What’s for Dinner? I Dunno

Sometimes the muse takes a day off. I can stand in front of the pantry or the refrigerator and not see anything to eat, just a jumble of mismatched items.

cookbook

To get unstuck, I refer to a cookbook or, better yet, Supercook.com.

I really like this site. I can lump some of those unrelated things from the stash and they will magically turn into dinner. Well, maybe not exactly like that. What it does is offer a number of ideas on what to do with what you have.

I tried a couple of pairings that I though were unusual. They weren’t, really. Supercook produced recipes that used my ingredients.

Sausage and cinnamon: Sausage and Apple Breakfast Casserole
Carrot, mayonnaise, and chicken: Kung Pao Chicken Wraps

I tried American cheese, lemon and banana but this stumped Supercook. Take out the banana and it found: Ultimate Backyard Burgers. YUM!

It’s fun and knocks the stubborness right out of the muse. That’s a winner in my book.

Versatile Rice Pilaf

RiceNext time you need a quick and easy side-dish, think of rice pilaf. It can be varied to compliment your main dish.

Basic Rice Pilaf

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 can (14.5 ounce) chicken broth

Melt butter in medium sauce pan or skillet with lid. Add onion and garlic, sauteing until tender.

Add rice and stir until all grains are coated with butter.

Add broth. Bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Approximately 20 minutes.

Mushroom  Variation

mushrooms

Add 1/2 cup diced mushrooms with onions.

Broccoli and Cheese Variation

broccoli

Add 1 cup broccoli florets and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Include 1/4 cup cream with broth.

Spanish Style Variation

tomatoes

Add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper with onions and garlic. Sprinkle vegetables with 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Stir in 1 cup diced tomatoes with broth.

Pork Chops with Sweet and Spicy Sauce

A simple sauce is all you need to dress up a chop.

Sweet and Spicy Pork Chops

Pork Chops with Sweet and Spicy Sauce

2 boneless pork chops
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon butter

Season both sides of chops with salt and pepper.

Brown chops in the oil over medium heat until cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Saute shallot and garlic in the pan drippings. De-glaze with vinegar and cook until liquid is almost completely reduced.

Add broth, sugar and chipotle to pan. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.

Serve sauce with chops.

Salisbury Steak for Two

I’m OK with just a hamburger patty as an entree but, if you want to elevate the simple patty, you can call it Salisbury Steak.

salisbury steak for two

Salisbury Steak for Two

1 egg
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 pound ground beef

2 strips bacon
2 teaspoons dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons cream

Beat egg lightly in a mixing bowl. Add next five ingredients and stir to moisten. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well.

In a small skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Reserve drippings.

Mix parsley into beef and shape into two oblong patties. Spread 1/4 cup flour on a plate. Dredge patties in the flour and brown in bacon drippings.

Meanwhile, melt butter in small sauce pan. Add mushrooms and saute until tender. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour over mushrooms. Add beef broth, whisking continually until thickened. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top patties with mushroom sauce and bacon.

When All Else Fails, Bake

My mother is no longer living, but I remember that it was always difficult to find anything to give her for a gift. Perfume made her sneeze; flowers in the house made my father sneeze. She always told us that she had enough stuff. Of course, stuff is easy to find and buy for a gift so, without resorting to stuff, what’s left? She did allow us some openings for gift ideas that she would enjoy. Her words: “If I can’t eat it, read it, or wear it, I don’t want it.” Clear enough.

The best Mother’s day for me has always been to spend it with my daughter and, now that she’s here, my granddaughter. We are planning a picnic. I can’t think of many things I want to do more than that.

So, if your mother is in the eat it, read it or wear it category, here’s something to try. I may make some for myself. They’re truly tasty.

