Category Archives: Cookbooks

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.

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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

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Salmon with Cardamom-Peach Chutney

I can tell by my watch that it’s salmon season! Well, okay. Not exactly by my watch. But by the fact that the harbinger of the seasonal openings–Copper River–has launched and that means that commercial openings begin peppering the region, bringing in freshly-caught wild salmon from throughout the Northwest. What a happy time of year! I have yet to have my first bite of Copper River’s 2010 vintage but surely it won’t be long now…..

Another timely salmon note is that a sandwich I helped create for Burgerville has just launched in all 39 of their restaurants this week. The Grilled Wild Coho Sandwich will be on menus until July 5 (or as long as supplies last), the simple and tasty item sandwiches herb-sprinkled and grilled coho fillet on a Kaiser bun with lemon aïoli and frisée. They tell me it’s already selling “gangbusters”!! Which is GREAT because proceeds from each sandwich go to support eat.think.grow, a program in Portland that’s working to establish an edible garden at every school in the city. No small task! But one that I’m thrilled to support. I met the founding director Linda Colwell at the IACP conference in Portland last month, we both attended the highly inspiring Urban Farm Mini-Symposium. So glad to have met her there and learned about eat.think.grow, just in time to be able to support them through Burgerville’s generous program. And Linda and I discovered we both went to La Varenne too! Small world.

So the third confirmation of salmon season came this morning by way of email from a fan! She said that one of her favorite recipes of mine is the Grilled Salmon with Cardamom-Peach Chutney and she’s misplaced the recipe. And with salmon season upon us, wondered if I couldn’t share a copy of the recipe with her so she could recreate it a few more times this summer. Not only will I do that, but I’ll go ahead and share it with all of you! Hope you like it. And if you might be in the mood for grilling a whole salmon, here’s a post I did last year on that subject.

I seem to have a thing for chutney. At a book signing recently for my latest book, Gourmet Game Night, the folks at Metropolitan Markets had whipped up the Aged Cheddar with Dried Cherry-Almond Chutney recipe to entice passers-by. Everyone loved that chutney! So much so that every other person asked where they could buy it. (Sorry, ma’am, I’m just a cookbook author; you’ll have to make it yourself. Though now that you mention it….) And in that book, too, I made a rhubarb chutney that goes with sliced pork tenderloin for a little open-faced sandwich.

So this recipe below only proves that I may be in something of a rut when it comes to falling back on chutney as a complement in many of my recipes. But what’s not to love? I’m usually not a fan of fruit or sweet things meshing with savory, but chutney (the way I like it at least) has such distinctive savory tones with spices and onion and vinegar, that I’ll forego my savory-fruit prejudices. This recipe doesn’t actually come from my Salmon cookbook, but instead my Stone Fruit book. In fact, I bet this preparation would be delicious with any of the stone fruits. Mmmmm, plum in particular. I may have to try that one myself here soon.

Grilled Salmon with Cardamom-Peach Chutney

(from Stone Fruit in the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series)

4 salmon steaks or fillet pieces, 6 to 8 ounces each

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Cardamom-Peach Chutney

14 green or white cardamom pods

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 large ripe but firm peaches

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1/4 cup white vinegar

Pinch dried red pepper flakes

Salt

For the cardamom-peach chutney, combine 8 of the cardamom pods with the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet and toast them over medium heat until lightly browned and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle and finely grind or crush them (the cardamom pods are flavorless and are perfectly okay in the spice blend). Set the spices aside. Peel and pit the peaches, then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant and the onion is beginning to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the spices over and stir to evenly coat the onion. Add the peaches with the vinegar, red pepper flakes, and remaining 6 cardamom pods.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peaches are tender and the chutney is thick and aromatic, 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t stir the chutney so much that the peaches become a purée; the pieces should hold their shape somewhat. Season the chutney to taste with salt and set aside to cool. The chutney may be made a few days in advance and refrigerated, but let it come to room temperature before serving.

