Foodstuffs to Empty a Pantry

(or: Culinary Ingenuity, Part III)

This doesn’t sound like a thing anyone wants, does it?  The shadow of empty cupboards, or a fridge with nothing but old condiments inside, the wolf of hunger scratching at the door: it haunts us, even those who have never actually suffered from the want that image signifies.

On the other hand, most of us are also familiar with opening the fridge, finding it full of items, then shutting it while muttering “There’s nothing to eat!”  Whatever is there takes too much work to prepare, or there’s so many different types of food that none of it can be combined in an appealing way.

I’ve written before about peculiar methods of cooking food, and weird ways of using up leftovers.  But the current concern is, in essence, meta­-leftovers: the pearl barley my mom gave me that I never use, the two cans of peanuts I bought (one by accident) for a single Thai recipe, the shrimp in the freezer that get passed over for fresh chicken or ground beef or sausage.  The items that sit and sit and sit, because it’s easier and tastier to use lentils or pasta or the fresh vegetables of the day.

But, as with books, no food can sit forever.  There’s a built-in deadline of spoilage, and my own frugality tugs me to use it before I lose it.  This means you, 1.5 canisters of steel-cut oats!  And you, 3 sheets of nori in the corner!  And you, canned beans that I occasionally buy and rarely cook.

It’d be a lie to call myself any sort of minimalist, but one particular bit of Francine Jay’s book The Joy of Less that has stuck with me is her comment that when we get rid of whatever it is we don’t really enjoy, we give ourselves more room for what truly delights us.  Surfaces are to be free for activity.  The less that’s in storage, the easier it is to see what we’ve kept.  Decide what to keep, not what to throw away.

I’ve spent a few afternoons organizing my mom’s canned goods, cupboards, and pantry – enough to know that the deeper and fuller the storage, the harder it is to remember what exactly is in there.  What do I need to replace?  What do I need to use?  Do I actually have that particular spice or mix or can of water chestnuts, or did I make that up?

In my ongoing attempt to be able to see what is in my house, and, specifically, in my pantry, I’ve tried, of late, to use as much as possible of the items there before purchasing more.  This has resulted in reorganizing my canned goods to see whether I have the necessary for chana masala and rajmah chamal (over barley or bulgur, of course), making my sausage-lentil-kale soup with farro instead of lentils, and trying to figure out to do with all the pecans and walnuts I bought.  A tart dough full of nuts?  Homemade Nutella?  Some kind of eggless cookie?

This feels especially appropriate in the days leading up to Lent – and, as it happens, demands far more creativity (Chesterton would approve).  The bananas in the freezer were *intended* for nut bread, but since I have one last egg and no yogurt, I could make them into fake ice cream by blending them with cocoa powder, and use the aforementioned homemade Nutella to top it.  The bag of frozen vegetable scraps could make veggie stock for barley risotto.  There’s some shrimp and bacon lingering in the freezer, which could bulk up soups or pasta sauces.

It’s like I’ve finally come to understand what MFK Fisher and Tamar Adler were talking about.  But more on them later; I think I’ll go use my lone egg to make half a batch of crepes.

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Recipe Card: Tomato Sauce

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! I hope you’ve already got dinner planned for tonight, or that you have a reliable Thai restaurant with good take out nearby, but in case this post is timely, I’m making Lasagna tonight.

I’d have made it yesterday, but lately, I have to make my own tomato sauce, and yesterday and I disagreed about cooking. Today I am making tomato sauce and it smells so good I can barely restrain myself from eating it RIGHT THIS MINUTE. So I sooth my cravings with sugar cookies. Wait, no I don’t. I am a grown up. 🙂 Lol.

If you have a can of tomatoes, you too can make your own sauce. If you have a few other things, it can be the most delicious thing ever.

Simmer this for as long as you have. I go for hours, but then I got an early start.

A can of tomatoes, diced, crushed, whole, whatever. Any size you like, you can freeze the extra sauce.

Carrots, chopped
Onion, chopped. More or less, depending on how much you like onion.
Celery, chopped, if you have it. It can be at death’s door. You won’t know.
Garlic, if you think onion isn’t enough
A tablespoon of butter. You won’t be sorry.
Glug of red wine if it’s around and old. Or newly opened.

