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Leftovers.

 

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This refrigerator contains leftovers.

It’s really too bad that ‘leftovers’ has such a dingy, pouty faced cloud doggedly following it around.  It’s not always true that leftovers are bad; if a thief too hurriedly empties out a gold bouillon safe and there are leftovers, what is left over is gold, right?

On Mother’s Day, I was looking forward to some rather fabulous leftovers.  I thought that I was coming home from church to leftover Terri Lynn’s famous in-house smoked deli turkey, which I would pile on caraway seeded rye bread spread with hummus and spicy guacamole, topped with aged swiss cheese and a leaf of crunchy iceberg lettuce.

Instead, I found an empty, crumpled white deli paper embossed with the Terri Lynn’s Fat Boy sticker.  His bright yellow face looked up at me, giving me nothing now but a smile.

On other days though, leftovers are just leftovers.  Yesterday, I opened the fridge at noonish and performed a meal called, “This Is Your Lunch.”  This event consists of me setting out on the kitchen counter certain foods—particular leftover foods—and then having gathered my darling ravenous wolves, I give the following speech:

“Of these foods (pointing to the counter) you may eat.  But of these foods (pointing to the refrigerator and pantry), you may not eat.”

Every time, every time, the young hungry wolf people look at me in a consternating kind of confusion.

Does this happen to real she-wolves, I wonder?

“Here pups—gnaw on this leftover llama.”

Inconveniently, just then, a herd of puffy white bleating lambs toddles by.

“But can’t we have those?  Please?”

“No, eat the llama.”

“But whyyyyyyyyyyyy?”

The she-wolf holds her growl.  She is wise.  She knows they are just baiting her, hoping that their whimpers will change her mind or buy them enough time to come up with an actual argument in favor of lamb chops.

The lambs bleat louder.  The puppy wolves whimper.

She holds up her paw so that she may count her claws for them.  “You shall eat the leftover llama because 1) wasting food is wasteful 2) being greedy is greedy 3) I’m too tired to chase a herd of sheep for you because I’m tired and 4) I said so because I said so.”

Though not pertinent to the needs of the she-wolf, I say to everyone else, that if you ever pick up a classical homeschooling book on why should you spend precious time teaching your children about logical fallacies, such as circular reasoning, just put it down because you should put it down.

But if the she-wolf wants to move on from chasing her tail of an argument just because she’s chasing her tail, then I think she’ll give a reason for eating leftovers that goes something like this:

We’re having leftovers today, Wednesday,  because I took you to the lake on Monday.  While we were there, your brother, the hunter-biologist, caught a large quantity of minnows and tadpoles and also a newt that I didn’t know about, and asked to bring home the schloshing bucket full of them.

“I promise the bucket won’t tip over on the drive home,” he said.

I loaded all of you up, including the bucket of fun, and we gently schloshed our way down Highway 10, enjoying the sunset in the rear-view mirror.  I, feeling weary, noticed the clock telling me that it was too early for your Father to be home, and I didn’t want to deal with you end-of-day-people at home by myself.  But I didn’t say that. I merely decided to stall for time by suggesting we stop at the bridge “to watch the sun go down on the river.”  It was a lovely sunset and it could have been even lovelier without me shrewishly nagging you all to quit walking back and forth past the infrared-people-counter so you could watch the number dial click up instead of enjoying the sunset.  After 45 seconds of attempting a peaceful moment at vespers, back to the vehicle we trooped.

Successful entrance and egress from vehicles by large families should be a trophy sport.  Alas, there will be no trophies for us because Rose kicked the bucket.

She is still alive, of course.

The minnows, however, started dying quicker than Rose and Quinn could scoop them up, so for the fish it was a very real kind of bucket-kicking experience.

I asked you all the right questions.  Was the murky pond water contained to the rubber liners?  Did you find all the fish?  Did you get it cleaned up?  Do you need any help?  But like an overworked and underpaid case manager staring blankly out his gray and mauve tweed cubicle on a late TGIF afternoon, I didn’t follow through.

On the third day, after striding past a protesting Martha who cried that there would surely be a stench, I opened the door to my vehicle, my vehicle which had become a tomb, owing to the tragedy that some of the fish had been…..left over.

