Thanksgiving remnants, or how to make the best turkey stock ever.

Thanksgiving has been over, everyone has stuffed themselves silly and passed out watching the Lions (If you didn’t, well too bad for you, the Lions actually won this year). With the ending of Thanksgiving comes the second best part of Thanksgiving, the left-overs. This year I cooked ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I don’t know how I got out of doing anything but hey, I’ll take it. This year all I had to do was show up and eat. I think this resulted because nothing was planned. No one said anything about getting together for Thanksgiving even though I asked several times what everyone’s plans were. It turned out the in laws were traveling and my mom seemed to be avoiding the topic all together. The weekend before Thanksgiving I declared that I wasn’t going anywhere and we’d have a mini Thanksgiving with just the four of us, but then at dinner with my mom she announces that she picked up everything at the store earlier that day.

Ha! I guess it’s a good thing no actual plans were made.

Since my mom was cooking and not my dad (because he’s been dead for three years) the turkey was of normal size and not a gargantuan bird. We almost always had a 20+ pound turkey growing up, even if it was just us plus one. Even if my mom went out and picked up a normal sized bird my dad would go back out and find a turkey that put Godzilla to shame. There were always left overs. I would get so excited that I could take real turkey sandwiches to school for lunch, but the Turkey NEVER made it to Monday. I was always so disappointed. Random side fact I hate Turkey lunch meat and vary rarely eat it. The only time I eat it when I’m suck at some luncheon where all they have are turkey sandwiches, and then I’m just choking it down because I have to eat something other than frozen wholesale cookies.

The lack of gargantuan turkey resulted in zero turkey left overs. That totally sucks, but Husbands employer is making sure we are stocked well with turkey. I swear it’s one of the last companies that still gives a turkey out for Thanksgiving and I am quite thankful for that yearly turkey! Even without getting any fabulous leftovers I did score the turkey caracas. Yes I take the caracas. I see no reason to waste a perfectly perfect caracas to make some turkey stock.

Typically I’ll save the stock to make gravy or use in other recipes and of coarse left over turkey soup. At this point I only had enough turkey to make a batch of turkey noodle soup (and I had a bunch of carrots and celery that needed to be used up as well).

Making Turkey Stock from a Turkey Caracas:

  • Turkey Caracas – the meatier the better
  • Large onion cut into large chunks
  • 2-3 stalks of celery cut into 4/5 inch chunks
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of pepper
  • water
  • cheese cloth
  • large bowl or second stock pot

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot, you may need to break the turkey caracas. It is not unknown for me to take a hammer to some of my larger caracas. Always an interesting time when Husband asks me why I’m walking into the kitchen yielding a hammer. Cover the caracas with water.

Turkey Stock

Here is the stock in the pot waiting to come to temp.

The key with making a good turkey stock is cooking it long and low. Now is the time to watch the stock, turn the heat to a medium heat. Keep a watch on it as you do not want it to boil!

Turkey stock - heating

Once the stock starts to get the little bubbles like the above picture cut the heat to a simmer, then simmer for a few hours until the meat on the caracas easily falls off.  Turkey sock if boiled will get cloudy. Keeping it just under a boil and simmering for a few hours will keep the broth nice and clear.

Once the meat falls off easily take the pot off the stove and let cool. It’s important to let it cool off since you need to handle bits of bones. Once cool enough pull out all the large bits of vegetables, a slotted spoon is great. Then start working on the bones. Pick off as much of the meat as you can if not all of it. Throwing out the bones, skin and bits of whatever other nastiness is in there. Put the meat in a separate bowl.

Once all the vegetables, bones, everything else you can get out, ready your strainer. Take the cheese cloth and tie it around the top of the stock pot or large bowl. The second container needs to be able to hold all of the stock. Make sure that the cheese cloth has some give in the middle, it should NOT be pulled tight across the top of the second container.

Start to slowly pour or ladle the stock from the cooking pot into the new one. This may sound like a very annoying extra step but it leaves you with the best homemade stock ever. This will get out any of the fine bone particles that may have fallen apart when cooking. It also helps pull out a good amount of the fat/grease from the stock as well. As you’re pouring the stock though the cheese cloth you will need to stop from time to time to let it drain, and if you have particularly fatty bird you’ll have to pull off the cheese cloth and rinse out the fat and other whatevers you strain out.

