One of the most seductive myths of food product advertising is that the products being promoted will make our lives easier and better. Advertisers imply and sometimes shamelessly promise to give us more time, make us more attractive, promote family closeness, and create beautiful memories. In short advertisers promise to make us happy! All we have to do is go to the store. The shelves are neatly lined with thousands of attractive packages for our selection. Remember these packages are designed by people who make a living by their ability to lure us to purchase.
|My favorite store offers the best deal in town on pancake mixes and other convenience food items, but I can still save a substantial amount of money making them at home.|
It is so easy to get in the habit of relying on convenience foods, after all they are convenient. Open a box, bag or jar, add water or eggs or another can of something, stir, heat, and voila! dinner is served. The truth is most of the convenience food items you currently buy at the grocery store can be made easily at home in just a few minutes and for very little money. Added benefits: ability to cater to specific dietary needs or allergies. You’ll never miss the preservatives, additives, dyes, and chemicals you won’t be ingesting. And you may notice a reduction in the amount of kitchen waste going to the landfill because you aren’t bringing home so much packaging and can re-purpose food safe containers like glass jars.
I am happy to share a batch of my favorite DIY convenience foods with you from breakfast to dessert. We’ll start with items to make and freeze and then learn the basics of crafting dry mixes. I made waffles a few days ago and there were several leftover. I could have fed them to the chickens, and I sometimes do, but instead I froze them in a zipper-top freezer bag with small squares of parchment paper between. You can individually wrap them in plastic, but parchment paper is compost-able and renewable, and plastic wrap is not. On busy mornings a frozen waffle can be popped in the toaster for a super-quick yummy homemade breakfast. The same can be done with leftover pancakes and French Toast.
A little later I will show you how I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a mix.
Let’s move on to dinner. The freezer case at your local grocery store is brimming with quick skillet or stir-fry type meal ideas. Stock your freezer inexpensively with Skillet Meals that are tailored to your family’s taste. This recipe is easy to prepare in quantity and such a godsend when you’ve had a busy day and need to get dinner on the table NOW. Recipe is taken from PNW 296 Freezing Convenience Foods, a great little booklet available through OSU Extension at extension.oregonstate.edu. Use it as a template to create your own freezer meals. Gluten-free pasta or cooked brown rice can be substituted for spiral pasta to make a gluten-free dinner.
|Cooked beans – a great time-saver!|
Canned beans are infinitely useful. They are also inexpensive and easy to prepare from scratch in quantity. I love having a variety of ready-to-use cooked beans in my freezer for recipes and you will, too. Related recipes: Mexican-style Pinto Beans, Un-refried Beans, Cuban-style Black Beans. Tip: Use your water bath canner to cook 4 pounds of beans at one time.
|Cookie dough – shaped & ready to freeze|
Thrifty Stock is a method of up-cycling veggie trimmings that might otherwise go to the compost pile, along with meat bones and dried herbs that perhaps you’ve grown yourself, into stock, the foundation for delicious soup.
I’ll give you tips on how to package pesto in ways that match up with your recipes. And Monster Cookies! Everything about these cookies is over-the-top. They are big and bursting with goodies. The dough can be formed into cookie discs, frozen in an unbaked state for up to a month, and baked a few at a time as desired for oven-fresh cookies on demand.
I turned my favorite pancake recipe into a time-saving mix and discovered it makes great waffles, too! Pancake & Waffle Mix. The basic principles of creating dry mixes from your own recipes are simple: measure out the dry ingredients for one batch of (you fill in the blank) , whisk them together, and measure the resulting volume or weight. This lets you know how much mix is needed to combine with the remaining ingredients to make one batch of a finished recipe. My favorite pancake recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups flour. I make half of that whole wheat pastry flour and quadrupled the recipe.
Following the same principles I just outlined you can create mixes for some of the most popular convenience foods. Ranch Plus Dressing Mix, actually my sister Marti’s recipe, can be used to make Ranch Dressing, Ranch Dip, Thousand Island Dressing, and Cucumber Dressing ~ all delicious. Layered Bean Soup Mix comes from my friend Margaret. Taco & Fajita Seasoning Mix made from bulk dried herbs. Secret Fudge Brownie Mix only requires 3 stir-in ingredients. Whole grain Gingerbread comes together quickly with this mix. Real Hot Cocoa Mix – you won’t believe how simple and delicious this recipe is.
