We all have to admit that the real reason we watch reality TV shows, such as the X-factor, is in anticipation of those cringe-worthy acts where a talentless and deluded wannabe sings an appalling rendition of I Will Survive only to be brutally confronted with the harsh reality that survive they will not, certainly not in this competition anyway. In an article in The Huffington Post, Tom Alderman looks at why we are so obsessed with ‘shame TV’:
If a truth gun were put to our collective TV heads asking why we watch American Idol, and The Apprentice, the answer might be: we like watching people being humiliated ... [We] do cheer for the powerful singer. But aren't we really waiting for Simon, Paula and Randy to rip into some over-eager, untalented hopeful who actually volunteered himself for public degradation? ... We can't seem to get enough of these debase-me-now shows.
The German word Schadenfreude has been adopted in English to explain pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Alderman cites clinical psychologist Dr Geoffery White, an LA based consultant to reality TV producers, who believes that this is the spirit of our times; when people “are feeling unsettled, uncertain and powerless, there is comfort, indeed enjoyment, in seeing other people suffer. We don’t feel so alone.” Given our fascination with this new brand of schadenfreude, it is perhaps surprising that there is no contemporary English equivalent of the word.
At this point you would be forgiven for wondering what on earth this has to do food. Well, my food flop may not be the stuff that reality TV shows are made of, but I thought you might get some enjoyment out of reading about my horrendous attempt to make a Dalmatian pot roast.
Dalmatian pot roast – Dalmatinska pasticada – the most famous of Dalmatian dishes; “one cannot omit this dish from a list of traditional Dalmatian specialties.” It should have been the pièce de résistance, the triumphant finale of my Dalmatian tribute. But alas, it was not to be.
My first mistake was in not consulting the methods of the various recipes I had decided to work from until I was ready to make the dish. Upon perusing the recipes at quarter to six last night I discovered that the initial preparation of the meat should have taken place 24 hours earlier. I also discovered that the bacon I had bought was totally inappropriate; it is not especially easy to cut chunky, sinewy lardons into thin strips in order to insert them into small incisions made in the beef round. Oh dear.
My second blunder was that I did not commit to using any particular recipe, instead taking what I thought would prove to be the best elements from each and throwing them all together. I often take this approach to cooking and it works just fine when you are cooking a dish you are familiar with, but I have never tried Dalmatian pot roast so I had no frame of reference. Nonetheless, I am pretty certain it is not supposed to taste like the dog's breakfast I cooked up last night.
The third and most unforgivable error was that I forgot to adjust the cooking time to account for the fact that the cut of meat I was using was half the size of that used in most of the recipes and so what could have been the meal's only saving grace - deliciously tender, pink meat - was as tough and chewy as an old leather boot. And the saddest thing? I wasted a whole bottle of perfectly good red wine in the process!
To be fair, none of the recipes I looked at were particularly well written; I might have been more cautious before throwing half a kilo of prime scotch beef at a bunch of recipes which call for the likes of ‘porridge tomato’, which I can only assume is a poor translation of ‘pureed’. And the fact that one of the recipes was written by a bunch of Croatian nudists should have sent the alarm bells ringing. But I shall not pass the buck, I should have known better.
When I started this blog my friend Jane, the self-proclaimed ‘hopeless cook’ advised me not to shy away from sharing my culinary catastrophes. Jane understood perfectly that it is the nature of the human condition to indulge in a little schadenfreude now and then.It is my pleasure to serve it to you on a platter ...
... but I wouldn’t recommend eating it.