21 November 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie

Thanksgiving is always feast!  The turkey, the potatoes, the rolls, the veggies, the gravy - the GRAVY!  Personally, I could eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week and not get tired of the mashed potatoes and gravy, but if you need some creative ideas, read on.
I think Kyle's favorite was the open-faced turkey and gravy sandwich.  I'm a big fan of soup, which is a great use for the leftover turkey (especially if it got dry) and possibly even some steamed/roasted veggies.  But if you want a dish that really combines everything, Shepherd's Pie is the way to go.

This version is a poor excuse for the traditional shepherd's pie (traditional ingredients include beef/lamb, carrots, peas and onions, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and rosemary), but a great excuse for using Thanksgiving leftovers.  
It starts with the veggies.  Some leftover French green beans supplemented with a bag of frozen mixed veggies will do the trick - also note that I have doubled the recipe listed below (making a 9x13 pan rather than a 9x9 pan).
Top with leftover shredded turkey.  Add in the spices.  I made a citrus-sage turkey so I used fresh sage, but also the traditional thyme and rosemary.
Add in the gravy and a little more salt and pepper.
Mix everything together then try to smooth down the top of it in preparation for the mashed potatoes.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the dish, sealing all the delicious flavors in.
Bake until the tops of the mashed potatoes start browning.  I took mine out a little early because the gravy was bubbling up over the top.  I couldn't wait to get a helping of this shepherd's pie!
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie
  • 2 c. veggies: green bean casserole, steamed mixed veggies, roasted fall veggies, etc.  I'm not sure how squash would work out, but don't be afraid to give it a try.
  • 2 c. shredded leftover turkey
  • 1 c. gravy
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 c. mashed potatoes (can use mashed sweet potatoes but NOT candied sweet potatoes)
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2.  Put the everything but the mashed potatoes in a 9x9 pan.  Stir everything together.  Use a spatula to push everything down and smooth the top to prep for mashed potatoes.
3.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the turkey/veggie mixture.
4.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the potatoes start browning.

*There are lots of substitutions you can make here.  If you don't have enough veggies left over, supplement with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  If you didn't roast a turkey, use whatever meat you have around.  No leftover gravy?  No problem.  Add a little chicken broth instead (1/4 to 1/2 cup) or maybe a can of cream of mushroom soup.  If you have LOTS of leftovers, double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I roasted a citrus-sage turkey so I added a little fresh sage to my Shepherd's Pie.
Have a great Thanksgiving!  It will be a quiet holiday for me this year, but we might make some last-minute plans just to get out of the house.  Thanksgiving dinner is probably going to be bar food - or better yet, tacos.  We'll see!  I still got my turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, so I don't mind a bit.

