Wonderful Indoor Barbecued Ribs

Who says the best barbecue baby back ribs come from a grill or smoker? Okay, maybe that’s true, but it’s not the only way for an apartment-dwelling bachelor can enjoy really good, succulent barbecue ribs. 

Indoor Barbecue Ribs

This recipe is one of our favorites. It includes making your own barbecue sauce, which is always better than out of a bottle. One of the problems with most apartment living is that outdoor grills are not allowed because the smoke gets into other apartments. For some, an indoor grill or a grill pan is the solution. But when it comes to ribs, all you need is a sauce pan, a large pot like a stock pot, a cookie sheet and an oven broiler. 

Ribs and sauce.

From the store, you need about three pounds of pork baby back or spare ribs. When you get those home, you will cut them into individual servings, about three ribs each. 

For the sauce, you probably already have what you need in your pantry. This recipe is open to lots of personal variations, so don’t go out of your way to get all of the ingredients here. As long as you have ketchup, vinegar, sugar and liquid smoke, you probably have everything you need.

Place the ribs into a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce it to medium or medium low to simmer for about one hour. You know they are done when it looks like the meat is pulling away from the bones. 

Indoor BBQ ribs for dinner.

While that is cooking, mix together in a small saucepan a cup of ketchup, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (You can use another vinegar, but it will change the flavor quite a bit.), 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon of liquid smoke. You can find that last item either with the spices or with the barbecue sauce in the store. Read the labels, not all brands are the same. Some really are make from real smoke while others get their flavor from chemicals. This seldom used seasoning can make a big difference in making your ribs taste like they just came out of the smoker. But use a gentle hand because too much can make your sauce go from smokey to nasty. Mix the ingredients well over medium high heat until it starts to simmer. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, until thickened. Stir it frequently. 

Pork ribs

When the ribs are done, drain them and place them in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Preheat the broiler and set the oven rack about six-inches from the heat source. Brush your barbecue sauce liberally on the ribs. You should probably have the meatier side facing up first, but it’s not totally necessary. Put the baking pan or cookie sheet under the broiler until the sauce has turned sticky and browned, about six or seven minutes. If you start to see black spots, your rack is probably too close to the heat. 

Turn the ribs over, apply the rest of sauce and put back under the broiler for another seven minutes until the sauce is thick and sticky. 

This is a fool-proof method we use all the time in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. We think once you try it and see how easy it is to get wonderful barbecue ribs without a grill all year long it will be a favorite of yours, too.

A Late Night Snack Like No Other

Some of you may have worked or now work in a restaurant or some other late night job. cacio-e-pepeThe last thing you want to do is cook dinner when you get off work. People in the restaurant industry face this dilemma most evenings. Fortunately, they also have people around who know how to cook. If that’s the case, you probably have eaten Cacio e Pepe, or Pasta with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano.

Like rice, this is a dish that is very simple, but also takes practice to get right. On the face of it, it looks like one simply cooks some pasta, usually spaghetti or other thin noodle, then tosses it with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and some grated Pecorino cheese. If you get it right, it is delicious and loaded with protein and carbohydrates, just what you need at the end of a long night. But if you don’t get it right, it turns into a clumpy, greasy mess.

Another thing we like about this recipe is that it can be dressed up if you have some left over meat or other protein, or it is good on its own the next day if just take the chill off after spending the night in the refrigerator.

So, if your first try at this dish fails, keep trying, it’s worth it.

Start with medium skillet over medium-low heat. This recipe only makes two large servings, so you won’t need a big pan. Heat about three tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. Add a teaspoon or more of freshly ground black pepper. You can just use the grinder over the pan until you see a good amount in the oil. You just want to warm it up so it becomes wonderfully fragrant. A little sizzling is to be expected. Take the pan off the heat and let it sit.

Next, you need either a large skillet or a wide saucepan. Place the spaghetti or pasta in the pan and add just enough water to cover. Season with a pinch of salt. Over high heat, bring the pan to a boil. Give it a little shove around the pan from time to time to keep it from clumping. Follow the package directions for al dente, pasta, usually about one minute less than the recommended time.

