Category Archives: appetizers

When there are no eggs

Sardines on crackers with nettle-walnut butter

You’ll hear, certainly from more dramatic writers, that working on a memoir is like childbirth: It’s painful. It takes too long. It shows you the part of yourself you never wanted to see. Technically, A Year Right Here—the series of essays flowering into form on my computer these days, in fits and starts—is not a memoir. But it is, in general, about me. And I find it is, in general, a more difficult process than writing cookbooks has been.

But for me, the process of writing a single essay is more akin to laying an egg. I can’t say why or when or how, but at certain times, my mind is capable of producing writing. When I feel the egg coming on, I find a nest—often Vif, the coffee shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood whose breakfast menu typically refuels me late morning if I’m really on a roll—and I write. When the essay comes out, it’s almost fully formed, save some tinkering. It’s a matter of washing and perhaps scrubbing, but usually not one of constructing. But if there’s no egg, there’s no writing. If there’s no egg, I answer email or plan or pitch or simply walk away.

And so it happened that the other day, when I realized my cozy spot in the sun at Vif wasn’t going to be productive in any way, I gathered my dog and my mittens and my favorite orange bag and went for a walk in Discovery Park.

nettles in the park

If you ask a park ranger, I’m sure she would tell you that picking foods out of Disco Park, as we call it, is strictly illegal. But as spring unfolds into summer and summer unfolds into fall, it’s not unusual to see folks picking things out of the undergrowth or off spiky blackberry bushes. And this year, the nettles are early. And on the whole, I do very few things that could land me in jail, so I figured picking was worth the risk.

Stinging nettles, as they’re so accurately named, are what I once called mint’s mafia cousin; they have spade-shaped leaves with toothy edges, but they’re corrupted by a taste for causing pain. Cooked and whirled up into, say, a pesto, the fine stinging hairs on the sunny side of each leaf learn to play nice, but if you touch them when the leaves are raw—i.e., when they’re still in the ground at Disco Park, or fresh out of the bag from the farmers’ market—they will cause paresthesia, which is a (temporary) numbing or stinging wherever the hairs contact your skin. I’ve learned, over the years, that it’s best to dump fresh nettles into a pot of boiling water, dirt and sticks and bugs and all. The less desirable stuff tends to float up to the surface, where it can be fished out with a slotted spoon, and I don’t get stung. But before this week, I’d never picked nettles myself.

stripped lemon zest

It’s not hard. It took almost as much time to put on my mittens as it did to pluck a bag’s worth of nettles in a spot just out of view of the park’s walking trails—maybe five minutes, at the most. I simmered them until they were limp but still bright green, then buzzed them into a thick paste, along with strips of lemon zest, toasted walnuts, and olive oil. Yesterday, I smeared the nettle-walnut butter onto crackers and topped it with tinned sardines for lunch, and for dinner, I mixed it with olive oil and tossed it with pasta. Today, I’ll bring half of it in a small jar to the ladies at Tieton Farm and Creamery, who I’m visiting for the book. Maybe we’ll have it for breakfast, over eggs, with a smattering of fresh cheese.

First, though, I’m going back to the park, because it’s sunny and because there are nettles and because some days, there is just no egg.

Nettle-Walnut Spread (PDF)
This recipe calls for six ounces of fresh stinging nettles, but if you’ve dealt with nettles before, you know that measuring them—well, touching them in any way, really—is inconvenient, because the fine hairs on the sunny side of each leaf really do sting. Six ounces is about half a paper bag’s worth of unpacked nettles, if you’re picking them yourself.

Use the spread on sandwiches, smear it on a plate and top it with cooked eggs and crunchy sea salt, or dilute it a bit with water and dress a bowl of spaghetti (with additional chopped walnuts, toasted breadcrumbs, and freshly grated Parmesan, if you’re willing).

Makes about 2 cups

6 ounces fresh stinging nettles, stems and all
1 cup toasted walnuts
Stripped zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the nettles without touching them, using tongs if necessary, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the nettles are all completely limp. Drain the nettles, spread on a baking sheet, and set aside until cool enough to touch.

Meanwhile add the walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and salt to the work bowl of a food processor. Using two hands, squeeze the nettles dry of any excess liquid a clump at a time, then loosen each clump before adding it to the food processor with the other ingredients. Pulse the nettle mixture until finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl every now and then. Add the olive oil, then whirl the mixture until smooth and thick. (It should looks like green hummus.) Season to taste with additional salt, if necessary.

Transfer the spread to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.

4 Comments

Filed under appetizers, eggs, foraged foods, Lunch, pesto

All Fired Up

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings

When Pramod Thapa walked into the Sunburst Lodge at Sun Peaks Resort, the British Columbia ski hill I visited last weekend as part of a tasting tour of BC wine country, I recognized his gait immediately. He doesn’t have the typical cattywhompus walk of a kid with cerebral palsy; at 21, he’s been fortunate enough to progress into a more typical movement pattern that comes off as a young male swagger. Still, for someone familiar with CP, it’s evident. Yet Pramod also moves like a ski racer—shins pressing against the fronts of the boots when walking, using their natural support to avoid the awkwardness inherent to wearing ten pounds of metal and plastic on each foot.

Pramod (pronounced “promo”) stopped short when the woman I was skiing with, Canadian ski racing legend Nancy Greene Raine, flagged him down. She realized that as the mother of a budding adaptive skier with cerebral palsy, I might want to meet him. Pramod perched one Lange boot on its heel—a typical racer’s resting posture—and shook my hand. When he started speaking, I realized that unlike Graham, he has a major speech impediment. He can speak well enough to communicate, but only if the listener has had, say, a few years’ experience tuning in to how the general population with cerebral palsy communicates. Pramod struggles to hug his mouth around vowels, and stumbles over consonants. Listening to him speak requires intense concentration, but he has a lot to say.

As we huddled around the hot, cottony sticky buns the lodge pulls out of the oven mid-morning every day, Pramod and I talked about his ski racing history. About how after immigrating to Canada from Nepal as a kid, an adaptive ski instructor recognized that he might be the type to enjoy skiing. About how and whether we should go about transitioning Graham from a sit-ski guided by an instructor holding tethers to a sit-ski he guides himself using outriggers, which are like hefty ski poles with extra tiny skis at the bottoms. About how now, in a bid for the Canadian paralympic alpine team, Pramod is having to fight for the right to use kids’ skis, instead of the regulation (read: longer and heavier) men’s skis the other guys he competes against use.

Pramod comes from a long line of sherpas. He can’t be more than 5’2”, and he must weigh 100 pounds soaking wet. I can’t imagine a person his size racing on the same skis my six-foot-something brother and father use. As we talked through the issue, he used his hands—hands seemingly unaffected by cerebral palsy—to describe the methods he’d been using to pressure the smaller skis around the turns in that day’s slalom and GS training. Fingers straight, hands tilting in parallel to mimic the skis beneath his feet, Pramod looked like any other ski racer talking shop. I realized that in a world where his body and his speech likely often prevent him from participating in a typical way, he has found a sport where he can use his hands to communicate the same way everyone else does. He’s found his sport. I also realized that when it comes to my own kid, it’s more important to me that he learns to love a sport than that he learns to love what I’ve long considered my sport.

Which is why this weekend, along with something like a third of all Americans, we’ll be watching the Super Bowl. In an unpredictable combination of rare genetics, Graham has inherited a love of football. We don’t know how. We don’t know why. He “plays football” by knee-walking to and fro across the living room floor, hurtling his body against the couch or a chair or the dog occasionally, claiming touchdowns and wins according to rules we don’t understand in any way. But he loves it. So it seems like this year especially—when the Seattle Seahawks kick off their second consecutive Super Bowl—it makes sense to sit down and watch. And it makes sense for me to sit down and learn, the way Pramod’s parents are likely doing also, that it doesn’t matter what gets your kid fired up. What matters is that he’s fired up at all.

I’d have photographed this recipe on a Seahawks jersey if I could, but we’re not big enough fans to have that sort of thing. Nonetheless, when Super Bowl XLIX kicks off this weekend, we’ll be eating wings with millions of others, smothered, in our case, with butter and harissa. You can use a store-bought harissa for this, but the homemade kind from A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus works spectacularly. Note that each harissa will vary in spiciness, so you may need to adjust the heat to your own taste. I made this batch knowing there will be kids at our party on Sunday.

Now get fired up, people. Two days ’til game time.

Roasted Harissa-Glazed Chicken Wings (PDF)

Active time: 10 minutes
Start to finish: 35 minutes

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup harissa, plus more if desired
1 1/4 pounds chicken wing segments or drumettes
Sea salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Stir the melted butter and harissa together to blend. Divide the mixture between two large mixing bowls. Add the chicken pieces to one bowl, stir to coat the wings, then spread them out evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast the wings for about 20 minutes, or until the wings are bubbling and crisp at the edges. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain for just a moment, then add them to the fresh bowl of harissa butter. Stir to coat the chicken, then transfer the chicken to a platter and shower with sea salt. Serve hot, with the yogurt on the side for dipping.

1 Comment

Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, travel

Crab season

red rock crab

I wouldn’t call 4:30 a.m. a friendly time, but if you see it enough – say, growing up in a family dedicated to the first chairlift, or rowing crew in college – it becomes familiar. So when my alarm went off in the pre-dawn calm last Saturday, way before the hours I call human, I popped right out of bed. It was time to fish.

As a kid, we seasoned river trout in a paper bag. My father or brother would catch the fish – if I remember correctly, I never, ever caught one – and we’d pour flour into the bag, douse it with salt and pepper (or lemon pepper, if we had it), add the fish, and fold the top of the bag over twice. Dad set a cast iron pan over the open fire, glazed it with butter, and pan-fried the fish right there, next to the river. Or something like that. I think my father loved it because if we cooked by the water, my mother couldn’t complain about the house smelling of fish. I liked shaking the bag.

