Saturday, January 30, 2010

sunday morning breakfast links, 1/31/10

Happy weekend, friends! I'm hitting post a little early today as I'm headed out to celebrate a dear friend's birthday.

I found those seasonal produce calendars that I mentioned in a previous link roundup. All via Apartment Therapy/The Kitchn:
More links that caught my eye:
  • The Breakaway Cook had an interesting post about how to become a good home cook. He argues that it's easier than ever to become a great cook, and also easier than ever to outsource your dinner preparations with prepackaged convenience food, which struck me as an interesting paradox. His post also dovetailed with some thoughts that have been swirling around in my head about the difference, and sometimes tension, between cooking local and cooking seasonal. I'm hoping to write more about that in this space soon.
  • From a while ago, but I had no idea that Teriyaki was Seattle's culinary "thing." "Only in Seattle, however, are teriyaki restaurants so ubiquitous that they’re virtually invisible, said Knute Berger, the author of 'Pugetopolis,' a book of essays on modern Seattle mores"--I guess that's true because I hardly notice the joints. I rarely eat in them, either--though this article made me want to play around with the teriyaki concept at home. I do remember having some surprisingly tasty cabbage at a teriyaki restaurant way back in my U. District days.
  • A kid's version of the Italian culinary bible Silver Spoon.  The reviewer, again from AT's The Kitchn, writes, "Why do we think it's so exceptional? First, it uses language that appeals to kids and teens ('squash the garlic,' 'bash the pesto') without talking down to the reader or getting too cutesy." Actually, why aren't more cookbooks for adults written like that?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the easiest soup in the world

Here's another dish for which Nigel Slater deserves the credit. (Oh, and looking through my previous posts on this blog I just realized that my braised carrot recipe is probably from him as well. I hope I'm not going to turn into some weird kind of stalker, clutching a handful of recipe cards like a goth pre-teen with the latest by Neil Gaiman.) It's a revisiting of the red lentil and sweet potato soup from The Kitchen Diaries that I made last year, except I've simplified it even further. Instead of pureeing the soup I just left it chunky (a certain member of our household does NOT approve of the blender these days, and can make her displeasure known at high decibels). And in place of the garnish of sauteed onions, I added a bit of coconut milk--otherwise the soup would be fat-free, and I'm sorry, I just can't do fat-free, especially in winter. The result is creamy and spicy--but gently so, since the heat the comes mostly from the generous dose of ground ginger.

And the method, basically, amounts to throwing a few ingredients in a pot and letting them simmer. It's almost as easy as ordering a pizza. It's definitely easier than ordering Thai food (and takes roughly the same amount of time to get on the table). You can do this.

Simplest Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 C + 2 Tbsp red lentils
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1 C coconut milk

Chop the onion and place it in a medium saucepan. Peel the garlic and press the cloves into the saucepan. Add the lentils and 6 cups water, and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into one-inch chunks. When the water in the saucepan boils, turn down the heat to a simmer and add the sweet potatoes, spices, and salt.

Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils and sweet potatoes are very tender, about 25-30 minutes. Add the coconut milk and heat gently. Serve.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

sneaky me

This recipe is another small tastes original. My husband asked me what inspired it and I replied, "Monkey."

The idea started brewing a couple of weeks ago, when Monkey ate half a log of goat cheese for her mid-morning snack. For real. I'd give her another few chunks and she'd gobble it up--just unadorned goat cheese--and ask for more. So I started thinking about what I could make that would capitalize on this new enthusiasm of hers but also be something we would all enjoy. I figured I'd combine goat cheese and pasta--something not too different from her beloved "cheesy noodles" (a.k.a. Kraft dinner), because we wouldn't want to push our luck too far, would we?

