Monthly Archives: February 2008

Cookies for the car

chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies frozen

It’s time.

The car is packed with food for six people for six days. We’ve waxed our skis. We dug out our cow bells, for cheering on the favorites.

We’re heading north to watch the World Cup.

Yes. Vacation.

I made cookie dough last night, and scooped it out into neat little balls to freeze and bring to our condo. But this morning, between last-minute edits, I couldn’t help but pop a few in the oven.

chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies

They’re gorgeous, really a mix between an oatmeal cookie and a 70% chocolate bar. The recipe is nothing special – just the old stand-by from the top of the Quaker Oats box, with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup flaxseed meal subbed in for 1/2 cup of the regular flour. No raisins. And oh, a full 12 ounces of chopped good chocolate.

My intention was to share the eight I’ve baked already with the rest of the caravan. I think I’ll call to apologize in advance.


Filed under Cookies, recipe

Tag. You’re it.

My friend Pat tagged me for a meme back in January. I’m not usually into this sort of thing, but I thought you might get a kick out of the answers. And truthfully, I’m hoping that sitting down to think about the foods I love will liven things up a bit around here.

I know it makes me a spoilsport, but I refuse to tag. Bloggers, take that as your cue: Meme away. Say I sent you. And heck, if you’re not a blogger but want to respond, by all means, answer the same questions in the comments section below. Type your little heart out.

What were you cooking/baking 10 years ago?
February of 1998, I was cooking dinner with my friend Michaela for a big group of folks for Middlebury College’s winter carnival. Michaela was in charge. We made pumpkin risotto, I think, and something that required beef stock, for sure, because Eric thought the bouillon cube was chocolate and ate the whole thing in one bite. Haven’t seen a guy cry so hard since.

Or wait, was that 1999?

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?
Soup for Peter.

Five snacks you enjoy:
1. Chicken salad, straight from the container
2. A cheddar cheese quesadilla (corn, of course)
3. Greek yogurt with walnuts, fruit, and honey
4. A dripping-ripe nectarine
5. Chocolate croissant

Five recipes you know by heart:
1. White bean dip
2. Roasted chicken
3. Vinaigrette (but more like by feel)
4. Brussels sprouts with bacon
5. Pie crust

Hmm, sounds like dinner.

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:
1. Feeding the people who can’t indulge
2. Unlimited triple cream cheese, followed by liposuction
3. Egg ducks (and the yard space, including pond, to accompany them)

Okay, on second thought, I’ve decided I object to this question. I don’t think I’d get liposuction, for one, and I think having culinary luxuries is more a state of mind than one of finance. Of course, I (like you, probably, if you’re reading this) have the fortune to be in a situation where I can eat a wide variety of foods, don’t have to live on rice and beans, can afford to buy fruits and vegetables, etc. That said, culinary luxury is (to me) about having the time to enjoy the food you have, not about money. So, I’m changing it (yes, I was always the kid who changed the rules in the middle of the game):

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you had an extra four hours in the day:
1. Savoring the texture of an entire serving of Greek yogurt, one bite at a time
2. Plunging my hand into a new bag of flour. I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like but never wanted to waste time cleaning it up.
3. Smelling all the fruits in the grocery store
4. Rubbing my hands in our rosemary bush, every day
5. Stirring a pan of oatmeal and sticking with it, smelling the way it changes as it cooks, instead of abandoning it on the stove

Five foods you love to cook/bake:
1. Chocolate chip cookies
2. Granola
3. Potato salad
4. Fruit crisps
5. Pasta

Five foods you cannot/will not eat:
1. Eggplant. Okay, will eat it, but have lots of trouble enjoying, unless peeled, pulverized, and rendered unrecognizable.
2. Tripe. The texture kills me.
3. Mayonnaise, if I can see it.
4. Fugu. I’m just not that much of a risk-taker.
5. Polychaetes. Never tried, never will.

Five favorite culinary toys:
1. Microplane
2. Small offset spatula
3. Immersion blender
4. Stand mixer
5. Kyocera mandolin

Five dishes on your “last meal” menu:
You know, a friend of mine recently asked me what I’d eat for my last meal, and I refused to answer. The food I tend to love most is happenstance. I’d love to eat whatever I felt like in the moment for my final meal, and I hope that if I somehow knew it was my last, I’d be content to eat anything from foie gras to homemade pizza to Chinese take-out. I think a more appropriate question is who you’d like to eat with, but I get sad just thinking about it, so I’m not going there.

