Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Taco Salad

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

A Taco salad is a hearty meal. It’s filling, satisfying and a great way to get non-salad eaters to eat salad.

To make four servings you will need salad fixings (video) – I’m using:

  • 4 cups of shredded lettuce
  • 1 cup of tomatoes – diced
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 small purple onion – thinly sliced

For the Taco part of the salad you will need:

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 eight-ounce bottle of Catalina salad dressing
  • 1 packet of Taco seasoning mix

Catalina salad dressing is a sweet, tomato based dressing that has a beautiful bright red color.

Start by browning the beef in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. (Check out my video on Browning Ground Beef!)

Then drain off and discard the excess fat.

Return the beef to the pan and sprinkle on the Taco Seasoning mix.

Add the dressing

Fill the empty dressing bottle half full with water, and then add that to the pan as well. Mix everything together.

Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer.

Simmer for 20-25 minutes.

After 20 minutes it will look like this:

While the beef is simmering, prepare the salad fixings (video):

You can prepare the green salad with whatever salad fixings you like. I like green-leaf lettuce. It’s a beautiful bright green color and does not have a really strong flavor. Click here if you are unsure how to wash lettuce. Once washed, chop the lettuce into bite sized pieces.

You can chop up one large tomato or slice in half some grape or cherry tomatoes.

Pile the salad onto individual serving plates. (Do not add extra dressing to the salad. You won’t need it once the beef and cheese are added!) The warm beef slightly wilts the salad and the cheese gets slightly melted from the warm taco mixture as well. (I added crunchy cucumbers and some sliced purple onion as well!)

Enjoy!

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Cabbage Soup

print recipe card posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

This soup is thick, hearty, full of flavor, and perfect for the beginner cook. It was taught to me by my Dad, who did not cook very often but who had a few specialties that were his “signature dishes.” Cabbage soup was one of his best! He always made it as part of a traditional Polish Christmas Eve celebration dinner. I like making his recipe as soon as the weather turns cold. Be sure to pick up a loaf of (Polish) rye bread at the grocery store – it is perfect with this soup!

You might already have most of the ingredients for this soup in your kitchen. Onion, celery, carrot, olive oil and chicken or vegetable broth are the basic ingredients. Add a bag of dry yellow split peasand a bag of sauerkraut and the list is complete! (Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage.)


Let’s startcooking!

One medium onion needs to get peeled and chopped.
(Check out my video for a quick review on How to Chop an Onion)

Dice one stalk of celery. Cut the stalk in half, and then in strips. From there it is really simple to dice the celery.

Do the same for the carrot – cut it in half, then strips, then into a dice. (My Dad never put carrots in his cabbage soup, but I like to start with a combination of carrots, celery and onions for almost all the soups I make.)

Dried split peas that have been mechanically split along a natural seam, so that they cook faster. You can buy either green or yellow split peas. It is not necessary to soak split peas, but they do require rinsing and sorting.

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(Note: Do not soak the split peas in water before cooking. Be sure to check out my post How to: Beans, Split Peas and Lentils which is a great primer on “pulses”.)

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Variety of Dried Beans, Split Peas and Lentils

Now back to the cabbage soup…

Put the dry yellow split peas into a colander and sort them. That just means to look though them to make sure there are no tiny stones that ended up in the peas. Sometimes you will see a green split pea mixed in with the yellow ones – you can leave it in or take it out!

Now rinse the peas under cold running water.

As always, it is really important to get all your ingredients prepared in advance.

Heat the oil in a large (6 quart) pot, on medium heat, until it shimmers.

Add the chopped onions…

…and the diced celery…

…and the diced carrot.

Stir the vegetables.

Then let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft.

Add the rinsed peas to the soup pot…

…and the broth. You can use either chicken or vegetable broth.

Bring the soup to a boil.

Turn the stove down to simmer and cover the pot.

Simmer the soup for about one hour, giving it an occasional stir.

