Friday, November 2, 2007

Puree Madness: Seinfeld vs. Chase Lapine. (Also, Roasted Asparagus.)

Did anyone catch Jerry Seinfeld on Letterman the other night? He was defending his wife Jessica against charges of “vegetable plagiarism.” CNN has a rundown, but here’s a quick summary: earlier this month, Mrs. Seinfeld published an Oprah-endorsed cookbook about hiding vegetable puree in kid-friendly foods. Missy Chase Lapine (a.k.a. the Sneaky Chef) released a similar cookbook in April, and was perturbed by the apparent appropriation of her idea. Jerry, ticked by the accusations leveled against Mrs. Seinfeld, fired back on Late Show in response. He was inexcusably mean.

Frankly, the whole debacle seems silly to me, not least because secret purees are a terrible message for kids in the first place. (“Hey, Johnny! You never have to learn to eat healthily! We’ll just stick some peas in a cookie, and everything will be great! Also – don't ever work hard. It won’t get you anywhere.”)


Imagine if Jerry had done a standup routine, only to find a 25-year-old telling near-identical jokes a week later. How would he react? My guess is anger, then dismissal. That’s probably happened to him tons of times.

What if that same kid was making millions off those bits? Even if he claimed he had never heard of Jerry Seinfeld, I have a feeling lawyers would be involved, but quick.

Cooking is a lot like comedy that way. There's no real Intellectual Property Law in either. So, no matter how wonderfully original you think your joke or recipe might be, if Patton Oswalt or Wylie Dufresne beat you to it, you drop the subject and/or credit them profusely. Otherwise, it's hacky. Letting go is honorable, and it’s what Jessica Seinfeld should have done.

What about her defense? Well, maybe puree-ing has been around since God said, "hola!" to Moses. Maybe her puree-based cookbook was totally her own idea, and she didn’t think one existed beforehand (...right). Maybe her recipes are phenomenal, and she deserves a special place in heaven as St. Peter’s personal sous chef. But once she realized someone had put out a nearly identical tome six months prior, she should have backed off the Look-What-I-Created-I’m-a-Genius angle (which, I saw her Oprah appearance, and … yeah.), if not the whole project entirely.

So, before siding with the Seinfelds, think of where Missy Chase Lapine is coming from. She might not believe her idea was stolen (just cribbed). She might think she ought to be given credit for a cooking method she basically put on the map. She might think a little-known author to has no chance in hell against an Oprah-and-Letterman-backed star’s wife with millions of dollars behind her. She DOES have every reason to complain, and Jerry Seinfeld should know better than to rag on someone who has zero way of defending herself.

(For a slightly more profane, gloriously to-the-point analysis of the situation, check the Onion.)

(For a long, gloriously drawn-out analysis, there's Jezebel.)

That said, uh – LOOK! ASPARAGUS! Whee! I’ll keep this super-short since I’ve written a novel-and-a-half already.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Brown Butter has an astronomical rating from Cooking Light, and is one of the only CL sides I’ve seen to receive more than 100 reviews. We tried it last week with some chicken, and it went beautifully. I halved the recipe since it’s just the Boyfriend and I, and once again, Cooking Light provided the nutritional information, so the calculations aren’t listed here. The price – that’s another story.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
4 servings – 5 spears each
Adapted from Cooking Light.

20 asparagus spears, trimmed (about 1 pound)
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/16 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.

2) Place asparagus on cookie sheet in a single layer. Spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 12 minutes, until tender.

3) While asparagus is cooking, cook butter in a small pan over medium heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, occasionally stirring or shaking pan. Kill heat. Add soy sauce and vinegar. Stir. Pour over asparagus, "tossing well to coat." Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
45 calories, 3 g fat, $0.39

20 asparagus spears, trimmed (about 1 pound): $1.76
Cooking spray: $0.03
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt: $0.01
1/16 teaspoon black pepper: $0.01
1 tablespoons butter: $0.09
1 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce: $0.03
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar: $0.02
TOTAL: $1.95

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Amanda said...

Asparagus? At this time of year? Sounds delicious, but not entirely earth friendly...

That aside - I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog, and recommend it to everyone I know.

Sasha said...

I've made this dish and always adore it. Good stuff!

SAHMmy Says said...

Great points. Both Seinfelds should have the grace to acknowledge the Sneaky Chef's book as an inspiration, if nothing else. Their attitudes just make me wanna back the little guy with my dollar!

Kris said...

Hi ladies - thank you for checking out the post!

Amanda, you're totally right about the out-of-season aspect of the asparagus. I have no idea why it was so cheap. The stuff usually goes for around twice the price this time of year (especially where I live). I'll have to look into that.

And Sahmmy - completely. It's just another argument for supporting small businesses. To quote the man himself, WHAT's the DEAL with the COOKBOOKS?