Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The incredible, morphing menu...or, how to keep leftovers from haunting your refrigerator, not to mention your dreams

As I think I've mentioned, I'm single, and usually cooking just for myself.  OK, myself and the fuzz bombs.  (Lest you get the wrong idea about how I feed my dogs, they really don't get a whole lot of people food.  I will, occasionally, give them some of the leftover protein, if it's lean, or leftover rice mixed in with their canned food.  And raw veggies, they love raw veggies...*ALL* raw veggies.  I give them a lot of raw veggies.  And cooked veggies.)  So, over the years, I've gotten very skilled at cutting down and adopting recipes so that I'm not over run with leftovers.  Because, you see....I really don't love leftovers.

Once I've filled a craving for something (and I'm usually very driven in my menu plannings by, "geeeee, I have a taste for....."), then I don't want it again for a good long while.  I certainly don't want it the next night again for dinner.  When I was working, I would take leftovers for lunch later in the week, or the next week, happily.  That never bothered me.  But having the same entree more than once in a week, or month even, just doesn't make me a happy girl.

Since I now have no outlet for "reusing" leftover, completed dishes, I've become very familiar with my freezer.  I have nice, labeled (!) and inventory-listed (!!) plastic containers with single-servings of gumbo, short ribs with a lovely gravy, lasagna, chili, and other goodies, waiting for that craving to strike again.  Baggies of cooked meat too, portioned out into one- or two-meal, amounts, also labeled and listed, live in the deep freeze, waiting to be called into action at a later date.  I also have trained myself to freeze the unused portion of a package of uncooked meat or poultry, if I'm not going to use it before it goes bad, again divided into amounts that I'll likely use at one time.

Sometimes though, as the saying goes, the best laid plans don't always work out.

If the planned menu train gets derailed during the week (plans change, I'm not hungry for dinner one night, saw something at the market I MUST have), I'll get lazy and stick an entire package of protein into the freezer, unportioned.  That happened a couple of weeks ago with a package of pork loin medallions.  There were about 6 medallions in the package, so it probably weighed about a pound-and-a-quarter.

Last week, it was pork time.  So the package got removed from the freezer.  Since the slices were shingled on top of each other, there was no way I could take out what I wanted/needed and return the rest to the deep freeze.  And, since they'd been frozen once, they couldn't be thawed and refrozen (well, technically I guess they COULD have been, but they'd have been nasty).  Nope, the entire package had to be used, and used in short-order.  This then, is the saga of how those 6 pork medallions led to not one, not two, not three, not even four, but five, yes, count 'em FIVE different meals.

First up was just a simple stove-top grill treatment.  That was the day I made the brioche in the previous post, so I knew I was looking for easy and low stress for dinner.  I took three of the medallions, rubbed them with a commercial Cajun spice blend, let them sit for a bit, then threw them onto my smokin' hot Le Creuset grill pan for about 2 minutes per side.  With some starch (leftover gratin dauphinois from my ham dinner) and roasted baby beets from the CSA, it was actually a pretty great meal.  The girls (or as I actually call them....The Grrrlz) did get some of that pork, since it was lean and cooked with very little oil.  Leftover count - USED: gratin dauphinois (gone).  REMAINING:  3 pork medallions.  Beets were a wash, I ate what I had.

Pork and I took a bit of a break from each other at that point.  I had other interests, like my ham salad, and we just needed some space, man.  But I knew I'd be back.

And I was, for the meal I'd been craving when I originally BOUGHT the package of pork medallions.  Pork Katsu Curry.  If you're not familiar with the dish, it's a thin slice of pork, pounded even thinner, seasoned, then dredged in flour, egg and coated with panko bread crumbs.  That gets pan-fried to golden brown deliciousness, while a thick, "curry"-flavored gravy is made.  The pork gets sliced, the sauce gets ladled over the meat and some short-grain rice, and you have katsu curry.  It can also be made with chicken, but I prefer the pork.  I'll give you the technique in another post,  because I've got some hints on the breading that make the best katsu ever.

I used the remaining 3 medallions for the katsu.  Here the are, all nice and brown and crunchy (very crunchy), draining on a paper towel:

What's not to love about that?  That's a picture that makes me smile, for sure.

But....I couldn't, try though I might, eat all three of them the night I made them.  I like rice too much to allow for that, and I had made a totally forgettable, side, slaw-y, type salad that I actually did eat, mostly to have something other than starch and grease in my tummy that night !  I ended up with about one-and-a-half cutlets leftover, which were NOT going to The Grrrlz, since they were breaded and greasy.  Leftover count - USED:  1&1/2 pork medallions.  REMAINING:  1&1/2 pork medallions, about 1&1/2C cooked rice (which I'd planned on....think meal #4 there).

