PART 2-COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I hope you had a nice week. Did you look at your favorite recipes and gather them up to use for your first menu? Let’s continue where we left off. When cooking anything, anytime, it is imperative to remember basic food safety rules.
1- Cold food must be kept below 40 degrees and hot food must be kept above 140 degrees. Clean any countertops and food mats before you begin preparing anything. Keep your work are uncluttered. Clutter leads to accidents. Do not cross contaminate, keep meats on a tray on the lowest shelves of your refrigerator, with vegetables and other items above the meat.
2- Never thaw food on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  That means you will need to plan ahead and allow adequate time for thawing.
3 -Putting food in the microwave to thaw it does a serious “no no” to the quality to most meals.
4- Go through all the recipes and make a grocery list from each item from each recipe.
You will see after you list all the items you will have some of these items in your home pantry. Those items you want to highlight, so you don’t accidently purchase something you don’t need. But make sure you pantry items are fresh. Check those spices to ensure their freshness, and look at that flour if it hasn’t been purchased recently and/or kept in the refrigerator.  And the same thing for OILS.  Left out of the refrigerator at room temperature, any oil will go rancid.  Smell them to determine if they are useable.  (And while your at it, the same goes for your perfume.  It will also go rancid because most perfumes have some type oil in them..)
Before you go to the store to do your shopping, make sure you have adequate room in your refrigerator and freezer to store the amount of food you will be bringing home. And be sure you have some sort of shallow tub and a large bag of ice to keep prep’d items cold as you need them.

Another important trick to notice and note while making your grocery list is — if you are buying (example) 5 onions, note it this way:

5 onions —
2 minced –  example  recipe #1
1 sliced into rings   #3
1 chopped  #4
1 large dice  #5

The reason you are doing that is you will know when you start doing your prep that you need to mince 2 onions, slice one into rings, chop 1 and cut one into large dice. It will save you time later and you won’t have to re-read each of your recipes to figure out how to process the vegetables you are buying. You can even go as far as numbering each recipe and writing a number to coincide with the recipe on the container that holds the ingredients for that recipe. Remember you will be doing all your prep before you begin to cook.

If you shop at the same grocery store all the time, you will have some idea of the layout of the store. Try to list your items to coincide with the isles of the store. That way you are not bouncing from one side of the store to the other. List all the produce together, all the meat together, and as close as possible, list canned goods etc., by isle starting at the door you enter in finishing nearest the checkout stand. Put all the frozen food together, all the dairy together. These two will be the last two sections you will stop at.
If it is a really hot day (as it has been where I live, it just seems to melt me right down to my shoes everytime I go outside) I suggest taking one or two coolers and buying a small extra bag of ice and putting some in the two coolers for the frozen items and dairy  and  a cooler for the meat. Remember to keep meats and produce/dairy separate.

Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms and Madeira Sauce
Serves 4

4 Slices bacon, cooked, drained, chopped
2 Slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 Cup milk
1 3/4 # Ground beef
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce – low sodium
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 # Mushrooms, brushed clean, sliced thinly
5 tsp Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (or other fine rice flour)
1 cup beef broth, low sodium
5 Tbsp Madeira wine
1/4 Cup Chives, minced, set aside for garnish

Dice bacon, cook, drain and set aside. Reserve bacon fat. Add butter to the skillet and heat to medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute about 4 minutes. Add half the beef stock to the flour (add the stock to the flour, not the flour to the stock or you will have lumps) and make a slurry.
After the mushrooms have browned and released their liquid, add the stock/rice flour slurry and whisk to thicken and also release the “fond” from the bottom of the skillet. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining stock and the Madeira and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning.

Add meat to a mixing bowl. Remove crusts from bread, soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, crumble with hands, add to the meat along with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oblong patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Remove them and cool them down in the refrigerator.

To freeze, place the cool patties in your container, pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with the chives. Lay plastic wrap directly on top of the entire meal. Then either wrap in foil, or if you have a lid, place the lid on. Add the label.

Heating directions: Thaw in refrigerator. Remove lid and plastic wrap. Heat in preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes covered with foil.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
SERVES 4

4             White baking potatoes, peeled, washed, cut into medium dice
3             Cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp      Sea salt
1/4         Cup fresh parsley, washed, leaves minced
5 Tbsp.  Butter
5 Tbsp.  Herb and garlic flavored cream cheese spread (such as Rondelle)
Place a stock pot with water on to boil.  Make sure you have enough water to double the amount of potatoes you are going to fix.  Add salt.  Add the potatoes and the garlic to the cold water.  Bring to a medium boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Check at 12 minutes.  Do not boil the potatoes rapidly as it will cause them to fall apart and become waterlogged.  You want them to be cooked but not dissolve in the water.  Drain them when they are done, return them to the hot stock pot, and return to the burner which you have turned off.  Let them dry out for about 10 minutes.   If you have a food mill or ricer, rice them into a large bowl, including the garlic.  If not, a hand masher or electric mixer can be used.  But take care not to over-process the potatoes, as it will cause the potatoes to become gummy.  Add all the other ingredients ad one time.  Gently stir in the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and parsley.  Let the potatoes cool, place in container.  Put plastic wrap on top of the potatoes, then add lid or foil,  and label.

