Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cleaning out the Fridge

It's November. And with that and the inherently shorter days come slower and slower evenings at the restaurant. Making lemonade from lemons, I decided to come home for dinner last evening and let the crew handle the kitchen. For dinner, I would just clean out the fridge and the pantry and throw something together quickly. If nothing else, this certainly keeps my improvisational cooking skills honed and provides at least a little bit of enjoyable mental gymnastics, say, as opposed to the mental gymnastics of capitalizing restaurant equipment or of computing food costs.

But first, a celebratory bottle of wine out on the patio on one of the very last chances this year that we're going to be able to get outside. A good friend brought a bottle of 2005 Rioja Alta Gran Reserva to our paella party on Sunday, and miracle of miracles, it didn't get swilled. So we opened it. And it was shot. All the fruit was gone and nothing left but a lot of sour acid. Damn!

2005 Rioja Alta Gran Reserva: Shot
And so we moved on to one of the last bottles of Fonterosso Chianti, the wine that we brought in for the paella party.

Bright Cherry Chianti

Results of Foraging
After it got too dark and too chilly to sit outside, we brought our glasses of wine inside and I got to work mining the refrigerator and pantry for dinner. I found chicken thighs, mangy green onions, a bit of cilantro, garlic, terribly mangy jalapeños, a half a can of fat free refried beans, a few nopalitos in the bottom of the jar, a tiny can of chopped green chiles, a large can of diced tomatoes, and some leftover paella.

The plan as it formed in my head was to do a quick casserole with rice on the bottom, seared chicken thighs smeared with refried beans on top of that, and a quick tomato sauce over all. 45 minutes in a low (350F) oven should finish the dish.

Paella Rice in the Bottom of Roasting Pan

Searing Floured Chicken Thighs
I found some time ago that refried beans (the no fat ones) are a great way to get some unctuous mouthfeel into a dish without adding any cream or fat. Once baked with the chicken, you hardly know that they are there, but the dish becomes rich and satisfying without being overly unhealthy.

Chicken Thighs Coated with Refried Beans
The sauce was everything left. I drained the tomatoes, chiles, and nopalitos and then added those to a sauté of green onions, garlic, cilantro stems, and sliced jalapeños. I had to add a touch of water to bring the sauce together and after cooking for three or four minutes, I adjusted the seasoning with some salt and a splash of Sherry vinegar (the tomatoes didn't have enough acidity) and poured the sauce over the chicken.

Refrigerator Sauce

Oven Ready
This turned out to be a super delicious and super filling dinner. My improvisational cooking skills still seem to be intact!

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