Society is such a wonderful contradiction of ideas. As people further insulate themselves from other people via instant messaging, text messaging, cell phones, e-mails and other forms of electronic buffer, they still spend money on individualized items. Monogrammed towels, baby blankets and so forth still garner hundreds, if not thousands, of your hard earned money when purchasing gifts.
The notion of the individualized item has been a staple in food culture for years. Individually wrapped food found its place as soon as plastic packaging got its foot hold. Now, the notion of individually wrapped food has gone so far as to incorporate individually wrapped prunes, persuading a new group of consumers to consider a food that has had a geriatric stigma for years. The food industry in Japan has developed a new curiosity in individually wrapped food, the cashew. (One particular food blog found the idea so ridiculous it expects Japan to introduce the "cashew embedded in a block of solid iron.")
Like a lot of people, I like having something that is specific to me. Something that is uniquely mine. Italian cooking, in my opinion, first perfected the individual dinner when the calzone or stromboli began wrapping all manner of meat and veg in a golden-brown crust. I can have whatever I want in my calzone whether it be five different forms of meat or simply pepperoni and cheese.
Taking the idea of individuality into your kitchen will afford you a few things. One, the use of aluminum foil makes the cleanup minimal. Two, cooking packets specific to each person's desire eliminates grief from finicky eaters. Finally, the packet cooking method can be used to increase the all important element of human contact.
How you ask? After providing a base, such as chicken or pork, the members of your cooking party can build their own culinary castle. Some members of the party may love mushrooms while others harbor no fondness for fungus. This is particularly helpful when trying to get children to eat vegetables. Experts say allowing children to see their food and take part in its preparation makes them more likely to eat the meal.
Savory Herb and Garlic Chicken Packets
1 pound chicken breast or tenders
1 package Lipton Savory Herb with Garlic soup mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup water
1 pound baby golden or red skinned potatoes
4 to 8 sheets of aluminum foil
The day before the meal, in a large plastic container or gallon zipper bag, mix oil, soup mix and water. Add chicken, coating evenly. Place in refrigerator
An hour before cooking, remove chicken from fridge. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
Rinse potatoes and quarter.
On one sheet of aluminum foil place chicken breast or three tenders. Arrange quartered potatoes around chicken, avoid placing potatoes on chicken.
Fold foil over chicken, sealing edges and leaving space between top layer of foil and packet contents.
Place packets directly on the oven racks or on baking sheets.
Bake for 30 minutes
CAUTION: Part of the cooking process produces steam. Be very careful when opening and moving packets.
The packet cooking I have engaged in has only consisted of chicken and pork at two separate occasions. Both times the meat was marinaded for 24 hours. The marinade is the first opportunity to be creative.
In your local grocery there are normally at least 10 varieties of marinade flavors. Often however, a little hunting may be in order. At my shopping venue, seasoning for my chicken (garden herb and garlic) is actually a "soup mix." The choice here is slim but tasty. I have used the onion mix on oven roasted potatoes to great success.
Actual marinades were found with the dry gravy, taco and meatloaf envelopes. The larger the store, the larger the selection, but basic flavors such as mesquite and garlic/herb should be easily found. Instructions on the package are usually the best route when flavoring the meat of choice.
Because you want to create a full, fully individualized meal, including vegetables that fit well with the flavor of marinade is the second creative outlet. For a tex-mex style marinade, red, green or yellow bell peppers could make a fine accompaniment. With the garden herb and garlic I'm fond of with chicken, I have paired zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms and potatoes. If you try vegetables that don't pair well the first time you packet cook, simply try different vegetables or a different marinade.
After the meat has soaked up the delicious marinade and the vegetables have been cut, it is time to assemble the packets. The use of aluminum foil is a matter of how much food you are including in your packets. In some cases, one sheet can be folded and crimped on three sides; larger meals may require two pieces of foil one for top and one for bottom.
Experimentation in cooking doesn't always yield delicious results. This is no excuse to not experiment. If you try something once and it doesn't work, think about what went wrong and change that element.
For an example, if you make a packet with lemon poppyseed marinaded trout and potatoes and the potatoes don't cook all the way but the fish is done, adjust the size/shape of the potatoes. If the potatoes are smaller/thinner, they will cook faster. If it is the other way around and vegetables are over cooked and the meat isn't cooked thoroughly, consider changing one of the components.
Packets don't have to be the entire meal either. If you are making something in the oven, such as a frozen pizza, vegetables tossed in seasoning and oil and cooked in a packet in the oven will produce a personalized, individual side dish.
If there are ever any differences between my tastes and yours or your family's, don't hesitate to change something. Garden herb and garlic chicken and potatoes is what I cook when I packet cook.
You may like more vegetables or not like chicken. Versatility is the main ingredient in my cooking. Hopefully it will be in yours, allowing you to individualize your dinner every night of the week.