Saturday, August 13, 2016

Escabeche (Pickled Carrots, Onions, and Jalapenos)

This should be, but is not, a picture of the magnificent Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Simone Manuel, with all of whom I have fallen deeply in love.

We interrupt this late-summer heat waving and Olympics binging and Donald Trump cringing and canned seltzer drinking to bring you this: In 1992 we moved to Santa Cruz, ate at the magnificent Tacos Vallarta, gorged on their (free!) escabeche, and were never the same again. After we left California, I missed (our friends and) that escabeche terribly: spicy, vinegary, barely crunchy, vaguely herbal carrots and onions and jalapenos, all ready to spoon onto your carnitas or scoop up with chips or just eat, with a fork, like a salad, while you waited for your food and cried because it was so good and you were pregnant and life was just so beautiful and sad and delicious.

Money in the bank.
So, this recipe. Partly because the canned stuff is decent on the jalapenos front but not so great carrots-wise.

And the crowd goes. . . something less than wild.
And partly because in late summer we get loads of carrots, jalapenos, and onions in our farm share, and this is what I do with them. My goal is to make enough to last the whole year. I usually get to about May with it, which, given how much of it we give away 
Some jars are reserved in advance.
and how incredibly much of it we eat, isn't too bad. 

This is a double-batch, and made 8 half-pint jars. I eyeball the amounts, which is not so great for recipe-writing, I realize. I like a lot of carrots, which is why I use so many. In the cans, there are hardly any carrots! What? But at Vallarta, it's more like this.
What do we do with it, you're wondering? I'll tell you. We eat it with the famous Bean Feast
Bean Feast
which we eat at least once a week year-round. We put it on nachos

And chips. 

And we put it inside quesadillas. It is always exactly what whatever you were eating was missing.

At first. . . 

and then. . . 
These are rough amounts, because I am always eyeballing it. As long as you keep the brine strength (the ratio of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar) the same, you can play with the amounts of vegetables you use. Lots of people add cauliflower, and I'm sure that's great, but I never add it because. . . Tacos Vallarta purist.

1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound onions, peeled, halved and sliced lengthwise 1/3-inch thick
2 pounds carrots, scrubbed or peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ pound jalapenos, stemmed and sliced into rings
1-2 cloves of garlic per jar, peeled
1 bay leaf per jar
1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the brine:
3 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the oil in a heavy pot or deep skillet and add the onions. Cook them over medium heat until they are just starting to go translucent, then add the carrots, jalapenos, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add the brine ingredients, raise the heat, and bring the pot to a boil. Boil until the jalapenos turn from bright green to khaki green, and until the carrots are crisp-tender to your liking (around 10 minutes).

This will keep in a big jar in the fridge for a long time—months, even. It doesn’t freeze well, but if you want to can it, then follow your own knowledge about canning, filling boiling-hot jars with the hot vegetables before ladling in the brine, wiping the rims, and putting on the hot lids. (I don’t process these after because, if something dangerous can grow in that amount of vinegar, then it was going to crawl upstairs and kill me in my sleep anyway.)  If you run out of brine, simply make some more, following the proportions given, and bringing it to a boil before adding it to the jars.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Waiting for Birdy

Someone got a facelift! Or at least a, you know, lift. Thank you, Laura Tisdel, beloved editor. And I will be back soon, I swear, with useful things. But in the meantime, read this if you haven't--especially if you've ever worked in a restaurant and/or love food.

My family drew me. (Speaking of facelift, and not getting one!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

AWOL / Nachos

You guys! We are camping and board gaming and summering and protesting. But I thought you might want to be having nachos for dinner! I have a kind of a trick recipe over at the Tastebook blog. I've been writing a bit over there, and if you click on my name, I think you can see the other columns.

I hope you're eating well and staying cool, and speaking up about racial injustice. Also: if you recommended the game Patchwork to us? We got it and LOVE it!!! (Thank you, kb.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer 2016

Oh, my darlings. The summer is upon us! I hope that this means, in your house, some time for fun and games, and not just a big, hot slog through an impossible scheduling nightmare shadowed by a terrible feeling that the world is going to shit. Fingers crossed.

