Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's Shake and Bake

“It’s Shake ‘n Bake, and I helped.” God, how I hated that commercial with the little girl proudly presenting a platter of quasi-fried chicken to her Dad at supper time and making that exclamation with a gap-tooth smile and a fake Southern accent. Shake and Bake was supposed to relieve the “homemaker” from the fuss and mess of frying chicken.

Things really haven’t changed. Now Stouffers is running commercials with a little girl straightening her 5th place Tae Kwan Do trophy on the mantel and then practicing her forms in the living room while Mom pops a foil pan of frozen Stouffers lasagna in the oven and fixes a salad all with the voice-over and copy showing on the screen saying “Let’s Fix Dinner”.

And KFC is doing the same thing. It’s billing its bucket and sides combos as a family dinner and as a way to get the whole family together around the table.

I don’t think my Mom ever made Shake ‘n Bake and I know she fried lots of chicken. Rather than going out for pizza in the early 60’s, Mom made Chef Boyardee pizza on a cookie sheet adding water to the dough mix and spreading it out, then trying to make the runny tomato sauce cover the whole thing, slicing a stick of pepperoni as thinly as possible and then covering the whole thing in the little mini can of Kraft Parmesan cheese. It wasn’t good pizza (and frozen didn’t exist) but it was a bit of a treat on Friday night after a long week.

When the Colonel first started advertising, he promoted buckets of chicken fit for the whole family complete with 11 secret herbs and spices. I sure miss those TV commercials which featured the “real” Colonel Harlan Sanders. He could really make a boy’s mouth water in the early 60’s.

I tell you what though, we sure ate more as a family when I was a kid. For one thing, there weren’t the number of restaurants or fast food places then. Even a trip to McDonald’s was a huge treat that I don’t remember happening more than a couple of times growing up. I remember stopping with Dad to pick up Cuban sandwiches a lot more than I ever did anything else.

Now, there’s a fast food joint seemingly on every conceivable corner. There are more franchise restaurants than you can shake a stick at. I remember when it was a huge, big deal that this new steak place called Bonanza came into being (named after the TV show, of course and followed a couple of years later by Ponderosa). We even went a couple of times to Bonanza to slide a tray down the cafeteria type line and come out with an incinerated, gristly t-bone at the other end but it was a new era in “dining”.

I still think that it’s far better to come up with a way to inexpensively and quickly fix a dinner at home. Even if it’s wrapping crescent rolls around hot dogs (what I jokingly refer to as Weiners Wellington) and popping them in the oven while you heat up a can of beans. Let’s get back to simpler ways of doing things.

I’ll grant you, prepping lasagna takes just a bit of doing (about a half hour plus another hour to bake), but it’s worth it. Here’s one that’s simpler, although it’s ziti not lasagna. Just cook a bag of ziti or penne pasta so that it’s al dente. Brown up ¾ to a pound of hamburger or Italian sausage. Then dump that with the cooked pasta (shock the pasta in cold/ice water to stop the cooking). Combine that with a can of spaghetti sauce, 12 ounces of shredded mozzarella, add a bit of basil, oregano, garlic and salt. Mix it up, spread it in a casserole and bake it for a half hour to 45 minutes at 375 and you’ve got Baked Ziti. If you want garlic bread and don’t have any Italian or French bread—substitute hot dog buns. They work great.

Let’s Fix Dinner! Yep that’s a good slogan that Stouffer’s came up with. But let’s do it by doing some pretty quick and simple cooking at home. It just takes a bit of planning.

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