Category Archives: side dish

Fantasy Vinaigrette

I haven’t really felt like talking much, recently. Not here, anyway. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the nice weather. (These days, I am not feeling what I would call driven.)

Maybe it’s that the things I’ve been “discovering” have felt awfully simple: Bacon. Salad. Eggs.

(Have you ever made an egg quesadilla for breakfast? Heat the tortilla up on one side, flip it over, and crack the egg onto the hot side. Use a fork to break the yolk and spread the egg around on the tortilla, like Anita does with her savory crepes. Add shredded sharp cheddar cheese. When the egg has set, fold the tortilla in half: Breakfast burrito effect, without the egg pan. I just had it for lunch. Right now, I want to make it again tomorrow, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as exciting.)

Or. Maybe it’s just that there’s not much to say.

I have been meaning to say thanks, though – to my neighbor for watching the dog, to friends for having us over for dinner. . . I’ve found just the thing. It’s my fantasy vinaigrette. From now on, I’ll be making it by the gallon.

Maybe you have such a vinaigrette in mind, too – it’s creamy without being too fattening, tangy and interesting but not clingy or cloying, flexible but never pedestrian. I found mine at American Flatbread in Burlington, Vermont, on a mixed green salad served with goat cheese. When I asked the server what was in the dressing, she rattled off an ingredient list – tahini and ginger, she said, and the tang is raspberry vinegar. (Really? Raspberry vinegar and tahini? Oh, yes.)

I’ve recreated it, with even more success than I hoped for. I’ve already found a home for it on an easygoing Bibb salad with avocado, tomato, and cucumber, and also on a simple plate of arugula. We slathered it on grilled salmon, and frankly, with today’s second batch, I plan to make a habit of eating it on a spoon, for snack. That is, unless I have a second quesadilla. In that case, I’ll wait until dinner.

Fantasy Vinaigrette 2

Fantasy Vinaigrette (PDF)
with tahini, ginger, and raspberry vinegar

Serve the vinaigrette as is, over anything that’ll hold liquid, or use it as a dressing for pasta or chopped vegetable salads. I can’t wait to try it on a carrot salad, with scallions, cilantro, and a dash of cumin.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 3/4 cup

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 small garlic clove, smashed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons (well stirred) sesame tahini (I chose the roasted kind)
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil

In a blender or food processor, whirl the first six ingredients until smooth and well blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until emulsified. The vinaigrette keeps, refrigerated, up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.

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Filed under recipe, salad, side dish

Peas and onions

Ginger-Roasted peas and onions

The peas I’ve been planting all spring are dying with the dependability of Henry VIII’s wives. The first planting succumbed to frost, the second to shade. The third was a victim of dog trampling, the fourth made a slug family’s lunch. I do believe I’m on my fifth try. While my neighbor’s vines sprout edibles, my tendrils struggle skyward, inching their way – well, millimetering, really, to be generous – toward the strings I’ve set out for them to climb. I’m not exactly holding my breath for them to produce and, I’ll admit, I’ve been unfaithful. I bought peas at the farmers’ market this week. (Finally.) I wonder if this time, they’ll die of depression.

pre-peeled cipolline onions

I thought I’d stir some together with cream, or pasta, something traditional, but when I found my very favorite onion, the sweet-sexy cipolline, so conveniently pre-peeled at Trader Joe’s, something else came up.

This should feed four, but my husband and I finished the dish off together without a problem.

Ginger-Roasted Peas and Onions (PDF)
Peas and onions have always made good spring bedfellows. Here, they take a turn away from their traditional form. Roasted first with ginger, garlic, soy and rice wine vinegar, soft cipolline onions are baked again with snap peas, so instead of creamy and heavy, the result is sharp and fresh. The juices simmer down into a lovely glaze. Serve with grilled fish and a fresh green salad.

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

1/2 pound small to medium cipolline onions, peeled
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 pound snap peas

cipolline onions to be roasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except the peas in a small baking dish, and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, or until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the bottom of the onions are beginning to brown. (If the pan gets too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and shake the pan to release any brown bits.)

(Note: You can prepare the dish ahead up to this point, set aside, and finish right before dinner.)

Stir the peas in with the onions, and roast another 10 minutes, or until the peas are bright. Serve immediately.

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I’m so glad you’re here

thai basil salsa verde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” she said.

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

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

She responded: Coming to your house?

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

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

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

Hil, I’m so glad you’re here.

salmon with thai basil salsa verde

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

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: About 1 cup

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

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

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Spearsuckers, and a good scare

Roasted asparagus breadcrumbs 1

Today, my calendar gave me a quick look at spring. March 20th, it flashed. I thought of the old poster in my parents’ basement, the one with the quote that says “Expose Yourself to Art.” It’s a picture of a guy in a trench coat from the back. He’s got the coat splayed open, showing what must be his naked body to an equally threadless statue.

Yes, spring flashed me, and what did I do? I bought asparagus. How risque. (I love living in Washington. California doesn’t seem that far away, when you’re trying to justify not eating locally.)

I have to say, I didn’t really want an asparagus gratin, or anything of the sort – nothing that allowed the spears to stick together, or prevent them from being pickupable, because that would strip the poor things of their best attribute, which is their portability.

My mother taught me to eat asparagus.

I know, that sounds silly. What is there to know?

There’s body position, for one. She rarely eats it sitting. She’s a springy sort of person, always shooting up to do something, which makes it fitting that she’d love asparagus. (If you’ve never seen it grow, find some over the next couple months. It rockets right out of the ground, from peek-a-boo tip to full-grown edible in a matter of days. They must measure growth by the hour. Quelle energie. Like Mom.)

Growing up, she’d steam it and serve it plain, which is the best way to get a mouthful of that pure green, grassy flavor. She’d set the platter on the table, munching on a spear as she maneuvered around her chair. Once seated, she’d take another one, then bounce back up to get whatever was still on the stove, or just coming out of the oven. (My mother doesn’t put a meal on the table all at once, she rains dinner down slowly, one dish at a time. Just when you think you’re happy and full, a drop of something else entirely, something wonderful, shows up on the table. This is a perfect service style if you eat compartmentally, and perhaps, now that I think about it, the best explanation for why I eat that way.)

So this, you see, is how I learned to eat asparagus – forkless, one spear at a time, floating between seated and standing.

But it’s not just about timing, or utensils – there’s actually an eating technique, too. No matter the length or diameter of a spear, asparagus must be consumed in no more than three bites, taken, obviously, in quick succession. So instead of bite, chew, bite, chew, like my father does, so thoughtfully, my mother performs more of a percussive ritual, standing there behind her chair, more of a bite, bite, bite at Mach three, followed sometimes by a gulp, but rarely a chew. Or sometimes just bite, bite. You could dance to it: bite, bite, bite . . .(pause, pick up another) . . .bite, bite, bite. If there were contests, she’d win.

