Pantry Cooking: Carbonara for Two

There is something to say for having a few meals in the pantry for those times when you can’t think of what to fix or when your time is short.

This easy carbonara for two requires only 6 basic ingredients. (Seven if you want to add a handful of peas) It might be argued that this really requires 8 ingredients if you count the salt a pepper. OK. So maybe it’s 8 instead of 6. Still, not many ingredients and they are all things I keep on hand.

carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara for Two

4 ounces spaghetti
1 clove garlic, minced
2 strips bacon, diced
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring salted water to a boil in a large sauce pan. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water; drain well.
In a small bowl, whisk together egg and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cook bacon in a skillet, over medium heat, until crisp. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Reserve drippings.
Saute garlic in drippings until fragrant. About 1 minute.
Add pasta to skillet. Working quickly, stir in egg mixture. Add reserved pasta water a small amount at a time until it is smooth and creamy. Fold in bacon, parsley and peas, if using, and top with additional Parmesan. Serve immediately.

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When You Don’t Have a Maple Tree Handy…

Homemade maple-flavored syrup. Who knew? I ran across this idea in my frugal travels around the internet. It just wasn’t one of the things in my experience database. I don’t remember what we used as a child because I think that pancakes were a rare thing in our house. I do know that, when I grew up, I liked jam on pancakes better than syrup.

My local store carried maple extract in the baking aisle, so I gave it a try. It’s nowhere near the real thing. It tastes fine, easily as good as any of the maple-flavored syrups from the store. (Maybe I’m not the best judge of that, though) It is, however, quick and easy to do and there’s a bit of cost savings, too.

I used brown sugar but if you want a lighter color, use regular white sugar. Most of the recipes I found online used white sugar. One used a combination of white sugar and brown sugar and one used corn syrup as the sweetener. I think any way you do it, it will be good stuff to pour on the pancakes.

pancakes

Quick Maple-Flavored Syrup

2 cups water
4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons maple extract

In a non-reactive pan, bring water to a rapid boil.
Mix in brown sugar all at once. Stir until it is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in maple extract.
Pour into a sterilized jar and allow to stand, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

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.

Cook Like No One is Watching

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Cooking at home is critical to a frugal lifestyle. There are few instances where purchasing something pre-made will be less expensive than making it at home. Perhaps more important than cost, is that there aren’t mystery ingredients in homemade food. You hold more control over what you and your family eats.

So, if you feel that you could use a boost in your kitchen skills, check out these sites. There are many tutorials to help learn a new skill or improve your techniques. I have found that I prefer my own cooking now, over a restaurant meal, since I started improving my cooking skills. I hope all of you can find the same.

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UK Cooking Expert Delia Smith

Arizona Central Offers Basic Lessons

Chef 2 Chef: Learn from Pros

Some Free Classes from Craftsy

National Baked Bean Month

July is National Baked Bean Month. I have not yet celebrated this event.

I’m not a big bean fan but they do fit nicely into summer meals. Is there anything much better than something from the grill served with a side of rich beans? Well, maybe, but not during National Baked Bean Month.

Beans

The problem with cooking beans is that most recipes make far more than I need. I have tried to solve this by creating my own recipe for two. First, I cooked a large batch of beans from a recipe by a well-known author. They were awful. I don’t have a bean pot and I’m sure that was the problem with this authentic New England recipe. If I had a bean pot, they wouldn’t have tasted so bad.

After a couple more tries from various recipe sources, I still haven’t found one that I like. Is there something wrong with me or is it that you just can’t cook beans properly in Texas?

I’m not giving up, especially now that I know about National Baked Bean Month.

All Recipes boasts 70 recipes for baked beans. Maybe one of them is the recipe I’m looking for.

Frugality Requires Things

I might be retired, but that doesn’t mean that I want to spend any more time than I have to in the kitchen. Saving money isn’t rewarding if I don’t have time to enjoy it. I’ve got things to do. That’s why I use machines.

 Four of my most-used machines

Bread Machine

Does anything smell better than baking bread? OK. There might be something, but I think it’s still near the top as far as good smells. Using a bread machine simplifies making fresh bread. I’ve tried making bread the traditional way. It never turned out well and I gave up on fresh bread for many years. The bread machine solves my heavy, dense bread problem. It also solves my pizza dough and Hawaiian rolls problem.

Dehydrator

My husband likes jerky but it’s expensive to buy. Buy a dehydrator and the problem is solved. It’s incredibly easy to make jerky and at a significantly lower cost than commercially prepared jerky. I’ve dried fruit and fresh herbs with it too, but the main use in our house is jerky.

Slicer

We wait until beef is on sale before making jerky. Only one store in our area has a meat department that will slice roasts for you. That’s what we did when we wanted to make jerky. Unfortunately, this store has stopped slicing roasts that are on sale. We bought our own slicer. Now, we can buy beef anywhere it is on sale and not just at the store that would slice it for us.

Food Processor

Does it slice, dice, and julienne fry? Maybe not, but it will do a lot of great things. I use it to make mayonnaise, finely chop vegetables and nuts, and puree sauces. Again, all of these things can be accomplished by using hand tools, but I like the time-saving advantages of machines.

Kitchen tools

I can make great specialty breads for a fraction of the price. I can make a pizza with my homemade dough that rivals any restaurant pie. I can feed my husband’s jerky habit for much less. Add the time-saving benefit to the monetary savings and it’s a double whammy. It does cost money to buy machines and perhaps that isn’t always in the budget. I think we’ve saved the cost of all the machines by making jerky but something more difficult to quantify is also at work here. Life is short and time is precious.