Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Easy Dinner Meals

Easy Dinner Ideas
Guest Post by Dennis Miller
The Prepared Pantry


Easy Dinner Meals


Dinner is a challenge.  It’s not that we don’t know how to cook but after a long day at work and with a dozen things to do at home, it just takes time and energy.


What do we fix for dinner?

We could put something in the crock-put before we leave for work.  We’re not that organized (I’m not that organized) and the crock pot is utilized for Sunday duty.  I love stir-fries but Merri Ann doesn’t like them.  There are other choices like casseroles (they usually take too long), tacos, and soups, but what to fix for dinner usually centers on four basic decisions.



Just make four decisions!

(1) Choose a meat for the main dish.

I’m looking for a meat to fry.  The oven takes too long, I rarely deep fry, and the grill is a good choice but a summer choice.  So I choose:

  • Burger (either patties or crumbled).
  • Steak (either whole or sliced—lesser cuts lend to slicing)
  • Pork chops or other thin cuts of pork
  • Chicken (Usually, it’s chicken breasts)

Choose one of these four, and you’re well on your way to dinner.


(2) Choose a seasoning or sauce.

Once you’ve done it couple times, gravy is easy.  I keep a bulk gravy mix on hand so that I can mix up as much as I want even if I’m cooking on the grill.  I keep a half dozen sauces in the refrigerator: a barbecue sauce or two, an Asian sauce or two, marinara (spaghetti sauce), and salsa.  Thai Sweet Chili is an essential.


Fried meat lends itself to seasoning blends.  Several nights ago, a fried a pork chop seasoned with Ras el Hanout.  I used two tablespoons of bulk gravy mix to make the gravy in the frying pan.  The spices left in the pan after frying the pork chop were perfect to make the gravy special.


Do yourself and your family a favor and invest in a half dozen blends.  You’ll create a whole new vista of possibilities for dinner.


These are my cupboard, my basics:

  • A steak and burger seasoning.  My favorite is Colorado Cattle Company Original.
  • A taco and Mexican seasoning.
  • An Italian seasoning blend, one with basil and oregano that I can use on pizzas and pasta.
  • A barbecue rub.  I use it mostly on chicken.  My favorite is no longer available.  We’re looking for a replacement to carry in our store.
  • Vindaloo.  This is my first choice for beef though it’s really more versatile than that.
  • Ras el Hanout, my first choice for pork.
  • Persian Adwiya.  This is my first choice for chicken and fish.
  • A lemon pepper blend.
  • A poultry seasoning blend.  I use this for soups and dressings (stuffing).  I recently discovered Zaatar which reminds me of poultry seasoning but has no sage.


There are other seasonings in my cupboard.  I’m getting to know the marvelous choices of our Teeny Tiny Spice Company spice blends.



(3) Choose a starch.

For us, that means choosing one of these:

  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Rice

We live in potato country, Eastern Idaho.  Most nights, I’m not going to take the time to peel potatoes.  I’ll boil red potatoes; that doesn’t take long and they are better not peeled.  You can eat them as a vegetable with butter and seasoning or add a gravy.  You can make garlic mashed potatoes with the skins on.  You can also oven roast them.  (See Oven Roasted Rosemary Potatoes.)


Increasingly, I choose seasoned and flavored dried potatoes.  This is the quickest starch.  They’re incredible, much better than I remember growing up.  I love the flavors like garlic mashed and four cheese.  I stick them in the microwave for just a few minutes.


Pasta and rice do not have to be boring.  We have a great selection:  14 different kinds of rice and rice blends and 12 choices of orzo and couscous.


You can use a microwave rice steamer but I don’t bother.  I set the rice to going in my Krona Multi Pot while I cook the meat and side dish.  Here’s how:


  1. Measure two cups of hot water, one cup of rice, and half teaspoon of salt into a saucepan for which you have a lid.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.  I set the heat to medium high and set the timer for five minutes.  (I wear an Everywhere Timer around my neck while I’m cooking or baking.)  The timer keeps me from forgetting my rice and burning it.  There is nothing magic about five minutes; it just works on my stove with my pan.
  3. After the rice comes to a boil, turn the heat to very low and set the timer for 15 minutes.  Do not lift the lid.
  4. After fifteen minutes, fluff the rice with fork and set the lid back on the rice until you are ready to serve.


(4) Choose a side dish or two.

Typically, this is where I invest the least time.  Frozen vegetables work well in my house.  So do bagged salads.  But it doesn’t take long to steam fresh vegetables and I like them.


Putting it All Together

  • For the meat, keep a stock in the freezer.  We prefer to choose the meat the night before and put it in the refrigerator to defrost.  When we forget, we have to thaw it in the microwave.
  • For the seasoning, keep a selection in the cupboard.  Keep several sauces on hand.  Consider a bulk gravy mix.
  • For the starches, keep a selection of pastas and rice on hand.  If you like baked potatoes, invest in a set of potato nails.  Buy some red potatoes from time to time.  Keep a stock of seasoned and flavored dried potatoes on hand.
  • For side dishes, pick up a bag of pre-made salad once a week and a couple fresh vegetables from the produce aisle.  Stock the freezer with a selection of frozen vegetables.

