Archive for Cooking 101

Cast Iron Skillet

I got my first cast iron skillet for my birthday in April. I’ve always wanted one, but never got around to buying it for myself. It sat in my cupboard for months because I was actually afraid to use it. It seemed to be so “high maintenance” but my friend Kim assured me that I was more than capable to cook with it. I finally got up the courage to use it a few months ago and made tilapia, at Kim’s suggestion. Then it sat again for many weeks until I used it to make chicken and waffles for my son’s birthday.

Finally, a light bulb went off! I remember Kim telling me that she uses her pan anytime she wants to make a nice crisp coating on whatever she is making. Over the weekend, I used it to make hash browns and today I made parmesan sage pork chops. Those pork chops are always good, but the cast iron skillet made them AMAZING!

Cast Iron Skillet 

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you really should get one. What it can do for your food is truly unbelievable. They are not that intimidating and they are easier to clean than I had thought. Put it on your Christmas list..you won’t regret it!

How to Freeze Meat

Kitchen Tips

We all have food issues in some way, shape or form. I don’t eat seafood or “freaky” meat. Melissa goes to the store almost daily to ensure the freshest ingredients for meals and will whip something up based on what “looks good that day” (yes…always needing fresh ingredients and not planning meals a week in advance is considered an “issue” in my book).

Anyway, I was talking with a friend the other day who has one child and a husband who often travels for his job.  She was discussing her frustration about wasting food, specifically meat, when her husband is suddenly called out of town. I made the suggestion of just freezing meat so it won’t go bad. That’s when the conversation went to a whole new level.

She told me that she has an issue with eating meat after it’s been frozen. She knows that she eats it at other people’s houses since most have a stash of meat in their freezer. This was the easiest of her food issues to tackle, so I was up for the task. I suggested that instead of freezing the raw meat (it’s the raw part that’s the big issue), cook it up and then freeze it.

This got her attention and she became excited about the possibilities opening up to her in the kitchen. She could take out the portioned bags of cooked protein to easily use in a variety of dishes (and save a bunch of time).

For example:

CHICKEN

  • Poach and shred it. The chicken could be used on salads, tacos, soups or pasta.
  • Grill or sauté it. Cut it into cubes or strips to put on salads or a stir fry.

PORK

  • Cut it into small pieces and pan sauté. Use the pork in pork fried rice
  • Depending on the cut of meat, put it in a slow cooker and portion it out for carnitas!

STEAK/BEEF

  • Grill and slice it. Put it on a steak salad or make sandwiches.
  • Pan sauté and use in a stir fry.
  • Any braised meat like pot roast freezes great too.

GROUND BEEF/TURKEY/CHICKEN

HOW TO FREEZE MEAT TO PREVENT FREEZER BURN:

  • Portion your meat in appropriate sized plastic resealable freezer bags. Make sure you push out all of the air. 
  • Double bag, double bag, double bag. This is the key to keeping your meat fresh longer in freezer.
  • Label the outside of the bag. Although you might think you know what’s on the inside, it’s easy to get pork and chicken confused! Besides, we are not getting any younger and remembering what’s what is getting harder and harder.

I thought my task was done when I texted my friend to tell her I was writing up the “how to freeze meat post.” She comes back with “make sure you tell me how to defrost it, too”. Here it goes…

HOW TO DEFROST MEAT:

  • My favorite way to defrost meat is taking it out of the freezer the night (or even 2 nights) before I want to use it and let it defrost slowly in the fridge. Put the meat in a small bowl just in case it starts to leak a bit. Of course, this method takes a bit of planning.
  • If you are in a pinch to defrost meat, or you need to finish defrosting, use the microwave. Take the meat out of the plastic bags and put it in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with a paper towel. Make sure you defrost the meat on 50% power otherwise you will start cooking the meat. The amount of time depends on the amount of meat you have and whether or not it is partially defrosted already. Also, remember that every microwave cooks a bit differently. If it’s fully frozen, try 5 minutes. After that, break the meat apart or turn it over and cook it for 5 minutes longer. Use your judgement, just ALWAYS use 50% power. You are defrosting, not cooking. 

