ozette potatoes, queen spud of the northwest

IMG_4256Of the many cool vegetables grown by relatively new farm Turnip the Beet, the ‘Ozette Fingerling’ potato must top the list.  Rush over to the farm tomorrow at the Lane County Farmers Market to see if Farmers Lela and John have any of these big fat fingerlings left.  Locavores won’t regret it.  Last Saturday, Lela told me that they might have them for another week.

On that very day, when I was trying and failing to blow through the market just to get a few things, I was stopped by a very excited anthropologist who told me that the Ozette, grown by the Makah people of what is now the tippiest tip of northwest Washington for centuries, was available for sale.

The Ozette is a potato that came up the coast from the Andes, I was informed dramatically, bypassing Europe altogether!  Unlike most potatoes that were collected in Peru and environs by the Spanish and colonized back in the Old World, then returned to America, the Ozette had been left behind by Spanish colonists. They had decided the Makah area around Neah Bay wasn’t a good port, so they left their settlement behind.  The Makah people, who seem like a sensible lot, saved the potatoes from the garden, named them after a local island, and planted and cherished them for generations.

The potato looks like a long, fat oca, if you know that Andean root from your travels to Peru or New Zealand.  It’s bumpier and creamier and smoother than a standard fingerling.  When baked, the potato becomes dense but still floury, like a Russet on steroids.  And the flavor is nutty and rich.  It makes an absolutely delicious soup because of the starch content, and doesn’t need butter if you bake or mash it.  I still have a couple left I’d like to fry.  My guess is that they’ll be terrific latkes for Thanksgivukkah this year, if they last in the fridge or cellar that long.

If you’re interested in the history of this singular Pacific Northwesterner, check out Gary Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions.  You can also read about Slow Food’s presidium (scroll down) Ozette project and the details of the Ozette’s development and commercialization as a seed potato. There’s a great video featuring narration from a Makah woman about Native farming and naming the Ozette that was produced by the Seattle area restaurant/farm The HerbFarm, one of the first non-Makah Nation concerns to grow the potato.  The Ozette’s entry in the Slow Food Ark of Taste is here.

The Ozette made me a wonderful vegetarian soup this week with some leftover corncob broth I had from prepping my Bodacious corn for freezing for the year.  It’s fine to substitute water, but the corn added a snappy note to the potatoes and cauliflower.  I’d strongly recommend it.  Corn broth freezes beautifully. I love potato soup, and think it never needs added bacon or pancetta, but if you wanted to gild the lily…

Ozette Potato Cauliflower Soup with Corn Broth

Serves 4.

  • 6 cups corn cob stock
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 t. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 3 cups potatoes cut in 2-inch chunks, preferably Ozette but ok to substitute 1/2 Russet and 1/2 Yukon Gold
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • fresh thyme
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Make your corn cob stock by simmering six denuded cobs in heavily salted water for about 20 minutes, then remove cobs.  Or use chicken stock or water.  Saute onion until golden brown.  Add onion, cauliflower, potato, and carrot to the corn broth, and cook until soft. Taste and add salt and white pepper to your liking. Mash vegetables, then blend with a hand blender until smooth.  Alternatively, use chinois to mill soup smooth.  Add fresh thyme and buttermilk and simmer on the lowest heat for a couple of minutes to blend flavors, then serve.

brew of black(berri)est night

In my continuing efforts to stop the addition of sugary tastes to every single thing we eat as Americans, I make berry vinegars.  They are lovely as salad dressings, of course, but I find they add a pang of lost love to root vegetables, soups, and meat deglazes, a haunting undertone that speaks of berries gone by.

By far, the simplest concoction I’ve brewed up is marionberry-thyme vinegar.  I put up a mason jar or two during blackberry season, using fresh berries or berry pulp I have left over from making jam, but it is completely acceptable to make the vinegar in the end days of fall from frozen berries.  When berries freeze and thaw, their cellular structure is compromised, so they release their juices into the vinegar easily and thoroughly.

