I don’t cook.  Although I can cook, I simply don’t know what to cook, or how to put a balanced meal together.

Well, it’s time I change that.  I’ve been married for over 15 years, and it is high time I figured this whole cooking thing out.  Plus, I have two young daughters.  If I don’t teach them to cook, who will?

The funny thing is, I’m a great baker.  I love to bake.  So, why can’t I cook?  I think it’s because when I bake, I’m making just one thing (usually a dessert).  Meals usually only have one dessert.  But the main meal should consist of several options.  There can be a salad to start the meal, a main dish, and one or two side dishes that include at least one vegetable.  That’s simply overwhelming to me!

Are you in the same boat as me?  Then come along as I struggle to feed my family meals that contain more than just one dish.

Are you an experienced cook?  Then feel free to offer me advice, or to simply laugh at my efforts.  You won’t hurt my feelings, since I already know what an awful cook I am!

Milk and Honey Recipe

Earlier this morning I posted about how I made almond butter.  This made me think of peanut butter, which made me think of honey (and now you have a sneak peak into how my train of thought works!).  Honey is one of my favorite things.  Chocolate doesn’t do much for me, but give me peanut butter mixed with honey any day and I’m a happy camper. Thinking about honey made me think of milk and honey.  Sure, I’ve heard that phrase many times, but never really thought about it.  Do people really mix milk and honey?  Is it any good?  I decided to find out. After searching, I found a few recipes, but I wasn’t crazy about how they sounded.  So, I decided to come up with my own version. Before I get to my recipe creation, I want to share a tip.  If you need to measure honey, or any ingredient that is sticky, then you can do something really simple to help.  Coat your measuring spoon or cup with oil before adding the sticky ingredient.        Print Recipe!     Milk and Honey Recipe Summary: I came up with my own recipe for milk and honey. It has just a hint of honey, so it isn’t overwhelmingingly sweet. Ingredients: 8 oz. milk (I use nonfat – the higher the fat content, the richer the results) 1 teaspoon honey 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Instructions: Add all ingredients to a small pot, and cook it on low to medium-low heat. Stir the mixture as it heats to evenly mix the honey. Be careful not to let the mixture boil. Cook until...

Almond Butter

Yesterday I posted a peanut butter recipe.  This morning, while getting coffee ready for my husband and cereal for my children, I noticed that I have a bag of almonds that we have not yet eaten.  Inspired by the thought of making homemade peanut butter, I wondered how almond butter would taste, so I pulled out my Cuisinart food processor and the almonds. Initially, the almonds just got cut up, but did not look like they were turning into any type of butter.  About three minutes into the processing, they started to clump together, so I knew things were going well. A few times stopped the processing and used a spatula to scoop the almonds out of the corner of the bowl (it is round, so it is one continuous corner). All in all, it took about 7-10 minutes for the almonds to release their oil and turn to almond butter.  I was working in the kitchen while the Cuisinart did its thing, so I am not exactly sure how long it took. The metal blades were pretty warm when I turned the Cuisinart off, so I’m sure that the heat of the blades helped release the oil from the nuts.  I then scooped the contents into an airtight container and have it in the fridge.  On a sidenote, I previously mentioned that I rarely use my food processor.  That will soon be changing, since I am going to make my own peanut butter from now on – it’s too easy not to do. My kids were neutral on it (they don’t like almonds so I wasn’t surprised), but...

Peanut Butter Recipe

This peanut butter recipe is super easy to do, and the taste is much better than the store bought kind.  Peanut butter is a staple in my home, and I think my kids would have an absolute blast making their own, since I haven’t let them make this yet.        Print Recipe!     Peanut Butter Recipe Summary: It’s very easy to make your own homemade peanut butter! Ingredients: 2 cups peanuts that are shelled and skinned (dry-roasted or raw) 1 to 5 drops peanut oil (optional) 1 teaspoon of honey (optional) Instructions: Add the peanut oil and honey into the bowl of your food processor, then turn it on. Slowly pour the peanuts into the bowl. Blend the peanuts until smooth. When needed, you can scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the peanuts are completely mixed. The longer you mix the peanuts, the more of their natural oils will be released and the creamier it will be. Store the peanut butter in the refrigerator, in an airtight container. Preparation time: 5 minute(s) Cooking time: 10 minute(s) My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s) If you find that your peanut butter is a bit stiff from being kept in the fridge, you can let it sit in a container of warm water to loosen it up, or nuke it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. If you prefer to keep your peanut butter in the cupboard (and eat it up quickly before the nuts go rancid), you will find that the oils eventually separate, and will collect at the surface.  It takes a fair amount of effort to mix it back in,...

