Monthly Archives: October 2007


Sage-Rubbed Turkey

I made Thanksgiving dinner last night. Or something like that.

You know how it is: You go to the store for one thing, and come home with something completely different. Yesterday I went to Ballard Market for a rack of lamb, which I’d planned to crust with panko, sage, and chopped pecans, but I took one look at the particularly outrageous price tag and decided I’d hit Better Meat Co., the tiny neighborhood butcher around the corner from me that has somehow avoided my attentions until recently. We’d invited friends over for dinner and pumpkin carving.

I finished my stroll through the market, picking up the figs, the sage, the nuts, and a few other things. As I stood in line to check out, gleaming turkeys danced at me from the covers of all the food magazines. I remembered my recent conversation with my brother, who will be part of the crowd hosting my family’s Thanksgiving this year, and his firm admonishment: You will not be cooking this year.

But how could I not cook Thanksgiving? I mean, not at all? Impossible.

A friend of ours is leaving soon for India for work, for an unspecified amount of time. She’ll surely miss Thanksgiving, I thought. Maybe we’ll do it this weekend.

You see, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not the whole Plymouth thing I enjoy, or the parading around to celebrate stealing a land from its rightful owners then crawling back in need of food. I’m not so big on the history. No, it’s the direct national call for a day of feasting together that I like. It’s the day America has reserved for eating dinner with other people, instead of alone in our cars, and though the stars of the table may be misguided (I stand firmly against marshmallows, but that’s just me . . .), I always look forward to it. I love sitting at a groaning table on a random Thursday afternoon, knowing that so many others are doing the same thing.

Except Michelle, I thought. She probably won’t be eating turkey in India.

Okay, I like the cooking part, too. And cooking a turkey is no harder than roasting a chicken, no matter what anyone tells you, and sometimes turkey says “I appreciate your company” more clearly and distinctly than, say, homemade burritos. (Mmm. Turkey burritos.) Even in early November.

I darted to the back of the store and picked up a 12-pound free range turkey. It was fresh, not frozen, but I figured it would last a few days, and knew you’d appreciate a few recipes for leftovers. And at half the price of the lamb, it seemed easier to justify. I thought I’d save the turkey for the weekend.

Later on, I scrounged around for four of the sorriest pumpkins I’ve ever seen, and arrived at Better Meat (how I do love that name!) to find out they didn’t have any lamb on hand.

Better Meat Co.

My brain ticked. It was a little before 5, and Katie and Thad were arriving at 7. Twelve pound turkey . . .Katie’s rarely on time . . .I still had salad dressing leftover from lunch, and potatoes in the fridge from my potato therapy session at the UD farmers’ market a few weeks ago. (I gave up on deciding which variety to choose and just bought – literally – one of each.) I had a big butternut squash . . .

Thanksgiving for four in October? Why not? Call it Friendsgiving. I’ve known Katie for 11 years, and sure, why not thank her? I hoped Michelle would understand.

I thought that skipping the whole pomp and circumstance and OMG I’m preparing Thanksgiving dinner would mean less drama, but alas, a busy kitchen is always an exciting place.

Here’s how I made Thanksgiving in about two hours:

5:00 pm

I take the turkey out of the fridge to confirm it’s not frozen anywhere, and leave it on the counter. I check my email.

5:25 pm

I heat the oven to 400 degrees, and put the rack in the lower part of the oven. I find a bone for the dog, so I can play with the turkey in peace.

5:30 pm

I rinse the turkey inside and out, putting the innards and neck aside for gravy. I trim the bird, rub the outside with olive oil, then sprinkle the inside and outside with salt, pepper, and rubbed sage. I tuck the wings behind the back, but leave the legs loose.

5:38 pm

I put the turkey in the oven, and fix the fingernail I sawed halfway off when I was trimming it. (No blood involved.)

5:40 pm

I unload the dishwasher, reload it with my lunch dishes, swear at the the hanging utensil basket that prevents the door from shutting all the way if it’s not on just right, and clean up the turkey mess.

5:51 pm

I hop in the shower. Oh, how good it is to shower after wrestling a turkey.

6:01 pm

I emerge in my bathrobe to find the cat has performed a hail mary turkey neck burglary, dragging it across the counter, onto the trash can, and onto the floor, where he appears to be reciting it a love poem of garbled meows at close range.

The cat and the turkey  neck

I scold him, clean the poultry smear off the counter and the floor, and wash the turkey neck off. (Never too proud.)

