Nonperishable lunch ideas

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As many times as we’ve taken our lunch to the park or to co-op, I should know plenty of good ideas for nonperishable lunches, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that my family and I are pretty sick of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with bananas and granola bars every single time we pack up for a day out! Who knew that would happen?

So now, I’m stuck. I need some good, healthy, power-packed nonperishable lunch and snack ideas—especially since park season is just around the corner. I would love to hear everyone’s secret ideas (as well as the not-so-secret ones!), but here are a few that I’ve run across that sound like good choices, too.

Rollups: Cheese or turkey and lettuce rollups with some seasoning sound like awesome sandwich ideas, and they shouldn’t cost a whole lot more than PB&J. (Well, I have noticed that the price of lunchmeat has gone up; has it in your area?) You can add veggies or a spread as long as you keep an ice pack in the lunch box, I think. The FDA says the only sure-fire lunch to keep without spoiling is a PB&J or hard cheese sandwich, though, so this may not make it through a full day at the park.

Fruit and nuts: A lot of people recommend this and I’ve always discounted it as simple snacking or finger food, but really it’s a pretty decent meal between all of the nutrients you can get from mixed nuts and, say, a few apples or pears. The trick, though, would have to be to prewash fruit before packing it and not bringing items you need to slice to eat. Of course, many kids have nut allergies these days, so you want to make sure that you don’t eat them near kiddos who have them—and definitely to not share in such circumstances.

Bagel with topping: I know this sounds sort of gross as a packed item, but I spread cream cheese on a frozen bagel once for a trip to the zoo (with an insulated lunch pack and ice pack, of course). The bagel thawed by lunchtime and tasted really good—so good, in fact, that a zoo chicken tried to take it from me! That said, I’m not going to want cream cheese in the summer months. Ick.

Pasta salad: This old picnic staple might be okay with some tossed parmesan and veggies. The carbs will give my kiddo energy—if she’ll eat them without her beloved Alfredo sauce!

Common mistakes in cooking

Use caution when cooking to get the best results.

There are numerous reasons that can explain why a recipe doesn’t turn out the way it should, and I am at fault for most of these reasons. I have tried many recipes in my lifetime, and I must admit that I have been disappointed with a good percentage of them.

One of the reasons I have found for this happening is because I did not read the recipe correctly. This has happened so many times that I have lost count. Somehow I get ahead of a recipe and I do something wrong. This is a mistake that can cost a recipe you are working on.

Another common cause for problems is a lack of proper pre-heating. If a recipe says to preheat the oven, this is for a reason. With gas ovens, it is important to let them heat up until the oven dings. You should then give the oven an additional 10 minutes to heat up because gas ovens only heat periodically. It will take about 10 minutes longer for the oven to actually be the temperature that you need it. If you have an electric oven, this is not as big of a problem.

Heating up a pan on the stove is also a common error that can cause bad results. If you are frying something in oil, you must make sure that the oil is hot. If you don’t, you may end up with soggy food instead of crispy food. This happens often and can cause bad results with new recipes.


Salads for dummies

Why not make it a meal?

A salad is a meal. When you are lazy, broke and have a tiny kitchen, why not make the salad really big and add whatever you want? Then you don't have to bother with a main course. The only difference between a big and small salad is a few more chops of the knife.

With salads there are infinite possibilities, but for most salads I use certain core ingredients: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, croutons, and what I mix together for the dressing. Other favorites include onion, mango, nuts and cranberries or raisins. And of course you can add meat, such as bacon or chicken.

Croutons are just toast. Chop it up into small pieces and throw away the crumbs. Then let it sit at least ten minutes to stiffen up.

For the dressing, I use olive oil, vinegar, lime, salt and pepper. You can also add chili powder - use very little, just a spoonful or so. Mix olive oil and just a little vinegar in a shot glass. Squeeze in a lime or two. Then put a little salt on the avocado and sprinkle pepper everywhere. After that add Parmesan - either the cheap canned powdered stuff or, much better, grate it yourself.

A pimped-out salad is a filling, exciting meal. This recipe serves two - either you and your companion or you twice. There's never a reason to make a one-portion meal, especially if you are alone, because you can eat the leftovers - possibly for days.

