Tag Archives: fast

Banh mi at home

My brother has said that I eat like a trucker, and when it comes to this particular sandwich that is probably accurate…

Even though I made them on Saturday night for fun, and even though Alistair’s birthday was only two days later, he still begged for banh mi for his birthday. As I like to be obliging about birthday dinner, and because banh mi are definitely high on my list of most delicious foods, I didn’t need any convincing to make them again. I would happily eat banh mi three times a week! So we had sticky pork banh mi two times in three days.

You might ask (especially if you live in Seattle) why would anyone make banh mi when you can get quite a decent one in the ID for $3? Yes, banh mi are practically a dime a dozen and yes, almost anyone I ask has their very favorite banh mi spot, but it doesn’t matter. I still love to make these little sandwiches at home. Homemade, the daikon and carrot pickle is tangier and crunchier, the meat more tender and caramelized, warm from the grill with glistening charred and sticky edges, and the herbs and greens are so crisp it might seem they are speaking directly to you in Vietnamese. Also, since nobody expects homemade banh mi – they’re such a takeout item – I love to surprise people by making my own.

Caramelized Pork Banh Mi serves 4 generously

Caramelized pork

  • (2) 3/4 lb pork tenderloins, sliced to 1/4″ thick on the diagonal
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 4-5 tbsp warm water
  • 2 tsp Nước chấm (fish sauce)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 plump shallots, chopped and mashed in a mortar and pestle, or minced fine
  1. In a small heavy duty saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium high heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the syrup has caramelized and is the color of an old penny – a rich deep reddish brown, not burnt though. You’ll know by the scent.
  2. Add 4 or 5 tbsp warm water – stand back a little! It will spatter and spit. Set aside to cool.
  3. When cool, put the caramel in a medium sized bowl and add the Nước chấm, soy and shallots.
  4. Start the grill.
  5. 20 minutes before you plan to start grilling the meat, toss the pork in the marinade and leave on the counter.
  6. Over hot coals or a with the gas set on high, grill the pork for 2 minutes on each side. As the slices come off the grill, stack them on a warm platter.

Daikon and Carrot Pickle

  • 1 fat daikon radish, peeled and trimmed
  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. warm tap water
  1. If you love to julienne vegetables, go for it and cut the daikon and carrot into  3/32″ matchsticks. I used to do that. Now I use the fat grater attachment on my food processor. 
  2. Put the julienned or grated daikon and carrot in a colander and set it in the sink. Toss the carrot and daikon with 2 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of salt. Let them sit for 10 or 15 minutes. Then rinse and shake the excess water out.
  3. Dissolve the sugar in the warm tap water and add the vinegar. Toss in the rinsed carrot and daikon and refrigerate until ready to use. This will keep covered in your fridge for a week.
To assemble you’ll need:
  • mayonnaise
  • Two good handfuls of washed cilantro leaves
  • shredded romaine
  • sliced green chili – jalapeño or serrano
  • 2 crisp baguettes (not too chewy!!), sliced into 6 -8″ lengths on the diagonal
  1. Slice the baguette down the length to make a long sandwich.
  2. Spread the bread with mayonnaise.
  3. In this order, stack sliced pork, romaine, carrot-daikon pickle, cilantro and sliced chili. They’re done!
There are people who might quibble that I didn’t include pate, much less head cheese, vietnamese sausage or braised pork belly. Knock yourself out – if that’s what you like. However, this pork is so sticky and smokily perfumed – it’s all I want.
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I laughed. I cried. I ate a lot of biscuits.

There are people who expect biscuits alongside their dinner and then there is everyone else.

We were not biscuit eaters growing up. We were popover people. We also had a thing for Yorkshire pudding.  There are good reasons to love popovers. You don’t need to worry about over-handling the dough (as with biscuits) or about yeast and timing as you might with dinner rolls. Popovers are so easy to throw together, as well as being rather elegant – why branch out? In comparison, I always imagined biscuits to be a little doughy and there is a mythology about what type of flour to use and dough handling that seems somewhat opaque. (I must confess that my only real biscuit eating experience came from sporadic visits to Kentucky Fried Chicken – perhaps not the ideal place to form an opinion.) Also, culturally, they belong in the south and we are decidedly not southern. Regularly making biscuits here in Seattle would make about as much sense as nicknaming your son Bubba. Aren’t biscuits a regional speciality? Something to dabble with when serving ham or catfish? We served ham with scalloped potatoes. Biscuits were never a consideration.

