Category Archives: snack

Dearest Neighbor (A Christmas Letter)

Pickled Peppers and Onions jar 1

Please pardon the oversight, but I have nothing to drop on your doorstep this year. No holiday cookies, no baby poinsettia. I promise it doesn’t mean I intend to ignore my neighborly duties. I will still drink your chocolate milk when you’re in Hawaii and let you bring my garbage cans in three days late and loan you chickpeas when you’re desperate to make hummus. But this year, there probably won’t be any pickles left.

It may sound outlandish, but I’m going to blame a hipster at Metropolitan Market. He came barreling down the produce aisle in a panic. “Peach-basil or pear-lemongrass?” he asked frantically, eyes searching. I looked around, wondering whether his sidekick had a bad moustache also.

He was talking to me. (Was he flirting with me?) “Peach-basil,” I said, missing only the briefest beat. I was standing in front of a giant peach display at a grocery store that’s recently outfitted its employees with t-shirts advertising their peaches’ Brix levels. It seemed so obvious. He took off again. (He definitely wasn’t flirting.)

But you know what that goober did? He went over to the lemongrass and picked up a big bunch. Then he took some pears. Then he was gone. I wanted to elongate my arms and twist that annoying little moustache til it hurt, then lift him until he was dangling by nothing by a few hairs. I’d look him straight in the eye and say, “What’s the matter with you? It’s peach season, buster.”

But he was gone. There was nothing I could do, except take advantage of having an empty trunk and buy a flat of peaches myself. I looked around the produce section, thrilling at having landed there the week when the grocery store looks most like a farmers’ market, with “grown locally” signs proudly painted near so many picks. I took home blueberries and basil and onions and peppers, and those peaches.

They rode home in the front seat, coddled in their cardboard box like jewels. It made me wonder whether the store puts all the peaches away at night, the way fancy jewelry stores do.

That afternoon, I did a lot of staring, the same way I do at Tiffany’s, when I’m not really sure I deserve to be in the presence of things that are so delicate and beautiful. I stared at cookbooks and at the peaches and at the basil. I piled those blushing beasts up in a wide wooden bowl, and fed one to my kid, who’s decided peach juice does a much better job polishing wood floors than almost anything. Then I sort of wussed out. What can you do to a dripping-ripe peach that makes it taste better?

Onions, though. I’ll tell you something, loud and clear: I don’t care for raw onions. But slicked with vinegar, sweetened and spiced, I’ll put them on anything that sits still. Ditto for peppers, especially the spicy ones. So it made sense to me, the way two people make sense together, to postpone the peach decision and instead pack the peppers and onions into little jars and smother them in vinegar.

Pickled Peppers and Onions open

I started with a pickled jalapeno recipe from Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars. I changed the vegetables, and the vinegar, and the sugar and seasonings, and a few other things. So actually, it wasn’t really her recipe at all, but she was there, holding my hand through it all, promising me that if I wanted to, I could still put the end concoction on everything from sandwiches to nachos to hot dogs. In that moment of panic I still face when I’m canning, I looked her in the eye for a some quick assurance. She nodded.

I made five pints of pickled peppers and onions. The first jar went with my husband to work, and the second jar came camping a few weekends ago. The third went down easy at home, disappearing the way a batch of brownies does, little tastes at a time. The fourth is coming to the Wild & Scenic Music Festival this weekend, where we’ll be camping out, and the fifth . . . well, let’s just say the fifth reaches the criteria for stage four edibility, and probably won’t make it until Christmas.

But oh, those peaches. I did go back for more, and the hipster was nowhere in sight. The next box of peaches went into three little peach and raspberry crisps, which I’ve carefully packaged and frozen for our camping trip. I’m hoping to set the little foil pans over the fire in the space between dinner and new hunger, so their sweet scent fills the air as we finish off the pickle jar.

With any luck, there will be pickles or jam next year. Until then, please accept my apologies.

Pickled Peppers and Onions 1

Spunky Pickled Peppers and Onions (PDF)
Based loosely on Marisa McClellan’s recipe for Basic Pickled Jalapeño Peppers in Food in Jars, this colorful, mildly spicy blend of bell peppers, red onions, and jalapeños makes the perfect Christmas gift—if you can keep them around that long. If you want to use them this summer, wait a week for the flavors to marry, then try piling them on grilled pork with slices of grilled peaches.

If you’re familiar with canning, you’ll be comfortable with the instructions below. If you’re new to it, check out Food in Jars. It’s an excellent guide.

Note that this recipe makes extra pickling brine. I tend to do that each time I pickle; I keep the brine for quick pickling things like green beans and carrots.

Makes about 5 pints

2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pounds small bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
4 jalapeño peppers, stems and steeds removed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Prepare and sterilize five pint-sized jars (or similar) and fresh lids for canning per the jar manufacturer’s instructions. (Marisa McClellan has superb directions on page 10 of Food in Jars.)

In a large soup pot, combine the vinegars, water, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, mustard seeds, and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for a minute or two, until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Add the bell and jalapeño peppers and the onion to the brine, stir, and let cook over the lowest heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the red onion begins to lose its color and the jalapeños are a darker shade of green.

Using tongs, pack the peppers and onions into the sterilized jars. Pour the hot brine over the peppers and onions in each jar, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Use a wooden chopstick to poke and stir the ingredients (to encourage any bubbles to escape). Add more brine, if necessary.

Wipe the rim of each jar carefully with a clean cloth. Apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, again using the jar manufacturer’s instructions or the directions on page 11 of Food in Jars.

3 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, recipe, sandwich, side dish, snack

Sated

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread 2

I’ve never been the type of person who is capable of forgetting to eat a meal. I don’t get it. Telling me you forgot to eat lunch is like saying you forgot how to walk, or you just up and forgot how to breathe. Eating, to me, is an involuntary activity. I don’t remind my heart to keep beating, either.

But as natural and deeply ingrained as hunger for food is, hunger for other things often escapes me. I forgot, for example, how hungry I could be for the deep, careful, knowing bond between old friends.

I didn’t mean to forget. I think about these college girls all the time. We email, and call occasionally. But spending a weekend with them—a relaxing, schedule-free, unproductive, coffee-drinking, couch-and-beach weekend—filled me up in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I’d simply forgotten that I needed to sit on a beach in someone else’s lawn chairs, giggling and interrupting and squealing and volleying hard questions back and forth across the sand.

Friends can be more sating than food that way. It’s quenching, when someone knows you well enough to both tease you in just the right way and buy you the right chicken salad from the deli. When you watch other people’s children play and see a friend’s smile in someone so small. When you know it’s okay to pick that little person up and swing her around, because somehow, deep down, she knows you’re not a stranger.

I was sad when the weekend ended. But in a strange way, I’m glad it did. I came home with a different awareness of what might constitute “need.” I came home thinking What am I hungry for?

It’s a loaded question, of course. The first thing that hit me was a need for normalcy in the kitchen. Tomorrow marks one year of eating gluten-free for me. And as much as I’ve learned new things in the kitchen—learned to love new ingredients, and cook with a different chemistry in mind, and avoid things that aren’t good for me—I’ll admit I haven’t quite achieved a feeling of normalcy when I pick up a knife or turn on the stove. I came home feeling motivated to find the new normal I’ve been avoiding–and odd sensation to bring home from a girls’ weekend, but one I need to address nonetheless.

And so it begins: a long, exciting, maybe challenging tour of my stomach’s memory. I want new normals for the staples of my past. For me, since I started baking before I started cooking, this probably means treats. It means chocolate chip cookies and cakes and sweets. And given my penchant for the stuff, it certainly means banana bread.

Here’s one that started with a look inside Deliciously G-Free, a book I’m admittedly biased against simply because it has a too-perfect face on the cover. I started with her banana bread. I got as far as mixing the dry ingredients together before taking a sharp turn off the page (which, for me, is later than most days). I kept the brown rice flour base, but incorporated almond flour, quinoa flour, and cocoa powder, twisting the recipe from banana bread into something more toastable, and perhaps a little sweeter.

I don’t want to say I was surprised. But, well, yeah. I was surprised. It looked like a chocolate snack cake I wanted to dig into any hour of the day. It sliced like banana bread, only the crumb was sturdier, so it was toastable. It even traveled well. I smuggled it in my purse to a doctor’s appointment when I didn’t have time for breakfast, wrapped in a paper towel that didn’t quite contain the crumbs. I served it for dessert, next to scoops of vanilla ice cream. I toasted it for a snack for Graham, who looked around guiltily as he ate, bewildered, wondering what alien force had persuaded his mother to offer him chocolate bread in the middle of the afternoon.

And now, with one lonely heel resting on the cutting board, wavering in that ill-defined space between being saved (because it’s so worthy) or forgotten (because there’s another loaf in the oven), my house smells like a home. My house smells normal.

And, at least in the banana bread department, I’m sated.

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread whole

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread (PDF)
First inspired by the banana bread recipe in Deliciously G-Free by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Ballantine, 2012), this sliceable snacking cake is part breakfast, part dessert, and part all irresistable. If you’re looking for something closer to dessert, substitute chocolate chips for the almonds.

Active time: 20 minutes
Makes one 8- by 4-inch loaf

Vegetable-oil spray
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/3 cup milk (or chocolate milk, if you have it)
1 cup whole toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan with waxed paper (use a piece as big as the pan is long, don’t worry about covering the short ends) and spray the paper and exposed pan parts with the vegetable-oil spray. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the brown rice flour, almond meal, arrowroot starch, quinoa flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and milk, and mix on low speed for another minute or so.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix again on low speed until no dry spots remain, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula if necessary. Gently fold the nuts in by hand.