Then for the veggies. Here I was inspired by two of Monkey's favorite entertainments: The Little Engine That Could, which features "fresh spinach for [the good boys' and girls'] dinners" (but which, I have to tell you, is also a totally, totally insipid piece of literature. I mean, the little blue engine just chugs over the mountain! Where is the trying and trying and the almost failing and the trying again and finally overcoming adversity? It is not the story I thought it was, at all.) And an episode of the delightful animated series Harold and the Purple Crayon (which is narrated by, believe it or not, Sharon Stone), in which Harold is sent to his room for refusing to eat squash but turns out to think squash is quite yummy in the end. Sneaky me, I thought this all might function as peer pressure to encourage her to at least try what I came up with.

The first time I made this I even used tiny alphabet-shaped pasta, which Monkey's grandparents had sent in her Christmas package. But that first batch needed work. I'd tried to keep the method really simple by just stirring melted goat cheese into the pasta. The result was okay, but not great. I really wanted this to be smooth and creamy, almost like a risotto. I would have to actually make a white sauce.

The good news, though, was that this gave me the opportunity to add some garlic to the dish. Have I mentioned that I've been craving garlic recently?

And in truth, making a quick white sauce isn't all that burdensome. The method is just like making boxed macaroni and cheese, really (I know this sounds sacrilegious, but stick with me here) and it doesn't take much more time.

Anyway, I loved the result--I actually think it's company-worthy, a rich, creamy dish that's also pretty gorgeous on the plate. And Monkey? Well, the fad for goat cheese seems to have passed, I'm sorry to say. But try it she did. She might have even eaten two bites, though I'm sure completely by accident.

Orzo "Risotto" with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Butternut Squash

4 Tbs butter
1 3-pound butternut squash
whole nutmeg

8 oz orzo
6 oz frozen chopped spinach*

1 Tbs butter
1 or 2 cloves garlic, to taste (I used 2 and it was pretty dang garlicky)
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbs flour
3/4 C milk
4 oz chevre (fresh goat cheese)

Put 2 Tbs butter in each of two large baking dishes. Set them in the oven and turn it on to 400 F. Peel and seed the squash, and chunk it into one-inch pieces.

By the time you finish with that, the butter in the baking dishes should be melted. Take the dishes out of the oven and add the squash, dividing it evenly between the two dishes. Sprinkle a little salt (no more than 1/4 tsp total) over the squash, grind on some black pepper, and then grate a little nutmeg over it all. Put the baking dishes back in the oven and roast the squash, stirring once or twice, for about 35 minutes, or until very tender.

Once the squash is in the oven, put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta. When the water boils, add the orzo and cook until it is al dente--the label on the bulk bin at the store said 5 to 8 minutes, but really it took me about 10. Add the spinach to the pasta pot in the last couple of minutes of cooking*. Drain the pasta and the spinach--a fine-mesh strainer works better than a standard colander in this case.

Now, in the pan you used to cook the pasta, melt the remaining 1 Tbs butter over medium heat. Peel the garlic and press it into the pan. Add the salt, and stir the butter and garlic for a minute or two, until the garlic begins to soften and becomes fragrant. Then add the flour and stir until the butter and flour form a paste. Add the milk, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring to incorporate each addition. Now add the goat cheese and stir until you have a smooth sauce. Then add the pasta and spinach back to the pan, and stir to combine and heat through.

Right about now, your squash should be done, so remove it from the oven. To serve, place a big spoonful of the orzo on each plate and top with a generous heap of squash.

*I used frozen chopped spinach because this was what I had on hand. There are a couple of ways to do this, I think. Instead of adding frozen spinach to the pasta water, you could defrost it separately, squeeze out the water, and then add it to the cheese sauce when you add the cooked orzo. Or, you could use fresh greens--I think that would make for an even better and prettier finished dish, actually. If you use baby spinach or something similarly delicate, I think you could again add it to the cheese sauce along with the orzo. If you use something more substantial, like grownup spinach or chard, I would recommend chopping the greens and adding them to the pasta water in the last few minutes of cooking. The key, in any case, is to make sure you are not adding a lot of extra water to the cheese sauce.

