Friday, January 31, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Heartburn

For years we have listened to our parents, grandparents and friends as they give us remedies using items we normally keep in our kitchen to solve many of our annoying problems such as heartburn.  I've been told all my life to drink milk when I have heartburn.  And all my life I've drank milk with no relief.  Guess what.  That is the wrong thing to do.  Check out this remedy.

Heartburn Remedy—Best
Beat the burn with apple cider vinegar. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if we have too little acid in the stomach, the food digests too slowly, according to Kathy Gruver, PhD, LMT, and Reiki Master. “It sits in the stomach. Then we lay down to go to sleep or bend over, and the food gets burped up. By adding acid in the form of vinegar, we can help the digestive process,” she said.

Heartburn Remedy—Worst

While drinking milk soothes the stomach and temporarily combats heartburn, milk fat may actually stimulate acid production and cause a rebound effect later, according to the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Making Crumbs

I always keep a supply of bread crumbs in the pantry.  Anything from Italian seasoned to Panko to plain.  I also keep graham cracker crumbs on hand.  But there are times I want something different.  I like to change my sweet crumbs from graham to maybe a cookie.  And as I've found, there are very few variations of cookie crumbs on the market.  Solution - make your own but how many cookies do you need to make a cup?

To make 1 cup of cracker or cookie crumbs you'll need 28 saltine crackers, 14 graham cracker squares, 22 vanilla wafers, 19 chocolate wafers, 15 gingersnaps, or 24 rich, round crackers.  Now, I like to play around with so this may still not be enough cookie/cracker counts for me so here is what I'm.  I have a small notebook that I call "My Crumb Calculator."  In this little book I add more cookie/cracker counts as I come up with them.  

Making your crumbs is really easy.  You simply process them to a fine consistency in a blender or food processor.  Or you can place them in a heavy plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.  If you use this method, leave one end of the bag open a little so the air can escape during the rolling.  To create your own count of the number of cookies/crackers needed for a cup, put 4 or 5 in your blender or bag, crush them and place them in a measuring cup.  Don't forget to write down the number needed to make your cup as well as the type of cookie/cracker used.  If you're using those small cheese cracker squares or even the fish shape, instead of counting them, start by pouring them into a measuring cup before crushing.  After crushing pour into a measuring cup to see how much this created.  Just remember, if 1 cup uncrushed created 3/4 cup of crushed, try crushing just 1/2 cup to see if that won't complete your 1 cup of crushed.

This is not only a fun way to add new tastes to old dishes, it's also economical.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Knives

When I got married and started a kitchen I had no idea as to what to look for when buying knives.  After many years in the kitchen I still don't.  I either received a nice set of knives as a Christmas or Birthday gift or just picked up one here and there if I felt the need.  I do know what a paring knife is but as for some of the others I simply guess.  Call me a dumb blond but that has been my life with knives.

Now at 64 I've decided it's about time that I learn what some of these knives are really supposed to be used for.  To do this, I went searching and this is what I found.

The Bread Knife has an 8" blade that is serrated which allows you to easily cut through breads, bagels, tomatoes, cakes and other foods with tough exteriors and soft interiors.  (Didn't know about the tomatoes and cakes.  I've always used mine for bread only.)

The Chef's or Cook's Knife also has an 8" blade.  It's used to chop, dice and mince foods with the wedge-shape blade.  (This one I've seldom used because it's so big.  Guess I'll give it a try now that I really know what it's used for.)

The Paring Knife has a 3 or 4" blade.  This knife is comfortable to handle when peeling and cutting fruits and vegetables or other small items.  (This one I use constantly.  I actually use it in place of just about all of the other knives.)

The Utility Knife has a 6" blade that is thin making it easy to smoothly slice sandwiches and other soft foods such as fruit and cheese.  (Yep, you got it.  I've been using my Paring Knife for these tasks.)

The Carving Knife/Slicer has a 10" blade that is long and thin making it easy to slice cooked meats.  (Got this one right.  I actually use my Carving Knife to carve turkey, ham, etc.)

