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Friday, October 4, 2013

Express Meal Planning

How do you accomplish putting meals on the table with a busy schedule and no time to waste?  The simple answer is by practical management of your pantry. How do you accomplish that? By practicing a habit of express meal planning and stocking staples when you are shopping and organized or when they are on sale. This means you’ll have the means to create any meal on your planning list even when you’re short on time or short on bucks.

What basic items are these?

Here’s what’s in the WADF Kitchen refrigerator:
Milk
Eggs
Butter or Margarine
Shredded Cheese
Salsa or Picante Sauce
Ketchup
Mustard
Mayo
Lemon Juice
Worcestershire Sauce
A-1 Steak Sauce
Barbeque Sauce
Ranch Dressing
Italian Dressing
Flour and Corn Tortillas
Lunch Meat

Is that all that’s in our fridge?  By no means.  We couldn’t exist without pickles, Coffee Mate, and Redi Whip, but I don’t believe those are a must-have for every family.

What basic items are in our baking cupboard?
All-Purpose Flour
Corn Meal
Corn Starch
Granulated Sugar
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Powdered Sugar
Light Brown Sugar
Tapioca
Oatmeal
Cocoa
Yeast and Bread Machine Yeast
Shortening
Pudding Mixes (assorted flavors)
Canola Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
White Vinegar

Depending on the recipes you routinely make, you may need to consider keeping various types of flour on hand.

Our Spice Rack Includes:
Salt
Black Pepper
Seasoned Salt
Oregano
Basil
Parsley
Cinnamon
Vanilla Extract
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Chili Powder
Taco Seasoning
Dry Onion Soup Mix
Dry Ranch or Italian Dressing Mix
Meatloaf Seasoning
Gravy Mixes

Your tastes may dictate keeping different types of spices on hand, including tasty additions like rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, paprika, ginger or nutmeg. Many varieties of seasoned salt (and pepper!) are available – choose ones that suit your recipes and cooking style.

On Our Pantry Shelves:
Tomato Sauce/Paste
Diced Tomatoes
Green Chilies
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Cream of Chicken Soup
Green Beans
Kidney Beans
Refried Beans
Spaghetti Sauce
Pizza Sauce
Rice
Peanut butter
Jelly
Honey
Pasta (your choice)
Pancake mix
Bisquick
Tuna
Taco Shells
Popcorn
Maple Syrup
Chicken, Beef and/or Vegetable Stock
Bread crumbs

Fresh Foods Always In Supply:
Bread
Potatoes
Carrots
Onions
Garlic
Apples
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Bananas

In the Freezer:
Ground turkey, ground beef, chicken, and pork tenderloin
Beef steaks/roasts
Hot dogs
Loaf of wheat bread
Frozen vegetables – broccoli, corn, peas, and a harvest combo

One of the fastest ways to conquer meal planning is to consider recipes that you can double and freeze half for use later.  Simply add the containers to your grocery list and buy the storage size you need to fit your freezer.  If you plan your meals to provide 2-3 double recipes and freeze half, you have 2-3 meals for later in the month which are as simple as thawing from the freezer and warming up. 


Crockpot Recipe Beef Stew comes to mind.  This simple recipe cooks in the crockpot, can easily be doubled, and freezes/reheats well.  With round steak in the freezer to start, then adding fresh potatoes, carrots, and onions with a can of tomatoes and spices, you have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot that allows dinner to be on the table within minutes of walking in the door.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Everyday Pantry Meals

A big part of everyday life is meal planning and grabbing from the pantry to get something on the dinner table.  Yes, I'm like you.  I've been known to grab the Tuna Helper and slap it together, add a sliced banana side dish and shove it in front of the kiddo.  But everyday busy schedules don't mean you have to shop in the center aisles of the grocery store for convenience while sacrificing healthy living.  Because let’s face it: processed foods – foods that you have no idea what they contain and where they come from – are not the way to go on an ongoing basis.  Everyone can cook with just a bit of searching for the right recipe and a plan to stockpile favorite items in the pantry.  What this process requires is a few dedicated hours a month to plan your go-to meal list and organize your shopping list.

