Saturday, December 26, 2015

You're Not Cooking!

If you celebrated Christmas, you probably have lots of leftovers, so there's no need to cook... but if you don't have leftovers, then what do you do?

On those nights when you don't want to cook, don't want to spend the money to eat or order out, what do you do? I have a few "go to" meals, but these are not the only ones.

1. Plate of cut up veggies, meat like summer sausage, ham or poultry, anything that can be served cold. Or boil a few eggs (I know, that's cooking!) and/or serve cheese instead of meat. Add crackers or toast and there you go.

2. Reach for the cans. There are times when canned meat or soup is good to fall back on. You'll save more by doing that than by going out to eat.  Corned beef with mustard on rye makes a great sandwich, but you can make a quick (I know... cooking!) soup with canned meat by using quick cooking pasta and frozen or canned vegetables.

3. Raid the freezer. If you are diligent about saving leftovers, you will probably have a few meals in the freezer. You may not have enough of anyone one things, so you have two options: a) Thaw out a variety and let the family members choose which they want, or 2) Find some things that go together and heat them to make a soup or casserole.

What do you do when you don't cook a meal?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Simply How to Roast a Turkey. Failproof!

I've been talking about dressing and gravy and goodies for the holiday season, but if you're afraid of the turkey, the rest is not so important.

It's not hard, honest. As a matter of fact, roasting a turkey is very, very easy. If you've been told it's hard, you've been bamboozled.

  • You need a large pan either with a loosely fitting lid or a piece of aluminum foil.
  • You need an oven.
  • And you need a turkey.

The recipe? First, thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator for two to three days, depending on the size. Remove the giblets the day before and boil them to make dressing and/or giblet gravy.

Plan on about 30 minutes per pound for falling off the bone, deliciously baked turkey, although most labels say 20 minutes per pound. Suit yourself, but if you go for 20 minutes, plan on having to leave the turkey in the oven an extra half hour to an hour.

Stuffing a turkey is frowned upon any more, although you may do it if you're careful. A stuffed turkey will take more time to cook all the way through, so plan on an extra hour. Otherwise, put the stuffing, covered, in the oven an hour and a half or so before the turkey is done. If you use the cornbread stuffing, everything is safe to eat before it's even in the oven, so that's not an issue.

Make sure all the pin feathers are cleaned from the turkey, rinse it off and be sure the insides are clean of excess whatever it is in there. If you have to start the turkey very early in the morning, this step can be done the night before.

When it's time, put the turkey into the pan and cover it loosely. Turn the oven on to around 325 degrees and put the turkey in it. Close the door;  go back to bed or open gifts or whatever.

Don't open the oven until about halfway through the estimated roasting time. Check it by piercing the inside of the thigh, where the meat is the most dense. Don't pierce it anywhere else or it will lose its natural juices and the meat will be dry. If you think you absolutely have to, you can baste it at this point, but as long as you're cooking it at a low temperature, basting is not necessary.

If the turkey seems closer to done than you had planned, turn the oven down to 300 degrees. If it's getting done but not browning, take the cover off.

Check again at about the three quarters mark of the estimated time and adjust the temperature and cover as needed.

That's all there is to it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Inexpensive and Simple Sweet Treats

Here are a few ideas to make treats inexpensively and simply. They would be appropriate for Christmas stocking stuffers or a gift basket of treats any time.

Chocolate covered marshmallows. 

One bag of miniature marshmallows or marshmallows of your choice.
One chocolate bar
A sheet of waxed paper

Really, that's it. Using a small pan, melt the chocolate over low heat. Drop marshmallows into it and turn them to be sure they're completely covered, then remove them with a toothpick and let them cool on waxed paper.

When they're completely cool, store them in a glass jar or package a few in plastic wrap for stocking basket stuffers.

Rock Candy

Rock candy is crystallized sugar. Make it ahead of time because it takes awhile to crystallize properly and making it is NOT a science, so you might have to try a couple of times. Basically, water is super saturated with sugar and allowed to evaporate so that the sugar forms a few large crystals instead of thousands of small ones.

A simple recipe is 1 cup water and 2 cups of sugar. Bring the water to a boil and stir the sugar into it until it's completely dissolved. Now's the time to add color if you like.

Pour the mixture into a clean jar and balance a pencil across the top of it. Tie one or two strings from the pencil and position so that they hang into the sugar mixture. When it cools somewhat, cover with plastic wrap or foil and put it in a place where it won't be disturbed.

It takes upwards of a week for the crystals to form - and if they simply won't form on your string, look in the jar... they could be clinging to the sides of it instead. As I said, it's not a science.

Chocolate Covered Citrus Peels

Save the peels from oranges, lemons or other citrus fruits, cut into strips and candy them. This done simply by making a simple sugar syrup: 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring it to a boil and add the peels. Cook until the peels are soft, about 45 minutes, then remove and cool, being sure to separate them  so they don't stick together.

Melt a bar of chocolate over low heat and drop the peels into it one by one. Fish them out with a fork and let them cool on wax paper.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brown Gravy

The price of a can or mix for brown gravy is crazy when you can make your own easily.

Brown gravy is traditionally made from meat "drippings" (what's left in the pan after removing roasted or fried meat), water and corn starch or flour.

The method is simple, but I don't have precise measurements. Each pan of drippings will vary slightly and that's what you start with.

First, add enough water, or broth if you have it, to cover the pan by at least a half inch. Water is fine because the drippings have all the flavor needed.

