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November 14, 2004



If sneering bi-coastal elitism is a serious problem for the left, someone might be able to make the case that it's a good thing that my blue-stater husband is a great fan of that green bean casserole. It's culinary cultural exchange or something. (I don't take part in this cultural exchange. Yeccchh. He makes it himself and he eats it himself. I have my own dinner once the stench has cleared.) I can't even get the man to try switching to frozen green beans; they've got to be canned. Purist.

I don't get it. I await enlightenment.

belle waring

man, I guess if you ate it when you were a little kid, you might still like it now...but I ate plenty of radioactive mac and cheese as a child, and now I properly abominate it. so I don't know.


OK, what about 7-11 nachos, the old style where you could put enough cheese and chips into the box so that you had a bottom layer of chips that were like corn paper? that stuffs still good right? not that I have had an opportunity to eat that in years, but i still crave it.


Belle, it's because many of the so-called 'preservatives' activate the same receptors in the brain as heroin. You can actually buy the Kraft radioactive orange dust independently of the macaroni. All I need is the mirror and a razor blade.

And three can casserole is a dish du pays, part of many states' unique cultural heritage. Like haggis.


bob mcmanus

This is why Dems lost the election, no understanding of heartland values. I once tried to save a trip to the store, and it is still Cowboy halftime conversation: "Remember, I think '87, when Bob used Golden Mushroom Soup. Jeez, it was terrible."

Mitch Mills

There's a whole generation of home cooks who learned their skills in Home Economics classes in the postwar 40s and early 50s. I've read lots of popular cookbooks and women's magazines from the era and the basic parameters are: 1) Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup should be added to just about everything. 2) casseroles! Casseroles!! CASSEROLES!!!

Also there was a big advertising push from the large food companies to the effect that traditional home cooking was backward and troublesome and using canned and convenience foods was modern and what every sensible woman did. There's a pretty good book on this, the title and author of which I can't remember just now.

Mitch Mills

Ah yes it's Something From the Oven by Laura Shapiro.

Mitch Mills

Also, a previous book of hers, Perfection Salad is a very interesting history of "Home Economics".

From the Amazon review:

the book chronicles in numerous intriguing stories the ways in which an impulse to liberate women from the drudgery and imprecision of daily food preparation led to its debasement.

Matt Weiner

OK, I think the main thing here is what the guy says about Tuna Glop--you are late, or in a hurry, or just (in my case) too lazy to do any cooking or even buy freshish ingredients. So it's nice to be able to throw together three things you have around the house and still leave yourself with a bit more self-respect than just straight-up orange Mac and Cheese, generic brand. (Or in my case, not quite straight-up; I don't use enough milk for any other purpose to make it worth keeping around for M&C, and at some point I realized that making M&C with dehydrated milk is completely ridiculous. So I just use butter and water. Any unattached females reading this are requested to think of me as a potential interesting project, or forget my name.)

That only applies to Tuna Glop. There's no excuse for a recipe that involves both defrosting something and opening a can (except canned tomatoes and, well, lots of other things).

You know about the Utah-jello connection, right?

Anyway, I think I'll approximate Calvin Trillin's observation about why the food in snooty clubs is so bland--"The members associate spicy food with the kind of people that they're trying to keep out." Or maybe not, since that chuck recipe does involve salsa. Trillin observed way back when that Tricia Nixon didn't seem to be much of a cook.

belle waring

OK Matt, but the thing is, you could make all kinds of things from canned, boxed or dried ingredients in the same amount of time, that would actually taste good. Such as, an omelette. Or spaghetti with oil and garlic (fry garlic in olive oil, put on cooked spaghetti). Or penne with canned tuna, sun-dried tomatoes and capers. Spaghetti with fried egg and dried pepper flakes. Pancakes with dried apricots. Make tuna salad with that wan celery you've got kicking around down there, and then make a tuna melt on whole wheat bread. Quesedillas. Salad of canned chickpeas, olive oil, garlic and cucumber. Salmon patties with canned salmon.


