It’s a Pie AND a Dinner!

In another clean-out-the-fridge dinner, with an extra helping of use-up-some-damn-mincemeat, I was, in fact, able to use some mincemeat. Things that went into the pot, in order:

  • three slices of bacon, chopped, and some of the fat cut off first; when the bacon was crispy/cooked, removed it for later use
  • finely sliced onion, sweated then cooked in the bacon fat until getting nice and caramelized; added pressed garlic and the bacon back into the mix
  • the last hunk of shredded wild turkey dark meat from the freezer (Friend throws the wild turkey legs and thighs into a slow cooker overnight, then shreds the result, removing the tendons and natty bits as he pulls it apart)
  • about a third of a jar of mincemeat
  • about two thirds of the diced and roasted butternut squash (the rest went in the freezer; it was probably the equivalent of 1.5 medium squashes)
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar to cut the sweet of the mincemeat
  • about 12 ounces of spinach (the last batch from the farm share)
  • a splash of the ginger sesame sauce from the Ginger People, and some shredded ginger from them as well

I served it over some wild rice, with a sprinkle of grated sheep’s milk cheese (something strong, again to cut the sweet of the mincemeat). Overall, it was pretty good–and I realized I managed to get three different animal meats into the pot (pig, turkey, and beef, the latter from the suet in the mincemeat), which is rather unusual for me.

However, it was still a little sweet, so I think the next effort is going to be a tomato sauce/stew of some kind, with the thought that the acid of the tomatoes will also cut the sweetness a bit. I had a spaghetti sauce made with mincemeat at a dinner party a million years ago (i.e., when I was in college, so probably nearly 35 years ago), and I remember liking it, even though the thought of mincemeat kinda grossed me out at the time. There was a large wad of leftovers for lunches, and today I mixed a little of the pulled pork from new year’s day into the pile as well, and it was tasty.

Advertisements

Spent Grain Musings, Again

The second spent-grain experiment is going to take two weekends to accomplish. Many people apparently dry the spent grain and then grind it into flour, so I’m giving that a try. The drying process takes most of a day–you spread the wet grain out on trays and put it into a very low oven (in my case, 170 degrees F is as low as it will go), stirring it around once or twice so it all dries and doesn’t scorch. I froze batches of the wet grain last week, for adding directly into bread recipes, but I still had a big pile left, so I dried two pans yesterday and I’ll do the rest today when I get back from Pilates. Then you’re supposed to grind it in a flour mill, but I do not (yet) have a flour mill, so I’ll try the food processor and/or the coffee grinder and see what they do. For the small amounts I’m grinding, that should be fine.

I can tell that there won’t be much flour out of the whole enterprise, but it’s also true that I wouldn’t want to attempt a bread (or many other things) using only spent grain, at least not if the grain is barley or rye. Barley is most the common grain in standard beer brewing, but it doesn’t have much gluten in it (neither does rye), so you couldn’t do a loaf of bread using only that flour, or you’d have a brick. Oats have no gluten at all, so you also can’t do a 100% oat bread and have it be anything other than a brick, at least not without a lot of eggs or some other leavener. I remember talking to a brewer about wheat beer, and the opposite is true for beer. It turns out that the thing that makes for great bread–the gluten in the wheat–also makes it impossible to do a 100% wheat beer; the gluten clogs up the brewing equipment.

I think I’ll try some spent grain in the Amazing Crackers recipe and maybe in a chocolate recipe of some kind; as we know from malted milk balls (not to mention milk stout), chocolate and malted barley flavors go together nicely. And possibly in some kind of pretzel thing. This means I will continue on my quest to get a steady supply of spent grain–a quest that was inadvertently aided on Friday night in an unexpected way. We stopped in at Temperance, in part to taste the newly released IBA and in part so I could share loaves of the spent grain bread I’d made for them. As I was sitting at the bar, a woman came up to me and asked if I was me–turns out that she had lived in my dorm my first year of college, and we shared a circle of friends. Of course I remembered her, though we haven’t seen each other in at least 30-plus years, and her husband is a brewer as well and offered his spent grain to me.

All of these experiments remind me why I wanted to open a bakery. The work of a bakery is brutally difficult: long hours on your feet, lots of lifting and carrying of heavy things (50-lb sacks of flour; full sheet pans of laminated dough; 125-pound containers of bread dough), and, unless you’re the owner (and possibly even then), low pay. If you’re working with yeast, and I obviously am, that also means you have to obey the demands of the yeast. You can tweak it a bit by tweaking the temperature at which fermentation is taking place, but that requires expensive equipment, and space, to do it well. Because the product you sell is so small, you have to sell a lot–of cupcakes, donuts, loaves of bread, pastries, cookies–and you have to manage the production schedule so you have enough of everything but not so much that things go stale. The production itself requires that you work when others are sleeping; an overnight shift is almost necessary. So, yes, there are a million reasons not to do it.

But I love the experimentation. With the spent grain, I love the idea of taking what is essentially a waste product and finding a way to make it not just useful but a feature of a new product. (Most brewers find a farmer who will take the grain to feed it to cows or, presumably, pigs; a brewery in Alaska uses their spent grain to power the brewery, because shipping the grain is too expensive.) Even last week’s lime and coconut cookie experiment was born of having some ingredients on hand that I hadn’t used before and trying to figure out how to make them work.

In order to make this work in a bakery setting, though, you also have to be able to produce the same product every time. If you develop a line of spent grain baked goods, then you will need to have those goods taste the same every time the customer walks in the door, within a fairly narrow range. You would have to figure out a time when you can use your ovens to dry the grain, except that there’s no time when the ovens aren’t being used–the number and size of the ovens are two of the major rate-limiting factors in a bakery. You’d have to be able to adjust for the different roasts–a dark-roasted grain from a stout is going to give you a different flavor profile than a lighter roast from a pale ale. You have to store the ingredients.  And so on.

All of these are problems that can be solved, of course, but they have to be solved while you also run the business, which is a problem to be solved on an ongoing basis. There’s a part of me that still fantasizes about it, mind you; the complexity of the factors is one of the things that appeals to me, actually. But short of winning the lottery, I don’t see how it happens, and if I win the lottery, I don’t know that starting a business with very low profit margins is the way to go.

On the other hand, running a small bakery next to a brewery, thereby supplying the baked goods for the brewpub and using the spent grain from the brewery, would be an interesting business model . . . if I win the lottery.

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.

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.

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.