Alterna-Thanksgiving: Peking Turkey

Somehow, somewhere I got the idea that I needed to make a Peking Turkey for Thanksgiving this year. It was extravagant, cross-cultural, a project. It was perfect. Most people just looked at me sideways as I excitedly described my plan. I even found evidence that someone had done it before and was able to use their recipe to guide me. My parents left town for Thanksgiving, and left to my own devices, I took over their kitchen (nicer than mine–and there’s a dishwasher), and created a feast with my friends.

Peking Turkey

Photo by Valentina Vitols

I was also lucky enough to have the amazing Valentina at Thanksgiving dinner, so she is responsible for the incredible photos of the meal. We set the turkey on a bed of sliced radishes and scallions, and sliced it in traditional Peking duck style, with the skin separated from the meat. Coming from a girl not really enthralled by traditional roast turkey, this was my personal favorite preparation of turkey. It took a little bit of work, but not much more than a brined bird–about 20 minutes the day before and two hours plus prep and resting time on the day of.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Photo by Valentina Vitols

This is my sweet potato gnocchi, from an old recipe, sauteed with sage. I’m a sucker for dough-based items, so this was a great alternative to traditional mashed or baked sweet potatoes.

Roast beef roll ups

Photo by Valentina Vitols

K and T brought these super easy and quick appetizers. So easy that since the kitchen was in such heavy use, K was able to prepare these while sitting on the floor with a cookie sheet! Just unroll a sheet of Pilsbury crescent dough, spread with cream cheese, top with a a layer of roast beef and a little arugula. Roll up, slice and bake. Not my usual route, but they were delicious and I could definitely see doing riffs on this with herbs and horseradish for extra zing. They were a huge hit.

Arepitas with avocado sauce

Photo (& food!) by Valentina Vitols

“These would be even better, if only we had a little bacon” Someone said. Perhaps it was R, Valentina’s husband, as she crafted these little arepitas, mini Venezuelan corn pockets. Bacon was procured (We had to add it to butter for the oyster stuffing, if I’m honest). Arepitas were stuffed–Beecher’s cheese curds and bacon–and then consumed. I’m impressed that Valentina managed to snap a photo, but she’s good like that.

It wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving by any means, but it was a delicious one, with good friends, good wine and great food.



Chanterelles with Rosemary: A Foraged Feast

Chanterelle PastaSeattle has a reputation for constant rain. Natives such as myself know that isn’t true–it only rains in fall, winter and spring, and even then, just a light drizzle. Regardless, we natives also know that the rain brings us treasures in the form of chanterelle mushrooms.

As our short summer wound down last week, I watched the rains begin–along with the complaints from those who have moved here from cities with summers that go past labor day. As others complained of the wetness, my head danced with visions of the reward we Seattleites get for enduring the rain.

Freshly foraged chanterelle mushrooms.

There is something that I love about going out and finding the most delicious foods, whether it’s locating an underground izakaya in New York or digging my own razor clams from the ground. I can’t put my finger on just why food is so much more delicious when I’ve spent time, effort, possibly far too much of both, seeking it out. So there I was, bright and early on a fall-like Sunday morning, walking about in the rain, with a silly, oversized basket, brushing my hands about on the forest floor.

For all the dreary rain, though, these dots of golden color coming up from the ground provide the perfect antidote. A chilly apartment can be easily warmed with the smells of chanterelles sauteing on the stove. There are any number of things you can do with chanterelles, but for my first foray of the season, there was only one dish I could do.

Simple Chanterelles with Rosemary and Fresh Pasta

Rosemary grows everywhere around Seattle, my backyard included, so I start by warming up butter, heavy handedly adding the herb. Meanwhile, I start the water boiling for the fresh pasta. We (B does much of the work for pasta making) used the recipe in this post, though used some whole wheat flour for extra flavor to stand up to the strong texture and flavor of the mushrooms. The mushrooms go into the butter, along with a pile of salt and pepper–again, with a heavy hand, these will bring out the natural flavors of chanterelles. When the mushrooms soften, I throw the pasta into the water, and everything comes together. I take the pasta out, move it into the pan with the mushrooms and add a little pasta water. The heat does its trick and the whole dish comes together, textures, and flavors, perfectly, delightfully.

