Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tips for vinegar's many uses

Vinegar is a kitchen staple. In it's simple form, it is derived from wine that has gone bad, although a variety of different starters can be used. Though not seen widely in America, you can find vinegars made from such diverse items as kiwifruit, sherry, rice wine, raisins, palm, sugar cane, beer, coconut, dates and apple cider. After the alcohol is made from the fruit or grain, it is exposed to acetic acid bacteria which convert the alcohol to vinegar, usually leaving the flavor of the original "wine" behind to flavor the vinegar. There are also the more celebrated vinegars of balsamic and East Asian Black that can be harder to find quality examples of them.

For the purpose of this writing, I will focus on the use of simple white distilled vinegar as this is the most economical and easiest to find.

vinegar photo: Vinegar vinegar.gif
So how many of these uses are new to you and how many do you think you can incorporate into your life?

Adding some vinegar to an almost used up container of mustard or ketchup can stretch it's use. Read here for more details on how to do this.

Add 1T of vinegar to the water when making hard boiled eggs to prevent a cracked egg from running out of the shell. Read more of this here.

Make your own salad dressing using a flavored vinegar and olive oil. Add herbs, garlic, shallots, mustard and minced vegetables to flavor.

When cooking fruit on the stovetop, add 1T of vinegar to improve flavor.

When making mashed potatoes, add 1 T of vinegar to the potatoes after all the milk has been added, This help to keep the mashed potatoes white.

Add 1T of vinegar to tomato sauce or a tomato based soup to finish. This enhanced the flavor of the finished dish.

Improve the flavor of boiled ham by adding 1T  to the cooking water.

Add a new twist on the flavor of your next batch of hamburgers by adding 1-2 T  of garlic wine vinegar and 1/2 t mustard to the raw meat. Mix well and form into patties.

When baking homemade bread, remove the bread minutes before it has completed cooking. Brush the crust of the bread with vinegar and return to the oven. This will help to give the bread a nice golden brown crust.

Make your homemade bread rise better by adding 1T vinegar for every 2 1/2 cups of flour in the recipe. Reduce other liquids by the same amount of vinegar you added.

Make meringue fluffier by adding 1/2 t vinegar for every 3 egg whites. Add before beating the whites.

Cut the overly sweet filling of your pies by adding 1t of vinegar to the filling.

Have a recipe that calls for buttermilk and you don't have any? Try this tip to substitute the buttermilk.

Freshen wilted leafy veggies by soaking in a mixture of 2 cups cold water and 1T vinegar.

Vinegar makes a great degreaser. Use it straight on greasy stove tops and wipe away the grease. Make a paste with baking soda if you need a cleaner with some abrasiveness to scrub a greasy pan.

Use a sponge soaked in straight vinegar to wipe down the gaskets of your refrigerator. It kills any mold and mildew and helps to degrease and clean the seals.

Many of these tips were taken from the book, "Heinz Distilled White Vinegar- Over 1000 helpful Household Hints" by Christine Halvorson.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What to do with those St Patty's leftovers?

If you were like us, you enjoyed one of the culinary pleasures given to us by our Irish brothers and sisters- corned beef. My darling wife, being of Irish descent, requires this to be on the menu every St. Patrick's Day. Not that this is any great hardship on our family's part, as we usually fight over who gets the last piece (like a good Irish family). So what do you do if there are any leftovers?

Other than the usual repeat of the meal, which is a fine option, what else can you do with it? Here are some tips I have come up with that I hope you can use.

Corned beef- there is always the favorite, corned beef hash. I actually enjoy this very much and love it with an over easy egg running all over it. Simply pulse the CB through a food processor for a few seconds until it is chopped fine but not mushed. Add some small diced potatoes, ground pepper and some of the cooking juice from when you cooked the corned beef (not too much- add a little at a time). The added juice will help make the hash not so dry. The potatoes will retain some of this juice and flavor and make the hash better than anything you'll ever buy.

