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Pantry Raid

Yes, folks, it's finally time to unveil the winners of the first-ever Bite Me World HQ "I Wanna Be a Pantry Cook" recipe contest. Are you excited? I know I am.

My faithful staff and I sorted through literally tens of entries before finding these few that so perfectly typify the art and craft of the pantry cook's bizarre trade. As stipulated by the strict rules of the contest, each entrant was working from a limited stock of ingredients (details available in the July 3 Bite Me at www.westword.com) to craft dishes meant to act as appetizers, entree specials or desserts for a working kitchen operating under serious time constraints -- with nothing too complex, nothing too labor-intensive and nothing that can't be made with leftovers and ingredients begged, borrowed or stolen from other parts of the kitchen when the chef isn't looking.

And now, without further ado, the recipes:

L'antipasto: Lemon risotto. I must confess that this recipe is mine, with an inspirational assist from Ian Kleinmanof Indigo (250 Josephine Street).

What you need: unclarified chicken stock (in a three-to-one ratio with rice), unsalted butter, shallots (chopped rough), arborio rice, dry white wine, lemon (juice and peel), shredded parsley, oil.

How to do it: Simmer stock in a heavy saucepan. Melt butter in a second heavy saucepan. On medium heat, sauté shallots in the butter until tender; add rice and stir; add wine and stir until evaporated; add two good squeezes of lemon juice and stir; add one-third of the stock and stir until absorbed, then the rest of the stock a splash at a time until it's all absorbed. (You didn't forget to stir, did you?) When stock is gone and rice is tender, add another gob of butter, the shredded parsley, more lemon juice to taste, some lemon zest and maybe a little salt. Voilà -- you're done, and your chef loves you.

Soup course: Cream of broccoli. Two winners come courtesy of Peter Russell, president of Opera Colorado. "I included the cream of broccoli soup because it is my first choice if the broccoli has gone beyond slightly limp to borderline skeevy," Peter writes. "I resisted the urge to include an especially tired recipe for chicken divan casserole in an attempt to prove to myself that I am not turning into my mother." Thanks for your restraint, Peter.

What you need (for a six-cup yield -- multiply by twenty for restaurant service): chicken stock (5 cups), unsalted butter, onion (coarsely chopped), 2 cloves garlic (sliced, not diced -- a man after my own heart), fresh nutmeg, dry white wine (1 1/2 cups), broccoli (trimmed, peeled, florets separated), heavy cream (1/2 cup), salt and pepper.

How to do it: Over medium heat, in a heavy soup pot, heat a little stock and a gob of butter. Add onion, garlic, nutmeg, and cook, covered, until onion is soft but not browned. Add the rest of the stock, the wine, the broccoli, and crank the heat until everything boils; reduce heat and simmer until broccoli is soft but still bright green. Purée the soup in a blender until smooth. Pour soup back into soup pot; add heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste; serve garnished with crème fraîche, snipped chives and croutons. (Personally, I would have softened the broccoli in simmering stock first, then shocked it in an ice bath to make sure it retained all of its color -- but that's just me.)

Salad course: Steamed broccoli with black-olive/balsamic dressing.When the broccoli "is just in need of perking up with strong- flavored ingredients that could camouflage the fact that in its unadorned state, it would be less than pristine," Peter Russell suggests, "I'd steam it and serve it with this black-olive dressing."

What you need: broccoli (trimmed, florets removed), balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic -- minced this time -- and shallots done the same way, crushed red pepper flakes (a pantry cook's best friend), oil, Kalamata olives (pitted and chopped), salt.

How to do it: Steam broccoli, covered, over boiling water until soft but still green. (Again, in a pantry-cook situation I'd shock this broccoli as well, because it's going to be sitting around for a while before service.) Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, shallot, pepper flakes and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the crap out of them, then add the oil -- last and slowly -- in a steady stream. For service, re-whisk dressing, adding olives this time; toss with broccoli and serve warm or room temp.

First course: Chicken and dumplings Provençal. This one's from baker and former prep/pantry cook Roxanne Rieske, a recipe "off the top of my head" harking back to her "mystery basket" days.

What you need for basic dumplings: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, a bit of minced parsley, 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream (enough to get the batter to the right consistency).

How to do it: Mix dry ingredients together, add wet ingredients until a drop batter is formed. Cover with plastic wrap and keep cold.

What you need for the rest: chicken (cut into bite-sized pieces), herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, chicken stock, white wine (preferably a chablis-style Chardonnay), diced broccoli florets brought back to life in cold water ('atta girl...), garlic and shallots (minced), quartered green olives (Roxanne is very picky), oil, butter, heavy cream.

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