Great idea to write this one up, Denise. Funny how last week I had to defrost 3 different ‘mystery’ meats I had frozen and not labeled and forgot what was what. As for the defrost, I never use the microwave (one of my many issues 😉 If I am looking for something in a hurry, I defrost in the packaging using cool water. ~ Melissa

 

How to Make a Bacon Bowl

Bacon Bowl

For a while now I’ve been wanting to make a Bacon Bowl. It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing I would make on a regular night, so I decided to save this for a special occasion…Baconfest – The Sequel!

It was easier (and messier) than I thought it would be. Here’s how I did it as well as some tips that I figured out in the middle of the process…

How to make a bacon bowl

1. Line a large microwave safe plate with parchment paper. Tip: Cut off excess edges of the parchment paper. My plate was so big that the excess paper hit the door of the microwave when it spun, causing the bacon to move. 

2. Put 8 or 10 (depending on the size of your plate and microwave) slices of bacon side by side on the parchment paper. Make sure it’s an even number. Fold back every other piece halfway and horizontally place another piece of bacon. Return the bacon to its original position. 

3. Now, fold back the other pieces of bacon and place a strip of bacon horizontally. 

4. Repeat to create a lattice. 

Bacon Bowl

5. Place bacon in the microwave and cover with a paper towel. Cook on 60% power for 10 minutes. Remove the paper towel and use more to dry the bacon. Tip: This is greasy. Have your trash can nearby so you’re not dripping across your floor. 

6. Put a dry paper towel on the bacon and cook on 60% power for an additional 10 minutes. Carefully remove the plate from the microwave. Tip: Use oven mitts. It’s going to be hot. 

7. Get a large measuring cup (I used a 4 c. glass measuring cup from Pampered Chef which I’m sure many of you have)! If you don’t have this, use something similar in size and you will be just fine. Tip: Put paper towels underneath your measuring cup to catch the greasy drippings. 

8. CAREFULLY invert the bacon lattice over the measuring cup. Place back in the microwave (with the paper towels underneath) and cook for about 10 more minutes on 60% power or until the bacon is done and holds its shape. 

9. Using oven mitts, remove the bacon and place on paper towels to cool. 

Bacon Bowl

10. Turn it back over and fill it with whatever yumminess you like. I chose cubes of delicious cheese!!!

Bacon Bowl

Which Cut of Bacon Should you Buy?

Lets be real. Everyone loves bacon. I read something in a magazine recently that said even vegetarians love bacon, they just won’t admit it! Bacon is all the rage these days. We hosted a Baconfest last summer and it was so popular that we are having “Baconfest – The Sequel” next week! I have since seen everything from Bacon Salt, to Bacon Perfume and even Bacon Dental Floss. Whatever works, right? 

Which cut of bacon should you buy? We no longer only have the options that our parents bought 30 or 40 years ago. There are all sort of cuts for all different reasons. Here is a little “cheat sheet”.

Baconfest

Regular (or Standard) – This is what you see the most of at the grocery store. Chances are this is what you typically serve at home and is most often found in restaurants. It’s cut about 1/4 inch thick and is considered the “everyday” bacon. It also the cheapest cut of bacon you can get. 

Thick Cut – These pieces are about twice as thick as regular bacon and hold their shape well in pastas or soups. You can usually find it at your local grocery store as well. 

Center Cut – This type of bacon is made from pork belly and is cut close to the bone. It has about 30% less fat than regular bacon. Center cut bacon is perfect to wrap sausages, asparagus or jalapeño poppers in.  Note: Before wrapping food in bacon, make sure you let the bacon sit on the counter for a bit to bring to room temperature. It makes it much easier to work with since it becomes more “stretchy”! I speak from experience when I say center cut bacon is damn good all on it’s own!!! I buy center cut applewood smoked bacon at my local Costco. 

Adapted from: Food Network Magazine March 2014 

Grilling Tips

Grilled Mushrooms

Memorial Day has passed so grilling season is in full swing! At McNack’s Kitchen, we believe that a female can grill just as good as any man out there and grilled meals shouldn’t be limited to the weekend! Here are some important grilling tips and tricks to get a perfectly grilled meal every time!