To your credit, dear children, you did bravely clean up when asked.  I myself felt more like fleeing, but courageously you donned overly big blue latex gloves and plucked the carcasses of five moldering fish things from the auto carpet.  You “wanted to retch,” you said.  I was trying to feel your pain, but secretly I was proud over your excellent use of vocabulary.  I gave you a box of baking soda to sprinkle, to thus soak up the spectacular smell.  I turned to go water my flowers in the clean spring air and behind my back you decided that the thing that baking soda needs most in the world is not time to soak up offensive odors, but rather vinegar spray.

Fizz.

I love you all, my young wolves.  We’re just going to have quick and easy leftovers today because we have an entire vehicle to clean.  And that’s why we’re having leftovers.

The End.

 

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It’s Not My Kitchen

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I came downstairs before 8:00 and found my thirteen year old busy at the stove.  She’s not known around these parts as a morning person, but today the sun came up and she decided to make homemade coffee cake and scrambled eggs with cheddar and ham.  It was a tasty meal; served up, of course, with a side of bitter animosity barked at annoying younger siblings and some unnecessary shoving over plate placement, but the surprise was sweet so I thanked her for a lovely effort.

On Saturday, my ten year old decided that since the man-of-the-house-pancake-maker was out of state, that he himself would take up the task.  On his own he made a double batch of homemade whole wheat pancakes which included a Blue Plate Special of cinnamon apple.  The eighteen year old stumbled downstairs about 10:30 to eat the pancakes.  “Who made these? They are really good.  They’re fluffy and the flavor is perfect.”  Dear son, that would be your younger brother—the one whose indoor pet crickets torment you at night.  They are good pancakes.  And if we’re all lucky, before he started cooking he washed his hands from the morning garden check, the cat-fish-tank check, the turtle-tank check, the compost-worm-farm check, the mating-toads-in-the creek check, and the squirrel-feeding check.

This is the eighteen year old working on his own most recent kitchen triumph:

IMG_3415raised cinnamon rolls.

The sixteen year old made a first-time chocolate pie for Pi Day that far exceeds the glories of any pie I ever made.

The twelve year old is on a kool-aid popsicle making kick which is really about to drive me up the wall.  But there are worse things than sticky floors and eternal pink moustaches, I suppose. Maybe.  I really am bothered by sticky floors.

The eight year old regularly gets up in the morning and makes her own applesauce.  She makes a horrendous mess as well, truth be told.  She cuts up her apples with a real knife, turns on the stove, and uses the stick blender to puree the mixture.  If you turn me into child protective services for this I will make fun of you for your pre-teen’s inability to open a cheese stick plastic wrapper without weeping.  Or, I will invite your kiddos over and let my eight year old teach them how to cut veggies.  She’s got experience teaching the other neighborhood kids how to slice and dice, I’m sure we can help yours.

Look, everybody knows that when I can’t find my favorite spoon or the location of the kitchen scissors is in question, that the kitchen is my kitchen.  If I’m trying to get a giant meal on the table and beloved son wants to wash fish guts off his hands, it’s my kitchen.

But the kitchen isn’t really my kitchen.  It’s our kitchen.  The dirty dishes and pots and pans are our dirty dishes and pots and pans.  The microwave, which currently rivals Jackson Pollock for splatter art, is our microwave for us to clean. The food we eat is our food.  We share the food and the work.

It would be a terrible disservice to my children if I cooked all the food and cleaned it all up. It would be devastating if I let them grow up without understanding that being a grown-up means you can feed yourself and you can feed others and you can clean up the mess without whining about it.

Embrace the reality of your humanity.  We must all eat and eating makes messes.   Give that prickly-cactus-fact of the real world a giant sloppy hug.  As many as are able should cook and clean up.  

“Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup

Recently a dear friend guffawed as I explained—at length—how to make my simple, healing, savory, comforting chicken and rice soup, the one the children request for birthdays and Christmas, the one I make a couple times of month for ordinary meals.

It has not gotten to the point yet that I am personally taking chickens to meet their telos on a backyard stump and making pillows with the feathers to sell at craft fairs, but I think my friend’s laughter indicates that it is so nearly to that peak that I should find it unreasonable to ask folks to hassle with this “simple” luxury soup.

For your reading pleasure, then, rather than your cooking pleasure, I submit to you my “Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup.  If you would like to eat it, just come on over or ask for a jar.  If you would like to make it, I can write out a prescription for lifestyle changes that would allow you to be home long enough to get the job done.  The prescription for how you might feel about the amount of pot washing involved, the forty minutes spent chopping with a giant knife, or fear over whether your chickens were roasted to the proper temperature is between you and your therapist.

