Monthly Archives: March 2007

Learning something, eating good

My friend Cheryl wrote an article for Eating Well recently on wheat berries. (For whatever reason, my husband refuses to call the magazine “Eating Well”; Eating Good and Eating Bad are the current favorites.) I learned that wheat berries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels; it’s flour before we rape it of all nutritional value. I’d never made them before.

I started with her master recipe, which requires nothing more than cooking the little grains in simmering water for an hour, and gives you a huge pile of succulent, crunchy berries. I loosely followed Cheryl’s recipe for Creamy Wheat Berry Porridge in an attempt to give my bagel habit a break, and loved the crunch the berries added to the oatmeal. Now I have all these great cooked berries – you can freeze them and add them to yogurt, soups, stews, whatever, as needed. I’m curious to try baking them into granola.

About two seconds after I finished my porridge, I laced a bowl of the wheat berries with lemon zest and juice, tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, and plenty of fresh herbs. I can’t wait to try them with real summer produce!

Wheat Berry Salad with Herbs, Tomatoes, and Olives

Recipe for Wheat Berry Salad with Herbs, Tomatoes, and Olives
Recipe 90 of 365

Think of wheat berries as your new blank slate – add any chopped leftover veggies, roasted meats, tofu, or canned tuna to the salad, or serve it on a big bed of greens for a satisfying lunch.

TIME: 15 minutes (with cooked berries)
MAKES: 4 servings

2 cups cooked wheat berries (click here for a master recipe)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
3 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 packed tablespoons each chopped fresh chives, mint, and parsley
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
2 tablespoons capers

Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl until well blended. Enjoy!

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Filed under Lunch, media, recipe, side dish, vegetables

Hot tangy beans

Hot Tangy Beans 1

Recipe for Hot Tangy Beans
Recipe 89 of 365

These come from the same inspiration that gave birth to the dilly spears. They’re just green beans, sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and hit up with a shot of balsamic vinegar that cooks down and coats the beans with hot, tangy goodness.

I made 1/2 pound, thinking I’d be making enough for four to reheat for dinner with friends. I ate the entire pot in one sitting, as lunch.

Hot Tangy Beans, almost finished

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: (1 to) 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 pound green beans, rinsed and trimmed, cut into halves or thirds if longish
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When hot, add the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes, and stir for about ten seconds. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the vinegar, reduce heat to medium, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vinegar has reduced to a glaze. Serve immediately.

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You wanna start somethin’?

A few weeks ago, my friend Amy sent me some of the sourdough starter she’d been using from Cape Cod. We weren’t sure how well it would make the trip, so when it arrived, safely sealed in a tupperware container, I felt I owed it some sort of good treatment. I gave it a high-profile home on my kitchen counter for a few weeks, and fed it religiously until I felt it had recovered from whatever injuries a bread starter sustains traveling across the country via the US Postal Service. Now it’s been demoted to irregular feedings and a place in the fridge, but I’m actually starting to use it.

Amy also sent along a booklet of old-fashioned recipes (obviously typed out generations ago), and mentioned she’s had success adding a cup of the starter (and a little less water) to the infamous Mark Bittman bread recipe I’ve been so happy with in the past.

Since Amy had talked up the sourdough pancakes, I turned first to the pancake recipes. But they all called for some form of instant dry or evaporated milk that I didn’t have in the pantry, which of course had me wondering what’s so wrong with good ol’ (instant, if you ask me) wet milk?

I struck out on my own, hopping from pancakes to crepes (becuase what’s better than crepes on a Sunday morning?) and, perhaps surprisingly, succeeding. When I had made (darn pretty, if you ask me) crepes from about half the batter, my husband offered to hop in front of the stove for me, so that I could enjoy a few while they were still hot.

But the batter didn’t like him as much as it had liked me. Crepe after crepe, he buttered perfectly and used just the right amount of batter, but every time I looked up from my crepe trough, I’d find batter splattered down the side of the pan, or wrinkled, half-cooked crepes piled up like discarded underwear on the “failures” plate. Giggling at him only added insult to injury; he’s usually pretty talented in the crepe-flipping department.

His first attempt

When I started taking pictures, he got even madder. “I don’t make fun of you when you try to do physics,” he said.

Second attempt

“And you can tell the French to go eat shit.”

But he eventually got his mojo back. Sort of:

Almost there!

Though I haven’t ever purchased a starter online, this might be a good choice for those in the PNW, or I’d trust King Arthur Flour. Goldrush might be another one to try. (They’re quite inexpensive, actually.) I look forward to playing with mine more.

If you can find a great video explaining how to make crepes, please chime in – I only found the million and one cheesey ones on YouTube.

Sourdough Crepes

Recipe for Sourdough Crepes
Recipe 88 of 365

These crepes offer the yeasty, tangy flavor of natural sourdough bread, but are relatively quick to make if you already have a starter. You don’t have to use all the batter at once – just make as many as you need, and store the batter, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. Stir to blend before using within the next day or two.

Use a well-developed sourdough starter or sponge.

TIME: 5 minutes the night before, plus about 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings, if you’re good at making crepes

Overnight:
1 cup starter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water

In the morning:
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, as needed

The night before you plan to make the crepes, stir the starter, flour, and water together in a big bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight. Replenish starter.

In the morning, add the eggs, sugar, salt, milk, and butter to the batter, and whisk to combine.

Preheat a crepe pan or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a scant teaspoon of butter, and swirl to grease the pan well. Pour a generous 1/3 cup batter onto one side of the pan, and tilt and swirl the pan immediately to cover the pan with an even layer of batter. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until bubbles reach the center of the crepe. Carefully flip the crepe, and cook another minute or two. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding butter every few crepes, as needed. Serve crepes hot, just as they come off the pan.

Remember, the first crepe rarely turns out well. It always goes to the chef.

