Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tamale Pie

Tamale Pie

This makes a nice meal that is VERY low cost, and for vegans, just use the veggie bouillon and forgo the sour cream or get soy "sour cream".

If you don't have access to a wheat grinder - sometimes you can get a used one for about $50, you can use a coffee grinder. I bought one at Wallyworld for $10. I use it to grind flax seeds, but before I bought the used wheat grinder, it's what I used to grind my beans and peas into a flour.

Adobo is a seasoning that is also found in most Mexican sections of the store, though my local Wallyworld doesn't carry it. Masa Harina is a type of flour found in the Mexican section of the grocery store. The masa does have a slightly different flavor than regular ground corn flour. You can make your own masa by soaking corn in lime, washing it, and cooking it, then drying the corn and powdering it. There's a little more to making masa than that, but that's the quickly typed version. If anyone's interested, I can post a how-to on it.

On to the Tamale Pie recipe.

2 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup masa harina or corn flour (not corn meal, flour is ground finer than the meal is, if corn meal is all you have, grind it in your coffee bean grinder to a finer texture.)
1/2 cup pinto bean flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Adobo
1/2 tsp garlic powder

2 cups warm water
2 Tbs pinto bean flour
2 Tsp masa or corn flour
2 Tbs chili powder
1 1/2 Tbs cumin
1 chicken or veggie bouillon or 1 tsp bouillon powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Adobo powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 cup cheese

For each serving:
chopped green onion and tops
sour cream
diced tomato
diced hot peppers, fresh or canned (opt)

To make the base:
In a 3 or 3 1/2 cups sauce pan, whisk together all of the base ingredients and then bring them to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat to low, cover and let cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add 1 cup of the gravy, and place in a greased 9" x 13" pan. Let this cool about 5 minutes or so, then spread with the remaining gravy. Top with the cheese and place in 350 degree oven for about 20 mins to let the cheese melt.
Remove from oven and serve with onions, sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes.

To make the gravy:
Whisk all the dry ingredients into the water, Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. lower heat, cover pan and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This should freeze well, though I've never frozen it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Make your own Jello-type gelatin

This is an easy way to use up leftover juice, juice from canned fruits, or freshly-squeezed juice.

The basic recipe is 4 cups of liquid to 2 packets of gelatin broken up this way:
1/4 to 1/2 cups cold water
2 packets of unflavored gelatin (around here, all we have is Knox brand, found near the Jello brand)
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups boiling water
2-3 cups juice, any flavors EXCEPT FRESH or FROZEN pineapple or kiwi (it won't jell), canned is fine.
1/2 - 3/4 cups sugar (OPTIONAL)
Pieces of fruit as desired.

Put the cold water into a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Just let it sit there for 4-6 minutes to soften, then add the boiling water and you can add the sugar if you want/need it. (how sweet is your juice? Make it to the sweetness you like and don't worry about adding sugar to the boiling water.)
Stir the mixture until the gelatin is dissolved (you don't see any crystals in the liquid on your spoon. Let it cool down a bit and then add the juice. From this point on, treat it just like you would Jello. Add fruit to it after it is partially set. Put into single serving portions, leave it in the bowl or use it in a pie (graham cracker, gelatin - let it set up with or without fruit, top with Cool Whip, maybe some nuts).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Homemade Pudding and Pie filling mixes

Sorry to say, that these do need to be cooked on the stove top or in a microwave, but they are easy to make.

Each batch of the mix will make 15 one cup servings or 5 nine inch pies.

To make each mix: Mix the ingredients together and store in a zip lock or mason jar(s) on the shelf. (These have a long shelf life, there's really nothing to spoil in it.) Write the cooking directions on a 3x5 card and tape to the zip bag or jar(s).

To make 3 cups: Measure out the amount of mix called for in each recipe - it varies, into a medium size sauce pan. A heavy pot is best. Gradually blend in 2 3/4 cups of milk over a low heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken and come to a boil. Let it boil gently for 1 minute, but keep stirring it. Remove from the heat and add vanilla extract (or extract of your choice). Adding 1-3 Tbs of butter after adding the extract will give a richer taste, especially if you've used skim or powdered milk to make the pudding.

