Foodie Tuesday: Gallimaufries and Slumgullions

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Easy Chocolate-Raspberry Mousse, made with 1 avocado or the equivalent in pre-made avocado mash, 2 ripe bananas, 1 cup frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons clarified butter, 1/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla paste, 1/2-1 teaspoon real almond flavoring, and a pinch of salt, all pureed together until smooth and chilled thoroughly.

I’ve soliloquized on leftovers here many a time, because few of us don’t have, and use, them with a certain amount of frequency. It can be, as I’ve mentioned, something that lives on only as the humorously known YMCA (Yesterday’s Muck Cooked Again), or with a little thought and effort, it can be a whole new being. It can be a watery mishmash of tasteless goo, a slumgullion, or with some inventiveness and luck, a tasty new experience in and of itself. My recent post on rethinking the remains of broth-making is one example of happily finding the latter.

In addition to making use of the extant collection of remains on display in the museum of the refrigerator and cupboards, one can always prepare those foundational foods that become ingredients for a gallimaufry of further dishes and meals. It’s a sort of slower or longer-term version of mise en place. One that has proven particularly useful to me is the simple fix of mashing a few ripe avocados with lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt and keeping them in the fridge in a zipper bag. In a two-person family that lives in a warm climate, it’s hard to keep whole avocados fresh for any length of time, so since this particular family is also a one-car family and I don’t wish to finagle grocery shopping almost daily, this simple avocado mash stores, unchanged, in the icebox for a fair length of time while I take out daily bits, squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it, and chill it again until the next use.photoThat easy fix for my avocado problem (you can decide whether that means spoilage or addiction in this case) has presented a whole world of possibilities not previously quite so accessible. Straight out of the bag, the mash can go directly into any number of dishes, both savory and sweet: add a little cumin and chipotle and cilantro, and it’s guacamole; mash in a ripe banana and some cocoa powder and vanilla and honey, and it’s chocolate pudding. Or the avocado can just go directly into my mouth, because lemony avocado mash is a delicious accompaniment to all sorts of good meals.

The broth-offspring remix turns out to be pretty versatile, too. The second time around, instead of making separate dishes of carrot pudding and beef pate, I combined the two ingredients into a different sort of pate that gave me nearly two weeks of very flavorful protein that I could eat in a wide variety of ways. The first time, I ate it simply as a room temperature mousse, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and it was very satisfying not only because I liked the taste and the creamy texture but because I knew it was a reasonably good source of protein and a great way not to waste–you guessed it–leftovers. Unfamiliar to my palate and yet instant comfort food. Easy to fix even the first time around, too; the broth itself, while it takes a little forethought to stock up the slow cooker with the mix of veg and bones and spices that I like, just tends itself for the long cooking, other than the occasional stir to keep all of the ingredients dunked in the liquid. Straining the finished broth and picking out the parts takes some time, yes, but the process of recombining those parts into the new mousse iteration is really pretty easy and fast work, and getting a couple of weeks’ eating (or one big party’s hors-d’oeuvre spread) out of it is a rather fine payoff.photoBeef Ginger Mousse

This, given the leftover-centric nature of the concoction, was a truly approximate recipe. I used about 1 cup each of leftover beef bits/marrow and carrots from beef broth making, 3 tablespoons of clarified butter, 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 3-4 eggs, a sprinkle of salt, 2 tablespoons of ginger juice and 1/2 cup of the beef broth. I pureed it all thoroughly until it was the consistency of a creamy pudding, spooned it into buttered small casserole, set that casserole on top of a clean dish cloth in a larger casserole, set the rig on the middle rack of the oven, filled the larger pan with an inch of water, and baked it like a standard custard. Given my oven’s unconventional concept of temperature, I recommend to anyone attempting replication of this ‘recipe’ that you use your own time-and-temp standards for custard making and just watch the progress until the mousse responds properly when the pan’s given a slight jiggle. Lightly set, neither wet nor dry. Serve room temperature, or chill for future use.

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And soon, my friends, I will show you how you can use this mousse further in such repasts (the only term truly appropriate for feasts of leftovers, don’t you think?) as Ploughman’s Lunch and Cavegirl Quiche. I’m nice that way.

Foodie Tuesday: Something Completely Different

It’s not just a trademark Monty Python phrase; sometimes in cookery it’s worthwhile and enjoyable to veer off and say it’s time for Something Completely Different. I’m not talking about molecular gastronomy, because I have neither the knowledge nor the patience to imagine and execute anything quite so transformative, but it can certainly be useful and even tasty to rethink the what-I’ve-always-done approach from time to time.photoMaking broth as often as I do, I’m regularly faced with the aftermath of it in the form of tiny meat scraps, softened bones and mush-cooked vegetables and think it a pity to waste anything that might be salvageable. So a little while ago I got intrigued by seeing what I might do better with this stuff than merely throwing it out.

First thought was that bones are bulky yet biodegradable objects that, in a landfill, will take up a hunk of space there a lot longer than, say, those of a decaying creature left to the elements would do. And that, coincidentally, a soil amendment and critter-control element often required for good gardens is bone meal. So I dried out the bones thoroughly and set them out in a safely remote corner of the yard where the compost heap lives. Waste not, and all that.

More to the culinary point, I thought it silly to toss out all of the vegetable leftovers of the process when, though they will certainly have given up some of their nutrients to the broth, will probably also have gained some back from their fellow ingredients along the way, so they oughtn’t to have lost all of their nutritional worth in the cooking. The carrots are the only members of the party that haven’t mostly melted to nothingness in my usual broth process and can be individually retrieved, so I picked them out of the strained ingredients, along with a few small pieces of celery and onion, and pureed them with just a touch of added broth and a pinch of salt, and had a nice, faintly savory pudding.photoAdding some juice-packed mandarin orange segments (reserving the juice for later use elsewhere) made it into a really tasty little side dish of comfort food with very little effort. Warming some black raspberry jam and drizzling it on top of the pudding or swirling it in made it into an even jazzier little light dessert. The contrast of the punchy colors was matched by the contrasts in savory and sweet, in the soft pudding and bursting orange sections and the tiny crunches from the berry seeds.photo montageAll that was left for reinvention from the broth straining was the marrow and meat that, while not enough to make a meal alone, still filled a bowl with beefy goodness. It was clearly too soft to be especially attractive as a pot roast sort of thing, let alone a plated slice of anything recognizable as meat. PatĂ© came to mind. Heck, I’d already had the stick blender busy to make my carrot pudding, so why not put it to further use on the day? The beef bits, along with a couple of hefty tablespoonfuls of butter, a half teaspoon or so of salt, and a little broth to make it workable, got pureed into a smooth, buttery spread that waits in the freezer for the time when it will be thawed, chilled in a ramekin, and served with crackers or toast, cornichons and cocktails, just as though I were an ideal 1960s magazine housewife. Well, I grew up in the ’60s and I’m a homemaker; close enough.

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It may not look like much, but as a poor-man’s fois gras it’s dreamier than you might think. I like to think of myself in a similar fashion, ’60s housewife or not. Wink-wink.

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 1: Cheap Organizational Tricks

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A selection of inexpensive reusable plastic containers serves not only for food storage but for a multitude of small miscellany–kind of like my stomach and my brain, but probably in a far more effective sense.

Since I spent my anniversary hauling everything out of my kitchen cabinets, scrubbing everything down, and reorganizing about 90% of the kitchen’s contents, I shall give myself the pat on the back of showing off a bit. Mainly, in reality, because I was struck yet again on doing this necessary and not entirely unpleasant (thank you, Results) task at how much benefit is got from the process and how little it needs to cost besides effort and a tiny bit of ingenuity. The sort that comes from use and practice, in fact. And because when I rein in my high-end urges I often find it satisfying that my inner (and too often, very well hidden) miser can make a positive difference in my life.

Let me explain.

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In the lower cabinets facing the kitchen table, a ‘breakfast center’ of the simplest sort for guests who want morning tea, coffee, toast or cereal (the latter goes on the empty middle shelf when grocery shopping has occurred again!). At the bottom is a bucket of birdseed for our avian guest who might appear at any time on the patio just on the other side of the table, a box of lightbulbs and a seldom-used steamer dish.

The biggest thing about cleanup and re-org is that it satisfies my inherently neatnik soul. Though I crave tidiness generally, I can be as sloppy and untidy and dirty as the next person, especially when, as now, there are projects afoot–and underfoot. We are having some work done on a widely dispersed set of items that take the mess all around our house despite the majority of the individual projects’ being relatively small. A back door adjustment, where last month’s under-slab hot water leak led to re-plumbing the line to bypass the slab by going up and through the attic, which in turn led to the soil under the slab drying out, settling into the void left by the leak, and pinning the nearby exterior door frame shut. Removal of three horribly outdated and worn countertops and sinks and faucets in two bathrooms for replacement–and waiting, sink-less, for the new stuff to arrive. Getting the living room wall put back together after it was disassembled to run that new plumbing line down for reconnection after the leak about fifteen feet away was repaired. And pulling the old kitchen cooktop out to replace it with new.

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Another set of lower cabinets houses the large pots and the small appliances. It’s amazing how much putting a few of the latter into a clean, open-topped cardboard shipping box can do to keep the space from getting ridiculously cluttered by ‘floating’ parts and cords.

This latter, necessitated by the persistent crabbiness of the mistress of the kitchen about having a wildly un-level cooker, each burner skewing a different direction so that none could offer an even surface for a pan and finally, only two of the four actually, well, burning. So I was more than willing to forgo having any functional cooktop for the short term, thinking that it was not terribly different from having had a barely semi-functional one for the two years since we moved in here. Tomorrow we expect the stonemason and his crew to be in to install our new bathroom sink counters, and he will re-cut the cooktop opening to fit the slightly deeper configuration of the new appliance.

In the meantime, it was essential to pull out the drawers directly underneath the cooker for removal and replacement access. And there you have your ‘trigger’–the moment when it becomes clear that once a half-dozen dominoes of order have been tipped in the house, the rest will soon follow. As they did. The immediate effect of pulling out the drawers was a reminder that as neat as I can be at times, the world and our actions in it fill up the neatest of spaces with bits of detritus; things shift in moving drawers until they are nestled invisibly in odd corners and buried under other things, and stuff entirely forgotten as soon as it was put away and out of sight may be well past its shelf-life, if not the half-life of radium. In short: time to clean and reorganize thoroughly once again.

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Sometimes it’s the littlest things that please me most: having airtight plastic boxes to keep tea sachets together and fresh, and a cheap little plastic basket to keep the boxes proximal and easy to carry to the breakfast table, and a quick scribble on the boxes to remind me what the heck I’ve kept in stock–that makes breakfast time ever so much more relaxed.

Being a visually oriented magpie and loving things to look ‘right’ and living within moderate means can work at decidedly cross purposes from time to time. What I have begun to acknowledge as useful wisdom in my encroaching antiquity is that there are places I can compromise comfortably on having everything look (my definition of) perfect or designer-coordinated or fancy-schmancy or otherwise idealized. One simple rule for me is to remember that what is in a drawer, a cupboard or a closet does not get seen when the drawers and doors are properly closed between uses. If they are neat, clean and practical enough in their order for my purposes when open and in use, they needn’t be expensively or extravagantly stored, only tidily and securely. So although I may cock my glinting magpie eye with a tinge of lust at those magnificent custom closet installations and the exquisitely artful antique containers that fill some people’s pantries and the fantastic item-specific systems adorning someone’s million-dollar shed or garage, I look for a way to repurpose the extant and then ‘shop low’–look at the thrift stores and dollar-an-item bonanzas for bargains before I look elsewhere.

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Another tea-basket, this one with the sugars for visitors’ tea *and* coffee, lives by the first and by the one with the instant coffee–that, more for flavoring my cookery than for drinking, since most guests happily prefer using the French press or drip coffeemakers that I keep handy nearby.

Even this is hardly necessary for the quality of life. I know that plenty of people manage to keep their belongings in check by merely tending them carefully enough and placing them wisely enough that they are where they should be, in the required condition and easy to get and use at all times. I, on the other hand, find that grouping things with their fellows helps me immensely in having a sense of order and functionality and to survive the intermittent bombed-out adventures of a project taking over any part of house or life. So I love to find well-suited containers that fit the occasion and the objects and go forth from there with my space-arranging efforts.

To be Continued!