James Beard’s Scalloped Potatoes and Celery Root

Yeah, I know. Though technically it was less than two months ago, Thanksgiving already feels like a faint memory from months gone by. So I won’t dwell on details of that day’s feast that we enjoyed here at my house. The ginger-and-orange brined turkey that I grilled over mesquite-enhanced charcoal out in the garage. The mashed potatoes with fried sage. Stuffing with chanterelle mushrooms. All I’ll say is that it was, as usual, one of my very favorite meals of the year. And for days after, my garage smelled enticingly of mesquite-grilled turkey….. I am SO doing that again next year!

One other item on the dinner table that night was particularly well received. It took the already-beloved scalloped potatoes to a whole new level with the addition of celery root. The recipe came from the recently-reissued James Beard’s American Cookery, a book that I have in its original 1972 form, one that’s been a standard go-to reference for many years. Beard’s larger-than-life culinary persona blended with his proud Northwest roots has long drawn me to his books for ideas, inspiration, perspective. He’s made me wish–in Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapés–that I could traipse back in time to one of those 1940s cocktail parties in New York where cocktails were made by the pitcher and delicate canapes were decked out with chilled veal and dainty shrimp with chopped egg. And long for one chance to picnic James Beard style à la Treasury of Outdoor Cooking, with wicker hamper that turns out lobster newburgh, a thermos of chilled martinis, bermuda onion sandwiches and strawberries in kirsch. Lord but that man lived the good life!! And he shared plenty of good food, fond memories and inspiring menu plans along the way…..

The new edition of Beard’s signature cookbook is fully true to the original, all content’s the same aside from a new cover design and the addition of a brief foreword by Tom Colicchio. When it came to picking a recipe with which to break in the newly released version, I landed on this one in part because I was surprised by his note about celery root having a Northwest connection. Of all the ingredients I’ve come to association with my Northwest home, celery root has never been one of them. But as an intro to this recipe, he says “This is a purely Pacific Northwest dish… We never really liked scalloped potatoes in the classic style, and when celery root was at its peak we often had this combination instead.”

My first introduction to the knobby, ugly, deliciously nutty vegetable was during my culinary training in France and I became an instant fan. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to try this recipe.

True to much of Beard’s style, it’s a simple preparation. His recipes may occasionally rely on rich, exotic or expensive ingredients but they’re rarely fussy. For this tasty side dish,  first butter an oblong baking dish (I used my 9 by 13 Le Creuset baker). Thinly slice trimmed celery root and russet potatoes. Layer them with more dots of butter, sprinkles of salt and pepper. Pour beef broth over (I used vegetable broth to accommodate my vegetarian sister), cover with foil and bake. When all the goods are tender, off with the foil, on with a generous sprinkling of Emmenthal or similar cheese (such as Gruyère) to bake just until melted. It’s an easy recipe that boasts pure flavors that meld together beautifully. Pure Beard, all the way.

1 Comment

Filed under Cookbooks, cooking at home, Northwest treasures, regional treats

Quick Snacks: Puff Pastry Straws

The unexpected White Thanksgiving we experienced here in Seattle certainly threw us all some curve balls. The end result at my house was that–for the first time in many years–my Thanksgiving dinner table didn’t include any of my blood relations. Brother sick, niece working, sister stuck on Queen Anne hill, nephew on the east coast….. I was surprised how much that fact bummed me out. I guess it just proves how much emotional attachment I have to this holiday! But I was thrilled some dear friends (who might as well be family) were able to join us. So that 13-pound turkey I brined and grilled out in the chilly garage certainly didn’t go to waste!

But it did mean that my supplier of pre-dinner snacks suddenly wasn’t showing up with the goods. Time to improvise. Time to grab some frozen puff pastry out of the freezer. You DO have some puff pastry in the freezer, right? No? Well you should. It’s one of the cook’s very best-best friends. Need a dessert in no time flat? Cut it into squares, add a small mound of jam to the center of each, fold over, pinch edges and bake. Voilà, turnovers for dessert!

