Monday, December 30, 2013

Citrus and Ginger Hot Toddy

I often go all-out when it comes to potluck contributions — especially smaller potlucks. Partly to have an excuse to play around in the kitchen, and partly to ensure that there's a substantial veg-friendly option that I can actually make a meal of. But for my recent book club potluck, I decided to just contribute a beverage. The host had said that there'd be a vegetarian main dish, so I didn't need to worry. And also, I was sick. So I brought hot toddies.

In retrospect, I probably should have stayed home (as I was much, much more gross and snuffly than I'd thought I would be). But oh, those toddies. Everyone loved them. Perhaps because folks were still basking in a post-holiday glow, and perhaps because they wanted something seemingly healthy to keep them from getting what I was clearly dying of. And perhaps because this toddy was just really delicious.

When I've made toddies in the past, they've usually just been versions of lemony, honey-spiked tea, sometimes with a shot of booze. But this time I upped the citrus component (thanks to the last of my California backyard Meyer lemons), threw in some fragrant mandarins, and some sharp-hot ginger. I added a few optional touches that I happened to have on hand (a few shakes of bitters and a dozen piney-clean juniper berries), and stirred in some honey. With all that going on, I left out the tea bags, to let the flavors better come through. And yes, I also brought a bottle of bourbon on the side.

If you've got a winter potluck, this makes a phenomenal contribution (even if you don't have a cold). And if you've got an insulated airpot or similar thermos, it's even easier — instead of simmering and infusing on the stove, you can just toss everything in the canister, pour the boiling water over it, and let it infuse for an hour or so. It's great for toasting in whatever the new year may bring, or for just getting you through a snuffly night.

Citrus and Ginger Hot Toddy

yields ~8 servings

3 meyer lemons (2 juiced, 1 sliced)
2 mandarins (1 juiced, 1 sliced)
~2-3 inches fresh ginger (depending upon the thickness), thinly sliced
~a dozen juniper berries, thwacked with a knife to bruise them (optional)
a few shakes bitters
1/4 cup honey
scant 8 cups boiling water

If you have an airpot/thermos, place the citrus (slices and juice), ginger, juniper berries, and bitters in the pot. Place the honey in a heat-proof dish, and pour about a half-cup of the boiling water in to dissolve, then pour that in as well. Add the remaining boiling water to top it off, then cover and let infuse for about an hour (if you don't have an airpot, you can just simmer things on the stove). Serve with an optional slug of bourbon on the side.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rosemary Hazelnut Cheese Shortbread Crackers

As I've made quite clear, I've got nothing against a sweet, buttery cookie. But this time of year, the sweets, they stack up. Sometimes when you head to a party, you want to bring a nibble that's a bit more savory. Like these cheese crackers.

For some reason, people seem to think it's hard to make crackers. But these are really just a riff on shortbread — a whole lot of butter and cheese, bound with flour and whatever additions or flavorings you want. I went with some front-yard rosemary and leftover Oregon hazelnuts, but the options are endless (walnuts, paprika, blue cheese, etc.). I brought them to a past-my-bedtime party (on a schoolnight!) last night, nicely packaged in a repurposed sauerkraut jar, where they were promptly demolished. Because clearly, it is cracker season.

Rosemary Hazelnut Cheese Shortbread Crackers

adapted, roughly, from Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen
yields ~4 dozen small crackers, though yield will vary depending upon size

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces grated cheese (I used a mix of sharp cheddar, aged gouda, and a wee bit of Romano)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt (or less, if your cheese is particularly salty)
1 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat together the butter, cheese and rosemary until well combined (using a paddle attachment or a wooden spoon). Add the salt and flour, mix well, then add the nuts. Mix until it comes together into a smooth dough (you can sprinkle in a bit of water if needed — mine didn't).

Roll the dough into two logs (of the diameter you favor for crackers — I went with ~ 1 1/2-inch), and wrap in parchment or plastic. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least one hour (and overnight is fine too, if it works better).

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease them well. With a sharp knife, slice into thin rounds (~1/4-inch), and place on the cookie sheet with a bit of space between (they shouldn't spread that much). Bake until lightly golden on the edges, ~15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool fully, then store in an airtight container until party time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Berber Omelet

The good thing about having friends who travel (other than the fetching little terra cotta cazuelas they send back) is getting a source of new culinary inspiration. Earlier in the year, my friends posted a picture of a Berber omelet they enjoyed in Morocco, right on the edge of the Sahara. Seeing the combination of some of my favorite things (namely eggs and olives), I decided to recreate. So I did a little online culinary research (which is sort of like travel, except, you know, not quite as much fun), and came up with a version of my own. And it was fantastic. You can find the recipe, along with my general treatise on the redemption of breakfast-for-dinner, over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Almond-Covered Thumbprint Cookies

I once heard about a book that espoused a particularly appealing version of the "balanced diet" approach to weight loss. Say you want to have a milkshake? Well, it advised, have a milkshake! Just have a small one. And not every day. And accompany it with a big pile of steamed broccoli, and call it dinner.

At the time, I remember thinking that sounded great. Not as some sort of balanced system of penance and reward — simply because I like both of those items a whole lot, and a meal composed of the two would be across-the-board wonderful. It's often what I default to, especially when nobody else is around to mitigate. To whit: for a recent solo dinner, I ended up roasting and eating a pound of Brussels sprouts, followed by a few fresh-from-the-oven buttery, jammy cookies. And it was great.

I recommend these cookies as part of anyone's balanced brassica-filled meal. I've made thumbprint cookies before of a more hippie, oat-and-whole-grain-filled sort. I like that variation, but these have a buttery simplicity that's hard to beat. A rich, plain short dough, rolled in almonds that toast up in the oven, then filled with jam (in this case, a runny undercooked raspberry version I'd made, which was perfect for the task). Even without the Brussels sprouts, they more than hold their own.

Almond-Covered Thumbprint Cookies

adapted from Nikole Herriott, via Lottie and Doof
yields ~20 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, separated (I used two smallish eggs, which worked great)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cups raw almonds, chopped (you want them small enough to adhere to cookies, but big enough to provide a nice bite)
~ 1/4 cup jam of your choosing (raspberry is especially nice)

Preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease them well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Stir in the flour and salt, and mix until the dough just comes together (you can add a spoonful of water if needed).

Scoop your dough out into generous tablespoons and roll into balls (you should have about 20).  Lightly whisk the egg whites, and places the almonds in a shallow bowl. Roll each dough ball in the egg whites to coat, then in the chopped almonds (you can use a little pressure if needed to make them adhere). Place the cookies on sheet, with a bit of space between them (they shouldn't spread all that much).

