Category Archives: soup

Spanish mission

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chorizo Soup with Parsnips and Thyme 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Mirror, Mirror

Identical feet, give or take 50 years

I thought I was going to Portland to help my grandmother June heal. I’d planned to teach a doughnut-making class at Sur La Table there, with Mark Klebeck of Top Pot Doughnuts, and I thought staying with June the night before would give me a chance to pop in with some soup. She had massive abdominal surgery three weeks ago; perhaps I didn’t know what that meant. I expected to wash sheets, or fold laundry, or perhaps run errands for her. I arrived with a tub of cumin-scented carrot soup, a gentle, fragrant concoction I thought might be easiest on the most timid of tummies.

Of course, any woman with the name “June” who lives in the Northwest will have a strong constitution; I should have known that she’d answer the door in her usual singsong voice, and that by the time we’d shared the soup and her salad—tiny pink shrimp piled into avocado halves, adorned with her sister Mary’s famous dressing, made of mayonnaise and Cholula (and darn good, I might add)—I’d nearly forgotten that she’d accidentally carried around a ruptured appendix for three weeks. She’s from good stock, that one. She’s healing just fine.

And every time I visit her, I’m reminded how much we have in common, even though she’ll be 85 this summer. We have the same flushable cheeks, and the same strong, thin hands, and the exact same feet, size 7 1/2, with unusually pretty toes. (Someday, I’ll show you in person, if you want. I feel very good about my feet.)

I like to think I have her sense of humor, too. After dinner, it seemed perfectly normal that we ended up standing next to each other in the bathroom, shirts pulled up to our bra lines, complimenting her nicely-healing scar and comparing our bodies, mine an almost carbon copy of hers, give or take 50 years.

When we were done bragging to each other about skin that doesn’t seem prone to stretch marks and lamenting the inconvenience of the sub-bosom sag, we moved right along, as if a two-generation gap somehow makes it perfectly normal for two women to act like 16-year-olds in front of a bathroom mirror. I’m sort of surprised we didn’t go through her old lipsticks together.

Cover: Pike Place Market Recipes

But we didn’t. Instead, I dug out the copy of Pike Place Market Recipes
I’d brought to share with her—the one I’d begged my publisher for, before leaving for Portland, because I wanted to give her one in person. I showed her the recipe for the carrot soup, and she promised she’d lend the book to her friend Verna, who would certainly make it. (Grandma June doesn’t really love cooking, so she avoids it. I’m finally getting used to this.)

But June liked my carrot soup, people. In fact, she said it was the best one she’d ever had. Now, carrot soup isn’t a hamburger or a dish of macaroni and cheese; one only tastes so many carrot soups in a lifetime. (You’d never see “Best Carrot Soups” on the cover of a magazine.”) But she said it.

When I made it the first and second and third time, this soup was about the Market. It was about walking into World Spice and reaching for a Kleenex halfway into my journey through the paprika selection, and about tufts of carrot tops tickling my armpits as they poked out of a packed produce bag.

From now on, though, it’ll be about June. Carrot soup will be about sitting at her kitchen table, drinking water from fancy pink wine glasses, because neither of us felt like drinking wine, anyway. It’ll be about watching her hand flutter excitedly along the side of the stove while the soup warmed, because she was she was so nervous, telling me about her new boyfriend. It’ll be crawling into that pink metal-framed daybed (that wasn’t ever mine, was it?), realizing how much her pride and approval matters to me.

So here’s a carrot soup that tastes like looking in a bathroom mirror, and finding someone you wouldn’t mind being at 85. If that’s not entirely relatable for you, just make it. I can promise that at the very least, it will taste good.

Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey

Carrot Soup with Cumin and Honey (printable PDF)
Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle’s Famous Market

Sometimes, shopping for a small, simple dinner at the Pike Place Market can be overwhelming – there’s unavoidable temptation to buy, say, and entire salmon, and take it home for a holiday feast when you’re only two for dinner. When you just need something warm and satisfying, make this velvety carrot soup, spiced with cumin, cayenne, and pimenton de la vera – smoked paprika from Spain’s La Vera region. Look for the pimenton at World Spice Merchants, DeLaurenti, The Spanish Table, or in the spice aisle of a large supermarket, in a red box.

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton de la vera)
Small pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the carrots, season to taste with salt and pepper, stir, and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper, then add the broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook until carrots are completely soft, another 10 to 20 minutes.

