Scratch or box?

I’m a child of the 80s & 90s who had two working parents. I grew up on Hamburger Helper and Kraft. This is not a criticism of my parents, My entire generation grew up on these foods. This was still the early microwave dinner era. Suddenly, we could have anything in an instant. I’ve probably had more instant potatoes than would fill a bathtub.

And let’s face it, the instant and frozen foods have gotten way better than when I was a kid. Do they still make Hamburger Helper? I wonder if I could recreate that pizza bake I used to like.

But I digress. You can basically get anything premade, precut, assembly ready, dried, canned, frozen…the list goes on an on. I can walk into the Trader Joe’s and pick up my pizza dough, a mixture of precut toppings from veggies to meats, a can of sauce and voila!

Over the years, though, I have discovered that not only do you pay a premium if you want the pre-made foods that aren’t loaded with sodium, sugar or rat poison, but you are still getting inferior food at the end of the day. I’m not saying the food won’t provide the nutrients to keep you satisfied biologically and yes, some of it is just nostalgic, but you just can’t get the same flavors, aromas, and all around food-love vibe.

My first revelation in this was mashed potatoes. Don’t laugh because it’s true. I don’t know if I had real, made from actual potatoes, mashed potatoes in my teen years. We always had a box of instant. Then, I remember having mashed potatoes made from scratch. I thought they were the most amazing thing ever. I think I was 18 and was at a friend’s mother’s house for dinner. I thought this had to be the most difficult dish ever. (Keep in mind, ya’ll, I didn’t cook yet at this point.) Then I made mashed potatoes.

It turns out it takes maybe a couple more minutes. And they are so good. My favorite are now made with Yukon gold potatoes, sour cream, too much butter, garlic, and heavy cream. And I now own a ricer, so I’ve complicate it more, but omg, so worth it.

Do you know how long it takes to make pizza dough? You can do it in half an hour. The trick is to make the dough and put it in the microwave after heating a mug of water for a minute first. Leave the mug in with the rising dough. Like breakfast sausage? Read the packages sometime, and that opinion might change. But you can mix up a batch of breakfast sausage (Sausage Balls Recipe) and let it sit 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight, and you have excellent tasting breakfast sausage with nothing you cannot pronounce.

And let’s not even joke about those little package season mixes you can buy. You know, you buy the packet, add it to some beef and magically, you have taco meat or chili or turkey gravy. That last one might frighten me more than anything. First, about 50% of them are loaded with 1/2 spices and 1/2 preservatives. I’m not a total health nut, but I’m not big on preservatives, and I certainly do watch our sodium intake because I have high blood pressure, and I want to live at least until I’ve eaten my way around the world. Also, these mixes are far inferior to fresh combinations of spices. You don’t have to go crazy, but keeping the basics around, including fresh cumin and a grinder, makes a far superior chili than any mix I have ever tried.

Last night, I made my own version of Sloppy Joes. My husband has named this the “Disheveled Joseph” as he feels it is too elevated to just be called a Sloppy Joe. However, it was super easy. I had bought a can of the store sloppy joe sauce. I then looked at the can and read how much sodium was in it along with some other things I try to limit, like high fructose corn syrup. So, I decided to make it myself. Our house smelled like heaven, and this one definitely fell into my “make enough for the week” leftovers philosophy. The recipe is posted under the Recipes tab.Discheveled Josephs (my version of sloppy joes)

I’m not saying not to ever buy the boxed or frozen foods. We buy Trader Joes’ frozen pasta dishes and such frequently. Let’s face it, no matter how much I love to cook, there are going to be nights I just don’t have a creative bone in me, and we have a 9-year-old to feed. But I’m finding experimenting with making some of the old favorites from scratch is proving to change the way I look at some of the old favorites.