Monthly Archives: June 2007

A Cure for El Groucho

Effing spectacular,” said my husband, who usually just comes right out and swears. I’m not sure if it was the romantic vibe El Gaucho‘s dark dining room has going or reverence for the Yukon River salmon we were eating that made him hold his tongue, but I appreciated it.

And he was right – the salmon was spectacular. I don’t mean good in a they-sure-did-cook-this-up-nice kind of way. That was part of it (it was cooked perfectly, still translucent in the center), but the salmon itself was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. See, Yukon River salmon has up to 30 percent fat, which is roughly double what Copper River salmon, the leading cause of outrageous expenditure at the Whole Foods fish counter, usually has. Double. We’re talking about butter, made out of fish. It was slippery in my mouth; the flesh didn’t so much collapse between my teeth as disassociate, the individual sheaths of muscle slipping past each other. It tasted sexy. Like satin sheets in my mouth, I’d say, if I’d ever slept on satin sheets. I chewed each bite so much longer than I usually do, trying to hold on to that rich silkiness.

“I feel like a kid from the East Coast skiing western powder for the first time,” said my husband. He kept staring at his plate, as if willing his 12-ounce portion to grow even larger.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We went to El Gaucho in the first place because we’d heard they were serving Yukon River salmon there. (Paul Mackay, the owner of Mackay Restaurants, of which El Gaucho is a part, worked a deal with the Yu’pik folks native to that area of Alaska, the only people who are legally allowed to fish the river. He buys the fish directly from the fishermen. No middleman, fair prices, the chef actually flies up there to pick the fish out himself, etc.)

Anyway, we’d stayed at the Inn upstairs, but I’d never actually eaten at El Gaucho. It’s basically a super high-end steak house, with a cigar room, waiters in tuxes, a schmancy bar, and lots of flaming food. I’d seen how dimly lit the dining room is, and labeled it a cocoon for men who either really love meat or really want to get someone into bed. (There. I said it.) Not really my thing. Right?

Wrong. I loved it. At least, I loved it as soon as my eyes adjusted to the man-cave’s darkness and I got over feeling like I’d walked in on a mob meeting. It served as a surprising, instant cure for the grouchiness I’d slipped into that day.

El Gaucho made me wish I hosted more (read: any) serious business dinners. The restaurant is a giant space that oozes masculinity (formerly a seaman’s union hall), with lots of dark red and black tones. Tables set up on multiple levels cascade down toward the kitchen, so that the people on the highest floor have a stadium view of the action down below.

And action there is: El Gaucho is known for steak, of course, but mostly for their “flaming swords”: Tuxedoed servers with serious faces walk around with fireproof gloves on, ladling flammable liquid over giant meat-laden swords (think Three Musketeers), pouring fire from one vessel to another, and setting still-flaming platefuls of food in front of gaping guests. As long as you’re not a vegetarian, this place impresses. And being seated up top, like we were, makes you feel important, even if you don’t order anything that needs to be set ablaze.

But like I said, I didn’t think I’d be into it. I never was a big circus fan. My husband and I ordered a Caesar salad, slightly annoyed that we’d have to undergo the pomp and circumstance of having someone prepare it tableside. I know what goes in a Caesar salad. But by the time we’d been plied with cocktails and started in on our bottle of wine, I forgot that I’d been in a rush, and edged closer to him in the little treetop nest our V-shaped booth was becoming.

The salad et. al. arrived, and I felt a little thrill seeing that our server had all the proper ingredients lined up on the rolling cart she’d be using to prepare our food. She even mashed the anchovies and garlic there in front of us. And when the salad hit our plates, I tasted it, that luscious texture great Caesars get from a coddled egg yolk, along with the deep (never fishy) flavor the anchovies lend. I decided I could get used to tableside service. Or, at least, food prepared just the way I like it.

In addition to the salmon, we ordered sauteed spinach, which came with an exuberant squeeze of lemon, plenty of garlic, and a hint of spice from red pepper flakes, and also a mushroom risotto. The salmon came surprisingly plain on the plate, next to just a few thin slices of cucumber topped with a dollop of sour cream. (Sounds strange, yes, but it worked.) Though the side dishes made the meal complete, I was so overwhelmed by the salmon’s flavor that I had trouble mentally processing anything else.

But the thing I liked about El Gaucho – more than the salmon, more than the old-fashioned dinner drama – was how slowly my dinner passed there. We were there for three hours, but I never looked at my watch. I gazed out at the other diners, and watched my husband gaze at the sign to the cigar room. Things moved in slow motion. Flames, everywhere, but never a hasty action. Every time a waiter passed, he paused slightly at our table, and smiled, as if to prove he wasn’t in a rush.

We lingered over the Roquefort platter El Gaucho sets out at the end of each meal. (I hesitate to use the word “complimentary,” because we certainly paid for it somewhere.) We fed each other pear slices. Cracked open whole nuts and laughed at how much better the squirrels are at it. Sipped coffee and chatted, well after we’d paid the bill.

Yes, it’s an expensive restaurant. But it was just what the doctor ordered.

El Gaucho in Seattle


Filed under review, Seattle

Hot pink

This is the real thing – No plastic bottle. No guar gum. No unpronounceable ingredients. Just raspberries, in a simple vinaigrette. Drizzle it on a salad of crisp greens with whole fresh raspberries, nuts, and goat cheese or bleu cheese.

Imagine it drizzled over endive . . . hot pink salad!

Frisee salad with homemade raspberry vinaigrette

Recipe for Homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette
Recipe 181 of 365

TIME: 5 minutes
MAKES: About 3/4 cup

1/2 pint raspberries
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place the raspberries, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Use immediately or refrigerate up to 3 days.

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I saw the sign

Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve appreciated them.

Here’s what’s happened in the (almost) two days since that conversation: Two quesadillas. Made by Tito. A two-hour nap. Lots of very productive work time. A long, luxuriously slow dinner at El Gaucho, which I’ll tell you about later. Ate some chocolate. (But, um, not in that order.) Egg burrito for breakfast. Made by Tito. Two articles came out; I finished three others. Turned two small pieces down, took on one bigger article. (Notice: I didn’t take all three.) Leftovers for lunch. Trip to the gym today, followed by another nap. More writing. No cooking. No recipes written. Some thinking.

As is almost always the case, the best thoughts come to me when pen and paper are the farthest away. I jumped onto the ellyptical machine and S.O.S. came blasting through my ear buds. S.O.S. indeed, I thought. I gave myself thirty minutes to make up my mind. I turned the machine to an easy setting and felt its gentle motion begin to loosen up my spine.