The method is easy and offers endless creative possibilities:  fill your clean jar with no more than a third with blackberries, add three fresh sprigs of thyme and a half-dozen black peppercorns, and top off with white wine vinegar.  You may subsitute other berries or herbs.  Use a plastic cap, since metal jar lids will rust with the acidity of the vinegar.  (I use the white plastic lids they sell with canning supplies.)  Let sit in a dark, creepy place for a month or so before using, shaking gently once every other day for the first week or so.

The reason I like to use fresh blackberries is because they hold their shape, and then I can punctuate my campaign against sugar with a zombie pickled blackberry in dishes I serve to unwitting guests.  Exhibit A:

To normal people, this looks like a perfectly gorgeous fall-colored side dish of roasted Chioggia beets and yellow peppers dressed in a vinaigrette with thyme leaves…with a blackberry garnish?  But to those of us with vinegary agendas, it’s an explosion of dark, earthy, smoky, piquant flavors.  The pickled blackberries work as counterpoint to the caramelized sugars in the beets and the peppers, and the fresh thyme sprinkled on top picks up the thyme notes in the vinaigrette.  It’s a sophisticated mix of tastes, and gorgeous to boot if you use multi-colored beets and peppers.  This dish is like Harvard beets (sweet and sour boiled beets, pickled with onions and lots of sugar) on steroids, and prettier than that old battleaxe.

Try berry vinegars whisked together with olive oil over any sweet root vegetable, and let me know what you think!

endless blackberry summer, with panna cotta

Now that the rains are back, you didn’t think I’d leave you high and dry about the panna cotta with blackberries, didya?

This recipe is so simple it’s almost a non-recipe, if you just have time the night before to make the panna cotta and the syrup.  Imagine a silky, milky custard that coats your mouth like sweet, thick, slightly sour cream.  If you haven’t tried making panna cotta yet, it’s a breeze, and a perfect base for fresh fruit in hot weather, since you only have to heat up the cream to a simmer.

Mario Batali’s panna cotta recipe with goat milk yogurt is floating around the internets tubes, but I find it to be a bit, well, gamey with the yogurt and what seems like a gallon of vanilla.  I love you Mario, you know I do.  You know I really, really love you and felt my heart crumble when the Food Network replaced your show with smiling skulls with raucous voices and ghastly quick-cooking abominations.  But I like the purity of my sour cream-no vanilla panna cotta better.

I use our delicious local dairy products: Noris Dairy cream and Nancy’s cultured sour cream, which is thicker and a bit tangier than the Noris version.  Then I turn to Lone Pine Farm’s gigantic, sweetsour blackberries, whose variety is, as the kid behind the counter told me, “blackberry.”  They’re not Marionberries, since that season is over, and I suspected they were Chesters, but that’s not right, either.  If you have a chance to get over there and find someone who actually knows something, please let me in on the secret.  More importantly, everyone should know that our blackberries never, ever end all summer long.  Can you imagine?!

And finally, Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Pinot Gris syrup.  He uses it to make a lovely drink at Bel Ami called the East of Eden; I use it in jam and fruit preparations West of Willamette Ave.  If we had a battle for deliciousness, he’d probably win because the judges would float into the sky, head in the stars, caressed by the rosy fingers of dawn.  I’d pelt them with blackberries, though, and down they’d fall, a Pyrrhic victory of Willamette Valley proportions.

Willamette Valley Panna Cotta with Pinot Gris Blackberries

Serves 6

Panna Cotta:

  • 2 cup Noris Dairy cream
  • 1 1/4 cup Nancy’s cultured sour cream
  • 1 1/2 t. gelatin
  • 2 T. water
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Combine gelatin and water in small bowl.  Let sit for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Whisk sour cream and one cup of the cream in bowl until lumps dissolve.

Bring the remaining one cup of cream and the sugar to simmer over medium heat.  Stir to melt sugar frequently.  Add the gelatin mix, whisking rapidly, until it dissolves.

Remove from heat and combine with cream and sour cream mixture.

Pour into ramekins and chill overnight.

