Category Archives: pork

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.

I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.

Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.

As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.

I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.

The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.

So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4

Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.

Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Parsley. In February.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 3

One of the things I really love about Seattle is having parsley in February. It spurts forth with a stubbornness even my two-year-old can’t muster, preening through the rain, ignoring our recent “snowstorm.” (The Idahoan in me still can’t call that a real storm.) I like to pick it right after 5 p.m., when people are walking home and watching, because it doesn’t feel as much like bragging when I don’t actually open my mouth. After I bring it inside, I peel off my socks, because I’m forever dreaming that somehow my socks won’t get wet if I run extra fast from the front door to the edge of the garden in the rain with a paring knife in my hand. Then I wash the parsley well, because I can’t seem to trust that someone hasn’t been fertilizing it with some magic chemical when I’m not looking. Finally, it sits on the drying rack, next to the Tupperware, and waits.

Seattle garden parsley

Last week, it waited for a clam and chorizo stew I made with Kathy Gunst, when she was visiting. Kathy is my cooking Yoda. She’s not short, and doesn’t have big ears, but since an internship with her ten years ago, it’s her voice I hear when I’m standing in front of the stove, wondering what comes next, or what flavors work together. Over the years, I’ve spent days and days cooking in her kitchen, in Maine, but we’d never really cooked together in mine. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a real cooking partner. It’s especially convenient when there’s a kid in the house; it’s like having four hands, instead of two, only they really can be in two places at once.

I threw chorizo into a high-sided pan, where it sizzled until a certain someone demanded I play ice cream shop. Kathy floated in, and when I returned, pretend-bloated with ten pretend cones’ worth, the stew was bubbling, ready for clams. When I held the long, steel handle of the pan, just to give the tomatoes a quick shake before adding the wine, the handle was still warm—not from the heating element, but from human touch.

Here’s something you might not know about me: I don’t often cook with other people. I like it well enough, but with the exception of my younger sister, who’s turning into a pretty clutch cook herself, my Seattle tribe consist of people who eat, but who don’t necessarily cook. And so often for me, being in the kitchen means a frazzled dance of stirring and writing and timing and judging, rather than just plain cooking. That warm pan handle reminded me how much enjoying cooking, for me, revolves around touch, instead of just taste.

In the end, the stew was good not just because the chorizo, from Seattle’s Rain Shadow Meats, seemed to have exactly the right amount of pimenton, or because the little Manila clams were gorgeous, or because I added the right amount of parsley. It was good because it made me remember that more than any book, or my upbringing, or even culinary school, Kathy’s two hands—the ones that had picked up cooking just where I’d left off, so seamlessly, mid-stew—are the hands that taught me to cook.

Clams with Chorizo and Chickpeas 2

Clams with Chorizo, Chickpeas, and Parsley (PDF)
It’s a simple enough dish to make, but loaded into bowls and served with good, crusty bread, this meal has the ability to transport—to Spain, for starters, with that smoky pimentón flavor, and then to the sea, because when the clams cook in tomatoes and wine, they release their briny juices right into the dish’s liquid. If you want this to be more of a stew, add eight ounces of clam juice along with the wine.

Look for pimentón de la vera in the spice section of a large grocery store, or online. Do not substitute regular paprika.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Serves: 2, or 4 with a hearty salad

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 medium leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (high-quality smoky Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 pound clean Manila clams
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the chorizo, and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring just once or twice, or until the chorizo is partly cooked but loose on the pan. Add the leek and garlic (and a swirl of additional olive oil, if the pan is still dry), and cook another 5 minutes, until the leek is soft. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and the pimentón de la vera. Add the tomatoes and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

Add the chickpeas and clams, cover the pan, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until all the clams have opened. (Discard any unopened clams.) Stir in the parsley, season to taste, and serve piping hot, with crusty bread for dipping or over soft polenta.

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Filed under egg-free, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, Lunch, pork, recipe, shellfish, soy-free

This is what I love.

Nothing is more useful in defining what foods you love to eat than writing a cookbook. I’m weeks away, if all goes well, from finishing Dishing Up Washington. (Lots of them, but weeks.) Leafing through my little booklet of recipes, the one that lists the details of each chapter in twelve smudged and scribbled pages, is becoming a habitual guilty pleasure. I tatter them every time I set them next to me on the bench at the coffee shop, and when I page through to cross off the testing and writing and retesting of each recipe. I’m reaching the point where I have to pick favorites. Do I axe the blackberry oatmeal bars in favor of two-pound espresso brownies, made with a full pound each of butter and dark chocolate? Or do I talk my editor into including both? Do I show off my favorite potato producer, Olsen Farms, in the refined, ramp-infused version of vichyssoise I made last spring, or in their family’s rustic, basic, delicious version of chunky potato soup? These are awesome choices. This is my favorite part of writing a cookbook–the arranging and headnote writing and imagining and menu designing part. It’s like reorganizing a closet full of only clothing you love (if you’re that sort of person, like me), only everything you like fits. Sure, there are annoying parts. I hate fact-checking. The holes where I’ve written “TK” in place of the perfect word make the thing look like post-war London. But soon–24 recipes from now, to be precise–I’ll fold all of those little files into one big manuscript, and the holes will start disappearing.

But first, the 24.

Mostly, the recipes that are left fall into two categories: those that come from chefs I’m still wrangling, like you do, and those I’ve been putting off because the ingredients are particularly expensive, or time-consuming to prepare, or so breathlessly exciting that I keep putting them off in the hopes that I have just the right dinner guests when I actually get around to making them. (Spring Hill‘s chicken-fried veal sweetbreads come to mind for the latter.) It’s appropriate, I think, that I save these recipes for the end of this whole process, when (I’ve learned) I’m most critical of my own recipes, and even more so of others’. If I’m going to make you plunk down a few Jacksons for a pot full of crab, the dipping sauce had better be damned good, right?

So yes, the pace of testing has slowed. And suddenly, I can cook a little without a book in mind for the first time in what feels like years. Last night, I made a simple chicken and wild rice soup. It was the simplest thing, just fat, dark grains simmered in homemade stock greasy enough to give the lips a good gloss. My son ate out all the carrots, and my husband loaded it with sriracha, and I ate it like a normal person, with my bum glued to the chair, instead of hopping up and down to make notes on a piece of paper, like I usually do with whatever it is we’re eating. And I remembered, because I wasn’t navel-gazing over the amount of this or that in a recipes, that this is what I love–the eating, and sharing, and slurping together.

There was a time in my life when I had extra recipes floating around me all the time. With Dishing Up Washington, though, I can’t share all those recipes. Not just yet, even if they end up as extras in the end. This week, at my computer, there will be planning and organizing and listing and calling and all those things that make folks without OCD squirm. There will be Picnic’s kale and white bean salad, and a razor clamming trip to plan, and perhaps those sweetbreads, but I might also just cook. We’re having 30 people over for an event for my husband’s work on Wednesday, and I’m not going to write a single thing down, before or after. There will be pork tacos, probably, and whatever else Wednesday afternoon decides there should be.

You, though. I know you. You’re the one who panics at the thought of preparing more than one dish at a time, lest things all come out of the oven at different times. I’ve heard you muttering, in the aisles of the grocery store, about how much this season stresses you out. I haven’t forgotten you, which is why Hannah Viano and I have decided to share the recipes from our winter recipe card set here. You’re not into the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to holiday entertaining. (You would never leave tacos for 30 for the last minute.)

And do I have the plan for you. Hannah and I were giggling the other day, plotting, hoping you’d try it. Here’s how it works: You buy our recipe cards (or just print the recipes out, if you so please) and send one to each of five friends. You make dessert. (Goodness knows there are plenty of options these days, but if it were me, I’d make cranberry-oatmeal streusel bars, because I have about a quart of cranberry relish leftover still.) You set the table. And your friends bring dinner.

Now that’s a holiday party. Have fun.

The menu:

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)

Roasted Pork Tenderloins with Kale, Leeks, and Hazelnuts (PDF)

Greek-Inspired Slow-Roasted Onions (PDF)

Vinegared Beet Salad (PDF)

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

The perfect table

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 3

It all started, I suppose, with an article in The New York Times about a vacation home in Nova Scotia. It wasn’t a home we’d ever build, even in our dreams, because to me, it seems strange to have your dream life more than 3,000 miles away from your real life. Even so, the inside was so light, and so welcoming to crowds despite its small size, that it got us thinking. We loved its long, slender, people-friendly eating space. We loved the built-in bench that ran along one entire wall of the living room. Since we’re predisposed to feeding crowds of people quite regularly, and usually on short notice, we thought, wouldn’t it make sense for us to have a big, hefty, crowd-loving dining table, instead of a formal, ill-fitting, accidentally inherited one?

And so early this fall, armed with advice garnered while writing a story on how the Seattle restaurateurs behind Bastille and Poquitos and Caffe Fiore (and soon Macleod’s) use reclaimed materials, my husband and I set out to convince a large piece of wood that it wanted to be our a new dining room table.

First, we found a church pew. It’s evidently a remnant from an old Episcopalian building in Portland, Oregon, one that spent the last 30 years in a garage in Kirkland, Washington. It made its way to our house on a trailer that only came unhitched once, complete with a pre-communion gum stash, but lacking hymnals. It’s nine feet long, so we settled on a seven-foot table.

Later, at Earthwise, a reclaimed building materials shop south of downtown Seattle, we found a 14-foot-long cedar board leaning up against the outside of the building nonchalantly, almost modeling, as if it knew just how we’d ooh and ahhh at it. It was a bear of a thing, and as we brought it home, our ski rack bent and cursing, we wondered whether we’d done the right thing. It had clearly spent the majority of its life outdoors, and even though my husband, a hobby woodworker, had A Vision, I couldn’t see it. He disappeared into his shop, about once a week all fall, to sand and chisel and patch and epoxy and finish. I made him coffee, and found great little wooden chairs at a consignment shop in Walla Walla, and hoped for the best.

The day before our Thanksgiving crowd of 20 started arriving, friends helped us assemble the table in the living room. (It’s bound by metal rigging that emits a high-pitched hum if you pound the table in just the right place.) I slapped burlap coffee sacks on top of the girly turquoise fabric the chairs had come with, and suddenly, instead of a dining area, we had a gathering space.

