Category Archives: appetizers

I’m so glad you’re here

thai basil salsa verde

I’m falling in love with my best friend again.

I don’t mean that in any sort of romantic, husband-replacing way. I mean that when she moved to Seattle last month, I found part of myself I didn’t know I’d been missing.

Hilary and I have known each other since 7th grade reading class. I still have the coral-colored t-shirt I borrowed in junior high and accidentally-on-purpose never returned. (It’s very, very soft. And a little short.)

Growing up, our friendship followed a predictably rollercoasterish pattern. We spent symbiotic summers bouncing between each others’ houses, playing by the river in McCall, and sneaking out of the house late at night to do nothing besides be out of the house late at night. There was a group of us, with secret symbols and code names and personal mottos. All the things a girl could want.

Each winter, ski racing would start up again, and I’d travel a lot for various races. Hilary and I would fight, dependably and bitterly. One year, she threw all of my schoolbooks out of our locker. They skittered clear across sophomore hall, right in front of everyone. “It’s not like you need a locker anyway,” I remember her saying through clenched teeth. “It’s not like you’re ever here.”

Somehow, over the years, we’ve kept it alive, even living (sometimes literal) oceans apart. (I suppose it helps that her husband is in the military, and that they’re constantly stationed in exotic locales I can’t help but visit.) But the more time we spend together, the better we do.

A few weeks ago, Hilary and her family moved to Seattle. To my neighborhood. Ten blocks away, to be precise.

In the weeks before she arrived, I almost panicked. We’d never lived close with real grown-up restraints on our time – things like jobs, and laundry, and families, and other friends. We’d never had to say I’m sorry, I can’t have coffee, I have a deadline. Or No, I can’t turn on NPR right this instant. It’s bath time. Our careers don’t collide in any way, really, and our recreational interests have long since diverged. I wondered whether we’d have anything to talk about, and whether I’d be able to be around as much as she might expect.

Mostly, I was afraid of getting kicked out. The first time was bad enough, and I have a lot more books now.

But it’s been good. Really good. We’ve had meals and walks and coffee and even a few late-night phone calls. (Only now, “late” is a lot earlier.) We’re settling into our new version of permanent summer, with the added benefits of age and hindsight.

There’s nothing that builds friendship as well as time. Hilary was there when I got my braces on, for goodness’ sake, and for the beginning of my orange phase. We’re no longer so twinnish and predictable together, but her company feels necessary, like that good wool blanket you keep in the back of the car. I feel warmer with her here, even on the days I don’t see her.

The funny thing is, since Hilary arrived, I’ve been feeling pretty good physically, too. Long ago, we formed a habit of talking, about nothing and everything, without thinking about time. I’ve been surprised to find I can still do it – I can still fall into a conversation without envisioning its end, or watching the clock, as I admit I do so often. She doesn’t make me nap, or tell me what to eat, but she calms me. (I wonder how much modern medicine might improve if doctors started prescribing long-term friendship.)

I’m helping her, too, I think. The other day I babysat, so she could go see a movie with another friend, for the first time in months. I raced around the house with her toddler, Abi. We read seven books. Then we napped together. As she snuggled up against me, I couldn’t help but feel like my best friend had blossomed into two people. I felt so lucky.

Abi woke up and looked at me with woeful, sleepy eyes. “Eeeeeaaaatttt,” she pleaded desperately. “Cheeeeeeese.”

Wouldn’t it be great, if every time you got hungry, you could just wail the word “Eat,” and food would come your way? (I’m going to work on that with Jim: “Eeeaaatt. Enchilaaaadaaaaas.”)

“Yes,” I said to Abi. “Eat. Let’s eat.”

We sat on the kitchen floor together and ate cheese. (Abi wants to name her baby sister Cheese, too. I believe her suggestion is still under consideration.)

In high school, when a crisis hit, our group of girls would flock around the victim with food: Ben & Jerry’s, or hot, gooey rice crispy treats. We shoveled food in through tears and laughter, usually slumped against the cupboards on someone’s kitchen floor.

Sitting there, with Abi, I thought of how life evolves, about how what qualified as a crisis before – a mean rumor, or a disastrous exchange student – lead us to the same spot Abi needed, to cure post-nap hunger pains. They say comfort always comes in the kitchen; I sometimes think it has more to do with the kitchen floor.

As I was leaving that day, Hilary said, “Call me for dinner. We’re always available.” Her intonation reminded me of her mother. Standing there on her porch with one foot in the house and one stepping into next week, I’m sure I reminded her of mine.

I took a deep breath. “I think I need to work on being a little less available,” I sort of half-whispered, still afraid of not being the friend I’d want, if I were her. It occurred to me that almost twenty years ago, I might have passed her the same words in a note, written on purple paper and folded into some nifty shape.

“Okay,” she said.

And it was as easy as that. No book throwing. Just complete understanding. We hugged good-bye.

The next day, I emailed her: You have plans for dinner?

She responded: Coming to your house?

I seared salmon, and topped it with a Thai basil salsa verde. You could call it an Asian chimichurri, which it was, or a pesto made with all the green things leftover in one of my refrigerator’s produce drawers, which it also was.

We chatted and gossiped while Hilary picked the basil, then tried to convince Abi that salmon is not poisonous. (She much preferred dipping her rotini into the green sauce.)

Then we had ice cream (no crisis required), and talked about nothing and everything, without thinking about time.

Hil, I’m so glad you’re here.

salmon with thai basil salsa verde

Thai Basil Salsa Verde (PDF)
Smeared into Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches or scooped onto grilled salmon, this bright, slightly spicy condiment opens the door on the word “pesto.” It keeps nicely in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week without turning brown.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 1 cup

1 packed cup Thai basil leaves (the kind with purple stems)
2/3 packed cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic, smashed
Juice of 1/2 large lime
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Add the first six ingredients to the work bowl of a food processor, and whirl until very finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

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Filed under appetizers, recipe, side dish, vegetables

The Way We Stir

Patience

You will be happy to know, I’m sure, that the chocolate came out of my jeans. I gave them a quick scrub over the utility sink, then plunked them into the washing machine with hot water, and poof, like magic, the disaster disappeared. I would have sat on a chocolate truffle sooner, had I known it could make my laundry room smell like Willy Wonka’s without considerably altering my wardrobe.

I think it worked because I was patient. I didn’t come right home and start scraping the stuff off, see. First, I folded those second-hand Sevens neatly and balanced them on top of our bedroom door, where they cured for a few days, airing out a bit in the breeze. Only then, when it got annoying to always have the dog sitting in the doorway, gazing up at them with a soft stream of spittle sliding out the side of her mouth, did I take them downstairs.

That is patience. It’s something my fortuneteller recommended.

Ah, yes, I have a fortuneteller now. Did leave that part out? I met her in West Virginia, in a gilded room with another guy looking for guidance and entertainment. She’s a woman with The Gift. (They shall both remain nameless, lest the Internets affect said powers, but for the record, they’re both food writers.)

Really, she reads runes. (I hadn’t heard of them either. It’s not quite fortunetelling. More like forecasting.) My understanding is limited, but runes are essentially ancient glyphs, descendents of the Greek alphabet and precursors to the modern letter. In the old days, centuries or so ago, runes spread across Europe with Christianity, and soothsayers, so said my runereader, used the glyphs as a divination tool, primarily for agricultural purposes. You know, when do we plant the corn?

These days, when you have your runes read, it’s a little more whimsy and mystique, a little less practicality. She asked me to think of an issue in my life, and explained that I’d pull three stones from her sparkly bag, each of which would be marked with a symbol. I’d set them symbol-side down on the table, then read them, right to left, by flipping them over one at a time. As I turned them, she leafed through her little divination book, and I was enlightened.

It was almost that easy. First, I thought really hard and scrabbled my tiles out onto the table. In the spot designated to describe the present, I flipped a Fehu, symbol of wealth and cattle. It’s a sign of hope and plenty, success and happiness. Next, a stone predicted action for the present: Tiwaz, the warrior rune, represents a willingness to self-sacrifice and the ability to know where one’s true strengths lie. My “future” tile was Kenaz, reversed, meaning lack of creativity and false hope.

It doesn’t matter what I was thinking about. Not to you, anyway, because to me, it all made an obscene amount of sense, the way she told my story, even my future, through these stones. She leveled me with a soft gaze, and said “Jess, I recommend you go home, and get a little sticky note. Write the word “patience” on it, and stick it to your computer.” And while I knew that even she saw the whole thing as some sort of parlor game, that in no way was I to go home and expect to turn wealthy or cattle-like or into Xena: Warrior Princess, I did feel a larger meaning in her words.

So here it is, the new mantra I’m working with this week: Patience.

On Saturday, I took it into the kitchen. I found myself wishing I had my fortuneteller there again, that her kaleidoscopic little bag could tell me what to make for dinner, but the point of the whole reading, I think, is to trust your instinct. How else could she be so accurate?

So I stared. Just opened the refrigerator door, squatted down in front of it, the way you do when the refrigerating half is on the bottom of the operation and your back gets tired from leaning in, and waited. My husband muttered something about the energy bill, but a few minutes later, there it was in the pot, a big white tangle of unscented nothingness, destined to become rich, sweet onion-fennel jam.

The hallmark of caramelized onions is the patience required to make them. Hopped up high on the memory of my last tart, I toasted fennel seeds in oil, sliced onions until I cried (I don’t care how sharp my knife is – I always cry), and tossed in a mangled mass of fennel. (Really. If you’re going to melt fennel and onions right past the caramelized stage and into jam, how could it matter if the pieces look perfect?)

Then, I was patient. I puttered and stirred, made a phone call, and stirred while I talked, made a grocery list, and stirred, never leaving the kitchen. What I didn’t do – and what I hate doing – is the housewide stirring dance, the body-slamming hip-hop piece I’ve gotten too good at. It goes stirinthekitchen-typeintheoffice-stir-type-screamattheclock-run-scrape-stir-stir-type. There’s nothing melodic or hypnotic about stirring like that, and really, I find it much more fun to cook to a more mellow, consistent beat.

When we got hungry, the jam was still busy jamming, so I pulled the pot off the heat and joined friends for dinner. The next day, I kept stirring.

Making onion fennel jam

Eventually, after the onions and fennel became indistinguishable from one another and the house filled with their candied, earthy fragrance, I decided the last of the vegetables’ liquids had simmered away. I dunked hearty, whole-grain bread into the toaster, and piled the mahogany mass into a glass jar. We smeared the jam onto the toast for lunch, and I licked it right off the spoon, wondering if a food could taste like time.

I felt a little grateful for my jam – not in the sense of saying grace, but because for once, I’d been able to stand there at the stove, more or less, and just stir. Patiently.

When I write recipes, I use a certain vocabulary: Stir frequently. Stir continuously. Stir vigorously. New, to me, is this: Stir patiently.

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)
It isn’t imperative that you cut the onions and fennel perfectly here, or that you actually moor yourself above the pot to stir constantly, but the further this sweet, fragrant jam cooks down, the stickier it gets, so don’t forget about it. Smear it on toast or sandwiches, or if you’re feeling daring, scoop it onto vanilla or olive oil ice cream for dessert.

TIME: 2 1/2 hours, start to finish
MAKES: about 2 1/2 cups

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 very large onions (about 3 pounds), halved and sliced 1/4” thick
2 fennel bulbs (about 1 pound, trimmed), cored and sliced 1/4” thick
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more, to taste
Freshly ground pepper

Note: I save my fennel fronds – the tops – and stir them into things, chopped like dill, wherever a soft, fragrant herb seems appropriate.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the fennel seeds, and stir for 30 to 45 seconds, until toasted and fragrant. Add the onions, fennel, 1 teaspoon salt, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Stir to lift the fennel seeds off the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, then uncover, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook, stirring patiently, for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The jam is done when the onions and fennel are a rich brown color and almost all the liquid has evaporated from the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, or keep in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under appetizers, gluten-free, recipe, vegetarian

A Snitch in Time

Tug on the Mississippi

It’s been a long week, since I was here last. Like flying through time, only instead of having Time bend for us, we moved for Him: We started in Seattle, where a dear friend and her adorable two-year-old were staying with us, then zipped to New Orleans with my family, catching two raucous nights and a wedding there, then flew back for a different wedding in Seattle, then hit home, seeing the same friends again. At one point I thought of the little golden snitch in Harry Potter, and wondered if this is how it felt, buzzing around nonstop, trying not to get caught. (That laptop? Yeah, it stayed in its bag, mostly.)

Random flasher in NO

But oh, New Orleans: City of debauchery, gluttony, and (we noticed) extremely bendy liquor laws (where pretty 17-year-old siblings are concerned, at least). It was my third trip since Katrina, and I must say the city is looking a lot better than it did a year and half ago.

New Orleans isn’t so easy on the liver, especially when my cousin Erica is in charge. (And I must say: Partying with your entire family is FUN.) Instead of rehashing everything from the bachelorette party to the bull ride, I’ll offer a few wedding planning tips, because Erica, honey, you did it right.

Erica looking away

For brides and grooms:

1. Do offer your guests a tall, strong cocktail as they walk into the ceremony site. Preferably pink. No one will care if you’re late.

Policeman at Erica's wedding

2. Do coordinate with your city’s police force and arrange for a parade around downtown after your ceremony, complete with a big brass band and you at the head of the line. This is so much more fun for your guests than waiting for you to take ten zillion pictures.

Band leading parade

3. Do give your wedding chow a sharp sense of place. Erica and Mark did up the New Orleans grub in a huge way, starting with a crawfish boil (and the best fried catfish) and ending with a failure-free buffet (those are so rare!) of spoonbread with beef debris, crab beggars’ purses, savory cheesecakes, jambalaya cakes, etc. Ah-MAZE-ing, even for this not-so-Cajun-lovin’ girl.

Rehearsal dinner fried catfish

4. Do ask your stiletto-clad guests to avoid the toes of guests with lesser, or in my case no, shoes on. It’s only polite. (I’m still a little limpy. It’s not my fault my shoes were off when I took this photo, is it?)

Light on latrobe's

5. Do commemorate your favorite late-nite snack. We had gyros after dancing, right there in the reception room, at 11 p.m., which made me miss breakfast a lot less when we hit the airport at 4:45 a.m.

Erica eating gyros

Anyway. That was the first half of my week. At the ass-crack on Saturday morning, which also happened to be our anniversary, we flew back to Seattle in time for a different (gorgeous) wedding here, which I stumbled through with less energy than I might have liked. Jim and I bailed on the dancing and had our own little slow dance right here behind the chair I’m sitting in, celebrating five years of marriage, and slept more in one night than we had in the previous three combined.

Then, Sunday, we had friends over for a Pagan eating celebration (read: our take on Easter), and I baked my first ham (easy peasy) and made the most delicious banana cake, with a cream cheese frosting that almost didn’t make it out of the bowl. Just yesterday, the friend and the 2-year-old left, and here I am, with lots of dirty laundry and about ten pounds of maple- and marmalade-glazed ham.

So, apologies: I just don’t feel much like cooking. (I do feel pretty good, though, considering. Hooray for naps three days in a row.)

But before it all started, I was on a recipe bender. I’ve been tearing out magazine recipes like a machine lately, bringing other peoples’ ideas into the kitchen to see what happens, and it feels good. Last week, before the time warp started, Jim and I had a conversation that went something like this:

ME: Tomorrow night I’m making an awesome Frenchie onion tart from Gourmet.

HIM: Just onions?

ME: OOoooooh. I’ll make it with kale!

HIM: And?

ME: And beet salad.

HIM: No, back to the tart. And?

ME: And what?

HIM: And bacon. Why?

ME: Why? Oh. Because we have that leftover bacon?

HIM: And?

ME: And because everything’s better with bacon?

HIM: And?

ME: And . . .I don’t know. Why am I playing this game?

HIM: And because when you cook, you have to know your audience. And I want bacon.

So demanding, this husband of mine.

The next night, before we headed off to a yoga class, I made the dough, folding in half whole wheat flour, and caramelized the onions. We only had 2 pounds’ worth of onions, so I added a pound of kale. (In my blissful post-ohming state, I forgot the kale on the stove, and it burned. It turned out just fine in the end, though; the burned bits got covered up by the cheese. Still, watch your kale.)

“No bacon?” Jim was doubtful when I slid the tart into the oven.

“No bacon,” I said.

Moments later, I heard his voice reverberating off the shower curtain. The song was about how tarts without bacon suck, with refrains about vegetables being for losers, etcetera.

When he walked out of the bathroom, I told him he was welcome to cook up the bacon himself and sprinkle it on top of the finished tart, if he was so sure my version would fail, but he declined. The sweet, yeasty scent of caramelized onion on fresh dough wafted through the house. He looked hungry.

When I took it out of the oven, I was thrilled to find that the tart’s crust was crisp enough to pick up in one hand. I transferred it to the cutting board that way, like moving a Frisbee, just to prove a point. (The truth: It almost broke. Don’t try it.)

My husband mumbled something unintelligible through his first bite.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“It doesn’t need bacon,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

I made it again the next day, for my friend, pushing the crust to all white whole wheat flour, and softening the edges with just a brush of olive oil. I used the full three pounds of onions, plus the kale.

Even better.

Onion-kale tart

Whole Wheat Kale and Caramelized Onion Tart (PDF)
Adapted from a March 2008 Gourmet magazine recipe for an Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel, this simple appetizer tends toward pizza, but “pizza” just doesn’t capture its little mustard bite, the great herby fennel flavor, or the way the kale dries out and crisps in the oven. You can caramelize the onions the night before you serve it, as the original recipe suggests, but be sure to pour off any accumulated liquid before spreading them out on the dough.

For best results, bake the tart in a heavy 12” by 15” half sheet pan. I found the crust wasn’t as crisp in a flimsy pan.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 appetizer servings

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour, plus all-purpose flour for rolling dough
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Olive oil spray
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
Freshly ground pepper
1 3/4-pound bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Stir the yeast and warm water together in a small bowl, and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

Place 1 1/2 cups of the flour in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the flour, and add the yeast mixture. Stir the egg, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt together in the small bowl with a fork, and add that to the well, also. Using the fork, mix the liquids with the flour until a soft dough forms, and almost all the flour has been incorporated.

Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on medium-high speed until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes, adding some or all of the remaining 1/4 cup flour, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a bowl coated with the olive oil spray, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free corner for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

While dough rises, heat 1/3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the fennel seeds, and cook, shaking pan, for about 30 seconds, until just beginning to darken. Add the onions, one teaspoon of the salt, season with pepper, and stir with tongs to lift the fennel seeds into the onion mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover onions directly with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and golden brown, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of the olive oil, then the kale, and season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until kale has wilted, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and arrange a rack in the center of the oven.

Punch the dough down, and use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface to the size of a large (12” by 15”) baking sheet. Transfer the dough to the sheet, and crimp the edges, if desired. Brush edges with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Using a small offset spatula or plastic scraper, spread the mustard out over the dough. Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the mustard, then the kale over the onions, then the cheese over the kale.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Bitten onion kale tart

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Filed under appetizers, husband, Lunch, recipe, travel, vegetables, vegetarian

Stop being such a shallot

Agrumi and Cheese

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

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

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

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

Maybe another time.

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots raw

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

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

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots pan

Greek-Inspired, Honey-Roasted Shallots (PDF)

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

MAKES: 2 servings
TIME: 15 minutes active time

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots 1

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

Whimper

I met T.S. Eliot in the twelfth grade, in a Boise High School classroom now probably used to teach my younger sister. It was sometime in late fall, I think. He just waltzed right in and plastered his poetry there on my English teacher’s wall, along with all the other literary graffiti Dr. Mooney had conned the school into allowing.

The last line of The Hollow Men was immortalized – it seemed permanent to me at the time, anyway – behind my desk. I don’t remember what color the words were, but I remember seeing them each day.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

There was also F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why I remember his last line in The Great Gatsby is less clear, but it’s a good one: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Things change, but we continue, and we remember.

I haven’t touched early 20th century American literature since then, but as I thought about finishing my project – here, in Maine, where I started it one year ago – those two guys crawled into my brain.

It was the change part.

Dr. Mooney said we should recognize change, salute it. At the end of that school year, he asked each of us to announce what we’d learned. It could be something academic or personal, related to his class, or totally random. I raised my hand, shaking, and in front of two of my dearest friends, both devout Christians, said that I’d learned I didn’t believe in God.

I thought that would mean a change, with me, and especially with them, but it didn’t. It was never mentioned again.

Since Dr. Mooney, I’ve made a habit of considering, and contemplating, when the marks of time fly past. (See? You teachers. You’re remembered.)

Because change isn’t always bad.

My father has always reminded me that the only constant in life is change itself.

But really, in 2007, in one long year, not much has changed. Well, I got a significant haircut, then a bad version of the same, if that counts. And I started taking meth, which was scary, but not life-altering, for better or for worse.

My approach to cooking has changed, though.

You might call it falling out of love.

I’ve seen my kitchen brain evolve from that of a private chef, always yearning, curious, ready, to that of a tired home cook, interested in the easy way out. Before this year, I very rarely took the easiest path in the kitchen. But that word – chef – it’s gone for good, I think. I cooked whatever part of it I had right out this year. I’ve done things I’d never have dreamed of doing 18 months ago: I’ve thrown away roasting pans without nursing every last morsel of flavor from their fondful bottoms. I’ve made lasagna with pre-made pasta sauce. And I’ve leaned against my kitchen counter, seriously believing that take-out might prevent me from crying.

Just last week, I thought about making a savory, spicy marshmallow, but the thought of having to try four or five times to get it just right sent me into a panic. Before, I wouldn’t have hesitated.

Tonight, this last night of 2007, we will gather around a table at a rented house in New Hampshire with the same friends we’ve spent New Years’ with for the past nine years. Before the clock strikes midnight, we’ll begin our ritual: First, we go around the circle, and talk about the most important things that happened to us in the year we’re leaving behind. Then, we make another lap, talking about what we’re most looking forward to, or hoping for, in the year to come.

In the first round, I’m not sure I’ll mention my project. I’ll talk about finding a home in Seattle, a real (freshly painted) home, with friends and favorite places and familiar faces. I’ll talk about beginning to find my own voice as a writer, and using it. My husband won’t talk about his big grant, or any of his other successes, but I’ll make him say something, because it’s been a big year for him, too.

I don’t think I’ll mention the project, because I could never tell the whole story. I could never just say I wrote 365 recipes in 2007. It wouldn’t be enough. I might not know how to explain that now I’ll have to relearn how to really love cooking. I might not say how sad it makes me that I’ve spent a year of my cooking life without getting to know new cookbooks, or new food cultures. (It’s like cooking with blinders on.) And no one wants to hear how much money I’ve spent on food.

Anyway. It would also be selfish of me, there around the circle, if I took the time to talk about the good things, too: How elated I felt each time someone emailed, and said I’m not much of a cook, but I tried your recipe . . . That was the whole point, remember? You, the one who had never been to a farm stand before, and you, who had never made a crisp with ripe, fat berries. . .I wanted to lead people to the kitchen, and by golly, it worked. It worked with enough people to make me very, very happy. The non-foodies who watched with a mixture of awe and horror while I made a leg of lamb last year and informed them of my intentions for 2007 have found a good cheesemonger and their local farmers’ market. That’s why I did this.

On the second go around the circle, I’ll bring up the meth. It really hasn’t made me feel better (in fact, I could almost argue it’s made me feel worse). I’ll talk about going off it, maybe, and about making my health more of a priority. If I found the time to write a recipe each day in 2007, I can find the time for a nap every day in 2008. (I know, you’ve heard this song before. . .but I’m still singing.)

I probably won’t talk about what 2008 brings in my kitchen: Peeling vegetables without weighing them. Eating dinner without taking a photograph of it, every single time. Letting Tito cook me dinner. Trying all the take-out places within a ten-block radius, then settling back in front of the stove, and relearning what it means to enjoy every step of the cooking process. Then coming back here, back to you, and sharing my life with you, but only when I really have something to say.

But I’ll think about all that, there in the circle.

Then the clock will strike, and we’ll go out onto the porch in the cold, and sing Auld Lang Syne until no one can remember a single word. Then we’ll sing Living on a Prayer and probably Like a Prayer, not because we have some strange, strong collective religiosity, but because, well, some things just don’t change.

But that’s what it feels like, finishing today: A whimper. A door closing on an empty space. Sounds and smells and tastes echoing around that space, wondering why they were ever there.

I wonder what T.S. Eliot would think, if he knew I was talking about his whimper.

Today’s recipe is for my husband, whose real name is not Tito, but Jim. (Sorry. Maybe it was exciting to think I was married to a cross between Don Quixote, Al Capone, and Steve Zissou.)

Thank you, Jim, for supporting me unfailingly, in everything. And for eating, for doing so many dishes, for telling me I could when I really thought I couldn’t, and for reminding me (starting in – what – March?) never to do this again. May I someday return the favor in some way, and may your dishpan hands survive the rest of a long, happy, delicious marriage. I can’t wait for your dinners.

I thought a bit about what to make for the last recipe of the project, of course. Thought of roasting a goose, or cooking New Year’s Eve dinner, and sharing it with you. But none of that seemed fun. And fun is what’s been missing.

Our friend Jeff used to make Pigs in a Blanket each New Years’ Day, just after the ball fell. This year, he won’t be around, and they’re Jim’s favorite. When I found a package of organic Lil’ Smokies, I knew I had to cook up a fancy version for posterity. Because, as Jim is so fond of saying, vegetables is what the meat eats.

Right now, this seems fun to me.

So Happy New Year.

I’ll be back here in a couple weeks, and the recipes will no longer be numbered.

And hopefully, I’ll fall in love all over again.

Bigs in Blankets 2

Pampered Pigs in Puffy Blankets
Recipe 365 of 365

Believe it or not, there’s such thing as organic Lil’ Smokies. They taste exactly the same, as far as I can tell, only they don’t leave an orange oil spill on your fingers.

Buy some, and a pound of puff pastry, and thaw the pastry according to the package directions.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Whisk a large egg with a couple teaspoons of water in a small bowl, and set aside.

Cut the pastry into roughly 2″ squares.

Puff for Pigs

Brush the pastry with the egg wash, and place a smokie in the center of each square. Fold the pastry over and pinch it together well to adhere (this is the only way it will stick together), like you’re making . . . uh, pigs in blankets.

Folding pigs in blankets

Transfer the little guys to the baking sheets.

Prepped pigs in blankets

Brush the outside tops of the pastries with the egg wash, and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until deep golden brown, rotating baking sheets halfway through.

Serve hot, with ketchup, or ketchup spiked with sriracha, for Jim.

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Two Potato

Fingerling potatoes are like bunnies. I bought 15 pounds of them this fall. I must have used 25 pounds by now.

The other night, I started making one thing, and two things jump out of the oven. I’d wanted fat, toasty fingerling potato coins, for dipping into a creamy homemade aioli, but then the Parmesan got involved, and . . .well, I ended up with two potato recipes, and no aioli.

I could give you one tomorrow, but I have something else in mind. It’s sort of a cheater recipe, though, so use one of these in its place, if you’re a stickler for details.

Parmesan potato coins 2

Parmesan Fingerling Coins (PDF)
Recipe 364 of 365

Serve these as a side dish if you’d like, but I loved them as party bites. They’re still delicious after they cool. I used La Ratte fingerling potatoes, but you could achieve the same effect using sliced Yukon Golds.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1/2 pound (1” thick) fingerling potatoes, cleaned and dried, sliced into 1/4” coins
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Arrange them (flat) on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the potatoes, and bake for another 10 minutes.

Using half the Parmesan, pile cheese high on each potato, and bake 10 minutes. Flip again, add the rest of the cheese, and bake 10 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Potato goat cheese bites 1

Fingerling, Goat Cheese, and Olive Bites (PDF)
Recipe 364.5 of 365

Sliced, roasted fingerling potatoes make great appetizer substrate. I topped these with a salty mixture of goat cheese, capers, parsley, and olives, almost a cheesy riff on tartar sauce, but they’d be delicious with a huge array of toppings.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: Appetizers for 10

1 pound (1” thick) fingerling potatoes, cleaned and dried, sliced into 1/4” coins
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 scallion (green and white parts), finely chopped
1/3 cup (about 8 ) Kalamata olives, finely chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Arrange them (flat) on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes per side, or until well browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature

Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients well in a small bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top each potato slice with a small mound of the cheese mixture, and garnish with a sliver of olive. Serve at room temperature.

Note: You could also make just the goat cheese mixture, roll it into a ball, and serve as a (Eek! Wrong era?) cheese ball.

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Sprint

Chard, Sausage and Gruyere Triangles top

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’m just getting ready for the sprint.

I come from a longish line of long-distance runners. Much to the chagrin of my grandfather, I always sucked at running. There’s not really a better word for it. I don’t mean that I didn’t win at running, I mean I sucked: I didn’t have the strength to go fast or the endurance to go long, the coordination to look graceful or the heart to try hard. I never liked running for exercise, and when the rheumatologist told me all joint-pounding activities are out for good, I breathed a sigh of relief.

But sprinting – I was never nearly as bad at sprinting. If I have positive evidence that physical effort has a precise, imminent end, I can handle it. No need to delve into the implications of my athletic laziness, that’s already been established and accepted. But I can make a decent mad dash across a rainy grocery store parking lot.

Anyway, it’s starting to look like I’m a good long-distance cook. (I wonder what Granddad would say about that.) And with thirteen recipes to go, I feel pretty safe saying I’ve reached the final sprint.

Just have to make sure my shoelaces are tied.

Chard, Sausage and Gruyere Triangles 1

Chard, Sausage, and Gruyere Triangles (PDF)
Recipe 352 of 365

Here’s an unusual incarnation of spanikopita, made with wintry chard and fennel-studded Italian sausage, and gruyere instead of the more traditional feta cheese. To split up the work, make the filling the night before and thaw the phyllo dough overnight in the fridge, then mix the cheese in and assemble the triangles before serving.

You can also freeze assembled triangles on a baking sheet until firm, then freeze up to 2 months in a sealed container. To bake from frozen, increase baking time to 25 to 30 minutes.

TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen triangles

1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
1 large onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound cleaned, chopped chard (from a 1-pound bag of pre-trimmed chard, or 1 1/2 pounds untrimmed chard)
6 ounces Gruyere, Emmenthaler, or Swiss cheese, grated
1 (1-pound) package phyllo sheets, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
Olive oil, as needed

Heat a large, heavy pot (something big enough to fit all the chard) over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving most of its grease in the pot, and set aside. Decrease heat to medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chard, season with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove lid, and cook and stir until the chard is completely wilted and has given up all its water, another 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let the chard cool for a few minutes.

When cool enough to handle, transfer the greens to a food processor, and whirl until pureed. Add the reserved sausage, and pulse 15 times. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If you’re making the filling a day ahead, refrigerate this mixture.) Stir in the cheese until well distributed, and set aside.

Before you begin assembling the triangles, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside. Fill a small bowl with olive oil, and clear a large work space.

Working with three sheets of phyllo at a time (keep the other sheets covered in plastic, then with a tea towel, to prevent them from drying out), begin rolling triangles: Place one phyllo sheet on a large, clean working surface, and brush the entire surface with a thin layer of olive oil. Stack another phyllo sheet on top, so the corners more or less line up, and brush that sheet with oil. Repeat with the third sheet, then flip all three sheets over, so the oily side is down. Using a large knife or pizza roller, cut the stack of phyllo pieces into six equal strips the short way. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling at the bottom of each strip.

filling Chard, Sausage and Gruyere Triangles

Working with one strip at a time, fold one bottom corner of the strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, like you’re starting to fold a flag.

Chard, Sausage and Gruyere Triangles first fold

Continue rolling the triangle up the length of the strip, winding the phyllo around the filling over and over again to seal it in. When you reach the end, smooth the ends around the triangle, and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining strips, then repeat layering and folding processes with remaining phyllo and filling.

Bake triangles for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cooked triangles can be reheated for 5 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Note: To make larger triangles, cut the phyllo dough into four strips, and fill each triangle with a heaping quarter cup of filling. Bake as directed.

Chard, Sausage and Gruyere Triangles 4

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Party time

It’s party season, and all I can seem to think about is appetizers. Nuts, cheese, olives, cheese . . . my brain seems incapable of making it past the dinner bell. I even have filling for a wacky version of spanikopita in my fridge (did someone say sausage?), waiting patiently for its phyllo outerwear to defrost completely.

I do hope you’re ready for nibbles.

Olive-Marinated Goat Cheese 1

Olive-Marinated Goat Cheese (PDF)
Recipe 351 of 365

Serve the goat cheese rounds at room temperature, for spreading on strong crackers; place them in the center of a nice, smooth soup; or melt onto toasts to top a salad.

TIME: 10 minutes, plus marinating
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 large orange
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, very finely chopped
3 small sprigs thyme, roughly chopped
1 4-ounce log goat cheese, sliced into 6 rounds, or pre-sliced goat cheese medallions

Mix all the ingredients except the goat cheese in a small bowl, and stir to blend. Arrange the goat cheese in a large, shallow bowl or baking dish, and drizzle the olive mixture on top. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving, or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Olive-Marinated Goat Cheese 5

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350: A Good Winter Snack

Rosemary-Roasted Cashews

Rosemary-Roasted Cashews
Recipe 350 of 365

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine 2 teaspoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary in a small saucepan. Warm over moderate heat just until you can smell the oil’s aroma, then drizzle over 1/2 pound roasted, salted whole cashews in a baking dish. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper, stir to coat all the nuts with the oil, and roast for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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Emergency party food, or something to have around

I’m sorry, but my cookie vibe is getting weak. A chocolate-peppermint toffee bark is still somewhere in my brain, but after the thumbprints, I need to lay off the butter for a bit, I think.

Today: Easy.

Normally, around this time of year, I stuff sweet, spicy peppadews with an herbed goat cheese. The blend of the tart, tangy cheese with the pepper’s piquant flavor is great, but you gotta dry the things out first, which seems to take more effort than it should, then stuff them individually. . . I wanted the results, but I dreaded the process.

I opened my peppadew jar to find they’d installed a nifty new draining device:

Peppadew jar

Herego, now you just turn the jar upside-down in the sink to drain them.

Then, a miracle of an idea (Hanukkah must be close): I just dumped all the ingredients together to make a peppadew-goat cheese spread. I got so excited by the hot tangerine color of the mixture that I forgot all about the herbs, but it didn’t matter. Now we’re schmearing the stuff on everything from bell peppers to carrots to little whole wheat toasts. My husband ate it for breakfast.

Oh, and a word of caution: Despite your best efforts, the black lid to the peppadews will not fit on your camera as a lens cap.

toasts wtih peppadew-goat cheese spread

Recipe 333 of 365: Peppadew-Goat Cheese Spread

Whirl 8 ounces softened goat cheese, one drained 14-ounce jar peppadews, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper together in a food processor until smooth. Serve immediately, as a dip for crudites, breadsticks, or crackers (it will still be soft and dippable), or chill until more firm, and spread on toasts or sandwiches.

Or, for the days when a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup from a can seems awfully complicated, try this:

Tomato soup garnished with toasts with peppadew-goat cheese spread

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An unorthodox cookie

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies

Bleu Cheese and Walnut Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 322 of 365

I can’t decide whether these are better as an unusual appetizer, served with a little tray of olives or a schmear of tapenade, or as a dessert geared toward those who prefer a more savory nibble after dinner. Either way, they’re a unique take on shortbread, and easy to make. Bake them all at once, or wrap half the prepared dough well in plastic and freeze for a month or two, until the next time you need them. They’ll take a few minutes longer if you slice and bake them from frozen.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 40 cookies

1 cup walnuts (shelled halves)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese (such as Point Reyes Original), crumbled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. (Watch carefully!) Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool, and turn off the oven.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cheese with the sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes.

With the machine on low, add the flour to the mixer a little at a time, and mix until the flour is fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixer with a plastic spatula when needed. (The dough will be a little crumbly.) Finely chop the walnuts and stir in half by hand, and spread the rest out on the cutting board.

Divide the dough between two 1’ square pieces of wax paper. Roll each mound into a log almost a foot long and about 1 1/2” in diameter. Roll the logs in the remaining walnuts, wrap each log in wax paper, twist the ends to seal, and chill for 2 hours (or up to 3 days), or until very firm.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies (rolled in walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking sheets, and set aside.

Slice dough into 1/2” rounds, and arrange on baking sheets, about 20 cookies per sheet. Bake the shortbread for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are only very barely beginning to brown at the edges. (They will not look much different from when you put them in.)

Cool the cookies 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies 2

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317: Rock-Paper-Brussels Sprouts

Rock-Paper-Brussels Sprouts

I am thrilled with myself.

It’s Brussels sprouts again, with pigs and vinegar (or something like it), of course, but this time, it’s way more fun to make. It’s like playing Rock-Paper-Scissors with your food. Only, without the scissors.

See, all you have to do is get some Brussels sprouts, and about half as much thinly-sliced proscuitto (by weight – I used 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts and 1/4 pound prosciutto). You tear the prosciutto strips in half, not lengthwise (the pain-in-the-ass way), but across the short way, so you’re really just separating the prosciutto strip into two parts along its natural seam. Each piece of prosciutto should be about as big as the palm of your hand. (But for God’s sake, don’t get out the scissors to make them perfect.)

Okay, ready? The sprout is the rock. The pig is the paper. Paper wins every time. (I love winning when I’m Paper. It’s like saying Neener neener, I won, and you get a hug. Winning when you’re Rock just obliterates your opponent’s fingers, and when you’re Scissors, really, who believes my two fingers will cut your hand in half? That’s ridiculous.)

But wait, we’re still cooking. Wrap each sprout in prosciutto, folding the meat all the way around the vegetable so it adheres to itself, adding them to a baking pan generously greased with olive oil as you make them. When you’re finished, roll them around a little in the pan, so they get oiled on all sides, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about half an hour, or until the prosciutto begins to brown and crisp. Squeeze some Meyer lemon juice (I used about a quarter of a fat, juicy one) over the sprouts, and shake the pan back and forth to distribute it. (I’m sure a regular lemon, or a bit of balsamic vinegar, would also do the trick.) Serve hot, as a side dish.

Or. OR. Serve them as an autumnal version of melon and prosciutto, speared with toothpicks, as an appetizer.

My goodness, where could this lead? I thought I’d wrapped everything in prosciutto, but it occurs to me now that I’d always served things cold (prosciutto-wrapped strawberries, prosciutto-wrapped blanched asparagus) or fishy (shrimp, scallops, etc.). Now, I don’t have to tell you that I’d eat cardboard if you wrapped it in a good Serrano ham, but lo! The possibilities!