Which brings us to meal number three.  I put the cooked katsu medallions in the fridge, and saved them for a rainy day.  Actually, I saved them a lovely, clear early evening a couple of days later.  I wanted to do something that would keep the crunchiness I'd worked so hard to get, and not only keep it, but emphasize it.  Hmmmm.  No Asian, just did that (incredibly, katsu curry is a Japanese dish).  And, hey....look at that calendar.  It's Cinco de Mayo.  I got it !  Tacos.  Totally different flavor profile, totally different texture (other than the pork).  Yeah, that works.  So I made some corn tortillas (we'll do a piece on making both flour and corn tortillas soon, so easy to do, and yes, so much better than the grocery store variety), put the leftover cutlets on a  pie pan, covered with foil, and put into a 350° oven for about half an hour.  At that point, I pulled off the foil to re-crisp the coating, and assembled the supporting characters:

I also threw together a quick cilantro slaw; shredded cabbage, sliced green onion, chopped cucumber, (The Grrrlz got copious amounts of both cabbage and cuke...no onion !), and chopped cilantro.  The dressing is lime juice, garlic, S&P and olive oil (about 1/3C juice to 1/2C oil, or proportionate to your salad, or to taste).

One of my favorite sides for Mexican food by the way.  Very light, very refreshing but still so flavorful.  Of course, if you don't like cilantro, well, that could be an issue...

Slice up the crispy, tender medallion, and build yourself one of these beauties:

THAT was a good taco !  And the meal killed the pork (finally).  YAY !  Well, maybe not so YAY !  Leftover count - USED:  Pork medallions (all gone).  REMAINING:  8 corn tortillas, about 3/8 of a small head of cabbage, 1/2 container salsa, 1/2 bunch cilantro and some shredded cheddar cheese.  Since all but the tortillas and cabbage had been purchased specifically FOR the tacos, I was sort of in the hole on trying to climb OUT of the leftover hole.  But I had plans.....

Meal four takes us back to the Asian influence, but this time China.  Remember that leftover rice?  And the leftover cabbage?  Oh, and you won't remember, but I will, there was some leftover asparagus in the crisper, too.  Rapidly going south.  But more importantly, remember that leftover ham???  I was trying to avoid throwing any of the "Easter" ham into the freezer, since I still have packages of ham scraps from the "Christmas" ham in there.  Cold rice and ham sounds to me like the makings of a lovely fried rice.  And it was:

This had the additional beauty of using up more of the green onions which were also rapidly going south in the crisper.  I threw together a quick stir-fried side dish of the last of the cabbage, shredded very coarsely, and also the last of the asparagus, sliced pretty thin, seasoned with ginger and garlic.  Some soy sauce and cornstarch mixed to season, and done.  The peas, egg and nuts in the rice were all staples, as was the soy sauce, garlic and ginger, so a good Leftover Count on this one - USED:  Rice (gone), cabbage (gone) asparagus (GONE, baby gone) and ham (almost, so close, almost gone).  REMAINING:  Nothing new !

Finally, finally, I was gettin' to the end of the road in the leftover labyrinth.  The crisper drawer was getting empty, the refrigerator had space in it, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And it was the FRIDGE light !!!

Meal number 5.  What do you do when life hands you leftover corn tortillas, leftover salsa, leftover cilantro, some rapidly-mouldering green onions, and you have half a bottle of enchilada sauce in the fridge from several months back??  Well, you pull a nicely labeled (!) bag of roast turkey meat from the freezer, adjust your inventory list (!!) and make turkey enchiladas:

I took the half bottle of the enchilada sauce, and combined it with the rest of the container of salsa.  There was, by this point, less than 1/3 of it left (I'd had some chips & salsa, and also made quesadillas with four of the tortillas, and had used some salsa with those).  Then I took my immersion blender, and blitzed the heck out of the combined sauces.  That gave me more than enough to moisten my filling (which used up some of the cheese as well), and also sauce the enchiladas.  More of that cheese on top, and when it came out of the oven, some of the green onions, the rest of the cilantro and some black olives from the pantry.  A dollop of sour cream at service, and the leftover train was long gone.  The fridge was as empty as my fridge ever gets (what can I say, I'm a condiment slut), and it was time to go to the market again.

This is a very, very different way of thinking about meal-planning than I had ever done before.  I had been all about making enough of a dish so that I'd have those lunch leftovers for the week, and not have to do the fast-food shuffle, or worse, vending machine roulette (anyone got a count on the mixed metaphors in this article, at this point, *I've* lost track.....).  With that option gone now (I was euphemistically "down-sized" last year, and due to some health issues, decided to take an early retirement), and many of those types of meals not really suitable for freezing and thawing, it was a real sea-change as to how I planned meals.  Couple that with joining a CSA, where every two weeks, I don't know what produce I'll have until I pick it up, I needed to free my mind from my rigidly set menu plans.

I still make a general outline of new things I want to try, or those cravings I want to fill, but leave lots of "slop" room for innovation.  I keep a really well-stocked pantry and fridge (see "condiment slut", above), so I can usually pull most condiments, seasonings and even fresh herbs out at a moment's notice.  And I have literally six major grocery stores less than a half mile from my house.  Both are a huge help.  But it has taken an attitude change (and a resolution to stop wasting food), for me to become more "free-form" with my attitude towards using the main component (usually the protein) of the meal.

The best part....?  It's made me a better, more creative cook !  And that is, without a doubt, a good thing.

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