Friday, May 17, 2024

The Unofficial Beetlejuice Cookbook: Beautiful Yet Flawed

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Grocery store. Grocery store. Grocery store. Things surrounding Beetlejuice come in threes, and the effort I had to go through to test this cookbook was no exception. Beetlejuice is a classic movie by Tim Burton that’s been adapted for television and the stage. The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook comes from the creative minds of Thea James and Isabel Minunni.

This isn’t the only cookbook inspired by media James has published, with two based on the world of fantasy. Pitched as “75+ darkly delicious recipes inspired by the Tim Burton classic”, the word ‘inspired’ does a lot of heavy lifting. Although I did enjoy some of the recipes I tried, the beautiful design and photos were much more compelling. 

photo of a chow mein recipe

I made four things from this cookbook – buns, pasta and cheese, steak, and a chocolate mousse.

Jane’s Buttered Buns: I consider myself a decent baker. When I was younger my dream was to become a pastry chef, a dream squashed by academic expectations. The buns seemed simple – make the dough and cover it with garlic-herb butter. Unfortunately, the final result was more like scones than buns. 

The problem I ran into was a flaw in the recipe. It says “knead dough until smooth,” which gives the implication that the dough would be perfectly smooth to the touch. This dough didn’t have the liquid content it would have taken to have a perfectly smooth exterior. Instead, the dough should have been kneaded until well combined. I say this because the smooth nature was never achieved and I over kneaded the dough. Other than the texture, it tasted nice. The garlic-herb butter required fresh herbs, which would have been nice if I hadn’t needed to go to two stores to get the full combination. Fresh herbs are somehow both common and uncommon, but there was nothing to be done about it. 

Fancy Pants Lobster Mac and Cheese: Full disclaimer: I made this for a dinner party and I had to remove the lobster and the bacon due to dietary limitations. However, I’d argue that the base for a mac and cheese should taste good even without the meat. I made this twice, and while people insisted that the one closest to the recipe was good, it was the second one that I’d be willing to eat. 

This recipe doesn’t call for macaroni. It instead calls for 3-cheese tortellini. I went to three grocery stores before finding it, and even at that what I got might not have been the right thing. A lot of pasta can be bought fresh or dried. 3-cheese tortellini is one of those pastas. Unfortunately, none of the stores had dried tortellini of any capacity. The last store had fresh tortellini, so that’s what I used the first time. The second time I used dried macaroni. The recipe calls for 1/4th teaspoon of salt and 1/4th teaspoon of pepper. That’s virtually nothing as far as seasoning an entire container of pasta goes. I upped the salt and pepper the second time. The recipe also calls for 1/4th teaspoon of nutmeg. Although the salt and pepper were barely there, the nutmeg was very strong in the dish. I didn’t use nutmeg the second time. The crunchy topping originally had bacon and that was the only real flavoring to it, as panko and plain breadcrumbs simply made the dish kind of dry. 

However, the star of the dish was the problem of the dish. Again, I went to three stores before finding Gruyere. It’s not a cheap cheese. The wedge I got was $10 and I used half of it for the recipe. It’s a fine cheese and the sauce made tasted good on its own. It just made the dish something only to be made for a special occasion, for the average consumer at least. And yes, saying “I only liked the version of the recipe that I made” isn’t a good review point, but I figured out that it was likely dried tortellini that the dish called for, just from a texture perspective. 

Miss Argentina Flank Steak: Following every recipe so far, I had to go to multiple grocery stores for this recipe. The tomato salad and dressing were fine to get. The problem was the meat, flank steak. None of the stores I went to had it. They also didn’t have common substitutions. I have no clue where I could have gotten it, considering the grocery stores I went to were at three different price point tiers. I used petite sirloin steak instead. I’m not sure how much of a difference the cut of meat makes, but the focal point of the recipe was the tomato salad. It was absolutely delicious, a combination of peppers and tomatoes mixed with a seasoned vinegar dressing. I absolutely will make it again. 

My Life is One Big, Dark Mousse: The problematic trio that was attached to this recipe was human error. I’m used to melting chocolate with butter, which is really easy to do on the stove or in the microwave. The chocolate for the mousse was chocolate chips melted in a double boiler. I messed it up, overheating the chocolate. I tried this again after doing a little improv, mixing some half empty bags of chocolate chips from the shelf with baking chocolate. Instead I used the microwave and promptly overheated it. Running out of options, I mixed baking chocolate with chocolate melts and heated it on the stove. It worked the third time, and the rest of the recipe was easy. The mousse set well and was very smooth and airy. I garnished it with blackberries and replaced the mint with raspberries, giving a nice fruity component at the end. I’m actively excited to make this one again. 

photo of a meringue recipe
Final Thoughts

The Unofficial Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Cookbook is inaccessible. I’m lucky enough to have a selection of grocery stores to go to. But if you’re someone who shops at a store like the first one I went to which is known for lower prices, there’s a lot that can’t be made in the book. For example, Manhattan Hand Rolls use ahi tuna and black rice. I likely would have needed to go to Chinatown for the rice. It’s one thing if it was a couple of recipes here or there. The fact that three of the four things that I randomly chose needed multiple stores isn’t feasible for everyone.  

Along with the issue of finding the ingredients, the concept around the book only follows through in about half of the recipe. The author’s note in Party Like a Roman Rack of Lamb talks about how two characters were named after a Roman Emperor and a Roman god. Lamb chops were a party staple in Ancient Rome. That’s the justification for the recipe being in the book. There are a lot of odd choices like that and I was expecting more things connected to the dark world of Beetlejuice. Instead it felt like someone came up with a bunch of recipes and then was asked to connect them to Tim Burton.

The book itself is gorgeous, with tantalizing photos and interesting, though rarely related, author commentary. There’s a good variety of recipes within it and it’s broken up into easy to understand categories. There are plenty of things that I do want to try in the future, but that’s with the knowledge that the instructions might not be as clear as I hope.

Images courtesy of Media Lab Books  

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