Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Word About Mixes and Processed Foods

There are few things that have changed the way we cook as a nation more than mixes. By mixes, I mean those packets in boxes that we as a nation buy to make dinner most nights. Add to the list of innovations the refrigerator, the microwave, and hydrogenation, and the list is complete. What the heck is hydrogenation? Well, it’s one of the things that you will find in nearly every mix, for starters, and in most prepared foods.

Food chemists found that by adding an extra hydrogen molecule to a fat, it became hard, like butter and lard, and virtually immortal. Hydrogenated oils lasts just about forever. This translates to profits for food companies, because the shelf life of products is extended. Margarine replaced butter: more profits. When margarine emerged, so did a smear campaign against butter. The public by and large switched to margarine for health reasons. It must be said here that Southern cooks were never fooled into giving up their butter.

You now know this tricky stuff as trans fats (look for hydrogenated oils of any kind), and probably are aware that it is not good to eat. It has been replaced or eliminated in many processed foods due to public outcry (60 years later…). However, many manufacturers have simply replaced it with interesterified fat, which studies show is even worse. So watch out for that. Manufactures are in business to make money, not to keep you healthy. That’s your job.

Look, I know that mixes are convenient and fast. They really became popular in the 1970’s, when a great number of mothers joined the workforce and had less time to prepare meals. Today, with all our modern conveniences, whether a caregiver works outside the home or not, we are just as short on time, if not more so. America seems to be under the impression that food needs to come from a box.

But what if I told you there isn’t a mix in my cupboard, and I can make a healthy dinner in 30 minutes or less? And we are talking family-friendly foods, here. Rachel Ray has made a career out of doing this, and you don’t have to be a chef to do it (she isn’t!), either. I highly recommend her show, “30 Minute Meals,” on Food Network .

For this blog, I’m going to stick with home-cooking, and comfort foods. I’ll show you how to make your own “mixes,” based on simple kitchen chemistry. Once you know this chemistry, you will be able to invent your own recipes. Because the factors that contribute to heart disease begin to accumulate in the body in childhood (yes, you read that correctly), and to stretch that dollar, we are eliminating packaged mixes for the most part. The focus here is on inexpensive, fast, and mostly healthy. I want you to be able to save a cartload of money in the stores, and still be able to eat great food. My hope is that you will use these recipes creatively and put your own spin on them.

Some of the things I make all the time, quickly and easily without a mix:

· pancakes and biscuits

· macaroni and cheese

· beefy mac

· spaghetti

· tacos

· bread and bagels

· pizza (pizza crust can take 10 minutes to make, believe it or not)

· stroganoff

· cookies, cakes, baked goods

· lasagna

· hot cocoa

· bagels

· pies, cakes, cookies

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