I opened Arthritis Today (yes, I’m a faithful A.T. reader, no laughing) to a piece that caught my eye: Express Yourself, said the header. Ease pain and boost immune function with expressive journaling. A whole article on how writing about your feelings can ease your symptoms. Well hey, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Might explain why I get so dang verbose when I’m not feeling great. Hogwash is good for my health. I turned the page. Rihanna crooned.

I could care less about losing those last ten pounds or finding the right slingbacks for summer, but A.T. can sure drag me in with their headlines. Bounce back after a setback, it said. Don’t get sidelined by a good flare. I started reading, the words wobbling up and down with my cadence, and sure enough, an achievement psychologist from nowhere other than Seattle named Dan Tripps had something to say about setting and reassessing goals. Is this a sign? I wondered.

“Goals should be adaptable,” said Dr. Tripps. And “continuity is critical for sustaining momentum.” Oh, and “stick to your schedule.”

Adaptability. Continuity. Oh, Dr. T., how did you know? Both of these things are important. So I’ll continue. But I’ll adapt. I’ll keep going, but allow more silly things. Cocktails. Leftovers. The perfect grilled cheese sandwich. And I’m going to take help, if you want to give it.

It turns out my husband has a thing or two he needs to get off his chest in the recipe department, too. I may share a recipe or two of his for beer – “Seattleite” was his latest, a good pale ale – or perhaps slugs, the lumpy mounds of baked dough he likes to make with leftover pie crust. The recipe starts, “Have your wife make a pie. Ask her to save the extra dough for you.”

See? That’ll be two for one. Adapting.

I did like hearing from you.

You pointed out things I hadn’t thought of, like the fact that I seemed to have set up an equation where I either did Project or Proposal, never considering that part of the reason my enthusiasm for this project might be flagging is that I have the wrong equation to begin with. Health-wise, pulling the proverbial throttle back on hogwash and replacing it with something else would be, well, not exactly forward progress, in spoon terms. I admit, you’re right.

Arthritis Today gave me a few more pointers, too. (Except SOCK SCIENCE: In Pursuit of the Perfect Sock. I skipped that one.) That I’m young, for example. Sure, it’s a goal, but there is no ticking time bomb on a cookbook, and I doubt I’ll become measurably less creative in the next ten years, much less in the next six months.

I also read a piece about a woman my age with rheumatoid arthritis, about her struggles with her dream to complete a marathon. To my absolute horror, I felt a tear trickle down my face. In the gym. Thank goodness no one does cardio on sunny Friday afternoons.

I guess the other thing that’s occurred to me is that I don’t necessarily have to have an answer: Why am I doing this? Who cares? I’m doing it.

Yes, I’m doing it. If I hiccup somewhere along the way, so be it. You’ll forgive me. If you have an original recipe to send me, meaning YOU wrote it, by all means, send it along. You never know when I’ll have another bout of self-doubt.

Plus, I just got this new lens for my camera (way on sale!) . . . and you’ll only stand for so many photos of my dog.

Chicken with Rosemary-Garlic Cream

Recipe for Chicken with Rosemary-Garlic Cream
Recipe 180 of 365

I once had an instructor in culinary school who said, “fat equals flavor,” over and over in each class. “Fat equals flavah, people!” This recipe isn’t short on either. And it’s a good test for your toothpaste.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat. Add the chicken, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes per side (undisturbed), depending on the thickness of the meat.

Scoot the chicken to the sides of the pan, and place the butter in the center. When melted, stir the garlic and rosemary into the butter, and let cook for about a minute, stirring. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper, increase the heat to high, and simmer the cream until thick enough to coat the chicken, about 2 or 3 minutes, turning the chicken in the sauce as it cooks down.

Serve the chicken hot, topped with the remaining sauce.


Filed under chinese, commentary, recipe

A long conversation with myself

I’m about to round the halfway mark. I know, because in January I bought the perfect month-to-month calendar for this project. At the top of each day, there are two numbers. Today looks like this: 179/186. It’s the 179th day of the year; there are 186 days left. I just turned the page to glance into July, and saw Monday: 183/182. I’ve written a recipe each day for almost 6 months.

But why, I ask? Why am I doing this? It’s certainly not because I have two extra hours in every day. And it’s not because I get some twisted kick out of making my husband wait for his dinner while I snap photos of it, or because I feel a dirty notebook should be a permanent fixture in every kitchen. These are things I could live without. What am I trying to prove?

I started this project because I needed a goal; I was new to town and unsure I’d ever push my way into Seattle’s food-writing world. I needed a good assignment. I was least certain about finding an outlet for recipe writing (I’d done plenty of it on Cape Cod, testing and developing recipes for cookbooks and supermarket magazines and such, and I loved it), and was curious to find the answer to the question everyone asks me: What do you eat at home? I’d often said I never cooked the same thing twice in a year’s time.

I was right about that: I haven’t made many things twice in 2007. People write me and say oh, I’ve been making recipe X a lot, and I sort of wonder what it would be like to make the same thing over and over again. Like wondering what it would be like to have red hair, or be taller.

And now we’ve lived here nine months, and I have plenty to do. I’ve just submitted what I think is my first piece about something other than food. I’m getting paid to write recipes that actually get printed, for publications I don’t consider to be stepping stones. And as the page turns to July, I wonder whether this project is worth my time. You know, the every day part. I think I’ll always write recipes here, no matter what year it is, no matter how busy I get. But do I want to keep doing it every day? Can you think of something you’ve done for an hour or two every day for the last six months that you really didn’t need to do? Television doesn’t count (but it’s probably a pretty solid metric).

Looking back, I realize I also wanted to see if I had it, the je ne sais quoi it takes to write a cookbook. But who was I kidding? I’ve known exactly what quoi is all along: time and money. And a little talent, I suppose. And, most importantly, the guts to try. It’s this last issue that hogwash helps me skirt so gracefully. This is my project. This is my priority.

But see, this is not a cookbook. It’s like a cookbook, and it’s certainly proven I have the creativity and drive to write a cookbook, but it’s not a cookbook. So why am I spending the two hours a day I need to work on a cookbook proposal writing recipes that will most likely only be seen by you? No offense. Really, I like that you’re reading. But let’s be honest, here: no one is going to knock down my door with a book contract, which means at some point, either I have to muster up the guts to try or give up. Someday, I always promise myself.

I may have started the project, which may seem big in terms of something to do with one’s spare time, as a way of avoiding writing something bigger. The project is easier than thinking what would happen if I poured energy into a proposal and couldn’t find a taker, if I got a contract and had some nasty lupus flare and couldn’t finish it, if I finished it and it didn’t sell. If it sold and I hated it. So much easier. Here, no one can tell me no.

But I don’t really want to talk about that anymore. To you, or anyone. It’s a secret, remember? Like the year before I applied to culinary school. I knew it was coming.

I might have to cut down on the honesty around here.

