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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pre-February Ponderings

   I cannot believe its almost February...tomorrow already, the first month of 2012 is gone. Where, in heaven's name, does time go? Funny that when you are waiting for something or when you are on the treadmill, time seems to stand still, but, enjoying yourself is over in a flash. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Oh, wait! Who ever said life was fair?
   February is a month that celebrates a large variety of foods, and has a "floating" holiday--Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, and is celebrated by International Pancake Day, and depending on the calendar can fall in February or March. This year it is Tuesday, February 21, 2012. We all know, I hope, that it is also known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Don't know if anyone cares, but it is also the last day of Epiphany, which began on January 6. Did not mean to get into a religious lesson, but I like to share tidbits of information I have picked up over the years...and there's a lot of tidbits to share.
    The food celebrations for the month of February start with Berry Fresh Month, and Celebration of Chocolate Month, which some of us would like to be every month, but let's not go there. Then there's Great American Pies Month and National Cherry Month, I guess because of George Washington's birthday on the 22nd, then it moves to National Fiber Focus Month and National Hot Breakfast Month, which somehow, to me, sound like they should go together. But then they throw in National Grapefruit Month and National Snack Food Month, which do not sound like they go together, but that's me. And then we close out with Potato Lover's Month and Sweet Potato Month. This list makes for a delicious, albeit short, month--oh, hey! its also a leap year so we have an extra celebration on the 29th with Surf and Turf Day. I guess one can only afford to splurge like that once every four years, so it seems fitting.
   Weekly celebrations can be--well unusual--at times. The first week of February is no exception. It is Shape up with Pickles Time--someone will have to fill me in on that theory, or maybe if I run out of things to do I will Google it. But probably not. The second week is more traditional being Great American Pizza Bake, Jell-O® Week and Kraut and Frankfurter Week. That's better, but I am not a fan of the frankfurter, although a Hebrew National®, Sabrett®, or Nathans® can entice me occasionally, and I only like my sauerkraut roasted with a loin of pork. Okay, so I am a frankfurter and kraut snob. I can live with that.
   There are no special celebrations for the third week of February, probably because most of the northern sections of the country are traditionally snowed in, so they didn't want to give those of us buried in the cold white stuff too much to deal with while shoveling. The fourth week is National Pancake Week and National Food Checkout week to focus on helping Americans learn how to stretch their grocery dollars with healthy, nutritious food and to recognize that America’s farmers and ranchers are committed to producing safe, healthy and abundant food. Go AG!
   I won't go into each daily celebration here, this blog would go on much too long, but I will check in during the month about some of the daily celebrations I observe, or just care to comment on--yes, that does leave the door wide open, doesn't it? I will however, give you a head's up on some of the celebrations to come this month: February 5th is National Chocolate Fondue Day, try serving that for the Super Bowl party...NOT; February 14th is National Creme-Filled Chocolates Day; February 18th is Drink Wine Day; February 20th is National Margarita Day; February 27th is National Kahlua Day and; February 28th is National Chocolate Souffle Day. What fun this month is going to be!

We'll talk soon!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Turkey Pot Pie mmmmm