Already you have a beautiful salad. To make it more beautiful, add:

MEAT, ETC: chicken, bacon, sausage or hard-boiled egg, all chopped into bite sized pieces or smaller.

FRUIT: Mango, strawberries, mandarin oranges, cranberries or raisins.

NUTS: If you fry them in honey, it will take your salad to another level.

Remember, as long as it tastes good, there’s no wrong way to make a salad.

Butter vs. shortening when baking

These ingredients offer different results.

If you are like many people, you may not realize that butter and shortening offer very different results when they are used for baking. This is something I never knew until recently and I find this very interesting.

For people that like to bake cookies a lot, using butter or shortening is often a preference a person chooses. You can interchange these two ingredients and you may be surprised to find out that the results are very different. By switching this one ingredient, you will be able to obtain the texture of cookie you prefer. Some people like a thicker, soft cookie, while others may like a thin, crisper cookie.

If you prefer a thicker cookie, shortening might be the right ingredient for you to use. Shortening is an ingredient that contains a very high melting temperature. This means that it takes longer for shortening to melt in the oven than it does for butter.

Butter and margarine, on the other hand, have lower melting temperatures. If you use butter or margarine in a recipe, the cookies will tend to spread faster. This will result in a thinner cookie because of this temperature difference.

Another difference between using butter and shortening is the flavor. If you use margarine or shortening, this ingredient is not adding any flavor to the cookie. Butter does add flavor though, and this flavor is hard to achieve with any other ingredients. If you like a rich flavor in the cookies you make, using butter is the secret.

Things to try

Becoming a great cook takes practice.

If you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, you might be nervous. If this is your first time, you may not know what you are doing, but practice makes perfect.

Few of us are great cooks when we begin. It often takes years of practice to learn how to do this. Cooking, in a sense, is a form of art. It requires knowledge, creativity and the ability to understand how to do basic things in the kitchen. The only real way to learn how to cook is to do it.

Some people will look up tips online to find out how to cook. This is a great way to learn various techniques of cooking and this can help a lot. Other people will take classes. You may have never considered taking a cooking course, but this is actually a really great thing to do. Most community colleges offer cooking courses and you may be able to find these in other businesses and places.

By taking a cooking course, you will learn about one or more techniques of cooking. These classes are actually very fun too. My husband took a class on making sushi a few years back and he is excellent at this. He enjoyed the class tremendously and was left with a gift of knowing how to do this. This is something he uses to impress our friends and he enjoys making people happy through the food he serves. You can learn too, by taking a class or just by trying to cook something new.

Holiday baking memories

It might be messy, but it will be a great memory.

One of the best experiences I have each year is baking holiday cookies with my kids. This is a time that is really fun, but it is also really messy. It is all worth it in the end and during the time it takes to do the work.

Every year since my first daughter was around three years old, I have baked cookies with my kids. Although I bake many different kinds, I always make rolled sugar cookies with my children. There are gobs of recipes available for these cookies and you can pick a recipe of your choice. These are fun to make for several reasons, and you will have a great time doing this too.

One of the first steps that I let my children help with is rolling the dough. I usually take this duty on myself, but sometimes I would let them do it. After rolling the dough, they get to choose cookie cutters from a huge pile and make the shapes that they like the best. Before allowing them to do this, I always choose the shapes that work the best for cookies. I only give them these cookie cutters and they get to choose from those.

After the cookies are baked, the fun part really begins. I normally make a powdered sugar icing, sometimes adding food coloring to change the color of it, and then I frost the cookies. Before the icing dries, they get the job of decorating the cookies. If you plan on doing this, be prepared for a huge mess. Give your kids a variety of small candies and sprinkles and let them get to work on decorating!

Penne pasta and smoked sausage

Not the best recipe, but it was alright.

I had some smoked sausage in the house and decided to try a new recipe to use this ingredient. I was not real pleased with the results however, my husband really liked this. This is an easy recipe and requires common ingredients you may already have on hand, but it is definitely not a recipe I would make if I were expecting company over.

