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.

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.

Marxist Strawberries

I’ve been thinking idly about Marx of late, and I’ve also been fantasizing about being the next Food Network star. I do realize that talk of Marxist strawberries pretty much guarantees that I will never get close to being on the Food (or any other) Network, but, hey, that was already true.

So one of the basic tenets of Marx is that of alienation (this Wikipedia piece is a pretty good overview, and Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 also lays it out pretty well, if I remember correctly): we are alienated from the products of our labor, because we have no say in how a product is produced; we are alienated from the act of producing, because we receive wages or a salary rather than the profits of our labor; and we are alienated from ourselves (and from each other) because we lack the control of our lives necessary to become fully realized/actualized human beings. (We can discuss this more if anyone actually cares.)

One of the shorthand ways of thinking of this, in my opinion, is that we come to think of ourselves not as whole human beings, with mutually interdependent connections with each other, but as cogs, as pieces of an economic/industrial machine. We have jobs, not so much because we want a job qua job, but because we must have money–we have to sell our labor in order to buy food and shelter (and health care/insurance). Sometimes we can find jobs we like, many of us aren’t “workers” in the manufacturing sense (not least because those jobs are overseas now), but all of us need money to live, and few of us make anything that we sell–or, better, barter–directly.

Another part of alienation, though, is being disconnected from our food. Processed, industrial, food-like substances are the most extreme version of this, but a more insidious version is the notion that we can get whatever foods we want no matter the season and whatever the cost. (Obviously this does not apply for people who aren’t exactly sure where their next meals, or their kids’ next meals, will be obtained, but that’s a connection for another day.) What we get when we buy foods that are out of season in the area where we live is often an approximation of the food. The two foods that most exemplify this for me are tomatoes and strawberries. Tomatoes kind of don’t count, though–tomatoes can be preserved in ways that make them available year-round, so long as you don’t try to eat a fresh tomato out of season. Out-of-season fresh tomatoes are an abomination: pink and mealy and flavorless.

I wandered through a farmers’ market last Sunday, and one of the vendors had strawberries; I bought four pints, and I ate them every day this week, and I was in heaven. (I also got a pint in last night’s farm share, and I expect they’ll be just as heavenly.) They were red all the way through, and the strawberry aroma was intoxicating. My lunch each day was a big pile (as in nearly a pound) of strawberries with a touch of balsamic vinegar, a touch of honey, and a bit of feta cheese, all mixed together. The markets and the farm share will have strawberries for maybe another couple of weeks–by early July they’ll be gone–and that’s the end of strawberry season for the year. Of course I could (and sometimes do) buy them from the grocery store, and sometimes those are even half-decent, but they really don’t come close to the bliss of fresh, ripe, local strawberries. Some years, when I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I buy a flat of strawberries and freeze them; that’s not going to happen this year, most likely.

I try to keep the memory of the season’s strawberries in mind when I’m shopping the rest of the year–I know, from experience, that the berries on the rack won’t taste anywhere near as good as what I’m eating now. They will be . . . strawberry-esque. They’ll be missing that heady perfume, and that perfect texture, and, no matter how red they look on the outside, they’ll be white on the inside, and maybe a little hard and mealy, because they’ve been grown to ship well, not to taste good.

That said, the farm share the past month has been mostly greens of one kind or another: lettuce, chard, Asian greens. This week there’s also mizuna (a bitter green) and parsley, and some spinach. And strawberries–did I mention the strawberries? I’ve been trying to find enough things to put on the lettuce to make actual meals out of it, so there’s broccoli and broccoli rabe in the fridge at the moment, to be steamed and added to the mix, and I got some onions and garlic to make a dressing, and some avocados, because they’re awesome, but those things aren’t available locally yet, so to claim I’m eating “locally” would be a misnomer.

And, for that matter, avocados are never “local” here in the midwest. So does that mean if I eat avocados I’m alienated from my food? If it does, then I’m going to stick with alienation. Seriously, though, you can see how complicated this gets. It’s relatively easy to see the extremes–industrial food-like substances in shiny packaging, versus whatever you can grow yourself–but there’s a whole lot of room in the middle, and figuring how to negotiate that space in a way that makes sense for you and your family is hard work, especially when the same people who make the industrial food-like substances find ways to package and advertise their product to disguise its industrial nature.

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.

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.

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.

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