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Fish for dinner

Arctic char is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s list of “best” (read: sustainable) fish choices. It’s tasty, and it doesn’t leak as much unsightly white fat as salmon does if you accidently overcook the edges . . .

Arctic char picatta

Recipe for Arctic Char Piccata
Recipe 87 of 365

When I think of piccatas, I think of veal or chicken or thin filets of delicate white fish. Kathy made me this version with arctic char, a pink-fleshed fish that some say tastes like a cross between trout and salmon.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 2 large or 4 small servings

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 (1-pound) thin (about 3/4” thick) filet arctic char, salmon, or a whole trout, halved lengthwise
1 Meyer (or regular) lemon, very thinly sliced (not peeled)
1/4 cup capers
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon additional Meyer (or regular) lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

Place the flour on a large plate and season with salt and pepper.

Arctic char & flour

Heat a heavy skillet big enough to hold the fish over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and the butter. Dredge the fish in the seasoned flour on both sides. When the butter has melted completely, add the fish to the pan, skin side-up. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish), or until golden brown on the bottom. Use two spatulas to carefully flip the fish, so that the skin side is down.

Add the lemon slices, capers, white wine, and additional lemon juice to the pan next to the fish. Cook another few minutes, or until the wine has reduced, the lemon slices are beginning to caramelize, and the fish is cooked through. Serve the fish immediately, with the sauce, lemons, and capers on top.

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Jack’s Sparrow

Usually we shut the cat in at night, but last night he shot out into the dark just as I was going to bed, so I left the pet door open and hoped for the best.

This is what the mat in front of my kitchen sink looked like this morning, for the third time in as many days:

Evidence of Jack's sparrow

Only this time, the bird wasn’t attached to all of its feathers. The bird itself was presented beatifully on the flowered rug at the foot of my bed, as if Jack was posing the bird on the background so he could paint bad wallpaper from the image.

Jackson, my cat, is trying to tell me something. He’s trying to tell me that my attempt to recognize that what I eat comes from real, live animals is falling short of my original goals; my interest in killing a chicken at some point this year just because I feel like I should know what it’s like has been far outweighed by the convenience of buying chicken at the store.

I’ll spare you the photo, which I took from the feathered side.

But for next time: has anyone tasted sparrow, or whatever it was? These birds are going to waste, and from what Jack tells me, they’re nice and fresh.

Oh, and I almost forgot. There was a mouse, too.

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Necessary comforts

When we were first dating, I was surprised to find out my husband had never encountered grilled cheese and tomato soup as a comfort food combo. It was an easy sell, and it’s now a combination we turn to when we’re feeling some combination of lazy, cold, rushed, hungry, and uninspired.

On Sunday night, it was all we wanted. But alas, no Campbell’s in the pantry. So I made it myself, a quicker version than last time:

Can-Happy Tomato-Coconut Soup
Recipe 86 of 365

TIME: 15 minutes, max
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

Puree one (28-ounce) can of diced tomatoes in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. In a soup pot, saute a finely chopped garlic clove in a swirl of olive oil for a few seconds, then add the pureed tomatoes and one (14-ounce) can light coconut milk. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red Thai chile paste, if you want, for some spice, and simmer the soup over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

It looks like, well, tomato soup. And it hit the spot, even if I cooked the grilled cheese so long that the cheese actually separated. Oops.

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Aluminum Chef

Here’s the long version:

When Kathy dropped me off with all the food and equipment we’d need to cook our hors d’oeuvres at the James Beard House in the West Village, I had a flashback to my first day of junior high. We’d thought we’d be earlier than everyone else, but a quick peek into the kitchen revealed a sea of white coats chopping things into identical cubes and strips like a well-oiled Swiss machine. Realizing I was about to pose as one of them, I carefully considered hiding in the coat closet until Kathy returned. Then I thought about how embarrassing it might be to have one of them find me there, twenty-eight years old and curled up on a few cases of wine, covering my eyes with my apron. Bad idea.

I introduced myself and got to work, unpacking and organizing and stacking our stuff and depositing our beach bags and Playmate coolers next to everyone else’s restaurant kitchen-grade coolers and knife totes. It dawned on me (again, only more strongly) that culinary school and four years’ experience as a personal chef made me a small-town mayor in a room full of state governors, in the same business but at the same time completely out of place.

My trusty locker partner finally returned, and I felt my heart rate slow. The guys from Arrows (bless their hearts) promised to help us shuck oysters and plate our food at the last minute, and I felt both a little relieved and a little annoyed; I knew we were ill-equipped to pull everything off by ourselves, but I’d admittedly gotten used to running my own show in my own kitchen and sort of had to swallow my pride when three guys opened 100 Winter Point oysters in the time it might have taken me to open the bag.

We unloaded what looked a wheelbarrowload of shallots and started chopping. About six seconds later Kathy sliced herself. Blood spurted. “Does anyone have a band-aid?” she asked to no one in particular. I felt my face flush hot and grabbed a box of sparkly blue ones I’d spotted earlier.

As the day progressed, a pattern developed: we did what we needed to do, as we’d planned to do it, more or less. (The cocktail sauce fiasco is another story; we didn’t realize one sauce was heavier than the other and loaded 150 shot glasses with the miso sauce, only to have to dump them all out and start again, with the heavier cocktail sauce on the bottom.) We asked for help when we needed it, and learned bit by bit how to do what we wanted to do in a restaurant-grade kitchen.

About halfway through the afternoon, I was starting to feel like a real schmuck asking so many questions. Cooking at the James Beard House was like travelling to a foreign country where I could read and understand the language, but couldn’t talk back. I’d thought I was passably fluent, when I was really not even learning the same words.

Sometime during the course of the afternoon, Kathy sensed my waning self-respect and pulled me aside.

“Jess,” she said, “We have nothing to prove here. These people run restaurants for a living. We write about them.”

She had a point.

