Hacks from my Happy Place-XVIII

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my happy place. I guess that’s because it’s been a while since I’ve given into spending a chunk of time in my happy place! I’m blaming it on my shoulder, my struggle with fatigue and the fact that my kitchen doesn’t get anything from my window ACs so it’s always hot in the summer! It didn’t help the cause when my brother took in a temporary roommate and I didn’t know that person’s likes and dislikes so I didn’t cook for him during that time. Then, I also had a week or so where I just didn’t have an appetite – my taste buds were completely shut down and nothing sounded appealing. Fortunately, that was also temporary!

But now, the weather has quickly changed and I’m fine with my kitchen being warm. (I haven’t officially turned on my heat.) Also, my physical therapy is working well enough that I’ve been able to regain much of the use of my right hand, arm and shoulder without a problem. It seemed like I had to retrain the right side to take back all of the tasks I’d turned into habit with my left side!

Anyhow, this past weekend I made a batch of baked pork and sauerkraut. I’d been hungry for it, and I knew I’d be feeding others as well. I even made real mashed potatoes because I was going to share! For the record, let me state that I’d rather clean the toilet than peel 5 pounds of potatoes!!! Got it? Living alone, I tend to use instant for myself because of the convenience, but I decided to splurge. Besides, it was a good repetitive motion to work my arm and shoulder muscles!

I enjoyed the process enough that I also decided to make a meatloaf and some baked mac ‘n cheese (I use shells though). The meatloaf was better than the last one I made but still not as good as others I’ve made. The baked mac ‘n cheese was cheesy good, though!

The reasons I bake my pork and sauerkraut instead of using a crockpot are several. I like to brown the pork I’m using a little bit at first, so that it stays moist inside. I can brown it in my Dutch oven (5 quart pan) and then that same pan can go right into the oven. My mom always added some dill weed to her sauerkraut, insisting it took some of the ‘gasiness’ away, so I do as well. The secret I use that my mom didn’t however, is adding apple sauce. Sweetened or unsweetened is fine, just not the stuff with cinnamon. The applesauce sweetens and takes over a good part of the bitterness of the sauerkraut without changing its flavor. And, I admit, I also like when it’s done and the sauerkraut turns just a light brown color, which only happens when baking it.

This turned out to be one of my better batches. I have given, or will be giving, 4 meals of it away, which left me with enough for two good-sized meals. That’s just enough to enjoy without growing tired of it!

A little trick I’d heard about, in the meanwhile, has to do with reheating leftover pizza. If you’ve done that, you know that using the oven to reheat will make the crust extra hard, and using the microwave will make the crust extra chewy. The trick said to use the oven, but to sprinkle some water on and around the slices, then cover the pan with foil to reheat. The claim is that the steam, as the moisture evaporates, goes into the crust (because it’s the only porous thing available) and makes it like it was when it came out of the oven the first time. I tried it! It worked! I mean, it wasn’t just like fresh-from-the-oven, but it was so much more palatable than not using the trick!

I found, at the recommendation of my chiropractor, a website called http://Half Baked Harvest which has a lot of recipes. The bad news is that, like most cooking shows, the creator of the recipes uses items most of us don’t have, like sesame oil, ginger juice, fresh herbs, but as I looked at the recipes, my mind was turning with the possibilities of substitutions. I plan to take a closer look and see what I can adapt to things I have or am willing to buy (I mean, seriously, what am I going to do with a bottle of ginger juice after I’ve added 3 tbsp. to a recipe??). If you like new recipes, please take a look at that website and see what inspires you!

So thanks to my efforts, plus a meal to try gifted to me by my bestie, I’ve got lots of options to get me through Sunday before I have to scramble again! And Tuesday, my bestie and I are going to bite the bullet and go to our favorite place for a late lunch indoors. I feel safer there than any place around, and if we feel it’s too crowded, we just won’t stay. I already know I’m going to have either chicken tenders and fries or fish and chips!

Also, please always feel free to tell me about recipes you like – – or ask me questions about something you’d like to try making and I’ll try to give you good advice!

And remember, it indeed is time to start putting on your winter weight (your body will do this naturally, so why not enjoy the process!!!

Hacks from my Happy Place – V

For our Fourth of July feast, my bestie had what I call a “happy accident”. I use that label to apply when you are cooking and without one of the ingredients, so you substitute something in its place and it turns out even better! One of our entrees was chicken, which was to be cooked on the grill with barbeque sauce. My poor bestie discovered that morning that she didn’t have any barbeque sauce! What she did have was a bottle of steak marinade, so she used it as a marinade for the chicken. It was fabulous! It had some of the sweetness of a barbeque sauce but also some of the smokiness of a beef marinade. I have tried different brands of barbeque sauces, never finding one that was quite the right blend of flavorings to suit me. Well, thanks to that “happy accident”, I’ll be using steak marinade instead in the future. It really WAS that good!

I love cabbage any way you cook it. Cabbage is one of those foods that you either love or hate, and I’m a lover. Years ago, I learned a recipe for fried cabbage, which I make now and again. It’s pretty simple. You fry bacon and set it aside. You fry loose sausage and set it aside. You fry chopped onions and set them aside. Then, in a non-stick Dutch oven, you add chopped cabbage and fry it over medium heat until it has almost completely softened (you’ll want to stir it now and then so you don’t burn it). When it’s just about soft, put the lid on and continue cooking until it’s completely soft. Remove the lid, add in the bacon (crumbled), the sausage and the onions, and stir until combined and everything is hot. Dish up and serve! I can eat this as an entire meal by itself, or it can be a side dish to a main entrĂ©e. Either way, it’s yummy! If you really want to make an impression on guests, dish up hot fried cabbage into a casserole, sprinkle with your favorite shredded cheese(s) and pop under the broiler until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. The fried cabbage will last for up to a week in the fridge!

Did you know that you can brown flour? Flour is often used as a thickening agent for sauces and gravies and such, but using it in a roux (equal parts butter and flour, stirred until completely combined) does tend to lighten the color of whatever you add it to. To keep the rich, dark color of your sauce/gravy/etc., simply put flour in a frying pan and heat over medium heat, stirring about every 5 minutes or so. You will begin to see the flour turn brown. Keep heating and stirring until all of the flour has browned. Now when you use it as a thickener, it will help keep what you add it to from turning light. And, as a bonus, you can make this and keep in an airtight container in your pantry for as long as you’d like, so you don’t have to make it every time you want to use it!

“Brown butter” is a butter sauce you usually only see in Amish or PA Dutch cooking. But yes, you can brown butter. Again, do it in a frying pan, stirring repetitively, until you see the melted butter go from a pale yellow to a golden tone. Once you’ve reached that color, pull it away from the heat immediately. Serve over noodles or, yes, cabbage, or any pasta or vegetable of your choice. Browning butter gives it a subtle nutty taste, but it does, indeed, add taste to your butter! As an appetizer, add spices you would like and serve it with chunks of bread, like they do with oil in those fancy restaurants. Delish!

Well, now I’ve made myself hungry! Hope I’ve made you hungry too! Try some of these simple hacks, and here’s wishing you a “happy accident” in your future!