Friday, February 27, 2009

Umbrian Lentil Stew. Check.

About a year ago my father started a blog, Eating Every Day, which is just that--a daily blog about what he eats. Yesterday morning I opened it, as I do most mornings, and had to laugh. The night before, my parents had eaten Umbrian Lentil Stew (from the March issue of Food and Wine). Guess what we ate that same night?

Maybe you remember I wrote a couple weeks ago about making this stew sometime this month. I'm pleased to report that I made good on this resolution. Of course, I planned on making it much sooner, but then the kids were both out (so we went out for dinner), or I started dinner too late, or there were more leftovers than expected. Something kept getting in the way, until Wednesday night. Maybe I was just waiting for the stars to line up so I could have dinner with my parents. Well, virtually, anyway.

I like to follow recipes pretty exactly on a first try. But right now I'm also trying to use up things in the pantry. So I passed on buying Umbrian lentils, and substituted the little French ones that have been waiting so patiently in my cupboard. I think they cook similarly to the Umbrian, staying firmer to the tooth than most lentils.

I also substituted guanciale for the prosciutto. Here's why I'd be a lousy recipe tester. I might be pretty good about following recipes, but I can't really be trusted around the ingredients. In the original recipe, the prosciutto cooks with the lentils. I rendered the guanciale's fat, and then scooped the bits out of the pan, holding them back until the lentils had cooked a while.

Do you realize what a perfect appetizer a plate of guanciale bits is? I do. And I did. Here's my rationalization. I cooked the same weight of guanciale as what was called for in prosciutto. But the guanciale has a lot more fat, so you probably don't need as much. If you use guanciale (or bacon or pancetta) I suggest you use the same weight. And pour yourself a glass of wine and nibble on the bits. Caution: there's really only enough for one person to nibble, so you might want to set the plate somewhere out of clear sight. As an aside, if you look carefully at the photo above you'll see a snippet of an ad. I like how it suggests those bits of guanciale might be 90,000 friends I haven't met yet.

Be sure to check my father's blog--he has a much prettier picture of the dinner.

And here's the recipe--for some reason the link to Food and Wine is being a little hinky today--I don't know if that's an ongoing problem.

Umbrian Lentil Stew with Olive-Oil-Fried Eggs

Adapted from Matt Molina's recipe in Food and Wine, March 2009

4 servings

2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
2 ounces guanciale, chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 small celery rib, coarsely chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1-1/2 tsp. tomato paste
1/2 pound Umbrian lentils (or French or green)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and pepper
4 large eggs
4 handfuls rocket (AKA arugula)
Parmesan and aged balsamic (or sherry-)vinegar for serving
  • In a saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil; add the guanciale and cook over low heat until the fat has rendered. Remove guanciale bits, and set aside.
  • Add the chopped carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the saucepan and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, 7 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir over moderately high heat until shiny, 1 minute.
  • Add the lentils and 2 1/2 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the broth has been absorbed, 25 minutes.
  • Add 1 more cup of the broth and continue simmering until absorbed, 10 minutes.
  • Add the guanciale bits along with the remaining 1/2 cup of broth and simmer until the lentils are tender and suspended in a creamy sauce, about 10 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large skillet, heat a thin film of olive oil. Crack the eggs into the skillet, season with salt and cook over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny.
To serve, spoon the lentils into shallow bowls and top with the rocket and eggs. Grate the cheese over the eggs and drizzle with balsamic or sherry vinegar. Don't skip the vinegar--it really brightens a plate of lentils. Serve right away.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Secret Chocolate

Just wondering...

Do other people take fancy stationery pads from their desk drawer and find bits of chocolate smeared on the cover? And on further investigation realize the drawer is full of chocolate crumbs?

Note to self: must find secure chocolate storage. Requirements:
  • Must be easily accessible
  • Must be equally easy to conceal
  • Must not allow contamination of surroundings.
  • On second thought, contamination doesn't make sense with chocolate. How can chocolate contaminate? Must not mingle with co-drawer-dwellers.
Perhaps the answer is simply a dedicated chocolate drawer, with a false front. Or a lock and key.

Other note to self: Chocolate supply is dwindling. Lay in new stash.

I Say Cannelés

Is it just me, or do cannelés look at home on a plate of hoshigaki? I've been meaning to write about cannelés, but after I put up the photo of the hoshigaki in my last post, I knew I'd need to write about the two back to back.

