Comfort-Cookin'Well, if you recall my News Year’s resolution to get this blog out every 6-8 weeks, you’ll know I have failed, big time.  Unfortunately, life happens.  I will try harder since I do think about this blog daily.

My biggest tip is to cook in quantity so that there are leftovers to share. I cook once a week and aim for 14 portions. We have 2 portions that night (usually Sunday when hubby is home to help if I need it) and then freeze the rest in individual microwaveable containers (ours are Pyrex with vented plastic lids). That way we can have a different thing each night for dinner that meets our diet restrictions without having the extra effort of cooking from scratch each night – other than blanching the broccoli and cutting up the tomato and cucumber from hubby’s garden to put on the lettuce for my salad. by the way, since the freezer is always full it uses less energy, by the way. Since I cook once a week to do this the variety of our diets is terrific. Current options in the freezer include: trout with quinoa, white beans with buckwheat, ancient grains corn & quinoa pasta with homemade poultry sausage sauce, crab cakes, herb chicken tenders with roasted potatoes, lentil loaf, pea soup and lentil soup.

For more ideas, check out, Lovin’ Them Leftovers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my husband said I made the best “leftovers” meals (secret is to think “new” not “leftover”).  Hopefully my ideas will give you some of your own.

Have you noticed how large boneless chicken breasts are (unless you buy the perfect portions ones which are a little higher priced)?  Unless I am going to cut them into slices (crosswise after cooking) I cut them in half lengthwise with my kitchen scissors.  Big appetites can have two of them; the rest of us one.  Just make sure they are fairly equal in size so they cook uniformly.

Recently, I have been making our salad dressings from scratch (except for Caesar and Ranch).  They are quick and easy to make and taste so much better than the bottled type. One of the main ingredients in nearly any dressing is vinegar.  I wanted to share with you some of the different ones I keep on hand because they can definitely create an easy “Wow” factor to your cooking.  Except for white vinegar, I stay away from store brands here.  I haven’t found one that meets my expectations yet.  Brand suggestions are my own, not TPC’s.  Past TPC Comfort Cookin’ blogs have recipes which use many of them (as well as some salad dressings with main dish salads).

White vinegar: definitely not a “wow” factor ingredient, but useful in things like a cucumber salad.  It is bland (to say the least), but sharp. If you go on the Internet, you can find many uses for it for health and cleaning.

Cider vinegar: Now we are cooking. This is a fruity vinegar made from apple juice which is inexpensive and tangy. Some dressings call for a cider vinegar and it defiantly shines in barbecue sauces. It works well also in chutneys, hearty stews, and marinades.  Heinz and Colvato are good choices here.

Red wine vinegar:  One of my staples; I use whenever the recipe calls for it and if there is red wine in the recipe (and the recipe doesn’t specify the type of vinegar). It can be used for vinaigrette, deglazing pans, marinating meats, and making sauces.  More expensive red wine vinegars are aged in wooden casks and have a complex mellow flavor.  My choices here are Colvato and Pompeian.

White wine vinegar: It is not as sharp as red, more mellow; use when called for in recipe and when color is not desired.  It can be used in sauces and vinaigrettes. It can also be substituted for rice wine vinegar, if necessary. Colvato is my favorite. You can use when champagne vinegar is called for as well.

Rice wine vinegar: They are the mildest of the vinegars with a slightly sweet taste.  Use when called for and in Asian type recipes.

Sherry vinegar:  I love this!  This vinegar is aged in wooden casks.  It can be found in some supermarkets with good selections.  I used to be able to get mine there but my store stopped carrying it (and in small town Maine not a lot of choices) so now I order from Amazon.  We love it in salad dressings and in recipes when sherry wine is called for (and has vinegar as well).  A splash of this in a vegetable soup will give you that “wow” factor I have been talking about.

Balsamic vinegar:  The royalty of vinegar.  It is richly mellow, slightly sweet, with bit of a tang.  It is made from the juice of a very sweet white grape and aged in wooden casks for at least 10 years.  Some of the inexpensive ones are really “wanna-bes” which are made to taste like a balsamic vinegar.  Since chef’s discovered it, many recipes call for it including a few salad dressings. A splash on fresh fruit is tasty.  Prices range from fairly humble to “OMG” (one that has been aged in casks for a very long time).  I use a middle range one by Colvato (yes I do like this brand, but only because I like the quality and taste of their products).

White balsamic vinegar: Lighter in color, milder, and less sweet (it is not actually white though-more of a light brown).  Use in recipes which call for it.  Regular balsamic can be substituted if white is not available.

Fruit infused vinegar: Use in fruit salad dressings or a splash directly on fruit.  Can sometimes be bought in supermarket, I get mine on Amazon.

There are actually more types of vinegar out there, but these are the ones in my kitchen.  They have an indefinite shelf life so if you don’t use something frequently don’t worry.  Make it easy, but make it taste great.  As my four-year-old granddaughter said of a recent dinner.  “I don’t like this; I LOVE IT!”

I have so many recipes I want to share it is hard to limit them to just a few.  Here are my picks for this time.

Favorite French Dressing

The original recipe was in Favorite Recipes of America Salads (1968).  Favorite Foods Press was in some ways similar to Taste of Home as it selected recipes from around the United States from Home Economics teachers and every day cooks.  I adapted this to our tastes and we like it so much better than anything store-bought.  I have several salad dressing mixing jars however a plain jar works just as well.

¾ cup salad oil
½ cup catsup
3 Tbsp. sugar
Juice 1 lemon
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. dry mustard
2/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 Tbs. cider vinegar

Place all ingredients in jar, close lid, and shake vigorously.  Keeps well.

