Foodie Tuesday: After-Math

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Just for starters…don’t forget that previous meals’ leftovers can be reconstructed into the appetizers for the next meal, like what happened with the remaining bone broth ingredients that lived on after soup-making and made such a nice beef pate for Thanksgiving.

A signature of holiday cooking and eating is, logically, a host of holiday leftovers. After all, we tend to cook and eat more of everything in the first place, when holidays happen, so there’s bound to be more food around, and since most of us do fix more of our favorites on and for celebratory occasions, we’re a bit more likely to want to be careful not to waste them. Holiday leftovers are tastier than everyday ones, aren’t they.

So it is that remnants of glorious sweets will continue to lure us into the ever-so-aptly named larder and the refrigerator will, after Thanksgiving, still have some turkey lurking in it too. While a great turkey sandwich is far from restricted seasonally, the grand whole bird in its pure roasted form is less commonly perched on dinner tables outside of the Big Day, making it anything but boring to have the leftover turkey and its trimmings served without tremendous alteration at least once or twice after the party has passed.

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Red relishes are such a nice touch on holidays that when a friend said she was bringing whole cranberry sauce, I decided to add the jellied kind *and* some home-pickled beets for the trifecta.

This year, Thanksgiving at our house was both traditional and extended. Ten of us sat around the table: our musical friends from Germany (why did I write Austria, then?), Hungary, Canada, Puerto Rico, Estonia and the Netherlands as well as the US gathered with our plates of roasted turkey and a fair assortment of other treats and sweets, and though we had our feast the day before most others’, the ingredients of food, drink, and conviviality were the same, and the leftovers equally profuse. My prepped appetizers, turkey, mashed potatoes, wine/stock gravy, creamed sausage, and buttermilk cornbread (the latter two, parts of the planned southern cornbread dressing, remained separate at my husband’s request) were joined by dishes the others brought–Greek salad, squash puree, homemade whole cranberry sauce, and carrot cake and handmade Hungarian biscuits for dessert. My own dessert offerings were the apple pie and Tarte au Sucre.

The Tarte was not only a good excuse for ingesting vast quantities of fabulous dark maple syrup but, as I discovered, when it’s accompanied by salty roasted pecans it becomes a perfect inversion or deconstruction of pecan pie, another very traditional Thanksgiving treat in many homes. I made my Tarte with a crumb crust of mixed pecans and walnuts, so it was perhaps already a variation on a nut pie before the garnishing pecans even arrived on the scene. In any event, it pleased my maple-fiendish heart.

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Lightly spicy sausage in cream makes a good alternative to gravy for the turkey and potatoes, if you don’t end up putting the sausage into the cornbread dressing as you’d thought you were going to do…

The idea of creating a meal of any sort, let alone a holiday meal, for a group of ten people and coming out with everyone perfectly sated but without a jot of leftovers is, of course, more mythical than mathematical. It’s in fact ludicrously unlikely to happen, even if the ten are all people one knows intimately and whose preferences and appetites never vary–also, to be fair, a virtual impossibility–so the question of how to manage the leftovers with the best grace remains. In our house, that problem is never terribly difficult. First visitation of this year’s re-Thanksgiving was a smaller and simpler version of the original, turkey and mashed potatoes, cornbread and cranberry sauce, with a side of buttered green beans and bacon. Meanwhile, I’d already started a slow cooker full of vegetables and giblets while the turkey was roasting, and added the bones and bits afterward, so there will surely be turkey-noodle soup soon to follow.

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Thanksgiving, Round 2–and only the second of many, perhaps.

What comes after? Probably a little turkey curry or a sandwich or two, but not much more, because having grad students and young, single faculty members at table on the holiday also meant that it was rather important to see that they left with some leftovers of their own to carry them forward. Leftovers, truth be told, are really just a new beginning in their own way. Hospitality, you know, isn’t a solo; it requires participation. One person doing it all, no matter how perfectly, is not a party but a lonely and self-centered business and misses the point of the whole thing.

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Ah, do not let the focus on the main meal eclipse all of the good that can follow: a mere creamy turkey soup is a heartwarming way to honor the memory of the great meal that started it all.

Let others partake, help, contribute. And yes, do give to them: share the feast, both in the party’s environs and in the sharing of all that surpasses what was needed for the moment. And share, first and foremost, your time and attention, your companionship and humor and warmth and love. Then there should be plenty of those for leftovers, too, or all the turkey and potatoes in the world will not be enough. Much better, more filling and fulfilling, to be so hospitable that it spills over everywhere.