I put a container of frozen homemade chicken stock on the back burner to melt, and dump some cranberries, frozen rhubarb from last summer, salt, sugar, and water into a saucepan, and crank the heat.

6:08 pm

I dry my hair, get dressed, and email my sister.

6:16 pm

The cranberries are boiling too furiously, so I calm them with a spoon and reduce the heat to a bubble.

6:18 pm

I put the verjus vinaigrette into the bottom of the salad bowl, and add in sliced figs, bleu cheese, and granola. I pile watercress on top, and set the whole salad aside, to be mixed when we sit down to eat.

6:20 pm

I heat a large skillet good and hot, swirl a dab of olive oil into it, and add the salt-and-peppered turkey neck and giblets. The goal is to sear them until well browned, then deglaze the pan with wine (do I have wine?) to create a flavorful liquid to add to the gravy. The dog looks at me expectantly.

6:25 pm

I decide to make a multi-colored potato gratin with my potato collection. I grease my gratin pan with butter.

The fire alarm goes off. I have no idea why; nothing is burning. It’s the one just outside the kitchen, the one Tito can reach but I can’t, and I feel annoyance boil up inside me as I fumble with the stepladder. Instead of putting on my glasses and finding where the battery compartment is, I reach blindly toward the noise, and separate the entire unit from its housing on the ceiling. I pry it open at what turns out to be definitely not the battery part, and bang at it until it stops. Add to hardware store list: one smoke alarm. Now both of the animals are sitting in the doorway, watching me with curiosity.

Where is Tito?

Right, the potatoes. I cut half a stick of cold butter into tiny pieces, and gather what I need: flour, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, cream, and milk.

I ladle 2 cups of stock into the pan with the now-browned turkey parts, and set it to simmer on low to get all the flavor out of that now-sterilized and beautifully browned neck.

I stir the cranberries, and check on the turkey, which is just beginning to brown at the tips.

I flip the turkey parts in the pan, so the browned fonds from the other side of the neck simmers into the sauce.

6:32 pm

Shit, 28 minutes. I decide I’m in too much of a rush to peel the potatoes, so I slice them really thin on a mandoline, and spread them into the pan, smooshing them into one layer rather than taking the time to lay them out perfectly. The first layer is a blue potato with a shocking purple interior. I sprinkle the potatoes with flour, salt, pepper, cheese, and dot the layer with butter. Down goes a sliced Red Lasoda, then a Russet Norkota, then a Purple Something, layers of flour, salt, pepper, butter, and cheese between each. Darn, out of pepper. I refill the mill and finish the gratin off with 3 baby Yukon Golds, and finally an All Red, this one layered in a gorgeous spiral. The potatoes come just to the top of the dish.

Only an All Red potato is just that – all red. So instead of looking at a raw potato gratin, I feel like I’ve just made Spam casserole, because the whole top layer is a hammy shade of pink. I dump the rest of the cheese on top, along with more seasoning (no flour on the top) and the rest of the butter. There. No more Spam.

6:45 pm

My sister calls. I feign calm, then basically hang up on her when I find the cranberries are starting to simmer over again and the turkey parts need to be taken off the heat.

Shoot, we do have white wine, but it’s sweet; it won’t do for the gravy. I put it in the freezer.

Tito walks in, still in his biking clothes from his commute home, and wants to chat. What happened to the smoke alarm? I push him into the shower.

6:48 pm

I cover the gratin with foil, and open the oven. Arrrgggg, it’s Thanksgiving, of course there’s an oven problem. I move the turkey as low as it goes, which gives me just enough room to squish the gratin onto the highest rack. It’s a good situation: the turkey is gorgeously browned by now, and I want it to keep cooking without browning further, and the gratin will block the heat from the top of the oven, doing what a piece of foil over the turkey would do without sacrificing the skin’s crispiness.

I close the oven, and realize I forgot to add the liquid to the gratin. I unwrap it, add 1/2 cup cream, and add milk just until I can see it come up the edges of the potatoes, about three fourths of the way up the side of the pan.

6:55 pm

I take the wine out of the freezer, clean the counters, and squish the cranberries against the side of the pan, satisfied with the popping noises. I taste the cranberry sauce; it needs something. In goes a splash of Grand Marnier.

7:00 pm

I set out olives, hummus, and good olive oil. (Katie is bringing bread.)

I guess the pureed butternut squash is not happening.

Odd calm.

