Looking for a simple way to use up some of the extra vegatables you have laying around the house?
Today I tried roasting some veggies after tossing them with olive oil, dried thyme, salt, pepper, and a touch of paprika. The preperation was very simple. I used potatoes, broccoli, purple bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic. I chopped everything into medium peices and put everything into a large bowl. I poured the olive oil over the vegetables, probably about 2 tablespoons if I had to guess. Added the spices; 1/2 table spoon of dried thyme, 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley, 1teaspoon paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. My measurements are all estimates, I belong to the “dash of pepper, pinch of paprika” school of cooking.
I dumped all the vegetables into a Pyrex baking dish, pre heated the oven to 425 and put the dish on the middle rack. I left it in for 50 min.
It turned out pretty ok for a first try. The key is figuring out what size to cut the vegetable. Slow cookers like the potatoes need to be pretty small or you end up overcooking the other ingredients I think I will play with the spices next time around. This version was a little bland for my taste. I might try to get some lemon juice or zest mixed in there.
Give it a try!
I have discovered the secret to great tasting rice. This revelation originated from an unlikely source. I was preparing a slow cooker roast last week and decided to use half water and half chicken stock. You see, I have been playing around with making my own stock using the bones and leftovers from an oven roasted chicken. As I watch the giant chicken stock ice cube (I store my stock in containers in the freezer) melt into the crock pot I start to chop the potatoes, carrots, and onions. Suddenly I’m struck with a bright idea. Why not keep the carrot ends, onion peals, garlic skins and other scraps and try to make some kind of vegetable stock with them? The vegetables were pealed, chopped, and put into the roast to be forgotten for fourteen to sixteen hours, and I was left with a big beautiful pile of vegetable matter that in days past would have proceeded directly to into the trash. Only this time, they were destined for greater things.
This new cooking adventure started with the leftovers from some onions, carrots, and a red bell pepper. I added four cloves of rough chopped garlic, a stem of rosemary, some thyme, and two bay leaves for good measure. I put everything into a large stock pot and covered it with a good volume of cold water. This heap of scraps previously known as trash was covered and put on a burner over medium low heat to simmer. After thirty minutes I lifted the lid on the pot to check things out. My stock was happily bubbling and burping away, putting off a wonderful smell. About two hours later I took my stock pot off the stove and let it cool for a little while. Once cooled, I poured the stock through a strainer, and filled a few containers to be put into the freezer until some undetermined time in the future when I might use it for… something.
Jumping forward a week or so, I was getting ready to start a batch of gallo pinto. This is one of my favorite versions of beans and rice, common in Costa Rico and Nicaragua. Have no fear; I will be doing a separate post about this dish at some point. The first step to making gallo pinto is to cook up two cups of brown rice. As I’m measuring the water for my rice, inspiration strikes. “WAIT!” I yell. My wife responds from the living room “What are you talking about, I’m not doing anything.” After mourning the fact that she can’t read my mind I tell her “don’t mind me, just doing a little cooking.” My outburst resulted from the realization that this was the perfect time to use my vegetable stock. With glee, I thawed the stock and replaced the water with the aromatic amber result of my first venture into vegetable stock.
Forty five minuets later, with visions of yummy rice dancing through my head I removed the rice from the stove. To my delight, the stock had imparted an entirely new and wonderful flavor on the rice. All this fit perfectly into my plan to use this rice for gallo pinto, as this rice and beans dish can be a little bland if not spiced up properly.
The gallo pinto turned out wonderful. The rice cooked with vegetable stock added a layer of flavor to the dish that was missing all along. Now that I have made this discovery, I would miss the newfound flavor if it was gone.To think, I have improved one of my favorite dishes just by taking the extra time to boil some vegetable scraps. No fancy ingredients or expensive equipment needed, just a little experimentation. My discovery has led me to keep a large zip lock bag in the freezer, any time I chop and clean vegetables I contribute the leftovers to a future batch of stock. I am sure my next batch will taste a little different than the first, but I believe that’s part of the fun of cooking. I find I am happiest and end up with better tasting food when I throw a few things in a pot or pan and see how it turns out.
So that first post was written about two years ago. I have finally taken the initiative to get this blog up and running. I’m still poor, tired of eating fast food, and trying to expand my cooking chops. I have made a lot of progress in those two years. I have a lot of the cooking basics down, and have started to experiment a little. I would like to share a few things I have learned along the way, and maybe record a few new endeavors.
Firsts things first, making a good home cooked meal is exponentially easier if you have a well provisioned kitchen. What you have in your pantry is directly related to how quickly and easily you are able to cook a good, nutritious dinner. One of the first excuses to pass my lips when I don’t want to cook is “We don’t have anything to make!” This tends to lead to an expensive and fatty dinner out. When you keep a few basics around at all times it’s much harder to make that excuse. What ingredients do I keep around the house? Since you asked…
Rice: I go for the long grain brown rice in the bag. I’m talking the kind you have to cook for 45 minutes here. It sounds like a long time, but with a little planning you can cook larger batches less often. I must admit, I also keep a smaller box of minute rice around for those days that weren’t planned so well.