There are definite advantages to finishing off the year. I’m a list person, you know that. Hogwash has become a year-long list; my brain is permanently preoccupied with recipe ideas, which is a good thing. I am rarely bored with the food I cook. And, luckily, I don’t run out of ideas too often. Right now my “to try” list is about ten items long. It’s also sort of fun to have a goal, in the same way wind sprints can be fun, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. I do. Part of me quite enjoys having a goal every day.

But the disadvantages are starting to get heavier, like a child falling asleep in my arms. Suddenly I have this weight, this mass of self-created responsibility that I can’t find a babysitter for. And she’s expensive.

See, before I started, I had this utopian vision: I’d show people how easy it is to make great food, and perhaps inspire them to cook, to bring food home from the farmers’ market and actually cook with their families, maybe sit down and talk to each other, or, God Forbid, a neighbor. I’d help people bring food back into their lives.

That’s all peachy-keen, but cooking for “people” is a lot more pricey than cooking for two. My husband loves food, but he’d be perfectly happy with rice and beans twice a week, provided ample Cholula and a massive tangle of sharp cheddar cheese. When we lived in Vail, we spent $50 a week on food. Now we – meaning I – spend more like $150, sometimes $200.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m the one who says there’s nothing better to spend money on than food. It’s your body. It’s your health. Right? We ate lots of Uncle Ben‘s rice in Vail, and we’re not doing that now.

But my commitment to hogwash makes it a little difficult to fold any financial goals into the picture, because I’m simply too stubborn write 365 recipes for $3 meals. I mean, who needs more than one or two recipes for rice and beans? (And, uh, I still haven’t put any advertising on my site.)

I have cheated, I’ll admit – I’d say a third of the recipes I write here for four people are actually recipes for two that I’ve doubled, to avoid expense and unwanted leftovers. (Have I told you? I’m not a big fan of leftovers. Luckily, my husband is.)

Hey, that’s another thing: the waste. Is it right of me to spend gobs of money on food when I could be perfectly healthy (for sure) and happy (probably) consuming a much simpler list of ingredients? Do my neighbors really need my twice-a-week dessert rations? Or is all this talk about living on $20 per week going to my head? So many questions.

Also, I think I’m starting to react against my own creativity. I’m craving really simple, borderline boring food. I want to eat the same thing four evenings in a row, just for the shock of it. For goodness’ sake, there are times when I’d just like to make grilled cheese sandwiches and go to bed. I’d love to sit down with a magazine after dinner, instead of rushing to the computer to download recipe images and type out notes while my husband does the dishes. He’s done so many dishes.

Last night was one of those nights. Tito’s building chairs for the deck, and has been stepping directly from the office into a sawdust-filled flurry of activity each night this week. We needed something fast, healthy, satisfying. And I haven’t been to the grocery store since last Wednesday (except to get those strawberries I still haven’t used).

This, dear reader, is what we would eat tonight, without the project. It’s also a good example of how we love to eat: out of giant multi-purpose bowls (they’re plastic, if you must know), lounging on the porch in the old nappy white chairs someone was giving away last fall, watching our pets crash into each other as they chase the same bug.

So yes, a decision must be made. Do I continue? I’m not the type to quit, but today, I seem to have lost my purpose.

I also don’t feel brave enough to stop. That might take some guts, too; I’m already halfway, almost, and besides, you’re reading this. And really, in the long run, what difference would another six months make?

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowl

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowls (for two)
Recipe 179 of 365

Simmer 1/2 cup quinoa with 1 cup chicken stock until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop a quarter of a red onion and saute it in a swirl of olive oil with a finely chopped jalapeno pepper until soft. Add a can of black beans, rinsed and drained, season with salt, pepper, and cumin, and cook over low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Pile the quinoa into two bowls, and top with the black bean mixture, a sliced avocado, plenty of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, a glug of salsa, and a dollop of sour cream.

It tastes much better this way:

Quinoa-Black Bean Bowl, the way we eat it


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Be with what is.

“Be with what is,” directed my yoga instructor at a class two Sundays ago. I smirked out loud and rolled my eyes at my husband from downward dog, half laughing at her self-righteous yogic tone, and tried unsuccessfully to cover it up with fake cough. Be, she repeated more slowly (now she’s onto me!), with what is.

That afternoon, when the seven bags of garden mulch I schlepped home from the hardware store turned out to be moldy, her words crept back into my brain. “Be with what is,” I said to the mulch, and ruled out the option of harassing the hardware store guys more than absolutely necessary. Sure, I had to make a second trip to exchange it, but really, what could I do?

These last two weeks have been busy, packed with people, and it’s become sort of a mantra. I’ve seen many friends, felt many of the warm, knowing, comforting hugs that make having friends so important. We talked weddings and births and deaths, adventures and boredom and problems and triumphs. I burst into tears on the way to REI once, overwhelmed by the telling of life in the comfortable presence of a dear friend, and in that moment I was silently grateful to have so many wonderful people to count on.

It’s been so much. So much energy, so much time, so many sheets to change. Somehow, though, balancing people and work and my own limitations has been easier these days. I’m not sure why, but I have a feeling my little yoga chant is helping. It’s quite convenient, really. I think it would make a good television advertisement, if I had any feeling for what those sound like: Facing a deadline you know you’re going to have trouble making? Don’t panic. Just be. It is. Cat puked on the rug? The rug is now a different color. Be with the slightly different rug.

It translates quite well to the kitchen environment.

Last weekend I conjured up a deep-dish strawberry-rhubarb pie in my mind, made with the season’s best of both – strawberries from a farmer’s market and rhubarb from the new growth on our plants in the backyard. I’d give it a very lightly sweetened cornmeal crust and bake it in a small springform pan, so it had tall, squared-off sides like a cheesecake and a full pastry top. I couldn’t wait to cut a strawberry-shaped hole out of the center of its top and watch the sticky pink juice ooze from it.

Then, a friend asked for a recipe for a fruity something with a cornmeal top or bottom. I thought it was meant to be. I ran out and bought some conventional strawberries from a big grocery store; I couldn’t wait until market day. So unlike me.

But yesterday when I made the crust, a not-quite-typical version pulsed in the food processor with eggs and sour cream, I lost the pie vibe. I wrapped the dough in a sheet of wax paper to chill, knowing it was a bit too wet for a proper pie crust. To test it, I rolled a little chunk of it into a ball, sprinkled it with raw sugar, and baked it off, the way I’d planned to treat the top of the pie.

The little dough trial came out, a cornmeal cookie, and I ate it hot: a cornmeal shortbread, almost, like the best corn muffin top in the world, only more buttery, sprinkled with crunchy sugar and still moist in the middle.

