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?

22 Comments

Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, lupus

Telephone

Ingredients for holiday dinner
To listen to the version of this story that aired on KUOW, click here.

I recently played the most ridiculous game of telephone. It started when I called my grandmother to cook her dinner.

I know, it sounds all wrong, doesn’t it? You can’t cook for someone over the phone. I didn’t think so either. I’d planned a trip to Portland to do it in person. My grandmother, June, called her sister, and a friend, and molded an entire day around a trip to the grocery store for about ten ingredients. They scrummed around the produce department guy, battering him with questions about fennel and kale. Then they hit the fish counter, where, June told me, she knew not to order the wild salmon because it’s bad for the environment, and knew she could have told the fish guy where to cut, but didn’t have to. I smiled over the phone, not caring what she bought, because she was going to cook. (This woman eats, but she does not, in contemporary lexicon, cook.)

Then my cat got attacked by a raccoon. He was oozy and insulted and very much upset about being left alone indoors, so at the very last minute, I cancelled on my grandmother. She was devastated. She used that word – devastated – and I could hear the truth of it in her voice, weighing her down like an age. (She’s not usually dramatic.)

So we made a phone date. She’d invite her friends back over, and I’d call “on the cellular phone,” and we’d do it all that way, ear to ear. I’d talk, and she’d chop, and it would be like I was right there in the kitchen.

Of course, there was a little catch. The point of cooking for her, that night, was to demonstrate for her a holiday entertaining menu that even she could master – a whole dinner that would take me a heaping ten minutes to put in the oven. There would be roasted salmon with a lemon-cumin raita (she loves yogurt sauces), Dijon potatoes (she’s a mustard fiend), roasted fennel with sherry, and creamed kale – just the right balance of familiarity and foreignness. I figured ten minutes for me meant 20 or so for us together. But on the telephone?

But they’d already purchased the food.

Dinner at Grandma June’s house is a five o’clock affair. I called at 4:15, and June answered on the first ring.

“We’re here,” she sang. “Mary’s had her cigarette, and Verna has the knife.” Taken out of context, I might have been worried, but in this case, I knew that meant they were ready.

“I’m just going to hand the phone to Verna, and you can tell her what to do, okay?” said June.

“Not so fast,” I said. June will do almost anything to not cook. “How about you hold the phone while she chops?” I figured processing the instructions counted for at least half.

And so it began. My dinner plan echoed from Seattle to Portland, from me, to June, then invariably Verna and Mary:

Jess: Okay, let’s start by turning on the oven.
June: Verna, turn on the oven.
Verna: How do you turn on the oven?
June: Push in the dial.
Verna: Okay, how hot do you want it?
June: How hot do we want it?
Jess: 400 degrees.
June: 400 degrees.
Mary: How long is this going to take?

And on we went. I learned, over the next (honestly) 40 minutes, to give extremely specific instructions. We started with potatoes, then fennel, then kale, then salmon. But we started everything slowly:

Jess: Is your white square ceramic pan nearby?
June: Yes, right here.
Jess: Okay, I’m going to tell you how to cut the fennel, then you’re going to put the fennel slices in, drizzle them with olive oil and roll them around a bit. Ready?
June: (To Verna, excited) We’re going to get the fennel ready now. (To Jess) Okay, what do we do?
Jess: Okay. Pretend the fennel is a hand. You see it, with the fingers sticking up?
June: Verna: Pretend the fennel is a hand, with the fingers sticking up.
Verna: I don’t see it. A hand?
June: We don’t see it. What do you mean?
Jess: Can you pretend that the white part is your palm and the green sticky-uppity parts are fingers?
June: Oh, yes.
Verna: What. What? (June explains.)
Jess: (Hems, haws, then decides not to trim the bottom.) Okay. You can eat all of it, but for tonight, we’re going to cut the tops off. Cut the long green stalks off where the rings would be, if the fennel was a hand.
June: Cut the long green stalks off where the rings would be . . . what?
Jess: If the fennel was a hand.
June: If the fennel was a hand. Isn’t it were a hand?
(Chopping sounds.)
Jess: Okay, now cut it into slices through the core.
June: Now cut it into slices through the core.
Verna: I have to talk to her about the center.

Verna washed her hands, and June handed her the phone. I explained how to cut the fennel bulb into wedges right through the center core, so the layers of vegetable stick together, and promised her that it would roast up nice and soft. She handed the phone back to June, and got to work. And on we went, for potatoes, kale, salmon, and the sauce.

Overall, though, it worked quite well. Since it took us (collectively) longer than it took me alone to prepare the ingredients, I had them cut their salmon into smaller filets, instead of roasting it in a big slab, and unless they were lying, it came out perfectly.

From my end, it was sort of a grueling half hour or so. But it also made my heart melt, they same way it does when a kid says something so entirely wrong it’s cute. I’d say, “Squeeze the lemon over the fish,” and June would say, “How do you squeeze a lemon again?” and Verna would say, “June, I know how to squeeze a lemon,” and Mary, more kitchencaster than participant, would say, “What’s the lemon for? Why aren’t we putting it on the fish later?” And since I was there, they’d ask me, to make sure, and we’d spend 25 seconds – watch the clock, it’s a long time – talking lemon-squeezing.

But my goodness, they giggled. There were three of them, but even so, sometimes they were so overwhelmed by the collective energy it took to, say, find the cumin, that they’d abandon me on the counter, and I could hear them twittering, one to the next. It was like listening to a recording of a pack of teenagers in 1939.

And after they’d called back to report that yes, dinner was sensational, I imagined them gathered in front of her giant new television, watching the World Series, picking kale out of their teeth, and wished I wasn’t such a sucker for Whiney McWhiskers. But if anyone understands coddling a cat, it’s June.

Over Thanksgiving, she told me again how much fun she’d had. “But fennel,” she said. “I wouldn’t be too sad if I never saw fennel again. I’m a carrots-onions-potatoes kind of gal.”

Fair enough. I’ll cook the fennel here.

Holiday Dinner 2

The Ten Minute Holiday Meal: Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Cumin Raita, Caramelized Fennel with Sherry Vinegar, Simple Dijon Potatoes, and Creamed Kale (PDF)

The holidays are a time to put the shine on your best silver, if that’s what suits you, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Me? I didn’t always save the pasta-making, reduction-simmering, and bread baking for other times of the year. It used to make sense to stand in the kitchen for hours, talking and stirring. But these days, with an 8-month-old, I’m lucky if I can boil water in one try at 6 p.m. So this year, having guests over will mean simplicity, so there’s a chance – even the slightest, skinniest chance – that I’ll get to talk to the people hanging out with us in our home.

The following simple menu was designed with a 4-person dinner party in mind, to be prepared in a bit over 10 minutes (with dinner about 20 minutes afterward). It doubles easily, but if you do double it, keep in mind that it will take you longer to cut the vegetables, so the salmon might go in later. Luckily, it’s hard to overcook the potatoes, fennel, and kale, so let the salmon determine dinnertime – just add the sherry to the fennel right when you start taking things out of the oven, so it has a minute or two to sizzle.

If you can’t find Olsen Farms’ “Spud Nuts,” which are basically ridiculously small potatoes, quarter golf ball-sized potatoes and use them instead. Potatoes simply halved (per the photos above) don’t quite cook enough in the time allotted.

And, as always, please READ THROUGH the directions before beginning. The directions assume all produce is washed.

*

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

MAKE THE POTATOES: Grease a shallow roasting pan with a teaspoon of olive oil. Toss 1 1/2 pounds Spud Nuts (or quartered small potatoes) with 2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard, transfer them to the pan, and put them in the oven on the bottom rack.

MAKE THE FENNEL: Cut the long green stalks off a 1 1/2 pound fennel bulb and save to slice into a salad. Cut the fennel in half vertically (with the stripes), then cut each half into 6 or 8 wedges, so the core keeps each wedge intact. Pile the wedges in an ovenproof pan big enough to fit them in one layer, drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and mix with your hands until all the fennel is coated. Add to the oven’s bottom rack.

START THE KALE: Cut 2 small bunches (about 3/4 pound) lacinato (also called dinosaur) kale crosswise into thin ribbons. Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep pan over medium heat. Add a crushed, chopped garlic clove, stir for a few seconds, then add the kale, and cook, stirring occasionally while you continue.

MAKE THE SAUCE: Stir together the contents of an 8-ounce container full-fat Greek yogurt, the zest and juice of a lemon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and if you want, a chopped clove of garlic. Set aside to let the flavors marry, as they say.

MAKE THE SALMON: Center a 1 1/2 pound (roughly 1 1/2” thick) salmon filet on a parchment- or baking mat-lined baking sheet. Smear with 1 teaspoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or so, or roughly 10 minutes per inch of thickness, until the salmon just begins to exude small white beads of fat (but really not much longer, please).