Working at the table

I’d be willing to bet that if I poured carefully, I could fit a full cup of liquid into the cracks and crevices still undulating across this table. If you’re one for symmetry, it’s imperfect. Its two halves are mismatched in both thickness and shape, and now, with my computer high-centered on its highest section, it rocks back and forth a little as I type. I’ll have to be careful not to wear too much fine silk, because the edges are still a bit raw in places. We may have to floss food out of the center. But there are two full quarts of epoxy in this thing, making cracks that once went straight through the wood perfectly impervious to anything one can see with the naked eye. And filled with grandmas and grandpas, sitting hip by hip in the same place filled the hour before by scribbling toddlers, it has somehow, with its mere presence, made our house more of a home.

play-doh at the new table

We had a lovely Thanksgiving week. Despite the conditions on Snoqualmie pass, everyone eventually arrived. The cousin who stayed with us cooked and stirred and scrubbed more than any guest ever has (although I won’t say should, because I loved it). The other cousin made real southern biscuits, the kind you can pull apart layer by layer, and I ate them, gluten and all, and didn’t notice a thing. (That’s another story.) My brother brought a fresh venison roast. My parents did dishes and dishes and dishes. We made two giant meals in my own house, and held Thanksgiving itself at my in-laws’, which meant that the work was spread out enough that I could still taste the food by the time it hit my plate.

lunch at the new table

And now that everyone’s gone, this new table still works. My sister, who has been traveling the world (literally) for months, is here staying with us for a bit. When she wakes up, we’ll sit here together, dappled by the rare Seattle sunlight, with my recipes and her photos and our dueling coffee cups, and we’ll just be family. As the day wears on, we’ll eat split pea soup made with the bone of the ham she roasted to keep the turkey company. The empty bowls will sit on the table, I’m sure, like they did so often this past week, just resting, as if they themselves wanted a feel for it, too.

Then, as the days wear and tear on it, the table will get dinged and stained and scratched and abused, and slowly, year by year, it will become perfect. I can’t wait.

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 1

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom (PDF)
Based on a recipe from my forthcoming cookbook, Pike Place Market Recipes (Sasquatch 2012), which is itself based on a verbal recipe from the ladies at the counter at Bavarian Meats in the Pike Place Market that uses their smoked ham, this soup blends the earthiness of split peas and leftover ham bone with enough dried dill and cardamom for intrigue, but not so much they take over the soup. You can puree it before stirring the ham pieces back in, if you prefer.

Time: 40 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2-pound) ham hock, or meaty bone from a holiday ham
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 pound dried split peas
1/4 cup cream or half and half (optional)

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ham hock, broth, water, bay leaf, dill, cardamom, and split peas, stir, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a bare simmer until the peas are soft and the meat falls off the bone, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the bay leaf.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle. Finely chop the meat, discarding the bones and any fatty parts, and add it to the soup. Add additional water, if necessary, to thin the soup to your desired consistency, and rewarm over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you won’t need much salt because the meat is usually salty enough), stir in the cream, and serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, leftovers, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup, soy-free

On the border of Spain and Germany

IMG_5907

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Jess, good God, didn’t you ever take a geography class? I did, but sometimes geography just gets in the way.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The manuscript for Pike Place Market Recipes is due in nine days. Technically, I have five entire uninterrupted hours to work on it right now, which is why instead of buckling down with a French press and a sheath of notes, I’m blogging. (Procrastination is alive and well.)

The thing is, there’s something about writing a cookbook that’s bugging me. It’s about how we use cookbooks. Yesterday, I was interviewing Uli Lengenberg, the German master butcher and owner of Pike Place Market’s Uli’s Famous Sausage. He’s a big bear of a guy who ferries links around the city on the back of his motorcycle, wearing a canary yellow helmet. And when it comes to recipes, he has opinions.

Yesterday, I asked him what he tells people when they want to know what to do with his sausages. He was emphatic that a recipe is just a guideline, and I couldn’t agree more. “You don’t die if you don’t cook like the recipe says,” he said, hands waving in the air above his tiny little spectacles. “Your love for creating something tasty and enjoyable will always be bigger than the need to follow a recipe.” Yes, Uli.

And my biggest challenge, in these next nine days, is to somehow create a book that gives people perfect guidelines for great food without making them feel totally wed to the recipes. I don’t want the book to prevent people from (as Uli calls it) cooking from their hearts.

As we talked, his love for food spilled into the air, in a genuine, helpless way, circling up around his helmet and his big black work boots and the beer taps halfway between us and the meat case. He explained a concept that I’m very familiar with, but that doesn’t (to my knowledge) really have an English equivalent. Literally, mit fleischeinlage means “with a meat ingredient,” but like so many words in any language, in German, einlage also means “orthotic.” Uli explained that in German, cooking something mit fleischeinlage means that you add to it what you have, and that all of those little things—leftovers, half-dead vegetables, special ingredients that you only have in miniscule quantities—are what add up to make a dish special. All those little things are what support the dish.

When I got home, I took some of his chorizo out of the freezer. I’d been saving it to remake a recipe from the book for Spanish Chickpea and Chorizo stew, but given my conversation with Uli, it didn’t seem like I should hold myself to the written recipe if I had chorizo on the brain and a fridge full of mismatched ingredients. I ditched the chickpeas, and threw in potatoes and cabbage, and a bunch of spring onions that have been sulking in the back of the produce drawer. They’d been back there, forgotten, since I bought them thinking I had to and then cooked spring asparagus instead.

Simmered down for an hour, the stew looked like a remarkably gentle collision between Spain and Germany—the rich, red color of pimenton de la vera and the chorizo crumbles swam around the whitish shredded cabbage and potatoes, somehow coexisting happily, like when my dog and cat are both in good moods and they curl up on the couch together.

At the end of our conversation, Uli told me that he always asks people what they want to cook when they ask him for advice. He doles it out, but always, always volunteers to also show them how to eat it. Might have to pack some of this stew up and head down to the market.

But first, the book. I need to write it mit fleischeinlage.

The UnRecipe
Spanish-German Chorizo Stew starts with good chorizo. Crumble a few fat links into a hot soup pot, and let them cook until your house smells like a different country. Add a big handful of chopped alliums – whatever mixture of garlic, onions, and leeks your refrigerator offers up – and then add about 5 chopped carrots and 3 chopped celery stalks. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and a good dose of Spanish pimenton, then add two peeled and chopped russet potatoes, half a small head of green cabbage (nicely shredded), and enough chicken stock to cover it all. Oh, and glug in some sherry vinegar, because you want a little tang. Bring the stew to a simmer, and go do something else, but every once in a while, come back and stir it.

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Filed under commentary, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup

A good day for sunburn

View from poma atop China Bowl

I like the way the sun warms my back when I’m wearing black, and the way it shines on everyone the same way, blind to color and wealth and happiness. I like the way it glints off the water sinking deep into the hearts of the new camellia flowers in my front yard. I like the way it dries out the cover on my gas grill, after I forgot to replace it, now almost two weeks ago.

But when I’m roughly 11,000 feet closer to the sun than usual—say, sitting on a chairlift when said chairlift breaks down—I don’t particularly like the way the sun fries my face. Granted, there are worse things than spending an hour “stuck” in the Colorado mountains on a sunny day; I only really got cold at the end. And considering that thirty years’ skiing had never before offered me a similar situation, I’d venture to call myself lucky. Okay, so I didn’t get much skiing in that day. And I have a pretty wicked sunburn, for March, with lines across my face that will probably look funny until May. But I didn’t loose any appendages; I didn’t even get all that cranky.

I did, however, guzzle a hot chocolate, take two runs, then head for the smokehouse at Wildwood, where a pulled pork sandwich helped me forgive all. We sat with that big burning beast to our backs, Lauren and I, trying to dip waffle-cut fries into ketchup faster than the chilly hilltop breeze could whip their heat away. We pointed out barbecue sauce when we inadvertently smeared it across our faces. Then we skied, and I taught Lauren to tuck, and we skied faster. We checked in on our children from the chairlift, feeling simultaneously freed and tethered, like all mothers must.

A well-accessorized tot

So I’m blaming the chairlift for my sunburn, but both cheeks are peeling, and the sun was really only blasting me from one side that morning. The burn is from the skiing and the pork sandwich and the margaritas on the deck at the Minturn Saloon and the laughing and the tot wrangling and yes, quite possibly, from the hour on the chairlift as well. The whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

That night, cheeks burning, we went to Kelly Liken. It’s the first time in years (is that possible?) that I’ve been to a new-to-me restaurant with absolutely no itinerary besides enjoying myself. We laughed because both our children had gone to bed early without a fuss. We laughed when we ran into former private chef clients of mine, and when they treated us to glamorous cocktails, and when the server wholeheartedly congratulated our husbands on their 8 years of marriage because somewhere along the line, “Jess and Jim’s” anniversary had been translated to “Jeff and Jim’s.” We laughed when we twisted shaved roasted lamb leg up into fantasy bites with nettles and ramps and fried (what was it, that potatoey croquette thing?), and when we nibbled meat off a rack off rabbit, like a carnivorous version of Tom Hanks’s baby corn scene in Big. We laughed at how I’d pressed frozen waffles to my face in an attempt to ice it down, and at how the spun sugar topping the sticky bun dessert poked into the soft fleshy insides of our cheeks as we chewed it. Then we might have laughed some more, but I don’t really remember.

Then we came home. We came home, and there was a list fifteen miles long, with things like taxes and laundry and deadlines and planting the dahlia bulbs that have been lingering in the backyard for more than a week, looking sad and naked. I’ll start testing recipes again next week, I thought. When I’m rested, and my throat stops hurting.

Then I thought a little harder. I certainly don’t want to write a cookbook that only has recipes that you want to make when you’re 100%. I know as well as anyone that cooking can be lovely, but it also takes some effort, and some days you just don’t have as much to give. Still, after almost a week on the road, I wanted something hearty, something that felt complete. I patted a simple rosemary crust onto a gorgeous pork loin, and popped it into a nice, hot oven. While the panko tanned, I mixed potatoes with thyme and garlic, and drizzled asparagus with olive oil, and slid them in next to the pork. In a food processor, I whirled tart red plums (out of season, I know, but the book’s due in May and summer must be present—save this recipe for summer, if you want) with a bit of garlic and rosemary and balsamic vinegar. I let it simmer down until it looked liked applesauce with lipstick on. The pork came out perfectly pink in the center, so we bathed it with that magenta-hued sauce, and felt just as happy to be home as we’d been thrilled to be on vacation.

Now that we’re back, I don’t mind the sunburn much. My skin is also red from fresh cold wind, and wine, and the blush of a jolly good time. And I’ll certainly never look at a frozen waffle the same way again.

Lauren and Jess

Rosemary Crusted Pork with Balsamic Red Plum Sauce (PDF)

No, there’s no photo, which should tell you something—although this simple pork roast is gorgeous enough for company, you can make it on the laziest of days, like when you might have strep throat, and your face is peeling from too much sun, and your nanny is sick and you’re trying to wean your cranky tot from his pacifier and all you want to do is WHINE. (All that happiness above? That was three whole days ago.) But wait, this is about pork, right?

