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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

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The year 2016 isn’t even a fortnight old, and already so many losses, so many deaths. Musical legends Lemmy, Natalie, Pierre, and David; actors Pat Harrington and Angus Scrimm; sports legends like Monte Irvin, and many more have left these our shores for kinder places.

In Seattle, though, the loss that resonates is the passing of Dick Spady, 92-year-old founder of Dick’s burger joints. A Seattle institution, Dick’s was and continues to be an integral part of the Seattle fabric. From its start with the Wallingford location in 1954, Dick’s now has six locations, including the most recent one that opened in Edmonds in 2011.

Six restaurants doesn’t sound like an “empire” or anything, and that’s not what Dick’s was about. Rampant growth wasn’t part of Dick’s game plan; rather, Dick’s was about consistency, dependability, and community.

I wrote about the experience of dining at Dick’s a while ago. I hold those sentiments, still.

k

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Lasagna

“I’m a gourmet chef and I don’t measure anything.”

———

“Some people can cook. Others can follow recipes.”

These statements and others like them were leveled at me this weekend, after I mentioned I was going to attempt to capture the recipe for my wife’s world-class lasagna. Frankly, they caught me unaware. Never before had I come up against such blatant and illogical snobbery regarding recipes.

The fact is, if you’ve ever…and I mean everbeen taught how to cook something, you’ve used a recipe. “Recipe,” with its last century cousin “receipt” and the pharmaceutical “Rx,” all come from the Latin recipere, meaning “to receive or take.” Recipe, in fact, is the imperative form: Take! as this was the first word of almost every recipe written in that language.

Whether you were taught at your nana’s knee or trained at the Cordon Bleu, you were given step-by-step instructions on how to construct a dish. Whether you measure by the handful or the gram-weight, you’re following a recipe. Whether it was written down by Julia Child or passed down by oral tradition, you are following a recipe, and to pooh-pooh recipes (and those of us who follow them) as being somehow less than you is to ignore facts and to uselessly denigrate what is for many of us a gift of love.

That little 3×5 card with your grandmother’s crabbed scrawl, that brittle age-browned scrap of paper written by your mother’s hand, and that ancient notebook packed with torn clippings and annotated soup-can labels, those are physical manifestations of devotion, of love. You don’t cook out of hate. You don’t feed people you dislike. You don’t note what pleases the palate of enemies.

You don’t slave in the kitchen for hours and serve it up to people you don’t love.

Recipes are captured moments, repeatable moments. Recipes are confidences held between friends. “Here,” they say, “this is a secret from my heart.”

My wife has been making and perfecting her lasagna for thirty years. Each time, something is a little bit different. Ask her for the recipe (and many have), and she can’t tell you; she measures by eye, often has mounds of cheese or cups of sauce left over. And though I am working to write down her recipe from this last weekend’s bake-off, I know that in ten years’ time, it will be different.

But this recipe–this weekend’s recipe–is a starting point for everyone who’s ever asked for the secret. It’s a place for us all to start and then say, “Oh yes, it is wonderful; now I will make it mine.” They can add a bit more heat, a bit less ricotta, cook it a bit longer. They may still call it “Ilene’s World-Class Lasagna” or they may change it enough until, over time, it will be something all their own. It does not matter to me. It does not matter to my wife.

A recipe shared is an act of love. It’s your best effort, writ down and passed along, from hand to hand, kitchen to kitchen, family to family, heart to heart.

k

No-Knead Bread

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Simple LivingSomething tells me that Americans have lost touch with what chili really is.

Go down to the supermarket and you’ll find your choice of chili, chili con carne, and the mind-boggling “chili con carne with beans.” All of them are stultifying assaults to any palate and not worth the label of “chili.”

Red–a hearty meat stew–is to my heart and mind the original chili: nothing but meat and chili peppers. Sometimes called “Texas Red,” my version is definitely un-Texan, so I just call it “red,” but it is, at its core, a purist’s chili It has been a standard big-batch-home-cook recipe of mine for years. I usually cook up a big batch, we have a great meal, and then I freeze what’s left in discrete two-person servings that we can pull out at a moment’s notice.

