Playing, er, Experimenting in the Kitchen

I’ve been cooking since I was 11 or 12. My mom started me off with simple foods and eased me into the magic of the kitchen one meal at a time. Before I knew it, I was responsible for dinner every night. And, yes, doing the dishes, too.

As a result, I was one of those kids who knew more than the rest of the class when I took my one and only Home Economics class. (Wasn’t into sewing, but loved the cookery stuff!) The advantage of the class was discovering foods and techniques that we didn’t have at home.

Over the years I’ve been fascinated by all sorts of cookery shows, books, magazines, you name it. When I discovered that other folks read cookbooks like I read science fiction, my mind was blown. Truly.

The upside of that curiosity is the willingness to try new things. Now, I won’t say that I have no limits, because I do, but I will say that those limits are few and far between.

Things I’ve Discovered Along The Way

Seasoning can be more than just Salt and Pepper. If you are like me, you have a spice collection (large or small) that might be overlooked more often than not. I encourage you to dive into that collection and try those tasty gems on different things than what you bought them for.

I love curry powder! I have a very old and very rarely used recipe for chicken curry that requires not only curry powder but powdered ginger. A couple of weeks ago I was preparing my favorite breaded chicken breasts and pulled out the curry powder instead of the poultry seasoning.

Heaven!

Speaking of that poultry seasoning. I know it tends to reside in cupboards only for the rare occasion you make stuffing at Thanksgiving, but did you know a touch on beef can be an amazing experience?

I discovered this many years ago when I stopped by a local burger shop to try their fare. They had a reputation for flavorful, beautifully cooked burgers. All true, but the real star of the show was the poultry seasoning that was used when the burgers were mixed.

Onion and garlic powders make everyday cooking easier. I don’t do enough cooking anymore to rely on chopping fresh. Too often things go bad before I can use them. Since I hate waste, the alternative was the powdered versions. Note: I don’t use the ones with salt added as I like to control that one on my own.

Dried mustard is another unsung hero. Yes, it is used in bar-b-que sauce, but have you tried a touch in eggs? You can add it to the filling for deviled eggs, but try a touch added to beaten eggs along with the salt and pepper before you scramble them. When I first saw that ingredient in a recipe for scrambled eggs I was dubious, but I tried it and it became a favorite.

I keep small jars of dried rosemary and sage in my collection, too. They are wonderful when roasting chicken or pork.

I also keep a small(ish) bottle of coarse ground black pepper. I prefer the flavor to a fine grind, but don’t have the desire for a mill. Oh, and white pepper has a different flavor that can be quite tasty used in the correct dish.

One thing to keep in mind if you are contemplating a collection of dried herbs and spices – store in a cool, dark place.

Don’t be afraid to play a bit. Think of it this way, if you have it, and use it, you must already like it. Try a small amount in a new way and see what you think. You might be on the way to a New Family Favorite.

Frozen Treats

Okay, let’s be honest here, lots of us (not pointing fingers) have been enjoying home made breads and cakes during our Stay At Home Adventures. Some of us might say, a bit too much. 🙂

As it is allegedly Spring and heading into Summer (I say this because, as I type this, currently it is a scootch above freezing and has been pouring rain…) fresh fruits are heading into the market.

So, how do you enjoy those succulent sweet morsels without adding on more inches? Not into making a pie or cobler? Don’t want to make jam or jelly? What if you have dietary restrictions? What do you do if you don’t have a lot of specialty equipment in your kitchen? Well, you make sorbet!

Sorbet is made from water and fruit puree or juice. It contains no milk, cream or eggs, and is one of the oldest forms of frozen desserts. Records of frozen sorbet-like desserts date back to the ancient Romans and Chinese, where they were made with snow, fresh fruit pulp and sweetened with honey.

Not to be confused with sherbet. The difference between sorbet and sherbet is mainly how much dairy they contain. Sorbet contains no dairy whatsoever, while sherbet contains a little cream or milk to give it a richer, creamier texture.

Simple. Easy. Delicious.

Sorbet can be produced using very simple equipment. At the very least, you can use a potato masher or a fork or, if you have one, a blender. The food processor is also an option. No ice cream maker is needed.

You can use whatever fruits you have on hand. If they are just this side of over ripe and you aren’t sure what to do with them, this is a great option. You can also adjust the flavors any way you like. Say, for instance, you want to add a touch of mint or maybe almond. You can use extracts or, if you have the plant, chop up some mint to add to the mixture before you freeze it.