Reheat:  Remove plastic, recover with foil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat in oven on baking sheet at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many servings you have fix and if you have brought the potatoes to room temp. before you put them into the oven.

When you reheat the potatoes, fluff them by raking a fork back and forth across them, don’t over mix them with a spoon.  It will make them gummy.  If they seem dry,  at this point, it is fine to add cream, milk or reduced stock.

If you choose to add a couple of your recipes and pick a day to cook before next week, let’s briefly discuss a game plan.  Let’s just do a quick once over…

Make your grocery list by isle, and include each recipe.  That will save time.
Purchase or designate freezer containers with lids, square is best.
Plan your menu so multiple heat sources can be used at the same time.
Do all your preparation first before you start to cook.
Keep cold food items cold.
Start items that take the longest cooking time first.  Save items that don’t have to be cooked, just some sort of prep., for last.
Undercook – if it is completely cooked when you freeze it, it will be over cooked at dinner time.
Make sure everything gets labeled.
If there is an additional item you will need to purchase before the meal can be served  NOTE it in large writing beside the item on your menu.

Next week I will finish the recipes and then we will talk about shortcut to getting this all cooked in one day.

Until then, happy cooking.  And remember if you are cooking something your family really likes, make 2,  just undercook one.  And freeze  one.  Label it.

YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE WHO WAS IN MY BIRD BATH

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I promised you last week I would show you the visitor we have been having under our bird feeder and now at our bird bath. I guess no one told this young lady that she is a little large to be sharing the drinking fountain with the rest of the little birds, so up she jumps, and there she stands until she is through drinking. I don’t live in the country. But there are days when I have to shake my head to be sure I am seeing correctly. It doesn’t seem to even bother her when my husband goes out to fill the feeders. She just wanders off a little into the tree line, waits for him to fill the feeders and spread extra sun flower seeds on the ground from the “magic” bucket. As soon as he gets no more than three feet towards the house she is back out of the trees and happily eating and scratching away.

For the second year a finch built a nest under our upper deck in the spring. The nest had two tiny eggs in it. I am amazed that they can get under the screening because it is pretty tightly screened to protect the deck above it from bugs. But momma managed it. She squeezes in between the wall and the screen frame. Well today I heard two birds just carrying on like something was really distressing them. I opened the door on the upper deck, went outside and could see two finch’s in the trees dancing around, flitting from branch to branch, onto the fence, off the fence back to the tree, onto the ground, darting under the pine tree. I was pretty sure the babies had left the nest beneath me. I would have loved to have peeked between the boards on the deck, but mother finch managed to tuck that nest into the only corner that isn’t visible looking down through the boards. I went downstairs and peeked out the door and there they were. Two little guys flitting back and forth frantically between the porch floor and the screen. Mom was trying to get them to squeeze through the same little opening she used and they just couldn’t figure it out. There is a ceiling fan (not running of course) right below them, and she flys up and sits on one of the blades and coaxes them and instructs them for all she’s worth. No luck. They aren’t budging. Last year she had 5 babies in the same spot. The screen sections are quite large and are on hinges so they can be dropped down and be cleaned in case something gets dropped through the floor cracks above. Last year the only way to get so many baby birds out was to lower one of the screens. But I didn’t want to scare these two little guys and I still had hope mom could PEEP them out. An hour later after watching them frantically run and flitter the length on the porch between the boards , I gave up and got the ladder. But rather than completely drop the screen down I was able to force one corner near the nest to hang down about 4 inches. It seemed safer to me and apparently mom was ok with it too. As soon as I went back into the house she was back on the fan blade talking to them again. I watched for a long time from a window in another room. One of the little guys went to the edge, looked down, backed up as if to say “That is a looong way down if my little wings and feathers don’t work” ..sat down. After what felt like an eternity to me, I gave up and went about my business.

I am happy to say though, when next I checked the little pilots had flown the nest and successfully landed I hope in the blue spruce tree.

It has amazed me at how much my eyes have seen, how much my ears hear, and most of all, how much my heart has been blessed now that I take time to look at the beauty God has given us. This world is so beautiful in so many simply things. I wish all people could free baby birds instead of fighting with their neighbors. Peace would be so wonderful for all the children of the world………….

I spent so much time with the birds today we had a wonderful salad for dinner with shrimp, sliced steak, egg, blueberries, peaches, carrots, cucumber and tomatoes. It was wonderful and just right.

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