The thick chew of the mushrooms, the light give of the pasta, the strong herb from the garden. This dish warms the room–and the season.

L’Shana Tovah and Happy Shakshouka Season

A glass of wine, thick, crunchy bread and a pot full of shakshouka is all a girl needs to get through fall. I hadn’t timed my serving of this Israeli (breakfast) stew to match with the Jewish new year, the holiday of Rosh Hashannah, but perhaps it was all on my mind, so I’ll embrace the timing as I tell you the story of this delectable stew.

Shakshouka is a soul warming dish, a centerpiece to a table around which strangers or family can gather and dip their bread together. One of those dishes that can call people to dine with aroma alone, as it wafts from the kitchen. The weather was decidedly fall like and B’s mom was in town, our vegetables from the garden were going gangbusters. It is shakshouka season.

I make no claim on the authenticity of my shakshouka, I simply know how I make it and my own love for this recipe. I learned it from a pair of Israeli girls in a beach town in southern Ecuador during the national holiday there. I had taken a mini-break from my job and traveled to the beach, planning to spend a few nights in Puerto Lopez, then move south to Montanitas. In Puerto Lopez I was told I’d be crazy to think I could get a hotel room in Montanitas, so I traveled south a day early to make arrangements for the next night. Truly, there was not a room in the town, but this pair of Israeli ladies heard me bargaining with the hotel owner (he was trying to charge me an obscene price to sleep on the couch in the lobby, with nowhere to lock my stuff). They had an extra bed in their room, I could stay there. Arrangements were made with the hotel owner and I left, to return the next day to my room.

It was a different town the following night. For months in Ecuador I had seen no sign of wealth, Americanization or western fashion, suddenly the town was filled with Ecuadorians in Prada, Gucci, driving BMWs, it was a surreal world. Restaurants were packed, offering dinners at five times the normal cost. The Israeli girls and I were joined by a Canadian gal and we wandered the street in search of a reasonably priced dinner. None was to be had. Passing a random, somewhat sorry, vegetable stand, the girls declared that they would cook for us. We picked up a few ingredients and within 15 minutes, these ladies had turned about a dollar’s worth of ingredients into one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.

At its absolute simplest, Shakshouka involves this:

5 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 Onion, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 Eggs

(Serves 2)
You simply saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil, season with salt and pepper (lots of pepper–its the main flavoring here), add the tomatoes, stirring until soft, simmering for a few minutes, then break the eggs over the top, allowing them to poach in the liquid. When the whites are no longer translucent, pull the dish off the stove and serve with crusty bread, breaking the bread off and picking up stew and eggs with it.

That was the version (I think we may have added a few bell peppers) that I ate that night in Ecuador. I have made a grand variety of versions since then, for large groups of hungry college students, for picky eating children, for anyone, and it is always a hit. Last night was the most extravagant version I’ve ever made.

(Serves 4)

4 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 zucchini or summer squash
2 carrots
6 cloves of garlic
1 pound ground lamb
a handful of various types of hot and sweet peppers
1 teaspoon of cumin seed
1 small can of tomato paste
1 Onion, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
4 Eggs

This version is made in much the same way as the basic version. Saute the peppers, onions, garlic, tomato paste and cumin seed in olive oil, add the tomatoes, lamb, carrots and squash, season with salt and a lot of pepper, let the whole thing simmer for about ten minutes, then add the eggs to poach, serving with crusty bread.

An Event, A Thought on Cheese, A Product and A Recipe

There is a back log of things I want to post on and I’m just going to let them all go right here, for your enjoyment: a fun event this weekend, murmurs of what is being called a ‘burrata crawl’, a new product I love and the recipe for a dish that I’ve eaten for 4 straight meals.

