Friday, June 22, 2012

Adding a little FLAVA FLAV

So how do you make cheap and easy meals taste expensive and complicated? Here are a few ideas:

(If you have a lot of cooking experience please skip over this since it probably comes second nature to you.)

- Aromatic vegetables: 

Onions, carrots, shallots, fennel, leeks, GARLIC, celery... Almost all dishes can be improved with some combination of the above. Saute or "sweat" (cover over low heat) them first for best flavor. Here is a great article that goes into greater detail. I always have at least onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in the house.

-Herbs and spices: (Want to know the difference? Read about it here.)

It's really easy to grow your own herbs. Just give them sun and good drainage. Most them like to have their roots dry out in between waterings, basil is an exception.) A lot of them are perennial and will give you years of nearly free flavor. You can even dry some for the winter or bring them inside during frost. I personally grow oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and lavender. I used to have a much more extensive herb garden but I'm limited to an apartment balcony now. If you have the space, grow tons! They are easy, beautiful, smell amazing, and have lots of culinary and medicinal uses. Sigh... I miss my garden...

As far as spices go: buying in bulk is definitely cheaper, if you can't use it all split it with a like-minded cook. Keep your favorite spices on hand, but don't be afraid to try a new one every now and then. Variety is the spice of life... or variety is the spice of...spices. I'm not going to list all of the spices in my cupboard but will tell you one thing I do: I add cayenne pepper to almost everything I cook. We like a little kick. I find using spices helps reduce the amount of salt required.

- Alcohol:

I'm pretty new to this but have recently discovered that it is wonderful for making a simple dish taste special. White wine for chicken/white sauce, red for beef and red sauce. Beer is used for marinating meat and chili (never tried it, but hear it's delicious). There are tons of sauces that include harder liquor like brandy, vodka, and of course rum in baking. It's really not expensive when you consider how long a bottle lasts... if you only use it for cooking, that is. ;-) Here's a helpful chart about how long it takes alcohol to "burn off"if your wondering/concerned.


Similar to wine, acids like vinegars or citrus juices perk up sauces and bring out flavor in meat. Keep several types on hand. Juices I like to keep on hand: lemon, lime, and orange. Vinegars: white, apple cider, red wine, balsamic, and rice.


Making canned/bottled sauce is something I've only dabbled in (barbeque and salad dressing are about as far as I've gotten). Store bought sauces may be cheating... but they sure are convenient and can can rescue a kitchen disaster or provide easy flavor to a good start. Some sauces I like to have on hand for cooking: soy sauce, barbeque, ketchup, mayo, several mustards, Worcestershire, Italian dressing, an a couple different hot sauces (I like Cholula, BeefyGeek likes Chipotle Tobasco.)


Don't be afraid of a little fat in your food. If you're cooking from scratch, chances are it's a lot healthier than restaurant or pre-packaged food already. You can use "healthy fats" like olive and coconut oil but they have a low smoking point so you have to be careful if sauteing or frying. Or even in the oven I have found... coating a chicken with a little olive oil before roasting... take out your smoke detector's batteries.  Again, a little goes a long way. You'd be surprised how much a pat of butter can richen up a skim milk "cream" sauce... is richen a word? Anyway... use a little first and you can always add more. Although they are technically not fats, I would include other high fat goodies here like cheese, olives, nuts, and high fat meats like bacon or pancetta. Using them sparingly as a garnish on a plain dish can really up the "yum factor"

Welp, that's about it for now. A super amateur home cooks "secrets" to flavorful home cookin'. What are your favorite ways to perk up your dinner?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

40+ Quick Meals Using Ground Beef or Shredded Chicken

So the whole Menu planning thing on this blog was pretty short lived huh? I think I realized why. I'm more of a "pantry principle planner" than a specific day by day menu planner. What I mean by that is that I generally stock up and have on hand 90% of the ingredients for 90% of the meals that I make 90% of the time. Approximately. lol.

Beefygeek has recently started a new job that has him coming home at later, less predictable hours and this has sent me back to my go-to repertoire of quick, easy meals that I can make during nap time or with a baby crawling around my feet.

I've been complaining about how expensive my foodie blog habit has been lately, so I decided that I'll be the change I want to see. As epic as that sounds...

To help me, and maybe you... I've come up with a list of about forty meals that use either ground beef or shredded chicken (two of the easiest, cheapest, quickest to cook and defrost meats IMHO.) I'm going to keep this list on hand in the kitchen so I can quickly pick something for dinner when need be. Here goes:

Ground Beef (or ground turkey if you HAVE to. But most of these allow for draining and even rinsing the fat off before using. A few articles here and here.)

