the “good” options in an assortment being more scarce that they would be strangely, perhaps even unconsciously, disappointed if it were otherwise.

Put another way: would cherry Jolly Ranchers taste as good if they were 49% of the bag?

There’s a deeper question here though. Why do we put up with so much mediocrity in life? Limited resources are certainly a factor. A can of nothing but whole cashews and Brazil nuts (my favorite) would probably cost $20. And we’d rather shove our faces full of peanuts in the quest for the occasional rare broken cashew in a $6 can of nuts than sample sparingly from a higher-priced can of just the good stuff.

I guess. Or maybe we’re just chumps.

Scott’s Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

I cannot imagine many things more hipster than artisanal ketchup. Then again, I do love ketchup. Then again again, can I really endorse a product whose website uses a handlebar mustache as its favicon?

I’ve never actually tried artisanal ketchup, but I think I may have just accidentally made some myself. You see, SLP and I stopped by Everett’s today, and ended up walking out with a take-and-bake “mom’s meatloaf.” I figured a meatloaf like that needed a proper tomato sauce to go with it, not just a few squirts of Heinz, but I couldn’t find a recipe to my liking. So, I just decided to wing it with ingredients I had on hand. I realized as I was cooking my sauce that it was drifting dangerously close to artisanal ketchup territory, but nonetheless I went for it. The end result was good. A great complement to the meatloaf, if perhaps not quite sweet enough or thick enough to stand in for real ketchup on something like a (grass-fed) hamburger.

Yes, this recipe is principally comprised of beef broth, so it’s anything but vegetarian. Then again, I made it to put on meatloaf.

Here’s the recipe, as I made it (to the best of my recollection). If you experiment and find a better variant, please let me know in the comments!

Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

1 tsp olive oil
¼ c red onion, chopped
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 c beef broth (for thicker sauce use 1 ½ c)
1 tsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)
½ tsp salt (or more, to taste)
dash cinnamon

Whisk together the tomato paste and beef broth until well blended. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Avoid browning the onions.

Add the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in the tomato paste-broth mixture. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Don’t put the same spoon back in the pot or you’ll be Chopped.

Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved.

For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable broth or water in place of beef broth. If using water, add extra salt.

For a smooth sauce, i.e. to get rid of the chunks of onion, puree after cooking. (And if you don’t know what happens when you put a hot liquid in a blender, you’re on your own.)

Serve hot or cold on whatever you like: meatloaf, burgers, poutine, scrambled eggs, ice cream. It’s all good.

Update: When I made the ketchup a second time, I considerably increased the amount of both red wine vinegar and brown sugar, from 1 tsp each to 1 tbsp each. It was awesome. I’d also suggest adding a dash of either Spanish paprika or cayenne pepper for some extra kick.

I just had a dream about the most horrible food imaginable

I rarely share my bizarre dreams with the world, but this one was so bizarre, so incomprehensible, that I just had to share it.

I was at a McDonald’s on the East Coast (in New Jersey, I believe), and I discovered they served all kinds of items that are not on the menu at McDonald’s in the Midwest. One in particular was Salisbury steak. But that’s not the most horrible food imaginable. It is part of the most horrible food imaginable.

I can’t even remember exactly what they called this culinary disaster, but I do remember its name ended (ironically? cruelly?) with “Delight.” First, they started with a bed of rice. That’s the only marginally healthy aspect of the whole meal. Next, they placed two Salisbury steaks end-to-end atop the rice. Then, on one steak, they placed four of their standard hamburger patties, each topped with a slice of cheese. On the other steak, they placed four Filet-O-Fish… uh… “filets”… each also covered with a slice of cheese. And then they topped it all off with two more Salisbury steaks end-to-end, and drenched the entire thing in a generous pour of thick brown gravy.

I have attempted an “artist’s rendition” of this horrible food nightmare, for your misery. (And, yes, it was served in a paper tray exactly like this one.)

My love-hate (or is that hate-hate?) relationship with Domino’s Pizza

I’m not sure how I feel about Domino’s Pizza. It would be easy to say I hate it, but then, if I really hated it so much, why do I keep getting pizza there?

Domino’s made waves a few months ago with a risky ad campaign promoting their completely revamped pizza recipe. Publicly acknowledging that your old crust tasted like “cardboard” and your old sauce like “ketchup” and your old cheese like… well… I’m not sure what, but it wasn’t cheese, that’s a big risk for a major chain like Domino’s. Millions of dollars in revenue were at stake. And if you’re willing to acknowledge that you’ve been delivering a decidedly sub-par product to your customers for decades, why should we trust you to make it better?

