Thursday, January 30, 2014

Garbage Gourmet Challenge #1

For shi*s n giggles I posted this challenge to my FB feed:

"Dear "Friends" - as some of you might have noticed - I'm doing a weekly cooking blog "GarbageGourmet" (coz it's currently focused on using leftovers in creative and delicious and EASY ways). I'd love if y'all would check out your respective refrigerators and let me know WHAT'S IN THERE RIGHT NOW. I will then endeavor to come up with a viable and delectable recipe. The more detail you can get me on what you have on hand the better - but I'll work with whatever info you send me."

Almost immediately, my good friend Jim Testa replied:

celery, carrots, cooked pinto beans (I cook dry beans in a pressure cooker and keep them for salads and soups), leftover gumbo, leftover chili.

and my response was:

[suggested music: Mighty Sparrow, Volume Two (this is a best-of on Ice Records - most of these songs got re-recorded when Van Dyke Parks produced the incredible Hot & Sweet for Sparrow)

(assuming the carrots were raw; if they're cooked, adjust accordingly) cook carrots (I'd chop in half and steam for 20 minutes, or you could boil em); then cut in quarters lengthwise, then chop into quarter inch bits;
* put 1 TBSP cooking oil in good sized pot (i.e. that you'd make spaghetti in) and put heat on medium;
* dice up celery fine and add; if you've got an onion, chop fine and add (or omit if you ain't got - but add 1 tsp onion powder if ya got that around); saute till vegetables soften ( 4 min.?);
* depending on yr tastes you can add 1 TBSP oregano, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp basil OR 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp red pepper (cayenne is nice, but pepper flakes should do the trick, and 1 tsp hot sauce (whatever ya got) - and saute that all for about 1 min. to unlock flavors (you could also throw in 1 TBSP vodka and let it cook off - that'll unlock spice flavors too);
*add 1 cup rice (white, brown, whatever ya got) and saute that for 2 min.;
*then add either chicken stock, or water and bullion cubes, or a can of consomme (+ water to make 2 or 2 1/2 cups as needed) - if you use white rice use 2 cups liquid and cover and cook dis mess up over low heat for 20 minutes - if you use brown rice use 2 1/2 cups liquid and cook for 45 min.
*When rice is done cooking dump yr beans on top, cover and simmer another 5 minutes. If ya got any leftover meats around - or seitan for that matter - cube it an add with rice. If yr adding seitan, I'd saute it to brown it first.

Obviously I'm assuming y'all have cooking oil and basic spices around.

No pix of this coz it's all in my head!

If anyone else wants to play this game -- tell me what's in yr fridge and I'll give ya a workable and easy recipe.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gumbo? Oui, Ja!

Howdy! First installment of this blog was heavy on the autobiography and the recipe was a simple one, very easy to follow. Hopefully I've given y'all some idea of why I go about day-to-day food prep the way I do. And gave ya a chance to try your hand at a recipe that's readily done right. Now on to something a bit more involved.

Chicken and sausage gumbo to me is a peak of the Garbage Gourmet ethos - the bulk of important ingredients are things that most people throw in the trash and in fact wind up generating two important ingredients - rather than just simply using one thing you have on hand as is. It's almost like a realization of the mediaeval principle of "Spontaneous Generation."

This particular process DOES take a bit of long range planning, yet it's not really complex. It's a good exercise in mindfulness (i.e. being aware of the long range repercussions of any given present action)

But the basic ingredients are pretty basic and you should have em around the house or can purchase on the cheap; they'd be
left over chicken on the bone
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 stalks celery
some flour
hot red pepper
garlic powder
a bay leaf
cooking oil
optional - andouille sausage, kielbasa, smoked sausage etc.

This looks long and involved but really all you're doing is
boiling up some chicken bones and pulling the meat off the bones (which can easily be done a day or two, or even a week or two, beforehand)
and then sauteeing some flour,
chopping and adding some veggies, stirring in some chicken stock
dumping in pre-cooked chickenv (and maybe adding some sausage if you'd like)

The process starts by saving up leftover chicken including various bones that have already been eaten offa and the "Carcass" - i.e. rib cage etc. I always have a bag going in the freezer that leftovers go into after making dinner. If you roast a chicken, dine and then put away leftovers you'll likely disarticulate 'em i.e. take apart and stash" drumsticks, wings, thighs, breasts etc. You'll be left with the carcass and that's the first thing to go into the freezer; if you roast a chicken and aren't making immediate use of the pan drippings, I highly recommend you pour those off into a container and freeze. If you're boning a chicken to prepare a dish like Southern Fried Chicken, you're also left with the carcass. On subsequent occasions when you make meals out of the thighs etc. - when you're cleaning the table put those bones and any meat scraps into your freezer bag. Frankly, I do this even when we're eating out - i.e. ask for a go-box for all the leftovers - even if we're talking Buffalo wings. (and while you're at it, take any leftover celery too! It'll come in handy - and otherwise it's becoming landfill). So here's a little mindfulness -- that you've finished a nice dinner out and you're now thinking about issues like ecology, world hunger, gratitude for being prosperous enough to eat out, blah de blah blah blah.

