Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cooking Lessons

Last night my husband made something for dinner that reminded me of one of the first meals I tried to make when I was about 12. When the smell started wafting out from the kitchen, I was reminded of the small, brown and white galley kitchen in our house in Washington, D.C. My mother had been on her sausage-and-tomatoes-with-pasta kick, and I had begged to be allowed to make it for Saturday night dinner. I was left unsupervised, and I think I can safely describe the outcome as a total disaster.

The actual recipe goes like this: Italian sausages (sweet, hot, or a combination, which is what my mother used, and at the time turkey sausage was unheard of—it was pork all the way, baby) are cooked in boiling water for about 10-12 minutes. They’re then drained, and the casings removed, and they’re sliced into approximately ¼” rounds. Penne pasta (or ziti, or any tubular shape, or yes, dammit, if you insist, bowties) is cooked in the usual way.

Chop one or two onions (depending on their size), and in a pan large enough to ultimately hold the pasta and sausage and still have room to stir, sauté the onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sausage and let it brown up a little bit (for purely aesthetic reasons, since you’ve already cooked it in the water), then add a couple of cans of diced peeled tomatoes. Salt and pepper can be added at this point, and while ground pepper adds to the dish, the sausage is often salty enough to negate the need for additional salt. This is purely a personal choice. This should be allowed to cook down a bit, until it’s no longer soupy, but not dry either. What you’re after is something just shy of a true sauce; it should still need to be spooned, but shouldn’t actually require a ladle.

Once the desired consistency is achieved, the pasta is stirred in (because the way my mother always made this, by the time the sausage and tomatoes were ready, the pasta was cold; this step heats up the pasta, as well as ensuring that it gets well coated with the other ingredients), and then a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley get sprinkled over everything, and it gets served. If, once the pasta is stirred in, it seems too dry, a little water or broth could be added to loosen it up, and then the parsley stirred in.

Two packages of sausage (one hot, one sweet), two medium onions, a one pound box of pasta, and two 14oz. cans of diced peeled tomatoes makes enough of this for six people with reasonable appetites, or four very hungry (or very piggy) people. Amounts can be adjusted to make more or less as desired. Although not part of my mother's original rendition of this dish, some chopped garlic could be added about the time the onions get soft and translucent. I think when I was young she skipped the garlic for my sake. Either that or she used it and I never noticed, so that when I attempted to make it, I didn't realize there was supposed to be any garlic in it.

Actually, in thinking about it, this would make kind of a nice dinner party dish. I’ve never made it for that, but it could be largely done ahead, and heated up just before serving. The parsley would have to be added at the last minute, or it would suffer, but everything else would be fine. The water-or-broth strategy would probably need to be employed, but it would be doable.

Anyway, that’s the ideal series of steps, which at almost 40 years old, I’ve now obviously mastered. At 12 I think what I had firmly in mind were the ingredients, but I was a little hazy on the execution piece of it. And I was, as I say, left unsupervised to do this.

What I did was this:

* Cook, remove casings from, and slice sausage
* Cook pasta
* Chop and sauté onion
* Stir pasta, sausage, and tomatoes into pot with sautéed onion

The result didn’t quite look like my mother’s, but i wasn’t totally sure why. Clearly I had done something wrong, but in the way of 12 year olds, I figured it was good enough, and maybe no one would notice the difference between my version and my mother’s version. I called my mother to the kitchen to have a look.

She frowned, peered more closely into the pan, and asked if I had browned the sausage, and cooked down the tomatoes. Reply in the negative. She frowned harder and tasted a spoonful (I’m not really sure why—my recollection of what the finished product looked like at that point is that it was pretty obviously a far cry from the intended, so why she felt the need to actually taste it is a little beyond my comprehension; perhaps she felt she was giving me the benefit of the doubt).

“But this isn’t even good!” she cried.

Thanks for your sensitivity, Mother.

Somehow she managed to separate out the ingredients—I think she took out the sausage, and then just rinsed off the noodles. She remade the onion and tomatoes, and stirred it all back together and we had it for dinner half an hour or so later than originally intended.

It was a long time before I was allowed to make dinner without being monitored.

