Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Store-bought Hacks

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a 'hack' is taking something that already exists, and modifying it into something better, but still maintaining the integrity of the original design (as opposed to an 'upcycle', which would modify the original purpose of the product and make something completely new).

Hacking store-bought products is a popular trend right now, one of the most prevalent that I've seen being Ikea Hacks. People take bookcases, tables, or anything else they can get their hands on, and they improve them through different degrees of painting, cutting, glueing, etc. One person went so far as to order 60 bookcases and lined an entire landing with them, making a built-in library.

However, my hacks that I will be talking about today, revolve a bit more around food. We will be talking about how to buy something from the grocery store, and turn it into something much better, with just a few ingredients.
If you're unclear on what I'm doing still, keep reading. You'll catch on.

First up: canned soup. Mmmmmm, soup. This is what inspired me to write this post actually. A few days ago, Matt was home early from work and I was exhausted with a splitting headache. I hadn't made supper, or even thought about supper, but now was the time to do so. So, I started rooting through my cupboards and found a can of cream of potato soup. I'm not even sure why I bought it in the first place, but there it was. I threw the soup in a saucepan and heated it on the stove. I'm not gonna lie - it didn't smell good. It didn't really look good either. Okay, I was dreading eating it. But I never give up that easily on a recipe. So I did what I always do: keep adding things until it tastes good. Turns out, it didn't take much! I added about half a cup of aged cheddar cheese and sprinkled bacon bits on top and suddenly there wasn't enough soup to go around! Matt adored it and I was more than a little surprised at how good it tasted (especially compared to how it tasted at the beginning). He welcomed me to make that any time, and I suddenly felt the need to keep cream of potato soup as a pantry staple in our house! Don't believe that it was that good? Try it for yourselves! And while you're at it, try these varieties:
Smokey Gouda - 1/2 c. grated smoked gouda and 1/2 tsp paprika (or chili powder if you prefer)
Loaded Baked Potato - 1/2 c. grated cheddar, 1 big spoonful of sour cream, top with chives and bacon bits
Stuffed Potato - 2 tbsp french onion cream cheese (whisk to make sure it mixes in properly!) and chives

Don't like potato soup? Here are some ideas for cream of chicken:
Ranch - 2 tbsp ranch dressing
Waldorf - 1/4 c. plain yogurt, chopped celery, chopped apple

Next: Cake mixes! My mom always made these most fantabulous (that's a word) cakes, usually in bundt pans, and they were beyond moist. And everyone would always ask her for the recipe and she would sheepishly say, "Well, you start with a cake mix..." Cake mixes come in lots of varieties, and many degrees of quality - it's true. Some add more questionable ingredients than others, and some just don't taste quite right. But there are some many things that you can do with them, besides the basic eggs, oil and water that can redeem nearly any box of cake mix. For example - my mom's 'secret' recipe - Company's Coming's Almost-a-Scratch Cake. Take 1 box of cake mix, 1 box (4-serving size) of instant pudding, add 1 cup water, a 1/2 cup of oil and 4 eggs. Mix and bake in a bundt pan at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. The moistness is most remniscent of a chiffon cake, and you can do this in a variety of flavors - chocolate cake and chocolate pudding, lemon cake and lemon pudding, or mix it up a bit - white cake and lemon pudding, spice cake and butterscotch pudding, chocolate cake and banana pudding... All would taste amazing!
If you want more ideas, check out the testing that Hungry Girl did - they made up cake mixes by adding things like yogurt, pureed pumpkin, and even diet pop, so see how each one tasted!

And then: Coffee! Do you pay extra for flavored coffees that taste stale or have a funny aftertaste? You really shouldn't... Coffee is a super-simple thing to play with. By simply adding fresh ingredients directly into the coffee grinds in the filter, you can make some very yummy java without any funny aftertastes.
Festive Brew - 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice for 8 cups of coffee
Chilly Morning Brew - 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a 1/4 tsp cloves
Toasted Nut - roast a few hazelnuts in your oven, crush fine
Mocha Java - add 1 tsp cocoa (make sure you stir the cocoa into your grinds, and don't use dutch process to avoid clogging issues)
Christmas Orange - add 1 tsp cocoa and 1 1/2 tsp orange zest

Lastly: Pasta Sauce! I hate jarred pasta sauce :) I've only found a couple that have intruiged me, but none of them have ever wowed me before. There is, however, one pasta sauce that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and I would die happy: my Uncle Doug's pasta sauce. The secret to the sauce is the add-ins, and while you can make it from scratch, the traditional recipe is 1 jar of original flavored Ragu. The secret ingredient? Brown sugar. Now, I could never remember the actual amounts or ingredients so I kind of made up the rest of the ingredients over the years, but the brown sugar makes it. Oh, and make sure you put in the Bay leaf.
Uncle Doug's sauce - 1 jar Ragu, 1 lbs ground beef (optional), 1 - 2 bay leaves, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp chili powder, 3 splashes of tobasco sauce.

I'm only posting one Pasta Sauce hack because, well, I've never had a desire to try any others!

Are there any things that you improve by adding a couple of ingredients? Let me know!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

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