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Archive for the ‘saving time’ Category

burrito 003

A few weeks ago I linked to an article that discussed the food-borne illnesses that seem to have cropped up from eating frozen pot pies. Today I want to talk about my philosophy on frozen dinners and the place they can have in your home meal repertoire.

I can understand the urge to buy a frozen pot pie. I just made a pot pie myself a few weeks ago, and it’s not 30-minute dinner. It’s about a three-hour process, all told, although one of those hours is baking and cooling. Nor am I immune to buying frozen dinners. Actually, I think frozen dinners can be a healthy part of an overall home-cooking strategy that keeps you out of more-expensive sit-down restaurants. I do, however restrict myself to one brand: Amy’s.

In the article on frozen food safety, Amy’s was the only company that took pains to guarantee its ingredients’ safety and go on the record as doing so. And all of their products I have tried have been, in my opinion, uniformly healthy and delicious. They use high fiber and whole wheat ingredients when possible, and make sure to include plenty of protein and veggies. I’ve tried two paneer-based (homemade cheese) indian curries, an indian samosa, a frozen pizza, and am about to try the afore-pictured burrito. They’ve all been excellent — even better than average restaurant quality.

Now I know what you’re thinking: why should I pay extra for organic frozen dinners? Let me turn that question around on you. Is $2 really too much to pay for an occasional frozen burrito? $4 for a nice Indian meal? Think about how much they’d cost in a restaurant and probably not be nearly as good for you.

Besides, we’ve already established that frozen dinners should be an exceptional indulgence, not the rule (which, coincidentally, is how I also view meat . . . ). I eat a frozen dinner a few times a month, at most. There are fast ways to get fresh food on the table, and we’ll be talking about that here. But for nights or days when there is just no other way (you can’t cook (Plan A), and you’ve run out of leftovers and your own frozen provender (Plan B)), wait till you find Amy’s on sale at the store and stash some in your freezer (Plan C). You’ll be glad you did.

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Step into any cooking store and you can see the vast galaxy that is the world of kitchen gadgets. But let’s face it — most of them are duds. The majority take up valuable real estate in your drawers while providing virtually no use to you. And we all know what happens: what little use they might provide is mooted because you can either never remember what you have or know where to look when you do want it.

In short, there’s a big case to be made for (pardon the pun) paring down to the essentials. But here at Home Cooking Well, I’m going to talk occasionally about tools that are useful; items every home cook should have or consider having. Here’s one: the mini-food processor.

mini_food-processor_chopped_onions

I got this one second-hand for $5 from a departing French post-doc who worked in my friend Laurie’s biology lab at MIT. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But in the years since, it has more than proven its worth.

This little gadget is great for prepping vegetables — particularly onions — before cooking. How many recipes call for chopped onions, garlic or ginger? With one of these, you can simply coarsely chop the vegetables and then throw them in. In 5-10 seconds all your otherwise-tedious chopping is done. And on a busy weeknight, it’s small things like this that can help you cut down on prep time in a major way.

What’s more, as a former picky eater, I know lots of picky eaters don’t like big slimy chunks of onion in their food (it’s a texture issue). This method helps you preserve the onion flavor and content while keeping the individual chunks small.

One caution: don’t chop vegetables at the same time unless the recipe calls for them to be thrown in all at once. Otherwise, just scrape out the dish and chop them separately.

These little gadgets are also great for chopping nuts and pureeing small-batch sauces (I’ve made peanut sauce in mine before), vegetables, or liquids. But beware: inexpensive ones often leak (and yes, I learned this the hard way). ForĀ  more liquidy jobs, you’ll want the big kahuna: a full-sized Cuisinart or similar. Alternatively, and this is good practice with all food-processors, hold back as much of the liquid as possible from whatever you’re pureeing and add it back in in only after you’ve taken the puree out of the processor.

How about you? Anyone else own one of these little guys? How do you use it?

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