Makes 4-5 servings

Saturday, January 23, 2010

smbl, 01/24/10

Are you sick of listening to me rant about the food system? To tell you the truth, I'm a bit tired of listening to myself. And anyway, too much environmental proselytizing can be hazardous to your marriage. (Wow, don't I know it. I shudder just remembering the Great Thermostat War of '09. For the record, I was on the not-green side of that battle.)

So I'm going to try to keep things light this week. Let's start things off with a little shameless consumerism, shall we?

  • I have nowhere to put this root vegetable storage box but I want it. Those trays look like wide, laughing mouths to me. Wide, laughing mouths munching on carrots and potatoes. Adorable.
  • This moleskine recipe journal, by contrast--I think I need it. You see, all the recipes I've been working on (ohhh, I have some GOOD stuff lined up in the coming weeks) currently exist in the form of post-it notes and chicken-scratch on the back of other recipes printed out from the computer. A purpose-built moleskine just sounds much more...reliable. Hmm, I wonder if my Valentine reads this blog?

A couple of other things:

  • I'm desperate to make this homemade bouillon from 101 cookbooks. Absolutely brilliant idea. I don't really care for most powdered veggie broths (always the wrong ratio of celery, or something--I love that you could customize this recipe) but I just don't have it sufficiently together to keep homemade broth on hand. I don't know why making bouillon from scratch seems way easier than making broth, but it just does, okay?
  • Fed Up: School Lunch Project is a new blog I discovered this week. A public school teacher has decided to eat school lunch every day in 2010, and posts a picture and description of each day's lunch. I think that I have come up with the best possible way to appreciate this blog: Create a category called "Food" in your RSS reader, and then subscribe to Fed Up and also a whole bunch of unapologetically food porn-type blogs. Read by category so that you are scrolling through a whole bunch of posts from different blogs all jumbled together. I feel a rant coming on so I'll just say that the cognitive dissonance created when a Fed Up post pops up is very, very useful.
  • Oh, before I sign off! I know the whole New Year's resolution thing is like sooo three weeks ago, but I wondered if anyone has any food-related goals for 2010? Mine is to learn to like sun-dried tomatoes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

a winter dinner salad

With the new year, a food-loving mother's thoughts turn to Nigel Slater. At least that's true in my house, apparently. This time a few years ago I was enjoying the British food writer's memoir, Toast, which I had received as a Christmas present. Last year, I was reading his Kitchen Diaries and making his lentil soup. This year, on a trip to the library with Monkey, I couldn't help perusing the cookbook section (even though I need more recipes like I need a hole in my head) and plucked his book Real Fast Food off the shelf.

I really just love Slater's sensibility--he's opinionated but unpretentious, taking pleasure in both first-quality fresh produce and the comforts of takeout. He's tongue-in-cheek without ever quite tipping over into twee (though his nationality probably helps him there--the Brits can just get away with more in the almost-twee department, don't you think?).

Real Fast Food might just be my favorite of his books that I've read. His focus here is on "fast home cooking, the sort of food you throw together when you come home tired and hungry." Simple omelets, cheese-and-bread in its various forms, a steak salad. So good with such little effort--there's almost a luxuriousness to this kind of food. And a romance to it. It makes me think of the movie Amelie--the emblematic food moment in that movie is supposed to be the title character cracking the crust on a creme brulee with the delicate tip of her spoon, but to me it's her, alone in her gabled apartment, tipping a pot of macaroni into a colander. Beautiful--strange as that may sound.

There are many, many recipes in Real Fast Food that I'd like to try, but for a first foray I picked a substantial dinner salad of spinach with bacon and poached egg. In summertime, we eat a lot of Nicoise salads, and I thought this recipe might be a good winter alternative. I don't usually go in for fake meat, but lately we've been enjoying veggie sausages (and anyway, sausage isn't really meat so much as a spice-and-umami delivery system), so I thought one of those could substitute for the bacon. And I'd just been to the farmers market and bought a bag of bright-green mache, unsure of how I would use it--so when this recipe bubbled to the top it seemed meant to be.

