Category Archives: cooking

Guy Fawkes Day and NaNoWriMo; Homemade Dairy is Easy

Well although I’ve actually been working on it for a little while already – today I officially set up my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month) page! I figure this will motivate me to write… in between getting ready for Warlords of Draenor. And leveling up once it comes out. And Thanksgiving.

So okay, I may not have the best concentration this month, but I’m hoping NaNoWriMo and seeing all my friends’ writing will give me a bit more of a kick in the seat of the pants. I’ll try to remember to post updates to my progress here without giving away too many spoilers.

Happy Guy Fawkes day! …does one say “Happy”? I really don’t know. I’m not British. Apparently the British children celebrate with fireworks, much like Americans celebrate the Fourth of July. We don’t burn a wicker guy, though.

I’ve been making homemade yogurt and butter. Both are astonishingly easy and if I’d realized how easy I may have started years ago.

To make yogurt, you must start with a yogurt that has a live, active yogurt culture in it already; and some milk – as much milk as you wish to turn into yogurt. You will also need a saucepan, a stirring spoon, an accurate candy thermometer or meat thermometer that can handle high temperatures, a strainer or colander and some cheesecloth.

First, heat the milk to 170-180 degrees, stirring occasionally. Let it get close to boiling without boiling over. Remove it from heat immediately when it reaches this temperature and let it cool to 100-110 degrees. You can either leave it in the saucepan or transfer it to a large, clean bowl at this point – but at this point you add about 2 tablespoons of yogurt with live, active cultures. Stir it in smoothly and set the bowl somewhere warm and dark – probably your oven – for several hours. Many people turn on the oven light to keep the oven at an appropriately warm temperature – another method is to turn it on for one minute, then turn it off. You do not want the oven temperature to go above about 100, because this will kill the cultures you are trying to encourage; but you do want the milk to stay a bit warm because it will turn faster that way.

Check the milk after several hours. You should smell the characteristic tang of yogurt and see it firming into a gelled mass with whey rising to the top. Once the consistency seems close to right for you, you can choose to stir in the whey for a softer yogurt; or use the cheesecloth and strainer to slowly drain the whey into a larger bowl and make Greek yogurt. This is usually what I do, and I save the whey to add to homemade soups and stews.

Homemade butter is even easier. I use a blender – a fairly heavy duty one – and add heavy cream, about a quart. Turn the blender on high for a minute or two. Stop then and with a large spoon, stir the frothy whipped cream inside the blender. Then turn the blender on again. You will need to repeat this process several times, and the whipped cream inside will become more and more like a mousse, very thick and bubbly and semi-solid. At some point then, almost like magic, the sounds coming from the blender will change and liquid will appear as you hear a thumping sound – this is the butter suddenly manifesting as the whipped cream separates into butter and butter milk. Let this go on for about 30 seconds then stop the blender and stir one more time to be sure all the whipped cream gets properly turned into butter.

Run the blender about 2 minutes longer. Pour off the buttermilk into a separate container (it also can be used in recipes such as homemade ranch dressing or mashed potatoes) and put your butter into a medium sized bowl. Soak the butter in ice water to remove any remaining buttermilk from it, or it will have a tendency to go rancid. You can add salt to it if you like salted butter, but bear in mind it doesn’t need very much salt at all so add salt very sparingly! Homemade butter is a bit harder than the butter bought in stores, but is very tasty.

Homemade Hummus

I’ve been making homemade hummus fairly often lately. This requires a blender – but the result is so much tastier and cheaper than store-bought hummus, and only takes a few minutes!

To make homemade hummus you will need:

1 blender (a heavy duty one is recommended); 1 can of chick-peas (if you want to stay away from canned chick peas, you can always cook them from dried – but that’s too much work for me) ; 1/2 cup water; 2 tbsp. tahini – this is the secret ingredient flavoring to hummus that you can’t do without! if you can’t find it at a local supermarket, order some online, it keeps for a very long time; 1 tbsp lemon juice; 2 tbsp oil; 1 tsp cumin; 1 tsp minced garlic; 1 tsp salt.