There are many more knives in various shapes and sizes but these are supposed to be the essential knives for all kitchens.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Storing Beans and Grains

I keep a lot of rice and beans on hand in my pantry but I've never been quite sure how long they will keep.  I know that most have a sell by date but that doesn't mean they have to be eaten by that date so again I went searching for answers.

Dry beans are easy to keep and can be stored at room temperature up to 1 year or even longer in the freezer.  Whole grains have a shorter storage life because they contain an oil-rich germ that can become rancid.  Whole grains should always be purchased in smaller quantities and kept in tightly covered containers.

Here are a few guidelines for grains:

Pearl and Scotch barley can be stored up to 1 year in a cool, dry place (other forms of barley up to 9 months).
Buckwheat kept in a cool, dry place can be stored up to 3 months.  In the refrigerator 6 months and in the freezer for 1 year.
Bulgur stores up to 6 months in a cool, dry place or indefinitely in the freezer.
Cornmeal can store up to 6 months in a cool, dry place or up to 1 year in the refrigerator or freezer.
Oats should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months or in the freezer for a year.
Rye Berries will keep up to 5 months in the refrigerator or freezer.
White and Wild Rice stores indefinitely in a cool, dry place.  But Brown Rice will only store up to 6 months under the same conditions.
Whole or Cracked Wheat can be kept up to 6 months in a cool, dry place or up to 1 year in the freezer.
Wheat Bran will store up to 1 month in a cool, dry place, up to 3 months in the refrigerator or up to 1 year in the freezer.  But Wheat Germ will only store up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

I sometimes buy bulk at my nearby health food store and in doing so I usually pay just a bit more because what I'm buying is organic and fresh.  The information above has helped me save money by knowing how to store my rice, beans and grains properly.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Substituting Dried Herbs for Fresh

So many times I run across a recipe that calls for 'fresh' herbs and all I have are dried.  When that happens I usually add it to my shopping list and pick up the fresh herbs only to find that I don't use all of them and they end up going bad and thrown away.  So I finally got "smart" and decided to find out exactly how to substitute fresh for dried.  Here is what I found out.

Use 1/3 the amount of dried herb for the fresh called for in a recipe.  Example - substitute 1 tsp. of dried herb for 1 Tbsp. of fresh.  To substitute ground for dried leaf herbs, use about half of the amount called for.  And before adding a dried herb to a recipe, make sure you crush it between your fingers and thumb to help release the flavors.  Also, add dried herbs to recipes at the beginning of the cooking time to allow their flavors to develop.

Even though I love cooking with fresh herbs, it simply isn't economical for me to do so.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Olives

I know very little about olives but do know that I love them.  Most of my experience in consuming them have been with the black or the green, but there are many, many more.  Here is a little of the information I've found on these delicious little bites.

The fruit of the olive tree is available in more than 75 varieties.  Olives are sold pitted and unpitted.  Even though purchased pitted olives are more convenient to use in cooking than unpitted olives, pitting causes more of the olive to be exposed to the brine.  This can cause the flesh to become softer and yield a different flavor.  One way to remove a pit from an unpitted olive is to gently crush the long side of the olive with the heel of your hand, then pull out the pit. 

Here are some of the more flavorful olives available.

Alphonso is a huge, deep-purple olive from Chili with soft, meaty flesh and a slightly bitter, sour taste. 

Arbequina is a green, brine-cured olive with a slightly bitter taste.

Cerignalo's are huge, green or jet-black brine-cured olives with a lemon-apple flavor.  This one is difficult to pit.

Gaeta is small, reddish-brown in color with a slightly earthy flavor.

Kalamata's are greenish-black-purple, brine-cured with a pungent, lingering flavor.

La Catalan is a brine-cured Spanish olive that's marinated with curry, celery, and pepper.  It has a crisp, dense flesh and an assertive curry flavor.

Nicoise is a small, brownish-purple, brine-cured olive that's fruity and juicy, but not oily.