Freezing Leftover Liquids

Okay, how many of you have ever seen or used a disposable baby bottle liner?  And what have you put, or seen put, into the liners?  Milk, right?  Well, guess what?  Milk isn’t the only thing you can put into the liners. In fact, you can put any liquid into them, and they are perfect for freezing any leftover liquids you have that you might want to use later.  This is true of the liner bags, not the drop-in type liners that look like cups (they can’t be sealed at the top). Think about that for a moment.  If you have any type of leftover liquid, such as chicken broth, buttermilk, or any thing else you can cook with, and for whatever reason you’d rather not save them in an ice cube tray, then use a bottle liner. Each liner will hold up to 8 ounces, and most are even marked with measurement lines!  How great is that?  You can easily see how much you are storing because of the measurements right on the liners. After filling a liner and sealing the open end, you can place it in the freezer.  The best place is in the freezer door compartment, where it can be stood up while it freezes, so the contents don’t spill out. When you are ready to use the frozen contents, the liner will easily pull away from the frozen liquid, so you can thaw it in the microwave or on the stove.  But never place the liner itself in the microwave. Now, whenever you have leftover liquids, you can easily save them instead of dumping...

Cutting Board Safety

If you have cutting boards, then there is basic cutting board safety that you need to keep in mind to prevent bacterial illness.  As far as cooking tools go, cutting boards are a must-have.  Here are some things to consider when choosing and using a cutting board: Always wash a board after raw meat has touched it before using it again.  Juices from the raw meat can contaminate anything else that touches it, possibly causing food bourn illnesses. Plastic is a better choice than wood simply because it can be washed in the dishwasher.  Wooden boards may get damaged from a dishwasher’s high temperatures. When possible, wash cutting boards in the dishwasher for thorough cleaning, especially if raw meat or poultry was cut on them. If you are unable to wash your cutting board in the dishwasher and it touched raw meat, then wash it in the sink with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of bleach for every quart of water. If possible, use one cutting board for meat only, and any other(s) for non-meat usage.  That is the best way to prevent cross-contamination. Keep your board from slipping by placing a slightly damp dishtowel under it. Cutting boards come in many different materials.  There has been a debate in recent years about whether wood or plastic is safer.  You can learn more about the debate at plastic vs. wood cutting boards.  Regardless of which type you choose, just be sure to practice cutting board safety so you and your family stay...

Cooking With a Convection Oven

I have a convection oven but cooking with a convection oven eludes me.  I pretty much use it as a regular oven, and turn on the convection fans only when I want to speed up the cooking but have no idea what I should be doing. As you can probably guess, I was able to find a video that provides great tips on using this type of oven.  From what I understand, most recipes can be adapted for convection oven cooking.  The tips shared in this video will help you do this. Lower the designated temperature by 25 degrees (if your recipe says to cook something at 350, lower it to 325). Shorten the cooking time by 25%.  This is necessary because the circulating air cooks food quicker. Use any rack in the oven.  Many recipes say to place an item in a specific location within the oven, such as the center rack, but this is not important with convection cooking.  There are no hot or cold spots when the fan is on. Use a shallow pan.  The lower the edge, or lip, of the pan, the better the circulating air can flow over the food.  Higher edges block the flow of air, and will prevent food from getting fully cooked or crisped. Use cookware that is light or bright in color.  Dark cookware will cook food quicker, causing excessive crisping or browning.  Lighter and brighter is more conducive to the heat that is being circulated by the convection fans. For those who don’t know, a convection oven is one that has a fan inside that blows the hot...

