Author Archive: Jay

Pancake Twist

The kids love pancakes, and they’re an inexpensive, easy meal, not driven out of line even by the addition of scrambled eggs with ham and cheese.

I bought a bag of corn flour a while back, and haven’t used it for anything except as a substitute for part of the white flour in a banana bread. That I won’t do again, as I thought it detracted, rather than added. Then again, the bit of the banana bread we made into French toast may have been enhanced by it.

A few days ago, pancakes it was, and for us that means Bisquick. I’d like to test making scratch pancakes sometime, but Bisquick is convenient and tasty.

The recipe calls for two cups of Bisquick. I used under two cups, but added an ambiguous somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of the corn flour. The total was somewhere between an even two cups, and a little below.

The corn flour was not overt in the resulting pancakes, but the batter was thinner than normal, without adding extra milk as I usually have to do. It also seemed to affect in a subtle, positive way how they “tanned” in cooking. They were tasty, perhaps subtly less cakey.

I’d absolutely do that again. I also wouldn’t mind making my own corn pancakes

, as opposed to using Jiffy corn muffin mix. I figure follow a recipe for scratch pancakes, which I could probably guess at edibly enough if I were stuck without access to a recipe, but use half or more corn flour mixed with white flour.

Anyway, I just thought to mention it. I have a backlog of stuff to post here, though I won’t generate much new until we are financially more stable. There’s only so much I could post about cooking on the cheap, before I start trying things I’ve not made and perhaps not wanted or been able to afford before, let alone now.

Pilaf Experiment

We love chicken Rice-a-Roni, and usually eat it as part of a periodic meat-free supper, which gives us variety and saves a little money. Well, until we’re so broke that Rice-a-Roni is a luxury versus, say, plain rice.

I’d realized recently that I could probably make something vaguely like Rice-a-Roni myself. I don’t know exactly what they use for flavorings, apart from obviously chicken, and I’m pretty sure there’s salt, saffron and sage in there. Chicken seasoning, generally. I may even be wrong about the saffron, and I certainly can’t replicate that as I have yet to spend the $21 required to buy some at Wal-Mart.

Most of the time I will search online for recipes to examine and, if not follow, source for ideas. I didn’t do that. Deb had suggested breaking up spaghetti into tiny pieces for the pasta component. We had some we were given that looked thinner than the store brand we usually buy, so I used that, ultimately cutting little bits off a few strands at a time with kitchen shears. Worked well, aiming them into a cup, with just a few jumpers.

I used almost a cup and a half of white rice. Someone in the family gave us a 10 lb bag of Goya brand. Usually we buy and use brown rice, but it’s nice to have both available, with white being better for this. To that I added a quarter cup or so of pasta bits. The proportion looked remarkably like Rice-a-Roni, so I figured I was on the right track.

In the meantime, I had put a cup of water in the microwave for a couple minutes, then dropped a bullion cube into it. In practice the dish needed two, so next time I would add the second one up front.

To the water I also added seasonings. Mainly I wanted any that would benefit from softening and releasing flavor in the water, like celery flakes, but for convenience I ended up putting all of in there. I was conservative with everything except the turmeric, and that wasn’t intentional. It was mainly for color, but the flavor worked, as long as it wasn’t all you could taste, which is why I ended up with the second bullion cube. Which was still a good idea, based on volume. I also added white pepper, rosemary, savory, poultry seasoning, lots of (powdered) sage, and tiny bits of crushed bay leaf, oregano, cumin, marjoram, and probably something I’m forgetting. Plus salt, which feels weird because I seldom use it, and at that I didn’t use much.

I followed the standard procedure, as if it were an oversized box of Rice-a-Roni. Three tablespoons of butter, melted in a frying pan that has a cover, then the rice and pasta tossed in and swished around to get coated with butter, stirring periodically until a lot of the pasta picked up a tan.

Then I poured in the cup of seasoned broth, and added about two more cups of water. It looked like it was going to run low later, so I added a quarter or so more. Rice cooking proportions, basically.

In this instance I added a bullion cube to the pan while there was still substantial water, after I realized I needed more, and I sprinkled on more poultry seasoning, sage, and rosemary to help enhance and balance the expected flavor. Mostly, though, I simmered and stirred until done, exactly as if it were Rice-a-Roni. Our poor high-sided frying pan has seen better days, so I have to watch it or it sticks badly in the middle, closest to the heat, where the coating gets mosts stressed.

It was beautiful to look at, nice and fluffy. Everyone loved it, but it was extremely mild in flavor. You knew you weren’t eating Just Rice, but it could have stood up to a lot more herbification. Now I’m eager to experiment. I can picture how I would improve on it, modify it, even make completely alternate varieties, like beef.

We ate it with a giant butternut squash, which was tasty and added heft to the meal, and green beans, which the kids – well, Valerie – ate better than I’d expected. Excellent combo.