7:05 pm

I chop up a tablespoon of sage for the gravy, and check on the turkey – the legs are at 150 degrees, and the breast is at 160. Not quite. I talk to Tito over a beer and shove a few things in the dishwasher.

7:15 pm

Radio silence.

7:17 pm

Our guests arrive, and we dig into the bread, mopping up olive oil sprinkled with salt and pepper. We talk about nothing and everything.

7:30 pm

I take the turkey out, and take the foil off the potatoes. They look a little drippy, so I put the gratin dish on a baking sheet and move them to the center rack.

I tip the bird to let the juice from the center cavity fall into the roasting pan, and transfer the bird to a platter. It’s as gorgeous a turkey as I’ve ever seen, and since I didn’t stuff it, I didn’t have to overcook the outside to get the stuffing hot.

I place the roasting pan over two low burners, and drop in a few slabs of butter. I sprinkle flour over the butter, and let them simmer there together in the mahogany pan drippings until they threaten to thicken all the juice that’s there. I add the liquid from the pan I seared the turkey parts in (and save the parts for the pooch), along with the chopped sage, and whisk everything together. I cook the gravy, now a thick, chunky mass, for a few minutes, then add about 2 cups of the warm chicken stock, and whisk it until it’s deep brown and fragrant. I turn the heat as low as it goes, and check on the potatoes.

7:45 pm

The potatoes are not done. In fact, they still look like Spam to me, only Katie points out that because I’ve left the skins on and the potatoes are round it’s really more of a Canadian bacon thing, and I’m sure they’ll be awful. I move the dish to the top rack to brown more.

7:50 pm

I take the potatoes out – turns out they didn’t need much more time – and carve the turkey. We eat more bread, and I transfer the cranberry sauce to a bowl.

7:55 pm

I toss the salad, and we sit, with turkey, potatoes, salad, cranberry sauce, and killer sage gravy. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, three hours after its mental conception. We eat and drink and laugh and taunt the dog, and forget all about the pumpkins.

The multi-potato gratin is a great textural experience. All the different kinds squish up in my mouth together, but I can feel how some are softer than others, some more creamy. But my Parmesan dump was too much; there’s a pool of cheese liquid (think pizza) in one corner, which Katie daintily dabs away with a paper towel, and the blue from the bottom layer of potatoes has leeched into the cream, giving the whole dish a grayish overtone. No matter; the gratin is delicious.

See, that’s the core of Thanksgiving to me – it’s not about the perfect pie, or having sixteen things on the table. It’s about celebrating a night with people who mean something to you, or even people you’re still getting to know, with whatever your kitchen happens to hold at the moment.

I love tradition as much as the next sappy cook, and sure, there’s fun in the planning. (I’ve done it many times.)

But oh, friends – as you open those magazines, and break out your shopping lists in preparation for filling your freezer, remember that over the tops of all your gorgeous platters, you’ll still need to see each other.

And the friend going to India? Who knows . . . Maybe I’ll do it all over again this weekend. I’d enjoy that.

Cranberry-Rosemary Sauce

Cranberry-Rhubarb Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 304 of 365

Spiked with Grand Marnier for a kiss of orange flavor, this is one both your turkey and your sandwiches will love. To make ahead, combine all the ingredients in a large ziptop bag and freeze until a day (or three) before Thanksgiving. You can cook the sauce straight from frozen a few days before turkey time, let it cool to room temperature, and store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container until you need it.

TIME: 10 minutes active time, plus stirring
MAKES: 8 servings

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
3 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or similar orange liqueur
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a strong simmer, stirring occasionally and mashing the berries against the side of the pan as they swell and burst, until sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Serve warm or cold.


Filed under kitchen adventure, recipe, side dish

Figs and Verjus

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette close

Last weekend, at a wine tasting party, I met a woman named Barb over the cheese plate. We chatted about the merlot as we cleaved moist slabs of Red Darla and crumbling Black Creek Buttery off the serving platter with small knives. I picked up a small, ripe fig and absentmindedly opened it, stuffed it with soft, fresh goat cheese, and popped it into my mouth.

Barb – I think it was her – looked at me in confusion. “What was that?” she asked. She’d never seen a fig before, and admitted that she’d assumed they were some sort of teardrop-shaped grape.

