Check It Out: Food Freedom

Is stress taking over your efforts to control your weight and your health? Are you finding yourself facing the Holiday Season, and all the food, with trepidation? Mind Over Munch announced a new, free, course offered on her website and via YouTube that addresses the way we approach food.

If you are looking for ways to better your relationship with food and make progress in your path to healthful eating, this could be an excellent resource.

All the information is in the video and the links are in the description box below it.

Thoughts on Kitchen Organization

Or, Things I’ve Learned Through Trial and Error

I’ve come to the realization that ‘organization’ is a never ending process. It isn’t a bad thing, it just never seems to actually come to a conclusion. Perhaps it would if I never used the space or items and everything was left to its own devices.

I was lucky enough to be raised by two people who had a lot of experience putting things in their proper places. My mother’s kitchens were well organized out of necessity – lack of space will do that, you know. When you don’t have airplane hangar-sized rooms full of custom cabinetry with fancy pull out drawers and shelves, you learn to make do with what you do have.

My father’s workspaces (he had quite a few) were textbook guides on the use of pegboard, drawers, counters and even hanging shelves. Hanging from the roof/ceiling. Walk into our multi-vehicle garage and you were met not only with the vehicles in their proper spaces, but back walls full of well organized, orderly accumulations of the materials that farmers and tinkerers used. Hanging from the roof were reams of pipe and lumber that would be used in projects along with bags of potatoes and onions that were harvested from the garden. The actual workshop was originally a single car garage that evolved into a workspace with a forge, space to weld, and accumulation of tools of pretty much every type and description. All stored in proper places in logical locations and easy to hand.

My own kitchen is what I refer to as ‘postage-stamp sized’ because, well, it is. I don’t have a lot of built in storage space, so I’ve had to learn to use what I could in the best manner possible. When I was able to add storage, I thought carefully about what I would use it for and how it could be maximized.

What I’ve learned can be summed up as follows:

What do you need -vs- what do you want.

There was a time when I would have loved to have a full set of Spode Christmas ware. Never mind that I had no place to store it, no way to pay for it, and really not much use for it as I didn’t host large family gatherings. On the other hand, I loved Fiestaware but the price tag for that actually did curl my hair.

Now I look at fulfilling my wishlist with dinnerware that makes me happy, doesn’t require a second mortgage, and can be used more often.

Multipurpose pieces save money and space.

A few years back I picked up a couple of sets of canisters with vacuum seals. These handy square shaped containers hold a variety of dry foodstuffs, take up the same space as far as footprints and are stackable. And did I mention that they were reasonably priced, too?

Their shape is important. They are all square. No round containers that leave an empty shelf area. I do have a set of containers that are also square but have rectangular pieces as well. These are also space users and stack well. Round containers take up space that can’t be used for storage.

I emphasize shape for a reason. A few months back I happened to see a self described decor expert showing off her newly restyled kitchen cabinets. Behind the doors she had proudly put up round containers with chalk labels for dried goods.

Now, I have no issue with either the round containers or the chalk labels. My issue comes with spending money on these items that are clearly decorative and will live behind closed doors. Where no one but the cook will ever see them and taking up space that could be used for other foodstuffs.

Interestingly enough, the next time we were treated to a view of the once again redecorated kitchen cabinets, the round containers with the chalk labels were no longer hidden away behind closed doors.

Ask yourself if you are inadvertently making your kitchen work more difficult.

Odd as it might seem, when we put things in places that require more steps or more work we make working in the kitchen more difficult. This might seem like a non-issue unless you are one who struggles to find any enjoyment in the kitchen to begin with.

It might be aesthetically pleasing to have the spice rack on the wall opposite the stove, but if you are constantly hiking across the room to get what you need to create a meal, at some point you are going to get tired of the trek and stop using it. Ditto for putting the clean dishes far from the sink and/or dishwasher.

I can always spot a house designed by someone who has never, ever done a load of laundry or purchased groceries. How? Easy. The garage is on the farthest side of the building away from the kitchen and the laundry is tucked into a spot away from easy access points like common walkways or stairs. This can be a lot of <cough> fun if you are dealing with bad weather, especially if the laundry is located in a garage that is separate from the house.

