Tag Archives: cooking

Spring’s call

IMG_5944

After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

IMG_5922

I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

IMG_5954

Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

IMG_7460

Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

IMG_5958

Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

IMG_9362

Advertisements

Sugar, ah, honey honey

Moments of my life are an incredibly odd, barely-anyone-is-in-the-audience musical. I frequently have a song in my head related to what I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s my own snazzy made-up tune, other times it surprises me from the basement of my brain. Harry “benefits” from these songs quite regularly. He’d thinks it’d be funny to highlight my antics on a YouTube channel. Today’s post has me singing The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar.” Feel free to join me in your own at-home musical now or thank me for the earworm later.

I’ve realized that if you scroll through my blog recipes, it’s a little deceiving. I am quick to post favorite sweet recipes, the treats that punctuate our life, and less apt to share what is sustaining us between those moments. I’m basically showing you our exclamation points while leaving out the text. And those exclamation posts are rolling in sugar.

IMG_5331

Random soup I actually took a picture of simply because it was beautiful. This is an example of my CSA stone soup approach – purple potatoes in the base, some cooked quinoa I had in the fridge was tossed in, plus roasted romanesco and cauliflower thrown on top because why not.

There are various reasons for this pattern here. I typically follow recipes for desserts and they last long enough that I can sneak a picture or two without much fuss. In contrast, I’m a very practical cook. During peak produce seasons our meals are made from whatever the farm boxes and garden have provided. I throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pan and roast them, make a curry, piece together a soup, make a vegetable-rich pasta dish, or lay out various picnic-style nibbles, like cheese, eggs, bread, salad and fruit. Some of these meals feel worthy of sharing here, but I rarely think about photographing what I’ve cooked prior to us consuming it, let alone writing down the steps for how I made something. So, it doesn’t happen and I forget what I did a few months later, making up another soup instead.

I’m here to set the record straight. With a treasured soup recipe and an itty-bitty commentary on sugar.

In general, I like our approach to sugar. I don’t demonize it. I view it a lot like I view alcohol. We remain mindful that it can become addictive, over-consumed and lead to significant problems, but as an occasional treat it’s fine (for us). Basically, the only time I embrace sugar as a main ingredient is in desserts. I bake about once a week with whole fats and usually some percentage of whole grain flours. These desserts are rich and satisfying, so we rarely end up eating five cookies or three muffins in one sitting. Rarely.

Unfortunately, it takes dedicated label reading to ensure that sugar remains solely in desserts.

If you run into me at a grocery store and see me cursing at yogurt or a loaf of bread under my breath, it’s because I’ve just read the label. I am concerned that sugar has invaded the ingredient list of almost everything one finds on a shelf in grocery stores. It’s being used liberally in places few would expect it, turning savory, would-be-healthy foods into candy. Pasta sauces, salad dressings, crackers and dried fruit are being pumped with sweeteners. Now I’m occasionally even re-reading ingredient lists of things I buy regularly to confirm they haven’t changed. I’ve noticed that as popular brands get bought off by bigger companies, sugar gets added or increased.

Our everyday food routine is pretty simple and mostly sugar free. We drink water and things steeped in water. We rarely buy juice and almost never purchase soda. Our regular breakfast rotation includes oatmeal and eggs. One weekend morning we eat buttermilk pancakes that are sweetened with maple syrup (there’s no sugar in my batter, unlike boxed mixes). I make a maple syrup and brown sugar sweetened granola somewhat regularly. Weekday lunches for the boys include simple vegetarian sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg for Charlie, some cheeses, sliced fruit and veggies. Harry and I usually eat leftovers from a big dish of whatever I make Sundays (chili, soup, etc…), a salad or a sandwich. Our dinners are typically quite basic, too. Rice and roasted veggies, soft tacos, pastas, salads, soups and occasionally meat or fish with vegetable sides. Last night the boys ate quesadillas and frozen peas heated in butter while Harry and I finished off leftovers. This isn’t unusual. It’s the simplicity that helps us maintain the pattern.

