Monday, September 29, 2014

All Hail the Mighty Clove! (or Soup's On!)

Fall has officially fallen here in the Seattle area.  Hallelujah!

Can I get an amen?

Thank you.

Fall means many things to us here in the great PNW. For some it means the coming of all things pumpkin-flavored.  Beer, coffee, donuts.  You name it, you can probably find it flavored with pumpkin somewhere around here.

For others, Fall means the beginning of the 9-month battle with their horse-chestnut tree. One might refer to this time of year as conker season.

Still others might call it root vegetable season.

Today, I dub it Soup Season! Why? Because I am sick with a cold and I need soup.

Because nothing my wife suggested for dinner today sounded good to me, I am making my favorite soup of all, garlic soup.  So chock full of garlic cloves that you might think I'm trying to get rid of a vampire (I wouldn't do that. I'd invite him or her to my favorite all-night coffee shop for a chat.).

The beauty of this soup is that it is so simple and so satisfying. I will warn you, though. It is not for the carb-conscious among us.

Garlic Soup (from 365 Italian Recipes)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
12 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered (or more if you desire)
6 slices of crusty Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp chopped parsley
4 eggs
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat until the butter foams. Add the garlic to the pot and stir for 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.  Add the bread cubes and stir or toss to coat.  Next, pour in the wine and chicken stock and toss in the parsley, stirring to combine.  Turn up the heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Crack the each egg into a small bowl and slip directly into the soup, cover and simmer 3-4 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking. I tend to like mine on the soft side.  The goal is to have a runny egg yolk to break in your soup bowl. (I know. Sexy, right?) 

Serve in bowls with one egg per serving. Top with grated parmesan. Devour.

This soup is something that I eat less often than I used to because it is a LOT of bread. But, man oh man, does it taste good when it's cold outside or when you're not feeling well, like my family and I were today.

Surprisingly, the garlic power is not intense. The garlic gets poached in the broth and comes out soft and sweet. Plus the egg yolk gives it a gorgeous richness. 

After that soft cooked egg in that garlicky, bready soup, you can just take me to bed.

Really. I feel like crap. Take me to bed.


Good night, y'all.  Hug someone you love tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering

What do I remember about September 11, 2001?


I remember coming downstairs and making coffee and toast, then turning on the news as usual. I thought it was odd that Peter Jennings was on in the morning. Then I watched in horror as the second tower was hit. And again as they started to fall.


I remember conversations with people on the bus into town, people I saw every day but had never spoken to before then.
I remember the sudden fear when I learned about the Pentagon and the three hours of worry until I found out that my friend who worked there was okay.


I remember recording a special message on my company’s inbound message, saying that ‘due to the national tragedy, we are closed for business today.’  It seemed odd to go home in the middle of the day, but no one could work. And since we were in a high rise, it was being recommended that the building be empty anyway.


I remember the eerie stillness walking around the neighborhood where I lived. We were in the flight path of SeaTac airport. Since all flights were grounded that day, the streets were disturbingly quiet.


At the time, I was the music director for a show in the Seattle area, a review of Richard Rodgers songs. Of course, the song ‘Manhattan’ was on the list. We met, the cast and production staff, to discuss whether we should remove the song from the show, leave it in and change nothing, or write a short intro to the song mentioning the tragedy and do the song.


We decided on the last choice because we all thought in unconscionable to ignore what had happened. It would undoubtedly be on everyone’s mind and it just seemed wrong to gloss over it.


It was a hard night for all of us, but mostly for the actor who introduced the song and then the two who performed it. There wasn’t a dry eye on stage, backstage or in the house. The song is a happy one, but now it was burnished, darkened by the horrible things that had transpired. It was hard to sing about love and frivolity in that place that had so recently been visited by such tragedy.


But it was a reminder, too, that we all must go on. We must move forward and celebrate the life we have, to find beauty and love in the world.


I still have a hard time listening to ‘Manhattan’ without tearing up.


With the perspective of time, I am saddened now by the actions of the politicians who, ‘in the country’s best interest’, acted in haste and with emotion, rather than with careful thought. Many congresspeople who voted against the Patriot Act received death threats for voting their conscience.


Another tragedy of 9/11/2001 is that it exposed the sickening underbelly of our political system. For many, including myself, that day ultimately turned the word ‘patriot’ into a dirty word. And ‘Homeland Security’ has turned out to be just another den of spies with their eyes and ears turned inward towards its own citizens.


