Category Archives: Pasta

Sting

Best Nettle PEsto

It stings a little, deep down, when I have to admit that it hurts to dry my hair. It’s not a yelping pain or a whimpering pain, just a constant, low-level annoyance. At first, when I’m giving the ‘do the initial all-over heat blast, there’s just general arm fatigue. Then, when I get down to the nitty gritty, with the brush twirling, my hands start to cramp–first my wrists, then my fingers. Despite all the formal medical indications of lupus, having trouble with the hairdryer is, for me, the single most dependable symptom.

But yes, here it is: March. This is the time of year when lupus gets to me. It’s as predictable as the camellia bush by our front door, only nowhere near as pretty. The days lengthen, and the wind whips, and my body sags. Life starts to sting. When people ask how I’m feeling, like they often do, it feels strange to want to say, “I’m good, except for the hair-drying part.” (Thank goodness I have a good haircut.)

It does make me feel a bit better to hit the farmers’ market around the Ides of March, where you can’t walk two stalls without tripping over some poor sprout of a vegetable who’s clearly had a rough week also. Take stinging nettles, which are sold in half-pound plastic bags all spring at Seattle-area markets. They were just napping on a wet hillside somewhere, so innocently, when someone came and snipped them out of the ground, probably cursing at them. Nettles aren’t like tomatoes or apples; no one ever wants to touch them. People just stare and point, and then, in most cases, walk right by.

I like nettles for three reasons:

1.They’re really easy to cook.
With a lot of other dark leafy greens, there’s washing and chopping and futzing involved. Not nettles. Sure, they sting if you touch them. That always works to my advantage. It gives me an excuse to upend that big bag of greens and dump them directly into boiling water, instead of spending any time worrying about sticks or bugs. (P.S. Boiling water kills things.)

2. They taste great.
I like to think of the taste of nettles as somewhere between mint and spinach. They have a fabulous affinity for pestos, so every year, usually when I start getting cranky about the weather, I make a pesto with whatever nut and herb combination happens to inspire me at the moment. This week, I went for tradition, with a hint of lemon.

3.Nettles don’t last.
They’re weeds. They’re wild. They sting. But like anything worth eating, they have a definite season. And since my complaints generally line up pretty well with their growing season, it’s often quite nice to focus equal attention on their appearance and disappearance.

I have an anti-lupus music compilation on my computer called “A Mix for Sunnier Times.” It’s a cacophonous mismatch of tunes, everything from Scooter Lee to Bill Withers to ZZ Top. Every song has to do with the sun. (This is a little ironic, because lupus is exacerbated by sun exposure.) I forget about it every year, only to rediscover it in March. And every time I sit down, feeling blah, and hear the synthesizer notes alternating between earphones as I Wear My Sunglasses at Night starts blasting, I feel a little brighter.

After all, nothing lasts forever.

Nettle Pesto Close

Spaghetti with Fresh Peas and Lemony Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Stinging nettles are delicious edible weeds with a layer of prickly hairs on the sunny side of each leaf. They will sting if you touch them raw—but cooking them denatures the sting, rendering them perfect fodder for a springtime pesto. Add chopped grilled chicken, if you’re looking for a bit more heft.

Active time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

1/2 pound fresh nettles
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 cup fresh peas

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the nettles. Dump them into the water (don’t touch them!) and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Drain in a colander, then squeeze as dry as possible, using a kitchen towel to wring out extra water, if necessary. (You should have about a cup of nettles.)

Whirl the nettles, garlic, pine nuts, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. With the machine on, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whirling until combined. Pulse in the cheese, then season to taste. Set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions, adding the peas to the cooking water about 3 minutes before the pasta is done. Reserve a cupful of the cooking water.

Strain the peas and pasta, then return them to the pot, along with 1/2 cup of the pesto and about 1/4 cup of the cooking water (you may need more or less, depending on how loose you like your pasta sauce).

Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional cheese.

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Filed under lupus, Pasta, recipe

Stung

Bucatini with Garlicky Nettle Pesto 2

Stinging nettles taste green and earthy and wild, like cooked spinach would in a teen Goth stage – not surprising, considering they’re usually foraged in the wild and eaten relatively young. But as I’ve told you before, they come by their name honestly. Resist the urge to touch them or play with them as you dump them into a pot of simmering water to tame their poisonous attitude. When they’re raw, they sting.

Cooked, though. Cooked, a tangle of nettles whirls up into a beautiful pesto, more deeply flavorful than its basiled cousin and a better bed buddy for four large cloves of garlic. Last night, I made a fairly traditional pesto, only with the nettles, and smeared it on a marinated, roasted leg of lamb, so each bite had two punches of spring. Today, when I found myself standing at the stove, hands shoved deep into my back pockets while I slurped long bucatini directly out of the cooking pot I’d used to stir them with the leftover pesto, I knew I had a recipe to share.

That was yesterday. I wrote all that – what you see above there – and then I found out that dear Kim Ricketts had passed away. There will be no more writing about nettles.

Kim was the mama of Seattle’s food scene, a literary powerhouse who brought people together for the love of food and books. I can’t say I knew her well, but I knew her well enough to be touched by her energy and her kindness. And now, the morning after the news, yesterday’s recipe seems so appropriate, because what I really feel is stung. I feel scraped raw. And I don’t know how to begin mourning someone whose soul and spunk was so immortal.

So scratch the pasta. I mean, it was good, but scratch it. Make this pesto, and take it to someone you don’t see that often, someone whose light and effervescence makes the world a better place. And thank them for being alive.

Pot of pasta with nettle pesto

Garlicky Nettle Pesto (PDF)
Although most Seattleites find nettles at farmers’ markets this time of year, they’re also often available at Whole Foods Markets. Buy a bunch when you can, and double or triple this recipe, as needed, and freeze some, because my fortune-telling powers tell me you’ll want to twirl the pesto up with long pasta again long after the season has passed. If you have time to be thoughtful and a bit patient, you can add toasted breadcrumbs, for a bit of crunch, or chopped sundried tomatoes.

