DIY Food – From Kitchen to Table

DIY Food - From Kitchen to Table Featured image

“Food, Glorious Food”, unlike the singing waifs in the musical ‘Oliver!’ we do not have to imagine food other than gruel. Gruel; which came first, it sounding nasty or gruel actually being nasty? Setting that aside, we’re going to take a look at upping your game to create some glorious food.

Modern Food Making

American family enjoying food

Eating may arguably the true American pastime. Cooking used to be a skill that everyone had because without it you didn’t eat. Our cultural evolution introduced massive food options, so that you can hand over your money and you will get stuff to eat. As we all know, this ‘stuff’ will range from the mundane to the amazing, from eth healthy to the life threatening…bound to happen when restaurants literally have names like the Heart Attack Grill!

Cooking at home has begun a renaissance, and as DIY fans we couldn’t be happier. This brings up another interesting issue. Not everyone learned to cook at the feet of their parents as in days past. Now it becomes necessary to self-teach, use the wonder that the internet (occasionally) is to find the tools that will help you up your game.

Setting The Bar For Your Table

core items for cooking at home

We all know the friend neighbor or family member that makes Martha Stewart look like a piker when it comes to cooking…or at least those folks talk a good game. The key is finding a starting point. We have a couple of looks at core items for your kitchen right here starting with knife basics and smart cooking devices to consider.

Consider two things as you chart a path to improving your kitchen game. What do you like to eat? Seems basic, but kind of important, why learn what you won’t enjoy on the table? Then look at the techniques involved. Building Boeuf Bourgogne from scratch might be better to pursue when your skills have been developed. It is worth the wait, but like any skill you want to get a good basic foundation.

A Restaurant Interlude

cooking in restaurant

Yes, the place to find food that someone else put the efforts in to making is a restaurant. You have to like a place that you ask and they bring you things. They also know how to cook. Perhaps not at the drive through. But most restaurants still have someone in the back cooking things up like they are going out of style.

It only seems appropriate that we learn about how they do that, how they bring full meals out in a matter of minutes. This article gives you an excellent look at some of the most popular restaurant dishes and a walk through a variety of techniques, and ideas, that commercial kitchens use.

Breakfast

Breakfast food items

Breakfast is a great staring point because it will expose you to a whole gamut of basic cooking techniques to master. Cooking bacon in a pan, learning how the heat affects it, how to avoid scorching. Pancakes and French toast for working with a flat grill and learning spatula skills to flip them. Basic sauté techniques when making great, fluffy scrambled eggs by keeping the food in motion in the skillet. Baking biscuits, even from a mix, builds basic oven knowledge.

Pancakes for example, start with a good mix, and get proficient with techniques to end up with a good cake. Then take the next step, build them from scratch. You’ll learn about working through with dry ingredients, how to bring fluids into the mix properly. They’re forgiving, so you’ll get a decent cake even if you miss a step, but still get all the necessary ingredients together.

Hot Meals

baked chicken

The first dinner dish to consider learning is baked chicken, especially a batch of all the same cut, like thighs. Evenly spaced on a foil lined baking sheet skin side up, sprinkled with your favorite seasoning, baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. That’s what’s for dinner! Add taters, cut in half, face down in another flat baking dish with a little melted butter, sprinkled with salt pepper and garlic, same cook temp and time, and the meal is ready.

Point being, cooking does not need to be complex. There are so many meals that you can easily put together and bring to the table for you, your family or your friends. Absolutely feel free to experiment. The chicken just mentioned. Try a Cajun spice blend to get some zip, or a smoky barbecue seasoning blend that will open a bunch of flavors. Start with the kiss rule, finding simple recipes that have great flavors, and incrementally advance as you master new skills.

Never Ending Story

The most amazing thing about cooking, is that even for those of us who got an early start and have long hours in the kitchen, there is still more to learn! Whether it is a dish or technique from another country, or the latest and greatest cooking trend, the vistas offered on the food panorama are endless. Wherever your starting point, have a great time advancing your skills, eating the tasty results, and trying new things.

How To Use Kettle Grill To Smoke Food

HOW TO USE KETTLE GRILL TO SMOKE FOOD Featured image

Grilling in the backyard with a kettle grill will always have a special flavor that you just can’t get using an electric or gas grill. Typically, you’ll have plenty of smoky flavors just by adding a bit of hickory or applewood sticks to your charcoal. When it comes to smoking meat using traditional and untraditional methods, you can still get that smoked flavor using a few nifty tricks you might not have heard about.

What Makes A Kettle Grill Work As A Smoker?

Man preparing kettle grill work as a smoker

Everybody knows that a kettle grill is perfectly shaped to circulate heat which is perfect for cooking burgers and various foods on the grill. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a smoke flavor since charcoal burns a lot cleaner than wood does. Charcoal also burns at such a high temperature that it makes sense to open the airflow vents to control cooking temperatures if you intend to do any smoking within your grill.

