Monday, October 23, 2017

Into The Kitchen: Grilling Tips

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

Are you a grill master? Do you love the sound of the gas lighting up, the smell of the fire, or the glowing embers of charcoal? Whatever your preference, grilling is fun, it brings people together and the food speaks for itself.

Grilling isn't complicated, but there are a lot of variables and grill options. Gas or charcoal is what most people use, and those are found at every hardware and home improvement store as well as many big department stores. 

There is always going to be the debate over which one is better, but that's not the point here. This is an overview of how to grill successfully.

Having said that, charcoal is definitely a popular method, and the one I grew up with. However it is more affected by the weather than gas grills, thus timing is more unpredictable and the main reason I use gas.

Direct or Indirect?

Many foods lend themselves to grilling, but not all require the same heat or time to cook. For proteins, there are two main methods of cooking, direct heat and indirect heat. For foods that cook rather quickly, you use the direct method of placing the food directly over the heat. Usually all burners are on and set to the same temperature; you may use a higher temperature for searing then reduce the heat. Foods using the direct method include steaks (2 inches or less), burgers, hot dogs, fish and shrimp.

Your thicker cuts of meat, bone-in chicken and roasts, which take longer to cook, use indirect heat. You preheat your grill as normal, then turn one burner off and place your food there, leaving the other burner(s) to maintain your desired heat.

Image Source: Norton Farms
How will I know when my meat is done?

That is a good question and one that hits on the more complicated aspect of cooking (not just grilling) meats. The easiest way is to use an instant read thermometer and you will find much information and charts here

There are other methods, including the hand and finger method described here.

Most of the following tips apply to either gas or charcoal grilling.

Tips for Success:

  • When lighting a gas grill, always leave the lid up to avoid a dangerous accumulation of gas.
  • Always check your gas before beginning. It is no fun to jeopardize your expensive steak by running out of gas in the middle of cooking.
  • Preheat for at least 15 minutes, and longer is better.
  • Keep your grill grate clean. Scrub the hot grill down with a long-handled brush (I prefer brass bristles). You don't want residue from last weeks barbecue chicken on your salmon.
  • You may oil your food and/or grill. If you oil your grill, do so just before putting the food on otherwise the oil will just burn off before you're ready to cook.
  • Never slap a piece of cold meat on a hot grill. Always take your meat out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling.
  • Remember sugars burn at high heat, so always wait until your meat is nearly cooked before brushing on sauces containing sugar, e.g. barbecue sauce.
  • Use tongs or a spatula to turn or remove your meats. Never use a fork as piercing the meat will allow the juices to run out.
  • Always let your meat rest for at least 10 minutes after taking it off the heat. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat giving you a juicy steak.

From the simple hibachi to the Big Green Egg or anything in between, grilling is a delicious way to prepare food, and best of all, there is less to clean up in your kitchen.

Discussion questions:
What is your favorite grilled food?
Gas or charcoal?

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Know Your Sausage

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

Sausage may be a love it or hate it food. I love it and always have some in my freezer. I seldom think about what type it is beyond whether it is spicy or mild and whether I need to really cook it or just pop it on the grill until it is browned and sizzing.

There is more to sausage than initially meets the eye. It is basically ground meat, usually but not always, pork, mixed with seasonings. It may be stuffed into casings, formed into patties or sold in bulk by the pound. Following are some of the different types of sausages and a little information and examples for each one.

Four main types of sausage:

Fresh. These need to be refrigerated or frozen if not used immediately. Fresh sausage must be fully cooked before eating. When cooking, prick the skins so they don't explode because that spurt of hot grease when you turn them is impressive. Also, fresh link sausage can be removed from the casing to be crumbled and cooked for other dishes.

  • Breakfast links and patties
  • Italian
  • Bratwurst
  • Mexican Chorizo

Pre-cooked.  All pre-cooked sausage start with a smooth pureed filling, which may be partially cooked before stuffing, but all are cooked after stuffing. You still want to cook these or at least heat thoroughly to bring out the flavor. Many deli meats fall into this category.

  • Hot dogs
  • Bologna
  • Mortadella
  • German Wursts

Smoked. These are cooked over a cool fire which produces a lot of smoke. This provides
flavor and preserves the meat. These can be eaten as is or cut up and used in other dishes. Like the pre-cooked, you often find these in the deli.

  • Andouille
  • Kielbasa

Cured. This type of sausage is made fresh then salted and air dried. These make great appetizers and snacks. Slice thinly and serve at room temperature.

  • Spanish Chorizo
  • Coppa
  • Genoa Salami

Tell me which sausage you like and how you prepare or serve it.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Humble Potato

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

What is your favorite foodEVER? Pizza, ice cream, fried chicken, broccoli? Mine? None of the above. It is the very humble, very nutritious, and very versatile potato. 

