Category Archives: shellfish

What We Don’t Eat

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It’s always been hard to judge Bromley’s misery properly, because she’s been a miserable, hateful sort of creature since the beginning. She’s almost never affectionate, and pouts constantly, and whines if she smells food but doesn’t get to eat it (which, in my line of work, happens often). She hates rain and children and men with beards, and feet without shoes on them, and people touching her feet, or her head. She’s the cranky neighbor and the crazy lady on the corner and the mean librarian, all rolled into an aging, stinky, always-hungry beast. As we talked about putting her down, my husband and I stared guiltily at each other, each thinking our own version of the times we’d wished aloud that she’d just hurry up and die already, so we didn’t have to clean up the remnants of the individually-packaged kids’ juice boxes she’d opened with her big maw and strewn across the living room rug, or wonder how she’d gotten to the shoulder-height bag of cat food. Thinking about how different she was from the dog we thought we were getting, almost 13 years ago.

Bromley comes from good eaters. When we arrived to pick her up for the very first time, her mother was counter surfing. We should have known then.

“SYRI,” bellowed Syringa’s owner, before Siri became a terrible name for a dog. The red bell pepper Syri had claimed from the cutting board dropped to the floor. Innocent eyes begged forgiveness.

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From the moment we got Bromley home, she was the same kind of scavenger, ripping open entire bags of sugar, stealing donuts off the counter, sneaking bites of steak directly from a hot grill, and generally failing to understand that the kitchen counters weren’t dog domain. She learned to stand in the center of the kitchen and not move, ever, interrupting the so-called kitchen triangle so effectively that we could never get from the refrigerator to the stove or the stove to the sink without running into her unmoving bulk. When we scolded her, she looked up at us with what we soon came to call “filet eyes.” She knew she was beautiful from a very young age, which didn’t help.

Outside the kitchen, she was cold and loveless. She refused to be petted. She hated being touched. She generally hated other dogs, too. No matter how much time and money we spent training her, she only paid attention to us if we had food in hand or if she was seated on some sort of couch. For years, we joked about giving her away.

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But about two months ago, our big Rhodesian Ridgeback plum stopped eating. We’d taken her in to have her various old lady lumps inspected, but until then, while she was partially deaf and blind and starting to lose her barking voice, there hadn’t been anything actually wrong with her. Not eating seemed like a giant red flag.

That same week, she fell up the stairs. She was ambling up them after eating her breakfast in the laundry room downstairs, and her back paws slipped out behind her on the polished wood, just a stair or two from the top. I heard a yelp and a thunk, as all 85 pounds of her hit the floor, and ran to find her stuck, chest and front paws prostrate on the top landing, with the back paws pads-up behind her. I had to lift up her backside so she could gain enough traction to finish the job. She was very embarrassed.

“I’d say 90 percent of our clients let their dogs live too long,” said the admin at Bromley’s vet, when I called to ask how one knows when it’s time to put her dog down. “We see a lot of dogs that suffer for way too long. And not eating is generally not a good sign.”

I dropped my phone, collapsed into the bed beside my snoring hound, and sobbed into her fur until she wiggled away, grossed out by my storm of affection. That afternoon, I brought her in for a check-up, but again, there wasn’t a single definable something wrong. The vet insisted it was our choice, but made sad little nods and pursed her lips a lot.

And so we went into discussions, round and around, trying to decide whether it’s better to wait until a dog shows definite signs of the end-of-life kind of aging before putting her out of her misery, or to have her anesthetized before anything tragic happens, and save her the pain. I bought her lovely hunks of beef leg bones to chew and thought about what we’d do, if we gave her a day of her favorite things before it was all over. We’d take her to the beach, of course. I started planning a steak dinner goodbye party in my head.

Because she’s the dog we got, we have loved her. And because we were heading out of town, and because a few days after seeing the vet she simply started eating again, we didn’t put her down.

Instead, we gave Bromley to my husband’s parents for two weeks, and left for our spring break road trip, hoping she’d be there when we returned, and that no one else would have to do what we hadn’t been ready to do ourselves. And the first day they had her, they wound up in the emergency room.

It was an abscess in her foot that had clearly been there for a long time, said the ER vet, and, later, our own vet. Weeks, maybe, or longer. It was likely the sign of bone cancer or a deep bone infection, they thought, but just in case, they’d treat it like a random foot infection. They cleaned it and drained it, and put in stitches, which fell out as the wound worsened, and put in staples, which fell out also, and put in more staples. My in-laws shepherded her through multiple rounds of pain medications and antibiotics, and Bromley became famous with all the vet techs. When we returned, my in-laws had had the patient in their home for two full weeks. They’d covered their rugs with puppy training pads to prevent the blood from Bromley’s wound from staining everything. The injured leg was wrapped in a big purple bandage more appropriate for a 12-year-old girl than a 12-year-old dog.

And when we came home, Bromley seemed upbeat. She was eating normally. She seemed happy to see us, even. We took her in to get her staples out, three weeks after the ER visit, and the vet leveled us with her steady, sweet gaze.

“There is a chance that it could just be a tissue infection,” she said defensively. “But honestly, I’d say I’m 99 percent certain it’s either a cancer or a deeper bone infection.” She recommended an X-ray, which would tell us which it was. The cancer could theoretically be treated with amputation, and a bone infection would require a month or so of IV antibiotics.

Jim and I looked at each other. We knew we couldn’t amputate one back leg of a dog who could no longer reliably stand on two. And since every vet visit left her shaking and bereft, sending her to a dog hospital for a month would be devastating to her. We told the vet we didn’t need the X-ray and left, chewing on her warning that sometimes, bone cancers can take over in a matter of weeks.

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At home, we spoiled her rotten. I bought fat, fresh spot prawns for grilling, and we ate them, but saved all the shells for her dinner bowl. I let her eat corn straight off the cob, in little bites. I fed her the crusts from Graham’s lunchtime sandwiches. We committed to buying canned dog food, which is outrageously expensive, and smells not unlike excellent pâté.

A few days later, my husband left on a business trip. I took Bromley in for her final foot check-up, and the vet declared it healed—healed better, in fact, than she had thought it might. Bromley wove her bumpy body between my legs as well as she could, like a toddler burying her head in her mother’s legs to hide. It was as if faced with her final moments, she’d decided she did actually have some love to share. As I was leaving, I suddenly decided I should ask to have the foot X-rayed. Off went Bromley, shaking terribly, with the perennially peppy vet, who seemed to pity me because I was about to learn the method nature had chosen for my dog’s execution.

But the vet came back with a funny look on her face.

“I’m happy to tell you that I think I was wrong,” she said. “I can’t find anything. Her foot looks completely normal.”

“Normal?” I asked, surprised and almost crestfallen. “Let me see.”

I couldn’t believe that there could still be nothing wrong, but as far as my amateur eyes could see, the dog’s injured paw looked the same as the normal paw, which the vet had X-rayed for reference. How many lives does this dog have? I thought to myself.

