Tips and Tricks

I have had a few requests for what sites I like to visit, what cookbooks I cannot live without, what tools I love, and tips on substitutions etc. So this post is all about those things. If you ever have any questions or want a recipe for something feel free to post a comment here or go to Facebook where I have a fan page and post it there; just look for Raising werewolves. First off let me say that I hate food snobs so whatever you like and however you like to do it is the right way. It makes me angry to here chefs on some television shows saying in disbelief “You are self taught?” as if anybody who has not been trained to chop things into tiny even cubes cannot possibly cook anything edible! Give me a break people. Everybody has to eat and chefs are rather a recent invention in the whole scope of human existence. Cooking should be fun and taste good not be a chore or “art”. I would rather have something that tastes really great than some tower of stuff with a tiny octopus on top. Sorry but the tentacles put me right off! I think the sign of a good cook is if you can walk into a pantry where there is hardly anything and make a good meal not if you can make a gourmet meal with only the best ingredients. Not everyone lives in the middle of a big city or wants to impress people with their amazing culinary skills. Some of the worst recipes I have ever made were from chefs! A few didn’t even work!  I will never post anything with ingredients that are hard to find and if the recipe did not work I will tell you. So that being said my tips and such are just that, mine. This is in no way comprehensive it is just what I have done that has worked.

If you have a nut allergy you can substitute sunflower seeds in pesto and it turns our really well. You will never know the difference. I usually use almonds or walnuts in mine since I am allergic to all things pine. I pureed 2 cups of our black basil, 1 bulb of garlic, ½-1 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt, pepper, ¼ cup of parmesan cheese, and ¼ cup of sunflower seeds and it was really good. You can also use sunflower butter instead of peanut butter in Tai peanut sauce.

If you run out of milk for a recipe you can use water, stock, and juice whatever makes sense in the recipe. I like to keep a carton of dried milk on hand just in case and it works for baking so that I don’t use up the boys milk. Another tip is if you need buttermilk for something you can add 1 tablespoon to a cup of whole milk to make it. It has to be whole milk though so an easier way is to have some dried buttermilk powder on hand. You can usually buy this in the baking aisle and it keeps a long time in the fridge.

I once was going to make hash browns and realized that I had no potatoes but I did have half a bag of frozen French fries. I chopped those up and added my usual onions and peppers and cooked it in the oven. Best hash browns I ever made! If you have a big bag of potatoes nearing their life expectancy then you can do two things. You can boil them all and mash them then freeze the bags for easy mashed potatoes, potato pancakes, potato soup, or potato bread. I do not recommend adding milk to mashed potatoes before freezing as this makes them soggy but if you have made too much at dinnertime go ahead and freeze them just remember you will need to cook out the extra liquid after you thaw them out. The other thing to do is to partially roast the potatoes just until they get tender to the touch and freeze them on a sheet pan then transfer to a bag. Easy to finish roasting later or to add to a stew.  Another tip is to save some of the water in the bottom of the pan when you are boiling the potatoes then you have less milk to add and it will save money and calories.

Garlic is easier to get out of the skin if you microwave it for 20 seconds. It really does work because I tried it!

Make your own bread crumbs! Takes just a few minutes and saves you a lot of money. I keep a large bag in the freezer and just keep adding bread that is about to go bad until I get enough to fill a couple of sheet pans then I toast it up and grind it in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor then just use a rolling pin or a heavy can to crush the bread up. Store in the freezer for long term or in the pantry for short term storage.

In most baked goods recipes you can reduce the amount of sugar called for by 1/3 without any ill effects. You can also replace half of the oil with applesauce without any problem. Both of these will make your baked goods healthier so start playing around with your baking and see what you can come up with.

I regularly make my own hamburger patties. I don’t trust what is in the store so I grind my own hamburger meat. My stand mixer has a meat grinding attachment and I use it a lot. You can take roasts and grind them up to get hamburger. We like to grind some bacon too and then you get bacon in the hamburger. Just form into patties after seasoning and place on a sheet pan. Freeze and when solid place into bags. Convienance of premade patties without the worry of what is in the meat!

Cake mixes are just premeasured and presifted flour and baking soda! Seriously. If you have to add oil, milk, and eggs you might as well just add the flour, baking soda, and vanilla. Save yourself the money and the chemicals! There are a lot of great websites that have recipes for homemade cake mixes so look around. In an age where food is constantly being recalled it is probably a good idea to start doing more yourself and it makes a cake seem more like an occasion!

My previous recipe for veggie “unmeatloaf” can be made into patty form or meat ball form and has been deemed much better tasting than the commercial variety of veggie burgers. I recently used some of the eggplant that we are growing as the base for the burgers and it turned out really well too.

Now the cookbook I come back to again and again is my Betty Crocker cookbook. I have tweaked tons of recipes from there over the years and it is a terrific reference book. They also have a good website that does really great recipes for cakes. You can take the recipe and substitute your own cake mix instead of the boxed kind if you like. I like Cooks.com and Allrecipes.com for references on the internet. Both have good and reliable recipes but I like to tweak them most of the time.

I cannot live without my spaetzel maker! We found it online and it rocks! I used to try and make it using a strainer and a spatula but the problem with that is that the boiling water cooks the dough onto to the strainer before you can manage to get half of the dough through. If you like spaetzel I recommend finding and purchasing this tool! I also love my handblender. I have had it nearly 20 years now and it has seen a lot of use. Great for a single smoothie and pureeing stuff right in the pot. I also love my microplane. I have a mini one for grating nutmeg and a larger one I use for grating hard cheeses. Last but not least I cannot live without a good cast iron skillet.

So that is it for now. I will probably think of more later and do a second post but this ended up rather lengthy so I will end it. Have some fun cooking and eating. Food means more and tastes better if you had a hand in preparing it.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Aunt Cindy in Texas says:

    Yep, moms were around long before chefs! And home-made cakes are an occasion, with the kids standing around waiting to lick the bowls of batter & frosting.

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