Category Archives: cooking at home

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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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!

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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!

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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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Waking Up to Granola

I’ve been on a granola spree lately. And it kind of took me by surprise.

Well, to be true, I do remember this moment: on a business trip a few months back, I was on deadline working in my hotel room through the breakfast hour. I usually find room service menus pretty uninspiring and fall back on what seems safe and easy. That day, as on many others like it, I chose yogurt, fruit, granola. Sometimes it’s “yogurt and fruit” with a side of granola. Or “granola and yogurt” with a side of seasonal fruit. But it’s rare that some incarnation of that trio isn’t on a hotel room service menu. Safe. And easy.

So there I sat, looking down at my now-predictable hotel room breakfast. And realizing how much I liked it. And wondering why it was that I only eat it while typing away on a borrowed desk out-of-town rather than on my own dining room table at home.

Every now and then I think about picking up some granola at home. But most pre-made granola available at the store can be pretty insipid and lackluster if not also overly sweet. And the stuff that looks really great and homemade? Seems to always be about $5 per cup.

Homemade, you say? Yeah, I’d done that before. Probably exactly twice. Recipe testing. The first, for my first book Northwest Best Places Cookbook, a “Nutty but Nice” recipe from the Marquee House in Salem, Oregon. (Looks like the recipe didn’t make the cut for the re-issue of that cookbook last year; the original came out in 1996.) Another granola recipe from Rock Springs Guest Ranch in Bend, Oregon for another Best Places cookbook in 2003. Those Oregonians, they do love their granola! A popular item on many a bed and breakfast morningtime table, no matter what state.

Since then, no oats had been tossed with melted butter and honey. No pan of healthful grains toasting in the oven to make a nutty and delicious breakfast food. Not until that recent enlightened morning when I realized how much I actually like the stuff.

So back in the kitchen to make some homemade granola. Both of those previously-tested recipes had been good, but neither really knocked my socks off. I perused a few other options and liked this one best of all. But, of course, I changed things around quite a bit. Here’s what I came up with to suit my fancy. Secret ingredient? Malt powder. Adds both a bit of interesting sweetness and that malty-nutty flavor that I just can’t resist. (Some of that same jar went into a batch of chocolate-malt ice cream this week.)

Granola is an ideal template for variation. If you’ve got wheat germ on hand but not flaxseed, swap them out. Neither? The granola’s just dandy without them. Nix the coconut, add raisins, use different nuts. Banana chips? Whatever floats your boat. It’s a fun and tasty recipe to play around with.

Malty Granola

5 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (unsalted)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup malt powder
1/3 cup flaxseed
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Stir together the oats, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut, almonds, malt powder and flaxseed in a large bowl. Combine the butter and honey in a small saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is fully melted, stirring occasionally. Stir in the vanilla, then pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture. Stir well to evenly blend, then pour the oaty combo out onto a large rimmed baking sheet or baking dish.

Bake the granola until lightly browned and toasty-nutty smelling, about 1 hour, stirring the granola gently every 15 minutes or so to assure even cooking. Set aside to cool thoroughly before transferring to an air-tight container for storage. The granola will keep for up to 2 weeks, in a cool, dark spot and well sealed to keep it crisp.

Makes about 7 cups.

Granola on Foodista

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It’s the Berries: Summer Pudding

Okay, enough with the stone fruits! I’ve clearly been on a bent about that category of delicious summertime fruits. For a moment I’ll move along from the peach and plum tones of those juicy treats and give some props to the jeweltone berries.

A few occurrences conspired to put visions of summer pudding dancing in my head over the past few weeks. Random conversations. Memories. What-to-do-with-those-beautiful-berries ponderings. The last straw was when I came across this recipe in Relish magazine a couple of weeks ago. That did it. Summer pudding it would be. Friends coming over for dinner a couple nights later were to be the victims.

I first learned about summer pudding about 20 years ago. At the time I was living in France, working on various book projects with Anne Willan after having graduated from La Varenne. One interesting project had me going over to England with Chef Claude to do some video work, done at the English countryside home of one of the project’s producers. Beautiful setting, warm and gracious people, quiet environs. It was a wonderful few days. A highlight of which was a small dinner party our hosts threw while we were there. The time was late summer, I can still picture the cozy, colorful dining room and lively ambiance of conversations that evening.

Not every detail of the meal remains in my memory bank, but I was introduced to two things that night: sea beans and summer pudding. Sea beans (also known as samphire, among a number of nicknames) will have to wait for another day. But that summer pudding was a revelation: bright and bursting with flavor, despite being made with little more than berries, sugar and bread.

 

Off I went to the grocery store, my wonderful neighborhood West Seattle Thriftway that feeds me so well. This time of year they have a special rack in the produce area, featuring berries from Sakuma Brothers up in the Skagit Valley. Sure, expensive when you compare the price berry-for-berry against the standard offerings. But worth every cent given the mountains of flavor and aroma they offer by comparison. A quart of strawberries, a pint each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries.

Though I always knew summer pudding to be made with everyday white bread–a type with dense crumb and not too soft–I wanted to make mine with brioche for a bit of extra panache, as did chef Ashton in that Relish recipe. There’s a good selection of Macrina breads at my Thriftway but that day the brioche loaf came only in raisined form. Not for summer pudding. So I made perhaps an odd choice and went with Macrina’s brioche hot dog buns. Same product, different shape. Just meant a bit more creative shape-cutting to fully line the bowl.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, as is my habit. I used less water, maybe 1/2 cup. I didn’t strain the berry juice from the berries to then dunk the bread pieces in the juice. Seemed an unnecessary step to me, dirtying more tools, when the bread is going to have ample time to soak up all that juice once the pudding is assembled.

