"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...
And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here." ~ Wendell Berry

March 30, 2012

Dinner from the Pantry

Braised short beef ribs in a tomato-ginger sauce, creamy polenta with cheese and pan-grilled zucchini.

We've been "eating down the freezers" these past few months (yes, I said freezers) and making a wee dent in our vast Apocalyptic Pantries (yes, that's also plural). Believe me, I was a food hoarder gatherer well before the 2012 craziness but I have to say that with the continued high price of gas, living far enough from any store to justify a quick run, and very far away from certain products that I like to have on occasion, it's great to have food at the ready on the farm. It's also economical as we build our cattle herd and face other farm costs: I can count on one hand how many times I've been to a big grocery store since January 1st. 

I also know that, in a pinch, if we lose power for an extended period on our ridge, as has happened in ice storms of the past, we will have a lot of food to share with our neighbors from our melting freezers. I say this because I find it appalling how some food gatherers hoarders as portrayed on television shows seem to stock up as much on weapons as on food to keep it away from their neighbors and other marauding bands of hungry crazy people (or is it zombies?). [The writer and community-minded self-sufficient living expert, Kathy Harrison, featured on Doomsday Preppers, is not of this vein and I highly recommend her blog for useful information on sustenance living.]

This excellent Italian polenta has been in my pantry, unopened, since 2007
when I purchased it in Boston's North End. Because it was vacuum-sealed,
it was perfectly fresh. It also has the delightful and nutty addition of buckwheat.

While I've been trying to be gluten-sugar free this Lenten season, I've not been as vigilant as I might be (I lasted three weeks, however). This meal, except for the dessert, was just that (assuming that my corn-buckwheat polenta mix has no wheat in it because I can't read Italian). I've been dabbling with new ways to eat that don't have to involve traditional gluten-dependent baking or cooking methods (very hard habit to change after forty years of baking and cooking this way) and also being more portion conscious, too.

Five medium zucchini, sliced, and stir-fried in the skillet with a bit of olive oil and butter.

Pears from the pantry are just as great
from the jar as they are in a fruit dessert.
So here are the basics of this meal that evolved in a few hours while I was puttering this afternoon:
  • I thwawed some short boneless beef ribs out yesterday that I needed to use asap;
  • I had five zucchini to use up;
  • I have some canned tomatoes (not my own) to use up;
  • I found that the potatoes we got at a local (unnamed, because it's sort of "you get what you pay for") produce place the other day were punky and pathetic (and not even seed potato-worthy by the looks of them: they were in a huge bag) so I remembered a packet of polenta (vacuum-sealed) from an Italian foodie tour of Boston's North End that I took with some dear friends (Oh my, was it way back in 2007?? How can this be?);
  • I wanted to do something with some of the pears that I canned last fall;
  • I found a bottle of ginger-soy-sesame sauce that I got at a recent "dented cans" store (with an expiration date looming).

Braised Boneless Beef Short Ribs

This made eight ribs, enough for four people. I like beefy cuts with a bit of fat and some marbling and prefer these to pork ribs. I cooked them slow and low in the oven, after braising, for just over 2 hours in my four-quart Le Creuset while I prepared other things and did laundry. This is one of my favorite meals for busy days. You could probably do this in a slow-cooker, too, but just remember to braise the meat first. It locks in the flavor and also allows for the slow tenderization that occurs at low temperatures over several hours.

  • One packet of boneless beef short ribs (enough for two per serving)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed/minced ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-14 oz can diced tomatoes (reserve juice)
  • large pinch each: sugar, Kosher salt, ground pepper and cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup of ginger-soy dressing (this comes in many brands)
  1. Set oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large four-quart, heavy-lidded pan.
  3. Chop onion and add to heated olive oil, along with garlic. Cook until translucent and browned. Add ginger.
  4. In the meantime, braise (on all four sides, about a minute a side) the short ribs in skillet with remaining olive oil. Remove to a plate or dish, if still doing sauce.
  5. To the onion-garlic mixture, add 1 can diced tomatoes, with juice, as well as all seasonings.
  6. Simmer for a minute and add 1/4 cup of the ginger soy dressing.
  7. Place each rib on top of the sauce mixture (which should come up the sides of the beef ribs).
  8. Cover with aluminum foil and seal with heavy lid.
  9. Place in 300 degree oven and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours: slow and low!
Creamy-Cheesy Polenta

The flecks are the unexpected addition of buckwheat to this Italian polenta mixture.

Polenta is indescribably delicious and a rustic staple in Italian country cooking: it is creamy, warm, comforting and the perfect accompaniment to short ribs. And polenta is almost as easy––and fast––as making hot breakfast cereal (and just as inexpensive: after all, it's cornmeal!). I was surprised that one cup of cooked polenta makes four hearty portions or eight regular ones (we had a lot leftover after the four of us were finished).


  • 1 cup polenta (or a good stoneground cornmeal will do nicely)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp herb of choice (I used dried marjoram but most any herb works)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (or other dry, flavorful cheese)
  1. On medium-high, bring milk and broth to almost a boil but not quite.
  2. Add 1 cup polenta, and 1 Tbsp herb, and stir constantly until the boil.
  3. Once it boils, turn heat to low and cook, while stirring, for 5-10 minutes. [You want it thick and porridgy and for the liquid to absorb.]
  4. Stir in butter, salt, pepper and cheese. 
  5. Keep warm until serving.

Pear Cobbler-ish

OK, I admit. I cheated. I had a can of Pillsbury® Cinnabon® rolls in the fridge that Henry got the other day. I won't do this again. It was "eh," especially as my husband removed the rolls and ate the pear filling underneath (which I would make again) and the boys ate the rolls. Either way, I'm not caving into Henry any more at the grocery store! The good news is that this took about five minutes to make and another 20 or so to bake. You can use any fruit, fresh, frozen (drain first) or canned.

  • 1 quart canned pears in light sugar syrup (preferably homemade, no, I insist: HOMEMADE!)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 can of biscuits or cinnamon rolls (or homemade shortbread biscuits: next time!)
  1. Grease a 9x9 dish and set oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Drain juice from pears into a saucepan (mine were done in a light syrup so I did not add extra sugar). 
  3. Place pears at bottom of greased dish.
  4. Stir cornstarch into heating juice and whisk until thickened (add a bit of water if too thick).
  5. Add cinnamon to thickened juice.
  6. Pour juice mixture over the pears.
  7. Place biscuits or buns or what-have-you over fruit mixture.
  8. Bake for 15-18 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream, yogurt or ice cream.


 You come back when you're ready!

 Catherine

2 comments:

  1. Great blog, informative and up to date. Bookmarking your page. Thanks and more power!

    ReplyDelete

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