14 November 2014

Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey

I roast whole chickens pretty frequently, but turkey still feels a little intimidating.  However, as long as you know a couple tricks, it doesn't have to be intimidating at all.  Add in some citrus-sage butter, and you're all set.  The scariest thing about this recipe is that your relatives might permanently put you in charge of turkey roasting every Thanksgiving.  Kidding.  That was a pretty bad joke.  Let's move on to the recipe.
Here's what you really need to know about turkey.  Most importantly, if you buy a frozen bird it might take a week or more to thaw in the refrigerator.  The other very important thing to know is that there is usually a package of organs (giblets) in the neck cavity of the bird, and there is a neck, typically in the organ cavity.  These are great for making stock and/or gravy.  I bought my bird (frozen) a week ago and put it in the fridge, then let it sit out for a couple hours before baking, and the neck was still frozen to the cavity.  A little hot water fixed that, but if your whole bird is still frozen, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a little late.
All the grocery-store turkeys I've gotten in recent years have had a little plastic thermometer inserted into the breast, and a little plastic ring holding the drumsticks together.  I use a meat thermometer, and I would only use the plastic thermometer if I had no alternatives.  The plastic ring on the drumsticks is really handy though.  It is safe to bake it with that ring on (unless there are instructions on the package that say otherwise).
You know it's going to be a good recipe when the first ingredient is a citrus-sage butter.  The recipe I followed starts out with "Sage is to turkey what cinnamon is to apples; they go together like bread and butter."  Mix room temperature unsalted butter with fresh chopped sage and zest from one lemon and one orange.  Add a little salt and pepper (unless you're using salted butter!).  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Take a deep breath.  Time to tackle the bird.  Open up the turkey and remove the organ package and neck (save these for later - put them back in the fridge).  Pat the bird dry.  Starting at the back of the bird, near the organ cavity opening, loosen the skin from the breast meat with your fingers.  Try to keep the skin fully intact, but loosen as much skin as you can on the breasts and drumsticks.  Do the same at the neck cavity.  Spread the butter under the skin as evenly as possible.  The bird will look totally misshapen, and butter will be everywhere.  It's okay, it's part of the process.  Washing your hands is a futile effort, you'll never get that butter off.  Try dish soap.  Try not to use the whole bottle.  This was the first time I'd ever had to use dish soap to wash the dish soap bottle...but eventually the butter gives.
Quarter that orange you zested earlier.  Do the same with an onion.  Tuck a couple pieces of each into the neck cavity, then tuck the skin flap under the bird.  Put the remaining orange and onion pieces into the chest cavity.  Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the whole bird, then add a cup of water to the roasting pan.  That's it!  This turkey is ready for the oven!
Here's the procedure: set the timer for 30 minutes.  At the first 30 minute mark, baste and turn the oven down to 350.  Then just baste every 30 minutes.  When the skin is browned to your liking, gently tent some aluminum foil over the turkey.
Around that time is when I start checking my thermometer - insert it into the deepest part of the breast to find the coldest spot.
The turkey is done when the lowest internal temp you can find is at least 165 degrees F.  Expect the total roasting time to be 2.5 - 3 hours (for a 13 - 15 lb turkey).  Take the turkey out, let it sit and soak up the pan juices (move it to the serving platter).  When I pulled this turkey out, the plastic thermometer hadn't even popped, but my meat thermometer was showing 165 all over.  I belabored the uselessness of the plastic thermometer to Kyle, but while I was standing over the turkey, doing a final baste, it literally popped! and I might've jumped a little bit.  According to Kyle, it heard me making fun of it and took revenge.  Anyway.  While the turkey rests, you've got work to do.  It's gravy time.
I use a spatula to gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan and get all the good tasty bits off.  Then, pour all the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer.  I was surprised at how much fat was in this bird, but I did add an entire stick of butter.  I managed to skim a cup of fat off the top of my broth, of which I used about a third of a cup to make the roux for the gravy.
A roux is just a thickening agent for sauces, typically equal parts fat and flour, cooked until flour can no longer be tasted (technical definition, NOT a recommendation) and/or the desired color is reached.  I put mine on medium heat for 3-4 minutes - mine is very dark because I used whole wheat flour.  Slowly whisk in the broth - stirring constantly prevents lumps from forming.  You can see I had about two cups of broth from the pan juices, which I supplemented with 2 cups of broth that I made using the neck and organs.
The roux will probably spit and hiss a little when you start to pour the broth in - fair warning.  Just make sure to keep whisking and pour slowly.  Then bring the gravy up to a simmer and hold there for five minutes, making sure to taste-test and add salt/pepper as needed.
Okay!  That's it!  Add some garnishes to that beautiful turkey then carve it up and douse it with gravy. Delicious, delicious gravy.  Oh, and that plastic thermometer will pull right out as soon as the turkey is cool enough to touch, so be sure to get rid of that eyesore before serving.
Citrus-Sage Roast Turkey + Gravy (adapted from this)
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
  • 1/4 c. sage, finely chopped
  • one lemon
  • one orange
  • salt and pepper
  • 13-15 lb turkey, giblets/neck removed
  • one onion
  • water
  • 6 tbs flour
  • 4 c. broth
1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Citrus-Sage Butter
2.  Mix together the butter and sage.  Zest the lemon and orange and mix the zest with the sage butter.  Add a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper to the butter mixture.
3.  Place the turkey in the roasting pan.  Loosen the skin from the breast meat and thighs, then spread the butter mixture between the skin and meat evenly.  Quarter (eighth?) the orange and the onion.  Place a few of the orange/onion sections in the neck cavity then tuck the neck skin under the bird.  Place the remaining orange/onion sections in the chest cavity.  Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the turkey, then add one cup of water to the roasting pan.  Tuck the wings into the bird, and if necessary tie the drums together with kitchen string.  Place the pan in the oven.
4.  After 30 minutes, baste the turkey with pan juices and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.  Baste the turkey every 30 minutes thereafter, and when the skin is sufficiently browned, loosely place tin foil over the bird.  Bake until the lowest internal temperature of the bird is 165 degrees F (should be 2.5 - 3 hours).
5.  Transfer turkey to serving platter and let stand for 30 minutes.  Gently scrape the bottom of the roasting pan, then strain the pan juices in a fine mesh strainer.  Let the juices stand for 2 minutes so the fat separates out, then skim the fat off (I used a ladle).  At this time I made a quick broth from the giblets and neck by simmering 2 cups of water with the organs so that I had a total of 4 cups of broth when combined with the pan juices.
6.  Make a roux using 1/3 cup of the skimmed fat and 6 tbs of flour: heat the fat in a pot over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk.  Mixture should bubble.  Cook for 3 minutes, then slowly whisk in the broth.  Season gravy with salt and pepper, to taste.  Simmer gravy for 5 minutes then remove from heat.
7.  Carve up the turkey and serve with gravy!
Here's my own helpful hint: almost all recipes will tell you to tuck the wings into the turkey before baking and secure them with kitchen string.  What I did was cut a wee hole in the skin and tuck the wing into that hole to secure it.  If it's dumb, but it works, is it really that dumb?  The purists will probably tell you to preserve the integrity of the skin (it does help keep moisture in), but I'm not going for award-winning turkey.  Check out this stealth-tuck:
Check back next week for an awesome Thanksgiving leftovers recipe.  If there's anything left, of course - you might need to use the skin/bones to make more stock for gravy.

