Comfort-Cookin'As you can guess, I love to cook (as well as I enjoy eating-a foodie perhaps, although I stop at posting pictures of food on Facebook). I believe the key to cooking when living with pain is to make it easy and evoke as little stress as possible. I have a lot of tips towards that goal and I am usually good about following my own advice so you can understand my dismay when twice in the last couple of months dinners were sucked into the stress vortex; easy recipes and no outside agitation going on. So the question I had to analyze was why? It actually was pretty obvious when I looked. Each time there were two “easy” recipes, a main dish and a side dish (one was a salad and the other was a vegetable) but all were last minute prep and cooking! So how do we to prevent this type of pairing? In my first blog I talked about meal planning, an essential part of low stress cooking.

Tip #1

Everyone has to discover their own system however this one has worked for me for 40+ years and I have shared it often. I schedule a date every other Saturday morning to plan 14 to 16 meals which includes main dish salads and sandwiches. I use a theme book for the menus and my recipes locations (and recipes to try) are on file cards. These meals are not assigned to a particular day. I add notes on the cards if a recipe needs to be started ahead, I use:

  • “#”in front of the recipe for marinade
  • a “sc” for slow cooker
  • a “star” goes in front of a new recipe
  • CRT means printout from the computer.

If there are ingredients I may not usually have on hand I will note that as well (along with type of meat and produce needed if not evident). I also keep a list of some recipes to use with leftovers such as salads and vegetables. It sounds like a lot of work but it really isn’t and it is so worth it when it comes to diminishing anxiety and tension associated with dinner time. Before going to the store, I can glance at the next few meals I plan on fixing to add the fresh produce, any odd items and how I am pairing the foods, so that everything I need is on my list or already on my shelves at home.

Menu example:

#Lemon-Soy marinated Chicken Wings (BH&G Outdoor ’79 p 70)
Fried Rice-a-roni
Green salad with strawberries and Sesame seed dressing (CRT)
[sesame seed oil]

Everyone has their own routines but cracking the mystery of less stress for me is mastering the art of planning ahead.

Tip #2

A secret weapon in making cooking easy and low stress is aluminum foil. I prefer to use heavy duty as I find it more versatile. Foil’s most important use is for covering the pan for roasting or baking meat and for vegetables–this facilitates an easy clean-up. With meats, I will cover with two layers. This trick has saved me from a nasty clean up when grease makes it through a tear. Foil covering a baking sheet makes clean up effortless after making oven fries, roasting vegetables, and anything else that doesn’t need a rimmed pan.

Other uses for foil are as:

  • A cooking packet for the grill or oven (aka Hobo packet)
  • “Lids” for casseroles or baking pans which do not have them already or have been misplaced.
  • Edge covering for pie crust to prevent burning.
  • A “scrubbing wad” for cast iron or stoneware (such as a pizza stone) clean-up.

There are also non-cooking uses for foil, like protecting your brain waves from eavesdropping and mind control, but we won’t go there.

Tip #3

Another weapon in your arsenal of tools for simplifying cooking is a pair of “good” quality kitchen scissors. “Good” quality shears will last longer, stay sharp longer, and are easier to use; my current pair I have had a little over 20 years. So besides snipping packets open or cutting string, what can you do with them?