Press on each cookie, to flatten into a chubby disk. Using your thumb, or the handle of a wooden spoon, make a nice wide intent in the center of each cookie. Spoon a bit of jam into each indent (you may not be able to fit much more than a generous 1/4 teaspoon). Bake in the preheated oven until just beginning to turn lightly golden, ~15 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Best eaten in the first day or two.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Go-To Vegetable Soup

This past week brought a spate of traveling and holidays and celebrations. I have eaten cookies and latkes and New York pizza; I have finished unconscionable amounts of wedding appetizers and Thanksgiving courses and birthday cake. And now, I am home. I will snuggle my dog in my own comfy bed (farewell, pull-out couches!). I will do my laundry. I will read a book and spend a full 24 hours without making smalltalk with strangers. And I will make vegetable soup.

This soup is my go-to recipe, a sort of homely and humble minestrone-ish hybrid that I make every couple of weeks throughout the winter. It's an easy way to get a good shot of vegetables (whether or not you've had a deficit of same in your recent overindulgent Thanksgivukkah diet), and it freezes beautifully for a grab-and-go lunch on leftover-free days. And beyond a few basics (the building blocks of onions and carrots and tomato, the welcome sweetness of long-cooked cabbage), it is ridiculously adaptable. I've snuck in kale instead of chard, and a bunch of chopped parsley when I had neither. I've poured in leftover tomato juice instead of tomato puree, and stirred in handfuls of fresh basil in the summer. Beans have ranged from frozen leftover pigeon peas to quick pressure-cooked navies to none at all. No matter the variation, it tastes just like home.

Go-To Vegetable Soup

yields two full pots

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small-medium onions, cut in a small dice
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 cup barley
~8 cups vegetable broth (I tend to use homemade freezer stock or Rapunzel bullion these days)
6 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, and sliced into thick coins
3-4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced/shredded
4 cups tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1-2 cups cooked (or par-cooked) beans
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems, washed and chopped (leaves can be roughly chopped, but make sure the stems are sliced thinly, like the celery)
1 handful chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, or whatever you have — optional)
salt and pepper

Heat a large soup pot over a medium flame (if you have a mega stockpot you could make this in a single batch, but if not you'll need another pot later). Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute until they become translucent but haven't totally collapsed, ~10 minutes (adjust head as needed so that they soften without coloring). Add the garlic and paprika, and cook for another minute or two to soften. Add the barley and vegetable broth. Raise the heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce until it's just high enough to simmer. Cook for about half an hour, until the barley is par-cooked (you can use this time to prep the remaining vegetables).

After half an hour, transfer half the mixture into a second soup pot (unless your pot is epically large). Between the two pots, divide the carrots, celery, cabbage, tomato puree, and bay leaves. If the beans are only par-cooked, add them as well (if they're fully cooked, they'll come later). Add water to cover the mixture by a generous few inches. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat until it's somewhere between a very gentle boil and a healthy simmer. Cook ~45 minutes, until the carrots are fully softened and the cabbage is mostly translucent and softened. Add the beans (if fully cooked and not yet added) and the chard and fresh herbs. Simmer another 30 minutes, until everything is fully cooked and the flavors have blended. Season to taste, and serve. Soup improves upon standing (and isn't so bad after freezing, either).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm currently awash in a bit of last-minute planning and packing before I head back East. Doing a final sweep of the house, making lists, packing and unpacking and re-packing. Oh, and baking cookies.

There's nothing like Thanksgiving to get you thinking about gratitude. And there's nothing like Thanksgiving-related favors to give you something to be grateful for. I am lucky enough to have friends who will still talk to me after I, say, anxiously text dozens of photos for feedback on which combination of dress/earrings/shoes constitutes a serviceable grown-up outfit for a holiday wedding (and even forward them along to other friends for second opinions — thanks, Katie and Christi!); or require assistance navigating the consumer chaos of the mall in search of proper undergarments; or foist myself upon too-kind-to-say-no friends for a couchsurf and road trip. These are good people. And they deserve cookies.

When I head to the airport, I'll be bringing a stash of these oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookies. These rich, nutty treats are far, far superior to their raisin-laden cousins, yet still have a slight pretension of healthiness. I love em. Sturdy enough to hold up through some cross country traveling, but tasty enough to feel like a legitimate gift. And, after all that I've received, I'd like to respond in kind. Tis the season to be thankful, after all.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Portland's own The Grand Central Baking Book
yields ~3 1/2 dozen cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease them well.

Measure the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or a wooden spoon, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar for a few minutes, until lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and vanilla, and stir to combine. Gradually add the reserved dry ingredients, then add the oats, chocolate and walnuts, and stir until just combined.

Shape the cookies into ping-pong-sized balls, and place on the cookie sheets with some space between. Smoosh with the heel of your hand to form 1/2-inch thick disks.

Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Cook until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, but the centers appear blond and slightly underdone. Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks. Enjoy right away, or pack to bring with you as gifts on your cross-country flight.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Old Nordic Cuisine


I am a staunch defender of the unstylish, the unhip. It's a policy born of multiple impulses. Mostly because it's just not me —I have a remarkably deaf ear to such fashions. But even if I had the leisure time/funds to pursue them, I also just happen like things a wee bit stodgy. I give an admiring thumb's up to the expertly dressed, but my heart goes out to the underdog in last year's (or, perhaps, last decade's) soft-worn standards. And so, when I heard so much abuzz in the food world over the New Nordic cuisine, my root-for-the-little-guy impulses kicked in — what about the Old Nordic?

And so I dug up some comfy old unstylish examples of Nordic cuisine. No fancy kitchen gear, no fancy foraged ingredients. Just some rye flour and root vegetables, smoked fish and brown bread. And it was great. You can read more about these recipes over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Indian Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Recently I provided a recipe yielding just two chocolate chip cookies, to allow some snacking within limits (when you can't trust yourself to provide them). But mostly, my dietary indulgences don't involve cookies. They involve salty snacks. And lots of them. Specifically, pumpkin seeds.

I can eat pumpkin seeds until I explode (and often have). So why did I think it was a good idea to make them even more delicious? Scratch that. This is a brilliant idea. Pumpkin seeds are roasted along with a smattering of Indian spices, like a much fresher, lively version of a Bombay hot mix. The spices play off of the seeds' deep roasty flavor, and they're savory and crunchy and taste like the best Halloween ever.

And yes, I know most of you are far, far ahead of me in your autumnal preparations, and have already carved your pumpkins. But for those who are as late to the game as I am (or, say, have carved your pumpkins but left the seeds and guts in the fridge because yeah you're going to do something with them sometime really really soon), this is for you. Happy Halloween!

Indian Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

adapted from the amazing Ruchikala, with just a bit of tweaking because I like a pre-boil and longer roast

seeds from a good-sized pumpkin, rinsed free of pumpkin guts (~1 cup)
1 hefty tablespoon high-heat oil (coconut is especially nice)
3-6 dried red chilies (depending upon your taste for heat)
3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
15 curry leaves (available at Indian grocery stores — I buy em up, and keep them in the freezer)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
hefty pinch asafoetida (or a clove of finely minced garlic)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Place the pumpkin seeds in a pot of water, and salt generously. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.