Just the Facts.
  • Low calorie and a good source of Vitamins C and B6
  • Fat-free, sodium-free and gluten-free
  • More potassium than a banana
  • More energy packed than any other vegetable
  • A blank canvas for flavors and the most versatile vegetable
  • It is a resistant starch*
*I didn't know this, but a resistant starch is one that doesn't fully break down and get absorbed, and is instead turned into a short-chain fatty acid by intestinal bacteria. The bottom line is that it becomes food for the good bacteria (probiotics), which make resistant starches prebiotics. Read more about resistant starches here.

Red, white and blue, potatoes are patriotic, too.

Potatoes come in a variety of colors. Most are white or pale yellow on the inside. These come in red, white and yellow skin, are generally similar in texture and are good for frying or potato salad. Russets (bakers) are also white inside, but have brown skins and have a drier texture making them better for baking and mashing. 

Blue and Purple potatoes have a dark flesh as well as skin. They also have higher health benefits (the rule is the darker and more colorful, the healthier the food). This is what one source has to say:
"Purple potatoes boast more health benefits than their white counterparts. The golden rule with any fruit or vegetable is the darker and deeper the color, the more nutritional benefits it packs. They contain carotenoids and the color comes from their flavonoid content.
These potatoes are high in carbohydrates, low in fat, high in potassium, and contain a small amount of iron and a moderate amount of dietary fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar and prevent high cholesterol. They’ve also shown anti-inflammatory properties.
Blue potatoes also contain anthocyanins—an immunity-building anti-oxidant that fights free radicals, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer. The skin is rich in vitamin C and contains polyphenols. The skin also helps seal in the nutrients while cooking, so try to leave it intact."
Would you like fries with that?

Besides the ever-popular french fry, what else can you do with this versatile veggie? Just about anything you can think of. You can roast, bake or boil, mash, saute or grill it. You can slice it, dice it or spiral it. Morning, noon or night, potatoes fill the bill and satisfy the stomach.

Start your day off right with potatoes for breakfast as hash browns or home fries or grab baked potato or soup as a lunch option, but beware the loaded potatoes will get you with the added calories. Nothing dresses up dinner like creamy mashed potatoes with butter or gravy, and it goes with practically everything.

I can eat potatoes (a.k.a. taters) anyway you fix 'em. Fries, bring 'em on. Baked, with butter and sour cream, oh and maybe some cheese, please. But I've got to tell you about something called tater hash. Nope, not hash browns or home fries and there is no meat involved. These are some of the best taters on the planet, in my humble opinion.

What you need:

Baking potatoes like Russets
Fatvegetable or olive oil, coconut oil or bacon grease
Salt and pepper to taste

First you bake the potatoes. Exact time and temperature is not critical, the lower the temperature the longer the bake time and so on. I usually bake large potatoes at 400° for about 75 minutes. Just cook them until a sharp knife goes in easily. Remove from from the oven and cool on the counter. When cool enough to put in the refrigerator, go ahead and do so. Leave them in the refrigerator several hours or overnight. Cold potatoes make the best hash!

Then you make the hash. Peel and chop the potatoes into bite size pieces. Heat your fat of choice in a skillet over medium high heat. The oil is hot when a piece of potato sizzles when it hits the pan. Cook, turning them occasionally, allowing them to develop a crusty brown surface. I usually use my spatula to further chop them up in the pan.


These are excellent just as they are, but you can kick them up a notch (to quote Emeril) and add onions, green peppers or other seasoning. I like mine plain with just salt and pepper. I have been eating these my entire life, and some of the best I ever had were cooked on an old wood stove at my grandmother's house. Talk about good eats!

Discussion questions:
Have you eaten blue or purple potatoes?
What is your favorite way to eat potatoes?

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What I Learned From TV

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

Image Source: Wikipedia
We all had to learn to cook somewhere, from our mothers, grandmothers or on our own. While I didn't spend a lot of time trying to learn from my mom (I think my words were "I'll learn to cook when I need to") I picked up a lot more than I realized. Kids are sponges you know, they soak up a lot of stuff.

So fast forward to being married and needing to put meals on the table. Yes, I did, and no, we didn't starve or die from them. Were they good? Yeah, I thought so, but was I really cooking? Eh... If you call boxed mac & cheese, sausages and the occasional vegetable cooking, then yes. I put hot food on the table. Now don't think this was all bad, hubby loved the mac & cheese!

