Hacks from my Happy Place – XXIV

Here are my tips of the month: #1) Chill cookie dough before baking – allowing the butter to resolidify in the dough will make for thicker cookies because it first has to ‘melt’ in the hot oven before it can spread out. #2) Consider using day-old glazed donuts to make French toast. It will have an extra sweetness and a lighter and airier consistency than bread. Old glazed donuts are also a great substitute when making bread pudding (for those of you who know what that is).

Actually, I have a few other tips as well. These are things NOT to do based on my own experiences. You see, there is seldom a day that goes by where I’m not using the internet to look up recipes or ways to ‘spice up’ recipes I already have. The thing is, I always experiment with new recipes or ideas or even hacks before I will recommend them in my blog. So, let me tell you about two recipes and a hack I’ve recently tried which are all going in the column marked “Don’t Do That Again”.

Someone gave me a box of oven-ready lasagna noodles. Now, because I always make lasagna roll-ups instead of a layered casserole, I always need to precook my noodles so they are malleable and can be rolled. I looked at this box of noodles for quite a few days, trying to figure out how to use them. I finally decided that I would try making a chicken alfredo lasagna. I mean, I can whip up chicken alfredo pretty easily, so it’s just adding layers of the cheese mixture. So, I got all of the ingredients I needed and set out with high hopes. I cooked the casserole according to the package directions. It looked okay, considering that it was pretty much all one color. I sprinkled some basil across the top just to make it not look so bland. Once it was cool enough that I didn’t have to worry about the cheese running, I cut a hunk out and put it on a plate. It didn’t look any more enticing on the plate as it did in the pan. Nonetheless, I cut into it and took a bite.

The good news is that it was edible. The bad news is that the noodles had the consistency of what I would expect well-soaked cardboard would have. They were soft – not hard and brittle as if they weren’t completely cooked – but the pasta had no give to it. Because that was to be my dinner, I ate what was on my plate. Sadly, the rest went into the trash (even though I hate to waste food). So, my hack based on this recipe experiment is: do NOT use oven-ready lasagna noodles or, if you buy them by mistake, cook them as you would any other lasagna noodle.

But, since “bad news always comes in threes”, I have two more blunders to share with you. Do NOT believe in the idea that you can freeze eggs individually in ice cube trays to save and use later. I had 4 eggs that were coming close to their “use by” date and, although I needed those 4 eggs for recipes I planned to make in the near future, I wasn’t sure they would be made before the expiration date. I’ve read and heard numerous times that you can freeze raw eggs by cracking the shell and pouring the entire egg into one section of an ice cube tray. So, I thought I’d try it and save having to toss the eggs into the trash. Definitely easy to do. And then came the day, soon afterward, when it was time to thaw and use the eggs. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but somehow, it still wasn’t what I expected. The “whites” of the eggs were not ‘goopy‘ like they are when you crack a raw egg; I would have been hard-pressed to try to separate the white from the yolk. And the yolk… it was still bright yellow, and round, and looked like an ordinary egg yolk. However, the egg yolk reminded me why you don’t judge a book by its cover. I tossed the entire ‘egg’ back and forth from one hand to another, tossing it harder and harder as time went on. I did manage then to separate the white from the yolk, but the yolk remained whole, without breaking. In the end, I decided that I was just going to end up chucking them all into the trash and use new ones. A waste, but at least I knew now that the only way to save an old egg was to hard-boil it as soon as possible.

Blunder number 3 was probably the most devastating to me. While I’m not a big dessert eater, there are a few that I enjoy and will choose to “save room for”. One of them is pineapple upside down cake, and I’d had the makings for one in my cabinet for a long while. Scrolling through recipes, I found one for making this delight in the crock pot. Middle of summer and no need to use the oven? I decided it was time to make this cake! I followed the recipe exactly. It smelled delicious as I turned off the crock pot and removed the inner liner to allow the cake to start cooling. After letting it cool for 20 minutes as instructed, I managed to cover the top with my cutting board and somehow flip over the very heavy combination of cutting board, ceramic crock pot liner and cake. The cake did not slide out as it was supposed to. It was not moving in any way. I turned the liner upright, ran a knife carefully around the edges, repeated the process to no avail. Upright again, I tried cutting through the cake into fourths and inverted again. Eventually, I had to use a spoon to dig the first piece out and then a spatula to lift the remaining three sections. Not only was that a failure, but the cake was super heavy and dense, and I ended up cutting off the bottom half and tossing it in the trash because it was so dry.

If you were raised as I was, being told to eat something I didn’t like that was on my plate because there were “starving children in the world who would be glad to eat that and ask for more” then you know how difficult it is for me to throw food away. After these 3 fiascos, which came in quick succession of each other, I was put off from trying anything new for a while and went back to my tried-and-true recipes.

I hope I haven’t disappointed any of my readers that I’m not always perfect in the kitchen!!!?? Now, with having to get through the remainder of the hot, hot days of summer, I’m seldom cooking. I’ve eaten more lunch meat sandwiches this summer than I’ve probably eaten in total the past two years. And I’ve made a couple of fresh fruit mix-ups with whatever is in season and enjoying that as a light meal. When I do cook, it is with the toaster oven, and I make enough of whatever I’m making to get another two meals out of it that just need reheated. But I will leave you with one really ‘weird’ hack that I tried that was successful…

Mashed Potato Chips: Yes, you read that right, and I probably made a similar face to the one you just made as you read that. Here’s the thing – I eat very few potato chips anymore, and my taste buds have changed, so none of the ones I used to like taste all that great anymore. I’ve been trying other brands and other flavors as well. Fortunately, my bestie’s son will gladly take any snack-type things off my hands if I discover I don’t care for them (at least it beats not throwing food away!). Well, I heard about this idea of being able to make mashed potatoes out of potato chips, and I had to try it. To make them, you boil a pan of water and then dump potato chips into it. Let it boil for about 10 minutes, stirring very occasionally. Use a fork (just like you would if you were boiling potatoes) to check if the chips are cooked to a soft consistency. Drain and mash, adding butter (or whatever else you might add to your mashed potatoes). I had some bacon and cheddar kettle-cooked chips here that I’d tried and didn’t like, so I tried this hack. I did let them boil for about 15 minutes because they were ‘kettle-cooked’, and I could mash them easily with a fork once they were drained. I added sour cream and some real bacon bits (for texture) and they were pretty good! I mean, it won’t become a staple in my cooking, but the taste was better than even the best instant potatoes I’ve tried, and I can make enough for just one serving as well. I’m intrigued enough that I may have to try some other flavored chips now when I want some mashed potatoes!

Waste not, want not, right?