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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buying Yeast

     Yeast may not be something most folks think about buying, however, let me show you one way to save money on buying yeast. Most recipes calling for yeast call for Active Dry Yeast. This is the yeast that you must proof in warm water first, before adding to the dough. (Cold water won't activate the yeast, but if the water is too hot, it'll kill the yeast.) Fleischmann's Active Dry yeast comes in a 3 packet strip.
     At my local grocery store, that 3 packet strip costs $1.57. Each packet is 1/4 ounce, or 7 grams. I purchased Fleischmann's Active-Dry yeast in bulk, for $6.48, in a 2 lb bag. This is the exact same product, but sold in a bulk bag. Each packet above contains .25oz, 7 grams, or 2 1/4 tsp of yeast. It works out to 49 cents a packet for .25 oz. I can get the equivalent of 128 packets out of the 2lb bulk bag, which works out to 5 cents for the same .25 oz. Huge difference in my opinion. Yeast can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the freezer, and you can use it frozen. Active Dry yeast can also be bought in small 4oz brown jars. Rapid Rise or Bread Machine Yeast can be bought in either the 4oz jars or the 3 packet strip. When I had the bread machine yeast, I stored the jar in the refrigerator.

      While I'm talking about yeast, let me explain about another kind: Instant Dry Yeast. Instant yeast differs from Active-Dry Yeast in that it doesn't need to be proofed (or activated) in warm water first. You can add it directly to your dough in with the dry ingredients. You can use it in recipes in place of the active-dry yeast or in place of bread machine yeast. It's convenient and a quicker, easier to use yeast.
     I recently discovered Fleischmann's Pizza Crust Yeast. It's a quick and easy way to make your own pizza crust and it requires no rise time or proofing. It claims to be "specifically formulated for making easy pizza crust dough - no frustrating "snap back" when rolling or pressing dough out." And as it says as well, "Make your crust any way you want it - thick, thin, whole wheat, with herbs or cheese - the possibilities are endless!"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cream Puffs with custard filling

     I recently discovered an easy recipe for homemade cream puffs. It's from the Extension Club Favorites, compiled by Hall County Extension Clubs in Grand Island, Nebraska, Second Edition 1961.
     Sorry to say I don't have a photo to upload of the cream puffs as they were eaten too fast! lol We had the cream filled cream puffs with a bit of whipped cream on top of the custard under the lid, but you could dust the tops with powdered (confectioner's) sugar.

Cream Puffs

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sifted flour
4 eggs

Heat water and butter to rolling boil in saucepan. Stir in flour all at once. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture leaves the pan and forms into a ball (about 1 minute). Remove from heat. Beat in the 4 egs, one at a time. Beat mixture until smooth and velvety. Drop from spoon onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake until dry. Allow to cool slowly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 400 degrees F. Makes 8 large puffs.

The easiest way to make the custard filling is to follow the directions on a can of Bird's Custard Powder, if you can find it. (It's imported from England). If you can't find that, here is another recipe from 1961 for the filling.

Rich Custard Filling

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 eggs (or 4 egg yolks)
2 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in saucepan. Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring until it boils. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir a little over half of this mixture into 2 beaten eggs, or 4 egg yolks beaten. Blend into hot mixture in pan. Bring just to boiling point. Cook and add vanilla.

Cut cream puffs in half. Let custard cool before filling cream puffs.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cowboy Bread Dessert

Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, 16-Ounce Canister (Pack of 3)I don't know how this dessert got this name. It isn't even shaped like a loaf of bread. Regardless of it's name, it's a good tasting dessert that my kids love. I stumbled across this recipe a few years ago on the Dollar Stretcher Forum. The recipe is super simple to make and it feeds a crowd. It uses ingredients right out of the pantry, with the possible exception of buttermilk which not everyone has on hand (although I do, as I use it often.) If you don't keep liquid buttermilk on hand, it's convenient to keep the powdered buttermilk blend in your pantry/fridge. (One brand of which I've shown above. There are other brands but that's the one I've found in my local grocery.)

Cowboy Bread

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup shortening
2 TBsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs

Combine flour, salt, sugar, and shortening. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1/2 cup crumbs. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Put in a 9x13 inch greased and floured pan. Sprinkle with crumbs. Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spaghetti Lasagna

     I was looking through a cookbook recently, The Church Supper Cookbook: A Special Collection of Over 375 Potluck Recipes from Families and Churches across the Country by David Joachim and found a recipe (page 24) for Spaghetti Pie. I made it tonight but altered the recipe quite a bit.
Morton Roasted Garlic Sea Salt Grinder, 3-Ounce (Pack of 6)     Instead of using spaghetti broken into 2 inch pieces, I used a package of vermicelli which is very similar to spaghetti (although a bit thinner) and already comes broken up in a package making the recipe easier (and I had it on hand). Instead of plain Parmesan cheese, I used something called Mama Francesca Pizza Topping. It's a blend of grated Parmesan and spices. I didn't have a green pepper in the house today so left that out. For the garlic salt I used Morton Roasted Garlic Sea Salt Grinder, shown at left, estimating the 1/2 tsp.
     What follows is my altered version which I've named Spaghetti Lasagna.

Spaghetti Lasagna
7oz package Vermicelli pasta
2 TBsp butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, well-beaten
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 TBsp vegetable oil, approximately
1- 26oz can of spaghetti sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups cottage cheese
8oz package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. In a 9x13 inch baking dish put the cooked pasta, butter, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and egg until thoroughly combined. Spread pasta evenly over the bottom of the dish. Brown the ground beef in a skillet over med-high heat with the onion and green pepper in the vegetable oil until meat is brown; drain. To the meat mixture, add the spaghetti sauce, sugar, oregano, and garlic salt. Stir to combine and turn off the heat. Spread the cottage cheese over the pasta layer. It doesn't have to fully cover the pasta. Top with the meat mixture. Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and browned. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes to cool before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Please note: I may show what an item looks like using an Amazon link, but I don't expect anyone to necessarily purchase it from there. The Morton Roasted Garlic spice grinder shown above does not cost $22 at your local grocery store, although that's what Amazon is selling it for. I have shown the item(s) so that you know what I'm referring to or talking about, and the amazon's imbedded links are the easiest way for me to do that. I do endorse buying books there, from either Amazon or Amazon's Used Marketplace because they are a good price. (Used price for the cookbook listed above is only $1.30 plus $3.99 shipping, which isn't bad at all.) Their grocery items are higher than a kite and I have no idea why.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vital Wheat Gluten - a baker's secret weapon