See, she doesn’t have to chew asparagus like normal people, because she’s a spearsucker. She brings the asparagus toward her mouth, and it disappears into her mouth. (God, I wish I had a video.) I’m not sure if there’s some sort of magnetism going on, or if she speaks to asparagus, or what, but I do know it’s a skill that’s part genetic and part learned, like parseltongue. I’m positive she learned it from her own mother.

My brother and I have almost perfected it, and I trust my sister, at 17, is on her way to becoming quite the crack spearsucker herself. (I haven’t eaten asparagus with her in a while. Maybe we’ll give it a test next week, when we see everyone.)

Anyway, because of all this, I would be lying if I said I wanted my first asparagus dish of the almost-season to come with any sort of clingy topping. I go for dressings, and vinaigrettes, and yes, for goodness’ sake, a poached egg would be lovely, but I’ll eschew the asparagus recipe that bundles them together in any way that might disturb The Force. If I can’t pick it up, forget it.

Sometimes what’s great about a food isn’t only how it tastes, but also how you eat it. Imagine eating a cookie with a knife and fork.

Separately, I’d been craving a crunchy topping – the kind of panko-based mixture you’d pat into a slab of salmon or rack of lamb, then pick off the meat and the pan in fingerfuls, once it was nice and browned, ignoring the meat itself entirely. (My friend Dani always puts any of the crusty stuff that falls off a roast into a separate bowl, and serves it on its own, which I think is genius. There’s nothing like spooning some crunch onto an empty plate and using your thumb like a lint roller to pick it up. Just don’t eat your fingers.)

So I did both – I roasted asparagus, clean and simple. Only, I happened to sneak some topping in there with it. If you’re looking for an asparagus recipe that clings and coddles, supporting your spears like an overzealous parent, move on. But if you want to eat each spear by hand, digging them out from underneath the breadcrumbs – each barely touched by the breath of a lemon, and perhaps accoutered with a crisp crumb or two – and wash them down with a bowl of lemony munchies you can also eat with your fingers, well, then, this is your recipe. My mother will love it.

Anyway. She gave us quite a scare last night, my mom did. Just blanked right out in the middle of a yoga class, and lost her short term memory. Poof. No pain, no fainting, nothing else weird – just forgot the last year and a half of her life. My family rescued her, everyone except me, and they took her to the ER, where she recovered completely in a matter of hours. They just waited, and eventually she remembered it was Thursday, and knew what she’d had for lunch, and everything was normal again, simple as that. It’s called Transient Global Amnesia, and it rarely happens to a person more than once.

But while it was happening, it wasn’t that simple, and it scared me.

Last week, I asked my mother for advice on how to comfort a friend who’d lost a parent, based on her experience losing her own father in the span of a few short, sad weeks.

“I think when people lose their parents, they always wish they’d told them certain things,” she said. “With mine, for example, I wish I’d told them they’d done a good job. You know, raising me.”

I made a mental note to return to that later in our conversation, and we kept talking about my grandfather, and my friend. But later that night, when I was climbing into bed, I realized I’d forgotten to tell her what a good job she’s done, with Dad. You know, raising us.

Last night, when there were two messages on my phone from my brother, and a text that said “call me a.s.a.p,” I thought about that conversation again, even before I knew what had happened. As the story unfurled, when she still couldn’t remember meeting the doctor each time he reentered the room, I thought about all the things she’s taught us, and is still teaching us. Not just how to eat asparagus, but how to be good humans.

Thank goodness, I say. Thank goodness the things that remind us what we need to say aren’t always life-threatening.

Mom, Dad: I’ll see you next week in New Orleans. I have something to tell you.

Until then, buy some asparagus. It’s spearsucking season.

Roasted asparagus breadcrumbs 2

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Breadcrumbs (PDF)
If you’re a purist, roast the asparagus and the breadcrumbs side by side in a bigger pan – separated, so they don’t touch – and serve them as Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Breadcrumbs.

TIME: 5 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the asparagus in a baking dish, and toss with one teaspoon of the oil.

Place the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the breadcrumbs, mixing until they stick together when you press them into a clump in your hand.

Scatter the breadcrumbs over the asparagus, and roast 15 to 20 minutes on the top shelf, until the asparagus are cooked.

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Stop being such a shallot

Agrumi and Cheese

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

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

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

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

Maybe another time.

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots raw

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

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

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots pan

Greek-Inspired, Honey-Roasted Shallots (PDF)

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

MAKES: 2 servings
TIME: 15 minutes active time

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

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

Honey-Roasted Shallots 1

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

Full Sprint

Beans with two mustards

Roasted Haricot Verts with Two Mustards (PDF)
Recipe 361 of 365

Here’s a green bean recipe with everything: it’s got the tang of good Dijon mustard, the crunch of whole grain mustard, and an ease that makes it a realistic choice for quick weeknight dinners, especially if you can find pre-trimmed beans. Bigger beans will take a bit more time in the oven.

TIME: 5 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 pound pre-trimmed haricots verts (or regular green beans)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl (hands work best), and spread the beans out on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Beans with two mustards  raw

Roast for 20 minutes, or until the beans are al dente. Serve immediately.

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Pop Quiz

As I hauled my recipe notebook to the kitchen yesterday (Oh, now that is another topic entirely: The notebooks. The notebook in question travels from the kitchen to the computer and back again many times each day, but it’s never, really never in the room it should be in. Isn’t there a cornering pulley system perfect for this? And the pencil thing. How many times have I put the pencil in the flour canister on accident? I must try tying it to a string and anchoring the string to the ceiling. Anyway.) I flipped through its pages, and giggled at my notes. They read like made-up airport codes on a round-the-world airline ticket. So this, scribbled under “ideas”:

2X YG POT w SDT & PRB

Means I want to make twice-baked Yukon Gold potatoes with sundried tomatoes and that Point Reyes blue cheese we still have. Only, because Yukies wouldn’t normally be considered a good potato for twice-baking, thin skins and all, I’d have to play with the idea – maybe bake them once, then mash them with the other stuff, like make-ahead mashed potatoes, then bake it all again before serving?

Anyway, a quiz for you today, derived from the chicken scratch that is my recipe notebook. Here are some examples of own weird version of shorthand. Most are ingredients I’ve inadvertently created acronyms for to safe time while I’m taking notes, but some have to do with recipes’ cooking instructions. Take a gander, if you’d like – answers after the jump.