Take two to three tablespoons of the pasta water and put them in the medium skillet containing the oil and pepper mixture. Add two tablespoons of butter to that and stir it all together. Take tongs and transfer the pasta to the smaller pan. Add about one cup of grated Pecorino Romano. Use a fork to stir in the cheese until it is all melted. Use a little more pasta water if needed to get a creamy sauce that coats all of the pasta. Taste to adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt and pepper if needed. Then take the whole pan to the table and serve directly on to plates. If you have a guest, be sure to offer extra grated cheese and black pepper.

You might not be familiar with pecorino cheese. If so, you will find it very similar and sold along side of the more well known Parmigiana Romano. And please don’t think that means the stuff that comes in an refrigerated canister. That not only tastes like salty sawdust, it contains sawdust, or cellulose, to keep it from clumping. Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk rather than cows’ milk. That gives it a tangier flavor and a lot less fat.

This dish does contain a lot of carbohydrates. But if you are an active person, this is an easy and fast meal suitable for making after a long day at work.

Making Time to Cook Worth It

Having time to cook when you’re single is a matter of strategy. If you plan ahead you can eat better without being tied to the kitchen. You have to set aside a little time to do cooking, which can be for the whole week if you work it out right. You have to know what you need, make meal plans and use grocery lists. Instead of trying to make a tiny meal for one, make a regular size meal and put the rest away for later in the week.

During the week, you want to begin working on what you’ll eat, what groceries you’ll buy and what dishes you’ll cook. Here’s how that would go:

  1. With the help of your nutritionist or dietician, you’ve made a general meal plan that outlines what sorts of food you need for each meal: which meals need vegetables or fruit, which will be vegetarian, and which will be open for things like eating out, meals with friends and so on.
  2. Review the grocery store ad for the week to see what’s on sale. Pick out some foods you’d like to get and some recipes or cooking ideas to go with them. Don’t be afraid of large quantities, your freezer is your friend and that’s less you have to buy later.
  3. Once you know what you’re going to buy and cook, make a grocery list to be sure you don’t forget something. While you’re at it, use a calendar or some other grid to show what you plan to eat for each meal. This is not written in stone. Things will change through the week and that’s okay. What you don’t eat today can probably be eaten tomorrow or some other time. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just some general ideas.

Now you’re ready to shop. Plan on no more than two stops. If you like shopping in a mega supermarket, fine. Or you might want to consider, depending on where you live and your situation, stopping at the farmers market in the morning and in the afternoon go to the supermarket. Whatever works best for you.

If you’ve chosen Sunday afternoon for your cooking, you should be armed with your recipes and your meal plans. Not everything has to be done at once. For example, you can put together the ingredients for a salad and make a dressing, just don’t put them together. If you’re making a pizza, make some extra dough and make an extra crust or two, top them all but bake only one. Wrap up the others and store in the freezer for later.

You can make breakfast sandwiches or burritos while your dinner is cooking and pop those in the freezer for quick breakfasts during the week. Make a meal that offers flexibility, like a pot of soup, stew or chili that can be portioned into containers for later. Use those entrée containers to make your own frozen dinners. Just put in the plate components and stick in the freezer to be microwaved later. All of these things can be done while your cooking a main meal or right after. That way, everything, or nearly everything, gets done in one day, leaving little for you to do when you get home from work.

Also consider making components to various meals like a pot of rice, a pot of beans, a loaf of bread, a saucepan of mixed vegetables. All of these can be placed in containers for use later. You’ve already got everything you need for a tasty stir-fry or meatless dinner or lunch.

With just a little thought and planning you can reduce your cooking time enormously while still allowing you to eat good, healthy, homemade meals all week long.

Berry Buttermilk Cake

This recipe is a great use of frozen fruit. We used a berry medley in our version. But you could use any combination you like. We recommend letting the thawed fruit drain in a strainer for a few minutes before putting them into the cake batter. The recipe is here. IMG_20160125_194833630

Preheat your oven to 400 F with the rack in the middle position. Make sure you remove the half stick of butter a couple hours before to let it soften. Like all baked goods, start with the dry ingredients, mixing together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer to cream the butter into the sugar. Remember that in baking sugar acts as a liquid. Beat until pale and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and the egg and mix until fully incorporated.