If you have a stick blender, pull it out and puree this when you are done simmering it. I didn’t a few times, and it still makes a great spaghetti. It’s easier to make a really good lasagna with a smoother sauce, though, so I will be blending this tonight.

Spice variations that I have liked include

~Cumin and Red Pepper flakes
~Oregano, Basil, and Parsley (today’s version, now with fresh, garden parsley because December is broken)
~Nothing, because I forgot
~Salt, Pepper, and Parmesan
~Random off brand “Italian seasoning”

This is fool proof, crock pot-able, and outstanding with any kind of noodle on any kind of night. With or without beef, and this coming from a beast of a carnivore.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good…hold that thought. We’ll get back to you.

The Goodenough Candymaker Presents: Truffles

Dear Friends:

Having just left the Christmas Candy mess behind (by getting on an airplane and leaving it at my mom’s house), I thought you would all appreciate a few tips. If you are a practiced, experienced, perfected chocolatier, well, bully for you. You already know all the things, anyway, and will probably only get a laugh from me. If you’re not, I have a recipe for you that works every time.

Get good chocolate, so no matter what happens, things taste good. Things like the sink. Your nose. Your infant son’s ankle. Wait, scratch that. You never know what THAT really IS. Anyway, the chocolate could be unlovely and everywhere, but make sure it’s delicious and you don’t go far wrong. It’s getting everywhere anyway, you might as well enjoy the mess.
We used Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate. Ghirardelli makes good truffles too, though, and it’s easier to find in a grocery store.

You get a ton of advice from the internet, and many conflicting recipes. Stop looking at them. Look at this. Double or halve as necessity dictates. You know, if you simply must have a truffle but only have 4 oz. of chocolate? It happens. Just scale accordingly.

16 oz. chocolate, chopped up small. 
1 c. heavy heavy heavy cream
1/2 vanilla

~Put the chocolate in a glass bowl with the vanilla.
~Scald the milk in a pan on the stove, just til there are a few wee sweet little bubbles around the pan. Or until it boils furiously, if you lose your head and try to open the leftover wine with your teeth and bite off the cork.
~Pour the milk over the vanilla. Stir this for a while, until all the chocolate is totally melted and looks smooth and shiny and so so brown. Don’t panic at any point. Just stir. Drink your wine.
~ Let it cool for a long while. Hours and Hours. Overnight, even.
~ Scoop small balls out with a spoon.
~Roll the balls into bally-er balls. Drink your wine with a straw, as your hands are a terribly nasty mess.
~Laugh maniacally at how lopsided the truffles have become. Drink away your sorrow.
~Roll the balls in cocoa powder, coconut, chopped nuts, crushed peppermint, or tempered chocolate. Tempering chocolate is something you’ll have to look up somewhere else. I am not at all sure I should say anything about that. Things get funny when I temper chocolate. And when I drink.

NOTE WELL.

DO NOT ADD BUTTER TO THIS RECIPE.

Do not add butter to this. Many recipes say to add butter. Butter is nothing but a heartache and a mess. It makes the truffle more difficult to roll into lopsided balls. It melts too slowly in the hot milk and you sometimes have to use a microwave to keep things hot enough to melt the chocolate. Sometimes, the butter extrudes itself from the truffle, through the coating. Extremely odd. Not worth the trouble. Don’t do it.

Culinary Ingenuity, Part 2

Tonight, I made a batch of crepes, and used them to wrap up some fried rice (made with leftover mushroom risotto, of all things, plus the requisite soy sauce and egg) and chorizo into breakfast-for-dinner burritos.  There were fridge pickles to go with it, and a sweet crepe for afters.

Am I

1) marvelously effective at cleaning out the fridge;

2) consuming four times the daily sodium recommended by the AHA;

3) profoundly disturbed;

4) terribly avant-garde;

5) overly fond of crepes and incidentally fresh out of black raspberry jam;

6) the single cause of every mess in the kitchen this week;

7) the reification of the American melting pot, at least where my dinner is concerned; or

8) all of the above?

Is this a beautiful example of household economy, or some kind of cry for help?

Is this a beautiful example of household economy, or some kind of cry for help?

