Keep A Healthy, Affordable Pantry

Many people think eating healthy means spending more money. But that doesn’t have to be true. You can stock some very affordable items in your pantry without turning to cheap processed food. Here are some ideas.

Canned fish. Most of us have canned tuna in our cupboard. It’s the most eaten fish in America. But if you look around that same section of the canned food aisle, you’ll see more options than just chunk white or Albacore. Canned salmon is almost as versatile as tuna. It’s great for salads, including as a replacement for tuna salad. You can also add some to scrambled eggs or sautéed with olive oil and fresh or frozen vegetables. Sardines are very nutritious and very affordable. Buy the kind packed in olive oil or mustard sauce for a great snack or something to go on crackers with a soup or a salad. Because you can eat the bones, it’s high in calcium. Kippers are a well known English breakfast dish. Canned versions of this dried, smoked fish are available which you can use instead of bacon or sausage in your usual morning meal.

Brown Rice. Rice is one of the world’s most widely consumed grain. It is produced in more countries than any other grain except corn. It is a staple from Latin America, The Middle East, South and Eastern Asia. That’s almost all the way around the world. Most rice is hulled, meaning the outer layer is removed. The same is done to wheat. The reason for this is to remove the germ, the part of the seed that contains the embryo for a new plant. This part also contains fat, which can spoil over time. Brown rice has only had the chaff, or outer covering of the seed pod, removed but still has the rest of the hull, including the bran, on it. Brown rice doesn’t keep as long as white rice but has more nutrients. Cooking brown rice requires a bit more water and a little more time than cooking white rice. But the same procedure is used. It has a slightly nutty taste and a rougher texture than white rice. But that outer hull contains a lot of fiber. Inside rice, regardless of type, is a high level of carbohydrate (the highest of all cereal grains) and a fair amount of protein. Parboiled rice (Minute Rice) has been partially cooked and thus takes less time. It’s a little easier to deal with for less experienced cooks. Instant rice has been completely cooked and then dried. The biggest drawback is the addition of salt and other substances that you don’t need. But instant rice is better than no rice at all. Just stay away from the microwave pouches which are filled with crap you don’t need.

Frozen Vegetables. I’m a big advocate of frozen vegetables. Most of the time, these have been allowed to stay in the field a little longer than those transported to grocery stores around the country or world. That means they are usually a little riper than the others. Usually, they are transported only a short distance to processing plants where they are washed, trimmed, cut up and individually frozen (so they don’t stick together) before being bagged and shipped frozen to the stores. The quality of these are often better than the so-called fresh produce elsewhere in the store, depending on the season. Not all vegetables freeze as well as others. But I really like the bags of mixed vegetables and combinations. These are very affordable. But beware of the vegetables in sauce. They contain lots of additives. Also, I don’t like the steamable, microwavable bags of veggies. Not only do they have salt and other stuff added, but they are ridiculously expensive. Considering cooking frozen vegetables in the microwave is extremely easy and fast, I think the cost far outweighs the convenience. Just watch the ingredients list for just the vegetables and nothing else.

Sweet Potatoes. Scientists call this version of potato a nutritional powerhouse. It is one of the most complete foods you can buy. Like other potatoes, they will keep in a cool, dark, dry place for months. These are not the same as yams, which are root vegetables grown mostly in Africa. It’s believed that slaves called sweet potatoes yams because they look a lot alike. But true yams are much larger and darker. While things like marshmallows and maple syrup will enhance the natural sweetness of these vegetables, they certainly aren’t necessary. A little butter on baked or roasted sweet potato pieces are divine. There are many ways to fix these, just like white, red or gold potatoes.

So, keeping a healthy pantry doesn’t have to cost a lot. And the better your pantry, the more possibilities you have for making tasty, healthy meals at home without spending a lot of time.

Build a Better Cheeseburger, Make Soup

This is one of the favorite soups in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. After all, what bachelor doesn’t like a cheeseburger?

This soup is rich, with lots of vegetables and cheese.

Cheeseburger-Soup_5910This recipe works best in a dutch oven, but any large pot will do. Preparation work begins with cutting up your vegetables. Chop into small pieces an onion, two or three carrots (depending on size, you want about 3/4 cup), a rib or two of celery and four cups of cubed potatoes. This might be a good time to cube about 2 cups of cheddar cheese. We like sharp cheddar, but select what’s best for your tastes.

