Be Freezer Friendly

Freezing foods is not only a way to preserve foods and keep them fresh longer, it also allows snack and meals to be easily kept on hand. If you take a few simple steps to freeze foods properly, and to assist your freezer to run as efficiently as possible, it’s a simple matter to keep frozen foods at their best.

TEMPERATURE CHECK
Most people don’t realize that you have control over the temperature of your freezer. Check for the temperature controls (use the manual if needed). The ideal setting for your freezer is 0F or below.

KEEP IT BREATHABLE
Make sure there is ample air space on the sides and top of the freezer to allow air to circulate and heat to escape. Air circulation is critical to keeping food frozen.

KEEP IT SHUT
Don’t stand with the door to your appliance open. Keep it closed as much as possible to maintain the internal temperature at an even level. In the event of a power outage, leave the freezer closed so food will stay frozen as long as possible.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY
If there are any empty spaces in your freezer, fill them up with plastic bottles of frozen water. This will assist your freezer in maintaining an even temperature without using up additional energy every time the door is opened allowing the cold air to fall away. Less air volume in large spaces means less loss of cold with each exposure.

SEAL CHECKS
Perform regular checks on the seal around the door of your unit. Keeping the seal clean and free of any material stuck to it’s edges will allow the rubber to complete the seal on the freezer every time. Hardening of the material, drying out, and even cracks can form over time decreasing the ability of the seal to hold in the cold. Have the seal replaced if it suffers any damage to keep your appliance in tip-top shape.

USAGE ARRANGEMENT
Keep items meant for long-term freezing in the coldest section of your appliance, be that int he back or bottom of the chamber. Also, try to allow for a first in first out rule for multiples of items and items that are not likely to remain int he freezer very long. For example, if you have two bags of frozen veggies, use the one that has been in the freezer longest, first. Keep frozen snacks (ice cream bars, fruits and berries, microwaveable mini pizza, etc) in the easiest to reach spots. It allows for quicker removal of items and resealing the chamber.

Your freezer, be it a chest freezer, an upright, or a second door on your standard refrigerator, will benefit in the long run from these usages. It can also help you maintain a lower power bill each month.

–Ann Cathey

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Tortilla Chip Casserole

Many, many years ago (I believe I was in junior high at the time), my family stumbled upon a casserole recipe that we’ve used ever since. We call it Mexican chicken, even though we often make it with beef and it’s about as Mexican as Taco Bell. My brother, at some point, dubbed the beef version Tijuana Meatloaf.

We are not very P.C. in my family.

Anyway, whatever you call it, the casserole made for a cheap, easy, tasty, filling meal. It’s perfect for those nights when you don’t want to cook; if your meat is precooked, it’s just throw and go! But the best thing about this recipe? It has endless variations.

The original recipe calls for:

  • 1# diced, cooked chicken
  • ¾ of a bag of nacho cheese Doritos
  • 1 small can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 small can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • Shredded cheddar

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Originally, I think you were supposed to mix the chicken, tomatoes, and soup and layer it with the chips. We just crush the chips, mix up everything but the shredded cheese, and top with the cheese. Then you heat it up. You can throw it in the over, or you can microwave it (all you’re trying to do is heat everything through and melt the cheese). Easy peasy. Obviously, you can use a pound of cooked ground beef in place of the chicken.  You can trade out kinds of soup, of course, or types of cheese. You could even use diced tomatoes without the chilies, or those with Italian or other seasonings. Or substitute homemade or jarred salsa.

But here’s the thing. Almost anything is possible with this recipe.

  • My sister made it with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, plain tortilla chips, and homemade salsa along with the mushroom soup.
  • Last night, I made it with chicken, 1 can of nacho cheese soup, one small can of cheap, off-brand enchilada sauce, and plain tortilla chips, topped with shredded cheddar. Cheddar cheese soup would have also been good. Or, if I’d used more chicken and chips, I could have added some sour cream to the mix. Yum!
  • I also decided that nacho cheese Doritos with leftover brisket, pulled pork, or chicken (shredded), BBQ sauce would be good. Maybe with a can or cheddar cheese soup and some sour cream.
  • If you’re worried about the carbs in the chips (but not the other horrendously bad-for-you ingredients), you could probably make this with pork skins or veggie chips.
  • Since we discovered this recipe, Campbell’s soup has released a great many kinds of “cream of” soups. The current line-up includes: chicken, mushroom, beefy mushroom, asparagus, broccoli, broccoli-cheddar, celery, chicken with herbs, mushroom with roasted garlic, onion, potato, shrimp, cheddar cheese, and nacho cheese. That’s a lot of possibilities! When you add in all the varieties of tortilla (and other) chips available, all the many kinds of cheeses, and various meats, the variations really are endless.
  • You can add other things. Garnish with lettuce and tomato. Throw in some olives, roasted red peppers, or sauteed veggies. Add herbs and spices.