Or, in the case of a dinner party with no cocktail-hour snacks, in a matter of minutes you can have these puppies in the oven and be serving your guests an elegant nibble sooner than you can say “where’s that bag of Doritos?” Who needs Doritos when you’ve got these?

Now, I realize that some–if not most–commercial puff pastry sheets come folded up in little packets. Which, ideally, should be thawed slowly in the refrigerator to maintain the dough’s integrity. Those folds are pretty brittle in frozen form and you risk breaking the dough rather than unfolding it if attempted while still chill. If you try to thaw it too quickly–like at room temperature, maybe under the hot lights of your stove?–the dough becomes pretty soft pretty quickly and the layers risk sticking together. So those commercial packets only help so much in terms of spontaneity.

 

My answer? I buy puff pastry in flat sheets that thaw in a matter of 15 to 20 minutes on the counter. No worry about persnickety folds. I happen to find mine at Big John’s PFI in Seattle, a beloved destination for all types of specialty foods from bulk cranberry beans to vanilla extract and amazing cheeses. Check out specialty or gourmet food shops in your area; an added bonus may be finding all-butter puff for the very best flavor. I always pick up a sheet of puff pastry when I’m at PFI, whether it’s officially on my shopping list or not. As is the case with about half the things in my cart by the time I’m checking out. Some cool cookie from England. San Marzano tomatoes. Quince paste. Loads of things I didn’t know I needed until I got there…..

So, Thanksgiving morning, I pulled that emergency puff pastry out of the freezer. After a bit of  distraction from other dinnertime prep, the sheet was thawed. I beat an egg with a bit of salt in a small bowl and lightly but evenly brushed the surface of the dough with the egg, creating a foundation for the next step. (Egg works best, but a light brushing of water or melted butter will do in a pinch.) I then grabbed a few jars from the spice rack. In this case sweet paprika, poppy seeds, sesame seeds. But it could just as well have included cumin (ground or seeds), fennel seeds, curry powder. Two or three items that add aroma and flavor is what you’re shooting for. Quickly sprinkled a relatively even dusting of each over the dough, then grabbed my handy pizza cutter. The rolling blade makes really easy work of cutting strips from dough in cases like this (or making lattice for a pie topping, any similar situation).

Arrange your 5-minute creations on a baking sheet that’s lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Bake in a 400 degree oven until puffed and nicely browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool a few minutes, pop them into a tall glass or other serving dish. And friends will marvel at your creativity and start feigning guilt after they reach for the third or fourth one of these easy-to-love pastry straws.

Matter of fact, you might want to bake up two puff pastry sheets’ worth. They’re going to go fast!

1 Comment

Filed under cooking at home

A Great Get-Away: Portland

Much as I like to think I’m an organized person, inevitably there are trips when I realize too late something that I failed to pack. Usually remedying the problem just takes a trip to the drug store for some toothpaste, or relying on the room’s alarm clock rather than my favorite travel version. But last weekend when I unpacked at the hip and wonderful Hotel Modera in Portland, as I was hanging up the cute tops I’d brought for dinnertime outings, I realized a more significant omission: the pants I’d planned to wear them with. And no, the casual blue cords I wore on the train just wouldn’t cut it.

Off to Nordstrom we went, where I scored a great skirt that filled the bill, plus a couple sets of fun tights to go with it.

So despite the fact that I don’t seem to have born with that love-to-shop gene that many women have, I ended up doing some prime tax-free shopping while in town. The extent of shopping I do while in Portland is usually inspired by  the great spirits available. Previous trips it’s included Aviation gin or one of the amazing eaux de vie from Clear Creek Distillery. This trip was no different, I also picked up a bottle of Ransom Old Tom gin at a downtown liquor store.

Instead of the shopping, what’s been drawing me to Portland most in the past few years has been work-related events. Preparing for and attending the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Teaching a class at In Good Taste. Doing a bit of promo for a cookbook, like my recent Gourmet Game Night event at Cafe Nell.