Chicken Stock - this takes about 10 minutes labor to get going and probably 20 minutes labor after a couple hours of untended cooking
ingredients: Ziploc bag fulla chicken bones and meat scraps
1 coarsely chopped onion (med. to large; doesn't really matter)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oregano
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
(you could add more vegetables for added flavor or if you've got some that are one step away from composting in order to use 'em up - but it's not really necessary for the recipe)

*Once you've got a bag (I used the Ziplocs that are about 10" x 12" - sorry I can't quote the quart size - but it's one size up from what you'd stash a sandwich in) full, it all gets dumped into a pot fulla water - no defrosting necessary. This would be a pot you'd normally make soup, boil spaghetti in, etc. - yr standard large cooking pot.
*Turn the heat up high
*and add vegetables and spices
*Bring this to a boil and then lower heat and simmer about 2 hours, covered.
*After 2 hours, turn the heat off and let it sit and cool off at half hour.
*Next, strain all this shiz through a collander or big strainer, reserving the liquid.
I'd recommend letting the solid stuff sit for another half hour or so to cool off.
*After which y'all pick all the meat off the bones and collect that in some sorta container; I typically separate the solids into several piles - one would be the edible meat, one would be the bones, skin, gristley bits and the last would be the vegetables. The bones and scrapcs go outside into a bowl for the local fauna (possums, racoons, feral cats, crows) to partake of (clearly you don't do this if you've got coyotes or bears in the general vicinity as ya don't want them to adopt your house as their default buffet -- and wind up eating yr cats or dogs when you don't stock said buffet). The vegetables go into compost - tho if you were gonna use this stock for soup you could chop or puree them and put em back into the stock.

This gig can happen any time you've got free time. Me, I work a 12 hour day Mon - Fri with lotsa weekend activities. So if I've got a full bag, and about 30 minutes to spare that day, I'll undertake this part of the process and freeze it.

Gold Outta Straw Gumbo

music recommended: Rebirth Brass Band "Kickin It Live" and "Take It To The Streets"

7 cups of chicken stock
all the meat scraps you picked off de bones
1/2 cooking oil or chicken fat - or a mixture of the two
1 1/4 cups flour (honestly use any kind you favor -- yes, spelt and whole wheat and white will all taste different -- VIVA LA DIFFERENCE - use rice flour or something if yr gluten intolerant) 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (I've got all this fancy-ass red pepper that Sam Phillips sent me from the Spice Station in Silver Lake that's right groovy - but if you wanna keep it down-low Bahia brand will do nicely)
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 medium bell pepper
OPTIONAL - a ring of andouille sausage or kielbasa (I don't eat pork and use chicken or turkey sausage)

WHEN I've got time to do some real cooking (or need to make the time to center my fevered brain) I'll take the meat and stock out de freezer whilst I'm making my morning coffee. After lunch, this shizz is normally defrosted and ready to go. If you have pan drippings in the freezer, bust those out too. Once the stock is defrosted you wanna measure out 7 cups' worth - if you're short, just add water and perhaps 1 chicken or veggie bullion cube for each cup of water you add (in a pinch you can just use water and bullion cubes)

Now the second part of the process begins.

I'll state up front, that this recipe is adapted from one that appears in Chef Paul Prudhomme's "Louisiana Kitchen." This version is less labor intensive, has been mutated to fit with my own dietary peculiarities and uses ingredients easily found anywhere.

*You start by heating up a big pot (I love cast iron myself but heavy aluminum should work as well) and adding a 1/2 cup of vegetable oil - OR if you have reserved pan drippings from roasting a chicken skim the fat off the top ("Schmaltz"!) and use that INSTEAD of oil (you probably want to measure the chicken fat and top it off with oil to make a 1/2 cup). ONce you've measured out yr oil/fat turn heat down to medium high.
* Then measure mix flour and spices
* and throw that into the oil/fat and mix well into the oil/fat with a big old spoon. You wanna make sure and mix this thoroughly so that all the oi/fat is absorbed and the consistency of the roux if uniform. Continue cooking at medium high heat. You wanna keep an eye on this, stirring it a every couple minutes. The bottom part likely to brown up quick and you wanna keep scraping the bottom and mixing it into the roux proper. Finally, you want this to wind up a dark brown WITHOUT burning it.