Experiment, and enjoy!

Emergency Lamb Loaf

While we were away at sea, our chest freezer finally gave up the ghost. family at home managed to save most of the contents, but a lot of it had been completely thawed and had to be cooked as soon as we got home.

Some of the items that had thawed out were 2 pounds of ground lamb and a 12 oz package of bacon. I decided to concoct a meatloaf out of them with assorted ingredients that I had on hand. Yes, I really do keep all these things on hand on a regular basis.

Lamb can be a very dry meat when used in meatloaf as the fluid it contains cooks off easily.  Wrapping the loaf in bacon not only adds flavor and helps to keep the loaf in shape, it adds some moisture to the loaf.

Lamb Loaf
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1-1/2 hours at 300F
Servings: 6-8

Ingredients
2 lb ground lamb
1/2 cup almond flour
3 large eggs
1 pk onion soup mix (already contains salt!)
1 tsp herbes de province (Dangold Gourmet Collection)
1 TBSP roasted garlic grapeseed oil (Wildtree)
1tp brown mustard
1TBSP Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp ground white pepper
12 oz hickory bacon

dsc_0035Mix meat, almond flour, onion soup mix thoroughly in a large bowl.

In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, spices, and Worchestershire.

 

Add egg mixture to meat mixture and combine thoroughly. Cover with a cloth and allow to rest.

 

On parchment paper, lay out strips of bacon to wrap or weave around loaf. A simple over-under  weave produces a nice even outer coating of bacon that will not peel away from the loaf as it cooks.

 

Form loaf on top of bacon strips. Wrap bacon completely around the loaf, sealing the ends. Use parchment paper to firmly shape the bacon and lamb.

 

Spray loaf pan with olive oil. Distribute roasted garlic cloves evenly on bottom of pan.

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Use parchment paper to transfer loaf to pan and tuck in. Remove parchment paper. Cover pan in foil to prevent spattering.

 

Place pan in a 300F oven to bake for one and a half hours., keeping an eye on the juices that will collect. If fluid becomes too deep, drain some off. A drip pan is advisable.

When pan is removed from the oven, allow the loaf to rest for 5 minutes or so before slicing and serving. This loaf turned out easily onto a plate.

 

We served with baked carrots and brown rice.

 

Enjoy!

— Ann Cathey

Make-ahead Meatballs

I have a habit of planning and buying ingredients for meals I never get around to making. This happened very recently. I purchased some items and they sat around mocking me. 

“You’ll never make stuffed pork chops,” they said. 

“Even sketti and meatballs is beyond you,” they told me.

And they were right. Like many, my roommate and I are constantly on the go, and we usually get home late enough that I don’t want to spend an hour or more cooking up a meal from scratch. Stuffed pork chops are a time sink (though so delicious!), and even putting together some meatballs and jarred sauce for spaghetti takes more time than I’ve been willing to invest lately.

So when I found myself with a little spare time, I decided to try something different: making meatballs in the oven, to be refrigerated or frozen and eaten later. 

I ended up with more meatballs than I counted on, and boy was I glad! My fellow bloggers and I snacked on some miniature meatballs (along with all sorts of cheese), and I still had enough minis for a pizza and more than enough full-size meatballs for spaghetti. Score! Best of all, they turned out even better than I had hoped they would.

Meatballs, like meatloaf, are a matter of personal taste. For the meatballs that would be covered in sauce, I kept things simple: meat, bread crumbs, egg, and seasonings. For the mini meatballs, I added some cheese and some more seasoning. Both are very tasty.

The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c bread crumbs (seasoned or unseasoned, depending on your personal preference)
  • 1 pound ground beef (I used chuck)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (I used a chub)

To these basic items I added some seasonings, as I said: salt, pepper, and a mushroom and pepper blend called “mushroom truffle hunt” that I found in the clearance bin at a local supermarket. For the mini meatballs, I added a few things to about half the seasoned meat: about 1/4 cup grated parmesan and maybe a tablespoon of a garlic/romano/spice blend from Garlic Festival called Garli Ghetti. 

Mix all ingredients thoroughly by hand until the mixture will easily form balls that hold their shape. Drop the meatballs in a greased sheet pan or baking pan and bake at 400 for about 20-30 minutes (until they are partially browned on the outside). 

