Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meat and Potatoes..... Old Fashioned Goodness!

More and more I've been looking back to the "old way" of doing things. Seemed we've lost our way after the 50's and 60's when Mother's left the kitchen to enter the workforce and the large food concerns decided to "modernize" it all and give us convenience; little did we know (or maybe they did know?) that we'd be giving up nutrition, health and for some people, our very lives in the name of "quick, fast and easy"..... Now with the advent of the "Slow Food Movement", the gaining in popularity of organics and a more natural approach to things and food in particular, maybe some of the damage can be reversed. But that's a BIG maybe since it entails giving up processed foods, chemicals, preservatives, colorants and food enhancers- that's the rub. People have become used to living this way and might not be willing to take hours in order to produce family meals anymore. Food will look like it's supposed to look, no more waxing it to look shiny and nice, food that will spoil quickly, no more "meals out of a box" or the freezer.... food in it's natural state, cooked naturally.

Unfortunately the convenience movement almost eradicated the "home cook". You didn't need to know how to cook, all you needed was to have a freezer, microwave or hot plate and whole meals could be produced quickly and while I can see the benefits to this I have also been able to see the other side, the food allergies - illnesses - health breakdown and more due to the overload of chemicals in our food. During this time I learned of all this through day to day practice and only because I was living in Puerto Vallarta at the time and way back then there was NO American processed food at our local Riso Supermarket so you cooked "old style" no matter what.

Once I got back to the US we were used to "cooking for real" and then along with learning about herbs and medicinal plants began to put it all together and with the passage of time (and both Ricardo's and Rene's allergies and health issues) I got to learn a lot more about the relationship between diet and health and so here we are. Remember that old saying "you are what you eat"? It's never been more true.

Anyway, no preaching and we're here for tasty food so let's get back to it, shall we? Speaking of old style cooking, Albertson's Supermarket had some great meat specials the other day and I found Pork Shoulder Boston Butt Roast for .79 cents a lb! I went ahead and got a large 5-6 lb roast for under $5 dlls and produced a fantastic meal. This is an economy cut of meat due to so much connective tissue (fatty parts holding the meat sections together) that needs long, slow cooking in order to deliver it's piggy goodness. It's one of those Sunday Dinner kind of roasts that's great for a get-together or even company. If you're willing to go along with me on this and be patient I can reward you with one of the most flavorful and tender dishes around, but it won't be fast food at all, ok? This will take all day. Here's the story:

Old Fashioned Sunday Dinner Pork Roast.- We're going back in time with this roast but applying some new twists. This is truly comfort food, my family loved it and you will too! Don't worry if it seems like too much meat, the leftovers will disappear!

1 boneless pork shoulder roast (Boston butt, about 5-6 lb)
3 cloves garlic , minced
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 tbl chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbl chopped fresh sage leaf
1 tbl fennel seeds , roughly chopped
2 large red onions , cut into 1-inch wedges
1 tbl vegetable oil (if necessary)
1 cup apple cider
1/4 cup apple jelly
2 tbl cider vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 F. Trim outer fat from pork if you want (I didn't and it melted away), leaving 1/8" thick layer. Combine garlic, pepper, salt, rosemary, sage, and fennel seeds in small bowl (or your choice of herbs). Tie pork roast tightly in a cylinder shape to cook evenly if you want with twine. Rub with herb mixture. Transfer to roasting pan and cook 3 hours.

Put the onion wedges around meat, tossing onions in pan drippings to coat. (If roast has not produced any juices, toss onions with the oil. I also add other veggie here like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.) Continue roasting until meat is extremely tender and skewer inserted into center meets no resistance, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. (Check pan juices every hour to make sure they have not evaporated. If necessary, add 2 cups water to pan and stir browned bits into water.)

Transfer roast to large baking dish, cover with foil and allow to rest. Pour pan drippings into liquid measuring cup, adding enough water to measure 1 1/2 cups. Take fat away from drippings (or you can put them in the fridge or freezer so they jell and make it easier to remove) and transfer drippings and reserved onions to med saucepan. Add cider, jelly, sugar and vinegar and bring to boil over med-high heat, then reduce to simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce is dark and thickened, about 15-20 min or more, watch it and keep stirring.

Now you can slice the pork, surround with the vegetables, (if the pork cooled then you can reheat either in the oven for 20-30 min or in the microwave), pour some gravy over it and put the rest of the gravy in a dish to serve at table. Serve and enjoy!
NOTE: Leftovers make wonderful sandwiches, can top pasta or rice or make some mashed potatoes and serve along with it. You can also do this dish in two parts, the first 3 hour cooking one day then you refrigerate and finish the rest of the cooking on another day. I begin this early in the day and get it ready for dinner, your choice.

Okay, you've got a heavy duty meal there but how about some sides that can be turned into a meal? You don't always need a heavy meal, right? So here are some suggestions that can be made as both, a side dish for a full meal or as a main dish. They're not light on flavor or satisfaction either.....