The dough was too good plain. I opened the refrigerator and squinted hard at two pounds of steroidal strawberries, wondering what I’d do with them if I didn’t put them in the pie. My brain ping-ponged between my choices: Dough is good. Cookies are dynamite. But strawberries need to be used. Be with what is, a voice said. The dough is so good. So I rolled the dough into little cookie balls and surrounded them with sugar, and when they came out of the oven, puffed and sparkling, I knew I’d made the right choice.

That pie may still come, and the crust won’t be all that different. But it’s just not ready to be yet.

Cornmeal Sparklers

Recipe for Cornmeal Sparklers
Recipe 178 of 365

Like a cross between cornmeal shortbread and corn muffins, these sparkly, sugar-crusted cookies are cute and addictive, crunchy on the outside but buttery enough to melt in your mouth. For something more like a snickerdoodle, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the flour before mixing the dough, and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top right as they come out of the oven.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 3 dozen cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces each
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
Turbinado sugar (large crystal raw sugar), about 1 cup

Pulse the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in the food processor until blended. Add the butter, and pulse 20 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas. Whisk the water, sour cream, and egg together in a measuring cup (it should total about a cup of liquid). Turn the machine on, and add the liquid in a slow, steady stream; the dough should ball up almost immediately.

Dump the dough onto a large piece of wax paper (the dough will seem quite wet), wrap, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

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

Working quickly, roll tablespoon-sized piece of dough into balls, roll the balls in the turbinado sugar to coat on all sides, and place on the baking sheets about 1 1/2” apart. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are firm in the center and barely beginning to brown on the bottom.

Cool cookies 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.


Filed under Cookies, recipe

A nice fish dish

Joanna and I went to Pike Place Market yesterday, intending to buy Copper River salmon, but I went into sticker shock and came home with trout for $3.99 a pound. Into the pan went the box of dying grape tomatoes, praying for revival, with some withering shallots and a little chardonnay, and out came a simple, elegant-looking trout dish. We mopped up the juices with a great baguette.

Tip: Waiting until the vegetables are done cooking down to turn on the oven (instead of turning on the oven before you start) offers a grace period conducive to finishing the bottle of wine.

Baked Trout 1

Recipe for Baked Trout with Red Pepper, Cherry Tomato, and Caper Sauce
Recipe 177 of 365

It’s a mouthful of a title, but the flavors are actually quite simple: tender fresh trout, baked on top of a vegetable compote made from shallots, peppers, tomatoes, capers, cilantro, and a good slosh of white wine. If you can’t find trout in your area, substitute any fish with firm, white flesh (halibut, cod, or bass would be delicious).

This is a chop-as-you-go recipe – no need to prepare all the ingredients ahead of time.

*If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, just transfer the vegetables from your skillet to a 9” x 13” baking dish before adding the fish.

TIME: About 45 minutes total cooking time
MAKES: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 large shallots, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 red bell peppers, chopped
2 serrano chili peppers, finely chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup (packed) finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup capers
2 whole trout (about 2 pounds), gutted, heads removed, rinsed and patted dry

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil, then the shallots, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add both kinds of peppers, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes, season again with salt and pepper, and cook an additional 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to give up their juices.

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in half the cilantro and the capers. Place the fish (whole, skin on) on top of the vegetables, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is opaque in the center. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro on top of the fish, and serve the filets immediately, topped with the vegetables.

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, recipe

B1: Chewing the Fat

A piece on page B1 of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports that Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corp are teaming up. No, they’re not figuring out how to feed fuel to chickens – they say they’ve figured out how to turn chicken fat into a new form of biodiesel. (Tyson announced a similar deal with energy firm ConocoPhillips a few months ago.)

From one angle, I suppose this is good – chicken fat is a renewable resource, of sorts, and biodiesel is a good thing, right? But I’m sort of conflicted: I don’t love the idea of Tyson using this business to shine up its reputation for raising animals in ways that might not be the most humane. I mean, what does this say about animal rights? That it’s okay to raise chickens in overcrowded pens with gobs of antibiotics as long as it allows us to drive our diesel trucks more cheaply? And what about the fact that Tyson HAS enough chicken fat leftover from its packaging processes to pump out a projected 75 million gallons of fat-based fuel annually – how much of that fat is due to how the chickens are bred and raised? What happened to skinny chickens?

Ooohh, this whole energy thing (she says with a wave of the hand) is a hard fight. What is the answer?

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Taco amnesia and wedding monsters

I’m beginning to think certain foods can encourage selective amnesia. For me, it’s tacos. I can usually stuff myself with Mexican food and reliably muster up a good taco appetite again not to long afterward. Like yesterday, when my friend Joanna and I were driving back to Seattle from a wedding in Helena, Montana. At about 2 p.m., we stopped at Taco del Sol in Missoula for big, heavy (but not that big and heavy) burritos, mine stuffed with deep-fried cod, black beans, cabbage, and white sauce with just the right balance of sweet and spice. At 4 p.m., Blizzards in Coeur d’Alene. At 6 p.m., we pulled in to get gas in George, a town just on the eastern side of the windy Columbia. In the corner of the gas station lot: a taco truck.

I think in many cases, the average person would think something like “Hey, I had Mexican food a few hours ago. I’ll remember this truck for next time.” But me, no, it was like Missoula never happened, and I headed straight for it. No memory of Mexican anything that day. Joanna looked at me like I’d kicked a puppy when I asked her if she wanted one. They were $1 each, and worth so much more: tender carne asada, tucked into small, soft corn tortillas with radish slices, cilantro, a good squeeze of lime juice, and this pico de gallo that brought so much delicious, spunky onion flavor down the hatch that I tasted it all the way back to Seattle.

But again, the forgetfulness. Despite the gastrointestinal strain, not at all helped by the wedding the previous night or the number of caffeinated beverages I’d consumed since crossing into Washington, by the time we crossed the river, I wished I’d bought four more. For safe keeping, you know? You never know when you’ll need a good taco. And if you’re like me, you probably don’t remember if you just did.

Anyway, the wedding was great. The bride looked fabulous, no one fainted, and the cake was actually good. There were a few minor mishaps: the photographer somehow failed to show up at the reception site, which meant that after an hour of anxious waiting on the part of the bridal party, yours truly had the opportunity to exercise her shutter finger and inherent bossiness ad nauseum. Playing wedding photographer was fun, and relatively simple because there was only one family to photograph. The groom’s family–hope they never read this–actually missed all the photos, because they went (I am not making this up) directly from the church to a bar, and showed up to the reception two hours late. Needless to say, the groom was displeased.

Somehow, though, the wedding was still all that, still mushy and charming and teary and a good reminder of all the good there is in the world.

