Inspired meals with whatever is at hand

Gourmet Rhapsody!

I’m reading ‘Gourmet Rhapsody,’ a novel by one of my favorite authors, Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). This novel is about food, but also about social class and philosophy. Below is an excerpt by Paul talking about his grandmother’s grilled sardines:

“In the flesh of grilled fish, from the humblest of mackerel to the most refined salmon, there is something that defies culture. To say that the flesh is delicate, that its taste is both subtle and expansive, that it stimulates the gums with a mixture of sharpness and sweetness; to say that the combination of the grilled skin’s faint bitterness and the extreme smoothness of the firm, strong, harmonious flesh, filling one’s mouth with a flavor from elsewhere, elevates the grilled sardine to the rank of culinary apotheosis, is at best like evoking the soporific virtues of opium. For what is at issue here is neither how delicate or sweet or strong or smooth the grilled sardine may be, but its wild nature. One must be strong in nature to confront a taste like this; concealed within, very precisely, is the primitive brutality that forges our humanity when we come into contact with it. And one must be pure in spirit, as well, a spirit that knows how to chew with vigor, to the exclusion of any other food; I scorned the potatoes and salted butter which my grandmother had set out next to my plate, and devoured relentlessly the strips of fish.”

Isn’t this fantastic?

Custard with Blueberries

This is fun, fast, and uses up the egg yolks left over from making merinque.

Blueberry topper
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon water
1-3/4 Cup blueberries, washed and dried

Heat water and sugar until the sugar melts. Add the blueberries adn cook 15 minutes on medium heat. Allow to cool and drain.
HINT: save the resultant blueberry syrup for pancakes.

Custard
2-1/4 Cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar*
4 Egg yolks
2/3 Cup superfine sugar **

Bring milk with vanilla sugar to a simmer over low heat. In another saucepan, beat eggs with sugar. Add a small amount of the heated milk and over very low heat, stir and continue to add milk very gradually. Keep stirring and cooking until thick (7 – 10 minutes).
Pour into small ramikins and allow to cool. Top with blueberries.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar, simply add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla to the milk.
HINT: you can make vanilla sugar by placing a vanilla pod in a mason jar of sugar.
** If  you don’t have superfine sugar use regular sugar.

The American Pantry

Using leftovers creatively requires having a pantry that hold esssentials.  Staples in my larder include:

eggs
butter
Parmesan cheese
yogurt
bacon
limes
apples
chicken stock
Thai fish sauce
amino acids
basil
Herbes d’Provence
anchovies
nutmeg
Cinnamon
vanilla
sugar
flour
chilies (dried)
sea salt
pepper
rosemary
thyme
garlic
onions
potatoes
tomatoes
olive oil”balsamic vinegar
white wine vinegar
rice
almonds
walnuts
pecans
pine nuts
romaine
coffee
dried cherries

It’s a joke in Minnesota that Scandinavians like only white foods and salt is spicy addition. This dish defies that notion – but then, I’m not Scandinavian…

This started with frozen cod filets, a tray of purchased deli mashed potatoes leftover from an earlier dinner, a can of diced tomatoes with chilies, and the dregs of the milk carton. I added rosemary, thyme, garlic from the pantry, as well. Here’s how it came together.

I thawed the cod in water. Meanwhile, did the chopping of garlic & onions.

Next, I simmered thinly sliced onion until they caramelized (about 25 minutes on low heat, although the longer you cook them, the darker they become).

As the onions cooked, I poured the milk (about 3/4 cup, but this will vary depending on how much potato mass you have) into a saucepan, added chopped garlic (2 cloves), a sprig of rosemary and 2 of thyme. On low heat it simmered about 15 minutes, then I strained the mix, pouring the flavored milk into the potatoes (which were heating up in a pan sprayed lightly with oil), mixed them together and left them on low heat until heated through.

With the onions ready, I added the 3 cod filets, sprinkled salt and pepper over, then poured the can of tomatoes on top. With the saucepan covered, they cooked for 10 minutes on medium-low heat.

For a little more color on the plate I roasted baby carrots (boil in water 10 – 15 minutes, drain, then toss in a little oil and roast at 400F for 10 minutes). Add any veg you like.

HINT: Baby carrots are actually large carrots milled into their dainty shape.

Leslie, who lives in sunny Tucson was saving me from Minnesota’s flannel skies. During our morning walk around her neighborhood the dinner menu developed – roast pork with roasted veg as the main course. Then we headed out for fun in the sun.

At the Sonora Desert Museum we walked in welcome sunshine awed by gracefully flying raptors, enchanted with nesting hummingbirds, and surrounded by gardens of organ pipe, saguarro, totem pole, and prickly pear cacti, as well as other desert flora.

At the gift shop Leslie purchased a yummy marinade blend for the roast. I came away with a stuffed javelina for a grandson who had a shoulder operation and a lovely coffee cup for the IT tech who rescued my files after a virus struck my computer. Then we headed home through the low mountains that wore toe to tip garb of saguarro cactus (pronounced “swaro” in Tucson).

Leslie’s husband Dale arrived home soon after we did. He was hungry and wanted something light. Time for “Plan P.”

We pulled out romaine, Dubliner cheese. a 2-day old baguette, leftover roast chicken from the prior night’s dinner, crisp bacon remaining from breakfast, 2 oranges, garlic, rosemary fronds, an avacado, a few roma tomatoes, fennel seeds, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

To the bouncing beat of the Talking Heads, Dale washed and prepped the lettuce, Leslie and I chopped the chicken and plopped it into the juice from the oranges and a tablespoon of freshly mortar-ground fennel to marinate. Leslie zapped the bread in the microwave to soften it (it would be toasted, so we knew it would be fine with a little time in the microwave).

We sliced tomatoes for bruschetta (pronounced brews ketta)  and diced them for salad. I thinly sliced the baguette, bathed the slices with a swath of olive oil, and oven-toasted them (foil lined baking sheet, oven at 400 F). When they were beautifully browned and removed from the over, we rubbed the slices with a garlic clove.  A slice of Dubliner to each and a perky red tomato slice topped every round.

Into the bowl of torn romaine we tossed the diced tomatoes, cubed avocado, crumbled bacon, and chopped chicken. A sprinkle of salt and balsamic vinegar moistened this pantry-produced dish.

The adddition of a bottle of white wine finished off the dinner.

HINT: marinating white meat chicken in a lively acidic lifts the juiciness quotient as well as adding flavor.

On those days when you’re running late and there isn’t time to prepare the menu you’ve planned, or Aunt Mavis can’t stand 3 of the four dishes, reach for rescue from the superheroes of the kitchen – leftovers and pantry items.

With a few deft touches you can turn parts of yesterday’s dinner, today’s breakfast, and other bits and pieces into mouth-watering delights. We’ll share how we do it and hope to hear how you do, too.

The most important thing to know is you can change up what we’ve done! Just think of what category the ingredient falls into and substitute what you love or have on hand. Lime juice for orange (acidic liquid), chicken for pork (meat), iceberg for romaine (leafy green).

Have fun and let us know how your pantry is a superhero.