If you have a lot of laundry or a large load of groceries, that hike can be exhausting.

Now, you may not be able to do anything to move the laundry area or garage, but you can take charge of where things reside in your kitchen cabinets.

Cabinets are where the magic happens. Get yourself a set of containers for your dried goods. While boxes and bags seem simpler and easier, they take up a lot of room and don’t seal properly once opened, so you lose the food and the money you spent on the food when you have to toss it out. You don’t have to spend a lot, but be sure you do your research to find quality containers. i.e: Read the reviews.

Do you have a beverage area? Great! Put the mugs, glasses, whatevers nearby so you have what you need at hand. If you have a coffee / tea bar, gather all the fixings together. If you have a snack section, do the same and be sure to put things like napkins and serving bowls nearby.

Baking requires specific cooking pans and ingredients. Having them in the same general area makes the process easier – even more so if it is near the oven.

As you look at your space, think about what you use on a regular basis, what you use rarely and where you use things in general. That stand mixer is great for large projects but if you don’t use it every week maybe it can be put in a place that keeps it handy but doesn’t take up limited counter space? Mine is quite hefty, so I keep in mind that carrying it is a consideration.

If you have little ones around and are teaching them to set the table or put things away, look at your lower cabinets and consider putting things at their level.

If you have a cookbook collection, or are just starting one, consider making space in or near the kitchen. Handy for actually using the books to either cook or plan meals.

If you don’t use it or need it get rid of it.

This one is difficult, I know. But at the end of the day, getting rid of things you don’t use or need will save you time, space, and a lot of frustration when you need to find a place for something you do need and use. Besides, someone else might be looking for exactly what you don’t want!

There will always be some issue with storage and organization. The key is to make the best use of what you have and keep a sharp eye on how you utilize your space. Are you inadvertently sabotaging your cookery efforts? Are you not making the best use of the space you have? Do you already have a tool, box, container, thing that will help you resolve this issue?

With that food for thought, I will leave you to ponder. I hope this has been helpful. If so, please click on the “like” button below.

Comfort Food Follow Up

Remember the meat loaf and jacket potatoes I indulged in a couple of weeks ago? In light of the conversation about meal planning and such, I thought I’d share the evolution of that lovely meal.

aka: Left overs can be magic!

Okay, the meat loaf made at least 2 meals along with the jacket potatoes. I had a bit in some soft tacos, too. The remainder made its way into a baked ziti casserole that, in itself, made 3 meals.

By my reckoning, that’s a total of six meals. And there’s still more ground beef in the freezer waiting to be used.

I know we sometimes get caught up in the “I hate left overs” rut along with the “I’m tired of cooking” rut. But if you take a step back, take a deep breath, and look at what you’ve got in your pantry, you can often come up with ideas for meals that you’ve already started preparing. 🙂

This is the power of having the building blocks of a variety of meals in your pantry, fridge and freezer waiting for your inspiration.

What’s next? Well, I have some carrots that will be added to some broccoli for soup and I’m contemplating biscuits to go along with it.

What’s on your idea list?

As always, if this has been helpful or given you some ideas, please click the “like” button and don’t be shy about leaving a comment or question.

Comfort Food

The weather is slowly shifting to cooler days and nights. Hooray!

For those of us who are getting tired of their own cooking (hand in the air), it can be a bit of a battle between easy and boring in the kitchen.

I’ll be honest; I’ve had a bit too much chicken lately. Which is saying a lot for me.

Thanks to a market that had a better stock in the meat department, I snagged a family pack of pork shoulder steaks. I added some baking potatoes and some ground beef and we are in for some seriously non-chicken good food!

For those who don’t know, one of my Top Five Favorites is a simple, easy and fabulous roast.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Take out your broiler pan – or if you don’t have one, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil – spray with non-stick cooking spray. Put the steaks on the pan, season with salt, pepper, garlic and dried sage.

Roast for 45 minutes, turn over and season. Roast for at least another 30 minutes. You are looking for a rich caramel color on the meat.

