Monthly Archives: May 2007

Ballpark bran muffins

And while I’m on the topic of consuming less sugar . . .

Raspberry Bran Muffins 1

The first time I put buttermilk into muffins, I was on Cape Cod with my sister, folding highbush blueberries we’d picked together at Coonamessett Farm into the Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe. I have her kid writing to prove it: scrawled there at the top of the page is “Allison 2004. Used lemon zest also.”

Since then, it’s been hard for me to imagine good muffins without some sort of tang, whether from buttermilk or yogurt or sour cream, and I have a hard time mixing any muffin batter without at least opening Sunlight Cafe to peruse her extensive muffin recipe section.

Here’s a much fussed-over version of a recipe I wrote for Cape Cod Magazine in 2005. Back then, they were Blueberry Bran Muffins, made with Mollie’s buttermilk and all the bran jazz but no whole wheat anything. A few episodes later, after tinkering with using olive oil and canola oil, buttermilk and whole milk, millet flour and oat flour and regular flour and whole oats, I think this oaty version, made with nonfat yogurt but with real butter, is the best one yet.

“Out of the ballpark,” said my neighbor.

Recipe for Raspberry Bran Muffins
Recipe 151 of 365

Inspired by a recipe for Buttermilk Bran Muffins in Mollie Katzen’s all-encompassing breakfast cookbook, Sunlight Café, these muffins combine whole wheat flour, oatmeal, oat bran, and oat bran flakes for a sweetness you might not associate with wholesome grains. Cooled muffins can be frozen for up to 3 weeks.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: about 15 muffins

Vegetable oil spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups oat or wheat bran
1 cup whole oats
2 cups wheat, oat, or multigrain bran flakes cereal
2 cups plain lowfat or nonfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 15 standard muffin cups with the vegetable oil spray.

Whisk the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and brown sugar together in a large bowl, using your fingers to break up any clumps of sugar. Add the bran, oats, and cereal and stir until the mixture is thoroughly blended.

In another bowl, whisk the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla together until well blended. Pour this mixture, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients. Mix until all the ingredients are just moistened. Gently fold in the raspberries. Fill the muffin cups with batter up to the top, about 1/2 cup batter per muffin.

Bake muffins on the middle rack for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks and cool for about 10 minutes before eating, or cool completely and store in an airtight container, up to 3 days.

Note: You can also sprinkle the muffins with turbinado (raw cane) sugar just before baking, for a sparkly look and slightly crunchy topping.

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No news is good news

One of the major pitfalls of reading news on a regular basis (and hence the most self-absorbed advantage of not owning a television) is that it forces me to get all kafuffled about announcements I might have been happy to miss. I know, I know, no (wo)man is an island, and ignorance is actually pretty harmful. But there are some things I’d just prefer not to know about.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article announcing that Coca Cola Co. and Cargill, Inc. are teaming up to make a new version of Coke sweetened with a form of stevia, calling the new sweetener rebiana. Whether stevia is a great South American herbal supplement or a dangerous plant-derived chemical that causes liver damage and fertility issues in men is beside the point, I think. The real question is: why can’t we just get used to consuming less sugar?

As if Diet Coke Plus isn’t bad enough. Please.

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Sunshine

This pretty much sums up Seattle’s weather these days.

Sunshine Slaw 2

Recipe for Sunshine Slaw
Recipe 150 of 365

Made with grated raw carrots and golden beets, this little salad practically screams sunshine right from the bowl. Eat it as is, or pile it onto sandwiches or burgers as a condiment. It’s also a great candidate if you’re looking for a side dish you can make a day or two ahead of time.

If you’re looking to save time, use pre-shredded carrots, and use a food processor fitted with the shredding disc to grate the beets.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1/2 pound golden beets (raw), peeled and grated
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and grated
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as chives, parsley, cilantro, chervil, or basil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, and stir to blend. Keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, up to 3 days.

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Overspooned

From the top of Washington Pass

We had a spectacular camping trip: good hikes, great views, and time both alone and with friends punctuated by sightseeing, random wine tastings, a quick interview with a brown bear, and a stop at a farm selling fresh, raw goat’s milk cheese (which is illegal, by the way, but quite delicious). Add perfect weather and the season’s first cherries, obscene quantities of cheddar cheese and salami, and, well, I guess you could say it was an ideal two-day vacation.

Cherries (or what's left of them)

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Now bits and pieces of our hiking gear litter our property inside and out like a yard sale, and my body, which felt so spry and strong and able 24 hours ago that I commented to my husband that I felt like maybe this whole lupus thing was a bit of a lie (he raised his eyebrows), now feels slow and weak and grumpy, to put it mildly.

I think I need to commission someone to build me a personal prediction model. I’m sure Tito could do it in Matlab, can’t you do anything in Matlab? All I really need is a program where I can put in the day’s activities and access a little print-out of what I might expect for the following day, given how many spoons I’ve spent. Put in “rest,” get out “energy.” Put in “5-course dinner for 10,” get out “nonfunctional.” Wouldn’t it be nice if life was that predictable?

I’m getting better at judging how much some activities drain me of energy, which is a nice way of saying I’ve made certain mistakes enough times to learn from them, but new things . . .I need the program to help me predict the results of activities I’ve avoided altogether for the past few years. How many spoons does an 8-mile hike take? Well, I really have no idea.

