Thursday, January 29, 2009

Roast Soup

I almost called this stew, but it's probably a soup. Maybe I should call it a stewp. Whatever you call it, it's a good way to use leftover roast when you don't have enough for BBQ beef or taquitos.

1 TBS butter
1 med onion, chopped or pureed
1-1/2 c. chopped carrots
1 c. chopped celery
4 large russet potatoes, peeled & cubed
1-2 c. leftover shredded roast
8 c. beef broth (or thereabouts)
salt & pepper
garlic powder or garlic salt

Melt butter in a large pot. Saute onion, carrots & celery until onions are soft. Add potatoes. Pour in broth, making sure you have enough to cover everything and then some. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20-25 minutes until potatoes are soft. Use a stick blender to thicken the soup, leaving potato & veggie chunks if desired. Add the roast last, and season with salt, pepper and/or garlic powder/salt.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kitchen Essentials: Stick Blender

One item I use a lot, especially in the winter, is a stick blender. I've found that many people have no idea what a stick blender is. Some picture one of those little stirring sticks to mix up protein powder shakes. I sure didn't realize what a stick blender was or how handy it was until I happened to find one at a thrift store for $4 and figured I'd give it a whirl (ha, pun intended!)

A stick blender is your best friend if you like to make creamy soups. And creamy soups are excellent for hiding lots of vegetables in soups that your kids will actually eat. You can process soups in batches in a blender to make them creamy, but that takes a while to do because you can only process a small amount at a time. It's also risky - it's very easy to blow up hot soup all over the kitchen. I know this from personal experience.

To use a stick blender, you simply put it in the pot of soup after everything is tender. Then you press the button to turn it on and let it blend as you move it around the pot. So easy!

You can also use a stick blender to make dips. Often when you put dips in a blender, the quantity isn't large enough for the blender to be effective, and then if you do blend it in the blender, it's difficult to get out. Make hummus, pesto, honey-butter and more with your stick blender.

When purchasing a stick blender, buy a nicer quality one. A good one will cost around $25-$30. I definitely don't recommend buying a $10 Durabrand one from Walmart. Mine died after only 3 or 4 uses!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Honey Butter

Could it get any easier?

1/2 part honey
1/2 part softened butter (leave out on the counter for an hour or so.)

Blend together with stick blender. Heat and pour over pancakes or waffles. Delicious on scones. Add to oatmeal. Spread on warm rolls or cornbread.

How to cook without a microwave

I don't have a working microwave, and everyone wonders, "How on earth do you cook without a microwave?" Funny, isn't it, that people used to cook without them before they were invented, but now they are so common, no one can remember how to cook without one! A few years back, ours broke, and we never got around to fixing it. After a while, I became so accustomed to not having one that I don't even miss it anymore. Most of the time, anyway.

Without further ado... this is how to cook without a microwave:

*Reheating soup, stew or sauce - Pour in pot. Add extra water because it'll probably be thicker after sitting in the fridge. Heat on the stove and stir almost constantly. Unlike in a microwave, this won't explode!

*Softening butter - Method #1 - plan ahead, and remove butter a few hours before use. I rarely use this method... Method #2 - Place butter in a warm spot to soften more quickly. Some places I've used - on the stove top near a burner that's heating, on top of the toaster oven, under the electric frypan (if it has legs), in the dishwasher that's drying, in the sun. Method #3 - Chop butter into chunks. Put in a small frying pan and warm a bit. Add in chunks. My preferred method is whichever I happen to think of first.

*Melting butter - that's much easier than softening butter. Just put it in a small frying and heat.

*Heating rolls, muffins, pancakes, etc - Put in a toaster oven and heat. Or if you have a lot, put them on a tray and heat in the oven at 350.

*Thawing frozen things - Run under hot water for a few minutes to separate frozen item from bag or container. If it is frozen veggies or soup, you can dump it into your soup. You can reheat rice by pouring some oil or butter in an electric skillet and putting the semi-frozen rice in it and stirring, and sometimes chopping the icy chunks (heard of fried rice? There ya go!)

*Thawing frozen ground beef - Either run under hot water for a few minutes or soak in cold water bath (changing the water every 20 minutes.) When you get bored of waiting for it to thaw completely, put the meat in a pot with about 1/2" water. Heat the pot on the stove. Flip the meat over every minute or so, scraping off the browned beef.

