Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back in a minute, hon

Quick chit - I had the baby, and you can read about it at my new blog, The Legend of Zephyr. I am back in the kitchen periodically, but this time of year is still hard on photographers who rely on natural light, so I haven't started shooting my food yet. However! I plan on coming back again at around the start of the new year.

Happy holidays! See you next year!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Living off the fat of the land

I guess it's fairly obvious that I've got a lot on my plate these days, so to speak, and my writing has taken a back seat to more important ventures. I do still cook, once in awhile (last week produced a kabocha and eggplant mulligatawny of sorts, spicy with curry and cardamom, with coconut milk for body), and this time of year I still think about treks to spongy woods, even in my compromised mobility and subsequent preference for the sloth of a warm couch and chenille throw.

Thank goodness, then, for store-bought chanterelles and Langdon Cook. Some of you might know his blog, Fat of the Land (I've had him linked on my sidebar for some time now). His new book of the same name has recently been published and is now available for sale on Amazon.

Cook is a modern, urban male indigenous to an opposite coast where clams are fried, not dug. Relocated to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school, he met a fascinating young poet with an ear to the wind and an eye to the ground, and by her beauty, found himself rapt. In a comically-told recollection of her contempt at his efforts at a woo with a reconstructed fast food breakfast sandwich (""I don't do McDonald's", she said dryly"), his now wife and twice-babymama opened the door to a world that would clearly become a new passion for Cook.

Langdon Cook is no latter-day Euell Gibbons, and Fat of the Land - Adventures of a 21st Century Forager is no Stalking the Wild Asparagus. More than simply a field guide to modern locavory, FotL is a series of witty vignettes that are really about the people and places that have informed his passion - they all just happen to involve the hunt for "foods that don't run away." These are forthright tales of character-building trial and error (smashed shells of many razor clams before hitting limit), of humility at the smallness of men in an unforgiving landscape (and fast tides that fill slow boots with icy water), and thankfully, of hard-won triumphs (even if those triumphs are later rudely stolen in the middle of the night by greedy raccoons and must be re-won the following day). And more than a gatherer of popular and less-loved wild foods alike, Cook is clearly a writer.

Each story is about one ingredient and ends with a recipe for that ingredient. This afternoon, as I finished reading Fat of the Land, I was stricken with the coincidence that tonight's dinner, for which I had shopped only an hour earlier, was only one or two ingredients away from the last recipe of the book: creamy chanterelle pasta. Instead of peas to add color, though, I added pea shoots, my pasta was a gnocchi and I added toasted pumpkin seeds for added protein and seasonal crunch (Lang uses bacon and bowtie pasta in his rendition, and while this year I happily coughed up $8/lb for my chanterelles, I doubt he ever pays for a mushroom).

Gnocchi with Chanterelle-Pea Shoot Cream

Saute a minced shallot and a clove of garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil. Add a handful of clean chanterelles, torn into bite-sized pieces. When mushrooms have released their liquor and start softening, add cream, a few tbsp of fresh thyme, a few good scratches of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a minute, then add a handful of pea shoots and an 10oz package of gnocchi (cooked), and toss together until pea shoots are wilted. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and copious amounts of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Buy Fat of the Land.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lobster mushroom, sweet corn and watercress risotto

This is the best time of year. The weather is up to its typical late summer bipolar antics, and while I still have sweet Silver Queen corn down here in the Valley (thanks to sunny days), the mountains are cooling off enough in the evenings that lobster mushrooms have made their way into my neighborhood fancy grocery store.

Scott had a bee in his bonnet for some lemony chicken and risotto, and even though those are a springtime jones, such is his wantlessness that I tend to cater to his every (infrequent) craving. And despite the fact that our garden is a cornucopian money-shot of nightshades (six tomato varieties for a dozen plants total, four chile varieties and an eggplant), this third trimester heartburn started kicking in today, and I just didn't feel like one more helping of spaghetti Margherita (with a masochistic craving for extra chile flake).

I melted some butter in the pan while I thawed some homemade chicken stock (frozen in June), and sweated a quarter of a tiny red onion with two minced garlic cloves. I added a drib of olive oil to prevent the butter from browning and added one fist-sized lobster mushroom, sliced and broken into bite-sized pieces. I tossed in a couple handfuls of arborio rice and stirred it around, doing the "making risotto" thing until time to add a glass of chardonnay (now that I'm getting late in the pregnancy, I'm not afraid to taste the wine that goes into my cooking). I added splashes of the rich chicken stock, stirring lovingly, and then added an ear's worth of corn cut fresh from the cob.

A few fat pinches of lemon zest went in at the end, along with some fresh thyme and a few handfuls of chopped watercress. The peppery, nasturtium verdure of the watercress slapped the sleepy, smalltown white carbs right in the kisser, the mineral parsley gave it some backbone, and a sprinkling of crumbly fat and salt Parmigiano Reggiano gave it cheeks.