 Nyon - Black, dry-roasted, tender olive with a slightly bitter flavor.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Bacon

I love bacon and love to add it to some of my dishes.  Over the years I've cooked many pounds and have always had the same complaint - my bacon curls and shrinks.  So, again while reading one of my older cookbooks I ran across some answers to this problem and more.  Here is what I found.

To keep bacon slices from sticking together, roll the package into a tube shape and secure it with rubber bands before refrigerating.  I've tried this and it does work.  I roll from the sort end not the long end.  Yes it takes up more room but it does keep it from sticking together. 

Now for my curling bacon.  Soak it in cold water for a few minutes before frying.  This will not keep it from curling completely but it will keep the curling down.  And to reduce some of the shrinking, put the bacon in a cold skillet and prick them with a fork as they fry.  Yep, this works too. 

Now if you want your bacon to curl for maybe an appetizer  you cook it slow but don't let it get crispy.  Then take it from the skillet and twist it around the tins of a fork.  Pierce each curl with a wooden toothpick and broil under a low flame to complete crisping. 

And for those 'bacon bowls' that I've been seeing on TV.  I took my muffin pan, turned it face down in another baking dish.  Wrapped my bacon around the tins creating a cup like they show on TV.  Cooked it in the oven at 375 degrees until crispy.  Cooled and removed.  This actually works.  The cooking time depends on the thickness of your bacon as well as how many slices you use to make your bowl.  These are really neat and make some cute dishes that kids will even love.  I filled mine with cooked grits and an over-easy egg.  Yum!

Friday, January 24, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Roasting

I'm not a big beef eater but now and then I'll cook a roast in the oven.  When cooking in this method I've always used a high sided roasting pan, for no apparent reason other than it was called a roasting pan. Recently I've started cooking my chicken in the oven using a low side pan.  Unlike the beef roast the chicken comes out 'roasted' all over whereas the beef is usually roasted on the top and around the top edges.  While reading through an old cookbook I found the reason.  A shallow pan is better than a deep one for roasting because it allows the heat to circulate around the meat.  Makes sense to me.

I also found that to prevent the meat form scorching while roasting, you can place a pan of cold water in the oven.  Just remember to keep it filled.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Bugs!

I love going to the market to buy fresh veggies and fruit but often wonder if just washing them off under running water really gets rid of all the little bugs that might be housing on my food.  I'm especially concerned when it comes to veggies like broccoli, cabbage and anything leafy.  When I bring my produce home I always wash before putting away but still wonder if everything is gone.  Well now I know how to 'Evict' the bug for sure.

Find a container large enough for to hold what you want washed.  Add a few tablespoons of salt or vinegar.  Add your veggie and let it soak for about 15 minutes.  If there are any bugs hanging around, they will end up in the water.  I've tried this with my broccoli, cabbage, beans, and collards.  And yes I've found floating bugs that I may not have found through simple washing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stocking Up Shortcuts (Part 3)

In part 1 I gave my tips on using coupons and buying when on sale, now I want to give you my tips on stocking up in another way - precooked.

Many recipes call for cooked chicken but there have been times when I haven't had time to cook the chicken the night before to go with tonight's after work meal.  That's when I stop at a grocery store on my way home and buy rotisserie chicken.  It's precooked, usually already salted and perfect for any recipe calling for cooked chicken.

You can also save time by keeping your freezer stocked with cooked, frozen meatballs, chicken strips, etc. as well as some of the frozen side dishes that are so easy to microwave and serve.  Yes, some of them aren't quite as tasty as your own fresh made but that can usually be corrected by adding some of your own seasonings.  I've bought frozen mashed potatoes only to find them very bland.  To them I add a little butter, a splash of evaporated milk and sometimes a little cheese to bring the flavor up to my taste.  And don't forget those frozen dinners.  There are a few brands out there that are actually quite tasty after you doctor them up like I did with the potatoes. 

