A Dayquil-Induced Rant Against Pretentious Food Porn Magazines (Mainly, Saveur)

I was deathly ill last week. I was fairly certain it was the summer plague or typhoid. I’m not sure. My guess was walking pneumonia, but I’ll admit I tend to be a bit dramatic on these issues sometimes.

It started with a sore throat, some harmless coughing. Then, over the course of the next couple of days, it hit all the stages of grossness—stuffed up nose, phlegmatic cough, painful throat and ear canals and general miserableness.

I moved downstairs to the couch (in an effort to save XFE from both catching my disease and losing sleep from my coughing). And during those many long nights and days alone ensconced in my couch, drenched in Vick’s Vap-O-Rub, drinking cup after cup of Throat Coat (ok, and a hot toddy or two) and hopped up on various cold medicines, I had a lot of time to think about life’s mysteries and how precious good health is, and most importantly, the state of our household magazine subscriptions.

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I’m addicted to magazines and we have quite a few subscriptions, including a few to food porn magazines. At one point, we were getting Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur, but now we’re just down to the last two. There are a few reasons we’ve cancelled subscriptions—we don’t make anything in them, or we just have too many magazines piling up.

But the number one reason we cancel food magazine subscriptions is because they make us (OK, me) feel so dumb sometimes. I cannot believe how over-the-top ridiculous some of them are and how difficult they make every recipe.

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Let me just say, the covers are always stunning, and maybe that gets to my point—maybe I just attracted to the pretty pictures. But it’s the bait-and-switch aspect of those pretty pictures that really gets my goat. Listen, I’m not opposed to learning something. Reading about the intersection of food and travel always gets me excited. But then I would like for that to be followed with a simple, easy to replicate recipe that doesn’t require me to go to eight specialty stores to forage hard-to-get ingredients. Or, require a new piece of cooking utensil.

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From a food porn, visual standpoint, the October/November issue of Saveur is hard to improve upon. The cover featured a metal roasting dish with pan-seared chicken (skin on, of course) resting on a homey looking cream sauce with bits of onion, garlic, kale and mushrooms nestled between the perfectly bronzed chicken pieces. It was lit by angel halos hovering over the pan. That’s the only explanation I could come up with. It was that divine looking. I wanted to lick the cover and/or immediately roast a chicken before I remembered I was a bubonic plague carrier and should not be touching or sharing any food. Or licking magazine covers. Especially that.

I had high hopes, indeed. I’ve roasted plenty of chickens. Now, I want to learn how to make one that looks like THAT! And bathe in that sauce.

As if it were a sign of great things to come, Saveur had declared this “The Origins Issue,” which seemed—ok, a tiny bit pretentious but also deceptively, seductively simple. I mean, origins, right? Simple stuff. A product or ingredient at its wholesome original-ness, before it gets all messed with and complicated. Surely the recipes in this particular Saveur will be pared down, simple.

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Oh no, no, no. That is not the role of Saveur, gentle home cook. The purpose of Saveur and in particular, its’ origins issue is to reveal the mysteries of the food world to your bumpkin ass. And then, once the little barely lit stubby candle of knowledge is lit in your little pea brain–(“The first known western reference to soy sauce is in the journal of the English philosopher John Locke.” Huh, I did not know that!)–that fire of insight is soon extinguished by a complicated recipe calling for two types of soy sauce and rock sugar.

The table of contents really tricked me. It had the intriguing, aforementioned story about soy sauce, a story about where wine really came from (Armenia?!), a feature on the origin of nachos (1943, Piedras Negras by a guy with the nickname ‘Nacho’). But then XFE drew my attention to what I would have considered the real star of the issue, the food item that in my opinion should have been the cover star—a feature on “perfecting the pig in a blanket.”

I paused briefly. As a white-trash, trailer-park-raised Southerner, I consider myself a connoisseur of pigs in a blanket. And they do not need perfecting. In fact, it seems fairly impossible to improve upon the humble pig in a blanket. It’s like all those awesome 80s and 90s television shows being made into movies – it’s just not necessary (I’m looking at you, “A-Team”).

But I charged ahead, urging XFE to flip to page 46 and read out the recipe for the “Franco-American upgrade” of pigs in a blanket.

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What I heard almost killed me. The prep time was listed as 3 hours PLUS overnight chilling. The ingredient list for the dough (described as a variation on Southern biscuit sough) was 10 items long and the “Herbed Mustard Dipping Sauce” required another nine. Reading down a bit further, the ingredient list referred you to yet ANOTHER recipe for homemade mini pork sausages, which included another seven ingredients including–I shit you not–cooked sushi or Chinese rice and “heaping ¼ cup crushed ice.”

Pigs in a blanket require three ingredients – Little Smokies, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, and yellow mustard. That’s it. In fact, you cannot HAVE pigs in a blanket without those three ingredients. You can’t just swap out Little Smokies for some poached sausages (they didn’t even use proper casings. They had you roll them and poach them in Saran wrap.) In fact, in the accompanying text, the author says pigs in a blanket are made with “tins of Vienna sausages.” I’ve never had them that way and think that sounds disgusting. No wonder he thinks they can be improved upon.

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You also can’t just substitute Pillsbury Crescent Rolls with some biscuit-type dough. If we wanted out Little Smokies wrapped in biscuits, we’d just call that a biscuit sandwich! Which, oh, by the way, already exists and you can even buy the Jimmie Dean ones in the frozen breakfast food aisle at the store! Minus the rice!

The ingredient list for the dipping sauce got me particularly heated, as the first couple of ingredients are “juice of 1 lemon, Dijon mustard, fine sea salt, egg yolks, and canola oil.” The recipe urges you to “whisk the lemon juice, mustard, salt and egg yolks. Slowly beat in the canola oil, in drops at first, then in a stream, whisking continuously to form an emulsion.” You are then informed that “the mixture will eventually be similar in texture to a mayonnaise.” THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS MAYONNAISE. That is how you make mayonnaise. Those are the ingredients and that’s the method. Not “similar to.” For this dipping sauce, you are making mayonnaise.

So why not just say, “mix your fanciest mustard into a cup or so of your best Hellmann’s—or Duke’s if you got it,” and call it a day?

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I understand what the author was getting at. He’s trying to “elevate a delectable finger food beyond the annals of semi-homemade mid-century cookery.” But that’s my problem with food porn magazines like Saveur. Why does an admittedly delectable semi-homemade (ok, not really) finger food need to be elevated? What’s wrong with it in its current state?

So, I’m not going to run out and cancel our subscription, but Saveur, you are on notice. Let’s leave the French to their saucisson brioche, and they can leave us to our pigs in a blanket. And you guys need to embrace the awesomeness of our simple, semi-homemade mid-century fare.

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