Then, with the mixer on low, add a third of the dry ingredients and a third of the buttermilk. Continue alternating until it is just combined. Don’t overmix it or the cake won’t be nice and fluffy. Pour into a greased and floured cake pan and bake for about an half hour until it is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.

Now comes the tricky part. If the cake is not cooled correctly, it will fall apart. It will still taste good, but it will be in little pieces. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool the rest of the way. The cake will be upside down at this point. After 15 or 20 minutes, turn it over onto a plate. You’re ready to cut and serve.

You DO Have Time To Cook

One of things you hear from people who don’t cook much, who engage in typical bachelor eating behavior, is that they just don’t have time to cook. But that begs the question: do you have time to write out a check for your rent or mortgage? Do you have time to shower in the morning before work? Do you have time to put gas in your car?

The answer: of course you do. Well, maybe we should say you make the time because you know those are things you have to do. And you should think of cooking in the same way. Cooking food and eating should be about more than just fueling your body the way you put gas in the car. It’s just as important if you want to do the things you want to do.

When you’re single, or even if you’re not, you have a busy life. You have to do everything yourself. And sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. But I can assure you from personal experience that it is worth it, no matter your age, your environment, your income or your living situation. Food is important. That’s why every human culture on the planet has traditions and activities revolving around food. And humans aren’t alone in that. Many animals have lives directly related to eating.

The key to cooking at home is strategy. No one wants to spend hours in front of a stove when you get home from work. No one wants to make multiple trips to the store (unless it happens to be convenient because you pass right by it on the way home). That means you need to do a little planning, put a little thinking into the effort. That’s what this blog is all about.

First, you need to realize that you can get a lot of cooking done in just one afternoon or evening a week. In that time you can make a pot of soup, put together a salad without the dressing, cook a pot of rice, beans or potatoes, all while cooking a healthy and nutritious meal. You might call this multi-tasking. A lot of cooking is waiting. That gives you an opportunity to take care of other things while you’re in the kitchen.

Next, if you have special nutritional needs, like diabetes, heart disease or a food allergy, meal planning is even more important. That means you need to have some general guidelines about your meals. Those elements include calorie counts, carbohydrates, fat content and similar nutritional values. Also, you need to make sure your meals are balanced and contain plenty of fruits and vegetables in addition to starches and protein. As we said above: food is more than just fuel. Having all of these elements under consideration will allow you to have a healthier life. And that means fewer expenses, longer life and being happy. Yes, happy. Food can greatly affect your mood. You might think that means sweets and chocolate. But actually, good nutrition makes your body happy and your brain chemistry in better balance.

A good place to start is at a nutritionist or dietician. You can probably get a referral from your doctor. He or she also might have some material to get you started. You need to take into consideration your nutritional needs. That’s where your doctor comes in. Then you have to take into consideration your tastes, how much money you can spend on food and how much time you devote to other activities. You may have to consider making some changes.

You might find the figures you come up with are rather restrictive. But there’s an easy solution to that: get moving! Exercise, even a daily walk around the block, can make a big difference in so many things. It will burn up more calories. It also burns up built up adrenaline which causes high blood pressure and tension. I know finding the time for that can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort.

Meat Magic In A Pan Sauce

If you want to elevate any meat to restaurant quality, just add a simple pan sauce. The meat should rest for a few minutes before serving. That leaves you time to create this lovely addition that will knock your socks off. 

Making a pan sauce.

A pan sauce uses the fond, or the browned bits left on the bottom of the pan, as the sauce basis. There is a lot of flavor left in that pan. Once you have removed the meat from the pan, add a flavorful liquid, like wine or broth, and use a spoon or spatula to scrape up those bits on the bottom of the pan so they are loose in the liquid. Use enough liquid to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Put the pan on high heat and begin reducing the liquid to a thicker sauce. You can add in some more flavor using spices, herbs, sliced mushrooms, finely minced garlic or capers. After about five minutes, the sauce should be reduced and ready to pour over the meat on your plate. 