Bromley has never been easy to love, so with the good news came relief, but also an enormous wave of shame. I know my job is to love this animal as long as she lives, but part of me hoped—honestly, guiltily hoped—that something was finally really wrong with her.

And somehow, Bromley knew. When we got home, she became strangely sweet. She started following me around the house, like she had something interesting to say but kept forgetting. She sat next to me if I was sitting on the floor—close enough that I could pet her, which wasn’t something she let us (or anyone else) do regularly. She didn’t stop drooling or snoring or peeing in the wrong places at the wrong times, but instead of the mean, reclusive cat we’d likened her to her whole life, she finally became a dog.

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In return, we’ve started treating her like one. We’ve started petting her, because finally, she’ll let us. Last weekend, when Graham passed out in the middle of the living room floor, she took a nap next to him. And I actually cuddled with her. It took her five whole minutes to realize something unusual was happening and she stomped away.

And in the kitchen, we’ve simply kept spoiling her, because if a large dog can live almost 13 years eating all the human food dogs are supposed to avoid, a few more scraps on top of her pâté certainly won’t kill her.

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Last night, we had spot prawns again, heaping piles of messy garlic- and chili-studded creatures on a platter for our own dinner. We sucked the sweet meat out of their shells, and heaped the tails and legs into a big metal bowl, which we passed on to Bromley on the back porch. She looked up at us in lucky disbelief, as if wondering whether perhaps they might be poisoned. We nodded and pushed the bowl closer. My husband and I hugged each other, somehow deciding, after 12-plus years, that we’d simply love Bromley the way she wanted to be loved. Because sometimes the sweetest thing you make isn’t what you eat, but what you don’t.

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Spot Prawns with Garlic, Chilies, and Lemon

If you’re really going to do it right, eating spot prawns should be done with an apron on. That way, you can snap the tails off the creatures right as they come off the grill, slurp the juices off their legs (and out of their heads, if you’re so inclined), peel the shells off before dredging the tender, sweet meat in any lemony butter that remains on the plate, then wipe your hands on your front with reckless abandon.

In a pinch, whole fresh shrimp are a good substitute, but nothing beats the sweetness of spot prawns from the Pacific Northwest.

Serves 2 to 4.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (or to taste)

1 medium lemon

1 pound fresh spot prawns

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill over medium-high heat (about 425 degrees F).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, stir in the garlic and chili flakes. Zest the lemon and add that to the mixture, then slice what remains of the lemon into wedges and set aside.

Put the spot prawns in a large bowl and drizzle the butter mixture over the shellfish. Using your hands, scrape the leg side of the prawns against the bottom of the bowl, so each creature gathers up as much garlic as possible.

Grill the prawns for 1 minute per side, with the lid closed as much as possible, or until the prawns turn a deeper shade of pink and curl. (You want them cooked, but just barely.) Transfer the hot prawns to a platter, and serve piping hot, with the lemons for squeezing over them.

 

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Filed under Buddies, commentary, dog, gluten-free, husband, recipe, shellfish

Crab season

red rock crab

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

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

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

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

A man and his fish

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

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

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

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

Fishing photos by Adam Corcutt.

Crab Dip with Pickled Jalapeños and Goat Cheese 2

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

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

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

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

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

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

Parsley. In February.

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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.

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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

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

Back in the saddle

curried minted grilled shrimp 4>

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

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

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

curried minted grilled shrimp raw

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

curried minted grilled shrimp brushing

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

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

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

So what? The shrimp tasted really good.

Onward and upward.

curried minted grilled shrimp 2

Curried Minted Grilled Shrimp with Caramelized Coconut Glaze (PDF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

curried minted grilled shrimp 1

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

Mittens with buttons, and where I come from

Mittens with buttons

I didn’t buy the boots. I found some good ones, all right, tall snazzy black numbers with a chunky, tapered heel (40’s?) and buttons running up the sides, but I didn’t avoid buying them because I’d made strides in my personal struggle with consumerism and world hunger.

Nope, I just took the cowardly exit and kept my feet firmly planted in my ratty black Danskos.

Don’t you want to try them on?

My dad is king of the take-the-giftee-shopping-a-week-before-Christmas approach to holiday giving. (This man is a genius. When I was little, we used to hit the mall together on December 23rd or 24th, then I’d wrap my own gifts up and he’d come down to get them and put them under the tree.)

No thanks, Dad, they’re not quite what I had in mind.

But I did pounce on the mittens he picked out. They’re wooly black- and white-striped things, half-gloves, really, with a mitten top that folds back and secures with a button. Fabulous. And really, can you think of anything inedible that feels as good rolling around in the mouth as “mittens with buttons”? I’ve been rhyming it behind my front teeth all morning long. MiTTins with buTTins.

Anyway, we were quite successful shopping for other family members, and made good use of our time in downtown Seattle. We took Grandma June to Le Panier, where her eyebrows rose up beneath her bangs. We remembered eating croissants in Paris together, in – what was it? – 1991. I looked at her and wagged my own eyebrows up and down. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”

We made our way to the pastry counter. “Do you want to split something?” I asked her. She looked confused. My dad gave me an encouraging look that I interpreted as “I’ll split something with you if she doesn’t want to.” June window-shopped down the length of the counter, oblivious to the server’s impatience. Finally, she turned to me. “No,” she said. “I’ll be having my own.” I glanced at my dad, who immediately turned his back to me and ordered a pain au chocolat. Apparently my I’d gotten the wrong message.

“So this is where I come from,” I said, aloud. They agreed. “We’re Swiss, you know,” said June. “We don’t like to share our chocolate.” I ordered apricot.

We agreed to share bites, but right when I passed my pastry over to my father, and set his chocolate version at my place, a barista called out my coffee order. I came back no more than twenty seconds later to find he’d taken a bite of mine, and switched plates again, reclaiming his snack before I’d had a chance to taste it. Sneaky bastard! Yes, this is where I come from, I thought. If I’d chosen the chocolate one, I’d have done the same thing.

But I called him on it anyway. Grandma June chewed him out. He gave me a bite.

Then we bought scallops at Pike Place Market, along with spinach and a pink-striped lemon, which the lady at the fruit stand promised will be pink inside. I wanted to cook something special for dinner, something June would never make for herself but something not to restauranty, but I really, really didn’t want to spend the night concocting a complicated recipe, with my back to her. I didn’t want spend time letting the cooked food cool in the best light, next to the sink, while I snapped a million photos, waiting for the right one. I didn’t want to write with her in the room, and tinker with flavors until I got something mindblowing; I wanted to be with her. So I scribbled a few things down, threw a few of her favorite ingredients into a few pans on the stove, and tried to focus on dinner with Dad and Grandma instead of eighteen recipes left.

The soup was even more delicious the second day, which is a good rule for soup as far as I’m concerned. The scallops landed perfectly between the sauteed spinach and beans, not as nicely browned as I’d hoped, because I rushed and forgot to dry them off before searing them, but pretty enough to impress. June was thrilled, I think.

We forgot all about the pink lemon.