Create a Direct and Indirect Cooking Zone

This is why you’ll need to add wood chips that are sometimes soaked beforehand so the wood itself lasts longer and gives off low levels of smoke as it burns on top of hot coals. To make a kettle grill work as a smoker, you also need to separate the grilling space into two sections. One section is going to be the direct heat and the opposite side is reserved as the indirect cooking side.

This makes it possible to slow cook food that isn’t sitting right over a heat source and will allow you to smoke food for longer periods while food is being cooked. On the opposite side of your grill, you also need to add a shallow container that will act as a container for catching food drips but also holds a small amount of water so your kettle grill isn’t too dry. As the water gets warm from the heat, it slowly evaporates water, keeping humidity balanced. You could pick up a device called a Slow ‘N Sear which is a pan you can place in your kettle grill which will partition your grill perfectly and it makes a great gift idea for anyone who loves to grill.

What If You Don’t Have A Kettle Grill?

Smoke tube On Grill

It’s not always a big problem if you don’t have a kettle grill or a standard backyard grill for that matter. If you don’t BBQ that much, you’re likely one of a growing number of people who don’t own one of these items. With the growing trend toward ordering food from online restaurants, it’s often a choice of what seems more convenient. That doesn’t mean some actually like cooking and getting that home-cooked BBQ flavor!

Generating Smoke

If you do own a kettle grill or covered grill, you can use a method that is getting pretty popular among BBQ enthusiasts. It’s so simple and also a practical way for most folks to get a smoky flavor while they cook on their grill. This item is called a smoke tube and usually looks like a weird-looking cheese grater. It’s a metal tube with small holes all over the surface so smoke can come out as wood pellets slowly burn.

These smoke tubes also come in a variety of shapes so they fit right on top of your grill surface. Even if you’ve cooked something in your kitchen oven, you can use a smoke tube inside an outdoor grill and cold smoke meals in less than 10-15 minutes but can allow for periods to last up to 6 hours or more. This is especially handy when you want to smoke cheese you’ve bought or sausages that you’ve made recently.

The best part is that a smoke tube will even work in a standard gas grill so those smoke flavors are part of your BBQ experience. If you’ve ordered food online that doesn’t have the right amount of smoky taste you enjoy so much, it can also be smoked just as easily with a smoker tube for a few minutes -or longer… If you don’t have a kettle grill you can modify an outdoor pizza oven or bread oven so it works as a smoker.

As long as you can place your food inside an area where it can be smoked for a short time, this won’t be an issue. The best place to do any smoking is always going to be on your BBQ grill as long as there’s some kind of lid that can cover the top so you don’t lose all that flavorful smoke.

Cooking Meatloaf in an Electric Skillet

MEATLOAF IN AN ELECTRIC SKILLET featured image

Mmm…meatloaf! Hopefully this dish brings back those memories we can only associate with comfort food as well-known as this. Imagine a college kid, with this great deal. Do all the cooking for a group of 4 and they do all the cleaning. Yes, it created a messy cook, that’s another issue. . So, if you have only been following your mother’s or grandmother’s recipe and didn’t see all the new takes on this dish that has existed since Ancient Rome, you might have missed all the amazing new ways to cook it, like an electric skillet.

A cook’s night off one of the roomies grabbed an electric skillet and cooked meatloaf!? But…but…that’s an oven baked food dish. Well no. In this case it was set right on the metal and carrots and potatoes thrown in on the sides to roast with it. Yes, the bottom got a little crustier than many folks may like, but the idea of using that device for this food has great merit.

Why an electric skillet?

when to use electric skillet

What a modern oven offers is accurate temperature control. Until recently, getting accurate temperature control using a surface heating source, electric or gas, was very hard to accomplish. Unless you have an electric fry pan. That is exactly what it offers, a thermostatically controlled heated surface.

Before microwaves, these may have been the most common device in any kitchen. They still have a place, accurately cooking everything from pan fried chicken to pancakes and French toast…even hamburgers. Which, if you think about it, a meatloaf is nothing more than one huge hamburger with seasonings and other goodies built right in.

Of course you cannot flip a meatloaf very effectively, or without a mess likely. To make up for that, you have the snug fitting lid that comes with the electric skillet. This brings the added benefit of retaining moisture that can be lost if oven baking, and keeping in the heat to cook the upper surfaces.

Avoiding the scorch

If you crank the skillet up to 350 degrees and drop your meatloaf on there you will get a nice crispy crust on the bottom. If you have a rack that will fit into your skillet then you can use that to elevate the meat. If your meatloaf recipe is softer to start with, line that rack with aluminum foil to keep from making deep indents while it cooks.

The other advantage of a rack is that this allows the fats bleed away from the meat. Again, a trade off. Some folks swear by using an actual loaf pan, keeping the meatloaf in contact with all the fats until you remove it before serving. This will make for a moister meatloaf. Some would say a greasy meatloaf. Perspective and personal taste.

