Out of the darkness

Posted by Anita on 03.16.09 8:45 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*Daylight Saving Time arrived this week, and with the longer days come the final few nights of the Dark Days Challenge. We’re also deep into the second full week of our “no new meat” freezer clean-out plan, which is going remarkably well.

Work’s been keeping us both insanely busy, so it’s a treat to be able to eat a home-cooked meal even on the nights when we don’t make it home until well after dark. And, as a side benefit, we’re finally able to see our freezer shelves again.

This week’s dinners included successful renditions of cassoulet, spaghetti and meatballs, and posole verde. But lest you think it’s been an endless buffet of effortless delights, I’ll admit that one night’s dinner — reputedly lasagne — resembled nothing more than a watery bowl of soggy, sausage-flecked dough. (Not sure what happened there; baked pasta always freezes well… or at least always has in the past.) It didn’t taste bad, but it certainly doesn’t count as one of the successes.

As nice as it is to work our way down the freezer inventory and pull a ready-to-heat meal out of storage, it does feel a little anticlimactic. After a few days of thaw-and-reheat, I begin to miss the prep, not to mention the actual cooking. Happily, most of the stuff in the freezer is bits and pieces, not entire prepared dishes, which means that there are plenty of chances to create a dish out of old leftovers or combine assorted remnants with a fresh ingredients to make a dinner that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Dark Days Eat Local ChallengeOur favorite meal this week: A simple paella that used up some orphaned chorizo, leftover roast chicken, and red pepper strips we froze last summer. It’s not the most authentic Spanish dish, but it’s easy enough to get on the table for a midweek meal, and undeniably delicious. And, as an added bonus, we got to sample the season’s first fava beans — a little dash of spring in our final Dark Days meal. With the exception of the pimentón and the saffron, everything came from within our 100-mile radius.

When it comes to paella, the sausage you want is firm Spanish chorizo — the refrigerated sort that’s a similar texture to andouille, definitely not the soft Mexican kind, nor the dry charcuterie style. The Spanish Table in Berkeley sells an assortment of brands; we used the locally made Neto’s.

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*

Weeknight Paella
- makes 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped or 1/2 cup bottled red-pepper strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pimentón, or to taste
2 cups short-grain rice
1 pinch saffron threads
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
8oz roast chicken, skinned, deboned, and torn into chunks
1/2 cup peas or shelled fava beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F.

Heat oil in a very large skillet (ours is 14″) or paella pan over high heat. Add chorizo and cook until browned and fragrant. Drain off most of the chorizo fat, leaving just enough to saute the vegetables. Add onion, red bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.

Add rice, pimentón, saffron, and bay leaves. Stir to combine and coat the rice, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken, peas (or favas); stir to combine.

Transfer skillet to oven. Cook uncovered until rice is tender and no liquid remains, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Fluff with a fork and serve immediately.

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes



Comment by Sophie

I love cooking with those yummie flavours!! Your version looks awesome!!

Posted on 03.17.09 at 2:14AM

Comment by KT

This may be a stupid question but… I’m also trying to freeze more meats (buying in bulk to save $$), and have questions when it comes to what’s okay to freeze, and how to thaw it. I didn’t know you could freeze sausage, just never thought of it. Did you wrap the whole pieces in freezer paper? Just let them sit out to thaw? What about the chicken? Can you roast it first and then freeze it?

BTW – I’ve had paella only once, in Barcelona! I’ll have to try making it now, thanks! :)

Posted on 03.17.09 at 5:09PM

Comment by Anita

Hi KT: It’s pretty much OK to freeze any meat, although there’s definitely a change in texture. You’ll notice this more with roasts, sautees, and grilled meats, so we often will use our thawed meat for soups, stews, etc. The fattier the meat, the better it tends to hold up, and wrapping it really well is key. If you just throw things in a zip-loc bag or (worse) just use the butcher paper they often come in, you probably won’t be happy with the results, due to freezer burn.

We do freeze cooked meat, mostly leftover pulled pork and chicken, but also meatballs. It works just fine, although it’s best to use it within a couple of months, as the extra surface area and air gaps mean a greater tendency to freezer burn. If you can freeze cooked meat in sauce or broth, it lasts a lot longer. (Ditto for freezing beans, but that’s another post :) )
A lot of the meat we get from our CSA (and other sources) is already vacuum-sealed, which we find is the very best way to keep meat for long periods of time. Although I’m not in love with the waste that it generates, I also have a FoodSaver home vacuum sealer that I really like. It took a little getting used to, but now I don’t know if I could live without it.

Before we bought the sealer, we used zip-loc double-guard bags, which have an inner liner that helps to prevent freezer burn. You can mimic this effect by wrapping the meat in plastic wrap and then putting it in a zip-top bag with all the air squeezed out… sometimes I even use a straw to suck all the air out. (Partially close the bag leaving just enough room for the straw.)