This soup gets VERY thick. You can add up to 2 cups of water (or even more!) to thin down the soup.

My Dad always used sauerkraut from a bag rather than buying it in a tin can. The sauerkraut from the tin can always tasted a bit “tinny.” You can find bagged sauerkraut in the “refrigerated pre-package deli meat section” of the grocery store.

Put the sauerkraut into a colander. Drain and rinse it under running cold water. Sauerkraut can be very tart. Rinsing it removes some of the tartness. (You can drain it in a bowl and save some of the juice. Then after the soup is cooked you can adjust the flavor by adding some of it back into the soup. This will add a bit of tanginess to the soup.)

Add the sauerkraut to the soup.

Stir everything together. You can see how really thick this soup is. At this point I have already added about 1 and 1/2 cups of water. I think I do need to add a bit more!

Season the soup with some salt…

…and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve the soup with some nice Polish rye bread.

Enjoy!

P.S.
This soup tastes even better a day or two after it is made! When you take the soup out of the refrigerator to reheat it, it will have become very thick. Gently reheat it, stirring it often. You may have to add a bit more liquid to this soup if it has gotten too thick. It also freezes beautifully!

If you are a fan of split-pea soup you might also want to try my Green Split Pea Soup which has chunks of turkey kielbasa in it.

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How to Make Gravy

posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Spices and Seasonings by Kathy Maister

Adding sinfully rich gravy to either mashed potatoes, roasted chicken (or Turkey), pork or beef turns the whole meal into a holiday treat! (And it can also be used without the excuse of a holiday!)

There are many, many different ways to make gravy, using slightly different techniques and ingredients. All gravies, no matter how they are made, should have no lumps, should be smooth as silk and should have no taste of raw flour.

In this post, I am going to show you how to make two different gravies – a classic all-purpose gravy and then a really quick gravy. Then, at the end of this post, there are links to two videos which show how to make gravy with pan drippings, as well as links to three photo-tutorials on other ways to make gravy.

This post includes:

  1. Startcooking.com’s Classic All-Purpose Gravy
  2. Startcooking.com’s Quick Gravy
  3. Gravy Enhancers
  4. How to Store and Freeze Gravy
  5. Links to other photo-tutorials and videos on How to make Gravy

1. Startcooking.com’s Classic All-Purpose Gravy

This classic all-purpose gravy is made by first cooking flour and butter together (that’s called a roux – pronounced roo) and then adding cold stock and cooking it until it has thickened and is smooth as silk. This recipe makes four cups of gravy which is great for entertaining.

Ingredients needed:

  • 1/2 cup of butter (unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of heavy cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Making the Roux

Cut 1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter into chunks and add it to a medium size heavy sauce pan. (Unsalted butter allows you to control the salt in the gravy.)

On low (to medium-low) temperature melt the butter until it is foamy.

Add 1/2 cup of all-purpose white flour to the pan.

Start whisking the flour…

…until well blended.

Keep whisking and cooking (over very low heat) until it smells like a pie is cooking in the oven! That means the flour is cooked and your gravy will not end up having a “pasty” flavor to it.

Brace yourself, as this could take anywhere from 6-to-12 minutes to get cooked!

Adding the Stock

I will be using chicken stock for this recipe, but you could use vegetable or beef stock or a combination of stocks.

Start by whisking in about 1 cup of stock. (Four cups will eventually get added.)

Keep whisking vigorously until…

…all the stock is absorbed.

Now add a bit more stock…

…whisking until the stock is again absorbed.

Pour in the remaining stock…

…keep whisking!

All of the stock will get absorbed and it will be smooth as silk again! The stove should still be set at low as you continue to cook the gravy.

After 10 minutes, my gravy was still was not quite thick enough. See below how it drips off the spoon.

At about 12 minutes, I added 1/3 cup of cream. This adds such a rich flavor and texture to the final gravy.