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This recipe fills a 13 qt. stock pot.  It’s enough to feed my family of 8 a hearty supper, send out several quart jars of soup to friends, and have lunch leftovers the next day.  I could make a smaller batch, but I don’t play Uncle Scrooge and Silas Marner with soup.

1) Roast 2 big chickens in cast iron skillets or roasting pans at 425 degrees for approximately an hour and 15 minutes.  If your chicken is a wee bit undercooked, there is no need to panic.  The meat will be cooked again when it is added to the soup.  Err on the side of chicken that isn’t dried out by overcooking.  Alternatively, purchase tasty flavor-infused hot roasted chickens from your local grocery store. The flavor from these store chickens is really quite better than what you can make at home.  They, the commercial chicken roasters from on high, add yeast extract, guar gums, “natural flavorings,” maltodextrin, corn flour and some other things I would hesitate before pronouncing.  I do not condemn store roasted chickens.  They are tasty.  They are convenient.  They are reasonably priced.   There is therefore now no condemnation for using store roasted chickens.  Please pass by on the far side of the road for boxed broth, however.

2) After letting the chickens cool down enough that you won’t sear the flesh off your fingers, debone the chickens, set the chopped meat aside in the fridge, and put all the bones, skin, and roasting pan deglazing juices and cracklings, including the fabulous flavorful fat, in a dutch oven sized pot.  Cover with water, toss in some bay leaves if you have them, perhaps some dying celery and a couple of carrots.  Maybe an onion.  Bring pot to a simmer.  Now you’re making broth.

3) The broth will take how much ever time you have to make it.  Broth is like wedding planning.  You can barely pull off a wedding in 2 weeks or barely pull off a wedding in 24 months .  Your decision.

4) Cook 3 cups dry rice however you like to cook rice.    I cook my rice separately from the soup because I want the vegetables to be a certain consistency and my rice to be a certain consistency and it’s just too hard to make both of those things time out well in one big pot.  I make my brown rice with the following method:

– Measure 3 cups brown rice and 6 cups water into an appropriate sized pot.

– Bring to a boil.  Cover with a good fitting lid.

– Turn the heat down to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.

– At 20 minutes check the pot.  You should see rice at the top, the surface dimpled in little craters with gurgling water below the top rice.  If not, stir and cook for a bit longer.

– If it does look right, stir the rice so that the top layer won’t turn out crunchy, replace the lid, and turn off the heat.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  The rice will keep standing for you as long as you like it to stand.

***At this point, you’ve begun counting pots.  2 roasting pans, 1 broth pot, 1 rice pot.  I’m going to add one more pot.  The actual soup pot.  But not just yet because there is about 35 minutes of vegetable chopping next up.***

5) Sharpen your knife.

6) Peel 4 pounds of carrots and slice into rounds.  Chop up a head of celery including the celery leaves which I think make the soup look lovely.  Chop 2 large sweet yellow onions into small pieces. Just a note about carrots:  those pre-peeled mini carrots are not soup friendly.  “Baby Carrots” are merely carrots that were too ugly and tough to sell whole so they were whittled down into a baby carrot shape by a baby-carrot-shape-whittling machine.  They are challenging to chop and they don’t cook up nicely.  Avoid.

7) Chop 16 oz. of mushrooms into bite sized pieces. This is a great job for kids. Mushrooms shrink when cooking so if your 8 year old cuts “bite-sized pieces” the size of a jumbo jaw breaker, it’s really going to be O.K.

8) Harvest a large handful of sage from your garden.  You did plant an herb garden and keep it alive over the winter, right?  Finely chop.

9) Pull out 2 pounds of frozen peas from your freezer and let them thaw on the counter.

10) Get out your big soup pot.

11) Heat up olive oil in the pot, stir in the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and sage.  Cover with a lid, stir frequently.  Some people call this sautéing, some people call it sweating.  Whatever you call it, the goal is to cook the veggies over medium high to high heat until they become tender.  The advantage of doing it in this way, rather than boiling them in broth, is that the quick heat brings out a natural sweetness in the veggies.  I also think that it is faster than cooking the veggies in broth that takes forever to come to boil.

12) I cook the veggies till the carrots are tender but still a bit toothy, as in pasta al-dente.

13) Strain your broth.  I’m very sorry, but this is indeed messy and requires another big container, plus a mesh or sieve strainer.

14) Add broth to the veggie pot.  How much?  Well, add what you have conservatively and add more as needed.

