Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dinner on a Dime

Our family is usually very discriminating in food tastes. We never eat white bread, we mostly bake from scratch, and even pancakes and waffles don't come from a mix. It has even become a bit of a joke around our friends, as our oldest declared one July 4th potluck gathering, "I don't eat processed potato salad." Indeed that basic Summer staple is made entirely by hand at the haven.

So it was a drastic departure from the norm, on Sunday evening, when I tossed a few boxes of mac n cheese into the grocery cart. Bill nearly went tachycardia on me until I explained as only a desperate housewife can, "I REALLY NEED something fast and easy to fix for lunches..." Being a little breathless from the snow-chilled air may have helped appeal to him, too.

I set to work boiling the water, checking the pasta to make sure it wasn't getting too soft (I really prefer my noodles firm to the bite). Then, once drained, I was about to add the remaining ingredients when a bold flash of inspired creativity struck me. I just can't leave a decent recipe well enough alone! The resulting dish was quite nearly elevated to fine cuisine status. My secret? Sour cream. No butter or milk. Just about 4 - 6 tablespoons sour cream blended in with the "cheese product" packet and the flavor is fabulous. Add a few dashes of fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard, or other savory herbs and it becomes a dish you could even proudly bring to a social gathering.

The real trick to preparing good meals out of a box or can is imagination, friends. Just because it comes with instructions printed on the side does not mean you have to follow them exactly and to the letter. Cooking is fun, for crying out loud, so it's okay to play with ingredients. Got a can of chili and a package of hot dogs? Chop those puppies into the chili and add some brown sugar and barbecue sauce. Cream of mushroom soup and cooked rice? Mix them up, shape into balls, drizzle with a bit of melted butter and bake until golden brown. A family size can of potato soup, 1/2 lb of browned and drained bulk Italian sausage and some extra minced onion gets you something pretty darn close to Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana!

So shed those it-has-to-be-scratch inhibitions, grab a few of those convenience grocery items, and have fun creating!


1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Way to work with it! Nice job! :)