That said, there are, of course, a few “dishes” I really, really like. Okay, more than a few. Here are five of them. They’d make for a really strange menu if they were served all at once, but I really don’t care. So there.

1. Pasta Bolognese, made with a mixture of pork, veal, and lamb
2. Willow Tree chicken salad, on lightly toasted wheat bread, with lettuce, pickle, and tomato
3. Crème brulee
4. A burrito from Anna’s Taqueria
5. Coq au vin

Burritos and creme brulee. Eww.

Five happy food memories:
See? This is why I hate these things. Why five?

1. Eating a five-course tofu meal at an organic restaurant in Kyoto, and washing it down with a Wolaver’s
2. Spreading Nutella on lemon-poppyseed bread for ten consecutive meals when Jim and I were traveling in New Zealand in college (it seemed like a good idea at the time)
3. Cutting into our wedding cake and realizing that the cake in the entire middle layer was charred to a crisp, and that the filling was the wrong flavor, and not caring
4. Catching a delicious bass for dinner in Woods Hole
5. The cookies my neighbor brought me last week, when I really wanted a cookie

Tag. You’re it.


Filed under commentary

Spring’s in my step

allium starting

It was a singing-out-loud kind of weekend. You know the type: You wake up, and because the sun is doing its darnedest to peek through, or because you know there’s a really sensational pastry in your near future, or maybe because it’s finally – finally – time to plant the garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter, those words just come blasting out.

Saturday morning, it was all three, and as I drove to meet a friend for a walk, Counting Crows flew right out my sunroof. (House rules: In the spring, the sunroof gets opened above 45 degrees.) I skipped through the day, planting early vegetables in my very first ever non-potted garden and moving dirt from here to there, cooing at the way the tulips were bursting out to greet the sun. I’m sure I saw them growing.

tulips starting

We’re not the only ones who feel spring, me and the flowers. My cat’s informed me that baby bird season is upon us. I’m only reading in feathers, but I believe there have been three catches this week: First it was that poor bird that got trapped inside the bedroom with us. I’d been fairly certain Jackson brought a playmate home, but didn’t expect the bird to be sitting on the windowsill inside my bedroom when I returned from the shower. It was quite the commotion, all of us flapping and squawking, me and the dog and the cat and the bird, until the one of us with opposable thumbs remembered that the windows open. (Here’s the video of the rest.) Then there was a teensy hummingbird, left on my office chair as an offering on Valentine’s Day. The evidence of Saturday’s kill, number three, is still fluttering around my feet when I walk through he house. I haven’t found the victim yet.

pan-seared tilapia

It’s great to have spring in my step, but honestly, there’s nothing of the sort going on in my kitchen. Jim is still gone, which means simple meals, like quick pan-seared fish with a squeeze of lemon, and mesclun salads with random cheese and fruit and nuts, whichever ones shout loudest.

random spring salad

Satisfying? Sure. But not inspiring. Almost boring, in fact. I’ve been combing through the freezer, past months-old clam chowder and homemade pasta sauce, only to find myself sitting down to a bowl of salt-flecked edamame for dinner. There’s just not as much fun in cooking up one of something, no matter how good it is. And every time I look outside, I can’t help but turn around to pout at my wintry produce drawer. I’m in a holding pattern: Kale. Potatoes. Grains. Soups. Stir-fries. Meat. Start over. I’m actually starting to fantasize about local asparagus.

All week, I’ve been paging through lists of ideas I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks, and nothing has sounded good. Nothing matches the spring I see outside. Macaroni and cheese? Too heavy for a sunny day. Ginger cream pie? I shouldn’t eat that whole thing myself. Maple walnut cake? Ditto. Eggs provencale? Too . . .something. It’s like my palate has PMS.

I’m sure you recognize the symptoms of a dinner rut. The books you open may as well not have text, for all you’re absorbing. You hit the markets, and wonder whether you dreamed your ability to cook. Your best knife feels foreign in your hands. And every time you journey through your refrigerator, you wonder when, and why, and how could you have possibly purchased all those condiments?

I was on that trip this afternoon, paddling through my jams and mustards and wondering how long does tamarind paste last?, when I stumbled upon an old friend:

jarred poached pear

Wait, did I forget to tell you about The Pears?

It’s dessert, from last weekend.