Here are a few shots (this first one, of course, proves that chocolate can also cause amnesia; the kid didn’t stop eating it all weekend):

chocolate amnesia

hugging the best man

Watching the first dance



Plus, when we found out there were no wedding crashers, we decided to bring our own into the picture:

Spike and Banana sign the guestbook

Dana may be surprised when she receives a photo album of these little guys (which Joanna bought for me to top my wooden spoons) signing the guest book, waltzing on the dance floor, dipping their little hands into the chocolate fountain, climbing up the side of the wedding cake, drinking champagne, etc. (Joanna had to do something while she was waiting for the photographer not to show up.)

We stayed at a little hotel in downtown Helena that has a new restaurant, Artemis, which had what appeared to be a novel breakfast idea: breakfast bruschetta. Of course, it’s really just eggs on toast, in their case eggs with mozzarella and pesto on a big fat slab of pain de campagne, drizzled with hollandaise sauce. But somehow it seemed so romantic, so interesting.

This morning Joanna and I rolled out of bed much later than we should have, and made our own version with olives.

Breakfast Bruschetta

Olive Breakfast Bruschetta
Recipe 176 of 365

Brush a fat slab of olive bread with olive oil, and toast it until lightly browned. For each slab, chop a handful of kalamata olives and mix them with about an ounce of goat cheese, and smear the spread onto the toast. Press a few arugula leaves into the cheese. Scramble up a couple of eggs (whisked with a tablespoon of whole milk, salt, and pepper), stirring in a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and a good sprinkling of Parmesan cheese just before they’re done. Pile the eggs on top of the arugula, and serve hot.

And Banana (of course I named him) has a new home in my kitchen:

A monster named Banana

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Filed under Breakfast, recipe


My, these numbers are getting high.

Scallop Curry 1

Recipe for Green Scallop Curry with Peas and Peppers
Recipe 175 of 365

This is an unfussy one-bowl meal for the nights when you don’t have a lot of time to cook–it’s made with green curry paste, often sold under the Thai brand as green chili paste–but need something just a little different. Serve the curry over white or brown rice, or over rice noodles. You can substitute large (uncooked) peeled and deveined shrimp for the scallops, if you prefer.

TIME: 20 minutes, plus time to cook the rice
MAKES: 4 servings

1 to 2 teaspoons green curry paste, or to taste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 pound sea scallops, tabs trimmed and halved, if large
1/2 pound snap peas
1 bell pepper (any color), cut into 1/2″ thick strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk the curry paste with a few tablespoons of the coconut milk until no lumps remain. Add the rest of the coconut milk, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Preheat a wok or large skillet over high heat. When hot, add the oil, and immediately add the ginger. Working very quickly, give the ginger a stir, then add the scallops, peas, and peppers. Cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the coconut milk mixture, and cook a few more minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and reduced considerably. Serve immediately, over rice or noodles.

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Filed under recipe, shellfish

Dirty Mitts

Laura gave Tito a set of these adorable skewers when she was here. I’m not sure if she actually imagined him patiently threading meat and vegetables onto their cutie-patootie curlicue nonstick ends. Maybe she thought I’d do the crafty stuff and he’d grill them up, but in any case, I think I can be fairly certain that when she picked them out with her mom, she didn’t envision me threading them with vegetables and hanging them around my neck like tribal neckwear from a culture that reveres vegetables more than we do. But that’s what I did, because look at them:


Does that image not just scream put me on like a necklace? The tomatoes were quite fetching, the peppers exotic. The zucchini weren’t really my color, and felt funny against my skin. No, I never tried the onions or raw chicken on. Yes, I was home alone when this all went down. And I hadn’t yet brushed them with the sauce.

Moving on. I made the kebabs with two goals: one, to eat dinner, and two, to test out these skewers, to see if their utility (no soaking!) matched their cuteness.

Dinner was great. Utility was just okay, but in the end, I think the marginal benefit of cuteness with respect to utility was still positive. (Eeek, partial derivatives, anyone?)

See, the skewers are giant almost-circles, which creates sort of a space problem. We have a standard circular charcoal Weber kettle grill, which would fit about 8 curly skewers arranged perfectly in a starburst pattern. However, if your fire is only a foot in diameter in the center of the (roughly two-foot) grill, you run the risk of having eight skewers quite charred at one end and quite raw at the other. I decided to go for the all-or-nothing approach: I’d put whatever I wanted to cook in the center, and swap the skewers from the inside to the outside in successive batches, so that everything eventually got a turn in the spotlight, so to speak.

But no more than five minutes into the process, I’d twisted the tongs around the spirals on the end of each skewer, the skewer spirals together, and my fingers around the skewers I’d tried in my outlandish stupidity to pick by the cute end, despite the fact that they were, per usual, on a fire. (They looked so darn touchable!)

And there was Tito, vulturing behind me, used to being the one doing the grilling. I swore at the skewers and handed him the tongs, when he threw aside in favor of my precious red Williams-Sonoma oven mitt. Without hesitation, he went in for hand-to-hand combat with the tangled skewers, caramelizing creamy, mustardy sauce onto every useful surface of Big Red in the process.

Big Red takes a hit

Notes for next time:

1. Build bigger-diameter fire.

2. Make Tito use the new mitt Laura gave him, so he can’t ruin another one of mine. (I say this as if the red mitt was in perfect condition before the kebabs, which it wasn’t.) From now on, we will have outdoor oven mitts and indoor oven mitts.

3. Do not touch metal skewers when hot. Duh.

Dijon-Dill Kebabs

Recipe for Dijon-Dill Kebabs
Recipe 174 of 365

Instead of alternating meat or fish with vegetables the way many do with kebabs, I prefer to load each skewer with a single ingredient, so that I can give each thing the cooking time it needs – no one likes an undercooked onion.

If you use wooden skewers, soak them in a pan of water for about 30 minutes before using, to avoid burning them over the fire.

TIME: 20 minutes prep
MAKES: 4 servings

4 small chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes (you could substitute salmon, halibut, or shrimp)
2 small zucchini, cut into 1” rounds
6 small roma tomatoes, halved
1 bell pepper (any color), seeded and cut into strips
1/2 red onion, cut into 1” chunks
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh dill (equivalent of a 1-ounce package, if available)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper

Prepare a charcoal grill (or preheat a gas grill) over medium heat. Thread the chicken, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and onions onto skewers, place on a baking sheet, and set aside.

Puree the mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, dill, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth, and brush the chicken and vegetables on both sides with the sauce.

Grill the kebabs over medium heat until nicely browned and cooked through – the onions will probably take the longest, about 8 minutes per side, followed by the chicken at about 6 minutes per side, then the peppers, then the zucchini, then the tomatoes. Brush the kebabs with additional sauce during cooking, taking care to give each side of each skewer a final hit on the heat before serving, so the sauce has a chance to cook onto the food. Serve hot (and don’t burn yourself on the skewers).