There is nothing like the take the French give food. I admit I'm a Francophile all the way! I love the flavors and techniques they teach and strongly advise anyone interested in cooking well to learn these techniques (which can be applied to all foods) to make their results better and easier in the long run. It just makes you a better cook, but back to the sides:

Double Baked Stuffed Potatoes.- A little more care for these but with a filling they can be turned into a low cost main dish that will satisfy any appetite.

5 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
6 tbl butter , 3 tbl melted
3/4 tsp salt
1 (5.2 oz) package Boursin cheese, crumbled or your choice of cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half or milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tsp pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 F. Prick potatoes all over with fork, place on paper towel, and microwave on high until tender, turning potatoes over after 10 min. Slice and remove top quarter of each potato, let cool 5 min, then scoop out flesh with a spoon, leaving 1/4-inch layer of potato on inside so you can stuff. Discard 1 potato shell. Brush remaining shells inside and out with melted butter and sprinkle interiors with 1/4 tsp salt. Transfer potatoes scooped side up to baking sheet and bake until skins begin to crisp, about 15 min.

Meanwhile, mix half the cheese and half-and-half in bowl until blended. Cook remaining butter with garlic in saucepan over med-low heat, 3 to 5 min. Stir in the cheese mixture until combined. Set ricer or food mill over med bowl and press potatoes into bowl or mash really well . Gently fold in warm cheese mixture, chives, remaining salt, and pepper. Remove potato shells from oven and fill with potato-cheese mixture. Top with remaining cheese and bake until tops of potatoes are golden brown, about 15 min. Sprinkle with remaining chives. Serve.
NOTE: I'm sure you can see other ingredients you could use for these. Change the herbs and cheese around. You can also stuff with leftovers, shredded pork, chicken, veggies, almost anything and serve as a complete meal. You use 5 potatoes to get 4 over stuffed ones but if you're adding leftovers you might only need the 4.

***There used to be a small restaurant in Chula Vista, CA called "The Big Potato" that only sold baked potatoes filled with dozens of items you could choose from: picadillo, curry, beef stroganoff, ham and cheese, chicken a la King, chili and cheese.... you name it you could build it. We can do this at home as well and it gives us another way to use up leftovers or keep the food budget low, so go ahead and serve economical and nutritious suppers!

Here's something unusual that's really wonderful to serve. Pommes Souffles.- According to the Larousse Gastronomique, in 1837 during the inauguration of the Paris-St Germain rail line, lunch was to be served but the train had problems making a hill and was delayed. The chef was preparing some fried potatoes but couldn't serve them at the time due to the delays and had been cooked already, so he set them aside and they cooled and drained; when the train finally made it to the station, the chef had to prepare the potatoes quickly and so he used a very hot oil to reheat them and to his amazement, saw them puff up and the potatoes became quite a hit.

Souffle potatoes must be cooked twice. First at low and a second time at a high temperature. At the second cooking, the high temperature will crisp the potatoes instantly and form a waterproof skin, which will cause them to swell as the moisture inside turns quickly to steam causing the slices to puff up. Cut potatoes in slices 1/4 to 3/8" thick, and soak the sliced potatoes in ice water for at least 25 min to remove some of the starch. Drain and dry them thoroughly.

Have 2 pans with oil on the stove, each with about 3" of oil. Heat one to 325 F and the other to 375 F. Carefully drop the slices into the 325F oil and cook for 6 to 7 min, either shaking the pan or moving the potatoes around with a spoon. The potatoes should begin to blister after about 5 min and rise to the top - continue cooking for an additional 1 min. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the potatoes and drain on paper towels until they begin to soften.

At this point the potatoes may be cooked the second time or held at room temperature for several hours. To cook the second time, put the potatoes in the 375F oil - they should swell instantly. DO NOT PUT TOO MANY POTATOES IN THE oil at once - the oil MUST remain very hot for the potatoes to puff. Cook until golden brown, moving them around in the oil - remove and drain on paper towels, discarding any slices that have not puffed.
NOTE: If you get organized you can use the same pot of oil for both cookings once you set the potatoes to drain and cool, raise the temperature to the oil and then finish their cooking. You can serve these with some Ranch Dressing, Garlic or Chipotle Mayonnaise, Bernaise or whatever sauce or salsa you like!

Fiesole Style Potatoes (Gnocchi's).- One of my favorite places on Earth gives us this lovely dish, Fiesole sits on a hill above Florence full of trees and flowers with the most amazing view! Here is an easy way to make gnocchis which are fabulous and oh so good! Versatile since any sauce can be used, from Pesto to a simple Tomato Sauce (I've even used Mole!) or just stir in melted butter and cheese and everyone loves them!