For a complete dinner, slick some small potatoes with olive oil and roast them right next to the pork. While the pork rests, steam a bunch of asparagus, and serve them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the extra breadcrumbs from the pork.

Time: 30 minutes active time
Makes: 6 servings

For the pork
1 (2 1/2-pound) pork loin roast, excess fat trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the sauce
3 large firm-ripe plums (about 1 pound), halved and pitted, then chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the pork in a small roasting pan, fat side-up. Rub the top with about 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper together until the breadcrumbs are evenly moist. Pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the pork, coating it in an even layer on the top and sides, and slide it into the oven on the middle rack. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top is brown and the center of the roast measures 140° with an instant-read thermometer. (If the top begins to brown too quickly, slide a baking sheet onto the rack above the pork or cover the pork with foil.)

Meanwhile, whirl all the sauce ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

When the pork is done, let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Rewarm the plum sauce, then slice the pork into 1”-thick slabs, and serve slathered with sauce. Serve extra sauce on the side.

And a note for you skiers: For future reference, a corkscrew works to change your DIN setting.

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Filed under fruit, gluten-free, pork, recipe

A new lobster chowder

Lobster Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon

A few weeks ago, I had to test a lobster chowder recipe for a corporate client. I make lobster stews and shellfish soups occasionally when I’m back east, usually with my husband’s family, but I rarely traipse off to find lobster in Seattle. Everything about it felt wrong: calling eight stores to find pre-picked lobster meat, choosing lobsters over crabs at the fish market when that first approach failed, rifling through my pantry for just the right ingredients while my sister, bless her heart, helped me crack shells and pick, pick, pick. In the end, it tasted good, but it didn’t taste right. And more than anything, it simply wasn’t the lobster chowder I wanted to make.

Then I forgot about lobster chowder.

But last week, back in Maine, it resurfaced—first at my friend Kathy’s house, where when we walked in, at 10 a.m., there was a pot simmering on the stove, rich with cream and homemade lobster stock, bright with summer corn. Lobster, I thought. Wow. Then it showed up at Grace, Portland’s giant-church-turned-foodie-alter (the big open kitchen is literally where the alter once stood), doused with chanterelle mushrooms, corn, and local mussels. At 50 Local, the awesome new Kennebunk bistro that proves the locavore movement is capable of rooting itself into the tiniest communities, a lobster carbonara reminded me once again that few foods can simultaneously taste as rich and as simple as lobster does.

It’s funny how when we live in one place, we appreciate its delicacies, but we celebrate them best when we’ve lived without them for a while. Last week, in Maine, lobster chowder seemed worth celebrating. We made it the way it should be, with lobster from a pound in Cape Porpoise owned by a rickety-looking old woman who carries fresh blueberry pies six at a time. There was corn stock involved, made with cobs fresh from a local farmers’ market, and a whisp of fresh basil, because it was there, and the tiny Maine potatoes my son rolled around on the floor for an hour first. (Here’s the part I omitted from the recipe, but I’m sure it made a difference: Place the potatoes in a strainer on a wood floor. Take them out and put them back in approximately ten thousand times, licking them and rolling them around in any available dust before returning them to the strainer. Wash thoroughly.)

We ate the chowder as the sun exhaled, all of us exhausted from a long, bright day.

Between testing and tasting, my stomach has had an incredibly busy schedule these days. (Summer is the best time to feel sorry for a freelance food writer.) But sometime, before the days get short, I’ll make this incredibly light chowder again with corn and crab. And if a few mussels sneak their way in, I certainly won’t complain.

Lobster and Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon (PDF)

Made light and summery with homemade corn stock and shards of fresh basil, this lobster concoction hardy qualifies as chowder. (There isn’t even any cream in it.) But it’s summer. Who wants something heavy?

Chop the lobster meat how you prefer to eat it – in small pieces or big chunks.

You west coasters could substitute crab for the lobster meat, if you’d like.

TIME: About 2 hours, start to finish

MAKES: 8 servings

8 cobs fresh corn, shucked
2 medium Vidalia onions, peeled
3 big sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 slices (about 1/4 pound) applewood-smoked bacon, chopped into 1/4” pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes, skins left on, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1 pound lobster meat, chopped
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

First, make corn stock: Place a corn cob on a cutting board so it points away from you. Using a knife, cut three or four rows of kernels off the cob on the side closest to your knife hand. Roll the cob away from the knife and cut the next few rows off. Continue until all the corn has been cut off, then stand the empty corn cob on one end and use the back of the knife to scrape down the cut sides of the corn, pushing the milk and whatever’s left from each kernel onto the cutting board. Set the corn and mash aside in one big bowl, the cob in a big stock pot, and repeat with the remaining corn.

Add one onion, split down the middle, and the thyme and bay to the stock pot with the cobs. Cover with 8 cups cold water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Set aside. (You can do this up to a few days ahead, let cool completely, then strain and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.)

When the stock is done, heat a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. While the bacon cooks, finely chop the remaining onion. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the drippings in the pan, and set the bacon aside.

Add the chopped onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook and stir until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, stir to coat all the onion pieces, and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the clam juice, a little at a time, whisking until all the juice has been added and the mixture has thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and 6 cups of the corn stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the lobster, corn and corn mash, and milk, return the soup to a simmer, and remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved bacon and basil just before serving.

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, shellfish, soup

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

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

Casserole

Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole (piece)

My friend Kelly moved from Seattle to Pasadena last weekend. I knew it was coming, of course, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would affect me. She showed up at our house last Friday, when we hosted a party for my husband’s graduate students, and handed me our house key. “We probably won’t need this anymore,” she said. Or something like that. Her little half smile.

We had a living room full of people. I took the key into my bedroom and burst into tears. More than anything, I was surprised—neither of us are big on goodbyes, and I assumed I’d give her a great big hug and trust I’d see her soon enough. No biggie. But all at once, in those few words, I conjured up this big crater in my life, a Kelly-shaped space where she used to fit so well. I imagined my dog, who has very few favorite people, pining after her, and started my own little moping session. No more midday Discovery Park walks. No more Battleship-style work sessions at the local coffee shop. No more, “Hey, I just tested some lamb. Want lunch?”

I met Kelly when our husbands were in graduate school together. The first time Kelly made me dinner, I think, was the time she made her mom’s taco casserole. Back then, we were still the hangers-on, the female counterparts to a relationship our now-husbands had already cultivated. You know how it is: the guys get along, so they figure the gals might, too. It doesn’t always work that way, but the more I hung out with Kelly, the more I liked being friends with her. Slowly, we started doing things together without the boys around. When she and her husband moved to Seattle a couple years ago for a post-doc, we were all thrilled.

But we knew it would be short-lived. Which is why, red and teary in front of all my husband’s colleagues, I was a little frustrated with myself. She’s not going away forever, silly, I thought. Much of her family still lives here. Somehow, in my own semi-private hallway crisis, it calmed me to think about the casserole. We’d come a long way since that night, maybe about 6 years ago now, and I figured that if I still remembered the first thing she made us—and Jim and I talk about it regularly, maybe once a month—she probably wouldn’t just up and disappear from my life altogether. A woman doesn’t make you a taco casserole unless she intends to stay in the picture, right?

It’s probably time to tell you about the dish itself. First, throw away any preconceptions you have about the word “casserole.” (Here are mine: Casseroles are for other families. They all start with a can of soup. They don’t taste good.)

Trashed? Okay.

Start with an empty pan. Layer it with corn tortillas, taco meat, cheese, maybe some salsa, and just enough sour cream to tip your nutritional barometer past the “unhealthy” mark. Then slide it into the oven, and say “bake at 350 degrees, until golden bubbly” with a Southern accent, the way Dolly Parton does in Steel Magnolias (only she’s talking about a dessert made out of canned fruit cocktail).

We loved it. I don’t think we put anything on it, really. It’s not just that you don’t need to adorn something like a taco casserole, it’s that it might even be wrong to garnish it. I often think of it when I cook dinner for people for the first time, because somehow, simply taking one single pan out of the oven, instead of juggling four of them and organizing the clean linens and getting out the good wine and turning on the right music, makes a house feel more like a home to me. A casserole is a sort of edible welcome mat, woven from a household’s history with the fibers of time, and care, and in most cases, calories. I clearly don’t make them enough. Kelly’s made me feel at home.

Earlier last week, my neighbor had come to me with a challenge. She’s cooking dinner for about 55 people in a couple weeks, for a Mexican-themed party. She needed an easy, tasty, make-ahead dish that would satisfy the stereotypical Mexican-American card without requiring any mid-meal work or attention. Ideally, she’d be able to make it a week ahead and freeze it. And ideally, it would stay hot for a long time.

There in the hallway, all streaky, it hit me that a slightly upscale version of Kelly’s taco casserole would fit the bill. The only problem? I’d mentioned the casserole to Kelly’s mom at her going away party, and her mom doesn’t remember it in the slightest. That’s the way it goes with these things, I suppose—one person’s legend is another person’s evanescence. Kelly didn’t seem to remember where the recipe came from, either, so I had no real starting point.

But pork. I had a gorgeous pork shoulder in the freezer. I thought of the neighbor. Fifty-five people. It needed to be easy, and she needed to both try it, to see if she liked it, and test it from frozen, to see how long it would take to reheat on the party day, so I needed two pans. I braised the pork, painfully simply, in two jars of store-bought salsa. I pulled it, and layered it into the pans with cheese, tortillas, sour cream, and an enchilada sauce made from combining the braising liquid, canned sauce, and canned tomatoes. (Okay, the truth here: In the middle of all this, I got a wicked case of food poisoning, let the pork sit in the fridge all cooked for 3 days, then asked our nanny, whose Texas roots qualify her as an almost professional pork puller, to shred the pork for me because when I started the project, I thought my stomach could handle it, but when I opened the pork, I realized I’d jumped the gun. Miraculously, I had a huge appetite for it when the casserole came out of the oven, and 5 days after the illness struck, it’s still the only meat I’ve been able to eat.)

It was perfect—browned and bubbling, moist and filling, interesting but kid-friendly, and irrepressibly homey. I scooped into it for lunch, and the neighbor came over to taste, and loved it. I had it again with a friend for dinner, and my sister stopped by unexpectedly, and there was enough for her, too. The last went to Graham, who shoved it into his mouth like a Neanderthal, then ceremoniously flung the leftovers onto the walls, windows, and curtains so a different neighbor would see that he’s a miniature taco casserole gladiator. For the record, this dish sticks to walls as well as it does to ribs.

