Would You Eat This?

This week I got an email from a national, highly recognizable magazine suggesting a recipe with the list of ingredients below.  The features stated in the email were: "Quick and Healthy Weeknight Dinner", "4 stars (of 5) review", and it was tagged "Suitable for a Special Occasion". Here's the ingredient list.

Pre-shredded 4-cheese Mexican-blend cheese
Fat-free milk
Egg substitute
Ground cumin
Ground red pepper
Canned cream-style corn
Box of corn muffin mix
Canned chopped green chiles
Cooking spray
Jar of red enchilada sauce
Shredded, cooked chicken breast - the first REAL, fresh, non-packaged ingredient !!
Fat-free sour cream - oops.....finish with chemical white stuff

Here's a picture - can you tell what it is?
Does it look tasty to you?

Would you make, let alone eat, a recipe that called for this list of ingredients? It has literally TWO fresh ingredients, and even one of those is from a bag. Everything else is from a can, box, jar or is a processed food-like substitute. I can't imagine serving this to my children. Special occasion? Don't let me suggest in detail the kind of occasion this is suitable for, but I think there's a double-wide involved.

Further, this recipe is probably only quick if you happen to have shredded, cooked chicken breast in your fridge. If you don't, add more time to prepare the chicken too, before or while you make this recipe. No thanks. In fact, I'm outraged. Sort of. Maybe just still a little cranky.
How About This?

As a reader of my cooking thoughts, you know that I prefer a small number of high quality cookbooks, rather than the "quick recipe of the day/week/month" from a magazine, email or website. One of the most reliable sources for everyday cooking is Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything. In fact I just sent a copy to my Mom so she can break out of some old routines.

Bittman also writes a weekly column and an online blog for the New York Times (a job I wouldn't mind taking over when he retires). This week he published an article titled "
101 Fast Recipes for Grilling". Unlike the articles and emails I complain about, I can report that every, single one of the 101 items is indeed fast and fresh and in 90% of the cases something you'd readily want to eat.

Why 90%? There are a few entries that require a strong palate (grilled whole fresh sardines with lemon), or are somewhat innovative or unusual – such as grilled skewers of strawberries and cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and basil (which, oddly, I'm looking forward to trying).

I strongly encourage you to read, save and cook some things from the article. Here are few samples:

#4: Peeled, whole carrots, rolled in salt, pepper, cumin and brown sugar. Cook over high heat until brown, then move to low heat until cooked through.
#30: Chicken leg quarters tossed in garlic, fresh rosemary (or thyme, or oregano,….), olive oil and the juice of a grilled lemon. Grill away from heat.
#48: Shrimp with olive oil, salt, cumin. Finish with the juice of a grilled lemon and chopped fresh marjoram (or oregano, or parsley,….)
#41 [My favorite description, not that I'm sure I'll indulge]: Bacon wrapped hot dog. Admit it. You want one.

The only downside of an article like that is that he doesn't provide detailed recipes with proportions and measurements. However, the flavors and combinations are almost foolproof. It's grilling, not fine dining or high end cooking.

Besides providing nice flavor combinations, Bittman very frequently calls for fresh herbs. You may remember newsletter issue this spring called "The Only Shortcut to Becoming a Great Cook". In it were thoughts about planting your own herb garden, or simply using fresh herbs. If you planted anything a few months ago, the payoff has already begun.

If you don't have fresh herbs in your yard or windowsill it's not too late. You can still buy small pots of herbs at garden centers and even grocery stores.

Fresh herbs are something you almost can't go wrong with. It's possible to overpower a dish if you put in too much of an herb or mix too many kinds of herbs together. But even that's pretty hard to do. You'll be fine. Try it.

Bittman's Grill - Notice the sardines in the center!

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