Time: 25 minutes active time
Makes: 1 generous cup

1/2 pound nettles
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer for the nettles. Add the nettles directly from their bag and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes. (This denatures their sting.) Dump into a colander to drain. When the nettles are cool enough to handle, wrap them in a clean dishtowel and wring out as much moisture as possible, like you would for spinach. You’ll have about a cup of cooked, squished nettles.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, whirl the garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper to taste until finely chopped. Add the nettles, breaking them up as you drop them in, and the lemon juice and whirl until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Add the cheese, pulse briefly, and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice.

46 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, grains, Lunch, Modern, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

How to Defibrillate Dying Kale

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic 1

It’s not a pretty picture, so you’re not going to see it. But open your own refrigerator, and chances are good you could find the same thing: a few little kale saplings, melting into the produce drawer’s back corner, so long ago forgotten that they must now pretend they don’t exist.

Our refrigerator is only 5 days old. But I bought the kale well before its predecessor was wheeled off to the morgue, and unfortunately, a new refrigerator cannot act as a defibrillator for oldish produce.

Truth: Buying a new appliance is much easier than cleaning out an old one. But I didn’t have the heart to leave the kale behind. It always strikes me as The Thing That Can Be Saved.

Kale, in its market prime, is physically spunky, and stubborn enough that it often refuses to be tucked into whatever space I assign it. Two weeks past its peak, it’s a little less sexy. It sags. But really, I promise you: You don’t need to throw it away.

sauteing kale and garlic for pasta

First, it might be worth mentioning that I’m on a pasta binge. Perhaps it started when I was working on a story about healthy pasta alternatives—quinoa, spelt, whole grain rice, and soba noodles sure do make a gal crave the old fashioned kind—or maybe it’s just this winter thing. In any event, I could eat plain white pasta three meals a day right now. Paired with the insanely peppery olive oil Jim’s aunt schlepped back from Italy for us, and maybe a little Parmesan cheese, spaghetti fits my current definition of the lip-smacking perfect food. (I tell you this with corroboration from my 9-month-old, who keeps imitating me chewing when I eat it.)

So you’ll pardon me, I hope, when I tell you that this kale saver actually seems like the complicated version. But there’s not much to it. You sauté very finely chopped kale in great olive oil, with a little spice, until it’s threatening to crisp up on you. Stir in some garlic, then some cooked spaghetti, Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon, and sit down.

It’s important, though, that you take a seat away from your computer, and away from any reading materials. You’ll need your full mental capacity (at least, I needed mine) to focus on the little bite-by-bite cross section of spicy, sour, and earthy. And then you’ll need some more kale. And time, perhaps, although I’d be willing to wager this would work with a brand-new bunch.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  3

Simple Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon and Garlic (PDF)

Made with a few sprigs of leftover kale, great olive oil, and a touch of spice, this simple lunch for one is quick and reasonably healthy. Double or quadruple the recipe as needed, piling the extra kale on top at the end.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 1 lunch

Spaghetti for one (a bundle about the diameter of a dime)
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs lacinato kale (droopy kale is fine), very finely chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.

When the pasta is almost done, heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the kale, red pepper flakes to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 or 4 minutes, until the kale starts to get a bit crisp. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add drained pasta, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese, and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Kale, Lemon, and Garlic  (gone)

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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, recipe, vegetables, vegetarian

The food fairy

***PLEASE NOTE*** The name,”The Food Fairy,” is federally trademarked by North Carolina personal chef Terri McClernon. For more information about her business and services, please visit her site here.

Bean Bright Veg Salad 4

Today, I’m on KUOW talking about how preparing great food ahead of time makes me feel like there’s a food fairy in the fridge. It works like this: I get hungry, I open the door, and boom – there she is, all twinkles and glitter, handing me the perfect mayo-less pasta salad.

Unlike more typical pasta salads, in this one, it’s the vegetables (and a good hit of vinegar) that shine. Crisp corn, juicy cherry tomatoes, and summer’s best green beans compete for attention in each bite. Instead of the usual dairy component, the salad gets its creaminess from white beans—which means it’s also packed with protein.

Oh, how I love the food fairy.

If you listened in, here are the other make-ahead recipes I mentioned:

Quick Bulgur Salad with Corn, Feta, and Basil (PDF)
Sausage and Summer Vegetable Strata (PDF)
Lulu’s Carnivore-Friendly Vegan Banana Pancakes (PDF)
Basil-Champagne Vinaigrette (PDF)

Bean and Bright Vegetable Salad (PDF)
TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup orzo or other small pasta
1/4 pound thin green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1/2” pieces
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/4 cup champagne wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Kernels from 1 large ear corn
1 (15-ounce) can white or Great Northern beans, drained, or 1 cup dried beans, soaked and cooked
2 cups baby tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Cook the orzo for 7 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Add the green beans, cook 2 more minutes, and drain them both together.

Meanwhile, whisk the mustard, shallot, vinegar, olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Add the hot pasta and beans as soon as they’ve been drained, then stir in the corn and beans. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then fold in the tomatoes and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. (Salad can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, up to 5 days.)

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Filed under gluten-free, Pasta, radio, recipe, salad, vegetarian

Crash

Creamy Chicken Casserole close

It’s been a tense week, here in this house. My hard drive crashed.

It wasn’t ahead-on collision. More of a series of fender-benders, repeated with such dependable idiocy that I could have told you, one year ago today, that total disintegration was inevitable. Like that concrete post in the parking garage you always narrowly miss, until the day you don’t.

She’s a drama queen, this one. Every time she misstepped—I hate to be sexist, but this computer has to be a she—she’d give me this whole back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead song and dance about being worked so hard, when really, her extra memory was just installed wrong from the beginning.

This week, she just couldn’t take it any more. We’ve been talking, since she came out of the ER, and she explained it was the technological version of a complete mental breakdown. Sometimes a black screen and a white blinking cursor are all one can muster.

I know what’s done is done, but I can’t help thinking that maybe it’s all my fault. That after months and months of feeding this computer recipes and photographs, without actual flavors, she finally cracked, with a close-up of what to her just looked like creamy mac and givemesome.

Anyway. I’m giving her a second chance, because without her, I simply felt naked. I’m depending on her, even though last night, she was nothing more than a paperweight. (That’s when Jim picked her up and shook her. Sort of like a defibrillator, I suppose.)

