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Food and drink: In a parallel universe of instant food

An eternally young guide to Kraft Dinner alternatives

This time of year I think of all the young ’uns, the hipsters, the pirate pranksters, the 20-something-year-old men and women flocking to Whistler to deliver the Thai tapas and the Coopers’ Sparkling to crowded tables, to safely dock nylon-cased bums on lift chairs, to spangle nails, change sheets, build subs, buff whatevers and generally grease the resort wheels the way only young people can. And will.

At the same time, I think of all the Top Ramen noodle packages and K. D. boxes (that’s Kraft Dinner, for the uninitiated) flying off grocery shelves.

Now, you don’t have to be young and single to need some quick and doable dinner ideas. But after years of going to Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design… oops, I mean Emily Carr University , and slogging though classes where we do actually talk about food, and art — cultural theory, you know, plus all those still life painters, performance artists and multi-media folks who put food through its iconic cultural paces — I know one thing: 20-somethings constitute the biggest demographic looking for ways to cook at home that satisfy these basic criteria:

• Tastes good.

• Fast to make.

• Fun to make.

• Cheap and easy to buy — as in, you don’t have to visit nine obscure gourmet shops.

• Leaves two dishes for clean-up that your dog could do (well, of course you sloosh it with soapy water after).

• Kind of good for the environment, or at least doesn’t totally wreck it, and supports their political ideology, if it’s convenient.

First off, I guess it would break many a poor little no-logo heart to learn that Kraft is one of the biggest food logos in the world. It sells 59 different brand names at US$37 billion a year, plus it enjoys an almost unheard of market saturation — 99 per cent of U.S. homes contain at least one product made by Kraft.

Canadian homes likely follow suit — they just don’t do that kind of market research here. Or if they do, they don’t report it. Got some A-1 Sauce, Nabisco crackers or Jell-O in your house? Yep, it’s all Kraft.

As for the instant ramen noodle industry, it’s exploded like a… I was going to say like a listeria outbreak in modern times, but that wouldn’t be fair, would it? So let’s just say it has exploded like dehydrated noodles in a cup of boiling water with a profusion of brands and varieties — picante beef ramen, anyone?

One of the top brands, prophetically named Top Ramen, is made by Nissen. Their first instant ramen, “chikin ramen” to be precise, hit Japanese markets in 1958 at a price six times higher than the fresh udon noodles most people bought. Then it was considered a luxury food, which puts things in perspective if you’re deconstructing current lifestyles.

Today, Nissen produces a variety of instant products, with some 22,000 employees in 29 plants around the world tuning up sales of more than US$3.2 billion each year.

Not to break up any Kraft/ramen noodle monocultures, or get too far out of the package, but here are two renegade — read, unbranded — ideas that can add to your own fast-food home-food repertoire:

 

A STACK OF CAKES FOR SUPPER… Pancakes at the end of a cool day’s play are hot. These favourites ride on the added glory of oatmeal.

Mix together 3/4 c. of oatmeal and 1 c. of milk in a small bowl. Set aside until all the milk is absorbed. If you want to hurry it up, nuke it on low for a bit. In a separate bowl mix together 3/4 c. flour, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tbsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt and a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or ?

To the oatmeal/milk concoction add 1 egg and 2 tbsp. oil (canola or something like that). Beat together. Sloop that into the flour mixture and mix it all together until smooth. Glob spoonfuls onto a hot, greased frying pan or griddle. I go for medium-low heat. If you don’t know a hot pan when you see one, flick on a drop of water. If it beads up, it’s ready for batter. When bubbles break on the surface, flip the pancakes over until the other side is cooked. This makes enough for two people, or one very hungry one.

Gussy them up by serving with syrup, sliced apples, ice cream, fried eggs, bacon, or all of the above. The thing about making these, or any dish, is to make them yours and make them fun. Make weird shapes. Try adding raisins, peanut butter or cheese to the batter and see what happens. I bet most people get turned off of cooking, even the simplest things, when it feels regimented.

 

EASY CARE OMELETTES… Pretty much every young pup makes their own invention of scrambled eggs mixed with whatever — cheese, bacon, mushrooms — in one pan. It’s a great fast meal, but here’s to busting one big egg myth: omelettes are just as easy.

First, you don’t need a special omelette pan, but you do need one with a smallish bottom and sides that curve up from it in one swell foop. Heat it (try medium high) till it’s hot (see above). In the meantime, with a fork, not an egg beater, beat 2 eggs with a drizzle of cold water (1 tbsp.) and salt and pepper, and/or spices or herbs you like.

Add a pat of butter (about a tablespoon) to the pan and swirl it continuously so it doesn’t burn. Pour in the eggs, fast. Watch for bubbles — the more bubbles the puffier the omelette. Once the outer edges set, quickly draw them towards the centre of the pan, tilting it to swirl the uncooked egg to the outside edges. While the top is still moist add anything you like — grated cheese, salsa, ham, jam, broccoli, whatever. It doesn’t take much.

If you’re right-handed turn the handle of the pan toward you and fill the left side. Flip the right side over the left, then flip the whole omelette upside down onto your plate. If you can’t be bothered to remember this last part, who cares.

The main secrets are a hot pan, using water not milk (water steams and makes it light), and don’t overcook it: if it’s a bit moist that’s good. Voilà! — a super meal, cooked faster than you can boil ramen water, that will impress a date or even a visiting mom or dad.

 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who ate a lot of fast-food home-food when she was working on her new web site: www.glendabartosh.ca.




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