Leftovers Shepherds Pie

So you have finally recovered from thursdays feast. Your belt has moved one full notch in the wrong direction and frankly, you couldn’t be happier. As the host for these festivities, I always run into the same damn problem: what to do with all those leftovers??
Well, this is a simple recipe to put everything together for a shepherds pie.
For this particular adventure, you will need:
Deliciously Brined Turkey
Squash
Clove or Demi Glazed Onions
Stuffing
Smashed Potatoes and Gravy

You will aslo need several deep dish pie pans. I use the disposable ones from the store, but really any pie pan will do.
First, set up your ingredients like an assembly line.
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First, put the deboned turkey in the base of the pan.

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Next, add a good some gravy.

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Evenly distribute the onions.

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Next, add in your squash. You really want to have a bite of everything in every bite.

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Break your stuffing up into chunks and layer on top of squash.

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And finally, the potatoes. You may need to add some milk to your potatoes and re-mash them so that they are a little creamier and easier to spread on top.

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Repeat with remaining leftovers. Cover with tinfoil and stack in the freezer. When you are ready for turkey dinner again, just pull one out of the freezer and place in a 350 degree oven until potatoes are golden brown. Dig in and enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner all over again!

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Loaded Smashed Potatoes and Giblet Gravy – Don’t Even Bother to Count the Calories

When I was a little kid, whipped potatoes only meant one thing: a viscous pile of potato flavored goo drowned in brown gravy.  I remember loving it! Everything about it was all wrong: tons of butter and milk, whipped together with the potatoes, whipped to the point where there was no original texture left. As I learned to cook and expand my notion of what whipped potatoes could be, I discovered the wonderful world of smashed potatoes. No electric whipping device, just you, some simple ingredients and a hand smasher and what came out wasn’t whipped beyond all recognition. It was chunky, flavorful and far more interesting than the white pile I was used to.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I love going overboard with the potatoes. Instead of just simple smashed potatoes, I like to immitate the old loaded baked potato. And as the title says, don’t bother worrying about calories at this point.

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LOADED SMASHED POTATOES

5 lb bag of red potatoes, lightly washed, bad spots removed, leaving most of the skin, quartered

6-10 stalks of green onions, cleaned and diced

2 cups of shredded cheese (jack or asiago cheese)

1 lb maple cured bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

1/2 cup sour cream

1 stick of butter

1 to 1 1/2 cups of half & half

6 cloves roasted garlic, crushed

kosher salt

pepper

oregano

basil

paprika

chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt liberally. Add cleaned and quartered red potatoes to pot and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain water from pot and place pot back onto burner. Turn on a low flame and begin smashing potatoes. The heat from the low flame will boil off any excess moisture, but watch the pot closely! Do not burn your potatoes!!!

Remove the pot of smashed potatoes from the heat and fold in stick of butter, sour cream and begin to add half & half. Keep adding until you reach desired texture. Looks too dry for you? Add more half & half. Be careful! If it gets too soupy, your only option is to go out and buy some potatoes…. 🙂 After you have achieved desired texture, combine cheese, bacon, garlic, green onions and spices to taste.Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

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GIBLET GRAVY

drippings from turkey

corn starch

giblets and neck meat

salt

pepper

1/2 cup sherry (Harvey’s Bristol Cream is my choice)

Combine giblets (heart, live, kidneys) and neck meat into a food processor. Give a few good pulses to shred the meat. No need to liquify it.

Pour turkey drippings into a medium sauce pan. Turn heat on high and combine with sherry. Bring to a boil and slowly whisk in corn starch until desired thickness is achieved. Add giblets and salt and pepper to taste.

Nobody is losing weight at my Thanksgiving Feast. And with all the leftovers, you can finally make LEFTOVERS SHEPHERDS PIE. And I’ll be sharing that recipe tomorrow… 🙂

Stuffing/Dressing: My Semi Home Made Cheat

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OK, I have to admit this right now: I cheat when it comes to making stuffing or dressing. I admit it and I will gladly fess up to that fact. Dressing or stuffing has been one of those things I can never stop playing with, always mixing and matching ingrediants and since it is now essentially a side dish for me, has become a sort of labor of love. I aspire for perfection with the things I choose to cook, but dressing,…well, I think trying is what counts.  🙂