Exercise your creativity in how you package your mixes. A little fabric and ribbon or raffia along with a creative label makes it prettier than anything on the shelf at the store, and it goes without saying mixes make welcome gifts. Investing a little time on a week-end or evening or just a few minutes here and there can pay meaningful dividends on busy days. You will have a freezer or cupboard stocked with your own homemade mixes for foods your family likes to eat. Thank you for joining me in the kitchen today as we stirred,cooked, and crafted to create our own convenience foods. Please come back next week for more Kitchen Wisdom. See you then!
|Midas Fries for two; fresh from the oven with crisp edges and tender centers.|
1 large orange sweet potato
5 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp sugar
3 shakes onion powder
pinch dried thyme leaves, rubbed until crumbly
3 Tbs unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Put butter in a broiler pan or small heavy-duty cookie sheet with sides. Let melt in oven about 2 minutes, watching carefully.
Shake dry ingredients in a paper lunch bag (or covered bowl) and set aside.
|Using a chef’s knife, cut sweet potatoes into “carrot sticks.”|
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into fries with a chef’s knife. Shake a handful at a time in the bag of seasonings, coating completely. Arrange on pan, turning to coat with butter.
Bake 18 minutes, until golden, crispy, and done.
|Midas fries roast more evenly if you turn them about 10 minutes into the baking time.|
Family Size (serves 6-8 as a side)
3 large orange sweet potatoes
1 Cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves, rubbed until crumbly
1/2 Cup unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Put 4 Tbs butter in each of two large heavy-duty cookie sheets with sides. Let melt in oven about 2 minutes, watching carefully.
Shake dry ingredients in a paper lunch bag and set aside.
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into fries with a chef’s knife. Shake a handful at a time in the bag of seasonings, coating completely. Arrange on pans, turning to coat with butter.
Bake one pan at a time18 minutes, until golden, crispy, and done.
Brimming with barley, root vegetables, and beef, this is a wonderfully filling winter-time soup. The soup goes together easily with planned-over (aka “leftover”) beef, and freezes beautifully for a quick meal later on.
|Before: Large pkg of chuck roast
purchased on sale makes quantity
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 Cups beef stock
2 Cups water
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 turnip or parsnip, chopped
2 tsp salt, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 – 2 Cups leftover roast beef, cut in bite-size pieces
|After: Freezer containers of beef
for 7 future meals.
In small saucepan with a lid, cook barley in 2 cups water 45 minutes, until tender. Drain.
In medium saucepan, heat stock and water. Add chopped vegetables and salt. Tie bay leaf and peppercorn in a small square of clean muslin (or use a tea ball) and add to stock. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, until veggies are tender, adding meat near the end of cooking time.
Before serving remove bay leaf and peppercorns, taste and adjust seasoning with salt.
Leftover may be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen in straight-sided wide mouth jar or freezer containers for up to 6 months.
Yield: four 2-cup servings
or cheese of your choice
pre-cooked shredded meat with cheese
pre-cooked ground meat with cheese
beans & cheese
Use avocado instead of cheese if you are dairy-free.
In a medium bowl, whisk together masa and salt. Pour in 1 3/4 cups of hot water and mix with hands until soft dough forms. If dough is too dry add more water 1 Tbs at a time. If dough is too sticky, add masa 1 tsp at a time. Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and let dough rest 15 minutes to 1 hour. (The coarser brands of masa, such as Bob’s Red Mill, require a longer rest period to hydrate the flour.
|After: freezer containers of beef for 7 future meals.|
Divide dough into eight 2-inch balls. Pat between your hands to form pancakes. Place 1 Tbs filling and 1 Tbs cheese in center of each disc, fold edges toward center. Squeeze and flatten the package back into a pancake.
Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Cook pupusas 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and “sun spots” appear.
Special Note: Take a cue from my friend Rebecca Blackman, who shared her warm and melty Salvadoran Papusas on the set of Kitchen Wisdom and use a tortilla press. The press flattens masa dough in seconds. Add 2 -3 Tbs. filling, fold in half and pinch the edges to seal. They will cook more quickly since the dough is thinner; just 2 minutes per side, turning Pupusas into gourmet fast food!
