Category Archives: seasonal eats

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

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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Taste of Summer: Rosé Sangria

I recorded a radio interview earlier this week, chatting about great foods and beverages to enjoy during the summer. When it comes to “summer” and “drinks” I get fixated on one thing: rosé sangria. I’ll admit to not usually being a sangria fan. Random fruit and sweetened red wine, just not my cup of tea. Which I’m sure is doing a disservice to great traditional sangria, but that’s been my general impression most times I’ve ordered it. Maybe I’ll have to run off to Spain and give some authentic sangria a try one of these days.

But when you swap out that red wine for a brisk, beautiful pink wine of summer and choose some great seasonal fruit — now you’re talking! That’s a sangria I can get enthusiastic about. Pretty, bright, and delicious. An ideal partner for whatever you may be cooking up this summer.

You know about the glories of rosé wine, right? Just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s sweet and adorable and girly. And if your only image of “pink” wine is white zinfandel, snap out of it!! Rosé is an incredibly engaging style of wine that serves up quite a lot of personality. Colors can go from just a subtle blush of pink to nearly raspberry, some verging on salmon-orange tones. Flavors range from light, crisp and quite dry to lush and somewhat fruity (my preference leans toward the former rather than the latter). While it’s possible some folks out there are in fact tinging white wine with red to get to pink, quality rosés are made with red wine grapes that are crushed, the juice left in contact with those red skins just long enough to influence the juice with a bit of their color.

So after I’d talked about some great grilling ideas and entertaining suggestions, the subject turned to beverages. And I piped up about my love of rosé sangria, about to rattle off description of the Watermelon-Rosé Sangria that’s in my new book, Gourmet Game Night, when I remembered that I’d also developed a rosé sangria recipe for my Stone Fruit cookbook that came out a few years ago. Kind of obsessed with the subject, you can see. My pal Braiden Rex-Johnson just did a wonderful write-up of Gourmet Game Night, which includes the watermelon version recipe here.

But here below is the original recipe I came up with. It was inspired in large part by the bottles of rosé from Washington’s own Chinook that populate our wine rack each summer. Winemaker Kay Simon makes her rosé with Cabernet Franc grapes, giving the wine some of that cherry-plum-berry character the varietal exhibits. If you’re unable to get your hands on the lighter-fleshed Rainier cherries, you can use dark cherries instead, knowing that their juices will deepen the color of the sangria from the natural hue of the wine.

Here’s to a wonderful summer ahead, with lots of delicious rosé sangria to enjoy! I think I’ll make it a new summertime tradition to come up with a new rosé sangria combo each year. A tasty challenge indeed.

Rosé Sangria with Rainier Cherries and Nectarines
from Stone Fruit

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 bottles (750 ml each) dry rosé wine
1/2 pound Rainier cherries
1 nectarine or peach
1/2 lime, thinly sliced
1/4 cup brandy or kirsch
1 cup club soda

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil, then set the sugar syrup aside to cool.

Pour the rosé into a large pitcher, preferably glass. Pit and halve the cherries (Rainiers will discolor if pitted too far in advance) and add them to the wine. Pit and thinly slice the nectarine and add it to the pitcher with the lime slices. Stir in the brandy and sugar syrup, then chill the sangria until ready to serve, ideally at least a few hours to allow the flavors of the fruit to meld with the wine

Just before serving, stir in the club soda. Pour the chilled sangria into large wine glasses, spooning some of the fruit into each serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

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A Feast of Shrimp, South Carolina Style

I think a new tactic I’ll employ whenever travelling to a new place for the first time will be getting a pedicure on the first day there. That’s how we found out about the secret location for getting our shrimp fix while in South Carolina last month. Warm weather, beaches, sandals, sunshine meant a prime time for getting our toes all primped up. So Sunday morning we were hanging out at the local mani/pedi destination, in one of the fancy outdoor mall areas of Mt Pleasant just outside Charleston. Piggly Wiggly in the same complex became a frequent stop, this mall quickly became part of our routine during our brief stint as locals.