I did, however, learn a valuable lesson about the layering of flavors, and increasing depth throughout the entire process. The experience also planted the seed for the lesson that some things just can’t be rushed. It took awhile for the latter to really sink in. For many years after that, my strategy when I got impatient with something that I was making was to just crank up the heat. I was teased by a college friend for doing this (my roommate and I both did it, and she mocked us both for the smoke filled kitchen that always seemed to result in any effort on our part to make something cook more quickly than was really reasonable).

Now I’ve developed much more patience as a cook. But the smell of sautéing onions and sausage still reminds me of the image of that pan of pale flabby pasta with raw canned tomatoes clinging desperately to it like survivors of a shipwreck clutching at splinters of the sunken ship, awaiting rescue from the cold dark ocean.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eating Habits

My week got off to a difficult start yesterday. I forgot my Diet Coke for the ferry ride. It’s not so much that I really need the caffeine, as much as that I enjoy the experience of drinking the Coke while relaxing on my commute, reading select sections of the Sunday New York Times.

And then when I toasted my English muffin for breakfast, part of it got a little over done. I don’t like dark toast at all—it tastes too burnt to me, even if it’s just slightly overdone. I like it just barely brown. Then when I put the peanut butter on it, it was still a little too warm, so the peanut butter melted too much and was runny and dripped on my hand, and onto my plate.

So you can see things are off to a bumpy start for me foodwise. The sad thing about all this is, it makes me realize to what degree I am such a slave to habit when it comes to food. Take the English muffin: when an English muffin is split, there is a “greater” half and a “lesser” half, if you will. The greater half is more of a concave, while the lesser is more of convex, meaning that despite the nooks and crannies, the lesser half is more likely to let toppings slide off. For reasons that I can’t explain, I always eat the lesser half first.

When we got out for Mexican food (something that happens damned infrequently, because we have so many kids), and they set the chips and salsa in front of us, I always begin eating all of the broken chips first. I’m not sure if this stems from the old “diet rule” back in the early 90s that dictated that cookie crumbs had no calories, because the breakage causes caloric leakage, and that subconsciously I adhere to that, or if there’s some other factor at play here, but either way, that’s what I always find myself doing.

In any bowl of peanuts, I pick out the ones that are separated into halves and eat them first, then go through and eat all the whole ones. Peanut M&Ms are divided by color, and I eat the colors that I have the most of first, saving the lone red or yellow M&M for the last. I remember telling a coworker about this one time, and him coming to me later and, with great irritation, informing me that he now found himself doing something similar. If I’m eating the little candy bars from the jar at my office, I’ll get three—two of one kind, one of another, and kind of sandwich them. First, for example, I’ll eat the Twix, then the Snickers, then the other Twix.

I break the bottoms off of muffins and eat those first, then eat the top. This isn’t uncommon, I don’t think, but it’s not for the reason that some people do it. Some people, as I understand it, don’t actually like muffin bottoms, and only want the tops. In my case, it’s really just a neatness issue. It’s hard to open one’s mouth wide enough to accommodate an entire muffin. Cupcakes are the same—especially if they’re thickly iced, biting into the cupcake whole results in a “frosting mustache” that is fairly messy and unattractive.

When I eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger (which happens infrequently these days, but used to happen a lot more often), I make every effort not to bite into the place where the pickle is. I just don’t want that slightly acidic pickle taste in my first bite of burger. The interesting thing is that inevitably I manage to bite directly into the pickle almost every time. It’s uncanny. If I had the same experience with lottery tickets, I’d have won the jackpot over seven thousand times by now, by a conservative estimate. Maybe I’m using the wrong strategy for the lottery—perhaps I should be trying not to pick the winning numbers.

I used to be far worse about these strange eating patterns. As a child, I wouldn’t allow any of my food to touch, and would eat one thing at a time. The meat, which was not touching the mashed potatoes, would go first, then the potatoes, which were not touching the vegetable, then the vegetable last. Now I try to mix things up, and make each thing even out so my last three bites are one bite each of protein, vegetable, and starch. I still don’t like my food to touch, though.

