Saturday, February 20, 2010

Collar To the Cold

Here at Poor Impulse Control, we're all about It, whatever It is, so long as It is funny, and nothing is funnier than talking about food. Why? Because I get stage fright making rice pudding and half my family went to cooking school without so much as sending a postcard. To recap somewhat, then, I have several different projects going and your bag's packed.

1. Dad died and left cookbooks to study, mysterious gear and problems to solve;

2. Dagnabbit: jarring, canning and preserving;

3. Inspired by Pete's wonky digestive tract, he and I are exploring better food for better health including organics, reducing meat consumption and expanding our vegetable and grain options;

4. Gardening. It's better to grow one's own food than to rely on outside sources wherever possible;

5. Affordable, nutritious eating. If we can get dinner on the table every night for $10, we might have enough money to pay our fucking bills.

These topics overlap somewhat. For instance: remember our friend, Dad's dehydrator? Instructions for the mothership here are hard to come by in book form and online recipes are full of slippery adjustments. Example: every direction I found ended with store in a cool, dry place and last summer, New Jersey did not provide any of those; in time, everything I dehydrated and stored in the basement turned a lovely blue. Pete and I picked up a vacuum sealer, thereafter sealed everything and stored it in the fridge. This degree of caution still did not guarantee success: sometimes dehydrated vegetables are sharp and pierce the plastic and appear sealed anyhow. They are not and will turn a lovely blue in the fridge, which like the rest of New Jersey is slightly damp.

Ta, dahhhhhlink, you're saying, Can we take a connecting flight to the point? How about you return your tray to the upright and locked position and not be so critical, hmm? As lessons in home economics go, learning dehydrating without a teacher proved tricky, expensive and frustrating. In practice, dehydrating works best for us with fruit like peaches, pears and apples. Reconstituted, these sturdy fruit add nice flavor and the texture is familiar if you, as I did, grew up eating dried apples; I also learned the hard way that peeling apples and pears before drying is worth it. A second preparation has been very successful: combinations of leeks, young carrots and fennel - loosely speaking, a form of mirepois. Rehydrated and minced, one of these packages adds a jolt of kickass richness to soups, stews and sauces.

The next thing I wanted to road test was fingerling potatoes. I know. No, really. I know. You can buy potatoes all year round, there's no point in drying them, right? There is, actually. I bought these potatoes from local organic farmers with excellent tattoos. When I bought them in September, I parboiled them, sliced them lengthwise and dehydrated them overnight at the highest setting on the dehydrator: 175 degrees. Two nights ago, I opened the package and poured boiling water over the potatoes, and when they cooled, I refrigerated them until this morning, when I drained off the water, mixed in about a cup and a half of homemade yogurt, half a cup of grated cheddar, salt, pepper, cumin, dried sage and minced rosemary. I poured this into two small casseroles, dotted the surfaces with a bit of butter, covered with foil and baked at 425 for an aromatic eternity. For the last fifteen minutes, the potatoes baked with foil off to develop a nice crust. Result: a filling breakfast gratin that tasted like summer.

Pete was hesitant before the first bite but enthusiastic thereafter. He offered that the potato flavor was good but next time, instead of long rehydration, we might try boiling the potatoes. It will save time. We decided that in the future we wouldn't dehydrate other kinds of potatoes, just fingerlings, and the initial storage failures, while discouraging, had taught us enough to be worth the price.

This is a picture of dinner at our house: Pete makes something almost miraculously delicious, I make a yogurt or a fruit sauce, and Drusy drinks water out of a plastic goblet. We have all accepted that at dinnertime, Drusy will be joining us for drinks. Believe me, this is a civilized alternative to what might have become our routine had the other two cats decided they wanted to fight us for our dinners. Pete and I are okay, though, until one of the cats learns how to operate a spatula.

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