If you are a novice home cook, I have a tip for you that might help you gain confidence. Bring someone into the kitchen with you and teach them while you learn. If you can teach how to do something, you are also developing and fine tuning skills. It's kind of a tricky thing to do but it's also fun. Grab a friend, family member, prospective boy/girlfriend and invite, bring (or otherwise, drag) them into the kitchen with you and teach them. It can be something simple like, 'Here is how to fry an egg.' Or, 'Want to learn how to make red sauce together?'
Cooking is a very bonding sort of activity. Cooking is intimate and fun too.
While we are on the subject, why not offer a cooking lesson coupon to someone you love, you know needs some basic cooking lessons.
You could make a coupon book or basket with a coupon of the following:
One basic knife skills lesson. This could just be how to hold a chef's knife properly. Place some carrots, an onion and so forth in a basket and present the basket with the coupon.
One basic pastry-making lesson. Again, give a basket with ingredients for a pastry crust along with the coupon.
One basic soup-making lesson. Yep. Fill a basket with soup-making goodies and present it to the lucky person with the coupon.
I think you get the picture, Dear Readers. Here are a few more ideas:
A Quick Bread baskets, Yeast Bread baskets, Cookie Basket, Local Farm Basket and a farm tour coupon, Local Winery basket with a wine tasting tour coupon, Family Recipe baskets...
The list is endless, just like the love each basket (and the thought behind it) contains.
Share your ideas for for coupons and baskets in the comments section.
There are a few "tricks" I have learned cooking large quantities of food day after day. One of the best "tricks" is use what you've got the best (and smartest) way possible. Like I always say, "Let the equipment help you."
For example, I use a rice cooker at my place of employment all the time. I like to make rice, portion it in resealable bags, freeze the bags and then, voila! I have rice that easily removes from the bag and can be zapped in the microwave for one minute and is ready to serve topped with stirfry or eggs or whatever. I also like to use the rice cooker to make flavored rice such as pilaf or Spanish-style rice or even an herb and lemon rice. How? Easy peasy. For Pilaf Rice, add your rice amount, add onion (usually sautéed if you have time) add a bit of butter (or olive oil) add seasoning then the required amount of broth for the rice amount and hit the setting for white or brown rice. Stir it part-way through and again, voila! Pilaf Rice! For Spanish Rice, simply substitute your favorite salsa for some of the water. Add some chopped onion if you like, some seasoning and yep, voila! Spanish Rice. For an herb and lemon rice, simply finely grate some lemon zest into the cooker, add some fresh lemon juice and your favorite herb along with seasoning. Add the rice, measure the water and hit the proper rice setting. Stir it part-way through and surprise! Voila! Herb and lemon rice! Yay you, Dear Reader!
Quinoa can also be made in a rice cooker. NEVER make the maximum amount of quinoa your cooker will allow. I only make a maximum of 8 cups quinoa and measure to 10 cups of water. Add seasoning and a bit of oil before hitting the "brown rice" setting and, you guessed it, voila! Cooked quinoa.
I hope these "tricks" help you make some slowly sensational sides. Share any "tricks" you have for your rice cooker.
Sometimes our family looks at us, the "Cook" of the house and says, "Let's Eat!" They look at us as if speaking the words, "Let's Eat!" will make a meal magically appear on the table. What if it could? What if you had a freezer full of ready to go, magic meals? Today I offer a list of meals to have in the freezer when a magic meal is just the ticket. The meals on this list should/could go from oven to table in an hour or less. (I have shared similar lists but it's always good to post again.)
1. Pot Pie (Homemade or otherwise, no judging)
2. Pizza (Yes, frozen OR make French bread pizza with a loaf of bread, red sauce and cheese)
3. Pasta (serve this with a buttery herb sauce, a quick Alfredo Sauce or a pre-made red sauce and cheese)
5. Lasagna or Manicotti, Ravioli (Use the pre-made red sauce you have on hand and go meatless if you prefer.)
6. Various frozen, packaged chicken dishes you made in bulk with things like olive oil and lemon, vinaigrette dressing, barbecue sauce, whatever. Pack up the chicken in resealable bags, LABEL the bags and freeze for a quick (magic) meal.
7. Soup and salad
8. Eggs, served anyway you like
9. Ice cream for a quick dessert
Okay. That's it for now. Please add your ideas in the comments section. This list is just a start to keep you and your family fed through the craziness of the holiday season when time can be short.
