Monthly Archives: August 2007

Vodka & Hamburgers

Chorizo Burger

Today I’m writing from a coffee shop, and my laptop screen looks like one of those “before” and “after” ads for outdoor Windex. The other night I went to a media party for Venik, the new vodka bar in South Lake Union, and the power of suggestion forced my husband to pour himself a vodka martini after he’d spent the evening sanding an entire side of the house. (Painting starts tomorrow.) We’re still not sure sure what power knocked said martini over onto our old shared iBook, where he’d been checking his email, but in the few seconds it took Tito to grab some cleaning materials, the vodka had dripped down one side of the screen and seeped into part of the keyboard. Everything’s clean, but the lower left quadrant of the screen seems to have suffered some permanent damage. At first that was all I noticed, but today, the quertyasd keys are really, really sticky, so I sort of have to pound away with the left hand to get anything onto the page.

Myb I’ll ju yp nomlly n if you cn follo. (That’s maybe I’ll just type normally and see if you can follow, but I’ll guess not.)

Anyway. (Pound.) Today’s topic is hamburgers. (Pound, pound.) I’ve been doing some research on grass-fed burgers for a little piece on the very best of their class, and it inspired me to reach into my own frozen stores of grass-fed beef, from Skagit River Ranch. Sitting there on top of the beef was a package of chorizo, and I though, well, why not? Chorizo is frequently just to rich for me to eat plain, and hamburgers are sometimes a little boring. So I mixed them, stripping the casings off the chorizo, mashing it up, and adding it to the beef. I made big, fat burger patties, grilled them up, and piled them with Estrella’s Gaupier cheese and a sweet slather made with fresh figs and baby tomatoes that was just the right contrast for the spicy meat. If you’ve never tried an egg bun (or a bun made with something like challah), give it a whirl. I found great egg buns in the bread section of my neighborhood grocery store.

I’ll have to excuse myself. (Pound, pound.) My left hand is getting tired, and I think I should save it for the weekend.

Topless Chorizo Burger

Chorizo Burgers with Gaupier and Tomato-Fig Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 243 of 365

Made with a combination of lean, high-quality beef, spicy chorizo sausage, egg, breadcrumbs, Dijon, and Worcestershire sauce, these burgers are uber juicy and really the right size for a bun. If you don’t have access to Gaupier, the dense, flavorful cow’s milk cheese from Estrella Family Creamery with an ash line down the center, just use your favorite strong cheese – with the jam, something like a blue or a good, sharp cheddar will be best.

Use leftover sauce on sandwiches, or as a dip for homemade French fries or breakfast potatoes.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 big burgers

For the sauce:
2 cups baby red or yellow tomatoes (I used Sungolds), tops removed
8 small figs, stems removed
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the burgers:
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound chorizo sausage (2 large sausages), casings removed, meat chopped
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 slices Gaupier cheese, or similar strong cheese
4 hamburger buns, buttered and grilled
Miscellaneous burger accessories: tomato, avocado, lettuce, pickles, etc.

First, start the sauce: Place the tomatoes and figs in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse about 15 times, or until roughly chopped. Transfer to a small saucepan, add the ketchup and soy, season with salt and pepper, stir, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring only occasionally, or until thick.

Tomato-Fig Sauce

Preheat your grill on medium heat, or prepare a moderate charcoal fire.

Mix the beef, chorizo, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper in a big bowl until very well combined. (I use my hands, but a serving fork works well, too.) Divide the meat into four equal sections, and form each section into a large, roughly 3/4″ thick patty. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Grill burgers to desired doneness, adding the cheese to the burger just before taking off the grill. (The cheese is best only very slightly melted.) Slather the sauce on toasted buns, top with chorizo burgers and any desired accessories, and serve immediately.

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Filed under Beef, farmer's market, recipe

Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Last weekend, I couldn’t go to the farmers’ market, so I shoved a $20 bill into a friend’s hand and begged him to go for me. It was a terrific idea. You know how everyone else‘s fridge seems to have all the perfect ingredients? Everyone else has the shoes you need? Everyone else‘s house is stocked with the things you wished you had?

Sending someone else to the farmers’ market meant I didn’t get to do all the things I love doing – talking to the farmers, watching my dog eat produce off the ground, etc. But it did mean that my kitchen saw things I might not normally buy, things I might pass over. I ended up with those pluots and a mammoth bunch of celery, with all the leaves, and a few kinds of potatoes.