While the seeds are simmering, preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit, and gather your spices — place the chilies, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds in one small dish, the curry leaves, turmeric, and asafoetida in another, and the coriander, cumin and salt in a third. Then you're ready!

When the seeds have finished simmering, pour them out into a colander to drain. Heat an oven-proof skillet over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and the first dish with the chilies, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Cook until the mustard seeds sputter and pop — this should just take a minute or two, and you will need a lid at the read to keep them from popping right out of the pan!

After the seeds have popped, dump in your second dish, with the curry leaves, turmeric, and asafoetida (or garlic). Stir to let the spices all hit the hot oil and toast, then dump in the pumpkin seeds. Stir to coat the pumpkin seeds with the spice mixture. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, then dump in the remaining spice dish (coriander, cumin and salt). Turn off the heat, and transfer the skillet to the oven (if you don't have an oven-proof skillet, you can just pour them out onto a rimmed cookie sheet instead).

Roast, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are crisp and lightly browned, ~10—20 minutes (depending upon your skillet, seeds, personal taste, etc). Let cool, then pour into a dish and serve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quince Jelly

A few years ago, I asked my Basque friend what to do with quinces. They grow all over Portland (including in the yard of my next-door neighbor, who generously gave me a bagful), but seem to have limited uses. You can stew them with long-cooked meat dishes, or make jelly, or the membrillo paste so beloved as part of an Iberian cheese plate. But I was hoping for some new ideas. "Well," my friend considered, as I leaned in close to get some exciting new inspiration. "Sometimes we put them in a car. You know, to make it smell nice."

So yeah, perhaps there aren't all that many things to do with quinces. But that's okay. Because the few things that you can do? Quite delicious. A raw quince is a rock-hard lump of pale, fuzzy, astringent nastiness. But once you cook them, they slump into rose-scented, rose-hued sweetness. The perfume alone can knock you out. What more do you need?

This jelly is more of a template than a recipe. You hack up quinces, skin and seeds and all (which, in addition to saving you some hassle, contributes a dose of pectin to help the whole batch set in a firm gel). Then you strain the mush, filter it into clarity, and cook it with sugar until it's sets into a gorgeous, fragrant jelly. You can use it to top your toast, or glaze a fruit tart, or add some rosy perfume to a cheese plate. You know, to make it smell nice.

And if you're looking for an aromatic condiment of a different sort, I direct you toward a recent radio story about fish sauce. In Ancient Rome. Sadly no rosy recipes, but on the upside: pirates! You can get a listen over at NPR.

Quince Jelly

adapted from several inspirations, including Food In Jars, Simply Recipes, and Chocolate and Zucchini


Wash your quinces, rubbing off the fuzz. Then hack them into rough cubes, skin and pits and all — trim away any nasty brown or wormy bits, but beyond that it's all fair game. Toss the cubes in a large pot with enough water to cover by barely an inch or so. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a vigorous simmer. Cook until the quince bits are totally mushy-soft, and beginning to take on a rosy hue, about an hour (you can also do this in a pressure cooker).

Pour the mixture through a strainer to capture the quince cooking liquid (you can run the quince pieces themselves through a food mill, or simply compost them — they'll have given up most of their flavor to the liquid). Measure the resulting liquid, and for every quart, add the juice of a small lemon.

Pass the liquid through a single layer of cheesecloth or loose-weave dishcloth, then through a couple layers of cheesecloth (or a coffee filter), to end up with a clear pink liquid. This final straining can take a while. If you are lazy or late-starting like me, you can leave it to drip overnight, and make your jelly the next day.

When you're ready to make the jelly, pour the quince liquid into a wide-bottom pot, and add a generous 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to a vigorous-but-not-crazy boil. You'll need to cook the mixture down to the gel point, which should take at least a half hour and up to an hour, over which time it will thicken and darken to a ruby color, and the quince flavor will concentrate. When you think it's becoming syrupy, place a few small plates in the freezer to chill. If you want to process the jelly, prepare your jars and start a boiling water bath.

To test the jelly, drip a few drops onto a freezer-chilled plate. Let sit a minute, then push into the edge of the drop with your finger. You don't need to see a full jelly-like set, but it should just begin to wrinkle and mound ahead of your finger as you push it. When it reaches this stage, you're done! Pour into your prepared jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath if desired. The jelly may take some time to set, but will end up fairly firm.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Two Chocolate Chip Cookies

Several years ago, I was working a boring administrative job, and would often eat my breakfast and lunch at my desk. One evening, as I was washing out my little container of cereal and half-pint jar of soymilk, I wondered — why I was going through this packaging hassle (in my dishwasher-free life)? Why not save myself the trouble? The next day, I brought along a whole box of cereal, and quart of soymilk. And proceeded to eat three complete bowls over the course of the morning. Oooh, that's why.

My measure of self-restraint has grown somewhat in the intervening decade (and is no longer compounded by a soul-killingly boring job). But still. There are times I just cannot be trusted, and some sort of rationing is definitely in my best interest. Which is why I thrilled to see a recipe that yields just two chocolate chip cookies.

Make no mistake, these are nice, hefty cookies — two will more than satisfy. And they are great examples of the genre, crisp and golden on the edges, gooey and yielding on the insides. Yes, it's a bit of a waste to turn on the oven for just two cookies. But c'mon, we know they're at their best in a just-baked state anyways. And if your must-eat-all-the-foods instincts kick in, well, there's really not much harm done.

Two Chocolate Chip Cookies

from the mad genius over at No. 2 Pencil
yields, well, you know

2 tablespoons of butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
hefty pinch of kosher salt (smoked salt, if you've got it, is also nice)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
¼ cup flour
1 hefty pinch baking soda
3 heaping tablespoons chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it well.

In a small bowl, blend the butter with the sugars, salt and vanilla until well combined. Add the yolk and mix again, then stir in the flour and baking soda, then the chocolate.

Form into two balls, and place on the prepared baking sheet (they'll spread quite a bit, so place accordingly — you can chill the dough a bit if you want the cookies to be thicker). Bake until the edges are brown, ~8 minutes. Remove, and give the bake sheet a nice sold rap on the countertop, deflating the cookies. Let cool slightly, and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Chanterelle Chowder

I have been a good forager (or, if you will, scrounger) since an early age, impressing my fellow elementary schoolers with my ability to identify (and consume) onion grass on the playground. Or perhaps they weren't really all that impressed. Regardless, I love me a good free-growing meal. And such meals are easy to find here in Oregon, where persimmons, pears, figs and grapes can all be found within a single city block. But I must make a confession: when it comes to mushrooms, I stick to the markets.

