Archive for the ‘Cooking’ category

Philly Cheese Steak

March 21, 2007

I have never been to Pennsylvania to have a cheese steak, so I cannot comment on how good they are. I have had the IHOP style of cheese steak sandwich and I have to admit it is very good.

Not being one to eat out on a regular basis I decided to see if I could duplicate the IHOP sandwich.

I started off by baking some bread. I needed a couple of fairly soft rolls formed into submarine sandwich buns. The trick to making them soft is to bake them at high heat (400 degrees F) for a short amount of time. Just long enough to get them done. Stick them with a toothpick or fork to check doneness. If the toothpick or fork comes out without dough sticking to it, the baking is done. Also, I found that using two packets of yeast makes for a lighter dough. More bubbles in the mixture and it rises faster and farther. Use a couple of tablespoons of sugar when blooming the yeast in warm water. Let it bloom until it has a well established head before adding flour. The sugar allows the yeast to make alcohol and adds flavor to the bread.

Once cool, split the bun lengthwise and dig out shallow troughs in both halves. Butter both halves and broil them in the oven, buttered side up to get just barely toasty. I like to use a mixture of olive oil and roasted garlic instead of butter. The roasted garlic is homemade, and mashed to a paste before it is mixed with the oil. I like lots of roasted garlic. Your tastes might differ.

Keep an eye on the toasting buns. You want them just barely toasted. Golden brown is too dark. We are looking for a golden yellow.

Now sautee some onion in a skillet. The sandwich is just fine without the onion but if you like onion this is how to do it. Sautee in butter or oil until the onion is soft. We are not making onion rings here. Just soften so they won’t fall out of the sandwich. Onion cut into rings is fine. I like white onion but red onion works fine too. Pile the onion into both troughs in both halves of the bun but leave enough room for the steak.

You don’t need to use steak to make this sandwich. Good quality roasting meat will also work. Once the meat is roasted to your liking, cut it into thin strips (like you might get on an Arby’s sandwich) and pile it onto the bun. The thinner you can cut the meat, the lesser quality of meat you can use, while still making it edible. Brisket is a little greasy, but flank steak and roast work well. Of course there is nothing preventing you from using real steak.

Now pile the meat into both troughs of both halves of one bun. Use at least enough to fill the troughs. It does not have to look like an overstuffed Quiznos as shown on the TV ad.

Slice some swiss cheese into strips that are as wide as the bun. Lay these strips onto the meat on one of the bun halves. A single layer of cheese is fine. Use more if you like cheese or are shy on the meat.

Put the two bun halves together, put on a microwave safe plate, and set it in a microwave. Microwave on high for about one minute. Maybe less. We do not want to toast the cheese or have it melt to the point of running down the sides. We just want the cheese to melt and glue the two bun halves together.

Steak sauce can be added as a side. This sandwich is consumed with knife and fork as though it were a real steak. You may find it is too good to doctor with steak sauce.

The IHOP version I had came with a side of home fried potatoes. You can make home fried potatoes very easily at home. Cut a large (or small) potato into strips about one-quarter inch thick, one inch wide and three inches long. cover the bottom of a baking pan with a thin layer of oil (cannola or olive) and add the potato strips. Move the strips around so each has a full coating of oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are half way cooked. Leave the oven at 350 but shift it to broil and let the potatoes cook for another 15 minutes or until they turn a light golden brown. No need to turn them over to broil the bottom side. They will be sufficiently brown all over if they are done. These are not french fries, so don’t try to turn them into fries. Light golden brown is fine. If they end up crunchy, they are overcooked. Remove from oven and lightly salt.

Spaghetti Sauce

February 3, 2007

We used to use Prego or Ragu. Now we use tomato paste. Why? Because a can of tomato paste costs about 20 cents while a jar of Prego or Ragu is more that 2 dollars.

You save about 1.50 per jar. Say you have spaghetti or pizza once a week and use one jar of sauce a week. Fifty-two weeks in a year times 1.50 is $78.00 saved over a years time. Not much right? Okay, then send me a check for that amount and see if you miss it.
The savings is not the only reason to make your own sauce. If we make it ourselves, we can control the amount of salt in the sauce.

The actual cost of turning a can of tomato paste into a jar of spaghetti sauce is a little more than 20 cents. You have to add basil, onion, garlic, and sugar or splenda. The actual amounts as follows.

One can of tomato paste

Three cans of water.

Two healthy pinches of basil

Two healthy pinches of minced garlic

Two table spoons sugar or splenda

One quarter medium sized onion minced.

Heat in a sauce pan after all has been added and combined. Heat it at a simmer until the onion cooks into the sauce. Add some chopped green bell pepper at the end for taste. Same for pepper, and other seasonings you might consider appropriate.
Takes about an hour or two to finish cooking. Then let cool and pour into an empty Prego or Ragu jar. Refrigerate.

Potato Chips

January 25, 2007


Want to make some potato chips? I guess the million dollar question is why? So much easier to buy them. True, but if you don’t want or can’t go to the store right now, here is a way to get your chips without leaving the house.