Pinot Gris Blackberries:

  • Three half-pints of the finest, biggest blackberries you can find, rinsed
  • 2 T. pinot gris syrup (see recipe below)
  • Dash allspice

Crush about one cup of blackberries in a small bowl.  Add pinot gris syrup and dash allspice.  Carefully toss with remaining blackberries in large bowl, and let macerate in refrigerator for several hours before serving.  Turn berries every few hours.  Garnish with wild blackberry flowers, if those damn brambles keep coming back in your yard, no matter what you do.

Morgenthaler’s Pinot Gris Syrup:

Keep this in your refrigerator for a fragrant alternative to simple syrup.  Our local Sweet Cheeks Winery‘s 2006 Estate Pinot Gris is particularly nice for drinks and desserts, since it has bright, summery stonefruit flavors.

1 bottle Sweet Cheeks Pinot Gris
12 oz. sugar

Reduce wine by half in a saucepan over medium heat.  This will take a while.  Stir in sugar and cook until liquid is clear.  Let cool, and keep in a sealed jar or bottle in the refrigerator.  Keeps for at least a few months, as the sugar is a preservative.

can you dig it? yes i can.

We’re close enough to the Fairgrounds to hear music if the wind is right, and Retrogrouch and I had been planning to lite-rock out to the brassy grooves of Chicago, Saturday’s feature act at the Lane County Fair, for several months.  My recent trip to San Francisco provided an excellent way to fatten up the festivities: too many pounds of freshly made Polish sausage, in several varieties, from Seakor Polish Deli and Sausage Factory.

Having so much sausage and a musical promise of a trip down memory lane to ye olden days of that summer before high school when you thought that boy camping two cabins down with his parents might very well be YOUR inspiration, we knew we had to invite over some friends to share the love.  We very sensibly decided to have a Chicago theme barbecue, with foods inspired by the Midwest. We envisioned it to be very much like this:

Retrogrouch manned the grill, serving up the sausages and buns, and I made an updated version of three-bean salad, that Midwestern picnic classic, and coleslaw.  Friends brought a picture-perfect Cook’s Country version of macaroni salad with barbecue sauce (which I won’t reprint or sanction because of their draconian reprint policies — shame on you, Kimball!) and a couple genuine deli salads featuring broccoli, tomato, and feta cheese.  I also put out homemade sauerkraut, new dill pickles, and dill relish for anyone in the mood.

The sausage?  The mysliwska (hunter’s sausage), double-smoked with allspice and caraway, was more mild than expected, as was the regular kielbasa, but still delicious, and the czosnkowa (garlic sausage) was stunningly good.  I was too tipsy on excellent Oregon Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to remember to take pictures at that point.

And if you are wondering where the jello mold was, as were my foodie friends who heard the recap last night, I even (somewhat inadvertently) had that covered.  A shimmery, snowy, creamy panna cotta!  Because, you know, panna cotta has gelatin in it.  Yeah.  Served up in big scoops with giant blackberries macerated in pinot gris syrup and allspice, it rounded out the meal, just like a good jello mold does.

Turns out the wind was wrong that night, and we couldn’t hear the blast of a single trumpet from the band, disappointingly enough, but we were treated by an even better spectacle.  With our doggedly hot weather the past week, the air was crackly and pregnant, just right for a lightning storm, and that we had:  brilliant poofs of light in the clouds, and big, jagged streaks of the good stuff, powerful enough to show Chicago that even we could muster up a summer light show.  PNW in the HOUSE!  Of course, the sky didn’t break open and fall until last night, but that was ok.  One doesn’t expect a tribute to be an exact replica.

The three-bean salad is an adaptation of my sister’s four-bean salad recipe, which was handwritten on a card in the recipe binder she made for me several years ago.  My version largely takes the cans out of the equation, and freshens up the vegetables with garden beans, hazelnuts, herbs, and less sugar.  What would be even better is to replace the kidney beans with local scarlet runners or another variety that grows well in the Valley, but there was no way I was going to spend more time in the hot kitchen cooking beans this weekend, so I used a local canned kidney.  The beans were from my garden and one of the local farms, as were the herbs and onions and garlic.  It would have been really cool to have local Riesling vinegar, but alas.  The Spanish company Unio has a German Riesling vinegar, sweet and sour and fragrant as only Riesling can be, is delicious enough to drink.  I bought mine at Berkeley Bowl.  If you can’t find it, use a high quality white wine vinegar and add just a bit more sugar.