This particular soup has nourished us for many winters. Years ago a relative handed me a newspaper clipping with the recipe and I risked it, despite hesitations with the lentils. It was my first exposure to red lentils and I wasn’t yet familiar enough with Melissa Clark to know that I could trust her taste. I immediately loved them ten times more than other lentils, so I’ve been making this soup multiple times a year for six years. I’ve tweaked it a bit along the way to suit our desires: thickening it up a bit, adding more carrots. We like it this way, but I also appreciate that it’s a very forgiving soup. Fewer lentils, more carrots, more lentils, fewer carrots. It can all work out. Just add broth or water if it’s too thick for your taste. The flavors will be nice either way. It’s a hearty, nourishing soup with enough lemon to remind you that spring will come.

IMG_5783

This is an “Oh! I should take a quick picture and blog this” shot. It’s really delicious. You’ll just have to trust me more than the picture.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Slightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe         Yields 6-8 servings

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch or two of cayenne, ground chili powder or paprika, more to taste
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (plus more broth, or water, if too thick)
  • 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through)
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more to taste
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, sauteing until softened and golden, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. To prevent burning, stir constantly for a couple minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the broth, lentils and carrot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring here and there, until the lentils are soft.

Puree at least half of the soup using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. (Be extra careful with hot soup and blenders.) Taste for salt and texture, adding salt, pepper, broth, water and/or further blending as desired. Stir in the lemon juice. Top with cilantro or parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or dusting of chili powder.

 

A case in point

I would put money on Brussels sprouts being the most hated vegetable among my generation. Too many of us were served them steamed to oblivion without an ounce of fat, grain of salt, or drop of acid to help them along. Because of that long history of disappointment, this is a great vegetable to experience after the transforming powers of roasting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If bacon is a gateway food for you, start there. There’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. I enjoy them roasted with balsamic, too. And, of course, let’s not forget about them with aged gouda and sriracha.

I’ve written in detail about Brussels sprouts before and this probably won’t be the last time, either. Having an arsenal of ten to twenty great brussel sprout recipes is not unreasonable, right? Maybe this blog should be called Brussels Sprouts and Baking. Anyways, I like them raw, shaved into salads, but I adore them caramelized from roasting so much that I would’ve eaten the entire pan last night if Harry didn’t object. Just don’t give them to me mushy and steamed.

IMG_5387

Our last CSA pick-up was a double. Two weeks of vegetables on our counter!

I didn’t set out to share this recipe here, but once I tasted them and groaned with delight, I snapped a few shots knowing what I needed to do. The one of the stalk was taken for my Instagram friends. I’m weirder and sillier there. (More myself- I’ll get there here, too. Baby steps.) I happen to post shots of vegetables in front of my face somewhat regularly, so this was sent out prior to knowing I’d share the recipe. Now, you too, can see what Brussel sprouts look like before they’re detached! (They have big leaves that stick out all around, too.)

This preparation presents the sprouts a bit brighter, and certainly a tad brinier. It would make an excellent Thanksgiving side, but also can stand alone nicely as a meal by itself. Throw an egg on it, poached or fried, and let that runny yolk add an extra saucy element. (The browned butter mixture can certainly be left off of kids’ portions. My boys aren’t huge fans of capers and although they ate a few bites, I think they would’ve eaten more without the sauce.)

IMG_5474

IMG_5475

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recipe comes from the queen of roasting and braising, Molly Stevens. Have you seen her James Beard award-winning books, All About Roasting and All About Braising? I don’t own them, but I check both out at least three to four times a year from the library. When I recommend savory cookbooks to new cooks, these top the list. She is an excellent teacher and clearly shares the rationale behind the techniques, helping novices feel comfortable along the way. Her recipes are tried and true, approachable and delicious. That braised cabbage I can’t get enough of? Hers. Our Thanksgiving roast last year was from her, as well. She’s the first chef I go to when I want to cook a huge, expensive chunk of meat but am scared.