Add some baking potatoes at the beginning of the roast and they will all be done at the same time.

I roasted 2 of the 4 steaks in the pack and put the other 2 in the freezer.

As for the ground beef, I’ve got my eye on a meatloaf recipe and am debating between mashed potatoes or more baked potatoes. I bought enough spuds I could do both.

Easy. Flavorful. Wonderful comfort food. Yum!

Meal Planning: The Nightmare

AKA: One Size Does Not Fit All

This is a topic that I’ve struggled with for longer than I care to admit. Not the actual ‘doing’, because I do have my method. The problem is, my method is not what you see posted all over the place and touted by <cough> experts.

Now, I do want to give a shout out to those <cough> experts who actually provide thoughtful, useful ideas and methodologies that people can use. But I want to give a Huge Shout Out to those who understand that works for Person A might not be a workable solution to Person B and poor Person C is left hanging.

Here’s the thing: No two households are the same. They may look the same on the surface, but when you look deeper, you start to see the little realities that make the One Size Fits All Solution unusable.

For Example: How often you grocery shop usually depends upon how often you have money in your bank account. Weekly. Biweekly. Monthly.

What you shop for is dependent upon how much you have to spend AND how you are able to prepare it. If you know how to prepare it.

What you shop for also depends on what you eat. Some folks have serious allergies or health issues. Some folks, hard as I hate to admit it, really don’t particularly care about food. They eat to survive. Others have had some seriously bad experiences in the kitchen and are not too inclined to repeat the disasters. Some just never learned how to feed themselves.

Then, there’s that component that relies on – you guessed it – Time.

How much time you have to spend on the preparation of meals. How much time you have aside from functions like work, school, and the host of other out of the house activities that eat up time. No pun intended.

Knowledge Is Power

Here’s the thing, you know all the answers to the major questions. You also know if you need to learn new things to help you make more of the knowledge you already have.

If you need to learn to cook. Do it! Even if you don’t particularly like to cook, learning will help you work better, more efficiently in the kitchen so you don’t have to spend so much time and money in the kitchen.

Learn how to shop for food. Better choices lead to better meals which lead to better health and a healthier bank balance. You aren’t wasting money on food you end up tossing in the trash.

Better choices come from knowing what works best for certain recipes. Slow cooker recipes, for example, make the most of cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. (Translate: Save money.) They are usually easy to prepare and don’t require you standing over a hot pot. They are pretty much hands off. (Translate: Great for novice cooks.)

Time is an issue: If you can set aside one day a week to prep your meals, you save a lot of time during the week actually cooking the meals. If you want to kick it up a notch, set aside a day or two per month to actually cook those meals or do the heavy cooking required for what I call – and use – the Building Block Method.

By having the majority of the prep work done in advance, you take the stress out of deciding and cooking at the last minute.

The Building Block Method

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you probably know I prefer to shop in bulk and prep a lot of things in advance. I buy large flats of chicken to cook for casseroles, or large quantities of ground beef to pre-cook for casseroles or prepare as patties that go directly into the freezer. I make use of my oven and my slow cooker to make the process easier and maximize the time and space I have available.

The “Building Blocks” are parts of potential meals that are ready to go when I’m ready to eat.

The cooked meat or poultry becomes

  • Taco or burrito filling
  • Soup
  • Casseroles
  • Added to salads
  • Pasta dishes

If I am in the mood for taco salad, I have the meat ready to go. All I have to do is defrost and set up the salad. Pasta bake? I pull out my favorite pasta sauce and I have a quick and easy main dish.

I make sure to have all the building blocks I need at hand.

  • Cheese
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Eggs and milk
  • Soup or soup base
  • Herbs and spices
  • Ketchup, mustard, and other base sauces

By having these items on hand, I have the freedom to create a wonderful meal without stressing over what is in the pantry and if I need to get groceries. I can do as much, or as little, cooking as I want. Added bonus, I can try new recipes if I choose without a major trip to the market.

You can use meal planning to help you in many ways and you can make it as easy or complicated as you like. Do what works for you!

If this has been helpful, please click the “Like” button below. If you’d like to learn more, add a comment.