   I made a turkey last Sunday, just about 10 pounds of bird. Yum, it was delicious. I stripped down the carcass and froze it for a future turkey soup, and made a leftover dinner with the mashed potatoes and gravy, extra stuffing, and all the rest of the trimmings. I still had a little breast meat, the 2 thighs and legs left, so I diced it all up with diced potatoes, onions, peas, fresh carrots, a new gravy, and made a homemade pie crust for the top. I do not like to make homemade pie crust, but I did it. It was okay for the topping of the pot pie, but it never would have held up as a pie crust---guess I will have to work on that some more.
  Start by peeling the potatoes and cut them into 3/4 inch cubes. For this application I usually 3/4 peel the potatoes as well--I don't like when the peels separate from the flesh and are free floating in the mix. I figure by keeping some of the skins I am not throwing all of the nutrition out...just one of my things. Toss the potato cubes into boiling salted water (1/2 teaspoon is enough--but trust me, you need SOME when boiling potatoes--yes, yes, pasta, too. Boil for about 10 minutes, just until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain them well. Set aside. Dice 1/2 of a large sweet onion--we only use sweet onions here. I like the pieces on the small size, I don't like long strands of onion in this dish. Melt 4 tablespoons butter (okay, okay, you can use margarine if you must) in a large skillet. Add the diced onion and sweat, adding diced fresh carrots in after about 5 minutes (I used 2 medium carrots--scrubbed well, not peeled). Continue to sweat the veggies until the onion is almost transparent, but do not allow to brown. You can add a stalk or two of celery, diced, along with the carrots if that's your thing--I use it in soup, otherwise I am not a fan.
   Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour into the mix, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, until the flour is completely incorporated and bubbly--(we all know this is a roux, right?) Add one tablespoon of chicken base (or two bouillon cubes or 2 packs), whisking constantly, add 2 cup of waters, and 1 cup of milk, to blend in the base. Bring to a slow boil, stirring. When the mix comes to a boil, that's how thick it will be...you can add more milk or water if it is too thick for your liking--we like it thick--stick to your ribs style.
   Toss in the potatoes, the leftover diced turkey (or chicken)--oh, anywhere from 2 cups up, and some frozen peas. Bring mix just to a boil. I add poultry seasoning, if I have it, if not I use ground thyme, rubbed sage, about a tablespoon of rosemary leaves run through the food processor, or through the fingers, and if I feel like Scarborough Fair, I add some parsley: you know, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme?
   This hot bubbling mixture is then tossed into a greased casserole dish, why greased? I don't clean up the pots and pan, so out of compassion for the one who does, I grease all my cookware, and pray the food doesn't stick too bad to make the cleanup a very difficult chore (man, do I love him). Then cover the top with a pie crust of your choice, to the edge. You can get fancy and flute the edge, if you want, but do not forget to poke about four holes in the crust toward the middle in a spoke fashion to allow steam to escape. I also put a drip pan under the casserole, for I tend to fill them to the top and when they start bubbling, well, the oven cleanup detail (I got this one) prefers less mess.
   Bake at 375 for about 25-30 minutes, you are really just cooking the crust here. Remove it from the oven and let it sit about 15 minutes before you try to serve it---it is HOT!
   This one came out fabulous, even my beef and potato eating man said it was excellent. Just another touchdown! How about any of you out there? Care to share a use of leftovers from your personal cookbook?
  'Til next time. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shrimp Scampi

   Ahhh! Shrimp Scampi. What more can one say? Luscious, succulent shrimp, in a butter-garlic sauce with white wine, fresh parsley, a drop of  hot pepper flakes, and a spritz of fresh lemon. There you go, that's the recipe. Now if you think I have proportions, well, think again! In the true Italian spirit, I just wing this recipe, but today, just for you, I will try to come up with proportions.
  The most important proportion, naturally, is how much shrimp to use, and I hope we all realize that depends on how many people you are feeding. Well, normally, yes, but this household loves shrimp, so my proportion might be a little high. For five of us i make 2 pounds of shrimp. There will be leftovers, not much, but there will be a late night snack for someone. I use the 21-25 count shrimp, less peeling is how I see it.
   I use 1/2 pound of butter, that's 2 sticks, unsalted if you have it; 12 cloves of garlic, or 4 heaping tablespoons of jarred minced garlic; 2 tablespoons good olive oil; a palmful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to your own family's liking; 1/4 cup white wine--I use sauterne, but any dry to semi-dry wine will do; and just a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Oh, and believe it or not, you still need a dash or two of Kosher salt.
   Heat the olive oil over medium heat until it starts to ripple, not smoke. Add the butter and stir it around to melt it. Once all the butter is melted add the garlic and let it come to a simmer. When you start to smell the garlic and LONG before it begins to color, add the wine, the red pepper flakes and the spritz of lemon. Allow it to simmer 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, and toss until the shrimp begin to turn pink. Toss in the parsley, remove from the heat, and keep tossing until the shrimp is fully cooked. Add the salt, toss again, and then serve over pasta, if desired. I made homemade noodles again, so we're having it over that, along with homemade bread, and a tossed salad. Who can say touchdown?