Shrimping in the Hood Canal

Like many of the best things I have done, the decision to go shrimping was hatched around my dinner table, during an impromptu Sunday night dinner party. My friend Larry, a self-described Shed Boy (he has forsaken a traditional career to live meagerly, work less, and create things), abruptly announced—he is usually abrupt—that he and his friend Steve were going shrimping for Hood Canal spot prawns that Wednesday. Did I want to come? I had been in a bit of a funk for a while, not writing, hardly cooking, and feeling aimless. I missed London. But spot prawns are a rare treat, seldom available far from their natural habitat (they deteriorate quickly). When I tell people that I have never had seafood as exquisite anywhere as in the Pacific Northwest, spot prawns are one of the local delicacies that top the list. Continue reading

Pistachio and Cashew Baklava Fingers

051aBefore I set out to make baklava, a friend of Greek origin advised me, “don’t hold back on the syrup.” This is sound advice.

Baklava is a traditional dessert in countries that were part of the former Ottoman empire. Early recipes for baklava date to the fourteenth century. Layers of filo dough are brushed with clarified butter, enrobing sweetened, lightly spiced ground nuts, and baked until golden. When the baklava is fresh out of the oven and still hot, a sweet syrup—a honey syrup in Greece, and an orange-blossom or rose-water scented sugar syrup in Lebanon and parts of the Middle East—is poured over the top of the dessert, which is then left to soak for several hours. The syrup marries with the filo layers and nuts in a glorious sticky union. Continue reading

Kale, Chicory, and Hazelnut “Caesar” Salad

026aMy friend Jess wrote me recently to tell me that puntarelle has appeared at my beloved Booth’s, at Spa Terminus near Maltby Street, in London. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory grown in Italy with an unusually brief growing season, a traditional method of preparation, and a fanatical following. It is wonderfully bitter, and very crunchy. In a classic puntarelle salad, the stiff inner spears of the vegetable are julienned into narrow strips, and simply dressed in a garlicky anchovy dressing. In Rome (or so I have read, on this wonderful blog post), during puntarelle season, it is in markets everywhere. Some Roman vendors sell a taglia puntarelle, which simplifies the process of slicing the puntarelle, or you can buy it pre-cut. In London, I would julienne the puntarelle myself, put the strips in a bowl of ice water to curl, and warm some minced garlic in olive oil just until it became fragrant. I whisked this with a generous amount of chopped salted anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This simple salad is one of my favorites. Continue reading

Southern-Style Frosted Cinnamon Rolls

341aThe thing that I love most about baking in the American South is the blithe disregard for caloric content and cholesterol. A close second is the Southern fondness for, well, stickiness. Gooey frostings and sticky caramel reign supreme. Baked goods are literally finger-licking good, and it is a glorious thing. The cinnamon roll – ostensibly, an innocent breakfast roll, but really a wolf in sheep’s clothing – in many ways epitomizes what I love best about Southern cakes. It begs to be eaten with the hands. It’s warm and yielding and fragrant and delightfully, decadently sticky. If you’re watching your waistline, after a proper cinnamon roll you may as well skip meals for the rest of the day. Southern-style cinnamon rolls don’t play around. Continue reading

Cranberry Kuchen

DSC_0306aMy blogging has suffered, as of late, as has my cooking, due to a constellation of issues – a remodel, a heavy workload, and a short-term food-writing project, which has occupied much of my evenings, and which I think I’ll be able to talk about soon. The longer I go between posting recipes, the guiltier I feel, and the more I convince myself that I need to burst back with something truly awesome. With this recipe, I’ve leant more toward the prosaic, but in a friendly holiday-cooking type of way. Kuchen, the German word for cake, is generally used to describe coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough.  For me, sweet yeast cakes are classic holiday food.  Later this winter, I’ll wrest from my mother her recipe for Polish poppy seed cake, which she used to make at Christmas time and send to family; for now, I offer this old-fashioned kuchen. Continue reading

Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe (Uni) Sauce

DSC_0255_01aStrictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading

Huckleberry-Fig Chutney

DSC_0158_01aMy favorite fact about chutney: the word derives from the Sanskrit word caṭnī, meaning to lick. Chutneys are, loosely, a mixture of vegetables or fruit (or both) and spices. Indian chutneys can be cooked or raw, blended or pounded, pickled or fresh. In the West, chutneys are usually a combination of fruit, savory spices, sugar, and vinegar.

My palate for Western chutneys developed late. For a long time, I thought they were yucky. Salty spicy vinegary fruity pickle? Blech. Perhaps my aversion was a consequence of having to politely eat haroseth (a mixture of apples, wine, chopped nuts, and spices traditionally served at Passover seders) at an early age. But. Eat enough tagines in which apricots and quince have been slowly simmered with meats, salty cheese and French fig jam, cantaloupe and prosciutto, and eventually one starts to enjoy, albeit reluctantly, the contrasting tastes of sugar and salt, fruit and vinegar and spice in Western chutneys. Another fun fact: Western cuisines tend to pair ingredients that share flavour compounds, whereas many Asian, and particularly East Asian, cuisines tend to pair contrasting ingredients. Continue reading

Peach Upside-Down Cake

DSC_0115aThe last of the peaches. Parental scoffing notwithstanding, I found using up 25 pounds of peaches a formidable task. Despite making six quarts of canned peaches, four jars of peach jam, peach salsa, grilled peaches, and freezing a sack of peeled, sliced peaches for future use (a cop-out, I know), last week several bruised, wrinkly peaches, the remnants from my haul, still regarded me forlornly from the dry sink. Continue reading

My Mother’s Canned Peaches

peachesHigh on the list of the many things my mother does very, very well in the kitchen is pickling and preserving. During the summertime, my telephone conversations with my parents usually go something like this:

Me: What have you been doing?

Mom/Dad, triumphantly: We now have 27 quarts of blueberries from our own bushes!

Or,

We bought a bushel of tomatoes at the farmstand!

Or sometimes,

We picked three huge baskets of chanterelles!

And then later,

Your mother made the most incredible [insert] [jam/pickles/sauce/pie/vegetable tart/canned peaches/pears/plums]! Continue reading