Tag Archive 'cooking'

Apr 09 2009

Herbs and Spices.

Published by under Food Products,In The Kitchen

If you do any cooking at all, you are going to want to have some herbs and spices on hand.  Even Colonel Sanders had his special blend of herbs and spices, and look what that did for him!  These little gems are pretty important to almost every dish you can make, but it can be confusing for beginning cooks or those with limited space to know which to have on hand.  The herbs and spices you want to keep in your kitchen depends on the kinds of foods you like to cook.  If you’re like me, and cook a bit of everything, then you may think you’ll need to keep a lot of things around you, but since so many herbs are multi-taskers, I think you’ll find that you don’t need a lot of little jars to make a big impact.

Another question is: fresh or dried?  Again, this depends on your cooking style.  I mostly opt for dried, just because there is a longer shelf life.  However, for some foods, I will pick up fresh herbs, especially if it’s the first time I’ve made a recipe and it specifically calls for fresh.  Just remember that dried herbs are more potent than fresh.  If you’re going to substitute, a good rule of thumb is to sub 1 teaspoon of dried for every tablespoon of fresh the recipe calls for.  And sometimes – like when making a cheeseball or a salad – you’ll just want to use fresh no matter what.   Also, dried herbs do lose their potency over time!  If it’s six months old, throw it out and replace it.

Before we talk specifics, there are a few staples that you’re going to want to keep around no matter what.  With these, you can season just about anything successfully.  The staples are:  salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley.  These four things go with everything.  Now, keep in mind that better quality is going to get you better results, and there are fun subcategories to explore (such as kosher or seasoned salt, and a range of peppercorns), but in general, I would keep both kosher and iodized (or table) salt on hand, and both whole peppercorns (in a grinder) and the stuff that comes in a can.  The thyme and parsley I keep on hand in their dry forms, and I will occasionally bring in fresh of each, depending on what I’m making (potato skins are another thing that need fresh).

OK, so now you’ve got your four staples, but you’re interested in expanding out and trying new things.  Here’s a list of meats (or flavors), and some of the herbs and spices that complement them.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you going.  Also, just assume that each list also includes thyme and parsley, because, as I said, they go with everything:

  • Beef: marjoram (not margarine, even though they sound alike), chives, rosemary, ground mustard, ginger
  • Mutton: mint, dill, rosemary
  • Pork: rosemary, pineapple sage, savory
  • Poultry: tarragon, sage, paprika, ground mustard, lovage*
  • Fish: fennel, dill, savory, lemon balm, ginger
  • Non-fish seafood (like lobster): dill, tarragon, basil, lemon balm, lovage
  • Eggs: chervil, basil, chives, tarragon
  • Salad: savory, marjoram, basil, ginger

*It may be hard to find lovage, as it is not a commonly used herb, at least in the USA.

When seasoning, remember that more is not always better.  Don’t pile all your herbs on at once – add one at a time, and see how you like it.  You may find that you like a dish better when it contains only one or two herbs or spices as opposed to four or five.  The purpose of herbs is not to overwhelm the taste of the main ingredient, but rather to provide a subtle change in flavor.

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Feb 21 2009

Stupid cookbooks.

Published by under In The Kitchen

I don’t know why I listen to recipes when they talk about the time needed to roast meat.  It’s never an accurate time.  For instance, today I have a 1.5 lb. pork tenderloin in the oven, which my cookbook assured me should only need to roast 25 minutes at 400 degrees to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  When I took it out of the oven 25 minutes later, the internal temperature was 96 degrees.  Awesome.

I know how long it takes to roast a pork loin.  Why didn’t I just do what I always do?  Because I trusted the cookbook.  Stupid.

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Dec 24 2008

Christmas (or anytime) Fudge

Published by under Recipes

Yesterday, I ventured into the world of candy making for the very first time.  I decided to make fudge.  However, I didn’t have a candy thermometer, which most fudge recipes in my books seem to require.  Lucky for me, the Better Homes and Gardens NEW Cook Book came through with a recipe that didn’t require precise temperature monitoring.  It’s a fudge recipe tailor-made for someone like me, who can’t read thermometers.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but, as you’ll soon see, I was stirring for a long time, and besides, I didn’t know if this was actually going to work.  This recipe makes about four pounds of fudge.


  • a 13x9x2 pan, lined with aluminum foil.  Make sure the foil goes up and over the sides for easy extraction later.
  • a heavy, 3 qt. saucepan.  I used a ceramic glazed cast-iron dutch oven, because I didn’t have a 3 qt. saucepan.
  • a stirrin’ spoon.  I used a wooden one, for that authentic, candy-making feel.


  • 4 cups of sugar
  • 2 5-ounce cans evaporated milk
  • 1 cup butter (plus some extra for buttering your foil and saucepan)
  • 1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 7-ounce dark or milk chocolate candy bar, cut up.  This is totally optional, but why not add more chocolate if you have an opportunity?  I went to the World Foods aisle of my grocery store and grabbed two 3.5-ounce Milka bars from Germany.  I figured if I was adding a candy bar, I wanted a good quality one.
  • 1 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme.  It’s sticky!
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts.  Also optional.  I hate nuts in my fudge, so I left them out.
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Line your 13x9x2 baking pan with foil.  Butter the foil (make sure you get the sides, too) and set aside.

Butter the sides of your saucepan (or in my case, glazed dutch oven). In the saucepan, combine sugar, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture boils.  This is going to take awhile, so bring a book or something.  Once mixture boils, reduce heat to medium.  Continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.  When it’s boiling, it will look like the dense head of a good beer.

Remove pan from the heat.  Add chocolate pieces, cut up candy bar (if you’re using it), marshmallow creme, walnuts (if you’re using them), and vanilla.  Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is combined.  I kept stirring it until the streaks of marshmallow were gone and everything looked uniform.

Now for the hard part:  Beat by hand for one minute.  This means, take that spoon and stir the crap out of that thick, gooey, chocolate mixture, as hard and as fast as you can, for one whole minute.  One minute isn’t really that long…unless you happen to be beating fudge by hand.  Ow.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Allow to cool at room temperature; DO NOT COOL IN THE REFRIGERATOR.   If you put it in the fridge at this point, condensation will form and ruin your candy.  While the fudge is still warm (about 1.5 – 2 hours into cooling) you can score it into 1-inch squares.  I would only do this if you plan on serving it all at once in bite-sized pieces.  If you are making it to freeze and eat later, wait until the fudge is totally cooled, lift it out of the pan (using the handy foil that you made sure went up and over the sides), and cut it into blocks for freezing.  It will store better in larger chunks than in bite-sized pieces.

If you’re going to eat all this within a week, you can store on the counter in an air-tight container.  Just put wax paper between layers of fudge.  For longer storage (2 – 3 weeks), store in the fridge in an air-tight container, again with wax paper between layers.

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Nov 20 2008

Chicken and Rice

Published by under Recipes

This is a very traditional, easy, tasty dish that I’ve been eating since I was just a little kid.  It’s so easy and traditional that most of you are probably going “Chicken and Rice? Does anyone NOT know how to make that?”  OK, this post is not for you, then.  It’s for the poor person out there who knows diddly-poo about cooking and is desperately looking for some hard-to-ruin recipes.  Dear Desperate Person: this post is for you.

The recipe is found once again in my trusty church cookbook, and there’s not much to it.  One nice thing about this is that it is pretty easy to substitute healthier ingredients, if you’re a health-conscious kind of person.

You will need:

  • 1 package of chicken.  I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts – my local grocery sells them 3-4 in a pack.  My mother and grandmother both use a selection of bone-in, skin-on pieces.  It’s a matter of personal preference.
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup.  I use the store brand.  You can sub in the low-sodium version.
  • 1 package dry onion soup mix.  Again, I use the store brand.
  • 3/4 cup dry, uncooked, long-grained white rice.

The recipe says to lightly grease a 13×9 casserole dish, but I don’t like using one that big, since I never make this using a whole chicken, which is what the recipe calls for.  Consequently, if I use a 13×9, the chicken pieces in my dish never get fully submerged and some of the outsides get dry.  I like to use one of my dutch ovens, but mine are ceramic coated.  I’m not sure how it would work in regular cast iron – I imagine it would be fine as long as the iron is seasoned properly.  A smaller casserole would work as well.

Anyway, get your vessel of choice, lightly grease it up with shortening, and arrange the chicken in it. Because I use such a (comparatively) small vessel, my chicken is all crammed together on the bottom.  This is fine – you just probably don’t want the pieces stacked on top of each other.