The next time I see Kelly, possibly at my in-laws’ house in Maine this summer, possibly with other friends we don’t see often enough, I might make it again. I’ll drape the good carpets with plastic, when Graham’s eating, and tell stories about changing my mind, in the end, and making Dave and Kelly keep the house key after all, and about helping the neighbor make pulled pork enchilada casserole for 55, and I’ll probably forget that Kelly no longer lives in Seattle.

And for a short period, I’ll feel, deeply and completely, why some foods make people feel like they’re at home, no matter where they live.

(I’ll let you know how long to bake from frozen, in the comments section, as soon as my neighbor retests!)

Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole 2

Pulled Pork Enchilada Casserole (PDF)
Alter the spiciness of this homey, cheese-crusted casserole—really a lazy way of making enchiladas—by using a hotter salsa. I used Trader Joe’s Double Roasted Salsa and mild enchilada sauce, and it had only a touch of heat, which hit the mark for serving a big crowd. You can always fancy it up with chopped scallions, cilantro, and avocado, too.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8”x8” casseroles, each serves 6

2 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder
2 (12-ounce) jars salsa
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can enchilada sauce
Vegetable oil spray
20 corn tortillas
1 cup sour cream
4 cups shredded Mexican-style cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the pork (with strings, if applicable) in a large ovenproof pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven), pour the salsa over the top, and bake for 3 hours. (Yes, that’s all.) Let cool to room temperature. Remove any strings.

Transfer all the salsa and liquid to a food processor, and puree with the diced tomatoes and enchilada sauce. Pull the pork into bite-sized shreds and set aside, removing any large pieces of fat.

Change the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Spray two 8” square pans with the vegetable oil. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of each pan. Tear 5 corn tortillas in half, and arrange them in a couple layers in one pan, turning some of them so the flat sides touch the edges of the pan, then repeat for the second pan. Add half the pork to each, then divide the sour cream between the two pans, spreading it right over the pork. Add 1 cup shredded cheese, then 1 cup of the sauce, to each pan. Add another layer of 5 halved tortillas to each, then divide the remaining sauce between the two pans, and top each with another cup of shredded cheese.

Bake the casseroles for 45 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

You can also wrap casseroles first in foil, then in plastic, then freeze and reheat at 350 degrees in just the foil for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake until browned.

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Filed under cheese, gluten-free, mexican, pork, recipe

The F Word

Hot and Sour Soup and Pike Place Chinese Cuisine

Click here to listen to me talking about hot and sour soup on KUOW.
Recipes are down below.

Hot and sour soup isn’t the prettiest, or even the second-prettiest soup there is. In fact, if I had to curate a list of beautiful soups, it would be miles below pho and chicken noodle, pasta e fagiole and tom yum. Hot and sour soup looks like dirty nothing in a bowl.

At least, that’s what I thought, before I got to know it. I guess it’s a soup like some people, that way – it’s easy to pigeonhole and walk away from, if you don’t know any better.

I grew up “hating” hot and sour soup, which means I’d never tasted it. (I hated a lot of things, including, but not limited to, anything with spice, foreign flavors, or ingredients whose entire preparation I didn’t personally witness from start to finish.) At Chinese restaurants, my family ordered a big bowl to share, and I ordered egg drop soup. The waitress would rattle her cart to our table and hold my lone bowl up accusingly, as if to ask Who ordered the boring soup?

Me. It was always me.

A few weeks ago, I came very close to doing the same thing, because I enjoy the simplicity of egg drop soup, and because it’s what I’ve always ordered. But for whatever reason – perhaps because I wasn’t really paying attention, or maybe because I am now An Adult Who Likes Things – I hopped on the hot and sour bandwagon, along with the rest of the table. And I tasted my new favorite soup for the first time.

I know. That f-word. It’s a bit of a shock to see it on the screen, even. I’m not a big fan of favorites. I go for change, and variety, and different every time. But this soup, people. If I count correctly, I’ve had hot and sour soup nine times in two weeks. Nine times. (Obsess much?)

The thing is, it’s worth obsessing over. Don’t look at it; taste it. Sip a spoonful, and the first thing you’ll notice is the texture – a bit of cornstarch makes it silky, almost satiny. It glosses over the tongue in a way few Western foods can, every drop somehow fatter and smoother. If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of soft, ribbony egg (and were lucky enough, in the first place, to pick a soup whose preparer got the egg to bloom up just right, like in the photo above), it glides across your palate. Then there are the cloud ear mushrooms, which don’t really taste like much, but have a lovely crunch, like some sort of terrestrial seaweed. (They supposedly improve circulation, too.) There are lily buds, with their vegetal, almost artichoke-like flavor. (Bet you didn’t even notice them the first time.) And then . . . then. . . there’s the clean, astringent hot of white pepper, and the brisk, bracing vinegar flavor.

Of course, there are endless variations. I tried rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and a mixture of various vinegars. (I think I like white vinegar the best, because its flavor is stronger than rice vinegar but not too fruity.) There’s also whatever else the cook feels like adding – little gifts, like chunks of tofu, or pork, or carrot, or chili. I’d been tasting soups everywhere, trying to figure out, since I’d never been down the hot and sour soup road, what I liked. More tofu? More pork? More hot? More sour?

Then, gazing out the windows at the rain on the Sound at Pike Place Chinese Cuisine one day, slurping the bowl above, I had a BFO: I could probably make hot and sour soup myself. At home.

Hot and sour is, after all, a rather homey thing. Traditionally made with the most humble ingredients – dried staples, small bits of meat  – it’s a soup made with leftovers. They just might not be the leftovers you have in your kitchen.

I scurried around Pike Place Market, collecting ingredients. (You can get everything there.) I made a few traditional versions first, relying on recipes from Grace Young, Mark Bittman, and Susanna Foo, until I learned what combination of flavors I liked.

As it turns out, I’m sort of greedy. I like a healthy combination of tofu and pork – more than one usually finds in restaurant versions of hot and sour soup – and more than anything, I like a soup made with good, homemade stock. I like to tinker with the pepper and vinegar, until I get it just right. And I like to eat my hot and sour soup right when it’s fallen just below scorching, screaming hot – which is to say, immediately.

I also like the version I made using what’s available now at farmers’ markets here in Seattle – Northwest leftovers and pantry staples, if you will, like dried porcini mushrooms, and kale, and carrots.

Only problem now is deciding which one’s my favorite. Time for bowl number ten.

Homemade hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

Northwest Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

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Filed under chinese, farmer's market, gluten-free, Lunch, pork, radio, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

Little things, and a roasted vegetable chowder

Simmering Root Veg Chowder

Today, just a few quick links, and a recipe for an oven-roasted (mostly) root vegetable chowder…

That fried squash? You might have heard me talking about it on KUOW, Seattle’s NPR station. (If you didn’t, it’s here.)

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

Also, I’ve entered the maple-kabocha sour cream bundt cake in Bon Appetit’s holiday dessert bake-off. The winner is picked in part by popular vote, which – if junior high cheerleading tryouts are any indication – has never been my strongpoint, but what the hay. Head on over to vote. (Hint: It’s in the cake category. And while you’re there, look for entries from other Seattle food bloggers!)

And then – then – I’m done with squash. Promise. At least for a day or two.

Salty Marcona Almond Toffee 1

My recipe for Salty Marcona Almond Toffee – one of my favorite holiday treats – is being featured over at Saveur.com.

We’re having fifteen people here for Thanksgiving. Not much is decided, but I’ll certainly be making this pear-spiked cranberry jam, as well as these bleu cheese and walnut cookies, because a Thanksgiving elf just sent me a six pound wheel of Point Reyes. Today, I begin the hunt for an excellent sausage-studded cornbread stuffing recipe. And if you’re a geometry expert, I could use your help fitting a table for fifteen into our living room.

I’ve been on Twitter (@onfoodandlife) for a couple months now. For those uninterested in joining, note that you can now follow my tweets – and not learn a single thing about social media, if it’s not your thang – on the righthand side of Hogwash’s home page.

And oh, yes. Hogwash. She’s had a little bit of a face lift. What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see more of around here?

For now, a quick chowder for two. For the days when you can’t sit over the stove and stir.

Mostly Root Veg Chowder 1

Mostly Root Vegetable Chowder (PDF)
Made with fennel, parsnips, kale, shallots, garlic, and of course potatoes, this bacon-studded, oven-roasted chowder is a break from the kind that cements you to your seat for the hours following lunch. And because the bacon and vegetables are roasted together in the oven, it takes much less active time than most chowders—and you get the same potato skin snap you get when you roast potatoes alone.

TIME: 20 minutes prep
MAKES: 2 large servings

2 fat slices bacon, diced
Half a (1-pound) fennel bulb, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1” rounds
1/2 pound small white potatoes, quartered
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup chopped kale

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Scatter the bacon on the bottom of a heavy ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven. In a mixing bowl, toss the fennel, shallot, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, and thyme with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Roast 40 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to brown on the bottom and the bacon is crispy. Stir to release the vegetables from the pan.

Roasted veg and bacon for chowder

Add the chicken stock, cream, and kale, and stir again. Cook another 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve hot.

Note: To double the recipe, switch to a wider pan, like a heavy roasting pan, so the vegetables have enough room to spread out and caramelize a bit.

4 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, media, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

Spain, in 5 ingredients

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 1

Once, then I’m done: Some days, lupus bites. Not in a lovely, peppery vinaigrette sort of way. In a rocks-in-my-soup sort of way. I felt so good all summer, then boom. I turned away for just a moment, and the wolf walked in the door.

It’s no wonder, really. We spent a week in Spain for a wedding, plus a long weekend in Rhode Island for another wedding. It all adds up to Too Much Fun. It was lovely, of course – the jamon iberico, watching the Vuelta a Espana’s last time trial, seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in (literally) decades, participating in weddings I wouldn’t have missed for the world . . . But coming home, we had sort of a crash landing. Graham didn’t adjust back to our time zone as well as he had going the other direction, and between his schedule, our own jetlag, and three good cases of the sniffles, we’ve been a mess. And my body has not been happy.

Thankfully, the one taste I had to bring back from our trip – the flavor of Spain that lingered on my tongue, through all the ham, through the weird Oktoberfest meal on Lufthansa, through the Willow Tree chicken salad reunion (me and the chicken salad) in Newport – was the simplest of stews. We had it at a roadside restaurant, driving from La Rioja back to Madrid in a rented 6-speed diesel minivan. (As a side note, I do not recommend driving a large vehicle through the heart of Madrid if there’s even a small chance your iPhone, with all its hoo-ha navigational capabilities, will lose power.)

