I grew up a grub-scout, and we cooked a LOT of foil-pouch dinners over campfires. We called them “Hobo Packs” back then (way before anyone had heard of “political correctness” lol)
Nowadays, I make some up and freeze them before leaving for camping trips, to get a delicious dinner, with no clean up!
I have an exhaustive list of foil-pouch recipes and idea in the “MY KITCHEN Cookbook“, but here’s a couple of tips we teach the kid’s before we let them loose on the ingredients table:
One thing I see done a lot, when people are assembling foil-pouch meals, is that they want to place the meat on the bottom, and pile their veggies over that. While they probably think that this will ensure that the meat cooks faster, and thoroughly, it’s actually the opposite of how you want to build your pouch, and will only dry out and/or burn the meat.
The juiciest ingredients need to be placed closest to the foil (tomatoes are best), as they will be the least damaged if burnt, then ingredients with less moisture content on top of those, then your seasoning, and LASTLY the meat (pre-seasoned with salt and pepper.) Top with a little butter or olive oil, and close it up.
The reason for this layering: Fats/oils from the meat drips down to flavor the veggies, while the tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc., contain water, which mixes with all those natural juices, and steams the meat into tenderness. That excess moisture also helps to keep your veggies from drying out.
I also like to wrap the pouch, seam side down, in a second piece of foil, to help prevent leaking and scorching.
Personally, I like to brush a thin layer of bacon-fat, or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) on the foil before I add my veggies.
It adds a little more flavor, and also helps prevent your veggies from sticking to the foil.
Then start cooking with the outer seam down. Try it and see what you think!
Home Chef Note: Don’t use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for foil-pouch cooking…just don’t do it.
They dry out too easily in this form of cooking, and they don’t bring any fat or flavor to the party.
Bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and hindquarter work great, though. Slice along both sides of the bones (but don’t remove them) before seasoning and cooking.
This not only gets more flavor into the meat, but it helps the meat cook faster, and more evenly!
Have any foil-pouch cooking questions? Let me know!
A note on “buying in bulk”: It’s a great idea, and I do it myself, selectively, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Growing up in a home with a severely limited budget for anything, including food, buying large amounts of any one item, regardless of the long-term savings, would have meant no budget for any other foods. I still run into this issue with the “big box” stores.
You Can’t Eat Toilet Paper
Saving 50% on giant bags of beans, rice (or toilet paper) is great, but if it takes half of my weekly budget to buy those 3 items, it’s just not a reasonable option. A lot of folks are on such a ridiculously small budget, that it becomes a cash-flow issue, and the only option is to find the best deals on the amount they need THIS week, and, believe me, I get that.
In this situation, I recommend trying to set aside small portion of the budget towards these items, even just a couple of dollars a week. When you’ve saved enough to buy that 50lb bag of beans, do it! Then, start saving for the next bulk item.
This is not to speak of the “bulk food” section, which is exactly the opposite situation, in that you can purchase as much, or as little, as you need.
As we talked about in “The Home Chef: Transforming the American Kitchen”, you can add a lot of variety to your meal planning, for very little money (and save on storage space), by sometimes just buying the exact amount of a dry-good or spice, that you need for that recipe.
This is especially true of ingredients which you’re not likely to use up in a timely manner.
Food You Don’t Eat Costs More
This is a trap that many of us fall in to, including me, and it’s the main reason I stopped buying produce at Costco, unless I was using it all at one time.
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Let’s say I buy 4lbs of grapes at the box store for $6.00 ($1.50/lb), and they’re $1.99 per pound at the produce store. In theory, I just saved two bucks, right?
Woo-Hoo, good job me!
However, if I get through the first 2lbs, and then the grapes get pushed to the back of the fridge, or I leave for the weekend and forget about them, or I just eat them slower than I thought I would, and the next thing I know, my beautiful bargain grapes have grown soft and fuzzy.
