Thursday, January 31, 2013

Organizing My Freezers and Batch Cooking

I am very lucky in that I have not only a side-by-side refrigerator in my kitchen, but I also have another in my garage (we got it from a neighbor for cheap) and a large deep chest freezer.  Just a couple of weeks ago I reorganized my freezers so that the garage side-by-side freezer holds all the already prepared "heat and eat" foods that I have made in the past couple of months.  The chest freezer holds the "raw/has to be cooked" foods and the kitchen freezer holds odds and ends.   Now that everything is reorganized so they don't have to dig in the chest freezer, it makes it very easy for my sons to go out to the garage side-by-side and grab out a burrito, calzone, or meatballs and just heat them in the microwave for a quick snack or lunch.

Tip:  Be sure to label the bag/container with what is in it along with reheating instructions.

I purchased 18 lbs of hamburger for $1/lb a few days ago.  I am cooking up some of the hamburger with taco seasoning and will make burritos to freeze so my sons can heat in the microwave whenever they are hungry.  I also had several chicken breasts that I got on sale a couple weeks ago that I boiled and shredded.  I also made refried beans in my crockpot a month or so ago (I'll post that recipe - soooo easy!) so I will just thaw those out and add to my burritos.  I individually wrap each burrito in plastic wrap (tin foil works too) and then label it with the filling ingredients.  I then put about 10-12 burritos (depending on the size of the tortillas I used) in a gallon freezer bag and freeze.

Here are some burrito fillings my family likes:

Seasoned Hamburger
Shredded Chicken
Shredded Pork
Refried Beans/Black Beans
Cheese (of course)
Green Chili
Rice/Spanish Rice
Green Pepper

*Don't forget that you can also make breakfast burritos (with eggs/egg beaters, hashbrowns, etc.)

Add guacamole and sour cream to your burrito once you are ready to eat it (after heating).  If you add it to the burrito before freezing, the sour cream has a tendency to separate and the guac can get an unpleasant texture.  I also prefer to add lettuce on top of the burrito after it is heated.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Recipe - The Most Wonderful French Bread

The first recipe of my new blog!  One of my favorite things to make is French Bread.  I found a great recipe on a blog called Chocolate on My Cranium (and she has several other great recipes I've also used).  She calls this her Not-So-French French bread but if it is "Not-So" then I don't know what is.  I get lots of compliments on this bread and requests to make more.  Because it is so dry here in Colorado, I store these in Armor plastic bread bags (make sure completely cooled) that I get from Ace Hardware.  The bags are fairly expensive ($3.99 for 4 bags), so I give my friends a loaf a bread in the bag and tell them to save it and return to me for refills. You can find the bags on Amazon here but they are more expensive.  If you live in a climate with humidity a paper bag would probably work for you.  This bread usually does not last for more than a couple of hours around my house so storage really isn't an issue.

Here is the recipe with my modifications.

French Bread (modified from Chocolate on My Cranium)
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp Yeast
2 Tbsp Sugar or Honey
1 Tbsp Salt
2 Tbsp Oil
6 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Egg

I Add (optional):
Onion Powder
Parmesan Cheese
Italian Seasoning
Dried Onion Flakes

In a large mixing bowl combine water, yeast, and sugar/honey.  I use a small whisk to make sure it is well mixed.  Let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to soften and bloom.  If your yeast does not foam/bubble, then it is dead and you will want to get some fresh yeast before proceeding.  I buy yeast in big vacuum packages from Costco and keep it in my refrigerator in a sealed container (like Rubbermaid) once I've opened it.  I bake often enough that I don't have to worry about it going bad but if you don't cook with yeast often you can get individual packages of yeast from your grocery store, Walmart, etc.

My bloomed yeast looks most like this picture but other people don't get quite the same result.  As long as there appears to be some bubbling you should be ok.

Add salt, oil and 3 cups flour; beat well. Add remaining flour (here is where I add my herbs/spices and other items I want IN the bread - jalapenos anyone??), stirring well with a heavy spoon (or in the mixer with the dough hook). If too dry, add a small amount of water (1 Tbsp at a time).  

Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes; stir down with spoon; allow dough to rest for 10 minutes; stir down with spoon again. Repeat this process until dough has been stirred down a total of five times (I don't always remember to do it every 10 minutes and it still turns out fine). 

Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead two or three times to coat entire surface with flour. Divide into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a rough 9x12 inch rectangle. Roll rectangle up starting with a 12 inch side, pinch edge of loaf to seal. Arrange seam side down on a large baking sheet that's been sprinkled with cornmeal. I usually bake two loaves on one sheet and the last loaf on a sheet of its own. Allow to rise for 30 minutes. 

