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Delicious Detox – Day 2

“Nothing tastes so good as being thin.”

I was chatting with the barrista at Espresso Vivace today and we were commiserating. I had ordered two non-fat cafe lattes Nico-style (cinnamon and orange rind and something else I can’t figure out but it is so very delicious) for me and my cousin and he said – Want a pastry with that?

Technically, the answer is  yes but sadly, I’ll be saying no – I said with a sigh. He laughed and that’s when he said it – Nothing tastes so good as being thin – He explained that he has an ectomorphic friend for whom this is a mantra.

I am not sure that I will ever feel that way but something I do often ask myself, is, “Is this really delicious enough?!” If I am really honest almost nothing you get in a coffee shop is ever actually delicious enough to eat. There are exceptions of course, but not very many. So I’m having to ask myself as I wander around town: is it really delicious enough? The answer is nearly always no. You do have to harness your inner exacting food critic to make this work.  Sometimes it would seem there is nothing so satisfying as a Devil’s Food Cupcake with Brown Sugar Buttercream. Or any kind of French pastry with custard and pears.  A pear thing could bring me to my knees. I look at that kind of pastry and it is practically looking right back into my eyes and speaking directly to me. So I have to intellectualize. Really think about it. Which would be better, tastier, if I were really analytical about it? I know it sounds puritanical, but I do think a salad of spanking fresh lettuces, a sliced avocado, thinly sliced shallots and a few toasted walnuts with a walnut oil dressing would beat the cupcake handily. Could it beat the pear custard pastry though…?

Also, I try to remember that being a little bit hungry is ok. It really is. A sort of meditation that goes with the Detox. I must point out though, there is no point in starving. Terrible slip-ups happen when you get too hungry. I should also mention hunger is not possible in the winter, not for me anyway. But in the spring, when local vegetables get gorgeous, then you can say – this delicate, perfectly balanced salad will more than suffice. Get your hands off me you stupid cupcake. I am busy eating a poem about spring.

Right now though, I am starving. Truly hungry and fighting off urges to eat an entire bag of Pirate Booty, a large square of Fresh Ginger Cake  (stupidly made by me yesterday on Day 1 of Delicious Detox), and a square of very dark chocolate smeared with peanut butter. Must….resist. I’ll sit tight and wait until dinner. We’re going out because I am too hungry to cook. I know this isn’t the healthy way, but I was running around too much today and didn’t want to eat the crap they sell at the soccer field. Thus extreme hunger. (Confession: I just caved and succumbed to a sliver of the totally excellent cake. Only a sliver though)

Tomorrow I will buy a large bag of apples for emergencies.

Menu for Day 2

  • Breakfast: Bowl of plain low fat yogurt, 3 dried apricots, 5 walnuts, 1 tsp maple syrup (the pesky sweet tooth)
  • Lunch: Nothing (Dumb move.)
  • 8 pieces of Pirate Booty (Not proud of this – just trying to stay honest)
  • Sliver of excellent cake. Sigh.
  • Dinner: Stuffed Eggplant, Stewed Chickpeas with Dill and Green Beans with Roasted Peppers and Yellow Raisins at Vios for dinner. A small glass of red wine.    (and a 1/3 of a Meyer Lemon Galactoboureko with Sour Cherry Compote. Oh dear…)

I will be much more sensible tomorrow.

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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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East Coast Spring: Ramp & Ricotta Tart

 Alistair looked at the tart with a raised eyebrow. That’s not the only thing we’re having for dinner, is it? 

Actually we are also having grilled asparagus — and without missing a beat I passed the platter of charred green spears to him to take to the table. We both sighed deeply, an inner groan, dreading dinner in different ways.

He plunked himself down in his chair and looked intently at his brother. Leo, check out the weird green stuff mom is making us eat for dinner. I rolled my eyes and served them each a slice. The tart cut beautifully, the ramps just tender enough to yield to my knife. It looked gorgeous too, with that messy nonchalance that seems to be the thing in food photography. It also smelled pretty good. The whole house smelled great in fact, probably because of the bacon. And also, probably because of the bacon, both boys tried the tart. Those boys. First the ramp tart was deemed too green, and all of a sudden they’d cleaned their plates and were asking for seconds. This kind of moment is very gratifying for parents.

We got a big bag of ramps from the chef at Martin’s office. (Chefs seem to be de rigueur in larger tech offices – I know this must seem inconceivable to most working people. Don’t worry, it seems that way to me too.) We also got cauliflower rabe, leeks, and rhubarb.

