Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day Weekend and the end of the Summer....

After what seems like a long time, summer is finally beginning to come to an end. About time, I'm sick of the blasting heat, the need for AC to be on all the time and living like "mole people"..... but living in the high desert what else could you expect, right? So here we sit in a darkened room with the cold air blowing writing to you about the coming Labor Day Weekend and what that means to a lot of us.....

Do you know how the Labor Day observance came about? Seems in 1894 there were a number of deaths at the hands of the US Military and US Marshals due to the Pullman Strike. The President reconciled with the labor movement and fearing further conflict decided to establish a holiday a mere 6 days after.... signed into law, unanimously I might add, and so Labor Day became a long weekend..... All about labor and trades with parades, speeches, events for worker's families, etc. yet the rest of the world celebrates this day on the 1st of May (like Mexico for instance), and now it's become the official end of Summer as well.... typically, the last weekend before students had to report back to school, except that these days schools all start at different times, so go figure....

During this time of the year the weather is still warm so outdoor activities are the norm with picnics, camping and sports events all going on.... fireworks, games and family get togethers, BBQ's, swimming and everything relating to the warm weather activities beloved by all. Fall will be coming upon us shortly and so it might be one of our last opportunities to wear shorts, sandals, bathing suits before the sweaters and gloves make their reapperance and we settle in for the cool weather lifestyle. I can hardly wait, I love the cold! Yipee!

But for now, we've got a long weekend to think up yummy things to eat while  relaxing and thinking up what else we can come up with (to tempt our tastebuds) and  of course, an eclectic menu is de rigeur..... plus being the start of the month gives us a chance to recharge our menus, plan new items and deliver taste profiles that are truly memorable.... all staying within our food budget of course!

Before heading out to the supermarket, with list in hand based on the menus I've planned, lunch is prepared. NEVER go food shopping hungry.... or go without a list, this can spell disaster for both your budget and your family's meals later on, you're also liable to buy all sorts of "goodies" that while might be yummy, don't deliver good nutritional or $ value for you. Lay out your menus first, a two week period is what I work with since it allows me to plan on recycling leftovers, buy in bulk and get the best prices, economize on trips and gas (and with today's gas prices, makes more sense than ever!) and have more time to prepare meals and spend at home. You can use basic ingredients in many ways, leaving days in between so it doesn't seem like you eat the same thing all the time and gives your menus a lot more variety and flexibility, you also have time to take advantage of local specials, coupons and special buys to plan for the future. Of course, delicate items like greens must be purchased more often since they can lose texture and quality.

 If you're adept at canning, freezing or preserving you've got a BIG advantage over most people and you can make bulk purchases of fruits and vegetables (check with your purveyor as they can give you a discount for buying by the case) , process them and have them ready in your pantry for use much later on. Being able to grow your own always make good sense but not everyone has the space, knowledge and dedication to take this on, it's a lot of work but yields amazing benefits for all! It's the gift that keeps on giving: health, savings, flavor and flexibility. I wish I had a garden..... maybe someday again.

We're going to the Friday specials at one of the local Mexican Markets (only thing is that each market has different specials each day of the week, I hate that!.....) so we've had lunch before taking off: Grilled Short Rib Sandwiches with a red onion marmalade and aged White Cheddar, a very satisfying meal that will keep temptation at bay for sure!

 Whenever I make something "recyclable", I more than I need so I have it available for the next menu item. Last time I made short ribs I got a great sale on them so I bought a good amount. Cooked them all, yet only served half, the rest I froze both meat and sauce. So yesterday once they were thawed I had it available, deboned and chopped it up, gave it a good stir fry with some sauce and we were ready for these amazing sandwiches in record time! I always have roasted chicken, some sauces and cooked pork meat at the ready this way for quick and easy but gourmet goodies. This technique is especially beneficial for busy working people who don't want dinner to take forever but want to eat great stuff.... Also works for vegans since you can have your grains and starches pre-done so they make a quick and nutritious meal.

So off we go into Mexican Market land to shop for our  ingredients and I can report that we made it  back in record time without any casualties. I you've ever gone to these markets then you know what I mean.... the casualties wouldn't have been us

We had seen an amazing "Bucatini  All'Amatriciana" prepared on one of those gourmet sites the other day so we had planned on preparing this, it was our Friday night meal and let me tell you YUMMY!

8 ounces guanciale, cut in 1/4-inch strips (I use Pancetta since I can't find it)
2 large onions, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes, passed through the food mil (these make all the difference!) or very ripe, peeled tomatoes
1 pound bucatini (or other thick strand pasta) or make your own... sure, why not....
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the guanciale and saute over low heat. Cook until it is brown and crispy and has rendered a lot of fat. Remove and reserve 1/3 of the guanciale for garnish. Bring the pan to a medium heat and add the onions and crushed red pepper. Cook the onions until they are translucent, starting to turn golden. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 1 hour (or until it thickens), tasting periodically.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, season liberally. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the instructions on the package tell you. If you think it's too much sauce, put 1/3 of it into another pot and hold, you can always store it for later use but you don't want to soak the pasta in sauce, it should coat but not down. Drain the pasta from the water and add to the pot of sauce. Stir to coat with the sauce. This is how you always finish pasta; you finish cooking it in the sauce. Add more sauce, if necessary. Add in the cheese and drizzle with olive oil to finish. Toss to coat and serve in shallow bowls garnished with cheese and the reserved guanciale.

I hope everyone will have a great holiday.... take care and we'll talk soon!

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