Citrus Steak Salad Recipe

This just screams spring or early summer and it is oh so easy. You can get strawberry juice in the bottled juice aisle under Welches Simple Juices or Juicy Juice. I double the dressing as we like lots and extra can always go on a dinner salad.  The original (it has been changed quite a bit) came from somewhere on the internet initially but I have lost the where from.

6 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup strawberry (or cider) vinegar
¼ cup strawberry juice (or orange juice)
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. chili sauce
½ tsp. Salt
Torn romaine
2 cups sliced strawberries
1-1/2 lb. of grilled sirloin steak sliced.
1-2 sweet onion sliced thin
1 can (11 oz.) mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup pecans, toasted
½ goat cheese crumbles (optional).

Mix first 7 ingredients in salad dressing mixing jar and shake vigorously. Place torn romaine lettuce leaves on plates. Top with steak, strawberries, onion, mandarin oranges divided among the plates. Re-shake dressing and pour over salads. Sprinkle each with toasted pecans and goat cheese crumbles (if desired).

Serves 4-5

Lemon Chicken Stir-fry

The original recipe came from Betty Crocker’s Everyday Stir-fries (1996).  While I do have a very nice wok, I prefer usually to use my large sauté pan (12 inch).  Cook the chicken in batches so it browns not steams.  To make it even easier you can use pre-cut up chicken for stir-fry, chicken tenderloins cut in half with a kitchen scissors, or chicken breasts cut into strips with the kitchen scissors (easiest to slightly more involved).  The baste and glaze is one of the few prepared bastes I buy but you can use regular Teriyaki sauce if you don’t have the called for baste.   I always use fresh lemons.   We like frozen egg rolls with this as well. I would call it moderately easy since the chicken needs to be browned.

2-4 Tbsp. salad oil
1 ½ – 2 lbs. chicken breast cut up for stir fry
¾ cup teriyaki baste and glaze
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups broccoli florets
½ cup sliced carrots
1 sweet onion cut in wedges

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in pan over medium high heat.  Stir fry 1st batch of chicken adding oil as needed for remaining batches (probably 3). Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil and stir fry onion wedges until tender crisp.  Remove to chicken. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil if needed and sauté broccoli and carrots 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbs. water and cover with lid.  Steam for 2 minutes.  Remove cover and add baste, lemon juice, and chicken and onion. Stir and heat until just boiling, reduce heat and heat through (less than a minute). Serve with rice or fried rice mix. 6+ servings.

Grilled Chicken with Avocado Salsa

This what is known as a Fusion recipe.  It is a combination of the tastes of two countries, in this case Asian and Mexican.  My family sees it on the menu and think flour tortillas (Mexican), but it is really its own flavor.  Original recipe came from Favorite Brand Name Recipes Kikkoman Oriental Cooking and More (1992).  I grill the breasts however you can indoor grill, broil, or even sauté them. Half the breasts if bigger than 4 oz.  You could also slice them after cooking and dress with the avocado salsa.

2 ripe avocadoes
1 large tomato, diced
2 green onions, minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsps. minced garlic
3 boneless chicken breasts

Cut avocadoes in half; remove seeds and peel.  Coarsely mash avocado in small bowl.  Gently stir in tomato, green onion, 2 Tsp. of soy sauce, and lemon juice.  Cover and set aside.  Combine remaining soy sauce and garlic and divide in two.  Brush breasts on both sides with mix (laying pieces on waxed paper). Discard mixture.  Grill, broil or sauté 3-4 minutes on each side brushing with remaining soy and garlic. Dress breasts with avocados salsa.  4-6 servings (depending on size of breasts).

London Broil Sandwiches with Lemon Mayonnaise

Quickest and easiest with an electric knife to slice the meat.  The meat can also be used for a main-dish salad.  Adapted from a recipe found in Betty Crocker’s Fix-it-fast Meals (2003).  If you don’t have lemon pepper seasoning just use regular pepper.

6 French bread sub rolls
2 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
2 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp. Soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground lemon pepper seasoning
1 ½ lb. 1-inch-thick sirloin steak
1 ½ cup shredded romaine
Lemon Mayonnaise
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tsps. grated lemon peel
¼ tsp ground lemon pepper seasoning.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and heat rolls for 4 minutes (to brown them). Mix remaining 4 ingredients and rub on both sides of steak. Grill meat to desired doneness. Slice into thin slices either with electric knife or very sharp knife. Combine ingredients for Lemon Mayonnaise. Spread rolls with lemon mayonnaise and layer each with steak and lettuce. Serves 5-6

Surprise Chocolate Cake

This recipe is from Maggie and it is gluten-free.  It is from The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cookbook by Bette Hagman.  I wouldn’t’ classify as “easy” but it looks to be moderately so.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9×12 pan.

2/3 Cup dry lentils
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces baking chocolate, melted
1 1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse and drain lentils & combine in saucepan w/ boiling water. Bring to boil, cover and simmer 40 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Puree lentils and 1/4 cup of reserved liquid in blender or food processor. Prep 1 3/4 cups of puree for recipe.

In bowl of mixer, combine sugar, oil & eggs. Beat well. Add vanilla and 1 3/4 cups of lentil puree. Mix well. Add chocolate and mix.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to chocolate mixture and blend thoroughly.

Pour batter into prepped pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 min or until center springs back when lightly touched. When cool, frost with your favorite frosting. Excellent with cream cheese (Kite Hill plain Almond Cheese as a base) frosting or chocolate ganache.

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