UPKEEP: Add 1 cup heavy cream and a quick grate of nutmeg to the kale, stir, and walk away. Come back in 10 minutes, stir the kale, pour yourself more wine, and sit back down. (The kale is done when the cream’s gone, but it’s very happy to sit on low heat until you’re ready to eat.)

WHEN THE SALMON IS DONE: Add a big splash – about 1 1/2 tablespoons – sherry vinegar to the fennel pan, and return to the oven without breathing in too deeply (watch those vinegar fumes). Take the salmon out, and transfer it to a serving platter, along with the sauce. Transfer the kale to a serving bowl. Snuggle the potatoes in next to the salmon. Shake the fennel pan to release the wedges, and add them to the platter, too.

Serve hot.

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, media, radio, recipe, side dish, vegetables

Meet Darla

Sausage and summer veg strata 2

It’s the same sort of day as most of the other days here in Seattle, I suppose. I’m sitting at a coffee shop, next to a woman who appears, at a brief glance, to be editing a Swedish-Chinese dictionary.

I’ve started working again, three days a week. Sitting down at Herkimer, my body remembered all the right moves—sidling into a seat before getting coffee because the line was long, shyly sneaking my yogurt snack into the corner of my little bench seat, tuning into Basia Bulat. I even remembered my favorite barista’s name.

It all seems amazingly simple: I had a certain life. Then I had a child. Now I have a different sort of life, and I also have a child. Life’s changed, but then again, it hasn’t.

I can’t imagine anything better, for me, for now.

At least, I couldn’t, until we got a new dishwasher.

Darla

A new dishwasher, people, really does change a life. It’s not that we didn’t have one before. We did. It was white and dirty, rusty inside and cranky. It didn’t clean dishes particularly well, and our dinner plates didn’t fit inside. I consider myself neither a dishwasher snob nor a connoisseur, but clearly, fitting one’s dishes inside and getting them clean should be two of a dishwasher’s top attractions.

I actually learned a few things in the buying process:

a) a dishwasher should wash your dishes for you, not after you

b) putting rinsed dishes in the dishwasher with abrasive soap leads to cloudy glassware

c) with a new energy-efficient dishwasher, you really only need about a tablespoon of soap

The new one is named Darla. Yes, I named it. I mean her. But only after some thorough testing. She had to earn her keep, you see.

It turns out that the guy I bought our new KitchenAid from, Joe, has an appliance blog. Yes, he blogs about dishwashers and refrigerators and washing machines. When he told me, I tried to stifle a laugh. But then he challenged me: Try everything, he said. See if you can stump your dishwasher. Then tell me what happens.

So I did. I baked blueberry crisp, ate half of it, and reheated the leftovers, so the purple scrapies on the bottom burned right into the pan. I left the empty pan in the sink overnight, untouched, and Darla cleaned it right up.

Cranberry goop

Then I made Thanksgiving. I know that sounds crazy. It was mid-August and 85 degrees outside, but I was working on some recipes for a November issue, and I didn’t see any way to avoid it. Darla took on the sticky cranberry sauce ring, and a  challinging kale gratin dish, and boy, did she shine.

Hand tarts, assorted

Next I made little hand tarts. I let the fruit bubble up and over the cornmeal crust, right down into the baby brulee dishes I baked them in, and plunked the dishes right onto the top rack, berry crusties and all. The first time, they didn’t come quite clean, but once I moved them to the bottom rack, where the real business gets done, she came through.

Hand tart mess

Finally, I gave her cheese. I made a sausage- and vegetable-studded breakfast strata, and baked it until the top layer of cheese – the cheese leather, Jim calls it – was good and brown. We ate a third of it for breakfast the first day, then a third the second day, and the last of it on yet a third day, reheating it in the oven each time and cementing (at least we thought) layers of cheese to the dish’s topsides. Again: clean.

Strata to bake on

Darla darling, we love you for your cleaning ability. Joe was right. You can do anything.

Now, if you could only figure out how to dry the dishes, we’d be much obliged. Joe said you might not like our eco-froofroo dishwashing detergent. We switched to something that looks much more environmentally harmful, but you’re still not happy.

Darla. Oh, Darla. What should we do? We’ll have to call Joe again.

Sausage and summer veg strata

Sausage & Summer Vegetable Strata (PDF)

It’s easy to fold summer’s best produce into lunches and dinners, but I think we too often forget how good the garden tastes first thing in the morning. Here’s a make-ahead strata that shines with bright cherry tomatoes and zucchini. You can buy a baguette just for the occasion and let it sit out overnight, to dry it out, but I love to use up all the old bread heels that somehow end up congregating in the corner of my freezer.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time, plus 30 minutes baking time

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

4 large eggs

3/4 cup half and half

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Butter (for the pan)

1/2 day-old baguette, cut into 1” cubes (or 4 cups cubes of assorted bread)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 heaping cup cooked, crumbled sausage (from 1 large sausage, about 1/3 pound)

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Whiz the eggs, half and half, milk, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a blender until well mixed. Butter an 8” x 8” casserole dish (or similar), and arrange the baguette chunks in an even layer in the dish. Scatter the feta, zucchini, tomatoes, and sausage evenly over the bread, then pour the egg mixture over everything, turning and scooping so that all the bread pieces are moistened. Top with the cheddar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is toasted and melty. Serve warm.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, commentary, failure, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, vegetables

Hungry Monkey

Pretzel & mustard 2

I knew I’d want to cook again, but I didn’t know exactly how I’d get started. It didn’t happen the way I expected—not with the ripe fragrance of strawberries on the counter, or a craving, or a taste, translated from tonguespeak to brainwave, like they so often do, into some sort of cookable fantasy. It was sound that brought me in.

There are a lot of new sounds in my life right now. There’s Graham, of course, who turns out to be part horse, whinnying and neighing in his sleep. There’s the thud of the mail in the bin, always right around 2 p.m. There’s the now-familiar squeak of our not-so-gently used rocking chair.

That chair is beginning to feel like part of my own anatomy. I feed in it. I read in it. I pump in it. And yes, occasionally, I sleep in it. The other day, I had Graham on my shoulder, rocking and patting. It must have been some seldom-seen hour, because as I listened, the thwattwhattwhat sound of my palm on his back morphed into the steady rhythm of a KitchenAid, beating its contents against the side of the work bowl with dutiful regularity. I am going crazy, I thought. I am imagining my child as a stand mixer. I could see the dough in the bowl, curling and cleaving around the white hook. I’m not generally that into bread making, so it sort of surprised me to find myself wondering what sort of bread I’d start in the morning. No, I thought. If you haven’t showered in 3 days, you may not make bread. I ignored the urge, but for days, every time I went to burp Graham, I thought about it. Thwatthwatthwat.

This chair of ours, it’s been a godsend in the wee hours, which I’ve decided to dedicate to all the baby preparation reading I never did before Graham was born. At night, after I feed him, I’ve been plunking him on a pillow on my lap, and reading and rocking to make sure he’s good and konked out before putting him back to bed. This worked like a charm for the first few nights, when I was reading one of those What to Expect books, which are roughly as entertaining as a grammar primer.
HungryMonkey_fin

Then I picked up Hungry Monkey. It’s ostensibly a book on raising a kid to eat well, so it qualifies for inclusion in my midnight reading pile. The only problem is that it makes me laugh so much—and I say makes, not made, because I keep picking it up to reread bits and parts—that I keep waking my kid up.

You know Roots and Grubs, right? It’s a blog, by Matthew Amster-Burton, another Seattle food writer. He’s fantastic; it’s one of the few blogs I actually read on a regular basis. When I’m in a funk—or worse, at a bad press event—Matthew always makes me laugh.

If I were to make sweeping generalizations, I’d say Roots and Grubs is about making his family dinner. It goes like this: He cooks something, and his daughter, Iris, says something hilarious. I’m not convinced he doesn’t make some of it up, because it’s always funny, and no one’s funny all the time. Except Matthew and Iris. I’ve never actually met her, but Iris seems to be a great advertisement for having children. And Matthew, it turns out, is a great advertisement for being a parent (in the food department, at least).

Hungry Monkey is Matthew’s first book—one I’d been waiting anxiously to read, because it chronicles his attempts to raise an Eater, capital E, within the restraints toddlerhood naturally entails (pickiness, unexplained changes in food preferences, preschool peer pressure, etc.). I plowed through my advance copy before Graham was born, chortling over stories about taking Iris to a Seattle sushi-go-round, teaching her to make pancakes on an Iris-sized griddle, and competing with other parents to make the most sensational preschool snack. Here’s the one about fish eyeballs that Graham lost sleep over:

One night I made stuffed trout for dinner. “And will the trout get very, very big when you stuff it?” Iris asked. She helped me stuff the trout with fennel, bacon, red onion, and fresh herbs.