Three Bean and a Hazelnut Midwestern Tribute Salad

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

  • 8 oz. green beans off the vine
  • 8 oz. yellow beans off the vine (use flat Romanos for a pretty contrast)
  • one can of kidney beans, or their dried and cooked equivalent
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. whole grain mustard
  • 1/3 cup Riesling vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar and a bit more sugar)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3-4 scallions, chopped
  • handful parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: a bit of grated celeriac or dash of celery salt

Clean and stem the beans.  You can cut them in half, but I like how they look long.

Steam the green and yellow beans until tender, then spread out on clean towels to cool quickly.  Use a fan, if necessary.  (The flavor is better if you don’t shock them in cold water.)

While the beans are cooling, whisk together the garlic, sugar, mustard, vinegar, and olive oil in a large bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the red onion, hazelnuts, scallions and parsley.  A dash of celery salt or grated celeriac is good, too, if you have them on hand.

Drain the kidney beans and rinse, then pat dry.

Add the cooled beans and kidney beans, toss gently, then refrigerate.  This salad needs to sit for a few hours to blend the flavors, but don’t let it sit overnight, since the beans will lose their color.

take my zucchini bread, please!

It’s that time again. Everyone in the continental U.S. is overrun with zucchini. I’ve got three medium ones waiting in my fridge, and several more threatening on the vine.

A couple of years ago, with my bounty crop, I thought I’d perfect zucchini bread. A dozen or so loaves later, this recipe comes pretty close. I’ve been through internet recipes, my great-aunt’s recipes, and even a granola zucchini cookbook written by Oregon mountaineer commune-ists. Based on the famous Sunset magazine zucchini bread recipe of ’76 (which most recipes are), then doctored for less sugar and oil and more spices and the removal of such blasphemies as canned pineapple, le voilà.  I also added more zucchini, since that’s the point, no?  This makes a moist, non-oily, hearty bread.

For a large garden zucchini, you will be able to make six or more loaves, so plan accordingly. You can refrigerate shredded zucchini overnight and even freeze it, but I found the texture of the bread suffered with frozen, thawed zucchini shreds because of the cellular breakdown. It’s much better to bake the bread, then freeze the loaf, since the loaf freezes beautifully wrapped in foil then heavy duty freezer wrap.

The additions of raisins (peh), carrots, or steel-cut oats or turbinado sugar on top to this recipe all make the loaves pretty.  I particularly like the combination of little flecks of green, yellow, and orange from the zucchini peel, lemon zest, and carrot.  If you know of any other ways to make it your own, let me know what you’ve discovered!

Take My Zucchini, Please Bread

Makes two large loaves or three medium ones.

4 eggs
2 c. sugar (add up to 1/2 cup more if you want it sweeter — the texture will change a bit)
2/3 c. veg. oil
2 t. vanilla

3 c. (packed) shredded zucchini with peel. If you have a monster zucchini, core it to remove the seeds.
1/3 c. milk
2 t. lemon zest

1 1/2 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. steel-cut oats (these are the ones that look like little pellets)
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 t. nutmeg
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground allspice

1 c. chopped walnuts
OPTIONAL ADD-INS: 3/4 c. raisins and/or 1 grated carrot
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:  steel-cut oats, turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat ingredients in A together until well-combined. Mix in B. In a separate bowl, combine ingredients in C. Just before pouring batter into greased, floured* loaf pans (2 large or 3 medium — batter should fill pan a bit over half full), add D.

To be fancy, add some oats, crystal/turbinado sugar, or a few nuts on top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until wooden stick comes out clean. You will also see loaf slightly separating from the pan around edges. Invert pan and cool on rack.

*In moments of weakness, I sometimes use the Pam oil/flour spray. It really doesn’t work well; the bread rises unevenly and not so high as with the traditional method. But when you’re baking a dozen loaves in the heat of the summer, reach for the Pam. I forgive you.

keeping cool with sour cherry and apricot soup

I should dedicate this, the second summer appetizer in my series of summer appetizers with obscure ingredients, to the folks at Hentze farm, where I bought the blushing, lovely apricots and the already-pitted sour cherries, submerged in their juice.  It made my life so easy, and easy livin’ is what summer is supposed to be about, right?