1. PTLP

2. R&D

3. C/S

4. MHH

5. FCHF

6. EVOO (I didn’t say I like her, but it’s convenient.)

7. WGM

8. RWV

9. FSLJ

10. RPF

Looking through the pages, I find it curious what things roll onto the paper naturally, every time, even thought they’d be so much easier to write if I created an acronym. I always write out “preheat oven to . . .” Seems like it should be dead obvious to write “PO” at the beginning of every recipe instead, but the mind is never predictable, I guess.

Today, a recipe for Hanukkah, which begins Tuesday at sundown:

Sweet Potato Carrot Latkes

Sweet Potato-Carrot Latkes (PDF)
Recipe 337 of 365

I wouldn’t go so far as to call traditional Hanukkah latkes boring, but you have to admit, they’re sometimes lacking in . . .well, chutzpah. Here’s a sweet potato and carrot version, improved, I think, with a touch of curry and just enough spice to round the flavor out. Serve them right out of the pan, topped with sour cream or applesauce, or keep them warm in the oven as you cook them, and serve all at once.

TIME: 30 minutes total
MAKES: 4 servings

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 pound carrots, peeled
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup flour
3 eggs, whisked to blend
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Vegetable oil, for frying

Using a food processor or a box grater, shred the sweet potatoes and carrots. Transfer them to a mixing bowl, along with the remaining ingredients (except the oil), and stir to blend.

Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add oil until it comes about 1/2” up the pan. When a bit of the potato mixture dropped into the oil sizzle madly, it’s ready. Drop the potato batter by 1/4 cupfuls into the oil, and fry four minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to dry briefly, and serve hot. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, adding more oil to the pan, if necessary.

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Dessert for dinner

Sure, sweet potatoes have enough natural sugar on their own, but if you get one of those unavoidable cases of sweet tooth, the kind that just won’t leave you alone until you’ve had something totally sinful, try these. They might just do the trick.

Mashed sweet potatoes with honey and cumin

Recipe 336 of 365: Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Cumin and Honey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick two medium sweet potatoes (about 3/4 pound total) a few times with a fork, wrap in foil, and roast until completely tender all the way through, or 60 to 90 minutes, depending on your potatoes’ age and shape. Let cool in the foil for about 10 minutes, then unwrap and carefully peel the skin off. Mash in a bowl with just a teaspoon or two of honey, 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, about 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and a good pinch of salt. Serve immediately.

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324: Roasted cauliflower with tapenade and feta

Real goat’s milk feta – the soft kind that comes submerged in water, not the kind that’s pressed into a sterile-looking cryovacked block – is a most amazing melter. It doesn’t fold in on itself and sort of wilt like the less expensive forms of feta, but blooms as it warms, swells with pride in its own sharp, tangy flavor. Like tapenade, it’s a universal picker-upper. Add it to something whose flavor might not shine so brightly for you on its own, like roasted zucchini, broccoli, or green beans.

cauliflower with tapenade and feta

Cauliflower with Tapenade and Goat’s Milk Feta
Recipe 324 of 365

(Serves 2 cauliflower lovers)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the florets from half a two-pound head of cauliflower and dump them in a big baking dish. Drizzle with two teaspoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to mix. Roast for 15 minutes. Add about 1/4 cup good olive tapenade to the cauliflower, dropping it in little bits right onto the florets and maybe smearing it around a bit. Roast another 15 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is soft and browned in spots. Serve immediately, topped with crumbled fresh goat’s milk feta.

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Potatoes? With Lemon?

Yup, it works. The olive oil and Meyer lemon team up and crust the bottom sides of the potatoes with a sweet, flavorful patina.

potatoes with meyer lemon

Roasted Fingerlings with Meyer Lemon
Recipe 319 of 365

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat 1 pound fingerling potatoes with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of half a Meyer lemon on top. Slice the other half of the lemon into four wedges, toss in with the potatoes, and roast 35 to 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

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310: Baby Beets with Yogurt Sauce

Beets? I use beets all sorts of ways, but I almost always roast them first. I wrap them in foil, throw them in the oven, and when they’re soft, I peel the skin off – then the beets are ready to use.

So what about those cute, tiny beets at the farmers’ markets these days: how does one peel them?

The answer is, you don’t have to. They’re so young, and the skin is so thin (and surely nutritious), that you might as well skip that step.

Baby Beets with yogurt sauce 2

Recipe 310 of 365: Roasted Baby Beets with Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

Buy a couple bunches of beets, maybe a big red bunch and a little yellow bunch, none bigger than the size of a golf ball. Make sure they have bright, healthy-looking greens.

Cut the greens off about 1/2 inch away from the top of the beet, and saute the greens in olive oil and garlic, or use them for a salad. (Warning: If you keep them in your refrigerator, loose on the top shelf like I did, someone might say something like Jess, this is a refrigerator, not a compost bin.)

Scrub the beets well, and let them dry on a layer of paper towels for a few minutes.

Dump them into a baking dish, squirrelly tails and all, drizzle them with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and ground cumin. Roast at about 400 degrees until they’re completely soft when you poke them with a fork, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a yogurt sauce, really a sort of raita: spoon about 1/4 cup plain yogurt into a bowl, along with a tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro, and season with salt, pepper, and more cumin. Stir.

When the beets come out, cut them in half lengthwise, holding them steady with tongs with one hand and cutting with the other. Pile the beets into a bowl, stir in the sauce, and serve warm.

Baby Beets with yogurt sauce 1

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Squash with Cotija

Here’s the squash I didn’t quite get to on Friendsgiving. For your own Thanksgiving, make it a few days ahead and transfer it to individual ramekins, so you can reheat it by sneaking them into the corners of your oven without taking up one big part of a rack.

Cotija is a crumbly Mexican cow’s milk cheese with a good tang. It doesn’t melt easily, which means it retains its flavor well in hot dishes.

Butternut Squash with Ancho Chili and Cotija

Pureed Butternut Squash with Ancho Chili and Cotija (PDF)
Recipe 306 of 365

Although I myself will eat butternut squash in almost any incarnation, I think many of those that object to it don’t like how many Thanksgiving preparations sweeten it, turning it into a cross between dinner and dessert. Here’s a simple, more savory puree, spiced with fresh ancho chili powder and topped with crumbly fresh Mexican cotija cheese.

Note: This would also make a lovely soup – simply thin the puree with broth or stock, reheat, and season to taste.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 servings

1 (2 1/2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1” chunks
Salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh ancho chili powder
1/3 cup heavy cream
Cotija cheese, crumbled

Fill a large saucepan with about 1 1/2” of water. Add squash and a teaspoon of salt, cover, and bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until squash is soft, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chili powder, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 20 seconds, until aromatic. (If the chili powder burns, start again.) Transfer the chili oil to a small bowl and set aside.

Drain the squash, transfer to the work bowl of a food processor, add the chili oil and cream, and puree until smooth. Season with additional salt, if necessary, and puree again. Serve hot, topped with cotija.

