Pantry Staples

I’m going to say that one of the most common complaints for not making homemade or even semi-homemade meals is due to what’s lacking in your pantry..which in turn, comes a higher grocery bill for just that single dinner.  I feel you.  

Why can’t my pantry look like this????

Easier said than done I know, but if you SLLOOWWLY buy a couple of things per shopping trip, you’ll be fully stocked and on your way to cooking greatness!  …Then just check your supplies regularly and before you know it, you’ll only need to replace each item randomly instead of all at once!  Please keep in mind that many, many of these items are less than $1.00 each and can make soooo much!

*Yes, there are nights that I’ll pop a Stouffers into the oven, make a frozen pizza or just fix a quick turkey sandwich.  I get tired too!  However, if you have an episode of The Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ going on in your home one evening, you’ll be prepared!!

My Must Have Pantry Staples

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Masa, cornmeal, Japanese Panko, dried breadcrumbs and easy tortilla flour
  • Sugar (granulated, light & dark brown sugar, powdered)
  • Yeast packets
  • Baking Soda & Powder
  • Evap milk/sweetened condensed milk, dulce de leche
  • Chocolate chips (butterscotch, etc)
  • Oils (EVOO, vege, canola, crisco/lard
  • Vinegars (regular, Apple cider, balsamic, red wine, champagne, etc)
  • Stocks and broths
  • Pasta noodles, variety
  • Rice
  • Beans, canned and dried
  • Honey/molasses
  • Peanut butter
  • Jellies & jams
  • Canned and jar goods (tomatoes-whole, diced, paste, sauce, etc, chipotle in adobo sauce, pesto, roasted red peppers, bbq sauces, artichokes, olives, spicy peppers)
  • Real maple syrup
  • Mustard(s) and mayo

Ok, now produce can be a bit trickier.  Obviously, the fresher the better.  However, you can keep a few different varieties of potatoes, onions, garlic and citrus out and on hand.  *Also, everyone’s tastes, meal ideas, etc are likely different.  These are MY go-to’s (with maybe an extra thing or two ever so often).  I suggest my ‘must haves’, but please add your flavors to it!

…stay tuned for my Must Have’s for your fridge, freezer and spice cabinet…

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Cake

This very well may be THE cake of all cakes.  Ridiculous in taste and beyond gorgeous.  Seriously, you’re hand scraping a vanilla bean.  That should say it all…  

The Starting Lineup
CAKE

  • 3 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 3 cups of granulated sugar
  • 9 egg whites, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped out
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

STRAWBERRIES

  • 2 pints of strawberries, hulled & quartered
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

CLASSIC CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

REAL WHIPPED CREAM

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar Vanilla Bean Cake ingredients ^

With this recipe we’re going to start with some of your filling first.  With your strawberries, rinse, hull and roughly quarter them.  Place the cut strawberries into a large bowl. 

Top the fruit with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract.  Mix well, cover with Saran Wrap and let macerate for at least 20 minutes.  *Macerate: soften food by soaking in liquid.  If making your cake the same day, as opposed to the night before, place these in the fridge until ready to assemble.

 Now let’s begin your frosting.   I’m a busy wife, mom and food blogger, so for time purposes I am attaching my link to my Classic Cream Cheese Frosting. Classic Cream Cheese Frosting | Railroad Wife  Check it out 😉 Ok I’m not really that busy, I just like ‘links’..
Onto the delicious cake…Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Prep 3 cake pans with either butter & flour or non-stick spray.  I HIGHLY recommend using a cut piece of parchment paper (also coated in spray, flour, etc) in each pan.  This method NEVER fails in achieving your cake coming out perfectly and not sticking.  The next time I make a cake, I promise you that I will take a picture of this step.  Shame on me :/

In your stand mixer, beat together the softened butter and sugar for 5 minutes on med-high.  It should be nice and fluffy. 

    

Next add in all of those egg whites.  This keeps the cake that light colored hue, yolks will turn its shade.  Turn your stand mixer down till medium while your egg whites are gradually mixed in the butter/sugar mix.

Next, grab two (extra, separate) bowls.  In bowl #1, sift together your flour, salt and baking powder. 

 In bowl #2, mix together the buttermilk and the pure vanilla extract with the scraped out contents of your vanilla bean. (This smells so darn fabulous!  I was rubbing my scented hands on my wrists and neck like perfume.  I’m weird). 

 Can you see those beautiful flecks of REAL vanilla in the buttermilk?? Ahhhh..

Ok, now alternating the two bowls, pour them into your butter, sugar & egg white mix slowly.  Mix till just incorporated.  Don’t over mix please.  Bad things happen to those who do.

Divide the batter evenly between all three pans.  Slightly shake the filled pans to even out the batter. 

Bake these cakes at 350 degrees till a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Let cakes cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto the wire rack to finish cooling. *please cool completely before applying the frosting and fruit!  These cakes can even be made the night before, wrapped well and frosted the next day.

After the cakes are absolutely, positively cooled, prepare your real deal whipped cream!

In your stand mixer add in your 2 cups of heavy cream along with the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.  With the beater attachment, beat on high until light, fluffy and sweet! 

    
Final-freakin-lutely!!  It’s cake assembly time, the last step before the cake devouring time.  My personal favorite step.
Now, this cake makes three tiers, HOWEVER, I only use two and my boys and I munch on the third one ourselves.  “Quality time”, I call it.

On a pretty platter, place one cake layer down.  Coat the cake with a nice thick layer of your cream cheese frosting.  If it hangs over the edge, all the better!  Next, spoon copious amounts of your whipped cream over the frosting.  Finally, add a hefty helping of your (drained) macerated strawberries.

You’re then going to softly place your second tier of cake onto that.  Repeat the same process. (I actually prefer to apply my Classic Cream Cheese Frosting to the second tier BEFORE placing it on top and adding the cream & strawberries).  Any extra strawberries ‘stuff’ into the sides of cake and on top.

You’re now done and ready to take in the praises!  Please enjoy!  You can always jog it off tomorrow 😉 

  

The Best Chicken Fried Steak GRAVY

Yes, it’s the longest title in the world for some damn gravy, but boy is this worth the mouthful!  Once you’re finished frying your CFS’s (chicken fried steak’s for those who take a minute to get the acronym) the rest is easy!

The Starting Linup

  • 1/4 cup of the CFS grease (that remains in the bottom of your cast iron)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Salt & Pepper
  • *seasoned salt & cayenne (optional, but a must for me!)   

Like I said above, do NOT throw out the drippings from your CFS.  You can remove some grease if you seem to have a lot, but make sure that you have at least about a 1/4 cup.

Heat those drippings to medium and slowly add in your 1/3 cup flour.  You want the flour/drippings mix to clump together.  Not too wet, not too dry.  It should have a golden brown hue and turn into a ‘paste’.  If it still seems too greasy, add about a tbsp of flour at a time till it thickens up.

Once you reach that ‘clumpy, paste-like’ consistency (that sounds appetizing doesn’t it!) whisk in your milk.  Whisk, whisk, whisk out those clumps till it’s smooth and creamy.  Now is when you will season to taste with your salt & pepper.  In my opinion, you can never have enough pepper in a cream gravy! Here, is where I also like to add a tsp or two of seasoned salt & maybe a pinch of cayenne.  It just sets it apart from the others!  Allow to cook for at least 10 minutes while stirring often. Add more milk if necessary.  *make sure to test the flavor along the way!  Remember you can always add seasonings, but you can’t really take them away…. use, with your CFS, potatoes, fried chicken, biscuits or cornmeal waffles.   This stuff would be good on a shoe!

  

Buttermilk Chicken Fried Steak

Yes m’am!  This IS one of the mainstays in Southern cooking.  It’s tender, crunchy and flavorful, all in a cut of inexpensive ‘steak’.  Excellent!

Now my seasoning here isnt ‘exact’ like I usually write out.  That is because real fried chicken flavor should be your own thing.  Go ahead and dress this your own, but keep in mind that a HEAVY dose of each spice does wonders.. Yum!!!

The Starting Lineup

  • 4 cuts of tenderized cube steak
  • 2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1 qt Buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Cajun Creole seasoning
  • Cayenne Pepper 
  • Season salt
  • Kosher salt & Pepper
  • 1/4 Vege or Canola oil
  • 1/4 cup lard *you can just use 1/2 cup of available oil instead  Place your tenderized, cube steaks into a shallow dish and coat each side with a heavy dose of Cajun seasoning.  Pour in 1 cup of buttermilk and allow to marinate for 2 hours-plus in your refrigerator.   

After your preferred marinating time is up, place the buttermilk marinated dish on the counter to allow the steak to get to temp, while getting your fryin’ oil and seasonings ready!!

In a large, heavy-duty pan (Lodge cast iron for me), get your oil/lard heated to medium temperature.

Meanwhile, lay out three separate dishes. 1. Egg mixture 2. Flour mixture 3. A clean dish ;).

  • Whisk your 2 egg dish with 1 cup of buttermilk.
  • Combine your flour with equal amounts of pepper, cayenne and seasoned salt.  Add a dash of Kosher salt.
  • The extra dish is clean (for now) for your egg/flour dredged cutlets.

Each cubed steak will be coated in the egg mix, then flour,…egg again,…flour again and laid into the clean dish until ready to fry.  With this, your CFS will have a great, flavorful coating!

      

Once all are dipped, dredged and done again, add one by one to the heated oil.  Cook each side for about 3 minutes (until browned) and transfer to a paper towel lined plate.

 When all your Chicken Fried Steaks have finished frying, drain the cutlets and excess oil onto a paper towel lined plate.  Tranfer to oven to keep warm.

Add your CFS, with a large side of gravy, potatoes and crisp veggies to your ‘platter’ and enjoy!!! *we like ours served with homemade gravy, potatoes and a side veggie! :))).

Southern comfort at its best!!

.

Posole Rojo

Now this flavorful, spicy recipe takes some effort and hours of cooking, however, your reward is great!  You can also adjust the spice level by how much of the Chili de Árbol sauce you add to your broth.  Here in my home we like things HOT🔥.  So I add in a full cup and still garnish my serving with a drizzle.  If you want just a hint of heat and flavor, I recommend using 1/2-3/4 of a cup and zero ‘drizzle’.  To each their own, so adjust to your liking.

I imagine this could work great as a crockpot meal as well.  I suggest still searing your pork roast with the sweated onions and garlic on the stovetop first before adding to your crockpot.  Make sure to scrape up any and all brown bits to be put in also.  This method would work for days one has to be at work, the first for a lazy weekend day.

Hope y’all enjoy!  I know we did!

The Starting Lineup 

  • 3lb pork roast
  • 1 onion,  white chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 7 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup Chili de Árbol sauce, *recipe below (use less if you don’t want it too spicy)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of Mexican chicken bouillon (Knorr Caldo Con Sabor de Pollo)
  • 2 heaping Tbsp Cumin, separated (1/dry rub-1/broth)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 cup milk/Tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 cans white hominy

GARNISH

  • sliced fresh jalapeños & radishes
  • Cilantro
  • Sour cream dollop
  • A drizzle of reserved chili purée 

Before starting this recipe, make sure you have a cup of my *Chili de Árbol | Railroad Wife sauce on hand.  This is a MUST for the robust, spicy flavor!

Set your pork roast out and coat with cumin and 1/2 salt and bring to temperature for even cooking.  Set aside.  *you can even coat roast in the dry rub overnight if you’d like, but still set meat out about 20 minutes before you sear it.

Heat vegetable oil to medium in a heavy dutch oven (I use my Lodge cast iron, but any should work).  Add your chopped onion to the oil and cook till soft (4-6 minutes).  Add in garlic and cook for 1 minute. 

Push mix to side of pot, turn up to med-high and add the spice coated pork roast and sear on each side for a nice ‘crust’ ( 8-10 minutes).  Occasionally stir your onion/garlic mix while your roast is searing so they don’t burn.

 

Next, add 1 cup water, all the chicken broth, chicken bouillon, 1 cup of chili purée (less if you don’t want it too spicy), cumin, Mexican oregano, bay leaf.  

Stir all the spices and the sauce https://railroadwifeintexas.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/chili-de-arbol-sauce/ together.  It will develop a great red hue. 

  

Bring to boil, stir and then turn to a simmer and cover.  Let simmer for 3 hours, stirring about once per hour. 

 

After the 3 hours is up, add the (drained) hominy to your pot.  Stir and let sit 1 more hour. 

After that last painful, stomach growling hour remove the roast from the broth and shred.  

Mix together the milk and cornstarch in bowl till smooth and add to broth.  If needed, repeat.  This helps to slightly thicken the broth.  Add the shredded pork roast back in now as well.  Let sit till the stew slightly thickens.

