"As opposed to what?"
The conversation blew my mind a little bit. I had never questioned my use of frozen vegetables, mostly because the alternative of eating fresh vegetables all the time was so completely outlandish. But she's right, of course. Anything that you didn't see start out as a raw ingredient is a convenience food. What's neat is that you can set your own scale as to what is acceptable to use and what is not. My sister decided that store-bought flour wasn't worth it, but frozen vegetables are. Me, I'm still okay with flour from the shelves, and I use veggies both frozen and canned. It would be wonderful if I could get fresh ones all the time, no matter the season, but not being filthy stinking rich shouldn't prohibit me from having lasagna in the winter. To paraphrase my mother, I'd like to have the money to eat fresh vegetables all year long, but then I'd probably buy frozen ones and spend the extra money on a jukebox.
Someday, I may invest in my own wheat mill, but I am not there yet. I say "yet," because my cooking life has been gradually becoming more and more inconvenient. I make most things from scratch, assuming store-bought flour and canned vegetables can count in "scratch." There have been a couple of convenience foods that I have been loathe to give up. I knew I should, for all the reasons that I gave up frozen pizza and grocery store bakery bread, namely taste and price (something about nutrition, too, but mostly those other things). But I didn't want to make the switch. Those foods were just so darn convenient.
One of those things was pre-shredded cheese. I feel I should note that if we are being really picky (and we are since we've already brought up the concept of milling your own wheat), cheese itself is a convenience food. We always have a small selection of cheeses in the house, because for whatever reason, I seem to have a lot of recipes in my binder that call for the stuff. Mozzarella and cheddar all the time, and then sometimes Monterey Jack or Colby or Swiss if I can get a good deal. Since 99% of my recipes call for shredded, that's what I would buy. Every once in a while, I would think about getting a block and shred it myself, but that thought made me feel sort of tired inside. I'd had enough experience with fresh grated to know that it makes a huge difference. When you do your own shredding, the cheese melts so nicely, and it bubbles and stretches just like that old Little Caesar's commercial with the baby in the high chair. Oh yeah, and it tastes better, too.
The trouble was that cheese in either form is the same price. And I don't like grating. It reminds me of those bitter mornings in Blowing Rock where I had to set up the salad station at the restaurant, my hands frozen from handling produce that came straight from the walk-in refrigerator. I've been meaning to switch to block cheese for a year or two now, and only recently has my mind finally accepted the change. What happened was that I had to grate a whole 8-ounce block of cheese, and I realized that it just wasn't that bad. I still have half a bag of shredded cheddar left over that I haven't finished yet, but the rest of my supply is all in block form. I got over the inconvenience and discovered that it was worth it, just like I knew it would be, just like it has been every time before.
My other weakness was jarred garlic. Do you know about this stuff? I discovered it when I lived in Winston, back when I was first learning to cook. At that point, I didn't know you could easily buy fresh garlic. The jar was a momentous discovery for me, considering I thought the only other option was the plastic shakers of garlic powder in the spice aisle. The jars are big, inexpensive, and the contents keep FOREVER. All you do is stick a spoon in and you come out with garlic. I never even measured it. If the recipe called for a lot of garlic, I added a heaping spoonful. If it only called for a little bit of garlic, I added a spoonful and then I went back and added another partial spoonful, because I love me some garlic.
One day at the store, I noticed that a little bag containing three bulbs of garlic was not so expensive. Purely out of curiosity, I bought one. Then I forgot about it on purpose for a while. I meant to use it, really I did, but the jar was right at eye-level. So the bulbs hung out in the fridge drawer for a long time. And then one day, I reached for my trusty jar, and I noticed that it was almost empty. It was time to give the fresh stuff a chance.
For those of you who have never minced garlic, let me explain it to you. First, you have to unwrap it, like you do an onion. You do this by smashing the clove with something hard, and the paper comes off. Then there is this thing, the clove, that is roughly the size of the top section of my middle finger. Most recipes want you to mince it, so you have to cut it up into pieces about the size of the freckle on the side of my right wrist. If this is unclear, please consult your own body parts until the next time you see me. While you are mincing, be sure to think about the fact that you can buy a huge jar of the freckle-sized pieces for less than $6 at your local Food Lion. Pretty dang inconvenient. I know they have these things, garlic presses, that do all the tiny cutting work for you. But I don't have one, and I wasn't going to buy one unless I was sure that I was ready to leave the jarred stuff behind.