But last week’s trip was intentionally different. No work, all play. Finally a tourist in this city I so adore. At oh-dark-thirty the morning after Thanksgiving, my husband and I boarded the Amtrak Cascades train down to the Rose City. And we packed those couple days with great meals, meeting with friends, exploring the city in a relaxed fashion.

Little surprise that meals served as the foundation of our itinerary. Friday, after dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked across downtown to have lunch at Kenny & Zuke’s. I had once popped in here a couple of years ago, to pick up a bagel for the train trip home, but never sat down to try their famous housemade pastrami. Lunch was well worth the 30 minute wait, I tried the reuben made with that pastrami (instead of the traditional corned beef). It was outstanding, as was the simple potato salad alongside, light and flavorful, not drowning in mayo. Bob loved his PLT (pastrami-lettuce-tomato) sandwich, which showed off the pastrami even better.

Our post-lunch stroll took us through the Pearl District, where we found the Museum of Contemporary Craft, one of the new things I got to do on this visit. The small museum currently has a very cool exhibit featuring creative interpretations of “the book,” not to mention a really great gift shop with wonderful arty items. Our museum entry was gratis, thanks to the coupon in the Portland Perks booklet we were given when we checked into the hotel. There’s a special promotion going on now through December 20 at a couple dozen hotels in the area, with a 2-night stay you’re given the coupon book–to spur some of that tax-free shopping!–along with (believe it or not) a $50 bill to get you started. Details on the offer are here.

Dinner was a treat, a long-overdue trip back to Nostrana where Cathy Whims and David West have created a warm and welcoming room for enjoying comforting food that showcases Northwest ingredients with Italian sensibilities. Given that bounty of chanterelles the Northwest is experiencing this year, we tried the chanterelle trio: with farro and borlotti beans, in a leek sformato and baked with Scarmoza cheese in the wood-fired oven. All delicious. I recall in the pre-Nostrana days the degree of research and experimenting Cathy was doing to perfect her pizza prowess, so we couldn’t let pass a taste of her margherita pizza. I’d like to do that “Bewitched” wrinkle-wiggle of my nose to make one appear on my desk right now….. Outstanding grilled leg of lamb with tapenade and celery root gratin, scallops with rapini, a very delicate and rich lasagne verde, the entrees all shined. With little room left for dessert, we sated ourselves with the butterscotch budino (pudding) and a small scoop of vanilla gelato with Faith Willinger’s Tuscan chocolate sauce. Perfetto.

Saturday’s meals took us to Pok Pok for lunch and Paley’s Place for dinner. What’s not to love about Pok Pok? Aside from perhaps the chilly wait outside this time of year. But it made warming up at our table in near the bar that much more delightful. We skipped the beloved chicken wings, instead opting for some items new to me: muu sateh, Carlton Farms pork marinated in turmeric and coconut milk then grilled; the Northern Thai herbal salad; wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, pork and egg. So flavorful, bright, delicious. I’ve loved every meal I’ve had at Pok Pok.

Dinner was a little step back in time, I hadn’t been to Paley’s Place in ages, over ten years. I love the setting, the cozy house-turned restaurant on a quiet corner in the Northwest of Portland. Vitaly and Kim Paley have been taking great care of Portland diners for over 15 years, unstuffy and personable, focused on regional products cooked with a light hand, letting the ingredients shine. Carrot soup, local oysters, a sampler of charcuterie started off our meal with friends. I set with a classic for my main course, Paley’s rabbit ravioli served with chanterelles, bacon and butternut squash. Both husbands had the seared tuna, the fourth opted for beef tartare.