Sadly I do not have a photo of this step because I lost my cheese cloth (again!). I had to improvise using paper towels, which did not work out as well as I thought it would have. The paper towel ended up soaking up the liquid a little too well and started a stream from the paper towel onto my stove top. I should have used my trusty dusty kitchen towel – which I’ve done in the past when I don’t have cheese cloth available. If you do have to improvise this will ruin your kitchen towel as the greasy fatness never comes out well and ends up staining the towel. So, don’t use one that you might be overly attached to. I am not at a loss for stained up kitchen towels.

I turned my stock into Turkey soup by adding back in the meat cleaned off the bones, about six carrots, 4 celery, 1/2 large onion (all chopped). Simmered with a palm full of Marjoram, Rosemary, a 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper and a pinch of salt. I added in a half a back of No Yolks noodles – Extra Broad slightly under cooked and let them finish cooking in the soup. Serve with some crusty bread for extra deliciousness.

Tomorrow I’m cooking up our turkey, which started to thaw with the warmer weather in it’s impromptu freezer (AKA a car outside).

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Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Yams

It’s a yam!

Sweet potatoes are not yams. Let’s explore the myth that they are the same thing.

Sweet potato:

  • Ipomoea batatas – scientific name
  • sweet potatoes come from the same plant family as the morning glory
  • sweet potatoes are native to the Central American region
  • they grown on a vine
  • they come in many different varieties
  • starchy roots

Yam:

  • Dioscorea rotundata – scientific name
  • yams are their own plant family
  • yams are native to Africa and Asia
  • closely related to lilies or grasses
  • come in many different varieties (they actually have their own family name for “yams” which is Dioscorea)
  • starchy hard root tuber

Then how did two plants that are not near related botanically end up getting called the same thing?

I’ve found two main reasons for this perpetuation of incorrectness, both coming from very historic means.

Africa’s brought to America as slaves saw the native sweet potato and started calling them yams. Yams themselves were not that prevalent and easy to come by in northern climates so places started calling sweet potatoes “yams” to sell them as yams, and then the good ‘ol government continued the farce by labeling all sweet potatoes as yams.

Yams are a root tuber, like a ginger root, or iris roots, only on a larger scale. Yams can be as small as a traditional potato to as large as five feet in length. Sweet potatoes on the other hand don’t get much larger than a good sized baking russet potato and have tapered ends. Yams grow as tubers and sweet potatoes are more a clump of root storage system. A sweet potato vine will grow from a sweet potato scrap. I’ve never tossed a yam into my compost pile and had it grow, as I’ve never actually had yams (and thus not had the chance to toss them in my compost pile). I had a sweet potato vine pop out of on the edge of the compost pile. I had half a mind to dig it up and see what happened but it was so late in the season that it was mixed back into the pile.

This is what confuses me in todays world. We now have the ability to get yams shipped all over the world but yet sweet potatoes in a grocery store still get labeled as yams, and don’t even think about looking for an actual yam in a grocery store, they are virtually non-existant, at least in the north country where I live. I read that yams have become an invasive species in the south where the climate allows you to grow yams. Maybe in souther states you can pick up a yam at the grocer. Personally I have only ever witnessed a true yam at one grocery store, which happens to be known for it’s produce, and where I snapped the photo of yams. When I took the photo I was more surprised than anything else that they had yams for sale. They had the sweet potatoes right next to the yams.

So all those canned “yams” you’ve choked down every year at Thanksgiving have never been truly yams at all. I really want to go buy some yams, now that I know where to get them, and cook some up just to say I’ve actually had yams and can compare the difference.

But since I’ve never had yams here is the Husband’s favorite sweet potato dish

Carrie’s Sweet Potato Casserole

That is the original recipe, however that one forgets the how-to on the topping. Too bad. Here is the topping recipe:

  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Combine and mix well.

I double the recipe because I hate having a random 1/2 cup of evaporated milk left over. It’s light, fluffy, super sweet, and delicious. If the recipe is doubled I highly recommend a 9 x 13 pan to cut down on cooking time.

Savory Potato Soup with pan fried mushrooms

Photo of potato soup

I really wanted potato soup this week, but I wanted something savory tasting more than creamy. I also did not have any bacon, or ham on hand. Here is what I came up with, I was quite happy with the result and thankfully this time I wrote it down so I can make it again. My typically experiments in food I don’t write down and then I can never remember what exactly I did, creating a new dish every time.

This dish could, with a few changes become a pretty good vegetarian potato soup.

