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.

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.

Changes in the New Year?

Interesting how neighbors have incorporated fireworks into the liberal liturgy of New Year’s Eve. Not only are we ‘blessed’ with nightly fireworks starting more than a month before the Fourth of July, we were graced with unexpected explosions and terrified pets for Christmas and New Year’s this year.

Some neighbor started a party going around eight last night but double-paned windows seemed to dull it down . . . until some of them decided to brave the cold and head out to their patio to start playing some metal string guitar (badly) accompanied by fireworks. I don’t think they were trying to blend or stay in sinc . . . because they weren’t.

We’ve found a way to get past the musical/explosive events in our neighborhood – we have a large and noisy fan that successfully blocks out the worst of the noise. However, as if they sensed that their ploys to destroy our much-needed sleep were being thwarted, around ten, it sounded like the drinking had hit an all time high or a fight was ensuing.  Just as I was wondering if we should check on this and either call the police or let them thin the herd, I fell asleep. I guess late hours and   hangovers are  required to enjoy whatever football games are happening today.

Perhaps, I should go over around six this morning and ring their doorbell long and loud and cheerfully call out a HAPPY NEW YEAR! Or, perhaps not . . .

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.

 

Christmas?

My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:

Gooey Butter Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.

If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.

After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.