Shepherd’s Pie Skillet Recipe

by Kelly R. Smith

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Shepherd's pie skillet style
Shepherd’s pie skillet style

The weather is starting to cool off and that means two things — it is time for a flu shot and comfort food is the order of the day. This recipe for shepherd’s pie fills the bill nicely. Easy, frugal meals is just what we need as we spend more time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One good thing about this meal is its flexibility. There are any number of substitutions and additions you can make. So, let’s get started.

Shepherd’s Pie Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 box Beef Pasta Hamburger Helper (or the flavor of your choice)
  • Hot water/milk called for on Hamburger Helper box
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
  • Hungry Jack mashed potatoes for 6 servings
  • Water and butter called for on mashed potatoes box for 6 servings
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Chopped parsley (amount to taste)

Preparation Steps

  1. Using a 10-inch skillet, cook beef over medium-high heat for 5 – 7 minutes, stirring often, until brown. Drain the grease. Stir in hot water, milk, sauce mix, uncooked pasta (from the Hamburger Helper box), and thawed vegetables. Heat to boiling, stirring frequently.
  2. Reduce the heat. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pasta and vegetables are tender. Remove the pan from heat.
  3. Make the mashed potatoes as directed on box for 6 servings. Spoon and gently spread mashed potatoes over pasta mixture. Sprinkle with the cheese. Cover; let stand about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

That’s all there is to the shepherd’s pie skillet recipe. You can substitute a different type of cheese, type of Hamburger Helper, and add additional spices. It’s all good.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics; What Does It All Mean?

by Kelly R. Smith

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The health benefits of probiotics
The health benefits of probiotics

This article was updated on 10/26/20.

Everywhere we turn nowadays we hear about probiotics. But what about prebiotics and synbiotics? Actually, they all work hand in hand. Here’s the rundown.

  • Probiotics. WebMD says, “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called ‘good’ or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.” When you lose the “good” bacteria that inhabit your gut, after you take antibiotics for example, probiotics can help replace them. The two main types are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You can get them through dairy and supplements.
  • Prebiotics. The Mayo Clinic tells us, “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.” They are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, mostly those that are rich complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes. When your balance is off it can affect your metabolism.
  • Synbiotics. ScienceDirect says, “Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that are believed to have a synergistic effect by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and enhancing the growth of beneficial organisms.” Evidence suggests that synbiotics influence the microbial ecology in our intestines. This is true in both humans and animals and synbiotics play a role in alleviating various illnesses.

Knowing what we know about prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics it becomes clear that we should maintain our diet with various types of foods in mind, organic whenever possible. This includes milk, cheese, fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha, whole grains, miso, fruits, and vegetables.

Benefits of Probiotics

  • Improves immune function. They assist in the treatment and/or prevention of many common conditions. Some of these include diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Protects against hostile bacteria to prevent infection. Under normal (balanced) conditions, your friendly bacteria in your gut outnumber the unfriendly ones. Probiotics stand duty as gut-beneficial bacteria that create a physical barricade against legions of unfriendly bacteria.
  • Improves digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
  • Counters the negative effects of antibiotics. When you contract a bacterial infection, antibiotics are most often prescribed to as the immediate solution. That’s a Godsend, but unfortunately, nothing good comes free, and antibiotics kill bacteria arbitrarily, decimating both good and bad bacteria in your intestinal tract. By eliminating beneficial bacteria, your body is susceptible to a number digestive issues. Myself, when I go to the grocery store to have an antibiotic prescription filled, I also stock up on yogurt with active cultures.
  • Boosts heart health.
  • Lowers cholesterol. Probiotics contain bacteria that are effective in lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Taylor Francis Online says, “Numerous clinical studies have concluded that BSH-active probiotic bacteria, or products containing them, are efficient in lowering total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.”

Others are reading:

References


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Teriyaki Beef Jerky Recipe

by Kelly R. Smith

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Beef jerky, ready to eat
Beef jerky, ready to eat

I love beef jerky and I suspect that I am not alone in that respect. But, there are three issues that I have with the commercial variety:

  • It’s too expensive.
  • The texture tends to be to hard.
  • God only knows what kind of chemicals and preservatives are used.

And that is one reason why I invested in a food dehydrator. Now I can make my own marinades and control the texture. I made a batch yesterday so my new appliance is paying for itself already. Next, I’m going to run a batch of apples. But here is the simple jerky recipe.

Beef Jerky Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 pounds of thin round sirloin tip. Any lean cut will do. Organic grass-fed is preferable. If you’ve got deep pockets, substitute bison. I know my sister will. That woman knows her food.
  • 1 12 oz. bottle of Lawry’s Teriyaki with Pineapple juice.
  • Spices to taste. I did not add salt due to my high blood pressure.

Jerky Preparation

Marinating beef for jerky
Marinating beef for jerky
  • Slice the meat thin. I prefer about 1/4″. Remember that the meat will shrink as it cooks. As for length, about 6″ is what I like but take into account the geometry and size of your food dehydrator. You will likely end up with some irregular pieces, but that’s OK; it’s jerky after all.
  • Put the slices in a container. The Pyrex dish you see above worked well.
  • Pour the marinade over the beef and mix it up well to ensure a thorough coating.
  • Put in in the refrigerator overnight. Some recipes only call for a few hours but the way I see it, I’m already in it this far. Do it up good. I know Perry’s smokes their famous pork chops for several days. If you’ve had one you know that patience is a good habit.
  • Stir it all up every few hours. I get up sporadically during the night for a bodacious swallow of ice water so no problemo, friend.
  • Pat the slices on paper towels to remove excess marinade.
  • Arrange slices on your dehydrator trays. Allow space for air circulation.
  • Set the temperature for 160 degrees F.
  • Set the timer for 4 hours.
  • Check it every so often for your desired degree of done-ness. Mine was perfection at 3 1/2 hours. Turn off the unit.
  • Leave it in the dehydrator until it cools.
  • Enjoy!
Beef jerky properly spaced on the dehydrator tray
Beef jerky properly spaced on the dehydrator tray

That’s all there is making your own teriyaki beef jerky. Of course, any other marinade works just as well. Buy your favorite or make your own.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Ivation 6-Tray Food Dehydrator: a Product Review

by Kelly R. Smith

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Ivation 6-tray stainless steel food dehydrator
Ivation 6-tray stainless steel food dehydrator

There are many ways to cook and preserve food. In recent years the increasing number of homesteaders and preppers have made canning and dehydrating popular again. Processing food with a food dehydrator is great for storing food in the home and keeping the nutritional value while reducing weight for campers, hikers, or just going on a road trip with family and friends.

I was motivated to buy the Ivation 6-tray dehydrator pictured above, I won’t lie, because I love beef jerky. Well, to be honest, my daughter is crazy for the jerky from Buc-ee’s. So I called her and asked, “What flavor?” She said, “Teriyaki beef jerky.” So I shopped. There are many out there but led me to choose this one was size, materials, and the fact that it’s commercial-grade. In for a dime, in for a dollar, I always say.

By the way, if you were wondering when looking at the picture above, the dehydrator is set up on one of the work benches in my wood shop. No sense in heating up the kitchen during the Texas summer.

Features of the Ivation Dehydrator

  • Six trays. These trays measure 13” X 12”. Plenty of room for processing an assortment of food.
  • Rear-mounted automatic fan. The fan circulates warm air with 600W of heating power. This ensures that the food is evenly dried from all angles.
  • Easy to clean. The 6 stainless steel trays as well as the drip tray are all removable. Just slide them out and wash as you would anything else in your kitchen.
  • Stainless steel body and trays. All parts are BPA-free, this means they are safe and durable.
  • Digital temperature and timer. The temperature range is 95ºF to 167ºF. You can set the timer to automatically shut off your unit at the time you specify. Set it in 30-minute increments for up to 24 hours.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that this Ivation 6-tray food dehydrator is a commercial-grade appliance, it is very easy to use; the controls are simple, it is easy to clean, and the heavy-duty fan is properly placed to do its job evenly. I recommend it.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Creamy Potato Gratin Recipe

Creamy Potato Gratin
Creamy Potato Gratin

This very-familiar comfort food is just as well known as Pizza Margherita but the following recipe for Potato Gratin is my take on it and I find it superior to the mainstream version. The name sounds fancy but in reality, gratin just means ” a dish with a light browned crust of breadcrumbs or melted cheese.”

Potato Gratin Ingredient List (use organic when possible)

  • Cooking spray such as Pam
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I use the kind made with olive oil because it is more heart-healthy)
  • 1 tsp Himalayan or pink salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (I leave the skins on for the nutrition)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 cup chopped basil

Preparation Steps

Creamy Potato Gratin Preparation
Creamy Potato Gratin Preparation
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Spray the bottom of a 9″ X 9″ glass baking dish with the cooking spray.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk the mayo, pepper, salt, cream, and cheddar cheese.
  • Wash and slice potatoes 1/8″ thick.
  • Arrange potato slices in the baking dish, spread on a layer of the cream sauce, and sprinkle on some parsley and basil.
  • Repeat layers as needed (you might have some potato left over).
  • Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
  • Remove foil, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top, and broil until the top is lightly browned, about 2-5 minutes.

That’s all there is to it. Creamy potato gratin is suitable for a side or a main dish by itself. Give it a try; if you have any interesting ingredients to add, let our readers know in the comment section. Feel free to pass this recipe along to your friends and social media.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


10 Common Turkey Cooking Mistakes

Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner
Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner; YUM!
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It’s fair to say that there is nothing quite as emblematic of Thanksgiving as that prince of birds — the turkey. It didn’t make it to be the national bird as Ben Franklin lobbied for, but it did make it to being the savory symbol of one of our favorite national holidays.

That said, the preparation can cause severe anxiety. It’s far too easy to get it wrong; too dry, undercooked, or overcooked. Let’s look at 10 common turkey cooking mistakes.

Not Thawing the Turkey Long Enough

This is a very common mistake, especially for those first-timers. This mistake will lead to forehead slapping and a mad attempt to finish the thawing process in a sink full of warm water.

As a rule of thumb, allow one day in the refrigerator for each 4 pounds of turkey. Using this rule it is easy to determine approximately how long you need to let it defrost before getting busy cooking your turkey.

Over-Brining the Bird

Many recipes call for brining — soaking in a solution of salt and spice. However, many of the most available commercially-produced turkeys, such as frozen Butterball birds, have already been pre-treated with a solution of salt and spices. This is done in order to stretch out the shelf life, not necessarily to please your palate.

If you do this again (just because the recipe says so), you will end up with a salty bird indeed. Just check the label before you proceed. On the one hand, if the producers have already done it, you have less work to do. On the other hand, you can’t hand-pick your favorite spices. Keep this in mind when you are shopping.

Not Drying the Turkey Sufficiently

If your aim is a crispier skin on the outside you’ll want to thoroughly pat the bird down using paper towels before it goes in the oven. Drying the inside cavity of the turkey is also important but not doing so is also a common mistake. Generally speaking, having a well dried turkey inside and outside will yield a more evenly cooked and flavorful bird.

Cooking the Stuffing Inside the Cavity

Whatever Grandma told you, this is not the best of ideas. The main problem here is that to cook the stuffing through fully and guarantee that all of the bacteria inside the raw bird has been eliminated, you will need to cook the turkey for a longer period of time. The result? Dry, overcooked meat. Embarrassing, chef.

The obvious answer is to make the stuffing from scratch or use one of those basic boxed delicacies. I like to bake a loaf using my oatmeal flax seed bread recipe ahead of time and make it from that. Super healthy. Either way, cook it outside the bird. We won’t tell if you don’t.

Trussing the Legs too Tightly

It makes sense when you think about it; closing off the cavity means longer roasting time and possibly uneven cooking. Your only real limitation is the width of your roasting pan.

Not Investing in a Real Meat Thermometer

Sure, it’s tempting to rely on that little pop-up button thingamajiggy, but these are notoriously unreliable. These may be faulty and pop up when the meat is already overcooked. Since you’ve only got one shot at this, go ahead and invest in a real thermometer. You will get more accurate results and as a bonus, you dinner guests will regard you as a professional. 

Cooking at the Wrong Oven Temperature

We all know some cooks that recommend blasting the turkey at high heat (425°F) for about 30 minutes first and then lower the temperature. However, a low, steady temperature of  325°F from beginning to end is preferable.

Certainly, the initially high-heat method may take 30 to 90 minutes off your total cooking time, but remembering to reduce the temperature  is just one more thing to remember on what is already very busy day.

Not Allowing Your Bird to Rest

No, we’re not talking about letting the turkey take a break. Resting simply means taking it out of the oven when it’s done and simply letting it sit there. This should be done with all meats actually. With a turkey the recommended resting time is 15 minutes.

Why do we do this you might ask? Resting time allows the juices inside the turkey to soak back into the meat, instead of dripping out as soon as you you slice into it. This results in a moister bird. It’s still important to keep the turkey warm so tent it with foil until carving time arrives.

Not Preparing the Surface of the Turkey Properly

It’s not clear whether the Pilgrims did this step or not but things have changed since then. It’s not a difficult step; just rub the turkey all over with olive oil or melted clarified butter. The main reason for this is to ensure that the turkey browns evenly. Aesthetics is important; just ask any chef.

Not Inserting the Thermometer in the Correct Spot

You can’t just spear the bird willy-nilly and expect to get the result that you want. Your target is in the thickest part of the thigh, right smack-dab in the crease where it meets the breast. If your bird weighs in at 18 pounds or less, monitor the temperature beginning at 2.5 hours and every 15 minutes following that. For a turkey above 18 pounds, start checking at 3 hours.

Avoid these 10 common turkey cooking mistakes and you and your guests won’t have to be confronted with a foul fowl.

It’s true that stuffing is the most traditional side dish and that’s fine. But if you like to step out of the box and add a very non-traditional dish, you won’t go wrong with Spaghetti Carbonara.

If you are worried that your guests are getting too hungry due to the extra preparation time it takes to do it just right, why not put out an appetizer? I’ve found that Panamanian-Style Ceviche hits the mark rather well.


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