Savory Potato Soup with pan fried mushrooms:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp bacon grease (use any oil vegetarian)
  • 1 cup onion – chopped
  • 1 cup celery – chopped
  • 2 cups carrots – chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 6 cups potatoes – chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock)
  • 1/4 tsp Marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp Sage
  • 1/2 tsp Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk

1. Heat a large pan and place the bacon grease in the pan and let heat. I always have bacon grease on hand and use it to cook many dishes. Especally when I want a more smokey meaty flavor in dishes. It will yield a different flavor but any oil will work for this stage including butter, or olive oil.

Once the oil is hot place the chopped onion and celery. Cook in the bacon grease until the onions are just tender.

2. Add the carrots, potatoes, chicken stock, pepper, marjoram, sage and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender and beginning to break down. I simmered mine on low for a few hours.

3. Once potatoes are fully cooked mix 1 cup milk with 2 tablespoons flower, make sure that all the flour is blended into the milk and there are no lumps present. Add the milk and flour mixture and remaining cup of milk to the soup. Bring to bubbling.

2013-11-18 17.08.00

Mushrooms:

  • 1 container fresh mushrooms – sliced
  • bacon grease (or oil of your choice)
  • rosemary
  • sage

1. Heat oil in a pan, add mushrooms a pinch of sage and rosemary. Cook over medium high heat until mushrooms are tender and beginning to brown.

2. Top soup with mushrooms and a dollop of sour cream.

2013-11-18 17.56.07

Using butter, oil or bacon grease will create a different flavor for each, the bacon grease gave it a much more meat-esq flavor than butter or other oil. The carrots gave the soup an orange-ish hue.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

Image

We eat large amounts of pasta, all kinds. I think noodles is my go-to food group (if noodles could be considered a food group). One of those pasta dishes that we like to eat are stuffed shells, because they are SO EASY! Most of the time we just buy them frozen from Schawn’s, add a jar of sauce bake and DONE. Love it. It’s also meatless so it fulfills the eat less meat quota.

However, there is one problem with this delicious dish, one of the kids doesn’t like it. As in it makes her gag. Since she loves cheese and eat ricotta in other foods I guessed that it was a texture issue and not a taste issue. I decided to try and make my own stuffed shells that had enough other stuff in them to negate the texture off an all cheese ricotta stuffed shell. Experiment was a success.

It’s meatless, not dairy-less, obviously since it’s mostly cheese.

Recipe:

1 box jumbo shells – cooked to al dente
Prepared pasta sauce of your choice

Stuffing Mixture:
1 tbls butter
1 – 8oz package fresh mushrooms – chopped
1/2 red pepper – chopped
1/2 onion
1/2 onion – chopped
1 box frozen spinach – thawed, drained and remaining liquid pressed out
16 oz container of ricotta
1 cup mozzarella shredded cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese – shredded or grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Heat butter in sauté pan until melted, grate 1/2 onion using a box grater right into the hot butter. Let coot for a minute, then add mushrooms, chopped onions and red pepper. Why the grated and chopped. I wanted the grated onion to cook down, add moisture and flavor the ricotta. The chopped I wanted simply for creating a more corse texture.

Let the vegetables cook until just tender and then remove from heat.

2. In a large bowl combine the cheeses and add the spinach flaking it apart as you incorporate into the cheese. This does not need to be mixed well, the idea of adding the spinach now is just to make it a bit easier to combine when adding the other vegetables.

3. Let the vegetables cool for a bit, as you do not want them so hot that they cause the cheese to start melting. Add that to the cheese/spinach mixture and mix well to get an even distribution of ingredients.

4. Put a think coating of the sauce of your choice on the bottom of a baking pan. Then begin stuffing shells. A regular table spoon does the trick nicely. The ends of the pasta should be able to touch, you don’t want the shells so stuffed that the filling leaks out but a bit of a gab isn’t an issue. (see photo above) Place the finished shells seam side down into the baking pan. Once the pan is full top the shells with sauce and bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly.

Since I made this for just the girls and I, I only made a small pan, giving me ample amount of extra. I froze them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen solid I tossed them in a gallon sized freezer bag. Now I have a meal at the ready.

This is an easy meal to make but since there is a vegetable cooking step, a stuffing set and then a baking step it does require a bit of time before hand. It’s a great on hand meal for the freezer that could easily go from freezer to table in 30 minutes if the shells are already prepared. It took me about an hour to prep the shells, and that was including two screaming children and having to stop every five minutes to get kool-aid, a snack or just carry one of them around for five minutes to get them to settle down. It’s a do-able week night meal for sure but I think I’ll just try to keep them on hand in the freezer for the future fast fix meals.

