Rotisserie chicken

Yes, I do mean exactly what you think I mean: one that I tote home from my local Harris Teeter supermarket, not one that I’ve cooked at home.  On Sundays, the rotisserie chickens are on special–$4.99. I can’t buy a whole chicken for that price so I’ve learned the times when the freshly roasted ones come out, and I go pick up one that hasn’t been sitting on the heated carousel for hours. That’s one thing to check before you buy. I like to lurk while they are actually being put out.

Even getting one that is freshly packed still has its problems–chickens have both dark and white meat. Unfortunately, the two don’t cook the same, but they are both on the same bird. The first serving of breast meat off that bird is okay–not really my favorite. The second is not so okay if you don’t particularly like white meat. But such a bargain!

I usually don’t buy whole chickens. I buy leg quarters. Occasionally when I’m really busy and don’t want to cook I succumb to the lure of the whole rotisserie chicken. My quandary is always how to make use of the second serving of white meat. Reheated it’s dry and tastes reheated. Made into soup, it is still dry and even less flavorful that it was on the fresh bird.

Inspiration struck the other evening when I was making mujadara in the Instant Pot. When I pulled the bowl out it was steaming hot. I was planning it as a side to the chicken. Instead, I sliced the breast into bite-size pieces and stirred it into the mujadara. That was enough to warm the chicken but not enough heat to overcook it. That turned out to be the best second serving of white meat that I’ve had in a long time.

I’m sure I can do that same thing with other dishes–or with soup–just add right before eating instead of cooking it more.

 

Duck breast salad

For my Christmas Eve supper I fixed pan-seared duck breast–there were two in the package and that meant leftovers. I could have had a second meal had I not been a bit greedy and 20170107_182359eaten part of the second one. So leftovers–just enough for a salad.

A very simple salad made with arugula and radicchio for the greens (just a bit of bitterness to counter the fat of the duck),  Fuyu persimmon, pecans, and the thinly sliced duck breast.

For the dressing, I decided that the leftover sauce that was used for the cabbage and rutabaga side dish for Christmas dinner could make a second appearance–with a little help from an infused oil from Bull City Olive Oil. (Yes, I’ve gotten into infused oils since I discovered some quality ones.) The sauce was lime juice, lime zest, and buckwheat honey but I needed something more–I tasted it with plain (but very good olive oil). That gave me an excuse to go back and do some more tasting and shopping. I tasted several infused oils and decided that the chipotle infused oil would add just the right bit of spark to the leftover sauce.

I made a vinaigrette using about 2:1 proportions of oil and sauce, tossed the greens, persimmon, and some pecans with it; making a perfect bed for the sliced duck breast that was quickly warmed in a skillet. The finishing touch was just a bit more chipotle oil–just a few drops–on the sliced duck breast.

Yum! A great light supper from recycled leftovers, although I’d be more than happy to serve a freshly cooked duck breast this way as well.

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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.

 

OMG, what’s that smell?

Reading a Facebook post the other morning from a friend who posted about a situation that I’ve experienced–something presumably a mouse, dying in the wall (and the resulting olfactory stimuli that pervade the environs),  brought to mind another olfactory experience….

cat checking fridge

just checkin’

Early morning. Open refrigerator door to get milk for morning café au lait. Pour milk.  Open fridge door, put milk back. Something finally filters through to the conscious level even without the coffee yet. OMG! What is that smell? What has died in there? 

Drink coffee, come back for second  round.  Pour milk, put milk back.  Have second cup of coffee.  Recheck fridge.  Drat!  I really did smell something that needs to go away urgently. Something smells weird in there and it’s not  in the league of things handled by baking soda.

One of my least favorite morning events–I’ve just discovered that, even though I’ve thought about it for several days and procrastinated, I now HAVE to clean out the fridge.

It seems that the fridge is the best (most accurate?) reflection of the general state of life in this household. There are areas of my home which are constantly disaster areas, not a big deal–they just are; but I know I’m in trouble when the fridge becomes one.