Preheat an outdoor grill.

Rub the salmon pieces with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Lightly brush the grill grate with oil, set the salmon on the grill (flesh-side down first, if using fillet pieces), and cook until just a touch of translucent pink remains in the center, about 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fish (or longer, to suit your taste). Set the salmon on individual warmed plates, spoon some of the peach chutney alongside, and sprinkle the cilantro over all. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings

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It’s Game Time!!

Anyone else out there love both food and playing games as much as I do? I sure hope so. Because today’s the official release date of my new cookbook, Gourmet Game Night. It’s the ideal book for that niche of humanity that lives in that overlap of the foodie crowd and the gaming crowd. And I’ve launched a companion web site as well, at www.gourmetgamenight.com. Check it out!

The general premise of the cookbook is a simple one. When you’re playing games, there can be a lot going on. Dice, cards, fake money, dominoes, Cranium clay, game pieces in circulation. You want to keep your food on the tidy side so that those accoutrements of playing games don’t get covered in Cheetos dust and pizza grease. And you also don’t want to distract from the game play by having to put down your cards to pick up a knife and fork to eat along the way.

So I dreamed up this world where playing games and eating well go hand in hand. Fingers never get messy, because everything’s served in small dishes, on picks, between mini slices of bread, or are just pop-in-your-mouth fully edible. And the game momentum continues uninterrupted because the food sits to the side on a small plate, ready for one-handed eating while you ruthlessly collect high rents from your Monopoly opponents.

Along with the 80 or so recipes, I also provide lots of tips for hosting game nights, from considering what types of games to play, to favorite small dishes and picks that make mess-free eating a breeze. I have some menu plans in there, too, whether you’re two couples playing hearts or a crowd playing a bunch of different games.

And did you know that there’s an ever-increasing array of games being released with food lovers in mind? From Foodie Fight to Wasabi!, there are plenty of “gastro-games” on tap today, a number of which I profile in the book as well. If you’re looking for a game shop near year, I have a starter list of a dozen or so in the book. On the web site, I hope to continue increasing the listings to help connect game players with great shopping options near them. Is there one in your area that I should add? Let me know!

Though I’ve written (or co-written) a dozen cookbooks before this, Gourmet Game Night stands out as unique among them. It’s perhaps the most personal, growing organically out of realization that the way we host game nights at our house might be a bit out of the norm and maybe others would like to learn some tricks for making great food game-friendly. I found myself interjecting doses of family history in the book’s introduction, memories of playing Tripoley when I was a kid, and carrying a mini cribbage board on backpacking trips.

And the book’s already garnered interest from a number of different types of media outlets. It’s been featured in USA Weekend and Health magazine. I’ve been interviewed by Faith Middleton from Connecticut Public Broadcasting (for future airing, not sure what date) and will be live on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius the morning of March 3. The book’s been chosen as the March selection for Barnes & Noble’s Food and Drink Book Club! I’m due to be doing an online Q & A with book club folks on March 10.

But I have to say that this review of the book on a gamer’s blog Guilt Free Games warms my heart about as much as anything could. I felt pretty confident that among the foodie crowd there would be a subset of folks who like to play games too. But was it equally true that among the hard-core gaming crowd there would be some interested in eats beyond the usual convenience and fast-food fare? If this review is any indication, the answer is “yes”! He and his wife even ventured to try the wild mushrooms tartlets, happily finding the goat cheese “wasn’t as gross” as he thought it would be (thrilled to help introduce folks to something new!). And I’m glad, too, that my obvious proclivity for more mainstream party games (dominoes, Wise & Otherwise, Balderdash, Scrabble, Blokus) didn’t dissuade this hard-core gamer from appreciating what the book has to offer to game players of all types!

So, are you an avid game-player too? I’d love to hear what your favorite things are to play when you have friends over for a fun unplugged game night at your house. Unwind, reconnect and bring on the fun.

