Monthly Archives: January 2008

Slurping Goggles

Matthew in slurping goggles

Last night I went to a PR event at Seattle’s new Boom Noodle, and received possibly the best SWAG ever: slurping goggles. (Quick primer: Freelancers don’t get Christmas parties, company trips, or vests emblazoned with a company’s insignia. But sometimes press events entail SWAG – Stuff We All Get – which, from my perspective, can land a PR firm solidly in the “fun people” camp, if done well. A single steel martini glass? Not so much. Slurping goggles? Prized.)

Yes, the folks at Boom are launching an attack on America’s fear of slurping, starting by encouraging ramen eaters to guard their faces against the occasional wayward splash that loud (=ethnically correct) noodling can inevitably invite.

Upside: A new style for the masses. I felt geeky (but what’s new?), but my friend Matthew looked quite cunning, even when casually sipping his shiso mojito. And the woman next to me, a fashionable editor who could make a paper bag skirt look hip, looked downright trend-setting.

Downside: Everything else gets messy. To put my slurping goggles on before diving into my steaming bowl of rich salmon udon soup, I took my regular glasses off. Herego, I didn’t get soup in my eye, but splashed broth all over my regular glasses, as well as my camera case. Maybe I’m meant to eat ramen in a bubble.

Slurping goggles are available everywhere under the misleading moniker “onion goggles,” which I’d always wanted to buy anyway, but could never justify.

Now I’m so ready to make udon at home.


Filed under commentary

Stop being such a shallot

Agrumi and Cheese

On Saturday morning, I woke up with the list (always the list!), filled with this and that, and the determination to have a nice, relaxing Saturday lunch. (Yes, even that goes on a list.)

I bought a fat bag of shallots at the market on impulse, deciding then and there to coax their sweetness out in a slow oven, moistened with just a faint gurgle of balsamic vinegar, and use them in a warm roasted beet salad, or in a gooey panini – something I could curl up around.

But later, at home, waiting for something else to come out of the oven, I flipped past Mark and Clark’s superfast recipes in F&W, where they recommend roasting shallots with honey and lavender, and my balsamic-roasted shallots took a little detour.

Now, if you’ve seen Mark & Clark’s gardens at Arrows (and tasted their food), you know better than to question the use of any ingredient, but I was torn: I loved the idea of adding a bit more sweetness to a pan of roasted shallots, but flowers? In January?

Maybe another time.

But honey. Yes, I’d use honey instead of vinegar. I’d need an end product with a bit of a bite, something spreadable, to complete an easy winter lunch of the good cheese and bread and salad I’d collected. I’d also stocked up on agrumi at Salumi a few days before (blessed be the person who thought to put cardamom and orange peel in salami!), and fantasized about a real, slow lunch, grounded at the dining room table with my husband and a certain New Yorker piece, crunching toasts smeared with weak-kneed, honey-kissed shallots between bites of cured meat.

I peeled half the bag, wondering before I started if the task would be worth my while. I hate doing this, I thought. In the kitchen, shallots are indispensable, really, giving up flavor and sweetness many dishes just can’t be without. But damn, what a chore they always are for me, picking at all those papery husks, layers and layers of them, with achy, wintry, fingernail-challenged hands. And shallots’ bad habit of turning mushy on the very day you’d promised to finally use them. . . they have nerve, shallots do.

Honey-Roasted Shallots raw

I tried to ignore my stinging eyes, and shoved them into a baking pan with good Nicoise olives, a bit of chopped oregano, and a smear of local honey, feeling personally offended by the fact that I couldn’t enjoy eating them without going through physical aggravation. I wanted so badly to swear at them, but what good would that do either of us? As I washed my hands, I turned the word – shallot – around in my mouth, briefly considered banishing them from my kitchen forever, but then decided that they’re worth keeping around, because – oh, my – they’d make the most marvelous insult.

I mean, really, have you heard a more spouse-appropriate jibe? Stop being such a shallot means I love you, I can’t live without you, you mean the world to me, but stop being such a pain in my ass. None of the desired effect comes from the word onion, though perhaps leek comes close.

Yes, stop being such a leek works, too. Or might work. I haven’t actually tried either yet. But it’s always a possibility.

