Hi, I’m taking the day off to enjoy Thanksgiving with my loved ones. See you back here tomorrow.
When I originally posted on this blog about the cruelty and destruction that the shark finning industry was causing, I got a very mixed response. While most of my regular readers agreed with me that this so called gourmet ingredient was procured at too high a price for our oceans, some pro-shark fin folks found my post and called me all kinds of nasty names. I won’t repeat them, but you can read them here if you like.
I faced another disappointment sticking up for sharks when I wrote a letter to the UN and asked them to intervene in shark finning on an international level. My son, my husband and a handful of other extended family members also wrote letters and not one of us received even a form letter acknowledgment that our letters had been received.
So, when I read a press release (thanks for sending it to me Cheryl!) that said that influential food activist Alice Waters had signed the No Shark Fin Pledge after formerly stating that she’d like to try shark fin soup, I was heartened.
So today, I post on a Friday night because to me, this constitutes breaking news and I hope that everyone reading this post will be caught up in the spirit of Waters’ action and take a moment to sign this pledge, too!
Here’s the link: No Shark Fin PledgePlease share it.
Thanks to everyone who offered a guess about where Rosie Schwartz, Janet Gdrovich and I were standing in the picture posted on Monday. Some of you offered very creative guesses and one person, Diva, was spot on accurate!
The true answer: We are standing in front of a mural of a peanut field in Manhattan’s Grand Central Station where last week the American Peanut Council and their partners staged an exhibition about these tasty legumes. The live plants you see in the foreground were grown in Oklahoma and trucked to NYC so that people like us could pose with them in the big city.
The prize: $50 snacktastic Prize Pack from Planters Canada.
The winner: Truenorth67
Yesterday I appeared on the CTV News at Noon (that’s my set just before it was rolled onto the main sound stage) to showcase how people who don’t know how to cook or who don’t feel they have the time to learn to cook and stock a usable pantry can still make dinner for four people for $10, $15, or $20.
The idea of the segment arose after I wrote in this post about whether it was possible to make a $10 dinner at all. If you check out the comments section on that post, the people who were sure that one could feed four people for $10 were mostly scratch cooks. But what about the people who never learned to cook and who have been relying on pricey prepared deli foods and restaurants? What could they do to get themselves easily started in the kitchen now that the economy might be forcing them to reconsider their mealtime habits?
As it turns out, I discovered that you could feed a family of four a full meal even if you can’t cook well. I visited the grocery store with my calculator and discovered that:
• For $10 you can provide a Hamburger Helper based meal that uses a pound of ground beef, a serving of Green Giant frozen peas and a glass of milk for everyone in a family of four.
• At $15 you can satisfy heartier eaters, by using the same menu served with a package of freshly baked Pillsbury Multigrain Crescent rolls.
• And, for $20, you can have a fun Friday night meal that kids will think of as a treat, by making an Old El Paso Taco kit, adding some shredded cheese, lettuce and sour cream and serving each person that ubiquitous glass of milk. This meal option is way less expensive than a visit to even the most modest full-service restaurant and it includes all four food groups – unlike a delivered pepperoni and mushroom pizza that is also about $20. Plus, if you get your kids involved in preparing the ingredients and setting the table, you’ll be teaching them skills that may help them to feel confident in the kitchen when they become adults.
I got a range of email based on my TV segment. On the supportive side, I heard from Sheila Miller who wrote:
Watched your presentation of these meals on CTV news at noon today. I live in the country, so eating out for us is not so common as it’s not so handy as when you live in town or the city. This can be a good thing, for your health as well as your pocket book.