  • Heat it up – Don’t put your food on the grill until it’s at the right temperature. You will want to preheat the grill for about 15 minutes before you are ready to use it.
  • Clean it – It is easiest to clean the debris and old caked on food after the grill has been preheated and before you put on new and fresh food. Get a good wire grill brush. It’s one of the best tools you can have for grilling.
  • Oil it – To ensure that food won’t stick to the grates, rub an oil soaked paper towel on them using a pair of tongs so you won’t burn yourself!
  • Safety first – If you are new to grilling, make sure you keep a cup of water by the grill in case the flames begin to flare up. You can just dip your hand in the water and sprinkle it on as needed.
  • Don’t cross contaminate – Please make sure you do not put cooked meat back in the same container that you used when the meat was raw. Wash it first or use a different one.
  • Use a good spatula or pair of tongs – There is no right or wrong on this. Use what you feel most comfortable with and will not make you afraid of getting burned.
  • Season you meat before putting it on – One of the keys to deliciously grilled meat is to season or marinate it BEFORE putting it on the grill. It is best to bring meat up to room temperature before cooking it, so go ahead and add the flavor!
  • Put the vegetables on last – If you are making a whole meal on the grill, you can put the vegetables on AFTER you have taken the meat off. The meat has to rest anyway before slicing into it and vegetables don’t take very long to cook!
  • Be creative – Once you get the hang of the grill, don’t limit yourself to just meat and vegetables. Make a pizza on there, or maybe even a stuffed portabello mushroom! The possibilities are endless!

For more tips and tricks about cooking, make sure you visit the Cooking 101 page of our website. 

Cooking with Kids

When my kids were little, I started showing them around the kitchen. I thought it was important for them to learn at an early age that cooking can be fun and not just a chore. They started with the basics like pouring already portioned ingredients into a bowl and stirring to make a cake. Eventually, they learned to use a mixer and chop vegetables with kid safe knives. Fast forward to today with a 12 and 13 year old….

Our after school schedule is a little on the crazy side. I am gone on Mondays and Wednesdays to coach volleyball. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I take my son to lacrosse practice. I refuse to succumb to the convenience of fast food or take out, so what is my other option? Have the kids help get dinner on the table! How do I do it? It’s easy…

I’m a planner…I aways have been, I always will be. Some people say I’m “Type A”. I just think my way of doing things make sense!! Anyway, every weekend, I look at my week and see what the days and evenings look like and make my menu from there. No matter if I have 3 hours or 15 minutes to prepare dinner before picking up the kids, I can always find a dish that can be mostly prepared by me, but finished by them. I leave instructions on what time and temperature to preheat the oven, put food in, turn on the stove, etc. Everything is ready and set to be cooked by the time I leave for the afternoon activities, they just execute the instructions. So, far everything has been fantastic and they have really stepped up!

I know their limitations and what I am comfortable with them doing without adult supervision. They don’t use the grill and they don’t use knives when I’m not around. They also don’t cook meat on a skillet, but my daughter is a champ at sautéing kale!! The point I’m trying to get across is that if you teach your kids to embrace cooking while they are young, it will make your life much easier and it will cut down on unhealthy take out. Also, it’s important to know their limitations. We all need little sous chefs in our lives!!!!

So jealous! I am totally type A and a planner but not like Denise as she takes it to a totally different level. Maybe I also know DFACS would be at my door if I had the 5 year old cooking dinner at home alone?! Ha! One day, I hope to teach my kids what my mom had me do in the kitchen and involve them like Denise does  with her kiddos! Well done! ~Melissa

Tip Tuesday – Getting the most out of citrus

It’s Tuesday Tip Day!! Since the weather is getting warmer, it’s the perfect time for some delicious juicy fruit!

Here are some great tips when using any type of citrus in your meals…

Getting the most out of your citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, etc)

  • How to prepare citrusRoll the citrus under your hand before squeezing it, you’ll get way more juice out of it!  
  • When squeezing a lemon/lime directly over your food, hold it face up in your palm to help prevent seeds from falling into your dish.
  • Zest the citrus before cutting it for juice, it’s nearly impossible to zest a squeezed lemon! 
  • Adding a bit of freshly squeezed citrus to your dish just before serving it brings out its freshness and flavor.

For more tips like this, make sure you visit the Cooking 101 section of our website!