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Thursday, October 27, 2005

In which, I bake.

----Melina's Diary-----

I've read about this: How food wizards and marketing psychologists work together to invent not-quite-instant foods -- packaged inventions that require enough "cooking" procedures to make you feel like you've played a vital role in creating your dinner (rather than going to Wendy's), but that don't take enough cooking to actually, oh, tire you out or anything.

For example, it's perfectly possible to make brownie mixes that have dehydrated eggs ALREADY IN THEM. But what the food psychologists have discovered is that people generally don't want to buy these kinds of brownie mixes, because they would feel like slackers. People WANT to add the eggs: it's participation. It's -- well, it's like -- cooking, man!

Listen, I can cook. But today in my friendly neighborhood Duane Reade I saw this packaged food that was so perfectly calibrated in this way that I had to buy it. I HAD TO COOK IT.

It's called "Homestyle Bakes." And to be honest, what it is is, two cans of chicken vegetable soup and a cup of bisquick. But here's where it gets complicated: It puts these three items in the SAME BOX. And here's what you're supposed to do with them:
  1. Put [bisquick substance] in bowl.
  2. Add water. (Okay, but this does not make it a recipe.)
  3. Mix. (Ooh! Fun! I'm mixing!)
  4. Shape into nine balls of dough. (Challenging! Interactive! Requires math skills. Gives you pleasant nostalgia for playdough-cooking in kindergarten).
  5. Space balls evenly in pan. (Requires coordination, but does not create performance anxiety).
  6. Pour both cans of soup over dough balls. (Dramatic. Quick. Does not require dirtying of any more bowls).
  7. Bake. (Bingo. We're done).
So that's what I was doing this evening. It's in the oven now. And I have to tell you, man, this was fun. I really recommend this recipe. To change the flavor, I bet you could just buy a different kind of soup.

The whole playdough aspect of this recipe reminds me of something one of my friends who works at Super Big Investment Bank said to me the other day. She was talking about how sometimes they need her to print out reports, so they send her running up and down stairs, stapling, hole-punching, picking the right printer that makes the prettiest colors. And she said, wistfully, "It's actually kind of fun. For an hour or two, you get to pretend you work for a copy shop." Same deal here - depending on your fetish, you can either pretend you're in kindergarten or that you're the happy housewife.

And then the next night you can rest on your laurels and order Chinese.

One other thing to note is that in the Duane Reade where I acquired this phenomenal food item, they do not sell bread. I was originally going in to look for bread to make a sandwich when I came out with the Magic Bakable Item. Duane Reade could easily sell bread. They sell a whole aisle's worth of food, including plenty of items that are just as quasi-perishable as 21st century supermarket bread. But they don't want to sell you any bread. Are they in cahoots with the 24-hour Chinese take-out joints? With the Homestyle Baked Product industry?

I don't know. But think about it.


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At 6:27 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

This precisely the kind of cooking I enjoy: minimal cooking skills required--but with enough room to innovate to pretend I know what I'm doing.

They have them at Ralph's, too.

In your honor... I think I'll cook today; frozen burritos get a bit tiring after a few months... and the microwave is on vacation.


At 3:12 AM, Blogger Caz said...

Great post, and the whole "instant baking" thing was very interesting, as I'd never thought about it before.


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