Oh, and the orange-honey bread pudding holds up quite nicely, by the way. I baked it Monday morning, and it made a delicious Tuesday night dessert, just reheated (with foil on top) in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.

Seared Scallops with Spinach and White Beans

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sauteed Spinach and Mustardy White Beans
Recipe 346 of 365

Note: I used three pans for this. You can probably figure out how to do it in fewer, but this is how it went down last night.

TIME: About 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

Sautee a couple sliced shallots in olive oil until soft. Stir in a can of rinsed, drained white beans, 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 cup stock, and a scoop of mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Move the beans to a back burner to simmer.

Heat another big pan over medium-high heat, and add a swirl of olive oil. (I would have added a good dose of garlic, but Grandma doesn’t like garlic.) Add a big bag of baby spinach. (I actually used a pound of untrimmed grown-up spinach, from two bunches, but trimmed all the tough stems off.) Season the spinach with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring or turning the spinach with tongs, until wilted.

Meanwhile, pat 8 big scallops dry and season them with salt and pepper. Heat pan #3 up good and hot, and sear the scallops for a few minutes on each side in a thin sheen of olive oil, until seared but still soft to the touch in the middle.

Add a splash of heavy cream to the beans, simmer them another minute or so, and divide them and the spinach between four bowls. Top with the scallops, and serve immediately.

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Filed under gluten-free, recipe, shellfish, vegetables

331: Pan-fried razor clams

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 2

If you search YouTube for videos of razor clamming, like my friend did when he wanted to show his family what we did on Sunday evening, you might find this one, which makes it look absurdly easy.

This is not razor clamming. This is a video of some guys who fitted razor clams with magnetic attractors of some sort, planted them in a bed of fine, pretty sand in their back yard, washed them over with water to make it look like the tide had run out, and dug them up using a clam gun (that big, heavy, metal tubey thing in the video) and some sort of X-ray sensing device to determine precisely where the clams were located.

But that’s not how it really works. Not for me, anyway.

When I learned that razor clams thrive up and down Washington’s eastern shore, my reaction was mixed. Sure, I’d love to forage for my own food, but truth be told, I’m not a huge clam fan. With regular clams – quahogs or cherrystones or even tiny Manila clams, or especially littlenecks, with their leathery little siphons – I get a little grossed out when my teeth find the barrier between the smooth, thin muscle and the viscera it protects, and when popping one in my mouth means finding a few grains of sand to grind between my molars, I cringe. It’s a texture thing, I guess.

But razor clams are different, I heard, at least the ones found around here. When you clean them, you take the stomach out entirely, and open them up in such a way that the sand gets washed away, so what’s left to cook is pure muscle. No guts, no sand. They’re the boneless, skinless chicken breasts of the clam family, as my friend Jill put it.

That’s why on Sunday, with the afternoon sun beating in through the windshield, I set myself adrift toward Twin Harbors beach in post-Thanksgiving traffic with a buddy, a dog, and a razor clamming license, determined to find a clam I could call a friend. Instead of that handy clam gun, we came armed with one shovel and our respective arsenals of waterproof winter clothing.

So here’s how it does work: You follow two small children around, depending on them to see the signs of life under the sand that you are somehow completely incapable of recognizing. They tell you to dig, and you dig, not down a foot or so, like in the video. Actually, that part’s true, you do dig a foot or so down with your shovel, first. Then you fall to the sand and start heaving sand out in messy handfuls, like you’re pawing through a giant vat of 34-degree Cream of Wheat, and you feel your dog staring at you. She’s got her head tilted to the side, wondering who the hell taught you to dig like that. But as soon you feel the tip of the clam, it digs down farther and slightly seaward, so you flatten your chest to the sand and get your whole arm involved, right up to the armpit. You have to make sure you have your watch on and the sleeves of your fleece a little bit open when you plunge your hand into the liquefied sand, so that millions of hard little particles dive directly up your sleeve, where they exfoliate your elbows, and down under your watch band and into your good biking gloves.

Then, and only then, do you bring the clam up. Sometimes, when the sand at the surface of the hole solidifies around your bicep and elbow, getting one’s arm out requires significant effort and considerable grunting. I’d guess I dug faster than the clam did about half the time, and of the twelve clams I did manage to finally drop in my square yellow bucket, almost half had shells I’d shattered with the shovel on the way in. Poor guys.

Then, when the children you’re with have caught their limit (I’m pretty sure the five-year-old beat my catch) , and you’re limping back to the car, filthy with sand and freezing and happy even though your clamming skills really do need some work, you have to sing a clam song. There’s no particular song; it’s not like sailing, where there’s a song for the mainsail going up, a song for the anchor, and a song for washing the deck. In our case, it was a variation of the Twelve Days of Christmas (again with the Christmas carols?). We started in the middle somewhere: Six buckets swinging, FIIIIIVE MANGLED CLAMS. Four clamming shovels, three cold butts, two new diggers, and a. . .

We never did figure out what could stand in for the partridge.

I have to save the nuts and bolts of cleaning and cooking clams for better-paying print, but here’s what they look like before you get those gorgeous shells off:

Granddaddy razor clam

Here’s the video I took (with my husband’s camera, which I will soon return to him, because my camera’s baaaaaack!) of someone showing me how to actually clean the things.

And here’s a clam without any clothes on:

Raw, cleaned razor clam

If you’re patient and good with scissors, you can clean them so that the digger (the part on the right) stays attached to the rest, and nestles into the little hole you see in the body on the left, but it will still flop around when you cook it, and the digger takes a bit longer to cook than the body, so why bother?

Oh, and on the eating part: They don’t taste like regular clams. They taste so much better.

But what does one do with them, you ask?

Not much.

Late on the night of the dig, we dredged them in flour and fried them up in olive oil. It was a good choice – the clams were still tender, and not at all leathery, like I hear they can get if you cook them too long – but I wanted more crunchy texture, and a little more flavor. Yesterday I dusted them in cornmeal and fried them up in butter. After all that clam killing, I felt somehow nicer breading them in something with a sandy texture. You know, remind ’em of home. Twisted? Maybe.

Frying razor clam

There’s not much to it, really. You just season a clean razor clam with salt and pepper, drop a good knob of butter into a pretty hot pan, dredge the clam in cornmeal, and sear it for a minute or so on each side. When they cook, the clams curl up a bit, like bacon in a hot pan, and if the razor clams weren’t so neatly cleaned (they weren’t all this pretty), the two halves of the clam splay out and bounce around in the hot pan like the legs of a very unfortunate frog. You can squeeze a bit of lemon over the top when you’re done, like I did, or just eat them, as fast as they come out of the pan.

Pan-Fried Razor Clams 1

It is so worth going.

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Green curry shellfish soup, and a quick demo

Yup, here I am.

I don’t want to be here.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and we have friends visiting, and I’m holed up by myself in my office, writing a recipe for a spunky, just-right spicy, wondrously comforting shellfish soup that I enjoyed so so much last night, but really don’t feel like reliving. Especially not now, when I could be finishing Sunday. This morning was so relaxing, so calm, doing yoga, wandering out for brunch, running into friends at the farmers’ market. But I came back to blog, and today I want to punch my computer.