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The only thing better than a delicious dessert is just a little too much of it.

Foodie Tuesday: Make Believe Meals

I’m generally in favor of good nutrition, in theory at least. But let’s be honest: I’m neither an actual nutritionist nor so dedicated to good health and sensible behavior that I will go to any particular lengths to insure that what I’m eating is always appropriate. You may, just possibly, have noticed that even before I stated it so shamelessly. Yeah, I’m a little kid.*

So if I can make entrees and side dishes that have any value as sustenance and taste enough like dessert so as to make myself feel I’m misbehaving a bit, so much the better. The particular good news in this is that with a whole lot of tasty ingredients, it’s not all that tough to accomplish the task. I mean, if you can take advantage of the Maillard reaction and make sweet caramelization happen to cruciferous vegetables and, yes, even meat, that’s proof enough for me that we are meant to enjoy dessert as any course of a meal. Sexy seared chops and steaks and fish filets, here I come! Succulent Brussels sprouts? But of course! Life is good.photoAnd why limit myself to drawing out the sugars in seemingly non-sugary foods when I can embrace the vitamins in vegetables and, what the heck, throw more sugar and spice on top just because I can. Rather delightful, if you ask me, to occasionally set aside the usual mashed potatoes in favor of what is essentially pie filling. So with those juicy sweet chops, I might give in to the urge to treat them and myself to a scoop of deconstructed dessert thus:

Sweet Potato Pie Mash

Take one peeled sweet potato or yam and an equal amount of carrots, and put both raw vegetables into a food processor or heavy-duty blender with a few friends and blend the whole concatenation into fluffy oneness. My choice last time of company for the two cups’ worth of aforementioned sweet spud and carrots: 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a splash of vanilla, one egg and, for added sugar, half a cup of ‘natural’ (handmade) small marshmallows. Because I had them around. Because I have a slight sweets addiction. Because, and I may have mentioned this before*, I’m a little kid. Last move with this mash is to heat it up–just bake or microwave it in a greased heat-proof dish long enough to heat it through fully, and it makes a delightful pie-like accompaniment to practically anything, including, well, a plain old spoon. Candy, I tell you. But chock full of vitamins. Or close enough to encourage me to absolve myself of any misdeeds until the next over-the-top meal.

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Yes indeedy, I *did* pour a little cream on the mash, too, because it tasted so much like pie. But then again, I have been known to put crisped bacon or (as here) chicken cracklings on top for a savory finish. Am I a dietary lost cause? Perhaps. But a happy one.

Foodie Tuesday: The Daily Grind Need Not Grind Us Down

When I did a bit of checking on it, the name of my variant of Shepherd’s Pie seemed to be, by rights, ‘Pastel de Carne y Patatas’–but you know me, I can’t stick to proprieties very well. So I named it the more mellifluous sounding ‘Pastel al Pastor’, thinking as I do that shepherds get very short shrift in this day and age and can use a little flattering attention. What the dish is calls for it anyway, for it’s a rustic Mexican-tinged take on the comfort-food standard Shepherd’s Pie. In any event, like many longtime popular recipes, it got its start partly by using ground or minced meat, a hallmark of well-fed poor people’s diets since the cheaper cuts of most meats can become tenderer and allow much more expansive fillers and the disguise of plenteous seasonings in order to be palatable while still being relatively affordable.

Rustic and comforting it may be, but the simplicity of the end result in this recipe belies the multifaceted process by which it’s made. Don’t let that put you off, though, because it can be made in large quantities and frozen in smaller batches between times, so it can easily become a quick-fix dish after the first preparation. Shepherd’s Pie, in the vernacular, derives from the longtime concept of Cottage Pie, which in turn originated when cooks began more widely using potatoes to stretch those more expensive ingredients of the meal, the meats. Typically, these pies (and there are versions of them in an enormous number of countries, cultures and cuisines) are simply meat dishes, often made with the ‘lesser’ cuts or a mixture of leftover meats, with a potato crust. Probably the most familiar of them here in the US is the minced meat (and often, vegetable) mixture topped with mashed potatoes that is served in many a British pub and home kitchen and that we co-opted in our own American ways.

Mine, on this occasion, was to veer as I often do toward Mexican seasonings and enjoy my own little twist on the dish.photoPastel al Pastor

Seasoned minced or ground meats, topped with vegetables and mushrooms and gravy and served over smashed potatoes make altogether a hearty and countrified dish, not at all difficult to make but taking a little bit of time because of its individual parts. I make this in a generously buttered baking dish both because it’s easier to clean afterward and because–you guessed it–I love butter.