Cherry Muffins

Cherry Almond Muffins with Streusel Topping

  • Servings: 12 large muffins
  • Print

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups milk
¾ cup butter, divided
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 can (21 ounce) cherry pie filling
½ cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease large muffin pans. (3 inch x 1 ½ inch cups)
Mix 4 cups flour, the baking powder, salt, and ¼ cup sugar in a large bowl.
Melt ¼ cup butter. Add eggs, milk, melted butter and almond extract to dry ingredients. Mix until moistened. Batter will be lumpy.
Fill muffin cups 1/3 full. Put 2 generous spoonfuls of the cherry pie filling (5 to 7 cherries) in each cup. Top cherry filling with remaining batter until cups are ¾ full.
To make the streusel topping, mix ¼ cup sugar with ¼ cup flour. Cut in ¼ cup cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chopped almonds. Sprinkle the topping over the muffin batter.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the streusel is golden brown.

Don’t Fear the Egg

 

My mother made cookies. At Christmas, there were plates full of cookies of all shapes and kinds. Throughout the year though, it was often chocolate chip cookies for dessert and after-school snacks. It’s still a favorite.

Sometimes I was around when she was baking, though I think that wasn’t her favorite time to bake. She knew I was waiting to eat the last bits of dough out of the bowl. I would beg her to leave a chocolate chip or two in the batter, but she rarely would.

eggs

We weren’t afraid back then. We ate raw eggs without worry. Then came the concern about Salmonella enteritidis, the scourge of bowl-lickers everywhere.

Food-borne illness are a fact of life. I have no data to support this, but I believe that everyone will be a victim sometime. Bacteria happens.

In the case of infected eggs, I think I’ll take the risk. According to a study done in the 1990s by the Center for Disease Control, only 1 egg in 20,000 was internally infected with Salmonella enteritidis. During the years of 2009-2010, the CDC reported that there were 2231 cases of illness caused by contaminated eggs. There are more than 316 million people in the US, so 7 people per million became ill from eating raw or undercooked eggs.

Fear of a raw egg would put the brakes on trying freshly made mayonnaise and nothing should prevent that. Once you have made your own, it will be hard to return to anything from a jar.

mayo3
It’s not difficult to make mayonnaise and it requires only a few ingredients. Here are a couple of basic recipes to try:
Basic Mayonnaise from Martha Stewart

Alton Brown’s Recipe

Pork Chops for Two

Another effort to combat the problem of leftovers is to repackage items that you buy into smaller sizes. In this case, I wrapped pork chops from a larger package individually. When it’s time to cook, I can take out what I need.

This is an easy, inexpensive recipe for two that is quick to prepare.
porkchops

Pork Chops for Two

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pork chops
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 teaspoon dry basil

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium high heat. Season pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Cook pork chops until browned on both sides.
Top chops with green pepper, onion and basil. Cover skillet, reduce heat and cook until vegetables are tender and pork is cooked through.

Yo, Yogurt

Being an adult requires that you do things you would rather not do. My father used to say that he ate his vegetables so the kids would eat theirs. He had a life-long dislike of most vegetables, but he also knew that his kids would mimic his disdain, even if we didn’t dislike vegetables.

For me, one of the things I do because I should is eat yogurt. I don’t really like it, but there are rewards that are hard to duplicate.
WebMD.com lists six yogurt benefits:

  • Yogurt with active cultures may help the gut
  • Some probiotic strains may boost the immune system
  • Yogurt with active cultures may discourage vaginal infections
  • Yogurt may help prevent osteoporosis
  • Yogurt may reduce the risk of high blood pressure
  • Yogurt may help you feel fuller

When I started eating yogurt daily, I reached into the refrigerator for the individual cups that I bought each week. I made sure I had several flavors to keep it interesting. Once I tried Greek yogurt, I was hooked, but the cost of those little cups was a concern.
Making yogurt at home isn’t difficult but what about Greek yogurt? What is the secret to that? Not much of a secret really. Greek yogurt has been drained of whey. That’s it. No magical process. No special ingredients.
So, what does it take to make yogurt? There are a number of recipes to choose from online, but this is what I use:

yogurtingredients

  1. 1 quart milk
  2. ½ cup dry milk powder
  3. 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

I bought a large container of plain yogurt to use as the starter culture. I froze individual portions to save them. Now, when I make a batch of yogurt, I take one cube out and allow it to thaw while the milk is heating and cooling.
It doesn’t matter what kind of milk. Use skim, 2% or whole milk. All kinds will work. The milk powder adds more milk solids to the mix and produces a thicker yogurt.
When it’s done, flavor your yogurt in any way that suits you. I put in a spoonful of jam. Honey would be good, as well. Put in nothing, if you can stand it.
I have to admit, I like my home-made yogurt better than anything I can buy at the store.