Yesterday, for example, after having hiked the day before, I happily marched up to Stuart Lake under clear skies of Western Blue (I believe Crayola is perpetually postponing their launch of that color; there simply is no manmade match for it). Then we fought the traffic back to Seattle with the rest of the “citiots” who decided to hike last weekend, baked brownies for Tito’s birthday sculpture, and enjoyed the bulk of the evening on the porch with some friends, drinking beer and eating the bratwurst we were never able to find on Sunday night in Leavenworth, which, for mysterious reasons, thinks its a good idea to close down all pork-related fast food stands by 5 p.m. on a holiday weekend. Here’s the one we wanted to try:

The sausage place that pissed us off by being closed

Yesterday at 9 p.m., I languished, satisfied and slightly sunburned, sated with pork and sauerkraut and hefeweizen (Tito’s requested birthday meal) and the last of the day’s sunlight. Katie and I built artful sculptures out of strawberry ice cream, espresso brownies, and toasted marshmallows, and paired them with some delicious South African screw-top pinotage.

Birthday Sculpture 2

Had I thought about the day’s activities at 7 a.m., when I was climbing out of a tent at 4,000 feet in a hat and gloves, and punched them into a handy-dandy prediction model, the printout would have told me that without more rest I’d crash at precisely 9:24 p.m., perhaps when the day’s steroids began circling my system’s drain. I’d become a complete basket case, with pains shooting up the sides of my legs and out of each place where tendon attached to bone, and that I’d wake up the next day (today) with a pretty stubborn headache, the kind of stuffy head you get when you spend a day outside below freezing without a hat on, and random waves of nausea.

But no. I have no personalized Matlab model, so I sure spooned it out this weekend without realizing it, and today, I’m reminded to do my calculations by hand the next time I’m eating breakfast by a river somewhere in the Pacific Northwest:

Camping spot near 8 Mile Creek

Oy. I overspooned. But I might add that it was totally worth it.

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Chris’s Chicken

Last week my friend Sarah forwarded me a baked chicken recipe from her boyfriend Chris, who cooks like many of the men I know, from what I can tell: infrequently but with great pride. She wanted to know how to incorporate the leeks I’d saddled her with into his recipe, and it sounded so darn good I had to try it, albeit with fresh oregano and real garlic.

Of course, I recommended throwing a few chopped leeks right into the roasting pan with the chicken and potatoes and lemon halves, but as I took my own chicken out of the oven, I realize I’d forgotten the leeks entirely. Which is just as well, because all those leeks in my garden – remember those? – I think they might be garlic.

Unfortunately, I roasted beets on the rack above the chicken, and it just about stole that poor chicken’s thunder. No golden, perfectly crisped skin, just regular, everyday-looking almost-browned chicken. Luckily I didn’t get stubborn and continue cooking it until it was brown; it had that juicy, tender quality of poached chicken that’ll make you swear never to touch overcooked chicken again. Tito pointed out that underbrowning chicken skin does prevent me from eating it after dinner, standing up at the stove while he starts in on the dishes, like I usually do.

Squeeze any residual juice out of the hot, roasted lemons onto the chicken as you eat it, and mop up that good lemon-oregano gravy with, say, EBC’s rosemary bread.

Chris's Baked Chicken

Recipe for Chris’s Baked Chicken with Potatoes, Lemons, and Oregano
Recipe 149 of 365

Although I’ve never tasted it in his kitchen, this is one of my friend Chris’s go-to recipes, and his girlfriend Sarah raved about it enough to convince me to try it myself. Here’s my formalized and measured version, using fresh oregano and leaving the garlic cloves whole, so they morph into the ideal spread for the fresh, crusty bread you’ll inevitably use to mop your plates.

Chris lines his pan with aluminum foil because he loathes the clean-up involved, but I didn’t have any trouble with clean-up – in fact, the lemony brown fonds that stick to the bottom of the pan are the very best part.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 pounds small red new potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup (packed) finely chopped fresh oregano
3 lemons

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the chicken and the potatoes in a large roasting pan. (If your roasting pan has an insert with holes in it, set it aside – you won’t need the insert.) Drizzle the chicken with the olive oil, and use your hands to coat the potatoes and all sides of the chicken pieces with a thin layer of the oil. Add the garlic and season everything liberally with salt and pepper on all sides. Turn the chicken breasts meat side-up. Sprinkle the oregano over everything. Roll the lemons on the counter under the palm of your hand to get their juices flowing, then cut them in half, seed them, squeeze their juices over the chicken and potatoes, and add the lemons to the pan as well.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken measures 165 degrees with an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. Transfer the chicken and potatoes to a platter, and drizzle with any juices and brown bits that have accumulated in the bottom of the pan. Serve hot.

Here’s Chris’s original recipe.

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Not Quite Apricot Crisp

The problem with fruit crisps, if there is one, is that they don’t last on our kitchen counter. Tito and I can blow through a 9″ x 13″ pan full of crisp in an evening and a morning, hunching over bowl after bowl of steaming fruit, topped (always) with plain yogurt. It doesn’t matter what kind it is. We each have a helping after dinner, then again before bed, and even after bemoaning our bulging bellies, we dive straight in after our morning coffee. When I’m on my summer crisp kick, it’s a problem.

