Fried chicken, fried fish

How to get that perfect breading

There’s a lot more to deep-frying than just flour and oil. Yes, you need both, but throw a few more ingredients into the process and you’re golden.

Fish filets or thinly sliced chicken breasts work best. Or you can cut them up and make “fingers.” Three bowls contain all you need for the batter: one with flour, one with egg whites and one with some kind of breading, like bread crumbs or even Ritz crackers. I don’t know what it is about this mixture that works so well, but whatever you deep fry will come out a lot nicer than if you just use one of these ingredients.

You don’t need a deep fryer, but about a finger or half a finger of oil in a pan will do. Heat it up on medium low heat.

Using tongs, first dip your chicken or fish in the flour, then in the egg white and finally in the breading. Then slide it into the oil. You will be able to see when it’s done. Let it cool and dry on some paper towel.

While you’re at it, why not make your own sauce? Tzatziki sauce is great on chicken. I wrote about how to make it last week – remember, though it’s easy to make, it takes a little time to really “mature” in the refrigerator.

Tartar sauce is great for fish. It’s really just mayonnaise and sliced up pickles, along with salt, pepper and some spices like parsley. Add whatever you like. Once you get the hang of it, you can deep-fry almost anything. Just remember to keep the heat low and have plenty of paper towels on hand.

 

Tzatziki sauce

Make it at home, I dare you!

For most of my life, I thought that tzatziki sauce was some magical substance only found in Greek restaurants or overpriced plastic containers in overpriced grocery stores. I never imagined that its main ingredient was yogurt and that it was quite easy to make at home.For a simple tzatziki, all you need is plain (sugar free) yogurt, a cucumber, a few cloves of garlic, onions, lime, olive oil, salt and pepper. I’m sure that fancy restaurants have a fancier blend, while I’m equally sure that cheap Gyro stands have a cheapened version. If you make tzatziki with other ingredients, please let us know.

A really important first step is to drain the yogurt to make it thicker. I use a coffee filter, the kind for camping that sits over the mug, and I leave it in the fridge all day. You will be amazed to see how much greasy liquid comes out of yogurt.

Another important thing is to get the liquid out of the cucumber, as well as the seeds. I cut the cucumber lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Then I chop up the rest. I’m too cheap to have a blender, so I smash each one with a shotglass and then pour out the liquid.

I chop up the garlic and smash it too, but keep the liquid of course. I may use a clove or two – it depends on how much you like garlic. I cut the onions in strips.

Then you put it all into a container with a little lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper. Don’t use too much, you can always add more later. Let it sit for about a week to really let the garlic soak in, and then you have a beautiful tzatziki that you can eat with just about anything.

Homemade french fries

Never buy that nasty freeze-dried stuff again

It’s unanimous – French fries are delicious. They are also super easy to make at home. You don’t need a deep fryer or those nasty freeze-dried, often precooked and always overpriced bags of nonsense. All you need is some potatoes, oil, and salt. Beyond that you can add all kinds of cool things.

Slice the potatoes any way you want. But whatever you do, first cut them in half. Then put the flat side down on your cutting board, so when you are cutting it up it won’t slide and roll all over the place, placing your fingers in danger. There’s your first tip.

You can cut them thin like McDonald’s or thick like steak fries. You can cube them up, or you can use a cheese grater and make hash browns. If you really want to get wild, you can use yams or sweet potatoes.

Then (and here’s your second tip), put them in cold water and let them soak for 30 minutes or more. This takes the starch out and makes for better fries. Wash them a few times to remove the cloudy-white water. This also is the best way to store sliced potatoes in the fridge, in a bowl of water.

Then take any cooking pot and put about a finger of oil on the bottom. You don’t need a lot of oil, just enough to cover the fries, and if you know that you will eat fries later in the week the leftover oil will be fine for a while. You can just leave it sitting in the pot, covered of course.

Warm it up with medium-low heat and wait a few minutes until you put the potatoes in. Try to drain as much water off of them as possible beforehand, so they don’t splatter. You can put a lid on at first, to reduce the splatter, but be sure to take it off to let the potatoes get crispy.

They can take some time to get ready, and stir them often with tongs to get an even cook. When they are ready, take the fries out with tongs and let them cool on paper towel. Then put on salt, pepper, or whatever else – cheese, pieces of bacon, anything you can imagine. Enjoy!

