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Box Meal Magic

September 1, 2010

I consider myself a master chef of box meals. Rice a Roni? You no longer need to print directions on the box. Chicken Helper Fried Rice? I have mastered the art of cooking the egg in the same pan as the rice. And DiGiorno pizza? You make me laugh at the mere suggestion of choosing between a soft crust and crispy crust. We all know the perfect crust is just between the two.

Before obtaining a master of arts in box meal preparation, the ultimate test is ingredient substitution. Most of these meals call for simple things like oil, butter or milk. But I live where the wild things are. I walk a fine line between the world of prepared and unprepared. I laugh in the face of those who suggest regular grocery shopping is the key to mastering the art of cooking. In other words, I’m often missing these key ingredients. The absence of ingredients most often comes during the making of the holy grail of box foods: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Things I’ve discovered about the holy grail of foods include: putting less butter than recommended makes it slightly less greasy and will last longer. Also: coffee creamer is a perfect substitute for milk. You heard it here first.

But substitutions don’t always work, my friends. Sometimes, straying too far from the intended ingredient results in a culinary regret. Last night I began making the famed blue box meal when I realized that we had no milk. I rummaged through the kitchen, looking for an acceptable substitute. I decided powder coffee creamer wouldn’t work—you have to draw the line somewhere. Just adding extra butter seemed a little risky as well. Then I noticed sour cream and thought, “Hey, it’s just sour milk. And sour cream makes other cheese foods taste great!” So I gave it a try.

I’m here to report that sour cream is not a good substitute. Unless you like a slightly soured taste with your powdered cheese flavor. But then I realized that the box had expired in April 2009. So who knows—maybe it wasn’t the sour cream. But these are the risks you take when you live on the wild side of the menu.

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