Monthly Archives: September 2007

So good to me

You have been so good to me this week. So good. You told me to rest, and to keep it simple, stupid, and gave me specific strategies for making this last quarter (!) of 2007 easier: you sent family recipes (none of which are supposed to be kept secret, thankfully), recipe ideas, and suggestions ranging from meditation to repetitive screaming. Ten minutes max prep time, you said. I got McIntosh apples in the mail from New England, and made the crisp again with them. (It was better.) Last night we had dinner with friends at their house; they a specific dinner in mind (I’ll share it soon), so they did the grocery shopping, and I just showed up and took notes while they chopped and stirred and washed dishes.

You’ve pampered me.

Really, though. The weather in Seattle hasn’t improved, and frankly, I’m not feeling much better. And I don’t want to talk about it out loud, because all I have to share is a big bouquet of complaints. (If you’re looking for a pick-me-up story today, that’s your cue.)

Continue reading


Filed under dessert, recipe

DIY Rosemary-Walnut Toasts

I’m a sucker for both rosemary and walnut breads (especially the kinds made by Essential Baking Company in Seattle). Yesterday I picked up a baguette from Tall Grass at the season’s last Phinney Ridge farmers’ market (sadness!), and when I got home, I kept thinking about the flavored breads. . .

Walnut-Rosemary Toasts 3

Walnut-Rosemary Toasts (PDF)
Recipe 272 of 365

Brushing good artisanal bread slices with olive oil, and dousing them with Parmesan cheese on both sides before baking – now that’s a recipe for a great snack. But substitute a little walnut oil for that olive oil, and throw some rosemary into the mix, and you’ve got something even tastier.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

1 good baguette, sliced into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the baguette slices on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Mix the oils together in a small bowl. Brush both sides of the bread with oils, and season both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the top sides of the bread with half the rosemary and half the cheese, and bake for about 8 minutes. Carefully flip the bread, and sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and cheese. Bake another 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned, and serve warm. Toasts can be reheated, if necessary, but will get crispier with each subsequent reheating.

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Filed under appetizers, bread, farmer's market, recipe

For Squash

My brother’s name is Josh, and there was an unfortunate period in his life when everyone called him Squash. It happened to coincide with the years he was the puniest, scrawniest pre-teen there ever was. This is no longer the case; he is now strapping and handsome – but I still can’t hear someone talk about Squash without wondering if he’s in the room.

Squashed smeared with pepita rub

Pepita-Crusted Butternut Squash (PDF)
Recipe 271 of 365

I typically reserve dry rubs for meats and fish (or anything that I want to enrobe in an extra layer of flavor), but here, a mixture of pepita (pumpkin seeds), spices, and brown sugar gives fat slices of squash a little somethin’ somethin’. You could also toss the rub with green beans, or use it to crust halved zucchini, yellow, or delicata squash (as below) before baking.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 (2-pound) butternut squash
Olive oil spray
1/4 cup toasted, unsalted pepita (pumpkin seeds – raw will work too)
1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Carefully halve the squash lengthwise, through the stem and blossom ends. Scoop out the seeds (this is a good job for your ice cream scoop), and cut each half in half again lengthwise. Place the squash on a parchment- or silicon-covered baking sheet, and spray the cut sides of the squash with the olive oil spray.

Whirl the pepita in a small food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to blend.

Pepita dry rub

Smear the pepita mixture onto all orange surfaces of the squash, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the squash is soft all the way through. Serve warm.

(Don’t they look like little Indian slippers?)

Pepita-Crusted Butternut Squash


Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

94 to go

I’m not gonna lie to you. Today, I don’t feel like doing this. My hands still ache from peeling apples for applesauce, my body is fighting to recover from hiking or horseback riding (still?) or maybe 7 mg, and I just want to eat take-out three nights in a row like a normal person, sitting on a couch in front of some form of canned entertainment. I can’t wait for this effing year to end.

Chunky Chickpea Vegetable Soup  2

Chunky Chickpea Vegetable Soup (PDF)
Recipe 270 of 365

Spiked with lemon and fresh herbs, this soup combines the heartiness of minestrone with the healing powers of chicken noodle. Add zucchini, bell peppers, or baby spinach, or make it heartier by stirring in cooked pasta, rice, or wheat berries at the end.

TIME: 45 minutes total
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaping cup chopped onion (from 1/2 large onion)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2” pennies
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2” half moons
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 large tomato (about 3/4 pound), chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or basil)
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until the onions begin to soften. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, and thyme, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are cooked through. Add the chickpeas, and simmer five minutes more. Stir in the parsley and lemon juice, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.


Filed under recipe, soup, vegetables

269: Almond-Dusted Green Beans

Almond-Dusted Green Beans 1

Almond-Dusted Green Beans (PDF)
Recipe 269 of 365

Green beans, butter, and almonds are a fairly typical combination. Here’s something similar, done in a not-so-typical way: The green beans are coated with olive oil and chopped garlic, then sprinkled with almond meal and roasted in a hot oven. The texture is unique, and it’s a quick side dish that’s convenient if you already have something in the oven.

Find almond meal at Trader Joe’s, or make it by grinding almonds in a food processor until finely chopped but not yet buttery.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 pound green beans, trimmed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1/4 cup almond meal
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the green beans in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and garlic, and toss to coat. Add the almond meal, and mix again to coat all the beans evenly. Spread the beans out on a parchment-covered baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and bake on the upper rack of the oven for 20 minutes, or until al dente. Serve immediately.


Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

Huckleberry Sin

Huckleberry Cake

I’ve never quite understood why some people insist on keeping family recipes secret. Isn’t bringing people together the point of a family recipe? And doesn’t sharing recipes tend to bring people together? Why do you read hogwash?

Now, if a bakery considers a recipe proprietary information (The Boise Co-Op’s lemon cookie comes to mind first), I’m inclined to respect the decision immediately. After all, the bakery business is tough, and one perfect recipe butters less bread if it’s sold from competing dessert cases.

Family recipes seem different. If a grandmother’s best pie makes a person smile, shouldn’t that person have the right to feel those sensations – the flavor of the filling, the snap of the crust, the warmth of a friend’s smile – even if she isn’t directly related to the grandmother? And, as is the case with the bakery recipe, shouldn’t the family know that the pie will never taste the same – really the same – if someone else (besides the grandmother or her direct descendants) is making it?