Efforts to try and bring together people of all faiths and to try and heal the great gash in that New York Island have been met with hostility at worst and disdain at the least. And fearmongers have used that day to divide my country’s citizenry even further than they already were.


I find myself appalled that a person I call a friend now received death threats on that very morning and lost many friends, just because of her religion. I didn’t know her then, but I am happy to know her now. She is a wise lady and has taught me much about faith and joy in the face of so much hate.


It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. There are some good things that are gaining ground. In 2001, I would not have been able to marry the woman I now call my legal wife. There are still many vocal opponents to that, but their voices are being drowned out.


Being who I am, with my rose-colored glasses, I have to believe that the world will be a better place as we look to the future. It is hard some days. There are daily reminders of the struggle to make it better for everyone.


If we believe, if we have faith, we can move forward. We can have a brighter future.

Can’t we?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For Mr. Williams

This is not food related, but I wanted to share it. It was inspired by the thunderstorms that happened in Puget Sound last night, the loss of a great actor and comedian, and the profound sadness of many, including myself.  


For Mr. Williams

The Heavens open to receive 
The robin flying upwards, pulling
The ache from my chest. 

The Heavens weep as they receive
The broken, beautiful soul from
The infinite space of this nutshell

Where he was a king. 

Summer Alchemy, or Plums, part 2

The plums from a few weeks ago became too ripe to eat before they went bad, so I took the couple of pounds we had and made a simple, no pectin jam out of them. 
Apparently, plums make me want to write poetry. So here is the second one. If I can manage a third, does that make a series? 


Summer Alchemy (Plums, part 2)

Bubbling in the cauldron
Mass of yellow pulp
Distilling to a thick,
sweet, pungent,
golden memory 
of a summer
romance.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is dedicated to the one I love

This past Wednesday was a special day, my wife's and my first wedding anniversary and the 10th anniversary of our first date.  With the celebration coming on a weeknight, we knew it would be difficult to get child care for the evening, plus we didn't want to be out late on a 'school night', so we decided to cook a special meal at home.

In a lot of ways, it reminded us of when we were dating. I used to cook things deliberately to impress her. Like making whipped cream with nothing but a bowl and a whisk. (Yes, I know professionals do this all the time. I bet they use it to impress dates, too.)  It still impresses her, but the tendonitis in my elbow isn't very impressed by it anymore.  

As I said, it was a weeknight, so while we wanted something special for dinner, we also wanted something that would be simple to prepare.  After a long, busy day, the last thing we wanted was to have to cook a complicated meal.

Typically we go for a nice steak on these kinds of occasions, but since we had been grilling tri-tip almost every weekend this summer, steak just didn't cut it this time.

Coincidentally, I had recently unearthed a piece of smoked salmon that was in our freezer.  I thought back to a cooking class I took with our friend Marty a few years ago.  That night, we learned how simple it is to make a nice cream sauce.  The plan was formulating.

Pasta with smoked salmon cream sauce.  Oh yeah.  That's right. 

So simple and so incredibly easy, it was all ready in about half an hour.

First, we thawed the beautiful piece of smoked salmon we'd purchased from our friend Shannon, proprietor and fishing boat captain of Two if By Seafoods.  She catches the fish herself, has it smoked to her specifications (about 50% less salt and sugar than regular cures) and then sells it to friends and at local farmers markets.  It is the best smoked salmon I have ever eaten.  (This is hot smoked, so the fish is fully cooked, not lox-style, incidentally.) Really, if you are local, you should get some. Check them out on Facebook. 

When you have the best ingredients, simple treatments are best way to show them off. 

Pasta with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce - served 2 entree portions

1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream (local and organic preferred...it will have a better flavor)
4 - 5 oz. northwest-style smoked salmon (not lox)
freshly ground black pepper

about 5 oz. dried fettuccine or other medium-width noodle

Set a large skillet on medium high heat (I used my 12" saute pan).  Pour in the stock and cream, stirring to combine.  Let the liquid come up to the boil, then turn the flame down to medium or medium-low to maintain a good simmer. Where you end up setting your burner will depend on your cooktop.  Err on the side of caution if you are nervous. A slightly lower temperature will just mean it takes a few extra minutes for your sauce to thicken.

Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  (What does that mean? Well, if you swish a metal spoon in the sauce, getting the back of the spoon covered with the sauce, the sauce should stick to the back of the spoon in a layer thick enough that when you swipe your finger through it, it leaves a line.) It'll take about 10-20 minutes depending on how fast your simmer is simmering.

While your sauce is simmering, cook your pasta according to the package directions. I used a thin egg noodle, about the width of a thin fettucine, but not as thin as linguine.  You want something for the sauce to cling to.
Drain your cooked pasta, reserving a little pasta water in case your sauce thickens a little too much. 

When your cream/stock mixture coats the back of a spoon, toss in your flaked salmon, stir to distribute, then dump in the pasta, tossing it with the sauce.

If you are looking to impress a date, you could do the chef thing and toss the pasta using the skillet.  If you are concerned about dinner landing on the floor, you might want to just use tongs. I was tired and hungry that night...I used tongs.

Divide your pasta between plates, put a little shaved parmesan on if you want (though you don't have to...there is enough salt from the salmon and most people don't believe in cheese with fish), maybe a little parsley for color, and you're done. 

We served ours with a side of baby carrots roasted with olive oil and agave syrup.  This is also lovely with maple syrup, just a little to help them caramelize.
Pour a couple of glasses of your favorite beverage and enjoy a simple, impressive, romantic meal.


I have always thought that Nancy and I make a good team.  We have, since we started dating 10 years ago, had an uncanny ability to think something that a moment later comes out of the other's mouth. 

We have built a life together by relying on each other's strengths and working together.  This meal was no exception. The pasta dish was my idea, my creation.  The carrots were hers.  And the rosé she randomly picked up at the store was a beautiful, bright complement to the meal.  Light, tart and fruity, just enough punch to cut through the fat of the sauce, but not too much to overpower the delicate smokiness of the fish.

So here's to our wonderful anniversary meal and to you, my love.  May we continue to make beautiful meals and a beautiful life together.


Thanks for stopping by. 

Enjoy a meal with someone you love. It'll make your soul smile.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A bit of silliness in response to William Carlos Williams - That is just to say

This has been poking at me for a couple of days, so I finally decided to write it down. It is because of a Twitter conversation and a picture of a bowl of yellow plums. 


#Just Sayin' (or GET OFF MY PLUMS)
for @exitthelemming 

I awoke in
the morning
having dreamt of
the plums

Which I 
was definitely 
saving 
for breakfast

I am left with
a bowl
so empty
and so tepid


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Annual Gathering of the Clans

Tonight, I return to a theme of sorts here: the joy of sharing food with good friends.  I have found, looking back at my archives recently, that it is a thread that continues through my most profound experiences with food.  It is not the celebration of the food, but the consecration of it in the presence of those I love that brings me the most joy.

One of those times comes annually at the Pacific Northwest Highland Games and Scottish Clan Gathering.  Some friends of ours have been taking part for years, camping Friday and Saturday nights, participating in the Parade of Clans, etc.  It started with the Scots, but there were also Irish and Welsh.  Then the Vikings invaded (a Norwegian in our midst) and so did the Samurai (one or two Japanese).  Now, the gathering is more one of nations than clans. 

We have only camped over once.  We usually go only on Saturday, spend the day and go home late in the evening.  The last two years, we brought our son, too.

On the Clan scale, I do have quite a bit of Scot (Baird, Kennedy) in me, as well as Welsh (Evans, Hywel Gruffudd, Maredydd) and Irish (Derry).  If the research I've done on Ancestry.com is to be believed, I also have a bit of French (Lux), German (Wagner) and a wee smattering of Canadian (Brundage). 

It's no wonder that I, of such varied lineage, find myself at home in Clan Hodge Podge, the name our group has given itself.  We have a clan banner and everything. 

Of course there are Scottish Games, pipe band competitions and Highland dancers. There is a ceilidh on Saturday night and a saltire on Friday night.  There is the playing of the mass bands and the Parade of Clans. 

It is all very lively, sometimes humbling, and always very fun. 

I love sitting at the Clan HP campsite, relaxing when I've had enough of the festival grounds and need some relative quiet.  I love that the whole clan watches out for the little ones. It is the one time  in the year when I get to sit down and talk to some people who have become my friends at that very spot. 