So there I was, lining a ceramic bowl with my oddball shapes of brioche buns. I cut off most of the crust and cut the buns in long slices to best replicate normal sliced bread. Gently cooked the berries a bit, then ladled them and their vivid juices into the bowl. More brioche on top. Then the perfectly-sized plate to perch on top, with a heavy can or two to weigh everything down while it chills for a good 8 hours.

It’s pretty phenomenal how much that loose, juicy berry mixture sets up over time. Thankfully, the plastic wrap used to line the bowl gives you some leverage to help neatly dislodge the pudding onto a serving plate. A friend with Anglo heritage swears Devonshire cream is the only ideal accompaniment to a “summer pud” but all I could muster up was some freshly whipped and just lightly sweetened cream.

Perfection. A great way to cap off dinner with a longtime friend passing through town with his two bright, precocious children. And it wasn’t bad for breakfast the next day, either.

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Sum- Sum- Summertime: Juicy Fruits

If I had to hang my hat on one theme about which I’ve written the most in my (ahem) nearly 2 decades of food writing, it’s Northwest ingredients. Celebration of foods that are grown in my backyard, that have been part of my life since I was a little kid, it’s a thrill when your backyard is one so bounteous as this one. Some items are pretty famously linked to the region, things like salmon, apples, oysters, foods that get a lot of attention when the national spotlight is shown on the Northwest by way of cookbooks and articles. Others are less so. Which is why in my Northwest Homegrown Cookbook series I kicked off with Crab, followed by Stone Fruit. Instead of Salmon (which came later in the series) followed by Berries (which hasn’t happened, yet).

I figured that if you asked even a Seattleite to list the key foods for which Washington state is a top grower nationally, I figured it might be a while before they got to “peaches” or “cherries.” But I didn’t want to write a book just about either peaches or cherries. They and their other pitted brethren–apricots, nectarines, plums–share common heritage, sweetness, form and other characteristics that make them a delightful and delicious group to consider as a whole.

Then came naming the book. Stone Fruits is by no means a title so enchanting the books nearly jump into the hands of customers. It doesn’t elicit the kind of visceral response that, say, words like “chocolate,” “cupcakes” or “bacon” might. Stone, of course, refers to the fact that the fruits all have a similar pit–called a “stone” in Anglo parlance. I could have called the cookbook “Drupes,” another term that references the fruits’ slightly larger family, which includes almonds. But that certainly wasn’t a consumer-ready improvement. “Soft fruits” is another term used in the industry, to readily contrast these fruits with firmer apples and pears. We joked about titles the likes of “Juicy Fruits” and “Sexy Fruits,” to no avail.

I didn’t want to call it “Peaches (and those other fruits).” Nor just offer the laundry list of the five types.

So Stone Fruits it is. And perhaps it’s little surprise that of the four books in that series, Stone Fruits is the slower seller of them all. It’s kind of like the blonde, cute, generous girl that everyone likes having the name Gladys. A most unfortunately example of judging a book by its title. A stone fruit cobbler mixing up plums, peaches and apricots is a mighty delicious proposition. But it probably would be easily oversold by a classic cherry cobbler.

Give that charming girl named Gladys a chance. When you see “stone fruits” on a menu, don’t think “stone soup.” These are the fruits that will burst in your mouth and drip down your chin. Fruits that make pies and other treats so good they make you cry. Not only because they’re so delicious. But because they’re also so fleeting. Tree-ripened, honestly seasonal fruits in this chummy group don’t stick around for long. Indulge while you can.

I had the good fortune of coming home from a talk a couple of weeks ago with a couple pounds of wonderful Northwest cherries. Tim Mar was there, had brought them for us to snack on and there was a good bit left over. Tim’s co-owner of ChefShop.com, known for its amazing world pantry of spices/chocolates/nuts, etc. But also venturing into the realm of fresh seasonal foods on special occasions. Occasions as special as the local cherry season, during which they ship off boxes of the fruit to all corners of the globe. It was quite a treat to have this bounty. After nibbling more than a few handfuls, I set to showcasing them in a simple dessert. Cherry cobbler won the coin toss.

I don’t necessarily have a favorite go-to recipe for cobbler. To be perfectly honest, we just don’t eat dessert around here very often. So I headed over to www.epicurious.com and found a recipe that lead me to this incarnation. Tasty. And to fully embrace the joys of all stone fruits, I’d happily recreate this recipe using a mix of them all, pitted and chopped to relatively equal sized pieces meeting that 6-cup quantity.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Filling
6 cups pitted and halved cherries and/or pitted and chopped peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste (if the fruits are on the tart side add more)
2 tablespoons tapioca
2 tablespoons Frangelico, Amaretto or Grand Marnier

Biscuit Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir together the stone fruits in a large bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, tapioca, and liqueur over and stir well to mix. Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the fruit mixture (with its juices) to a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine the flour, butter, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse until the butter is finely chopped and the mixture has a coarse sandy texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the milk and vanilla, stirring just until the dough is cohesive. Top the fruit with randomly placed spoonfuls of the dough, leaving some open spots where the fruit is exposed.

Set the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet just in case there are any drips that need catching. Bake until the biscuit topping is nicely browned and the fruit juices are bubbling up around the edge of the dish, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool to, or near, room temperature before serving.

Makes about 8 servings.

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