Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Cooking for the Financial Crisis
A few weeks ago now, my sister informed me that the world was in a financial crisis. I can't blame her for assuming that I had been in a partial vegetative state since my arrival in Barcelona and therefore unable to access communication media or converse with other humans, it hasn't been a particularly productive year for me after all. However, I managed to put her mind at ease by letting her know that I was on top of the crisis thing-a-magiggy and will now go even further by offering my thoughts on crisis management...food-wise.
Luckily, this is a topic I know much about as I have been trying to keep the lid on a personal financial crisis for, well, about a year and a half now. No one's turned off my lights or, God forbid, blocked my internet access, so I do believe I boast about as much success as the US Treasury Department. Perhaps more.
My secret to creative crisis management: the chicken carcass. You'd be surprised the excellent return you can get on a mere skeleton with a few scraps of meat hanging off it. At 50 euro cents a pop, it's really all economic upside.
Actually, it's all about strategically combining the carcass and seasonal vegetables. This week: the pumpkin at 1.50 euros a kilo at the farmers' stalls outside the Boqueria market.
So, to the management. Well, basically, the carcass (two carcasses, preferably) goes into a pot with a good four litres of water and a selection of stock vegetables. (See the Chicken Soup post for additional thoughts on chicken soup--while that post deals with an already cooked carcass and this one with raw carcasses, the technique is largely similar.) This week I used 2 carrots, 1 parsnip, half a turnip, a couple of leaves of cabbage, 1 rib of celery, a leek and some parsley. The whole thing cooks and cooks until it becomes delicious chicken stock--you'll have to skim a little scum off the top when the soup first boils, but once you've reduced the heat to simmer and salted the whole thing well, there's little more to do but wait for the flavour to take. I usually pick the meat off the carcasses and throw it back in along with the carrots and parsnips (chopped up) for a home style chicken soup. I also put the soup in the fridge overnight so that I can skim off the fat the next day, but you can do as you like. If you leave things here, your investment has been approximately 2 euros ($3) and about an hour to an hour and a half of time. Your return: four very healthy and delicious meals for two.
But you can really take crisis management to the next level with the pumpkin and just one litre of the clear stock (i.e. just the liquid, none of the bits). For this, you'll need the following:
1 litre chicken stock
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 400ml can coconut milk
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
cilantro and roasted pumpkin seeds to garnish (optional but delicious)
You first cook the pumpkin, seeds and goo removed, in the microwave for 5-6 minutes to soften so that you can remove the skin more easily and chop it up. Once chopped (coarsely), you toss it into a soup pot with the stock and cook until soft enough to easily mash. You mash (or puree with a hand blender for a smoother soup), add the peanut butter (dissolved in a little of the hot liquid first so that it doesn't clump), maple syrup and coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a little chopped cilantro and roasted pumpkin seeds.
By the way, I found great instructions for roasting pumpkin seeds and general pumpkin manipulation at this site: www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org. I tossed my seeds with a little bit of olive oil and salt before roasting and they came out a treat.
Should you be wondering, your additional investment is 2.50 euros ($3.75) or so and you get two to three additional meals for two...well, you reduce the meals with the chicken stock by one or two, but you gain some variety and deliciousness so it's all net profit in the world of nutritional accounting (it's a little Enron-like, the nutritional accounting, you see).
Anyway, that's up to six meals for two for the price of 4.50 euros ($6.75) by my count and don't even get me started on how you can vary, stretch or even freeze the chicken stock--it's a world of infinite possibilities.
I will now sit back and wait for my Nobel Prize in Economics, thank you very much.