Beans: I keep both dried and canned beans in my pantry. I have been making a serious effort to use more dry beans lately. As with the rice, some planning is needed for your dry beans endeavors. We will talk much more about beans later on.
Tuna: Some people aren’t big fans of tuna, I love it. Its cheap, healthy, never spoils, and it works in many dishes.
Potatoes: I keep a bag of red potatoes in the house all the time. They come in handy in a lot of dishes, and keep for a long time.
Onions: I buy white onions by the bag. A few bucks for a bag gives you great flavor on sandwiches, salads, and just about anything you can fry in a pan, boil in a pot, or bake in an oven.
Other Vegetables: This is where it gets a little tricky. I love to have fresh vegetables in the house. The problem is they don’t stay fresh very long. I don’t keep any one thing in the house all the time, but rotate depending on my mood. Most common are green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. I find putting a simple salad with bright green lettuce and the red tomatoes on the table with an otherwise dull dinner makes everything look more exciting. Broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, and carrots are also semi regular guests in my refrigerator.
Oils and Fats: There is always a big bottle of vegetable oil, and another of olive oil in my cupboard. There are many specialty oils available in most supermarkets, I usually buy these in smaller bottles and only use them from time to time. I also save grease from bacon, and the fat left over after I roast a chicken. These are kept in jars in the refrigerator. I normally have a few sticks of butter around as well.
Vinegar: I keep a bottle of distilled white vinegar alongside a bottle of balsamic in my kitchen.
Herbs: I like to have some fresh herbs in the refrigerator most of the time. Basil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and oregano would be common in my house. As with the fresh veggies, I don’t always have these because they tend to spoil quickly. I do always keep dried basil, oregano, and parsley on hand.
Spices: I always have a good variety of spices. Sometimes I pick something up at the store just because I have never used it. I suggest cumin, chili powder, paprika, season salt, and plain old salt and pepper as a starter kit. If you have none of these, pick up some salt and pepper, add the rest to your cabinet as you go. Your dried spices and herbs will last anywhere from one to three years on the shelf. If you open a container and can’t immediately smell the contents, its time to spring for a new bottle.
Flour: I like to have a bag of white all purpose flour, and a bag of whole wheat flour around. I have been working on my bread baking skills, so I also keep a bottle of active dry yeast in the refrigerator.
You might notice that I don’t have any meat on the list. I’m not a vegetarian, on the contrary, I really love a good pork chop, or roast chicken. We also do a fair amount of grilling at my house. Meat is not included on my list because it can be expensive and some types don’t keep for very long. I normally buy some type of meat once or twice a week, but don’t consider it one of the staples needed for a good pantry.
There you have it! This may look like a pretty overwhelming list. For anyone starting from scratch, I suggest you pick up two or three of these items each time you are in the store. You will have a well outfitted kitchen in no time. With these basics, there is nothing stopping you from becoming a great chef. With a little practice, you will be making the kind of dishes you wish you had been eating all along.
I’m tired of cookbooks. I am too poor, and too lazy. Like most, pretty much any time I need a meal the first thing I do is consider how long it will take me to get to the nearest drive-thru. Now and then I may actually pull out the lunch meat to make a sandwich, but that’s about as far as I go in the kitchen. I have always wanted to do more, but have never made the effort.
Over the course of the last year I have begun to realize how much money my wife and I actually spend on all this crappy food. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Smithfield’s (a local BBQ fast food joint) have taken too much of my hard earned dough. I’m done driving through to exchange my cash for fatty, salty, and occasionally nasty slop.
One day, while forcing down the remainder of my Baconator I started to add up how much it cost to feed my wife and I. I figure I eat fast food for five lunches a week. Let’s assume each of those lunches cost five dollars (I’m sure you agree that is a conservative guess). Add in another twenty five dollars a week for my wife’s lunches, and we are already up to two hundred dollars a month. About once a week my lovely wife and I go for a pizza, maybe some gyros, or if we are feeling frisky, a dinner at the chain restaurant. We do this probably once a week or so. We spend around thirty dollars on each of these meals. Our remaining meals consist of things like toast, cereal, sandwiches, leftovers and frozen dinners. When you add up all the lunches and dinners out, we come up with three hundred and twenty dollars. Then you tack on about two hundred and fifty dollars a month spent at the grocery for mac and cheese, hamburger helper, deli meat and other lazy man cooking supplies, we come up with the magic number of… FIVE HUNDERD AND SEVENTY DOLLARS!!! I know that’s not the highest monthly food bill ever, but to feeding a small family of two, it’s much too high in my book.
I have decided to fight back. I am going to learn to cook. I’m going to be looking for simple recipes. I don’t want to make anything that requires ingredients I can’t find at a basic grocery store. I will also be looking for dishes that don’t take a ton of work. I don’t want to stand in front of an oven all day long just to say I saved some money. And finally, I will try to make meals that taste good. No one wants to eat plain rice and boiled chicken breast for dinner every night. I will post the recipes I try, good or bad, and a little discussion about how it all worked out.