A Good Pantry Points The Way

On Friday nights, Sweet often looks to me for a fantastic dinner. This has not always been the case, as it is now. In the past I’d rummage through our cabinets, through our fridge, trying to get rid of dwindling ingredients and leftovers, and cobble together a meal from what I’d found. Some weeks I’d be very lucky, and make something great out of a random assortment. Other weeks we’d smile at each other and say, “My, isn’t this interesting?” Nonetheless, after a few successes, she was convinced I was this improvising whiz in the kitchen. This was, and is, a hard reputation to maintain.

Soon I started to notice, when Sweet was planning meals for the week she’d always write in for Friday, “Savory’s Choice.” Some weeks I was able to tie together leftover sausage and kale, and other weeks I’d lean on knee jerk comfort picks like rice dishes, pasta, or anything with mushrooms. Though I knew what she liked about the Friday dinners wasn’t so much the quality of the meal but the creativity, I was greedy, and wanted to provide something that had both.

This past year, Friday dinners had become more significant. While we normally do a lot of home cooking, in 2020 we cooked more at home than any other year insofar. Because of that, I had been sourcing new and more exotic ingredients from all over, in an attempt to make it more fun (which it certainly had been). However, when buying foods in my traditional overzealous fashion, I rarely think about our kitchen. We’re fond of our kitchen (and we like to think it is fond of us), but it can only hold so much stuff. Which we finally began to understand as new ingredients kept arriving, and we quickly ran out of creative ways to store everything. So I’ve been more diligent about not letting anything collect dust in the cabinets.

More recently, the coffee had been piling up. And if Balzac (that coffee guzzling champion) has taught us anything, its that you can only drink so much coffee in a day. So I started to look for other good uses for coffee. I found a wide variety of cookie and baking recipes, all extolling the virtues of using coffee. However, I am not the talented baker in the family. Other websites and cookbooks suggested using coffee with seafood and root vegetables. These required getting more ingredients, which defeated the point of this endeavor. Happily, I then found the world of coffee rubs. Looking over several recipes I was glad to know that no matter which one I chose, I had the required ingredients already available in our cabinets.

I decided to use a recipe from the New York Times (link here) on a beef brisket.  Using a big cut like this was nice, because it could stand up to strong flavors. So if you try this yourself, feel free to apply the rub generously until you can’t get anymore to adhere to the exterior of the meat.

Pat ‘dat Dry Rub!

I had tried cooking the meat two ways: in the oven and in the slow cooker. Both methods work well, but I strongly suggest you begin with a good sear in cast iron. The rub makes a fantastic char. The end result provides a crunchy crust, but also a tender pink middle.

Makes it look good. No?

Lastly, preparing meat with a coffee rub is about what it adds and what it doesn’t. Now, I’ve read in many places that the best thing for a excellent cut of beef is to salt it well a day or two before cooking. The salt makes the meat taste more like itself, and brings its more subtle flavors to the surface. However, I find the coffee rub (which also contains some salt) gives the meat more savory dimension, without masking any of its own inherent flavor. You also run less of a chance of over-salting the meat (which I have been guilty of several times, before trying coffee rubs), and I find I can’t get as good of a char using the salt method, no matter how hot the pan.

I could have scoured the internet for some upside down twist on a favorite recipe. I could have kept looking under rocks for exotic ingredients. I could have kept looking everywhere else but my own cabinets, and I may never have seen Sweet’s smile after her first bite of roast. 

In a year like 2020 a lot of things can and would go stale, but you don’t need to look through the tall grass for something new. Simply take inventory, and I think you’ll find something begging to be attempted.

– Savory

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