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In observance

In observance of Memorial Day here in the United States, the SimpliFried staff has today off from work. We’ll be back here tomorrow with more stress-reducing advice.

Reader discussion: Share your cooking experiences

It’s Monday and I’m in a chatty mood. If you are, too, share your answers to these questions in the comments:

  1. What is your favorite meal to make?
  2. What is your fall-back meal when you’re tired/stressed and don’t feel like thinking about food?
  3. What is the meal you have made that unexpectedly impressed you?
  4. What is a meal you want to learn to make?

1.) My favorite meal to make is pulled pork (a pork shoulder) that I have grilled all day in my smoker. Since it takes more than 14 hours to make, it’s not something I do very often. But, oh, how I love a homemade barbecue pulled pork sandwich.

2.) Tuna casserole, which my husband can’t stand, but I could eat every day of the year if I didn’t care about my cholesterol or sodium intake. It’s what I make when we do “dinner on our own.”

3.) The first time I successfully made steamed char siu bao at home. It was unbelievably easy, but before then I had decided it was something I would only ever eat out at a restaurant. These buns are not a regular part of our meal plans.

4.) Pâté. I hear it’s easy, but I haven’t yet built up the courage to try making it at home.

Now it’s your turn — share your responses in the comments. I’m eager to read your answers.

Good Eats has ended

According to the Chicago Tribune, multiple other news outlets, and (reportedly) even Alton Brown himself, the Food Network show Good Eats has ended.

Episode 249 “Use Your Noodle 5,” which aired the first week of May, was the show’s last regular season episode. There will be three hour-long specials to come out later this year, but otherwise the show is done. Likely, however, the Food Network will continue to air reruns every day for the next decade.

I’m eager to learn about Alton Brown’s next project, and to get the final cookbook in his Good Eats series (I already own the first two). Maybe we should have expected the show coming to a close after 12 years when the second book in the series was called the “Middle Years.”

We at SimpliFried want to wish him much success in whatever it is he does next, and we will certainly be watching.

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Questions for cooks: Non-alcoholic substitutions for wine in recipes

Reader Lisa submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

My question in short form: What can I substitute for wine in recipes?

The longer details: My husband and I are not big drinkers. We don’t have any objections to alcohol, but we probably only have a drink two or three times a year. So we never have wine in the house. I don’t want to buy a bottle for the half cup that a saute calls for. Is there something I can use when a recipe calls for wine that will taste good, can be found at the grocery store, isn’t too expensive, and won’t end up having most of it thrown away?

There are a number of liquids you can substitute for wine in recipes. The key is to determine why a recipe calls for wine, which will then help you to figure out the best substitution.

And now you’re probably wondering: “How do you know why a recipe calls for wine?” Well, it’s not always the case, but you can often determine the reason based on when in the recipe you add the wine. If you use the wine early in the recipe, it’s often to influence the cooking method of the food. If you use the wine late in the recipe, it’s to add flavor.

If the recipe calls for wine to influence the cooking method, you’ll want to use an acidic liquid similar to wine. I’ve had good luck using white wine vinegar and plain white vinegar for white wine, and balsamic vinegar for red wine. These vinegars do influence flavors a little, so they won’t always work. Other liquid substitutions I’ve tried and had work: carbonated water with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, tomato juice (like V8), and vegetable stock with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar.

If the recipe calls for wine for the purpose of flavor enhancement, unsweetened grape juice is usually a perfect replacement. Use white grape juice for white wine and red grape juice for red wine. Sometimes it’s difficult to find unsweetened juices, so if you can’t find unsweetened juice look for a brand that has sugar closest to the end of the listed ingredients instead of toward the beginning. Don’t use sparkling grape juices because the sugar content is too high — however, sparkling grape juice is good for recipes that call for champagne or vermouth (though not all).

When making a substitution like this, be sure to have back-up dinner options on hand. It might take you two or three times to find the perfect substitution for your recipe. You’ll be able to find a substitution, just not always on the first attempt. Keep a good sense of humor and think of it like an adventure, and you should be fine.

Thank you, Lisa, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Good luck!

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

SimpliFried meal plans

Whenever I’m planning our weekly meals, I feel torn between choosing the healthiest options and choosing the yummiest ones. I keep up with the latest nutrition and diet research, and know I’m supposed to be eating whole grains, at least five servings of vegetables a day, lots of Omega-3s, and to stay away from trans- and saturated fats. I’ll be honest, though, I love eating foods containing all types of fats (specifically butter, cheese, and fried goodies), salt, and more red meat than is recommended for a healthy diet.

From a scientific perspective, I know why I’m drawn to the not-so-healthy choices. Fat tastes amazing — it coats the taste buds, boosts flavors, and makes you feel satiated. Salt decreases bitterness, enhances sweetness, and sharpens aromas. And red meat (especially from well-fed and free-ranging animals) mimics silk in the mouth.

A diet free of fat, salt, and red meat is not for me. At the same time, though, I’m not ready to turn my back on good nutrition.

I don’t have an exact system, I simply create menu plans as healthy as I can stand to make them. I don’t want to shorten my life because of poor food choices, but I also don’t want to spend my life eating foods I don’t enjoy. Overall, I feel that my family and I are eating better than we ever have — nutritionally and flavorfully.

If you have a similar outlook, the SimpliFried meal plans may work for you as they’re composed. If you like to eat more healthy, feel welcome to switch up the not-as-healthy recipes you don’t like for ones you do. If you don’t like a specific option, switch it out, too. All Mondays are meatless, so if you insist on consuming meat every day of the week, you might want to plan out these days yourself.

Because my family eats from the plans we post to the site, you’ll notice the plans don’t include recipes with peanuts (my son is allergic), walnuts (I’m allergic), much pasta (my husband isn’t crazy about pasta), or strong mustard flavors (I’m not a fan). Additionally, there aren’t many desserts because we don’t have much of a sweet tooth. There also aren’t calorie counts because I don’t track how many calories I consume.

All meal plans will be accompanied with a shopping list and a link to corresponding recipes. You can expect the first meal plan next Friday (Jan. 14) for the week starting Jan. 17.

Look for SimpliFried meal plans at least once a month. And, from time-to-time we’ll have guest meal planners to spice and sweeten things up. In the meantime, you can create your own meal plan and shopping list using the guide from our sister site Unclutterer.