So I said I cheat and what I mean by that is I buy Pepperidge Farms stuffing as a filler in the base of my stuffing and work around it, building on ingrediants, omitting things, adding new stuff and basically pumping up from this base into a genuine original creation. Much like the show “Semi Home Made”, I use a small cheat to get me partway through the recipe, then use my creativity to finish it up. Here is the recipe for this years adventure in stuffing/dressing:

1 16oz package of herb seasoned Pepperidge Farms stuffing

2 loaves of stuffing bread, cubed and lightly toasted in the oven

1 large spanish onion, finely diced

2 large carrots, finely diced

1 stalk of celery, finely diced

2 apples, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

boiling water

stick of unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, finely diced

sage

poulrty seasoning

coriander

cinnamon

allspice

black pepper

kosher salt

cayenne pepper (optional)

1 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped (optional)

1 cup diced almonds, toasted (optional)

In a large bowl, combine Pepperidge Farm Stuffing mix with cubed and toasted stuffing bread. Add butter, onions, celery, carrots, garlic and apples. Mix together and start adding boiling water, stirring mixture til everything comes together in a moist lump. Definitely not a pretty procedure, but it’s affective. You do have to kind of eyeball how much water you add. You do NOT want to make bread soup here. After the introdcution of the boiling water, add your spices and this is all to taste: sage, poulrty seasoning, black pepper, kosher salt, allspice, cinnamon, coriander. I usually add in a small dash of cayenne pepper because I like a little heat in unexpected places, but you can omit that if you don’t want it.

Mix thoroughly and then allow to cool to room temperature. This is a very important step since the next step is to add the eggs which will bind the mixture together and if you add it when the mixture is still boiling hot, well, you will have scrambled eggs and thats just not right in stuffing darnit! After thoroughly mixing in your eggs into the room temperature mixture, you may add the diced parsley and the optional cranberries and almonds. Mix together then portion out into two large baking dishes.

Set oven to 350 degrees, cover the stuffing loosley with tinfoil and cook for 45 minutes, removing tinfoil about halfway through to allow the top to toast.

STUFFIN MUFFINS!!!!!

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Another fun alternative is to get an ice cream scoop and a set of muffin tins. Spray tins with non stick spray, insert your muffin papers and put two large scoops of stuffing mixture into each muffin. This is a great way to create a set portion size, looks great on the table and the textures: crunchy and toasty on the outside and rich and earthy on the inside are usually a hit rather than just spooning it out of a casserole dish. I will admit, I stole this idea from Rachael Ray, but obviously the recipe is all mine. By cooking them this way, you reduce your cooking time by half.

And this stuffing is another great ingrediant for my LEFTOVERS SHEPHERDS PIE. But I still have one more important side dish to contend with before I get to that…..

Fancy Schmancy: Let’s Talk Onions

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No Thanksgiving is ever complete without an appearance by my favorite stinky vegetable: Onions.

A lot of my recipes require onions in one form or another. Whether it be as flavoring in a brine, filler for a bird or a secondary ingrediant in many other dishes from chilis and curries to marinaras and stuffings, onions are everywhere in my diet.  And for Thanksgiving, onions are given a special place to shine as their own separate side dish.

Here I will give you two separate ideas for serving onions that will allow their sweetness and spiciness to shine through without overpowering the other dishes on the table.

First up: CLOVE ONIONS

This is so simple, it’s hardly worth calling this a recipe.

one bag medium sized onions

dried cloves

salt

pepper

butter

Peel about 12 onions or so. Basically, you want enough to fill a good sized two inch deep baking dish. Slice off the tops and bottoms of the onions so that they will sit flat and have a flat top. Butter the baking dish and arrange the onions in the dish. Take individual cloves and insert them into the tops of each onion. If you have picked the right size, you should be able to insert about 6 cloves per onion top. Be sure to insert the clove deep enough to infuse the onion but not so deep that you lose the clove. You want to be able to easily remove them after baking. Nobody wants to bite into a clove. Woody grittiness does not make for a pleasant eating experience. Apply a dab of butter to each onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap in tinfoil and place into a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Onions should be cooked but still slightly firm. Remove cloves, places onions in serving dish and enjoy. Simple, easy, fun and packed with flavor!

