Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No chili for you

Last night I didn't make the chili that I had planned. In fact, despite having defrosted in the fridge all day, the ground pork and ground beef were still rock solid. So, instead I ate a couple of my "gourmet ramen" noodle soups. They turned out pretty good.

But then I got inspired. I wanted something sweet. In these situations, I often dream of the little chocolate buttons that I would get as part of a Nutrisystem delivery a couple years ago. I would dip them in a tablespoon of peanut butter, and they were divine. (As a side note, the only proper way to eat peanut butter is with chocolate. I have been told my dislike of PB&J sandwiches is un-American. So be it.)

But without those chocolate buttons, I turned to the bar of dark chocolate I had in my freezer. Since my mother had recently discovered the jar of peanut butter in my pantry, I knew I had the makings of something wonderful. And then it occurred to me that I had the remainder of some vanilla ice cream in my freezer too. The wheels were turning.

In a mug I dumped the chocolate (which I had chopped into fairly fine chunks so they'd melt easier). I then added about two tablespoons of the creamy peanut butter. Into the microwave it went. The initial melt of one minute didn't quite do the job, so I think I put it in for another minute. A sauce was born.

The cool thing (no pun intended) about the dessert was when I drizzled (read: poured) the sauce on top of the ice cream it hardened. That makes sense since at room temperature the chocolate is solid, but it was a surprise nonetheless. And then I was immediately thrown back to the Magic Shell that my sister and I used to eat. At first, we really only had it when we visited family in Mississippi. Then, one miraculous Saturday morning, it was located at our corner grocery store in Brooklyn. Oh so tasty.

Anyway, breakfast this morning was the remainder of the banana bread and lunch is a couple more packets of the Thai Kitchen soups. Tonight, the chili will be made and I'll be making corned beef, cabbage, and champ to bring into work on Thursday (my knitting group will be having it for lunch).

...somewhere in all of this I have to cook a meal for my Caritas delivery. hmmm....

Monday, March 15, 2010

A new way to think about food...for the time being

It's pathetic, I know, that I have not posted to this blog recently. It's like the diary I told myself I would keep every year. It just doesn't happen. I drafted a few entries, but never actually got around to finishing them or posting them. So sad.

Anyway, this post isn't going to be so much about a recipe, but more about my week's goal. Aside from St. Paddy's Day (which deserves a break from the rules), I am going to do my best to try to eat only out of my pantry, fridge, and freezer. I also am going to try to post every day what I am eating. Not as a way to keep a food journal in terms of calorie intake, but rather so that I can be accountable to the world at large for my pantry/freezer consumption.

I realize that this goal may sound a bit extreme, but I'm doing it for two main reasons:

Saving Money

Until this week, I have been receiving CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes for the past, say, 6-8 months. I am very much for consuming as much local food as possible. And the items that arrive in these CSA boxes are not only local, but they're healthy (given that they're vegetables and fruit). When I first started receiving the CSA boxes, I got the produce through the Johnson Backyard Garden. It's such a fun idea that what is now a viable business and essentially a farm started as someone's backyard garden not far from downtown. Sort of has that "anything is possible if you dream big enough" vibe to it. Their produce was great, but you had to go pick it up between X and Y hours on this particular day of the week. Not a big pain, but I'll be honest, I forgot to pick it up a couple times. (This is not completely tragic as any food they have left over from the pick ups gets donated, so it all went to a good cause.) One thing I did like about their boxes too was that if you didn't want X product, there was a sort of "leftovers" box where you could put it. And if there was something in that leftovers box that you wanted, you could take it as an exchange. There were a couple times that I exchanged something for some jalapenos. One thing that didn't work for me, though, was that you were really only able to get vegetables. They didn't really have any fruit, and as for other foods (dairy, meat, etc.), you couldn't order through them (you could order eggs). This isn't a "negative" of theirs, but it's just how they have chosen to focus their service.

So, after a few months with Johnson's Backyard Garden, I decided to switch to Farmhouse Delivery. I had seen them featured in a number of articles and ads in Edible Austin, and a friend of mine was a devoted customer. Not to mention, a few of the smaller restaurants around town also used their services. All in all, a good set of reviews. The price was pretty comparable ($37 for a delivery, if delivered every other week). They deliver right to your door on your designated day of the week, and if you've ordered something that needs to remain cold, they provide cooler bags to make sure nothing spoils. The other really cool thing about Farmhouse Delivery is that you could order items on top of your regular produce basket. You incur an additional cost, of course, but the products they have available range from cheeses to cubed lamb, honey to granola. So many options that it's hard to hold back. Most of these options were also the vendors that I like to support at my local farmers' market, so it's sort of like having the market delivered to your house.