And then my friend Alicia sent me that book I told you about, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, and all my carefully formed opinions (some might say biases) went flying out the window. I’m still not sure what inspired me to make Sweet Potato Biscuits. We don’t even eat sweet potatoes that often so it wasn’t like I had a lonely sweet potato sitting on the counter. Perhaps it was the photograph. Anyway, since last week I have made the Sweet Potato Biscuits four times! Actually, since I doubled the recipe three of those times, it might mean that I have made them seven times this week!

It was not a week without troubles. While the dough was gorgeous, flecked deep orange and webbed with airy bubbles, the biscuits did not always rise as high as I hoped they would, although the first batch was reasonable. That batch rose to a height of about 3/4 of an inch. Still, I felt they could be better. The next try, the biscuits turned out distinctly and disappointingly flat.  See below.

Ridiculously flat. They were edible - but only just.

I wondered if it was because at Trader Joe’s the yams were masquerading as sweet potatoes. (I knew from the beginning they were really yams but had forged ahead anyway) Or, was it because I simply don’t have the mythic Southern touch?!

I went out and bought a real pale fleshed sweet potato and this time they were about 3/4 of an inch again, but still no better than the first batch I made originally with yams. However, despite all my troubles with flat or flat-ish biscuits, I couldn’t walk away. Sweetly tender, enriched by the vivid starchy mash, these biscuits had such possibilities! If I could get them to rise just a little higher, the sky would be the limit, so to speak. Imagine adding a little crumbled bacon, or fried sage leaves? What about some chopped chili? Could there be a place for andouille sausage? Fried crisp and crumbled into the dough? How about a little candied ginger?…but that would have to wait. First I would have to find the right recipe.

I found recipes by Paula Deen and Southern Cooking (obviously), and Martha Stewart, but finally settled on one from Chow.com.  All the recipes looked excellent and from them I gleaned that everyone has trouble getting Sweet Potato Biscuits to rise as high as the plain kind. Some added baking soda in addition to the baking powder. Some used buttermilk. Most added more flour than called for in my original recipe. Many advised to make roll out biscuits as opposed to the drop kind, opining that if they were packed a little closer together they would lift and stabilize each other. The discussion sounded so Southern. Because there was a cup of leftover mashed sweet potato in my refrigerator from the last experiment, I got started right away.

30 minutes later: Success! Part of the fun of biscuits is that they are actually quite easy to whip up and this recipe doesn’t require hard-to-find White Lily or Southern Biscuit Flour – the traditional choice for Southern biscuit makers. When it comes time to knead, back off a little. This dough needs no man-handling. Just work on a well floured board. Initially, I made these to go with a beautiful baked ham but now, my family imagines that they go with everything. Although maybe not Chinese food or pizza…

Sweet Potato Biscuits (minimally adapted from Chow.com)

Imagine making a tiny version with chutney and sharp white cheddar to go with cocktails….

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk or 3/4 cup whole milk + 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato) or yam
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), frozen
  • Heavy cream, for brushing the tops

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F  with the rack set in the middle of the oven.
  2.  Using a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.
  3.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk the buttermilk and sweet potato together until smooth.
  4. Using the largest holes in a box grater, grate the frozen butter. Toss with dry ingredients until butter is evenly dispersed through the flour.
  5. Pour in the buttermilk and sweet potatoes. Mix lightly until dough forms a shaggy mass.
  6. Flour the counter and turn out the dough. Knead gently – for about 30 seconds, – just until the dough hangs together. It will still be sort of shaggy.
  7. Pat into a circle  with floured hands to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Using a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, cut the dough into rounds.  Push the scraps together again and cut out the rest. Discard the rest of the dough as too much handling makes for tough biscuits.
  8. Put a piece of parchment on a baking sheet. Place the biscuits on top and brush them with heavy cream.
  9. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
To roast a sweet potato or yam for use in this recipe, set the oven to 375. Place either one large or two medium sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or so – until very soft. Cool, mash, and get started.

Now that that’s taken care of I will go make myself a ham and fried egg sandwich on a warm sweet potato biscuit…

For more on traditional biscuit making see this article.