Of course you will need to already have at least one potato and some cooking oil. Might help to have a deep fat fryer too.

I first hit upon this idea while peeling some potatoes. The potato peeler I use is a popular one. It cuts very thin slices. Thin slices prefect for making crispy potato chips.


Pictured here is one potato reduced to chips with the potato peeler.


Cook them a few at a time. I put enough in to just cover the bottom of the basket.


Bubbling away as they cook. Don’t leave them unattended. Takes about 3 mins or so to get them crispy. Stir them with a fork or spoon while they are frying to keep them from sticking together .

I used one potato. Took three batches to cook the entire potato.

Doneness was judged by color. Black is crispy too but golden brown tastes better. They stay white for a long time before turning brown, but when they turn, they do so very quickly and need to be removed from the oil immediately.

I don’t use a thermometer. I don’t have one. I just heat the oil on high heat to the point where the food fries with vigerous bubbles as it cooks.

It turned out pretty well. They stayed crispy until supper. They probably would have stayed crispy longer but we ate them all at supper time.

Brined Turkey

November 19, 2006

On Thanksgiving two years ago we began a tradition of having two turkeys, one smoked, the other roasted normally.

Our first grandson was born on Thanksgiving so, for us, it is a double celebration. Thanksgiving and a birthday.

This year will be the same except for a slight difference in preparation of the turkeys.

The food network is not our favorite cable channel but it does have some useful information most of the time. Of the programs on the food network, good eats with Alton Brown is a favorite because of good recipes as well as background information on what makes them good. This season Alton is pushing brined turkey. Not sure, he may also have been suggesting soaking the bird in salt last season but this is the first season we have decided to take him up on his suggestion.

We are following his recipe but changing the method just a little. Instead of stuffing the turkey into a five gallon bucket we are using the original plastic bag the bird was packaged in as means of holding the brine. The turkey, in the plastic bag is situated vertically in a large pot and braced with paper towel packing so that it remains vertical and can’t fall over. Then the brine is poured into the body cavity until it overflows and fills the rest of the plastic bag to the top.

The whole assembly is then carefully set into the refrigerator and left overnight. The following morning, the bird is removed, washed, stuffed with the prepared aromatics, and either roasted or smoked.

The first one is going to be smoked. We use a smoker. It is a five year old Brinkman Smok’n Grill Smoker. It is a dome shaped metal can that holds a tray of charcoal. Just above the charcoal sits a pan of water. One grill is located right above this pan. A second grill is located just above the first grill.

The charcoal provides the heat. The water turns to steam and the steam as well as the smoke cooks the meat. For a more distinct smoky flavor we add hickory wood chips and wood strips that have been soaked in water overnight. The hickory is placed into an open aluminum foil pouch that sits on top of the hot charcoal. That makes for lots of smoke and lots of flavor.

The smoker runs for about ten hours after which the turkey is removed and baked in the oven at 350 degrees for another hour to ensure it is fully cooked. We normally smoke chicken and allow about six hours of smoking for a chicken. The turkey is about twice to three times the size of a chicken, hence the extra time.

Cut into the meat to determine doneness. We do not trust the pop out temperature indicators, don’t own a meat thermometer, and like our poultry well done. Cutting into the breast and inspecting is the surest way we know of determining if it is fit to eat.

We have never brined or used the aromatic stuffing before this season. It will be interesting to see if it make a significant difference.

Chicken Broth – cure for the common cold

November 15, 2006

It is a good thing that I don’t mind the taste of chicken. ‘It tastes sort of like chicken’ is a phrase you hear often enough to make you realize that nearly everything tastes like chicken.

Chicken is okay and it is inexpensive. We usually load up on whole chickens when we find them on a special sale. One whole chicken is enough for a whole week of suppers for two if you are careful about preparation and portion size.

We normally start by cutting it up. Legs, thighs, breasts, and wings are removed. I am partial to wings, thighs, and legs but also have never been known to reject a chicken breast.

Chicken is also good roasted whole or smoked. Smoked chicken is excellent but you may not care for it in soup.

Once those parts are removed, you are left with a carcass that still has some meat on it but nothing in sufficient quantity to make a couple of meals. So, we boil the carcass in a big pot with lots of water and herbs. Rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaf, sage, or whatever you consider makes stuff taste good. Let it boil for an hour or two. Then turn off the heat and let it cool.

When cool remove the carcass and pick off the cooked meat. Cut the meat into small pieces and set aside to make soup.

Use a ladle to skim off the liquid chicken broth and pour it into jars, a ladle full at a time. I use Prego jars. One carcass will make enough broth to fill three jars and still have enough fixings left over to fill three more jars with chicken rice soup. Or you can use noodles.

Once the three jars of broth have been filled, pour what is left in the pot through a strainer to remove all solids. Pour the strained liguid back into the pot, add several diced sticks of celery and a diced carrot. Add water until the pot is half full. Add back the cut up chicken meat. Bring this to a boil. Turn down the heat so that it is still at a boil but just barely. Add one cup of dry rice. Not instant rice! Just normal dry rice. Let that simmer for at least half an hour. Stir it every ten minutes or so. Let it cool and pour it into Prego jars.

