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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Freezer Challenge

My freezer is full. We also have a small chest freezer in the basement, which is not full, and I was fixin' to move stuff from one freezer to another when I realized my folly. If I moved all this food to the basement freezer, I would forget it there and I would have to throw it out in 6 months - thus negating the point of keeping it all in the first place.

The solution, and the challenge, was to make myself build our weekly menu out of what we have in house - refrigerator and pantry included. What I actually will end up shopping for (minus the basics like juice and lunchmeat and Oreos) will fit in a hand basket. It was kind of fun! It was like when I was a cook and I would have to come up with dinner specials. You work with what you've got, and you turn it into something interesting and (hopefully) delicious.

Here's what I pulled out of the freezer;

1 plastic container of bean & bacon soup
1 loaf of crusty rosemary bread
1 boneless turkey breast; marinated in garlic, dill, and IKEA lemon salt
1 vacuum-sealed bag of chili squash with black beans and quinoa
1 box of breaded eggplant cutlets
4 salmon fillets
1 # ground beef
4 chicken legs
2 bags of pizza dough - one wheat, one herb

Here's my menu for the week;

Monday - bean & bacon soup with warm rosemary bread (see what I did there?)
Tuesday - pan seared turkey breast with Crispy Kale and Tofu Salad (I actually already had everything for this meal!)
Wednesday - squash, black bean, and quinoa burritos with salad
Thursday - eggplant parmigiana, whole wheat pasta with aglio olio
Friday - crispy salmon with greens and noodles
Saturday - Breakfast For Dinner Party at our friends' house, so I'm bringing sausage and cheese bread made with the frozen pizza dough
Sunday - (this is the day I cook a more elaborate meal than the rest of the week) truffle stuffed chicken legs in puff pastry. I guarantee I will end up changing this recipe.
Monday - I don't know what to call this dish, because it's basically homemade Hamburger Helper. This recipe is the closest I could find to what I make.

I have to get a few things, like mushrooms and beef broth, but there it is. I also pulled a few bags of turkey neck and chicken gizzards out of the back of the freezer, so I'm gonna make some stock!

I keep a gallon sized zip bag in my freezer, and as I cook I throw all the odds and ends of vegetables in there instead of down the disposal. You want to keep things like celery bits, carrot peels and ends, onion, scallion, and leek scraps, even apple peels and cores. Mushroom stems add a nice "meaty" taste that the Japanese call umami. I tend to avoid cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, and other stinky vegetables. The taste will overpower everything else in your stock, and won't be as useful as a base if the taste conflicts with he rest of the dish.

I also keep chicken and turkey gizzards and carcasses. If I roast a bird, I'll hang on to whatever is leftover. If I buy bone-in breasts or legs and end up de-boning them, I keep the bones.

The key to a deep, rich stock is easier than you think. First, roast the ingredients. Throw them in a roasting pan at 425 degrees - I would say maybe an hour? If you're dealing with a big frozen chunk, you may want to go longer. Transfer to a stock pot or crock pot. Add a few bay leaves, a small handful of peppercorns, some fresh herbs ( I buy the "poultry mix" in winter, in summer I grab handfuls from the farm. You may want thyme, rosemary, parsley, savory, things like that). I don't salt my stock, I salt the dish that I use the stock in, but feel free to add some salt too.

Cover the ingredients with water, I'd fill the pot as much as you can. I always do mine on the stove so that I can control the temperature, but if you're using a crock pot just turn it on and walk away. If you're doing it stove-top; bring to a boil, turn it down low, then partially cover and walk away.

After it starts to boil, you're going to notice a grey foamy scuzz thing happening. Skim that off and chuck it. It's not dangerous, but it's impurities from the bones and you want to clear it out of there.

You can simmer for as little as two hours, I leave my stock on for a LONG time. Like, overnight.

Very carefully strain the stock, using a colander, into a large bowl or container. Throw away all the solids, they've done their job. Line the colander with cheesecloth and strain again. This will get rid of all of the weird little sediment that's hiding out in there. Put the bowl in the fridge for a few hours, and the fat will rise to the top and solidify - making it easier to de-fat your stock. Once that's done, your stock is ready to use!

If you're not using it right away, there's a couple of solutions. Ambitious people could can it, I freeze mine. I divide into quart size zipper bags, label and date them, and pop them in the freezer. Another good idea that I use sometimes is to pour some into ice cube trays and freeze. Then you can dump the cubes into a container or baggie (so as not to get confused and ruin your martini), and that way you have small amounts of stock for things like pasta dishes, or cooking ramen in, or whatnot.

Remember - official food safety rules say that frozen stuff is good for 6 months. Time to throw out the leftover boiled dinner from St. Patrick's Day 2008, kids.


Jennifer said...

I actually tried making homemade stock for the first time a few months ago and we're STILL eating it. My freezer is pretty tiny so I think I have to scale it back next time and maybe only go half as much.

I liked this post. I think we both must be doing some new year cleaning, because I am emptying out my freezer as well! I found two lasagnas and pastitsio in there, surprise! :)

Holly said...

My ex would occasionally make huge batches of stock and then freeze them in huge containers. So if you wanted to say, make soup, you had to make a TON of soup. I learned my lesson and make reasonable amounts now. Better to keep it fresh anyway.

I am cleaning like a mofo! I'm even organizing my closets. It is crazy, Jenn, I tell you.

bugsboysandbooboos said...

Winter Blues has got everyone cleaning and reorganizing their lives! I need a freezer for the expectant crop of this coming season. And yes, I saw what you did there. :)

Holly said...

Dude, I put the whole frozen chunk of soup in my crockpot, turned it on and was like BOOM. DONE.

Then I laid on the couch and watched Bones for 3 hours because I have The SADD.

I hate winter.

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