You can portion this out into six 1/2 cup portions, or store it in a bowl. When it's cooled a bit, you need to cover this pudding to keep a skin from forming. The skin won't hurt you, but it's a little tougher than the pudding underneath it. I put some plastic wrap directly on the cooled pudding. (If it LASTS that long! lol)

Basic pudding (vanilla flavored)
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt

Use 2/3 cup of mix (add 1-1 1/2 tsp vanilla to cooked pudding)

Chocolate pudding
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 1/4 cups cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt

Use 1 cup of mix (add 1-1 1/2 tsp vanilla to cooked pudding)

Butterscotch Pudding
1 7/8 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/4 cups cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt

Use 3/4 cups plus 1 tbs of mix, plus 2-4 tbs butter (not optional if you want the correct taste)
1 - 1 1/2 Tsp vanilla to cooked pudding.

You can make any other flavor pudding by adding that flavor extract to the basic pudding (in place of the vanilla extract - or even with the vanilla).

Pie Filling
Prepare any flavor pudding to the boiling point, but don't let it boil for that minute, just take it off the stove and stir in your flavorings and opt. butter. Let cool, stirring once in a while, for 10 mins. Pour the filling into a cooled, baked 9" pie shell and chill until it's firm. You can add any bits of candy , chocolate chips, nuts, Cool Whip, fruit pieces (fresh, frozen, canned or dried), coconut or any other add-ins that you can think of. Strawberry extract with pieces of strawberry, lemon extract with mandarin orange pieces, etc.

You can also add artificial coloring to your cooked puddings if you want to, but why?

These puddings can also be made with powdered milk, but will have a limited shelf-life, unless you keep the mix in the freezer. You would have to adjust the amount of powdered mile to make 2 3/4 cups of milk and then when you go to cook it, just use that amount of water instead of milk. You would also need to divide the amount of powdered milk you used into 6 portions and add that much more to each basic flavor.

For instance, my milk calls for 1/3 cup of powder for each cup of milk you want. So I'd add 4.5 cup of powder (yes, it is a little off, but not enough to hurt anything), and add that to the dry ingredients, mixing it all together very well. Then for each recipe, I'd need to add 1 scant cup (11/12ths of a cup) more of the mix than what the recipe calls for. So for the Vanilla pudding, I'd measure out 1 2/3 cups mix and remove 1 tbs of mix.

Actually, for me and my laziness, either way I made the mix - with or without powdered milk; I'd make the mix and then immediately divide it equally into 5 packets. Each packet will make 3 cups which is six 1/2 cup servings or filling for one pie. Keep the packets all in a larger zip bag with the instructions inside it. When we want pudding, dump the packet (save bag to refill later), add the milk/water and off you go.

Oh, you find cornstarch in the baking aisle with the salt, baking powder, baking soda, etc.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Appreciating the little things in life

Things have been quite hectic and upsetting here, but seem to be settling down - at least for a bit.
As I've gone through the hard times of the last couple of months, I think I've become attuned to the little, good things that I have been blessed with.

For example:
Last Friday evening I was running some errands. On the way home, we heard a noise that sounded like my Ham Radio antenna was flopping around; something that, with a very strong magnet on it, it shouldn't be able to do. I pulled the car over and my daughter got out to see what she could see. Nothing looked wrong, so we drove on and in a minute or so, the odd noise stopped.

We got home safely. Then next day, I took her to work and went to work myself. I got home late and through the fog, safely. (Blessing one) Sunday, I took my daughter to work and headed to church and we heard that same noise again. I was able to pull over onto a deep, paved shoulder. My son looked out the door and said, "Mom, the tire is flat." (Blessing three) So he gets out the stuff and changes the tire (Blessing four) in his Sunday suit - which he didn't get messed up while doing this (blessing five). As he was working on it, a friend of ours, also on the way to our church, pulls over. Since I'd be driving on one of those "donut" tires, we stopped by the house (blessing six, we were before the turn off to our house).

Today, I was able to get two new, just slightly used tires for $10 each and put on for $12; total $32 for tires that, brand-new are over $85 each - and that's before adding balancing, mounting, etc. (Blessing seven)

Then I was able to get someone to help with something that I've needed help with for years. (Blessing eight)

I was able to go to work today and a friend pitched in and took my daughter to work for me (blessing nine).

And finally, the new Young Men's president loves music and is locally famous. He's giving my son private voice and piano lessons for free. I didn't ask, he offered to work with both my son and the other young man that attend our church (Blessing ten). All I have to do is send our keyboard, some paper and find my old piano books from when I tried to take piano in Jr. College. (and failed! lol)

So, all-in-all, I've had a really great few days.
Sometimes ya just gotta do what the song says, "Count your many blessings..."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Oven meatballs and saving money

I answered another person's question on one of my elists. The topic was making meatballs in the oven and the person posting wanted to know "do they splatter and cause a mess in the oven?"