Using a blender or food processor, carefully puree the hot soup in small batches and return to the pot. Stir in the honey, then check the seasonings, adding more cayenne or honey to taste. Serve hot.

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Filed under gluten-free, Pike Place Market Recipes, recipe, recipes, soup

This is what I love.

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

But first, the 24.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s a holiday party. Have fun.

The menu:

Caramelized Onion-Fennel Jam with Patience (PDF)

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)

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

Greek-Inspired Slow-Roasted Onions (PDF)

Vinegared Beet Salad (PDF)

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

The perfect table

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 3

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

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

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

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

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

Working at the table

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

play-doh at the new table

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

lunch at the new table

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

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

Split Pea Soup with Dill and Cardamom 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

A newish thing

One day last week, I accidentally terrified my child. I was strolling with him and my mother-in-law through the produce section of a grocery store, and like anyone might, I stopped to marvel at a buddha’s hand—those eerily hand-like, vibrant yellow citrus fruits. I picked one up and sniffed it, and held it out for him to smell, and he looked at me, wide-eyed, when I said something about a monster’s hand. I put it down and we moved on.

It wasn’t until later, when my mother-in-law wheeled me a sobbing, bone-shaken creature, that I realized what I’d done. She’d strolled him past a fish display, where some perfectly innocent fishmonger had creatively staged another buddha’s hand where the head of a giant salmon should be. He shrieked, and clung, and hid his face for many long minutes. It’s not unusual for a 2 1/2-year-old to go through a phase of being scared easily, but it doesn’t feel good to be the one who starts it. Suddenly, my formerly unfazable kid is scared of everything. Thunder, leaf blowers, unpredicted stomps, particularly loud motorcycles—they all make him cower in the fetal position on the ground, face down. So far the solution has been to play Wagon Wheel and talk and dance until he comes out of it, which he does suddenly and completely after about 90 seconds. “Mommy, what’s a southbound train?” he asks. (No, I don’t show him the video.)

I don’t feel particularly proud of scaring the shit out of my kid. I am, however, impressed with how his fears have fueled his creativity. He’s talking about being scared, and showing me how his animal “friends” feel, and developing a community to help him get over the new frights. And out of that experience comes a lesson for me: even though I don’t have a typical job or lead a very typical life, I don’t do new things all that often. My life is composed of a series of expectations, all of which are more or less met on a daily basis. I plan articles. I test recipes. I shop for groceries. I make lists of inspirations. Then I write, and write, and write. But week over week, month over month, the overarching theme hasn’t changed in a while. The closest thing I’ve been to scared this week had to do with making corn dogs for the first time.

This isn’t to say I’m ready for something completely new or scary; it’s only to say that every once in a while, I appreciate a little shake-up. Something newish. Something fun.

Luckily, one of my friends happens to be one of the most persistently inspirational people I’ve ever met. Hannah’s the type of person who leaves a wake of ideas behind her when she walks across a room; she sheds creativity like a long-haired cat in June. When she proposed we do a pack of winter recipe cards together, pairing her artwork with my recipes, I jumped. Actually, I got in the car and met her for a drink. This was months ago.

We let the idea linger through the fall. But for some reason, with Graham’s buddha’s hand scare, I started thinking I should perhaps hop on these fun new things when they crop up, instead of running, which is what I’d do more instinctively. Because when else am I going to find an artist whose illustrations—papercuts, to be exact—so perfectly depict the foods I want people to eat? When would artwork, rather than a photograph, be a good representation of my food? When Hannah’s behind it, of course.

These here papercuts are just a little glimpse of our project—and the squash soup below is the starter, in a smartly wrapped package of winter cards each containing one recipe. There are five in the package, and together, they make up a lovely little winter dinner party menu.

There, now. Doesn’t’ that feel liberating? Food, illustrated in a completely new way. Stay tuned; we’re hoping to get them printed this week.

For now, the soup recipe. I’m off to figure out how to get Graham to eat salmon again.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup (PDF)
Time: 30 minutes active time / Serves 6
Based on a recipe that serves me all winter long, this squash soup has a lovely velvety texture–make sure you puree it until it’s silky–and enough cumin to scent every corner of your house.

