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Monday, February 28, 2011

Stuck In A Jam?

A while ago I posted about making marmalade. Yesterday I made marmalade from the abundance of citrus fruit I bought this season and which I obviously won’t use up otherwise. Even so, I may have to make another batch (when I get the energy).

This batch contained 2 Texas grapefruits, a cara cara orange, a Meyer lemon and about a dozen clementines. I sliced all the fruit as thin as I could and followed my favorite marmalade recipe. I started on Friday afternoon and the marmalade was ready to cook on Sunday. I pulled 7 half pint jars from the canner and had another nearly full pint that was destined for the refrigerator to be eaten first.

While the marmalade bubbled I hulled a container of strawberries that the market had given away with a minimum purchase and a coupon. Turkeys were also on sale this week and I was determined to get one. Since we usually spend the Thanksgiving holiday with the in-laws, we often miss out on the fridge full of leftovers, even though they supply us with baggies of food to take home.

A turkey thawing in my tiny fridge means there is not any extra space, even for a small container of strawberries. Since I was already in the midst of the canning process I figured another jar or so could not hurt. I added sugar to the berries and simmered them until they turned into a thick syrupy mass. Since the quantity was so small I decided to dispense with the canner and just pour the strawberry jam into a jar to be eaten this week and kept in the fridge. I got nearly a full pint. English Muffins were also on sale this week so I hope to make a pretty good dent in the marmalade and jam.

Strawberry jam is not my favorite. I far prefer the tarter flavors of red currant and damson, or the bitterness of marmalade, and for PBJ I prefer the classic Grape. But homemade strawberry jam is not to be dismissed lightly. Bill and I licked the spoon and scraped the pan. I look forward to spreading some on toast.

To make strawberry (or just about any kind of) jam cut fruit into slices or chunks (fruits like blueberries or raspberries do not need slicing). Measure and add almost the same amount of sugar. I like my jams less sweet so I usually use about ¾ cup sugar to every cup fruit, sometimes even less. Place in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the fruit continues to boil and cannot be stirred down. Choose a pot quite a bit larger as the boiling fruit will rise up a lot. Use a long handled spoon too to avoid burns. Cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit or 8 degrees above the boiling point of water for your area. If you don’t have a thermometer, until the liquid sheets off the back of a spoon.

Pour in to hot, sterilized canning jars and cover with hot, sterilized lids and rings. You can process the jam in a boiling water bath or a pressure canner or just keep it in the frigde and eat it within a few weeks. Homemade jam is a special treat and makes a great gift, especially if you give it with some homemade bread and dress it up with ribbon. Be sure to process the jam if you plan to give it as a gift.

Quotable quotes; in the category I Guess You Can’t Have Your Jam And Eat It Too!

“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.”

Lewis Carrol – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Party Food For Breakfast!

Everyone knows cold pizza is the perfect breakfast food, followed closely by cold spaghetti. Nowadays I generally reheat cold pizza and spaghetti before eating but back in the day I ate the pizza cold from the oven (leftover pizza was traditionally left in its box in the electric – not gas – oven). Likewise cold spaghetti, which was usually left in a plastic container in the fridge.

You may wish to heat the spaghetti in a skillet or saucepan with a bit of water, or you may wish to zap it in the microwave. Or go whole hog, add extra sauce and/or cream and some shredded mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven. Restaurants in Chicago sell “baked mostacciolli” at a higher cost than it cost the first time around. What're the odds they are using up yesterday's leftovers?

These standards notwithstanding, Party Food for breakfast is a special treat, especially after your new year’s festivities have mostly ended. This year, in the days following new year's, I breakfasted on leftover sweet & sour meatballs, cream cheese & crab dip and that most delicious of delicacies, leftover spinach dip and dippers. Luckily (or alas) the shrimp cocktail was all eaten the night before.

Forgive me. New Year’s is long gone but my New Year’s Day breakfast was tasty enough to remember and to write about at this later date. Don’t wait until next Christmas or New Year’s to enjoy a party for breakfast. Any time you have yummy leftovers you are free to indulge. And I think spinach dip in the morning is hard to top . . . even with spaghetti or pizza!

I expect everybody knows how to make Spinach Dip but in case you don’t here are instructions. This is one of my favorite recipes. And one of the easiest. Many people use Knorr vegetable soup mix. I far prefer Mrs. Grass, which was apparently bought out by Wyler’s and then by Lipton. Use whichever instant vegetable soup & dip mix you prefer, or whichever one you can find!

1 packet vegetable soup mix
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed completely dry
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup each mayonnaise & sour cream (low fat or fat free will work if you wish)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Stir very well to be sure all the salty mixture is well blended. You can serve this in a bowl or in a hollowed out loaf of rye or sourdough bread. Serve with vegetables, bread chunks, crackers, bread sticks or sliced bagels for dipping.