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Extra Toasty Cornbread

This morning’s breakfast was a particularly good eye-opener, a nice change of pace from my standard fare (english muffin with peanut butter, yogurt with Grape Nuts, bowl of cereal). Today, I slipped a piece of cornbread from the pan in which I’d baked it yesterday. I cut the piece in half and toasted it for a few minutes under the broiler. The tiniest swipe of butter, a nice spread of some homemade Meyer lemon marmalade that a friend made. Peppered with occasional sips of reviving coffee, it was a delightful breakfast. One I’ll repeat as long as that pan of cornbread holds out.

I’d been looking at that bag of cornmeal on my kitchen cupboard for a couple of months now, the one I brought home from my October trip to Philadelphia. Visiting friends in nearby Chester County before hitting the city had included a quick trip to The Mill at Anselma, a historic site that has been grinding grains for over 250 years. I bought a bag of their cornmeal in the “dark roasted” style, intrigued by a product I’d never used before. The Pennsylvania-grown corn is milled, the grains toasted before packing. Even while I was stirring the batter, the distinctive nutty aroma of the cornmeal was easy to notice. Even more so when the pan of golden bread came from the oven, smelling as much like a hazelnut cake as a cornbread. I haven’t done much snooping for it around the Seattle area, so have no idea if dark roasted cornmeal is available from other sources. But the gift shop where I bought the cornmeal at the mill will mail products as well, ordered over the phone.

The recipe I used for inspiration in making the cornbread yesterday was from James Beard. His American Cookery book (this link’s to a newer paperback release, I have the old hardback version) is a favorite go-to reference for old-school Americana recipes and ideas. In that book he says “The finest corn bread I have ever eaten came from the recipe of the late Jeanne Owen, who was a brilliant cook and a stalwart disciple of the art of good living. Mrs. Owen often served it for cocktails in the form of small square sandwiches filled with bits of ham.”

I had to make a few amendments. I’m not much of a baker, to the degree that it takes forever for me to go through a tin of baking powder. Until yesterday. Scattered across the bottom of the tin was only about half of what the recipe called for. I supplemented with baking soda, but know that it really needs a bit of acid to rev up (thus the buttermilk often called for in recipes with baking soda). No buttermilk in the fridge, so I added a couple doses of red wine vinegar to the milk. Not, perhaps, an ideal work-around, but it really did the job yesterday. I guess this recipe ended up being not only a study in how that dark roasted cornmeal tastes, but also one in ingredient replacement! You’ll see other notes about my alterations in the recipe below.

Jeanne Owen’s Corn Bread (from James Beard’s American Cookery)

1/2 cup sifted flour

1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal [I used the Anselma dark roasted corn meal]

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder [I used 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 1/2 tsp baking soda]

3 eggs, well beaten

1 cup milk [I added about 1 tsp red wine vinegar as acidity needed for baking soda]

1/4 cup cream [I didn’t have any cream, used extra milk instead]

1/3 cup melted butter [I used 1/2 cup, to replace some of milkfat that would have been in cream]

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and milk and beat with a wooden spoon. Beat in the cream, and lastly the melted butter. Pour into an 8 1/2 x 11-inch well-buttered pan [I used a 9-inch square pan, worked fine] and bake at 400 degrees approximately 15 to 18 minutes. Cut in square while still hot and fold into a napkin before serving.

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Quirk Books: a Random Cookbook Collection

At Seattle Bookfest in late October, I found myself chatting with a gentleman at the  Book Club of Washington booth about their organization. “Are you a collector?” he asked me. “No, not really,” I muttered. “Do you have more than 3 books at home?” Sure. Of course. Who doesn’t? Is it that easy to be a collector?