07 November 2014

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Homemade enchilada sauce is made out of pantry staples and takes hardly any time to make (in fact, it can be done simultaneously while cooking the meat).  It tastes better than the canned stuff and doesn't contain any unknown ingredients, especially if you do some home-canning of tomatoes.
This recipe works with fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes - so versatile!  Make it how you want it.  I used canned tomatoes from last year's harvest.
Here's the stuff that keeps it tasting amazing: spices galore.
Mix it all up and simmer.
Use on your favorite enchilada recipe, bake for 25-30 minutes, then sprinkle with your favorite cheese and some minced cilantro.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce (adapted from this)
  • 2 tbs oil (bacon grease or butter work great)
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 2 c. canned diced tomatoes*
  • 1 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
1.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Mix in the flour. 
2.  Gently stir in the tomatoes, then the rest of the spices
3.  Simmer for ten minutes.  The sauce will thicken as it cools. 

*Here are other options:
  • One can of tomato sauce + 1 cup water (makes a nice smooth enchilada sauce)
  • 1 can of tomato sauce + 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of diced fresh tomatoes (gives it a little more texture)
So there you have it!  The sauce can be stored in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for a couple months.  A basic enchilada recipe is to take 8 burrito-sized tortillas, fill them with anything you want (meat, beans, cheese), roll them up and place them seam-side-down in a 9x13 pan.  Pour enchilada sauce over the tortillas.  Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350* and immediately sprinkle shredded cheese over it when done.  The cheese melts, the enchiladas are awesome, you have an easy meal that feeds a crowd.

31 October 2014

Goals update

I spent all month saying "why do these people have pumpkins out, they're so out of season....  Wait.  It's October?!"  Which is to say that it does not feel like October.  I wore shorts and a tank top last weekend. 
So my loosely planned goals for October didn't all happen, but I got a lot done and had a few adventures too.
  • Bus work - time to start working on the interior.  I don't think any interior work was done (Kyle swept, does that count?).  We took it places though!
  • Visitors!  My little brother and fiancee (!) spent a weekend here.  It was great!
  • Find a couple inspiring recipes.  Fail.  If anything, I'm even less excited about cooking than I was at the beginning of the month.  We'll see how this plays out.  If I could justify the ingredients and expense of processed food, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  Just. not. feelin' it.
  • Gut the garage. Done!  And it feels so good.  And it looks great.
  • Start some wine. I started an elderberry port.  I briefly mentioned elderberries in this post, and I started wine from those berries, but this month I started a port using the spent berries from the wine as well as some fresh (frozen) berries.  I wanted to start a kit but Kyle claimed the last carboy for beer.
Also, I should have mentioned another goal to start working out regularly again.  In my August/September funk I pretty much stopped exercising (sooo helpful - let's kick the endorphin habit while I'm down), so October was my month to get back on track.  So far so good!  And I'm really pleased with my current routine - for some reason I'm loving the P90X yoga, in addition to some strength training and cardio.

So here's some November stuff:
  • Pretty sure camping is on the docket.
  • Start a batch of Drifter clone beer.  Widmer Bros used to brew a fantastic pale ale called Drifter, but has discontinued it.  Some great homebrewers made a clone recipe and we just bought the ingredients.
  • Get dirt.  Kyle made a raised bed, and dirt is all that's standing in between me and fresh arugula.
  • Meet some new people.
  • Complete a class I started taking on Coursera - free education available online?  I love it.  I can learn about topics I actually want to learn about! 
That should keep me busy.  I also have a few "admin" tasks that I can't seem to kick off my to-do list.  I'm hoping to get a burst of motivation to get those done too.