Ps. Rebecca recommends the hefty cast iron tortilla press manufactured by Imusa Victoria. It is available on amazon for under $25 and is a great tool to have if you need to follow a gluten-free diet — as well as making incredible authentic Mexican tortillas!
I grew up on chocolate pudding. It was my Dad’s favorite dessert. He would always offer my sister and me a nickel (later inflation raised the price to a dime, then a quarter) for our serving. I don’t believe I ever took him up on that offer, but Marti often did! Mom used Jell-o brand Cook & Serve Chocolate Pudding and I always hovered near the stove, hoping to lick the spoon (and the pan.) Mom would spoon the hot pudding into long-stemmed glasses and serve them with a bit of whipped cream and graham crackers. These days pudding is available both in instant form and in pre-made cups. It tastes like plastic to me. Please, please, please make your own chocolate pudding – at least once. I bet you’ll make it again. This is a very straightforward recipe and tastes so good, you’ll fall in love with the real thing.
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs cup organic cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/4 cups + 2 Tbs milk
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Tbs powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 whole strawberries
1 graham cracker sheet, broken along the lines into 4 rectangles
In a 4 cup saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla.
Cool slightly before spooning into 2 sundae glasses or individual serving bowls. Cover and chill 30 minutes.
Before serving, whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla in the blender until fluffy. (Watch carefully, or you’ll have butter!) Spoon a dollop on each serving, top with a berry and 2 graham cracker rectangles. Enjoy! Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 3/4 cups milk
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbs powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 whole strawberries
2 graham cracker sheets, broken along the lines into 8 rectangles
In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cool slightly before spooning into 4 sundae glasses or individual serving bowls. Cover and chill 30 minutes.
Before serving, whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla in the blender just until fluffy. (Watch carefully, or you’ll have butter!) Spoon a dollop on each serving, top with a berry and 2 graham cracker rectangles. Enjoy! Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.
Scented with cinnamon and vanilla, rich in protein; as far as desserts go this one is a “good guy.” Custard Cups “bake” in the microwave and are done is under 20 minutes from the time it takes you to pull the milk and eggs out of the refrigerator, to the time you dip your spoon into the bowl. Mmmm… Can I let you in on a few secrets? If you prefer a richer custard you may substitute half & half for part of the milk. Custard made solely with 2% milk is usually a bit softer, more wobbly. I am wild about the incredible flavor of Watkins clear vanilla and always use it in special recipes like this one. You can order Watkins clear vanilla online, or check your phone book for a distributor near you. And on a final note, this recipe does not divide in half well.
1 1/2 cups milk (2% or whole)
2 Tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
In a 1 quart microwave safe bowl, heat milk, uncovered, on high 3 minutes or until hot. Do not boil.
Meanwhile, in a 2 cup Pyrex measure, beat the eggs with the sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Whisk egg mixture vigorously back into hot milk. Pour mixture back into Pyrex measure and divide evenly among 4 ungreased 6 oz. custard cups or ramekins.
Microwave on high, uncovered, 6 1/2 to 7 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Let custard cups stand in closed microwave for 5 minutes to finish setting up. Serve warm or chilled with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Refrigerate leftovers, covered, up to 3 days.
Yield: 4 half-cup servings
|Soft, vanilla-scented Hot Milk Cake is wonderful plain or topped with fresh berries and cream for shortcake.|
5 Tbs milk
2 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup + 1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1 rounded 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 5″ x 7″ baking dish.
In a 1 cup metal measuring cup, heat milk and butter over low heat just until butter melts. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
|Everything you see here (+ oven) = Hot Milk Cake.|
Crack egg into blender container and whir at high speed 1 minute. Turn blender to medium speed and gradually add sugar through the hole in the lid, process 30 seconds. Reduce blender to low speed and add flour mixture, 1 heaping tablespoon at a time. Mix just until blended; do not over-process.
Scrape mixture into prepared pan, smoothing it into the corners and leveling the top with a spatula. Bake about 27 minutes, until top is dark golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake shows no crumbs when withdrawn.
|5″ x 7″ baking dish turns out petite cake, just right for 3 – 4 servings.|
Cool 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 3-4 servings
Ps. Leftovers are exceptionally nice sliced and toasted, either under the broiler or in your toaster.