So there we were soaking our toes and four women were just finishing up, sounded like prelude to wedding celebrations later in the week. We exchanged a couple quick hellos. I guess it was pretty clear we weren’t from around there (lily white skin a dead give-away I suppose), they asked where we were visiting from. Our new friend heard “Seattle” and immediately asked if we’d come to town for Bambi’s party. Or maybe it was Buffy, or Trixie? Whatever it was, it wasn’t a name I hear often attached to any Seattleites I know. We nodded ‘nope’ but secretly wondered about crashing a fellow native’s shin-dig down there in South Carolina….. But then down to business. “Where can we get some local shrimp in the area?” we asked. Shem Creek, she told us. She explained that’s the area where all the shrimp boats pull in and dock when they’re not out shrimping. “Get your shrimp at Wendy’s,” she said. “It’s right behind the Rack.” Shem. Wendy’s. Rack. Got it.

Kathy and I headed back to the house to dazzle our husbands with our twinkly fingers and toes, then we all head off for our first of two lunches at Poe’s Tavern. We’d be regulars in a heartbeat if we lived anywhere near here. And we will be every time we make a return visit. Then off in search of shrimp. Took a while, but we had nothing but time (ahhhhhhh, vacation!). Google maps messed us up a bit, sending us to a hospital complex just off the highway. Only off by about four miles…… We finally found Shem Creek Inn, which lead us to some shrimp boats, a quick chat with a cook at a tourist restaurant who was catching a smoke out back, and before long we were standing in front of a funky local restaurant called The Wreck (not the Rack), with Wando Shrimp (not Wendy’s) alongside.

Both The Wreck and Wando were closed, but still we’d struck pay dirt. Because to the other side of The Wreck was Magwood & Sons. Purveyors of shrimp. Though they were out that afternoon. We chatted with head honcho Jay, who promised to call when next the boat came in. Which he did on Tuesday, very early in the morning. A few hours later, we were standing in the shop and he was scooping up 5 pounds of just-landed shrimp from the bin. While we were standing there chatting with Jay, I realized we’d come in the back door and were standing in the business part of the business, while most customers come in the other door and order at the counter. I sheepishly apologized, he said “that’s okay, I know you guys,” like we were longtime friends. Gotta love that about the South! As he was filling the old-school scale hanging from the ceiling, I scanned the shop noticing not much else going one. Shining stainless steel tables for cleaning. Refrigeration. The big tub full of shrimp. “Do you sell anything besides shrimp?” I asked him. “You bet!” he said. “Ice.”

Back to the house with the shrimp. As good fortune would have it, Tuesday is also farmers market day in Mt. Pleasant, but not until later in the afternoon. First, we had an early afternoon date with Nathalie Dupree at her really charming historic home in downtown Charleston, talking about food and cooking and Charleston and her work telling the story of Southern cuisine for a number of years. Great fun. And it’s where we learned the wisdom of “you can’t catch a pig from a horse,” which came in the course of discussing barbecue. And why it’s pig barbecue in the Carolinas and beef barbecue in Texas. Cowboys like to be on horses, galloping around and whooping and roping things. Cows are much more amenable to that scenario than are pigs. Which I guess explains why they’re not called Pigboys. But I digress.

 

Back over the lovely Arthur Ravenel bridge spanning the Cooper River to Mount Pleasant (a quick 10-15 minute drive) and the farmers market. It’s run by the city of Mt. Pleasant in a lovely, new-looking permanent structure. Lively and dynamic, lots of lovely produce, great locally made products like pickles and cheese, peanuts fresh, boiled and deep-fried (you eat them shell and all!). It was a fun and delightful taste of the region, and a great way to stock up for dinner.

 

The kitchen was soon a-flurry with activity. Green beans being trimmed, garlic cloves peeled, tomatoes and sweet onions sliced, ears of corn being shucked, amazing little creamer potatoes being scrubbed. Cocktails being made. Pimiento cheese being snacked on. All we were missing was the soundtrack from Big Chill. It had already been a wonderful day, and we were in for a pretty spectacular evening.

As is true of most regional/seasonal food, it’s usually time to stand back and apply the “less is more” principle. So the shrimp just got steamed very simply with sliced garlic, the green tops from the onions, herbs from Nathalie’s garden, lemon halves. Our salad was simple sliced cucumber, tomatoes, sweet onions with blue cheese scattered over and a balsamic vinaigrette. Corn, green beans and potatoes simply steamed. OOOOHHHH. And how could I forget?!?! Garlic bread! Old-school. Lots of butter with lots of minced garlic, some chives and other herbs. Slathered on big slabs of “French bread” (you know the kind, softer big loaves than any classic baguette). We were in HEAVEN.

