Saturday, January 09, 2010

Is America too stupid?

I've made an effort for the last 15 years to cook for my family and avoid prepackaged or processed food. So the other day I ran across a blog post from Michael Ruhlman, http://blog.ruhlman.com/2010/01/america-too-stupid-to-cook.html I love Michael Ruhlman, it was through his creativity and curiosity that brought to the world the recipes and technical mastery of Thomas Keller's French Laundry. I admit I haven't made any of the recipes in this coffee table work of art book. I drool at the images, the techniques, the details the chefs put into the prep of the ingredients, and the amazing outcome. But again is America too stupid to cook? No, I don't believe that is the problem. America is time crunched, or cash strapped.

More after the break...

The majority of the populace are not high end foodies. I say 'high end' as in consumers. Most people do not have truffle oil in their pantry. Most don't have a clue what Pancetta or Lardo is. Ask them if they know how many types of salts there are. Most people don't know the answers, and they certainly don't have the budget to purchase all these items. We have huge mega supermarkets, and many shop for a week. Most shopping is done on Saturdays. We don't have the time. The work day on average including commute runs about 10 hours. That contributes to the laziness factor. Leave the house at 7am come home at 5pm. Now add in the kids and husband factor. When is dinner served? How much time can you spend in the kitchen prepping and cooking? When do you get a moment to actually sit down and rest? Or do you just keep moving until bedtime? This is when they get lazy and grab the frozen pizza out of the oven or the microwave dinners. Kraft macaroni and cheese? Hey it's a side dish, well in the south it's considered a vegetable.

Have you noticed the price of food has gone up? Or the packages have gotten smaller but the price is the same? In the last 3 years I've noticed this. The cost of fuel and transportation of foodstuffs have gone up. The value of the dollar has gone down, and people in general do not have the disposable cash they had before the recession. If you don't have this problem, consider yourself lucky and keep a large safety net so that never happens to you.

I love reading food blogs. I know there are way more blogs out there, than just the six I follow daily. The internet is fantastic, Food Network's website, Epicurious, America's Test Kitchen, Allrecipes, Recipezaar, Serious Eats, these are all great resources when you are trying to find something new to feed the family. But what can I reasonably feed my family? Everyone has taste preferences. I don't like bell peppers, they give me heartburn. My husband doesn't like curry. My son doesn't care for peas. It's difficult to figure out what to feed the family to appease everyone's tastes. Many times, we bend and cater to the other eaters preferences.

One main dish that the whole family enjoys is a roast chicken. Simple as all can be, it's the cook time that puts people in a bind. Where is the difficulty in this recipe? One whole chicken, some flavoring inserted in the cavity, a cast iron pan or ovenproof pan, and an hour of your time. So let's get down to the fun part, the pictures and preparation...

One whole chicken is required, for a family of 4 go for a 3-4 lb chicken. No there isn't anything smaller than a 3lb chicken, it's packaged under Cornish Game hens. Seriously. I'm still trying to figure out why something that weighs less and comes to the market sooner costs more per pound than a chicken who resides in a farm another 4 weeks. We aren't going to discuss organic, farm raised, or large corporate farming practices. You buy what you can afford. If it happens to be a chicken that costs $2/lb, that's wonderful. I'm not buying it unless it's on sale. The chicken I used is Sanderson Farms, I got it on sale last month for 69 cents a pound and it's been sitting in the deep freezer along with the other four. So this lucky bird sits in the refrigerator for 3 days thawing, and then into the sink for a cool water bath. Yea the yucky part now happens, pull out the neck and organs sitting in the cavity. What to do with the innards now? Well, use it for a gravy or feed it to the dogs. That's another day, I didn't have time for gravy. Now that you have a whole chicken sitting in your sink, what's the next move? Grab the table salt. Huh? You are going to give it a salt massage. The reason for a salt massage, is that it cleans the skin, removing any thing the machine pluckers missed. Yea, not going to talk about that today either. Just take half a cup of regular table salt, and pour it on the chicken and rub it all over the outside and inside of the chicken. Rub gently and thoroughly, then rinse well. Take that chicken and place it sitting up in a bowl to drain of water for about 5 min, then pat dry with paper towels. Preheat your oven to 450*F or 425*F if you don't have really good ventilation. Grab about 10 inches of kitchen twine, and move chicken to your pan. I used my 12 inch cast iron pan. Rub 1 tablespoon Canola oil all over the chicken, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and place an onion, lemon, orange, apple, or various fresh herbs inside the cavity, truss the legs together and place in oven for one hour.
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Now this is the time consuming part. Walk away and do something else. Work on the rest of the dinner, make your mashed potatoes, cook your rice or pasta, prep your veggies, or do your laundry, pay your bills, go over homework, the stuff that you gotta do, but don't wanna. When that hour is up this is what you have.
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Now you gotta let the chicken rest for 15 min, this is the time to set the table remind everyone to wash up. Now go and make sure your knife is sharp, it's time to cut the chicken into serving sized pieces.

Legs missing
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Nesting legs and thighs
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Holy Smokes! The darn thing is missing it's limbs!
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All nice and nestled ready for the dining table
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So now what do I do with this?
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Well you take the carcass place it in a freezer bag and wait until you have a weekend at home and make stock.

Dinner is plated
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So how much did this dinner cost?
4lb chicken $0.69/lb
rice for four pantry item
broccoli and cauliflower $2.00
salt pantry item
oil panty item
onion in the cavity $0.50
This meal was less than $6 for four people. Not bad if you are on a budget.

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