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A freezer is a must-have item on the Prairies

First We Eat: Keeping it well organized will mean there’s always something on hand for a meal idea

There’s no way to avoid having a freezer if you live on the Canadian Prairies, especially if you live rurally. Cooks who live in town have freezers too, but it’s not as urgent as it is for rural residents. Winter in particular makes a freezer an ironic necessity. (I have in some winters used my deck as an outdoor freezer, locking down tubs of stock or cooked pinto beans with weights in boxes to keep barn cats away. But that’s another story.)

Every evening, Dave rummages through the freezer, looking for something sweet. Inevitably, it means that the next time I go looking for something in the freezer I have to reorganize my arrangement, restoring brown beans with brown beans, red tomato sauce with red tomato sauce, chicken breast with chicken thighs.

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Scratch cooks depend on freezers. Where would we stash the backup of the things that are too labour intensive to make often, the things we make in triplicate because it’s really not three times the work? You know — the lasagna, the moussaka, the potstickers, the smoked ribs, the second helpings of Moroccan-style braised lamb shanks. So the freezer really is our best labour-saving device. Really. Who is going to make chicken stock every time they roast a bird? Far better to freeze the carcass — and the next, plus the remains of the chicken thighs and drumsticks — and then make one large pot of stock, freezing it in one-litre tubs for convenience in making soups and braises and sauces and risotto. No freezer? No stock. No stock? No… well, you get the picture.

I never quite manage to empty the freezer, but the fact that it’s full means I have a world of possibility when I want to make supper. So let’s go rummage, but first we eat before we reorganize its contents again.

Potstickers

Potstickers are aptly named — beware. Use this filling to make potstickers, but it also makes great burgers. Maybe you want to double the mix and freeze some burgers for another day’s dinner? If your pantry does not contain dried Chinese mushrooms, simply omit them. Makes about 60 potstickers.

Filling:

  • 1 onion, finely minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 parsnip, grated
  • 1 c. finely shredded cabbage
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. grated ginger root
  • 3 dried black Chinese mushrooms, rehydrated and slivered, stems discarded
  • 2 lbs. ground turkey or pork
  • 2 tbsp. minced cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. minced green onions
  • 1/2 tsp. hot chili paste

Casing:

  • 2 packages won ton wrappers
  • Oil for sautéing

Dip:

  • 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • Hot chili flakes or paste to taste
  • Water to thin to dipping consistency
  • 1 egg

Mix the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix well. Trim the corners off the square won ton wrappers to make them round. Cover wrappers with plastic to keep them from drying out. (Fry the corner trimmings for

a terrific salad garnish!) Put one wrapper on the palm of your hand and spoon some filling onto the centre. Set the dumpling on the counter and fold the wrapper up from the bottom in pleats, covering as much of the sides of the dumpling with wrapper. Place flat wrapper side down on a tray dusted with cornstarch. Continue to make dumplings to use all the filling. Freeze in a single layer, and transfer into freezer bags once solid.

To cook, remove potstickers from the freezer and heat a sauté pan on moderately high heat. Add enough oil to lubricate the pan. Add some frozen potstickers in a single layer. Sauté until well browned (check by picking up one and inspecting the underside). Add water to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Cover with a snug lid and cook until the water evaporates and the dumplings are cooked through, about 7 minutes. Remove the lid and cook uncovered if the water takes too long to evaporate. Immediately use a metal spatula to free the potstickers from the pan before they stick. Clean the pan before cooking the next batch. Serve with dip.

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