Oh, gak!  I heard that.  You hate to plan ahead.  Boring daily dinner charts are too much for me, you say.  Please, would I lead you astray?  I'm not one for a rigid set idea of what's for dinner either.  The last thing I want is to sit down at the dinner table, tired and hungry, and eat something that has less appeal than a piece of cardboard.

Food Fact #1.  Food moods are there for all of us.  

But if you plan ten to twenty meals and keep the list handy, you can perform a pick-n-choose function by taking from the freezer, the refrigerator, and the cupboard. What's for dinner then comes about with quiet efficiency.

Most of WADF's pantry pick meals require a combination of meat, opening cans, and adding spices. Some are crockpot creations that require a quick setup in the morning: plug in the cooker, add ingredients, and go.  Two of my favorite recipes that rely on items from the pantry are:

WADF Chili:  This mild chili is a combination of kidney beans, diced tomatoes, green chilies, and chili seasoning mixed with ground hamburger or ground turkey.  Add a baked potato, sour cream, shredded cheese, and corn bread to have a full meal.



Crockpot beef roast:  Take a bottle of A-1 sauce and dry onion soup mix and blend at the bottom of the crockpot, then set the roast on top. Again, add mashed or baked potatoes and a salad.  Dinner is quickly served and the smell from a cooked roast walking in the door: priceless.  How much easier can it be?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Best Canned Sauces

This week is my first pantry picks column. I'm talking about jarred and canned spaghetti sauce this time around. As we get busier with less time to cook and the floundering economy takes its toll, many families turn to store-bought spaghetti sauces as a faster and cheaper alternative. Do you ever stand in the grocery store and look at the dozens and dozens of kinds available, but are uncertain if you want to take the risk of trying something new when the family loves the old standby? Interestingly enough, your taste for a particular spaghetti sauce was probably introduced to you by your mother. Further then, your children like the sauce you choose from those dozens of kinds and will carry that choice into their adulthood. As I can attest, my children's taste in spaghetti sauces changed over the years and so will yours.

Standing in that grocery store aisle in any store, you're likely to find Ragu, Prego, Hunts, Classico, Emeril's, Market Pantry, Safeway Select, Albertson's, Kroger Original, Newman's Own, Walmart's Great Value - just to name a few. Seems like everyone is trying to market spaghetti sauce. I can't say that I've personally tried all there is out there, but here are a few that our family has deemed "worth a damn."

Just as a note of trivia, according to Information Research, a Chicago marketing firm, which three sauces are America's top selling pasta sauces? (Answer is at the bottom.)

To start, I avoid any spaghetti sauce with meat. I have yet to try even one where the meat enhanced the flavor and made it a go-to buy. Adding my own fresh meat to other sauces worked much better.

When my kids were little, I consistently bought Hunt's Traditional Spaghetti sauce or their Garlic and Herb from the can. While a little sweet and slightly ketchupy, my kids loved these two and it was easy to dress up the flavor with a bit of tomato puree, onions, garlic and Parmesan cheese. It's a great bargain.

It seemed like from middle school through high school, we did the Ragu phase. The kids' palates were capable of more sophisticated tastes so we must have tried every flavor of Ragu. I'm not a big fan of Ragu, taste-wise. I think their Old-World Traditional is very thin and tasteless and wasn't much impressed with some of the other flavors we tried for the same reason. Trying to doctor their sauces resulted in very thin, tasteless, doctored sauce. Not appetizing. Recently, though, I tried their Chunky Garden Combo and my grandson loves it - probably because of the slight sweetness of this version, too, much like the Hunt's. My daughter (grandson's Mom) hates it for exactly that reason. She leans more toward garlic flavors in her spaghetti, not sweetness. My favorite Ragu sauce is their Robusto Parmesan and Romano. Unfortunately, it's hard to find in many stores.