Here it means that we never see Michael, because he is picking berries. Strawberries first, and then, in a little while, blueberries. 

This is Smitten Kitchen's perfect little Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, but made with strawberries. Easy and delicious.
He's been making chocolate-covered strawberries and they are so gorgeous and good.

He shows up somewhere with a box of them, shrugging, like, "Oh, these old perfect things?" and everyone is stunned into gorging. Here's his recipe: Melt 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Dip the strawberries into it. Chill on a parchment-covered tray.

You can dip banana slices instead and freeze them, and then you make these
Add caption
But honestly? If you live near a Trader Joe's, just buy them. They are $1.99, and so, so good.

Another June thing, while we're at it: pickled radishes. So easy, and so good to add to your nachos, quesadillas, and salads. Thinly slice some red radishes and put them in a mason jar. Bring to a boil 1/2 cup each white vinegar and water with 2 teaspoons of salt, and pour this over the radishes (double or triple it if you've got a lot of radishes). Done! They're excellent after a day, but good immediately. They smell very, very bad. Like, peculiarly bad.

And before we move on to the kindss of summer fun you don't put in your mouth, one last thing: the kids got miracle fruit tablets in their Christmas stockings this past year, and they are so much fun.  They have some weird compound in them that obliterates the taste reception of sour on your tongue: after you eat one, sour things taste strangely sweet. It's not a cheap thrill by a long shot. But you can make a really fun afternoon of it by setting up little dishes of tart things (lemon and lime wedges, plain yogurt, cheddar cheese, orange juice, strawberries) and then having a tasting party. That's what we did.

Okay, onto the fun and games. First up:
Kubb. We got this game one or two years ago, after playing it at a friend's house, and it is completely delightful. It's a lawn game, and you're basically trying to knock over wooden pieces with other wooden pieces, and we are forever mailing the link out to people who've played with us and want to get it. It's simple and fun and always hilarious. It's also weirdly expensive, and I truly believe that if you had a penchant for sanding, and access to some lovely hardwood, you could make it yourself.
Hands to the head: The universal Kubb sign of "I knocked over the king by accident!" What I really wish I had a photo of is my mom flinging a piece into my dad's shin and the ensuing purple lump. It's not the safest game!
More outdoor fun: we got Michael a Log Flume water jousting set for Father's Day. 

I will report back after we play with it, but I think we're going to like it a lot. We were inspired to get it because another current outdoor favorite thing to do is jousting. This is a great idea we got from friends, who made a jousting pole for each of their four children. 
Michael copied their design, using PVC pipe, pipe insulation, and upholstery foam covered in fabric. If you can hit someone with a huge, padded stick and not end up laughing hilariously, then you might be made of stone. It is an especially fun thing for large groups of teenaged boys to do, even if someone's weird mom comes out in her nightie to take a turn, cackling like a crazy old lady.

Lest you think we are all about the great outdoors, we also have some indoor game recommendations for the summer. The children above are playing the beautiful tile-laying game Lanterns, which is a current favorite of ours. 

It's a matching game crossed with a set-collecting game and, like all good games, every time you play it you feel like you're finally hitting upon the one true strategy--only to find, the next time you play it, that you weren't. It's super-pretty too, and not as hard to learn as some board games (how's that for some abstracted relativism?).

Another great game we've been playing is Cathedral. It's in the game family of Quoridor and Quarto and Gobblet--the games we refer to as "the wood games," as in, "I don't know. Maybe one of the wood games?" when someone asks you what you want to play, and there are only two of you playing. I extra-treasure this game, and if you're the dear lovely person who gave it to me at my reading in Wentham, then you know why. [Heart.]

More summer fun, at least for me, is this book:

I have mentioned Alabama Chanin's books before (here, for example), because I love her ideas and patterns. Also, even though she no longer officially recommends it, I still sew everything from fabric I cut from vast thrifted t-shirts. This wrap skirt, for example, I made from two double XL t-shirts. (Total cost: $2.)