I know, I know, that identifying mushrooms can be safely done with a wee bit of training, and a false morel doesn't really look much like its non-toxic cousin. But still. It'd be hard to tell the difference between the I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache, and the I'm-nervous-that-I-just-poisoned-myself-with-toxic-mushrooms stomachache. As someone who manages to spectacularly injure herself on a fairly regular basis (and is still waiting out the scabs from steering a bicycle directly into the lightrail tracks), I'm content to sacrifice my Northwesty cred and forgo the mushroom foraging trips. Which is something of a bummer, as I do love mushrooms. Well, mostly I love chanterelles.

These trumpet-shaped golden mushrooms are Oregon's crowning glory, poking through the pine needles as the rains roll in. But luckily, even at the grocery store they're not prohibitively expensive, especially now during high season. And a little goes a long way. Especially when you stir them into a rich autumn chowder.

This chanterelle chowder is fall perfection. Just a simple base of leeks and fennel, with a shot of booze and thyme and comforting glug of cream. But mostly, it's all about the chanterelles. And they do not disappoint. Meaty and rich, yet delicately tender. Even if you didn't pick them yourself.

And speaking of harvesting the fruits of the Northwest, I recently looked into the agricultural labor shortages that have been plaguing the region (and the country). You can hear my story about Northwest pears harvesters over at NPR.

Chanterelle Chowder

Inspired by the chanterelle chowder with bacon and corn on Not Without Salt, but, as you can tell by the absence of two of the three titular ingredients, tweaked a good bit.
serves ~6

2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, sliced and washed
1 bulb fennel, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 scant teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
~2 cups chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
2 1/2 cups broth
1 large yellow potato, cut into a 1/2-inch dice (swapping celery root would also be nice)
3/4 cup cream
salt and pepper
fresh lemon juice and fresh dill fronds for serving
Heat a soup pot over a medium heat, and melt the butter. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, simmer for about 5 minutes until starting to soften, then add the fennel and garlic, and saute a few minutes more, until everything is well softened.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the thyme and chanterelle. Cook until the liquid comes out and cooks off, and the mushrooms caramelize in parts, ~5-7 minutes. Add the sherry or wine, simmer a minute to cook off the alcohol, then add the stock and potato. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, ~15 minutes.

When the soup is done, add the cream, let heat through, and turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, topping each portion with a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors, and a few fronds of fresh dill.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Eggplant Involtini

Having lived for years with someone who is lactose intolerant, I have a ridiculously low bar for excitement when it comes to dairy products. If a caterer lays out a boring old tray of econo-cheddar and crackers at a reception, my heart thrills. I recently attended a weekend full of gourmet food of all sorts, but what I remember more than anything is a simple buttery grilled cheese. It's possible I have a problem.

But I would wager that, despite the extenuating circumstances, my fascination is not all that unique. Because cheese? It is really, really good. And even though it's not usually put at the top of such lists, I'd argue that ricotta — good ricotta — is one of the best cheeses of all. And when that ricotta is wrapped in fried eggplant and baked in tomato sauce, well...

I had been lusting over this recipe for a while, and it seemed like the perfect time to give it a try. The last of the summer eggplants and tomatoes are still in the markets, and the rising autumnal chill calls out for just this sort of oven-baked, cheesy warmth (as making a long-baked dish is my favorite tactic for delaying turning on the furnace). I had my doubts about the lemon juice and zest— would it destroy the cheesy comfort with its sourness? But really, it's just perfect. There's no sourness, just a fresh flavor, that's a lovely match for the long-cooked tomato sauce and caramelized eggplant. And, of course, the cheese.

Eggplant Involtini

adapted from Tartine Bread
serves ~6 (~18 rolls)

2 globe eggplants
coarse salt
oil for frying (they recommend olive oil, but for those with tighter budgets, any other high-heat oil, or a mix of that and olive oil, will be fine)

2 cups whole milk ricotta
~1/3 cup dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

~ 2 cups tomato sauce (I used the late great Marcella Hazan's tomato butter sauce)
~1/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan (or a similar cheese) for serving

Slice the eggplant, using a mandoline or a sharp knife, the long way into 1/4-inch planks. Layer in a colander, salting generously with coarse salt between the layers. Let sit at least an hour, then give a good press to push out the liquid. Blot dry.

Pour about an inch of oil into a heavy skillet, and heat to temperature over a medium-high heat (if you have a thermometer, you want it to read 360° Fahrenheit). Fry the eggplant slices (without crowding the pan), until they begin to color, ~3-4 minutes. Remove the slices with tongs, and set on a paper-lined plate or a rack/colander to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant (if desired, you can do this step a day in advance). If the slices crisp up a bit, you can put them in a covered container, and they'll soften back up (another reason cooking them in advance works beautifully).

When all of the eggplant has been fried, heat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and zest, thyme and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

To assemble the casserole, pour the tomato sauce down on the bottom of a mid-sized casserole dish (or a couple small ones). Take a slice of the fried eggplant, and place a lump of filling at the wide end (~1-2 tablespoons, depending on the size of your eggplant), and roll it up. Place in the casserole dish, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and filling. When you're finished, pour a bit of cream over each of the rolls to moisten (it's fine if it runs into the sauce).

Bake, uncovered, until the sauce cooks down around the edges of the pan, and the rolls darken a bit, ~20—25 minutes. Serve warm, with a grating of cheese over the top.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chocolate-on-Chocolate Loaf Cake

After a deliciously fruit-filled, flaky summer full of hand pies, and galettes, and hand pies (again!), it's time for a different sort of dessert. A dessert with a bit more heft. A dessert with chocolate.

A came across a picture of this chocolate loaf a few weeks ago, and just had to have it. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was Nigella Lawson's promise of "squidgy" texture, or the cocoa cake with melted chocolate + chocolate chunks + chocolate syrup, or the fact that it looked like it would be absolutely perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. And yes, it totally delivered on all counts. But it's also just kinda fun to take chocolate cake out of the birthday realm, and into your afternoon tea break. And as the rains roll in, we could use a little fun. And chocolate.

And speaking of good old fun, and striking out onto new ground, I had the (soggy) pleasure of spending a recent afternoon with a bunch of folks reenacting the drama of the Oregon Trail. No, not the backbreaking, dysentery-laden, 2,000 mile journey. The video game. Yeah, that one. You can take a listen over at the Northwest News Network.

Chocolate-on-Chocolate Loaf Cake

adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast, as filtered by Like A Strawberry Milk

1 2/3 cups (200 grams) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant half cup (50 grams) cocoa powder
hefty pinch salt

1/3 cup (80 grams) heavy cream
1 cup (175 grams) roughly chopped chocolate, plus additional handfuls set aside if you'd like a chunky cake (optional)

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar (275 grams)
2 eggs

half a cup (125 grams) boiling water

1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
scant 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter a loaf pan, and line it with parchment paper (seriously, you need both fronts — this cake is a sticker).

