Archive for the ‘Pantry’ Category

I love it when I make something from scratch and have enough left over to store some in the freezer.  It makes me feel so prepared… so wholesome (which is excellent since “prepared” and “wholesome” probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when describing myself).  It also makes me feel smart, because making something from scratch that you would normally buy jarred from the store tends to be much tastier, much cheaper, and much better for you.   

the components

In fact, I love this so much that one may assume by the looks of my freezer that an eighty-five year old woman lives at my house.  My freezer is full of little labeled bags, each one containing enough of some little morsel or ingredient to be used for a specific serving amount.  Didn’t use an entire can of tomato paste or chipotle chiles?  Just divide the rest up and put it in a little bag, I say!  Who doesn’t love stretching one dollar across four meals?!  If only I exercised this level of mindfulness and precision with my laundry or, I don’t know, our budget.

accidental art

Back to making things from scratch; I’ve been really into this lately.  The discovery of very inexpensive spices that can be found at international markets (basically any place that sells food outside of your conventional chain grocery store) opens up a new world of possibilities in this realm.  I’ve always been a relative purist in terms of cooking meals from scratch; I keep it simple and fresh with veggies, grains, meats and bread.  Now I’m moving on to condiments.  I have big plans for some Guiness mustard, a fantastic worsteshire sauce, Harissa paste and maybe ketsup.   Once you deconstruct a sauce or flavor component that you use regularly and typically pick up at the store, you discover that the ingredients in a store bought item tend towards fillers and artificial ingredients that diminish flavor and aren’t really good for you.  Homemade marinara or Bolognese sauce, for instance, is a revelation after years of stuff from a jar.


Anyway, I started this journey with Thai Red Curry paste.  The beauty of Thai Red Curry paste (aside from the fact that it is utterly delicious) is that it has so many uses: stir a little into noodles, add some to rice, slather on meat for a marinade, whisk some into soup, add to oil and vinegar for a unique salad dressing… Having some of this curry paste on hand means that a can of coconut milk, shallots, lime and a pound of mussels is all it takes to quickly put together an elegant and exotic meal.  I love this!  I enjoy so much the complilation of all these ingredients, coming together to make something fantastic.  There may be a little extra work on the front end, but I’m so thankful when I pull my well marked baggie out of the freezer for instant flavor.  This little trend has started to extend to a multitude of other genres… spice blends, jams and jellies… I’m actually dreaming of getting my hands on some veal bones to make my own demi glace this Fall.  

the end result

In the meantime, I’ll just share this recipe that I used from Saveur; I hope someone will try it and share with me in the unusual satisfaction that comes from a freezer full of tiny baggies.  

thai red curry paste

  • 8 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tbsp corriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, with stems
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 holland or fresno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded, tender interior layers finely chopped
  • 1 one inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  1. break the chiles de arbol into pieces, transfer to a small bowl, and cover with one cup of boiling water; let them soak until softened – about 20 minutes
  2. meanwhile, add corriander, cumin, peppercorns, and cardamom to a small skillet over meadium head; toast spices, swirling constantly, until very fragrant – about 4 minutes
  3. transfer spices to a grinder (I use an electric coffee grinder) and grind to a fine poweder – set aside – (if you’re feeling really rustic, you could smash and grind them with a mortar and pestle)
  4. strain the chiles de arbol through a sieve, reserving the soaking liquid
  5. in a food processor, combine chiles de arbol, ground spices, fish sauce, cilantro, oil, salt, nutmeg, garlic, shallots, fresh holland chiles, lemongrass and ginger – puree until paste is smooth, about 2 minutes (sprinkle in a tbsp or two of reserved chile soaking water to help paste grind)
  6. refrigerate for up to three weeks or freeze for up to three months

Thai Red Curry paste doesn’t have the flavor that many people associate with the traditional Indian Yellow Curry; the word “curry” is used in both Indian and Thai cuisines to indicate a pungeant and flavorful spice paste or mixture, and is not indicative of one specific flavor or aroma.

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val's lemon tree

val's lemon tree

Minus the handful of years that I was a resident, I have visited California my entire life.  My mother’s side of the family lives there and we are both natives.  I don’t live there anymore but I visit every chance that I get.  Often, as the plane takes off and I head back east, I choke back silent little tears.  I remember my mom doing this when I was young – apparently it is a legacy.  

