Thursday, September 13, 2007

Small frugalities, cast iron and tasty recipes

Today I realized why our grandparents did some of the things they did and why frugal cooks of today copy those practices.

Yesterday was a long day. Getting kids moving doing school work, preparing to go to work and getting meals on the table with a tooth that is still sore. It took me a while to get my daughter to get the potatoes, carrots and roast in the oven. I had her set it on a higher temperature than I normally use to get it done more quickly, in hopes that it would be ready for her to take some to work with her. The roast was an odd shaped one, so by the time she had to leave for work, it still wasn't done, so she didn't get any to take to work. Then I realized that we had scouts that night and that we'd be gone for several hours. So I turned the roast down to 190 degrees and left it in the oven.

When we got home the meat was tender and the vegies roasted. But the water that was put into the pan to make a little steam and some gravy was cooked out. Only the fat drippings and a caramelized crust was left in the pot. It was late and I was tired, there were really no "drippings" like I normally use, so we didn't get any gravy for our meal.

I got up today and decided we'd have hash for dinner today. I had leftover meat to use and plenty of potatoes to make the hash with. I was going to wash the dishes while I stirred the hash. I put my son to peeling potatoes and then I went to do the dishes. I looked at the pan that the roast was cooked in, trying to decide how to best clean it. Then I remembered what my grandmother would have done.

Whenever she fried something, she would add some water to the pan and "deglazed" it. So I decided what the heck. I added some water to the pan (about 3 cups) and put the pan on the eye, turned the eye on and let it bubble a little. It worked! The dried, stuck on particles dissolved off and I soon had a nice couple of cups of broth to cook with. Note: If this idea doesn't sound good to you, don't do it!

Now I know the food police will have a fit that this pan was left out all night, but there was nothing but the dried, baked on drippings and a spoonful of hard fat on the bottom of the pan. Long before we had refrigerators, stuff like this was left out overnight and no harm came to anyone. Certainly, as I fry stuff in the future, I'll remember this tip and go ahead an add water to the pan, then put the resulting stock in a container in either my fridge or freezer right away. In the mean time, the water that was added to the pan was brought to a boil and allowed to boil for several minutes, thus destroying any harmful bacteria that might have been lurking. Again, use left-out drippings at your own risk!

The fact is, every time I fry hamburger, cube steaks, sausage, hot dogs, ham, etc, there's some fried on particles. If each time I fried or roasted something, I'd add some water to the pan and let it bubble the fried on bits off, I'd have nice tasting broth and a pan that was easier to clean.

When this broth has cooled down a little, put it in a container/add to an existing container to cool and let the fat harden. You can then remove the fat and use it for another purpose. (In older times, it would have been used for frying, baking or for making soap. Now-a-days, we seem to just toss it. Your call.)

Actually, since I use cast iron, and don't use soap on them, all I'll have to do is scrub any remaining stuck on spots with salt, rinse well with hot water, let drain a second, put on the stove, turn the eye on to heat the pan and dry the water, and then lightly oil the warm pan and hang it back up. It's clean, ready to use for the next meal and the no-stick surface is maintained. (There are several ways to clean cast iron. This is only one way. Choose whatever way makes you happy.)

If I remember to deglaze the pan with the water, I'll have a ready supply of flavored "stock" for gravy or soup.

This is approximate, I don't measure. My mom would fix this in one pan. I fix it in a cast iron "chicken fryer". It sort of looks like a dutch oven, holds about 4 qts of liquid, and has a pour spout on one side. I love it!

My hash recipe:
Leftover roast, cut into cubes. Last night we had a little less than 1/2 lb left over. It was tender and ended up more shredded than cubed. It still tasted good.

Peeled, cubed potatoes. I used about 10 regular sized ones. I used a white potato, I've also used Red Bliss. I have used Russets, but to me, they are best for baking.

Flour, oil, water, salt, onion and garlic powder, and some Adobo without pepper. (we don't use pepper on our food. I don't much care for it, so the kids aren't use to eating it. You may use pepper or whatever else your family likes for seasonings.)

If using cast iron, put the pan on and turn the heat to med. to let the pan get hot. Put some oil in the bottom of your pan to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Give it a couple of minutes to get warm, then add the potatoes. Stir them around a bit and don't let them stick to the bottom and burn! You're wanting to slightly fry the outsides. Put a lid on the pot and turn down the heat a little more.
When the potatoes are almost done - about 15-20 mins depending on how small you cubed them. (they will be more opaque than when they are only partially done. Almost fork tender.) Add the meat, stir the meat into it replace the lid and let it heat up. This takes oh, perhaps 5 mins. (At this point, I added the leftover potatoes from last night - there really wasn't enough left for a meal.)

When the meat is heated, I then take a handful of flour and sprinkle it over the mixture. I stir it in, then take another handful and repeat. I used 3 handfuls for my pot tonight and then added the 3 cups or so of the "stock" from the bottom of that roasting pan and then another 2 regular glasses of water. I let it cook for about 5 mins, but the gravy wasn't thick enough, so I ended up making a flour/water slurry of about 1/3 cup of flour and enough water to make a thinner paste. I stirred that in, added my seasonings - I always "eyeball" it.

When I add any flavoring, I pretend the pot is a plate of food and sprinkle on each seasoning as if it were the only one I was using and that I am going to stir it into the food. Which means I'm looking not only at how round the "plate" is, but the depth of the food too. Also, I go a little light, since I can always add more, but can't take back any seasoning.

I then let the pot simmer for about 10 mins, stirring often so it doesn't stick and burn.

This served the 3 of us with some left over for 2 of us to have for lunch tomorrow. We are hearty eaters. It would probably serve 6-10 people, especially if you had bread, salad and a vegie with it. As my mouth has been hurting for several weeks and I'm not feeling well, this was all I fixed!

Personally, I've never had much luck freezing potatoes in foods. They've always come out with a disagreeable texture to me. So I don't advocate freezing this recipe. But others freeze potatoes without any problems. These are probably the same ones that can freeze Mason jars and not have them break. (Mine always break, no matter how much head room I leave or whether I use straight sided or ones with a neck!)

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