It’s surely not a fair impression, but I’ve always equated “book collector” with someone who buys volumes (often historic or otherwise singular) in pristine condition (or has them restored), then puts them on display in some elegant fashion. I sit at the other end of the spectrum. I have many hundreds of books, but they’re all over the place, some on the floor, many on shelves, some piled on the tops of said shelves. Some are new, some are old. Some are immaculate, some are verging on tattered. But it is, I suppose, a collection. If a random, unorganized, somewhat motley one.

When it comes to adding books to this collection, that’s equally random. Many show up on the doorstep, of course, as did the delicious The Grand Central Baking Book this past week. Which was delightfully frustrating onlyThe Grand Central Baking Book: Breakfast Pastries, Cookies, Pies, and Satisfying Savories from the Pacific Northwest's Celebrated Bakery Cover in that the book did not come with an accompanying piece of that Lemon Crumble Tart on page 126. I also received last week the new Coco book from the artfully-inclined publisher Phaidon. In it, 10 master chefs from around the world (including Alice Waters, Fergus Henderson, Ferran Adrià and Mario Batali) each picked 10 chefs they feel are on the cusp of greatness, contemporary chefs that will be tomorrow’s masters. It’s a luscious, inspiring, diverse volume that is equally cookbook, culinary narrative and travelogue, with wanderlust-inducing destinations to add to the food life list. And it was great to see Seattle’s own Kevin Davis among the chefs profiled, a choice of Mario Batali’s.

Because of the existing overload of books I already own, I don’t scour bookstores–new or used–nearly as much as I used to. Now and then, I will, unable to fully shake the habit. And I usually gravitate to the old, the quirky, the unexpected, the nostalgic. I seem to have a thing for the 1950s given the number of my books–including a Ford Motor Company collection of recipes from drive-worthy destination restaurants and Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts*–that  were published back then.

But as I first started reflecting on my oddball book collection for this post, it just happened that the first few books I reached for had a common theme. So it’s prompted me to start sharing occasional peeks at the books that surround me in this office. Starting today with the animal kingdom.

Take the Wolf in Chef’s Clothing book I picked up somewhere along the line. It was first published in 1950 by the Wilcox & Follett Co. publishers in Chicago. Billed as “the picture cook and drink book for men” (men, those wolves!!), it takes the picture-worth-a-thousand-words ideal to the extreme. Recipes never list quantities such as “2 teaspoons sugar” instead showing a sugar bowl showering its contents into two spoons. Hard to get any simpler than that! Recipes include Welsh Rabbit (rarebit, but who’s counting), C’est la Vie Canape (cream cheese-roquefort stuffed celery stalks) and even Crêpes Suzettes. Picking the book up again, I realize it bears some resemblance to the Look & Cook cookbook series I worked on with Anne Willan. Which itself was inspired in part by another volume in my shelves, La Cuisine Est Un Jeu d’Enfants (Cooking is Child’s Play). My 1965 copy includes both original and translated text, complete with forward by Jean Cocteau!

Another animalistic food book I have is less cookbook, more “food as decorative art” inspiration. L’Artichouette (which seems to be out of print) has this wild bird-like creature on the cover, with radish-slice eyes, that exemplifies the transformations found within–in this case an artichaut (artichoke) into a chouette (owl). Get it? Arti-chouette? (Chouette is also slang for “cool,” so gets extra mileage in the title.) I picked this up in France years ago, in fact it still has the Librairie Gourmande card and facture tucked inside. The introduction references  everything from the grand pièces montées of the 19th century to holiday gingerbread houses as examples of metamorphoses from food to art or structure. I haven’t tackled the carrot-race-car or palm-tree-pineapple, nor any of the creations, to be honest. It’s more a reminder of food as a source of endless artistic creativity. A more recent twist on that theme, Play With Your Food takes it to a different extreme, less manipulating the food by trimming and cutting, more finding the hidden faces, creatures and other features that fruits and vegetables naturally serve up.