I picked up another one, rolling it around between my thumb and forefinger to show her its natural softness. I picked the stem off, held the fruit between the fingertips of both hands, and broke it open with my two thumbnails, revealing the nest of pink flesh and white seeds inside. She looked closer. “You can eat that?” You can, and you should, I said. I taught her how to stuff them with cheese, and drifted along to another conversation.

Ten minutes later, I heard someone squeal with delight from across the room. There was Barb, still standing at the cheese table, showing a gaggle of forty-something women how to do the same. I smiled, happy to see the experience propagate, listening to them coo over the figs like they were babies.

This morning, I found ripe, sweet, healthy figs at the market, and brought them home for lunch. I nestled them into a salad, and topped them with a vinaigrette made with the tangy, slighly sour verjus I brought home from the wine tasting.

Verjus is the unfermented juice of unripe grapes. You use it like you would a vinegar, for dressings or marinades, or even for poaching fish or chicken. But though I’ve tasted it at restaurants, it’s as new to me in the kitchen as the figs were to Barb; I think I bought it because I wanted to remind myself how many discoveries still await every cook, no matter how experienced.

As I ate, enjoying how the small fig seeds made tiny, weak pops between my teeth compared to the assertive crunch of the granola I sprinkled on top at the last minute, I thought of Barb, and hoped she’d find more figs.

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette top

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette (PDF)
Recipe 303 of 365

Here’s a vinaigrette recipe that has lots of sass – for kick, it relies on verjus, plus some of the grapefruit vinegar I found recently at Trader Joe’s. Use it to dress a salad with soft, sweet leaves, figs, and the first small oranges of the season, so there’s a contrast to the sharpness of the vinaigrette.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 bunch watercress or Bibb lettuce
8 small, ripe Mission figs (the purple kind), sliced
2 Satsuma tangerines, sliced or sectioned
2 teaspoons grapefruit vinegar
2 tablespoons verjus
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Granola, croutons, nuts, and/or crumbled bleu or goat cheese, for garnish

Arrange the watercress, figs, and tangerines on salad plates.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, verjus, and mustard to blend, season with salt and pepper, and whisk the oil in until emulsified. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad, and top with granola and bleu cheese, or whatever you have on hand.

Sweet Cress and Fruit Salad with Grapefruit-Verjus Vinaigrette 2


Filed under fruit, recipe, salad

Working smarter, not harder

Honey-Nut-Vanilla Granola 5

There’s an opportunity for laziness in every recipe. It floors me how easily we fall into traps we set for ourselves: We avoid baking cakes because it requires getting the pans out, avoid roasting chicken because we’re too lazy to trim the thing. It’s human nature, sure, but every time I recognize one of these habits in myself, I have to laugh, and wonder why one’s typical industriousness fails at random intervals.

This weekend, I rediscovered homemade granola. Someone had made it from scratch, and as I scooped it up with my yogurt yesterday, I remembered how much better it tastes baked in small batches. The cinnamon wasn’t quite evenly dispersed, so I got little grenades of flavor every third bite or so. It was unevenly chunky, which made eating it so much more of an adventure than eating its boxed cousin. I don’t like a granola that’s too predictable.

But I avoid making it often because I hate measuring the oatmeal. It invariably involves finding out that I don’t have enough for the particular recipe I’m using, and when I tip the oatmeal container toward the measuring cup, there’s always that risk of overflow, of having to watch, helpless, as I pour too fast and create a tumbling raw oat waterfall from the Quaker guy to my counter to the kitchen floor. An animal always picks that particular moment to venture into the kitchen, walks straight through the mess, and delivers the oats with perplexing dependability into each room in the house.

I’m not so keen on finding oatmeal on my pillow. So I rarely make it, even though it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.

Then last night, the last page of Gourmet magazine’s October 2007 issue reminded me how much flavor nut oils can give foods – they had recipes for muffins made with pecan oil, even. When I closed the magazine, my mind started spinning with the possibilities. I thought of granola, infused deep with nutty flavor, and opened the cupboard to find a new container of oats.

Then, another BFO: I could skip the measuring, and use the entire container.

Why have I never stumbled across a granola recipe that does this?

