Real Cooking

Mother Nature clearly intended for us to get our food from the “patty” group, which included hamburgers, fish sticks and McNuggets….”

-Columnist Dave Berry

The other day, while talking to Cheryl Bartel on the phone, she shared with me a list of one liners she had received at her home via e-mail.

One of them went: “If the adage that states ‘You are what you eat’ holds true, then I must be cheap, fast and easy.”

We both got a good laugh over that one.

In our frantically paced lives, loaded with work and chasing kids hither and yon, it’s hard to make sure that properly prepared, nutritionally sound meals make their way to our tables three times a day.

And doing so while still maintaining a budget this side of the national debt is always a challenge.

Theoretically, I know it can be done-I’ve taught classes on the subject. I’ve got the head knowledge to work through menu plans that will enable me to have made-ahead meals on hand and quick-fixing dishes for those days when time is at a premium.

I understand how to make the most out of sale items at the local grocery, and I recognize the benefits of having the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and fiber.

I know all about fat grams and empty calories. Yes, I do.

But even though I have the facts at hand and the wherewithal to put them to use, there are spans of time when all that enlightenment goes right out the window.

Those times usually come when I’m too tired to care, when I’m stretched so thin that I don’t even have the energy to think about what I’m really putting into my mouth and the bellies of my children.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

It’s then that the boxed “helpers” come flying out of my cupboard and the breaded fish sticks jump out of the freezer.

This reminds me of a story. Once, when I was in the grocery store, a woman stopped me because she saw I had several varieties of Hamburger Helper in my cart.

“Don’t tell me you use that?” she gasped. I guess her image of me as a fine cook was shattered right then and there. Shame faced, I think I mumbled something about it being on sale and that, much to my chagrin, my children liked it.

I hated using my kids as an excuse.

Somewhere deep inside, I know I use my kids as an excuse as well to run through the drive-up at McDonald’s or Sonic or Pizza Hut. I’m fully aware that given the choice of what they want for dinner, they will always opt for a fast-food meal. So, when I don’t feel like cooking, I just ask them what they want.

Once in awhile, one of them throws me a curve ball by requesting roast turkey or marinated pork chops. Or a green vegetable.

That’s when I pop my head into the refrigerator and say with a sigh, “Sorry, those things aren’t in here. I guess it’s chicken nuggets and Quarter Pounders tonight. And remember to have catsup with your fries. Ronald Reagan considered it a vegetable, I guess we can, too.”

Yeah, there are times when it can get really bad around our house.

Not that there’s anything wrong with using convenience foods or going out to a restaurant for dinner. I know that some boxed products are real timesavers, good tasting and nutritious.

And, over this summer, I’ve become a real fan of the Chicken Caesar salad at McDonald’s. I know good choices can be made.

But when you get the feeling that you’re going to hurl if you see one more french fry or premium processed meat patty, then you know you’ve overdone the fast, the quick and the easy. It’s time to get back on track. It’s time for hot oatmeal with raisins or pancakes with peaches for breakfast. Not doughnuts. There should be vegetable soup or a chicken sandwich with fresh tomatoes for lunch. Not Cheetos and a diet soda.

And for dinner…roast turkey or marinated pork chops with grilled vegetables, a big salad and a fresh loaf of garlic bread. Not something from the “patty” group.

Yes, the right intentions are there, but when it’s so hot outside, who feels the urge to cook?

I hate the thought of heating up the kitchen, and standing over a sizzling barbecue grill doesn’t sound appealing, either.

I know. Let’s get a carry out from Olde Towne tonight, OK?

* * *

I thought that after having so many recipes lately that have been loaded with fat, I would pass on this potato recipe that is actually good for you. Enjoy.

Un-Fried French Fries

5 large baking potatoes

Light vegetable oil spray

2 large egg whites

1 Tbs. cajun spice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice each potato lengthwise into french-fry-shaped match sticks. Coat a baking sheet with the vegetable spray. Combine egg white and cajun spice in a bowl and then add the potatoes. Mix to coat.

Spread the coated potatoes in a single layer onto well-sprayed sheet. Place the sheet on the bottom shelf of your oven and bake for about 40 minutes, turning potatoes about every 8-10 minutes for even browning. Serve immediately. 0.5 grams per serving, 291 calories.

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