Get kids into the kitchen

It’s never too early to start.

Here is my suggestion to anyone who has children: Get them into the kitchen as early on as possible.  The obesity epidemic is a real thing, and it has plagued people with diseases that could have been easily prevented with a healthy diet.  Therefore, to help keep your kids from getting on the path to obesity, you need to teach them how to eat right from a young age.

From what I have seen, most people eat unhealthy foods because it is simply easier to do so.  Fast food and convenience foods are readily available.  Plus it is pretty affordable.  So people who do not feel comfortable around the kitchen can easily make a habit of reaching for fast food or convenience food.  Unfortunately, these foods are often to blame for the current obesity epidemic.  That is why it is essential that you get your kids comfortable in and around the kitchen of your house while they are still in their early years.In the beginning, simply invite your kids to join you in the kitchen whenever you are preparing meals.  At this point, they don’t even really have to do anything.  Just have them there to keep you company, and allow them to watch everything that you are doing.  This will cause them to see the kitchen as a wonderful place to be in.  Plus watching you cook will help them to see that it is not impossible to prepare a meal for the family. 

Once your children get to a certain age though, you will want to teach them to do certain tasks.  Show them how to toss a salad.  Allow them to measure ingredients.  They will thank you for it all later in life.

Craving comfort

Why watch Paula Deen when you can get your comfort fix here?

A lot of people say a summer without strawberries isn’t summer, and I’m inclined to agree; I love the fruit. But to me, summer isn’t summer without freezing cold iced sweet tea. I’m a Midwestern girl, and I like mine Southern Style—which means super duper sweet. I know this disgusts some of my West Coast friends, but out here, that’s what we love! And that’s what brought me to Craving Comfort with the Homesteading Housewife.

This blog, y’all, is so much fun to browse. Dana, the owner and writer of the blog, is simply a cutie pie. Her colloquial language isn’t overbearing or annoying like some people’s; it’s endearing and fun to read. She uses the perfect balance of photos and directions, which makes her recipes really easy to follow. And believe me, I need easy recipes! I tend to complicate things worse than they should be, so Dana’s straightforward talk, mixed with a bit of country humor, is more than welcome in my home.

Of course, her blog itself is not the real reason to give it a visit (or to subscribe, which I’ve done); it’s the fact that her recipes deliver that keeps me coming back! Her iced coffee recipe, for example, is delicious; and when I made her recipe for sweet tea, I thought I’d discovered the ambrosia of the gods. She tells you a secret ingredient (psst—it’s baking soda! But you’ll have to visit her blog to see how to use it!) that makes your home tea taste like real restaurant quality, as sweet and smooth as I love it. In fact, today I had a bottle of tea while out and running errands and noticed that I liked “my tea,” or really, Dana’s tea, better! And it saves you money making it on your own, so why not try it?

Dana openly admits that the food she cooks, like cheesy Tater Tot Casserole and Bricken, is comfort food and that it should be consumed in moderation, which I also appreciate. You’re not going to find ingredient substitutions, low-fat options, or carb counting on a blog called Craving Comfort, after all! But even if you can’t enjoy these meals every day, you are bound to find many that you’ll want to try at least once in a while. And believe me, if you bring one of these dishes to the office party or the family reunion this year, you’re gonna be remembered.

Worst Cooks in America is Embarrassing to Watch

And reminds me just how little our education system prepares us for life.

Holy. Freaking. Cow. I’ve watched the show Worst Cooks in America for three seasons now and yet, every year, I seem to be absolutely shocked at the horrendous cooking skills that our fellow Americans seem to have. “They must be faking,” I mutter, watching cooks mix macaroni and cheese with God knows what. I would fake, for sure, to get a few thousand dollars and a new cooking set.

I’m already a not-so-great cook; I’ve been known to burn rice or serve it crunchy in my time. Now that I have a child and more experience, I can usually follow a recipe okay, though, so it just boggles my mind that stay at home parents of multiple children are making inedible foods. How are their children surviving? How are they, for that matter?

I think this show serves as an excellent reminder of how little people are being prepared for life in school. I do not know if this is still the case, but I know that when I was in school cooking classes were optional. Optional! You had to memorize facts about geometry and Shakespeare and plenty of other stuff you might never need (or that you can look up on the Internet now, actually), but what about being prepared to feed yourself or your own family?