But river fishing, to me, always seemed like the easy way. (Don’t tell Dad, okay?) I romanticized deep sea fishing. Catching a fish in a river made you coordinated or perhaps just lucky; catching a fish in the ocean made you A Provider. So when my husband’s family arranged a salmon fishing trip for a group of curious relatives with All Washington Fishing, a local guide company with a slip about 2 miles from our house in Seattle, I was thrilled to join them.

I’d love to say it was a scintillating adventure. I’d love to say I caught three monster king salmon while battling rogue waves, each fish testing my strength to its limits. I’d love to say I came back with windburn, or sunburn, or both, or that I worked for my catch at least a little, but none of that really happened. The fact is, it was an easy, relaxing, calm, quiet morning. Like going to the farmers’ market, only less walking. We didn’t go out far – just across Puget Sound toward Bainbridge Island, where the kings and cohos were hungry and plentiful. The morning was almost absurdly pleasant. I drank coffee and ate Fritos. (It’s not a bad combo at 7:30 in the morning, if you’ve been up for a bit.) I learned how the fishing rods work, and reeled in the occasional fish, and drank in the shifting grays of the sky between our group’s successes. And in the end, perhaps because I was the only one who didn’t land one of the 7 keepers, or because I managed to pee off the bow because I was too proud to make the guide extract the women’s toilet from the hold, or because I’m the only one with a huge freezer, or because I have passable knife skills, I went home with 30 pounds of gorgeous salmon flesh. That, combined with my husband’s huge salmon-eating grin, was worth the wake-up call. I didn’t catch much myself, but my freezer is full.

A man and his fish

But then, on the way home, there was crab. The recreational season apparently opened July 1st here. The boat’s captain cruised by his pots with the same sense of idle convenience I use for getting gas or picking up a half gallon of milk. By then, I’ll admit I’d sort of stopped paying attention because I was focusing on the fish. But with each haul, he drew big tangles of sharp, angry legs out of his crab traps. About half were red rock crabs (pictured above), red-tinted, cranky things whose leg meat is apparently delicious but, besides the pinchers, quite difficult to retrieve. The other half were healthy full-size Dungeness. We took our Dungeness limit, 10 crabs, thinking the sweet, flaky meat could supplement our big family dinner.

What we didn’t realize, hauling in the crab, was that given a good labor force, two hours, and a few beers, the product of 10 pounds of crawlers is about 4 pounds of meat – enough to eat a bunch straight from the shell, stir some into crab salad, make a dozen jumbo crab cakes, pile crab curry over rice, and still have enough left for a hot, bubbling crab dip spiked with jalapeños two days after the catch.

Unlike waking up early, an overabundance of fresh-picked Dungeness crab meat is not a problem I’d call familiar. But if you should find yourself, like I did, with a healthy half pound of the stuff, and you can’t stand the thought of eating plain old crab salad for the third day in a row, and you’re longing for an indulgent appetizer that highlights the shellfish without scrimping on creaminess, this dip’s for you.

And guess what? You don’t even have to set the alarm.

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

Hot Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese (PDF)
Active time: 10 minutes
Makes 6 servings

10 ounces fresh-picked Dungeness crabmeat
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced pickled jalapeño peppers
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently squeeze the crabmeat in small handfuls over the sink to discard any excess liquid. Transfer the crab to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir with a big fork until more or less blended. (This is a good time to think about something else; there’s nothing exact about this process.)

Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish just large enough to hold it all. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Serve hot, with the tortilla chips for scooping.

5 Comments

Filed under appetizers, fish, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish, side dish, snack

Now what?

Yogurt Dip with Feta and Dill 5

A friend recently referred to my recent string of cookbook projects—all of which are now finished, save the final edits—as my Irish quadruplets. She suggested that perhaps I begin participating in some form of cookbook-related birth control.

I can’t blame her. I didn’t mean to write four cookbooks in 16 months. It just happened. Eighteen months ago, I didn’t think I’d ever write one. But now, with all the major deadlines behind me (as of Saturday), sitting at home in my puffy robe as the snow spins off my neighbor’s roof in a little fit of confusion, I’m wondering just who did all that work. (It couldn’t have been me.)

And more than anything, I’m wondering who I am now, in a culinary sense. I know a lot about the Pike Place Market right now. I know a lot about myriad foods across Washington State. I know more than I ever anticipated knowing about doughnuts. And I know a lot about grilling fish, too. (That was the ghost writing project, which I never told you about.)

What I don’t know, it seems, is what food will be mine in the years to come. I’ve been gluten-, soy-, and egg-free for almost six months, and I’m just starting to figure out whether that’s helping with lupus. (Summary: I think it is.) I’ve been figuring out that in baking, using pure ground flaxseeds in place of eggs (instead of flaxseed meal) makes a huge difference. I’m figuring out my favorite version of socca, the Mediterranean chickpea pancakes I can’t seem to stop eating. I’m finding a good snack bar for after the gym.

What’s next for me? For the first time in what feels like a long, long time, I just don’t know. And I kind of love it.

Here’s a dip inspired by a bite I had last weekend at the Fancy Food Show, in San Francisco. It’s not much—just some yogurt, a flurry of feta, and the dill I’ve been meaning to use. It’s not the kind of thing that fits in a book, you’ll notice. It’s the kind of thing that fits in a little jar in the fridge, for snacking, when you’re not making food at all hours of the day. Perhaps that’s what I like about it.

Yogurt Dip with Feta and Dill 1

Yogurt Dip with Dill and Feta (PDF)
Here’s a dip that works in my house as a substitute for ranch dressing—only there are some undeniable nutritional benefits going on here. For something that tends more toward the “spread” category, add a handful of pitted kalamata olives, and whirl the whole thing in a food processor before serving.

Serve the dip with fresh carrots, cucumbers, baby zucchini, bell peppers, or crackers.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: About 1 cup

7 ounces full-fat Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork to smash the feta into tiny pieces. Serve or chill up to 1 week.

3 Comments

Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, snack, vegetarian

A Cookbook Snapshot: Pike Place Market Recipes

Photo by Clare Barboza

Last Thursday, I caught a Keta salmon. I don’t mean I caught it, as in I put a fishing line into the ocean and it bit down something fierce. I mean a large man threw a fish at me, and it didn’t hit the floor.

I probably should start by telling you that I’m not exactly known for my hand-eye coordination. But when you step behind the counter at Pike Place Fish, the purveyor at the heart of Pike Place Market that’s world-renowned for the fishmongers’ salmon-throwing antics, there’s not all that much to learn. Not at first blush, anyway: You put an apron on. You turn one shoulder toward the fish, as if you were a batter anticipating a pitch. A guy in orange guides your hands into position, placing the back hand higher than the front hand, so that when the fish swims through the air toward you, head high, it lands between the thumb and forefinger of each of your outstretched hands. You clamp down like your life depends on it.

So that’s what I did. Only, I have to tell you, I was sort of cheating. The salmon I caught was tiny, for starters, and since it was destined for an afterlife of tourist abuse, it didn’t matter if my fingers bruised its delicate flesh. The guys in orange, though? They’re not cheating. They catch those fish like they’re catching newborn humans, tender and gentle. I don’t know about you, but the difficulty seems to me like it might stretch beyond the coordination issue. I can’t imagine wrapping my brain around the combination of yelling at the top of my lungs and treating something with such intimate care.

Catching a fish at Pike Place Fish

Thursday was a good day. I also took my first Savor Seattle tour of Pike Place Market, and learned that initially, when MarketSpice (the market’s oldest vendor) opened, its tea was technically illegal because the cinnamon oil used to flavor it was banned; it’s too dangerous to touch in its purest form. I made a cake using milk spiked with the tea, and topped it with an orange tea glaze, so the whole cake smacked of orange, clove, and cinnamon. I bought a smoked ham hock from Bavarian Meats and braised it into an ever so gently smoky German split pea soup over the weekend. I bought the biggest white beans I’ve ever cooked, from The Spanish Table, to stir into an unusual but refreshingly simple Spanish paella. Then I tied my hands behind my back, because spring’s bounty is still coming.

This, friends, is what writing a cookbook looks like. It’s a life I could get used to: peruse one of the world’s best markets for food I’m crazy about, take it home, and make it more delicious. Occasionally, I get to gussy up my favorite things for a quick modeling stint (Clare Barboza is the book’s fabulous photographer), and things start to look more real.

"Public Market," by Kevin Belford

Only, like anything, it takes work. Today, I walked into a coffee shop, feeling overwhelmed by the whole wheat cinnamon pull-apart bread I’m not quite satisfied with, and by the organizational task ahead of me. I was stalling. The photo above, part of an exhibit at Fresh Flours by Kevin Belford, loomed over the only empty chair. Really?, I thought. You mock me so.

I love how the book is divided by provenance—so the chapters group recipes based on ingredients that come from Puget Sound, for example, or the mountains, or Pike Place Market’s specialty shops. But from a writers’ perspective, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the balance intrinsic to a book with a more traditional course-by-course layout. I’m trying to decide what tips to throw into the book’s introduction, which purveyors to interview for little sidebars, and how to capture the magic of the market in relatively few words. And as I get closer and closer to its end (the book is due May 15th), the number of recipes left to test for the book dwindles, and I start getting weepy about the recipes I might have to leave behind, like a recipe for sweet-hot mango pickles that I make again and again because I simply can’t get enough. (That chapter’s full, my brain says.) There’s work to do, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not dragging my feet because I don’t want to do it. I’m procrastinating because I don’t want it to end.

But seriously. The world is in this state, and I walk out of my house thinking Oh God, how did I write 80% of a book with only two chicken recipes? Buck up, Jess. You’ve got a book to finish, because (shhh) there’s another one coming.