Honey-Nut-Vanilla Granola 2

Honey-Nut-Vanilla Granola (PDF)
Recipe 302 of 365

Made with real vanilla beans, four different kinds of nuts, clover honey, and pecan oil, this granola packs flavor, crunch and punch. Enjoy it with milk or yogurt, or think outside the breakfast box: sprinkle granola over a spinach salad (maybe with a bit of bleu cheese) for a quick lunch, use it as a base for apple crisp topping, or cover a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and press the granola into the sides for decoration and extra flavor.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: About 15 loose cups granola

1 cup high-quality honey
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 3” piece vanilla bean
1 18-ounce container (6 1/2 cups) old-fashioned oats
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (raw or roasted will work)
1 cup raw sliced almonds
1 cup unsalted cashews
1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup nut oil, such as pecan, walnut, or hazelnut

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

Combine the honey, brown sugar, and the seeds from the vanilla bean in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir to blend. Divide the granola between the two baking sheets, spreading it into an even layer on each sheet, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring the granola and rotating sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through. The granola is done when it’s uniformly deep golden brown.

Let the granola cool to room temperature on the baking sheets. Break apart and store in an airtight container.
Honey-Nut-Vanilla Granola 4


Filed under Breakfast, recipe

Tito’s Recipe: Eurotrash Ale

Roasted two-row barley

When I made beer seeds last week, I mentioned something about brewing beer.

Yup, it’s true: We’ve got a little mini brewery bubbling away in our basement. I bought Tito a beer-brewing kit in 1999, and since the first couple of poorly engineered attempts back then (ask him about the time the gals living downstairs knocked on his door to ask why there was beer dripping down their walls), each batch has gotten progressively better. These days, his beer making skills are downright impressive.

Months ago, I promised to let him post his own beer recipe. This is probably the first of many. No guarantees on the quality or descriptions of the flavor, as it’s still fermenting in our basement, but I’d venture to say it’ll be comparable to the high-quality microbrews one finds in the Seattle area. It usually is.

If you’ve never brewed beer before and want to get started, print the PDF below and take it in to your friendly neighborhood beer brewing supply store – they’ll help you get outfitted, teach you the difference between wort and the wort on your finger, and explain why flavor and aroma hops are added at different times during the brewing process.

For inspiration, Tito recommends Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard (no direct relation), Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA, or Pike’s Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale.

Eurotrash Ale (PDF)
Recipe 301 of 365

If Europe is the birthplace of beer, then America is the over-priced prep school where beer learned to roll its own and get away with a few tricks. Here’s a beer with (mostly) Euro ingredients and (minus the polo shirt) American style.

TIME: 2 hours brewing, 1 week fermenting, 1 hour bottling, 3 weeks conditioning
MAKES: 5 gallons

1 six-pack commercial beer (for inspiration)
1 lb. Two-row English Barley grains, crushed
6 lbs. English Wheat malt extract
2 oz. German Hallertau hops (3.9% acidity)
2 oz. American Willamette hops (4.5 % acidity)
1 packet Wyeast “Thames” starter yeast

First, open the inspiration and make sure it meets your standards. Next, start a large pot of water on the stove at medium heat. Although this makes 5 gallons (the standard homebrew batch size), you can make as little as 2 gallons of wort (quick definition: water undergoing improvement) and dilute to 5 gallons later. Steep the two-row barley (yes, it is grown in field with two rows) in the pot as the water warms. You can make life easier by encasing the grains in cheesecloth, like a big tea bag.

Barley steeping in water

Steep the grains for at least 30 minutes, adjusting the heat to keep the temperature of the wort around 150 F. Then, remove the grains (see, the tea bag was a good idea) and bring the wort to a low boil (212 F, unless brewing at altitude). For extra credit, “sparge” the grains to get more color and depth of flavor in your beer.

More inspiration. Once the wort has reached a gentle boil, stir in the wheat malt extract. Maintain a gentle boil for 60 minutes, during which the carbohydrates in the wheat and barley will breakdown into simple sugars ideal for fermentation. Add the Hallertau hops at the beginning of the 60-minute boil to add a bitter high-note flavor to the beer. Add the Willamete hops for the final 15 minutes to sharpen the aroma and after-taste of the beer. Hop timing can be adjusted to preference (earlier hops affect flavor, later hops affect aroma).

Hops simmering in ale

Inspiration running low? Thought so. There are six for a reason. After the 60-minute boil, immediately cool the wort to 75 F by placing the pot in an ice bath and by adding cold water (until 5 gallons total). Pop the starter yeast package and wait until it swells (ensuring a healthy yeast culture), then “pitch” the yeast into the wort and cap with an airlock. The one-way airlock will allow gas to escape during fermentation, while preventing contamination of the yeast culture.