Belle is my kind of cook. Those tuna casseroles were actually a lot of work - my mother's old Betty Crocker cookbook confirms. For the same trouble you could make a tomato sauce (onion, olive oil, garlic, can of tomatoes) and pasta. For much less trouble you've got all those items Belle mentioned - the dried apricots in pancakes are new to me, thanks for the tip.

I'll add one other pantry dish I learned to make in deepest Brooklyn back when the only reliable market in our neighborhood was a Dominican "bodega": tuna beans, a variation of a dish from Capri that we ate with crusty Italian bread. (there was a good Italian bakery nearby) Make your basic quick tomato sauce, flavoring it with basil fresh or dried, then when it's cooked down nicely (20 minutes), add a can of tuna and a can of white beans. Stir, let proteins get heated through, and serve.


If that book Mitch Mills links to is the one I think it is, my old girlfriend swears by it. The other thing, I think, as far as the politics, is that the "food science" philosophy, and the cans & crockpots revolution it instigated, and which wish-washed away a lot of ethnic and regional culinary repertoire than had been previously handed down, was developed by, liberal massachusetts do-gooders. Yuh-huh! If anything, I suspect there's a Burkean moral do be drawn in there somewhere, at least as much as anything else.


Also, I disagree with the suggestion that eating spinach casserole and coconut cream glop extruding Nilla wafers is a way of symbolically excluding minorities.

belle waring

that sounds tasty, Leila. they have new chefs at the Maidstone in East Hampton now, and the food is actually really good. great lobster bisque. and they even let in some ewish-Jay eople-pay, if you know what I'm saying.


Ok, hon, I'm totally with you on the funyons-green beans thing. My girlfriend's parents (here in Texas from New York City and Missouri via Iowa) make that stuff. Tres nasty.

I would NOT argue tho, that 'casseroles' are an innately bad idea. The balkan countries for one make a lot of things involving vegetables and meat baked in the oven. (With generic names for multiple similar dishes like 'yaniya' and 'djuvetch'.) That's because they're poor and have access to fresh vegatables to stretch out the meat. A lot of those are very very good, provided you use actual fresh vegetables. The campbells soup du jour plus canned something or another is simply a degenerate variant using the urban equivalent of local produce. Stuff in a can another words. Which is what you would expect when the children of farmers and have, ya know, jobs.

In this case, I expect it is a simplified version of a version of Haricouts Mange-Tout A L'Etuvee (Mastering, Julia Child, page 448) which is green beans, onions and (wait for it) lettuce baked in the oven and then doused with light cream. So bright young thing came up with a substitute involving canned beans instead of fresh, funyons instead of lettuce & onions and Cream of Mushroom instead of whatever bechamel ('Call it a flippin' white sauce, mate!') was originally involved.

Since I never heard of it before my gf mentioned it, what with the southern roots (but the northern roots had heard of it, when I asked) I am guessing it originated somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Now this on the other hand:
>Crock Pot recipes involving (only) chuck steak and Pace Piquante sauce?

is also a degenrate variant. But not nearly so far degenerated. The line 'Shred meat between two forks and use with juices to make the dish of your choice!' gives it away, since it mentions the two forks trick which is strictly a mexican food thing. At one end you get of the dry/wet spectrum of stewed mexican beef you get:

"Carne Seca
Carne seca means "dry meat". Brisket is often used, since it has less meat juices than other cuts fo meat. Carne seca (or carne machaca) is stew-cooked and seprataed into strings of meat. It is used in burros, chimichangas, tacos and when blended with green chile, onion and stewed tomatoes makes a delicious green chili con carne. To make Carne Seca stew, cook 1 1/2 pounds to 2 pounds of brisket in a Dutch oven. Season meat, cover and cook over medium heat with a small amount of water. Cook meat until fully cooked [I think she means fork-tender]. Allow to cool then separate into pieces and cut into bite-size strings of meat."

And then it goes into burros (burritos) or tacos. That one comes from a very Hispanic lady from Tucson.

