A bowl of beans–with the notable exception of cassoulet–is not very sexy. But when every part of the dish (including the bowl) is homemade, the results can be pretty sublime for something so humble.
Sidelined with injury, I’m not going to be cooking a whole lot for a few days, so I thought I’d put up something about the vinegars’ progress. It’s been a very satisfying endeavor so far, and I encourage everyone to give vinegar-making a shot. It couldn’t be easier, and the rewards are many. My first post about it can be found here.
I’m busy, so I have a backlog of posts that I want to write but haven’t found time for yet. This is something from a few days ago, and illustrates a principle that may be my very most favorite of all kitchen truisms: that charcuterie and a well-stocked pantry and freezer can make seriously high-quality food appear as if by magic in next to no time at all.
I often encourage everyone to buy whole chickens and bone-in cuts of meat because the bones–either trimmed off while still raw, or gathered after eating–allow the luxury of meat to be enjoyed again as stock later on. As I told a recent class I taught here, stock is the single most useful from-scratch ingredient one can have in the kitchen; it’s the easiest way to make your food better and more like things you pay big bucks for out in the world. And I used a shrimp shell reduction (to make paella-flavored fettucine) in that class to illustrate the point; crustacean shells are pure gold in the stock pot the next day. But when it comes to fin fish, I often buy fillets instead of whole fish. And that’s missing an opportunity. I had this epiphanette last night as I stood over a steaming pot of beautiful fish stock.
I realize that I promised something, you know, good this time, but circumstances conspired to keep that at bay for another little while. I have this totally awesome terrine I made, but now it looks like I have to save it for Saturday for a party. The terrine is a byproduct of the wonderful day of cooking we had here on Sunday, complete with Jen’s photography, but I can’t really spill the
offal beans about that until it comes out. So, to tide you over, because the Internet is both a harsh mistress and an insatiable gobbler of novelty, I offer you some humble noodle soup.
Lamb is wonderful meat, but it tends to be pricey, too, especially when it’s pastured (which is of course the only kind we eat). One solution is to buy in quanitity; I’ll be getting a half animal in the near future. Another option is to learn one’s way around the less expensive cuts. One of the most interesting of these is the neck, which makes wonderful stews and braises. Its appearance lends itself to osso buco-type treatments, and it can fill in handsomely for oxtail, too. What’s important is to give it the slow cooking that it needs to get tender.
It’s always exciting to unload a kiln, especially when there are new shapes or glaze combinations inside. Lately I’ve been working to replace all the various things that have sold (thanks, everyone) so it’s mostly been familiar territory. But to keep myself interested, and above all to keep my time at the studio from ever feeling like a job, I try to mix it up a little and do some new and different things on a regular basis. There were a couple of turkeys in this last batch, but most pieces came out quite nicely. And often new shapes and colors inspire me to make something that will sit just right in there, like the plate was made for the food and the food was made for the plate. Read the Post What A Difference A Plate Makes
What is it that finally pushes us over the edge, and motivates us to try something new? Even when it’s something we’re pretty sure is easy and know is rewarding, it can be a real effort to begin a new venture. I’m speaking culinarily, but it’s true across all the areas of human endeavor. There’s a resistance–a fear even–that keeps us returning to the things we know. I try to overcome it regularly, and this here forum offers some incentive to mix things up and stretch out beyond the comfort zone, but sometimes there’s a long period of time that elapses before things click and I take on a new project. And there’s still more effort required to incorporate the technique into the rhythms of kitchen routine (I’m looking at you, bread-baking) so that the food in question can enter the regular rotation, truly substituting for store-bought alternatives.
In my erratic but still determined progress to outsource less and less of my food production, lately I’ve been dabbling in making vinegar. I first got serious about it when I visited Brother Victor-Antoine in June to profile him for the magazine (profile at the link). His vinegar is revelatory. Seek it out if you live in the area. He sent me home with a jar of mother (mother = a colony of bacteria and soluble cellulose that forms over time and converts alcohol to acetic acid. Acetic acid = vinegar) and it sat in my cabinet until I bought a bottle of wine that had turned to vinegar. At that same time, the biodynamic fruit CSA I had joined started including apple cider in the weekly deliveries. Faced with two half gallons, I could have frozen one, but opted instead to let it ferment. And thus a bad bottle of wine and a good bottle of cider began my zealous experimentation with homemade vinegar.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately. It’s mostly been turning the last of the harvest into value-added staples that will last into the winter: quarts of stock in the chest freezer, a gallon of fermenting cabbage and carrots, bread, and some pretty great carrot-ginger soup made with a beef-goat-smoked pig leg phở that is not the worst thing I’ve ever made. (There are four more quarts of the stock frozen for future debauchery). One of my projects is not quite ready, though it will be by tomorrow, and with any luck it will be as good as I hope.
A blog is a useful thing for documenting daily matters, among which surely food. But it’s not quite ideal for the sort of ongoing, evolving festival of frugality that comprises the majority of our meals. So this post is a truncated attempt to show how it is that certain leftovers, strategically deployed, can make for a richer repertoire of weeknight dinners with no extra work whatsoever.