And before I realized it, we were part of the same machine, chopping and prepping and tasting and plating and, yes, making mistakes (and we weren’t alone). We laughed and joked and I forgot that we were the only ones who’d never used a sauce gun before that day. When the guests started to arrive and parade themselves directly through the kitchen, all eleven other chefs put down their knives and started helping us, balancing caviar on beet chips and shrimp on shot glasses.

Like I said, our food turned out great. Here are all the photos, if you’re feeling impatient.

We found perfect shot glasses for the shrimp:

Shrimp cocktail with orange-miso and cocktail sauces

We ended up whipping some of the saffron cream for the stew:

Saffron Cream

And the beet chips held up (barely):

Beet chips 2

At first, I thought it was an orchestrated gesture of pity, a massive attempt to help us do what we couldn’t do ourselves. But as our hors d’oeuvres course gave way to the next course, and the next, I realized that once all the prep was done, each chef existed to help whichever chef’s course was next in line, and for five consecutive courses after ours, I stood on the plating line (when I wasn’t taking photos), dipping and dabbing and garnishing and helping the chef’s I’d assumed to be completely self-sufficient.

The food was spectacular in every way. We dubbed it the “butter, salt, cream, and shellfish dinner.” By golly, each diner must have consumed 5,000 calories. (And good LORD, if anyone ever offers you a fois gras crouton, take it and run.)

Here’s Sam Hayward’s course, baked Maine shrimp with miner’s lettuce, parsnips, and sea salt:

Sam Hayward's shrip salad

And Arrows’s main course, lobster tails and claws served on the shell (which they heated by smothering the pre-cooked lobster meat, arranged in the shell, with towels soaked in clarified butter, then shoving the whole thing in the oven so the butter-permeated towels could basically give the lobster a butter facial as it reheated) with fois gras croutons, mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, insane house-cured bacon, and about sixteen other things:

Arrows' masterpiece

They garnished their dish with roasted lobster antennae, which were surprisingly beautiful, if you ask me:

Roasted lobster antennae

And the final course, Price’s goat cheese cheesecake with pistachios, cream, candied orange peels, macerated strawberries and balsamic glaze, of which there was not one single crumb left on any of the 80-something plates:

Price's goat cheese cheesecake

So the food was great. The comeraderie was palpable.

But the whole scene, the sense that life only exists inside a kitchen, all the chatter about applying to be a challenger on Iron Chef (no kidding), and what seemed to be an overarching belief (from a few of the chefs) that one can always make food better than it is when it comes out of the ground, made me very happy to have avoided the restaurant chef route.

It’s always made me crazy that there is no way to classify someone between “cook,” which implies a given set of learned practices and procedures, and “chef,” which hints at something larger, like, say, talent and extensive experience. This is not a small difference. But to people who have never set foot inside a restaurant kitchen, it’s one that’s hard to explain.

I think of myself as somewhere in between. I know how to use a knife. I can prep a three-course meal for six and have every element come out hot and on time, almost every time. I can make pasta from scratch without a recipe. Et cetera.

But my arena is the home kitchen. I don’t use a hot box (hell, I can’t even say it without giggling) or a sauce gun on a regular basis, and I don’t calculate food costs when I come up with something new.

A friend of mine recently accused me of being an iron chef, and to both her surprise and mine, I was really insulted. I don’t cook for sport. I am formed, but not hardened, educated, but not tested. I’d probably qualify as an aluminum chef, if that. And I think I like it that way.

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Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, travel

Dilly beans

Kathy introduced me to dilly beans from a farm in New Hampshire – how I’ve lived this long without knowing how good pickled green beans out of a jar could be will remain a mystery, but I’m now officially hooked. Her daughter bought them for her as a present, and yet there I was, eating half the jar because I couldn’t get enough of their sweet, hot, garlicky flavor.

I made a batch, only with asparagus, right when I got home from New York. When I packaged them up to put them in the fridge, our conversation went like this:

HIM: Those aren’t going to be a success. (He used the word “success.”)

ME: No? Why not?

HIM: They look like a science project gone wrong. Like they’re in formaldehyde.

ME: You’re wrong.

Then, later, when he realized he was about to leave for a week, he tried to redeem himself:

HIM: Boy, I can’t wait until those asparagus are done. They’re going to be so good.

Dilly spears

Recipe for Dilly Spears
Recipe 85 of 365

Pickling asparagus overnight in an apple cider vinegar brine with garlic, dill, and hot pepper flakes makes vegetables that are as alluring to me as potato chips at snacktime.

Note that these asparagus pickles are meant to be enjoyed within a few weeks of making; they are not shelf-stable.

TIME: 10 minutes, plus a day or two for pickling
MAKES: a convenient snack for anyone passing by
NEED: 1 large Mason jar, the kind that’s about 8” tall

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed to the height of the Mason jar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water, plus more if needed
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Combine all the ingredients in a large skillet. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook 2 minutes, turning the asparagus frequently. Remove from heat. Carefully transfer the spears to the jar, tips up, then add the liquid. Add as much water a necessary to top off the jar with liquid. Cool the asparagus to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Let sit 24 to 48 hours, and enjoy.

Dilly spears in the making

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A prayer for the dying

Here’s the short version of my James Beard House experience: total success. The food turned out beautifully, and between the two of us we only drew blood once. Maine’s best chefs held our hands the whole way, and in turn we provided them with a few good laughs, I’m sure. Afterwards, we went to The Spotted Pig, ate pig’s ears and lamb’s tongue and delicious olive-oil soaked chicken liver toasts, and wondered whether Christina Aguilera, who sat next to us, was actually eating the same things.

Three days later, I still feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. My shoulders are actually bruised and tender in the spots where I ferried food- and equipment-laden bags between the JBH and various Manhattan parking garages.