Other shortcuts I make are with pre-shredded cheeses.  I keep a package in the vegetable crisper but when I find them on sale I stock up and stick them in the freezer.  After thawing I use them in any dish that calls for cheese.  I've also found that the pre-cut onions and peppers found in the freezer section at the store are really quite good and such time-savers.

I also keep a stock of rice dishes in my pantry.  They are really quite handy.  I'll use packages such as pilaf in place of regular rice to add texture and taste.  This is where you really "Think With Your Taste Buds."

I hope some of these ideas and tips have helped you save money as well as time and that you will add your own tips so all of us can learn from each other.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cooking Smart (Part 2)

In this I'll give you a few suggestions that have helped me save money by cooking smart.  Again, please add your own tips and suggestions in the comment section so that others may benefit from both of our ideas.

Many times I've picked up a recipe, scanned the ingredients and decided that it will become dinner, only to find out that I was missing an ingredient, sending me off to the grocery store to buy that one missing item.  This taught me to READ every recipe completely and check to be sure I have all ingredients that will be needed.  If not, I'll add that ingredient to the shopping list and usually consider another recipe that I do have the ingredients.

I also like to clean as I go.  I've been in many kitchens where the cook puts everything used in the sink to be cleaned all at once.  Might sound like it's a time saver but I personally hate to work around dirty dishes.  It also allows me to use the same pan more than once if needed.  Example - if I've browned meat to add to a casserole I can wash the pan I used to for the meat to cook my sauted broccoli.  Not cleaning as you go and reusing pans can fill up the dishwasher very quickly.

Use your food processor to chop your vegetables.  A few years ago I bought a medium size Ninja mainly to chop onions and peppers.  I've learned that this little device is wonderful!  Where I used to hand chop my chicken for salad, shred my cabbage for slaw and hand chop my nuts, I now place them in the chopper and let it do the work saving me loads of time.  It's small enough that I don't have to store it on the counter but can put it away in the cabinet.  It's easy to clean.  And even though I can only put one cooked large, boneless chicken breast halves in at a time, it takes just seconds to chop, empty and reload. 

Another item that I've invested in was a pair of kitchen shears for snipping fresh herbs, dried fruit and even cutting uncooked meats into bite size pieces.  They are easier to use than a knife and chopping block, clean up easily and are actually a lot faster.

Part 3, which will be the final in this series, will be  on shortcuts for stocking up.  Here's hoping you will learn from some of my mistakes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Smart Shopping (Part 1)

With today's economy and prices continuing to grow we all need to find ways to save money.  There are a few things I've found that help me in the food department.  This will be part one of three.  Please feel free to add comments and your own ideas and ways of saving in the grocery store so others may benefit too.

I organize my refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cabinets so that I can see what I have.  I will admit that at times I come home from the grocery store and quickly put my foods away in a hurry but as soon as I find time I arrange them as they should be.  An example for the freezer is that I keep meats together, veggies together, frozen dinners together, etc.  In the pantry and cabinets I line up my can goods with say all corn in a row, all green beans in a row, all sugar in a row, all pasta in a row, etc.  This allows me to keep up with what I have and what I need to watch for when reading sales papers.

On the side of the refrigerator I have a note pad and pen.  I try to keep at least 2 of everything so when I take the 2nd to the last I add it to my note pad.  Then, when the sales papers come out I check to see of any of the products might be on sale.  I also check to see if I have a coupon to go with item.  If I do have a coupon I simply place a C next to the item reminding me that I do.

When it's shopping time I try to make sure I'm completely organized.  I'm not one of those shoppers who has a large note book full of plastic sheets with coupons organized by products, wish I were.  I simply use my little coupon organizer that has slots for different items.   I try shopping by using my list only, not only does this help me with impulse shopping it also makes the trip quicker.  I don't go when I'm hungry.  And I try not to go when I know there will be a crowd.  Plus, being classified as a senior citizen I try to go on the day the grocery is giving an extra 5% for us older guys. 