Considering our lack of Spanish, you could say we ordered the soup on accident. It was hardly a looker – just chickpeas, soaking in a simple broth with little beads of paprika-spiked oil bobbing around on the surface. Studded with slices of mild chorizo, it went down easy, rich but not overwhelming, unmistakably Spanish but after 8 days of ham, appreciably different. It had the kind of broth you want to drink for days on end, like a tonic.

When I sat down to think about how to make it, I felt like my brain wasn’t working. If I sautéed chorizo and then simmered it, along with dried chickpeas, in a paprika-rich homemade stock, the legumes would soak up some of that meaty flavor. But wasn’t there more? Five ingredients didn’t seem like enough.

But they were plenty. And an hour later, there it was: Spain. I’d purchased bulk chorizo, instead of the regular kind in casings, which made it a bit different from the version I fell in love with. (If you must know, I don’t like the way sausage slices look cooked with the casings on. The way the exterior shrinks up and strangles the meat reminds me of putting nylons on – you know, when they’re only partway up your thighs? Uncomfortable, and a little gross.)

Of course, the one thing missing from the roadside stew – the same thing, frankly, that was missing from so many of my meals in Spain – was the color green. I served ours over sautéed kale.

This could very well be The Fall I Didn’t Make Pie. Peeling apples just doesn’t seem to be an option right now. My hands are too sore.

But soup. Soup can be easy.

Thank goodness.

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 2
Quick Chorizo and Chickpea Stew (PDF)

Brimming with more flavor than a stew that takes 10 minutes of attention really deserves, this hearty concoction was my favorite meal from our recent trip to Spain. I used bulk chorizo, but sliced (sausage-style) chorizo would work well also (and was what we ate in Spain). Homemade chicken stock is important here—use yours, if you have some.

Serve the stew as is, or try ladling it over sautéed greens, such as kale or chard, or over leftover rice.

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 1/4 cup dried chickpeas
6 cups good chicken stock
3/4 pound chorizo (bulk or in casings, thinly sliced)
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the chickpeas and 4 cups of the stock to a boil in a soup pot. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 1 hour.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble the chorizo into the pan (or add the sliced chorizo) and cook, stirring and breaking into bite-sized pieces after the first 5 minutes, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to the pan with the chickpeas, stir in the paprika and the remaining 2 cups stock, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, until the beans are soft.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

9 Comments

Filed under gluten-free, Lunch, lupus, pork, recipe, soup, vegetables

Meet Darla

Sausage and summer veg strata 2

It’s the same sort of day as most of the other days here in Seattle, I suppose. I’m sitting at a coffee shop, next to a woman who appears, at a brief glance, to be editing a Swedish-Chinese dictionary.

I’ve started working again, three days a week. Sitting down at Herkimer, my body remembered all the right moves—sidling into a seat before getting coffee because the line was long, shyly sneaking my yogurt snack into the corner of my little bench seat, tuning into Basia Bulat. I even remembered my favorite barista’s name.

It all seems amazingly simple: I had a certain life. Then I had a child. Now I have a different sort of life, and I also have a child. Life’s changed, but then again, it hasn’t.

I can’t imagine anything better, for me, for now.

At least, I couldn’t, until we got a new dishwasher.

Darla

A new dishwasher, people, really does change a life. It’s not that we didn’t have one before. We did. It was white and dirty, rusty inside and cranky. It didn’t clean dishes particularly well, and our dinner plates didn’t fit inside. I consider myself neither a dishwasher snob nor a connoisseur, but clearly, fitting one’s dishes inside and getting them clean should be two of a dishwasher’s top attractions.

I actually learned a few things in the buying process:

a) a dishwasher should wash your dishes for you, not after you

b) putting rinsed dishes in the dishwasher with abrasive soap leads to cloudy glassware

c) with a new energy-efficient dishwasher, you really only need about a tablespoon of soap

The new one is named Darla. Yes, I named it. I mean her. But only after some thorough testing. She had to earn her keep, you see.

It turns out that the guy I bought our new KitchenAid from, Joe, has an appliance blog. Yes, he blogs about dishwashers and refrigerators and washing machines. When he told me, I tried to stifle a laugh. But then he challenged me: Try everything, he said. See if you can stump your dishwasher. Then tell me what happens.

So I did. I baked blueberry crisp, ate half of it, and reheated the leftovers, so the purple scrapies on the bottom burned right into the pan. I left the empty pan in the sink overnight, untouched, and Darla cleaned it right up.

Cranberry goop

Then I made Thanksgiving. I know that sounds crazy. It was mid-August and 85 degrees outside, but I was working on some recipes for a November issue, and I didn’t see any way to avoid it. Darla took on the sticky cranberry sauce ring, and a  challinging kale gratin dish, and boy, did she shine.

Hand tarts, assorted

Next I made little hand tarts. I let the fruit bubble up and over the cornmeal crust, right down into the baby brulee dishes I baked them in, and plunked the dishes right onto the top rack, berry crusties and all. The first time, they didn’t come quite clean, but once I moved them to the bottom rack, where the real business gets done, she came through.

Hand tart mess

Finally, I gave her cheese. I made a sausage- and vegetable-studded breakfast strata, and baked it until the top layer of cheese – the cheese leather, Jim calls it – was good and brown. We ate a third of it for breakfast the first day, then a third the second day, and the last of it on yet a third day, reheating it in the oven each time and cementing (at least we thought) layers of cheese to the dish’s topsides. Again: clean.

Strata to bake on

Darla darling, we love you for your cleaning ability. Joe was right. You can do anything.

Now, if you could only figure out how to dry the dishes, we’d be much obliged. Joe said you might not like our eco-froofroo dishwashing detergent. We switched to something that looks much more environmentally harmful, but you’re still not happy.

Darla. Oh, Darla. What should we do? We’ll have to call Joe again.

Sausage and summer veg strata

Sausage & Summer Vegetable Strata (PDF)

It’s easy to fold summer’s best produce into lunches and dinners, but I think we too often forget how good the garden tastes first thing in the morning. Here’s a make-ahead strata that shines with bright cherry tomatoes and zucchini. You can buy a baguette just for the occasion and let it sit out overnight, to dry it out, but I love to use up all the old bread heels that somehow end up congregating in the corner of my freezer.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time, plus 30 minutes baking time

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

4 large eggs

3/4 cup half and half

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Butter (for the pan)

1/2 day-old baguette, cut into 1” cubes (or 4 cups cubes of assorted bread)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 heaping cup cooked, crumbled sausage (from 1 large sausage, about 1/3 pound)

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Whiz the eggs, half and half, milk, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a blender until well mixed. Butter an 8” x 8” casserole dish (or similar), and arrange the baguette chunks in an even layer in the dish. Scatter the feta, zucchini, tomatoes, and sausage evenly over the bread, then pour the egg mixture over everything, turning and scooping so that all the bread pieces are moistened. Top with the cheddar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is toasted and melty. Serve warm.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, commentary, failure, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, vegetables

Like we did for pie

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili eaten

My sister called me from Colorado this weekend, in the midst of cooking for the UW ski team after a day’s races. She was with my brother, who was there coaching Stanford’s team. (Sometimes it’s convenient, having a family full of ski racers.) On the stove: a sweet potato version of the squash- and black bean-stuffed peppers we’d made together once.

There, in the midst of making dinner, she realized she wasn’t sure what to do with the potato.

“Do I just bake it?” she asked.

Allison,” I admonished. “You can’t call me from Nationals with a question about potatoes. How’d it go?”

She gave me the quick, half-hearted version of the day’s race, then continued on her quest. “So I bake them. Then do I just scrape the stuff out, like we did for pie?”

Like we did for pie.

Those were the five words that got me: Like we did for pie. Those words, they made me realize that of all the things I might have expected, when Allison moved to Seattle, the only thing I really wanted was to have a sister again. I never harbored any real plans for teaching her to cook stuffed peppers, or sweet potato pie, or anything, for that matter. I just wanted to see her more, and take life’s juicy parts in together, in smaller sips—less How’s life, I haven’t talked to you in ages? More Hey, is that my sweatshirt?

It’s not like we ever stopped being sisters. But when you live smack in the middle of the underarm fat on the curled bicep of Cape Cod, and your kid sister lives in Idaho, it’s not exactly easy to bond on a regular basis. With my brother, distance never seemed to be an issue—we grew up in the same house, at the same time, close enough in age to suffer the mental and physical battles that bind siblings together for life.

But Al and I never had time to beat each other up. Visits were usually exciting, but hurried, sometimes stilted, and always, always too short. It’s hard to have time to wrestle with someone who lives across the country, much less invite her over for dinner.

Since September, though, when Allison moved here, we’ve been doing better. Sunday nights, she shows up with dirty laundry, chases the dog around the couch in circles, and pillages my closet for clothing that no longer fits. I love it all.

Conveniently enough for me, it’s not considered polite to pick physical fights with your pregnant sister, the way she might with my brother. So instead of wrestling, we cook—and increasingly, that means cooking together automatically, as opposed to me cooking, with her waiting, deer in headlights, for me to assign her a specific task. Now, she knows where the measuring cups are. She knows how to cut an avocado. She knows where we keep the good cloth napkins, and the hot sauce, and the extra sparkling water. And, it turns out, she knows how homemade sweet potato pie is born, which tickles me pink.

Of course, I should have seen this coming—should have seen that in my house, every Sunday at the stove means roasting one’s first chicken, and learning what goes into a fruit crisp, and learning to like real summer tomatoes. But honestly, I wasn’t marinating her in kitchen experience on purpose.

What I wanted, and what I now realize I’m getting, in part because we’re spending time eating together, is a sister who’s growing into a friend. We’re separated by twelve years, and are living quite different lives, with different values, and priorities, and schedules. But when someone that looks a lot like you walks through your front door with a hug every week, things change. We’ve gone from being related to relating.

Outside the kitchen, it’s fantastic. And the food knowledge goes both ways: Allison introduced me to the Swimming Rama stir-fry at Thai Tom, and to a new place for bubble tea, and someday, I will make it to University Teriyaki, just because she loves it.

But last night, when Allison came home after Nationals, and we started Sunday night dinners again after the two-month hiatus her ski season necessitated, I felt paralyzed. Getting confirmation that she’s watching, and listening, and learning every time she comes over freaked me right out. Teaching someone how to cook a specific dish is one thing, if you know they’re paying attention, but this whole subtle absorption thing is a bit disconcerting. What if the woman never learns to cut an onion properly? I know how to do it, and I can do it if I need to, but in practice, I’m usually sort of an onion mangler. It just wouldn’t do if she thought that was the right way.

It comes down to this: What if I don’t teach my sister the right things?

