What’s up with Squash?

When researching Squash, I discovered there are over 7,340,000 entries on google, some of which have to do with the game of squash, but mostly on summer and winter squash varieties.  Besides, sauteing or the typical casserole, what recipe possibilities are there when using squash?  First off, which squash do you use?  The winter squash varieties can include: Acorn , Amber Cup, Banana, Butternut, Buttercup, Carnival, Fairytale Pumpkin, Spaghetti, and that’s not even half of it.  So what can you do with it?  Obviously, I’m going to tell you…  below you will find some delicious recipes using some of the winter squash varietals in unique ways including southwestern acorn squash, “it’s not spaghetti it’s squash” with fresh herbs, zucchini, tomatoes, and crispy bacon! & of course a fall squash menu could not be complete without a delicious soup.  So enjoy and enhance your fall menu options, get away from those dreadful casseroles, and discover the savory and succulent squash (now in season).

Squash Facts & Equivalents:

  1. Every part of the squash plant can be eaten
  2. 1lb of peeled squash is equal to 1 cup cooked
  3. 1lb of squash is equal to 2 to 3 serving
  4. Most squash varietals can be left out at room temp for weeks before cooking, perfect for the neglectful chef.  🙂

To Prepare and Use Winter Squash:

Look for squash that feels heavy for its size and has hard, deep-colored skin free from blemishes.

Cooking Winter Squash:

Winter squash can be cut in halves or pieces.

Dress any cooked winter squash with butter and herbs, a cream sauce, cheese sauce, maple syrup and nuts, marinara sauce or stewed fruit.

Any type of mashed or pureed squash can be used in the place of canned pumpkin in soups, pies, cookies or quick breads. Chunks of squash can be added to soups, stews and casseroles.

Preparing Winter Squash: Too cook them, first remove fibers and seeds. Wash the exterior of the squash just before using. The seeds are scooped out before or after cooking. Then bake, steam, or boil the squash.

Using Water When Cooking Winter Squash: When water is used in cooking the squash, the quantity of water should be kept small to avoid losing flavor and nutrients.

Peeling Winter Squash:  Because this rind makes most squash difficult to peel, it’s easier to cook the unpeeled squash, and then scoop out the cooked flesh. As many recipes do require peeling (and cutting) first. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin and when cutting hard winter squashes

Cutting Winter Squash:  Winter squash have a hard skin and flesh (this includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicate, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Turban, as well as pumpkin).

To cut winter squash in half, grasp the squash firmly and use a sharp knife to slice through to the center. Then flip and cut the other side until the squash falls open. Remove and discard the seeds.

 

South Western Stuffed Acorn Squash

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash Recipe 

  • 3 acorn squash, (3/4-1 pound each)
  • 5 ounces bulk turkey sausage (for spice add italian sausage)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper,chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed (see Tip)
  • 1 small can of shoe peg corn 
  •  A handful of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, (Franks Red Hot)  to taste
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans,corn, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes. Throw in your Cilantro and stir.
  4. When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Fill the squash halves with the turkey mixture. Top with cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

It’s not Spaghetti it’s Squash , & the kids will love it!!

 

 Yield: about 4 servings

  • 1 Spaghetti Squash (aprox. 2 1/2 lbs)
  • 2  1/2 TBSP Butter
  • 2 1/2 TBSP finely chopped herbs (i.e. basil, chives, sage, italian or flat leaf parsley)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Canned diced tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 1/2 yellow onion small diced
  • 1 zucchini medium diced
  • 3 slices of Bacon- cooked extra crisp
  • Shaved parmesan

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise and place, cut side down, in a baking dish. Add enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until the squash is easily pierced with a paring knife. 

FYI: A small, whole spaghetti squash will yield a TON of cooked squash! Spaghetti squash stores well in a Tupperware container in the fridge and tastes great reheated in the microwave.

While your squash is cooking in the oven, prepare your vegetables and herbs

Turn squash over and cover with foil again and continue to cook another 15 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, gently pull the strands of squash away from the peel and place the squash strands into a mixing bowl.