I’m trying to go easy on her—trying not to get mad when I have to reload all my applications, like one does with a new machine. Even though I can still only see my photographs in miniature, and I can’t seem to edit them. Even though I have to find passwords to everything all over again. Even though I haven’t installed Office yet, and the temporary version doesn’t have a print function. (Why would one want to use a version of Word that doesn’t print, I ask?)

So for today, just a recipe, the very warm, gooey, comforting recipe whose photographs may or may not have sent her into the coma. If I could open up the CD slot and shovel a bite or two in, I’m sure she’d be happy, but alas, it’s not the kind of drive that slides out, and my husband would be so angry if I fed pasta casserole to the computer he’s spent two late, late nights fixing.

So for now, I’ll focus her little eye on me, eating the leftovers of a recipe sparked by the one for modern turkey tetrazzini in Food & Wine. I’ll be her seeing eye human—or wait, would that be tasting mouth human, then?—and tell her how the goat cheese-spiked sauce slides over roasted chicken, mushrooms, peas, and caramelized onions with just the right speed, lingering only as long as it takes for me to dig another crunchy-topped piece of rigatoni out of the bowl. She’d recommend stirring in a sprinkle of crispy bacon, I think. (I can’t imagine her skimping on anything.)

“Why didn’t you put something red in?” she’ll ask, when you’re not here. I’ll explain that it might have looked better, but when you’re making Cream of Refrigerator Casserole, with all the things that need to be used, there isn’t always something red available. (Like memory, I’ll remind her, if I can’t leave well enough alone.)

And besides, if it’s going to be called “casserole,” peas and mushrooms are the rule. At least, they’re my rule, for my first (ever) homemade casserole. And they made it just what it needed to be: Creamy. Filling. Comforting. A little old-school. And quite delicious.

For a version as creamy as the top photo, substitute crushed potato chips for the breadcrumb topping and bake just 10 minutes.

Creamy Chicken Casserole bowl

Creamy Chicken, Mushroom, and Green Pea Casserole (Word Doc)

Updated a bit with goat cheese, whole wheat pasta, and caramelized onions, this casserole (inspired by a recipe for Modern Turkey Tetrazzini in Food & Wine magazine) skips the can-of-soup approach, to good effect.

This recipe requires doing a few things at once—please read through it before beginning, so you don’t miss a step.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

For the casserole:
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, halved, cut into 1/4” slices
2 whole chicken legs (legs and thighs together, about 1 1/2 pounds total)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
6 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 pound whole wheat rigatoni, or other bite-sized pasta
6 ounces goat cheese
1 cup frozen peas

For the topping:
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the onion slices, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden brown.

Once the onions have started, rub the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil onto the chicken’s skin. Season with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, chop the meat (reserving bones for stock) and set aside.

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

Make the sauce: Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan. When melted, add the flour, and stir and cook at a bare bubble for a minute or two. Add the broth in a slow, steady stream, while whisking—the sauce will first thicken, then thin out. Add 1/2 cup of the cream, then slowly bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2 minutes at a simmer, until the sauce is thick and velvety. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the onions are golden, add the mushrooms and herbs to that pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 20 minutes, until the onions are a deep brown and the mushrooms have given up all their water. Add the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and stir for a minute, scraping any brown bits up off the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente, according to package instructions. While it’s cooking, mix the topping ingredients together in a bowl until moist. (I find fingertips work best.)

Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and stir in the onion/mushroom mixture, along with the sauce, the goat cheese (crumbled), the peas, and the reserved chopped chicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer the mixture to a 9” x 13” pan (or two 8” x 8” pans). Top with the breadcrumbs, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles and the topping is lightly browned.

Let cool until the bubbling stops, then serve warm.

Creamy Chicken Casserole pan

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Filed under chicken, leftovers, Pasta, recipe

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

new noodle soup

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

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

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

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

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

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

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

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

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

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

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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

Good Sticky

Sticky Tofu Noodles

HIM: Thanks. What’s this?

ME: Soba noodles with cashew butter sauce, with scallions, cilantro, lime, tofu, sesame. . .

HIM: (Chewing.) Mmm. That’s good sticky.

I meant to sprinkle them with chopped cashews, but it never happened. My day didn’t suffer.

Sticky Tofu Noodles with Cashews and Lime (PDF)
Recipe 354 of 365

Swirls of soba noodles with a hearty cashew sauce, cubes of earthy tofu, and a smattering of scallions and cilantro make a perfect weekend lunch. Enjoy them when they’re hot, or pack them up to take skiing, and reheat them (along with a tablespoon or so of water) in the lodge’s microwave.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1 small bundle (4 ounces) soba noodles
1/3 cup cashew butter
1/4 cup boiling water
Juice of 1 large lime
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sriracha (or other chili sauce), or to taste
6 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup (packed) finely chopped fresh cilantro
4 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced

Bring a pot of salted water to a low boil for the noodles.

Meanwhile, stir the cashew butter, boiling water, lime juice, sesame oil, and sriracha together in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the tofu, soy, and ginger in a small nonstick skillet, and place over medium heat. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, or until the soy coats the tofu. Remove from heat, stir in the cashew sauce, and set aside. (You don’t want this mixture to boil once you’ve added the sauce.)

Cook the noodles until al dente, according to package instructions, setting aside 1/2 cup of the cooking water as the noodles cook. Drain the noodles and return them to the pan. Add the tofu and cashew sauce mixture, and the cilantro and scallions, and toss with tongs until well combined, adding in some of the reserved water to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Sticky Tofu Noodles close

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Filed under Pasta, recipe, vegetarian

All Hail Caesar

Caesar Spag Horiz

Caesar Spaghetti with Pine Nuts (PDF)
Recipe 341 of 365

When I mixed olive oil, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and egg yolk into hot spaghetti, the results were delicious . . .and a little familiar. This pasta should be eaten the minute it’s made.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 to 2 servings

1/4 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 anchovies, finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Juice of one Meyer (or regular) lemon
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg yolk (from a source you trust)

Heat a pot of salted water for the spaghetti. Add the pasta, and set a timer for 6 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan over low heat. Add the oil, then the garlic and anchovies, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to turn blonde. Increase head to medium, add the pine nuts, and cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are toasted, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

When pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, then return it to the pan. Add the pine nut mixture and the lemon juice, and stir to blend. Add the cheese and the yolk, and stir again, using tongs to separate pasta strands and make sure the sauce is evenly distributed. Serve immediately, dusted with additional Parmesan cheese.