15) Stir in the cooked rice, chopped chicken meat, and salt and generous pepper to taste.  I must use at least a teaspoon or two of pepper.  Check your broth level.  Do you need more broth?  Add more.  Have you run out?  THEN ADD WATER.  The broth you buy from the store is just super thin chicken broth with lots of salt.

16)  Bring to a simmer.  Add the thawed green peas towards the end just before serving so you can keep them in their state of brilliant bright green.  Adjust taste by adding more salt, pepper and sage as desired.

The green mile.

As I’ve started cooking everything from scratch, I’ve ended up with a lot more vegetable scraps.  Rather than condemning my onion skins to a soupy, worthless methane death sealed inside a kitchen trash bag, I’ve decided to give the worms, fungi and rolly-pollys a feast.

Well, this is it people. This is a compost pile.  A system, a plan, a design, an effort, a book-studied project it is not.

It is a pile.

Here is my free recipe for my free compost pile.

Take kitchen scraps outside and dump on the ground.  Rake up some leaves and dump on top.

Every now and then, stir it up with a shovel.

You might ask, “Is walking out to the compost pile to dump your kitchen scraps kind of a pain?”

No.  It isn’t.

Often, my kitchen looks like this:

and so, you see, I think it is rather nice to “step outside” for a moment and take a nice, quiet walk to the compost pile.

Sometimes, I even suggest to one of the children that he would like to take the scraps out.  The child skips to the pile to see if the turtles have come to look for goodies and I am left with a quiet kitchen.  The quiet is shattered, of course, when he comes in excitedly screaming about the “BIG BOXER TURTLE ON THE COMPOST PILE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” but I still had that 30 seconds to take a deep breath.

For the good of worms and bugs, for the health of the soil, for the fun of discovery for the children, for the peace of the mothers, I suggest:  A compost pile.

Whole roast chicken, taters, gravy, chicken stock. And Next Day Chicken soup.

I left home not knowing how to roast a whole chicken.  Nor how to make mashed potatoes.  Or gravy.

Let’s chalk that idiocy up to me not asking.   But I did humble myself in my 20s and 30s, finally consulting the Fanny Farmer cookbook my mom wisely gave me, “Cooks Illustrated,” the publication of the 1,000 step recipes of American’s Test Kitchen, numerous unreliable internet recipes for roasting poultry at high heat for the express purpose of testing out the home smoke alarm, Kathleen Flinn of “Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and Mark Bittman of “How to Cook Everything“.

At some point along the way, from someone, I learned this most important piece of wisdom. This is given to you in paraphrase, as I did not commit the sentence  to memory:

After you roast about 30 or 40 chickens, you’ll be able to tell when the bird is done by looking at it and poking it a bit. 

And that’s it.  Just start roasting chickens and keep doing it until you get it the way you like it.  Honest to Pete, I don’t think there is any other way to learn to roast a chicken proficiently.  No Walmart temp tester is going to save you from Salmonella without giving you dried out cardboard chicken.  No recipe, no oven, no timer can give you the exact time and heat you need to roast that chicken.

I am currently enjoying Mark Bittman’s suggestions for roasting a chicken, in high heat, in a pre-heated iron skillet.

  I present to you now, the general process for making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken stock and on the following day, chicken soup.  In pictures.

       

So, here it is:  Send child out to snip herbs.  Herbs currently available at our house are sage, rosemary and thyme.  Dress the bird and lovingly place in hot oven.  Take bird out when you think it is done.  Put it back in if it isn’t.  Meanwhile, peel potatoes and boil.  Take out chicken for the second time and transfer to plate.  Cover and let rest.  Observe that the temperature in the kitchen is now 85.  Ask son to make gravy for the first time.  Receive dire warning information from son that his carpool ride has vaporized and he now needs an emergency trip across town in less than 20 minutes.  Give him too much flour (we should have stuck with 1/4 c.), make a roux of the lovely chicken drippings, pour in hot milk.  Stir.  Drain taters.  Mash with milk and sour cream, season with salt and pepper.   Serve the potatoes in a bowl and put the pot in the sink to soak.  Why?  Because that’s what Grandma Helen did.  Take another phone call explaining to the other parent the new carpooling emergency.  Interrupt that call to receive call that carpool ride is back on track.  Serve dinner to hungry children.  Listen to children offer thanks.  Beg them to save some for Dad who will be home late.  Send lad out the door to catch his ride.  Send the troops in to wash the dishes.  Send some troops back out again because that is too many kids in the kitchen.  Tell the five year old I am going to make chicken stock and I will have to have the bones.  Look at him and see him nearly start to cry over losing his chicken bones.  Promise to him that I will save the bones for him.  Place chicken carcass in the cleaned tater pot, fill with water, simmer for 2 or 3 hours.  Don’t add carrots, celery and onion, I want to,  but I can’t spare the veggies for stock making this week.  Know that it will taste wonderful anyway.  Strain the broth through a tea towel and strainer.  Pour the golden broth into wide-mouth glass jars.  Save bones for the boy who wants to be an archeologist.  Sleep.  Next day make homemade noodles and use the fabulous chicken stock to make great chicken soup, even if there isn’t any actual chicken in the soup.

