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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Corned Beef and Cabbage-Take Advantage of the Specials This Week

Almost the Ides of March and what does that mean for those of us who cook? Cabbage, potatoes, corned beef, and, sometimes onions, are all on sale this week. No matter where I have moved, I have learned to watch for really big cuts on prices for these foods at some of the grocery chains, and this year is no exception.

As a result of loss leaders prices this week, I was able to buy twenty pounds of cabbage today (four really big heads) for 15 cents a pound. The lowest price over most of the winter has been 59 cents a pound, so I paid only $3 today for what would have been almost $12 last week. Then there were the two "point cut" corned beef portions; at $1.49 a pound, these will provide a lot of boneless meat at about $2.50 a pound less than these were running just a week or two ago. Ten pounds of all purpose potatoes at another store were only $1.99, right next to some five pound bags of red potatoes that were going for $2.29.


All well and good you say, but what to do with twenty pounds of cabbage? Or even one piece of corned beef?

Good questions, so here are some ideas.

First, the traditional corned beef and cabbage meal.

Today's corned beef is probably one of the greatest convenience foods in the meat counter. You just put it in a pot with water to cover, add the seasoning packet that seems universally packed with these things, and then simmer the meat for the amount of time noted on the package. Only when the meat is tender will you add the vegetables. Usual additions are potatoes, carrots, and onions, added about 45 minutes before you are ready to eat. If you cut these in large chunks, they will not only cook more quickly than if they are left whole; they will more uniformly absorb the flavor of the broth.

And no, I didn't forget the cabbage. One of the biggest mistakes many people make is to put the cabbage in too early. Cut it in wedges no more than 2 inches wide and then add it only about 20 minutes before you are ready to serve the meal. This will allow the cabbage to cook and soak up the corned beef flavor without getting mushy and discolored.

How many vegetables should you include? This is where you adjust to your family's tastes; a general rule of thumb would be to use a medium to large potato (or two small potatoes) and a small to medium carrot for each person to be served. If you want onions (and I always do), use about half a medium onion per person; cut these in quarters. Depending on your family's taste for cabbage, plan about 2 to 3 two-inch wedges of cabbage for each person. Keep in mind that the more vegetables you have in proportion to the meat, the less salty will be the final result.

And the meat? Cook a three to four pound brisket for up to six or seven people. The meat is boneless, but somehow it does seem to cook down more than other cuts. Besides, you'll want leftovers for Reuben sandwiches or corned beef hash.

Leftover corned beef

What else to do with the leftover meat? Actually, you can use it in any casserole (hot dish for Minnesotans) that calls for ham. I have not tried the recipes at http://southernfood.about.com/od/cornedbeefandbrisket/tp/leftovercb.htm, but this might be a good site to visit just to get some other ideas. The meat can also be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to a month.

Cabbage

Now, for all that cabbage. Keep in mind that cabbage will keep in the crisper drawer of most refrigerators for weeks and weeks. Don't keep it tightly wrapped in plastic and, if you keep it for an extended period of time, don't be surprised if you need to peel off an outer leaf or two that may have dried a bit.

Cabbage is far more versatile than we sometimes realize. For example:
  • Coleslaw—this is always good, especially in the winter when the choices for tossed salads are often very limited. 
  • Stir fries—shredded cabbage mixes remarkably well with other vegetables in all kinds of stir fries.
  • As a lettuce replacement in tacos and other Mexican foods. Don't be surprised; you may stumble across some "authentic" Mexican restaurants that routinely make this substitution.
  • Stuffed cabbage leaves—if your heritage includes some of these recipes, the St. Patrick's day cabbage is often the best of the year. You may have noticed that there is much less trimming of the cabbage when it is on sale for only pennies a pound, but take advantage of this and use those large outer deep green leaves (with even more food value than usual) to make some savory cabbage rolls.

Shredding the Cabbage

The hardest thing about cabbage is probably the shredding. If you have a food processor, this is  the easiest way to get the fine shreds we all seem to prefer. But what if you don't have one, or you just want to shred a wedge or two? Here is the basic technique:

Use a large, very sharp knife; I like my cheap, serrated, "Ginzu kitchen knife as seen on TV."
Place the head of cabbage on a large cutting board and cut in half and then in quarters. If the head is very large, cut the quarters in half (or even quarters) again. The key to fine shreds is to have pieces of cabbage that are not too large as you begin cutting. Remove all but one wedge from the cutting board.

Turn the wedge of cabbage so that the larger, outer side is away from you. Hold the wedge firmly with your left hand (reverse for you lefties) and begin cutting very narrow strips from the cabbage, starting at the right end. If the shreds are too long, grasp the bunch of shreds and cut across the other direction. Repeat with as many wedges of cabbage as you need for your recipe.

While you are cutting, you may want to shred extra for future recipes. Put leftover shredded cabbage in a plastic bag, sprinkle with just a few drops of water, and store—without being tightly sealed—for three to four days in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.



Don't forget the color--red cabbage is often featured at this time of the year too. Cutting it into somewhat thicker shreds will help emphasize its color even more. 

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