I love fresh food. I love cooking from whole ingredients. I go slightly insane when I can't have plenty of fresh vegetables with my meals, and I live in Southern California, where we have a year-round growing season and farmers markets that make even people from other produce-rich states green with envy.
But sometimes, things aren't improved by making them fresh. I know–sacrilege, and I'll be drummed out of the Alice Waters Appreciation Society for saying this, but sometimes foods taste better processed.
1. Green bean casserole
I once tried to gussy this up–made my own cream of mushroom soup from fresh, local mushrooms and my own fried onions, with fresh-that-morning Blue Lake beans… and it sucked. It didn't taste at all like the Thanksgiving special. I gave up and made it the right way after that.
2. Midwestern fruit salad
No, not the pieces of cut-up fruit–that, in Minnesota, is called “fruit cup”–this is what most people in the world call ambrosia, a “salad” made of canned fruit cocktail, nuts and marshmallows in sour cream and Cool Whip. If you make it with fresh fruit and real cream, it's not at all the same comforting dish.
3. Spam fried rice
It's practically the state side dish of Hawaii, but try making it with country ham, corned beef or another equivalent and you'll see that it has to be Spam in order to taste right. Now if only there were a way to deal with the awful conditions in the Hormel plant…
4. Frito pie / Chili billy / Mexican straw hats
I don't care what you say; it isn't the same unless you ladle chili into the bag of Fritos–and yes, they have to be Fritos. Making them with freshly fried chips made from tortillas hechas a mano doesn't result in the same thing. Even the Mexicans agree–except they call it tostilocos and use hot sauce instead of chili.
No, not the Spanish word for cheese–the gabacho word for melted cheese with chiles in it. Sure, you can go ahead and try and do it with any of the famous melting cheeses and fresh chiles roasted up, but it won't taste like queso, because queso has to be Velveeta and Ro-Tel chiles.
Honorable mention must go to my secret (well, not so secret anymore) shame as a food writer. It's so utterly processed that it literally could not be replicated using whole foods: spray cheez (like the kind in the first picture of this article) on Chicken In a Biskit. I love it–but I don't eat it very often because a) it's absolutely horrible for me and b) I can't eat less than an entire box plus can.