Experiment

Laurie’s Chicken: Making It Measured

This is a repost of Laurie’s Chicken: Making It Measured from retired blog Accidental Verbosity. I’d have eventually reposted it anyway, but when I went searching for it today I found that Google had changed something about how AV is indexed or ranked that made traffic there plummet a couple weeks ago from just about 300 a day to under 100. Whatever that change was, it made this post not findable at all by title or most of the logical sets of keywords. I should probably start reposting systematically, but this is one of my favorites…

My stepsister used to make a hot red sauce baked on top of chicken breasts, usually as a treat for her less kitchen comfy cousin, and once for me when we were both at my father’s house in Vermont. It was so good, I always remembered it fondly and wanted the recipe.

My stepmother recently asked her about it, and here is the “recipe” as I received it:

1/3 cup ketchup, 1 TBLS W’shire Sauce, black and cayenne pepper to taste, dry mustard, Brown sugar (she said she sometimes used twin B. sugar) and a little apple cider vinegar. Says these are all the ingredients which as you can see its by taste. Cook until slightly reduced. I would think you could dble this as it does [not] make very much.

So I decided to attempt to measure and create a more detailed recipe, based on guesses and adjustments to quantities the first time I made it. Here is what I wrote up as a result, followed by pictures during and after. It is all quite adjustable, but if you like hot and don’t like lack of measurements to guide you, this works:

Laurie’s Chicken Recipe

This would work for 3 breasts, or heavy on 2 breasts. This is extremely hot as measured here, and could be done lighter on both kinds of pepper to soften the impact. Everything is somewhat flexible, beyond that, to taste.

1/2 cup ketchup
1.5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons or so water, optional
boneless chicken breasts (2 or 3, adjust recipe to make more)
2 – 3 tablespoons butter, optional

Combine the spices, ketchup, worcestershire, brown sugar, and vinegar. I ended up using water to help flush as much as possible out of the measuring cup I mixed it all in, when transferring to a small saucepan. It gets cooked down either way. I was tasting as I went along, adding brown sugar after it was in the pan. Stir regularly while cooking over low heat.

Preheat oven. I would estimate 400 degrees throughout to be appropriate, though I started at 450. I put butter in an appropriately sized Pyrex pan and let it melt in the bottom before taking the pan back out. This was on the theory I needed something greasing the pan, and everything is better with butter. It would probably work fine with spray or even nothing.

Place the chicken in the baking pan. Cover top of each piece more or less evenly with sauce. Bake until done, perhaps 25 – 30 minutes at 400.

Here’s the sauce on the stove while cooking down:

Here’s the chicken after I put the sauce on, before baking:

Here’s a finished chicken breast:

I don’t know how, but Deb makes arguably the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. Normally I’m more of a baked guy. Some might even say I’m half-baked. Anyway, neither here nor there with respect to the recipe above, this is what Deb made to go perfectly with the hot chicken:

It was amazingly good; a bit on the hot side for Deb, perfect to bordering on excessive for me.

Barbecue Pork and Chicken in Mushroom Soup Gravy

Last night I let Deb do the cooking; a particularly good batch of chicken broccoli alfrado. However, the two nights before that were particularly good ones for my “toss something together” experimentation that makes it impossible to convey recipes.

Two nights ago it was a barbecue shredded pork, but I had started it the night before, at the same time I worked on the chicken.

The first part was cooking it in the crockpot, with a twist. I used water, cider vinegar, a small handful of chopped onion, a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a wee bit of celery flakes. I forgot about the typical addition of brown sugar, then decided to pass when I remembered in time to have sweetened it up a little. Thing is, the sweet isn’t necessarily needed, and perhaps the onions added a subtle touch of sweetening.

That resulted in rather tasty boneless pork loin (there were four pieces, enough to exactly cover the bottom of a large crockpot without any being on top of the rest) with a distinct but not excessively strong peppery flavor. The pork from there would have been good any number of ways, including on a plain sandwich with some mustard.

It went in the fridge until the next evening, and tasted excellent cold.