Within two minutes of adding the cream, the gravy was perfect!

See below how it now coats the back of the spoon.

Taste the gravy, and add some salt (if you think it needs it) and some white or red pepper.

This is ready to serve!

2. Startcooking.com’s Quick Gravy

This quick gravy is great for making small amounts of gravy. It is made with:

In terms of amounts, the general rule of thumb is 2 tablespoons of flour, plus 2 tablespoon of butter to 1 cup of broth. Broth from a can works beautifully for this recipe, although I am using strained stock from a just-cooked beef pot roast. (Waste not, want not!) The excess fat needs to first get skimmed off the top. Canned stock does not have this excess fat.

Pour the stock into the pot. (I’m using the same pot that I cooked my beef pot roast in.) Turn the heat on medium and heat the stock.

Put the flour and butter into a small bowl.

Using your finger tips or a fork, mix the flour and butter together…

…continuing to mix….

…until you have a really smooth paste. This flour-butter paste is called a “beurre manie.”

Add the beurre manie to the hot stock.

Vigorously whisk together the stock and the flour-butter paste.

Turn the heat down to low and …

…cook the gravy until it is thickened. There should be no “pasty-flour” taste to the gravy. This could take up to 10 minutes.

Taste the gravy to see if it is cooked and if it needs salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

3. Gravy Enhancers

Sometimes homemade gravy is just not the color you want it to be, and occasionally the flavor needs a bit of a boost. In the spice section of the grocery store you can buy flavor enhancers for gravy. Names like Bisto, G Washington’s Rich Brown sauce, Gravy Master Seasoning and Browning Sauce, and Kitchen Bouquet Browning & Seasoning Sauce are available at my grocery store. Enhancers are made of a combination of vegetable extracts, caramel coloring, preservatives, salt, etc. Some people have actually added things like soy sauce or coffee granules to darken their gravies!

Many serious cooks look down on the whole idea of using enhancers. That’s their privilege, but I think beginners should be given more latitude to learn a step at a time using convenient ingredients! Even experienced cooks use these products. My mom always had a product called Gravy Master in the cupboard and I must admit I have followed her tradition!

Enhancers pack a powerful punch and should be used sparingly. They not only add flavor but they also add color to the gravy as well. Just a few drops can turn pale gravy into a color darker than dark chocolate! Be sure to read the directions on the back of the particular brand you have purchased just in case they say otherwise.

4. How to Store and Freeze Gravy

Homemade “flour-thickened” gravy should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container and used within two days of making it. When reheating the gravy bring it to a boil, whisking constantly, and then keep at simmer until ready to serve.

(Note: Gravy thickened with corn starch does not freeze well at all, nor does it hold up for prolonged cooking.)

Flour-thickened gravy can be frozen for up to 3 months. Freeze the gravy in manageable portions. I like using zip-lock freezer bags. Be sure to squeeze out all the air and flatten the gravy. It will take up much less space in the freezer this way.

Frozen Mushroom Gravy, Chicken Gravy, Sweet Potatoes and Pureed Squash

After the gravy has defrosted it may look like it has separated or curdled. Vigorously whisk the gravy as you are re-heating it, in a sauce pan, and it should return to its original texture. You may have to add a few drops of water or stock to the pan as well.

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5. Links to other photo-tutorials and videos on How to make Gravy

  • Epicurious has an excellent video on How to Make Gravy by deglazing a roasting pan first.
  • The Mayo Clinic also has an excellent video on Making Healthy Gravy. Their recipe uses cornstarch instead of butter and flour to thicken the gravy.
  • Instructables has a great photo-tutorial on a superb looking Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy.
  • For lovers of Giblet Gravy, head over to Cook Like Your Grandmother for a very well done photo-tutorial.
  • Martha Stewarts Perfect Gravy is made with Madera Wine. She thickens her gravy by making a “slurry” of giblet stock and flour in a jar.

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