Second: PEARL ONIONS IN A BALSAMIC VINEGAR DEMIGLAZE

Ok, this one is a little more involved, but the reward at the end is well worth all the effort.

1 lb of pearl onions, peeled

1/2 cup good quality balsamic vinegar

3-5 tablespoons of sugar

kosher salt

pepper

fresh rosemary

fresh thyme

parsley

1/4 cup red wine

After removing fresh time and rosemary from their stems, chop coarsley and add to a preheated deep sautee pan. Allow herbs to brown slightly. Do not burn or roast, you just want to develop the flavors a little. Add balsamic vinegar. Please make sure you use the good stuff. Your tastebuds will thank you later. Allow balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and bring to a simmer. Add sugar and whisk until sugar desolves completely.  Reduce the heat and allow to simmer and thicken. Add onions and toss till all the onions are coated. Red wine to deglaze the pan again, salt and pepper to taste and cover. Reduce heat and allow to simmer covered for 20 minutes on low heat. Chop fresh parsley and combine with onions in a serving dish. Enjoy!

I think I came up with this recipe after watching a Food Network show. I don’t remember exactly how much is mine or how much was on the show, but I’ll take the full credit for the deliciousness. The onions come out sweet with the tartness of the balsamic vinegar balanced by the rosemary and thyme and the wine. These make wonderful fillers for my Leftovers Shepherds Pie. But again, that’s for later…..

Squash: My Mother’s Favorite Side Dish

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When I was a kid, I HATED squash. Hated the smell, the texture, the taste. The whole experience from beginning to end was nightmare of buttery bland squishiness and yet, my family loved it. I always felt a little left out when my family would ooo and aaah over the savory orange pile on their plates that they couldn’t wait to dive into. Meanwhile, I would be sitting there, holding the fork as far away from me as I could, poking at it like i expected it to spring to life and smother me to death with it’s oozy creaminess.

That was then.

As we grow older, our tastes definitely become more and more sophisticated. The more our palettes experience, the more we find we like, dislike, tolerate or outright loathe. Squash grew on me. It took a long time and it took alot of patience and experimentation on my part.

You name it, I have probably tried it: spaghetti squash, hubbard, acorn and, of course, the dreaded staple of the Thanksgiving Feast: butternut squash. I have experimented with many methods for preparing squash, but today, I want to share my ultimate butternut squash for thanksgiving. After years of experimenting, this concoction is the one that made me a true fan of something I once considered so vile.

ULTIMATE BUTTERNUT SQUASH

You will need:

1 whole butternut squash

2 small baking apples

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup of water

teaspoon vanilla

fresh ground nutmeg

allspice

fresh ground cinnamon

1/2 stick of butter

1/4 cup cream

pinch kosher salt

pinch of pepper

half lemon, juiced

dried cranberries (optional)

almond slivers for garnish

Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Place it skin side down onto a cookie sheet and place in a 350 degree over for 40 minutes or until it is fork tender. Then turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Place squash halves under broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes. Careful! Don’t let it burn, you only want to bring out more of the sugars in the meat by lightly browning the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Remove the skin from the squash and place the meat in a large mixing bowl. Break down squash with a hand masher or fork. Combine 1/2 stick of butter, pinch of kosher salt (to taste), pinch of pepper (to taste), 1/4 cup of cream and fresh ground nutmeg with squash and mix thoroughly and set aside.

Peel and core the two apples. Roughly chop them into chunks and place in a shallow bowl. Combine with the lemon juice and set aside. In a medium sauce pan, combine the water, sugar and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add apples, ground cinnamon, vanilla and allspice. Simmer on low heat until mixture thickens. Remove from heat allow to cool to room temperature.

Add the apple mixture to the squash and combine roughly. You don’t want this to be a smooth mixture, you want it rough and chunky. (Note: you can combine dried cranberries to this at the end if you like) Spoon into a serving dish, garnish with some almond slivers and a little parsley and enjoy.

This single dish, from years of playing around with different  squash recipes, has made me a fan for life. The nutty roasted flavors of the squash right out of the oven combined with the sweet goodness of apples, spices and sugar come together to create a savory side dish that can stand alone as a star all by itself. This side makes a hearty and sweet addition to my Leftovers Shepherds Pie, but thats a post for another time.

Don’t Call It A Comeback or Cooking As Therapy

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As some of you who have read my blog more than once, I have a more than passing love affair with food, restaurants, food preperation and service. I worked in restaurants most of my life before falling into the car business, but I have always loved cooking, entertaining and the experience of new food and classic comfort food favorites. So with that in mind, I’m going to start doing what I threatened to do ages ago: going to include some of my recipes on here and hopefully share some of my misguided foodee madness.

Food for me has always been a form of therapy. I cook when I’m depressed, I take myself out to dinner when I’m feeling lonely, etc. I’m always looking for new recipes, new foods and new experiences to challenge my tastebuds and the way I think about food. By savoring these foodee experiences, it allows me to get a little positive, albeit calorie filled, perspective on my little life.

From time to time, I plan on posting recipes, food ideas and restaurant reviews. I have to warn you now though: my recipes are very imprecise and come from years of cooking experience. So don’t expect exact measurements of any kind. I will try to come close though. For food and entertaining ideas, I’m actually open to suggestions or contributions if anyone wishes to lend me a hand in that regard. And finally, my restaurant reviews tend to lean towards the judgemental side. Having run restaurants my whole life, I can tell when I walk in if it’s a good night or if everything in the kitchen is going to hell.

Starting off this idea, I have my recipe for brining a turkey.

The reason for brining a turkey is to is to add moisture to the meat via a basic chemical reaction using essentially salt, water and some form of sweetener. This process creates a bird that is tender, succulent and flavorful even if you accidentally overcook it which happens a lot at this time of year. Too many times in my life have I had to fake a smile when being served up a piece of dried out cardboard with turkey flavoring. Now there are plenty of other ways to add moisture to a bird, everything from flavor injectors to coating the whole bird down with a vat of butter. With brining, however, you garuntee a succulent flavorful bird with less fat and will even survive the freezing process for Leftovers Shepherds Pies. More on those next time…

The Brine:

In a large pot combine the following-

4 cups brown sugar

4 cups white sugar

2 cups of kosher salt

2 gallons of spring water

That’s your basic brine right there.  You can stop here, or do what I do and add a little flavoring:

2 large chopped onions

4 cloves crushed garlic

allspice

handful whole cloves

handful of peppercorns

3 large diced lemons

Bring this whole mixture to a boil and then taste. Too salty? add some sweetener. Too sweet? add some salt. Too thick? add some more water. It’s all up to you.

One other thing you will definitely need to brine a turkey is a food grade plastic bucket. You can get these at any restaurant supply store or, if you can’t find one, a very large deep cooler with an airtight lid will do just as well. You will also need several large bags of ice.

Allow mixture to cool then pour into  the bucket. Then take your thawed and washed turkey and submerge it in the brine. Now the turkey will want to float, but not to worry, one bag of ice will be more than enough to hold the turkey in place. Clamp the lid down so that have an airtight seal and set in a cool place. If you have room in the fridge, great. If not, I always set mine out on the porch out of the sunlight. Let it sit for 36 to 48 hours. Occassionally check the ice inside, once it’s melted, remove the bag, place a fresh bag to weigh the meat down again and seal.

After 48 hours, remove the turkey from the brine, wash and get ready for some deliciousness!

Since the bird has absorbed so much moisture and flavor from the brine, there really is no need for stuffing of any kind, but, just to give it a little extra zing, I stuff the body with chopped apples, onions and fresh sage, oregano and rosemary. Place whole bird in a roasting pan with a cup of water in the base, tent with tinfoil and roast slow and low. I usually put my bird in the night before at 250 degrees and check it in the morning. This slow and low method allows the least amount of moisture to escape the bird. After 12 hours, the bird should be almost ready, so we un-tent the bird, crank the heat to 400 and let it brown for the remaining 20 minutes or until it reaches desired golden delicious coloring. After browning, remove bird from oven, cover loosely with tinfoil and let it rest for a good 30 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

EDITED 11/17/08 – Please note that this recipe is for completely submerging a 24-26 lb bird. My workplace is notorious for it’s generosity when it comes to a free turkey for Thanksgiving. Obviously if you use this recipe for a much smaller bird you are going to have a lot of left over brine. It can be safely frozen and used later. The brine is wonderful for chicken, pork shoulder, any game meat, etc. Feel free to experiment.