Farm to Table Food for Thought

The Kitsap public library was kind enough to invite me out for this ‘gourmet picnic’ and I’m actually really excited about it. In addition to talks by a number of local food writers (Molly of Orangette, Shauna aka Gluten-Free Girl and Lorna Yee of Cookbook Chronicles), there will be food provided by Monica Downen of Monica’s Waterfront Bakery and Cafe, local wineries and breweries and Kitsap food chain information. Tickets are $50 from here. We are going to walk onto the Southworth ferry with our little puppy because this is a dog friendly event! Oh, hey, did I mention I got a puppy?

A Thought-a on Burrata

I love burrata and have loved this creamy, delicious cheese since I first tried it at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. I used to bring it back with me, unable to find it here. It has since become available all over the place, though only Delancy serves the brand that I like from California. Metropolitan Market carries some expensive Italian stuff, and it just is not fresh enough. Calf and Kid (which I love!) carries a kind that I find doesn’t mix the outer mozzarella portion with the inner mascarpone part, meaning it seems to have a skin.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard that Lark is making their own burrata and that Marjorie also has burrata on the menu. Where else carries it? I’m hoping to organize a taste test of all of them so I can establish a regular source around here! Leave me any burrata knowledge in the comments.

Korean Pancakes EVERYDAY!

I recently have discovered a product called, fittingly “Korean Pancake mix”. I had to put a picture up so you can see, that is really its only name in English. I got it at Uwajimaya and this stuff is awesome. You just mix with water and it really tastes like the Korean pancakes you get in restaurants. I’ve mixed all kinds of things in: squid, shrimp, chives, chard, kimchi, asparagus, you name it. I love a quick easy meal that can have meat, veg or be adaptable and ready in minutes, I’ve eaten these savory pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I know this little tidbit is ridiculous, but I’m really excited about the product. I swear they aren’t paying me or giving me product or anything. Seriously, this stuff is good.

Chili Crab Recipe

Speaking of things I’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we caught a full limit each (6 a piece) of red rock crabs on Sunday and I made a crab each into chili crab. We were only able to eat half a crab each because they were so big and rich! I then proceeded to eat leftover chili crab for all three meals yesterday, including as chili crab fried rice (in the wok with rice and egg). I did not get any pictures, but I thought I’d share the recipe in case you have a hankering! Or so I can go back and look after I next go crabbing.

There are no amounts, but it is a very forgiving recipe, so don’t worry about it!

You’ll need:

Hot peppers of some type (I used dried local cayenne, because it was what I had)
Soy Sauce
Chicken or other stock
Chili black bean paste
Sesame oil
Tapioca flour (or cornstarch if you prefer)

Steam the crabs for about 5 minutes, so they are almost entirely cooked, then break them down: pull off the top, let all the juices and innards run into a bowl. You can save the top for presentation, or throw it away. Pull off the dull grey gills from the body and discard. Cut the body in half and set aside. Do this for however many crabs you have.

Heat a bit of sesame oil in a wok and add the minced garlic and ginger and thinly sliced peppers, letting them get fragrant and release their flavors before adding the chili black bean paste–which you can get at any Asian market. I had a Sichuan kind that had about two tablespoons left in the jar, so I used that much. Another minute or so on the heat and add about half the stock (I used a can, it’s not super important here), bringing it to a slight boil. Add back in both the crabs and the reserved crab liquid and innards. Also add just a dolop of soy sauce–it’s only there for some salt content. Add the rest of the chicken stock, but you only need enough to cover the crabs. Let this simmer for two minutes or so, getting the flavor into the crabs. Sift about a quarter cup of tapioca flour or cornstarch over so the sauce thickens and sticks to the crab, then serve!

A note on tapioca flour: It is very important to sift it in, if you don’t it will congeal and form balls and instead of crab sauce you will have crab bubble tea!