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Filed under Pasta, recipe

A holiday rut

You know, I thought it would get easier, with 25 days to go. I thought my typically long list of “to-try” recipes would hit the floor of my office, roll out toward the door, and curl up at the end, like Santa’s guide to good girls and boys. I’d simply plan out the remaining recipes, and go to it.

Instead, I have a dogeared index card, with precisely one recipe idea remaining on it today. It’s time to step up, and the juices are running clear again.

This would be a bad time to run out of juice.

It’s not that I’m not hungry for anything. Rachel’s brisket recipe, my mother’s Yorkshire pudding, a good, simple chicken noodle soup, and straightforward chocolate chip cookies are vying for the top space on my list of cravings. I want bowl after steaming bowl of pho, and macaroni and cheese. We’re going skiing this weekend, and I’m even excited to shovel highlighter-yellow Maruchan noodles in from a heatproof Styrofoam cup.

But none of what I want is mine.

This is a time of year for favorites. It’s a time when the dishes of our pasts crawl out of hibernation and dance across the table, hams and crown roasts and creamed spinach and coffee cakes, all trailing memories of previous years behind them. We forget that we’ve forgotten them for the past twelve months.

It’s a good thing, for most of us, remembering how we’ve shared Grandma’s cookie recipe over the years, how she used to decorate them, and who dropped the dough on the floor in 1987. Holiday food knits our memories together, and this time of year, when the sun’s too shy, the memories warm us.

But for someone trying to come up with an original recipe every day, especially (I imagine) someone who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, the holidays are torture.

I want comfort food. I want warm, rich things that swaddle my heart up with each spoonful, protecting me from winter. (Mmm. I forgot Chicken Pot Pie.)

I want dependable, familiar flavors, things like my mother’s matzo ball soup, usually made from a mix but somehow still all hers. I want to leave the gooey mixing bowl out on my own counter like she does, like I usually do, and peer into the soup pot after opening Hanukkah gifts, to see the tops of the remaining matzo balls withering in the cold air, like naked children in a half-drawn bath.

But matzo ball soup’s been done (a few million times, actually). Sure, I’ve made it in a miso broth before, made it with lemon and herbs, but like so many of the season’s best foods, there’s often one way to cook certain things that seems right. Right depends on the cook, and the family, and the locale, of course, but sheesh, it’s turning out that I’m more set in my holiday ways than I expected. I’m a holiday recipe Grinch.

And to me, matzo ball soup is plain, from a box. And dammit, it is Hanukkah. But if I made it, I’d have to make it and write the day’s recipe, and these busy, busy days, doing both is simply not an option. Not every night, anyway.

Last night, I gave up on the matzo ball soup tradition. I wanted something with good slurpability, a soup with a flavorful, tonic broth but also something that requested a knife and fork.

I got it: It’s a soup that says “Chicken Noodle Soup” to the soul but something more exciting to the palate. But man, it’s like pulling teeth these days.

Chicken, Madeira, and Macaroni Soup 1

Chicken Madeira and Macaroni Soup (PDF)
Recipe 340 of 365

A slurpable cousin of Chicken Marsala, this mushroom-packed soup is a heartwarming one-pot meal whose long ingredient list belies it simplicity. Serve as is, or with a loaf of good, crusty bread and a simple green salad on the side. For a gluten-free version, reduce the Madeira and the stock to 1 1/2 cups, and substitute cooked brown rice for the pasta.

TIME: 45 minutes total
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 ounces sliced white mushrooms
10 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
6 ounces portabella mushrooms (1 large), cut into 1/2” chunks
3 thick slices bacon or pancetta (about 1/5 pound), cut into 1/4” cubes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 3/4 pound), each cut in half
2 cups Madeira
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup macaroni or other pasta (uncooked)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the shallot and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add all the mushrooms, season again with salt and pepper, stir, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the lid, and simmer for 5 minutes over high heat.

While the mushrooms simmer, heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe out about half the fat in the pan. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, increase heat to medium-high, and sear chicken until well browned on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the bacon, and set aside.

Add the Madeira, chicken stock, and mushroom mixture to the soup pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken, bacon, and macaroni, and cover, and cook until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes. (If you feel the smaller chicken pieces are already cooked almost all the way through, save them and add them when the pasta is half done.) Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream and parsley, and serve immediately.

Chicken, Madeira, and Macaroni Soup close

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Filed under chicken, Pasta, pork, recipe, soup

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.

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Filed under Beef, Pasta, recipe

Saucy girls

Colin's roma tomatoes

There’s a jar of spaghetti sauce that’s been sitting in the corner of my pantry since we moved to Seattle. I didn’t bring it home intentionally; it was one of those occasions where the person in front of you unwittingly donates a portion of their purchases to your shopping bag. When I brought it home the first week we lived here, in September, I was embarrassed; who buys jarred spaghetti sauce in the height of tomato season? And there it sits, a fancy brand, waiting for a night when the electricity goes out but we still have use of the gas stove for cooking.

The other night, I opened the cupboard and my eyes shot straight to that jar, where I held them, motionless, longing for the simplicity of opening a jar of sauce but knowing that pasta plus jarred sauce is a pretty sorry excuse for a recipe.

Then a friend donated five pounds of gorgeous Roma tomatoes to my countertop. I made a simple puttanesca (the same flavor sauce I have in the cupboard), and stirred in canned tuna, like we used to do in college. Simple, slightly spicy, and fast (as long as you’re comfortable with letting the sauce simmer for an hour, stirring it only when you happen to walk by), like the women it’s named for.

This nomeclature begs a question: Did Italian whores only make pasta? Or did they have other specialties?

Puttanesca 1

Pasta Puttanesca with Tuna and Capers (PDF)
Recipe 278 of 365

In early fall, when sweet, dense Roma-style tomatoes come off the vine in big, ripe bunches, finding something to do with them becomes an urgent matter. Here’s a quick way to distill five pounds of ripe tomatoes into a thick, flavorful sauce. You’ll have enough left over to spread on a pizza the next day.

