Monday, February 20, 2012

Queen Of The Leftovers

Spaghetti Carbonara?
I know, you can't really see the eggs, but they're in there.  Along with some duck breast prosciutto scraps taking the place of bacon/pancetta or whatever other flavorful, salty, cured meat is hidden in that spaghetti.  After slicing our Duck Breast Prosciutto we ended up with scraps because, wow! that prosciutto warms up quickly!  I froze the scraps and later, while drooling over some cookbook photo of spaghetti carbonara, I decided to turn those leftover duck prosciutto scraps into an exciting dinner based on the traditional favorite, Pasta Carbonara.  The prosciutto provided a nice fatty, salty flavor for the pasta.  I sauteed some locally raised shallots in the fat before adding the spaghetti and local fresh eggs.  And it tasted divine even if the photo didn't do it justice.  I wish I had cracked one final fresh egg over that hot dish.  Delicious. You see,  I could never let those sliced prosciutto scraps go to waste...they had potential as "leftovers."

And that is one of the reasons that I think one description of me could be "Queen of the Leftovers."  I actually feel, sometimes, like some reincarnated memory of the Great Depression, a memory that comes from a farmer, from the kind of family in which my Grandma was raised in upstate New York.  I know that she was poor and the effect was a thriftiness that lasted all her life.  Somehow, she passed some of that on to me, especially when it came to home life.  I am a re-user of household stuff.  Old T-shirts become dust rags, old, but still good fabric becomes patches, old sheets cover my crops in possibly freezing weather, old towels have numerous applications, and the list goes on.  I don't make rag rugs, but I really like the idea of them.  But I digress, because what I'm really, really good at is food leftovers.  Leftovers as meals.

Wild goose breasts in pork fat
My husband complains that we never have first overs.  He thinks I scout the neighbors for leftovers.  Sometimes he's right.  Last year, my friend, Mark, gave me six wild goose breasts that an acquaintance had given him.  Since they were skinned, I knew they would be drier than usual so I had to think of a good way to use them.  What process could be better than to confit them?  I didn't have any goose fat but I sure had a lot of rendered pork fat so it was an easy task turning them into confit. After a month in the fridge, we tried two of the goose breasts and they were still dry. Unfortunately, they also had some buckshot in them.  I thought about tossing them but that thrifty saver inside of me said "no, let them sit longer in the fat."  We tried them again at three months and they were still somewhat dry but the next two had no buckshot.  My hopes rose.  Finally, after six months we tried the last two and they were moist and delicious.  My husband's had one piece of buckshot but it didn't take away from how good the goose breasts tasted.  Dang good leftovers from friends!

Pancetta, shrimp, and fava bean pasta
During my year of Charcutepalooza I found many uses for the leftover portions of a bigger dish.  Pasta dishes came easy to me.  I love the combination of a salty, cured meat product with shrimp, roasted, ground fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, and a vegetable.  Using the pancetta seemed a perfect combination to the shrimp and fava beans resulting into a complimentary blend of textures and assertive flavors.  Some extra heavy cream pulled everything together as well as leaving a light but luscious coating on the pasta.

Head cheese made it into several different soup dishes including Yellow split pea and Navy Bean soups. I also loved using it for Head cheese hash. To me there is some unexplainable affinity between poached eggs and head cheese, so that became an easy Sunday breakfast.

Sausage, by far, is the easiest leftover.  I love the choice of the various kinds of sausage I made last summer during the year of Charcutepalooza.  With all those choices calling to me from the deep freeze, I knew we would be eating lots of sausage this past year.   From cabbage stuffed with merguez sausage, to mac 'n cheese with garlic sausage, to Italian sausage sandwiches, to pasta sauces filled with a variety of sausage flavors to just plain sausage on the barbecue, all that homemade frozen sausage is wonderful to have in the freezer and it certainly fulfills my junk food obsession for sausage.  Plus, aren't I using leftovers....

