Apr 272014
 

Goat tagine with pita

I feel a little conflicted posting this. One the one hand, goats are one of my favorite animals. They are bursting with personality and fun and they’re incredibly playful, though they have a knack for getting into trouble. I got to know a lot of goats (and other charming farm animals) pretty well at Hoofsnhorns Farm (my source for raw milk) when I lived in Tucson and they completely won me over with their goat-ish ways.

On the other hand, goat is delicious. Most of the rest of the world has caught on to this fact, but (much to my chagrin) goat remains somewhat difficult to find in the USA. Perhaps it has a reputation here for being gamey or tough, but if you use a good low-and-slow cooking method, you need not worry about that. So look for goat at a farmer’s market or perhaps at a Mexican grocery store, where it might be labeled something like cabrito or cabra.

Lucky for us (busy with both a fully-cooked and an in-progress baby), the slow-cooker comes to the rescue once again and delivers something that tastes like you slaved over a hot stove all day, instead of alternately sending your toddler down the slide in a continuous loop and then crashing on the couch every ninety minutes (which I wouldn’t trade for the world, but there’s no arguing that it can be challenging to put a satisfying and nutritious meal on the table under such conditions). Moroccan tagines and other braises are well-suited to this sort of fix-it-and-forget it cooking.

And now I shall have to cut this commentary short and go get horizontal, because cooking a human (gestating! I’m not actually cooking anyone!) is way more exhausting than cooking any meal I’ve ever eaten!

Goat tagine with pita

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Apr 202014
 

Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cran-pecan cookies

Do you remember that chain letter than went around in the wee days of the internet? The one with the recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies? It’s probably still circulating, but I came across it almost twenty years ago (woah — time flies!) and every bloody time I walk into a L’Aroma Bakery in Anchorage I think of that email. You see, I’m difficult to impress when it comes to bakery cookies. Most are too huge and way over-baked. Plus, in what is likely a cost-cutting measure, the cookies are usually missing something delicious and they fall flat on their faces on the palate.

But L’Aroma is different.

I’m also not usually a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but their version — which uses cranberries instead of the archetypal raisin — will sucker-punch you with their sheer deliciousness and you won’t even mind.

So, the point is that many of us have a list of “I want this recipe for my very own” from our various favorite haunts. L’Aroma’s oat-cran cookie is definitely on the short list. (Oh, the other stuff on the short list? The triple-berry scones from — of course — L’Aroma* and the chocolate-chip cookies from A Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek, CA.) Would I pay $250 for the recipe? Well, given that The Hubs and I are prone to taking foodcations to Anchorage every year and we certainly spend more than that on just getting there, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. And since we can’t go this summer (which is killing me), maybe I should just cajole them into selling their recipe instead — it would be cheaper than a trip up there.

Failing that, I have this recipe. No, it’s not exactly the same as my L’Aroma favorite since there are pecans and chocolate and the flavor is a bit different, but these cookies are almost as good. But let me tell you, this is almost the recipe That Never Was. For some reason, I had to do battle with these cookies FIVE TIMES before I finally got the better of them. I referred to one of my failures — attempting to make brown sugar at home — already, but the other failures generally had to do with forgetting how to read a measuring cup and over-baking (which really surprised me, given that these sorts of errors don’t usually happen in Cook’s Illustrated recipes, especially when they have an admonishment that says “Do not over-bake!”). But I have emerged on the cookie gauntlet successful, after learning to stock my freaking kitchen with the right kind of sugar, rembmering that fluid ounces and tablespoons are NOT the same thing, and pulling out every trick I know to maximize a cookie’s chew. Now that I’ve done the behind-the-scenes work, I implore thee: go out and bake these too!

* When we were last in Anchorage last summer, The Hubs and I pulled off The Great Scone Heist, in which we hit every singe location in the city that sold the scones and bought them out so we could freeze them and take them home with us. If you understand how quickly each morning the residents and tourists buy out those scones, you’ll be impressed by our feat. Also — and this is a total digression here — whenever I go to the Kaladi Brothers Coffee (Alaska’s far-superior answer to Starbucks) in Seattle, I’m always slightly disappointed that they don’t carry L’Aroma pastries like their more northerly locations do.