I’ve decided that would be okay. I’ve decided that if she’s learning how to stir-fry, she’s also learning that not every stir-fry tastes the same, and that some may, in fact, taste really bad. She’s along for the ride when I stuff peppers, and also when I tear their soft flesh accidentally, or burn the cheese on top. She’s realizing that the best part of a well-roasted chicken is a super crisp skin, eaten right off the bird right when it comes out of the oven, even if that means putting a bird on the dinner table stark naked. She’ll eventually find out that I hate eggplant, and that I’m not very good at making pizza, and that I’m actually quite lazy when it comes to washing vegetables. She’ll also be here for nights, like last night, when dinner means taking a vat of the world’s easiest homemade chili out of the freezer, simmering it on the stove for an hour for good measure, and not really cooking at all.

With any luck, Allison will learn that enjoying spending time in the kitchen means writing her own definition of what it means to cook, and what it means to eat well, rather than adopting mine or anyone else’s.

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili 3

Last week, I cooked dinner for about 25 people with a friend who also happens to be in her third trimester of pregnancy. My assignment was chili—two giant pots of it. I made one simple vegetarian version (pictured just above), and a more time-consuming one, made with pulled pork, white beans, and green chilies (pictured at the top of the post, and farther below). We split and froze the leftovers, presumably intending to save them for when neither of us has the energy to cook. Our portion probably won’t last.

Here are both recipes; choose what suits you best.

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili (PDF)

It doesn’t sound as sexy as a meal made entirely from raw ingredients, but throwing together a hearty, healthy, vegetable-studded chili in well under half an hour appeals to me. In this version, loosely based on the beef chili my mother-in-law makes, I especially love that I can dump all the canned ingredients in without any fuss—which usually means that even on a tired day, I have the energy to make homemade cornbread while the chili simmers. Serve as is, or top with shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled—you’ll just have to cook the vegetables a little longer before adding the beans.

If you like a spicier, smoky chili, consider adding a finely chopped chipotle pepper or two, from a can of chipotles en adobo.

TIME: 25 minutes prep
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (6-ounce) package sliced crimini mushrooms
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
1 (15-ounce) can black beans
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can corn
1 (7-ounce) can fire-roasted, chopped green chilies
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the onion, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the chili powder, oregano, salt, and garlic, and cook and stir for a few minutes, until the spices become fragrant. Add the mushrooms, stir to blend, and cook, covered, until the mushrooms give up their water, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. Season to taste and serve hot.

Leftover chili can be cooled and frozen, in an airtight container, for 3 months or so.

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili side

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili (PDF)

I don’t suppose I get extra credit for writing a recipe that’s double slow-cooked, but that’s just what this is: pork shoulder, braised to fallingapart in spicy green salsa, then pulled and stirred into plump white beans that have been simmered for hours with the braising liquid, tomatoes, cumin, chilies, and garlic. The result—a relatively easy, deeply flavorful (but not blow-your-mind spicy) chili spiked with shreds of tender pork—is enough for a crowd. Any leftover chili can be cooled, then frozen in airtight containers up to 6 months.

This recipe takes some planning—please read it carefully before beginning. And don’t be afraid to make it ahead of time; the flavors will only improve with a day (or three) in the refrigerator. I made the pork after an early dinner one night, cooked the beans overnight, and simmered the finished chili just before dinner the next day.

TIME: 1 hour active time, plus plenty of slow cooking
MAKES: 10 servings

For the pork:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (roughly 3-pound) boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 (16-ounce) jars green salsa*

For the beans:
2 pounds dried cannellini or great northern beans (or a combination of the two)
2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
3 (7-ounce) cans fire-roasted chopped green chilies
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups chicken stock

For serving:
Chopped cilantro
Chopped avocado
Crumbled cotija or shredded Monterey Jack cheese

*Be sure to taste your green salsa before using it—if you don’t like it in the jar, you probably won’t like it in the chili. I like using El Paso or Trader Joe’s version, although the latter is a bit salty, so watch your seasoning if you use it. Of course, you could use any kind or color salsa (or a mixture), as long as you avoid anything fruity.

First, braise the pork: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large, ovenproof Dutch oven or casserole dish over medium heat. Add the oil. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides (about 5 minutes per side, undisturbed). Transfer the pork to a plate, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Return the pork to the pot, add the salsa, and add water, if necessary, until the liquid comes halfway up the side of the pork. Bring the liquid to a bare simmer, cover the pot, and braise in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork halfway through cooking—the pork is done when it falls apart when you try to pick it up with tongs. Transfer the pork to a plate, and reserve the braising liquid for cooking the beans. When the pork is cool enough to handle, chop or pull it into small pieces (discarding any fat), and refrigerate it overnight.

While the pork is cooking, start the beans: Place the beans in a large pot and add water to cover by 3 or 4 inches. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for an hour. Drain the beans, and transfer to a large slow cooker, along with the tomatoes and chilies.

When the pork is done, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the spices (next five ingredients), and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add one cup of the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and cook for a minute or two, scraping any spices off the bottom of the pan. Pour the onion mixture over the beans in the slow cooker, add the reserved braising liquid, stir, and cook on low heat for 10 hours, undisturbed.

Before serving, combine the beans and the chopped pork in a (probably very large) pot, or two smaller pots. Add the remaining chicken stock, and simmer for half an hour or so. Serve hot, garnished with chopped cilantro, avocado, and cheese.

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Filed under gluten-free, leftovers, Lunch, pork, recipe, Seattle, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

Skirt Theory

Rosemary White Bean Soup 2

“Did you puree this for me?”

My husband gazed at me appreciatively, his body speaking the special language he saves for gifts he really likes: eyebrows up but soft, hands clasped involuntarily below his sternum, weight suspended over the right foot, head slightly tilted. He was looking at a steaming bowl of rosemary-white bean soup, blended until silky smooth and topped with crisp pancetta and goat cheese, with the drooling anticipation he usually reserves for bratwurst and beer.

I was so tempted to say yes. Yes, dear, even with baby brain I remember everything about you at all times. But I’m told lies are bad.

If it had occurred to me to recall how much he loves smooth soups, I would have talked it up a little more. But I was thinking about how beautifully the beans had plumped up overnight, and about my cousin’s need for a nutrient-rich soup she might possibly stomach despite morning sickness, and about how a dog could harbor a deep love for raw, unadulterated kale and still possibly retain her identity as a dog.

In my mind, it started as run-of-the-mill minestrone. I had a fridge full of vegetables, and two gnarly heads of vagrant kale that had sprouted up from last year’s seeds when we weren’t paying attention. Jim harvested the best leaves and tossed them up onto the porch without thinking. Next thing we knew, Bromley was having herself a nutritious little snack.

Brom eating kale

No, I wasn’t thinking about pureed soup, I told him. I was just thinking I wanted something that looked a little fancy.

See, in this house, we believe in skirt theory. It’s simple—it’s just the well-conceived belief that you behave how you dress. A long to-do list used to mean I’d pull on a skirt and maybe some boots, both physical predictions of a productive, got-it-together sort of day. (Now, a skirt day means the nice yoga pants, but I find they actually have the same effect, provided I only wear them when I’m thinking about them as “nice clothing.”) Jim subscribes, only minus the skirt. His version usually has something to do with a sweater vest, or leather shoes.

What I never realized, until the last couple of weeks, is that there’s such a thing as dinner theory, too. It’s “you are what you eat,” not so much on a nutritional level, but on a psychological scale. I feel fine, and healthy, if I take the time to roast chicken and carrots. But blood orange-glazed carrots (with honey and cumin), whose points tuck under the chicken thigh just so? Even better. Making nice food at home makes me feel like I’ve got my shit together. It makes me feel more dressed.

I have been halvsing, believe it or not. In the kitchen, there’s a new general rule: I either test recipes during the day, or I cook dinner. I don’t do both. From an energy standpoint, it’s a great plan, one to which the baby—and my kidneys—seem to be responding. (Hooray!)

But mentally, oy, it’s tough. When I’ve been testing, dinner means 10 minutes, or 15, tops. I like cooking simple square meals for about 3 days, and after that, it sort of feels like wearing pajamas to work too many days in a row. Sometimes, you just need to wow yourself. And yesterday, minestrone was simply not wow enough. So that puree? Not so much for Jim. Sorry, honey.

On the other hand, I didn’t want anything complicated. I just wanted pretty.

I started by slicing a fat pinwheel of pancetta across its streaks of fat, rotating, unwinding, and slicing rhythmically, strip by little strip. I sautéed the meaty morsels until good and crisp, set them aside, then softened onions, garlic, and a good handful of rosemary until the whole house smelled piney. In went the white beans I’d soaked overnight and cooked that morning (you could use canned beans, of course), and some good chicken stock. Then, the blender, and two bowls, and the pancetta, and a few rough hunks of goat cheese, which melted into the soup as we stirred, there at the kitchen counter.

“This is why winter should last longer,” said Jim, scooping in another bite of fancy Sunday soup. I agreed, and made a mental note to put skirts on my soups every now and then. I think I’ll leave the blender out, too, just as a reminder.

Rosemary White Bean Soup 1

Rosemary-White Bean Soup with Pancetta and Goat Cheese (PDF)

Here’s a simple, easy soup that looks a lot more time-consuming than it is. If you use canned beans, make sure you salt the soup after you’ve pureed it, as some canned beans have more salt than others.

For variation, try topping the soup with the crispy kale from this potato-chorizo soup, from the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago.

TIME: 1 leisurely hour, start to finish (with inactive time)
MAKES: 4 servings

1 (1/4” thick) slice pancetta or bacon (about 1/4 pound)
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary
1 large garlic clove, crushed
4 cups good chicken stock or broth
4 cups cooked cannellini beans, from 3/4 pound dried or 2 (15-ounce) cans (drained)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, roughly crumbled

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Slice the pancetta across its grain into 1/4″ batons. Add pancetta to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate (leaving the grease in the pot) and set aside. Reduce heat to low, add onion, rosemary, and garlic, and cook and stir for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft.

Add a bit of the stock, bring to a simmer, and use a spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining stock and the beans, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Blend the soup with a stick blender (or carefully, in small batches, in a regular blender) and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, with reserved pancetta and crumbled goat cheese on top.

Rosemary White Bean Soup  close

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Ribs are for red states

plate 'o' ribs

Imagine, if you will, a blank map of our fair nation’s of political will. Color the states in with your favorite red and blue markers. (Erasable, please. You may need to change them.)

Now, in your brain, superimpose a different graphic. This one highlights the geography of the nation’s great ribbing traditions – sweet, sticky barbecue from St. Louis; saucy and smoky, from Memphis; vinegar-based, from the east Carolinas, and so forth.

You’ll notice a suspicious similarity between the first and second map. (There may be a chart of NASCAR’s fan base that coincides nicely with the other two illustrations. This is not a coincidence.)