I make stock out of any leftover bones, fat, and meat.  I save herbs from my garden and use them all winter.  I do have some fresh herbs in my sunroom, including rosemary, bay, and lemon verbena, all plants that I have to over-winter indoors.  I can jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, butters, sauces, and even dried morels.  And it doesn't stop there.  After using a nice, fresh vanilla bean in my version of David Lebovitz's poached pear dessert for the Charcutepalooza finale I had to save the vanilla bean.
Spicy vanilla bean sugar
After removing it from the liquid, I allowed it to sit for several days until it dried.  I assumed it had become infused with the other flavors .  For the leftover version of all that spiciness, I stuck it in a canning jar filled with sugar. After a month of infusing all that spicy goodness into the sugar, I could already catch the heady aroma of that dessert.  I figure that by saving the spicy infused vanilla bean it means I can pick up my crown for Queen of the Leftovers.  And wow! that sugar sures tastes good in my morning bowl of oatmeal....

Spicy sugar oatmeal

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wishing For Tomatoes

Tomatoes for roasting
These tomatoes are what I'm longing for.  It is now February and we've endured weeks on end of either 20F or 30F weather.  It has also been a rather "brown" winter without much snow- only enough to not melt on our few sunny days.  The remaining snow, and any melted snow, now freezes everyday which requires ski poles, skill, guts, or those little chain ice-walkers.  I'm beginning to feel like a cow yearning for the fresh grass of springtime.  I keep looking for signs of chives, usually the first green to grow in my garden, and so far my search has not been fulfilled.  I think I'll order seeds and let the growing begin.

Yes, I've been absent for the past month or so.  Fall semester barely ended before Christmas and when that happens my favorite holiday seems to whoosh by.  I spent most of my vacation time updating classes and preparing for the spring semester.  I also worked voraciously on my book business.  Then my computer caught a virus so I spent several days performing a system recovery.  Actually, the recovery part was easy but all the updating was tedious.  My next computer will definitely be an Apple.

I have not stopped cooking.  For Christmas eve dinner I made sugo d'anatra, a duck ragu.  I'm still missing the skin that I assumed would be on my locally raised ducks and I thought the ragu would at least keep the duck moist.  It did and it was delicious!  For Christmas, since there were only four of us for dinner, I cooked my locally raised chicken, from the same source as the chicken I used for that time-consuming but fully-worth-it Chicken Galantine.  That is something I never would have made without Charcutepalooza.  And it was so good, that I will definitely make it again!

Spicy Noix de Jambon
Right after Christmas I also bought another pork leg and proceeded to make some new noix de jambon.  I made three "real" noix de jambon, then I experimented with roasted, ground fennel with garlic as well as a spicy jambon.  I made two each of both ideas on some smaller cut noix.  The fennel became too gritty so next time I would do it with whole, fresh fennel seed and garlic, although I'd be worried about bacteria forming because of the raw garlic.  For the spicy noix de jambon I coated it with Spanish smoked paprika and cayenne.  Needless to say it was hot and delicious.  The three regular noix also turned out yummy.
I've been rummaging through the freezer, cleaning out those products with expiring dates.  Needless to say, I'm just about out of sausage so that is on the calendar.  I've added leftover pork pieces (from the not-so-capable butchery of two pork legs) to risottos and pasta dishes.  I even added some pork, instead of beef, to a wintry batch of borscht.  The borscht did much more than double duty because I used up last summer's beets, carrots, and cabbage as well.  With some duck breast prosciutto scraps I made a carbonara and the list just goes on and on. 

My birthday is coming up in April and I'm already thinking about a Chicken Galantine....  We'll see.  Usually for my birthday I give myself the gift of making a very difficult dessert that I haven't made before.  One year I even made Sherry Yard's six layer Dobos Torte that she made for one of  Wolfgang Puck's famous Oscar parties.  Wow!  That was not only delicious but also great fun!  I don't know what will happen this year but the ideas are simmering on my brain's back burner....galantine, pork pie, head cheese....