As I wrote in the garden post—and countless times beforehand—spending time in the garden (or outside in general) every day inspires plentiful ideas for the evening meal. In any given week (once things get growing) one is confronted with an array of plants at different stages of their lives: sprouts that need thinning, bolting things that need eating, things that bolted and didn’t get eaten so now they have pretty flowers or pungent seeds to use, and always various plants at peak maturity that are ready for their closeup.
Espelette peppers, named for the town in Basque France that made them famous, are a unique food. Dried and ground, they have a particular aromatic quality: earthy and yet bright at the same time, with a fairly gentle but insistent heat that represents (in general, based on my own anecdotal experience) the upper limit of most French palates’ tolerance for spiciness. The great hams of Bayonne are cured with copious pepper, and it gives them a gorgeous flavor and tint. It’s not really a cooking spice, but rather a finishing one, especially given how much money a small jar commands. A pinch sprinkled on top of fish, chicken, or potatoes (or a hundred other things) adds an irresistible trebly zing and a not insignificant coloristic bump.
Leftover soup extraordinaire: Stock from (Asian-inflected) chicken wing and (Mediterranean-inflected) lamb chop bones plus lots…
There are dozens of posts out there about preserved lemons, so to avoid redundancy I thought I’d take the idea one step further and share an idea I had a while back. Preserved lemons are an item that my pantry is never without. They’re easy to make and keep forever, and their bright, unmistakeable flavor is essential to a variety of dishes, particularly Moroccan. What I love about them is that to the nose, they smell candied; it’s impossible to tell that it’s salt that has concentrated their flavors rather than sugar. That sweet, lemony aroma permeates any dish they’re added to, but when the lemons are gone the salt that worked its osmotic magic on them has accrued a great deal of interest in the process. This may already be a thing, but I haven’t heard of it before: preserved lemon salt.
I blather on regularly about how leftovers are a blessing rather than a curse, and how having a family with a low tolerance for them makes me a better cook because I have to innovate and transform the remnants of last night’s dinner into something new and different if I want it to get eaten and thus make room in the fridge for either A) a giant pork butt or B) uneaten portions of a meal to be named later. And it’s true. I spend far too much time thinking about how great it would be if I had all day every day to cook, drilling down into the experimentation, fabrication, and execution that leads to a deep relationship with techniques and results. But in the absence of that life of leisure, leftovers are the next best thing.
Last winter I wrote a post about my first attempts at making vinegar. I set a few types in motion on the kitchen counter, and over the course of the winter I added several more. Now, at the six-or-so month mark, I thought it would be helpful to check in on their progress to see how the different kinds have fermented, aged, and matured in that time. Given that it’s cider season, I’m eager to bottle as many of these as I can to make room for the next batches.
I’m working flat out to get a new piece ready for a show in LA at the end of the month, so posting might be spotty and/or lackluster over the next couple of weeks since I’m logging long hours in the studio (the wood shop, actually, sanding hundreds of small pieces and fabricating the aluminum plates that will hold them all together). It’s frustrating, because there’s much gardening to do but I’m not letting myself do any of it until the piece is done. And fancy cooking is likely to be another casualty of the 10+ hour days, though I’ll do what I can.
I was talking to a friend the other night in the city about how exciting it is to watch the greens positively burst forth from the confines of the ground after a particularly long winter, and how the thrill is tempered by the frustration of waiting for them to grow. I’m desperately eager to stop buying vegetables as soon as I possibly can, and yet good-sized greens are still a few weeks away. As with so many culinary problems, the answer to this one is right outside the door.
An inevitable result of making cheese is having lots of whey on hand, which can be either a curse or a blessing depending on how well you can dispatch it in ways that are more useful and nutritious than pouring it down the drain. If you have pigs, you’re in luck; they love it and will reward you with excellent proscutto. Otherwise, after extracting fluffy, gorgeous ricotta–which is ludicrously easy compared to making whatever the first cheese was–you’ve got to use it up or the ghosts of your peasant ancestors will torture you with heavily-accented guilt and spectral finger-wagging. To spare you that Dickensian horror, here’s a list of some things I’ve been using it for.