Roasting Garlic

Have you ever tried roasting garlic?  I haven’t, but I sure want to.  Roasted garlic is a food that I do not have often, but when I do, I just can’t get enough of it!  I sort of roasted garlic the other night when I made my roasted potato recipe, but my garlic was in poor shape (it had been sitting out for a while and was dried out), so the result was very poor. However, thanks to people who know a lot more than I do, I was able to find a video exactly on how to roast garlic. You will begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Next, take your garlic and chop off the top, so that several of the cloves are exposed.  Take some aluminum foil and shape it into a small bowl, then set the garlic in the middle.  The cut part of the garlic is facing up.  Place the garlic and foil onto a baking rack that is sitting inside a baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil onto the garlic cloves that are exposed.  Sprinkle a little salt on top.  Kosher salt would work well, and it has less sodium. Place the garlic in the oven and bake it for 45 minutes to one hour, until the garlic cloves are soft.  The cloves will turn a lovely brown, and now have a texture similar to peanut butter. You can eat the garlic by itself, with steak, or spread it on toasted french bread. This video got me wondering about what garlic is.  Turns out garlic is one of many edible plant bulbs,...

How To Prepare Butternut Squash for Cooking

Although I love pumpkin and acorn squash, butternut squash is a vegetable I haven’t tried (alright, I know that squashes are technically a fruit, but I’m sticking with calling them veggies).  This video, though, has me tempted to try, since it looks so easy to prepare them for cooking.  It took the woman in the video all of about two minutes to prep the squash.  Less, actually. She starts out by placing the squash on a wooden cutting board.  This is important, because cutting one of these open on your countertop is just asking to damage or ruin it. Once she has a firm grip on the squash with one hand, she then stabbed it in the middle with the knife, until the knife touched the cutting board.  The cut was going to be long-ways.  She did not mention what type of knife to use, and I don’t yet know the names of knives, but just make sure it is big and strong.  I suspect a tough veggie like this could break a weak knife. After stabbing the knife, she then forced it down towards the cutting board.  She then flipped the squash, with the knife still inside, and proceeded to push the knife upwards, towards her other hand. I would like to pause a moment and say that this video has a lot of criticism because of the above action.  Many people complained that what she did was highly dangerous.  So, please take care when cutting your own squash.  As for me, I’m pretty sure I will just keep pushing down on the knife until it goes all...

How To Turn a Tortilla into Tortilla Chips

Tortilla chips are one of the things that my entire family loves to eat.  We eat them out of the bag, with refried beans, or with chili.  But one thing we have never tried to do is make them ourselves. This morning I found a video that shows how ridiculously easy it is to make tortilla chips from scratch.  Well, alright, if you want to get technical it isn’t from scratch because you would buy whole tortillas for this snack, but I have to be honest here.  I don’t have it in me at this point to make the tortillas, too.  I’m perfectly happy buy already made tortillas at my local grocery store.  Okay, now that that’s out of the way let’s get back to the project at hand. Before you start, preheat your oven to about 400 degrees. The first thing you will need for this project is a stack of tortillas.  They can be made from either white or yellow corn, whichever you prefer.  After you stack your tortillas neatly, take a large knife and cut them into triangles.  The really neat thing about this is that you have control over the size of your chips.  Like them large?  Then cut big triangles.  Prefer them small?  Simply cut small triangles. Put the cut triangles into a bowl and separate them so they aren’t clumped up.  Pour some oil over the triangles and mix them up.  You can use whatever oil you want.  Canola or vegetable oil is a milder flavor, while olive oil is a bit more flavorful.  Mix until each triangle is covered in oil. Line...