It was a last-minute thing. We had a guest for dinner, and the notion of dessert tiptoed quietly across my mind, just a few minutes before said guest was due to arrive. Suddenly there were four peeled pears simmering gently away in champagne, saffron, and cinnamon. They cooled while we ate dinner, then stood up tall and sultry in our bowls, demanding affirmation that they looked just fabulous in yellow.

“Yes, you look fabulous in yellow,” I said, and made a mental note to thank them later for looking so darn fancy after only ten minutes in the dressing room. Oh, and for wearing the perfect perfume.

We piled them with Greek yogurt, sprinkled them with freshly grated cinnamon, added a drizzle of honey, and dove in, happy for the sweet bites but relieved they wouldn’t moor us to our chairs for the evening.

This afternoon, with warmth beating into the kitchen, I opened the remaining pear, and walked out onto the porch, balancing its glistening, sunny body on a plate next to the primroses I planted yesterday. I knew it had been a whole week, but figured I’d give it a try – and the first incarnation had been so. . . darn . . . good.

Honestly: It was like eating a poached pear rolled in yeast. The champagne had turned. Totally inedible. (Shoot! I never thanked them.)

I know not why I might have expected something different, after a whole week, but I did. And now I’m pissed. At 4 p.m., they seemed like the harbinger of a happier kitchen, a way to make winter taste like sunshine, but in my mouth, they offended. The rut remains.

But you – you can forgive them. Make them, when you need a dessert that’s light and quick and healthy but still quite the looker. And oh – of course – don’t wait too long to eat them.

Saffron poached pear

Champagne-Poached Pears with Saffron and Cinnamon

Bring a cup of water, a cup of sugar, and three cups of champagne, along with a good pinch of saffron and two cinnamon sticks, to a strong simmer over high heat. When all the sugar has dissolved, snuggle four almost-ripe Bosc pears into the liquid on their sides (with the stems still attached). Cover the pears with a round of parchment, then a small plate, to keep the pears from bobbing out of the liquid. Simmer on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the pears), or until soft all the way through when poked with a skewer. Cool the pears in the liquid, overnight if necessary, and serve at room temperature, with Greek yogurt or ice cream, fresh cinnamon, and honey.


Filed under dessert, fruit, recipe

The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot

Blueberry Bread 1

The etymology of a recipe title is a sticky thing.

First, there’s this business of wanting people to understand what’s involved in the recipe instantly, in which case a descriptive name obviously gets the job done. Take All Whole Wheat Baby Blueberry Bread with Cinnamon-Walnut Streusel, for example.

Accurate? Sure. And quite often my approach. But second, there’s the importance of brevity, and simplicity. No one wants to write friends about a treat that requires an acronym in regular conversation.

Did you make that AWWBBBCWS last night?

I don’t think so.

The problem is, the simplest names are often misleading: Blueberry Breakfast Bread rolls off the tongue, but it wouldn’t be all that precise.

And for someone like me, someone who doesn’t like to skimp on the details, an imprecise title may take away from what’s special about a given recipe. This one is made with all white whole wheat flour, not just a touch, but it’s still remarkably light. There’s plain yogurt instead of sour cream in the batter, so it’s not as rich as coffee cake, but don’t you worry, there’s still enough fat in there to give it a good mouthfeel. And I do think two cups of your average highbush blueberry, dumped into the batter with such apparent overzealousness, could make the bread fall apart, whereas those bitty berries, from the type of low-lying blueberry bush common in the wild (or in Maine, or in this case, in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s) give the bread a good gong’s worth of bursting blueberry flavor, without sacrificing the structure of the cake itself.

Don’t even get me started on not telling you, right up front, that I could have added more sugar, but didn’t, in an attempt to bake a bread with a bit less cloying sweetness than your everyday blueberry coffee cake muffin.

Yes, all of this is downright impossible to fit into a recipe title.

So you see, simplicity has its downside, too.

Third, a good title will tell a bit of a story. Something about a person, or an event, maybe.

I made the bread last night, with just enough crunchy, sugary streusel topping to make the top of each slice interesting, and more tiny wild blueberries than I honestly meant to add. (I do believe this puts me smack-dab in the center of a sweets streak. I hope you’re right here with me.)

The batter seemed thick at first, thicker than I thought it would be. I really had to spread it into my loaf pans with a spatula, but once it rose up, crystalline and golden on top, I was happy I hadn’t added an ounce more moisture. I let it cool on the counter, and carefully tucked it into a bed of foil when all its heat had slipped back into the kitchen.

