The Overused Sentimental Recipe Trope

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You’ve been there, I know you have. It’s Wednesday evening and the family is screaming for blood. Well, maybe not blood, but they’re definitely hungry. You go online, looking for a recipe that won’t require too much time to prepare. In the back of your head you remember the ground beef you took out of the freezer the other night. It’s still sitting on a plate in the fridge, floating in a pool of watery blood.

So, whatever you make has to include ground beef. Should be simple, you think. Except it isn’t. Though versatile, ground beef tends to put people in a rut. When my wife made beef and rice for the third time in a week once, I had to say something. I got the stink eye, but she eventually conceded that it was getting a little monotonous (before you say anything, I do my fair share of the cooking too, and have fallen victim to the same-old, same-old doldrums more than once).

Nobody wants to eat Hamburger Helper, and if you do you need counselling. Over the years you’ve cooked up tons of meatloafs, burgers, meat sauces, tacos, sloppy Joe’s and countless other old stand-by’s, and you’re sick to death of every one of them. You want easy, but you want novel too. This will require the big guns—a google search. You look up “easy recipes using ground beef” and start looking through the returns.

There’s literally hundreds of pages to peruse, all claiming to have exciting, fast, and nutritious meal ideas with minimal fuss involved. You skip past some of them without hesitation, knowing that your son or daughter will not countenance the spicy ones. Others just sound too bizarre. Who really eats curried hamburger wrapped in dill-infused lettuce leaves anyway?

You keep searching, growing more anxious with each passing minute, until one finally catches your eye. It’s a hash of some sort, with sweet peppers and onions and diced chunks of potato. It looks delicious and there’s only six ingredients, including the ground beef itself. Even better, it requires only one pan and promises to be fast and easy. You’re relieved to find something that will appease the endless whining chorus of: “When is dinner gonna be ready? I’m hungry,” that issues from the living room at regular intervals like a demonic broken record.

You don’t have long before they release the hounds, so you click on the link and hope for the best. It takes you to the page, but immediately something is wrong. The recipe title is there at the top in bold letters, with a sexy food-porn photo front and center, but the recipe itself is nowhere in sight.

You start scrolling down further, reading through the introductory prelude. You keep scrolling and your heart begins to sink as you realize the writer hasn’t written a recipe—they’ve produced an epic tome. Suddenly you’re reading about the time the author rediscovered this particular recipe after recalling some misty water-coloured memory from their youth.

Jesus Harold Christmas, as my father used to say. I don’t want to hear about the summers you spent as a child at your grandmother’s house in Martha’s Vineyard, just tell me how to make the goddamn hash!

There’s photos of the process, interspersed with gouts of verbal diarrhea that goes on and on. Now it’s become a life-affirming lesson of some sort, about the power of family bonds or some crap like that. Really food writer? You’re gonna go there? I got hungry people here ready to eat the cats; I don’t have time for your feel-good shit.

Granted, there’s mention of ingredients and preparation tips among the dross, but it’s like a distraction that the author keeps distancing himself/herself from so they can get back to talking about the time Grampy Bob swamped the boat in front of the lake house. Screw your Grampy! I want food, not platitudes.

Finally, though, the end is in sight. After all that extraneous blather the recipe lies at the bottom of the page, condensed into ten little bullet points. It really couldn’t be easier. By then, however, I’ve had enough. I reach into the cupboard and pull out some Hamburger Helper. I wasted too much time reading to make anything else.

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