Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chores, Drawers and More

I had one of those busy kitchen-task oriented days this weekend. I got some energy and tackled many niggling organization problems which were bothering me, and as I was in the kitchen, whipped up some basics for the coming weeks.


Chiefly, I organized my Bento Lunch supplies. I’m am avid lunch packer and use of several different types of Japanese styled lunch boxes. Some thermal, some not, some large, some small. When I was new to the Bento Hobby, which I adopted after following the wonderful Mr. Bento Group on Flickr (and related Bento Box groups) I naturally went hunting for every type of accessory and cutesy tool I could find. As time has passed, I find I rely on my tried and true boxes, and, as I’m packing for myself and no children, I don’t find I use many of the cutesy decorating or garnishing tools – my lunches are colorful and varied and usually healthy and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted my extra supplies, many of them new and unused to go to a bento-packing mother who was hopefully new to the hobby and enthused about waste-free lunches for her child. Biggie of Lunch in a Box to the rescue! This Bento Packing Queen, who receives a great deal of press for her lunch packing skills and tips, digitally introduced me to a new bento enthusiast here in my city, who will be the benefactress of my extra supplies.


Next, I prepared for my year of BYOB. I need to be prepared for bread making as an organized science. This means not hunting for the yeast, the gluten, that little box of cornstarch, and darn it, where is the baking powder? One complete shelf was organized with all baking supplies, including flours, rising agents, and more. Hooray for the 99 Cent Store and its wealth of plastic containers. I have the new Artisan Bread in 5 book, but I wouldn't even open it and enjoy reading it until I’d organized my bread making pantry. Done, except for one thing. I need to head over to Smart and Final and get a food service plastic bin for my fridge for my basic starter dough. I’ve seen those over and over and I want one.


Next, I dealt with some leftover ham. I made Alton Brown’s City Ham on Saturday because Kat’s version looked so darn good. I am but a solo diner here, so I couldn’t make the whole hog (no pun intended), even though ham (well -- any pork) is my favorite sandwich meat. I just followed the method for making just a small boneless ham (not the canned kind, blecch – just the half-cut shrink wrapped boneless ham you find in the butcher aisle which I typically buy to shave into lunch meat). While I liked the recipe, it didn’t knock my socks off any more than other sweet and salty ham glazes. Good, but not a must-repeat for me. Granted, I suspect this would be much better on your traditional, bone-in baked ham, for the wow factor. So, I have a container of sliced ham for sandwiches, soups and the like, but ended up with a big hunk of ham from the round end after I got tired of slicing. Hmmmm. Let’s make ham salad and talk about mirepoix.

Kate’s Ham Salad

Hunks of baked ham
Handfuls of mirepoix (diced celery, onions and carrot)
Lots of Green Herbs
(I used Thyme, Parsley, Oregano)
Salt and Pepper

First I whirled the ham in a bullet blender in short pulses. I did not want ham paste. I just wanted it to shred, so with every few pulses, I opened the cup and emptied the shreds, and repeated until the entire chunk was reduced to nothing but a big bowl of pink shreds about the size of long rice.

Next, I took several handfuls of mirepoix, and added fresh and dried green herbs, salt, and pepper, and mixed thoroughly. I blended the chopped ham and mirepoix, added a few dollops of mayo, and mixed gently. Serve on toasted bread as a sandwich or on crackers.

Let me tell you ... this stuff is good and if you even consider buying Underwood Deviled Ham Paste after trying this (assuming you did beforehand), I’ll personally have you over for lunch and convince you to stop buying that stuff. Unless it’s for your bomb shelter.


Next, I worked on my expiring mirepoix. It wouldn't keep fresh for much longer, but cooked, I will get another week or so out of it. So, about mirepoix. I use it not just for stews and other entrees, but for sandwiches, so I keep Trader Joe’s finely chopped fresh mirepoix on hand. It’s a 14.5 oz medium size tub in layers – one layer of celery, one of carrot, and one of onion, in a rough chop. Just Jenn has a picture for us. Now, before you judge me for buying a convenience produce item, when you live alone, buying small size bags of produce and fruit is a challenge, unless its Farmers Market Weather. I hate wasting produce and buying smaller bags and pre-chopped mixes is actually more economical and convenient for me.

The tub has neat and pretty layers, and this is nice, but not useful when I want to dip into it. The first thing I do, is empty out the entire contents in a big bowl and mix it up with herbs, and then put it back into the tub and keep it in the fridge.

When I use a handful of mirepoix for sandwiches, I run another rough chop through it, to make it a bit smaller. Don’t overlook chopped carrot as an excellent salad addition in your tuna, egg and chopped meat salads – its just as crunch as celery and lasts a lot longer in the fridge. You get that little burst of color and sweet taste and it really comes in handy when the celery has gone dodgy. To make up for the lack of celery taste, just add celery seed.

So that brings me to this weekend, after the Ham Salad. I could tell the last of the mirepoix wasn't going to last much longer as it was past its prime. I didn’t want to waste it, so I melted some butter in a pan, and flash fried several thyme stalks. I removed the stems, kept the leaves in the pan, threw in the last of my mirepoix, and sauteed the heck out of it until it was deeply browned and caramelized (even the celery). I then added the last knob of Roasted Garlic Meyer Lemon Compound butter I had in the fridge -- perhaps 2 tablespoons from a container -- and browned it all to a liquid. When I had nothing but a pile of buttery brown veggie goodness, I emptied it from the pan into a sealed container for the fridge. As soon as it chilled, the butter sealed the veggies. Now, a quick scoop into my precooked, buttered, roasted veggies will help me spruce up any number of quick entrees –

– A spoonful in a pan, with an egg for a fast omelet
– A spoonful in any lackluster soup or stew
– A spoonful in any rice or pasta for a fast side dish
– A quick bit of intense veggie flavor to any pan-fried fish or chicken
– Or heated in a pan with other meats and then folded in tortilla for a quick wrap.


Finally, I handled a nagging Drawer Organizing task. I found all my plastic containers, their lids, and organized those into an easy to reach spot. I then took an empty box and took out every extra fork, spatula, unused ice cube tray, salt shaker missing its mate, unused ugly coffee mugs, a glass candy dish I never use, a plastic thermos that I dislike, and, finally, that awful Tupperware container that gives me so much grief by refusing to cooperate with its lid. Yes, it was costly, but the grief it gives me wasn’t worth it, I can’t be bothered to exchange it, so why am I burdening myself with this?! NO more! I boxed up all my kitchen orphans (32 items! Hooray), posted the box on Craigs List in the "free" column and 1 hour later, it was all gone to a happy bachelor for his apartment. As my mother puts it "Look at how much real estate you just cleared." It feels wonderful.


So there you have it! How I spent my Sunday in the kitchen! I was so busy working I didn’t photograph my efforts, not that you’d find it interesting to see. Except that ham salad, I’m going to make a sandwich and photograph that tomorrow.

I deserve a cake or pie or something, don't I? I have a vintage cake recipe on the menu for this week, for just that reason.


  1. Hey Kate!

    Glad to have been able to hook a new-to-bento Sacto mom up with you -- definitely a win-win. Thanks so much for your generosity in offering your spare gear to a reader; that was really sweet of you!

  2. Wow you got alot done! I loved your flicker pics of your Bento Lunches, very beautiful and delicious looking. What a wonderful craft!

  3. Honestly. We are sisters. I can't believe I've found a blog of someone else but me who lives single but likes to cook AND be organized and prepared for it (getting ready for the baking).

    And believe it or not, I've also had a long standing interest in bento boxes, but thought it was probably too much since i don't have kids.

    oh my. can't wait to see what else you come up with :)

    My verification word is fructoes