Sunday, February 7, 2010

A few notes on cooking and the joy of leftovers

Cooking is such a rewarding activity, which is a grand and glorious thing because I keep hoping that it is rewarding enough to get me away from eating a lot of processed and junk food, although I am sure that I will retain a few vices, such as potato chips and Coca Cola, no matter what tasty creations I manage to come up with in the kitchen.

Yes, I understand that cooking can be time consuming, and it's hard to fit in around a busy schedule of jobs and lives and kids and kids' lives.  Yes, I know that it can be difficult to find the energy after a long day at work to prepare a meal when it's so much easier to toss a frozen pizza in the oven, microwave a frozen dinner of some sort or order take out.  I won't even suggest turning off the television, walking away from the computer and making the kids put down the video game controllers and cell phones to help you.

I get it.  There are all sorts of reasons not to invest the time and effort in cooking, even if you do worry about what sort of additives and preservatives you might be putting into your body and the bodies of your family members.  But if you can only cook every now and then, at least think about the possibility of making enough at once -- either many portions of a single meal or even multiple meals -- to have enough left over to, well, have leftovers, a surprisingly rewarding by product of cooking.

Some people love leftovers.  Some people can't stand them but begrudgingly eat them rather than letting the food to to waste (or because their parents make them eat them).  Some people refuse to eat them under any circumstances.

Me?  I have learned to cook with the intent of leftovers.  Of course, that achievement is really not too difficult because I am generally cooking to feed one or two people, and most recipes claim to result in four or six or eight servings.  I suppose that I could do crazy things like halve the recipes, but for some reason I like to start with the proportions in the recipe.  Well, sort of.  Sometimes I actually end up with more because I don't have alternate plans for leftover ingredients, so it just makes more sense to throw them in, rather than risk letting them go to waste.

I make big pots of soup and freeze most of it so that I don't eat potato chips and Little Debbie snack cakes for lunch, or so that I don't go out for lunch and either spend money I don't really have or end up eating inexpensive but deadly fast food.

I love soups and stews because the portions are easy to freeze, as opposed to, say, steak and potatoes and green beans, and because the have a whole bunch of yummy ingredients cooked right in -- zucchini and potatoes and onions and beans and possibly some sort of meat -- and all of the ingredients happily melded together mean that very little seasoning, especially salt, is required.

Leftovers also offer proof that it wasn't my imagination that a recipe turned out well, and a little positive reinforcement never hurts.

Today, for example, I had another helping of the winter minestrone for lunch, sprinkled a bit of magic cheese (my term for a blend of parmesan, romano, asiago and I think one other cheese -- I buy giant containers of the stuff at a wholesale club, freeze smaller portions in ziplock bags, and put it in just about everything) over the top, and once again, yum!

Another sign that this cooking real food deal is becoming more of a regular, normal, natural part of my life is that I am getting better at keeping staples in the house, even if I did discover a lack of parsley while I was making the minestrones.

Someone brought us over a couple of nice steaks the other day.  One has already been grilled and consumed, but I decided that the other one needed some sort of wine sauce with mushrooms, so over to the cookbook shelves I went and found a lovely recipe for flank steak with red wine sauce.  (Yes, I know that the link takes you to a recipe for flat iron steak rather than flank steak, but I haven't a clue what the difference might be, and the sauce part of the recipe looks the same as the one I am going to use out of the book Giada's Family Dinners.)  No mushrooms in this particular recipe (although I found a recipe for a roast with porcini mushrooms which I would like to try the next time I feel the inclination to cook a large piece of beef), and I have not yet decided if I might add some anyway, but the really nifty part is that I have all of the ingredients, including a can of tomato paste.

My next challenge is to find a way to either use up an entire can of tomato paste or to store it in some useful way so that I don't end up with open, molding cans of tomato paste in my refrigerator.  Why is it that recipes call for so much less tomato paste than is in the can?  And it's not as if tomato paste comes in giant cans.  Well, maybe it does, but I only ever buy the little six ounce cans, and still most of it goes to waste.  Gotta work on that.

I still need to start a compost heap somehow, but for the moment I am opting for the delusion that biodegradable matter in landfills somehow helps aid the process of breaking down those things which really aren't biodegradable at all.

Ingredients only and minimal waste.  Those are the goals.

Edit to add: Maybe I was too enthusiastic.  Maybe I was on too much of a roll.  Maybe it's the stress of having to return to work tomorrow.  Maybe it is simply that preparing steak is not my thing.

The zucchini was nicely steamed, but the mashed potatoes were too salty, the steak was overdone in some spots and underdone in others and tough all the way around.  I forgot that preparing a steak in a pan requires WAY less oil than the recipe ever calls for.

The sauce that was supposed to go on top of the meat just tasted like red wine.  I had a lot of trouble getting it to reduce for some reason.  It ended up going down the drain.

Eventually I seemed to find a way to make the meal edible, but I was quite glad that I was only cooking for me.

I hope that the chicken in the crock pot turns out better.

Maybe another reason to enjoy making soup is that there is so much time to take corrective action as needed.

1 comment:

  1. You can freeze leftover tomato paste in small containers.