Tag Archives: Batch Cooking

How Firm a Foundation

A slushy, messy snowstorm began just as it was time to head out for Sunday afternoon errands. March was arriving like a very frosty lion. Still, we made all the stops we needed: groceries, pet supplies, and a new sink for the powder room were acquired without incident. In fact, our trusty Prius fared better than many all-wheel drive vehicles we saw sliding around.

Home and safe, unloaded, we set to work.

She stirred together a marinade of soy, Worcestershire, garlic, and spices in which a small London Broil was bathed.

I chopped aromatics while she browned some sausage; then the vegetables sautéed in the drippings. She added beef stock, water, and a simple-and-tasty red wine, red lentils, shaved carrots, and probably a spice or four.  The whole lot simmered, then chopped kale was added. Half an hour later, she asked how it looked.  I fought off the urge to stop what I was doing and eat the entire pot.

I’m not sure which spices or herbs she’d added to the soup, because I had moved onto my next project.  Strawberries had been on sale, but in a larger container than we usually buy. “Well, you could make shortcake for dessert,” she said. She may have been kidding, but I thought it was a good idea.  Besides, there was a little cream left in the fridge, and there is a new immersion blender. Whipping the cream was a snap. I added a little powdered sugar and a drop of vanilla to the whole batch, served a bit of it sprinkled with cocoa powder as a treat for her, and stowed the rest in the fridge.

I made a batch of biscuit dough, dividing it in half and adding a little sugar to one portion. I was improvising, here, because I had forgotten that the actual shortcake recipe is slightly different than the one for biscuits. I patted out each section of dough and used different sized cutters to differentiate the ones for shortcake from the unsweetened biscuits. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to make a breakfast sandwich on a sweetened biscuit, but the first bite might be a little strange. Both sets came out well, though a little darker than I’d intended, due to an oven-timer-setting error.

She scrubbed and roughly chopped some potatoes and set them to boil. When they were tender, she drained the pot, added butter and sour creme, and “smashed” them with a potato masher.

“Should I do the lamb now?” she asked.

Ground lamb, cooked in a tiny amount of oil and spiced heavily with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and paprika, will be topped with toasted pine nuts and accompany a batch of hummus made from the chick peas that spent hours in slow cooker. Scooped with bits of pita or crackers or really good toast, it’s one of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes.

I said she should go ahead. The kitchen was so fragrant by this point that one more batch of something wouldn’t make me any more likely to swoon than I already was.  Besides, I was pretty sure that once we cooked the steak, the day’s cooking events would be all over. Better to delay gratification a little and finish our homework.

She cooked and drained the lamb, and set it aside to cool, but we decided to make the hummus another day. She went off to fold a load of laundry while I turned my attention to tonight’s dinner.

I heated the cast-iron skillet, adjusted the temperature of the still-warm oven to 325F, and removed the steak from its marinade. It wasn’t a huge steak, but it was too long to fit in the skillet.  She cut it in half using the chef’s knife she was still holding after washing; she washed the knife again–probably the sixth or seventh time it had been washed during the afternoon–then dried it and finally put it away. I seared the steak on both sides, then slid the skillet into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. And checked to be sure I had set it correctly.

While she folded a load of laundry, I got the chef’s knife again to trim a bunch of asparagus–then washed and dried it and put it away again again. The asparagus was wrapped, burrito-style, in a moist paper towel, and microwaved for a minute. We reserved a quarter-cup of the marinade when putting the steak in the rest of it; this reserved portion went into a skillet to reduce and be fortified with a bit of butter. While the sauce-to-be did its thing, I washed, hulled, and sliced some strawberries–using a paring knife for a change–and sprinkled them with a little sugar and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

Halving the steak had a side benefit: I could cook the halves to different temperatures.  The rare side came out and was tented with foil to rest while the rest stayed in the oven for another few minutes. When the second half came out and began its rest, I stirred the pan juices from the steak into the sauce, wiped the skillet and used it to slightly brown the par-cooked asparagus.

It was, at long last, dinner time, and the first time either of us sat down in many hours. We had juicy, spicy sliced steak, a mound of smashed potatoes, a lineup of intensely green asparagus spears. And the makings for lunches and quick dinners for days to come.

We enjoyed a little Sunday evening television, pausing during what would have been a commercial break save that we watched streaming video rather than broadcast TV for dessert assembly and kitchen tidying.