Enjoy with a crispy pear cider, or I suppose a nice Gewürztraminer, if you had one laying around.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Millions of Peaches

The little white peach sapling that I planted last fall shot up about 6 feet this spring, splashing out a crown of wavy, crescent-shaped leaves and slutty, hot pink blossoms like too much rouge on a little girl that got into her mother's makeup. When, in June, the spindly branches began to bow and creak under the weight of all that fruit, I naturally assumed I would be inundated with mealy, hard, sour peaches (I couldn't possibly luck into so much of a good thing). Over the past two weeks or so, though, this little tree proved her spot in my crowded garden was warranted.

These are small peaches, slightly smaller than a tennis ball, with ample red blush and pearly white flesh that is as sweet as the last days of summer. I am hogging them all to myself, freezing and canning, or just slopping them directly into my mouth over the sink. The ants and greedy neighbor ladies have taken notice, and I have been relegated to just picking all of them before they can steal my Precious (judiciously trimming away nibbles from birds and insects as needed). This morning I'll have succulent slices over thick, whole-milk yogurt with a sprinkle of granola and daydream about the myriad other ways to enjoy them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three parts love and seven parts forgiveness

Who says a wedding cake has to cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars? For under $25, some friends of ours got a beautiful, whimsical and delicious wedding cake that they'll never forget. Leonard and Caireen recently got married, and being an intimate affair (only six guests, plus the bride and groom) I was happy to provide the photography as well as the cake. The night before the wedding I told Caireen about our having a croquembouche at our wedding after she joked that having doughnuts would be a laugh. I demanded that she let me build her a tower of pink doughnuts for her wedding cake. She was tickled.

The morning of the wedding I called Acme Doughnuts, located a few blocks from my house (their website has obviously just been thrown up from a template and is not useful yet), and was delighted that they needed no more than a couple hours to hook up two dozen doughnuts. They even made pink icing from scratch, when it's not normally one of their toppings (the nice gal whipped some up by mixing berry juice with white icing). Due to my no-notice call, they could only do a dozen of the raised doughnuts, so the order was supplemented with a dozen cake doughnuts. A few hours later Scott was able to pick them up and paid only $18. I also sent him to our neighborhood fancy grocery store for pink roses ("the tiny kind, if they have them"). The flower lady looked at him funny when he asked for baby pink roses, but that's her problem. For $5, a regular plate of doughnuts was transformed into something rather special.

Never be afraid to think outside the box. Or inside it, if it's a box of doughnuts.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pork tenderloin and warm succotash with heirloom tomatoes and bacon

Damn, I'm rusty. I've almost completely forgotten how to use my camera. I should probably just restore it to its factory settings and start over. Stupid blurry corn. Sigh.

Hey, I cooked! The week of 105 degree temperatures followed by the week of 90+ degree temperatures has been chased by the pleasant partly-cloudy and low 80s that I can really get with. My garden is exploding with corn the size of my forearm and state fair tomatoes, my scarlet runner beans are hanging heavy on their vines and the peppers are nearly ready. I feel reinvigorated (being thoroughly sick of Vietnamese takeout gave me a much-needed kick in the ass, too).

A perfectly-cooked pork tenderloin surprised me after not having cooked meat in what feels like forever. I brined it quickly in Kumquat Dry Soda with a tablespoon of salt and a pinch sugar. I seared it on all sides and finished it in the oven, pulled it at medium (to the touch test), rested for five minutes and was delighted to find it rosy and juicy when sliced into thick medallions.

"Mmm...Heather cooking," Scott approved as he dove into the succulent pork bedded down on a bowl of summer warmth: corn cut from the cob and sauteed with red cipolline onions, bacon and sliced scarlet runners (pods and all). When the beans were al dente*, I added some lemon zest and a fat knob of butter, some chopped thyme and summer savory, and a couple of handfuls of chopped black brandywines (the garden's first!) and sliced cherry tomatoes. They brought a nice twang of acid to the fatty, creamy succotash.

Enjoy with a crunchy Reed's ginger beer. Here's to hoping that a new-found nesting instinct includes getting my sealegs in the kitchen again.

*These scarlet runners were probably a week older than what would be ideal for eating with the pods - the waxy cuticle needed to be removed from the pod and the skins on the beans could've benefited from a longer cooking time. I'll look forward to letting the rest of them completely ripen and shell them for cassoulet or feijoada. Never eat scarlet runners raw - they are high in phytohemagglutinins and can cause stomach problems like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Letter to Anonymous

"ew..i hope this happens to your unborn child as well" - Anonymous

This was a comment left by one "Anonymous" regarding my recent Pig Roast 2009 post. I let that one marinate for awhile, wondering whether or not I should ignore it, delete it or if/how I should respond to it. I was actually surprised that it was the first time a militant (if a bit chromosomally-affluent) vegetarian has left a comment for me. A few of you have either emailed me about it or replied to it in the comments section. Thanks for the support and kind words, but I've decided to go ahead and respond.

Dear Anonymous (if that's even your real name),

Nice chickenshit comment. Did it take you all day to think of that? You are a true wordsmith. I also love your cummingsian refusal to capitalize any letters in your sentence. Nice touch. Artsy.

