Semi-Homemade

Semi-homemade is a type of cooking that makes use of premade, canned, or mixed foods as “shortcuts” in cooking. For instance, using store-made cookies or dough to make cookie-ice cream scream sandwiches, instead of making the cookies from scratch. Another common occurrence is adding ingredients to cake mixes.

This is an idea that can be quite controversial for some people–especially professional chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain. However, as a normal person without the time or training to make everything from scratch, I am usually a fan of semi-homemade food…within reason. For instance, I don’t bother with adding things to pre-packaged cake mixes; when adding milk, butter, and eggs, one may as well just make the cake from scratch. Households where cooking is a regular occurrence usually have all the ingredients on hand, and you’re still going to use the mixer.

I also want my semi-homemade items to taste good. If it tastes like it came out of a can, and that’s unappealing, that’s not something I’m interested in making. Overall, semi-homemade is a great way to cook while also working and being busy. It can also be useful when you need to substitute ingredients. Earlier this week, I substituted a box of mac n cheese and the packets for a box of regular pasta and shredded cheese. Our dinner was still yummy.

Or take puff pastry. How many people really have the time and patience to roll out the layers of dough and butter every few hours rather than buying it at the store? Hubby threw Nutella in off-brand crescent rolls last week and it was delicious.

Some chefs do embrace this idea, most notably Sandra Lee, who describes her cooking as “using 70 percent pre-packaged products and 30 percent fresh items” and was star of Food Network’s Semi-Homemade. While I wouldn’t make everything her way, she has perfected this art as part of her brand.

Do you have a strong opinion on throwing together premade items vs. all from scratch meals? Comment for discussion.

 

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Teriyaki Miso Ramen with Nori and Bonito

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 quart ham stock
  • 1 1/2 quart water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli
  • 3 instant ramen bricks, with bullion packets
  • 1/8 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1/4 cup miso paste
  • 1 nori sheet, torn into pieces
  • 1 handful bonito flakes

 

Method

Combine stock, water, and bullion packets in a large pot. Add teriyaki and salt and pepper. Next, add the vegetables. When everything is heated and softened to your liking, add the noodles. When ready, stir in miso paste by putting it in a ladle and slowly mixing it with the broth.

Serve into large bowls, and top with nori pieces and bonito flakes.

 

Notes

Ever since discovering how easy it is to make ramen at home with pre-made noodles, it’s become a great treat whenever we do have it, whatever we choose to put in it that day. One of the most important flavor components, however, is not relying on the bullion/flavoring packets that come with instant noodles. If you can start with about a quart of stock, it will be so much better. The reason for including at least a few of the packets is so that it tastes nice.

I especially liked the addition of bonito flakes, which I have seen on other types of Japanese dishes and decided to give it a try. The great thing? When you put these on something hot, they move around and curl up. It’s really rather cool. They also have a nice deep flavor which I enjoyed.

As with our last bowl of home-made ramen, I find I really enjoy adding a soy-based sauce. Whatever I have on hand is what I tend to use, and it’s usually tasty. This is a method I use with fried rice, as well.

Fish Pie

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This doesn’t look like much–not much color variation–but this was too delicious not to share. After talking about savory pies with internet friends yesterday, and mentioning fish pie, I was craving it. By some miracle, we had all the ingredients pretty much ready to go, so I made it for dinner.

What is fish pie? you may ask. While there are some versions with pastry, it is usually a fish version of shepard’s (lamb) or cottage (beef or pork) pie. The meat is mixed with vegetables and gravy, topped with mashed potatoes, and baked in the oven. Fish pie is made instead with fish and white sauce.

It’s something I first came across years ago when we were first married. Catfish was dirt cheap at the time, and so naturally I was looking for more ways to use it. We both love seafood and mashed potatoes, I’m a huge fan of white sauce, so why not give it a try? I’ve made it occasionally since then, and don’t use a recipe anymore. However, I’ll post one below for those who’d like to try it.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pack imitation crab meat, chopped
  • about 20 shrimp (pre-cooked), cut in pieces
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • salt, pepper, and herbs to taste
  • milk
  • 2 large spoonfuls butter
  • 2 heaping spoonfuls flour

 

Method

  1. Heat a sauce pan with the oil and brown the onions.
  2. Add peas and enough milk to come to the top of the peas. Cook until no longer frozen.
  3. Add imitation crab, and again enough milk to just come to the top.
  4. Once peas are completely thawed and hot, add the shrimp and enough milk to just come to the top. Add seasonings to taste.
  5. Cook for just a few minutes, and then strain the milk into a bowl.
  6. Put fish and pea mixture into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
  7. Melt butter in sauce pan and add flour. Once combined, slowly mix the reserved milk in to make the white sauce. Season to taste.
  8. Once white sauce thickens, add to mixing bowl and combine with the seafood mixture. Pour evenly into a pie plate or baking dish.
  9. Spread mashed potatoes over the fish mixture in an even layer.
  10. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, and then 400F for 10 minutes. Place on a baking sheet to catch any sauce that comes over the sides of the baking dish.
  11. Cool slightly before serving.