I'm sorry I held out so long because mache is pretty fantastic--sturdy, springy even, tasting of chlorophyll. However, despite its sturdiness on the plate, mache does not keep well--a day or two at best before you'll have to go sorting out slimy leaves. So consider this a recipe for dinner on farmers market day.

And one more warning--I recommend preparing all of the ingredients for this salad before you start cooking:

The dish comes together quite quickly and once things get going you won't have time even to slice up a sausage, let alone whisk up a quick dressing. You'll also leave an unholy mess in the kitchen when you are done. Well, okay, it's not that bad, really--but don't think you're going to clean as you go. This is truly lickety-split.

After polishing off his salad, my husband asked if I could make him another one. Not because it didn't satisfy his hunger, but because it was just that good. Beautiful--and I don't think that sounds strange at all.

Winter Salad with Poached Egg and Sausage
Adapted from Real Fast Food, by Nigel Slater

For the salad:
6 oz. or so mache (or baby spinach)

2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs white vinegar

1 tsp olive oil
1 large vegetarian sausage (we like Tofurkey Italian sausage flavor. or, of course you could use actual sausage, or bacon)
2 slices bread

For the dressing:
4 Tbs olive oil
4 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
black pepper

First, prepare your ingredients. Wash the mache very carefully--it can be quite gritty. A good trick is to put it in the basket of a salad spinner, put the basket inside the bowl of the spinner, and then fill with water. Let sit for a couple minutes to loosen the dirt, swish it around some, and then lift the basket out to drain off the water. Pour the dirty water out of the bowl and repeat. Spin the greens dry and divide onto two large plates.

Slice the sausage up into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut the bread into large dice. Crack each egg into a small bowl--the size you use to serve food to a very young baby would be good. Whisk together the dressing ingredients.

For the poached eggs, fill a large, shallow skillet almost full of water. Add 1/2 tsp salt and the white vinegar (the latter lowers the pH of the water and helps the egg whites hold together a little better). Cover the skillet and turn the heat on high to bring the water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small skillet, and saute the sausage until the slices are brown on both sides. With a slotted spoon or pancake turner, remove the sausage from the skillet and scatter it on top of the greens. Add the bread to the skillet and stir occasionally until toasted on all sides.

When the water for the eggs starts boiling, quickly slip the eggs from the bowls into the boiling water, immediately cover the pan, and remove from the heat. The residual heat from the water will cook the eggs. After 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove each eggs from the water, let it drip-drain for a moment or two, and then place one egg in the center of each plate, on top of the greens.

Now it will be time to turn off the heat under the small skillet and take the croutons out of the pan, scattering them over the greens. Quickly whisk the dressing again and pour it into the hot pan. (It will hiss and spit quite a bit--if you have an extra few seconds it might be worth tying on an apron.) Then pour the dressing over the salads. Serve at once.

Serves 2.

Monday, January 18, 2010

monday, uh, afternoon, breakfast-for-dinner links, i guess: 1/18/10

Well, this is what happens when the Monkey gets sick the day before her mother has a writing deadline. I'm behind on everything. Moving along...

Lately it seems like I've seen quite a lot of talk about calendars or charts detailing local, seasonal food choices. Sadly, when it came time to type up these post I found that I'd not kept track of these links as well as I'd thought. But here are a few thoughts anyway:

Via Re-Nest, Apartment Therapy's green site, a chart of seasonal foods put together by a London restaurant, Leon.I love that it includes seafood, an overlooked aspect of seasonal food I think. The general outlines do seem to translate pretty widely, but I'm not sure about all the specifics. Some of this is cultural (according to the chart, Spring foods include "Hoggett:" what?), but some of it is simply due to the climatic quirks of different regions. Here in Seattle, for example, prime tomato season is the last smidge of August and early September; last year we were harvesting red-tinged fruits until the beginning of November.