Where is January 1st? I’m done with November. December, too, actually. Today I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, I see construction workers. They’re two guys inside my brain, peering into an almost-finished tunnel, then looking at the road above it. Joe says “Hey look, that road works just fine!” and Bob says “Ayuh. ” (I think Bob is from Maine. Translation: Yes.) “Guess we didn’t need to start this thing after all.” Joe nods slowly. Ugghhh.

The other thing is that I am seriously mourning my camera. It’s just at camp, I keep telling myself. It’ll come back. God, I hope so.

But it turns out my husband’s camera has some nifty features, like the ability to make movies, which I’ve started abusing with some success. Note that while I may be a perfectionist in some arenas, perfection isn’t so high on the list when it comes to home video. But if you’re a total shellfish novice, it might help.

Ever wonder what to do with all those little hairs sticking out of your mussels? Or why scallops have little white things on them sometimes? Oh, I am so here for you:

Here’s a little more scallop education, from Madeleine Kamman:

Each scallop is made of a large number of vertical fibers held together by a circular membrane, to which is attached a small tendon called the foot of the scallop. In any size scallop the food must be removed because it becomes terribly tough as the scallop cooks.

I’ve always known the foot as the tab, and have also heard it called the tab foot. In any case, it’s usually whiter than the rest of the scallop, and you need to get rid of it.

So have at it. Buy the shellfish listed below, or go crazy – add squid, maybe a few big spot prawns, or a cubed filet of a lighter white fish, like bass, cod, or tilapia.

Spicy Shellfish Soup 3

Spicy Shellfish Soup with Coconut, Lime and Ginger (PDF)
Recipe 315 of 365

Here’s a soup for the days you feel like raiding the fish market. Clams, mussels, shrimp, and scallops are poached in a fragrant, sour-spicy broth that’s quick to make (and a good way to clear the ol’ sinuses). Serve with plenty of good, crusty bread for mopping up the broth.

You can alter this recipe for a fish-phobic audience by omitting the fish sauce, using chicken stock instead of clam juice, and substituting shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken for the shellfish. You can also add leftover rice or quick-cooking vegetables, like snap peas or asparagus, to the broth just before serving.

TIME: 30 minutes (start to finish)
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon green Thai chili paste (or to taste)
1 can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
2 cups dry white wine
1 (8-ounce) container clam juice
Juice of 1 large lime
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt
16 manila clams, rinsed (about 1/2 pound with shells)
8 large mussels (about 1/2 pound with shells)
1/2 lb. medium (41/50) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 scallions, green and white parts, sliced into thin rounds
1/3 lb. small bay scallops, tabs removed

Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic. Stir until beginning to soften, about two minutes. Add the ginger, and cook another minute or so, stirring. Add the chili paste, stir to combine, then add the coconut milk, fish sauce, white wine, clam juice, lime juice, and sugar, and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt, if necessary.

Add the clams and mussels to the pot, cover, and let cook 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, stir, and cover again for a minute or two, until all the clams and mussels have opened. Stir in the cilantro, scallions, and scallops (which will continue to cook in the hot broth all the way to the table), and serve immediately.

Spicy Shellfish Soup 1

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A list from Bromley, and the bittiest shrimp

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

Here’s what she ate:

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

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

Home fro mcamping

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

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

Freak salad

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

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

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

Shrimp fritters 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sesame-Dijon Dressing

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

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

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Oyster pudding

View from Hurricane Ridge

On Saturday we got up early and ferried ourselves over to the Olympic Peninsula. We were headed for Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, which, for those unfamiliar with the area, is a popular place to view the Olympic mountains, Washington’s version of the Swiss Alps. It’s peak after jagged, snow-covered peak, lined up at attention opposite a commanding view of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates the Peninsula from Vancouver Island, B.C.

First, we made a stop to hike Mount Zion, a quick zipper of a walk that had us up on the summit in under an hour. Definitely my idea of a good hike: killer view to effort ratio, and all just over two hours from home.

But after the hike, after the glorious views, our luck ran out. We decided to hit Port Townsend for some version of fried fish. We’d driven through Quilcene (I’ve purchased oysters from Quilcene Bay before) without stopping, and I had a hankering for fried oysters, even though I’d never tasted them. (A technicality, we decided.)

We talked about them: hot globs of oyster piled high into a grease-stained paper boat, tufts of red gingham paper sprouting out from underneath. Picnic tables. Beer.

But, alas, we were unprepared and clueless. We found the perfect place (closed), an equally appealing French bistro (closed), a pizza place (sketchy, no door, dubious sanitation standards), and a passable pub (no bartender or server available, and curiously empty for 7 p.m. on a Saturday night). We settled sadly for deli-counter take-out from a little grocery store. We missed the ferry we’d hoped to catch and crawled into bed at home hours after we’d intended.

But the oysters came with us. The next morning at the Ballard farmers’ market, we bought a can of shucked oysters from Taylor Shellfish, and fried them up in a beer batter made with our new favorite stubbie beer, Full Sails’ Session lager. Inside the warm, crunchy shell was a texture I may not have ever encountered before – the oyster meat had solidified a bit, but not entirely; the resulting flesh had the unmistakeable flavor of oysters with an almost pudding-like texture. Incredible.

A word to the wise: If you’re the kind of person that says things like “Well, I guess these are okay to eat, if we only eat them once in a while,” you probably shouldn’t make them. There is no redeeming health property to claim, and they are most certainly addictive. If you’ve never had them, they will probably cause you intense cravings at some point in the future.

Oh, and clean-up. There is nothing light about the inevitable clean-up job. Consider hiring someone, or plan to sew buttons on your partner’s shirt (or perform other equally mundane or unenjoyable tasks) immediately before heating the oil for frying, because you’ll burn a heck of a lot of credit if you ask someone else to clean up after you. (At least, that’s what I did. I sewed some of Tito’s buttons back on while he swore at the pot.)

Beer-Battered Oysters with Jalapeno Tartar Sauce

Recipe for Beer-Battered Oysters with Jalapeno Tartar Sauce
Recipe 190 of 365

This recipe makes more batter than required for the oysters – use it to fry up zucchini slices, onion rings, green tomatoes, or whatever else jumps in. (Yes, frying battered string cheese does make mozzarella sticks. We tried.) You can skimp on oil by using a smaller pot filled with less oil, but keep in mind that a bigger pot of oil will hold its temperature better, which means less time waiting for the oil to come back up to temperature between batches. You will also need to save a container for disposing of the oil. When the oil has cooled, pour it into the container and find out if your trash person takes it, or if you have to take it to the dump yourself. If you’re in Seattle, put it on the sidewalk with a sign that says “FREE USED VEGETABLE OIL,” and it should be gone within a few days.

