Pro Bono Cooking
Usually I am paid to cook, but today (my day off!), I cooked for MYSELF. It always feels so good to do, and I have to admit, I do not do it enough these days. Sure, I make simple things, but I do not spend the day making things without recipes like I used to. It is so nice to be freed from pages of measurements, and it took me a bit to notice how awesome that freedom of creativity truly is. The intuitive chef has not left the building…
Cooking Day Off began by making my mom brunch. We received a phone call in the morning saying my grandfather went to the hospital, so I went to out to do some errands in case my Mom would be going up to be with him. I have only a bicycle, and it is hard to schlep things like gallons of soymilk, eggs, GINORMOUS jugs of vinegar (for daily egg poaching, of course), and loaves of bread that might be smashed. When I got back home, she had not had breakfast yet, so she asked me if the Donnegal Diner was open for business. It sure was!
Next, I set forth to deal with a classic Kitchen Manager fail: pulling product from the cold storage without specific plan or timeline for use. I had this ground venison that I grabbed out of the freezer several days ago, thinking I would make something to use as a wrap filling, or a topping for creamy polenta. On Thursday, my knees hurt so bad after paid cooking (bike accident, running in crappy shoes – now replaced), that all I wanted to do was buy something. I do not feel like that very often, but took the opportunity to enjoy some tandoori chicken from Saffron. I ate leftovers of that for lunch at work on Friday, and then ended up poaching an egg to eat after getting home at 8:30PM, with very sore knees. Saturday and Sunday are the days I wake up at 5 AM to cycle and arrive at
work, er, paid cooking within 15 minutes of 7AM, when my cooking shift begins. I did that until 5:30, then until 4 on Sunday. By Sunday evening I was Very Tired, and had my second poached egg in a wrap for dinner. I LOVE these eggs, by the way. My fantastic co-worker Amy has chickens, and so on Tuesdays she brings in a dozen for me. They are multicolored and a adorable, and taste SO GOOD.
This left me with the going-bad venison in my fridge, a sweet potato and squash that will not cut up or roast themselves, several increasingly brown bananas, and a day off ahead of 6 days not off (paid cooking). This means it would be smart to do some classic kitchen girl planning – a fantastic opportunity!
I sat for a moment creating my plan of execution: I would get the vegetables roasting, and then deal with the venison, which I wanted to make into something to be frozen and eaten on future busy days… what to do with it? Should I make kofta patties? Should I throw together some kind of chili to freeze? ………TACOS!!! While roasting vegetables, I would make taco filling. Which then reminded me of the glut of CSA bell peppers I’d noticed earlier while the Diner was open. I could make a surplus of onion/bell pepper mixture to combine with the venison, and also freeze some of that to use in something else later. The bananas would obviously become banana bread, the last project, which I could throw in the oven and do other awesome Pro Bono Cooking Day Off activities such as: taking a nice long shower, doing/putting away laundry, cleaning up bedroom, looking up ideas for carving the pumpkins I bought today, and forcing myself not to work out so my knees will for sure feel awesome over the next six days.
I will simply post a slide show of what I made, and mention a few things about process/ingredients used/etc.
- I decided to dice the veggies pretty small, add in some onion, garlic, and Pink Lady apple! I decided to make this cold sandwich wrap filling slightly “Asian” (pardon my awful umbrella term there), so I just chopped it all up, tossed the mixture with olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of sesame oil, rice vinegar, white miso, and some curry powder. Set the oven at 400, then popped in the 13×9 metal pan until everything looked done – checking it periodically and stirring to ensure even cooking.
- I also decided to cook the venison separate from the peppers and onions for a couple reasons. One, I do not use venison often, an was unsure of its fat content. I did not want to have the vegetables be totally soaked in fat while cooking, and if I did that, I could drain the meat in a colander to remove excess oil. I also would be cooking too much of the onion and peppers on purpose, so cooking them separately would mean I could remove as much as I’d like to freeze, and then add in the rest to the meat.
- At the last minute I decided to cook the bell peppers and onions with some minced garlic and a can of stewed tomatoes. I thought that would be a nice addition to whatever I make with the frozen remainder, and make the tacos taste better. The venison turned out not to be as fatty as I expected, and was frankly a bit dry, so I thought the tomatoes would add some moisture in a nice way.
- For the banana bread, I did use a recipe. I have enjoyed Simply Recipes for many years, and realised it had been ages since cooking anything based on her work. My only tweak was in adding about 1/3 cup of greek yogurt to the mix. I think adding some dairy to cookies and quick breads tends to be a good idea.
- After cooking the mixture of roasted vegetables in the refrigerator, I added greek yogurt and some nayonnaise, salt and pepper, dijon mustard, chopped grapes, and a bit more rice vinegar. It is really just a creamy vegetable salad that can be eaten on its own, or in a wrap like I do. It’s just easy and only seems to taste better after a few days. I love the combination of sweet and savory, so omit the grapes and apples if you like, or add in some bacon or tempeh or hard boiled eggs. This is one of those concept recipes I love with infinite potential for flavoring. It’s just so easy and nutritious – a nice change to make something en masse that is not soup for busy days.