Drain the chick peas after opening, then add all of these ingredients into your blender one at a time. The amount of water you add will determine how thick your hummus is – but I have had weaker blenders have some difficulty mixing thick hummus. If you have a mixer and a bowl this can work in a large mixing bowl as well. Run the blender (or mixer) for about one minute and – well, this is done!

Taste the finished product. At this point, you can flavor your hummus accordingly. Some people prefer a more lemon-y hummus, or spicier, or hummus with olives, or whichever. It really is up to you. Hummus is a very versatile food! It can be eaten on pita or with artichoke hearts and olives and stuffed grape leaves, or as a side with salads or chicken or simply used as a fairly healthy chip dip.

Enjoy!

Happy New Year 5775

Rosh Hashanah began at sundown yesterday evening, coinciding closely with the beginning of fall this year and starting of the Jewish High Holy Days. Like many Jewish holidays, food is important to Rosh Hashanah, and my partner requested I make this very complicated but delicious sounding recipe for Apple Honey Challah. Definitely not Cooking 101, haha!

I am pleased to report it came out wonderfully.

challah, apple honey challah, rosh hashanah

Apple Honey Challah

Happy New Year and/or Happy autumn, everyone!

OMGWTFBBQ Sauce

I wish I had known years ago how easy it was to make a delicious, tasty barbeque sauce at home. Since I’ve learned how to do this I have sworn to never buy commercial barbeque sauce again!

This recipe takes only about 15-20 minutes to prepare.

Equipment needed: medium saucepan; a sharp knife, stirring spoon.

Ingredients: 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil; half an onion; a tbsp minced garlic or 2-3 garlic cloves; 1 cup ketchup; 3 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/3 cup molasses or cane syrup; 1/3 cup brown sugar; a dash of red pepper, black pepper, chili powder or cumin.

Step one: chop the onion and the garlic cloves (if you aren’t using pre-minced garlic). Put these into the saucepan with the oil and cook them on medium heat until they are just starting to turn light brown.

Step two: add 1 cup ketchup, 3 tbsp vinegar, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and peppery spices until it reaches your preferred level of spiciness.

Step three: stir for a few minutes at a low to medium heat until it thickens slightly.  Do not boil.

This makes a delicious barbeque sauce sufficient for whatever recipe you need, or for a dipping sauce. I like using it on chicken.

 

Nanna Banana Bread

It’s been a long lazy summer around here, and I’ve been slow with the updates. Sorry! But the cooking has continued!

As I add more recipes I think I’m going to organize the blog into “super easy beginner cook recipes” and then slightly more difficult recipes for people who already know simple basics. The next set of recipes I’m going to start putting out are some that are intended for people who already have either mastered the essentials listed in earlier posts, or who already knew how to boil water.

Today’s recipe is banana bread. I’ve been making a lot of that lately. End of summer banana bread is a real treat, because banana bread is made best when the bananas are just past the point of too ripe to eat (for most people) and in the South Louisiana climate that happens to a bunch of bananas with alarming speed.

In honor of my favorite World of Warcraft character’s nickname, this is called “Nanna Banana bread”.

Equipment needed: one medium baking dish or loaf pan; one small mixing bowl; one large mixing bowl; one small microwave safe bowl or very small saucepan; a fork; a large stirring spoon; measuring cups and spoons; a potato masher; and your oven.

Ingredients needed: 3 overripe bananas; 1/2 cup butter; 1 cup sugar; 2 eggs; a dash of salt; 1 tsp. baking soda; 2 cups flours; a dash of cinnamon.

Step one: Using either the small bowl or the small saucepan,melt the butter in your microwave or on your stove top until it is melted but not boiling. Measure the sugar into the LARGE mixing bowl and add the butter. Stir them together until they form a creamy, lump free mixture.

