Spring Share, Week 1: Still Life with More Lemons

It’s starting to be spring here in Chicago, though you wouldn’t necessarily have figured that out by Friday’s weather–we had rain, sleet, snow, AND hail, at one point or another during the day. Saturday it was cold enough that snow was dusting the rooftops a lot of the morning, even with sun shining on it, but it’s been warming up a bit since Sunday. In addition, the daffodils and hyacinths and all the other spring flowers are bursting into bloom; I sometimes think that I could watch one grow and bloom all in one day if I just sat and stared at it.

The spring farm share has started as well. The spring share is every week, and we started last week with carrots, spinach, greens, and turnips (the greens were red rain mustard greens). As you may be able to tell from that list, even though things like flowers are blooming, and trees are starting to bud, the growing things one can eat are only beginning to grow and are nowhere near producing. Two of the four items in the box were from the fall growing season–the carrots and turnips–but lasted since then, and a third item, the spinach, is hardy enough such that it’s been growing in the greenhouses most of the winter and has been included in the winter shares as well. This spinach has thick leaves; it’s not the tender baby spinach. It’s very tasty, and it’s especially good for cooking, because it doesn’t disintegrate into green mush within seconds, but it, too, is something other than the sprouty stuff we see around us. The fourth item was probably at least started in the greenhouses, and it’s also pretty hardy, I think. What this means, in part, is that eating “seasonally” doesn’t necessarily mean that one’s diet changes as soon as the weather changes.

I used the mustard greens in some chicken broth with orzo last night (I felt as though I might be fending off a cold, so I had some chicken soup), some in the mac and cheese I had for lunch today (a coworker brought lunch), and the remainder will be used as the base for chili, perhaps, as will the spinach. It was nice to add veggies to my lunches in that way, and the greens actually added a purplish tint to everything because of the red in the greens. The carrots are being consumed with the remainder of the white bean, garlic, and sage dip. The turnips got handed off to the hunter, who’s heading off turkey hunting this week and who brings a batch of gumbo and a batch of chili with him to share with his uncles. The turnips can be added to chili or gumbo without adding that brassica note that can be tiresome in mass quantities.

This weekend’s projects are to do some preparation for the coming onslaught and to use up or prepare some items. Item number one is the lemons. I still have a half a dozen lemons in the fridge, and no plans to use them, so this weekend I’ll preserve the peels and freeze the juice. The peels can be preserved in sugar (I can describe that in detail if you want) and then stored forever in the fridge, and the juice can be frozen in cubes and then just bagged, so you can take out a cube of it when you need a tablespoon or two.

Meanwhile, though, check out this article–Bittman provides great resources, and I like the way he discusses the evolution of his cooking and eating habits.

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Eeny Meeny Chili Beanie

There was one other thing in the pork marinade:  ginger. Normally, for something like this, I’d use fresh ginger, but I didn’t have any and I didn’t buy any during last Saturday’s shopathon. What I do have, however, is ginger syrup (and, sometimes, crystallized ginger that’s a by-product of the syrup), so I used that, and didn’t put any extra sugar in the marinade. I used the same basic marinade last night, with some wild turkey breast, and it was awesome. The changes: all chicken broth and no wine, plus more sage.

What this made me think about, though, is how to stock one’s fridge and pantry–and I realized that I may not be able to give anyone very much advice about it. A few of the things I have on hand–tamarind paste, anyone?–I purchased for a very specific purpose (in this case, pad thai, though I have used it for other things), and it continues to hang around. It’s probably not going to go bad, even if it isn’t in its absolutely ideal state, and I might use it again sometime, so I keep it. I have a few spices like that, too.

What I can say, though, is that the thing that most helps me is having things on hand, and the thing that can be the enemy is anything that requires timing. Thus, yesterday’s Bean Extravaganza. I have used canned beans quite happily for most of my life–there are some decent brands out there, and you can get low-sodium versions or can rinse off the canned beans. Canned beans aren’t going to go bad, so I would stock up when they were on sale. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with dried beans (years later than the rest of the world . . .), and they’re a perfect example of something that requires both time and timing. Ideally, they should be soaked for 6 to 8 hours, which means if I want to cook beans I need to put them to soak the night before, or first thing in the morning, if I’m going to be cooking later in the day. They then need to cook for awhile before I can put them in anything else.