But. BUT. As much as I disagree, I try not to step on recipe-hoarders’ toes. I do try. If they want to skim joy off the top of other peoples’ lives and deprive them of sustenance, that’s their prerogative.

Take, for example, the blueberry cake I eat at least once a year with the Trafton clan. It’s as simple as cake gets, a white butter batter stirred together with a spoon, studded with blueberries, and plopped into whatever pan is handy. At every summer celebration, it fills a kitchen in a house on the Maine coast with a hot blueberry breeze, and when it’s served, slathered with cream cheese frosting, everything else stops.

Now, I adore Mom Trafton. But from the first time I met her (and tasted the cake), I knew that I’d only get her blueberry cake if it was baked in a Trafton kitchen. When we saw her last summer, seven years or so since we met, she gave me a squeeze and told me I was special. I think she actually said “You guys are honorary Traftons.” In that clan, there’s hardly a higher compliment. I smiled instantly.

Never one to let an opportune moment slide by, I squeezed her back and said something bright, like “So does that mean I get the blueberry cake recipe?” It was the wrong thing to say, but I got over it, and resolved to wait for another slice next summer.

Keep in mind, though, that for me, not having a recipe doesn’t necessarily mean not being able to duplicate something, at least roughly. Technically, I could reinvent the blueberry cake. It’s not a temptation I deal with on a regular basis, because, quite frankly, the idea of the family recipe has all but faded in my generation, and of those that are left, few are really secret.

But last weekend, we went hiking. The trail we took up to Skyline Lake wasn’t so much dotted with huckleberries; it plowed a path through a virtual huckleberry forest. We slept on huckleberries. (Here’s Frank’s slideshow, by the way; you can see how the leaves on the blackberry bushes are turning different shades of orange.) On the way down we picked them, watching the shiny, dark fruits roll over each other like ball bearings as we tipped them into the big zip-top bag I’d brought just in case. We showed each other our huckleberry hands and giggled.

In the mountains, I’d wanted to make muffins, with buttermilk and lemon zest. But by the time the huckleberries were clean and dry, huddling together in a paper towel-lined bowl in my refrigerator, I’d realized I could sin without sinning. My goal shifted: I’d make huckleberry cake.

And so I started. To assuage the guilt that began building the moment I set the butter and cream cheese out to soften, I strayed from the parts I knew to be true: I mixed by machine instead of by hand, added not so much sugar, and used huckleberries instead of blueberries (and many more of them).

When the cake came out of the oven, hot and puffed and only barely browned at the edges, the way Mom Trafton’s always is, I almost called her to tell her what I’d done. Instead, I decided to skip the frosting. I put the cream cheese back in the refrigerator and ferried cake to my neighbors and to my fellow pickers, an unnoticed atonement and silent celebration for doing something I know I shouldn’t have done.

If the Traftons ask, fresh, wild Maine blueberries (especially the ones Emily picks each year) are not an acceptable substitute for huckleberries. And this would be terrible with a soft, spreadable cream cheese frosting.

Huckleberry Cake with Ice Cream

Huckleberry Cake (PDF)
Recipe 268 of 365

Based on my imagined recipe for the infamous Trafton Family Blueberry Cake (although truth be told, it may belong to Mom Trafton’s family, so it might carry her maiden name), this isn’t one of those fussy, ethereally light cakes, meant to be dressed up and presented with pomp and circumstance. It’s homey and hearty, and takes about fifteen minutes to whip together. Serve it hot, just out of the pan, with vanilla ice cream or soft cream cheese frosting.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

Butter and flour, for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 cups huckleberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8” square cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Transfer a heaping tablespoon of the dry mixture to a small bowl, and set the small bowl aside – you’ll use this for the huckleberries.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, about three minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla, and mix to blend. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a plastic spatula to incorporate the butter, and blend again on medium speed for 1 minute. Add half of the dry ingredients, then the milk, then the remaining half of the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed between each addition until just blended. Stir the huckleberries into the reserved flour mixture (coating them with flour prevents them from sinking in the batter and streaking it blue), then add them to the cake batter and mix in by hand. (The batter will be quite thick.)

Dump the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth into an even layer (don’t forget the corners!) with a flat spatula. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when touched. (The cake will not brown much.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve straight from the pan, warm, with vanilla ice cream.


Filed under Cakes, commentary, dessert, fruit, recipe


Chai-Scented Applesauce 2

In French, there’s a term for making a noun out of another word, nominalization. (Nom means both name and noun in French.) We do it in English, too, but since I learned it in French, I think of it as a French linguistic term.

I tend to do the opposite, stuffing nouns into action verbs as I see fit. There must be a word for this.

Right now, for example, it’s falling outside. As in, fading and darkening and preparing to hibernate, forcing the last drops of summer out in fits of burstiful color to make room for what’s to come. I think a person could be falling, too, and not just like I did yesterday, stumbling to my knees on the hike down from our campsite. Yesterday, I was also falling when I started making applesauce: it’s a physical representation of reserving energy and gathering strength for a real or metaphorical winter.

Fall has tended to be my worst time, in terms of lupus symptoms. Four years ago, this time of year, I felt the first aching pains of joint involvement, and started to notice how Raynaud’s Syndrome turned my fingertips first an eery shade of white, then filled them with blood, the ruddy purple tone reminding me just how much my skin hides underneath. The last three years, I’ve had time to rest in early fall. I’ve had mini hibernations, two weeks or so of a transition between a summer of personal cheffing and three seasons of writing and recipe testing.

Now, fall is coming, and maybe I’m not falling enough, not getting ready. Not stopping. The warm, secure blanket of sunshine I’ve been cozied under since July 1st is suddenly gone, and I’m Wile E. Coyote, ten feet off a cliff but still running running, barely aware that the chasm below me could develop into a minor problem.

Yesterday, when we got home from hiking, I plunged right back in while my husband spread our gear all over the backyard to dry. Writing calling reading cooking writing. Then the friends we’d been hiking with stopped by on their way out to grab a movie, admitting a three-hour nap had overtaken them the moment they’d walked in their door, and I saw it: I saw the ground below me, and my legs pumping, and wow, I should learn a thing or two from these people.