Okay, Dear Readers, it's the Monday after a major American holiday and it's a tough one...
Monday's are difficult anyway but the Monday after a holiday is just plain brutal. What to do? What to do?
Do something for YOU that's what!
Tonight, when you get home from work, pour yourself a nice glass of something and then, take it (and yourself) and have a nice, bubbly bath. Now, I bet you are chuckling right now. Take a bath? Mary, have you lost it? Nope. A nice, "bubbly bath" is a metaphor for "do something for YOU." During the busy holiday time, we often forget we need to recharge ourselves. We often forget we need to take care of ourselves. For me, my metaphorical "bubbly bath" is my morning workout routine. For you, Dear Reader, it could be an actual bubbly bath or it could be doing a craft project or baking or painting. Whatever your metaphorical "bubbly bath" is, please do that for yourself tonight. By taking care of YOU, you are a better, happier YOU.
Believe it or not, Dear Readers, our Urkey Day leftovers are all gone! Tonight, I cook. All weekend long, everyone in our family has had the "hungries" and today is no exception. What to do? What to do? Make pasta of course! Make Holiday Fettuccini to be precise! I make my Holiday Fettuccini, Fettuccini Alfredo with eggs, cream and finely grated Parmesan cheese. The recipe guide is great because it is made in one pot so there is little mess.
Here is what to do for your Holiday Fettuccini:
Boil the pasta in salted water and drain it BUT reserve some of the cooking water. *While the pasta is cooking, crack two eggs into a bowl and beat them well. Set the beaten eggs aside.
Return the cooked pasta to the cooking pot. Now, using a large serving fork, begin to vigoursly stir the egg into the center of the hot pasta. Next, add enough cream until a sauce forms, probably about 2 cups. Add some of the reserved pasta water, if necessary, to bring the sauce to the correct, creamy consistency. Serve the pasta in bowls with a bit of extra cheese on top. That's it! Veggies are optional.
Today is the perfect day for Christmas movies, making gingerbread and jangling jingle bells, Dear Readers. Urkey Day is in the rearview mirror and Santa's Village is on the horizon! It is time for Christmas movies, Manhattans and indulging in yum, yum, yummy treats. This weekend should be about gathering up ALL your Christmas decorations, arranging them and throwing them away. Wait. What? Yep! Today, right this very minute, stop reading this very thoughtful blog and go get something to throw away. Okay. Okay. Donate it if it makes you feel better. Leave it on your neighbor's doorstep, bring it to the office to decorate someone's desk you don't like, I don't care. Just get it out of your house!
Today, a rare thing happened. I took my own advice. Today, I am proud to say, I sorted through the boxes and boxes of ornaments and cheerfully dumped the ones we no longer use. We no longer use certain ornaments and decorations because they are ugly and cheap and have no real meaning. I kept the ornaments and decorations my mother made, I made, our kids made, my grandma made or are special. I kept the "first" ornaments. You know the ones right? The first Christmas together, baby's first Christmas, first Christmas in your first home, first, first ornament, and so on, etc., etc., etc.. I am not completely heartless, just ready to ditch stuff.
When you decorate your home for the holidays, try and ditch (to donate, or ditch to ditch or ditch to recycle) some of your decorations. I bet you will find your holiday season will be just a little bit brighter.
Happy day after Urkey Day, Dear Readers! I hope you (and your turkey, Tom) were fat, full and happy!
That said, I figured something out yesterday when I was stuffing poor Tom, something I think might be useful for future turkey roasting extravaganzas... Ready? Okay!
Instead of slathering infused, soft butter onto the turkey meat, try pouring butter under there instead.
Yesterday, I made a butter, olive oil and herb salt concoction, melted it and then poured it under Tom's skin. I found this much easier! Tom is cold, the butter is soft, not a good combination for slathering.
Instead of shamelessly shoving soft butter under Tom's skin and then making it up to him by massaging the butter into his nooks and crannies, just pour it. This system worked super well and went very quickly. Tom was moist and flavorful.
Please let me know if you give this technique a try.
Happy Urkey Day Dear Readers!
May your day be FILLED to the tip-top with joy and love!
Today is a pajama-wearing, sipping and munching-all-day-longing, napping and laughing kind of day.
Be part of the party!