For Thanksgiving: Make the squash up to 3 days ahead (but don’t add the cotija). Transfer the squash to a baking dish (or several small ramekins, which you can sneak into different corners of your oven when space is at a premium). Let cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. Squash can be reheated, covered with foil, for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven (or 15 minutes for ramekins), then topped with cheese before serving.

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Method: Skinny Potato Gratin

I can hear you: Oh, no you don’t.

I don’t mean skinny in that way. Not too skinny, anyway. I mean skin-y, a potato gratin made with the skins on.

Everyone has their own favorite version of potato gratin. Some folks like to make a bechamel first, and of course the cheese of choice is a topic of hot debate. But the potatoes usually go in naked. (I can’t remember ever tasting a gratin made with unpeeled potatoes.)

What’s so bad about the skins?

Me, I’d always peeled Yukon Gold potatoes and sliced them good and thin, layering them with Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, butter, flour, and herbs, like Kathy taught me one day about four years ago on Martha’s Vineyard.

But here’s the thing: potato gratin is one of those things that’s infinitely more enjoyable to make without measuring. If you’re in there with teaspoons and tablespoons, shaking flour over the potatoes in a fine, even layer, you might get a higher percentage of perfectly seasoned bites, but you might also go crazy. You might be counting the number of butter cubes you place between each layer, instead of feeling the way the butter’s fat seeps into the pores on your fingertips. You might be so focused on measuring cheese that you forget how funny it is when potato starch dries on your forehead (how did it get there?) and makes you look like a kid that found mom’s make-up.

So play with it. If you use red potatoes, you might get something that goes into the oven looking like Spam casserole:

Spam Gratin

And whose general post-baking resemblance to Canadian bacon is so disappointing your significant other shoves it into a plastic container before you have a chance attempt resurrection:

Gratin Mess

But no matter what it looks like, its deep, satisfying flavor will make you cut it into little squares the next day, and eat it cold, brick by cheesy potato brick, because it really doesn’t need to be heated up:

Technicolor Potato Gratin

(Yes, I ate it with my hands.)

Method: Skinny Potato Gratin
Recipe 305 of 365

If you’d like to peel your potatoes, fine. Do it. I used to, but after trying once without peeling, I probably never will again. I sliced my various potatoes really, really thin, about 1/16″ on a mandolin slicer (don’t lose a finger!), and the skins cooked so we didn’t really notice their texture in the gratin, but I think their flavor added something.

So start with a bunch of potatoes – you can use any color and make a Technicolor Tater Gratin like I did, but keep in mind that blue potatoes might cause sort of a gray shade and all-red potatoes (the kind that are red inside, too) look dangerously like Spam.

So strike that – start with a bunch of firm, white-fleshed potatoes. You’ll need more for a bigger dish, less for a smaller dish. The idea here is to fill the dish just about to the top. I decided how many potatoes to use by filling the dish with one layer of whole potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease your favorite casserole dish (favorite dishes make tastier dishes, I do believe) with butter, and gather salt, pepper, regular flour, and high-quality grated cheese on the counter. I use Parmesan cheese, typically, but I’ve also used gruyere, cheddar, and brie, or a mixture of all the little ends left in the fridge, and quite often I add in some chopped herbs. Oh, and you’ll need milk and cream, too. You can use all milk, but the dish won’t be quite as rich, or all cream, but the cream sometimes boils over and creates a bit of a mess, so I tend to go with half of each. But note: Half and Half, the product, never works well in these recipes. Something about the way it’s produced.

Slice the potatoes literally as thin as you can get them. Spread a layer (a small potato’s worth) in the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle it with flour, like you’re flouring a board with a thin layer for pie crust. Season with salt and pepper, dot with little bits of butter, and sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese. Scatter some herbs on top, if you’d like.

(If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right: This recipe is nothing groundbreaking. It’s the same, only you spend less time peeling.)

Repeat: Potatoes, then flour, salt, pepper, butter, cheese, and herbs, if you’re using them. Keep going until you’re almost to the top. End with a potato layer. You might want to take some care to make this one look pretty, because it’s what you’ll be looking at – arrange the potatoes like fallen dominoes, then add just cheese and butter to the last layer.

Add about a half cup of cream to the potatoes, then add whole milk until it comes about 2/3 to 3/4 up the inside of the pan – just so you can see it around the edges of the potatoes, but not so high it covers the top layer.

Cover with foil and bake on the top rack (on another baking sheet, to catch any drips) for about 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 30 minutes or so, until the cheese is browned and bubbling.

Important: The gratin is sometimes a little loose at this point. Let it sit a good 10 to 15 minutes before serving; the potatoes are great at continuing to soak up the liquid.

Note: If you’re the type that follows recipes to the letter, I used 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, 2 tablespoons flour, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/4 pound grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup cream, and . . .well, I didn’t measure the milk. Ha! You’ll have to wing it. I didn’t use herbs this time, but I usually use a mix of thyme and rosemary.

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Friendsgiving

Sage-Rubbed Turkey

I made Thanksgiving dinner last night. Or something like that.

You know how it is: You go to the store for one thing, and come home with something completely different. Yesterday I went to Ballard Market for a rack of lamb, which I’d planned to crust with panko, sage, and chopped pecans, but I took one look at the particularly outrageous price tag and decided I’d hit Better Meat Co., the tiny neighborhood butcher around the corner from me that has somehow avoided my attentions until recently. We’d invited friends over for dinner and pumpkin carving.

I finished my stroll through the market, picking up the figs, the sage, the nuts, and a few other things. As I stood in line to check out, gleaming turkeys danced at me from the covers of all the food magazines. I remembered my recent conversation with my brother, who will be part of the crowd hosting my family’s Thanksgiving this year, and his firm admonishment: You will not be cooking this year.

But how could I not cook Thanksgiving? I mean, not at all? Impossible.

A friend of ours is leaving soon for India for work, for an unspecified amount of time. She’ll surely miss Thanksgiving, I thought. Maybe we’ll do it this weekend.

You see, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not the whole Plymouth thing I enjoy, or the parading around to celebrate stealing a land from its rightful owners then crawling back in need of food. I’m not so big on the history. No, it’s the direct national call for a day of feasting together that I like. It’s the day America has reserved for eating dinner with other people, instead of alone in our cars, and though the stars of the table may be misguided (I stand firmly against marshmallows, but that’s just me . . .), I always look forward to it. I love sitting at a groaning table on a random Thursday afternoon, knowing that so many others are doing the same thing.

Except Michelle, I thought. She probably won’t be eating turkey in India.