Last night, in my mind, I called it Blueberry Bread For Jim, Who Will Be Working On A Boat On Puget Sound For Ten Days Where Coffee Cake Isn’t So Convenient, So He Has Something Good To Eat For Breakfast On Valentine’s Day.

A mouthful, to say the very least. And though a story’s always nice, there’s the possibility that one’s idea of a good story-driven recipe title isn’t memorable for the reader, or that the story itself doesn’t quite work out.

This morning, for example, it was just The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot.

Yup. It’s true. He forgot both loaves, just sailed off into the Sound without them. Now if someone had stolen them, half-eaten or even still untouched, from his desk in the lab on the boat, that would be one thing. We’d put a photograph on milk cartons, asking Have You Seen This Bread?

But they weren’t stolen. They were just forgotten.

So I guess that title is an accurate option. But who wants to bake a breakfast bread that’s forgettable?

The very best thing about recipe titles is that they’re infinitely changeable, so The Blueberry Bread Jim Forgot could undergo a bit of a titular face lift if, say, he made it for me upon returning from said commitment. Then it would be Jim’s Best Blueberry Bread (or Jim’s Only Blueberry Bread, but that’s beside the point), which implies a much more delicious reputation indeed, even though it would presumably taste the same.

But really, I couldn’t blame him. Setting out to sea with Instruments and Personnel (and oh, yes, that really fat boat they all but had to lube up to squeeze through the locks), his brain couldn’t have been focused so much on the kitchen counter. (Sigh.) So now it’s Blueberry Bread for Me To Consume Greedily In the Ten Days Surrounding Valentine’s Day.

In a matter of mere hours, it will be The Blueberry Bread That Won’t Stop Nagging Me All The Way From The Other Room.

But neither of those are really memorable titles, and a name that sticks is equally important.

And there we are, friends. Right back at square one.

You may call it whatever you choose. I call it breakfast every day for a week.

Blueberry Bread 2

Almost Unforgettable Whole Wheat Blueberry Bread (PDF)

When I make a conscious attempt to make a slightly healthier version of a typically unhealthy thing, there’s always the devil beside one ear, saying things like, “No sour cream? Good luck, honey.” Here’s one to prove him (or wait, I think it’s a her) wrong: Made with nonfat yogurt and all whole wheat flour, and packed with antioxidant-rich blueberries and flaxseed meal, you could almost call this bread nutritional. Seriously. Like a vitamin. Take two slices and call me in the morning.

Wait, did I mention that it’s topped with coffee cake-style walnut streusel?

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

Baking spray or vegetable oil spray
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups plain nonfat yogurt
2 cups frozen wild (small) blueberries*, or fresh, if in season

*Note: To avoid too much streaking, be sure to keep the blueberries frozen until right before you add them to the batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2” by 4” loaf pans with the spray, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir the walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of the regular sugar together to blend, and set aside to use as a topping.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder, and salt to blend, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, and mix on low to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the yogurt, and beat until almost smooth. Add all but about 1/4 cup of the flour mixture, a little at a time, mixing on low just until no white streaks of flour remain. Add the frozen blueberries to the remaining flour, toss to coat the berries, and gently fold the berries into the batter by hand with a plastic spatula. (The batter will be thick.)

Divide the batter between the greased loaf pans (if you have a scale, it should be about 1 1/2 pounds of batter per pan), spread it into the bottom of the pans, sprinkle the topping (generously) over the batter, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Let the bread cool 30 minutes in pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely before wrapping. Store cooled bread wrapped in foil at room temperature, up to 3 days, or refrigerated up to one week.


Filed under bread, Breakfast, fruit, recipe

A cookie for a caucus

Oatmeal Peach Ginger Cookie bitten

Since Wednesday night, when I realized my hot date with the politically inclined folks in the neighborhood is this Saturday, I’ve been cramming for the caucus. Cramming, because I’m not usually part of that group, and as of this moment, I’m still not sure who I’ll stand up for.

I’ll admit, I’ve never thought this much about an election. Maybe it’s the war. Maybe it’s that my sister will vote in November (or, she’d better), when she’s finally old enough to hit the polls. Or maybe it’s just that I’m no longer (quite as) blissfully ignorant of my political surroundings. In any case, I suddenly seem to have a lot to learn before tomorrow.