Freezer Meals: Meatballs

Prepared meatballs are great, and super handy for just about everything. Toss in pasta, sever over egg noodles, or CrockPot them with your favorite sauce.

Meatballs in a gallon freezer bag

Freezer Meatballs: Just like store bought but a 100 times better

  • 2 lbs lean beef
  • 1 16 oz tube of sausage – your choice – hot will give the meat balls a good kick, sage sausage will make them nice and savory, or Italian if planning on using them in pasta dishes. Since I wanted an around meatball I used half hot and half italian sausage.
  • Dried bread crumbs (roughly 2 cups)
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoon dried spices – sage, basil, organo, thyme, etc. Use what matches the sausage choice. If using sage sausage don’t use sage spice, too much sage, but adding thyme or rosemary is delicious. If using pre-seasoned bread crumbs cut down on spices if added at all.
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. Mix beef, sausage, onion, eggs, spices and milk until well blended. Begin adding bread crumbs, continue mixing as bread crumbs are added until well blended and the meat mixture holds a ball shape well.
  2. Make meatballs, use a table spoon to get meatballs with a uniform shape and thickness.
  3. Place on a baking sheet, about a 1/2 to inch a part, so they are not touching each other.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Checking for doneness and preventing over cooking.
  5. Remove from oven, cool slightly, move to paper towel to absorb any grease that came out during cooking.
  6. Place cooked meatballs on a cool baking sheet and place in freezer, once frozen package in Zip Lock bags. Freezing them on a baking sheet prevents them from freezing to each other.

Making the meatballs themselves do not take that long, but cooking and freezing can take up an entire day if one doesn’t have multiple baking sheets that can be used for cooking and freezing.

Chicken: It’s what for dinner

Today I didn’t want to cook. I had a project I wanted to finish which entailed climbing up on my roof. I had two sections of gutter cover to finish on the front of my house. I did not want to take the time to stop and make dinner or wait until I was finished to try and cook. Husband could have but his ability is pretty limited. 

I took some chicken breasts, still frozen. Tossed them in a baking dish, added three cloves of garlic and 2 small onions quartered, and a few of my herb oil cubes. Covered with tinfoil and baked at 400 degrees for an hour. 

It was awesome. Chicken was juicy and had a great flavor. Added a boxed noodle side and some frozen peas. Dinner prep took a total of 15 minutes…maybe. 

That herb oil cube I found on pinterest was a great idea. Thumbs up to that pin. 

Ladies weekend Jell-O Shot Recipes

Every few years I make it to a ladies get-to-gether weekend. The hostess holds it every year but as of lately I seem to only be able to  make it every other year. I LOVE to make Jell-O shots. I get to experiment with flavors, pawn them off on everyone else and they are petite bombs of booze. In the past years had piles of them left over. This year, in an attempt to not come home toting bags upon bags of semi-solifited jiggly booze I tried to hold back. This was also the only year I ran out.

Here were the recipes I concocted this year.

Basic Recipe (for the small boxes of Jell-O)

1 package Jell-O
1 Cup boiling water
1 Cup flavored liquor

Grape
1 package Grape Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup UV Grape Vodka
This was the first group of Jell-O shots to vanish, it had just the right about of sweetness to liquor. It also helps that UV is one of the best flavored Vodkas on the market (in my opinion) they have a good flavor and don’t seem to have that harsh Vodka after taste that many of the cheeper flavored Vodkas have. I’m so not fancy enough to be buying any Absolute for Jell-O shots. I’m sure it would be delicious, but I’m a stay-at-home mom on a budget.

Strawberry Margarita
1 package Wild Strawberry Jell-O
1 Cup boiling water
1/4 cup triple sec
Juice of one lime
Approximately 3/4 Cup Clear Tequila – The tequila finished making up the second cup of over all liquid
This was the third most popular Jell-O shot. It did vanish the second quickest but I think it was more because of the appealing pretty pink color housing a rather sinister Jell-O shot. Enough of these and it would knock you on your ass. I used 1800, they were smooth but pungent. Not a Jell-O shot for those that don’t like tequila. Personally I am a fan of tequila so I enjoyed them and will be making them again. I also threw in some zest of lime to be fancy.

Margarita
1 package Margarita Jell-O – Yes! a Margarita flavor Jell-O. I love this Jell-O flavor for this reason. I LOVE Margarita’s, I saw this limited edition Jell-O and stocked up. Sadly I haven’t seen it on the shevles since and this was my last package)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup clear tequila
Yes, you can taste the tequila. Yes, it’s tart, and yes, it will make your tongue go numb. They are strong, and once again not for someone who doesn’t care of tequila. Now, if you are a fan of tequila and Margaritas then this is a Jell-O shot for you. Sadly I think the Jell-O mix is hard to find.

