16 March 2007

... The Wife Will Play

The Husband has been away this week attending the SeLinux Symposium in Baltimore. I am not sure how much he has been enjoying himself, but I have been having a fine time. In the past few days, I have: reorganized our bedroom closets and made a trip to Goodwill; ironed an enormous pile of wrinkly cotton things and visited the dry cleaner; denuded the bathroom fan of its furry pelt of gray goodness and bleached the grout; shredded forests of paper and tidied my bit of the office; made one of The Husband's birthday presents and drawn up a quilting plan.

Yes, a plan. Basically, every other Friday I will go to my mother's and I will work on x project until it reaches y stage and only then will I leave my mother's to grocery shop and clean the house. Quilting is what I want to do, but housekeeping and food shopping is what I tell myself I need to do. If I keep doing what I think I need to do, then I will never get any quilting done and I will feel pissy the entire time I am flitting about the produce aisle.

To keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I am sticking to small projects such as simple quilted place mats and table runners. Nothing even as big as a wall quilt. Not yet. Maybe, over the summer when I have full weekends off, but then I will work every Friday and so won't be able to quilt with Mom and ... crap. I could quilt on my own, but I'm not half as productive on my own as I am with other people.

Anyway, place mats and runners. I love place mats, but the one's from the shops never seem to last as long as I would like. So I will make nice, sturdy, washable quilted cotton ones and our table will be all purty and shit. And, maybe, we'll stop using it as the Table of Holding and eat off it more than twice a week. I would l like, on the nights I am home for supper, to sit down at a tidy dining room table with set with candles and place mats and eat like civilized folk. We used to. We used to have candles every night and the table ends were not stacked high with papers, books, and bits of mail. Now, we eat in front of the television or amongst the heaps of detritus. It is disheartening. We are civilized. We are grownups. Surely, we can pull our shit together and act like it.

12 March 2007

Cookbook Talk: Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer

Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer: Great-Tasting Meals You Can Make Ahead by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell, and Bonnie Garcia (Revell, 2005)

In late December, I was in the process of changing jobs and worried I would no longer have time for menu planning or meal preparation. Our evening meal was likely to become a slapdash affair more heavy on convenience than nutrition. I had heard of "freezer" or "Once a Month Cooking" (OAMC) before, but never been inclined to try it ... until early January, when I decided that between a work-free week and a near empty basement freezer, I could surely build some frozen assets.

The first book I consulted was Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer: Great-Tasting Meals You Can Make Ahead. I chose this book first largely because it was one of the newer freezer cookbooks in my library system with an excellent circulation rate. I know, that a high circulation rate just mean patrons are checking the book out, it doesn't mean they are using it, but that rate still made the book a better choice than another OAMC book which hasn't circulated since 1992 ...

Don't Panic provides a good introduction to freezer cooking. It covers everything from how to prepare for shopping to how to store the finished product. The recipes, all pretty basic, cover everything from appetizers to brunch items and dessert and can all be easily doubled or tripled (instructions for doing so are part included with each recipe -- no guesswork). The equivalency chart makes a nice extra for those of us (me) who are known to come back from the grocery store having failed to purchase one thing we really needed.

Sadly, this book does not come with pictures and the index is not very good. I don't buy and prefer not to use unillustrated cookbooks. While I know my dishes will never come out looking quite like those in the picture, it gives me a reasonable idea of what the dish ought to look like and, therefore, something to aim for. The index ... it is very brief and annoying. It has been arranged by chapters and, within each chapter, alphabetized by subject. Indexing by ingredients would have been much more understandable and useful for this reader.

But what does it all taste like? Not bad. I made four recipes in varying quantities and some were good enough to repeat while others were quite forgettable. With this kind of cooking I'm not certain how much I am supposed to care about taste versus how much I am supposed to care about taste as much as ease of preparation and reheating. Yes, everything was dead easy to prepare and reheat and there is great joy in that. Yet, if it doesn't taste good then why go to the trouble?

The first dish I prepared was for "Chicken ala King." As it was my first recipe, I made the smallest quantity listed ... and it made so little that it wasn't worth freezing after the amount of work involved. Sadly, the dish came out very bland and watery (maybe some of the liquid would have been absorbed when freezing?). I thickened the sauce with a little cornstarch and that fixed one problem, but the blandness ... the sauce should have been rich and creamy! I was annoyed and threw in a bunch of garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper until it seemed more palatable. I served the chicken up in buttery little pastry shells and that seemed to make it all taste better, too.

When I made the "Taco Soup," I tripled the recipe. We are soup eaters, after all, and I was feeling pretty optimistic about this recipe. I used beef broth rather than water and more of it than called for as the soup seemed very thick. The soup froze well as most soups do and reheated just fine, too, but I added extra broth to the pot when reheating as most of it had been absorbed. This was a very hearty and warming soup with lots of beans and just a little heat. Excellent with cornbread and green salad.

Next, I tried "Chicken Cacciatore." This was a very fast and easy dish to prepare. I froze two breasts per bag and added in a little extra sauce with each, because I was concerned about the chicken drying out when reheated. This dish actually thaws and reheats in the slow cooker -- quite a nice idea, I thought. However, I might shave an hour off the cooking time for the next bag as the first one came out a bit mealy tasting which (I presume) is from overcooking the chicken. The sauce was pretty watery, but we ate the cacciatore over rice and wateriness didn't matter so much. It could easily be thickened with a little cornstarch. I will say I have made other slow cooker cacciatores which came out better than this, but they didn't go straight from my freezer to my slow cooker ...

Finally, I made "Beef Stroganoff" and it was ... eh. The sauce, as suggested, needed thickening. The overall flavour and texture was not particularly remarkable. Indeed, those frozen Banquet Crock Pot Classics Meatballs In Stroganoff Sauce taste a heck of a lot better and are just as time-saving.

I am a bit disappointed the best recipe turned out to be one for soup as batch cooking and freezing soup is nothing new to me, but I'm glad I finally tried freezer cooking. At the very least, I tried something new and have half of freezer of food to show for it.