I’ve been watching my own kids lately for signs of this weirdness, and I’m coming to the conclusion that they did not inherit my weird food habits. They had pizza Sunday night, and not one of them did what I always did as a child—I would eat all the toppings first, then the cheese, then lick off the sauce, then eat the crust. This was about as appealing as it sounds. I think I’m grateful my kids didn’t get that gene.

I guess that for all my weird food habits, it could be worse. I’ve known people who ate the same thing for lunch every single day, and ate it in the same way. That is, ate a peanut butter sandwich and always took the first bite from the upper right hand corner of the bread.

I know I’m not alone in all this. After all, the people who pry Oreo cookies in half and eat the “creme” filling out of them first, and then eat the cookies are perhaps the most widespread and prevalent example of unusual eating habits. (Although one must ask--if this behavior is so widespread and prevelant, does this then make it not an "unusual" eating habit, but a usual one? To ponder.) Then too there are people who count out or weigh out chips or nuts, either for portion control reasons, or because they’re just that kind of person. Or people who save the cherry on their ice cream sundae for last. Yes, I am far from alone.

UPDATE: The food aspect of my week has improved dramatically with the consumption of today's lunch. This consisted of homemade chicken salad (made with the remnants of Friday night's roasted chicken and homemade mayonnnaise), on toasted homemade whole grain bread (made Sunday), with fig jam. I know this sounds kind of weird, but it was awesome. I broke the bread into bite sized pieces, spread each with a little fig jam, and topped it with a forkful of the chicken salad. I predict that this combination will be repeated, since I have another container of chicken salad for lunch tomorrow. If things continue on this upward trend, it may completely cancel out yesterday's Diet Coke-and-English muffin incident.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No Nukes

Every now and then, as I’m getting on or off the ferry in the morning, there will be people handing out free things. These are generally samples of some new product, although sometimes they’re just a coupon for a buck or so off the purchase of a product (new or otherwise). I’ve gotten new flavors of Trident gum, dark chocolate covered Altoids (which were pretty good), a coupon for a free salad (never used it), and a coupon for some pain reliever (I forget which one—never used it).

The last few mornings they have been handing out frozen Red Baron panini. They have one flavor, chicken-bacon-ranch, and it’s a regular full size version. I ate one as a snack at 10 the first morning (my usual snack time, but I had forgotten my apple, so the panini seemed a reasonable stand-in, although it had about 250 more calories and way more fat than my usual 10 a.m. apple). On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, I would give the panini about a 4. The flavor was OK (although not fabulous), and like any bread that has been cooked and is then reheated in a microwave, the toast was a little damp and limp. And at 350+ calories, and 15g of fat, it seemed a little excessive for what it was.

What I found most interesting about it was that the instructions were for microwave ovens only. According to Red Baron, or their parent company Schwan Foods, Red Baron panini are only intended to be prepared in a microwave. There weren’t even conventional oven directions on the box.

I’ve noticed this before—companies often put the microwave directions prominently on the back of the box, with great big pictures showing how to rip the box apart to make a “cooking platform,” which buttons to push on the microwave to input the correct amount of cooking time and so forth. They print conventional oven directions in very small type on one of the small sides of the box in rather terse bullet points with no illustrations. They could almost print on there “If you want to live in the Dark Ages, that’s fine with us, but don’t expect us to encourage you to heat our product in that slow, outdated conventional oven you insist on using. You archaic conventional oven people would probably like it if we provided instructions for heating this thing up in a wood burning stove, wouldn’t you? Freaks.” Except that that would take up more room than they’re willing to devote to conventional oven users.

I really hate microwaves and wish I didn’t have to use them ever. They’re handy for heating up leftovers, but even for that I’d be willing to use a conventional oven if I didn’t have the microwave. The problem is, I must use the microwave most nights to make my kids’ dinner, because at 4, 2, 2 and 10 months, they want to eat pretty much the instant their little sneakers hit the doormat in the evening. My oldest son even asks on the way home in the car if dinner is ready and waiting at home. Also, they go to bed early. As in 7 p.m. early. In order for me to get dinner into them before they have to start getting ready for bed, I have to be able to make it in 10 minutes. Lots of things can be ready in 10 minutes, but my kids’ palates aren’t quite sophisticated enough for such offerings as sautéed shrimp with grilled polenta and green salad, or some other things I could whip up using fast-cook ingredients and a few leftovers.