The Pretend Cooking Show I Discovered

Yep, you read that right. Jennifer Garner’s Pretend Cooking Show popped up in my YouTube feed last night and I … haven’t had so much fun in ages! I looked up the channel (“Garnerish”) and immediately subscribed.

She is funny, engaging, interesting and real. The recipes are easy to do and, frankly, inspiring enough to get me thinking about what I can do in my own kitchen.

Oh, if you are interested in a look from a different POV, check out “Every Recipe from Jennifer Garner’s Pretend Cooking Show”. You won’t regret it – even if you don’t particularly like to cook.

Sweet Hot Mustard Chicken

Recently I found this recipe of Chef John’s over on AllRecipes.com.

I love Chef John, but he has a fondness for hot things that I just don’t enjoy. That is why when I pulled out the boneless, skinless chicken thighs and started gathering the rest of the ingredients, I ignored the cayenne and chipotle. I didn’t have red wine vinegar, but I did have apple cider vinegar. I also did not have fresh onion or garlic, but I did have the powders in my spice drawer.

I put the marinade ingredients in a seal-able dish, mixed well, and added the chicken. It resided in the fridge for 24 hours and then the drained – but not cleaned – chicken went into the oven (see NOTES).

It was Fabulous!

Sweet Hot Mustard Chicken Thighs


Courses: Main Dish
Categories: Chicken
Serving size: 8 servings
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Ingredients

8 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground dried chipotle pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced into rings
2 teaspoons vegetable oil, or as needed

Directions

1. Make 2 slashes crosswise into the skin and meat of each chicken thigh with a sharp knife, cutting to the bone. Cuts should be about 1 inch apart. Transfer thighs into a heavy resealable plastic bag.

2. Whisk Dijon mustard, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, mustard powder, salt, black pepper, ground chipotle pepper, and cayenne pepper in a bowl until smooth. Whisk garlic into marinade.

3. Pour marinade into bag over chicken thighs and massage marinade into chicken, coating each thigh thoroughly and working the marinade into the cuts. Seal bag and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or overnight for best flavor).

4. Move a rack to the center position in oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly oil the foil.

5. Scatter onion rings onto prepared baking sheet. Place chicken thighs on top of onion rings. Spray or brush thighs with vegetable oil; sprinkle thighs with additional salt and cayenne pepper if desired.

6. Roast chicken in preheated oven until the skin is browned, meat is tender, and the juices run clear, 35 to 45 minutes.

7. Transfer chicken and onions onto a serving platter. Pour pan drippings into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and continue boiling, stirring often, until drippings are reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Skim excess fat from pan sauce.

8. Spoon reduced pan sauce over each chicken thigh and serve.

Notes

Used boneless, skinless thighs. Apple Cider Vinegar. NO peppers, etc.

Roasted @ 400 degrees in Convection oven.

Nutrition

Amount per serving
Calories: 351.6
Total Fat: 19g
Saturated Fat: 5.1g
Cholesterol: 105.9mg
Sodium: 764.8mg
Total Carbohydrate: 13.8g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6g
Sugars: 7.9g
Protein: 29.1g

I do think you could substitute pork and get a similar result. Let me know what you think!

Berry Farm Treasures

Justin and Ally were at Knott’s Berry Farm recently to sample the offerings at the food festival. While the park isn’t open, there are lots of places to get wonderful foods to try. I admit a whimper or two…

I was pleased to see that Knott’s Berry Farm has a page of recipes on their website. Knott’s Recipes to Try is chock full of great ideas.

Food is often a big part of enjoying a park. I’ve eaten at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Restaurant many times – and always enjoyed the meal.

I’m also a huge fan of the boysenberries. I look for ways to add them to my pantry any chance I get. 🙂

Check out the post – and don’t forget to search for more recipes. Bring a touch of the park home.

Why I Watch A Lot of Creative People

I can remember a time when my weekly binge of crafty-ish shows was all on Saturdays and was spent on PBS.

