31 October 2009

Panel Series: Cooking

Hello and Happy Halloween everyone! Thanks for taking a break from your spooky festivities to check out the last post for my cooking panel series. I hope you enjoy starting a bit later than usual today since I know many of you may have been off to Halloween parties and watching scary movies until the haunting hours of the night. Before sitting down, please make your way to the table in the back where we have some witches brew, devilish eggs, lady fingers, and of course caramel apples. Enjoy.

Crunch Time: It's time for dinner and you spent too much time (reading, crafting, guest blogging) and you need to get food on the table fast. What do you do? Does this never happen to you? Any time savers you would love to share? This is also a great time to divulge any other bits of wisdom that I've forgotten to ask about!

Jaime: I always keep ingredients for quick, easy meals around! My best fast meals are:

Tacos: Ground beef, seasoning packets, cand of black beans, can of tomato sauce, tortiaas, and hopefully salsa and sourn cream. I suually always have lettuce for the tacos and typically also have onions, peppers, and corn to throw in with the meat and beans for some color and flavor.

Stir Fry: Veggies plus chicken with some sauce from the fridge and voila.

Spaghetti: Crushed tomatoes with some garlic, onions, peppers sautéed in a little EVOO plus some seasoning over noodles. Easy cheesy. Sometimes I put in spicy sausage.

Pizza: I have a no-rise pizza crust recipe so I can throw that togetehr in the bread maker and let it knead while I make the sauce (pretty mucht he same as above for spaghetti), then we throw on whatever--I usually have either Canadian bacon or pepperoni, but if not, then I always have cheeses and veggies.

Frozen food: When in a real crunch for time.

Michelle: If I'm really running short on time, I might make breakfast for dinner. Belgian waffles from a good mix (Aunt Jemima is one) are always welcome with my family. Or pancakes, bacon, and eggs.

On a busy day, I might grab a rotisserie chicken while I'm out. That's one of my favorite shortcuts--tasty and versatile.

Another fast favorite is soft tacos: I spray corn tortillas with Pam, sprinkle with salt, and warm in a small skillet. Fill with leftover chicken and/or beans, canned corn, salsa, and cheese. Top with a dab of sour cream.

Ditto with burritos. I never get tired of burritos! And with Costco's delicious uncooked tortillas (cook as you use them) they are even better. In fact, even quesadillas are a treat with those tortillas.

I am never sorry when I think to pull out my Crockpot in the morning. I can prepare dinner while I have plenty of energy, and then it is ready when everyone is hungry, that is the best solution to crunch time I can think of! There are so many Crockpot recipes available online, there is even a blog dedicated to it (which probably most of you already know about).

I read once about a technique that I would love to try: after planning your meals for the week and buying the groceries, pre-chop all the vegetables and bag all necessary ingredients for each meal together in Ziplocs, thus saving tons of prep time when you're ready to cook.

The one time-saver I frequently use is to buy in bulk when there is a good price on things like lemons, bell peppers, chicken breasts, etc. I trim and separate the chicken and freeze in packs of two, chop the peppers and freeze in Ziplocs, juice the lemons and freeze the juice and so forth. When basil is in season, you can make and freeze pesto. When berries are cheap and plentiful, I freeze them for smoothies or desserts later. I don't often freeze entire meals, but I usually have a good stock of frozen ingredients that I can pull out and use when I'm low on fresh meats and produce.

Sarah: When I am in a crunch my go-to meal is pasta. A simple sauce with shrimp and spaghetti always seems delicious and really quick. Fish is always nice to have in the freezer – thaws quickly and cooks just as fast. Sometimes I will take a prepackaged meal and “doctor-it-up” so it doesn’t taste so packaged. Simply sautéing garlic and onions and adding it to a jarred sauce makes it taste homemade. Or adding shredded cabbage, carrots, and chicken to ramen noodles seems like you made it yourself.

Freezing dinners is great plan ahead. You can call your family when you are running late and they can pop it in the oven/crockpot/microwave to get it ready. Its amazing what you can freeze – double a soup recipe and freeze half in a ziplock bag. Take frozen cheese ravioli and layer with sauce and it becomes a real simple lasagna.
Final words of wisdom: Experiment! Be adventurous! It might be good!

Staci: Ah-hum. Could you pass the mic over here please? Thanks.

Mandy (I know you don’t go by that name now, but it’s what I called you for 25+ years. It’s hard for me to change!), thank you for asking me to participate. I’ve really enjoyed examining and documenting my methods and learning about how it’s done in other homes. It’s made me look twice at how I run my kitchen. I’ve rearranged a couple of cupboards – relocated my spices and cookbooks, and cleaned out my storage area – Found some R-E-A-L-L-Y old garlic. Wow! How did I miss that?!

Ok – so what do I do when my boys’ moods have soured, everyone is grumpy, and it finally dawns on me that it’s 8:00 and my boys haven’t had dinner yet? I have two standbys.
  1. Pancakes – I use a Lehi Roller Mills Mix and am completely lost when I let my supply run out. I don’t deal in small, grocery store size bags of this stuff. We lean toward the 25 pound bags. This should tell you that we eat lots of pancakes. Sometimes I shake things up and we do waffles, but that’s only when I have a few extra minutes.
  2. Grilled Cheese – We are dunkers around here, so grilled cheese sandwiches are served up with bowls of home-preserved peaches. (Thank you Grandma & Grandpa Hill!!! I didn’t do a single jar this year and yet my peach shelf is fairly well stocked. Hallelujah!) There’s something amazing about dunking all that melted-cheese gooeyness into the peach juice. The boys like grilled cheese made with white bread and cheddar cheese. They also like the individually packaged cheese because of how it melts. My hubby and I have a little more distinctive taste. We like our grilled cheese made out of rye and swiss or havarti. That is good eating! The bookfair (I’m one of the 2 coordinators) has a cookbook for 50+ grilled cheese creations. I can’t imagine that many variations, but I think I may have to purchase that thing.

During my regular dinner preparations I will sometimes split a casserole. Instead of making a 9 x 13, I’ll make 2 8x8 pans. One of them will go in the oven, and one gets wax papered, aluminum foiled, and ziploc’d to put in the freezer. This has been wonderful if I know things are going to be hectic, and I need a meal in a hurry. I’ll put the unwrapped frozen casserole in the oven, and then set my oven for delayed bake. This has worked like a charm!

Another time saver is your crockpot. Become well acquainted with this appliance. Here is my hint: anything that can be cooked in a dutch oven can also be cooked in a crock pot. Explore! Enjoy! And DO NOT LIFT THE LID!!!

And there you have it! Once again, huge and gigantic thanks to all of our panelists. We've all learned so much from you and I hope you had fun taking part in the panel discussion. It was definitely fun for me and I and truly appreciate having you all as guests on my blog. Thanks also to those of you who came to read every week. I hope you a great time. Also, feel free to make suggestions for future panel discussion topics. I'd be happy to do more of these if there is interest.


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