My dad always told us that studying requires two things: milk, cookies, and two hours. He usually made his case when there was a math test involved, but I think it applies to any decent decision-making process.

My two hours started last weekend, when my mom called. She’d been selected to escort Obama at a pre-caucus rally in Idaho, where the ol’ “Where’s the Democratic caucus this year?” question no longer ends with some joke about a phone booth. She was crazed, bit hard by the Obama bug. Tonight a friend who works for Hillary is calling, and I’ve got some thinking to do. Probably more than two hours’ worth. (I guess that doesn’t leave much room for you to wonder about my party lines, does it?)

A reader recently wrote:

What does Obama eat? Don’t you ever wonder? He’s so thin, looks so in shape. He can’t be spending much time working out. Maybe he does one of those “get yourself in shape in 15 minutes” programs. But he must eat on the healthy side. Or maybe he just picks when he goes to those $1,000 a plate dinners. Or was it $25,000? Hillary no doubt does more than pick and Bill is, shall we say, in kind of a pickle with his heart condition. McCain is probably on doctors’ orders and do we even care what Romney and Huckabee eat? I wonder how much imported food ol G.W. eats.

Ouch. But maybe it would be easier, voting by meal plan. The New York Times would read Hillary Caught Wolfing Fries at McDonald’s Between Campaign Stops, and my decision would be made.

Or maybe it would just prove how judgmental I am about what people eat. The very people I commend for their appreciation of diversity might lose out on a vote because they don’t eat like I do.

Anyway, it’s time we get down to business, me and this plate of cookies.

They’re thoughtful, these chewy rounds: Each has its own level of gingery bite, its own unique distribution of the whole grain blend of cornmeal, flax, millet, and quinoa I’ve come to rely on when I want my baked goods to pack a bit more nutritional punch. They’re based on Kathy’s recipe for Fig & Ginger Cookies, a perennial favorite in our house.

When I’m standing in line in Seattle on Saturday, and she’s doing the same in Maine, I’ll call her.

“Who are you voting for?” I’ll ask.

“Why are you asking me?” she’ll say. “Have another cookie. Then go inside.”
Oatmeal Peach Ginger Cookies Milk

Whole Grain Oatmeal, Peach, and Ginger Cookies (PDF)

If you start with one of my favorite recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks – a book called Favorites, no less –it’s hard to come up with a cookie that’s anything but a favorite. Based on Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Oatmeal Fig & Ginger cookies, this is a cardamom-kissed cookie with crunch and whole grain chew, just the kind to roll around in your mouth with a glass of milk (over and over again, if you’re doing it right) while your brain is working out something important.

If you prefer to leave the whole grains out, substitute 1/2 cup more oatmeal for the cornmeal, flaxseed meal, millet, and quinoa.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 30 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons each cornmeal, flaxseed meal, millet, and quinoa
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned oats
10 dried peach or nectarine halves, chopped into small chunks (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger, tossed with 1 tablespoon flour to prevent sticking

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

Whisk the dry ingredients (through quinoa) to blend in a mixing bowl, and set aside. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with both sugars until light, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, then stir in the vanilla. Add the oats, fruit, and ginger, and mix on low to blend.

Scoop dough into 1 1/2” balls and place 2” apart on baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are golden at the edges. Let cool five minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.


Filed under Cookies, recipe

New things

Oh, just a list of things today, to get them out of my brain.

First, there’s a blog called Miel et Sel (Honey and Salt). It struck a familiar chord the moment I wandered over (not sure how). It appealed to the fancy side of my culinary proclivities (the one that’s almost extinct), cute little things like rock shrimp and scallop dumplings, cuddled together close. I read for days before realizing Miel et Sel is Lisa, my pixie-ish French-Filipino friend from culinary school. Lisa! I’ve missed you so.

You’ll also have to wander over to Eat & Tell, another newbie (as if I’ve been around so long) started by a hilarious Filipina Seattleite (what’s in the water in the Philippines these days?) with a penchant for bit parts and brawny meals (think shooting your own chicken).

Also, some light reading: Here’s a piece on quinoa that’s a must-see for those who haven’t been convinced to try it yet, something you might not have known about lentils, and a bit about Washington potatoes.

And in case you missed it at the Hugo House last fall, here’s a link to a new podcast of my reading at Talking With Your Mouth Full, from Leite’s Culinaria. Nothing quite so shocking as hearing a recording of your own voice.


