Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Creative Cuisine, or Making It to Payday

I find myself being exceedingly resourceful and creative in the kitchen lately because of three main influencing factors. One, we have been doing a lot of spring cleaning, including the fridges, freezers, and pantries. Two, we had a state food safety inspector come recently to check out the kitchen so that I might be able to sell goods at the local farmer's market (obviously, this is related to factor #1). And third and most influential, is an annoying period of poverty before my summer school stipend kicks in! So we have just been buying the bare essentials at the grocery store lately (milk, bread, Diet Pepsi, Breyer's ice cream...you know, stuff you'd DIE without!) and making a concerted attempt to use stuff that we already had. And I'm not kidding! I'm talking about using those weird items that are hidden in the dark recesses of your cupboards because you chose them on a whim and never could figure out to do with them. But it has been my little challenge to create new recipes based on these oddball items, making me a sort of Iron Chef de Misère, if you will. I think only my precious John will get that obscure reference, so I will explain. I highly recommend the beautiful memoir, When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman. And in it, she honors her grandmother (I believe) who was very talented at what she referred to as "cuisine de misère"--literally, the food of misery, or the art of being able to make something out of nothing when times are tough. Another part of this kind of cuisine that I would add to Kamman's definition is not only making something with the ingredients that you have on hand, but also remaking those dishes into something new the next night--that is, creatively using the leftovers in new and interesting ways so that nothing is wasted.

For example, the other night, I made burritos. They were good, but nothing to blog about. For the filling, I browned some ground beef with a chopped onion and added some dark chili powder and cumin and other south-of-the-border/taco-type seasonings. Then I threw in some corn, and a quintessential cuisine de misere ingredient that I have had for literally years--I think I may have brought it in the move to New York state SIX years ago! It was a little package of a red beans and rice medley. Then, of course, there were the usual condiments like green onions, black olives, jack cheese, sour cream, taco sauce...again, whatever I could find that sounded good. The problem was, even after the roomie and I consumed four large burritos between us, there was still a TON of filling left. So I threw it in some of the lovely green MarthaWare (what's that? you only have TupperWare? poor unfortunates!) and tucked it in the fridge, waiting for new inspiration to strike.

Well, I found my inspiration in the very back of the freezer, a package of Goya empanada wrappers that I probably purchased a year ago or more but have been intimated to actually use. So I thawed them out, rolled them a little thinner, filled them with the leftover burrito mix, sealed them with the help of a little water, a fork and my fingertips, and fried them in some vegetable oil until G B & D! Then I served them with the ubiquitous sour cream and taco sauce, and PRESTO, whole new meal! And they were really great! I will definitely buy more, as they are tasty, really inexpensive (seems like the package of ten may have set me back a buck?), and lovely reddish color to boot! Of course, you could fill them with just about anything that tickles your fancy. Look for them in the frozen foods section of your favorite grocery. And if anyone comes up with a truly fabulous filling, please holla back--I'd love to hear about YOUR creativity!

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