For us, it’s easier to plan meals if we break them down to these four basic choices and if we have the ingredients on hand to make what we choose.

We hope this helps.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Banana Bread Muffins

Banana Bread Cupcake

Banana Bread Muffin


Banana Bread Muffin

By Dennis Weaver
Our Vanilla Bean Baby Cakes Mix makes great banana bread.  It’s baked at a lower temperature and in a loaf pan with mashed bananas and comes out denser and moister than a cake—just like a quick bread.  (See the recipe below.)


We wondered if we could make banana muffins the same way.  Alas, they came out like cupcakes, not muffins.  The crew loved them but I thought that cupcakes needed frosting.


We had a pound of leftover caramel in the refrigerator and that was the inspiration for the frosting–caramel frosting.   We heated the caramel until it was warm and soft and scraped it into the mixing bowl of a stand-type mixer, added butter and powdered sugar with a little whipping cream and had frosting.


We sprinkled these cupcakes with Himalayan Pink Salt.  That was a nice contrasting touch.  We served these banana nut cupcakes with caramel frosting in the store and they were a big hit.



Banana Nut Cupcakes

1 Vanilla Bean Cake Mix
1/2 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon banana flavor
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup cinnamon chips


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.


Mix cake mix, oil, eggs, banana, and flavor in stand-type mixer, per package instructions.
Add the nuts and cinnamon chips  to the cake batter. Mix just until combined.
Spoon the batter into 16 to 18 regular muffin pan cavities.
Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.


“Accidental” Caramel Frosting

You can make homemade caramel or unwrap a pound of caramel candies such as Kraft for this recipe.


1 pound caramel heated until soft and warm
1 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon caramel flavor
3 cups powdered sugar
several tablespoons whipping cream

Scrape the soft caramel into the bowl of your stand-type mixer.

Making sure that the caramel is not too warm to melt the butter, add one cup (two sticks) of cold butter to the caramel.


Beat the butter into the caramel.

Add the powdered sugar and flavor and beat in.


Add enough milk or whipping cream to reach the right consistency.
The frosting can be spread with a knife or piped with a pastry bag.



Banana Nut Bread

1 Vanilla Bean Cake Mix
1/2 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon banana flavor
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup cinnamon chips

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Mix cake mix, oil, eggs, banana, and flavor in stand-type mixer, per package instructions.
Add the nuts and cinnamon chips to the cake batter. Mix just until combined.
Spread batter in a greased or parchment  lined 9”x5” loaf pan and bake for 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes or  until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool in the pan on a wire rack.


If you are using parchment paper, grab the edges of the paper and lift to transfer it to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spudnut© Hole Sundaes with Buttermilk Syrup

Another terrific guest post from Dennis Weaver at the Prepared Pantry.

Donut Hole First it was Cinnamon Bun Sundaes — sundaes made with cinnamon and sugar coated little buns. Then it was Spudnut Hole Sundaes.
Spudnuts always seem a little indulgent but they sure are good—much better than donuts. We used a  Spudnut mix  and cooked both the donuts and the donut holes—with extra donut holes for our sundaes.
We read of a restaurant that soaked donuts holes in maple syrup. Why not glaze donuts in syrup? Would it work?
We’re awash with  buttermilk syrup  these days and we’ve been tinkering with variations, adding flavors to the syrup. So far, maple and coconut are our favorites—and they are very, very good. So we decided to try all three—regular buttermilk, coconut, and maple–as a glaze.
We dipped donuts and holes in buttermilk syrup warmed in the microwave. That was a mistake; the syrup was too thin and we didn’t get enough coating. After that, we used only room temperature syrup. Even then, we double dipped to get more coating.
It worked. The donuts were very good.
We were afraid that the donuts would be too sticky to eat with our hands. They were sticky, but not much more so than those glazed with a powdered sugar icing. The donuts seemed to absorb some of the moisture and of course, they dried a bit.

We could see why the restaurant soaked theirs in the syrup—it made the syrup dominant. But a lighter coating of syrup was just right for us—not too sweet while the soaked ones were too sweet. With a thin coating, it was difficult to pick up the tones of butterscotch and caramel that makes buttermilk syrup so delightful. But the donuts were delicious.



We glazed some of the donuts in the other syrups and liked the buttermilk maple syrup better and the buttermilk coconut syrup the best.   
But on to our sundaes . . . . Here’s how to make them:   
1. Load glazed Spudnut holes in bowls.
2. Scoop ice cream on top of the Spudnut holes.
3. Drizzle warm buttermilk syrup over the ice cream and onto the Spudnut holes.
4. Sprinkle salt crystals over the syrup. The crunch of salt and the bursts of flavor are a nice contrasting touch. Use  Himalayan Pink Salt Crystals  or something similar.
5. Place a dollop of whipped cream on top. If you like, use Caramel Whipped Cream.
These make great sundaes. Of course you can try different ice creams and syrups or make banana splits. The glazed donut holes absolutely make these desserts.


Spudnut© Hole Sundaes with Buttermilk Syrup

Spudnut© Hole Sundaes with Buttermilk Syrup