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it's steamy and thinking about simmering. Turn off the heat, and toss the chopped chocolate in the bowl. Let sit for a minute or two to soften the chocolate, then stir until smooth. Let cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together (it doesn't have to be super fluffy). Add the eggs, stir to combine, then add the chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour/cocoa powder, then the boiling water (carefully, of course!). If you're using the reserved chocolate chunks, fold them in as well, then pour the whole mixture into your prepared loaf pan. Bake until a tester almost comes out clean, ~ 1 hour. Remove and let cool.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, stir together the syrup ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, and cook until it thickens slightly, ~5 minutes. Poke a few holes in the cake with a skewer if you like (if your cake didn't crack on its own accord), then pour the syrup over the top. Let cool fully (overnight is fine too), then slice and serve.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Simple Stuffed Zucchini

There are so many zucchini recipes — especially as summer draws to a close, and fatigue sets in — that seek to sort of bury the squash. Shred it into a cake, where it's hidden behind chocolate, or perhaps a brown butter cornbread. And there's good reason to do this. Zucchini actually excels in these treatments, where it gives otherwise-starchy dishes a healthy dose of green, and some moisture to boot. Also: So! Much! Zucchini! But even in the midst of the onslaught, it's sometimes nice to have dishes that really let the zucchini shine. Like this stuffed zucchini.

There are versions of stuffed zucchini heaping with cups of breadcrumbs, or layered with gooey cheese, or spicy chorizo, or lord-knows-what. But this one is all about the zucchini. You scoop out the innards, and then cook them down with onion and tomato while the shells soften up a bit in the oven. You can add some basil (or not), and just the merest sprinkling of cheese (or not). Then a sprinkling of just enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture, and the whole thing goes back in the oven. The end result doesn't have big bold flavors, or a magical where's-the-squash transformation. It tastes simple, rich and sweet. And a lot like zucchini.

Simple Stuffed Zucchini
serves 4

4 good-sized zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for the pan and topping
1 onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 good-sized tomatoes, diced
1 handful basil (optional), torn or chopped
scant 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (or as needed)
1 handful grated parmesan, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Rinse the zucchini, and slice off the stems and any woody blossom scars on the ends. With a spoon, scoop out the innards (setting them aside), leaving a small rim around the end to keep things together. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large casserole dish, salt the insides of the zucchini, and lay them, cut side down, in the casserole. Drizzle a little more oil over the tops, and bake while you prepare the remaining ingredients (~half an hour).

Heat a large frypan or Dutch oven over a medium-high heat, and pour in the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and translucent but haven't browned, ~5-7 minutes (adjust the heat as needed). While the onion is cooking, chop the reserved zucchini innards into a rough dice, and set aside. When the onion has softened, add the garlic, and cook for another minute to soften. Then add the zucchini innards and tomatoes, and basil if you've got it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is all cooked through (~10 minutes, give or take). It will give off a lot of liquid. Remove from heat, and add enough breadcrumbs to sop up the liquid into a moist stuffing-like consistency (the exact amount will vary depending upon how much liquid your particular zukes and tomatoes have given off, and how much of that has cooked away). Allow to cool slightly, then add parmesan, and season (rather aggressively) with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the zucchini shells from the oven, and flip them back to boat position (being careful to avoid the steam!). Mound the filling back into the shells, and top with a drizzle of olive oil. Return to the oven and bake until everything is sizzly and delicious and just beginning to brown — about half an hour. Serve warm.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Corn, Cherry Tomato and Basil Pizza

I tend to like my pizza — my home-made pizza at least — topped with strong flavors. Kale, blue cheese and walnuts. Garlic scapes and potato. Asparagus, goat cheese and anchovies. But a hot, late summer night calls for a different kind of pizza. A more delicate pizza. A summer pizza. A corn, tomato and basil pizza.

I know that corn on pizza doesn't sound very Italian. And I know that I used a hippie whole wheat dough, that my crust is entirely devoid of char, and my mozzarella started to brown. It was just that kind of night. But even so — this pizza was delicious.

The sweet corn only gets sweeter in a hot oven, and the punchy bursts of tomato (I went with some never-disappointing Sungolds a friend was kind enough to share form her garden) and fresh basil come together in a way that just feels perfect. It's sweet and juicy (from both the corn and the tomatoes), but it's also savory and aromatic. And even though it's pizza, it's surprisingly light. It's summer.

Corn, Cherry Tomato and Basil Pizza

1 ball of pizza dough, ~10 oz
semolina or regular flour for dusting
1/4-1/3 lb mozarella, shredded
kernels shaved off 1 ear of corn
2 dozen small cherry tomatoes (preferably Sungold), sliced in half
olive oil
coarse salt
1 handful basil leaves, torn if large

Preheat your oven, with a pizza stone if you have, to 500 degrees for an hour. If your pizza dough has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature for an hour.

Place the pizza dough on a lightly-floured counter top, and press outward into a thick disk (leaving a 1" unpressed area along the edge as the crust). Pick up the disk and let it drape over the backs of your hands, letting gravity help you stretch it into a 12-14" circle. If the dough resists, let it relax for a few minutes, then try again. Place the stretched dough on a peel (or overturned cookie sheet or cutting board) that's lightly dusted with semolina or other type of flour.

Scatter the mozzarella on top of the dough, then the corn and tomatoes. Drizzle the whole pizza with a small amount of olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese melts.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and let cool for a moment (if you're making one pizza, you can leave it on the stone, otherwise I like to transfer to a rack, or just slide a knife or such between the peel/cutting board and the pie, to let the steam vent so it doesn't soften itself). Transfer to a cutting board if you haven't already, and scatter on the basil. Slice and serve.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Plum Galette with Blue Cheese and Cracked Pepper


Give a man a spectacular pie crust, and he will make a spectacular pie. But teach a man to make a spectacular pie crust, and he will make pie after pie after spectacular pie. And he will turn any and all conversations onto the subject of pie crust. And he will bore people with talk about the critical size of butter lumps and the importance of proper cold rests until he has no remaining friends. But that is okay. Because he will have pie.

So yeah, I've been a bit obsessed lately. But really! Pie crust! Delicious and flaky and like a buttery dream! A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was introduced to a new method of crust-making. And since then, I have made that crust three times. I have made dozens of hand pies, and I have made this plum galette. And I aim to make quiches, turnovers, and lord knows what else until I run out of butter. Yes, it takes some timing and planning and work. But it's oh so worth it.

But back to this plum galette. Yes, it had a spectacular, flaky crust. But its charms did not end there. It had a paving of the season's ripe plums, sliced thinly, fanned out beautifully, and brushed with a generous glaze of plum jam. It was so pretty, I almost just left it at that. But then, to gild the lily a bit — and to win the coveted "most interesting combination that still manages to be tasty" award at an annual pie party — I added a sprinkling of blue cheese, and a few cracks of coarse-ground black pepper. The end result is surprisingly delicious — still clearly in the sweet camp, but with surprising savory notes that add interest, and keep it from being a one-note summer fruit pie.

