Archived entries for quick tips and shortcuts

Fresh Baked Bread: DAILY!

Now that we are a family of four, we go through bread quickly.  I felt like I was always having to run to the store to get some.  Finally, I just thought, I’ve seriously got to start making my own bread.  Ha! Yeah, right.  When am I going to find the time.  So…I got a bread machine!

Yeah, I said it.  I got a bread machine.  You can get one too.  Just ask your Mom if you can have the one she got during the craze of the late 90′s and then hid in the basement when the Atkins frenzy hit and demonized bread and those evil carbs as the worst villain of the new millenia.  Is it cheating to make bread in a machine? Oh, who cares?? We have fresh baked bread everyday.

To make it simple, every Sunday, I premix the dry batter for a whole weeks worth of loafs.  Placing one batch in the machine bowl and then the rest in 6 mason jars.  That way, every night before bed, I can just throw the dry ingredients into the bowl with the water, add the yeast, press start and go to bed. When I wake up, bread! Yum.  Easy.  End of story.

And yes, I know the bread from the machine has those weird butts where the paddle kneads the bread.  I just cut off that end, dry it out and use it for bread crumbs.  Multitasking!

Easy Roasted Marinara

Have a ready to go marinara in the pantry is one of the best time savers for an easy weeknight pasta dinner.  After spending an hour or two skinning tomatoes for canning my whole tomatoes, I very rarely have the patience to do any more putzy work.  I love my roasted marinara, because its super simple and requires very little work.  I just throw a bunch of cored tomatoes into a roasting pan with a few onions, garlic and a bit of spice and slow roast until nicely cooked. Blenderize into a sauce and then can.  EASY!  I’ve blogged about it before, but here’s my general recipe.

Easy Roasted Marinara

  • 10-20 lbs tomatoes
  • 2-3 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • head of garlic, husks removed
  • 1-2 Tbs dried thyme
  • 1-2 Tbs dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Core tomatoes and remove any bruised or damaged areas.  Cut into large chunks.  Mix ingredients together in 1 or 2 large roasters. Lightly coat in oil.

Place in oven and roast 3-5 hours.  Mix occasionally.  I roast until excess tomato juice has been reduced and there is a light crust of blackened tomatoes/onions.  Remove from oven and allow to cool down enough to touch.

Start water boiling in your canning pot.  Heat enough water to cover jars 1″ when placed in canner.  Allow for water displacement of filled jars.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend until you a desired consistency.  Season to taste. Bring marinara back up to a boil on stove top.

Wash enough clean glass jars for your marinara.  Dip in boiling water to temper glass for boiling marinara.  Sterilize canning lids in boiling water.  Pour marinara in jars leaving 1/2″ head space.  Wipe edges of jar to remove any materials which might impede lids from sealing. Remove air bubbles from jar. I usually use a chopstick. Top with sterilized canning lid and ring.

Process in boiling water canner. 40 minutes for pints. 45 minutes for quarts. Beginning timing when water in canner comes back to a rolling boil. When time is up, remove from water and allow to cool on counter top. Do not jostle jars as it can impede a proper seal.

Once jars are cooled and sealed, mark with contents and date. Put in your pantry and feel good about a job well done!

Quick Tip: Revitalize Your Sludgy Tahini

I love making hummus, so I always have a jar or two of Tahini, a sesame seed paste around the house.  One thing I’ve noticed is that over time the oil in the tahini will often separate leaving a hard dry sludge in the bottom of the jar that is difficult to remove.  You can avoid this by periodically stirring the tahini to keep it from separating, but over the long winter months when the jar often goes untouched, its easy to forget.  In the past, I’ve just thrown these jars out, but I hate waste. I’ve had two jars lingering in my pantry with the hard sludge, and I refuse to be beaten down. So earlier today, I took care of business and I put some new life in the hardened sludge.

Quick Tip: Revitalize Your Sludgy Tahini:

If you have any jars of tahini which have hardened, use a knife or a sharp spoon to scoop out the dried tahini. Put in a food processor with a few Tbs of olive oil. The amount of oil will depend on your tahini, about 1 Tbs olive oil for every cup. Pulse in food processor until the tahini becomes smooth again and place back in your jar.  Easy!

Quick Tip: DIY Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are just that: crumbs of bread. I refuse to buy breadcrumbs because I always have unused slices of bread laying around the house.  Making breadcrumbs is easy and quick, so why not try this quick tip!

Forakble Tip: Instead of throwing away the butts of your bread, or that loaf that is almost going bad, just throw it into your freezer.  Keep collecting until you have a bag full of bread and you can make one big batch of crumbs.

