It’s been cold for so long that I forgot what an astonishing difference good weather can make to my level of inspiration. Tuesday was glorious: warm, sunny, smelling of spring—everything I needed to get my own sap flowing. Also, the happy arrival of some new vessels for eating and drinking helped thaw my previously frozen kitchen mojo; besides the box of my grandfather’s glasses that I finally unpacked, I brought a few pieces home from the pottery studio. I make ceramics to inspire me to cook better, and they do, and this batch worked perfectly.
I made some pretty good chicken pho last night. Muggy heat notwithstanding, the Kid wanted chicken noodle soup because he wasn’t feeling well. So I dutifully trudged off to the weekly market, procured a bunch of chicken wings, and trudged home. Wings make good stock. Normally, I make, you know, wings with them, saving the tips, and then cook the cooked second and third segments with the raw tips to make a wonderfully flavored but still gelatinous stock later on. This time there was no time, so in the pot they went, whole and unjointed, with all the pho-requisite flavors.
As promised, here are the arancini made from the quinoa salad/pilaf thing. They handsomely balanced two opposite poles of culinary compulsion: one the one hand, they’re quinoa, and on the other, they’re deep fried. Yin and yang, righteous and decadent, trendy and timeless. I contain multitudes, dude.
Shrimp and saffron are a magical combination. Flowers and shellfish have an affinity in general; I remember Grant Achatz telling me that it was one of his favorite combinations when I praised his dish of scallops, lilac, and lavender during our meal at Alinea in 2009. Now that flowers are beginning to appear, this is a combination I plan on exploring further in the coming months. Read the Post Shrimp And Grits
There is no more useful thing to have on hand at all times than good homemade stock. Witness this meal, a hurried response to lingering sickness and general wintry malaise that no cardigan can allay. I have written a lot about risotto, because I make it pretty often, though not because I love it particularly more than other things. I make it often because it is so easy; all it requires is rice, stock, and a condimento: an herb, a flavor, a vegetable or three for color, depth, and direction.
The garden inspires. Besides its inherent goodness–the exercise of maintaining it, the healthfulness and flavor of what comes out of it, the incredible multi-level teaching tool it offers for parents–at the end of the day (often quite literally) it’s just the act of working in it and seeing what’s coming in, what’s peaking, and what’s going out that gives me the most ideas for immediate meals and more ambitious longer-term projects. One of the great beauties of growing food is that even things well before or past their prime can be used to great effect to flavor, garnish, or otherwise complete a meal. This dinner represented a good example of me just listening to the garden and letting the fridge and pantry do the rest.
One of the happier recent developments in retail around here has been the inclusion of local, grass-fed beef in the offerings of a proximate but otherwise lackluster market. The selection is usually limited to a few sirloins and rib eyes, but those happy few vastly exceed the earlier number of zero; I used to have to drive 20 minutes to get any good meat, which necessitated stocking up the freezer on infrequent trips. Now, when the freezer is getting low, I can just swing by and pick something up for dinner without having to plan ahead or make a special trip. What a concept, right?
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.
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.