On to the photos!  The garage was a nasty project with old shredded insulation filled with lots of rodent droppings and the like.
Surprisingly, the only live thing we ran into was a snake!  I expected more of the mouse / cockroach variety.  Our neighbor came to the rescue and helped us relocate this fellow.  Snake experts at work tell me this is a rat snake, which is a good one to have around.
That same weekend, we really put the house together - hung the art, unpacked all the wine onto the wine racks, etc.  Really made it feel like home.
Kyle built some sawhorses, a raised garden bed, and has started on a large workdesk for himself.  So handy!  The raised bed was made with like $4 worth of lumber, because we got almost all of it from the 70% off rack at our local home improvement store.  Score.
Of course BunBun was on the scene offering his company for the outdoor work.  Sadly, BunBun went to live on the happy bunny farm out in the country this month.  It was especially traumatic for me, as I saw it happen.  I still miss that little guy.  I was well on my way to adopting him, and the yard feels really empty without his presence. 
We took the bus on a longer trip (where 'longer' means 'more than five miles from home').  First to our fav brewery to show her off, then to another brewery for an event they were hosting.
The owner promptly offered to trade us a brewery for the bus.  We probably should have taken him up on his offer.
The weather here has been so nice that we took a picnic lunch down to a local park on Saturday (first photo of the post).  Even when we can't get away from home, it's still so nice out that tacos on the porch are a weekend staple.  We might have to huddle indoors for warmth this weekend though.
Suddenly, November!  I keep trying to make plans then completely changing my mind, so it's really hard to say what November will bring.  I've been feeling a little unsettled lately and in need of some direction.  Time management is a big part of that, but at the same time I recognize that I need some downtime to recuperate from long, frustrating days.  Balance.  That's what I'd like to see in November.  Balance and some turkey.

24 October 2014

Bus Brakes Round Two

So a while ago we replaced the brake lines on the front brakes.  After we got those done the only major work we had left to do was fix the exhaust leak.  When Kyle's car died, we started rearranging our priorities and having a functional bus became a little more important.  So while we were in Michigan we hired the professionals to fix the exhaust leak.  On the way home from the shop, Kyle hit the brakes pretty hard when someone slowed down unexpectedly in front of him, and my vantage point in the chase car allowed me to observe the cloud of smoke that emanated from the rear driver's wheel.  Okay.  More brake work.
Actually the shop had let us know we had a problem with brake fluid leaking in the rear wheels so it was already on our list.  So right after we moved, instead of unpacking boxes we spent our days out in the garage.  The shop had torqued down the lugnuts with power tools so it took Kyle at least an hour to loosen all the lugnuts.  After that, he promptly bent the jack trying to get the rear tires off the ground.  That was a frustrating day.
We bought a new jack and went in for round 2.  Progress at last - the bus on jack stands and the rear wheels off.  Since everything had just been disassembled by the shop it was pretty easy to get it all apart.  Everything got sprayed down with brake cleaner and scrubbed down.
The good news is that there seemed to be plenty of material on the drums and shoes - they weren't too worn down.
The bad news is that the replacement shoes that Kyle ordered came with four of the shoes on the left and zero of the shoes on the right in the photo below.  They look pretty similar but the shoe on the right has an arm for attaching the parking brake, which is a pretty crucial detail.  As I write this Kyle tells me that they actually did ship us the correct shoes, but this is a new style.  So we'll have to drill out the rivet so that we can install that parking brake arm on the new shoes.  Gah.
Kyle replaced the wheel cylinders - they were the cause of the brake fluid getting into the drums (that's bad!).  We ended up just cleaning up the old shoes and reinstalling them.
We also replaced the rear brake lines.
Mechanics eye view of the old vs. new lines.  Then we had to bleed and adjust the rear brakes (so that each shoe was engaging the drum at the same time). 
And lastly, we replaced the parking brake cables, which run from the rear brakes to the front of the bus.  This was a pain because I had to evenly tighten the square nuts that you can barely see in the photo.  One of them I could get a quarter turn on, the other an eighth of a turn.  I was down there for a while.  Kyle was running around the back of the bus so that he could tell me when the brake was fully engaged (per the manual, we were to pull the parking brake out six clicks then tighten the cables until the rear wheels could not be turned).  The vice grips are to prevent the cables from twisting.
Some of this stuff was new to me, so for the sake of others I'm including some pictorial clarification.  Click the photo to make the text readable.
This project was drawn out over several days, so it was nice to have it back together even if we did have to use the old shoes.
We took it for a test drive around the neighborhood and everything seemed to be working fine.  Then we took an extended trip at higher speeds and heavier traffic and the braking didn't seem to be consistent.  Then it felt like something shifted and it was breaking evenly again, although it is apparent that the drums are out of round (ie it feels a little bumpy when braking).  So yay, more bus parts to buy.  Even so, every project means we get to know the bus a little better, get to trust our skills as mechanics a little more, and get more excited about the adventures we can start taking!