Making Breadcrumbs:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lay out the bread on the wire racks.  Toast each side for about 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.  You want the bread to be completely dried out.  Place bread in a food processor or a blender and leave on until all chunks are broken down.*  Store in a dry, air tight glass jar.  Breadcrumbs remain good for up to a year.

*You might want to do a test piece first, to make sure its dried out.  If it doesn’t want to break down nice, its probably because there is some moisture still left in the bread.  If so, put bread back in oven for 5 minutes or so, until its complete dried out.

Quick Tip: How To Use Broccoli Stems

photo by Flickr user: Trazy

Of course, the best part of the Broccoli plant are the florets, which make for a great quick side dish, cut off the stems and steamed with butter and salt.  But what do you do with the stems? Throw them away?  No way!  Here at Forkable, we like to use every part of the pig.  Underneath their woody skin, which can easily be removed using a potato peeler, lurks a soft and yummy interior.  To save time, I keep a bag in the freezer where I can throw the stems after I cut the florets off.  When I’ve collected enough stems, I then use them to make a big batch of cream of broccoli soup.  Yum!

Cream of Broccoli (Stem) Soup

  • broccoli stems,
  • equal amount potatoes
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • milk to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare broccoli stems: Using a potato peeler, remove stringy fibrous skin of stems.  I defrost my stems by leaving in the fridge over night, but I think it would work having them be frozen as well.  Chop stems up into approx. inch long sections.

Start Soup: Saute onions in 1-2 Tbs of olive oil until clear.  If you have  a lot of stems (3-5 lbs) you can use two onions, otherwise, one medium sized one is fine.   Skin potatoes (if you want, the skin is pretty healthy so I usually leave on), and chop into large chunks: quarters or sixths.  Add potatoes and broccoli to pot.  Add stock until all ingredients are just covered.  Bring to a boil and then down to a simmer.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until veggies are falling apart.

Mix soup:  Once all ingredients are super soft, blend either using an immersion blender or in a food processor until your desired consistency.  If you want it to be chunky, just a few light pulses will do.  Add a bit of milk to up the creamy-ness and season using salt and pepper.  You can start with just 1/2 c. milk and 1 tsp salt and add more from there to meet your needs.  Keep adding salt until you get the right flavor.  Remember, its easier to add more then to take away too much.

Eat your soup: Yum.  Feel good you just made a delicious soup from parts of the plant you might not otherwise have eaten.  Great job!  Its fun to feel good about being thrifty while you eat a delicious meal.  Enjoy.

Freezing Food For After Baby Comes: 4 Dishes to Make Life Easier

I’ve got less then one week before my due date, and still so much yet undone.  One of my main to-do items is preparing a few dishes in bulk I can freeze in single serving portions for a quick dinner after baby comes.  Everyone has been warning me that after the baby arrives, I won’t be up for cooking much.  I’m sort of feeling that way already and the baby isn’t even here yet!  I’ve been working all year on cleaning out my freezer to make room.  Now I’ve got to fill it up again.  I’m trying to keep things simple, so I’m only going to prepare 3-4 things which don’t take a lot of energy.  Its a time for comfort food, so I’ve selected a few of my favorite easy to make dishes.

1.  Lamb Chili.

Lamb Chili is one of my favorite dishes, as I’ve posted in the past.  It’s easy to make in a large batch, requires very little energy to whip together and freezes like a dream.  I’m making a triple batch as we speak and will spoon out into large yogurt containers to freeze.

2.  Lasagna

Who doesn’t love lasagna?  Although a bit putzy to make, I can easily make two trays at once and then freeze them in individual containers to easy reheat.  Any dish with melted cheese is a comfort food for me!

3.  Roasted Chicken in a Skillet Dinner

This dinner is pretty fast and easy on its own, but to speed up time, I’m going to pre-saute the onion/celery mixture used for the stuffing base and freeze it.  This will allow me to just throw all the ingredients into a pan and bake when I’m ready.

4. Broccoli Soup

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User: Musicpb

I can’t believe I’ve never posted a Broccoli soup recipe before!  I love it.  Its easy and delicious.  I’ve been eating tons of broccoli during my pregnancy (it is a superfood!).  I’ve been cutting off the florets and steaming them for a quick side dish, and just throwing the stems into the freezer.  Now, I have TONS of broccoli stems.  Time to make them into soup!  I plan on using a simple recipe.  When heating up, I can add a bit of blue cheese to add some pizzazz!


So I warn you, I’m due any minute.  I’ve got a few blog posts lined up immediately  following the birth, but I may not be as good at updating over the next month or two, with a new baby.  However, keep checking in.  I don’t plan on giving up on this blog!