But exactly how does one begin to slow down? My brakes don’t work very well.

Last fall, I was fine. But last fall, at this time, I was sitting in an empty living room, waiting for a moving truck to arrive. Last fall, I was also on 15mg of prednisone, too high a dose for comfort, and today I hit 7mg, my lowest since the spring of 2006. I hope my body says yes. Rather, I hope I can do the things I need to do so it doesn’t say no.

If only it would give me a list. That would be easier.

I suppose I’ll have to make my own. Obviously, it’ll be a list of Not To Dos. It’ll start with Do Not Make Laps. That means slowing down, standing over a pot of fragrant, crisp apples, stirring them patiently into softness instead of bouncing back and forth from my computer at the same time.

Chai-Scented Applesauce 4

Chai-Scented Applesauce (PDF)
Recipe 267 of 365

As always, freshly ground or grated spices give the most flavor, but even the tinned kind give this applesauce a kiss of spice that’s just a bit different from your typical cinnamon-loaded applesauce. Eat it for breakfast, or for dinner over pork chops or curried chicken.

TIME: 25 minutes prep
MAKES: About 5 cups

5 pounds tart apples (a mix of varieties is best), peeled and chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place the apples in a large soup pot. Mix the sugar with the spices in a small bowl, pour over the apples, and stir to combine. Cook over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until the applesauce reaches desired consistency (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). Leave the sauce a little chunky, or puree in a food processor or blender until smooth, and store in glass jars in the refrigerator, up to three weeks.


Filed under dessert, fruit, recipe

September reading (and listening)

Oh, and yes, I’ve been meaning to tell you. Check out my rather cranky piece on blackberries in Delicious City, the new Seattle food publication that launches this week. (Better late than never.) I also have a September Cookout Menu in Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, and a piece on Tom Douglas in the Septemer issue of Sunset Magazine (it’s toward the back).

And remember that piece on Alinea from my trip to Chicago in April? I’ll be reading a (very) condensed version at Talking With Your Mouth Full, an evening of food-related readings (and a fundraiser) sponsored by Leite’s Culinaria on November 13th, in Seattle. Here’s a link to recordings from the first event, held last January in New York.

Click here for the invite (PDF), with info about how to get tickets, etc.

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Filed under media

A list from Bromley, and the bittiest shrimp

We just got back from camping overnight in the Cascades, up near Stevens Pass. We went prepared for a little campfire, you know, hot dogs and s’mores and the like, but there had been a wee bit of a downpour, so no firewood was to be found. We came home, unloaded everything, and promptly hit Miro Tea in Ballard. We left Bromley at home, and she ate everything we’d failed to put far enough out of reach in the kitchen. But since she knows we like to keep ourselves organized, she left us a list.

Here’s what she ate:

8 hot dog buns
1 package Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix (with mini marshmallows)
1 package peanut M&Ms
1/2 bag mashmallows
1 package raw instant oatmeal
1 bag dried apricots

We could also pretty much trace her meal across our office:

Home fro mcamping

We obviously failed to teach her the tenets of Leave No Trace during our outdoor adventure.

So we went to the store to find dinner. First, we found this freak lettuce: note it’s THREE kinds of lettuce growing out of ONE hydroponic root ball.

Freak salad

Next weekend I’m sticking around to hit the farmers’ markets. Three-headed lettuce is not natural.

Anyway. When my friend Lauren professed a love for the baby shrimp she buys at Citarella, I was stymied – buying cooked seafood from a supermarket’s fresh fish counter just doesn’t appeal to me. But when I happened upon them at Ballard Market, curled into swirls about the size of the tip of a finger, I thought I owed it to her to try them, at least, and stuffed them into my shopping basket, with no plan.

I wanted something gorgeous and fancy, because the baby shrimp themselves are very delicate-looking and somehow quite feminine, with their pearly pink stripes. But cilantro and scallion came to mind first, and then there was a frying pan on the stove, and out came hot, juicy fritters with high-class flavor but not so much beauty. So be it.

Shrimp fritters 1

Green Salad with Shrimp Fritters and Dijon-Sesame Dressing (PDF)
Recipe 266 of 365

Baby shrimp are sweet, sweeter than regular shrimp, and brinier. And they make a perfectly lovely dinner, mixed with scallions, soy, sesame, cilantro, and chives, pan-fried in little fritters, and paired with good lettuce and a soy-based dressing with some bite.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 2 to 3 servings as dinner, or 6 as an appetizer

1 large egg
2 tablespoons chopped scallion (from the green and white parts of one scallion)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sriracha or Chinese chili paste (or to taste)
1/2 pound baby cooked shrimp, drained if juicy
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (regular or panko)
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
Lettuce and sliced scallions for salad
Sesame-Dijon Dressing (recipe follows)

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, scallions, chives, cilantro, soy, sesame oil, and sriracha together until blended. Stir in the shrimp, then the breadcrumbs, and divide the mixture into six roughly equal portions.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the peanut oil, and swirl the pan to coat. Using a spoon, drop the shrimp batter into the pan in six piles, leaving about an inch between them. (You may have to work in two batches.) Cook the fritters for about 3 minutes per side, undisturbed, flipping only when they release from the pan easily. Drain briefly on a paper towel-lined plate, then pile onto salads made with lettuce and sliced scallions. Drizzle with Sesame-Dijon Dressing, and serve warm.

Sesame-Dijon Dressing

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sriracha
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk the mustard, soy, and sriracha together in a small bowl. Add the sesame oil, whisk to blend, then (while whisking) add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Whisk again before dressing salad.

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Filed under appetizers, salad, shellfish

265: The Greatest Little Potato Recipe Ever

Dijon potatoes 2

Are you ready for this one? It’s like the town of Howe, Idaho. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

Take a pound of baby potatoes, any color or everycolor (like the beans), and mix them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.

Easiest potatoes ever

Dump into a shallow baking pan, roast for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees (or until tender).

Then, boom. You got Dijon Potatoes. And they’re not greasy, but sort of dry on the outside, with a Dijon bite that spanks your tongue right when you put them in your mouth. Ketchup doesn’t hurt.

They’re also easy to handle, which means that if you happen to have lollipop sticks hanging around, they make a great prank, perfect for the guy who’s always pulling your chain.

Welcome to Seattle, Matt. Here, have a lollipop.

