Saturday, January 3, 2015

Basic Beef Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup

1+ lb. left-over roast beef or fresh stew meat cubed
1 large can tomato juice
3-4 bags frozen vegetable soup mix vegetables
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 Tablespoons Dales or other steak seasoning (liquid)
1 large onion* sautéd with meat above
2-3 Tablespoons dried parsley
1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash
1 Bay Leaf

Sauté fresh meat with onion just until browned in dutch oven.  If using leftover meat, brown onion, then add tomato juice and meat on Medium high heat until onion is tender.  Put in large dutch oven (or crock pot) and combine all other ingredients.  Cook until vegetables look sufficiently dead (should not crunch! Lol).  Freezes well and even better reheated.

Can use ham instead and/or ham bone (or ham hocks) in place of meat—adds much more flavor!

*See previous article on choosing produce

Friday, January 2, 2015

Choosing Onions and Other Produce

God gave you hands and eyes and a sense of smell.  Use them when choosing produce! This is by no means exhaustive but are simple, basic tips to keep in mind as you shop.
Onions, potatoes and root vegetables (turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes....the fruit grows in the ROOTS or underground) should be firm and no weakening or weepy/wet spots, which shows age and/or deterioration.  When choosing onions I prefer to buy the sweet variety as they cause very little or no stinging to the eyes when cut!

One of my favorite fresh vegetables is celery.  Before grabbing the closest one, check for color and texture.  IF THE STALK BENDS DON'T BUY IT.  Fresh celery is rigid and has no give.  When I get it home I cut off the very end where the stalks are all joined before washing each stalk thoroughly.  Then I cut each stalk at the "knuckle", where it branches and the leaves have started to grow. Take a moment to cut a itty bit of the end off the stock that is dead from harvesting. Set this part aside (Don't throw it away!).  Cut the majority of the GREEN outer stalks according your preferential length to eat and enjoy.  I put mine in a ziplock bag with a tiny bit of water in the bottom to keep them fresh.  Some people prefer aluminum foil.  For the celery hearts (the inside that is light green or yellow) and the knuckles you removed....Chop finely to your preference a seal in a small ziplock bag before tossing into your freezer.  This is great to use when you make vegetable or bean soup for flavor, color and texture!

When buying lettuce, or other fruits and vegetables, don't buy the prepared and packaged kind unless you are super short on time AND plan to use it in short order.  In the original package that God created is always best.  The more hands that touch it to process it, the closer it is to the end of its shelf life is my experience.  For instance, I used to buy bagged salad and end up throwing half or more away because it went bad before I used it.  Now I buy fresh lettuce---romaine or other leaf lettuce, never iceberg (very little nutritional value and no flavor!) and it keeps for WEEKS in my refrigerator.  The icing on the cake?  It is a FRACTION of the price and much fresher.  Wash only what you will use and put the rest back in your produce compartment in the fridge. If you must prepare a large quantity with the potential of leftovers, tear the lettuce with your hands vs. cutting with a knife.  It bruises the lettuce and the edges turn brown quickly after interaction as a result of contact with the knife.

Making a fruit salad? Add the juice of the fruit you're using, especially pineapple!  Don't add apples or bananas until the very last minute because of their short life after being cut.  If you must cut ahead of time, squeeze a little citrus juice (or cartoned orange juice) over them to prevent the browning.

Another "problem child" in the browning department is avocado.  Who doesn't love guacamole for delicious Mexican food or some sliced on a sandwich?  Don't throw out the left overs just because it turns after a tiny bit of time in your fridge.  Put in the smallest container it will fit in and then gently press plastic wrap over it to remove most/all of the air.  Even if a tiny bit turns brown, the flavor is still good!

Emphasizing Strengths

My Mom was a TALENTED and well-educated woman.  She loved people and we entertained often.  She grew up in a family that threw big, lavish parties....but they also had help that did much of the preparation, leaving them to enjoy the party.  Mom learned basics of cooking but it was not her forte.  Her basic "go-to" meal was baked ham (or ham loaf), green beans, sweet potatoes, corn souffle, pineapple and a green congealed jello/cottage cheese salad with chopped pecans on top.  I don't remember her baking other than german chocolate or carrot cakes.  Pies were always frozen---we didn't complain---but ice cream was generally homemade in the summer.  There was never a shortage of ice cream at the Uible house! Speaking of summer, Dad had a helaciously big garden.  His favorites to cultivate were strawberries and asparagus.  The children had no problem liking the strawberries but asparagus is not something I appreciated until I was old enough to buy it and realize it can be an expensive delicacy.  He would pinch off strawberry blooms to get more runners and bigger berries.  Alas, I am wandering far off the path and about to step into the fertilizer, so I will come back to where I intended to go!

Mom would just as soon play cards or read a book or visit in the nursing home as to cook.  Eating out was always more preferable, especially as she grew older!  What I've learned about cooking has been from other folks and life is too short for all of us to make the same mistakes.  In light of that, I've decided to insperse some of the lessons my Mom attempted to teach me by her wonderful example and no-nonsense parenting and frugal spending with some basic cooking lessons I've learned or taught myself.  If you're looking for fine cooking---which if you've read this far, you're not OR you are looking for comic relief---please see my delightful friend, Renee's blog at www.