Step two: Add the eggs one at a time. Mix them in vigorously until they are also blended uniformly.

Step three: In the smaller bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, the dash of cinnamon, the dash of salt, and the 1 tsp. baking soda. Stir with a fork. Slowly add this dry mixture to the large bowl, stirring it in a bit at a time to avoid lumps from forming.

Step four: peel the bananas and put them in the small bowl that held he dry mixture. Mash them very thoroughly with your potato masher.  If you don’t have one, just use the fork. Once they are a mushy paste, ass them to the rest of the batter and stir.

Optional step five: Some people like to add nuts to banana bread – I do not. However, if you do, this is the point where you add walnuts – say, half a cup to a cup – to the batter and mix them in. Another option, if you like really rich and sweet banana bread, is to add some flavored chips, like chocolate chips or white chocolate chips. There are probably other options as well that I hadn’t considered, but as long as it would taste good in banana bread this is the point at which you would add it.

Step six: Turn your oven to 250 degrees. Oil or spray the inside of your baking dish and pour your batter into it, then carefully put the dish in the oven. This will take an hour or more to cook – after an hour check on it about every ten minutes. Banana bread is done when the top is golden brown and a knife stuck in the center comes out clean. Do not overcook or it becomes rubbery. When done, remove and allow to cool before eating, and enjoy!

Quick & Hearty Rice & Beans

Here is a quick and fairly easy meal that’s a variation on dirty rice. It takes under half an hour to prepare.

Equipment needed: One large skillet; One large microwave-safe dish or saucepan; a stirring spoon; a spatula; a can opener.

Ingredients: One pound ground meat, thawed; 1-2 cans unflavored cooked beans – black, white or red; One can whole kernel corn; 2 cups minute rice; 2 cups water; salt, pepper, red pepper to taste.

Start by frying the ground meat in a large skillet until it is thoroughly cooked. While this is frying, you can save time by cooking the rice, either on the stove or in the microwave. About 2 cups of water are added to about 2 cups of rice – if you prefer more rice, you can add more water in proportion to the amount of rice added. Minute rice cooks in about 5 minutes either on the stove top or in the microwave.

When the meat and rice are both done, add the rice to the meat and stir them together until well blended. If the mix seems a bit dry (possible if you are using a low-fat ground meat), add a small amount of water or oil to keep it from sticking. Mix in a small amount of pepper, red pepper, and salt to keep the rice from being too bland.

Open your canned beans and corn and mix these in – turn off the heat. If the dish is not spicy enough, you could add hot sauce to give it more of a southwestern feel, or simply add more pepper or even garlic. Otherwise, this is done already! Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry they are.

Variations: canned tomatoes or tomato sauce will add an interesting tang to this recipe, as do mushrooms.

The Easiest Shepherd’s Pie-like Dish You’ll Ever Make

I went to a restaurant once and ordered the shpherd’s pie. What I got back from the kitchen was something unlike anything I’d ever seen before described as “Shepherd’s Pie”. I was given to understand the dish I ate was closer to the “authentic”, original British or Irish dish. If you are looking for a dish like that, this isn’t going to be it. If you are looking for a filling, super quick supper to make for several people (or just for yourself, with a few days worth of leftovers), this is more appropriate.

I don’t know how the idea of the lamb stew-like meal I ate in the restaurant turned into the casserole I grew up eating. I suspect the factors of separation from the motherland combined with cooking in isolation and poverty caused the drift in the recipe, just as language slowly drifts from a mother tongue. At an rate, here is Raven’s Stars super Easy Shepherd’s Pie recipe:

Equipment you will need: large casserole dish; large skillet; large saucepan; large serving spoon, spatula; and can opener.

Food ingredients: A large box of potato flakes; STICK butter (not spread from a container) or vegetable oil; milk; salt; 1 pound ground hamburger or turkey; 2 15-16 oz. cans of vegetables of your choice from the following list: corn; peas; peas and carrots; carrots; mixed vegetables; peas and onions; and a bag of shredded cheese or a package of sliced cheese.