Many of these people don’t know simple facts about food, such as the fact that leaving it out to spoil renders it unfit for eating. Some of these people put their own loved ones in the hospital from food poisoning while others say their kids are super skinny from not being able to eat much. Hello! How about a mandatory cooking class in school—or multiple cooking classes?

And while you are at it, how about a general home skills class about cleaning and doing laundry and such? Maybe a paperwork class about maintaining medical records, taxes, car licensing, and other parts of life? I think you should get your passport through school when you turn seventeen or eighteen as well. Driver’s ed is something else that every school should provide, as well as lessons on how to balance a checkbook and prepare a budget, pay bills, manage credit (and decipher credit ratings), finagle interest rates, pay rent or buy a house, and other relevant material. Something tells me that all of these skills would be much more helpful than learning how plants reproduce (though actual planting education would also be helpful…).

Making Leftovers Part of Your Weekly Meal Plan

We work, we cook and we tend to kids, when will we get a break while still being able to provide our family with necessities? It seems to be never ending. One thing to think about is cutting out some time in the kitchen. Not only will this give you a much needed break but may help with your food budget as well.
 
When you cook a typical weeknight dinner for your family, are there usually leftovers? Meals like, spaghetti, beef stew, soups and many more are great when eaten as leftovers. Matter of fact, they usually taste better the day after.
 
What do you normally do with your leftovers? Do more get thrown in the trash than get eaten? If so, quit throwing away your money! Not only will replacing a night of cooking with leftover save you time but may also save you some money. It’s one less meal to plan and buy ingredients for. I am always up for saving these two things I need the most, what about you?!?
 
 
I challenge you to try and replace one night of cooking with leftovers. Instead of cooking a full course meal on Wednesday night, take a break and present your family with a warmed up plate of leftovers from previous days. You may even have leftovers from each day that you cooked and can offer them a choice between them. Leftovers for dinner will give you additional time to do the things you want to do or catch up in areas that you may have let pile up. Try this out for a week or two and see how your family responds.
 
You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Enjoy you extra time that you have just acquired!

Pantry Basics

What Every Well Stocked Pantry Should Have

In an economy that can make it difficult getting to the grocery store, I suggest stocking your pantry with basic dry goods that will allow you to be able to cook almost anything, even on a tight budget. A well stocked pantry will also allow you to make adjustments in recipes for everything from substitutions to extra people showing up for dinner.

 

Base Ingredients

Base ingredients are the items needed most commonly in recipes such as:

All-purpose flour

Cornmeal

Sugar; granulated, brown, and powdered

Baking Soda

Baking Powder

Cornstarch

Milk; powdered or dry milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk

Broth; canned and dry bullion- chicken, pork, beef, and vegetable

 

Dried Foods

Dried foods are items that can be reconstituted with water or other liquids.

 

Dried fruit; apples, bananas, pears, raisins, cranberries

Dried vegetables; peas, beans, onions, carrots, celery

Meats; jerky, salted meats like beef, chicken, turkey, and pork

Pasta

Rice; long grain, minute, and basmati

Bread; crumbs, cubes, stuffing

 

Canned Goods

Canned goods can be a lifesaver when times are hard. While I believe in canning your own if you have the know-how, time, space, and an availability of product to can, store bought can goods will fill the need.

 

Can vegetables; assorted based on family preferences

Can fruits; assorted based on family preferences

Can soups; cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, tomato, chicken noodle, and other assorted types based on family preferences

Tomatoes; sauce, paste, diced, stewed, whole

Meats; tuna, chicken, Spam, ham

 

Additionals

Additionals are items you should keep in your pantry but do not necessarily fall under any other category. These are items that will help you stretch leftovers, work for quick fixes, and can be useful for things other than eating.

 

Oils; vegetable, olive

Shortening; vegetable, butter

Gelatin (powdered); unflavored, assorted flavors

Chocolate; semi-sweet chips, unsweetened bars, cocoa powder

Nuts; walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and assorted according to family preferences

Cereal; corn flakes, puffed wheat and rice, and assorted family preferences

Crackers; saltines, graham

Coffee; whole bean, ground, instant

Tea; black, peppermint, chamomile, and assorted flavors according to family preferences

Peanut butter

Preserves; assorted jams and jellies

Vinegar

Peppermint; dried leaves, starlight mints, hard tack

Whiskey

Vodka

Wine; red, white

Wooden matches

 

Reasons

The items listed here have long shelf lives and can be used for a multitude of purposes including easing common ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, and fevers. Having a well stocked pantry is not only a wise decision financially for stretching the budget but also serves in emergency situations that arise from natural events like earthquakes and storms and from manmade event like the loss of public utilities. Whatever the situation it helps to be prepared and an easy place to start is with your pantry.