That includes the Saturday Night Clan Hodge Podge dinner.  Everyone brings their own protein to grill and a side to share (we forgot our side this year...we apologize).  There are always bags of chips, some salads and desserts (this year's winner, IMO, was the caramel brownie - thanks, Ruthie!).  Oh, and a shout out to Clan Crawford (not part of our group) who was handing out tastes of haggis dip (haggis ingredients mixed with cream cheese).  It was rather good!  

And now to the actual food part of the entry, because, this is, after all, a blog mostly about food. 

We were only down for the day and we wanted to pack easy and light, so we went to our standard grilling meal for this year: tri tip steak and grilled heads of romaine with homemade caesar dressing (plus some carrots for the G-man). 

The three small pieces of tri-tip (probably about 4 oz. each) were rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder and Herbes de Provence (a trick I picked up from my buddy, Devin. Thanks, man!).  I seasoned the steaks the night before and put them in a plastic zippy bag for easy travel.

The head of romaine I sliced in half longways and brushed with canola oil.  This also went into a zippy bag for traveling.

The caesar dressing is something I have adapted over the years, but the original recipe came from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  I never measure it anymore, so measurements are approximate and to taste. 
And so to the recipe for this entry.

Caesar Dressing

3 tbsp. lemon juice (bottled lemon juice is okay. If you use fresh lemon, it's the juice of one good-sized lemon)
3 or 4 shakes of Worcestershire Sauce (which, if you have ever watched the Two Fat Ladies, you will know is pronounced Wooster Sauce.  ;))
3 or 4 shakes of Tabasco Sauce (more or less to your taste.  I have been doing 5 or 6 lately because I like the burn and the extra vinegar)
1 clove garlic, pressed (yes, I know it bruises it and collapses the cell walls and blah blah blah. If you want to take the time to make a paste out of chopped garlic and salt, you can.  I do, too, sometimes.  But sometimes I want to shove a solid piece of aromatic vegetable matter through a bunch of tiny holes.)
about 1 tsp of dijon mustard (I like Trader Joe's brand because it is extra zingy)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (no pre-ground pepper, please. I have some standards)
Olive oil  (good, flavorful Extra Virgin stuff.  It will make a difference in how your dressing tastes.  Quantity of oil? I don't know.  Maybe about a half cup. Till it's the right consistency and taste. Yes, I know that's a lot of oil.  You're not going use all of this at once.  There will be leftovers unless you're doing salad for a huge crowd.)

This is one of those things I make that I always do by hand.  It just feels good to do it that way.  It makes me remember that I do have some skills in the kitchen.  I can still emulsify with the best of them.  Let me 'splain.  No, is too long. Let me sum up.

Put all the ingredients EXCEPT the oil in a medium bowl that has some good room for whisking.  it might be a good idea to have some grippy stuff underneath the bowl or have a helper to hold the bowl still.  It might move around and you won't have an available hand to steady it.

Whisk those ingredients to blend. 

Pour the olive oil in a thin stream (pretty easy to do with a steady hand from an olive oil bottle.  I have a hard time doing this from a measure cup, which is why I don't know exactly how much oil is in my dressing.), whisking briskly as you do so.  As the oil is incorporated into the rest of the ingredients, it will start to thicken.   When you think you have enough oil in there, stop pouring and whisk a bit more to make sure all of the oil you've poured is in the mixture.  Taste.  If you think it is too strong, add more oil.  Better to stop early and need to add more oil than to over do on the oil and then have to try and get more flavor into it. 

Really the only thing I am comfortable adding after the oil is more salt and pepper.  You can always add salt.  You can't take it out.  Better to err on the side of underseasoned.  You can always add some salty cheese (which you will for this dish) or some fancy finishing salt after you've dressed your salad. 

For transporting, this dressing can be put in a mason jar and it will travel quite nicely

If you're using this with some grilled romaine, like we did: 
Grill your split and oiled romaine heads on a hot barbecue grill for 2 or 3 minutes (4 if you like lots of char), remove, then drizzle with the dressing while still hot.  Sprinkle with parmesan or other salty, hard cheese. Enjoy!    


Food prep happened on Friday night.  Saturday we packed up our prepped food and headed south to Enumclaw for a day with friends. 

Our son had a great time playing with his bestie. My wife and I had some great conversations with some of our dearest.  We sat in a great circle in the evening light and ate our suppers and laughed.  We renewed our spirits with good food and dear people. 


So tonight, I raise my glass to Clan Hodge Podge and the annual gathering of the Clan.  It is always a joy to crowd around the communal table with you.