Love Thy Kitchen Part II

Had to go to the store today after church so I was thinking about all of you.

I pulled the shopping list off the front of the refrigerator and headed off to the store. When I was little we NEVER had magnets on the refrigerator. I don’t like the look of them in my kitchen, but they are incredibly handy. We now have dry erase boards on the frig where we write messages and other changing information. The inside of the kitchen cabinets have phone number lists and a few inspirational messages that keep me in line day to day. We have a family calendar that hangs in the kitchen. We were much better filling it out when we had more than one child at home. The rule used to be that you didn’t participate unless it was on the calendar.

As I looked at the list I realized that not everything that we needed was on the list. I try to get everything written down so I don’t overspend or buy the well marketed promotional items. When I was first married, I had to actually plan weekly menus. Now I can do it pretty much on the fly. It is amazing how hard it is to plan 21 or 42 meals at a time.

While I was at the grocery I ran into a father with a six year old son. He handed the list to the son as they approached the spice aisle and asked him to find the spices that they needed to buy. The boy was looking at the letters one by one and tracing them on the cans and jars. Later I saw them again and the son was checking the eggs for cracks before dad put them in the cart. It looks like the hunter/gatherer spirit isn’t dead.

I don’t live too far from the grocery, so I can run after things when I need to, but it is a bigger hassle to do that on regular basis. I also have a dozen places that I like to shop for different foods. Our honey comes from a farm stand on the way to Leo, if my husband hasn’t pulled some out of our own hive. If one of us is going by Albright’s in Corunna, IN we stock up on steaks, box o’bacon, apple sausage, roasts, and chicken breasts. The steaks are marvelous and are $2.99 a pound. The Amish grocery store, Schmuckers off 37 on the way to Harlan is the source for some of our vegetables, fruits, and cheeses. Actually, its not called an Amish grocery store. That’s the name I gave it when I started taking my girls there. It is Amish owned. Amish grocery stores have a look that is very different from “English” grocery stores. There are several in the area and they are a great place to take kids. You will find horses in a nearby pasture and and a litter of kittens in the springtime. There will probably also be a working breed of dog that is better than a doorbell. They remind me of a cleaner version of Pechins, from my maternal grandmother’s hometown of Dunbar, PA.

Lunch is a lot of leftovers for us, so I am going to skip to the dinner stuff and come back. Actual recipes are easy to find with all the Internet access today, so I am going to just point a few places out that will have variety of cooking ideas.

Since its sometimes hard to describe the taste of something that is a family favorite let’s start with recipes that copy a restaurant taste. My favorite three places are:

1. http://copycat.cdkitchen.com/
2. http://www.recipezaar.com/recipes/copycat
3. http://www.topsecretrecipes.com/ (some subscriber areas)

Simply pick a food that you like in the restaurants and they will give you a recipe that will turn out a similar product at home. Since we live in a fairly big city, this is the easiest way to start having fun in the kitchen. Hint: Look up Thin Mint and get the recipe for the Girl Scouts’ secret weapon.

You will need at least ONE cookbook in your kitchen. I will recommend two basics.

1. The Betty Crocker cookbook, which has just gone mobile for the iPhone and iPod Touch at NO COST for the app. 4000 recipes at your fingertips.
2. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook which should set you back about $11 in paperback or the 1918 version is available at no charge at http://www.bartleby.com/87/ Note this edition includes a chapter entitled, “Helpful Hints for the Young Housekeeper,” should be fun!

Be on the look out for church cookbooks. They are the VERY best. It’s even better if they come from small towns around Richmond, IN. Some of the best cooks in the state come from that region. If you go into a bakery with REALLY good baked goods, look for the cookbook. There is sure to be one. AVOID cookbooks that are from publishing companies. FOR HEAVEN’s SAKE, never buy a diet cookbook. What instructions would you need to cut celery or bake a chicken breast without anything, but water?

Gravies, some breads, and some desserts are the most difficult things to cook. Pastas, meats, and vegetables are the safest bets. Sometimes people know how to cook, they just aren’t sure what to put together. In our house we looked back to childhood meals.

1. Slop, Known by most people as Taco Salad. My husband can explain the knick-name. Brown ground beef with taco seasoning, drain well. Put cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, corn chips, and onions in serving bowls and let everyone build their own salads. The trick is to put a little water in with the beef to keep it from splattering while you fill the serving bowl items. Return to the stove and turn the meat as the sizzling starts to get louder. Add a little more water and the seasoning. Done when the water is gone the second time.

2. Calico beans and homemade bread and honey. SUPER EASY in the crock pot.

3. Roast beef, potatoes, and carrots. Place all in a small granite roast pan with a little water, onions, salt and pepper. 300° for a couple of hours and set the table. (see Part I)

4. Mexican cheese toasties (Quesadillas) Give some of your meals funky names and the kids will think they are getting something special. Meat and beans are optional.

5. Burritos, hand wrapped. I always make two pans and place one in the freezer for later, when I really don’t have time to cook.

6. Ham, yams, creamed peas, and applesauce.

7. Cabbage Rolls, one serving for tonight and another serving in the freezer. Also served with Applesauce. These were called pigs in a blanket when I was a child. I was really impressed the first time I saw that term on a school lunch menu and then I found out that pigs in a blanket means a hot dog wrapped with a biscuit in Indiana.

8. Lasagna, did you know you don’t have to cook the pasta before putting it in the oven? You can freeze a second one for later. You’re going to hear that a lot from me.

9. Cavatini, did you know you don’t have to cook the pasta before putting it in the oven? Did I just say that?

10. Spaghetti with mushroom sauce. Love Garlic Bread with any of the Italian meals.

11. Chicken and noodles with Mashed Potatoes. I think this is a really down home Indiana dinner. We call it the white meal. It’s finished off with Sugar Cream Pie.

12. Baked BBQ ribs. Plop Beef ribs into a baking pan add a little water. Cover with foil and bake until the meat is falling off the bone. Cover with sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. Return to oven for 10 minutes with the foil off. Serve with Red Potatoes, chunked and lightly tossed in oil with salt, pepper and maybe some Italian spices.

13. Chili: Ground Beef, Dark Red Kidney Beans, big jar of your favorite Salsa. Brown meat. Dump everything into crock pot and place on low heat. Nothing more to say.

14. Parmesan Chicken: massage butter or margarine on bare chicken breasts, sprinkle heavily with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350° for about 30-50 minutes. (Depends on the size of the chicken breasts. Clear fluid in the pan means the chicken is almost done. Remove cover and bake an additional 10 minutes until the cheese is golden. Serve with chicken flavored rice.

15. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas.

16. Soup and cheese toasties any night. Soup is dumped into the crock pot in the morning and let to simmer all day.

17. Sunday special, Fried Chicken: This takes about an hour, so don’t try it as a RELAXING meal. You will certainly get kudos, but you need a pan deep enough for the chicken to cook, covered with a lid.

18. English Muffin Pizza night. Put all the toppings in bowls and everyone builds their own. Get the muffins at the bread store. Save your bread tickets and you get freebies. Also great for parties.

19. Progressive dinner with several friends. Each house makes a different part of the meal and you travel from house to house. That’s probably four stops and you play a little cards at each house. This can be done with or without kids!

20. Breakfast for dinner.

I make my own bread for dinner, noodles for chicken, and most of my dessert items. These things can be readily bought, but I prefer to make them myself, because they are fun and sometimes less expensive. My daughters have taken over making most of these items.

There is a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Cheap is a dollar store knock off tupperware. Inexpensive is bought at a reasonable price and lasts a long time.

Acquire the following essentials for your kitchen. NO teflon, just too troublesome. Good decent weight cooking pans. I have three skillets of different sizes, three sauce pans, and a stock pot as the core of my cooking pans. It will be harder to permanently burn a heavy weight skillet. Your food won’t stick. I also have heavy weight cake pans to do meats in. Cover with foil and you can dispose of the mess without much thought. A granite roaster is a nicety for cabbage rolls, hams, and roasts. Measuring tools that are accurate are essential. Measuring cups should be metal and well marked. These are used for dry measurements only. I only use Pyrex glass measuring cups for liquids. You are covered whether your liquid is hot or cold. I like metal measuring spoons on a ring.

Most of these foods are winter cooking. Summer cooking is done much more on the grill and my part of that is getting the food prepped. Grilling and clean up is someone else’s domain. We also do a lot more fresh vegetables during the summer. I will write about the garden in future notes.