Prime beef!

I did eat well over the Christmas-New Year holidays. Most of my fancy stuff was sale “finds” (pheasant and duck breasts), but I did have one splurge. The holiday season brings out USDA prime beef (without having to special order it) so I took advantage of that and treated myself to a steak. I guess you could call it a steak, but it was almost a young roast.

I’m enough of a carnivore that I like my meat rare to medium rare, it was cut thick enough that I could get a decent sear on the outside and still be rare inside. I cooked this marvellous hunk of beef in a combination of oven and stove-top as directed by Cook’s Illustrated. My first meal was a steak and potatoes meal (with the leftover cabbage and rutabaga from my Christmas dinner.

Obviously, there were some serious leftovers from a chunk of beef that big. Mostly I just enjoyed the leftover steak by making “roast” beef sandwiches of various sorts. After all, that’s a treat you don’t often get when you’re doing single-serving cooking.

In the process of eating up all that leftover beef I had lots of splendid sandwiches. But I did come up with one spectacular one. I love bleu cheese, and I think it’s excellent with beef. It’s not unusual for me to top a steak with gorgonzola dolce or even just Danish bleu.

Rummaging in the fridge, I realized that there was just enough beef to make one last sandwich–and it was time to use it or lose it. There was also a slice of Boar’s Head MarBleu cheese. MarBleu has (as you might guess) something to do with bleu cheese: it’s Monterey Jack with bleu marbeling. It’s got the bleu cheese tang, but not so strong that it is overwhelming, and it can be sliced (delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, too). A beef and bleu sandwich was just what I needed, but the real pièce de résistance was what I used for a condiment on this sandwich.

In the process of putting the finishing touches on my Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner, I went to Bull City Olive Oil to get some balsamic vinegars to use with the duck breasts. While trying to decide what to do with leftover duck and pheasant, I made another trip to Bull City Olive Oil looking for inspiration. In a shop that allows tasting, I’m constitutionally unable to NOT taste. One of the oils that I tasted was a chipotle infused oil. That was just the thing to help me get rid of the leftover duck breast (later on that).

That bottle was sitting on the counter while I was making my beef and bleu sandwich. I passed on the mayonnaise, the butter, and the mustard that I had been considering. Instead, I drizzled some of the chipotle oil on my bread, stack on my thinly sliced beef, and the MarBleu cheese. Great combination–just a bit spicy, just a bit smokey. (I had the green stuff on the side as a salad.)

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(No pictures of that beautiful steak–they disppeared somewhere betwixt the smart phone and Google photo so all I have are the gustatory and olfactory memories.)

 

 

Pheasant soup

Immediately after Christmas dinner, while I was still sipping my wine, I took care of the leftover pheasant. Since there was a carcass, there just had to be soup!

  • remove meat from the carcass when the meal is over,  refrigerate for later use
  • break up the carcass as much as possible
  • put in slow-cooker and flatten out as much as possible
  • add water to barely cover
  • add healthy pinch of salt
  • set for 6 hours–in other words, until morning
  • strain stock and put back in slow-cooker
  • add any leftover truffled au jus 
  • add a generous handful of barley and  generous handful of lentils
  • taste for salt and seasonings; add a dash of soy sauce and nam pla
  • add one pasilla chilli pepper, whole
  • add generous dash of herbs de Provence and/orle any other seasonings you wish
  • set slow-cooker for about 4 hours
  • when lentils and barley are tender, refrigerate or use immediately.
  • add pheasant meat to hot broth and reheat.

Now if you have leftover soup (from your first round of soup) and leftover cabbage and rutabaga from the side, and any remaining pheasant meat, add those and you have soup that’s a bit different for the final day of soup.

A son gôut!

Summer plenty

Walking through the farmers’ market we see an abundance of fresh produce. We cook and eat without thinking about the food waste between seed and plate. I’ve posted and reblogged articles about this issue: what has been done in other countries, tips on how not to waste food, making efficient use of leftovers, mindful eating, and grocery shopping for one, all with thoughts about food waste.

vegetable-chard IMG_0728This morning I read an article from Food 52 on kitchen scraps–with some statistics on food waste. This post gave a lot of recipes using those things that we often consider “scraps”–and some information on how long those (sometimes) impulsive purchases from the farmers’ market will last once you’ve gotten them into the kitchen.

This article has links to 125 (yes–one hundred twenty-five) recipes that focus on using that whole bunch of greens (even the stems) and things we often don’t consider for cooking and eating–radish tops, and even peels and skins of fruits and vegetables. We often discard the stems from chard and other greens when we cook the tender leaves but those stems are just as nutritious if treated just a bit differently–added first to the pot, or even used separately rather than discarded.

I’ve not tried all these recipes, but from my experience, the recipes from sources cited here are usually good. Even if you don’t use the recipes per se I think perusing them can show many ways that we can better use our food.

