How to Make Delicious and Easy Meals (help for college students who are new cooks)

It’s a busy time of year!

The kids are back to school, the teachers are back in their classrooms, and lots of college students are moving back to campus. Some of these college students, however, are moving off campus and many of them are facing their own kitchens for the first time ever. That can be a little intimidating!

Seven Loaves college cooking

Seven Loaves is here to help though –we sure don’t want anyone to starve! Or to live on Ramen noodles all year long. (But we are going to give you a recipe with Ramen Noodles!)

Here are a few simple suggestions for some reasonably-healthy, easy-to-make meals for those moving into their first apartments or houses. It’s good to keep things simple for new cooks, so these dishes need minimal shopping and preparation to get started.

First, having some basic things on hand will always make it easier to throw together dinner. Stock your kitchen with some common, go-to spices. You don’t have to have an elaborate spice collection; instead look for spice blends such as Italian seasoning, taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash seasoning blends, Lawrys’s seasoned salt, and/or Montreal steak seasoning just to name a few. Use them in anything you want. For example, Montreal steak seasoning will add flavor to more than just steak.

The following dishes will have you cooking in no time!

Spaghetti

Pick up some hamburger meat that can easily be browned in a skillet, a jar of pasta sauce, and some spaghetti noodles for a simple spaghetti dinner. If you want to jazz it up a little more, chop an onion to add to the meat while browning, and/or a jar of mushrooms.

Or even easier: add the cooked meat over Ramen noodles. And if you want to get even simpler, you can use a precooked hamburger patty and chop it.

Tacos

Seven Loaves tacosThis is another easy dish with ground beef. Pick up taco shells, a bag of already-shredded iceberg lettuce, a bag of shredded cheese, a tomato, and a bottle of taco sauce. You just have to brown the hamburger meat with the taco seasoning we suggested having on hand, chop the tomato, and you’re ready for tacos!

Use all the leftovers within five days to make a taco salad. Add some drained black beans for extra protein.

Hamburgers

Pick up hamburger meat, buns, and your favorite burger toppings. Cheese slices, onion, tomato, pickles, mustard…whatever you like. In our opinion, burgers are best on the grill, but they sure can be cooked on your stovetop as well. Make your burger patties, add a little salt and pepper or one of the blends mentioned above, and fry it up in a skillet with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Toast your bun if you want, or not. Put on your toppings. It really can’t be much easier than that!

Note: It’s always best for beginners to cook over medium heat so you are less likely to burn things!

Chicken dishes

Let’s move on to some easy dinner ideas using chicken. To keep things simple, you can buy precooked chicken for meals. You have several options. First, you can pick up some already-prepared grilled chicken in bags. Or you can use cooked rotisserie-style chicken and pull all the meat off the bone. Also, fully-cooked fajita chicken and fajita beef can be found in the refrigerated section of most super markets and can be used for more than just fajitas.

Fajitas

Using one of the precooked chicken options mentioned above, you can easily make delicious fajitas.

Slice up an onion and a green pepper and saute them together in a little vegetable oil until they’re soft. Warm up some flour tortillas (microwave works fine). Then add warmed-up chicken meat, the cooked onion and green pepper strips, shredded cheese, pico de gallo (can also buy this ready-made) and sour cream. Who doesn’t love fajitas?

Salads

Buy a bag of ready-to-go salad mix. Add some warmed pre-made chicken and your favorite salad dressing.

Soups

Seven Loaves soup

Nothing is better than a hot bowl of soup when the fall weather gets cooler. You can turn almost anything into a soup, and leftovers are perfect for this.

Shoot for these key things: a protein (beef, chicken, sausage, pork, etc.), a starch (potatoes and rice make great options), and vegetables. Carrots, celery and onions are staple items in most any soup. You can also add green beans, peas, canned stewed tomatoes, squash─ or whatever else you like. Toss all this into a pot on the stove, add canned beef stock or chicken stock, and simmer on low for an hour or so. If you’re in a hurry you can microwave or cook on high, but stir frequently to avoid burning.

Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are super easy. If you’re in a hurry, they can even be microwaved. Top with precooked fajita meat, precooked barbecue, chili , or other favorites like butter, sour cream, cheese, and salsa.

Gourmet Ramen

Use any of the precooked meats we’ve discussed, along with a bag of frozen vegetables that you’ve steamed in the microwave, to top Ramen noodles. Amounts aren’t too important, but for the sake of good nutrition try to have 4-6 ounces of protein and a ½ cup of veggies. Add a little Sriracha if you like it spicy.

Amazing grilled cheese

Seven Loaves grilled cheese

Experiment with different pre-sliced cheeses. You can use a couple of different cheeses if you want. To cook, simply assemble the sandwich, butter the outside of each piece of bread, and heat over medium heat in a skillet or toaster oven. (Toaster oven, not a toaster! There’s a difference.) Enjoy with a side salad or a bowl of soup and you’ve got a great meal.

If it sounds good, you can even add some deli turkey or ham for a great hot sandwich melt.

Mac and Cheese

We’ll finish up with an old favorite that everyone seems to love: mac and cheese.

But instead of just grabbing a box at the grocery, you can make an easy from-scratch version. (What is in that bright orange powder in the box, anyway?)

All you need is a package (16 oz.) of macaroni noodles, a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup, 1 cup of milk, and 1 pound of shredded Colby cheese. That’s it!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni.

Place cooked macaroni in a 2 quart casserole dish. Stir in cheese soup and milk until well-combined. Top with shredded Colby and bake 25 to 30 minutes. Yum!

Kick it up a notch: You can also add your favorite meat to your mac and cheese for a change of pace and added protein. We like adding brisket or pulled pork. You can find either of those meats precooked in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Just get started!

These simple meals will get new cooks started. There are so many ready-to-go ingredients at the grocery today that it’s gotten much easier to make simple dinners.

Congratulations, you’re a cook!

How to Grill the Perfect Steak: Expert Tips and Secrets!

We told you in our last post about grilling no-fail, delicious chicken that we wouldn’t leave out the red-meat lovers, so this one’s for you!

Seven Loaves grilled steak

Just in time for your 4th of July celebrations, we’re going to share our tried-and-true tips for cooking a perfectly grilled steak.

Gas vs. Charcoal

Many people have moved to gas grilling because of the convenience, but there’s little argument that using charcoal produces a more flavorful meat. We all love convenience, but what if you could have hot coals in the same amount of time that it takes to heat up a gas grill? You can by using a charcoal chimney!  We use one and we love it. If you want to learn more about it, you can read about it here.

Seven Loaves grilling tips

The charcoal chimney gets started by using either lighter cubes or newspaper. Since newspaper can sometimes be hard to get your hands on right when you need it, you can buy unprinted newspaper in bulk at your local moving supply store (like U-Haul). Keep a box of it in your garage, and you’ll always have it on hand to get your fire started.

Gauging the Temperature of the Grill

Grilling at the right heat level is probably more important than any other aspect of grilling. You can’t expect great results if you just grill everything at the same temperature.

If your grill has a thermometer in the lid, then it’s easier to be sure you’re cooking at the correct heat level. If you’re using a charcoal grill, however, it may not have a thermometer. Then you can use the old-school hand test instead.

Seven Loaves grilling steak

To use the hand test, extend your palm over the charcoal at a safe distance. Imagine a soda can standing over the cooking grate. If your palm was resting on the top of the can, it would be about five inches from the cooking grate─just where you should measure the heat of the charcoal.

Always pull your hand away from the heat BEFORE it hurts.
And be sure that nothing flammable, such as a sleeve, is dangling from your arm!

  • If you need to pull your hand away after 2 to 4 seconds, the heat is high
  • If you need to pull your hand away after 5 to 7 seconds, the heat is medium
  • If you need to pull your hand away after 8 to 10 seconds, the heat is low

Grilling Classes

We’re going to share tips here, but we also want to let you know that we occasionally host grilling classes. We not only demonstrate our tips for grilling success, but everyone has a lot of fun, too.

We provide the instruction and drinks, and those attending get to sample a variety of food from the grill as we cook. To keep an eye out for future grilling classes, “like” our Facebook page or fill out your contact information. Just put grilling classes in the box for event description.

In the meantime, we’re going to share our tips on grilling the perfect steak. It all starts with a good cut of meat…

Perfectly grilled steak

Seven Loaves grilled steak

To grill the perfect steak, you only need three ingredients: a good cut of steak, a small amount of oil, and your seasoning.

Steak cuts we recommend for grilling:

Boneless rib-eye, 1.25 to 1.5 inches thick, about 12 ounces each
New York Strip steaks, 1.25 to 1.5 inches thick, about 12 ounces each
Filet mignons, trimmed, about 8 to 10 ounces each

For oil, you’ll need 2 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil (per every four steaks)

Lastly, you’ll need your favorite steak seasoning or seasoned salt.

What we recommend for steak seasoning

Over the years we’ve developed our own house blend seasoning, but you can make a delicious, simple blend on your own. We recommend one of the following:

  • Equal parts of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt + Mrs. Dash Seasoning
  • Equal parts Lawry’s Seasoned Salt + Montreal Steak Seasoning

Apply seasoning liberally before grilling the meat. We recommend using about twice as much seasoning blend as you would if you were using just salt alone.

Steps for grilling the perfect steak:

About 20 minutes before grilling, remove the steaks from the refrigerator and let sit, covered, at room temperature.

Heat the grill to high.

Brush the steaks on both sides with oil and season liberally with your steak seasoning.

Place the steaks on the grill and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Turn the steaks over once, and continue to grill until they reach the perfect amount of doneness. (What that means is up to you!)

  • Cook about another 3 to 5 minutes for medium rare (an internal temperature of 135 degrees)
  • Cook about another 5 to 7 minutes for medium (an internal temperature of 140 degrees)
  • Cook about another 8 to 10 minutes for medium well (an internal temperature of 150 degrees)

Transfer the steaks to a platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 5 minutes before serving or slicing.

Have fun grilling

The most important thing is to just enjoy working on your grill skills! Attack your outdoor grilling as a fun experiment, not a chore. Most things in life that require skill don’t come naturally, so cut yourself some slack and be ready for trial and error. Take notes on what you do so you can make adjustments or do the same things next time, depending on the outcome.

And if you’re worried about ruining dinner, then just keep a package of good ol’ tube steaks (hotdogs) on hand as a backup!

Have a safe and happy July 4th!

 

 

9 Tips for Grilling Perfect No-Fail Chicken (Plus a Favorite Recipe!)

Seven Loaves grilling tips

Many guys dream of mastering the perfect steak on the grill. But more and more, we see the ladies tackling the grill and sometimes they just want a well-cooked, flavorful piece of chicken. And guys, let’s face it. Sometimes you simply need to whip out a weeknight dinner, so learning how to master chicken that’s juicy and tasty, rather than dry and bland, is important.

Red meat lovers─you’re next!

Don’t worry─we’ll get to the red meat! Watch for our next blog post (soon) on grilling the perfect steak.

In the meantime, here are 9 tips for grilling delicious, no-fail chicken:

1) Start with the right cut of chicken

Seven Loaves grilling tips Some pieces of chicken take longer to grill than others, so if time is a factor, you’ll have to choose your chicken pieces accordingly. You’ll need more time for thicker pieces or bone-in breasts. If time is limited, choose boneless breasts or cut boneless chicken into small pieces and thread onto a skewer.

Skewer tips:

If you use wooden or bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 20-30 minutes before using. Skewer meat and veggies from end to end leaving no skewer exposed. (If necessary, buy shorter skewers or trim off excess skewer with kitchen shears.) Following these tips will keep the skewers from catching on fire.

2) Pound boneless chicken breasts before cooking

The uneven shape of boneless, skinless chicken breasts makes them difficult to grill. Take just a few minutes to pound the thicker part of the breast so that it’s thinner. This helps in two ways─you’ll shorten cooking time and the meat will cook more evenly.

3) Add flavor to the chicken before grilling

Seven Loaves grilling tips

Take a little bit more time to add some flavor to the meat before grilling. It can be a brine, a rub, or a marinade. Something simple will do the trick─don’t worry about needing anything complicated. Adding a little flavor to the meat before cooking has several benefits.

First, you won’t have as much basting work to do during grilling. Plus, the flavor of the grilled chicken will be better. Another plus: when you don’t have to do as much basting work, you have more time to enjoy one of the best parts of grilling─kicking back with a cold drink and relaxing while dinner cooks.

4) Prep the grill

For the grill to cook well, it needs to be maintained, cleaned, and prepped. Before starting to cook, make sure you have enough fuel and that you have clean grill grates. Right before putting the chicken on, rub a little oil on the preheated grates to keep it from sticking.

Use long tongs to add oil to your grill plates. Then use either several layers of heavy-duty paper towels or an old kitchen rag saturated with vegetable oil. We recommend that once the grill is heated, your turn the burners off while oiling to avoid a flare up. (If you use vegetable spray instead, you absolutely MUST turn the burners off!) Don’t forget to reignite the grill once the grates are oiled!

5) Stay away from high heat

Unlike steak or burgers, where you want a fairly high heat to get a good sear on the outside, chicken needs to stay away from high heat. You want to cook chicken thoroughly, but without the skin burning. This works best over medium, indirect heat.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, build a two-level fire or put coals on only half of the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, keep the heat on medium.

6) Close the lid!

Seven Loaves grilling tipsOne of the biggest mistakes that novice grillers make is to leave the grill open. This not only makes cooking time longer, but you’re unnecessarily losing a lot of heat and fuel. A covered grill creates a sealed, oven-like environment where the heat surrounds your food on all sides. This is especially helpful when you’re cooking chicken because, unlike steak or burgers, chicken must be cooked thoroughly.

7) Avoid cross-contamination

You have to be careful not to get cross-contamination when handling chicken. Anything that touches raw chicken (including your hands!) needs to be washed with hot, soapy water. Never use a platter to carry raw chicken out to the grill and then put the cooked chicken back on the same platter. At least not without a good hot, soapy wash in between!

8) Baste often, but not until the end

It’s delicious when sauce glazes grilled chicken and caramelizes onto it. But wait to brush on the sauce until the end of cooking or it will burn. Don’t start basting until about five to seven minutes before the chicken is done. Then baste all over, turning the chicken a few times. That way each layer has time to cook and stick to the chicken.

9) Use a meat thermometer

Chicken needs to be cooked thoroughly to be safe. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thickest piece of chicken and make sure that it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees. Also be certain that the thermometer is not resting on a chicken bone─this gives a false reading.

If you don’t have a thermometer (we strongly suggest that you get one!) cut into a thick part of the chicken and make sure the juices run clear.

A family favorite

We found this recipe from Betty Crocker years ago, and it’s been one of our family’s favorite summer chicken recipes ever since. This recipe calls for boneless breasts, but you can certainly use thighs or leg quarters. Give it a try─we think you’ll love it!

Grilled Chicken with Chipotle-Peach Glaze

Seven Loaves chicken recipe

Ingredients

1/2 cup peach preserves
1/4 cup lime juice
1 canned chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, seeded, chopped*
1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from can of chiles)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
8 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 lb) SAVE $
1 teaspoon garlic-pepper blend
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 peaches, cut in half and pitted, if desired
Cilantro sprigs

*Please note: this is ONE pepper, not one whole can. You can always raise the heat by adding more peppers or by not seeding, if you want it hotter.

Steps

Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium. In 1-quart saucepan, mix preserves, lime juice, chile pepper, and adobo sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until preserves are melted. Stir in chopped cilantro; set aside.

Sprinkle chicken with garlic-pepper blend, cumin and salt.

Place chicken on grill. Cover grill; cook over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes. During the last few minutes, turn a few times while brushing with the preserves mixture. Cook until juice of chicken is clear and when center of thickest part reaches 165 degrees.

Add peach halves to grill for last 2 to 3 minutes of grilling, just until heated.

Heat any remaining preserves mixture to boiling; boil and stir for one minute.

Serve cooked sauce with chicken and peaches. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Happy grilling!

And don’t forget─we’re not leaving out the red-meat lovers! Watch for our next post soon on grilling the perfect steak.