TIME: 25 minutes prep time
MAKES: 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Cloves from 1 head garlic, peeled and crushed
5 pounds Roma or San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 (6-ounce) cans albacore tuna (the kind packed in oil), flaked
1 8-ounce jar capers, drained
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, pepper, and crushed garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Blend all or part of the sauce, if desired, with an immersion blender.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Stir the tuna and capers into the warm sauce, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Drain the pasta, return it to its pot, and add sauce to taste. Serve dolloped with extra sauce, and cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.

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Filed under Pasta, recipe, vegetables

Would you like to buy an O?

We’re leaving for Big Sky, Montana today. We’re attending a wedding at the Rainbow Ranch. We’re excited for the wedding, but we’re driving. Not so excited for the driving.

Yesterday I put together some food for the car (and recipes for the weekend), using bits of this and that, all the things that had to be eaten before we leave. Pasta salad with chick peas and plenty of vegetables? Check. Soup? Check. Savory muffins that taste sort of like tamales? Check.

Tito’s getting pretty ornery about his participation in my project. I was all excited to find anelletti pasta at Trader Joe’s; wooowheeee a pasta shape I’ve never cooked before! They’re shaped like the letter O. What an awesome idea for pasta – if you make a salad where nothing’s much smaller than the center of the O, each piece makes a little pedestal for whatever you’re mixing in. Flavor in every bite. I started cooking, humming Sesame Street tunes.

(In case you missed that Sesame Street reference, here’s some education, brought to you by The Letter O.)

Then Tito crashed the dance by telling me anelletti are just Spaghetti-O’s. He looked down his nose at my O-shaped pasta salad.

But after he tasted it, he changed his tune a little. (I just wrote changed his tuna a little on my muffed up keyboard, oh what a fabulous new addition that will be to my cliche collection.)

“It looked good, but it didn’t look, like, Mmm Mmm Good, if you know what I mean.”

But he had three helpings. So there. It’s Mmm Mmm Good.

“I want you to call this ‘Adult Spaghetti-O’s,” he instructed, suddenly exercising ownership of the half pound or so remaining. “Or Goat Cheese With Spaghetti-O’s.” (There’s about 2 ounces of goat cheese for an entire pound of pasta, but that’s the flavor he picked up on.) “Or Goat Cheese with Stuff.”

I don’t care what it’s called. When we’re halfway between Spokane and Missoula, and the Wagon Wheel Cafe is already closed for the day, it will taste so, so good.

Road Trip Pasta orange

Road Trip Pasta Salad (PDF)
Recipe 257 of 365

Here’s a colorful pasta salad, coated with a silky, creamy goat cheese dressing. It has all the qualities that make it a good snack for the road – you get your carbs and protein, plus a good smattering of fresh veggies, and you can eat it right out of the container with a spoon. It’s the kind of deeply satisfying concoction that makes you scoop up another bite before you’ve finished the one you’re chewing.

TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Scant 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound anelleti, orzo, or other small pasta
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
Corn cut from 2 large cobs
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 (20-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (basil would work also)
1 pound (large or small) tomatoes, chopped

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together until combined, and season with salt and pepper. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and whisk until completely blended. Set aside.

Salt the boiling pasta water, add the pasta, and set a timer for the pasta’s recommended cooking time. Two minutes before the pasta should be done, add the zucchini and corn. When done, strain the pasta, zucchini, and corn together in one colander, and transfer to a very large bowl. Stir in the onion, chickpeas, and reserved vinaigrette. Add the goat cheese, and stir until the heat of the pasta has melted all of the goat cheese into a creamy dressing. Stir in the parsley and tomatoes, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate and eat cold in the car (but not while you’re driving).

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Filed under Pasta, recipe

In-Your-Face Chicken Pasta Salad

Today is a different day; I’ve ricocheted from one side to the other. Same basic ingredients – whole (buck)wheat, broccoli, chicken and basil – only this time, it’s all out in the open. Out of the closet, if you will.

Sesame Soba with Chicken, Broccoli & Basil Vert

Sesame Soba with Chicken, Broccoli and Basil (PDF)
Recipe 239 of 365

Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles, which have an earthier flavor than regular whole wheat noodles, and are better at soaking up sauces than traditional dried Italian pasta. If you’ve never cooked them, read the directions; they usually take less time than regular pasta.

This is a great way to use up a leftover cooked chicken breast (or all that meat that’s left on a roasted chicken after you cut the main parts off), but if you need to cook some for the recipe, just sear it over medium-high heat in a swirl of olive oil (added after the pan has heated up, of course), for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, turning the heat down on the second side, if needed.

TIME: 30 minutes (including cooking the chicken)
MAKES: 2 servings

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup sesame tahini (stir well, if new)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1/4 – 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha or even Japanese shichimi flakes), or to taste
4 ounces soba noodles
2 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
3 scallions, finely chopped (green and white parts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, mix the rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy, tahini, sesame seeds, and chili sauce (if using) in a small bowl until well blended. Set aside. (If you’re cooking the chicken breast now, finish it before you start cooking the noodles.)

Cook the noodles according to package directions, until al dente, adding the broccoli florets to the water along with the noodles about 2 minutes before the noodles should be done. Drain the noodles and the broccoli together, transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the reserved sauce, and mix with tongs until smooth. (It may take a minute or two; the sauce is thick.) Add the shredded chicken, scallions, and basil, mix, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Filed under chicken, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

I do love a good mystery

One of the things I love about writing here is how differently you all respond. You say yes, these straightforward recipes are just what my kitchen needs, while you, over there, you dig the more esoteric recipes; chocolate-basil torte and tomato sorbet, all the way, you say. X wants side dishes, Y wants more main course ideas.

I love you all, because you reflect my many different kitchen selves, on different days.

In my book, pasta salad tends toward the easy, mainstream side of the spectrum. But this one has secrets.

I just turned in an article on how to sneak vegetables into adults’ diets. You know, how to trick your Sig. O. the same way you might trick a four-year-old, by slipping things in and hoping they go down the hatch undetected.

So go ahead: feed this to your broccoli-hater. Your whole wheat-hater. See what happens.

Oh, and by the way, the new flax and multigrain pasta at Trader Joe’s is superb.