Based on the flavor, I wanted whatever I did to lean sweeter rather than sharper or spicier. I considered a Chinese inspired sweet & sour type of sauce, shredding or chunking the meet as I would with barbecue, mixing it in and serving it over rice. I considered coming up with kind of a honey mustard sauce, which could presumably go on a sandwich or over rice. I considered coming up with a variant on what I’ve done for barbecue sauce before. That’s where I ended up, as it sounded easiest, tastiest, and fit the idea that for a change we’d just have sandwiches.

I made a concoction that included lots of brown suger (I believe it was 5 heaping tablespoons, and that was as close as I came to measuring anything), some vinegar, a packet of soy sauce (okay, that’s a measurement), more Worcestershire sauce than I normally use in anything, yellow mustard, ketchup, water, garlic powder, red pepper, and allspice. How good was it? I really, really wish I had a recipe. I whisked it smooth, simmered it, tasted and approved, and shredded the pork into it, stirring it in and letting the pork heat via the sauce.

I was shooting to have just enough sauce to coat the pork, with minimal extra to make it sloppy, and somehow succeeded, entirely by eye. There were no “good rolls” on hand, but we had some hot dog rolls in the freezer and employed them. The sauced pork went on the rolls with some cheddar cheese. On the side we ate chips, having an unusual, veggie-free meal.

Two nights ago I craved something along the lines of chicken in gravy over rice. Inspired by a comment by Jen, in which she described something akin to no peek chicken, but in a crockpot, I decided to use cream of mushroom soup in the gravy. I might have attempted something in the crockpot, faking out the onion soup part, but it was too late by the time I thought of that.

So I thawed three chicken breasts, of course, then cut them into small pieces. In the pan I melted some butter with various spices, emphasizing very heavily the crushed bay leaf. I also included amounts ranging from almost none to fairly substantial quantities of other things, including savory, thyme, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, ginger, red pepper, black pepper, celery flakes, oregano, and I believe both chives and parsley. Cooked the chicken until done and the extraneous liquid was largely cooked off, leaving just a bit of remaining butter/oil.

In the meantime, I had filled a Pyrex cup with water, heated it two minutes, then dropped two chicken boullion cubes in it to sit and dissolve.

Moved the chicken to one side of the pan, added a glop more butter, let it melt, whisked in a heaping tablespoon of flour, then another and some of the broth to smooth it out as it overthickens.

Rapidly add the rest of the broth and whisk it in. So far so good. At this point, depending on the dish and consistency, I might add more water, more flour, some sour cream, some milk, or even some flavoring if I tasted and it was lacking. I added a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. It happened to be Wal-Mart’s store brand, which tasted a little different from Campbell’s, but seemed perfectly good. Mixed that in, along with enough more water for appropriate consistency and volume, and stirred the chicken in with the gravy.

The chicken itself had kind of a strong flavor, very oriented to the bay leaf, which I would probably reduce in the future. The gravy was fantastic, with plenty of chicken flavor, yet different, and with little bits of mushroom in it. The peas I served on the side could have gone in it.

I make a meal that size and we always have leftovers. If not of the rice or peas, at least of the meat dish. Not this time.

The kids devoured the chicken. Even Valerie, who eats meat minimally compared to her love of veggies. I gave them each about six piece of chicken, in gravy beside and over a small pile of rice. They each had seconds of probably as much again, Sadie had thirds, and they did a good job on the rice and peas too. The two of us ate heartily, and I finished it when I saw how little would be left. It was particularly good.

It helps that the kids seem to have gotten more in tune with meals, eating more at meal times and snacking less. It also helps to give them an advance taste. That’s a great trick, if you want your kids to be more enthusiastic about what you’re serving. Valerie had an intrigued look I’ve never seen before when I gave her a taste of the gravy when it was almost done. She got a second taste that included chicken, and Sadie got a couple tastes as well. They both liked it enough to be primed for it to appear on the table.

Another trick that can work well to get them to eat well is sort of a “dessert first” serving of a small sweet, or a small snack, shortly before the meal. An M&M or spice drop before dinner tends to make them devour the “real food.”

Fruity Pancakes

Yesterday at lunch time Sadie happened to see me heft the big Bisquick box by way of reminding myself that, yep, it was almost empty and we’d forgotten to buy more. It was one of the things I forgot on the BJ’s run.

That resulted in a chorus of “pancakes! pancakes! daddy make pancakes!”