Another idea is panini sandwiches. Put a couple slices of the CB on rye bread, add some grainy mustard, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, 1000 island dressing and you have yourself a Reuban sandwich.

If you had buttered potatoes with your CB&C dinner like we did, instead of just reheating them for another meal, try disguising them a bit and make mashed potatoes from them. Simply heat them up with a bit of milk and then mash once they are heated through. Your butter is already added so just put in some sour cream, salt and pepper to get the correct consistency you like. Jazz them up with some garlic powder (for garlic mashed potatoes) or some shredded cheese.

Okay, on to the cabbage. I liked stuffed cabbage but the thought of rolling all of those leaves makes me shudder. One dish I made awhile ago was "unstuffed cabbage". What I did to save time was I made a lasagna out of the stuffed cabbage ingredients. Sauce the bottom of a lasagna pan with tomato juice or crushed tomatoes. Add a layer of cabbage leaves. Add a layer of cooked ground beef and rice, that have been mixed together prior. Then repeat 2 more times. Finish top with a layer of cabbage. Cover with tomato juice, sauce or crushed tomatoes. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes if you used cooked cabbage or 75-90 minutes if you used raw or blanched cabbage.

I hope these ideas help you stretch those food dollars a bit more and helped get the wheels turning for you to come up with new ways to reuse those leftovers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hot Cocoa mix

If your kids like chocolate, (okay what kid or adult doesn't?) then I am sure they like hot cocoa. It can be a bit pricey at about $2.50 for an 8 count box. That's over 40 cents a serving. Since my kids would go through that 8 count box in one sitting, I needed to find a way to make it more price reasonable.

I was passed a version of this on by a restaurant owner some years ago and I have adjusted this to suit my taste. I usually make this without the dry milk (for reasons I may go into in another post) and the kids will heat a cup of milk up in the microwave oven and add the mix to that. You can go either way, but even with the dry milk and water added it will be a thinner tasting hot cocoa because of the lack of fat in the mix. Fat always conveys flavor and that is why low/no fat versions of anything taste bad.

3 cups non fat dry milk
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Sift all ingredients into large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly (I like using a whisk). Store in large airtight/water tight container.
When serving- Add 1-2 Tablespoons of mix to mug of boiling water (or milk for even better flavor). Stir well and enjoy.

WARNING- Contents of mug may be hot!

That was my legal disclaimer so you can't sue me later for burning your mouth.

Added notes-
If you have it available to you, use vanilla sugar (I will do a post on how to make this) in place of the plain white sugar for a larger depth of flavor.
Add 1/4 cup of instant coffee to the mix to make a mocha java or add the 1-2 tablespoons of mix to hot coffee in place of the boiling water.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Milk Kefir part 2

So now that you have made your first batch of milk kefir, what do you do with it? I have personally found a few simple ways to enjoy it. For simply drinking it, you can try it straight up but that may be a bit rough at first unless you like different tastes. If you prefer to ease into it, try adding a bit of honey, only not too much because honey has antibiotic properties and it will kill the good bacteria in the kefir. Add some chocolate syrup or ovaltine for a chocolate milk taste. Caramel syrup or any other flavored syrup can be added and stirred in also.

Wanna try something a little more impressive? Make kefir shakes or smoothies from it. I will blend up some bananas, blueberries and strawberries into a quart of kefir, adding a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar if you like it to be a little more sweet. You can blend up any combination of fruit you like, staying away from citrus as this will curdle the kefir. My kids love this and line up as I am making it to be sure they get some.

Ok, so those were fairly easy. Now let's add it to our cooking repertoire. I have substituted plain milk kefir in recipes like pancakes and waffles quite successfully. It can be widely used in baking in place of milk or buttermilk. Here is a link from a website, Cultures for Health, that sells the grains and they have many recipes you can use the kefir in.