Stuffed trout is easier to make than it is to eat, because you want to just cut off a hunk with stuffing sandwiched between two pieces of boneless fish, but there are many bones in the way of this noble intention. For this reason and because Iris is frequently more enthusiastic about cooking than eating, I figured she would forget about the trout by the time it hit the table and concentrate on the hash browns I served with it.

Wrong. Iris at the fish, the bacon, the vegetables, the potatoes, and even, well . . .

To say that she was undeterred by the fact that the fish’s head was there on the platter would be an understatement. “There’s the head!” she exclaimed. I found a piece of cheek meat and ate it, and Iris said,

“I want to eat some cheek.”

I said okay and rooted around for another piece. “There’s some check,” Iris said, pointing.

“No, that’s the eyeball.”

“I want to eat the eyeball.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.” She took a bite. “It’s gooey. Why is it gooey?”

“Eyeballs are just like that,” said Laurie.

Iris thought about this, then requested and ate the other eyeball.

Anyway. The first time through, I folded down page corners, like I always do with food books, promising myself I’d make potstickers, and larb gai, and gingerbread cupcakes, and duck hash. Then came Graham, followed almost immediately by fantasies about raising a kid whose plate sees as much action as Iris’s. I picked up Hungry Monkey again, and bought twelve copies (not joking) for friends celebrating (or about to celebrate) Mother’s Day.

So now, every day, I open the book to a random page, hoping to absorb the crumbs of parenting wisdom Matthew sprinkles throughout his stories—but after Graham’s asleep, so when my belly jiggles I don’t disturb him as much. This morning, frustrated by Graham’s introduction to breastfeeding, I flipped to the first chapter again:

According to Laurie, on our first night home from the hospital, I made one of our favorite dinners, salmon with cucumber salad. I have no memory of this, or much of anything from those first three months before Laurie went back to work. I remember Iris nursing almost constantly, day and night, and taking naps in our laps. She refused to be put down, ever, for twelve weeks. I’m not exaggerating for effect: we held her 24-7 for twelve weeks. I called her the Ice Princess, because she never smiled. Sometimes, when it had been twenty minutes since her last feeding and she was ready for the next one, I called her Hungry Monkey.

Ah. So it’s not just me. And it’s okay, that my child has no concept of time, and that I will have no recollection of writing this?

So nice to have a book on child-rearing that tells me I’m normal.

Yesterday, I flipped to chapter 13, and was reassured in advance that no parent can avoid being a sucker at the grocery store:

But shopping at the supermarket with Iris brings up the kind of stereotypical parent-child issues that I like to pretend I can opt out of. As in: Iris tries to convince me to buy some stupid product. I say no. She whines. I relent. When we get home we eat 10 percent of the product and the rest goes stale. This happened most recently with frozen pretzels, which I agreed to buy even though I make homemade pretzels and Iris loves to sprinkle salt on them.

Time out, I thought. He makes pretzels? As in, squishy, salty, Bavarian-style pretzels? It never occurred to me that they could be produced without a two-hour rest on some sort of spinning device under heat lamps. But there it was, a recipe for pretzels, right at the back of the chapter. Better yet, it looked easy—just required a quick knead in the stand mixer. Oooh, I thought. I can make bread without actually making bread.

These pretzels require very few ingredients and the attention span of a three-year-old. (Perfect!) Sometime mid-afternoon, I announced to Jim that I’d be baking them, and that yes, I’d let him dip them in mustard. He looked at me like he was going to go get prepared to clean up after me (emotionally or physically, I’m not sure), and mumbled some sort of acquiescence.

I measured. The KitchenAid mixed. The dough puffed up. I rolled it out into skinny little snakes, feeling almost a little guilty that I didn’t wait for Graham to be old enough to make them for the first time. I boiled them, flipping them with a fish spatula before transferring them to the baking sheet. I salted, and when the salt melted in a little, I salted again. (It’s best to use salting as a verb, so you get enough on there. Someday, I’ll have a toddler who can do this for me.) They looked like a line of grumpy old men with their arms crossed, standing guard on the baking sheet. In they went.

In about 20 minutes of actual work time, I had pretzels way tastier than what we buy for $4 a pop at the German pub down the street—soft, gorgeously crackled, gently blistery pretzels. Even better, they came out of the oven on the same baking sheet I put them in on, which meant something in my brain registered “hot” and I didn’t burn my fingers, like I do every single time at Prost. We ate all six of them immediately.

Honestly, I sort of fault Matthew for buying frozen pretzels now. I mean, I understand the in situ issue—gorgeous child embarrassing him in the grocery store, baying about how if he loved her he’d buy her frozen pretzels. . . but really. If you make these, and ever feel the urge to buy a frozen pretzel afterwards, I’ll buy you a beer. (If you remind me I said this when Graham’s 3, though, I’ll deny it.)

Of course, now that I’ve made them, I have to admit that I was wrong—the thwattwhattwhat sound I was remembering is the one the paddle attachment makes, whipping a looser batter, like for a cake. Kneading dough with the hook makes more of a grumbling noise. Which, come to think of it, Graham makes also. But whatever. All that happens in the middle of the night, and in a few weeks, I won’t remember any of it anyway.

Hungry Monkey pretzel

Pretzels (PDF)
Recipe by Matthew Amster-Burton, from Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater. Used with permission.

TIME: 2 hours, including rising time
YOU’LL NEED: stand mixer
LITTLE FINGERS: After I let Iris help shape pretzels, she invented this game where she curls a rubber band or piece of string into a squiggle and asks,” Would you eat a pretzel shaped like THIS? Yes or no?” Repeat a hundred times. Other than that and the obvious warnings about the electric mixer and the oven, I have no caveats about letting your children help make pretzels.

Makes 6 pretzels

8 ounces all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup lukewarm water
cooking spray
2 tablespoons baking soda
kosher or pretzel salt for sprinkling

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, yeast, and salt. Stir the honey into the water until it begins to dissolve, then add the honey-water mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix with the paddle on low speed until the dough starts to come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed (4 on the KitchenAid) for 4 minutes. If the dough is very dry (bits are refusing to incorporate) add an additional tablespoon of water. Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in it. Spray a bit more cooking spray on top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise 75 minutes, punching down the dough after 45 minutes.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and spray with cooking spray. Divide the dough into 6 pieces (about 2 ounces each). (It will be easier to form the pretzels if you cut the dough into strips with a bench knife rather than pulling off balls of dough by hand.) Roll each piece into a long (18-inch) snake and form into a pretzel. Place the formed pretzels on the baking sheet.
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 2 quarts of water and the baking soda to a boil in a saucepan. Add 3 pretzels to the boiling water and boil 30 seconds. Flip the pretzels, boil an additional 30 seconds, and return them to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pretzels. Sprinkle the pretzels with kosher salt or with pretzel salt (available from kingarthurflour.com) if you have it.
4. Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool pretzels on a rack and serve warm.

Pretzel & mustard 1

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Filed under appetizers, bread, kitchen adventure, media, recipe, review

A way with leftovers

thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving really was was all that: Four women, more or less, buzzing around in the same in same six square feet in an otherwise very large kitchen, like bees in a blender with the top wide open. We chopped and spooned and buttered and mixed, smelled and tasted and barked and laughed. In a fit of last-minute organization, my mother taped all our recipes to an easel, which was genius, because it prevented people from actually entering the kitchen to find out what we were making, or how much garlic we planned to sneak into the mashed potatoes, or whether we really did have all the ingredients for sweet potato pie. We limited our six trips to the grocery store to before noon on Thursday, which seemed like a major accomplishment, and round about 4 p.m., the turkey came out brown and beaming.

the thanksgiving board

My brother didn’t help much, unless you count plying people with scotch and herding them out of the kitchen, which, come to think of it, is about as important a job as any. (Thank you.) He also lead the pie attack. Twelve of us polished off three pies in not much more than 24 hours, which makes me proud to be a Howe.

pie line-up

But he saved his culinary efforts for leftovers.

Josh doesn’t cook by the book. (He couldn’t. He doesn’t own a single cookbook.)

There’s no problem there – his food is delicious, and he clearly loves making it. And instead of teaching himself to cook in a methodically guided way – picking, say, one ethnicity to learn about, or one dish to perfect – he scampers from country to country, digging into favorites without any regard for how much knowledge he might have previously gathered about a given cuisine.

I think it’s admirable. No one should need a passport or a pedigree to cook new food.

The day after Thanksgiving, he and my sister woke up with a mission: They were determined to make congee with our turkey leftovers.