A wetter version is:
Carne Deshebrada (Shredded Meat)
1 lb stew meat
1.5 cups of water
Salt and pepper, veg oil
1/2 medium onion
garlic clove
1 lb tomatoes peeled and chopped
1/2 pound green peppers in strips
Optional serrano or small hot chile
Cooked rice

Beef, water and salt into dutch oven, boil, reduce, simmer covered for two hours. Cool. "Use 2 forks to shred meat". In a skillet cook onion and garlic til soft, not brown, add tomatoes, simmer until cooked. Stir in green peppers, meat and chile pepper. Add broth from stewing. Leave out if you want it dry. Cover and simmer until the green pepper is cooked. Serve over rice.

So switching to the crock pot and using the salsa is just short-cutting the stew, fry, simmer process. (Caldo rachero would actually use salsa (or hot peppers) up front which the sliced meat, and the water, since you're making a soup.)

And all of the above are related to real chile which is just tough meat simmered slowly with lots of hot peppers and spices.

And of course, fajitas originate in the valley as a tasty way to use skirt steak which was, pre-craze, a very cheap cut of meat.

So I have to say that the green bean recipe probably originates in the blue states or at least the north, and the beef recipe has its origins in Mexico or at least Hispanic culture, so neither qualifies for the wingnut epithet. You should pick on the potato salad with mayo or squirrel with biscuits or something.

On a note related to this one, I printed out that recipe you posted before (Salem Gorbeh? spelling) and went hunting and sure enough, there was a balkan version - stewed lamb and beans with the difference that they use tomatoes instead of lemons. (Which is a 'new' addition from the last 500 years.) It was pretty good.

The notion of two versions got me to checking and yes, there seems to be a closely related stewed lamb and beans recipe spreading all the way from North Africa to India. Which matches fairly closely with the 'round flatbread area'. That area runs from India through the fertile crescent, west along the North African coast, jumps north into Sicily and peters out in southern Italy. It also runs north through Anatolia and into the Balkans and seems to peter out north of Sofia and then also seems to extend West to Spain. (And from there, in the tortilla form, it seems to have jumped to Mexico, where the descendents of Aztecs created a corn version.)

What's weird about that is there seems to be a flatbread/fluffy bread line that splits southern Europe from Northern Europe, such that Tuscans and Hungarians and Provencal don't seem to use it at all. Nor did it jump to China that I can tell. (No idea about Southeast Asia.) No idea of why that is.

The ingredients though, seem to indicate a very old dish (lamb, beans (lentils?), flatbread) which could easily go all the way back to area and era of Gilgamesh.

I think that's a neat idea.

['Preview? HAH!']


On the general "what's the connection between wingnuts and food that tastes like ass" point, may I suggest the obvious? These are not people who believe that pleasure is a good thing, and so they end up with a pathological relationship to it. Hence right-wingers becoming obese on intrinsically nasty-tasting fast food and microwaveable snacks, likewise anti-sex evangelicals with high rates of divorce, patronizing prostitutes, etc.

If you accept that pleasure is good, it's not that hard to arrange your life to get more pleasure and less of the negative side-effects of pursuing it. If you think that pleasure is, in itself, a sign that whatever you're enjoying is wrong, then you're going to end up eating jello with pretzels in it.


Completely unrelated to previous response:

>Or spaghetti with oil and garlic (fry garlic in olive oil, put on cooked spaghetti).

Pasta aglio e olio. But but but but but but but but where is the black pepper, the hot red pepper and the parsley? {sniff, sob}

>Or penne with canned tuna, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.

{suspicious stare} Canned tuna? Sounds like Insalata di penne, but um, that's with black olives, 2 sliced hardboiled eggs and a bell pepper, preferably yellow or red.

(Never made it, remembered it tho. The whole canned tuna bidness make me suspicious.)

Spaghetti ai fruitti di mare, with say a pound of shrimp (skipping the molluscs), olive oil garlic, a coupla tomatoes and some pepper sems like it would avoid that whole canned thing and just use plain old frozen shrimp.

You left out, um, Spaghetti cacio e pepe! Either with just black pepper and grated cheese and a touch of water afterwards or lots of butter, otherwise the same. Granted, using pre-grated cheese is somewhat suspicious but not quite as suspicious as AHEM canned tuna.

(There's some trashy food for ya! Canned tuna with mayo and like onions and gherkins and stuff. I-C-K-Y.)

