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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shortcut Central is open again!

    I went a a tear a while ago with shortcuts and lo and behold I have found yet another one! In the spirit of the immigrants of 97 Orchard that I have ranted on about in previous posts I am on a bit of a "stretch the food budget" train. For Easter I made a spiral sliced ham; granted the poor immigrants of the early 1900's  would not have had the luxury of freezing leftover pieces of the ham, but I am not trying to live like they did back then, only  find inspiration in their trials of stretching money and the food it buys.
     When I awoke this morning a little after 9am--I am not an early riser as those of you who know or follow me are fully aware--I stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen where as usual I found the Big E.  He'd been up since 5 or 6 am--how he does that I haven't a clue, but I am too old to change my habits now, so we will just gloss over the fact that he has been enjoying peace and quiet for several hours before I grace him with my presence.
      It is a Sunday morning, so according to our "arrangement" it is my turn to cook. He has been doing the bulk--okay all-- of the weekday cooking since my new employment has me leaving the house in the afternoon and coming home around midnight. Conveniently, he says, I get out of cooking Monday through Friday. The original plan was that I would start something for dinner and he would finish, or I would pop something in the crock pot. Neither of these scenarios have panned out very well and I admit I have dumped the cooking responsibility on him. He, however, has risen to the challenge, and, according to him, my blog has been a "Godsend". So I get a double satisfaction: I am not cooking 5 days a week, and someone is trying out my recipes and tips and giving me feedback. Its a win-win in my book.
     I apparently was feeling a bit "froggy" this morning so I snapped a few times before I realized I needed to get more sleep--this danged cold just won't leave me alone. I reached into the freezer to see what we had and I grabbed the first thing my hand touched: leftover ham. I placed the package on my handy-dandy-speedy-thaw out tray, turned to the Big E and said, "We're having something with ham. Wake me at noon, I need to lay down." He grumbled something, that I probably was not meant to hear anyway and into la-la-land I escaped. I awoke on my own just before noon. I felt much better.
    Leftover ham. what can I make with leftover ham? Immediately scalloped ham and potatoes comes to mind. My family, however needs cheese in this particular dish so I do not know if it is still scalloped ham and potatoes, but  that's how it starts out, so that is what I call it. It is not, by any means, difficult to make, however I did not feel like shredding the cheese, and I use about half a pound of cheese. One thing I have noticed about not cooking everyday is that on the two days I do cook I am getting lazy and look for any way at all to make it all go faster.
     Well, the only potatoes in the house had rooted through the bag and were too soft to really qualify as potatoes, so sorry, I had to trash them.  The Big E was heading to town with #2 anyway for ... gee, I forget what, but I grabbed the sales flier for the grocery store.  Super! Potatoes were on sale and there is a big 10 for $10 sale . Right there in color was a photo of Ragu Pasta Sauce in the 10 for $10 sale...they also have jarred cheese sauce... oh, man, there is my shortcut! Can you believe I got to tell that whole story just to let you know that I used a jarred cheese sauce (added some freshly grated cheddar as well)? Well, we all know I love to talk!
    I did break down and peel the potatoes and then used the mandolin to slice them thin, the ham was still slightly frozen so I was able to slice it into nice strips that won't require the use of a knife at the table, and layered the potatoes, some dried onion(another shortcut), the ham, and the cheese sauce, then a sprinkling of shredded cheese. I ended up with three layers of potatoes, two of ham, and to be sure it is wet enough to cook the potatoes I added about a half cup of milk, covered it tightly with foil and into the oven--oh, I used my Pampered Chef rectangular stoneware casserole dish, sprayed with non-stick spray to aid in the clean-up.
     I estimate it will take at least an hour, those potatoes can be stubborn sometimes, but the thin slices should help in that department. I will poke it after it is in for an hour, and judging by the resistance I get from the potatoes I will then decide if it needs more time or if I can take off the foil, add another layer of shredded cheese and then let it cook until the top cheese is melted and bubbly. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
     Now I do know that I cheated on this recipe, using the jarred cheese sauce, but in this day and age with all of us pulled in 10 different ways at one time, every shortcut is a good one. I would have also like to skipped peeling the potatoes, but #1 complains about the skins and the Big E reminded me that the original recipe uses peeled potatoes so I didn't buck tradition all the way.
     I will find some green vegetable in the freezer--we only use fresh or frozen--no canned here, except for the creamed corn in the corn soup, which I might not have blogged about. Oh, good, new topic to cover! I think I will also dig deep in the pantry and see if I have any more homemade applesauce. I think we are getting down to the end of that crop. 
      C'mon spring! Mama needs some apples on the trees!
       Photo to come:

References
Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard: an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement. Balance of credits to com