Sour cherries and apricots whisper Hungary to me.  My trip to Budapest in 2006 for a conference was one of the highlights of my life.  If my soul had a foreign home, it would be Hungary.  Of course, I’d soon die and have to be buried in a piano box because I would eat so much, but I’d die happy.  At one restaurant, I ordered sour cherry soup (meggy leves), thinking it would be a light starter.  Of course, being Hungary, it was thickened with sour cream and topped with whipped cream.  And every bite was delicious.

My version of the soup is lighter and appropriate for a July grilled meal.  The soup is still rich, but unless you want to serve it as a dessert (which you absolutely can), forgo the whipped cream and replace the sour cream with thinner, lighter crème fraîche.  Noris Dairy makes a delicious, slightly runny “sour cream” that is basically crème fraîche, so I use that.  You might try lightening up your sour cream with a bit of heavy cream if you can’t find crème fraîche.  If you can’t find that, you certainly won’t be able to find Hungarian apricot brandy, which is not imported much in the States, so substitute cherry brandy.  Or make your own apricot liqueur!

Using fresh sour cherries and apricots make this soup extraordinary.  It’s better to substitute fresh Bing or other cherries than to use frozen or canned sour cherries, since this is all about fresh summer produce.  I don’t bother peeling the apricots, but it might make the texture more elegant.

Sour Cherry Apricot Soup

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or dessert

2 cups pitted sour cherries
3 cups cherry juice
½ cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup quartered fresh apricots
1 T. sugar
½ cup crème fraîche
1 T. powdered sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-4 whole cloves
1 T. apricot brandy (Hungarian barack palinka) or cherry brandy

Pour juice and wine into pot, add cherries, apricots, and sugar.  Place spices in small cheesecloth bag and tie with kitchen twine.  Submerge in juice.

Simmer cherries and apricots just long enough to soften them up, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix crème fraîche and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Remove soup from heat and remove spice bag.

Scoop out about half of the cherries and apricots and puree in the food processor, then return to soup pot.

Quickly whisk in crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed, and add brandy.

Pour into small serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.

fastest pickle in the west

I once had a boyfriend who was so desperate for pickles, he’d even drink a jar of pickle juice.  I still haven’t quite forgiven him for scarfing down my expensive, hand-crafted practically Kobe-beef-fussiness-quality Japanese pickles that were carefully stowed away in my tiny apartment refrigerator in Tokyo.  Bonzai, cried he, and shinkansened out of town before I could beat him with a keisaku.  Thanks to his quick escape, we are still friends today, and I feed him pickles when I can.

So this post is for him.

It’s also for anyone who likes new dill pickles, the ones you get for free in New York delis, the half-sour ones.  Sometimes called refrigerator pickles, mine are much better (she said, humbly) because they have the spirit of half-sours but take less than half the time of than regular refrigerator pickles.  I developed the recipe while making real new dill pickles, a dubious wild fermentation preparation of whey, brine, and sitting on a counter for a couple days.  (The Master Food Preserver in me says no, the mouth is saying let’s go.)  When they work, they’re wonderful, slightly fermented, bright lime green, crisp, lovely.  When they don’t, well, you could die of botulism.

But the pickles I’m touting here are absolutely safe, and while not as good as real, fermented new dills, they are an excellent substitution and they only take a few hours to make.  Having a BBQ this weekend?  Try making these in the morning and serving them with your ribs in the evening.  The pickles last about a day, but the quality starts to deteriorate after that, so plan accordingly.

The preparation is inspired by Japanese cucumber salad, and also by my great-grandmother’s recipe for sweet and sour vinegar cucumber salad.  In both of these salads, the cucumbers are sliced, salted, and left to sit in a seasoned vinegar and water solution.  The Japanese sometimes add seaweed or sesame seeds; my great-grandma added thinly sliced white onion.  I was making my regular new dill pickles, as I mentioned, and I ran out of the requisite whey before I ran out of anything else, so I was inspired to turn a long wait into something fresh and salad-like, but with dill flavor.  I thought it might be an amenable idea to add pickling spices, garlic, and a couple heads of fresh dill to a brine and serve the cucumber “pickles” that night as a salad.  And sure enough, it worked.

