Feedbag: Am I A Bad Person For Liking Junk Food?SWelcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to albertburneko@gmail.com with the subject "Feedbag." All of them.

Scott:

I think of myself as a person who likes good food, and I would privately like judge others based on their poor taste, but I have my own dirty secret: While I relish in both making, serving, and consuming high quality dishes for the sophisticated palate[...]

I'm sorry, could you excuse me for just a moment?

[gouges own eyes out]

Do go on.

[...]I also like a lot of crap. I love Kraft Yellow Death. I love plain old ramen noodles. I won't turn down something from Sbarro's (I know!).

With apologies to Caity Weaver, Is That Okay?

Believe it or not, we're all in general agreement, from Sophisticatey McPalate over here to the Walmartingest Walmarters who ever Walmarted, that shitty, processed, mass-produced corporate "foods" are bad. Big Mac, Kraft Mac, pretty much the entire Mac food group: We all understand that these things are crud; that those which do not contain distressing quantities of asshole tissue contain instead distressing quantities of cheaply-synthesized imitation asshole tissue.

But sometimes we misidentify exactly what is bad about these foods. Top Ramen, for example, is bad because it contains nothing which an intellectually honest use of the English language would permit to be described as food. That's bad. On the other hand, Top Ramen tastes good. Denying this is stupid (although this will not stop the Food Weenie Brigade from trying): Top Ramen is very precisely formulated by evil evil laboratory scientists to taste good. Furthermore, because it is laden with an absurd number of calories relative to its actual volume—and because for virtually all of the history of life on earth, living things have spent nearly every moment of their waking lives in frantic pursuit of as many calories as they can consume—you are damn near hard-wired to enjoy the shit.

That's exactly what makes crap like Kraft Yellow Death and McDonald's french fries and the like such effective villains. Think about it: If they tasted like the ass they assuredly are, no one would eat them. Instead, they taste good, in their ham-handed indulgent way, and we enjoy them, and we hoover up rails of Hamburger Helper flavor dirt in the alley out back, and no I do not have a problem, you have a problem, no you're fired.

So yes, Scott, to paraphrase Ms. Weaver: itz OK to enjoy this awful, awful, Z-grade "food." In fact, it's kind of unavoidable. Whatz not OK is to eat it all the time, because that will cause you to become dead.

Ken:

I bought a cast iron pan and everyone is yelling at me about 'seasoning'. I can sorta season food, no experience with metal. Clue me in please.

Seasoning, for the unacquainted, is a way to improve the stick- and rust-resistance of a cast iron pan. It's pretty straightforward. Coat your pan with some canola or vegetable oil, stick it in a 350-degree oven for a half-hour, then wipe it down with a rag. What's pretty cool is, once your pan is seasoned and has cooled down, it is no longer coated with liquid oil, but with what's essentially a plastic stick-resistant surface of your own making.

I'm sorry. That's not cool. I misspoke.

The important thing is that, once your pan is seasoned, you can't use dishsoap to clean it, or you'll have to season it all over again. A seasoned pan should be cleaned with hot water and a rag. You can also use salt to scrub a seasoned pan, if you need to, which is funny since salt is more famously used to season things.

Wait, that's not funny. Dammit!

Seasoning a cast iron pan, I'm sorry to say, won't make it as stick-resistant as even the crappiest nonstick pan, but it'll render the pan stick-resistant enough for use, which is nice, since presumably you bought it for cooking and not for, say, braining door-to-door solicitors. Don't cook highly acidic stuff like tomatoes or vinegary sauces in your freshly-seasoned pan, because they'll lift the seasoning right off of it. Take good care of your seasoned cast iron pan, and it'll serve you reliably through all the seasons of your life!

#nailedit

Matthew:

The English language being the disaster that it is, we use the word "salad" beyond its original meaning (involving a bowl of vegetables and a sheen of general healthiness) to describe a Big Three of "salads" that have no real relation to actual vegetables, yet bear the name "salad", despite being more like mayonnaise-y sandwich spreads:

  • Egg salad.
  • Tuna salad.
  • Chicken salad.

Everyone loves all three of these standard sandwich fares as part of the spread at your average picnic/family reunion/work potluck/extremist cult meeting. The problem is, they're all so inherently... bland. 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 cups (eggs/tuna/chicken), add optional onion/celery bits, and let congeal in a bowl overnight. If you're charged with bringing egg salad/tuna salad/chicken salad to an event, what's a way to punch them up a bit so they taste like something you didn't just buy at a store?

The desire to make your delicious protein-and-fat mash which is bizarrely called salad more tasty is a noble one, Matt, but keep your additions simple. If you want to make your tuna or chicken salad more interesting, add some cracked black pepper and a tiny pinch of cumin to it. For egg salad, add a small amount of dijon mustard and bring along some good tomatoes to eat with it. Or, add a squirt of sriracha to all three. Don't go crazy with extra flavors. If you want to add some crunch, do it by putting some lettuce on a sandwich, not by chocking your tuna salad full of six pounds of chopped celery.

Everybody knows the annoying Guy Fieri Dude who can't just be relied upon to bring some basic, familiar, totally and perfectly satisfying dish of friggin' chicken salad to the family reunion picnic because he just goddamn has to "punch it up a bit" with some stupid mango or habanero or his fucking "signature" mango-habanero-cheddar bourbo-vodka aioli; or the friggin' Angel of Healthfulness aunt-in-law who friggin' signs up to bring egg salad, and then brings some shit that has halved grapes and dried cherries and ten thousand pounds of organic home-grown vegetables in it and you have to hunt for bits of egg like you're fucking gold-panning because she took it upon herself to inject some "freshness" into the proceedings. Everyone hates these people. Do not be these people.

Egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad are good. People like them. That's why we eat them a lot, and we call them "salad" so that we can feel OK about that. They're perfectly OK as they are, so if you're going to add a personal touch, make it a light one. Think of, I dunno, tickling them, instead of punching them.

OK, tickling egg salad sounds weird. But, don't punch it either. I think I've made my point.

Timothy:

I ended up with some leftover Domino's Garlic Sauce after a recent Meal of Shame, so I decided to mix it with sriracha

I like your style, buddy.

and coat a couple chicken legs, ticketed for the oven, in the mixture.

Let's, I mean, can we just hug a little? Let's hug a little.

It turned out okay, but the bold flavors largely disappeared during the oven time. What did I neglect to add? How should I better preserve the sordid buttery sharpness of the garlic sauce?

So close, Timothy. So close to greatness.

Here's the thing about butter: Butter is the best thing in the world. The other thing about butter, though, is that the longer it cooks, the more its flavor smooths out and hides beneath everything else going on in a dish. (This is true of garlic, too, which makes garlic butter a fickle mistress indeed.) So, in order to preserve it as one of the dominant flavors in your food, you must either use a ton of it (which is great, except for the part where you die young), or add it closer to the end of the process. My advice, you beautiful, wonderful, absolutely apeshit insane genius of a man, you, would be to cook the chicken most of the way through with maybe just some salt and pepper, then brush it with your wonderful sriracha-and-leftover-pizza-topping mixture for just the last, oh, five minutes of cooking time. I'm not entirely sure what result you're gonna get—since it's entirely possible (likely, even) that your Domino's Garlic Sauce contains neither butter nor garlic, and is instead just butter-flavored canola oil with some garlic salt in it—but I'd say you'd significantly improve your odds of an end result which tastes noticeably of butter and garlic, and of winning the Nobel Prize.

Send your Feedbag questions to albertburneko@gmail.com.

Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. You can find lots more Foodspin atfoodspin.deadspin.com.

Image by Jim Cooke.