Category Archives: kitchen adventure

Standing up

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken

It’s not that I believe there’s one way to roast a chicken; I believe there are thousands, and each has its merits. I love Marcella Hazan’s lemon-stuffed roasted chicken, a) because it’s fun to voodoo all those holes into the lemons, and b) because if it works, and the steam from the lemon juice puffs the chicken’s skin up from the inside, it’s quite a sight to behold. I love spatchcocking because you get to say “spatchcock” for the next 48 hours. But when I roast a chicken at home, I do it one particular way, because it’s quick and easy and because I’m hopelessly in love with the imagery of the chicken world’s version of a total floozy settling in for a snooze in the sun, which is exactly what I think of when I prepare my bird. It’s quirky. It’s silly. It’s a foolproof way to teach newbies which side goes up. And the wing tips never, ever burn.

Here’s how it works: first, you’ll need to imagine your chicken is settling in for a nice long nap at the beach. Never mind that your chicken is well past dead, and that you don’t want sand in your dinner. She’s tanning, okay? Everyone looks better with a tan. Give her a good lather, with olive oil, perhaps, or melted butter, and maybe some spices. Next, make her comfortable. Tuck her wings behind her back. Cross her legs. Take the extra material around her neck off, because no one likes weird tan lines. Now she’s ready to roast.

It might be the easiest way, or it might just be the way I’ve roasted a chicken most often, so it seems the easiest to me. But the real reason I roast chicken like this—the important reason—is because if I had to pick, crisp, salty chicken skin might be my favorite food on the planet. And in my 425-degree oven, this little trick tans the chick.

I’d eat a crunchy chicken skin—almost all of it, if you want the truth—everywhere Sam would eat green eggs and ham, and then some. Only poor Sam, in his seemingly infinite quest, never ate his gourmet treasure standing at the kitchen counter, which is a shame. Any food worth calling a favorite is worth eating standing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, said food should be capable of making one forget to sit down.

But aye, there’s a rub—I’ve always massaged my chickens with at least a half teaspoon of salt. At least. It’s an effective way to get the job done, but for people like me, it may not be the healthiest–1/2 teaspoon is about 1500mg of sodium, which is the upper limit for people who should theoretically be watching their sodium intake. So this week, for Sodium Girl’s 3rd annual Love Your Heart Recipe Rally (my participations in the first two years are here and here), I decided to give my roasted chicken a little makeover.

Recipe Rally Icon

Every year, Jessica Goldman Fuong asks folks to take a normally salty recipe they love—a recipe they can’t imagine changing—and reduce its sodium. It’s certainly a challenge; for most of us, taking salt out of a recipe is akin to taking away our favorite pair of jeans. (How do you get dressed in the morning when you don’t have any pants to put on?) The chicken was a natural choice for me, since the salinity of the skin seemed to be what I relied on for flavor. Oh, and because I’m apparently pickling my kidneys; looking at Jessica’s numbers, I add as much salt to my food daily  as most people are supposed to consume in a day, never mind the sodium even the healthiest foods contain naturally.

I started with Jessica’s recipe for “Beer Butt Chicken” in Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook—a gutsy recipe name, for one thing (be with what is, right?), but the recipe itself is also clever, because Jessica offers a few different spice combinations to round out the classic beer-chicken combo, where you roast the chicken standing up over a can of your favorite brew. I’d planned to use cider instead of beer (hard cider is also naturally low-sodium), but the cider was accidentally, um, consumed too soon. So I did what I’d never have done, say, a month ago: I went about my normal chicken-roasting routine, adding a bit of smokiness in the form of pimenton de la vera and a flavorful depth with cumin, smearing and tucking and tying per usual. But I skipped the salt entirely.

And you know what? That gal came out pretty as ever, puffed and crisp in all the right places. I shared her with friends, and later, when they were long gone, I stood at the counter, chipping the shattery, smoke-infused skin shards off the chicken’s legs, and I didn’t even think of sitting down.

Sure, she’s had work done. And in some ways, I guess it makes her no longer the chicken I always roasted before. But she’s still got her merits, and she’s healthier for me than the last bird I made. And–most importantly–she’s still worth standing up for.

Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken (PDF)
For a low-sodium dish, the numbers on this flavorful roasted chicken are a little high—if you split it between four people, it has about 162mg of sodium per serving, a hair higher than the recommended 140mg per serving for those following a strict low-sodium diet. For the rest of us, it’s just delicious—crisp in all the right places, and flavored with a good smear of ground cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, and dried oregano.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs

1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Remove all chicken innards, trim any excess fat from around the chicken’s neck, and dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels inside and out. Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or in a cast iron pan. Blend the pimentón, cumin, and oregano together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.

Roast the chicken for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.

When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, lupus, recipe

Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle (www.getyourhotcakes.com) and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (www.dandelionbotanical.com).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe

Parsley. In February.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 3

One of the things I really love about Seattle is having parsley in February. It spurts forth with a stubbornness even my two-year-old can’t muster, preening through the rain, ignoring our recent “snowstorm.” (The Idahoan in me still can’t call that a real storm.) I like to pick it right after 5 p.m., when people are walking home and watching, because it doesn’t feel as much like bragging when I don’t actually open my mouth. After I bring it inside, I peel off my socks, because I’m forever dreaming that somehow my socks won’t get wet if I run extra fast from the front door to the edge of the garden in the rain with a paring knife in my hand. Then I wash the parsley well, because I can’t seem to trust that someone hasn’t been fertilizing it with some magic chemical when I’m not looking. Finally, it sits on the drying rack, next to the Tupperware, and waits.

Seattle garden parsley

Last week, it waited for a clam and chorizo stew I made with Kathy Gunst, when she was visiting. Kathy is my cooking Yoda. She’s not short, and doesn’t have big ears, but since an internship with her ten years ago, it’s her voice I hear when I’m standing in front of the stove, wondering what comes next, or what flavors work together. Over the years, I’ve spent days and days cooking in her kitchen, in Maine, but we’d never really cooked together in mine. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a real cooking partner. It’s especially convenient when there’s a kid in the house; it’s like having four hands, instead of two, only they really can be in two places at once.

I threw chorizo into a high-sided pan, where it sizzled until a certain someone demanded I play ice cream shop. Kathy floated in, and when I returned, pretend-bloated with ten pretend cones’ worth, the stew was bubbling, ready for clams. When I held the long, steel handle of the pan, just to give the tomatoes a quick shake before adding the wine, the handle was still warm—not from the heating element, but from human touch.

Here’s something you might not know about me: I don’t often cook with other people. I like it well enough, but with the exception of my younger sister, who’s turning into a pretty clutch cook herself, my Seattle tribe consist of people who eat, but who don’t necessarily cook. And so often for me, being in the kitchen means a frazzled dance of stirring and writing and timing and judging, rather than just plain cooking. That warm pan handle reminded me how much enjoying cooking, for me, revolves around touch, instead of just taste.

In the end, the stew was good not just because the chorizo, from Seattle’s Rain Shadow Meats, seemed to have exactly the right amount of pimenton, or because the little Manila clams were gorgeous, or because I added the right amount of parsley. It was good because it made me remember that more than any book, or my upbringing, or even culinary school, Kathy’s two hands—the ones that had picked up cooking just where I’d left off, so seamlessly, mid-stew—are the hands that taught me to cook.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 2

Clams with Chorizo, Chickpeas, and Parsley (PDF)
It’s a simple enough dish to make, but loaded into bowls and served with good, crusty bread, this meal has the ability to transport—to Spain, for starters, with that smoky pimentón flavor, and then to the sea, because when the clams cook in tomatoes and wine, they release their briny juices right into the dish’s liquid. If you want this to be more of a stew, add eight ounces of clam juice along with the wine.

Look for pimentón de la vera in the spice section of a large grocery store, or online. Do not substitute regular paprika.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Serves: 2, or 4 with a hearty salad

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (high-quality smoky Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 pound clean Manila clams
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the chorizo, and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring just once or twice, or until the chorizo is partly cooked but loose on the pan. Add the leek and garlic (and a swirl of additional olive oil, if the pan is still dry), and cook another 5 minutes, until the leek is soft. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and the pimentón de la vera. Add the tomatoes and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

Add the chickpeas and clams, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all the clams have opened. (Discard any unopened clams.) Stir in the parsley, season to taste, and serve piping hot, with crusty bread for dipping or over soft polenta.