Okay, I like the cooking part, too. And cooking a turkey is no harder than roasting a chicken, no matter what anyone tells you, and sometimes turkey says “I appreciate your company” more clearly and distinctly than, say, homemade burritos. (Mmm. Turkey burritos.) Even in early November.

I darted to the back of the store and picked up a 12-pound free range turkey. It was fresh, not frozen, but I figured it would last a few days, and knew you’d appreciate a few recipes for leftovers. And at half the price of the lamb, it seemed easier to justify. I thought I’d save the turkey for the weekend.

Later on, I scrounged around for four of the sorriest pumpkins I’ve ever seen, and arrived at Better Meat (how I do love that name!) to find out they didn’t have any lamb on hand.

Better Meat Co.

My brain ticked. It was a little before 5, and Katie and Thad were arriving at 7. Twelve pound turkey . . .Katie’s rarely on time . . .I still had salad dressing leftover from lunch, and potatoes in the fridge from my potato therapy session at the UD farmers’ market a few weeks ago. (I gave up on deciding which variety to choose and just bought – literally – one of each.) I had a big butternut squash . . .

Thanksgiving for four in October? Why not? Call it Friendsgiving. I’ve known Katie for 11 years, and sure, why not thank her? I hoped Michelle would understand.

I thought that skipping the whole pomp and circumstance and OMG I’m preparing Thanksgiving dinner would mean less drama, but alas, a busy kitchen is always an exciting place.

Here’s how I made Thanksgiving in about two hours:

5:00 pm

I take the turkey out of the fridge to confirm it’s not frozen anywhere, and leave it on the counter. I check my email.

5:25 pm

I heat the oven to 400 degrees, and put the rack in the lower part of the oven. I find a bone for the dog, so I can play with the turkey in peace.

5:30 pm

I rinse the turkey inside and out, putting the innards and neck aside for gravy. I trim the bird, rub the outside with olive oil, then sprinkle the inside and outside with salt, pepper, and rubbed sage. I tuck the wings behind the back, but leave the legs loose.

5:38 pm

I put the turkey in the oven, and fix the fingernail I sawed halfway off when I was trimming it. (No blood involved.)

5:40 pm

I unload the dishwasher, reload it with my lunch dishes, swear at the the hanging utensil basket that prevents the door from shutting all the way if it’s not on just right, and clean up the turkey mess.

5:51 pm

I hop in the shower. Oh, how good it is to shower after wrestling a turkey.

6:01 pm

I emerge in my bathrobe to find the cat has performed a hail mary turkey neck burglary, dragging it across the counter, onto the trash can, and onto the floor, where he appears to be reciting it a love poem of garbled meows at close range.

The cat and the turkey  neck

I scold him, clean the poultry smear off the counter and the floor, and wash the turkey neck off. (Never too proud.)

I put a container of frozen homemade chicken stock on the back burner to melt, and dump some cranberries, frozen rhubarb from last summer, salt, sugar, and water into a saucepan, and crank the heat.

6:08 pm

I dry my hair, get dressed, and email my sister.

6:16 pm

The cranberries are boiling too furiously, so I calm them with a spoon and reduce the heat to a bubble.

6:18 pm

I put the verjus vinaigrette into the bottom of the salad bowl, and add in sliced figs, bleu cheese, and granola. I pile watercress on top, and set the whole salad aside, to be mixed when we sit down to eat.

6:20 pm

I heat a large skillet good and hot, swirl a dab of olive oil into it, and add the salt-and-peppered turkey neck and giblets. The goal is to sear them until well browned, then deglaze the pan with wine (do I have wine?) to create a flavorful liquid to add to the gravy. The dog looks at me expectantly.

6:25 pm

I decide to make a multi-colored potato gratin with my potato collection. I grease my gratin pan with butter.

The fire alarm goes off. I have no idea why; nothing is burning. It’s the one just outside the kitchen, the one Tito can reach but I can’t, and I feel annoyance boil up inside me as I fumble with the stepladder. Instead of putting on my glasses and finding where the battery compartment is, I reach blindly toward the noise, and separate the entire unit from its housing on the ceiling. I pry it open at what turns out to be definitely not the battery part, and bang at it until it stops. Add to hardware store list: one smoke alarm. Now both of the animals are sitting in the doorway, watching me with curiosity.

Where is Tito?

Right, the potatoes. I cut half a stick of cold butter into tiny pieces, and gather what I need: flour, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, cream, and milk.

I ladle 2 cups of stock into the pan with the now-browned turkey parts, and set it to simmer on low to get all the flavor out of that now-sterilized and beautifully browned neck.

I stir the cranberries, and check on the turkey, which is just beginning to brown at the tips.

I flip the turkey parts in the pan, so the browned fonds from the other side of the neck simmers into the sauce.

6:32 pm

Shit, 28 minutes. I decide I’m in too much of a rush to peel the potatoes, so I slice them really thin on a mandoline, and spread them into the pan, smooshing them into one layer rather than taking the time to lay them out perfectly. The first layer is a blue potato with a shocking purple interior. I sprinkle the potatoes with flour, salt, pepper, cheese, and dot the layer with butter. Down goes a sliced Red Lasoda, then a Russet Norkota, then a Purple Something, layers of flour, salt, pepper, butter, and cheese between each. Darn, out of pepper. I refill the mill and finish the gratin off with 3 baby Yukon Golds, and finally an All Red, this one layered in a gorgeous spiral. The potatoes come just to the top of the dish.

Only an All Red potato is just that – all red. So instead of looking at a raw potato gratin, I feel like I’ve just made Spam casserole, because the whole top layer is a hammy shade of pink. I dump the rest of the cheese on top, along with more seasoning (no flour on the top) and the rest of the butter. There. No more Spam.

6:45 pm

My sister calls. I feign calm, then basically hang up on her when I find the cranberries are starting to simmer over again and the turkey parts need to be taken off the heat.

Shoot, we do have white wine, but it’s sweet; it won’t do for the gravy. I put it in the freezer.

Tito walks in, still in his biking clothes from his commute home, and wants to chat. What happened to the smoke alarm? I push him into the shower.

6:48 pm

I cover the gratin with foil, and open the oven. Arrrgggg, it’s Thanksgiving, of course there’s an oven problem. I move the turkey as low as it goes, which gives me just enough room to squish the gratin onto the highest rack. It’s a good situation: the turkey is gorgeously browned by now, and I want it to keep cooking without browning further, and the gratin will block the heat from the top of the oven, doing what a piece of foil over the turkey would do without sacrificing the skin’s crispiness.

I close the oven, and realize I forgot to add the liquid to the gratin. I unwrap it, add 1/2 cup cream, and add milk just until I can see it come up the edges of the potatoes, about three fourths of the way up the side of the pan.