IMG_5479

♬ These are a few of my favorite things! ♫

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter

From Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, yellow or brown
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 425℉ with a rack positioned in the center. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or just scrub later).

Cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters to make for bite-size pieces. Place them in a large bowl to toss with the olive oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange the coated sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. (You don’t want them crowded because they’ll steam instead of caramelizing.) If some leaves fall off that’s fine; leave them to roast, as well.

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice to encourage even cooking. They should be tender throughout and nicely browned.

To make the browned butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan (smaller than 6-inches across so that it doesn’t burn). Once it’s melted, add the mustard seeds, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the butter foams and turns golden brown. This will only take about 2-minutes, so watch carefully and swirl the pan frequently to prevent it from burning. Next, add the capers and lemon juice, removing the pan from the heat immediately. They’ll sizzle! Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until the sprouts are out of the oven. (The butter process took about five minutes. It could be started towards the end of the roasting period.)

Serve the sprouts after tossing them together with the browned butter mixture. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

 

 

Among the mushrooms + my first cookbook giveaway!

I find the lush wooded trails of the Pacific Northwest deeply alluring, somewhat mystical. My Colorado-trained hiking eyes are familiar with dry, rocky terrain. Here, however, I half expect a little gnome to run across the path and hide under a red capped mushroom. Or for Frodo’s hobbit hole to be revealed around the corner. A decade of northwest living has not yet accustomed me to the dense curtains of green that I had previously only envisioned through books and movies. Mostly fairytales.

Exploring Carkeek

IMG_5277

Massive ferns line the way amongst giant, moss covered evergreens. The rays of light that manage to peek through the canopy make for glistening moss and leaves. The return of rain in the fall awakens fungus, transforming the undergrowth. Mushrooms! They pop out to add dots of white, yellow and brown. Many congregate under the evergreens, others hang out on trunks.

Ever since reading The Mushroom Hunters, Langdon Cook’s fascinating account of our local foraging scene, I feel like the mushrooms tease me for my lack of skills. “Come here, little girl. Surely we’re safe! We’ll taste soooo good.” But, I am too smart and cautious of a woman to heed their tempting calls. Maybe someday I’ll learn to safely identify who is tricky and who is kind. In the meantime, I might require that every hike be followed by a trip to the market.

Angels or devils? I did not know, so I left them in peace.

Just like fresh, sustainable fish and well-sourced meat, I used to avoid buying mushrooms because I was afraid I’d end up throwing a lot of money into the compost bin. There are cheap button mushrooms to be found, for sure, but I longed to play with the chanterelles and the morels. Often these run over $15/lb at the market. They felt like a pretty serious commitment and I wasn’t yet confident cooking them.

Then, one summer evening in 2013, after hanging with the Two Crazy Monkeys all day, I drank a glass of wine. Or two. While checking email I discovered that one of my favorite Seattle chefs was doing a giveaway as part of her recipe testing for a mushroom focused cookbook. The person whose shroomy haiku won the most votes would win a tasting meal.

I’ve tasted Becky Selengut’s food more than a handful of times, through assisting several of her classes at The Pantry at Delancey and elsewhere. I also own Good FIsh, one of her other cookbooks. That book and its accompanying videos helped my brother and I take on an oyster shucking adventure, taught me how to choose and cook scallops, and guided me through my first time debearding mussels. Not only is she a great teacher, her food is delicious. I love mushrooms. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

A slightly-less-inhibited-than-usual-me contemplated my haiku. I realized that her fans and friends all shared a love for her wit and often irreverent humor so I fired off this little ditty:

Fungi kissed my log,

baby chanterelles emerged.

Morel of story?

AND I WON! Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed because there were some beautiful, truly poetic haikus written and mine was just a joke. But I won!