So, how do you actually do it? Simple as 1 – 2 – 3:

  1. Cut up the fruit.
  2. Freeze the fruit.
  3. Blend (or puree) the fruit.

Let’s start with the fruit. You will want about 3 – 3 1/2 cups of frozen fruit.

You can prep your own or use frozen fruits. Keep in mind that while the bags of fruits from the market are already in uniform sizes, their sweetness may vary depending upon when they were harvested and frozen. This really isn’t much different than fruits you pick and process on your own. Bottom line: Check the sweetness and adjust as you see fit. You can add honey to adjust if you need to.

If you are prepping your own fruit, try to get them as uniform as possible – this will help them freeze at the same rate. Speaking of freezing, a good option is to prepare the fruits and have them in the freezer overnight. If you can’t wait that long, leave them in the freezer at least 3-4 hours or until they are frozen through.

You will need to have room in your freezer for a sheet pan that you can lay the fruit on to freeze. Avoid placing the fruits on the pan in such a way as they will touch and/or clump. Clumps make processing more difficult as they won’t be easy to separate.

Method One: Using Blender or Food Processor

  1. Freeze the fruits.
  2. Put into blender or food processor along with any sweetener needed.
  3. Blend until smooth.
  4. You might need to add a little warm water and press the fruits down to process.
  5. Eat immediately as a soft freeze or return to the freezer for a hard freeze.

Method Two: Manual Press

  1. If using already frozen fruits, set them out to semi defrost. If using unfrozen fruits, cut up and add to a large bowl.
  2. Use a potato masher or two forks to break up the fruit into a small puree.
  3. Pour fruits into a freezer safe container – preferably something shallow. Freeze for about an hour.
  4. Remove from freezer, stir the fruits to break up ice clumps. Return to freezer. Repeat until fruit is totally frozen.

Get creative! Combine fruits to make delicious desserts. Do you already have a favorite smoothie recipe? Why not adapt it to make sorbet?

You could put the mixture into smaller containers, add Popsicle sticks and have a great cool treat for young and old alike.

What if you have chunks of really good chocolate on hand? Why not add a few to the softened mixture before you eat – or pop the mix back into the freezer? You could also add larger fruit chunks to the mix to really up your game.

Sorbets that use naturally sweet fruits have low calorie counts. They can be elegant additions to a Company Dinner or an easy luscious treat any time. They prevent food waste, which is also a plus for your budget.

Give them a try and let me know what you think!

My New Favorite Bread Recipes

I’ve owned a bread machine (or two) over the years and the one prevailing issue I’ve had is some inconsistency with the results.

My preferred machine is a 20+ year old Sears model that I Absolutely Adore. Note: I doubt you will be able to find one like it. This machine makes wonderful bread, is easy to use and is reliable.

That being said, there are always opportunities to see what else I can do with it. I have yet, for example, to try making jam or cakes in the machine. But I can see the time when I will give them a try.

In the meantime, I happened across this recipe from Food.com and gave it a try. Boy! Was I amazed! The recipes is: Throw Away The Bread Machine Instructions White Bread.

One of the main takeaways is that you start out proofing your yeast in warm water before you add the rest of the ingredients into the pan. Just as you would if you were making bread by hand. That short 10 minute wait gives you time to gather all your ingredients, measure them out and make sure that the yeast is still active. Sort of a jump start, if you will.

Because I use yeast from a jar that I store in the refrigerator, and I don’t let the yeast come to room temperature before I start, the time spent in the warm water does double duty. It not only brings the yeast up to temp, but gets the proofing underway before the machine starts combining ingredients.

The very first attempt with the recipe netted a lovely high loaf with a golden crust, even crumb and lovely taste.

As I continue to experiment, I will be sure to use the proofing method in this recipe. I know it won’t work for delayed baking, but for general use it should be a huge help.

As I think further, one thing that may explain the inconsistency issue is the temperature of the water used. Straight out of the tap sounds easy, but if it is cold outside, the water will be cold. If you draw hot water, be sure it isn’t too hot – it needs to be at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold and the yeast won’t grow, too hot and you’ll kill the yeast.

What else do I use my bread machine for?

  • Pizza dough.
  • Sweet dough for cinnamon rolls.
  • English Muffin Bread.
  • French bread (not the traditional kind but I could if inclined)
  • Italian bread
  • Dinner Rolls

Fresh bread made at home is less expensive than store bought and I know what is in it. While I use a machine, I started out making bread by hand and, contrary to what some people may think, basic bread is basically 15 minutes of work and a couple of hours of waiting; waiting for the rise and waiting while baking.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty similar to using a machine. 🙂

Either way, the end result is tasty, tempting and a true treat!

My Favorite Tools and Resources

While I’ve usually had excellent luck with my original bread machine, I did have a different one that made great dough, but the baking left a lot to be desired. I was lucky to be a part of an online cooks message board (long since gone) that had bread bakers as part of the group.

The group recommended The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. This book was a life saver as it provided much needed information about how the machines work their magic and what to do to help them do their jobs. The biggest take away from the book was to use additional gluten when baking in a machine. I tried it – and it worked!

This book contains my favorite pizza dough recipe!

Somewhere along the line I came across the first three books in the Bread Machine Cookbook series by Donna Rathmell German. These books have been great fun providing interesting recipes and options for using the machine.

These books have my favorite English Muffin Bread recipe along with the recipe to make the sweet dough for cinnamon rolls.

Fleischmann’s Yeast has a wonderful website (Breadworld.com) that holds an amazing array of recipes for hand and machine made breads and pastries.

King Arthur Flour’s website (kingarthurflour.com) not only has a wonderful recipe section, but their online shop has some great tools in addition to the flours, seasonings, chocolates, etc. They have a great community section where you can ask bakers for help with any question you have regarding baking.

Bread making doesn’t have to be complicated. Bread is actually very simple. Enjoy the process and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Java – The Joy Of

Good coffee makes the meal. Bad coffee will kill it.

I’m one of those people who really do appreciate good coffee. I am by no means an expert, but I do know how to make a decent cup of Java. It took me a while.

I admit I was spoiled. Both my parents knew the secrets to excellent coffee, but it was my dad who taught me to appreciate the joys of a perfectly prepared pot accented with Just The Right Amount of Sugar and, believe it or not, evaporated condensed milk.

Yep, my coffee life began with condensed milk rather than dairy cream. Probably because the former was a lot less expensive than the latter and we watched our pennies.

As I grew up and learned more, I found I actually prefer <gasp> Carnation Creamer. There is a richness that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

I also learned that the process of actually making a decent pot of coffee is a lot more difficult than first thought.

I’ve tried most of the usual suspects but really only found my perfect solution in a Melita Pour Over pot or a Keurig. Since I no longer make large pots, I tend to follow the Keurig but have the option to use the reusable pod. There are lots of these types of machines on the market, just as there are lots of pour over pots and filter systems that I knew nothing about.

The truth is, everything changed when my place of employment replaced their old coffee bar system with one that used thermal pots. No more burned coffee. Joy!

Then, I happened to discover one of my coworkers ground his own beans and made his own brew. He was an excellent teacher – I still own my first coffee grinder.

Coffee is a joy reserved for weekday mornings when I’m trying to organize my thoughts or Saturday evenings with some seriously good TV.

I prefer Pike Roast or Donut Shop – no decaf for me, please. Both have similar profiles, but each has its own distinctive characteristics.

There was a point in time when I could get my hands on bags of the most wonderful Colombian Supremo beans that made an amazing pot of coffee. Even my dad was impressed!

Now I understand that not everyone enjoys their coffee the way I do. Some don’t care for it at all and others aren’t all that particular. In some way, it is a nice change of pace from the folks who are far more invested in the contents of the cup than I am. 😉

At the end of the day, a good cup of coffee can be the balm that keeps the rest of the world at bay. Even for just a little while.

Learning For the Joy Of It

I’ve been a long time fan of DIY shows. I started out watching PBS on Saturdays when the lineup included sewing, quilting, woodwork, and cooking – not to mention gardening. 🙂

I’ve had the pleasure of many, many different teachers who provided individual perspectives and skill sets that made me understand a concept or learn a process in ways that I might not have managed otherwise.

To this day I credit Nathalie DuPree with showing me how to use a food processor. I figured if she could make pie crust and biscuits in it, so could I.

Last week I told you about my adventures with Bluprint. Well, I’m happy to say they are continuing. I’ve enjoyed classes on candy making, bread making, quilting and a host of others – and I did it on my schedule.

I also enjoy my favorites on YouTube. We are entering Soup Season, so I’ve seen loads of ideas on some wonderful, tasty options. I can add my bread making skills to a pot of home made soup for a wonderful, hearty meal.

I’d like to encourage you to find a few minutes that you can spend relaxing and absorbing ideas, skills, thoughts that you can use in your life. It doesn’t have to be the same ones I do.

Creativity takes many roads and is different for every person. What you do to recharge your batteries after a long day’s work is as unique as you are. I know folks who prefer to pick up a book rather than a crochet hook – and that’s fine, too. The important thing is to feed that part of you that often gets neglected or put off until “later”.

Far too often “later” is an elusive idea that never actually comes. It resides just beyond the reach of our fingertips. Please don’t let that be your reality.

Tackling the Mental Pantry

Vocabulary matters in ways we don’t consider. It will help us or hinder all our hard work.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time lately checking out food lists, meal prep ideas, weight loss ideas (I refuse to use the word “diet”) among other things.

Why? Because I wanted to learn what tricks and tools worked and what didn’t.

What did I learn? Something I’ve always known: One Size Does Not Fit All. Or, one plan does not fit all.

The first thing that struck me was the reality that there really is no need for me to create a food list for you. That is something you should be doing for yourself.

Before you panic, consider: Who knows you best? What do you like to eat? What do you hate to even think about eating? What are your allergies?

I’ve been developing a questionnaire that will hopefully help you get an idea of what you like, don’t like, are interested in, etc. This is based on an old Graham Kerr project that made me sit back and think about food. Not just the “what’s in the fridge?” question, but (no pun intended) food for thought about, well, food.

Combine that with whatever eating plan you’ve chosen for yourself – or are considering – and you will have the foundation for meal building blocks.

The second thing to consider is this: If you don’t live alone, your eating plan will have to include the other members of your home. Why? Because unless you want to set yourself up to fail, your meals should include everyone in your home.

That is one reason I refuse to use the word “diet”. That word has negative connotations everywhere. It is thought of as temporary. A punishment. Something you do that isn’t enjoyable or fun. Sort of like “exercise”.

Yeah, that word. 🙂

So, in the meantime, I’d like you to think about what you have in your pantry, where you like to eat, what you like to eat and what you might like to try.

This isn’t homework in the sense that you will be graded. It is homework in the sense that you will be setting yourself up to succeed and enjoy a new adventure.

🙂

Food. The Adversary?

There is a lot of propaganda out there regarding food and cooking.

From the outright lie that cooking is hard and the only way to master it is to allow someone else to do the heavy lifting for you, to the pervasive idea that food is the enemy and you are in a constant battle to survive.

Let’s look at the first one for a moment, shall we?

Cooking can be hard. But it doesn’t have to be and, most importantly, with innovation and technology, it is a lot easier than Grandma or even Great Grandma had it. Heck, even Mom had issues with equipment.

Unless you expect to be a 5 star Michelin chef doing hundreds, if not thousands, of meals every day, (and if you are that’s amazing) most household cooking is pretty straightforward and reasonably easy to do. If you know how.

If you know how.

One of the things that literally stopped me in my tracks was discovering that Home Economics classes are pretty much extinct. The idea is that you need to know how to look something up more than you need to know how to feed yourself.

What!???????

I hate to break it to you, folks, but if you can’t feed yourself, the rest is not necessary. Let alone possible.

Yeah, I get it – it is unknown. Scary. Smelly. Icky. Takes time you’d rather spend doing something else. Or…… maybe it is something you don’t know if you actually like until you find out how to do it?

Why that particular line of propaganda? Simple. Food companies needed to convince buyers to buy their products. All those cans of vegetables, boxes of mixes, packets of frozen foods needed to be purchased to make money for the companies. As time went on the advertisers got busy finding incentives, excuses, reasons, why you just couldn’t spend All That Time In The Kitchen cooking a meal when all you had to do was pull it out of the freezer, dump it in the oven and TaDa! Dinner. Not exactly cheap, but a easy.

Food as the Adversary came a long a bit later. It was a byproduct of discovering how Humans eat and what happens to their health over time.

When I was a kid mercury was a huge problem in canned fish. Saccharin was thought to cause cancer. Fat was the Biggest Bad Guy out there. Except you need a small amount of fat to make your body (a machine) work.

Thanks to a combination of intentioned advertising, misunderstanding, ignorance and the growth of the health conscious community, society took on a lot of questionable ideas about healthy eating.

Sadly, some of those ideas are still around today.

Yes, mercury is a no-no in your food. Fake foods like saccharin sound like a great idea, but the way the human body reacts could be worse than just eating the sugar. Or the salt.

Which reminds me. Thanks to the proliferation of fast food shops and basically eating out, most people have no idea what a proper portion of anything is or even looks like.

It is no wonder people have issues with food.

