More flavor the stupid simple way

My venison chili, before adding spices and molasses. The lumpy stuff is refried beans. I like it very thick.
My venison chili, before adding spices and molasses. The lumpy stuff is refried beans. I like it very thick.
My venison chili, before adding spices and molasses. The lumpy stuff is refried beans. I like it very thick.

Anytime a recipe calls for water, you should ask yourself what you could use instead that would add more flavor. (Cooking, not baking. Don’t get flippant with your baking.)

This can be a very simple swap. For example, I was making chili last night, and one of the ingredients the recipe calls for is kidney beans, drained. I thought, why waste the liquid from the beans? Why not use that as part of the 2 cups of water that I need? That’s precisely what I did, infusing that much more flavor.

No matter how novice a cook you are, you can do the same thing.

For example, in our household, Minute Rice is a staple. Much as some of us love jasmine or basmati rice, my husband loves that bland fluffy stuff.

That ease of use doesn’t mean it has to taste boring, though. Instead of water, use chicken stock to cook your rice. Don’t worry about making your own from the bones of some roast you crafted, just buy a box or can.

If you feel really ambitious, throw in a bay leaf or two, maybe some orange rind, which comes in a jar in the spice section (trust me). If you’re not feeling that brave, go for some Mrs. Dash.

Water is awesome for our bodies, but in cooking, think of it as a blank canvas. Your taste buds deserve more.

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Doe, a deer, a freezer deer

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Another deer to butcher was a reminder to inventory the freezers.

The text came last evening: a photo of a doe, shot in nearby Midland County.

“Yay! ETA?” I replied.

“30” came the text back.

At the appointed time, the truck pulled in the driveway. The Lab assistant, who had been keeping watch, sounded the alarm. Some knot-tying and hefting later, a big doe was hanging from a garage rafter. This afternoon, the hunter and gatherer is back out, looking for a buck to hang next to her.

The thought of further packing the freezer led me to take inventory of the freezers and pantry. With Christmas and winter heating bills approaching, I’m looking to economize, and figured this is prime time to go using what’s on hand.

I was pleasantly surprised. There’s enough meat in the freezers already for 37 meals, everything from whole venison tenderloin to inexpensive pork loin snagged from wholesaler Blue Knight Foods. There’s ground venison, made from the scraps we take to Larry’s Meat Market and supplemented there with 20 percent ground pork to add some fat. There are chicken breasts, bought in bulk, cut into portions and dumped into freezer Ziploc bags to marinate in Italian dressing.

My mate came over to look at the list. “What about the salmon?” he asked. I was puzzled, because there was only one bag of steelhead of fillets around.

Turns out he meant the pantry. Three quarts, I told him, and five quarts of canned venison.

That’s the destination for much of what we butcher from the deer in the garage and any that join her. We started canning meat last year and found it to be the perfect last-minute meal: pot roast-tender, it makes its own gravy in the canning process. A couple of nuked potatoes for a base and dinner is on the table.

So on the agenda today is some meal planning. I’ll probably pick up some chicken just for variety, but it’s good to know I already have enough dinner meat for the rest of the year.

What are your freezer and pantry staples? Share your go-tos in the comments.