4 pounds hubbard squash pieces • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil • 1 medium onion, finely chopped • salt and freshly ground pepper • 1 teaspoon ground cumin • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth • 2 large tart apples, such as Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Plunk the squash pieces on a baking sheet, skin side down, seal the pan closed with foil, and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the squash’s meat and skin are completely soft when poked with a fork. Cool until the squash is comfortable to touch, then scoop or cut out and save the flesh. (You should have about 6 cups of 1” pieces.)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the butter, then the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions begin to soften. Stir in the cumin. Add the broth, apples, and squash pieces to the onions and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the soup off the heat, and let cool for about 15 minutes. Carefully puree the soup until very smooth in multiple batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat, season to taste, and serve hot.

Cumin-Scented Hubbard Squash and Apple Soup 1

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Filed under Et cetera, Fun food sites, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, soup

A soup of my own

There are a lot of days when I don’t make it out of my pajamas – not because I’m a naturally lazy person (I’m the opposite, to a fault), but because I rev up to full speed before it occurs to me to change. If I showed you a photo of the hairdo worn to create every recipe here, I guarantee you’d make fewer of them.

These are the days I like being on the radio. A microphone is much more forgiving than a camera. And like people, there are some recipes that just aren’t meant for magazines.

Matzo ball soup with parsley and lemon zest looks great on the radio. I’ve tried to photograph it. I know these girls could do it, and do it well, but me? Not this time.

Click here to listen to me talking about my mother’s matzo ball soup on the radio.

The lesson from Mom: It’s important to choose where you spend your time, then to not feel guilty about your choices. Here’s my matzo ball soup (PDF). (And a hint: Sometimes knowing when not to cook is as important as knowing how.)

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Filed under recipe, soup

On the border of Spain and Germany

IMG_5907

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under commentary, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup

Soup for the masses

Pasta e fagioli 1

This here’s just a crack-diggity soup recipe that you’ll need to cook if you have a) a vegetarian at the table, b) a certain someone in your life (it might be someone you sleep next to every night) who whines and roars and gnashes when anyone says anything about eating vegetarian, and/or c) a faint desire to stick with the Meatless Monday thing. It requires porcini powder, which I buy at DeLaurenti in Seattle. (It’s available online here.)

Pasta e Fagioli with Controne, Kale, Carrots, and Porcini Powder (PDF)
Made with a few special ingredients that may take a hunt but take really no more work to cook than what you find in a regular grocery store, this vegetarian version of pasta e fagioli, the traditional Italian pasta and bean stew, has an unctuous, meaty flavor that comes from porcini powder. Also called porcini dust, porcini powder is made from dried porcini mushrooms. Used like a ground spice, it adds depth and a rich background flavor—perfect for someone who might not be too keen on eating a vegetarian meal.

If you can’t find small, round controne beans, which don’t need to be soaked, use about 1/2 pound of other dried white beans (except soak them overnight and only simmer them for 60 to 90 minutes), or stir in two (15-ounce) cans of drained white beans (with the liquid) instead.

Time: 1 hour active time
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

One (300g) package controne beans (or 10 ounces other dried white beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” coins
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4” half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons porcini powder
Bay leaf
6 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch dark, leafy greens, chopped (kale, collards, or chard work well)
One (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup small pasta, such as macaroni or ditalini
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Place the beans in a large saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are tender, adding water as necessary to keep the water level just above the beans. (You can salt the water as the beans cook, if you want.) When the beans are tender, drain off enough water for the water level to remain just at the top of the beans. Set aside.

Heat a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 5 minutes, covered. Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and porcini powder, and cook, stirring, for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the mixture begins to darken a bit. Add the bay leaf, broth, greens, and tomatoes, as well as the reserved beans. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, then season to taste with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Filed under garden, gluten-free, Italian, recipe, soup, vegetables, vegetarian

A new lobster chowder

Lobster Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon

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

Then I forgot about lobster chowder.

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

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

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

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

Lobster and Corn Chowder with Basil and Bacon (PDF)

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

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

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

TIME: About 2 hours, start to finish

MAKES: 8 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

The F Word

Hot and Sour Soup and Pike Place Chinese Cuisine

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

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

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

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

Me. It was always me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homemade hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

Northwest Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

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

Little things, and a roasted vegetable chowder

Simmering Root Veg Chowder

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

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

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

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

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

Salty Marcona Almond Toffee 1

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly Root Veg Chowder 1

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

TIME: 20 minutes prep
MAKES: 2 large servings

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

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

Roasted veg and bacon for chowder

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

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

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

Spain, in 5 ingredients

Chickpea Chorizo Stew 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But soup. Soup can be easy.