For years I was considered a weirdo because I didn’t have a microwave. When my husband and I first got married we had a pretty small house with a correspondingly small kitchen. As a result, we decided that a microwave wasn’t that important to us. We had the regular oven, and a toaster oven (not a two slice toaster—I don’t believe in those because they’re only good for toasting bread and you can’t use them for anything else; a toaster oven you can toast in, but you can also use them to melt cheese, heat up small frozen things, or reheat leftovers). We did fine, except that we had to keep explaining to people (including my in-laws) why it was that we didn’t have a microwave. We’d wave our hand around the kitchen, brushing all four walls in the process, and say “We have no room!” which was partly true, but we left out the part about not wanting one in the first place. The few times we included that statement, we wound up in long drawn-out debates with microwave fanatics.

I admit that these appliances have their purpose, and even come in pretty handy sometimes, but I don’t like them because I feel I don’t have full control over what I’m doing. When I microwave food, the container, density and contents of the food, strength of the microwave, and who knows what other factors have a direct impact on how quickly something heats up. When I put something in a conventional oven (or use the stove top), I have a pretty good idea how fast it’s going to heat up. And if I put something else in the oven with it, it doesn’t change how quickly either thing heats up.

Of course, this assumes a properly calibrated oven, but they sell thermometers so you can make adjustments if your oven is off. When I read microwave directions, they say “This product was tested using a 1000 watt microwave oven. Your cooking time may vary depending on microwave wattage.” Uh, OK…any indicator of how different it might be? Or I’m just kind of on my own here? I almost always find it’s the latter. I’ve also yet to find a place on the microwave where the wattage is indicated. There are stickers detailing where and when it was made, who made it, who inspected it, and God knows what other information about its provenance, but not a single peep about what its wattage is. Apparently this is information that the company can’t reveal to you unless you know the secret handshake. Or something.

I also don’t do very well with the idea of little waves cooking my food. I’m kind of a traditionalist—I think heat cooks food. I know, the molecules get “excited” and that generates heat, but there’s something kind of weird to me about excited food molecules. I’ll take my molecules exposed to conventional heat, thanks.

And lastly, I find microwave cooking to be of generally poor quality. The food either dries out, or becomes saturated with condensation from the container it’s cooked in and gets soggy. This was the case with the panini. Bread, or in this case toast, just doesn’t heat up well in a microwave. Cheese cooks away to nothing, meat doesn’t brown, eggs get rubbery, and noodles get leathery. About the only thing a microwave really can do with any success is boil water.

So I have a microwave, I don’t like it, and someday when my kids don’t need to eat dinner quite so early, I’ll abandon it altogether and not use it. By then, of course, they’ll be old enough to burn microwave popcorn on their own, and my house will constantly smell like scorched popcorn. I’ll have to teach them how to use the exhaust fan early on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Note on the Change

For both of my regular readers, you may notice that I changed my "pen name" to my initials. Yes, I did. Maybe I'm just getting bolder about this blogging thing. I decided that using a fictitious name was no longer necessary, but I'm still not ready to reveal my Whole Self to the cyberpublic, and this intital thing is something I've seen zillions of bloggers do (I've also seen first name only--maybe that's my next step).

Anyway, I feel like I'm coming out of my shell a bit blogger-wise. So, hi! There really is no Emma Shannon (well, OK, there probably IS an Emma Shannon, but I'm not her. Or them, since I'm sure there's more than one in the world). For now, I can be known by my real initials (really!), TD.

I got a free frozen panini on the ferry this morning, and have some comments to make on it, so that'll probably be the next entry I do--in the next day or so.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blue Swoon

I recently switched over to using blue cheese salad dressing exclusively. For years I’ve been pretty much anti blue cheese in every form. It was too strong for me, and the idea that it was mold that gave it its character just ooked me out.

