Food

Why Did I Wait So Long To Try This?

Finally, a great tasting salsa that is Just Right. For me.

I’m one of those folks who do not like spicy or hot foods. My idea of chili has a maximum 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.

Salsa is one of those things I enjoy in moderation but won’t make at home. Buying salsa at the store can be tricky. I go for ‘mild’ actually preferring something 50 degrees cooler. And let us not forget that tomatoes and acid go hand in hand, which makes it just that much less enjoyable.

Every once in a while I get an urge for some salsa and the search begins. I toy with the idea of picking up the same brand I bought the last time until I remember that that experience was not really enjoyable. Decent flavor. Okay. Nice texture. Okay. Acid reflux for days. No thanks.

A few years back America’s Test Kitchen did a taste testing of bottled salsas and picked a winner. I appreciated the test, but at that time the brand wasn’t available in my area.

Fast forward a few years. I recently caught that same episode with the taste test. Check out the taste test here:

I wondered if the winning brand was available in my local stores. Yep, it was. I added it to my shopping list along with a bag of my favorite tortilla chips.

Boy! Was I glad I did!

Chi-Chi’s Brand has quite an array of products including salsas. I picked up their Thick and Chunky Salsa – in Mild, of course – and really enjoyed it. Even a few days after the jar was opened, the contents held their flavors, weren’t acidic or bitter and tasted as good as the first taste.

Yes, there is some heat and tang to the sauce. No, it isn’t spicy and hot in that numb your mouth way. At least the Mild version I tried wasn’t. I can’t comment on any of the others.

Yes, I could make my own, but I don’t eat it enough to go to the trouble to find everything I need.

I’m glad I saw that taste test and took the minute or two to find it in my local market. This is something that I can imagine using in a variety of ways, not just on chips.

Check it out and see what you think!

Cooking · Food

Too Hot To Cook!

In my neck of the woods, it has been in the high 90s for quite a few weeks. Way too hot to heat up the kitchen!

Recently several folks posted the query: “It is too darn hot to cook – What do I fix for dinner?”

While take-out might sound great, it does take quite a chunk out of the budget. And I know that heating up the kitchen just doesn’t appeal when it also heats up the house. No need to strain the a/c, right? But what to do?

Here are some suggestions:

Why not grill chicken, including extra chicken that you can eat cold? Or, if you are inclined, fry enough chicken for several meals. Cold chicken is a staple in many picnic baskets, why not keep that thought in mind for a picnic in the backyard or at the kitchen table?

You could make tuna or chicken salads or add tuna or chicken to pasta salads. Or, you could make sandwiches using tuna or chicken. If you precook a batch of chicken, you could have enough for sandwiches and salads.

Speaking of salads, pasta salads are an easy fix and you can make enough for a couple of meals. Same for potato salad and coleslaw.

Have some cheese and crackers on hand. Don’t forget the pickles, not to mention raw vegetables, like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, and jicama.

Think fresh fruits for dessert. With the bounties available at farmer’s markets, you could indulge in some wonderful flavors at reasonable prices.

You can make your own sorbets using the fruits, too. Or, if your fruit is getting a bit close to its’ ‘use by’ date, make a crisp or buckle. You could make it early in the day before the heat is bad, so it doesn’t overheat the kitchen.

If you have suggestions on other options, I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, don’t forget to make a batch of iced tea (sweet or unsweet), and tuck it in the fridge for a great way to cool off on a hot Summer day!

Cooking · Food · Meal Building Blocks

Why Didn’t I Think Of This Earlier?

Or, tips and tricks to make Summer meals a lot less, less.

I’ve had a few ‘head-slap’ moments lately and thought I should share. After all, you might not have thought of these, either. 🙂

Batch Cooking

As you contemplate your weekly meals, if you are planning on using, say, a lot of oven-baked chicken across many meals, why not put it all in the oven at the same time and use the oven once instead of several times heating the kitchen when it really is too hot already?

My range has a convection oven and, along with all the other bells and whistles, has a dedicated button for chicken nuggets. Yeah, really. I used to chuckle a lot at that, too. But you know what? Filling the oven with baking sheets full of chicken to be cooked and used for several different meals saves time, energy (i.e.: money), and work. You can even prep different flavor profiles if you want. Even if it really is just chicken nuggets.

If you are able to find a flat of meats you will be able to use in a variety of meals, take advantage of pre-prepping and batch cooking. You can fill up the slow cooker in addition to filling up the oven or making use of your grill. You’ll save money and time.