Can you tell I’m super pleased by this one?  I am.  I have pickle addicts to feed.

Fastest Pickle in the West

  • 4 cups sliced pickling cucumbers (1/2-inch slices)
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • 1 T. pickling spices
  • 1 t. brown mustard seeds
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 fresh dill heads, or substitute 2 t. dill seeds (not weed)

Wash pickling cucumbers well and slice.  Make brine of water, salt and vinegar.  Mix well, then pour over cucumbers in bowl or plastic container for marinating.  Add pickling spices, mustard seeds, garlic and dill.  Cover container and refrigerate at least 4 and up to 12 hours.  Does not keep for longer than a day or two.

of bicycle tour maps and new potatoes with mint

Retrogrouch has been in training for a long bike trip, and we’ve been discussing the particulars.  He’s adamant about being old-school, and I’m itching to play with the dehydrator and dry him 10-course meals for the journey, so we have very different plans.  But we agree that he needs appropriate clothing.

So he sends me this film made by the British Transport Film group, an account of the Bicyclists’ Special Touring Excursion to Rugby on May 8, 1955, with a note saying he plans to model his “entire look on these chaps.”

So I watch it… As expected, not my cup of tea.  Bikes, English people, bikes, bikes, trains, bikes, bikes, bike parts, ooh–there’s some tea…and bikkies!, bikes, bikes, healthy young people, bikes, propaganda, bikes, trains, bikes, bikes…then, hello!

“H. H. England, the Editor of Cycling, knows that a cycling tour without a map is like new potatoes without the smell of mint.”

My interest is piqued.  Minted new potatoes! Who knew!? What kind of a British conspiracy kept this delicious secret from the Yanks?  I look it up, thinking the mint would be added raw to the cooked potatoes, but discovered they BOIL the potatoes with mint!  Wow.

So we cycled out (ok, I drove) and bought some local new potatoes called German Butterballs, a yellow, lovely potato, and a head of new garlic, large and well-formed but still with undifferentiated cloves.  With herbs from my garden, it was an easy side dish.

The video itself is pretty interesting — socialism on bikes, sponsored by the railway network propaganda machine.  Bits of history and British imperialism sneak in every so often.  And check out those woolen cycling knickers.

More importantly, however, is the existence of MINTED NEW POTATOES.  I don’t normally steal recipes wholesale, and if I do, I certainly don’t blog about them, but this one was so beautiful and pristine that I couldn’t resist.  OK, I did change it just a teeny tiny bit, by accenting the mint cooking liquid with more chopped mint, and adding both lemon and French thyme, plus their blossoms, to the potatoes.

I don’t know much about the British cook Nigel Slater, other than he seems to be a lyrical writer and a good cook dedicated to the ebb and flow of British seasonal cooking, so you bet I’d like to know more. In this recipe, he boils the potatoes as usual with mint sprigs, then smashes each one in a baking dish, dots the potatoes with an herb and garlic butter, then bakes just until the top is until crusty and browned.

I’d like to think Mr. Slater would approve of my use of local butter, potatoes, new garlic, and herbs.  Not very British, no, but as right as a tour with a map.

Bicycle Tour With A Map Minted New Potatoes

Serves 4 as a side dish.

  • 1 pound new potatoes around the same size, no more than three inches in diameter
  • a handful of clean, fresh mint sprigs (4-5 large ones), two set aside for garnishing
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 T. minced new garlic (not garlic scapes)
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • freshly ground pepper and sea salt
  • sprigs of mint and thyme to garnish

Scrub potatoes well without peeling (new potatoes have flaky, thin skins — see image above).  Place in pot and cover with cold water.  Add several mint sprigs, reserving enough to add some to the finished dish and as a garnish.

While the potatoes are boiling, mince new garlic and thyme, then mash into the butter in a small bowl.  Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to the butter to taste.

Boil potatoes until a thin knife can pierce them easily.  Drain potatoes, discarding mint.

