I set two personal cooking challenges for myself to try to meet each week, one practical, the other fun. The practical challenge is to come up with at least one meal or recipe each week that uses up something that is languishing in my pantry. When I go to the grocery store or the gourmet foods store or the Asian market, I am always seeing all these nifty things — like Indian simmering sauce, piquillo peppers or a new kind of dried mushroom — that I want to try. I buy them with nothing in mind for them, bring them home and stick them in the pantry — where they are never used. Years later, I find them and usually throw them out, fearing some new life form is developing rudimentary tools inside the can or jar.
In an effort to keep my pantry relatively neat and tidy, I am resolved to clean out one bottled, canned or dried thing each week in the great Pantry Cleanout Challenge. This week, I gave myself a slow pitch and used up a bottle of bourbon-flavored barbecue sauce making Oven-Barbecued Chicken. I am already done with next week’s offering, as well: a crab and artichoke dip I made for Super Bowl Sunday (recipe to follow), using up a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. (Jarred artichoke hearts should probably be a pantry staple, but I hardly ever eat them, so they qualify for the Pantry Cleanout Challenge.)
The other challenge, which appeals to the part of me that loves themes and coming up with menus, is to find inspiration for one meal a week from an event, holiday, recent restaurant meal or other theme. This week, I was inspired by a meal I recently had at Rue Cler as well as Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the first signs of spring, to make Sauteed Salmon with Baby Potatoes, Asparagus & Lemon Bearnaise (recipe follows soon, with photos). It was not an exact replica of the restaurant dish, of course, but it was very light, lemony and spring-like — a great dish for eating by candelight and imagining that winter will be over soon.
For this week, I’ve already decided on my theme. We’re having a few friends over for Spanish-inspired tapas. I’ll be posting a menu and recipes later in the week.
If you would like to participate in either of these challenges any week, just drop me a note in the comments. I’m not going to issue a formal challenge, but it would be fun to see what you might come up with for either the Great Pantry Cleanout Challenge or the Theme of the Week Challenge.