My solution to this is to just cook a lot of beans, and then freeze what I don’t use immediately. Thus, yesterday I cooked garbanzos, white beans, and black beans, as well as some green lentils to use with the garbanzos for that dish I linked to last post. The black beans will go in some chili later today, along with some wild turkey, and a bunch of the beans will go in the freezer. I think the garbanzos that didn’t go in the lentl and garbanzo thing will go in the freezer.

And the white beans–oh, the white beans–they are awesome. I cooked a couple of cloves of garlic and some chopped fresh sage in some olive oil, on relatively modest heat, until the garlic had softened, and then mushed it up a bit til it was barely golden. I scraped the beans–maybe two cups cooked?–and the garlic, sage, and olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt into the food processor, and turned it into a bean dip. It is extremely tasty. And the rest of the white beans? Into the freezer, until I get around to making some more of the tomato and bean thing. The upshot of it is that I will have the equivalent of 5 or 6 cans of beans in the freezer.

There’s one last thing–I needed lemon juice, but not lemon peel and I hate wasting lemon peel. I cut the peels off and scraped away the pith, and I will eventually candy it, but meanwhile I just put the peels in some water until I can get to that. The principle is the same as with the ginger and the beans. Rather than just trying to make “enough” for a given meal, I make batches of things, extra, knowing that it will eventually pay off. It expands what I have available on hand, and it reduces waste.

Meanwhile, though, it’s time to make the chili.

When You Have Lemons

Remember all that cooking I said I was going to do? Remember with what the road to hell is paved? Yeah. That.

A lot of the weekend was spent in preparation for cooking more than actual cooking, and the things I did do in the kitchen were an object lesson in how my mind works, i.e., having one thing on hand led to using up something else. There was a massive errand adventure yesterday, including to the grocery store, where I stocked up on dried legumes of various sorts (white beans, garbanzos, and french green lentils, to be used for, respectively, white bean, garlic and sage dip, hummus, and this recipe, which sounded awesome and useful for lunches). I also ended up with a bag of lemons–partly because of this purple potato recipe (yes, I do like a lot of Deb’s recipes, at least as a starting point), which I intended for last night’s dinner, because I cut off the rest of the parsley from my window boxes and that seemed like a good use for it, and I knew I had some shallots from the farm share that wouldn’t last much longer.

As a result of the lemons on hand, I made a quick pistachio cake from one of my Moosewood cookbooks, though I subbed honey for sugar in both the cake and the syrup, and I used sour cream instead of yogurt, because I had purchased sour cream for the cake I’m making tomorrow. I picked the pistachio cake to use up a bunch of the pistachios that were hanging around in the fridge, and I liked the cake well enough that I’ll use up the rest of the pistachios, and more lemons, with another round of the cake.

Dinner was pretty awesome, actually. I made the beer-braised cabbage with mustard (another cabbage down!), but I used chicken stock instead of beer because we were having wine with dinner. The purple potatoes were also quite good. Finally, I still had two pork chops in the freezer, from last year’s farmers’ market; one of the vendors at the small Sunday market near me gets a pig from a farmer and then does all the butchering and rendering, and he made awesome pork products. I marinated the chops in a mix of about a cup of chicken broth, plus 3 tablespoons or so of soy sauce, some lemon juice, chopped garlic (lots of that), a little white wine, and some chopped sage–because I had the sage on hand. The chops were very thick, so they took awhile to cook through, and, after I got a good sear on the meat, I ended up adding the marinade and a bunch of white wine, a little at a time, to the pan so it wouldn’t burn. (I had intended to reduce the marinade and use it as a sauce anyway, but the meat really needed some moisture to cook.)

The reduced marinade-plus-wine also enabled me to scrape up all the fond for a sauce (mmmm . . . . fond . . .). The sauce was extremely tasty, and I think I’m going to do it again next week, except with a wild turkey breast. Wild turkey is quite good, though you can really only eat the breast as is; the legs have way too much sinew and connective tissue to eat like a drumstick, but if you cook them in a slow cooker (which I don’t have, but the friend who hunts the turkeys does have), you can separate out the meat pretty easily, and the dark meat is great for chilis and stews. The breast meat is denser than we’re used to eating–these are truly wild turkeys, after all, so that should not be a surprise–and it’s flavorful, and I think it will work well with the marinade/sauce.