I looked in the fridge and confirmed we were out of blueberries, which I pictured finishing in a half batch of pancakes for the kids.

Aha! I had an idea.

We have a big bag of BJ’s own brand of trail mix, a particularly fruity variety. It has some almonds and soy beans, and pretends to have a walnut piece here and there, but mainly it has apricot bits, raisins, cranberries, blueberries and cherries. It’s almost too sweet.

I heated a half cup or so of water in a Pyrex cup for 99 seconds in the microwave.

Into the hot water I put a large amount of dried fruit to soften and rehydrate a bit. Never thought of this before, but it’s a great trick for making fruit pancakes without requiring a relevant kind of fresh fruit in the house. Then again, even though they can be made with other kinds, to me the fruit for pancakes is blueberries or bananas. Thus having apples and nectarines on hand was beside the point.

The fruit soaked several minutes. I found there was around a cup and a third or so left in the box, so I finished it, using the Bisquick pancake recipe as if it were the full two cups. Figured the fruit would bulk it up, and a high proportion of egg would help it rise around the fruit as it cooked.

I scooped in the fruit, sans most of the water, and added a handful of sunflower seeds to make it more interesting.

I poured out larger pancakes than usual, doing two on the pan at a time, rather than four. The fruit was heavy and wanted to cluster enough that it was basically a matter of pouring out some batter and then scooping fruit onto it, trying to keep the amount in each appropriate. Otherwise it was just like cooking any old pancakes.

They were fantastic, able to be eaten without syrup, or with minimal syrup. It was a little like having a fruitcake flavored pancake, but not exactly.

Sadie devoured a full two good-sized pancakes. Valerie ate most of one avidly, and overall might have eaten as much as one and a half. They didn’t eat this much when we had blueberry pancakes. I ate the other six.

Definitely a keeper idea, and brilliant given our tendency to have trail mix or raisins in the house. We actually prefer Wal-Mart’s house brand large bags of tropical trail mix to the fruity one from BJ’s, but the fruity one was probably better for this.

Drumstick Rub and Grill Experiment

For the drumsticks I decided to try something based fairly closely on this rub recipe. The source recipe being based around a cup of paprika, resulting in three cups of end product, meant adjusting it down in a big way. I jotted down the ingredients in proportions rather than measures, like this:

1 Paprika
.5 Chili powder
.5 Cumin
1/48 Black pepper

And so forth.

My approximate measure mixed together thoroughly were:

1 Tablespoon Paprika
1/2 Tablespoon Chili Powder
1/3 Tablespoon (which is a lot like a teaspoon, eh?) Cumin
1/4 Tablespoon or less Black Pepper
A couple dashes Red Pepper
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar (rather than white)
1/8 Tablespoon Thyme
1/8 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
1/8 Tablespoon or less Onion Powder
A few dashes Salt
Dash of Allspice
Pinch of Savory

The last two ingredients are additions. Brown sugar is a substitution. based on my experience using it in similar stuff. For what it’s worth, I didn’t have trouble with the sugar burning on the grill, though I read in recipes that lacked it a warning not to use it for the grill for that reason.

A few hours before we went to the BYOM (bring your own meat) cookout, I made the rub, coated the seven drumsticks well, including under a large bit of detached skin, put them in a sealable plastic bag, tossed in much of the rest of the rub, and shook it to coat them even more. That went in the refrigerator for a few hours, then into the well-iced cooler for what turned out to be a few hours more.

I knew we would never eat them all, but wanted to let other people try them, especially if they turned out good.

I cooked them quite a while on the gas grill, turning them over a couple times. Depending where they were, they ranged from apparently cooked to falling off the bone.

The first one I tried tasted too peppery, and also seemed suspiciously underdone. It was probably fine; just not falling apart as I like. The second one I tried was quite good, but I would change the recipe. Meaning I’d do what felt right, as I usually do, rather than close to what a recipe said to do.

The third one I ate was also tasty. My nephew tried one and approved. Enough so that he ate three more, finally encountering an over-peppered one on his last drumstick and seeing what I meant about that first one.

Mostly, though, a success.

