Prepared Foods

 Today was my first day in over two years back at General Mills as a sensory panelist. One of the things that I learned the last time around, was to not to scorn everything about packaged foods. At least the bigger companies put a lot of $ and time into the R&D of their products.

Fresh isn’t always the best option, even though transportation of foodstuff worldwide has improved and expanded dramatically in the last 20 years.

Even though we might not like to admit it, sometimes the result from our recipe doesn’t rise to the same level as what the professionals put on the shelf.  Too often, the nostalgia of home made comfort food turns out only a figment of one’s imagination.

Last week I stopped at a small Asian grocery store in Brooklyn Park. Three ailses are lined with metal shelves packed with dusty bottles and cans of foreign foods, and a wall of refrigerated malt beverages, plastic-wrap wrapped peppers, banana leaves, and unfamiliar meats are to the right, after you pass the boxes fish on ice that are set on the floor at the entrance.

We have a large ethnic market housed in an old Rainbow Foods Grocery store building closer to our apartment, but they don’t have the “special gunpowder green tea” that my husband prefers. Also, I have more confidence asking the Asian owner at the little store which curry she recommends than I have confidence (as far as curry goes) in the Latino at Sun Foods.

There were several other customers already in the store when I arrived. The Three Bell Brand of golden curry powder was out of reach, because of the line at the cash register, so I took another turn around the store. The powdered horseradish was tempting. The canned mushroom fungus was not.  The ingredients on the various brands of coconut milk looked similar if not identical, so I just took the least expensive one. A few feet further down the aisle, a can of curry caught my eye. Hmm. Last time did I like the can? Which color had I bought? yellow? green? Well, they only had red, so…Ingredients: pumpkin, kieffer lime leaves, chili oil…interesting. So, I decided to break the bank and pay $1.99 for a can of the stuff.

Two hours of evaluating crescent rolls, blue berry muffins, banana nut muffins, pizza rolls, and vanilla frosting doesn’t exactly leave one eager to fill one’s stomach, so I wasn’t disappointed to find a note on the kitchen counter when I returned home. Joel had finished a book and had headed to the library to return it with the prospect of a walk, perhaps. Neat, short stacks of clean laundry were laid out on the bed (the laundry fairy had been busy while I was away!), so I didn’t have to throw a load in.

“Curry Ck” was scrawled on the torn piece of notebook paper stuck to my refrigerator.  While I defrosted a large boneless, skinless chicken breast, I chopped some white and green onion and portioned out toppings for the entree.

A slice of butter was enough to sautee the onion and pieces of chicken. Then I pulled the tab on the canned curry. The sweet-hot scent was tantalizing, even before I had added it to the skillet to simmer with the meat. Not so pleasing was the appearance of the unidentifiable chunks that swam in a what looked like curdled slime.

Appearances can be deceiving? Well, it’s all or nothing. I clothed the naked chicken with the contents of the can. When the liquid began to boil I turned the heat down in order to avoid bubbles popping and spraying onto the stovetop and white tile floor.  As it simmered the oil and coconut milk melded together to a more consistent texture, and I could identify the chunks as pieces of pumpkin.

As I finished setting the table, Joel walked in the door and the timer began to buzz. Leftover rice was quickly reheated in the microwave, then spooned into shallow bowls. There was more than enough curry to bathe the rice, so after a first dish of chicken sprinkled with coconut, peanuts and raisins, Joel had seconds.

Not bad…for a can.

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