I absolutely hate discovering that I have allowed good food to go bad in my fridge. At least a portion of my weekly cooking involves some sort of triage to make sure that anything that is on its last legs gets prioritized. Sometimes, when there are several to choose from, that means I end up in a strange Iron Chef-like competition with myself.
I like to think that I am organized. I know that it's not entirely true. I attempt to be organized, but life sometimes gets in the way. So, when I got home from work to discover that not only is the ground buffalo that I thawed (in the refrigerator) two days previously still had not been used, and the half-bunch of spinach (which I had been planning to use for a lasagna) had wilted to the very last stage of possible resuscitation, I decided that I had to make something that involved both.
However, I was also having trouble with my hands. The swelling in my right palm was still restricting movement, and a new swelling at the base of my left thumb meant that my left-handed grip was pretty unreliable. So, no opening jars or tins of tomatoes for a slam-dunk pasta sauce. I also found that I was out of basmati rice, which is my preferred, lower-glycemic rice choice for daily use. This pretty much obliterated the first couple of ideas that came to mind. Fortunately, my hands were not too swollen to preclude stirring, or I would not have attempted to cook anything.
I stripped the unusable parts from the spinach and washed the rest in cool water. Then I let it lie in a bowl full of very cold water, and started rummaging through the pantry. My mind kept returning to my relatively recent discovery that a chiffonade of spinach can brighten an entire pasta dish, and I wanted to go with that theory. I found some orzo in the cupboard, and realized what I could make: a version of a favourite side dish called Creamy Parmesan Orzo. With meat. Like, just sort of, kind of reminiscent of... a homemade hamburger helper. Or, in this case, Buffalo helper.
Buffalo & Spinach Orzo
375 grams ground buffalo
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 cup orzo, uncooked
2.5 cups hot liquid (half chicken stock, half water)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 bunch of spinach, washed and sliced into narrow ribbons
pinch of salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
In a large skillet, brown the buffalo meat and sliced mushrooms. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent. Add the raw orzo, and stir around for a couple of minutes to get it well coated. Add the liquid, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes (depending on what “medium” is on your stovetop), stirring frequently. When the liquid is mostly absorbed, turn the heat off and add the cream, Parmesan, spinach, salt and pepper. Allow the spinach to wilt down into the orzo (just put the lid on for a minute or two, then stir through), and dish up with a big old spoon.
The spinach had revived considerably for its short soak in cold water, and became crisp enough to cook with (a raw or salad preparation would have been expecting a little much). All in all, for a thrown-together dinner, it was pretty tasty, and the leftovers traveled well to work the next day.
I also discovered a sort of two-handed chopping technique that allowed me to deal with the onions and garlic, although I wouldn't want to have to sustain it through more than the very small amount of chopping that I actually did. The mushrooms and the spinach were sliced with a strange, scalpel-like grip on my smallest (and therefore lightest) paring knife, which again, would not have held up for any length of time. I'm thinking of investing in a slicer of some sort, which would not have helped with the spinach, but would have made short work of the onion and mushroom elements.
So, I defeated the arthritis for another dinner, and I rescued the spinach from untimely demise. I'll get the hang of this yet.