Here's an aside -- Chef Paul actually starts this recipe by having you make Southern Fried Chicken, then cutting it up and throwing it into the liquid and having the coating dissolve somewhat...which has gotta be cool if you got the time; I don't. So in effect I'm using pre-cooked chicken and the amount of flour that'd bread the chicken + the quantity he has you use in your roux ALL goes into the roux.

*Next you FINELY CHOP celery, onion, bell pepper and as you chop each ingredient add it to the roux and mix it in THOROUGHLY. You add ingredients in this order so that the toughest shizz winds up cooking the longest. Give the bell pepper 2-3 minutes to cook.
By this time you def wanna keep an eye on the pot and stir this stuff thoroughly and if it's getting black or you smell it burning - just take it off the heat and let it sit a couple minutes - the pot and ingredients are hot enough to finish the cooking without being on the burner.

Another aside - you'll note there's no cooking times given so far - basically each activity done in sequence takes about the right amount of time for the stuff already in the pot to cook sufficiently. So fug the timer!

*Now you take a cup of stock and pour a aplash into the roux and stir it with a big spoon until it's all aborbed. Pour in another splash and stir until absorbed. Continue this process till you use up the first cup, then start with the second cup.
*Once the mixture goes from being solid, to pastey to a thick liquid you can pour in the stock one cup at a time, and whisk it until it's utterly smooth (helps to do this with an actual wire whisk but a big fork or even spoon will work - it'll just take more work).
* Once all the stock has been added and you've whisked yr mixture into smooth submission (consistency should be of a thick soup), dump in your chicken (if any of it is still frozen, not to worry -- it'll thaw quick enough.
*Put this on low heat and let it simmer 45 minutes.

OPTIONALLY - you can slice up a ring of sausage, and brown it on both sides and throw that in after the chicken. Browning seals in the flavor, seals OUT liquid from the soup/stew you're dumping it in (otherwise it gets soggy and indisinct tasting). Since I'm into multi tasking, I start this going after I've chopped and added all the vegetables.

*While the whole thing is cooking be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot occasionally coz stuff WILL cake up and eventually burn. But if you check on it every 10-15 minutes you should be fine. And frankly you WANT it to cake up and cook a little more thoroughly than the rest of your stew -- actually adds interesting and delicious flavor!

Traditionally you serve this with rice. I suppose white is preferred but I usually keep brown on hand and it works fine. I've even served it with leftover basamati rice - which works, but doesn't jibe quite as well as standard white or brown rice.

You could also serve this with some veggies - you put em on a plate with a couple ladles of gumbo and the juices will quickly run into 'em - YUM.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Waste Not Want Not

I'm starting this blog coz my pal Gina Orr put me up to it (come to think of it, I started my music blog "Howlin' Wuelf Howls" because Sam Phillips (the songwriter, not the late producer) put me up to that!

This will mainly be a venue for sharing recipes, primarily that make use of leftovers.

In my life I've ben through a wide variety of culinary experiences. When I was growing up my parents fed us a lot of instant mashed potatoes, with wax beans and hamburgers, macaroni and cheese and the like. We went to school with bag lunches that often had Velveeta Cheese food on white bread (with butter) or liverwurst (again on white!). At the same time, my Dad had learned how to make spaghetti and meatballs from a lady of Italian decent down the hall from us -- and they were pretty spectacular (and frankly I've never had a sauce as good anywhere in the world). He also had a deft hand with Southern fried chicken that basically spoiled me for life and it wasn't till my wife and I stopped at some divey place in the French Quarter (closed since the Federal Flood) that I tasted anything that even came close (and since then I've had to admit that places like Willie Mae's Scotch House and Fiorello's actually do it better). I remember the first time we ate in a restaurant (and perhaps we'd been to diners twice before), I was probably 13 - it was an Italian place on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City in the Greenville area; we were told to order lasagna and when it came I was utterly shocked by its utter exoticism. As I got older, I started taking on rudimentary cooking duties - both parents worked and sometimes got home pretty late: I managed to sling together basic stuff like sloppy joe's, English muffin pizzas, hot dogs that you'd split, pan fry and melt a strip of cheese on -- and the like.

At college (Rutgers, New Brunswick), I started out eating in the cafeteria but by junior year, was living in a group house where everyone shared kitchen duties (with varying levels of success). I think I was working with a Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cook Book and making things like Chicken Tetrazini -- lotta pasta and sauce to stretch our meager house budget (which always had to cover bread at every meal and a can of Hawaian Punch!).