And yet, I still order Domino’s. It’s not like my pizza palate lacks sophistication: there’s an excellent local pizza joint (in the vaguely New York style that dominates most of the country) just a couple blocks farther from my house than the nearest Domino’s (which is close enough that I shouldn’t be able to justify not walking to pick up my pizza); I’ve relished the authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas from Pizza Biga and Punch; and I enjoy the contemporary American reinterpretation of what pizza can be (albeit in a homogenized, chain restaurant fashion) from California Pizza Kitchen. And then of course there’s Davanni’s.

And yet, even after all of that, I still order Domino’s.

I think it has more than a little to do with the fact that I hate ordering pizza over the phone. I don’t like having to have the person on the other end rattle off the specials; I feel like I’m missing something. I like ordering online, because I’m a web geek, it feels like a video game, and more practically, because it lays out all of my options before me, and I can experiment at my leisure until I have exactly what I want, at the best price available. If my neighborhood pizza place had online ordering, I would never get pizza anywhere else. But as it is, my choices are Domino’s (bad) or Pizza Hut (worse). So, Domino’s it is.

Last night we ordered a pair of medium Domino’s pizzas, trying both the new thin crust and the new hand-tossed crust. The pizzas were not great. Visually they were fine, and structurally they were OK — the crusts were actually pretty good. But the flavors were so intense, so recklessly assembled, that the overall impression was just a pure taste assault. Unfortunately, that pure taste assault has been carefully tweaked and optimized to trigger all of the proper pleasure centers in the human brain (or at least the American human brain), so even though I didn’t really enjoy the pizza — it was something to devour, not to savor — I just couldn’t stop myself from eating more and more and more.


Domino’s Pizza isn’t food; it’s a drug. And I think I’m hooked.

Mmmmmmexican Coke

I had noticed for some years that it was increasingly common to see, in the Mexican food sections of most local grocery stores, stocked in amongst the numerous flavors of Jarritos soda, a few glass bottles (the old-time returnable kind) of Coke. Mexican Coke. I never really “got it” or, frankly, cared too much to figure out what might be different about it and why it would be sold here, but lately it seems that the Cuba Libre (more commonly known simply as a Rum-and-Coke, or, if you prefer, a Rum-‘n’-Coke) is becoming trendy… for some reason. But along the way to that discovery, I also learned what’s different about Mexican Coke and why people, especially those who are used to it, would bother to buy it instead of the American version. The recipe still includes cane sugar.

Yes, although we’ve had “Coke Classic” here in the U.S. since the Coca-Cola company gave up on the insipid “New Coke” concept (although, interestingly, you can still buy it as “Coke II” in certain parts of Chicago), it’s not really the original formula, and not just because it doesn’t include cocaine. (I’m not talking that original here.) The U.S. version had the cane sugar replaced with America’s most beloved ingredient, high-fructose corn syrup, in the mid-1980s, around the same time that particular ingredient started showing up in everything. Click the link above to learn more about why Americans, or at least American corporations, love the stuff so much. It’s also worth checking out some of the commentary on the failed 1985 launch of New Coke and the reintroduction, a few months later, of Coke Classic. One almost has to wonder if the whole New Coke thing wasn’t just a risky ploy to ultimately get away with switching Coke Classic from cane sugar to corn syrup, since this was the moment when that transition occurred. Perhaps going straight to HFCS would have enraged customers, since it does taste slightly different, but the few months enduring the original drink’s miserable replacement made Coke Classic seem great, even if it was slightly different than before. But I digress… (Then again, isn’t digression the defining characteristic of this blog?)

Tonight SLP and I decided to try the “traditional” Cuba Libre, not just the college freshman’s intoxicant of choice, so although we still lamed out on the rum with Bacardi, we got a bottle of Mexican Coke, and took the extra step of including a lime wedge in the drink.

I didn’t actually try any of the Mexican Coke on its own, since I needed all of it for the mixed drinks, but even with the rum and the lime mixed in, I could tell the difference in the Coke. The drink overall lacked the cloying, slightly chemical-y taste I am now accustomed to in Coke. For a moment I had a flashback to the taste of my youth (minus the rum, of course). I look forward to trying a bottle of Mexican Coke on its own soon, preferably consumed straight from the bottle, since they’re the same shape and thickness as the old returnable bottles of yore… just slightly larger, since the Mexican bottles hold 500 mL (16.9 oz) instead of 16 oz.

I’ve noticed that Mexican Coke is getting easier and easier to find in the U.S. these days, so for those of you who, like me, are old enough to remember (though you may have long since forgotten it) the taste of pre-corn syrup Coke, I recommend picking up a bottle sometime soon!