There's the obvious similarity in general shape and the definition of the ridges. In the hoshigaki this is due to the careful massaging process they undergo; in the cannelés it's thanks to the special pan they're baked in. While the persimmons' sugars cause the hoshigaki's exterior white bloom, the coating on the cannelés is the beeswax that lubricates the pan.

Cannelés are one of the more satisfying treats. At once a cake and a bite of custard, you can't really share one with a friend. Why? The only way to eat a cannelé is by biting through the outside crust--if you had a slice, or took a bite from the inside-out, you'd be missing out. Remember the pleasure Amélie took in shattering her crème brûlée with a spoon? That's how I feel about biting into a cannelé.

Properly made, the crust is dark and caramelized--it crunches in your mouth and then (only then!) yields to a chewy layer that protects the inner barely custardy section. The cake itself has only 8 ingredients: milk, butter, flour, salt, sugar, egg yolk, rum, and vanilla. The batter is aged 1 to 4 days before baking, allowing the flavors to develop. They are then baked for 2 hours, ensuring a crispy, caramelized exterior that completes the flavor.

For the past couple years, I've considered the cannelés at Ken's Bakery to be one of the must eat treats in Portland (Portland Food List #2). St. Honore Boulangerie also carries them. Heck, these days you can even buy a frozen version at Trader Joe's.

The other day we attempted a blind tasting of the three. I like to have these little experiments, as it's always easy to rope Pavel in. If I were to suggest we go out for cannelés, he'd probably point out that we had other things to do at home, or had already exceeded our bakery budget for the week. But the engineer in him is powerless when confronted by the blind-tasting ruse.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Hanging out
Originally uploaded byAnauxite

Until last week, I was happy to snack on dried prunes and pineapple. Occasionally I would splurge on some fresh dates, taking care to hide them in an empty salad bowl. And then this. My mother sent me a bag of hoshigaki.

Hoshigaki are dried persimmons. Sounds easy, right? But these persimmons weren't just slapped into a dehydrator and left to shrivel. Hoshigaki are made following a traditional Japanese method farmers brought to California.

Basically, the fruit (still firm) is peeled, hung on a string for a little under a week, and then hand massaged every few days for 3 to 5 weeks. This breaks up the pulp and moves the sugars throughout the fruit. Slow Food USA has entered hoshigaki into their Ark of Taste; you can read what they have to say about them here,including a list of suppliers. But don't get your hopes up. You'll probably have to wait until next November to get any, and even then, you'd better act fast.

I found a great slide show of the process at Otow Orchard's website. Check it out.

Before my care package from Mom arrived, I got to try a few with my sister, who graciously shared some of hers. She told me they reminded her of tea; my mother said they were very date-like. Tea and dates. What's not to like?

I think they're both right. Hoshigaki have the complexity of tea, the richness of dates. The persimmon's tannin is gone, massaged away. They're wonderful. The temptation is to save such delicacies. They're too special to eat! But I will resist, and enjoy them on rainy weekends with the family, and even by myself on Monday afternoons. As long as I take care to appreciate them (not to mention whoever massaged them, and my mother for giving them to me)I'm doing okay.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Mochas--Portland Food List #1

TGIF. Because this year, that means it's time for my mocha. One of my favorite--and most successful--resolutions this year was to have a mocha every Friday afternoon. I've been very good. I missed it last Friday, but I was out of town, busy in a class about knitting skirts.

But back to the mocha. Fridays are for mochas, but not just any mocha. I'm going to Coffeehouse Northwest each Friday afternoon, for one of their exquisite mochas. They make three types there. I've haven't tried the ones made with milk chocolate or Ghirardelli white chocolate sauce. I always get the third. It's a splurge, but it's Friday, and hey--I like to think I'm worth it.

Made with rich Cluizel chocolate and Stumptown coffee, these mochas are rich. The kind of rich that makes it hard to drink them and read at the same time--kind of like Gerald Ford's troubles with walking and chewing gum (yes, I know I'm dating myself). Actually, turns out the original quote, from LBJ, was that Ford couldn't fart and chew gum at the same time. The things you learn on wikipedia!

But back to the mocha. The thing about these mochas is they just feel so good in your mouth. Usually when you drink something, you put it in your mouth and swallow. With these mochas you fight that--you don't want to let go. While you sit there, feeling a little idiotic hanging on to a mouthful of mocha, it seems to shift between a solid and a liquid. It's actually a bit fascinating.