     The secret to a good wheat bread is to add vital wheat gluten to your recipe. It's a bakers secret weapon. Two nationally available brands I've shown on the right. Hodgson Mill is what I found in my local grocery store's baking aisle. NOTE: The Amazon prices shown are very high. I paid less than $5 for the Hodgson Mill box at my grocer.
     Bob's Red Mill describes vital wheat gluten as: "Gluten, Vital Wheat is the natural protein found in wheat. It contains 75% protein. A small amount added to yeast bread recipes improves the texture and elasticity of the dough. This is often used by commercial bakeries to produce light textured breads, and can easily put the home bread baker on a par with the professionals." From the back of the package, the directions read: "Bob's Vital Wheat Gluten is 75% to 80% protein. Add about one tablespoon per cup of flour in your bread recipe to improve texture and elasticity and help your bread to rise."
     I store mine in a labeled sealed plastic container in my refrigerator door since I don't use it often. Sometimes I just add a teaspoon or even half a teaspoon to what I'm baking. Then again, I tend to bake with half wheat flour and half white flour. If you tend to bake with all 100% wheat flour, you'll need more as the package recommends. The difference between all-purpose flour and bread flour is that extra gluten is added to the bread flour. By using this product, you can add that extra gluten to any of your baking items that need a little extra oomph to get that nice light consistency and a higher loaf. It doesn't matter if your using a bread machine or making bread by hand, the vital wheat gluten is what's needed to help a 100% wheat loaf rise.

Quick Sourdough Bread in your bread machine

    Bread machine doesn't have to look or taste like it came from a machine. There are tips and tricks to making it look and taste better. I don't like the shape of the upright square loaf that most bread machines make, and the crust comes out rather harder than my family prefers to eat. Does your bread machine have a dough cycle? That is the cycle I actually use the most on my machine. Let the machine mix and rise the dough for you, then take it out and make a deep dish pizza, shape the dough into hamburger buns, or shape the dough into any shape you like (round, oblong, bread sticks, etc.) and bake in the oven. Do you own a stoneware pizza stone? Sprinkle it with a little cornmeal (to help slip the bread off later), preheat your pizza stone and bake your bread on it in the oven. When baking in the oven, remember to make a few quick slits across the dough. This lets the dough rise as it bakes giving it room to expand easily. If you so desire, brush the top of the dough with milk or a beaten egg white (it will brown and crisp up nicely) and if you like, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds before baking, or brush with butter after it comes out of the oven.
     Authentic sourdough bread requires a sourdough starter. (If you want to make your own sourdough starter, try the recipe from All There is, however a shortcut. And if you own a bread machine, then you're already used to taking shortcuts to homemade fresh bread. To get the tang of sourdough, the recipe below uses plain yogurt.
    The following recipe came from the recipe book that came with my first bread machine: Oster Deluxe Bread & Dough Maker.

Quick Sourdough Bread - Large Loaf (1 1/2 pounds)

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup water
1 TBsp lemon juice
1 TBsp margarine or butter, softened
3 1/4 cups bread flour
1 TBsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt

3 tsp regular active dry yeast or 2 3/4 tsp bread machine yeast (or quick-acting active dry yeast)

Place all ingredients in bread machine in the order listed by your bread machine. (In mine, that's liquids first, dry ingredients, adding yeast last). NOTE: Do not put this recipe on delay bake due to the yogurt included in the recipe. Can be baked on white bread settings or if your machine has it, french bread settings. If you choose to bake in the oven, bake at 375ºF for roughly 40 minutes.

Quick Sourdough Herb Bread
To the above recipe add:

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp thyme leaves
1/4 tsp basil leaves

Quick Sourdough Bread - Small Loaf (1 pound)

1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp margarine or butter, softened
2 cups bread flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

1 3/4 tsp regular active dry yeast or 1 3/4 tsp bread machine yeast (or quick-acting active dry yeast)

Follow same instructions as above.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homemade Pasta with Rival Pasta Chef Model PM1000

     I was lucky enough last week to find a Rival Pasta Chef at a local thrift shop for just $2. It works but is missing the measuring cups, the plastic knife and the wrench. Luckily it did come with the manual so I had not only the instructions but the recipes that came with it. I don't need the wrench or plastic knife. I googled online and managed to find where someone had measured how much the pasta chef dry cup and wet cups hold as the manual states it is not equal to one regular cup. (Dry cup = 1 1/4 cups, Wet Cup = 3/4 cup).
     My only real problem with the machine is that the collar around where the pasta is extruded has a hairline crack that's two inches long and if the pasta dough doesn't want to go through the extruding ring (mine didn't want to become macaroni), then it started to push the crack open and extrude dough out the crack on the side of the collar. I've cleaned it up, tried to seal it, and hope it works better next time. I'm thinking as long as the dough is thin enough to go through the shaping disk as it extrudes, then I shouldn't have to worry about the collar anymore. (*Fingers crossed*)
     If the message boards are correct, then this particular pasta machine is no longer manufactured or supported by Rival. Other folks who have located a machine without a manual are not having any luck getting one from the manufacturer. So although I've contacted them to see about a replacement collar, I'm not expecting much. This particular pasta maker has cutting disks to shape your pasta into: rigatoni, macaroni, fettuccine, med. egg noodles, thick spaghetti, spaghetti, angel hair, lasagna, linguine and cookie.

      I love the idea of being able to make my own pasta. Fresh always tastes better than something packaged (no preservatives, etc.) I'm excited to add flavors to the pasta. The manual suggests variations to the basic recipe by adding 1 tablespoon of dried herbs, or 2 tablespoons of pureed carrots or spinach (or use baby food). I figured if you could add jars of pureed baby food for carrot or spinach pasta, then how about the jar of baby food vegetable chicken for the next time you add noodles to homemade chicken noodle soup. The basic recipe calls for some warm water to be added to the eggs and oil. Why add water when you could add warm broth instead and add flavor at the same time.  I figured if you'd add it on top of your pasta, why not put it in your pasta. So when I made fresh thick spaghetti the other night I used vegetable broth in place of the water, and mixed in a tablespoon of Parmesan & Garlic spice mix. What I attempted today (before the machine collar started cracking on me) was cheesy macaroni. I was thinking of adding some of the powdered cheese from a box of instant mac & cheese before my son pointed out the "Macaroni & Cheese" flavored popcorn topping canister. So I sprinkled that in to add the cheesy flavor right into the pasta itself.
     I'm going to reprint the basic recipe and the how to use instructions for the Rival Pasta Chef Model PM1000 because the manufacturer no longer supports this product. Anyone who has the machine but does not have/lost the manual will need the information below to use it.

Basic Pasta Recipe
(from Rival Pasta Chef PM1000 manual)

2 Pasta Chef cups all-purpose flour (equals 2 1/2 cups flour)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon oil
warm water
Pour flour and salt into Pasta Chef mixing bowl. Break eggs into Pasta Chef liquid measuring cup. Beat eggs with a fork until yolks are broken. Add oil to eggs. Fill the cup to upper black line with warm water. Mix slightly. (Wet cup = 3/4 cup).