Pike Place Market Recipes is going to be gorgeous. It’s going to be delicious. It will taste like blackened salmon sandwiches and chickpea and chorizo stew and French-style apple custard cake. (Not all at once, of course.) It will smell like a good story, and fresh-baked sour cherry-oatmeal cookies with huge chocolate chunks.

And with any luck, it won’t bruise too easily. I’ll teach you how to catch it.

Sweet-Hot Mango Pickles (PDF)
Here’s an unusual snack, similar to the cucumber chips I posted before, but sweeter – and for Seattleites, a needed burst of sunshine. For another variation, try grating the mango in a food processor instead of cutting it into spears, soaking it in the marinade, then draining it and serving it as a sweet-and-sour slaw, over salmon tacos or grilled chicken.

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

2 large almost-ripe mangos, peeled and sliced into 1/2” spears
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl just big enough to hold all the mangoes. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes for flavors to blend, stirring occasionally, then serve.

10 Comments

Filed under appetizers, fruit, gluten-free, Modern, recipes, snack, vegetables

Live to Tell

Curried Cumin Crackers 1

There was a time in my youth—maybe six weeks, if I had to approximate, which must have been a very long time for my mother—when I listened to Madonna’s Live to Tell on repeat for hours on end. Hours, people. And oh, goodness, Madonna understood. Clearly the secret I wanted to live to tell wasn’t all that important, because I can remember neither the tale I had to tell nor who needed to hear it. But it was there, with me, suspended heavily in the air like my legs off the floor of back seat of our silver Volvo 840.

The thing is, I do remember putting the emphasis on the telling—not on the living. Today—a few years wiser, maybe, and slightly more experienced with health complications—I wonder sometimes what I’m living to tell.

As more and more of my relatives enter their anecdotage, it becomes clear to me that humans are predisposed to a good yammer. We all live to tell something, and to tell it over and over. The topic varies, though—some people want to talk family history, others want to rehash the past, and still others just want to have a story to tell about every topic that comes up. Telling is remembering. Or it’s proving you’re smarter than someone else, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that doesn’t ever apply to me or you.

Back to me, though. What am I doing now that will stay with me? Sometimes it’s hard to know, but once in a while, in a blinding flash of clarity, I know I’m living a moment that will be with me forever. My father teaching my son how to lick an ice cream cone. Walking past the explosion of daffodils each spring on the corner of 1st and 73rd. New England’s ice storm of 1998. Watching my husband stand on the bed, using the cat as a flyswatter against some unwanted bug. Cornering my sister at a family wine dinner, whispering to her that I was pregnant, and watching her get ridiculously drunk downing all her own wine and all of mine as well.

What I do know, very clearly, is that I want something to stick with me. And I want it to stick for a really, really long time.

There’s a point in every person’s life, I suppose, when one recognizes ones own mortality. I think for most youngish adults, the realization comes (if it does come that early) as a result of some sort of trauma—a car crash, maybe, or a bad fall. For me, it came in the form of a very long, very big needle.

Nine months ago, I had a kidney biopsy. I thought it was routine; the doctor intended to get a baseline measurement of how my organs were working, in case of any future complications. The next day, he called me and told me my kidneys were on the verge of failing. Between dinner and breakfast, we decided which chemotherapy treatment I’d try, and the following day, I cancelled a trip to San Diego and headed to the hospital. I’ll be telling that story for a while, I’m sure.

And now? Well, now my kidneys are fine. There’s nothing wrong with them. Nada. Zilch. Problems gone. When I go in for a check-up, my nephrologist (who has purple hair and a nose piercing, how Seattle is that?) is clearly bored. But somehow, on my lower back, right below my ribs, I feel a keen sense of awareness, a constant sense of care that I take with me everywhere. It’s a sense of living, after realizing for the first time that my own life is inevitably limited. And lately—maybe it’s this whole clean eating thing—I’ve been much more aware of taking care of those kids.

Last year, I met a woman whose condition is similar to mine, only sixty thousand times more dramatic. She’s a food writer and blogger. Her name is Jess. She has lupus. (Sound familiar?) She lives in San Francisco, and she’s my lupus superhero.

See, Jess approaches her disease with grace. She accepts that her life has to be different, but doesn’t mope or whine; she exudes an energetic peace that any perfectly healthy person would admire. She practically oozes happy, leaving behind her a wake of hope and cheerfulness that I’m not sure anyone could ignore. Her kidneys are much more sensitive than mine—so sensitive, in fact, that she has to eat entirely sodium-free, to make sure her kidneys stay happy. In her kitchen, she replaces salt with cups and cups of creativity. This month, she’s celebrating National Heart Health Month on her blog, Sodium Girl, by asking bloggers and readers to consider the USDA’s newest dietary guidelines, which (among other things) recommend that Americans cut way back on their salt intake. It’s called the Love Your Heart Recipe Rally. And that recipe up there? Your heart will love it.

But, okay, I really didn’t do it for my heart. I did it because even though my kidneys are healthy now, I want to become more constantly cognizant of what I’m feeding them, so that they last as long as humanly possible. So they live to tell. Naturally, that should mean less salt.

So, I don’t mean to get all serious on you here, but do me a favor: Take a moment. Here. Now. Is there one thing you can do that will make you healthier? It might not necessarily be cutting out salt entirely, and it might not have anything to do with salt. It might mean eating more green vegetables. It might mean drinking red wine instead of hard liquor, because at least wine arguably has a couple health benefits. Or it might mean making a batch of crunchy curried cumin crackers, so you stop snacking on your son’s outrageously salty Goldfish crackers six times a day.

Realistically, I don’t think I can cut out sodium altogether. And I don’t plan on it. But if I can choose one thing today to do differently in my kitchen that pleases the kids, maybe I’ll be able to choose something else next month. Of course, the spirit of the Recipe Rally is to remake a specific salty food, replacing it with a low-sodium alternative. I chose those Goldfish. Readers, I love you. But there is no way in hell you’ll find me cutting anything out in 3/4” fish shapes, especially when I can’t guarantee the correct proportion of swimmers with that special smile. And strike me down for lack of ambition, but I wasn’t sure I could mimic that awesome orange color without a special trip to a chemical plant.

So I made a different cracker. It’s got a base of masa harina, a finely ground corn flour, and ground curry, which gives it the pleasing sunny hue that I associate with mindless snacking, which, in this case, is a good thing. I added an egg, canola oil, and some sodium-free baking powder for body, and stuffed the dough with flavorful seeds that become little grenades between the teeth—things like whole fennel, cumin, and mustard seed. There’s a bit of sugar, which guarantees addiction (let’s work with one vice at a time, please), but there’s no salt added. Half a batch in, I certainly don’t miss it, and I feel a little smug knowing that someday, my kidneys (and, okay fine, my heart) might live to tell me thanks.

I’m sorry, what was that? You have a Madonna song stuck in your head now? You can thank me later.

Click here for a full list of Love Your Heart Recipe Rally posts.

Curried Cumin Crackers after baking

Curried Cumin Crackers (PDF)

Made with whole seeds that burst between your teeth, releasing little time bombs of earthy flavor, these easy-to-make crackers aren’t for spreading or dipping. They’re for eating. For something a little spicy, add a pinch of cayenne pepper. For best flavor, use fresh spices. And you know what? They really taste best the second or third day.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings

Spray vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups masa harina
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (white or black)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons ground curry powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons baking powder (sodium-free)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12” by 18” baking sheet with vegetable oil, and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and blend on low speed until mixed. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, then add the egg, then the warm water. Mix until the dough comes together and there are no dry spots left at the bottom of the bowl. (You may have to add another tablespoon of water.)

Curried Cumin Crackers pre-bake

Scatter the dough out across the prepared baking sheet, and gently pat it evenly into the pan. Using a small rolling pin or a wine bottle (I find the latter works best), roll the dough into an even, thin layer, rolling all the way to the edges. Use a small, sharp knife to score the dough all the way through to the sheet into crackers of any shape, and trim the edges. (You can make squares or triangles, but anything bigger than about 2” in either direction may crack while baking.)

Spray the crackers all over with vegetable oil spray, and bake for 30 minutes, rotating once halfway through, or until the crackers are firm and the edges are light golden brown. Let cool completely on baking sheets, gently break apart, and serve. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container.

Curried Cumin Crackers 3

9 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe, snack, vegetarian

A Clean Start

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 2

There’s something about the concept of the Western world’s New Year that never sits quite right with me. Until now, I thought I was simply anti-diet. The New Year’s pooch is a symbol for me; it represents the cookies and cake I’ve consumed, and also the people I’ve shared them with. If I pour my energy into dieting on January 1st, like half this country seems to do, I effectively cut myself off from the biggest soul-quenching time of the year, because food connects me to memory. It’s like ruling out bright sunlight in August. (Sure, we could all use fewer UV rays, but what would August be without sunburns?) I usually start the year out bingeing on soups and stews, precisely because so many other people are avoiding them.

This year, for the first time, I figured out why January 1st seems so meaningless: Here, it seems like the same new year every time around. We’re supposed to create a resolution to battle whatever it was about the previous year that left us feeling unsettled, but there’s no rhyme or reason to what’s intrinsically needed. Every year, there’s basically the same expectation: This year will be better. Why?

2010 was kind of an outrageous year for me. There were months with no appetite, followed by an experiment with eating gluten-free. In the end, the culprit was something close to kidney failure. Then there was chemotherapy, crazy complications with my son’s health, and (surprise!) two cookbook deals. It was a roller coaster, for sure. As December faded to January, I had trouble resolving to do anything but make sure 2011 was a little more calm.

This past weekend, my parents visited, and I was somehow able to drop everything. (Not my son, of course. I didn’t drop him.) We played human-sized chess at the Pacific Science Center, and gobbled soup dumplings, and watched humans pretend to be dogs driving cars, and it was all light-hearted and boatloads of fun. Last night, as I read Graham a book before bed, my eyes fell to the Chinese zodiac hanging in his bedroom. Now there is the right approach to the new year thing.