The only problem is (and this was the case with Johnson's Backyard Garden too) that there's too much food. As a single gal, even one who likes to cook, it's hard to go through a huge bushel of food. An added "problem" is that my boyfriend likes to cook a ton too (don't get me wrong, it's not really a problem - he's such a good cook), so it's not even like I am eating all of my meals at home. In fact, I have been cooking very little at home in the past few months only compounding the issue of food spoiling before I can get to it. In other words, losing money. So, I have made the painful yet necessary decision to stop receiving CSA boxes for the time being. If I need some local produce, I can either find the local items at my grocery store, or I will wait until Saturdays for the farmers' market.

Making Room

My freezer is pretty big. I have one of those french door refrigerators with a big freezer on bottom. I fell in love with this fridge when I bought my house in 2007. I was hell-bent and determined to make this fridge fit in my kitchen no matter what. In fact, I even had to take a jigsaw to the upper cabinets above the hole for the fridge so it'd fit properly. The fridge was destined to be mine. And it holds a TON of food. This is good and bad. Back to the whole "spoiling" thing, it's easy to lose food in there. In the past month or so, I have gotten a lot better about periodically cleaning it out, so hopefully, that's something I can keep up with. And if I'm not getting huge deliveries of produce, that will help keep it organized too.

The freezer, on the other hand, is fully stocked. This past week and weekend, I made a ton of chicken and vegetable soup (using up the bok choy, green onions, carrots, broccoli, chicken, and celery from my last CSA box). Then we made even more stock from the remaining chicken carcass. My freezer, therefore, has probably about ten containers of soup or broth tucked in there. I also have local meats that I have gotten from CSA boxes or the farmers' market. I have two pork tenderloins just waiting to be seared (so many good recipes for those things), I have cubed lamb just waiting to become a stew, I have ground pork and ground beef that were originally going to become my mother's meatloaf...but they might become chili now, and so on. (I must confess. I have a bag of Ikea Swedish meatballs in there too.) I also have a ton of frozen veggies - broccoli, veggie mixes, edamame, etc. There are frozen berries, fake sausage patties (as a meat eater, I still think they're pretty tasty), and loaves of bread that will become breadcrumbs at some point. There is even a bag of ripe bananas waiting to become banana bread. There is, of course, a bar or chocolate and a couple things of coffee grounds.

And that's probably not even the complete list. It is filled to the brim with no room for anything else. I need to really eat that down to a point where I can put more things in there.

The pantry is similarly stocked. I've got a bunch of canned soups (which I realize have a lot of sodium, but I don't have a problem with that in my diet), canned veggies, canned beans, canned fruit, pasta, brown rice, white rice, couscous, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and so on. My latest obsession has become these ramen-like soups and noodle dishes from brands like Simply Asia or Thai Kitchen where you just add boiling water and let it sit. So much more sophisticated than the Top Ramen packets we used to eat in college...and hey...without the MSG, which is a big bonus.

All in all, there's a lot to be had out of the freezer, fridge, and pantry.

Today's Food

This morning on my drive into work, I had three slices of banana bread. My mother made banana bread this weekend while she was in town with some severely overripe bananas I had in the house. I could not for the life of me find the recipe that I had used in the past, but I didn't remember anything particularly distinctive about it, so we just looked for another. I found one in the Junior League Cookbook from Jackson, Mississippi (a gift from my MS family since I'm a member of the Junior League of Austin). The recipe had one interesting addition - you could use sour cream instead of the typical buttermilk. And while buttermilk adds that special something to a variety of recipes, I was certainly more apt to eat the rest of the sour cream before it went bad than I would have been to use the buttermilk in a recipe before it went bad.

For lunch today I have leftover salad from Saturday night (she made a salad from some CSA tomatoes and lettuce...ALL of the avocados had gone bad in record time...grr.). I put some dressing on it before I left the house - this dressing was something I had whipped up a week or so ago. English mustard, Dijon, balsamic, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, pepper, a touch of white vinegar, and some extra virgin olive oil (just not the super fancy kind that has a lot of personality and flavor). It's a pretty big salad.

I also brought some of the sweetpotatoes that my mother roasted with olive oil and Old Bay Seasoning. Yes, you read that right. No seafood as far as the eye can see...but Old Bay. My mother had served these to me back in February when I was visiting home. I'll be honest, at first, I wasn't sure it would be something I would like. Old Bay is supposed to be on crabs and in crab cakes. But sweet potatoes?? They turned out marvelously! So she made them again when she was here this past weekend, and once again they were super tasty.

Lastly, because I have a mild obsession with them, I have a number of pickle spears as what will likely be an afternoon snack. There is not much better than Vlasic (or possibly B&G) kosher dill pickles. The crunch, the acidity....it's all so very good.

Tonight, I'm thinking of making chili. I've got the ground pork and ground beef in the fridge defrosting. I've got some green onions left. I've got a can of kidney beans and a can of black beans. I've got a big can of tomatoes. All in all, I'm not exactly sure how it's going to pan out. And, I need to say this as someone living in Texas and the daughter of a Texan . I realize Texas chili does not have beans and does not (I wouldn't imagine) use ground meat. This, therefore, will not be Texas chili. I will have to name it something else.