But I've made my garlic conversion, and I'll tell you how it happened. Last Sunday morning, I woke up with a hankering for cheddar biscuits. I must have had visions of them dancing in my head during the night. My recipe comes from Dolly Parton. I first tasted Dolly's cheddar biscuit at the Dixie Stampede. They sold cookbooks in the gift shop, but I saved my $24.99 in the hopes that the internet could give me the secret. Oh, Internet, I love you so. You tell me Dolly Parton's secrets.
They only problem with the recipe is that it uses a food which I have deemed to be unacceptably convenient: Bisquick. I don't mean to step on any toes here, but I personally think it is idiotic to buy a box that contains a mixture of things that I already have in my kitchen. So I asked the internet to give me a substitute. Once I found that, I scaled it down to just the 2 cups I needed for the biscuits. After eating the whole batch of biscuits in an obscenely short amount of time, I decided that I could probably go ahead and make some baking mix for future cheddar biscuit binging. I made the whole recipe, and then stuck it in a container in the freezer. Now, whenever I want cheddar biscuits, it's exactly as convenient as if I were using Bisquick, yet I get to feel smug because I made my own. I'm feeling smug and eating a cheddar biscuit, so it's a good day.
It's funny how my inconsistency regarding convenience foods is highlighted by this one single recipe. When I first read it, I immediately dismissed the Bisquick. It would never occur to me to buy and use baking mix. Bah! But when it comes time to mix the butter and garlic, I reach for the jar without a thought.
Except that last Sunday morning, the jar was empty. So I cut up a clove from that same sad batch of garlic that I bought months ago. Since it was not actually going into the biscuits but only flavoring the butter, I decided that I didn't have to mince it, only slice it. It was still a little bit inconvenient.
But then the garlic hit the melted butter, and my love affair with jarred garlic was all over. My whole kitchen was overrun with the smell of butter and garlic, just from some butter and one clove of garlic. Garlic + Butter = Flavor Friends Forever. That had never happened with the stuff in the jar. If this was the difference in smell, imagine the taste! I brushed that hot garlicky butter all over the finished cheddar biscuits, took a bite, and it was a whole different biscuit. Before, I'd thought the star of the Stampede biscuit was the cheddar. But now I know that the cheese is just a supporting player, and it's really all about the garlic butter. What's amazing to me is that none of the actual garlic pieces made it onto the biscuits. What I tasted was just the flavor infusion.
If you can't tell, I really like cheddar biscuits. And butter. And garlic. Is anyone else hungry?
My switch to fresh garlic mimicked my other experiences with inconvenient foods. Once I finally go, I can't go back. It's why I am resistant to even trying them sometimes, because I know my life will become slightly more complicated. There's no returning to the carefree days when I could just stick a spoon in a jar and come out with garlic. It's funny how illogical the whole thing is. Laziness is a powerful force. Is this a lesson that could be applied in other areas of my life? Nah.
Since I spend a lot of time here telling you my secrets, I'm going to tell one of Dolly's. Sssh. These delicious secrets take less than twenty minutes from start to finish. Shouldn't you be making them more often?
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Garlic Cheese Biscuits
From Dolly's Dixie Fixin's
- 5 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 garlic clove, minced (or sliced!)
- 2 c baking mix (see below)
- 2/3 c milk
- 2/3 c shredded cheddar cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- In a small bowl combine the butter and garlic; set aside.
- In a medium bowl combine the baking mix with the milk and mix just until a soft dough forms. Do NOT over-mix. Add the cheese to the dough and stir to combine. If the dough still seems just a tad dry/sticky, go ahead and add a drop or two more of milk or water
- Using a teaspoon, drop the dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the biscuits from the oven and lightly brush with the butter-garlic mixture.
- Serve warm.
- 9 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup baking powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 cups shortening
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. OR, stick it all into your food processor and pulse until you get the right consistency.
- Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place or in the freezer for up to 8 months.