I wish I could say "no fridge, no problem!" but I'm not that girl. I try to be positive, and generally I succeed, but sometimes it is just not possible. Case in point, the trauma du jour: our refrigerator pickle. Now, I'm not talking about lovely quick pickles one could make if you had an actual, functioning refrigerator.
I'm talking about being "in a pickle" or a tough spot, because we have no refrigerator. Well, that's not precisely correct. We have one, but as Doc pointed it out, it's a giant paperweight. That's about it. You see we have been dealing with a failing compressor SINCE MAY. Take a minute to let that sink in. One bad compressor. TWO successive defective replacements and me the maniac (now maniacal) home cook and food writer.
We are learning to live as if we have money to eat out all the time (we don't).
Or as if we lived in a developing nation with no electricity (we don't).
Or as if we lived with a stay-at-home spouse who could shop and cook each day (we don't). As if we lived in a European fantasy, one un-harried, well-appointed housewife, shopping daily, for just that day's perfectly fresh meal. That one meal, shopped and prepared EACH DAY, using only food that is to be consumed THAT day.
Damn it's rough when the fantasy (wouldn't that be a lovely way to live?) slams right into the reality (hard as hell, especially given that we don't have a partner who just does that.)
Okay, enough of the fantasy. Here's the reality: I needed to bring something to the annual garden fête in Ipswich welcoming back our dear Catherine who pulls us all together like a powerful magnet sweeping through so many metal shavings. We're all giddy about the party because Paul & Tom our hosts throw delicious parties amongst gorgeous Asian antiques. There are large and lime-y gin and tonics. There are fabulous shoes. There are false eyelashes. And there are lots of laughs, stories, scandalous snippets from one life or another.
The food is always wonderful and one does feel the need to Contribute.
A nice tart perhaps, oh no, sorry no fridge in which to chill dough. Ditto for pie.
Nothing with meat. A terrific coconut-ginger granita? Oops freezer is kaput.
Grains to the Rescue
When faced with a culinary challenge it's often helpful to look at the familiar for guidance. I tell my Chinatown tour participants to look at a new Chinese vegetable, decide what familiar thing it reminds them of, and try to prepare it that way. Okinawan potatoes can be roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt. Amaranth or other greens can be sauteed with garlic and oil like chard or spinach.
Recently with Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein's Grain Mains, I've been enjoying exploring many different grains. In fact, I've coined the term "Grainiacs" because we're just crazy for them. The queen and kings of the grainiac nation have many happy subjects. I am but one.
In this refrigeration-free state, I tried to think of countries where refrigeration was not a key part of food prep. Since one of my new favorite combinations is grain salads with seasonal fruit, I hit on the solution: Triticale (wheat) berry, blueberry salad with shallot vinaigrette and baby spinach. Advantages included using seasonal berries, dark leafy greens, introducing friends to the fantastic local grains from Four Star Farms. I added a bunch of Spelt flakes for interest and to increase the volume (feeding a crowd after all).
Here's what the berries look like pre-cooking:
The "recipe" goes like this.
- Pour boiling water over grains to soak.
- Simmer in stock or water (I used homemade clarified chicken stock with a pinch of salt and two allspice berries added.) Watch the water level and top off as needed. Simmer about an hour.
- When the grains were nearly done, I added some Spelt Flakes. You could substitute other grains, or omit. Fish out the allspice berries.
- While grains are simmering, make vinaigrette.
- Chopped a good size shallot, added Dijon mustard, lemon zest, red wine vinegar, good olive oil.
- Toss warm grains into dressing, add blueberries (strawberries also go really well in this type of combo, you could also sub dried cranberries).
- Add rinsed and spun-dried baby spinach (you could also use arugula or other hearty grains including curly kale if you massage first). I also added fresh Italian parsley.
- Toss gently to incorporate dressing throughout and distribute greens and berries. Salt and fresh ground pepper.
The finished salad looks like this:
And to Top it all off - Nuts
Remember my recipe for Chinese 5 Spice nuts? These make a great topping, bringing some crunch to the party. Add them at the last minute before serving, breaking them up with your fingers as you sprinkle them on top. Leave the rest of the batch as a hostess gift.
The Peach Sangria was a hit, too. Probably had something to do with the beautiful Majolica pitcher and possibly helped by the copious boozey components.
For more info on grains see the Chefs Collaborative Ancient Grains report.