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.”

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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.

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.

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.

What do I do with THAT?

Once again, one of my experiments has (a) turned out as I hoped, but (b) left me with a bit of the raw ingredients left over, where “bit” = “I could have made half as much as I did and still have had some left.”

In this case, I made miniature pumpkin cheesecake pies, because tomorrow is Pi(e) Day–i.e., 3.14–and I wanted to bring some to work. I started off with a double batch of the whole wheat crust in the KAF Whole Grain Baking Book (have you gone out and bought that book yet?), substituting vodka from the freezer and room temp water for the ice water and orange juice. (Vodka is for flakiness, and I didn’t have any OJ.) I mixed up the crust last night, because I’m finding that letting anything made with whole grains sit for awhile improves the crumb and the flavor; the extra time sitting helps hydrate it and both deepens and mellows the flavor.

Then I started with a double version of this recipe. There were sundry alterations–half of the cream cheese was 1/3 reduced fat; I used sweetened condensed milk and no sugar instead of evaporated milk or cream and sugar; I used a total of five eggs. They seem to have come out okay, so that’s pretty exciting.

But I had no interest in making another batch of pie dough, so now I’m left with about a third to a half of the cream cheese mixture and at least half of the pumpkin mixture. I didn’t feel like baking anything else tonight, so I put it all in the fridge and I’ll deal with it this weekend; despite the raw eggs, it’ll last 48 hours. I’m thinking some kind of pumpkin breakfast muffins, perhaps with a splooge of the cream cheese filling in the middle or something. The pumpkin mixture is basically milk, sugar, and eggs, so it’s a simple matter to add some flour, leavening, and maybe some dried fruit.

It does point to a problem that sometimes arises, though: I think I’ll need this much or that much of something, and actually I need about 2/3 of what I thought I’d need. Part of this is because I would always rather have too much than not enough, at least when I’m cooking and baking. It’s annoying to get to the last two cupcakes and not have enough frosting, but it’s rather enjoyable–a perk for the cook, really–when there is frosting left over. And who ever complained about having too much chocolate ganache left over? How would that ever be a problem.

The one exception, of course, is turnips, because it really doesn’t take very many for me to reach the “enough” stage. Luckily I managed to give some away, but the spring farm share starts in a few weeks, and I suspect the turnips will reappear. This week’s share is basic–carrots, spinach, beets, and another jar of tomatoes–and most of that will store very well. I think it’s time to get some white beans and make another batch of Something Featuring Tomatoes and Beans.

Speaking of the farm share, for those of you who have farm shares and are finding yourself looking at a vegetable and wondering what you can do with it, feel free to leave a comment.

I Say Tomato

The “chili” I made this weekend is a perfect example of cooking from your refrigerator (and pantry). I have “chili” in quotes there because I included some black beans, and I know that, for some people, it is heretical to put beans in one’s chili. I, on the other hand, like to have something other than wads of meat, and beans are one way to do that. In addition, I had about a cup and a half of dried black beans in the pantry, and I wanted to use them before they got old, so I put them to soak on Saturday evening, plus I mixed up another batch of Awesome Crackers, because I go through nearly a batch a week, especially if I share them. All of the cooking happened on Sunday.

I cooked the beans while I was doing laundry–you don’t really need to do anything to beans while they’re cooking, so they’re a fine candidate for multi-tasking. When I set about making the chili, I chopped up a bunch of onions, including some purple ones; I don’t use the purple ones much in other things, because the color can make the whole dish look kind of grey and muddy. It doesn’t affect the flavor at all, but grey and muddy isn’t really an appetizing prospect for anyone. In chili, though, that wouldn’t make the least bit of difference. I also chopped up a whole head of garlic and a bunch of carrots–I have wads of both from the farm share, and the carrots especially keep for quite awhile. Those got thrown in with the onions. For the spicy part, I had some arbol chilis from a previous attempt (I used the Cooks Illustrated recipe for a batch at one point, and they included multiple kinds of chilis, but the only kind left in the pantry were the arbols), coriander seeds, and cumin seeds, plus those little red chilis from McCormick’s maybe?, and put them all in the extra coffee grinder that I use only for spices. I wore plastic gloves while I was doing all this, I should add.

