Beka To Basics

Real Food Cooking

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Crabcakes! (?Hash?)

I can make fish cakes. I can make black bean patties. I can even make eggplant cakes. But for some reason, whenever I try to make crab cakes, it turns in crab hash that tastes like crab cakes. Oh well, at least it still tastes good, right?

I’m not sure what the problem is.  I have a slightly different recipe for these than my other cakes – it includes an egg, mayonnaise and mustard, but I make it the same consistency as the others, so theoretically, it should work as a crab cake.  I would just bake them, but having that oh, so delicious, crispy crust is so important to me, and I feel like I wouldn’t be able to get it in the oven.  I can’t figure out the problem – too many breadcrumbs? too few? more liquidy stuff needed? less?  Anyone else have this problem?

How to Feed Two People Five Dinners with $13 and 1/4 Lb of Beef

Sometimes I get tired of spending money, even if it is to buy food.  That might be my politically correct way of saying that sometimes there isn’t a lot of money to spend on food.  And Mom, before you ask, Yes, I would ask you for help if I needed 🙂

But really, it IS nice to not have to spend a lot on food.   I haven’t really gotten into the money aspect of food on purpose.  A lot of people think that eating from a CSA or the Farmer’s Market is always going to be more expensive than going to the grocery store.  I often hear people saying something along the lines of Oh, I went to the Farmer’s Market and spent SOOOOO MUCH.  Well, here’s a secret, you can also go to the grocery store and spend SOOOOO MUCH. Both of which I used to do, until I started paying attention to what I was buying.  Just go shopping at the Farmer’s Market with the same attitude (and list!) as the grocery store.  And Yes, have an extra $5-10 in case something you weren’t expecting looks SOGOODIHAVETOHAVEIT!  Even if you spend a little bit more than at the grocery store, at least the whole holy cow, how did I spend all the money at the market guilty feeling, won’t be as bad.

The Farm

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of ways to spend more money eating real food (yes, I know, define real food, I’ll be skipping that one fore now).  For example, milk.  Milk from a farm is always going to cost more than milk from a grocery store, why? The farmer is limited to the number of cows that they can actually care for and milk and has to charge accordingly.  Grocery store milk comes from giant farms who have money to invest in large feed areas, industrial sized milking machines, and hormones to make the cows produce more milk.

Meat: same idea as milk, so yes, meat directly from a farm will cost more than going to the grocery store.  Unless of course you happen to live near a large scale meat factory that will sell directly to you.

BUT, you don’t have to blow your entire budget on food, hence the ten meals for cheap post.  So, wait for it… wait for it… your mind might be blown when I tell you how easy this is:

STEAK QUESADILLAS (with cost, let’s talk about transparency)

  • 1/4 lb Flat Iron Steak (1.92)
  • package of tortillas (2.99)
  • 1/2 cup mix of black and pinto beans (made from dry beans .35)

    Quesadilla

  • salt and pepper (50? if that)
  • soy sauce for marinade (.20)
  • garlic clove (.20)
  • olive oil for marinade (.20)
  • 1/2 onion (.75)
  • 1 tomato (1.00)
  • pepper (.50)
  • block of cheese (4.00)

Total? 12.61

Season the beef with olive oil, salt and pepper, soy sauce and crushed garlic overnight.  Cook the steak. Cut up the steak.  Assemble quesadillas with a little shredded cheese on a tortilla, topped with a few pieces of steak, some beans, chopped onion, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers and add a little more cheese, top with another tortilla. Or only put the filling on one half of the tortilla and fold it over to make a moon – I find this way easier to flip.  Fry the quesadilla in a pan until one side is toasty, then flip and fry until the other side is toasty and the cheese is melted.  These are good, really good, I know because I had one for dinner every night this week!

Butternut Squash – Don’t be afraid of soup in the summer

I’m not, but you probably already figured that out.  It is summer though, so instead of serving soup with lots of broth, I tend to make it thicker, with more veggies and serve it with a salad or follow it with ice cream.

Sometimes, though, a real soup in the middle of summer is ok.  Especially if you time it right, so that you make the soup on the first cool day in a month. So, don’t be afraid, have your soup and eat it too, even when it’s summertime.