 

Notes

  • Any seafood can be used in this dish; I generally use what I have on hand. Just ensure it isn’t spoiled and is properly cooked before going in the oven. The best I’ve done so far had scallops in it.
  • It’s easier to use pre-cooked or instant mashed potatoes, such as on a week night like I did here, but you can make your own if you desire or have more time.
  • Usually, I use lemon pepper in both the fish mixture and sauce, as it goes well with fish, but what herbs and spices you use are up to you.
  • The secret to the great taste of this sauce is the reserved milk from the fish. It is absolutely worth it to strain the milk for this one.
  • The potatoes I used were frozen Oprah ones from the store–great sale price. I normally don’t go for that kind of branding, but I have to say they were delicious. Would definitely buy again if significantly on sale. The package indicated it also contained cauliflower.
  • Like most of my non-baking recipes, don’t worry too much about the measurements here. Use whatever size dish your ingredients turn out to fit well in.

The Landing at the Bottom of the Stairs

I have been working on a later part of Eiry‘s story lately, and got to a point where the characters were heading out the door. Their apartment is above a shop, and getting out involves 2 doors with a set of stairs between. When it got to them leaving, despite it being to an important event, I felt the story pausing there. Sure, it’s been used in other parts of the story, but it got me wondering how much.

In the building layout, the bottom of the stairs is a way-point between several areas: the shop, up the stairs to the apartment, and out into the alley. Thus, it takes on the functions of a foyer or, since we’re in Japan, a genki. There is space here for shoes, coats, umbrellas and such, so pausing here on the way in or out is natural. I suppose this is what leads to some scenes taking place here–the lover who lingers before leaving, in particular.

I’m not exactly sure that what I’m currently working on will stay in this location–it’s been decades but I’m not sure if/where they may have moved or “upgraded” to at the moment. So for now, it’s where this scene is taking place. And with the inclination for an intimate moment, I wondered how much had already happened there.

For instance:

  • The first kiss
  • Their last talk before the first mating season, sitting at the bottom of the stairs
  • Random freaky baby drop-off point (2013)

While not a ton going on over a lifetime, several important things have happened here, most notably as the place where Eiry’s adopted daughter first appears out of the blue. Scary for her, but quite fun to write!

Anyway, this made me think about what various unassuming places we tell our stories in, and where they may unexpectedly pause.

Fennel and Onions

A side dish I make every month or two now is fennel and onions, cooked into submission over a few hours on low heat. I tend to eat it with mac n cheese or meat, and pack some for a friend who also particularly likes this dish. Most of the ingredients are substitutable by type and I use what I have on hand. My most recent batch included tarragon, which was a good addition.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 large onions as you prefer, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp oil or butter
  • ~1 cup stock
  • ~1/3 cup white wine
  • At least 1 fresh herb, chopped fine, to taste. 2 are better.
  • Dried savory, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Method

  1. Heat oil or butter in a large pan with deep sides. Add fennel and onions and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
  2. When reduced and softer, add herbs and seasonings. Continue on low heat.
  3. Once more liquid is needed to keep vegetable from darkening, alternately add enough stock or wine to just cover the bottom of the pan each time more liquid is needed.
  4. Cook down to desired consistency; I find the flavors meld better when extremely limp and it takes up only a fraction of the space it did at the beginning.
  5. Serve or store.

 

Notes

Wine isn’t necessary if you don’t drink. I prefer using Arbor Mist wines in this dish as it gives a lovely fruity flavor.

Originally I made this dish with more butter rather than stock, but this version is healthier. If not using wine, a bit more butter would help for flavor.

I do use different amounts of onion depending on the flavor balance I want, or how many I have.

Measurements are estimated. It’s really not a problem for this particular recipe. If you try it and make adjustments, let me know how it turns out.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I have finally tried a British lemon drizzle cake, with my nifty new kitchen scale which my parents got me for Christmas. I got the recipe from GoodtoKnow, who claim it’s a Mary Berry recipe one of their most popular . It is a small cake, and I used a small square pan I rather like.

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However, there isn’t actually much lemon in this cake: the zest of half a lemon. While it’s a decent cake, it’s not a stellar cake, and we would not have tasted lemon if it weren’t for the lemon glaze on it. If I make this again, I will put in lemon juice or essence as well. Quite frankly, I have made better lemon cakes than this, and probably won’t be adding this one to my recipe box.

Homemade Sushi

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Sushi is time consuming to make at home when you’re not a professional, but can be worth the time and effort to have rolls that you particularly like and enjoy eating, as well as the experience of doing so. We don’t to this very often, not even once a year, but my day of this week was the right day.

Several months ago, I picked up some Kewpie mayonnaise at the Asian market in town, and since then have been collecting ingredients, such as the imitation crab sticks which are rarely on sale. Finally, I decided we weren’t waiting anymore, and that was that.

Usually we do combinations of imitation crab, carrots, cucumber, sesame seeds, and this time added pickles and the mayo. I like pickled daikon if I can get it, but no such luck this time. I particularly like cream cheese and tend to focus on those rolls. My favorite of this set was the cream cheese and pickle.

We also had miso soup with mushrooms and scallions, and green tea. When going for dipping sauce, I discovered instead of the the teriyaki and soy I thought was in the cabinet, we had 2 (open!) bottles of teriyaki.

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Yes, this is a lot, and it took us two nights to eat it.