Heat a skillet. Add the butter and first saute the onions until translucent (clear), add in the zucchini and spaghetti squash, herbs, salt and pepper and toss thoroughly but gently to heat and combine.   Now add the tomatoes, if using canned be sure & drain first then add in to the spaghetti squash mixture.  Serve immediately or cover and keep warm until ready to serve.  When plating top the mixture with some crispy bacon pieces and a shaving of parmesan!  Delish!!

(Note: You can serve this with a filet of fish or roasted chicken breast and have a full balanced meal with vegetables, tomatoes, protein, and lots of vitamins….not to mention how cool your kids will think the spaghetti squash is opposed to traditional pasta.)

  

Quick Butternut Squash and Leek Soup

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)

Ingredients

  • 1  whole garlic head
  • 4  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 6  cups  thinly sliced leek (about 4 large)
  • 4  cups  (3/4-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 medium)
  • 2  cups  water
  • 2  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove white papery skin from garlic head (do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap head in foil. Bake at 350° for 1 hour; cool 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic, squash, 2 cups water, broth, salt, and black pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Place half of squash mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over the opening in the blender lid (to avoid splatter). Blend until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture.

 

  

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Pumpkin Possibilities

You can feel it in the air, the crisp periodic cool breeze, the rustling of the leaves, the cool nights when you can actually open your window and let in some fresh air without using the AC.  Fall is right around the corner and summer is coming to an end. In honor of this most beloved season, I have included some quick and yummy pumpkin recipes that will kick off your fall and send summer’s heat wave packing. Also be sure to check out some creative pumpkin crafts to have your home looking fall festive. 

 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

(Ever wonder what you could do with the pumpkin guts after you carve a jack o lantern?  Roasted pumpkin seeds are one of my absolute favorite fall delights. This is an easy & excellent snack, perfect for back to school lunch boxes) 

  •  Remove the inside of the pumpkin and separate the seeds.  (I have found the easiest way is using a strainer and running water over the seeds and pulling the strings apart)
  • Lay the seeds flat on a dry paper towel, and take another paper towel to pat dry
  • In a separate small mixing bowl combine 2-3 TBSP of olive oil, 2 TBSP kosher salt, 1 TBSP black pepper, a pinch of brown sugar, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and whisk together for a few seconds.
  • Add your pumpkin seeds to the mixture and stir
  • Pour out onto a baking sheet and spread the seeds out flat
  • Roast in the oven on 350 for about 10 minutes until seeds are slightly browned.
  • Let cool and enjoy. 

Pumpkin & Shrimp Bruschetta

Pumpkin-Shrimp Bruschetta

“If this recipe doesn’t have you salivating at the sight of it, then something is terribly wrong!”

Ingredients

  • 20    fresh or frozen peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp in shells
  • 1  cup  canned pumpkin
  • 1/2  cup  crumbled goat cheese, at room temperature (2 ounces)
  • 1  tablespoon  lemon juice
  • 1  tablespoon  honey
  • 1  cup  arugula or spinach
  • 1/2  cup  finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2  cup  roasted pumpkin seeds*
  • 1/4  cup  bottled Italian vinaigrette salad dressing
  • 20  3/4-inch-thick slices  baguette-style French bread
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 2  ounces  Parmesan cheese, shaved (optional)

Directions

1. Peel and devein shrimp, if desired, leaving tails intact. Rinse shrimp. In a large skillet, cook shrimp in a large amount of boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque (pink). Drain well.

2. Preheat broiler. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, goat cheese, lemon juice, and honey; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine shrimp, arugula, onion, pumpkin seeds, and salad dressing; set aside.

4. Brush both sides of baguette slices lightly with olive oil. Arrange on a large baking sheet. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat about 2 minutes or until toasted, turning bread over once.

5. Spread pumpkin mixture on one side of toasted baguette slices. Top each with a shrimp and some of the arugula mixture. If desired, top each with shaved Parmesan cheese. Makes 20 appetizers.