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Swiss Chard

I’m writing this from the car in the corner of the parking lot at the soccer field. My kids got a weird combination of Cliff bars, macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks and apple slices for dinner tonight, depending on where they were going and what they were doing. Last night was slightly better.

I have been missing making dinner but I didn’t know how much until I got out my big sauté pan. The way it clangs as I drag it over the iron grate on the stove – I love that sound. My black apron with the orange pig embroidered on the bib has been hanging limply on its peg for weeks. I wrap the long strings twice around my waist then tie them in a bow in front. On the table is a heap of chard, rainbow stems poking out from the wide green leaves, papery garlic, a bottle of aged vinegar with a tiny cork on top, a tall slim green bottle of olive oil and a little prep bowl of dried chili.

I roll up my sleeves. Set the heat to medium high. Then peel and slice a couple of cloves of garlic. Swing an open bottle of green olive oil in a wide circle over the hot pan. A good pinch of dried chili, rough on my fingertips and stinging them a little bit. The garlic goes in then there’s the sizzle and the scent. Don’t let the pan get too hot. In about a minute the garlic slowly becomes golden, molten and then the air is charged with it. I lift a mountain of wet ribbons of rainbow chard and heap them in, up and over the edge of the pan. Turned with a wooden spoon, over and over. They settle down and soften. Pop the lid on and turn down the heat. In ten minutes with a few tosses and turns, they’re nearly done. A splash of sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, a little softened butter and a generous pinch of sea salt. Finished. 12 minutes worth of work.

I am not sure why making chard this way is so gratifying. It just is.

 Sautéed Swiss Chard 

  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of red chili flakes
  • sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • softened unsalted butter
  • sea salt
  1.  Wash the chard carefully and slice into 1” ribbons. Do not dry it.
  2. Heat a 12” sauté pan over medium heat heat while you peel the 2 cloves of garlic and slice them thinly.
  3. Pour the olive oil over the pan. It should shimmer immediately.
  4. Add the chili and the garlic. Stir until the garlic is deeply golden. Don’t burn it whatever you do. Brown garlic is bitter and not in a good way.
  5. When the garlic is golden, add the chard. Toss until it settles down a little and is coated with the olive oil. Clamp a lid on top, turn down the heat and wait 5 minutes.
  6. Take a peek and toss it. Does it look dry? Add a tablespoon or two of water. Stir and clamp down the lid again. In five minutes the chard should be tender.
  7. Remove the lid and toss in the butter. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of vinegar over the top. Season with salt to taste – I think about 1/2 a teaspoon should do the trick.

I didn’t write about the kalbi skewers I picked up at the grocery store. Or the nice but bland jasmine rice on the side. There wasn’t much to say about this dinner, but after weeks of bland quick cooking before soccer practice, that little hit of hot garlic was so satisfying.

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A Perfect Day for Gazpacho

I am on vacation. If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I usually take the summers off. This is never intentional. Summer should be the best time of year for writing about food and as I spend a good part of the summer in California, I have tons to write about. So, today I am up at 6:00, the sun just burning through the early morning fog. Everyone is still asleep so I can sort through photos, tap away on the keyboard, sip a large bowl of cafe au lait and write in peace! Through the open window, I think I hear an owl. When I look up, the valley is barely visible through the twisted branches of the live oaks outside. It is cool up here in the front bedroom with the breeze blowing through the open windows. Nothing like how hot it will be by noon. In a couple of hours, I’ll drive down the road to the farm in San Martin so we can have gazpacho for lunch. There, the tomatoes almost burst in the heat, the cucumbers staked under their their wide green leaves are crisp and cool, and the air is spicy with garlic.

There are two ways to make gazpacho. You can hand chop the vegetables or you can puree them in a blender. Hand chopping vegetables into precise smithereens seems like a waste of time on a blisteringly hot day, when the tomatoes are perfect for gazpacho. On hot days, you shouldn’t have to work too hard just to make a little lunch. This is why you have a blender.

Gazpacho - serves 10

  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 (2-inch) piece baguette or if you don’t have any on hand (I didn’t) 1 slice of any kind of sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 15 very ripe medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 medium English cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika (smoked paprika has gone so mainstream they even sell it at Trader Joe’s!)
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. In a blender, soak bread in tomato juice for 15 minutes.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, salt, and smoked paprika. Blend again until smooth.
  4. With motor running, slowly add the vinegar, then the olive oil.
  5. If you have the patience, chill for 4 hours, then serve. I had a bowl right away with an ice cube in it, and then another bowl 4 hours later.
The Garnish
  • 1/2 cucumber, finely diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In medium bowl, toss together all ingredients.
  2. Ladle gazpacho into bowls.
  3. Spoon chopped vegetable mixture into middle of each bowl, dividing evenly among bowls. Serve immediately.

Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 2 days.

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Eggs: Lime Saffron Aioli, Champagne Sabayon and Duck Eggs. Not all at once, obviously.

Here are some true things about me and eggs.

  1. I had to eat an egg in some form every single day before school when I was growing up.
  2. We were a mayonnaise eating family, we made our own, and, we kept it on the counter for a week. (If there was any left. Often there wasn’t.) I could make mayonnaise by the time I was 10. In a blender. Mayonnaise is a raw egg based sauce – in case you aren’t familiar with how you make it.
  3. Deviled eggs are a particular weakness of mine and my sister’s. My uncle makes loads of them for the annual Christmas party and we park ourselves right by the tray and shamelessly pop them in our mouths until they are gone. You make deviled eggs with mayonnaise.
  4. One of the best desserts I ever had was at a little bistro in the Village in New York.  I can’t remember what was for dinner at all, but the warm sabayon with fresh tiny wild berries was like…I really hate to write stuff like angel’s nectar but there really is no other way to describe that ethereal nearly white cloud of beaten eggs and champagne. Of course I had to figure out how to make it at home.
  5. I find duck eggs to be delicious but a little bit freaky. They’re so huge.

I have been thinking about eggs a lot this weekend, as you might have guessed. Earlier this year, I wrote about Mary Alice and the amazing eggs she gets from Tender and  Nugget, her urban chickens. Well, on Friday morning she dropped by with a gorgeous basket of those eggs, a dozen, unwashed, just for me. And then, you’ll never believe this, my excellent neighbor Susan, went to the farmer’s market on Sunday and brought me half a dozen duck eggs.

Is there no end to my good fortune?!

This is what we made:

Sunday Night:

Lime and saffron aioli for grilled halibut with parsley, orange and shallot salad

Lemon Tart

Monday Night:

Poached duck eggs on toast with prosciutto, grilled asparagus, truffle oil butter and kosher sea salt (and yes I think the salt is important enough to mention)

Champagne Sabayon with Strawberries, Blueberries and Figs

I dream of dinners completed in half an hour and both the fish and the poached egg on toast fit the bill. And aren’t they so pretty? I’ve made the halibut before. I’ve made the poached egg before too. Poaching a duck egg is the same as a chicken egg – so that’s easy. Varying the halibut recipe is just adding a few ingredients to the mayonnaise recipe.

Lime Saffron Aioli

all ingredients should be at room temperature

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp lime juice and the rind of the lime, removed with a rasp
  • 1/8 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp hot water
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 small clove of garlic, grated
  • 3/4 cup mild oil, like canola

 

  1. Put the tsp of hot water in a tiny bowl with the saffron and leave to steep and cool. It’s such a small amount of water it will take no time.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with the lime juice, salt, water and saffron and garlic until loose.
  3. Put the canola oil in a liquid measuring cup and as you whisk fiercely, drip the oil in very slowly, paying careful attention that it is completely incorporated before adding more. As the oil is incorporated, the mayonnaise should thicken into a silky looking sauce.
  4. As it thickens you can add the oil in a very thin stream, slightly faster than a drip.
  5. When all the oil is incorporated, the sauce should be glossy and supple and hold its shape softly when you dab at it with a spoon (Hopefully, you’re tasting your masterpiece!) Add the lime zest and taste for seasoning.

The parsley and orange salad is a cinch. Just use all the leaves from an entire bunch of parsley, the sections from two oranges carefully cut between the membranes and some of those thinly sliced shallots macerated in champagne vinegar. Add a little extra virgin olive oil, the reserved orange juice and some sea salt and you’re done.

Champagne Sabayon

Be careful to use a very large bowl for the double boiler. I should have used my large Pyrex mixing bowl. The sabayon foams up a lot – more than quadrupling its volume.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup champagne
  • 2 tbsp St. Germaine liqueur, optional
  1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in the top of a double boiler set over boiling water.
  2. When the eggs and sugar are foamy, add the champagne. Whisk constantly for 10 minutes or use your electric hand mixer. That’s what I do.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the St. Germaine.
  4. Serve warm in wide bowls with fresh beautifully ripe fruit.

I thought I would make this for the entire family for dessert but it turns out it tastes too “grown-up drink-ish” for kids. It didn’t matter. Martin and I piggishly ate almost the entire thing. I guess if I’m going to describe this as “angel’s nectar” I can say it was “heaven”.

I wonder what a deviled duck egg would taste like?! If I try one over the next few days I’ll let you know. I have three more.

 

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Delicious Detox Day 5 – A bit hungry

5:00 AM. Saturday morning. The sun is out for the first time in months and my bedroom is too bright. The birds are shrill. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the sun or the birds though. I’m awake. Nobody else in my house is. I’m awake because I. Am. Starving.

I look over at Martin who is snoring softly. To my ear, incessantly. I think I might be able to go back to sleep, despite my growling stomach if only…I give him a quick kick. Just a little one. A stage whisper – You’re snoring! Roll over! He snorts and flips over muttering. I look at the clock. 5:07. Ugh. Too early to get up. I could sneak down to the living room with a book but I don’t. I’m too hungry.

After an eternity of tossing, I see that it is 5:55. Since it is so bright outside I wonder if there is any chance that this might be perceived as a reasonable time for a cup of coffee?! A latte would totally help. Ooh, and maybe a little sandwich! How early can I wake Martin? Maybe today I can wake him up pretty early. The sun is very bright and perhaps he’ll think it’s later than it really is…

I nudge him with my elbow and whisper – Hey, are you awake?! – He sighs then groans. – Wha?! Wha’s wrong?! –  I try to smile winningly at his closed eyes, hoping he’s peeking but he is totally fast asleep and me smiling isn’t helping at all.  Maybe I can hold out a little longer.

6:15 AM. I think this might be when the timer on our coffee maker starts the drip and the scent of coffee should start wafting up the stairs at any moment. The coffee could be ready in less than 5 minutes! I toss dramatically and sigh, yanking the covers in my direction. One of Martin’s eyes pops open. He stares at me blearily and then his eyes drift shut again. I think he read my mind. – The coffee doesn’t start until 6:45 on the weekends. So don’t look at me like that. – If he could roll his eyes he would, but his eyes are closed. I have to plead. – Oh please, I’m starving!– and I try smiling winningly again. No dice.

I think he can probably feel the intense beam of my gaze against his eyelids. – Sarah. My legs aren’t working yet, I can’t even move my arms. I am not ready to get up. You’ll have to make the coffee if you want it this early.

I am so desperately hungry though. Too hungry to make coffee. Too hungry to make toast. So I beg. He caves. Thank goodness!

Ten minutes later Martin returns, shaking his head, rolling his eyes, but he is carrying a tray. A steaming bowl of a latte scented with nutmeg and cinnamon, a tiny but excellent sandwich, sharp Italian cheese, bitter marmalade and butter – on this special bread Martin makes for Siri. It has spelt flour in it, and dried apricots and hazelnuts. This is such a marvelous breakfast. Especially if you have been over-zealously detoxing the previous day.

Blame my irrational behavior on extreme hunger please. There is no other explanation. And then, if you are taking the month off from any kind of crap bread, sugar, red meat and are finding yourself starving at inconvenient times, check out the following recipe. My cousin gave it to me. It is perfect for a healthy afternoon pick-me-up. I made it for a cocktail party this weekend and then immediately made another batch for me. Lima beans have a bad rap so don’t let them put you off. Lima Bean Pate is an herbaceous and lemony, gorgeously green spread for little crostini (for the kids, as almost no bread is delicious enough for Delicious Detox) or for crisp vegetable delivery devices – like celery, red and orange pepper or cucumber.  Lima Bean Pate can be ready in about 20 minutes – 15 of which is hands off.  It is the perfect afternoon snack. Very nice.

Lima Bean Pate

(adapted from The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook)

  • 2 c. water
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 c. frozen baby lima beans
  • 1/4 c. tightly packed fresh mint leaves (from about 6 stems), washed and dried
  • 1/4 c. tightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (from about 6 stems), washed and dried
  • 2 tbsp  lowfat buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil over high heat. Add the lima beans and let boil until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water for about 2 minutes to cool. Shake the colander several times to drain as much water from the beans as possible.
  2. Place the beans and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to a smooth, thick puree, about three 30-second-long pulses. Between pulses, push any of the mixture that clings to the side of the processor toward the blade with a rubber spatula before pulsing again.
  3. Season the pate to taste with salt and pepper and transfer it from the processor to a small bowl or plastic container. Cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use, not more than 3 days.

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Delicious Detox: now I’m ready

I was serious. I mean, I am serious. I fully intend to take the entire month of May to eat intentionally and thoughtfully. Spring is actually a tough time to eat healthily because at our house we have to eat a lot of cake. Starting in February with Martin’s birthday which is quickly followed by Leo’s, then Alistair’s, with Siri’s trailing a month after, I make and eat more cake in the spring than at any other time of the year. In the midst of all that cake-eating celebration we have school auctions as well, which are festivals of even more towering desserts. So it’s not so much Spring (which was awfully cold, wet and un-spring-like this year) as cake season. The abundance of cake works well actually, as a slice of cake with a small cup of dark coffee and a splash of cream on a rainy day makes Seattle seem less soggy. If you lived here you’d agree with me. Anyway, here’s a photo of the final cake – Siri’s. Genoise with cream, custard and raspberry jam, covered in marzipan turned green with matcha tea…

Delicious doesn’t even come close. We finished that one off yesterday.

So, because of the last birthday coinciding with the beginning of May, today I’m resetting the start date of the delicious detox. This means plain yogurt and fruit for breakfast, a single egg omelette with cheese for lunch. If I must snack, an apple will have to suffice. Dinner could be almost anything and tonight it’s a big salad. Trawling through the grocery store, I found radicchio, a bulb of fennel, more asparagus. Tonight I will splash them with olive oil (just a little), sprinkle sea salt over the top, roast everything until crisp, arrange over lettuce and arugula, toss in some leftover grilled chicken. Then, I’ll strew toasted walnuts over the top and maybe a bit of goat cheese – and be done with it. The kids will get basil pesto and spaghetti to fill in the gaps. (I will not be having any of that!)

Roast Vegetable Salad with Chicken – serves 2 generously

  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered with a little core attached to each piece to hold it together
  • 12 asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 1 head radicchio, rinsed and quartered
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • two handfuls arugula, washed and dried
  • a small red lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite sized pieces
  • either a shallot, thinly sliced or a couple of scallions, thinly sliced
  • a handful of toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (Just crumble it yourself. The pre-crumbled kind is weird.)
  • leftover grilled chicken
  • olive oil
  • 2 tbsp walnut oil
  • 2 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • sea salt and black pepper

1. Set the oven to 425.

Raw fennel

2. Toss the fennel slices with a little olive oil and set them on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast for 30 – 40 minutes until caramelized and cooked through. You may want to turn them after 20 minutes. Set aside.

Raw radicchio

3. Do not dry the radicchio thoroughly. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and the fresh thyme leaves.  (Or, as you can see, whole sprigs if you are in a hurry.) After the fennel has been in the oven for 10 minutes add the pan with the radicchio. Turn the radicchio after 15 minutes and continue to roast until tender. The fennel and radicchio should be done at approximately the same time. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Roast radicchio and fennel

4. Set the oven to broil.

5. Toss the asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Broil for 4 minutes, turning the asparagus once half way through.

6. Whisk 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp walnut oil, and 2 tbsp champagne vinegar together until emulsified. Add a pinch of sea salt and several grindings of pepper.

7. Arrange the arugula and lettuce on a large platter. Place the radicchio, fennel, asparagus and chicken over the leaves. Toss the walnuts and goat cheese over the top. Dress.

The heat of the oven transforms the floral notes of fennel to caramel. The radicchio loses it’s bitter edge and the flavors turn round, rich and warm. I like the contrasts too. Cool creamy and tangy goat cheese. The bitter crunch of toasted walnuts. Soft green leaves. The slick of walnut oil in the dressing adds another compelling note.

I don’t know if the kids would have liked this or not as they didn’t end up getting any. Martin and I ate so quickly. We were starving.

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Clyde Common: grilled lamb, herbed Israeli couscous, harissa

Picture this: Nine o’clock in the evening. The sun has just set, its glow tracing a silvery edge over the ridge of the West Hills. Even in the dark, the leaves of the street trees stand out, clearly bright green. People are laughing and talking, their voices distant, maybe half way round the block.  The air is so soft and warm, a bit muggy, scented with the herbal pungency of flowering trees. I step out to dinner in a cotton dress and sandals, no sweater, even though it’s late. It’s that kind of night.

Walking around in Northwest Portland at any time of the year in search of something to eat is a pleasure but it’s my idea of perfect when it’s so warm after dark. Given the circumstances, I might be able to chalk up my obsession with the lamb skewers and Israeli couscous we ate at Clyde Common two years ago in early August to that perfect Northwest summer evening. Or it could have been the cocktail: gin, St. Germain, champagne, bitters and a little beaten egg white – I swear I can still taste it. Or the french fries, shatteringly crisp, with harissa and creme fraiche. (See, I still remember every single detail and it’s been two years!)

But the lamb! It was charred on the outside, tender and pink on the inside. I kind of hate the word morsel, but it evokes the tenderness and savory more-ishness of these skewers. Then of course there’s the couscous underneath, bright with preserved lemon and parsley, studded with toasted hazelnuts, and just to the side deep red harissa streaking around, fiery and compelling. Maybe it’s because of my current obsession with Plenty, and the myriad couscous variations I’ve been cooking, I feel that now I’m ready to riff on that excellent Clyde Common meal, no problem.

So I can’t conjure up any summer weather; it’s still freezing here in Seattle. It’s ok. I can make this.

Lamb Skewers with Herbed Israeli Couscous, Grilled Lemons and Harissa

Serves 4.

Lamb Skewers

I tried both a yogurt marinade for the lamb and an olive oil version. I liked how the lamb became very tender after bathing in yogurt for 24 hours. However, I wanted a deeply browned edge, and you don’t get that with a yogurt marinade, so I switched it up and went with olive oil. Much better.

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf or two
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • kosher sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs butterflied leg of lamb – silver skin trimmed away and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  1. Combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay, rosemary, shallots, 1 tsp salt and several grindings of black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork.
  2. Pour marinade into a gallon ziplock bag and toss in the lamb. Seal the bag, pushing out all the air, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade and pat the lamb dry with a paper towel. Thread the meat onto short skewers. Don’t crowd. Brush the cut ends of the lemons with the marinade. Grill the lamb over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes turning 2 or 3 times, basting now and then.  During the last 3 minutes, grill the lemons, cut sides down. Arrange all over the couscous and serve immediately.

Herbed Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Toasted Hazelnuts

  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 preserved lemon, flesh scooped out and discarded, rind slivered
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed away in a dishtowel
  1. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the couscous in  the olive oil. After 2 0r 3 minutes, when it has browned a little, add the stock and the butter. Turn the heat to high and when the stock begins to simmer, clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to low.
  2. After ten minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and stir in the parsley, scallions, preserved lemon and hazelnuts.
  3. Mound in the center of a large platter and arrange the lamb skewers over the top. Serve with a bowl of harissa and the grilled lemons.

lamb skewers, Israeli couscous, grilled lemon, harissa

 

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Goat Cheese Honey Basil

Last week, Alistair had a couple of friends over after school. One of them has these little wire glasses, is rather small and is sort of nerdy. He usually wears too big camo-pants and a baggy t-shirt. Somehow he managed to disengage from the vortex of video games in the living room and make his way into the kitchen where I was kind of enjoying that all those boys were otherwise occupied. Oh well. He peered hungrily at my plate – Do you have anything to eat? What is that?! –  I should mention that I actually really like this kid. He’s very curious and he’s game for almost anything I serve. This time, molten goat cheese on toast with honey and basil. It was what I happened to have on hand.

Four o’clock on a Friday afternoon is a good time for a slightly decadent snack and this one is easy. I always have goat cheese and honey, and somehow, I even had fresh basil in a box in the fridge. You spread the cheese thickly on a slice of baguette, run it under the broiler until browned and bubbling, drip honey over the top and garnish with a basil leaf or two. That’s it. My sister-in-law made them and served them with cocktails on a dulcet summer evening on her terrace at the edge of a forest outside of Stockholm. It was late and the stars were just coming out, you could see them through the silhouette of the canopy of trees; the sun lurking just below the horizon. That was a lovely night. However, if standing around the kitchen counter on a sunny Friday afternoon, with a quirky and engaging ten year old, is where you happen to be, that will do nicely. Alistair’s friend took a bite, then his eyes kind of bugged out and he smiled. Then he said articulately – Wow. – I could tell he really liked them because he ate several. When we ran out of toast, we switched to oat crackers, which we didn’t toast for obvious reasons. It was still an excellent snack, we agreed.

