Long before you could buy pre-made ten-course gourmet meals at Whole Foods, there were instant foods for busy folks that only required the addition of water. Some of those foods are still around and the magazine Desert Living asked me to give them a test run in case the day comes when we're all forced to live in underground bunkers.
Lipton Cup-a-Soup, Chicken Noodle: Not much "there" there, it's more or less just a hot cup of watery chicken broth with a smattering of egg noodles and two dehydrated carrots. Still, it's easy to drink, could do wonders if you catch a cold and it's less work to rinse out than a spoon and a bowl.
Jell-O Instant Pudding, Butterscotch: It wasn't as creamy as I like, but that's my fault for not owning a wisk. Overall, though, it was a pleasant dessert experience, and only 100 calories per box. I am definitely pro-pudding, a simple tasty pick-me-up in under eight minutes.
Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal: I can see why Quakers are nonviolent. Starting off a day with a hot bowl of oatmeal made me feel goooood. Apples & Cinnamon is the go-to duo, but don't overlook Maples& Cinnamon or Raisins & Spice. Each packet is a scant 110 calories and offers calcium, iron and 7 other essential vitamins and minerals.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese: You know how things you thought were cool when you were nineteen like Anne Rice novels, drinking beer out of a funnel and a soul patch turn out to be pretty awful if your revisit them at age 35? Well, don't worry about Kraft Mac & Cheese, it's still awesome. The beautiful neon orange powder clings to the small tubular macaronis to form a bowl of utter goodness. Plus, each box serves three, so this is a meal, not a snack (good thing too with its 380 calories). Go ahead and eat it as an adult, I recommend adding sliced up hot dogs and pairing it with a 2003 Downing Family Shiraz.
Top Ramen, "Oriental" Flavor: A United States dorm room staple since 1972, which is also the year of Nissin Food's racial awareness. -- "Oriental" flavor might not be culturally sensitive, but it's efficient. Ramen leans way too heavy on the sodium at 800 mg, but its vague soy flavor works well enough and it gets the job done whenever "Oh, me so hungry."
Ramen Cup Noodles, Chicken Flavor: My new favorite food company, Nissin, continues its assault on political correctness by serving up this rebellious dish in a hearty Styrofoam cup, which can be thrown in the gutter when you're done. Ostensibly, it's Top Ramen with dried carrots, corn and carrots, although it smelled a bit eggy and didn't offer the exotic kick of the "Oriental" flavoring.
Pillsbury Idaho Mashed Potatoes: Powdered potato flakes are unsettling to say the least, but since it takes like seven hours to make the real thing, the instant version will have to do (Thanksgiving excepted). As potatoes, they fail. Bland and grainy, it's like eating fluffy sand, followed by a horrible aftertaste. As a butter and gravy repository however, the potatoes work just fine. So load ‘em up because that's why spuds were invented in the first place.
Maxwell House Instant Coffee: You know how if you go to Starbucks with a group of people over the age of 50, one person will invariably say, "I can't believe anybody would pay $4.78 for a lousy cup of coffee." Well, I would pay $47.80 to never have a cup of coffee this lousy again. It's so bitter and harsh, I was happy I burned my tongue. I can't fathom that some people wake up every morning to this swill. Now that would make me violent, even if I were an oatmeal-eating Quaker.
Carnation Instant Nonfat Milk: There is only one word to describe it, BLLECHHARRGGHHERRUUCCHHGGRRH. Thank God I still have a cup of Maxwell House to wash out my mouth...not working...I need something stronger like Scotch or Ajax. I always though that "greatest generation" stuff was overblown, but if our grandparents really did drink this stuff during the Depression than they were a lot tougher than I ever imagined. I can only say if we end up drinking instant milk again, the terrorists truly have won.
Rice-A-Roni, Herb & Butter Flavor: While studying the label and wondering if the Bush Administration is the reason all references to San Francisco have been excised, I noticed that Rice-A-Roni doesn't really qualify as "instant." It takes fifteen minutes, in a microwave. Then I realized that my plastic bowl wasn't microwavable and my apartment started to smell funny and I got dizzy and laid down. Picture on the box looked delicious, though.
(Illustration by Julia Rothman)
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