Friday, October 3, 2014

Food odds and ends, plus applesauce

Because we're planning to move next May, Shane and I decided that it was finally time to knuckle down and actually eat everything in our freezer. We've never done this before. We've said we wanted to, but then let other things and meals get in the way. Neither of us is terribly fond of fish and that is a majority of what's in the freezer. But now, neither of us wants to even think about moving frozen food. So it's either eat it, or give it away next May.
This past spring, Northwest Edible Life did an "eat from your pantry" challenge. I sort of followed it. At least, it got me thinking more about what we had which needed to get eaten up before summer's glut began. But there's no way we have enough in the house to not go grocery shopping at least occasionally, so I didn't feel really hardcore about this.
This time, things are different. It's not just, "Oh, yeah, I'll make sure we eat that sometime this week." I am planning every meal based on what we've already got in the house. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners...everything has at least one pantry and/or freezer item in it. It's been rather incredible how quickly we've eaten our way through some things. Our chest freezer is already looking a little sparse, which is fabulous! I really think we can make it this time, as long as we keep our motivation up.
I've made cherry scones for breakfasts (using up the last jar of cherries I canned two years ago) and will make applesauce muffins when they're all gone, using the applesauce which, again, has been sitting in our cupboard for several years. I burned it a little when I made it, and it tastes burnt, but not in muffins! I've also used it to make this apple-cranberry baked oatmeal, which uses both the applesauce and some of the last of our cranberries.
Lunches have been dinner leftovers (as usual) and dinners have been surprisingly well-rounded, tasty, and diverse. We're still buying vegetables from the store, which helps, but even the meat portion of the meal has been different every night, despite the fact that we've mostly just eaten fish and moose. But we made pesto salmon which was a huge hit with everyone, including the tiny human. (The recipe is: smear leftover pesto on a salmon fillet and bake until done.) We made curried halibut (it sucked, but only because the fillet was so old...leftovers went to the dog and we scrounged other leftovers and freezer items for lunch), moose roast, chili with moose, and a couple of vegetarian soups. Even those used pantry/freezer items, like tomatoes that I canned this year and celery from the freezer, my homegrown carrots and peas. Soon we'll be making Alaskan pie, clam chowder (we have clams in the freezer), lasagna (with ground moose meat), and of course more salmon. (Tonight: rosemary garlic salmon. Next time: teriyaki salmon with sriracha sauce.)
It's incredible to me how quickly we get through food now simply because we've added one very small person to our house. I swear, she eats half her body weight every single day! I love that she enjoys food, though. She's so far from being a picky eater that she actually loves strong flavors! Curry, chili, pesto...she even loved potato leek soup, so much so that she would ignore the banana pieces in front of her to lean over, mouth open, asking for more soup. She likes cabbage and turnips and carrots and she vastly prefers wild blueberries, which are far more flavorful and a bit tart. But she chews on rhubarb stalks from the garden, so I guess I don't have to worry about her disliking tart or sour things!
Still, though, she is a baby, and she is human. She loves sweet things as much as anybody. She's gotten very small amounts of sugary items (like a bite or two) but for the most part her sweetness comes from fruit. One of the easiest things to make for her, when we're all out of other ideas or foods she can eat (she still doesn't have teeth, at 10 months, so we're stuck feeding her soft foods), is to give her "oatmeal". I bought steel cut oats in bulk and ground them up in the blender so that it's more like oat powder. Into this we mash fruit, or blend it up to mix in, and sometimes add a bit of spice. Her favorites have been blueberries (with nutmeg, if we feel like it), bananas (with cinnamon), plums. And, applesauce.
As I said above, the last batch of applesauce I made for canning, I burned. No matter which pot I used, it always ended up burned. So now I only make applesauce in the CrockPot. I suppose it ends up being a little bit more like unspiced apple butter that way. But, it's delicious. Applesauce is inherently less nutritious than eating whole apples, because a lot of the nutrition is in the skins. But, it's still fruit and until she grows some teeth, applesauce it is. To make applesauce, peel and core a bunch of apples. Put the flesh of the apples in the CrockPot and turn it on low for a few hours. That's it! Cook it down until it becomes the consistency of, you know, applesauce. If you've got a particularly hard bunch of apples you might add a tiny bit of water or cider. But I love using apples which have gone mealy, and they provide plenty of liquid.
For extra frugal points, you can save the skins and cores and make a second batch of applesauce. Once the first batch is out, put the cores and skins into the pot and cook them until everything is breaking apart and mushy. The reason you don't want to do this with the regular flesh is because you'll have to strain out the seeds, stems, and whatever parts of the skins don't break down. It's so much easier when there's a bit less sauce to strain. Once it's cooked, push it through a fine mesh strainer with a wooden spoon, periodically emptying out the mashed up fruit which won't fit through. It's a bit of work, but not too much, and it's totally worth it. I cut all of my apples off the core anyway, so I just save them all in a bag in the freezer until I have enough to be worth saucing. Pear cores and peels can also be added, if you have any.
Some people add sugar to applesauce, but why bother? It's plenty sweet, as long as you use some sweet varieties of apples. You can add cinnamon to the applesauce if you like, although I tend to do that when I'm using it instead. If you want to add other spices, cloves and nutmeg can make an interesting combination, but that also makes it more like spiced apple butter than a true applesauce.
This year, I'm not going to bother canning the applesauce. My MIL gave me a silicone muffin pan which she hated, and which is perfect for freezing into 1/3 cup amounts, which Shane and I have taken to calling pucks. As in, "How many broth pucks should I add?" We've got peach pucks (that is so fun to say) from peaches which almost went bad, broth pucks, and now applesauce pucks. We'll eat through them, just as we're eating through the other stored and frozen foods. And with them, we'll get a little taste of summer or autumn during the long, harsh winter.

Overnight oatmeal with applesauce and cinnamon:

2/3 cup rolled oats*
1 cup homemade applesauce**
1/4 tsp cinnamon, or a little more to taste

Store in a small mason jar in the fridge overnight and pull out for breakfast. Do yourself a favor and warm it up in the microwave before eating. It is so delicious on a cold autumn morning.

*I originally tried this with steel cut oats. Don't. Even blasting in the microwave doesn't soften the oats at all. Stick to rolled oats for this.
**I'm sure you could do this with store-bought applesauce as well, but I haven't tried that so no guarantees. If you do try it, just make sure that the applesauce is rather runny since it's the liquid part which softens and gets absorbed by the oats.