And besides. The moment the shallots came out of the oven, sputtering sweet, earthy fumes around the kitchen, I knew the peeling had been worth it. Maybe I was the one being such a shallot.

Honey-Roasted Shallots pan

Greek-Inspired, Honey-Roasted Shallots (PDF)

Roasted with oregano, olives, and a thin veneer of honey, then finished with lemon juice and a sprinkling of feta cheese, sweet whole shallots make a great winter treat. Spread the mixture on toast for caramelized shallot bruschetta, or pile it on top of arugula for lunch.

MAKES: 2 servings
TIME: 15 minutes active time

1/2 pound shallots (about 10 medium), trimmed at root ends, peeled, and separated into natural segments
1/4 cup drained, pitted Kalamata or Niçoise olives
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the shallots in a baking dish, drizzle with honey, and sprinkle with oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast 5 minutes, and toss all ingredients to coat evenly with the honey. Roast an additional 30 to 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, just until the shallots are brown and the honey begins to caramelize. Squeeze the lemon juice over the shallots, and shower the feta over everything, allowing it to soften in the pan. Enjoy warm.

Honey-Roasted Shallots 1


Filed under appetizers, cheese, gluten-free, recipe, side dish, snack, vegetables, vegetarian

My beef with coffee

I love coffee. I really love coffee. And espresso. And any incarnation thereof.

I’m not too picky, really. Especially for a Seattleite.

But a few months ago, driving back from Montana, I noticed something odd that’s been bothering me ever since: About 3o minutes after I drain the last of a good cuppa – a dense, dark French roast or a perfect Americano – I taste the distinct flavor of beef.

It’s not that the coffee itself tastes beefy. That would be gross.

No, it’s later. I taste it after the cup is long gone, when I’ve moved on to my writing for the day, or have driven farther down whatever road requested the hit in the first place. When my brain has moved on to other things. I’ll just be sitting there, then BAM, it’s the iron-clad flavor of pure cow. The soft veal carpaccio at Wolf, flashing pure mineral across my tongue.

But it’s from coffee. And that’s weird.

Have you ever noticed this?

I googled “coffee beef aftertaste” and found notes from coffee cuppings everywhere. Coffee is like wine, of course, full of intricate flavors available to those with well-functioning taste buds. But the beef flavor never comes to me when I’m expecting it – in fact, if I drink coffee, and look for steaky flavors, I usually can’t find them. It’s always a good half hour later. It’s a sneaky beef taste.

I wanted to consult Harold McGeehe would know – but remembered I still haven’t bought the book.

Anyway. The truth is, I kind of like her, the little pet cow that follows my taste buds around, and peeks her head out at the strangest times. And last night, two hours after one such appearance, I decided I wanted to eat her for dinner.

It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t made a brisket yet this winter, and with temperatures finally dipping just below freezing on a regular basis, late January seemed to be the right time. (Yes, I said finally – because really, what’s winter without a little nip inside the nose, a bit of frost-kissed grass, and ice in the driveway that crunches heartily under each step, like Grape Nuts without milk? It’s not winter.)

Winter view from porch

This morning I crept out onto the frosty porch just after dawn, and crawled up onto the bench, where I knew a view would be waiting. Those pesky bushes, I thought first, gazing past the full moon toward the snow-covered Olympics. Then I reconsidered, remembering that without winter, I wouldn’t see the mountains at all.

But – yesterday. Yesterday, I found a good-sized beef brisket, trimmed it neatly, seared it in a hot Dutch oven, and braised it in a mixture of coffee and spices. It’s the simplest braise – truth is, none of the root vegetables in my refrigerator volunteered for a dunk in Fiore – sweetened at the end with brown sugar, and a touch of cream. (I resisted stirring in a hunk of dark chocolate, but I’m sure that would be delicious.) The meat fell into long, moist strands at the touch of a fork, and when my husband came home, we piled it atop buttered wheat berries and felt it warm us from the inside out. There at the dinner table, with an expectant palate, coffee and beef seemed like a most natural pairing. The coffee didn’t taste at all burned, as I feared, and it didn’t seem to bother my sleep a bit.