Last, a sweet, simple little book that I came across in the vast cookbook collection at Château du Feÿ when I was helping Anne Willan determine how to prioritize the 4,000-plus cookbook library there prior to their move. A few books that ended up in up-for-grabs pile caught my eye, this one included. I mostly loved the title, since I haven’t been to Norway and have not, in fact, eaten anything there. And the determined look on that chef’s face. Inside, most recipes are in that very simple brief-paragraph narrative form, including fylt kaalhode (stuffed cabbage) sursild (sour pickled herrings) and risengrøt (rice porridge).

Motley, indeed, these books I surround myself with. And with my office redo imminent, I’ll be pulling each and every one from its shelf for safe keeping while floor, walls and new furniture are attended to. Seems an ideal time to purge a few from the collection. But my money’s on 99 percent of the books coming back to the new shelves. Old or new. Quirky or not. There’s something to relish in every single one of them.

* I offer links to older books as available, though these often represent reproductions of the original volumes. I think it’s far more fun to have a copy that dates to or near the time of original publication. More authentically nostalgic with its yellowed pages, dog-eared spine, likelihood of having passed through the hands of at least a few cooks and hosts over the years.

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Green Bean Casserole, Revisited

‘Tis the season. For a lot of things, actually.  I hear talk of comfort food and big cozy sweaters, fires in the fire place and hunkering down to watch old movies and read a good book.

And with all this rain, cooling temperatures, it’s also the season of wild mushrooms. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve eaten various types of the seasonal delicacy in recent weeks, but they include a wonderful spinach salad with wild mushrooms and goat cheese at FareStart, a kind of ragout of chanterelles at a dinner meeting held at Lisa Dupar’s Pomegranate, and a roasted corn soup with wild mushrooms at Barrio. It’s always time to celebrate when the price of chanterelles begins to approach that of cultivated mushrooms, a sure sign the bounty is here. So we’ve had them at home, as well, sautéed with chard and garlic, or added to a rice pilaf.

But ’tis THE season as well. The holiday season. The one that has us all starting to dream up menu plans and flip through magazines for ideas. Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday of the year, not to mention one of my favorite meals. And it’s one that I love to keep traditional. No standing rib roast or salmon fillet or crown of pork. It’s always turkey, or on rare occasion maybe Cornish game hens, as I did on the grill one year. Stuffing, absolutely. Potatoes? Yes, mashed and rich. A bright crisp salad. Something pumpkiny for dessert.

Only thing missing is a green vegetable. And the most quintessential side dish at this time of year is the famous green bean casserole. Nostalgic, beloved, but who today can stomach the canned provinence of the original’s ingredients? I know I can’t. Which is why, in the course of developing recipes for my Wild Mushrooms cookbook, I came up with a from-scratch version. Simple white sauce. Lots of fresh wild chanterelle mushrooms. Savory leeks. Crisp green beans. And a chanterelle/bread crumb topping. Still a little nostalgia in there. But with a whole lot more flavor! (Go ahead and use those crunchy canned fried onions if you just can’t imagine this recipe without them.)

chanterelles

One of the many beautiful watercolor illustrations done for my book by artist Don Barnett

Green Bean and Chanterelle Casserole

from Wild Mushrooms, in the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series

 

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, split, cleaned and sliced

1 pound chanterelles, brushed clean, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

White Sauce:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

Pinch freshly grated or ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture foams up and begins to smell slightly nutty, 2 to 3 minutes (the flour should not brown). Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until the sauce thickens, whisking often to avoid any lumps or sticking, 6 to 8 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the nutmeg with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 12-inch oval baking dish or other 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the green beans, and cook until they are bright green and nearly tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan or large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until tender and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the chanterelles and add the rest to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid they give off has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Take the skillet from the heat and stir in the white sauce, white wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the beans and stir to evenly coat them in the sauce, then transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.