And if you're wondering the best accompaniment for such a complex combination of flavors, let me point you to a recent story about Cicerones — beer experts who specialize in finding the best beer to drink with your food (and many other fields of beery knowledge, like figuring out if your taps have gone all nasty, how best to store your brew, how to make it, and all that good stuff). You can hear more about it over at NPR. And if you're wondering how I fared in the pie competition — first place. It's all about the sweet and savory. And the crust.

Plum Galette with Blue Cheese and Cracked Pepper

adapted very loosely from the template on Cafe Fernando, as inspired by Chez Panisse, but they are not responsible for the crust obsession and topping "creativity."

About 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 scant teaspoon coarse salt
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, cut in half-inch pieces
~1/4 - 1/3 cup ice water

3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon almond meal or flour
6 smallish red plums, sliced into slim 1/4-inch wedges (or fewer larger plums)
~1/2 cup plum jam (if your jam is particularly lumpy or has lots of skin and such, you may need to start with a larger amount)
1 egg, well beaten

1 handful crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, very coarsely ground (I just bashed them with a mortar and pestle)

To make the dough: Place dry ingredients in a stand mixer or food processor. Add butter and pulse until broken down to sizes varying from peas to almonds to walnuts. Pour mixture into a large bowl, and add the smaller amount of water recommended. Toss together and squeeze the dough to determine if more water is needed. The dough should just hold together, with shaggy dry areas as well as areas that are moister. If the dough is too dry, add the remaining water and toss. Transfer dough to a shallow container or wrap into a rough square in plastic wrap. Chill at least a couple of hours, or overnight.

After the dough has chilled, unwrap it onto a floured surface. Pat the dough into a square, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. The dough will crumble and be rough around the edges, but don't add more flour or water — it will come together during rolling. For the first "turn," fold the dough into thirds, like a letter. The seam should be on the left side. Chill 30 minutes.

For the second turn, take the dough out, this time with the seam at the bottom. Again roll the dough into an 8 1/2 x 14 inch rectangle and repeat the previous step. Chill 30 minutes.

For the third turn, repeat the previous step, then wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

After the dough has chilled for the final time, roll it to a 12-inch circle (or slightly larger, then trim to 12 inches). Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the dough, leaving an inch of unsprinkled border. Sprinkle the almond meal or flour over the sugar. Starting from the outside, fan the plum slices, slightly overlapping, in three concentric circles, leaving an inch or so of border (the overhead picture of the tart shows how I did this). Sprinkle another tablespoon of sugar on top of the plums. Then fold the edge over, crimping it around the filling as needed. Brush the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Transfer the galette to the freezer while you preheat the oven (just 15 minutes or so).

Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit. When hot, remove the galette from the freezer, and transfer the galette and its parchment to a non-frozen baking sheet. Bake until the crust is deeply golden and the plums seem cooked, ~40-45 minutes.

When the galette is almost done, heat the jam in a small saucepan until runny and melty. Push through a strainer to remove lumps and skins and such. When the galette comes out of the oven, brush the glaze generously over the fruit (the baked plums will be soft, so use a gentle touch). You can leave as is, or else sprinkle with the blue cheese, and then return to the turned-off oven for a minute or two, until it just begins to soften and start to run. Remove, sprinkle with the black pepper, and serve.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

Salmon and cucumber seems like a combination from a long time ago. I'm not sure if I come by this opinion from my own personal history, or obsessive reading of old cookbooks (it's hard to tease apart the two sometimes). Regardless, it pulls up thoughts of gelatin-set salmon molds, of cucumber slices made to look like fish scales, and other tropes that were the height of luncheon catering some twenty-five years past. But I clearly need to readjust my thinking. Because poached salmon with cucumber sauce is a timeless combination. It's what I had for dinner last night, and last week as well. And what I should be having once a week every summer.

The inspiration for this particular incarnation of the classic comes from the always-in-style Julia Child. And it couldn't be simpler. Salmon is slipped into a barely-simmering bath of water, where it manages to delicately set without overcooking (and, thanks to a generous helping of salt and vinegar, doesn't wash out but instead gains even more flavor). And then it is served with a cool, slippery sauce (if you could even call it that) of sour cream, Greek yogurt, cucumbers and dill. Pair it with a simple summer salad (I went with arugula, peaches and corn), maybe a chunk of leftover bread for sopping up the plate, and you've got a summer meal that's just about perfect. Timeless, even.

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

inspired by Julia Child's The Way to Cook
serves 4

Cucumber Sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (cider or sherry work well)
1 cucumber, chopped in a 1/4-inch dice
~2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 pound salmon, cut into 4 slices
salt and white vinegar (see below)

To make the cucumber sauce: In a bowl, stir together the sour cream, Greek yogurt, sugar, salt and vinegar until well combined. Taste, and adjust as needed. Stir in the cucumber and dill, and set aside to chill while you prepare the salmon.

To prepare the salmon: Pour water into a very deep-walled saucepan, or wide-bottomed pot, to a depth of three inches. For every quart of water this requires, add 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a boil, then slip in the salmon, and adjust the heat so that it is just barely about to simmer. Cook at this level until done, meaning it has a bit of internal firmness, and is thinking about flaking but not quite there yet — the exact time will vary depending upon the thickness of your fish, but start checking before 5 minutes are up. Remove with a slotted spoon (no need to rinse off), let drain a moment, and serve with cucumber sauce.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

I am totally loving on zucchini this summer. I have been making versions of this summer stir-fry, shaving it into long thin ribbons, and (more often than not) stewing it with garlic and olive oil forever, until it just slumps into deliciousness. And I also made this cornbread.

I have long been a fan of the many uses of zucchini, and how its flaws are actually its assets, if you just look at them in the right light. Like you know how it has a fairly subtle flavor, and can be kinda watery? Well, that just means you can easily slip it into your cornbread, where it adds a gentle green note, and keeps things tender and moist. I know, right?

This recipe is a fairly standard quickbread, though it goes a step further and browns the butter for a nutty taste ( a step I always recommend taking). The end result is somewhere between cornbread and zucchini bread, and a nice welcome change from either of the two. While less desserty than zucchini bread, it definitely falls on the sweeter end of the cornbread spectrum — but after a childhood relationship with doughnut shop corn muffins, that's how I like it (I even play up the subtle sweetness a bit more with a sanding of sugar across the top). It's a delicious snack to go with your afternoon tea (or iced tea, depending on the weather), and paired with a handful of blackberries or slice of cheese it makes for a perfect summer breakfast.

And if you'd like to hear me say more kind words about zucchini, you can check out this intervew I did with No Chefs Allowed, over on Heritage Radio. Complete with ummms and upspeak and awkward oh-do-I-talk-now? pauses. It turns out being interviewed on the radio is totally nervous-making. Who knew?

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
yields 1 loaf

1 good-sized zucchini (about 12 ounces)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or just use additional flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal (this type of cornmeal is somewhere between finely-ground standard cornmeal and coarse-ground polenta — I happened to have some on hand (thanks, Ken & Heidi's pantry!), and it made for a nicely nubby texture, but standard cornmeal would work fine)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional coarse sugar for sanding the top

Preheat your to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a loaf pan, and set aside.