I feel kind of sorry for this brisket, though – any way you slice it, it’s brown meat with brown sauce, humble and simple and, well, kind of ugly. I hope it doesn’t feel too pressured by all the sexy specimens on the cover of food magazines – that pouty pot roast, flanked by legions of baby carrots and perfect parsnips, in the bowl that matches so well, or that sultry plate of lamb shanks, lounging on their haute-exotic dinnerware.

When I open the leftover brisket for lunch today, I’ll soothe it. Don’t you worry your pretty little head, I’ll say. All those other girls, they’ve had work done.

Then I’ll enjoy it, and finish off the meal with a good cup of coffee, and the cycle will begin again.

coffee-braised brisket with cream and sugar

Coffee-Braised Brisket with Cream and Sugar (PDF)

Spiced with ground coriander, cumin, chili, and dried oregano, this unusual brisket suggests Mexican roots. Serve it over whole grains, such as wheat berries, wild rice, brown rice, or polenta, or on a bed of egg noodles, with plenty of sauce.

To make the brisket a day ahead, let the beef cool to room temperature in its braising liquid, and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, skim any fat off the surface of the sauce, then proceed with simmering, etc. Slice the beef cold and reheat it in the finished sauce.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

One (roughly 3-pound) beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4 cups strong-brewed coffee
1/3 packed cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid (such as a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Season the brisket with salt and pepper on both sides. When the pan is hot, add the oil, then sear the brisket for 5 to 7 minutes per side, until very well browned. Transfer the brisket to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, and cook and stir for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft, adding a tablespoon or two of water if the onion begins to stick to the pan. Add the garlic and spices, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the coffee and bring to a strong simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any good brown bits from the bottom of the pan. As soon as the mixture simmers, slide the beef back in.

Braise the beef in the oven for one hour. Carefully flip the beef, stir in the brown sugar, and braise another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the beef comes out with absolutely no resistance.

Transfer the brisket to a shallow bowl, and cover with foil. Return the pot to the stove and cook the sauce at a strong simmer for 15 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by almost half.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream with the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water until no lumps remain. Add this mixture to the simmering sauce, stirring as the sauce thickens. Season the sauce to taste.

Slice the beef thinly across the grain, and serve with sauce.


Filed under Beef, gluten-free, recipe

My first family recipe

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread foil

I’m not sure what makes breakfast breads so darn attractive.

Maybe it’s the way I wrap them in foil – always in foil, except for when they have a glaze, in which case I use waxed paper – and nibble away, slice by slice. The first time I open the foil, I take the bread out completely, slice it on a cutting board with a proper knife, and return it to the foil, tucking it in like a child. The second time, I cut it still in the foil, with a regular dinner knife, and the blade smooshes some of the bread into the crinkles of the foil, so things start to get messy. By mid-afternoon I’m carving slivers, really miniature breakfast bread towers out of the loaf, then by dinnertime, I scoop bread out with anything—knife, spoon, fork, spatula, whatever. I don’t even bother to re-wrap it. And of course I don’t use a cutting board. By the time it’s gone, the foil is the only proof that the loaf was loved. It’s torn and pliable, wrinkled and leathery, skin after a summer of too many sunburns. There are little bits of moist crumb clinging to its cracks, and dried crust sifting through the bottom of the foil, where an errant fork poked through.

Maybe I find the way the bread cuts a bit endearing – I can never get it straight up and down, even if I’m trying my best to be precise.

Or maybe it’s the way it feels in my mouth. It’s soft, yielding, layers of cake and vegetable and sweetness light on the tongue but hefty in the belly. (It’s rarely the low-fat version.)

Zucc bread recipe card

Or maybe it’s just that breakfast bread is familiar. This recipe is based on my grandmother’s zucchini bread recipe, which I finally found, at my brother’s request. It was tucked into a metal recipe box, with the other habits from her 50’s kitchen, on someone’s personalized recipe card. (We’re not sure who Sandy Jones was, but we can see she wasn’t big on directions.)

I’m sure it’s not quite what Josh had in mind – I added cornmeal, like he asked, and updated the loaf with a bit of whole-wheat flour. But this bread tastes far too normal and delicious (homey, really) for Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread, which sounded to me before like a breakfast bread from Mars.

It’s not quite my zucchini bread. I’d add different things, if it were my recipe – flaxseed meal and spices, and yogurt in place of some of the oil, or perhaps a bit of buttermilk for tang. Less sugar. And nuts, for sure, if Josh wasn’t looking.