There’s a lot to explore here. I am not, and never claimed to be, an expert or a professional food person. What I am is a consumer who cooks and eats. And I want to learn more and share what I’m learning to make sure I can feed myself and keep my health without either going broke or driving myself crazy.

If you’d like to join me on this journey, let me know by clicking below. Send me a comment. I’d like to learn your thoughts as we work our way along this journey.

A Simple, Easy Dinner

One of my Very Favorite dinners is so simple and easy you’ll want to make it often.

I take a pork shoulder steak, season with salt, pepper, dried sage and dried garlic. Place it on a broiler pan and roast in a 350 degree oven on the first side for 45 minutes, then flip (season as before) and continue in the oven for at least another 30 minutes, 45 if you want them more caramelized.

I use my broiler pan to catch any fat that melts and drips off. If there is room on the pan – often times not – I put the potatoes there. Otherwise, they are on a separate rack in the oven. Depending on the size of the spuds, you may need to put them in the oven earlier than the pork.

You can add a green vegetable or a side salad with a simple dessert and there you go!

Food, Glorious Food!

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.     

James Beard

I am a Foodie who enjoys cooking.

I love the variety of flavors, colors, textures, and smells. I love the possibilities.

I recently became acquainted with a group of folks who are embarking – or continuing to embark – on a health/weight adventure. Some have been on this road for a long time, while others are relatively new to it.

Health and weight concerns are serious issues and there are tons of things to consider. One is how you feed yourself and not make yourself ill.

I have friends who are gluten intolerant, have various food allergies and sensitivities that make eating out not only questionable, but in some cases downright dangerous.

For those folks who have little or no real knowledge about cooking, feeding yourself out of a microwave or a drive through can be counter productive. And expensive.

As I thought about all these things, and looked at my experience of them, I started to wonder if there might be a way to share information that would help folks get more comfortable in the kitchen and find ways to create satisfying meals without a lot of stress.

Now, I know that the Internet is up to its’ figurative eyeballs in food blogs, but most people have no idea where to begin.

I’m thinking about this in relation to this blog. Would you be interested in joining me on a new food adventure? Leave me a comment below. Thanks!

The Unsung Hero of the Kitchen

The Slow Cooker

Yep, you read that right. The slow cooker is the unsung hero of the kitchen.

While the Instapots and the Air Fryers of the culinary world are selling like hotcakes, the real workhorse in the kitchen is that simple, handy, dependable piece of electronic crockery that sits on your counter producing flavorful, healthy meals day after day, week after week, year after year.

What? You don’t own one? Or, you do, but you never use it? You don’t really know how to use it and what you have tried has been a bit…eh.

Oh my…

Slow cooking can be dump and go, but there are a few things you need to know to get the results you want.

You can roast in them, but you do need to remember to NOT add any liquid. Why? Slow cookers don’t reduce liquids in the pot unless you leave the lid off or open on a side. That means all the moisture in your food stays in the pot.

One of my favorite things to use the slow cooker for is to roast a turkey breast. I put it in the pot, no seasoning or water, put the lid on and set it for LOW for 8 hours. When I come home at the end of the day, I have a perfectly cooked, tender and juicy roast turkey breast – and the skin is usually browned and a bit crispy, too.

Pot roast is a great option, but you do need to put the vegetables on the bottom of the pan. That way they get the benefit of all the juices in the meat and cook properly. Don’t add a lot of liquid! I’d keep it down to a half a cup. Any more than that and the meat isn’t roasting it is swimming.

Applesauce can be a great on the back burner kind of project, too. I’ve even seen homemade ketchup made in a slow cooker and heard of people making apple, peach or pumpkin butters in the pots.

Looking for some great resources to use your slow cooker? America’s Test Kitchen has done some serious research and put together some great recipes. They have some sound advice for various types of food.

FoodTV has done a couple of articles on Slow Cooker Recipes. The Most Popular Slow Cooker Recipe on Pinterest was great reading – and sounds good, too!

You can make side dishes for those busy holiday meals, set up the cooker to keep ciders and other drinks hot and ready, use the cooker to melt chocolates for homemade candies.

I’ve been know to get large family sized flats of chicken and cook them all in the cooker ready for packaging for freezing. Quick, easy, simple. And I don’t have to keep an eye on it. 🙂

Don’t forget to get a box of liners for use with your slow cooker. They make cleanup a breeze!

There is a reason this simple appliance has been around for such a long time. Get yours out and give it a go. You just might find it has become your favorite kitchen tool!