About a month before the dinner, Becky let me know the night would focus on the truffle section of her book. I’d never had even a taste of truffle before but was quite aware of its lure. I’m pretty sure I peed my pants. I danced and squealed my way to Harry, proclaiming how lucky we were. I didn’t know the half of it.

Becky and two of her closest friends greeted Harry and me at the door with champagne. I mean, come on! We can just stop there, right? It was our first date out in months. He didn’t have a job most of the summer and a babysitter was a big deal. To have a date and be greeted with champagne felt royal.

With champagne in one hand, the other soon held freshly baked gougères cut open to cradle a slice of white Alba truffle. We could’ve finished off the plate of those and called it a night. We all exhibited deep groans of appreciation. The rich man’s popcorn, “diamonds of the kitchen.” Whatever you call them, those things were absolutely amazing. I’m glad I soaked it in because I doubt I’ll ever eat one again. As Becky states in the section about what pairs well with them: “Truffles really like rich people.”

That was just the beginning. The night unfolded with one stunning dish after another, each paired with wine (Becky’s wife April is a sommelier and contributed drink pairings for the cookbook, as well as our evening). I know. I felt like Annie arriving at Oliver Warbucks’ house. Silken Scrambled Eggs with Shaved Alba White Truffles (about a 1:1 ratio of egg to cream/butter–a bite of pure heaven), Homemade Fettuccine with Shaved Truffle, Black Cod with Truffled Potatoes and Beurre Rouge, and Braised Rabbit with Truffle-Stuffed Rabbit Loin. We ate and drank all night. We laughed a ton. We shared a lot of stories. It was one of the best dinners of my life.

If you’re like me, you won’t be buying truffles to cook that dinner anytime soon. But, you’re still in luck. Shroom contains fifteen different chapters highlighting a specific mushroom (cremini to oyster, hedgehog to matsutake), with recipes ranging from easy to difficult. Additionally, there’s lots of background and prep help. If you’re on the fence about shelling up cash for something a step above creminis, Becky’s book will give you the confidence to buy, prepare and consume those beauties. A year ago I assisted with one of her mushroom classes at The Pantry. I walked away feeling much more confident with cooking them and have greatly enjoyed making many mushroom-centric meals since. (None were tossed out!) With the addition of her book and videos as a resource, my only question is how good the recipe will be. Delicious, amazing, divine? These are not bad options.

Pike Place Market loot: yellow chanterelles, basil and dahlias

Acquacotta soup with chanterelles + a basil/garlic puree

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have already made multiple recipes from Shroom and I have tasted many others during her classes, our dinner, and her book’s launch party. These recipes are flavorful and diverse. She highlights a wide range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian. Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles and Garlic on Toast nourished us well a few weeks ago. Normally I wouldn’t have been drawn to this recipe because I had no reference point for it but our CSA vegetable box contents happened to perfectly match up with the necessary ingredients. I was pleased to usher in October with a new, perfectly fall-like soup. Last week I made my first risotto! Chanterelle Risotto with Lemon Thyme provided an incredibly luxurious lunch on an otherwise ordinary day.

Today I do not give you a recipe, I give you a book. One lucky reader will get a signed copy of Shroom. As much as I adore Becky’s sense of humor and keen observations, I also respect her kindness. She lives compassionately and generously. She donates classes, buys coffee for the people behind her, teaches many, and hands slices of Alba truffles to the drooling fools in her living room. In that spirit, I knew shortly after our dinner that I wanted her cookbook to be my first giveaway.

To get your hands on this hot copy of Shroom, you either need to write a haiku or do something kind. I don’t care what the act of kindness is, just as long as it’s not something you normally do. Like changing toilet paper rolls for the next person. Let this gesture take you out of your comfort zone. Valedictorians and extra credit seekers, your act of kindness could be written about in your haiku. Or your haiku could be an act of kindness. But they need not intersect and you don’t actually get extra credit. Leave your haiku or story of kindness on my Facebook page, as a tweet, or as a blog comment to be entered. (If you comment on the Facebook page, make sure I can notify you by “liking” my page. For twitter, make sure to tag me @tableforlove. )

Though I’m not sharing a specific recipe today, you can find five of her recipes here. Take note of Clare Barboza’s gorgeous photographs. This cookbook is a work of art. Lastly, check out Becky’s How To mushroom videos on her website. They’re a perfect way to ease fears about cooking mushrooms or deepen your repertoire.

