|The BBLT - a beefy take on a classic sandwich|
With just four weeks to pack up our house before the big move to the Philippines, I've been cramming as much of my kitchen as will fit into the few boxes already stuffed with our worldly goods bound for Asia. Given such limited space, I had to make some tough choices - a stick blender, mini food processor and handheld mixer made the cut, but my ice cream maker, crock pot and Kitchen Aid mixer did not. The last was a particularly painful sacrifice soothed only by Mr. Noodle's promise to purchase a new one some time* after we've settled in Manila. *Actual duration unspecified.
|Before the Great Pantry Raid|
It was a disappointment of my own design, thanks to a pitiless compulsion to amass food for their potential as future posts, not for any immediate or specific need. As a result, jars of obscure fruit preserves languished in the cupboard, odd cuts of pig or cow hibernated in the freezer and product samples loitered in the pantry as they waited for dormant inspiration to awaken and turn the blog spotlight on them. But I postponed using this trove of novelty ingredients, holding out for perfect occasions that never seemed to materialize.
Well, what could be a more worthy event than moving pup and parcel to the other side of the globe? So, in between endless hours of packing and cleaning the house, I resolved to use good food that might otherwise have been discarded. The ensuing dishes were often made without benefit of a recipe as I simply tossed together ingredients that I hoped were complementary. Happily, the end results were on the tasty side of edible.
A Parade of Empty-Out-the-Pantry-'Cause-We're-Moving-Out Dishes
From specialty meats to a cannonball of Filipino cheese to jarred vegetables and canned beans, there were ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry that I simply couldn't bring myself to give away or throw out. Behold, then, the fruits (and sandwiches, stews, frittatas. . . ) of my labor:
BBLT - Beef-Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
Bacon purists may scoff, but one bite of these non-porky rashers will have any naysayer mooing with delight. Thinly sliced brisket is smoked to flavorful perfection by the Wemier family at Bar 5 Meat and Poultry, resulting in Beef Bacon that is worthy of a place in this classic sandwich.
Cannellini with Lamb Bacon, Marinated Artichokes and Roasted Piquillo Peppers
Bacon madness doesn't end with the porcine and the bovine. Say hello to the agnus - lamb, that is. Once again, Bar 5 is bar none when it comes to strips of smoky meat goodness. It was love at first sight when I spotted lamb bacon at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market; it became an obsession when I used it in Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Chopped and sautéed, the last carefully hoarded package served as the flavor base for a hearty stew of canned cannellini beans, marinated artichoke hearts and roasted piquillo peppers, perfect for our last Minnesota autumn meal.
Lamb. Tomatoes. Pasta. Need I say more?
Teriyaki Goat Chops
Knowing your grower helps to assure the quality of the food you are buying and to support the continued success of local producers. Best of all, you will meet the most fascinating people. Such was my experience with Darryle Powers of Blue Gentian Farm in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where he and his family raise hormone- and antibiotic-free heritage breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and goats. During a visit to Darryle's stand at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, I couldn't resist picking up these Boer goat chops. With equal parts mirin (sweet rice cooking wine) and organic soy sauce, I made a simple teriyaki sauce to marinate and glaze these grilled cuts. For an accompaniment, I topped steamed rice with a sample of Crisp Onions sent to me by Seneca Foods, for an extra bit of flavor and crunchy texture.
What to do with a big ol' can of crab meat? Grab some eggs and make a frittata! In a cast iron skillet, I sautéed diced onions until soft, added the crabmeat, then poured a mixture of half a dozen eggs well-beaten with milk, a couple of tablespoons of flour and seasoned with salt and pepper. That, in turn, was topped with diced tomatoes, chopped basil, and some grated queso de bola (see Cheesy Apple Chip Muffins below). Popped it all into the oven at 350° for 7-10 minutes and out came a satisfying meal.
Important note: Do not make a seafood dish the night before a scheduled showing of your house unless you're well armed with air freshener.
Tako Tom Kha
Before making this dish, I made sure that no potential homebuyers would be coming through our doors for at least 24 hours. A package of frozen tako (baby octopus) was intended for making the popular Japanese dumpling snack called takoyaki in my aebleskiver pan. By the time I remembered it in my freezer, said pan had been packed away for the Philippines. Instead, I gently boiled the little suckers, then added them to a coconut milk sauce made with a packet of tom kha mix, and served it with a generous scoop of long grain sticky rice. This was Mr. Noodle's favorite of all the improvised dinners.
Cheesy Cinnamon Apple Chip Mini Muffins
There was a lot going on for such tiny muffins, but then again, I had a lot of ingredients to use up. To a basic muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour, I added ground cinnamon and skipped the usual streusel topping for one made with crispy Apple Chips (again courtesy of Seneca Foods) and some grated queso de bola, which is the Filipino name for Dutch Edam cheese. This red wax-covered ball of cheese is de rigueur for a proper Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) feast in the Philippines when it is traditionally served with hamon (a dry-cured glazed ham), and pandesal (a soft, slightly sweet bread roll). But its sharp flavor also enhances the taste of baked and steamed rice delicacies like bibingka and puto bumbong and seemed just the right touch for these quick apple and spice muffins.
Last but not least . . .
Sweet Cornmeal Cake
Given the long search all over the Twin Cities to find masarepa, a pre-cooked corn flour used in making the South American flatbread called arepas, I wasn't about to ditch the unused portion left over from my Arepa Dumplings foray. For my last baking hurrah, I settled on a version of Bolo de Fubá, a Brazilian breakfast cake made with a very fine cornmeal flour called fubá, for which masarepa seemed an appropriate stand-in. By this time, my kitchen was almost entirely clear of food and cookware, so I made use of what remained, necessitating some minor changes* to this basic recipe (or click on the link above for a super-charged coffee-and-caramel version from Natasha of 5 Star Foodie). The result is a moist yet delicately crumbly sweet cake - perfect with coffee, tea or a side of warm chocolate sauce.
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup masarepa*
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated milk*
1 teaspoon baking powder
*Denotes ingredient or quantity substitution from original recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating them well into the mixture after each addition. While mixer is running, add masarepa, flour, milk and baking powder, and beat well. The resulting batter will be much like a soft cookie dough. Spoon the mixture into a greased and floured loaf or 8-inch square pan, smoothing it into the corners, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature*.
*I found that leaving the cake in the pan and covering with tin foil keeps it well for a couple of days, while refrigerating tends to dry it out. If this happens, microwave servings for 10 seconds on high power.
A Final Note on My Minnesota Kitchen
I consider myself a proficient cook, skilled enough to put together satisfying meals each day, but I owe much of my confidence to the dream kitchen in which I had the pleasure of cooking for three filling and fulfilling years. It was more than just stainless steel appliances, granite surfaces and cherry cabinets. It was the space in which I felt most competent and creative, nurtured and nurturing; where I could stir a simmering sauce in solitude, or share a bottle of wine with Mr. Noodle while he waited in hungry anticipation for dinner. As I wiped down the counters and turned off the lights for the last time in that wonderful kitchen, I thought of all the nourishment it had provided me and Mr. Noodle, and I could manage only a whisper: Thank you.