I came home to find my husband had done just what he’d promised: he’d eaten his way through the fridge and the freezer like a forest fire, leaving only the things that required preparation. When I peered into the produce drawers, I found vegetables too dead to use beautifully but still too useful to throw out. Limp scallions, half-dead celery, and carrots beginning to sprout new, fine hairs from each crease reminded me of how tired I felt. (Which brings up the fact that “hairy carrot” sounds a little like hara-kiri.) Some of the onions were developing a healthy blue layer under their skins.

Major vegetable rescuscitation was necessary. I loaded all the sad specimens (minus the blue parts) into my biggest stockpot and added two frozen chicken carcasses, which I usually freeze and save (after roasting and demolishing) for making chicken stock on lazy, rainy days like yesterday. I think I was hoping that the deepy meaty smell and the warmth of the stove and the ritual of transforming nothing into something would infuse me with the same newness.

So now I have four containers of gorgeous golden stock, but truthfully, not much more energy.

I’ll tell the whole story soon.

Chicken Stock 1

Recipe for Chicken Stock
Recipe 84 of 365

Chicken stock recipes are a dime a dozen, which is a good thing; it’s one of the few things I believe everyone should know how to make. Soups and stews made with homemade stock taste better, period. And the tonic smell of stock bubbling away on the stove has curative powers for me.

I make my stock differently every time, depending on what I have in the fridge, but for economic reasons, I tend to use leftover roasted chicken carcasses (as opposed to whole new birds, which some cooks swear by). Think of this as a general guideline.

On the chicken: after roasting a bird, I pick away any edible meat, chop through the spine and each large bone once or twice with a big, heavy knife to expose the bone marrow (which helps give the stock a great mouthfeel), and freeze the chicken in zip-top bags until I’m ready to use it.

Try it.

TIME: 15 minutes to make, plus 5 hours cooking time
MAKES: 3 to 4 liters chicken stock

Carcasses from two (4- to 5-pound) roasted chickens
6 carrots, tops removed
1 small bunch celery
1 large onion
2 shallots
6 scallions (firm parts only)
2 bay leaves
Handful parsley, chopped
Small handful thyme, chopped
Water

Place the chicken carcasses in a large stock pot. Chop all the vegetables into roughly 2” pieces, leaving any skins (including onion skin) on for color. Add them to the pot, along with the herbs, and fill the pot almost to the top with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring every hour or so and working the chicken off the bones with a wooden spoon, for 5 hours.

Remove the stock from the heat and let cool for about an hour. Carefully pour the stock through a colander into a large bowl (or two), then through a fine-mesh strainer into smaller freezable containers. (Make sure the stock isn’t hot enough to melt the plastic.) Refrigerate the containers overnight, then skim off the fat, cover, label with the date, and freeze in the morning. Stock should last about 3 months in the freezer.

To use, take the stock out of the freezer and run the plastic container under warm water to release the sides, and melt over low heat in a small saucepan.

Note: for easier measuring, stock can also be made and refrigerated overnight in the big bowl, then skimmed and frozen in 1-cup portions in small zip-top bags. Lay the bags flat during freezing for easier storage.

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Filed under chicken, recipe, soup, travel

Promises

Promises for you:

1. I won’t be cooking many more recipes for 90.
2. I will hereafter refrain from using saffron as often as I have in the past two weeks, which is collectively more than I’d used it previously, ever.
3. I will lay off the shellfish and sweet potatoes for a while.
4. Spring will come to hogwash.

But first:

Chicken Apple Sausage Chowder 2

Recipe for Chicken Apple Sausage Chowder with Sweet Potatoes and Saffron
Recipe 83 of 365

Chicken-apple sausage makes a lovely date for your morning waffles, but it also lends itself well to more savory dinnertime applications. Here’s an unusual chowder, which chicken-apple sausage gives just the slightest hint of sweetness. Serve with a green salad and a hunk of good, crusty bread.

TIME: 40 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 pound chicken-apple sausage links (large or small)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups (1 liter-sized box) chicken broth
Pinch saffron threads (loose 1/2 teaspoon)
1 cup half and half or whole milk
1 cup frozen sweet corn or fresh raw corn kernels
Few dashes hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Using a small, sharp knife, make a slit in the sausages lengthwise and remove the meat from the casings. Discard the casings.

Preheat a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then add the sausage, breaking it into bite-sized pieces as you drop it into the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned on the outside, adjusting the heat as necessary to avoid burning. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pot, then add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping any brown pieces that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat all the onions with the flour. Cook a minute or two, stirring, then add the sweet potatoes, cider vinegar, chicken broth, and saffron. Bring the chowder to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the half and half or milk, corn, and cooked sausage, and simmer another 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, if desired. Stir in the parsley just before serving.

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National Chip and Dip Day

I bet you didn’t know it existed. But yes, oh yes, today is National Chip and Dip Day, according to some. And how perfectly it matches with our last appetizer from the Beard House!

A former personal chef client of mine told me she’d had potato chips with sour cream and caviar at a friend’s party. Intrigued, we tried it:

Potato chip with creme fraiche and caviar

We loved it. So we decided to round out our hors d’oeuvre trio with some version of them, looking for another more modern take on an old-school hors d’oeuvre (like the oyster stew and the shrimp). Excited at the prospect of having one dish that required neither space nor cooking time, we tinkered a little more, and settled on deep-fried, thinly waffle-cut beet chips with meyer lemon creme fraiche and a colorful trio of American caviars donated by Browne Trading Company in Portland, ME. Photos from the real thing forthcoming, I hope.

The recipe is pretty self-explanatory: find good crunchy things, like killer potato chips or veggie chips. Dabble or pipe a little sour cream or creme fraiche onto the chip, and top with caviar – smoked trout or smoked salmon would also be delicious, and perhaps more widely appealing.

IMG_3416

Now that’s a nice chip with dip.

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A remarkable day

Today is the day. By now, we’ve written and rewritten grocery lists to morph recipes intended for a small dinner party into recipes for 90.