What would I do if I were trying this again? Less pepper and paprika. Possibly more, and additional, poultry seasonings. Possibly more of something like allspice or ginger. Perhaps more lightly applied rub.

I once did a chicken rub centered around orange (I’m amazed I found the recipe so readily to link it). Something like that might be interesting on a grill. Heck, I baked it, but the section has a focus on barbecues and grilling, so yeah. Heck, had I thought of it sooner, I even have oranges in the house because Sadie was with me at the farm stand and wanted them. And I have cloves, which I don’t believe I did when I made that rub before. Even if I do have to grind them myself.

Anyway, that’s the result. I didn’t think of taking pictures, though I could have as we had the camera. Oh well.

Pancakes

For lunch today I made blueberry pancakes at Sadie’s request. She’d never had them, but was intrigued by the blueberry pancakes in a Curious George book. The kids absolutely adored them, and they were right to do so. That was half or so of the batter, matched to the amount of blueberries remaining from a recently on sale pint the kids had been enjoying.

While I was at it, I used strawberry pieces in some of the batter, for strawberry pancakes, which are something I don’t recall ever having or hearing of before, though I could be mistaken.

The last of the batter made four plain pancakes.

This is intended in large part to be an audience participation post, and it occurs to me it goes beyond what fruits or other things you might have tried in pancakes, to the very stuff of pancakes themselves.

We buy industrial size boxes of Bisquick at BJ’s and have them around for months to use when the need arises, for pancakes or otherwise. I tend to add far more milk and often more egg than called for by the box recipe, but otherwise it’s that simple and they are pretty yummy. Sometimes we have corn pancakes, made from small boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, also quite yummy. I haven’t tried making pancakes from scratch, but surely it’d be no big deal. Ironically, I have made crepes from scratch; similar enough. My father has at times made excellent pancakes out of a grainy mix that he further embellished. How about you; box, scratch, something unusual?

The most common fruit pancakes I’ve made, or had as a kid, are banana. Blueberry would have to be next. We had wild blueberries right around the house so in season there would be no shortage, Ditto for both wild and cultivated strawberries, which is why I am intrigued that I don’t recall strawberry pancakes. They were good today. I believe I’ve had peaches in pancakes. Not sure what else. Do you have a preferred addition to your pancakes, or something you tried that may or may not have been such a good idea?

I found myself wondering why we don’t eat them more often, apart from wanting to sleep afterward. We were low enough on syrup, I also used some boysenberry jam on some of mine, and shared it with the kids. That was good! Brings back memories of boysenberry syrup at IHOP when I was a kid.

What do you put on your pancakes? Real maple syrup? Fake or sugar free syrup? Other syrup flavors? Jam? Butter? Something else? Cold or warmed syrup?

Look at how something so simple as pancakes can turn into such a variable culinary delight.

Barbecue Shredded Pork Experiment

Wednesday I decided to try making up a barbecue shredded pork dish, not following a specific recipe, starting similarly to my barbecue shredded beef.

I had two pounds of boneless pork loin steak that had been on sale for $1.29/lb and was due either to be used or frozen. In the crockput I put a cup of water, just over an eight cup of cider vinegar, and about a quarter cup of brown sugar. I added the pork, cut into large chunks, with the worst fat removed but not a lot of effort made along those lines. I set the crockpot for the 4 hours on high setting and went to do things.

After three hours or so, I tossed in some celery flakes and pepper flake. I’d guess it was a teaspoon or so of each. It was nice to make something in which the pepper flakes fit logically, and it gave me a chance to see what they were like essentially rehydrated and cooked, as opposed to the more common use, in which I don’t partake, sprinkling them on pizza. Which isn’t as bad as pouring salt on your pizza, as my cousin used to do, before it turned out he had a funky heart problem for which low salt was legitimately helpful.

After the four hours was well over and it was sitting there on the automatic warm cycle, I scooped out the meat and shredded it, which meant touching it with minimal force and watching it fall apart. I put the liquid aside, except enough to cover the bottom of the crockpot.

I added a quarter cupt of honey to the crockpot before I shredded the pork. Timing probably doesn’t matter.

I added back the pork and ended up adding back all the liquid, but your mileage may vary, and it turned out more watery than it seemed it would.

