Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Recipe or Receipt 1

Hello Chickens!  I hope you are surviving the cold.  I effectively haven't left the house since last Friday.  Because it is ridiculous here in Chicago!  I'm sorry, -45 windchill?  Really?  Go home, winter, you're drunk!

 I work in my living room, so I'm one of the lucky ones.  My poor Charming Suitor had to brave the cold to go to work yesterday.  Of course his office has central heating so he wasn't freezing his little tushie off all day, wearing double layers and huddled in front of two small electric space heaters.  You want to know the happiest sound in the world?  HVAC guys in the basement running ductwork.  We are two weeks out from hopefully getting this place efficiently and effectively heated, and I'm really ready to never hear the hiss of these radiators ever again.

There is actually only one thing I'm going to miss about the old heating system.  Radiator tangerines.

If you've ever read MFK Fisher, and if you haven't you should, she describes a sublime solitary method of eating tangerines in her Paris flat.  She would peel and segment the tangerines, placing the segments on sheets of newspaper on top of the radiator for a couple of hours.  Then she would place the paper on her windowsill, allowing the segments to chill.  The skin gets thin and crispy, the juice inside sort of swells up and gets sweeter and juicier, they get weirdly more tangerine-y.  I remember the first time I read her method, the description of eating the segments alone in her flat while reading, it just sounded like the most romantic bit of food voluptuousness ever.  And the first time I tried it, over 20 years ago, my first winter in this house, I realized why she loved it so much.  The simple ritual, the brightness of the citrus in the doldrums of winter, the pleasing snap of the skin giving way to the cold fruit within, the fact that it is a pleasure without guilt, the subtle scent they release into the stuffy closed-in winter air, radiator tangerines are a gift.  And I will miss them.  But I'll miss them with warm toes and without being swaddled in layers, so its a tradeoff I'm willing to make.  I will probably be tempted to replicate them in a low oven, and if I do I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, being locked down as I am, yesterday was the perfect day to begin our pantry/freezer dinner project!  I certainly wasn't venturing out in this Polar Vortex or whatever they're calling it just to go to the grocery store.  Technically this would be our second such dinner, but Sunday night's feast of frozen chicken schnitzels with frozen peas and the last 1/4 bag of Tater Tots (don't judge, tots are delicious) was satisfying and well rounded, but not exactly inspired or a recipe.

I've decided to call this series Recipe or Receipt.  When I make something from the bits and pieces I'll either post the recipe so you can riff on it, or I will post a picture of the receipt from the take out we ordered when it tasted like crap.  Because I'm pretty sure that some of it is really not going to be delicious, despite my best efforts.

Yesterday the freezer unearthed a pound of ground beef from the quarter cow we invested in last year, and the rind of a large chunk of parmesan cheese.  I peeked at all the "best by" dates on my canned goods, and found 2 cans of black beans that were nearing theirs, and a large can of peeled cherry tomatoes that was already technically past its prime.  Some green lentils I don't even remember buying (you know, the ones behind the brown and black lentils I do remember) and some barley.  A box of beef stock.  An onion on the counter that is moments away from sprouting.  We don't use a lot of ground beef in this house, burgers maybe only a few times a year, mostly in the summer, and a couple vats of winter chili are about the extent of it.  So you can imagine our shock when the 1/4 cow in addition to providing some great steaks and roasts, turned up with nearly 50 pounds of ground beef.  We gave ground beef to everyone.  When people came for dinner, their little take home gift?  A pound of meat.  And still, our freezer holds more packages than I care to think about.   So it only made sense to use some in the first Recipe or Receipt outing.

And the result was?


Sort of halfway between a really thick soup and a stew, it was a more than decent way to beat the cold.  Was it the most delicious thing we've ever eaten?  No.  CS proclaimed it delicious, but he was very hungry, I put it solidly at very good, the difference for me being will I crave it specifically or just be happy to see it again if it appears.  Would I leave the house in the Polar Vortex to buy the ingredients to make it?  Nope.  But I would order it if I saw it on a menu, and will likely try some variations on the theme with fair regularity this winter.  It made the house smell good, and was good for us, hearty and filling.  The beans, lentils and barley keep it healthy and add fiber.  The meat was just enough for flavor, but not so much that it made it heavy, and browning and draining before adding it to the slow cooker kept the fat low.  Tomatoes gave it some much needed acidity and brightness.  And the parmesan rind gave it depth of flavor and umami complexity that kept it from being boring.  I would have loved a bit of fresh chopped parsley or basil, but had none.  The best part was really that it made enough for dinner and for us to both have it for lunch today, and I neither had to leave the house or spend a penny.  And the recipe seems endlessly adaptable to whatever meats, beans and grains you may have lying around.  If you try your own combination, let me know how it turns out!  I think it would be even better with sausage meat...

Pantry Stew with Lentils, Beans and Barley

1 onion, chopped
1 T canola oil
1 lb ground beef (or turkey or sausage meat or anything else from the freezer)
2 15 oz cans beans, drained and rinsed
½ c dried lentils (or any other small dried bean or pea)
½ c barley (or any other grain, rice, farro, wheat berries)
1 28 oz can tomatoes (whole, chopped, diced, or puree, whatever you have)
48 oz stock (beef or chicken)
pinch red pepper flakes
1 large piece of parmesan rind
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in nonstick pan over medium high heat.  Sauté onions till golden brown, put in slow cooker.  In same pan, brown the beef well, and drain off excess fat and juice, add to slow cooker.  Stir in drained and rinsed beans, dried lentils and barley and stir till well mixed.  Add tomatoes with their juices and the stock and stir till combined.  Add pinch of red pepper flakes, tuck the parmesan rind down into the mix and season well with salt and pepper.  Turn slow cooker on high and let cook for 4 hours.  Remove and discard the parmesan rind.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  Serve hot.

How are you all staying warm these days?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. Yum! I make a similar dish when I have no idea what to feed my children for dinner and I call it 'Cowboy Casserole.' It of course isn't as fancy as yours, and I top it with cornbread and bake it off, but it's always a hit. Far from gourmet, but super comforting!

  2. I love anything I can cook in a crockpot...just knowing that I am coming home to dinner already cooked and waiting is such a treat!
    I do your typical roast in the crockpot (w/onions, carrots and potatoes)...the next day meat & veggies are chopped up, put back in the crockpot & then I make "stone soup" with whatever frozen or canned vegetables I have on hand, a couple of dashes of Lea & Perrins and some seasonings.