Last night, for the first time, I rolled it out to non-family at a potluck evening, and it got raves all night. Anything that gets that kind of response deserves to be shared.

This red is best served in a bowl, over a hunk of freshly baked cornbread.

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Golden CayenneA friend of mine runs OACA Pepper Farm, and he shared a great recipe for a hot sauce that uses carrots, onions, and habanero chili peppers. The carrots give sweetness, the habaneros the heat, and it comes out orange, tangy, and very good.

When my garden started providing me with golden cayenne chili peppers, I thought I might try a twist on the OACA recipe. Keeping with the a la page concept, I considered my options as to what might work well with the intense, almost candy-colored yellow of the golden cayennes. The answer came at a BBQ during Labor Day weekend: corn.

I whipped up a batch of this yesterday, and it’s yummy.

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Simple LivingWhen my Earthbox garden produced more cucumbers than I could consume, I naturally looked into pickling. As a child, I never cared for sweet pickles, but then again, the only sweet pickles I had came in the form of hot dog relish, so it wasn’t a good introduction. Then, earlier this year, I saw “bread and butter” pickles on the store shelf. Curious, I tried some.

Now that’s a good, sweet pickle. I set about devising a recipe.

“Bread and Butter” pickles got their name in during the Great Depression. Cucumbers are easy to grow, and very fruitful, so every home had some in the garden. A common Depression lunch during the growing season was bread, butter, and cucumbers. When the plants produced more fruit than could be used immediately, they pickled them and ate them through the cold months–with their bread and butter.

Slicing the cucumbers lengthwise, they’re easy to lay out onto a slice of bread. Take two thick slices of whole wheat bread, slather with some nice, salted butter, add a couple layers of these pickles, and tuck in.

Yum!

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Poached Egg Time TrialsYes, I can get a bit…obsessed…at times.

My good friends over at Cheap Seat Eats blog turned me on to a video in which Wylie Dufresne shows a new way to poach an egg. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I’ve been working to perfect the various methods of cooking the venerable Hen’s Egg. I just about have the hard-cooked egg down pat (thanks to my friend and author Barb Hendee), but the perfect poached egg has eluded me.

I’ve tried many methods. I’ve tried classic out-of-the-shell methods like the dead-drop (sticks to bottom of pot), the swirl/vortex (still all thready), and the Martha Stewart cook-in-spoon-followed-by-scissoring-off-the-threads-to-make-it-look-nice-nice method (too obsessive, even for me). I’ve tried several in-the-shell methods, too, from the classic 5-minute egg (impossible to peel), to David Chang’s one-hour slow-cook method (too unreliable and never cooked well enough).

Nothing has pleased me. Here’s what I want in a poached egg:

  • Firm, cooked white
  • Creamy, orange yolk, almost like a sauce when it spills
  • Enough of a “sag” in the cooked egg so that it looks poached, not hard-cooked

Dufresne’s method, based on modernist techniques and analysis, gives us a perfect, in-shell, poached/soft-cooked egg. I tried it once. Damned near perfect. I tried it again. Damned near perfect again. My only complaint was that the egg stood a bit too tall, and was a bit “too” cooked at the prescribed cooking time.

So, I set about performing a time trial. Four eggs. Four cook times, ranging from Dufresne’s prescribed 5:45 min, and downward.

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Summer Zucchini SaladOnce my zucchini plants started pumping out 16+oz fruit, I had to think of something to do with them. Fast.

I came across a recipe that turned zucchini into tagliatelle (wide, flat noodles) by julienning them on a mandoline, and thought, “Eureka!” But no, at least not that recipe, which called for nearly 2 cups of fresh mint.

Some zucchini with your mint, sir?

So, I kept the technique, but changed the recipe, and hit upon something really nice. Clean, lively flavors, and goes great with a glass of pinot grigio or sauv-blanc. Note: if you don’t have a mandoline, you can use a box grater (see bottom of recipe). (more…)

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