When I say I was too lazy to make an apricot crisp, which is what I bought all those apricots for, what I really mean is that I was too lazy to begin disciplining myself about my crisp intake. I wanted a way to enjoy that sugary, buttery topping just once, without the temptation of enjoying four portions of sugary, buttery topping in the span of time between dinner and breakfast.

So as usual, I improvised: in a small bowl, I used my hands to blend together 2 tablespoons each of flour, whole oats, brown sugar, and butter, which was enjoyable in and of itself because it gave me the wonderful tactile experience of making homemade, handmade pie crust, only the quantity was small enough not to hurt my wrists like working with a few hard, cold sticks of butter does.

Anyway. I squished the flour, oats, brown sugar, and butter together until all the oats were involved, added a dash of cardamom (but cinnamon or ginger would also be delicious) and piled the resulting crispish topping on top of 2 apricots, which had each been halved and turned cut side-up in large greased ramekins:

Lazy Baked Apricots, before baking

I baked them for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, which gave me two little cups of not-quite-crisp. It was more like soft, baked apricots, covered with oaty topping that had spilled onto the floor of the ramekins and was just begining to caramelize there. I wouldn’t call it gorgeous; it didn’t bubble up pools of gelled fruit liquid the way a good crisp does, but scooped on top of yogurt, it made a dessert that satisfied our fruity dessert cravings without leaving us the option of eating it for the next consecutive twelve hours, which I appreciated.

Almost apricot crisp

Only now, thinking about it mid-morning, I could really go for some apricot crisp.

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A New Mango Salsa

It’s Tito’s birthday weekend, so today I’m somewhere in the North Cascades, camping with Tito and the dog. But still, one for the project:

New Mango Salsa 1

Recipe for A New Mango Salsa
Recipe 147 of 365

This one has the sweetness of your typical chunky mango salsa, the one-two punch (from onions and jalapenos) of a good red salsa, and the fine texture of most green tomatillo salsas. Ideal for use in tacos, enchiladas, or used as a chutney on leftover Indian food. Add garlic, if you’d like.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: about 2 cups

2 large jalapeño peppers, split, seeded, and roughly chopped
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
1/4 packed cup fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 large mango, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the peppers, onion, cilantro, and lime juice in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Add the mango, and pulse a few times again, until there are no large orange chunks left. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

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Peas on Pizza?

Despite a switch to a newer, spiffier drug, my stomach hasn’t been so happy with tomato-based stuff recently (although plain tomatoes seem to be fine, for some reason). But oh, how I had a craving for pizza. Actually, I just wanted to use my sourdough starter to make a crust, but didn’t want the aftereffects of the spicy tomato sauce usually slathered between a crust and is passengers.

Alas, there is always a new way.

Pea Pesto Pizza 1

Recipe for Pea and Sundried Tomato Flatbread
Recipe 146 of 365

Whirling baby peas in the food processor with a little olive oil makes a bit of a pea “pesto”, which makes a great replacement for tomato sauce on a slab of pizza crust, rolled thin. Top it with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese, or whatever other toppings you have on hand.

If you have a pizza peel and baking stone, by all means, use them.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 cup frozen peas, thawed completely
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cornmeal, for the crust
1 pizza crust, homemade or store bought, rolled thin
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup julienned sundried tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the peas, garlic, olive oil, and a little salt and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor or blender, and pulse until the mixture is about half smooth (leave some peas intact).

Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal, and transfer the pizza crust to it. Spread the pea “pesto” over the entire crust, then top with the cheese and tomatoes. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and crisp. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

Pea Pesto Pizza 2

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The last braise

Raw Pork Belly

A few weeks ago I bought a small slab of pork belly from Skagit River Ranch, hoping that I’d finally be able to translate the meltingly tender texture I’ve experienced at places like Tilth into a version I could create in my own kitchen. I thought I’d use someone else’s recipe for my first attempt, but since I seem to have fallen off the cookbook-purchasing wagon recently (hmmm, perhaps this writing-a-recipe-every-day thing has something to do with it?), nothing on my shelf seemed new enough to accommodate the way our country’s pork-eating habits are moving to more interesting parts of the pig. Trips over to epicurious.com and The Food Network for ideas revealed plenty of recipes that started with “you’ll need half a pork belly,” or, at best, “four pounds pork belly.” That, or “two tablespoons pork belly, finely diced.” I had a generous pound of pork belly, and I wanted to use it all.

So I took my friend Pat’s advice, and just braised it in soy sauce, along with garlic, ginger, hoisin, and orange juice, since I knew my western taste buds might gawk at a pure soy flavor with no added sweetness. Without further ado, perhaps the last braise until fall:

Pork Belly with Soy & Ginger 2

Recipe for Pork Belly with Soy, Ginger, and Orange
Recipe 145 of 365

Pork belly is basically bacon, cut differently. It looks obscenely fatty, but when braised, the fat melts into the meat and produces a most delicious, tender layer of pork unequaled in other cuts of meat. I’m that annoying person that usually cuts little bits of fat off of chicken or beef and scoops them onto the side of my plate, but I eat this fat. Note that the portions are rather small; you won’t need much.

