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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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