Here’s a quickie, for those of you who like salt as much as I do. If there are days when you’ve actually caught yourself considering salt a main ingredient, these will make you happy.

Recipe 242 of 365: Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Toss a generous pound of scrubbed fresh fingerlings in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, toss to coat, and roast in a baking dish at 450 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes, or until the potatoes are soft all the way through and the skins begin to lift off the flesh. Serve hot.

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Filed under farmer's market, recipe, side dish, vegetables

241: Two-Pluot Pie (or: A Recipe for a Good Life)

Half a pie

Seattle is in full bloom. I don’t just mean the flowers – I mean Seattle, all its people, all its markets, all its best sides are showing. The days are warm and dry, the nights crisp and clear, and it’s hard to imagine finding a better place to live life.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m feeling rather bloomy myself. I’ve always thought that not thinking of how things are is a sign of things being good. . . there’s less analyzing, adjusting, contemplating. And maybe that’s why I’ve been a little quiet lately. Besides my produce issues, life is so good. Perhaps, like all those poor trees, I went through painful pruning this spring just to feel healthier now.

Or maybe I’m just feeling the emotional aftershocks of a great new haircut. (It’s now chin-length in the front and short and sticky-outy in the back, and I dyed it all back to my natural dark blonde. Oooooh.)

A few days ago my neighbor Vicki called. “Teach me to make a pie crust,” she said. She’d once learned from her mother, but after several disastrous pies in a row, she reverted back to frozen crusts. Last week, she hit upon a sudden urge to start from scratch, so to speak. Her mother’s still alive, but she didn’t want her to know she’s forgotten. I paused, wondering if we’d use a fruit that might taste better plain, out of hand, and pushed the thought aside.

So we made a date. And yesterday at 2 p.m., she walked in with her great-grandmother’s rolling pin, and we went to work.

What she’d really asked was how I made pie crusts, and I admitted that since I developed lupus, I’ve been making them in the food processor, anything to avoid using my hands too much. But I didn’t like the idea of telling her how the slips of cold butter should hide between layers of flour without letting her touch it, without showing her how the dough feels as it picks up moisture a little bit at a time.

First we each made a crust using the traditional French technique: sabler, papillon, fraisage. We dumped the contents of my freezer onto the counter for a few minutes, to make the working surface good and cold so the butter wouldn’t melt, then shoved it all back in. I forced myself to go back to the ratios we learned for pate brisee in culinary school: flour to fat to liquid, 3 to 2 to 1. We each piled a cup and a half of flour on my counter and mixed it with a little salt. We dumped a stick of butter, cut into chunks, and a tablespoon of shortening into the flour, and worked it into pea-size bits with our hands, feeling the slippery, cold fat glide under our fingernails and the flour beginning to adhere to the pads of our thumbs. I could feel the space at the base of my thumbs tense up as I squashed the butter between them and my fingertips, but I ignored it: pie crust is worth a bit of pain, I think. We each pushed our dough into a long pile, bulldozed a channel down the center of the pile with our fingertips, and added a tablespoon of vinegar-spiked ice water to the center of the valley, fluffing the flour and butter over the water and then mixing it all together with the help of a pastry scraper. We bulldozed and watered and fluffed a few more times, almost 5 tablespoons of water in all, until the dough begin to cling together in big lumps. We used the heels of our hands to smear the dough into the counter, pushing away in the same plane as the counter to help develop the gluten that keeps a pie crust together, and Vicki giggled and wiped the flour off her shirt. I wondered how Bromley had gotten so much flour on her head.

We each made a second batch in the food processor, to know exactly how much easier and how much less fulfilling that modern method is, and secreted four heavy lumps of dough into the corner of the fridge in little foil packages. They rested, and waited. Pie crust is much more patient than a person.

After dinner, we consulted Rose Levy Beranbaum, pie and pastry queen extraordinaire, on what to do with the pounds and pounds of pluots we’d gathered at the farmers’ market over the weekend for the project. Of course, good ol’ Rose stuck to more traditional fruits, so we improvised the filling, each mixing 1/2 cup sugar, 2 1/2 tablespoons flour, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon together in a mixing bowl, then adding 5 sliced yellow pluots and 5 sliced red pluots to each of our bowls.