Did you know that pumpkins are 90% water?
Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes
Once October hits, be sure to make these scrumptious pancakes. They are a special treat your family will be sure to love and crave every fall.
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 TBSP raw sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • pinch ground cloves
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 TBSP canned pumpkin
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1 egg (or 1/4 cup of egg substitute)

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients until they are thoroughly combined.
  2. In another bowl, combine the milk, pumpkin, butter, and egg.
  3. Fold pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients.
  4. Measure out 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Cook on heated, greased griddle, about 3 minutes on each side.

This recipe makes 8-10 delicious pancakes. Serve with butter and syrup 

 
 
Pumpkin Squares
 
This dessert will tease your taste buds for days.  A twist on the traditional pumpkin pie, but with all the flavor.
 

Crust

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Filling

  • 1 lb can pumpkin
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Topping

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Directions:

Mix crust ingredients until crumbly using a fork, press into a 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Meanwhile mix filling; pour on to hot crust and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Combine topping and sprinkle on top and bake for another 15 minutes or until filling is set.  Let cool in pan and then cut into squares.

  

Painted Mini Pumpkins

Mini Painted Pumpkins

This little activity will be one that all the kids will love!  Using mini pumpkins and pom-poms for noses, felt pieces and push pins for eyes, pipe cleaners for hair, and drawing the mouths with black permanent marker and teeth with white acrylic paint (or nail polish).  I suggest not using glue (too messy) just attach everything with pins. These little pumpkins will be adorable and last a lot longer than carved pumpkins. The orange mini pumpkins will work best because they have a softer skin and thus easier to pierce.  

 I hope that you enjoy these palatable pumpkin pleasantries. Stay tuned for a perfectly savory pumpkin and carrot soup and many more fall delights & remember that cooking can be simple, have more dinners at home and get together around the dinnertable! 

 

Prep your Pantry

 

Along with having an equipped kitchen you must have a prepped pantry.  With a well stocked pantry you will always be able to whip up a meal with ease.  Keep a list handy of what you use often and what you need to replace on your trip to the grocery. It is important to have food items in storage especially for spontaneous, quick, easy, healthy and creative cooking. There are items that are basic to almost any cooking. Other items are dependent on the type of cooking you do most often and the amount of storage space available. If you have the space invest in a stand up freezer, we keep one in the garage, it will save you money on meats and freezeable items when they are on sale. The pantry items below are separated into various categories from Oils and Vinegars to Fresh Herbs and Dried Spices.

 

Oils and Vinegars

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Vegetable or Canola Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • White Distilled Vinegar
  • Rice Vinegar

 Dry Goods (some will need to be refrigerated after opening)

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Cake Flour
  • Bread Flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Corn Meal
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • confectioner Sugar
  • Yeast (freezer for long shelf life)
  • Cornstarch
  • Dried Breadcrumbs
  • Oatmeal
  • Semi or bittersweet chocolate
  • Egg noodles
  • Long Grain Rice
  • Brown Rice and/or Basmati Rice
  • “Quick Cook” Cous Cous
  • Canned whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes
  • Tomato Paste
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Chicken, Beef, and Vegetable Broth
  • Cream of mushroom soup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Organic Local Honey
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Lite Mayonnaise
  • Dijon Mustard
  • *Franks* hot sauce
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Peanut Butter
  • barbeque Sauce * (prefered brand= Montgomery Inn)
  • Organic Honey
  • Pasta: (Penne or ziti, Spaghetti, Angel hair, Fettuccini, Lasagna)
  • Canned Beans (Kidney, Black Beans, White Beans, and Lentils)
  • Pure Maple Syrup
  • Light and Dark Corn Syrup
  • Canned Tuna
  • Canned Salmon
  • Walnuts, Almonds, & Pecans

Produce (most will need to be refrigerated)

  • Yukon Gold, Red,  &/or Sweet Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Red and Yellow Onions
  • Lettuce (Iceburg & Romaine)
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Bananas
  • Fresh Mushrooms
  • jalapeno Peppers
  • Green Onions
  • Green & Red Peppers (I also like the yellow peppers)

Herbs and Spices

 

Fresh herbs that I like to keep on hand include:  Cilantro, Basil, Parsley (I prefer the Italian or Flat Leaf Parsley), & Thyme.