Chinese zodiac

2010 was the Year of the Tiger, right? In my world, certainly. The Chinese zodiac called for unpredictability, recklessness, and aggressiveness, but also generosity. My year couldn’t match more perfectly. Last night, as I looked down the chain of animals, I realized that long, long ago, someone realized this next year is just the year I need.

This New Year – the one that started this week, for me, with a calm mind and my son emerging happy and clear-sighted from eye surgery on the first day of the Chinese New Year – will hopefully be more rabbity. I want the year to be soft-spoken and flexible, creative and gentle. Luck would be good, but it’s not necessary.

In this kitchen, the Year of the Rabbit means clean food. It means being kind to my body – more Zumba, less zeppole. (Yes, I tried Zumba. It’s like a dance party for those of us who can’t stay awake past 9 p.m., and it’s fabulous, even on days like today, when the average participant age is about 103.) Anyway. For some reason, I’ve been all hopped up on the idea of eating a little less meat. Crazy, I know, but for some reason, right now, it feels right. It feels clean.

Clean Start

It started with a book. Clean Start showed up on my doorstep, and I thought, Really? Do I need a book to tell me how to eat well? But it had an orange cloth cover, and if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s the color orange. I opened it, and fell in love with the photographs – tahini-glazed heirloom carrots, sautéed greens with sesame seeds, and this wacky Carrot Cashew Miso Spread (PDF) I immediately wanted to dip my fingers into. The concept of a carrot spread made my brain whir.

I realized, as I started listing out all the recipes I wanted to try, that not a single one had meat. It took me a good day or two before it registered that the book is totally vegan, which I thought was a good sign; my body seems to be craving what’s in those pages regardless of the ingredients. Well, almost regardless.

See, I’m sort of in a carrot phase. Last week, I made a carrot and chickpea tagine for the cookbook (which will most likely be called Pike Place Market Recipes, but more on that another time). Then, when my parents were here, there was an Indian coconut curry with carrots and chicken, and a mysteriously carrot-heavy tom kha gai. On Superbowl Sunday, neither the television nor the tacos held much appeal for me (only the latter is really a mystery), but I was all about the raw carrots. I might in fact be turning into a rabbit.

This morning, when second breakfast seemed inevitable, I simmered up some carrots, and whirled them into a hummus rich with olive oil inspired by that spread in Terry Walters’ book, and flavored it with lemon juice and harissa. Healthy? Perhaps, but not intentionally. Just what I happen to need right now, that’s all. The harissa (an African chili paste) gives it a touch of heat, but because it’s still a bit warm after you being pureed, it feels soothing soothing. I think it should be the new snack du jour in preschools, because its effect is somehow calming.

Please don’t be surprised if I appear to have a slightly orange hue next time we see each other. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I just hope my teeth don’t start growing first.

Carrot Hummus with Harissa 1

Carrot Hummus with Harissa and Lemon (PDF)
Made by whirling cooked carrots, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and harissa (a North African spice paste) together, this simple spread is healthy and a little addictive. Adjust the spice level as you see fit.

Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 servings

1/2 pound carrots, chopped (3 large or 2 big handfuls baby carrots)
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon harissa, or to taste

Place the carrots in a small saucepan. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until completely tender. (Time will depend on the size of your carrots, but about 10 minutes should do it.) Drain the carrots, then transfer them to a food processor with the remaining ingredients. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a bowl and serve warm.

9 Comments

Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

These chips are good for you

Marinated Cucumber Chips 1

This, friends, is a cucumber dish with an identity problem.

It started as an appetizer. I’ve been eating these mini English cucumbers by the bagful – locally grown they are not, but they’re adorable, which is almost as good – and at the top of the list, just above the variation on a Greek salad, there’s been a quick pickle. I’ve been salting, rinsing, and sprinkling with rice wine vinegar. This time, I wanted to jazz it up a bit, with a good dose of garlic and a bite from red pepper flakes, but I didn’t want to wait. So I didn’t. I just chopped the cucumbers up, threw them into a bowl, and mixed them together with the garlic, pepper flakes, ginger, rice wine vinegar, and a sliced shallot. The idea was to set them aside until friends came for dinner.

Trouble came when I picked one up, five minutes after I made them. Even though they’d brined for such a short time, the flavors sang – so I ate, and ate, and ATE, the way you eat a salad, until I had to chop more cucumbers and remake the salad, because there weren’t enough left to actually fill the bowl.

Later, with friends, we agreed they’d be right at home on top of a flank steak flavored in a Vietnamese-style marinade, made with maybe some rice vinegar, fish sauce, ginger, and cilantro. Or atop a pate-smothered cracker. Or even in a taco, with spicy seared salmon.

I hesitate to call these pickles, because none of the things I associate with making pickles – boiling, sometimes salting, and usually waiting – are applicable. “Salad” is too boring. But “chips” – in one word, that encapsulates ultimate snackability, addictiveness, and deliciousness. So chips they are. (But I swear they’re healthier.)

Baby Cucumbers for chips

Garlic-Marinated Cucumber Chips (PDF)
Dunked in a mixture of garlic, red chili flakes, ginger, shallot slices, and rice wine vinegar, sliced baby cucumbers become infinitely snackable. Eat them alone, serve them in tacos, or use them to top a simple salad.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 snack servings

5 baby English cucumbers, cut into 1/2” rounds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
Big pinch red pepper flakes (to taste)
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Let sit at least 10 minutes, and up to 4 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Marinated Cucumber Chips 2

13 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe, salad, side dish, vegetables

Ahhh. Nuts.

Curried Mixed Nuts with Kaffir Lime and Cayenne 2

I know it may be hard, but I’d like you to try not to hate me. I’d like you to look at yourself in the mirror, and say, “Self, relax. Not everyone can have a father who grows Kaffir limes in his living room.”

It’s true. Last year, I got my dad a Kaffir lime tree for Christmas, and he put it in the sunniest part of the house, nestled next to his “Meyers” lemon (I can’t convince him to drop the S). Unlike the rotating assortment of other trees that, unlike any cat that’s ever prowled the same beige carpet, all seem to have nine lives, this Kaffir didn’t go through much of an adjustment period—it produced fruit the first year. A couple weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, my dad proudly handed over a bundle of fruit.

Kaffir limes, which are often used in Southeast Asian cooking, along with their fragrant leaves, look like tiny bumpy limes. (I’d show you a good picture, but it didn’t occur to me to take one until I’d used them all.) They’d be sensational in pie, if you happen to have a payroll that includes professional squeezers. I can report that they add great mystery to a spiced matzo ball soup, too.

But when I smelled one of the last three yesterday, walking by on my way to the oranges, and scratching it with my nail, like you do, I thought of one thing: Trader Joe’s. Specifically, I thought of the woman I saw the other day in my local Trader Joe’s nuts aisle. She was on her hands and knees, ass waving, up to her shoulder in the bottom shelf, digging for something. She was not an employee.

Trader Joe’s carries these spicy Thai lime and chili cashews, flavored with Kaffir lime leaves, that bring people to their knees. (I guess I thought this was only figurative, but it’s not. See above. They were even featured in Saveur.) They’re addictive in an unhealthy way, which means, of course, that I had to make them as soon as I realized I could.

I started with the recipe for Sweet and Savory Spiced Nuts I got the other night at Ashley’s holiday baking class. (If you don’t know Ashley, or her gorgeous blog, Not Without Salt, head over. But be prepared to get hungry.) I tinkered, and stirred, and roasted, spicing a variety of nuts with cayenne, Kaffir lime zest, and curry—and now I’m eating handful after handful.

Curried Mixed Nuts with Kaffir Lime and Cayenne 1

Curried Mixed Nuts with Kaffir Lime and Cayenne (PDF)

Based on a recipe for Sweet and Savory Spiced Nuts by Ashley Rodriguez, author of the food blog Not Without Salt, these nuts are the kind of thing you make for other people but accidentally finish off before anyone else even sees them. Double the batch, if you can.

Makes 1 pound mixed nuts

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon (to taste) cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Grated zest of 3 Kaffir limes
1 egg white
1 pound raw, mixed nuts
Sea salt, to finish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, honey, and sugar together over medium heat. Remove from the heat, stir in the salt, curry, cumin, cayenne, garlic, and lime zest, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the nuts, and stir to coat. Add the butter and spice mixture, and stir until evenly coated. Transfer the nuts to the prepared baking sheet, spreading them in an even single layer.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally, or until glazed and shiny and deeply colored. (Ashley says to watch closely after 12 minutes.) Remove from the oven and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Stir again, then let cool completely on the pan. Store in an airtight container.

5 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe

Preparing for No Thanksgiving

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate 3

Last weekend, we turned our lives off. It wasn’t really intentional, to be honest. We packed everything up for a weekend of lazing and hiking on the Olympic Peninsula – everything except our computers – but when we arrived at our rental house, our telephones didn’t work either. For 36 hours, we suspended time. We spoke to no one but each other. My husband and I each read a book, and our son slept soundly through the nights. It was, by every definition, a vacation.

I also took a little break from cooking. I know it sounds crazy, for me to take over a rental kitchen with not much more than the makings for a simple pasta sauce and sandwiches, but after the doughnut book, it was just what I needed.

The house peeked out over Freshwater Bay and the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which separates the Peninsula from Canada. It had a sprawling living room, and a kitchen that would comfortably fit the cook and ten onlookers. I was in the middle of a fantasy about hosting a Thanksgiving there one day when it hit me: This year, I will not be cooking for Thanksgiving. I came home wanting to do nothing but cook for a crowd.