Ramps are not something you see on the West coast very often although I’ve heard they’re trying to cultivate them here in Washington. They’re a kind of wild leek. They grow in the forest on the east coast like crazy at this time of year. Locals actually give them away because they’re so abundant; elsewhere they show up in posh restaurants up and down the coast. On the east coast these are a locavore, foraged delicacy; until recently in Washington, they were an exotic import. I was pretty excited to try to make them into something. It took me two days to think of exactly what I wanted to do…

I have to say, in a mere two days, those ramps kind of took over. I had read, and failed to heed, the warning that ramps need to be carefully wrapped in the refrigerator because of their aggressively leek-y smell. It’s more than that. There is an underlying funkiness that is hard to describe, intriguing but not entirely pleasant. I carried on with the tart anyway, dying to know what all the fuss was about.

The tart was actually kind of wonderful. Was it because of the ramps though?! Certainly they added a sort of earthy exoticism. On the other hand, doesn’t anything taste good with ricotta, shallots and nutmeg? Ramps are very lovely to look at and it is fun to try new and unfamiliar foods. Do I think you should make this tart if you can’t get your hands on any ramps? Absolutely. Use scallions (making very sure that they’re spanking fresh ones)  if you can’t get ramps. You’ll still have an unusually pretty tart, reeking of spring (and bacon!)

Ramp Tart

  • 1 3/4 cups ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 5 slices of good bacon
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves, rinsed
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 15 ramps
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 partially-baked tart crust – Use this tart pastry recipe replacing half the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Allow the pastry to rest for an hour in the refrigerator before rolling it out and baking. See below for instructions.
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. In a large non-stick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until somewhat but not totally crisp. Set aside on paper towels. Pour out all but 1 tbsp of the drippings.
  3. In the leftover bacon fat, sauté the sliced shallot until softened. Place in the bowl of the food processor.
  4. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the wet spinach leaves. Set over medium heat until wilted. Add to the bowl of the food processor.
  5. Put the ramps in the skillet with a little water – maybe a 1/3 cup. Cook the ramps until they are a bit wilted. Drain and set aside.
  6. Add the ricotta, egg and a grating of nutmeg, a pinch of salt and several grindings of pepper to the food processor. Whirl until completely mixed and smooth.
  7. Cut or tear the bacon into bite sized pieces.
  8. Fill the the tart shell with the ricotta mixture. Scatter the bacon over top and arrange the ramps over the bacon.
  9. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until puffed and golden at the edges.

Baking the Tart Pastry

I was kind of nervous about the pastry in the loose bottomed tart pan. Lining a regular pie plate is pretty easy but the ridged edge of the tart pan seems like it would be more difficult. I was wrong. See below. If I can do it, anyone can.

Using a rolling pin, lift the circle of dough over the tart pan

Gently press the dough up against the edges of the tart pan

Push the rolling pin over the edges of the pan to remove the excess crust neatly

With a sharp fork, poke holes all over the crust

Line the crust with parchment and fill with dried beans. Bake at 400 for 9 minutes until the pastry no longer looks raw. Then remove the beans and return to the oven for 3 more minutes.

I was going to write about the Delicious Detox too, but it can wait until tomorrow. There was a very Delicious Setback on Day 1…

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Delicious Detox: Salad Nicoise

It’s not the type of cinnamon roll I usually go for, the very sticky kind with gooey frosting. And there were eight of them, really huge, scented with cardamom from this truly marvelous bakery in Manzanita Oregon. We hadn’t anticipated they’d be so enormous. And the kids, even though they were ravenous from hours of playing on the beach, couldn’t even finish one. Which left me alone in the kitchen with a half finished box of cinnamon rolls. I didn’t eat them all at once and of course I didn’t eat every last one. I’m not that much of a glutton. The kids had made a significant dent. But over the course of a day and a half, the remainder slowly and steadily disappeared. They were fantastic. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: May will have to be Delicious Detox Month.

I was actually going to write about making pizza because I have a new method and I totally love it. However when I discovered there was no wi-fi at the Manzanita cabin my friend Liz and I rented (and really, given my track record of never writing blog posts on vacation, maybe it would never have been written anyway) I ended up waiting another week to write. Then, with the cinnamon roll debacle and feeling rather on the wrong side of forty and clearly not bathing suit ready at all and June being right around the corner, I knew I wouldn’t be writing about pizza. Not this month…It’s time for Delicious Detox. Liz, of course, coined the catchy phrase.