Occasionally, depending on various recipes and especially around the holidays I would also keep fresh Mint, Rosemary, and Sage.

 Dried Herbs and Spices

  •  Kosher Salt & Black Pepper (whole peppercorns and ground)
  • Table Salt (for baking purposes only, use Kosher salt when cooking)
  • Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Celery Seed
  • Dry Mustard Seed
  • Cumin
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon (Ground and Cinnamon Sticks)
  • Nutmeg
  • Dried Thyme
  • Dried Oregano
  • Dried Sweet Basil
  • Bay Leaves
  • Onion Powder
  • Italian Seasoning Mix
  • Canadian Steak Seasoning Mix
  • Caraway Seeds
  • cardamom
  • Whole and Ground Cloves
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • Curry Powder
  • Ground Coriander 
  • Marjoram
  • Chives
  • Parsley Flakes
  • Orange Peel
  • Pickling Spice
  • Savory
  • Ground Ginger
  • Tumeric
  • Tarragon
  • Dill Weed

(Note: Dried herbs and spices will tend to lose flavor after six months or so; however, they will not spoil.  Just taste as you go and add a more if needed.)

Also, if you own a morter and pestle (on the top 20 Kitchen Essentials list) you should buy whole spices and grind as you go which will give you a longer shelf life on your spices.

Refrigerator and Freezer

Keep fresh frozen vegetables handy for nights during the week when you are rushing to prepare dinner, also keep frozen onions,  peppers,  sweet corn, sugar snap peas,  broccoli, and carrots. These veggies can be incorporated into recipes once they have been thawed just as easily as fresh (sometimes better).

  • Lean Ground Beef (80/20 or higher)
  • Ground Turkey or chicken
  • Whole Chicken
  • Pork Tenderloin
  • Beef Roast
  • Ribeye Steaks, NY Strip, or Sirloin (depends on budget)
  • Raw Shrimp (keep in freezer, they thaw in less than 10 7 minutes)
  • Bacon
  • Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • Pie Dough, Puff Pastry or Phyllo Dough
  • Stuffed Pasta
  • Frozen Fruits (Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, etc)
  • Eggs
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Milk
  • Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Cream Cheese
  • Horseradish
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Salsa
  • Mozzarella
  • Parmesan
  • Sour cream
  • Mayonnaise
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Salad Dressing (Italian, Honey Mustard, or Ranch can also be incorporated into various recipes and marinades )

I know this list may seem overwhelming to some.  Don’t stress! Alot of these items will be used by the teaspoon or tablespoon and may only need to be replaced every three to six months.  Start slow and add what you can to get to a fully stocked & well-functioning pantry. 

Once you have stocked your pantry, all of the nonperishable stuff that sits in your cupboard becomes an opportunity and is really important in making your food taste great! Now when you bring home a nice filet of cod, or beef, or salmon, you can take it to Italy, Spain, the Caribbean, or China simply by using certain spices and herbs from your pantry.  This is what makes cooking fun and exciting! So enjoy, relax, get creative, and sit down together at the dinner table!

Steak Dinner or Steak-n-Shake?

            

Would you believe that you could have a steak dinner for your family cheaper than going to Steak-n-shake?  It’s true.  Tonight my family had grilled marinated top sirloin steak, steamed sugar snap peas in sea salt and rice vinegar, heirloom tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and lemonade.  Would you believe that to feed my husband, myself, and my three-year old daughter the total cost of the meal was under $10.00?  It’s true.  Here’s how:

  • When grocery shopping, keep your eyes open for the daily specials and discounts.  We saved over $12 on 1-1 1/2  inch cut sirloin steaks and paid around $12 for three.  For this dinner we were able to split one large steak into 2 50z portions and a small 2oz portion for our daughter. (This is a perfect portion for a toddler because she also had sugar snap peas, hardboiled eggs, and heirloom tomatoes to munch on, for fruit and dairy we also added a blueberry yogurt to her dinner).
  • Frozen steam-in-a-bag vegetables are a healthy, nutritious, quick and easy sides that can be enhanced with a little seasoning.  One bag costs around $2-3.00, the grocery brand that we bought on sale was $2.00 or 3 for $5.00
  • Grow your own vegetables! I’m not talking about farming.  We planted 2 tomato plants, 2 pepper plants, fresh basil and thyme in a small 3’x6′ box on the side of our deck.      
  • Portion control.
  • Eggs are a cheap “miracle” food.  A dozen fresh organic eggs run less than $3.00. The grocery store brand is less than $1.00.  One large egg provides 13 essential nutrients in varying amounts. Eggs are an excellent source of choline and a good source of the highest quality protein and riboflavin. Many of the egg’s incredible nutrients are found in the egg yolk, including choline, folate, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin D.                     