The cat hair and flour dust are my own additions to the design, but all the little fancy stitches and beading and applique and reverse applique is well-described in the book. I've been sewing by hand again, and loving it so much. One thing, though: the book comes not with paper patterns, but with a CD. She recommends taking it to a copy shop to print out the patterns you want to use, but I (cheaply) have been using Adobe's tiling option, which means that the patterns prints as 16 or 20 or 36 pages that you then have to trim and tape together. I don't mind doing this, for some reason, but I don't imagine everyone will feel that way. Improv Sewing is another favorite of mine: a less fussy book that is full of great, inspiring ideas for sewing clothes from thrifted fabrics.

And, for actual reading, I have gotten way, deep into the Elena Ferrante books. I'd tried the first one a year ago and put it down again. Maybe it was too soon after the death of my own brilliant friend? Or maybe the style--like your obsessive friend who tells you about the guy who made her latte, only it takes her four hours just to describe how he winked at her or maybe didn't wink at her--wasn't striking me right at the time. But now I'm all in. I'm saving the fourth book for the trip we're taking in July.

Birdy DEVOURED Keris Stainton's book Starring Kitty. What did you love about it? I said, and she said, with annoying but enthusiastic vagueness, "Oh, everything." Keris's books are not widely available in the United States, but they should be. 

Okay, my loves, your turn. Summer recipes, games, books, activities? Shoot!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways

A little out of focus to be the lead photo, eh?
Have I mentioned my children? The strict vegetarian and the strict carnivore both of whom I make dinner for every night? I have? Have I? No? Yes?

The carnivores.
Because I love these kids, I do. I love feeding them and eating with them, and they are gracious about meals, they are lovely. But the Venn diagram overlaps at, like, “corn on the cob” and “black olive pizza.”

My whole garden is peonies. Which is the best thing ever, for 5 minutes of the year.
The truth is that Birdy is easy. Serve that girl cheese and crackers every night, maybe a little pile of arugula, and she’s happy as can be. Ben, who is technically an omnivore, does not actually complain about all the tofu and beans we eat. Never. And we eat a lot of tofu and beans! But because he only lights up completely, all million watts of him, for a chop or roast or burger or steak, I feel slighted by his regular normal-strength smiling pleasure over a bowl of vegetable lo mein. “You don’t like it?” I say, and he says, “No! I totally do! Look, I’m having thirds!” And I sigh. Because I am practicing being a Jewish grandmother, guilt-tripping you preemptively for any thoughts or feelings you might have at some point.

Put this photo on my gravestone. (I almost never make two different things, but I sure do love to complain about it!)
Anyhoo, this meal is one that everybody adores, and it comes together quickly, even though, yes, you are making two separate things. But they use all the same ingredients! And none of it is hard to deal with! Obviously, if people in your house are all one thing or another, you can simply double that thing. Plus, if you’re feeding only small people whose legs and arms can’t stretch to the moon and back 5 times, you might be able to get away with only one thing not doubled. Annoyingly, the tofu version is probably Ben’s favorite tofu dish, even though there is actual meat on the table. when I serve it. I would make just the tofu, but it's not actually harder to make the beef too, and Michael likes it best too.

I keep a bed of weeds I like to call my "mint patch," which is why I'm such a profligate mint user. Obviously, if herbs are not a backyard proposition, it is fine to pick just one kind.
I make the beef and tofu a little ahead of time, so that they’re kind of room temperature and everything else is nice and cool, and that gives me a total summery salady feeling, whilst also not wilting the lettuce. You don't need to do this. And either way, the wraps will be crunchy, tender, salty, sweet, pickly, herby, and spicy. I could eat them every night.

Do "pickle" *something*! It's as easy as sprinkling seasoned rice vinegar on it! If you don't have seasoned rice vinegar, you can use half white vinegar and half water, with a little salt and sugar dissolved in it.

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways
This is based on a version of a kind of cheater bulgoki—a Korean beef dish that we all love, except for Birdy, who loves only the whole, live, uneaten cows. What I’m not in love with is the added sugar, but then it’s not as good without it. Feel free to never start using it, and then you’ll never know. If you don’t want to get involved in the whole lettuce-wrap situation, you can serve either of these with rice. Please note, if you’re making both, that the tofu takes 5-10 minutes longer to cook.

