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Could home cooking be addictive?

June 1, 2020
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Cook with quality food and you won’t need to add excessive seasonings to make your meal delicious

A bag of Sour Cream & Onion potato chips was the crunchy fix I needed. I know it isn't good for me; so what compels me to buy and eat this salty junk?

Here's what: I'm a chip-addict, and the Scripps Research Institute told me why.

Scientists have determined that the same molecular mechanisms that drive people to drug addiction are behind my compulsion to eat chips. Paul J. Kenny, a scientist at Scripps' Florida campus, said that a study confirms the addictive properties of junk food. The over-stimulated reward pathways in the brain lead to addiction, whether your substance of choice is cocaine or cupcakes. (Of course, the strength of these compulsions vary big time.)

What's wrong with being addicted to junk food? It's cheaper than healthy food, right? Wrong! That bag of chips costs $2.99 for 2¾ oz., which means a pound costs more than $17. And a fast-food meal can cost as much as $14. But when purchased in bulk, an uncooked 6 oz. hamburger patty can cost $2.96. Add a bun, cheese, and ketchup, cook it yourself, and for as little as $3.40, you have the basis for a delicious meal.

In general, hyper-processed fast-food is more expensive than food cooked from raw, wholesome ingredients at home.

There is a problem, though – how to do it. Generally, I'm a terrible cook who doesn't like to read recipes. But I do know a few things about meat, given the ample supply of raw material here on Miles Smith Farm. My expertise comes from YouTube chefs and from just winging it!

Here's the basic approach to cooking a delicious steak: Sear it. To do this, cook a steak at a high temperature, which will sear the surfaces. This creates a golden, caramelized crust that gives meat that grilled flavor. Then, lower the heat to finish cooking. Pork chops, chicken, and roasts all benefit from this process. Forget to turn the heat down, and you'll end up with a hockey-puck steak. I've created a few of these.

Adding salt, pepper, and garlic enhances the flavor. Even with a few seasonings, home-cooked food won't have the excessive salt and sugar that fast food contains. Why is that? Because junk food does not start with the best ingredients.

It's like what happened during Prohibition. The illicit liquor was inferior, so mixed drinks won new popularity to hide the bad taste. (No, I don't remember it; I read it.)

But if you start with quality food, you don't need to salt or sweeten the heck out of it to make it taste good. And it will taste deliciously like what it is, instead of tasting like sugar or salt.

So for food that tastes like food, you should buy the good stuff. Follow a recipe, watch a YouTube video, and then experiment. Add or subtract ingredients. Be creative; the recipe is not your boss.

If you are also addicted to chips (like me), wean yourself slowly. Sprinkle some of those salt-crusted chips on top of home-made macaroni and cheese. Give it a try, and who knows, you might even become addicted to healthy, home-cooking.

Carole Soule

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