I do take a book with me. Today it was M.F.K.Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. Funny--reading this book is a lot like drinking the mocha. It's full of bits and pieces I don't want to let go of, such as this bit about polenta:
"It is really cornmeal mush, nothing more. But it is dressed for the fair, in its most exciting clothes, and it can be the mainstay of a poor family's nourishment or the central dish of a buffet supper for twenty jaded literary critics with equal nonchalance."
And I read a little, but each sip of mocha deserves attention, so after a little while, I give in. You want to taste and feel this mocha, and not miss a second of it. Because before you know it, your mocha will look like this:

Coffeehouse Northwest
1951 W. Burnside Blvd.
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 248-2133

Satellite Coffee Tacoma

Last week I posted a youtube video about Satellite Coffee, but never let you know how the coffee is.

It is good, that's how it is.

I spent last weekend in downtown Tacoma without a car (took the train--always fun). Luckily the weather was lovely--crisp and clear. Luckily because Satellite Coffee is (according to google maps) a 28-minute walk from the hotel where I stayed (but 6 minutes by car). I made the trek with my sister and a friend two mornings. If you haven't been to Tacoma, it's worth seeing. There's a handsome downtown, with a certain number of old brick buildings still standing amidst the newer, less attractive ones. Mt. Rainier stands watch, though its leveled off top is a bit sinister, reminding you that it's a mighty big volcano, awfully close by. You climb some hills (well, they're hills to someone who's become used to Portland) away from the working port and the sound, past some new condos (they must have spectacular views) and through Wright Park.

Wright Park, incidentally, turns out to be the home of the Seymour Botanical Conservatory--something I'm afraid we missed in our rush for coffee.

Satellite Coffee was worth the walk. It's at the back of a parking lot, perched in a funny little building with a mural of an astronaut. Climb up the wooden stairs, push open the door with the rocket shaped porthole, and you've arrived. The coffee (made with Stumptown beans) was great. Don't go looking for de-caf. They don't bother.

If you're good, though, you can get a rocket shaped sugar cookie. It was too early for me (well, I was with other people--didn't want them to know I consider cookies as reasonable a breakfast food as muffins or toast with jam), but they sure looked good.

Satellite Coffee Co.
817 Division
Tacoma, WA 98403
(253) 428-8288

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Birthday Cake Love

About a week ago I read Eggbeater's post about sinking cakes. Sinking is an adjective there, not a verb (though the image of a line of cakes being submerged in a bathtub amuses me). The post was full of useful information about why cakes' middles sink, and things to do to avoid this--all useful stuff. But what especially got me was the idea of having a relationship with a cake.

So that was running through my head last week as I baked Pavel's birthday cake. Pavel loves cakes of all kinds--fancy liquor-soaked layer cakes filled with nuts and dried fruits, rich chocolate cakes, pastry cream filled hazelnut tortes are some of his favorites. But he also is happy with a chocolate iced yellow cake. Which was a good thing this year, since his birthday caught us all in a bit of a time pinch.

But even though I was making the simplest of all yellow cakes (Flo Braker's 'Signature Yellow Cake' from her book Baking for all Occasions), I decided to work towards having a relationship with it. That meant taking it slow, and listening to the cake. It also meant coddling the cake a bit, and thinking about it ahead. Onto the counter went the butter, eggs, and milk to come to room temperature.

Flour was weighed and sifted. Pans were readied, the oven preheated, eggs separated. When it was time to put the cake together, I let the butter take its time to cream, and then let the sugar cascade slowly into the batter. The eggs followed, oh so carefully--4 tablespoons at a time, as per directions.

Once it was time to add the dry ingredients and the milk, I stepped it up a bit. Early in the relationship there's plenty of time to enjoy one another. Once the dry ingredients meet the wet, you've got to take advantage, and stay in charge.

After getting the cake safely into the oven, there was time for me to lick out the bowl (it might be Pavel's birthday, but hey, I was the baker) and set up the racks. Sadly, as in many a relationship, my eye wandered a bit. I forgot--just for a second--about my cake, and let it bake a couple minutes longer than I should have. That meant I was in no position to fault it for its homeliness. A little dowdy, it was, a bit misshapen. But who am I to talk?

In the best relationships, partners look past one anothers occasional foibles, loving the other for something a bit deeper. In this case, it was six layers of happiness. In the end, if I (or my husband!) can't forgive a birthday cake its imperfection, what chance do the two of us have?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Last Knit

I'm stopping before it comes to this. Heading home today!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Satellite Coffee in Tacoma

Here's one place I'll be checking while I'm in Tacoma:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gone Knittin'

I'm leaving today for 4 days up in Tacoma, at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat. I'll be taking 4 classes (I've surely overbooked myself), seeing my sister and friends, and generally having fun.