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Salad 1

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Salad (PDF)
Recipe 238 of 365

You can substitute a chicken from your own oven and homemade pesto, of course, but if you’re trying to get as many nutrients into a certain someone in as little time as possible, use the rotisserie bird and pre-made pesto. And if your audience is a little less picky, add chopped Sungold tomatoes, goat cheese or feta, or any other vegetables popular at your house.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

2 cups broccoli florets
8 ounces (1 cup) basil pesto
1 pound whole wheat fusilli (or other small pasta)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin removed, meat shredded

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water, bring to a boil, and add the broccoli. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until tender, then set aside to drain.

Transfer the pesto to a food processor, add the broccoli, and whirl until completely smooth.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions, and drain. Transfer to a big bowl and toss with the broccoli pesto, olive oil, and shredded chicken. Serve warm or cold.

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Filed under chicken, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

Eat with your hands

I find eating with my hands so gratifying. I’m not sure whether it’s just that I don’t do it as frequently as perhaps I should, so I’m not used to the textural experience, or if it’s because it makes me feel like I’m doing something a little naughty. Either way, I love it. Try wrapping big, healthy lettuce leaves around juicy stir-fried pork tenderloin and vermicelli, and I think you’ll agree.

preparing rolls

Peanut Pork and Vermicelli Summer Wraps (PDF)
Recipe 228 of 365

This recipe, inspired by one in the June 2006 issue of Gourmet Magazine, is relatively flexible: make it as is, or omit the peanut butter, or add an Asian chili sauce to the pork, for some heat. Serve wrapped in lettuce, as I do here, or pile the pork mixture over rice or just over chopped lettuce. And be sure to prepare appropriately: have all ingredients chopped before you turn on the stovetop.

TIME: 35 minutes
MAKES: 3 to 4 servings

2 small (50 grams each) packages vermicelli (bean thread noodles)
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
6 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced, then divided in half
1 pound pork tenderloin, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup bottled teriyaki sauce (such as Trader Joe’s Soyaki)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
Asian chili sauce, such as sriracha, to taste (optional)
12 large lettuce leaves (Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Oak Leaf, or French Crisp work well)

Prepare the vermicelli according to package instructions. Rinse well with cold water after softening and set aside in a strainer to drip dry.

(This is what my package looked like:)

Rice vermicelli

Heat a large skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the oil, then add the ginger, garlic, and half the scallions. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, then add the pork, and cook, stirring and breaking the pieces of meat apart, for 2 minutes, or until almost no pink remains. Add the water chestnuts and teriyaki sauce, and simmer until the sauce is very thick and caramel-like, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in the peanut butter, and season with sriracha, if desired. Stir in the remaining scallions.

To assemble, arrange a small handful of noodles and a few scoops of the peanut-pork mixture inside a lettuce leaf (along the spine of the leaf, so that when you roll it the spine doesn’t break), and roll it up like a burrito.

Summer Roll Taco

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Filed under appetizers, chinese, Pasta, pork, recipe, stir-fry

Ichiban Carbonara

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking, you’re due for a trip to Amazon. As promised, the book provides a real, approachable segue between cooking the way you do now and cooking with more natural foods and whole grains. Typically when I get a new cookbook, I hunker down on the couch with a cup of tea, the book, and a stack of sticky notes to mark the recipes I’m most excited to try. The other night I ended up reading basically the entire thing because there’s so much informative text – I tend to skip many of the boxes in cookbooks because I know how to peel a tomato, slice a mango, zest a lemon, and chop chocolate. But this book will be a real educational tool for me, simply because whole grains are one of cooking’s coffers I haven’t explored much. Now the book looks like it’s growing little yellow Post-It weeds out of the cracks between every page.

Since my husband still doesn’t want me to use his name here, one of my readers suggested an exhaustive list of possible screen names, from which my husband selected Tito. This is a crotch rocket-riding alter ego I haven’t met, and really doesn’t fit his personality (as I know it) in any way, but Tito it is.

So Tito doesn’t love pasta. And as you’ve probably noticed, he tends to say what he thinks. (Example: on Monday when it was pouring, I let my hair dry naturally and tried to get it to curl a little, and he told me I looked like a flood victim. Joking, of course. But I got the point.)

Pasta carbonara falls into what he unflatteringly calls “Middle Italian” food (as opposed to Middle American, which involves Can of Soup Casseroles and possibly Hamburger Helper). I disagree, but I love carbonara, so perhaps I’m biased.

With a little trepidation, I decided to cut carbonara’s flavors away from its spaghetti and paste them onto soba, Japanese noodles make from buckwheat, which Heidi tells me is actually an herb, not a traditional grain. Result: deep flavors of great pancetta (I didn’t say Heidi would make me a vegetarian), cream, Parmesan, and a healthy dose of peas layered into noodles with their own earthy flavor.

“Ichiban carbonara,” said Tito.

Soba Carbonara 1

Recipe for Soba Carbonara
Recipe 144 of 365

Traditionally, carbonara requires tossing hot, hot pasta with a mixture of eggs and cream, so that the heat from the noodles poaches the egg and forms a lovely thick sauce. Here’s a version that uses Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, which are typically rinsed with cold water after cooking. (Don’t do that here.) Next time I’ll toss in a handful of toasted Panko breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of chopped Italian parsley to add a bit of crunch.

TIME: 15 minutes (begin cooking the noodles before the bacon is done)
MAKES: 2 servings

1/4 pound pancetta (one 1/3” thick slice), cut into 1/4” dice
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (1/4 pound) soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 cup frozen baby peas*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the soba.

Cook the pancetta over medium heat in a large skillet until browned and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolk, cream, and some salt and pepper together in a small bowl to blend. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions (probably about 8 minutes, but it may depend on the thickness of your soba). Just before the soba is done, add the peas right to the water along with the noodles. Drain the peas and noodles and return them to the pan, and immediately add the egg/cream mixture, tossing the noodles with tongs as you add it so it coats everything evenly. Add the cooked pancetta and parmesan, toss to distribute evenly, and serve immediately.

*If you find fresh peas, by all means, use them, but add them to the soba about three minutes before the noodles are done cooking.