When I’ve been hassled, harried, beleaguered, and generally frenetic, that’s when the fridge gets out of control. Usually when it’s least convenient to have to pull everything out to find the culprit, but there’s no escaping it–I have to  do it NOW!

The current fridge situation, corresponds to the very noticeable, or notable, hiatus here (sounds better than just saying gap or hole).  For the last several months I’ve dealt with a Clostridium difficile infection that has really turned by life kind of kitty-wampus (not over yet, but improved). Fortunately, since I work at home as a freelance indexer and the one course that I was teaching at a local community college was online, I was able to keep on with those things.

Cooking was another matter altogether since I had absolutely no appetite. At the best of times I can be a pernickety eater (as I’ve said before I don’t deal well with “leftovers”), but add don’t-feel-well-but-must-eat, and that just fills up the fridge with all sorts of odds and ends.

The places in my home that are usually disaster areas, are still, and even more, disastrous, and I’ve added new ones–but most urgently it’s the fridge!  I have to get that sorted so that I can get back to normal cooking since I’m beginning to regain an interest in food (eating and not just reading cookbooks) and actually cooking.

So, into the depths of the fridge….

Storing things….

One of the problems that single-serving cooks continually face is things that change texture and colors as they languish in the refrigerator.  These are not always leftovers from the meal you cooked a week ago, or the little box you brought home from the restaurant when you couldn’t clean your plate (even though you knew then it was unlikely that you’d actually eat what was inside).  Having things “go bad” is a perpetual problem for those of us cooking for one…that head of celery, that whole head of romaine lettuce….

There are lots of tips, tricks, and suggestions that I’ve found about how to store things that plague the single-serving cooks but I’m always looking for better ways to store those bits and pieces until I can use them.   I’m always on the lookout for things that actually do work.

Ball-Mason jars for storageOne of my favorite sources for information like this is Cook’s Illustrated because they actually do experiments to find out what works and what does not.  This doesn’t seem to lend itself well to a post for each suggestion, so I thought I’d add a reference page on Storing Stuff as a place to collect information about storage methods for the things that you are likely to use as a single-serving cook.   If you have a successful method that you use as a solo cook, please post it.

A simple supper

When I did the smoked lamb and goat shanks for the Fourth of July I deliberately added some extras, even after I had allowed for the appetites of my guests.  What was left after our dinner was not “leftover” but was planned (even though I had nothing specific in mind just then) as future food since I thought that these would lend themselves well to improvisation.

I sliced some of the meat very thinly from the cold shanks and used it in a salad.  The goat meat was especially good here, but the lamb made a nice salad addition too.  There was still enough for one all-meat meal, or two meals if supplemented with a grain or beans.

Lamb and beans heating in skilletI had envisioned using the rest of the meat with some cannellini beans  to make a kind of mini-cassoulet that would be topped with bread crumbs and baked briefly to meld the just-added seasonings. That was just not on the program!  It’s been so hot lately that I just did not want to have the oven on even with the air conditioning running, so I opted for a “skillet” meal.

My first step was to sauté some chopped onion (1 medium) until soft and starting to brown, then add  garlic (2 large cloves, minced).  Next I added the chopped meat from the lamb and goat shanks.  I had enough for two servings–and I decided to use it all in this concoction as I though I would like two meals from this as it would only improve with reheating. I added about 1 teaspoon of herbs de Provence(seemed rather cassoulet-like) and a healthy dash of crushed red chili peppers for some spice, and about 2 tablespoons of water.  Finally I drained, rinsed and added one can of cannellini (white) beans to the skillet, which I covered and allowed warm over low heat to hydrate the herbs de Provence and the pepper flakes.

Without further ado it was time to eat. With the last of the bottle of wine that was Lamb with white beans and sliced tomatoesserved with the original meal  it was a very satisfying, and easy, meal. There will be one more serving (and that’s not a “leftover” either–maybe that will make it into the baking dish with the bread crumbs and some rosemary added. This could adapt well to any extra pork, beef or chicken that happened to be hanging about the fridge as a leftover.  All this needed was a salad to complete the  meal.  Dessert was just some fresh fruit.

