What Unbored Cooks Know that Bored Cooks Don’t: Trash Can Be Treasure
More than helpful food preservation know-how turned up at a talk last week by Eugenia Bone, author of Well Preserved (Clarkson Potter 2009) and the Denver Post’s Well Preserved Blog.
I’m on a “travel quest” these days, not necessarily to faraway places, but simply to new places and/or new experiences. So last week I traveled to Denver’s magical Botanic Gardens (all of 30 miles away.) The Gardens alone were a treat (memo to file: when April’s dark days get me down I’m heading to the Gardens for a cheap tropical thrill.) Better yet, however, was a lively talk by Eugenia Bone.
As Eugenia is a food preservation expert, I wasn’t surprised to reap a treasure trove of know-how on capturing the season’s bounty for the cold days of winter. I was delightfully surprised, however, to learn how strategic food preservation can also be harnessed as a tool to beat boredom at the dinner table.
Long-time newsletter readers know that beating mealtime boredom is a common theme of mine–and for good reason: Boredom is the #1 mealtime barrier for countless people. Time after time, a well-intentioned home chef gets lured into dialing for takeout, just because she’s tired of making the same old thing!
That’s why I’m always on the hunt for boredom beating strategies, and Eugenia shared a good one. Not surprisingly, it revolves food preservation, but not in the usual sense, i.e., Aunt Sue putting up 48 quarts of tomatoes to last until the next tomato harvest. Eugenia’s definition of food preservation is far more liberal, encompassing a wide range of food combinations, preserved in many ways, for anywhere from a week to a year.
She might make a fresh mayonnaise and store for just a week, oil-preserved zucchini that can last two or three weeks, mushroom stock that can be frozen for months or a tomato chickpea side dish that is good for a year. The key to her boredom beating strategy lies in using up whatever bits and pieces she finds around the kitchen, whipping up creative concoctions, then preserving them in small batches. Then she’s perfectly situated for boredom-defying meals.
When dinnertime rolls around, she simply heads to her refrigerator, freezer and cupboard pantries and starts mixing and matching. Here’s one of the many creative (but easy) meals she described: Chicken breasts with a frozen wine reduction, complimented by the canned tomato-chickpea dish and maybe a simple green salad with fresh mayonnaise dressing.
Here’s the key takeaway: Trash can be treasure. In other words, what un-bored home cooks know that bored cooks don’t, is that some of the best flavor in the kitchen comes from leftover bits and pieces that most people would pitch. Use those bits and pieces immediately or go one step further by transforming them into creative preserved foods that add easy pizazz to later meals.
- Happily, Eugenia brought up the wonders of leftover duck fat, so now I can safely mention how I use leftover bacon grease or lamb drippings (just a tablespoon!) to saute onions and other vegetables , imparting all sorts of delightful flavor for very little in the way of calories.
- Two days ago, faced with a few strawberries and apricots on the verge of rotting, I took Eugenia’s advice and blended up a Fresh Fruit and Herb Salad Dressing (recipe in next post) that was so good, my mixed greens needed only a little canned chicken for a superb lunch.
- The leftover broth from that canned chicken got cooked with a batch of sauteed tofu. You wouldn’t have believed it was tofu!
- A bit of leftover brine from feta cheese went into the garlicky zucchini and pulled the whole dish together–for no calories
- This morning, more apricot puree got mixed with ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar to top a fast stir-fry with greens from the garden. (See my Vegetable Queen Twitter column for more fast ideas like these.)
But wait, there are more benefits of bits and pieces cooking! Besides delivering really interesting meals, it saves money by preventing waste and providing free flavor. Saving tasty tidbits from landfills and garbage disposals also helps save the planet. Finally, to the extent you preserve the local harvest, you can eat locally year round–as I’m going to do by saucing and canning the last few of my local apricots to make Apricot-Curry Dressing in the middle of winter.
Filed under: Cooking, New Kitchen Culture, Pantry Know-How, Uncategorized, Waste Not-Want Not, Whole Kitchen | Tagged: Cooking Inspiration, Eugenia Bone, Food Preservation, Green Cooking, Local and Sustainable Eating, Mealtime Inspiration, Sustainable Cooking |