Saturday, April 10, 2010

Short Cuts or Simple Ideas you might use.....

As you probably know I plan my menu's following whatever seasonal specials I happen to find and make the most of it. With the advent of Spring, there are fresher ideas available, if you don't consider the crops damaged by Florida or California's weather problems (seems to happen every year and so we hear "produce prices will rise"..... or maybe that's just to prepare us for higher prices so we won't complain....) In any case, the specials are varied and sometimes unusual but it never fails to give us some "Good Eats".....

I am now buying our food about twice a month, making larger buying runs which give us more planning time and lots more meals in common so more creativity is definitely called for.... but having the time to plan and lay out meals, has made it possible to lower our costs.

The last time I went to the markets (they're up to 11 now, all around me and not too far away or they wouldn't be considered and depending on their offerings they are accepted or not) I found specials on turkey (at .57 lb), ham (.77 lb), pork shoulder/butt roast (.97 lb), chuck steak (1.29 lb), chicken (.39 lb), pork/beef ribs (.77 lb) and pork loin (.99 lb). So these set up the main ingredients and I purchased large portions to cut-up and use for more than just a couple of meals. Some are ground up, cut into cubes or cooked whole and then separated for sandwiches, salads, spreads, pasta sauces, etc. (like the turkey and ham).

The turkey gave us quite a few meals beginning with Roast Turkey (found a new way which I will tell you about below), of course the classic turkey sandwiches, then we had Turkey Tetrazzini over pasta and finally "Entomatadas" which are enchiladas but with a fresh tomato sauce and basil..... The ham provided a great "Bourbon Ginger Spiced Ham" (I'll tell you about it too), then Ham Salad, some lovely Ham Omeletes with Hollandaise Sauce followed by "Croque Monsieur Sandwiches" (which are one this site already under French cooking), then I made some ham spread, deviled kind of, and made "Crostinis" with some great baguettes. The rind, fat and bone from the ham were reserved for cooking peruano and lima beans as well as setting the base for a fantastic "Split Pea Soup" (one of Ricardo's favorites).

So you can see how buying in bulk not only saves you money by taking advantage of special pricing but saves shopping time and helps lay out menus in advance thereby preventing impulse buys and allowing you to stick to your plans and budget. Once you separate the items and freeze them, you rotate meals so you don't get bored by the same taste following too close together and you'll be surprised how far these meals can go. I can go three weeks without needing basic ingredients only needing to stock up on fresh items like milk, eggs and bread since the non-perishables last forever (like pasta, rice, beans and grains). Vegetables that are stored well can last much longer too and those that can be frozen give you even more time.

So once I return from shopping, I set aside what needs to be separated and prepared for storing (in sizes that I will use for a particular item) and then everything gets saved. I have my menu list to know what I have on hand and just rotate and serve what everyone is in the mood for. This way I can also make "spur of the moment" items like pizza, bruschettas, tortas, quiche, terrine's, dips or...... so you can see how much flexibility this can give you, right? You use the dishes with fresh ingredients first since they will last the least and go on from there until you reach the "clean the fridge" type meals.... once the fridge starts looking empty, it's time to go shopping! But if you think of ingredients first as a main course which then becomes more of a lunch item, from there it then becomes an appetizer or light supper until finally turning into a snack, dip, filling or pasta / pizza / enchilada / tostada / sopes / casserole dish. Lots of mileage in that food..... And I didn't even mention some pantry staples I always have like sardines, tuna, potatoes, rice, etc.

Anyway, you get the idea. Here are some new ways for old favorites you might like to try, they're all easy and they've been a hit with my guys.....

Old Fashioned Roast Turkey.- Very easy way to get fantastic moist and very flavorful turkey you can have any time, no need to wait for holidays!

1 package cheesecloth (I used a new Handy Wipe, folded in half)
4 cups cold water
1 turkey , 12 to 14 lb, neck and giblets reserved
1 lb salt pork , cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (I used cheap fatty bacon instead)

1 tbl vegetable oil
Reserved turkey neck and giblets
1 onion , chopped
5 cups water
2 cups chicken broth, any type
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 tbl all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper

For the turkey: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350. Remove cheesecloth from package and fold so it will cover the breast area. Place the cloth in a bowl and cover with water. Tuck wings behind back and put the turkey, breast-up, on roasting pan. Prick the skin of breast and legs all over with a fork, then cover breast and legs of turkey with salt pork (or bacon), top with the soaked cloth (pouring any remaining water into roasting pan), and cover the cloth completely with aluminum foil. This will leave the cavity and end of the turkey uncovered.

Roast turkey, 2½ to 3 hours. Remove foil, cloth, and salt pork. (I saved the salt pork and used it again for beans). Increase the oven temp to 425. (you want it to brown now) So continue to roast about 60 minutes longer or golden brown. Let the turkey rest 30 minutes before you carve it.