Then there is that time that happens about every 6-7 weeks where one of my local stores either triples coupons up to $.99 or they double up to $2.00.  That is when I check their sales and my coupons.  One thing I've learned is that the stores know what their sales will be before they decide to double or triple.  They also know what coupons are out there but bank on most of them being used already so the items they put on sale don't normally have coupons of any amount that were circulated recently.  That is when you hang on to those older coupons waiting for these sales.  Yes it takes a little time and organization but it's worth.

Part 2 of these articles will be titled Cook Smart.  In this article I'll tell you what I do to help me save money as well as time by cooking smart.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Pancetta and Prosciutto


These two Italian meats are favorites for adding flavor to cooking but what is the difference between the two?  I've not cooked with either so I don't know their uses nor taste.  They could both taste the same as far as I know.   Since I had no answers to my questions I decided to looked them both up and this is what I found.

Prosciutto (proh-SHOO-toh) - To Italians the word means "ham".  Cooks in America use the term to refer to a type of ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured, and air-dried (rather than smoked).  The process takes at least nine months and results in a sweetly spiced, rose-color eats with a sheen.  Sliced prosciutto dries out quickly and should e used within a day or frozen for longer storage.

So what do you do with Prosciutto?  The classic Italian dish saltimbocca is made by wrapping prosciutto around veal cutlets.  It flavors the meat and locks in the moisture.  It's good wrapped around not only asparagus but also dates and melons.  It also makes a good topping for pizza or added to a salad.

Pancetta (pan-CHEH-tuh) - This is Italian-style bacon that's made from the belly of the hog.  Unlike bacon, pancetta is not smoked, but instead seasoned with pepper and other spices and cured with salt.  Pancetta is generally available packaged in a sausage like roll. 

OK, what can you do with Pancetta?  It has a distinct spice that makes it a unique ingredient that enhances the flavor of many dishes.  Add a small piece to stews, pasta dishes, vegetables and risotto.  It too can be wrapped around asparagus, sprayed with olive oil and baked until crisp.  For a real treat, wrap pancetta around pineapple slices and bake.  The contrast of the sweet and sour pineapple along with the spicy pancetta makes this a very tasty hors d'oeuvre.

Now that I know the difference between the two I think I'll buy a little of both and see what I can create on my own.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I Didn't Know That - Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans are actually the long, thin pod of an orchid plant.  The pod is dried and cured but should not be eaten.  Instead, the tiny seeds inside the pod are what you actually use.  They have the intense vanilla flavor .  When a recipe calls for vanilla beans, follow the recipe's directions for extracting the seeds from the pod.  Some will call for the pod to be heated in a liquid mixture to make it easier to split open, but even a dry vanilla bean can be cut lengthwise and a with a paring knife allowing you to open and scrape out the tiny seeds.  After the seeds have been removed you can use the pod to make vanilla sugar.

If the recipe calls for vanilla beans and you don't happen to have one on hand, you can usually substitute 2 teaspoons of vanilla for 1 vanilla bean.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Learning from My Mistakes!

I've spent the last 2 days trying to thaw water lines.  Here is something that we should all know but I never really gave it a thought until today.  When I got up yesterday morning my kitchen water was frozen.  All other was fine but the pipes to the kitchen are on the outside wall and with the cold and heavy winds it froze.  I used the hair blower and a lamp all day.  I finally borrowed one of those metal lights that mechanics use and around 7:30 last night I had water.  Thank you God!  Well, since it was getting cold again last night I left the water running in the kitchen sink.  This morning when I woke up the hot water was frozen.  It never dawned on me that running just the cold water wouldn't protect the hot water.  Now I know through my mistake that you need to let warm water drip and not just cold.  Duh!  I'm finally thawed after spending all morning with the hair blower and metal lamp but you can bet that with the weather going down into the 20s tonight I will let the WARM water drip.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Think With Your Taste Buds - Chicken - The Cookbook

As promised, Think With Your Taste Buds - Chicken has just gone live.  More recipes will be added daily so keep checking back or better yet, follow to make sure you don't miss any of these deliciously simple dishes.  This is our New Year's gift to you!