I really like government publications. As soon as I was old enough to write, I used to send self addressed stamped envelopes to the Federal Citizen Information Center to get cheaply-printed booklets on home canning and requesting your credit report. They were nearly free and often unintentionally hilarious, especially the food information.
I half-heartedly collect old government recipe books — the kind that would have been distributed by social workers and home ec teachers — and they have never had a great sense of what people want to eat or read. There’s this awkward tone to the writing, where the anonymous author clearly wants to be fun and interesting, but is hamstrung by the need to Not Offend Anybody, so the result is the odd joke or weird illustrations of anthropomorphic Melba toasts.
So, when, suffering from recipe fatigue, I ended up on the First Lady’s Letsmove.gov site, I was actually a little disappointed: it was sincere, but not laughably so. The Let’s Cook section of the site will be featuring inexpensive menu plans and recipes from chefs, hoping to inspire Americans to cook more and drive-thru less. This week’s menu was from chef Marvin Woods, an Atlanta-based chef. Far from being silly-didactic, the page actually could have used more text, in my opinion.
For the first time since I was a bemused 21-year-old housewife reading Woman’s Day, I printed out someone else’s shopping list and went to the store. Last night, I made Woods’ Thursday night meal, Mediterranean Chicken, Pearl Barley, and Feta Eggplant.
The chicken, among my audience, was more or less a wash. We were out of pearl barley (we have always been out of pearl barley) so I used some Israeli couscous I found malingering on a high shelf, which is cooked like risotto.
It was fine to eat. Things I would do differently next time include having olives, using parsley, and using chicken thighs. The couscous was great as always.
Points in its favor include that Trader Joe’s garlic marinara sauce is absolutely stuffed with chunks of garlic and contains no sugar; that Trader Joe’s has a new brine-packed feta that is fantastic; and that it was clearly the best thing on the table as evidenced by the fact that I could not photograph it before it was attacked by ravenous children.
I was shocked, honestly, both that they liked it and I liked it. I don’t care for marinara sauce or eggplant (except as baba ganoush) but that was highly edible.
According to the menu plan, last night’s dinner should have set us back $15.00. Despite paying more for kosher chicken breasts and the premium feta, I think we were probably in the ballpark. Did I just unironically learn something from the government?