De-skewered Dijon-Dill kebabs


Filed under chicken, recipe, vegetables

Ugh. Quinoa? Again?

Time for something new, huh?

Here’s the thing with quinoa: cooked plain, I find it extremely boring. Great texture, and the health-kick stuff is all well and good, but c’mon, people, I need flavor. Here’s what I believe is a happy medium between plain quinoa ( = boring) and what seem to be a rash of overcomplicated, overthought quinoa recipes designed to pique general interest in it.

By the way, if just the word quinoa scares you (pronounced KEEN-wah), calm yourself. It’s as easy to cook as rice, and takes half the time.

Walnut Quinoa

Recipe for Walnut Quinoa
Recipe 173 of 365

Quinoa is an ancient grain native to South America, where the Incans called it “the mother grain,” presumably because they felt the benefits of its proteins. (Quinoa has more protein than any other grain, and contains all eight essential amino acids.)

Serve this as a basic side dish, or top it with roasted vegetables and serve it as a main course.

TIME: 20 minutes total
MAKES: 6 servings

1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the quinoa, broth, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until all the water has been absorbed and the grains have puffed up, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or until the skins begin to brown and lift off the nuts. Allow to cool slightly, then chop finely.

When the quinoa is done, stir in the chopped walnuts and walnut oil, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.


Filed under recipe, side dish

Tomato-thyme in the peacock cups

A couple weeks ago I got an odd email from a relative. She said she had sent me a set of my husband’s great-grandmother’s glass cups and saucers, which she described in not the most flattering terms.

“To be perfectly honest, I think they’re a little ugly,” she wrote, but explained that given my penchant for photographing food, she thought I might be able to use them more in the next twenty years than she had in the previous twenty, which was never.

I adore dishware, but I don’t come from a family with a Hutch or a Dish Cabinet. (I find these words are often spoken carefully, as if the dishes inside might hear if their owners think of using them, then decide against it.) China is a place, not something you put on a table. So I appreciated her gesture, and resigned myself to storing something heinous that I’d probably never use. (Actually, she did give me explicit permission to sell them on eBay, which, prior to seeing them, was an option I hadn’t ruled out.)

But oh, that box! Sheathed in layers of tissue and bubble wrap, the cups (were they meant for tea?) had been carefully packed, shielded like glass vials of uranium against any and all possible physical threats. Both the cups and the squarish saucers–every trend cycles–are rimmed with fading gold, etched white with flowers, and tattooed with dime-sized green dots that can best be described as an afterthought. They will always look out of place on my table or in my house; they will never match anything I own. But I love them.

Peacock Cups

She’d mentioned that perhaps they’d been used for sorbet, but I couldn’t really imagine a proper matriarch from the turn of the (last) century churning sorbet by hand at home. All those stories are about ice cream, right? You never hear, “When I was small, I used to sit on my great-grandmother Adelaide’s lap and help her churn lemon sorbet.” But sorbet was mentioned, so sorbet I made.

I chilled the base overnight (sorbet is typically made with a combination of fruit and some sort of sugar syrup) and gave my husband a taste at seven in the morning, directing him to open up just after he’d swallowed the last of his coffee. He obeyed, but his eyes crossed when the cool sorbet melted summer into his mouth.

HIM: What is this?

ME: Tomato sorbet.

HIM: Ohhh. Tomato-thyme?

Before I could congratulate him on his herb identification, he was hopping all around the kitchen, thrilled about his pun. “Get it?” he said. “It’s tomato time! Summer! Tomato-thyme.” More hopping and giggling.

He gave the sorbet a bit of an ego problem, too; it commanded a spot the new teacups.

This sorbet is preening, that’s what it’s doing, positively preening in this cup, green spots aflare, like the peacock I saw at the zoo a few weeks ago.

Yes, much like that peacock. I’ll call these the peacock cups.

Welcome, summer.

Tomato-Thyme Sorbet Close

Recipe for Tomato-Thyme Sorbet
Recipe 172 of 365

Oh, I know what you’re saying: I don’t habitually serve intermezzos, and I’ve never made sorbet. Those are horrible excuses. Well, not good excuses, anyway. With the help of a blender and an ice cream maker, sorbet is about as difficult as making a smoothie, and even though you probably don’t serve dinner in courses—I certainly don’t—planning for a palate cleanser between two items can turn having friends over for a chill dinner into a fancy dinner party. I hate fancy dinner parties, you say. Well, in that case, I can’t help you.

For best flavor, use the very best tomatoes you can find, preferably a variety with lots of meat and few seeds. (If you’re shopping at a regular grocery store, look for Ugli heirlooms.) The number of tomatoes you need will depend on the type of tomato you use – I used 3 big heirloom tomatoes, two Black Krims and a Mortgage Lifter.

Note that you’ll need to start this recipe the day before you plan to serve the sorbet.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 4 cups sorbet

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup (packed) roughly chopped fresh thyme
3 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes
Pinch salt

Combine the sugar, water, and thyme in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. When cool, strain with a fine-mesh strainer.

Meanwhile, blanch and peel the tomatoes: put a kettle of water on to boil. Use a small, sharp knife to score the bottom of each tomato with an “x.” Place the tomatoes in a large heatproof bowl, and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Let sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the skin begins to peel back on the tomatoes. Drain the tomatoes, peel away all skin, remove the core and all seeds, and chop. Save 2 1/4 cups of the chopped tomatoes for the sorbet; use any remaining tomatoes for something else.

Combine 1 cup of the cooled thyme syrup with the 2 1/4 cups chopped tomato meat and the salt in a blender or food processor, and process until completely smooth. Refrigerate until cold (overnight is easiest, I think, but to rush the process, you can chill it in the freezer, stirring frequently).

The next day, freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the sorbet to harden in the freezer for a few hours before serving.


Filed under appetizers, dessert, fruit, recipe

171: The First Zucchini

Roasted Lemon-Rosemary Zucchini 2

Recipe for Crunchy Roasted Lemon-Rosemary Zucchini
Recipe 171 of 365

Here’s a simple one to save for the middle of the summer, when you think you’ve done everything you can with zucchini. If you have to use zucchini larger than about an inch in diameter, slice them into 3/4” thick diagonal rounds instead of lengthwise, and pile the breadcrumbs onto one cut surface.

I used a combination of zucchini and summer squash, for color.

TIME: 10 minutes prep, plus 15 minutes roasting
MAKES: 4 servings

4 small zucchini or yellow squash
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup breadcrumbs from rosemary bread*

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Halve the zucchini lengthwise, place in a 9” x 13” baking dish, and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Toss the zucchini to coat on all sides, then turn them cut side-up and season with salt and pepper.

