Saturday, June 9, 2012

Follow the Move: Cooking Down

Cooking Down

More than the obsessive purging, or the cleaning of items like garden tools, humidifiers, dehumidifiers before they’re packed and shipped, or the detailing of our car before it is (hopefully) sold, more than nearly anything else associated with our pack out my kids detest the “cooking down” phase. This phase when well executed, will reduce the items in our pantry to a manageable amount that can then be passed along to unsuspecting or very supportive friends.

When we left Norfolk nearly three years ago at the start of this overseas odyssey, our kids staged a mini-rebellion refusing to eat another dish with any kind of beans, even if it did include cheese, tomatoes and cilantro. This time around I thought I’d be more prepared. I’d start the process further out with seemingly plenty of time to work in those beans without encountering another mutiny.  

Taking Stock.
4 16-oz cans of pumpkin
1 pound bag dried red beans
1 pound bag black eyed peas
1 box of manicotti pasta
1 box of lasagna noodles
2 16-oz cans northern white beans
2 2-lb cans tomatoes
2 16-oz cans black beans
3 containers steel cut oats (2 unopened – 20 servings each!)
2 large cans Alaskan Salmon
2 2-lb bags of brown basmati rice
2 packages of rice noodles
1 container of Israeli Couscous
2 packages of soba noodles
1 lb bag of bulgur …

And the list continued.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband came in one morning to find me sitting on the floor with my legs all splayed out, canned goods stacked up and surrounding me.
“Are you okay?” he asked, with his signature one raised eyebrow.
“Yes” I replied, “I’m just trying to figure out what I can make this week for dinner that will use up the most items in our cupboards. Why?”
“Umm, well wasn’t sure if you’d fallen down or something …” he trailed off as he slowly backed out of the kitchen.

Use it or lose it.
Kitchen weight can account for a large portion of your weight allowance and since I’d much rather have our weight go to say some beautiful piece of Japanese pottery than 4 pounds of brown basmati rice, the cooking down phase is in high gear.

I’ve been able to use up most of that bulgur. Having no earthly idea why I would have purchased it in the first place I went searching through my recipes to find something that I thought would be palatable to this crew of mine. Who knew? I discovered a recipe from a friend of mine, which may have been why I purchased this item in the first place. The dish has been not only a hit with the home crew but also at a social function where I brought a dish to share.

When trying to figure out if I could kill two birds with one stone with the brown rice and the red beans I had another hit – three thumbs up.

Of course, I’ve had some misses too, the manicotti dish was a hit with only one teen and the Rachel Ray White Bean and pasta dish I made subbing in the soba noodles for regular white pasta was a total miscalculation no matter how much parmesan cheese was sprinkled on top. The teenager taste buds did not seem to care that I had the buckwheat noodles on hand. Through my 60-day quest for recipes in the house that everyone will eat, started more than a year ago, I was able to make Salmon Cakes that took care of 2 cans, and Pumpkin Soup that took care of another.

The pantry is slowly shrinking and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s leaving us with more room for the items we will treasure, like the bowls we purchased from Mashiko before the events of March 11, 2011 had a devastating effect on this pottery town.

With a few more unexpected hits to add to my quest for 60 and more room for the items that will matter long after the food is gone, I’ll be headed back to the kitchen trying to eliminate more items and that leaves me inspired.

Bulgur salad with Feta and Pine Nuts
4 servings

1 cup bulgur
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts (due to a nut allergy I used toasted pumpkin seeds)
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (I used red-wine vinegar)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta
2 shallots minced (I used a bit less)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used maybe 1/2 cup - didn't want too much parsley)
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, diced
4 roma tomatoes, diced
1 head of Boston lettuce torn into large pieces

1. Cook bulgur according to package directions.
2.  In a small dry skillet over very low heat, toast pine nuts until golden. Whisk together lemon juice and oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Drain bulgur in a fine mesh sieve, pressing to remove excess liquid. Return to bowl, add feta, shallot, parsley, cucumber, and the dressing. Place lettuce leaves on a plate and top with bulgur salad.

Refried Beans
From Fall 2009 Cooks Illustrated

3 cups cooked pinto beans
¾ cup vegetable broth
½ tsp salt
1 small onion, minced
1 jalapeno chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced
½ tsp ground cumin
2 medium garlic cloves minced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsps lime juice

1.      Puree 2 cups beans, broth and salt in a food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add remaining 1 cup beans and pulse until mixture is slightly chunky, 10 pulses. Set aside.
2.     Sauté onion about 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and pepper, cook for 1 minutes. Stir in pureed beans, reduce heat and cook until beans are thick and creamy.
3.      Remove from heat, stir in cilantro, lime juice and salt to taste.

Mexican Rice
From Fall 2009 Cooks Illustrated

2 medium ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, quartered
3 medium jalapeno chiles
2 cups basmati brown rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ tsp table salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges for serving

1.      Cook rice in rice cooker according to package directions.
2.     Process tomatoes and onion until smooth and pureed, about 15 seconds. Transfer to 2 cup measuring cup. Remove ribs and seeds from 2 peppers, mince and set aside.
3.      Add oil to skillet and quickly sauté garlic and minced jalapenos, about 1 minute. Add rice and pureed tomatoes, tomato paste and salt. Slowly add in the vegetable broth until liquid is absorbed.
4.     Mince remaining pepper and stir into rice with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

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