Caramelize Onions

In my last post I wrote about how to saute mushrooms, and it made me want to learn how to caramelize onions, since the two go so well together.  I was able to find a cooking video that shows how easy it is to cook onions to perfection, which is exactly the kind of video a new cook like me needs to see. Unlike with cooking mushrooms, you need to start your pan on low heat.  Be sure to have a small amount of oil in the pan.  The low heat is important, because that is what draws the sugar out of the onions, and gives it the nice brown color. Add the onions to the pan, and cook it for at least 20-30 minutes.  You can stir them every so often.  I hate to admit that this is something I did wrong in the past.  I thought onions needed to be cooked on high heat, and that they should be done in about 10 minutes.  Now I will know that slow and steady wins this race. Continue cooking the onions until they are a lovely golden brown.  Don’t be surprised to see that your cooked onions will have shrunk to about 1/3 the size of precooked onions. Timing with cooking is important.  If you do decide to cook onions to go with your mushrooms, be aware that the onions will take a lot longer to finish cooking.  The time it takes to caramelize onions is well worth it for this delicious side...

Saute Mushrooms

If you are new to cooking, as I am, then this video on how to saute mushrooms will be helpful to you.  One of the mistakes I often make when I cook food is that I do not let the pan heat up enough before I start cooking.  The very first thing taught in this video is to start sauteing in a pan that is heated to medium high or high heat.  I won’t make that mistake again! Before cooking the mushrooms, you need to decide how many you want.  Mushrooms will shrink to about half their size, so take that into consideration when preparing mushrooms.  And, you don’t want to soak your mushrooms to clean them.  Wash them under running water, then pat them dry. Next, you need to add oil (not too much!) to the heated pan.  Add the mushroom to the heated pan and oil.  The mushrooms will absorb the oil as they cook, so do not be tempted to add more oil.  As they continue to cook, the mushrooms will eventually release the oil and moisture within them. Saute them until they are a nice brown color.  If you want to season them, wait until they have finished cooking to do so.  You can sprinkle them with a little salt, or even garlic powder (yum!). If you want to get really creative, you can add chopped onions to the pan while cooking the mushrooms.  Cooked mushrooms go great with steak.  Just be sure to get the timing right so you can saute mushrooms while your steak is...

The Secret to Custard Pie

Do you know what the secret to custard pie is?  Me either.  But, thanks to one of my really old cookbooks, I now know. Well, truth be told, I do not know if I trust this book as accurate, since the book it came from is clearly promoting Crisco, so I think the author may have been a bit biased.  Chances are, though, that it makes a pretty gosh-darn cook pie! So, according to my book, the secret of great custard pie is two fold: An unsoaked crust, and a smooth, velvety filling. I can’t honestly say I knew what an unsoaked crust was before reading this book.  Now I understand that it means the crust stays firm while cooking, instead of soaking up the pie batter.  I’m learning more and more about how to cook every day!  According to my book, the way to prevent having a soggy pie crust is to: Brush melted Crisco or a beaten egg white onto the bottom of the pie crust. Use scalding milk, and to pour warm pie filling into the crust before baking it. Preheat the oven, so the pie goes straight into a hot oven.  Lower the temperature after putting the pie in. As for the smooth filling, you can prevent your custard from breaking apart by doing the following: Bake your pie slowly.  Bake it at the high temperature for the first 10 minutes to set the crust, then reduce it for the remainder of the cooking time. Take the pie out of the oven as soon as it is done baking.  You can test it for doneness by...

Plum Butter

Plum butter is something most people of today are not familiar with.  To be honest, I’m one of those people.  I have had apple butter, which I think is delicious but have not tried to cook, but not plum butter. While looking through one of my old cookbooks, I found a recipe for plum butter that I am now going to share with you.  Please let me know if you have made this recipe, and how it turned out.        Print Recipe!     Plum Butter Recipe Summary: Plum butter is a classic recipe that goes well with pork as a main dish. This also tastes great on toast. Ingredients: Plums Apples (equal amount as plums) Sugar (2/3 the amount of sugar as fruit) Cinnamon, to taste Cloves, to taste Instructions: Cook the plums and apples in separate pans, until both are well done. Rub the plums through a colander, and put back in pan. Add the apples and sugar. Season with cinnamon and cloves. This vintage recipe comes from “Reliable Recipes For The Table,” which was printed in an unknown year by The Durst Milling Co. of Dayton, Ohio.  My guess is that it dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s. This is one of the old recipes that skimps on instructions, so I did my best to provide you with the steps you need.  Feel free to let me know if I missed something so I can modify this plum butter...