That I actually came to like it was a somewhat convoluted process. I had a tomato recipe from Bon Appetit that I made for our Christmas Eve dinner last year. Plum tomatoes get cut in half, seeded, and drained for 15 minutes. Then you toss them with chopped rosemary, minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and let them sit for another 15 minutes. They get roasted at 375 for about 65 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, the cheese (which was supposed to be Stilton—this was, after all, a Christmas recipe) gets crumbled and scattered over them, where it melts a little.

The question of why I was willing to make a recipe that called for Stilton cheese when I wasn’t a fan of blue cheese in the first place is a hard one to answer. Food photography can be very seductive, and they were being served with a Rosemary-and-Pepper Standing Rib Roast with Two-Mushroom Pan Sauce we were making, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make the tomatoes. The worst thing that could happen, I determined, was that I’d hate the blue cheese and scrape it off.

The first time I made the tomatoes, I used Stilton, and they were exceptional, even for a non-blue cheese lover. The next time I made them (because I figured they were the perfect winter vegetable—something a little different, a nice take on tomatoes in which if they weren’t first class summer ones they were still acceptable) I guess we were out of Stilton, but we had this St. Agur that we’d bought at our local grocery store (Central Market, if you’re wondering—a fabulous place with an outstanding selection of cheeses). I used it and was devoted from that minute. I ate the tomatoes for breakfast, much to the disgust of my boss, who didn’t like the smell of the blue cheese. I invested a hefty percentage of my children’s college fund in blue cheese.

The path from tomatoes with blue cheese to blue cheese dressing is a somewhat hazy, twisting one. We needed a salad dressing for a meal, and I happened on a blue cheese dressing in Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market that looked passable, and concluded if I could eat blue cheese in tomatoes, why not in salad dressing? It called for mayonnaise, buttermilk, blue cheese, a little white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and chopped chives. It was quick, and sounded like it would fill the need. I didn’t actually use St Agur in the dressing—in the first place, St Agur is one of the wetter, more goopy blue cheeses, and in the second place, I was running out of college tuition money (St Agur goes for about $32 a pound, or $2 an ounce, so in a recipe that called for 4 ounces of blue cheese it seemed a little excessive). We decided the dressing was everything we wanted in a blue cheese dressing, and it’s become a household standard that I now keep in an old spaghetti sauce jar in the refrigerator and replenish regularly.

As with just about every recipe I make more than once, I’ve tinkered with it a little. The original recipe calls for a cup of mayonnaise (I use homemade), plus a quarter of a cup of buttermilk. I find this makes too thick a dressing for us, so I use closer to a half a cup of buttermilk—probably a quarter cup plus two tablespoons, if I really stopped to measure it, and then add a splash more here and there until it reaches the desired thickness. This looks pretty runny when you first combine it, but it firms back up in the fridge, and adding the blue cheese thickens it too.

For blue cheese, I confess I’ve stooped to the Danish Blue crumbles that they sell in little plastic tubs at the grocery store. I’ve tried buying and crumbling my own, but I can’t get the crumbles small enough. Whether this is because I lack experience with crumbling blue cheese, or because I’m buying the wrong kind, I can’t say, but since it’s getting smothered in mayonnaise, I figure the highest quality blue cheese is going to be suffocated anyway. I did once try putting everything in the blender and whizzing it, but the result, while blue cheese flavored, was disappointingly smooth, lacking those little chunks of blue cheese that make blue cheese dressing…well, blue cheese dressing.

As for the remaining ingredients, the recipe calls for a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives, salt, and pepper. I use a capful of plain old distilled white vinegar, which I find to be perfectly acceptable. I also left out the chives one time, and then used them the next time, and I was informed that it was actually better without the chives, so the chives have now been deleted from the ingredient list. I use a few grinds of black pepper. Generally the combination of the mayonnaise and the blue cheese is enough salt, but I taste it and might add a quick grind or two of sea salt.

Once it’s done I put it all in the aforementioned old spaghetti sauce jar and keep it in the refrigerator. It’s wonderful on a spinach salad with some bacon, and we use it daily on the salad we always take along to work to accompany whatever else we’re having for lunch.