How to use/Making Pasta: (From manual)

Choose the disk you want to use. Place it in a small bowl of very hot water. Add several drops of olive oil. After disc has heated 1-2 minutes, remove from water. Align the 3 slots on back of disc with 3 notches on front of extrusion chamber. Hold disc in place and put on disc collar. Turn Mix/Extrude knob to mix. Measure 2 level cups of all-purpose flour into the flour cup provided and place in mixing bowl. NOTE: The flour measuring cup included is not a standard one cup measure. Break 2 large eggs into liquid measuring cup provided. Add one teaspoon oil. Beat until yolks are broken. Add warm water until liquid level reaches the upper black line. Beat slightly. Put cover on the pasta chef. (Unit will not work when cover is off.) Plug in and turn on. Slowly pour egg mixture into mixing bowl through slots in cover. Push all of mixture into bowl. Let dough mix for 2-3 minutes. Turn off. Check dough for proper consistency. Take a pinch of dough and roll it between your fingers. It should form a small ball and should not crumble. The dough should look like coarse crumbs with the largest about the size of a pea.

Too Dry: Dough that is too dry will look like very fine crumbs and will not form a ball when rolled between your fingers. To correct: Add 1 TBsp water. Mix for 1 minute. If still too dry, repeat.

Too Wet: Dough that is too wet will form several or one large mass. It will not resemble coarse crumbs. To correct: Open cover and add 1 TBsp of flour. Close cover; mix for 1-2 minutes. If still too wet, repeat.

With machine turned off, turn Mix/Extrude knob to extrude. Turn on. Cut off first 2 inches of extruded pasta and discard. Continue extruding. Cut pasta into desired length. (Pasta should being extruding within 1 minute.)

NOTE: The pasta maker is designed with an internal clutch that will release if too much pressure builds during extrusion, this may result in a loud popping noise. If this happens, immediately stop the machine and close the slide gate by turning the knob to mix. Remove the locking collr and disc. Clear the dough from extrusion chamber, then check dough consistency in mixing bowl. It is probably too dry and you will need to add liquid. Correct dough consistency and mix for 1 minute before continuing to extrude.

After all pasta is extruded, it may be cooked immediately or dried. See cooking chart for cooking times or dry pasta. (To dry pasta, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet or other flat surface or hang on a pasta drying rack. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

How to Cook:
To cook 1 pound of pasta: Heat 4 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling. Add pasta. Cook until tender but firm to bite. Use the following chart as a guide:

                                                 Fresh            Dry

Linguine                                   2-4 min           5-8 min
Fettuccine                                5-7 min           10-12 min
Angel Hair                                4-6 min           7-10 min
Spaghetti                                  5-7 min           10-12 min
Thick spaghetti                        8-10 min         12-14 min
Rigatoni                                   5-7 min            8-10 min
Macaroni                                  5-7 min           8-10 min
Lasagna                                    8-10 min         12-14 min
Egg Noodle                              8-10 min          12-14 min

I hope anyone else who acquires a Rival Pasta Chef machine but doesn't have or lost the manual find this blog helpful.

Updated August 31, 2012
By request I'm adding how to clean your machine. I figured I better add the photo above labeling all the parts from the manual and how to assemble and disassemble, so that you know to properly take it apart and put it back together to clean it. All reprinted from the discontinued manual.

How to Disassemble

BEFORE USING FIRST TIME: Wash all removable parts in warm, soapy water; rinse. Dry thoroughly.
1. Remove cover. Grasp the latch, pinch and lift up. Lift cover completely off machine.
2. Using the wrench, remove disc collar and disc.
3. Slide scroll out of the extrusion chamber. Remove plastic washer from metal shaft.
4. Press lever at back of mixing bowl and slide bowl straight out of the main housing.
5. Remove mixing blade from mixing bowl.
6. Turn Mix/Extrude knob to Extrude. Press down lightly on slide gate and slide out of mixing bowl.

 How to Assemble

1. Turn Mix/Extrude knob to Mi. Insert slide gate into mixing bowl by lightly pressing down on slide gate and pushing all of the way in. Gate should be closed and knob should be on Mix.
2. Place mixing blade into mixing bowl, with concave end towards front of mixing bowl.
3. Insert mixing blade shaft through hole in the back of mixing bowl and push it all the way through. he grooved end of the shaft should be towards the back of the unit.
4. Set the mixing bowl in the main housing. Rotate mixing blade slightly to align the shaft with the socket in main housing. You will hear a click when bowl is correctly positioned.
5. Place white plastic washer on the metal shaft of the scroll.
6. Slide scroll into the extrusion chamber.  Rotate the scroll until it slides into the socket at the back of main housing.
7. Select disc you want to use. Align the 3 slots on back of disc with the 3 notches on front of extrusion chamber. Hold disc in place and put on disc collar.

How to Clean

1. Unplug. Let removable parts stand for 1-2 hours.
2. Brush off as much dry pasta as possible.
3. Tap disc on hard surface to loosen dry dough. Remove remaining dough with cleaning tool.
4. Wash all removable parts in warm, soapy water or dishwasher. Rinse; dry thoroughly.
5. Wipe Pasta Chef housing with a damp cloth.


1. Fettuccini, linguini, egg noodle and lasagna discs should be mounted horizontally for best results.
2. If pasta doesn't appear within 1 minute after beginning to extrude, stop machine. Check consistency.
3. Add egg mixture to flour slowly to help achieve the correct consistency.
4. During extrusion, it may be necessary to stop the machine and scrape accumulated dough from corners of mixing bowl and mixing blades.
5. If pasta extrusion begins to slow, you may need to clear dough from the opening gate. Turn unit off. Using a small spatula, remove dough from gate opening inside the mixing bowl.
6. When mixing, if motor begins to labor excessively, turn machine off. Dough is probably too heavy (wet). Try adding more flour as instructions dictate. I may be necessary to start over with new ingredients if this occurs.
7. To dry pasta, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet or other flat surface or hag on a pasta drying rack. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Variations to Basic Recipe

Herb Pasta: Add 1 tablespoon dried herbs to flour in mixing bowl.
Jalapeno Pasta: Add 2-4 tablespoons minced jalapeno to flour in mixing bowl.
Carrot Pasta: Add 2 tablespoons pureed carrots or carrot baby food to eggs before adding water.
Tomato Pasta: Add 2 tablespoons tomato puree to eggs before adding water.
Beet Pasta: Add 2 tablespoons pureed beets or baby beet food to eggs before adding water.
Spinach Pasta: Add 1/4 cup finely chopped, cooked spinach that has been well-drained to flour in mixing bowl or add 2 tablespoons spinach baby food to eggs before adding water.
Lemon Pasta: Add 1/4 cup lemon juice to eggs before adding water.
Personal Note: Based on the above formula above, you can add 2 tablespoons of anything mushy to the dough. As I was making homemade chicken noodle soup, I added Stage 1 (IE really pureed, not lumpy) Vegetable Chicken baby food to the noodles. Another time, I added a spice "Parmesan & Garlic" to the noodles. Experiment and have fun. I figured if you'd add it to the finished dish, why not add it to the noodles. That's part of the fun of making it yourself.

