Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall Fest: Cooking for One and My Mad Freezer Stash

Are you single? As in live alone, cook alone, and usually eat alone? This would be me. When coupled people talk about how they cook for one, they tend to be talking about the occasional evening when their significant other happens to be out of town or at a meeting. When I talk about cooking for one, I mean one -- day in and day out.

This is not a complaint. This is my life and I'm perfectly happy. However, cooking for one can be a challenge, starting with buying for one. So, when our Fall Fest 2010 Mad Stash theme came up this week I wasn't thinking about what fearless leader Margaret Roach intended--freezing, preserving, or drying in anticipation of getting through the dead of winter. I was thinking about what I do year round to save a little money, keep food from going bad (or eating too much of it at one sitting), or to be able to enjoy the kind of cooking typically done for a family--like making big pots of soup, or lasagna, or baking bread.

See, I live in San Diego, and while we certainly address seasonality, we have gorgeous produce year round. We don't need to "put away" for the winter. Maybe I don't have fresh local strawberries in January, but I have access to magnificent  apples, pears,  persimmons, and citrus. And, a container of smashed strawberries in the freezer left over from my summer strawberry freezer jam extravaganza (I have jars of the jam in the freezer, too). Did I buy too much Swiss chard last week? No problem. I'll just remove the ribs and put the leaves in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, honey, and parmesan cheese to make Swiss chard pesto. And put that in the freezer for later.


Now, sometimes I get carried away at the farmers market and buy too much. Or my schedule changes and I end up with several unexpected evenings out. And my poor produce languishes in the fridge. If I can catch it in time, I can create something that turns veggies just this side of spoiled into something sublime--then freeze it.

This is what happened over the summer when I had zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, leeks, and I forget what else. I got busy that week and it sat. Then I burned my right palm pretty severely making a tomato tarte tatin. My plans for cooking up all that produce were dashed. Until I called my mom. She came over the next day and the two of us had a wonderful afternoon in my kitchen making what I'm calling my "refrigerator sauce."

There's no real recipe here. What we did--and what I often do--is prep the veggies for roasting, which brings out the sugars in each. Use a good-sized non-stick baking sheet. I don't use foil for this because I want to scrape up the juices from the tomatoes and add them to the sauce. In this case, we cut eggplant, zucchini, onions, sweet peppers, and leeks into chunks. We halved the tomatoes and tossed in whole, peeled garlic cloves. We tossed the veggies in olive oil and sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper. The pans went into a 400-degree oven and roasted for about 20 minutes. (Just check on them periodically after the first 10 minutes. Some vegetables will cook faster than others and you should remove them from the oven so the rest can continue roasting.)

Once they're finished roasting, heat up a Dutch oven or heavy pot, add some olive oil and a little fresh, minced garlic, then all those now gorgeously browned pieces of vegetables to the pot--with the juices. Unless you have a ton of tomatoes, you might want to add some canned fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. Then add fresh herbs--basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, or whatever else you have on hand--along with salt and pepper. Let the mixture simmer for awhile (20 minutes or so). At this point, you can pull out your immersion blender and pulverize the vegetables until you have the texture you want. (No immersion blender? No worries--just let the mixture cool and transfer it to a blender or food processor.) Taste and adjust your seasonings. Let it simmer on low for another half hour to thicken and let the flavors come together. Remove from the heat and let cool. Then transfer to plastic storage containers to put in the freezer. Be sure to label the sauce, including the date you made it. I keep a cordless label maker in my kitchen so I don't get lazy about it. It's so frustrating to open the freezer and try to figure out what mystery foods you have and how long they've been in suspended animation.


So, how have I used the sauce? It obviously goes great with pasta. Melissa Clark recently wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times about whole wheat pasta and I bought her favorite: a package of Bionaturae organic whole wheat spaghetti. I'm with her. It has a wonderful texture and nutty flavor that I've become somewhat addicted to. It pairs well with hearty sauces and this refrigerator sauce is truly hearty--even without meat, although you could add ground beef to make a luscious ragu.


I also used the refrigerator sauce as the base for pizza. And, where did I get the dough? Yep, out of the freezer. See I make a terrific pizza dough but it's too much for one. So I divide it into quarters, roll them into balls, secure each ball tightly in plastic wrap, and then put them into a labeled freezer bag. Over the weekend, I pulled out a ball and let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator. It was fine for me to use the following day. It shaped nicely into a six-inch personal pizza, which I topped with the sauce, slices of Field Roast vegan Mexican Chipotle sausage (leftover from another story I researched), slices of garlic, and grated/cubed Piave Vecchio, a great fall cows milk cheese from the Italian Alps that I bought from Taste's Mary Palmer.

The pizza made for a great, easy lunch. After all, it's just a matter of heating the oven to 500 degrees, shaping the dough, adding the toppings, and baking for all of 10 minutes.

A great, healthy, meal for one.


So, what does "Mad Stash" mean to my Fall Fest colleagues?

Alison at Food2: Break Out the Stash
Kirsten at Food Network: Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Liz at Healthy Eats: Mad Squash Stash
Michelle at Cooking Channel: Save Em' While You Can
Caroline at the Wright Recipes: Brandied Apple Butter
Nicole of Pinch My Salt: Spiced Pear Butter 
Alana at Eating From the Ground Up: On the Chest Freezer
Cate of Sweet Nicks: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette 
 Margaret at A Way to Garden: Everything Into the Pot, Freezer, Cellar
Todd and Diane: Persimmon Overload, and Persimmon Fool Pudding 


Now It's Your Turn to Join Fall Fest 2010!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy fall's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? You can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. 
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big Fall Fest 2010 pumpkin badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #fallfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
Sept. 1: Sweet and Spicy Peppers
Sept. 8: Garlic
Sept. 15: White (or colorful “white”…but not sweet) Potatoes
Sept. 22: Spinach
Sept. 29: Apples
Oct. 6: Fall Salads
Oct. 13: Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Oct. 20: Pears
Oct. 27: “Mad Stash” (as in what you’re freezing/canning/drying, etc.)
Nov. 3: Root veggies
Nov. 10: Brassicas: incl. Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage or other
Nov. 17: Sweet Potatoes
Nov. 24: Bounty to Be Grateful For

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