Click for the recipe →

Apr 132014
 

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

Do you ever have those moments in your food-related life when you come across an idea so great and so simple that you really have to give your brain the stink-eye and ask, in your most accusatory voice, “Really? You couldn’t grace me with that idea?”

I know I sure do.

This bread is the most recent in a string of such events. Our locally-owned grocery store has a fantastic bakery, and one of the crown jewels of their ovens in a 100% whole-grain sprouted-wheat pumpkin-seed bread. Whew. Quite a mouthful.

(Ha! See what I did there?)

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

I this is where I start to interrogate my brain. Adding pumpkin seeds to bread is such a great idea, I have to wonder why on earth I never thought of it myself.

So I set out to make a tasty version myself. I wanted to use my favorite buttermilk loaf as the basis for it, but didn’t because a) I started this when I was still on the dairy-elimination diet, and b) I was worried that the acid-tenderized gluten wouldn’t be able to stand up to the addition of an enormous amount of seeds. I settled on this version because, well, it’s delicious. It’s not the same as the loaf that inspired it, but it is lighter in texture and better-suited for pan-shaping. Perhaps one day I’ll try a sprouted wheat version, but today? Today I’m perfectly content with the loaf I have in front of me right now.

Pumpkin-seed whole-wheat bread

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Apr 032014
 

Norwich sourdough

I grew up under the impression that I disliked sourdough bread. I suspect I am not alone here, as I grew up before the bread revolution and there was a glut of face-puckering super-sour sourdoughs on the market. I suppose they were ostensibly trying to emulate what people though San Francisco sourdough should be, but let’s face it: it didn’t make for very good eats.

Seven years ago, I started baking my own bread. As I delved deeper and deeper into the lifestyle of homemade bread, I started to get interested in the idea of sourdough because I lived in Alaska at the time and sourdough is a big part of the state’s cultural history. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I finally got up the nerve to pull the trigger and start a wild yeast culture.

As with so many new-to-me things in the bread world, Peter Reinhart and the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge were the original things that nudged me into trying out wild yeast. I built a seed culture and promptly abandoned it after a few days not because I thought it was dead, but because I was seriously afraid that it was going to eat the house. I now know that I had a pretty wicked leuconostoc culture going, but that bacteria would have died out in time as more desirable lactobacillus bacteria pulled eminent domain in my starter.

In 2011, I had a pretty good starter named Zeke going, using instructions from 52 Loaves (which is a great read but not the best way to raise and care for a starter), though I didn’t know any better and kept it in the fridge and didn’t refresh it properly before baking with it, so it was never able to raise a good loaf without spiking the dough with some commercial yeast. Then I got pregnant, couldn’t even look at food (much less feed my food), and Zeke The First died, though he lives on in a portion that I shared with Heather when she visited once.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago. I have a toddler and haven’t done much bread-baking since she was born (shocking, isn’t it?). I was at a breastfeeding mamas group meeting and just happened to get into a sourdough discussion with a friend, and the bread-baking bug — all eighteen months’ worth of suppressed water, flour, yeast, and salt — reared its head and roared. Twenty-four hours later I had thrown together a starter (again named Zeke, this time using the method from the Wild Yeast blog), and ten days later when it was (finally) mature (hey, my kitchen was cold), I started baking with it and haven’t slowed up since.

This recipe is one I had pinned oh-so-many years ago, back when Zeke The First was still with me. I decided this Norwich sourdough would be an excellent inaugural foray for Zeke The Second simply based on the fact that it is Susan-of-Wild-Yeast’s favorite. She knows her stuff, so it naturally seemed like a good starting point. And though there were some mis-steps and hiccups along the way because my skills need some rust knocked off, it was still quite tasty and I was thrilled to see that I really could bake bread with only water, flour and salt.

