Sunday, August 1, 2010

Is "Semi-Homemade" Ever Okay?

Here in Canada, we have not yet been introduced to American Food Network star Sandra Lee. For those of you unfamiliar, Sandra Lee is a cookbook author and television personality best known for her "semi-homemade" concept - 70% pre-packaged or prepared products and 30% fresh. Believe it or not, people just can't get enough of her.

My immediate response is "YUCK!", but I think a more thoughtful one might be useful. The world of food is a constant contradiction. As much as people are talking about fresh, local, seasonal, organic, grass-fed, free-range, ethically-raised and artisanal, they are also looking for quick, easy, convenient, affordable, and accessible. These things don't necessarily have to be in direct opposition to each other, they just often are.

Which leads me to the question I posed in the title of this blog entry, "Is 'Semi-Homemade' ever okay?". My answer is, "It depends".

In my opinion, the way Ms. Lee does it just doesn't produce good, high-quality food, and that is always the goal when I cook or bake. Lasagna should NEVER contain tins of canned condensed tomato soup and a container of cottage cheese. Feel free to check it out if you want to But, I do believe that it is perfectly acceptable to incorporate some of these short-cut items into your repetoire. Here is a short and incomplete list of prepared/packaged/convenience foods that I personally use in my kitchen:

- Tetra-paks of low sodium chicken and beef broth (such a pain to make your own)
- Jarred Spaghetti Sauce (fine when you're in a rush, but read the ingredients)
- Cake Mix (I'm not a baker and I'm sorry, Duncan Hines Confetti Cake is great!)
- Supermarket Prepared Roasted Chicken (spit-roasted, delicious and convenient)
- Pizza Dough (not the one in the tube, the fresh one usually made in-store)
- Pre-cooked packaged bacon (no muss, no fuss, crispy hot bacon in 45 seconds)
- Pre-washed cut salad (I don't buy the bagged stuff. I only like the containers)

The photograph attached is of cinnamon buns I made over the weekend. Everyone who knows me, knows that working with yeast is one of my least favourite things, so these were made with a ball of store-bought pizza dough from Longo's - they were great.

I would love to hear what packaged/prepared/convenience foods you use in your kitchen and why.

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