Other ingredients are a half-pound of ground beef, 3 cups chicken broth, one and a half cups of milk, a quarter cup of sour cream, a quarter cup flour, four tablespoons butter and a teaspoon each of dried basil and dried parsley.

With your ingredients lined up, it’s time to put a large pot on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of butter. When melted, add the vegetables and beef and cook until the beef is browned. Stir in the dried herbs, broth and potatoes. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer on medium low heat until the potatoes are tender. That should take about 12 minutes.

In a microwable bowl, melt the remainder of the butter (because of the wide variance for microwaves, we aren’t recommending a particular time or power). Stir in the flour. Add the milk and stir until the mixture is smooth.

While you stir the soup pot, slowly add the milk mixture. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat back to a simmer. Stir in the cheese. When that is fully incorporated, add the sour cream and let that get heated through. Be careful not to let this come to a boil.

This is not a low fat soup. But it tastes good and goes well with some warm, crusty bread.

Don’t Waste Food, Make New Eats

Americans throw away an astonishing amount of food. Some of that comes from the fact that of all the world’s developed countries, the U.S. has one of the most abundant and affordable food supplies. It also has one of the worst in terms of nutrition and quality. But that’s another story for another day.

foodwasteLet’s talk about all that food we throw away. Some of it is because the food has spoiled. It happens.  Sometimes they are leftovers that didn’t appeal to me later or didn’t turn out quite right. Whatever the reason, they have to go into the garbage. Then that garbage has to go immediately out to the dumpster before the smell fills the kitchen.

We need to be greener, have a smaller carbon footprint and send less to the landfills. So, here are a few tips to help you waste less and save money.

Expiration dates are not absolute. That doesn’t mean you should ignore them either. If the food has been stored correctly, it’s often still usable after the expiration date, especially if it’s going to be cooked. Use your eyes, nose and other senses to tell if things are still good. Almost always, bad food will make it clear, usually with a bad smell, to let you know if it might be dangerous to consume. But if there’s doubt, you’re safer to go ahead and throw it out.

Compost if you can. The less you send to the landfill the better. The key to having a greener home and world is to follow the motto: “Reuse.” Not everyone can have a compost heap in their backyard. However, technology has greatly improved these natural recycling bins to have a minimum of smell. But if you live in an apartment, you’re pretty much stuck with what you have. That’s okay. You can still make better use of food and the containers it comes in. There are more tips for using food below. You can wash and reuse most plastic containers and find all sorts of uses for them.

Save sauces, drippings and other liquids to add flavor to dishes later. Got just a little steak sauce left in the bottle? Maybe some leftover pasta sauce? Some dipping sauce from take-out? Combine them together for a new flavorful sauce to add to lots of other dishes. Add meat drippings and stick it in a sealed container in the fridge and you’ve got lots of flavor ready to be used in creative ways.

Don’t throw away old rice or pasta. Dried out leftover rice is perfect for stir-fries or fried rice. You know how pasta can get hard and stiff? Saute it in a little olive oil and it will revive to very near its original state, ready for sauce.

Save trimmings and scraps for stock. When you trim your vegetables, don’t throw it all away. Most of those things can be used to make a flavorful vegetable stock or even a really tasty chicken, pork or beef stock. Do the same when you trim your meat, poultry or seafood. Shrimp shells make a rich seafood stock. Pork trimmings can be used for stock, too. Just freeze them if you’re not going to use them right away. In other words, use everything if you can. Potato peelings we know can’t go down the garbage disposal without creating a gluey mess. But they can be used to thicken soup, stock or stew.

Got odds and ends? Use eggs to make something new. Quiche was originally a way to use up leftovers. You can do the same with a frittata. Whip up some eggs, add in some leftover veggies, meat or grains with a little cheese and you’ve got a great dish. Just cook slowly over low heat then finish it off under the broiler.

