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Saturday, September 18

Cooking for Special Diets or Illnesses

For those who don't know, my hubby and I share our home with another couple.  They are both incredible people, and I can honestly say that I would move heaven and hell for either of them if needed.  We all consider ourselves a family, and function as if we've been together all our lives!!

One of the roomies suffers from Crohn's disease.  I have to admit, it can present a REAL challenge when planning meals, because those who have this illness are sooo limited in what they can or can't eat.  I don't always succeed, either...there are times when I make something without thinking, and poor Traci ends up spending the rest of the day...well, we won't go into detail.  Suffice it to say it's not pretty.  Even I have times when certain foods can cause me issues (thankfully, nowhere near as drastically as my friend).

Friday, September 17

Fine Dining...At Home!!

I love to eat out.  There are several reasons for this.  Primary reason...I don't have to cook!!  Secondary reason...for some reason, some of their food just tastes better than what I make at home.  There are more reasons, but it got me to wondering?  Is it the atmosphere?  Is it the recipes themselves?  Or, just maybe...is it because I'm eating something that I think I can't make at home???

For whatever reason, most of us go out to eat on occasion.  The question is...do we HAVE to?  Certainly, especially with the economy as it is, the cost can be a deterrent to some of the higher end establishments (Benihana, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc).  But, how else do we get to enjoy some of the things they offer without dealing with the cost?  Well, today I'm gonna do something about it...I'm gonna make this available to everyone.  I'm gonna post COPYCAT recipes!! 

Thursday, September 16

The Beauty of Slow Cookers

I've decided to take a break from the instructional stuff, at least for a few hours, and get back to the nitty gritty...FOOD!!  Today, I thought I would address the often owned, but seldom used, Slow Cooker.  Most households have one.  It gets taken out MAYBE once a month to make a meal.  However, this is probably one of the most under-utilized appliances in the nation.

If you're like most, you probably see your slow cooker as a way to start a meal in the morning and have it ready when you get home from work...right?  Well, have I got news for you.  You can cook virtually ANYTHING in one of those handy dandy gadgets!!  Not just soups or stews.....I'm talking bread, desserts, breakfast, even beverages...the list is almost endless!!  I found some great websites with recipes for almost anything you can come up with, and I'll post that later.  But first, let's cover some basics. 

Wednesday, September 15

Baking 101 - Reading Recipes

Baking and cooking are two very different kitchen skills. Generally speaking, you bake cakes, cookies, breads - anything with flour. You cook casseroles, meats, soups, and vegetables. When you bake, you MUST follow the recipe exactly and measure carefully. When you cook, the recipe is more of a guide when you are more experienced. Substitutions are usually just fine in cooking.
 
So let's look at the recipe below for Quick Coffeecake. The words in bold are explained in the text below the recipe.

Baking 101 - Measuring

When you bake cookies, cakes, breads, pie crusts, and candies, measuring accurately is really critical to the success of the recipe. When you are cooking casseroles, soups, stir fries, and meats, you can vary amounts more and the end result will still be good.

Measuring accurately is probably the most important cooking skill in the kitchen. Home Economists in test kitchens spend many hours testing recipes with varying measurements in a process called 'tolerance testing'. A recipe must perform well even though the ingredient amounts are changed; if the recipe fails tolerance testing, it is not published. Even though the recipes in cookbooks are quite 'tolerant', the cook still has to follow basic rules of measuring.

Baking 101 - Cake Science

Today, we're going to continue with our baking lessons (have fun, Lowki...haha).  This time, let's tackle cakes, and the science of making them properly.  Yes, it's science...measuring accurately, combining properly...bet you never thought that those boring lectures you suffered through in high school would come in handy at home, eh?

Cake batters are precise combinations of ingredients; in fact, a scratch cake recipe can be more accurately called a scientific formula. The ingredients are combined in a specific way to form the structure of the cake. Scratch cake formulas include shortened cakes (including pound cake), foam cakes, and a one-bowl method, which uses either solid shortening or oil. Cakes made with mixes can be just as good as scratch cakes, especially if ingredients like finely chopped chocolate or sour cream are added to the mix (if you choose to add something with a liquid content, be sure to adjust your baking time to allow the added moisture to cook out).

Tuesday, September 14

Baking 101 - Moisture

Ok, now that you've got a handle on temperature (see my previous post), the next step is to take control of moisture. Unlike temperature, moisture won't be an issue most of the time. Most cakes, cupcakes or cookies don't really need a big control of moisture...they contain their own in the form of butter or other liquids, and manager quite nicely if left alone. Other things don't...custards, cheescakes, flourless cakes, and most breads.

Commerical ovens have elaborate systems for keeping a particular mositure level in an oven for baking particular things. However, the simplest and easiest method is to use a bain marie.

Baking 101 - Temperature

I've been asked by a very good friend to explore the world of baking (thanks Lowki!!).  But, an article that really, truly explored baking techniques would probably land in at about 300,000 words. The realm of baking encompasses everything from the everyday biscuit to the most airy sponges, French breads to pizza crusts. The variety of stuff that can be produced with some type of flour, a little moisture and heat is nearly endless, and each particular type of baked good has its own little tips and tricks. 

So, how do I cover all that in one post?  The answer?  I can't.  Therefore, today I'll begin a series of posts about baking.  I'll try to add at least one post per day until I've covered the gamut of information available out there...and trust me...that's ALOT!!  When I first started poking around for information to post, I came across hundreds of websites that explain creaming, leaveners at work, baking sheets and bread pans, cute kids icing cookies, and gorgeous cakes in every variety. What I ended up NOT finding was very much information on two of the most basic techniques required for success - no matter what you're making.  Really? REALLY? 

Food Safety 101 - Cross Contamination

It would behoove me not to address this at some point, so I thought today was as good as any to talk about one of the primary safety issues ALL of us have to deal with in an average kitchen...cross-contamination.  While it's not an exciting thing to discuss, it's VERY important for you and your family's health and welfare.

According to the experts, cross-contamination is the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object or place to another. Preventing cross-contamination is a key factor in preventing foodborn illnessCross-contamination is the contamination of a food product from another source. There are three main ways cross-contamination can occur: food to food, people to food, and equipment to food. 

Monday, September 13

The Adventurous Cook (Or, What Was I Thinking?)

We've all done it.  We waltz into the kitchen with the intention of making something yummy to eat, then just stand there, aghast with the realization that, despite having several things to choose from, nothing seems to go together.  Can of corn, box of spaghetti noodles, 1/2 tub of rocky road icecream...great by themselves, but you can't make a meal from them.  What to do, what to do?  Ah...improvisation!!

So, we tinker.  We try to make something without really thinking about it, hoping that it will work.  Sometimes, we succeed, sometimes we bomb.  Well, there are ways to work it so that the successes outweigh the bombs.  It's all in how you understand your ingredients.  Knowing how they taste alone will give you your biggest tool in learning to combine them into something yummy.

Sunday, September 12

Is It Getting A Little Chili Outside?

Now that the fall weather is starting to head most people's way, I thought today would be a great opportunity to address something that many people see as a cool weather food...Chili. 

Chili con carne (literally "Chili with meat", often known simply as chili) is a spicy stew. The name "chili con carne" is taken from Spanish, and means "peppers with meat." Chili is a Mexican-American dish. Traditional versions are made, minimally, from chili peppers, garlic, onions, and cumin, along with chopped or ground beef. Beans and tomatoes are frequently included. Variations, both geographic and personal, may involve different types of meat (beef, ground beef, venison, chicken, turkey, etc) as well as a variety of other ingredients. It can be found worldwide in local variations.