Here are 6 kitchen-related things about me you might not know:
- I love good, healthy food, simply prepared.
- I believe the food we serve others should both nourish and delight.
- I prefer real, whole food ingredients and I make a lot from scratch.
- Products with lots of additives, preservatives, chemicals and high fructose corn syrup don’t make it to my kitchen.
- I pretty much buy organic whenever possible.
- I avoid processed foods. Basically, if my grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as a food, I don’t eat it:)
I’m a realist and I know this isn’t possible for everyone. I don’t work outside the home, I no longer have a child living at home and it’s just me and my husband for the most part. So, I have time to cook, which I really do enjoy. For all you working mamas or parents of littles, I totally understand not being able to make everything from scratch! I remember those days when it was enough to just scramble some eggs for dinner and hope everybody was satisfied. But sometimes, when you have a little extra time, these are some of the easy staples you can try making yourself.
To me, it’s the little details that make a meal memorable. You can’t believe how impressed folks are by homemade whipped cream or granola with honey, dried fruit and nuts, fresh out of the oven or a jar of jam canned at home.
I grew up eating real cheese, real eggs, real butter, real food. Maybe I’m trying to bring back those days in my own kitchen. Plus, food production today is quite different than it was in the 60’s and 70’s when I was a child and young adult. Our food supply has changed a great deal and I’m just trying to get back to basics. So, in no particular order, here’s a list of simple but yummy foods to make from scratch. None of them are difficult at all and when you sprinkle some homemade croutons on your Caesar salad, your family will practically swoon! Master these 5 and you are a certified Kitchen Princess!
I love crunchy. Crunchy toast and chocolate chip cookies, crisp french fries, the crusty edges of chocolatey brownies-my happy place! Crisp and crunchy croutons are right up there at the top of my list! As you can imagine, I make these all the time! Try them once and I guarantee you will never buy a box of those dry, tasteless croutons again. This is a fantastic way to use up all those little ends of bread loaves you usually throw away.
- 1 loaf of any kind of day old bread. Nowadays, I use gluten free bread.
- 1/2 cup of olive oil or melted butter
- salt and pepper
- seasonings of your choice, dried herbs, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, etc.
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- Slice your bread into 1/2 inch slices and then slice those into 1/2 inch chunks.
- Toss the bread chunks into a big bowl.
- Drizzle the olive oil or melted butter all around and mix together (I use my hands)
- Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and any herbs or seasonings you like.
- Toss again.
- Pile onto a large rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes stirring and turning every 7 minutes or so.
- The croutons are ready when they are golden brown and very crispy.
- Let cool completely.
- Store in an airtight container or freeze.
- You can also make croutons in a skillet. Just toss them in a hot skillet and saute for about 10 minutes till golden brown. They won’t be as crisp as oven baked ones but they will still be delicious!
Crispy croutons atop Roast Broccoli Cheese Soup with Roast Garlic.
#2 Homemade Whipped Cream
I won’t buy Cool Whip and here’s why. I know it’s low cal, but do we really want to put all these chemicals in our bodies? I love real whipped cream on my homemade desert because it’s rich, creamy and amazing. Because it’s not low-cal, I reserve it for special occasions only. Top fruit pies, cheesecake, fresh berries, strawberry shortcake, etc.with fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream!
- 1 pint organic heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (not imitation vanilla flavoring)
- Pour the whipped cream into a chilled bowl.
- Using a hand mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until incorporated.
- Don’t overbeat or you’ll have sweet vanilla flavored butter!
- Chill until serving time.
Fresh whipped cream over strawberry shortcake made with scones:)
#3 Homemade Salad Dressing
I promise, it’s so easy to make your own salad dressing! I’ve been doing it myself for years and the great thing is, you can try new spices and different vinegars and oils to keep it interesting and make your own fresh lovely vinaigrette every day or so. It literally takes about 3 minutes.
- 1 tablespoon vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 clove garlic chopped fine or put through a garlic press
- Pinch of salt, a few grindings of fresh pepper
- 4 tablespoons good, organic extra virgin olive oil, grape seed oil or oil of your choice
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar, honey or agave nectar or a drop of stevia(optional)
Mix together the vinegar or lemon juice, mustard and worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Add garlic, salt and pepper and the sugar if using.
Now, with a fork or little whisk, add the oil in a thin stream and beat it in with your fork or whisk to emulsify the oil. I use a little Frother and it’s a lifesaver! Taste it and adjust seasonings. Double or triple it and you’ll have dressing for a week.
- Sometimes I might add fresh herbs or some crumbled gorgonzola or feta cheese to my salad to kick it up a little. It’s simple and delicious and lets the salad really shine!
- Add a tablespoon or so of sour cream or mayonnaise or fresh buttermilk for a creamy dressing..
#4 Homemade Marinades
I’ve called this my ‘Kitchen Sink Marinade’ for years because it seems like everything but the kitchen sink goes into it! Why use a marinade? Marinating meat adds wonderful flavor and depth. Unless you have a very tender cut of beef, you’re going to want to marinate. It helps breaks down some of the tough fibers, adds wonderful flavor and makes your meat more tender. Feel free to try other ingredients. This is how I do it but feel free to add your favorite flavors.
London Broil marinating.
Makes enough marinade for a good sized London Broil or several smaller steaks.
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons organic soy sauce or tamari
- 3 tablespoons balsamic, red wine or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons organic ketchup
- 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine or put through a garlic press
- 2 Tablespoons red wine
- Mix all ingredients together with a fork in a glass pyrex dish. It should be very wet and there should be enough so that you are able to really coat your cut of beef in it.
- If it’s a tougher cut of meat like a London Broil, I will take a dinner fork and poke a bunch of holes in it to help it absorb more marinade. Then I flip the steak over and do it on the other side and then spoon the marinade on top.
- Cover and refrigerate. You want to let your steak sit in this for several hours if possible. Turn it over occasionally.
- When you are ready to grill your steak, just lift it out of the marinade and place it on the grill. Baste with more marinade if you like. Discard whatever is left over.
Makes enough marinade for several chicken breasts or a cut up chicken
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs of your choice
- Mix all ingredients together in a glass pyrex and place your chicken in the dish.
- Marinate for an hour or more.
- Remove meat to cook and discard marinade.
#5 Easy Tomato Sauce
This is adapted from Giada DiLaurentiis recipe from her book, Giada’s Family Dinners.
It’s fresh tasting and quick to make. I use it for lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, stuffed shells, etc. Once you see how easy this recipe is you’ll marvel at how fresh it tastes and be loathe to serve anything out of a jar ever again!
- 2 (28 ounce) cans Organic Whole Peeled Plum Tomato (I use either Muir Glen or Eden Organic)
- 1 bunch fresh basil, stemmed
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice and the basil until smooth. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the onions and garlic and saute until very tender but not brown, about 12 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato puree, oregano and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
- Decrease heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- You can make this a day ahead.
This recipe doubles easily and freezes well. Make double and freeze what you don’t use.
You can also try this terrific recipe for Italian Spaghetti Sauce to make with homemade meatballs.