Think Ahead

If you like to make tuna or chicken salad don’t forget to put the tuna or cooked chicken in the fridge before you start making the salads. I keep my canned tuna in the fridge so when I’m ready for a tasty lunch, the tuna is already cold. All I need to do is make the salad and eat. No waiting for the mixture to cool off.

Batch Prepping

I recently picked up a bag of sweet mini peppers to see if I would like them. I don’t care for hot peppers and while I enjoy sweet bell peppers many times one is just too much. On top of all of that, I hate waste.

I liked the sweet mini peppers but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them all before they went bad, so I pulled out my mini chopper, grabbed a paring knife along with a couple of small freezer containers and started in. I split each pepper after I took off the top, cleaned the seeds out and then cut into smaller pieces that I put into the chopper. Once the chopper was full, I pulsed it until the peppers were coarsely chopped and then moved the chopped peppers to the freezer containers. I can now use what I need for a recipe without waste!

Do you have ‘issues’ with green peppers? As I got older my digestive system no longer tolerated green peppers. Until I learned this secret: Peel the peppers. Yep, pull out your vegetable peeler and remove that outer skin. No more uncomfortable tummy!

If you find a good deal on onions or other vegetables but don’t want to let them go to waste why not prep them and tuck them away in the freezer?

Best Tip: Use an ice cube tray to create cubes of these veggies. When they are frozen, pop them into freezer bags and put them away. Don’t forget to thoroughly clean the ice cube tray for the next round! You can use this trick for left over wine, tomato paste, fresh herbs, and probably more things than I’ve thought of here.

Start looking at different eye levels.

It is easy to forget than there could be great bargains on your grocery shelves just waiting to be found. All you have to do is look up and then look down.

Many grocery stores stock shelves based on what they want the buyer to purchase. They know shoppers don’t always look above or below eye level. What can you gain by looking up or down? Better prices. Better quality. Better options.

Don’t get caught up in purchasing brand names, either. You’ve probably heard that store brands are often the same as name brands other than the prices. That is true more often than we think. By trying off brand items you could find something you like better – and at a better price.

There is a time and place to purchase name brand items. But it might not be a bad idea to check around and see what you are missing, especially when there are limits on what you can find on the shelves.

I hope these few tips are helpful. If so, please click on the ‘Like’ button below!

Enjoy!

Cooking · Dining · Food

Thinking About Ingredients

Or, you might find something you like better

We have all heard of blind tastings where we ‘thought’ we knew what we liked but discovered there were potential ingredient changes that would improve our cooking.

The recent blind tasting over at Sortedfood was interesting. Check it out:

Sometimes it makes a difference when you choose different versions of the same ingredient. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you discover that you are spending more money on something you don’t really like as much as the lower priced option.

In these days with higher prices and shortages, it pays to be a bit more elastic with our shopping. Trying brands that are in different parts of the store (i.e. shelf) could save a lot of money. Take it one step further and look for stores that cater to a certain cuisine.

Want to find the best produce? Looking for authentic ingredients at a price point that won’t compete with your car payment? Looking to learn more about flavors and foods from a different culture?

Your local markets and farmer’s markets are excellent resources. The big box stores can carry a lot of items but that does not necessarily mean that their quality is the best. It usually isn’t. Tiny local markets may not have the huge array of options but what they do carry is often in quantities that are easily usable without waste – even if their price point might be a bit higher. You might be surprised to discover it isn’t.

Sometimes you can find alternatives that are better quality, flavor, and even price, just by checking out a different part of the store.

Dining · Food · Recipe of the Month

A Simple Fruit Shortcake

One of my favorite ways to celebrate the bounty of fresh berries and fruit is the simple shortcake. No, not that grocery store sponge cake with the dip in the middle, a rich, simple shortcake that you pile the fruit &/or berries on along with a side of whipped cream or ice cream.

Now, I do have to admit that I’ve been known to pick up my favorite pound cake to use in place of a homemade shortcake – and that is a great option if you have a good pound cake recipe or can get your hands on a good one.

As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of Bisquick and love their shortcake recipe. You can find a link to it HERE.

That being said, I do love to make a scratch version, which oddly enough, isn’t much more work than the previous option. You can find a link to it HERE.

The next time you find a batch of beautiful fruit, consider whipping up a simple shortcake to celebrate it.

Cooking · Dining · Food

Thinking About Food

For those of us who live to eat, food is a predominant topic of thought, if not action. We contemplate flavors, textures, indulgences, and, most importantly, what we are making for dinner. 🙂

Recently McCormick Kitchens released their Flavor Forecast 22nd Edition. Check it out here: https://www.mccormickforchefs.com/2022-flavor-forecast.