I still feel I should provide the link to the pizza dough here. It’s perfect for any night of the week, being so easy (no kneading!) but it was also just perfect for a Saturday night last weekend. (I guess this is the kind of thinking that leads to taking all of May off from pizza and pastries…) A breeze to stir up and to form; the dough baked out chewy and crisp all at once. Also, you really should try my current favorite pizza accoutrements (melted leeks, bacon, white cheddar, breadcrumbs, finished with arugula) for which, if you ask in comments, I will be happy to provide directions. Here is a photo:

As far as the Delicious Detox goes, don’t worry, there is no way I would subsist for a week on honey/cayenne water or what have you. My little brother did that once and from his dizzying experience I know that method is not for people who have to drive carpools or make dinner every night for a bunch of ravenous children. Also, I don’t believe in talking about dieting in front of kids. I talk about making “healthy choices”. Here’s how it will go: I will eat a lot less meat. I will vigilantly search out seasonal vegetables. I will take advantage of halibut and salmon season. I will snack on fruit and drink only water. (I will still have a latte for breakfast though – I’m not completely crazy.)  Go sugar free the entire time – no maple syrup, no honey. Only whole grains, if grains are on the menu. Sometimes a little challenge is fun. I promise that whatever I write about will taste delicious – not like compressed hay bales or rabbit food.

In anticipation of the new regime, which will start May 1st, I was inspired to make Salade Niçoise. I was hoping to get some sashimi grade ahi to sear as a substitute for the traditional canned tuna. At the seafood counter, the fresh tuna looked grim and the fish guy deeply apologetic.

“I was hoping I could just sear it.” I said doubtfully.

“Uhhh. It should be alright.” You might describe his look as shifty.

I headed over to the canned fish aisle. Line caught tuna, local, packed in olive oil. It is the traditional choice even if it wasn’t what I’d envisioned.

Salade Niçoise

serves 4

  • 1 bunch slim asparagus, ends trimmed (traditionally these would be green beans, boiled. Asparagus is what I had on hand)
  • 12 new potatoes
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup pitted Niçoise olives
  • a splash of white wine or vermouth
  • a small head of red lettuce
  • 2 handfuls of arugula
  • 2 cans albacore tuna packed in olive oil
  • 4 boiled eggs: start in cold water and when the water has reached a boil, cook for 5 minutes. Then drain and cool in cold water.
  • 3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp french mustard
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 9 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for broiling the asparagus
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put a medium sized saucepan, half full of water on the stove over high heat.
  2. Preheat the broiler to high
  3. Place asparagus on a rimmed sheet pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and lots of pepper. Toss until coated.
  4. Broil for 3 minutes, turning or shaking the pan once after a minute or two. The asparagus should have some brown spots and smell wonderful. Remove from the hot pan and set aside on a plate to cool.
  5. When the water in the saucepan is boiling add 1 tbsp salt and the potatoes. When the water returns to the boil,  lower the heat to medium and set a timer for 12 minutes.
  6. While the potatoes are cooking, rinse and dry the lettuce and arugula leaves and arrange on a large platter.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk the red vinegar, the mustard, the herbs, 1/2 tsp sea salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
  8. Drain the tuna and toss with 2 tbsp of vinaigrette.
  9. When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, drain them and leave them to cool slightly. When you can handle them without burning yourself, quarter them, and toss them in a small bowl with the vermouth.
  10. Add 5 tbsp of vinaigrette to the potatoes. Allow to cool a bit.
  11. Peel and quarter the eggs.
  12. Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 tbsp vinaigrette.
  13. Toss the rest of the vinaigrette with the salad leaves.
  14. Arrange the asparagus over the lettuces. Arrange the potato salad either in a heap in the middle or evenly over the whole platter of leaves.  Dot the platter with tomatoes, eggs, tuna and olives.

Have I left anything out? David Lebovitz says you choose either tuna OR anchovies. He also said Niçoise salad is perfectly fine with no fish whatsoever. So I didn’t forget anchovies – I just made a choice. So can you. That’s the fun part.

Perhaps next month there shouldn’t be quite so much olive oil…

Manzanita, 2012


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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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Breakfast

What does a person, who mostly writes about dinner, eat for breakfast? One might well wonder. I guess I’m a creature of serially monogamous breakfast habits. Obviously I like variation at dinnertime, but not in the morning. Years  and years of eating the same thing for breakfast over and over again feels just right to me.