I’ve now completely about-faced on blue cheese, and love it so much that when my husband and I went out for our anniversary dinner (to a first-class wine bar called Purple), we ordered an appetizer that was slices of Cashel blue cheese, fig jam, crackers, and a wine chosen to accompany it (Joel Gott Zinfandel, 2004). We loved it so much that we sought out a bottle of the wine, picked up some of the cheese, some crackers, and cracked open the jar of fig jam we had in the pantry and recreated the appetizer two weeks later. The dinner that followed was rib eye steaks with a salad with…blue cheese dressing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

TV Dinners

A few months ago I made a kind of TV dinner for my kids. It was just before we moved, and really all of our plates, pots and pans were pretty much packed, so I didn’t have much to cook with, or serve food on. I’d seen Kid Cuisine TV dinners in the grocery stores for years, but had never tried them. Now I understand why. They’re a huge pain in the butt to make.

They feature basic kid food—spaghetti, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese—but they tried to go a little fancy with the desserts and have things like iced cake and stuff that gets sprinkles on it. The problem with things like that is that frosting and sprinkles don’t heat up well in an oven or in a microwave, so they have to package them separately and you have to remove them from the package prior to cooking.

Even without the removing of the dessert topping step, they’re extremely complicated. I’ve made whole meals from scratch that required less futzing around than these things. First I had to remove the sprinkles or whatever, then I had to peel back plastic from this area, loosen plastic on that area, cook it for awhile, then remove it from the oven and remove the plastic from this other compartment, and re-cover that other thing. They only cook for about twenty minutes, but it seemed that I was yanking it out of the oven every five minutes to reposition plastic film over the various components.

I was remembering my own experiences with TV dinners back in the 70s. This would have been when they actually came in a little foil tray, instead of in some kind of rigid paper thing that could go in a microwave oven. I think you peeled the foil back from one section—the potatoes, if memory serves—and then stabbed holes over the meat part to vent the steam and then just chucked the whole thing in the oven for a half hour or so. Thirty minutes later you had perfectly baked horrible food.

Actually, I loved TV dinners. I wasn’t much for Salisbury steak, but I loved fried chicken. I honestly only remember three types of TV dinners—the Salisbury steak, the fried chicken, and the turkey with dressing. I guess there were probably others, but those were the three my parents bought for me. Or perhaps those were the three I was willing to eat.

The things I remember most about TV dinners are that the fried chicken was always soggy, the mashed potatoes seemed to be one solid mass of…whatever, and somehow there was always a piece of corn in my dessert. I hate when my food touches, so the piece of corn in my dessert was an abomination in my book. In fact, TV dinners were perfect for me because I didn’t like any of my food to touch, and the little sectioned tray made sure that pretty much nothing would (except for that pesky kernel of corn).

A few years later we started buying Mexican food TV dinners. These my father nicknamed “puddle food” because everything did seem to come in a sort of a puddle. A puddle of refried beans here, a puddle of enchiladas there, even the rice seemed to be a somewhat liquid plop on the tray. Mexican food isn’t really TV dinner food to me. TV dinner food really should be generic “American” food, with no loyalty to any nationality (or any nation that would be willing to claim it, for that matter).

At some point we stopped buying TV dinners and I stepped up to Stouffer’s entrees. These I do buy for my kids, and they’re not bad to make. Mostly you just peel the plastic to vent them, then cook them for awhile. They don’t require the same level of attention as a puppy that hasn’t been housebroken, the way the Kid Cuisine ones did.

In even later life, I moved on to Lean Cuisines and Smart Ones and other low fat/low calorie offerings. These aren’t really TV dinners, per se, because they come in a single tray, like Stouffer’s entrees (which also don’t count as a real TV dinner in my book). Real TV dinners come in a sectioned tray and aren’t low anything. Lean Cuisines aren’t bad in a pinch, but I’ve stopped eating them on any regular basis. I don’t like them enough to eat them more than about twice a year.