  • Meats, poultry, and seafood:
    • Cut chicken breasts into strips or chunks for stir fries and other recipes (much easier and quicker than using a knife). This is one of my favorite uses.
    • You can also easily cut a boneless breast in half to make two smaller breasts out of a larger one or butterfly the breast for faster cooking.
    • Cut boneless pork into strips or clip a bone out of a pork chop.
    • Cut a chicken or Cornish hen in half (cut along the backbone and along the breast bone. To just flatten the bird cut along the backbone on both sides to remove it.
    • Cut bacon in to small pieces before sautéing. No need to crumble and also now you have bacon grease for cooking.
    • Trim fat off meat.
    • Cut of fins and gut fish.
    • Dice shrimp raw and cooked.
  • Vegetables, fruits, and herbs:
    • Cut up a green onion
    • Chop up herbs or make strips (such as basil)
    • Trim and harvest herbs off your plants
    • Woody ends of mushrooms can be cut off easily
    • Cut the ends of spinach and Asian greens.
    • Cut the florets off broccoli or cauliflower.
    • Lop off unwanted veggie bits with less mess. Hold a bunch of green beans end-side up in one hand while snipping all the ends off with scissors in the other hand. Cut away unwanted carrot tops, fennel stalks or the prickly tips of an artichoke.
    • Cut grapes into smaller clusters
    • Cut Fruit & Veggies in the can
    • Cutting up dried fruit.
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Cut pizza or focaccia into slices.
    • Cut tortillas and quesadillas.
    • Trim and phyllo pastry and nori sheets
    • Snip pieces of cheese into a dish as it is cooking (I have done this with butter as well)
    • Cut kids’ food into bite-sized pieces.
    • Cut up marshmallows.

Tip #4

There are three books I have found to be most useful. They are all available used from Amazon, for example, if you prefer not to buy new:

  • Timing is Everything by Jack Piccolo; 2000. It is a guide for how long to bake, blanch, broil, deep-fry, boil, defrost, freeze, grill, microwave, poach, pressure cook, roast, sauté, steam, stew, stir-fry, and store every food from A-Z.
  • Food FAQs by Linda Resnik and Dee Brock. This contains Substitutions Yields & Equivalents: for example under Apple, 1 medium weighs 5 oz. yields 1 cup diced, sliced, or chopped; 2 large weighs 1 lb and yields 3 cups diced, sliced or chopped. Say your recipe requires sherry vinegar; you can use an equal amount of Balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar. Maybe you are out of 1 tsp. marjoram you could try 1 tsp. dried thyme.
  • The Food Substitutions Bible by David Joachim 2005 is actually in its second edition (I have the first). It goes into substitutions more in depth than the Food FAQs. “More than 5000 substitutions for ingredients, equipment, and techniques” according to the cover. The substitutions which can be a meal saver. I don’t buy Old Bay Seasoning; it gives me several recipes for making my own and a couple of prepared substitutes. Your recipe calls for “shark”; it gives you 5 similar fish to use instead. Your hubby used up your shallots making himself a sandwich; 5 different substitutes available.


Desert Rose Salad (and dressing)

I have been making this recipe for at least 30 years. The original comes from a booklet titled The Avocado Bravo by the California Avocado Advisory Board. There is no date on it, however my copy is aged and being held together by book tape. I frequently make the dressing by itself. It is sort of a French dressing and we love it. The original recipe called for fresh orange and grapefruit sections-way too much work. We actually like it better with the canned. You can get the grapefruit sections in a jar refrigerated or in individual serving dishes (with other individual canned fruits and gelatins).

Per person
½ avocado peeled and sliced
½ cup torn iceberg and/or butter lettuce
2 Tbsp. Mandarin oranges sections
¼ cup ruby red grapefruit sections.
2 Tbsp. chopped pitted dates

Rose dressing
¾ cup salad oil
½ cup catsup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp salt
½ tsp. instant minced onion

Place in jar and shake well until mixed. Chill.

Recipe doubles easily.

All American Bacon Cheeseburger

This is just a little different from your basic beef patty with extras piled on; easy yet it makes the burgers taste so good-a hit with everyone. I downloaded the original recipe off of Taste of Home with a year date of 2012. As always I did change it up.

For 6 burgers
½ Tbsp. instant minced onion
3 Tbs. catsup
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic
1 ½ tsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp steak sauce
½ tsp cider vinegar
1 ½ lbs. ground beef (I use 85%)

I slice cheese for each burger; sharp cheddar is best but my grandkids prefer American (and my hubby none)
2 bacon strips cooked per burger (microwave easiest)
6 buns (hamburger or Kaiser) split and lightly toasted
Optional toppings; lettuce leaves, thinly sliced onion, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle slices (chips)

In large bowl mix first 7 ingredients. Add beef and lightly mix well. Shape into 6 patties and place on waxed paper on a plate for transport.

Grill burgers outdoor or in, over medium heat (or broil); 4-7 minutes each side (instant read thermometer should read 160 degrees plus). Top with cheese just before removing from grill. Serve on buns with bacon. Add toppings of choice (I always let everyone add their own).

Sweet Pork Carnitas

Carnitas can be eaten as chunks of meat with refried beans and /or Spanish rice and flour tortillas. You can also use it for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. At my house my husband and I just do it the first way whereas the kids and my son make burritos. I always put on the table shredded Mexican cheese; sour cream, chopped raw onions, and guacamole (actually do individual bowls of this as some would hog it). This is one of my few slow cooker recipes but you can cook it on the stop top for 3-4 hours. The original recipe was downloaded from All Free Copy Cat Recipes but I don’t remember when. I get 6 servings out of this with a little left over.

2 lbs. pork shoulder or butt
1 cup Coca Cola (not diet)
1 pkg. taco seasoning
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. minced garlic

Put liner in place if using (makes clean up much simpler)
Put pork in slow cooker.
Mix remaining ingredients and pour over pork.
Cook in slow cooker on low 6-8 hours.
Shred with a fork leaving some in chunks.

Sopping Shrimp

This recipe is so simple and so good. Unfortunately it is not exactly low-cal and it is a little pricy. It is so worth it though. When we lived in the pan handle of Florida in the 70’s the Officers Club on Sunday would have an all you could eat Shrimp A-peel. This is similar but more decadent (and of course not all you can eat). I adapted the recipe from one in Best of the Best from Florida Cookbook (2004). I serve it in pasta plates so the liquid is there for the “sopping” with a nice Sour Dough or Italian bread. Serves 4 at our house

¼ lb. butter
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 ½ cups Italian dressing
2 lbs. raw shrimp, in shells

In large skillet melt butter. Add all other ingredients except shrimp and bring to a boil. Add shrimp and simmer about 6 minutes (until shrimps are nice and pink). Divide shrimp and sauce among 4 bowls. Serve with hot crusty bread for sopping and bowls in the center for shells (I peel the 3 and 6 year olds).

Asian Noodles

The original recipe for this was downloaded from Taste of Home. My family all like it a lot and it is uncomplicated and quick. It does use 2 pots (which doesn’t thrill me but minor worry). It goes well with any Asian type entrée and could easily be made into an entrée by itself with the addition of stir fried steak strips, chicken strips, or more vegetables. We definitely like it better than a similar packaged noodle product.

8 ozs. Spaghetti,dry
1 ½ cup sliced mushrooms (regular or shitake)
1 – ½ cup snow peas (optional)
4 green onions cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. salad oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. sesame seed toasted.

Cook pasta for 9 minutes and drain (I save 2-4 Tbsp. cooking liquid and stir into drained pasta).

In large skillet or wok heat oil; stir fry vegetables until tender crisp. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Combine soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and cayenne in glass measuring cup. Add pasta and soy mixture to vegetables. Heat through. Sprinkle with sesame seed. Serves 4-5

To toast sesame seed: heat skillet or wok (before cooking noodles). Add seeds and stir fry them until they begin to brown (it won’t take long). Remove from pan. No need to clean pan before you start your noodles.

Country White Rolls

These dinner rolls are so light and tasty. They would make good sandwich bus as well. Adapted from Taste of Home Quick Cooking May/August 1998

2 cup + 1 Tbsp. water
1 egg
4 ½ tsp. vegetable oil
3 ¼ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 ¼ tsp. dry yeast (I pkg.)

Add ingredients to bread machine pan in the order given. Use Dough cycle. When done divide into 12 or 16 rolls, shape as desired or 8 buns. Place on parchment sheet on baking pan and let rise 45 minutes –1 hour (until doubled). Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush rolls/buns with melted butter. Bake 15-17 minutes. Brush with melted butter again and serve warm (reheating if necessary).

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