Chirped by Tina and Cass
One thing many of us are dabbling in during the Covid-19 lockdown is home cooking. Maybe we have to substitute a few ingredients, since we can’t run out willy-nilly to the grocery store every other day. Personally we’re getting much better at planning our meals ahead of time, so that our once-weekly (or less) shopping can go the distance between trips. We’re also getting good at searching for recipes online that use ingredients we already have on hand. For this month’s Cheep Trills, we decided to share some of our favorite recipes from our quarantined kitchens… Some are easy, some more elaborate, but all are tasty if you’re looking for a little inspiration for next week’s menu… Hope you enjoy!
From the Sea…
Tuna Kabobs (Cass)
This shish kabob marinade can be used for any kind of cubed meat/seafood you wish to “kabob”: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or our favorite – tuna steaks. Mix up the marinade, add your choice of protein, and let it sit for three to four hours in the fridge. An hour before you want to assemble the kabobs, cut up your vegetables and add them to the marinade, too. Let sit. We usually use a red onion, peppers, and mushrooms in ours. Skewer your marinated meat and vegetables and lay directly on the grill rack. We use the leftover marinade to baste the kabobs as they grill. Once they’ve cooked, we like to disassemble it all into a large bowl, so people can pick out the goodies they wish to eat.
Hot Pot Togetherness (Cass)
Some nights we break out the Hot Pot, lay out a variety of foods, and sit around the kitchen island cooking together. It’s like fondue: you all cook your food in a shared pot. Our Hot Pot has a divider, so we can have two different flavors of broth baths: spicy on one side, and milder on the other. We cook either seafood or beef, with kale or boy choy as our greens. Tofu, mushrooms, and some type of noodle, such as rice or udon are our go-to accompaniments. Everyone selects the item they wish to start with, adds it to the boiling broth and starts cooking. We also set out dipping sauces like soy or a ginger-scallion sauce for added flavor. We like the cook book Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals, by Tadashi Ono, for other recipe ideas.
Speaking of Pasta…
Enhanced Spaghetti Sauce (Cass)
Cass isn’t one to use store-bought sauce when making spaghetti. She likes to make it her own, using canned tomato sauce, doctored up a bit in the crock pot. With a little bit of this and a little bit of that, this recipe is her specially enhanced spaghetti sauce. She also uses this recipe to make the sauce for lasagna, except she puts all the ingredients in a large pan and simmers for about 30 minutes before assembling the layers.
Cheesy Shells with Vegetables (Tina)
My family doesn’t enjoy red sauce as much as Cass’s, so on pasta nights we prefer an easy cheese sauce over our noodles. (I heat the cup of milk in the microwave for 1 minute before whisking it into the butter and flour mixture, and add a dash of cayenne pepper at the end.) Sautée some mushrooms, onions, small carrot sticks and any other veggies you have lying around in a little butter or olive oil, and you’ve got the makings of a nice vegetarian meal option. Got some leftover cooked meats? Dice them up and toss in with the veggies to bump up the protein! I like to throw in a handful of frozen peas at the very end, when I mix the vegetables and/or meat in with the cheesy pasta. The heat of the pasta “cooks” the peas just enough to keep them sweet, bright and tasty, without getting “mushy and disgusting”… lol
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner…
Chicken Marbella (Cass)
Chicken Marbella is my kids’ favorite chicken dish. (They grew out of chicken nuggets a long time ago.) Not sure what cookbook this came out of (The Main Course? or was that just the chapter title?), as it was given to me by a friend many years ago. Surprisingly, my boys love this recipe – even though they don’t eat any of the prunes or olives. They just enjoy the taste of the chicken, and they pour the sauce over mash potatoes. Last time I made it, I served it with roasted asparagus, cooked in the same oven during the last 20 minutes. Toss the asparagus in some olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper before baking.
Chicken Pot Pie Biscuits (Tina)
We’ve had some birthdays in quarantine now, and Chicken Pot Pie Biscuits were a memorable request for one special dinner. Certainly not “weight-neutral”, but oh so delicious! The recipe calls for tiny little 2″ pastry circles, so I guess these are intended as appetizers. We made them using a drinking glass to cut the pastry, more like a 3″ circle, and served two or three of them as a main course. I thought blanching the potato cubes sounded like a pain, so instead I sautéed them with the onions and thin cut carrot sticks. We’d only purchased two sheets of ready-made puff pastry dough, so I served the leftover pot pie filling the next night over fresh made Bisquick biscuits. The pastry dough that was leftover (after we’d filled a cookie sheet with little pot pies) got sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and baked as a little bonus birthday dessert. Yum!
