Confession: I’m a little crazy when it comes to cooking, even on weeknights, and sometimes I do things that are more involved than I have time for. But I also like to keep things around that are delicious, and which I can just pull from the refrigerator on a moments notice, which can turn a meal from a run of the mill affair to something seasonal and inviting. Because we depend on farmers and seasonal produce, simple things can be special because we don’t eat everything all year round. Ella and Finn know when it’s apple season, or crab season, and that when holidays and parties roll around, they get pate.
One of the things I love to keep around during the week is roasted peppers, another is fegatini (which I’ll write about soon), and another is steamed artichokes.
For most of the country, artichokes in January are just not available unless they come from far away, but some showed up recently in our market, including really ugly, blemished ones that are called “frost-kissed.” I think they’re not quite as good as the ones we’ll get later in the spring, but the inner leaves are tender and sweet and the hearts are excellent.
I have a large, three-tired steamer, which is bulky but very, very handy. I trimmed the stems and peeled off the bitter outer leaves, then threw the artichokes in the bottom tier and steamed until they were tender–about an hour for the large ones, 30 minutes for the mini-sized.
I mixed up a batch of faux aioli, which is another Thing That Keeps, at least for a couple of days, and which we also use on crabcakes. While the artichokes take some time on day 1, I had several left over, which I tossed in the refrigerator, and was able to bring out another day. Instant vegetable.
So, my point is not so much about artichokes, or peppers, exactly but about planning. My roast chicken, for instance, with the help of Trader Joe’s excellent-in-a-pinch premade pie crust, makes a speedy and delicious chicken pot pie. I very often will roast several bunches of beets on market day, dress them simply in olive oil, then have them all week. We can add vinegar, arugula, goat cheese. Etc.
What kinds of things do you prep ahead and keep for those days when you need a quick snack or on those nights when you need something fast to round out your table, when the kids have had enough of their Webkinz, or soccer ran too late, and they’re clamoring for, you know, something to actually sustain them?
In a mortar and pestle, grind 1-2 cloves of garlic (to your taste) with coarse salt (sea, kosher, hawaiian red…).
Add the juice of about 1/2 a lemon or meyer lemon, continue grinding until you have a thin, smooth paste.
Add maybe 1/2 -3/4 cup mayonnaise, mix to blend. Taste, correct seasonings.