Trim the ends off the zucchini, and slice a half-dozen whisper-thin slices off to reserve as garnish. Grate the remaining zucchini on the coarse holes of a grater, then set aside in a colander to drain while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cornmeal. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes, then pour out into a medium bowl. Let cool slightly, then pour in the buttermilk, whisking to help cool the butter and take the chill off the buttermilk. Add the eggs and sugar, and whisk well to combine. Give the zucchini a quick press in the colander to release any liquid, and stir into the bowl as well.

Gently fold the dry mixture into the zucchini mixture, stirring until *just* combined (the mixture will be quite thick). Pour into your prepared pan, and smooth the top. Gently lay the reserved zucchini slices in a row down the top, then sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, ~45 minutes to an hour. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool fully before slicing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More Hand Pies!

A few weeks ago, I shared a recipe for my delicate little pillow-shaped strawberry hand pies. And I am still a fan of those hand pies. But recently I met another hand pie. A slightly different hand pie. A larger, flakier, hand pie, with its fruit peeking through. It's not quite the two-bite delicacy of my strawberry version, but it's kind of amazing in its own right. And it also totally changed how I make my pie crust. I mean seriously — look at those flakes! You can learn more about this crust (aka rough puff pastry), and the beauty of hand pies in general, over at NPR.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Salad with Peaches, Haricot Vert and Feta

There are some combinations of flavors that just seem meant to be. Almost unavoidable, even. Tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Peanut butter, bread and jam. Peaches, green beans and feta. And yes, I realize the latter triumvirate may not quote have the renown of the first two. It was something of a surprise to me, too. But such a delicious one.

I had the good fortune to climb over the fence earlier in the week and crash a ridiculously early dinner my neighbors were throwing in honor of some visiting friends. Tasked with bringing bread and salad, I swung by the market with some vague ideas. I considered several different ingredients (Baby zucchini? Pickling cucumbers?), trying to remember recipes I'd browsed and pinned. But finally, I just settled on grabbing handfuls of the things that look most delicious on these warm summer days. The drippy-sweet and oh-so-fragrant peaches that have just appeared, a few handfuls of baby arugula, and the teensy haricot vert green beans. I picked up some creamy French feta, and a handful of the starting-to-wilt-but-still-totally-usable basil in the back of my own refrigerator. And something great happened.

The green-green-green crunch of tender haricot vert somehow works perfectly with the sweet and juicy peaches (although I bet regular green beans would work in a pinch). Arugula and basil give a spunky herbal edge against the sweetness, and creamy, briny feta ties it all together. I added a simple vinaigrette, with an extra dollop of honey and not too much sour. Since this happy discovery, the salad has already made an encore performance (you're welcome, book club!), and I aim to recreate it at least once more before the season ends. Because really, you can't argue with a meant-to-be combination like this one.

Summer Salad with Peaches, Haricot Vert and Feta

serves ~10 (this was for a potluck — can easily be halved)

~ 2 cups haricot vert (aka small & skinny green beans), any hard stem ends snapped off
1 produce bag of baby arugula
a few handfuls basil leaves (torn if large)
3-4 ripe peaches, sliced into slim wedges
~1/3 pound creamy feta, such as French or Israeli, cut into thin slabs (they'll crumble, but that's fine)

juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 teaspoons mild vinegar, such as sherry
salt to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. and have a strainer in the sink, and large bowl of ice water at the ready. When boiling, add the green beans, and cook until they turn a brighter green and just begin to become tender (this will only take a minute or two). When they're done, dump them out into a strainer, then plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking. Let them sit there a few minutes until cool, and then drain.

To assemble the salad, place the arugula onto a super-large bowl or platter (or two reasonably large ones). Top with the basil, beans, peaches and feta.

Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid (like a canning jar), and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Pour over the salad, and serve.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chermoula Eggplant with Herbed Pilaf

There's a farmstand market near my house that sells great local produce. Yellow-flowered sprouting kale, purple carrots, and half-priced day-old "jam flats" of raspberries that I cannot resist buying (despite having sworn off canning after a recent sticky morning of apricots). But my biggest downfall is the dollar bag. They gather up about-to-go-bad produce, put it in a bag with a red twist-tie, and my thrifty self cannot resist. It's why I now have a dozen and a half slightly-yellowing-but-still-cocktail-worthy limes in my fruit basket. And it's why, a few days ago, I ended up with a couple of pounds of slightly wrinkled Asian eggplants.

Like many people, I don't always have the best relationship with eggplant (namely owing to its bitter, squeaky, over-use in clueless vegetarian options of the 1990s). But it's got a lovely side. A butter-soft, taking-to-a-blanket-of-North-African-spices, serving-as-a-counterpoint-to-an-herb-spiked-pilaf side. With a little inspiration from the amazing Ottolenghi, and a glance at what I already had on hand (Iron Pantry Chef rides again!), I turned out a lovely summer meal that I will happily recreate many more times. Even if it costs more than a dollar.

Chermoula Eggplant with Herbed Pilaf

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, albeit significantly tweaked nearly beyond recognition
serves 2

2 good-sized Asian eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped (if not available, swap zest of 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon harissa (North African spice paste — you can substitute another chili paste of your choosing)

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (I used basmati rice, cooked up with a pinch of turmeric, which for reasons too ridiculous to go into I'd just cooked up for the dog)
3 scallions, sliced into rounds
1 bunch parsley, washed and coarsely chopped
1 handful cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
1 small handful mint, washed and coarsely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
glug of olive oil
sumac (optional — available in Middle Eastern stores)

To Serve:
2 handfuls arugula
tahini sauce or yogurt beaten with a bit of salt and crushed garlic

Preheat your oven to 400°. Cut the eggplants in half the long way, then score them in a 1-inch crosshatch (cutting through the flesh, but not the skin). Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, spices, lemon, salt and harissa. Spread this mixture evenly on the eggplant halves — eggplant wants to sop up oil like a sponge, so spread the mixture quickly so it doesn't all get sucked into one area. Place in the oven and roast until butter-soft (~45 minutes).

While the eggplant is cooking, prepare your rice (if you don't have some pre-cooked). Place the scallions, fresh herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil. If your rice is warm, allow to cool slightly (if it's cool, rewarm it back to a bit warmer than room temperature). Tip the rice into the bowl, and toss with the herbs. Sprinkle with sumac and salt to taste.

When the eggplant is done, remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly. Place a handful of arugula and half the pilaf on each of two plates. Add two eggplant halves, and serve with tahini or yogurt sauce.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Strawberry Hand Pies

I spent this past weekend at a family wedding in New York, meeting new cousins and slathering on sunblock an eating far, far more lox than one would think possible (or advisable). And as I watched nieces and nephews squabble over dessert portions, and seating arrangements, and, really, just about anything there was to fight about, it dawned on me just how hard it can be to share. While there are truly heartwarming bursts of altruism, often young kids can be sociopathic little resource hoarders. I suppose it's how they survive.