Every year, my family celebrates Thanksgiving somewhere different. It’s traditional in its pure lack of tradition. There’s usually Ken’s Eggnog (which would normally be made this weekend), but everything else is up to the cook. But I am always in someone’s kitchen, somewhere.

This year will be different. This year, my grandfather is hosting in Colorado, which means Thanksgiving will be catered. I’m confident it will be delicious, but there will be no menu planning. There will be no grocery shopping. There will be no oven scheduling. There will be no sneaking garlic into the mashed potatoes while Grandma’s not looking. There will be no forgetting to put the sugar in the pumpkin pie filling, or still-frozen turkey stock, or last-minute market runs for more butter.

In theory, this is fine with me. My oven broke (again) this week, which means I could be fighting with repairmen for a few weeks. No one needs to roast a turkey in an oven that’s 100 degrees off. And we’ll get to see much of my extended family, which is always great.

But honestly, part of me is struggling. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not the turkey, it’s all of the above – planning, shopping, scheduling, cooking, problem-solving – that I love. It’s all of the things some people hate about Thanksgiving. Frankly, I’m a little nervous. Cooking Thanksgiving is a yearly ritual I can’t imagine living without.

Spices for Pate 2

When Edible Seattle asked me to cook up some bites for an event at a Seattle Eileen Fisher last night, I figured it was my chance to get the ritual out of my system. I made polenta squares with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and crispy shards of kale. There were wild mushroom tartlets. I wanted to make a version of the chicken liver pate that seemed more popular than anything else on last year’s Thanksgiving table, one infused with spices and white wine. The only problem, I discovered, was that I had no idea where I’d found the recipe. All I remembered were the shallots and some cognac . . .

So I started from scratch. Chicken liver pate seems fancy, but it’s astoundingly simple to make. (If you’ve never done it before, know that the most difficult part is buying the livers. They can be intimidating, but treat them just as you would chicken, trimming away any tough parts.) I tossed them into a simmering mixture of chardonnay, star anise, allspice, clove, cinnamon, and pepper, along with garlic and shallots. I transferred the cooked mixture to a food processor, along with an amount of butter that you might want to keep secret, and found myself with a silky spread fancy enough for pre-Thanksgiving appetizers. Or hungry shoppers. Or writers with with the 10 a.m. munchies.

The best part? The recipe made much more than I anticipated. So I served hordes of hungry shoppers, and I still have a little pot left over for myself. I might just have to throw a party.

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate 2

Spiced Chardonnay Chicken Liver Pate (PDF)

Here, chicken livers are simmered in chardonnay, with cinnamon, anise, allspice, and cloves, then whipped into a mousse-y pate perfect for spreading on crackers or baguette slices. It’s easy, and a little work goes a long way—this recipe makes enough for 4 pots of mousse, each of which should satisfy a crowd of 6 to 8 before dinner. Serve with cornichons and pickled onions.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 large ramekins

2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 cups dry chardonnay
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 whole allspice berries
3 whole cloves
3 whole black peppercorns
2 pounds chicken livers, fat and veins trimmed away
3/4 cup water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 16 chunks
Sea salt
Ground white pepper

Combine the shallots, garlic, chardonnay, and spices in a large, wide saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the garlic is soft. Add the chicken livers and 3/4 cup water, bring back to a simmer, then cook for about 5 minutes, turning livers once or twice, or until they’re barely pink in the center. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the livers and onions to the work bowl a food processor, picking out any spices as you see them. Carefully remove the remaining spices, then add the rest of the liquid and onions. Puree the liver mixture until smooth.

With the machine on, add the butter one chunk at a time, and puree until smooth, scraping the sides of the work bowl as necessary. (The mixture will seem thin.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pass the mousse through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, then transfer to 4 large ramekins or bowls. Let the mousse cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight, covered with plastic wrap, and serve chilled.

Mousse can be cooled, then double-wrapped and frozen up to 2 weeks before serving. To serve, thaw for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge.

5 Comments

Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, recipe

Promised: Chicken Salad

IMG_3491

A few weeks ago, I promised you a new chicken salad.

There’s no story here – just plump chicken, chopped and blended with a spunky vinaigrette made with my new best friend, a lemon-infused olive oil. If you’re in a rush, fold in chopped rotisserie chicken. If you’re looking for a thinly-veiled excuse to eat the crisp, peppery skin off an entire bird you’ve just roasted perfectly on the grill (not that I would know anything about that), double the recipe. Try it in sandwiches or scooped next to a big green salad, or serve it inside endive spears or lettuce wraps.

Lemon-Spiked Chicken Salad (PDF)

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: Enough for 2 big sandwiches

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped leftover chicken
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a mixing bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice, shallot, salt, pepper, and mustard to blend. While whisking, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and whisk until all the oil is blended in. Stir in the chicken and parsley and serve.

7 Comments

Filed under appetizers, chicken, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, sandwich

A perfect use for mustard seeds

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions on a fork

I am on the precipice of a love affair with mustard yellow.

It started in Spain. I got hooked on the idea of going home with a sunny-colored watch, and on our last day in Haro, I spied a square-faced yellow number—something to be worn as an accessory, rather than out of habit.

Since then, I’ve worn it cautiously, but my annual shopping pilgrimage to Freeport, Maine with my mother-in-law last week encouraged me that if there’s any time in my life to embrace a color that society so deeply dislikes when it’s out of favor, it’s now. There is yellow everywhere.

Wearing mustard yellow requires a deep commitment, which can be challenging, especially if, as is the case with me, it is under no circumstances to be worn near the face.

For roughly the next three months, you’ll be able to recognize me by my new yellow corduroy skirt, or by the yellow belt I just got for my birthday, which sort of makes me look like I got in a fight with a hot dog vendor with very precise aim.

But here’s my big secret: I don’t actually like the taste of mustard all that much.

It’s okay if you disagree. I hear mustard can be pretty good. But aside from salad dressings, sauces where it’s not so detectable, or the occasional sandwich smear—or when its application is beyond my immediate control—I don’t really eat it. I put ketchup on my hot dogs. (My neighbor Bob says that makes me un-American, simply un-American.) I’m happy with plain pretzels. I eat my pate with just the pickles.

But sandwiches! Sandwiches are a problem. I’m not a huge fan of mayonnaise, either—not because I don’t like eating it, but because it’s one of the few foods I feel guilty eating if it’s not homemade—which means that when I get a loaf of dry bread, like the whole wheat sourdough I picked up last week, I can’t make a quick sandwich without either drinking a lot or getting very creative very quickly.

Soaking onions for pickles

So over the weekend, when I went on my very first canning binge, I concocted jars upon jars of sweet pickled red onions made with mustard seeds—they’re addictive enough to eat right out of their brine, but spread on sandwiches, they add not only bite, but also the perfect amount of extra moisture. They’re soft enough to bite through, so you won’t pull them out from between the meat and the bread with your teeth, but still firm enough to give a sandwich some extra crunch. They have a touch of mustard’s spice, but none of whatever it is about it that offends me.

And, as it turns out, they’re also great on sausages. Better than mustard, even, if you ask me. And the juices look way better with my skin.

Pickled Red Sandwich Onion in jars 2

Pickled Red Sandwich Onions (PDF)

Since you’ll be slicing up five pounds of onions, consider borrowing a mandoline slicer, which makes the process go much, much faster, and moving the whole operation outdoors, which cuts down on the eye stinging.

The onions are ready to eat right when they cool because they’re softened ahead in the vinegar brine, but you’ll have extra brine leftover. Instead of throwing it away, use it to make refrigerator pickles: bring it back to a boil and pour it over fresh, clean baby carrots, green or yellow wax beans, or cooked, sliced beets, and refrigerate for a few days before eating.

This recipe makes enough for 8 pints pickled onions, but you can do whatever combination of large and small jars works for you and your canning set-up.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus canning
MAKES: 8 pints

2 cups sugar
10 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 pounds red onions, cut into 1/8” slices with the grain
Dill blossoms
Peppercorns
Mustard seeds

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally as the sugar dissolves. Place the onions in a large bowl (or two), pour the vinegar mixture over the top, and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In each (squeaky-clean) canning jar, place a few dill blossoms, a few peppercorns, and a big pinch of mustard seeds. When the onions have softened and turned bright pink, stuff each jar full. Add the brine until it comes to 1/4” from the rim. Wipe rims, add lids, and process (20 minutes once the water returns to a boil).

6 Comments

Filed under appetizers, cocktails, Etcetera, gluten-free, recipe, sandwich, snack, vegetables

Back in the saddle

curried minted grilled shrimp 4>

It was so polite, the way she said it. You shouldn’t feel obligated to bring anything. But we’ll be putting out cheese and olives and such, and there’s always room for an appetizer. As if I thought I might be imposing, if I actually decided to bring something. Like I was afraid one more dish might cause the table’s legs to buckle, like some overburdened pack horse.

As soon as I realized we were actually going out—to an engagement party, at someone else’s house, with the express intent of talking to people whose conversations just might veer off the too-worn path of dirty diapers and breast milk—I knew I had to bring something that looked fancy. Not so much because I wanted to spend tons of energy in the kitchen, but because I felt ready to buzz again. Ready to spin from the sink to the cutting board to the stove and back without thinking about it.

The buzz happened, albeit slowly. I started with a square of banana leaf from the freezer, and little twirly bamboo skewers–the ones I’ve been hoarding in my kitchen drawer for probably the better part of a decade. These, I thought. I’ll put something on these.

curried minted grilled shrimp raw

It wasn’t the least bit complicated. I gave a couple pounds of shrimp a quick bath in curried coconut milk, then threaded them onto the skewers and grilled them. On a whim, instead of stirring together a separate dipping sauce, I plunked the marinade on the stove, where it simmered and bubbled and (surprise!) caramelized into a sticky, spicy, faintly sweet glaze for the shrimp. I brushed it on the shrimp, so I didn’t have to bother with transporting a dipping sauce, or watch people juggle baby kebabs and sauce and cheese and olives and champagne flutes all at once.

curried minted grilled shrimp brushing

And it was all really that simple. I made a great appetizer, and brought it to a party.