Pulse the bread crumbs and reserved chanterelles in a food processor to a fine crumbly texture. Scatter the mixture over the green beans and bake until bubbly-hot and the topping is nicely browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Spoon onto individual plates to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Green Beans on Foodista

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Les Hamburgers

I hope you read that title with an appropriately thick French accent, as I’d intended. Lay ambehrgehr. It makes a difference. Because this isn’t about the all-American hamburger we all know and love, instead a Gallic take on our Yankee icon.  

It really had never crossed my radar in all the time I’ve spent in France that the French were big on hamburgers. At least I never saw evidence that replicated the way we love them in the U S of A.

Here’s the limit of my hamburger-related memories from France: I was on a study-abroad program in Dijon my junior year of college. There were just 6 of us, a small program, we were each housed in a family home. And one day each week we convened at our coordinator/den mother’s apartment for lunch, with random host family members joining us. One day a friend’s “French mom” arrived with a packet from the butcher. Some lovely ground beef, all richly red and mottled with the little flecks of white fat. She just plopped that mound onto her plate and dug right in. No pretense about “steak tartar” with its seasonings and accoutrements. It was a culinary learning moment.

So I’ll clarify here that indeed this story is about cooked hamburgers. Les hamburgers à la française.

What inspired this musing is having run into a friend back in July at the preview screening of Julie & Julia. Chatting before the movie started, she told me that the first Julia Child recipe she ever cooked was the hamburger recipe in Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The assignment in her home-ec class was to cook a recipe from a cookbook and that’s what she picked. I kindlyMastering3 asked if perhaps it was another book she was thinking about, secretly sure she was muddling her memory.

No, she assured me, it was Mastering. Volume One.

Huh?

Didn’t quite compute. Pommes de terre dauphinois, sauce chasseur, veau Prince Orloff, bavarois au chocolat, sure. But hamburgers? In fact, there it is, bottom of page 300, the heading “Ground Beef–Hamburgers; Bifteck Haché.”

Julia explains, “Shock is the reaction of some Americans we have encountered who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers. They do eat them, and when sauced with any of the suggestions in the following recipes, the French hamburger is an excellent and relatively economical main course for an informal party.”

So I owed Karen an apology. And I got out the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid. Not because of that recent discomforting New York Times article about ground beef; this was a few weeks prior. Instead because Julia said so: “Be fussy about your meat; have all the fat and sinews removed, and have it ground before your very eyes or better, grind it yourself.”

You’ve got a copy of the book, right? [I’ll wait while you go check your shelves] No? Well you should, pick one up next time you’re out. Even if it’s just for the reading quality and the depth of knowledge that the inimitable  Madame Child shares with us. You don’t have to cook the stuffed leg of lamb or an elaborate cassoulet. Plenty of great go-to recipes for a casual meal, like endive and ham gratin or sole poached in white wine.

hamburger1I picked up some chuck at the store, dutifully trimmed and ground it. Then  following her steps for Bifteck Haché à la Lyonnaise (with onions and herbs), added the sautéed onion, thyme, egg and softened butter she calls for (being fresh out of bone marrow or beef suet).  While I did spend a lot more time on those 4 or 5 burgers than I would have buying a pound and a half of ground beef, the flavor really was a few steps above the norm. Not just the flavor, but the texture too, so toothsome, resistent, juicy. My only quibble with Julia’s method was the final coating of the patties in flour before cooking; I found it just encouraged sticking and burn potential, I preferred the unfloured version.

The real French-ness of this recipe shines next: making a little pan sauce to serve over the burgers, dispensing with the frivolous bun/lettuce/tomato finish we come to expect. I chose red wine to dissolve those tasty bits stuckhamburger2 to the pan, reducing quickly to a nice sauce. Simple in presentation, powerful in flavor.

I’m sold. There is a lot to be gained in fresh-grinding meat for burgers, and surely meatballs, sauces, other favorite uses for ground beef, whether your motives are gastronomic or health-related.

