Preserve

I have a freezer. It’s a relatively small chest freezer, of which I don’t care for the dumping and digging that occur, but it fits my space and I love it being there. The best thing about a freezer, aside from storing monthly shops of beef, chicken, tortillas, nuts and grains, the best thing is summer produce in winter. Just look at this tomatillo salsa:

campari for the cook

Amazing color! Added to the frozen garden tomatillos, were frozen roasted jalapeños, some pan roasted garlic, and salt. Simple, delicious, fast. I don’t remember if this sauce became tacos or enchiladas or what, but having access to just-picked foods in my freezer reminds me, again, how lucky I am. Now’s the time to think gardens, veggie-growing, and putting away for next winter. Do it!

Cheers!

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Taco Night

When Junior was very small he ate everything. As he aged, his tastes limited, and he began to have a pronounced issue with food texture. In my very-slow-to-dawn Maternal Wisdom, I have learned to ask him whether it’s the taste or the feel of a food that troubles him. While this helps with understanding, I still feel frustration when a dish or item once tolerated or enjoyed, now causes at-table gagging or worse. I may be able to help with texture, preparing a dish a different way, using slightly different components, but taste is taste. Since Junior’s taste buds are far newer than mine, and there is a legitimate reality that he could have more taste receptors than I do, I have learned (finally) to trust his palate. This doesn’t make dinner rejections easy. Especially when I’m tired and actually tried to make a better dinner.

I don’t go in for weekly menu planning solely based on alliteration. No Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, or Weetabix Wednesdays.  My goal is to have ingredients in the cupboard and fridge (or freezer) that can be turned into dinner each night of the week. I try to keep less complicated meals for busy days, days when Junior and I might not return home until after my usual Dinner Prep Time has past. The freezer is great for these nights. Luxurious whole-days at home are good for dishes requiring long cooking times, long rising times, or time to thaw, since last night I forgot to transfer the meat from freezer to fridge.

In addition to the everyday busyness of classes, read-alouds, and grammar mastery, my solo interests of writing, collaging, gardening, recipe researching, are activities that devour extra minutes, minutes that I could have used for clearing the kitchen counters for prep, mincing, dicing, or julienne; minutes for freezer-rummaging, remembering to write what we’d used up so I could remember to buy a replacement. From this slough of Not Enough Time Meets Picky Eater, emerges a basic weekday dinner rotation of: foods that have ready-made components in the freezer, foods Junior will eat, back-up foods Junior will eat when Spouse and I have something off-list, and not-really-favorites of Junior but items he will eat if very hungry, usually when he has lunch at noon, rather than at, say, 4PM.

One item that fits all of my menu planing criteria is the humble taco: Beef or Chicken. While we might have an accidental Taco Tuesday, we more often have Taco Mondays or Wednesdays as those are consistent late-getting-home days. We alternate between the two proteins, changing it up each time with the accompaniments at hand. The proteins can be prepared ahead of time: chicken poached or roasted, ground beef cooked and seasoned, then all frozen in containers sized for our meal.

Minced garlic, dried onion, red pepper flake, salt, ancho, pasilla, & chili blend powders
Minced garlic, dried onion, red pepper flake, salt, ancho, pasilla, & chili blend powders
Simple.
Ready for shred.

Junior prefers a simple addition of grated cheddar, with sour cream on the side, some hot sauce for the tortilla chips, and his fruit/veggies on a separate plate. Spouse and I use less animal protein, replacing with pinto beans, also cooked and frozen in advance, and any number of vegetable combinations. For a last-minute-dinner we might have simple shredded lettuce. But our otherwise veggie options include: garlicky greens with kale or chard; raw cabbage slaw with shredded carrot, super thin onion, and cilantro; grilled zucchini and carrot; a raw shredded sweet potato slaw. If I’m really thinking ahead, I might even marinate some onions for a day or two.

The salsa I prefer originates from Rick Bayless’ My Mexican Kitchen: Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeño Salsa. This recipe alone is worth the price of the entire book!

Roasted
Roasted

I roast the tomatoes under the broiler, peel, then add with all their juice into a food processor. Roasted chilis and garlic, both done easily in a hot, dry, cast iron pan, stemmed and peeled respectively, follow the tomatoes into the processor.

Garlic (jalapeno roasted and frozen in late summer!)
Garlic (jalapeño not pictured, roasted and frozen in late summer!)

I usually use the whole chili, seeds and all. The first batch of salsa will have serious spice, but I have noticed that the spice level decreases with each round of thaw/refreeze. For anytime after late summer/early fall, I roast and freeze the chilis, picked and processed at their height of local ripeness, so we can have consistent chili heat all winter and spring. With the tomatoes, garlic, and chilis blended, I add finely chopped and rinsed red or white onion, and, if I find any in the garden or fridge, chopped cilantro.

Adding onion & cilantro
Adding onion & cilantro

Rinsing the onion eliminates the stuff that causes tears, the stuff responsible for turning anything with raw onion rather nasty after a few hours. I make salsa and freeze most of it, so when thawed, want it to be almost as good as the day made.

For the other ingredients, I have tried my hand at flour tortilla-making, and will make on occasion but generally try to have a package of my preferred coop-bought tortillas in the freezer. Sometimes I buy some cotija or queso fresco, but we generally go with Junior’s favorite “yellow cheese”, an item always on hand.

On any given day, I can pull from my freezer: tortillas, cooked chicken or beef, long-soaked lightly salted simmered pinto beans, fabulous salsa. From the fridge I have cheese to grate, sour cream to spoon, and some kind of vegetable to grill, roast, or shred. If I’m lucky, I’ll have an avocado to slice. We could all have some variation of this meal 2 or 3 times a week and be quite happy. Cheers!

One of our standby, go-tos!
One of our standby, go-tos!