Thank goodness.

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

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

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

TIME: 10 minutes prep time
MAKES: 4 servings

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

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

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

Season to taste, and serve hot.

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

Like we did for pie

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili eaten

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

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

“Do I just bake it?” she asked.

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

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

Like we did for pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili 3

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

Here are both recipes; choose what suits you best.

Six-Can Vegetarian Chili (PDF)

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

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

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

TIME: 25 minutes prep
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

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

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

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

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili side

Pulled Pork and White Bean Chili (PDF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Comments

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

Rah! Rah! Winter!

Chicken Stock

It’s a hard sell, I know, when the sky is falling and you’ve eaten enough kale to turn your fingernails green. But really: some of winter is worth saving.

So you heard me? Talking about freezing stock, soups, cookies, and crisp topping for the perfect summer freezer, on KUOW?

Here are the recipes I discussed with Megan Sukys (all PDFs):
Chicken Stock
Carrot-Lemongrass Soup
Onion Fennel Jam
Cinnamon-Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Ultimate Crisp Topping (Big Batch)
Whole Grain Cranberry-Walnut Biscotti

13 Comments

Filed under appetizers, Cookies, dessert, media, recipe, soup

Skirt Theory

Rosemary White Bean Soup 2

“Did you puree this for me?”

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

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

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

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

Brom eating kale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosemary White Bean Soup 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosemary White Bean Soup  close

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Filed under gluten-free, pork, recipe, soup

Halvsies

Onion Leek Shallot Soup 1

Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.

Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.

So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.

About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)

Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.

But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.

Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.

To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.

Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.

This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.

(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)

Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.

See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup cheese

Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.

I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.

I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.

Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.

We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.

When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup side

Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).

It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.

But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.

And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup close

Onion, Leek & Shallot Soup (PDF)

You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.

To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.

TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)

When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).

Onion Leek Shallot Soup assembling

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

Little cracks

Inauguration on CNN.com

I stood up.

Oh, yes I did. With the dog as my witness, I solemnly swear that I put my tea down, wiped tears from my face, and stood right there in front of my computer screen when Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the US.

I’ve been crying on and off all day, it seems. (I hear I’m not the only one.)

Actually, it started yesterday. I was driving to Food Lifeline with my sister. (We spent the morning packing 12,000 pounds of apples for distribution to low-income families.) There, on the corner of 80th and Greenwood, a spot I pass almost daily, was a little family: Mom, Dad, Junior. The little guy was two, maybe three years old. They all had gardening gloves on. Dad and Junior were holding a big plastic bag full of trash, and Mom was scurrying across the street during the last few flashes of the “Don’t Walk” sign with an extra fistful of debris. No neighborhood clean-up t-shirts. No organization urging them to take action. Just two people, teaching their child that it’s his job to help keep his neighborhood clean. I breathed in deep to keep the tears from actually falling down.

Thierry Rautureau at Food Lifeline

At Food Lifeline, I held them back, too. We walked into a gigantic food warehouse exclusively devoted to the distribution of food to people who need it. I’m not intent on spending my whole life focusing on world hunger, but jeez, a few hours in that place is a great way to remind myself to say thanks each and every time I unload a bag of groceries.

We’ll be back, my sister and I. To pack apples again, or stuff envelopes, or assemble boxes of pad Thai, or whatever else they need. It’s amazing how much 130 people can do in 2 hours if someone’s there to tell you where to put your collective energy.

We’ll be back. Yes, we will.

At least, that’s what we told the TV guys who interviewed us. (I hear we were on television. But I think that would be much more exciting news if I had one to watch.)

I believe it, though. I believe in change.

Maybe that’s why I watched the inauguration, on my computer, for the first time… ever. Maybe that’s why I cried when Aretha Franklin came on stage, and when Obama spoke, and when Cheney was wheeled to his limo in a chair. (Wait. That might have been a laugh.)

I don’t suppose John Williams composed that inauguration piece just for me, either. But I heard the Appalachian Spring in there. I heard it because it was a song we played during our wedding ceremony—then, as today, full of promise and newness and birth and life, and the messy scatterings of a beginning whose ends we can’t foresee. (You know. Inauguration.)