I grew up in Idaho, which is all elephants also, last I checked. (Side note: 28,000 people showed up there for this year’s Democratic primary, an event traditionally accompanied by a joke about a phone booth.)

Unlike other Republican strongholds, though, Idaho uses “barbecue” as a verb, not a noun. In the North End, the Boise neighborhood that housed said phone booth and my childhood home, my family grilled chicken and steak for summer’s official kick-off. Later on, when my husband and I lived back east, Independence Day weekend meant steaming lobsters on a beach in Maine. If you’d asked me then to name the last thing I’d expect to eat in early July, ribs would be at the top of the list, right above gefilte fish and Tom Yum soup. Ribs are for red states.

All-American Man

But this year on the Fourth, Jim and I headed east, to Naperville, Illinois, to attend RibFest with our friend Peter, who judges the giant rib contest held there each summer. Jim’s been going for a few years, and for some reason, this year, I felt the pull. Maybe because there was a chance I’d sit on the jury with Peter. Maybe because Peter’s girlfriend Lauren would be joining us, and I knew I’d have someone to sing with when Joan Jett climbed up on stage.

Or maybe because I realized Illinois is a blue state turning bluer, and wondered whether the deep-rooted barbecue tradition that’s been wicking north for generations has any chance of moving into the Pacific Northwest as definitively as it has to the upper Midwest.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s one little detail I should probably mention: I don’t really love ribs. I do like tender, silky-threaded pork rib meat, and I’m all for gnawing on a bone now and then, but thick, finger-cementing Kansas City-style barbecue sauce appeals to me about as much as drinking ketchup straight. I don’t like the way spicy sauces burn my lips, and I’m not a huge fan of anything smoked. So, yeah, the idea of judging a ribs event was a little scary. By definition, a barbecue competition soaks its judges in sauces as varied as the pedigrees of the people that make them, and frankly, some of them turn my stomach. I know it’s unadventurous, but I have trouble ordering ribs if I can’t guarantee I’ll like the sauce.

My friend Chris made ribs with a delicious apple cider vinegar sauce recently, though, and I’ll admit, with Chris’s ribs in mind, I also flew to Chicago with the hope of falling in love. I thought maybe I’d had a string of bad experiences that could be undone. I fantasized about finding a rack worth a Saturday, worth the patience it takes to caress good barbecue with the perfect sauce until, but not past, the point at which the meat gets ready to melt right off the bone, like ice cream on the hood of a hot car. My tastebuds were already hard at work imagining a Seattle version, sauced with a thin local-tomato-and-Wenatchee-apple-vinegar concoction, sweetened with Olympic Mountains honey and spiked with the homemade Asian-style chili paste I’d find. Call it blind idealism, painted on the rack of squealer in my brain.

So it was a little relieving, I guess, but equally disappointing, when we arrived at RibFest at 11 a.m. on Saturday, to find the judging seats filled. Lauren had treated us to a full-on Fourth of July barbecue (er . . . I mean grill-out) the night before, with bratwurst, and German potato salad, and light, spunky coleslaw, and deep-dish caramelized apple pie. The last thing I wanted was a slab of swine.

Peter judging

Peter, though, he’s always ready for ribs. As we watched him begin tasting his way first through 17 contestants’ entries, then through their 17 corresponding sauces, I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t feel like eating ribs, and nothing one wouldn’t eat at 11 a.m. is worth judging, much less eating in mass quantity.

howlin' coyote

RibFest is a confluence of ribbing traditions, drawing a roster of teams from across the country with names like Sgt. Oink’s, Texas Outlaws, and Howlin’ Coyote Southwest BBQ. From the moment we snuck into the judging tent, my excitement for actual rib-eating went from 5 to about 2 on a 10-point scale. Just watching the woman in charge pass ribs out made me feel like I had something stuck between my teeth. I took a few noncommittal nibbles from the extra samples, and went straight for the toothpicks.

tables, before opening

I walked out into the private sponsor area, still completely vacant before the Fest’s noontime opening bell. Peter and Jim had explained how people camp out here all day, eating and eating and eating until sunset, then come back the next day for more. As I scanned the vendors’ billboards, I thought of the previous night’s reported crowd of 65,000, and wondered how many pigs die for RibFest.

Ribfest at opening

A few minutes after noon, when people started milling around, the smell of ribs had lost its allure. I felt a little intimidated, knowing we’d planned to stay until 10 p.m. When would ribs start sounding good?

sauce mop

I wasn’t the only one. Lauren doesn’t even eat ribs, and as the judging ended, I was surprised to learn how many in our blossoming little crowd were heading straight for the chicken. I was told that in the upper Midwest, and indeed, at RibFest, ribs are served with corn on the cob, baked beans, and true potato chips. We roamed the grounds, sticking our fingers in papaya-based sauces and “thermo-nuclear” hot sauces, but the more I walked and the more I tasted, the more I wanted a nice green salad.

fresh-fried potato chips

I did eat, eventually, mostly from the list of sides. We shared a huge pile of fresh potato chips, still moist from the fryer. I filled my plate with everything but ribs—foil-wrapped corn, with the husks still attached, and tangy pulled pork, and pasta salad—and then stole some of Jim’s ribs (from Desperado’s, I believe), when I discovered I liked the sauce.

ribs to judge

Now, don’t get me wrong here – I enjoyed them, for the moments I was eating. But it didn’t happen for me, the way I expected it to. With 17 of the country’s best ribbers gathered in one place, I wasn’t inspired to try them all, the way I assumed I would be, and I certainly didn’t fall in love. I enjoyed, and socialized, and found an excellent root beer, but didn’t nearly obsess.

RibFest in full effect

Honestly? I felt a little guilty. I’m used to being the foodmonger. And in a crowd of rib lovers, I felt a little left out. (And healthy. Oh, bless you, Naperville. You made me feel so fit.)

I wondered if there was something wrong with me, physically – if I’d eaten too much the night before, or somehow missed a key element of preparation. I thought maybe Joan Jett’s throaty yowls had stripped me of my appetite. But the moment we got home, I dug into Lauren’s coleslaw like I hadn’t eaten in a week. What’s wrong with me? I thought. Why don’t I love ribs?

I’d say it’s a political thing, or that I’m just not American enough. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Earlier in the day, I’d watched one woman give another a box of perfume, as a birthday gift. They’d combed through the scent descriptions together, searching for the flower that loaned its signature to the scent (“Ahhh! Magnolia!”), and discovered that each of the company’s perfumes is named for a particular person. Love in White is named for Laura Bush.

“I love Laura!” said the recipient, halfway between a squeal and sigh, her accent all Chicago.

I’d looked the other way, pinching a smile between my lips, realizing I’d never hear the same conversation in Seattle. Is there a correlation between liking Laura Bush and loving ribs?

Of course the answer is no. That’s just the excuse I created for myself, in the moment, when I felt like the only kid whose mom wouldn’t send cupcakes to school for her birthday. I know plenty of liberals who would go to great lengths for a good plate of ribs. I’m sure there are native Seattleites, even, whose idea of a heaven is a full rack, no matter which incarnation of sauce is slathered on top.

For now, though, I’ll have to learn to be okay with not being one of them. I’ll eat ribs when the mood strikes, when the sauce is right for me. When Chris makes them, or when I finally get around to that Seattle version.

great saying

And maybe I’ll go back to RibFest next year, with a little more determination, a bigger dash of patriotism, and a lot more dental floss. Maybe the election will change the map enough that I’ll stop pigeonholing a food I didn’t grow up eating. We’ll start our relationship from scratch.

I’m still not convinced I can’t fall in love with ribs. But if I don’t, well, I’ll just make sure Lauren’s cooking dinner.

German Cole Slaw

My friend Lauren Fischer’s German heritage comes out swinging each summer with picnic classics that skip the mayonnaise-laden dressings so typical of hot weather fare. These recipes are bound together by the flavor of celery seed; I love how it lends crunch and flavor and a hint of spiciness. I made both salads in about an hour (putting the potatoes on first to boil, then making the slaw, then finishing the potato salad), so it seems fitting to give you both.

Fischer Family Coleslaw (PDF)
When I was making Grandma Fischer’s tangy, celery-spiked slaw for the first time, NPR was reporting on childhood obesity, and I decided to cut the sugar by half – we didn’t miss it. The slaw is delicious straight out of the bowl, but would also be great on a warm barbecued pork sandwich.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings

1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 large red cabbage (about 1 pound)
1/4 medium green cabbage (about 1/2 pound)
2 large carrots, peeled

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, whirl the oil, sugar, vinegar, onion, salt, mustard, celery seed, and pepper until pureed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Using the shredding disc, shred the cabbages and carrots, and add to the dressing. Stir to combine, and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Let sit 3 hours before serving.

German Potato Salad

Lauren’s German Potato Salad (PDF)
The dressing for the Fischers’ bacon-studded potato salad is unique: It starts as a roux, flour mixed with the drippings leftover from frying bacon, and builds into a thick, celery-spiked sauce that coats the hot potatoes with flavor without making them gummy. I imagine the leftovers would be fantastic formed into patties, seared in a hot pan, and topped with a poached egg, for breakfast, but so far, leftovers haven’t been an option.

It’s important that you add the hot dressing to hot potatoes – I sliced the potatoes next to the stove while the onions cooked.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

3 pounds small potatoes (I used firm white Yukon Golds)
6 slices bacon
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and fill with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender (15-30 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes).

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over medium heat until crisp. While the bacon cooks, mix the flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper together in a small bowl.

Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the onion to the bacon fat and cook, stirring, until the onions are tender and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the onions, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Slowly add the water and vinegar, stirring constantly. Bring the sauce back to a bubble and cook, stirring, for another minute or so, until thick and creamy.

Meanwhile, slice the potatoes, transfer to a mixing bowl, and crumble the bacon into the bowl. Add the warm dressing, and stir to coat all ingredients well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Filed under commentary, gluten-free, husband, pork, recipe, side dish, vegetables

Makin’ bacon

baking sheet bacon 2

I have bacon on the brain, and I want your help.

I was reminded recently that bacon doesn’t always happen on top of the stove. I knew this, I think, in theory, but not in practice.

If you’re a converted baking sheet bacon maker, pardon me: I’m a little slow on the uptake. But if you’re still scooting bacon around in a pan four pieces at a time, the way I’ve always done it, and if you aren’t too attached to your container of congealed bacon grease, I have a weekend experiment for you. It saves time, and probably calories, and if you’re as sloppy a bacon maker as I am, a good deal of laundry detergent.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Fit a cooling rack into the sheet. Arrange bacon slices on the rack – yes, you can cook, lordy lordy, a whole pound at once, if the bacon’s sliced thick! Slide the sheet into the oven and heat to 400 degrees. When the oven tells you it’s preheated, start checking the bacon – it should be done about five minutes after the oven reaches 400 degrees.

