Thursday, February 4, 2010

Part 2, Lesson 4: Freezer Staples

Part 2: "I Don't Know Anything About Food"
Lesson 4: Freezer Staples

Have you ever heard the word "mirepoix" (pronounced "meer-pwah")?  It's the flavor basis of a ton of food.  It's 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, and 1 part carrot.  You can do endless things with mirepoix.  Chop it up in large pieces and put it in with a roast.  Add it to stocks and broths for soups.  Saute it and add to rice with some herbs for a quick side dish.  Deglaze a pan with wine after panfrying meat and add mirepoix to make a sauce.  Mirepoix is the foundation upon which to build flavor.  And it's freezable.  It's nice to have a bag of prepared medium-diced mirepoix handy to throw in a quick dinner.  It's homemade convenience food.

Similar to mirepoix is the Cajun trinity in which the carrot is replaced with green bell pepper.  This is so good when put into scrambled eggs in the morning and wrapped in a tortilla with cheese. 

We already talked about beans last week.  You can buy a pound of dried beans for around one (US) dollar or less and get the equivalent of four cans of cooked beans out of it.  Considering some canned beans can be upwards of $3 a pop it's a pretty good return on investment.  Beans are easy, but most of them need to be soaked overnight or boiled and soaked for an hour before you can get to the real cooking.  If you can remember to soak your beans before you go to bed you can simply drain the soak water and throw them in the crock pot with fresh water in the morning.  Or soak several pots of beans overnight, then drain, refill, and cook them all at the same time on the stove the next day.  If you portion them out 2 cups at a time into quart-sized freezer bags and freeze them flat you'll be in bean heaven for weeks or months.  It's so easy to pull out a bag, defrost it quickly under running water or in the microwave, and toss it on a salad.  Or in a burrito.  Or a stir-fry.  Or bean dip.

Ice cube trays are one of the most versatile pantry tools you can have in your arsenal.  Freeze cubes of leftover stock, broth, wine (leftover wine, LOL), chopped fresh herbs (barely covered in water), egg whites, and tomato paste.  When they're frozen, pop them into bags.  If you measure chopped herbs into two tablespoons per cube and tomato paste into 1 tablespoon per cube you're ready for nearly any recipe that calls for these ingredients.  And isn't that better than using a couple of sprigs of parsley or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and letting the rest go to waste?

Speaking of broth, you can make your own easily by keeping a broth scrap bag in the freezer.  Veggie ends and peels that you would normally discard go into the bag.  This includes onion and garlic skins, zucchini peels, carrot ends, tomato seeds, vegetables about to turn bad that you're not going to use, and fresh herbs that aren't going to get used.  This all makes a great veggie broth.  If you use chicken broth a lot, put chicken bones and scrap meat and fat into the bag.  Or use beef bones, pork bones, turkey carcasses from Thanksgiving, or seafood bones and shells.  Once the bag is full, put it all into a big pot of water and simmer 1-4 hours (or longer!), skimming off the foam periodically.  Or put it in a crockpot on low for about 10 hours.  Cool, then transfer to bags or containers (I like 2-cup portions) and freeze.

Master File 4.  The meal plan is below.  I included a meat recipe for you omnivores because it would be almost criminal to mention mirepoix and not pair it with meat.

  • Vegetarian Black Bean Chili           
  • Cajun Macaroni           
  • Roast Chicken           

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