Vintage Recipes

One of the things I have quite a lot of are vintage recipes. We once owned a house that we bought fully furnished, and there were tons of cookbooks included with the furnishings. Mixed among the newer books were a bunch of vintage cookbook booklets. I’m not exactly sure what to call them, but they are old, and they are a lot of fun to go through. Now that I am getting into learning to cook, I figure it might be fun to share some of the recipes that are in these old cookbooklets.  So, I’ll share them in the Old Recipe category.  I hope you have as much fun seeing the recipes as I have going through them. Don’t be surprised if some of them have very little instructions, since that’s the way a lot of old recipes were published.  But, I’ll do the best I can to fill in the gaps for these wonderful vintage...

Fried Eggs for Dinner

Tonight I was asked three different times, “What’s for dinner?”  Each time a shiver went up my spine… After looking in the fridge to see what was available, I decided on eggs.  Eggs are one of the few meal options that we all agree on (although my stepdaughter declined the offer of eggs).  We already have hard boiled eggs ready to be eaten, but my children said they wanted fried eggs.  So, we have fried eggs for dinner. To round out the meal, I also steamed some brussel sprouts (one of the few vegetables I love), and my girls had cherry tomatoes.  While I think tomatoes in any form are foul, they eat cherry tomatoes as if they were grapes.  They simply love them (blech!). Dinner might have been a bit unorthodox, but at least I created a meal that was nutritious and well-rounded.  Except for my stepdaughter, who simply had a hot dog (blech, again!). Out of curiosity, I found a video about how to cook fried eggs.  I was surprised to learn that you can tell if an egg is fresh based on how it cooks.  Apparently, the yolks of fresh eggs sit higher up on the egg whites, while the yolks of older eggs sink in.  Interesting!  I paid no attention to the eggs I fried, so don’t know if they were fresh or not, but I suspect they were a bit stale.  They sure tasted good, though, even if I cooked mine on both sides, instead of sunny side up, like in the video. The man in the video also said to cook the eggs...

Banana Bread in Bread Machine

Looking for a banana bread in bread machine recipe? Well, I’ve got one that is absolutely fabulous!  No doubt you already know that appliance cooking is the way to go when it comes to making banana bread.  Now you can use your breadmaker to make the best banana bread ever! This recipe includes sour cream, which might sound, well, strange.  Most people probably don’t think of mixing bananas with sour cream.  But I think of it as the secret ingredient.  The sour cream makes this bread incredibly moist.  Don’t believe me?  Try it for yourself, then let me know what you think. There are a few bananas in my kitchen right now that are getting good and ripe.  I can’t wait to make this again! A word of warning:  Be prepared to have this delicious quick bread gobbled up so fast that there may not be any bread to save for the next day.        Print Recipe!     The Best Bread Machine Banana Bread Ever! Summary: This quick bread is super easy to make in a bread maker, and is delicious! You can easily modify a few of the ingredients to make the bread uniquely yours. Ingredients: 1-1/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 2 large bananas) 1/4 cup sour cream (can substitute with plain yogurt) 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (optional) 1/2 vegetable oil (can substitute with apple sauce or olive oil) 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup light brown sugar 1/3 cup dark brown sugar 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2...