When Kathy and I cook together, we both miraculously lose whatever math faculties we normally possess, which means that whenever we need to multiply an ingredient list, we end up staring at each other blankly over our cutting boards, willing the appropriate sums to pop into the other person’s head and then shouting hysterically when one of us comes up with the answer. There must be a term for this; it’s like kitchen-induced Alzheimer’s with a twist of Tourette’s. It usually works out, but there’s always a moment when neither of us has an ounce (what is that in kilograms?) of mathematical reason. And ironically, when our answers disagree, our mistakes are never actually in our math.

Planning for this dinner was no different. The second of our appetizers is the shrimp cocktail with two sauces – blood orange miso sauce and classic cocktail sauce, layered beautifully in whatever shot glass we can find in mass quantities – from favorites. When we were listing (making lists is a verb in my vocabulary) a few days ago, Kathy on a train somewhere on the New Hampshire coast and me on my crackly new cell phone in my kitchen in Seattle, our oral calculations stalled out at horseradish. We decided we needed 15 cups of cocktail sauce, which means multiplying the original recipe by 20. How much horseradish is 40 tablespoons in bottles? My route: 4 tablespoons to 1/4 cup, means ten 1/4 cups, means 2 1/2 cups. Six bottles. Her route: 16 tablespoons in a cup, divide 16 into 40. . .three bottles. In a matter of seconds the two of us were shouting “no, wait, hush, I’m thinking!” and “how could that be?” and scribbling madly, each wondering why we were looking at the same recipe, both multiplying by 20 and coming up with answers that differed so much . . . turns out my bottle is 3.75 ounces, or a shy 1/2 cup, and her bottles have 8 ounces each. Ah ha! And so it went, with each ingredient for each recipe. We never did measure out a dash of Tabasco sauce, though.

So anyway, today I’ll wake up in Manhattan, peel and devein 10 pounds of fresh gulf coast shrimp (haven’t tasted shrimp that have never been frozen!) in Kathy’s friend’s teensy kitchen, shuffle myself and all our groceries into the tiny kitchen at the James Beard House, figure out which 5 square centimeters of counter space we get to use, and get cookin’. Should be thrilling.

Here are some serving ideas (we haven’t settled on one yet):
Shrimp in tall shot glassSkewered Shrimp bouquetSkewered Shrimp

Or we might serve the shrimp on bamboo skewers with the sauces arranged halvsies in those tiny paper cups they put product samples in at the grocery store, just for a touch of Maine. We’ll see.

Today is also my fourth wedding anniversary, which my husband is celebrating all alone in Seattle with a pint of soup from the freezer (and, most likely, a pint of something else from the refrigerator). More than anything, I wish I could be there with him, celebrating our new home and our new life together.

Recipe for Shrimp Cocktail for 90
Recipe 81 of 365

Here’s a recipe from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, multiplied to fit the crowd we’re serving tonight and slightly modified – we’re using blood oranges instead of regular oranges (at least, that’s the plan). (Check the recipes on pages 133, 236, and 238 for the original recipes.)

TIME: good question – probably 1 hour to cook shrimp and makes sauce, plus more time for peeling and deveining, if needed, or less time if the shrimp are pre-cooked
MAKES: lots and lots of delicious shrimp cocktail

For the cocktail sauce:
10 cups ketchup
2 1/2 cups drained prepared horseradish (cream style is fine, also)
1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
40 to 60 dashes hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the blood orange-miso dipping sauce:
1 cup white miso paste
10 2/3 cups sour cream
8 cups mayonnaise
1 cup grated lemon zest
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup grated blood orange zest
1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

10 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, poached, and chilled (or pre-cooked frozen shrimp, thawed)

Mix the cocktail sauce ingredients together in a large bowl, season to taste, and set aside. Do the same with the blood-orange miso dipping sauce, and cover and chill both sauces until ready to serve.

To serve, layer the sauces in small shot glasses (red-white-red in some, white-red-white in others) and hang cooked shrimp off the sides of the glasses. Double dip with wild abandon.

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How did I get here?

Today I am not in Seattle, I’m in New York. Tomorrow I’ll be assisting Kathy Gunst, a cookbook author and chef that I’ve tested recipes for in the past (and a good friend), at a James Beard House dinner put on by Kathy and a whole bunch of other well-known Maine chefs.

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. What the hell am I doing here? The James Beard House hosts dinners basically every night of the week, with various competent and often famous chefs headlining. Diners (in our case, a sold-out house of 80) pay outrageous sums of money to attend, and all the money goes to the James Beard Foundation, which underwrites scholarships and funding programs for culinary school students. The chefs work for free.

So here I am, in New York, partly responsible for three hors d’oeuvres for 80 people, plus a few extra, to be safe. So 90 people. I’ve cooked for 90 people before, no problem. And there are two of us, plus the other chefs, who will mostly likely be happy to help. And we’re only doing hors d’oeuvres. And only one has to be hot. So what’s the big deal? Somehow just being here, even with a few years’ experience as a personal chef and plenty of time in front of a stove, is shining a huge spotlight on the fact that I’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen. What if Sam Hayward laughs at how much I cry when I cut shallots? It’s really embarrassing. What if Mark and Clark peek over my shoulder and see how painfully long it’s going to take me to shuck 100 oysters?

I’ll let you know how it goes. For today (and the next two days), a little glimpse at what we’ll be serving in mass quantity:

Saffron Oyster Stew

I first tried making saffron oyster stew using chopped raw oysters, but found that with chopped oysters, the stew really required a spoon, which is something we’d like to avoid for the Beard dinner, considering guests will presumably already have a drink in one hand. So tomorrow’s stew will be served like a hot oyster shooter, with one tenderly-cooked bivalve swimming in a little pond of saffron cream.

