Although I like to cook and use fresh ingredients to sustain myself, there are times when a boxed, overly processed, banal foodstuff is the order of the day. These were originally made in the fifties, to save time for the person who didn’t have time to cook a fourteen course meal complete with soup, salad, and desert. The first of these were the famous TV Dinners and the Swanson Salisbury Steak, which included a tasteless pancake of ground animal with a congealed brown liquid added for taste. They were simple, fairly inexpensive, and introduced westerners to the complex flavours of Salisbury, which is apparently, brown and salt.
Vast portions of the grocery stores are dedicated to the instant cuisine of questionable nutritional value. Most of them are incredibly easy to prepare, with instructions like: “Put box in microwave for 2 minutes, enjoy” or “Peel back foil, pour in boiling water, consume” or “Unwrap. Ingest”. These simple instructions make them exceedingly popular with our large population of college students who are learning the complex variations of our world like hexadecimal calculus, theoretical atomic physics, and the works of Chaucer, but have to be TOLD to “enjoy” that box of unimaginative noodles in a day-glow orange sauce that tastes nothing like cheese.
It was these simple instructions that made them so popular, and I have to admit, that is why I occasionally buy them… but then something evil happened. Cable cooking channels.
“Celebrity” cooks started to appeal to the college and university crowd and influence their eating habits. Jim Bob, who is a second year engineering student, started watching Rachael Ray make Crab Arancini with a risotto milanese in a truffle reduction covered with a saffron dusting, and looked down at his bowl of Mechelina’s Flavourless Slime Noodles with Hot Dog Pieces, and with an explosion of vocabulary that can only be attributed to today’s students of higher education, he pointed to the television and exclaimed “I WANT THAT!”.
So, of course, the purveyors of the processed boxed meal had to do something to satisfy the drooling masses that watch Gordon Ramsey cook haute cuisine while screaming profanities at the camera. Suddenly, there were a variety of fancy boxes in the freezer section that promised four course gourmet meals, just like we saw on last week’s edition of Top Chef, and for the low low price of twenty eight dollars.
The problem is, these new “Instant meals” are not so instant and don’t include the remedial instructions of the past. Now when you buy “Paula Dean’s® Punjabi Puffed Pastry™ with Purple Pakora, Poppadom, and Pickled Parwal” there is a longer set of instructions printed on the box:
- Preheat oven to 505° Kelvin.
- Grease a platinum baking sheet with truffle oil.
- Open the blue package, and place the Punjabi Puffed Pastry™ on baking sheet in a helix pattern.
- Place baking sheet on top shelf of oven and bake for 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
- Set stovetop to mark 17.
- Place an inverted brass frying pan over flame and heat until it glows red.
- Flip pastry in oven, reduce temperature to 437° Kelvin and bake for 14 minutes and 2 seconds.
- Open the purple package and pour powdered contents into a medium-large bowl.
- Add 1/14 of a tablespoon of low fructose maize syrup, 1/2 a cup of Pellegrino, and 5 tears from a baby panda.
- Stir mixture.
- Open oven and flip pastry.
- Raise temperature to 439° Kelvin and bake for 9 seconds.
- Using a Patented Paula Dean Poppadom Persuader (sold separately), place a dollop of mixture to glowing pan on stove.
- Fry until sepia brown.
- Repeat last two steps until mixture is depleted.
- Open the green package and remove Purple Pakora.
- Grease a separate silver baking sheet with extra whorish olive oil.
- Arrange pakora on a silver baking sheet and place on lower shelf in oven.
- Flip pastry and bake both trays at 680° Kelvin for 4 hours.
- Open khaki package and place parwal on cutting board.
- Cut parwal into rhombus shapes, careful to adhere to Euclid’s definition of an equilateral quadrilateral.
- In a jar, pour in 1/10 of a decalitre of Paula Dean’s® Powerful Pickling Potion™ with Parwal, and set aside.
- Flip half of the Purple Pakora and most of the pastry and bake at 290° Kelvin for a nanosecond.
- On a serving platter in the shape of the Louvre, arrange Pastry, Pakora, Popadoms, and pickled parwal in the pattern of the Venus de Milo.
- Saffron to taste, and serve.
Needless to say, lunch kitchens in offices and dorm rooms are going to need a redesign.