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Filed under husband, Italian, japanese, Pasta, pork, recipe

Spoon Theory

Susan wrote me with a great link to a poignant, touching post on living with a chronic illness. The author referenced Spoon Theory, which I hadn’t heard of but serves as a more tangible tool for explaining how Lupus feels than perhaps The Wolf does. Do me a favor: read it (or put it in your pile), then come back here.

I have many more spoons than Christine does, and reading about her twelve made me realize how much I’ve forgotten about those first few awful months, and how lucky I am to have escaped them. I probably have about fifty spoons today, and although I haven’t had to use them for small daily activities (buttoning shirts, walking down stairs, blowdrying my hair) in a few years, I’ve also tended to take on things that use up multiple spoons at once, or spend a week’s worth of spoons in a day. This is what has to stop.

I have the luxury of earning spoons back, like accruing secret weapons in a video game. A nap is worth a spoon; a good nap is worth two.

These past few years I’ve been running with my (relatively large) bouquet of spoons, all heavy antique silver spoons with curls and flowers on the handles, glancing backwards as if there’s some spoon-eating Pac-Man coming after me, scooping up what I drop with those v-shaped jaws and taunting me until I have a chance to pant in the corner of the screen while the game starts over.

I haven’t forgotten to tell you about the dinner in Boise – I’ve just been trying to think of how to explain it, and Spoon Theory is perfect.

Here’s how the dinner works: every year, my friend Melanie (who you will one day know as a great Idahoan winemaker) and I auction off a wine pairing dinner at an event that raises money for the ski racing club we both participated in as kids. Someone buys the dinner (for $2500 this year) and I design a menu. She pairs wines to my courses, typically digging deep into the knowledge of the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines she acquired while she was a winemaker there. This year, we had the opportunity to include her first vintages of viognier and rose from her own winery, Cinder, which were wonderful. (I’m sure she could describe them more intelligently.)

This year was a seated 5-course dinner for twelve people, and it went relatively flawlessly. I’d have preferred if the client’s brand-new Wolf range hadn’t had a layer of primordial ooze on the bottom of the smallest oven that I neglected to see when I preheated it, the smallest of three, if you’re not counting the warming drawer or the convection-equipped microwave. But no one seemed to notice the smoke, thank goodness, and the lamb was just the rosy shade I’d planned. And because my saintly father had taken the day off of work to help me wash dishes and shell (grooooaannn) about 500,000 fava beans, I was completely calm and organized by the time the guests arrived, and dinner pretty much went off without a hitch. As the last course went out, I swelled inside, riding a self-congratulating wave of pride in my work, excitement about the evening, and inspiration for future meals. It was bittersweet, though. As I stood at the counter drying dishes while the guests moved into yet another after-dinner bottle, I felt sad to have let go of something that makes me feel so successful.

But 18 combined hours in that sweet, sweet kitchen used a week’s worth of spoons. The next morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I crept down to my parents’ living room couch and curled up next to a dog, semi-conscious, not yet able to approach a coffee cup because the dexterity necessary, what with the cream, the sugar, the spoon, and all that, seemed entirely too complicated. I felt like a fern growing backwards, curling back down toward the ground. Now, almost a week and ten hours of sleep a day later, I’ve rebounded.

So yes, the dinner went well. But it was my last personal cheffing job, maybe ever, which was deflating and depressing and disappointing. I like doing it, but alas, I am a spoon counter (albeit a lucky one), and I’d prefer to spend my spoons on other things. Melanie looked crestfallen when I told her that next year, when Cinder will finally be releasing a full palate of food-friendly wines made from Idaho grapes, I won’t be volunteering.

The next night, when my father was looking for a way to explain to another parent that I wouldn’t be awake and available to transport teenagers at 2 a.m., he simply said, “my daughter is sick.” It was simple, and effective, I suppose, but hearing him say it out loud for the first time made my heart break, because I knew it was hurting him to say it. Maybe Spoon Theory will travel far enough that he’ll be able to say “she doesn’t have enough spoons to pick them up” and that will be that. Because that’s what he meant, I think.

My husband asked me if he could be a spoon, and I told him yes. He can be many, many spoons.

Here’s one for a tired night. If chopsticks hurt your hands, just use a fork, dammit.

One-Spoon Stir-Fry

One-Spoon Stir-Fry with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Snap Peas
Recipe 137 of 365

This is “Thai food” reduced to its easiest form, with flavors reminiscent of true yellow Thai curry but none of the techniques or ingredients that can make the process tiresome. I call it “one spoon” because according to Spoon Theory, you sometimes only have one spoon’s worth of energy to use on dinner (and I think this applies to everyone, not just those with Lupus). This an easy one for me, as long as I have someone to help me open that frustrating Thai chili paste jar. Serve it over brown or white rice, or rice noodles.

I used one teaspoon yellow Thai chili paste, but you could use red or green, also. Look for it in the Asian food aisle of your grocery store.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 generous servings

3/4 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can ask your fishmonger to do this, plus remove the tails, if you don’t want to hassle with them while you eat)
1/2 pound (about 1/2 bunch) asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 pound sugar snap peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons yellow Thai chili paste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Place shrimp, asparagus, and snow peas in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle oil over all the ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the curry paste together with about 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk until all the lumps disappear. Whisk in the remaining coconut milk, and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shrimp and vegetable mixture, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until the shrimp have begun to curl and are almost all pink on the outsides. Add the coconut milk mixture, increase heat to high, and simmer 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro (or just plop it on top of each bowl, like I did) and serve over rice or rice noodles.

Switched to a fork!

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Filed under commentary, kitchen adventure, Pasta, recipe, shellfish, stir-fry, Thai

I have good morels

Morel mushrooms

This weekend I’m cooking a dinner as part of a fundraiser I participate in every year to raise money for BBSRA. I had to come up with something to cook, of course, and with all those spongy little morels hanging out at various Seattle farmer’s markets, I couldn’t help but find a way to incorporate them into the menu. I sautéed them in butter and a little sage and folded them into homemade gnocchi I made from Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything, and topped them with a scoop of mascarpone cheese (sorry, but I have to do something with the rest of the container, right?).

