Sort of Secrets From My Kitchen . . .

Okay, here are some of my secrets for getting food from my imagination to the oven and then, to the table in a timely manner almost 365 days of the year!

How do I get dinner freshly cooked not always knowing exactly when my husband will get home from work?

Number one rule, never plan on having a souffle! If you want your husband to run really late, putting a fragile dish like that in an oven is sure to add ten to twenty minutes to his drive home.

On the iffy evenings, I usually go with an all-oven meal meaning that the top rack has the protein and the lower one takes care of the roasted vegetables. My roast of choice is usually a bone-in pork roast. Pork can always cope with extra cooking time and works well in a warm oven if the hour grows even later. Roasted vegetables are usually broccoli florets, chunks of zucchini, halved wedges of cabbage and mushroom caps. I just put them all in a bowl to marinate in olive oil, grated lemon zest, salt, pepper, and anything else that sounds interesting. I bake them for around 20 minutes on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Slice the pork, put the vegetables in a dish and dinner is ready. Yes, you will note there isn’t a mention of potatoes or any other starch. We watch our carbs and don’t usually indulged. I just gave you the basics so you can go crazy on favorite family additions.

How do I juggle my time with all the prep work while trying to get proteins browned, fried, etc.?

I cheat in that when I clean up the kitchen after breakfast, I go ahead and cut up, shred, or dice whatever is going to be used in the cooking that evening. If I’m having salad, the greens are washed, patted dry and in a seal container in the fridge ahead of time.

How can one get two meat meals prepared at the same time, one for that evening and one for a desperate meal later in the week or even month?

When we have meatballs or meatloaf, I double or triple how much ground beef I use. The basic ingredients for the entire amount is usually finely diced onions, salt, pepper, favorite seasonings, some eggs and whatever extender one prefers like oatmeal, soaked bread . . . I usually use hemp hearts ’cause we are weird! At this point, half the meat gets shaped into a meatloaf and placed into an oven-safe Pyrex dish, securely covered with plastic wrap and frozen.

The rest of the meat is given some additional seasoning applicable to meat balls like a few chili flakes, oregano, basil, garlic powder, and finely grated parmesan or Romano cheese. They can then be browned and simmered in your favorite pasta sauce and served over sounds good that evening. I guarantee that days down the road, you are going to come home late from taking children shopping, getting the oil changed for the car, doctor appointments in a mild panic as to WHAT can you fix for dinner. Imagine the shock on your families face when an hour later, you take a brown meatloaf from the oven (cooking time depends on how thick you made it!), along with some favorite starch and vegetable. No time to cook vegetables, the family will think you are all too elegant serving a nice platter of carrot and celery sticks over ice. I DO put the frozen meatloaf directly from the freezer to the oven BUT do NOT preheat the oven. I turn it on when I put the meatloaf in place.

How do I have enough time to marinate meats or vegetables?

Accomplishing this task is how I formed such a close relationship with sealable plastic containers. Use your after-breakfast or after-lunch time for cutting up your meat or preparing your vegetables. Put them in the sealable containers with your choice of marinade, either homemade or bottled. One less thing to do between chores, laundry, and learning to take deep breaths to avoid panic!

For me, breaking up the prep work during the day actually seems to provide with with more free time to work on some of my own projects or to take the earned time to make a surprise dessert/treat for the family.

Eating Healthy Isn’t All THAT Bad!

My husband has some dietary concerns so I’ve spent my almost 34 years with him evolving our meal menus to keep him in good health. In the course of my research and new recipes, we have learned to enjoy a lot of vegetables, etc., we never thought we’d ever find in our kitchen.

When I was growing up, frozen vegetable started appearing in the markets. If you are of an age to have tasted the first attempts a frozen peas, you will understand why a lot of us grew up hating anything with the word ‘vegetable’ in it!

Fortunately, I had somewhat discerning children who usually ate their vegetables without TOO much complaint especially if said meal was followed by cake or ice cream. These days, it is a rush to serving yourself vegetables as my children will take the majority of them. It only took years of me experimenting and finding ways to make the dreaded vegetable portion of dinner tasty.