Dump the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will come almost to the rim), smooth the top, and bake on the oven’s middle rack until the center of the bread springs back to the touch, 60 to 70 minutes.

Transfer the loaf pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Using the waxed paper, gently lift the bread out of the pan and let it cool another 30 minutes or so before slicing.

To store, let the bread cool completely, then wrap in plastic and store at room temperature up to 3 days.

1 Comment

Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe, snack, soy-free

Crab season

red rock crab

I wouldn’t call 4:30 a.m. a friendly time, but if you see it enough – say, growing up in a family dedicated to the first chairlift, or rowing crew in college – it becomes familiar. So when my alarm went off in the pre-dawn calm last Saturday, way before the hours I call human, I popped right out of bed. It was time to fish.

As a kid, we seasoned river trout in a paper bag. My father or brother would catch the fish – if I remember correctly, I never, ever caught one – and we’d pour flour into the bag, douse it with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper, if we had it), add the fish, and fold the top of the bag over twice. Dad set a cast iron pan over the open fire, glazed it with butter, and pan-fried the fish right there, next to the river. Or something like that. I think my father loved it because if we cooked by the water, my mother couldn’t complain about the house smelling of fish. I liked shaking the bag.

But river fishing, to me, always seemed like the easy way. (Don’t tell Dad, okay?) I romanticized deep sea fishing. Catching a fish in a river made you coordinated or perhaps just lucky; catching a fish in the ocean made you A Provider. So when my husband’s family arranged a salmon fishing trip for a group of curious relatives with All Washington Fishing, a local guide company with a slip about 2 miles from our house in Seattle, I was thrilled to join them.

I’d love to say it was a scintillating adventure. I’d love to say I caught three monster king salmon while battling rogue waves, each fish testing my strength to its limits. I’d love to say I came back with windburn, or sunburn, or both, or that I worked for my catch at least a little, but none of that really happened. The fact is, it was an easy, relaxing, calm, quiet morning. Like going to the farmers’ market, only less walking. We didn’t go out far – just across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island, where the kings and cohos were hungry and plentiful. The morning was almost absurdly pleasant. I drank coffee and ate Fritos. (It’s not a bad combo at 7:30 in the morning, if you’ve been up for a bit.) I learned how the fishing rods work, and reeled in the occasional fish, and drank in the shifting grays of the sky between our group’s successes. And in the end, perhaps because I was the only one who didn’t land one of the 7 keepers, or because I managed to pee off the bow because I was too proud to make the guide extract the women’s toilet from the hold, or because I’m the only one with a huge freezer, or because I have passable knife skills, I went home with 30 pounds of gorgeous salmon flesh. That, combined with my husband’s huge salmon-eating grin, was worth the wake-up call. I didn’t catch much myself, but my freezer is full.

A man and his fish

But then, on the way home, there was crab. The recreational season apparently opened July 1st here. The boat’s captain cruised by his pots with the same sense of idle convenience I use for getting gas or picking up a half gallon of milk. By then, I’ll admit I’d sort of stopped paying attention because I was focusing on the fish. But with each haul, he drew big tangles of sharp, angry legs out of his crab traps. About half were red rock crabs (pictured above), red-tinted, cranky things whose leg meat is apparently delicious but, besides the pinchers, quite difficult to retrieve. The other half were healthy full-size Dungeness. We took our Dungeness limit, 10 crabs, thinking the sweet, flaky meat could supplement our big family dinner.

What we didn’t realize, hauling in the crab, was that given a good labor force, two hours, and a few beers, the product of 10 pounds of crawlers is about 4 pounds of meat – enough to eat a bunch straight from the shell, stir some into crab salad, make a dozen jumbo crab cakes, pile crab curry over rice, and still have enough left for a hot, bubbling crab dip spiked with jalapeños two days after the catch.

Unlike waking up early, an overabundance of fresh-picked Dungeness crab meat is not a problem I’d call familiar. But if you should find yourself, like I did, with a healthy half pound of the stuff, and you can’t stand the thought of eating plain old crab salad for the third day in a row, and you’re longing for an indulgent appetizer that highlights the shellfish without scrimping on creaminess, this dip’s for you.

And guess what? You don’t even have to set the alarm.

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

Hot Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese (PDF)
Active time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings

10 ounces fresh-picked Dungeness crabmeat
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently squeeze the crabmeat in small handfuls over the sink to discard any excess liquid. Transfer the crab to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir with a big fork until more or less blended. (This is a good time to think about something else; there’s nothing exact about this process.)

Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold it all. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot, with the tortilla chips for scooping.

5 Comments

Filed under appetizers, fish, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish, side dish, snack

Energy

Seed & Nut Energy Bar cut

Look closely at this here energy bar. You’ll see Washington hazelnuts – that nifty, almond-shaped DuChilly variety that doesn’t need skinning after a good roast. There are pistachios, and pepitas, and sunflower seeds. Glance again, and you’ll see sweetness in the form of dried apricots and cranberries.

There are things you won’t see, also. You won’t really notice the crispy rice cereal and date puree that binds the bars together. You won’t see the bar I squashed in the bottom of my computer bag this morning, or the way I turned the bag inside-out around my fist so I could eat said squished bar without spilling the stray bits into my keyboard at my favorite coffee shop. And you won’t see the first or second version of these bars – both of which got eaten, but neither of which held together the way I wanted.

What I wanted, and what I wanted to give you, was a crunchy, crackly, naturally sweetened, portable energy bar. I wanted a rice krispy treat for grown-ups – something with the process and allure of that old childhood treat, but much more lasting oomph. These are them. I love the secrets they reveal when I cut them open with a big, heavy knife, and I love that I can pack one discretely into my gym bag and eat it before zumba class. (Don’t knock it, people.) But what I love most is that I had the energy to make these bars over and over until I got them just right.

I’m the kind of person who finds it easier to complain most profusely in hindsight. It’s a talent I’ve cultivated over the years, perhaps because in my house growing up, whingeing never really got me anywhere. But if a certain something has already happened? I can bitch about the past with the best of ‘em. I had the worst blisters. That man next to me on the airplane had the most terrible stench. It was the driest sandwich bread I’ve ever tasted.

So now I can say how effing annoying it was that it’s hurt to chew for months, and that although it’s a decent party trick, I really don’t like it when my fingers turn white and blue at random all day long. And though there are many inconveniences in life that I’m happy to deal with, being constantly exhausted is not one of them. These past few months, lupus has not been fun. More than anything, I hated feeling that I was always searching for energy.

But here’s my good news: the new lupus drug I’m on is starting to erase all that. Slowly. Surely. Most mornings these days, I wake up more quickly than usual, because I’m so surprised to meet a body in a little less pain. I’m shocked that my ankles can creak and pop freely, because the connective tissue in my feet has started loosening. I’m startled, because these days, I have energy. I’m exercising. I’m gardening. (Nothing boosts an ego like having full-grown peas before the rest of the block.) And people, I’m cooking. I’m cooking a lot.

This past weekend, BlogHer Food, a conference that gathers bloggers and food writers from all over, was in Seattle. I spoke, and I listened, and after meeting and greeting and laughing and eating, I bussed myself home with lists and lists of ideas—new blogs to read, new recipes to write, new people to love. And every night, the second my child’s head hits the pillow, I start cooking. There’s been strawberry-vanilla jam from Food in Jars, and those fabulously smokey nut-dusted green beans from Ripe (AKA The Cookbooks Of My Summer), and these bars.

This. This feels good.

Seed & Nut Energy Bars 2

Nut and Seed Energy Bars (PDF)
I know, I know, it’s a boring title for a recipe. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter which nuts and seeds you pack into these portable little snacks, as long as the total is about 5 cups. I didn’t want to get all didactic on you. Go wild. Also, use peanut butter instead of almond butter, if you’d like, or chopped dried cherries or raisins in place of the apricots or cranberries. Just do me a favor: when you’re mixing the whole thing together in a big bowl, when no one’s looking, stick a hand into the mixture and squeeze. Just for a second. It’s sticky and messy, but it’s also fun—and isn’t that what snacks should be?

If you can’t find DuChilly hazelnuts, which don’t require skinning, toast and skin regular hazelnuts separately.

Makes about 2 dozen squares
Active time: 15 minutes

1 cup raw pepitas
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup raw (shelled) pistachios
10 dates, pitted
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1/4 cup unsalted almond butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 cups crispy rice cereal

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, stir to blend, and toast for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until the seeds and nuts are lightly browned. Set aside.

Meanwhile, whirl the dates in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment until pureed. (The mixture will be thick and pasty.)

Add the brown rice and maple syrups to a large soup pot. Bring the syrups to a boil over medium heat. Add the arrowroot powder, almond butter, sea salt, and date puree, and whisk until smooth. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the toasted nuts and seeds, cranberries, and apricots, then gently fold in the cereal.

Line a 9- by 13-inch pan with parchment or waxed paper, so the paper comes all the way up the sides of the pan. Dump the seed and nut mixture into the pan, spreading it out in a roughly even layer. Press another sheet of parchment or waxed paper on top, and use a drinking glass or a spice jar to press and roll the mixture into a flat, even layer. Let the bars cool completely.

Peel the top layer of paper off, invert the bars onto a large cutting board, and peel off the other layer of paper. Using a really big knife, cut the bars into 2- by 2-inch squares. (Be decisive when you cut; meek cutting will result in bars with jagged edges.)

Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days, or wrap and freeze individually. Grab and go in the morning!

19 Comments

Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, Great Food Blogs, lupus, recipe, Seattle Food Blogs, snack

Love your heart (and your kids)

Onion Dip 3

Every year about this time, just before spring, I think about my kidneys. It happens when the days snap back and forth from cold to warm and back to cold again in that spastic Seattle way. I used to make fun of this city for working up a lather about a “cold front” coming, as if it was a hurricane, but now I do it too. Two years ago, I had what I called my own cold front. Out of nowhere, I lost my appetite. After months of doctors, I discovered that my kidneys were failing—all part of having lupus, it seems.

Now, with an eccentric blend of induction therapy (chemo for wimps), steroids, a lovely bouquet of other drugs, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and a New! Improved! Diet! I’m admittedly still not totally on board with, my kidneys are happy. But every year, when Sodium Girl’s Love Your Heart Recipe Rally rolls around, I remember—with a twang of fear—that those two little organs are fragile, hiding there behind my back.

For someone with stage 4 glomerulonephritis, I had a wicked fast recovery. You’d never know much about the whole shebang, unless you were the one who watched my child and cooked me dinner and took me home from the hospital, drug-woozy, in those first weeks. And now, you can’t tell. The problem is, neither can I.

It’s easy for me to do my kids some general kindness. (Yes, of course they have a nickname.) I don’t drink all that much. I don’t use Advil. I avoid boxing. But when it comes to eating the one thing that has a huge effect on kidney and heart health—sodium—I can’t exactly say I pay attention.

Jess Goldman-Fuong is the exact opposite of me. Well, in some ways. Her name is Jess, and she’s a food writer, and she has lupus, all like me. She lives perpetually in the sun, no matter what the weather is, preferring a persistent upbeat attitude to any of the negativity having a chronic condition sometimes brings. I like to think I aspire to that, also. But she lives in San Francisco, not Seattle. And her kidneys can’t take sodium at all. So rather than glue herself to the 1,500 mg/day sodium intake level the USDA recommends, she skimps, going for about 500 mg/day, when she can. Skipping the salt means she can live a full, healthy life.

Over the years, Jess has garnered a following among sodium-free cooks. At Sodium Girl, she takes the normally salt-laden food she loves—things like crab salad, and bacon-wrapped scallops, and movie popcorn—and reengineers them to fit her diet. The thing is, her food doesn’t taste saltless. It tastes creative. It tastes delicious. So each February, when she issues the call for low-sodium recipes across the web–her Love Your Heart Recipe Rally–I get into the kitchen. For my own sake.

It’s never difficult to find something to desalinate. This year, I was on my neighbor’s couch, devouring French onion dip with potato chips while I pretended to watch the Super Bowl, when I realized I’d consumed four days’ worth of sodium in a single sitting. I’m not joking. Four days.

Back to the stove I went. I caramelized onions over low heat until they were deep golden brown, threatening to burn but really just improbably sweet. I pureed them, then whirled them with crème fraiche, which (contrary to what you might think) has far less salt than sour cream or mayonnaise. The result? A simple, low-sodium dip with every bit as much addictive power as my favorite homemade version. Don’t worry, this dip isn’t actually slimming. It still has the creamy punch you need at the end of your crunch.

So the next time you’re heading for the tube, mix it up. If you’re sitting on your ass in front of the television, at least you’ll be doing your heart and kidneys a little favor.

Onion Dip 4

Chunky Low Sodium Onion Dip
I love a good packaged onion soup dip mix as much as the next person. Maybe it’s the MSG? This version depends on crème fraiche, which is naturally low-sodium, instead of mayonnaise or sour cream, for its creaminess—and because it’s made with deeply caramelized onions, there’s plenty of flavor. Take the time to get the onions good and brown.

Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) crème fraiche

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half through the root and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic (if using), and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary.)

Transfer the caramelized onions to the work bowl of a food processor. Whirl for the count of 10, so the onions are still a bit chunky, then cool for about 15 minutes (or overnight) in the refrigerator. Transfer the onions to a bowl, stir in the crème fraiche, season with pepper, and serve.

4 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, recipe, snack

Now what?

Yogurt Dip with Feta and Dill 5

A friend recently referred to my recent string of cookbook projects—all of which are now finished, save the final edits—as my Irish quadruplets. She suggested that perhaps I begin participating in some form of cookbook-related birth control.

I can’t blame her. I didn’t mean to write four cookbooks in 16 months. It just happened. Eighteen months ago, I didn’t think I’d ever write one. But now, with all the major deadlines behind me (as of Saturday), sitting at home in my puffy robe as the snow spins off my neighbor’s roof in a little fit of confusion, I’m wondering just who did all that work. (It couldn’t have been me.)

And more than anything, I’m wondering who I am now, in a culinary sense. I know a lot about the Pike Place Market right now. I know a lot about myriad foods across Washington State. I know more than I ever anticipated knowing about doughnuts. And I know a lot about grilling fish, too. (That was the ghost writing project, which I never told you about.)

What I don’t know, it seems, is what food will be mine in the years to come. I’ve been gluten-, soy-, and egg-free for almost six months, and I’m just starting to figure out whether that’s helping with lupus. (Summary: I think it is.) I’ve been figuring out that in baking, using pure ground flaxseeds in place of eggs (instead of flaxseed meal) makes a huge difference. I’m figuring out my favorite version of socca, the Mediterranean chickpea pancakes I can’t seem to stop eating. I’m finding a good snack bar for after the gym.

What’s next for me? For the first time in what feels like a long, long time, I just don’t know. And I kind of love it.

Here’s a dip inspired by a bite I had last weekend at the Fancy Food Show, in San Francisco. It’s not much—just some yogurt, a flurry of feta, and the dill I’ve been meaning to use. It’s not the kind of thing that fits in a book, you’ll notice. It’s the kind of thing that fits in a little jar in the fridge, for snacking, when you’re not making food at all hours of the day. Perhaps that’s what I like about it.

Yogurt Dip with Feta and Dill 1

Yogurt Dip with Dill and Feta (PDF)
Here’s a dip that works in my house as a substitute for ranch dressing—only there are some undeniable nutritional benefits going on here. For something that tends more toward the “spread” category, add a handful of pitted kalamata olives, and whirl the whole thing in a food processor before serving.

Serve the dip with fresh carrots, cucumbers, baby zucchini, bell peppers, or crackers.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: About 1 cup

7 ounces full-fat Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork to smash the feta into tiny pieces. Serve or chill up to 1 week.

3 Comments

Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, snack, vegetarian

A Cookbook Snapshot: Pike Place Market Recipes

Photo by Clare Barboza

Last Thursday, I caught a Keta salmon. I don’t mean I caught it, as in I put a fishing line into the ocean and it bit down something fierce. I mean a large man threw a fish at me, and it didn’t hit the floor.

I probably should start by telling you that I’m not exactly known for my hand-eye coordination. But when you step behind the counter at Pike Place Fish, the purveyor at the heart of Pike Place Market that’s world-renowned for the fishmongers’ salmon-throwing antics, there’s not all that much to learn. Not at first blush, anyway: You put an apron on. You turn one shoulder toward the fish, as if you were a batter anticipating a pitch. A guy in orange guides your hands into position, placing the back hand higher than the front hand, so that when the fish swims through the air toward you, head high, it lands between the thumb and forefinger of each of your outstretched hands. You clamp down like your life depends on it.

So that’s what I did. Only, I have to tell you, I was sort of cheating. The salmon I caught was tiny, for starters, and since it was destined for an afterlife of tourist abuse, it didn’t matter if my fingers bruised its delicate flesh. The guys in orange, though? They’re not cheating. They catch those fish like they’re catching newborn humans, tender and gentle. I don’t know about you, but the difficulty seems to me like it might stretch beyond the coordination issue. I can’t imagine wrapping my brain around the combination of yelling at the top of my lungs and treating something with such intimate care.

Catching a fish at Pike Place Fish

Thursday was a good day. I also took my first Savor Seattle tour of Pike Place Market, and learned that initially, when MarketSpice (the market’s oldest vendor) opened, its tea was technically illegal because the cinnamon oil used to flavor it was banned; it’s too dangerous to touch in its purest form. I made a cake using milk spiked with the tea, and topped it with an orange tea glaze, so the whole cake smacked of orange, clove, and cinnamon. I bought a smoked ham hock from Bavarian Meats and braised it into an ever so gently smoky German split pea soup over the weekend. I bought the biggest white beans I’ve ever cooked, from The Spanish Table, to stir into an unusual but refreshingly simple Spanish paella. Then I tied my hands behind my back, because spring’s bounty is still coming.

This, friends, is what writing a cookbook looks like. It’s a life I could get used to: peruse one of the world’s best markets for food I’m crazy about, take it home, and make it more delicious. Occasionally, I get to gussy up my favorite things for a quick modeling stint (Clare Barboza is the book’s fabulous photographer), and things start to look more real.

"Public Market," by Kevin Belford

Only, like anything, it takes work. Today, I walked into a coffee shop, feeling overwhelmed by the whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread I’m not quite satisfied with, and by the organizational task ahead of me. I was stalling. The photo above, part of an exhibit at Fresh Flours by Kevin Belford, loomed over the only empty chair. Really?, I thought. You mock me so.

I love how the book is divided by provenance—so the chapters group recipes based on ingredients that come from Puget Sound, for example, or the mountains, or Pike Place Market’s specialty shops. But from a writers’ perspective, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the balance intrinsic to a book with a more traditional course-by-course layout. I’m trying to decide what tips to throw into the book’s introduction, which purveyors to interview for little sidebars, and how to capture the magic of the market in relatively few words. And as I get closer and closer to its end (the book is due May 15th), the number of recipes left to test for the book dwindles, and I start getting weepy about the recipes I might have to leave behind, like a recipe for sweet-hot mango pickles that I make again and again because I simply can’t get enough. (That chapter’s full, my brain says.) There’s work to do, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not dragging my feet because I don’t want to do it. I’m procrastinating because I don’t want it to end.

But seriously. The world is in this state, and I walk out of my house thinking Oh God, how did I write 80% of a book with only two chicken recipes? Buck up, Jess. You’ve got a book to finish, because (shhh) there’s another one coming.

Pike Place Market Recipes is going to be gorgeous. It’s going to be delicious. It will taste like blackened salmon sandwiches and chickpea and chorizo stew and French-style apple custard cake. (Not all at once, of course.) It will smell like a good story, and fresh-baked sour cherry-oatmeal cookies with huge chocolate chunks.

And with any luck, it won’t bruise too easily. I’ll teach you how to catch it.

Sweet-Hot Mango Pickles (PDF)
Here’s an unusual snack, similar to the cucumber chips I posted before, but sweeter – and for Seattleites, a needed burst of sunshine. For another variation, try grating the mango in a food processor instead of cutting it into spears, soaking it in the marinade, then draining it and serving it as a sweet-and-sour slaw, over salmon tacos or grilled chicken.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

2 large almost-ripe mangos, peeled and sliced into 1/2” spears
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl just big enough to hold all the mangoes. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes for flavors to blend, stirring occasionally, then serve.

10 Comments

Filed under appetizers, fruit, gluten-free, Modern, recipes, snack, vegetables

There’s a beer in my breakfast

Malted Millet Granola 2

It may sound strange to you, but in my brain, there’s not anything especially unusual about coming up with a recipe. It’s sort of like deciding which way to drive through a neighborhood in a new city: I see my options, and I choose. I might drive on the sidewalk every now and then, and there are the invariable wrong turns, but it’s still just driving.

Then, once in a while, I come across an ingredient that takes me a little outside my comfort zone. That’s what I love about the cookbook I’m working on right now, Pike Place Market Recipes. About half the recipes are mine, inspired by the market’s shops, and the rest come from restaurateurs and purveyors there – and in general, these days, they’re the ones bringing new foods into my life.

Last week, I cooked with malt for the first time. I was testing a Reuben recipe from The Pike Brewing Company. The concept is simple: You take a corned beef brisket, braise it in beer, then smother it in malt syrup, an ingredient used to make some beers, and roast it again until the syrup caramelizes into a thick, glossy sheen on the beef. The resulting sandwich is unusual: rich, salty, and tinged with an earthy, sweet flavor not intrinsic to your typical Reuben.

Golden malt syrup

Walking into a brewing supply store and saying you’d like to buy a cup of malt is like asking a fire truck for a drink from its hose. Somehow, when I went last week, I envisioned it sounding more normal to ask for two cups. The guys at the counter at the store near me stared at me anyway, gobsmacked by the concept of putting malt into anything but a giant plastic vat, but eventually we found a suitable container and the malt wound its way home to my kitchen. And resting on the counter, after four of us had downed an entire brisket’s worth of beef in one meal, was exactly one cup of leftover malt syrup.

Malt is the best way to convince non-beer drinkers that beer is a good thing. Dip a finger in, and it comes out coated with something akin to honey but more full-bodied. It’s sweet without being sugary, earthy without tasting like earth. It’s what honey might taste like if it was made by warthogs, instead of bees. And it’s a darn good substitute for honey in homemade granola.

This cookbook thing? It makes for busy days, that’s for sure. But it sure is a delicious ride.

Malted Millet Granola 3

Malted Millet Granola
Okay fine, you win: this is a strange-sounding granola. But think about it: Malt, the syrup derived from grain (often barley) that gives beer its sweetness, has been used as a sweetener for centuries. Why not use it in place of honey or maple syrup? I made this granola with breakfast in mind, but patted one batch into an even 1/2” layer and didn’t stir it as it cooked. The result? Well-packed granola chunks perfect for snacking.

You can buy malt syrup at any good brewing supply store.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: About 15 loose cups granola

1 cup golden malt syrup
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 18-ounce container (6 1/2 cups) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup raw millet
3/4 cup sliced almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, and set aside.

Combine the malt syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir to blend. Divide the granola between the two baking sheets, spreading it into an even layer on each sheet, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring the granola after 15 minutes (and every 5 minutes thereafter) and rotating sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through. The granola is done when it’s uniformly golden brown. (Note: The malt caramelizes quickly, so once the granola starts to brown on the bottom, watch it carefully and stir when it starts to brown.)

Let the granola cool to room temperature on the baking sheets. Break apart and store in an airtight container.

8 Comments

Filed under beer, Breakfast, recipe, snack, vegetarian

Live to Tell

Curried Cumin Crackers 1

There was a time in my youth—maybe six weeks, if I had to approximate, which must have been a very long time for my mother—when I listened to Madonna’s Live to Tell on repeat for hours on end. Hours, people. And oh, goodness, Madonna understood. Clearly the secret I wanted to live to tell wasn’t all that important, because I can remember neither the tale I had to tell nor who needed to hear it. But it was there, with me, suspended heavily in the air like my legs off the floor of back seat of our silver Volvo 840.

The thing is, I do remember putting the emphasis on the telling—not on the living. Today—a few years wiser, maybe, and slightly more experienced with health complications—I wonder sometimes what I’m living to tell.

As more and more of my relatives enter their anecdotage, it becomes clear to me that humans are predisposed to a good yammer. We all live to tell something, and to tell it over and over. The topic varies, though—some people want to talk family history, others want to rehash the past, and still others just want to have a story to tell about every topic that comes up. Telling is remembering. Or it’s proving you’re smarter than someone else, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that doesn’t ever apply to me or you.

Back to me, though. What am I doing now that will stay with me? Sometimes it’s hard to know, but once in a while, in a blinding flash of clarity, I know I’m living a moment that will be with me forever. My father teaching my son how to lick an ice cream cone. Walking past the explosion of daffodils each spring on the corner of 1st and 73rd. New England’s ice storm of 1998. Watching my husband stand on the bed, using the cat as a flyswatter against some unwanted bug. Cornering my sister at a family wine dinner, whispering to her that I was pregnant, and watching her get ridiculously drunk downing all her own wine and all of mine as well.

What I do know, very clearly, is that I want something to stick with me. And I want it to stick for a really, really long time.

There’s a point in every person’s life, I suppose, when one recognizes ones own mortality. I think for most youngish adults, the realization comes (if it does come that early) as a result of some sort of trauma—a car crash, maybe, or a bad fall. For me, it came in the form of a very long, very big needle.

Nine months ago, I had a kidney biopsy. I thought it was routine; the doctor intended to get a baseline measurement of how my organs were working, in case of any future complications. The next day, he called me and told me my kidneys were on the verge of failing. Between dinner and breakfast, we decided which chemotherapy treatment I’d try, and the following day, I cancelled a trip to San Diego and headed to the hospital. I’ll be telling that story for a while, I’m sure.

And now? Well, now my kidneys are fine. There’s nothing wrong with them. Nada. Zilch. Problems gone. When I go in for a check-up, my nephrologist (who has purple hair and a nose piercing, how Seattle is that?) is clearly bored. But somehow, on my lower back, right below my ribs, I feel a keen sense of awareness, a constant sense of care that I take with me everywhere. It’s a sense of living, after realizing for the first time that my own life is inevitably limited. And lately—maybe it’s this whole clean eating thing—I’ve been much more aware of taking care of those kids.

Last year, I met a woman whose condition is similar to mine, only sixty thousand times more dramatic. She’s a food writer and blogger. Her name is Jess. She has lupus. (Sound familiar?) She lives in San Francisco, and she’s my lupus superhero.

See, Jess approaches her disease with grace. She accepts that her life has to be different, but doesn’t mope or whine; she exudes an energetic peace that any perfectly healthy person would admire. She practically oozes happy, leaving behind her a wake of hope and cheerfulness that I’m not sure anyone could ignore. Her kidneys are much more sensitive than mine—so sensitive, in fact, that she has to eat entirely sodium-free, to make sure her kidneys stay happy. In her kitchen, she replaces salt with cups and cups of creativity. This month, she’s celebrating National Heart Health Month on her blog, Sodium Girl, by asking bloggers and readers to consider the USDA’s newest dietary guidelines, which (among other things) recommend that Americans cut way back on their salt intake. It’s called the Love Your Heart Recipe Rally. And that recipe up there? Your heart will love it.

But, okay, I really didn’t do it for my heart. I did it because even though my kidneys are healthy now, I want to become more constantly cognizant of what I’m feeding them, so that they last as long as humanly possible. So they live to tell. Naturally, that should mean less salt.

So, I don’t mean to get all serious on you here, but do me a favor: Take a moment. Here. Now. Is there one thing you can do that will make you healthier? It might not necessarily be cutting out salt entirely, and it might not have anything to do with salt. It might mean eating more green vegetables. It might mean drinking red wine instead of hard liquor, because at least wine arguably has a couple health benefits. Or it might mean making a batch of crunchy curried cumin crackers, so you stop snacking on your son’s outrageously salty Goldfish crackers six times a day.

Realistically, I don’t think I can cut out sodium altogether. And I don’t plan on it. But if I can choose one thing today to do differently in my kitchen that pleases the kids, maybe I’ll be able to choose something else next month. Of course, the spirit of the Recipe Rally is to remake a specific salty food, replacing it with a low-sodium alternative. I chose those Goldfish. Readers, I love you. But there is no way in hell you’ll find me cutting anything out in 3/4” fish shapes, especially when I can’t guarantee the correct proportion of swimmers with that special smile. And strike me down for lack of ambition, but I wasn’t sure I could mimic that awesome orange color without a special trip to a chemical plant.

So I made a different cracker. It’s got a base of masa harina, a finely ground corn flour, and ground curry, which gives it the pleasing sunny hue that I associate with mindless snacking, which, in this case, is a good thing. I added an egg, canola oil, and some sodium-free baking powder for body, and stuffed the dough with flavorful seeds that become little grenades between the teeth—things like whole fennel, cumin, and mustard seed. There’s a bit of sugar, which guarantees addiction (let’s work with one vice at a time, please), but there’s no salt added. Half a batch in, I certainly don’t miss it, and I feel a little smug knowing that someday, my kidneys (and, okay fine, my heart) might live to tell me thanks.

I’m sorry, what was that? You have a Madonna song stuck in your head now? You can thank me later.

Click here for a full list of Love Your Heart Recipe Rally posts.

Curried Cumin Crackers after baking

Curried Cumin Crackers (PDF)

Made with whole seeds that burst between your teeth, releasing little time bombs of earthy flavor, these easy-to-make crackers aren’t for spreading or dipping. They’re for eating. For something a little spicy, add a pinch of cayenne pepper. For best flavor, use fresh spices. And you know what? They really taste best the second or third day.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings

Spray vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups masa harina
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (white or black)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground curry powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons baking powder (sodium-free)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12” by 18” baking sheet with vegetable oil, and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and blend on low speed until mixed. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, then add the egg, then the warm water. Mix until the dough comes together and there are no dry spots left at the bottom of the bowl. (You may have to add another tablespoon of water.)

Curried Cumin Crackers pre-bake

Scatter the dough out across the prepared baking sheet, and gently pat it evenly into the pan. Using a small rolling pin or a wine bottle (I find the latter works best), roll the dough into an even, thin layer, rolling all the way to the edges. Use a small, sharp knife to score the dough all the way through to the sheet into crackers of any shape, and trim the edges. (You can make squares or triangles, but anything bigger than about 2” in either direction may crack while baking.)

Spray the crackers all over with vegetable oil spray, and bake for 30 minutes, rotating once halfway through, or until the crackers are firm and the edges are light golden brown. Let cool completely on baking sheets, gently break apart, and serve. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container.

Curried Cumin Crackers 3

9 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe, snack, vegetarian

A perfect use for mustard seeds

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions on a fork

I am on the precipice of a love affair with mustard yellow.

It started in Spain. I got hooked on the idea of going home with a sunny-colored watch, and on our last day in Haro, I spied a square-faced yellow number—something to be worn as an accessory, rather than out of habit.

Since then, I’ve worn it cautiously, but my annual shopping pilgrimage to Freeport, Maine with my mother-in-law last week encouraged me that if there’s any time in my life to embrace a color that society so deeply dislikes when it’s out of favor, it’s now. There is yellow everywhere.

Wearing mustard yellow requires a deep commitment, which can be challenging, especially if, as is the case with me, it is under no circumstances to be worn near the face.

For roughly the next three months, you’ll be able to recognize me by my new yellow corduroy skirt, or by the yellow belt I just got for my birthday, which sort of makes me look like I got in a fight with a hot dog vendor with very precise aim.

But here’s my big secret: I don’t actually like the taste of mustard all that much.

It’s okay if you disagree. I hear mustard can be pretty good. But aside from salad dressings, sauces where it’s not so detectable, or the occasional sandwich smear—or when its application is beyond my immediate control—I don’t really eat it. I put ketchup on my hot dogs. (My neighbor Bob says that makes me un-American, simply un-American.) I’m happy with plain pretzels. I eat my pate with just the pickles.

But sandwiches! Sandwiches are a problem. I’m not a huge fan of mayonnaise, either—not because I don’t like eating it, but because it’s one of the few foods I feel guilty eating if it’s not homemade—which means that when I get a loaf of dry bread, like the whole wheat sourdough I picked up last week, I can’t make a quick sandwich without either drinking a lot or getting very creative very quickly.

Soaking onions for pickles

So over the weekend, when I went on my very first canning binge, I concocted jars upon jars of sweet pickled red onions made with mustard seeds—they’re addictive enough to eat right out of their brine, but spread on sandwiches, they add not only bite, but also the perfect amount of extra moisture. They’re soft enough to bite through, so you won’t pull them out from between the meat and the bread with your teeth, but still firm enough to give a sandwich some extra crunch. They have a touch of mustard’s spice, but none of whatever it is about it that offends me.

And, as it turns out, they’re also great on sausages. Better than mustard, even, if you ask me. And the juices look way better with my skin.

Pickled Red Sandwich Onion in jars 2

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions (PDF)

Since you’ll be slicing up five pounds of onions, consider borrowing a mandoline slicer, which makes the process go much, much faster, and moving the whole operation outdoors, which cuts down on the eye stinging.

The onions are ready to eat right when they cool because they’re softened ahead in the vinegar brine, but you’ll have extra brine leftover. Instead of throwing it away, use it to make refrigerator pickles: bring it back to a boil and pour it over fresh, clean baby carrots, green or yellow wax beans, or cooked, sliced beets, and refrigerate for a few days before eating.

This recipe makes enough for 8 pints pickled onions, but you can do whatever combination of large and small jars works for you and your canning set-up.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus canning
MAKES: 8 pints

2 cups sugar
10 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 pounds red onions, cut into 1/8” slices with the grain
Dill blossoms
Peppercorns
Mustard seeds

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally as the sugar dissolves. Place the onions in a large bowl (or two), pour the vinegar mixture over the top, and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In each (squeaky-clean) canning jar, place a few dill blossoms, a few peppercorns, and a big pinch of mustard seeds. When the onions have softened and turned bright pink, stuff each jar full. Add the brine until it comes to 1/4” from the rim. Wipe rims, add lids, and process (20 minutes once the water returns to a boil).

6 Comments

Filed under appetizers, cocktails, Etcetera, gluten-free, recipe, sandwich, snack, vegetables

Time change

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 3

Time baffles me. My father, an engineer, always said you need three things to conquer a new math concept: milk, cookies, and two hours. The first time he told me that, when I had to really study for a math test once, two hours seemed like an ocean of time. I’m pretty sure I cried before the clock started ticking, scared that my little boat of concentration wouldn’t make it to the other shore. But I’ve just spent two hours – that same increment – trying to sweep the debris off my browser and get to the screen now in front of me, and it hardly seems like I’ve had time to breathe, much less take a drink of milk.

Almost two weeks ago, I had lunch at Picnic, a little “food and wine boutique” near me in Seattle that sells mean European-style sandwiches, great soups, and a variety of creative little deli salads. I was with my oldest Seattle friend (someone I went to college with) and my newest Seattle friend, a woman I’ve only recently started getting to know. In round numbers, I’ve known one for ten years and one for ten weeks. Yet somehow, cuddled around the end of the table together, the difference, and the fact that they were meeting for the first time, didn’t seem to matter. We bantered and relaxed like we’d been having lunch together, the three of us, for years.

We all ordered soup, but before it came, one of Picnic’s owners, Jenny, came out with a little tasting plate of the curried chickpea salad we’d all been eying. “New Dehli salad,” said the sign, which made me laugh right out loud. It was spot-on – you certainly wouldn’t find a bright yellow legume mixture studded with golden raisins in the old-fashioned deli of my grandmother’s childhood.

It was the kind of salad that sits in the middle of the table and beckons, its little carrot arms waving wildly. Me, they say. Pick me. Every time my fork wandered toward the plate, I had a little moment of decision anxiety, a tiny panic over which scoop looked tastiest. (The truth: they were all pretty much equally delicious.) I’ve been meaning to tell you about it this whole time, but it’s taken until today – with a green tea latte, a muffin, and two hours – to get it all down.

My own version came together with a bit of serendipity, as we were pulling out of the driveway on our way to Portland, Oregon last week. Jill had sent me a bag of sexy black chickpeas from Montana. They’d been flirting with me the entire month of February, all pearly and exotic-looking, from behind the pantry door. I also had two pounds of gorgeous carrots from my garden – carrots I’d planted last June, forgotten about in September, remembered in November when they were hibernating under two inches of mulch, fretted over in January, and pulled just that morning – waiting patiently for the just the right use. (Carrots are pretty much the perfect vegetable for my current lifestyle: Can’t harvest today? Wait six months. They won’t mind.)

Quite literally, my husband was buckling our son into the carseat while I sautéed shallots with ginger, and yellowed them with curry. I stirred the mixture into the cooked chickpeas, along with toasted pine nuts for a bit of texture (because I didn’t think I had time to soften the raisins in hot water), fresh chives, lemon juice, and those carrots, all grated up.

“We’re ready,” said my husband. “We need to go.”

“Wait. Just a sec. I have to take a photo.”

He stood in the entryway watching me shovel the salad in, not 30 minutes after breakfast. Time stood completely still for three or four bites. I felt the chickpeas rolling over my tongue, and imagined their black skins cracking opening my mouth, revealing creamy insides really not much different from the interior of a regular chickpea. I felt the chives scrunch between my molars, felt the pine nuts collapse beside them. It was a snack for pressing pause.

“Are you going to take one?”

Right. The photograph.

“Yeah,” I muttered, foggy. “I’ll be right there.”

(And yes, of course regular canned or dried chickpeas work fine for this. I used the same amount you’d find in a can.)

Black Chickpea and Carrot Salad 2

Curried Carrot and Chickpea Salad (PDF)

Based on the “New Dehli” salad at a Seattle food and wine boutique called Picnic, this snacky salad combines chickpeas (regular, or black, if you can find them) and carrots with curry, ginger, chives, lemon, and toasted pine nuts. Either canned or dried chickpeas will work.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon coarsely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained, if canned)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the ginger and curry powder, then the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and let bubble for another minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

Combine the chickpeas, chives, pine nuts, lemon juice, and carrots in a mixing bowl. Pour the curry mixture over the top, stir to blend, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

10 Comments

Filed under garden, gluten-free, Lunch, salad, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

A new thing

Lemon-Chive Chicken Salad 1

There’s a clear order of operations to my conversations these days. You know, like how in 8th grade math class you looked through an equation to find all the additions you had to do, then the subtractions, then . . . or wait, was it the multiplications first? (This is why I’m not a math teacher.)

But yes, it goes like this: First, people ask how the baby is doing. (He’s great, by the way. More than ten pounds!) Then, they ask how I’m doing. (Fine also.) Finally, always the third question:

Are you writing?

Honestly, this one sort of cracks me up – first, because going back to work is really still nowhere near the top of my list of priorities, and second, because when I was working regular full-time hours, people in general assumed I wasn’t writing. I’m not sure if this applies to all freelancers, but most of my friends with normal jobs have always called at, say, 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, when they’re on their lunch break on east coast time. They say something brilliant, like Hey, what are you doing? Like Tuesday morning is popcorn hour for all freelance writers. It always seems to come as a big surprise that I’m working. Sometimes I make things up, just for shock value. Oh, you know. Getting a pedicure before my dog’s Botox appointment. Normal Tuesday stuff.

But now, six weeks after Graham’s come home, it seems everyone expects me to be writing writing writing. And, well, what can I say? I sort of expected I might be, also. It’s not that I don’t want to write. And the words still come – only now, they flood my brain at the most inconvenient times. I do my best to contain them, while I’m nursing or walking or rocking a baby in the middle of the night, but it’s marbles on an ice rink, and I’m not even wearing skates. Heck, I don’t even own skates.

Before Graham was born, I had a very clear-cut creative process. I wrote in violent storms, usually in the morning. They were never any more predictable than that, but when they came – always with mental lightning and thunder, some sort of warning that got me sitting in front of a keyboard before the rains came – I was usually available. Now? Not so much. I’m often whole rooms away from a keyboard. The rains come, and they drench me, and then they pass, and I’m left sitting there in a big puddle of words.

Someday – who knows when? – I’m going to have to find a new creative process, for the days when I’m not in charge. Not an umbrella, per say, but maybe gutters, or a good, dependable catchment system for all these thoughts. A new thing, for this new life. I don’t think it will necessarily be a better way of writing, or worse. Just different. I’m really looking forward to it, whatever it is.

For now, since all those words about my neighbor’s birthday party have long since dried into puddle crust on the kitchen floor, just a recipe for the chicken salad I made for a group of giggly women. If nothing else, I beg you: Make the herbed mayonnaise. It goes a long way to make things exciting when you’re slapping turkey sandwiches together in the middle of the night.

Lemon-Chive Chicken Salad 3

Lemon-Chive Chicken Salad with Herbed Mayonnaise (PDF)

My neighbor recently had what she called her first 49th birthday party. I volunteered to bring chicken salad. I wanted something summery and light and herby, but didn’t want to make any presumptions about how gooey guests liked their sandwiches. (Goodness knows there’s nothing worse than eating the wrong rank on your mayonnaise scale.) I think I found the ultimate solution: I mixed the chicken up with about half the dressing—a mixture of mayonnaise, plain yogurt, bright lemon zest, and handfuls of herbs from my porch garden—and let people slather the rest on baguette halves, along with tomatoes, avocado slices, and pickled onions, as they assembled their own sandwiches.

Save any extra herbed mayo for bartering; it’s worth its weight in gold. (And if you make your own mayonnaise, it’ll be worth whatever’s more expensive than gold.)

If you’re pressed for time, substitute pre-roasted rotisserie chicken (2 large or 3 small) for the chicken breasts.

TIME: 45 minutes
MAKES: About 10 big sandwiches’ worth

4 cups chicken broth
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
2 cups chopped celery (from 4 big ribs)
3/4 cup golden raisins
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Zest and juice of 2 large lemons
1/2 cup finely chopped chives, plus 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
1/3 cup finely chopped tarragon
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley, plus 1 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large shallots, finely chopped

Bring the chicken broth to a bare simmer in a wide, shallow pan. Add the chicken breasts, and poach, turning occasionally, until cooked through (about 15 minutes). Transfer chicken to a cutting board to cool. Add the celery and raisins to the hot broth, and let sit for 5 minutes. (This softens the celery a bit and plumps up the raisins.) Strain celery and raisins (reserving broth for another use, if you’d like), and set aside to cool.

Herbed mayo

In a medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 cup finely chopped chives, tarragon, and 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shred or chop the chicken, and transfer to a large mixing bowl, along with the celery, raisins, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives, 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley, chopped shallot, and 1 cup of the herbed mayonnaise. Mix well, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. Serve on lettuce or in sandwiches, with additional mayonnaise on the side.

Lemon-Chive Chicken Salad 4

5 Comments

Filed under chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, sandwich, snack

A muffin that works (for me)

Sarah's millet muffin 1

Millet tastes like it sounds, in a millet muffin: rolly and crunchy and new- and old-fashioned, all at the same time. Like the kind of old woman that can simultaneously wear orange Diesel sneakers and reminisce about living through the (other) Depression.

Before January, I’d never had a millet muffin. Frankly, a few little yellow grains don’t seem like enough to make a muffin something worth eating. But a couple weeks ago, my friend Rachel piqued my interest:

My favorite (okay, the only) bakery in Williamstown used to sell millet muffins that I loved. Apparently there weren’t enough of us, because the bakery went out of business after I graduated. I have unsuccessfully tried to track down the owner to ask for her recipe. I searched online, but I only managed to find ones that used millet flour rather than whole millet. Finally, I found one with 1/3 cup millet in the ingredient list. I printed it out, mixed the wet ingredients, etc., and then realized in the instructions section that it said “mix millet flour, whole wheat flour…”. Dang! I decided just to use whole millet and see what happened. It worked pretty well and I haven’t changed it since.

We all have these recipes—they’re the ones that work, the ones we’re used to. The ones we don’t have the energy to change.

Every once in a while, though, we wake up and realize they’re not really what we want. (Here’s the lesson, right up front: It’s okay to break up with your recipes, or ask them to change for you. Trust me, sometimes it’s for the best.)

That’s what Rachel did. One day, the fact that these healthy, whole-wheat muffins fueled her mornings wasn’t enough. She loved that they relied on vegetable oil for fat and honey as a sweetener, and that the millet’s crunch wasn’t outdone by other, fancier things. But her breakfast was tough around the edges, and her recipe called for buttermilk, which she didn’t usually keep around. And when she really thought about it, they just weren’t as good as the muffins from the bakery. Transportable, but tough. Less sexy. She needed a new muffin.

I’m looking for some combination of tasty, healthy, and holdtogetherness. (I can compromise some, but I want breakfast, not dessert.) Let me know if you can help!

Oh, how I do love a challenge. There’s nothing more pitiful than a healthy muffin gone wrong. I’ve been meaning to experiment with honey as a baking sweetener forever, and oh, didn’t I just buy a big bag of millet? Indeed. The millet experiment began.

I was a little aggressive, I’ll admit. In one fell swoop, I decreased the salt, substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk (which is almost always an option), and increased the one egg to two (to add moisture and lift). I also changed the whole wheat flour to whole wheat pastry flour, in an attempt to lighten things up a little, and added a bit of joy, in the form of lemon juice, which is a natural tenderizer, too.

Now, before we get any farther, let me just say that I know I was acting out of turn. Most good recipe testers would agree that you only change one thing at a time, as an absolute rule. So especially without testing the original recipe, I had no business being so careless. But sometimes it feels good to live without rules. (I have a friend who once made lasagna with no clothes on, and that certainly sounds more exciting than regular lasagna, doesn’t it?)

Anyway. I kept my apron snugly tied around me (although it hardly fits anymore). And just a few minutes after pulling the honey-scented batch out of oven, I tucked into a millet muffin, smeared with cinnamon honey. It was durable, but not dense. Sweet, but not sugary. Crunchy and just a smidge lemony, but through and through a millet muffin, before anything else. And definitely breakfast, not dessert.

I loved it. I wrote Rachel with the recipe.

Here’s where it gets sad.

She tried them. It was a disaster.

Her muffins poofed up and out of control, sticking to the pan and each other. She had to pry the tops off, and use a chopstick to scrape the bottoms out. She said she liked the texture better, but the lemon just wasn’t her bag and oh, goodness, who wants to make muffins that don’t just come right out of the pan?

Giving someone a recipe that doesn’t work feels like lying. I make a point to avoid doing it, but when it happens, as these things do, I don’t like it.

I assumed it was me. I punished myself for changing too many things at once. Maybe I used the wrong measuring spoon for my leaveners, I thought, or maybe I used more flour than I thought. I baked them again, this time exchanging the lemon for two teaspoons of cinnamon, which Rachel loves. The acid in the lemon juice might have contributed to the rise of her plus-sized muffins, and I wanted to make something she’d like (and avoid the same explosion issues myself). And I only changed one thing.

That cinnamon version, though, it came out just as well. I tested it in both aluminum and nonstick pans, and by golly, those muffins had just the same height as the first batch – no higher – with the same moisture, and the same great crunch. I personally preferred the lemon version, but the cinnamon-tinged ones were just fine. I noticed that the muffins baked in the aluminum pan didn’t rise quite as well, and didn’t brown quite as nicely, but something was working for me that wasn’t working for Rachel.

millet muffin alum on left nonstick on right

So I did what I always do when I’m having recipe trouble: I called my mother. She loves her whole wheat baked goods, that one. And talented as she is in the kitchen (and outside), this woman is completely incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I figured asking her to test the muffins would introduce one more variable. Just enough to see if I was crazy, thinking the recipe really worked.

She didn’t let me down. Mom mixed the muffins in a stand mixer (which can make them tough, if you don’t stop mixing right when the dry ingredients have been incorporated), and changed the yogurt – she used Greek. And you know what? They came out just fine, too. She even sent me photos. And I didn’t hear from my dad the next morning with tales of eating the entire batch, like I do when Mom bakes something sweet, which meant the muffins passed the good-for-you test that was important to Rachel. (Dads make great barometers.)

Still. I couldn’t get past having given Rachel a recipe that didn’t work for her.

I dropped the last of my whole wheat pastry flour and a little sack of millet off at Sarah’s house. She’s a recipe follower—at least I thought she was—but she used a combination of key lime and strawberry yogurts. The muffins turned out well for her, too. She liked the crunch so much she dumped some millet into her cornbread last weekend.

So I emailed Rachel. I have no answer for you, I said. I hate that these didn’t work for you. They worked for me, and two other people. We went around and around about what might have gone wrong, to no avail.

So I failed Rachel. (For now, at least, because she hasn’t tried them again. I probably wouldn’t, in her place.)

I might never know why her batch didn’t work, which drives me bonkers.

But I do have a really good, healthy, easy, milletty muffin recipe that works.

For me, at least.

(Sigh.)

Millet muffin

Whole Wheat Millet Muffins (PDF)

Made with honey, vegetable oil, plain yogurt, and a healthy dose of crunchy millet, these lemon-scented muffins are meant for breakfast, not dessert. Serve them warm or reheated, plain or with a smear of butter or extra honey.

Look for millet in the bulk foods section of a natural grocery store.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 dozen muffins

Vegetable oil spray
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup (raw) millet
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
Zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons) of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray (including the flat parts), and set aside.

Whisk the flour, millet, powder, soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In another big bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter between the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one. (The muffins will not rise much.)

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and only barely beginning to crack. Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then cool completely on a wire rack.

11 Comments

Filed under bread, Breakfast, grains, recipe, snack

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

9 Comments

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

For all you pumpkin carvers

My sis came over to carve pumpkins last night.

I heard a few gasps, telling my friends. Tonight? As in, Who carves pumpkins three days before Halloween? Two days is apparently the socially acceptable limit.

Which means I know what recipe you’ll need tonight.

Oh, come on. It isn’t that hard. You just slice the top off your pumpkin, then instead of staring at the thing, willing it to infuse you with instant artistic talent and creativity, you stick a hand in – sleeves rolled up, please – and gently mine the slinky pumpkin shreds for all the slimy seeds. Three big pumpkins’ worth should give you a bit more than three cups of seeds. A good soak in warm, salty water cleans them of any extra orange goo, and after a quick blot, they’re ready for the oven.

See? You don’t need to throw them away.

Salty Pie-Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (PDF)

Since the seed haul from every pumpkin is different, you might have to play with the ingredients a bit here – I scraped my seeds from 3 large pumpkins, being diligent with the first two and a bit lazy with the last. But play you should. I’ve added my favorite pumpkin pie ingredients (maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom), but a few pinches of clove, nutmeg, or allspice certainly wouldn’t hurt.

TIME: 10 minutes prep (not including seed excavation)
MAKES: 3 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin seeds

3 1/2 cups raw fresh pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Place the seeds in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the salt and add hot water to cover. Let sit for 4 hours (or overnight), until the seeds are puffy. Scoop the seeds off the top of the water, avoiding any leftover pumpkin bits, and transfer them to a large tea towel. Use another towel to pat them mostly dry – they’ll still be a bit slimy, but do what you can.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees; line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Transfer the seeds to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the olive oil and maple syrup. Blend the remaining ingredients, plus the remaining teaspoon salt, in a small bowl, and sprinkle the mixture over the seeds as you stir them. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then spread the seeds on the baking sheets in a thin layer.

Bake for about 25 minutes, rotating sheets and stirring seeds once or twice, or until browned and crisp. Remove seeds from the oven, sprinkle immediately with additional salt, and let cool on baking sheets. Break seeds apart and enjoy, alone or on salads. Store cooled seeds in an airtight container.

13 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, recipe, side dish, snack, vegetarian

A quick salad, for skiing

I know. “Salad” and “skiing” don’t usually go together. But someone told me it’s supposed to hit 70 degrees in Seattle this weekend (hallelujah!), and we’re going skiing, which means a picnic, which means portable edibles. I will be ready.

Besides being delicious, this little salad is the perfect solution to a refrigerator full of fennel fronds.

Beet and Fennel Wheat Berry Pilaf

Beet and Fennel Wheat Berry Pilaf (PDF)
You could substitute dill for the fennel, if you’d prefer, or add any variety of crumbled cheeses, but I like the way the simple combination of lemon and fennel leaves a clean, bright taste in my mouth.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 pound baby beets (about a dozen 1 1/2” beets), trimmed
1 cup raw wheat berries
2 teaspoons salt, plus more, to taste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fennel fronds (the soft, green tops of one big fennel bulb)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the beets, wrap them in foil, and roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Cool slightly in the foil, then peel and quarter.

Meanwhile, place the wheat berries in a large saucepan. Add about 6 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for about an hour, maybe a little longer, until the berries are al dente. (Some of the berries may begin to open up.)

In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grinding of pepper together to blend. Drain the wheat berries and stir them into the bowl when they’re hot, so they soak up the dressing. Fold in the warm beets, fennel fronds, chives, and pecans, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Since fresh fennel fronds don’t wilt very easily, the salad keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, up to 3 days.

2 Comments

Filed under leftovers, Lunch, recipe, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

A salad that plays pretends

Yesterday, I wanted a nice summer salad. A sharp-dressed pasta salad, maybe, or a creamy potato salad, something playful and flavorful and easy to scoop up with a spoon.

But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s not summer yet. (I do have arugula sprouting in the garden, though.)

Here’s a salad that plays pretends. It’s warmth comes not from the garden, but from last summer’s sun (and, well, from California), so it’s sort of an imposter. But it shouts with summery color and flavor in just the way I needed to hear, and it also happens to be quite healthy. I topped mine with toasted, chopped walnuts, for good measure.

Warm Red Quinoa Salad

Warm Red Quinoa Salad (PDF)
Sweet butternut squash and crunchy red quinoa make surprisingly good panfellows – as the quinoa cooks, the squash steams, and releases its soft edges into the grain, like it does in risotto. Spiked with the bright flavors of grape tomatoes and feta cheese, the salad makes for an easy, nutritious lunch.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 to 2 servings

1/4 cup red quinoa (white would work just as well)
1/2 cup water
Pinch salt
1/2 pound chopped, peeled squash (about 1 1/2 cups of 3/4” chunks)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
8 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper

Combine the quinoa, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low, stir in squash, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the quinoa has popped and the squash is soft. (You may need to add another tablespoon or two of water, depending on how juicy your squash is.)

Remove from heat and fold in the olive oil, tomatoes, feta, and basil. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

Quinoa Salad Going Gone

5 Comments

Filed under cheese, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, salad, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

Stop being such a shallot

Agrumi and Cheese

On Saturday morning, I woke up with the list (always the list!), filled with this and that, and the determination to have a nice, relaxing Saturday lunch. (Yes, even that goes on a list.)

I bought a fat bag of shallots at the market on impulse, deciding then and there to coax their sweetness out in a slow oven, moistened with just a faint gurgle of balsamic vinegar, and use them in a warm roasted beet salad, or in a gooey panini – something I could curl up around.

But later, at home, waiting for something else to come out of the oven, I flipped past Mark and Clark’s superfast recipes in F&W, where they recommend roasting shallots with honey and lavender, and my balsamic-roasted shallots took a little detour.

Now, if you’ve seen Mark & Clark’s gardens at Arrows (and tasted their food), you know better than to question the use of any ingredient, but I was torn: I loved the idea of adding a bit more sweetness to a pan of roasted shallots, but flowers? In January?

Maybe another time.

But honey. Yes, I’d use honey instead of vinegar. I’d need an end product with a bit of a bite, something spreadable, to complete an easy winter lunch of the good cheese and bread and salad I’d collected. I’d also stocked up on agrumi at Salumi a few days before (blessed be the person who thought to put cardamom and orange peel in salami!), and fantasized about a real, slow lunch, grounded at the dining room table with my husband and a certain New Yorker piece, crunching toasts smeared with weak-kneed, honey-kissed shallots between bites of cured meat.