After college, I married a lady who couldn't cook a lick so I wound up as house chef. Her parents were bon vivants outta Southern Maryland (her step dad had been dean of the test pilot school at a navel base down here - he trained the first couple batches of astronauts), and had a way with 60's style "modern" cooking -- meaning, lots of casseroles, lots of odd mixtures of ingredients (rice and cheese, fruit and meat) some of which came from 1) efforts to develop cooking technologies suited for a culture that was adding women to the work force, liberating them from full time housewifery and therefore, needing things that were quick and simple 2) efforts to adapt foreign dishes to ingredients readily attainable at A&P's (beef stroganoff made with ketchup, canned cream of mushroom soup and pre-cooked hamburger). When we broke up, I was largely broke (made $8000 per year salary, most of which when to rent for a slightly weathered one room apartment I split with a roommate), and began to investigate the cheapest forms of nutritious eating I could discern -- I became well acquainted with multiple minor variations on black beans and rice -- I'd make up a pot of both on Sunday and then mix and heat some up every night for the week that followed.

Eventually I wound up working in the music industry and my horizons were quickly and explosively widened. Whereas my vision of haute cuisine had been Blackie Jrs in downtown Washington DC (about 3 blocks from the White House: $2.99 for the crappiest cut of steak, plus baked potato, salad bar and, for an adition $1 all the draft Tuborg Gold you could guzzle), in short order I was eating Indian food in Brixton, at the Colombe D'or in Nice, Balthazar's in NYC, Le Cirque 2000, lalalalala.

And what I've learned from all the above is -- it's good to eat food that tastes good, it's useful to know what goes into the food that you enjoy and it's pointless to get overly hung up on the provenance of ingredients. Of course if you have unlimited budget and to procure your ingredients and get the best of everything -- well, that's good! But if your resources are a lot more limited, that's no excuse to wind up serving wax beans and instant potatoes when a little bit more money and some imagination will yield surprisingly impressive results.

Case in point. Mrs. Wuelfing and I got to love a place called the Church Street Bistro in Lambertville, NJ (run by the late great Andre LeNoble). One of their signature dishes was the "creamless cream soup." Rich, creamy; no dairy involved. Eventually Amy enrolled me in a one day cooking class with the Bistro's chef. I show up with a spanking new notebook, multiple pens and am ready to be schooled. The rest of the students are all ladies. As the chef starts going through his dishes he's plying us all with wine, giving us samples of each dish, and giving a quick list of basic ingredients - but no measurements, cooking times or temperatures! I wind up endlessly beleaguring him with a million questions until I've got detailed worked recipes for all the dishes in question, filling up my notebook. I start with the creamless cream soup which calls for Arborio Rice which you cook, then puree. This worked fine enough but I gotta admit the rice was pricey. I tried regular rice but it seemed impossible to get that to puree down to a smooth paste. I was stumped. Then one day it occurs to me -- basically this is starch paste - could I substitute cooked potatoes? And I had some leftover mashed potatoes, or maybe I steamed up some 'taters...whatever. I tried that as the basis of one of these soups (probably with squash) and... voila - worked perfectly! Velvety smooth, flavorfull. Delish. And I ain't looked back since!

So enough backstory - here's a recipe, especially useful around holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

All The Fixin's soup recommended music to play whilst cooking: Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Reordings, Columbia Legacy - CD 4 ingredients: leftover mashed potatoes (white)
leftover gravy
1 onion, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
4 cubes bullion (chicken or vegetable)

directions: dump all the ingredients save the water into a kettle or Dutch over or any pot of that size
add water until you've covered your ingredients and have about 2 inches of water above 'em
bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer about 45 minutes

comments: you might be able to cook this 10 minutes and get away with it as everything's already cooked excepting the veggies, but I think it's important to go the whole 45 minutes so you can marry the flavors of the ingredients to each other thoroughly - especially the potatoes and gravy. wait till this is almost done cooking before seasoning! More than likely you salted the mashed potatoes and likewise the gravy is likely salted and seasoned with bay leaf, pepper, etc. So, wait until the flavors are married (after say 30 minutes of simmering), and then taste and see if you want to add salt, etc. ALSO -- it's likely that what you taste may suggest the precise accent you may want to add which could be anything from tarragon to masala depending. You want to accentuate what's already there, not mask or oppose it. this is an easy one to customize by adding chopped meat, and/or some leftover or frozen vegetables (throughing in a handful of peas adds color, texture and nutrition. IF you wind up freezing this and then thawing and heating up afterwards, the potatoes tend to clump up - but once you've heated it, take a whisk, stir it up briskly a few seconds and it'll smooth out immediately.

As long as you keep this dish simple, it's hard to mess up!