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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cooking from the pantry

A friend wrote that she was not liking her own cooking in isolation, so she and her husband were resorting to take-out. It made me sad for her, because I am having fun with the challenge of what I can and do fix. Granted, much of the time I’m cooking for just me. We are only getting groceries either delivered or curbside pick-up, and there is a great time lapse between ordering and receiving, so it’s hard to plan. I may run out of ideas, but for now my mind is full of possibilities.

Some essentials: I find it is really important to have sharp cheddar cheese in the fridge and tuna in the pantry. And you always have a meal if  you have eggs:

Here are a few of the things I’ve done:

Baked a huge baked potato and mashed it with chopped green onion, crumbled bacon, grated sharp cheddar, and lots of butter. Re-stuffed the shells, and baked one for dinner one night, one for lunch a day or so later. I laid thinly sliced cheddar over the top of the lunch potato before baking it. Should have taken the picture before I tried to transfer it to a plate.

Made soup out of things I found in the freezer—beans in tomato sauce, orzo pasta, corn, peas, slices of Polish sausages. Made a base of chicken broth and a can of diced tomatoes. When serving (to myself) I topped it with grated Parmesan.

Made tuna salad, after we scored a whole, very fresh loaf of good Jewish rye bread. Next up, I think I’ll do tuna salad, top it with cheese, and bake—a tuna melt. I still intend to make tuna pasties, but that’s a bit of a chore and I find myself getting lazy these days.

Last night, I baked eggs—a new discovery for me, and I loved it. Here’s a sort-of recipe:

½ slice sourdough bread

½ can chopped spinach (fresh would be better, but we don’t have it, so I’m making do)

Grated sharp cheddar

2 eggs

2 tsp. milk

Grease an individual casserole dish thoroughly. Line bottom with torn bread. Layer spinach on next and top with generous amount of cheese. Crack two eggs on top, being careful not to break. Salt and pepper to taste, and cover eggs with the milk so they don’t dry out.

Bake at 350 until eggs are set to your personal taste. I like them runny, so you can stir ingredients together.

Wish I’d thought to take a picture. You can vary the layers as you want—a different vegetable, another type of cheese. .Just use the technique.

A thread on the New York Times Cooking Community Facebook page (that’s a mouthful) had varying opinions on creamed tuna—apparently you either love it or hate it. For me, it’s comfort food, and it’s on my to-make list. Here is another sort-of recipe:

1 or 2 green onions, chopped

1 medium stalk celery, diced

1 Tbsp. butter more or less

1 Tbsp. flour more or less

About 1 cup milk

1 can water-packed albacore tuna, flaked

About a half cup or less petit green peas, defrosted

A splash of white wine

Salt and pepper

For serving: toast, rice, pasta, your choice

            Sauté onion and celery until just soft; sprinkle with flour and stir in thoroughly to make a roux. Slowly add milk, stirring as you do, until you get a sauce of the consistency you want. Add tuna and peas and cook over medium-low until warmed through.

I’m going to put mine on a piece of that good rye bread, toasted.

You can use this same technique for chicken or, even—dare I say it?—chipped beef, though for the latter you might want to omit the peas and wine and season with a dash of Worcestershire. Or maybe red wine? Garlic?

Tonight, smothered chicken thighs because I had them in the freezer from a curbside pickup mistake—thought I was ordering four thighs and got four packs of four thighs each. I'll feed the family. This weekend, when we finally get new groceries, we’re going to make a holiday dinner—turkey and dressing and green beans. Darn! Wish I had French’s onion rings, but crushed potato chips will do.

I think that’s part of cooking in quarantine—making do.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Cooking in the time of quarantine

Hard to know what to say or where to begin. We are besieged with the contradictory news of bare grocery shelves and the need to have supplies in case the delivery chain breaks down. Should we use our stored staples or cook with fresh ingredients while we can get them? I know I for one am a bit reluctant to use the few cans of tuna I have because I might need them more lately.

I read on MSNBC this morning that toilet paper will soon be overstocked; pallets will sit in grocery aisles because everyone has stocked up and no one is buying. But, the article cautioned, some foods may be in short supply. Still, there will be plenty to eat; we just may have to adapt our menus.

Possibly, this change in lifestyle and the availability of goods will lead us to a more plant-based diet. One food that will be a staple, in my mind, is beans, beans of all kinds.

On the internet, I read lots of posts about people who are finding comfort in cooking. It’s something we can do while isolated, whether we cook for a family or for ourselves alone. One night this week I made a family staple—King Ranch Chicken. Tuna pasties, always a favorite of mine, are in my planning. But this is also the time to experiment, try new recipes. I have recipes for white bean stew with tomatoes, and I’m looking forward to trying that dish. Last Sunday night. I fixed cheese grits with black beans, avocado, and radishes—straight out of the pages of the New York Times, with thanks to Sam Sifton.

One reason I picked this recipe was that son-in-law Christian loves grits and radishes. He may be the only person I’ve ever met who is so crazy about them. But at dinner, I caught him picking the radishes off his entrée and putting them on his salad. I couldn’t help but ask, and he confessed he liked them best cold, not on a hot dish. So there goes that recipe I cut out for pork chops with roasted radishes. And, frankly, the radishes didn’t do as much for me as they apparently  do for him. So color them optional.

Cheese Grits with black beans

What you need to serve four for a main dish:

Chicken broth – about 3 cups

Whole Milk – 2 cups.

Grits – 1 cup.

Black beans – l large can

Cayenne pepper to taste

Butter – 2 Tbsp.

Avocado – 2, sliced

Radishes – 3, sliced

Any other diced vegetable you want - tomatoes, bell pepper, scallions, celery, etc.

            Make grits by stirring together 2-3/4 cups chicken broth, 2 cups whole milk, and 1 cup grits. Cook over low heat—I used my soup kettle, because grits bubble wildly, even on low, and I didn’t want hot grits on my hands or the wall. Stir this occasionally and after about 25 minutes, you should have a creamy, smooth pot of grits. Take it off the heat and stir in a cup of grated sharp cheddar (the original recipe calls for a half cup, but I like them extra cheesy) and the butter. Stir until thoroughly blended in.

For the black beans: drain and rinse, put in saucepan with remaining ¼ cup chicken broth and the cayenne. Cook to heat and let the sauce thicken a bit. Mash a few beans to make it more of a sauce.

Put the grits in four soup plates, top with beans, and garnish with avocado, those optional radishes, and any other vegetable you choose.

PS: Leftover grits are great for breakfast!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A gourmand experience

Our front row seats right by the kitchen
Know what a gourmand is, as opposed to a gourmet? I once worked with a woman who thought gourmand equated with glutton but not always so: the dictionary tells us a gourmand is a person who enjoys eating, a connoisseur. So, for tonight, for this blog, we’ll ignore the side implications about someone who eats too much and is greedy, because I had a gourmand experience last weekend.

My two daughters, two grandsons, and I met an old friend for dinner at Savor, the laboratory restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio. From start to finish, the meal was outstanding. The restaurant itself was not as imposing as I expected—no white linen tablecloths but bare wooden tables and a sort of sleek modern look and a more casual atmosphere. The kitchen was open so we could look in and watch the budding chefs at work; one of the most fascinating aspects to me was watching them close down the kitchen at the end of the evening. We had front-row seats, right by the kitchen.

Corn soup

With six of us, we ordered a variety of things. I began with a Caesar salad, followed by corn soup. Several at our table had the risotto, and my oldest daughter had mussels. You could choose either three items or four (the price varied accordingly—the pricing was not expensive, except that between us we consumed a lot of wine which drove the total up considerably).

I did not have an entrée, but the two most popular at our table were the tenderloin and the yellowtail. Jacob tried roast pork with pork belly, despite my warning that pork belly is a fancy name for fat. His mother was dismayed at the piece of fat on his plate, and the roast meat was too dry. Otherwise, everyone said their entrees were wonderful.
roast pork
beef tenderloin

The frites we ordered for the table were perfectly seasoned and delectable. It would have been a sin to put ketchup on them, and none of us asked—not even the two thirteen-year-old boys among us.

For dessert we had tarts, which I somehow didn’t get a picture of.

Throughout, the presentation of every dish was as outstanding as the taste. It truly was a wonderful evening.