They’re coming, trust me! But to explain — the last basket I picked up from my CSA was back in mid-December, after which they took their own well-deserved holiday break. The next basket arrives this Thursday, after which I’ll be fully back into the swing of things. Meantime, my sinus troubles for the start of the year combined with the as always hectic first week of an academic quarter meant that all I really wanted to whenever I got home most nights was simply break into my huge stash of frozen soups and have one of them, some salad and some bread and cheese most nights. Frankly they worked wonders and is another reason why it’s always wise not simply to stock up on basics but to stock up on things that can be prepared and stored like soup that way — end result, a slew of hearty but not too heavy soups that were just perfect for dead-of-winter heartwarming. (Admittedly, as my previous post shows, winter around here isn’t like winter most places, but in part it’s mental — dealing with there being more nighttime than daylight is always a bit of wrench, but it’s also nice to see things improve day by day there too.)
However, inspired by some talk among friends and the general New Year’s turn-over-a-new-leaf feeling I’m spending a little time and money going through what I have and finding new things to add or replace in the kitchen. The prompt is a not too surprising source — Mark Bittman, who had a great piece in the NY Times last week suggesting a number of things, and why some options are better than others. A sampling:
OUT Spices older than a year: smell before using; if you get a whiff of dust or must before you smell the spice, toss it. I find it easier to clean house once a year and buy new ones.
IN Fresh spices. Almost all spices are worth having. But some that you might think about using more frequently include cardamom (try a tiny bit in your next coffee cake, apple cake, spice cake or rice pilaf); ground cumin (a better starting place in chili — in fact, in many bean dishes — than chili powder); fennel seeds (these will give a Provençal flavor to any tomato sauce or soup; grind them first, or not); an assortment of dried chilies (I store them all together, because dried chipotles make the rest of them slightly smoky); fresh — or at least dried — ginger, which is lovely grated over most vegetables; pimentón, the smoked Spanish red pepper that is insanely popular in restaurants but still barely making inroads among home cooks; and good curry powder.
OUT Cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars.
IN Sherry vinegar. More acidic and more genuine than all but the most expensive balsamic. Try a salad of salted cabbage (shred, then toss with a couple of tablespoons of salt in a colander for an hour or two, then rinse and drain), tossed with plenty of black pepper, a little olive oil and enough sherry vinegar to make the whole thing sharp.
And so forth. A fair number of things he suggests I’d been doing already but many other points sounding promising so I stocked up a bit over the weekend and freshened my pantry and fridge otherwise. Also considered new cooking equipment to purchase — nothing I immediately need but there are a few things that would be nice down the road, while a couple of older things like my baking sheets might do with an upgrade. Finally, gave the oven a good clean inside — it had been a few months and was long overdue!
But in keeping with a discussion I had with someone online a few days ago while suggesting more stir-fry options for him to try, I decided to take a more proactive approach to some of the foods readily available around here that I keep slacking on, but which aren’t commonly found in my baskets. It helps, for instance, that I’m only a block away from a Mitsuwa outlet, with a slew of random and interesting looking things to try. One example of that I’ll post about tonight, and I hope to keep up with this as the year continues. Ultimately, taking chances is always going to be the key for having a good time with one’s cooking, and we’ll see where that leads.
(I will also say that I hadn’t realized that there was a very good empanadas place in Costa Mesa until the other day. I was a happy soul on Saturday.)