I did want to make one comment as to the meal of tacos. I have made these for my family for years and a couple things I do that I believe add more nutrients to the meal are as follows: When the ground beef (I use lean) is almost cooked, I add two to three chopped onions and let them cook a little more with the meat. Also, instead of adding water, as the package says, I add one to two cups of tomato juice. These two items are not very costly, onions are cheap and you can usually get a can of tomato juice for $.99 or less. One other thing I tried just this week was to use plain (unsweetened) yogurt instead of sour cream…You kind of reminded me that some children don’t have the opportunity to learn to cook as their parents don’t have the skills or sometimes the time. I’m wondering if my local public school would like to have me volunteer to come in some time to teach some kids how to make a simple meal. I started cooking a meal on my own when I was around ten. I came from a large family and when I learned to peel potatoes, I thought I would never get enough peeled for the meal, it seemed to take forever. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to show the meals.”
To Sheila, I say: Thanks for taking time both to watch and also to write this note. Please do approach your local school to find out if you can share your cooking skills! I think that’s a wonderful, generous idea!
Less enthusiastic was the note I got from this reader (whose name I’m not disclosing since I didn’t get her permission to print it):
I can’t believe the meals you were advocating to moms who do not know how to cook – and meals at $10, $15, and $20, each!!!
How many families can realistically afford a $20.00 meal every day, as well as the other grocery essentials required to feed breakfast & lunches to your family and outfit your home with toilet paper and cleaning essentials – not to mention clothing, school supplies and memberships for 2 or more children???
Why don’t you recommend getting back to simple basics, instead of filling their family’s tummies with high sodium and preservatives and god-knows what other synthetic garbage that comes in the hamburger helper and taco boxes?????”
Her letter was quite long and went on to add a bunch of her own very good budget cooking tips; however, for the sake of brevity I won’t print the whole letter here (she should start her own blog with the tips – seriously!). I will respond to her emphatic (“????”) question about why I recommended cooking with convenience products such as Hamburger Helper and Green Giant frozen vegetables.
The truth is that I’d love to teach everyone to enjoy scratch cooking, but after almost 20 years as a food writer, I know that not everyone is convertible and, even those who are convertible need to start out with baby steps to build their confidence before they start buying ingredients instead of products. My hope is that by starting today with super easy meals that people can afford, that viewers will gain interest and confidence and start to become more adventurous in the kitchen in time.
What do you think? Am I out to lunch? Likewise, I’m curious about your shopping budget. How much do you spend to feed your family each day? Is $20 for a Friday night treat too much to spend to feed a family of four?
Let’s have a drum roll for Barb, winner of the Diva Dish Glove contest!
If you see bubbles floating out of her kitchen window, don’t be alarmed; I have a feeling Barb may be leaving her dishwasher empty more often now that she’s the proud owner of a pair of Diva Dish Gloves!
Thanks to everyone who entered. This was my first contest of 2009 but it was so much fun for me that I think I’ll make it a regular habit.
Although beef suet and lard have a well-established place in the pastry chef’s pantry, using bacon as a dessert ingredient is a relatively new trend. Bacon started out a couple of years ago as a novelty ingredient used by clever folks such as baker David Lebovitz (in ice cream) and Chicago-based chocolate boutique Vosges (in chocolate bars). Now, bacon is emerging as a dessert ingredient much more often.
Looking for a bacon laced dessert near you? Check out this Time Magazine article for a roster of places serving such treats. And for recipes and even more info on the trend, check out Eat.Write.Now and Slashfood. Or, if you just want to sit back and watch a video, check out this link featuring video about bacon cupcakes! (thanks to Cheryl at 5 Second Rule for posting this link earlier this week in her blog).
Would you eat bacon for dessert? I know I would!
One of the most frequently asked questions members on our team report trying to answer is “what’s it like to work in a test kitchen?” Truth is, it’s a great job if you like to cook and solve puzzles. Here’s another way to say it: working in a test kitchen is like combining home ec class with science lab but with no lockers, spares or cute teenaged boys to flirt with during the boring parts.
I took this picture yesterday morning after I saw Sabrina’s station all set up and ready for a day of recipe testing. Looking at it now, I realize that a picture really is worth 1,000 words: As you can see, you measure things in a lot of different ways in a test kitchen just like in science class. In fact, if as a recipe tester you don’t spend a lot of time jotting down measurements of various kinds, chances are you won’t measure up in this business!