I used dry mustard, ketchup, more vinegar, a little red pepper, a little onion powder, a little black pepper, and more brown sugar. This is subject to taste and to varying, and the flavor changes as it sits. I started with 1/2 cup of ketchup and ended up with a total of 3/4 cup or more. Brown sugar was probably 1/4 cup, maybe less. Vinegar was maybe a tablespoon. Dry mustard, the main source of heat, was perhaps as much as 1/2 tablespoon, but no more. The other spices we’re talking a dash or two or three.

It came out sweet, with clear overtones of honey flavor, with a tang. It was very different, but delicious. I’ll change it up next time, which Deb is eager for, and see if I can make it even better.

I had bought rolls at the farmstand, but we still had French bread needing to be finished. The rolls went in the freezer. We served the shredded pork on slices of French bread, with some cheddar cheese on top, and ate it with forks rather than as sandwiches. On the side we had corn on the cob, which I can no longer buy three ears of at a time, as the kids need a full ear each.

It is worth noting that after cooking in the crockpot with the vinegar, water, brown sugar, and addition of celery and pepper near the end, the pork was fantastic and would have made yummy sandwiches with no further ingredients added. Or it could have been served as a meat dish with sides, rather than on bread.

I could also see cooking up the meat to where it shreds, then adding a commercial barbecue sauce for convenience. No spices or guessing needed.

As usual, I took some pictures. As usual, they are on the camera as yet.

Pita Pocket Bread and Hummus Experiments

So I experimented making two related foods: pita bread and hummus. The recipes linked are what I followed most closely, though I tend to do a survey of various recipes for a given item and get a feel for what they involve and have in common, and what might make good variants. It is worth noting that Triticale has an interesting hummus recipe that goes into the many possible variations.

Pictures are at the end of the post.

Pita is basically just one of the many forms of flatbread that seem common in wide swaths of the world. You start to see what the differences and commonalities are, but whether it’s made with lard and salt water, milk and yeast, water and yeast, in the oven or on a pan, coated with egg yolk, clarified butter, oil, or nothing, it all starts with some form of flour and results in a more or less flat result that can be used to wrap or pick up food. Pita pocket bread is different in that it’s commonly encouraged to puff up so there is a pocket when you’re done. Perhaps it will work that way for me next time.

The result tasted awesome. We learned it does not keep long out in a zipper bag in the kitchen in summer. Next time, we refrigerate, as you do with flour tortillas.

We had them with the hummus, but more so with butter, peanut butter, or honey. I even tried a little straight tahini on a pita chip. Tahini is essentially natural “peanut butter” made out of sesame seeds; sesame butter, if you will. It has a nutty flavor, and will make your mouth stick together worse than any peanut butter I ever tried. I’m convinced it mainly needs to be used in other foods, or with something else; perhaps tahini plus honey on a cracker or bread, for instance.

The dough turned out way too sticky. To work with the stuff at all, the rolled out dough was thick with flour on the outside. They were baked that way and it looked funny. This recipe called oil in the bowl in which the dough rises, such that the whole thing has a coating. Other recipes called for brushing a little oil on the rolled out pita before it baked. Afghanistan’s variant of flat bread is essentially the same as pita bread, but you score it and brush it with egg yolk before baking.

So, next time the dough gets more flour or less water in it to keep it from being so sticky, and I’d be inclined to brush them with olive oil before baking.

Also, the oven needs to have more time than I gave it to warm up, and the higher the temperature, the better. The recipe says 500. I ended up at 550, and it’s apparently traditional to do them in ovens that can be more like 700. The first batch was cooked, but just.

I did get some puffing. Any degree to which I was able or bothered to turn any of the result into pockets required a knife to insist that they open.

They were just plain tasty. The kids loved them. They also made pretty good chips. I cut one into little triangles and used top brown in the toaster oven to crisp them. That worked perfectly.

They were kind of a pain in some ways, but overall pretty easy.

Hummus is basically cooked, ground up chick peas, also called garbanzo beans, with some other stuff, most notably tahini. Most of the time you are using lemon juice, and I wish I’d had fresh. They also call for garlic. All the recipes I’ve seen call for canned beans, and I can see where that would be convenient. I just happened to have dry beans.