Additional Recipes:

See above for converting their measuring cups.

Egg Pasta

2 Pasta Chef cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon oil
warm water
Pour flour and salt into Pasta Chef mixing bowl. Break eggs into Pasta Che liquid measuring cup. Beat eggs with a fork until all yolks are broken. Add oil to eggs. If necessary, fill the cup to upper black line with warm water. Mix slightly. Follow mixing/extruding instructions.

No Egg Pasta

2 Pasta Chef cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon oil
warm water
Pour flour and salt into Pasta Chef mixing bowl. Put oil in liquid measuring cup. Add warm water to the upper black line. Follow mixing/extruding instructions.

Butter Cookies

1 Pasta Chef cup all-purpose flour (1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup (standard measuring cup) of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Attach cookie disc to Pasta Chef. Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Add all dry ingredients to Pasta Chef mixing bowl. Place cover on mixing bowl. Combine butter, water and vanilla. Turn on Pasta Chef. Slowly add the liquid. Mix for 3-4 minutes. Dough should be the consistency of small, pea-sized lumps. If you do not see small lumps, add 1 tablespoon hot water. If the dough forms very large lumps, add 1 tablespoon flour. Turn off Pasta Chef. Turn knob to extrude. Turn on machine. Dough should begin extruding within 1 minute. Cut off cookies to desired length. Place cookies on cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until slightly browned.

Alfredo Sauce

1 pound pasta
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to chart (see above). Melt butter in a large skillet. Saute garlic until translucent. Add whipping cream and heat 1 minute, stirring occasionally (do not boil). Add cheese and remaining ingredients; stir well. Toss with pasta.
Note: The only other recipes included in the manual I am not including as you can find similar recipes in any cookbook. They are: Artichoke and Pepper Sauce and Classic Tomato Sauce.
The above is not the extent of the manual.
~Happy Cooking

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pizza Hoagie

     When I was in college, I loved to go to DaVinci's. I've only ever found them in Ames, Iowa (home of Iowa State University) and Lincoln, Nebraska (home of University of Nebraska). My all-time favorite item on the menu are their  Pizza Hoagie's. Which is pepperoni covered in pizza sauce, melted mozzarella and sprinkled with romano cheese served hot on a hoagie roll. 
     I've experimented with trying to recreate it at home. Mine isn't exactly the same as theirs, but delicious just the same. The first thing I discovered is that the bread must be toasted first. If you don't, the bread just ends up soggy after you add the sauce. Almost any bread roll could be used for this. Use whatever you have. The only thing I wouldn't recommend is traditional sandwich bread as it's rather thin and spongy and wouldn't hold up to a lot of broiling and fillings. You could use bakery rolls in any shape, or even leftover hamburger or hot dog buns. I used 6 inch long steak rolls as it's what I had handy.
     Cut your roll in half, butter and toast lightly under the broiler. You want it crisp and light brown but not too toasty because it'll have to go back under the broiler once more and you don't want it to get too hard. 
     For the sauce, any spicy tomato sauce works. Use whatever you have leftover or on hand. Could be pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, or marinara sauce, store bought or homemade. Use as much pepperoni as you would like in your sandwich, whether that's a little or a lot. On their website Davinci's says they use romano cheese. I use traditional pizza cheese, ie. mozzarella. Today I used sundried tomato and basil mozzarella cheese, and spaghetti sauce as that's what I had in the house.

Pizza Hoagie

Hoagie bread roll

Cut bread roll in half. Do the following to the inside on both sides of the roll. Spread with butter and toast under the broiler. Spoon sauce and spread over roll. Top with pepperoni and cheese. Return to the broiler until the cheese is nice and bubbly and a little brown on top. Remove from oven. Carefully put both sides of the sandwich back together. Cut on the diagonal and serve hot.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homemade taste from store bought packages and mixes

     Do you buy packages and mixes from the store for things like biscuits, muffins, cake, etc? At times, the mixes can be cheaper than baking from scratch (like when cake mixes fall to 89¢ each on sale.) You don't have to follow the mixing directions exactly however, and being a little creative can help the finished product taste more homemade. A few examples:
     Last week I made some banana nut muffins as an after school snack for my boys. I happened to have a couple package mixes in the cupboard. Each mix made 6 muffins. I mixed both up together to make a dozen muffins. The package called for nothing more than adding water to their mix, stir up, drop into a muffin pan and bake. Seeing as this was banana nut muffins, I added one banana for each package. I mashed the bananas, then added the mix. The package called for adding water. Depending on what's in my refrigerator I'll add milk even buttermilk. I added the amount of liquid called for on the mix but due to the added bananas it was still a little thick so added a couple more tablespoons of liquid til the consistency was right for the batter. Not too thick but not runny either. I added just a touch of mini-chocolate baking chips to the batter and stirred that in. Then filled the muffin tin and baked according to package directions. Tasted better than had I just added water as the package called for. In fact, my 3 sons loved them so much they ate the dozen muffins that same day!
    Today I'm using two packages of apple cinnamon muffin mix to bake up a dozen muffins. To boost their flavor and use up something in my pantry, I'm going to add a little unsweetened applesauce to the mix. I may need to reduce the amount of liquid called for due to the moisture in the applesauce. I'll sprinkle the top of the muffins with coarse Demerara Cane Sugar before baking.
    Do you have any leftover dry instant baby cereal? When my boys were little we got more infant cereal through WIC than they could actually eat. I googled online to see what others had done with the leftover cereal. If you're making muffins from scratch, you can replace about a third of the flour called for and replace it with the instant dry infant cereal flakes. It might be just slightly drier or heavier than usual, depending on how much you put in. Adjust the liquid in the recipe just a touch to compensate. Infant cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals which you and your kids can take advantage of by adding them to the muffin mix. Infant rice cereal basically is tasteless so you can add it to anything. Infant oatmeal cereal works very well. My youngest is 6 and loves instant oatmeal with fruit for breakfast. However, if you make the oatmeal following directions (using either water or milk) it's always ends up with a runny consistency. I stir in just a touch of instant infant oatmeal cereal to thicken it up after it's cooked. The flakes dissolve almost instantly and thicken the oatmeal very nicely. And again, it adds those fortified vitamins and minerals to his breakfast.
    Last week when I prepared a mix for buttermilk pancakes, which called for mixing with water, since I had it on hand I used real buttermilk. I believe I had to add a little more mix than the directions called for to get the batter consistency right, but of course, they tasted great.
    You can add a little flavored extract to cake mixes. (Lemon or peppermint angel food cake anyone?) A touch of instant espresso powder will boost the chocolate flavor in cake or brownie mixes. Replacing the water called for with milk (skim, 2%, whole milk, even buttermilk) in biscuit or muffin mixes boosts the flavors. If you have a strip or two of leftover cooked bacon you could crumble it and add it to a biscuit mix when preparing it. Or you could put a little bit of shredded cheddar into the biscuit mix too for a bacon and cheddar biscuit. It just takes a little creativity and imagination to turn a prepared mix into something that tastes a little more homemade.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Grandmother's Rushmore's Wednesday Casserole ( Mashed Potato & Ham Casserole)