I, for one, had never had congee. Ever. I get to a dim sum restaurant, and the call of fried or strangely wiggly food far outstrips any curiosity about plain ol’ rice porridge. But Josh is apparently a new devotee, and my sis, who’s started weekly pilgrimages to discover all of Seattle’s dim sum, isn’t far behind.

It was 9:30 last Friday morning, and we’d already had breakfast. (Not that that matters to me these days. I can eat three or four breakfasts without blinking.) I left for a walk with my cousin and grandmother, and by the time we came back, the house smelled like he’d put a turkey in a rice cooker – all the starchy heaviness of a permeating rice aroma, plus the deep, almost fatty scent of dark meat turkey, and a whiff of ginger.

I won’t lie. I didn’t do a thing. I just walked right over to the pot, and scooped some into one of the bowls my sister made recently. It tasted calm and comforting, like a bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal with Thanksgiving stirred in.

For the record, I hear this is much more fun to make if you call them shit-talking mushrooms.

turkey congee 2

Post-Thanksgiving Congee (PDF)

It’s a week after Thanksgiving, and the only thing you have left to show for it is half a container of dried out dark meat and the turkey stock you don’t really want to save ‘til next November? Don’t throw either out. My brother’s congee, patterned after the rice porridge frequently eaten as breakfast in some Asian cultures, is a bit unorthodox – but delicious, and ideal for weekend brunch on a cold day.

TIME: 2 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 8 servings

1 1/2 cups long grain rice
8 cups homemade turkey stock
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 bunch scallions, white and stiff green parts
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into quarter-sized rounds
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, quartered
2 cups shredded leftover turkey (preferably dark meat)

Place the rice in a large liquid measuring cup and add water to measure 5 cups. Transfer the rice mixture to a large, heavy soup pot, add the stock and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Cut 3 of the scallions into 2” lengths and smash them flat with the side of a heavy knife. Add them to the rice, too. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add the ginger and garlic, plus a cup of water, and cook another 30 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms, and another cup of water, and cook 30 minutes more.

Slice the remaining scallions into thin rounds. Stir the turkey into the congee and cook for 5 minutes or so (just long enough to warm it through). Serve the porridge hot, garnished with scallions.

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Filed under Breakfast, chicken, chinese, grains, kitchen adventure, leftovers, recipe, soup

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

I know why. It’s because somewhere in there, you get to say “noo-noos,” like a two-year-old. Who can resist the sound of a food whose pronunciation requires the same mouth shape as its eating?

But clearly, noo-noos are not what one orders in mixed public adult company. Even I couldn’t do that. How unfortunate, especially this time of year, when traveling sniffles have most of us fighting hard to pretend we don’t have fall colds, and noonoos are just what we need.

But I do. I have a cold. And I’m going to be on the radio today, so last night I started hitting the liquids hard, trying anything to bring my bedraggled voice back. For dinner, it had to be my own version of the terrific chicken noonoo soup I had last weekend.

When I sat down at ART, the restaurant at Seattle’s new Four Seasons Hotel, I was a little shocked to find chicken noodle soup on the menu. It reads like such a pedestrian choice for an appetizer. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to order in a room where the bar counter is backlit by ever-changing shades of fluorescence. But the soup – fine filaments of spiced vegetables, twisted up with soba noodles and black silkie chicken in a deeply flavorful broth, and topped with a poached egg – was anything but plain.

I didn’t have any desire to recreate the exact same soup. The carrots, cabbage, and squash were sliced micro-thin, for starters, and the presentation was far fancier than anything that happens in my house—the gorgeous ceramic bowl, the fanfare of a waiter pouring the broth over the noodles, yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to hunt down a chicken that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. But I couldn’t ignore the way the egg yolk glided into the broth, infusing it with a richness that makes chicken soup feel even more healing than usual.

I thought I tasted a hint of miso in the broth at ART – but when I asked, I was assured that I was just tasting the richness of a stock made with silkie black chicken, whose meat is known for its deep, almost gamey flavor. Once I got the miso in my head, though, I couldn’t get it out – so I spiked our soup with a dollop of miso paste.

Course, the plan was to eat half of it, then take it out of the fridge this morning, pop a newly poached egg on top, and take a few slightly more attractive photographs for you, in the daylight. But when I went to take it out of the fridge, I discovered my husband had taken the entire container for lunch.

Guess I’ll have to make more noo-noos.

new noodle soup

Chicken Soba Noodle Soup with Miso and Poached Egg (PDF)

At ART, Chef Kerry Sear poaches the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes wrapped up in a layer of plastic wrap. He lines a ramekin with the wrap, cracks an egg in, twists the ends to seal, and puts it right into a pot of boiling water. His method worked perfectly for me, but poach using whatever method you like best.

I found the timing worked well if I put the chicken stock, water for the pasta, and water for the eggs on the stove at the same time.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

8 cups rich homemade chicken stock
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bundle soba noodles (about 1/3 pound, or the diameter of a quarter)
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, poached
Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice mix, optional)

Bring the stock to a bare simmer in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breast, celery, and carrots, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and return it to the pot with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.

Add the miso to the soup, and stir the noodles into the soup to warm. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary. Using tongs, divide the noodles between four soup bowls, then add vegetables, chicken, and broth to each. Top each bowl with a poached egg, and serve with a few sprinkles of shichimi, for a bit of spice, if desired.

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

For those who have come from KUOW, here’s a PDF of the chickpea salad recipe I mentioned, from How to Cook a Wolf (pictured above), and here’s the vanilla-olive oil cake.

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Filed under appetizers, Cakes, chicken, dessert, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, lupus, Pasta, recipe, salad, Seattle, side dish, snack, soup, vegetables

A Two-Dog Pie

Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Pie

I baked my little heart out today.

First it was blueberry muffins, to fuel a morning at Workimer, and the most absurdly easy macaroons. Then banana bread, for the freezer. (We have eight friends coming next week.) Then sour cherry pie, my first with real pie cherries.

pitting sour cherries

I’d never actually tried sour cherries, come to think of it. Smaller and softer, they’re so much more feminine than a Bing. At first, they taste like cherries in a bitchy mood, but after I got used to their punch, I decided I love them. And indeed, when I broke into them with my fingernails, pitting them all by hand without the use of a knife or a pitter, I felt a little more feminine myself. My fingernails are finally long enough to be good for something, I thought. I smugged inside, and thanked the steroids.

I’d made the nicest crust. I planned to have friends over for pie, and pretend it’s something we do all the time on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday, I stayed up late with my crust, with two whole sticks of butter, and the patience to add water until the dough clung together just enough. I even tied the two sections of dough together. (Who was it that told me once that it works, that a double-crusted pie bakes happier when its two halves sleep together in the fridge overnight?)

Nestling pie crusts

Oh yes, I did all the right things. I bought instant tapioca, because I’d never thickened with it before, and even folded my rhurbarb patch’s midseason surge in with the cherries.

Sour cherries and rhubarb

Then a friend called, just when I was about to roll the crust out. I turned my back, and in the time it took me to put a measuring cup in the sink, my dog stole about twenty percent of the dough. Right off the counter, in front of me, like I wasn’t even there. Just took a bite, and chewed thoughtfully, which is unusual – she’s a gulper, through and through. I’m sure that if she could speak, she’d have said Why yes, Jess, this is a fabulous crust. I can’t wait to taste it later.

We had a discussion, and she was exiled to the porch.

But really, it wasn’t that big of a deal – the skimpier crust forced me to roll the dough thinner than I’d have normally dared, and when I draped the last part of the lattice over the top, I almost shrieked with excitement. I brushed it with cream, sprinkled it with sugar, and tucked it into the oven with a twirl and a dance I’m glad no one got on film.

After it had cooled, I tapped my fingernails on the crust, and it made the hollow, almost tinny sound crust only makes when it’s impossibly flaky. I clapped, pushed the pie into the corner of the counter, where I knew my dog couldn’t get it, and texted my friends with a cherry pie invite. I ran out into the yard to clip flowers for the patio table.

A few minutes later, Scout, the Golden Retriever we’re watching this weekend, pranced down the deck stairs with my red oven mitt in his mouth. He was all wag.

Scout ate my pie

Scout ate my pie.

For the record, I didn’t cry. I didn’t get straight to work on another crust, either, which is surprising, because I wanted nothing more than to put him in one, all chopped up.

I screamed and shouted at him, and mourned for what seemed more like a masterpiece with every passing minute. Scout thought it was all a fantastic show, and wanted to know, Would perhaps a tennis ball help us enjoy my fit? My husband came home, and I wailed into his shoulder.

My first sour cherry pie. My perfect crust. How could he?

And was Bromley in on it? Did they plan the one-two punch, step by step pie ruination?