Homemade Yogurt


1 quart milk
½ cup dry milk powder
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
Mix powdered milk into the milk in a sauce pan. Using a candy thermometer, heat the milk mixture until the temperature reaches 180 degrees. Remove from heat and allow to cool to 115 degrees. Spoon out approximately ½ cup of the warm milk and whisk it with the yogurt starter. Add this mixture back into the milk and mix throughly. Incubate from 4 to 12 hours until thickened.

The yogurt can be left in the same pan to incubate or put into a jar or bowl. I leave mine in the same pan I used to heat the milk and it works just fine.
To incubate, I heat up the oven to the lowest setting and then turn it off.

yogurtoven

The pan is wrapped in a towel before I put it into the oven and I leave it in place for about 6 hours.

 

yogurtcheesecloth

When the yogurt is thick, I put the batch in a colander, lined with cheesecloth, to separate the whey. Now, it’s Greek!

What to do with the whey is a work in progress. I’ll get back to you on that.

 

Cooking Like a Copycat

A few years ago, we decided that eating at most restaurants wasn’t really worth the money. Yes, it was nice not to cook. Yes, it was nice to go out, but the food wasn’t the central focus of the event. Of course, restaurant meals are no way to cut the food budget and, if it isn’t good, why bother.

Copycat recipes can replace the food that is missed by cooking at home instead of eating out. Last week, I tried one of my husband’s favorites–Jack-in-the-Box tacos. I tried to follow this recipe, but I didn’t have everything listed. I had to make refried beans and, of course, they don’t taste like those from a can. I didn’t have the specific taco sauce called for in the recipe, so I used what I had on hand. I’ve never had a Jack-in-the-Box taco, but I thought they tasted fine. The expert, my spouse, said they tasted fine but were nowhere near the real thing. I guess I’ll have to go out for a taco dinner to know for sure.

Buddy

If you miss some of your favorites, there is a recipe for just about any restaurant dish:

The Baking Mix Scoop

There’s no doubt that a baking mix in the pantry can help you put something on the table quickly. There’s also little doubt that baking mix recipes don’t always taste very good. My mission: to change that.bakingmix

There are dozens of recipes online for baking mixes and I’m certain that any one of them would produce a good mix. I used one created by Sandra Lee on Foodnetwork. It didn’t make a huge batch like many of the other recipes.

Cost savings wasn’t a big issue in this pursuit. I don’t use baking mix all that often. (Maybe I would if stuff tasted better.)A 40 ounce box of Bisquick at my local Walmart sells for $3.28. That’s $.082 per ounce. The mix I used makes about 35 ounces for $.036 per ounce, less than half of the national brand.

Now to the cooking. The first recipe I tried was for Blueberry Muffins. They were awful. I’m still working on that one and I’ll get back to you later.

Next I tried the classic Streusel Coffee Cake. In the Fanny Farmer cookbook, there is a recipe that is surprisingly similar to the Bisquick recipe. The big difference I found was in the amount of fat and sugar. I boosted each to the levels listed in the Fanny Farmer recipe and the cake was delicious.

Adding a couple of extra things doesn’t negate the convenience of a baking mix. Comparing my alteration to the original recipe, the only extra ingredient I used was 2 tablespoons of oil. Sugar is already a part of the original recipe, I just increased the amount to 1 cup instead of 2 tablespoons. The flavor and texture was much improved by these simple changes.

Here’s the recipe I adapted from the original Bisquick cake:

Streusel Coffee Cake

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Print

Cinnamon Streusel
1/3 cup baking mix
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons firm butter

Coffee Cake
2 cups baking mix
2/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 inch round pan.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the streusel ingredients. Set aside. (A food processor makes this step quick and easy)

In another bowl, mix together the cake ingredients until well blended. Pour into prepared pan.

Sprinkle streusel topping over cake.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.