Of course, if you aren't being lazy, you can take two pounds of some pretty unripe (or perfectly ripe, whatever you've got) tomatoes, cut the tops off, put them upside down in a pan, with a touch of water so the pan doesn't burn, and simmer for maybe 30 minutes. Then run it through the moulee and back into the pan, and reduce it a bit, and then toss in one ten-leaf branch of basil and a tiny bit of salt. Perfectly sweet, no sugar needed. Over fresh angel hair is like the best tomato sauce ever.

Takes a bit of work tho.

['Childhood food traumas explained.']

Mary R

Ah, memories. My sister had given me a cookbook of simple weeknight recipes. We had used many with great success. I looked through the side dishes. There was a mushroom soup/green bean casserole. I had never had one, neither had my husband. (Both blue state babies with mothers who loved us.) I gave it a try, and it was the only rejected, uneaten food I have ever made.

Matt Weiner

Belle, I must protest--you're not projecting yourself into the Lazy Single Guy mindset. I think at least half of the things you made involve eggs, which do not come in cans, and if I'm not with it enough to use up a half-pint of milk before it goes rotten how am I going to use up 1 doz eggs before they start stinking up real bad? And you've also seriously underestimated the lack of effort that goes into stuff here--if it requires more effort than chop, chop, boil, drain, mix, than it's more effort than I sometimes feel like putting in at the end o' the day. Also, when you're cooking for one, it's very important to have enough stuff for the next meal or two. Also shopping is an important constraint (particularly shopping that can't be done at the hip corner grocery with lousy produce, which means that I have to get in the car, which means when I come back I have to spend half an hour trying to decipher Milwaukee's ridiculous parking regulations, let alone finding a spot). Plus I'm lazy! Why can't you deal with that? Why must you coastal elites--I assume Singapore is on the coast of something--continue to heap scorn and contumely on the likes of me?

spacetoast, what I was thinking was more along the lines of--many of today's conservatives often seem to put a lot of emphasis on rebelling against the bicoastal cultural elite who are somehow oppressing them like mad without holding any political power. (Many--by no means all--of these links illustrate the point.) So I would expect aggressive right-wingers to go for recipes of the meat-and-potatoes-and-corn type. Except, honestly, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't people posting recipes for chili, barbecue, and fried chicken, all of them red-state identified. Back to the drawing board.

ben wolfson

Singapore is a coast. Eggs are easily purchased by the six. Pasta keeps. You should always have oil, garlic and pepper on hand. Come on, Matt. As a fellow in lazy single guydom I resent the image you're propagating here.


I think it might be an Annunaki Lizard thing, because it goes all the way up the social spectrum. I have a cookbook from the Monserrat Museum Association (an association of perfectly nice but frighteningly well-off rich old white people who have a little museum on the formerly idyllic island paradise/current volcanic disaster area) and it has *all* these recipes in it.


Yeah, Matt, I have seen that stuff, but I have also seen commentary to the effect that the people who voted for Bush (which I didn't, by the way) were asserting their nostalgia for slavery, and other wacky shit, so...

Anyway, I guess stuff like "Beth's savory chicken," or whatever, looks pretty continuous to me with the sort of thing that people have been making out of Family Circus and the like for a long time now, and I think the source of that phenomenon is really not at all like the Trillin line about the white-shoe/country-club fare, and excluding undesirables.

belle waring

I have been thinking about the crock pot salsa and beef, and it's probably pretty OK. It's just I feel suspicious of recipes that involve "a jar of this and a can of that."


Um, yeah, that is, Family Circle, although, for all I know, my grandma cooked out of both.

Mitch Mills

I think a lot of the popularity of recipes involving "a jar of this and a can of that" has to do with reliability / foolproofness over anything else.

If you don't much like to cook or didn't have the luxury of having someone to learn from and/or a period of learning to cook for forgiving audiences (like just yourself, or some hungry but polite roommates), it's risky to try to feed your family based on a recipe that uses too much of "approximately" or "about" or "to taste" etc. It's a big relief to a lot of people to have recipes with standardized measurements and ingredients that pretty much always turn out.