Matt's potato lollipop

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Filed under recipe, side dish, vegetables

A Vermontish Apple Crisp

After their failed blind date the other day, I had to keep trying to get apples and cheese together, first because I still have all these apples, and second because I’m stubborn like that. If seeing the word “cheddar” in a dessert recipe freaks you out, please have faith. This is not cheese pie, it’s honest-to-goodness apple crisp, with a deep, earthy flavor in the crust. Just do it.

If you’re back east and have access to McIntosh apples, use those. (And for God’s sake, if you didn’t realize where Apple Computer got its nickname, don’t tell anyone, especially if you’re a computer programmer by day.) I had good success with a combination of Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, and Gala apples. But damn, I miss Macs, especially the way they shine up so nicely and get all Christmassy red and green when you pick them yourself and rub them on your jeans.

Vermontish Apple Crisp 2

Vermontish Apple Crisp (PDF)
Recipe 264 of 365

Sweetened with maple syrup, the crisp topping is a bit unusual: it comes together like cookie dough before baking, and gets sprinkled onto the apples over a layer of shredded cheddar cheese, of all things, in deference to the Vermont tradition of topping hot apple pie with a slice of sharp white cheddar. It forms a wonderfully crunchy, breakable crust. Underneath, the apples are tart and tender, with enough juice to make them slide over each other in your mouth. In my book, this is everything apple crisp should be. Vanilla ice cream seals the deal.

TIME: 20 minutes active time, plus baking
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the filling:
Vegetable oil spray
7 large tart apples (about 2 3/4 pounds), chopped (peeled or unpeeled)
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup good maple syrup
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 loosely packed cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/4 pound)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8” square baking pan lightly with the vegetable oil spray, and set aside.

Stir the remaining filling ingredients together in a large mixing bowl until the fruit is coated with the flour. Transfer to the baking dish and bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes.

While the fruit bakes, make the crisp topping (you can use the same big bowl): Mix the flour, oats, and cinnamon together in the bowl. Pour the syrup and melted butter over the dry ingredients, and mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened. (It should feel a little like cookie dough.)

When the fruit is done, sprinkle the cheddar cheese in an even layer over the apples. Break the topping into small pieces and scatter it in an even layer over the cheese. Bake the crisp an additional 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm.

 Vermontish Apple Crisp whole


Filed under dessert, fruit, recipe

Soup on the brain

French Onion & Shallot Soup 1

When the weather cools off, I get soup on the brain. I always start with my favorites – smooth squash soups, chicken noodle (tonight?), and this year, soupe a l’oignon, because I finally have a (meaning one) vessel that looks appropriate for it. (When I invited my neighbor over for lunch today to share, I asked her to bring an ovenproof bowl with her.)

Here’s a classic version. My goal was to try it with apples on top, under the cheese in place of the bread. (I picked up about 20 pounds of apples – no kidding – in Ellensburg, on my way home from Montana last weekend.) But the apples aren’t so good at soaking anything up (my husband would say they have a low porosity), which means the liquid meanders out from underneath, where it should stay, and mingles with the cheese, and it’s just no good that way. The apples don’t quite get soft enough to cut, and it’s not so appetizing to look at:

French Onion Soup with Apples

Next time, I’ll actually make super thin grilled cheese sandwiches with good crusty bread in the panini press, chop them up into little squares, and shove as many of them as possible on top of the soup before adding the final layer of emmenthaler or gruyere. Imagined result: ultimate scoopability (because we all know how hard it can be to cut the bread in French Onion Soup), and cheese in every single bite.

Also, when I can’t leave well enough alone, I’ll replace the red wine with a cup of Guinness. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

French Onion & Shallot Soup

French Onion and Shallot Soup (PDF)
Recipe 263 of 365

If there’s one essential ingredient for soupe a l’oignon, it’s patience. In my experience, it will only taste good, only taste real, if you cook the onions down over low heat until caramelized – not tinged with brown, but all-over nut-colored, sticky with natural starch and just beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. For best flavor, make it a night or two before you plan to eat it.

Homemade beef stock would work best, but I didn’t have any – my guess is you won’t either. Look for high-quality boxed broth with no added sodium.

TIME: An evening, stirring occasionally
MAKES: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 large shallots (about 3/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups beef broth
4 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Emmenthaler or Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions and shallots, first in half through the root and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go.

Onions for soup

When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary.)

When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with soup, top with the bread, divide the cheese into four parts and pile on top of the bread. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for 1 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).


Filed under appetizers, recipe, soup

A long-winded way to say “we had a great time”

Gas pump in Wallace

I think it had been ten years since I used a gas pump like this. When we pulled up next to it in Wallace, Idaho, in the only vehicle in sight without a gun rack, I should have seen it as some sort of omen: Our weekend in Montana would be a time warp, in the very best way.

The drive to Big Sky brought the sense of distance from real life that any good vacation requires. Seven hundred miles is a long way, no matter how fast you go. As we hummed along I-90, we had time to realize we were driving the same road we’d taken on our way to Seattle almost exactly a year ago. We had time to take in what’s happened since then, to think of how much of Seattle has revealed itself to us, and how we’ve adjusted. And we had time to think back on our own wedding, and just sit, often quietly, together. Time went so much more slowly than usual, which meant we could simply enjoy having it.

Josh and Dani had somehow created a wedding bubble in and around Rainbow Ranch and a few big, comfy cabins along the Gallatin River. The guests were one big family, existing in that very moment for no other reason than to support and celebrate them. The bubble enveloped us the moment we arrived.

The morning of the wedding, about fifteen women gathered on my cabin’s porch, where Sarah, an ashtanga teacher from Boise, lead a vinyasa session in the hot Montana sun that made me wonder why anyone ever decided yoga should be practiced indoors.

The wedding itself brought me into the moment in a way I experience just too rarely – funny thing about time, I always seem so acutely aware of the past and future, and never quite aware enough of the present.

J&D's prayer flags

The ceremony tent was surrounded by prayer flags, both the traditional kind they’d brought back from recent travels, and homemade flags, made from fabric squares on which we’d all written our impromptu wedding wishes the night before.

Dani's necklace

There was very little pomp and circumstance, which I loved. Dani and Josh were wandering around outside before the actual ceremony, hanging out, looking dapper and elegant but not coiffed or artificial.