      I thought I would share with you a recipe I baked up last night for dinner. I consider it classic comfort food. It's not the quickest of recipes to make, but it's not a lot of work either.
   I originally found this recipe years ago in a book called At Grandmother's Table: Women Write about Food, Life and the Enduring Bond between Grandmothers and Granddaughters by Ellen Berkeley.  (I always make a note of the book title where I find a recipe). The book was very nice. It combined stories folks told about their grandmother's cooking, their kitchens, etc. along with sharing a favorite recipe of their grandmothers. I hope they don't mind that I'm reprinting the recipe below. (I read this as a library book back when I lived in Kansas. I just noticed from the Amazon insert that used copies of this book are available for as low as 76 cents for the hardcover plus shipping. I'm seriously tempted to get a copy for my home library at that price as I read it so long ago I'd love to read it again.)
   This recipe is titled Grandmother Rushmore's Wednesday Casserole. Over the years I've simplified it. I prefer it without the applesauce. I don't bother anymore with the milk or cream for glazing. It's perfectly fine with or without it. With it, it'll have a crunchier top. I also don't bother to measure anymore for this recipe. I simply make a very large portion of mashed potatoes. (NOTE: You cannot make this recipe with instant mashed potatoes that have been reconstituted. You must boil and mash real potatoes.) The recipe calls for just 1 cup of diced ham. I've added up to 3 cups of diced ham. Depends on the size dish your using. I simply put a thin layer of mashed potatoes across the bottom of the casserole dish, then a layer of diced ham that covers it completely, then top with more mashed potatoes and sprinkle paprika on top and toss in the oven for a half hour. For this recipe, I don't recommend a 9x13in casserole dish. Something smaller and taller works better, so you get a nice big scoop.  I use an 8 inch round roasting pan, but a 8in or 9in square dish would be fine too. Depending on your families preference, it would probably taste fine with shredded cheese sprinkled across the top as well.

Grandmother Rushmore's Wednesday Casserole

5 large potatoes
3 TBsp butter
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp sale
1 cup diced ham (boiled or baked)
3/4 cup applesauce
milk or cream for glazing

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Peel and quarter the potatoes; boil them until tender. Mash them with a potato masher or electric mixer until smooth. With a fork, beat in the butter, milk, salt, and pepper. The potatoes should be slightly dry. In a large casserole dish, layer half the mashed potatoes, then all of the ham and applesauce. Top with the rest of the potatoes, brush with milk or cream, sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Serve to 4 to 6 people on Wednesdays (and other days, too.)

This is an easy recipe to make. It just takes a little time to peel, boil and mash the potatoes. While you're doing that, you can dice up the ham. It's a good way to use up leftover ham. As it's meat and potatoes, it's good comfort food. It doesn't use that much ham, the most expensive ingredient in it. It's a good way to stretch the protein as a little feeds a lot. Add a vegetable and dinner rolls, and you're all set for dinner tonight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What is a Runza? Recipe for Runza Casserole

What is a Runza?

You'll be familiar with them if you're from the Midwest. If you drive through Nebraska, you'll run across some Runza Restaurants. This is their logo.
According to the official Runza website:
It all started in 1949 with the Original Runza® Sandwich. Homemade dough made from scratch everyday — stuffed full of ground beef, onions, cabbage, and secret spices—and then baked fresh and served hot.

I do have a recipe to make something that looks very similar to the one above, however individually stuffing bread can be very time consuming for the home cook. So I have simplified things. I tweaked a recipe given to my mother by a close family friend. The original recipe called for a head of chopped cabbage but they had substituted a 15oz bag of angel hair coleslaw instead so they didn't have to chop the head of cabbage. Although this works, I found using actual cabbage produced a better casserole. If you have a food processor, shredding your own head of cabbage is easy enough. This casserole recipe is different in that instead of individual stuffed rolls, it's a 9x13 inch casserole with a top and bottom crust that you cut into squares. I found the Pillsbury Big & Buttery crescent rolls worked really well as they are slightly larger and fit the pan better. It's still delicious, easier to serve and simpler by far to make.

Runza Casserole

2 packages Crescent rolls (preferably Big & Buttery)
1 onion, chopped
1 med head of cabbage, shredded
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 ½ lbs ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can mushroom soup

Brown beef with onion, drain. Add cabbage and cover with lid to simmer to get cabbage halfway done. Then add soup to meat mixture and mix well. Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick spray. Put one package of crescent rolls across the bottom of the entire dish. Add your beef mixture and cover with shredded cheese. Put second package of crescent rolls across the top and seal to the edges of the dish leaving no large gaps. Bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes, until nice and brown.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

    Seeing as I had 9 egg whites left over from making the Bread Pudding earlier, I put them to good use in my Chocolate Angel Food Cake recipe. This is my own recipe, adapted from two other recipes to get one that worked for me that we liked. I started with a cocoa angel food cake recipe from a Dear Daughter...with Love from My Kitchen cookbook. I then used Alton Brown's Angel Food Cake directions. He used cake flour and I liked that. You can find his recipe here.
    This then, is the recipe I came up with. If you don't have or want to use the Ghiradelli cocoa powders, regular cocoa powder will do. If you can't find Baker's Sugar which is ultra fine, you can spin regular sugar in a food processor for 2 minutes until it's superfine. If you have a stand mixer with a whip blade attachment, this recipe will come together in about half the time.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

1 1/2 cups plus 2 TBSp ultra fine sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 TBsp Ghiradelli Unsweetened Cocoa
2 TBsp Ghriadelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa
1 1/2 cups egg whites (room temperature)
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Sift half of the sugar with the flour, salt and cocoa. Set the remaining sugar aside. In a large bowl, use a whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar in, beating continuously at medium speed, then switch to high speed (whip). Once you've achieved high peaks, sift enough flour mixture to dust the top of the foam. Using a rubber spatula fold in gently. (Do not stir). Continue until all the flour mixture is incorporated. Carefully spoon mixture into ungreased tube pan. Bake for 40 minutes before checking for doneness. Bake until the cracks are dry. Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.

Pantry Meal: Turkey & Rice with Copper Penny Carrots and Bread Pudding

     Today I'm using up what's in my pantry/freezer for tonight's meal. I only needed two items I didn't have and that was heavy cream to go in the dessert and a sauce to go over it. I've got a full pantry and freezer, so trying to use up alot of what we have without having to go out and buy alot of ingredients to make meals. Some of this was given to us, so trying to find ways of using it up.

