Saturday, May 22, 2010

What lies beneath the bottle tree?

a grove of Mayapples?

half way between flower and fruit

Dare I hope for a crop this year?

I do dare.

Friday, May 21, 2010

loving that larder

This week the Married with Dinner homework is as follows: (1) Write a post about at least 5 items in your pantry, and why they’ve earned a permanent spot on your shelves. (2) Buy yourself one splurge-worthy ingredient...and cook with it, using at least two existing pantry ingredients that you’ve let languish.

Yesterday Michael had to work late, so I thought I'd reward his efforts with a special supper. I combined the two prongs of Anita's assignment, to make my life easier. (That is the whole point, right?) I took one splurge item and combined it with five things I ALWAYS have on hand. Here's what we (me and the pantry) produced:

quail with preserved lemons
dry mushroom risotto with wild onion
salad with feta and pickled beets
plum cake

The QUAIL was my splurge item, although I confess it was already in the freezer. Penni Buchal (Barryville Farmers' Market) sells quail, and I stock up in October to get me through to the market opening in June.

How did I live without preserved lemons? I'd heard about them for years, but never tasted them till Cayce and I spent a San Jose afternoon preserving her neighbor's fruit. Now I use them in salads, pasta, hamburgers, on quail. Can anyone tell me why every recipe says to use only the rind and discard the flesh? I can't bring myself to do it...I use the whole thing.

Some of you may remember I become entirely obsessed with mushrooms in the fall. My pantry currently includes foraged honey mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chicken of the woods, and hen of the woods both frozen and dried. I dole them out parsimoniously, sharing them only with the closest of friends, or people I really want to impress.

This is a new pantry item for me. Last year Mark and I picked wild onions and used them in a fantastic foraged feast. This year I thought it would be fun to forage, dehydrate, and hoard enough for an entire season.

When I joined my CSA I was inundated with beets; figuring out what to do with them was a real challenge. (Beet wine, anyone?) Friend Leda Meredith shared her pickled beet recipe and I'm hooked. The plainest leaf of lettuce becomes a superb salad when topped with a few pickled beets.

The beauty of a CSA share is getting fruit and vegetables when they're at their peak. But how to make the most of so many plums (or beets) before they go bad? The NYT plum cake recipe is a stand by in my family; I make several every weekend during plum season, then wrap and freeze them. Too tired to bake? Pull a plum cake out of the freezer...instant dessert.

One of the best things about doing a big dinner like the above is that you have leftovers for days. Nothing like cold quail for lunch.

Monday, May 10, 2010

dinner on a deadline

I've read Married with Dinner for years but never commented; Anita's recent challenge has lured me out of lurking to actively participate. The gist of it is that busy people who arrive home exhausted and in no mood to cook at the end of the day can eat well, without resorting to convenience food or take out.

That hits me where I live. Weekends my life revolves around food. The kitchen is a playroom. We plan, we shop, we cook, we eat. And while we're eating, we talk about what we'll have for the next meal. Weekdays are another story. I work long and hard and when I get home I rarely have the energy and inspiration to make something wonderful. And our typically tiny NYC kitchen doesn't make it any easier.

But each time I take the easy way out I hate myself a little.

Anita proposes to spend the next 12 weeks sharing cooking tips for real-life, working folks who love to eat well. Her first week's post is about the value of planning, having a well-stocked larder, and knowing what leftovers might be lurking in your refrigerator. Beginners are tasked to plan 2 meals that won't take more than 30 minutes prep per meal. Experts should "make at least one full meal this week from what you already have on hand in your fridge, freezer, or pantry, without shopping for anything new. Bonus points for dessert."

I may not be an expert, but I'm compulsively organized, and as many of you know, have a well-stocked pantry. I thought I'd go for the gold.

This morning I got up at 5:45 to make a Long Island plant run. Bought for three gardens, delivered all three and planted one. In other words it was a full day and I was tired when I got home. Plus I only had two chicken thighs and some embarrassingly old potatoes in the fridge. But I like a challenge.

I pulled together chicken cutlets with Myer lemons and cilantro, roasted potatoes, and a zucchini-tomato-feta extravaganza with some leftover rhubarb (from our garden) cake for desert. It took about 30 minutes prep time, and we had everything on hand in the freezer, the fridge, or the cupboard. I feel virtuous for taking the challenge.

Anyone out there want to play? Check out Married with Dinner and get in the game.