Congee

The first time I ate congee was when I traveled to Malaysia. The hotel had a breakfast buffet that always served rice soup. I didn’t know it as congee until we traveled to China and I saw it labeled on the hotel breakfast buffet in Xian. I’ve since then seen it on a cruise ship breakfast buffet. I did a little research on this dish and found that congee, also called jook or rice porridge, is a common breakfast item in much of Asia. I decided to try making congee and used my students, who are primarily from Myanmar, as my test tasters. I made an 7 qt slower cooker full of congee and it was all consumed. One boy had 3 helpings and requested that I make it again tomorrow since I am his “school mom.”

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups rice (brown or white, I used a mixture)
  • 3 qts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds uncooked chicken

DIRECTIONS

Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker.

Congee Ingredients

Cook on low overnight. Stir and serve.

Congee

Quick and Easy Tortellini

Pasta is one of my favorite foods. I believe the options are endless. Since pasta can be quickly put together, I find it to be my go-to when I need a quick and easy meal. Fresh tortellini takes only 2 minutes to cook once you have the water boiling, so I usually keep a package or two in the refrigerator.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup spinach-artichoke dip
  • 1 package tortellini
  • 1 cup cooked Italian sausage or other meat you have on hand in the freezer
Quick and Easy Tortellini Ingredients

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Heat the spinach-artichoke dip. Defrost and heat the meat.

Stir the spinach-artichoke dip into the cooked tortellini.

Tortellini with Spinach-
Artichoke Dip

Top with meat. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Quick and Easy Tortellini

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Who doesn’t love a good warm, creamy dip? This is a dip I love to serve with pita chips.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  frozen package of spinach thawed and drained or 1 package of fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 can artichokes, drained and chopped
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Swiss, mozzarella, or provolone cheese
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Saute the onions and garlic.

Sauteing garlic and onion

Add the spinach. If you are using fresh spinach, cook until it is wilted.

Cooking the fresh spinach

Add the remaining ingredients.

Adding remaining ingredients for the dip

Add the remaining ingredients and stir until everything is blended together.

Blending and melting the cheeses

Serve warm.

Muffuletta

If you are going to have a sandwich for dinner, you should make it something special. A good muffuletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans is one of my favorite sandwiches. This version certainly brings back memories of my last trip to Central Grocery and makes me long to return to New Orleans where the best food in the world can be found.

INGREDIENTS

  • ciabatta bread
  • mortadella
  • salami
  • ham
  • Swiss cheese slices
  • provolone cheese slices
  • olive salad

Assemble the ingredients for the muffuletta.

Muffuletta ingredients

Bake the ciabatta bread according to the instructions on the package. Spoon olive salad one slice of the bread.

Assembling the muffuletta

Place the meat and cheese on the bread.

Muffuletta–ready to eat

Put the sandwich together and enjoy.

Kitchen “Must-Have”–Cast Iron Skillet

Let me tell you about one of my favorite kitchen items–my 10 inch cast iron chicken fryer. My grandmother, my mother (and probably all of my aunts) used one on pretty much a daily basis. I think my cousin still owns her mother’s skillet which even survived a house fire. The 10 inch chicken fryer by Lodge is useful, durable, and made in the USA. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have one that has been passed down for generations, you can buy one at Bass Pro (as if you need this as an excuse to make a trip to Bass Pro).

Having a cooking item that will last until your great-grandchildren are adults, may not be enough to convince you to buy one. However, let me explain the versatility of this item. Obviously, you can use it to fry chicken. Since cast iron conducts heat and retains heat well, this skillet is ideal for frying ANYTHING and EVERYTHING–french fries, shrimp, okra, hush-puppies, corn dogs–you name it. In addition to deep frying, you can pan fry, saute, and stir-fry in this skillet.

rolled tacos–pan frying
sauteing onions

Plus, this  skillet is the best option for those one dish meals because it has the depth to keep adding ingredients.

Cooked Italian Sausage

After you saute your onions, and brown your meat (chicken, roast, pork chops, etc.) in the skillet, add your liquid, reduce to a simmer, cover the skillet with a lid and let your meat braise. My mouth is watering just thinking about the herbs infusing into the liquid while the meat turns into tender, juicy bites of deliciousness. Let’s not forget that this skillet can also go in the oven. This means you can continue cooking your one dish meal in the oven. We still have baking to do in the skillet; 10 inch diameter is great for cornbread, rolls, and cake.

dinner rolls–oven ready

The heavy weight of this skillet also makes it a good tool for cracking peppercorns, although I generally use the 8 inch cast iron skillet for this. I do wrap my extra-firm tofu in a dish towel and put the cast-iron skillet on top to press out excess water. As you can see the versatility of this skillet is only limited by your imagination. I do have one disclaimer. You may not use wine to deglaze in a cast iron skillet because you must use a non-reactive pan (e.g., stainless steel) when deglazing.

The durability and versatility of cast-iron should be enough to make you want to start a search for an entire set of cast iron (Academy Sports has a nice selection.). In addition to my favorite 10 chicken fryer, I have a 10 1/2 inch square skillet, 8 inch round skillet, 10 inch round skillet, and 6 1/2 round skillet. My husband, who believes in buying me the best when it comes to kitchen items, bought me a fantastic stove that includes a cast iron griddle in the middle!

Now, let me share the best reason for loving cast-iron– the EASY clean up! No one likes the clean up part of cooking. I’ll confess to having some horrible disasters when things have burned and stuck rather stubbornly to my cookware. With cast-iron skillets, you have no worries and no scrubbing. Just put water in the skillet and boil any stuck-on, burnt-on food loose. Do not put your cast-iron in the dishwasher or you’ll end up with a rusty mess. I just quickly wash out the skillets in the sink and dry them on the burner. This frees up space in the dishwasher for all the other dirty dishes. Since I use my skillets so regularly, I just keep them stacked on my stove top.

