Thursday, July 17, 2014

Five Uses for Grapes


1. Freeze those babies! Skewer, wrap with plastic wrap or put them in a baggie/storage container. It's a whole lot easier than trying to tote them around your house or a party if they're on skewers.

2. Cut them and put them into a creamy chicken salad or pasta salad. Add some nuts for a crunch and you've got yourself a healthy, hearty party in your belly.

3. Serve them with good cheeses, good cured meats, toasted baguette slices, crackers, and other finger picking fruit and veg for an exceptional picnic dinner. There is nothing wrong with an appetizer that is a three-in-one course with no more effort necessary. Open a bottle of champagne and celebrate simplicity!

4. Slice them up and put them in some gelatin along with other fresh fruits that you love. You can't go wrong.

5. Dehydrate them! Homemade raisins are amazing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Five Uses for Meatballs

Did you find some meatballs in the freezer section that were less than your choice of meat per pound? Or are you simply tired of the same old songs? Let's give you some light.

1. Tangy sliders. Half French dressing, half barbecue sauce of your choice. Pot, pan, crock pot, grill, or dutch oven. Now that's one heck of a 5 minute meal, don't you think? My absolute favorite barbecue sauce trick for pork country style ribs, too.

2. Go Greek! Cut them in half and stuff them in a pita with lettuce, onion, tomato, feta cheese, and a good cucumber yogurt sauce.

3. Toss them with egg noodles, butter, and parmesan.

4. Shepherds pie, except with meatballs. Cut and cook your veggies fresh or buy them in a can, it doesn't matter. Veggies on bottom, meatballs in the middle, lots of yummy mashed potatoes on the top. I always top it with cheddar.

5. Skewer those babies and toss them to the grill or grill pan. Brush them with a nice sauce of your choice. I'd probably use a vinaigrette or flavored ketchup and have some carrots skewered as well.

Five Ways to Use Vinegars

This is for those vinegars that you can see through quite easily such as rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, etc. I'll do a 'part 2' later on down the line with your balsamic and similar. Here's a tip for the road, too: Keep them in a cool, dark place to store them, and only have them open long enough to pour out your amount and close it right back. Vinegar is like spirits where oxidation is concerned. It just doesn't taste the same the farther down the bottle you get if you don't respect it.

1. Make your own salt and vinegar potato chips! Or pork rinds! You might possibly need a mandolin to cut the potatoes to the right consistency, but there's no reason that you can't have thick salt and vinegar potatoes now, is there? Mmm, definite side dish potential there. You can grab a bag of plain Jane (I use ruffles and kettle chips) and brush them with vinegar, or throw a vinegar damp paper towel into the bag and shake it up. Then add the salt. Same goes with the pork rinds.

2. Sweet and sour glazed everything, right in your slow cooker. 6-8 hours isn't a long time to wait until the first time you taste it, then you're going to wish you had a time machine to fast-forward to dinner! Vinegars can carry along such great tang. Seriously just shake up some of your favorite flavor vinegar with your favorite oil and toss a meat of your choice in it. Throw it on a salad or pull out a few veggies to compliment it sweetly, like carrots.

3. Alfredo sauce. I don't make one without it. I'm a firm believer in depth when it comes to my tastes. If it doesn't give me a 'wow' moment, it's not worth my time. A small amount goes a long way to jazz up a boring cheese sauce.

4. Make your own barbecue sauce! I'm not joking! Use different fruits and veggies pulverized in it or make it chunky style with your favorite vinegar. You just add enough sugar or salt in one form or another until it's to your tastes. Dates make a good add-in to stretch your tomatoes.

5. Pickle everything! Vinegar, water, celery seeds, mustard seeds, garlic, sugar, salt, dill, etc. Find your perfect flavor for the food you would like to pickle, and go for it! Fridge them a week before trying one for best results, unless it's something that you'd like a quick result, then just warm the mixture and toss in your items, allowing them to sit for a bit. Unless you're sealing cans, make sure to watch them in the fridge for when they start to go to Heaven.

Five Uses for Peanuts

No explanation or coaxing needed. If you're reading this, you obviously want to find an idea to make. Let's see if I can help.

1. Asian inspired pizza is a knockout with peanuts on top for crunch and a mix of half soy sauce, half homemade peanut butter. I top it with spinach and caramelized onion, roasted red peppers, and I goof it with some feta cheese. I know you think it sounds weird, but it's pure heaven. Especially when you coat some chicken in dredge that has pulverized peanuts in it!

2. Homemade peanut butter is an obvious one that some people look over because they think it will be hard to do. Peanuts, salt, sugar. That's it.

3. Coat it, like I said! If it can be crusted on the stove top or crispified in the oven normally, it can be done with peanut crumbs mixed into the dredge.

4. Honey roast them, then make your own trail mix or granola bars. They couldn't be simpler. Get your favorite dried fruits, honey, peanuts, favorite oats, wheat germ, whatever you'd like. Dip the bars in chocolate if you make them. It's heavenly. You can use those peanuts for peanut butter and chocolate granola bars if you just do what I said up above and pulverize with some sugar and salt.

5. Slaw. This one is so overlooked and it really shouldn't be. Why can't we make something that is sweet and crunchy take a jack-up with even more crunch?

Five Uses for Milk

If you're the kind of person that buys milk and then ends up tossing out half of the container because it expires before you can use it all so you have to pay double for a smaller jug? You are not alone at all. I am definitely guilty.

1. White gravy! Cheese sauce! Saute' up some sausage or bacon and create a gravy starting with flour and the fat that is rendered from the meat or some oil/butter if you don't want meat. Pour in milk slowly while whisking on low heat to keep lumps from forming. It goes faster if you warm your milk past room temp, but it really is optional. At this point, you would be finished, but you have the option of tossing in cheeses to use this milk-dump in so many other different ways. Southern chicken fried steak with parmesan in the crust and sauce elevates the dish to a crazy level.

2. Make up some chai tea or cocoa and freeze it! There's something extra special about milk when you flavor it with exotic spices. Even more special when you use half milk, half coffee in an iced coffee drink when you've chai-spiced your milk. It really is just exotic spices. For the hot cocoa, just heat your milk, add the sugar of  your choice, stir in a melted chocolate bar of your preference.

3. Say cheese! Milk of choice, vinegar, salt. That's it. Look it up when you've got the time. You'll be amazed at how many kinds of cheese you can make. Use your newfound knowledge of the basics of cottage cheese to put some fresh into your pancake batter of choice!

4. Pudding! Make lots and lots of homemade pudding! Freeze the pudding in pop molds. You'll thank me later!

5. Use in place of cream for lighter chowders, soups, and stews that either require a lot of milk to cook in or finish with it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Five Ways to Use Potatoes!

Potatoes are always available in good bulk sizes for very little money. No matter what grocery store you shop at or if you go to a farm to buy a share, potatoes are probably the most affordable and versatile tuber. There are no seasonings that I can think of that can't go with potatoes in some way.

1. Hash. Dice, slice, or cut them into the shape you want and fry them in butter for a good start to hash. Throw in some veggies and/or bacon of your choosing and scramble an egg in there for protein. Simple, delicious, and as healthy as you could want it, since it can be customized in so many ways to use up your leftovers.

2. Mashed with the flavor turned up. I don't peel my potatoes, but if you prefer them peeled, go for it before you cut them up. Start cut up potatoes in cold water on the stove. Cook until just tender all the way through. The smaller the pieces, the smaller the cooking time. Make sure your water is well salted. When they're finished, throw them into a pan with some mayo, scallions, and cheddar cheese. Mix them up, breaking them up as chunky or smooth as you'd like. Add bacon in there for extra flavor, and you can add the bacon fat to your potatoes for extra homestyle happiness, or use it to make a gravy. Fresh cracked black pepper is the perfect finisher.

3. Not just any potato salad. Toss peeled, cut, and boiled (or roasted, mmm) around in a simple vinaigrette instead of the heavy traditional ingredients. For the vinaigrette, whisk your favorite vinegar or citrus juice with a good tasting olive oil or melted butter. Zest some lemon or orange in there for more flavor. Fresh cracked black pepper is perfect to finish this one too. Salt to taste. If you'd like, add in some bacon to this one too and use your bacon fat as your oil in your vinaigrette. You won't regret it. I toss in sweet peas and diced cooked carrot for a bit of sweet with my tangy vinegar potato salad.

4. Hasselback. So much flavor that you can hardly make yourself stop eating. You cut the potato like you would cut discs, just not cutting all the way through. It should look like an accordion. Put a tiny pat of butter between each crevice , rub the outside with butter, and salt your potatoes with a good flaky salt (I just use kosher). Feel free to use your favorite fresh herbs in the cuts, such as small pieces of basil, little sage pieces, or pieces of parsley. If you want to melt your butter instead to keep your hands cleaner, put the butter in a pan or microwave with the herbs and they will flavor your butter nicely for brushing it on and in the potatoes. Roast them on 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, then take them out and let them rest for a few. Sprinkle on a little parmesan or dollop some sour cream on top for an even greater treat.

5. Marinated. Cut up peeled potatoes and toss them in a baggie or self-made foil packet with salt, lime pepper or lemon pepper (zest and cracked black pepper that has been allowed to sit for a couple days), lemon or lime zest, a slice of onion, garlic powder. Let them hang out in this mixture for anywhere from a half-hour to overnight. Turn the oven on 400 and roast them for 30-45 minutes, stirring them around about halfway through cook time. Feel free to change up the add-ins. Cook them on the stove if you don't want to wait for the oven or the oven is occupied. Cut them to grill up without falling through the grate if you want them to have some grill action. You can even microwave them, the consistency will just be different.

Five Ways to Use Cherries

Cherries are aplenty this time of year, which is fine by me. If we had a cherry festival down here in Georgia or Florida, I would eat every cherry thing I could get my hands on. Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy them.

1. Make cherry cream cheese or cherry butter. In either choice, it's simply about how sweet you want them, and the amount you use determines the amount of sugar you need. Pit them and toss them into a saucepan either cut up or whole. Start small with the sugar and taste often while you cook them down, adding bits of sugar until they're just right. Cool them and fold them into room temperature cream cheese or butter and wrap them up into a log with plastic wrap or into a seal able container. It really is that simple. If you wanted, you could also just cook the cherries up until they're how you want them to taste, and put them into a container just like that for a sauce or add-in for desserts.

2. Steak. Cherries cooked down in beef broth until they're super soft can start a sauce like no other. Dash in some Worcestershire sauce, then mix a spoon of corn starch with a small amount of cold broth or water and pour it in while the cherries and broth are boiling away. Lower the heat a bit and let it simmer just until thickened how you'd like. You could also make a roux (heat up a fat and add flour, cooking the flour taste out) if you don't have corn starch or don't know quite how it works. When your roux has deepened in color you add in your cherry broth a few spoons at a time while whisking constantly until it's all incorporated and thickening nicely.

3. Coat them with your favorite chocolate. Pit your cherries and toss them in a bowl of tempered chocolate chips or chocolate bar. You just put your chocolate into a bowl and nuke it in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time until the chips or bar are almost all the way melted. You keep stirring for a minute after it comes out of the nuker and it will all melt the rest of the way, trust me. Put coated cherries on wax or parchment paper and let them set. That's all it takes. Got leftover chocolate? Drizzle it over the tops of the dried cherries with a bit of coloring in it, or even just as it is. Flare is good, and so is chocolate, so no waste necessary.

4. Get them drunk. Pick a favorite liquor (use brandy here) and pour it over cherries and sugar in a sealable container and store for a week in the fridge, shaking once per day. Talk about fruit that opens your eyes! Coat them with chocolate and allow it to dry for an even more decadent treat. I'd give you amounts, but the truth is nobody likes them the same way. Go as light or heavy on the sweet as you want, it's your adventure!

5. Cereal, hot or cold. Pit and cut your cherries for use in your favorite cereals and oatmeals. They're always a great tasting addition, and they add nothing but health to your meal. Toss them around in some granola to carry with you if you'd like, because cherries really do keep quite well whether hot or cold.

Five Ways to Use Bacon!

I don't think I've met too many people who didn't find bacon one of the most desired meats on the menu. The salty goodness makes your mouth water just thinking about it. Do you know any of these non-standard ways of using it?

1. Gravy. Who doesn't like a good gravy for their mashed potatoes or chicken fried steak? Well, it just got a million times better. Render your bacon, starting in a cold pan, until all the fat is in the pan and the meat is as cooked as you prefer it, then take it out of the pan to drain and rest. Add a little butter or oil if the bacon fat doesn't seem to be much. Sprinkle just enough flour into the pan that it soaks up the grease and whisk until you see no lumps and it has cooked to a light golden color. Whisk your liquids into your pan slowly and constantly so that you don't build a gravy with lumps.

Depending on your intentions for the gravy, there are a few different liquids that are good to complete a gravy with. Chicken broth makes the gravy light brown, usually preferred for potatoes by quite a few people. Beef broth makes the gravy a fantastic sauce to add a little depth to steaks and it's good to heat meatballs in with a spoon of sour cream and a dash of Worcestershire sauce for tang. Whisk milk into your flour and fat if you want a good white gravy for things such as biscuits and gravy or you want something to dip your fried chicken in.

Each of these gravies just need salt and pepper to make them worthy of accompaniment with tons of meats and veggies. You choose how you want your gravy seasoned. Cook up some cauliflower and puree with some butter and milk/cream/sour cream for a faux mashed potato to put gravy on. Your kids won't believe their tastebuds and you make a better choice for yourself in the process.

2. Stuff it. I mean it. Anything that can be stuffed with something deserves to be stuffed with bacon. Cut a chicken breast open and stuff it with spinach, bacon, and onions. Cut a pork chop open and stuff the hole with a mixture of small bread cubes, butter, bacon, and your favorite herbs. Got to make a big bird or roast for an occasion or just feeling like some rotisserie? Make a big pan of stuffing to eat with that pile of meat. Pulverize a bunch of stale bread and give it some love with your preferred broth, rendered bacon fat, and chopped up cooked bacon. Mix in lots of fresh herbs and some fresh minced garlic. Talk about a winner!

3. Wrap it. If you can fry it, you can fry it with bacon wrapped around it. Hot dogs in the fryer? Why not? Wrap that dog with some bacon and taste the magic. Corn dogs? Yes, those too. Bump up that after school snack with a bacon-wrapped corndog. You won't regret it. Your pants might...but who says they get a say in this? Wrap up that meatloaf before you put it in the oven. Wrap up chicken legs before you roast them with some bbq. Wanna grill something? You know what I'm going to say. Wrap it with bacon, baste it with bacon fat, and put a little bacon in that Bloody Mary while you're waiting for Mr. Grill. Burgers and bacon are best friends. Don't like asparagus much? Wrap it with bacon and throw that on the grill or into the oven. Corn on the cob gets a nice salty bite to it's natural sweet when it's wrapped up in bacon. Wrap it around green beans and put the beans down into a foil pan with a little bit of brown sugar or honey and roast it a while.

4. Sandwich it. Put it with your favorite greens on some bread with a deliciously juicy green or red tomato for your own style of BLT. Put it in between bread with some sloppy joes. Put it on a burger. Put it on a chicken sandwich. Make a wrap with any of these ideas if you don't have bread or want less carbs. My favorite wrap is a good use for it. Cheeseburger wraps are quick and easy, with the option of using whatever kind of ground meat you could possibly wish to use, as it all tastes good with bacon. I cook up the bacon in one pan and the ground meat in another. When the ground meat is finished, I mix in some ketchup and mustard. Fill a tortilla with your ground meat mixture and top it with your choice of cheese, bacon, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and whatever else you want wrapped up in it. You won't be sorry when you get a taste of this one.

5. Last but not least is pasta. There is so much I could say here, but I'm going to stick with what happens to be my favorite pasta dish...spaghetti alla carbonara. You cook up your pasta, then bacon, keeping a tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan, then throw them together in your bacon pan after chopping the bacon. Beat a couple eggs with some good parmesan or similar hard cheese and pour into the pasta pan. Toss the pasta constantly until coated and the sauce is thick, keeping the pan off of the heat. Salt and pepper to taste, just remember that bacon and parm are both quite a bit salty. I add lots of black pepper before serving because it gives it a good depth of flavor for me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Five Ways to Use Peaches!

It's the hottest part of the summer, and here in Georgia that means that the peaches are at their best. There's no reason not to buy a huge basket of the delectable delights, because there are so many uses for them that this post seems almost too easy.

1. Jam. Simply put, peach jam is my absolute favorite of all possible jams. Depending on your preferences and the ripeness of the peaches, you generally use about a pound of sugar for every pound of peaches you cook down. I prefer mine just a bit tart, and in smaller batches, so I use about 1/2 tsp per peach. I cook my fruit down most of the way before adding my sugar, because that way I can taste how close I am to how I want it before adding more sweetness so that I can be sure it's where I prefer. It usually takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to get them where I want them, on medium heat.

Don't have fresh peaches? No problem. Substitute those canned peaches in the pot. You won't need nearly the same amount of sugar, just cook it down into the consistency you like!

2. Palmier. Puff pastry dough from the freezer section makes this cookie and pastry a cinch to make. Thaw your pastry in the fridge overnight, and leave it in the fridge until you're ready to use it, it needs to stay cool to get the most crisp palmier cookies. When you're ready to roll it out, sprinkle granulated sugar and a bit of cinnamon on top of a cutting board large enough to hold the sheet opened up. Sprinkle some of the sugar and cinnamon on the top of your dough and roll a pastry roller or rolling pin gently over the dough to get the creases out. Spread cooked and cooled down peaches onto the dough and fold the left side halfway to the middle and then follow with the right. Fold them again into the middle, then fold the two sides together. Using a sawing motion, cut the cookies and lay them flat on a baking sheet, spread at least 2 inches apart. Standard temp is 450, and cooking time is quite fast, just until browned. I have success with 6 minutes on first side then about 4 on the other for perfect golden flakiness. Be your own judge for how done you would like them and how brown you would like them.

3. Barbecue sauce. Yes, you read that right. If you have never had a fruit-enhanced sauce for chicken or pork, you are missing out. Vegetarian? No problem there, as you're just using what you've got or what's on sale. You literally just pick your favorite sauce and throw in some pulverized peaches. It is crazy how good it tastes. You may need to add honey or a bit of sugar and warm it, but like I said up above, I like tart. I will get a rack of spare ribs and cut them to fit a sheet pan, season them with seasoned salt, and wrap them in foil. 2 hours wrapped up in a 350 oven is long enough, then you cut open the foil and slather the ribs with barbecue sauce and stick them back in for an additional 15 mins. I usually do this about 3 times because I like a lot of caramelized sauce.

4. Margaritas or your favorite white wine. Tequila and lime with a muddled peach slice in the glass has a way of making you feel at home wherever you are with a big smile on your face, especially when you rub the rim with the peach juice and dip it in course sugar. Muddling a peach slice in a wine glass before pouring in your favorite white wine makes a great relaxing drink. Champagne is just as great for celebrations.

Non-alcoholic, no problem. Peaches are great in citrus sodas and your standard juices such as orange, grape, and even apple.

5. Milkshakes. Throw a few scoops of vanilla or strawberry ice cream (or frozen yogurt) into a blender with a cut up peach. Add milk as needed to get it to the right consistency for you, since we all like a different thickness of milkshake. Toss those peaches onto the grill with the cut sides down after a dunk in some sugar and then add them to ice cream for an extra note of flavor. Very few fruits taste bad after being on the grill, and peaches are definitely the best (in my opinion, anyway).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

I'm going to start posting five uses each for the things that we may not know how to use to their full potential. What's even better? I'm going to make sure that every recipe for food has five ingredients or less. If you've got an idea of something you'd like to see brought out into a new light, comment away.

I plan to touch on non-foods such as window cleaner, wood scraps, old paint, old fishing line, old chopsticks, etc. in quick notes on each post. It will be a bonus 'did you know?' section with just a simple tip about whatever the item may be.