One of my families new favorites with the kefir is kefir cheese. This is a soft cheese like cream cheese. Eaten plain it is not very tasty, but add in some seasoning and it is outstanding on a creacker for snacking or on a bagel for breakfast. I usually add garlic and onion powders, dill weed, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. You can add any combination of these or other spices to really jazz it up. Curry cheese? Chili cheese? The only limit is your imagination.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Iced Coffee

Are you one of those people that like cold coffee? Do you enjoy one of those Starbuck's iced lattes that cost $3 for a 12 ounce bottle? I was checking out one of those in the grocery store because I had a coupon for $2 off it. Even with the coupon, it was going to cost $6 for a 4 pack of those. Needless to say, I did not buy it.

So how would a person enjoy these without having to pay so much for them?  Simple. Make your own! It is very easy to make your own. First, make a fresh pot of coffee. When it is done, add sugar to your desired level of sweetness. Add cream, milk or half and half to your desired level of lightness. When you have this all mixed up, pour this into a mason jar, cover tightly and place into the fridge. This should be made about 6-8 hours ahead of time so that it will cool down. I do not recommend adding ice cubes to chill it faster because this will water down the taste.


After it has cooled down, put into your own bottle or jar and take it with you. For an added taste, you can add some cinnamon or cocoa (to make a mocha latte) while the coffee is hot. I am sure you will think it tastes even better knowing how much money you saved making your own and knowing what is in it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Milk Kefir

I guess I am on a roll about fermented foods, so I will continue. This one will definitely save you money. Have you ever tried kefir? It is like a thin yogurt. Sometimes twangy. Usually effervescent. Definitely good for you. I had heard and read about it before and then I bought a quart bottle on the store (at Aldi no less and it was still pricey). Somewhere in the area of $3 for a quart. I liked it. My kids liked it. So the light bulb moment happened. How can I make this myself and save money on it because at $3 a quart, there is no way I can continue to buy this. I discovered that kefir is made from "grains". Not grains from a plant, but "grains" made up from a symbiotic relationship of over 20 bacteria, molds and yeasts. That may not sound appealing at first, but consider that many very enjoyable foods are made from naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts- like beer, wine, yogurt, bread and many others.

 Depending on where you purchase these grains, they can have different variants of these little buggies. The store bought types of kefir usually only contain about 7-9 of these buggies. They do this to be able to control production and ensure a uniform product from batch to batch. They use a powdered form of kefir grains, again for the uniformity. The grains you will use are called grains because of their appearance. They look like a curd or small grains. When introduced to milk, the grains impregnate their cultures throughout the milk, eat the lactose and thicken it. After 12-24 hours, you will need to strain the grains out of the milk. Pour the milk into a strainer and strain out the grains. Put this kefir in the fridge and enjoy when it cools. Take the grains and put them in a clean jar, cover with milk and start a new batch. It's that easy and you are making it for about 25% the cost of store bought.

The grains can be reused indefinitely as long as you keep feeding them (although you can hibernate them, if needed). Another added benefit is that these grains will multiply. A healthy batch of grains will double every 3-4 batches, from my experience. You can give some of these to a friend so they can start their own fresh kefir. If you live local to me, I will be happy to share some extra grains as I get them. If you are not local, please check the ad below. This is where you should get your grains, if you must mail order them. Outstanding customer service and very informative website.

So what can you do with kefir besides drink it straight up? Check the next post to find out more...

QUICK TIP- Cooking Bacon

This is a quick tip for cooking bacon or sausage. This is one that will be a time and clean up saver. Most people when they cook their morning bacon and/or sausage will pull out the frying pan and lay out a couple slices in the pan. The meat will cook and splatter all over the stove top creating quite a mess that needs to be cleaned up later. You also have to wait longer to cook several batches of bacon since the frying pan is only so big.

This tip comes from the food service business out of necessity. Instead of the frying pan method, shingle each slice of bacon on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. The slices can be touching and overlapping if you have a lot to cook. Put the sheet pan in the oven at 400 until the bacon is cooked to your desired degree of doneness.

Cleanup is easy. Just drain the fat (saving for later to cook with), toss the parchment paper and wash the pan. Any splatter from the bacon cooking will have happened in the oven and it will burn itself off.