For serving
1 head of butter or Boston bibb lettuce, whole leaves washed and dried
2 cups fresh herb leaves, ideally mint, basil, and cilantro (or pick 1 or 2)
Carrots (grated) and/or radishes (sliced), and/or cukes (sliced or julienned), sprinkled with seasoned rice vinegar and referred to henceforth as “pickles”
Pickled jalapeno slices
Slivered scallions
Hot sauce

For the beef
If you are also making the tofu, add a tablespoon or two of the chopped water chestnuts to the beef for a little crunch. I add more of it to the tofu because I feel like tofu deserves a little something special.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
1 tablespoon vegetable oil      
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the ground beef, raise the heat to high, and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the beef as it cooks. If there’s excess fat, drain it.

Stir in soy sauce mixture and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes.

For the tofu
Freezing the tofu and then thawing it gives it a crumblier texture. If you don’t have time for this step, skip it.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
3 tablespoons vegetable oil    
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (12-ounce) package tofu, frozen and thawed if you have time, crumbled in a colander and all the extra water pressed out
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
1-2 tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos (or more soy sauce)

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the tofu and water chestnuts, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until dryish and browning, 10-15 minutes.  

Stir in the soy sauce mixture and a tablespoon of Bragg’s or extra soy, and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste for salt, and add more Bragg’s and/or soy sauce.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs

It feels like the big wind-down right about now. The kids have a month of school left, yes, but they've already taken their big tests, had their spring concerts. (Birdy playing Space Oddity on electric guitar! Be still my heart.) The lilacs have given way to the peonies. My cigar-tube vase is full of bleeding hearts and lilies of the valley and even, already, a purple iris. 

The cat is finding nice shady spots to rest in. 

We've eaten the last of our friends' morels, picked from beneath their apple trees. Sauteed with butter and wine and cream. 

Perfection on toast.
Ben is in summer bartending mode.

Fresh cherry-mint mojito.
And we are eating a lot of salads. Partly because Birdy's arugula patch is like something UFOed down from a planet that has devoted all of eternity to perfecting the growing of arugula, and partly because that's just what we (as in *I*) feel like eating all the time. Salad and bread and cheese. Spring food.

Arugula with peppered farm cheese, slivered dates, toasted almonds, and a warm white-wine-vinegar vinaigrette. Can I get an amen? I promise that if I had pictures of Michael and me fighting about stupid stuff, I'd post those too. 
And the salad, below, with a long headnote explaining itself. We ate it at home, and had enough for lunch the next day. It would be perfect for a potluck.

Meanwhile, I have pieces to read here at Parents, and here, at the brand-new Motherwell, if you are so inclined! Thank you, as always, for being here.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs
This is the kind of thing I always want to eat for dinner: fresh and wholesome and incredibly tasty, with lots of different flavors and textures to keep you interested through an entire bowlful. It’s also the kind of thing that mostly uses ingredients I have already, except for whatever the main veg is. In this case, a friend of ours had given us a lovely bunch of green garlic, which actually inspired me to make this. And all our herbs are flourishing, so all I had to do was pop out to the asparagus stand nearby! I was also inspired by Anna Jones’ A ModernWay to Eat, which I checked out of the library. She makes a similar salad, but using broccoli and spinach and different kinds of seeds. Feel free to swap those in for the asparagus, or to use snap peas or green beans if that’s what you’ve got. A diced red radish would be nice too!

Kosher salt
1 ½ cups quinoa
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek or some green garlic, thinly sliced, or ½ an onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
1 cup of fresh or frozen green peas (I didn’t have these, but I wished I did!)
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper
2 tablespoons capers
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used mint, basil, parsley, and chives)
1 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or almonds, if you prefer)
Chive blossoms for garnish, if you have them

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt. Add the quinoa and stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open a bit. (It will continue to cook as it steams, so don’t cook it until it’s soft at this point.)

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, or up to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat, and sauté the leeks (or whatever you’re using for this) with a large pinch of salt, until they’re tender. This may take a while, up to 15 minutes, so if they start to dry out go ahead and add a splash or two of water. When the leeks are tender, add the asparagus, and sauté until just bright green. Turn the heat off. If you’ve erred on the side of overcooking the asparagus, transfer everything to a large bowl, otherwise you can leave it in the pan with the heat off to cook a little longer.