The freezer is your friend. There aren’t that many things that can’t be frozen. Some things do need special handling. For example, cut vegetables need to be individually frozen then bagged. I always double wrap meat to keep freezer burn at bay. But soup and lots of other things can be frozen easily. My freezer regularly holds various proteins, bread, beans and vegetables. Did you know you can freeze milk? It’s true. With all liquids, remember to leave room for expansion so they don’t burst out of their containers.

Stale bread still has uses. If your bread gets dried out and stale, it’s still useful. Moldy bread is not useful, just throw that away or feed to birds and squirrels. But stale bread makes great croutons, bread crumbs and more. Like French toast? Well, it was invented to soften up and use stale bread. Stale bread gives you a chewier dish. For croutons, just cut the bread into cubes and put into a 350 degree oven to toast. Keep an eye on it because once they start turning brown they can burn in just a few seconds. To make bread crumbs, you can take those toasted cubes and put them in a food processor or a sealable plastic bag. In a food processor, carefully pulse it so you don’t get dust. The plastic bag can be smashed with a pan or pot or a mallet until you get the consistency you want.

Do you have any tips for saving money by not wasting food? Share them with a comment/reply.

Base Menus On Grocery Sale Items

You might have noticed we talk a lot about cooking meals based on what’s on sale that week. That’s a very smart tactic in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. Not only is this money-saving, but it gives you a chance to stock up on things to fill you pantry and your freezer. Often, when it comes to fruit and vegetables, sale items are at their peak of freshness, especially if it comes from local sources.

groceryflierWe don’t know of any grocery store, no matter the size, independent or chain, that doesn’t publish in some way a flier of their sale items that week. Sometimes it’s in the mail along with coupons and other sales fliers. Sometimes these lists are only online or in the stores. But no matter how this information is available, it’s worth the effort to find them and use them to make your grocery list. This will save time and money when you get to the store.

Everyone can come up with their own strategy. Here’s mine, developed over several years of experience. Remember, I’m a bachelor. If you have a family to feed, you’ll probably have to make some adjustments to this plan.

A great strategy for using your time and your budget most effectively is to do the bulk of your cooking just one day a week. You can make meals and meal components all at once and be able to eat through most of the week. What do I mean by components? I like to make a pot of rice, enough to last for several meals. Or I might make a pot of beans which makes a good, nutritious side dish for several meals. I don’t just make a single loaf of bread, but several to last not just through the week, but for a week or two to come. Using these methods, you can maximize your fun without cutting in to your time during the work week.

A part of this strategy is to figure out, at least in a rough way, what you’re going to eat that week. For me, this is a two step process, both before and after I go to the store.

I keep a list in the kitchen of staples that I need as they get used up or low. There’s also a list at my desk of regular items to buy like milk, bread, cheese and the like. Then I look at the sales fliers from the stores I go to most often. One store has overall lower prices but limited selection. The other has wider selection, but higher prices. So, I usually alternate between them. I look for good deals on all the things I usually buy, and occasionally at things I might want to try. Using all these lists, I create my shopping list, organized by store section. Sounds like too much work? Guess what? There are websites that can help you with that. Most even will add all the ingredients from selected recipes to the list. The day before I go shopping, the list is printed out and I’m armed and ready to shop.

Then I look at my recipes for things to make using both the ingredients I have on hand and what I plan to buy. I look at both the ingredient list and the directions to make sure I have everything I need to make it.

Don’t look at your shopping list as inflexible. Sometimes you might find the goods in the store don’t look so good, so you may decide on something else that does look good. For example, one time the store advertised a pork tenderloin on sale. But when I got the store, I found it was this processed thing sitting in a liquid of chemicals and preservatives. Pass. No pork for me that week.

That brings me to the second phase, after I return from the store. After I put all the groceries away, I take my receipt and look at what I actually bought, making note of ingredients that will need to get used up during the next few days, like fresh produce and meat. I want to make sure I don’t waste my money or time by letting things go bad in the refrigerator. I want to make sure things that won’t get used right away are added to the freezer and that I have a plan to use up food that won’t keep very long.

Now, I’m ready to cook with a meal plan for the week already worked out. It doesn’t mean I will always stick to that plan. But at least I have some ideas about what I’m going to make and when.