The day started out with shows focusing on sewing, then evolved to quilting and on to other types of hand crafts. Then we were on to household DIY shows followed by lots (!) of cooking shows. It was a full day of interesting things to see, things to learn, things to think about.

Inspiration.

A few years ago my access to over the air PBS was severely curtailed when the local signal simply vanished. I don’t have cable, so I was stuck.

Then I started to look at YouTube and things opened up in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I watch a Lot of YouTube channels. A Lot. I watch cooking, sewing, crafting, travel, home decor, inspiration, you name it.

I have found a collection of people who produce some interesting content over a variety of topics (some serious, some not and some the jury is out on). All of which give me food for thought.

I’ve said that Decades Ago Natalie DuPre taught me how to use a food processor. Now Entertaining With Beth gives me ideas for both fancy and home cooked meals. The Domestic Geek shows options for everyday meals that are tasty, easy and healthy.

Alexandra Gater, Hermione Chantal and Mr. Carrington offer DIY and home decor projects that I can do myself.

Justin Scarred is happy to take me along when he goes out to explore the world – and I don’t have to leave my home!

Maymay Made It provides a wide variety of crafting projects and is also showcasing small businesses. There is a wide variety of paper crafters I keep up with that give me a lot of “Wow!” moments, too.

And these are but a few of the folks on my list of YouTubers I keep an eye on.

They put the fun back in a world that seems less fun and less interesting. They remind me of what I can do – and give me ideas of what I might want to do.

Inspiration can come in a variety of ways. I’m happy to have these folks drop in now and then to tell me what they’ve been up to and show me their latest creations.

Who inspires you? I would love to know.

Side Effects of Looking for Inspiration

I recently signed up for a foodie type newsletter on the Washington Post. The idea is to focus on a different cookery book each week and highlight 2 recipes for readers to try.

First up: Nigella Lawson. Now, I came across Nigella during a binge watch of Mary Berry shows. You might remember Mary from the Great British Baking Show. Over in the U.K. they refer to her as the British Julia Child. Ms. Mary is an Institution. She embodies the beloved Gran, Mom, Auntie cooks we have known to bring common sense and seriously good food to the table. Nigella is from a similar frame of mind; she loves to eat and isn’t a Chef, she is a cook. Her food is luscious, simple to put together and scrumptious.

And, as if you haven’t already guessed, neither of these ladies is a calorie hawk. Yum!

This came along as I was working on the July Newsletter’s Pantry Magic attachment. Pantry Magic is a focus on a recipe or theme where I provide ideas, recipes insights into how to make some magic in your kitchen using what is stored in your pantry. July’s theme is “Summer Salads”.

Putting the piece together was a lot of fun, but it also created a lot of serious Hungry. LOL!

Over on YouTube, several of my regular crafters are working on projects with new materials. The Stampin Up folks just had a new catalog launch and they have some luscious papers, not to mention beautiful new In Colors, to try. Maymay’s focus for June has been creating stamps and projects with a more masculine feel. All of this has led me back to my craft room where I’ve been going through supplies and trying new techniques.

Mr Carrington has been continuing his around the house projects. I think I’m in love with his roof garden. I can honestly say that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my deck and garden area now.

To add to the garden issue, Hermione Chantal has done a major clear up of her back garden and it is beautiful!

Thanks to some neighbors, my little garden/lawn area was mowed, raked and cleared up. It is such a nice change after rains, mud, leaves and what-all.

For those who are wondering, yes I still have a couple of Accuquilt dies sitting on my desk waiting for my attention. I see them every time I sit down. To my left is my fabric stash. Between the two I am bombarded daily with potentials and possibilities and such.

To top all of this off, June is the traditional time crafters start getting ready for [ insert drum roll ] Christmas.

Yikes!

No, I’m not ready for that, either.

I did order some stamps from the Post Office and am preparing to send out a card or two as I get them done. This is something I’ve been thinking about since Maymay brought it up a while back. Just a little “thinking of you” card in someone’s mailbox.

As you might surmise, the act of looking for inspiration often provides more than we expect. Then again, we often encounter it even when we aren’t looking for it.

Here’s hoping you find a bit of inspiration for a project you’ve been thinking about tackling.