To Ground Your Ego, Visit the Recipe Ratings on MarthaStewart.com

This looks delicious; one commenter cautions, "BAKER BEWARE."

This looks delicious; one commenter cautions, "BAKER BEWARE."

I frequent the Martha Stewart website when I'm in need of a lesson in poise from Martha's Chow Chow, Genghis Khan, before a formal dinner event. It's also my favorite resource for learning how to assemble "All-American" picnic dishes. Unfortunately, Martha's All-American Potato Salad never makes it to the family reunion because I get sucked into solving the mystery behind the site's contradictory recipe ratings instead of boiling four pounds of russets.

In past searches for shortcake that diverged into territories of shortbread and short ribs, I noticed that the site’s most popular dishes, which also receive mostly positive written reviews, are rarely rated above three or four stars on a scale from one to five. I’m well-aware that I’m a card-holding member of the generation that was awarded trophies for sneezing, but the bold “meh” responses to these widely-distributed recipes are peculiar. After all, most of MS's recipes have worked for me....but maybe they didn't? Do I even know what Blueberry Pie (shared 17.0k times, rated 3 stars) is supposed to taste like???

My latest trail of proof supporting this phenomenon commenced with a click on Martha's Beef Chili recipe. This "chunky sirloin version" of chili was applauded by two commenters. 

"It was pretty good, but the one my friend makes has cocoa powder which in her culture is also used as a spice and has a rich earthy taste to it," wrote one user. "I also prefer this with sour cream. Will definitely make again."

"I like it!" said the other, and though it was shared 4.9k times, the best rating it could get with 101 votes was 3 stars.

Another: Salmon, Red Cabbage, and New Potatoes, shared 6.7k times. It involves grainy mustard, it's done in less than 40 minutes, and Susan Nelson said that it's "easy and delicious" and that she'll "definitely" make it again. I summoned for a Lyft to take me to Susan Nelson's duplex in Danbury, Connecticut but subsequently canceled it when I scrolled up to find yet another 3-star rating across 289 votes. It seemed that Suzy and I were better off dining at Arby's.

Slow-Cooker Sweet-and-Spicy Chicken: Commenters flocked to this recipe that's been shared 11.8k times. Most said that they added more spice to awaken their taste buds, like kittyonmyfoot, who added a teaspoon of cayenne and "will make it exactly the same way next time." Edmund2 admitted that he pounded his chicken more than he should have the first time around, which, been there, DONE that. The vibe in this thread was peach fuzz with a splash of kumbaya, but 901 unidentified James Beard Award-aware internet users agreed that this poultry dish was only worthy of a 3-star rating. "Dinner that makes itself" or "dinner that should stick to its day job"?

To properly evaluate this vicious unpopularity contest, I needed to assess the public reception of MS.com's prom queen, the site's Pinterest pièce de résistance: One-Pan Pasta. There's a good chance that you've seen a version of it made on a major morning show between 2014 and now by a lifestyle expert for a segment called "Dinner 911". It was adapted by two Martha Stewart recipe developers during a visit to Italy when their restaurant server taught them about pasta risottata. The idea is that you eliminate the painful 15-20 minutes that it takes to boil water by combining all of the ingredients, except the herbs and seasonings, in a large skillet and stir it until the liquid is evaporated, about 9 minutes. It's a dream of a recipe for someone who was just informed that they need to run a half-marathon in an hour to save their own life.

I found the original MS recipe and put my hand on the screen until I reached the comments section. Here are a few selected responses from...

  • The slime-offended: "Horrid. Starch from pasta permeates sauce and makes it slimy. Cook pasta separately. Drain. Add to sauce. Yes, two pots but SO much better!! Don't be so lazy!"
  • The 'al debate' expert: "Great concept, horrid outcome." [note: 'Horrid' is contagious.] "The starch from the pasta has to go somewhere. It goes into the 'sauce', giving it a nasty, viscous quality which completely ruins the dish. Cook pasta al debate in rapidly boiling, salted water. Drain and add to sauce ingredients. How hard is that, really? Do not fall for this short-cut. It results in an inedible plate of pasta. Sadly.?"
  • The person who enjoyed it because they chugged the rest of their Chardonnay in eight minutes while stirring the pasta: "I absolutely LOVE this dish for several reasons ... The taste is amazingly fresh and vibrant. I substituted one cup of Chardonnay for a cup of water and added mushrooms."
  • The puzzled person who passed out on their period key: "NEEDS SOMETHING? I Added a can of artichoke hearts (quarted) and a handful of capers but methinks this needs a bacon or ham to zip it to the next level. I will say that the nine minutes ( I used 8) was pretty spot on in terms of the pasta being al dente........ "

And for the stats? 403.8k shares, 7119 ratings, but stay seated for 3.1 stars.

So what's happening here, folks? Are the accessible 30-minute recipes on MarthaStewart.com being held to a disproportionate standard of prestige? Has our exposure to masked Internet trolling devolved us into Neanderthals who are incapable of supplying some kind of proof that a purported 1-star-rated recipe made us bleed from our eyes? Are people even cooking these recipes before they rate them? 

Or do these ratings speak the truth? Is the human race and the beauty that we've created — rockets, Jude Law, Creamy Macaroni and Cheese— just mediocre in the grand scheme of this microcosm that is the Milky Way Galaxy (200 billion stars, MaryLou29 laments, "DUSTY. BLEGH.").


Analyze & Discuss:

Or don't, and leave a 2-star rating instead!