Freeze, refrigerate, or eat immediately. Great for pizzas, spaghetti, meatball subs, or finger foods. 

You can, of course, change up the seasonings to suit your tastes or what you have on hand:

  • Fresh or granulated garlic and onion
  • Italian seasoning blend, oregano, basil, parsley, and/or thyme
  • Shredded cheese (you’ll probably need to use less of the bread crumbs)
  • Shredded spinach
  • Different ground meats (or combination of meats) such as lamb, turkey, chicken, venison, or pork
  • If you don’t have any bread crumbs on hand, pulverize Saltine crackers or bread you’ve dried in the oven (250 degrees for about 30 minutes) in a food processor or chopper. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Bon appétit!

~LB

 

 

Simple Almond Flour Waffles

This tuly simple waffle recipe is great for folks on gluten free diets and can be made Paleo in a pinch. It’s also super tasty for folks who simply enjoy waffles!

I admit I found it on the internet and decided to give it a try. The ingredients listed below are what I actually use at home.

Simple Almond Flour Waffles 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Yield: 4-6 waffles

 

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Almond flour is creamier in color than wheat flour and has a coarser texture.

Ingredients 
1-1/2 cups almond flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
oil for brushing waffle iron (if needed)

 

 

 

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Hot waffle iron treated with olive oil spray.

Preheat a waffle iron to medium. Spray or brush with oil if needed just before adding batter.

 

 

 

 

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Push dry ingredients more to the sides, creating a ‘well’. This will allow wet ingredients to be mixed in more readily.

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Note the difference in color and texture of each of the dry ingredients. Arrowroot is white (left), baking soda is a brighter white (far right), and the salt is a greyer white (left side of right-hand photo. These small differences can help you keep track of added ingredients.

dsc_0953Add eggs, milk and honey to bowl and mix until well blended. The mixture will come out similar to cookie dough, though not as visually smooth due to the almond flour.dsc_0954

 

 

 

 

 

dsc_0956Drop approximately 1/2-3/4 cup batter into the waffle iron and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.

 

 

Serve hot with butter and/or syrup as desired.

 

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Large waffle still on the griddle (left), and a smaller waffle on a salad plate (right).

To make these waffles Paleo friendly, use pure honey or maple syrup (not the stuff that’s full of preservatives or cut with high fructose corn syrup) and a non-dairy milk product. Also be sure to use a fine ground sea salt.

If you prefer not to use honey, an equal amount of molasses, maple or another syrup may be used instead.

While arrowroot is easy for me to find locally, you may substitute an equal amount of tapioca starch or coconut flour.

“Oh, holy low carb, Batman!”
– Me, excited about being able to eat waffles again.

This recipe came out right the first time for us. Tasty, fluffy, though obviously with the
slightly grainy texture of almond flour. Even after they have cooled off, they were delicious
and went outstandingly well with fried chicken tenders.

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Chicken and Waffles!

— Ann Cathey

Hoisin at Home

I got caught flat footed making a crock-pot stir fry the other night. I hadn’t picked up any
hoisin!

As it turns out, I could have made my own from ingredients I had on hand, and probably will next time I create this dish, rather than using a store-bought product. The recipe is so simple, even with a ton of possible variations, that I’m almost embarrassed to reveal it.

For those who are unfamiliar, hoisin sauce is a thick, aromatic sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine as a glaze for meat, an addition to stir fries, or as dipping sauce. It has both sweetness and pepper heat, though the proportions vary regionally in the Orient, and by taste everywhere else.

There are a ton of variations possible in today’s kitchen and the recipe below reflects this.
Please be sure to read the notes below the recipe before making any final decisions on your own hoisin.

 
Basic Hoisin (with some variations)
Yield: approximately 1/4 cup
Prep time: 10-15 mintues

Ingredients:
4 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp black bean paste OR
1 tbsp peanut butter (natural is better, though commercial will do)

1 tbsp honey OR molasses OR brown sugar
(adjust accordingkly if using commercial peanut butter)

2 tsp rice vinegar OR apple cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, finely shopped or mashed OR
1/4 tsp garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)

1 tsp white onion, finely chopped or mashed OR
1/4 tsp onion powder

2 tsp sesame oil OR extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp black pepper, ground

20 drops Chinese hot sauce OR
appropriatly sized habanero, serrano or jalapeno pepper, mashed

Directions:
Place all ingredients into a bowl and whisk until emulsified. Alternately, place everything
into a Mason jar, seal it up, and shake. Either way, it will take only a few minutes to
properly combine.

Notes:
Soy sauce is your basis, obviously. I’ve been curious about what would happen tothe flavors if Worchestershire is substituted. It apparently gives a more savory and less salty basis to the sauce.