I paid $1.50 a pound for the whole container, but I paid $3.00 a pound for the grapes that I actually ate. Which means I paid 33% MORE for the bulk container, than I would have by just buying a pound or two at the produce store!
Have a Plan!
This is why the most important element of saving $$$ with bulk foods is to Have a Plan!
Plan you meals and snacks, before you shop (or let us do it for you), and stick to that plan! Food waste is at epidemic proportions in America, driving up the cost of our groceries, wasting our resources, and filling our landfills. Be part of the solution.
And finally, make a list…and stick to it! The bulk food section is a cornucopia of new ingredients, and the imaginative home chef can quickly fill their basket (and empty thier wallet) in the excitement of trying new things. Guilt as charged! The most proactive step you can take to keep your inner “Iron Chef” on a leash, is know what you’re going to buy before you walk through the doors, and buy ONLY what’s on your list.
Am I saying don’t experiment with new foods? Of course I’m not (I think you know me better than that!)
I’m a sucker for a new shape of pasta, and variety of beans I’ve never tried, of some exotic style of rice, and I encourage you to be as well. BUT (and I always have a big butt…) make them part of your plan!
When I find something that’s looks interesting, and that I want to try, I jot a note down on my list to add it to my NEXT shopping trip. This insures:
I’ll have a chance to research the item, and learn more about it, and if the price a good value.
I’ll have a chance to make sure I have ROOM for it at home.
I can find a recipe or two using it and make it part of my PLAN.
I think many folks are intimidated by a big hunk of meat like a boneless pork shoulder, but in reality, it’s one of the easiest things in the world to cook. It also happens to be inexpensive, and delicious.
My favorite combination!
Here’s a three-dinner plan (for four), to make the most of that big hunk of perfection!
First and foremost, is roasting up a great pork shoulder…
Finally, here a new (to the blog, but an old favorite in my family) recipe, for a delicious, soul-warming stew that was built on making the most of what you had, in tough times.
Brunswick Stew is an iconic dish here in the south. Folks in the Georgia branch of my family tree know good Brunswick Stew when they see it and you best not mess it up! In the old days, it was usually an old, stringy chicken and a couple of wild rabbits, or fried squirrels (both of which are delicious, btw!)
This is a more “modern” version, that my father learned to make, as a young cook in Georgia. The slow-cooker touch is my own.
Slow Cooker Brunswick Stew
3 cups poached chicken, large cubed 3 cups large-cubed pork from roast recipe 2 cups pork stock 1 medium onion, diced 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered 1 lb. frozen Butter beans i lb frozen sweet corn 1 (24-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes 1/2 cup homemade BBQ Sauce 1 lemon, juiced
Add chicken and pork, to slow cooker. Top with stock, onion, potatoes, beans, corn, diced tomatoes, bbq sauce, and lemon juice.
Cook on low 8 hours. Stir well, and let rest at least 30 minutes with the heat off.
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This is one of my favorite uses for left-over roast pork shoulder (and my all-time favorite sandwich!)
Roasting a whole, boneless pork shoulder (or two) is a great way to stretch your grocery budget, and get several delicious meals in one.
I buy my shoulders in 2-packs at Cash & Carry for less than $30, and easily get 8-10 meals from them.
It’s really a great deal!
Now, just as an acknowledgement to all of my awesome Cuban readers, I know that you can’t get a “real” Cubano sandwich, outside of Miami (or Cuba, I would assume), as it’s very hard to find those very special Cuban rolls they use there.
That said, this recipe is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best Cubano you can get…outside of Miami!
This recipe assumes you’re using leftovers from a previously roasted pork shoulder. To roast the perfect pork shoulder, see my recipe for Easy Oven Pulled Pork.
HomeChef Note: For the Cubanos, you don’t want your roast pork to be quite as “falling apart, as you do for pulled pork. Modify the cooking time to 8-10 hours, and just use salt and pepper, instead of a BBQ rub. Be sure to chill the roast overnight, before slicing.
Leftover Roast Pork Cubanos
For the stock: 1 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. dried oregano 2 cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed with the side of your knife 1 small onion, sliced 1 cup fresh orange juice 1 lime, juiced 1 cup chicken stock 1 bay leaf 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
For the sandwich: 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder, roasted & sliced 1 long Cuban bread roll (or 1/4 whole-wheat baguette) 3 tablespoons yellow mustard 4 slices of Swiss cheese 4 “sandwich slice” dill pickles 8 thin slices deli ham Olive oil & butter
Combine all of the stock ingredients in a saucepan, whisk, and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Add pork roast slices, and heat until it just begins to simmer again, then remove from heat.
To prepare sandwiches: split bread in half then layer the sandwich (in order) with mustard, cheese, pickles, ham, pork, salt & pepper to taste, then cheese again (the cheese glues it all together). I use whole wheat baguette because it’s the closest approximation to the Cuban rolls that I can find, here on the left coast.
Optional: drizzle a little of the reduced stock over the meat.
To cook, heat a plancha or or a large cast iron grill pan over medium heat and lightly coat with equal parts butter and olive oil.
If you don’t have a plancha, place the sandwiches on the skillet and top with another heavy skillet and a couple of heavy weights (bricks, or cans of tomato-sauce work well).
What do you mean, you don’t keep bricks in your kitchen? 😉
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Press down firmly and cook for 5 to 7 minutes per side (butter the top, before flipping) until the sandwich has compressed to about a third of its original size and the bread is super-crispy.
Had great fun being back on AM Northwest last week (watch the clip, below), and got to talk about one of my all-time favorite subjects…comfort food. It’s getting chilly up here in the PNW, and nothing warms you back up like a good pot of soup.
One of my Facebook friends commented that whenever I’m on the show, I always do Italian recipes.
I love French food, and Asian food, and pretty much ANY food, but if I’m going to present the best version of something, something you can taste the love in, it’s probably going to be an old Italian Grandmother’s recipe.
I love this recipe, not just because it’s delicious, and brings back great childhood memories, but because it’s one of those dishes that proves you don’t have to spend a lot, to make an amazing meal. Pasta is cheap. Beans are cheap. Carrots, onions, celery? Cheap. Add whatever leftover meat and veggies from last night’s dinner, and presto…you have soup!
1 lb meat, cooked and chopped (roast chicken, sausage, hamburger, etc.) 36 oz “Quick and Easy Chicken Stock“ 28 ounces fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained (or 6 Romas, freshly roasted*) 15 oz tomato sauce 1 large onion, chopped 2 Tbs olive oil 4 celery ribs, diced 2 medium carrots, sliced 2 cups beans (cannellini, kidney beans, etc,) rinsed and drained 2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 tsp coarse black pepper 8 ounces uncooked pasta (ditalini, macaroni, etc.) 4 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
Additional veggies: Whatcha’got? Pretty much any leftover veggies will compliment this soup. Peas, corn, sauteed mushrooms, green beans, cabbage…empty that fridge!
Make the mirepoix: In a saute pan, heat oil over medium low, and saute onions, celery, and carrots until just beginning to soften. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, and transfer to a stock pot.
Add broth, sauce, beans, oregano, and black pepper.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add pasta, parsley, and any additional veggies; simmer, covered, 10-14 minutes or until pasta is tender.
Stir in meat, and serve with crusty, warm bread.
Yield: 10-12 servings
*To roast your own: Place 6 Roma tomatoes on a very hot grill, under a broiler, or directly on above a gas burner. Char, rotating frequently, until blackened on all sides. Place tomatoes in a large zip bag and seal, allowing them to steam 20-30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the bag, and peel off most of the charred skin (I ike to leave a little, for flavor). Dice the tomatoes, place in a bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, and just cover with hot water. Allow to come to room temp before using the tomatoes and water in this recipe.