Here is a list of the ingredients needed for this recipe:

  • 2 c. penne pasta, uncooked
  • 1 lb. fully cooked smoked sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 1 ½ c. milk
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 ½ c. cheddar french-fried onions, divided
  • ½ c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ c. cheddar cheese, shredded

To make this recipe, begin by cooking the pasta according to the directions on the package. While this is cooking, drain the sausage slices in a skillet for around 5 minutes and then drain.

Take a large bowl, and mix together the soup and milk. Add ½ of the french-fried onions, ¼ c. mozzarella cheese and ¼ c. cheddar cheese. Stir together well and then add the sausage. Finally, add the pasta to this mixture and place it in a greased 13 x 9 pan. Cover the dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until it is hot and bubbly. Top with the remaining onions and cheeses and return to the oven, uncovered, for an additional five minutes or until the cheese is melted and the onions are golden brown.

Cooking new meals

This is something my kids would never want!

I get so tired of eating the same things over and over, but the problem is that when I look at recipes, there are not a lot of them that actually look good. A lot of them seem like the same things that I already make, or they are things that no one in my family would like.

One of the hardest things for me to do is to come up with new things to make that everyone would like. My husband likes almost anything, but my kids are very picky. If a try new recipes, my husband and I will always eat them, but my kids will not. They will often look at the dinner I’ve prepared and stick their noses up. They will then eat a salad or a sandwich instead. This drives me nuts and it makes me not want to even try making new things.

The point of me cooking meals is to provide my family with good things to eat and with things that are nutritious, but if they won’t eat these things, why do I bother making them? I know I am not alone. There are many mothers out there that have this same problem.

The other common problem I have is that it takes me trying about 10 recipes to find one that I really love. Some of them might be good, but I really only like making things that are exceptionally good. I want everything I make to be good enough to serve to guests that come over.

Baking soda vs. baking powder

It is important to learn the difference between these two ingredients.

One mistake people often make while baking is adding the wrong ingredient when it comes to baking soda and baking powder. These two ingredients look identical and they are very similar. They are both leavening agents and they are both used in baking. If you are new to baking, you should learn the difference between these two very similar ingredients.

Baking soda is a base and it is also known as sodium bicarbonate and does not contain an acid. Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but it also contains an acid often known as cream of tartar. In order for baking soda to do its job, you must add an acid to it. This acid causes both of these ingredients to make the dough expand.

When baking with either of these ingredients, it is important to bake them right away. They begin working as soon as they are added to other ingredients. If you are using baking soda, there are several different ingredients that you can use as the acid that is needed to make it work. Some of these include buttermilk, yogurt, chocolate or brown sugar. Cream of tartar is also used frequently for this purpose.

Baking powder will begin working as soon as it comes into contact with a liquid. The liquids used in recipes often include milk or water. Baking powder is used in cakes and breads, while cookies generally have baking soda as an ingredient. If you need to substitute banking powder for baking soda, this is how you do it. If you need 1 tsp. of baking powder, you can mix 5/8 tsp. cream of tartar with ¼ tsp. baking soda. You cannot substitute the other way around.


Mexican Chili

This recipe is a keeper!

If you are looking for a good diversion from regular chili, I came across this recipe for Mexican Chili and it is wonderful. It is a great dish for the winter, and you can add extra things to make it more unique.

The ingredients you will need are:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • ½ pkg. frozen corn
  • 3 can pinto beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 pkg. taco seasoning
  • 1 pkg. ranch dip mix
  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Jalapenos

To make this chili, you will begin by frying the ground beef with the onion and green pepper. Cook this until the beef is done and then drain it. Place this mixture in a large pot and add all of the remaining ingredients with the exception of the tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream and jalapenos.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or two. You can simmer it for as long as you would like to get the flavor that you desire.

There are numerous things you can do to add more flavor to this too. You can add chili powder and cumin, for example. You can also add sliced jalapenos or green chilis to it.

When you are ready to eat this Mexican chili, crush tortilla chips into your bowl of chili and add some shredded cheese, chopped jalapenos and sour cream. You will love it, and you can make it spicier by adding more jalapenos.