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New Book: Memorable Recipes

RBcoverI’m wildly overdue in sharing news of  release of the latest cookbook project I’ve worked on. Delayed in large part because I was up-to-eyeballs in work on the newer book, Gourmet Game Night, which just went to bed this week. Coming up for air and getting caught up!

Memorable Recipes To Share with Family and Friends is a project I worked on with Renée Behnke, president emeritus of Sur La Table. It’s a book I really grew to love over the time working with her on it. And it has been receiving some great press and kudos already, including having been named one of the ten best cookbooks of the summer by NPR.

RBchickThe collection encompasses recipes that ultimately act as something of a memoire for Renée, ranging from family treasures that take her back to her childhood outside Portland, to evocative, exotic dishes that reflect the amazing world travels she has experienced. How many other cookbooks could get away with clam dip,  fried chicken, and peanut butter cream pie, as well as lamb shanks tagine, cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms and Pakistani vegetable samosas? It’s a diverse and personal  selection;  something is sure to fit most any dinnertime situation.

I tested all the recipes in my home kitchen, an objective perspective to complement her years of cooking these dishes for family and friends. I had many favorites, but a few of them include Tiny Potatoes with Hot Bacon Dressing, Wine Braised Corned Beef, French Potato and Green Bean Salad, Artichoke Risotto with Peas and Mint, and Red Wine Poached Pears with Ricotta Stuffing. Oh, and that fried chicken? It is one of the best recipes I’ve ever tried for that classic!

Though this isn’t an “entertaining” book per se, Renée really is one who

Michel Escoffier in the garden

Michel Escoffier in the garden

makes entertaining look about as easy as rolling out of bed. She shares many of the tips she’s learned after years of throwing dinner parties of all kinds. In fact, reading Joanne Weir’s forward in the book, you’ll get a taste of Renée’s style as Joanne recounts a couple of her more memorable occasions dining with Renee.

When you flip through the book and see the chapter-opener photographs, and many other garden shots — those all come from the glorious garden that she and her husband Carl tend. I can’t even tell you how many different plants are in that large plot, how many varieties of peas, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, herbs, beans, corn…they could set up their own CSA program! On Renée’s web site and linked blog, you can read more about her garden, as well as travels and other delicious things she’s up to.

Thierry's take on deviled eggs

Thierry's take on deviled eggs

I just had the occasion to partake of a phenomenal luncheon–including some time in that garden, eating sweet peas straight from the vine–at her home this past week. The honored guest was Michel Escoffier,  great-great-grandson of Auguste Escoffier and president of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation. Truly one of the rock stars of the culinary world, the elder Escoffier was a trailblazer and mentor of his time. Michel was in Seattle (for his first time ever) before boarding a cruise ship to Alaska. I was thrilled to be asked to join for this intimate afternoon. And, of course, Renée was in prime form. Not even an Escoffier descendant could throw her off her game. This woman knows how to do it!

Rightfully, she didn’t try to toss anything fancy at him, certainly nothing

Me with Michel Escoffier, left, and Thierry Rautureau, right.

Me with Michel Escoffier, left, and Thierry Rautureau, right.

 French. The man’s in town for a few short days, hasn’t been to the city before, surely wants to relax and enjoy the local style and flavors. We early birds started on the deck with a little rosé and some very simple nibbles: carrot and celery sticks, a small dish of perfect Rainier cherries, some wonderful salted nuts. Then Thierry Rautureau, chef/owner of Rover’s, showed up with his contribution: deviled eggs, done up snazzy with a touch of  Moroccan harissa.

Such a perfect start, Dungeness crab cocktail

Such a perfect start, Dungeness crab cocktail

After a tour of the garden, we lingered a bit alongside the regulation-sized croquet court. Michel and Thierry knocked some balls around, as did I for just a bit. Renée figured that her guests were happy where they were, so brought the first course down to us: generous bowls of sweet, perfect Dungeness crab meat with a homemade cocktail sauce. It was simple, elegant and delicious.