On the way there, I looked at my husband with a broad grin. We’re on time, I said. (We’re not typically late people, but we’re often late for these friends.) And we’re bringing food and a baby. I told Jim I felt like I was back in the saddle again.

So, okay, it took me five (wait, six) days to type this recipe. And thinking back, I remember I did realize, halfway through cooking, that my t-shirt was on inside-out and backward.

So what? The shrimp tasted really good.

Onward and upward.

curried minted grilled shrimp 2

Curried Minted Grilled Shrimp with Caramelized Coconut Glaze (PDF)

Here’s a two-for-the-price-of-one sort of recipe: the marinade, sharp and sweet with red curry and coconut milk, makes for tasty, mildly spicy grilled shrimp. Simmer the marinade down, though, and the coconut milk caramelizes, making a pleasingly sticky glaze that’s fancy and beautiful but not actually messy. This dish is great for a party; because you brush the sauce right onto the shellfish, it also travels quite well.

You’ll need about 3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers; be sure to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before threading the shrimp on, to avoid burning.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus marinating
MAKES: About 3 dozen skewers

2 tablespoons roasted red curry paste
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
2 pounds shrimp (16-20 per pound size), peeled and deveined, tails removed
6 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
1/4 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
3 dozen small (4” or 6”) skewers
Vegetable or olive oil, for the grill
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon honey

Place the curry paste in a large mixing bowl. Add about a quarter of the coconut milk, and whisk until blended. Add the remaining coconut milk, whisk again, then add the shrimp, lime leaves, cilantro, and 1/4 cup chopped mint. Stir to coat and refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. While the grill heats, thread 2 shrimp on each skewer, so each skewer goes through each shrimp twice, reserving the marinade in the bowl as you work. Lightly oil the grill and cook the shrimp in batches for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until just pink and slightly charred.

While the shrimp cook, transfer the remaining marinade to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to about a cup of liquid and darkens as the coconut milk caramelizes. Stir in a pinch of salt and the honey, then strain the sauce (through a fine mesh strainer) into a bowl. When the shrimp are done, brush the sauce onto the shrimp on both sides. Sprinkle the shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of mint, and serve warm or at room temperature, with extra sauce on the side, if desired.

curried minted grilled shrimp 1

7 Comments

Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, shellfish, Thai

Hungry Monkey

Pretzel & mustard 2

I knew I’d want to cook again, but I didn’t know exactly how I’d get started. It didn’t happen the way I expected—not with the ripe fragrance of strawberries on the counter, or a craving, or a taste, translated from tonguespeak to brainwave, like they so often do, into some sort of cookable fantasy. It was sound that brought me in.

There are a lot of new sounds in my life right now. There’s Graham, of course, who turns out to be part horse, whinnying and neighing in his sleep. There’s the thud of the mail in the bin, always right around 2 p.m. There’s the now-familiar squeak of our not-so-gently used rocking chair.

That chair is beginning to feel like part of my own anatomy. I feed in it. I read in it. I pump in it. And yes, occasionally, I sleep in it. The other day, I had Graham on my shoulder, rocking and patting. It must have been some seldom-seen hour, because as I listened, the thwattwhattwhat sound of my palm on his back morphed into the steady rhythm of a KitchenAid, beating its contents against the side of the work bowl with dutiful regularity. I am going crazy, I thought. I am imagining my child as a stand mixer. I could see the dough in the bowl, curling and cleaving around the white hook. I’m not generally that into bread making, so it sort of surprised me to find myself wondering what sort of bread I’d start in the morning. No, I thought. If you haven’t showered in 3 days, you may not make bread. I ignored the urge, but for days, every time I went to burp Graham, I thought about it. Thwatthwatthwat.

This chair of ours, it’s been a godsend in the wee hours, which I’ve decided to dedicate to all the baby preparation reading I never did before Graham was born. At night, after I feed him, I’ve been plunking him on a pillow on my lap, and reading and rocking to make sure he’s good and konked out before putting him back to bed. This worked like a charm for the first few nights, when I was reading one of those What to Expect books, which are roughly as entertaining as a grammar primer.
HungryMonkey_fin

Then I picked up Hungry Monkey. It’s ostensibly a book on raising a kid to eat well, so it qualifies for inclusion in my midnight reading pile. The only problem is that it makes me laugh so much—and I say makes, not made, because I keep picking it up to reread bits and parts—that I keep waking my kid up.

You know Roots and Grubs, right? It’s a blog, by Matthew Amster-Burton, another Seattle food writer. He’s fantastic; it’s one of the few blogs I actually read on a regular basis. When I’m in a funk—or worse, at a bad press event—Matthew always makes me laugh.

If I were to make sweeping generalizations, I’d say Roots and Grubs is about making his family dinner. It goes like this: He cooks something, and his daughter, Iris, says something hilarious. I’m not convinced he doesn’t make some of it up, because it’s always funny, and no one’s funny all the time. Except Matthew and Iris. I’ve never actually met her, but Iris seems to be a great advertisement for having children. And Matthew, it turns out, is a great advertisement for being a parent (in the food department, at least).

Hungry Monkey is Matthew’s first book—one I’d been waiting anxiously to read, because it chronicles his attempts to raise an Eater, capital E, within the restraints toddlerhood naturally entails (pickiness, unexplained changes in food preferences, preschool peer pressure, etc.). I plowed through my advance copy before Graham was born, chortling over stories about taking Iris to a Seattle sushi-go-round, teaching her to make pancakes on an Iris-sized griddle, and competing with other parents to make the most sensational preschool snack. Here’s the one about fish eyeballs that Graham lost sleep over:

One night I made stuffed trout for dinner. “And will the trout get very, very big when you stuff it?” Iris asked. She helped me stuff the trout with fennel, bacon, red onion, and fresh herbs.

Stuffed trout is easier to make than it is to eat, because you want to just cut off a hunk with stuffing sandwiched between two pieces of boneless fish, but there are many bones in the way of this noble intention. For this reason and because Iris is frequently more enthusiastic about cooking than eating, I figured she would forget about the trout by the time it hit the table and concentrate on the hash browns I served with it.

Wrong. Iris at the fish, the bacon, the vegetables, the potatoes, and even, well . . .

To say that she was undeterred by the fact that the fish’s head was there on the platter would be an understatement. “There’s the head!” she exclaimed. I found a piece of cheek meat and ate it, and Iris said,

“I want to eat some cheek.”

I said okay and rooted around for another piece. “There’s some check,” Iris said, pointing.

“No, that’s the eyeball.”

“I want to eat the eyeball.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.” She took a bite. “It’s gooey. Why is it gooey?”

“Eyeballs are just like that,” said Laurie.

Iris thought about this, then requested and ate the other eyeball.

Anyway. The first time through, I folded down page corners, like I always do with food books, promising myself I’d make potstickers, and larb gai, and gingerbread cupcakes, and duck hash. Then came Graham, followed almost immediately by fantasies about raising a kid whose plate sees as much action as Iris’s. I picked up Hungry Monkey again, and bought twelve copies (not joking) for friends celebrating (or about to celebrate) Mother’s Day.

So now, every day, I open the book to a random page, hoping to absorb the crumbs of parenting wisdom Matthew sprinkles throughout his stories—but after Graham’s asleep, so when my belly jiggles I don’t disturb him as much. This morning, frustrated by Graham’s introduction to breastfeeding, I flipped to the first chapter again:

According to Laurie, on our first night home from the hospital, I made one of our favorite dinners, salmon with cucumber salad. I have no memory of this, or much of anything from those first three months before Laurie went back to work. I remember Iris nursing almost constantly, day and night, and taking naps in our laps. She refused to be put down, ever, for twelve weeks. I’m not exaggerating for effect: we held her 24-7 for twelve weeks. I called her the Ice Princess, because she never smiled. Sometimes, when it had been twenty minutes since her last feeding and she was ready for the next one, I called her Hungry Monkey.

Ah. So it’s not just me. And it’s okay, that my child has no concept of time, and that I will have no recollection of writing this?

So nice to have a book on child-rearing that tells me I’m normal.

Yesterday, I flipped to chapter 13, and was reassured in advance that no parent can avoid being a sucker at the grocery store:

But shopping at the supermarket with Iris brings up the kind of stereotypical parent-child issues that I like to pretend I can opt out of. As in: Iris tries to convince me to buy some stupid product. I say no. She whines. I relent. When we get home we eat 10 percent of the product and the rest goes stale. This happened most recently with frozen pretzels, which I agreed to buy even though I make homemade pretzels and Iris loves to sprinkle salt on them.

Time out, I thought. He makes pretzels? As in, squishy, salty, Bavarian-style pretzels? It never occurred to me that they could be produced without a two-hour rest on some sort of spinning device under heat lamps. But there it was, a recipe for pretzels, right at the back of the chapter. Better yet, it looked easy—just required a quick knead in the stand mixer. Oooh, I thought. I can make bread without actually making bread.

These pretzels require very few ingredients and the attention span of a three-year-old. (Perfect!) Sometime mid-afternoon, I announced to Jim that I’d be baking them, and that yes, I’d let him dip them in mustard. He looked at me like he was going to go get prepared to clean up after me (emotionally or physically, I’m not sure), and mumbled some sort of acquiescence.

I measured. The KitchenAid mixed. The dough puffed up. I rolled it out into skinny little snakes, feeling almost a little guilty that I didn’t wait for Graham to be old enough to make them for the first time. I boiled them, flipping them with a fish spatula before transferring them to the baking sheet. I salted, and when the salt melted in a little, I salted again. (It’s best to use salting as a verb, so you get enough on there. Someday, I’ll have a toddler who can do this for me.) They looked like a line of grumpy old men with their arms crossed, standing guard on the baking sheet. In they went.

