As I mentioned in my last post, for the next two weeks I’ll be cooking for only three again. This time it’s Louisa who is missing from the family table. Can you tell what a pro I’ve become at adjusting my meal planning? I don’t even twitch much when I have to turn my brain to a new set of cooking parameters. I am family cook, hear me roar.
The timing of her absence couldn’t be better since we’re converting the kitchen into one that’s vegetarian. With her absence, I can use up all of the meat that’s lurking in the freezer. I need to check behind bags of frozen peas, bagels, fruit, and other freezer treasures, but I know there’s meat just waiting to be used but which has been forgotten. While I hate defrosting meat before cooking (it takes so much attention to get it right, and not let it turn grey around the edges in the microwave), I have sometimes purchased extra when it was on sale, or just in case I didn’t have a chance to do a fresh shop the following week, or on occasion I purchased an amount that was more than needed for a particular recipe.
At first I expected to see what meat turned up as I dug through the freezer treasures, and then find a recipe to use it. But it was so much easier to just think about what other ingredients were lurking in the pantry and refrigerator, and make up something on the spot.
The first day I pulled out a pound of my favorite spicy chicken sausage from Whole Foods. I decided to turn it into a pasta dish, using the two large batches of white chard I had purchased the previous week in my vegetarian enthusiasm, but which we had never gotten around to using. I think my initial thought was to use it as a side dish, but after chopping up the vegetables for the main meals, I had no energy left for extra vegetable prep, and it was kind of unnecessary anyway. I had planned to grill the sausage first, but the weather was iffy, and I didn’t have the energy to remove the grill cover that is a barrier to spontaneous cooking. Yeah, yeah, I know it keeps the grill looking nicer, but it’s another step in a process that I’m already attempting to expedite. Therefore, the sausage was browned in a frying pan on top of the stove and finished in the oven. In the meantime, the chard was sautéed with some chopped garlic and olive oil and the pasta was cooked in a separate pot. If Louisa had been home, most likely there would have been extra crushed red pepper flakes added to the chard, but without her to appreciate the extra heat, I decided to go easy on Annie. Instead, I added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano from the garden. The whole mess was tossed together with some reserved pasta water to create a little sauciness. In hindsight, this was a healthy meat based dinner. Those new vegetarian habits are already taking hold.
Last night I decided to use up some ground beef from the freezer by making tacos. I had every ingredient I needed, except for sour cream to top it. Easy enough to pick it up in my very small shop at the supermarket yesterday. I already had both flour and corn tortillas in the refrigerator, romaine that was in danger of spoiling, a half pint of cherry tomatoes that were beginning to wrinkle, but were still sweet and absolutely edible if you ignored the texture, and 4 ounces of cheddar cheese. I also snipped some fresh cilantro from my herb bed – unfortunately that’s probably the last I’ll be harvesting since it’s turning to seed already. I sautéed the ground beef with a small minced onion and a diced half of sweet red pepper (which I found lurking in a corner of the refrigerator) in a few tablespoons of olive oil. I added a teaspoon of ground cumin; a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper (would have been more for Louisa); and two teaspoons of salt. Once the meat was cooked through and the onion softened, I added a can of rinsed and drained kidney beans, an addition I don’t usually make to my tacos. Again, that vegetarian thought process is already sinking in.
These tacos were as good as ever, maybe even better with the addition of the beans.
I love cooking free form like this, freed from the tyranny of recipe instructions. How about you?