Monday, January 11, 2016

Bare Bones With Style: Kids' Favorites

How do you keep kids happy, while you're dealing with a limited food budget? 

Easy:  feed them what they like. 

Our girlies were mutually passionate about only a few things: hamburgers, spaghetti (they loved my goulash, too), steak and chicken nuggets.
    Plus bratwurst and sauerkraut. (One loved it, one hated it. They both liked corned beef and cabbage, however.) And pizza. (One loved it -- one hated it. To this day. I know -- weird, huh.)

I could feed them those goodies, even in harder times, by following a few basics. In the case of the beef or pork:
    *Buying the meat on sale, or clearance. (Or using venison or elk. Or substituting a cheaper meat, like chicken or turkey. Or using less, adding veggies and making Sloppy Joes, instead.)

    *Buying ground beef with a higher percentage of fat. (Makes the burgers more tender.)
    *Buying a cheaper cut of steak -- or cutting it thinner -- and marinating it for at least an hour. Or overnight. (Oil and vinegar, Italian dressing, teriyaki sauce, red wine and garlic, any of these work.)
    *Cooking it more rare. Well-done meat is harder to chew...and not as tender.

Make 'em smaller...and you've got sliders

In the case of the chicken:  
      If readymade nuggets weren't on sale, then I'd look for breast tenders. But more often, I'd just buy a whole chicken and cut it up. The thighs and wings were served for one meal, baked with barbecue sauce. The breast meat was cut off and set aside, then the rest of the carcass was simmered long for soup, and the meat pulled for chicken potpie or chicken a la king.  (Those recipes are coming soon.)
     The breast meat was sliced thinly or chunked, then soaked in milk with a shot of hot sauce. (Buttermilk's the best, if you've got it.) Then it was dipped in flour, seasoned with salt, pepper -- dipped in beaten egg -- then in breadcrumbs.
     Fry it quickly, or bake at 400 for 10 minutes on an olive-oil-greased sheet, and you've got chicken tenders that any kid would take a yearning for. (Plenty of grown-up kids, too, especially if served with barbecue and ranch sauce.)
     If you've got time, use the leftover milk/flour/egg/crumbs mixtures on sliced zucchini and mushrooms, then fry or bake them up, too. Broccoli, fresh green beans and asparagus are good that way, too.)

     Or make oven fries. Regular potatoes OR sweet potatoes, in this case.

They'd also eat veggies raw -- IF I served them with dip. (Ranch was the preference.)

One of the girlies' favorite meals, by far, was macaroni & cheese. I covered that recipe some time ago (go here for description and ingredients), but you can vary it easily by adding Something Else -- and they'll still eat it. Slice or chop, if needed:
            green beans
            that hard, crunchy, leftover cheese at the back of the crisper
            hotdogs (even if ditto) -- sliced and mixed in, or arranged on top and baked
            baby sausages
            bacon (just a few slices will do it, especially if chopped)
            tuna (one small can, drained, will feed a large family)

Both, but especially Daughter #2, were fond of biscuits and gravy. Cheap and quick to make -- especially if I remembered to put the sausage meat out the night before.


    For four people, plus extra gravy for the dogs, you'll need:

a pound of sausage. Or ground pork. Or ground chicken or turkey. 
    (if the meat is too plain or unseasoned, add a small handful of chopped onion, plus a teaspoon of sage or marjoram)
baking powder biscuits (here's the recipe)
milk, salt and pepper

Start the thawed meat to frying, and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Make the biscuits -- and get them in the oven.

By this point, the meat should be well-browned. Add the leftover flour from making the biscuits and stir until thoroughly mixed. Now pour in about a cup of milk, stirring as you go. Cook on low until mixture thickens and bubbles. Salt and pepper to taste.

The biscuits should be lightly browned by this point. (about 8 min.) Get them out, put a biscuit on each plate, split open, and ladle the gravy over. Serve right away, putting the extra biscuits out with jam and butter for 'dessert.'
     If you do this process with ham, by the way, it's called red-eye gravy. Take the ham out before you put the flour and milk in.

As a kid, one of my top favorites was dried beef and peas in a white sauce. I even asked for it on birthdays. Don't knock it until you've tried it! The shreds of beef flavor the sauce, and the creaminess only accents the flavor. You can call it something different, however...


1 package dried beef (yes, that small ounce-or-so package in the lunchmeat section)
8 ounces frozen peas (this is important, too)
milk (about a cup), 2-3 tablespoons butter, flour (about 1/4 cup) and salt and pepper
1 cup uncooked rice

Start the rice in a separate pan. (1 cup rice, 2 cups water) Cover, and turn the heat to low -- by the time it's ready, the sauce should be, too.

Melt butter in a small saucepan; when it's sizzling, stir in the flour quickly. Add about 1/2 cup milk, stirring over low heat until mixture blends. (You'll probably need to add more at the end, to keep it from thickening too much. Dried milk and water work for this, too, if need be.) When the sauce thickens, add the shredded beef and peas, then salt and pepper to taste. Heat until bubbly.
     By now the rice should be done. Serve it in a pile, with the sauce ladeled over, for four or even stretched to six. Invite me over to dinner!

Who, us??

Why are these recipes written so casually? Because that's how you generally have to make them -- you just got home, the dogs are underfoot...and the family's HUNGRY and wants to eat NOW. Get the kids to set the table -- or start these foods themselves. They're easy to learn. (Daughter #2 even gave her friend a biscuits-and-gravy breakfast for a special high school graduation treat.)

And if need be, say what The Mama always did, when the meal was ready. Laughingly, of course:


* * * * * * * *

Real Simple took the idea of cooking kids' favorites and ran with it -- 51 different ways, starting with appetizers and ending with dessert. (You can stop the slideshow at any time, and grab the recipe.)

Next time:  Wonderful Chicken

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