Josh and Dani, walking in

When they made their official entrance, heading toward a tree branch chuppah carried by their parents, I got an odd sense of watching them from a day far, far in the future, maybe telling their story like a fairy tale. I knew it then, that they’d be forever, and so did everyone else that was there. It was calming, and comforting, in a way, not feeling I had to wish them a fulfilling, successful, happy life because I felt so sure that what lies ahead for them is exactly that. As we watched them exchange vows, I think we all felt a surge of excitement that went beyond our thrill of seeing them get married; we felt that a union like theirs might (pardon the cliche, but there’s one good way to say it) make the world a better place.

Josh & Dani's rings

We all shared a few loaves of challah, toasted the bride and groom, and Josh and Dani circled all 120 of us up into one giant ring of people, to say thank you for being their family. Then we partied.

The food was, of course, delicious and creative. (The Rainbow Ranch is known for its grub, and apparently they’re just as good at it when serving giant crowds buffet-style.) The appetizers were actually interesting: Elk carpaccio toasts, carrot pancakes with smoked trout and horseradish, and vegetarian potstickers, both steamed (for the bride) and fried (for the groom, I guess, or the rest of us). I can’t say I expected Grandma to enjoy them so much:

Grandma with potsticker

I hope she didn’t notice, but I watched her all night. My own Jewish grandmother is gone, and I felt some comfort following her, watching her alternate between ordering people around and pretending to be completely oblivious, just like mine used to do. I wish you could see her make-up up close.

The whole dinner was cooked in a giant gazebo/outdoor kitchen, so we watched as they seared up (perfectly cooked) game sausage, London broil (wait – was that beef, or buffalo?), salmon, etc. (There was no lack of choice.)

London Broil with oregano and chives

This was the view behind my chair at dinner:

View from dinner table

And this was my view across the way (yes, she was that short):

Grandma shorter than wine

We dove into sweet, moist salmon with a chive-garlic pesto (which I must make at some point, to share with you); a spunky, light, thin-cut slaw with cabbage, peppers, and celery seeds; the steak with a Burgundy sauce . . .then the carrot cake Piper and Molly made, complete with little skiers for the bride and groom:

skier on cake

Luckily, Josh and Dani just set up slightly more permanent tent stakes in Mazama, WA, so we didn’t really have to say goodbye.

Josh and Dani

Instead, we hopped across the street to Jake’s Horses, and took a beautiful two-hour horseback ride up above Porcupine Creek. I loved Matt the Horse for schlepping me up 1500 feet for views of Lone Peak and much of the Gallatin River valley, but truth be told, I’m still not sitting all that comfortably.

We took our time coming home. We hit Taco del Sol in Missoula, where immediately after entering a bum passed out against the door, so we were sort of trapped there for a while. The city of Missoula must be a little hard-up for interesting emergencies; the bum brought four vehicles and no fewer than eight officers.

We also stopped in Spokane for a meal with John and Hilary at Elk Public House, whose devotion to our own 74th Street Ale House (a stone’s throw from where I’m sitting) was literally in lights (their website actually gives 74th Street’s gumbo recipe):

Homage to 74th st

After promising ourselves we’d keep it light, since we had another five hours of driving to go, we chowed on intensely buttery garlic bread, topped with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese. Its memory followed us home.

And now, in Seattle, time has been fast forwarded, and it’s as fall as the crisp red leaves on the Japanese maple next door. My fingers are freezing. It’s gray gray gray and there’s a light, dusty blush on our grapes, and the sun’s hours are suddenly much more limited.

It must have happened when we were gone. But I’m ready. I hesitate to say I wish this year would end, but when I start counting the recipes down from 100, later this week, part of me will celebrate, for sure.

Carm Onion & Gorg Toast 3

Recipe 262 of 365: Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Toasts

Slice an onion into 1/4″ half-circles. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, add a swirl of olive oil, then the onions. Season with salt and pepper, then cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until deeply caramelized. (Don’t rush it, they will eventually begin to turn brown.) Add a thinly sliced garlic clove, and cook ten more minutes, stirring. Meanwhile, slice half a baguette in half lengthwise, and spray or brush both cut sides with olive oil. Toast the bread for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven (or grill it in a panini press). Pile the onion/garlic mixture on top of the bread, sprinkle with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, and warm another 5 minutes in the oven. Cut into chunks and serve warm.

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Filed under appetizers, bread, recipe, travel

Less guns, more butter

I have a new favorite song, called Guns and Butter, by Hot Buttered Rum, the kickin’ bluegrass band that played at Josh and Dani’s wedding. (I’ll tell you more about that soon.)

Less guns, more butter. It’s an old argument, but yes, I quite agree.

This one will have you scooting miniature portions out, brownie-style, as long as you’re within [how do you say “earshot” for your nose? range of smell?] . . .noseshot of them.

Walnut-Apple Crisp Bars

Walnut-Apple Crisp Bars (PDF)
Recipe 261 of 365

Made with white whole wheat and a smidge less sugar than I would have liked to use, these are bars for those who like to pick the top crust off a good apple crisp. Be sure to use fresh, tart apples.

All-purpose flour can be used in lieu of white whole wheat.

TIME: 40 minutes active time
MAKES: 16 bars

For the crust:
Vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (straight from the package)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling:
3 pounds Honey Crisp apples (about 6 large), peeled and chopped into 1/2” pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the topping:
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup whole oats
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” x 13” (preferably square-sided) pan with the vegetable oil or with butter, and set aside.

Make the crust: In the work bowl of a food processor, whirl the flour, confectioners’ sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon until the nuts are finely chopped. Cut the butter into cubes, add to the dry mixture, and pulse 20 times. Dump the dough into the baking pan, spread into an even layer, and use the palms of your hands to press the crust into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack, or until firm and just barely beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, make the filling: In a mixing bowl, stir all the filling ingredients together until the apples are evenly coated, and set aside.

Then make the topping: Mix everything but the butter together in another mixing bowl. Add the melted butter, and use your hands to work it into the dry ingredients until everything is moistened. Set aside.

When the crust has baked, remove it from the oven, spread the apples over it in an even layer, and bake 20 minutes.

Apples for crisp bars

Next, sprinkle the topping over the apples, and bake 45 to 60 minutes more, or until the apples are soft the topping is deep brown.