April Come She Will

                                       "April, come she will
                      When streams are ripe and swelled with rain" (Simon 1965). 
                      One of my earliest realizations that poetry was awesome.
       But we will not discuss poetry right now, however, I reserve the right to wax poetic sometime in the future.
       I have been doing more thinking about my heritages and food. While my personal experiences do not compare to the frugal times of the mid-1800's to the World War II days, I have also noticed that what defines Italian cuisine now was not even in dreams back then.
      That brings me to the Big E's latest "love": Smothered sausage. I have seen smothered things on menus before but never took the time to check them out. The Big E went to a restaurant with his brother and a business associate a few months back and he came home yelling "why have you never made smothered sausage before?" Well, for starters I never heard of it, second, what do we smother it with? And third, well, you get the picture. 
    After much research I could not find anything that even remotely came close to the dish he described. So with his memory, pen, paper and a fully stocked kitchen, we set out to re-create the smothered sausage he had not been able to stop dreaming about.
    Because of our diverse tastes right in our own home we decided we would include both sweet and hot Italian sausage. The hot sausage purchased locally is not so hot that my delicate palate rebels. Cutting the amount of hot sausage with the addition of sweet sausage eases my fears of biting into something too spicy; something that will not bother my newly finicky stomach. With that decision in place, we start out and make Italian bread, or in this case, rolls--sub rolls. 
      Somewhere else in this blog I have the best recipe for Italian bread on the planet. Easy and if you follow the directions it is foolproof. The Big E's only criticism of the recipe, well, all bread recipes, is that it takes a long, long time with all the rising times. Hey good things come to those who wait. We make eight 12-inch sub rolls out of the recipe, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack. 
      While the bread is baking steam the sausage in about 1/4-1/2 inch of water in a large skillet on top of the stove. I cover it to ensure the sausage is cooked inside. When the water evaporates the sausage is usually done, but remove the cover and continue to brown the sausage in the same pan. Slice the cooked sausage into 1/4 inch rounds. Remove sausage to another bowl and cover to keep warm.
      Peel two Vidalia onions, cut in half, then slice thinly. Heat two tablespoons olive oil in the same pan you used for the sausage, get it real hot, until it ripples. Toss in the slices of onion (and stand back so you don't get splattered with hot oil). Sweat the onions and let them begin to caramelize. Toss in green and/or red peppers that have been seeded and sliced--you will need three really good sized peppers. I like to mix both green and red, for the sweetness the red peppers bring to the dish. I cook the peppers only until they just start to go limp--but that is a personal preference--you know the routine--it's your kitchen and your family--cook the peppers to your preference.
    Now it is time to do some smothering! Spray a 13 x 9 inch oven proof dish with non-stick spray, or grease it well if you don't use the spray stuff. Slice the rolls lengthwise and place them in a single layer in the prepared dish. Top the rolls with the sliced sausage, then the onions and peppers, then top with about 2 cups of spaghetti sauce--any kind: homemade or jarred, your family's favorite is fine. Then cover the whole schebang with shredded mozzarella and if you really want it decadent add some shredded cheddar as well. Slide the dish into a 375 degree oven and let 'er bake for about half an hour. The cheese needs to be melted and bubbling and starting to brown. The sauce should be bubbling up as well. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it and serve it like lasagna. OMG(oodness) Talk about a home run!
     I cannot imagine that any of my ancestors would have ever indulged in this type of dish, mainly because this style of Italian was made from necessity--the immigrants had to make do with what they had. The amount of meat alone would be sufficient to feed the neighborhood back in the early part of the 20th century.
     My visit to Italy in 1972 also introduced me to real Italian food. They do not serve all the tomato based pastas in Italy, at least not in Rome or Florence. The food was more Mediterranean, and they served a larger mid-day meal than the evening meal. Lots of seafood, and fresh vegetables, salads, and lots of fresh fruit. Some pastries, such as sfogliatelle, the shell shaped pastry with all the flaky layers and Ricotta cheese inside, the occasional cannoli, rum cakes, strufoli, and the 7-layer cookies that are called either rainbow cookies or Italian flag cookies and Ricotta cookies. That's about all I need. I do make the Italian Flag cookies and the Ricotta Cookies  around Christmas and I try to make them every year, as they both are a real hit.
      Oh, and REAL cappuccino-- not that stuff they try to pass off as cappuccino in the States today. You know that stuff we find served in the "specialty coffee" houses that are popular today. No, real cappuccino--espresso with hot milk, steamed foamed milk--you can add sugar, shaved chocolate or cinnamon. The crazy flavors is more an American thing--and since we are on the subject I must must must clear the record: a latte is espresso with steamed milk--no sweetener--no flavors--no foam, and is usually drunk in the morning. It drives me batty to go to Starbucks and have to tell them how to make a latte. But at least I have finally learned how to order it so I get what I want and not end up with some monstrosity that is undrinkable. Thank you for letting me rant a bit. Just one of those things that has gotten muddled in translation. Now that I have cleared that up, I think I will get up tomorrow morning a make a pot of latte.