Then everything changed. I discovered the Food Network (the way it was back then, not now), back in the day of Emeril Lagasse (Bam!), Alton Brown (Good Eats), Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) and Rachel Ray (30 Minute Meals). I really learned something from these people. I learned about sauces and seasoning, and the reasons behind what works and what doesn't. I learned how to chop, slice and dice, how to hold a knife, about yeast and EVOO. I learned you can put good food on the table fast, without picking up fast food.

I don't watch the Food Network much anymore, as it seemed to change from educating to entertaining. While it was entertaining back then, too, it was way more instructional and informative. 

Mac & Cheese
My take-away from this is that now I can make a cheese sauce for my homemade mac & cheese that doesn't break, I can create my own recipes, and of course, make my own pizza.

Who are, or were, your favorite TV chefs?

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to Save a Buck or Two

During the month of October, I will be participating in the Write 31 Days hosted by Crystal Stine. My category is Food, Health & Wellness and my theme is "Into The Kitchen". 

I don't think there is anyone among us who doesn't like to save money, especially when we see prices going up and the size of the container shrinking. I remember going shopping with my mom and regularly being able to get ground chuck on sale for 99¢ per pound and today the sale price is usually at least three times that.

So how do you save money and still put meals on the table every day? The short answer is know where, when and how to shop, but with our busy lives today that isn't always easy and sometimes impossible.

There are thousands of articles and numerous blogs devoted to practical money saving tips, deals and coupon match-ups and I will link to some of those at the end. But first I will outline some of my favorite money saving strategies.

Loyalty Cards

Many grocery and drug stores have their own loyalty cards and related programs. Each store runs a weekly sales ad in either the Sunday or Wednesday newspapers, at least in my area. There are multiple ways to save money here. You can plan your meal to take advantage of what is on sale, then simply present your card and save.

Some stores will offer special savings in the form of store cash. This usually prints out on your receipt for use in your next transaction. At CVS, these are known as Extra Bucks and you find these deals listed in their sales flier. Pair these deals with coupons for additional savings. 

Store Programs

Large department stores such as Target and Walmart have their own savings programs. Walmart has the Savings Catcher Program and participation is easy. Download the Walmart app to your phone or sign up online and that's all you need to get started. The way this program works is simple, Savings Catcher compares your purchases to the advertised prices of their competitors. If Walmart's price is higher, you get the difference back. Your cash back is saved with your account and you can request an e-gift card at any time (to be spent at Walmart, of course). Just scan your receipt after checkout and give it about three days to see if you're getting money back.

Target also has some unique ways to save money. First is their cartwheel app, which has now been combined with your Target account login. To save, just log into Target, open the cartwheel app and add products to your list. You will have a bar code with your items encoded. Just show the cashier your phone and she can scan the code. For example, you may add soda to your list at 25% off.  Your $4 soda is now $3 all because you took a moment to use the cartwheel. 

Another way to save at Target is to take advantage of their gift card promotions which are listed in their sales flier. You purchase certain items for a specific dollar amount or number of items, such as any three bags of cat food or buckets of cat litter of brand X (mix or match) and you get a $5 gift card. I have done a number of these promos, and again, the gift card is for Target only.

Use Coupons

As always, if you use coupons with these programs and promotions, you increase your savings. Coupons can be found in your newspaper most Sundays, and on several internet sites as well. Great savings can be yours if you combine a high-value coupon with a sale such as buy one get one free. Example: I bought name brand chicken tenders on sale at buy one get one free and used a 75¢ coupon which the store doubled (did I mention there are stores that will double coupons?) and so each bag was about $2.75, which was less than half-price. Now that's my kind of savings!

Buy in Bulk

If you use a certain food or ingredient frequently, you may find that it is more cost effective to purchase it in larger quantities. For example, if you bake a lot you are probably buying a lot of flour, sugar, etc. If you have room in your pantry, consider purchasing these items in 25 or 50 pound bags.

Share a meal

Not every meal is eaten in the kitchen, and going out is expensive. Hubby and I frequently share a meal and it not only saves money, it saves calories, too. We get to enjoy satisfying meals that we wouldn't order because of the cost. Many entrees in your nicer restaurants carry a $20+ price tag, then you add drinks, appetizers and/or dessert. We don't eat like that and still pay upwards of $50-60 (after tax and tip) on a splurge. It's crazy! Needless to say, we do not do it very often.

Also, many restaurants offer such large portions that we can't possibly eat it all, and even if we could, we shouldn't. We usually share an appetizer and entree and skip dessert, and no one bats an eye. I think everyone is cost conscious these days, and sometimes our server will even offer a better way to order that is even cheaper. 😇

If you are overwhelmed and stressed out over finances and want to jump start your savings, here are some links that really helped me learn how to get the most out of my dollar.

Southern Savers
Free Printable Coupons

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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