When we were done with dinner, my husband found a few stray raw gnocchi that had somehow snuck out of the floured towel I’d rolled them onto. Undeterred by the fact that we’d just finished our own giant portions, he scooped them into a piece of aluminum foil and proceeded to make what he called an Italian Pop-Tart.

bad idea

After lining them up perfectly, he wrapped and folded them into a neat little square, and I realized he was about to stick the foil packet into our pop-up toaster.

Italian pop tart

I was horrified. He glared at me. “You know what Mom’s problem is?” he asked the dog. “She has no vision.”

In case you hadn’t guessed, toaster-steamed raw gnocchi aren’t so good. He fed them to both the dog and the cat, who surprised us both with his appetite for potato blobs. My husband chastised him for taking such small bites.

And just to be clear, it’s pronounced mo-RELs, not MO-rels. Those are the values your parents were supposed to have instilled in you.

Gnocchi with morels and mascarpone cheese

Recipe for Gnocchi with Morels and Mascarpone
Recipe 131 of 365

Fresh morel mushrooms are only available for a few weeks each year, and are best used just after they’re picked. They look like little hats, which means they can sometimes hide debris (read: bugs) inside. I tend to cut them open and slice them before I use them, just to be completely sure no one’s coming along for the ride. Serve the gnocchi with a big simple salad and a glass of pinot noir.

Morel, sliced open

TIME: 20 minutes, if using storebought gnocchi
MAKES: 4 smaller servings

1 (17.6-ounce) package regular or whole wheat gnocchi, or homemade
1/2 pound morel mushrooms, cleaned and ends trimmed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 clove garlic (or 4 garlic shoots), finely chopped
6 large sage leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

Bring a big saucepan of salted water to boil for the gnocchi. While the water heats, slice the mushrooms vertically into halves or quarters, or eighths for larger mushrooms.

When the water comes to a boil, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, begin cooking the gnocchi according to package instructions. Add the garlic and the sage to the skillet, and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the mushrooms just begin to cook down.

Sauteing gnocchi

Strain the gnocchi, and transfer it to the skillet with the mushrooms. Stir to coat the gnocchi with the butter sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer the gnocchi to four wide bowls and top with any remaining mushrooms and a dollop of the mascarpone cheese. Serve immediately.

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Filed under farmer's market, Italian, Pasta, recipe, vegetables

Mac & Cheese without a mortgage

Gee, I sure to seem to be on a health kick: the last week shows cookies, eggs, butter, cream, bacon, and now cheese. Plus, I had these bacon-ginger cookies for dessert last night. Really, I do eat vegetables.

I’m all for how the schmancy macaroni and cheese recipes taste, with fourteen artisanal cheeses, pasta handmade by someone’s second cousin’s great-aunt in Italy and flown to the US on a private jet with the proper ventilation, salt from the rockiest shores of Brittany, and butter from sacred cows in India, but sometimes I don’t really feel macaroni and cheese should require taking out a second mortgage.

I found those 2-pound blocks of Tillamook cheese on sale at Ballard Market for $5 last weekend and sort of went wild. Well, wild for me. I bought three.

Creamy Mac & Cheese

Recipe for Creamy Orange Mac & Cheese
Recipe 115 of 365

Here’s a homemade version of those big, creamy, mild Velveeta shells, minus the unpronounceable ingredients that make Velveeta feel like plastic in your mouth. I used the mild orange-colored medium cheddar usually available on the west coast, but you can substitute any meltable cheese – Gruyere, Swiss, sharp cheddar, Monterey jack, or something stronger like Comte would all be great, as would adding chopped cooked vegetables, chicken, etc. Because there’s no baking step involved, this homemade mac is a little quicker to make than some.

And OOOHHHHhhhh is it good the next day, straight out of the fridge.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 side dish servings

1/2 pound large macaroni elbows
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups milk, warmed
4 packed cups grated cheddar cheese (8 ounces, grated)

Cook the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Prep all the ingredients while the water comes to a boil.

As soon as you put the pasta in, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and the bubbles begin to subside, add the flour, and cook, stirring continuously with a whisk, for 1 minute. Add about a 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk until the mixture forms a paste. Add the remaining milk, whisk until smooth, and cook the mixture, stirring often, until it comes to a simmer and thickens a bit. Remove from the heat and let sit until the bubbles subside completely. Add the cheese a little at a time, whisking until smooth between each addition.

When the pasta is done, drain and return it to the pan. Add the cheese sauce, stir to combine the pasta with the sauce, transfer the mac and cheese to a serving bowl, and serve immediately.

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Filed under Lunch, Pasta, recipe

‘Tis the season

Fresh asparagus from Yakima arrived at my farmer’s market last weekend. I bought a bunch, and meant to add half of it to this dish, but decided at the last minute to add it all, for what ended up being a very asparagus-heavy hot pasta salad. What a good way to celebrate the season.

I seem to be in a fight with my flickr account. Apologies for the lack of photo.

Asparagus with Penne, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese
Recipe 109 of 365

Pasta is a long-standing go-to for simple meals, but sometimes when I’m tired it’s hard for me to look past the jar of pasta sauce I keep on hand for such nights. Cook this as is, or add chopped artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, or a little heavy cream to the shrimp as it sears. This one is heavy on the vegetables.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 large servings

2 cups penne (preferably whole wheat)
3/4 pound asparagus
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 – 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (your choice)
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives (optional)

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Trim the asparagus and cut it into 1” pieces, and take the tails off the shrimp, if desired.

When the water boils, add the pasta, and put on a timer for 2 minutes less than however long the package says the pasta takes. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the hot skillet, then the garlic. Cook the garlic for just a few seconds, stirring, then add the shrimp and cook for a minute or two on each side, or until cooked through. If the shrimp is done before the timer goes off, remove it from the heat.

About 2 minutes before the pasta is done (when there’s still a thin crunchy white ring in the center, but the outsides are cooked), add the asparagus to the pasta water. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and set it aside for the sauce, and cook the pasta and the asparagus for the remaining 2 minutes.

Just before the pasta’s done, add the butter to the shrimp pan and reheat the shrimp over medium heat. Drain the pasta and asparagus, add them to the shrimp pan, and toss until the butter has melted, adding a little reserved pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the goat cheese and the optional chives, and serve immediately.

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Filed under farmer's market, Pasta, recipe, shellfish