6:55 pm

I take the wine out of the freezer, clean the counters, and squish the cranberries against the side of the pan, satisfied with the popping noises. I taste the cranberry sauce; it needs something. In goes a splash of Grand Marnier.

7:00 pm

I set out olives, hummus, and good olive oil. (Katie is bringing bread.)

I guess the pureed butternut squash is not happening.

Odd calm.

7:05 pm

I chop up a tablespoon of sage for the gravy, and check on the turkey – the legs are at 150 degrees, and the breast is at 160. Not quite. I talk to Tito over a beer and shove a few things in the dishwasher.

7:15 pm

Radio silence.

7:17 pm

Our guests arrive, and we dig into the bread, mopping up olive oil sprinkled with salt and pepper. We talk about nothing and everything.

7:30 pm

I take the turkey out, and take the foil off the potatoes. They look a little drippy, so I put the gratin dish on a baking sheet and move them to the center rack.

I tip the bird to let the juice from the center cavity fall into the roasting pan, and transfer the bird to a platter. It’s as gorgeous a turkey as I’ve ever seen, and since I didn’t stuff it, I didn’t have to overcook the outside to get the stuffing hot.

I place the roasting pan over two low burners, and drop in a few slabs of butter. I sprinkle flour over the butter, and let them simmer there together in the mahogany pan drippings until they threaten to thicken all the juice that’s there. I add the liquid from the pan I seared the turkey parts in (and save the parts for the pooch), along with the chopped sage, and whisk everything together. I cook the gravy, now a thick, chunky mass, for a few minutes, then add about 2 cups of the warm chicken stock, and whisk it until it’s deep brown and fragrant. I turn the heat as low as it goes, and check on the potatoes.

7:45 pm

The potatoes are not done. In fact, they still look like Spam to me, only Katie points out that because I’ve left the skins on and the potatoes are round it’s really more of a Canadian bacon thing, and I’m sure they’ll be awful. I move the dish to the top rack to brown more.

7:50 pm

I take the potatoes out – turns out they didn’t need much more time – and carve the turkey. We eat more bread, and I transfer the cranberry sauce to a bowl.

7:55 pm

I toss the salad, and we sit, with turkey, potatoes, salad, cranberry sauce, and killer sage gravy. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, three hours after its mental conception. We eat and drink and laugh and taunt the dog, and forget all about the pumpkins.

The multi-potato gratin is a great textural experience. All the different kinds squish up in my mouth together, but I can feel how some are softer than others, some more creamy. But my Parmesan dump was too much; there’s a pool of cheese liquid (think pizza) in one corner, which Katie daintily dabs away with a paper towel, and the blue from the bottom layer of potatoes has leeched into the cream, giving the whole dish a grayish overtone. No matter; the gratin is delicious.

See, that’s the core of Thanksgiving to me – it’s not about the perfect pie, or having sixteen things on the table. It’s about celebrating a night with people who mean something to you, or even people you’re still getting to know, with whatever your kitchen happens to hold at the moment.

I love tradition as much as the next sappy cook, and sure, there’s fun in the planning. (I’ve done it many times.)

But oh, friends – as you open those magazines, and break out your shopping lists in preparation for filling your freezer, remember that over the tops of all your gorgeous platters, you’ll still need to see each other.

And the friend going to India? Who knows . . . Maybe I’ll do it all over again this weekend. I’d enjoy that.

Cranberry-Rosemary Sauce

Cranberry-Rhubarb Sauce (PDF)
Recipe 304 of 365

Spiked with Grand Marnier for a kiss of orange flavor, this is one both your turkey and your sandwiches will love. To make ahead, combine all the ingredients in a large ziptop bag and freeze until a day (or three) before Thanksgiving. You can cook the sauce straight from frozen a few days before turkey time, let it cool to room temperature, and store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container until you need it.

TIME: 10 minutes active time, plus stirring
MAKES: 8 servings

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
3 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or similar orange liqueur
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a strong simmer, stirring occasionally and mashing the berries against the side of the pan as they swell and burst, until sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Serve warm or cold.

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Gluten-Free Girl

Gluten-Free Girl cover

You, dear reader, are on a book tour.

Surprise.

It’s a virtual book tour, to be exact, for Seattle-based blogger Shauna James Ahern‘s heart-warming, honest, educational first book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too. Shauna’s jumping from site to site this month, sharing her journey to living gluten-free through the hearts and words of other bloggers, and watching how her experiences get reflected and refracted through our different lenses.

For me, Gluten-Free Girl is a love story. It’s about saying yes to food, about finding a new way to live life, and about Shauna’s inspiring rebirth after 30 years of living in the cocoon of pain and fatigue that eating gluten caused her. The book speaks to anyone who has experienced depression, injury, disease, or frustration. To anyone who’s fallen in love. And, of course, to anyone who loves food, or fears it.

(Here’s what I wrote about the book for Seattle Weekly.)

For me, Gluten-Free Girl was a surprising education. How could I know so much about food and not realize how much some of it hurts people?

You’ve probably seen “gluten-free” on a package in the grocery store. Maybe you’ve heard of celiac disease – it’s an autoimmune disorder that affects a person’s ability to digest gluten.

But maybe you’ve dismissed it, or viewed it as a dietary choice. She’s a vegan. He doesn’t eat meat. She doesn’t like gluten. I told a friend about the book months ago – a friend who cooks, who knows food, like me. I could almost see her there, on the other end of the phone back east, raising her eyebrows and pursing her lips in disbelief. I’m sure she cocked her head to one side, then shook it slowly, the way she does. Honestly, I don’t know if I buy the whole gluten-free thing, she said.

Here’s what I learned: Eating gluten-free is not a fuzzy, fictional goal. For those with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is a necessity. It’s the difference between barely surviving and really living.

On her blog, and with Gluten-Free Girl, Shauna is bringing celiac awareness to a new height. As a percentage of the population, there are as many (or according to many sources, far more) Americans with celiac disease as there are people allergic to peanuts, yet few people understand how sick gluten makes those who don’t tolerate it.

At the beginning of the book, when Shauna realizes she needs to go gluten-free, her journey starts in the kitchen. She discovers good ingredients – oils, cheeses, chocolate, grains, vegetables, fruits– that her body loves, and learns to use them well. She undergoes a culinary epiphany, and shows us that falling in love with food is really, really fun.

I went along for the ride, cheering her newfound devotion to real food, diving into what she told me about ingredients that are still relatively new to me, like quinoa and teff.

But each time I returned to Shauna’s book, to reread delicious-sounding recipes (Chicken thighs braised in pomegranate molasses? Yes, please.), an emotion peeked in through the back of my heart, from what must be the dark part.