I used have the 16 oz package, quick soaking them as I would pinto beans. That is, put them in a pan of water, bring it to a boil, then immediately turn it off, let them soak and hour or more, then drain, add fresh water, and cook.

I used two cloves of chopped garlic. That was too much, without having used more lemon juice or something else to balance it.

When the beans are ready, you’re basically running them through a blender or food processor to turn them and the other ingredients into dip-like paste. I used the cooking water from the beans as needed when it was too thick.

I departed from the recipe by adding a little red pepper and cumin from the spice cabinet. I also goofed and forgot to add the olive oil, which I should have remembered after looking at a variety of hummus recipes. It does work as an addition when serving, but the hummus would have been better with it added. Finally, I see it says to grind the chick peas, cool them, then add the rest. Oops. I was only half paying attention to the recipe.

Frankly, I am more interested in making pita bread again than in making hummus again, but Deb enjoyed it enough that it might be worth an experiment… with real lemon and more of it this time, and some other adjustments. The pita bread is just a nice variant to have for sandwich-like usage, it doesn’t need the hummus as an excuse. Plus the kids loved the bread and hated the hummus, and there’s pretty much nothing they don’t eat.

Okay, here are the pictures. First, the beans cooking:

Hummus in the blender. I started with the food processor but it was both too small to hold it all at once, and surprisingly ineffective at complete and consistent choppage:

Hummus as served in a bowl, with a little olive oil and red pepper added:

Now the pitas, starting with the dough, still there despite having risen:

The dough after splitting it up. I made 13 of these, but might have been better to make no more than 10 and roll them a bit thicker:

Uncooked pita dough, rolled and ready for the oven:

Pitas on the cookie sheet:

Stack of cooked pitas:

Pita chips:

Chili and Refried Beans

Sharon has what sounds like a tasty and easy chili recipe, complete with actual measurements. I notice it doesn’t call for chili powder, but you’ll note that it includes all the components of chili powder: cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic and oregano. I also love cornbread with chili. Her post and the cold weather inspired me to make some last night, even if it is nontraditional with pasta and red sauce. The kids just love it, until they get full and merely turn it into tiny crumbs.

I made my version of chili the other day and meant to write about it, so I thought it was funny we were doing unplanned chili synchronization between households.

First a bit about history.

Once upon a time, I used to make what I call faux chili based on cheap cans of Campbell’s Pork & Beans. Which isn’t so odd, in that they are pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce, and chili seems to be made normally with pinto and/or kidney beans. I considered it both tasty and part of eating cheap, which will be the topic of another post Real Soon Now. Let’s just say I didn’t know from eating cheap, and didn’t know at the time that cans of those beans on sale 3 or 4 to a dollar was not that cheap.

Back then, I’d cook up some pepper and onion if I had it, ground beef, toss in beans, season it mainly with chili powder, add some ketchup and a squirt of yellow mustard, add sugar or brown sugar as needed, and serve it to myself for 2 or 3 big meals. It was quite good. I believe I also used tomato paste at least sometimes.

Lately I’ve discovered the joys of dry beans, taking it back closer to scratch and being really cheap. When I knew I was spending my last cash for probably a couple weeks on stocking up groceries last week (except a little reserved for milk and a few other run-outs), knowing the rate we’d been using them and comparing the unit price, I bought a 64 oz. bag of pinto beans instead of the customary one or two 16 oz bags.

Dry beans require planning. You can’t get to 5:00 or 6:00 and say “hey, let’s have beans!” We put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, then turn them off and let the gassiness soak out of the beans for an hour or more before draining them and adding fresh water for the actual cooking.

At that point you have beans on their way to ready for whatever you mean to make. Heck, you could serve just beans with some butter, salt and pepper on them, the way my father loves shell beans. When I set out to make chili, I wasn’t sure if it would be truly ready on time, and even if so, we would also want refried beans around in the next couple days for burritos.

I cooked 16 oz. of beans, 2 cups dry, and when they were cooked enough, I took two cups or so wet out of the pan, and some of the water as needed, for refried beans.

