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.”
2 1/2 cups rice (brown or white, I used a mixture)
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.
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.
Swiss cheese slices
provolone cheese slices
Assemble the ingredients for the muffuletta.
Bake the ciabatta bread according to the instructions on the package. Spoon olive salad one slice of the bread.
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.
Plus, this skillet is the best option for those one dish meals because it has the depth to keep adding ingredients.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 cups warm water
2 pkgs rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of butter (at room temperature)
6-7 cup all-purpose flour
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.
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).
Put the dough on the floured surface again and knead it until it is handleable.
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.
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.
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
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.
Spread the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Sift the flour over the cinnamon/sugar mixture.
Roll the dough. Cut into pieces about 1 1/4 inches wide.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sprinkle with your favorite all-purpose seasoning. Fold the aluminum foil into a pocket.
Place your vegetables in the center of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Fold the aluminum foil into a pocket.
Place the aluminum pockets in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Unfold the aluminum pockets.
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.