I wouldn’t bother to buy a “real” TV dinner today. Even if I cooked it in the oven instead of in the microwave, it still wouldn’t be the same. Now that they’re formulated to cook semi-acceptably in microwaves, they’re different, just like the pot pies I loved as a child. I wish TV dinners were the way they used to be, even though I probably wouldn’t eat them, but I guess everything has to change, even mediocre frozen meals.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Or Not To Make

As anyone who’s been following along knows, there are many things I won’t hesitate to make from scratch, in spite of perfectly acceptable versions being available in any grocery store (English muffins, yogurt, etc). But there are a few things that I promise never to make from scratch because I think it would just be such a total waste of time.

I was reading an article about saving money, and one woman was remarking that in almost every case, she could make homemade versions of things more economically than she could buy them at the grocery store—cookies and so on. One thing she said was a flop was homemade marshmallows. They took four hours to make and didn’t taste very good, she said.

I only ever knew one other person (besides Martha Stewart) who made marshmallows from scratch. I worked with a woman named Betsy who brought them in to our office one time, and was offering some to the CIO of the company while I was standing in the kitchen.

“Homemade marshmallows!” she exclaimed, “Try one!”

I can’t remember if he did or not, but I do remember my coworker Laurie and I exchanging looks, and Laurie saying, “Why would you make marshmallows?” and my replying, “I thought you needed chemicals to make marshmallows.”

So I promise never to make marshmallows. Maybe I shouldn’t say never on this one, but I at least won’t rant about how great homemade marshmallows are if I do make them.

Dried Fruit
I’ve already said I don’t really care for dried fruit, except for dried cherries. I can also handle dried blueberries in scones. But I will never bother to make my own dried fruit, even if I do someday come around and decide I like it a lot. I knew a couple who had one of those dehydrators, and he used to make things like beef jerky (surprisingly, this was before the low carb craze) and dried apples. It seemed weird to me then, it seems weird to me now.

I don’t really anticipate this ever happening either. The ones I can buy at my grocery store are fine, and I don’t care enough about Mexican food to go to the trouble of making them. Along these same lines, I won’t be cutting up tortillas to make my own chips, either.

Kind of ties in with tortillas. Newman’s Own mild chunky is good enough. I find homemade salsa to be too watery, because no one ever lets the tomatoes drain properly, so you wind up dipping your chip into a pool of water with some tomato in it. The chip just gets soggy. And the onions always taste too raw to me in homemade salsa.

Noodles & Sauce Type Dishes
I went through a flirtation with making homemade facsimiles of those noodles-and-powdered-sauce products you can buy. I will not do this again. I went so far as to research sources of powdered cheeses ( I think I may even have made a couple of them. It won’t happen again, I promise.

Peanut Butter
Store-bought peanut butter is perfectly acceptable. I have no urge to shell and grind my own peanuts. Even the stations in the grocery store where you can grind it on the spot the way you can grind coffee don’t hold any interest for me.

Vegetable Juice
I just drink V-8 sometimes. I don’t need to buy a $300 juicer and make my own. Also, I’m sure I could never get a combination of juices I liked. It would always be too heavy on the carrot, or too light on the tomato or something. And the idea of single-ingredient vegetable juice (other than possibly tomato juice, and even that’s pushing it) makes me curl my lip. No carrot juice for me.

Chocolate Syrup
The same woman who didn’t like homemade marshmallows also makes chocolate syrup for her kids. I’m not even sure how to begin making chocolate syrup, other than to buy some chocolate. Would it just be chocolate and Karo syrup? That seems kind of disgusting, although that’s probably what’s in a can of Hershy’s syrup (note to self: check ingredients on Hershey’s syrup can when next at grocery store). Still, I don’t think that’s anything I’m ever going to bother with, mostly because I really don’t want to encourage my kids to drink chocolate milk instead of white milk. Right now the oldest one will drink chocolate milk occasionally, but the twins still don’t like it, so let’s just keep it that way. White milk is a lot better for them.

Those are the things I can think of right now that I’m unlikely to ever bother making. All bets are off on things like sausage, ricotta cheese, pasta, ketchup (although this one is unlikely, since I understand homemade doesn’t get as thick as the commercially made product), mustard. Tune in next week and you may read that I’ve made fig jam, but I won’t be serving it with homemade marshmallows.