To escape the sweetness of Ragu's Chunky Garden Combo, we switched to Classico. Several jars have been tested by our kitchen, with these two being our favorites: Roasted Garlic and Florentine Spinach and Cheese. The standard for approval was met by all those eating at the table, including the grandson who especially loved the Florentine Spinach and Cheese.

My recommendation when you're buying spaghetti sauce is to not automatically reach for the cheapest can or jar out there. While several companies make cheap varieties, they aren't always decent. Albertson's traditional sauce is salty and it's first ingredient is tomato concentrate. Really? They couldn't go with the real deal? Another one that flunked our test is Wal-Mart's traditional. What was the problem there? High-fructose corn syrup which made the sauce syrupy, sickly sweet. Even the grandson wouldn't eat it.

On the other end of the spectrum, Newman's Own - which is slightly more expensive, isn't worth the money either. Not a bad sauce, but not a spectacular one either. So there was no justification for the extra pennies.

As you can see, tastes on the best spaghetti sauce vary even within the same house. I'd like to see your comments on what your favorite store-bought spaghetti sauce is and why.

Oh and the answer to the trivia question: America's top three spaghetti sauces -- Prego (made by Campbells), Classico (made by Heinz), and Ragu (made by Unilever).

See you next month for Pantry Picks!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mini Hamburgers

These are crazy easy, but so good you will gobble them down. Best advice? Make extra.

Ingredients:
1 lb. hamburger
1 package King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
3 Tablespoons Worchestershire Sauce
Cheese slices (your favorite)

Instructions:
1. Place hamburger in a bowl and add 3 Tablespoon of Worchestershire Sauce and mix thoroughly.
2. Shape hamburger into golf size rolls. Use a cutting board and a spatula to flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.
3. Use a frying pan, George Foreman grill, or broiling rack. Spray with cooking spray.
4. Put hamburgers on pan and cook over medium-high heat until no longer pink inside (medium) (3-5 minutes).
5. Cut cheese slices into small pieces to fit size of the hamburger. Place on top of hamburger and wait for it to melt. Remove from heat.
6. Open King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls and use a knife to slice each roll in half. Place a hamburger in between the halves.
7. Garnish with mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce - your usual choice of hamburger toppings!
8. Try to eat only a couple. I dare you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Creamier Cakes

Note from Patti and Tiffany

Please welcome Chef Chris and his new “Chef Chris Says” column to Worth a Damn Food. You may have already tried some of his posted recipes or recipes that have been included in our cookbooks. He’ll be posting here a few times a month with cooking tips and tricks. Plus, he’s Patti’s nephew and Tiffany’s husband!

Hi! My name is Chris and I was a Chef in my former life…seems like it was a long time ago, but I’ve had the opportunity since I changed from hospitality to law enforcement to continue cooking for my immediate and extended families as well as dabble in catering. I was blessed with working and studying under some great chefs. Some are retired now, some are still mixing it up. A good chef never retires!

Along the way, I learned little tricks and techniques to make life in the kitchen...any kitchen…a little easier. (Editor's note: Chris also discovers many of his own tricks. Yum! –Tiffany) I look forward to sharing those tips with you each week.

Worth a Damn Food will be sharing favorite desserts until the end of the year. To keep with that theme, my first tip will help you make yummier cakes.

When using cake mixes or following from-scratch recipes, it is not hard to make little changes to make the flavor your own. For a moister and richer cake, I recommend substituting sour cream for some of the water used in the mix or in the from-scratch recipe.

To do this, measure 3/4 of a cup of sour cream then add the water on top of the sour cream to get to the original amount of water the box or recipe call for. No, it will not make your cake sour, but it will give it a creamy texture that will assist in making a terrific cake.

Try it, you won’t regret it. That’s my little tidbit for now. Happy cooking!

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