The End.  The End of That Chicken.

Let’s chat about marinara.

Let’s chat about saucicus marinaricus.
My folks know it by its common table name, spaghetti sauce.
Others affectionately call it red gravy.

Whatever we call it, I think we should ask why we are buying this basic recipe starter premade and hauled across the country in heavy glass jars.
I started asking myself that question after often enjoying my friend’s homemade sauce.
Once upon a time, I took it upon myself and our budget to buy the “premium label sauce” made with olive oil. When couponing failures and budget demands picked for me a cheaper sauce, I turned to ‘ole stand-by: Kroger Traditional Spaghetti Sauce. It has all the tomato, soy oil and cornsyrup a gal could ever want poured on her $1.00 a bag rotini.

But I had tasted another way, and I was determined to follow it.

For our family, I’ve been making a batch that yields a little more than 3 1/2 quarts.  I use it right away for pasta sauce and save some to use for pizza sauce on our every-Friday-pizza-night.  The rest can be happily frozen and used next week.

The original inspiration came from Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe.  The following is my spicier and smoother textured version.

Chop 3 carrots, 3 stalks celery, a couple of onions and 3-4 cloves of garlic.  I aim for roughly 2 cups each of the carrots, celery and onion, but I am not going to take the time to measure if I went over by 1/4 c. of carrots.

Saute veggies in 1/2 c. olive oil until tender; you can put on the pot lid, leaving it just a bit askew and the vegetables will steam up.  I love how this method of cooking brings out the sweetness of the carrot and onion.

Now pour in three big 28oz. cans of crushed tomatoes.  Over the past months I’ve experimented with 3 different brands:  Walmart Crushed Tomatoes (too watery),  premium Cento tomatoes from Italy (the taste didn’t justify the expense and the sauce was so thick it would explode tomato bubble bombs all over the stove–adding a cup or more of water helped hold down the explosions) and Kroger Crushed Tomatoes (great consistency.)

If you have them, toss in a few bay leaves.  Also add salt (about a tsp of coarse salt works for us) and 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper.   Tonight, though, I am out of red pepper, so I squeezed in some Harissa paste, a gift from my friends sojourning in North Africa.

Simmer.  How long?

I don’t know.  Honestly, I just let it go until the whole house smells like marinara or people start crying for supper.

Last step:  puree with my handy-dandy stick blender, which I think is the best electric kitchen appliance I own.

This sauce is great on pasta.  It’s great for pizza.

The cost:

At the most expensive price, I pay $1.39/can for Kroger tomatoes.  That adds up to $4.17.  I use 1/2 c. olive oil (.76), let’s guess about 12 oz of carrots (.56), 4 oz celery (.44), onion (.99) and garlic (.25).  Spices? Let’s not dicker over pennies here.  At the MOST expensive, I think my sauce costs about $2.04 for a quart jar.

That is, in fact, more expensive than paying $1 for Kroger sauce on Super Sale. Of course, there’s also my time and the gas for the stove.

But now that we’ve tasted and enjoyed our own sauce, now that I can make our own sauce without soybean oil, corn syrup and “natural flavorings,” I’m quite happy to pay a bit more and spend a bit more time at the stove.

I would love to hear your thoughts on homemade sauce.  Would you try it?  What’s your recipe?

Butternut Squash: No, I won’t make you eat it because I’m happy to have it all for myself.

Do you know what grows well in Kansas?
Squash.
acorn, butternut, yellow, spaghetti……..
Oh squash, how I love you, but there is something here, in the ground, in the air of Arkansas that does not love you. How can I grow you on this north-facing, rocky, forested, sled-sliding hill I call a yard?
Can we ever find a way to get together on reasonable financial terms?
Are there people out there trying to get rid of you?
Please, please, come to me…
I will eat you. With butter.

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