Calamity in the Kitchen, Day 2: Stretching Your Bird

As you noticed on Day 1, my cooking tends to happen when the Babe is napping. I’ve been really trying to get in the habit of starting dinner during his AM nap, to avoid the heat of the kitchen in the PM. But I can’t seem to get it together. I usually end up: A. blogging if I can ignore the disasterous house, or B. cleaning if I can’t.

Day 2 I didn’t make dinner in the morning. Nope. I blogged, remember? I didn’t even get lunch made while he was napping, bad mama. Instead, in a rush after the Babe woke up and before his Fussy started, I threw together a picnic lunch for us to take to the zoo (we live just 6 blocks from the zoo, have a membership and often use it like a cool park with exotic animals).

Our picnic included many of the things grilled on Day 1:

  • flatbreads
  • eggplant and walnut dip
  • grated carrot salad
  • leftover grilled sliced eggplant + peppers, mixed with feta cheese and a lemon garlic dressing

I know that all sounds so incredibly healthy, so don’t think we didn’t follow it with ice cream cones from the Hagen Daaz stand.

I would love to regale you with a story about that dip, and how much and which things the 3YO ate, etc, etc. But, I’m keeping this spare, remember? You can see how I used up leftovers, which is much of the point here.

Dinner needed to be two things, quick and stretching of meat. Because I told you how tiny that chicken was. Really it was just one meal for two people, but I stretched it, somewhat wantingly, into two. Starting here with chicken fajitas.

carmelizing the onions and peppers makes the flavors richer, darker and more satisfying
I brushed these with oil first, then grilled them for just a minute on each side. I usually do it in my skillet, one at a time, but this worked fab! Please don't ever eat corn tortillas without a little fat and some heat.

Several of you mentioned stretching meat in your comments, so I’ll focus on that a bit.

The typical meal of meat, starch and vegetable keeps all the meat flavor concentrated in one package. Which is great, super satisfying if you have plenty of meat. But, if you don’t, here’s some tricks.

Stock. The biggest and baddest trick of all. I hate to harp on it, but really, throwing bones away is a huge waste. If you get a whole chicken, think of the bones as at least 1/4 of the value. You might think store bought stock is really cheap, so why bother. But homemade stock blows that boxed stuff right out of the water. When I made the fajitas, I added just 1/2 cup of stock to the pan of fried peppers, corn, onions and token pieces of chicken, and it infused the whole dish with the most intense and delicious chicken flavor that you didn’t notice most of what you were eating was not chicken. In case you missed the link from the Whole Chicken post, here’s a lot more about stock, from my old blog. Just a note though, a lot of stock recipes call for onions, carrots and celery. You surely can use them, and it makes a dynamite stock, but just plain bones and salt makes a damn fine stock too. The critical factor is time. If you do it stove-top, allow at least two hours of simmering. If you have a crockpot, just let it cook overnight on low. If you make fish stock (which I highly recommend!) nix everything I just said, fish bones shouldn’t simmer for more than 30 minutes or they get a funny flavor.

And now that you have your homemade gold, what do you do with it? Soup is the obvious answer, but if you put some stock in the freezer in smaller portions (ice cube trays or small tupperwares work good) you can just throw a little into almost anything to give it an extra meaty oomph.

Never wash your pan. When you fry up some meat in your trusty cast iron, the pan is not “dirty” the pan is “meaty.” Do not scoop your food out and put said pan in the sink! All that dark brown sticky stuff is concentrated and carmelized meat juices. Fancy gourmands call it ‘fond,’ but we can just call it yum. You get the yum off by ‘deglazing’ which means, keep your pan on the heat, food still in or out, depending on if you want it to cook more, and pour in 1/2-1 cup of liquid, preferably stock, booze, or tomato juices. More on those in a minute. Now boil hard, and scrape the bottom of the pan with a pancake turner. Congratulations, you’ve deglazed your fond! You don’t need to be making a saucy dish for this to work, because after a few minutes of boiling, it will have boiled down to just enough thick liquid to coat your food. If you took your food out, return it to the pan, off the heat, and mop it around to pick up all that yum. That’s how I did the fajita shtuff.

Meaty flavor boosters. Booze is a pretty classic flavor enhancer, and you don’t even have to drink it first to get it to work. Wine is quite common, but I discovered last year that dark beer specifically makes meat taste meatier, and even makes not meat (like mushrooms) taste meaty. I posted about it here, Good News for Half Beer Lovers. Other good meaty flavor enhancers include:

  • soy sauce
  • Worchestershire sauce
  • peanut butter
  • tomato paste

You don’t want to add much, just a bit. Not enough that your meal tastes like peanut butter, of course unless it’s peanut sauce, just a couple of teaspoons.

Fear not your fats. Now that the Weston Price movement is hip, fat is finally losing it’s bad reputation. Thank god. That was the stupidest idea we ever had. Traditional peoples all over the world ate plenty of fat, got plenty of exersize, and were always ready for swimsuit season. If you are trying to cut down on meat (I will assume it is because you are trying to be a conscientious consumer on a tight budget), remember to cut up on butter, or olive or coconut oil. I mean, it’s only fair to add back in the fat you’re taking out. A few tablespoons of organic butter is still far cheaper than a pound of organic meat.

Beans, beans the magical fruit. I love beans. This is saying a lot considering I ate them twice a day for an entire summer when I was at my most ascetic. Unless I have the habit of doing it every single day, I never remember to soak them, and I hate recycling a whole can just for a few beans. So I cook them in big batches and freeze them. When I had a pressure canner, I used to jar up my own beans, and that was fabulously convenient, but the freezer works almost as good. Beans are good on their own, but can really help stretch a small amount of meat. I recently made a batch of refried black beans with a traditional amount of fat (butter tho, not lard) and boy am I a convert.

Meat stretching tricks in action: Plenty of fat, carmelized onions and deglazed pan with stock, refried (more fat) black beans