Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Experiments, and Why They Should Be Performed in the Kitchen

If you are anything like me, you can pull together a meal using about a handful of recipes in your head. There's a slight amount of variation depending on what happens to be in the kitchen at the time, but mostly, dinner consists of the same old same old. Gets old quick, doesn't it. Then, you lose your desire to cook, and when the helpful souls in the household won't give you any ideas of what they want, your motivation just goes right out the window.

So, the kids are gone for 10 days. I could just make tuna pasta salad. Again. Or roast chicken quarters. Again. Or, I could start playing around in the kitchen. Again! I like to play, just don't have the time for it, usually.

We like Tex-Mex. But honestly, tortillas and refried beans and all the fixin's are expensive. So, I reasoned out to myself that there had to be a cheaper alternative. I have a crockpot. I can make beans, right? So, with a goal in mind, I set out on a research trip in front of my trusty search engine and came up with several recipes that looked tasty enough, and easy. I thought this was hard stuff! Boy, was I wrong. Now, it does take some time, but very little of it is hands on.

Here's what I ended up doing for refried beans, sans the refried part.

1 pound pinto beans
1 vidalia onion
1 red onion
6 cloves of garlic
some cumin
some salt

1. Pick through the beans, toss the bad ones and any rocks you may find.
2. Put beans in crockpot and cover with about 3 inches if water, let soak overnight.
3. Drain beans.
4. Cover them once more with about 3 inches of water. Peel onions, chop in quarters, toss in pot. Peel garlic, toss in pot. Add cumin. Set crock pot on low for 10 hours, walk away.
5. When beans are done, pick out the onion. Send onion to compost pile. (You do have one, right?)
6. Drain beans, reserving at least some of the bean juice.
7. Mash the beans up to desired consistency, adding salt to taste. Add bean juice as needed.
8. Place in airtight container covered w/ some juice if you aren't gonna use it up right away.

NOTES: I'd guess I added about 2 tsp of cumin. I never measure these things. It required a fair amount of salt to get the taste right, but that's a personal thing.

NOW, you can fry these up in bacon grease, olive oil, or whatever, but frankly, I don't wanna. They taste far better already than any refried beans I ever tried, and they have very little fat. I left the garlic in for taste. You can leave it in or take it out, as you wish.

What am I gonna do with this stuff? Well, today I'm making tortillas, I'll let you know how that turns out. The plan is to make burritos for my crew's lunches.

This turned out really good. I had about 2/3 cup with a wedge of the cornbread...YUMMY!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bonus Recipe, Cornbread

So, there's an unwritten rule that states never try a recipe for the very first time with company. It probably has a corollary that states if you've never prepared anything like this recipe don't even think about it. I admit it, some rules are just meant to be broken.

We had some friends come over last night, and a southern kielbasa, green bean and potato soup was made for dinner. What's a more southern accompaniment than cornbread? I've never made cornbread, not even from a box. Why you may ask? Because all the cornbread I've ever tried has been dry and left me feeling like I had a whole mouth of cardboard.

So, knowing the dinner plan I went hunting for cornbread recipes. I'm an intuitive cook. Some say I am gifted in the kitchen. Last night, two country boys said "I dun good" and one of them (bless his pointed little head) said that I will be making it again and again.

I won't take the credit for this one, but it is an amalgamation of several recipes that I found, with this one,Homesteader Cornbread, being the base recipe.

2 cups cornmeal
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. In a bowl, mix the cornmeal and milk, let stand for ten minutes.
2. Meanwhile, grease a 9x13 pan and preheat the oven to 350.
3. In a larger mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
4. Add the cornmeal-milk mix, eggs and oil. Mix for about 5 minutes.
5. Pour into your waiting greased pan and bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 350.

NOTES: I used unbleached all-purpose flour, kosher salt, and plain veggie oil. You can get away with regular all-purpose flour, regular salt, and canola oil if you like. Peanut oil would probably impart a taste that I, personally don't prefer in my foods. I used a large deep dish pie plate and a 8x8 square pan, as I don't own a 9x13 pan. Both were glass. When I checked at 30 minutes, the cornbread was cooked thru, but hadn't begun to brown on top. I added 5 minutes to the timer. PERFECT. The result was a moist, sweet cornbread that the boys ate 3/4 of. Guess they missed cornbread. You can use less sugar, but the request was specifically for "sweet cornbread" when I mentioned that cornbread sounded like a great accompaniment to the planned soup.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mom's Chicken Nuggets

My kids like chicken nuggets. However, the ones from fast food are either expensive or just not very good. The ones you buy in store are usually somewhat dry. So, I experimented with various spice combinations and came up with something that everyone loves.

My recipes are fairly free flowing and don't always have precise measurements, and are often "to taste." That's because everyone has different ideas of what's good or not. So take what I give as guidelines, and adjust to fit your families' needs and likes.

Mom's Chicken Nuggets
1 1/2 pounds of chicken breasts
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp paprika
oil for frying

1. Cut the chicken breasts into 1/2" cubes.
2. Start heating the oil. It should be hot enough to fry stuff. I'm told is that is around 350 or 375. I try the first piece of whatever it is I'm frying. If it sizzles, it's hot enough.
3. Beat eggs, with a splash of milk if desired.
4. Mix the flour, salt and seasonings together, and put in a plate.
5. Dip the chicken in the egg mix, then roll them in the flour.
6. Fry up the chicken in batches, draining on paper towels or your favorite method.
7. Serve with oven baked fries and whatever dipping sauces your family likes.

My notes: I generally salt my nuggets as each batch comes out of the fryer. Yes, this meal isn't exactly low fat, but we don't have it very often.

Variations: I vary the seasonings according to what I have. Packages of Mexican seasoning (taco, fajita, etc), Ranch dressing mix, sauce mixes (like hollandaise) all make great nuggets.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What, Another Recipe Blog?

Yes, another one. I don't claim to have a bunch of people who will follow it. I will post several recipes per week. Things I like to cook, and things that are fairly easy to prepare.

I do get experimental in my kitchen, so be prepared to see some of those recipes here too.