The One Person Pantry: 20 Essentials for Single Cooking

When I posted my love letter to cooking for one, my friend Misty asked an intriguing question: What foods/staples do you keep in your pantry to be able to make a variety of meals? Misty is an amazing person and a great lady to have a meal with and I should have known that a thoughtful question from her would quickly outgrow the comments section of this blog, and I would need to make it a full post! It was a hard decision, but I’ve narrowed it down to twenty items that I like to keep around.

This is my list—it caters to my tastes, meaning it lacks spices that you might use every day that wither away in my cupboard, but includes oddballs that I use often which you might never have heard of—see the inclusion of berebere and the decided lack of black pepper.

I’ll try to say a little about each item and how I use it, though I think some are self-explanatory and all are in no particular order. I’d love to hear from other people about what is essential to them! Leave links/answers in the comments below.

My Pantry Essentials:

1)    Rice: Easy to make and very versatile. If I have rice for dinner one night I’ll probably end up with fried rice, congee (porridge) and onigiri (rice balls) in my future. A simple stir-fry over rice is one of the easiest and most forgiving meals to make for one, though if pressed, I’d have to admit I’ve made a number of meals simply from rice and hot sauce (see #2)!

2)    Yank Sing’s Delightfully Hot Sauce: My life is not complete without this hot sauce. I just love it. As mentioned above, it can make a meal from rice. It can also fix botched flavors on any soup, stir-fry or even salad—a dollop in the dressing covers a myriad of sins, including the ‘maybe I left the lettuce a few days too long in the fridge’ one. Not that I’ve ever done that…

3)    Chickpeas: I’ve always got a can around, whether I’m pureeing them for hummus, using with onions and parsley in a salad (add feta!) or making an amazing Tanzanian stew with tomatoes and coconut milk (#17). With the chickpeas already cooked, most meals that use them are ready in a matter of minutes.

4)    Peanut Butter: Often employed to dress up dull fruits and veggies (apples, celery, etc.) I also use it to add oomph (defined here as calories, texture and flavor) to curries and stir-fries, or to make dipping sauces for, well, anything dip-able: just add soy sauce (#19), coconut milk (#17) and adjust to your taste/viscosity preference)

5)    Canned Sardines or other seafood: Right now I’ve got sardines and smoked oysters, but mussels and clams are also out there. These seafoods are sustainable and shelf-stable so they are always around. Either eaten on crackers (maybe with mustard?) or added to a dish (dress up pasta sauce in seconds), they are savory and delicious. Alton Brown recommends a sandwich that, while it sounds ridiculous, I’ve been known to enjoy: Spread mashed avocado on bread, top with sardines from can, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic (or sherry!) vinegar, salt, pepper.

6)    IQF Frozen Shrimp: I usually get the big bag from Costco because these suckers can go straight from the freezer to the frying pan and you can adjust the portion each time. Grab five shrimp, toss them in a stir-fry or just sizzle them in a little sauce to go over rice. If you’re feeling fancy you can boil them in water with a little butter in it, then cool them off and dip in a cocktail sauce (or peanut sauce from #4!)

7)    Potatoes: I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone about the myriad of ways to use a potato, but I think my favorite meal for one is making them into curry.

8)    Thai Curry Paste: Yeah, it’s pre-made, but whatever, it’s quick and easy and I can rub it on the shrimp before I fry them, add it to a curry or flavor a sauce with it. Very versatile. I use any of the ones in the big plastic tubs, usually the red flavor. The easiest curry I make is just this and coconut milk (#17) with

9)    Garlic: Because I need my dishes to taste good! And it keeps for long periods of time in a cool, dark space with air around it.

10) Sesame oil: my most versatile oil, I use it in most of my salad dressings, to do all of my stir-frying with it and use to finish many of my dishes with a hit of flavor.

11) Butter: When making anything with a stew-y texture, be it stew or curry, I always start with butter for a little extra richness. Also, when finishing off a soup or dish that needs a little something extra, a butter pat is often that icing on the cake.