All the pork belly I’ve enjoyed in restaurants has been astonishingly simple – just pork braised in apple cider, or wine, or beer, but never many ingredients, because the pork really speaks for itself. Although it still offers the same emotional satisfaction of most braises, this recipe is astonishingly easy to put together – no browning, just mixing. It is best made the day before, so you can refrigerate it overnight and skim off any excess fat before reheating and serving the next day, over sticky rice, mashed sweet potatoes, or brown rice.

TIME: 15 minutes active time (really)
MAKES: 4 servings

1 1/4 pound piece pork belly (weighed without rind), cut into 4 squares
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 3” piece ginger, finely slivered
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce or shoyu
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the onions on the bottom of a large, ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid (such as a Dutch oven). Place the pork pieces on top, fat side-up. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then pour over the pork and onions.

Cover the dish and bake for 2 hours, rearranging the meat in the pan (but not flipping it) once during cooking. Let the pot cool to room temperature before refrigerating overnight. Before serving, skim off any accumulated fat, and reheat the meat and onions over the stovetop on low heat for about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Yummy pork belly

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Ichiban Carbonara

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking, you’re due for a trip to Amazon. As promised, the book provides a real, approachable segue between cooking the way you do now and cooking with more natural foods and whole grains. Typically when I get a new cookbook, I hunker down on the couch with a cup of tea, the book, and a stack of sticky notes to mark the recipes I’m most excited to try. The other night I ended up reading basically the entire thing because there’s so much informative text – I tend to skip many of the boxes in cookbooks because I know how to peel a tomato, slice a mango, zest a lemon, and chop chocolate. But this book will be a real educational tool for me, simply because whole grains are one of cooking’s coffers I haven’t explored much. Now the book looks like it’s growing little yellow Post-It weeds out of the cracks between every page.

Since my husband still doesn’t want me to use his name here, one of my readers suggested an exhaustive list of possible screen names, from which my husband selected Tito. This is a crotch rocket-riding alter ego I haven’t met, and really doesn’t fit his personality (as I know it) in any way, but Tito it is.

So Tito doesn’t love pasta. And as you’ve probably noticed, he tends to say what he thinks. (Example: on Monday when it was pouring, I let my hair dry naturally and tried to get it to curl a little, and he told me I looked like a flood victim. Joking, of course. But I got the point.)

Pasta carbonara falls into what he unflatteringly calls “Middle Italian” food (as opposed to Middle American, which involves Can of Soup Casseroles and possibly Hamburger Helper). I disagree, but I love carbonara, so perhaps I’m biased.

With a little trepidation, I decided to cut carbonara’s flavors away from its spaghetti and paste them onto soba, Japanese noodles make from buckwheat, which Heidi tells me is actually an herb, not a traditional grain. Result: deep flavors of great pancetta (I didn’t say Heidi would make me a vegetarian), cream, Parmesan, and a healthy dose of peas layered into noodles with their own earthy flavor.

“Ichiban carbonara,” said Tito.

Soba Carbonara 1

Recipe for Soba Carbonara
Recipe 144 of 365

Traditionally, carbonara requires tossing hot, hot pasta with a mixture of eggs and cream, so that the heat from the noodles poaches the egg and forms a lovely thick sauce. Here’s a version that uses Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, which are typically rinsed with cold water after cooking. (Don’t do that here.) Next time I’ll toss in a handful of toasted Panko breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of chopped Italian parsley to add a bit of crunch.

TIME: 15 minutes (begin cooking the noodles before the bacon is done)
MAKES: 2 servings

1/4 pound pancetta (one 1/3” thick slice), cut into 1/4” dice
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (1/4 pound) soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 cup frozen baby peas*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the soba.

Cook the pancetta over medium heat in a large skillet until browned and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolk, cream, and some salt and pepper together in a small bowl to blend. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions (probably about 8 minutes, but it may depend on the thickness of your soba). Just before the soba is done, add the peas right to the water along with the noodles. Drain the peas and noodles and return them to the pan, and immediately add the egg/cream mixture, tossing the noodles with tongs as you add it so it coats everything evenly. Add the cooked pancetta and parmesan, toss to distribute evenly, and serve immediately.

*If you find fresh peas, by all means, use them, but add them to the soba about three minutes before the noodles are done cooking.

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Filed under husband, Italian, japanese, Pasta, pork, recipe

Breakfast fun

I piled ripe, fragrant mango slices, frozen peaches, a banana, creamy “Australian-style” yogurt, and some coconut milk into the blender this morning for a breakfasty version of my beloved mango lassi (and read that Wikipedia entry closely, it looks like there’s a version of lassi that involves marijuana – how’s that for a new take on putting pot in your food?).

After I poured it into glasses, I regretted having used all the mango. I wished out loud that I had some sort of garnish, because it looked so plain just sitting there on the counter in a stemless wine glass, which was totally the wrong shoe for the occasion, if you know what I mean.

Luckily, my husband was at the ready with his creative powers. First, he stuck his finger in the smoothie as garnish. Then he grabbed a banana (peel on), and stuck that in instead. He headed back to the fruit bowl for more inspiration so fast that he didn’t even recognize that he’d created a drowning duck out of food:

Banana duck 1

But, of course, he couldn’t leave well enough alone:

Balancing act

“Now I bet you wished I worked from home,” he said.