With a little planning, you can make the most of your time in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Engage Your Mind And Your Mouth When Eating

We all know diets do not work. Diets usually mean depriving yourself of something you like. Usually, they are temporary. Those are only the biggest problems. We at The Bachelor’s Kitchen recommend coming up with an eating plan, something you can live with for the rest of your life.

There is a lot of advise about eating: what you should eat, what you should stay away from, how often you should eat, where you should eat, when, what to do while eating, and so on. Usually, that means changing bad habits or forcing yourself to eat foods you might not enjoy very much. That just doesn’t work for most people.

So, what should you do? A new movement in eating may help. It’s called Mindful Eating. What does that mean? It means listening to your own body. Our bodies give us lots of clues about when we are hungry, when we’ve eaten enough and sometimes even what we need to eat. You probably have heard that you shouldn’t be watching television or other things while eating. Doing other things when eating distracts you from hearing what your body is saying, such as, “That’s enough!” Eating mindfully probably will slow you down, giving your body time to register that food has been received, which is one cue to stop eating. Many dietitians point to portion control as a big issue in overeating. Mindful eating can help reduce our quickly gobbling up everything in sight.

PrintOne of the great benefits of mindful eating is that nothing is a forbidden food. That overcomes one of the big drawbacks to dieting. The phrase all things in moderation is key here. Food does not come with a moral rating. Even foods that are thought to be bad for you are okay in small amounts as occasional treats. That means you will be more satisfied and less likely to binge. Eating mindfully means thinking of food as a way to take care of yourself, not a command to eat this or that way.

However, just as no food is forbidden, it’s a good idea to keep problem foods out of the house. When you sit down with a snack, make a plate, don’t take the whole bag. And know the difference between a snack and a treat. A snack is something to deal with hunger between meals or before bed, like crackers, cheese, nuts or fruit. A treat is something to reward yourself, something you like but have avoided.

Listening to your body will improve your timing, too. If you wait to eat when your body says it is hungry, you will avoid emotional eating. Just don’t get to the point where you are starving which could lead to overeating. Part of that timing means saving the sweets until the end of the meal. If you’re already full, you probably won’t eat a big dessert.

Eating breakfast is another technique in mindful eating. It gets your metabolism going, meaning you burn more calories. It makes you less hungry at lunch. It helps you think more clearly. Just go light on the sugar, which will not just make you fat, it will make you sluggish within a few hours. Experts recommend a balanced breakfast heavy on complex carbohydrates and protein.

Americans are notorious for having too many things to do in too little time. That means many of us bolt our food. But mindful eating means taking the time to enjoy our food. Not only should we take more time to enjoy our meals, we should not attempt to skip meals because we overindulged in a previous meal or plan to overeat later. Having a smaller meal when you overdo it is a better choice.

Mindful eating means not being afraid of being hungry or eating just to lose weight. If you’re hungry, have a snack. It will prevent you from eating too much at mealtime. Eating to lose weight simply doesn’t work. Changing your eating patterns, foods and proportions does work. The proper eating plan will cause your body to land at the right weight for you, even if that’s not what the tables or others say you should weigh.

As we said before, all things should be in moderation. While we should take time to cook and eat right, we should not become too rigid in our plan. Take time to enjoy friends, family and all the great things in life. Be flexible enough to enjoy it. And don’t punish yourself if you fall off the wagon. Everyone does at one time or another. Just get back on the plan as soon as you can and get on with it. Mindful eating means putting food and eating in its proper place in your life. It must be neither a punishment nor a substitute for something missing in your life.

Good French Fries From The Oven

French fries friesare one of America’s favorite foods. But these deep fried strips of goodness are loaded with fat and salt. So, the search is on for a healthier french fry.

One method tried a few years ago was to find a better cooking medium. Combining the oil with other substances reduced the amount of fat absorbed by the potatoes. The result was not good. Any more than a few fries resulted in what we might call intestinal distress and lots of messed underwear.

If you don’t want to fry the potatoes, the only obvious alternative is to use the oven. But many of you know that while those might taste good, they won’t be very crispy. We can fix that.