12) Lentils: Red lentils cook relatively quickly and can make for a great stew or easy soup. This is something I’ll make at the beginning of a week, spending 45 minutes prepping on a Sunday evening, then eat for breakfast and/or lunch for the rest of the week.

13) Berebere: There aren’t many spices on this list, because in general I use just garlic and salt and let my ingredients talk. But berebere is a unique spice mix from Ethiopia that I buy in large quantities from Ethiopian markets here in Seattle. I use it to add depth to those lentils in #12 or to season my shrimp (#6) or potatoes (#7). It has a hint of spice, but is mild enough for using as a major flavor component in most dishes.

14) Salt: Obvi.

15) Eggs: Aside from numerous egg based dishes that are great one person meals (omelets, scrambles, poach and serve over vegetables, fry and dip toast in), egg can provide the protein for a curry (either hard-boiled or scrambled), a stir-fry, fried rice, a simple soup (egg drop soup can come in a number of forms, from Chinese to Greek), or even a salad (hard-boiled).

16) Frozen Stock Cubes: I’m an ardent user of homemade stock. I keep cans of stock in the house just in case, but I almost always use homemade. I do this without devoting barely anytime: I make the stock once a year, using my parents’ and anyone else’s turkey carcass I can round up after Thanksgiving, let it boil away in big pots on my stove, then reduce it to a super rich, thick broth and freeze it into ice cube trays. When frozen, I transfer them to giant Ziploc bags and use them through out the year. I use this stock as the base to all my soups and stews and to add extra flavor to basically any dish—just add the cube and let the water evaporate, leaving the flavor.

17) Coconut Milk: So I mentioned the stew in #3 and dipping sauce in #4, but there are also the many Thai curries and various soups that this figures into. You can even make ice cream for it. Pretty much one of my favorite ingredients to add to something, with its unique texture and flavor. A hard one to substitute for!

18) Flour: With the eggs already mentioned, you can run away with this category: breading vegetables or meats, making pasta (a major staple around here), any sort of baking, etc. Whatever style you cook, having flour around will open up a million meals for you. One of the easiest recipes for a quick bread is scallion pancake: 2 cups of flour, .5 cup warm water, 2 scallions, chopped (or your filling of choice, I often change it up, using Sichuan peppercorns or garlic), salt and oil. Mix the most of the water and the flour (I do it in my KitchenAid), adding water until it is pliable and coming off the bowl, a little bit sticky. Cover with a wet towel for 30 minutes, then split into six pieces, rolling each out flat to a ten inch circle, brush with oil, add scallions, roll up like a cigar, then into a spiral, roll it out flat again. Griddle and serve.

19) Soy Sauce: Add to anything for salt with a punch. Great in marinades, dipping sauces, stir-fries, over rice, in a soup, basically great as long as it is hiding in the background. It gets overwhelming if you try to bring it to the front of a dish—I know people who can have rice just with soy sauce, but for me that’s a little much. Unless it is really good soy sauce, which is not the type I’m referring to for the pantry staple.

20) Tortillas: Either make a bunch from masa ahead of time or just buy a package. Freeze them in packs of ten. On their own, they aren’t the greatest, these previously frozen specimens, but when torn up and fried to a crisp you can’t tell the difference. Or mix in with your scrambled eggs and top with salsa, for a delicacy known as “Mexican Eggs” growing up in the Gastrognome household. Okay, by salsa I may sometimes mean ketchup. If you’ve got cheese around a quesadilla always pleases everyone!

A little side note: I know for lots of people what’s missing are ketchup, mustard and mayo. I rarely use these, but I do have a few mustards and Kewpie Japanese mayo. Kewpie and hot sauce is an amazing dipping sauce. If you do keep ketchup around and want the easiest stir-fry sauce ever, mix with soy sauce. It was a college staple of mine and another treasure from my mother (See Mexican Eggs in #20).

So there you have it: My 20 pantry essentials. What did I forget? What would you add?

Cooking at Home. Alone.