Late nights of work and rehearsal, takeout food, and exhaustion had left us a little dietarily grumpy last week. We had resolved that this week would be better, and Sunday was the foundation on which that resolution would stand. We didn’t end up listening to the audiobook she’d suggested. I’m sure there are plenty of things we didn’t get done, but we also didn’t cook so much food that anything is likely to go to waste. Even if we weren’t completely ready to face every challenge the week might present, we were well-fed, and we had spent the day in each other’s company. The snow might have stopped falling by this point.  We didn’t look.

All the Things

All the things: (Back row) Sausage and kale soup, chickpeas, spiced lamb, shortbread and biscuits. (Front) London Broil (rare and well-done), steak sauce, smashed potatoes, pan-grilled asparagus, whipped cream, macerated strawberries.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert. All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert.
All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

Preparations

The snow has started.

It’s not going to stop any time soon, either.  We’re in for a serious winter storm.  We’ve had barely any measurable snow so far this winter, so I guess we were due. Not much chance it will fall only on the green parts of the world. We’re expecting somewhere between a foot and a ridiculous amount of snow, and hoping that the electricity stays on.

We both came home from work prudently early, while trains were still running and roads were clear enough for safe passage. Since then, I puttered in the kitchen and stocked the woodpile; she did what she does: she’s been writing email copy for a message that will be sent from her work account tomorrow. She helps raise money to shelter, feed, and support homeless children.  What better time to send such a message as to be read by people who’ve already hunkered down, warm and safe in their homes?

The fireplace is set.  The flashlights have batteries, and candles are at the ready. There’s plenty of cat food and litter-box filler. Prescriptions have been refilled. We have blankets and warm clothes.

And, of course, food.

A batch of pulled pork came out of the slow cooker.  She made chili. We’ve got cold cuts for sandwiches. She baked cranberry bread last night, and I have a loaf of No-Knead about to go into the oven, now that a batch of granola has come out. There are baked potatoes. Greens. Eggs–some hard-boiled, many ready for omelets or scrambling. There’s a cast-iron pot and skillet in case we need to press coals into service for cooking.

We probably ought to remind ourselves that there are only two of us, and that we live on an emergency route.

For reasons probably related to the barometer the bread dough was a sticky mess, but at last it’s in the oven and I’m not banging about. Tapping of laptop keys, the furnace blowing warm air, the cats’ fountain keeping their water fresh.  Outside, a plow truck scrapes by occasionally, sounding a little like a low-passing aircraft.  Beyond that, the world is still and silent. When the sun rises we’ll see what’s become of the world, but for now there’s the eerie calm-during-the-storm, the held breath of the pretty well prepared, and the waiting.

Long before the storm

What Would Laura Do?

Every year, she reads Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, a story of hardship during seven snowy months in South Dakota. The coal runs out, the woodpile expires, and food is scarce, but the heroine and her family survive.

We’re a week away from the start of winter, but, even more than usual, ’tis the season of work-nights and event-nights; ’tis also the week in which renovations will reach the open-plan living room and kitchen. The combination of late hours and a fine layer of plaster dust on every surface can be as daunting as the forecast of a blizzard. It’s the sort of schedule that demonstrates incredible potential to leave us ordering lots of takeout food or ending up with pints of ice cream and spoons on our nightstands. We wanted to avoid those contingencies for obvious reasons of economics, nutrition, and just plain good sense.

While I was at work last Sunday, she prepared a menu and a shopping list; we marketed together, and then we spent the late afternoon and evening chopping and cooking and packaging.

I spatchcocked a chicken and roasted it. The backbone went into the slow cooker along with onion, celery, and carrots to make stock. When the chicken cooled enough to handle, we ate a little and distributed the rest. The breast meat went into a curried chicken-and-rice soup that was more like a stew. The dark meat was tossed in a bowl with celery, grapes, pecans, shredded spinach, and a not-at-all gloppy dressing to make a bright-but-hearty salad–the sort eaten with a fork, not spread for sandwiches. The rest of the bones then joined the stock. The last of a loaf of Italian bread from her favorite bakery was toasted into croutons that she mixed with ground beef and pork, spinach, and goat cheese to make a meat loaf that is way more interesting than anything I grew up with. Root vegetables were roasted to accompany them. The chicken’s giblety-bits were sautéed with onion, red pepper, and a few grape tomatoes and packed with the last bit of rice for one day’s lunch. Crisp, sweet pears were softened just a little with a bit of water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a cup of cranberries from the freezer, then tucked into triangles of pie crust and baked into turnovers for breakfast, with a pot of overnight oatmeal for alternate mornings. The house smelled fabulous, and nothing was wasted.