This is not what I'll be knitting. But what do I know--maybe I'm missing out on some serious fun. Here's to using your noodle:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zabaglione Love

Happy early Valentine's Day!

Here's my zabaglione story over on Culinate...


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Iowa Farms

Verlyn Klinkenborg has a hopeful piece in today's NY Times, about farms in Iowa. After falling drastically for years (though acreage farmed stayed fairly constant), the number of farms has started to climb back up--4,000 new small farms since 2002. These new farms are more diverse,and, while the average age of farmers has climbed, these new farms are run by younger farmers.

For a look back at life on Iowa farms before their decline, I recommend Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Kalish.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blossom Dearie Tribute

Blossom Dearie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Using it Up--Resolution #3, with Lentils and Eggs

By now I'm kind of retro-resolution making. I've been noticing all the things that come into this house--books, magazines, yarn, beans, jams--and promptly get forgotten about. Or put away, to be saved for a 'special' occasion, or a rainy day.

This year I've decided to tackle some of those things.

March's 'Food and Wine' issue arrived today. I decided to go through and earmark articles and recipes that interest me. That is nothing new--I always do that. But I also decided to pick at least one recipe to make this month.

The winner: Umbrian Lentil Stew with Olive-Oil-Fried Eggs. Three things sold me on this one.

  • I think I have some lentils in my pantry that I need to use.
  • If there are fried eggs involved, it can't be bad. In fact, it must be good. If they're fried in olive oil, I'm in love.
  • Wilted arugula, which I call rocket, is delicious, qualifies as a leafy green (I try to listen to my mother when I'm feeding the family), and is a generally bright and happy addition to dinner.

Okay, my mother would never fall for a mere 3 rocket leaves counting as a serving of leafy greens. On the other hand, it's better than nothing!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Inner Peasant

One of my secrets is that I like some very basic foods. I mean I really like them, as in I can eat a bowl of pinto beans with nothing but salt and think it's one of the best things ever. If there's a silver lining to the present economic situation, I think it might be that it will be interesting, attractive--maybe even a little sexy--to like peasant foods.

Last night I took a little bacon--just a couple ounces. I chopped it up, cooked it for a little while, added the half onion I found in the refrigerator, and let them sizzle together.

My son came downstairs in the middle. "What is that incredible smell?" A good thing to remember: a small amount of bacon cooking will make most people in the house think dinner is going to be very good. I chopped up 4 yukon gold potatoes, in not too small pieces (maybe about 3/4-inch dice), and added them. These cooked for as long as it took me to cut up a cabbage.

Which turned out to be a little while--I've never seen such a big core on a cabbage!

Potatoes and Cabbage
Originally uploaded by grzivny
It was a bit of work getting inside. After quartering and coring the brute, I sliced it into about 3/4-inch wedges, and lay them atop the potatoes. A small amount of water (maybe 2 or 3 splashes), and a couple large pinches of salt (probably a couple teaspoons?), and that was all. I covered the pan, and let the whole mess simmer quietly, over a medium flame, until the potatoes and cabbage were cooked.

We were about to eat our dinner when I remembered we had about a cup of Brussels sprouts leftover from last night's dinner. I also remembered one of my New Year's Resolutions, to not waste food. I added them to the pot, and once they were warm, we sat down to eat.

I know I'm lucky with my kids; the ones at home are 19 and 16, and not only not picky eaters, but also interested eaters. And they both ate dinner, exclaiming how delicious it was. And we were sated.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Food Revelations #1, New Years Resolutions #2

There's a game making the rounds on Facebook where you list 25 random things about yourself. Over on culinate (which now has its own facebook-like interface for members), Kim Carlson suggested making a list of random things about yourself and food. Happily, she also suggested spreading the 25 out, over 25 days. Good idea, I might do it in one day chunks. I'll add them weekly here.

Food Revelation #1

I dislike mangoes. Intensely. People tell me that mangoes taste just like peaches. Peaches are one of my favorite fruits, and I have to say, mangoes taste nothing like peaches. People also tell me I'm missing out, and judging by most people's love for all things mango (fresh, dried, grilled, desserts, savory dishes, memoirs, and more memoirs), I'm inclined to think they might be right. It's one of my recurring New Year's Resolutions. Learn to like mangoes. Maybe this will be the year?