2 1/4 lb potatoes
1 egg
2 cups flour, you may need more depending on the potatoes used
rock salt
olive oil

Boil the potatoes. Place unpeeled potatoes into a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Place on a high heat, add 1 tbl of rock salt, then leave to boil. When the potatoes are tender, after about 20 min of boiling, turn the heat off and tip them into a colander to drain. To protect your hands, use a tea towel to hold the potatoes as you peel away the skins with a knife.

Pass the still hot potatoes through a passatutto (or potato ricer). This method is recommended as air gets trapped in the potatoes making for a lighter gnocchi. If you don't have one you can, of course, use a masher but the end result won't be as good. I fin that using a hand mixer works pretty well.

Add 2 generous pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper. Crack the egg and stir in quickly before the temperature of the potato cooks it. Add 2 handfuls of the flour. Mix until it's all absorbed. Turn the potato onto a wooden surface and tip the rest of the flour on top. Use your hands to mix it together. After a minute or two it will form into a dough. Knead lightly. When it reaches a pliable consistency, it's ready. Sprinkle the surface with flour.

Slice a fist sized piece from the dough ball and roll out into lengths that are about 1" thick. Working quickly while the dough is still warm, use a flexible knife to cut off 3/4" pieces. Slice off another fist sized piece and repeat until you have used all of the dough. Place the gnocchi on a tray, leaving a space between each piece to prevent them from sticking together. Fill a large pan with water and add 3 tsp of rock salt. Place over a high heat, put on the lid, and bring to the boil.

Tap the gnocchi from the tray into the boiling water. (This will stop the boiling water from splashing your hands). Give them a little stir and leave to cook. Wait for them to reach the surface. When the gnocchi have all bobbed to the surface, they're ready to serve. Scoop them out with a sieve, shake off the water and transfer them to a tray. Drizzle a little oil over them and give the tray a shake. Stir the gnocchi into a warm sauce of your choice. As a final touch, you can grate a little Pecorino cheese over the top.
NOTE: If you want your gnocchis to look as pretty as these, then before you cook them, take them and run them over the tines of a fork, pressing with your finger, so they get the "indentations" on them and curl up or you can leave them plain, it's ok.

Tuna and Potato Salad from Spain.- Now the Costa Brava gives us this great dish that although it's called a salad is a most satisfying main dish in itself. There are so many ingredients that can be added to this as well, your choice, or you could turn it into a Salad Nicoise, YUM!

6 tbl olive oil, if you need
2 cans tuna in oil
2-3 green onions, sliced
2-3 hard boiled eggs
1 bunch of basil leaves, cut in thin strips
2 1/2 lbs potatoes, cooked and peeled cut in slices
salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, sliced
2-3 tbl red wine vinegar (or your choice)
1 head of lettuce, your choice, washed

Put the potatoes in a large bowl, add the tuna, tomato, onion. You can use the oil from one of the cans (or both if you wish) or use olive oil. In a large spoon put the vinegar and some salt and mix with another spoon so the salt dissolves. Pour over the vegetables and mix well.

Place the lettuce leaves on plates and top with the vegetables. Serve.
NOTE: You can add chives, peeled sweet red peppers, peas, green beans, etc.

Potato, Carrot and Leek Terrine.- A fancy side dish can be turned into a wonderful supper with the addition of a salad and give you an elegant and light repast.

2 carrots, peeled
2 leeks, cleaned and julienned
3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced fine
2 tbl butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream

2 leeks, cleaned, julienned
1 green onion, finely chopped
chicken soup

In a pan, add the butter and stir fry the carrots and leeks. Add salt and pepper and stir until tender. Add the cream and cook until thickened over med heat.

Using a terrine dish (or long baking dish) and lined with baking paper or aluminum foil and PAM, put a double layer of raw, sliced potatoes taking care of arranging them in a lovely pattern. Add salt and pepper and add a thin layer of carrot and leek. Another layer of potato followed by more carrot and leek,ending with a potato layer. Cover the dish with paper or foil making sure it's well sealed and bake in 375-400F oven for about 40-50 min. Once it's cooked, let rest for about 10-15 min before you unmold.

To make the sauce: With 1-2 tbl of butter in a pan, add the onion and leek and cook over med heat, slowly until tender. Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of stock and cook for about 5 min. Salt and pepper to taste and add this mixture to blender glass and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Slice terrine and pour some of the sauce over it. Can be served atop lettuce leaves and topped with sauce, some chives or cheese, your choice.
NOTE: You can see how other vegetables could be used in this terrine and work just as well.
Vary the colors of the vegetables, add meats and plan on how these will look once you slice it. This is a classic presentation of a French favorite.

Well, what do you think? Willing to try some of these? Hope you do because you'll find how great these recipes are! I'm always looking to add some variety into our diets, we never have the same meal twice and look all around the world for inspiration, yet you don't need to go so far to serve great meals to your family or break the food budget either. Wonderful, economical, nutritious and amazing meals can be yours with a little work and imagination. Remember, along with the "No rules" is the "your only limit is your imagination"! Talk soon......

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