You will find an interesting collection of recipes, along with some rather refreshing (no pun intended) ideas about ingredients.

If you are looking to change up your summer cooking you will find a lot of ideas. I know I have. 🙂

Enjoy!

Dining · Food · YouTube

New Kitchen Adventures

If you have been around for any real length of time, you will know that I enjoy cooking, eating, watching cooking shows/videos, and exploring new tools and kit for the kitchen.

Recently I came across a selection of videos on YouTube from the Sorted Food channel. What I first encountered were product reviews – and I have to say that what I saw was both interesting and entertaining. I’m slowly (because there is a lot to catch up on) getting into the cooking part of the channel.

This particular video really caught my attention:

As you might know, I’m a bit on the fence when it comes to subscription boxes, but I do think that some of the food oriented boxes could be quite interesting. This batch covered a lot of territory and I thought the reviews interesting. What do you think?

Overall, Sorted is proving to be a welcome addition to my regular rotation on YouTube. I’m curious about the cookbooks. I think the guys cover an interesting range of experiences. I have found the products testing informative. I admit to a bit of interest in one or two.

Update: There’s More To The Adventure!

I’ve been diving into this amazing YouTube channel and am hooked! I’ve discovered a lot. Enjoyed a lot, too. This particular video is a Keeper!

Pantry Updates

As we embark on food shortages and using ingredients that aren’t always in the cupboard, let alone on our menus, these ideas can and will enhance our cooking.

And, really, isn’t that what cookery shows are supposed to do? Provide ideas, inspiration, food for thought?

Have you seen Sorted? What do you think? If you like this post, please do me a favor and click the ‘Like’ button below.

Cooking · Food

It Really Is The Best Tater Tot Casserole!

I love a good casserole! They can be quite flavorful, easy to make, provide delicious left overs, and even be budget friendly. Win/Win, right?

I came across this recipe thanks to Mandy In The Making over on YouTube, tried it and loved it.

The BEST Tater Tot Casserole

Simple, easy, flavorful, easy to change up if you want to.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Green Beans, Ground Beef, Tater Tots
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 9
Calories 420kcal

Equipment

  • 1 8 x 8 Baking Dish

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Ground Beef Leaner the better
  • 1/2 Onion Chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves Minced
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire
  • 15 ounce Green Beans, Canned Drained
  • 10.75 ounce Cream of Celery Soup
  • 2 cups Cheddar Cheese Shredded
  • 2 cups Frozen Tater Tots

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
    Spray the 8 x 8 baking dish with vegetable spray and set it aside.
  • Brown the ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat.
  • Add the onions to the skillet and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until translucent.
  • Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for an additional minute.
  • Stir in Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the soup and drained green beans.
  • Transfer the ground beef mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.
  • Top with the shredded cheese.
  • Finally, top with tater tots.
  • Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until tater tots are golden brown and cheese is melted. Serve immediately. 

You might want to play with seasoning a bit. You can also experiment with cheeses, but keep in mind you do want a good melting cheese.

Enjoy!

Cooking · Dining · Food · Meal Building Blocks

Pantry Staples That Make Meal Planning Easier

Keeping these items in my pantry make meals easy to put together and less stress on my budget.

Pantry Staples

Pasta

I try to keep a variety of dried pasta shapes on hand, but in a pinch every pasta shape will work no matter what you put with it. While some of the more expensive pastas will have a better flavor, even the cheap boxes are worth trying out. I also keep some cheese stuffed tortellini in the freezer (talk about an easy mac & cheese) but there are other types there in addition to the ready to cook, rather than dried, versions.

Think mac & cheese, baked casseroles, soups, pasta and sauce, salads.

Bread, Tortillas or Buns

As a rule, I don’t tend to keep a lot of bread on hand because I can bake it myself when I take the urge. That being said, I do keep bagels for breakfast and I do enjoy tortillas every once in a while.

A grilled cheese or quesadilla takes less than 10 minutes to make, and are both quite versatile for whatever ingredients you already have.

Tortillas can also be turned into wraps, burritos, enchiladas, or even breakfast tacos.

Buns can be used to for sandwiches, hamburgers or even garlic bread in a pinch.

Rice

Rice is just as versatile as pasta, and can be used to make stir fry, burrito bowls, casseroles, soups, or as an easy side dish.

I love to have it with chicken as a simple meal.

Pasta Sauce

I used to buy pretty much anything organic and at a reasonable price. However, I recently tried Raos and now it is the only brand I buy. To be clear, I’ve never eaten pasta sauce from a jar before I tried the Raos. Now, I have to remind myself that the sauce it to go on the meal first. LOL!