Those are the basics for any pan sauce. From there you should vary the ingredients in the sauce to complement your dish. Here are some ideas. 

Steak

Steak with mushroom red wine reduction.

Wine is one of the best liquids to use for a pan sauce. For steak, you want a hearty red wine, like a Cabernet. And, as I’m sure you’ve heard, you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. That is especially true when making this sauce. After using some to make the sauce, you can drink the rest of the wine in the bottle with the meal. Start by adding enough wine to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Use a spoon to spare up all the bits sticking to the pan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occassionally. Add in sliced mushrooms, about a cup, and cook for about five minutes. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. If you think the steak has gotten cold while you make this sauce, you can put it back in the pan now while the sauce thickens. 

Pork

Boneless pork chops in
Marsala wine sauce.

Pork chops remain a favorite in many homes. It is cheaper than beef and more flavorful than chicken. A Marsala wine sauce is ideal for pork, or most other meats. You might have to hunt a little for the wine, but it will be worth it. Add a cup or two of Marsala to the pan about 15 minutes before the meat is done. The sauce will be created while the meat finishes cooking. Again, throw in some sliced mushrooms to cook with the sauce, adjust the seasoning and let it reduce. When seasoning, remember to use a light touch so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the dish. 

Chicken

Chicken in cream sauce.

The standard rule says white wine should be served with fish and chicken. But we don’t accept that. A good wine is the one you like, whatever it is. The reason behind that rule is based on French cooking. Usually, a white flesh is more delicate tasting and thus requires a more delicate wine, which means a white wine. Red meats usually take a strong red wine to complement the meat. But in this case, a white wine would work best.  You can also use chicken broth. For our pan chicken sauce, remove the chicken when it’s done. Add minced garlic and onion and then the wine or broth. Allow it to cook on high heat for about five minutes, until the sauce thickens. Then add two or three tablespoons of butter or ghee and melt it into the sauce. This will make the sauce rich and a little creamy. Pour that over your chicken and be prepared for a “Wow!” 

A quick note about wines

Never use a cooking wine or sherry. They are just awful. Get the real thing so you can have a drink or two while you cook. It really helps. As for what kind of wine, if you don’t have much experience with them, go ahead and follow the standard rule of red wine for red meat, and white wine for white meat and fish. For white wines, I like a Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris if French) or a buttery Chardonnay without too much oakiness, depending on the season and the dish. I like the fruity Pino Grigio in the summer and the heavier Chardonnay in the winter months. For reds, a Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvingon or Merlot are the best choices for the novice. The first two are very strong flavors that go better with spicy dishes. Merlot is more mild tasting for lighter dishes. Feel free to consult a wine shop keeper for advise.

A Cream Sauce for Fish

Fish with cream sauce.

A quick sauce is called for here because the fish will not need to rest as long as other meats. When the fish is done, remove it from the pan and add a cup of white wine, a couple teaspoons of lemon juice and about a quarter cup of heavy cream or half & half. Let the sauce thicken and then add a handful of capers and some herbs, fresh if you have them. Then just spoon the sauce over the fish and serve. 

Just a few tools make restaurant-quality steak

You can get a steak-house quality hunk of beef at home, if you have the right tools.  

Steakhouse T-bone steak dinner

The biggest advantage a restaurant has that you do not in your home kitchen is the level of heat that can be delivered to the food. But you can make up for that difference with a simple, inexpensive pan. It’s our old friend, one of the most useful tools in the kitchen, a cast iron skillet. These things are nearly indestructible. But their best feature is the amount of heat they can take and pass on to the food. Scientists call that thermal mass

Cast iron skillet

In addition, cast iron skillets can safely go in the oven. That could be very important, depending on the steak method you choose. 

If you are a year-round griller, invest in cast iron grates, not aluminum. In addition to great cooking, the grates give the steak that delicious cross-hatch sear on the meat. 

