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Maybe you’re thinking to yourself that making food from scratch sounds great, but you have no time for it, especially during the week.  Well, it’s entirely okay to cut corners and use pre-cut, canned, jarred, frozen, dried, freeze-dried, or pre-assembled ingredients.  Of course, normally it’s healthier if you have fresh ingredients, and generally you will be able to taste the difference.  That said, there is nothing set in stone about what has to be your creation and what can be store-bought; there is no contest for most “from scratch” cook, and the only real litmus test of success is that you and your family and friends enjoy the outcome.  This blog post lists some great quick recipe ideas with pre-made ingredients from Trader Joe’s, for instance.

So, you may be now be asking yourself, what is the point of making the sofrito from scratch, or what motivation might exist for marinating the chicken breast yourself when it is so easily purchased at the store with a delicious marinade already prepared?

1)  Knowing what is in your food

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always understand all of the ingredients listed on bottled products.  I never fully understood the MSG debate, but it seems to be in a lot of pre-made foods.  I know it’s just a flavor enhancer, but because it’s not something I myself would add while cooking, I do generally try to avoid it.  And despite the fact that I am not a fan of the fact that an unnaturally occurring enzyme has to be added to create high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the main reason I don’t like it is that I actually just don’t like the aftertaste.  It’s for this reason that I absolutely adore Coca-Cola outside of the U.S. (in which sugar is used) but avoid most soft drinks when I’m Stateside (the land of HFCS, thanks to our unfair tariff imposition on sugar and our corn farming subsidies).  So you can eliminate any “iffy” ingredients in your food and drink by controlling them at the source.  Furthermore, if you have any sort of restrictions on your diet, like food allergies for instance, the only way to be certain of everything that is in the food is to make it yourself (save spending extra bucks in the special foods section, which is okay too if you can swing it).

2) Reducing fat, sodium, or calorie intake

Again, starting from the source gives you complete control. It probably comes as no surprise to you that fats and extra carbs or calories can be sneaked into a prepared meal.  In fact, frozen foods usually have ridiculously high sodium content to help with preservation.  The frozen pizza I used to enjoy once a week when I was growing up had more than 30 grams of fat per serving–and it was a personal pizza so I would eat 4 servings in one sitting.

Following on the pizza example.  I was recently in Venice and seeking a respite from the expensive restaurant dinners I had been inhaling.  I found a hole-in-the-wall trattoria on the water, with pizzas made to order.  I watched as a balding man in a smudged white apron sweated over a small table filled with no more than 10 basic ingredients, including simple dough balls, shredded mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, freshly sliced prosciutto, sliced pepperoni, and a tub of tomato sauce.  Apparently they also had a specialty of making pizza with french fries on top (not something I care to recreate).  In the 30 minutes it took for me to be able to walk out of there with my two pizzas, I watched that man throw together about 15 pizzas.  He actually didn’t even start on my pizzas until about 20 minutes in.  If this doesn’t prove how fast and easy it is to create your own pizza masterpiece, complete with the knowledge that you’re eating only the ingredients you’ve added and no extra grease or preservatives, I don’t know what would.

3) Availability

If you travel a lot, you know how important it is to be able to find local versions of your biggest comfort foods.  Likewise, if you went on vacation and had the most amazing dish but can’t seem to find its match anywhere where you live, short of having someone airmail it to you, you will be looking at the option of recreating it on your own.  Substituting ingredients may be necessary.  Understanding food patterns is essential to recreating meals and adding your own flair to the recipes.

4) Spicing it up in the kitchen

If you get to make the dish yourself, you not only get to control what flavors are in the meal but you will also be making a connection in your mind of new flavor combinations, rather than just taking what is given in a pre-made sauce packet or takeout box.  You can use these new combinations in other recipes, and you will be more likely to actually do that, as you become more and more comfortable with making things yourself and gaining confidence in your cooking.

This is not to say that switching things up is always easy.  I have been called a “creature of habit” on more than one occasion.  I am known to stick with things that work: a particular parking spot at the supermarket; a particular convenience store.  It’s no different with food.  I enjoy particular cereals; a particular brand of soy milk; a particular flavor of gelato.

There’s nothing wrong, at least in my opinion, with sticking with what you know.  If you make an amazing chicken fettuccini, why mess with it?  If your family requests your signature cranberry sauce every Thanksgiving, there’s no need to disappoint them with something new.

However, as they say, a little change can actually do you good, at least once in a while.  Change in the kitchen, as with all things in life, can be fun and exciting.  So pick a night that doesn’t matter to you–no need to hijack the Sunday pot roast dinner if it’s a tradition; try a Friday instead.  Trying new things shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should be something you look forward to.  So take baby steps if changing your methods seems overwhelming; try dedicating one night every couple of weeks for something “different,” and see how it goes over in the household.  Chances are you’ll eventually stumble on something worth trying again!

4 Responses to “Cheating is Okay, Sometimes”

  1. jenny says:

    Pizza and french fries are my two favorite things! I might have to find this place! I know what you mean about the soda here. I took a case of Coke from Mexico to my neighbors 16th b-day party and it was a major hit. They were all dancing and yelling “real coke!!! real coke!!!” I have also found Jelly Belly soda made with real cane sugar. They have flavors like pear, cherry, sour cherry,etc.

  2. ssilva2010 says:

    I have to find that Jelly Belly soda–that sounds amazing!!!

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