Thoughts on Cooking During COVID Times / The Power of the Pantry
Hello and a big “hug from home” during this pandemic of 2020. Staying home saves lives. Cooking from home follows…
It’s been a remarkable, confrontational, sad and often difficult time for individuals and families, students and those of us in the hospitality industry. Everyone, really. It’s been like one continuous therapy session….and since when has that been comfortable? That said, it seems far from over.
What do we do to sustain and comfort ourselves and our families? We bake. We cook. We share our food and ideas. Now that going out for groceries has become something we need to “gird our loins” for, more often than not, I turn to my own well stocked pantry for guidance.
Just some of the meals I’ve been cooking!
This entire need to pivot, as they say, was and is a process of bumping up against some pretty established habits, like running to the store for every little thing I thought I needed. The art of using what’s available and the feeling of gratitude for having what we need: like it’s all enough, though maybe not perfect. Put into perspective, it’s back to gratitude and simpler times.
Perhaps happiness during this new normal has something to do with our own internal changes, the willingness to choose contentment and satisfaction, happiness, multiple times a day,. The impulse to feel gratitude and extend helpfulness to those less fortunate.
Yes, some of this internal change is a daily challenge, intertwined with schedules, meals, commitments and our own habits. The question is will you rise to the challenges or be one of the ticked off, defensive ones that may well be missing an opportunity to be a better person…and maybe even a more inventive cook.
Here’s what’s in my pantry:
Several high quality oils
An array of vinegars
Soy sauce, sake, wasabi, toasted sesame, Mirin, miso, lemongrass and ginger/tumeric roots
Several types of olives
Anchovies and sardines
Artichoke hearts, dried fancy mushrooms
Many types of pasta
Good tomato sauce, whole and chopped tomato
Tuna fish, canned clams and juice
Mushroom soup (I’ll admit it)
Red and green salsa ,pesto
All kinds of dried beans, canned beans
Every herb and spice known to man
Peppercorn melange, several sorts of salt
Rices:black, red, brown, risotto (arborio) Jasmine
Farro, kasha, bulgur, rolled oats, quinoa
Sugars: brown, white, dots, stevia
Nuts; walnuts, hazelnut, pecans
Quality vanilla, chocolate chips, flours, wheat and corn, semolina
All you need to supplement a well stocked pantry is a CSA from one of your local farms, or better yet grow a garden….and several trips to get curb side pick up from your fave restaurant! Your farmers and restauranteurs deserve our support at this most difficult time.
I love this recipe for the present moment, because I have so many of these ingredients coming along in my garden in mid-June….chives, mint, peas…..sounds just as refreshing as it tastes. Give this easy recipe a try….it’s good enough for company!
3 tb. salted farm butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 qt. vegetable broth
6 cups fresh or frozen, thawed green peas
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves stemmed
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, stemmed
1/4 cup creme fraiche or a non dairy substitute.
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives for garnish
Melt butter in a heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring until translucent, about 8 minutes.
Add half the broth and bring to a boil. Add the peas and simmer until just cooked through, if fresh just about 4 minutes.
Remove from heat and add herbs, seasonings and add remaining broth to pot.
Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender, correcting the seasonings and amount of liquid until you get to a perfectly smooth consistency.
This soup may be served warm or cool and topped with creme fraiche and chives or left dairy free and Vegan.
Long a local hang of area chefs, Beth’s Farm Market is distinguished by it’s sparkling fresh produce, grown, and picked or foraged right on their farm. The most delicate of baby radishes, the greenest young garlic, earthy parsnips, fiddleheads by the pound, a rosy heritage rhubarb named Valentine and thick, heady asparagus all grace the shelves in the merry month of May. Did I mention dandelion greens, my personal favorite? Beth’s is an institution where you may see dyed-in-the-wool elderly Mainers shopping alongside of hipsters, foodies and chefs.
Fiddleheads, (shown left) these spring darlings, available in May, are supplemented by over wintered carrots, beets and potatoes and their compliment of pies, donuts and other freshly baked goods, making it a one stop shopping experience. You can also procure the stinkiest “store cheese”, Cheddar, of course, and pots of fresh kitchen herbs. Or perennials, of the dependable sort, for your flower border.
A bit later in the season expect Beth’s sweet corn, a local favorite, said to be the sweetest around! Several varieties of oysters and live lobster are also in the house, on vats of crushed ice.
One interesting aside is that Beth’s employs many Jamaican workers in high season. There are very talented Jamaican pastry chefs in the kitchen, consistently turning out the favorites like their fresh strawberry shortcake.
One of the farm foremen, John, has had a hand in growing and popularizing the most remarkable green, an amaranth, called callaloo, available in mid-season and a staple vegetable in Jamaica. Deeply nourishing, it’s a breeze to cook, the entire plant being edible. You simply wash it and shake it dry, then chop the entire thing, leaves, stems and all. It’s all very tender and toothsome. I blanch the chopped callaloo in boiling, salted water and drain it in a colander when it turns bright green. Season it with good salt and olive oil. You’ll be surprised how much you can eat and how good it makes you feel.
Beth’s brings together a few different worlds…Mainers, restauranteurs and Jamaican farmers. “So…for those about to cook, we salute you!”
2 pounds of picked whole lobster body meat, tail, knuckle and claw
Homemade mayo …or Hellman’s with a touch of grated Meyer lemon zest mixed into the mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Two Meyer lemons, which are less tart than the usual lemon…still in the market in late spring
The freshest spicy blend of farmers market greens you can find, 1/2 pound
Cut the lobster meat into manageable chunks.
Dress very lightly with the lemony mayo and season to taste. Add a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and mix lightly.
Arrange your seasonal greens on an attractive plates and add 1/2 pound dollop of lobster salad on top. Garnish with a Meyer lemon wedge.
A dusting of paprika and a wedge of baguette is all that’s needed, and maybe a glass of Rose. Couldn’t be easier or more luxurious….and that’s what summer entertaining is all about. Luxuriate.
Easy Five Ingredient Mayonnaise
1 large egg, room temperature
1-1/4 c light olive or avocado oil
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sea salt and a grind of white pepper
2 tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice, in this case use Meyer lemon
1) Put 1/4 cup oil in food processor or blender, add egg, mustard and salt
2) Process for about 30 seconds, until light yellow in color
3) With blender on low, slowly add remaining oil very slowly until the mixture is emulsified and thickened
4) Finally add the lemon juice until incorporated
Your homemade mayo is good for a week under refrigeration. This is a great way to layer the Meyer lemon flavor into this recipe.
Claytonia, a little something about summer farm stand greens:
My favorite grower often adds claytonia, sometimes called miner’s lettuce in the west, into her mix. It’s said that this humble little green saved the early gold miners from scurvy back in the Gold Rush days. It’s one of my favorite addiotns because of it’s great look, with a flower in the middle (See lobster salad image) and for the fact that it’s loaded with vitamin C.
Soft, buttery and with unmistakable good looks, look for claytonia in your mid season farmer’s market.
Last winter I was fortunate to be invited to the home of very good friends in the Los Angeles area. Being the consumate hosts that they were, we were on the go 24-7…and believe me there’s a lot to see. We covered ground from their beautiful hillside home in Long Beach to the expansive beaches of Ventura and the Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods nearby. We saw every museum and road side attraction from LA to Palm Springs ( date shake anyone?), ate primo Ethiopian food, sampled street tacos and crushed the food trucks ( Hey, there’s Cousin’s Maine Lobster Truck selling lobster rolls!)
But the sight that really piqued my interest was a street vendor selling cleaned nopales, or prickly pear cactus paddles. He was masterful in his cleaning technique as you’ll see in the video. You do not want to run into a stray cactus needle, trust me. It was easy as pie to follow his instructions for a grilled nopale and we ate them the same day. The nopales are distinctively tart, soft yet crunchy and make a perfect foil for fatty meats. Think about pairing with BBQ pork tacos, like a relish or vegetable side dish. I’ll bet they’d also make a good salsa verde.
Here’s the method:
Bring home your cactus paddles cleaned (ideally).
Mix up some avocado oil with good salt, fresh pepper and baste both sides of each paddle.
Get your grill medium hot and place paddles on the fire. Do not move them until they’re nicely and deeply scored, or marked, then flip them and score them again.
Grill until soft. Pull the nopales off the fire and let them rest a moment before slicing them . Finish with a good salt like Maldon and serve with almost any meat.
I am new to the world of Hank Shaw and his James Beard award- winning blog, “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook”. But I’m resonating like a long lost lover with his take on simple roast pheasant. My recipe differed only in that I started the bird at a low temperature after a robust seasoning with good salt and freshly ground pepper. I trussed and oiled my 3-4 pound bird, tented it with foil over the breast and let it go, low and slow for 2 hours without opening the oven.
I then removed the bird’s foil tent, jacked up the oven to 450 degrees and oiled the bird once again. Into a hot oven it went for another 20 minutes. I was mindful of Hank’s warning not to dry it out, so pulled it just as soon as the skin crisped.
It important to let almost anything rest, to keep the meat juicy, so I cover my little bird up with parchment for 20 minutes while I prepared a pan gravy, enriched with a bit of red current jelly. Hank’s suggestion of a root vegetable melange seemed perfect for winter, but I used up my green beans instead. View Hank’s recipe here.
It won’t be long now before we have lovely fresh chives in abundance, and baby lettuces too! Here’s the perfect dressing for these tender young treats.
3/4 cup full fat sour cream
3/4 cup olive oil mayo
2 large cloves, minced fresh garlic
1 cup minced fresh chives
1 tsp. fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp. of lemon zest
1TB. fresh lemon juice
2 anchovy filets, white or regular
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all but the chives in a blender until creamy. Transfer to a bowl. Add the chives by hand and fold in. Season to your taste, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.
You can use this as a dip or spread. Thin with a little cream to make a steelllar salad dressing. Top you salad with chive blossoms for the best effect.
I was excited to visit our countries oldest city recently and I wasn’t disappointed. Not by the friendly people or the town itself, with it’s stunning Spanish influenced buildings.
The food, amply represented by many quality dining establishments, is something to crow about! From traditional, with their ubiquitous Minorcan chowder (reminiscent of a Manhattan style with a tomato-y broth), to freshly caught fish and shrimp, there really is something for everyone.
But wait, that is the difference in this food? There’s something really flavorful with a slow, sweet burn that you can’t ignore present in many dishes found here. I learned that it’s the Datil pepper, a integral part of the Minorcan influence.
Always an active port, St. Augustine represents a culinary melting pot, with African, Creole and Spanish influences…and the Pirate trade helped too to create a lively ,unique cuisine that belongs to it alone.
This recipe fits the bill for hearty winter dining!
1/2 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
14 pitted green olives, such as Manzanilla, finely chopped
3 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (17.5 ounce) packages frozen puff pastry (each with 2 sheets), thawed
1 raw egg, lightly beaten
Set racks in upper and lower thirds of oven, and preheat to 450 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cook beef in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer beef to a small bowl with a slotted spoon, and pour off grease from skillet. Melt butter in skillet and saute onions and green onion, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Return beef to skillet and stir in hard-boiled eggs, olives, raisins, cumin, salt, and pepper. Transfer mixture to a shallow bowl and chill until cooled, 10 to 20 minutes.
Unfold 1 pastry sheet, keeping remaining chilled, onto a lightly floured surface, dust lightly with flour, and roll out into a 12-inch square. Cut 4 (5 1/2-inch) rounds from pastry. Brush a 1/2-inch border around edges of 1 round with water, using a small brush or fingertip. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling onto half of round. Fold other half over filling and press edges together firmly. Crimp edges with a fork and transfer to one of prepared baking sheets. Repeat with 3 remaining rounds. Form 12 more empanadas in same manner with remaining pastry and filling, arranging them about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Brush tops of empanadas with beaten egg. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Get to know the lady apple for the holiday season. She’s the friend to have in your corner for both the delights of the table and for decorating. It’s bright red and green coloring have earned it the title of the Christmas apple. Long used in wreath making in England, the lady apple tastes sweet/tart when eaten raw and is a lovely addition to holiday stuffings or as a chutney to accompany roasted meats or poultry. This distinctive lady is know in France as the Pomme d’ Api and happens to be the oldest recognized apple variety in the world.
For making a holiday chutney to go with my Lady Apple wreath, I favor Ina Garten’s recipe.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do here at Laura Cabot Catering!
6 Lady Apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3/4 cup good cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup raisins
Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes and salt and in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take off the heat and add the raisins.
Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.