Preheat broiler on high.  Place each potato in a Pyrex baking dish, and smash each one lightly with a fork, so the insides are bared but you can still see the shape of the potato.  Dot each potato with the compound butter, and broil only until top is browned, just a few moments.  If you’d like crustier potatoes, bake rather than broil at around 425 until crustiness is achieved, but I, for one, couldn’t wait, and won’t blame you if you can’t, either.  Garnish with more mint, mint sprigs, and more thyme flowers.

Serve immediately.  Your special excursion train to Rugby is pulling into the station.

apricot pinenut sauce for grilled chicken

I offered to do the “Book Wisdom” meme, after seeing the delicious roasted chicken at Married with Dinner. My foodie books, unfortunately, are low on the pretty prose, high on the instructions. Strange, given I’m so purple-prosaic. But regardless, I’ve been researching recipes for chard (for a newly vegan husband of a close friend) and fava beans (for my CSA farmer, whose crop is almost ready). That means I have nearby the PNW gardening bible, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon; my favorite Japanese cookbook, The Heart of Zen Cuisine: A 600 Year Tradition of Japanese Cooking by Soei Yoneda; and Fred Plotkin’s marvelous La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region, which I bought after becoming enthralled by the banquets at a Joyce conference in Trieste a few years ago.

So I can bring you wisdom about using black wine barrels for solar greenhouses, mixing up miso for fried eggplant slices, or, the one that intrigued me the most this Memorial Day weekend, Sguazeto, a regional meat sauce.

But first, if you’d like to play along, please do the following steps and post in your blog:

1. Pick up the nearest [foodie] book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag 5 other people* and acknowledge who tagged you.

*Like Anita, I won’t tag anyone, because I find that annoying, but I’d love to hear from you if you decide to join me.

OK, now mine, and what it inspired:

Soak the prunes [2] in warm water until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain. Combine the pine nuts [1 heaping T.], sugar [1 scant t.], and cumin [1/2 t.] in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine powder.

Not much to work with there, eh? Believe me, the others were worse. I find, as a literature grad student, that books aren’t always wise, at least not in small chunks. The recipe is from Plotkin’s book, and as I mentioned above, it is for Sguazeto, a rich meat gravy used in the northeast corner of Italy. The ingredients above are then mixed and cooked gently with a cup of roasted meat pan juices. Plotkin suggests substituting prune jam (lekvar) or apricot butter for the dried prunes.

But look at the combination of ingredients: a musky, sticky, sweet dried fruit, pine nuts, sugar and cumin. Perfect for an unusual, fruity barbecue, no?

So I bring you my inspiration. I received a bag of early apricots in my CSA share this week, so I have apricots on the brain. I am sure it would be delicious on grilled chicken or tofu. You could even brush a bit of the sauce on the grilled object *just* before taking it off the grill. Don’t do it too early, though, because there is too much sugar in the sauce and it will burn on the hot grill.

Apricot Pinenut Sauce for Grilled Chicken or Tofu

Makes enough for a pound of chicken breasts (double or triple recipe for more)

  • 6 dried apricots (or substitute 2 T. apricot butter)
  • 2 heaping T. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 t. honey (our local meadowfoam honey or another dark, caramelly honey is best)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. chicken stock
  • 1 T. white wine vinegar
  • 1 T. chopped parsley for garnish

Soak dried apricots in warm water until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain. Combine the pine nuts, honey, and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, or use a food processor. Before grinding, save a few pine nuts for the garnish.

Chop the apricot and add it to the mortar/food processor and pound/process until smooth. If you are using apricot butter, just mix it into the paste.

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a saucepan on medium, add the apricot mixture, the vinegar, and the chicken stock, and simmer to meld flavors, for about 10 minutes.

Grill your chicken or tofu (or even halved, fresh apricots) as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with apricot sauce just prior to serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.

Happy Memorial Day!

embittered beef stew and cuisine tristesse


I’m a humanities graduate student finishing her dissertation who has just gone on the market for the first time. Needless to say, I am embittered.