Good luck!

Closest thing to a gnome I spotted

11/1/14: Contest closed. The winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!

Rules

  1. The book will be shipped within the continental United States. Seattle residents may get it delivered by hand. Maybe even by bike! If you win and live outside of the continental USA, you may certainly ask to have the book shipped to a more local friend or family member.
  2. The contest will close on November 1st, 2014. You have until All Saints Day to be a saint. After Halloween you will need a plethora of veggie-rich, awesome mushroom recipes. This book will help with that.
  3. One entry per person. If you post on the blog, make sure you leave your email in the commenting widget so I can alert you that you’ve won. If you post on facebook, make sure the page is “liked” so that I can message you personally. Otherwise, I can’t contact you through facebook.
  4. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. Or throw a dart. But I’ll make sure it’s fair.
  5. Comment! Write a haiku! Be generous!

White chocolate raspberry brownie bars

We’ve hit the point of summer in which I must suppress my alter ego, Nighttime Ninja Harvester. On our block alone there are two huge raspberry patches covered with berries, most of which are rotting on the canes. My berry-loving, food-waste-hating heart races every time I pass them. In another decade or two I could easily find myself knocking on doors saying, “Hi, may I harvest these for you?”

We don’t have a problem eating the berries at our house, partly because my canes are young and don’t yet have huge amounts of fruit. Still, I could set Miles loose on enormous urban patches and they’d be cleared in no time. We were lucky enough to have about a cup of berries enter the house every couple of days for the past few weeks because I cared for our neighbors’ garden. There was just enough to prevent Nighttime Ninja Harvester from getting into trouble. IMG_4760Did you know that if you’re a fruit tree owner in Seattle you can request to have your fruit harvested and donated to food banks? (Many other cities have similar organizations.) The first year we moved into this place, the Italian prune plum tree was overflowing. I was overwhelmed enough by the one-year-old and four-year-old. I signed our tree up and a friendly man came to harvest the plums, leaving us a box and taking the rest to food banks. We’ve since been able to handle our harvests, but I continue to donate a hefty amount to food banks.

Knowing that we are lucky to have an abundance, I work hard to use what we have or share it before it goes bad. Nonetheless, I experience food waste guilt quite regularly. While I’m not a depression-era baby, I was raised by WWII babies who subsequently enrolled their children in the Clean Plate Club. I also blame Tamar Adler. Reading An Everlasting Meal provided countless ideas for how to use food more efficiently and economically, but it also plagues me a bit. Now I sometimes feel guilty throwing away kale stems and radish leaves. I’ve contemplated taking all our discarded produce parts around to the neighborhood chickens and goats. Looney, I know. I really am just a decade away from being that person. (Buuuut, come on! I could dump kale stems at the chicken coops and come home with handfuls of berries in a period of ten minutes!)

Since emptying our veggie CSA box completely covers my kitchen counter every week, it is an act of kindness towards myself to immediately cut off the carrot tops and say, “Not this year.” Otherwise I’d nod to them in the fridge all week, debating about what I would do with them until they rot and I, of course, feel bad. That’s the pattern. So, this year I’m declaring it Good Enough to cook the normal parts. Maybe next year I’ll make kale stem pesto and carrot top purees. Or own chickens.