Yesterday I decided to bake another round of Norwich, and oh my goodness, this is seriously some of the prettiest and tastiest bread I’ve ever made. Zeke imparts a pleasant tang, completely unlike the sourdoughs of my youth. And this crust? Oh my, you don’t get this sort of crust from commercial yeast. I don’t even know how to describe it: perhaps one that sings upon being taken from the oven and has shattering layers with a bit of chew? Zeke is still a young’n and his flavor will continue to develop for another week or so, and I can’t wait to see what adventures we’re going to have together.

Norwich sourdough

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Aug 182013
 

Salmon cakes

I am trying to break out of my salmon rut, I honestly am. But when one is confronted with a beautiful, fresh, vivid red sockeye fillet, it is really, really difficult to avoid cooking it as simply as possible. The fact that I live in an area where it’s quite difficult to get fresh sockeye now isn’t helping matters.

But then my favorite local grocery store came through in a huge way: a sockeye salmon sidewalk sale! They flew in a bunch of whole sockeye overnight from Alaska and sold them whole. We bought a lot, and I started dreaming big.

These fillets were large, so when we used the first one, I had the opportunity to make not one, but two new dishes out of it! Be still my heart! I cured part of it for gravlax — more coming soon on that endeavor — but the larger measure of fish I reserved for these cakes, which had oh-so-fortuitously floated across my computer screen a whole of days before. And they proved to be everything I dreamed of. Some may say it was a bit of a waste to use such an extravagant fish in such a humble way, but I really don’t care what the haters think. This stuff was delicious.

Click for the recipe →

Aug 112013
 

Cutting out soy in a country that heavily subsidizes the soy crop can be a daunting task, full of not-fun and a huge swath of newly off-limits otherwise-delectable edibles. Frankly, it makes cutting out dairy seem like a walk in the park.

There’s a silver lining here though, and that lining is that while the vast majority of mayos out there are off-limits, there’s an open season on aioli! If you’ve never had it before, imagine a mayo that actually has flavor. Aioli is decidedly the best thing ever about a soy-elimination diet, and because I had never had an excuse to make this myself, I’m actually kind of grateful to my new eating scheme, even if it means I had to give up Scharffen Berger. I’m sure that once you try this on a BLT with some of this season’s prime tomatoes, you’ll be inclined to agree with me!

The making of aioli, as with any emulsion, can go wrong if you try to mix too fast. Here’s a look at what your aioli should look like at each stage. Happy whisking to you, and happy eating!

Click for the recipe →

 Posted by on August 11, 2013 at 11:00 am
Aug 042013
 

Desert lime lentil soup

As someone who likes to be able to cook on a moment’s notice, I believe in having a stocked pantry. This is great in principle until I get stricken with “OOH shiny!” syndrome at the grocery store. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: you’re browsing the aisles and then you come across some item or ingredient that sounds unusual but delicious and even though you don’t have something immediate in mind that you’d like to do with it, you bring it home with you. Repeat this over the course of a couple of months and before you know it your pantry bears a disturbing resemblance to a curio cabinet.

I recently found myself in such a pickle, seeing as how I live near some pretty cool grocery stores and I also have less time to experiment in the kitchen than I used to. Before I knew it, I found myself elbow-deep in the pantry, pulling out ingredients, determined to re-organize that sucker. (Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. The kitchen and the baby have yet to figure out a custody schedule for me.)

One of the most disastrous shelves in my pantry is the chocolate & tea area. The chocolate is in a border skirmish with the tea, as both have spilled out of neat little piles and are encroaching on the other’s territory. There’s a huge mix of chocolate that I bought before Leah was diagnosed with her allergies and I thus can’t eat anymore and chocolate that is really more vegetable than candy, since it’s like 90% cacao. It’s also almost the only chocolate I can find without soy lecithin in it. So it was pretty easy to re-organize that stuff into a His & Her piles, ta-da, done. Time to start negotiations with the other side!