Cajun Turkey & Rice
Copper Penny Carrots
Dinner Rolls
Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Caramel Sauce

     From the freezer, I have 2.08 lbs chunk of  Hickory Smoked Cajun Style Turkey Breast. I thawed it but haven't been sure what to do with it. Slicing it for fajitas came to mind. I might do that with the other half of the meat as I don't need two pounds for dinner. I opted for Betty Crocker Chicken Helper: Chicken & Herb Rice. It's one of those one skillet meals, in this case, just add chicken (1lb uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast halves). As far as I'm concerned, poultry is poultry as most chicken/turkey recipes are interchangeable. I already had the box in the basement pantry, so this uses up another item and gets it off my shelves. I have a bag of leftover rolls from last night's dinner to go along with the meal.
     For a vegetable I'm going to make my grandmother's recipe for Copper Penny Carrots. She submitted it for a local fundraising cookbook in Iowa circa 1980. This is one of those recipes that past generations enjoyed eating but newer generations may not prefer. It's both sweet and sour. I haven't had it in years. Will see what the kids think of it. I've got a couple cans of sliced carrots in the pantry, so this uses up some more pantry items and lets them try something new. Canned carrots are not the most appetizing looking vegetable, so hopefully this will improve them enough to be tasty. The recipe doesn't say to serve it warm or cold but you may prefer to warm it slightly before serving.

Copper Penny Carrots

2 - #2 size (1.4 oz) cans sliced carrots or 5 cups raw sliced carrots
1 onion sliced thin
1 green pepper sliced thin or diced

1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup vinegar

If using raw carrots, cook until tender but firm. Drain carrots - add onions and green pepper. Mix sauce. Pour over vegetables, cover and marinate 12 hours in refrigerator. Drain to serve. Will keep 2 weeks in refrigerator. Serves 8 to 10.

    Dessert for tonight is going to be Bread Pudding. I found the recipe at America's Test Kitchen website. You can find it here. You do need to register on their website to view the recipe, but registration is free. I don't have the callah loaf they call for. They don't recommend squishy white sandwich bread as it just gets soggy. You need a hearty loaf that will soak up the custard. What I've got to use up is a 2lb loaf of traditional rye boule. It should work fine. Recipe does call for 2 1/2 cups of heavy cream that I had to go out and get and does use up 9 large egg yolks. There is a free video of them making the recipe from their PBS TV show. They top the bread pudding with a Bourbon Butterscotch Caramel Sauce. (Note: to view this recipe, from their sister site Cook's Country, you have to be a paid member, which I'm not). The episode of the TV show (link above) shows them making both the Bread Pudding and the Bourbon Sauce, so you could just write the recipe down for the sauce as you watch. I don't have bourbon in the house anyway, so I just bought a small jar of Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch Caramel topping. It recommends warming before serving.
      So as not to waste all those egg whites, I'm going to make an angel food cake for tomorrow. And since I'm making this from scratch (and it's not a boxed mix) I may just make my recipe for chocolate angel food cake.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Big Wheel Skillet Burger (aka Skillet Meatloaf)

For dinner tonight is a family favorite recipe I inherited from my mother. It's official name is so long, we just refer to it as Skillet Meatloaf. For those who aren't fond of kidney beans (as I am), don't leave them out of this recipe. They impart a flavor to the meatloaf while it cooks and it just doesn't taste as good without them. So even if you remove them from your portion, don't leave them out of the recipe. Although the french bread slices are in the original recipe, I never serve it to my family that way. I'm just going to serve it tonight with cornbread and a vegetable.

Big Wheel Skillet Burger (aka Skillet Meatloaf)
1 1/2 TBsp instant minced onion
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (lean, if possible)
1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup quick-cooking (instant) rolled oats
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
soy sauce
1 (8 oz) can spaghetti sauce (1 cup) or tomato sauce
1 (15.5 oz) can kidney beans, drained
buttered, toasted french bread slices, optional

Soak minced onion in milk 5 minutes; mix in ground beef, egg, rolled oats, salt and pepper. Mound in 10 inch skillet (flatten slightly so top is flat and it doesn't touch edges.). With wooden spoon handle, score in 5 or 6 wedges. Brush top lightly with soy sauce. Combine spaghetti sauce (or tomato sauce) and drained kidney beans. Pour over meat mixture. Simmer over medium heat 45 to 60 minutes or until done. Start covered, then about half way through remove cover. Serve wedges on french bread slices.

Because this meatloaf cooks in a skillet, if you can, use lean meat. Otherwise, it'll sit in it's own grease which isn't appealing or healthy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eating Royally

I just finished reading Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen by Darren McGrady. He was a chef in the Royal kitchens for Queen Elizabeth II for 11 years before becoming Princess Diana's private chef at Kennsington Palace for 4 years up til her death.
     The peek into the royal kitchens was fascinating to me. I was amazed at how much of the food the royal family (and their staff) eats comes directly off their land. Whether it be white Windsor peaches or fresh cream and cheese from the Windsor Dairy. (The Queen didn't have her milk pasteurized until a few years ago, which the chefs said made for a poorer quality cheese.) They eat alot of game, especially at Balmoral and they grow their own fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit. They even make some of their own cheeses and jam.
     He took us on a culinary tour of the various royal residences. The royals eat seasonally, eating whatever is in season. And different foods are available fresh at different residences. What I found interesting was that the royal kitchens themselves varied so much between palaces, castles, etc. Some were more modern and others were not. And each could present its own challenges. For instance, at Buckingham Palace her Majesty's breakfast is prepared in the kitchens and has to be kept warm the mile trek to the Queen's personal dining room. Or on HMS Brittania the royal kitchens were 3 floors above the staff kitchens and the freezer and refrigerators were in the staff kitchens. And staff accessed the various floors by ladders. So it was poor sobs job to carry food on a tray, on his shoulder, up and down 3 flights of ladders from the refrigerators to the royal kitchen.