I’m stuck, though. I’m stuck again with the challenge of figuring out what my contribution should be. What am I beginning? What is my role?

For the first time, I want one.

It’s easy to pinpoint the work cut out for someone else—for Obama, or my friend in the Foreign Service, or someone who works on energy policy for a living. They spend each day looking for change.

In my day-to-day work, change just means whole wheat flour. Watching the new president outline the tasks ahead, it’s hard not to feel like I could be doing more. But it’s unrealistic to expect I’ll spend 4 hours a week at Food Lifeline, or any other place where I can feel like I’m making a difference. Every month? Maybe. Hopefully.

The thing Obama missed—or rather, the thing I have to reiterate to myself, slowly, because I love the idea of jumping on a fast-moving bandwagon with both feet and nothing to hold onto—is that the things we do, for change, don’t have to be that big. We just have to fill the cracks.

So I’m a food writer. I don’t participate in peace negotiations or initiate AIDS fundraising campaigns for a living, I convince people to eat for a living. (As if Americans need convincing.) But it is what it is, and I love doing it.

And even I can find spaces to fill. Fissures, and seams, and holes to plug.

Winter Minestrone 2

In my world, change means buying food grown here, in Washington, or at least in America. Change means not choosing cherries from Chile, because even though they’re fat and ripe and round and singing out loud for me to test their sweetness, their transport burned a microscopic hole in the world’s oil reserves, and I, personally, don’t really need a cherry before June, when an apple will do. Change means a soup, here, for you, that you can make almost entirely with ingredients from the farmers’ market. (Yes, you—are you the one who gave up on the market in October, when the last of the stone fruit sold out? Go back this weekend. I dare you.)

I can’t single-handedly lift up the state’s economy, rev the farmers’ markets back to life, fix the havoc wreaked by Mother Nature, and secure farmers’ incomes for months to come. Oh, no. Not even close. Heck, I’m having trouble tying my own shoes these days. (Don’t get me started on the grocery cart’s bottom shelf.)

But maybe I can convince you to buy carrots that don’t come pre-packaged in plastic, and to try kale, which in many places, actually grows this time of year without artificial fertilizers. Or to buy sausage from a local purveyor, instead of from a giant national brand whose farmers trash the land, torture their animals, and bring us meat that’s not really all that safe for us to eat. (Even if it’s a dollar more.) Or to eat just a little healthier—not perfectly, but better—so that on a large scale, we, as a country, put just a little less stress on our nation’s health care system.

Yes, I can.

These are little things. The very, very little things. But these are some of my changes, the ones I can make by myself. I’ll be looking for more.

Unfortunately, no administration will be prepared to give millions of us each the individual tasks that take advantage of our personal strengths in light of a larger goal. That we must do for ourselves. And for each other.

Where are the little cracks you can fill? What will you do?

Winter Minestrone close

Winter Minestrone with Sausage and Kale (PDF)

When my husband wants soup, he doesn’t usually demand a certain kind. He says something vague, like, “I’m envisioning something bubbling for hours on the back of the stove.” Me? I don’t much care for simmering things on the back burner. (Nobody puts baby in a corner.) No, I like my soups up front, where they’re easy to reach, and their scents have a shorter direct path to the ol’ smeller.

Here’s a soup that capitalizes on winter produce. In Seattle, you can buy almost all the ingredients—including the beans, sausage, and chicken broth—from local farmers’ markets. For a truly local soup, skip the tomatoes and add a splash of vinegar for acid.

Serve the soup with grated Parmesan cheese and good, crusty bread.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 servings

1 pound sweet (or hot) Italian sausage, casings removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound carrots (3 large), cut into 1” pieces
1/2 pound parsnips (2 large), cut into 1” half moons
3 celery sticks, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 cup red wine, such as Sangiovese
8 cups chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried cranberry or cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or 2 cans), drained
1 (1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and cut into 1” pieces

In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, cook the sausage on medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the pot, then the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots, parsnips, and celery, and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for about a minute. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the wine has almost evaporated. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and reserved sausage, bring to a boil, then simmer at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours, partially covered. Add kale, and cook 30 minutes more.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

Winter Minestrone NYT mag

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Filed under farmer's market, gluten-free, Italian, Lunch, soup, vegetables