Place the lemon zest, juice, and breadcrumbs in a small bowl, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon). Season with salt and pepper, and mix with a fork until completely combined. Spread a heaping tablespoon’s worth of the breadcrumb mixture along the length of each piece of zucchini, and use your hands to pack the crumbs down slightly.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown and the zucchini are cooked al dente. Serve immediately.

*NOTE: To make breadcrumbs, whirl toasted or stale bread in the food processor until finely chopped. If you don’t tend to keep rosemary bread on hand, substitute 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary.

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Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

Another cheer for cherries

by Jess and Laura
photo by Laura

We were looking to find the difference between a crumble and a crisp: we thought that crisps used oats and/or nuts, while crumbles were just a basic flour and sugar pastry. I looked on the web and couldn’t find an agreed-upon difference. Some websites said that crumble is the United Kingdom’s word for crisp, while others said that the two are identical. Anyway, call this delicious treat whatever you choose and get back to us if you know the real difference.

While we were walking around in Trader Joe’s shopping for ingredients, we noticed a frozen bag of mixed berries that included frozen cherries. This bag sparked our inspiration for this recipe. We knew we could find fresh cherries at the farmers market, so we decided to just get the mixed berries without the cherries.

Gingered Cherry-Berry Crumble 2

Gingered Cherry-Berry Crumble
Recipe 170 of 365

Mixing berries with fresh ginger and adding ground gingersnaps to the topping give this crumble a less traditional flavor. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt (for breakfast).

TIME: 30 minutes preparation, plus 35 to 40 minutes baking time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup crushed gingersnaps
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
1 pound cherries, halved and pitted
1 (16-ounce bag) frozen mixed berries, thawed overnight in the fridge, drained
1/2 cup white or whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

First, make the topping: mix the flour, gingersnaps, brown sugar and salt in a small bowl until well combined. Drizzle the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir until all ingredients are moistened. Set aside.

Make the filling: heap the cherries and berries into a bowl and add the flour, sugar and fresh ginger. Mix until the fruit is evenly coated. Pile into an 11” X 7” (or similar) baking dish and spread evenly. Use your hands to transfer the topping from the bowl to the fruit, packing the topping slightly between your hands and dropping it onto the filling in thick clumps. Sprinkle any remaining smaller crumbs over any holes so you can’t see the fruit.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the topping is nicely browned and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm, or at room temperature.


Filed under Breakfast, dessert, farmer's market, fruit, recipe, recipes

Curry in a hurry

As I mentioned before, Laura is here this week, to visit and to learn. (If you’re interested, you can read her side of the story here.) Laura is a great baker, and habitually helps her family out in the kitchen, so she tends to have the basics down – she knows how to make a good salad dressing, knows how to cook a few vegetables, etc. (And she knows how to do dishes well, which – correct me if I’m wrong here – is sort of unusual for a teenager.)

But when I asked about her experience with meat or fish, she immediately gave protein-cooking credit to her mom, so we decided to map out our dinners this week around things she’d never approached on her own. At Trader Joe’s, I sent her to the meat case with instructions to find something that sounded good that she had no idea how to cook.

“How do you want to cook these?” I asked, as she added a package of lamb chops the little pile in our cart.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something exotic and easy.”

I think they have a name for that already. Curry in a hurry, anyone?

Spiced Lamb Chops 2

Recipe for Spiced Lamb Chops with Whole Wheat Couscous
Recipe 169 of 365

Combining earthy, spicy garam masala – a blend of roasted spices often including pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, chilies, and bay leaves – with a little olive oil makes a wet rub that gives both lamb chops and couscous great flavor with minimum effort. If you want a sauce to dip it all in, make a quick raita by mixing plain yogurt with chopped cilantro, a little cumin, and salt and pepper.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 lamb chop steaks (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 cups water (or chicken broth)
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Mix the garam masala, turmeric, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil together in a small bowl until well blended. Rub each side of each of the lamb chops with 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture, taking care not to taint the mixture in the bowl with juices from the lamb. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the spice mixture left in the bowl, and set aside to use with the couscous.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the steaks and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side for medium-rare (depending on thickness), or until the steaks are nicely browned on the outside but still a bit soft to the touch. (If the steaks are super thick, you may want to cook them for a few minutes on each of the short sides as well.)

While the steaks cook, bring the water to a boil over high heat in a small saucepan. When it boils, stir in the couscous, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for about 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork, and stir in the remaining spice mixture, the parsley, and the feta.

When the steaks are done, spoon the couscous onto a serving plate, and place the steaks on top. Serve immediately.

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Filed under Indian, kitchen adventure, Lamb, recipe

A reader’s not-quite-a-limerick

Oh, how I love it when you send me these things:

Jess heard the goat cheese say please make
me into a savoury cheesecake
Her cat saw the moth fly
By my paw thee doth die!

But now, if she will be candid
Did she use the cherries
to hide where they both landed?

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Filed under poetry

No goats were harmed in the making of this cake

When Laura and I were at Trader Joe’s marveling over the sheer size of an 11-ounce log of goat cheese on Friday, we decided the traditional cherry-covered cheesecake had to be morphed into a goat cheese cheesecake (which, by the way, you can’t really nickname a goat cheesecake, because that would imply there were actual goats in it, wouldn’t it?), and topped with cherries from our new neighborhood farmers’ market.

We’d spent part of the afternoon tasting a new balsamic vinegar, which was interesting for me from a teaching standpoint. (Laura is here doing an “internship” of sorts.) The producer had told me to look for flavors reminiscent of the wooden barrels her vinegar had been aged in, and I tasted the oak and the juniper, but when I tried to explain those flavors to Laura, I sort of hit a wall. She’s fifteen, so she’s not so familiar with, say, the flavor of an oaked chardonnay. How do you explain juniper to someone who’s never tasted gin? In the end, we compared the flavors to how wood smells, and to rosemary and pine, and I think it worked.

With vinegar on the brain, we decided to make a thick, sweet balsamic syrup to macerate the cherries in, and piled that on top of the cheesecake when it came out of the oven, kissed with brown on the edges and again in this strange quarter-sized spot near the edge:

Strange spot on cheesecake

Can anyone tell us why that browning pattern would occur? The only think I can think of is that perhaps there was a significantly larger sugar concentration in that spot. But then why is it so precisely round? And did it have anything to do with the crack that appeared as the cake cooled?

This is a cheesecake that tests your cheesecake-eating ability. If you consider yourself a strong eater, one-twelfth of the wheel will probably secure you a safe spot on the couch for a few hours afterward; it could easily serve sixteen people more heart-friendly portions.

Luckily, these days our house holds three pretty good cheesecake eaters, plus a neighboring family of four that can hold its own, plus a few friends from down the street who were willing to take some home to help us avoid heart attacks.