Okay, first of all (this really gets my goat), it's not an unborn child, it's called a fetus. Say it: fee-tuss. A child cannot, by definition, be unborn. That's your biology and semantics lesson of the day. Besides, my fetus doesn't even have enough meat on him to fill a baguette, and would be a complete waste of fuel to try to barbecue. That fuel comes from trees and produces smoke which is bad for air quality. Try to think about the environment, m'kay?

Something like 95% of the world's population eats meat (probably more). In much of the developing world, meat consumption is only limited by economics (i.e., more people in the world would eat meat if they could afford to). Vegetarianism is a fine dietary choice for many reasons, but it's extremely ignorant and narrow-minded of you to suggest that every culture in the world that ingests animal protein is ethically wrong. Seriously, who the fuck are you? It reminds me a lot of how Christian missionaries coerced indigenous people into abandoning their culture and history by using fear and violence. You're no better than those people. Here's a tip, though: learning to accept that the world is a big, crazy place full of different types of people that you can't and shouldn't even want to change is the first step to growing as a human.

Actually, it's interesting to me that you've targeted my blog, of all blogs. Ever hear of Tony Bourdain, dumbshit? Is it easier for you to see meat when it's in a square or patty form? Is that a little easier for your delicate constitution to take? My blog is not the only omnivorous food blog out there, but it's pretty clear to me that you've never read it before. If you had, you'd know a few things about me, such as:

  • This is not the first pig roast I've had. Last year, we roasted a 100lb sow that we named Laura Palmer. She fed 50+ people, plus leftovers. She was, like this year's pigs, raised sustainably, slaughtered as humanely as possible and treated with the utmost respect in death by being prepared with love and great care. True, buying and preparing meat en carcasse is not for the faint of heart - it forces you to come to terms with the fact that you're eating an animal, not a tidily-packaged piece of protein. I'm fairly certain that if everyone had to buy meat this way, there'd be a lot more vegetarians in the world, at least in developed nations. Of course, there are plenty of vegetarians who, in something of a contradiction with their ethical choices, eat bizarre animal-like meat-substitute vegetable proteins (Tofurkey, Boca Burgers and "Chik Nuggets" come to mind) that are more processed than Velveeta and contain as many ingredients. At least I'm not in denial about what I eat.

  • Your whole life is a phase I went through in high school. I became an animal rights activist when I was 15 (card carrying ALF and PETA member), and I was a vegetarian for ten years (though I craved meat the entire time). But instead of tossing lame comments from behind a shroud of internet anonymity, I actually did real animal rights shit like superglue and mace the doorknob of a local taxidermist and protest the circus by handing pamphlets that showed tortured elephants to children. Your technique is perhaps a bit more subtle, granted, but I'm still pretty sure I was a better animal rights activist than you'll ever be.

  • I don't take bullshit from pussy internet fucktards like yourself, not even when I'm awash in the nurturing glow of maternity. This one is so obvious to everyone (I mean everyone) who knows me (on the internet and in real life) that it's almost cute that you didn't know.
To close, a quote from Patton Oswalt: "I enjoy steak too much because I hate hippies so much."

Enjoy life at the bottom of the food chain, you fucking shitweasel.

Love, Heather

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pig Roast 2009

After two weekends in a row hosting parties at our house (and all the fretting and prepping and feverish house-cleaning that it entails), I needed a few days' recovery to revel in inactivity. This quickly descends into crippling laziness, as is its wont, until I just sit my ass down and at least download the photos off my camera. First hurdle cleared.

This year was different. First off, I'm pregnant, and that makes me heavy, slow and quick to tire. Also, we wanted to do two smaller pigs this year instead of a 100lb sow, for ease and timeliness of cooking - we ended up with two 40lb roasters. The main factor, though, was definitely the pregnancy and its function of shifting my priorities quickly. Do I really need to get ham and cheese and make extra pickles in case someone wants a Cubano, requiring yet another run to the store and a reshuffling of the contents of the fridge? Ehhhh.

After we picked up the pigs, Scott's bro and I needed to figure out where to keep them for awhile. The chest freezer that we used last year was pretty much shot (sitting in a driveway throughout a Portland winter will do that to an electric appliance) and had been carted off by the 1-800-Got-Junk guys along with an old door a few months back. So we just placed them in the bathtub for an hour or so (they were still partially frozen) until I could send Scott to the hardware store for a couple of plastic garbage cans, which we filled with ice.

Last year, I made a sticky-sweet-hot gochujang barbecue sauce to rub into the cavity of the pig, and slashed the skin on the hams to apply some dry rub. This year, I made a huge jar of the dry rub (homemade Berbere spice with salt, mustard powder, paprika and ancho chile powder) and smeared it into the interior, then sprinkled some parsley flowers and fresh coriander berries (the seeds that were still juicy and green). I used the branches of parsley and coriander to hold the pigs' mouths open - I don't know what function it serves, but it seemed like the thing to do.

