January has been up to its usual crazy hijinks. Thaw! Freeze! Snow! Repeat. So basically what we have is a thick layer of ice that will probably not melt before August (this is the kind of despairing idea that takes root in mid-winter), slip-covered (and I mean that) in a topcoat of snow. I actually kind of like winter, but I could do without the luge-track conditions here on the hill, conditions that turn every jaunt to the car or chicken coop into a dance with fate. I did a triple toe-loop last week trying to bring the chickens some water, magically escaping knocking myself unconscious in either of the two ways that immediately came available (bonking head on ice; braining self with metal water pot that went completely airborne and landed a few feet away), giving the dogs (the only mammalian witnesses) a little case of PTSD, and doing my already-ailing back no favors. I begin to comprehend why people of a certain age de-camp to warmer climates, and their more reliable walking conditions, when the snow begins to fly.
January has also been a month of high-energy pantry-busting. I am trying to blast through ingredients I have on hand, trying to shop only for the perishables that will make that happen palatably and keep us from succumbing to scurvy. Oddball cuts of meat in the freezer and 37 jars of exotic grains, legumes and weird flours: I’m looking at you. Top shelf of refrigerator with your battalion of pastes and condiments: also on notice. I am not alone in this approach to the first month of the new year. It’s gratifying on multiple levels: a nod to the liberating effects of tidying up; an acknowledgement of the massive food waste we all engage in, no matter how enlightened we may consider ourselves; and as a glamorous bonus, a means to a trendy end. It's chic now, finally, to use stuff up. Bone broth is the new goji berry (and whatever you may think of his heretical use of tomato paste, Michael Ruhlmann officially sanctions the Olympic-level nose-to-tail practice of using gnawed bones off the family plates to make it), and low-cost, low-impact beans are another hot topic among the groovy.
I am a pantry-stocker by nature. OK, yes, fine, My name is Porpoise and I am a hoarder, fine fine. The New York Times ran a story years ago that chronicled what happened when a small group of up-and-coming restaurant chefs were sent into a handful of regular people's kitchens and instructed to make a meal out of only what was in the larder. It was pretty hilarious. I think a rillette de two slices of bologna was one of the outcomes. At the time I was single and living in an apartment in the city (how long ago was this? this was so long ago that we read the newspaper on actual paper) and one of my good friends had the following in her fridge: club soda, limes, champagne, lipstick. Like to see you make a rillette out of THAT line-up, Mr. Top Chef! I'm not trying to provide for the preparation of frozen parmesan air or some other molecular treat at any hour of the day or night. I just like to have, you know, options. But then again, this happened: once my nephew was visiting and ran down to the auxiliary cabinetry in the basement to grab something for me, and came up a little wide-eyed and asked if I was preparing for nuclear winter.
So it makes me a little edgy to blow through the stash, but it's probably time to reach deep into the shelves and move a little inventory.
I read about (and immediately began craving) these very tasty-sounding Indonesian rendang-style potatoes, cooked in a spicy coconut milk broth, in a book called Big Vegan. This turned out to be loaded with irony. First of all, I couldn't find any coconut milk even though I ALWAYS have coconut milk. Confronting! I like to keep that on hand. And then, because I now had to have these damn potatoes, I made them with chicken broth, which is not especially vegan.
Full disclosure: there was so much stuff on the shelf that it turned out I did have coconut milk. So in the interest of offering you, my loyal reader, a really complete picture, I made them again. This was not exactly a selfless act, because these are really good potatoes. This just in: totally delicious either way.
If, like me, you have never once thought "ooh, a bit too lemony for me!" and you are not a vegan, then make these with chicken broth (or I guess you could use water, which is pretty vegan). If your tastes run less tarty than mine, either reduce the juice by half or go with coconut milk, which calms the acidity down a few notches, or both. Or use a mixture of broth and coconut milk. Use, you know, what you have on hand.
Or call me. I can probably set you up.
anti-doldrum, scurvy-busting lemon potatoes
inspired by and with apologies to Big Vegan, by Robin Asbell
- 1 fresh jalapeño or similar chile pepper, seeded and quartered
- 1" fresh ginger, chopped or (if you're like me and you ALWAYS KEEP A KNOB OF FRESH GINGER IN THE FREEZER) finely grated on a microplane
- 1 tsp ground turmeric (or 2t fresh, which freezes just as well as ginger root, so snap it up when you see it and let the two live in harmony in the same ziploc bag in the freezer)
- 1-2 shallots, peeled and quartered
- 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
- zest and juice of 1 lime (use half the juice if you want less pucker)
- zest and juice of 1 lemon (as above)
- 2T coconut or canola oil
- 1 15-oz can of coconut milk OR
- 2c chicken broth (or a mixture)
- 1/2-1 tsp salt
- 5-6 medium size, smooth skin potatoes, cut in eighths
- one or two fresh lime leaves (fresh lemongrass would also work)
- handful of fresh cilantro and/or a handful of fresh Thai or regular basil, coarsely chopped, to finish it off
Put the chile, turmeric, ginger, shallot, garlic and citrus in a blender or food processor and make a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a skillet that has a lid; when the oil is quite warm, carefully pour in the paste. Cook for a minute or two, until the raw smell abates a little, then add the coconut milk and/or broth. Stir this together and add the lesser amount of salt. Put the potatoes in the pan along with the lime leaves, if you are using them, and toss to coat. Bring the whole mess to a simmer and reduce the heat as low as possible, covering the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until the potatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce thickens before the potatoes are done, just add a little more water. When the potatoes are tender, fling the fresh herbs on top.
Need more lemony love? Head over here. And watch your step outside! It's damn slippery.