At some point, add the frozen peas to something still hot so that they thaw and briefly steam. The quinoa pot is a good choice, as is the panful of asparagus.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a glass measuring cup or just a glass, add the zest and a teaspoon of kosher salt (or half as much table salt), then measure in enough olive oil to match the level of the lemon juice. Season with black pepper and whisk to combine.

Put the quinoa, vegetables, and capers in a large bowl and pour most of the dressing over. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and taste. The feta will add some saltiness, but if it’s radically undersalted at this point, add some more salt. Likewise, add the rest of the dressing and/or a bit of lemon and/or olive oil if it needs livening up or seems underdressed. The key to this being delicious is to season it really well.

Stir in the herbs, feta, and pine nuts, taste one last time, garnish, and serve.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Butter-Basted One-Pan Asparagus

I am in the very thick of my spring love affair. Oh the lilacs! The dogwood! The violets and lilies of the valley and the mint coming fast and furious! The sunlit awakenings and long blue days and sunlit dinners! I mean, my god. Last night after we'd finished eating we watched a big, fat ground hog eating big, fat dandelions, and it was like a cartoon.

Plus, asparagus is in season here, and we really do gorge on it while it's gorgeous.

For Mother's Day Michael roasted asparagus in the oven and served it with my very most favorite dinner: cheese and crackers. But, like, really good cheese, and three different kinds of crackers, and I was in total heaven. I would eat cheese and crackers for dinner every single night if it were allowed. Plus, when you eat it for dinner, instead of before dinner, you can eat as much as you want. Or so I tell myself.

Speaking of Mother's Day, Birdy and I spent the weekend at the most incredible rug-making workshop taught by the most incredible Crispina Frrench at the most amazing Snow Farm, which is like art camp for grown-ups (and teens). We went in the fall too, and I wrote about it here. After I write the bestselling Catastrophic Da Vinci Code, we are going to go every weekend.

What, this old rug? [shrugs modestly]
In other news, a child in my family sustained a sports injury! What? I know! Birdy sprained her ankle playing ultimate Frisbee. I was a little patronizing about it, until it turned into a giant purple balloon, and I then I was like, "Oh, I see!" (Notice how smug she looks.)
Anyhoo, asparagus. I always think I couldn't possibly find a simpler way to cook it, and then I do. This method produces lovely, buttery, crisp-tender asparagus: your teeth find some resistance, but then the inside of each spear is all stringy tenderness. (That sounded better in my head than it sounds now, written out, but I'll just leave it there.) Try it. And share your own favorite asparagus methods, if you would be so kind!

The salmon eaters in our family ate it with salmon, and I made this sauce for it. Oh my god! So good. Lightly whipped cream with a little mustard and lemon zest and herbs (I used tarragon and chives) and my own personal addition of chopped capers to make it taste like a cross between pie topping and tartar sauce. Delish.
The non-salmon eaters were served herby scrambled eggs.  Everyone had toast because, well, toast.
Butter-Basted One-Pan Asparagus
Adapted from this recipe for green beans, which I adapted from this recipe for green beans.

2 bunches asparagus (around 2 pounds), ends snapped off
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons butter
Squeeze of lemon and a bit of grated lemon zest (optional)

Put everything but the lemon in a wide, lidded skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cover it. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that it simmers steadily, and use tongs to mix the asparagus around occasionally, so that everyone gets a chance to be where the butter is.

Eventually, the liquid will evaporate and the asparagus will be buttery and done—start checking them at around 3 minutes (little ones will take a little bit of time, and fatter ones will take more time) and turn the heat off when they’re cooked to your liking—or, really, just shy of your liking, since they’ll cook a little more after.

Use tongs to move the asparagus to a platter, and evaluate the liquid left in the pan. If it’s just a buttery, glazey juice, then scrape it over the asparagus. If the asparagus have given up a lot of liquid, then boil this liquid briskly for a minute over high heat until it’s more butter than juice. Either way, if you’re using it, add the lemon juice and zest to the pan before scraping its contests over the asparagus. Done. Perfect.