Speaking of different regional climates, Good Magazine and Always With Honor put together a chart of when common fruits and vegetables are locally available in different places around the United States. Of this chart Ezra Klein of the Internet Food Association (where there has recently been a highly entertaining smackdown concerning fresh dill) commented on his other blog (can't find the exact post--dude writes a lot of words. But good ones!) that it illustrates why the local foods movement is based in California.

What this chart made me think of is that there may be a difference between when foods are locally available, and when they can be grown in a particular place. In the United States, the centralization of agriculture in recent decades means that many crops that can be, and once were, grown in a particular place aren't anymore. Iowa, corn and hog capital of the U.S., used to grow an enormous diversity of crops--it was once one of the largest apple-producing states, plus grapes and peaches and, and.... Today, few of these crops are grown in any significant quantity in the state. Though this is changing, people who want to eat locally are up against not just the limitations of climate but also the limitations of the market. And that's one reason why I think that building a sustainable food system can't be accomplished solely by the aggregate decisions of individual consumers. It's not just about what you choose to buy, it's about what choices are available, and how those choices are influenced by public policy.

That said, there are a ton of resources online describing local produce availability in different states and regions. The most targeted one I have found for my area is the set of harvest schedule charts on the Puget Sound Fresh Website. But even that, in my experience, is not all that accurate--perhaps because harvest schedule isn't exactly congruent with market availability.

And for me, dividing things up by season or even by month misses some of the beauty inherent in the seasonal round of local produce: the way different fruits and vegetables wink in and out of farm stalls week by week, almost literally a round, in the musical sense. And getting to know the sequence of local crops throughout the year: here, strawberries, then blueberries, raspberries, and finally, finally, it's August and there are blackberries. So I think I've concluded that the best way to find out what's in season is to go to the farmers market and see what's in season. Sometimes there's just no substitute for being there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

a new year and yogurt-barley soup

I've had this soup recipe since forever. Last time I made it, earlier this week, it was even better than I'd remembered; maybe I've found the exact right moment of the year to eat it. It does make a perfect New Year tonic: soothingly creamy, rich enough to stand up to winter but with the healthy tang of yogurt, extremely simple to make but just enough offbeat spice (offbeat to this American palate, anyway) to remain interesting.

To make the soup, you saute some onion and garlic in olive oil, then stir in some spices, chopped scallions, and cooked barley. It occurred to me this time that you could stop right there and have a pretty nice side dish:

But today we're making soup. So to the barley you then add a mixture of broth, yogurt, and beaten egg, and heat ever so gently until it gets thick and velvety. Sprinkle on some chopped mint and serve. See? I told you it was easy.

I can't remember where I got the recipe--probably from some cookbook that I borrowed from the library way back in high school. Like all the other cool kids, I spent quite a lot of Saturday nights back then copying out intriguing-sounding recipes from library cookbooks. What, that's not what the cool kids at your high school did on Saturday nights?

My notes say that this is the soup that Armenian mamas make for their children when they are sick, and while I can't vouch for the reliability of my long-forgotten source, I can vouch for the reliability of the soup. It'll cure what ails you, especially if what ails you is January.

Armenian Yogurt-Barley Soup (Tanabour)

Traditionally this soup contains ground lamb, but I have always made this vegetarian version. If you add meat, you will probably want to cut the amount of barley down some.

1 C (a generous one) pearled barley
4 C water
1/2 tsp salt

3 T olive oil
1 small onion
1 large clove garlic
4-5 scallions
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 eggs
4 C vegetable stock
3 C plain yogurt
2 T finely chopped fresh mint (or 1 T dried, or, uh, one peppermint tea bag, supposing your mint died back at the end of summer and what was in your spice cabinet turned out to be horribly stale)

In a large saucepan, bring the barley, water, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the barley is plenty tender--about 45 minutes. (You could do this part ahead, of course.)