You can use pasta sauce not only to make spaghetti or lasagna, but also as a pizza sauce or a dipping sauce for breaded mozzarella cheese.

Freezer Staples

Ground beef – good for a variety of meals from hamburgers to soups, to casseroles.

Chicken – Plain chicken pieces can be cooked for a variety of meals.

Breaded Chicken – These make a great quick meal along with a salad or rice. Find a brand you like and keep it in stock.

Tater Tots – I use these in a variety of ways. As a replacement for prepared hash browns they are a quick and easy substitute. You can either bake them as is or put them in a large skillet with a little bit of oil and break them down as you cook them. Tots are great accompaniments to burgers, too.

Pasta – Stuffed ravioli, tortellini or shells make a great meal that is easy to prepare, you simply boil the pasta, drain and add sauce. Viola!

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables – Packed at the peak of their freshness, frozen veg is a quick, easy and cost efficient alternative to canned. Easy to use, easy to store, these items can be part of a great meal.

Fridge Staples

Eggs

Eggs are flexible and easy on the budget. They can be used in a variety of meals, as part of salads, alongside breakfast meats or in baking.

Cheese

I always have cheese on hand. I buy a variety so I can use them in different ways and, when necessary, a variety of cheeses makes an amazing Clean Out The Fridge Mac & Cheese.

Don’t forget to pick up some soft cheese to spread on crackers.

Mix and Match

You can mix and match pretty much all of these items to make some great meals without having to have a lot of items on hand.

That being said, adding fresh fruits and potatoes or onions to your pantry, trying different things like couscous or grains will stretch your meal options even further.

Cooking

Kitchen Conundrums

Or, things you learn by accident.

Yesterday I pulled out one of my favorite pans and rediscovered it again. I haven’t used it in a long, long time, which is a bit odd as I really like the pan. It is the right size, it has a clear glass lid, and it can go into the oven.

Why don’t I use it? Simple. It is too heavy. Empty. When you add food into it and proceed to use it for what it is intended to be used for, it can be unwieldy and potentially dangerous to use.

I bought the pan from an open stock inventory a few years ago when I was trying out cookware to replace a set that is almost as old as I am. I had some criteria I wanted from the new set. It had to be oven safe. It had to be easy to use and care for. It had to be a reasonable price point. What I didn’t expect, or even consider, was the weight of the pan.

That test pan is, as I said, a favorite but I didn’t buy the set it came from, I looked elsewhere and found a set of pans that met all my criteria and were of a weight that I could wield when full without fear of harming myself.

Kitchen tools can be tricky things. We purchase what we think we want without always knowing all the questions to ask. When we don’t use them, or we don’t actually cook, we often don’t realize that the problem isn’t that cooking is hard, it is that the tools we use aren’t doing their job, which is really to make the job easier, more efficient, more user friendly.

Kitchen knives are another item that you might think is a no brainer, but if you don’t have the knife that fits in your hand and becomes an extension of that hand, if it is difficult to keep sharp, you have a tool that is not only dangerous but makes the process difficult and frustrating. And, make no mistake, a knife that is not properly sharpened is a danger to the user. You will have more potential for problems with that knife than with one that is properly sharpened, that does fit your hand.

Using measuring cups and spoons are the most direct method for either accuracy or ruining a recipe. Don’t kid yourself, they are NOT all the same. Some can be off by small amounts, others by quite a bit. All impact the end result giving you either an fantastic product or a disaster. Those cute designs could be sabotaging your cooking.

When you watch cooking shows you are constantly reminded to purchase the best food products you can afford as it will impact the end result. What they often don’t tell you is that you need to apply that same rule to the tools you use in the kitchen to make that recipe.

I would like to suggest you take a look in your kitchen and identify those items that you don’t use, or haven’t used, in a while and ask yourself why. I’m not talking about those specifically holiday oriented, although it would be a good idea to address those, too. I’m talking about the mixer, blender, food processor, spoons, knives, cookery tools, etc.

I gave up my microwave over 20 years ago because I never used it for anything other than heating water and steaming vegetables. Things I use my stove for. I gave up a blender that I inherited not because it was old, but because I rarely ever used it. Why keep things that just take up space? I’ve said before, my kitchen is postage stamp sized. I don’t have the luxury of storing things just for the fun have having them around.

When you find those items you don’t use, please give them a new home so someone else can make use of them. Instead, find items that work for you so you can do the kind of cooking and baking that you want to do.

Happy cooking!