Inspiration From the Pantry

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I recently finished reading My Pantry by Alice Waters. I picked it up because I was curious about what she keeps on hand. It gives me a little thrill that we stock some of the same things—beans, tahini, yogurt, spice mixes (including za’atar, which I love sprinkled on fried eggs and greens).

It’s unlikely that I’ll start saving apple cores as she does to make my own apple cider vinegar. But after my first season having a vegetable CSA last year, I’ve been collecting ideas for preserving, as well as for using stems and peels and scraps. I made pickles (cucumbers, using Bon Appetit’s brine recipe, and watermelon rind, which is surprisingly good with cheese on whole-grain crackers, and daikon radish). Also sauerkraut. There’s a gallon bag of carrot peels, leek greens, mushroom stems, and those leafy celery tops in my freezer that I’ve been using for stock. I owe it to myself to try Waters’ recipe for salt-preserved kumquats.

The book, along with a comment from a friend about cooking through the odd jars in her pantry, sent me to take inventory. For a week, I based dinner on at least one pantry (or freezer) ingredient. Here’s a list, and the dishes that included them:

  • Panko crumbs: Pan-fried chicken cutlets breaded with panko crumbs. It occurred to me after I made this that it is similar to the chicken schnitzel my mother used to make. Make cutlets from two large chicken breasts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat an egg. Dip each cutlet into the egg, then dredge with panko crumbs. Fry in a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, turning once. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
  • Potato rolls, chiles: Lucky Peach Lamb Burgers. In the fall, the CSA put out the last of the chile harvest in a “take all you want” bin. So I did. After a few months in a vacuum-sealed bag in the freezer, they’re too fragile to use raw, but they’re still perfect for cooking. I had the ground lamb in the freezer, too.
  • Red lentils: Masoor Dal with rice. Half the recipe feeds 4-6. It’s less complicated than it looks. And it goes pretty quickly once you’ve made it a couple of times. I served it this time with the pickled watermelon rind in place of chutney.
  • Pesto: Pesto Orechiette with Chicken Sausage. I can never find orechiette, but this recipe is good with any short pasta, (medium shells work well). Also with any Italian-style sausage. I used bulk turkey sausage. The ground meat isn’t pre-cooked, so I sauté it in step 2. This dish nearly finished off the stash of pesto that I made and froze back in September with basil from the CSA.

If you have some extra red lentils, they’re great over a baked potato for lunch. (In fact, the first time I had Masoor Dal, before I knew what it was called, may have been at SpudULike, the British potato restaurant, when I was in college). If you have pesto leftover, spread some on top of a slice of cheese pizza.

 

 

 

 

What to Eat in a Blizzard

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A meaty stew, because it’s cold outside. And hot dogs. Because you wish it wasn’t. And in between, French toast, because you want to indulge before you grab the shovel.

For Friday night, the stew: lamb, carrots, prunes and pearl onions seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, garlic and cumin (see the photo). A Moroccan tagine of sorts, served with a loaf of whole-grain sourdough, which filled us as we watched the Blizzard of 2013 fill up the driveway.

On Saturday, French toast for breakfast. And hot dogs for dinner: A brainstorm, inspired by cold fingers and sore shoulders. A meal that reminds us of summer and being outdoors. Our first idea was to roast the hot dogs in our wood-burning fireplace, but the fireplace is small and we didn’t want to risk a grease fire. Instead, we broiled the hot dogs and ate them with steamed green beans, baked beans from a can and tater tots. Afterwards, we roasted marshmallows in the fireplace and made s’mores while we streamed episodes of Fawlty Towers.

I’d planned the lamb stew, sort of, earlier in the week, roughly following the method, and some of the suggested ingredients, in a master stew recipe by Molly Stevens in the February/March 2013 issue of Fine Cooking. I already had the leg of lamb, as well as the carrots, prunes, spices, chickpeas, wine and chicken stock. We did not have hot dogs, buns, green beans, or, for that matter, marshmallows. But the small grocery store/farmstand about a mile and a half from us was open, and they did.

Lamb Stew with Carrots, Pearl Onions and Prunes

I made this stew for the first time on Friday, and so some of the measurements may need a little adjusting. But it’s stew, so if you use a little more of this or a little less of that, it will probably be just as good. I might pick up the seasonings a bit next time, and try a dry wine to counteract the sweetness of the prunes. It takes about an hour to prepare before putting it in the oven, then about 2 hours to braise while you go do something else. Originally, I was going to try this in the slow cooker but since I knew I would be home all day, and I had a lot of work to do in the morning, I opted to wait until late afternoon to start it and cooked it in the oven. Serves 4-5

1 leg of lamb, about 2.5 lbs, boned and cut into 1.5-inch chunks and trimmed of fat (or approximately 2 lbs lamb stew meat).
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3  slices of ginger root, about 1/8-inch thick, peeled (I had a wide knob of it, at least 2 inches in diameter. If yours is narrower, you might want to try 4-6 slices)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 c white wine (I had an open bottle of Gewürztraminer, which is somewhat sweet. But dry would be better.)
2 c chicken stock
1 c water
2 c pearl onions, peeled
2 c carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 c whole prunes
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas
Juice from one lemon
Some chopped parsley (about 1/3 c) to sprinkle on top
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Use a dutch oven, or another heavy bottomed, ovenproof pan with high sides and a lid (I used a 2-quart size). Put a rack in the bottom 1/3 of your oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Dry the lamb pieces, season with salt and brown them in batches, a third at a time, adding up to 1 tbsp of oil and adjusting the heat if necessary so the meat and drippings don’t burn. Transfer the browned meat to a plate.

Pour off all but 1 tbsp of oil from the pan and add the chopped onion and celery. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the onions and celery soften. Add the sliced ginger, cumin, cinnamon, garlic and a few grinds of pepper, and stir for a minute or two until you can smell the spices.

Add wine to the pan and bring to a boil, until it is reduced by half. Add the stock and water, and bring to a boil, then add the meat and any juices back into the pan. At this point, you’re going to put it in the oven for a while. Molly Stevens suggests covering the surface of the stew with a large piece of parchment that you crumple up and then flatten out again (it should be big enough to come up the sides of the pan. I did this, and it does keep the stew moist. Cover the pan and cook for an hour.

Add the carrots, peeled onions and prunes. If too much liquid has evaporated, despite the parchment, add a little more stock or water (I forgot the water initially and added it when I added it during this step. You want enough liquid in the pan to almost cover the meat and vegetables). Cover the surface again with parchment and cook for another hour.

At this point, the meat should be easy to cut with a fork. Add the chickpeas and return the pan to the oven to heat through, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Stir in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle parsley on top.

French Toast

Almost everyone has a recipe for this. But here’s mine. Challah, a traditional Jewish bread made with eggs, is my favorite.

A few 1-inch thick slices of challah bread (2-3 per person)
Some eggs (2 large for every 4-5 slices)
1/4 cup milk per 2 eggs
a dash of vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 tsp grated orange zest (optional)
unsalted butter

Beat the eggs, milk, vanilla an optional orange zest in a medium bowl. Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold a couple of slices of bread at a time. Dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture so it soaks through, and put it in the pan. Adjust the heat so that the surface of the bread toasts slowly and doesn’t burn. When the first side is golden brown, turn it over and toast the other side. The egg mixture should cook enough so that the inside of the bread isn’t soggy.

Serve with maple syrup, or topped with confectioners sugar, with some fruit on the side.