Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dinner-In-A-Can Transformations

You DO NOT have to make everything from scratch for it to be "homemade".  With a number of family activities on any given day, it can be difficult to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare meals from scratch.  However, it's surprisingly easy to give your family a home cooked meal....warming their hearts as well as their bellies. 

The trick?  Use the canned/boxed food as a base to build on rather than the main theme.

Here are some simple ideas:

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  • Mac n cheese:  toss the dried cheese mix (I actually store it in spice jars to use as a topping for steamed veggies) and substitute freshly shredded cheese blend of choice.  Add 1/3 to 1/2 pkg of cream cheese for a rich, creamy homemade meal.  Optional: add vegetables or top with bacon bits.

    Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Soups:  My husband was not feeling well last night and decided he'd like some soup.  No problem!  I used a can of cream of broccoli cheese soup as my base, tossed in some frozen broccoli, frozen corn,  milk, and fresh shredded cheese.  I also added some spices (garlic is a favorite).   Top with more shredded cheese.  He never even suspected canned soup and was very appreciative of having a nice meal:)  There are so many delicious recipes you can make with soup mixes such as pork chops & gravy, chicken cordon bleu or savory roasted sweet potatoes but I'll stick to the soup theme here. Other good soup bases:

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    • Cream of Potato: can add same ingredients from above or any other veg of choice; or add sausage or ham

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    • Cream of Mushroom: Add more fresh mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Top with croutons

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    • Cream of Tomato: add fresh veggies and egg noodles for minestrone

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    • Clam Chowder: although from scratch is super easy and divine, you could add canned baby clams, bacon and serve in a bread bowl

  • Chili:  I've acquired bulk cases of canned chili from couponing but we don't ever have plain old chili from a can.  Several options:
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    • Chili Surprise: My pal, Rachel, gave me the idea to add canned black beans, chili beans, or any other favorite along with cubed beef chunks (canned or fresh).  Season with favorite spices such as cumin or garlic.  Top your bowl with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese.

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    • Chili Con Carne: A simple favorite is to  add chopped link sausage to the chili.  Or use any leftover meats.

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    • Chili-mac: add some cooked mac n cheese to the chili (I know a teenager who wins a chili cook off every year with this simple recipe...beating out many gourmet blends:)

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    • Frito Pie:  add tomato sauce and pour over Frito's

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    • Cornbread Chili: spread chili in a casserole dish, top with a cornbread batter mix and bake. Option: add canned green chilies to cornbread batter.
Useful Tips:

Recipes are never set in stone:  If you're like me, you come across a recipe you'd LOVE to try except the recipe is too tedious or time consuming.  However, there is usually alternative ingredients and/or cooking methods that will make it doable for you and delicious just the same.  Take my meat and potato pie recipe---I altered an 8 hour recipe that called for ingredients I've never heard of into an easy 1 hour meal using tasty ingredients on hand.

Spices are our Friends:  I have a handful of spices that go on most all my dishes (i.e. garlic).  Even the blandest canned food can be transformed with a sprinkle or two.

Mix and Match for your perfect blend:  I mentioned this trick in an earlier post for creating one of a kind gifts but it's just as useful to cooking too.  Make a recipe yours by adding your family favorite spices or ingredients.  It can become your own signature dish (but don't forget to write it you will remember for the next time)

Keep A Recipe Binder:  It's a good idea to put your tried and true family favorites together in a recipe binder or box. You may be thinking it's not really necessary since you know those recipes by heart... but what if you're running late and you want your husband or kids to start dinner?  It's no problem if they know where to find the recipe.  Plus, you will want to note how you alter recipes for future reference (it's quite the headache to forget and then have to figure it out all over again).