On a less-rhetorical note: has this kind of madness ever manifested in your kitchen?  Odd as this concoction was, I still think my dad took the cake some 18-20 years ago.  He would always prepare a Sunday evening snack to sweep leftovers out of the fridge, but eventually found that some of the space was occupied by rarely-used, mostly-but-not-quite-empty cans of frosting.  One Sunday, he decided to serve them with graham crackers.  They sold, more or less, and so after that he put the frosting out again – which was great until we ran out of graham crackers and he put out saltines instead.  But it was, I suppose, ahead of the curve on the salty-sweet fad.  What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done to use up leftovers?

Dilly-Dally

Typically when my sister muses leave me alone in the club too long, I start talking to myself and tend toward the confessional. That might yet happen this week, but first: yesterday’s festival of dill.

It could be said that this all really started back in May, when my housemates and I decided to have a somewhat formal tea. We prepared a couple different pots of tea, dairy-free coconut scones, and cucumber sandwiches in plenty. Thus my purchase of, and introduction to, fresh dill.  Prior to that, I’d only encountered dill as in a mirror, darkly: dried and faded and sprinkled on salmon. The fresh bundle was luxuriantly green and terribly fragrant in comparison.

Somehow yesterday demanded a reprise of that redolence, a reappearance of those feathery fronds. It is like having both delicate seaweed and a weeping willow inside one’s kitchen.

The first order of business was to mix some chopped dill into a bit of butter and a bit of cream cheese for English muffin purposes. That done, I decided to infuse a bit of gin with a few stems.

IMG_3310Then the requisite refrigerator pickles: some are garlicky, some are a little peppery, all of them are dilly.IMG_3313 After that, I still wanted to make something, but wasn’t quite up for baked salmon, borsht, or mizeria. Since the dill in the gin had only begun macerating…I grabbed a bit more dill, a bit more gin, and muddled them together. In went some lime juice and some liqueurs: honey, vanilla, ginger, and Chartreuse. The result was a bit like drinking in a sunlight field entire. It struck me as fitting; generally, smelling dill is like breathing in a forest and a field and the sea all at once.

IMG_3318What do you do with dill?

Culinary Ingenuity

At work, we have the standard Mr. Coffee Coffeepot. We also have a French press, which an associate brought in a few years back. She ostensibly brought it in so anyone needing an afternoon jolt, not a full pot of coffee, could make a quick cuppa. I’ve wondered since if she didn’t just want to unload an object taking up space in her home, as no one ever uses it to make coffee. The last time it was used as such was the time I grabbed still-warm water from the water-heater to make coffee during a power outage.

More frequently, I use the French press to bring the water-heater water to boiling point for tea. It probably resents me for being its only user and filling it with such existential angst (“Am I a coffeepot, or am I a teapot?  O, if my manufacturers were to see me now!  Alas”).

…less frequently, like today, I use it to boil broccoli, asparagus, or green beans for part of my lunch. It seems a bit odd, but it works better than microwaving my veggies, and hey, built-in strainer! I also maintain that it’s less odd than making salmon with a coffeepot, or bibimbop on a waffle iron, or grilled cheese sandwiches with a flatiron:

Do your circumstances ever call for cultural ingenuity?  Please tell me about it!

Mein Kleine Liebster

Howdy, y’all!  David hath given the call, and here I am at last to give answer: the all-singing, all-dancing procrastinatrix of the blog.

It also turns out that Lady Blue Whimsy gave the call to the muses back in June, before David did.  Which, I suppose, means that we are ALL procrastinatrices.  Eek.  Right, so, ONWARD.

If you could choose one fictional creature to be your pet/animal companion, which would you choose and why?
Were I to follow in my sister muses’ stead and select a flying pet/animal companion, I’d probably opt for Strawberry Fledge, since he would revel in flight as much as I would.  Orrrr maybe Fawkes the Phoenix, because of his loyalty and the way he turns into a ball of flame to be reborn from the ashes.  Bonus: he can apparently carry 4 or 5 times as many people as Fledge with no problem!

Name a favorite moment of yours from any movie released in the 1980s and explain why.
Turns out I am bad at distinguishing 80s and early 90s movies without assistance.  Imagine that.  It also turns out that I’ve seen very few of the candidates: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Princess Bride, and Rain Man.

Although I agree with Melpomene that “As you wish” is always heartwarming, I think I get a more visceral thrill from the words “Drop.  your.  sword.”