              Steak Marinade   

  •     1/8 cup  extra virgin olive oil
  •     Kosher Salt & Cracked Black Pepper
  •     1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce  
  •     2 TBSP Balsamic Vinegar
  •     2 TBSP  Yellow Mustard
  •     * 2 dashes of Franks Hot Sauce
  •     3 TBSP Canadian Steak Seasoning

* (my favorite brand)

First rub the steak with olive oil and season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Whisk all other ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Add the steak and make sure it is well coated.  Leave in refrigerator to marinate for 30min- 1hr (if time permits).

Grill on medium to low heat for 10 minutes (5 minutes on each side). Every grill is different so if you have a meat thermometer (add this to your kitchen essentials list)  medium rare is 130-135 degrees, medium is 140-150 degrees, and medium well is 155-165 degrees.  Anything cooked past that is just overcooked. (only my opinion)

Fresh steamed vegetables in a bag are an easy way to quickly prepare a side when you’re rushing to get dinner together during the middle of the week.  Steam for 5min and pour into a bowl,  for sugar snap peas add 1 TBSP of Rice Vinegar and Fresh Course Sea Salt.

Hard Boiled Eggs! To tell the truth, this is not a skill I mastered very easily.  Eggs are temperamental but thanks to my Mamaw I have perfect hard-boiled eggs every time.  Place your eggs in the saucepan while the water is luke warm and bring the water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil remove it from the heat and let eggs sit for 10min.  Your eggs will be perfect!  Not runny and not to dry and crumbly.

Fresh tomatoes off our own vine in the summertime! Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with fresh basil, season with salt and pepper.  (You could also add fresh mozzarella cheese and drizzle some balsamic vinegar and voila!  Caprese Salad)

That’s all folks!  A fully satisfying meal with steak, fresh vegetables, heirloom tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs for less than $10 for a family. At steak-n-shake you could get 2 steakburger meals with fries & a drink, one kids meal, plus tax for at the very least $15.00.  The steak dinner at home is not only cheaper but qualifies as a low carb dinner and prepared in less than 25 minutes.  Please enjoy, save your money, and get together around the dinner table.

(Note:  I am not taking into account the fraction of the cost of a bottle of Rice Vinegar, or a box of kosher salt, or the marinade used on the steak because these will become Pantry staple items that you will keep on hand for the majority of all recipes. ) Stay tuned for the Pantry Essentials Checklist.

Equipping your Kitchen!

I tell everyone that cooking is fun and easy (well at least it can be)… the truth is, you must have the right tools and organize your kitchen effectively so when you begin to try a new dish or want to get creative, nothing is stopping you, especially the fact that you can’t add fresh lemon zest because you don’t have a microplane grater/zester, or you need to puree something and don’t have a food processor or blender.   That is why I am giving you the must have “Top 20” kitchen essentials list and will discuss placement of these items in your kitchen so the next time you go to cook…you will find this time it is more enjoyable for you and the rest of the family.  

  1. A great set of knives or at least three essential knives for chopping, slicing, and dicing.  The key is making sure the knife feels right in your hand. The handle and weight in your hand are just as important as the blade, since proper use and sharpening should take care of that. A chef’s knife, a sturdy paring knife, and a cheap serrated bread knife have you covered for most things. Skip the boning/filleting and utility knives, because you definitely don’t filet fish or slice giant mozzarella wheels that often. Your time will be wasted if you are trying to cook and improve your knife skills & have a dull blade….and a dull knife is one of the most dangerous items in a kitchen. (If budget permits invest in a sharpening stone) 

(A great space-saving tip is getting a magnet board to go on your back splash or wall and your knives can be easily accessible and off of your counter.)