In a medium bowl, combine the cream of chicken soup, two soup cans of water, the onion soup, and the rice.  Mix together.  Now, here’s another step added that my recipe book doesn’t have:  one you have all this stuff mixed, let it sit in its bowl for about 30 minutes.  I never used to do this, and my rice would end up all crunchy and not as good as I remembered.  I asked my Grandma, and she told me to let the mix sit so the rice would soak up some liquid.  I did, and the next time it was perfect!  This is also a good time to turn on your oven and preheat it to 350°F (176°C), and get your chicken out of the fridge so it can lose some of its “just out of the refrigerator” chill.

Once you’ve let your mix sit, pour it over the chicken.  Place the uncovered dish in the oven and cook for about two hours.

That’s it!  You have your main dish and a side dish all in one pan.  Serve and enjoy.  Stores very well, and the leftovers heat up nicely.

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Jul 01 2008

Quick Chili.

Published by under Recipes

This post has been lingering in my Drafts folder for months, so I decided to bring it out into the daylight, especially since I plan on cooking up and freezing a batch of chili this week.

Here’s another recipe from my Grandma.

I love chili on a cold day. It is guaranteed to both warm me up and fill my stomach quickly. I always try to serve chili with fresh bread so that I can sop up every last bit of goodness. This recipe is easy, quick, and doesn’t require a lot of different ingredients. Perfect for those who don’t like to fuss too much with their dinner (that would be me). This chili heats up very well. We always end up eating it for lunch for the next couple of days.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground beef (I use an 83/17 Chuck, but you can use whatever you like)
  • 3 cans condensed tomato soup
  • 2-3 cans of water
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cans of dark red kidney beans, UNDRAINED (I use the Bush’s Seasoned Recipe)
  • Chili powder
  • Salt and pepper

Prep time is about 15 minutes. Cook time is 30 minutes.

First you’ll need to dice your onion. Then, put it and the meat into a large, high-sided pan or a large pot, depending on what you’ve got available. I use a 12″ pan with 2.5″ high sides and everything fits nicely. Brown the meat and onion on high, then drain. Set your heat to medium.

Next, add in your “wet” ingredients. Plop in the tomato soup, and add in 2 can-fulls of water. You can add the third later if you decide you want a soupier texture. Add in the kidney beans as well – make sure you don’t drain them. The beans and their packing juice go into the pot. Stir everything around. You want to bring this to a slow bubble, then back the heat off ’til you’re at a simmer. You’ll simmer for 30 minutes, total.

It looks kind of anemic, I know, but it will thicken up as you cook. Mine gets darker as well, I’m not sure if that’s from cooking or from the chili powder. Speaking of . . .

While your chili is simmering, you’re going to start to add your chili powder. This is entirely a matter of taste, so the first time you make this, add slowly and keep tasting until you find a heat level you like. You can take this recipe from very bland to spicy, depending on how much chili powder you add. Remember to allow the chili to cook for a couple of minutes between adds to give the powder a chance to incorporate. I usually end up adding about 1/3 a bottle of powder (my bottle size is 4.5 oz).  If I eyeball it, it looks like 1/4c of powder, give or take a bit.

Remember to give your chili a stir every now and then after you’ve added the chili powder.  You want to make sure everything is mixing well.

See?  Darker.  This is what it looks like after it’s cooked for about 25 minutes.  All the chunky stuff is hiding at the bottom.
I like to leave the salt and pepper until the end. A few minutes before I’m ready to serve, I’ll give it a taste and decide if it needs any additional seasoning. I usually end up throwing in 1 tsp. of kosher salt and a bunch of grinds of black pepper, just because I believe everything benefits from salt and pepper.

The really nice thing about this recipe is that it’s good as-is, or makes a nice “base” if you’re looking to get creative. Add some herbs, add more veggies, try different meats (venison chili, anyone?), whatever you like. If you have fresh cilantro, throw it in the pot! If you have leftover ground turkey, throw it in the pot! If you like corn in your chili (why you would, I don’t know, but some do), throw it in the pot! Give it a few shakes of Tobasco, or maybe add a little Worcestershire. Chili is pretty versatile, so do some experimenting.

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