Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mass-produced Vs Home made

Today, I wanted to discuss with you the pros and cons of using mass-produced, premade, shop-purchased food products, as opposed to making everything from scratch. Personally, from a soley taste perspective, you really can't beat home made for most things. Pasta sauces from jars are ok. They will suffice if you are really stuck for something to eat. Same with frozen pizzas, store-bought chicken schnitzel, oven fries etc. They'll do. They are quick, easy and convienient and are usually not completely terrible-tasting. However, if you have the time and energy (or a little bit of forward thinking), home made will blow commecial products like these out of the water, in the taste department.
I have found that the closer to the end-product a mass-produced food is, the more likely it is going to taste bland or overly seasoned (read: salty) or like plastic. Complete frozen meals, such as a pasta and sauce meal, are usually not that great - you can occasionally find some that are ok, but these are few and far between. With jars of pasta sauce, for example, you are more likely to find a sauce that tastes decent. You can boil your own pasta, and add some extra herbs and spices to elevate the taste a bit. Home made, using premade tomato paste, canned tomatoes, minced garlic from a jar and dried herbs from a packet will make a very delicious sauce. Serve it over some cooked dried pasta and it should be great. There is no reason for this meal not to be amazing, even. However, if you can get some really good fresh ripe tomatoes in season, fresh herbs, fresh garlic the resulting sauce will be stellar! Fresh, well-made pasta with really good eggs, the great sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top. Oh My!! You will think you've died and gone to heaven. There will be a celebration in your mouth and you will leave the dinner table with a quiet smile and an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.
So why not have this amazing fresh food experience with every meal? Why? The answer is easy - this last option is just not practical for most people most of the time. Tomatoes are not great all year round and it is time consuming to prepare them - skin removal, and preservation, turning them into passata etc. Fresh herbs are relatively easy to grow, but if you never get time outside to plant those herbs, the fresh grown option from the market is often very expensive. Dried herbs are easy to store, last a decent while (though the quality will deteriorate with time) and are fairly inexpensive in a "bang for your buck" stand point. Garlic is great fresh, and when you need roasted garlic, slices or crispy strips of garlic for a dominant part of a dish (garlic prawns comes to mind) fresh is the only way to go, but if it is just going to be a flavour booster as part of a complex flavoured dish, minced in a jar is so easy, you are better able to get the quantities required (you've all seen the massive variation in size between individual garlic cloves) and you don't end up with sticky, smelly hands for about a week after the preparation. The happy medium option is the one I recommend to you - use some preprepared ingredients like canned tomatoes, but make the overall sauce all yourself. Pasta sauce freezes so well, and it is also relatively easy to preserve you own sauces in jars for later use (Post on canning/bottling sauces and jams to come in the next little while). When making sauce, make LOTS! It only takes a small amount of extra time, to dice 1 or 2 extra onions, and to peel an extra roasted capsicum. See my post on Making Extra. Make a bucket load of sauce, use it for your intended meal, and freeze the rest in appropriate portions. Then, next time you feel like pasta but are short on time or energy, you don't have to reach for a commercial, mass-produced, overpriced product - get your own beautiful sauce where you have controlled the salt content, not added ingredients that you don't care for and you know EXACTLY what has gone into it. Not only will the meal taste better, but there is also a bit of a sense of satisfaction at the end. You can say "I made this and it tastes good" and it doesn't matter than you didn't make it that day - you put in the extra effort and trust me, it will be worth it.