Here is my expanded reply:

I put my meatballs on a stainless steel cooling rack and put the rack on my cookie sheet (Technically, it's a jelly roll pan - it has the lip on it), it took about 7 minutes to cook them. I undercook mine a bit so that when they are reheated they aren't dried out and overdone. I cooked them at 350 degrees.

I also do my chicken - whole or parts, this way. Next time I make this recipe into meatloaf, I'm going to use the rack instead of my cast iron pan or a loaf pan. I will make a round "patty" out of the meat mixture and set it on top of the cooling rack. I'll grease the rack with either a baking spray or some shortening. (I've tried several times to make a homemade "sprayer" out of some oil in a spray bottle, but they don't seem to spray very well at all.) I've never noticed a problem with meat spattering. It may be that because the food is up on a rack, there's no interaction with the fat that is draining off.

I also cook bacon (usually frozen, lol) on my cookie sheet in the oven, I just now thought about trying it on a rack. But I've never noticed it splattering either.

To cook the bacon in the oven, I open the package, dump the meat on the cookie sheet, put the sheet in the oven, and then turned the oven on. I bake it for 15 mins at 350-375. I use thick-sliced bacon, so the timing might be off for regular bacon when it's stuck back into the oven the second time to finish cooking.

After the 15 mins, the bacon is usually thawed and partially cooked. I take my tongs and pull the slices apart and lay them on the sheet. Usually they'll all fit tightly side to side, with the last two pieces going at the bottom of the pan. If you have to overlap a couple of slices, no big deal. In another 5 mins, you can fit them all side by side. Anyway, I after I lay the slices out, I put it back into the oven for another 15 mins. Like I said, my slices are the thick ones. And I like mine crispy, so I end up cooking it another 5 mins. My kids, however say it's burned. So theirs comes out sooner. lol

I could freeze the bacon at any point along the way. That is, I could if we didn't EAT it all. lol It's cheaper to bake most foods in a large batch and put them into the freezer, taking out the number of servings you want and reheating them than it is to just bake up fresh everyday - remember it costs to reheat the oven as it takes about 10-15 mins to preheat. (And you only have to clean up one big mess.) I'm learning that I prefer to just slightly under cook what I want to freeze. That way, when I reheat it, it finishes cooking that little bit and isn't overdone.

My recipe - of sorts - for meatballs/meatloaf is with ground whatever is on sale, Italian bread crumbs, an egg, onion and garlic powder (kids, sigh), Adobo without pepper, a little salt, some dried parsley and a bit of ketchup. Used a mini-scoop - the kind you'd use for cookie dough, for portion control and rolled the meat into mini balls. (About 1-2 TBS)

Sorry, there's no portions on this. I make meatballs/meatloaf by the seat of my pants and just know when it looks right to me. Mix what looks right to you, then cook 1/2 tsp and taste it - that's what some of the chefs do. I'm guessing here but I think that to about 2 lbs of ground whatever, add 1-2 eggs, 1-2 tsp each: onion powder, garlic powder and Adobo, 1/2-1 tsp salt, 1-2 TBS dried parsley and 2-3 TBS of ketchup (opt). If it were just me, I'd add real garlic and onions. We don't like pepper, so there isn't any in it, but you can add about 1/2-1 tsp and it would be about right.

When the meatballs are done, I put them in serving size portions in a zip bag, suck the air out and then put all the bags in a gallon zip bag and suck the air out of it(with a straw). They go into the freezer. I've only kept mine about 6 months, because we use them up pretty quickly.

You could also freeze them before you bake them. Put them on a cookie sheet with some space between them and stick into the freezer for a couple of hours. Then put them into a zip bag, get the air out and pop back into the freezer. (This is called "flash freezing" and it keeps things from sticking together into one ice block. I've also frozen this recipe as meatloaf. I normally cook mine all at once so that I don't have to keep reheating my oven. I tend to preslice the loaves so that we can just eat them, but I have frozen the whole loaf. You can let it thaw or pop it into the oven frozen or into the microwave. It will just take a bit longer for it to cook, if it's frozen. The last time I made meatloaf, I didn't undercook it and it was a bit dry.