Now a lot of things can be made from scratch a lot easier than most people realize. Using a mix to make brownies doesn't really save much time or effort at all, for example. But, the mix is basically foolproof, and for someone not in the habit of baking, it's nice to know that they're not likely to screw it up, even if the results are inferior.

Another problem I see with friends who don't cook often is that when they do try to cook something, they do it for a special occasion (a date or a dinner party or cooking for in-laws or some similar situation) and they pick a complicated set of recipes. The stress of "performing" for an audience and the difficulty of working with unfamiliar recipes usually makes it a not-very-fun experience and reinforces the belief that cooking is hard and not very enjoyable.

Also, a lot of people I meet who don't cook (much) seem to have a magic belief in recipes, i.e. the reason they aren't a good cook is that they just haven't found the right recipes yet. You serve them up a nice meal and afterwards they say "That was great, you have to give me the recipe!" And they think a recipe is basically just a list of ingredients, ignoring the knowledge and technique required to put them together successfully into a dish.

Jacob T. Levy

Wow-- I feel like I'm seeing my culinary history flash before my eyes. When I was growing up my mom was all about the Family Cirle, no-spice, casserole, mayo, chipped beef on toast approach. First year I was both away from home and off meal plan, I lived on Ramen Noodles, generic M&C, peanut butter, and sugar cereals.

The *second* such year, living within walking distance of a grocery store (and living in Australia, where both the tastes and brand identities of junk foods were different) I ended up eating more or less exactly how (and what) Belle prescribes for the lazy single man-- (plus lots of stir fry).

Mitch Mills

And oh, as per ash above, there's nothing inherently wrong with casseroles. It's just the gloppy ones that have given them a bad name.

And there's nothing wrong with canned tuna either. It's a completely different food than fresh tuna, yes, but good canned tuna is good nonetheless, and has been widely used by home cooks all over the Meditterranean for many decades.

Matt Weiner

Mitch, I think reliability/foolproofness is a big thing. Especially because when you talk about knowledge and technique, you're basically talking about a lot of precise, finicky little things that may not be much fun to do if you don't particularly enjoy them. So the time and effort saved by using mixes may be more than is apparent to more skillful cooks. (Related: Every estimate of time spent chopping and peeling I've ever seen is low by about a factor of five. Why is that?)

JTL is right that distance from a grocery store makes a huge difference. When I was living directly over one I cooked a fair amount.

Also, I'm not saying the lazy single guy shouldn't put spices on everything. Nothing non-lazy about that.

Another Damned Medievalist

Hey -- I like Tuna glop, made my way which is complex and not cheap. I like mac and cheese, preferably made with real cheese. And dammit, the first thing I ever learned to cook was pork chops -- brown, throw in rosemary, a couple of tablespoons of sherry and garlic salt, add can of Safeway (cheaper than Campbells) cream of mushroom soup, simmer till tender. Serve with rice. When you're 12 and cooking for the family, it's nice to have easy recipes like that. ANd it doesn't taste bad -- just more along the lines of "comfort". Ow well. home now to sautee up a bunch of chanterelles I got on sale. Topping a Risotto with them. Talk about easy.


I would just like to take this opportunity to defend the green bean casserole. Sure, the original version features three cans of stuff and nothing else, but we always made it with frozen green beans instead of canned (The horror!) and added Worchestershire sauce and black pepper to the mix. When else do you have the opportunity to eat french fried onions? Besides, it beats brussels sprouts.

(Why on Earth people continue to promote brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving I'll never know. I suppose maybe if you cook them right they're good, but it's not something that should be suggested for the pineapple-in-Jello crowd.)


brussels sprouts are actually very tasty. they sometimes smell funky while cooking (just as cabbage and cauliflower do). if you get them still on the stalk, after there has been a frost...mmm. boiled with melted butter is hard to beat, but they're surprisingly good roasted with garlic and rosemary and olive oil (cut them in half first.) they don't have brussels sprouts in singapore. too bad. I think we're having blanched french beans, and creamed spinach with roasted onions, instead. Maybe some salad with dried cranberries and spiced pecans; I haven't worked everything out yet.

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