Packaged Dinners

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 16, 2011

Yummy Beef Stroganoff

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

We were watching a cooking show on OPB. This was several months ago (like over a year, maybe). The personality dehyrdated tomatoes in the oven, then she pulverized them in the blender. The result was a tomato powder. Suddenly, it dawned on me: instant “Hamburger Helper.”

We haven’t purchased macaroni and cheese in months. Yes, the cheese powder is cheaper than the 5lb bricks of our Tillamook staple, but homemade cheesauce is just as easy. My cooking evolution seems so obvious, I am surprised others haven’t drawn the same conclusions.

Ramble, ramble, ramble, what does it all mean?

My friend Elizabeth told me, tonight, about a book she has that links the increased purchase of package foods to moms working away from home. I believe it. My husband claims he can burn water (proven, untrue by who was that again?). He wants processed hot dogs and easy mixes. So, tonight, I wanted to show him how easy it was to cook cheese sauce. I am hoping by engaging him in the kitchen, layer by layer, he will step up naturally.

He tried to catch me at my game. He said that when I told him what we were making he heard, “Blah, blah, blah, yummy.” (At least he heard yummy!) So, he started talking about a 4.5 inch rachet with a flex  head that has 44 teeth, and he wants the one with 88 teeth. When I parroted back his desire, he started speaking in product codes. Silliness. But, he stuck around. And, he helped at last put water in pans and pretended to listen while I explained how much butter we melted, when we browned the garlic, why I was adding in flour and how much milk. He even critiqued the sauce as tasting a little too floury. It might have been, but wasn’t to me.

I’ve been thinking about whole foods cooking for so long, I can’t recite all the reasons that got me on this train. Though, I can think back to a few things. I grew up with packaged foods and a mom who claimed she can’t cook. Oddly, she came from a woman who cooks home cooked, fabulous meals, nightly. So, what’s the disconnect? When I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to work at a resturant-resort. Because of my position, I ended up helping in the restuarant when I had no clue as to what I was doing. I learned how to hold a knife, weighed out meat for hamburgers, and discovered that cooking is temperature. You sear a steak on each side then cook it until it’s pink. But, a roast,  you slow cook it for hours. The size of the dish the temperature of your heat source are hugely important. These are my trouble shooting tools to this day.

My husband wants me to fix a car with him, start to finish. Brakes were the item he offered up. If I want him to be in the kitchen, it’s only fair… right. (Gulp.) I said, “Suuuure.” He didn’t comment if he heard the pause and reticence.

So, tonight’s shared food prep was enjoyable. It was a simple, yummy meal, lightly seasoned, and cooed in under a half hour. The only canned thing was the salmon. Everything else was as fresh as it could be. It tasted better, it was more or less cheaper, and it was better for you. I added a teaspoon of salt to the whole dish, that was split into 6 servings. I was able to do this because of my food club. So, although my husband isn’t ready to make a meal on his own, he does recognize how amazing our food club is. He helped in the kitchen tonight, and he’s been supportive of our food choices. That’s a pretty amazing step right there.

If you’re in the City of Portland, take the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Survey. You have until August 29th. Tell them they are going in the wrong direction with many of their ideas, especially in regards to CSAs & Buying Clubs. They claim the purpose is to expand access, but all they are offering is restrictions. How do restrictions really expand access?

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