In about 20 minutes of actual work time, I had pretzels way tastier than what we buy for $4 a pop at the German pub down the street—soft, gorgeously crackled, gently blistery pretzels. Even better, they came out of the oven on the same baking sheet I put them in on, which meant something in my brain registered “hot” and I didn’t burn my fingers, like I do every single time at Prost. We ate all six of them immediately.

Honestly, I sort of fault Matthew for buying frozen pretzels now. I mean, I understand the in situ issue—gorgeous child embarrassing him in the grocery store, baying about how if he loved her he’d buy her frozen pretzels. . . but really. If you make these, and ever feel the urge to buy a frozen pretzel afterwards, I’ll buy you a beer. (If you remind me I said this when Graham’s 3, though, I’ll deny it.)

Of course, now that I’ve made them, I have to admit that I was wrong—the thwattwhattwhat sound I was remembering is the one the paddle attachment makes, whipping a looser batter, like for a cake. Kneading dough with the hook makes more of a grumbling noise. Which, come to think of it, Graham makes also. But whatever. All that happens in the middle of the night, and in a few weeks, I won’t remember any of it anyway.

Hungry Monkey pretzel

Pretzels (PDF)
Recipe by Matthew Amster-Burton, from Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater. Used with permission.

TIME: 2 hours, including rising time
YOU’LL NEED: stand mixer
LITTLE FINGERS: After I let Iris help shape pretzels, she invented this game where she curls a rubber band or piece of string into a squiggle and asks,” Would you eat a pretzel shaped like THIS? Yes or no?” Repeat a hundred times. Other than that and the obvious warnings about the electric mixer and the oven, I have no caveats about letting your children help make pretzels.

Makes 6 pretzels

8 ounces all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup lukewarm water
cooking spray
2 tablespoons baking soda
kosher or pretzel salt for sprinkling

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, yeast, and salt. Stir the honey into the water until it begins to dissolve, then add the honey-water mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix with the paddle on low speed until the dough starts to come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed (4 on the KitchenAid) for 4 minutes. If the dough is very dry (bits are refusing to incorporate) add an additional tablespoon of water. Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in it. Spray a bit more cooking spray on top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise 75 minutes, punching down the dough after 45 minutes.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and spray with cooking spray. Divide the dough into 6 pieces (about 2 ounces each). (It will be easier to form the pretzels if you cut the dough into strips with a bench knife rather than pulling off balls of dough by hand.) Roll each piece into a long (18-inch) snake and form into a pretzel. Place the formed pretzels on the baking sheet.
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 2 quarts of water and the baking soda to a boil in a saucepan. Add 3 pretzels to the boiling water and boil 30 seconds. Flip the pretzels, boil an additional 30 seconds, and return them to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pretzels. Sprinkle the pretzels with kosher salt or with pretzel salt (available from kingarthurflour.com) if you have it.
4. Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool pretzels on a rack and serve warm.

Pretzel & mustard 1

9 Comments

Filed under appetizers, bread, kitchen adventure, media, recipe, review

Rah! Rah! Winter!

Chicken Stock

It’s a hard sell, I know, when the sky is falling and you’ve eaten enough kale to turn your fingernails green. But really: some of winter is worth saving.

So you heard me? Talking about freezing stock, soups, cookies, and crisp topping for the perfect summer freezer, on KUOW?

Here are the recipes I discussed with Megan Sukys (all PDFs):
Chicken Stock
Carrot-Lemongrass Soup
Onion Fennel Jam
Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Ultimate Crisp Topping (Big Batch)
Whole Grain Cranberry-Walnut Biscotti

13 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Cookies, dessert, media, recipe, soup

Small bites

Onion Shallot Dip 2

Today, just a few little bites for you:

In last month’s issue of Edible Seattle, the recipe I was most excited about was accidentally omitted. Just dropped, like a favorite mitten on a day that warms up unexpectedly. (These things happen.) But it’s described right there, in the sidebar of my column, so if you’ve been on a caramelized onion bender, like I have, you probably searched the magazine front to back for that caramelized onion and shallot dip, to no avail. It’s here.

If you can stand all the bad jokes your eating partners provide (“Stop! You’re kaling me!”), try this roasted kale, from Tuesday Recipe. It’s curiously crunchy and snappy in the mouth, and not even the tiniest bit slimy. And with that hit of sherry vinegar at the end, it’s a little addictive. Last night, I dumped it onto a baking sheet, along with 2 little slabs of salmon and some cauliflower. We popped fat slices of whole grain bread into the toaster, and dinner was ready in 15 minutes. Maybe less.

From Seattle Metropolitan magazine, here’s a bit of info on local duck (PDF), Northwest flour (PDF), and (my favorite) Washington cheeses. From Arthritis Today, a recipe for lentil hummus. You’ll find a few things with my name on them in this month’s Sunset, and Culinate has tips (some mine) on how to green your kitchen, by Seattle author Nancy Schatz Alton.

And okay, now, to be honest, I’m feeling a little guilty about picking favorites from Edible Seattle. That beet salad is a close runner-up, and the goat cheese with honey and lavender – the one on the cover – I could so eat that for second breakfast. Now. But this morning my husband is making gorgeous omelets with leftover lamb, singing “alouette,” that old French song, at the top of his lungs. Only he’s a chronic lyric changer, so it’s lamb-e-lette, gentille lamb-e-lette . . . so no goat cheese. Just lots of laughter.

Onion Shallot Dip 1
Caramelized Onion and Shallot Dip

4 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe

Halvsies

Onion Leek Shallot Soup 1

Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.

Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.

So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.

About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)

Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.

But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.

Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.

To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.

Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.

This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.

(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)

Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.

See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup cheese

Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.

I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.

I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.

Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.

We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.

When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup side

Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).

It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.

But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.

And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup close

Onion, Leek & Shallot Soup (PDF)

You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.

To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.

TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)

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

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).

Onion Leek Shallot Soup assembling

20 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Beef, French, lupus, recipe, soup

Laughing matter

Sweet Potato Beet Latkes 1

Jim and I bundled up to walk around in the snow last week, to deliver holiday gifts to a few neighbors. I zipped up my thigh-length down jacket. This coat—as opposed to the shorter one, whose zipper I split a couple weeks ago—goes over the new belly. (The wavy weave of the baffles makes the zipper do a little zigzag up my midsection, mind you, but it still zips.) I bent down to lace up those big warm boots, and what with the strain on the front of the jacket, I couldn’t quite reach the laces well enough to give them the tug they require. My husband actually laced up my shoes for me.

I’m changing, these days. I don’t wear pants with real zippers. I’m becoming more patient, without meaning to at all. All that elementary school Stop! Drop! And Roll! rehearsal is finally being put to good use; now I have to sort of barrel-roll out of bed, because yanking myself up sit-up style is no longer an option. My hair’s growing gangbusters. I even burp more, and it never seems as funny to other people as it seems to me. And oh, yes: I’ve almost stopped stressing completely. Goodness knows I didn’t expect that to happen.

But there’s one single thing, in these most recent weeks of pregnancy, one change that’s surprised me more than all the others.

It’s my laugh. It’s different.

It’s always been a wheezy, open-throated sort of thing, a laugh inherited from my father that starts loud but looses momentum as soon as it’s begun. It often entailed an unusually loud squeak or honk right there at the end—a sound just goosey enough to draw stares, but not so interesting or ungraceful that the laugh itself becomes the subject of more chuckling. And oh, jeez, giggling’s always been out. I couldn’t giggle right if my life depended on it. Yes, there was always just the shout, then the silent part, then maybe that little hee-haw, with the noise always seeming to come out when I was actually inhaling.

Lately, though, it’s been different. I must have more matter, down deep in the belly where laughs ring best, because all the sound waves are bouncing around in a very new way. My laugh isn’t broken up into separate acts anymore. It’s become a continuous ripple of sound, each little segment (what are the individual sounds in a laugh called, anyway?) neatly partitioned and identical to the next. It’s so textbook. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really mine.

The thing is, I’m suddenly enjoying laughing a lot more. It’s not that I ever disliked it, but now, I realize, it hasn’t always been comfortable to laugh. I’m generally a happy enough person, but I’ve never laughed as much or as long as most people. I liked being happy, but I never loved to laugh, Mary Poppins-style. Now, though, it comes more easily.

This weekend, the snow came for real, and we laughed even more. We decided to button up our lives for the weekend, just sit tight in our little neighborhood while the rest of the world continued to function (or not function, in Seattle’s case). And oh, goodness, it was fun.

Friday, we made the meatballs on the cover of the January issue of Gourmet—it started as sort of an apology, because I’d hated the previous issue so much—and homemade fettuccine, to go with them. Frank kneaded the pasta (I have no qualms about making dinner guests work for their food), and Michelle kept stealing his meatballs, and somehow we all seemed to forget the things that make life hard sometimes. We laughed at how much we all ate, and sat in front of our fireplace’s first real fire, and all was well and wintry.

Saturday, there was more snow. I laughed when I tried to fit into my ski pants, and again when I tried to figure out how to get Jim’s to stay on. We tromped around the neighborhood in big boots, and laughed at our dog, trying to make friends with her little doggie boots. Then we read, and made a tart for the neighborhood party that night, and latkes for Sunday, when we’d planned to have ten people for a big Hanukkah shindig.

Sweet Potato Beet Latkes frying

Then Sunday, it snowed more. Two by two, our dinner guests canceled—rightly so, for weather, or ill-equipped cars, or canceled airline flights—until we’d been whittled down to just me, and Jim, and the dog and cat, and enough latkes to feed the Maccabees. We laughed at the fact that we have a refrigerator filled to the brim with food, and no one to feed before we leave for the east coast tomorrow.