But it’s not mine – it’s my grandmother’s. And even with my brother’s touches, the first taste brought me back to a memory I didn’t know I had: I was sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of juice, playing with the lazy Susan, pretending I didn’t see my grandmother’s husband pour himself a Pepsi at 8 a.m.

When I made this, it occurred to me that my family doesn’t really have family recipes. At least, I didn’t think we did. There are things my mother makes that I love, and she’s a glorious cook, but she doesn’t own a recipe box (at least not one that I’ve seen). There are no recipe compilations. Sure, she made zucchini bread, delicious roasts, and challah, and the occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies when I was growing up, but I can’t think of a single recipe that I think of as “hers.”

Maybe I just like breakfast bread because it tastes like family.

And yes, actually, zucchini and sweet potatoes do go together.

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread (PDF)

Based on my grandmother’s recipe for zucchini bread, updated only with a bit of whole wheat flour and a smidge more baking soda, this breakfast treat isn’t as avante garde as it sounds. You’ll love the sweetness the potato adds, but probably won’t notice its flavor.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves

Baking spray
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purposed flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini (from 2 medium, or 3/4 pound zucchini)
2 cups grated sweet potato (from 1 medium peeled sweet potato, about 3/4 pound)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat the insides of two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” baking pans with the baking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, cornmeal, soda, salt, and cinnamon to blend, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), whip the sugar and eggs for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until light. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix to blend. With the machine on low, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the zucchini and sweet potato.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, and bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of one loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then transfer loaves to racks to cool to room temperature. Store wrapped in foil, at room temperature for a day or two, or up to a week in the refrigerator. Cooled loaves can also be wrapped well in plastic and frozen up to 3 months.

1 Comment

Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, recipe

Pancakes with a purpose

WG Pancakes Stacked

Hi. Happy New Year.

Remember me?

It’s been a nice couple of weeks. A lot has happened – it sounds cliché, but it’s true. Life has been puttering along at is usual peppy pace, and after a year of telling you what feels like everything, every day, I feel like so much has been left out since January 1st.

There are stories. There’s still New Years’ Eve to share (we added a new question, there around the circle), and I’ll eventually have to get to the one about the six-year-old putting her hands through the glass panes of our front door (miraculously, no blood involved), explain the snow-induced fender-bender involving a certain member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, ponder the fact that I gave my grandmother (who rarely cooks) my favorite favorite knife . . .and oh, that breakfast salad. (Imagine your favorite Caesar salad, its dressing spiked with Meyer lemon. Then top it with hot, crumbled bacon and a perfectly poached egg. Then multiply that by ten, because if you’re like I was, a Caesar-with-bacon-and-eggs-in-the-morning virgin, there’s no way you could understand the gastronomical pleasure involved. Don’t mean to be condescending, but really. You couldn’t.)

It will all come out eventually, I’m sure.

I do remember you, by the way. Every one of these days, these past few weeks, I’ve thought of you. You’ve sent such kind words. I wish I could send you two weeks’ worth of thank yous.

I’ve been starting to remember me, too. The pre-project me. Not surprisingly, my life’s pace has changed. I’m remembering how to laugh and linger at the end of a meeting or conversation, untethered by the pull of a self-imposed duty. I’m remembering how to fall asleep on the couch after dinner, tangled up with my husband, because dinner has come to mean the end of the day again. I’m remembering how to pick up a book. Not to finish it, just to browse.

I’ve had more energy to notice some of the smaller things I used to glide past: My cat is missing a hunk of whiskers on one side. The leaves have fallen off the trees in the neighbor’s yard, and we can see the tippity tops of the Olympic mountains. The zippery whisper of my new corduroy pants is louder when I step with my right foot than it is when the left leads.

These aren’t the most important things, but I missed them just the same. I’m glad to have them back.

I haven’t been cooking much, but I’ve been eating plenty. (Thank goodness my resolution had nothing to do with food this year.)

And the dog, for one, is loving it. See, she’d never met a delivery person before now. We first got her in a rural area where delivery wasn’t practical, and since we moved to Seattle, we haven’t had a delivery of anything but a couch. When the pizza guy came to the door, she started in on her typical warning alarm, a big WOOF WOOF. When we opened the door, she stopped short on the third bark, just shut her mouth mid-woof and tilted her head to the side. You brought food? she seemed to ask. She was suddenly quite friendly.