For the gravy: While turkey is cooking, heat the oil in a saucepan over med-high heat until hot. Cook the neck and giblets until browned, about 5 min. Add onion and cook about 3 min. Add water, broth, thyme, bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 hours. Strain stock into large measuring cup (you should have about 3½ cups), reserving giblets if desired. Carefully strain contents of roasting pan into fat separator (if you have one) or once you remove the turkey you can put it into the fridge and when it cools the fat will gel and you can remove it. Let liquid settle so that fat separates, then skim, reserving 1/4 cup fat. Pour the pan juices into measuring cup with giblet stock to yield 4 cups. Heat reserved fat in empty saucepan over med heat until hot, add the flour, whisking, and cook until honey colored and fragrant, about 4 min. Slowly whisk in giblet stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 min. Chop giblets and add to gravy, if you want, and season with salt and pepper. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

Okay, you've got the turkey and gravy- now you need something great to complete the meal. Here are two classics that have been made easier than ever that you will love!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes.- No more roasting garlic in the oven and work. These potatoes are made in one pan and finished easily.... No fail method! So easy and less cleanup too! Adjust quantities for your family size, this is for 4-6 people.

2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I don't peel)
4-6 tbl butter, cut into pieces
6-8 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (or more if you like)
1 tsp sugar
1/2-3/4 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper

Rinse potatoes under running water until water runs clear. Drain. Melt 3 tbl butter in Dutch oven over med heat. Cook garlic and sugar, stirring often, until sticky and straw colored, 3 to 4 min. Add rinsed potatoes, 1/2 cup half-and-half, water, and 1 tsp salt to pot and stir to combine. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 25 to 30 min. Turn off heat, add remaining butter (or more if you like) to pot and mash until smooth. Fold in remaining half-and-half until liquid is absorbed and potatoes are creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.
NOTE: You could use other flavorings too like chives, dill, rosemary, chipotle, etc. Whenever I am roasting something in the oven that might take a while, I might still roast some bulbs of garlic and take advantage of the oven at this time, saving some energy there and giving me lovely roasted garlic to use in other ways..... sharing resources makes sense!

Bacon & Pecan Brussels Sprouts.- This new take on an old favorite might just make new converts. They are wonderful!

I lb Brussels Sprouts (can use frozen too, just thaw), cut in strips or quartered
4-5 slices bacon, cut in 1/2 in strips
1/2 med onion, cut in slices
1-2 garlic cloves, minced fine or pressed (optional)
1/4 cup Pecans, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place bacon in fry pan over med-high heat and stir until almost done. Add onion and stir until softened, you can add garlic at this point if using. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir fry until beginning to brown lightly, top with the pecans, mix well. Add salt & pepper to taste and serve.

Want to have an incentive for making a Ham? Here's a variation your family will love! Just think of the leftovers.....

Bourbon Ginger Baked Ham.- You won't believe the flavors in this or the lovely crust!

1 city style (brined) ham, hock end
1/4 cup brown mustard (I've used whatever I have on hand)
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 oz bourbon (poured into a spritz bottle) or more!
2 cups crushed ginger snap cookies (I'm now using powdered ginger for more flavor... but both will do, your choice)

Heat oven to 250F. Remove ham from bag, rinse and drain thoroughly. Place ham, cut side down, in a roasting pan. Using a small paring knife or clean utility knife set to the smallest blade setting, score the ham from bottom to top, spiraling clockwise as you cut. (If you're using a paring knife, be careful to only cut through the skin and first few layers of fat). Rotate the ham after each cut so that the scores are no more than 2-inches across. Once you've made it all the way around, move the knife to the other hand and repeat, spiraling counter clockwise. The aim is to create a diamond pattern all over the ham. (Don't worry too much about precision here.) Tent the ham with heavy duty foil, insert a thermometer, and cook for 3 to 4 hours. Remove and use tongs to pull away the diamonds of skin and any sheets of fat that come off with them. (Save these for beans, soup or whatever would welcome some extra favor!)

Heat oven to 350. Dab dry with paper towels, then brush on a liberal coat of mustard, using either a basting brush or a clean paint brush (clean as in never-touched paint). Sprinkle on brown sugar, packing loosely as you go until the ham is coated. Spritz this layer lightly with bourbon, then loosely pack on as much of the crushed cookies (or powdered ginger) as you can. Return to the oven (uncovered). Cook approximately 1 hour. Let the roast rest for 1/2 hour before carving.

Here's another take on an old recipe which I found was much improved and easier to make while producing better results! Try it and you'll see.....

Cold Oven Old Fashioned Pound Cake.- The cold oven allows for a better crust and more lift in this cake allowing the humidity in the oven to react with the starch in the batter giving you a great crust, more lift and better all around results!

3 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar (I've used less, your choice)
6 large eggs

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Grease and flour 16-cup tube (bundt) pan. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl and mix well. Whisk milk and vanilla in measuring cup. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 min. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture. Mix on low until smooth, about 30 seconds. Use rubber spatula to give batter final stir. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Place cake in cold oven. Adjust oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake, without opening oven door, until cake is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 65 to 80 min. Cool cake in pan for 15 min, then turn out onto rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Serve.
NOTE: You can also add flavorings like orange or lemon rind or extract, rum, nuts, dried fruit, Nutella, fresh fruit after baking, etc.

Okay, that's enough for today and I've got more than a couple of "projects" I'm working on that I'll tell you about later but for now I've got some dough rising which will turn out some great gourmet pizza's for tonight during our "Movie Night"..... Downloaded "Sherlock Homes" and "Sunshine Cleaning" and we'll have a Double Feature (remember those? They've seemed to have disappeared from theaters now....) and I'm still deciding on what dessert to many to choose from and all MMmmmm!..... Have a great weekend, talk soon! Hope everyone is well and happy......

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