In which I discover that a quitter never wins

BUT a quitter gets to eat a leisurely brunch on her birthday rather than attempting pie #2 in a kitchen not really equipped for such an undertaking. Which is all to say that I bailed on the Mission Pie pie contest. Oh the gnashing of the teeth and the beating of the breasts–I feel guilty for having done so!–but, hear me out: The first pie I made, the tester pie, was an unmitigated disaster. I am not really sure why. Well, I kind of know why. I usually cut the fat into the flour (for the pie crust) with a Cuisinart to avoid overhandling the dough, but I had no Cuisinart. I didn’t even have a pastry cutter, just me sticky, warm hands. And it was raining out, and soggy weather is not great for making pastry. Plus I overcooked the crust. (You prebake it before filling for a strawberry pie, which I was making.) And I didn’t have any measuring cups so I just sort of eyeballed everything and ended up with a cardboard textured crust and a gelatinous goop of filling. Oh the shame. I am usually a pretty good baker. Though I will say this: When I make kitchen screw ups, it is almost always in the baking department. I think this is because baking takes such precise measurements and exactitude whereas braising a piece of meat, for example, is a pretty laissez faire operation.

So. After the great unmitigated disaster of pie #1, I thought I would get up bright and early the next morning and make pie #2, trying to avoid the pitfalls from the day before. But how to avoid them? I still didn’t have measuring cups or spoons in the sublet apartment I was using, nor did a Cuisinart magically appear on my counter. (And when I insist on the superiority of using a Cuisinart to cut fat into flour, I can’t help but think of my French 5 teacher, who taught us how to cook like French people–no joke, fancy prep school–and who taught us that you must use your hands when making pastry. Je suis desole, Madame I have failed you with my crappy French and my Cuisinart addiction…)

Anyway, besides the French saying about how it is necessary to use your hands when cutting fat into flour, there is an American saying that a crazy person is one who attempts to do the thing that didn’t work the first time again and again and again. So. I decided to stop the insanity and go get a nice birthday brunch instead.

When I returned to Atlanta from SF a few days ago, I started cooking up a storm, most likely as compensation for being a big, fat pie contest quitter. (Actually, I’m probably less fat by virtue of having quit the contest.) I’ve gotten very interested in trying to make multiple meals from a few ingredients, keeping a “live” kitchen, so that you prep in big batches and then keep stuff frozen or refrigerated that you pull out, tweak, and serve for dinner the next night. Judith Jones’ latest cookbook really inspired me to do this. Last night I got a whole roast chicken from the Farmer’s market, cut it up, used the breast meat for a chicken divan that I made with some previously frozen bechamel, some steamed broccoli, Parmesan, and breadcrumbs, and saved the dark meat for later. I then took the chicken bones from the roast chicken, and started a stock, using another carcass I had saved a few weeks ago (in the freezer) and a boatload of carrots, turnips, celery and parsley. (I have discovered that I like a vegetable-y chicken soup/stock.) While the stock was going I roasted some butternut squash and sweet potatoes, and put the scooped out roasted flesh into the fridge to save for the next day. I had the chicken divan for dinner last night plus lunch today, and then tonight made butternut squash soup with last night’s chicken stock, the roasted squash and sweet potato, some tart apples, fresh ginger, apple cider, sage from the garden, and nutmeg. Meanwhile I cooked some celery and carrots in a little butter and added the slow cooked vegetables (“seduced” Edna Lewis called it) into the remaining chicken stock from the night before, along with the dark meat from the roast chicken I used for the chicken divan. I ate the squash soup for dinner tonight, plus an arugula salad using arugula from the garden, and froze the rest, along with the chicken soup. So now my freezer runneth over! And I realize I am sounding a bit like Brie from Desperate Housewives. But c’mon: cooking is my entertainment, and I’m not all persnickity in the kitchen or anything. I definitely follow the 5 second rule when something drops whilst cooking (don’t tell my dinner guests.) And good Lord is it cheaper to cook a bunch of stuff at once and have dinners stockpiled for nights to come. And I love having treats stockpiled: bechamel, frozen brownies, yummy soups. Leftovers get a bad rap, man. If the food only tastes so-so in the first place then yeah, leftovers are going to be hard to face. But if the food is good and the leftovers are some new variant of what you served the night before (chicken divan the night after a roast chicken, for example) then often times the leftover is better than the rightunder…or, er, the thing you served in the first place. At least that is Judith Jones’ philosophy, which I am co-opting for my own…

So. With no further ado, pics of the big cooking adventure. And please, if you are offended by pics of naked vegetables, do not keep scrolling down the page!

srw_26acorn & butternut squashes plus one sweet potato to be roasted for autumn soup

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chicken stock simmering (when done I strain out the vegetables and bones)

srw_23I know I’ve posted a million pics like this–onions in oil with some kind of savory herb–but c’mon, it’s the start of pretty much every great meal.  (This one is for the base of the squash/apple soup.)

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Huh, this looks kind of grody, but all it is is apple chunks, onions, sage, roasted butternut and acorn squash and sweet potato.  Just after this I added a quart of chicken stock and things started looking more normal.

srw_20Dinner! Autumn soup, arugula from the garden, French bread with brie.

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the glory of “leftovers”–the remaining stock, plus the dark meat from the chicken, plus some new carrots and celery make chicken soup for later…

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And autumn soup for later, too.

It occurs to me that this incessant documentation of my cooking-by-stockpiling-method might be a tad…um, narcissistic, but I think what I’m reveling in is the fact that I can cook for myself again. I just got back from a two week trip to San Francisco, and while I love San Francisco and cannot think of a better city to dine in (food is religion there), I got a little exhausted from all of the eating out. It’s this weird system where it often seems cheaper to eat out than eat in. And every restaurant is just so damn good there (cuz they’d shoot you if you serve a bad meal in SF), that all you want to do is restaurant hop. But in Atlanta, there are just enough good restaurants to make dining out once a week a pleasure, but not to send you into a frenzy of overwhelming, incessant choice. So. Viva the home cooking. Viva the freezer. Screw the pie.

One Response to In which I discover that a quitter never wins

  1. Anonymous November 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Wow!

    Sounds amazing! I am so impressed. I wish I could have the gift of doing this. My method is make a whole bunch of food. Eat it for dinner with the fam (or with what part of the fam will eat it). Eat it for lunch for days until I get really sick of it (as I’m the only one who eats leftovers around here). Throw out the last of it days later as it stinks up my fridge and swear to never make it again as now I’m REALLY grossed out by it.