The bottom layer of the dish is made by frying a mixture of equal parts ground beef, pork and lamb, seasoned freely with salt, black and cayenne peppers, chili powder, smoked paprika and lots of cumin. Those without supertaster spouses will likely want to add some garlic powder as well, though it’s not essential. A splash of rich chicken broth or a spoonful of good chicken bouillon adds a nice layer of flavor, if you have it. Next, add a heaping spoonful of tomato paste and enough good salsa to make the meat mixture very slightly saucy, and just as the meats begin to caramelize, you’re done. [My go-to, if I’m not making my salsa by hand, is Pace’s mild Chunky Salsa with a prepared chipotle en adobo blended in thoroughly–I see on their web page that they’re reintroducing their chipotle salsa, so that’s probably fine too.] Drain the fat from the meat mixture and spread it in the bottom of your baking dish.

While the meat’s cooking, you can be preparing the vegetable-mushroom layer. I mixed about equal amounts of small cut carrots, sliced celery and sliced brown mushrooms, covered them with some of my ubiquitous chicken broth and cooked them until tender. Then I pureed half of them with a stick blender, adding a heaping tablespoon each of chipotle en adobo (that’s about a half a pepper), unflavored gelatin and potato flour for flavor and texture, mixed that with the remaining vegetables, and poured it all over the meat. I topped this with a cup or so of frozen sweet kernel corn and got ready for Potato Happiness.

Today’s version of this meal, Ladies and Gentlemen, was potato-fied with leftovers. I had half a baked potato and about a cupful of good french fries in the fridge, and they worked wonderfully when warmed with some cream and a touch of salt and smashed roughly. It would have been just fine to do the typical Shepherd’s Pie treatment of spreading the potatoes over the meat-and-veg before heating the dish through in the oven, but since this was all concocted of things I had around (taco meat I’d made and frozen, salad vegetables and leftover potatoes), on this occasion we just put nice heaps of mash on our plates and spooned the rest over them like meat-and-vegetable gravy.

For the more normal approach, I’d roast, boil or bake potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and combine with cream for the mash and then top the casserole, possibly adding some nice cheese either on top before browning it in the oven (a mix of shredded cheddar and Monterey jack, for example) or as a fine garnish, a serving-time crumble (cotija on top, anyone?). But ‘normal’ is overrated, and the dish was mighty, mighty tasty even deconstructed in this way. And it’s still flexible–yes, even a dish concocted of multiple leftovers has variety left in it, my friends. Add some peas (so many tasty cottage pies have peas in them), cauliflower, green beans, or any number of other vegetables. Make it spicier. Soup it up into a stew, with potato pieces incorporated. Change the seasonings to Indian and make it a post-Colonial curried version. You get the drift.

Thing is, of course, that this is precisely how the dish was conceived: as a loose general structure into which any number of variables could successfully be introduced, depending upon what was on hand. Save time, save labor, save money. Eat delicious potatoes and whatever flavorful wonders you can afford and imagine to combine under them.

Well, get along with you now, you know how it works. And you can be pretty sure that it’s going to taste good. That’s how folklore ‘recipes’ survive–on flexibility and reliability. Oh, yeah, and great fillers.

Even chicken, which sometimes gets short shrift when it comes to minced meat dishes because it’s left too unseasoned or cooked in ways that make it too dry, can make lovely ground meat dishes with a little effort. In the latest instance, I chose to precook mine in a sort of meat loaf sous vide, keeping the juices and additions in and on it until it was fully plate-safe, but this could easily be chilled in its loaf form, sliced and pan-fried without the intervening hot bath, I’m sure. And a food processor makes the loaf prep a snap, but it can be done with a knife and a pair of hands for mixing, too. In any event, I veered more toward Italy this time with my glorified chicken meatloaf concoction.photoCotolette di Pollo e Pancetta

[About 6 servings.] Mince and mix together the following and shape into a compact loaf: 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (dark meat stays moister), 3 ounces pancetta, 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon powdered lemon peel, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons cold butter and 1/2 teaspoon minced dried shallot. Wrap and chill the loaf until ready to fry it, or do as I did: vacuum pack it, cook it sous vide like a confit (low and slow–I let it go overnight), and then refrigerate until ready to use.