For the refried beans, I actually used a medium sauce pan. I threw in a generous chunk of butter (probably 3 tablespoons), cooked a handful of chopped fresh garlic, onion and green pepper, all of which are optional or could be replaced with dry seasonings. All you really need is beans, if you want nothing more than their yummy flavor. What I missed is an effective masher, and I’d not cooked the beans to the point of mush before splitting them for refried and chili.

When the flavoring veggies were cooked right (translucent onions, for instance), I threw in the beans, did a lot of smooshing and stirring as best I could, adding liquid as needed to keep them from being too stiff and dry to work with or to cook without burning. I also added I forget what else, but mainly cumin, not a lot, and possibly some red pepper, cilantro or oregano. The beans came out tasting mostly like beans, to give some idea; more enhanced than flavored. They were absolutely fantastic and got raves. We did indeed have burritos that night and let the chili simmer longer. It was interesting making two suppers at once, but a huge treat not cooking the second day.

The stiff texture of the beans made me picture making sandwiches based on them. I figured mix a small amount of finely shredded meat in with them, maybe use meat broth to imbue them with meat flavor, and there you’d have a serious meat stretcher or substitute. Which means I just reinvented the idea of falafel, sort of.

Back to the chili…

My new favorite thing to do is make chili not with expensive ground beef, but with the cheapest on sale beef, like top round for London broil at $1.69 or whatever. By comparison, I recently bought 90% ground beef and by buying it in a 6.67 lb package at BJ’s got the remarkably low price of $2.29. Chili would be fine with the fattier ground beef, fortunately, but we normally buy and freeze one kind and use as needed, rather than running to the store specifically for a variant for a meal we decided to make.

I cut the beef into small chunks and add it to a frying pan with, optionally, stuff like chopped garlic, pepper and onion. I add spices to it, or to the butter before it goes in, including but not always celery flakes, cilantro, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, allspice, ginger, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Without the real versions added, that would include garlic and onion. I basically stir regularly and cook until done, letting some of the juice cook off but keeping some.

If I ever remember, I will probably throw a small amount of vinegar in with the meat not long after it starts cooking.

In the meantime, I’ve thrown some chili powder and maybe other spices into the beans. Tomato-based stuff can go in before or after the meat. I normally use tomato paste, as small can, and ketchup, using more as needed later to adjust the flavor. Diced tomato, tomato soup, or whatever would work, depending what you have and what you like. The beauty of chili is it’s highly variable and a matter of taste.

A little vinegar can be good, giving it added tang, especially if you are not using ketchup, or have too little ketchup on hand. I keep forgetting until the chili is well underway, and then this time I added too much. The small dribble turned into a good sized glug. It didn’t ruin the chili, but it added more tang than I planned and needed to cook and soak in far longer to balance the flavor.

After everything is mixed together, it’s just cook, stir, taste, adjust as needed. I normally throw in a not insignificant amount of brown and/or white sugar. I normally add more chili powder at least once, and perhaps other spices depending how strong the flavor seems. If you get it too spicy, it remains too spicy, but at least sugar tends to ease the bite.

What amounts to no more than 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag of beans and no more than 2 lbs of beef makes us two good meals. It can be served with shredded cheese, a dab of sour cream, tortilla chips, bread and butter, or corn bread as mentioned earlier. It can be made thinner or thicker. It can be made in greater or lesser proportions of beef to beans. It can be made hotter or milder. Whatever I start with, mine tends to come out in a particular taste range, frankly almost identical to the taste I used to achieve starting with Campbell’s beans and owning a smaller variety of spices. I haven’t tried it on hot dogs yet…

I actually have pictures off the camera in time to use them in the actual post. Some orphan pictures should follow today in their own post. I had some fun with raw ingredient or cooking stage pictures this time around, just plain trying to get interesting pictures.

Partially cooked and then mostly done refried beans:

The chili, done or near the end:

Leftover Meatloaf Adventure

I was going to make chili today, but fell asleep at my desk about the time I’d have started the beans. By the time I remembered after waking again, it was too late.

Just as well, as we had beef the past two nights. The first was Deb’s meatloaf. The second was an experiment in using the leftover meatloaf. It may have been sparked by unconsciously remembering my mother making meatloaf burgers in sauce when I was in my teens. We had meatloaf burgers regularly, perhaps to stretch the meat, or perhaps to save time over baking in meatloaf form, or maybe both.