A way with leftovers

thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving really was was all that: Four women, more or less, buzzing around in the same in same six square feet in an otherwise very large kitchen, like bees in a blender with the top wide open. We chopped and spooned and buttered and mixed, smelled and tasted and barked and laughed. In a fit of last-minute organization, my mother taped all our recipes to an easel, which was genius, because it prevented people from actually entering the kitchen to find out what we were making, or how much garlic we planned to sneak into the mashed potatoes, or whether we really did have all the ingredients for sweet potato pie. We limited our six trips to the grocery store to before noon on Thursday, which seemed like a major accomplishment, and round about 4 p.m., the turkey came out brown and beaming.

the thanksgiving board

My brother didn’t help much, unless you count plying people with scotch and herding them out of the kitchen, which, come to think of it, is about as important a job as any. (Thank you.) He also lead the pie attack. Twelve of us polished off three pies in not much more than 24 hours, which makes me proud to be a Howe.

pie line-up

But he saved his culinary efforts for leftovers.

Josh doesn’t cook by the book. (He couldn’t. He doesn’t own a single cookbook.)

There’s no problem there – his food is delicious, and he clearly loves making it. And instead of teaching himself to cook in a methodically guided way – picking, say, one ethnicity to learn about, or one dish to perfect – he scampers from country to country, digging into favorites without any regard for how much knowledge he might have previously gathered about a given cuisine.

I think it’s admirable. No one should need a passport or a pedigree to cook new food.

The day after Thanksgiving, he and my sister woke up with a mission: They were determined to make congee with our turkey leftovers.

I, for one, had never had congee. Ever. I get to a dim sum restaurant, and the call of fried or strangely wiggly food far outstrips any curiosity about plain ol’ rice porridge. But Josh is apparently a new devotee, and my sis, who’s started weekly pilgrimages to discover all of Seattle’s dim sum, isn’t far behind.

It was 9:30 last Friday morning, and we’d already had breakfast. (Not that that matters to me these days. I can eat three or four breakfasts without blinking.) I left for a walk with my cousin and grandmother, and by the time we came back, the house smelled like he’d put a turkey in a rice cooker – all the starchy heaviness of a permeating rice aroma, plus the deep, almost fatty scent of dark meat turkey, and a whiff of ginger.

I won’t lie. I didn’t do a thing. I just walked right over to the pot, and scooped some into one of the bowls my sister made recently. It tasted calm and comforting, like a bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal with Thanksgiving stirred in.

For the record, I hear this is much more fun to make if you call them shit-talking mushrooms.

turkey congee 2

Post-Thanksgiving Congee (PDF)

It’s a week after Thanksgiving, and the only thing you have left to show for it is half a container of dried out dark meat and the turkey stock you don’t really want to save ‘til next November? Don’t throw either out. My brother’s congee, patterned after the rice porridge frequently eaten as breakfast in some Asian cultures, is a bit unorthodox – but delicious, and ideal for weekend brunch on a cold day.

TIME: 2 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 8 servings

1 1/2 cups long grain rice
8 cups homemade turkey stock
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 bunch scallions, white and stiff green parts
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into quarter-sized rounds
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, quartered
2 cups shredded leftover turkey (preferably dark meat)

Place the rice in a large liquid measuring cup and add water to measure 5 cups. Transfer the rice mixture to a large, heavy soup pot, add the stock and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Cut 3 of the scallions into 2” lengths and smash them flat with the side of a heavy knife. Add them to the rice, too. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add the ginger and garlic, plus a cup of water, and cook another 30 minutes. Add the shiitake mushrooms, and another cup of water, and cook 30 minutes more.

Slice the remaining scallions into thin rounds. Stir the turkey into the congee and cook for 5 minutes or so (just long enough to warm it through). Serve the porridge hot, garnished with scallions.

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Filed under Breakfast, chicken, chinese, grains, kitchen adventure, leftovers, recipe, soup

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

new noodle soup

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

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

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

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

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

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

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

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

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

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

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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

Stewing over summer

Summer Stew 2

It always happens, this time of year. I get anxious for fall. Fluttery. Nervous. Unsettled. Not sure what to make of summer, because I’m not sure when it will be over.

Maybe it’s school starting, even though I’m not in it. (I had that dream about forgetting to read for my first college French class again last week.)

Maybe it was the sound of my husband listening to my brother’s hard drive woes, then seriously instructing him to drop his laptop from a height of six inches. That would make anyone nervous.