This one is really easy and fast too!

Butternut Squash and Chicken Soup

Butternut Squash and Chicken Soup

  • 1 Butternut Squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 quart of stock
  • 1 cup chopped cooked chicken
  • olive oil or butter
  • fresh basil, chopped

Heat the olive oil or butter and add the onions and squash.  Saute until softened a bit and then add the garlic and saute for another minute or so.  Add the stock and simmer until the squash is soft.  Add the chicken and basil and serve.

I will admit, while this was good, I feel like it could have used a little something extra.  Next time, I’ll try adding a bit of tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes, and maybe top it with croutons.  Any other ideas?

Fish and Chips! (minus the chips, add a salad)

I love fish. I love potatoes. I love crunchy food. So, naturally, I order fish and chips from time to time.  I am almost always disappointed.  Sometimes, the fish is too fishy, other times, the potatoes are over done, or underdone, or everything is lukewarm, or soggy. BUT, every time, the batter is tasteless. Each and every time, I am saddened by the lack of flavor on my fish.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to taste the fish. Cod is delicious, but I am looking for enhancement of the flavor along with a crisp crunch. I keep searching for the perfect, delicious, crunchy, flavorful fish and chips.

Sometimes, to get things done right, you have to do them yourself.

I have not perfected my personal chip (we’re talking french fries here, not chips in the American sense, for you laymen of the fish and chips ;)), so I endeavored to make one half of the fish and chip. I can work on the chips later.

Fish Batter

Pan Fried and Golden

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • cayenne pepper (I used a quite a bit, but I like spicy)
  • milk
  • frying oil
  • 1/2 lb Cod fillets, cut into pieces

Heat your oil. Salt and pepper the fish.  Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk and stir.  If the batter is too dry, add another bit of milk, stir.  Repeat until you have a mixture that looks like pancake batter.  Make sure your oil is hot enough by dripping some batter into it.  It should sizzle a little bit, but not enough that it browns super quickly. Remember, you want crunchy on the outside, but fully cooked fish on the inside, NOT crunch on the outside and raw on the inside. Or worse. cooked on the inside and completely black on the outside.  Believe me, I’ve done both, and every time, it’s so sad.

Sorry for the lack of specifics here, I’ve tried candy/frying thermometers and I have yet to find one that works for me.  So I guess.  You can guess too.

When the oil is hot, dip each piece into the batter, let the extra dip off, and put in the frying oil.  Repeat until the pan is full.  Fish doesn’t take all that long, probably about 7 minutes or so, but you can always take a piece out and cut it open to be sure before taking the rest of it out.  I don’t ever have enough oil to deep fry, so I tend to pan fry.  If you take that route, then cook for about 5 minutes, flip and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more.  You’ll know when it’s done when you stick a fork in it and it falls apart.  Let them drain on a cooling rack, or some other such draining device, and enjoy!

Featured at: Fat Tuesday

Roasting a Chicken in the Slow Cooker

As everyone already knows, I love having chicken broth around to cook with.  Well, this requires cooking a chicken from time to time (at least once a month). Sometimes, it’s too hot to roast a chicken in the oven, especially when your oven heats up the whole house even when your AC is working, which it isn’t, which isn’t fun.  I have my hot face on.

I also bought a fresh chicken, which needs to be cooked basically right away.  Fresh chicken is chicken that was just slau… um… harvested (to put it nicely) and hasn’t been frozen at all yet.  I’ve only ever had frozen chicken, just because it’s easier to buy, tick in the freezer and thaw when I know I’m going to have time to cook it.  Since I hadn’t had a fresh one before, when the opportunity came about, I had to take it.

I’ve cooked pork shoulder and beef roast in the crock pot before and don’t get me wrong, I’ve cooked plenty of chicken pieces in

Whole Bird in the Crock Pot

liquid in the crock pot, but did you know that you can roast it in the crock pot?

The skin doesn’t get quite as crispy as it would in the oven, but I’m ok with that since it made dinner without having to turn the oven on.  If it was a problem, I could have put it in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up without having to heat the whole house. Hello, Salad and Chicken.

