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

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.

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

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.