How To Slice Bread

One of my favorite cooking tasks is to make bread with my bread maker, but how to slice bread is not anything I’ve given much thought to. Earlier today I learned that I should have cared about this, since I have been slicing my bread wrong.  You need to take care when cutting homemade bread, regardless of whether it was made with a cooking appliance or baked in the oven. Have you ever attempted to slice your home baked bread, only to have it either completely smoosh your loaf, or have the slice turn out badly cut?  Fear not!  I found a video that shows how to slice bread with ease. First, you will need a loaf of bread that is completely cooled (cooking bread is fun, so this part should be easy to do).  Then, you will also need a sharp serrated knife and a cutting board. Place your bread on the cutting board, and turn the loaf on its side (this is the secret to a nice, clean cut).  Take the knife and gently saw through the loaf.  Don’t apply too much pressure as you saw, since this will crush the loaf. There will still be crumbs with this method, but they will be greatly diminished compared to slicing the loaf when it is flat on the cutting board. Your first few attempts may not be as neat as you will see in the video below, but with practice you will have professional looking slices. This was a new method to me – it has never occurred to me to slice my breads on their sides.  I...

What To Look For In Measuring Cups

Measuring cups might seem like a strange topic for a post, but I feel rather passionate about my newest measuring cups.  The reason I feel so strongly about them is because they are awesome! My previous measuring cups were flawed, but I did not know it when I bought them.  The flaw is that the size of each cup was stamped onto the cups.  Over time, the stamp wore away, until the sizes were completely gone.  Although the cups were still fully functional, I didn’t know what size they were.  If I am going to learn to cook, then I need to be able to accurately measure ingredients when I am cooking recipes. I took a trip to my local kitchen store to buy a new set of cups, and I was very surprised to see that every set, but one, had the sizes stamped on.  The price of the cups did not matter.  The most expensive cups at the store I was in was about $10, but I knew that they would eventually become useless once the stamping wore off. The one set that had the sizing made as a part of each cup also happened to be the least expensive.  I was shocked to see that this set cost just 99 cents.  Not only did it have the sizes imprinted into the handle, where it would never wear off, the cups were also indented so that I could fill the cups partially and accurately. What I mean by this is that the One Cup size was indented at 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup intervals, so I could...

How To Cook Pasta

Although I openly admit that I do not know much about cooking, I honestly thought I knew how to cook pasta.  My entire life I thought the best way to cook pasta was to add oil to the water before adding the pasta.  It makes sense to me, since it seems as though the pasta will be coated by the oil, which will then keep it from clumping or sticking together. Imagine my surprise when I found out I was wrong! It’s almost funny how I even found this out.  My stepdaughter is 19 and also doesn’t know how to cook.  She walked in to the kitchen recently as I was starting a batch of spaghetti.  In an effort to help educate her on cooking, I asked if she knows the best way to cook pasta.  She said she didn’t, so I told her that you should add oil to the water, for the reason I stated above. Then, on a whim, I went to my bookcase full of cookbook, pulled out The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and turned to page 178.  Here, the book gives a brief primer on cooking pasta.  The very first paragraph said to stop wasting oil by pouring it into water for cooking noodles,because it does not do anything to prevent noodles from sticking together.  I was shocked, but continued to read. The book went on to say how salt is the important ingredient, not oil, because it helps season the noodles.  According to the author, “…it is imperative to cook the pasta in salted water.”  Wow.  And I had already wasted olive...

Cooking Tip – Mark Your Cookbooks

I have a cooking tip to share that is something I have been doing for years.  Whenever I make a new recipe from one of my cookbooks, I mark the page that the recipe is on and add notes.  Skinny post-it notes are perfect for this, and I keep some in a drawer in my kitchen (which you will see in the video below).  I just pull off one of the sticky notes and put it at the top of the page, so half of the sticky note sticks out of the book.  That way, whenever I am looking for a cookbook I can see without opening it if I have made any recipes from it. As for adding notes to the recipe itself, I simply write down my thoughts, and sometimes the thoughts of my family, about the recipe.  Did I love it?  Hate it?  Did it take too long to make?  Whatever it is, that’s what I write down. Don’t forget to document any modifications you may have made to the recipe.  Sometimes I like to add things, or substitute ingredients, and documenting the results is a great way to know if I should do it again in the future. If this doesn’t really make sense, don’t worry.  Just watch the video below to see what I do.  You might notice that the sun was shining in my eyes – it seems I chose exactly the wrong time of day to film this in my kitchen.  Sorry about that!  Regardless, I hope this cooking tip is helpful to you, as it has been to me, even if...

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