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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 www.darrenmcgrady.com 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 Amazon.com 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 Cooking.com) 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 Illustrated.com:
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.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Recipes tried so far...

I'm going to share with you throughout the year the recipes I made, where to find them, and how they turned out. Nervous about copyrights so I won't be retyping recipes in full, but instead will let you know what cookbook they came from. As I love the book site Goodreads, I will link the cookbook to it's review on Goodreads so you can see the book the recipe is from, if known. If interested, you could click the "Buy Now" button and it'll take you to someplace like Amazon.com.

Lemon Bread from From Grandma's Kitchen by Gooseberry Patch.
All 3 boys loved the lemon bread itself, but only Nathan liked the syrupy topping. After the lemon bread bakes, you are to dissolve sugar in fresh lemon juice and pour it over the bread. That was too much for two of my boys but if they took the top off the bread that had the syrup on it, they loved the actual lemon bread itself. I made a note on the recipe to skip the syrup topping. Lemon juice is used only in the syrup topping. The lemon bread itself gets its lemon flavor from freshly grated lemon zest.

Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011 issue
Guy Fieri's Soft Pretzels - Stuffed Pepperoni Pretzels.
These were an incredibly amount of work to make. You roll out a fourth of the dough to 11x14 inches, fold in thirds while adding the filling, then roll out to 11x14 inches again. I couldn't get the second roll to come out big enough and all the filling seemed to stay in the middle. I also couldn't get the dough to stick to itself  when I needed to pinch the pretzel strips closed before shaping them into a pretzel. All that being said, they tasted great! However, I baked them for 7 minutes not the 16 to 18 minutes the recipe called for at 475ºF. These tasted very good dipped into a warm marinara or pizza sauce. Levi and I loved them, but Danny and Nathan won't touch the leftovers although they ate them warm. This recipe took hours to make and was alot of work rolling the dough out 8 times so although it tasted great, I doubt I'd make it again due to it being so time consuming.

Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011 issue
Paula Deen's Double Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake
This recipe turned out great. It's something Paula Deen demonstrates how to bake at the Food Network's South Beach Wine and Food Festival. This was an easy cake to bake but it's a little different. It's rather a cross between a brownie and a cake. This recipe starts out calling for an 18.25oz package chocolate cake mix. I'm generally not a fan of recipes that use shortcuts as boxed ingredients can be more expensive and have additional preservatives in them. I wondered at first if I was following the directions correctly. Take the cake mix, and mix it with 1 egg and 1/2  cup of melted butter then spead and pat the mixture into the pan. This mixture is incredibly dry and crumbly and you still see raw dry cake mix after stirring what little liquid there is into it. However, the end result came out okay, so I must have done it right. Danny said the cake came out too "chocolately." It isn't called double chocolate for nothing. The optional whipped cream for the topping may have helped but would have added to the fat of this already fatting dessert. (The top of the cake already had more melted butter, 8oz cream cheese and 16oz of powdered sugar.) I also think it would have tasted good with the brownie cake served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. Recommended but not if you're on a diet!

Later I will also share family favorite recipes I'm cooking up and how they save $, etc. For example, for lunch last week I made taco's for lunch using ground turkey. Even living in the midwest ground beef can run around $3/lb. If on sale, it can get down to $1.89/lb and once in a blue moon, it might get as low as $1.69/lb for 73% lean ground beef. However, I found one pound tubes of brand name ground turkey for just $1/lb and stocked up the freezer with 30lbs. After adding half a can of tomato soup concentrate and a packet of taco seasoning to ground turkey, none of us could tell we weren't eating ground beef. It tasted great, was healthier than red meat, and was half to a third of the price of ground beef.

2011 New Year's Cooking Resolutions

Let me start by introducing myself. I'm a 43 year old single mother of 3 boys. I'm engaged to a British gentleman. I'm retired US Air Force. We currently live in Nebraska. I love to cook and read cookbooks. My favorites are by America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country/Cook's Illustrated (all the same folks). I seem to collect cookbooks. My mother first taught me to cook and I took cooking courses in 4-H as a child. After that, I'm self-taught. I'm a picky eater. lol However, I'm determined to make sure that my children don't grow up that way. So I want to cook my family good healthy meals, even if it's sometimes something I don't personally care for. We live on a very tight budget, as most folks are these days, so trying to stretch food dollars where I can. I have two full size chest freezers. (I got one off the radio a few years back for just $10, the other one was given to me by a friend who retired and relocated and they gave us not only the freezer, but it half full as well.) I do very well at providing food for our family without too much expense, perhaps spending around $100/week to feed a growing family. I will share with you here ways I have saved $$$ at the grocery store (I don't use coupons unless the store provides them). Perhaps by sharing it, others can learn how to save $ on food too. I also will share with you my trials throughout the year as I try new recipes.

I'd like to share with you now my cooking resolutions for the new year. Some are repeats from last year and I've added some new ones. Here they are:

- Try new recipes. Aiming for 4 a month, which works out to one a week.
- Eat more from freezers and pantry.
- Restock on sale!
- Cook more from scratch. It's cheaper, healthier and tastes better.
- Waste less food, both before it's cooked and after. Eat what we have.
- Bake/cook homemade snacks for the boys after school snack. Not all sweet either.
- Bake a dessert once a week. Why eat cake only on birthdays?

Another thing I am trying to do this year is to involve the boys more in the kitchen. I want to teach my oldest Levi how to cook more than just mac & cheese from a box or frying up a hamburger. They won't get better or faster at peeling potatoes without practice. They are getting old enough to occassionally help mom in the kitchen, with more than just washing the dishes.