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.

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.

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.

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.