Recipe for Mango-Peach Smoothie
Recipe 143 of 365

You may garnish your smoothie however you choose. My husband recommends whole fruit.

TIME: 5 minutes
MAKES: 2 big smoothies

Flesh of 1 large, ripe mango
1 ripe banana
8 slices frozen peaches (or 1 ripe peach, peeled and sliced)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup light coconut milk

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth.

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Pea Season

Well, not quite pea season here, but almost.

Snap Peas with Mint and Lime 2

Sugar Snap Peas with Mint and Lime
Recipe 142 of 365

Here’s the twist on the typical peas-mint-lemon combination: lime juice.

TIME: 5 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1/2 pound sugar snap peas, rinsed
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix the peas, lime juice, olive oil, and mint together in a bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

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One thing leads to another

One of the things I love about cooking is how one thing invariably leads to the next. I was just going to make some simple roasted red potatoes, only with oregano and lemon rather than my typical rosemary, but the jar of olives somehow got involved. Then halfway through the tomatoes got interested, and the feta just jumped right in when Carlie agreed it all needed a bit of color.

Warm Potato-Tomato Salad 1

Warm Potato-Tomato Salad
Recipe 141 of 365

Ahhh, one of my favorite combinations (tomatoes, olives, herbs), done yet another way. You could substitute fresh thyme, rosemary, or basil for the fresh oregano.

TIME: 10 minutes active time, plus roasting
MAKES: 6 servings

1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound grape tomatoes
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes, oregano, lemon juice, olives, and olive oil in a baking dish and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix again.

Roast the potatoes for 30 minutes. Add the grape tomatoes, stir to combine, and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked and the tomatoes are soft and a few are beginning to split. Serve warm, topped with the crumbled feta.

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Fish tails

Branzini tails

Yesterday a big group of us headed down to Pike Place Market for the Seattle Cheese Festival, where we watched people race cheese wheels, said hi to Rachel, and ate ourselves stupid for the second day in a row. (The previous day had involved Jade Garden, Red Mill, Salumi, and Uwajimaya.) The biggest cheese discovery was undoubtedly the truffled goat cheese Cypress Grove will be releasing this summer. Oohhhhhh.

Nevertheless, we pursued dinner. The fish store I like at Pike Place, which I call The One in the Middle because I never remember its name, had happy-looking (and relatively inexpensive) branzino, so I scooped some up and asked the guys there to clean and scale them for me.

Gutting branzino

Cooking such lively-looking creatures certainly captured the attention of our animals, who took turns poking their noses into the photos I was taking. It was obvious to me that the dog saw the cat becoming interested, and dared him to lick a fish’s tail, which he did, like the good teenaged boy he is. They then held a tableside conference to determine outcome of the tail-licking experience and thus the desirability of our dinner:

Jackson investigates

Bromley dares Jackson to taste the tail

Conference about taste of fish tail

Eventually it was determined that while the fish certainly smelled good, the presence of such scary real-world features as fins and tails would make each fish too heavy to carry off the platter with much success. So they both waited patiently for scraps.

Here‘s a good video on how to filet fish, if you’ve never done it. It’s for raw fish, but it will show you where to begin cutting a cooked filet off – if the fish is cooked, the flesh will lift off the bones, so none of the knife-scraping-head-to-tail business shown in the video will be necessary.

Grilled Branzino 1

Rosemary-Grilled Whole Branzino
Recipe 140 of 365

Branzini are a small species of sea bass native to the Mediterranean (the French call them loup de mer), but it’s often possible to find them fresh from the Pacific in fish markets on the west coast. They have a nice, mild flavor, like a cross between regular sea bass and trout, which would also make a great substitute if you can’t find branzini. Here’s a simple way to grill them over hot coals (you can prep the fish while the grill heats up), stuffed with rosemary and sliced lemons and grilled over additional rosemary sprigs for a little touch of smoky, piney flavor.

To serve the fish, cut the filet away from the backbone with a small, sharp knife, or (I found this easiest with this particular fish) simply reach inside the fish and push your fingers between the rib bones of one side of the fish, effectively pushing the filet off the bones from the inside.

TIME: 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes grilling time
MAKES: 6 servings

3 fresh branzini, roughly 1 pound and 15 inches long each (or large trout), gutted, scaled, rinsed, and patted dry (heads left on)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing grill
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large lemon, very thinly sliced, plus 1 lemon for serving, cut into wedges
9 (6” – 8”) sprigs fresh rosemary, plus another big handful for the coals, if using charcoal

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill over medium heat.

Brush each fish inside and out with the olive oil, and season inside and out with the salt and pepper. Rub the 9 rosemary sprigs together in your hands to bruise the needles and release their oils a bit, and stuff three into the cavity of each fish, stabbing the sharp ends of the rosemary directly into the inside flesh of the fish, if necessary, to anchor the rosemary inside the fish. Stuff a few of the lemon slices into each fish, and set the fish aside.

Clean the grill grate, and grease it with an oil-soaked paper towel. Just before cooking, if using charcoal, toss the remaining rosemary onto the coals. Holding the fish together at the thickest part, transfer the fish to the grill, and cook directly over the coals for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or until the skin is crispy and the meat just begins to flake. (Note: the less you mess with the fish, the more likely it is to come off the grill intact.) Serve hot, with additional lemon wedges.