Joe and Shin hoisted the piggies onto the warm grill and we covered them with foil to keep the heat in and the flies off. This year, we had much better control of the heat (and didn't use three bags of mesquite right off the bat). I tossed some green quince branches onto the coals for some sweet smoke and got to work in the kitchen.

I did end up overdoing it again somewhat, and that's another change I'll make next year - people don't really care about having banh mi or tacos when they have the option of eating hot pork sliced directly from the beast. However, the roasted corn-mango salsa was delicious in its own right and was heartily devoured with tortilla chips. The pasta salad is a cookout stand-by, as are the plate of crudites (not pictured) and baked beans (not pictured; Norm provided these and they were moist and delicious). Tammy brought a yummy sesame-y Asian noodle salad, and Susan brought platter upon platter of desserts, including some wonderful cherry petit fours and a plate of Buckeyes (a chocolate-covered peanut butter confection that Ohioans eat).

Since it was raining most of the day, I was afraid to use my camera outdoors where photography really sings. Indoors, the photos were harder to come by because of the crowded conditions and poor lighting. Regardless, I took one of one of the cocktails that I made: strawberry lemonade with rhubarb Dry Soda. Dry Soda is a discovery I made when I first learned I was pregnant and needed a replacement for cocktails and wine. It's not too sweet (only 50 calories per bottle but not artificially sweetened) and it comes in fancy flavors like juniper berry, vanilla and lavender. They're also based in Seattle so I can support a NW-based small business. I used the rhubarb, lemongrass and kumquat sodas to craft some family-friendly cocktails: sweet tea with kumquat, limeade with lemongrass and coconut milk and the aforementioned rhubarb-strawberry lemonade. Dry Soda people, if you're reading, you can totally steal these ideas.

Speaking of Seattle, Brooke and Brittany came all the way down from Seattle to say hi. Tragedy struck when they had to turn around and drive home before the pigs were ready - they had a father's day engagement the following day that was to begin traumatically early for a Sunday morning (8:00am - gasp!). It was so nice to see them, though - they're so pretty and hilarious. Brittany totally isn't dead, btw, she is just finding herself in a similar "I'm too busy for this shit and none of you sons of bitches gonna guilt me into it" situation in which I've been finding myself lately.

It was great to see so many old friends and catch up, even if it meant I had to flit from friend to friend like some socially-retarded hummingbird and perform half-assed hostessing. Scott drank about 30 beers over the course of the day, and spent his first (unofficial) father's day sick in bed until 5:00pm. Next year, we'll stick with one little 60lb fella, we won't do any of the extra banh mi/Carnitas/Cubanos fixins, I'll have my prep done days in advance (making about half the volume of sides that I usually make), and I will be able to have a drink.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Poutine Galvaude

...Now, with more confit!

Awhile ago, I made poutine with sweet potatoes and veal demi glace gravy. Oh, man, was it ever a delight. A bit more recently, my good buddy Marc at the stellar (yet erroneously-named) No Recipes made it also, but one-upped me by photographing it like a genius (seriously, steam shot and everything). When I noticed the linkback in my Sitemeter readings, I took a look at my old post from last November and remembered that I'd threatened to make this with turkey leg confit leftover from Thanksgiving. Of course, I totally forgot to do that, and hi. Here we are.

Technically, this probably can't be called "galvaude" because I used duck instead of turkey or chicken, and I omitted the peas (some asshole is also probably gonna swing his/her peen around about this not really being poutine, either, since I used sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes), but honestly, who gives a shit? It's French fries with gravy and cheese curds. It has duck confit on top. SUCK IT. And after I confited the duck, I oven-roasted the fries in the hot duck fat. I used sweet potato again because they really are just more nutritious and tasty, but I have to admit that they have a hard time holding their shape after they've been essentially poached in duck fat. Next time I'll fry them on the stove top to get the proper crispness. Beef demi gravy and local white cheddar curds, and we're laughing.


If anyone has noticed or cares, I've been lagging on the blogging in a big way. I just can't pretend to care that much right now, but it's not you, I swear. I just am such a dipshit these days. It's strange what hormones do to the female brain, but each time I do cook, I forget to shoot it. For fuck's sake, I made mac and cheese with brie last weekend and forgot to photograph it. I have a couple things lined up, but who knows when I'll get around to it. I'll try to at least be present when I can, but I just have a lot of other shit going on right now, and ice cream makes a fine dinner.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sweet Black Sesame Butter

Smear this on a toasted (and buttered) English muffin with strawberry preserves or marmalade. Imagine sweet tahini, but black. It's like Taiwanese Nutella, or a non-grainy adzuki paste. I bet it'd be great rolled up in some strudel dough with pears and a little cinnamon.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A F&%@#ing Salad

Yes, this is what I have to show for my weeks of absence. It's all I can muster. I don't know why I feel like I have some 'splaining to do every time I take off for awhile, but I guess that's just how committed I am. Ha!