When the barley has been cooking for about 25 or 30 minutes, start heating the olive oil in a large soup pot. Finely chop the onion and add it to the oil. Peel the garlic and mince it if that's the way you roll, or press it if you're like me--either way, add it to the pot. Saute the onion and garlic over medium-low heat until they are soft but not brown.

Meanwhile, slice the scallions (white and some of the green parts) thinly. Get your spices out and measure them into a small bowl so they're handy. When the onion and garlic are nice and soft, stir in the spices and the scallions.

The barley should be done right about now. Turn it into the soup pot, along with any water that hasn't been absorbed, and stir together. Turn off the heat.

Crack the two eggs into a large bowl and beat them lightly with a whisk. Add the stock and yogurt to the bowl and whisk together. Then gradually stir this mixture into the soup pot. Heat slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until thickened. Absolutely do not boil, or the soup will curdle. The recipe says that this step takes 10 minutes, but I am going to be honest with you, if you're being really careful about the not-boiling thing, it's probably going to be longer, maybe more like 20.

Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle a little bit of mint over each one.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

sunday morning breakfast links, 1/9/10: special food-and-music edition

I love Facebook. Okay, not so much the phony breast-cancer awareness stuff, but still--hear me out.

Recently, an unconscionably talented music journalist of my acquaintance posted a link on Facebook to this L.A. Times piece, in which L.A. Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold argues that "While nobody was paying attention, food quietly assumed the place in youth culture that used to be occupied by rock 'n' roll."

I'm not very rock 'n' roll these days (nor was I ever, truth be told), but Gold's description of "a barren parking lot in Rosemead, where 600 people shivered in the cold, glancing at their iPhones and awaiting the arrival of a food truck bearing Korean tacos and kimchi quesadillas" is somehow affecting. In fact, I could swear I recently read a similar-feeling description of music fans lined up for some underground show in Brooklyn in the late 60s. (It must have been in The New Yorker?--drat, I can't find the reference right now.)

Anyway, lively debate about the article ensued, and one commenter posted a link to this long feature from Seattle Weekly food writer Jonathan Kauffman, who argues that "the local-foods movement has also been wildly successful because it taps into the way the indie-rock generation forms its ever-shifting musical allegiances." (Full disclosure: I used to freelance for the Weekly's food section, though before Kaufmann arrived; I've never met him.) In other words, foodies collect knowledge of obscure potato breeds and wine varietals in the same way that indie rock fans collect knowledge of obscure bands. And in both movements, there's a tension between being in-the-know and bringing favorites to wider acclaim. I think Kauffman is spot-on; to his piece I would only add: Etsy.

This pair of articles really brought home to me the difference between food as a cultural beat and as a scientific one--in many ways, the latter is how I come at the subject. (The scientist in me also wants to argue here that our delight in farmers market displays of dozens of varieties of potatoes, or kale, or squash is also an expression of what E. O. Wilson calls biophilia: we love the diversity of the biosphere, its variations on a theme.)

So while Kaufmann perfectly captures the cultural meaning of the local foods movement, I'd argue that there's more to it, from a scientific point of view. Agricultural biodiversity in general, and heirloom varieties in particular, aren't just useful for helping foodies establish their hipster cred. In fact, they can help people eat--healthfully, independently, and more locally--regardless of where they are in the world.

And that's where Facebook comes in again, because a day or two later another friend (a sublimely talented musician, coincidentally) posted a link to this heritage seed company founded and run by a 17-year old in Nova Scotia. Yes. A seventeen-year-old.

The total self-evident awesomeness of this has me at a loss for what to say next, but I guess the point is that the best vegetable varieties to grow in Nova Scotia are different from the best ones to grow in Seattle and different from the best ones to grow in Boulder and so on. So keeping all these different varieties alive and growing is important, and not just because urban hipsters will use them to establish ever-finer-grained distinctions of indie-ness. Sometimes, food isn't just culture--it's also food.