Lentil Barley Chicken Soup

I roasted a little 4 pound chicken yesterday, and we ended up devouring the whole thing in one meal. Never saw the kids eat so much chicken or gravy. Bother were especially good, though.

That left me with a carcass that could still be used for stock and some meat for a smaller soup, but nothing as meaty as usual when I do that. That came together with my itch to try something different, like a lighter soup (usually I make more of a stew), or something with beans or lentils, and with my realization (duh) that I could cook some standalone chicken to add if I had a skimpy carcass, or wanted to make soup without having roasted a chicken. It’s just something that comes to mind with a whole chicken in the name of maximizing food value.

I decided to try inventing what amounted to a lentil soup in chicken stock. I hadn’t eaten lentils, as far as I can recall, since my mother made lentil soup from surplus food lentils when I was a teenager. I didn’t even consult recipes for inspiration, as I do most of the time. For instance, to see what people spice lentils with in soups or other dishes.

In an effort to get a bone-free cooking down of the carcass, I used the pasta insert in the stock pot, with maybe an inch of water up into the insert at its height, and the carcass simmering and steaming there. I turned it regularly to cook the chicken flavor and residual spices into the water, while softening up the remaining meat to shred off.

That worked well. Once I had the meat off the bones, I removed the insert and put the meat in the water, then added things like celery flakes, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf pieces, and I forget what else. It was completely unmeasured, but not huge amounts of any one thing.

I started thawing three boneless chicken breasts, one tiny and the other two maybe middling. While that happened, I cut up two modest cloves of garlic and a small onion, cooked them up lightly in butter in the frying pan I planned to used for the chicken, then put the majority into the pot, turning the heat off until I could cook the chicken.

When the chicken was thawed, I trimmed as needed and cut it into tiny pieces, not exactly cubes, but on that idea. That went in the frying pan and cooked through, with the residual onion and garlic, to the point of browning on one side. As it started cooking, I added a little red pepper, some sage, a lot of black pepper, some savory, a little more celery flakes, and probably something I’m forgetting.

When that was done, I added it to the broth, then immediately added some barley and close to half a bag of lentils. The lentils could have waited a little longer, as they cook fast, but they didn’t liquefy completely as peas seem to do. Or perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough to find out…

When the rest was essentially done, I added half a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, more for added color and interest than because there was any need. Where I didn’t add raw carrots as I usually do in a chicken soup, you could easily. I also tend to use frozen peas in a chicken soup, but lentils and peas would kind of overlap. Both of those were represented in the mix, at any rate.

I also spiced it a little more as it cooked and as I tasted. That included a little basil, as I thought it needed the sweetening effect that would bring, though the frozen veggies also help take out the kind of bite I wanted to counter.

In the course of it I used a tiny pinch of nutmeg, earlier, and a tiny amount of turmeric, which I have been using in, well, nothing really. It felt right. It’s a spice that I didn’t find I could match well to foods based on how it smelled. You know, smelling it and being able to say “that would go well in that dish” or “that would complement those other spices in this dish” almost intuitively.

Oh, so the soup? Raves. The kids each got a taste ahead of time. One loved it, then didn’t touch hers to speak of. The other one wasn’t excited by it, but ate a significant portion, mainly the chunks of chicken I made sure were in her bowl plentifully. Deb and I could barely get enough of it. I had feared it being too onion flavored, but that didn’t stand out at all. In fact, nothing did. I’d say I could detect a hint of the turmeric

, but the flavors blended nicely, and the textures and relative amounts of the barley, chicken and lentils were perfect.

I took some pictures, but I was enthusiastic enough that I thought I’d post rather than trying to remember after some delay.

I will definitely make something like it again. We served it with French bread on the side, which doubles as something the kids will fill up on, even if they aren’t keen on the main dish.

Chicken Melt

Simple yet tasty. At lunch yesterday I had the kids by myself, so I thought about giving them tuna, despite Sadie’s “no!” when asked. That made me think of tuna melts to be different, especially given the presence of a chunk of sharp cheddar – almost too sharp – that the kids seem to love.

Then I remembered a boneless chicken breast with sweet barbecue sauce I had leftover from the oven a couple days ago.

I sliced that thin, across the grain, and laid it out on two slices of bread in the toaster oven tray. I topped it with large crumbs of sharp cheddar, not covering it completely, as with slices or a coherent layer of shredded cheese, though YMMV.

In it went for a top brown cycle. With tuna I’d often do part of a second top brown cycle to make the cheese especially melty and bubbly, but for the chicken that was enough.

It was delicious. A shame the kids weren’t enthusiastic, distracted instead by the Terra vegetable chips I noticed we had and served with it. Speaking of unexpectedly tasty things that perhaps shouldn’t work, but do. Sadie wouldn’t eat hers but guarded it with her life. I ate half of Valerie’s, and she did eat most of the rest.