Right after college it was peanut butter and bitter marmalade on an English muffin and a cafe au lait. My roommate and I brewed these up in our Bialetti Moka Express on the funky Harvest Gold stovetop in our Russian Hill apartment. I think I ate that for breakfast for maybe ten or fifteen years.  Then there were a few years, maybe four or so, of poached eggs on toast. With a cup of Murchie’s Empress Afternoon Blend tea and a glass of orange juice. That was in the Pacific Heights apartment. After I met Martin, we ate boiled eggs with this kind of weird, pink, caviar paste. It came in a bright blue tube with a smiling, little, blond boy on the front. That phase didn’t last too long. I love Martin but that pink caviar is only ok. It doesn’t hold a candle to peanut butter and marmalade.

On trips to Sweden to see Martin’s family, I discovered all kinds of cultured milk. Kefir, filmjölk, all kinds of yogurt, quark, fresh cheeses. There began a long period of variations on yogurt for breakfast. Initially this led to making my own yogurt for awhile. Then kefir finally became available in the U.S., that was really exciting! (Yes, I do live in cave.) Lastly, Greek yogurt finally arrived, the richest, thickest, most luxurious of all. Martin started making a deeply toasted muesli with dried cherries. I got stuck on that with the Greek yogurt for a long, long time. Later, switching it up with honey, raspberries, some ground walnuts and a squirt of lemon juice, was heaven.

When winter rolls around though, raspberries become ludicrous. They fly in from South America and I think “oh – how fresh and so exotic in the wintertime”  but they’ve travelled miles to get to Seattle, and taste as if they’ve been around the block a few times. For something so mediocre, they cost the earth.  I tried the bags of frozen local berries but quickly tired of them.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, in a little plastic box pushed out of sight behind the toaster and leftover from a wintery Sticky Toffee Pudding: I remembered – Medjool dates! (What?! You’ve never had Sticky Toffee Pudding? I will remedy that by posting the recipe at some point…) Their deep fruity caramel flavors are in perfect counterpoint to the brightly sour yogurt. Toasted walnuts left from a grapefruit salad added complex bitterness. I confess my sweet tooth doesn’t allow plain old yogurt: I needed something sweet. Dark Grade B maple syrup – we always have that in the fridge. Maple + dates  are made for each other– I will have to figure out a dessert with those two some day. The crown on this breakfast though, is the salt. A small but decisive pinch of kosher sea salt provides a glittering, edgy crunch. Perfection.

I think I will eat this until I am old and grey.

Yogurt with Dates, Toasted Walnuts, Maple Syrup and Sea Salt

  • 3/4 cup yogurt – read the ingredients list – there should be no additives, nothing to thicken it but the bacteria. My yogurt (Straus) has non-fat milk, buttermilk and the yogurt cultures. I also like the European Style Organic Plain Yogurt from Trader Joe’s
  • 2 tbsp grade B maple syrup
  • 2-3 tbsp (about 7 walnut halves) toasted for 10 minutes at 350. (I would toast at least a cup or so at a time)
  • 3 medjool dates, with pits, pitted. (Pitting is easy and I think the dates with pits taste better)
  • a pinch of Kosher sea salt (I like this one, as you may already know)

This is hardly a recipe, but here’s what I do:

  1. Take the kids to the school. Return home and take a deep breath. Take 15 minutes for breakfast.
  2. You’ll want your favorite bowl. I like a deep round one because it fits so nicely into the palm of my hand when I sit eating on the couch with the newspaper but I have a fond recollection of my mother-in-law’s wide soup plates. Soup plates work better on a table though. It’s your choice. Put the yogurt in the bowl.
  3. Drizzle 2 tbsp maple syrup over the yogurt (I have to confess I kind of love it when I “accidentally” pour in too much…shhh)
  4. With a small sharp knife, make a lengthwise slit down the dates. Push out the pit. I like the dates quartered the long way. Scatter them with the walnuts over the yogurt and maple syrup.
  5. Take that decisive ( not too much and not too little) pinch of kosher sea salt and strew it over the yogurt dates and walnuts.
  6. Get a soup spoon and sit comfortably somewhere, eating this magnificent yet simple breakfast, reading the paper, gathering your thoughts, then finally getting on with things.

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The Moroccan Salmon Sandwich

There is a diner (the upscale yuppie variety) near my house called Skillet, which serves a extraordinarily good hamburger. I am somewhat of a devotee of the hamburger. (And I don’t mind much if it’s the posh kind or the fast food kind – if by fast food you mean Dick’s)  Anyway, at Skillet they have this condiment called bacon jam. It’s as heartstoppingly wonderful as it sounds. Of course bacon jam is heartstopping in every sense of the word. So much so, that having eaten at Skillet several times in the course of a few weeks, I felt I had to explore other parts of the menu. After carefully looking it over, and with a flicker of regret as I passed over the burger (bacon jam, arugula, creamy blue cheese), I ordered the Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich, which had condiments that sounded intriguing too: harissa aioli and crisp fried preserved lemons.