I really haven't been cooking much at all. I'm just too fucking lazy! All I want to do is sit on the couch with my feet up, eat ice cream and watch Jon and Kate careen nose-first into complete loathing and contempt. I have eaten Cinnamon Life cereal for dinner twice in the last week (I amended it with an apple and some peanut butter), and have only set foot in the kitchen about twice. I did make some delicious risotto with morels and garlic scapes last week, but I've been so off my game that I actually forgot to photograph it. I think what it really boils down to is that when I'm hungry, I'm hungry and I don't want to pussyfoot around with prettiness and creativity. I need food in my gob and I need it now.

This salad was decent. At least it was nutritious. It reminded me a little of a classic chopped salad, for all of the veggies I draped over the top of the lettuce, or of bibimbap in salad form. I realized after I'd done it that I chopped the cukes into stupid little bites instead of elegant spears like the rest of the vegetables, so I ended up doing the same to the beautiful heirloom tomato. French breakfast radishes, red bell pepper, cherokee purple tomato, plain ol' cukes and some shredded chicken breast on Romaine lettuce, dribbled with store-bought salad dressing and sprinkled with torn basil leaves and cilantro flowers.

In a few weeks is the pig roast, so at least there'll be that to look forward to.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pulled chicken sandwich with apple slaw and sweet corn

Sometimes good barbecue doesn't reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it doesn't even require you to go outside. I shredded some leftover roasted chicken (it had been marinated in a garlicky gochujang barbecue sauce) and warmed it in some basic hickory barbecue sauce with a little apple juice and a splash of sweet balsamic vinegar and served it on a soft wheat bun with a slice of good ol' Tillamook cheddar and some sautéed onions. So simple and unassuming.

Okay, the slaw isn't literally made of apples, it just contains some apples. This is the way my mom always made it (she added raisins, too), and it's the way I like a basic cabbage slaw. A nice, creamy mayo-vinegar-sugar dressing, shredded cabbage and chopped apples. Yum.

Corn is totally not in season yet, not here anyway. But I can't get enough of the fresh ears showing up in the store. And lord knows I love a good compound butter, but sometimes a girl only needs a little butter, crunchy salt and pepper on her corn.

Serve with an ice-cold strawberry lemonade (mix fresh strawberry puree with Newman's Own virgin lemonade).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grilled eggplant and heirloom tomato panini with chevre and kalamata tapenade

Yay! Summery weekend weather started on Friday, and the lovely log of French goat cheese that's been languishing in my fridge got its day in the sun. The first good heirloom tomatoes starting showing up in stores, and I was powerless. An eggplant and a loaf of fresh sea salt-rosemary focaccia would complete the train of thought, and this would be dinner.

I marinated the sliced eggplant (salted and left in a sieve in the sink to drain the bitter juices, then squeezed of the last drops of leachate) in a basil-balsamic vinaigrette: olive and walnut oils and balsamic vinegar; Dijon mustard and a drib of mesquite honey; then a good, fat chiff of basil, some flaky Maldon and cracked pepper. I let it soak up every atom of flavor while Scott readied the grill and I worked on the ultimate condiment.

I'm kind of picky about my chèvres - so many of the affordable ones from Trader Joe's are just like a crumbly cream cheese and lack the depth of tang and grass and goat that distinguishes a good French cheese. Ile de France makes a really nice one that meets my exacting standards. I mashed it with some finely chopped basil, summer savory and a quickie kalamata tapenade (chopped olives with shallots, S&P and a little lemon zest and chile flake) to spread on the toasted focaccia.

We grilled the eggplant (gas flame with some hickory chips in a foil pouch - so much faster and less wasteful for the grilling needs of just two people) until roasty-soft with crispy edges, and then toasted the focaccia over the flame. I soaked the sliced tomatoes in the warm vinaigrette drippings from the eggplant, then assembled the sandwiches.

Just perfect with a lemony mixed spring green salad and sparkling grapefruit juice.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't Call it a Comeback

Yay! I'm over the (first) hump and can eat real food again. I can cook it too, without being too tired or tummy-achy to stand or smell food aromas hitting my face. But I've had to start out slow. I've sort of lost my groove, a little.

On Tuesday I really wanted a pot pie-type comfy food, since it's been a typical cold, wet Oregon May. The slugs have annihilated my vegetable sprouts and even sawed halfway through my beloved dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) - a devastating blow! I thought about making a pot "pie" inside a loaf of bread, and picked up some organic bread dough. Scott chimed in about making them single-servings like hum bao, and I heartily concurred. I whipped up a batch of chicken pot pie filling, taking care to reduce the gravy somewhat to avoid utter soggage. But oh, the calamity. They fell apart before I could even pinch them together. I threw the whole mess into a casserole and just baked it with the bread dough strewn lazily across the top.

Tragically, the bread part ended up completely leaden, and my gravy reduction yielded a dry interior to the mess. Sigh. I think my lower lip stuck out the entire time we ate.

The next day I was craving soup, and even wanted something spicy. I tossed around a few ideas (one of which I'll save for another time - it might be a Thing) and settled on a variation on the highly plastic minestrone. I made a hearty tortellini, sausage and cannelini minestra with a piquant arrabbiata broth simmered with onions, carrots, garlic, zucchini (sauteed first in the flavorful Italian sausage fat) and best of all, a thick Parmesan rind to enrich the whole affair. I tossed in some cheese tortellini (and a can of cannelinis at the end), et voilà. Top with a thick piece of garlicky bruscetta and finely grated Parmigiano Regiano, and I think I'm back.