Recipe for Saffron Oyster Stew
Recipe 80 of 365

Based on Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Classic Oyster Stew from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, this rich, buttercup-yellow version looks precious served in tiny espresso cups. Mine has a higher liquid-to-oyster ratio than the original; the goal is to put one oyster in each cup and top it off with the hot saffron-infused cream, so that it can be consumed without a spoon, like a hot oyster shooter.

TIME: 1 hour, plus time to open oysters
MAKES: 90 servings (in espresso cups)

22 1/2 cups (generous 5 1/2 quarts) whole milk
15 cups (4 quarts minus 1 cup) heavy cream
6 big pinches saffron threads (about 2 grams), crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 pound unsalted butter
60 shallots, very finely chopped
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
100 oysters, shucked, plus all their liquid, separated and strained through a fine-mesh strainer
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the milk, cream, and crushed saffron in a giant soup pot (or two), and slowly bring just to a bare simmer, stirring frequently. Set aside for up to 30 minutes, or transfer to smaller containers and refrigerate overnight.

Set 2 tablespoons of the butter aside. Melt a quarter of the remaining butter in each of two large, high-sided skillets over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, add a quarter of the shallots to each pan, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until the shallots are soft but have not yet begun to brown. Add a teaspoon of the Worcestershire sauce and a quarter of the liquid from the oysters to each pan, bring to a simmer, and cook 2 more minutes, stirring. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the shallot mixture to the pot(s) with the saffron cream, and repeat with the remaining butter, shallots, Worcestershire sauce, and oyster liquid.

When ready to serve, reheat the saffron cream to just below a simmer, and season again to taste, if needed. Working with about ten oysters, a teaspoon of the remaining butter, and ten espresso cups at a time, sauté the oysters in a skillet quickly over medium heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, place oysters in espresso cups, and pour hot saffron cream over the oysters. Serve piping hot.

OR: You can also poach the oysters a few at a time directly in the saffron cream, and fish them out as you ladle up the stew.

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Oh baby

Don’t worry, my Alice in Wonderland caterpillar (the one who puffs “Whoooo. Arrrreeee. You?” out of his hooka) has disappeared.

The other day at Trader Joe’s I found baby broccoli, which I’d never cooked before. It was lovely: all the good broccoli flavor, but the stems had the texture of asparagus, which I happen to love.

Baby Broccoli with Lemon and Garlic

Baby Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon
Recipe 79 of 365

You can use 1/2 pound baby broccoli or regular broccoli florets here – just make sure they’re cut small enough to cook through in two or three minutes. For a little spice, add a pinch of red pepper flakes with the garlic.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound (8 ounces) baby broccoli, cut in half lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 lemon

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil. Add the garlic and stir once or twice, then add the broccoli and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is bright green and cooked al dente. Squeeze the lemon’s juice over the broccoli, and serve immediately.

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Will the real Jess Thomson please stand up?

Warning: I’m cranky today, and scattered. I am trying too hard to be all things to all people, including, most obnoxiously, myself. In my ideal world, I’m devoting everything to my husband and my family, being there when they need me, and listening when they call. I’m diving into work with as much breath as my lungs can hold, ten years old again and trying to get across the swimming pool underwater in one breath, striving to find that perfect combination of glide and effort that will allow me to keep going, even though I don’t know where the wall is. I’m walking and doing yoga and slowly enjoying the way the hot, jasmine-scented steam from my green tea collects on the inside of my nose when I breathe in too deeply. I’m eating outrageously delicious dinners, like the one the six of us shared last weekend at Araxi in Whistler (which I hope to tell you about eventually), and I’m at home, happy growing my own lettuce and eating small quantities and living simply on rice and beans and the occasional piece of fish. I’m a good friend, lounging at a coffee shop or chatting with a neighbor without the next thing on my mind, and when I walk my dog, I let her sniff anything she wants, for as long as she wants. I’m a sugarmama and a housewife, I work seventy hours a week and still do all the laundry, tend the yard, and scrub the floors. My health never wavers. I never lose my voice. I can fly across the country for a week every time a friend gets married, has a baby, or just needs a shoulder to cry on, and I’m home every weekend, being part of a community to which I’m only now just beginning to belong.

But I need to redefine “ideal,” because the inevitable impossibility of checking “all of the above” leaves me flashing from one ideal self to the next like Sybil with an ambitious to-do list.

And here’s what really happens: I answer the phone when my sister calls, intending to listen to anything she might want to say becuase I love her and want to hear about her life. But I’ve plunged into work and can’t come up for air until I turn in article X, and I’m still all nasty from the dog park, so I try to juggle the phone while I get my rubber boots off so I can press send on that last email that’s been sitting in the outbox since before I left with the dog. But on my way to the computer, I spill my green tea, which means my sister only gets half my attention while I mop everything up with the dog towel. Then my husband calls, and I’m frustrated with myself because the house is a mess, and he gets Cranky Jess, and we decide to go out to dinner with friends we haven’t seen in months, which means spending money when I wanted to be saving it, missing out on a night alone together, and getting to bed so late that my whole body aches the next day. Nothing gets done well.

Sometimes I feel like a chamelon, always looking outside to define what’s going on inside. I don’t have a long sticky tongue or anything, but I do wear camo from time to time, and I’m always taking things in from a 360-degree field of vision. This would be great if I were a reptile depending on my eyesight for survival, but as a human with a relatively stable food supply and no real predators, it’s less effective.

Anyway, it’s just one of those days. I’m sure you can relate. Today it seems like being all things to all people is a great way to make friends but a really terrible way for me to learn about myself, because I spend so much time fulfilling (self-generated) requirements that I never sit alone and wonder which of the requirements are most important to me. Is solidifying my career what I want most right now? Or is nurturing the friendships I’ve spent so long bulding more important? Which Jess is the most important Jess? And how do I choose one over another without alienating anyone who wasn’t part of the decision? And does a chameleon even know when it’s changing color?