Equipment: You will need a high-quality sugar or frying thermometer.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings, at least, many more if you fry other things

Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly ground pepper
11 ounces cold beer (such as a lager)
20 large shucked oysters, drained and blotted dry with paper towels
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Jalapeno Tartar Sauce, for dipping (recipe follows)

Fill a large, heavy soup pot at least 3” deep with the oil and heat to 375 degrees. (If you aren’t worried about the cost of oil, fill ‘er up to about 2” from the top. Then buy us some gas.)

While the oil heats, whisk the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and a good grinding of pepper in a large bowl until blended. (This is also a good time to make the tartar sauce and line a few plates with paper towels.) When the oil is at about 325 degrees, whisk the beer into the dry ingredients and stir until the bubbles dissipate. Season with a few shakes of Tabasco, and stir again.

When the oil is hot, dip two oysters at a time into the batter to coat completely and carefully drop them into the hot oil. Repeat with additional oysters, roughly six per batch. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the oysters are golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the oysters to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and serve hot with tartar sauce. Repeat with the remaining oysters, allowing the oil to come back up to 375 degrees between batches. (You may need to regulate the heat up and down as you fry.)

Jalapeno Tartar Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 to 12 pickled jalapeno pepper rings (at least 4 for flavor, 12 for healthy spice)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons very finely chopped onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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175

My, these numbers are getting high.

Scallop Curry 1

Recipe for Green Scallop Curry with Peas and Peppers
Recipe 175 of 365

This is an unfussy one-bowl meal for the nights when you don’t have a lot of time to cook–it’s made with green curry paste, often sold under the Thai brand as green chili paste–but need something just a little different. Serve the curry over white or brown rice, or over rice noodles. You can substitute large (uncooked) peeled and deveined shrimp for the scallops, if you prefer.

TIME: 20 minutes, plus time to cook the rice
MAKES: 4 servings

1 to 2 teaspoons green curry paste, or to taste
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 pound sea scallops, tabs trimmed and halved, if large
1/2 pound snap peas
1 bell pepper (any color), cut into 1/2″ thick strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk the curry paste with a few tablespoons of the coconut milk until no lumps remain. Add the rest of the coconut milk, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Preheat a wok or large skillet over high heat. When hot, add the oil, and immediately add the ginger. Working very quickly, give the ginger a stir, then add the scallops, peas, and peppers. Cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the coconut milk mixture, and cook a few more minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and reduced considerably. Serve immediately, over rice or noodles.

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Spoon Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-Spoon Stir-Fry

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

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

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

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 generous servings

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

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

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

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

Switched to a fork!

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

A Civilized Lunch

Yesterday my neighbor came over for lunch, and we had a most civilized and delicious meal.

Wilted Arugula Salad with Scallops and Hot Bacon Vinaigrette 2

Recipe for Wilted Arugula Salad with Scallops and Hot Bacon Vinaigrette
Recipe 114 of 365

Scallops are expensive by the pound, but it only takes two or three per person to make a meal. Here’s a simple but fancy-looking salad that uses relatively few ingredients. In smaller portions, it would make a great prelude to a more formal meal. Serve with good sourdough bread for mopping up any extra vinaigrette.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

4 handfuls baby arugula
1/2 pound large scallops (4 to 6 scallops), white tabs removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 slices bacon, diced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

First, divide the arugula between two large plates. Pat the scallops dry and season them with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. When the bacon is done, skooch it to the outer edges of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the scallops. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side (try to avoid moving them around in the pan too much), or until golden brown on both sides but still a little squishy to the touch – you want them to remain soft in the center.

Top the arugula with the hot scallops and return the pan (with the bacon) to the heat. Add the vinegar, being careful not to breathe it in as it cooks off, and simmer for about 30 seconds, until the liquid has reduced almost completely. Whisk in the mustard, and then carefully add the oil in a slow, steady stream as you whisk. Season with salt and pepper (think twice before tasting the hot oil!). Spoon the vinaigrette and the bacon pieces over the salad. Serve immediately.

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Filed under Lunch, recipe, shellfish

A trip to Bainbridge

If normal means staying within sight of Seattle, this past weekend was my first normal weekend in a long, long time. The highlight (besides gardening in the sushine all day yesterday) was a quick trip to Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

Our first stop was The Living Room, a new wine bar on Bjune Drive. If IKEA designed a wine bar to sell its products, it would look just like this: clean, modern lines, fun lighting, gorgeous place settings, etc., but almost completely devoid of the character one might hope for given the place’s namesake. The deep leather couches are as inviting and soothing as any living room couch should be, but it’s hard to feel like you’ve just popped by your neighbor’s house for a quick sip when you’re staring at artless walls and an unimpaired view of what qualifies on Bainbridge as a strip mall.

My glass of wine, however, a Finca de Arantei Albarino singing of peaches and citrus, was fresh and light and summery, and somehow that and the Portuguese red my husband was swooning over both worked with a big slab of flatbread topped with fontina, caramelized onions, thyme, and truffle salt.

Thus fortified, we ambled down to the marina and poked around a bit before settling in at The Four Swallows, a restaurant in a little yellow house up the hill on Madison Avenue that reminded me of Abbicci. Now this is a living room.

There we met Jose, the polite and affable server who represents, to me, all that is good about career waiters. He had style. He shuffled in and out like a male geisha, relaxed but purposeful, conversational but never intrusive, and by the time our wine was poured I knew I needed his help ordering. I’d been waffling between the Penn Cove mussels in a sherry, leek, tomato, and smoked paprika cream sauce and the beef carpaccio, a perennial favorite of mine. But when I asked him for advice, he skipped the first two courses on the menu all but shouted “order the pasta pomodoro!”

It sort of surprised me – I mean, I don’t typically avoid Italian options at the bottom of an otherwise fairly Northwestern menu, but I certainly don’t gravitate toward them. So we decided to share the carpaccio, which was the same alluring combination of soft, clean-tasting beef, excellent olive oil, truffle salt, and Parmesan cheese that caught my palate’s attention the first time I ever had it, at Sweet Basil. I also ordered a shaved fennel and artichoke salad, and the pomodoro, because Jose had seemed so earnest in his recommendation.

The salad, a tangled nest of white flecked with chervil and parsley and doused with a perky lemon vinaigrette, also carried the slightest hint of truffle oil, a successful way of grounding what might otherwise be a dish with only high, bright notes. Also nicely balanced was my husband’s salad, a rather ordinary combination of pears, Point Reyes blue, candied pecans, and greens, done uncommonly well.

Jose’s suggestion was the best of the night: the pomodoro was a far cry from the anemic, thick, pink sauce I’ve unfortunately come to associate with some simple Italian classics. He delivered it with the little bow he seemed to use every time he left the table. A big scoop of cool, creamy mascarpone cheese balanced the pomodoro’s earthy, spicy tomato sauce. I twirled spaghetti and scooped up pine nuts and slurped sauce until I had not a square centimeter of space left in my belly. For hours afterward, it was as if someone had smashed a garlic clove and rubbed it over every surface of the inside of my mouth. I loved it.

We ended (somehow) with a vanilla panna cotta with fresh strawberries, delicious and soft-textured but served in a wine glass, which (to me) sort of skips the magic of how a panna cotta that’s been successfully eased out of a form can be so perfect and linear and yet so jiggly at the same time.