Once it was all ground up, I threw it in with the onions and mushed it around a bit. I put all of it in the bottom of the stock pot I was using for the chili, and then browned about a pound of ground venison in the same saute pan. That got dumped in with the onions, along with about 8 ounces of wild turkey leg and thigh meat, about three ounces of leftover chicken from my dinner on Friday, a container of cooked turnips from a few weeks ago that I had not gotten around to eating (see above regarding the purple onions: it was a sufficiently large batch of chili that the turnips would just blend in), and a small container of leftover sauce (a combo of vegetarian tomato sauce and venison bolognese sauce), the rest of which had been used to make pizzas on Saturday night. On top of it I dumped two quart jars of tomatos from the farm share, and I dumped in some cocoa powder and a bloop of molasses (both were in the Cooks recipe, though I didn’t measure it out in this case). I stirred it all up and let it simmer very gently for a few hours. I ended up stirring it pretty frequently, because my stock pot is deep rather than wide, which actually wasn’t ideal for this task, but the heat was low enough that the risk of burning was pretty low, especially because I was in the kitchen most of the time anyway. It came out really well–especially with some good 4-year-old cheddar crumbled into it. Most of it got frozen into lunch-sized packages. I suspect it would work well for nachos, too, if you like those.

You will notice that I included leftovers from three different meals in this extravaganza–a very useful kind of recycling. None of the leftovers was of sufficient quantity to make much of a meal itself, and all of the leftovers could be thrown into the pot without affecting the overall flavor of the chili. A few other types of chilis would have deepened and broadened the flavor a bit–it had some heat, but was kind of one-note–but it was still good, and could easily have absorbed some tabasco or other hot sauce for people who like that.

The other use of tomatos also started with onions. (I have a lot of onions sitting around, too.) These I sliced very thin instead of chopping, and cooked them in a little olive oil and butter (the chili onions were only in a little olive oil). Again, I added a whole head of garlic, though I added it earlier in this batch. Then I threw in more carrots, because why not, and some herbs from the window sill (parsley, basil, and a tiny bit of sage; I had envisioned (enflavored?) more sage, but the window box is being taken over by basil left over from the summer, and catnip, but not sage so much), chopped, and a drained can of white beans that had been sitting around forever. I am now completely out of beans, which was another of my intentions for this adventure. And–another two jars of tomatos. This simmered for a few hours, too, as I puttered around doing other chores, and this, too, ended up in lunch-sized packages in the freezer. I had some of this today, heated up with leftover greens (kale and turnip greens, though spinach would be even more awesome, as would chard) and some asiago cheese. It was quite tasty, and I realized the tomato thing is soupy enough that it could go over pasta or farro, or would go nicely with a grilled-cheese-on-whole-wheat-sourdough-bread sandwich, were we to suddenly get a panini maker at work. (I am not holding my breath on that one.)

Even with giving some away, I ended up with at least 12 lunches, and way fewer scraps of stuff.

A glance at the calendar shows that next week includes both Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day. I have been known to make “blood”-spattered heart-shaped sugar cookies (actually splashed red food coloring) for VD, and, if my ambition is up to it, that could happen this weekend. Cookies would keep until Thursday. Tuesday I was contemplating a twist on king’s cake. The most common recipes I’ve seen for this include enough sugar to choke a large mammal, a wad of filling of some kind, and enough fat to require an on-the-spot angioplasty. While I am not unilaterally opposed to all of this, I have come to enjoy it less over time, so I’ve been contemplating alternatives. The current lead runner in this race is, indeed, a brioche dough, but one made with 20% butter or so (we’ll discuss baker’s percentages again . . .), and an addition of some pumpkin, which I would expect to augment the moistness and add a lovely color while not necessarily changing the flavor much. And I can sprinkle gold, purple, and green sugar on top to my heart’s content. We’ll see how ambitious I get this weekend.