Freezer Follies

Last week’s clean-out-the-freezer session resulted in venison cheese steaks on homemade whole wheat pretzel rolls (the cheese was jack with leeks and morels, so a perfect complement to the venison), with some kind of quasi-curry spinach and potatoes. I was riffing on a recipe from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking and, not so incidentally, trying to use up some potatoes from the farm share. On Sunday, though, I used up some frozen butternut squash, more of the potatoes, and whole wheat flour to make gnocchi, which I tossed with caramelized onions and steamed cauliflower and served next to the last wild turkey breast from last year’s hunt.

This year’s turkey hunting is in a month or so, and Friend wanted to get the old stuff out of the freezer. Thus, this week we’re also going to be making snow goose and rabbit. For the rabbit, I use a recipe from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider (and, incidentally, I strongly recommend that book; lots of rubs and sauces and flavors and variations on themes, without relying on wads of butter and oil). The recipe uses dried cherries, red wine, sweet wine (marsala, I think, though just about anything would work), onions, thyme, and pancetta, but you can substitute for a lot of it–I’d use cranberries, for example, or port, or bacon, depending on what I had around. You can also use chicken if you don’t have access to rabbit or don’t want to eat fluffy bunnies. We just faked it last time we had snow goose; we made it rare, just seared, and it was really good. If you rummage online, most people cook it through and don’t like the texture, so we thought rare would work and it did.

There might be more gnocchi, too. A few years ago, I stumbled across Lucky Peach and bought an issue. I enjoyed it, and kept meaning to get it again, but of course never did. Anyway, this morning I stumbled on the online version and found a really detailed discussion of making gnocchi (even more detailed than Marcella Hazan’s, if you can believe such a thing . . . ) and resolved to make some more this weekend to use up the last of the CSA potatoes. I alter the whole thing–by adding an egg when needed, by using squash, by using whole wheat flour–but I still liked his technique and want to try it. The squash is already somewhat cooked and pureed, so I thaw it AND let it drain a bit to get some of the water out of it; I’ve also cooked it on the stovetop.

What else needs using? More squash. Strawberry jam (that will go in either chocolate cookie sandwiches or strawberry frosting or some kind of oatmeal bar). Tomatoes. Beans. Carrots. Spinach. Thus, I sense more stew on the horizon . . . and more carrot cake muffins. And maybe another batch of dulce du leche to use up the milk, but made with honey this time.

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Squash into Cake

Well, it’s no longer stupid cold outside, but there’s a huge blizzard blowing in off the lake at the moment. I had thought perhaps I’d take a walk up to the fancy chocolate store and load up on post-Valentine’s sale chocolate, but the snow is blowing nearly horizontal at the moment and I have no desire to do so much as to take out the garbage. If it eases up later, or even if the wind calms down, I might change my mind.

Meanwhile, tragedy has struck in my kitchen: my stand mixer is injured. I don’t think it’s fatal, though getting it fixed will be an adventure, given that I don’t have a vehicle and the authorized repair places are in the suburbs. If I knew just a little bit more I’d poke around inside it myself, but that sounds like a bad idea. It will affect the bread baking, somewhat (though I have a few loaves in the freezer), but what it will affect more is anything that requires creaming butter and sugar together. I fiddled with the settings enough to make the latest in my efforts to assemble an awesome carrot cake, not least because I have a crazy amount of carrots from the farm share and also because Friend is a fan of carrot cake, but I don’t want to push my luck and completely destroy the mixer.

I’ve played with this recipe before. I prefer butter in carrot cakes, rather than oil, and I definitely prefer a lot less fat than most recipes require (a cup and a half of oil? really?). I’ve been using pumpkin to keep it moist, which also adds some fiber and vegetables, and lately I’ve used whole wheat flour rather than all-purpose. This weekend’s version might have been the best ever. I’ll give it to you after I make it again, because I’m not entirely sure of all of the measurements, but I can tell you that for 24 good-sized muffins I used only six tablespoons of butter and three eggs, and I could probably cut it down to four tablespoons of butter, especially if I add a little flax. Another thing I’ve been doing is shredding the carrots in the food processor and then cooking them a bit; this time I roasted the shredded carrots for awhile in the oven. It was still moist, but it wasn’t as wet as freshly shredded carrots, and I think it improves the overall flavor of the whole enterprise.

Of course, it all goes to hell in a handbasket once frosting goes on top (cream cheese, butter, a little boiled apple cider, some dried orange rind I had sitting around, confectioner’s sugar), but these are sufficiently good that you could eat them without the frosting and still be pretty happy. Okay, maybe most people regard all carrot cake as a vehicle for the frosting, but, at least theoretically, one could eat these without frosting.

The farm share has provided me with two three-pound bags of frozen, roasted butternut squash, which is what I used in the carrot cake. No, not all three pounds of it. I also used some in risotto: it was sufficiently watery that I just added a couple of cups to the three cups of chicken stock and cooked the risotto the way I normally would. It was quite nice–and I still have about half of the bag of squash left. I think I’m going to refreeze the rest of it for now, but my intention is to use it, again with some chicken stock and cheese, to make a mac and cheese sauce that isn’t quite so dependent on milk and butter.

Cleaning Solution

The powers that be closed our workplace today, which is just as well. As promised, the temperature is -9 to -15, and the wind chill is apparently -45. The schools are closed, as are many other workplaces. It’s deceptive, because the sun is shining brightly, and, given all of the new snow all over the place, it’s nearly blinding, so it looks practically cheery. Nevertheless, it is, in fact, stupid cold, and I’m debating whether I’m going to even step outside. (The cat is strongly recommending that I do no such thing.) Then I think about how long it would take to put on all the clothes I’d need to be safe, even for a walk around the block, and my ambition wanes. It’s still going to be stupid cold tomorrow morning, too, so I’ll get the “experience” on my way to work.

I took the opportunity of an unexpected day off to do some cleaning–yeah, I know, surprised me, too. In particular, I tackled the kitchen cabinets, which reminded me of office chairs.

There have been times when I’ve been sitting in an office chair and I’ve thought that the designer of the chair never had to actually sit in the chair, which would explain the discomfort of doing said sitting. More broadly, there are some things that are so disfunctional in some way that you realize the designer never had to use the thing. In my case, it’s the kitchen in my unit. Let’s start with the aforementioned cabinets. They have this . . . set of ridges? edges? I’m sure there’s a design name for it but I have no clue, and the ease with which crud can embed itself in these ridges is truly impressive.

The crud accumulation process is assisted by the fact that the cabinets aren’t very high-quality. They’re plain painted wood, so kind of rough-surfaced, and the drawer pulls have this scrollworky thing going on, which also–you guessed it–accumulates crud. In addition, someone thought that bead board would make a fine backsplash for the whole kitchen, including behind the counter. They could not have been more wrong. Even a toothbrush doesn’t get at all of it, not least because there’s a line of caulk at the bottom between the bead board and the quarter-round edging, presumably placed there by the previous owner after he installed the wonderful butcher-block counter that extends nearly the whole length of the kitchen on one side and that I adore.

Clearly, the person or people who designed these various bits either didn’t cook in the kitchen or didn’t have to clean it, or both. Certainly the designer didn’t bake in the kitchen, i.e., throw around large amounts of flour, the remnants of which love to embed themselves in the nooks, crannies, corners, and swirls of the design elements.

I cannot wait to redo the kitchen.

What I’m realizing, though, is that even if I suddenly had a bunch of money to do the kitchen renovations, I don’t know everything that I want yet. More to the point, I don’t know what I want the design of the backsplash to be. I want something colorful, and glass tile and/or fused glass decorative bits, but other than that, I have no clue. I have ideas about the rest of it–cabinets, and the window, and recreating the transom, and the sink, and leaving space for new appliances but not actually buying them until the old ones fail–but the main decorative bit is the one piece I still haven’t sorted, and it doesn’t make sense to me to embark on any of the work without having that part. Ah well; no need to worry about it today–and at least the cabinets are clean.

Today’s cooking is a matter of rummaging in the freezer and pulling out things that are getting a little old and that would work okay together (roasted acorn squash; black beans; spicy tomato sauce) and that will use some of the onions, carrots, and celery that are sitting around. I should throw in some turnips, too, because I have them (of course I have them). The purpose isn’t just dinner, though it is that, it’s also creating some lunches–the basic principle is lunch-sized containers of something that can be eaten with cheese melted on top and a hunk of bread on the side. The type of cheese varies a bit, but it’s basically a good formula.

The wrist is mostly a bit better today, despite the cleaning and scrubbing, though it occasionally twinges, and chopping veggies likely won’t help. I’m joined in my injury, however, by my father, who apparently stepped out of the house yesterday and promptly slid down the driveway, eventually landing on and breaking his wrist. My mother said they were also going to x-ray his hip while they’re at it, so here’s hoping it’s just the wrist.

Week 6: Racedy, Go!*

So yesterday I was in Indianapolis for the 97th running of the Indy 500, i.e., The Greatest Spectacle in Racing! (probably trademarked . . .), plus an excuse for all kinds of over-the-top-ness, my personal favorites of which are the checkered-flag-pattern outfits. It was a great race (my 7th Indy 500, and probably my 14th or 15th Indy car race, and probably my 18th or 20th open-wheel race), and the rain managed to hold off until about an hour after the race was over. It was also cold, relatively speaking–in the mid-60s most of the day–so the problem most likely to be faced in previous years was absent.

Typically, it’s hot–last year was a record-setting 92 degrees–and on the track and in the stands, where people are crowded in next to one another, it can seem a whole lot hotter. Thus, the challenge is staying cool, which means staying hydrated but also means eating food that isn’t heavy and greasy. I’ve been experimenting with the food for a few years now (yes, please contain your surprise), and I’ve come up with a solution that meets the specific food needs of the day and also uses farm share produce.

Basically, I make salad wraps. I started with whole-grain tortillas. Next, I make or buy a spread of some kind, like hummus or a similar bean spread: this year I used some of the garbanzos I cooked a few weeks ago, to which I added garlic, cooked in a little olive oil and tahini until it got soft, plus some ginger and lemon syrups, plus some of the Asian greens, which I also cooked with the garlic and oils. I threw it all in the food processor with a little salt and pepper and got a green-speckled hummus-like spread. A little more oil probably would have smoothed it out more, but I was trying to reduce the oiliness. I shredded some carrots, and washed and dried some lettuce leaves, all of which got packed in their own separate bags or containers, and I also cut up some carrots and a pineapple (neither of which we used but will be fine for lunches), and I threw in some shredded wild turkey dark meat and some cheddar cheese. The trick with both the meat and the cheese is to make sure it’s in small enough chunks or shreds so that it wraps neatly.

For the past few years, we have been driving as far as Lafayette, IN, and staying overnight there, which makes it much less of a scramble on race day. I assemble the wraps in the hotel room in the morning: spread the hummus on the whole wrap, layer some lettuce leaves, sprinkle some grated carrots, add the meat and cheese (or not; I’ve also done veggie-only wraps), and roll it up. A sandwich bag goes over one end, sealed as far as possible, and then over the other end, again sealed as far as possible, which makes eating them much easier, as one end is always encased in plastic. It would be easy to add other veggies, even ones that have been pre-cooked in some way. (I’ve done caramelized onions in the past, and would happily do onions and zucchini; I’d prefer cooked versions of both to reduce the water content a bit and thereby reduce sogginess.) Salad-based wraps add water and fiber to the meal, both of which are helpful at hot events, the former for hydration and the latter so that one feels full without feeling so weighed down; the particular veggies vary with the CSA box. I could even imagine doing a fruit-based version, maybe using some Nutella or another nut spread to hold it all in place.

The CSA boxes haven’t been very varied: mostly Asian greens and hakurai turnips, with some lettuce and carrots thrown in for good measure. The carrots are from last fall, but have still been pretty good, albeit just a bit watery. This week, though, there was kale and chard–two of my favorite veggies–which will be featured with the turnip greens tonight, along with some garlic chicken and red rice. All of those things will make excellent leftovers, so I can have veggie wraps all week. Still, I’m very happy that the variety is going to increase; I find the Asian greens to be kind of boring–they all taste the same to me, despite the very different look, and I get tired of them, so this time of year is kind of a slog for me. By the end of June, though, there should be all kinds of things in the box.

*When I was a kid, one of us thought that “ready, set, go” was actually “racedy go,” pronounced “ray-setty-go.”

Week 3: Yes, It’s Late

I meant to post this Sunday, and . . . things happened.

The lettuce has started showing up in the farm share boxes, which always provides me with a little dismay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice lettuce, and usually a fairly wide variety of  greens, not just a bag of limp green stuff, but I am not a huge fan of salad, and there’s really not all that much else you can do with lettuce. (Some of you remember the Lettuce Soup Experiment, and the green pile of Fail that turned out to be.) Yes, I know, we’re all supposed to love salad, and, really, I’m usually perfectly happy to eat it, but it always feels like way too much work. Also, I can’t really eat just a bowl of lettuce–that is just beyond boring–but I also can’t eat bell peppers or cucumbers, which are two of the things most frequently added to salads to make them more than just a bowl of lettuce. Thus, in order to make the salad an actual meal, I have to come up with things to put on it that aren’t peppers, cukes, or out-of-season tomatos (which, ew, why not just eat some pink kitchen sponges).

The other option, which I utilized last year, was to give all of my lettuce to a coworker–so he had salad all summer, and my lettuce didn’t go to waste, but I didn’t actually have to do anything with it. This year, though, I’m determined to eat at least some of it.

Toward that end, Saturday I roasted the beets from a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll slice or chop those. I also shredded a bag of carrots, and tossed them with a little oil and ginger syrup, with the intention of roasting them, too. However. I did not pay attention, or set a timer, and I ended up with a pan of charcoal. I was more than a little peeved, but there was nothing to rescue; it truly was a pan of charcoal. I still have more carrots in the fridge, so I have been grating one or two of those, but roasted carrots would have been nice. I have noticed that the carrots have been a little watery, and I thought the roasting would help that by getting some of the moisture out of them, but clearly I went a little far on that experiment.

I have cheese, too, some spinach from a few weeks ago, some whole wheat rolls in the freezer, so I had enough to make some meals out of this week’s batch. With just a little more ambition, I could have added sundried tomatos and/or steamed broccoli or some of the dried cranberries in the cupboard. Also, because a lot of the greens were bitter greens or cook-able greens, rather than straight-up lettuce, I’ve been wilting them in the microwave for 2-3 minutes with the beets and carrots and cheese, and it’s been yummy.

The other thing about salad is the dressing. (Yes, I know, I’m full of complaints today.) Bottled dressings have so much crap in them–thickeners and stabilizers and the like–that I hate to buy them, so I often settle for olive oil and balsamic vinegar and call it a day. Sunday, though, I went crazy: I took the last of the garlic–which I had chopped Saturday night for dinner, but hadn’t used all of it–and sauteed it over the very lowest heat in a little olive oil for an hour or so. I scraped it into a measuring cup (one of those Pyrex cups) and added ginger syrup, lemon peel and syrup, and two cubes of lemon juice from last week’s squeeze-a-thon, then stuck the immersion blender in it.

Hmm. Not bad. But it needs something. I ended up adding some raspberry mustard, some apple cider vinegar, and some salt and pepper, as well as a little more olive oil. The immersion blender doesn’t just puree the garlic and peel, it also emulsifies the whole dealio, so it hasn’t separated in the fridge. I mix a tablespoon or so with the carrots and beets so I don’t have to haul the bottle to work.

The rest of last week’s share was more Asian greens, including bok choi, some hakurai turnips with their greens (some people apparently put those on salads, too, because they’re milder and can be eaten raw), and the aforementioned salad greens. My downstairs neighbor came up for dinner Saturday night, so I marinated some chicken breasts in chicken broth with a little sesame oil, garlic, ginger syrup, lemon syrup, a splash of soy sauce and some salt and pepper (do you see a trend here?). I also had the last farm share onion to use, so I sliced it thin and caramelized it, then took it out of the pan to sear the chicken. I cooked a bunch of greens for a side dish–the turnip greens (they don’t last that well), a handful of kale from a few weeks ago, and one of the bunches of tatsoi–in a little oil and butter, along with some toasted sesame seeds. They were still crisp and bright green, so they made a nice complement to the chicken with its oniony reduction sauce.

This week’s share arrives tonight, and it should be similar to last week, though with some actual lettuce in addition to the other greens. I’m also getting a pile of hakurai turnips and bok choi, with which I’ll need to do something. That’s a problem for another post, though.

Carrot Day

And here you thought today was Monday–maybe even a holiday, as it was for me. What it really was, however, was Do Something with All the Damn Carrots in the Refrigerator Day. As with so many things, the answer is “soup.”

So, along with the 6.5 pounds of carrots (yes, you read that right, and that was AFTER peeling and trimming them), I included lots of onions, some candied ginger that was sitting around in sugar syrup in the fridge, a wad of garlic (about a head), a bit of candied orange peel, about three-quarters of a cup of pumpkin (180 grams, if you care) left over from the brioche experiment, some chicken broth and wild turkey broth, and some spices–salt, pepper, garam masala, powdered ginger, and some powdered mustard. The one thing I did that was a major extra step was roasting the carrots after I sliced them. I thought the roasting would improve and deepen the flavor, and it likely did. I more or less pureed the whole thing (I used my stick blender, but I left it somewhat chunky). I think I’m going to eat it with some of the spinach from the farm share as well–I’m hoping the astringency of the spinach will work with the sweetness of the carrots.

The other thing that likely will help is perhaps a dollop of sour cream mixed in. I intended to freeze most of this in lunch packages, and I don’t like to freeze cream-based soups, but that’s easy enough to add when I heat it. Some milk, or even some rice milk or almond milk would probably work well, too, or I could make up another batch of horchata and use some of that, just make it less sweet.

It tastes fine–it’ll be good with a hunk of bread of some kind, and whatever additional veggies and/or liquid I put in it. It wasn’t completely exactly what I had in mind, but I was kind of vague about what I wanted to do. I think I was fantasizing about a creamy soup, and I think my proposed additions above will get me there. We’ll see.

I also made a triple batch (!!) of the Amazing Crackers yesterday, some of which are slated for a friend’s house. He made a special request, as cheese, crackers, and venison summer sausage is his favorite evening snack-instead-of-dinner meal.

But I could not, simply could not, motivate myself to do anything else in the kitchen. (Oh, wait; I refreshed the starter and took out the garbage; does that count?) I contemplated baking some cookies today, but could not get past the contemplation stage.

Then again, I think of days like today–when I sit around, work out a bit, read a bunch, make some soup, scritch the cat behind the ears–as my payoff for the other long days in the kitchen. I know I have enough lunch packages in the freezer to go without cooking for several weeks, and I don’t have much of the farm share sitting around to be used (except canned tomatos, frozen squash, cabbages, spinach that will get eaten this week, some turnips, and one unused bag of carrots). What is sitting around is in a form that will not rot, so it’s all good, and I could take today to be lazy-esque without either running out of lunches or having raw ingredients rotting in my fridge.

I’m sorry–none of this is particularly exciting, is it? Apparently today is also Boring Day–but, as it was a day off of work as well, I can live with that.