Oh, and carless in Portland? No troubles at all. We took a free MAX ride from the train station to the hotel, no more than 2 blocks to walk at either end. Dinner at Nostrana and lunch at Pok Pok made me think the Tri-Met system plans routes around the city’s top restaurants: no transfers needed from downtown and we landed no more than a block from either. (Major plug here for the Google Maps app I’ve got on my Blackberry, not only a great map tool but the “directions” option includes public transit, with reliable bus numbers and departure times…. LOVE IT!) The Portland Streetcar took us directly to the corner where Paley’s Place is found.

The only problem with this great weekend in Portland was that it was simply too short. But we’ll return before long to hit places we missed on this trip, like dinner at Country Cat, a stroll through the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, cocktails at Beaker & Flask. And maybe some more of that shopping!!

1 Comment

Filed under Northwest character, regional treats, travel

Ricotta to the Rescue

I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me before, but ricotta’s a great ingredient to have on hand. One small tub came to the rescue twice in this past week and it’s got me thinking I should add ricotta to my grocery cart most every week.

Friday night we were joining some friends for a relaxed evening of good food and games. It was a busy day around here, but I wanted to contribute something. I’d made a trip to Big John’s PFI that morning stocking up on dried spices, great cheese, frozen tartlet shells. And while there, just because I could, I picked up a couple sheets of their wonderful puff pastry. I had a chunk of great parmigiano-reggiano at home. A tomato sitting in the countertop basket. I picked up some ricotta at the store and grabbed a few handfuls of herbs (parsley, thyme, chives) from the garden.

In (almost) no time flat, I had this delicious tomato tart going into the oven. All it took was mincing the herbs and stirring them into the ricotta with 2 or 3 cloves of finely grated garlic (Microplaned, to be specific). Didn’t even bother using a bowl, just stirred it all together in the ricotta container. Added a good pinch each of salt and pepper.

I spread that herbed ricotta over the pastry (using about 2/3 of the container), topped it with thin slices of tomato and sprinkled the grated parm over all. Baked at 400 degrees until nicely browned and puffed around the edges. Don’t be tempted to under-bake this, the puff takes a good dose of heat to cook, particularly in the center. Took maybe 25 or 30 minutes. Friends gobbled it up that night, cut into squares for easy finger-food eating.

So that remaining 1/3 of the ricotta was still in the fridge last night. As was a thawed packet of chicken thighs, one of those gotta-have-on-hand items we pick up on Costco trips and keep in the freezer downstairs. I spooned the remaining ricotta under the skin of those thighs, set them in a baking dish on top of thinly sliced onion and baked them at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Juicy, flavorful and slightly elegant despite the mere 5 minutes it took to assemble the dish.

The herb-garlic combo was a clear winner and surely I can find other uses for that handy helper. I’ll have to play around with some other flavorings as well, maybe smoked paprika? Caramelized onion? Chopped toasted hazelnuts? No telling where that little tub of ricotta can take me!

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking at home

Baked Eggs with Chanterelles and Caramelized Onions

It must be a bumper-crop year for chanterelle mushrooms here in the Northwest. My local grocery store, the wonderful West Seattle Thriftway, has had a consistent supply of lovely chanterelles for $8.99 per pound, one of the lowest prices I recall seeing for the beauties in recent years. And I’ve heard other friends chattering about high supply and low prices in recent weeks. It’s been a treat to pick up a few handfuls on recent shopping trips, adding them to braised kale to go alongside some roast pork, or scrambling them up with some eggs for a decadent breakfast.

Here’s a recipe from my Wild Mushrooms cookbook that can be used with any number of different types of mushrooms, tender chanterelles a particularly good choice. This recipe makes a wonderful brunch centerpiece (easy to double to serve 8), but also adapts well as a light supper on a blustery day (like today!) served with a salad (maybe adding sliced pear and toasted hazelnuts) and toast for dipping into the delicious eggy goodness.

Baked Eggs with Chanterelles and Caramelized Onions

A simple and savory way to start the day, this dish uses a nest of wild mushrooms and caramelized onions in which to bake individual eggs. To save time in the morning, you could prepare the caramelized onion-mushroom mixture the night before and refrigerate, covered.