Filed under media

A lot of little pigs (or none)

Oh, it seems like it’s been forever since we talked. I mean, since last week, things have happened.

I watched an entire football game, for goodness’ sake. Me, anchored to the couch by my neighbor’s pulled pork sandwiches and those cursed, blessed salami-cream cheese rolls. (Try it: Roll genoa salami around a baton of cream cheese. That’s it. But buy a limited amount of salami, because you will eat all you make.)

I read a book, a moving, educating, inspiring page-turner of a story, called Three Cups of Tea, which filled my heart with a feeling I haven’t had for a long time: It’s that warming sensation you get when you find out someone’s doing something really, really good for humanity, and that maybe you should pitch in, too. (If Super Tuesday’s got you down, give it a read.)

I was also introduced to pulla, a family of cardamom-scented Finnish pastries filled with quark and fruit, and made no fewer than 48 of them in the quest for the right recipe. We’re talking 48 hand-sized Danishes. Only, pulla are Finnish, so you can’t call them Danishes. For some reason the Danes got the jump on the Finns in the pastry department, which is too bad. I think it would make much more sense to call those dense, doughy gems Finnishes instead of Danishes. Because, really, what do you do? You finish them. But apparently pastry history isn’t rewritten to fit American writers’ preferences the same way political history is sometimes, so I’m out of luck. Finnish Danish it is.

Anyway, when I sat down at this here computer, I was going to tell you how healthy I’ve been, Finnish pastry and salami comas aside. Last week, I had arugula and chickpea salad for lunch all week, and mornings have been filled with oatmeal and smoothies and Grape Nuts, my rediscovered favorite. Yogurt and quinoa and wheat berries and greens have all been strong players in this here household, and I’ve been going to the gym, and all that does a body good.

But then I remembered that I’ve been sick, too, these last few days. Stuffy and sniffly, woozy and cold, just plain sick.

Oh, you say. That’s too bad.

It’s not, though. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in four years. I’ve felt rotten, for sure – sore, or tired, or nauseous, or achy, or all of the above, but since I launched into a regimen of immunosuppressants in late 2003, I’ve been too darn suppressed to show the symptoms of the common cold. No cough for four years, except the occasional snarf. It has felt downright inhuman, not to cough.

But I’ve lowered los drogues enough for my real, unfuckedwith immune system to shine through for the first time in four years, and you know what? It’s still alive. (Sniff.)

It’s emancipating, really. I don’t expect you to understand, but there’s a soft, blanketing comfort I’ve felt, just in the wanting for chicken soup. Just reaching for a Kleenex, like a normal person.

But what was I saying? Oh, yes. Healthy. I wanted to tell you about being healthy. But then there was the pulled pork, and the salami rolls, which means that my perceived health kick is . . .well, hogwash. Especially considering that I’ve also been yearning to tell you about my three little pigs. Three former pigs, actually, but they might as well be alive, for all the squealing they incite around here, stuffy nose and all.

The weekend before last, I was serenaded by the smell of sausage at Wooly Pigs‘ stand at the farmers’ market, and came home with a $16 pound of bacon.

Wooly Pigs' bacon

I’d picked it up, knowing it would be at least double the cost of grocery store bacon, and probably more than my prized Skagit River Ranch bacon, and handed it over before the $16 price tag knocked the air out of me. But by the time I started breathing again, I’d already put the bacon in my bag. Talk about commitment.

Thankfully, it was worth it, every last penny. Bacon this good deserves an altar. And as we savored it, piece by glistening piece, I developed a fantasy about actually saving the earth by eating pork so rich that you only really need a piece or so. Needing less bacon equals needing fewer pigs, equals ranching less land, equals growing more trees, equals . . .but waitjustadarnsecond, that sounds a lot like the path to vegetarianism. Who am I kidding? I really just like bacon. But it was a good fantasy while it lasted.

Little piggie #2 came in the form of jam:

Skillet's bacon jam

Yup, bacon jam: the unholy concentration of a pig’s worth of bacon into a jar that fits in the palm of my hand. It’s made by the guys at Skillet, and it makes one hell of a spread for a golden, cheesy panino piled with leftover sauteed kale. It’s Marmite for America’s palate, and I am an addict.