As we walked back to the ferry through the rain, realizing we’d just been on a date, I couldn’t help but wonder what the mussels might have tasted like. Last night I made my own version, which were surely quite different from The Four Swallows’ but will have to tide me over until I can get back to Bainbridge. Closed and raw, the mussels barely fit in my favorite pan, which meant that when I took the top off after steaming them for a few minutes, they all opened and expanded at once, carrying bits of bacon and onion and parsley with them as the whole pile grew up and almost over the sides of the pan. Here are the stragglers:

Bottom of the barrel

Mussels with Smoked Paprika Cream
Recipe 113 of 365

Look for big Mediterranean-style mussels; it’s fun to use their shells to scoop up the rich, creamy broth left at the bottom of the bowl. Serve the mussels with plenty of good, crusty bread and a simple green salad. Two and a half pounds of mussels makes about six appetizer servings, four dinner servings, or an all-out mussel feast for two. (You can guess which one we did.)

Make sure you have a pot with a tight-fitting lid before you start.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: Varies

2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 – 2 large clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pimenton de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 pounds large mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Note: “Debearding” a mussel is simply removing the little black hairs that sometimes protrude from the flat side of the shell – these are what the mussel uses to attach itself to its underwater habitat. To do it, just grasp the strings (technically called byssus threads) between a thumb and forefinger and pull.

Heat a large soup pot or a 3-quart high-sided sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the bacon begins to crisp. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper, and cook another 3 minutes, stirring. Add the garlic and the paprika, and stir until all the onions are coated with the paprika.

And the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat. Simmer for a minute, stir in the Dijon mustard and the cream, and season again with salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the mussels, cover the pot, and cook for about 5 minutes, or just until most of the mussels have opened. Transfer the mussels to a big bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding any empty shells or mussels that fail to open, pour the sauce over the mussels, and sprinkle the parsley on top. Serve immediately.

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‘Tis the season

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

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

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

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

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 large servings

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

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

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

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

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

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A remarkable day

Today is the day. By now, we’ve written and rewritten grocery lists to morph recipes intended for a small dinner party into recipes for 90.

When Kathy and I cook together, we both miraculously lose whatever math faculties we normally possess, which means that whenever we need to multiply an ingredient list, we end up staring at each other blankly over our cutting boards, willing the appropriate sums to pop into the other person’s head and then shouting hysterically when one of us comes up with the answer. There must be a term for this; it’s like kitchen-induced Alzheimer’s with a twist of Tourette’s. It usually works out, but there’s always a moment when neither of us has an ounce (what is that in kilograms?) of mathematical reason. And ironically, when our answers disagree, our mistakes are never actually in our math.

Planning for this dinner was no different. The second of our appetizers is the shrimp cocktail with two sauces – blood orange miso sauce and classic cocktail sauce, layered beautifully in whatever shot glass we can find in mass quantities – from favorites. When we were listing (making lists is a verb in my vocabulary) a few days ago, Kathy on a train somewhere on the New Hampshire coast and me on my crackly new cell phone in my kitchen in Seattle, our oral calculations stalled out at horseradish. We decided we needed 15 cups of cocktail sauce, which means multiplying the original recipe by 20. How much horseradish is 40 tablespoons in bottles? My route: 4 tablespoons to 1/4 cup, means ten 1/4 cups, means 2 1/2 cups. Six bottles. Her route: 16 tablespoons in a cup, divide 16 into 40. . .three bottles. In a matter of seconds the two of us were shouting “no, wait, hush, I’m thinking!” and “how could that be?” and scribbling madly, each wondering why we were looking at the same recipe, both multiplying by 20 and coming up with answers that differed so much . . . turns out my bottle is 3.75 ounces, or a shy 1/2 cup, and her bottles have 8 ounces each. Ah ha! And so it went, with each ingredient for each recipe. We never did measure out a dash of Tabasco sauce, though.

So anyway, today I’ll wake up in Manhattan, peel and devein 10 pounds of fresh gulf coast shrimp (haven’t tasted shrimp that have never been frozen!) in Kathy’s friend’s teensy kitchen, shuffle myself and all our groceries into the tiny kitchen at the James Beard House, figure out which 5 square centimeters of counter space we get to use, and get cookin’. Should be thrilling.

Here are some serving ideas (we haven’t settled on one yet):
Shrimp in tall shot glassSkewered Shrimp bouquetSkewered Shrimp

Or we might serve the shrimp on bamboo skewers with the sauces arranged halvsies in those tiny paper cups they put product samples in at the grocery store, just for a touch of Maine. We’ll see.

Today is also my fourth wedding anniversary, which my husband is celebrating all alone in Seattle with a pint of soup from the freezer (and, most likely, a pint of something else from the refrigerator). More than anything, I wish I could be there with him, celebrating our new home and our new life together.

Recipe for Shrimp Cocktail for 90
Recipe 81 of 365

Here’s a recipe from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, multiplied to fit the crowd we’re serving tonight and slightly modified – we’re using blood oranges instead of regular oranges (at least, that’s the plan). (Check the recipes on pages 133, 236, and 238 for the original recipes.)

TIME: good question – probably 1 hour to cook shrimp and makes sauce, plus more time for peeling and deveining, if needed, or less time if the shrimp are pre-cooked
MAKES: lots and lots of delicious shrimp cocktail

For the cocktail sauce:
10 cups ketchup
2 1/2 cups drained prepared horseradish (cream style is fine, also)
1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
40 to 60 dashes hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the blood orange-miso dipping sauce:
1 cup white miso paste
10 2/3 cups sour cream
8 cups mayonnaise
1 cup grated lemon zest
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup grated blood orange zest
1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

10 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, poached, and chilled (or pre-cooked frozen shrimp, thawed)

Mix the cocktail sauce ingredients together in a large bowl, season to taste, and set aside. Do the same with the blood-orange miso dipping sauce, and cover and chill both sauces until ready to serve.

To serve, layer the sauces in small shot glasses (red-white-red in some, white-red-white in others) and hang cooked shrimp off the sides of the glasses. Double dip with wild abandon.

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How did I get here?

Today I am not in Seattle, I’m in New York. Tomorrow I’ll be assisting Kathy Gunst, a cookbook author and chef that I’ve tested recipes for in the past (and a good friend), at a James Beard House dinner put on by Kathy and a whole bunch of other well-known Maine chefs.

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. What the hell am I doing here? The James Beard House hosts dinners basically every night of the week, with various competent and often famous chefs headlining. Diners (in our case, a sold-out house of 80) pay outrageous sums of money to attend, and all the money goes to the James Beard Foundation, which underwrites scholarships and funding programs for culinary school students. The chefs work for free.

