Two weekends ago, I nearly lost a toe.
I’d been rooting around in the upstairs freezer (yes, we have two — doesn’t everyone?), looking for some mysterious recipe ingredient, when the Jenga pile that is the meat shelf gave way. Luckily, I jumped back just in time to avoid an avalanche of frozen bricks, but it was a near thing.
With no time to spare, I shoved everything back in as neatly as I could, and added “re-organize the freezer” to my to-do list. It took me a while to get there, but one cold and cloudy morning, I tackled this long-overdue task. I took everything out of both freezers, inventoried the contents, and put it all back in the least-precarious and most-logical way possible. Admiring my newly tidy spaces, I felt so virtuous.
But as I surveyed the inventory list, that virtuous feeling vanished. How in the world had we managed to squirrel away enough food to fill two standard freezers? Just the list of our frozen fodder filled an entire letter-size page!
Happily, this is one embarrassing problem we can literally eat our way out of.
I sat down and quickly mapped out 14 meals we could easily make by combining two or more components of the freezer. (Beef plus chorizo plus buns equals Sloppy Joes. Beans plus pork plus sausage equals Cassoulet.) And that wasn’t even counting the dozen or so ready-to-eat meals — like beef stew, coq au vin, and chili — that we’d set aside. I quickly realized we could go for weeks, eating very well without buying anything but fresh vegetables.
So, just in time for Lent — which we don’t celebrate, but definitely respect — I floated a new house rule: No new meat until we eat down our glut. Which, if we’re diligent, I predict will happen right about Easter Sunday. Cameron happily agreed, with one exception: Bacon. There will be bacon. Because it’s just not the weekend without everyone’s favorite cured meat.
So far, I have to say that our experiment’s been a wild success. We’re clearing out the freezers — I can see shelves! — while we save time and money, which are never abundant, but seem to be in even shorter supply this month. The oldest thing we’ve eaten so far? A bag of Rick Bayless’s ancho beef chili dated 6/07, which tasted surprisingly fine.
One of the winningest put-togethers so far is a new variation on an old favorite: chicken pot-pie. With a bag of pie-crust scraps begging to be used, we decided to take a break from our usual biscuit-topped recipe. I’m glad we did, because the rich, warm flavor of the sherry and the savory pop of mushrooms in this version make it a worthy variation.
Chicken Pot Pie
– adapted from Kitchen Sense
3-1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (a generous pound by weight)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
6oz small mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp thyme leaves (stripped from the stem)
1/3 cup peas (not in season yet, so we omitted)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sherry or dry white wine
5T all-purpose flour
2 cups poultry stock
1 bay leaf
1T chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 recipe of your favorite pie crust (enough to cover a 9-inch pie pan)
1 small egg, beaten with 1 T cold water
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Melt 3T of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, the add the carrot and celery and continue cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Add the peas, 1 tsp of salt, and pepper to taste; stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Deglaze the pan with half of the sherry; remove the cooked vegetables and their juices to a bowl and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in the skillet, then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the paste takes on a blonde color, Whisk in the stock and the remaining sherry, then add the bay leaf, thyme, 1 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer until thickened.
Add the cooked chicken and sauteed vegetables to the sauce. Transfer the mixture to a 1-1/2 quart baking dish (such as a deep-dish pie pan) and set aside in a warm spot near the oven.
Roll out the pie dough about 1 inch larger than the diameter of the baking dish and about 1/4-inch thick. Place the dough atop the pie filling, and press the overlap to the outside of the dish. Place the filled and covered pie on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg, then make a few slits to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 20 minutes at 425°F until the crust has risen and begun to take on color. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.