But two people is enough to light the menorah, so we ate latkes, and more mushroom tart, and celebrated, just the two of us. Jim put on the pajama pants Hanukkah Harry brought him—the ones with martinis on them—and did a little celebration dance, and pulled a muscle. We laughed at that, too.

Truth is, that’s what I like about Hanukkah: It celebrates the miracle of light, but it’s never just the light that lasts. There’s always something to be thankful for. This year, it’s especially easy.

There’s the way the snow brings out the best in the entire neighborhood. There’s our good health, mine and Jim’s and little someone’s. There’s a sheet pan with latkes that were supposed to last only one night, but will, without a doubt, last at least eight. There’s the airplane that will take us back east, weather willing, for 12 days, to share the holidays with friends and family and rescue us, thank god, from having to eat all those latkes ourselves.

And now, there’s the fact that my very own laugh seems to have made me happier. Now that’s a miracle. I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m glad it’s here.

Happy holidays.

Sweet Potato Beet Latkes 2

Sweet Potato-Beet Latkes for a Crowd (PDF)

In this colorful version of traditional Hanukkah latkes, the way the beets caramelize in the oil makes their naturally sweet flavor come bursting through. Shredding the potatoes and beets by hand gives the latkes a more genuine texture, but if you’re like me, one glance at that bag of tots, and you’ll head straight for your food processor’s shredding disk. It doesn’t hurt—with potato latkes, the way you cut them affects the way the starch comes out of the root, which affects the texture of the latke, but not so with beets and sweet potatoes, which are far less starchy.

Latkes can be made a day ahead, drained on paper towels, then refrigerated overnight. Reheat them for 5 to 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven, until sizzling hot. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.

TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes total
MAKES: 10 servings (about 40 latkes)

3 pound sweets potatoes, peeled
1 pound beets, peeled
1 large onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 eggs, whisked to blend
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying

Using a food processor or a box grater, shred the sweet potatoes and beets. Transfer them to a giant mixing bowl, along with the onions and flour. Whisk the eggs, salt, and about 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl, add to the vegetables, and mix until thoroughly blended. (I found my hands worked best.)

Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add oil until it comes about 1/2” up the sides of the pan. When a bit of the potato mixture dropped into the oil sizzles madly, it’s ready. Drop the mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into the oil, and fry 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until golden brown on both sides. (If the latkes seem to fall apart when you flip them, be patient; they’re not done yet.) Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly. Taste the first batch, adding additional salt and pepper to the potato mixture, if needed, then continue frying in small batches, adjusting the heat and adding more oil as necessary. Serve the latkes hot, just as they come out of the pan, or keep drained latkes warm on a foil-covered baking sheet in a 300-degree oven.

14 Comments

Filed under appetizers, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

I know why. It’s because somewhere in there, you get to say “noo-noos,” like a two-year-old. Who can resist the sound of a food whose pronunciation requires the same mouth shape as its eating?

But clearly, noo-noos are not what one orders in mixed public adult company. Even I couldn’t do that. How unfortunate, especially this time of year, when traveling sniffles have most of us fighting hard to pretend we don’t have fall colds, and noonoos are just what we need.

But I do. I have a cold. And I’m going to be on the radio today, so last night I started hitting the liquids hard, trying anything to bring my bedraggled voice back. For dinner, it had to be my own version of the terrific chicken noonoo soup I had last weekend.

When I sat down at ART, the restaurant at Seattle’s new Four Seasons Hotel, I was a little shocked to find chicken noodle soup on the menu. It reads like such a pedestrian choice for an appetizer. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to order in a room where the bar counter is backlit by ever-changing shades of fluorescence. But the soup – fine filaments of spiced vegetables, twisted up with soba noodles and black silkie chicken in a deeply flavorful broth, and topped with a poached egg – was anything but plain.

I didn’t have any desire to recreate the exact same soup. The carrots, cabbage, and squash were sliced micro-thin, for starters, and the presentation was far fancier than anything that happens in my house—the gorgeous ceramic bowl, the fanfare of a waiter pouring the broth over the noodles, yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to hunt down a chicken that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. But I couldn’t ignore the way the egg yolk glided into the broth, infusing it with a richness that makes chicken soup feel even more healing than usual.

I thought I tasted a hint of miso in the broth at ART – but when I asked, I was assured that I was just tasting the richness of a stock made with silkie black chicken, whose meat is known for its deep, almost gamey flavor. Once I got the miso in my head, though, I couldn’t get it out – so I spiked our soup with a dollop of miso paste.

Course, the plan was to eat half of it, then take it out of the fridge this morning, pop a newly poached egg on top, and take a few slightly more attractive photographs for you, in the daylight. But when I went to take it out of the fridge, I discovered my husband had taken the entire container for lunch.

Guess I’ll have to make more noo-noos.

new noodle soup

Chicken Soba Noodle Soup with Miso and Poached Egg (PDF)

At ART, Chef Kerry Sear poaches the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes wrapped up in a layer of plastic wrap. He lines a ramekin with the wrap, cracks an egg in, twists the ends to seal, and puts it right into a pot of boiling water. His method worked perfectly for me, but poach using whatever method you like best.

I found the timing worked well if I put the chicken stock, water for the pasta, and water for the eggs on the stove at the same time.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

8 cups rich homemade chicken stock
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bundle soba noodles (about 1/3 pound, or the diameter of a quarter)
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, poached
Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice mix, optional)

Bring the stock to a bare simmer in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breast, celery, and carrots, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and return it to the pot with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.

Add the miso to the soup, and stir the noodles into the soup to warm. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary. Using tongs, divide the noodles between four soup bowls, then add vegetables, chicken, and broth to each. Top each bowl with a poached egg, and serve with a few sprinkles of shichimi, for a bit of spice, if desired.

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

For those who have come from KUOW, here’s a PDF of the chickpea salad recipe I mentioned, from How to Cook a Wolf (pictured above), and here’s the vanilla-olive oil cake.

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

9 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Cakes, chicken, dessert, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, lupus, Pasta, recipe, salad, Seattle, side dish, snack, soup, vegetables

Corn Milk Soup

Rosemary-Scented corn milk soup

The other night, I swooned over an entrée at Spring Hill. It wasn’t so much the salmon, seared crisp on the outside, hot all the way through but still perfectly puddingish at the center. Or that kale, massaged into tenderness, kissed with just enough acidic bite, that someone nested under the fish. No, my heart beat hardest for the corn under all that – ‘creamed’ corn, the menu said.

I wondered, at the time, how much ambiguity there really could be about whether something is creamed or not. I mean, it has cream, or it doesn’t, right? Why the quotes?

In a bite, I understood: The corn had the consistency of great creamed corn, each kernel whole, but still connected to its cousins by a velvety liquid. Only the liquid, instead of cream, was something sweeter, something more pure. Something more corn.

Maybe the chef had juiced corn, separately, and cooked the whole kernels in the juice? The liquid wasn’t exactly clear; it was milky, only there was no real dairy flavor.

It occurred to me that he might have used the corn’s own “milk” – that sweet, creamy layer left on the cob when you cut the kernels off by hand. When you scrape the corn milk off a cob – whether it’s really called “milk,” I can’t say, that’s just what I’ve always called it – it looks like pale yellow Cream of Wheat, dumped onto a cutting board. Try it with a spoon, you’ll see. It tastes like sweet, summery cream, made of corn.

I picked up a few cobs at the farmers’ market, determined to channel that sweetness into a soup. I wanted something that would be as good cold as it was hot, with a pinch of surprise that would make that vegetal sweetness really stand out. I chose rosemary – sweet in its own way, but piney enough to hopefully make me appreciate the corn’s flavor all that much more.

It didn’t take long at all. I just simmered the rosemary in a bit of milk, and squirreled it away in the fridge overnight. (Note to self: Must remember to try that milk again this winter, as a base for hot chocolate.) When I added it to the soup pot, with melting shallots, and all the cobs’ edibles, it sent up a puff of rosemary air. I worried there’d be too much rosemary.

The next day, when I went to serve the soup – cold, because the day got good and warm – the rosemary was much more timid. Gone, actually. But when I let the soup roll around in my mouth, to heat up a bit, the pineyness came back again, shy but present. I added a dab of the pesto I made with my neighbor’s monster basil, though, and the rosemary puff came back. Just a little. Just enough.

My best little taster came over for lunch, in her corn-colored shirt. She played with my corn-colored monster, who demanded a baby bowl of soup.

I should warn you: Monsters don’t like corn soup. You will, though.

Monster ready to try my corn soup

Rosemary-Scented Corn Milk Soup (PDF)

Though I’m not sure what its official name is, I find what I call the corn “milk” – the juicy, creamy roots of the kernels left attached to corn cobs after you cut the actual kernels off – to be sweeter than the kernels themselves. Here, I scrape this “milk” off the cob with the back of a knife, and add it to a smooth corn soup whose creamy texture has nothing to do with actual cream. For a stronger herbal flavor, increase the rosemary to 2 or 2 1/2 tablespoons.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 regular or 4 small servings

2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 ears sweet corn, shucked
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped shallot
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Basil pesto, for garnish (optional)

The day before you plan to serve the soup, heat the milk and rosemary to a simmer in a small saucepan. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cobs and transfer to a mixing bowl. Using the back of the knife, scrape all the remaining corn bits and corn milk from the cobs, and add this corn “milk” to the bowl.

(Here’s a photo of one cob after being cut, next to a cob after being scraped.)

Corn with milk and without

Strain the rosemary milk into the bowl, too, and set aside. Discard the rosemary.

Place the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, add the shallot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the corn mixture, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes. Carefully puree the soup in a blender (or using a stick blender, if you have one), season to taste, and serve warm, or chill and serve cold. Garnish with pesto, if desired.

Abi eating corn milk soup

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

7 Comments

Filed under appetizers, farmer's market, gluten-free, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian