Category Archives: Beef

A stew for the heart


Sometimes, I eat because it tastes good. I eat because the caramelized skin of a well-roasted chicken triggers a pleasure mechanism in my brain, because pureed kabocha squash tastes like everything that’s good about the earth itself, and because a good stinky cheese sings up into my nostrils as it hits the heat of my tongue.

Of course, I also love eating things that look good. Chomping into a well-made pain au chocolate reveals (literally) thousands of microscopic layers, culminating with the perfectly dry, crisp shatters that envelop the exterior. Just a week or two ago, I had a charcuterie plate at Mistral Kitchen made up of whimsical piles of thinly shaved meats, each a little porcine tornado almost (but not quite) too pretty to eat.

Food can feel good, too. I’m drinking tea right now, and I like the way the peach flavor rolls down the center of my tongue, while the ginger flavor unfurls toward its edges. I like the way a good braised hanging tender separates in my mouth, each thread of beef so soft I don’t really need my teeth. (Still, I’m glad I have them.)

Then, every once in a while, I eat for my heart. I’m not talking about eating by cereal box claims, or eating however the Senate says I should. I’m talking about eating because it’s calming and emotionally nourishing. We all do it.

Take last May, for example. I’d just been released from the hospital, where I’d had a kidney biopsy. The doctor had said he’d call back in a week or two. We decided to go out, my husband and son and I, for a special meal that would let us sit and forget the previous 48 hours, if only for a few minutes. But when we walked into Spur, they informed us they didn’t allow kids. We got back into the car, and the phone rang. It was my nephrologist–already. My kidneys were on the verge of failing, and I needed treatment. I’d start infusions the next day.

That night, we ended up eating pho. We were confused, and nervous, and scared. It tasted good, but it wasn’t food for the heart. The next day, I started a six month-long course of induction therapy.

And guess what? It worked, people. The kids are healthy again.

Last week, the night before my treatment stopped, we went back to Spur, this time with friends. We drank, and laughed, and ate course after course, sharing each plate slowly and thoughtfully. The food was good, I think—but I’m not sure I really tasted it. That night, I was eating because it felt right to be in that restaurant, quietly celebrating an internal achievement.

You might agree that Thanksgiving is a heart meal, too. Whether you’re the cook or the dishwasher, there’s something about eating the turkey and the gravy and the mashed potatoes that’s . . . centering.

This year, we went to Colorado Springs, for a banquet hall Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by my grandfather. I thought I’d survive, not planning a big meal this year. Turns out I was wrong. I have trouble enjoying Thanksgiving without entering a kitchen. Turkey from a buffet table—even an incredibly impressive one—erases all the conduits of conversation that a Thanksgiving meal preparation necessarily provides. It’s fun, like a good dinner out, but to me, it sort of misses the point of Thanksgiving, which is not just to eat, but to eat together, and solve problems together, and make mistakes together. It also neglects Thanksgiving’s most important side effect: leftovers.

I’d planned to be a big girl about the whole no cooking thing. I even roasted a turkey the night before we left, and held a mini Thanksgiving here at home, just to be on the safe side. But I gave away the leftover turkey; there were no sandwiches. Digging through the refrigerator for a late-night dinner on Friday night, it was inescapable: I felt like I’d missed the holiday entirely. We’d had a giant meal on the allotted day, but there hadn’t been anything comforting about it.

When I came back to my kitchen this week, I only wanted comfort food. I made hot and sour soup, and huevos rancheros, and this buffalo stew. It’s the simplest of stews, made with the buffalo meat my husband gawked over when I sent him to the grocery store with a carte blanche for dinner foods. With only ten ingredients, it seems almost undercomplicated—but sometimes, simple is all my heart wants to eat.

I thought I might be alone. But when I phoned my neighbor today–a neighbor who had a thorough home-cooked family Thanksgiving–I happened to ask her what she was doing for dinner. “I don’t know,” she said. “But all I want to eat is beef stew.”

Buffalo Carbonnade 2

Jim’s Buffalo Carbonnade (PDF)

Made with buffalo stew meat and a good, hearty beer, this version of the traditional Belgian dish is quite stripped down—it’s delicious, but in no way fancy. I made mine with my husband’s homebrew (made with hops from our back yard, naturally), but any high-quality beer with some good body will do.

Note that this isn’t a recipe for a crowd—it’s just enough for two hearty servings. Double or triple it if you’d like, searing the meat in batches, then serve the stew over buttered noodles or polenta, with steamed or roasted carrots.

Time: 30 minutes active time, plus plenty of simmering
Makes: 2 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound buffalo stew meat, cut into 1 1/2” pieces (beef will also work)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups good beer
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat a medium-sized soup pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Coat the stew meat with the flour on all sides, and season with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the hot oil, and cook until the pieces are browned on all sides, turning them only when they release easily from the pan, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, then add the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often and scraping any brown bits up off the bottom of the pan, until the onions are deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Add the garlic and thyme, and cook and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the beer and beef stock, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Slide in the beef, cover the pot, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and cook at a bare simmer for another 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is extremely tender. Remove the lid, and simmer another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid is thick and glossy. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Stir in the butter, and serve hot, over buttered noodles or polenta.


Filed under Beef, beer, husband, recipe


The Cookbook Stack

It’s been so long since I had the opportunity to properly obsess over the stream of cookbooks flowing into my house that many of them can no longer even be considered “new.” Just the same, I’m making my mental lists: recipes to make, recipes to pass on, recipes to horde for the perfect occasion. Essays to read. Tips to internalize. Books that inspire. Books that turn on. (Books that turn off.)

There’s a stack that travels from my kitchen counter to my dining room table to the bureau in my bedroom, depending on where I have space and whether I want the house to look cleaner than it really is. It’s more or less the same-sized stack that accumulates every so often, made up of books tagged with little scraps of paper where they need more attention. Only this time, in the midst of planning a cookbook of my own, the stack looks suddenly different.

Like a teenager with a brand-new set of braces, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of details that might have completely escaped me a year ago—things like how the color of recipe titles contrasts with the page, which recipes they’ve chosen to photograph, how the recipes are organized, and whether I think the headnotes are giving the right kind of information. Most importantly, I’m trying to figure out what it is about a cookbook, exactly, that makes me use it.

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a little complex. The average cookbook in my household enters through the front door, but beyond that, they all have pretty disparate paths. There’s an immediate split, for sure: standing at the door with my purse falling off my shoulder and a toddler hanging off my hip, there are books I open and books I don’t open. But the eventual pleasure derived from each set of books might be the opposite of what you think: If I’ve heard good things about a book, and/or know that it might be interesting for some particular reason, I don’t usually open it right away. I place it on the counter, where it sits until I have time to pick it up with both hands. Books are usually only opened when they land on my doorstep unsolicited, in which case I’m more or less expressing surprise and outrage at something having entered my personal realm without my express permission. These books aren’t doomed, by any means, but I admit there’s a definite difference between how I approach books I recognize and those I don’t.

In any event, hours usually pass. Then I open the book. From there, after much geekery, I decided cookbooks have four possible paths before the actual cooking begins:

Per the flowchart above, cookbook may be:

1. Rejected. This book holds nothing for me. I would have no compunction starting a fire with the pages, and it will not garner a spot in my downstairs cookbook collection. There are very few books that fall clearly into this category, but when they do, it’s miserable.

2. Regifted. Often, I find a book that I think is interesting, but for some reason or other I don’t think I’ll use it as much as another person might. This can be a good or a bad thing. It may mean that I’ll buy the book multiple times as a gift, but it also may mean that I just don’t have the heart to actually throw it away.

3. Perused. I leaf through the pages, making mental notes of which recipes I might actually follow—which, for me, means opening the book, buying some or all of the ingredients, and cooking more or less in the same general vein as the recipe. (For someone who writes them for a living, I very rarely actually follow recipes.) Sometimes, I leave the book on my counter for a day or two, until I have the chance to bastardize a recipe in my own special way. Once I’m finished, I tend to memorize how happy I was or wasn’t with the recipe, and shelve the book – in which case it’s a success – or use it to decorate my house, as described above, until I have a chance to call yay or nay. Most typically, the books that spend the most time traipsing from counter to counter are those I deem the most successful. In rare cases, I cook something I don’t like, and the book gets a spot in the basement.

4. Devoured. For me, the difference between perusing and devouring is a matter of posture. A book is perused standing up. A book is devoured sitting down. If a book is interesting enough to cuddle with, there’s a pretty good chance it will earn a spot on the kitchen cookbook shelf (which, theoretically, gets cleaned out every so often). Devoured books get assaulted with sticky notes, and typically birth a cascade of other ideas, most of which are scribbled on the back of junk mail envelopes. They follow the same path as perused books, only they get priority status, a veritable red carpet into the week’s dinner rotation.

Once it’s cracked, I use a book like most people use a thesaurus: for ideas, and for education. When I open cookbooks, I usually open four or five at a time. And like good new words, good new recipes stick with me—not their ingredient lists and instructions, verbatim, but their concepts. That pasta dish with lemon, anchovies, and olives, from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef? It introduced me to mixing lemon and olives in pasta, which I’d somehow never done before. I made it without the pine nuts, because I didn’t have them, and I only made a half recipe, which I regretted after bite number two. I’ve made three variations since then, each a bit different. But I know people who wouldn’t dare turn on the stove without having every ingredient listed in a recipe on hand, people who would always make a recipe the exact same way they made it the first time if they liked it the first time, and people who would never try a recipe for something they hadn’t tasted before. We’re all different.

Until yesterday, I’d forgotten that there are times when I simply don’t know how to use a cookbook. (You’re not the only one.)

Take Amanda Hesser’s hefty new tome, The Essential New York Times Cookbook. With 1,400 recipes that chronicle America’s culinary history of the last 150 years—from a New York perspective, anyway—the thing’s a giant red linebacker of a book, and it scares the shit out of me. I have many books like hers on my shelves, but they seem like books that have always been there. They’re fixtures. It’s rare to put a book like that on the shelf for the first time, especially when you know it’ll be there when your kid goes to college.

When I saw Amanda speak at an event last night, I peeked into it to read the recipes she referenced as she spoke, and found they somehow had as much personality on the page as they did when she talked about them. But when I got home, arm aching from carrying two of the suckers, the book intimidated me again. I put it on the high counter between the kitchen and dining room, and looked at it in a way I’ve never done, peeking in fits and spurts. I’d walk by and open it at random (Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Pine Nuts from 1990), have a little swoon, then snap it shut. After a quick email check, another opening: Snow Pudding from 1877. Some tea. Cream of Carrot Soup from 1974. The book is a culinary cave of wonders.

And I can’t help but wonder myself, as I stare at it now, whether this book will somehow be used differently. I clearly won’t marvel at the photos, because there aren’t any. I won’t bring it to bed, because I don’t tend to do that. (To paraphrase what Tom Douglas said last night, people who read cookbooks in bed need better lovers.) And goodness knows I won’t cook my way through the entire thing. Will the historical nature of many of the recipes encourage me to – gasp! – follow a recipe from start to finish? Maybe every book I have is used differently, based on some signal it sends my brain telepathically the moment I first crack the binding.

Which brings me to the question I ask every time I look at this here stack o’ books: How different are we in our cookbook use? How does the way we use cookbooks change over our lifetimes, and over the lifetime of the books themselves? I feel like planning my book, I’m making a stew I want everyone to like, and I have to decide what to put in it right now. Like Thanksgiving, in a way. Only 75 recipes long.

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale 2

Decision anxiety is a common problem for me in the kitchen, too. Last weekend, I initially bought beef oxtail to be used in an oxtail bolognese, again from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, but it somehow turned into a variation on the oxtail, farro, and root vegetable stew from Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen.

Of course, I changed things. (I always do.) But the resulting stew – a rich mix of shredded oxtail, carrots, and kale, much more like the stew I tasted at Tavolata once than the stew in the book – was exactly what I wanted. Yet somehow I was sort of depressed to think that no one else would ever make the same variation.

Ultimately, I’d like to follow a good cookbook from the inside out. I’d like to plant a little video camera inside, say, the aforementioned oxtail stew page, and send the book around to everyone I know, so it can record what people add and subtract, how they shop for it and how they serve it, or whether they even pause to look at the recipe at all. Ideally, the camera would also be able to tell me, in retrospect, every time the recipe inspires the user to cook or create down the road – which, to me, is the essential sign of a successful recipe.

Thus far, I haven’t heard of such a camera. So for now, I’ll have to rely on this old-school internet thing, and wonder what the big red book (and its little cousins) will bring in the months and years to come.

You tell me: How do you use a cookbook?

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale

Oxtail Stew with Wheat Berries, Carrots, and Kale (PDF)

It only takes a slower trip past a good butcher shop to learn that there’s more to cook from a cow than steak and hamburger. Cooking the oxtail for this stew, an uber-rich mixture of ancient grains, beef, and kale adapted from a recipe for oxtail stew with farro and root vegetables in Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen, is criminally easy—you just stick it in a pot with some water, and it stews itself into a rich, fragrant stock while you do something else for a few hours nearby. I just might call it The New Beef Stew.

I won’t lie. Picking the meat off the bones is a project. (Think eating ribs, only you use your fingers instead of your teeth, and you have to do it for everyone at the table.) But I’ll make you a promise: If you make this unctuous, beef-rich stew, filled with tender shreds of oxtail, and don’t feel it was worth every second of your time, call me, and I’ll come take it off your hands.

Since oxtail is often sold in many different sizes – because, you know, cow’s tails aren’t exactly evenly cylindrical – it might help you to think of needing roughly enough meat and bone to cover the bottom of a 9” by 13” pan in one layer.

Start the stew the night before; the fat on the stock is easier to remove if you let it cool overnight.

Makes 8 servings.

4 pounds oxtail
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onions, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 ribs celery, sliced into 1/4” half-moons
1 cup wheat berries
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
5 large carrots, cut into 1/4” half-moons
1/2 pound lacinato (dinosaur) kale, ribs removed, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce, to taste

Place the meat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add water until the meat is covered by about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer and cook, turning once or twice and skimming any foam that collects on the surface off with a large spoon, for 4 hours, or until the meat is tender. Use tongs to transfer the meat to a platter. Set the stock aside to cool to room temperature.

While still warm, pick the meat off the bones, discarding bones and cartilage but keeping as much fat as you’re comfortable with. Package the meat in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Once it’s cool enough to handle, transfer the stock to a vessel that fits easily in your refrigerator, and refrigerate overnight.

At least an hour before dinner (or up to 2 days before), heat the soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onions, shallots, garlic, and celery, and cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the stock from the refrigerator, and use a spoon to remove the white cap of fat that has formed on the top.

Add the wheat berries and thyme to the pot with the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine, and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add the stock (it should have the consistency of Jell-O), bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes at a bare simmer. Add the carrots, kale, sherry vinegar, and reserved meat, along with enough water to submerge the chunky ingredients, if necessary. Season with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for seasoning, and serve hot, with crusty bread.

Oxtail stew and the cookbook stack


Filed under Beef, commentary, Et cetera, grains, recipe

The Best Pork Stew You’ll Never Make

If I were to give you the perfect recipe for a Mexican-inspired pork and black bean stew, it would look like this:

Wilbur 1

1. Find some friends willing to buy an entire pig, haul it six hours from home to a remote cabin without electricity or hot water, and cook it in a homemade “Cuban microwave” for hours and hours, until swarms of toddlers are melting under the pressure of a hard day’s play in the wild, the keg is kicked, the sun is finally going down, and the pig’s skin is crisp. Make sure the friends are food literate, but not food snobs. (Some make a point to only eat animals that have read Virgil, but I think too much enlightenment makes for tough meat.)

carving the pig at curlew

2. When the pig is roasted, volunteer to carve it in the dying light, even if you’ve never done it before. A 37-pound animal is large, but still only has two cheeks, which means that if you want to dig the fatty, tender cheek meat out with your fingers, you’ll want to be the one hovering near the head. (The whiskers, by the way, become quite sharp when roasted.) As you slice into it – surely with a knife you’re completely unfamiliar with, wearing giant barbecuing gloves that make you feel as awkward as Edward Scissorhands and only slightly more coordinated – combine just the right amounts of selfishness and laziness. You should cut enough meat off the bones to fill plate after plate with steaming flesh and satisfy any nearby vultures, but not so much as to strip the bones naked. (The meat left on them will be critical to your stew.) Pack obscene amounts of leftover meat and bones into coolers, neatly divided into “meaty,” “fatty,” “bones,” and “Neanderthal” containers, regularly offering diners feet or a snout from the last category, lest they miss what might be their only opportunity to munch on a pig’s toenail. Leave the coolers outside in the sun, with questionable amounts of ice, until the next morning.

Stock on the curlew stove

3. Make pork stock: Combine the meatiest pork bones, chopped onions (with the skins), and (unfiltered, from-a-real-spring) spring water in a large, unwashed roasting pan. Straddle the pan over two burners on an ancient stove, pausing to appreciate first that you know how to light your own stove at home, and second, that you weren’t the one to haul the propane tank currently responsible for cooking your stock up to the cabin on cross-country skis last winter. Bring the stock to a strong simmer, turn the burners off, cover the stock, and go to a rodeo.

rodeo queen at the chesaw rodeo

4. Here, to make the stew taste better, you should eat at least half of a corn dog, or possibly try the 68th Annual Chesaw Fourth of July Rodeo’s version of taco salad: one snack-sized bag of nacho-flavored Doritos, crushed, opened, and topped with taco meat of unclear provenance, shredded cheese and lettuce, and an unconscionable quantity of sour cream. (They do make it in small bags for little buckaroos, in case you were wondering.)

high class husband at the chesaw rodeo

5. Drink Budweiser in the sun while you watch toddlers chase chickens, small boys get stomped on by small (but still quite large) calves, teenage girls race horses around barrels, and grown men make their best attempt at roping and milking wild cows. Drink a little more; you need to sate your immediate hunger but open your palate to the possibility of a great deal of stew.

Boys playing on porch in Curlew

6. Get back to the cabin, bring the stock back to a simmer, and feed and entertain all children in the immediate vicinity. Snoop around the premises for anything that might make for a good stew – onions, garlic, carrots, and celery would be a fortunate start – and chop the vegetables, taking note as you work next to another person that it is neither the size of a kitchen nor its fanciness that makes it functional. (A kitchen qualifies as “good” if the space is well used, of course, with plenty of chopping room near the stove, but also if those working therein are happy bumping elbows without apologizing, and comfortable injecting cooking questions into unrelated conversation without losing one’s place in either the chopping or the conversation.)

Curlew kitchen 1

7. In a large (preferably tippy) soup pot, sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in (possibly) three-year-old olive oil, then season heavily with cumin, chili powder, dried oregano leftover from seasoning the pig, salt, pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, and a little bit of luck. Add the remaining salsa from two separate, open-but-unrefrigerated jars of salsa (their spiciness will have a lot to do with how your stew turns out), three cans of black beans (along with their liquid), and enough stock to let all the ingredients swim around freely. Simmer until the carrots are soft, roughly one hour, bossing anyone near the stove into giving it a quick stir so you can appreciate just being where you are.

dogs begging for pork stew

8. Meanwhile, clip most of the cilantro from the newly planted herb garden just off your porch. (If you can arrange for your dog to fall off the porch while avoiding a curious tot and land directly on the cilantro plant, do so, as the cilantro will be easier to cut that way.) Grate cheese and find some sour cream. Intend to slice the avocado in the fruit bowl, then promptly forget about it.

Curlew cabin front

9. Ask someone else to chop a good deal of what’s probably tenderloin and shoulder from the “meaty” bowl of pork in the cooler, and add it to the stew. Simmer another 10 minutes or so, so the pork fat melts into the broth. Season to taste again with salt and pepper, and serve hot, in mismatched bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream, and spoons that make you feel like you’re Goldilocks, minus the part where she finds the spoon that’s just right. (Feel free to continue forgetting the avocado.) In your mind, call it Curlew Stew, if you’re into that sort of thing. Pretend you aren’t surprised when it seems like the best stew you’ve ever tasted, and make a mental promise to make pork stock again someday soon. When it’s cooler.

dividing pig meat

10. Mop the last of the soup up with plain sliced sandwich bread. Commence a conversation about recipes – why and how we use them, how some people must cook from them while others simply can’t, where we record them, etc. Remember some recipes, like Hannah’s grandmother’s Goat Curry for Fifty, whose re-creation is so entirely unlikely that you might as well call it impossible. Think first, to yourself, that you wished you’d written the stew recipe down in some way, or snapped a photo before the last carrots were scraped from the bottom of the pot and fed to your child (who, with his first tooth, now seems to be able to eat cooked carrots). Then reconsider, and note that perhaps anyone interested in recreating Curlew Stew should probably not be relying too heavily on a recipe in the first place.

That’s it. That’s the whole recipe. Just ten quick steps.

If you live in the United States, chances are very good that you have recently suffered, are currently suffering, or will soon suffer an unbearable heat wave. (The definition of “unbearable” may differ from region to region; 90-degree heat broke records in Seattle a couple days ago. Likewise, the definition of “suffer” may be flexible; I was forced to make cold iced tea and wear a dress yesterday. It was awful.)

I thought that perhaps this heat thing, combined with the likelihood that you have a cooler filled with roasted pig parts on your porch, might make Curlew Stew an unconvincing proposition for your dinner this evening. But I promise: It’s the best pork stew you’ll never make.

But if you really want to taste Curlew Stew, I know a guy who makes a mean Cuban microwave; he says he’s willing to lend his to me when I’m ready to roast a pig. Swing by my driveway sometime around Christmas, because I now know I’ll be going whole hog, as they say, for our next holiday party. I’m sure there will be pork leftover.

Tonight, you should just make skirt steak kebabs.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 2

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs (PDF)

Marinated in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, fresh oregano, and red pepper flakes, these skirt steak kebabs pack a punch, but don’t take much time to prepare or grill. Instead of tomatoes and zucchini, feel free to substitute other vegetables—broccoli florets or crimini mushrooms would also be great.

Be sure to soak the skewers for the kebabs in a pan of water for a good 30 minutes (or longer) before you thread the meat and vegetables on.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

Juice of 3 limes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (the fresher, the better)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound skirt steak, cut into 1” cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 3/4” rounds
2 dozen large cherry tomatoes
12 wooden skewers (12” long), soaked

Blend the lime juice, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, oil, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Add the steak, stir until all the steak is coated with the marinade, then add the zucchini and tomatoes. Refrigerate, covered, about 1 hour.

Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat, about 450 to 550 degrees. Thread the ingredients onto the skewers, alternating ingredients, piercing zucchini horizontally (through the skin on both sides) so that all the ingredients lie in a flat plane.

Grill the kebabs for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until the zucchini is marked, the tomatoes are beginning to burst, and the steak is cooked through. Serve hot.

Spicy Skirt Steak Kebabs 1


Filed under Beef, dog, gluten-free, husband, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, travel, vegetables


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


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

Inukshuk in my soup

We hit home three days ago. Friday, I slept through the better part of my supposed workday. Saturday, we puttered around the house, doing laundry and taxes and sifting through the week’s mail, trying to get our heads back on straight again. We went to a mellow yoga class, where I spent the majority of the hour in child’s pose, examining the dog hair on my mat. Today’s shaping up to be a slow one, too.

Whistler was gorgeous. When I was feeling good, I had a blast. We skied fast. We swam our way through the fog on days that felt more like skiing on the moon than on Earth. Watching the World Cup was phenomenal – hundreds of fans clanging cowbells in each others’ faces, Norwegians acting like idiots, Canadians going crazy for their strong showing, kids begging for autographs. . . It’s hard to hate a sport where the general rule is the bigger your ass, the faster you go.

Inukshuk at top of Peak chair

At the top of Whistler sits an inukshuk, one of the hundreds of sculptures native Canadians originally built in human form as mountain guides – creative cairns, if you will. Inukshuks are supposed to stand for friendship and hope, hence the inspiration for the emblem for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On our third day, the skies cleared, and the inukshuk loomed just off the Peak chair, with a gorgeous panorama of the high alpine. Groups of skiers eddied around him, marveling at his size and gaping at the view. Making friends better friends, I suppose, like we were, laughing at how close this winter wonderland is to Seattle.

But hope? There wasn’t so much hope up there. Not for me, anyway. Whistler is a big mountain, and six days of skiing there is a lot for anyone, really. I guess you could say I bit off more than I could chew. (I think we all did.)

By day three, standing at the top just meant hoping I could muster the energy to ski down, and I’ll admit I got my priorities mixed up. I wanted so much to be part of every run that I ran myself into the ground not stopping when I should have. I forgot that rule I made a few years ago about pairing intense activity with equal measures of rest. I kept going. And going. And going.

I know everyone’s legs were sore. I could deal with the cramping calves and the twitching quads. (And by now that part is gone.) What I couldn’t handle was the fatigue – that sneaky, foggy, full-body fatigue that the Wolf brings when I least expect it. It feels like a bodysuit made from one of those heavy aprons you wear to protect your organs from X-ray machines. (And really. Who wears a bodysuit?)

Normally, when it comes, I’m pretty accommodating. But when she showed up halfway through our vacation, we’d already bought our lift tickets, and skipping a day didn’t seem like an option. I should have. But I didn’t. Instead, I doped up on steroids and Ibuprofen and pretended I was fine. By day four, I was spent.

Then I got frustrated. For the first time in months, I got really angry, not just at how lupus made me feel, but at the fact that I couldn’t seem to bring myself to tell my friends I’d had enough. That I couldn’t tell my husband or my brother that I’d had enough. That I didn’t want to have had enough. That I was too self-centered – too focused on getting the most of my vacation and afraid of spoiling other peoples’ – to make it completely enjoyable for myself. I spent the days trying to remember whether I’d felt so tired when we went to Whistler for our honeymoon five years ago, before I was diagnosed, and wondering why I’d thought I could ski for six days now, fresh off methotrexate.

Basically, I forgot that less is more. My body forced me to remember.

On day five, I folded at the top of Symphony a few runs after I should have, skied down in a dizzy fog, off balance, and slept for three hours. I woke up, ate a giant burrito stuffed with juicy slow-cooked pork, skipped the drinking, and slept for another nine hours, unmoving.

Jess & Jim from top of 7th Heaven

The last day, my body rebounded a bit. The top of Blackcomb was clear, and as we raced around, the snow came alive again under my skis.

It doesn’t take much, I thought, feeling how the rest rejuvenated me. But it takes some.

Anyway. It was a great week.

We cheered for Bode (warning: bad video):

We stuffed ourselves with wings at Dusty’s:

Wings at Dusty's

At night, we gathered in the kitchen and scooped warm stew and spicy sausage pasta sauce into our bellies. We drank beer at the Roundhouse, and ate fat, fluffy Belgian waffles at Crystal Hut:

waffle at Crystal Hut

(And by the way, other ski areas could take a cue from Whistler and offer real mugs for coffee and hot chocolate. It makes both more delicious.)

And despite the cranky, I think I became a better skier, in a week.

On the last day, we spent the morning ripping groomers and dropping into the bowls accessed by Spanky’s Ladder, and by lunch, I was exhausted. But this time, instead of puffing out my chest and sucking up a few more runs, I announced I was done. Jim came inside with me, reminding me that it’s not about what we’d miss, but what we’d already done. We’d already skied the high line above Ruby Bowl:

Tiptop of Ruby Bowl at Blackcomb

We’ve already whizzed around like crazies on Cloud 9, he said. What we’ll miss in the afternoon isn’t important. We’ve had fun. He was so right.

View from Blackcomb center

At The Rendezvous, we split sushi and pepperoni pizza and a Powerade, the ideal spring skiing lunch that I never knew existed, and Slow Dog Noodled all the way down to the base.

Kintaro in Vancouver

A few hours later, we stopped for ramen at Kintaro in Vancouver. (Anyone going through Vancouver should make time for this. The broth smacks of pig, the noodles are fresh, and the service is pure Japan. Plus, your meal doubles as lip balm, which is great after six days outside.)

I floated some fresh wakame seaweed in my bowl, and the first spoonful came up with an inukshuk in it:

Inukshuk in my ramen

Maybe there is hope, after all. Maybe next time I gear up to ski for a week, I’ll find my inner inukshuk, and remind myself to find a little more balance. Hope: good. Friendship: good. Self-destruction: bad. I’ll make it three days, so I don’t come back and dive into hibernation. I’ll remember that skiing well and having fun doesn’t necessarily require skiing most.

Or, as my brother so astutely pointed out after my last post, I just have to stop squeezing the shit out of life’s fishes. I think that’s what he was trying to tell me in the first place.

He is the ideal role model:

Josh snoring

Here’s a stew we made the first day. Frank and I piled the ingredients into my slow cooker before we headed out to watch the race. We’d hoped to sear the meat, but the shitful pans in the condo didn’t get hot enough to give the meat more than a good steam, so we skipped that part, and just put the floured meat right into the pot along with everything else. I’d love to say we noticed the difference, but coming home from a long day on snow, tired and hungry, I’m not sure we did.

slow-cooked stew

Easy Slow-Cooked Beef Stew (PDF)

Here’s a dump-and-go version of Boeuf Bourguignon that feeds a crowd after a day outdoors without much mothering. You can brown the meat if you have time, but we just tossed it in flour and dumped all the ingredients into a CrockPot before we took off. Nothing fancy, just delicious, low-maintenance sustenance that keeps the wheels turning.

TIME: 30 minutes active time, plus 10 hours cooking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 1/2 pounds beef stew pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1” chunks (chop just before cooking)
Hot pepper sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco), to taste
Sour cream, to taste

Pat the beef pieces dry, and mix with the flour in a large bowl. Season the beef with salt and pepper on all sides. (If you have time, sear the meat here in a bit of oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan, until nicely browned.) Add the meat to a large slow cooker, along with the onion, garlic, leek, carrots, mushrooms, herbs, wine, and broth, and stir to combine. Cook on low heat, covered, for 10 hours, undisturbed.

Before serving, place the potatoes in a small saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain, and add potatoes to stew. Season stew to taste with additional salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce, and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.


Filed under Beef, recipe, travel

My beef with coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever noticed this?

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

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

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

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

Winter view from porch

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

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

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

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

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

coffee-braised brisket with cream and sugar

Coffee-Braised Brisket with Cream and Sugar (PDF)

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Beef, gluten-free, recipe


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.


Filed under appetizers, Beef, Breakfast, pork, recipe

362 of 365

Veal with caperberries 1

Double-Dipped Veal Piccata with Lemon Zest and Caperberries
Recipe 362 of 365

Here, the breadcrumbs for a crisp veal (or thinly-sliced chicken) piccata crust are mixed with lemon zest (so every bite has good citrus flavor), then topped with caperberries, which are the actual fruit of the bush that produces capers.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 veal scaloppine (about 1/2 pound), each cut in half, if serving four
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine
6 caperberries, sliced

Place the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs on three separate small plates. Mix the lemon zest with the breadcrumbs, and season the flour and egg with salt and pepper.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats up, dip each piece of veal first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, coating well on all sides in each step. Repeat with the remaining meat, then dip again in egg and again in panko. (You might not quite get a full layer on all sides; that’s okay.)

Add the butter and olive oil to the skillet. When the butter has melted, swirl the pan to combine the two, and add the veal. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned, flip, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes on the second side, or until browned. (Cooking time will depend on how thin your veal scaloppine are, so use your judgment; veal does get tough when cooked too long.)

Transfer the meat to a plate. Add the lemon juice, wine, and sliced caperberries to the pan, swirl for a few seconds to let the liquid reduce to just a tablespoon or two, and drizzle the caperberries and the juices onto the veal. Serve immediately.

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Filed under Beef, recipe

A Lasagna for Lillian

I didn’t leave the house yesterday. Washington’s governor declared a state of emergency, but it was more of a state of mind thing for me, not just the rain. I didn’t leave my pajamas, or my computer, either. It was just that sort of day. I spent the hours inside, looking out, wondering how much more water the clouds above Seattle could possibly give, and how long it would take for our basement carpet to dry out again.

When six o’clock rolled around, I felt the rumblings of hunger, and thought of the lasagna recipe a friend sent recently. I imagined it sliding apart in my mouth, layer after moist layer, and thought about how her youngest daughter, Lillian, the Queen of Ground Beef for Breakfast, must have eaten it before school the next morning.

I love lasagna, but usually the times I need it’s simple, satisfying flavors are the same times the whole process is a little too much for me. I somehow always contract some lofty ambition of making extra for neighbors and friends as I’m gathering ingredients, and before I know it, I’m making lasagna for 600. I pick some swanky recipe, with a page-long list of esoteric ingredients, and spend hours layering. It’s usually good, but when I dig in, I always think of the very first time I made it, with my friend Sari, in my childhood home. In my mind, it took next to no time to prepare. We scattered cooked noodles out all over the counter, going through box after box before we figured out how to cook them and drain them without ripping them to shreds, but it was all done instantaneously. We used cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which was easier to spread and somehow infinitely more appealing to us as kids. (I can’t remember if that was part of the recipe, or if my mother made us use it because she didn’t want to schlep us to the grocery store for a missing ingredient. I’m betting on the latter. In any case, don’t knock it ’til you try it.)

That lasagna, the one I remember for the joy in eating it without flinching at the effort in making it, is the one I craved last night. I wanted Instant Gratification Lasagna. I thawed out some ground beef, made a quick trip to my neighbor’s refrigerator for mozzarella, and dug in.

When we sat down to eat, my husband looked baffled. Lasagna? he said. Does this make us normal?

Lillian, I think I finally understand the ground beef thing. It was such a good breakfast.

Loaf Pan Lasagna 1

Loaf Pan Lasagna (PDF)
Recipe 338 of 365

There are obvious advantages to making food in large batches, but there are disadvantages, too. It’s easier to eat too much, for one, and if I have something like lasagna too many dinners in a row, I lose my taste for it.

But some rainy nights, lasagna is all I want. Here’s a super simple version, made with no-bake noodles, lean ground beef, and lowfat cottage cheese. It fits perfectly into two loaf pans, which means it cooks more quickly, too. Share one between two people for dinner, saving a bit for lunch the next day, and freeze one for another night, or bake up both to feed six.

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 pound lean ground beef
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) lowfat cottage cheese
3 cups marinara sauce (or one 24-ounce jar)
12 no-bake lasagna noodles (I prefer the flat kind Trader Joe’s sells)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until onion begins to soften. Add garlic, thyme, and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the beef, breaking it up as you drop it into the pan, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook the beef for about 10 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks, until no pink remains. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs to blend in a mixing bowl, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in cottage cheese, and set aside.

Spread 1/4 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of each of two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2″ loaf pans. Add a sheet of pasta to each, followed by another 1/4 cup sauce, 2/3 cup of the meat mixture, and 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Next, add another sheet of pasta, followed by 1/2 cup of the cottage cheese mixture. (It will be slightly runny, that’s okay.) Top each with another noodle, then 1/4 cup sauce, and divide the remaining meat between the two pans. Top each meat layer with another 1/4 cup mozzarella, then a sheet of pasta, and divide the remaining cottage cheese mixture between the two pans. Finally, top the cottage cheese with the last of the pasta. Divide the remaining sauce over the noodles, spreading it to cover them all the way to the edges. Sprinkle each with about 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Cover each pan tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

To freeze cooked lasagna, let cool to room temperature, then cover the top with foil, wrap in plastic, and freeze up to 2 months. Transfer to refrigerator 24 hours before baking, with foil on top, for 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until hot all the way through.


Filed under Beef, Pasta, recipe


I’ve seen you at the Skagit River Ranch stand at the farmers’ market. You look at the menu, and your eyes fall on tenderloin. Essh, your eyes say. I’m not sure I can pay more than $20/pound for beef. You pick up the spare ribs, calculating how much time you’ll have to make dinner, and put them back. You open one cooler after the next, wanting to buy something because you like the idea of buying local meat, but each time you pick up a frozen package and turn it around in your hands, your brain also freezes. What do I do with this?

The answer? Not much. Buy an eye of round roast, just a little guy, about a pound and a half. (This cut is cheaper, but makes a gorgeous little roast, perfect for two people with a love for leftovers.) Roast it gently, coated with rosemary, and when you bring the first forkful to your tongue, you’ll know you don’t have to buy the most expensive stuff.

Rosemary Roast Beef

Recipe 312 of 365: Simple Rosemary Roast Beef

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat a 1 1/2 pound eye of round roast dry, and rub it with a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Pat 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary into the skin, and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until the temperature reads 130 degrees in the center, for medium rare. Let the roast rest for about 10 minutes before carving and serving.


Filed under Beef, farmer's market, recipe

Beef before coffee

Last year, we celebrated our arrival in Seattle (one year ago today!) by ordering a family pack of beef, pork, and chicken from Skagit River Ranch to stash in the freezer and use over the course of the year. It was a good idea, so we did it again this year.

Last Sunday morning, Eiko showed up with about fifty million pounds of meat, which Noah and I divvied up while Bromley parked her furry butt as close to the pile of meat as possible, shrinking herself to the size of a Golden Retriever, hoping we’d just forget she was there and walk out of the room, leaving her to her own devices.

Here she is, trying not to be noticed while we unpack the first box:

SRR stash

When I see Eiko at the farmers’ market, she always asks me what I do with certain cuts of meat – she has recipes that she gives out to her customers, and likes to talk shop. As she was leaving, I asked her if she needed any recipes.

“Beef stew,” she said. “Easy beef stew. Like in a slow cooker.”

I’m not really in a slow cooker frame of mind right now. It was 80 degrees in Seattle yesterday, and my neighbor is still leaving gorgeous tomatoes on my front porch (though not for long, as Kathy sadly points out on the DownEast blog). I have a flip-flop tan; it hadn’t occurred to me to make beef stew before at least mid-October.

But maybe beef stew can be different, I thought. Maybe it can be deeply satisfying and earthy and still celebrate summer. I decided I’d slow cook the meat overnight, which might make me oblivious to the amount of heat a slow cooker can kick off over the course of 10 hours , and make a light, spicy broth with not too much meat, but plenty of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and corn, the vegetables cooked ever so swiftly just before serving. Maybe some avocado on top. I put the beef in the slow cooker around 8 p.m.

I woke up a few times during the night, totally ravenous. We were sleeping under a thick, warm blanket of braising beef, and food was peeking into my dreams. By the time morning came, I wasn’t sure the beef would wait until dinner.

Out of bed at 6:15, and straight to the slow cooker. I’ll just have a nibble, I thought. Beef before coffee suddenly seemed like a genius move. I’d gone for the simplest meat-braising technique I know, just the beef and a can of salsa (oh, and a chopped onion, for good measure), and as soon as it hit my tongue, mildly spicy and soft, I knew the stew was history.

Sorry, Eiko. This beef was not destined for stew. It was destined for breakfast.

Using the slow cooker to make breakfast is sort of a new concept for me – I’ve made oatmeal, but that’s . . . well, it’s oatmeal, and no two-person household needs a slow cooker full of it on a regular basis.

There’s nothing really all that sexy about the inside of a burrito. Nevertheless:

Slow-Cooked Steak and Egg Burrito

Recipe 255 of 365: Slow-Cooked Beef Breakfast Burrito

Place 1 pound good beef stew meat in a slow cooker (directly from package, no browning, no nuthin’), along with a 12-ounce can of salsa (I used Trader Joe’s green) and a chopped onion. Stir to blend and cook on the LO (why is there never a W?) setting for about 10 hours, undisturbed, preferably while you sleep. (Your beef does not need a babysitter.) In the morning, remove the beef from the sauce, and wrap it into a big flour tortilla with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and some scrambled eggs. Serve as is, or – if you really want to start your day off right – whirl the cooking liquid in a blender, place the burritos in an ovenproof dish, pour the liquid over the burrito, top with more cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted. (In SoCalSpeak, that would be a “wet” breakfast burrito.)


Filed under Beef, recipe

Vodka & Hamburgers

Chorizo Burger

Today I’m writing from a coffee shop, and my laptop screen looks like one of those “before” and “after” ads for outdoor Windex. The other night I went to a media party for Venik, the new vodka bar in South Lake Union, and the power of suggestion forced my husband to pour himself a vodka martini after he’d spent the evening sanding an entire side of the house. (Painting starts tomorrow.) We’re still not sure sure what power knocked said martini over onto our old shared iBook, where he’d been checking his email, but in the few seconds it took Tito to grab some cleaning materials, the vodka had dripped down one side of the screen and seeped into part of the keyboard. Everything’s clean, but the lower left quadrant of the screen seems to have suffered some permanent damage. At first that was all I noticed, but today, the quertyasd keys are really, really sticky, so I sort of have to pound away with the left hand to get anything onto the page.

Myb I’ll ju yp nomlly n if you cn follo. (That’s maybe I’ll just type normally and see if you can follow, but I’ll guess not.)

Anyway. (Pound.) Today’s topic is hamburgers. (Pound, pound.) I’ve been doing some research on grass-fed burgers for a little piece on the very best of their class, and it inspired me to reach into my own frozen stores of grass-fed beef, from Skagit River Ranch. Sitting there on top of the beef was a package of chorizo, and I though, well, why not? Chorizo is frequently just to rich for me to eat plain, and hamburgers are sometimes a little boring. So I mixed them, stripping the casings off the chorizo, mashing it up, and adding it to the beef. I made big, fat burger patties, grilled them up, and piled them with Estrella’s Gaupier cheese and a sweet slather made with fresh figs and baby tomatoes that was just the right contrast for the spicy meat. If you’ve never tried an egg bun (or a bun made with something like challah), give it a whirl. I found great egg buns in the bread section of my neighborhood grocery store.

I’ll have to excuse myself. (Pound, pound.) My left hand is getting tired, and I think I should save it for the weekend.

Topless Chorizo Burger

Chorizo Burgers with Gaupier and Tomato-Fig Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 243 of 365

Made with a combination of lean, high-quality beef, spicy chorizo sausage, egg, breadcrumbs, Dijon, and Worcestershire sauce, these burgers are uber juicy and really the right size for a bun. If you don’t have access to Gaupier, the dense, flavorful cow’s milk cheese from Estrella Family Creamery with an ash line down the center, just use your favorite strong cheese – with the jam, something like a blue or a good, sharp cheddar will be best.

Use leftover sauce on sandwiches, or as a dip for homemade French fries or breakfast potatoes.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 big burgers

For the sauce:
2 cups baby red or yellow tomatoes (I used Sungolds), tops removed
8 small figs, stems removed
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the burgers:
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound chorizo sausage (2 large sausages), casings removed, meat chopped
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 slices Gaupier cheese, or similar strong cheese
4 hamburger buns, buttered and grilled
Miscellaneous burger accessories: tomato, avocado, lettuce, pickles, etc.

First, start the sauce: Place the tomatoes and figs in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse about 15 times, or until roughly chopped. Transfer to a small saucepan, add the ketchup and soy, season with salt and pepper, stir, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring only occasionally, or until thick.

Tomato-Fig Sauce

Preheat your grill on medium heat, or prepare a moderate charcoal fire.

Mix the beef, chorizo, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper in a big bowl until very well combined. (I use my hands, but a serving fork works well, too.) Divide the meat into four equal sections, and form each section into a large, roughly 3/4″ thick patty. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Grill burgers to desired doneness, adding the cheese to the burger just before taking off the grill. (The cheese is best only very slightly melted.) Slather the sauce on toasted buns, top with chorizo burgers and any desired accessories, and serve immediately.

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Filed under Beef, farmer's market, recipe

Sadness is being a Silpat

Roasting Veggies for sauce

Oh, I have done the unthinkable. I have ruined a Silpat, melted its magic silicon mixture into a disintegrating screen of mesh. I thought I was being clever by not using parchment paper when blackening tomatoes and peppers for salsa (I’ve made that mistake before), but it turns out I was only being slightly less stupid.

But really, who knew Silpats have a temperature limit? I thought they were bombproof. Heatproof. Meltproof. I was wrong. I thought it was just scarred at first, just a little darker than it had been before, but when I went to clean it, the little fibers along the edge just rolled up and melted away in my hands. (Thank goodness I didn’t scrape it into the food.) I took an X-ray, just to see how broken it was on the side I’d begun to clean:

Silpat X-ray

It’s broken. Goodbye, Silpat. (And also: can you recycle a Silpat? I guessed not.)

the silpat moves on

And yes, I touched my eyes after chopping the jalapeños. Again.

Grilled chipotle flank steak

Grilled Chipotle Flank Steak with Broiled Salsa (PDF)
Recipe 224 of 365

I don’t have such a hot reputation with the broiler – I tend to forget how hot it gets and burn things, which is exactly why salsa is perfect thing for me to use it for. Here, tomatoes, tomatillos, and bell and jalapeño peppers are roasted to a blackened crisp, peeled, blended, then “fried” over high heat on the stovetop to create a thick, spicy slather for tender, chipotle-rubbed, grilled flank steak. Eat the steak and salsa alone, or pile both into tacos.

This is a great recipe to prepare ahead (you can make the salsa up to 3 days ahead and marinate the steak the morning of), and throw on the grill when guests arrive.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, mostly 4 hours before serving
MAKES: 4 servings

For the steak:
2 large chipotle chilies (from a can, the kind in adobo sauce), finely chopped
Juice of 1 large lime
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 pounds flank steak

For the salsa:
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
3/4 pound tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 small jalapeño peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

About four hours before grilling, marinate the steak in the wet rub: Mix the chilies, lime juice, garlic, oil, cumin, salt, and chili powder in a small bowl until blended.

Chipotle wet rub

Rub the mixture on both sides of the flank steak, and refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 12 hours.

Make the salsa: Preheat the broiler on its highest setting. Place the tomatoes, tomatillos, and all peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil for 10 to 20 minutes (this will really depend on your broiler), turning occasionally, or until all sides of all the vegetables are completely blackened. (You may need to leave the bell pepper in a little longer than the other vegetables.) Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and seal with plastic wrap, and let sit at least 15 minutes, or until cool. (The steam generated by the vegetables will lift their skins off and make them easier to peel.)

Peel and seed peppers, peel tomatoes and tomatillos (but keep seeds), and transfer them all to the work bowl of a food processor, along with the garlic. Process until smooth.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then carefully pour in the salsa – it will splatter – and simmer, stirring, until the sauce darkens and thickens, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 days).

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill at medium-high heat, and grill the steak to desired doneness, about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes (this is a good time to reheat the salsa, if you want to serve it warm). Slice it across the grain, and serve with the salsa.

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Filed under Beef, mexican, recipe, vegetables

Everybody loves fish sauce

A staple ingredient in many southeast Asian kitchens is fish sauce, known as nam pla in Thai kitchens or nuoc mam (also spelled nuoc nam) in Vietnam. It’s basically fish wine, if you can stand to think of it that way – fish that’s been stacked in barrels and fermented with salt. But really, it tastes way better than it sounds. Just don’t spill it in your sleeping bag, like we heard friends of ours did recently.

Although the stir-fry beef available in most grocery stores will work for this recipe, it will really be best with high quality cuts (such as tenderloin) sliced very, very thin. I buy mine from a local rancher, or in the section that sells thin, gristle-free cuts of meat for shabu-shabu at my local Asian grocery. Serve simply over lettuce, or over a bed of chilled rice noodles.

For a pescetarian version, simply skip the beef and replace it with shredded carrots, green papaya, jicama, and perhaps a few peanuts or tofu pieces, if you’re looking for protein.

Vietnames beef and cucumber salad

Recipe for Vietnamese Beef and Cucumber Salad
Recipe 166 of 365

The dressing for this salad is based on Mark Bittman’s recipe for Neua Nam Tok, a grilled Vietnamese beef salad from The Best Recipes in the World.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 3 servings, or 4 servings over rice noodles

1/4 cup nuoc mam, nam pla, or other fish sauce
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha (chili-garlic sauce)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1-pound) English cucumber, sliced 1/16” thin on a mandolin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 packed cup mint leaves, torn into smaller pieces if large
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 pound thin-sliced beef for stir-frying, cut into bite-sized pieces, if necessary

Whisk the fish sauce, lime juice, shallot, garlic, sriracha, and sugar together in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cucumber slices and herbs, and toss to blend. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat. When hot, add the peanut oil, then the ginger, and stir once. Add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, or until no pink remains. Transfer the beef to a strainer and any liquid drain out while the beef cools, for about five minutes. Toss the beef with the cucumber mixture and serve immediately over lettuce or rice noodles, or refrigerate and serve the next day.

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Filed under Beef, recipe, stir-fry, vietnamese

A sandwich of commitment

Homemade Steak Bomb

On the eve of his departure (he’s headed to Korea for field work), Tito took one look at our leftover steak and channeled Nino, who must have been the big Italian dude in charge of the menu at Nino’s on Charles street in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where we lived a few years back. I never actually met Nino, but based on some of the subs the place offered, I don’t think it’s outrageous of me to assume he was a pretty hefty guy.

Our favorite was the steak sub, which we usually opted to convert into a steak and egg sandwich topped with melted provolone. We dubbed it The Steak Bomb, and when our 5th floor walk-up got hot in the summer, it somehow made everything better. Perhaps it was just cheaper than any of the salads sold on our street.

The S.B. was a toasty, buttery bun, loaded with hot sauteed onions and shaved steak that had been mixed with scrambled eggs, topped with a slab of provolone, and melted just enough, in the pizza oven, if I remember correctly. It was massive, and it was a sandwich of commitment. You know the type: once you pick it up, you either have to keep holding it and finish it, or put it down and risk having it explode with all its supernatural sandwich force all over your plate/lap/clothing.

Here’s our home version. Considerably smaller and much less greasy, but not for lack of trying. We just don’t have a twenty-year-old griddle, that’s all.

The Steak Bomb
Recipe 152 of 365

For some reason, writing out a letter-by-letter recipe for a steak bomb seems like utter sacrilege.

Here’s the idea:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and heat a big cast iron pan over medium heat. Melt a hunk of butter in the pan. Open up two big hoagie rolls and smear the insides around in the melted butter. Toast them in the oven for a few minutes, until just colored around the edges.

Add a little olive oil to the pan, and saute half an onion, sliced very thin, for about 10 minutes, or until good and brown. Add a mess of thinly sliced leftover steak (about 1/2 pound), and some bell peppers, if you please, and saute until you get that good meat aroma going.

(Did you forget about the rolls? Put them on a baking sheet, this could get messy.)

Skooch the onions and steak to the edges of the pan, and add a bit more butter to the center of the skillet. Crack in two eggs, let them cook there until the whites begin to gel a bit, then scramble them in the center of the pan. Mix them up with the steak and onions.

Fry time

Put a little cheese on the buns. (Provolone would be ideal, mozzarella or cheddar would work; I used string cheese, because hey, you got what you got.) Pile the steak/onion/egg mixture into the buns, and slap some more cheese on top.

Bake the sandwiches until the cheese is good and melty, about 5 minutes on the top rack.

Now, eat it. Without putting it down.

Eating a steak bomb

And no, using the sweat from your beer glass to clean your hands afterwards is not shameful.


Filed under Beef, husband, recipe, sandwich

Keeping it simple

As predicted, the wedding last weekend was fun and deeply moving, and if I hadn’t gone I’d have regretted missing it for a long, long time.

New England(ish) was still in this thing they call winter, a season my rhubarb reminds me never really existed here. The rehearsal dinner was a potluck, and each time the door opened and new guests arrived with snow on their coats, I dug mentally deeper and deeper into the big lodge where the wedding was held, enjoying the way the three families – the bride’s family, and the families of both sets of the groom’s parents – held all the guests in close, like we were all in a big cocoon together, waiting for a metamorphosis.

And a metomorphosis it was. One moment everyone was milling about sort of aimlessly, picking at what I think was a maple syrup-spiked Fluff dip for apples, and the next a big oak table groaned with the groom’s mother’s paella, risotto, curries, macaroni and cheese, and a plethora of colorful layered salads whose recipes could only have come from a salad dressing bottle. There was plenty to eat, but it was all so much simpler than the usual wedding hoopla, which brought the focus squarely on the reason we were there. It was wonderful.

One of the dishes on the buffet table at the rehearsal dinner was some sort of chicken tetrazzini, a staple from the family of American dinner foods I’ve only had a handful of times and have never tried to make. I’m so unused to this type of dish; I didn’t grow up eating it. It’s as foreign to me (and as intriguing, if you must know) as, say, Korean food, which I know next to nothing about but will have no choice but to delve into soon, as my husband just signed on to do a project near Seoul over the next few years. (Don’t worry, we’re not moving.)

Anyway, the tetrazzini – it was a creamy chicken dish, topped with something I forgot to identify and completely devoid of any vegetable-like object that might offer the slightest bit of color. It was fabulous. My husband and I ate it cold for lunch the next day, standing at the sink after cross-country skiing. It gave me what my friend Megan calls a BFO, a blinding flash of the obvious: I don’t know how to cook what most of America eats. It’s probably better for my health, but it’s also making me curious. How the hell DO you make tuna casserole?

I still haven’t been to the grocery store, which explains the allure of quick-fix dishes right now. Here’s what my kitchen provided. I loved it. I ate it for lunch, then sat at the computer for the rest of the afternoon craving salad. Then we almost finished it for dinner, using our fingers to wipe down the inside of the casserole dish before we put the rest away for tomorrow.

Shepherd's Pie

Recipe for Simple Shepherd’s Pie
Recipe 100 of 365

Creamy homemade mashed potatoes top a simple mixture of ground beef and onions for this homey, hearty shout-out to the last days of winter in places like New York state’s Adirondack mountains, where last weekend brought still more snow. This is also a relatively inexpensive meal.

TIME: About 1 hour (not all active time)
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 medium russet potatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion (red or white), diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 stick unsalted butter (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk, plus more, if needed
Paprika, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place potatoes in a saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are completely tender all the way through (just about when the skins begin to split), 30 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, start the meat: heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so, then add the beef and cook, stirring frequently and using a wooden spoon to break the pieces up, until the meat is completely cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain off any excess fat. Add the tomato paste, stir to combine, and season to taste again with salt and pepper.

When they’re cooked through, drain the potatoes. Add the butter, cream, and milk to the empty potato pan, and cook over low heat until the butter has just melted. Peel the potatoes while they’re still hot (use a dishcloth or an oven mitt to protect your hands, if necessary), add them to the pot with the milk, and mash thoroughly, adding a little more milk, if necessary, to achieve a mashed potato consistency that’s a little softer than what you’d put on a plate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pile the meat into an 11” x 7” baking dish, and smooth it into an even layer. Add the potatoes, and spread them out so they reach all the way to the edge of the dish on all sides. Sprinkle with paprika and bake on the top rack for 20 minutes, or until just beginning to brown. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Shepherd's Pie top

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Filed under Beef, recipe

Doing without

This cell phone conversation annoys me:

Person 1: Hello?

Person 2: Hi, it’s me, how are you?

Person 1: Fine, but I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now, I’m busy. Can I call you back later?

Person 2 thinks: Then why did you answer the phone?

It represents an epidemic of permanent indecisiveness, the fact that many people (myself included) are no longer capable of making a conscious choice between, say, doing what they’re doing on the computer and talking to the person on the other end of the phone. I’m as guilty as the next person: I always try to do both. It makes me crazy, so I’m trying to be better about deciding where to spend my time and then following up on that decision.

Case in point: Passover. Last week, when I realized Passover was approaching, I decided not to hold or attend a seder. I’m Jewish by religious law and the nose on my face, but I celebrate Passover the way most people celebrate Thanksgiving or Saint Patrick’s Day; for me, it’s about the food and the people and the stories and all that other schmaltzy stuff, not about God. I thought that making dinner would overtake the things I was supposed to remember and be thankful for, and figured I should choose one or the other over doing a bad job at both. So, I admit, doing without Passover this year was actually a conscious attempt to save time, one I’d planned to stick to until the 5 o’clock light came glinting in through the kitchen window late yesterday afternoon.

Then I got a little sad. I remembered the funny, irreverent seder service I’d found online last year and shared with friends who had never seen a seder plate, and started craving the brisket recipe my friend Rachel shared with me once for a piece I wrote on the holiday. I lassoed the dog and nonchalantly headed out on a walk, knowing full well that I’d end up at the grocery store even though we had perfectly serviceable leftovers in the fridge. I’d just pick up a small brisket, some whole-berry cranberry sauce, and Lipton onion soup mix and throw it in the oven. (Didn’t know white trash casserole cooking could collide with Jewish holiday cuisine? Oh, yes.)

By the time I got to the store, visions of matzo balls danced in my head. But the store didn’t have brisket, the cranberry sauce, or any form of any matzo product left.

So I improvised. I grabbed the cheapest cut of meat I could find, in this case a top round roast, and decided to nix the matzo ball soup. I used dried cranberries in place of the sauce, and still made it home in time to put it all in the oven by six, so we could eat around 8.

While we waited for the roast to braise, my husband and I sat at the kitchen counter, nibbling on the awesome pate I’d made a few days earlier (thank you, Jacques). I looked down at the perfect little croutons I’d made, feeling slightly guilty that I hadn’t put the effort into a real seder, or at least found a box of that good onion matzo for the pate.

Then I shrugged, and forgot about it. Because in the kitchen, what’s Passover about, if not just doing what you can with the ingredients and the time you have? (If you’re screaming “sacrilege!,” I agree.)

Recipe for Braised Top Round for Passover
Recipe 93 of 365

This is a version of a brisket my friend Rachel Horwitz’s family makes, only it uses top round instead of brisket, tomato sauce instead of ketchup, real onions instead of powdered, and dried cranberries instead of cranberry sauce. So it’s not really the same at all, but it’s what I was going for. You can also leave out the flour, if you’re avoiding chametz.

TIME: 35 minutes prep, plus 2 hours cooking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2 1/2 pound) top round roast
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups red wine
1 (1-ounce) package Lipton or Kosher-for-Passover Onion Soup Mix
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 pound (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a heavy, ovenproof pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven) over medium heat on the stovetop. Place the flour on a plate, and season it liberally with salt and pepper. Roll the roast in the flour mixture, coating it on all sides. (Reserve the flour for later use.) When the pot is hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl the pan to coat. Add the roast and brown it for 4 to 5 minutes per side, for about 25 minutes total, or until well browned on all sides, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning. Transfer the meat to a clean plate and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pot, then the onions, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften. Add the remaining flour to the onions, and stir to coat them on all sides. Cook for about a minute, then increase the heat to high and add the wine, scraping any remaining brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. When the mixture begins to simmer and has thickened a bit, remove the pot from the heat. Add the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Slide the meat back into the liquid, spoon some of the liquid over the meat, cover the pot, and cook for one hour. Carefully turn the meat over, replace the cover, and cook another hour, or until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with tongs.

Transfer the meat only to a cutting board, and slice thinly against the grain. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and return the sliced meat to the pan. Serve hot, as is, with bread, or over rice, gnocchi, mashed potatoes, Israeli couscous, or polenta.


Filed under Beef, jewish, recipe

Steeled for something worse

I took this photo when we were here in Seattle last spring, me for the IACP conference and my husband for his UW interview:

The old view of the coffee cup

How trite it seemed. How usual. But this picture can be taken no longer, because there’s now a bigger, flashier sign right above the cup for Steelhead Diner, which opened quietly on February 1st (right on time!).

I’ll admit I was hesitant to eat at Steelhead. Its killer location overlooking the market and the sound sort of guarantees it a spot in tourists’ hearts. I steeled myself for uninventive fish-focused fare and loud midwesterners. But when I went for lunch yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised.

First and foremost, Steelhead has captured the “upscale diner” atmosphere quite successfully. There are three long eating counters (one at a bar) with appropriately chrome-trimmed barstools, sure enough, but they’re sleek and black and I don’t think they’re pleather. Cool ocean tones, tons of natural light, and a big collage of soothing photographs that whispers sweet nothings about how much the place values local, sustainable agriculture really work in the big second floor space.

Sure, Steelhead offers enough of the tried-and-true tourist menu items like fish and chips to satisfy the masses, but it also gives a few wink-winks to Seattle that only local foodies will understand, putting it many notches above tourist traps (with admittedly nice views) like the Athenian Inn. And when they say local, they mean local – the menu is full of ingredients from Beecher’s, Chukar Cherries, and Uli’s Sausages, all within spitting distance of the front door.

There are a few requisite diner items on the menu – a double chocolate sundae, for one – but other than the Alaskan King salmon and the crabcake, there really aren’t too many items that I’d call boring, which is what I feared. Even the Caesar salad (which they call a Brutus Salad) seems to have gotten a face lift with a roasted pine nut gremolata. Must go back and taste it.

We started with crispy chicken spring rolls. I hate most euphemisms, but using “crispy chicken” in place of “fried chicken” is okay with me, because sometimes it’s best to sneak fried food into people’s diets (ahem, please excuse what I was saying yesterday). With the clean, fresh taste of spring roll wrappers and the deep, satisfying flavor of fried chicken, they were the ultimate Asian roll compromise. But here the menu stopped corresponding to the food that hit the table. The “whirred ginger vinaigrette” sent as a dipping sauce for the rolls was more of a pungent wasabi vinaigrette (with only a very little taste of ginger), the “green papaya salad” that came along for the ride looked to us like a fennel and red cabbage slaw. We asked the waitress for an explanation, and she said the green papaya wasn’t actually big enough to taste. So, you mean, it’s, like, in sauce form? She assured us it was in there. But when our Wagyu beef burger came accented with the same slaw, we decided that there was in fact a green papaya salad available somewhere; it just didn’t make it onto the spring roll plate. Too bad.

I was so excited to see Armandino’s air cured beef bresaola (how DO you pronounce that?) on the menu; I tried almost everything Salumi sells once when I was interviewing him for a piece for the Cape Cod Times but didn’t get to try the bresaola. The beef itself was great, and the apple/hazelnut salad on top was appropriately lemony and crunchy, but the whole thing had been so drowned in olive oil that my dining companion resorted to blotting the beef off on her (cloth) napkin before eating it.

We split the burger (which was identified on the menu as S.R.F. beef, hey maybe S.R.F. is the next E.V.O.O., go Idaho!), a perfectly grilled patty served with plenty of Beecher’s Flagship cheddar and nestled into fresh baguette halves. All of Steelhead’s sandwiches are served on these baguettes, but somehow they’ve avoided the baguette sandwich problem, where the sandwich looks appealing and the bread is tasty, but the sheer volume and crunchy texture of the bread makes the sandwich a) impossible to get the thing in your mouth and b) scrape against the roof of your mouth every time you take a bite, leaving you to wonder whether you’re drooling blood by the time you’re finished eating. Repeat, no baguette sandwich problems here. Next time I’m going for the Dungeness crab roll, which flirted with me when it walked by on its way to someone else’s stomach: “Jess,” it said. “You haven’t eaten Dungeness crab yet in Seattle.”

Anyway, we also ordered smothered collard greens as a side, which were appropriately smoky and just a bit spicier than I make them, which I appreciated. I’m hankering after their hominy cakes even though I’ve never tried them, just becuase I’m on this hominy kick (I think), so those’ll have to happen soon, too.

Anyway. It wasn’t perfect. But the rest of the menu at Steelhead Diner looks fabulous, and although there were some major inconsistencies between what was on the menu and what came to our table, I was happy enough with my meal to plan a return.

And the bresaola did turn out to be a good thing. I took home our leftovers, and fitted the bresaola slices into muffin cups, as my lunch companion had so cleverly suggested.

Bresaola Cup 2

To make bresaola cups:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange 12 thin bresaola slices (available at Trader Joe’s, I think) on a cuttting board, and spray them on both sides with a little olive oil spray. Fit them into each of a muffin tin’s 12 cups, using your fingers to gently press the beef into the corners of the cups. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the beef is browned and crispy, and drain on paper towels.

Fill them with cruncy stuff for appetizers or salad centerpieces: I made a quick mixture of chopped granny smith apple, chopped toasted pistachios, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil. How about fennel, parmesan, arugula, and parsley? Or even better: tomatoes, olives, capers, and goat cheese? Go crazy.

Apologies for the lack of links. I’m not sure why, but each time I enter them and save the post they seem to be erased automatically . . .

Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon


Filed under appetizers, Beef, recipe, review, Seattle

Raving about a Reuben

I’m not typically a huge fan of Reubens. They’re in husband territory, along with gumbo and club sandwiches; I just don’t order them. But the other day we met some folks at Stevens Pass who raved about 74th Street Ale House‘s Reuben when they heard we lived a few blocks away. I finally tried it, and I am a changed woman.

Warm, salty corned beef is squished between two butter-infused, crispy, toasty slabs of rye along with melted Swiss, some sort of yummy mayonnaise-based saucey concoction, and a piquant red sauerkraut. It tasted more like sauerkraut than like pickled cabbage, but since I walk by the place every day and never smell the lovely stench that usually accompanies the sauerkraut-making process; I can’t be sure. Maybe they have a supplier for red sauerkraut (the Food Network has what looks like a quick recipe for that). Or maybe it’s just pickled red cabbage.

Here’s the history of the Reuben, as delivered by The Food Lover’s Companion:

Reportedly originally named for its creator, Arthur Reuben (owner of New York’s once-famous and now-defunct Reuben’s delicatessen), this sandwich is made with generous layers of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on sourdough rye bread. Reuben is said to have created the original version (which was reportedly made with ham) for Annette Seelos, the leading lady in a Charlie Chaplin film being shot in 1914. Another version of this famous sandwich’s origin is that an Omaha wholesale grocer (Reuben Kay) invented it during a poker game in 1955. It gained national prominence when one of his poker partner’s employees entered the recipe in a national sandwich contest the following year . . . and won. The Reuben sandwich can be served either cold or grilled.

Since I thought it might be suspicious if I showed up the next day to order another Reuben, I made my own pickled red cabbage. My Reuben, layered with turkey and Jarlsberg, was not quite as good (read: not as buttery and with no mayo, and probably with a lot less saturated fat), but perfectly adequate for my midday meal:

Grilled Turkey Reuben

And later the same day, pickled cabbage on salad:

Pickled Cabbage on Salad!

Recipe for Pickled Red Cabbage
Recipe 41 of 365

A most versatile of condiments. . .add this to sandwiches or salads, or even soups, for a crunchy topping with a good vinegar bite. It’s a great way to use up leftover cabbage.

TIME: 5 minutes, plus pickling time
MAKES: about 2 packed cups pickled cabbage

1/2 red cabbage
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Using a long serrated knife, slice the cabbage very thinly, then cut the shreds in half lengthwise, so no piece is longer than about 3 inches.

In a deep mixing bowl, toss the cabbage with the remaining ingredients, and let the mixture marinate on the counter for about 2 hours, stirring the ingredients every 15 minutes or so (or when you happen to walk by). The cabbage will begin to give up its liquid and color after about 30 minutes; it’s done when the cabbage is uniformly beet red.

Refrigerate the cabbage for up to 2 weeks, using as needed.


Filed under Beef, Lunch, recipe, review, vegetables

Brave Big Boys

Last weekend one of my husband’s colleagues lost a parent-in-law. We haven’t gotten to know the family particularly well yet, but learning about their ordeal was heartbreaking. On top of their obviously tragic loss, they’re faced with the monumental challenge of explaining to their 2- and 4-year old boys why Mommy can’t be at home for a few weeks. Daddy has to parent by himself for a while (I can’t even begin to comprehend how one parent would explain to a kid that the other parent was lost to war), and while I’m sure both Mommy and Daddy are emotionally equipped enough to deal with all this, I couldn’t help but feel like we should be doing something to help.

So this is how casseroles came to be. This feeling, this utter helplessness, this wish that sad things didn’t have to happen to anyone, is what has driven people for centuries to stir up a pot of Something and bring it over with a big label that says “comfort.” This is what I love about cooking, and about life in general: I love that even in the saddest times, something inspires us to give to others. I love that thousands of people gave their time to help Katrina victims. I love that people walk hundreds of miles to raise AIDS awareness. I love that each person has to give back to society in their own way, and that we can’t all do it in celebrity style. I hope that Daddy will come home tonight, throw some healthy, homemade spaghetti sauce in the microwave, and have a pasta dinner on the table without any fuss, so that he can bathe the boys and put them to bed and still have enough energy to comfort Mommy, probably exhausted from comforting others, when she calls.

I’m often embarrassed, even ashamed, that I don’t give as much as I could – to homeless people, to food banks, to cancer research fundrasiers. But sometimes I’m also relieved, especially being so new to a place, that I already have a more immediate community that lets me help in much smaller, more personal ways. I can’t claim to have helped rebuild New Orleans in any way (I don’t think I gave a cent toward reconstruction). And Mommy and Daddy definitely didn’t need my help, but I felt needed because I gave it. (So maybe I’m just selfish. But I’m going to ignore that problem today.)

I somehow feel better knowing that the two little boys who maybe haven’t yet understood who’s died, or why Mommy’s sad, will be full and happy tonight. That is, if they eat spaghetti.

Bolognese for one

Recipe for Big Boy Bolognese
Recipe 33 of 365

Inspired by the Italian squeeze-tube product my friend Michaela told me about last week (onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, all chopped up and ready to squeeze out of a tube), this recipe starts with pureed vegetables, so you get a kid-friendly sauce texture (no icky chunks!) but the full adult flavor of all the aromatics.

This batch is big; it should easily make about three meals for four, if you’re serving it with a salad and garlic bread. Serve the sauce over pasta, with plenty of Parmesan cheese.

TIME: 45 minutes active time, plus about 1 hour simmering
MAKES: 12 servings

3 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
6 ribs celery, chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 (375 mL) bottle dry red wine, minus a glass for the cook
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes in heavy puree*

In the work bowl of a large food processor fitted with the blade attachment, grind the onions as finely as possible; they’ll be almost liquidy. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the olive oil, then carefully add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. (Note: if you don’t have a big food processor, using a small one will be a long, painful process. Consider chopping by hand and settling for a chunkier sauce.)

While the onions cook, chop the carrots in the processor until extremely fine, and add them to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Process the celery and the garlic together in the same manner, add to the pot along with 1 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Increase the heat to high, and add the beef to the vegetable mixture, breaking it up as you drop it in. Cook the meat, stirring every minute or so and regulating the heat as needed, until no pink remains, about 10 minutes. Drain off any excess fat, if desired (I used 90% lean beef and chose not to drain the fat off).

Add the herbs and the cream, and stir to blend. Adjust the heat to a strong simmer and cook the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cream has reduced and almost all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the wine and repeat with the simmering process, stirring occasionally until there is barely any liquid left. (This should take about 15 minutes). Add the canned tomatoes, stir to blend, and cook at a low simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, or until the sauce is much thicker.

Season the sauce with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste, you may want a little more than that) and pepper, and serve warm.

To freeze, let the sauce cool to room temperature before dividing it between 3 (or 4) quart-sized plastic containers. Refrigerate the sauce without the tops on overnight, then seal and freeze.

* You can also substitute diced tomatoes for one or both cans of the crushed tomatoes, if you want tomato chunks.

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Filed under Beef, commentary, Pasta, recipe