IMG_8619Now, back to raspberries. I rarely bake with summer fruit because it tastes so amazing raw. Raspberries are one exception because I find their flavor is often enhanced with baking. I first made these bars for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. While flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (my desert island baked goods book), this recipe caught my eye. I really wanted to make cake for the party, but we decided in favor of finger food because of logistical challenges, so these helped scratch the pretty cake itch. Plus, my mom loves raspberries, oranges and chocolate, so I was hopeful she’d like these. (By the way, Dorie has a new book coming out and recently posted another alluring raspberry recipe from it as a sneak peak.)

While Dorie refers to these as brownies, I haven’t quite accepted them as such. They might belong in a class of their own. They are extremely moist, significantly more than a typical brownie. Also, the meringue dresses them up so much they’re like mini-meringue pies. Minus the pie crust. I still don’t know what to call them, so I’m sticking with Dorie but adding bar. Suggestions, anyone? IMG_8620White chocolate raspberry brownie bars
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Makes 32 bars.

Brownie base

  • 2/3 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) finely ground almonds / almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped premium-quality white chocolate (This came out to be a little shy of 1 cup of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, which were what I could find.)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1+ cup (4 to 6 ounces) fresh raspberries

Meringue

  • 3 large eggs whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325℉, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with parchment or wax paper so that the sides of the paper extend beyond the sides of the pan a bit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of it with flour, tapping out any excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the brownie base by whisking together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Place the butter, topped with the chocolate pieces, in a double boiler (or set a heatproof bowl over a pan) to gently melt them together over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until they’re just melted. Watch this step carefully because they will separate if they get too hot and the white chocolate needs special treatment to not burn. Once they’ve melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

In the base of a large mixing bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, beating on medium-high speed about 3-minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the butter-chocolate mixture. Continue on low, adding the dry ingredients until they are just integrated. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and place the raspberries evenly over the batter.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites with salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turning opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high to add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks. (I test for firm peaks by stopping the mixer and pulling away the whisk attachment up away from the whites. If they remain standing and don’t flop over, they are firm enough.) Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly. (In my home oven, this took 40-minutes. In a much newer and more reliable oven in Colorado, they took 30-minutes. But altitude was at play there, too, so who knows. Just watch them for some good light browning and crackles in the meringue.) The brownies will pull away from the side of the pan. Allow them to cool in the pan on a rack.

By carefully lifting the sides of parchment paper, lift out the bars and place them on cutting board. (Alternately, you can turn them out onto a rack and then invert them onto a cutting board, but I found this extremely difficult to do without squishing the meringue, so I changed course the second time I made these.) Dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars.

Voila! Enjoy!

Prepared

WE PULLED IT OFF! My sister and I successfully threw a surprise party for my parents’ 50th anniversary! We delayed it a day because of their trip to the mountains, which really worried me initially because we had already bought our plane tickets and started planning the party (ack!), but probably helped keep them in the dark. The party was attended by many of their dear friends, some of whom they’ve known four decades or longer. Most of the couples they raised kids with were present. Even my dad’s best man was there. We celebrated them well.

My sister and I were so nervous that someone was going to spill the beans. I wouldn’t let my boys talk to my parents on the phone in the weeks prior because I was worried they might tell them we were visiting Colorado before school ended. I didn’t even let the boys in on the secret until we were on the plane. Everyone acted the part, lying as necessary, and my parents’ socks were sufficiently knocked off. Their response ranks high among my absolute favorite memories of them. Shocked expressions, followed by tears of joy shared with each new person they noticed and hugged.

IMG_8287

I arrived at a new level of ridiculous while planning food for this party. I actually flew with little jars containing various types of salt and other spices, as well as two pounds of smoked salmon. If we had driven, I probably would’ve packed chives from my garden and some of my favorite flours. I didn’t want to spend gobs of money to purchase the relatively small amounts of seasoning I needed and was reasonably doubtful I’d find a bulk section at the local store in Loveland, Colorado. I might need a spice travel belt.

I thoroughly enjoyed making food for friends who had nurtured me through the years. Many of them have known me since birth, changed my diapers, babysat me, fed me generously at countless celebrations and holidays, hosted me for sleepovers, etc… One taught me piano for a decade, another coached my basketball team. It was such an gift to be alongside so many special adults from my childhood while celebrating my parents.

My sister and I made a lot of finger-friendly food, my parents’ friends brought lovely appetizers as well. There were Beluga Lentil Crostinis, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, bacon wrapped dates, delicious cheeses, salamis, pickled grapes, pickled carrotsminty spinach dip, caprese kebab bites, marinated herbed olives, and many more nibbles. For dessert I made Deb Perelman’s amazing update to the rice crispy treat (I don’t like the classic version, but these make me swoon) and Dorie Greenspan’s White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. I just might have to share that recipe here next, because they were phenomenal. It’s raspberry season, and you want to eat them.

My attempt to bring a little Seattle to the party, and the reason I packed salmon and Maldon in my suitcase, were these amazingly creamy, crunchy, briney, tangy toasts with smoked salmon. I actually added these to the menu in the week prior to the party, after discovering the recipe in Bon Appétit while waiting my turn at the hair salon. (If you don’t know this by now, I am pretty much always thinking about food. Even when I should be thinking about intentions for my very rare once-every-three-to-six-months haircut, I’m thinking about food.) This delicious bite is courtesy of Renee Erickson, the owner of The Walrus and the Carpenter, one of my favorite Seattle restaurants. Following her recommendation, I bought Loki hot-smoked salmon at the Ballard Farmers market a few days before we left. I nestled it in my suitcase between shorts and socks.

I did a few things differently than called for because of the number of people we were feeding and limitations on time. The recipe I’m sharing reflects those changes, making these more friendly for a big party. Renee’s original recipe calls for country-style bread slices, as well as frying the capers. I’m sure fried capers as exceptionally delicious, but these remain seriously tasty without that step.

PS- If the only pickle you’ve had came from a cucumber, you should remedy that. Stat. The aforementioned grapes are a great place to begin, as are these onions, which contribute nicely to hamburgers, salads, and countless other dishes. (Plus, aren’t they’re pretty in pink?)

IMG_4565

Smoked Salmon Crostinis with Pickled Onion and Capers
Slightly adapted from Renee Erickson’s recipe in Bon Appétit, yields about 16 crostinis

  • 1 baguette, thinly sliced (approximately 1/6 inch thick)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 cup crème fraÎche*
  • 1 pound hot-smoked wild salmon, flaked**
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss the onion and vinegar in a small bowl and let it pickle at least one hour. (This step can also happen a day or two ahead of time, just keep them covered and chilled in the refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Toss the sliced baguette rounds in a bowl with the olive oil and sea salt to coat (or brush the oil on with a pastry brush). Place the rounds in a single layer on baking sheets. Let them bake about ten minutes, until crisp and golden. Let cool to room temperature.

Spread each toast with a dollop of crème fraÎche. Season with a tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper. Top with flakes of smoked salmon, drained pickled red onion, several capers and a few snippets of chives. If you love to gild the lily like I may have a propensity to do on occasion, drizzle these with tiny bit of high quality olive oil and place a flake or two of Maldon salt on top. Totally unnecessary, but never regretted.

These are best served room temperature (which is also great for parties). You can set them out an hour in advance and they’ll be perfect.

*If you don’t have crème fraÎche at your store or you’d prefer to try homemade, this is a reliable recipe. You could also substitute plain full fat greek yogurt, full fat sour cream mixed with a bit of heavy cream, or just sour cream.

**If you aren’t lucky enough to have wild salmon at your markets, or can’t find hot-smoked salmon at all, use whatever smoked salmon you can get your mitts on. Just taste it prior to placing it on the toasts. Depending on the brand (and especially if it’s canned), you may want to toss the salmon with a little kosher salt and pepper. You may even consider mixing it with a tiny amount of brown sugar or maple syrup, or a squeeze of lemon juice. (Just a smidge! Taste and adjust as necessary.)