If you had to be chased by some hostile fictional creature or character, through a fictional landscape, which ones would you choose and why?
First off, I would prefer not to have a chase scene through any location, natural or constructed, which could suffer irreparable (or insurance-raising) collateral damage, because I don’t want the threat of a calamacringe to hold me back when fleeing pursuers.  So that’s the palace of Asgard, Manhattan, Arch Rock, Miners Castle, any given library/monastery/cathedral/museum/etc. right out.

Also, because there has been a distinct lack of time lords taking my hand and telling me to run, I’m not quite at my speediest.  So I think I’d want the dinosaur from Meet the Robinsons to chase me through the Fire Swamp.  Imagine how charming that would be! I imagine he'd get stuck before long, but could perhaps chow down on an ROUS or two.

I imagine he’d get stuck before long, but could perhaps chow down on an ROUS or two.

 In-N-Out, Five Guys, or Chik-Fil-A?  Five Guys is the only one I’ve had and thus wins by default.  Or perhaps it would win by virtue of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which is bad for those of us who are indecisive, but brilliant for catering to the deeply-seated urge to press buttons.

Coke Freestyle

“How niche do you like your Coca-Cola?” “I like it with both zero sugar and vanilla flavor.” “It’s got all the things! It’s Coke with all the things!”

Name a song you really like from a musical genre you don’t generally like and explain why this one works for you.
I made the mistake of looking at Wikipedia’s list of popular music genres and panicked at the prospect of accidentally filing a song in the wrong category.

So.  It’s not really a genre, but: I generally dislike songs that repeat the same line over and over.*  It’s why I don’t care for some of the most popular pop or country songs out there.  But I recently heard, and have since enjoyed, this song by BNL:

It’s a cheery little bit of exhortation not to be a worrywart, and sometimes I need that.  The repetition contributes to the calming effect, and enables all the people that can’t keep up with rapid-fire lyrics to sing along on first listen.  It’s joined my rotation of Happy Songs for Sad Days.

*At some point, someone (possibly me) is going to call me out by citing a bunch of songs I love that do this, and I am going to be forced to hold up my hand and say “Bah!”

What is, in your opinion, the best portrayal(s) of the Elves/Fair Folk/Faeries in film? Multiple choices are permitted, but you must say why you think your choices are so good.
I plead the fifth on this.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Fair Folk portrayed in film in a way that captures the power, mischievousness, legalistic approach to oaths, or ethereal beauty that have marked them in story and song.

What was the last black-and-white film you saw, and what did you think of it?
After some amount of wracking my brains, I remembered that oh yeah!  Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was black and white.  And I loved it.  Clark Gregg was a most delightful Leonato; I really enjoyed how the lines of the play remained unchanged while the scenery was brought up-to-date; and I cried over the second half of Act IV, Scene 1.

Much Ado Act 4

What did you think of the new trailer for The Desolation of Smaug?
All my impatience with the random elf-chick, the open barrels, and all the other incorrect things gets smothered by squealing over Martin, fangirling over Benedict’s voice, and mentally superimposing party shades on Thranduil because of the internet.

If you are unfamiliar with Party Dad Thranduil, you'd better hie yourself over to Gingerhaze.tumblr.com

If you are unfamiliar with Party Dad Thranduil, you’d better hie yourself over to Gingerhaze.tumblr.com

Further Nominations:
Like Urania, I think Melpomene did a good job tagging…but it would be a shame not to mention EmSpeaks, where my dear friend holds forth on stories, personality types, CS Lewis, history, and other things from life.  Go and behold her, for she is delightfully singular!

Caramel Popcorn

Dear Friends,

We really can’t do without our holidays, can we? All year round, there are lovely times to get together and make good food. Without turning this into a cooking blog, I intend to share some of my favorite things to eat this season.

This fall, having as I do, spare time, I have learned to be confident in caramel making. It really isn’t very hard. Follow this recipe for CARAMEL POPCORN!
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/caramel-popcorn/

Use enough salt; sea salt, if you have it. Salted caramel is the BEST.

I halved this recipe, and my mom, in her rather silly mood, didn’t make enough popcorn. Oh NO! It is extremely caramel. MWAHAHAHA!

Now, I write, and my mom is taking an anatomy test. “What is depicted by letter C? Triceps! Everyone knows that.” When the caramel popcorn is done I’ll stick some in her mouth and that will gum up the whole process. Or, perhaps, provide inspiration. Just bear that in mind if you’re heading toward finals. I’m not sure what the intellectual outcome of this will be.