Vicki got out her rolling pin, and I took down the striped one Tito made me on his father’s lathe, and together we rolled our our dough and laughed and drank wine and oh, it was all just easy as pie. That must be where the saying comes from, then. Life felt so easy, despite the deadlines, the to-do lists. I showed Vicki how how to make a double-crusted pie with her dough, and we put a cute hole in the top and decorated it with little cut-outs of leftover dough, arranged in the shape of a flower. I made my pie with a cheater lattice (no actual criss-crossing, just stripes in one direction, then stripes in the other direction), and we brushed them both with an egg glaze made with an egg and a tablespoon of half and half. We showered them with a thin layer of sugar, since we’d made the dough without. We froze them for a few minutes, just to make sure they were good and cold going into the oven, then baked them for an hour at 425.

In the time it took to make the pies, we decided that yes, pie is worth making from scratch. That no, we did not mind the mess. That no, we didn’t really think it mattered that much how good the pie was, because we had so much fun doing it (but for the record, it was delicious). And that yes, everyone should have a kitchen big enough to accommodate two cooking bodies, because that, the summer kitchen, with the wind blowing through the back door and a big floury handprint on the ass of your jeans, is part of the recipe for a good life.

I feel a little sorry that I got caught up in the moment and was lazy about my notes. I know my ingredient measurements were right, but that I can’t tell you how thin I rolled my dough, or how long I let the rolled-out pie dough rest again in the fridge before assembling the pie.

But only a little sorry – I’ve just had pie for lunch. And a plate of sliced tomatoes, with olive oil and sea salt. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I feel reconciled with summer.

Two-Pluot Pie from above

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Filed under dessert, fruit

August and everything after

Japanese Yellow

August is mad at me. It’s given me tomatoes, so many tomatoes, and celery and peppers and new potatoes and big, crowded farmers’ markets, and I can’t help but feel that I’m abusing the produce. I have produce abuse guilt.

Green Zebra

I’m not smashing it or anything, I’m cooking with it, playing with my food instead of just eating it.

This is the time of year when I should be letting the ground guide me. But instead of taking cues from the stuff that lands on my counter, eating the same simple dishes day after day (potatoes roasted with sea salt, raw zucchini with lemon and garlic, simple carrot salads), I’m making August’s bounty a victim of hogwash, cornering it into new, more creative recipes when the ingredients should star as themselves, plain on a plate. I’m driving myself crazy.

I’ve made a tomato line-up on my counter with the fruits of my neighbor’s labors. Which one of you did this to me?, I’ve asked. In December, when I decided to write a recipe a day, which one of you forgot to remind me how little food needs to be changed in August? They’re not talking.

Red Zebra

Why do I feel like I’m having a hard time explaining this?

Please forgive me, if you’ve noticed. I do respect my produce, and hereby promise to use what’s bountiful in the simplest of ways next year, when this silly project is over. Next August will be for eating, not recipe writing. And these here tomatoes will not be unnecessarily harmed. Tonight I’ll set this line-up out on the porch on a cutting board, and we’ll have Tomato Tuesday, like we used to do every week on Cape Cod this time of year. We’ll dip them into good olive oil, shower them with salt, and shove fat new slices into our mouths with oily fingers before we’ve finished chewing the last bite. There will be Session stubbies (Session is the official beer of the summer of 2007 at our house), and much discussion about house painting tactics. We’ve been prepping during the evenings this week, and we’ll be starting for real on Friday night. Labor Day weekend, don’t you think it’s fitting?

Here’s how the voting was going, by the way, as of yesterday morning:

House Votes 2

Overseas leads, by a small margin, and with much commentary. Or so I thought; the tomato neighbor just called to tell me there’s been a rush on French Riviera, but I haven’t been outside yet to check.

C’mon over and say hi. Or sit on your own porch, with good heirloom tomatoes, if you’re lucky enough to have them, and appreciate how easy it is to eat in August. Soon it will be September. Then October, and August will be gone, and the farmers’ markets will be filled with things that need to be skinned and cracked, cut and cooked, somehow changed before ingestion.

And then I’ll feel really guilty.

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Filed under commentary, farmer's market

School year breakfast

After a bike ride last Saturday I had a most enjoyable form of oatmeal, at Rembrandts. It was spiked with wheat berries and steel-cut oats, spiced with cloves and nutmeg, and topped with sliced bananas and a truly obscene amount of whipped cream. This morning, thinking of my sister, who just started her last year of high school, and of the cool, crisp, fall air blowing in through our front door, I craved oatmeal.