By bedtime we knew we’d miscalculated a little: the fridge was stocked for a family of four rather than two, but that’s a better problem than the other way around.  There’s enough variety that we haven’t gotten bored with our choices.   The power wasn’t disturbed and the home microwave is in good working order (as are the ones in our workplace kitchens), so breakfasts and lunches were well-organized and we never felt helpless to do anything but call for pizza delivery.

The calendar shows that our next seven nights will be just as busy as the last. And now that the ceiling has been repaired, the painter will start on the kitchen and living room walls. It’s time for her to start reading her yearly reminder of courage in the face of adversity. But we have electricity, insulation, and we live along an emergency route to a hospital; in case of a storm, our street will be cleared of snow right away.  If they could survive that winter, we can make it ’til Christmas…

We didn’t have time for a cookathon yesterday, but the toaster oven is set up in our office, and I could put the slow-cooker on my dresser. We can hitch up the wagon and get to town for provisions before The Long Winter sets in. There’ll be more daylight soon, day by day. There’s no cause for despair.

Domestic Pas de Deux

Now and again, she gives me an impromptu dance lesson.  It happens as we’re walking along an uncrowded street. She’ll take my hand and raise hers and all of a sudden I’m in mid-spin.  The first dozen or so times this happened, I was as clumsy as could be. I’m getting a little better lately–not so much at the spinning as at recognizing the signs that it’s about to happen.  I hardly ever stumble, and I know she’d catch me were I ever to start to fall. Occasionally, the turn even approximates something dance-like. Sometimes, the lesson is more formal; usually in the kitchen where there’s plenty of floor space for a little waltzing.  We seldom do more than a few one-two-threes, but I haven’t crashed into any furniture or bruised any of her toes. Yet.

She can follow or lead. She’s apparently somewhat in demand in her folk-dancing community, where there seem to be fewer skilled leaders.  I don’t mind following, since she knows what she’s doing and I’m still learning–and I know that both partners in a dance have important roles. She’s a better teacher than I am student, but that’s because I’ve been an accompanist much more often than a dancer. I haven’t quite gotten over my shyness about dancing, but I will.

Fortunately, either of us can lead or follow in the kitchen.  I’ve done most of the leading lately, so I was happy to let her take charge as our holiday continued. She pored over a favorite cookbook and was forming a plan. The object was to make  hearty fare, especially in case we ended up with an unexpected and heartbroken houseguest.  A secondary objective was to use only ingredients that were already on hand. Thus, while happily staying in sous chef position, I suggested against recipes that called for a lamb shoulder, a whole turkey, or a big hunk of beef. Or, for that matter, more than two eggs or the cup of milk that would remain if we reserved enough for this morning’s coffee and tea.

I was a less effective kitchen aide than I could have been, owing to frequent but brief interruptions for chats with our friends in the aftermath of the weekend’s dramatic events. But nothing burned, no knuckles got scraped, and no emergency trips to the market were required. The refrigerator is organized, free of a few items that were unfortunately past their prime and well-stocked for the week. And we dined well.

The skillet rice that is one of her favorite dishes was tasted but otherwise left to cool and packaged for lunches: sausage and sautéed vegetables enveloped in sticky rice, sweet with tomatoes and warm with cumin. Southern Green Beans are nearer to a one-pot meal than a side dish, long and slow-cooked with potato and chicken stock. The recipe called for bacon; we used bacon fat and the last of a stick of pepperoni. It’s not quite the same, but no market runs! Leftover chicken subbed in for a freshly-portioned broiler-fryer; smothered in a mushroom and onion gravy, with timing adjusted to account for the chicken having been cooked already, it was ready in almost no time.  A handful of sautéed turnip greens will be fine accompaniment to a sandwich later today.  The first slices of zucchini bread that may be future breakfasts were a post-dinner treat while we strategized the evening.

Cooking All the Things

Skillet Rice, Southern Green Beans, Smothered Chicken, and Zucchini Bread. The hard part was not eating everything at once.

There was no long walk, as had been originally planned for purposes of errands and exercise.  Instead, the post-half-marathon cross-training consisted of moving furniture and packing some boxes for storage.  A very tall bed (two mattresses atop a foundation, but with no pea tucked beneath) is now in the freshly painted master bedroom, even though new flooring won’t be installed there for another couple of weeks. An improvised padded headboard protects the pretty wall behind it, and the bed’s sturdy cherry frame is dismantled and stowed. The guest room is empty and ready for painting. There’s nothing we don’t really want or need at hand, yet we haven’t put so much away that it appears we’re living in a temporary space.

Lead and follow changed place many times over the course of the day, without tension or stress, as easily as shifting weight from one foot to the other.  A choreographer might have been pleased.  By the end of the long, productive, and restorative day, we certainly were.