It took a few days, but eventually I recognized it: Jealousy. I wasn’t jealous in a raging, angry way, but softly, curiously. Jealous that Shauna knows not only what causes her autoimmune disease, but also knows how to fix it. She learned to eat a certain way, and it disappeared. Now, she knows. Now, she can help the millions of others like her. She’s doing it already.

Gluten-Free Girl made me want to know what that feels like, too. It made me wonder whether I’ll ever find a solution for lupus, as it affects me. I’ve always assumed there would never be an answer. Then again, so did Shauna. She made me jealous, but she also gave me hope. And God, did she make me feel lucky. Lupus isn’t always fun, but my pain will never reach the depth and longevity of what Shauna endured. My heart ached for her.

Reading through Gluten-Free Girl, I couldn’t help but think that Shauna’s diet, on the scale of all American diets, isn’t that different from mine. As much as I yearned for boxed, processed foods growing up (and took shameless advantage of my father’s willingness to purchase them when he had grocery duties), I didn’t grow up eating brands. I grew up eating food.

I could eat that way, I thought. I could eat gluten-free. I decided to try it, not because I think I might have celiac disease (I don’t – I’ve checked), but to test my own response to dietary restrictions. Say there was a diet that could cure lupus and, over the course of months, reverse its past ill effects. My hair would grow back thicker. My steroid-soaked skin would clear. Could I follow it?

Shauna would say yes. She’d say I could.

But I haven’t found that diet yet, so I tried hers. Just for kicks.

I started on Sunday night. That’s right – last Sunday. All the recipes on Hogwash this week have been gluten-free.

You haven’t noticed, have you? Neither did my husband.

That’s because eating gluten-free doesn’t preclude eating deliciously – it just means eating carefully.

I’ve been gluten-free, on and off my site. No bagels or bread for breakfast, no sandwiches for lunch. No pasta, no flour tortillas, no baked goods containing gluten. I ate eggs many wonderful ways for breakfast, and moist, hearty pork enchiladas from my freezer. I went out for Vietnamese food, and went to a cocktail party and found gluten-free foods. I drank wine instead of beer. I had black bean soup for lunch, and we had friends over for dinner, who loved my moist, mushroom-studded quinoa, cooked risotto-style. The car needed an oil change, and I chose a garage next to a gluten-free bakery. I used homemade chicken stock, and checked the ingredients on everything I thought about buying at the grocery store. Yes, I learned. It’s possible.

But there were mistakes, to be sure. I tried to start on Sunday, but I topped my soup with bleu cheese, which is inoculated with a form of bread mold that has traces of gluten in it. When I was mixing the spices for the pumpkin seeds, I added soy sauce the first time, and had to start over, because soy sauce contains wheat. My dog eats a food that has wheat in it, too, and I must have gotten a wet smack on the lips at some point this week. I forgot to check the ingredients in my toothpaste. We brewed beer on Thursday night, and my husband spilled roasted barley on the counter, and we didn’t sterilize it. And halfway through the week, I realized I had a story on Seattle bakeries due – I had to eat something from four different places. I tried everything I needed to taste, but took only one bite of each: One bite of shoofly pie. One bite of adorable red velvet cupcake. One bite of pumpkin bread. My neighbor got box after box of pastries that looked like they’d been tested by a very picky mouse.

These bites, these mistakes, would have sent Shauna into days of writhing pain. (I love the encouragement she gives to those with celiac disease who are tempted to cheat and eat gluten: You wouldn’t “cheat” and drink some Drano, would you?) But my transgressions drove the point home: for those with serious celiac disease, eating requires mindfulness. I have a newfound respect for her, and all those who suffer from the disease, and hope I can help spread the word. I’ve added a “gluten-free” category for my recipe collection here on hogwash.

But oh, I fear I’ve been too meticulous. Too serious. Too strict. Too focused on avoiding.

Did I just mention suffering? No. Shauna doesn’t suffer. What Gluten-Free Girl also makes clear – with equal importance to her discussions of celiac disease – is that eating requires joy. Shauna tells us that each bite taken should be taken with care, respect, curiosity, interest, and playfulness. She teaches us that the food we eat – whatever it is – sustains us as much emotionally as it does physically, and that no person should live without a constant, conscious love for it.

And for that, I thank her.

Here’s Shauna’s blog, and her book. Oh, and if you’re on your way to the University District farmers’ market this morning, like I am, she’ll be there, too.

Wild Mushroom Quinoa “Risotto” (PDF)
Recipe 293 of 365

Cooking risotto has a comforting pattern: first you sweat the onions in butter or olive oil. Then you add the grains, often toasting them just a bit, then wine or stock, and whatever vegetables you’re using. Then the whole thing gets impregnated with butter and cheese, so that when the grains hit your tongue, they slide across each other, rich with flavor.

Here’s a version made with quinoa – it allows you to skip the stirring part of risotto, but adds protein, and still provides the unctuous mouth feel that makes mushroom risotto, made with fragrant wild mushrooms, such a cornerstone of fall food.

TIME: 25 minutes total
MAKES: 4 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound wild mushrooms, such as chanterelle, oyster, or porcini, cleaned and chopped
1 cup raw quinoa
2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and mushrooms, season again, and cook for another five minutes, or until mushrooms have begun giving off their water. (You can prepare the dish up to this point and set aside for an hour or two, or refrigerate overnight.)

Add the quinoa and the chicken stock, stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook at a bare simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter (you can skip this, if you insist) and the goat cheese until both have melted, season to taste, and serve hot.

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Hedgehogs for dinner

When I was making my shopping list on Saturday for the dinner party, I opened Heidi Swanson‘s latest (terrific) cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, and found the page I’d marked. It was a recipe for Baked Purple Hedgehog Potatoes, seasoned with harissa and served with a creamy dipping sauce. She used baby blue potatoes, sliced at 1/4″ intervals (almost all the way through the potatoes, but not quite), like this:

Cutting a hedgehog

When they bake, the slices separate a bit and the potatoes come out looking like . . . potatoes, sliced very thin (almost all the way through), maybe with some stuff shoved in the cracks, depending on what you add. I admit, I’m not all that familiar with hedgehogs, but thinking back on those hedgehog-shaped pencil holders – you know, the roughly animal-shaped desk accessories with a forest of rounded plastic stalagmites protruding from them, so you can keep your pencils vertical and immediately accessible? – I got into the idea. Sure, potatoes can look like hedgehogs, too. Why not?

Hedgehog Potatoes with WG Mustard Vinaigrette raw

Hedgehog Potatoes with Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette (PDF)
Recipe 283 of 365

Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Hedgehog Potatoes in Super Natural Cooking, this is a great way to serve potatoes with a little intrigue. Since I was looking for a potato I could bake and then reheat again closer to serving time, I used sturdy baby Russet potatoes, but new potatoes or smaller Yukon Golds would also work well. Roasting time will depend on the type, age, and size of your potatoes, so if you use really small potatoes, start checking for doneness about 20 minutes after you remove the foil.

