Friday, August 14, 2009

Cuisine Economique

These days I've been looking for ways to streamline my cooking. Between having a toddler and now a European sized fridge and pantry (one cabinet with three narrow shelves) I have to make the best use of my limited space and time. After years of cheffing in the sprawling kitchens of the rich and famous as well as some nice sized kitchens of my own, it's been a bit of a shock to the system. But I find myself doing more of what I'd call junk cooking or "cuisine economique" as a hat tip to one of my kitchen heroes, Jacques Pépin.

When I was a teenager aspiring to have an important first job- as a baker; so serious was I that I agreeably started my days at 4 am- I learned a lot about the economy of re-using foods that were still good but that everyone was less than charmed with on the 2rd or third round. I know this sounds horrible, like chicken becoming a tetrazzini in it's final incarnation but it's much more tasty and practical than that. It started with a cookie and a brownie and the cut ends of cake... we would chuck all of these things into the mixer with loads of spices and some oil and a bit of molasses, mixing in sugar and other things to correct the dough, roll it into logs the length of a sheet pan, bake and glaze. The final product was called a spice bar and it was always a hit. Joggers (it was the 80s) would come our way on their runs to get a few- for energy- always saying how healthful they were. Many asked for the recipe, which my boss would always retain with a wink- old family recipe, guarded for generations.

So now in honor of all who have taught me, I am making bread puddings from the endless bits of puddings that keep finding their way into our kitchen. I buy a chicken now not just with the intention of making a stock from the carcass after the bird has been roasted and consumed, but with the menu worked out for the next few and final days of that chicken's existence as anything resembling fowl. You see, my freezer is the size of a shoebox, I have no space to make and save endless bits, stocks, demi glaces or other delectables.

The toddler helps me stay honest in my cooking and grocery shopping because I have to always keep space on his buggy for toys, nappies, books and extra clothes in case the weather turns. So when I shop I can only bring home what will fit. Sometimes I'm amazed at what I can fit, but I no longer buy things in bulk and let them sit for years while I figure out how I will cook them.

An oversized batch of de Puy lentils became patties for the babe, a pilaf for us (with cumin seeds and cilantro) and was ground up to thicken a soup. I have always known how to cook like this, I just got lazy with my american sized fridge, freezer and a whole room dedicated to the saving and cataloguing of foods of every ethnic persuasion imaginable.

I have no pictures of these junk dishes I'm been making, part of the economy of preparing them is lacking the time for glamour shots, but I shall fit some in here soon. That or I'll just make up some recipes like this.

Bread Box Pudding
2 cups of stale breads, preferably with some fruit or nuts
1-2 cups milk
1/2 a homemade granola bar, 1/2 a bran muffin, odds and ends
a handful of dried fruit
2 eggs
tiniest pinch of salt
1 T sugar
1 T ground almonds
2 four ounce ramekins oiled with 1 T butter

Cut or tear the stale bread into 1/2" pieces and soak for 40 minutes in milk (you may need a little more than 1 cup).
Preheat oven to 200º C.
Gently squeeze the milk out of the bread and put into a second bowl. Add the granola bar/muffin/etc and lightly toss to incorporate the bits evenly. Measure out the milk and add a bit more to total 1 cup, beat in eggs, salt and sugar.
Put 1/2 of the bread mixture into each ramekin, sprinkle with 1/2 of the almond and then pour the milk/egg mixture over the top slowly letting it soak in.
Bake for 30 minutes in the middle rack.

Let cool for 10 minutes before eating, although this will be hard!

1 comment:

v said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to reading more and trying some of your recipes! xo Victoria