When you get meatloaf at a restaurant, gravy seems to be the norm. I never had gravy on meatloaf when I was a kid. In fact, gravy wasn’t a big thing at all. Since I discovered my talent for making gravy, I’ve come to see how it might have developed as a way to increase the richness and food value of a meal cheaply. Not to mention being a way to impart extra flavor or moisture. I made gravy once for meatloaf, a while back, but forgot this time. When we decided the leftovers would be supper the next night, as opposed to lunch – usually I have a meatloaf sandwich – I decided to make some.

I wanted it to be different, though.

I crumbled up a small hamburger I defrosted, this being to supplement the fact the meatloaf itself was limited. I cooked it with some butter and spices. I set out to complement the meatloaf, which was heavy on oregano, and otherwise spiced mainly with cumin.

I used some garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper, oregano, cushed bay leaf, cumin, and a wee bit of ginger and allspice. At this point Deb was making yummy smell noises from the living room.

Usually when I make gravy I heat a cup of water for two minutes in the microwave and drop two boullion cubes into it. I used one.

With the beef cooked, I moved that to the side, added 2 – 3 more tablespoons of butter and started adding flour to cook in it when that was mostly melted. It solidified right up so I started dribbling beef stock in, stirring, adding more flour, and so forth. It was two heaping tablespoons of flour. Then I added the rest of the beef stock.

Now the departure: I added half a cup of ketchup. This was too much, so I ended up doing far more adjusting than I would have liked. Tomato soup, paste or sauce could also have worked, while varying the exact flavor and how it might have needed tweaking. I am sure that what my mother served with meatloaf burgers was tomato soup based, if not essentially nothing more than tomato soup.

After the ketchup and stirring in the crumbled burger, I had to add more water and then more flour. In adjusting the taste, which had an oddly astringent quality, I added more cumin a couple times, a pinch more red pepper, black pepper, and brown sugar. I also added an entire beef boullion cube to the gravy and let it dissolve in. So much for using only one.

The idea was to get moderately spiced beef gravy tinged with ketchup – another item used in the meatloaf too – rather than ketchup flavored gravy. I succeeded, after all the tweaking.

Once I was happy with the gravy, I set slices of cold meatloaf in it and covered the pan for a couple minutes. Then I flipped them, stirred the gravy around them a bit and covered them longer. It was a nice way to heat the cold meatloaf.

We ate the meatloaf and gravy/sauce over rice, with lima beans on the side. The kids devoured it! Valerie was more interested in the lima beans, but she ate everything. Sadie especially loved the leatloaf and gravy. Deb enjoyed it, despite having been initially concerned over my adding ketchup. She thought I succeeded in my goal of complementing the flavor of the meatloaf in how I spiced the gravy.

I’d do something like it again, though it would remain subject to experimentation.

Sounds weird, eh? I’ll have pictures, but they’re still on the camera now. The pictures make it look great.

Banana Cream Pie

I’d never made it before, though it’s something I’ve always loved. Recently I bought various flavors of pudding on the idea the kids would like it, it’s cheap, we always have milk and, at the time, still had to worry about it all getting used without spoiling. On the banana pudding package it talks about making pie.

So I eventually spent 98¢ on a premade graham cracker crust, made a point of buying banana, even though they’re optional, and spent 99¢ on Cool Whip late this afternoon, even though it’s optional. I’d intended to make it this afternoon, early enough to have ample chilling time so we could have it right after supper. Ended up not doing it until the kids were in bed. It got less than two hours of chilling before we ate a couple sloppy pieces of it. Yum!

I used the traditional pudding you cook, which I think I should have let boil slightly longer so it would set better. That poured in the crust after sitting in the pan several minutes per the box instructions. I wasn’t sure about whether to add the banana then or later or what. I took a chance, sliced one up and covered the top, then refrigerated it while the Cool Whip sat out to thaw.

Later I spread an ample layer of Cool Whip over the top and learned why owning a pie server might actually have merit. Then back in the fridge. It tasted amazing, messy or not. The girls ought to love it tomorrow, whenever we get around to it, as there is a big graduation party to attend.

So. Any better ideas or advice on making banana cream pie, or other simple pie-like or pudding-based treats?