First you will need to thoroughly cook the meat in the frying pan. How the ground meat cooks depends on several factors. If it is thawed, it is usually best to thaw it first. Frozen ground meat can be slowly cooked in a pan, but this is a painstaking and difficult process which usually ends up with some of the meat being dried and burnt unless you are very patient and careful. Most microwaves have a defrost option. If the meat is already thawed, great! Put it in the pan and begin frying at about half heat, breaking it up into many small pieces to assure that it cooks evenly. You can, if you want, at this time add flavoring like a bit of onion or garlic to the meat, but it will be fine either way. If the meat has a very low fat content, cook it at a low temperature to be sure it doesn’t burn, and add a little water to the pan or some non-stick cooking spray before you start.

Once the meat is done, remove it from heat and mix your mashed potatoes according to the instructions on the box. You want 4-5 cups of water and the corresponding amount of water, milk, butter, and flakes to go with it. Some mashed potato mixes have these already mixed in and only require that you add water – those are fine too, in which case butter, milk and salt will not be needed in this recipe.

Open the two cans of vegetables and drain them.

In your large casserole dish now layer: a thin layer of potato mix on the bottom; the cooked meat on top of that; the vegetables on top of the meat; and the rest of the potatoes on top. Finish by sprinkling or layering the top liberally with cheese.

Put this in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly hot.

Remove carefully and serve with a large serving spoon. Enjoy!

Super Easy Chicken-Corn-Egg Drop Soup

I haven’t posted a recipe for a while, and for this I apologize. But today you get to learn the easiest way ever to make a huge pot of delicious soup!

Chicken corn soup is an Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch dish, that I grew up eating whenever I would spend time up north with my grandmother. One side of my family has roots not far from Lancaster county, which today is one of the biggest centers of the remaining Amish population in America.

Egg drop soup, on the other hand, is a recipe originating from China. Chinese immigrants, like other American immigrants, brought their traditional foods here and they became Americanized over time. Chinese restaurant food is nothing like the food most people eat in China, I am given to understand – but I have never been to China.

At any rate, both chicken corn soup and egg drop soup require a chicken broth base, which is where I got the idea of combining them. The ingredients you will need for this taste sensation are:

Equipment:  1 large pot, 1 stirring spoon, 1 soup ladle, 1 smaller bowl, 1 large fork

Food ingredients: 10-12 cups water; 3-4 chicken bouillon cubes (check the brand’s directions for proper proportions – some brands are stronger than others); 1 12 oz can pre-cooked chicken; 1 can yellow corn (whole or creamed); 4 large eggs; dried onion powder or minced onion (optional)

Measure out the water into a large pot and put it on the stove to boil. While the water is heating, open up the bouillon cubes. Crush them as much as possible into the small bowl with a fork, then put them into the water. Don’t worry if they won’t crush at all – as the water gets hot and boils, they will mostly separate of their won accord. Crushing them just hastens the process.

Add a half teaspoon to teaspoon of onion flavoring at this time. This is optional – you can also substitute garlic, black pepper, or red pepper depending on what types of flavoring you like or what you have available. The great thing about chicken is that it’s so versatile!

While waiting for the water to boil is a great time to open the other cans you have waiting. Drain the extra water from the chicken. Only drain the water from the corn if you are not using creamed corn. Crack all four eggs into the bowl and stir them vigorously with a fork until they are a smooth, yellow mixture.

Once the water is boiling, stir carefully to be sure all the bouillon cubes have dissolved. Taste a tiny amount of the broth, letting it cool first, to see if the flavor is right. If it seems too bland, you may want to consider adding another cube. If it is way too salty, add more water, one cup at a time. Once your soup base tastes like a basic chicken broth, you are ready for the next step.

Add the canned chicken and the corn to the soup base and stir them in, allowing the water to return to a boil. Once it does, pick up your bowl of egg mixture with one hand and stir the soul slowly with the other. Very, very slowly, pour the egg mixture into the boiling soup base while you are stirring. Make sure to break up the stream of liquid egg as soon as it touches the boiling soup mixture – this will break it up into the long strands of eggs that are characteristic of egg drop soup, rather than congealing in one big lump of poached egg right in the middle.

When you are finished pouring the eggs in, the soup is done (although very hot). Turn off the heat immediately and allow the soup to cool.

Enjoy with crackers or bread!

Simple Baked Chicken

Last week, I discussed some easy ways to make pasta a bit fancier and even ways to make it into a fast one pot meal with little effort. But one can’t live on pasta alone! Unless you are a vegetarian – in which case you probably aren’t reading my cooking tips – you’re going to want to have meat in your diet on a fairly regular basis. While there are a variety of pre-cooked and canned options available, fresh meat tastes much better so long as it is prepared properly.

Cooking meat is a little trickier than simply boiling pasta, and takes a bit longer, but with a little practice you will be a pro! Your preparation process actually begins at the grocery store. No matter what type of meat you are buying, you need to check the package for signs of leakage, damage, and also check the expiration or sell by dates. Stores try to be proactive about removing obviously damaged or expired meat packages from the shelf, but accidents and mistakes can happen.

Keep your package of tasty meat as cool as you can, and refrigerate or freeze it as soon as you get home. If you are cooking it quite soon, the refrigerator is fine. If the meat was bought frozen, NEVER thaw it at room temperature. Thaw it in your refrigerator, thaw it unwrapped from its original packaging in the microwave, or in cold water in your kitchen sink, changing the water every half hour – but not at room temperature. Doing so can leave you open to food poisoning.

More food safety tips can be found at http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/types/meat/.

Now for today’s recipe: simple baked chicken with herbs.

For this recipe you will need a small mixing bowl; a baking dish; aluminum foil; 1-2 lbs chicken pieces; cooking oil; water; basil; oregano; pepper; and garlic salt.

If you need to thaw the chicken, do so before you begin cooking. They may be skinless and boneless or not according to your preference. Preheat your oven to 350.

While the oven is heating, add to the mixing bowl: 1/2 cup water; 1/2 cup oil; 1 teaspoon (tsp.) basil; 1 tsp. oregano; 1/2 tsp. garlic salt; 1/2 tsp. pepper. Mix these together.

Take each piece of chicken and dip it into the mixture in the bowl until it is covered, then lay the pieces out evenly in the baking dish. If there is extra liquid left when you are done, pour it into the baking dish around the chicken pieces.

Wash your hands very well. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven, which should now be hot. Cook covered for 30 minutes, then remove the aluminum foil.

For those with no meat thermometer, chicken is done when there is no more pink flesh left on the inside of the thickest part of the meat. This normally takes about 45 minutes in the oven – if your oven is weak or the chicken pieces were large or not completely thawed, it may take a bit longer. It is unlikely to take longer than an hour.

If you cook at a lower temperature – say, 325 – the chicken will take longer to cook but may be more tender. If you cook at a higher temperature, it may have a crispier outside but may taste a bit tough or dry.

This dish goes well with mashed potatoes, green beans, or virtually any other sort of vegetable. Those can be made while the chicken bakes for maximum efficiency and as little kitchen time as possible.

Baking is, in fact, one of my favorite types of cooking. The food comes out tasting wonderful, with lots of sealed-in flavor, and I get to do other things while it is cooking. The best of both worlds!

 

 

Cooking Lesson 1: Pasta

I’ve spent the last week thinking about how I would go about constructing a cooking course for real people who genuinely don’t know how to cook and may not have a lot of extra time or money, as opposed to “people with lots of disposable time who take expensive weekend lessons on how to cook gourmet dishes and already have a complete kitchen”. If you’re looking for gourmet or specialty recipes, I’m afraid I can’t help you. These are geared more toward those trying to learn the very basics and slowly wean themselves from eating nothing but frozen pre-cooked meals and takeout.

As another side dish before the main course, I will note that I am not particularly interested in keeping dishes vegan-friendly, organic, gluten-free, fat-free, low carb, or in otherwise pandering to food fads of the day. Anything can be modified as the reader sees fit, of course; but my emphasis will be on simple, accessible, and easy.

Pasta – the basics

Macaroni and cheese is a popular dish in America and comes in a variety of forms. There is the cheap standby that comes with powdered cheese. There are pricier versions that come with packages of gelled cheese. There are even Asian imports now of soba and ramen noodles that are cheese flavored. One can buy pasta and buy jars of cheese flavored sauce to pour over it. Or one can make the sauce, and even the pasta, at home from scratch.

Cooking standard American pasta is the same whether it is pre-packaged as part of a box of macaroni and cheese or on its own. (Note: these instructions DO NOT APPLY to Asian noodles like soba or ramen noodles!) Your first step is to boil the water on the stove top. For this, you will want one of your larger pots which you have hopefully by now acquired. If you are cooking for one and have a large box and do not know how much to cook, remember as you measure it out that pasta doubles in size as it absorbs the water. Measure the dry pasta and put it aside in a separate container. Then pour 3 times as much water as this into your pot and put it on your stove top, turning the burner on high until the water boils.

After the water boils, carefully add the pasta (so the boiling water doesn’t splash you) and turn the temperature down significantly. Why? Because otherwise the pasta will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn or congeal. Also for this reason, right after you add the pasta is a good time to stir it around a few times with a large stirring spoon, carefully scraping any pasta from the bottom. Watch the pot a few minutes to see that it returns to a gentle boil but does not boil over. If it does not boil at all, turn the temperature up a little – if it is boiling over, turn it down. Your pasta should be done in about ten minutes.

While that’s boiling, let’s talk about what you want to do with the pasta once it’s done. If you’ve bought pasta with a prepackaged cheese sauce included, follow the directions that come with the box. But if you’ve gotten wild and crazy and you went with the plain pasta and have no sauce prepared, there’s a lot of simple options also at your disposal. Many pre-made jarred pasta sauces are available in a wide variety of flavors. Another trick I learned when I was fairly young is using condensed soups as a sauce. Cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, and many others can work as a sauce – the creamy condensed soup flavors are better for this. We will learn how to make homemade sauce later.

Your pasta has been boiling merrily for ten minutes. Is it done? Put your stirring spoon in and carefully pull out one pasta noodle. Set it on a dish to cool and then carefully taste it. If the texture is soft enough for you to happily chew, it is done. Turn the stove off and get your colander or strainer. Set it in your sink (it has to be free of dishes to do this – sorry) and pour the pot of pasta slowly and carefully into the strainer. When you are done, set the pot back onto the stove and pour all the pasta back into it. Add the sauce and stir it in.

Pasta extras, or, how to make this into a one pot meal

To quickly and easily add protein and flavor to your pasta feast, there are several options you can quickly employ. Canned tuna is a popular and inexpensive one. One or two cans, depending on the amount of pasta you have made and your tolerance for tuna, will be sufficient. Open the tuna cans and drain out the extra liquid, then add the tuna and stir. If you can’t stand tuna, canned chicken is also frequently and easily available; also if you are fond of them, one could slice hot dogs in varying amounts and add those.

The last step is adding vegetables. We’re trying to eat more healthily, right? Try picking one canned vegetable to add to what is now a pasta casserole. Peas or corn are both acceptable and easily available options. Mushrooms may be more palatable to some people. Open the can, and as with the cans of meat, drain the liquids before adding it to the pot. Stir it in evenly.

Add whatever seasonings you like to your plate – hot sauce, Parmesan, salt, pepper.

Hey, you just made a meal containing all four major food groups and it didn’t take that long! Congratulations! Eat dinner!