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Archive for August, 2008

Silly me. I forgot to write about one of my most favorite food adventures.

A backpacking trip in Washington not only means a weekend of invigoratingly fresh air and breathtaking views, but dinner as well. On our hike to Shi Shi beach on the Olympic coast during the last week of May, J and I encountered a treasure trove of fiddlehead ferns. We decided that on the return trip back to the car, we would (illegally) pick some fiddlehead fern to send back home to his mom. (J’s mom is fond of eating the stems, and often uses them in her cooking.)

Fiddleheads are a more delicate variety of fern. True to its name, and like many other fern species, their young fronds start out tightly curled and resemble the head of a fiddle. As it matures, the frond gradually unfurls. One characteristic that distinguishes the fiddlehead from other ferns is that the young frond is curled so that it winds up upon itself and creates sort of a spiral. The fiddlehead portion of the fern is also considered a luxurious ingredient in many a fine dining restaurant, as I got to experience for myself earlier this year, visiting with good friends. (Hello, Erin and Abe!)

Needless to say, I was fairly excited about foraging for ingredients for a meal. Sloshing around in large patches of mud under intermittent drizzles of rain did not faze us at all. We were on a mission! It was amazing how adept our eyes had become, spotting out fiddlehead ferns amidst a forest of foliage.

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After coming back to Seattle, it took a couple of days for us to gather enough energy to prepare the fern. Thankfully, it kept pretty well in the fridge. To prepare the fern, we first soaked and washed it in cold water several times, separating the heads from the stems and using our hands to rub off the brown “feathers” decorating the stems. Then, in a large pot of boiling water, we blanched the heads and stems separately. The stems were laid out to dry over several days (this only takes a day if they’re laid out in the hot sun), while the heads were returned to the fridge, after a plunge in ice-cold water.

foraged fiddleheads

Several days passed before we cooked our precious fiddleheads for a dinner with friends. Fiddleheads have a nice earthy flavor, somewhat akin to the flavor of mushrooms. I wanted their flavor to be able to stand out, so I decided to keep the dish simple and without too many competing flavors. I sauteed the fiddleheads in a bit of butter and olive oil, together with pancetta for some savoriness. Lightly seasoned with salt and black pepper, the fiddleheads and pancetta were paired with an oh-so-good homemade pasta (hand-rolled by J, the greatest effort put into this recipe), and the final dish was topped with grated parmesan.

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pasta w/ fiddleheads & pancetta

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We like to walk down to Pike Place Market about once a month. The market is usually teeming with tourists, but the locals also like to go there for the fresh flowers and local produce. Even though it can be slow-going at times, shuffling through all the people, it makes me happy just to see all the brightly colored flowers and fruits and vegetables. Occasionally, a craft from the many vendors will also catch my eye.

Yesterday, at the market, there were stalls and stalls of dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers.

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We snagged some cherries, the last of the season, at $3.50/lb. I am planning on making cherry clafouti with them, and will write a post about that soon.

last of the season

New Haven peaches were also being sold, so I bought one to try. I was told that New Haven’s are free-stone peaches, and mostly used for canning. The skin of the peach was extremely fuzzy, but the fuzz came off easily with a bit of rubbing under a running faucet. The flesh was juicy, but the flavor was a little flat, and not as complex as I had imagined it to be.

red haven

Lately, I’ve been having an obsession with cherry tomatoes. I love how they taste perfect, just as they are. I enjoy the feeling of popping them into my mouth, one at a time, tasting the juicy explosion that results as I clamp down on them with my jaw. It is an expensive addiction to feed, since most small bundles at the supermarkets go for 4 dollars a pop. No matter. Seeing the rows and rows of cherry tomatoes at the market, I had to have them! Scanning the stalls, I came to one offering a variety of small tomatoes at $3.50 a basket. It was too difficult to resist. I had also noticed a sign for Dirty Girl tomatoes earlier on while walking through the market, and knew that I had to try one. And so I bought a Dirty Girl, too (pictured at left of the basket). A dirty girl is larger than your typical cherry tomato, but it tastes very similar — sweet, meaty, and severely juicy at the same time. (I supposed it’s called Dirty Girl because of the mess you could make biting into it, if you’re not careful. We managed to streak a wall with tomato juice.)

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Towards the end of our market jaunt, we found some zucchinis and beets at a great price. 1 dollar a bunch! The sweet girl manning the stall also threw in another bunch of zucchini for us for free. J wanted to make ten-jang chigae with the zucchinis, and I wanted to make a beet risotto. Shockingly, I’ve never cooked with beets before. I have been reading a lot about them recently, about how they are packed with nutrients. I also like how all parts of the beet can be used in your cooking — not just the root, but the leaves and stems as well.

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I left the market exceptionally happy…because of our great finds, and also because J had bought me a bouquet of dahlias.

