What I Cooked Last Night

Sometimes I make up these crazy meals that turn out to be wonderful. When that happens, i think it is worth sharing. Occasionally something turns out to be a total disaster, then it is the story, rather than the recipe that is worth sharing. My kitchen creativity is best used on leftovers. I can work tasty magic with leftovers. Be sure to read the first post, "About My Cooking Style" which will help in following recipes when given, or to recreate meals from my prose.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Beef & Beans

Thursday night is bean night at our house. There is something very satisfying about coming home to a Crock-Pot full of simmering beans. Served up with brown rice and a salad, it is a tasty, healthy meal that requires very little work. I had some cubed steak in the icebox, and thought that a little beef with the beans might be a nice treat. So I cut the cubed steak into thin strips, like for a stir fry perhaps, and browned them well in a saute pan in a little bit of oil. Meanwhile, I had soaked a 16 ounce bag of pinto beans overnight, so I drained them and poured them into the Crock-Pot. Then I added my standard seasonings for pintos. One large onion; diced, a couple of bay leaves, six peeled & halved cloves of garlic, a pinch of thyme, a few shakes of Tabasco, salt and pepper. When the beef was brown, I threw it in, added water to cover, set the switch to low and went about my day. After work I put a dish of brown rice in the oven, let it bake for an hour and dinner was ready to enjoy.

The cubed steak was tender and rich and provided just the right change of pace for this week's beans. I had only used a comparatively small amount, so the bits of meat were mostly an accent to the meal, but they were exactly right. The beans were deeply flavored by the herbs and aromatics, and had picked up far more flavor from the steak than I had expected. The broth was thick and intense, coating the rice easily and blending the tastes and textures perfectly. Though implicitly simple, the meal had many layers of flavor and was delicious and filling.

Tonight we will heat up some tortillas, combine the beans and rice, add some chopped hot peppers and enjoy bean & rice burritos with less then ten minutes of work.

In all, these meals cost less than $10.00, total, to feed two people, twice. My husband will even have some to take to work tomorrow for lunch! The best part of all, this is a very healthy dinner. Not high in fat, very high in fiber, filled with good nutrients. Go dig out the Crock-Pot you got as a wedding present and get beaning.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

About My Cooking Style...

I love recipes, I use them all of the time. When I want to learn to make something new, I seek out five or six different recipes for that dish, review them all, and take the best elements from each to make something that suits my taste. Usually, this works out well, sometimes, it takes a few tries to get what I want. I also have a book of recipes of my own. To be sure, some are recipes from cookbooks and magazines that I have adapted for my own use, most are family recipes and some are ones that I have created on my own. This Blog however is about my mad experiments in the kitchen, my dramatic retooling of leftovers, and the general fun I have creating meals from piles of ingredients.

You will find few exact measurements in here, just listings of things I have thrown together. These meals will not be perfectly recorded, giving you the opportunity to make things to your taste, using what I have written as a starting place- should you choose to use this Blog that way. If I use something you don't like or don't have on hand, leave it out or find a substitute. Mostly, I want this to be a place that inspires your own creative adventures in the kitchen, freeing you from cookbooks and frozen dinners. Enjoy!

Ingredients/techniques I use a lot that you should know about:

Though I cannot eat spicy foods, I use Tabasco in virtually everything. Just as vanilla does for sweet treats, Tabasco has a way of not only waking up the flavor in a dish, but also helps all of the flavors come together. I encourage you to give it a try, a few drops at a time.

I am big fan of soup base. I use the chicken and beef flavors in a lot of my cooking. These are essentially concentrated broths, in a sort of paste form. They taste way better than dried cubes, and cost significantly less than canned broth. You can find them at restaurant supply stores, Sam's Club and Costco and perhaps other places as well.

I keep diced onion in the fridge all of the time. That way I can use anywhere from one tablespoon to one cup in a recipe without adding extra work. You might find it helpful to do the same. It seems silly to peel and chop up an onion if you only need a teaspoon in a recipe, this way it is always ready to go.

Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt and Lawrey's Seasoned Salt also show up a lot in my cooking. They are completely different. Lawrey's is the red salt often found on French fries, is excellent on a hamburger and my chicken salad would not be the same without it. Jane's is a salt/pepper/spice/herb blend. It is fantastic on any type of roast, amazing on porkchops and chicken, a good salad sprinkle and an all-around handy item in the kitchen.

Kosher salt is just right for seasoning food during the cooking process. I keep a small bowl of it next to the stove so that I can add a pinch here and there until it is just right. It is easier to control the amount that way. Note that it is not quite as salty as the regular stuff. Sea salt has a tremendous flavor, but loses it when cooked, and does not disolve in baked goods. It is good as a finishing salt, or as table salt. All of my shakers have sea salt in them.

I tend to chop garlic rather than run it through a garlic press most of the time. The smaller you chop/crush it, the more bitter it becomes. Some recipes require it to be tiny, but most do not.

Fresh basil and thyme are worth having around. Buying them in little packages is expensive and they are not very fresh or tasty. You can buy the whole plant for $2.00 or less, then pick off all of the leaves. You can then either toss it or plant it, either way you save money and your food tastes better.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a staple. This is not the stuff in the green can, but the real, imported cheese from Italy. You can buy a huge wedge of it, at a relatively reasonable price at Costco. I cut it into chunks and vacuum seal them, so it will keep for months. I use a microplane grater to shred it up unbelievably fast and easy into a mound of fine slivers. I save the heel or rind of the cheese to throw into most any soup that I make, it adds tremendous flavor and makes use of every bit, which makes good sense. My husband likes to spread the softened cheese on bread when the soup is ready.

Get cooking!

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