2. A butcher block &/or  flexible cutting boards.  Even if you are in a small space you can place the butcher block over the sink and create more counter space.  It is crucial for cooking and gives you a defined and efficient work space.  The flexible cutting boards are plastic and store easily with your baking sheets.  I would recommend getting various colors for practicing good sanitation. (I.e. Blue for Fish, Green for Poultry, Red for Pork)

3.   Microplane Grater  These are so handy & come in various sizes & take up very little space in your gadget drawer. They can be used on everything from nutmeg, to garlic, to cheese, & lemon and lime zest is a very common ingredient.

                                                            

4. Kitchen Shears–  “Stop using the teeth to rip open a bag, I’ve done it, but it’s gross!”  Keeping a designated set of kitchen shears will come in extremely handy from snipping twine to cutting open packages to trimming vegetables and meats.

5. Kitchen Timer- If your household is anything like mine, it can become easily distracting, and even a chef can burn things without using a timer at home.  Keep it above the stove or with your spices and if you leave a room you can take the timer with you (i.e. while you’re doing laundry or helping the kids with their homework)

6. Heat Resistant Spatula  This will inevitably replace your spoons! You can use these babies for stirring, sautéing, flipping, etc.  They hold up to a very high heat, mine have a red handle, but now they come in all colors,  make sure they are very sturdy not flimsy.  I don’t know how I would cook without them.

7. Various sized whisks-  Eggs, egg-white, baking, marinades, and vinaigrettes all require the use of whisks.  I recommend investing in various sizes, one small for vinaigrettes, a medium and large one for baking and whipping, etc.

   (For efficiency, I suggest putting your spoons, spatulas, microplanes, peelers, measuring cups, etc.  in the closest drawer to your stove so they are easily accessible when you are cooking.  Also you can find some unique bottles or antique jars and keep them on your counter.)

8. Dry and Liquid Measuring Cups-  “I hope it is safe to assume that these are a must have kitchen essential because when it comes to baking, you can’t eyeball the measurements!”

9. Measuring spoons-  Same as above

10. Frying pans/saucepans Invest in good quality non stick pans. Get small, medium, and an extra-large.  If you go cheap you will be throwing it out after a week.  “Trust me.”  When looking for  medium saucepans  anything with a sturdy thick bottom will suffice.  

11. Sturdy set of sheet pans (baking sheets)

12. Large Colander (In Ky we call it a strainer)

13. Can opener- “enough said”

14. Vegetable/Potato peeler-  go for a higher quality, it will save you time and energy

15. Glass or stainless steel mixing bowls, all sizes.  If you have ever heard the term “Mise en place” it means that everything is in it’s place and before you begin cooking you want to make sure you have all of your ingredients, measured & ready. The cooking process goes much quicker, smoother, and your dish will turn out better because the cook time was correct because you had everything together at the beginning.  

16. Food processor –Your not a chef, you don’t want to be a chef, and you’re not operating a restaurant, so  don’t go out and buy a crazy expensive food processor, middle of the road will work fine. I would advise to save space that you invest in a food processor with blender attachment.

17. Mixer- The kitchenaide mixer’s are great, but not necessary if you are just starting.  If budget permits go for it, you won’t regret it; however, I am old-fashioned and learned how to cook from my grandmother, and a hand mixer can get you most of the results you are looking for.  (Obviously not if you are wanting to make all different kinds of bread and pate choux etc. In this case, spend the money and get a great mixer.  These mixers look so sharp that they can stay on the kitchen counter and add to your decor.)

18. Tongs-  Well unless you want to burn your fingers trying to flip something over I suggest you invest in a set of metal tongs. 

19. Rolling Pin-   It’s ancient, not used that often, but when you need one, nothing else will substitute. 

20. Mortar and Pestle-  This will be used quite often once you get in the swing of things and learn the beauty of mixing spices together.  This can also be a great way to relieve some of the stresses at home, just keep grinding until you feel better.  🙂

I know that you will find all of these kitchen essential items helpful.  If you are serious about becoming a better cook for yourself and your family, this is the first step.  Also, stay tuned to my Pantry essentials post for the “How-to-guide” on stocking your pantry.  Cooking CAN be simple and I am here to show you how!