Let cool 30 minutes before cutting into bars. Serve with ice cream.


Filed under dessert, fruit

260: Nectarine Skewers

Peach fuzz makes me squirm.

I love the soft, bright flavor of a good late summer peach, as long as there is no skin involved. Yes, I know, a peach’s identity depends largely on the fuzziness of its skin, and I love that fuzz, as long as it’s nowhere near my mouth.

But the moment said fuzz touches my tongue – nay, the moment before – I go through a physical (and perhaps psychological) transformation. Goosebumps shoot out of my skin, my tongue curls back on itself, my whole face tightens, and I can feel all the little pores in my scalp announce their presence.

It’s always been that way; I just can’t connect anything dry with my tongue. Which is why without fail, many of my friends lick a napkin the second we sit down to dinner.

With my family, it goes something like this: I walk into a room, and everyone is already sitting down. My brother and sister and husband look at each other. Someone smirks. I sit, and the three of them bring their napkins up to their tongues in unison and there is uproarious laughter. They think this is funny.

Why is this funny? You torture me. Would you like it if I carried a blackboard around with me in my purse, for the sole purpose of scraping my nails down it every time we sit down to dinner? Or perhaps you’d like splinters in your cuticles? I’d try to start a movement to ban napkins from all eating establishments, but I doubt that would go over so well.

But I ask, of all those who have made me suffer so: Try a chokecherry the next time you find one at a farmers’ market (I’ve seen them around Seattle recently). Roll that bitter dryness around in your mouth a little, and know that that’s exactly what my body goes through when I even think of daring to eat a peach with the skin on. It’s quite uncomfortable.

But. BUT. Peel a ripe peach (as you may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot recently) and I’m all over it.

Or, skip the work and hand me a nectarine. There’s nothing I don’t like about nectarines.

I started to play a little game called What Jess Likes Best, On Toast. But when the scent of bacon started eddying through the house, flowing from room to room and collecting in almost-visible swirls in any available corner, it occurred to me that it would be blasphemy to dilute a combination like nectarines, goat cheese, and bacon with so much as the smallest slice of carbohydrate.

I had a personal chef client for years on Cape Cod who insisted hors d’oeuvres for her parties be absolutely no bigger than a quarter. Nickel-sized was ideal.

This is the opposite kind of appetizer. You can either eat it one giant, embarrassing bite, and hope the bright, citric juice of the nectarine doesn’t make you drool so much that you spit down the front of your shirt or onto someone else, or you can eat it with two hands, over a sink, if handy. You’ll probably have to put your drink down.

But yes, it’s worth it.

Nectarine Skewers 3

Recipe 260 of 365: Nectarine Skewers

Cut a ripe nectarine into eight equal slices. Break eight little sprigs off a bunch of parsley, and cut a generous 2 ounces of goat cheese (half a little log) into 8 equal pieces. Brown eight pieces of great thick-cut bacon (better make it 10, or even 12, in case some break, or in case you get hungry) in two batches over medium heat until well cooked but not so cooked as to be crispy. Drain the bacon briefly on paper towels. Then, while the bacon is still warm and pliable (this is why it’s best to do two batches), place a piece of bacon on a clean work surface. Place a nectarine slice perpendicular to the bacon, add some goat cheese and a sprig of parsley, and wrap the bacon around the bundle, securing it with a short wooden skewer. Eat warm or at room temperature.

(I haven’t tried it, but microwaving the bacon might be the best way to achieve even doneness while maintaining the meat’s flexibility.)

Nectarine Skewers 2


Filed under appetizers, fruit, pork, recipe

Trader Joe’s: Yay or nay?

I’ve had this box of Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Blue Cornbread Mix in my pantry for going on six months. I’ve wanted to make muffins or corn dogs or something different with it for ages, but every time I base a recipe on something from TJ’s, I get this little stab of wonder: how many of you really have access to these great (and usually “shortcut”) ingredients?

Do me a favor: Take a second and leave me a comment to let me know whether you shop at Trader Joe’s – just a yay or nay will do. I’m curious.

Blue Cheddar-Corn Muffins 2

Recipe 259 of 365: Blue Cheddar Corn Muffins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with vegetable oil spray, and set aside. Stir up a 15-ounce package of blue cornbread mix per the package instructions (mine requires 1 egg, 1/2 cup oil, and 3/4 cup milk), adding a generous cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese and a cup of corn kernels in at the end. Divide the batter between the 12 muffin tins. Top each muffin with a big pinch of grated cheese, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and firm in the center. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then run a small knife around the edge of each muffin to loosen, and enjoy warm.


Filed under bread, mexican, recipe

From the law office of Hubbard, Gravenstein and Sage

Squash Soup2

Hubbard-Apple Soup (PDF)
Recipe 258 of 365

Flecked with sage and spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper, this soup is a true harbinger of fall. I used the first Hubbard squash of the season (you can usually buy big chunks pre-cut and seeded) and tangy Gravenstein apples, but any firm winter squash and tart apple will do. Be sure to take the time to puree the soup completely – not just until it’s all one color, but until it achieves the smooth, silky texture that makes soups like these so enjoyable to eat. Also, use good, homemade chicken stock, if you can, to give the soup a little more body.

If you’re looking to fancy it up a bit, serve the soup with a swirl of lightly whipped cream or crème fraiche.

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

4 pounds’ worth Hubbard squash pieces (may be one to three pieces)
Olive oil spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups good chicken stock
2 large tart apples, such as Gravenstein, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 large sage leaves, chopped (plus more for garnish, if desired)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil, spray the foil with the oil, add the squash (skin side-down), spray the squash, and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours (depending on the size of the squash pieces), or until the squash’s meat and skin are completely soft. (You can do this up to three days ahead, let the squash cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil, then the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions begin to soften.

Meanwhile, use a large spoon to scoop the flesh out of the squash pieces. Chop them into 1” chunks, then add them to the onions, along with the chicken stock, apples, and sage, and a little more salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.

Take the soup off the heat, stir in the maple syrup and cayenne pepper, and let cool for about 15 minutes (uncovered). Carefully puree until very smooth in multiple batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat, season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional syrup or cayenne, if desired, and serve hot.


Filed under recipe, soup, vegetables

Would you like to buy an O?