Black bean paste and peanut paste are both shown to be traditional in this sauce, depending on what part of the Orient you prefer to frequent. Chick peas, cashews, or almonds might also be used, though each will lend it’s own distinctive flavor to the sauce.

Rice vinegar is the original ingredient as far as my reasearch has indicated. Apple cider
vinegar will add a different sort of sweetness to the resulting flavor, though it handles the
emulsification quite well. White vinegar will definitely add a bite to the sauce, and may be
favored for the hotter variations.

Fresh garlic is preferable, of course, and less of it is needed. Garlic powder is an excellent
substitute, however. I do not recommend garlic salt as it will increase the saltiness of the
sauce overall and dampen the sweetness of a good hoisin.

Onion powder may be preferable as it takes so little for this serving size. Fresh onion will
lend the same flavor, though you are then left with the rest of the onion to deal with. If you are using fresh onion, however, you get a lot more variety – sweet, mild, hot, peppery, and slightly painful varieties are all available year-round in most areas.

Sesame oil is once again more of a traditional ingredient, thoguh if you have none on hand, an extra virgin olive oil will do. While garlic oil is also available in some areas, it will
cause garlic to become a predominant flavor and potentially drown out everything else.

Black pepper has it’s own special flavor to add to hoisin. I generally prefer white pepper
over black as it offers a milder heat without sacrificing any fo the flavor.

The real heat in this sauce comes from the Chinese hot sauce. Sriracha, Tobasco, or any other commercially available sauce may be used. Understand that using hot sauces stemming from anywhere other than the Orient will give your hoisin a wildly different spin on flavor. Crushing your own fresh peppers into a paste will allow you to use a pepper of your choice, without any extra ingedients. Adjust to your preferences and go wild.

 
Hoisin is such a delightful little sauce, and can be used nearly anywhere a BBQ sauce can be used. As mentioned before, it can be used to marinate meat, as a dipping sauce, as an ingredient for stir fry, or simply tossed with noodles for a side dish.

Try your hand at making a batch and let us know how it turns out. You may never buy hoisin at the market again!

–Ann Cathey

Stuffed Steak a la Italiana

Hello and welcome once again to a round of foraging in my kitchen to produce a meal worthy of my family. In this episode we will discover so many little treasures, and combine them to make a delicious main course!

Tucked away in my freezer was a package of thin cut beef steaks and a small parcel of pre-cooked, shredded chicken breast. A step down into the refrigerator produced fresh mozarella, sliced Provalone, shredded parmesan, some leftover tomato based pasta sauce, and couple of ounces of pepperoni.

What to do with such a combination? Stuffed Steak a la Italiana, of course!

Stuffed Steak a la Italiana
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake time: 45 minutes at 350F
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
1-1/2# steak, thinly sliced
6 oz chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dry parsley
1 tsp olive oil
Olive oil spray
6 oz Provolone, sliced thin
6 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced thick
2 oz Parmesan, shredded or sliced
2 oz pepperoni
8 oz pasta or pizza sauce

Spray a baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

Spray a saute pan with olive oil, heat, and sear steak on both sides. Add salt and pepper if desired. As steaks come out of the skillet, curl them like taco shells and place into the sprayed baking dish.dsc_0032

Lightly deglaze pan with water, then toss in chicken and spices, stirring over heat until everything is hot and thoroughly combined.dsc_0034

Lay strips of Provolone into the bottom of each curled steak. Using tongs, divide chicken mixture evenly into the curled steaks. Place another layer of Provolone to cover the chicken. Fold slices of pepperoni and tuck two into each steak. If you have extra, go ahead and add it.

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Spoon a teaspoonful of sauce into each steak, spreading to distribute fairly evenly.

Layer sliced mozzarella across top of entire dish, covering as much of the surface as possible. Spoon a teaspoonful of the sauce into each corner, then dole out the rest and spread it across the top of the mozzarella evenly. Any leftover Provolone may be sliced or diced and added to the top of the dish, as decoratively as you prefer. Sprinkle shredded (not powdered!) Parmesan evenly over the top.

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Bake for 45 minutes at 350F to ensure even heating of meats and melting of cheeses.dsc_0043

Serve on a bed of pasta, with a side of garlic bread, or any other preferred accompaniments.dsc_0044

 

Yes, I know things like this are normally rolled and tied, but I was lacking cooking string at the time and feeling a tad lazy besides.

If you have such things available, feel free to add fresh spinach, extra garlic, sauteed onion, mushrooms, olives, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey