If you’re like most people I know, you serve meals with an ‘entree’, a ‘starch’ and a ‘vegetable’. That was what was considered a balanced meal when I was growing up. My mom tended to use canned vegetables because they were handy and just needed heating. We all liked corn the best, peas, green beans, wax beans and carrots were tolerable. My older brother and I fought over the lima beans (which we didn’t get very often!). Most of the time, there were always a couple of spoonfuls of the canned veggies that were left over at the end of the meal – not enough to save for any reason – so they were disposed of when cleaning up afterwards.
If that’s something that happens at your house, STOP! Stop throwing those leftover veggies away! Instead, drain any of the liquid and place them in a large zippered bag and toss it in your freezer! Every time you have a little bit of a leftover vegetable, drain it and add it to the bag. Pretty soon you’ll have a collection of mixed vegetables similar to the bags of frozen mixed vegetables in your grocery store’s freezer section. And why do those bags exist? Well, they are perfect for use when it gets cold and a big pot of vegetable soup is a hearty, warming meal! Add some beef broth (vegetable broth for you vegetarians out there), a can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, and voila, you have soup! Of course, you can add beef, whether leftover from a cooked beef roast or browned hamburger if you’re watching your budget but want to add meat. Without adding meat, that big pot of soup will, when you make it, cost you only the purchase of broth and a can of tomatoes – you basically have the veggies for free!
For this next hack, I need to give credit to Rachel Ray. I saw her do this on one of her shows, tried it, and never looked back…. Did you know that the tastiest, creamiest mashed potatoes are made without milk? I grew up learning that milk and butter (margarine) were added to cooked potato pieces to turn them into mashed potatoes. But now – and since long before I had a lactose-intolerant guest join me for meals – the secret is to use some of the starchy water from cooking the potatoes in place of milk. Most of the flavor and taste of the potato cooks out into the boiling water. By using this water instead of milk, you actually add some of that taste back in! I was surprised at the deeper flavor of potato the first time I tried this!!! I’ve also found that my mashed potatoes seem creamier. To try this, simply drain some of the potato water into a measuring cup, equal to the amount of milk you think you’d add. Melt your butter/margarine over the potatoes after they are drained and start mashing them. Then simply add the water, some at a time, until you reach the level of creaminess you desire. Then taste them! That’s right – sneak a forkful or spoonful for yourself and taste them! Life changer!
Growing up with PA Dutch heritage, summer was all about pickling. While many of you enjoy ‘red beet eggs’, I learned to pickle the beets and then make pickled eggs. My mom canned bread and butter pickles, and made a sliced cucumber and onions dish that was also pickled. If you’ve ever seen Harvard Beets in your grocery store, Harvard beets are just pickled beets with the juice thickened. If you’ve ever sampled something called Chow-Chow, you’re eating pickled raw vegetables. Pickling is very easy. The key to remember is two parts sugar to one part cider vinegar. With the red beets, you just add this to the juice you get from the canned beets. The best pickled dishes are left to marinate for at least 3 days in the picklimg juices, which allows the flavor to permeate the item(s) you’re pickling. Seriously, if you like pickles, try pickling fresh veggies of different kinds. At a picnic on a hot summer day, the taste is refreshing and cool!
If you have some hacks or hints that serve you well in the kitchen, please share them with me through the comments box. If I share them in a future blog, you’ll get full credit!