Here’s the Beef…
Curried Beef & Pea Hand Pies (Tina)
This is another more elaborate recipe, for a weekend when you’re feeling inspired. We saw this in the April edition of Eating Well magazine. Curried Beef and Pea Hand Pies calls for 1.5 tsp garam masala – a spice we couldn’t find at the store and do not have on hand. We looked up substitutes online and settled on a combination of coriander, cumin, cinnamon and pepper. (Wish we’d had ground cloves at the time – we do now.) I’d like to make it again, using the proper spices. We also substituted two packages of regular refrigerated Pillsbury pizza dough, since we couldn’t find whole wheat.
My biggest tip for this recipe is to get the dough out of the fridge about an hour before you start making dinner. Extract the dough rolls from their containers and slice them into quarters onto a floured plate to let them come to room temperature. Otherwise it will take forever to roll them out! This way they’re already round and just need to be flattened to 8″ circles.
We fashioned seven hand pies before we ran out of filling, and ate four for dinner. The extra three made a tasty lunch the next day, after reheating in the microwave! And the extra quarter of dough? Yeah, we brushed it with butter, sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar, and ate it as an “appetizer”, since it cooked a lot faster than the meat pies.
Old Fashioned Beef Stew (Tina)
My one photo of our delicious beef stew looks… unappetizing, to say the least. So I’ll spare you! That will not stop me from sharing the recipe however, from the New York Times cooking section. Old Fashioned Beef Stew is great for a chilly spring evening, and makes fantastic leftovers. My husband always likes to check out the modifications recommended by other people who made it, and adopt the ones that sound good. As a result, our alterations are as follows:
- Sauté the onions a little before you throw them in with everything.
- When you do the long boil, add one tablespoon Herb de Provence, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste.
- For the meat, use sirloin.
- Use good wine – without getting crazy.
- Double the recipe so there will be leftovers.
Another Tip: Many of my recipes call for two tablespoons of tomato paste, but it doesn’t come in cans that small. Every time I open a can, I press the leftover paste in units of 2 Tbsp each into an ice cube tray and cover with plastic wrap. Once frozen, you can pop them out and keep them in a freezer bag, ready for the next recipe!
Cheesecake, with and without homemade cream cheese (Cass)
We have a dear friend who is into making homemade cheeses. She lets us sample all her cheesy creations at our monthly book club meetings. At our last Zoom book club she asked if anyone would like to try making their own homemade cream cheese. A few of us gathered up the basic ingredients, she supplied an outdoor, no-contact pick-up of the specialized cheese-maker parts, and we joined her via Zoom from our own kitchens to make cream cheese. What fun, and yum…the cream cheese was so good!
The batch I made produced enough for one cheesecake. I dug through my recipe box and found my Cheesecake to Save a Marriage recipe that, of all people, my mother-in-law gave to me… lol. I was so careful in making my cream cheese over two days… Yes, it takes two days. And guess what? I had a major mess up making my cheesecake. I forgot to add the sugar! Talk about being upset! But my loving husband ran out to the store and bought more cream cheese to make another cheesecake. Maybe that’s why they named the recipe the way they did… lol. Sooo, we had two cheesecakes in the house (one with sugar and one without), and with a side of strawberries, both tasted delicious in their own way.
Missouri Cookies (Tina)
The beauty of this recipe from Tina’s family is how quickly the cookies come together. No chilling or rolling out the dough. No baking. Just pure chocolatey peanut buttery deliciousness mixed with oats for some nice texture! Many people call these No-Bakes, but we know them as Missouri Cookies. The only tricky bit is understanding the difference between a “simmer” and a “rolling boil”, and timing it correctly. (Simmer is bubbling around the edges, rolling boil is big fat rolling bubbles all across the top.) If you boil the chocolate mess too little, the cookies will never solidify (but will still be delicious with a spoon!). Boil it too long, and it will be hardening in the bowl before you can drop the cookies out onto wax paper (but again, still delicious as crumbles sprinkled over ice cream!) This version of the recipe has been handed down from Tina’s grandmother. Not sure of the original source, but there are plenty of variations online. (Some call for half as much butter, and are still delicious, if you’re trying to avoid gaining the “Covid-19”!)
This is just a sampling of all the creative cooking going on in our quarantined kitchens. We’ll try to post others on our Instagram or Facebook pages, too (see links, below). Whether you’re sticking to old favorites or diving into new experiments of your own, we hope your cupboards are stocked and your families are well. Stay strong, everyone! ♥
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Thanks for reading!
Loved your idea of freezing leftover tomato paste in 2 tablespoon quantities – such a creative idea – thanks! Jane
It comes in very handy to have tomato paste cubes in your freezer! 🙂