Anyway, it turned out to be a cool thing to do with leftover chicken.

Sweet Potato Fritters Experiment

A couple days ago I came up with an idea, inspired by plain old potato hash browns Deb made not long ago, and the zucchini fritters I tried. Why not something has brown/fritter/potato pancake-like with sweet potatoes?

So I risked one modest sweet potato on an experiment. I peeled and then shredded it into a bowl. I diced finely a couple slices of s small to medium onion

, guessing correctly that it would go well. I added an egg, just a dab of oil, a couple heaping tablespoons of flour, a glop – probably a couple tablespoons – of maple syrup, and a handful – probably a quarter or third cup – of brown sugar. Also a dash of ginger and about half the size dash of nutmeg. Mixed it all thoroughly, which gave me something about the right texture.

I cooked flat round globs of the mix in some oil in a frying pan until they seemed to be done, which due to sugar caramelizing tended to mean they were unexpectedly dark. Flipped a couple times as needed and then put them on a plate.

I would love to say they were perfect, but they need further experimentation. However, I was on the right track. They were delicious, if too sweet and too caramelized, and got raves from Deb, who thought the onion was inspired and in perfect proportion. Since onion itself tends to fry up sweet, it’s not as weird as it might sound.

Doing them again, I would probably cut the syrup and/or brown sugar out almost completely, relying on native sweetness. I was thinking the sugar would also contribute to holding them together in patties, but it probably wasn’t enough of a factor to matter.

I’ll have to try it again soon, as I still have a few sweet potatoes that will need to be used. It does make a good sweet potato extender. One small to medium potato was enough for the four of us to have plenty. It’s also a taste sub, at least with so much sweetener, for candied sweet potatoes, but with less work. We had them with oven barbecued chicken (par cooked on the stoved, smothered in sauce of my off the cuff making, then baked at length, drumsticks for me and the kids and boneless breast for Deb), mashed, and corn.

Fish Stew

In reading A Meeting At Corvallis, mention of fish stew (which would have to be the same as a fish chowder) served in a restaurant made me crave something like that, which seems odd but there you go. Having been into making soups and stews lately, it seems that much more intriguing.

Have you ever made such a thing? Any recipes or tips to share?

I would think that would make it possible to use fish that might not be as good served another way.

Thanksgiving Dinner Time

When do you eat Thanksgiving dinner?

Traditionally in my family it has been a mid-day meal

, as early as noon to as late as 2:00 or so, but essentially lunch. In Deb’s family it was always a late day meal, when supper would be, allowing time for the turkey to cook without getting up early.

I forgot between last and this year that we went with her timing, so I was all focused on having things ready by early afternoon, even planning to get up early, as I did do for one holiday involving turkey; perhaps that was Christmas. Or perhaps that was a day when I made a turkey for company.

It does make sense, though it also feels weird. Thus we’ve eaten leftover spaghetti for lunch today, and the turkey is still in the oven, probably about ready for attention again.

Thanksgiving Eve

Do you have a traditional meal the night before Thanksgiving?

For us it seems to have accidentally become pasta with red sauce. That avoid poultry overload and produces non-poultry leftovers for one meal in the subsequent two days.


Yesterday I made popcorn the old-fashioned way for the first time in many years. I long resisted microwave popcorn due to the absurd cost

, until eventually I was seduced by the convenience. It also helped that I was in a position where messy preparation was frowned upon, where I used little enough oil that it tended to go bad before I could use it, and where the price of microwave popcorn wasn’t literally out of reach. When I went through my poorest phase, many days my food for the day was a giant pan of cheap popcorn.

Traditionally, I would use melted butter, maybe a light amount of salt, but usually butter alone.

Yesterday I made a smaller pan of popcorn for a snack. That was between half and two-thirds what I used to make for myself, yet it was a big snack for four of us. We used Deb’s flavoring of choice, besides the butter, sprinkling it with Parmesan and Romano cheese (the combined stuff is way better than parm alone, so that’s what I buy). That was awesome.

That and memories of childhood got me thinking about things to make with popcorn, and ways to flavor it. What’s your favorite?

I once tried a recipe for taco flavored popcorn, which would have been better were it not microwave stuff. I think that’s the only deviation I’ve ever made before yesterday. I can remember once or twice stringing popcorn and cranberries for the Christmas tree, in a non-food use. I can remember having some kind of popcorn balls. I figure inventing something like that would be easy enough.

Any suggestions or recipes?

Pie Crust

I am planning to make pie Real Soon Now. As in I have apples, I have unsalted butter if that’s what it takes, etc.

I have never made crust. At least, not since I was a kid, with maternal assistance.

Any recommendations, be it by way or recipes or tips? Mainly I am thinking of traditional pastry crust, though I will want to do a crust more suited to pudding pies or cheesecakes at some point, too.