 

Everything was ready. We piled onto the deck, had a good hour or so of sunlight left, glasses filled with chilled beverages of choice. All was right with our world! And it was an amazing dinner. Lots of moans and groans, more than a few comments akin to “a meal to remember.” A blessed highlight of vacation!

The leftovers were pretty remarkable too. Yes, we’d bought TOO MUCH shrimp. So it got peeled after dinner and tucked away for tomorrow. All the shrimp shells went into a pot and simmered for the rest of the evening. And it was a long evening of playing games and sipping cocktails (Kathy invented the Charleston 75 in honor of the experience!!! Ooooh those were good). So those shrimp shells had ample opportunity to exude all their wonderful flavor into the water. Which after being strained, we reduced even further to a thick near-glaze.

For Wednesday’s lunch I chopped up the remaining shrimp, diced some of the sweet onion and whipped the living daylights out of an egg yolk and some olive oil to make mayonnaise. A drizzle of that shrimp stock reduction, pinches of salt and pepper. I have to say that was one of the most delicious shrimp salads I’d ever had. Made only more delicious by spooning it on top of a piece of cold garlic bread. Much as I might like to think I could recreate that shrimp salad another day, it was truly a product of that moment in time. That combination of Mt Pleasant ingredients, that group of friends, that series of events and experiences that lead up to the simple lunch that was satisfying down to my jauntily-painted toes.

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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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A Merry Scandinavian Christmas

Which would translate to “god jul” in Swedish, with a “gott nytt år” tossed in to wish you a happy new year as well!

There are a couple of reasons that our Christmas day menu–usually a hearty but simple brunch, then a casual nosh later in the day–became a vaguely smörgåsbord-influenced Scandinavian spread. The main impetus was a holiday party earlier this month. The gift I came home with at the end of the white elephant exchange was this aebleskiver pan. I don’t think I’d ever tasted aebleskiver before, let alone made them, so instantly  looked forward to giving them a shot. And as soon as that seed was planted, I was recalling our mid-November trip to Stockholm a few years ago. The amazing foods we ate, the aquavit we sampled, the fun table-top trinkets I came home with that would be ideal on the Christmas table. Off and running, I was!! Thankfully I can count on my family to be up for pretty much anything I serve them, so I knew they’d be game.

This particular pan, whose provenance I know nothing about, does the favor of not only telling me what it’s for: “ebleskiver” is how it’s spelled on the pan. It also offers a none-too-appealing translation: apple pancake balls.

Oddly, just a few days after I’d acquired the pan, the folks at Sur La Table  twittered that they had an aebleskiver recipe to offer. And just in the nick of time. I wasn’t having any luck right off the bat finding a recipe among my usual go-to sources. I’m a huge fan of the 1970s Time-Life book series, Foods of the World, but in this one case felt a little let down that the Scandinavian volume didn’t offer an aebleskiver recipe. I checked a dozen other places, from my old Joy of Cooking to www.epicurious.com and found no recipes at all. Later I found this site with lots of information about aebleskivers, but since they sell aebleskiver mix, no luck with a recipe there either. So that Sur La Table version that came across from Twitterville proved to be serendipity for me. The few recipes I’ve found since don’t include apples at all. The name apparently translates as “apple slices” but clearly the literal foundation of this classic Danish dish has morphed over the years.

I don’t usually go through a dry run of a new recipe before a first time of serving it to family and friends. But I made an exception here, since this pan’s pretty one-of-a-kind, and this is a pretty unique treat. I wasn’t sure if the pan needed some coddling to avoid sticking, or how much fiddling I’d need to do to regulate the heat. I found pretty quickly that medium-low heat was plenty after a good dose of preheating, and that this would be hard to do on a non-gas stove (at least with the type of pan that I have), given that only the outer rim of the lower part of the pan comes in contact with the surface; gas flames licking up to warm the undersides of those divots was invaluable for even cooking.

The basics of making these little pancakes puffs is pretty straight-forward. The simple batter (using eggs separated, more like a waffle recipe) is spooned into the preheated cups of the aebleskiver pan and cooked until about halfway done and nicely browned. Then with the flick of a wrist, each is rolled over in its little cubby to cook on the other side.

That last bit is easier said than done. It’s the sole potential snag to an otherwise easy recipe. After a few minutes in the pan, the batter in the center will still be liquid so that it will, when inverted, flow down into the bottom of the indentation to make a rounded surface on the second side. If cooked a bit too long on the first side, that top surface won’t give at all and you’ll have an odd-looking demi-sphere of dough. Still delicious, just not evenly formed. Next time around I’ll try the technique I learned here, turning the round cakes in a few stages rather than all at once. 