  1. hamburgers
  2. spaghetti
  3. tacos
  4. taquitos
  5. burritos
  6. enchiladas
  7. quesadillas
  8. sloppy joes
  9. chili
  10. shepherd's pie
  11. meatloaf
  12. stuffed peppers 
  13. "stir fry" (basically just cook up the ground beef with onions, veggies, and seasonings and serve over rice)
  14. omelets
  15. pizza
  16. homemade hamburger helper
  17. meatballs
  18. lasagne
  19. Beef Stroganoff (never made it, but it's on the to-try list. I actually have some leftover egg noodles and sour cream right now...)
  20. any casserole (there are probably at least fifteen variations here alone. just use Amy Dacyzyn’s good old Tightwad Casserole formula.) 
  21. soup (Although I've honestly never made soup with ground beef; I found some interesting recipes online. If you have any go-to recipes, please share!)
Shredded Chicken
  1. Chicken Pot Pie (I often top with biscuit dough instead of pie crust, it's just easier) 
  2. Super easy pot pie variation: mix and cook sauce with meat and veggies on stove top and serve over rice or noodles
  3. white sauce/alfredo over noodles
  4. enchiladas (red or white)
  5. white chili
  6. chicken salad
  7. add to PW's Sesame noodles
  8. add chicken to lettuce salad, Cesar or otherwise
  9. tacos
  10. fajitas
  11. burritos
  12. taquitos
  13. quesadillas
  14. add to any rice-o-roni/hamburger helper type thing, either homemade or bought on sale!
  15. chicken divan
  16. sandwiches
  17. pulled barbeque chicken
  18. add to stir fried vegetables (not as good as freshly stir fried chicken but super fast if you're in a pinch)
  19. wraps
  20. any casserole (use same formula as ground beef)
  21. about a million chicken soups (chicken noodle, tortilla, wild rice, vegetable... use soups like casseroles: to use up whatever is in your fridge)

I'm realizing Mexican food is super easy looking at this list lol! With some notable exceptions (lasagne being the most obvious) these are cheap and you probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen (or you should!) I'm going to go back through and link to some favorite recipes, just so i have them all in one place, but that's about it for now! What are your favorite uses for these quick proteins?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dearest of Zekes- nine-ten months

My not so little one,

You are ten months old. That's right! Double digit months.

You have changed so much the last two months. You are so much nicer to be around now! The screeching and screaming have pretty much stopped and you are much better at communicating what you want.

You are still a facebook celebrity with your "epic baby faces." We talk about making a blog just called "Zeke Memes," because you are a goldmine of priceless expressions.

You climb to your chair when you want to eat and know where all of your toys are when you want them.

You can roll a ball back and forth.

You can bring me things when I ask for them.

You're crib is at it's lowest.

You are pretty much done with baby food, which I'm very happy about. It's so much easier to give you what we're eating. Your current favorites: watermelon, rice cakes, egg yolks, and PEAS! All the peas in the world. Daddy even wrote a song about you called "Pea Boy."

You giggle at the strangest things. I wish I could see inside your head so I could be in on the joke.

Add tissues to the list of things you are obsessed with. Especially used tissues. Ew.

You are a bringer of MAYHEM. You are not happy until anything that can be pulled to pieces is IN PIECES. (The humidifier, your stacking cups, all the bookshelves...)

You sit and look at your books often. You turn the pages all by yourself and my heart swells with pride.

You are VERY cautious and have only just stopped freaking out if we attempt the baby swing. You get all stiff and make a "zombie face" (Daddy's term) when you are scared of something.

You love our apartment building's hallway and yell at the top of your lungs to hear your echo as soon as we enter the building or open our door. You always want to use the door knocker several times coming and going.

You love music and sing and play with Daddy. You love the keyboard, guitar, and your maracas. You particularly like listening and dancing to electronica. Its hilarious.

You cruise all over the place and can stand alone for a few moments before slowly lowering yourself to the ground. You love when we hold your hands and let you walk. You grin from ear to ear. (Seriously, you have such a jack-o-lantern grin. Especially with your newly acquired top teeth.)

Your hair is CRAZY. But I don't want to tidy it up. It suits you my Ezekiel, my little prophet in the wilderness. Thoughtful and introverted and a little nuts.

I try to be more specific than this, but I have to say that this is is simply an ADORABLE age. Your pictures are cute but they don't do you justice. You are just SO CUTE.

Mama was very, very sick last week and you were oh-so sweet and well behaved for me. You played quietly with your toys and let me lay on the floor next to you, occasionally coming over and giving me one of your yell-in-my-cheek kisses. It was like you knew that I needed to rest.

Seeing you grow so big is bittersweet. I miss my baby, but I'm falling in love with my toddler.

I love every inch of you, and can't get enough.