And while growing up does bring a sort of higher-needs appreciation of the joys of interconnectedness, there's still a certain greedy childlike pleasure that comes when we have something all to ourselves. Especially when it's something delicious that's usually shared. Like pie.

These hand pies are your own little summer bundle, with smart square packaging (requiring none of the re-rolling of scraps of their round brethren), and a little vent that lets some of the goodness within peek out. I made mine with the very last of our strawberries (well, until the fall crop rolls around), but you can easily make them with whatever seasonal fruit strikes your fancy. Some recipes recommend cooking down the fruit, but I find that a bit of binder (tapioca is my favorite) easily does the job while maintaining that fresh fruit feel — and there's really only a spoonful or so of filling anyways, which is thankfully not enough to get you into much trouble either way.

Of course, these individual pies take a bit of fussing and shaping. And hand pies have a much higher crust-to-filling ratio than their standard-sized sharing-required versions, so you've got to make sure you use a light touch to fold in flaky layers. But in the end? An adorable, perfect hand-held bite of summer. All to yourself.

Strawberry Hand Pies

yields ~18 small square pies

3 1/2 cups (375 grams) flour (you can swap out a a quarter of the amount for whole wheat if you like)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats
~1/3 cup ice cold water, as needed

1 1/2 pints strawberries (I started with two, but snacked heavily, and the amount worked well)
1/4 cup sugar (mine were crazy sweet, so I used less)
1 generous tablespoon tapioca starch

1 egg, beaten lightly with a splash of water (aka the egg wash)
coarse sugar and a few pinches salt for sanding

To make the crust (this can be done the day or so before): Stir together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, and the press with the heel of your hand to flatten the pats of butter into flour-coated flakes. Stir the mixture, turning it from the bottom, then press again. Repeat the process until the pats gradually all turn into fat flakes (and some crumbs, as the flakes break apart). You'll be rolling this out a few times, so better to under-mix than over-mix now. Form a well in the middle and sprinkle in the water, using your fingertips to mix it into the flour and butter, until it all comes together into a cohesive ball. Again, you'll be rolling this out a few times, so it needn't be smooth, but it should come together. Add more water is needed. Once you can form a ball, place it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

When the dough has chilled and relaxed, lightly flour a counter top. Roll out the dough into a long rectangle, then fold up in thirds, like a letter. Rotate the dough 90°, so the seam is on the other side, and repeat the process three more times. This builds in nice flaky layers, almost like a rough puff pastry. When you've finished the final roll and fold, divide the dough in half, and again cover and chill for half an hour.

When you're ready to make your handpies: Preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Wash and chop your berries (somewhat small — your hand pies are only a few inches), and toss with the sugar and tapioca starch in a large bowl. Set aside. Have some baking sheets at the ready (lining with parchment makes things easier), and take half the dough out of the fridge for a few minutes to take the chill off.

Lightly flour a countertop, and roll out one of the dough halves into a 9-inch x 18-inch rectangle. Trim off the edges to square the dough, and then cut the dough into three-inch squares. Brush half of the squares lightly with the egg wash (for the bottoms), and cut small little vents in the other half (I favored a simple plus sign, but if you have little cutters or are feeling fancy, go nuts). Stir the filling and place about a tablespoon of it (leaving any excess juices behind) on one of the bottoms. Place one of the tops over it, and crimp with a fork to seal the edges. Place on cookie sheet. Got a sense of how it works and how much filling you can accommodate? Good. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Brush the finished hand pies with egg wash again, then give a generous paving of coarse sugar (and just a wee sprinkling of salt) over the top. Bake until the pastry begins to brown and thick juices bubble up, ~20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then enjoy. Without sharing.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer Pasta Salads

I realize that talking about the weather is nobody's idea of interesting conversation. But people, it's hot. If we are to be eating anything other than sorbet or chips and guacamole (both of which made up a substantial portion of my diet yesterday), then it needs to be cool and slurpy and delicious. Like pasta salad.

I know what you're thinking. Pasta salad? Doesn't that tend to be, well, kind of awful? Agreed. But it doesn't have to be. And so, on this sweltering day, I present a better pasta salad — a mayo-free pasta salad. A pasta salad filled with summer vegetables and punchy dressing. In fact, I present five of them. You can read about them (and about my pasta salad credo in general) over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Orange and Cardamom Cold-Brewed Coffee

I've been in a bit of a cooking lull lately. Well, a bit of a lull overall. After a busy spate of days (Making a radio story about beloved childhood books! Seeing an amazing past-my-bedtime rock show from an old friend's band!), I came down with a nasty summer flu. And not the kind where you have an excuse to snuggle up in bed and watch trashy programming. The kind where you're painfully reminded of what it's like to have a bad fever (spoiler alert: it sucks), where you feel like you don't fit in your own skin, where you spend the hours alternating between napping and moaning in self-pity. OoooOOOOoooh.

For a few days, I was pretty much off food entirely (save for a few handfuls of cereal, and the quart of homemade matzo ball soup that my sent-from-heaven friend dropped off to see me through). I thankfully regained my appetite, but still seemed to just be trudging through my days. Sure, there's the long tail of recovery. But I also realized there was something else in play: the lack of caffeine.

Over the past several months, my coffee habit has been gradually nudging up. Maybe I've grown dependent. Or maybe it's just that, well, stimulants are stimulating. Whatever the reason, I have noticed that the belated reintroduction of caffeine has had a marked effect on my productivity, ability to maintain a grown-up bedtime, and general good cheer. Hooray for coffee! And, specifically, hooray for orange and cardamom cold-brewed coffee!

I adore cardamom, with its piney-clean savory-sweet scent. I love it in curries, in chai, and in this insanely addictive ice cream I went through several pints of after I discovered it. And, it turns out, I love it in coffee. Combined with orange zest, it's subtle enough that it doesn't scream I AM FLAVORED COFFEE! It's just gently perfumed, with slight floral notes that keep you reaching for the next taste. And, as a bonus, the whole process couldn't be easier: just toss cardamom, coffee and some orange zest in a jar. Let sit, strain, and pour over ice (and, if you're me, stir in a dollop of sweetened condensed milk). Then take a sip, and wait for your self to be restored.

Orange and Cardamom Cold-Brewed Coffee

inspired by 10th Kitchen
yields ~2-4 servings, depending on how much caffeine you need

1 orange
1 cup medium-grind coffee
a dozen cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 quart water

zest the orange, and combine with the coffee, cardamom, and water in a jar with a lid. That's it. Let sit for 24 hours, then strain through a coffee filter. Serve over ice (you can also water it down if it's too strong for your taste), and a well-stirred dollop of sweetened condensed milk if desired.