09/10/2014 10:15 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Cooking Off the Cuff -- And out of a Box

I've never been one to let other people do my shopping, whether it be for socks or for potatoes. Given a pair of legs with the strength to get me to the farmers' market a couple of times a week, why would I want to miss out on the fun? So, I've steered clear of CSA deliveries and so forth.

A week or two before Jackie and I left for a recent vacation, I ran into Kate Galassi at the Union Square market. I've known her since her days working with one of my favorite farmer/vendors, now retired; her eye for good produce and where to get it was always backed up by horticultural knowledge that always impressed this city boy. A year and a half ago, Kate became co-founder of a business called Quinciple, which offers food-box subscriptions that have little in common with CSA parcels, and she offered to deliver a sample box on the day of our return from two weeks of travel. Since Jackie and I would be coming home to a nearly empty refrigerator, I welcomed the offer and was eager to see what would be awaiting us.

The box (or rather its contents) made me smile. Kate - you can think of her as a sort of curator if you don't mind that word outside a museum context - draws on a wide range of farmers, producers and resellers and doesn't limit herself to the local growers who come to New York's farmers' markets; take a look at the roster on the website. The nicest surprises in the box were a generous six ounces or so of Oregon chanterelles, in far better condition than I've been seeing in stores (seems to me that restaurants usually get first pick); and a tub of the most delicious low-moisture butter from Kriemhild Dairy Farms, which is available around town but which I'd never tried. There was a head of lettuce, and a bunch of Swiss chard, and a bag of dried pasta made in Brooklyn from organic semolina, and a generous pound of ripe prune plums, and a couple of early apples, and a few perfectly ripe tomatoes, and some rosemary and probably a couple of other things too. Oh yes: there was a hunk of bread from one of New York's better bakers.

There was also an envelope containing a nicely designed leaflet with color photos explaining what was in the box and where it came from, along with cards giving good recipes and wise tips on handling and storage.

Quantities - geared to a Manhattan and western Brooklyn clientele short on both storage space and number of mouths to feed - were perfect for us: this was not the five pounds of zucchini that lots of CSA subscribers are probably finding on the doorstep. Freshness and quality were impeccable. It was all stuff I wanted to cook.

A few of the box-generated dishes we ate are in the pictures you can see down below; not everything in every dish came from Quinciple, because I did get to the market about 36 hours after landing at JFK.

One of the things I bought was a good chicken. I boned the legs and turned them into dinner using Quinciple's Swiss chard - the leaves anyway; the stems are cooked and will be eaten soon. Chard makes a terrific stuffing, all by itself: all I did was strip the leaves from the stems, wash them and cook them in a covered pan with a minced clove of garlic sweated in butter. (I usually use olive oil, but that Kriemhild butter is an excellent cooking fat because of both its low moisture and its good dairy flavor.)

When it cooled, I squeezed out most of its remaining liquid, chopped it fairly fine (with a knife: no need for a food processor here) and seasoned it well with salt, pepper and lots of finely chopped sage leaves and parsley. Without any additional binders, I pressed a handful of chard into the center of each boned chicken leg (which I'd brined for four hours, but really didn't need to; if I hadn't I'd have salted the flesh side before stuffing it); with the bones gone, there's a natural gap for the stuffing. I folded the meat around the chard and used a trussing needle and twine to sew it into a sort of sausage shape; tying would have worked, but sewing restrains the stuffing better.

To cook the chicken, I seasoned it well and browned it on all sides in an oven-proof skillet, which then went into a 400-degree F (205 C) oven for 25 minutes. While it was there, I turned it a few times and based it with the cooking fat (which was a mixture of clarified butter - oil would have been fine - and more of that Kriemhild butter). Before removing the twine and carving the chicken, I rested it for a full 10 minutes - it would have remained hot enough for even longer.

I got rid of most of the fat from the skillet and deglazed, first, with white wine, then with chicken stock; as this bubbled away, I added rosemary leaves from the Quinciple box, and when it tasted like sauce I finished it with a scant tablespoon of that nice butter and strained out the rosemary and other debris.

When the legs were sliced, the stuffing remained intact and looked beautiful, all deep green against the flesh of the chicken's dark meat. Since there's basically just one ingredient in the stuffing, its flavor is very clear - though of course enriched by chicken juices. This would work with spinach too, though the special earthy flavor of the chard we get in the US is a particular favorite of mine.

Fact is, I still like to do my own shopping, but that Quinciple box was a real treat.

Cooking Out Of a Box