Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CSA Story: Potatoes, Basil, and Creativity

There's a certain sense of accomplishment I feel when I am getting dinner ready, realizing that somehow I should be working in disparate ingredients from the CSA cooler. It's like being on one of those cooking shows, handed a box of odd ingredients and told to make dinner with it.

Certainly it pushes me out of my comfort zone and into inspiration. And sometimes ... every so often ... it pushes me into a place where my family is delighted with the inspiration.

Yesterday, for example, I was making Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce. I had picked up some fresh green beans at the store last weekend but was wondering what starch to have with the meal. Then I remembered the red potatoes from the CSA, some of them were fairly small. I could have potatoes and green beans.

Super simple in first boiling a pot of water, then putting in the potatoes, and toward the last 10 minutes or so dropping in the tailed green beans. (If the potatoes are different sizes, I just pull the smaller ones when they are done and pop them back in to warm up right before I drain the whole thing.

When I opened the fridge to get the beans out, I smelled the fresh basil that the farmer also brought last weekend. Basil. When was I ever going to use that? Pasta was my usual use for basil and that wasn't in my sights until way after that basil went bad.

And then I remembered. An Italian region makes green beans, potatoes, and pesto. Or at least it seemed as if I had read something about that. But I had no time to look up recipes and, truth be told, no inclination.

I pulled the basil, washed and dried it, threw it in the food processor along with a pinch of salt, a clove of garlic, and a small handful of walnuts. I whirred it until everything looked as small as it was going to get (pretty grainy, not smooth) and then I glugged in some olive oil until it was less solid but not really runny. Then I threw in a couple handfuls of grated Parmesan and whirred again. Done.

Yes, all of this was off the cuff so those are the best descriptions you're gonna get. Blame Nigel Slater and my ongoing reading of Tender.

When the potatoes and beans were tender (should've snapped those beans in half, but there's always next time), I tossed them with the impromptu pesto.

And nervously put it in a dish in front of Tom.

Who tentatively tried it, said, "This is really good!" and reached for more.

It was really good.

The chances would have been slim of me actually looking that up in the cookbook and deliberately getting the ingredients to put that dish together.

But thanks to the mystery box each week from the CSA, we got a delicious, semi-authentic Italian dish and I had a sense of creativity that is all too rare.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aperol, St. Germaine, and Mrs. 404

Some time ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article featuring cocktails made with Aperol and St. Germaine.

What was interesting about this article is that both Tom and I read it. Our usual practice is to bring up articles, discover that the other person never read it and then to fill each other in. Was it because it was about cocktails? Was it because the Aperol just could not possibly be that vivid orange color? Was it because we both think of "Your Mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries*" when we see the word elderflowers (prime ingredient in St. Germaine)?

We will probably never know.

What we do know is that at the end of our discussion we had gotten interested enough to go out and buy a bottle of each. Frustratingly, though I remembered having seen Aperol as a mystery ingredient of practically every other recipe in our Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's Guide, now I could find none of them.

The Aperol is vividly orange both in color and flavor, but with an underlying bitter anchor of rhubarb. St. Germaine liqueur tastes, as the liquor store stockboy surprisingly and eloquently told Tom, "Fresh." Fresh as a spring day, one might say, with the full realization that such a description is not at all evocative on the mind's palate.

At any rate, eventually we made an Aperol Spritz and an Aperol Sour, both of which I will supply recipes for in the future.

Rose discovered the Mr. 404 because she chooses cocktails for their names. It is a Vodka cocktail containing both Aperol and St. Germaine. Tasty enough, but I do not favor Vodka, feeling that I enjoy flavor from my alcohol as well as a buzz.

Therefore, I took the creative license of substituting Gin for the Vodka and, in the age-old cocktail tradition, renaming the drink somewhat after myself.

Thus was the Mrs. 404 born. And there was great rejoicing.* We all preferred it to the original and it has become a mainstay among our weekend cocktail choices.

Try it and see what you think.

Mrs. 404

1-1/2 ounces Gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce St. Germaine
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce simple syrup**

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

**Simple Syrup
Equal parts water and granulated sugar, heated over a flame, and then cooled and stored in refrigerator until needed. Keeps indefinitely refrigerated in a scrupulously clean container.

*Monty Python and the Holy Grail