I'm not the first to try such a thing. Jeffrey Steingarten wrote about it back in 1996 on Slate in 'Learning to Eat Everything'. I'm hoping I'll get some good hints there. I'll need some practical advice as well. Who knows. Maybe someday I'll even manage this 'Scallop Mango Tartlet'from Chocolate and Zucchini. But I'll let you in on another secret: I'll have to overcome another food dislike first.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I recently read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, and was struck by the section dealing with nutrition fads. In particular, when he wrote about the present push to add omega 3s to all sorts of foods, giving new meaning to 'surf and turf'.

Do you see where this is going?

Last summer, my husband and I stopped in at Eon Cafe, in Hayward, CA. We'd found it on, a site we like to use when traveling. Anyway. we were supposed to be having breakfast, and the choices of food were limited. (The coffee, incidentally, was quite good). They did have an omega 3 cookie. It was plump with dried fruit, and I figured it would be full of flax, cranberries, maybe some pecans. Seemed like an obvious choice.

Back at the table I took a bite. And looked at my husband. "Does this taste..."
He took a bite. "It tastes fishy."

Yep. Surf and turf cookies. Very odd. They weren't entirely disgusting, but I think mainly because it was such a funny moment how could I not enjoy it or them?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bread Reading/The Bakery Show

When I saw the announcement, I knew we'd be going--The Bakery Show: a poetry reading at a bakery. Fleur de Lis Bakery, Judith Arcana pointed out, is the obvious place to hold such a reading--it was originally, after all, the Hollywood branch of the Multnomah Library.

It was a fun, slightly chaotic evening. It was the first time that the bakery served dinner. Tables were being set up while we sat--outdoor chairs put into duty aside makeshift tables. The audience was made up of neighborhood people--all ages were represented. People were there on dates, with their grandchildren or children, a nice group. A hastily scrawled announcement went on the door soon after we came in: 'Tonight's Performance Sold Out'.

Also for the first time, there was table service. Slightly inexperienced but friendly and aware, the waiters scooted around all the tables. Our waiter brought me my cake. She set it down, looked from it to me, and then started to take it back. "This isn't what you ordered". It was, however, the cake I'd decided I wished I'd ordered--so all was fine.

My favorite moment came in the middle of a found poem--mainly things about how you should and should not eat. (I'm paraphrasing this line)--How many meals should you eat daily?
Without missing a beat, a small child in the audience yelled back: Twelve!

Unfortunately, there was no program, and I took no notes. I can tell you there was another found poem, this one about foods to try at a Chinese Restaurant (Shredded Vegetarian was maybe the most tempting). A Gish Jen essay about learning to eat in the US with a Chinese father. A voluptuous poem about bread, with saxophone accompaniment (the poem, not the bread). And Judith Arcana read her poem about Fleur de Lis--with the pastries cooling on shelves where once there had been books. Not the worst trade-off.

Fleur de Lis is a nice neighborhood bakery--I'd like one like it in mine. They make nice yeast dough cinnamon rolls (instead of the now more normal croissant dough type), and delicious little fruit crostatas. Rumor has it they make a mean doughnut on the weekend. And, if you're really lucky, you'll stumble in on a clam chowder day--a nice brothy type, not thick and starchy.

Fleur De Lis Bakery and Cafe
3930 NE Hancock St
Portland, OR 97212
(503) 459-4887‎

Monday, February 2, 2009


That's all, just bread. Yesterday morning, Sunday morning, I had a bowl of coffee made with Extracto coffee and Noris milk. With that I ate many (too many?) pieces of toast, made from Ken's country brown loaf, with Ayer's Creek damson plum jam as well as apricot jam made by a friend. That's a lot of name-dropping, but I do it not to show off.

It's just that I was so pleased with my breakfast, and thankful. Such simple food--bread, jam, coffee, milk. But each ingredient was the best you can get--and fairly simple to procure. The coffee we buy at our favorite coffeehouse. The milk is delivered in glass bottles every Thursday. It's not homogenized, and there's always a thick plug of cream on the top. The jam was, admittedly, a splurge. But it was a Christmas gift, as was the homemade. Note to self: make more jam next summer.

And the bread? Over the years, whenever I've attempted to economize, I've felt twinges of guilt at buying bakery bread. Recently, however, I made a surprising discovery. Ken's 1.5 kilo loaves, (52.8 ounces) cost $8. That's about 15 cents per ounce, or $3.60 for a 24-ounce loaf. Cheaper than most bread at the grocery store. But who cares? That bread is the most delicious thing. Chewy and complex tasting with a slightly toasted dusting of flour on the crust. And the crust--one of the best thing about Ken's bakery is that everything is baked enough. So the crust is dark and crisp and something that always makes me happy.
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