Cream Cheese & Crab Dip

My mother-in-law used to make this. I must have made it once for my sister as she said this dip always reminds her of me. I don’t remember ever making this more than once so sis must have been there that day. Bill asked for this dip for this year’s holiday festivities so I happily obliged. Can you say stupid easy?

Unwrap and place on a plate an 8 oz. block of cream cheese. Open a can of crab meat (or a can of tiny shrimps). Drain and remove any bits of shell. Scatter the crab or shrimp over the surface of the cream cheese. Open a bottle of shrimp cocktail sauce and pour a generous amount over the cream cheese and the seafood. Serve with an assortment of crackers.

Party Meatballs or Sausages

This recipe should prove to you my propensity for those dishes that are so simple the recipe makes you say “duh”. But the finished dish must also make you say “mmmmm”! I can vouch for these meatballs.

Buy a package of frozen meatballs. Doesn’t matter if they are made of turkey, beef or tofu as long as they are meatballs you would normally eat. Be sure to buy the kind called mini meatballs. They should be about an inch in diameter and come about 30 to a package. Careful not to buy the kind that are tennis ball sized. Those are intended for spaghetti dinner. They will still taste good but you will be limited to serving one per guest – unless you have unexpected company, then you’ll have to share. This recipe is even easier if you buy precooked meatballs!

Place frozen mini meatballs on a baking sheet and bake according to package directions, probably about 25 minutes at 350. Meanwhile, empty a small jar of grape jam into a sauce pan along with a small bottle of your favorite cocktail sauce. Yes, the same sauce you use for shrimp cocktail. You may, if you wish, add a little barbecue sauce, a little sweet/hot mustard or a few of those packets of egg roll sauce that come with your Chinese takeout. Heat and stir to combine. When the meatballs are done, drain briefly (if you feel like it) and add them to the sauce.

You can serve these bad boys in a bowl, in a chafing dish, in a fondue pot or in a mini crock-pot, the kind meant to keep party dips hot for serving. Be sure to place a shot glass of toothpicks or bamboo skewers alongside! Little Smoky Link Sausages can be substituted for the meatballs, but don’t bother making this sauce, just open a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and let it go at that.

Leftover Pizza & Spaghetti

Reheat leftover cold pizza in a nonstick skillet. Put it over medium heat and cover with a lid. In about five minutes the bottom should be crisp and the pizza should be hot. Or try the toaster oven (but never the toaster). Reheat cold spaghetti in a nonstick skillet with a lid and a little water. Give it a couple of stirs until it is heated through. For a “spaghetti pie” add a little extra sauce or some cream to your leftover pasta and a generous amount of shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 30 minutes until brown on top and bubbly. Think lasagna. You are saving $6.95 in take out costs.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Don’t Know Much About Art But I Do Know What I Like To Eat!

“Art is what's left over after you've defined everything else”. Michael Vitale

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No Shepherd's Were Harmed In Making This Pie!

Re-reading some old blog posts I came across the one about roast beef and the things I made from the leftovers. I was surprised to see that I did not include Shepherd's Pie! I probably should not have been surprised as this dish is made of leftover roast lamb and mashed potatoes and I was talking of beef (and I rarely serve mashed potatoes with roast beef). To make it with leftover roast beef just call it Cottage Pie and you are home free.

Yes, I know, some recipes start with raw meat and freshly made mash but my gosh, that's like cooking two meals and only getting one. The whole point is to cook once and then get as many meals as possible from the first go-round.

Remember, I only make this if I already have leftover mashed potatoes on hand - a rare enough occurrence - but they don't have to be leftover from the same meal as the roast! So if you will be cooking lamb or beef and would like to try this dish be sure to make some mashed potatoes, either with this meal or another one a day before or after, and be sure to make enough extra! You'll need about 2 cups.

Take your leftover roast beef (or lamb) and chop it (or mince it) fine. You can do this with a cleaver, a meat grinder or the food processor. I add any leftover vegetables too, whether they were originally served with the beef or not. If you don't have any you can add some frozen mixed veg, about a cup or so, and be sure to add any leftover gravy or pan juices to the mix. If you want a little zing pour in some Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, A-1 or even ketchup. Mix it all together and put it in a greased casserole just big enough to hold it and the potato topping. Season to taste.

Spoon your leftover cold mashed potatoes over the top of the "pie". You want a layer about 3/4 - 1 inch thick. Use your spoon to flick little peaks all over the surface of the mash, or use a fork to "rake" a pattern into it. Sprinkle with paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg or your favorite spice. If you like, you can put a few dabs of butter here and there.

Bake this in a moderately hot oven, say 350 or 375 degrees, for at least 30 - 40 minutes. You want the meat mixture to be very hot, even bubbly, and the potato topping to be golden brown. this is great served with a side of vegetables or a salad and if there is any Yorkshire Pudding leftover (don't worry, there won't be) go ahead and pop it in the oven for few minutes to heat.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Let Me Just Make A Note Of That!

"Am going to cook shepherd's pie for them all - British home cooking."
— Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Diary)