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.

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!

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.

Christmas Brings on the Memories . . .

As we grow older, we discover that each new Christmas sharply brings to mind the people who are no longer  gathered around the Christmas dinner table and festive tree any longer. Although, we never stop thinking about them, the joys of the season seem to accentuate the empty ache in our hearts.

For the people who don’t see past the decorations and mad shopping preceding the days to the ‘reason for the season’, one has to feel sorry for them. When we take note of the changes that are felt more strongly in the midst of joy, we have to solace of knowing that we can pray for their souls and still send them good wishes and kind thoughts in spite of their physical absence. For those who believe that life is terminal as we cease to exist the moment we close our eyes in death, you have to wonder how they cope with such a finality without hope.

Given these thoughts, I think that is why I was actually thankful that two of my offspring decided to come early and grace the Christmas season in December. I suppose, to them, it is often an inconvenience in having to share the holiday. I look at it as a happiness to take the edge off the people in my life that can only be here my thoughts and prayers.

 

Not a Science Experiment!

Even before the various tainted greens reports, not even bagged lettuce or cabbage ever came to the table without a thorough bathing! First, I cut or shred the greens to the size I want for my soup or salad. Then, I put them into a large bowl with half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and fill the bowl to the brim with water. And there it will rest for 30 minutes while I go about my other kitchen chores. Then I pull out the greens with tongs and place in the colander. No sense in pouring the soaking water over the lettuce again. Just look at what it left behind after the soaking! When you pick up a head of lettuce,red-leaf lettuce, or kale at the market, they are always so damp and crisp feeling giving you a false sense of security about the food you want to put on your table. However, when you think about it, how many people have touched your salad greens before they end up in your serving bowl for dinner?

Thought I’d share my method with you. After I rinse the formerly peroxide-soaked greens, I given it a good, long clean water rinse and have been known to even add some vinegar to the rinse. Then, the greens are laid out on a length of triple-layered paper towel, rolled up and then rolled into a clean, cotton dish towel and stored in the refrigerator until needed.

Thanksgiving Is When?

Somehow, I seem to have misplaced a few days of allotted time and it was suddenly revealed to that Thanksgiving is NEXT week! How could that be as it would mean Christmas can’t be too far behind. First Sunday in Advent is closing in which means that the holiday season is showing up long before I can get my ‘comfort and joy’ into holiday gear!

I have spent the last two days working on my schedule for preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Yes, I have a day-by-day schedule and so help the person who moves it from its place on the counter for easy referencing! Then, the second page sets out the order of the menu along with what days they need to be prepped or completed. My husband deals with the turkey but, given my organizational gene, he gets hourly reminders on that. The third page is my grocery list according to store. You can’t stock up too soon but one does not want to fight the last-minute panic at Walmart and Costco where people grab the pumpkin pies from the harried clerks the minute they appear from the bakery.

Along with the food aspect, I have the house cleaning schedule with a request that each person highlight the job they have accomplished . . . and so help them, if it doesn’t reflect a job well done as they will lose their highlighter marker and go back to step one.

With these happy reflections in mind, I actually don’t mind Monday and Tuesday of THANKSGIVING WEEK, my last two days of sanity! We don’t have a large house but it is amazing how family members can escape me without leaving said house.

Monday is bread baking day and cranberry relish day. With very little prep, these items bake/cook on their own leaving me to hunt down missing relatives who seem to be afraid of me for some reason.

All this, as you might have guessed, is a prelude to sharing my cranberry relish recipe!

Cranberry Relish

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of said orange BEFORE you squeeze it
2 peeled and diced green apples
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt

Rinse the cranberries and add to a large pot with all the ingredients and bring to a boil (stirring constantly) and then reduce to a mild simmer with stirring ever so often. Keep cooking until all the berries burst, the apples soften, and the mixture thickens. If you don’t feel it is thick enough, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of water, add to the pot, stir and continue simmering until it reaches a thicker state.

Now, you have a choice! Do you want sauce with the evidence of the fruit basically intact or do you want smooth? When it cools down a bit, you can blend the mixture in a blender until it reaches the texture you like.

A timesaver hint is when you are ready to refrigerate the cranberries, you can put them in the serving dish you planned for them, cover with saran and put in the refrigerator. On the day (and don’t forget them!), you just have to pull it out, remove the saran, add a serving spoon, and place on the table. Want a more rustic approach, get some medium canning jars for the sauce and you can then provide easy access to it for your guests with several jars on the table. You can put a ribbon around the jars to show everyone how classy you are at the holidays. AND, when the party is over, combine the leftover sauce into one or two jars, put the lid on and back into the refrigerator for leftovers time.

Granny Squares!

After a summer of Christmas gift crocheting, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is now time to start using up the leftover yarn. I’m not one to throw away a few feet of yarn just because the original project is over, done, and delivered. That’s where I go back to my simpler crocheting roots and turn them into Granny Squares when eventually turn into a really nice afghan. My only expenditure for the project is one, main color. As you can see in the picture, black was my choice this time but I recently finished one using white for the borders. My first time going with something other than a dark color and discovered I could now add to my crocheting repertoire!

The reason I enjoy making these ‘scrap’ projects is that they will always be pretty much one of a kind and they don’t have to be done in a day. If I run out of the ‘scrap yarn’ portion, I can always put it aside and wait. I seem to attract a lot of yarn which, in turn, results in a lot of ‘scraps’.

My husband isn’t much help in using up the yarn I have before starting into another project requiring a yarn purchase. Last year, I fell in love with a new type of yarn that comes in amazing variegated shades with fun names like “Gnome”, “Spirit”, and “Centaur”. My husband also liked the new choices so hardly a trip to Walmart goes by that he doesn’t discover a color I don’t have yet and throws two or three skeins in the shopping cart!