Piggie #3 came from that trip to Salumi, in the form of four 1/4″ thick pinwheels of pancetta:

Salumi pancetta

Their thick, silky fat ribbons queued up patiently in the fridge, curled tight, waiting their turn to bounce around in the pan.

Just when I realized I’d drowned myself in a lust for all products porcine (wait – did I forget to mention I tasted Landjaeger for the first time recently?), I realized I’d planned two consecutive dinner parties with friends who didn’t eat pork.


For a minute, yes. I’d made such a long list of things to do with the pork products in my refrigerator that I’d developed tunnel vision.

But pig wasn’t the only thing I’d picked up at the market – there were turnips, a celery root, carrots, and parsnips, waiting patiently for their turn in the oven, and that fat stash of fingerling potatoes from the fall, and a tangle of thyme in the bottom drawer. I roasted the root vegetables to a golden, crispy brown, stewed them up in a rich, fragrant dried mushroom broth, and made a vegetarian stew.

There, I thought, satisfied. I am capable of living without pork.

By the time our friends arrived, the stew was rich and earthy, just the sort of comfort a storm-rattled Seattleite needs in early February. But as I was topping the stew with puff pastry to turn each bowl into a bottomless root vegetable pot pie, I cracked. Out came the pancetta, and the knife, and a hot pan. I seared up a two thick slices’ worth of diced pancetta, and secreted them into the meat eaters’ bowls.

So pick your own adventure: Make vegetarian pot pies, as below, or spike them with squealer. Either way, you’ll have a darn good dinner.

Root Vegetable Pot Pie

Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie (PDF)

It’s a doozy of a shopping list, but when it all comes together, with a rainbow of roasted root vegetables tucked into a rich mushroom broth, topped with Parmesan-flecked puff pastry, it’s worth it. The stew itself takes some time to put together, but you can make it a day or two ahead and warm it to room temperature on the stove before sliding the bowls into the oven. And if the idea of a vegetarian pot pie doesn’t sit well with you, stir a quarter pound of diced, cooked pancetta into the stew when you add the roasted root vegetables to the pot.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 ounce dried assorted wild mushrooms
5 cups boiling water
3/4 pound celery root (1 medium), peeled
1/2 pound turnips (2 medium), peeled
2 carrots, peeled
2 parsnips, peeled
1/2 pound fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 large leek, finely chopped (or 1 bunch baby leeks)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Tabasco, Cholula, or other pepper sauce, to taste (optional)
1/2 package (1 sheet from a 17-ounce box) puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator
1 egg white, whisked with 1 teaspoon water to blend
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese

Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, add boiling water, and set aside to soak.

rehydrating mushrooms for pot pie

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

Chop the next five ingredients into 1” pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, and the thyme.

roasting veg for pot pie

Mix to blend, and roast on the prepared baking sheet for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and soft. Set aside, and reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the butter. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and leek, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and sliced crimini mushrooms and season again, then cook, covered, for 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have given off their liquid.

Meanwhile, scoop rehydrated mushrooms out of the water, saving the mushroom broth. Finely chop the mushrooms, and add to the soup pot. Cook and stir another few minutes, until no liquid remains on the bottom of the pot. Add the flour, and cook and stir until a brown patina forms on the bottom of the pan, another minute or two. Increase heat to high and begin adding the mushroom broth a cup at a time, stirring and allowing the broth to come to a simmer and thicken between additions. When all the broth has been added, whisk the cream and the cornstarch together until smooth, then add to the broth, stirring until the liquid comes back to a simmer. Add the root vegetables, simmer for 3 minutes, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few drops of the pepper sauce. (The goal here is to boost flavor, not to actually make the pot pie spicy.)

finished stew for veg pot pie

To bake, divide the stew between 4 large or 6 smaller ovenproof bowls arranged on a baking sheet. Cut the puff pastry sheet into 9 squares, trimming off the wrinkled parts where the pastry was folded (you will need the second sheet of pastry if you’re using 6 smaller bowls). Brush each square with some of the blended egg white, and shower with a layer of Parmesan cheese.

Prepping pastry for pot pie with cheese

Place 2 pastry squares on each bowl, allowing the pastry to hang off the edges of the bowl, and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden and the stew is bubbly. Serve warm.

Note: If you let the pastry overlap in the center, as shown below, it won’t puff as well – try not to let the layers overlap.

Root Veg Pot Pie, overlapped


Filed under farmer's market, pork, products, recipe, Seattle, vegetarian