For months, I have been flirting with a recipe category I call “la cuisine tristesse,” exploring the bitter side of food with ingredients like endives, artichokes, escarole, almonds — anything that makes you pucker up or bites back. So what better way to perform one’s emotional angst than experiment with bitters?

The only bitters I can find in my lovely two-bit town are Angostura, which are available in every grocery store. A friend has scored me some Regan’s orange bitters, which I’ll pick up on my next trip to the Bay Area. So my experiments have just begun. Until I can get my lazy behind up from winter hibernation and on the road, Angostura is my monogamous plaything.

And just what is it that I’m playing with? Angostura is meted out in dashes. It’s an herbal concoction that is faintly sweet and spicy, with a bitter kick in the end. The standard use of Angostura, of course, is in cocktails. The mixology historians say a cocktail isn’t a cocktail without Angostura. But there’s also a slew of recipes out there, many concocted by the Angostura corporation itself, for food seasoned with these bitters. It makes sense. If it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quois to mixed drinks, it can also enliven food. After some research, including this fantastic 1933 recipe booklet from Angostura scanned and made available by LambMartini, I have found that the best recipes for an Angostura infusion are those with a high fat content, the creamy mouthfeel acting as counterpoint to the bitterness.

I’ve already written about my coeur à la crème experiment with Angostura. Last night my husband made the mistake of telling me to refill his drink, so I made him a “Poor Man’s Orangina” with OJ, Perrier, lemon and Angostura. (For the record, it was tasty, and he requested it again tonight!) I refrained from adding Angostura to the butter cookies I made the other day, but I did try it in a dressing for salmon and roasted fennel, combining the Angostura with whole-grain mustard and olive oil (much tastier with the fatty salmon than the fennel). And it is delicious on orange slices. I can’t wait until strawberry season, peach season! Mmm…and in whipped cream.

But by far, the best marriage I’ve made is Angostura and beef stew. This recipe is my Boeuf Bourguignon On Vacation in Provence recipe made zippy with Angostura. It will serve four, and freezes well. Share your bitterness. Your friends will love it.

Embittered Beef Stew

1 bottle deep, rich wine (I use Syrah or Cabernet, but a Burgundy or Pinot Noir would be more authentic)

3-4 pounds chuck beef, cut into 2-inch chunks (best to buy a chuck roast and cut it yourself, since “stew beef” contains a variety of cuts)

2-3 T. bacon drippings or vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion

1 juicy orange, peel removed with vegetable peeler with as little white pith as possible and juiced into bowl

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 t. dried thyme or a handful of fresh thyme

2 T. flour

salt and pepper

optional: 2 c. frozen pearl onions and 1 package button mushrooms, chopped

a few dashes of Angostura bitters

If you have time, marinate the meat overnight in 1/2 bottle wine, orange juice, orange peel, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. If not, rinse and pat meat dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a heavy dutch oven, brown meat in several batches in bacon drippings or vegetable oil (if you have any leftover bacon or salt pork, add these for more flavor).

When meat is a deep, mahogany brown on all sides, remove the meat and set aside in a bowl. Saute onions in drippings until golden, then return the meat to the dutch oven. Add the marinade or 1/2 bottle wine, orange peel, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and place in oven.

Pour yourself a glass of wine. Set aside rest of bottle.

After about an hour and a half, remove the stew from the oven and skim the fat from the top into a pan. If there isn’t about 2 T., add some butter, then the 2 T. of flour. Make a roux, which you will use to thicken the stew: stirring constantly, cook the flour with the fat until mixture is peanut-butter-colored. Stir it into the stew, along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another hour and a half, or until meat is fork tender and can be pulled apart easily.

About 10 minutes before done, add the rest of the bottle of wine. It will brighten the color and add a tart flavor layer to the stew. At this point, adjust the seasoning and remove garlic cloves, orange peel, and bay leaves. You may also now add sauteed button mushrooms and/or frozen pearl onions sauteed on medium heat with a bit of soy sauce and sugar to carmelize.

Serve over boiled potatoes or egg noodles. Immediately prior to serving, add 2-3 dashes per serving of Angostura bitters to each serving dish.

Another option is to substitute Angostura with orange bitters. I will try this as soon as I can.