After all your hard work and (im)patience in waiting, your Posole Rojo is ready!!!  Ladle a large helping into a bowl, garnish and serve with chips or a warm, fresh tortilla on the side! 

  

Chili de Árbol Sauce

Ya know that super spicy ‘hot sauce’ you have to ask the waiter for at restaurants?  The velvety smooth one that they don’t normally serve with your chips and salsa due to its insanely hot heat level?  Well this is it.  You can also use this as a fantastic base for a great enchilada sauce or soup.

Now please don’t be deterred from making this because you see dried Chilis.  Besides a couple of garlic cloves and water, these are your only ingredients.  Seriously.

The Starting Lineup

  • 4 Ancho Chilis (dried)
  • 2 New Mexico Chilis (dried)
  • 1 cup of Chilis de Árbol (dried)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, smashed 

Ok, first thing to do is boil a few cups of water in a pan.  Meanwhile, cut the stems off of each pepper and shake out as many seeds as you can.  Don’t worry about getting every single seed out, this will also go through a mesh sieve after they’re puréed.

  

Place the deseeded chilis in a large bowl and pour the now boiling water over them.  Cover the filled bowl immediately with a plate or Saran Wrap.  This will rehydrate and soften your dried peppers. *you can see the Saran Wrap billowing up from the hot steam.  

 

Let these chilis steep in the hot water for 30 minutes.  Once time is up, use a slotted spoon to add the peppers to your blender.  Also add in 2 cups of the water that the chilis soaked in and your 2 cloves of garlic.  

Blend for a minute till smooth.  If needed add more of the chili water to thin. *I recommend holding a towel over your blender lid as you purée.  The hot liquid tends to expand and you don’t want to get burned.  Promise.

Slowly, about 1/2 cup at a time, pour your blended chilis into a fine mesh cooking sieve that is hung over a bowl.  *dont mind my sieve.  My boys like to steal it from my kitchen and ‘catch butterflies’ with it through out my home.  It has lost its beautiful, once round shape..  With a rubber spatula, push down on the sauce to press the liquid through the sieve while it catches all of the seeds & skins.  It will be paste-like and the sauce in the bowl underneath will be smooth. 

  

After you’ve pressed all of the liquid through the metal sieve from your blender..your done!!  Authentic Chili de Árbol sauce for all your Mexican inspired dishes!🔥💃👌

Texas Tamale Pie

This is good…real good!  Homemade cornbread, meat, cheese and spice!  What’s not to like?  If you’re real crafty, it can all be made in one pan..but I used two and was just fine.

I also used canned enchilada sauce.  In my home that’s almost sacrilegious, but with the homemade cornbread and other goodies no one can tell..Promise!  Your secret’s safe with me!

The Starting Lineup

Meat

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • Kosher Salt & Pepper, to taste

Cornbread

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup flour 
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp vege oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bag/can corn (14oz roughly, I use frozen, thawed OR not)
  • 1 can green Chilis, 4.5oz

Finishings

  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I prefer Jack variety, melts great)
  • 1 1/3 cups enchilada sauce

Toppings

  • Cilantro
  • Sour Cream
  • Jalapeños 
  • Salsa
  • Limes 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Grease (oil, butter or crisco) a baking dish of your choice or a large cast iron skillet, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine your cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder & salt.  Mix well.

 Slowly whisk in your vegetable oil till small clumps appear.

 Now whisk in the milk and egg.  Once combined, gently fold in your green Chilis and corn. 

Pour your green-chili cornbread mixture into your greased pan.

 Make sure it’s about even throughout pan and put into your oven for 20-25 mintutes (toothpick comes out clean).

While your cornbread is baking, start cooking your ground beef in a skillet over medium heat.  Add in your seasonings to the meat and simmer.  Once cooked through, drain and set aside. 

   When ready, remove your cornbread from the oven.  Drop your oven temp down to 350 degrees and allow your cornbread to cool for 5 minutes. 

 Prick your cornbread with either a toothpick or fork all over (have you ever made poke-cake?  Same idea).  Pour your enchilada sauce right over the entire cornbread.  Layer your drained ground beef and then the cheese over the top of your cornbread/sauce.  

   Cover your pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes. 

 Remove foil and allow to bake for 10 more minutes.

Once bubbly and hot, take out of oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Serve with sour cream, salsa, jalapeños, left over enchilada sauce, etc. 

  

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