Thursday, January 1, 2009

Good Luck and Good Eats for Holiday Meals on the Cheap Throughout the Year

Photo by Mike Licht

It occurred to me today that holiday meals are by nature frugal. Thanksgiving Turkey? Cheap. Potatoes and Apples for Latkes and Applesauce? Super Cheap. Black-eyed peas for Hoppin' John? Real cheap. Sweet Potatos? Dirt cheap.

We're a family of food traditions. Our holidays revolve around the menu. Let's have a look at the calendar:

New Year's Day: Hoppin' John

I was born in the south, but never really spent any time there. This is a tradition I picked up from Joy of Cookingrather than from a family practice, but we've done it for at least 10 years. The idea is that the more black-eyed peas you eat the better your luck will be for the year. So far it isn't working, at least financially, but it's hearty and at least it isn't setting us back to make it.

Valentine's Day: Red Velvet Cake and Sweetheart Cookies

My mom used to make this lovely cake, and it seem to be making a comeback. I got a yummy recipe from the New York Times a couple of years ago. It's even more fun made in heart-shaped pans, or, you can make a heart shape by using one square and one round pan. Cut the round layer in half so you have two half-circles, place the square in a diamond shape, and frost the half circles on the upper flat edges of the diamond. How romantic.

I got the cookie recipe from the February 2000 issue of Working Mother magazine. They're so popular that we sold them at a church bake sale one year and made a fortune for our local Childrens Hospital.

Sweetheart Cookies

1 large lemon
1 1/2 C (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 t vanilla extract
3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
Raspberry jam
additional confectioners' sugar

1. From lemon, grate 2 t rind and sqeeze 1 T juice; set aside. In large bowl of electric mixer on high speed, cream butter and sugar. Reduce speed to medium; beat in egg, vanilla, lemon rind, and juice. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour and salt; beat until blended. Divide dough into 2 pieces; cover each piece with plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. On lightly floured board with floured rolling pin, roll 1 piece of dough to 1/4-inch thickness. With 2 1/2-inch heart-shape cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible. Place 1/2 of the cookies on ungreased baking dishes (Note: I use Silpat liners.)With 1-inch heart-shape cutter, cut out centers from remaining cookies; place large cutout cookies and small heart centers on another ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and rerolled scraps.

3. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes for large solid hearts, 10 minutes from cutouts and small hearts. Let cool on sheets for 3 minutes; transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

4. When cooled, turn large solid hearts over; spread bottom side with 1/2 t raspberry jam. Sift additional confectioners' sugar over tops of large cutout hearts; place on jam-topped hearts. Sift confectioners' sugar over small hearts. Store in airtight container; place wax paper between layers. Makes about 2 doz sandwich cookies.

Purim: The Unexpected Gift

On the bleakest day of winter each year, we are suprised by a gift from a friend sent through her temple. It is a small bag including grape juice, raisins, hamantaschen, and chocolate. I don't know much about the holiday, but it is a wonderful, thoughtful tradition. I've never made hamantaschen myself, but Faye Levy includes instructions in her wonderful book 1,000 Jewish Recipes.

St. Patrick's Day: Corned Beef

You don't have to be Irish to enjoy an annual corned beef, or better, New England Boiled Dinner (corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and beets). We never seem to have enough leftovers for Joy of Cooking'srecommended Corned Beef Hash.

Easter: Ham and Eggs Benedict
Though we love a Honeybaked Ham, they aren't cheap. The supermarket knock-offs are a good substitute. For breakfast we like to have Eggs Benedict. My mom's blender Hollandaise makes the timing easier, and eggs are always cheap. (This meal is not for the hard of arteries, though.)

Mom's Blender Hollandaise

Note: this makes enough for a big crowd and a week's work of vegetable toppings!

2 C butter
6 large egg yolks
4 T lemon juice
1/16 t cayenne
1 t salt

Melt butter in microwave. Mix other ingredients in blender. Slowly pour hot butter while blending until all butter is incoporated.

To use leftovers, spoon cold over hot food.

Passover: Matzoh Brie and Matzoh Ball Soup
We don't host a seder, although we love it when we are invited to one. But regardless, we are sure to have lots of eggs on hand for Matzoh Brie, a sort of Jewish French toast/scrambled eggs thing. Yum. Cheap. This is my sister-in-law's recipe. Her husband's family always served it with an additional soft boiled egg on the top, but we rarely do that. Enough is enough!

Matzoh Brie

2-3 C boiling water
2 matzohs per person
2 eggs per person
3 T butter flavored Crisco, butter, or margarine per batch
2-3 chopped onions
1 t kosher salt
1 additional egg per person (optional)

Break up matzoh into bite sized pieces in bowl that has a cover. Add boiling water to cover matzohs. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Crack eggs into a bowl and mix. Drain excess water from matzoh. Add eggs into matzoh. Add salt and pepper and mix.

Saute onions in large skillet in fat until translucent. Mix egg mixture again and add to pan. Cook on medium low heat.

If serving with additional soft-boiled eggs, put additional eggs in pan with cold water. Bring to boil.

When matzoh mixture is brown on the bottom, turn over in sections. Cook on low until set and done.

For soft boiled eggs, after water is boiling, set timer for 1.5 minutes, then remove eggs to cold water. Serve soft boiled eggs over matzoh brie. (Just in case you needed additional cholesterol).

Matzoh Ball Soup

I can't explain why this soup is so delicious, but it is. It takes two days, but it's SO worth it. If you want it, go to The Boston Globe website, and do an archive search for Claire Rolbein Passover Soup. It requires a subscription or payment, but it's really good.

Memorial Day: BBQ
Mr. Poorhouse is such a barbecue gourmet, that I hate to mention burgers and dogs. But my favorite burger has cheese and spinach (that's right, spinach!) mixed in. Check out the recipe for "A Meal in a Burger" from another of my favorites: The New Basics Cookbook.

July 4: Lobster
Near where we live, lobster is cheapest in the summer. To save money, we vacation close to home. A splurge or two on lobsta in the rough is worth every buttery dribbley bite. Or, to save money, you can cook 'em at home.

Labor Day: BBQ 2
Mr. Poorhouse's barbecued whole chicken is to die for. It's especially good when you start with a free-range bird, but even though that is out of our budget for present a regular roaster is mighty tasty. He puts butter and spices under the skin, dry rubs spices all over the body, and grills for a couple of hours. Hmmmm.

Thanksgiving: Turkey and Potatoes

Brined the day before in a lined 5-gallon pail and BBQed on the grill, our turkeys are tender and delicious. And if you have leftovers, check out my previous post on using the bird that keeps on giving.

I have to include this Sweet Potato Casserole. The marshmallow versus anti-marshmallow debate is intense in my house. This is the only recipe with the nasty little white things I can stand. (I think it's the sherry!)

Two things I have always had trouble with are mashed potatoes and biscuits. My biscuits still come out like hockey pucks, but the recipe in The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbookhas solved my mashed potato problem for good. It also includes a fabulous scalloped potato recipe.

Hannukah: Latkes and Applesauce
My sister-in-law is a great cook, but when it comes to communicating recipes, she's hopeless, so I rely on Faye Levyagain for this one. I make her French Applesauce from scratch too. Scrumptious.

Christmas: Whatever
My mom refused to cook on Christmas, so we always had elaborate cold cuts we wouldn't normally have: boiled tongue, smoked oysters, and such. So strangely, our Christmas meal is the one where we have the weakest tradition. This year it was the tough roast, last year, a turkey. We've had also had cornish hens and spiral hams.

Happy Eating in 2009!

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