     As much as I enjoyed the stories, this is also a cookbook. There are recipes that I will try like Cottage Pie (otherwise known as a shepherd's pie), but there are alot of recipes the average joe will never make. Either we don't need fancy food like that, or we can't find some of the ingredients. Vanilla paste is more concentrated than vanilla extract, but I haven't a clue where to find it. I'd have to shop online. There are quite a few recipes that call for some version of liquor as an ingredient, with Brandy the most popular. Many recipes call for fresh fish such as Salmon (can't get that fresh in landlocked Nebraska), or cuts of meat like Lamb (difficult to find and expensive if I do find it). And I just can't afford to be buying and cooking Lobster. However, something like a Royal Tea Scone I can make. You will find alot of high fat ingredients like tons of butter and cream. Occasionally Princess Diana requested a fat-free version be made for her. Her guests got the full-fat version and never knew. The Christmas Cakes might be good, but I'll never know as you must start making it in September if you want to eat it at Christmas or the New Year. That's because it's soaked in Brandy and a sugar syrup weekly for 3 months.
     I do have two problems with this cookbook. Let me state that I've got a first printing and I understand that two other editions or printings are available and these may have been corrected in later editions. I don't know. I did contact the author via his website and haven't received a reply yet. There is a recipe for Pommes Fondantes on page 64. This is sliced potatoes fried in a pan. The recipe calls for potatoes, butter, broth, fresh thyme and salt and pepper. First instruction is to preheat the oven. Then it tells you to peel and slice the potatoes, melt the butter in a pan and cook the potatoes in the pan until golden brown for about 15 to 20 minutes. That's where the recipe ends. There is no mention of what to do with the oven once they told you to preheat it, nor what to do with the salt, pepper, thyme, or broth. Obviously half of the recipe instructions are missing. I emailed the author to ask for his help with the rest of the recipe.
   The other error is in the Chilled Tomato and Dill Mousse with Lobster recipe on page 20. It says... The recipe for the fat-free version appears on page 199. The recipe can actually be found on page 213. This cookbook obviously needed a better editor having missed two glaring mistakes. It's quite likely that these have been corrected in later editions of the cookbook. If anyone out there has one of those editions and has the full and complete recipe for Pommes Fondantes they can email me, I would appreciate it. It's very similar to a recipe my great uncle used to make and I'd like to try it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cookbook Reviews - The Ones to Avoid

     I quickly finished reading a few cookbooks this weekend. I read them quickly because they weren't any good. At least not for our family. They had pretentious recipes for those looking to impress others, but they didn't offer everyday fare I could serve my family and expect my kids to eat. This isn't to say they don't offer good recipes that would work for other families. They just won't work for ours. (NOTE: The links will take you to where you can buy the cookbooks. I've provided the links not to sell you the cookbooks, but so you know exactly which cookbooks I'm talking about for reference. Later on I will post cookbooks I recommend.)
     Two of the cookbooks are by Rachel Ray. The two cookbooks I looked at were  Classic 30-Minute Meals: The All-Occasion Cookbook and Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals 2. From page 14 of her 30 Minute Meals 2 cookbook:  "I still don't measure. I write every recipe in free-hand equivelants. A tablespoon is a palmful to me, or for liquids, once around the pan in a slow stream. I do give you my best guess for the measured equivelant, but the food will taste better if you let your own hands and taste buds be your guide. Recipes are suggestions, not written law. Trust yourself, too." I disagree in that you must have a workable recipe to start from, before you can deviate and alter it yourself. I hope someones tested her "best guess" at the amount of each ingredient to see if the recipe works. This is my biggest complaint with Rachel Ray as a cook. And for this reason, I also don't watch her tv shows. Because she doesn't measure,  Rachel Ray can't bake. Even she admits that. The recipes in her cookbooks are not things I would cook either. Examples are: Waterzooi de Poulet, Herb and Goat Cheese Toasts, Avacodo's with Creamy Maque Choux, Mushroom Duxelles and Pate Platter with Sliced Baguette or Eggplant "Caviar." I just can't see getting my kids to eat that.
     Next up is Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast: Over 280 Incredibly Flavorful 5-Ingredient 15-Minute Recipes. Example of recipes include: Fig, Carrot, and Ginger Rice Pilaf; Grape, Blue Cheese and Walnut Pizza; Mini Lamb Pitas with Minted Pea Humus and Goat cheese and Roasted Pepper Panini. Really? Grape, Blue Cheese and Walnut Pizza? Not in my world. lol Yes, the cookbook had recipes with either 5 ingredients or less (not counting water, salt, pepper or optional ingredients) or could be cooked in 15 minutes or less, or both. However, that doesn't do me any good if its all recipes my family won't eat. So although the sleek cookbook looks pretty it's no good to me for anything other than an over sized paperweight. I quickly put all 3 cookbooks up on Paperback Swap (PBS) where they were snatched up overnight or fulfilled wishlist requests.
    I did actually read The Firehouse Cookbook cover to cover. And I did find some recipes that I thought my family would eat such as Potato Chip Chicken, Apple Crisp, Bite-Size Corn Dogs or Beef Burgundy. The recipes were collected from Firehouses across the nation. The recipes are given in two sizes, Firehouse size (feeds 12) to family size (feeds 4 to 6). However, even on the family size side, a recipe may call for two 4lb fryer chickens. That still isn't family size to me. Another big problem I had with this cookbook is that many of the ingredients are listed by can size. As in, 1 No 303 size can. I have no idea what size that is. I had to look up a  Can Size Conversion Chart online, to learn it's 16 to 17 oz equal to 2 cups. The author should have done the conversions for you, the reader, so you don't have to do a google search just to buy ingredients for a recipe. And based on the size of some of the ingredients that were correctly listed, I didn't know if these can sizes would feed an army or an individual family. To me cookbooks should be easy to read, and have all the information you require in the book. (She could have included a can size conversion chart in the back of the book, at the very least.)
     I'm sorry that all my cookbook reviews today are about ones I wouldn't recommend but reviews, whether good or bad can be useful. Maybe your family would eat Grape, Blue Cheese and Walnut Pizza and you'd like to check out Rachel Ray's Cookbook. It just isn't something my family would eat. I picked these cookbooks up used from used book sales, or thrift shops so paid very little for them. And I'm recycling them by swapping them on PBS so those that are looking for them can find them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saving at the Grocery Store's BOGO sale

