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Making the most with what you have

August 25, 2009 - Jenn Lucas
Upon opening my freezer about six weeks ago, I noticed I had at least five pounds of random meat. Chicken cut into three-ounce portion sizes; packages of pork chops I bagged in sets of two; a few sausages whose flavors I long forgot and never wrote on the bag, as well as some steaks -- not the yummy, grilling kind but cheaper cuts likes London broil and skirt. Also, while gazing upon the bounty, I realized I would be cooking for one for the coming weeks and what was I, who doesn’t really care for meat all that much to begin with, going to do with countless cuts of the same meats. I started doing nothing fancy at first; broiling some chicken and adding it to a salad of seasonal vegetables; grilling the steak and eating it alongside fresh veggies... blah, blah, blah. I was cooking for one now. I didn’t need to make sacrifices on taste. I could eat whatever I wanted, so I began to get creative – with a little help from my local farmer’s market that began offering baskets of almost-past-its-prime produce for only $1. You never get to pick what you want, it’s a grab bag of fun, sometimes foreign (to me anyway) veggies that I began to mix with the usually bland cuts of meat I had frozen for whose knows how long.

Here’s some of my culinary experiment highlights:

• All-day pork tacos. After opening my basket, like the chefs on the Food Network show, “Chopped,” I was saddened to find an array of hot and sweet peppers. Not a big fan of hot peppers, I’ve been learning to adjust as of late. Here was my chance to go all in. I used some to make some fresh salsa to gage the heat level. Not wanting yet another broiled pork chop, I tossed the center-cut boneless chops into a pot with chopped, fresh tomatoes, which abound this time of year. I diced up a few hot and sweet peppers, cilantro, garlic and onion. I mixed it with the tomatoes and pork, added in some lime juice and a few spices and cooked it for three hours or longer. I was able to shred the usually tougher piece of meat, added it to a flour tortilla, topped it some Monterrey jack cheese, more cilantro and some sliced radishes and had a spicy dish I was really proud of. I realize there are cuts way better suited for this but hey, whatever, it worked.

• Summer chicken salad: I roasted some white meat chicken breasts that I marinated in Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, a mix of all the fresh herbs I had growing in my garden and some olive oil. I didn’t drain the marinade, just wrapped it in time foil and popped it in the oven. After it cooled, I chopped it, added an egg, tomatoes, fresh, blanched corn and a tiny bit of mayo and lemon juice to hold it together. I put it on some whole-wheat toast and took a boring salad to a whole new level. • With the abundance of summer tomatoes I had so many I had to come up with something. I was sick of salsa so I took one of my favorite dishes – a Caprese salad – and modified it to make a variety of dishes. I used cherry tomatoes, Bocachini (Superball-sized bits of fresh mozzarella) fresh basil and oregano and olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar to make a great, cold side dish. Add in some cooked, cooled whole-wheat penne pasta and you now have a hearty pasta salad. Add some cooked sausage and warm pasta to create a new take on a pasta dish. Instead of serving it warm with sausage, add in cooled noodles and diced, Italian marinated grilled chicken for a supper salad.

Next time you go to cook dinner, just think about it. Check your freezer and cabinets and with a little help from some fresh, seasonal ingredients you can create new dishes nightly and break your family away from the usual meat and potatoes routine. There’s a world of possibilities, just add things together you like and think could possibly taste good together. If you bring it to the table and everyone turns up their nose, you can always order a pizza and say you tried.

Jenn Lucas is a news journalist who happens to love to cook. She encourages everyone to try new things and let her know how it went. I also welcome any recipes you want me to try. They may even end up being written about in a future article. Please send all suggestions and comments to lehighcook@yahoo.com.

 
 

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