I also found that if I want to make up a large amount of meatloaf/meatballs, that it's better to do it in smaller batches. For me, more than about 3 lbs of meat was too hard to get everything mixed well into it. You don't want to over handle the ground meat, it makes a paste. If you're a person that measures things, measure out all of your spices for the number of batches your going to make. All the onion powder, garlic powder, etc. Each batch can have it's own bowl, so if your making 3 batches, you only dirty 3 bowls. You're only measuring each ingredient 3 times in a row, instead of opening and closing bottles. It's like, one for you and one for you and one for you. lol Since I don't measure, I just leave the tops off the bottles, only putting them back on when I'm done with that ingredient for the last time. (you can break all your eggs at one time too, then you only have one egg mess to clean up. Dump the egg(s) in a bowl and put the spices on top. (that way, the spices don't get glued to the bottom of the bowl, but will slide off with the eggs.)

I found that making meatballs takes longer than cooking them does. So my suggestion is to line up anyone from about 3-4 years old (yes, that's 3 to 4, not 34. lol) on up, get the kiddies' hands washed and line them up around the kitchen table. Using what ever it is you use for portion control, scoop up your portion and plop it into their palms and show them how to "roll" the mixture. (It's the same way you do it to make balls of dough for baking.) They do NOT have to be "perfect", only sort of round - they don't stay perfectly round unless you cook them in something round. Next time I do it, I'm not even going to do anything but scoop them up, level off the top of the scoop on the side of the bowl and plop it onto the rack! That way will take a LOT less time to make them. I seem to remember getting 48 on a rack on the cookie sheet.

When all the meat mixture has been dealt with, line up the kids, (youngest worker to oldest - or from the one most likely to eat, touch something to the one most likely NOT to do so. lol) and one at a time, squirt about a dime's worth of dish washing liquid (that hasn't been diluted) into their palms. Don't wet their hands first, just apply the soap and have them rub it around on their hands and between their fingers. Then turn on warm water, wet their hands a little and have them make a lather. Rinse well and usually their hands are clean. On rare occasions, I've had to rewash, but it's a "normal" washing of my hands. This trick works well for ALL types of grease - auto as well as household.

I've also found that squirting dish soap on a grease stain, rub it in and launder it, usually (not always, especially if it's been on the clothing for a period of time and/or dried in the dryer) gets rid of a grease spot from clothing too. I've never had it fade or discolor any of our clothing, from 100% cotton down to poly and rayon. YMMV.

My comment about diluting dish soap refers to my habit of add some water to my soap. My kids have been really bad about squirting too much detergent into the water. I've tried to get them to use the cap as a measure or using a spoon as a measure, but they don't. Add to that, now a days, detergent is super concentrated. Also, for us, Dawn seems to work best. It is more expensive than the dollar store brands are, but I get more clean for the buck - unless people just squirt a lot of it into the sink.

What I do is this. I keep a couple of my old bottles. When I bring the new bottle home, I pour about 1/2 to 2/3 a bottle of water into one of the old bottles, then remove the cap from the new bottle and gently pour enough soap into the water to not quite fill it - you need headroom to mix it, about 1" worth. Recap both bottles and HIDE the new stuff. Gently turn the other bottle in a top to bottom direction to mix the soap and water, but not so hard that you make a foam "head" on it. It will take some gentle agitation, but it does mix well and you don't know it's been mixed.

Another thing I have done is bought one of those "pump" bottles (on sale of course), used the contents and then refilled them. Yup, you can do that. Place about 1 1/2" -2" of soap into the bottle and gently fill it with water to the fill mark on the side of the bottle. (You need to leave room for the pump piece. If you over fill it, it leaks). Again, gently agitate the bottle. You're tipping, NOT shaking. If you need some soap to wash several dishes, you've got it without running a sink full, nor wasting a lot of soap. This pump soap usually works for greasy hands too. But for auto grease, I stick with the undiluted soap.

The last thing I did happened by accident. When I used up a bottle of liquid I had, I refilled the bottle 1/2 way with water and agitated it a bit. It was great for washing hands or glasses with. Just enough soap to do the job (unless it's grease!) and not so much you're wasting soap. This was free soap. It's what would have been thrown away with the "empty" (and I tip mine on their tops to get all the soap to drain to the bottom and hold it there for a few minutes). I was really surprised that it worked so well. (If it hadn't, I would have just add back a little bit of soap until it did.)