As much as I complain about never having enough time to make the meals I see in my mind’s eye, very often I actually do. Sometimes, prior to the crepuscular rush to get food on the table, I have an idea, and it comes together like I imagined; other times I have no idea, but the ingredients on hand provide all the fodder (literal and figurative) that I require.
Month: February 2012
Those gnocchi from the previous post had a second life in a more elegant dinner this weekend. We had some friends visit from Boston, so I made a dinner on Saturday night that benefited from a bit of forethought, even though the actual cooking was not too complicated. The presentation was nice, in any case.
Last week I had a hankering for gnocchi. The remnants of last year’s potatoes are all sprouting, which is good for planting but not so much for eating, so I used a combination of store-bought red potatoes and a sweet potato. I’m about to plant a bunch of early greens outside, since it’s so mild, but these are the dark days for stored food as we run out of spuds and the jars of tomato sauce dwindle. Had I known how un-wintry this winter would be, I would have been much more serious about the hoop houses in the garden. Usually they get so buried in snow that I have to abandon them at a certain point since it’s too much work to get to them and dig them out. This year we could have had half the garden producing all winter.
Like a lot of people, I often default to a protein on a starch with a vegetable or two on the side when time is tight and I don’t have the brain space for improvising. But sometimes a brief moment of reflection can inspire use of the same ingredients to make something much more interesting and crowd-pleasing.
That’s what they call surf and turf in Belize, and possibly elsewhere in that region; I learned this on a dive trip there long ago. For that meal, the beef was frozen and the lobster was caught that day by our guide. In this case the lobster was frozen and the beef was fresh. This is not actually what we had for Valentine’s dinner last night, which will be another post, but was instead last Sunday’s meal. I stopped by a market on the way back from ceramics, where I’ve been working on a bunch of commissioned stuff, and in addition to the local, grass-fed sirloin they now happily carry they also had some lobster tails so I grabbed a couple to augment the fanciness quotient significantly. I’m still feeling guilty about all the cooking I did not do over the last couple of months, so I saw them as a form of crustaceous atonement.
A big part of successful creativity is understanding and working with one’s own laziness. In the studio, that means trying to always have something to work on without needing to futz around for ages before I can get started; I use odd bits of time to sand or prime things so that when I have a whole day I am good to go with the real work. Cooking, which sadly does not justify hours of prep time the way the paintings do, nonetheless makes use of the same principle. For example, I make bread dough after dinner so it’s risen and ready to bake first thing the next morning: about ten minutes of effort divided in half by twelve hours of doing other things. But the best illustration of banked effort yielding greatly multiplied dividends later on is stock.
Look: another sighting of my dinner, rare as hen’s teeth these days. It’s been strange getting back into the regular cooking routine after so long out of it. It’s not the actual making of dinner, which I have not in fact forgotten how to do, but trying to reconcile all the wild flights of culinary fancy that my mind embarked upon while my hands held sandpaper and brushes (rather than knives and pan handles) with the quotidian realities of wandering into the kitchen at 5:30 and making good food from a cold start. So much of what I rely on to lift my meals up a level or two are the various time-intensive processes and ongoing experiments and just plain old leftovers that are in the fridge on any given evening, so it’s taking a little while for those secondary rhythms of production to catch up and I feel a little clumsy.
Bread-baking never stopped, although there were some hiccups. The vinegars are thriving. Cheesemaking is back under way, which is grand, so whey is in the mix, and of course there’s plenty of charcuterie about for mincing into soffriti to lend that lavish depth in an instant: salami, guanciale, duck prosciutto, bresaola, and lardo. And the freezer always has something worth eating in it. What galls me most at this time of year really is the dearth of good vegetables; there are still greens in the garden, sure, and a few roots, but I daydream about being able to walk outside and load up a basket with all the fat bounty that is still invisible over the horizon. This mild hardly winter isn’t helping, either; I keep feeling like I should plant stuff. The birds and spring bulbs are equally confused. I’m sure we’ll get some monster blizzard in a few weeks after everything is all budded out and lose it all.
Meantime, comfort food is still on the menu, though this example was leavened some with a couple of summery ingredients to symbolize my yearning for spring and the ephemerality of life, man.
With the show up and the opening last night done and dusted, I can now return with something like regularity to this food blogging thing.
Oh, sorry, “Internet Content Providing in the Culinary Sector.” Silly me. I get paid by the word, after all.
So the other night I was working, and the clock was ticking, and when it came time to make dinner I realized there was hiding to nothing on hand in the easy or even intermediate dinner categories. It has been a busy week. But then, as is so often the case, the freezer swooped in to the rescue, except in this case what it provided was not the sort of thing that one would normally associate with a quick save: two and a half pounds of local, grass-fed chuck of a size, shape, color, and frozen hardness most closely resembling a brick.