Since I’ve been working from home (pause while I let you know I started my own business, Socialize Me) one of my favorite parts of the day is cooking myself a small, simple lunch. There are a lot of cooking lessons I’m learning from making a daily meal for one and I’m enjoying every second of my education from them.

Despite everyone’s wild dreams about how much I must eat out (I hear all the time about it) I cook a fair amount at home. Dinners that I cook tend to have multiple components, be adventurous, they are a way to try making dishes I normally get at a restaurant. Last night we had garlic crusted fish with chard and fideos (little noodles) in spicy broth. We make almost everything from scratch, curing meats, making cheese, baking bread. Even my easy-out meal tends to be a stir-fry where I need every little component perfectly ready before I start.

Lunch since I’ve been at home all day is a different animal. First of all, I’m working, so I can’t spend my usual hour or more in front of the stove. Second of all, I don’t have too much interest in meat (I don’t think a single lunch that I’ve cooked has involved any), as it is heavy and I have to keep working afterward. Lastly, I’m cooking for one, so I tend to make a single component meal, involving my starch, protein and vegetable all at once.

One of my first meals was an eggplant curry, similar to this meaty version. A dish like this I would normally serve over rice, possibly with a cilantro salad on the side. Instead, at lunch, I simply chopped up a potato and threw it in to be my starch.

Another trick is to serve things to myself in tortillas or on bread or crackers. Tortillas are easy and quick to make and you can keep them frozen almost forever. The other day I opened a can of sardines, scrambling eggs with them in the oil from the can. I topped it off with lovely pepperoncini oil, a gift I’d been given from Italy, a little sherry vinegar for acid and some parsley from the garden. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t complete until I wrapped it in a soft corn tortilla.

Each day I start over again at noon. Open the cabinet, search for inspiration, allow the ingredients to talk to me. Cooking like this requires agility, a willingness to stop after the first bite and rummage for that tortilla, to look around and think about what will come together quickly and easily. For me, this is the perfect foil to my usual cooking and to the restaurant meals I have.

Taylor Shellfish Mussels and Bluebird Grains Farrotto for $4 Each

After an hour of stirring the brown lump of nothingness, it was the final five minutes that suddenly transformed it into a meal. What was plain and ugly became something so beautiful that I couldn’t help but snap a quick photo before I set it on the table.

And of course, once I had the picture, I had to share it. Because this dish? It’s simple as shit. And simply delicious. And a fantastic value

As we ate the meal, I couldn’t help but think about the value of our farmers market. I had paid $8 for two pounds of mussels. About half of that fed the two of us for dinner. Which is $2 per person. Add in about $1 per person for the farro. The rest of the ingredients had negligible costs: Homemade stock, salt, butter butter and parsley, which came from our garden. We’ll call it a dollar for all that. Total cost of this amazing meal? $4 per person.

The monetary cost is one thing but the value of the mussels and local farmers market vendors is what struck me. I paid the $8 for the mussels, which is maybe a little more than you’d pay at your local grocery store. On the other hand, seafood can be questionable at a local store-not because they aren’t necessarily taking care, but there is that extra step. Whatever the reason, I’ve never bought seafood at the farmer’s market that was anything less than the best I’ve ever had of that particular item. These mussels were no exception. The Taylor Shellfish stand is a treasure of our treasured farmer’s markets and tonight’s meal was a reminder of that.

Unfortunately I did no measuring as I made this, but it is so simple that I hope you’ll try it and trust yourself to cook it!

Sauté chopped whites of leeks, an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and the farro (I adore Bluebird farms for their grain in much the same way I adore Taylor Shellfish for their goodies) in a little bit of butter. Over medium heat, add stock about a cup at a time, stirring constantly, waiting each time until the liquid is absorbed, for an hour. At that point, add the mussels and let sit for 5 minutes. You can stir a little if you have a lot of mussels and they’re in two layers. Add in the parsley and let them cook until they shrink up a little. Salt to taste and serve!