This weekend: grill therapy.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Almost ready, I swear.

Sorry for the lag in blogging over the past few weeks. It's not even that I'm too busy this time, it's just that I've cooked exactly twice since the halibut post (grilled cheese with tomato soup and penne with jarred tomato sauce, though that hardly counts as cooking). I am nearly over my first trimester and should be getting back to normal very soon. God, I hope so.

People are always interested to know what a foodie craves when she is pregnant. "God, what does Heather crave," people ask Scott. Well not much, I'm sad to say, not yet anyway. Here is some of what I've eaten over the past few weeks:

  • 1.5 pints of Haagen Daaz strawberry ice cream (last night with those chewy chocolate crinkle cookies - a winning combination)
  • about a pound of Jelly Bellys, opting alternately for Juicy Pear and Black Licorice (but gah, not together - gross - I'm not an animal)
  • a corn dog from a questionable gas station deli in BFE
  • a piece of supreme pizza from a questionable gas station deli in BFE
  • a cucumber and chili Mexican frozen popsicle ("paleta")
  • ham and cheese hot pocket (whole wheat! it's good for the baby)
  • Nong Shim Kim Chee bowl noodle spicy taste good job
  • 2 cans of Spaghettios in cheese sauce
  • approximately 4 chili dogs (with the cheese and onions) and tater tots
  • tuna salad sandwich on a non-sick day
  • 3 cantaloupes, salted, each eaten entirely in one sitting
  • 5 pints of strawberries, eaten over the sink
  • 4 mangoes, salt and peppered
  • 10 or 20 apples, sometimes with salt, sometimes with cheese
  • a half a giant tub of Carnation Instant Breakfast (chocolate) with 1% milk - usually the first thing in my stomach in the morning
  • three bowls of pho
  • a half a Hawaiian-style pizza with green peppers
  • three servings of pasta with red sauce (nothing fancy)
  • iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing (a healthy "salad"!)
  • a giant bowl of radishes with salt
  • Ethiopian food (the lentils were the craving, and sticking with vegetarian was a really good choice for me)
  • 2 breakfast burritos
  • 3 of those mini boxes of cereal from the variety pack: Corn Pops, Rice Krispies and Crispix (I foolishly let Scott have the Fruit Loops)
  • a movie-size box of Hot Tamales
  • a movie-size box of Junior Mints
  • approximately 5000 Cliff Bars (while in the field)
  • a 6" veggie sub with extra pepperoncini
  • 10 bottles of Reed's ginger beer
I guess that's enough confession. Try not to judge me. Progesterone's a helluva drug.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Halibut with tomato-curry cream (Machhli Tamatar)

It always pleases me when I fiddle around with ingredients and find out that it's already a Thing. The curried fish with tomatoes and creamy sauce I was thinking about turned out to be the Indian dish machhli tamatar, fancy that. I've been craving Indian spices - anise, cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger - all traditionally used medicinally for stimulating the appetite and aiding digestion. Plus, I'd picked up some amazing young ginger and fresh turmeric at the Asian grocery over the weekend, and was eager to use it. The halibut at New Seasons looked good, and I had a half pint of cherry tomatoes left in the coffers.

I carved out a curry paste from fresh curry leaves (in the freezer), a garlic clove, grated ginger and turmeric, mustard and fenugreek seeds, dhana jeera (a ground cumin and coriander blend), a little of my homemade seven-spice and a squirt of lemon juice (pound the shit out of it in the mortar and pestle until a paste forms). I smeared this into salted and peppered halibut fillets and let it marinate for a bit while I got the rice cooking.

I melted some butter and olive oil (instead of ghee) in a hot pan and tossed in sliced onions and the cherry tomatoes (halved). They hissed and sputtered for a bit, then in went the fish. After I flipped the fish (5 minutes or so) I added the tub's last couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche. I think it's more traditional to use yogurt and cream, but I didn't have those and besides, crème fraîche is just another cultured cream product and this worked really well. Top the fish with micro-cilantro from the garden.

I also whipped up a quick chutney of mango, red chili and golden raisins (add a pinch of garam masala or seven-spice, plus a drib of lemon juice and honey) and this was refreshing with some warm naan.

Serve with peppermint sweet tea and basmati rice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Strawberry Shortstack

I can't seem to get enough strawberries these days. I cruised through 4 lbs of them in about a week, just eating them raw (stemmed and halved, with my fingers), and then had to pick up another flat of them over the weekend. It's insidious. I never was a real big fruit eater until recently. I guess I always felt like fruit was a little too on-the-nose. "Oh, you're so sweet and delicious, fruit." It's like, we get it. I usually opted instead for vegetables, which are under-appreciated and therefore have way more street cred.

Berries are great, though (no doy). They're kind of tart, loaded with Vitamin C and other antioxidants, and are low in calories. And they make an excellent frou-frou breakfast of strawberry shortcake. In pancake form.