Edited 1/13 to add the musician!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

date night: Portage

The prospects for Date Night were not looking good. It was my turn to pick the restaurant, but all of my suggestions were deemed too far away, in the wrong direction, too expensive, etc. I was getting pretty close to "Well FINE then, I don't really want to go out at all!"

Fortunately, the husband salvaged the discussion by poking around on the Internets and discovering Portage, a little jewel-box of a restaurant on top of Queen Anne Hill. Occupying a slender storefront space, the restaurant is what you get when you cross a neighborhood French bistro with a Northwest seasonal menu. Soon after we arrived, our suitably Gallic-looking waiter mixed me a cocktail of sparkling wine, Lillet Rouge, and house-made brandied cherries--a nice twist on a Kir Royale. Okay. The evening's earlier sniping and carping was forgiven.

Portage is not a vegetarian restaurant, but it is extremely vegetarian-friendly: the menu is divided into two columns, "Plats" and "Vegetarien," with a roughly equal number of dishes in each. When we confessed we were having trouble deciding what to order, the waiter suggested we come back sometime and try the tasting menu. Duly noted. (In fact, I suspect the tasting menu--$40 for either vegetarian or non-vegetarian version--might have been a better deal than ordering a la carte, as we did. Though I'm not complaining; any meal that opens my husband's mind to Brussels sprouts is well worth the price, as far as I'm concerned.)

So what did we decide on? A salad of endive and mandarin oranges with caramelized fennel vinaigrette that tasted exactly like January: spare, ascetic, and bracingly astringent.

Next, a plate of Brussels sprouts and soft, pale-yellow sweet potato gnocchi, all tossed with very finely chopped preserved Meyer lemon--I'm telling you, I had no idea that winter vegetables could taste so lively and energetic.

Way over at the other, comfy-and-cozy end of the winter-food spectrum, but equally pleasant, was my husband's dish of thinly sliced root vegetables (I tasted a lot of celeriac, with a slight bitterness that contrasted nicely with the rest of the plate) baked under a blanket of cheese and served over brown lentils speckled with bits of carrot and more of those Brussels sprouts. My husband said he liked the way the Brussels sprouts were just crisp-tender instead of having had the heck cooked out of them. Again, duly noted.

I think his favorite dish, though, was the potato and shallot rosti: shredded potatoes and sweetly caramelized shallots, formed into a neat cake and crisped in a cast-iron pan. Simple, but perfectly executed.

Maybe we were just overstuffed, but dessert didn't seem to live up to the precision or inventiveness of what had come before. The flourless chocolate cake seemed heavy-handed, and the cardamom-vanilla pot de creme contained just a whisper of cardamom (admittedly, I may be biased here; I am part Swedish and like my cardamom fairly shouted from the rooftops).

Still, I'll be back for that tasting menu. And that dinner gave me a few ideas for things to try at home, especially now that Brussels sprouts on the table are now, well, on the table.

2209 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA 98109
Open daily, 5 pm

Saturday, January 2, 2010

sunday morning breakfast links, 1/3/10

Saturday night was girls' night out so I'm behind on my typing--I'll be brief. A few links from Apartment Therapy/The Kitchn's year-end roundup that caught my eye:

Okay that last one isn't from The Kitchn, but now that I've got a theme going here I'll note that in general I'd like to learn how to make better use of "seasonless" dishes of grains and pulses to round out our plates of vegetables. Do you have any favorites in that category?

Friday, January 1, 2010

all pretty satisfied

This dish didn't turn out quite as I'd envisioned it, yet I found myself going back for seconds. That's something, right?

