did she really make fresh bao?

i’m feeling totally intimidated by the refrigerator this week. after my completely self-indulgent comfort food weekend, what do i hit back with? especially when i have piles of leftovers in little ziploc jars inhabiting every inch of space?

i decided today to cook my way through the leftovers, incorporating what i can into new meals and working from scratch where necessary. with the mood i was in today, this felt like a total revelation instead of mere common sense--i went all out. there were lists involved, and a supplementary trip to the grocery store!

first, i worried about all of the fresh cheese i’ve accumulated. the mascarpone was easily disposed of by making a batch of ice cream with the black forest brownies from sunday afternoon. the ricotta took more creativity. i decided on a pizza rustica, which takes care of not only the ricotta but the virginia cured ham masquerading as proscuitto, the quickly-failing white button mushrooms, and an excuse to keep practicing the pie crust. the brie is easy--a steak and brie sandwich, which has the added bonus of using up the little piece of flank steak i’ve been saving as well as giving me a foil for the potato chowder that’s hiding somewhere on the bottom shelf (the result of yet another weekend experiment to use up ingredients).

then i have the issue of the raw chicken. i wanted to make a teriyaki chicken salad with rice vermicelli, but this takes too much cooking and doesn’t address the half-pint of buttermilk crawling through the depths, left over from last week’s red velvet. so that got all dunked together to make a few more chicken fingers, which will pair with the cheesy quinoa casserole i finally got around to making on monday afternoon.

but wait, there’s more. i haven’t even scratched the surface of cooked leftovers. there’s the pseudo-soupy stew that failed, full of sweet potatoes and veggies. there’s at least a cup of cooked risotto. there’s the aforementioned casserole. i’ve got meatballs and rice left from saturday, and zasai beef from last week (obviously these will become lunch fodder).

back to the bao. sunday’s last-minute foray to the farmers market endowed me with more fresh pork and lamb than i had previously ever seen in my life, so i chose something out of kylie kwong’s ‘simple chinese cooking’ that would take care of a pound of ground pork as well as the straggling shiitake mushrooms, remnants of last week’s zasai beef. (on an unrelated note, i was suddenly struck by the fact that nearly all of my really good asian stir-fries are exactly the same when you get down to the liquids: shaoxing, oyster sauce, soy and sugar, with a swirl of sesame oil) i threw some brown rice into the cooker and started prepping the pie dough for the pizza rustica before i remembered to dump the chicken bits into the some buttermilk. it wasn’t until i started the mise en place for the pork bao that i realized i had completely mis-interpreted the recipe. far from a basic stir-fry, this was meant to be a much cooler and crunchier prandial experience: lettuce leaf wraps, bean sprouts and carrots were all active players for the final stage.

alas, i had none of these things in my fridge, even after my impulse trip to whole foods. all i could do was let the rice cycle finish and stir-fry the beef, mushrooms, garlic, ginger and liquids and mix it all together in the regular boring way. i’d never stir-fried with pork before, though, and i was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and texture. it’s almost milder than chicken, with a very different texture, and it melded well with the salty-sweet sauce and the shiitakes. i may have to revise my thinking on the other white meat and utilize it more often.

i’m forced to admit, however, that the salty sweetness of the fried pork and mushrooms would have kicked ass wrapped in a cool, crisp lettuce leaf and topped with some julienned carrots and sprouts...

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