I whipped up a batch of basic buttermilk pancakes, adding a scant tablespoon of crème fraîche for a bit of twang (add a little extra sugar to the batter to offset this). I made a quick strawberry compote by stemming and halving about 2 cups of strawberries and simmering them in about a half cup of sugar, a tablespoon of butter and 3 tablespoons of kirschwasser.

Top with fresh vanilla whipped cream (do this yourself - it's worth it), and since you aren't drinking mimosas these days have a nice bubbly apple cider with a splash of mango nectar (float a strawberry in there for show).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Frito Pie

My southern friends know this little beaut from their moms, aunts and grandmas, from Baptist church lady potlucks, from friends' house dinners. This, my Yankee friends, is Frito pie.

It is exactly as complicated as it sounds - chili on Fritos. Other accoutrements are optional. I made my own chili by browning some ground turkey with onions and garlic, added copious cumin, chili powder and paprika, then tossed in a can of chili beans (the kind that come in a tomato-based sauce). Layer a casserole (preferably the one your grandma purchased in the 70s with Green Stamps, then bequeathed to you upon her passing) with Fritos, then pour the chili over, add a little grated cheese, more Fritos, more cheese. Into a hot oven until the cheese melts. Total phone-in.

Since I wanted extra crunch (two kinds of crunch always being better than one), I spooned my Frito pie over some iceberg lettuce and topped it with sour cream and a julienne of radishes and those spicy carrots from the jar of jalapeños en escabeche. This way you've got the whole city mouse/country mouse thing, all in one bowl.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rigatoni Bolognese with olives and chiles

It's been so hard to muster the energy or interest to cook, what with fatigue and nausea running the show. Pasta with red sauce seems to be accepted without a hitch, and requires nearly no effort, particularly when I have one last, treasured jar of homemade Bolognese from the homegrown heirloom tomatoes of last summer, canned with homeground beef chuck and fresh herbs. This last jar of sunshine was the end of an era.

This bastard lovechild between puttanesca ("the whore's") and Bolognese came from my need to taste red sauce with a little bit of saline fattiness of olives and the protein punch of beef. Chile flake (Korean, for flavor in addition to moderate heat) kicked it to a high hum.

Lots of grated parmesan and crusty bread to swab out the last smear of sauce is a no-brainer.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Orecchiette with pancetta, asparagus, peas and lemon balm

It's so good to be back in my kitchen, I can't even tell you. After the nettle dinner (those 24 things are so much work!) I was in the dry, dusty field for a week (botanical surveys in the western Central Valley, California), and spent the weekend alternately recovering on the couch with my feet up and the remote control ruthlessly cutting commercials from Tivo'ed programs, or playing Rune Factory Frontier, or turning and seeding my warming vegetable beds. Even though it was inspirationally gorgeous out, I didn't really feel like cooking. Not one whit.

The funny thing about being pregnant is that every two hours you are starving. Your blood sugar drops so fast that you simultaneously want to puke and faint. But as famished as I feel, when I finally get around to getting some food in front of me, I can only muster a few bites before I am completely stuffed. Baffled then, am I, that I am gaining weight so quickly. I've been putting on almost a pound a week since I found out. It's going straight to my belly, upper arms and tits, which are rapidly transforming into jugs (I can't stop staring at them, which is probably why I can see them growing before my very eyes).

But holy shit, this is so not about me. This is about the simple flavors of springtime, about the vernal Holy Trinity (peas, asparagus and ham), about meals that are free of fetter and hamper. In the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta you can have, in your very mouth, a perfect balance of crunchy, sweet, virid, salty, fatty, bright and creamy. Yes, all in one bite.

While you're waiting for water to boil, string about a half pound of peas and peel the stems of a small bunch of asparagus. Slice these coarsely on the bias into bite-sized chunks. Mince a shallot and three cloves of garlic finely. Chop about a quarter pound of pancetta. Your water is nigh at a boil, so add a fat pinch of kosher salt and dump in nearly an entire pound of orecchiette (leave about a cup in the bag for another time, this'll still be enough for leftovers).

While the pasta is cooking, render the pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil, and add the shallot and garlic. When the pancetta starts to go crisp and the shallots begin to turn golden, add the peas and asparagus and cook over medium or so, lazily stirring things about with a wooden spoon because it feels so good to hold that spoon (the one with burn marks up the handle from setting it against a hot pan too long, too many times). Salt and pepper things a bit for good measure, and while you're at it, go ahead and scrape in some lemon zest. Have a bright idea to go pick some lemon balm, since the sunny weather has started it aflush near the little pond out back. Chiffonade that lemon balm and pick some thyme off the tender stems.

Drain the pasta and dump the vegetables and pancetta in, swabbing out the bacon grease with a spoonful of pasta. Since it still could use a little something, why not stir in a knob of good cultured butter and maybe a scant tablespoon of crème fraîche. Stir in the sliced lemon balm and picked thyme, and grate in some grainy Parmesan.