These days, everyone’s favorite cooking method for vegetables is cutting squash, cabbage, broccoli, etc., into chunks, tossing them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other herbs and spices that sound good to you. (Want a really good source of great herbs and spices? https://www.thespicehouse.com/). You lay the prepared vegetables out on a parchment paper line baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until there is a slight browning and they are JUST tender. You can have grated Parmesan on the table for a tasty addition.

I never ate Kale until about five years ago. Now it goes into salads, soups, stews, and often gets roasted for a fun, vegetable side dish. Easy, too! Just tear the leaves in large pieces from the woody stem and soak in a bowl of water with a fourth cup of vinegar for about five or ten minutes, rinse, and pat dry. You can do this ahead and roll the rinsed Kale in paper towel, cover in saran wrap, and refrigerate until needed. In a large bowl, toss the leaves with enough olive oil to give it a LIGHT shine. You don’t want to drown it. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, etc. So many choices to be had from the spice shelf! Arrange the leaves on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until the leaves are crisp to the touch.

Savory Cookies

Crackers are great with soup but a homemade savory cookies takes the points. And, such recipes can be adapted to whatever cheese or seasoning you have on hand.

Savory Cheddar Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon hot mustard powder
4 ounces sharp cheddar, grated finely
1 stick softened butter

Sift together the dry ingredients.

Blend together the cheese and butter until relatively smooth. Mix in the flour mixture by hand or with a dough blade with your mixer. Mix until it forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half, form each half into a cylinder, wrap in clear plastic wrap and refrigerate for a least three hour or overnight. (A great make-ahead idea that can be baked just before dinner or the arrival of guests)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove cylinders of dough from the refrigerator (if you froze them, take them out 30 minutes early) and slice them into even discs and place about an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest on the baking sheet for ten minutes and then place on cooling rack.

These are nice to go with soup, salads, stews, or just for a lunchbox snack.

If you are gluten-free, Better Batter gluten-free ‘four’ mix or Authentic Foods – Steve’s GF Bread Flour works well, cup for cup.

Chocolate Coffee Chip Cookies

Okay, get your ovens going and get something along these lines baked TODAY! Don’t bother with doubling the recipe, either, as Ash Wednesday is only about two and a half days away from now. In fact, my excellent ice cream making daughter already has her orders to make me a pint of orange ice cream TODAY or she WILL have a very penitential Lent!

Chocolate Coffee Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules or, better yet, a teaspoon of espresso powder
1 tablespoon water or fresh orange juice
3/4 cup room-temperature butter (Margaine just won’t do!)
1/2 cup lightly-packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup either milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chocolate chips

Sift together the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for now.

Mix the coffee granules or espresso powder in the 1 tablespoon of water or juice.

In a mixing bowl, add the butter and sugars and beat until well-incorporated and the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, vanilla, and dissolved coffee. Mix in the flour mixture until just blended. Fold in the chocolate and white chocolate chips.

Divide the dough into two and form them into approximately two-inch round rolls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two and a half hours.

Cookie time! Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three (or as needed) baking sheets with parchment paper. With a large, sharp knife, cut approximately 15 slices from each dough roll. Place the slices about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets (because of spreading during baking), and bake for about twelve minutes or until golden brown. Let cookies cool ON the baking sheet for about ten minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. If you weren’t planning on sharing these pre-Lenten cookies with your children, hide them NOW!

Palatable Salmon!

Okay, I’m going to share my ‘secret’ recipe that keeps my husband thinking I’m a good cook! As brought to mind in a previous posting, Lent is almost here will find a lot more fish on the dinner table. Our go-to is usually salmon . . . mainly because we can get it at one of the big box stores for a reasonable price and it is the one fish that we will all agree on for dinner. Boneless fillet strikes a chord in my kitchen prep time heart! I prepare it a variety of ways but baked in the oven on one shelf with vegetables roasting in a pan on the bottom rung of the oven makes my Lent a little too easy.