California:  I love the place.  I love the people that I visit there.  I love the memories that shape my life.  I love the flowers that are abundant everywhere, spilling and tumbling from cliffs.  I love the steely, freezing ocean.  I love the nearly perfect weather.  I love the hills when they are brown and especially when they are green.  I love the snow capped mountains when you can actually see them.  I love the produce.  Good gracious – the produce is better in California than just about any other place in the United States.  I wander through every produce aisle in California smug, grateful, reverent (as a resident) – jealous, grievous, reverent (as a former resident).  I remember thinking, “I can never move away from this place – the weather and the produce will keep me forever.”  Then I met a very beautiful man and the universe shifted.  He won out over weather and produce.  That’s a different story, anyway. 

Every visit to California involves a raid of the Meyer Lemon tree.  Most of my life it was Grandma and Grandpa’s

meyer lemon

meyer lemon

lemon tree, whose fruit was the stuff of legends.  Lemons of mythical proportions, unparalleled in deliciousness.  Let me help you understand my love of these lemons: there are pictures of me at about three years old, running full speed, arms out stretched and face in a full grin, toward the lemon tree.  Those lemons were just that good.  The present finds me swiping lemons from my Aunt’s tree; they are pretty darn tasty, as well.  I pick as many as possible and haul them through the airport, guarding them fiercly and protecting them from checked baggage.  Once home, I make all of my favorite recipes with these glorious lemons (which transforms and elevates them) or I simply juice them into a glass and drink it straight.  Oh, yes indeed.

If you’ve never had a Meyer Lemon, please begin your search immediately.  They are thin skinned and typically deep yellow, almost like a school bus.  The flavor is lemon, of course, but also slightly sweet.  The unpleasant bitter acidity that assaults you with the thick skinned and pithed other lemon variety just isn’t there.  The scent of a meyer is fantastic.  And the juice!  These are the juiciest lemons, full of sweet and tart juice that flows effortlessly from the fruit with gentle coaxing. 

preserved lemons

preserved lemons

Valerie’s tree is in bloom at the moment, covered in giant hanging fruit and delicate white blossoms.  The fragrance is overwhelming – intoxicating.  We were not conservative with our harvest, as I had plans to preserve some lemons.  Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan and some Middle Eastern cuisine, often found in tagines and alongside olives, plums, apricots, lamb and chicken.  Preserving lemons transforms them into briny, tangy little flavor powerhouses, the rind becoming soft and silky in texture.  I attempted to preserve some lemons almost a year ago with the thick and inferior lemon variety from my local grocery store; the result was not great.  Too salty, too acidic or bitter – just not pleasant to eat.  I started over this weekend with my beautiful Meyers – a little less salt and much better lemons.  I have searched and found many recipes for preserved lemons, the processes and instructions varied but also specific.  Some say preserve in a dark spot for one week, some for one month, some in the refrigerator, some out.  All say to turn the jar every day for at least five days.  Below are the “guidelines” that I used to preserve my cherished lemons; I believe they came from Paula Wolfert (Moroccan cuisine expert).  Please share your own tips and suggestions, if you have any. 

In the meantime, I’m headed to the kitchen to make dinner; chicken scaloppini with citrus gremolata, fresh asparagus and spring onions, all finished with a bright, saffron spiked sauce made from the juicy meyers.     


preserved lemons

  •  10 to 12 meyer lemons
  • 2/3 cup, or more kosher salt
  • mason or other canning jars
  1. sterilize your jars according to food safety specifications
  2. drop lemons into the near boiling water used for sterilization and blanch lemons for a few minutes
  3. cut lemons into quarters and gently remove seeds
  4. toss with salt
  5. pack as many lemons into jar or jars as will fit, covering with the juice from the remaining lemons and adding left over salt into jar
  6. seal the jars and let stand at room temperature, gently shaking the jars once a day for at least five days.

The lemons take about two weeks to cure (some say thirty days) – refrigerate before and after opening.

I added some spices to my second jar of lemons: cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, a few black peppercorns, a couple of cloves, about a tsp of corriander seeds and one dried bay leaf 

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