I peeled half the bag, wondering before I started if the task would be worth my while. I hate doing this, I thought. In the kitchen, shallots are indispensable, really, giving up flavor and sweetness many dishes just can’t be without. But damn, what a chore they always are for me, picking at all those papery husks, layers and layers of them, with achy, wintry, fingernail-challenged hands. And shallots’ bad habit of turning mushy on the very day you’d promised to finally use them. . . they have nerve, shallots do.

Honey-Roasted Shallots raw

I tried to ignore my stinging eyes, and shoved them into a baking pan with good Nicoise olives, a bit of chopped oregano, and a smear of local honey, feeling personally offended by the fact that I couldn’t enjoy eating them without going through physical aggravation. I wanted so badly to swear at them, but what good would that do either of us? As I washed my hands, I turned the word – shallot – around in my mouth, briefly considered banishing them from my kitchen forever, but then decided that they’re worth keeping around, because – oh, my – they’d make the most marvelous insult.

I mean, really, have you heard a more spouse-appropriate jibe? Stop being such a shallot means I love you, I can’t live without you, you mean the world to me, but stop being such a pain in my ass. None of the desired effect comes from the word onion, though perhaps leek comes close.

Yes, stop being such a leek works, too. Or might work. I haven’t actually tried either yet. But it’s always a possibility.

And besides. The moment the shallots came out of the oven, sputtering sweet, earthy fumes around the kitchen, I knew the peeling had been worth it. Maybe I was the one being such a shallot.

Honey-Roasted Shallots pan

Greek-Inspired, Honey-Roasted Shallots (PDF)

Roasted with oregano, olives, and a thin veneer of honey, then finished with lemon juice and a sprinkling of feta cheese, sweet whole shallots make a great winter treat. Spread the mixture on toast for caramelized shallot bruschetta, or pile it on top of arugula for lunch.

MAKES: 2 servings
TIME: 15 minutes active time

1/2 pound shallots (about 10 medium), trimmed at root ends, peeled, and separated into natural segments
1/4 cup drained, pitted Kalamata or Niçoise olives
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the shallots in a baking dish, drizzle with honey, and sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast 5 minutes, and toss all ingredients to coat evenly with the honey. Roast an additional 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, just until the shallots are brown and the honey begins to caramelize. Squeeze the lemon juice over the shallots, and shower the feta over everything, allowing it to soften in the pan. Enjoy warm.

Honey-Roasted Shallots 1

6 Comments

Filed under appetizers, cheese, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

The Mug Collection

I have a problem with our mug collection.

At issue isn’t the quantity of mugs, or their inherent quality. We have two full rows of mug hooks in a big glass-fronted cabinet, home to a combination of ceramic supermodels and ugly orphans. They all hold water. But as I sip through the collection – filling two, or even three different mugs multiple times each day, with coffee and tea, mostly, and the occasional hot cocoa – I’ve noticed they’re starting to give me some lip.

CO mug

See, none of them is quite perfect. There’s a chubby little white one, painted with a reminder of favorite coffee shops past. It’s good-looking enough, like a diner mug with a steroid problem, but its drinking edge is a fat, failed pout that dribbles liquid down the outside, no matter how careful I am with my drinking habits.

PregnancyMug

I’m parentally proud of the mugs I’ve made myself. I made this one for a dear friend when I learned she was pregnant, and shipped it to her overseas. (But I made it, so it’s still in The Collection.) It’s cute enough, but it may present the steifel problem, which is no good where hot liquids (and/or unborn children) are involved. No way could this be a successful drinking vessel. What does one do with two handles?

Three Jess mugs

I’ve kept some of my mugs, too. They’re all heavier than a mug should be, because I didn’t throw pots long enough to figure out how to get the bottoms good and thin. I also never learned how to control the size of a particular vessel, so some are quite large, which is best for green tea (or Pat’s outrageous ginger tea, which is sweetened with pandan syrup), while others are un peu trop petit. They make excellent paperweights, though.

Star Mug

There are the star mugs, too, which are really quite close to perfect. Their flared lips virtually pour their contents right into a mouth themselves, so there’s no wiping or dribbling involved. Plus, they have a smattering of adorable stars imprinted on the side, a genius idea on the potter’s part. But we’ve used them so much that they’re chipped right where I put my mouth, and chips and coffee do not pair well together.

Deruta Mug

It appears I have a very sharp right eye tooth; so many of “my” mugs are chipped where that tooth would go if I bit my mug while drinking. But I don’t bite my mugs. At least, I don’t think I do.

Dock Square Mug

“His” mugs may hold memories, but their shapes are quite plain, which is why they’re “his.” I avoid this genre altogether.

For winter, which officially starts today, one needs hot chocolate. And for hot chocolate, one needs a mug that comforts. For me, that means the little yellow cylinders I picked up in Kyoto. If I hold one close, the bases of my two palms kissing on one side and my fingertips brushing each other on the opposite side, I can warm both hands entirely. And that, I do believe, is what hot chocolate is all about.

If you see the perfect coffee mug, with heft and shape and sass, and a sharpish edge that doesn’t collect drips, give me a shout. I have a hook saved for it.

Happy winter.

Spiced hot chocolate 2

Spiced Hot Cocoa Mix (PDF)
Recipe 356 of 365

For a wonderful winter welcome, whisk about 1/4 cup of the hot cocoa mix below with an equal amount of hot milk in the bottom of a mug. Mix to blend completely, then top off the mug with more hot milk, and finish with your favorite puffy cocoa complement.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: About 10 mugs spiced hot cocoa

1 (10-ounce) container unsweetened coca powder, such as Ghirardelli
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients together until well blended. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Spiced hot chocolate dripping

1 Comment

Filed under recipe, snack

Modern-Day Hutspot

Dishing up Hutspot

On Saturday, some friends had us over for dinner. They’d invited us for hutspot, with a caveat: they’d both tasted it, and had a good idea of what went into it, but had no real plan for making it. (Um, I’m guessing now might be a good time for you to bone up on your Dutch cuisine.) I was the ringer, supposedly, brought in to turn mashed up potatoes and onions and carrots into something mildly appetizing. I wasn’t really sure I could make something appetizing, but part of the deal was that I didn’t have to chop, which I liked on that particular day, so off we went.

We strategized. I didn’t understand if they wanted more of a soup or a stew, or orange-flecked mashed potatoes, or whether they wanted to stick with the Dutch tradition and season it only very meagerly. (Apparently, when the spice trade was at its peak, the best Dutch traders were known for abstaining from seasoning their own food.) We hemmed and hawed, granting History its due respect but deciding, in the end, that we’d get a little creative and make it as tasty as possible. There were bratwurst available, and bacon and thyme, and after debating the advantages of searing, steaming, baking, roasting, and sauteing the various ingredients in various orders, we settled on – what else? – cooking it in a Dutch oven. With all that pork, would it be possible to make something bad?

Frank and Michelle and my husband started chopping. (With three people, it takes about 10 minutes, I think, but I didn’t actually time that part.) It was fun, all cooking and chatting and drinking wine and playing Carcassonne (to bring more historical flavor to the dish, of course) while the hutspot baked.

The bratwurst turned out to be cheese-filled bratwurst, and so much the better. Use either kind; just make sure to buy fresh, raw sausages (as opposed to pre-cooked ones) because the meat’s juices are critical to the flavor of the dish. (We think.)

Hutspot

Modern-Day Hutspot (PDF)
Recipe 274 of 365

Hutspot is a Dutch dish traditionally eaten on October 3rd, the day during the Eighty Year’s War in 1574 when (as the story goes) a Dutch kid released water from the dikes surrounding the town of Leiden, flooding the fields where the attacking Spanish soldiers had made their camp and forcing the Spanish to leave much of their food, including lots of cooked potatoes, behind. (The Dutch celebrate each year with a holiday called Leiden Ontzet.) According to our Dutch friends, the dish is normally a big mashed-up pot of carrots and potatoes and onions, but when our version came out of the oven, with soft cooked carrots and partly mashed potatoes and shimmering specks of onion (not to mention a heavy dose of pork), it was surprisingly beautiful. So we skipped the mashing, and decided to call it Modern-Day Hutspot.

MAKES: 4 generous servings
TIME: Unknown. Perfect for a dinner party, with four cooking.

2 pounds pork bratwurst (plain or cheese-flavored)
2/3 pound thick-cut bacon (we used the peppered kind), cut into small cubes
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, each cut into 8 pieces
1 1/2 pounds large carrots, cut into 3/4” pennies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the bratwurst, and brown on all sides (about 5 minutes per side), rolling them over only when they release readily from the pan. (Cheese sausages may stick a bit; encourage them to turn after about 5 minutes per side.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven or large, ovenproof soup pot (you’ll need something with a lid) over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon, and cook until almost crispy, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme to the bacon grease. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften.

When the onions are soft and the bratwurst have been seared, add the potatoes, carrots, and cooked bacon to the pot. Stir to combine with the onions, season with a bit more salt and pepper. . .

Raw hutspot

. . .and place the bratwurst right on top of the vegetables.

Putting brats on hutspot

Cover the pot and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and the bratwurst are cooked through. Pile the vegetables into bowls, and top with the sausages.

Hutspot in the pot

2 Comments

Filed under kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, snack