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I crave spaghetti with marinara all the time. Even though it’s probably the go-to staple food for any college kid, it’s like comfort food to me. I love how it is so easy to make, and I love it especially with meatballs. I saw this recipe for meatballs in the New York Times awhile back and knew that I had to make my own. I sort of grew up on Costco meatballs, so this is a relatively new thing for me. Oh, the pleasure that the homemade meatball brings! These meatballs are nothing like frozen meatballs — they are not over-seasoned or fried to achieve a spherical shape.

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Meatballs

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil.

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except olive oil by hand, using a light touch. Take a portion of meat in hand, and roll between palms to form a ball that is firmly packed but not compressed. Repeat, making each meatball about 2 inches in diameter.

2. In a large, heavy pot heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add meatballs in batches. Do not crowd. Brown well on bottoms before turning, or meatballs will break apart. Continue cooking until browned all over. Remove meatballs to a plate as each batch is finished. Let meatballs cool slightly; cover and refrigerate until needed.
Yield: About 16 meatballs.

Marinara

It doesn’t get any easier than this. For the sauce, I simply opened up a can of Trader Joe’s plum tomatoes with basil, diced the tomatoes, and threw the contents of the entire can in with the meatballs. The meatballs were pan-fried long enough until they were mostly cooked through; the rest of the cooking was done as the meatballs simmered in the tomatoes. To the tomato sauce I added some salt and pepper, and some sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

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rhubarb cupcakes

Because it’s been awhile since I’ve made these cupcakes (back in February), I have forgotten which cake recipe I used! Please forgive the imperfect recollection of what follows in this post.

rhubarb cupcakes w/ rhubarb jam & toasted almonds

I do recall using a white cake recipe. I included 1-1/2 cups of diced rhubarb, coated with a little bit of flour and mixed into the cake batter. (I would increase this amount to at least 2 cups, as I didn’t think 1-1/2 enough for 24 cupcakes.) I skipped the buttercream frosting this time because I felt that the rhubarb flavor would get lost in the buttercream, after all the sugar is added. I wanted to make a rhubarb jam instead, so that the tartness of the rhubarb would be somewhat retained. To make the jam, I cooked 2 cups of diced rhubarb with 1 cup of sugar over medium heat until the rhubarb cooked down fell apart. When the rhubarb attained jam-like consistency, I tasted it and found that it was lacking in depth. So to the mixture I added a pinch or two of salt. The salt made the jam taste so much better! I spread the rhubarb jam onto the cupcakes, and then sprinkled on some toasted sliced almonds.

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tummy ache

Vanilla Wafer – Dulce de Leche sandwich cookies and Chocolate Crackles

Months ago, a former colleague in a neighboring lab proposed the idea of a cookie bake-off between participants from several labs. She thought that a bake-off would be a fun way to mark her exit from her career in science to pursue the dream of owning her very own bakery. After months of months of getting to taste and critique her swedish pastries, breads, cakes, and cookies made from the finest ingredients, we all knew that baking was what she was born to do.

It was amazing to see the number of people who participated. In the end, it wasn’t really a bake-off. Of course, everyone was a winner, although many of us had a mental rank for which were the top three cookies we enjoyed the most.

Vanilla Wafers

I wanted to make something simple, so I settled on the vanilla wafer. But I didn’t want to stop there, because that would have made a boring cookie. So I went to the grocery store in search of dulce de leche to sandwich in between the wafers. Not finding any, I grabbed a can of condensed milk and decided to make my own dulce de leche at home. Google searches informed me that I should poke a hole into the can of condensed milk, and simmer the can over low heat for a couple of hours. Always looking for shortcuts, I had my talented assistant, J, microwave and stir the condensed milk at 20-second intervals until it thickened considerably and turned a nice caramel color (no easy task, by the way).

dulce de leche sandwich 1
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter (softened), 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl with mixer at low speed, beat all ingredients until blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls, about 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets (I would use some grease, because I had trouble with some sticking). Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes until edges of cookies are browned. With spatula, remove cookies to cool. Store cookies in tightly covered container for up to 1 week. Makes 4 dozen.

Chocolate Crackles

J bravely jumped at participating in the cookie bake-off, even though he had never baked a single batch of cookies in his life. He reminisced about his grad school days, the time when he often bought his favorite Archway dutch cocoa cookies. Determined to recreate his favorite cookie of bygone days, his search for a dutch cocoa recipe ended with a chocolate crackle recipe on Epicurious. His first attempt at baking cookies impressed many of our co-workers. They tasted pretty good and looked practically professional — they didn’t really resemble the Archway cookies — but one person suggested that instead, they looked like dinosaur eggs.

chocolate crinkle 2

It was like trick-or-treating for cookies. We all played musical chairs around the conference room table and then stuffed ourselves with cookies. Or at least I did. This was right after lunch, mind you. I had a tummy ache that day.

cookie bake-off 1cookie bake-off 2

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