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On a related note, while we are enjoying the benefits of pollinators–honey bees included-Summer Harvest IMG_4487-those ladies of the hive are experiencing a decrease in the nectar and pollen that they can
gather–what we beekeepers call a “dearth” (scarcity or lack of something). We are eating and putting by the “fruits” of their work in the spring–and we don’t think about what is available for them at this time of the year.

I’ll be inspecting my hives tomorrow to see how much honey and pollen is stored. Most likely my ladies are consuming stored honey and pollen while awaiting the start of the goldenrod and aster seasons here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. If necessary, I’ll be providing supplemental food (sugar syrup with supplements added) for them until the fall nectar flow starts and they can store honey and pollen for the winter.

I’m not planning a second harvest from hive Rosemarinus, or a first harvest from Salvia–they will get to keep all they produce from the autumn nectar flow to see them through the winter.

IMG_8902Feb hive

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Braised lamb shanks

Continuing my freezer clean-out, I discovered two lovely lamb shanks that I must admit, I had forgotten were in there.  The weather that we’re having now just begs for comfort food, so I decided to make braised lamb shanks and the shanks beg for white beans to accompany them.

Starting with a recipe for braised lamb shanks and white beans that I knew worked well I still perused recipes from some other reputable sources (Williams-Sonoma, Food and Wine, and The New York Times). My lazy side came to the front and I decided that I wanted to do this all in one pot–so I went with the New York Times recipe–except I used thyme instead of rosemary and scaled the recipe for two lamb shanks.

Then I decided to follow a favorite principle of mine in cooking: never do on the stovetop what you can do in the oven (extremely hot weather will modify this). After bringing the pot to a simmer on the stovetop, I popped the pot into a 275°F oven for a few hours–low and slow since this is supper for tomorrow, likely with a grilled (well, broiled given the weather) cabbage wedge for a side.

Even for two shanks, this comes out to be a lot of food, so I’m looking forward to putting some into the freezer for another rainy day meal when I’m feeling indolent.

Leftovers. . . and second servings

One of the banes of refrigerator maintenance is leftovers. I work hard to avoid them, but I’m often defeated in my efforts, especially when eating out. So often restaurant servings are HUGE, and, sucker that I am, I don’t just leave the excess on my plate.  I bring it home, tuck in into the refrigerator, and then likely at some too-far-in-the-future date I get an odoriferous reminder that I now have to do something with the leftovers, which are likely to be found in the back of the refrigerator. They will most likely be unidentifiable now, so they go into the garbage.

cat in refrigerator

lookin’ for leftovers

The obvious first step is to think carefully about bringing home restaurant leftovers: Will it reheat well enough that you really want to eat it?  After all it probably doesn’t make much difference when it gets thrown out–then or a week later. If I decide to tote it home (and I already know that the cat won’t eat it), then I need to label it, and be sure that it doesn’t end up in the back-most corner of the fridge.  I have used masking tape (which comes off easily–often too easily), Sharpies (which can be removed from some things with rubbing alcohol).  I recently found a suggestion to use dry erase crayons (which I didn’t even know existed).  Might be worth a try, but better yet for me would be to be much more judicious in what I put into the fridge as a “leftover”.

“Leftovers” from my own cooking aren’t as much of a problem, but I’m always looking for ways to use the bits and pieces of produce or the last part of that can of beans. I’ve got a handle on the bits and pieces of bags of frozen vegetables and even partially on the celery.  But there are still bits  and pieces….

The Cook’s Illustrated books on cooking for two and Joe Yunan’s book (see bibliography) is the cross-indexing of recipes that use the same ingredient so you have a suggestion for what to do with the other half  of that head of cauliflower.

I’ve found several tools to help reduce waste in single-serving cooking. First from the kitchn is an article titled What to Do With…? 75 Tips for Leftovers and IngredientsThere is a long list of things from produce market, the refrigerator, and the pantry with suggestions of what to do with the extras. For a lot, the suggestions are “freeze it” which does not necessarily solve the problem–just moves it to some point in the future; however, there are some good suggestions.

The flip side of this is throwing away things that could reasonably be used. For some examples, see 10 Foods You Should Never Throw Away. I can agree with the cheese rinds and chicken bones, but here again, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of just changing where you stash the leftovers. When you’re doing single-serving cooking you do need to consider carefully what you bring home and what you keep.  Also useful might be Top 10 Ways to Use Up Overripe Fruit.

Another article that is useful 15 Foods You Should Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray. There are lots of other things to freeze as “ice” cubes, and the put into zipper-lock bags for freezing.  Having these portioned out can make it easier to use them. One of the things I do with excess celery and carrots is to make mirepoix (soffrito) in a big batch, then freeze it in ice-cube trays. One or two cubes will be what you need for small-time cooking–and it cuts time from preparation, and should reduce waste!