Be so happy that you can eat more than a few bites because this is exactly, exactly what you wanted.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Out of This Nettle, We Grasp This Dinner

Spring has officially sprung, and I was so tickled to take my first little stroll down to the forested wetlands at the nearby Reed College campus during an early break in the vernal rains. This time of year is my chance to shake the last of the doldrums of the wan winter pallor, to ditch some of the root vegetable stodge and to taste the first bosky flush of the equinox.

I was delighted, then, that my proposal to prepare a nettle-based dinner was sponsored by Foodbuzz. Having spontaneously submitted my idea as a sudden burst of inspiration, I'm thrilled that our friends at Foodbuzz wanted to help me share it with the food blogging community for the March 24, 24, 24 event.

(from left) Me, Carolyn and Greta

Although I am a botanist by training (and the trade pays the bills), I take so much pleasure in my city life when I'm off the clock. I love going out to fancy dinners with Scott, going out for a movie or to see a favorite band. But I especially love putting on some hot pink lipstick, a skirt and heels and hitting the bars with my similarly city-loving girlfriends. My girls like good food, but don't necessarily love the idea of grubbing around in the swamp to pick their ingredients.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) grow in swampy places and riparian corridors along streams throughout North America, Europe, Asia and northern Africa. They resemble a mint, though they're in their own botanical family (the Urticaceae). They're easily identified by their pairs of deltoid (slightly triangular), dentate leaves (opposite-decussate in orientation) with fine spines covering the stems and leaves. In the Pacific Northwest, March is when they first poke their little heads out of the alder and cottonwood duff in search of spring's first warming sun. This time of year, too, is when they are at their most tender and nutritious. Nettles are an excellent source of protein, iron and vitamins C and A.

True to their moniker, they do pack a potent sting, delivered mercilessly by the fine, silicate trichomes which act as tiny syringes. The sting comes from the combination of histamine, serotonin and formic acid (similar to the venom injected by stinging and biting formicine ants). The pain is a sharp, tingling sting, and on my skin, leaves small white bumps with reddish swelling. To avoid this, always wear gloves when picking, use a salad spinner and tongs to wash, then blanch the greens in salted water to neutralize the venom before eating.

Rather than haphazardly add nettles to ordinary foods to bolster their nutritional content, I really wanted to showcase the nettles as a primary flavor in a variety of dishes. I put together a menu that would spotlight the stinging nettle in myriad ways:

nässelsoppa (Scandinavian nettle soup) with dill and chive crème fraîche
mixed greens with Granny Smith apples, crumbled smoked fontina and honey-nettle vinaigrette
lamb steak and pan-roasted baby potatoes with nettle pesto
nettle gratin with Pecorino and nutmeg cream

While I prepped dinner, we enjoyed a light cocktail that I created and named the Caddisfly Nymph (after the little water bug upon which salmon and trout feed, and an indicator of healthy streams): 6 oz of Prosecco with a half ounce of elderflower syrup (sold as Flädersaft at Ikea) and a tiny splash of Peychaud bitters (for pinkness and herbal twang). It's flora and girlishness in a glass.

Nässelsoppa is a traditional Scandinavian nettle soup, though I tweaked it slightly by adding cream to the freshly-made chicken stock for richness and body. I sauteed onions and garlic in cultured butter until softened and translucent, added the nettles and chicken stock and simmered until tender (about 15 minutes). I added a glug of heavy cream and some chopped fresh dill, ran the immersion blender through it until smooth, and then returned it to the stove until warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste, then top with crème fraîche mixed with minced chives.

The salad followed the standard formula: mixed greens + fruit+ cheese (tart Granny Smith apples and crumbled smoked fontina from Willamette Valley Cheese Company). The vinaigrette was a loose pistou of nettles, honey, walnut oil, balsamic and sherry vinegars, minced shallot and Dijon mustard. A crunch of salt and pepper finished the salad.

The main was a grilled lamb leg steak (my favorite cut - less commitment than a whole leg and a cinch to cook) and pan-roasted baby Yukon golds smeared liberally with a thick pesto of nettles, garlic, olive oil, pumpkin seeds and the last nub of Manchego (the nuttiness of which nicely complements the smoky earthiness of the nettles).

The gratin was made by layering the blanched nettles into a buttered casserole, then pouring on some hot cream and milk, a generous scratching of fresh nutmeg and then a thick layer of Pecorino Romano. I covered the crock loosely with aluminum foil for the first 45 minutes then browned, uncovered, for the final 20 or so minutes. Rich, creamy, nutty - it was perfect with the meat and potatoes and will be delicious served over pasta as a leftovers lunch.

I was initially going to make a dessert (not using nettles - this isn't Iron Chef for fuck's sake), but Greta had cardamom molten chocolate cakes with ginger-rum ice cream waiting for us at her place, and who can really argue with that? No one, that's who.

I hope you live near some wet woods or a soft streambank. If you don't, then maybe you'll be inspired to take a drive to the country for a free taste of fecundity and nature's produce section. Don't be afraid to get your feet wet, and you might find yourself a tasty dinner.