Allow the fermentation to continue for about a week (or until your fancy hydrometer says the specific gravity has changed sufficiently… again, about a week), then add 5 oz. of dissolved sugar and siphon into bottles for conditioning. Wait three weeks, throw a big party, then repeat.

Brewer’s note: Brewing is ancient and simple. And easy. Just make sure you clean your equipment well, so the yeast can live in peace, and don’t listen to the guy at the homebrew store trying to sell you $300 worth of equipment. Oh, and there are good ingredients online at Seven Bridges.

This recipe is brought to you by Fahm House Brewing, a subsidiary of Tito Beverages, Inc. It might be subject to a copyright clause, but in-house legal counsel is drunk and not answering calls today. Typical.


Filed under beer, recipe


lamb and white bean chili 2

When I titled a post 290, one reader wrote me and reminded me that my remaining number of recipes was far fewer than the number of days we all have to live with Bush as president. Cracked me right up. She has a point – and if I could, I’d switch “days left” with the country, for the world’s sake. Think of the lives it might save.

But there’s no lifesaving going on here – just me, plodding along, starting to daydream about what will happen in January.

The things I’ll do then, when this project is over:

I will cook something new and not write it down. My neighbor will ask for the recipe, and I’ll have to shrug, and tell her about it rather than send her an email.

I will sear chicken breasts and make sauces with different herbs, mustard, and cream or white wine, throwing salad and bread or a quick quinoa dish onto a plate while the chicken sears, and plop it on the plate unceremoniously, without thinking of photographs or the fact that I’ve made it before.

I’ll start in on cookbooks again. Oh, all those wonderful books with the pages marked. They’ve been so patient this year.

I will eat my husband’s rice and beans, with cheese stirred in so ferociously the beans look split and haggard. He will fry eggs, and we’ll slide them on top, under a slip of salsa. And then I’ll do the dishes for him.

I will make white bean dip, over and over, to feel its smooth, cool texture across my tongue.

I will wear one shirt for an entire day without getting it dirty (yeah, right).

I will hope someone will invite us to dinner at their house. (This is a sometimes-downfall of enjoying cooking: people often hate cooking for you. Everyone thinks you care how creative they are, how nicely browned the meat is, or where they got their cheese, even though usually, at other people’s houses, you simply don’t notice. But you probably know that already.) Then I will open the refrigerator, and there will be no leftovers.

I will buy Brussels sprouts, or kale, or apples, at the farmers’ market, discover a new favorite way to cook them, and do it over and over, until Tito asks how many nights in a row we’ve eaten that one thing.

I’ll make grilled cheese and tomato soup when snow falls.

And then, truthfully, I will probably come back around to doing what I’m doing now – creating, recording, and sharing good, homemade food, mostly with what’s in season. But without a calendar.

See, some days, like today, the calendar makes me feel mute. I find local ground lamb at a farmers’ market, and as it sears, its rich lanolin scent filling up the house, all that comes to mind is hey, it smells like lamb in here. It seems unfair to you, dear reader, that this year I post even when I’m feeling least inspired.

But. . .soon. Today is 300.

This recipe gave me a good lesson on tasting my food, even if it comes from a can: I opened a can of fat Italian lupini beans to add in as well, rinsed them, and popped one in my mouth. Its saltiness seared; every taste bud recoiled in horror. So I didn’t add them. But if I had, the chili would have suffered. Phew.

lamb and white bean chili 1

Lamb and White Bean Chili (PDF)
Recipe 300 of 365

Stirred in over a base of leeks, fennel, and rosemary, lamb makes an interesting, delicious version of chili. Serve with good, crusty bread and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. For lamb pasta e fagiole, increase the chicken stock to 6 cups, and stir in a cup of small pasta during the last 10 minutes of simmering.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 pound ground lamb
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups chopped leeks (from green and white parts of 2 medium leeks)
2 cups chopped fennel (from 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 15-ounce can white cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

Preheat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the lamb, breaking it up as you add it to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lamb is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the lamb and all but about 2 teaspoons of its fat to a paper towel-lined plate, and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the leeks, fennel, garlic, and rosemary to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown. Add the wine, and simmer 1 minute, stirring. Add the beans, stock, and tomato sauce, plus the reserved lamb, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste again with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

1 Comment

Filed under farmer's market, recipe, soup

299: A pumpkin loses its pizazz

Searing sweet-fleshed pumpkins seemed like a good idea, after the fennel. I told Kathy about my plan, and she agreed they’d be delicious, and recommended a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end.