No more branzino

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“Dogs need to breathe, too.”

Yesterday I struck out with my husband, sis, sister’s boyfriend, and his sis, on a lovely springtime hike. We didn’t leave Seattle until about 3:30, but thought a May weekday might be an appropriate time to introduce ourselves to Mount Si (or at least the first half of it), that Seattle cliche of a hike that everyone complains about being overcrowded.

Well, it was lovely, and not so crowded yet, and the people we met along the way were quite pleasant. Afterwards, we decided to head over to Snoqualmie Falls, where we hopped out for a quick trip to the loo and a peek at the falls. When we returned to our car, we found a most nasty note tucked under the windshield wipers:

Can you believe this?

Now, really. I understand that leaving my animal in a hot car for hours at a time is irresponsible and unsafe. But seriously. At 57 degrees and raining, and for a trip to look at the falls (which, I’m guessing, rarely takes more than 20 minutes, and in our case took about 15), is it crucial to leave the windows open?

Am I a dog abuser, or was this really quite unnecessary? Talk about uptight Seattleite.

Just wish they could have said it to our face, so they’d have heard my husband’s scientific calculation (based on scuba diving experience) of exactly HOW long a dog could survive on the oxygen provided by our wagon.

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Cake crazy

Enough with the cakes, Jess! I hear you. But I’m not really listening.

I think I’m developing a crush on one-layer cakes. They’re just so wonderful to me, everything about them – how easy they are to make, how I typically don’t frost them, so once they’re in the oven, they’re done, how they’re only really big enough to stick around for a day or two, so the bingeing normally implied by having a cake on one’s counter doesn’t last too long (unless, of course, you bake two in the same week). And oh! how exciting upside-down cakes are, I’d never ventured outside of pineapple. Et cetera. You are witness to my personal cake epiphany.

This one was extra tasty; the dense, sweet, soft apricots provided such a great tangy contrast to the fluffy cardamom-flavored cake. I cooked it in a regular 10″ skillet, and when it came out of the oven I gave into the temptation to give it a little extra color on the top, so I transfered it to a baking sheet and hit it under the broiler for a minute or two. No dice – it just tinged the edges of the apricots brown a bit, charred one bottom edge, and made the once-top-now-bottom of the cake stick to the foil I’d put it on, which meant a cake in no shape to make an appearance. I’ll just have to stop maiming my cakes if I want them red carpet-ready, that’s all. The recipe below skips the maiming, but if you’re feeling adventuresome, it might be interesting to see what happens if you shake a little sugar just on the apricots once you’ve inverted the cake and brown them with a creme brulee (or giant butane, whatever you have) torch. Let me know.

She’s a little camera shy, this one.

Apricot skillet cake

Recipe for Upside-Down Apricot Skillet Cake
Recipe 139 of 365

Make sure you use an ovenproof skillet for this cake, which makes a nice substitute for a cake pan.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for the pan
8 small apricots (about 3/4 pound), halved along their natural line and pits removed
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave, and set aside to cool.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a 10” ovenproof skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. When melted, swirl to coat the bottom and all the way up the sides of the pan. Arrange the apricots cut sides-down in the pan and cook for about a minute, or until the apricots begin to brown just a bit. Remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and cardamom together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until combined. Add the milk and vanilla, and whisk again, then add the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Add the melted stick of butter, and stir again until combined.

Pour the batter over the apricots, and use a spatula to smooth it evenly over the apricots (the batter will be thick). Bake on the bottom rack for about 45 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned and just beginning to crack. Invert the cake directly onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Lunch with a friend

Turmeric’s supposed to be a great natural inflammation-fighter, so I’m trying to sneak it into my diet more frequently (beyond the occasional Indian take-out).

Curried yogurt chicken salad

Recipe for Curried Yogurt Chicken Salad
Recipe 138 of 365

Here’s a variation on a classic curried chicken salad, made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, and with apples and chopped fresh cilantro. The spices melt into the yogurt with time, so it’s a great one to make ahead. Serve it on salads, sandwiches, or tucked into a wrap with lettuce and avocado.

Chopped bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, or pistachios would make great additions.

TIME: 10 minutes, with leftover chicken
MAKES: 3 sandwiches or wraps

1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (or sour cream, or mayonnaise, or some combination thereof)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cooked chicken breasts, finely chopped or shredded
1/2 granny smith apple, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

Blend the yogurt, turmeric, coriander, cumin, salt, a big grinding of pepper, and the lemon juice in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. Season again to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

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Filed under chicken, Lunch, recipe, sandwich

Spoon Theory

Susan wrote me with a great link to a poignant, touching post on living with a chronic illness. The author referenced Spoon Theory, which I hadn’t heard of but serves as a more tangible tool for explaining how Lupus feels than perhaps The Wolf does. Do me a favor: read it (or put it in your pile), then come back here.

I have many more spoons than Christine does, and reading about her twelve made me realize how much I’ve forgotten about those first few awful months, and how lucky I am to have escaped them. I probably have about fifty spoons today, and although I haven’t had to use them for small daily activities (buttoning shirts, walking down stairs, blowdrying my hair) in a few years, I’ve also tended to take on things that use up multiple spoons at once, or spend a week’s worth of spoons in a day. This is what has to stop.