So here I am, in New York, partly responsible for three hors d’oeuvres for 80 people, plus a few extra, to be safe. So 90 people. I’ve cooked for 90 people before, no problem. And there are two of us, plus the other chefs, who will mostly likely be happy to help. And we’re only doing hors d’oeuvres. And only one has to be hot. So what’s the big deal? Somehow just being here, even with a few years’ experience as a personal chef and plenty of time in front of a stove, is shining a huge spotlight on the fact that I’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen. What if Sam Hayward laughs at how much I cry when I cut shallots? It’s really embarrassing. What if Mark and Clark peek over my shoulder and see how painfully long it’s going to take me to shuck 100 oysters?

I’ll let you know how it goes. For today (and the next two days), a little glimpse at what we’ll be serving in mass quantity:

Saffron Oyster Stew

I first tried making saffron oyster stew using chopped raw oysters, but found that with chopped oysters, the stew really required a spoon, which is something we’d like to avoid for the Beard dinner, considering guests will presumably already have a drink in one hand. So tomorrow’s stew will be served like a hot oyster shooter, with one tenderly-cooked bivalve swimming in a little pond of saffron cream.

Recipe for Saffron Oyster Stew
Recipe 80 of 365

Based on Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Classic Oyster Stew from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, this rich, buttercup-yellow version looks precious served in tiny espresso cups. Mine has a higher liquid-to-oyster ratio than the original; the goal is to put one oyster in each cup and top it off with the hot saffron-infused cream, so that it can be consumed without a spoon, like a hot oyster shooter.

TIME: 1 hour, plus time to open oysters
MAKES: 90 servings (in espresso cups)

22 1/2 cups (generous 5 1/2 quarts) whole milk
15 cups (4 quarts minus 1 cup) heavy cream
6 big pinches saffron threads (about 2 grams), crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 pound unsalted butter
60 shallots, very finely chopped
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
100 oysters, shucked, plus all their liquid, separated and strained through a fine-mesh strainer
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the milk, cream, and crushed saffron in a giant soup pot (or two), and slowly bring just to a bare simmer, stirring frequently. Set aside for up to 30 minutes, or transfer to smaller containers and refrigerate overnight.

Set 2 tablespoons of the butter aside. Melt a quarter of the remaining butter in each of two large, high-sided skillets over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to sizzle, add a quarter of the shallots to each pan, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until the shallots are soft but have not yet begun to brown. Add a teaspoon of the Worcestershire sauce and a quarter of the liquid from the oysters to each pan, bring to a simmer, and cook 2 more minutes, stirring. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the shallot mixture to the pot(s) with the saffron cream, and repeat with the remaining butter, shallots, Worcestershire sauce, and oyster liquid.

When ready to serve, reheat the saffron cream to just below a simmer, and season again to taste, if needed. Working with about ten oysters, a teaspoon of the remaining butter, and ten espresso cups at a time, sauté the oysters in a skillet quickly over medium heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, place oysters in espresso cups, and pour hot saffron cream over the oysters. Serve piping hot.

OR: You can also poach the oysters a few at a time directly in the saffron cream, and fish them out as you ladle up the stew.

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Will the real Jess Thomson please stand up?

Warning: I’m cranky today, and scattered. I am trying too hard to be all things to all people, including, most obnoxiously, myself. In my ideal world, I’m devoting everything to my husband and my family, being there when they need me, and listening when they call. I’m diving into work with as much breath as my lungs can hold, ten years old again and trying to get across the swimming pool underwater in one breath, striving to find that perfect combination of glide and effort that will allow me to keep going, even though I don’t know where the wall is. I’m walking and doing yoga and slowly enjoying the way the hot, jasmine-scented steam from my green tea collects on the inside of my nose when I breathe in too deeply. I’m eating outrageously delicious dinners, like the one the six of us shared last weekend at Araxi in Whistler (which I hope to tell you about eventually), and I’m at home, happy growing my own lettuce and eating small quantities and living simply on rice and beans and the occasional piece of fish. I’m a good friend, lounging at a coffee shop or chatting with a neighbor without the next thing on my mind, and when I walk my dog, I let her sniff anything she wants, for as long as she wants. I’m a sugarmama and a housewife, I work seventy hours a week and still do all the laundry, tend the yard, and scrub the floors. My health never wavers. I never lose my voice. I can fly across the country for a week every time a friend gets married, has a baby, or just needs a shoulder to cry on, and I’m home every weekend, being part of a community to which I’m only now just beginning to belong.

But I need to redefine “ideal,” because the inevitable impossibility of checking “all of the above” leaves me flashing from one ideal self to the next like Sybil with an ambitious to-do list.

And here’s what really happens: I answer the phone when my sister calls, intending to listen to anything she might want to say becuase I love her and want to hear about her life. But I’ve plunged into work and can’t come up for air until I turn in article X, and I’m still all nasty from the dog park, so I try to juggle the phone while I get my rubber boots off so I can press send on that last email that’s been sitting in the outbox since before I left with the dog. But on my way to the computer, I spill my green tea, which means my sister only gets half my attention while I mop everything up with the dog towel. Then my husband calls, and I’m frustrated with myself because the house is a mess, and he gets Cranky Jess, and we decide to go out to dinner with friends we haven’t seen in months, which means spending money when I wanted to be saving it, missing out on a night alone together, and getting to bed so late that my whole body aches the next day. Nothing gets done well.

Sometimes I feel like a chamelon, always looking outside to define what’s going on inside. I don’t have a long sticky tongue or anything, but I do wear camo from time to time, and I’m always taking things in from a 360-degree field of vision. This would be great if I were a reptile depending on my eyesight for survival, but as a human with a relatively stable food supply and no real predators, it’s less effective.

Anyway, it’s just one of those days. I’m sure you can relate. Today it seems like being all things to all people is a great way to make friends but a really terrible way for me to learn about myself, because I spend so much time fulfilling (self-generated) requirements that I never sit alone and wonder which of the requirements are most important to me. Is solidifying my career what I want most right now? Or is nurturing the friendships I’ve spent so long bulding more important? Which Jess is the most important Jess? And how do I choose one over another without alienating anyone who wasn’t part of the decision? And does a chameleon even know when it’s changing color?

Sigh. At least I discovered a stew that just might be all things to all people. Made with guanciale, kale, and all the tomatoey-shellfishy goodness typical of a San Francisco cioppino, it is a treasure of a stew for the days you want to space out and avoid deciding between, say, being a good wife, a “successful” person, or an attentive friend.

Tsk, you say. You can be everything! I’m sure I can. I just haven’t learned how.

Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale

Recipe for Seattle Shellfish Stew with Kale and Guanciale
Recipe 78 of 365

I always use visitors as a good excuse to stretch a grocery-shopping trip into an afternoon-long excursion through Seattle. Fish and veggies from Pike Place Market and a big hunk of guanciale (cured pork jowl) from Salumi inspired this stew, which is a hearty, deeply flavored cross between a San Franciscan cioppino and wonderfully porky braised kale. You could substitute pancetta or thick-cut bacon for the guanciale.