 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3/4 pound wild mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
1/4 cup crème fraîche or whipping cream
Toast, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Generously butter four 4-ounce ramekins.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté gently, stirring occasionally, until the onion is quite tender and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the onion is nicely caramelized and the mushrooms are tender and any liquid they give off has evaporated, stirring often, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Spoon the onion-mushroom mixture into the prepared ramekins, drawing up the edges slightly to make a nest for the egg. Break an egg into each ramekin and spoon 1 tablespoon of the cream over each egg, then season the tops lightly with salt and pepper. Put the ramekins in a baking dish, pour boiling water into the dish to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins, and bake until the egg whites are set and the yolks are still soft, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift the ramekins from the water and dry off the bottoms of the dishes, then set them on individual plates. Serve right away, with toast alongside

Makes 4 servings

Leave a comment

Filed under Cookbooks, cooking at home, Northwest treasures, regional treats, seasonal eats

Europe Adventure 2010: France and Italy

Home again, home again jiggity jog…… What a trip that was, three weeks so full and enriching and reviving that it felt like we were gone for two months. So I suppose we got our money’s worth. And our time’s worth. But it’s great to be home. Another sign of a good trip!! Great restaurants and stunning countryside, inspiring history and phenomenal markets — but in the end it’s hard to beat the comfort of being back in your own bed.

The view from our friends' home in the village of Pergo in southern Tuscany

Planes, trains and automobiles. Five different flights got us from Seattle to Rome, then from Paris back home again. Trains of varying speeds and spiffyness took us from Rome to the Tuscan countryside, from Florence to Nice (via Milan), then from the byways of Alsace into Paris. And in five days of car rental I motored over 800 kilometers from Nice to Arles, around the Camargue, through Burgundy and eventually dropped our Renault off at the Strasbourg airport where Alsatian friends picked us up.

Classic Alsatian flowers and architecture and charm in the town of Riquewihr

We went. We saw. We conquered museums, markets, meals, and miles and miles of countryside drives and city walks.

With nearly 1000 photos to organize and nearly as many experiences and impressions to try to capture, it may be a while before a cogent recap of this trip gets posted. If ever that really happens. But some off-the-cuff highlights and random thoughts.

a)  The color of the season in Paris is PURPLE in all its delicious shades: eggplant, cassis, violet, grape. Coats, sweaters, shoes, purses. And anyone who knows me knows that the last thing I pay attention to is fashion, so this had to be a pretty obvious one……

b) Pop-up music/performances abound in Europe. In Arezzo it was a small stage set in a town square with ballerinas practicing for an event of some kind, as we sat nearby on a restaurant patio having lunch. Sitting at a cafe in Paris near the Palais Royal, we were serenaded by a string octet performing beautiful classical pieces. On the Pont des Arts near the Louvre, it was an American high school band doing their thing. An all-time favorite Paris memory is being on the metro and a guy jumps on and starts singing Blue Skies, one of my very favorite songs. I will never tire of unexpected art of this fashion.

An impropmptu (and wonderful) concert, serenading our cafe lunch near Palais Royal

 

c) As might be predicted, our vistas when driving around the Tuscany countryside for a couple of days rarely lacked for an olive tree or two (or two hundred). The region surely lives up to its reputation for locally-made olive oil. But this was a surprise: I asked our friends about those lush fields of hip-high, vivid green plants with broad leaves. Would you believe that Tuscany is also a big producer of tobacco? Could have fooled me! And we saw lots of fields of it in our time there.

