I went to the market this week and, as usual, amused myself by looking in people’s grocery carts. It is pretty interesting to see what passes for food in this country and why people complain about prices. Chicken Helper, graham cracker pie crusts (pre-formed and packed in a double layer of plastic for your viewing pleasure), cereal that is 27% sugar. YIKES!!!
This got me to thinking about convenience food. My brother and his girlfriend came over unexpectedly on Sunday morning. If I had been unprepared, I would have needed to drive to the local store and spend $5.oo or more on some coffee cake kind of thing. Instead, I was able to pull out two quarts of home canned cherries, add a bit of corstarch to the juice, top it with a crumb topping and have it in the oven in under 3 minutes. This was possible because I always keep a cannister of topping in the refrigerator. It’s one of those easy recipes that make it possible for my to make a dessert out of any fruit I have on hand. I make it in bulk and it lasts a really long time.
4 cups flour
4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
Cut this up in a food processor or with a pastry cutter until the pieces are pea sized. Stir in 2 cups rolled oats and store in a covered can in the refrigerator. To use, just pout some on top of thickened fruit. I have found that if I let the fruit thicken in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes or so before add the topping, it stays crispier.
I look like Betty Crocker when I haul out a dish like this with no notice when in fact, nothing could be easier. The trick is to have this kind of convenience food at you fingertips.
For years, my husband would get up in the morning and make a double helping of instant oatmeal before heading out the door to work. I nearly divorced him over the habit. I can’t even look at the stuff without getting nauseous. Now I make my own instant oatmeal. I whiz 6 1/2 cups rolled oats in the food processor. Add 1 cup dried milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and maybe some cloves or nutmeg. I add some extras like chopped walnuts, raisins or dried apples. This recipe is pretty flexible. Sometimes I pop in a bit of wheat germ or some flax seed meal. This can be kept in a cupboard for up to six months but we eat it up long before that. To prepare it, put 1 cup oatmeal mix in a pan with 1 cup boiling water. Cook it for about 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly, then let it sit for another minute. It isn’t quite as easy as adding some boiling water to a package of instant oatmeal but you aren’t starting the day with a dish of artificial ingredients either and the cost difference is significant. A box of 8 packages of the instant stuff is $3.50 for brand name and $2.50 for the generic stuff on sale. I buy all of the ingredients in bulk through my co-op for far less.
Buttermilk Salad Dressing is a staple in my kitchen. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on the bottled stuff? YUK! 4 1/2 cups of buttermilk powder, 1 1/2ups of dehydrated chives, 1/2 cup dried dill, 1/4 cup dried mustard and 1/2 cup sugar make a decent substitute. When you need dressing or a quick dip, take this from the refrigerator. Use 10 tablespoons of mix 1 cups warm water, 1/4 cup cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream. This will give you about 2 cups of salad dressing.
For Ranch Dressing (our favorite) mix 2 heaping tablespoons dried, minced onion with a tablespoon crumbled parsley, 2 heaping teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons pepper and a heaping teaspoon garlic powder. Since I dry all of the herbs, this costs me nearly nothing. It stores on the shelf for a year or until the herbs lose their punch. I usually make at least 12 times the amount listed here so I always have it on hand. When I need Ranch Dressing, I add 5 tablespoons of the mix 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1 cup buttermilk. You can make it thicker by adding it to sour cream or yogurt instead.
My final thought is about biscuits. I think there should be a law against those things in tubes. They are not food. And I don’t get the use of “just add water” pancake mixes. How the heck hard is it to mix up some pancakes? If you make a mix up ahead of time, it takes seconds, really, to put together a healthy, rib sticking breakfast. 6 cups of flour, 3 1/2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 cup of dried milk powder, 1/2 tablespoon salt is cut up with 1 cup shortening. I actually use Earth Balance spread as I have a problem with my cholesterol. I keep this in my refrigerator. This makes a just-add-water ix that isn’t filled with non-food junk and costs pennies to make. Make it thick for biscuits and thin for pancakes.
I feel a bit funny about this post as I think we spend far to little time on preparing food and here I am, promoting ways to get out of the kitchen quicker. But the truth is that we all have busy days and times when spending 15 minutes extra is just too much. For those days, it’s nice to know you can eat quickly while still saving time and money. From a preparedness standpoint, having this stuff on hand will make preparing meals that much easier. There is the added benefit of reduce packaging to consider. I have a reduction in my household trash as a major goal in the coming year. The more you make from scratch the less you have to toss out.
When I first got married, I actuall bought