Sigh. At least I discovered a stew that just might be all things to all people. Made with guanciale, kale, and all the tomatoey-shellfishy goodness typical of a San Francisco cioppino, it is a treasure of a stew for the days you want to space out and avoid deciding between, say, being a good wife, a “successful” person, or an attentive friend.

Tsk, you say. You can be everything! I’m sure I can. I just haven’t learned how.

Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale

Recipe for Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale
Recipe 78 of 365

I always use visitors as a good excuse to stretch a grocery-shopping trip into an afternoon-long excursion through Seattle. Fish and veggies from Pike Place Market and a big hunk of guanciale (cured pork jowl) from Salumi inspired this stew, which is a hearty, deeply flavored cross between a San Franciscan cioppino and wonderfully porky braised kale. You could substitute pancetta or thick-cut bacon for the guanciale.

Serve the stew with a simple green salad and good, crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

TIME: About 1 hour
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 pound guanciale, cut into 1/4” cubes
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large shallots, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (roughly 1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and sliced into 1/4” thick ribbons
2 cups dry white wine
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
3/4 pound extra large shrimp (about 12), deveined
3/4 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as cod, halibut, or monkfish, cut into 1” cubes
3/4 pound manila clams (about 18), scrubbed clean
3/4 pound mussels (about 18), cleaned and debearded
1/2 pound bay (small) scallops, white tabs removed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the guanciale, and cook until browned and crispy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the grease in the pot, and set aside.

Add the onions and the shallots to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and kale, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring and turning as the kale on the bottom cooks down.

Increase heat to high, add the white wine, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the clam juice, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and the reserved guanciale pieces, reduce to a simmer and simmer the stew, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the kale is soft and the tomatoes begin to break down. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shellfish for stew

Stir the fish pieces and the shrimp into the stew, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, and scallops, stir to distribute evenly, and cook, covered, another 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the shells have opened. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Sprinkle the parsley over the stew and serve piping hot in wide, shallow bowls.

Shellfish Stew - almost gone

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, pork, recipe, Seattle, shellfish, soup

Cheesey potatoes, revisited

Introspection may be hard to come by these days, when free time seems like a mirage on the horizon. But heavy cream – I always find time for heavy cream. And Thin Mints.

This was delicious, but I ended up with a thin layer of liquid (water from the potatoes?) at the bottom of the dish. It didn’t seem to affect the overall flavor, though. Not sure if it was a fluke or if the sweet potatoes gave off more liquid than regular russets would have . . .

Sweet Potato and Sage Gratin

Recipe for Sweet Potato-Sage Gratin Dauphinois
Recipe 77 of 365

This dauphinois technique is based on a recipe for gratin Dauphinois in The Gourmet Cookbook, which is itself based on a Jacques Pepin recipe. If you have one, use a mandolin to slice the potatoes to about 1/16” thick, or as thin as you can get them with a knife.

This dish holds its heat well, so you can plan to take it out of the oven a full hour before serving it, if you want. It can also be made up to 24 hours in advance and reheated, covered with foil, for about 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

TIME: 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes baking
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for the pan
1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes (4 small), peeled and sliced to 1/16” thick
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, shaved into very thin slices with a vegetable peeler

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9”x7”x2” baking dish with the butter, and set aside.

Place the sweet potatoes, cream, milk, salt, pepper, sage, and syrup in a large saucepan over high heat. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove it from the heat. Spread half of the potatoes in the bottom of the buttered baking dish, and top with half the Parmesan cheese in an even layer. Add the remaining potatoes and all the cream, and top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake the gratin for 30 minutes on the middle rack, or until a skewer inserted into the potatoes in the middle of the dish comes out with little or no resistance. The cheese should be browned and bubbly. (Note: You may want to put a baking sheet under the baking dish to prevent any drips from burning on the bottom of the oven.) Let the gratin rest at least 20 minutes, and up to one hour, before serving.

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“Do I dare to eat a shrimp?”

The other night, my stomach and brain needed a break. I needed something light and relatively easy for dinner, but I had these silly banana leaves I’d bought on impulse at Whole Foods. (The leaves perplexed the cashier so much that he gave them to me for free.)

I’d also purchased some of Whole Foods’s “Whole Catch” frozen shrimp, farm-raised in Indonesia, because I’d just read Barry Estabrook’s fascinating piece on shrimp in this month‘s Gourmet Magazine. (“Do I Dare to Eat a Shrimp?” starts on page 81.) The article is an eye-opening glance at the American shrimp trawling industry. In the end, it basically supports the Seafood Watch‘s advice to generally avoid imported, farmed shrimp (if you’re looking to eat sustainably).

Anyway, I was surprised to see the Indonesian variety on the shelf at WF, given their track record as champions of sustainably-produced fish. I thought I’d buy it and start seeing if I could taste the difference between various shrimp.

Banana leaves are just that – leaves from a banana tree. They’re used often in Southeast Asian cooking for wrapping and effectively steaming foods in an oven or over a fire. I’m sure there are “right” ways to use them, but in my exhaustion that night, I couldn’t be bothered to learn them. I thawed out some frozen Indonesian shrimp, dumped my leftover veggies in the center (be creative here, you could add almost anything) with some ginger and miso, and wrapped the whole thing up like a little gift before shoving it in the oven. (Hint: don’t tie the string too tight; the leaves shrink up a bit during cooking and need a little wiggle room.)

I thought it was adorable, healthy, and interesting. My husband thought it was an appetizer.

Of course, I completely forgot to really taste the shrimp. I think I’ll have to get a few more kinds, poach them, simply, all at once, and have a shrimp-off.

Banana leaf packages, cookedShrimp in banana leaves

Recipe for Ginger Shrimp in Banana Leaves
Recipe 76 of 365

If you want a quick, healthy, exotic-looking dinner, you’ve found your recipe. Of course, the shrimp themselves have a decent amount of saturated fat, so if you’re really feeling like you need to detox, substitute a small piece of fish for the shrimp.