I found a baby sugar pumpkin that weighed a pound and a quarter:

Sugar pumpkin

I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and sliced it into thin wedges, only about 1″ thick at the fattest part. I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and seared them in a hot skillet (arranged all pretty):

Pumpkin cut for searing

for four or five minutes on each side, until they got nice and brown. I added a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar,

Caramelizing pumpkin

and watched it bubble and hiss as it reduced and eventually coated the pumpkin slices with a deep mahogany crust of flavor.

Caramelized Pumpkin

I tried one, I really did. I liked it at the time.

But by the time our friends came over for dinner, and I’d reheated the pumpkin in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes, the pumpkin had lost whatever pizazz I thought I’d recognized earlier, and we all played with them, pushing them around our plates, focusing things we liked better, coating it in the sauce from the pork, for more flavor.

Maybe they weren’t meant to be reheated. Maybe they were meant to be deep-fried, like the gorgeous kabocha tempura I had with Sarah and Hilary in Japan. Or maybe they just weren’t meant to be.

Finally, someone said it out loud. This pumpkin isn’t my favorite.

Mine neither.

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Pigs and vinegar

Brussels sprouts with pigs and vinegar

In my mind, Brussels sprouts have two life partners: pigs and vinegar. Whether that means pancetta and balsamic vinegar or prosciutto and apple cider vinegar matters very little, but every fall, when Brussels sprouts show up, paraded around like miniature kings on stalks much too big for them, I try them all different ways and relearn that pigs and vinegar work best for me.

It’s worked on other people, too. Kids, even. One Thanksgiving, a family I prepared Thanksgiving for on Cape Cod convinced a legion of teenage girls that Brussels sprouts are awesome. (Just ask Carroll.) Oh, yes, that’s what we need today, a dose of Brussels sprout evangelism. Buy some sprouts, and come into the light.

Last night, I had a plan: I’d roast Brussels sprouts, leeks, and bacon together in the oven, sear halibut fillets to a delicious golden brown on one side on the stove, then flip them onto the sprouts (seared side-up) to finish cooking in the oven with some sherry vinegar (it’s my acid of choice these days, have you noticed?), and make a quick pan sauce.

But it didn’t happen that way. I transfered the halibut to the oven, whipped across the kitchen with the pan in my hand, and splashed it with cold water so Tito didn’t have to scrub it (as hard) later. I went back to the stove to find the thyme and white wine staring up at me from the counter next to the stove like pets needing to be fed. You forgot us? they seemed to be asking.

Yes. Yes, sorry, I did forget you. And when the fish was ready, we had no choice but to strand it on white plates next to a pile of Brussels sprouts with pig and vinegar, with no drizzle of anything to cloak it in warmth and moisture.

But with a slice of rosemary bread and a little salad, it turned out to be the perfect dinner. With no sauce, we really tasted the fish, perfectly cooked. We felt its crisp, flavorful tan melt into our tongues, and tasted the sprouts’ humble, earthy flavor.

Sauce? What was I thinking?

Pan-Seared Halibut with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Leeks

Pan-Seared Halibut with Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, and Bacon (PDF)
Recipe 298 of 365

This is my idea of a 30-minute meal: no theme, no tricks. Just a few good ingredients, cooked with care and a splash of vinegar, with time to enjoy a glass of wine while you’re at the stove.

TIME: 35 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 2 servings, with extra sprouts

2 thick slices bacon, diced
1 small leek, halved lengthwise and cut into 3/4” pieces
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 halibut fillets (about 3/4 pound, approximately 1” thick)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the bacon in a baking dish large enough to hold the sprouts in a single layer, and roast 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Add the leeks and Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and return to the oven for 10 more minutes (or just 5 minutes, if you find small sprouts).

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the halibut with salt and pepper. Add the sherry vinegar to the Brussels sprouts, and return to oven while you cook the halibut. Add the oil to the hot skillet, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the halibut, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the halibut is nicely seared on the bottom side. Transfer the halibut to the pan with the Brussels sprouts, seared side-up,

Pan-Seared Halibut with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Leeks in pan

and roast until cooked through, another 4 to 5 minutes. Serve hot.

*Note: there’s no reason you can’t finish cooking the halibut in the pan on the stove, and just serve it with the sprouts. This recipe is just exactly what I did. Also, you could make a quick pan sauce with some white wine . . .

No more brussels sprouts


Filed under fish, recipe, vegetables