Spiced Quinoa Oatmeal with Figs and Cream 2

Spiced Quinoa Oatmeal with Figs and Cream (PDF)
Recipe 240 of 365

Although both quinoa and oatmeal can be a little boring by themselves, combining them with fall spices, figs, and a touch of sugar makes for a breakfast with good texture, crunch, and flavor. Use regular or red quinoa, and feel free to substitute peaches, nectarines, berries, or bananas for the figs.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 cups water
2 tablespoons uncooked quinoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked whole oats
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 packed tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste)
4 small figs, sliced
1/2 cup whipped cream (sweetened or unsweetened)

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa and salt, and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the oats, cover, and simmer for 5 more minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, and stir in the spices and sugar. Serve the oatmeal in bowls, topped with the fig slices and cream.

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Filed under Breakfast, fruit, recipe

In-Your-Face Chicken Pasta Salad

Today is a different day; I’ve ricocheted from one side to the other. Same basic ingredients – whole (buck)wheat, broccoli, chicken and basil – only this time, it’s all out in the open. Out of the closet, if you will.

Sesame Soba with Chicken, Broccoli & Basil Vert

Sesame Soba with Chicken, Broccoli and Basil (PDF)
Recipe 239 of 365

Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles, which have an earthier flavor than regular whole wheat noodles, and are better at soaking up sauces than traditional dried Italian pasta. If you’ve never cooked them, read the directions; they usually take less time than regular pasta.

This is a great way to use up a leftover cooked chicken breast (or all that meat that’s left on a roasted chicken after you cut the main parts off), but if you need to cook some for the recipe, just sear it over medium-high heat in a swirl of olive oil (added after the pan has heated up, of course), for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, turning the heat down on the second side, if needed.

TIME: 30 minutes (including cooking the chicken)
MAKES: 2 servings

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup sesame tahini (stir well, if new)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1/4 – 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha or even Japanese shichimi flakes), or to taste
4 ounces soba noodles
2 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
3 scallions, finely chopped (green and white parts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, mix the rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy, tahini, sesame seeds, and chili sauce (if using) in a small bowl until well blended. Set aside. (If you’re cooking the chicken breast now, finish it before you start cooking the noodles.)

Cook the noodles according to package directions, until al dente, adding the broccoli florets to the water along with the noodles about 2 minutes before the noodles should be done. Drain the noodles and the broccoli together, transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the reserved sauce, and mix with tongs until smooth. (It may take a minute or two; the sauce is thick.) Add the shredded chicken, scallions, and basil, mix, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Filed under chicken, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

I do love a good mystery

One of the things I love about writing here is how differently you all respond. You say yes, these straightforward recipes are just what my kitchen needs, while you, over there, you dig the more esoteric recipes; chocolate-basil torte and tomato sorbet, all the way, you say. X wants side dishes, Y wants more main course ideas.

I love you all, because you reflect my many different kitchen selves, on different days.

In my book, pasta salad tends toward the easy, mainstream side of the spectrum. But this one has secrets.

I just turned in an article on how to sneak vegetables into adults’ diets. You know, how to trick your Sig. O. the same way you might trick a four-year-old, by slipping things in and hoping they go down the hatch undetected.

So go ahead: feed this to your broccoli-hater. Your whole wheat-hater. See what happens.

Oh, and by the way, the new flax and multigrain pasta at Trader Joe’s is superb.

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Salad 1

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Salad (PDF)
Recipe 238 of 365

You can substitute a chicken from your own oven and homemade pesto, of course, but if you’re trying to get as many nutrients into a certain someone in as little time as possible, use the rotisserie bird and pre-made pesto. And if your audience is a little less picky, add chopped Sungold tomatoes, goat cheese or feta, or any other vegetables popular at your house.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

2 cups broccoli florets
8 ounces (1 cup) basil pesto
1 pound whole wheat fusilli (or other small pasta)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin removed, meat shredded

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

Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water, bring to a boil, and add the broccoli. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until tender, then set aside to drain.

Transfer the pesto to a food processor, add the broccoli, and whirl until completely smooth.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions, and drain. Transfer to a big bowl and toss with the broccoli pesto, olive oil, and shredded chicken. Serve warm or cold.

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Filed under chicken, Pasta, recipe, vegetables