Return To The Kitchen: The Returnening (Episode One)

With one exception, I haven't cooked for a week.

One week ago today, I made up an epic batch of char siu. It took a triple batch of the marinade, six and a half pounds of pork shoulder, and had to be cooked in two batches so as not to dirty two racks. Some of it went into banh mi that night, some of it got stashed away for a near-future project, and most of it ended up in the freezer for future consumption.

Monday was gaming night at not-my-house, so I didn't cook. Tuesday, I had to cook a big batch of fried rice with the pork for a work potluck, so dinner was Arby's. The 40 minutes I spent making the fried rice is the aforementioned exception. On Wednesday, I ate the leftover fried rice. Thursday I finished up the Christmas shopping, and just grabbed some Chipotle. Friday? Tired and lazy. Used it as an excuse to try out Papa Murphy's. Was pleasantly surprised. And yesterday was a little gaming get-together I threw. Lunch was White Castle and Taco Bell, on purpose. Dinner was a large Panera salad in an attempt to recover from the White Castle.

So here we are, mid-day on Sunday, and I am returning to the kitchen, dammit. Yes, I've been distracted by the holidays, and a new computer, and Cathy being out of town. But shit must be dealt with. It's going to be like the worst episode of Chopped ever. I've got six hours, the secret ingredients are whatever's still good in my fridge, and I only need to make one meal.

11:30 AM: Having not yet eaten lunch, I am unprepared to look in my fridge. But that's OK, because there is some Shit That Must Be Dealt With right on my counter. Specifically, four winter squashes. Two delicata, one acorn, and one unidentified. They are the last four squashes from the CSA. They are the last four ANYTHING from the CSA. And dealing with them is key. I don't know what part they're going to play, but I know before they can play any part, they must be halved, seeded, and roasted. I manage to deal with all the halving, and the seeding of the acorn, before I need lunch, which is, of course, leftover pizza.

12:15 PM: The squashes are all seeded, salted, peppered, and drizzled with canola oil, and are arrayed on a cookie sheet waiting for the oven to finish preheating to 375. I figure I'll take the delicatas out after an hour, and leave the rest in at least another 30 minutes, maybe 45. I tend to under-roast squash.

I still haven't looked in the fridge. Part of that is fear, and part of that is knowing that one of my short-term goals is to empty the fridge as much as possible, because it could use a good cleaning. I'll deal with it shortly. Really I will.

12:45 PM: The fridge situation is simultaneously better and worse than I thought. On the up side, I was able to identify everything that was in it that needed tossing (some old stray leftovers and sauces, a few sad ancient vegetables) pretty quickly, and what remains in the fridge should make it easy to actually go ahead and do the fridge cleaning today.

On the downside, what I'm left with in the vegetal department will be... interesting to work with. Half a bag of baby spinach, carrots, red cabbage, sage, thyme, some fairly dried out criminis, cilantro, a bulb of fennel, two poblanos, two anaheims, and a half a dozen tiny sweet bell peppers. Only about half of that works with roasted squash at all.

My thoughts are turning toward soup, because I like roasted squash soups, and they're easy, and I can use the fennel, thyme, and sage, and carrots in it. Spinach and red cabbage and bell peppers could be an admittedly somewhat basic salad. The chilis and cilantro I can save for another day, the mushrooms... well, the mushrooms may have to be sacrificed for the cause. We'll see. That with some kind of basic meat would work out nicely, and if I play my cards right, lead to some leftovers. I don't need a lot of leftovers this week, but I need some.