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Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, pork, recipe, shellfish, soy-free

A newish thing

One day last week, I accidentally terrified my child. I was strolling with him and my mother-in-law through the produce section of a grocery store, and like anyone might, I stopped to marvel at a buddha’s hand—those eerily hand-like, vibrant yellow citrus fruits. I picked one up and sniffed it, and held it out for him to smell, and he looked at me, wide-eyed, when I said something about a monster’s hand. I put it down and we moved on.

It wasn’t until later, when my mother-in-law wheeled me a sobbing, bone-shaken creature, that I realized what I’d done. She’d strolled him past a fish display, where some perfectly innocent fishmonger had creatively staged another buddha’s hand where the head of a giant salmon should be. He shrieked, and clung, and hid his face for many long minutes. It’s not unusual for a 2 1/2-year-old to go through a phase of being scared easily, but it doesn’t feel good to be the one who starts it. Suddenly, my formerly unfazable kid is scared of everything. Thunder, leaf blowers, unpredicted stomps, particularly loud motorcycles—they all make him cower in the fetal position on the ground, face down. So far the solution has been to play Wagon Wheel and talk and dance until he comes out of it, which he does suddenly and completely after about 90 seconds. “Mommy, what’s a southbound train?” he asks. (No, I don’t show him the video.)

I don’t feel particularly proud of scaring the shit out of my kid. I am, however, impressed with how his fears have fueled his creativity. He’s talking about being scared, and showing me how his animal “friends” feel, and developing a community to help him get over the new frights. And out of that experience comes a lesson for me: even though I don’t have a typical job or lead a very typical life, I don’t do new things all that often. My life is composed of a series of expectations, all of which are more or less met on a daily basis. I plan articles. I test recipes. I shop for groceries. I make lists of inspirations. Then I write, and write, and write. But week over week, month over month, the overarching theme hasn’t changed in a while. The closest thing I’ve been to scared this week had to do with making corn dogs for the first time.

This isn’t to say I’m ready for something completely new or scary; it’s only to say that every once in a while, I appreciate a little shake-up. Something newish. Something fun.

Luckily, one of my friends happens to be one of the most persistently inspirational people I’ve ever met. Hannah’s the type of person who leaves a wake of ideas behind her when she walks across a room; she sheds creativity like a long-haired cat in June. When she proposed we do a pack of winter recipe cards together, pairing her artwork with my recipes, I jumped. Actually, I got in the car and met her for a drink. This was months ago.

We let the idea linger through the fall. But for some reason, with Graham’s buddha’s hand scare, I started thinking I should perhaps hop on these fun new things when they crop up, instead of running, which is what I’d do more instinctively. Because when else am I going to find an artist whose illustrations—papercuts, to be exact—so perfectly depict the foods I want people to eat? When would artwork, rather than a photograph, be a good representation of my food? When Hannah’s behind it, of course.

These here papercuts are just a little glimpse of our project—and the squash soup below is the starter, in a smartly wrapped package of winter cards each containing one recipe. There are five in the package, and together, they make up a lovely little winter dinner party menu.

There, now. Doesn’t’ that feel liberating? Food, illustrated in a completely new way. Stay tuned; we’re hoping to get them printed this week.

For now, the soup recipe. I’m off to figure out how to get Graham to eat salmon again.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)
Time: 30 minutes active time / Serves 6
Based on a recipe that serves me all winter long, this squash soup has a lovely velvety texture–make sure you puree it until it’s silky–and enough cumin to scent every corner of your house.

4 pounds hubbard squash pieces • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil • 1 medium onion, finely chopped • salt and freshly ground pepper • 1 teaspoon ground cumin • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth • 2 large tart apples, such as Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Plunk the squash pieces on a baking sheet, skin side down, seal the pan closed with foil, and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the squash’s meat and skin are completely soft when poked with a fork. Cool until the squash is comfortable to touch, then scoop or cut out and save the flesh. (You should have about 6 cups of 1” pieces.)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the butter, then the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the cumin. Add the broth, apples, and squash pieces to the onions and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the soup off the heat, and let cool for about 15 minutes. Carefully puree the soup until very smooth in multiple batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat, season to taste, and serve hot.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup 1

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Filed under Et cetera, Fun food sites, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, soup

Spendy Threads

Cloaked in a bolt of royal blue cloth that revealed only a nose, a braided grey beard, and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, the man I approached at my farmers’ market looked something like a modern-day executioner. I knew there was no rational reason for me to be nervous. Someone I had trusted had given me the hook-up to Washington-grown saffron. But I’d been expecting a hipster, not a hippie.

Surrounded by tables of baby succulents, the grower was busy discussing the particulars of a plant I’d never seen before with another customer. I lurked, observing how the guy’s hands were permanently creased with dirt, almost as though the hands themselves were half-plant. When he noticed me, I shyly asked if he knew who sold saffron. A bright, welcoming grin burst out from behind his hood and he opened his eagle arms wide. With no small drama, he swooped a hand under the table, brought out a small tackle box, and extracted a tiny cellophane envelope filled with abnormally long, red threads. I had to remind myself that what I was doing was perfectly legal. I took a deep breath. “How much?” I ask.

Continue reading at Leite’s Culinaria…

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Filed under Et cetera, farmer's market, kitchen adventure

The Best Pork Stew You’ll Never Make

If I were to give you the perfect recipe for a Mexican-inspired pork and black bean stew, it would look like this:

Wilbur 1

1. Find some friends willing to buy an entire pig, haul it six hours from home to a remote cabin without electricity or hot water, and cook it in a homemade “Cuban microwave” for hours and hours, until swarms of toddlers are melting under the pressure of a hard day’s play in the wild, the keg is kicked, the sun is finally going down, and the pig’s skin is crisp. Make sure the friends are food literate, but not food snobs. (Some make a point to only eat animals that have read Virgil, but I think too much enlightenment makes for tough meat.)

carving the pig at curlew

2. When the pig is roasted, volunteer to carve it in the dying light, even if you’ve never done it before. A 37-pound animal is large, but still only has two cheeks, which means that if you want to dig the fatty, tender cheek meat out with your fingers, you’ll want to be the one hovering near the head. (The whiskers, by the way, become quite sharp when roasted.) As you slice into it – surely with a knife you’re completely unfamiliar with, wearing giant barbecuing gloves that make you feel as awkward as Edward Scissorhands and only slightly more coordinated – combine just the right amounts of selfishness and laziness. You should cut enough meat off the bones to fill plate after plate with steaming flesh and satisfy any nearby vultures, but not so much as to strip the bones naked. (The meat left on them will be critical to your stew.) Pack obscene amounts of leftover meat and bones into coolers, neatly divided into “meaty,” “fatty,” “bones,” and “Neanderthal” containers, regularly offering diners feet or a snout from the last category, lest they miss what might be their only opportunity to munch on a pig’s toenail. Leave the coolers outside in the sun, with questionable amounts of ice, until the next morning.

Stock on the curlew stove

3. Make pork stock: Combine the meatiest pork bones, chopped onions (with the skins), and (unfiltered, from-a-real-spring) spring water in a large, unwashed roasting pan. Straddle the pan over two burners on an ancient stove, pausing to appreciate first that you know how to light your own stove at home, and second, that you weren’t the one to haul the propane tank currently responsible for cooking your stock up to the cabin on cross-country skis last winter. Bring the stock to a strong simmer, turn the burners off, cover the stock, and go to a rodeo.

rodeo queen at the chesaw rodeo

4. Here, to make the stew taste better, you should eat at least half of a corn dog, or possibly try the 68th Annual Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo’s version of taco salad: one snack-sized bag of nacho-flavored Doritos, crushed, opened, and topped with taco meat of unclear provenance, shredded cheese and lettuce, and an unconscionable quantity of sour cream. (They do make it in small bags for little buckaroos, in case you were wondering.)

high class husband at the chesaw rodeo

5. Drink Budweiser in the sun while you watch toddlers chase chickens, small boys get stomped on by small (but still quite large) calves, teenage girls race horses around barrels, and grown men make their best attempt at roping and milking wild cows. Drink a little more; you need to sate your immediate hunger but open your palate to the possibility of a great deal of stew.

Boys playing on porch in Curlew

6. Get back to the cabin, bring the stock back to a simmer, and feed and entertain all children in the immediate vicinity. Snoop around the premises for anything that might make for a good stew – onions, garlic, carrots, and celery would be a fortunate start – and chop the vegetables, taking note as you work next to another person that it is neither the size of a kitchen nor its fanciness that makes it functional. (A kitchen qualifies as “good” if the space is well used, of course, with plenty of chopping room near the stove, but also if those working therein are happy bumping elbows without apologizing, and comfortable injecting cooking questions into unrelated conversation without losing one’s place in either the chopping or the conversation.)

Curlew kitchen 1

7. In a large (preferably tippy) soup pot, sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in (possibly) three-year-old olive oil, then season heavily with cumin, chili powder, dried oregano leftover from seasoning the pig, salt, pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, and a little bit of luck. Add the remaining salsa from two separate, open-but-unrefrigerated jars of salsa (their spiciness will have a lot to do with how your stew turns out), three cans of black beans (along with their liquid), and enough stock to let all the ingredients swim around freely. Simmer until the carrots are soft, roughly one hour, bossing anyone near the stove into giving it a quick stir so you can appreciate just being where you are.

dogs begging for pork stew

8. Meanwhile, clip most of the cilantro from the newly planted herb garden just off your porch. (If you can arrange for your dog to fall off the porch while avoiding a curious tot and land directly on the cilantro plant, do so, as the cilantro will be easier to cut that way.) Grate cheese and find some sour cream. Intend to slice the avocado in the fruit bowl, then promptly forget about it.

Curlew cabin front

9. Ask someone else to chop a good deal of what’s probably tenderloin and shoulder from the “meaty” bowl of pork in the cooler, and add it to the stew. Simmer another 10 minutes or so, so the pork fat melts into the broth. Season to taste again with salt and pepper, and serve hot, in mismatched bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, and spoons that make you feel like you’re Goldilocks, minus the part where she finds the spoon that’s just right. (Feel free to continue forgetting the avocado.) In your mind, call it Curlew Stew, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pretend you aren’t surprised when it seems like the best stew you’ve ever tasted, and make a mental promise to make pork stock again someday soon. When it’s cooler.

dividing pig meat

10. Mop the last of the soup up with plain sliced sandwich bread. Commence a conversation about recipes – why and how we use them, how some people must cook from them while others simply can’t, where we record them, etc. Remember some recipes, like Hannah’s grandmother’s Goat Curry for Fifty, whose re-creation is so entirely unlikely that you might as well call it impossible. Think first, to yourself, that you wished you’d written the stew recipe down in some way, or snapped a photo before the last carrots were scraped from the bottom of the pot and fed to your child (who, with his first tooth, now seems to be able to eat cooked carrots). Then reconsider, and note that perhaps anyone interested in recreating Curlew Stew should probably not be relying too heavily on a recipe in the first place.

That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. Just ten quick steps.

If you live in the United States, chances are very good that you have recently suffered, are currently suffering, or will soon suffer an unbearable heat wave. (The definition of “unbearable” may differ from region to region; 90-degree heat broke records in Seattle a couple days ago. Likewise, the definition of “suffer” may be flexible; I was forced to make cold iced tea and wear a dress yesterday. It was awful.)

I thought that perhaps this heat thing, combined with the likelihood that you have a cooler filled with roasted pig parts on your porch, might make Curlew Stew an unconvincing proposition for your dinner this evening. But I promise: It’s the best pork stew you’ll never make.

But if you really want to taste Curlew Stew, I know a guy who makes a mean Cuban microwave; he says he’s willing to lend his to me when I’m ready to roast a pig. Swing by my driveway sometime around Christmas, because I now know I’ll be going whole hog, as they say, for our next holiday party. I’m sure there will be pork leftover.

Tonight, you should just make skirt steak kebabs.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 2

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs (PDF)

Marinated in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, fresh oregano, and red pepper flakes, these skirt steak kebabs pack a punch, but don’t take much time to prepare or grill. Instead of tomatoes and zucchini, feel free to substitute other vegetables—broccoli florets or crimini mushrooms would also be great.

Be sure to soak the skewers for the kebabs in a pan of water for a good 30 minutes (or longer) before you thread the meat and vegetables on.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

Juice of 3 limes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (the fresher, the better)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound skirt steak, cut into 1” cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 3/4” rounds
2 dozen large cherry tomatoes
12 wooden skewers (12” long), soaked

Blend the lime juice, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Add the steak, stir until all the steak is coated with the marinade, then add the zucchini and tomatoes. Refrigerate, covered, about 1 hour.

Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat, about 450 to 550 degrees. Thread the ingredients onto the skewers, alternating ingredients, piercing zucchini horizontally (through the skin on both sides) so that all the ingredients lie in a flat plane.

Grill the kebabs for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until the zucchini is marked, the tomatoes are beginning to burst, and the steak is cooked through. Serve hot.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 1

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Filed under Beef, dog, gluten-free, husband, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, travel, vegetables

Cold front

Olympics from Space Needle

Deep breath.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I have a damp spleen. I didn’t know that about me either, although I suppose if I’d thought about it, I’d have come to the same conclusion. It’s inside my body, after all, and I hear it’s damp in there.

The recent diagnosis comes from my new acupuncturist. To be fair, he’s my first acupuncturist. I’m seeing him because I have lupus, and a back injury that still hasn’t quite healed, but mostly—and most importantly, perhaps—because I’ve lost my appetite.

No Western doctor I’ve come across seems to think this is a giant problem—apparently many women have appetite failures after having children. Physically, it’s a convenient natural counterpoint to a recent pregnancy, and to too many years of steroid treatments, sure. But with all due respect to people who are actually missing limbs, I have to say losing my hunger feels a little like an amputation.

I’ve never had an appetite problem before. Or, if you look at it another way, I’ve always had an appetite problem. I’ve always been the one who gets hungry two hours after a meal, no matter how big. I can test recipes all day and gorge on every single one. My workday often consists of eating breakfast, snacking at a coffee shop, having two lunches, testing a recipe, grocery shopping, then launching into dinner. I grew up with a mother who examines what everyone eats extremely carefully—“would you like to eat that, or glue it to your thighs?”—so my idea of teenaged rebellion was baking a batch of cookies and eating the whole thing. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you can relate.

But in the last few months—and if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to say it’s been a bit longer, even—I’ve learned that approaching the world stomach-first has its drawbacks. For one, I’ve built my career around said organ. Walking into a restaurant when I think I’m ravenous, finding only one or two things that sound even mildly appealing on the menu, then picking at my food does not feel normal (or productive, for that matter). I have phantom hunger; it disappears the moment something good hits the table. I’m eating out of habit, but it feels like I’m no longer tasting. It’s become so disappointing (and at times, embarrassing) to sit down over and over, expecting to love what someone has put in front of me, only to discover that I feel like eating about four bites—especially when the person cooking is me.

Once in a while, things taste good. Pasta’s been okay. I do seem to have an appetite for soups—hence the recent streak of hot and sour, and the fact that I went out for pho three times last week—but overall, it feels like something inside me has simply died. And it does not feel good.

So a few weeks ago, I started seeing this acupuncturist. He looks like your average software engineer: white as Wonder Bread, with a gentle, kind demeanor. I trusted him the moment we met. When I see him, he does the whole acupuncture thing—you know, hair-thin needles in strategic places—and he also suggested I start tinkering with my diet.

I hate the word diet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it has the word “die” in it, because in my mind, controlling what you eat, in the strictest sense, kills the part of eating that’s most enjoyable—the impulsiveness of trying something new, the serendipity of combining flavors that work well together. But Chinese medicine isn’t the only medical culture to claim certain people benefit from eating certain things. Remember when it was popular to eat for your blood type? And oh, yeah, thousands of years of ayurveda?

To start, since I’m apparently what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) defines as a “cold” person (keep those jokes to yourself!), I should be eating “warm” foods—both physically warm foods and energetically warm foods. I’ve started with the former, trying to avoid putting anything in my mouth that’s actually cold (which is harder than you might think, even in January), and I’m hoping to branch out into the latter, which is, as they say, a whole other can of worms.

After a few weeks, I’ve noticed significant improvements with both the joints affected by lupus and my back pain. I’m peeling apples again. I’m checking my car’s blind spot without wincing. It’s awesome. (To be fair, I’m also tinkering with my traditional medications, and doing regular old physical therapy for my back, both of which may be helping, too.)

But this appetite thing? Still pretty much MIA. And if the acupuncturist is correct, we may actually be dealing with two separate problems—one of appetite, which in TCM is often spleen-related, and one of actual taste, which is more often heart-related.

So, now you know what I’m working on in the kitchen these days.

(Phew. That feels better. I was so nervous to tell you.)

Has this happened to you?

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Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, lupus