Serve the contents of the banana leaves with long-grain rice.

Note: you will need kitchen string to tie up the banana leaf bundles.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 banana leaf pieces, roughly 12” square (each)
12 (31-40 piece-per-pound size) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Handful broccoli florets
Handful snap peas
2 scallions, sliced (green and white parts)
1 small carrot, sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon white miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the banana leaves with water, and set aside to drain. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Cut 4 pieces of kitchen string, roughly as long as the banana leaf pieces are wide (so about 1 foot long). Arrange the strings in two plus signs on the baking sheet – the goal is to arrange the string so that you’ll be able to cover each of the plus signs with a banana leaf, fill the center of the leaf, wrap the leaf over the food, and have the strings in the right place to tie them over the banana leaf like a gift.

Place a piece of leaf over each set of strings. Pile equal portions of the shrimp, broccoli, peas, scallions, and carrots in the centers of the leaf pieces. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, miso, and soy together with a fork until blended, and drizzle this mixture over the shrimp and vegetables.

Fold the banana leaves over the filling into little packages, as if you’re wrapping a gift: first, working with the sides of the leaves parallel to the lines running through them, fold the sides to meet in the middle. Use your finger to secure the leaves together, then fold the open ends together and up (like the ends of a gift), and secure each “package” with the two pieces of string, like this:

Banana leaf packages, uncooked

Bake for about 17 minutes, or until the shrimp are bright pink and the vegetables are al dente. Serve hot.

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A Montage: Grilled Ciabatta Caramel S’mores

As promised: a pictoral s’mores recipe from our cookout, for those who (like me) get a little tired of the way the graham cracker always crumbles.

First, a few things you’ll need:

-good bread (we used Essential‘s ciabatta)
good chocolate
-cheap-as-they-come marshmallows
-little caramel squares
-bamboo skewers
-grill over a hot fire
-peanut butter (optional addition)

Guidelines for Grilled Ciabatta Caramel S’mores
Recipe 75 of 365

STEP 1: To avoid personal injury, cut bread while it’s still light outside, while the fire gets going.

Slicing ciabatta for s'mores

STEP 2: Get impatient while waiting for fire to reach appropriate temperature. Light marshmallows on fire for fun. Consume carbonized marshmallows.

A little early for marshmallows

STEP 3: Roast the perfect marshmallow. Arrange on one slice of bread.

Perfect.

STEP 4: Spear caramel square and melt until bubbly over the fire. Smear onto another slice of bread.

Melting caramel

STEP 5: Somehow squeeze caramel, toasted marshmallows, and chocolate (and peanut butter, if you’re feeling hungry) between 2 pieces of ciabatta, and set aside until dinner’s done.

Ciabatta caramel s'more, before grilling 2

STEP 6: Grill s’mores over a rack, flipping when the chocolate starts to melt.

Grilling s'mores

STEP 7: Open wide.

Open wide!

STEP 8: Admire handiwork.

Close-up on a ciabatta caramel s'more

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The Ides of March

Here it is, the Ides of March, and for (I think) the first time in my life, I’m thinking about spring when the calendar says spring is coming. We have friends visiting from New York, and they were as surprised as I was to find crisp, fresh, new asparagus spears for sale at a price that could only mean they’re coming into season.

Yesterday afternoon it started to clear, not enough to see the mountains but enough to hint at long, warm summer evenings. With the time change, it’s now light at dinnertime here, so we packed up some firewood and hit Golden Gardens for a bonfire cookout. We had dogs and s’mores, of course, and in an effort to add something green to our recently rather brown diet, those asparagus, marinated in a quick soy, dijon, lime juice and olive oil mixture and then grilled:

Golden Gardens Grill

Marinated Grilled Asparagus

More on the s’mores tomorrow.

Recipe for Marinated Grilled Asparagus
Recipe 74 of 365

Though I’m sure new, tender spears would be delicious roasted in a hot oven or cooked on a gas grill, I love the crispy, blackened edge real, hot flames gives these asparagus. They make for convenient finger food while you’re waiting for the rest of the meal to come off the grill!

TIME: 5 minutes prep plus 5 minutes cooking time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 (1 pound) bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare a hot fire, or preheat a grill on medium-high heat.

Trim the asparagus and transfer them to a big zip-top plastic bag. Place the Dijon, soy, lime juice, and olive oil in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk until blended. Pour the marinade into the bag with the asparagus, seal the top, and shake the bag to coat all the asparagus. Marinate at least 30 minutes, and up to 6 hours.

When ready to grill, remove the asparagus from the marinade and arrange on the grill, perpendicular to the grill racks. Cook for about five minutes, turning occasionally, or until the asparagus are browned (or blackened) on the outside and cooked through. Serve immediately.

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Cumin-Honey Roasted Chicken

Cumin-Honey Roasted Chicken

Oh, that every meal could be as satisfying as roasted chicken. I love the cooking process – flipping the wing tips behind the back, choosing which roasting pan seems easiest to clean on that particular day, and deciding how to roast it. I’m sure there’s a perfect way to roast a chicken (at least, that’s what all the magazines claim), but I almost always use different temperatures and seasonings.

Last night I rubbed a rinsed, dried smallish bird with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil, sprinkled it with plenty of salt and pepper and 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and roasted it for about an hour at 425, with the legs tied loosely. When juices ran almost clear, I drizzled the whole bird with 2 tablespoons of honey, which melted instantly and gave the bird a gorgeous sheen. I roasted it another 5 minutes or so, and the honey blended with the cumin to produce a crispy. beautifully browned skin we all stood around picking at even after we’d done the dishes.

I also made a quick pan gravy with the drippings – with a big pinch of cumin and a squeeze from the honey bear, it was unique, almost Mexican-tasting because of the cumin and a tiny bit sweet, but not cloying. Give it a try.

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