We’re leaving for Big Sky, Montana today. We’re attending a wedding at the Rainbow Ranch. We’re excited for the wedding, but we’re driving. Not so excited for the driving.

Yesterday I put together some food for the car (and recipes for the weekend), using bits of this and that, all the things that had to be eaten before we leave. Pasta salad with chick peas and plenty of vegetables? Check. Soup? Check. Savory muffins that taste sort of like tamales? Check.

Tito’s getting pretty ornery about his participation in my project. I was all excited to find anelletti pasta at Trader Joe’s; wooowheeee a pasta shape I’ve never cooked before! They’re shaped like the letter O. What an awesome idea for pasta – if you make a salad where nothing’s much smaller than the center of the O, each piece makes a little pedestal for whatever you’re mixing in. Flavor in every bite. I started cooking, humming Sesame Street tunes.

(In case you missed that Sesame Street reference, here’s some education, brought to you by The Letter O.)

Then Tito crashed the dance by telling me anelletti are just Spaghetti-O’s. He looked down his nose at my O-shaped pasta salad.

But after he tasted it, he changed his tune a little. (I just wrote changed his tuna a little on my muffed up keyboard, oh what a fabulous new addition that will be to my cliche collection.)

“It looked good, but it didn’t look, like, Mmm Mmm Good, if you know what I mean.”

But he had three helpings. So there. It’s Mmm Mmm Good.

“I want you to call this ‘Adult Spaghetti-O’s,” he instructed, suddenly exercising ownership of the half pound or so remaining. “Or Goat Cheese With Spaghetti-O’s.” (There’s about 2 ounces of goat cheese for an entire pound of pasta, but that’s the flavor he picked up on.) “Or Goat Cheese with Stuff.”

I don’t care what it’s called. When we’re halfway between Spokane and Missoula, and the Wagon Wheel Cafe is already closed for the day, it will taste so, so good.

Road Trip Pasta orange

Road Trip Pasta Salad (PDF)
Recipe 257 of 365

Here’s a colorful pasta salad, coated with a silky, creamy goat cheese dressing. It has all the qualities that make it a good snack for the road – you get your carbs and protein, plus a good smattering of fresh veggies, and you can eat it right out of the container with a spoon. It’s the kind of deeply satisfying concoction that makes you scoop up another bite before you’ve finished the one you’re chewing.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Scant 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound anelleti, orzo, or other small pasta
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
Corn cut from 2 large cobs
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 (20-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (basil would work also)
1 pound (large or small) tomatoes, chopped

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

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together until combined, and season with salt and pepper. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and whisk until completely blended. Set aside.

Salt the boiling pasta water, add the pasta, and set a timer for the pasta’s recommended cooking time. Two minutes before the pasta should be done, add the zucchini and corn. When done, strain the pasta, zucchini, and corn together in one colander, and transfer to a very large bowl. Stir in the onion, chickpeas, and reserved vinaigrette. Add the goat cheese, and stir until the heat of the pasta has melted all of the goat cheese into a creamy dressing. Stir in the parsley and tomatoes, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate and eat cold in the car (but not while you’re driving).


Filed under Pasta, recipe

Boiled fingers and hot sauce

Slow cooked pork, just out of crock pot

I peel the mesh covering off the slow-cooked pork shoulder and place the pork on a cutting board. I’ve seared it good and brown, and it doesn’t take more than a nudge to get the meat to start flaking off in fat, juicy strips. My heart does that little pork dance, and I preheat the oven and set out corn tortillas and cheese in anticipation of a Top 10 Spicy Enchilada experience.

Slow-cooked pork

The pork has been braising all day in a mixture of various hot peppers, chicken stock, garlic, and limeade (work with me here, it was in the fridge), and the meaty, spicy scent had me checking the clock all morning long. After I take the pork out, I add a few peaches, for sweetness, and blend the whole thing into a greenish liquid with the consistency of tomato soup.

Then the night’s success screeches to a halt.

I try the sauce. It’s so spicy I can hardly breathe for a few minutes, like when you put your head under water in a too-cold lake and everything feels like it’s caving in in in. My capacity for spicy food is admittedly challenged, but this is – to me – unpalatable. My husband comes upstairs, so I hand him a soup spoon full of the stuff, which by now I’ve put on the stove to boil down, in the event that he can actually eat it. (If a food nearly kills me, I almost always immediately hand it to him. I realize this and wonder if it says something about us. Or just me.)

His eyes light up. “You made hot sauce!” he says. “That’s so cool!”

This is why I married you.

So the brilliant idea to reduce the braising liquid to make a green enchilada sauce sort of fizzles, because eating it would mean frying my taste buds and the majority of the soft tissue lining my throat. But I think it’s salvageable. I blend up a giant can’s worth of diced tomatoes, intending to add some of the green monster to the tomato puree until I get a flavorful, palatable concoction thick enough to use as enchilada sauce. But halfway through pouring a cup of the (now simmering) spicy stuff into the tomatoes, I zone out and pour liquid green magma across the top two sections of all four fingers on my right hand.

Instead of marching to the freezer right away for the trusty bag of peas I keep frozen just for moments like these, I muffle my scream and finish making a pretty good – for patchwork – enchilada sauce. Tito figures out that something is Not Right – because I’m still ignoring my hand but my body language must show I’m pissed – and begins to ask how he can help, grating cheese, etc. I manage to wrestle six too-dry corn tortillas around my random mixture of the pork, cheese, and some of the sauce, and plop them unceremoniously into a pan and top them with sauce and cheese before shoving it all in the oven, setting the timer, and heading for the peas.

Meanwhile, Tito senses my impending collapse, and finagles the remaining ingredients into another pan: He layers the tortillas, meat, cheese, and sauce into a sort of Mexican casserole, the way he’s seen Kelly do it when she makes her mom’s amazing Mexican Lasagne (which, for health purposes, should be avoided, simply because I really believe it’s made with equal parts meat, cheese, and sour cream, with perhaps a sauce or a tortilla somewhere in there as a garnish). He takes my ripped, sad-looking enchiladas out of the oven because he knows we don’t need both dishes, and because his dish looks better (though not much). He wraps them up properly for freezing (my, he’s learned some things), first with foil, then with plastic, then bustles about, reporting cheese melting, cheese bubbling, cheese browning, etcetera. I give up on reading, because I can’t hold the peas on my hand and hold my book at the same time, and I try to take a shower, but the water’s too hot for my hand to stay in long. I put on pajamas, and refuse to brush my wet hair. Crankiness spreads to every cell. I’m pouting over the sauce that could have been so beautiful, and my boiled fingers.