The cornstarch package usually has the amount to be used for thickening, but if yours doesn't, use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour for each cup of broth/water (estimate; don't worry about being exact). Don't put either directly into the pan, but mix with a small amount of cold water.

The easiest way to do this is to put it in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it until the thickener is dissolved.

Bring the water and drippings to a smart simmer and add the thickener slowly, stirring all the while. If it's too thick, add more water. If it seems too thin after a few minutes of cooking, add more thickener (careful... use a teaspoon full at a time in just a little water).

Keep cooking for about 15 minutes, stirring often. The gravy will be thicker as it cools, so don't let it get too thick.

No pan drippings but you still want brown gravy anyway? No problem. For each cup of gravy, bring a cup of broth of your choice to a simmer, add thickener as above and that's it. If you want giblet gravy, just add chopped giblets to the gravy.

Simple? It's almost as easy as opening a can, and it's a lot cheaper!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Save Costs and Stress During the Holiday Season

Most people have the holidays on their minds right now. Each holiday has its special treats; some expensive, some inexpensive. The main thing to keep in mind is that although you may spend more for those treats or the ingredients to make them, you can still cut costs in other ways.

By using all of the shopping tips you can come up with (look through the posts on this blog!), cooking from scratch whenever you can and stretching the more expensive ingredients for every day meals, you can save enough to splurge on the traditions that make your holiday special.

Most of us are busier than usual this time of year, too, so keeping meals simple definitely helps!

Instead of making a salad, for instance, cut up a few vegetables and put out the salad dressing. Make simple ground beef patties, add a vegetable and a starch if you want and there is a meal. Cut up raw vegetables, slice some cheese and cold cuts and call it good.

You don't have to overdo either the cost or the stress of the season to make it great!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cornbread Dressing for Turkey or Chicken

If you've never made dressing before or are looking for something different or cheaper or better... this is for you. It's an inexpensive way to make a super special dish that just might become a family favorite. Don't let the ingredients or instructions fool you as it's really simple to do once you see what needs to be done.

First, you need a big pan of cornbread. You can save leftover cornbread throughout the year for the Christmas turkey, but if you haven't, it doesn't take long to bake a pan of it.

Secondly, you need the giblets. Turkey or chicken tastes about the same, so whatever you can come up with works. For a large turkey, I usually add giblets saved from chickens, but it isn't necessary. Boil the giblets along with the neck and set aside to cool. Keep the liquid!

You will need:

Cornbread - one large pan full
Giblets - cooked
Water in which giblets were boiled
Two or three slices of dry white or wheat bread
Celery - one medium to large bunch
Onion - one large
Sage - a lot. Probably half a small can or more.

The amounts of each one will depend on how much liquid and giblets you have as well as your own tastes and preferences, so feel free to add or subtract whatever suits you.

Put the pan liquid in a large bowl. Chop the giblets and pull the meat from the neck, cutting it into small pieces. Cut celery and onion into small pieces and add to the giblets, then begin crumbling cornbread into the bowl. Mix it in with your fingers, breaking it into small pieces. Break the white bread into small bits and add it, then let the dressing set a few minutes so the breads will absorb the water. The consistency should be a little soupy, but not much. Press the back of a wooden spoon into it and there should be a small well that slowly fills with liquid. If the mixture is too dry, add a little plain water and if it's too soupy, add plain white bread, torn into pieces. Mix again and let it set. When the texture is right, begin adding sage to taste and when it seems just right, add just a little more, as the cooking will minimize the flavor.

Cover and bake at 325 or so along with the turkey or chicken, for about an hour and half .

Easy Cornbread

Sure, it's easy to buy one of those boxed mixes, but nothing beats a pan of homemade cornbread! And it's easy to do, too. And inexpensive. If you've stocked your pantry with the basics, like cornmeal, flour, baking powder... then it will cost you very, very little.

You can make cornbread with buttermilk or regular milk and you only have to adjust the leavening agents. With regular milk, use baking powder and/or eggs and with buttermilk, add baking soda. You only need to remember the number "1" then "2" when making cornbread and you'll remember the ingredients.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar (you can increase this if you like sweet cornbread)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • Milk or buttermilk, about a cup

Or... 3 eggs and no baking powder, or 2 teaspoons of baking powder and one egg, or 3 teaspoons of baking powder and no eggs. Cornbread with no eggs makes a more crumbly bread, but it's good, anyway.

If you want to use buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together very well, then beat the eggs in the oil and add them. Add milk a little at a time, stirring, until the mixture is not too thin, but pourable with a little help. Oil a pan lightly and add the mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Potato Soup Extraordinaire (Cheap!)

With the busy season upon us as we hurry to celebrate our various holidays, mealtime can become a problem. Instead of opting for take out or sandwiches, make your own delicious potato/tuna soup. (You could call it a chowder if you like.) This goes great with either crackers or cornbread as a light, yet satisfying, lunch or supper and the kids usually love it.

This is similar to "Simple and Delicious Potato Soup" but with a twist. It's very inexpensive, but you must plan ahead a little to save the liquid, either water or oil, from several cans of tuna over time, keeping it in the freezer until you're ready to use it. If you make a habit of doing that, you'll be ready whenever the urge strikes you.

Here is the recipe:

1 to 2 cups of tuna "liquid" 3 to 4 medium potatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 can evaporated milk.

Peel and dice potatoes and onion and place in a pot with enough water to cover by an inch. Bring it to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. The water will have been reduced by this time, but don't add more water unless there is danger of scorching. Instead, add the tuna liquid and the milk and heat through. If you are using tuna water rather than oil, add a tablespoon of butter to the soup before serving.