Friday, December 12, 2008

more austerity cookin'

Put Your Paw in the Back of the Freezer, Out Comes Fud!

This time I had a kid-like desire for Stouffer's beefy mac--beefaroni--whatever they call it. Noodley tomatoey beef thing. Not sure where the urge came from, but there it was. And not bad it was! Not sexy, not (er, remotely) foodie, but great this whole wintery week. I have been eating it for five days straight--grabbing bowlfuls out of the fridge, heating them up, lunch and dinner some days.

I browned some really nice organic beef, and then added handfuls of chopped organic Canadian bacon and some lunch meat corned beef, the last because it needed to be used up (the organic meats are the "freezer" part here; they are spendy, so I buy them only on sale). I browned all that nicely (can't 1/2-way the browning/cooking process if you are going to add a lot of liquid), then started flinging in any vaguely savory pizza herb--tons of oregano, basil, thyme, lil paprika, splashes of classic "meaty" condiments like Worchestershire, balsamic, soy. Pepper. The garlic I had smelled bitter, otherwise in it would have gone. Because I was the cook here I did not add onion, because I just don't like it in this sort of tomato situation. Then I added a jar of Barilla tomato/basil pasta sauce that I had purreed in the blender, a cup of chicken stock and a biggish can of tomato puree, the kind that is just tomatoes. Then I way undercooked a pound of mezze penne in very salty water, threw it in and..that was it. It was tomatoey beefy soupy delicious--different from how I like my pasta normally, which is barely sauced--but then again beefaroni is a very different animal.

It lasted through today, about a week, with one dip into restaurant food--last night. I ordered in Japanese, one of the true perks of living where I do (Kamehachi delivery in 20 min). Gyoza, kappa maki, kyori su...all me favs. Steamy hot miso on a freezing cold night. I felt like a new person. Snapped to like a rubber plant, as MFK Fisher puts it.

All this talk of austerity cooking--and it really really isn't yet, not with this much protein, only compared to my traditional Employed™ Cooking--is making me think a lot about Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. I don't think is one of her better books, primarily because of its unbelievably annoying "revised" state, which means she went back less than ten years later and commented on her own prose in a constant bracketed descant... I don't know that a writer should ever be allowed to do that, unless they come back from the dead and want to explain what some 17th century slang meant or something.

Looking at the book, though, I think I have gotten more from it than I realized; nor had I read that book until now with a sense that things might be as bad as they were when this was written (1942) in my lifetime. Was all a little more theoretical.

In some ways the best parts, due to Fisher's storytelling abilities, are still those in which she talks about what happens when you cast off austerity regimes, stop living your necessarily pinched life for one blessed moment, and end up moving things forward in unexpected ways. Also handicapping its goal for inspiring keeping the wolf at the door is the fact I find her sort of a mercurial cook herself, and HtCaW is a lot recipes. She's not at her best writing 1, 2, 3s.

But there's some good stuff in it, good principles. Such as balancing your day, not every single meal, which was fairly revolutionary at the time. Cooking with an eye toward leftovers, toward saving fuel, toward managing which things you can scrimp on/fake, which things you can't. Her recipe for Sludge is good (and frees you up for other--ugly--sludge-like variations, which are endless).

Fisher is so perverse, though, so contrary. So all over the place. A straightforward how-to book is just not her metier. You see sass peeking through all the time, in things like her fantasy dip into luxury cooking. The book has bones, though, clearer the older I get and the more the Dow drops.

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