New cast iron skillet

Cast iron is not only the right tool for the job, it is inexpensive. A good cast iron skillet brand new can be bought for less than $50, depending on the size. Today’s cast iron might not be the traditional black, but that won’t change its performance. Also most these days come pre-seasoned. That means they have been dipped into a coating that acts like a regular seasoning of the skillet so it can be used right away. Traditionally, one would heat and oil the skillet several times to get the seasoning started before you cook anything in it. 

If you really want a good, traditional cast iron skillet, go to an estate or garage sale and get a used one. Even if it has been neglected, it can be brought back to useful life with a little work. In The Bachelor’s Kitchen, a cast iron pan is the single most useful one we have. 

Kitchen tongs with steel grips.

The second tool you need is a good set of tongs. Professional chefs and home cooks both will tell you a good set of tongs are a kitchen essential. They become an extension of the cook’s hands.  Choose tongs that feel slightly heavy in the hand, sturdy. And they should not be too long. There are uses for longer tongs, but most of the time they lack the heft to safely lift a heavy steak. For this job, you want a set with steel grips on the end, rather than silicone. Don’t get us wrong, we love our silicone coated tongs for pasta or when using a nonstick pan. But for this job, you want something with a firm grip. 

Analog/Dial meat thermometer

Finally, you need an Instant Read Thermometer. You should have one of these in your kitchen already, but as we have said over and over again, just because something looks done, does not mean it really is. While the likelihood of food contamination is small with steaks,  it still exists. Also, it’s the best way to get that expensive steak just the way you like it. They are simple to use and also inexpensive. A simple analog/dial type is available for less than $10. You pay a bit more, up to $20, for a digital type. Just hold the steak up with your tongs so you can stick the thermometer probe into the center of the side of the steak, at least a couple inches deep, depending on the length of the probe. That will get the most accurate reading. 

To take a steak’s temperature, hold it up to easily reach the side of the meat and insert the probe in the center of the side aiming toward the middle of the steak.

As for temperature, most of the time you want to get to about 140 F to be safe. That would give you medium rare, the best, in our opinion, level of doneness for a good piece of meat. If you remove the steak from the heat at about 5-degrees before your target temperature, it will be perfect after resting for a few minutes. Medium would be a final temperature of about 160 F. We never recommend well done for a good steak. A cheap hamburger, yes. A good steak, never. But if that’s the way you like it, you want a final temperature of 170 F. 

From left to right: well done, medium well, medium, medium rare and rare.

Now that you have the tools, it is time to practice. That is the only way to ever improve your cooking skills. And think of eating all those steaks. Because a good steak is pricey you might want to start with some of the less expensive cuts, like a strip steak. Buy them when they are on sale and store them in the freezer. Just remember to take them out at least a full day, preferably two, to thaw slowly in the refrigerator. Take the steaks out to set on the counter and warm up to room temperature for about an hour before cooking. 

Thick steak

A favorite method, especially for thicker steaks, is the sear-then-bake method. In that case, preheat your oven to 500 F. At the same time, put your cast iron skillet on high heat. Make sure the pan is cleaned of any oil or leftover seasoning first, otherwise it will smoke up your kitchen. When the pan is screaming hot, season one side of the steak with simple salt and pepper. Place that side down on the hot pan and leave it alone for three to five minutes. The steak should begin pulling away from the pan when it’s time to flip. While that side is cooking, season the other side. I like to change things up on the second side by adding some Worchestershire sauce instead of salt, and sprinkling with a pepper blend. Using your tongs, carefully lift and flip the steak, turning it away from you in case it splatters a little. Let that sear a minute, then place the skillet into the hot oven for five or six minutes. Check the temperature and either remove the steak or put it back in the oven for a few more minutes, depending on level of doneness wanted. 

We are sure that after a few practice runs, you’ll be ready to tackle that fillet or ribeye, just like the steakhouse. 

Coffee Talk Part 7: Dispell The Myths

To me, coffee is one of those simple pleasures in life. To many it is an absolute lifeline. I can’t really start the day without at least one good sized mug’s worth. I also have to admit that I’m not always that picky. Sometimes a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all.