Then dinner is ready. I hobble to the table (somehow the burn on my fingers has affected my lower body as well), and the casserole is warm, perfectly spicy, and heinous to look at. But the meat is perfect, and there’s a giant pot of really good hot sauce on the stove.

And it occurs to me, with a surfable wave of relief, that we had planned to have company for dinner.

Today, I’m sprouting little blisters along the tops of my fingers, and a few of my knuckles actually appear bruised, which I can’t figure out. And we now have a healthy supply of hot sauce.

I’m not sure how to give you this recipe. The pork is delicious (and really only slightly spicy) on its own, but the intended enchilada sauce should probably not be used as such, as is. Below is what I actually did, so you can make pulled pork and homemade hot sauce – if you want to make enchilada sauce, combine a blended 35-ounce can of diced tomatoes with enough of the blended green sauce to give it the heat you like (but watch your hands). That should give you roughly enough sauce to make two (11×7 )pans of 6 enchiladas each, mixing them meat with a little of the sauce and a few big handfuls of shredded cheese for filling.

It’s clear that the slow cooker and I are not meant to be working together right now. More in cooler weather.

Pulled Pork lasagne

Pepper-Braised Pork and Homemade Hot Sauce (PDF)
(AKA Failed Spicy Slow-Cooked Pork Enchiladas)
Recipe 256 of 365

Pile juicy, moist pulled pork into sandwiches, burritos, or quesadillas with cheese and anything else that strikes your fancy, and serve with the hot sauce for dipping.

I used Newman’s Own limeade. (“Made with tart virgin limes,” it says. As opposed to what other kinds of limes?)

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings, plus lots of hot sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (2 1/2 pound) pork shoulder roast, patted dry, tied with string (most come tied)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Anaheim chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 serrano chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 jalapeno chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
1 small red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups limeade
3 cups chicken broth
2 large peeled, pitted peaches, chopped

Heat a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and cook the pork for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until well browned on all sides.

Transfer the pork to a slow cooker, add the remaining ingredients except the peaches, plus a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and cook on low heat for 8 hours, turning over once during cooking (not crucial, but preferred).

When done, transfer the meat to a cutting board, remove the string, and shred with a fork and knife. Use as desired.

To make the hot sauce, carefully puree the cooking liquid, along with the peaches, in a blender or food processor. (This is best done in batches, unless you have an immersion blender, in which case you can whirl everything together right in the slow cooker.) Transfer to a large saucepan, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Let cool to room temperature, then store in airtight containers in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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Filed under failure, kitchen adventure, mexican, pork, recipe

Beef before coffee

Last year, we celebrated our arrival in Seattle (one year ago today!) by ordering a family pack of beef, pork, and chicken from Skagit River Ranch to stash in the freezer and use over the course of the year. It was a good idea, so we did it again this year.

Last Sunday morning, Eiko showed up with about fifty million pounds of meat, which Noah and I divvied up while Bromley parked her furry butt as close to the pile of meat as possible, shrinking herself to the size of a Golden Retriever, hoping we’d just forget she was there and walk out of the room, leaving her to her own devices.

Here she is, trying not to be noticed while we unpack the first box:

SRR stash

When I see Eiko at the farmers’ market, she always asks me what I do with certain cuts of meat – she has recipes that she gives out to her customers, and likes to talk shop. As she was leaving, I asked her if she needed any recipes.

“Beef stew,” she said. “Easy beef stew. Like in a slow cooker.”

I’m not really in a slow cooker frame of mind right now. It was 80 degrees in Seattle yesterday, and my neighbor is still leaving gorgeous tomatoes on my front porch (though not for long, as Kathy sadly points out on the DownEast blog). I have a flip-flop tan; it hadn’t occurred to me to make beef stew before at least mid-October.

But maybe beef stew can be different, I thought. Maybe it can be deeply satisfying and earthy and still celebrate summer. I decided I’d slow cook the meat overnight, which might make me oblivious to the amount of heat a slow cooker can kick off over the course of 10 hours , and make a light, spicy broth with not too much meat, but plenty of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and corn, the vegetables cooked ever so swiftly just before serving. Maybe some avocado on top. I put the beef in the slow cooker around 8 p.m.

I woke up a few times during the night, totally ravenous. We were sleeping under a thick, warm blanket of braising beef, and food was peeking into my dreams. By the time morning came, I wasn’t sure the beef would wait until dinner.

Out of bed at 6:15, and straight to the slow cooker. I’ll just have a nibble, I thought. Beef before coffee suddenly seemed like a genius move. I’d gone for the simplest meat-braising technique I know, just the beef and a can of salsa (oh, and a chopped onion, for good measure), and as soon as it hit my tongue, mildly spicy and soft, I knew the stew was history.

Sorry, Eiko. This beef was not destined for stew. It was destined for breakfast.

Using the slow cooker to make breakfast is sort of a new concept for me – I’ve made oatmeal, but that’s . . . well, it’s oatmeal, and no two-person household needs a slow cooker full of it on a regular basis.

There’s nothing really all that sexy about the inside of a burrito. Nevertheless:

Slow-Cooked Steak and Egg Burrito

Recipe 255 of 365: Slow-Cooked Beef Breakfast Burrito

Place 1 pound good beef stew meat in a slow cooker (directly from package, no browning, no nuthin’), along with a 12-ounce can of salsa (I used Trader Joe’s green) and a chopped onion. Stir to blend and cook on the LO (why is there never a W?) setting for about 10 hours, undisturbed, preferably while you sleep. (Your beef does not need a babysitter.) In the morning, remove the beef from the sauce, and wrap it into a big flour tortilla with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and some scrambled eggs. Serve as is, or – if you really want to start your day off right – whirl the cooking liquid in a blender, place the burritos in an ovenproof dish, pour the liquid over the burrito, top with more cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted. (In SoCalSpeak, that would be a “wet” breakfast burrito.)


Filed under Beef, recipe