We then moved up to the covered outdoor table for the main spread: an American-style picnic menu of fried chicken, baked beans, watermelon-red onion salad, cornbread and a pasta salad with tuna. Outstanding. Though at how many picnics have you been offered Petite Syrah (a California label, completely escaping me which right now) and Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon? Granted, this wasn’t really your average picnic. But what Renee does so well is meld comfort food with celebrations of all kinds, even the most grand. She once told me how much she enjoys

Such a picnic, when Renee's the host

Such a picnic, when Renee's the host

 watching the faces of her guests showing up for a more formal dinner party in their home, when they realize they’re being serving an amazing brisket for dinner or maybe a big pot of luscious gumbo instead of more uppity beef Wellington. They just naturally relax, the food helping ease any sense of pretension about the evening.

The moral of her story is that gathering people together is the foremost reason for entertaining in Renée’s book. Driving yourself insane with an elaborate menu and finicky touches that complicate the process? No need. Just think: fried chicken and a nice bottle of wine. It can be as easy as that.

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A New Project: Tasty Fun and Games

I’ve had a Blondie comic strip tacked just above my desk for a while now. In it, Dagwood’s playing poker with his pals, shuffling the cards only to have them all fly out of his hands with a P-R-R-R-T (one of those clever comic sound effects). The others decide that Dagwood’s not allowed to shuffle the cards with those greasy-pizza fingers of his ever again.

gameclosetGames are big in this house. The photo here is just a couple shelves of our “game closet,” where most other people would keep their towels and linens. Before seeing that Blondie strip, the germ of an idea for a cookbook full of game-friendly foods had already planted itself in my head. An idea that the strip’s sentiment perfectly echoed. The recipes would feature items that don’t require you putting down your cards to pick up a knife and fork. Plates that won’t take up so much table space that the dinner is competing with the dominoes. Foods that won’t leave traces of sauce or juice or oiliness on your fingers, so you can go about sculpting Cranium clay, rolling dice or–are you listening Dagwood?–shuffling cards without messy mishaps.

The date on that comic strip? May 2, 2002. It’s an idea that’s been growing and developing for a number of years now, finally in full gear. I’m deep into testing and writing of my latest project, Game Night Food, which will be published by Ten Speed Press early next year (the same folks who published the lovely Rover’s cookbook I co-wrote with chef Thierry Rautureau a few years ago).

I  love a lot about my work as a food writer. Okay, not so much the endless hours in front of the computer screen taxing my story-telling skills in crafting an article or essay or other narrative exercise. That’s still hard, though rewarding when it’s all done and submitted.

But what I really love is sitting at my computer and dreaming up recipes, gameplatethen going into my kitchen to test, hone, polish and develop into a delicious, relatively fail-safe candidate for a project such as this. With, in this case, the added creative challenge of preparations and presentations that fulfill the ultimate goal of the book: a game night dinner party that isn’t about having dinner then playing games, but an evening in which dinner and games intermingle perfectly.

What I really, really love is that this book is truly fun and games. Not only is cooking and creating the recipes enjoyable in itself — for this project I’m putting the recipes through real-world rigors as much as possible. Which means gathering friends and family around the table often for work-meets-play Game Nights, to sample the recipes and offer their feedback, while also confirming that they’re game-friendly, tidy and ultimately satisfying as I hope they will be. So far not too many duds thankfully. Some early favorites include mini gameslamb burgers with feta, chilled avocado soup with roasted poblano cream (served in an espresso cup or tall shot glass) and large pasta shells stuffed with kale and ricotta.

I’ll surely be sharing a few more details with you as the project progresses. But in the meantime, do you have any favorite game night stories or scenarios you’d like to share? A great new game you can recommend (my editor turned me on to The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Game, which is a hoot), or a longtime family favorite that never fails to entertain and help you unwind with your friends? Bring on the fun. And may all your game nights be delicious ones!

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