Thursday, May 29, 2008

Casserole love

God I love casserole, I am pretty sure it is one of the best culinary inventions EVER! Casseroles as we know them now were invented during the depression and stayed popular during WWII as a way to stretch tight supplies and create hot filling meals out of very little, guess what? It still works, no canned cream of mushroom soup required! I have been making most of my casseroles from leftover pasta and grain dishes that were a little liquidy when I first made them, all you do to make those is put the leftovers in a casserole dish, cover with grated cheese and bread crumbs and back until browned on top in a 350 degree oven. If it looks too dry, pour some milk or wine on it before baking. I guarantee you this is better than slimy leftover pasta from the microwave. The other kind of casseroles I make are ones that incorporate the cheap (or free if from our yard) seasonal local vegetables from our farmers market in new ways, there are only so many times one can eat sauteed kale. Here is a recipie that can be made any time of year but for us in North Carolina is perfect winter food, mostly because it incorporates about everything we have in the winter.

Southern Winter Casserole
1 large bunch greens (kale or chard)
2 large sweet potatoes or yams
1 block firm tofu
1/2 onion (sweet if you have it)
Garlic (we use 6-8 cloves)
olive oil or butter
sherry or other white cooking wine
Casserole pan (oven safe)
Bread crumbs

For tofu marinade
soy sauce
worstershire sauce
Olive oil
sherry/ beer whatever
Honestly, whatever you like to marinate tofu in)

First, press tofu and mix up marinade to taste, cut tofu into 1/2 inch slices and cover in marinade mixture, let sit.

Roughly chop onion and garlic, cook onion in 1 tblsp butter/ 1 tblsp olive oil until transulcent, add garlic halfway through. Chop sweet potatoes into smallish peices and put in steamer. grease casserole pan and chop greens. When onion is translucent splash with sherry and stir to deglaze. add greens into skillet and cover. sweet potatoes should take 15-20 minutes. Take them out and put in mixing bowl, see if you can mash with fork, add milk until texture is right (smooth and mashable), garlic and salt, mash with fork or empy beer bottle until mashed potatoes, I like to leave the skin on for texture. flatten mashed potatoes into bottom of pan, add steamed greens/ onion/ garlic mixture in 2nd layer. arrange tofu slices on top and cover with bread crumbs, bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, serve when ready, will benefit from rest and stay warm for up to 20 minutes.

Food is not expensive if you don't waste it

In the last weeks the news has been full of reports on how expensive food is, filled with stories of Americans buying packaged crap because they "can't afford" organic or whole foods. The global food crisis is real, no doubt, people are hungry in many parts of the world as well as in the United States. As a graduate student getting by on less than 15,000 a year I know things are hard. That is why I am going to share with you all what we do when we roast a chicken in our house so that none of it gets wasted. We bought 1 all natural happy chicken from whole foods for 7 dollars, it was 1.69 a pound and weighed about 4 pounds. I realize meal 1 is probably not a weeknight meal for most people (unless, like us, you eat at 9 pm) but could be good on sunday and the remaining meals are definitely weeknight friendly.

Meal 1 (chicken recipie taken from Alice Waters simple food)
I brought the chicken home, took out its giblets pack, discarded most exept for the neck, which will return later ( a mistake, they should have become gravy, but I don't like raw chicken organs).
I rubbed the chicken with salt and pepper, filled the cavity with fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary, stuffed rosemary and garlic under the breast and thigh skin, wrapped it back up and wenat about my day.
I took the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, let it get to room temp. while I preheated la oven, cut up some potatoes, sweet potatoes and garlic, threw those in a casserole pan and put the chicken on an improvised rack on top. I roasted it breast side up for 20 minutes while I went to the drug store, came back, flipped it, roasted it breastside dow for 20 minutes, flipped one last time and roasted breast up again for 20 minutes, then I let it rest for 15.
I served it for 3 with the potatoes cooked in the drippings, salad and a pan gravy made with drippings, red wine and garlic reduced in the oven. It was my cousins birthday and a festive and delicious meal.

After dinner, pick the carcass clean and put it in the fridge with the neck, put all the meat in a separate tupperware.

Meal 2 Chicken salad
Take a fork and shred leftover meat into bitesizish peices, add enough mayonnaise to lightly coat, mustard, garlic and paprika to coat and serve in sandwiches

Meal 3 and BEYOND
Place chicken carcass and neck in stock pot with vegetables (we use veggie scraps we save in a bag in the freezer to have on hand, if you can afford it by all means buy veggies just for this, entirely unnessecary) and a " bouquet garnis" (herbs either tied together (if fresh) or tossed in. cover with water. Simmer on medium heat, checking to make sure water does not boil for 4-6 hours. You do not have to look at this or pay attention to it at all during this time, you could check and skim off fat, or do that when you cook with it. strain out chicken and veggies and you have enough homemade chicken broth for ages, we usually take about 3 months to go through ours.

This is all the joy you get out of 1 "fancy" chicken for 7 dollars, we saved about 3 dollars each on storbought chicken salad sandwihiches, also had a straight left overs meal and made enough stock for 9 or 10 soups or recipies that need stock. Considering fancy organic chicken broth goes for about 1.50 a container, this is a considerable benefit.
Anyways, saving food might be a theme for a while, stay tuned for a post on the art of the leftover casserole..