Begin with about 6 potatoes. Yukon Golds work well for this method. You will also need a large baking sheet or cookie sheet and some cooking spray. Olive oil, sugar and spices like garlic powder, salt and pepper are also going to be used. You can replace the garlic with something else, like paprika or cayenne, if you like.

olive oil French fries, yes, oven-bakedCut the potatoes into thick planks, like steak fries. You can peel them first if you want. Place the slices in a colander and sprinkle with sugar. Toss them a little to make sure the sugar touches all the fries. Don’t worry, they won’t be sweet. The sugar will draw out the moisture in the potatoes. Just let them sit in the colander and drain for about a half hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425ºF and thoroughly coat the baking sheet with cooking spray. When the liquid stops dripping out of the potato slices, empty them onto clean towels or paper towels and dry them well. Transfer the potatoes to a large mixing bowl or a resealable plastic bag. Add a 1/4 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of garlic powder,  and a teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Adjust the amounts for your taste. Mix well.

Spread the potatoes out in a single layer on the baking sheet, leaving as much space as you can around each slice. Bake for 20 minutes. Flip the potato slices over and bake for another 20 minutes until crisp and brown.ovenfries

Are these fat-free? No. But we have reduced the amount of fat enormously. Are they same as what comes out of the frier at your favorite fat fast food joint? No. But they’re pretty good and a lot healthier.

Quest: Build A Better Burger

Build a better burger and the world will beat a path to your door. 

No, really! 

Look at all the gourmet burger joints popping up all across the country, even the world. These places go beyond the fast food drive-through. They offer special spices, high quality beef, bakery buns and toppings, toppings, toppings. These burgers offer higher quality than you might normally make at home. That’s the whole point: a burger so good you’ll leave your house for them. 

It’s easy to make a hamburger, fry it or grill it, slap a piece of cheese on it, put it on a bun, add a few condiments and that’s it. Right? 

Well, certainly that would work. But you can make it even better. You can make YOUR burger. The amount of added effort is minimal, but that extra effort will be rewarded when you sit down to eat. 

First, here’s the equipment you need. 

  1. A skillet that can take high heat. We recommend a cast-iron one if you have it. Do not use a non-stick skillet if you can avoid it. Those are great for eggs, but this is meat. 
  2. Mixing bowl, into which you will put your ground beef and then add a few things. 
  3. A smaller bowl with a whisk. 
  4. A spatula
  5. A food scale.
  6. An egg ring, large round cookie-cutter or wide-mouth jar or glass.

That last item might raise an eyebrow. This will be used to help shape the burger so you don’t get those ragged, broken edges. Also, you can replace the skillet with a grill if you like. Also, this is an easy recipe to scale for larger crowds. If just for one or two, freeze the extra patties.

As for ingredients, you will need:

  1. 1 pound ground beef. We recommend an 80/20 mix of lean and fat. Do not use very lean beef, it will dry out and maybe even burn.
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  5. 1/2 cup finely ground bread crumbs. We don’t like the sawdust-like stuff in the store and use Panko instead. It still works.
  6. Low sodium Worcestershire sauce.

You will also need some hamburger buns and your favorite cheese in slices. The amounts above will make about 4 to 6 patties, depending on size. 

The Instructions 

  1. Get your cooking surface hot. If it’s a grill, you want it hot and oiled. Inside put your skillet on low heat. Raise the heat to medium-high when you are ready to cook. 
  2. Put the ground beef and bread crumbs into the large bowl. Use your clean hands to mix it up until bread crumbs are evenly distributed through the meat. 
  3. In the smaller bowl, whisk the egg, salt, pepper and any other seasonings you like. Go easy on the salt in favor of some herbs. This is where you can get creative. Want Italian burgers, add dried oregano, dried basil, ground rosemary. Herb du Provence will give you a French burger. You can also get creative in the condiments on the table. When well mixed, add to beef mixture in the larger bowl. Do not add the Worcestershire sauce. You’ll use that when you cook them.
  4. Again, use your hands to mix everything together. Make a small ball, like golfball size, and weigh it. You want around a half-pound. Then line the balls up on wax paper on your counter. Repeat until all the meat is used.
  5. This is where the egg ring comes in. Using the wax paper as a base, use the ring as a mold. Make sure the meat is evenly distributed around the edge, and that the edge is not crumbling. They should be thick, at least a half-inch. Then make a depression in the middle of the patty while still in the mold. That keeps the burger from making a dome when it cooks. This should make about 4 to 6 burgers.
  6. Put the patties on the grill or in the pan. Cover them and cook about 6 minutes on each side. After putting the patties on the heat, prepare to toast your buns. We prefer using a griddle pan for this. Heat the griddle to medium-low and then toast the buns on both sides of each piece. 
  7. When the burgers are cooked, put a slice of cheese on top of each and turn off the heat. After the cheese is melted, move each patty to a bun, top with your favorite condiments and you are ready to eat. 