No, really, I think it’s just change. Fall’s my favorite season; I must get nervous that someone will forget it, and skip right to winter. Every year, when the market peaks with peaches and tomatoes and corn, something inside me starts whaling on the panic button, incensed at the remote possibility that we might not give potatoes and pomegranates their due this year. That we’ll mourn the first half of September, and forget to revel in the second half of October. This weekend, I bought a kabocha squash at the market, and put it on my mantle, as a little reminder. Don’t be nervous. Fall will happen, and you’ll love it, again.

You’ll see the apprehension in my kitchen, too. This time of year, when the morning light no longer threatens my alarm clock’s job security, I start in on the soups and stews like summer never happened. As if we won’t get enough of those in the months to come.

Yesterday, I set out making a soup for a friend whose baby is due in a few days. It was bound for her freezer, originally, for the days when just putting the pot on the stove will be too exhausting.

The soup started toward pasta e fagiole. At least, that’s what I meant it to be, a sausage-filled version of that old Italian classic, redolent of onions, carrots, and celery, beans, and pasta (bowties, for her two-year-old). Nothing too creative. I sizzled the meat up in my big Dutch oven – oh, big red pot, I missed you! – and softened the vegetables in the leftover juices. But as I lunged toward the cupboard for a can of peeled tomatoes, I remembered the cherry tomato sauce I made last Wednesday.

making cherry tomato sauce

A few weeks ago, I started simmering sliced cherry tomatoes (red, orange, and yellow) into a thick, bright pizza sauce. When the mother lode came in last week, heavy on the vine, I cooked up a big batch of sauce, and tucked it into the fridge for future pizza nights. I meant to share it with you that way, as a tart slather for your favorite crust.

Standing over the stove, though, with my soup-to-be begging for liquid, I couldn’t see how the canned tomatoes could possibly make a better soup base than the concentrated souls of two pounds’ worth of cherry tomatoes. Couldn’t see how the sauce’s rich tangerine shade could hurt a person, either.

measuring cherry tomatoes

In went the homemade pizza sauce, diluted with a little water. The beans and bowties came back into my field of vision, expecting to march right in, but when I rifled through my produce drawer, I found zucchini and corn from the farmers’ market, and the dry goods got shoved aside. Outside, a few straggling tomatoes begged to be used, and before I knew it, my old-fashioned pasta e fagiole had turned itself into a beanless, pasta-free stew of summery flavors. I let the zucchini and corn heat through while the tomatoes plumped and split in that great orange sauce.

I stole a bowl, before I packaged the soup up for sharing. It tasted as vibrant as it looks, one hundred percent summer.

We have a few days of summer left, still. Enjoy them. That’s what I’m going to do.

Stirring Stew 1

Summer Sausage Stew with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, and Zucchini (PDF)
Heated to the peak of their flavor (but not a second longer), the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini here burst with the best flavors of summer—literally, in the case of the tomatoes. You could freeze this soup if you want, but I think it will taste best right out of the pot the day it’s made. If you want to make it ahead of time, save the zucchini, corn, and cherry tomatoes until just before serving, and stir them in as you reheat the soup.

If you don’t have time to make the cherry tomato sauce, substitute 1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, crushed, for the sauce and water.

TIME: 35 minutes start to finish
MAKES: 2 to 4 servings

3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage (removed from casings)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4” rounds
2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/4” half moons
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups water
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4” half moons
About 3/4 cup corn kernels, from a cob of sweet corn
1 cup whole cherry tomatoes

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add 1 teaspoon of the oil, then add the sausage. Cook for 5 minutes or so, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces as it releases from the pan. When fully cooked, transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce (PDF)
There’s no reason to wait for big tomatoes to ripen to make tomato sauce – and with virtually no core and thin skins, cherry tomatoes make the whole process so much quicker. Simmer for the full 45 minutes to make a sauce thick enough to spread on pizza, or for less time, if you intend to use the sauce on pasta, or in soups. (You could also blend the sauce right up with a little milk or cream for cherry tomato soup!)

TIME: 45 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: About 3 cups sauce

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 pounds cherry tomatoes, stems removed, very roughly chopped (any color)
Salt

Heat the oil and garlic over medium heat in a large skillet until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (30 minutes for pasta sauce, 45 minutes for something pizza-friendly). Season to taste with salt, if necessary.

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Filed under farmer's market, garden, gluten-free, Lunch, recipe, soup, vegetables