18 July 2011

Just a quick update here.  I’m glad I made two serving of this.  The improvement on re-heating was fantastic.  The smokey flavor came out more–next time I do something like this, I’ll plan to make it one day and reheat it later.  I’d love to try this with goat!

Pork stock

Not an instance of absolutely great planning, but here I am as the thermometer hits the 90s making pork stock.  Well…I never said that I was the greatest planner in the world–strawberry ice cream and stock-making in the kitchen all at one time.  My favorite meat supplier (Meadow Lane Farm, Louisburg NC)  had great meaty pork neck-bones at the market this past Saturday so I had to bring some home–so despite the heat it’s stock-making time.

These are very meaty bones, so I’ll have some meat to use after the stock is finished.  Since there is so much meat on these bones, and I want to use it, I’m not doing the quick stock–but rather the stove-top method (now you’re sure I’m not great at planning, right?).  But when you have the opportunity to get pork neck-bones, you take it.  Meadow Lane farms is doing more pork (as well as beef) so next time I can plan to do this is cold weather.  (I’m glad I’ll have more access to pork…love that “other white meat”.)

Basic Stove-top Pork (or Meat) Stock

Ingredients: 

  • about 4 pounds meaty pork neck bones
  • 2 medium onions, chunked up
  • 2 medium carrots, chunked
  • 3 bay leaves (dried ones)
  • about 2-3 teaspoons salt
Preparation:
  • Rinse the bones well.  If you feel that there is any old, or “off” odor, or they’re very bloody, blanch quickly in one change of water.
  • Add aromatics–onions, carrots, and bay leaves
  • Add water to cover.
  • Bring to a boil quickly, and then reduce to keep a bare simmer, and leave for about  2 or 3 hours.  Test after about 2 hours–when the meat is fork-tender and “fallin’ off the bone” (a country expression that means really tender), remove from heat.
  • Strain to remove bones/meat and aromatics.
  • Cool stock quickly in an ice bath, stirring frequently to help cool evenly;  then freeze or refrigerate. (Do not put the hot stock in the freezer or refrigerator as it will (1) warm up the refrigerator and affect everything in it, and (2) it does not cool evenly and quickly so that you could have bacterial growth.)
  • When the bones are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and save for another use.
I want a neutral white stock, so I’m not roasting bones.  The meat from making this stock may be a bit less flavorful than had it not been used to make stock, but it will still be good to use for  eating.  I don’t add celery to my stock unless I’m making stock for a specific recipe that needs it.  Carrots and onions, and bay leaves provide some sweetness and depth.  Because I may want to use the stock in a recipe calling for reducing it, I don’t add much salt; I do add a little, because I think that helps develop flavor of the stock as it cooks.   (Salt is for more than just making things taste salty!)  The meat and the stock will both likely need to have additional salt added to taste, but now I have stock that I can use in a reduction sauce if I wish. 

There was a bit of cursing in the kitchen as I removed the meat from the bones because I tried to do it before they had cooled quite enough, but for my efforts (sweaty through they were) I have bit over a gallon of pork stock that is cooling in the refrigerator to be de-fatted.

I have about a pound of very tender, succulent pork to use for another purpose, maybe a chili verde since the garden is rife with green chili peppers.  The meat recovered after making stock is not as flavorful as it would be had I cooked it primarily to use  just the meat, but it’s certainly great for a dish that is supplemented with herbs and spices like that.  I could also use it in hot and sour soup, or posole.

My active cooking time was about 45 minutes from setting the stockpot on the stove to washing the stock pot.  That includes the time to remove the meat from the neck bones!  Although not the ideal time of the year to make stock–it’s well worth the effort.  (Have to have some priorities–right?)  In the winter, I’d have put the pot in the oven for the cooking time, but I thought that, perhaps, the stove-top (very low simmer) would be a bit cooler way to do this. (No, I’m NOT planning to check that out any time soon!)