Pair this with fried potatoes, chips or potato salad. 

What’s In Baking Powder?

Have you ever wondered what is in baking powder?baking_powder_16x9  How is it different from baking soda? And what does it do?

There are two ways to get fluffy baked goods. One is to use yeast. Those micro organisms eat sugar and secrete alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gas gets trapped in strands of gluten and, like a balloon, make the dough bigger. The more air, the lighter and fluffier the end product becomes.

The other way is to generate that carbon dioxide using chemicals. That means carbonates. One of the most common carbonates in the kitchen is sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.bakingsoda Do you remember making a volcano for science class? You probably used baking soda and vinegar to create lava. The acid in the vinegar mixed with the alkaloid of the baking soda creating carbon dioxide. The mixture would then boil over and run down the side of your paper match mountain.

The problem with baking soda is that it reacts with acid, like that in milk, immediately, before you’ve even got your pan in the oven. That means all the gas will escape, leaving you with a baked brick instead of something light and airy.

That’s why baking powder is the more popular ingredient to lift your baked goods from brick to beauty. Baking powder uses baking soda with other compounds to create the same reaction, but once the food is exposed to heat. This allows the batter to partially harden and hold in the gas that’s created.

While some formulas may add other ingredients, the basic components of baking powder are baking soda, cream of tartar and corn starch. Cream of tartar is actually potassium bitartrate, a residue found on the bottom of wine barrels. It is an acid. Corn starch is a stabilizer that delays the reaction of the acid and the alkaloid.

Now you also know why it’s called baking powder.

Making your own means you will always have the freshes baking powder. Most baking powders last only a few months.

It’s Apple Time

I don’t know about where you live, but here in The Bachelor’s Kitchen, autumn has certainly arrived. Mornings are cool and crisp, requiring a sweater or jacket. Afternoons are breezy and just warm enough to be delightful. That can only mean one thing across much of the country:  It’s Apple Time! 

More and more we’re finding out the health benefits of apples. They are rich in lots of good nutrients and fiber. And they taste good. There are hundreds of varieties of apples, of which only about a dozen appear in your store. If you can, go to one of those “pick your own” places and get up close and personal with your apples. Or you can check out the farmers market where some local growers may have some interesting heirloom varieties.

When you get them home, there’s lots of things to do with them. Plus they will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. You can put slices on a salad to add sweetness and crunch. Sauté some slices in butter with cinnamon and maybe just a touch of sugar (depending on the variety) for a great dessert all by itself or as a topping. This is especially good on top of pancakes. You can, with the help of a slow cooker, make your own apple butter. Then there’s apple cake, apple pie and even just eating them all by themselves.

Something New That’s Really Old

Whole grains are not only more popular, they are great nutrition that helps you lose weight and stay healthy. We are all aware of oatmeal as a whole grain dish. But there is a grain you might not have considered: Bulgar.Bulgar Wheat

Bulgar is a cereal food made from wheat groats, or berries. Groats are hulled grain kernels. Bulgar originated in Turkey and is found around the Middle East, India and Europe. In the grocery store, it comes parboiled (partially cooked) and can be found in the cereal or baking supplies aisle.

Bulgur can be used in pilafs, soups, bakery goods, or as stuffing. In breads, it adds a whole grain component. Its high nutritional value makes it a good substitute for rice or couscous. In Indian cuisine, bulgur or dailybulgar-wheat-in-bowl2, is used as a cereal with milk and sugar. In the United States is often used as a side dish, much like pasta or rice. In meals, bulgur is often mistaken for rice because it can be prepared in a similar manner, although it has a texture more like couscous than rice.

Variety in your diet is good. So, try something new and pick up some bulgar at the store.