The salmon sandwich handily beat the hamburger – the epic Skillet hamburger with bacon jam. No kidding. Harissa aioli and fried preserved lemons beat bacon jam?! Yes they did. It’s true. Sharp bittersweet tang, then more sweet, and smoky too, the tangled crunch – oh just a little bit more – What?! How can it be all eaten up already?! I had to figure out a way to make this sandwich at home because ordering two would be embarrassing.

Guess what? It was easy. There are a couple of ways to get there too. This could be a project kind of sandwich, with toasting, grinding and soaking the spices for the harissa and the ras el hanout yourself or you can just buy them ready-made at a grocery store. Moroccan food has become ubiquitous in cities and I see these condiments all over the place. That being said I would not deny myself the pleasure of the scent of freshly roasted cumin, or the sinus clearing burn of roasted dried chili de arbol. (Please try making these condiments just once!) However, I do understand that this is just a sandwich. A fifteen minute proposition if you don’t make all the condiments yourself.

Removing the pin bones with needle nose pliers

Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich – serves 4 generously

  • 1 1/3 lbs sockeye salmon filet
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout (see recipe below)
  • spray olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise (I like the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 c. harissa (or to taste – see recipe below)
  • 1 medium sized preserved lemon, sliced thin, seeds removed and dried off with a paper towel (I prefer Le Moulins Mahjoub brand for their firm skin. It makes it a lot easier to slice. I bought them at the grocery store)
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • 1/4 c. rice flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 4 brioche buns or soft potato rolls
  1. Using needle nosed pliers (I have some reserved for the kitchen in a drawer) remove the pinbones from the salmon. If you run the tip of your finger lengthwise down the fatter side of the salmon, you will find the bones poking upwards.
  2. Heat the grill or the grill pan, to medium.
  3. Spray the salmon on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle the ras el hanout evenly over the top of the fleshy side. It will tend to clump in spots but you can even it out with a stiff brush or even your fingers.
  4. Place the salmon flesh side down over medium heat on your grill and set the timer for 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 1/4″ of canola or peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
  6. While the oil is heating, combine the rice flour and the cornstarch with a pinch of salt on a small plate. Lightly coat the sliced preserved lemon in the dry ingredients and set aside.
  7. Test the oil by dropping a little piece of bread into it. It should brown quickly and evenly. It it burns right away, it is too hot and you’ll have to begin again.
  8. Carefully, so you don’t splash yourself, lay the lemon slices in the hot oil. They should take a minute or two per side to become golden brown.
  9. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  10. Whisk the harissa into the mayonnaise with a fork.
  11. The salmon should be ready to flip now.
  12. Flip the salmon over and set a timer for two minutes. Allowing the salmon to cook thoroughly on the flesh side should make flipping it over a breeze. It simply does not stick to the grate if you grill it this way and you get beautiful grill marks.
  13. Bring the salmon inside and cut it into 4 generous pieces.
  14. Spread both sides of the brioche or potato rolls with the harissa mayonnaise. Lay the salmon, then the arugula, then the preserved lemons  and top with the other half of the roll.
Ras El Hanout – makes about 1/4 cup
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking. It is so easy to throw together if you, like me, have loads of spices in your cupboard.
  • 2 Tbs. sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork.
Harissa – makes about 1/2 cup
This recipe comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I have only made wonderful food from this book.
  • 6 dried chile de arbol, ribs and seeds removed – this is much easier to do when they are dried
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, canned
  • 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper – several grindings
  • 1 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat a medium sized heavy sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chilies to the pan and dry toast them until they have little black spots and they smell wonderful. Depending on the heat of your stove this could happen in seconds or take up to a couple of minutes – so don’t walk away! When they are done, set aside in a heat proof bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Setting the heat to medium, toast the cumin seeds. Seeing as the pan is already quite hot, this will take less than 30 seconds under your watchful eye. When they smell fabulous, take them off the stove and grind them in your mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, crush them with the edge of the bottom of a wine bottle on a cutting board, or in a clean coffee grinder.
  3. In the same pan, cook the tomatoes over medium heat until darkened and somewhat thicker. Set aside.
  4. Drain the chiles and put them in a food processor or blender with the garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Puree until combined. You will have to scrape down the container with a spatula frequently; this doesn’t make a lot of harissa. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend until smooth.