Low Carb Dieting?

I am not  really an advocate for dieting, & like to eat what I want when I want (always as healthy as possible) and I love to get creative in the kitchen; however, a Vegas girls trip is around the corner and a friend mentioned that a low carb diet worked well if it was for a short-term weight loss goal.  I have been trying this diet for the last 4 days and have lost three pounds & I feel amazing!!  It really isn’t that hard when you become aware of what you put in your mouth and cut out all bread, pasta, rice, and basically anything with a high amount of carbs like chips, pretzels, corn, cereal, etc.  It sounds hard but really isn’t!  Go to the grocery and substitute your normal snack foods with low carb items.  Example, instead of buying the same tortilla chips and salsa; buy celery, carrots, a vegetable cheese spread, and some turkey pepperoni.  This is a great snack and very filling.  Buy a bag of raw almonds or salted soy nuts.  Compare the low 7g net carbs in soy nuts to about 14g for potato chips or a whopping 21g for pretzels!  Nuts also have some “heft” to them,  so you feel more satisfied and full much faster. 

 I have included a quick simple dinner recipe that is first and foremost tasty, while also being nutritious, low in carbohydrates, high in protein, and can be prepared in less than 25 minutes.  Remember that cooking can be simple and I promise it’s better than eating out!

Broiled Balsamic and BBQ Salmon with Spiced Carrots and Sauteed Spinach

Yield:   4 servings

Price:  $30ish for the meal

  • 4 Fresh or frozen Salmon Filets
  • Fresh spinach (2 bunches) or 1 bag from salad section
  • 1 bag carrots
  • 2 -3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (  at least 15yr aged balsamic is preferred)
  • EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 TBSP brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • Montgomery Inn BBQ sauce or favorite vinegar based BBQ Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper

Fill a medium size stock pot or quart pan with water and bring to a boil. 

Place your salmon filets on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper on both sides.  Pour over the top of each salmon filet: 2 TBSP of BBQ Sauce and 1TBSP of balsamic vinegar and set aside.  Turn your oven on high broil and make sure the rack is in the middle.

Peel and bias cut carrots (diagonal) and put in boiling water for approximately 10 minutes. Drain and set aside in order to get a saute pan hot on a medium-high heat with 1 TBSP of olive oil.  Add your carrots and start sauteing!

Place the salmon in the oven to cook for approximately 10-12 minutes with the broiler on high.  The tops will blister a bit and the inside will remain a medium temperature.

Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter to the carrots.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  (If you like you can also add 1-2 TBSP of honey for a sweeter glaze)

Get another medium size saute pan and 1-2 TBSP of olive oil and put on a high heat.  Wait until oil is very hot and add your fresh spinach to the pan, continue stirring around the pan with a heat-resistant spatula for maybe 1-2 minutes or until the spinach is wilted.  Add 2 pinches of salt and pepper and remove from heat. 

Your carrots should be ready, turn off the heat, check your salmon, if medium temperature is not to your liking put salmon back in the oven under broil for another 3-5 minutes.  And enjoy a delicious meal of Balsamic and BBQ salmon, with Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Glazed Carrots, and Fresh sautéed Spinach.  A meal you would easily pay $18-22 a plate for at a restaurant.  Enjoy your meal and cost savings and sit down at the dinner table!

Low Carb Quick Salad Fix or “Chunky Guacamole Salad”

  • One avocado -scooped out and medium diced
  • One roma tomato- sliced and medium diced
  • 1/2 green pepper medium diced
  • 1/4 of yellow or red onion- small diced
  • A handful of cilantro- no need to chop
  • 2 tsp of cumin
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A dash of my favorite “Franks hot sauce”

Toss all ingredients in a salad bowl or stir with a fork.  If this salad doesn’t provide enough substance you can easily add a grilled chicken breast- medium dice.  Delicioso!!  Hope you enjoy. 

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