In basic outline, this recipe is similar to the dish of pasta with fennel and cauliflower that I posted recently: you cook some vegetables on the stove (in this case, winter squash and radicchio) while your pasta boils, and toss it all together with a little cheese at the end. Sure, there are some fiddly bits there at the beginning of this one--you have to brown some butter and then saute some pine nuts in it (I started this process later than I'd intended, just after adding the pasta to the boiling water, and oh my word, butter has never taken so long to melt over medium heat) before getting started with the squash. The radicchio goes in at the last minute, just to wilt a bit.

The original recipe, from the January 2009 issue of Gourmet, calls for six whole tablespoons of fat, in the form of butter and olive oil. You are going to be tempted to cut that down, but I have to tell you, if you are going to brown butter and saute pine nuts in it and then remove the pine nuts (along with, unavoidably, a good bit of the butter) from the pan you are going to need to add some more...something to prevent the squash from sticking. You can try tipping in a bit of water, like I did, and that works okay, but the outer layer of the squash may get a little soggy and melty and form a kind of orange goo that will coat the pasta, once you toss it in. Which is not really a bad result, come to think of it.

The recipe gets largely good reviews on, but some cooks mentioned that they found the dish rather bland. Sage was suggested by several to kick up the flavor, but while sage is a classic combination with winter squash I wasn't sure how it would pair with the radicchio. I added some garlic instead. I've really been craving garlicky dishes lately. I guess a cloud of garlicky steam just smells like midwinter to me.

I also added a little half-and-half when I tossed the pasta with the vegetables. (And yes, I realize I've just lost all standing to complain about the amount of fat in the original recipe.) I did this mainly because I had some in the refrigerator, but also because I thought it would tone down the bitterness of the radicchio a bit. The cream is a nice addition, but the truth is the radicchio is still fairly bitter--and that's a good thing. It's a fantastic contrast to the starchiness of the pasta and the sweetness of the squash. (But, then again, I like bitter. I am the only person I know who enjoys Campari and soda. If you do too you should tell me--we could form a club, and drink Campari-and-sodas without anyone else asking us for a taste and then making a face. That would be nice.)

The main reason I cooked this recipe was that I wanted to be part of a totally inspiring project called Gourmet, unbound, in which a bunch of food bloggers are keeping the spirit of that magazine alive by cooking from its archives, month by month. But I think this dish will become part of my regular rotation. When I make it next I'll probably fiddle with it a bit, to try to make it a bit less--well, fiddly. In the meantime, though, we are all pretty satisfied.

Pasta with Winter Squash and Radicchio
Adapted from Butternut Squash and Radicchio Papardelle, Gourmet, January 2009

1 1/2 lb winter squash, untrimmed (the original recipe calls for butternut; I used kabocha)
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 C pine nuts
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 lb pasta (original recipe says pappardelle, which I think would be great--due to poor planning I used regular old spaghetti)
1 large head radicchio (mine was about 6 oz.)
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C half-and-half
Parmigiano-Reggiano or ricotta salata cheese

Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta.

Peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Peel the garlic. Mince it if that's your preference; otherwise just have your garlic press at the ready.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the butter, then continue to cook until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add nuts and cook, stirring, until they are toasty-colored and fragrant, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the nuts and set aside.

Add the squash to the skillet, along with a little bit of water to prevent it from sticking. Add the garlic--either minced or just push it through your press right into the pan. Cook the squash over medium heat, stirring occasionally, and adding a little more water if needed.

When the water boils, put the pasta in to cook. When it is al dente, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, and drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, as the squash and pasta are cooking, quarter, core, and thinly slice the radicchio. When the squash is just tender (after 8 to 10 minutes), add the radicchio, salt, and pepper to the pan and cook, stirring, until the radicchio is wilted and just tender, about 3 minutes.

Add the cream to the vegetables, then add the drained pasta, and a bit of the pasta water if necessary to moisten. Over low heat, toss the pasta with the vegetables until heated through.

Serve topped with nuts and cheese.

About 4 servings.