When it’s time to fix the meal, cut the loaf into slices about 1/4 inch thick and fry them over medium heat until lightly browned. With a well seasoned iron skillet or a nonstick pan, the butter in the loaf is quite sufficient to keep the slices from sticking, and they get a nice little lightly crispy crust outside their tender middles. I served mine with slices of fried cheese (any slow-melting mild cheese would do for this after-the-fact application, or you can top the meat slices with faster-melting sorts like mozzarella or provolone as the meat cooks) and a simple sauce cooked down from jarred passata (simple tomato puree–I like the Mutti brand passata I used, pure tomatoes with a little salt) mixed with the loaf’s excess juices, salt and pepper and oregano to taste. On the side, little ramekins of rice and buttered green beans are plenty, though of course there’s always room for invention on the plate. The whole assembly, since I’d put up both cooked rice and the confited loaf in the refrigerator beforehand, took not more than fifteen or twenty minutes to prepare.

¡Buen provecho! Buon appetito! Now, stop mincing around and get eating!

Foodie Tuesday: Best of the Wurst

 

photoLong before anyone imputed a less well-mannered meaning to the phrase ‘sausage-fest’ there were plenty of people who appreciated the finer points of delicious minced and seasoned meats in casings (or patties) enough to not only dine upon them but celebrate them as well. Among those people, families and cultures where sausage is known and admired, it may begin in early childhood with tasty little links at breakfast or frankfurters, better known in much of the US as hotdogs, served up for lunch or supper, and from there it’s off to the races.photoWhat goes with sausage? What doesn’t? But I have to ask as well: does good sausage really have to have anything go with it? Okay, maybe it’s got to have an accompanying drink to be at its best, and a good beer is hard to beat as a way to wash down a good sausage, whether it’s a fine adult beverage or an outstanding root beer. All ages covered by serving different versions of one libation!photoNow, if I’m hungry for a good southern-style sort of sausage, say perhaps a savory hunk of Andouille or a juicy smoked Texas sausage, a piece of skillet-baked cornbread is a perfect taste to enjoy on the side and ideal, too, for sopping up the sausage’s drippings. Did I say smoked Texas sausage? Oh, yeah, maybe a whole bucketful–nothing like a classic Tejas BBQ joint with a tub full of smoky rings of hickory-scented sausage to get the salivary juices flowing just as fast as the hot-links‘ juices.photoOf course, the American south is far from the only place on earth producing miraculously delicious kinds of sausages. I have devoured plenty of fantastic ones on foreign turf, and gladly. Another accompaniment that nearly always appeals is the ever-welcome potato. From plain boiled, baked or mashed potatoes to crisps and chips and all sorts of fried ones, there are endless wonders that can be wrought from potatoes to enhance to beauty of sausages. One of my favorites, both in the German-speaking lands and at home, is Rösti, a crispy-tender variant of what we know as hash browns in the States, and since it’s so quick and easy to fix and sausages are too, it’s not an uncommon meal hereabouts.photoSometimes having an exclusively meat-and-potatoes meal isn’t entirely enough, and a bright vegetable addition becomes a delightful contrast in texture and flavor and a palate cleansing lightener of the occasion as well. Often, a simple, quick salad like a melange of Mandarin orange segments and cut sugar snap peas, toasted sliced almonds and pine nuts, and light lime-honey-ginger vinaigrette makes just the right complement to the fat happiness of sausages and starch.photoAnd sometimes the sausage is most welcome incorporated into a well-loved main dish. It might be Italian sausage in a classic red sauce; could be chorizo in a glorious paella; may be a welcome casserole of Cassoulet. Last week, it was Gumbo loaded with minced ham, crawfish tails and both pork and beef sausages all playing along nicely with the okra, corn, carrots, celery, onions and bell peppers cooked for a long, low, slow simmer in homemade bone broth and store-bought fire-roasted tomatoes and a bottle of Czech beer, seasoned with bay leaf, cloves, black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and premixed Cajun spice and thickened at the last just a little further with the traditional filé (sassafras powder) before being spooned over broth-cooked rice. Next week, it might be time for bangers and mash, kielbasa and noodles, or possibly just some marvelous eggs, scrambled until custard-like and served with sage-scented breakfast sausage.photoAnd no, all of this goodness is not reserved for those of the manly persuasion (slangy phrases notwithstanding). This here girl-type person, for one, will fight for her share of the feast, so I guess it doesn’t qualify as a total sausage-fest, if you know what I mean.