On the other hand, a really good cup of coffee cannot only get the blood pumping in the morning or be a relaxing finish to a good meal, it can also bring a little smile to your face. There are times when a good sip of coffee is like a hug from your momma.

Throughout this series of posts, we’ve talked a lot about what makes a good cup of coffee. We’ve provided you with lots of good information. But part of education is not only learning the good things, but dispelling the information that’s just plain wrong.

That’s what we’re covering in this post: coffee myths.

Bulk Beans are a best buy. Wrong! The problem here is you don’t know the circumstances behind that bulk coffee.  Air and light are bad for coffee, even in bean form. You don’t know what the turnover is on that bulk coffee. You don’t know how long it has sat there. You don’t know whether the store has kept the containers clean of coffee oils. The best buy is get freshly roasted beans from a local coffee house or store. In the supermarket, buy beans in the vacuum sealed bags then store them properly when you get home.

Store coffee in the freezer or refrigerator. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! We talked about this before. Constantly taking your beans or ground coffee out of the cold and putting it back in encourages condensation. Moisture is not good for coffee until you’re ready to brew it. Unless you’re not going to use the coffee for a couple of weeks or more, best to leave it in a tightly sealed, light-proof container on the kitchen counter out of direct sunlight.

Pre-ground coffee is just as good as fresh ground. Okay, this is a tough one for me. The answer here is that yes, freshly ground coffee is always better because the oils begin to breakdown immediately after grinding. So, if possible, you should buy whole beans and a simple grinder for your home. However, if properly stored, pre-ground coffee can be acceptable. Again, acceptable coffee is better than no coffee.

The filter you use doesn’t matter. I think more research is needed on this one. Obviously, you should use the recommended filter for your coffee maker. Many people swear by the gold-plated filter that is used over and over again. Quite frankly, I have not been impressed by these. They seem to let a lot of sediment through. I like unbleached paper filters from a good brand. Cheap paper filters can have some problems because of what’s used to bleach the paper and other elements which might affect the taste. Plastic fine mesh reusable filters that come with some coffee makers are pretty much useless. They’re hard to clean and can lead to a build up of rancid oils.

Distilled water is best for coffee. Wrong! Filtered water is best. The problem with distilled water is that it’s sterile. That good for your steam iron, but lousy for most anything else. The dissolved minerals in tap water is good. They’re even essential for your health and a part of what makes your water have taste. Filtered water removed chlorine and other unnecessary contaminants without removing all the minerals. Regular top water is usually not recommended, depending on the source of that water and where you live. Old pipes and main lines can also affect the taste of the water.

Boiling water is right for brewing good coffee. Water boils at 212ºF. The ideal temperature for brewing water is 200º, about 45 seconds off the boil. Water that’s too hot will release compounds that make the coffee bitter. On the other hand, many coffee makers don’t get the water quite hot enough. That’s why most of the better coffee brewing techniques use manual heating of the water rather than automatic coffee makers.

A French Press is better than drip coffee makers. Some people swear by the French Press as the best method of making the perfect cup. If you use home ground high-quality coffee, you will get the most from it using this steeping method. However, be aware of possible health issues. Unfiltered coffee contains higher levels of a compound that increases the bad cholesterol in your body. So, if that’s a problem, be aware that the French Press methods could add to your problems. The filtering of a drip coffee maker removes most of that compound, so may be best if you drink a lot of coffee or have cholesterol issues.

Well, that should answer all your questions about making good coffee. But if you still have a question, feel free to leave a comment asking us, and we’ll try to find an answer in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Looking to give something different this year?

Make your own themed gift baskets

We all go through the usual holiday gift-giving dilemma: What to give that will be appreciated but not too expensive. Well, we have a few ideas. 

In previous years we’ve talked about homemade holiday food gifts like easy hot chocolate mix, infused oils, flavored spirits and the usual cookie tins. This year, we hit upon another good idea. 

Make your own gift baskets that give the receiver everything needed to make some good snacks, entertain guests or just enjoy. You do not need to put them into a basket. You can use a simple box and cover it with holiday wrapping paper and ribbon if you want to get fancy. 

Family Favorites. Big chocolate bars and artisan cheeses and crackers highlight this theme. Add in a box of mixed nuts, a small jar of gourmet jam or something else that goes with it all. Choose items that will keep without refrigeration.

Local Goodies. Does your hometown have any specialty items that are unique? Those items make a good gift basket, especially for friends and family that have moved away. Get a few items, add a couple of gift cards and send it off. Very easy. For example, if I were to choose a Saint Louis theme, I would include a gooey butter cake mix, Provel cheese, Volpi sausage and a gift card for Cardinal baseball memorabilia. Or maybe a few bottles of a local beer, some Gus’s Pretzels and homemade mustard. 

DIY Cookie Kit. This one will require a few supplies, but it is great for those with small children. A craft store should be able to give you some important ingredients. First, you need a cookie jar with an airtight lid, a clear one is preferred. From the craft store, you need little 4-ounce squeeze bottles and 2-ounce portion cups with lids. Next, you need various kinds of sprinkles and colorful icing. And finally, you need some sugar or gingerbread cookies, preferably homemade. Put the sprinkles in the portion cups and icing in the squeeze bottles. Stack the cookies in one column into the jar, then a stack of the sprinkles cups and three or four of the icing bottles. Repeat for the other jars if any.

For some DIY baskets, you might need to add some directions and/or a grocery store gift card for any perishable items needed. Like the next two ideas. 

Home Baked Jelly Donuts Kit. A reusable well-sealing jar filled with a donut baking mix is the centerpiece here. Surround it with jars of interesting jelly or jam and a jar of icing or powdered sugar. A gift card will help the receiver buy the fresh ingredients in this recipe: milk, eggs and butter. Include a pastry bag for filling the donuts. 

Lasagna Anyone Kit. Instead of a basket or box, this one is great for giving someone a nice casserole dish. Start with a 9-by-13-inch casserole and some packing, like leftover Easter grass. Add in a can of spinach, a jar of pasta sauce, some jarred sliced mushrooms, a jar of minced garlic, a box of regular lasagna noodles, Italian seasoning, a recipe and a gift card for the fresh ingredients. 

The Holiday Cheer basket uses a bottle of wine and other goodies for a festive gift. You can make it a mulled wine kit by adding some spices, apple cider, juice,  honey and cognac to be heated gently into a good winter cocktail.

Time For Thanksgiving Planning

Two things are apparent to us in The Bachelor’s Kitchen:

  1. It’s not too early to start planning for Thanksgiving, and
  2. Thanksgiving will be different this year because of Covid.

Yes, we know we haven’t even got past Halloween yet, but it is time to begin planning for the big feast in November. Even if you’re a bachelor and not planning to do much for dinner, you still need to have some idea now what you will do. Shopping and other preparations for a meal like this just can’t be done at the last minute unless you plan on having a frozen dinner.

Early planning is even more important this year than in the past. Big gatherings of family and friends from all over are out. Smaller gatherings of the immediate family or a few friends will be the new normal now.

The turkey industry is in a tough spot. People are scaling back their usual plans and are predicted to want smaller turkeys this year. However, turkey farms in this country raise hybrid birds that are bigger, heavier and with huge breasts. To get smaller birds, they have to be slaughtered earlier which means less money because we sell turkeys by the pound. Between that and the other stressors of this year, turkey farmers are having a very difficult time.

Health officials are warning against big dinners or travel this year. If you don’t want a big turkey, how about something smaller like a goose, duck or ham? You can still have a big table, but without people crowded together. Remember, it’s not what’s on the table that’s important, it’s the people around it. Experts say planning ahead is key to make your gathering a safe one. With a smaller, more intimate group, you have more leeway in how much of the work you will do. You can assign dishes and other things to bring. If you are a bachelor celebrating alone, a nice rotisserie chicken would be ideal. If you have kids, you have to come up with something else to do Thanksgiving morning because many of the traditional parades have been canceled.

Enjoy the holiday. You might even like the smaller version. Just remember to be as safe as you can.