Oh, and there was also the golf ball-sized moth. The cat brought him inside, maybe thinking he was contributing in some way, and the moth got stuck in the very center of the cheesecake when he went in for a bite in an effort to escape his former prison inside the cat’s mouth. When Laura and I squealed, Tito had to pull the moth out, squirming and beating his sticky cheesecake-covered moth wings in panic, and put him back outside. Now there’s a bird somewhere with skyrocketing cholesterol. And a hole in the center of the cheesecake where Laura scooped out the part the moth touched.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Balsamic-Glazed Cherries

Recipe for Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Balsamic-Glazed Cherries
Recipe 168 of 365

Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Eve’s Lemon Cheesecake (in Relax, Company’s Coming!) is always my jumping off point for a cheesecake recipe. I used her basic crust and batter ratios here, altering the ingredients and sweetness a bit to accommodate the goat cheese’s tangy bite. The quick cherry topping has a sharp vinegar flavor, a nice contrast to the cake’s richness. Out of cherry season, the cake is delicious on its own, or topped with any fruit compote.

Make the gingersnap crumbs by whirling gingersnaps in a food processor until finely chopped, or place the cookies in a zip-top bag and roll with a rolling pin until well crushed.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus 1 hour baking
MAKES: 12 to 16 servings

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature (not light)
12 ounces plain goat cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 pound Bing cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Meanwhile, butter a 10-inch springform pan liberally, making sure to get butter into the edges of the pan. Place the pan on a large square of aluminum foil, and fold the corners of the foil up around the outsides of the pan. (This just makes clean-up easier if any butter oozes out the bottom of the pan during baking.) Place the foil-bottomed springform pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

When the butter has melted, add the gingersnap crumbs and the confectioners’ sugar to the butter, and stir to blend. Dump the crust mixture into the springform pan, and use the palms of your hands to press the crust into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the pan to the freezer to chill while you make the batter.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using an electric mixer), whip the cheeses together for 3 minutes on medium speed, until smooth and light. Use a rubber scraper to loosen any unwhipped cheese from the paddle and bottom of the bowl. Whip again on medium speed for another minute or two, adding the granulated sugar in a slow, steady stream. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, then add the vanilla. Mix the batter on medium-high speed for 2 minutes more, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, and the paddle, halfway through.

Return the springform pan to the baking sheet and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until the cake moves as a whole when you tap the sides of the pan and appears set in the center. (It may crack; that’s okay.) Cool at least 30 minutes.

While the cake bakes, combine the vinegar and the honey in a small saucepan and bring to a strong simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture begins to look syrupy. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cool. (The mixture should thicken considerably in the refrigerator.)

Note: You can make the cake up to this point up to 2 days before serving. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, halve and pit the cherries, and fold them into the balsamic mixture. Serve the cake topped with the cherries.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, fruit, recipe

My Father’s Days

These are my father’s days. He recently took an early retirement option from his engineering career to start a second career in renewable energy. Now that’s renewable energy for you, packing up and starting over in your late fifties, just because you want to make a difference.

His brother, another father figure in my life, is about to do something similar – not changing industries so much as locations, moving his life and his wife and his perspective across the pond to Asia.

When I spoke to my grandmother, their mother, about this, she beamed approval and harked back to the days when she kept them connected to her on a string to prevent them from wandering off too far. Guess all that wandering is doing them some good now, she said, cherubic pink cheeks flushing with pride.

So there my dad is, afloat for the first time on his shiny new raft with the sun and a giant photovoltaic panel for guidance, and perhaps not much else. I know he can swim, so I’m not all that worried about him.

When I was applying for college, he always reminded me of a certain adage: The only thing constant in life is change itself. Then he added his part: So get used to it.

He was right.

Thank goodness.

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A good reason to grill corn

We’ve been busy here, so busy. Tito’s cousin Laura is here (Laura is her real name), and between exploring new farmers’ markets and cooking up a storm, she’s getting a pretty solid introduction to the way we live our lives here.

This was part of our lunch today, a prelude to what just may be The Best Cheesecake. Coming soon.

Grilled corn salad 2

Recipe for Leftover Grilled Corn Salad
Recipe 167 of 365

There are some things I love eating the next day, cold, straight out of the fridge: macaroni and cheese, grilled steak, roasted chicken, and potato salad come to mind. But leftover cold grilled corn has never been high on that list. It tends to linger, ignored, in the back of the fridge, until my husband takes pity on it and throws it away.

Here, a reason to grill extra corn. The feta gives it a great creamy texture. Sliced red grape tomatoes would make a tasty addition.

TIME: 10 minutes (with grilled corn)
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings as a side dish

2 cups corn, from about 3 leftover grilled corn cobs
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well blended, and serve.


Filed under recipe, salad, side dish, vegetables

Everybody loves fish sauce

A staple ingredient in many southeast Asian kitchens is fish sauce, known as nam pla in Thai kitchens or nuoc mam (also spelled nuoc nam) in Vietnam. It’s basically fish wine, if you can stand to think of it that way – fish that’s been stacked in barrels and fermented with salt. But really, it tastes way better than it sounds. Just don’t spill it in your sleeping bag, like we heard friends of ours did recently.

Although the stir-fry beef available in most grocery stores will work for this recipe, it will really be best with high quality cuts (such as tenderloin) sliced very, very thin. I buy mine from a local rancher, or in the section that sells thin, gristle-free cuts of meat for shabu-shabu at my local Asian grocery. Serve simply over lettuce, or over a bed of chilled rice noodles.

For a pescetarian version, simply skip the beef and replace it with shredded carrots, green papaya, jicama, and perhaps a few peanuts or tofu pieces, if you’re looking for protein.

Vietnames beef and cucumber salad

Recipe for Vietnamese Beef and Cucumber Salad
Recipe 166 of 365

The dressing for this salad is based on Mark Bittman’s recipe for Neua Nam Tok, a grilled Vietnamese beef salad from The Best Recipes in the World.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 3 servings, or 4 servings over rice noodles

1/4 cup nuoc mam, nam pla, or other fish sauce
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha (chili-garlic sauce)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1-pound) English cucumber, sliced 1/16” thin on a mandolin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 packed cup mint leaves, torn into smaller pieces if large
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 pound thin-sliced beef for stir-frying, cut into bite-sized pieces, if necessary

Whisk the fish sauce, lime juice, shallot, garlic, sriracha, and sugar together in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cucumber slices and herbs, and toss to blend. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat. When hot, add the peanut oil, then the ginger, and stir once. Add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, or until no pink remains. Transfer the beef to a strainer and any liquid drain out while the beef cools, for about five minutes. Toss the beef with the cucumber mixture and serve immediately over lettuce or rice noodles, or refrigerate and serve the next day.

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Filed under Beef, recipe, stir-fry, vietnamese