Chocolate Substitutions

Complete Your Favorite Recipe Despite a Shortage

As the holidays approach we sometimes find ourselves short in some key ingredient required for one of our famous family recipes. When it comes to those rich, chocolate delights we bake for family and friends, here are some practical substitutions to navigate problem shortages and successful solutions.

For Baking Chocolate: 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon shortening or oil equals 1 square (1 ounce) baking chocolate.

For Pre-melted Unsweetened Chocolate: 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 1 tablespoon oil or melted shortening equals 1 envelope (1 ounce) pre-melted unsweetened chocolate.

For Semi-sweet Chocolate: 6 tablespoons cocoa plus 7 tablespoons sugar plus ¼ cup shortening equals 1- 6-ounce package (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips or 6 squares (1 ounce each) semi-sweet chocolate.

For Sweet Cooking Chocolate: 3 tablespoons cocoa plus 4 ½ tablespoons sugar plus 2 2/3 tablespoons shortening equals 1- 4-ounce bar sweet cooking chocolate.

Please Note:

When using these substitutions do not use butter or margarine; they contain a slight amount of water which could cause separation of ingredients.

There are three easy ways to use cocoa in recipes that call for other forms of chocolate:

  1. Combine cocoa (and sugar) with the dry ingredients. Add the extra shortening with the shortening called for in the recipe.
  2. Melt the extra shortening. Remove from heat and blend cocoa. If using oil, simply blend cocoa and oil together. Add into mixture to the recipe as you would pre-melted unsweetened chocolate.
  3. For extra cocoa flavor and color, add the extra shortening with the shortening called for in the recipe. Mix cocoa and part of the water called for in the recipe into smooth paste then add to the creamed mixture.

One Show Hosted by Two Dudes

"Restaurant Impossible" and "Kitchen Nightmares" are the same show.

I get a serious case of déjà vu when I watch Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on Fox and then switch to watch Robert Irvine's Restaurant Impossible on Food Network. I know that shows often copy each other--take, for example, toddlers, make-up and pageants and you have about thirteen shows--but these two shows are identical.

What gives?

If you haven't watched either of these two doppelganger fixer-upper shows, both are hosted by two world-renowned British chefs. The men are called in to an American restaurant that is in dire straits because of its decor, owners and cuisine. Usually, the restaurants' owners yodel some variation of the theme of "You, Robert Irvine or Gordon Ramsay, are my last hope!"

Ramsay and Irvine visit the restaurant and whine about the terrible decor, and, oddly, almost always mention the smell of the carpets. They ask the chefs to create a number of the restaurants' dishes. Ramsay always hates all of the dishes, saying that things are raw, or sloppy or terrible. Irvine usually has one dish that he likes on the menu, but we'll come to that snappy alternative later.

Ramsay often gets to the bottom of some deep-seated issue between cooks and owners or between owners that he diagnoses as the root of the restaurants' problems. Irvine's twist is to have a cook-off between himself and the restaurant's chef who cooks the single dish that Irvine liked. They then have a blind taste test using potential patrons. This is a good twist because it gives the chefs a little bit of dignity that at least they're doing something right.

Ramsay completely recreates the menu himself, and recreates the restaurant's decpr. He doesn't give the restaurant owners any say in either decision, but I've never seen a chef get mad that Ramsay taken over their creativity. Irvine redoes the restaurant himself, but he gives the chefs more say in the new menu.

Irvine is a sweeter guy, and his show is better, but I'm also addicted to Ramsay's show because of the cliffhanger commercials and ominous music.  

I suppose Ramsay's show is the original, though, because he premiered it in Britain in 2004. His American show was also first; it's been on the air since 2007. Irvine's show just began this year. It's rather strange that Food Network can make a show that is nearly identical to one already on the air--I'm surprised that Ramsay hasn't sued yet.

Do you watch either of these shows?