Basically, you just put 1/4 of liquid in the crock pot, season the chicken however you like, put the lid on and cook for 5 hours on low (or until it’s cooked through).  Luckily, my crock pot has a timer to switch to “Keep Warm,” so I was able to come home to a coolish house and a cooked dinner.   This time, I seasoned it with Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, pepper and tarragon.  Mix all that together and rub all over the chicken before putting it in the crock pot.  The recipe is based on a Rachel Ray recipe, but I can’t find the link right now – I like to give credit when it’s due, so if you know the link, let me know!

The chicken creates it’s own gravy while it cooks and you really only have to reduce it down a bit to make it the right consistency.  Or you could do like me and make a gravy by cooking the drippings with roux, cook up some squash, green peppers and onions with rice, gravy and chicken.  Your Mom and Sister will really appreciate having dinner delivered, promise. 😉  It’s also why I don’t have any pictures post cooking, it was all gone by the time I thought of taking one.  You can bet that the bones are already in the crock pot again simmering away for some broth.
Featured in What’s in the Box? and Fat Tuesday

Dressing a Marinade in Sauce

Do you like what I did there?

I have always been intimidated by making dressing for my salad.  I see so many people do it on cooking shows and most salad recipes (seriously, who needs a salad recipe?) also include a recipe for the dressing (oh, I guess that’s why we need salad recipes).  I don’t know if anyone else has felt this way, but if you have, and you’re reading this, I want you to know that it is so easy!  Don’t be intimidated anymore, just try it, and surprise yourself.

There are a lot of reasons that you might want to make your own dressings.   Look at the ingredients of the dressings in your fridge.  Unless you’ve found a really good quality dressing company, I bet you won’t be able to tell me what some of the ingredients listed are.  You might not know how to say them or why they would be in dressing.  Dressing shouldn’t be complicated. Making it at home is also ALOT cheaper than buying from the store.  The bottle of  homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette in my fridge cost me less than $1.50 to make. I know the savings will vary depending on your store, but the cheapest of the good salad dressings (not the runny, tasteless salad dressings) is at least $3.  Half Price? I’ll take it.  Not having to run to the store if I realize I don’t have enough? I’ll take that too.

And you can come up with a basic recipe and tweak it depending on what you feel like or what you have around.  My basic Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe is good all by itself, but I really like it with some thyme added, and it’s also good with basil or parsley if you have some lying around waiting for a purpose.  If you want a creamy version, just take about 1/4 cup and add it to a cup or so of yogurt or buttermilk.

I promise there is an end to this post, it’s just not here yet. 🙂

If you can make a dressing, you can make a marinade. If you haven’t made a dressing yet, changes are you HAVE made a marinade. Well, just pretend you’re making a marinade if you’re still intimidated by making your own dressing. Anyways, isn’t dressing just a kind of short term marinade for lettuce?

Any dressing can be used as a marinade, so if you don’t feel like making two separate things, just use one for both, just know that sometimes a marinade is better than dressing because it can be lighter.  Take lamb steak – you could use the Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing as a marinade, but you would be much better just using a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary because it will not overpower the lamb.

Some people will tell you not to use the marinade to make a sauce, I’m not telling you that you must… but you can, just be sure to boil the marinade first.  If you’re not comfortable with that, just make extra marinade and make it into a sauce later.

Balsamic Vinegarette

  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • any herbs you like, I use thyme

Whisk the Balsamic Vinegar with the garlic, a bit of salt and pepper, and the mustard.  Add 1/2 olive oil and whisk until it is combined.  Taste it and if it’s too strong, add more olive oil and whisk again.  Some (many) recipes call for sugar or honey, I don’t really think it’s necessary, but try it if you think it is.  By the way, I don’t really whisk with a whisk… I’m really bad at it. I mix things with a fork, I just call it whisking.

So…Easy, right?

It’s kinda fun when people say, oh you made that?!  Just pick your favorite and try making it. Don’t get discouraged if you’re first, fifth, sixth attempts aren’t quite right.  That’s where I am with Catalina dressing, I just can’t quite get it right – Any ideas?

Plus you get to have these awesome little bottles and jars to keep everything in.  Just try to remember to label everything so you don’t end up with a weird science experiment in the back of your fridge that you have NO idea what it began life as.  Trust me on that one.

Dressings, Marinades and Sauces

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