I didn’t do any cooking today, in part because I simply didn’t feel like it, but in part because I hadn’t soaked any of the beans and figured I’d just do it all next weekend. What I did do was clean some crap out of the fridge while I did the laundry. (I live in a condo, and we have a shared laundry room, which I like because I can do multiple loads at once.) It’s one of those tasks that’s perfectly suited to the 35 or 40 minutes between times when you have to do something with the laundry.

One thing you maybe need to know about me is that I regard expiration dates as . . . modest suggestions. Most of the time the stuff is still perfectly useable. Obviously if it has mold on it or has gone off or sour in some way, or if it’s a nut or an oil (or even a whole-grain flour) that has gone rancid, then no. (It’s a good reason to keep nuts, oils, and whole grain flours in the freezer or fridge.) If it’s a bulging can, then also no. But if the item isn’t bad or sour, then I don’t care what the date on the container says, especially if I’m cooking with it rather than, say, eating it as is.

However.

It turns out that tahini (sesame paste) really does NOT stay good for 13 years. I know–what a surprise! So that got thrown out. There were some scraps of things that didn’t smell bad, but that even I thought perhaps should be tossed. And now there’s more room in the fridge, which is a good thing, because next Saturday is the cheese drop. No, it’s not a parachute drop of cheese. Another of the farmers’ market vendors has a mailing list, and once a month or so they let you order cheese, and a week later they show up at the spot where the market is in the summer and hand over the cheese from the back of a van. It always makes me think of Lou Reed–“Waitin’ for the Man”–except instead of a bunch of junkies waiting for a drug dealer it’s a bunch of middle-aged people waiting for the cheese guy.

The Freezer Emptying Project

Hello my lovelies! I haven’t forgotten about you–it’s been a combination of a very busy life outside the blogosphere plus not actually doing much in the kitchen. There have been scraps of baking, and fragments of cooking, but mostly I’ve been trying to eat the things already in the freezer to prepare for the coming bounty. And the freezer report is encouraging:

  • Carrot soup: gone!
  • Chili: nearly gone!
  • Carrots: still not gone, but I’ve been eating hummus for lunch, and carrots make a fabulous vehicle.
  • Pizza crusts and bolognese sauce: almost gone!
  • Beets: gone!
  • Tomato-and-white-beans-thing: a few of those left, but I’ll finish them off in the next two weeks.
  • Turnips: not gone! (or, more accurately, NEVER @#$%ING GONE!) But I’m going to make chili this weekend to use up the last of the wild turkey, and I’ll dump some turnips into that mix. Can’t taste them as much, and it adds some veggies to the pot.

I still have multiple jars of tomatos, and I still have some meat–pork chops and some sausage from last summer’s farmers’ market; they’re mostly vacuum-sealed, so they could stay in the freezer longer, but some of that will be used this weekend. I have a couple of loaves of bread, but those will likely migrate to central Wisconsin for turkey hunting season. I bought two more whole chickens, but, again, they’ll keep just fine. There are two cabbages, at least one of which is slated to become sauerkraut. The onions and garlic that remain won’t last much longer, I think.

I think the difficult thing for many of us is just keeping track of all of this. On one hand, I find it useful to set aside a weekend day, often a couple of weekends in a row, and just cook up a bunch of stuff. Into the freezer it goes, and out a portion comes every day for lunch. Easy enough–as long as I remember what I have on hand, and remember to use the stuff that’s in there. The beets, for example, got added to carrot soup and/or spinach, mostly to use them up. I didn’t have other plans for them at the time, though I could easily have saved them for the Festival of Salad that is likely to be part of the spring farm share.

And, really, it’s just me. I’m neither feeding nor keeping track of food for multiple others, and that simplifies things immensely. Of course, I also don’t have help with the cooking or the cleaning up, so I suppose that’s part of the trade-off.

Meanwhile, the Loaner Cat is reminding me that I promised we could watch hockey tonight, so I have to go provide a lap. My goal is to center a lot of these posts around what I do with the farm share, but I’m more than happy to throw other info into the mix; feel free to make requests and suggestions.