I get around the waste issue by reusing zip-loc bags; I keep the used ones in the freezer to prevent spoilage. There’s not really a good way to reuse the FoodSaver bags that I have found, unfortunately; we just try to use them as wisely as we can until a better option comes along.

For safety, it’s best to thaw meat in the fridge. If you get stuck and need something thawed ASAP, you can use a microwave (if you have one — we don’t) set to Thaw, or put the sealed meat in a bowl under a very gently running stream of cold water. (This is fraught in terms of water use, though — not a good solution for our current drought condtions.) You can also quick-thaw solid objects like ground meat or sauce cubes on a stone surface (like a kitchen counter), but food safety issues here mean you shouldn’t go longer than 30 to 60 minutes at room temp. The contact with the stone does speed up the thawing, however.

If you Google “freezing meat” you’ll find a lot of advice, including maximum freezer duration, estimated thawing times, and helpful hints.

Posted on 03.17.09 at 5:25PM

Comment by EB

I just did this myself last week. Not with meat necessarily, but I made everything I could to clean out the freezer. It made for some interesting new concoctions. Isn’t it such a great feeling when you’re being resourceful and productive at the same time!?

Posted on 03.17.09 at 6:50PM

Comment by KT

Thank you so much for the tips Anita! I have started wrapping raw meat in freezer paper (portioned out if necessary), and then storing as many of these little packages in the ziploc freezer bags you mentioned. You can write on the paper the date/contents, and you don’t have to mess up the bags so they can be reused.

I had no idea you could freeze cooked (pulled/shredded) chicken and pork though. That is going to save me so much time in the future! I’ll also check into the stone suggestion for thawing, had not heard that. The only time I’ve used my microwave – with it’s supposedly fancy “rapid thaw” function – resulted in half cooked, still-have-frozen meat!!

Thanks again!

Posted on 03.18.09 at 4:49AM

Comment by Elyse

Mmm, I love paella. Such a great one pot wonder. I can’t wait to make your recipe. Sounds wonderful!

Posted on 03.19.09 at 7:54PM

Comment by Anne @ Pink Galoshes

What a fantastic recipe for paella, it looks so easy too! Thanks for sharing.

Posted on 03.20.09 at 7:42AM

Comment by lisa b.

What a beautiful site!
and Paella as your most recent! My favorite!

There used to be a restaurant on Grant St. named La Bodega. Husband and wife/ bartender and cook/ musician and flamenco dancer. Teeny tiny- just 8 tables and a bar. Some stupid trendy thing there now.

Thats where I first had Paella Valencia. Still my fav flav.

You have a new fan here.

Posted on 03.21.09 at 7:41PM

Comment by heidileon

wow, well your paella looks amazingly appetizing!!! do you have any leftovers your can send me? ;-D

Posted on 03.27.09 at 10:40PM

Comment by Tiare

Thanks for this recipe Anita, this is just what i needed now. The picture is really beautiful and appetizing!

I`m definetily going to make this paella.



Posted on 03.28.09 at 9:03PM

Comment by Michele Morris

When the seasons change I also try to eat through the freezer. I call it “What’s For Dinner?” and pride myself on being able to come up with inventive dishes using, as you say, bits and pieces I find (and yes, eating the occasional thawed out lasagna or other pre-cooked meal I’ve left in there). I even teach a cooking class to students and let them rummage through my fridge and pantry and to figure out what to cook based on what I’ve got! This is my first visit to your site – I like it!!!

Posted on 03.31.09 at 6:10AM

Comment by robin

Love the concept of your new challenge – though I can see the thaw-method getting tiresome. Those pictures, however, are anythign but. Absolutely gorgeous.

(And by the way, Jim and I went back to Resto last night and it was terrible! We couldn’t believe how much was changed – and we ordered most of the same items that we had there last time! I guess Superbowl Sunday was a veyr good time to dine there. Jim may need to edit his Resto post now…)

: )

Posted on 04.03.09 at 7:48AM

Comment by Jamie

Mmmm this paella sounds wonderful! And I agree with you: many a night I have no desire to cook anything and every night is a refrigerator scavanger hunt, but then the yearning to measure and chop and sauté and stir hits hard and it’s back to the soothing business of cooking!

Posted on 04.12.09 at 6:13AM

Comment by amy / Eat

One-dish meals that are full of bright, colorful flavors are some of my favorite entrees. I made my first paella last summer and it has been on my menu ever since.

Posted on 04.26.09 at 1:12PM

Comment by Alta

Yum, I love paella! I could really go ffor this for lunch today.

Posted on 05.01.09 at 8:14AM

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