What about roasted prosciutto-wrapped baby potatoes, made with a smear of Dijon between the potato and the pig? Little spring rolls, with prosciutto on the outside and creamed kale on the inside? Slices of kabocha squash, rolled in spice, then wrapped . . .

I love being Paper.

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The last of the turkey

I’m surprisingly not sick of turkey, for having eaten at least half of one myself.

Turkey Spring rolls

Turkey Spring Rolls with Quick Peanut Dipping Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 309 of 365

Look for bahn trang, the thin, round Vietnamese rice paper wrappers used to make spring rolls, in the ethnic foods section of most large supermarkets. If you can’t find them but still feel like a yummy peanut sauce, make an Asian-style noodle salad by tossing the ingredients below (with the cilantro chopped) with half a pound of cooked whole wheat pasta (or half a package of soba or rice noodles, if you have them).

If you use unsalted peanut butter, you may need to add salt to the peanut sauce.

TIME: 35 minutes
MAKES: 8 spring rolls

2 cups shredded leftover turkey
1 small green cabbage (about the size of a softball), finely shredded
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
8 sprigs fresh cilantro
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup crunchy natural peanut butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup very warm water, plus more for softening bahn trang
2 teaspoons sriracha (Thai chili-garlic sauce) or Chinese chili paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium rice wine vinegar
8 bahn trang (plus a few more, in case some rip while you’re folding)

Arrange the turkey, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, and chopped peanuts on a large plate.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the peanut butter, 1/2 cup warm water, sriracha, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar until smooth, and set aside.

Fill a large, shallow bowl with very warm water. Dip a clean, smooth tea towel in the water, wring dry, and place flat on a clean work surface.

Working with one rice wrapper at a time, dip half of it into the water, and turn it like you’re driving a car in circles, around and around in the same direction. When you feel the wrapper begin to soften between your fingers (but before it begins to fold over on itself all willy-nilly), transfer the wrapper to the towel. Place a sprig of cilantro horizontally on the wrapper about a third of the wrapper away from the edge of the wrapper nearest you. Top the cilantro with little handfuls of cabbage, carrots, and turkey, in layers, and sprinkle with a few chopped peanuts. Starting with the side closest to you, wrap the spring roll up like a burrito, tucking the sides in halfway through rolling. Transfer the roll to a serving plate, and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Serve rolls whole or cut in half, with the peanut sauce, for dipping.

Turkey spring roll cut

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Like beer nuts, but seeds. Beer seeds.

We’re making homebrew tonight. . .

Beer Seeds

Beer Seeds (PDF)
Recipe 291 of 365

Here’s a simple sweet-and-salty pumpkin seed snack that leaves just a bit of spice on the tongue. Might have to wash that down with a beer. Spiced pumpkin seeds are also great on soups or salads.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: Munchies for a party

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
3 cups raw pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, stir the first eight ingredients into a paste. Add the pumpkin seeds, and stir to blend well. Spread the seeds on the baking sheet, and bake 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so, until the seeds are uniformly browned. Shake extra salt over hot seeds, if desired, and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool until the seeds stop making popping noises. Store cooled seeds in a sealed container at room temperature, up to one week.

Beer Seeds spilling

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Two cheeses are better than one

Last weekend, when our friends Melanie and Kevin visited, they stocked us up on everything bagels from The Bagelry in Bellingham. They really are everything a bagel should be: crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and small enough to eat the entire bagel without feeling bloated. Plus, they brought this cream cheese – genius! – that blends regular cream cheese with feta, dill, and a houseful of garlic.

Two kinds of cheese on a bagel? Intriguing.

Greek Cream Cheese 2

Greek Cream Cheese (PDF)
Recipe 277 of 365

Why it isn’t more common to combine cheeses to spread on bagels is somewhat of a mystery. Once you try this rich, strongly flavored mix of cream cheese, feta, and traditionally Greek ingredients, I think you’ll agree that two cheeses are better than one.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups cream cheese

8 ounces regular cream cheese, room temperature
2 ounces feta cheese, room temperature
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons very finely chopped red onion

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whip with a hand-held mixer for 1 minute on high, until light. Spread on bagels, sandwiches, or crackers.

TIP: To make bagel chips, slice day- (or two day-) old bagels into 1/4” rounds. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spray on both sides with olive oil spray, and bake 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

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DIY Rosemary-Walnut Toasts

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

Walnut-Rosemary Toasts 3

Walnut-Rosemary Toasts (PDF)
Recipe 272 of 365

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

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

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

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

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

A list from Bromley, and the bittiest shrimp

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

Here’s what she ate:

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

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

Home fro mcamping

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

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

Freak salad

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

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

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

Shrimp fritters 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sesame-Dijon Dressing

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

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

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Soup on the brain

French Onion & Shallot Soup 1

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

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

French Onion Soup with Apples

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

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

French Onion & Shallot Soup

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

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

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

TIME: An evening, stirring occasionally
MAKES: 4 servings

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

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

Onions for soup

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

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

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

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

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Filed under appetizers, recipe, soup

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

Gas pump in Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

J&D's prayer flags

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

Dani's necklace

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

Josh and Dani, walking in

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

Josh & Dani's rings

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

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

Grandma with potsticker

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

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

London Broil with oregano and chives

This was the view behind my chair at dinner:

View from dinner table

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

Grandma shorter than wine

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

skier on cake

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

Josh and Dani

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

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

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

Homage to 74th st

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

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

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

Carm Onion & Gorg Toast 3

Recipe 262 of 365: Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Toasts

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

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260: Nectarine Skewers

Peach fuzz makes me squirm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But yes, it’s worth it.

Nectarine Skewers 3

Recipe 260 of 365: Nectarine Skewers

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

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

Nectarine Skewers 2

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Filed under appetizers, fruit, pork, recipe