We salvaged two pieces out of the edge Scout didn’t touch. The crust was perfect. (Of course I can say that now that you can’t taste it, but really, it was. I promise.) The tapioca gelled the cherries together, and the filling sang with flavor.

Jim scraped what remained of the top half of the pie into the garbage, and saved the bottom crust, and its clingy bits, in a rosy heap in a Tupperware container.

“We’ll bake it again in the morning, and it’ll taste delicious,” he said. His optimism failed to cheer me.

I may find the ingredients again, because I may have been converted – sour cherries are worth their price, I know that much now. I may type the recipe out, so you can make it too.

But for now, I need a serious pout.

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Filed under dessert, failure, fruit, husband, kitchen adventure

Cherry Grump

Piece o' grump

I have a new favorite word: Grump. I like the verb best, as in to grump. It may look like a noun, but in my mouth it acts just like it sounds, like a bad mood coming to life. (Say it a few times. You’ll see.)

My friend Sarah said it first, when her dog was grumping around the house, pouting about being bullied by her cat. Then my dad’s knee started grumping, and before I knew what hit me, my pie crust started doing it, too.

Washington cherries will really start rolling into Seattle next week. (I can never wait. I bought two pounds from California. I consider it training for the cherry season.)

I wanted to make a big cherry galette, the kind whose folded, sugar-sprinkled edges are the high-end jeans of the dessert world. (You know the type: They’re supposed to be low-maintenance, but by the time you buy everything, trim the edges just right, and find the perfect thing to slip on top, you’ve spent just as much time as you might have spent on something “fancier.”) In the end, galettes look so perfectly unperfect, each pleat folded neatly over the one before, juice bubbling up and over one precisely unprecise undulation in the dough.

“Who, me?” says a galette. “I just threw on an old pair of jeans.”

Usually, though, like the jeans, galettes are worth it. More so than pie, if you ask me, which is why I’ve been making them recently.

(I just replaced those chocolaty jeans, by the way, because they also happened to have holes in unladylike places. It took me two whole months to find the ones, but they’ve been worth every penny.)

Bowl o' pits

This time, I started with a whole wheat crust, whipped about in the food processor with plenty of unsalted butter. I pitted a giant container of cherries, enough that by the end I wanted to toast and eat the actual pits, since I’d worked so hard for them. (Has anyone done this?)

fresh halved cherries

I mixed the little ruby halves up with lemon juice and a whisper of ginger, to satisfy my husband, who equates “ginger” with “dessert.” Just when I thought I was ready to pile the fruit into the crust, though, I noticed the cherries’ thin red liquid coating the cutting board and spilling out onto the counter, into the cracks between my granite tiles and down the facing on my kitchen cupboards (white, of course).

I’ll be honest: It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there are cherries in the kitchen, but I wasn’t having a very good day yesterday. My hands ached from typing (and then, stupidly, pitting), and this goshdarn notsummer weather Seattle’s been hanging onto wasn’t doing me any favors. (I’m wearing ski socks today.)

You could say I was grumping a bit myself.

I took one look at the juice, and self-doubt flooded in. I wondered whether I’d put enough cornstarch into the cherries to convince them to gel up together. I thought about the time I put too much fruit in my galette, and the edges simply unfolded like a flower. The dough relaxed under the weight of the berries and they all rolled right out in a blueberry stampede, so I ended up with a round of uncrusty dough, topped with a pool of blue goo.

I grumped that day, too.

Yesterday, my pie crust looked perfect, but I worried the edges weren’t up to their task. I didn’t want a cherry galette that would be, in Eloise’s words, ruined ruined ruined. Plus, I’ve been a little down on my luck recently. There were the cashew noodles that seized up into a delicious, but entirely too sticky mass five minutes after they hit the serving bowl. And those giant calzones, made with a sausage I somehow didn’t realize was chicken-based (and smoked, which I hate) until entirely too late. My ego wasn’t up for another failure.

I decided to hedge. I made my galette bloom-proof by cornering it in a cake pan.

Pie making seldom offers one a sigh of relief, at least not before it goes into the oven. But as I rolled the crust out and flopped it into the pan, I was more relaxed than ever, knowing that instead of patting and gently squishing and cutting and folding, I would only have to slop the edges over the cherries, easy as dropping a wet towel on the floor. It wouldn’t matter if there were a few microscopic holes in the crust, because the pan would hold any errant juices in.

That pie crust, I think she was a little relieved, too. I mean really, each and every time, she has to mind her manners. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. This time, she could really let her guard down, and grump if she wanted to. I felt like I might have been doing her a favor, flipping her on top of the cherries like that, without a speck of pretention.

The galette turned into a deep-dish cherry galette, with straight, sturdy sides that stand up royally on a plate.

I’ll call it a grump, because from now on, it’s what I’ll make when I’m grumping. When I know I don’t have the attention span for pie, or the self-confidence for a pretty galette. When I need something that puts me in a good mood the instant it pops out of the oven. (I think its success is impervious to bad moods.)

Whoever started naming fruit desserts after one’s constitution was a genius. Take the grunt, for example. It’s a fruit dessert, topped with big plops of biscuit dough. On its way into the oven, it’s sloppy enough that you almost always emit some sort of unsatisfied grunt. It’s perfect for the days when nothing can impress you.

In my opinion, though, even with betties and slumps and cobblers, that person didn’t go far enough.

Think of those days you dawdle in the kitchen – when you really mean to make dessert, but one thing leads to another, and suddenly dinner’s on the table and the chosen fruit is still languishing on the counter, unattended – why not go for a Raspberry Dither?

I’d love to know what comes out of the oven on the crankiest days. Maybe a Blueberry Bitch?

Guess I’ll find out. The season’s just beginning.

cherry grump

Cherry Grump (PDF)
Made with a robust whole wheat flour (I buy Stone-Buhr , if you must know), the crust for this faintly gingered grump – just another variation on fruit pie, made in a cake pan without pinching, folding, latticing, or worrying – has a sweet, almost graham crackery flavor. Serve it warm, with vanilla, ginger, or coconut ice cream.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

For the filling:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 pounds Bing cherries, stemmed, halved, and pitted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on crust
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
Milk, for brushing crust

First, make the crust: Whirl the flours, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter, and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the water a little at a time, pulsing as you go, until the crust holds together when you press a handful into your palm. (You’ll need more water on a dry day, less on a humid one.) Transfer the dough to wax paper, form into a flat disc, wrap well, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and grease an 8” cake pan with butter. Cut the tablespoon of butter into small cubes, and set side.

Make the filling: Combine the cherries with the lemon juice in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir the sugar, cornstarch, and ginger together with a fork until no lumps remain. Add this dry mixture to the cherries, and stir until moist. Set aside.

mixing cherry grump

Remove the crust from the refrigerator, and let sit on a floured surface at room temperature for a few minutes, until soft enough to roll. Using a floured pin, roll the dough into a roughly 14” circle (no need to be too precise about the shape). Fold the dough into quarters, transfer it to the cake pan, and unfold it, centered on the pan. Gently fit the dough down into the sides of the cake pan, allowing the edges to flop over outward.

grump crust

Fill the dough with the cherry mixture, and dot the cherries with the reserved butter. Fold the dough’s edges inward, over the cherries, allowing them to land wherever they may. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle the crust with sugar.

grump headed ovenward

Bake the grump for 10 minutes. Decrease heat to 350 degrees, and bake for 60 minutes more, or until the crust is browned and the filling bubbles excitedly. Let the grump cool about an hour before slicing (the fruit will firm up as it sits). Serve warm.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, kitchen adventure, recipes

A casualty of Big Bertha

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins 2

If what you really want is a way to spend more time with the nice TSA folks the next time you travel by air – if all that removing and rearranging and Ziplocbagging and patting and puttingbackon isn’t enough – I have a suggestion: Pack an ancient cast-iron muffin pan in your carry-on luggage.

I inherited one when I was in Boise. It belonged to my mother’s mother, Merle, who used it for popovers.

It’s certainly dainty-looking, with those cute petal-shaped cutouts on the edge, but I have trouble picking it up with one hand. We’re calling her Big Bertha.

While her twin stayed asleep in my mother’s baking drawer, I swaddled Big Bertha in my yoga pants, rust and all, and crammed her into my roll-aboard for a long-term stay in Seattle.

pan made in the USA

Sure enough, the agents at Boise International were on point. She was spotted in the X-ray machine, unearthed, tested, and passed from person to person until they were all yesverycertain that the muffin pan was not a bomb.

I scrubbed the red dust off the inside, and made the homecoming meal any cast-iron pan deserves: Corn muffins.

Only, they’re not everyday corn muffins. They don’t crawl around in your mouth like a napkin, selfishly mopping up every last bit of moisture, like so many corn muffins do. Moistened with sour cream and spiked with a smattering of crunchy whole grains, they have a little more class than the crumbly version, and quite a bit more intrigue.

Now, I’m not one to scorn a box of Jiffy. (That blue-and-white box is a go-to every time chili comes off the stove.)

But for breakfast, on a cool, sunny summer morning, with a smear of butter and a dollop of Anna’s cinnamon creamed honey, these are hard to beat.

muffin pan casualty

Next time, I hope I won’t be so blase about balancing the wet muffin pan on the edge of the sink. Big Bertha takes no prisoners.

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins (PDF)
In her essential breakfast book, Sunlight Cafe, author Mollie Katzen always mixes the sugar right into the dry ingredients for muffins, and stirs the melted butter in at the end. I’ve adopted her technique, because it saves the time required to cream butter and sugar together. (These muffins really do take 15 minutes to make.) When you pry open your first grain-studded muffin, hot from the oven, consider topping it with a fat slab of salted butter. Drizzle it with creamed honey, for good measure.

For savory muffins, skip the sugar and increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. Stir in a handful of Parmesan cheese, sautéed onions, and/or chopped green chilies, if you’d like.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 regular or 12 small muffins

Vegetable oil spray
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup (raw) millet
1/4 cup (raw) quinoa
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with the vegetable oil spray. (The batter will make 11 muffins in an age-old cast-iron pan, or 8 regular or 12 small muffins in a contemporary standard muffin pan.)

Whisk the next nine ingredients, through sugar, together in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream and eggs together until well blended and smooth. Stir in the melted butter, then add all the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until no dry spots remain.

Fill 8 muffin cups almost to the top with batter (or for smaller muffins, fill 12 cups a little less full), and bake for 20 to 25 minutes on the middle rack, or until puffed and barely cracked. (The muffins won’t brown much.) Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then serve warm.

Store cooled leftover muffins in an airtight container. Halve and toast before serving.

Crunchy Whole Grain Corn Muffins 3

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, kitchen adventure, recipe, travel, vegetarian

Christmas, in May(ne)

I felt like a bit of a fugitive, slipping through Boston without telling a soul. I wrote a friend afterward: I hope you understand. I’d committed to the trip months before, and when I started flaring again, I just couldn’t bear the thought of traveling for more than one reason. I didn’t want to cancel the whole thing, but I wanted to be healthy.

It was the right decision. I’d planned to spend the week in Maine, with Kathy, testing and developing recipes for her next cookbook.

cakes cooling

Just as the plane left Seattle, it seems, the new drug regimen blossomed into a bit of energy, and we spent four delicious days pretending to cook for the holidays. (If you don’t feel like you’re appreciating May, try cooking 35 recipes without peas, asparagus, or rhubarb.)

I met Kathy about six years ago. Technically, she’s my husband’s aunt’s first cousin. The aunt introduced us when I was in culinary school (thanks, Kim!), thinking I might learn a thing or two from a seasoned cookbook author. I marched right into Kathy’s kitchen and demanded and internship, and since then, our lives have tumbled together. (Oh, how I’ve learned.) She’s become a mentor, and a dear friend. Since we moved to Seattle, I’ve missed the creative energy that simmers up and out of my brain when we cook together.

welcome to Kathy's

I’ve also missed her coffee. (She makes the best coffee.) This week, it helped us blaze through the better part of a book. (I can’t tell you much, but I can tell you there’s a holiday book I’ll be recommending next year.) We alternated cooking with eating, eating with baking, baking with typing, typing with snacking.

IMG_1021

There were naps involved, great flops onto Kathy’s red couch that recharged our appetites as much as our energy.

We had people over for dinner, there in her big farmhouse, and it really was a little like Christmas, sitting at the table long after we’d finished our last bites.

kathy's dining room

There are few houses in this world where a typical night involves a mom quizzing her daughter on her anatomy homework, while the daughter cracks lobsters open for her for lobster stew.

Chopped lobster

Where lunch means leftover rolled, stuffed leg of lamb and a slice of pork roast:

IMG_1076

Where cooking with another person means standing over a fried egg together in the morning before the caffeine has kicked in, one person salting and one person peppering, arms moving in concert like they belong to the same body.

I had a lovely time. We worked hard, but it almost felt like vacation.

The problem now is that I’m awfully tired of eating.

At least, I thought I was, until I fell in love with a berry display.

At first, it seemed like a good idea to just buy them, despite the price, and go on a fresh fruit binge for a few days, to clear away that post-Thanksgiving blah feeling. (And oh. My. How the steroids bump up the appetite.)

But looking at the strawberries and blueberries en masse like that, all cozied together like they were gearing up for a nap in the oven, my mind cartwheeled toward a bubbling berry crisp.

Then, standing there in the produce section with the little clamshells stacked up in my cart, I did some quick math, and almost fainted. I do not have $28 for a berry crisp, I thought. I heard George Bush, the devil on my shoulder, blathering on about a tax refund. Dan Barber popped up on the other side, and I remembered how I’d stocked up on frozen blueberries and raspberries at a farmers’ market recently (for less than what I’d pay in the freezer section at Whole Foods, mind you). I bought frozen strawberries, and headed home, where my hazelnut cache was waiting.

Three-Berry Crisp

Three Berry Crisp (PDF)
Before summer really comes, it’s hard to find berries plump enough to simmer into a juicy, full-flavored crisp. Using frozen berries (especially if you have the good fortune to buy them locally) is a good alternative if you can’t wait for July, and it can also be more economical. Here, I’ve spent the savings on hazelnuts for a deliciously nutty, gingery topping, but you could substitute chopped walnuts, pecans, or sliced almonds.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the fruit:
1 pound frozen blueberries
1 pound frozen strawberries
1 pound frozen raspberries
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the topping:
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir all the fruit ingredients together until the flour coats all pieces. Transfer to a 9” x 13” baking dish (or similar), and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the same bowl, stir all the topping ingredients except the butter together to blend. Drizzle the melted butter over the top, and stir until all ingredients are moistened.

After 20 minutes, remove the berries, stir to combine, and sprinkle the topping in an even layer over the berries, pushing it all the way to the edges of the pan. Bake another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the topping is browned and the filling is bubbling.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, farmer's market, food politics, fruit, kitchen adventure, recipe, vegetables

When life gives you nettles

Nettle Pesto Pasta

I’d like to file a petition to officially divide the spring season into two sub-seasons: “Spring,” which comes after Mother’s Day and is usually lovely, and “Unsprung,” the obstinate lovechild of January and July. I don’t like Unsprung, that prepubescent stage between March and April. Every year, I’m hoodwinked into believing that the rain will end, the sun will come out, and we’ll finally be able to stop eating root vegetables. Instead, week after week, I find the same pathetic produce in stores and put up with two months of petulant weather.

Last week, for example, it was 80 degrees in Seattle, and I thought the cold weather was gone. I sailed to my farmers’ market on a boat of absurd optimism, thinking that on some sunny slope within driving distance, a well-tended patch of asparagus might have been bribed out of hibernation. I fantasized about tender, bendy rhubarb and early morels, but the market mocked me. I bought obese parsnips. Again. And kale. Again. And onions. Again. And my hope boat sank.

Continue reading “Taking the Sting Out of Nettles” at Leite’s Culinaria. . . or click here for Bucatini with Nettle-Pecan Pesto.

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Filed under kitchen adventure, media

A touch of Grace

Driving back from razor clamming, my friend and I were discussing Christmas cookies, and we hit an impasse. He said Sugar cookies! and I said Sugar cookies? Ick.

See, I’m not from a sugar cookie family. I’m not even from a cookie family. The thought spending a day baking for the holidays with my mother makes me laugh out loud. When the weather outside got frightful, we skied.

But somewhere up the line, there must have been a cookie gene, because I love baking them. Just not. . .them.

We bantered a bit, driving home in the dark. My friend extolled the attributes of his family’s recipe, and I narrowed my eyebrows in disagreement, a bit thankful he couldn’t see me. I know I won’t fool anyone with any claims to cooking with virtuous ingredients all the time, but really, really, I don’t see the point of a plain white cookie with sugar-based icing on top. It just tastes like sugar.

Yes, I hear you. They’re called sugar cookies. But still. Boring. Who wants to bite into an anemic-looking thing, no matter its shape, with one flavor and the same too-yeilding texture the whole way through, when you could sink your teeth into something with a surprise in the middle, or a whole bouquet of flavors, or chocolate, for goodness’ sake? Plus, all the sugar cookies I’ve met stay fresh forever, and that freaks me out.

I argued briefly for cardamom snaps, and little sandwichy bites with ganache smooshed in between, and waved sugar cookies out of my brain entirely when I dropped him off.

But then I got home, and opened up Food & Wine’s December issue, where Grace Parisi – she always has the best recipes - gives a sugar cookie recipe jazzed up with ginger.

I wanted to turn the page, but she had me at “cookies that are especially crispy.” She used baking soda instead of baking powder, and only the yolk of an egg, which means the cookies actually rise less, and stay more snappy after they’re baked. Plus, her riffs on the same recipe got my wheels turning. The smell of my perfect cardamom snap floated out of the page.

But did I really want cardamom? I paused. As a spice, it’s delicious, but totally oversubscribed these days, if you ask me. Abused, even. I think it’s best used subtly, fresh from the pod, for aroma and background flavor, not as a main ingredient. But dammit, there was the convenient ground stuff, at arm’s reach. I couldn’t say no.

I hit the kitchen. First change: whole wheat flour. I figured I didn’t want something really soft, so I brazenly subbed all white whole wheat flour for her all-purpose flour, then changed the ginger flavors to cardamom and stirred in the zest of a couple of Satsuma tangerines.

The moment I took the dough out of the fridge, I knew it wasn’t right. It was cracking in the same sad, parched way a pie dough with not enough liquid does, and I knew it would never roll to the soft, thin, silky sheet I’d need for good-looking, smooth-topped snaps.

I tried anyway, and got the first half of the dough to about 1/3″ thick before it started falling apart. I cut out cute little flower shapes, and baked them off, changing my mind: I’d make thumbprint cookies, with apricot jam. Yes.

Only, we were out of apricot jam. So I tried a little of everything: I let some flowers bake alone, but the tops came out cracked and ugly. I pressed whole apricots into the center of a few, but those, too, were unimpressive, and the apricots would have needed a quick poaching first, perhaps. I filled some flowers with orange marmalade, and the flavor was great, but I hadn’t made my impressions in the cookies deep enough to hold the marmalade, so it oozed out over the cookie in a sickly pool of orange. I tried smashing little pieces of dough into rough-edged snaps, but no go there, either, they just came out looking like squished dough. And cardamom squishes doesn’t really have that nice ring.

By this time I was frustrated and tired, flinging measuring cups into the sink from across the kitchen. I debated throwing the second half of the dough into the trash. My brain swirled with hateful thoughts toward all sugar cookies. I’d thought it would be a quick experiment – I had other, more pressing things to do – and by the time the squishes came out, I was swearing I’d never bake again, or cook, for that matter.

The phone rang. It was Adriana, with a quick question. I did my best to sound normal, determined not to give away my frenzied mental state, and when we hung up, I tried to reevaluate my mess. Let’s not be brash, I thought to myself. I am a big girl. I can handle a cookie disaster gracefully.

I touched the rest of the dough: I’d spent so long messing with the first batch that the second would surely be too warm to work with. But when I picked it up to toss it in the trash, I noticed that the dough was holding together much better than it had right when I’d taken it out of the fridge. Well, I’ll be darned.

So I rolled, and thumbprinted, and filled the cookies with the thick, spicy ginger spread I’d found at Trader Joe’s. And while I puttered around the kitchen, wishing the days were longer and my cookie temper slower, the cookies did their part. They puffed and cracked, and held the jam in just fine. And now, by golly, they’re pretty good cookies. They don’t flop and disintegrate between the teeth, like some cookies we know. They’re upstanding cookie citizens, these little thumbprint gems, fortified with the flavor of whole wheat and what certain picky jam eaters of this household might call jam for real men.

Just don’t call them sugar cookies.

WW Cardamom-Ginger Thumbprint Cookies

Whole Wheat Cardamom-Ginger Thumbprint Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 332 of 365

Based on Grace Parisi’s recipes for Double-Ginger Sugar Cookies and Coconut-Raspberry Thumbprints from the December 2007 issue of Food & Wine magazine, these are sugar cookies with a little more attitude than what usually comes around on the Christmas plate. Plus, you can tell anyone that cares that they’re made with whole wheat flour, and those that don’t won’t know the difference.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 4 dozen cookies

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Satsuma tangerine (or orange) zest
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Thick ginger jam, for the centers (apricot or peach jam would also be delicious)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the next five ingredients together in a mixing bowl, and set aside. Add the yolk and vanilla to the butter mixture, and mix on low to blend, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. With the machine on low, slowly add the flour mixture, and mix just until all the flour is incorporated.

Roll the dough into 1” balls and arrange about 1” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Using your thumb or the back of a round 1/2 teaspoon measure, make an indentation in the top of each cookie, and fill each with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the jam. Return cookies to the oven, switching the positions of the sheets, and bake another 10 minutes.

Cool cookies 10 minutes on pan, then cool completely on racks. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

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Filed under Cookies, kitchen adventure, recipe

331: Pan-fried razor clams

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 2

If you search YouTube for videos of razor clamming, like my friend did when he wanted to show his family what we did on Sunday evening, you might find this one, which makes it look absurdly easy.

This is not razor clamming. This is a video of some guys who fitted razor clams with magnetic attractors of some sort, planted them in a bed of fine, pretty sand in their back yard, washed them over with water to make it look like the tide had run out, and dug them up using a clam gun (that big, heavy, metal tubey thing in the video) and some sort of X-ray sensing device to determine precisely where the clams were located.

But that’s not how it really works. Not for me, anyway.

When I learned that razor clams thrive up and down Washington’s eastern shore, my reaction was mixed. Sure, I’d love to forage for my own food, but truth be told, I’m not a huge clam fan. With regular clams – quahogs or cherrystones or even tiny Manila clams, or especially littlenecks, with their leathery little siphons – I get a little grossed out when my teeth find the barrier between the smooth, thin muscle and the viscera it protects, and when popping one in my mouth means finding a few grains of sand to grind between my molars, I cringe. It’s a texture thing, I guess.

But razor clams are different, I heard, at least the ones found around here. When you clean them, you take the stomach out entirely, and open them up in such a way that the sand gets washed away, so what’s left to cook is pure muscle. No guts, no sand. They’re the boneless, skinless chicken breasts of the clam family, as my friend Jill put it.

That’s why on Sunday, with the afternoon sun beating in through the windshield, I set myself adrift toward Twin Harbors beach in post-Thanksgiving traffic with a buddy, a dog, and a razor clamming license, determined to find a clam I could call a friend. Instead of that handy clam gun, we came armed with one shovel and our respective arsenals of waterproof winter clothing.

So here’s how it does work: You follow two small children around, depending on them to see the signs of life under the sand that you are somehow completely incapable of recognizing. They tell you to dig, and you dig, not down a foot or so, like in the video. Actually, that part’s true, you do dig a foot or so down with your shovel, first. Then you fall to the sand and start heaving sand out in messy handfuls, like you’re pawing through a giant vat of 34-degree Cream of Wheat, and you feel your dog staring at you. She’s got her head tilted to the side, wondering who the hell taught you to dig like that. But as soon you feel the tip of the clam, it digs down farther and slightly seaward, so you flatten your chest to the sand and get your whole arm involved, right up to the armpit. You have to make sure you have your watch on and the sleeves of your fleece a little bit open when you plunge your hand into the liquefied sand, so that millions of hard little particles dive directly up your sleeve, where they exfoliate your elbows, and down under your watch band and into your good biking gloves.

Then, and only then, do you bring the clam up. Sometimes, when the sand at the surface of the hole solidifies around your bicep and elbow, getting one’s arm out requires significant effort and considerable grunting. I’d guess I dug faster than the clam did about half the time, and of the twelve clams I did manage to finally drop in my square yellow bucket, almost half had shells I’d shattered with the shovel on the way in. Poor guys.

Then, when the children you’re with have caught their limit (I’m pretty sure the five-year-old beat my catch) , and you’re limping back to the car, filthy with sand and freezing and happy even though your clamming skills really do need some work, you have to sing a clam song. There’s no particular song; it’s not like sailing, where there’s a song for the mainsail going up, a song for the anchor, and a song for washing the deck. In our case, it was a variation of the Twelve Days of Christmas (again with the Christmas carols?). We started in the middle somewhere: Six buckets swinging, FIIIIIVE MANGLED CLAMS. Four clamming shovels, three cold butts, two new diggers, and a. . .

We never did figure out what could stand in for the partridge.

I have to save the nuts and bolts of cleaning and cooking clams for better-paying print, but here’s what they look like before you get those gorgeous shells off:

Granddaddy razor clam

Here’s the video I took (with my husband’s camera, which I will soon return to him, because my camera’s baaaaaack!) of someone showing me how to actually clean the things.

And here’s a clam without any clothes on:

Raw, cleaned razor clam

If you’re patient and good with scissors, you can clean them so that the digger (the part on the right) stays attached to the rest, and nestles into the little hole you see in the body on the left, but it will still flop around when you cook it, and the digger takes a bit longer to cook than the body, so why bother?

Oh, and on the eating part: They don’t taste like regular clams. They taste so much better.

But what does one do with them, you ask?

Not much.

Late on the night of the dig, we dredged them in flour and fried them up in olive oil. It was a good choice – the clams were still tender, and not at all leathery, like I hear they can get if you cook them too long – but I wanted more crunchy texture, and a little more flavor. Yesterday I dusted them in cornmeal and fried them up in butter. After all that clam killing, I felt somehow nicer breading them in something with a sandy texture. You know, remind ‘em of home. Twisted? Maybe.

Frying razor clam

There’s not much to it, really. You just season a clean razor clam with salt and pepper, drop a good knob of butter into a pretty hot pan, dredge the clam in cornmeal, and sear it for a minute or so on each side. When they cook, the clams curl up a bit, like bacon in a hot pan, and if the razor clams weren’t so neatly cleaned (they weren’t all this pretty), the two halves of the clam splay out and bounce around in the hot pan like the legs of a very unfortunate frog. You can squeeze a bit of lemon over the top when you’re done, like I did, or just eat them, as fast as they come out of the pan.

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 1

It is so worth going.

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Filed under kitchen adventure, recipe, shellfish, travel

The Diana Ross of coffee cakes

It started with a vision, based on the butternut squash ravioli my friend had at Volterra last week: I’d make pumpkin bread, only instead of using regular oil (or pecan oil, which I considered but then dismissed for cost purposes), I’d use brown butter infused with sage. I’d fold toasted pecans into the batter, and each bite would be ravioli-inspired bliss. A breakfast of champions.

But from the get-go, my pumpkin bread proved high-maintenance. We still had four sugar pumpkins loafing on the porch (leftover from the night we forgot to carve them), so I decided to use real pumpkin, for pure flavor with none of the grittiness the canned stuff has sometimes. The night before last, I roasted them, whole in their skins, because I just couldn’t get a knife through them. Just plopped them on the baking sheet, and pulled them out when they were soft:

Roasted whole pumpkins

I leaned over the counter, hair dangerously close to a dip in the whole wheat flour canister, and planned. It didn’t seem right to skimp on calories if I was going to go through the trouble to brown the butter, so I cooked up a scheme for a recipe with sour cream, and plenty of nuts.

I whisked the dry ingredients together. I browned the butter on the stove, and chopped the roasted pumpkin into 1″ pieces, so it was easier to fit into the food processor. I creamed eggs with sugar in my mixer, realizing I’d covered every surface of my kitchen with utensils and pumpkin jetsam. I decided against the sage, sure that it would be lost among the spices I’d added to the flour mixture.

I added the brown butter and sour cream to the pumpkin, and added the contents of the food processor, alternating with the dry ingredients, to the eggs and sugar. It seemed . . . more. Yes, there was definitely more batter than I expected. I looked from the bowl to the two loaf pans I’d greased, and back again.

Oh, God. I forgot to measure the pumpkin.

See, the plan was this: I’d puree the pumpkin, measure out 2 cups (about what’s in a can), and then mix it with the sour cream and butter. Only, I’d spaced out, and just added stuff to one entire pumpkin’s worth of flesh. It must have been at least three cups . . .maybe four?

The batter looked thinner than I thought it should, but the eggs gave it plenty of structure, so I figured it would bake up nicely, as long as I found a container big enough to hold it. When I flung open the cupboard doors, my eyes settled on a 10″ tube pan.

I rinsed the food processor, swirled the pecans up with brown sugar and cinnamon, and layered the batter with a cinnamony pecan topping. I slid the whole thing into the oven and prayed it wouldn’t overflow.

The batter flooded the house with the scent of baking pumpkin, but it all stayed in the pan, puffed up into a perfect dome. I took the cake out of the oven, let it cool, and figured out how to flip the coffee cake onto a platter without showering the kitchen with brown sugar.

I felt myself swelling with pride, even though I hadn’t tasted it, and didn’t know if I’d overpumpkinned the batter. It was one big, beautiful coffee cake. I wanted so much to try it, but knew I’d appreciate it more in the morning. I said so: I won’t touch it until the morning.

My husband started belting out a song I’d never heard. Touch me in the morning. . .

When I told my husband how much I love his made-up songs, he looked at me funny. He wasn’t making this one up. How could you, of all people, not know that song? he asked.

I was pretty sure he was referencing my taste in music, which tends toward the years of my early childhood. But when I looked it up, I was miffed. Diana Ross?

My husband thinks I listen to Diana Ross.

Wait, my husband listens to Diana Ross? How could I not know this?

I didn’t know it was Diana Ross, he said. Yeah, right.

But when I peeled the foil off the cake this morning, I saw a Diana Ross coffee cake. It’s voluptuous and high-maintenance and totally over the top. And God, when I tasted it, the shoe fit. The coffee cake was deeply buttery and marvelously moist, more cake than breakfast, for sure, a convenient way to justify eating pumpkin pie for breakfast before Thanksgiving. The first bites were exciting, a rush of sugar and flavor and nutty richness with my coffee. Then, just as I was about to finish it, I overdosed. Turn it off. The last bite would not go down.

And now, after a trip to the neighbor’s house, there are still about 12 servings left. I think I’ll let the sugar rush subside, then buy an album, make some coffee, and croon a made-up song to my Supreme coffee cake.

The only question is whether I (or you) will be able to duplicate it, because of the whole pumpkin-measuring thing. But today, a mostly-complete recipe is all I got . . .

supreme pumpkin coffee cake

Supreme Pumpkin-Sour Cream Coffee Cake (PDF)
Recipe 311 of 365

On my plate and in my mouth, this coffee cake, made with home-roasted sugar pumpkin, is everything I want in a coffee cake. The topping has just the right sweetness, the cake is moist enough to handle a few days on the counter, and the balance of spices works well.

But an important disclosure: It is not everything I want in a recipe. I roasted and scraped the flesh out of one five-pound pumpkin, and whirled it into the batter. But I didn’t measure the pumpkin. I’m guestimating it was about 3 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin, or not quite 2 cans, but how am I to know? Your pumpkin may be more fleshy than mine, or I could have been more liberal when scraping out the seeds and skinning my squash than you might be with yours.

So, if you make this, use your judgment with the pumpkin, adding more in at the end if the dough looks too stiff – you want a batter that’s a little thicker than cake batter, but not nearly as thick as cookie dough. And please measure your pumpkin, and let me know what does or doesn’t work.

And oh, that trick at the end – it’s a lifesaver!

TIME: 40 minutes prep
MAKES: 1 giant coffee cake

To roast ahead:
One 5-pound sugar pumpkin or kabocha squash

For the topping:
2 cups pecans
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:
Butter and flour, for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs

To do ahead: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pry the stem off the pumpkin, and bake, whole, for 75 to 90 minutes, or until soft all the way through when poked with a long knife. When cool enough to handle, cut the pumpkin open, scrape out the seeds, and peel the flesh away from the skin. (You can do this up to 48 hours before making the cake, then store the pumpkin in the refrigerator, covered.)

When you’re ready to bake, combine the topping ingredients in a food processor. Pulse ten times, transfer the topping to a bowl, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10” tube pan, and set aside.

Cut the pumpkin into 1” chunks and puree in the food processor. (If there are still little bits of pumpkin, that’s fine, it’ll get pureed again later.) Measure 3 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin, return it to the food processor, and save the rest (if any) for another use.

Whisk the first ten cake ingredients (through baking soda) in a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Brown the butter: melt the butter in a small saucepan. When melted, let cook over low heat, swirling occasionally, until the foam on top subsides and the butter solids begin to brown along the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add the brown butter and sour cream to the 3 1/2 cups pumpkin, and whirl until uniform in color and texture.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and eggs on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and the pumpkin mixture in three additions, alternating between each.

Transfer half the batter to the tube pan, then sprinkle with half the topping. Add the remaining batter, then add the rest of the topping. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached.

Let the coffee cake cool in the pan for about an hour. When you’re ready to transfer it to a platter, run a small knife around all edges of the cake. Cover the coffee cake with a large piece of wide heavy duty tinfoil (one that’s big enough to cover the entire cake, including the sides), and crimp the edges around the edge of the pan, effectively sealing the topping in. Flip the pan onto a cooling rack upside-down, uncrimp the foil, and pull the pan off the cake. Invert a serving plate and center it on the upside-down cake, and wrap the foil around the bottom of the plate. Flip again, and voila: Crumbs stay in.

almost done with coffee cake

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, kitchen adventure, recipe