The tea side is a bit trickier because tea comes in big boxes and the size of the box doesn’t decrease as you use the bags within. I consolidated a few boxes, threw out some tea that was by all rights fossilized, and then started making massive quantities of cold-brewed tea to kill off some of the dwindling boxes. Then, deep within the recesses of the little food-closet, I found this box of lime tea that I had bought way back when I lived in Tucson. It wasn’t really my favorite tea to drink, which is why it was still hanging around all this time, so I really didn’t fancy drinking it. I opened the box to count the remaining bags so I could rationalize throwing it away or something, but then I found a recipe — for soup of all things — on the inside flap.

And see, this is where having a stocked pantry comes in handy. The soup called exclusively for pantry staples (hooray!) so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, then it wouldn’t be a huge loss, because lo, rice and lentils, they are cheap. I made several modifications, opting to go pilaf-style to maximize flavor out of the relatively meager ingredients, but I have to admit, I was expecting disaster. Much to my surprise though, this was actually pretty tasty! Rice and lentils aren’t exactly the most exciting combination in the world, but the lime goes a long way towards brightening up the tried-and-true pairing. Now I find myself kind of sad that I don’t have enough tea-bags left to make another batch of this stuff, so will I find myself buying another box of it? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose (cleaning out the pantry) of making this in the first place? Has that ever stopped me before? Nah, didn’t think so.

Desert lime lentil soup

Click for the recipe →

Jul 282013
 

Mexican shrimp salad

It’s summer. It’s hot. You’ve been asked to bring a side along to a cook-out or pot-luck or other food-type party and you’re stumped. You and eight of your closest friends all brought slaw to the previous shin-dig and you desperately want to bust out of the boring BBQ-sides rut and bring something fun and unique, but if someone even thinks about suggesting that you turn on the oven, it’ll be their head that ends up in that appliance. Oh, and also? You’ll only have about 30 minutes to throw together your inspired creation.

Enter: Mexican shrimp salad! This delight is bursting at the seams with fresh summery flavor, comes together in no time, and is definitely better when made well-ahead of time. The best part? Everyone adores this stuff. It’s a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider yourself delivered from side-dish-purgatory!

Click for the recipe →

Jul 212013
 

Roasted poblanos

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I really did resist the whole idea of hominy for a long time. I’m not sure why, but there was some strong reaction to the word (not the concept, just the word) in my brain. Maybe it was because it sounds somewhat like homily, which is a thing I found to be exceptionally tedious in my formative years. Of course, hominy and homilies have absolutely nothing in common, unless I’m going to use this here platform to preach to you about the virtues of nixtamalized corn. Which I might just a little bit, given that this is my blog and all and I do have a tendency to go on about food that I really, really like.

Ahem.

My love affair with hominy began just shy of a year ago when I was cooking like a mad-woman to stock the freezer before The Babe was born (yes, I was totally bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen). I had never had the stuff but decided to make a pork-hominy-tomatillo stew to squirrel away for the post-partum days. (We ate better than the average newly-minted parents. It was a priority.) I was pretty-much ensnared once I discovered than it smelled like a really really good corn tortilla tastes. And the stew? Heavenly. One of these days I’ll get around posting it here. But I digress.

Having repented of my anti-hominy ways, it wasn’t long before I was ordering more of the stuff from Rancho Gordo, which meant, of course, that I needed to find more ways to cook it.

Enter the poblano: while she was visiting one weekend, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice and I discovered these in Tucson at a chef demo at my favorite farmers’ market. The chef had soaked strips of the pepper in tequila and simple syrup and then dehydrated them to make a candy. Delish! I had found a new favorite pepper. So when I came across a recipe on the Rancho Gordo website that used both roasted poblanos and hominy, it took me all of about two seconds to decide that I was going to have to try it. I’ve made it several times and several different ways and it never disappoints. So throw irrational food prejudices and caution (except when it comes to those serranos — whoo boy, those should be used sparingly) to the wind and whip up a pot of this. Else I’ll be forced to go on a hominy homily, and really, no one wants to hear that.

Roasted poblano pozole

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Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

Click for the recipe →

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