     I want to explain how I save money at the grocery store. I rarely if ever use a coupon and usually only if it's available on the shelf or taped to the item at the grocery store. I just follow the sales and stock up whenever what we need or can use is on sale. And you buy enough to last you until you think it'll go on sale again. What really makes this work is having a freezer. Helps if you have storage space for a pantry as well. (I use an unfinished room in the basement for that.)
     This week's sale at Russ's IGA Market is a huge Buy One Get One (BOGO) free sale. They had items all over the store on sale with this offer and I took advantage of some of them, like Kraft sliced cheese (reg $2.79). The big savings though was the meat department. I did get a 1lb tube of pork sausage BOGO at $2.89. That brought each down to $1.45. A package of Little Smokies BOGO was $5.65. Normally that's too expensive for my budget, but two packages at that price I can work with. And it's a treat for the boys.
     I think the real savings though was from the butcher. Boneless Beef London Broil Thick Cut at $4.59/lb was BOGO. I got 2 each 4.5lbs. Normally $6.75 each, half that with the sale. I also got Boneless Beef Top Round Roast at $4.29/lbs BOGO. Normally $7.76 each, half that with the sale. And I found a Boneless Beef Brisket Flat Cut on Manager's Special marked down from $12.83 to just $5.45. Manager's Special's are a great way to find meat on sale. Just either eat right away or freeze.
     I also got two fresh (not frozen) whole fryer chickens BOGO. Original price is $1.59/lb for $6.44, but BOGO that works out to 80 cents a pound! Rarely does chicken fall that low, and usually it's frozen hindquarters. I've found whole frozen turkeys on sale around or after the holidays at 49 cents a pound as the cheapest. (So yes I have a few turkey's in my freezer. Why eat it only on holidays?) I will roast a whole chicken for one meal, then use the carcass to make stock. I then freeze half the stock to cook with later, and use half to make homemade chicken noodle soup. Any leftover chicken meat goes into the soup, or if more leftover, into another meal.
     I saved a total of $40.76 today at the grocery store taking advantage of the BOGO sale. I spent only $81.09 total for 29 items, 12 of which were large packages of fresh meat.
     Meat is one of the most expensive items in the grocery store so it really helps your budget to get it on sale. Before freezing, wrap and seal in freezer paper. I then write on the package, what it is, the date, and the weight so you know what size roast it is, etc. Be sure to rotate your freezer so new items go on the bottom so you're always eating the oldest items first. I've never had any problem with freezer burn on any meat that I'd wrapped in freezer paper, even if it's over a year old. Once thawed and cooked, it tastes fine. I will get freezer burn on anything tossed in the freezer if you leave it the way its packaged from the store.
   Today's fresh sale meat from the butcher, the huge roasts and steaks, cost the same as the ground beef! Ground beef 80% lean was on sale for $2.49/lb. I almost asked the butcher to grind one of the roasts up for me. Most grocery store meat departments will grind meat for you free if you ask. Just last month I find a pork roast on manager's special cheaper than all the ground pork so had them grind it for me. I would have to say that 95% or more of all meat I buy is on sale. Rarely do I pay full price. One hint for finding manager's specials (which is nothing more than the meat put out the day before that didn't sell) is to shop early in the morning as that's when they mark it down. I stock up on ground beef and try not to pay more than $2/lb for it. It can drop to $1.89 or more rarely $1.69/lb for 73% lean ground beef. On the other hand, 93% lean ground beef is over $4/lb. Many times to get the lowest price on ground beef you need to buy it in larger quantities, either tubes or family packs. I either eyeball it, or use a home kitchen scale to divide it up at home into 1lb or 1.5lb packages and wrap in freezer paper. It's cheaper than Ziploc type resealing freezer bags and I think works better for longer periods of time.
    You really need a freezer to stock up on meat like this though. I have two full size chest freezers. One out in the garage and one in my basement. I got the first off the local am radio call in program to sell items. It cost me $10 and nice folks with a truck from church picked it up for me and helped me get it down into the basement. The other freezer was given to us by nice friends that retired and were moving out of state. It even came half full of food! I got my son's boy scout troop, with a truck to pick it up and deliver it to our garage. (That counted towards their community service time.) I've gotten very lucky to have the freezers I do. To sort the food in them, I just use paper grocery bags. Near the top of the bag I write in a permanent marker what it is (pork roast, beef roast, ground beef, etc.) then just place items in the appropriately labeled bags.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cooking with Instant Espresso Powder

    I was reading the current Feb/Mar 2011 issue of Cook's Country magazine (a Christmas gift from my parents was a subscription.) There is a recipe for "Lazy Cook's Pot Roast." You put a rub on the roast, add some vegetables, seal in foil and slow roast for 4.5 hours. As the test kitchen tested the recipe, to get the rub just right they used "an offbeat ingredient, espresso powder, added the last bit of toasty complexity." I'd never heard of espresso powder so did a little online research of my own.
    I'd heard of cook's using small amounts of liquid coffee in recipes to enhance the chocolate flavor. According to King Arthur Flour's website:

Espresso powder: the secret ingredient in your chocolate specialties.

Espresso powder is a must-have ingredient if you bake with chocolate. Here’s why:
  • Espresso powder is chocolate's best friend. Use 1/2 to 2 teaspoons in chocolate baked goods, frostings, and sauces; a touch of espresso powder enhances chocolate's flavor without adding any coffee flavor of its own.
  • Ground, brewed, then dried from specially selected coffee beans, powder readily dissolves for easy mixing.
  • For mocha flavor, use 2 teaspoons or more; or use espresso powder on its own to add clean, strong coffee flavor to frostings, bars, cakes, & cookies.
Now, if you buy it there from King Arthur Flour, a 2 oz jar will cost you $6.95 although shipping is free. When I had googled it, I saw a Mexican jar (red, white, and green striped jar like their flag). The brand name is Medaglia D'Oro. I went to my locally owned grocery store, and they had this in both the Mexican aisle and the coffee aisle. It cost $3.49 for 2 oz.
     Now, I generally don't like using odd ingredients that are hard to find or expensive. However, it can be worth it, to find specific spices or special ingredients that you can use in a variety of recipes. Sometimes, just adding that little bit of something special to a recipe, a secret ingredient, it can make a standard traditional dish taste extraordinary. In this case, the 2 oz jar didn't cost that much, and my local grocery store had it. I will use it in the pot roast recipe (it only calls for 1 tsp) as soon as my pot roast thaws (as I had to take it out of the freezer.) Based on the description above from King Arthur Flour, next time I make brownies I'll add 1/2 tsp and see how it tastes. This is one way of not spending very much money but making your food taste just that much better.
    In my research I also found where some folks substituted regular instant coffee for the espresso powder. This had limited success as the instant coffee granules are larger and didn't always dissolve and were a bit gritty. I ran across a website (Fine that stated: You can substitute regular instant coffee, preferably a dark roast. When cooking or baking, instant coffee will yield the same results, but it may lack the rich, roasted flavor of espresso. In a real pinch, you can substitute very finely ground coffee or espresso, but use less since these grounds haven't been brewed. For those enterprising thrifty folks, I also came across instructions on how to make your own espresso powder from the same website that states: You can make your own instant espresso powder by drying and grinding the grounds yourself.

From Cooks
Published March 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
Is the right espresso powder the secret to intense chocolate flavor in brownies and other baked goods?
There’s your average joe, and then there’s espresso. The same gulf separates regular instant coffee from instant espresso, whose more concentrated flavor pumps up chocolate flavor with just a pinch. We tried out three national brands in our Chewy Brownies to see if any delivered a better flavor boost. Each powder performed comparably to produce brownies that tasted deeper, richer, and more complex without imparting an overt coffee taste. That said, all three brands made a below-average hot beverage, so save the jarred granules for baking and brew real espresso for your demitasse.

Unfortunately, I don't have a membership to that website to be able to see the results! DOH! However, Cook's Illustrated is run by Christopher Kimball, who also runs Cook's Country, and America's Test Kitchen. So obviously it made a difference to their brownies to use one of the espresso powders and it worked too in the Lazy Cook's Pot Roast. And although I'm curious to see how the different brands compared to each other, my grocery store only had one espresso powder on the shelf so it's not like I have a choice locally as to which brand to buy.