I have never eaten a tv dinner. No, never in my life. When I was a kid, I didn't even know they existed. We certainly never had them. When I was a preteen, my mother started buying them. Those little Kid Cuisines came out and my brother and sister ate them constantly, but I was never interested. I was going through a phase where I ate nothing but mashed potatoes. Man may not be able to live on bread alone, but I am living proof that one can survive on potatoes. :)
I eat more than potatoes now (though I must admit that it's rare to have a day without some form of potato as part of a meal) but I'm so full of food oddities that something so conventional as a tv dinner has simply never been something I've even considered eating. For one thing, I like to know where my food is coming from, and what it's been through. In other words, I avoid foods with ingredient lists a mile long with items that sound far more like chemicals than any food I ever heard of. If it doesn't have the word "organic" or "grain-fed" or "no hormones or antibiotics" plastered somewhere on it, it's probably not going in my mouth.
And yet, unlike the typical "natural foodie", I hate to cook. I have to be one of the laziest people alive when it comes to food preparation. My rule of thumb is, if it takes more than 5 minutes to prepare (not including cooking time as long as it can be unattended), forget it. I'll extend that to 15-20 minutes preparation time only if it's something that will make several meals, like a stew or a roast. The crockpot? It's my friend.
But tonight, I was reading Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is well-known for its focus on food. The amount of food Almanzo puts away each meal is positively staggering to me. I swear he eats more food in each meal than I eat in a week. But the point is, the book made me hungry. And hungrier. And hungrier.
So I raided the kitchen. But I haven't done any grocery shopping yet this week so my cupboards were rather bare, and nothing I did have looked good. Not in comparison to Mother Wilder's heaping plates of everything under the sun. So in desperation, I headed to the freezer.
I don't have much in the freezer. It's for stocking-up purposes, and it simply isn't stocked right now. Awhile back, however, the grocery store had a huge sale on Hungry-Man dinners. Now while I have never eaten a tv dinner, the same cannot be said of the hungry man in the house... the typical tv dinner isn't satisfying enough for him, but Hungry-Man makes these huge one pound meals that he loves. So I stocked up. The entire full-sized freezer was filled top to bottom with stacks of these dinners by the time the sale was over. :)
So bit by bit the stack has dwindled until now it's almost as bare bones as the cabinets upstairs. However, when I opened the freezer door, my eyes fell upon one of these meals. "Hmmm," I pondered. "I wonder..."
Fried chicken. Mashed potatoes. Corn. And a brownie. I was sold.
I headed upstairs with this thing, and shook my head in disbelief at myself looking at the "1 Lb of Food" emblazoned across the box. Am I crazy for even fixing this thing? There is no way I can eat a pound of food. But I proceeded nonetheless with the great experiment: my first tv dinner.
I looked carefully at the instructions. "Remove plastic cover from chicken, potatoes and brownie. Poke holes in plastic over corn."
Ehh... not pleased that the plastic is going to be left on over the corn... I'm very careful not to let my food and drink touch anything plastic when at all possible. All those chemicals leeching out and all, you know... but I wanted to follow the instructions so I proceeded. I also realized that the entire tray was made of plastic, so the meal was doomed anyway. :)
It might be a little easier to remove the plastic from all but the corn if the plastic were sealed to the rim all the way around the corn instead of being just one big piece loosely laying over the entire top of the meal. How exactly are you supposed to leave only the corn covered? I managed, using scissors to cut the plastic around the corn... it laid there loosely but it was covered. I poked the holes obediently, then looked at the next step.
After carefully plucking twenty pieces of corn out of my brownie, I continued with the instructions.
"Place tray on baking sheet. Cook 40 minutes."
FORTY MINUTES? I thought these things were supposed to be FAST. I refrain from using the microwave as much as possible -- you guessed it, all that radiation in the food makes me more than slightly leery -- but I figured if I'm eating a terribly unhealthy meal anyway, how much worse can it be to do it in the microwave? So I switched to the microwave instructions and placed it in for 4 1/2 minutes.
When the timer went off, I looked at the next step. "Remove brownie with fork and set aside. Stir potatoes. Microwave 3 minutes."
I attempted to remove the brownie with a fork, but I'd like to know just exactly how that is supposed to be done when it all falls apart into bits? I ended up just EATING the brownie right out of the tray. Yes, I ate my dessert before my meal. Tsk, tsk... but what else could I do?
So after eating the brownie -- which was okay but not as delectable as something so naughty as a brownie should be (because of course I refrain from such sugary treats except for special occasions... but my first tv dinner, that's a special occasion, right? But boy, when I do eat those kinds of treats, I want them to be worth it... and this simply wasn't) -- I stirred the cold lumpy potatoes and put the tray back into the microwave.
I must admit, I didn't have great hopes for this meal at this point. If even the brownie was just so-so, how on earth could the rest of the food be a success? And the consistency of those potatoes was not promising. I felt like tossing the whole thing and peeling some real potatoes, despite the extra work. I'm quite used to potato peeling, after all, as you can imagine. :)
But I mustn't give up before I've even given it a try, right? So I let the meal finish radiating in the microwave. And then it was time to eat.
The potatoes were okay. Not great, but not bad either. They actually had some flavor to them, and the consistency was better with the additonal cooking time it had received.
The corn? I didn't have high hopes for the corn. I was prepared for what I call buffet corn. Have you ever noticed when you go to a buffet, the corn is almost never very good? It's either chewy and rubbery with no flavor, or soft and soggy with no flavor. I have no idea why that is. So I was pleasantly surprised with both the consistency and the flavor of the corn. Quite tolerable!
The chicken? Well, I ate a couple bites of it, but it was just too rich or something for me. It's been so long since I've had a fried food, my tongue just has no taste for it anymore, I think. Besides, I'd already had chicken for lunch... my nice healthy antibiotic and hormone-free chicken prepared in the slow cooker for ultimate juiciness and tenderness. Sorry, but this processed breaded fried chemically-laden stuff just doesn't cut it in comparison. I couldn't eat it.
So here I sit contentedly crunching away on a healthy organic apple instead, just as glad that I didn't fall in love with this meal, as now I shall never again be tempted to eat one.
Mother Wilder just may inspire me to cook a meal from scratch before this book is done!
(Not likely. :) )