One of a few black & white shots I took inspired by a photo exhibit we'd just been to in Paris

d) In Florence we did go to the primo museums that every tourist really should visit: the Uffizi (with many special pieces of art, the highlight for us Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”) and l’Accademia (David). In Paris we skipped the Louvre and the Grand Palais, opting instead for the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation‘s exhibit of black and white photos by Harry Callahan (which inspired a handful of b&w shots following the visit) and the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the home-studio the artist lived in literally around the corner from the hotel where I always stay in Paris (never having known the museum was even there).

e) I’d bet that a gelato a day can do as much for our well-being as any apple could. I didn’t quite get a daily dose but did indulge when I could. One friend directed me to the lemon gelato at Gelateria Carabe in Florence, another to the rich

Amazing artisinal gelato in Florence

 treats of Vestri also in Florence (I tried pistachio and vanilla there).  To be honest, though? Best gelato I had on the trip was at Amorino in Paris. Twice.

f) When in Rome, do as the Romans. And when in the Black Forest, eat a piece of Black Forest Cake!! A fun surprise addition to our itinerary was one day driving to, and through parts of, the Black Forest in Germany. I knew of course that Alsace is on the German border, but didn’t realize my friends’ home was so close as just 25 km or so from Germany. One day we headed that way and got a tiny taste of lovely German countryside, surprisingly distinct from the Alsatian countryside so nearby. I couldn’t NOT try the traditional chocolate-cherry-whipped cream cake while there. Very simple and quite delightful. Look really forward to going back and exploring the region more.

 

The real deal: Black Forest Cake, in the Black Forest!

Heavens. So many more pictures!! And so many more stories they evoke. But they’ll have to wait for another time. Hope you enjoyed this little sampling.

2 Comments

Filed under Food and Drink, regional treats, travel

Chicken Cook-Off Regional Winners

Or, as I like to think of it, “Showdown at O-Cluck Corral!”

Over the past 15 years or so I’ve been called on to judge a great range of foods. From critiquing prototypes of seafood dishes being considered for commercial production at the Symphony of Seafood, which I judged this year and about 14 years ago. To the far more playful Great American Spam Championship cooking challenge held at the Puyallup Fair each September (entry deadline is September 1 for this year, there’s still time!), for which I was a judge a few years back.

Yesterday had me on the spot again, helping judge the first annual Foster Farms West Coast Chicken Cooking Contest. Not only the first annual, but this was also the first of the three regional finals was held in Seattle, so we really kicked off the whole shebang yesterday. And in great style, at that, hosted by Kathy Casey and her team at the amazing Food Studios in Ballard. Kathy and I, along with good friend and colleague Jamie Peha from Table Talk radio, were the panel tasting and evaluating five finalists who’d been chosen from hundreds of entries from Washington state. All in all, over 2,o0o recipes were sent in from folks in Washington, Oregon and California. Those other regional finals are being held in Portland and Sacramento in this next week or so. From each region, the two top finalists will convene at CIA Greystone in Napa Valley for the super-primo finals in September, vying for a $10,000 grand prize and a one-year supply of fresh Foster Farms chicken.

So there we were, sitting down at 10:30 in the morning with the first contestant’s recipe being served: Brown Rice Chicken Salad. May not be the most compelling of recipe names but the dish more than made up for it with great color, texture, flavor and a great use of common but fresh-and-delicious ingredients. The first dish is always the hardest to judge, as you might imagine. After all, they’re not really being judged in a vacuum. Inherently it comes down to comparisons as you eventually witness the style and flavor profiles of other dishes to come.

But after all was said and done and tasted and considered — that first taste of rice mixed with vegetables, almonds, Parmesan cheese, herbs and dried cranberries was a stand-out and one of the two finalists for the day. Bravo, Marci Adelsman from Kent!

The other finalist moving on to the West Coast finals next month is Monica King from Vancouver, Washington. Her Balsamic Mushroom Chicken with Honey Goat Cheese was deceptively straight-forward looking. But it had a wonderful balance of flavors–tart balsamic with cream goat cheese, savory mushrooms with a touch of sweet honey–that showed off a standard skinless, boneless chicken breast in style. Just the kind of recipe that home cooks love: simple to make but with a great “wow” factor that dinner guests will relish.

Cheers to Monica and Marci for their creative and flavorful dishes. Congratulations on your regional wins and best wishes to you both for the finals! Most of all, have fun.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food and Drink