Faux “Sun Dried” Tomatoes

Oven dried tomatoes with rosemary and thyme.

I can hear you asking what the hell are Faux “sun dried” Tomatoes.  No, the tomato is not a fake, its just the “sun dried” process which we’re going to expedite.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE sun dried tomatoes!  The drying process intensifies the depth and sweetness of the tomato flavor as it removes the extra water weight.  My love for these dried treats does not extend to their expensive price.  My default when confronted with expensive food items is to think how I can make it myself.  The rub is, I am also too lazy to actually sun dry anything!  I’m generally a bit too unorganized to think days in advance.  However, there is an answer.  We can speed up this process by using modern technology! Lets make “oven dried” tomatoes!

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

  • 2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1½ tsp. kosher salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Fresh herb sprigs (thyme, rosemary or sage) optional

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Dry in oven until slightly shriveled but still plump. About 2-5 hours depending on the amount of time you have as well as the level of dried-ness you want. If not using immediately, store the tomatoes in a sealed container with the herbs, cover with olive oil, and store, covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Flag of Italy pasta dinner: sauteed broccoli rabe, broiled chicken breast and oven dried tomatoes on fresh pasta with pesto.

Ok, so its not necessarily super fast, but a few hours is quicker then a few days!  Even if you’re really on a time pinch,  an hour will yield a nice result.  Last week, being short on time, I quickly oven dried a few tomatoes for only an hour  for a pasta dinner.  It was very delish!

Quick Tip: How To Toast Tortillas

A warm, supple, steamy tortilla is so much more delicious then a tough, cold lifeless one. So why ever serve them cold.  Toasting your tortillas is quicker then heating them in the oven and healthier then deep frying.  If you have a gas range oven, here’s a quick way to heat a hand-full of tortillas in seconds!

Turn your gas burner on.  Place a tortilla directly onto each burner.  Allow to sit until they begin to puff up with steam and are lightly charred, about 15-30 seconds.

Flip tortillas onto opposite side, until also charred.  Remove from burner and serve immediatly. For maximum results, get all four burners going at once!

5 Tips For Tearless Onions

Those damned onions!  Love to eat them, hate to chop ‘em.  I always get so damned weepy.  After posting my family’s recipe for our Thanksgiving Onion Casserole last year, the comments have been flooded with great ideas on how to stem the tide (or flood) of ocular moisture.  Since this info is so great, I’ve compiled it in one post so this holiday season,  you can keep the tears out of the kitchen and save them for those awkward family table conversations.

1) Put onions in the freezer for 20 minutes before you cut ‘em. Not only has this worked time and time again for me, but friends who love to cook have tested the theory as well…it has yet to fail. Good luck!

2) DON’T cut off the root end of the onion or through it! I peal the onion, cut off a small slice from the side (so there’s a level sitting area). Then make a horizontal cut down the center toward the root end – set on flat side and cut away – tear free half circle onion slices! It’s all in the root!

3) I light a candle near my cutting board. I think I read that in a Martha Stewart column. It seems to work.

4) Swimming googles make working with onions a tear-free experience. It also entertains any witnesses.

5) Slice them underwater, but that’s a bit of a pain. I just cry and let it happen.

Thanks guys for the great ideas. Feel free to add any more you all might know of.

3 Tips to Make Perfectly Mashed Yucca

I’ve always thought of yucca as being a very exotic thing. Not only is it not part of the average American diet but it also has some very strange textural characteristics which make it very weird. Yucca, similar to a potato, is often eaten boiled and mashed. Because it is VERY high in starch, if you give the yucca mash a good mix, it becomes very sticky and gooey. This paste can be very good for various things, but I’ve found, I often end up with this sticky paste, when all I wanted was mashed yucca.

Here are 3 quick tips for getting a good mashed yucca.

1. Peel completely. Remove the hard outer skin as well as the pinky underskin. The delicate white inside will be less fibrous then the outer layers.

2. Boil the shit out of it. Cut the yucca into disks or chunks and boil in water. I always boil potatoes until you can put a knife into it, but I’ve found, you have to boil yucca longer. It starts to break up in the water, but it will still be hard inside. Keep boiling it until it falls apart easily to the touch. This means the fiber has broken down a bit.

Potato Ricer: image courtesy of Exlibris

3. Use a potato ricer to mash the yucca. A ricer helps separate the hard fiber from the softer mash, leaving you with a perfectly fluffy pile of mashed yucca. I know you may not have a potato ricer, its sort of an unnecessary kitchen item. However, once every decade, it comes in handy, and this is one of those occasions.

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