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.  And so on.

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, and so on.

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.

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?

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!

Edible Origami, or the Mandolin’s Telos

Thalia and I recently hunted for origami patterns of flowers, or similar objects, which would be manageable for someone who is not a paper-folding ninja, ie, us.  In the process, I found some projects which were not paper-based on this site.  The administrator makes all manner of foods, including a bunch of different garnishes.

Annnnd somehow the process of looking at a bunch of roses made out of very thin slices of vegetables necessitated a trip to Meijer for to obtain an odd selection of produce.  Once I knew I could make food roses with something besides bacon, how could you expect me to do anything else?
MandolinRolling a rose Potato rosesIce bathUnpickedHalved roses

More or less any thinly-sliced food can be rolled into a rose shape.  More or less any food CAN be sliced thinly if you have a mandolin handy, because that is, after all, the mandolin’s telos (which, of course, would be a Good Name For A Rock Band).  I tried it with a knife at first, but my slices were too thick as I have not trained at Le Courdon Bleu.  Fortunately, I’d acquired a mandolin in December for ratatouille purposes, and so gleefully spent an evening slicing away and rolling garnishes for a dinner I hadn’t made.

Radish rosesRadish rose

Strawberry petalsStrawberry roses
PSA: Mandolins (of the bladed variety, not the stringed lute derivative) can and will destroy your fingertips given the chance.  They will give you delicately thin slices of food but will endeavor to take your blood in so doing.  Please exercise caution (and/or these gloves) lest the tip of your thumb come off; you’ll need that thumb if you ever want to start a rock band.

Nectarine rose

Chocolate-Covered Bacon Roses Redux

Round about this time last year, I reacted to all the Valentine’s Day marketing and an empty apartment by chucking bacon in a pan, attempting to shape it into a rose once cooked, winding it about a piece of asparagus, and covering the lot with melted chocolate.  This proved to be an entertaining, if messy, decision, and kept me from writing mediocre and lachrymose poetry for, let’s see…a whopping 9 days, according to the archives.

So it stands to reason that I could prevent myself from writing any woebegone verses all through the coming week by making them again.

Not only so, but given the magic of WordPress statistics on readers’ search terms, it has become clear to me of late that a passel of people are interested in the reality of a chocolate-covered bacon rose; some, in fact, desire that the thing be delivered to them, or their respective beloveds.

So.  Rest assured, readers, there are plots and schemes in motion to see if this might be made reality next year.  At present, however, there is too much going on in the coming fortnight for me to be of much use to you, except as your virtual Virgil.  If you wish for your favorite person to have chocolate-bacon roses (whether or not your favorite person is yourself), well, do this labor of love for him.  Or her.

Gather your bacon, your broiler pan, your huddled flower petals yearning to breathe free…
Raw bacon rosesMelted chocolateDismembered flora
…and have your chocolate, your floral wire, a new paintbrush for chocolate detail, and a really rather tall vase on hand.

Baked bacon roses

Last year’s efforts, and this website, taught me that making the bacon into a rose shape before cooking it is far more stable than coaxing cooked bacon into a flowery form; the bacon that bakes together stays together.  I am all about stability in my foodstuffs, so I rolled thick and thin strips into a variety of rosebuds (go here for a good idea of how to make a more rose-looking bud) and set them on my broiler pan.

This allows the grease to drain off and allows for better cooking (the mini muffin tin isn’t necessary unless you need guidelines to keep your blooms on the small side).  They stayed in the 375 degree oven for 30 or 35 minutes (more wouldn’t have hurt, but the hissing of the bacon grease made me nervous).
Ruining the bacon

There were faux flower stems on hand this year, though I found that some of my bacon blossoms were a bit too ponderous for them; they bent under the weight of the rosebud in an unbecoming fashion.  Be that as it may, I carried on, reinforcing the stems with floral wire before topping them with the roses and painting chocolate on the petals.  This made for a less-chocolatey flower, overall, but that also made them easier to eat, so hey.  You win some, you lose some.

Best of all, there were more roses than last year!  So I could share them with my brother and my boss, who was intrigued by such foodcraft.
Unpainted rose Stop and smell the rosesChocolate Bacon roses
Feast of Saint Valentine, I urge you once again: Bring it.

IMG_4946

A Soup By Any Other Name

We at the Egotist’s Club understand the importance of naming children, stories, and the characters thereof.  We have examined the significance of what members of a subculture call themselves.  We know that a rose’s scent would, perhaps, strike us differently if it happened to be newly christened a skunk perennial, carrion blossom, or putrid posy.

Hence my wish to consult with you before naming a soup I made this week.  After some research, I determined that it was a soup (liquid food, made by boiling/simmering meat/fish/vegetables with various added ingredients: a useful penumbra)* and not a stew (same ingredients, more or less, but with less liquid and a longer cooking time), ragout (spicy French stew made to “restore the appetite;” rather fussy), chowder (thick soup featuring cream, potatoes, and an element of pork fat, typically), or bisque (thick soup, typically made with cream and pureed to a smooth texture; often featuring seafood).  It’s also not bouillabaisse, cioppino, minestrone, mulligatawny, or potage, according to this handy little soup glossary.

But what is it?  I use tomato soup as a base and add petite diced garlic/oregano/basil-flavored  tomatoes, peeled strips of zucchini, and shrimp; each bowl is topped with provolone cheese and fresh basil, with bread close at hand.  Naming all the elements gets long and clunky; mentioning “that tomato soup with all the things added” stays long and gets vague to boot.  An acronym of Basil-Oregano-Garlic Shrimp-Provolone-Tomato-Tomatoes-Zucchini gives us “BOGSPTTZ,” which doesn’t sound promising.

Some part of me wants to call it Eintopf or Booyah, but the first is vague and the latter is not accurate; this is no community-wide 50-gallon kettle of stew.

What seems both accurate and appetizing?  “Tomato Soup, Heavily Edited”?  “Loaded Tomato”?  “Tomato Gallimaufry”?  The recipe cards demand an answer!

*In the course of my research, I also learned that “soup” is a slang term for nitroglycerin.  The More You Know!  Bear in mind when trying out strange new recipes!