Okay, Dear Readers, it's here. The day before THE day is here. It's time to relax and enjoy the preparations. Yep. RELAX. Thanksgiving is a joyful, no agenda, kind of day so just relax.
This morning I made Apple Cider Donuts, fed the birds, cleaned and refilled the bird baths and stomped about my muddy, mucky garden. I began to poke around and what do you think I found? Carrots! LOTS and lots of carrots! I thought the frost had gotten them but nope, they are glorious! Ugly yes, but glorious. They smell of pepper and sweet earth. I have really missed getting my hands dirty. This unexpected harvest will become part of our Thanksgiving table somehow. I did not plan for them but it's important to be relaxed and open to possibilities in the kitchen. Maybe I will roast them since a roasted vegetable is not currently on my "menu." Yes! Roasting it is!
Now, for today, here is what you could be doing to make tomorrow a bit easier.
1. Prep the turkey for Urkey Day. Remove all the bits inside and place them along with onion, peppercorns, herbs and a little carrots and celery. (You're not making soup so be mindful how many carrots and celery you add.) Cover the whole thing with water, bring to boil and then simmer it a couple of hours. (This will be used in your stuffing and at the bottom of the roasting pan when you roast the turkey. Now, place the bird in the refrigerator to dry until tomorrow morning when you cook him. (I also stuff some paper towels in his butt.)
2. Make pie crusts. Roll out the crusts between sheets of parchment and store them in the refrigerator until your are ready for them. Make any crust decorations and chill those too. Bake any pie crusts that need to be blind baked.
3. My sides are done but if yours are not, do those today. IF you are serving appetizers, have those ready or better yet, assign those to someone else and have some easy back up ready like, GASP, purchased cheeses and/or dips and crackers with dried fruits and nuts.
4. Make and chill the stuffing.
5. Set the table, including all the serving pieces. Make sure the wine(s) are properly chilled.
6. Let everything go. Urkey Day is about giving "thanks" and sharing a meal with people you love. You are ready. You have done all the work ahead of time so you can be part of the party.
Please share any day before THE day tips in the comments section.
Okay, Dear Readers. Up and At’em! Get yourselves in gear and get organizing for the big feast! Now, if you are the "Cooker" of the family, as I am, that means today is the day for the following preparations:
1. Clean (or at least pretend to) your home. Better yet! Get your visiting loved ones (your college kids) to do it for you. (You might as well clean yourself while you're at it. You don't want to smell like a turkey after all.)
2. Clean your kitchen. This is not a negotiable preparation item. The reasons for having a VERY clean kitchen are many; a. You are a better cook in a clean kitchen. b. Cleanliness is next to, well, good foodliness. c. Everyone always gathers in the kitchen so have yours be clean and tidy.
3. Begin preparations for the side dishes such as the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, etc. (i.e.) Wash the potatoes and place them in the cooking pot so it's simply add water and boil on Urkey day, savvy?) Realize you need to purchase ingredients for the side dishes! Now that you realize you need ingredients for the the side dishes, MAKE A LIST!!!!! Carry it about your house with you and check your cabinets and refrigerator and freezer for ALL the things you need, not just for Urkey Day but for the rest of week. (Snacks, milk, eggs, etc.) For goodness sake, put "turkey" on your Urkey Day list. Tomorrow at the store will be hideous. Avoid the dreaded "double shop" by having a list. Oh yeah, BRING THE LIST WITH YOU TO THE STORE!!! Take a picture of the list so when you forget the list, you are covered. (I have heard this can be helpful.)
4. Now that you have done your preparations, make certain all these wonderful yummies (you are about to purchase and make) can fit in your refrigerator! Before anything else, go get your roasting pan and make room for it in the refrigerator, NOW. Trust me, you will thank me later.
5. Purchase wine and meal components TODAY (if possible) so you can prep your turkey at your leisure and avoid all the poor (non-Mary's Kitchen-reading) shmows at the store tomorrow.
6. Make your pie crusts today! (YES! Make the pie crusts! You got this!) If not, purchase a really good pre-made one and don't tell anyone. Prepare your pie fillings today also. I always bake my pies on Urkey Day; after all, it is only once a year.
7. Relax. Have a nice drink. After all, you got your kid(s) to clean your house and you read this blog so even if you are a super busy procrastinator, like me, you're on track for Urkey Day! Yay you!
Please share any Urkey Day preparation tips in the comments section so we can help each other.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor