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Crazy Cooking

July 21, 2011

Mrs. Fussy has had a profound influence on me over the many years we have spent together. But it goes both ways. I was very proud of her the evening when she noticed the distinctive smell of dish soap on Raf’s wineglasses. She’s no longer just the simple country girl I met and fell in love with all those years ago.

I’ve changed too.

In my bachelor days, when I was cooking for one, I would put leftovers away in the refrigerator. And in the refrigerator they would stay, until they rotted. The same went with odds and ends of ingredients. My refrigerator was a den of decay.

But now, waste has somehow become a vile and loathsome thing. We do not waste food. And while I have plenty of strategies to achieve this at home, ordering 12 banh mi sandwiches with ADS really pushes me to the limit. For the record, he is perfectly fine with waste, and thinks I should be too.

I mention all of this for a few reasons. We are going out of town soon, and thanks to our awesome CSA (which regrettably did not supply us with more huitlacoche this week) we have tons of fresh food in the house that needs to be used. To make matters worse, I just picked up a fresh eight-pound Berkshire pork belly. That is in addition to the rest of the food in the fridge that will be rotten by the time we return.

Something must be done. Luckily, we have a plan.

Unfortunately that plan has me doing a crazy amount of intense cooking during the hottest week of summer to date. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Yesterday’s dinner was a Thai green curry (from a pre-made paste, although I did supplement with freshly ground coriander and cumin) with tofu, carrots, eggplant and potatoes. The dish was garnished with lime, cilantro and basil. To go with that was brown jasmine rice and a giant heap of the filthiest salad greens ever. In the heat of the summer, I do not use my preferred brown rice cooking method. Instead I stick it in the oven, where at least it doesn’t generate so much steam.

But back to the plan. The curry only uses up a tiny bit of basil, and we have a bunch of it. So while dinner was cooking, I had a little side project of making “pesto.” I’m putting it in quotation marks because there were no pine nuts in the house so I used walnuts. I can feel Marcella casting me disapproving glances from far away.

Just a friendly seasonal reminder: if you are going to freeze pesto, your results will be better if you omit the cheese. Simply grate it and mix it into the defrosted pesto by hand when you are finally ready to use it.

Once dinner and the freezer “pesto” were put away, it was time to start the next round of cooking projects. Namely, the eight pounds of pork belly needed to be portioned, and a pound and a half of it needed to go into char siu marinade that was inspired by Albany Jane’s recent post.

I cut the belly into various eight ounce and sixteen ounce portions, vacuum sealed them, and put those gorgeous chunks of meat and fat in the chest freezer.

The marinade was simple enough, and I’m really looking forward to wrapping up slices of sweet and salty roast pork belly in lettuce leaves with some bean thread noodles. I’ll even get to char up some scallions to go in my little lettuce pockets. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and the kids should love it. Although we’ll need to have a salad with the meal too. That’s just how it goes.

What I neglected to mention was that as I was portioning the pork, I was also cooking two pounds of dried chickpeas. You see, we have all this fresh parsley, a little bit of oregano, a cucumber or two, and the end of a piece of feta. And all those ingredients just called out for a cold chickpea salad. But first I needed the chickpeas. At least I could boil and simmer those on the stove with a lid on the pot.

So the point of all this is to not waste food. Remember those garnishes from dinner? The lime, basil and cilantro? Well, they didn’t all get used, so they ended up in my evening cocktail. The lime muddled hard, the herbs muddled soft, mixed with a healthy dose of gin, a splash of good ginger liqueur, and shaken with plenty of fresh ice.

Some might call it a Thai martini. But a Thai martini would just be gin and vermouth enjoyed at some bar in Phuket. No, this was a leftover cocktail. What I’ve learned is that leftovers don’t have to be some painful exercise in frugality.

That was just yesterday.

However, my work is never done. I’ll need to make a few batches of kale chips, actually assemble the chickpea salad, and find something to do with a lot of summer squash. And even that only takes care of the produce we got from the CSA. Then there are the other perishables: the yogurt, the milk, the cheese, the tortillas.

Ultimately there will be waste. It’s really unavoidable. But we’re doing the best we can to keep it to the bare minimum. And while it may be a little bit crazy, I actually think it’s a lot of fun.

One Comment leave one →
  1. AddiesDad permalink
    July 21, 2011 10:48 am

    I certainly admire your pluck and stiff-upper lippedness (?) to undertake such ambitious cooking projects in this heat, but it does seem like a bit of bad planning, unless this is a last minute excursion. Certainly, the tortillas and the cheese can be frozen (it may not be 100% the same after, but better than waste, no?), you could have skipped a week of the CSA, or donated the produce to a shelter (which may be a good idea for the squash).

    I find the garnish cocktail inspired, however. Good luck on the cooking!

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