Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Helpful Hints in the Kitchen

Sometimes when I am cooking I have a problem with leftovers.  The problem is not with the finished product, but with the ingredients themselves.  I have tried to save things like chicken broth or wine or tomato paste in the fridge, telling myself that I will use them.  But I don't.  Ever.  My fridge becomes the graveyard of half-used products and opened cans.  This was really brought home after Superstorm Sandy knocked out my power for several days, causing me to throw out the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer.  I decided at that point that I would keep my fridge spotless from now on (haha) and also find a different method of saving leftover ingredients.

Sitting pretty in my (basically empty) freezer.
So the other day I was maximizing the Thanksgiving leftovers by making Shepherd's Pie with the mashed potatoes and I only needed 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste and 1 cup of chicken broth. Which meant that I had 1 cup of chicken broth left over and a whole can, minus 2 TBSP, of tomato paste.  I decided to freeze the broth in my ice cube trays.  We always buy a large bag of ice because we use so much of it.  I only had the trays from when I made baby food for Lilly, and, well, those days are long over.  Then I was hit by genius and decided to measure out and freeze the tomato paste, too.
Frozen chicken broth

Frozen Tomato Paste

My theory is that it can just be popped into the pan, as needed.  I froze mostly 1 teaspoon and some 2 teaspoon portions of the paste and once they were frozen I popped them into a freezer bag.  I was not very exact with the broth.  I simply filled the ice trays and once frozen  popped them into a freezer bag.  I even double bagged them to be safe.  I then labeled the outsides with the date and tossed them back into the freezer.
In the labeled freezer bags, ready for my next cooking adventure!

It really took very little time to do this and I saved money both in not wasting any ingredients this time, and in having them readily available for use in the future.  Who wants to open an entire can of tomato paste for 1 or 2 teaspoons?  I am inspired now to see what else I can save and freeze!  I just have to remember to use it all!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Leftover mashed potatoes? Shepherd's Pie for dinner

I had a delicious turkey dinner yesterday.  My hubby made me a delectable turkey sammie last night.  I had a small plate of leftovers for lunch. So I was pretty much turkey-ed out.  I was not having turkey for dinner but I did have tons of mashed leftover.  What is a girl to do with all those mashed potatoes?  Make shepherd's pie, that's what.  I substituted beef for the lamb.  I used Alton Brown's recipe as a guide.
Carrots and onions cooking

I already had mashed potatoes, so obviously I disregarded his recipe for that.  But as a little side note, has anyone ever heard of putting an egg yolk in them?  I had never heard of that and thought maybe it was more a shepherd's pie thing?  Here is the rest with my notes in italics.
The meat was browned and the sauce made.

For the meat filling:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground meat (I used beef.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
I added a few glugs of red wine.  I figured I was drinking it so why not?
2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves (I had none.)
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves (I used dried.)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the meat, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the corn and peas to the meat mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. FYI, I took out the leftover potatoes to bring them to room temperature.  They were still a little cold so I popped them into the microwave to take the chill off.
The layer of mashed potatoes

It was a delicious and filling meal.  Hubby asked if we could put it into the rotation of favorite dinners!

Thanksgiving Deliciousness

This year my brother and sister-in-law hosted Thanksgiving.  Vin, Lilly, and I went to assist with the preparations on the evening beforehand.
Mr. Tom Turkey

We used Alton Brown's Best Gravy Ever & Perfect Roast Turkey recipes.  They came out great, though I would definitely recommend having an oven thermometer to make sure your oven does not run too hot or cold AND a probe thermometer that can stay in the oven.  The one my SIL had was not oven safe.  I hadn't even realized that they sold ones that weren't oven safe!!  We took it out at the right time but I am thinking their oven runs hot.  The great thing was that even though it cooked a little longer than it should have, because it was brined, the turkey was still delicious and moist!
He's cooked.  And delicious!

We made the stuffings (a regular and one with apples and dried cranberries) and the mashed potatoes the night before.  My brother made his famous sweet potatoes with marshmallows ahead of time, as well.  The stuffings and the potatoes went into slowcooker crocks and then into the fridge.  In the morning Laurie took them out of the fridge, brought them to room temperature and then set them into the slowcookers to be heated.  By dinner time they were perfectly heated!  

Laurie made all the stuffings and this particularly amazing green bean casserole dish (recipe courtesy of her mom) that I hope she makes for all future events.  It was not your typical green bean and mushroom soup recipe.  Let's just say it involved bacon, wine, and cheese.  Yes.  Bacon in the green beans.  You can stop drooling now!  And p.s. they were even better today.

I used Martha Stewart's mashed potatoes recipe to make 10 pounds of potatoes, though I tend to eyeball all the ingredients.  Mashing 10 pounds of potatoes was more challenging than I had anticipated.  I did it in batches but it was still really hard to do.  We eventually broke out the kitchenaid stand mixer for its inaugural use and that is what did the trick.  My Aunt Pam brought her famous twice baked potatoes.  Why yes, we did have 2 stuffings, 2 white potatoes, and oh yes, 2 sweet potatoes.
Did you know that 1 large slow cooker holds 10 pounds of mashed potatoes?

All along I had intended on baking the sea salt browned butter chocolate chip cookies, but I ran out of time.  On Thanksgiving morning I did make the pumpkin crunch cake I found through Pinterest.  I am only slightly obsessed with that site.  So, here is the recipe.  I will tell you that mine does not look like the picture on the website.  I also used walnuts instead of pecans and probably only a cup because that is what I had in the house.  I left a small portion without nuts since Lilly is anti-nut.
I left a small portion without nuts.

Pumpkin Crunch Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
I added a tsp of vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (the original recipe called for 1/2 cup)
1 cup butter, melted
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease bottom of 9 x 13″ pan.  Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Pour mixture into greased pan.  Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture and top with pecans.  Drizzle melted butter over pecans.  Bake 50-55 minutes. It is puddingish or custardy so it is done when it looks set when you jiggle it a bit, not when a knife comes out dry.

It was a huge hit, but I don't think it will ever replace the pumpkin gingerbread trifle I make every year.  This is a Paula Deen recipe that was given to me by a parent of one of my students.  I have been making it for years. This year Laurie made all the ingredients and I assembled it.  I always think of tinkering with the recipe, but I never have.
the famous trifle

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle


  • 2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix (I only use 1 because I use a trifle bowl, not a punch bowl.)
  • 1 (5.1-ounce) box cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
  • 1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping (I usually have more on hand.)
  • 1/2 cup gingersnaps, optional


Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cardamom into the pudding. Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle of the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl, or as I mentioned above, in a trifle bowl.  
My other sister-in-law Kelly's pilgrim cupcakes.  How cute are they!!

I really love that we have some family traditions but also that we welcome some new ones as our family expands!  It was a great Thanksgiving feast!