You should now have three jars of chicken broth and three jars of concentrated chicken rice soup. Each jar of soup can be used to make four servings. The chicken broth is handy for use as soup stock, stew stock, rice flavoring.

The stocks are self explanatory. The rice flavoring might need some explanation.

There are lots of ways of preparing rice. Most of them involve the use of hot water. One of my favorite ways of preparation is in a large skillet. Cover the bottom of the skillet with a drizzle of olive oil. Bring to temperature with the burner at medium heat. Pour a cup of dry rice into the skillet. Stir while it is cooking. Cook until it is light brown. Be careful not to let it get too dark. Stop the browning by pouring in a Prego jar full of chicken broth. Lots of noise, lots of steam. Stir well and put a lid on it. Let it sit for five minutes and check back to stir some more. The idea here is to let the rice cook completely and absorb the chicken broth. Add diced onion, diced bell pepper, diced carrots, diced tomato, or whatever vegetable you like. Or don’t add anything at all. If you don’t let this dish burn, there is no way to ruin it.

You can make the rice as fluffy or as soupy as you want. Just don’t let it burn. Burn it will too if you cook off all the liquid and let it sit without stirring. Soupy rice is best for use in casseroles. Pour the soupy rice into a casserole dish and cover it with a few fillets of fish seasoned with salt, pepper, and dill. Or use chicken breasts with the salt, pepper, and dill. You may also want to try to add a can of condensed mushroom soup to the rice. That makes for a very rich casserole but still fairly low calorie. It just tastes rich. Tastes good too, if you like mushrooms. If you really like mushrooms, just add a can of mushrooms to the rice and forget the condensed soup.

Put that in an oven at 350 degrees. Let bake for an hour or so. Remove from the oven and melt a couple of patties of butter on top of the meat. Serve. Given the amounts of rice used this will make four generous portions.

Pork Chop Casserole

October 24, 2006

While this dish in not really new, it is different from anything that has previously been tried here using pork chops.

On a recent trip to visit family, I decided to cook supper. There were plenty of pork chops in the freezer so pork chops it was.

Intending to fry them after breading, I decided that baking was a better plan. I put them in a casserole dish, added some unpeeled potatoes, and onion. I was ready to begin baking but those potatoes crowding the chops just did not look right.

I removed the potatoes, but the dish looked like it needed something. I diced a quarter section of a bell pepper and added that. Then added a diced tomato. Added some more onion, and finally emptied a can of concentrated mushroom soup on top of everything else. No water. Just the concentrated soup.

All that went into the oven set to 350 degrees and stayed there for an hour.

The potatoes were cut up, boiled and mashed and a can of corn was opened for the vegtable part of the meal.

Mashed potatoes covered with the mushroom soup mixture, baked pork chops, and corn.

The end result was pretty tasty and it was just as good as left overs two days later. The bell pepper contributed most of the taste and there was more than enough salt in the mushroom soup concentrate. Probably will add some pepper to spice things up when we try this again.

Tuna Casserole

October 3, 2006

We have been cooking Tuna Casserole to these directions for more than 20 years. It always turns into a reasonable meal. The main variation is in how soupy or dry the end result becomes. The amount of moisture is controlled by the amount of noodles and the amount of time it spends in the oven.

Start by hard boiling three eggs in a large saucepan. Set the eggs aside, pour the water out of the sauce pan, empty the contents of one can of condensed mushroom soup into the saucepan.

Fill the soup can half full of water and stir to get the rest of the condensed mixture. Pour that into the sauce pan and stir to mix.

Add one tablespoon of yellow mustard. Add two tablespoons of mayonaise. Add two tablespoons of pickle relish. Stir to mix.

Open two cans of tuna fish. Don’t drain. Add the tuna and liquid into the sauce pan by flaking the tuna with a fork or spoon to break it into small shreds. Stir to mix.

Peel the three eggs and cut them in half lengthwise, turn 90 degrees and cut again, then cut them crosswise to end up with diced hard boiled egg. Add all diced egg to the saucepan.

Dice up four 1/4 inch thick wedges of Velveeta cheese and add them to the sauce pan. Heat the mixture on low to let the cheese melt and stir to mix. It is okay if the cheese does not melt all the way. It is not okay to let the thick mixture settle, get hot, and burn at the bottom of the saucepan.

Dice one medium sized onion. Add the onion to the mixture and mix. Dice one small, green, bell pepper. Add the bell pepper to the mixture and mix. Let it simmer on low and boil some egg noodles.

Boil water in a large pan to which a couple of teaspoons of salt have been added. Add three to four cups of dry egg noodles to the boiling water and let them cook until soft. They do not need to be very soft. Firm is good.

Drain the water from the noodles and pour the cooked noodles into a large casserole dish. Pour the heated mixture from the saucepan over the noodles and mix. Sprinkle some fried onion topping onto the tuna casserole. Cover the casserole dish and place in an oven set for 350 degrees. Let it bake for one hour.

Remove the dish from the oven and let it sit on the counter for another hour or so. Serve.