*Thawing frozen meat - Run under hot water or do the cold water bath. Chicken or beef is easier to cut when slightly frozen so you don't want it to thaw all the way. It also cooks faster this way. You can also bake frozen chicken or fish in the oven, it just takes a little longer of course. You can put frozen meat in the crockpot. If you're doing a roast, though, you will need to do it on high so that the middle will cook fast enough (and not grow bacteria.)

*Reheating pizza - Put tinfoil on the toaster oven tray. Put pizza on top of that. Put in toaster oven and reheat. For a crispy crust and messy toaster oven, put directly on the rack and reheat.

*Reheating leftovers - Most leftovers can be reheated by frying in a non-stick frying pan. You may need to chop a little or add liquid. You can also put leftovers in a glass baking dish and heat in 350 oven for about 30-40 minutes. Heat leftover meat by pouring gravy over it and heating in a frying pan.

*Boiling water - You can actually put water in a pot on the stove and heat it up that way. And when you are done and you pour the water out, the pot is clean!

*Reheating a plate of leftovers - Sorry, I haven't figured out how to do this yet. This is the one time where the microwave is missed. Instead, we have to reheat everything individually.

I suppose the other question to be asked is "Why would you want to cook without a microwave?" Well, for one thing, it'll cost a chunk of change to fix our built-in, range hood microwave, and truthfully, I can think of other things to spend the money on. There are also those health reasons that haven't ever been necessarily substantiated. There are rumors that a lady died after the blood for her blood transfusion was microwaved and changed the chemical structure of the blood. And there is the science fair project that school kids do where they water two plants - one with tap water and one with microwaved water - and the one water with microwaved water dies. I really don't know if microwaving is a health risk or not, and if I get my microwave fixed, I'll probably use it again. I do know that I probably won't use it as much, though, because I've found many foods do actually taste better and heat just as quickly without a microwave!

So if your microwave ever dies, remember this post and you too can be a non-microwave cooking champion!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Creamy soup for a cold day! When I make soups, I usually puree the veggies that I saute. Then no one will complain about onions or other offensive veggie chunks.

2-3 TBS butter
1 diced onion
2 stalks celery, diced
4 c. chicken broth
2 c. water
3 large potatoes, diced
3 c. frozen broccoli (or fresh)
2 c. cream (or substitute 2 c. milk)
3-4 c. shredded cheese
Salt & pepper

Melt butter in large pot. Saute onions and celery until soft. Add chicken broth & water and bring to a boil. Add diced potatoes. Cover and let simmer until potatoes are soft (time depends on how big your pieces are, but should be around 5-15 minutes.) Add broccoli and return to boil. Cover and let simmer 5-7 minutes until broccoli is soft. Add cream and heat. With a stick blender, puree soup until creamy. Add shredded cheese and stir till melted. Salt & pepper to taste.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Quick Snacks Bin

It always seems like we never have anything easy to eat around the house. I don't usually buy crackers, pretzels, chips, etc (for the very reason that if I buy them, then that's what we eat.) And sometimes I don't get around to making fun snacks like muffins. We end up snacking on bread instead of fruits or vegetables, because they aren't *quite* as convenient (ya know, you have to bend over, open the drawer, remove item, shut drawer, wash or cut the fruit/veggies....) So I came up with a good idea. I got a plastic shoe box container, labeled it "Quick Snacks" and put it in the fridge. In this bin, I put in ready-to-eat snacks that the kids can get to when they are hungry. Every few days I will refill as needed. Even my husband was excited to see this!

Things I put in the bin yesterday:
(I put cut up stuff and veggies in lunch-size ziploc baggies, so they can open the bag and take out the amount they want.)

Clementine oranges
Washed apples (small ones)
baby carrots
peas in the pod
sliced, washed celery
cheesesticks (the kids know there is a limit of 1 per day.)

Other things to put in the Quick Snacks bin:
cinnamon apples
peanut butter balls
trail mix / nuts /dried fruits
in season fruits/veggies
a card that says "1 Muffin" or any other baked good I have on hand
And check out this post of snack ideas too.

I thought about making a Quick Snacks bin for non-refrigerated foods too, but I figure that is easy to get anyway. And then everyone would go for that bin instead of the good stuff in the fridge!