This tiny ten year old and I stood at the counter together, me happy to have remembered this little bit of deliciousness and him marveling at how completely scrumptious it was. What a cool kid.

Warm Goat Cheese Toasts with Honey and Basil

  • soft mild goat cheese
  • honey
  • sliced rustic bread or sliced baguette or even an excellent whole grain cracker
  • basil leaves, washed and dried
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Toast the bread lightly then spread thickly with goat cheese. Broil until bubbling  and golden.
  3. Drizzle honey over the cheese and top with a whole basil leaf or two.
Because I was sharing my hor d’oeuvres with a ten year old, I drank mineral water and let him have root beer.  If you have a bottle of cold dry white wine though, I would open it up and have a glass. It’s nearly Friday night after all.

 

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Rather Exciting Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

There is something unbearably grim about March. There are some signs of spring, sure. In the back of the garden, vibrant, yellow, witch hazel blooms and the bobbing maroon, green, and white petals of hellebore sway crazily in the wind. A few weeks later, near the trellis, little purple crocuses poke up bravely. I say that because they’re getting beaten down by hail, driving rain, and then blanketed with wet snow. It’s a good thing they’re so short or they’d be flattened.

On top of all this bad weather, I’m sick of bad weather cooking. Long simmering stews?! Again?! Not another soup. Or a roast. Really, no more haunches of animals, thanks. On Saturday, we were very busy so I didn’t have time for a big cooking marathon anyway. Even though I am partial to a Saturday cooking project, they’re hard to fit in with family life. So. What I am supposed to make for dinner?

I’ll tell you. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But with a twist. I didn’t grow up with Campbell’s Tomato Soup or grilled American cheese sandwiches so I am not at all invested in that gestalt. What I am offering here is hardly the garden-variety tomato soup and sandwich of your youth. No. This is creamy tomato soup as you probably remember, but made smoky with bacon and hot Spanish paprika. The cheese sandwich oozes taleggio over satiny folds of Italian prosciutto and roasted salt and peppery asparagus. If you can get your hands on some buffalo taleggio, you better go for it. I have to say, not only is this menu completely delicious, but, the colors are ravishing and the perfect antidote to dreary grey skies.

Saturday night soup and sandwich: it could be really boring but I promise you, it’s not.

Smoky Tomato Soup - for 4

I suppose it takes about an hour, a lazy hour, to put this together. And if you have a picky child, you could substitute Monterey Jack for the taleggio and skip the ham and asparagus. Please though, no American cheese.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 slices of bacon, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced, not too finely
  • kosher sea salt
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp hot pimentón (smoked paprika)
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 cups low salt chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large heavy saucepan or smaller dutch oven, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium high heat. When the bacon is just crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon  and set aside on paper towels.
  2. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the bacon fat and cook for about 5 minutes. The onion should soften and brown slightly.
  3. Add the flour, thyme, and pimentón, and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook with the lid slightly ajar and stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
  6. Stir in the cream and return to the boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with the bacon and as I often say, with home-made croutons. So worth the small amount of extra work!

Fancy Grilled Cheese Sandwich - for 4

  • 8 slices rustic bread – I use Columbia Bread from the Essential Bakery – the pre-sliced loaf
  • 3/4 pound taleggio cheese
  • 4 slices of Italian prosciutto
  • 12 spears of asparagus – trimmed, tossed with 1 tbsp olive oil, dusted with kosher salt and pepper and broiled for 3 minutes turning once, until blistering and crisp tender.
  • olive oil and a pastry brush or spray olive oil
  1. Cut the taleggio into 16 thin slices and lay 2 on each slice of bread. This may not cover each slice of bread completely.
  2. Lay a slice of prosciutto over 4 slices of bread and 3 asparagus spears over the top. I think it looks pretty if the asparagus tops stick out beyond the edge of the bread.
  3. Place the slices of bread with just cheese on top of the asparagus. Brush or spray the sandwiches with olive oil and grill in a hot pan, or even better, a panini press until the bread is crisp-tender and the cheese is molten and oozing.

 

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