Cast Iron Skillets–waiting for use

With the durability, versatility, and easy clean up of cast-iron, you should make sure that all those who love to cook one own at least one cast-iron item in the kitchen. It’s a nice affordable gift for yourself or the one you love. You can even find a Lodge cast-iron skillet at Target and Wal-mart, so no excuses.

Cinnamon Rolls (or Dinner Rolls)

I use the same bread recipe for both cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls because that’s how  my grandmother did it. In fact, I got the recipe from my grandmother who was renowned for her bread baking. I remember, when I was a child, her getting up each morning and starting a batch of bread before breakfast. I especially enjoyed her letting me punch down the dough after it had risen.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 pkgs rapid rise yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  •  1 stick of butter (at room temperature)
  • 6-7 cup all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

Run the tap water until it is as hot as very hot bathwater on your finger (120-130 degrees Fahrenheit). If you don’t like my finger method of measuring the temperature, use a thermometer. Place the butter sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bow.

butter, sugar, and yeast
butter, sugar, and yeast

Add the warm water to dissolve the yeast. Stir in half the amount of flour. Mix until smooth. Add eggs. Gradually stir in the remaining flour a little at a time. You may need to put the dough on a floured board and knead in the last of the flour. You want to knead the dough until it is stiff.

Oil the bowl and the place the dough in the bowl. Oil the top of the dough. Cover and place in a warm place until it is doubled (about 45 minutes).

Dough that has doubled
Dough

Put the dough on the floured surface again and knead it until it is handleable.

dough ready to knead
dough ready to knead

This redistributes the yeast. I use half of the dough to make rolls and half of the dough to make cinnamon rolls. For the dinner rolls, make dough balls slightly large than golf balls.

Rolls ready for the oven

Place them in a greased pan or cast iron skillet and let rise for about 35-45 minutes in a warm place. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

dinner rolls-hot and ready to eat

CINNAMON ROLL FILLING INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons butter (melted)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour

ICING INGREDIENTS

  • powdered sugar (maybe 1/2 pound)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons VERY hot water

CINNAMON ROLL DIRECTIONS

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is as thin as can be.

rolled out dough
rolled out dough

Spread the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Sift the flour over the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

ready to roll
ready to roll

Roll the dough. Cut into pieces about 1 1/4 inches wide.

cinnamon rolls ready for the pan

Place in a grease pan. Let it sit in a warm place for about 45 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

Stir a little water into the sifted powdered sugar. Drizzle over the cinnamon rolls. These are always best when eaten warm.

Warm cinnamon roll

Pasta in a Hurry

When I know I’m going to be pressed for time getting dinner on the table (because of a meeting that will undoubtedly last longer than scheduled), I go to the freezer for help. On this occasion, I found a package of tortellini, some pesto and a chicken-feta sausage. I took it out of the freezer the night before.

tortellini, chicken-feta sausage, and pesto
tortellini, chicken-feta sausage, and pesto

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Stick the sausage in a skillet and brown it. Toss the tortellini with the pesto.

Pesto Tortellini with Sausage
Pesto Tortellini with Sausage

Serve with the sausage.

Spaghetti Sauce

When I was a child, my favorite food was spaghetti. It was a quick and easy meal for my mother to make. Although I admit to often using spaghetti sauce from a can or jar, spaghetti sauce is actually quite easy to make especially if you use the slow cooker. Be sure to make up plenty because it freezes well.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or beef broth
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker except the baking soda.

Spaghetti sauce ingredients in a slow cooker
Spaghetti sauce ingredients in a slow cooker

Cook on low for 4 hours. Add baking soda toward the end. This counteracts the acidity of the tomatoes. Use more or less baking soda depending on the acidity of the tomatoes and your preference.

Spaghetti and Meatball
Spaghetti and Meatball

Serve with over spaghetti noodles.

 

Easy Clean-up Cooking

Did you know you can make aluminum foil pockets and avoid most of the after cooking clean up? This is a cool trick I like to use with fish and vegetables. Choose your favorite fish and vegetables and give it a try. I have used salmon and broccoli for my example here.

Place the salmon on a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.

Salmon on heavy duty aluminum foil
Salmon on heavy duty aluminum foil

Sprinkle with your favorite all-purpose seasoning.  Fold the aluminum foil into a pocket.

aluminum foil pocket
aluminum foil pocket

Place your vegetables in the center of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.

broccoli on heavy duty aluminum foil
broccoli on heavy duty aluminum foil

Sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Fold the aluminum foil into a pocket.

aluminum foil pocket
aluminum foil pocket

Place the aluminum pockets in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Unfold the aluminum pockets.

Salmon baked in aluminum foil
Salmon baked in aluminum foil
broccoli baked in aluminum foil
broccoli baked in aluminum foil

Serve on plates.

 

Pesto

I work with the best people. They make my job worth going to even on days when the lesson flops and I feel like a failure as a teacher. My next door neighbor at work has fresh basil that she shares with me on occasion. I love the smell of basil and because of her generosity I now make my own pesto. I found that it also freezes well, so I recommend that you try this recipe and freeze what you don’t use for later use.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups fresh basil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

DIRECTIONS

Place all ingredients in a food processor.

Pesto Ingredients
Pesto Ingredients

Blend for a couple of minutes.

Pesto
Pesto

Freeze any extra for later use.