Serve the stew with a simple green salad and good, crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

TIME: About 1 hour
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 pound guanciale, cut into 1/4” cubes
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large shallots, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (roughly 1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and sliced into 1/4” thick ribbons
2 cups dry white wine
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth (or water)
3/4 pound extra large shrimp (about 12), deveined
3/4 pound firm white-fleshed fish, such as cod, halibut, or monkfish, cut into 1” cubes
3/4 pound manila clams (about 18), scrubbed clean
3/4 pound mussels (about 18), cleaned and debearded
1/2 pound bay (small) scallops, white tabs removed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Preheat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the guanciale, and cook until browned and crispy, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the guanciale to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the grease in the pot, and set aside.

Add the onions and the shallots to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and kale, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring and turning as the kale on the bottom cooks down.

Increase heat to high, add the white wine, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the clam juice, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, and the reserved guanciale pieces, reduce to a simmer and simmer the stew, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the kale is soft and the tomatoes begin to break down. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shellfish for stew

Stir the fish pieces and the shrimp into the stew, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the clams, mussels, and scallops, stir to distribute evenly, and cook, covered, another 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the shells have opened. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Sprinkle the parsley over the stew and serve piping hot in wide, shallow bowls.

Shellfish Stew - almost gone

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Filed under farmer's market, fish, pork, recipe, Seattle, shellfish, soup

“Do I dare to eat a shrimp?”

The other night, my stomach and brain needed a break. I needed something light and relatively easy for dinner, but I had these silly banana leaves I’d bought on impulse at Whole Foods. (The leaves perplexed the cashier so much that he gave them to me for free.)

I’d also purchased some of Whole Foods’s “Whole Catch” frozen shrimp, farm-raised in Indonesia, because I’d just read Barry Estabrook’s fascinating piece on shrimp in this month‘s Gourmet Magazine. (“Do I Dare to Eat a Shrimp?” starts on page 81.) The article is an eye-opening glance at the American shrimp trawling industry. In the end, it basically supports the Seafood Watch‘s advice to generally avoid imported, farmed shrimp (if you’re looking to eat sustainably).

Anyway, I was surprised to see the Indonesian variety on the shelf at WF, given their track record as champions of sustainably-produced fish. I thought I’d buy it and start seeing if I could taste the difference between various shrimp.

Banana leaves are just that – leaves from a banana tree. They’re used often in Southeast Asian cooking for wrapping and effectively steaming foods in an oven or over a fire. I’m sure there are “right” ways to use them, but in my exhaustion that night, I couldn’t be bothered to learn them. I thawed out some frozen Indonesian shrimp, dumped my leftover veggies in the center (be creative here, you could add almost anything) with some ginger and miso, and wrapped the whole thing up like a little gift before shoving it in the oven. (Hint: don’t tie the string too tight; the leaves shrink up a bit during cooking and need a little wiggle room.)

I thought it was adorable, healthy, and interesting. My husband thought it was an appetizer.

Of course, I completely forgot to really taste the shrimp. I think I’ll have to get a few more kinds, poach them, simply, all at once, and have a shrimp-off.

Banana leaf packages, cookedShrimp in banana leaves

Recipe for Ginger Shrimp in Banana Leaves
Recipe 76 of 365

If you want a quick, healthy, exotic-looking dinner, you’ve found your recipe. Of course, the shrimp themselves have a decent amount of saturated fat, so if you’re really feeling like you need to detox, substitute a small piece of fish for the shrimp.

Serve the contents of the banana leaves with long-grain rice.

Note: you will need kitchen string to tie up the banana leaf bundles.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

2 banana leaf pieces, roughly 12” square (each)
12 (31-40 piece-per-pound size) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Handful broccoli florets
Handful snap peas
2 scallions, sliced (green and white parts)
1 small carrot, sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon white miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the banana leaves with water, and set aside to drain. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Cut 4 pieces of kitchen string, roughly as long as the banana leaf pieces are wide (so about 1 foot long). Arrange the strings in two plus signs on the baking sheet – the goal is to arrange the string so that you’ll be able to cover each of the plus signs with a banana leaf, fill the center of the leaf, wrap the leaf over the food, and have the strings in the right place to tie them over the banana leaf like a gift.

Place a piece of leaf over each set of strings. Pile equal portions of the shrimp, broccoli, peas, scallions, and carrots in the centers of the leaf pieces. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, miso, and soy together with a fork until blended, and drizzle this mixture over the shrimp and vegetables.

Fold the banana leaves over the filling into little packages, as if you’re wrapping a gift: first, working with the sides of the leaves parallel to the lines running through them, fold the sides to meet in the middle. Use your finger to secure the leaves together, then fold the open ends together and up (like the ends of a gift), and secure each “package” with the two pieces of string, like this:

Banana leaf packages, uncooked

Bake for about 17 minutes, or until the shrimp are bright pink and the vegetables are al dente. Serve hot.

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Fish markets everywhere

Something I miss about Massachusetts: the mussels at Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. Larsen’s makes a great stop on a bike ride, where you can order lobster or mussels or whatever else they can steam or fry, and fill your gut before hopping on to pedal back up the hill. The mussels come in festive red nets:

Menemsha mussels

Something I like about going to fish markets in Seattle, where you can get anything, anytime:

Mixed Seafood Roast with Fennel and Sorrel

Recipe for Mixed Seafood Roast with Fennel and Sorrel
Recipe 70 of 365

My father and I shared a seafood roast like this at a fish market and restaurant called Fish Works in London’s Marylebone Village. Fragrant fennel, earthy roasted garlic, and plenty of lemon juice create an inspiring broth I’d happily consume on a daily basis! Good, crusty bread makes it a full meal.

TIME: About 70 minutes total (mostly cooking time)
MAKES: 2 servings

1 small fennel bulb, cut into 6 pieces through the core (leave the core in)
1 large tomato, cored and quartered
4 peeled, smashed garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 small filet of white fish, such as flounder, sole, or haddock, about 1/3 pound
6 jumbo shrimp, deveined
10 mussels, cleaned and debearded
4 clams, scrubbed
4 large scallops, opaque tabs removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces (optional)
1 lemon, quartered
1/4 cup chopped sorrel (from a 2/3 ounce package), or Italian parsley
Baguette, or other bread for dipping

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the fennel, tomato, and garlic in a roughly 9”x13” ovenproof dish (glass, ceramic, or cast iron work well). Drizzle the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Season the vegetables well with salt and pepper, and roast for 40 minutes, turning the fennel and garlic pieces over after about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Pour the wine over the vegetables, shake the pan to distribute it evenly, and cook another 5 minutes.

Use a spoon to move the vegetables to the edges of the pan. Place the fish on the bottom of the pan. Scatter the shrimp, mussels, clams, and scallops over the fish and the vegetables, season the seafood with salt and pepper, and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over all the seafood. Roast again for 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the clams and mussels have opened, the shrimp are bright pink, and the fish is cooked through.

Distribute the butter pieces evenly around the dish. Scatter the sorrel on top, and squeeze the juice from two of the lemon slices all over the seafood. Serve immediately, with the remaining lemon slices and good crusty bread for sopping up the juices.

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Filed under fish, recipe, shellfish