Another work around is to fold a layer of aluminum foil and set parchment paper on top for the meatloaf to rest on, This will allow for much of the fat to drain away. It will also reduce the scorching. Drop your temp to 300 or 325, add a couple minutes of cook time and you will get great results. In short, you can avoid the scorching and rendered oil issues with just a small amount of planning.completed meatloaf on table

Breaking with tradition

Since we’re already out of the oven and venturing into new territory, what can you do different? First thing that comes to mind is onion. That’s right, skip the rack and line the bottom of the pan with one-half inch thick slices of onion, peeled and cut across the rings.  Set your meatloaf right on top of the onions, use 300 degrees and in about 90 minutes you have seriously caramelized onions to serve with your meal. Or rack it on some thick cabbage rounds, cook, drain the oil and use them as an incredible base flavor for your next soup or stew.

serving meatloaf with vegetable

Moving on with the vegetable world, if you use leaner meats, 90% lean beef, lean ground turkey, chicken or buffalo, you can expand your horizons. Now it takes on pot roast like versatility. Fill the sides with carrots, taters, celery, sweet potatoes, rutabaga…any of the usual suspects you enjoy cooked that way.  This approach will yield juices that can be made into a gravy or sauce, although some skimming of oil may still be needed.

More temp and time tweaks

You can emulate most recipes from a crockpot, or even in the direction of a sous vide. A note of caution on the latter. A sous vide works with complete immersion of the meat in a water bath. This contact, and lack of air contact, allows for lower temperatures than you may want to use in the electric skillet. For example, you could easily cook a meatloaf in sous vide for 4 hours at 140 degrees and your meat is safely pasteurized, fully cooked and good to serve. In the skillet the ambient temperature of the air, with the skillet set at 140, is going to be decidedly less, possibly dipping into the danger zone by health standards.

But low and slow at say 200 degrees will give you a more tender, and juicier meatloaf with a texture leaning toward that of a cooked cased sausage. If your preferences run toward rarer meats you can certainly monitor the interior temperature, watching for standard ranges; 130-med rare, 140-medium, 150-med well, 160 and up-well.

Which sums this up with the thought that an electric skillet is a fine way to cook a meatloaf, with some variables and controls you can use to make a better meal for your family and friends.

S’more Cupcakes

S’more Cupcakes

I got a craving this week for some S’mores…and the weather just isn’t cooperating..too much rain, so I decided to make some cupcakes instead. I threw these together on a whim, and I am super excited with how they turned out!

Here’s what you need:
1 box Dark Chocolate Cake Mix (I used Betty Crocker)
Marshmallows(the big ones)
Honey Maid Graham Cracker Crumbs

Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box, BUT, set your timer for 5 minutes before they are due to be done. In this case, the box said 18-23 minutes, so I set the timer for 13 minutes. When the timer goes off, take out your cupcakes and place one marshmallow on each cupcake. Return the pan to the oven and watch the marshmallows melt for the remaining 5 minutes. When done, sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs on the marshmallow topping. Wait for them to cool, and eat!!:) Piece of (cup)cake!:) You can stick a bite sized Hershey bar in the top if you want for an added crunch! Or…if you like a little added crunch in your marshmallow, just leave them in a little longer and the marshmallow will be a bit burnt…which in my opinion is the only way to eat a s’more!!;)

They are so tasty! Tastes like summer…now if the weather would start acting like it!

Everyday Treats with COOL WHIP

Everyday Treats with COOL WHIP

Everyday without fail, my daughter comeshome from school and says that she is hungry. It is always nice to be able togive her a quick treat to hold her over until dinnertime. I like to use COOLWHIP Whipped Topping when making her treats to make them a bit more special. She loves the taste and thinks the addedCOOL WHIP is  more fancy.  Ipersonally do not have the time or patience to make a full on dessert everynight for after dinner, so we use everyday foods that we would have around andadd the COOL WHIP on them to make them more tasty! I add COOL WHIP to a variety ofthings that she eats but here are a few that we have done recently:

  • Pudding with COOL WHIP on top
  • Jello with COOL WHIP on the top. Even mixed together in the jello, it’s delicious!
  • Dip some homemade cookies in the COOL WHIP….yum!
  • In the winter, adding some COOL WHIP on top of some hot cocoa is her favorite! So easy and so fun!
  • COOL WHIP served with some fresh fruit is always a hit at our house. Especially with some strawberries. Delicious!

We love to have desserts that arepractical and quick because we are always on the go as a family. Between schoolevents, and after school clubs or activities, we are gone almost every night ofthe week. There really is no time to get it all done. Adding COOL WHIP tosomething that is already easy to make is just the added bonus because it makesit extra special and my daughter thinks she is at a restaurant getting extravagantdesserts.

One of my favorite recipes using COOLWHIP that I have been making for years and grew up eating is Apple Snicker Salad.Super easy and super yummy!

Ingredients
Bitesize Snickers – 1 bag
RedApples – 4-5 apples
COOLWHIP –large container

First, cut the bite size Snickers in halfand put them in a medium sized bowl. Then, cut up the apples to the same sizeor slightly bigger without peeling the apple. (You can peel the apple if youwish, but it is not necessary). Add those apples to the bowl. Finally, add inyour COOL WHIP and stir gently. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill itand you are done. Tastes just like a caramel apple!

This is something we would always bringto cook outs and friends and family members loved it!