Okay, your have purchased your nice pink slab of boned salmon. Line a baking pan (with a rim for escaping juices) with parchment paper and place your fish on it. Preheat your oven to 350 at this time.

My secret sauce recipe? Go to Walmart (best price on this ‘secret’ sauce!), go to the condiments aisle under Asian and look for Tsang Stir-Fry Szechuan Spicy Sauce. You will need most of one bottle for this recipe. By the way, the bottle of sauce IS my secret sauce recipe!

Spread the sauce over the fish. The sauce is spicy so taste test as to how thick a layer you prefer. Now, generously shake on sesame seeds. How much is up to you. My family likes a lot. https://www.thespicehouse.com/sesame-seeds-white The Spice House is the best price for ordering sesame seeds.

Bake in your pre-heated oven until cooked which for a fish fillet means the fish will flake when pressed with a fork. It goes well with a salad and a side of rice seasoned to taste.

Lent? When Was Christmas Over?

There is a rumor going around that Lent is just about upon us! Time to think about the ‘give-ups’ and the extra prayers that are needed in this spiritually declining world. One of our annual ‘give-ups’ is taking meat out of the diet on both Wednesdays and Fridays. On the surface, it seems it might be a little too easy but after six weeks of coming up with meatless meals for both days of the week plus insuring my husband has meatless meals and snacks for his work lunch, the challenge makes itself known.

One of our favorite go-to meals has been a quick pasta meal with a salad. It is meatless and somewhat less in volume than a usual evening meal and seems to provide all the nutritional perks and sacrifice to keep us strong for Lent!

Lenten Pasta

1 pounds of spaghetti (or any shape you might prefer)
3 eggs
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan and/or Romano
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
Salt & black pepper to taste
1/4 cup butter

Cook the spaghetti until almost done, drain, and stir in the butter, garlic, salt, and pepper until the butter is melted.

Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the pasta. If the pasta has cooled down too much, turn on a low heat to warm. Immediately after adding the eggs, mix in the cheese and stir to combine. If you like a creamier outcome, you can add a bit of milk to taste.

Great quick meal on a day when dinner time approaches before you are ready for it!

It is a very versatile dish in that you can add some chili flakes, drained tuna, use cheddar instead of the Italian cheeses, add some finely-diced parsley, some fresh mushrooms braised in a bit of butter or olive oil . . . Basically, look in the cupboard, see what you have, and you can come up with an original entree.

Lemon Square Cookies

Lent is approaching all too quickly. Time to think of a few sweets to soften the blow before the ‘give-ups’ begin! We don’t overdo our Fat Tuesday but a batch of fresh cookies made on the preceding Sunday to last through Tuesday always seems the best way to go for us.

Lemon Square Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into small squares
2 teaspoons finely-grated fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix together the dry ingredients, place into a mixing bowl. Add half of the pieces of butter, the lemon zest and mix to form buttery crumbs. Add the second half of the butter and mix until no flour is visible. Add the extracts and lemon juice until the dough just holds together.

Lightly knead the dough and then divide into two portions. Place each on a square of waxed paper and form into about 1 1/2-inch square logs about four to five inches long. Wrap the waxed paper around the logs and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight. Remove the dough rolls about 30 minutes before baking to soften a bit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, carefully slice 1/4th thick slices from the logs and place about an inch or so apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. They should be firm to the touch and golden brown around the edges. Remove them to a rack to cool before icing.

Lemon Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Enough fresh lemon juice to form a medium-thick icing.

I’ve never heard anyone say no to some colorful sprinkles scattered over the cookies before the icing dries.

*A thought . . . If you have some walnuts or pecans on hand, you can toast a cup of them then finely grind them. After you form the log squares, you can roll and press the nuts all around the logs before you refrigerate them. That way, you get an extra bit of crunch and the flavor of the nuts goes well with lemon.