For fewer servings, just follow the basics – coat the potatoes in a light layer of olive oil, stuff with thyme and garlic, and drizzle with the vinaigrette. (If you have fewer potatoes, you can use any remaining vinaigrette on a salad.)

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 12 servings

5 pounds baby Russet potatoes, sliced about 80% of the way through at 1/4” intervals
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, slivered
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a large roasting pan. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the olive oil over the potatoes, toss to coat evenly, then turn all the potatoes cut sides up. Gently prying each potato open, stuff the garlic and thyme into the cracks in the potatoes at random intervals, getting a little of both into each potato. Season with salt and pepper, and cover the pan with foil.

Roast, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and roast potatoes an additional 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes, or until the potatoes are soft all the way through when poked with a fork.

Meanwhile, whisk the mustards and vinegar in a small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper, and add the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking. When the potatoes are done, transfer them to a serving platter or bowl, and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Serve immediately.

Hedgehog Potatoes with WG Mustard Vinaigrette 3

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A Favorite

Oh, it is fall, and my cooking is heading straight for the larder. It’s bacon and cream for me this week, it seems. (Why yes, as a matter of fact, bacon and cream do make a person happier. Indeed.)

Claiming a favorite recipe of 2007 in October would be jumping the gun, I guess, but with its deep, earthy, uniquely mineral flavor, this simple gratin will certainly make the top 10. With a freezer full of good bacon, I’ll definitely be buying a lot of kale this winter.

Bacon & Kale Gratin 1

Bacon and Kale Gratin (PDF)
Recipe 276 of 365

Red Russian Kale is gorgeous, with its deep emerald-green leaves and red ribs, but like most grown-up kale, it’s most tender when it’s cooked a long time. To prepare it for this hearty, warming side dish, chop the tough ends off right where the leaves begin to sprout out of the stalk. Arrange the Kale in parallel bunches, and cut the kale into 1/4” strips across the stalk, almost like cutting basil into chiffonade. Once the kale is cut, it’s easier to soak and spin dry in a salad spinner.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 thick slices bacon or pancetta, cut into 1/4” dice
1 big bundle Red Russian Kale (about 1 1/4 pound), rinsed, dried, and cut into chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, cut into tiny cubes, plus more for buttering dish
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Preheat a large, deep skillet or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until almost crispy. Add the kale, season with salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes, stirring, or until the kale turns bright green. Add the stock, cover the pot, and cook 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Take the lid off the kale and cook another 5 minutes or so, until no liquid remains at the bottom of the pot. (You want the kale to be fairly dry.)

Remove the pot from the heat, add the flour, and stir until no white remains. Butter a medium oval gratin dish (a pie plate or several small crème brulee dishes or large ramekins would work as well), and transfer the kale to the gratin dish in a roughly even layer. Season the kale with salt and pepper, dot with the butter, and sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the top. Drizzle the cream over cheese, and bake for 30 minutes, until the cream is bubbling and the cheese is browned. Serve warm.

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How to get ripped off at the market (and love it)

Shopping for produce at a farmers’ market is not expensive. Succumbing to the allure of miniature vegetables, when you don’t make a list and fall for anything adorable – that’s expensive. Five bucks for these puppies. Outrageous, but their sweet, concentrated flavor matched their price tag.

Baby squash 1

Baby Squash with Garlic and Cream (PDF)
Recipe 275 of 365

Baby vegetables are tender and sweet, but too fragile to grow much once the ground begins to freeze overnight, so farmers often have plenty of tiny specimens to sell at the end of the growing season. Look for the littlest summer squash you can find for this recipe, or buy the mini zucchini or squash sold at many high-end grocery stores, and cut them in half.

When squash are tiny like this, don’t bother chopping the tops off – they’ll become as soft as the rest of the vegetable with just a few minutes in the pan.

Add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese to when the squash are done, if you’d like.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: 4 side servings

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pint (about 1 pound) baby summer squash, any variety
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat a large skillet over high heat. When hot, add the butter, swirling it to encourage it to melt. When just melted, add the garlic and the squash, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring or tossing the vegetables constantly, for 1 minute, or until the vegetables begin to brown on the outsides. Add the cream, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring, or until the cream has browned and thickened enough to coat the squash with a thin veneer of shiny sauce. Serve immediately.

Baby Squash with Garlic and Cream 3

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For Squash

My brother’s name is Josh, and there was an unfortunate period in his life when everyone called him Squash. It happened to coincide with the years he was the puniest, scrawniest pre-teen there ever was. This is no longer the case; he is now strapping and handsome – but I still can’t hear someone talk about Squash without wondering if he’s in the room.

Squashed smeared with pepita rub

Pepita-Crusted Butternut Squash (PDF)
Recipe 271 of 365

I typically reserve dry rubs for meats and fish (or anything that I want to enrobe in an extra layer of flavor), but here, a mixture of pepita (pumpkin seeds), spices, and brown sugar gives fat slices of squash a little somethin’ somethin’. You could also toss the rub with green beans, or use it to crust halved zucchini, yellow, or delicata squash (as below) before baking.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 (2-pound) butternut squash
Olive oil spray
1/4 cup toasted, unsalted pepita (pumpkin seeds – raw will work too)
1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Carefully halve the squash lengthwise, through the stem and blossom ends. Scoop out the seeds (this is a good job for your ice cream scoop), and cut each half in half again lengthwise. Place the squash on a parchment- or silicon-covered baking sheet, and spray the cut sides of the squash with the olive oil spray.

Whirl the pepita in a small food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to blend.

Pepita dry rub

Smear the pepita mixture onto all orange surfaces of the squash, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the squash is soft all the way through. Serve warm.

(Don’t they look like little Indian slippers?)

Pepita-Crusted Butternut Squash

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269: Almond-Dusted Green Beans

Almond-Dusted Green Beans 1

Almond-Dusted Green Beans (PDF)
Recipe 269 of 365

Green beans, butter, and almonds are a fairly typical combination. Here’s something similar, done in a not-so-typical way: The green beans are coated with olive oil and chopped garlic, then sprinkled with almond meal and roasted in a hot oven. The texture is unique, and it’s a quick side dish that’s convenient if you already have something in the oven.

Find almond meal at Trader Joe’s, or make it by grinding almonds in a food processor until finely chopped but not yet buttery.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 pound green beans, trimmed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1/4 cup almond meal
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the green beans in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and garlic, and toss to coat. Add the almond meal, and mix again to coat all the beans evenly. Spread the beans out on a parchment-covered baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and bake on the upper rack of the oven for 20 minutes, or until al dente. Serve immediately.

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