Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Inconvenient Convenience and Cheeses from Heaven

So, since my last post I have been poking around my overstuffed pantry to see what was in there that shouldn’t be. In the process of doing so, I realized that I really hadn’t stated my goals very well, neither to myself nor my legion of faithful blog readers (I think our count is up to 5). I guess at this point I am really straddling several bandwagons: elimination of unnecessary food additives, humane production of organic meat and dairy, supporting local agriculture whenever possible, and growing what we can ourselves. Understand, it will be several years before I feel superior enough to look down haughtily upon the masses and their proletarian cuisine. All of these are on a ‘baby steps’ basis.

So for starters, I pulled out the packaged pasta and rice side dishes that I sometimes buy. They usually cost about $1.50 but I get them for about 60 cents on sale with a coupon. I set about preparing a package of ‘Pasta N Sauce’. I glanced at the list of ingredients. There were about 20 but I wasn’t really surprised by that. I know the stuff is crap; that’s not the issue. What I realized while cooking it was that I had to stand next to the stove, watching the pot full of milk, water, and butter come to a boil. If I left it for too long, it would quickly boil over and make a mess. When it finally did boil, I had to stand there and stir to ensure that the pasta and sauce mixture did not stick together or get mucked up into little, un-dissolvable balls of starch/powdered cheese. So for the better part of 15 minutes, I was stuck by the stove anyway. How is that convenient? I can boil water and cook pasta without nearly as much supervision as my little ‘packet-o-crap’ took. In that amount of time, I can make a light roux, grate in some cheese, and finish off with a little half and half. Because I like to cook, I always have these items on hand. But I haven’t tested the theory in real time to see if my suspicions are correct: that convenience foods are not very convenient if you know how to cook for real what packaged food manufacturers are faking. I will test this theory this week.

I did, however, do something I have always wanted to do in my very own kitchen: I made CHEESE. Yes, CHEESE, GLORIOUS, CHEESE. In the last two weeks I have made homemade mozzarella three times and ricotta once. Last night I was shopping and found organic milk that was on its last ‘sell by’ date. $2.99 for the whole gallon. Score. I took it home and 30 minutes later I had fresh, organic mozzarella that will go into vegetarian lasagna tonight. I don’t know if it was the organic milk or my mad cheese-making skills but it was the best so far. Maybe I will make a b├ęchamel to top the lasagne and test my 'conspiracy of convenience' theory.

How do I love cheese….let me count the ways. I have only met one very smelly one from Spain that I would not eat. It smelled very, very rotten. I think the ex-husband let it go bad en route from the motherland. But fortunately, the current husband feeds my need for cheese fairly regularly by stopping at the artisanal cheese shops in Wisconsin. The aged, the smoked, the sheep, the goat….all heavenly. I suspect I will be enjoying some of such cheese by Valentine’s Day, if not sooner. I long to create such cheese.

Something to aspire to, I suppose. The Frau aspires to much, indeed.