Planning use as in having thought about possibilities for that second serving (no, not meal planning–I don’t do that), and shopping with single-serving cooking in mind should help. One way to manage what gets pushed to the back is to add a triage box to the fridge.  Triage  refers to the process or sorting, or assigning priority to something.  In the fridge it would be an eat-me-first box where you put things that have a short shelf-life, or perishables so that they don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge.

 

Vacuum pack it!

Reynolds Handi-Vac and bagWe all know about “freezer burn” that can happen when you put opened bags of stuff back into the freezer.  I’ve found something that ameliorates that. We’ve all observed that products that are vacuum-packed hold much better than those that are not. So–when I put opened bags vegetables back into the freezer, I use a clever gadget from Reynolds®.  Lest you cringe thinking expense–I’m not talking about the “big” vacuum sealing system.  I’m talking about the little hand-held pump and bags with a valve on them.

This is the Reynolds® Handi-Vac® system (reported to be discontinued, but still available from eBay and Amazon). It operates on AA batteries. For storing opened frozen products, I put the original bag, folded and air squeezed out into the vacuum bag, and vacuum! This is not as “hard” a vacuum as achieved with the counter-top vacuum sealing products, but it hides in a drawer and is inexpensive–no lost counter space which can be important.

vacuum sealed cornIt does help extend the freezer-life of opened packages of frozen products. If it’s something I use a lot of (e.g the petits pois, or “baby” peas that only come frozen–we’re ignoring canned), then I may buy the family size package and portion and vacuum those in serving size.  For the most part, I leave the veggies in the original bag–this way I can reuse the vacuum bags. For meats or seafood, I generally don’t reuse the bags. I just don’t feel I can be sure that they are sufficiently clean.

Here is a partial bag of frozen corn (another thing I like to buy in bigger packages). I confess that I’ve not done any scientific studies here, but using this seems to have decreased the number of times I dump a partial bag because of the freezer burn.

I’ve also discovered that using this really helps with the celery dilemma common to single-serving cooking: wash and cut celery into length that fit into these bags (you can also get bigger bags), wrap in a damp paper towel, and vacuum seal. It’s’ amazing how long it lasts that way. When you wish to freeze servings of big-batch cooking you can use these if there is not much liquid, but it can be tricky. What I usually do for those is to put the food into a “light” storage zipper-lock bag, squeezing out most of the air, and then into one of these.  Again, I can reuse the bags; they seem to stand up to reuse quite well.

corn in vacuum sealed bagMy only experience has been with the Reynolds® Handi-Vac® though I’ve noted that Ziploc® and FoodSsaver® both now have hand-held systems (as well as the counter-top). Just from trawling the internet, I can’t tell if the Handi-Vac can be used with the Ziploc® or the FoodSsaver® bags; there’s contradictory information (what a big surprise).  Of note, the Ziploc® pump is manual rather than battery operated, and I would suspect that it will create a less strong vacuum than battery-operated pumps.

There’s an advertisement for an adapter for the Handi-Vac® pump to be used on Ziploc® bags. It’s called the “ReynLock Adapter™”; I’m NOT including a link because of the contradictory information I’ve found, and the price of the gizmo, and I’ve not used it so I don’t know anything other than the advertisement. (See My Opinion page, please).

Updates when I have more information because I will be looking for another product to do this.  Maybe I’ll be lucky and the Ziploc® bags will work!

Lamb leg steak–continued

lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleThat lamb leg steak that I cooked a couple days ago was a big steak–weighing in just a bit under a pound. That’s a lot of meat–couldn’t possibly eat all that at one time.  As vehement as I’ve been about not liking, or dealing well with leftovers,  that does not apply here.  I don’t really consider the part of this steak that I didn’t eat then as undesirable. I couldn’t have that luscious steak without some left for other uses–not when it needs to be at least an inch thick to cook well. You’re wondering what happens to the rest of this steak?

Often the remains of a beef steak or a pork chop goes into a sandwich–since roast beef, lamb, or pork is not on the single-serving menu. Other times it does some metamorphic changes.  The remainder of this steak went into the rice cooker with a convenience mix of grains,  some garbanzo beans to give me some additional meals that were not meat-centric.

Ingredients

  • about 1/2 pound of cooked lamb steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • one 15-ounce can garbanzo beans with liquid
  • one 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños with liquid
  • 1 cup of brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, and rye berry mixture (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup water (to bring total liquid to amount required for grains)

Preparation

  • Add all ingredients to rice/multi-cooker, stir well.
  • Set on rice cooking mode.
  • When cycle finishes, check grain for doneness.  If needed add more water in 1/2 cup increments until grains are done.

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Since the lamb steak had been well-browned on the griddle, it provided good rich flavor for the grains and the garbanzo beans.  Some of this was an extra meal (with a side of ratatouille), and the rest was packed (with the Handi-Vac®) for the freezer for later (especially cooler weather) meals.

mixed grains with tomatoes and lamb