The beauty of the thing is that you can just let the grease cool right on the foil, then fold it up like it never happened. There’s the argument for not wasting the foil, but I think this technique reduces the number of paper towels you need, so perhaps the waste discussion is a moot point.

You can cook the bacon plain, of course, but baking bacon opens the door on bacon as substrate. I drizzled ours with maple syrup and sprinkled it with a good dose of chili powder before popping it into the oven, and it disappeared with greedy reviews.

But Oh! the places you’ll go! I’m envisioning smearing it with mustard and drizzling it with honey, or coating it with my own cracked black pepper. . .

What else have you done with baking sheet bacon?

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Filed under Breakfast, pork, recipe

A fork in the road

Mags with forks

Have you noticed? There are forks in every photograph these days. Well, not just in. The forks are main characters, really. They’re stars. All the forks on the magazine covers look glamorous, somehow, compared to what we use at home. (Except for the MIT magazine. They seem to have forgotten the fork. Or maybe they’re still busy inventing a better one.)

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me to see them getting so much attention, given how frequently we eat with them, but for some reason a recent glance at my coffee table made me self-conscious about my Oneida. (Or is it Dansk?) I mean, how could a fork from a line called Symphony claim any sort of cache? I rifled around in our silverware drawer – the one I overloaded and broke, and Jim fixed, last weekend – and came up with one sexy fork. We bought it at Goodwill when we moved in. I ate with it for six weeks straight, before our life arrived in the moving truck, and now, in a sea of cutlery without character, I’m clinging to it.

I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been washing it by hand so I can use it more frequently, when a full orchestra of perfectly serviceable Symphony silverware waits at the ready. Just because I like Mr. Goodwill’s flat handle and dull finish, and how heavy he feels in my hand.

But we’re sort of in a fight, me and this fork. He came back into my life at a bad time.

I went to see my new periodontist a few weeks ago. I have a healthy, photogenic mouth, but apparently my gums are another story. They need a sort of preventative surgery. Hearing it explained, I’m not sure how the procedure differs in principle from Botox.

(Gross-out warning: Don’t read this if you’re eating.)

“Pretend your gums are pita pockets,” said Dr. B., jamming an inch-long device into the fleshy pink spaces between my teeth. “I’m going to pry them open, stuff them with turkey and tomatoes – you’re not a vegetarian, are you? – and sew them shut again.”

I cringed. “What happens afterward?” I asked. That story my father tells about turning fish and chips into a hot fish milkshake careened through my mind.

“You’ll go on a periodontic diet. It’s not like you can’t eat anything,” she said. “You just can’t eat anything crunchy, or hard, or super chewy, or anything sharp, or anything that could get caught in the sutures. No artisanal breads, no cereals, no hard vegetables, nothing too spicy, because you don’t want to get the blood clots flowing, no . . .”

I stopped listening when she suggested I view it as an opportunity to lose weight. But I’ve found a couple opinions, and surgery it shall be.

So I’ve been preparing, mentally, for my little adventure on Friday. Or, more precisely, for accepting what I won’t be able to eat after the fact. I’m steeling myself for a world of soup, and I have a list: avgolemono, egg drop, pho . . .

There’s physical preparation involved, also. I’ve been feeling good, these last few weeks. I was starting to think maybe I’d taken a turn for the much better – maybe even nailed lupus into some form of remission – but when I stopped my anti-inflammatories in anticipation of Friday’s work (Yes! The only time in my life I can say I’m having work done!), the pain started creeping back. Or, well, running back.

Late last night, my fork and I had a little tiff.

I guess I should back up a little. It really started when I found out that this weekend is razor clam season again. Oyster Bill told me I’d find fresh clams at Wild Salmon Seafood Market, and I got a hankering for the same fat, sweet meat I dug for last fall. As it turned out, the market didn’t have fresh razor clams, but they had frozen ones, and I decided to give them a try.

The truth? They’re not bad. For me, a huge part of the razor clam experience is digging and cleaning them, but chopped up in a light, simplified version of the razor clam chowder Kevin Davis serves at Steelhead (PDF), they were delicious. And best of all, I now have, conveniently frozen, two tasty lunches that will fit my periodontal “diet.”

Last night, the good fork and I scooped hot pasta, tossed with wine-infused spicy sausage, kale, and razor clams, into my mouth. But halfway through my bowl, my wrists got really, really tired. I put my fork down, not because I was done eating, but because it hurt too much to hold it any longer. Damn, it is downright embarrassing to think I might injure myself eating.

So no, I won’t be razor clamming this weekend. I probably won’t be doing much of anything, except hanging out, avoiding aerobic exercise, and teaching my husband how to make matzo ball soup from my perch on the couch. And hoping, really hoping, that the second the surgery’s over, I can hop back on the Naprosen wagon and go back to that fork in the road.

Oh do tell, wise reader: What would you eat?

Razor clam rigatoni 2

Portuguese Razor Clam Rigatoni (PDF)
Inspired by the Portuguese-style clam chowder popular at Cape Verdean spots on Cape Cod, this hearty pasta dish, made with spicy sausage, kale, garlic, and a touch of cream, makes a great home for chopped razor clams. If linguica or razor clams aren’t available in your area, substitute any spicy sausage or regular chopped clams, respectively.

TIME: 45 minutes total
MAKES: 4 hearty servings

3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 spicy sausages (such as linguica, chorizo, or hot Italian), casings removed
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 (1/2 pound) bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound razor clam meat, chopped
3/4 pound bite-sized pasta, such as rigatoni
1/4 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

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

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, and swirl to coat. Add the sausage, crumbling it into bite-sized pieces as you add it to the pan, and cook, breaking it up as you go and turning occasionally, until no pink remains. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan, then add the leeks, garlic, and thyme. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the kale and season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the kale has wilted. (The sauce can be made ahead up to this point, and set aside for an hour or two before the meal.)

About ten minutes before serving, add the pasta to the boiling water, and cook according to package directions. Stir the wine and paprika into the kale mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add the sausage and clams (with any accumulated juices), and cook, stirring, just until clams are opaque. Increase heat to high, add the cream, and stir to coat all the ingredients with the cream. Stir in the cooked pasta, and serve immediately, sprinkled with cheese.

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Filed under pork, recipe

Hot Dog!

March is the best-named month. Back when Rome was in diapers, and all the months got nice Latin names, the first month of the year (in Rome, anyway) got named after the god of war. They were right, whoever picked “March.” (Good job. A+ in month-naming class.)

They were right: It’s an action verb, this whole month, all about forward progress, and doing, and conquering, and in Seattle, growing. And right now, it’s marching right over me. I can’t seem to keep up with any of it: the garden, or the sun, or the rain, or the lists. I’m always a half-step behind. There are fourteen magazines on our coffee table, which is the spot reserved exclusively for Things We Must Read Soon. (Normally it’s two or three.) I’ve spent most of March so far being sleepy, but I hear the rest of the month coming, far off in the distance. Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp. It soldiers on without me.

And so far, I’m okay with that. So far, I like my pace. Yesterday a friend called from back east, smack in the middle of the afternoon when I was busybeeing over a story. My first instinct was to arrange a time to call back. But my hands hurt from typing, and I was actually a little ahead of my deadline, so I couched myself and had a nice chat. I came back to the story twenty minutes later, refreshed.

I, for one, am not going to march. I’ll just walk, thank you. I’m going to stop and smell the flowers, and not think about how much more productive they’re being this month, with all that bud-forming, petal-pushing energy.

My grandmother came to visit earlier this week. (Being with an eighty-year-old sure helps slow the pace. Thanks, Grandma.) We drank tea out of the peacock cups and examined the buds on the bushes around our house.

tea in a peacock cup

June calls this The Grumpy Season, because there’s nothing to do. She divides her attention between the plants and the news, and being in my house – without a television – was a little disarming for her, I think. She doesn’t use a computer, so I relayed the news to her a few times a day, when we weren’t listening to the radio.

“Hillary won Ohio and Texas,” I told her early on Wednesday morning. We were heading out the door for a walk.

She whirled around at the bottom of the stairs, a huge grin spreading across her face. She loves Hillary.

“Really?” she asked. I nodded. “Yup.”

Hot dog!” she exclaimed, with her hands spread out at her sides, fingers splayed and wiggling like she was rehearsing for FAME. “Hot DOG.”

Why did that expression go out of style? I think it’s the best. I’m going to make an effort to use it more. It also makes me wonder why certain foods get picked for certain sayings. I mean, hot dogs and wieners are basically the same thing, right? But you don’t hear people going around shouting “Wiener!” when things go their way.

Anyway. When grandma was here this time, we cooked. Not my food, but the food she remembers best, the food of my father’s childhood.

It was a sunny day, so we made picnic food. Baked beans with sausage and onions, to be exact.

I wonder if my father remembers eating it.

Baked beans with sausage and onions

We cut and seared up two fat, fresh hot Italian sausages, and mixed them in a bowl with a big can of baked beans (the kind with extra brown sugar). We added a 10-ounce bag’s worth of brown pearl onions, boiled and peeled, along with a dollop of Dijon mustard, a big squirt of ketchup, and two swirls around the bowl of dark molasses. No salt. No pepper. Just mixed it right up, dumped it into a dish (I didn’t have her Corningware, but we made do), and baked it at 325 degrees until bubbly, about an hour.

I did cringe a little, dumping cans and bottles of things into a bowl and calling it dinner. It’s not quite my style. But I’ll admit I loved the way the sweet, sticky beans mingled with the spicy sausage under the pudding-like skin that formed across my casserole dish. I’ve been heaping it into a small bowl for the last few days at odd hours, enjoying it straight from the fridge. It’s like eating an old secret.

Baked beans with sausage and onions 2

We had Jell-O salad, too. Lime Jell-O, with cream cheese and pineapple mixed in.

Not for dessert. For salad.

I didn’t like that too much.

Oh, how times have changed.

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Filed under grandma, pork, recipe

A lot of little pigs (or none)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, you say. That’s too bad.

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

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

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

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

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

Wooly Pigs' bacon

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

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

Little piggie #2 came in the form of jam:

Skillet's bacon jam

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

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

Salumi pancetta

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

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

Panic?

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

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

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

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

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

Root Vegetable Pot Pie

Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pie (PDF)

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

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 4 servings

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

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

rehydrating mushrooms for pot pie

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

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

roasting veg for pot pie

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

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

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

finished stew for veg pot pie

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

Prepping pastry for pot pie with cheese

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

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

Root Veg Pot Pie, overlapped

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