I have the luxury of earning spoons back, like accruing secret weapons in a video game. A nap is worth a spoon; a good nap is worth two.

These past few years I’ve been running with my (relatively large) bouquet of spoons, all heavy antique silver spoons with curls and flowers on the handles, glancing backwards as if there’s some spoon-eating Pac-Man coming after me, scooping up what I drop with those v-shaped jaws and taunting me until I have a chance to pant in the corner of the screen while the game starts over.

I haven’t forgotten to tell you about the dinner in Boise – I’ve just been trying to think of how to explain it, and Spoon Theory is perfect.

Here’s how the dinner works: every year, my friend Melanie (who you will one day know as a great Idahoan winemaker) and I auction off a wine pairing dinner at an event that raises money for the ski racing club we both participated in as kids. Someone buys the dinner (for $2500 this year) and I design a menu. She pairs wines to my courses, typically digging deep into the knowledge of the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines she acquired while she was a winemaker there. This year, we had the opportunity to include her first vintages of viognier and rose from her own winery, Cinder, which were wonderful. (I’m sure she could describe them more intelligently.)

This year was a seated 5-course dinner for twelve people, and it went relatively flawlessly. I’d have preferred if the client’s brand-new Wolf range hadn’t had a layer of primordial ooze on the bottom of the smallest oven that I neglected to see when I preheated it, the smallest of three, if you’re not counting the warming drawer or the convection-equipped microwave. But no one seemed to notice the smoke, thank goodness, and the lamb was just the rosy shade I’d planned. And because my saintly father had taken the day off of work to help me wash dishes and shell (grooooaannn) about 500,000 fava beans, I was completely calm and organized by the time the guests arrived, and dinner pretty much went off without a hitch. As the last course went out, I swelled inside, riding a self-congratulating wave of pride in my work, excitement about the evening, and inspiration for future meals. It was bittersweet, though. As I stood at the counter drying dishes while the guests moved into yet another after-dinner bottle, I felt sad to have let go of something that makes me feel so successful.

But 18 combined hours in that sweet, sweet kitchen used a week’s worth of spoons. The next morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I crept down to my parents’ living room couch and curled up next to a dog, semi-conscious, not yet able to approach a coffee cup because the dexterity necessary, what with the cream, the sugar, the spoon, and all that, seemed entirely too complicated. I felt like a fern growing backwards, curling back down toward the ground. Now, almost a week and ten hours of sleep a day later, I’ve rebounded.

So yes, the dinner went well. But it was my last personal cheffing job, maybe ever, which was deflating and depressing and disappointing. I like doing it, but alas, I am a spoon counter (albeit a lucky one), and I’d prefer to spend my spoons on other things. Melanie looked crestfallen when I told her that next year, when Cinder will finally be releasing a full palate of food-friendly wines made from Idaho grapes, I won’t be volunteering.

The next night, when my father was looking for a way to explain to another parent that I wouldn’t be awake and available to transport teenagers at 2 a.m., he simply said, “my daughter is sick.” It was simple, and effective, I suppose, but hearing him say it out loud for the first time made my heart break, because I knew it was hurting him to say it. Maybe Spoon Theory will travel far enough that he’ll be able to say “she doesn’t have enough spoons to pick them up” and that will be that. Because that’s what he meant, I think.

My husband asked me if he could be a spoon, and I told him yes. He can be many, many spoons.

Here’s one for a tired night. If chopsticks hurt your hands, just use a fork, dammit.

One-Spoon Stir-Fry

One-Spoon Stir-Fry with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Snap Peas
Recipe 137 of 365

This is “Thai food” reduced to its easiest form, with flavors reminiscent of true yellow Thai curry but none of the techniques or ingredients that can make the process tiresome. I call it “one spoon” because according to Spoon Theory, you sometimes only have one spoon’s worth of energy to use on dinner (and I think this applies to everyone, not just those with Lupus). This an easy one for me, as long as I have someone to help me open that frustrating Thai chili paste jar. Serve it over brown or white rice, or rice noodles.

I used one teaspoon yellow Thai chili paste, but you could use red or green, also. Look for it in the Asian food aisle of your grocery store.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 generous servings

3/4 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can ask your fishmonger to do this, plus remove the tails, if you don’t want to hassle with them while you eat)
1/2 pound (about 1/2 bunch) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 pound sugar snap peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons yellow Thai chili paste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Place shrimp, asparagus, and snow peas in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle oil over all the ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the curry paste together with about 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk until all the lumps disappear. Whisk in the remaining coconut milk, and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shrimp and vegetable mixture, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until the shrimp have begun to curl and are almost all pink on the outsides. Add the coconut milk mixture, increase heat to high, and simmer 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro (or just plop it on top of each bowl, like I did) and serve over rice or rice noodles.

Switched to a fork!

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Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, shellfish, stir-fry, Thai

Bananas for summer

My friend Michaela was talking up this caramelized banana and rum compote she makes to top waffles, and as I was pawing through my freezer for cake ideas (I’m so into the one-layer cake, they just seem so easy), our conversation came to mind as I touched a bag of hazelnuts. Banana-Hazelnut Upside-Down Cake. With rum. Yes.

