Friday, February 4, 2011

The Day Before Shopping Day Turbo Cook

They say that life is what happens when you are making other plans.  This is so true of our busy hectic life.  I don't always get to stay true to my menu plans, and often improvise and make a quicker, simpler meal than the one I planned for.
If items are on sale, I will stock up on them, and that changes my menu dynamic also.  For instance, ground chuck was on sale the last time I shopped as a buy one package, get one free.  That made it cost about a dollar and change per pound, so I bought two of the largest packages.  One whole package got divided, and placed in plastic, and wrapped for the freezer.  Half of the other package went into the making of the Beef Ancho Chili for Joel's birthday party.  (See recipe on Spaghetti Western post) That leaves me with a pound of beef that needs used up.
I overestimated amounts for fresh vegetables like celery and zucchini.  They need to be used or figured into the plan for this next week to come.  I have sweet onions that are starting to soften a bit, and they need to be used up also.  I had planned on using leftover meat from the taco bar to make a stir fry of broccoli and cauliflower, but there was none left over, so I will need to use those up also. I prep the broccoli and cauliflower for quick cooking by cutting it up and putting it into tupperware containers.  The head of red cabbage left in the crisper also gets shredded for use as either coleslaw, or cooked sweet and sour cabbage for this next week.  I have found that if I ready these things, I am more apt to use them at the end of a long busy day than if I have to prep them at meal time.  
So yesterday, we spent the day making room for fresh by using up the produce from our last shopping trip.
I often do what I call turbo cooking.  I plan one large span of time, a whole morning, or sometimes most of one day, to make ahead and use up what I have.  It seems like a big commitment when you first start doing so, but the savings in time and money more than make up for it in the long run.
Here is the products of our morning of turbo cooking:

French Onion Soup
4 large sweet onions sliced thinly
2 T butter
6 C beef stock
pinch of red pepper flake

In a large skillet or dutch oven, saute the onions and butter over medium heat until they are brown and carmelized in flavor.  Add beef stock and red pepper, and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, I cool this and pack it into canning jars leaving 1 inch headspace.  I use plastic lids you can buy for canning jar storage, and either store it in the refrigerator for use in the next week, or freeze it.
To serve, heat the onion soup to a boil.  Pour into large ramekins, or soup bowls and top with a crusty piece of sliced bread, and some sliced swiss cheese.  Place bowls on a cookie sheet, and put under the broiler until cheese is bubbly and melted.

Hamburg Stew - A family favorite using up my leftover hamburger, zucchini, and celery.  This can be made with any kind of vegetable, and I have made it often using up leftover spaghetti sauce in place of the hamburger and canned tomatoes.  Most of the time the vegetables consist of carrots, onions and potatoes, but we have vegetables that need used this time.

Hamburg Stew
1 pound browned burger
1/2 onion diced
4 small zucchinis diced
4 carrots peeled and diced
1 C celery
1 can low salt corn and it's liquid
1 small can fire roasted tomatoes
1 large can/quart of tomatoes
1 C red wine (party leftovers)
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 tsp italian herb seasoning
2 C v-8 or tomato juice
In a skillet, brown meat and remove to stock pot.  Add in onion, carrot and celery in the skillet, and cook until they are translucent.  Add wine and scrape up bits from the pan.  Add to stockpot along with all the other ingredients.  Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook for two hours or longer to develop a rich flavor.

I have about a cup and a half of Pico de Gallo left from Joel's birthday party, so I used it to make a spicy, creamy dressing for this cold pasta salad.  We are going out of town tomorrow, to rope in Thermopolis, so I will take this along in the cooler for our lunch.
When I use canned chipotle peppers in a recipe, I never use more than ONE pepper.  They are fiery hot, so I usually have them on hand in a glass refrigerator container.  If they start to get a little dry, I add some vinegar to keep them moist.  The liquid they are packed in is very good for seasoning things you wouldn't want pieces of pepper in, and it gives a smoky heat to the dressing for this salad.

Southwestern Pasta Salad

1C pico de gallo, or jarred salsa
1 C buttermilk ranch dressing
1/2 C mayonnaise
1/2 tsp sauce from canned chipotle peppers
1 can whole corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 container of cherry tomatoes halved
1/2 C sliced black olives
1/2 red onion sliced thinly
1 C shredded mexican blend cheese (leftover from Joel's party)
1/2 tsp tajin seasoning, or a pinch of chili powder, and some lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 box short cut whole grain pasta cooked and drained
In the bottom of a large tupperware, mix the buttermilk ranch, pico de gallo, mayo and chipotle sauce until well blended.  Add the remaining ingredients, and keep cool until serving.

I have two quarts of enchilada sauce left from my party last weekend, so I soaked a pound of dry beans overnight and made this dish in the slow cooker.  The pork is a lean pork loin that I had in the freezer, and I will pull it out when it tests done,  to cool and slice thinly for sandwiches this weekend.  It will give pork flavor to my beans, and since it is still frozen, will be moist and flavored by the enchilada sauce also.   I could also cook the meat longer, and shred it for chalupas or a big pan of enchiladas for the coming week if I liked.  The idea is that I am getting double duty from my one use of the slow cooker.  I will have Chili Beans for a side dish for several meals, or as a base for a chili, and also get the meat cooked at the same time.  It saves on dishes, which tickles me to no end!

Pork and Beans (kind of) or Chili Beans and Braised Pork Loin
1 pound of white or pinto beans, soaked overnight in double the amount of cold water, and rinsed
2 diced carrots
3 stalks celery
1/2 diced onion
1 chipotle pepper diced
6 C red enchilada sauce
2 C tomato juice or V-8
3 stalks of fresh thyme (leftover from making pickles)  I just put these in whole, and retrieve the stems after cooking.  The little leaves fall off in the liquid.
2 bay leaves
1 pound pork loin seasoned with salt and pepper
In a large slow cooker, place all ingredients, making sure the pork loin is on top.  I didn't brown this loin, nor did I even defrost it, I just put it in frozen.  It will absorb the liquid and be moist and flavored.  Cook on high heat until the pork tests done (165 F) with probe, and then continue cooking the beans on low heat for 10-12 hours. 
These freeze well, and are good as a side dish for grilled meat, or as a meal with boiled rice.

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