To give you some idea how of delicious and universally pleasing the Moroccan Salmon Sandwich is, I will tell you that my picky five year old demolished his and ate half of a second and Martin and I ate ours and split a third. There was nothing left for Siri and Alistair and they had to be consoled with ice cream sundaes, which were clearly running a distant second to the sandwich. Alistair even ate just bread with the sauce and arugula because we’d run out of the salmon. Ok. I confess that the fried preserved lemon was a tough sell. My daughter managed to pick hers off even though I trickily shoved it underneath the tangle of arugula leaves. Siri is nobody’s fool and saw through my ruse immediately. The boys blithely polished the whole thing off, lemons and all.

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Post #100: No, I did not make this cake and another confession


You can probably tell from the bakery box.

Leo’s birthday follows right on the heels of Martin’s, but there was too much stuff going on and I couldn’t deal with the cake part. Did I say “my kids can invent whatever cake they want, anything, and I will try to make it” in my last post? I’m going to have to take that back.  Here’s what happened:

Leo said: I want a volcano cake, with real hot lava. Here, like this picture Ali and I drew:

So I explained to him how I had this great idea of baking a banana bundt cake, and how I would drizzle yellow and orange glaze over the top to mimic hot lava. (plus it would use up some bananas that were quickly turning black on my counter) I should have known this was an unfavorable inception for a birthday cake. Especially a volcano cake with real lava for a 5 year old with a vision.

“What’s a bundt?” he looked suspicious. I showed him a bundt cake image I found on the Martha Stewart website and I will never forget his look of deep disdain and disgust. What he said was: “Mom that will be so stupid. That doesn’t look like my picture AT ALL.” True.

So I called a bakery. In just 24 hours my problem was solved. My dad picked up a sparkler at a toy store in the shape of a “5” to go on the top, and we covered the cake with candles and, because of excessive sparkiness from the sparklers, went outside in the very cold air to sing Happy Birthday.

For dinner Leo asked for Roast Chicken with Spaetzle and Green Stuff (by which he meant parsley) and Arugula Salad with Oranges, Candied Walnuts and Goat Cheese. That’s my boy! It’s a lovely menu.

So now I’m going to have to write about spaetzle. I should have posted about spaetzle a long time ago because they are so easy and incredibly popular at my house. The spaetzle maker helps the process a lot, costs $9.58 (quite a bargain!) and takes up so little room in a drawer that I don’t feel bad writing about an esoteric kitchen tool. Some people use a colander. I have tried this and I don’t recommend it.

Spaetzle Maker

Spaetzle – serves 4

  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (I really recommend not skipping this!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. water
  1. Set a large wide pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, add a couple of tablespoons of salt. The water should taste salty.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
  3. Measure the water in a liquid measuring cup. Add the eggs and beat until smooth with a fork. Pour over the dry ingredients.
  4. With a wooden spoon, beat the batter until smooth.
  5. Scrape the batter into the spaetzle maker and scrape the batter into the boiling water, pushing the spaetzle down under the water as you go, to make sure they cook properly. This takes about a minute.
  6. Drain in a colander and serve with melted butter and grated parmesan OR if you have roasted a chicken according to my method, with the pan drippings and a handful of finely chopped Italian parsley.

Spaetzle with Roast Chicken and Parsley

My children would walk over hot coals for this, or maybe even eat a brussels sprout.

Incidentally, this is my 100th post and I need to come clean about something: most nights I dread making dinner.  You’d think because I blog about making dinner that I have an endless supply of ideas and that I always have a vision about what we’ll be eating. Usually, I have no idea what to make. It’s true.

Often, this is how it works. I wake up in the morning and sometimes, even before he’s really awake, I nudge Martin. I say – What should we have for dinner? He rolls his half open eyes and mutters – Let me go check your blog…

Then I think: Argh! and flip over and look at the clock. 6:25 is WAY too early to call my cousin or my neighbor…I could send an email though: What are you making for dinner? Then I flip through magazines, peruse cookbooks, stop by Food 52 until its not so ungodly early that I can finally call. Somebody who, lots of times is not me, usually has a really good idea.

So, I would love to know. Really. What will you make for dinner tonight? What is your back pocket meal that saves everything at the last minute when you are too tired to think or make anything fun? (For me? Peas Pasta Ham and Cream. I’m so sick of it. That’s why I’m asking.) I could totally use a good idea.

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