I’d also been looking for a way to use this hazelnut oil I love while it’s still really fresh and flavorful, but the cake is packed with hazelnuts anyway, so I’m sure regular vegetable oil (or another nut oil) would also be delicious.

With the evening sunshine streaming in our kitchen windows, the finished cake sort of looked like some sort of extraterrestrial rock surface:

Moon cake!

As soon as it was out of the oven, a friend dropped by, and we ate it on the porch, before dinner, pressing our fingers into the plate for the last moist crumbs and revelling in the prospect of a Seattle summer. My neighbor fired up her grill, and as I carried the remaining half of the cake over to her, leaving through my back yard’s gate and entering through hers without knocking or calling, I felt the first strong pulse of our blossoming community. I like it here.

Recipe for Banana-Hazelnut Upside-Down Cake
Recipe 136 of 365

I’m a sucker for one-layer cakes; something about a multiple-layer cake seems high maintenance, but looking at a recipe for a simple cake like this says “effort taken” without saying “project undertaken.” If you’re toasting the hazelnuts*, do that first, so that the nuts have time to cool while you make the rest of the cake.

Serve this with a little rum-spiked fresh whipped cream to bring out the light rum flavor in the cake.

TIME: 20 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1/4 packed cup brown sugar
3 bananas, peeled and sliced into 3/4” rounds
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup hazelnut, walnut, or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnuts, very finely chopped*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray. (I used a nonstick cake pan here, and the cake lifted out beautifully.) Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan, and arrange as many banana slices as you can, one flat side down, in the bottom of the pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between the bananas and the edge of the pan so the batter can go all the way to the edge of the pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until blended. Add the sour cream, oil, and rum, and mix again until combined. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and hazelnuts. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, and stir until all the flour has been incorporated. Pour half the batter over the bananas, and use a spatula to spread the batter evenly over the bananas and into the sides of the pan. Add the remaining batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes on the bottom rack, or until the cake is puffed, golden, and beginning to crack. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter, and serve warm.

*Toasting the hazelnuts will give them (and thus your cake) extra flavor: roast hazelnuts for about 5 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, or until the skins darken and begin to lift off the nuts themselves. Transfer them to an old kitchen towel. Fold half of the towel over the nuts, and use the towel to rub the loose skins off (you don’t have to be militant about getting ALL the skins off) before allowing the nuts to cool and chopping them finely by hand or in a food processor. Note that chopping warm nuts in a food processor may result in hazelnut butter.

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A cat named Mochi

During my trip to Japan in 2005, I became sort of obsessed with the way the language sounds – it’s so perky and staccato and sounds like so much fun to speak that I developed a tendancy to want to name things with Japanese words, just so I could incorporate them into my daily life. I started calling Bromley ichiban inu, Number One Dog, because (try it) it’s fun to say.

But Japanese food offers the best sounds: take mochi, for example. Sure, it refers to glutinous rice cakes (or the delicious frozen dessert I buy at Trader Joe’s), but it has such a ring to it. Oh, how I would love to have a cat named Mochi.

Here’s a flashback, using another one of my favorite Japanese food words (of the 10 or so I know), furikake. My husband loves to sprinkle it on anything he deems flavorless (mmm, mac and cheese with sesame, fish, and seaweed sprinkles, anyone?), so I figured I’d beat him to the punch and put it directly on the food before he can get to it himself. Calling this Japanese food would be a true ethnic slur (I have mentioned how hopeless we can be in the ethnic foods department), but since I rarely use nori outside sushi, it reminded me of Japan.

Yes, there is MSG in furikake, I discovered. But I figure I ate plenty of Double-Stuffed Oreos when hydrogenated fat was a la mode, and I’m not twitching. Yet. The bad stuff gets cancelled out by the Omega goodness of salmon, right?

Raw furikake salmon

Recipe for Furikake Salmon Salad with Ginger-Miso Vinaigrette
Recipe 135 of 365

Furikake is a dried mixture of spices, sesame seeds, and seaweed used frequently in Japan to flavor rice. It’s also an easy way to lend flavor to salmon. Serve this as a salmon salad, with the salmon on top, or as a more traditional dinner with a side of sticky or brown rice.

Look for furikake (I tend to buy the one that looks like it has the most seaweed in it) in the Asian section of a large grocery store.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds salmon (from near the head), cut into 4 equal portions
2 tablespoons furikake
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons white miso paste
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, or to taste
4 big handfuls salad mix

Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium heat.

Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil evenly over the salmon pieces, and sprinkle each piece with about half a tablespoon of the furikake. Place the pieces furikake-side down (if you’re using nonstick, you shouldn’t need to oil the pan further) and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the salmon skin-side down and cook another 4 or 5 minutes, or until the salmon is light pink all the way up the sides. (You want the salmon to remain a little translucent in the center.)

While the salmon cooks, whisk the vinegar, miso, and ginger in a bowl to blend. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil and the vegetable oil (3 tablespoons if you like sharp vinaigrettes, 4 tablespoons if you prefer a less vinegary taste), and whisk again. Pile the salad on plates, drizzle with the vinaigrette, and serve with the hot salmon.

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Filed under fish, japanese, recipe, salad