With a very sharp knife, cut three gashes at an angle in top of each loaf; brush entire surface with egg wash (1 egg beaten slightly with 1 Tablespoon water - I also add some minced garlic or garlic salt).  Sometimes instead of an egg wash, I use melted butter with minced garlic and some garlic salt sprinkled on time.  The crust is not as crusty when I do this but it is DELICIOUS.  Other toppings might include poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onion flakes, caraway seeds, the list is endless.  You just need something like the egg or butter to hold them on the bread.

Bake at 400 in the center rack of the oven for 20 - 25 minutes or until a nice golden brown. Cool. Makes three loaves.

NOTE: For a crustier loaf, a pan of water may be set on the bottom rack of the oven while bread is baking.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Favorite Knife!

I received the Rachael Ray Furi Gusto Grip 8" Knife for Christmas from my future sister-in-law.  It has quickly become my most favorite knife.  It cuts through chicken breast like it is soft butter.  Vegetables stand no chance against this knife.  It is very reasonably priced on Amazon (currently $14.29

Batch Cooking for the Freezer

One of the ways I like to save money is to buy a large quantity of something, say hamburger, at a really good deal.  Like this week, I picked up 80% lean hamburger for $1/lb.  I don't know about you, but around here that is an awesome deal!!  My local King Soopers had marked the hamburger down this evening because it expires tomorrow (well now today since it is 1:30 am).  So I bought all 18 lbs they had available and put it in my freezer.  The hamburger will last approximately 4 months uncooked in the freezer according to the USDA (it doesn't go bad per se if left a bit longer, but will develop freezer burn, eventually it will go bad though) but my plan is to cook it all up this weekend and then put back in the freezer.

I am planning on making some meatballs with my sons (they LOVE making meatballs) and cook some up seasoned with garlic, onion, and a few herbs for meals like spaghetti.  I will also make some up as taco meat for quick nachos or burritos.  By freezing it in individual containers or freezer bags in approx 1 lb increments, I can just pull out what I need and thaw it for a quick dinner.  Since I also have about 4 bags of tortillas in my freezer, I will pull out a couple bags and make up some beef and bean burritos that my sons can just heat up in the microwave.

Two of my goals this year are  to 1) do a better job of menu planning and 2) use up the fresh ingredients I get from Bountiful Baskets (watch for a separate post about Bountiful Baskets soon) so I don't waste food.  I've been planning on menu planning for several months and think I've come up with a system I can work with. It's been a process because I wanted to have a stash of recipes I could pull from to create my weekly menus.  If I succeed in meeting this goal, I will post my menu plans and recipes on this blog.  Cross your fingers with me???

Monday, January 28, 2013

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my new blog!  If you haven't figured it out, the title "I'm NOT Rachael!" is referring to Rachael Ray and I WISH I was her.  I love the fact that she is not a trained chef, but rather grew up working in restaurants.  To me it just says you don't have to be classically trained to be a good cook.  I already knew that, my Aunt Leoma is an AWESOME cook and she taught herself.  So while culinary school is not in my foreseeable future, I can cook for my family and friends who seem to enjoy it.

I'm a rather late bloomer to the world of cooking.  It wasn't until this last year that I really fell in love with cooking.  Prior to that, I could make some decent food but other than when we had family and friends over (not often enough), it was more of a chore.  My husband does not care to eat a big dinner (he would prefer a bowl of cereal), my daughter no longer lives at home, and until this last year, my twin boys did not eat much.  Now that the boys are tweeners (almost 12), their stomachs have become bottomless pits.  Feeding them, and hearing their appreciation of my efforts, along with their wanting to learn to cook themselves, has really made me want to cook more.  When they often compare the food they eat elsewhere to my cooking and tell me it mine is better, not only do they score bonus points but it truly makes me happy.

So this blog is going to be a place for me to post recipes I've tried, recipes I want to try, maybe some tips and tricks in the kitchen and around the house and just a place to babble.  I am not a good photographer, much to my dismay, but I'll try to share some pictures of my successes and failures (maybe).  Most recipes are not of my own creation, I do make the recipes of other people and may modify them to my likes and what I have on hand.

It is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that you will ever find recipes with fish, liver, weird animal parts, gluten or lactose free or fancy schmancy foods on this blog.  I do make some stuff from a box still. I do try to cook more with fresh ingredients but I'm not perfect and do rely on convenience occasionally.

I am also a fairly avid couponer.  I don't consider myself an extreme couponer but others might.  I have a pretty good stock pile of foods in my kitchen pantry, garage and basement.  What we won't eat or use I donate to my children's school or the local shelters.  I am able to get a lot of personal hygiene products for free or nearly free so we've sent boxes to the troops oversees.  So it is possible you might see some posts about my couponing trips along the way.

So welcome to my new little world - let's enjoy the journey together!
Pin It button on image hover