We’ve slurped hot and sour soup, and topped frozen Trader Joe’s burritos with salsa and cheese before baking them to bubbly, effortless perfection. Friends made us pasta, topped it with a stunning sausage-studded sauce, and sent us home before we could touch the dishes. (Truthfully, I was tempted to write that one down. I’m sure I’ll come back to it again.)

We’ve been out, too, for tender gnocchi at Crave, and good, cheap Mexican food. At Boom Noodle, my server accidentally dropped my chopsticks when he was clearing our table. I was leaning forward, on the edge of my chair, elbows on the table, chin in my hands, and one errant chopstick landed – I kid you not – just inside the waistband of my jeans. (Well, if you want the truth, it was really tucked into my underwear. Probably only one centimeter in, but really, it was in there.) I’ll need another meal at Boom before I’m ready to talk about the food, but the waiter snatched the chopsticks up, one off the seat of my chair and one out of its unfortunate home, before either of us could be embarrassed. And for that alone, Boom gets big points.

But not so much cooking on the homefront. And it’s been good for me. As much as food knits us together, I think we, the food-obsessed, tend to forget that when food doesn’t glue memories into our minds, there are other things that can get the job done. My New Years’ Day 2008 won’t glow with the warm remembrance of lentil soup or hoppin’ john, but I’ll certainly never forget how the ten of us got four small rear-wheel drive vehicles up a steep, windy, unplowed road in the middle of a New Hampshire snowstorm. (Sand can actually get quite expensive, if you buy enough of it.)

My love is still there, though. At least, I know I’ll find it again.

A few nights ago, I picked up the February issue of Bon Appetit (the one with Molly’s new column), and drooled over the photo of the whole grain pancakes on the cover. Yum, I thought, pancakes with a purpose. I tizzied with excitement at the idea of using someone else’s recipe.

But when I turned to the appointed page, I slumped back into the couch with disappointment. The recipe called for whole grain pancake mix.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I actually own such a mix (have for almost 2 years, I bet), and believe it has its place. But when I saw the detail on the flapjacks splashed across the magazine cover, cornmeal speckles and signs of good-for-you something, I’d imagined quite something else. I didn’t want pancakes with whole grains whirled and blended to resemble regular flour. I wanted a pancake with chutzpah and derring-do, one that crunched and snapped in the mouth, a real kick in the teeth to Bisquick bland. And I wanted pancakes with . . . well, more protein.

I tried to find something better. The Gourmet Cookbook had a recipe for whole grain pancakes, as well, but their idea of “whole grain” was a mixture of whole wheat flour and cornmeal – technically whole grain, but not technically what I wanted for breakfast. I wanted hippie-dippie pancakes, made with butter and something that crunched between my teeth.

So on Saturday, I went back into the kitchen, and turned out a drop-dead delicious, hearty, healthy (if you ask me) flapjack recipe that just might cure me of my slight aversion to pancakes. (I know, it’s horrible. But it’s true. But what’s the use on gorging myself on the vacant, pillowy kind if I’m just going to be hungry again in two hours?)

I might just have to make them again next weekend.

WG Pancakes cut

Whole-Grain Flapjacks (PDF)

Here’s a flapjack’s real foray into the multi-grain world. You can treat yours the same way you would a normal pancake – butter and maple syrup for me, please – but rest assured that with whole protein-packed quinoa and millet, plus Omega-rich flaxseed meal, they’ll treat you better, longer.

TIME: 40 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons quinoa
2 tablespoons millet
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, whisked to blend
1 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for skillet

Mix the first eight ingredients (all the dry) in a large bowl to blend. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, yogurt, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined, then whisk in the melted butter.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, butter the pan lightly (or spray with vegetable oil spray), then drop the batter by scant 1/4 cupfuls, 3 to 4 at a time, depending on the size of your skillet. Cook flapjacks for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Serve hot, and repeat with remaining batter, buttering pan as needed.

Note: Leftover batter can be stored in an airtight container for use in the next day or two.


Filed under Breakfast, recipe