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.

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.

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.