I had to laugh when a few descriptions for how to make aebleskivers cited a knitting needle as the tool of choice for the job. I love to knit, but prefer to keep those needles in the living room where they belong. I chose instead a long tapered chopstick that lives in the crock next to the stove with other handy utensils, its tip ideal for the task.  I got better after a couple dozen but still, the delicate texture of the puffs makes it hard to avoid deforming them in the process of nudging them upside down. But my nephew was the first to reassure me that they taste just as good, even if not perfectly round.

The Christmas batch was gobbled up pretty quickly. I served them as is, alongside a dish of lingonberry jam that I’d picked up at IKEA while buying a boatload of office furniture earlier this month. Many descriptions call for topping them with powdered sugar, sweet jams, even syrup. This household doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, so plain with tart lingonberries was perfect. In fact, my brother-in-law had a couple topped with thin slices of the gravlax I’d made for the occasion, claiming the aebleskivers to be not far off from blini (blini with a smidge of orange zest and cardamom, which actually sounds great for salmon!).

Most Christmases in recent memory I’ve welcomed my family with fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls. I forsake those this year with aebleskivers and kringle on the menu (the latter my sister picked up from Nielsen’s Pastries in lower Queen Anne). And while I know these aebleskivers will be welcome again, I got a few hints that they might still like to see (and smell) those cinnamon rolls again some year. Oh well. Tradition is tradition! And when new traditions come along, I guess they can learn to mingle with the old. Perhaps I’ll add a French bûche de Noël and another holiday delight or two, making next year’s Christmas even a bit more international.

The menu that eventually built up around the aebleskiver foundation became an easy-going cold buffet that we could nibble on over the course of a few hours. I made a few different salads: grated carrots with toasted caraway, red cabbage with apple and walnut, dilled cucumbers. I made that aforementioned gravlax, a gin- and juniper-cured version that I developed for my Salmon cookbook a few years back. I picked up some cheeses (cumin-gouda, aged emmenthaler, havarti) and good cold cuts (mortadella, olive loaf, ham).

Oh, and libations! How could I forget. I had in my cupboard an unopened bottle of Krogstad Aquavit from Portland distiller House Spirits. Aquavit is a strong spirit that can be flavored with a range of spices, commonly with caraway as at least a base flavoring. Krogstad uses caraway and star anise. We came home from Stockholm with a sampler-pack of seasonal aquavits from different producers, each using different flavor elements that included dill, bitter orange, anise, cumin and coriander. That Christmas just a few weeks after we returned from the trip, I had a number of the bottles out for sampling throughout our brunch feast. This year, I plunked that bottle of Krogstad down into an empty milk carton, shimmied some red-berried branches down around it and filled the carton with water then stuck it in the freezer. With the ice frozen solid, the aquavit pours in a wonderfully icy, viscous texture into small glasses. Outstanding. A wonderful digestif to enjoy after our feast, while we watched the Swedish “comedy” Together. By the end of the evening, after playing a rousing card game called 2500 (a new family favorite), we’d emptied the bottle.

So, a lovely, Scandinavian-hued Christmas was had by all in our cozy home. A really wonderful, memorable, relaxed time with family.

Here’s hoping you, too, had a wonderful holiday season. And cheers to you for a wonderful 2010 ahead!! A toast from Bob and me, here in the ice bar of the hotel we stayed at in Stockholm. Skål! and gott nytt år!!

Aebleskivers

(adapted from Sur La Table)

4 eggs, separated

1/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon or orange zest

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until well blended. Add the melted butter and gently stir to blend. Add the buttermilk and citrus zest, stir to evenly mix, then add the flour and baking soda and stir until just smooth.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until medium peaks form. Working in 2 batches, fold the egg whites into the batter.

Heat the aebleskiver pan over medium-low heat and brush each cup with butter. Spoon the batter into the heated cups, to just below the top. Cook for a few minutes, until bubbles begin appearing on the surface. Use a tapered chopstick, skewer or knitting needle to carefully turn the aebleskivers over. Continue cooking until nicely browned on the second side. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in a low oven while cooking the remaining batter. Serve warm, with a dish of lingonberry or other jam alongside to spoon on top of each aebleskiver.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen aebleskivers

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