 

 

 

Upside down rhubarb cake with almond streusel

In April we were swimming in pink. The original owner of this house must have adored that color because she planted raspberry rhododendrons, neon-bright fuchsia azaleas, a cotton candy ornamental cherry tree, and a bubble gum flowering dogwood. (We took down pink drapes when we moved in, and while painting we discovered that the living room walls were once pink. Even the marble around the fireplace is a pinkish purple.)

IMG_4214

IMG_4196

The hue that I desperately want to see in my garden but keep failing to produce is rhubarb’s deep crimson. My second planting attempt was this February. March rains were excessive and I think the root base might have rotted. For awhile I thought there was hope, as the world’s tiniest rhubarb stalk possibly poked out, but as it grew I realized it was just a sprouting acorn, courtesy of a squirrel. So, maybe it was to blame. Either way, I’m buying rhubarb these days.

If you are lucky enough to have a free supply of rhubarb, this cake should be just your first stop among many (crisps, chutneys, bars, etc..). If your supply is limited, this would be the first sweet treat I’d make. The rhubarb’s tartness combines with the lemon’s brightness to sing of summer’s dawning. The creamy richness of the cake contrasted with the crunchy streusel makes for nice textural balance. Basically, I felt like I was simultaneously eating super moist cake and a shortbread cookie. That is truly enough for me to sing. And dance. (Again.)

IMG_4222

IMG_4227

Being the recipe tweaker that I am, I took down the sugar content and doubled the streusel in this Martha Stewart cake the first time I made it. I wanted to rework the streusel before sharing here, so I made it again. It’s not that I was disappointed with the first version. In fact, I stuffed my face with several pieces of it in one day and longed for it regularly until round two. I just wanted the streusel to be a little nuttier, a little crunchier. (Similar to the streusel on my favorite carrot bread.) I settled upon Thomas Keller’s almond streusel from The Bouchon Bakery cookbook. This recipe makes enough streusel for two portions. Extras will store it in the fridge or freezer. They make a mean muffin top. After you taste the streusel, you will not be sad about having leftovers, but you could always halve the recipe.

IMG_4230

IMG_8143

IMG_8154

IMG_8157

Upside down rhubarb cake with almond streusel

Cake adapted from Martha Stewart, streusel from Thomas Keller. Easily serves 12  (It’s very rich so pieces can be small. Then again, you may also eat two pieces in one day. Leftovers will hold nicely a day or two if your crowd is small.)

Cake

  • 6 ounces (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 pound rhubarb (about 8 thin stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick at sharp diagonal)
  • 150 grams (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 3/4 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour, feel free to substitute up to one third with a whole grain flour. Barley worked really nicely for me.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt), full fat

Almond streusel

  • 120 grams (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
  • 120 grams (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) almond flour (also known as almond meal)
  • 120 grams (1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 0.6 grams (1/4 teaspoon) kosher salt
  • 120 grams (4.2 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350℉. Let the sliced rhubarb macerate with 50 grams (1/2 cup) sugar for at least a few minutes. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (~2-inches deep) and dot the bottom of the pan with 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter cut into pieces. Place the rhubarb evenly throughout the pan (on top of the pieces of butter).

To make the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat the remaining stick of butter (4 ounces) with 100 grams (1 cup) of sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest and juice. Beat in one egg at a time until it’s incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Alternate beating in the dry flour mixture and the sour cream, mixing until just incorporated. Spread this evenly over the rhubarb.

Make the streusel by whisking together the almond and all-purpose flours, sugar, and salt. Add the pieces of butter and toss them to coat the pieces. Then, rub/cut them in with your fingertips until the pieces are about pea sized. Work quickly to keep the butter cold, trying not to overwork it. Sprinkle the streusel (half of it unless you halved the recipe) over the cake batter.

Bake for about one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about ten minutes, then run a knife around the edges and quickly and carefully invert it onto a cake platter (or plate) to cool and serve.

IMG_8159