Mellon
1 package Mellon Fusion Jell-O
1 Cup Boiling water
1 Cup Madori Mello liquor
This was the second favorite Jell-O shot of the get-to-gether. It however lasted almost as long as the Margarita Jell-O shots, I think because I had them in the same freezer bag the two tended to blend together, and people were shying away from the Margarita Jell-O shots. The shots looked pretty, had a nice sweetness with out an over powering lingering liquor taste. However, I think the melon fusion flavor of Jell-O is another one of those “seasonal” or “Test market” Jell-O.

I also tried making pudding shots – on request – which didn’t turn out as they should have. I learned that pudding shots need much less liquor in the recipe. They only half set up, even after being in the freezer, however they were a big hit even being a bit liquid-y. So here’s the parts I used not the actual recipe because I need to figure out the correct amounts of each.
Instant Vanilla pudding mix
Milk
Cool-whip
Kahlua
Vanilla Vodka

They ended up having a similar taste to a Kahlua White Russian.

Loaded Red Skin Potato Salad

1 bag red skin potatoes 
1 package (1lb) bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 2 cup package shredded yellow cheese (cheddar, Colby Jack…etc)
1 16 oz tub sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise or mayonaise substitute
1 medium onion, chopped
Fresh chives (one package if buying them in the grocery store)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Bake red skin potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees until just tender, cut up potatoes into large bowl. If not already cooked, cook the bacon in the oven on a separate cooking sheet as the potatoes cook. They take about the same time. 
Add all other ingredients, stir until well incorporated adding sour cream or mayonnaise to reach desired consistency. 
Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Variations: 
Substitute onion for 3 whole bunches green onions using the green part as well. 
Use pre-made real bacon bits/crumbles in place of cooking bacon. 

 

Stupidly Easy Pork Sandwiches

This is one of my go-to recipes when cooking for any large group of people. It does take a bit of time but not any time that one needs to actually be “cooking.” It does require a two-step cooking process.

Pork roast – trimmed. (I prefer to use pork loin, figuring about 1/2 lb per person)
1 can dark cola (Dr. Pepper, Root Beer, Pepsi, Coke, RC cola – Any will work, each will add it’s own hint of flavor to the meat)
1 large onion quartered
pepper

In a large slow cooker place your pork roast fat side up and sprinkle pepper on the pork.
Place quartered onions in the crock and poor one 12 can of cola over the pork.

Cover and cook on low until fully cooked in a slow cooker – about 6-8 hours depending on size of roast.

*Very important step* 
Remember to turn off the pork and place it in the refrigerator for the night. Just go ahead and take the whole crock dish out. This happens to be the step I tend to forget because well…when I’m making this it’s because I’m busy doing other things such as pretending that I’m back in my 20’s of the old college days where assorted libations and Jello shots are free flowing.

The next day remove the crock from the fridge and start step-two.

Cooked pork roast
1 jar of thick BBQ sauce – Sweet Baby Ray’s is my choice because it’s one of the thicker sauces on the market. You could also make your own sauce…but this meant to be stupidly easy.

Discard the cooking liquid and onions, pull apart pork removing and discarding as much fat as possible from the meat.
Place meat back in the slow cooker, add BBQ sauce, stir. Place on low heat until warmed through. Serve on buns.

 

Cilantro Honey Chili marinade

Also know as “The super secret chicken”

This marinade is cilantro heavy, as in “Woha hello cilantro” but it keeps the chicken juicy and gives it a nice summer flavor, the chili sauce adds just a hint of pow.

Recipe:
Chicken
3 cloves of garlic
Fresh Cilantro – about two good sized handfuls of the leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Sriracha
Juice of one lime
Salt and Pepper to taste

Take cloves of garlic and mince in a food processor. If a food processor is not available then mince the garlic by hand.

Add the cilantro to the food processor and mince, with the food processor running start to add the liquid ingredients. Starting with the oil, then honey, then Sriracha. Finishing off by adding the juice of one lime.

Once fully blended together add salt and pepper to taste. I like just a dash of sea or Kosher salt added. It’s also a good time to adjust the sweetness or heat to your liking. It is good to note that during marinade and cooking much of the heat from the Sriracha is lost.

I found I needed to stop at intervals to make sure the cilantro was getting equally chopped up.

Marinade chicken for at least one hour before cooking, up to 24 hours.