Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes and Capers

chicken cutlets with capers

My family scarfed this down last night.  Wyatt ate three pieces of chicken and begged for more.  I said no--I had to save some for a photo shoot.  See how this blog is depriving my children?

My Mom loaned me Tessa Kiros' new cookbook, Apples for Jam.  The recipes are organized by color, and this chicken was in the "Red" chapter.  The photographs are luminous--cluttered, bright, full of vintage finds and children's toys--very different than the laboratory-style food photos that Martha Stewart has popularized.  I'm not a cookbook reviewer, but I give this one a very un-scientific thumbs-up.

I bought a clamshell of grape tomatoes at Trader Joe's, knowing full-well they weren't going to be the most astounding things in the world and that I was going against my rule of no fresh tomatoes in the winter.  Even though I've sung the praises of canned tomatoes, things get a little dull this time of year.  Sauteed with garlic and a good dose of olive oil, these little guys tasted like a hit of summer, which is just what we needed.

P.S. This photo of Loretta has nothing to do with chicken cutlets, except that she looks so cute I could eat her up.

loretta at the end of 2009

Chicken Cutlets wth Tomatoes and Capers
I adapted this recipe a bit from Tessa's (surprise).  You could definitely use some drained, diced canned tomatoes in a pinch, and you might not have a thriving sage bush outside your window like I do.  In that case, skip the sage.  And if you've been making preserved lemons like I have, you could sub some finely diced preserved lemon rind for the capers.  And one more thing--I used arugula (Trader Joes again) but you could use spinach or romaine.  This serves four--only attempt it in one batch if you have a huge nonstick skillet. Otherwise, do it in two batches or in two pans.

About 8 Tb. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 c. halved and washed cherry tomatoes
salt
8 chicken cutlets (or "chicken tenders")
flour for dusting
8 fresh sage leaves
1/3 c. white wine or water
3 Tb. drained capers
four big handfuls of fresh greens (arugula, spinach, or romaine)
crushed red chile flakes

Distribute greens on four plates.

Pound the cutlets a bit till they're a little flatter and roughly uniform size.  Lightly dust the chicken with flour on both sides, and set aside.

Heat half the oil with garlic in a large nonstick frying pan.  Add the tomatoes with a little salt and fry over high heat until they start to pucker.  Pour the oil and tomatoes out together into a little bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pan.  Heat over medium heat until oil is shimmering.  Add sage, and place chicken directly on top of sage leaves, frying until the underside of the chicken is golden and the sage is sticking to the chicken.  Turn over and season with salt.  Cook until the new underside is golden.  Add the wine, tomato mixture, and capers.  Let it bubble up and evaporate a bit, then put the lid on and leave for a couple minutes before serving.

Lay chicken atop greens and top with some of the tomato caper pan sauce.  Garnish with red pepper flakes if desired.

Happy New Year

preserved lemons

I'm making preserved lemons today.  I love the ritual of shaking the jars, waiting for seven days to pour olive oil over the salty wedges.  I like to imagine all the things I'll make with them in the coming months--Moroccan chicken, salad dressings, antipasti platters, or stirring a teaspoon of the brine into my cottage cheese.

At the gym this morning, I read in the ever-illuminating Self magazine that Carrie Underwood doesn't really do New Year's resolutions. She just tries to be her best every day.  Puke.  That's good and well if you're a size 2 millionaire, but the rest of us need some strategies. Thumbing through my journal this afternoon, I tortured myself by looking at my resolutions for the last two years.  In 2008, I really went overboard.  I had resolutions for myself (too many), and a lot of hopes for the world.  I get tired just looking at that list.

In my business--the development and psychology of groups and organizations--we distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges.  Technical challenges are the sorts of things you can put on your calendar, and the kinds of resolutions we all need to make from time to time--"Learn some accounting skills," or "Get life insurance."  Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are another thing entirely.  I can't put, "Be more contemplative" on my calendar for Monday morning.  And even things like "Eat healthier" are adaptive challenges.  There's something in us that needs to grow over time before we can cross those things off our list.  And we might never be able to cross them off.

After 2008's ambitious list, here's all I could find for 2009:

As the new year approaches, may my heart, eyes, and ears be open be open to all the numinous things in the world.

And this quote from Rilke:

Let everything happen to you; beauty and terror.
Just keep going.  No feeling is final.

For 2010, I might copy and paste.  If I really understood that "no feeling is final," what might happen?  And let's face it--no matter how esoteric I get, I still have to make notarized copies of all my important papers; teach Wyatt how to tie his shoes; and make it to the gym more often.  Using my preserved lemons is a goal I know I can achieve, though.  Chalk another one up for the kitchen.

with Wyatt on Christmas Eve day

Fig Walnut Crisps

fig and walnut crisps

Already, today's list is looking distressingly long.  Half my Christmas cards not sent yet, gifts not wrapped, house a mess. Isn't this what we're supposed to say at Christmas?  Cliché moans of  "Not enough time!" or "Christmas comes earlier every year!"  All that's true, but, in spite of the break-in, I feel a little Christmas spirit sneaking in.  I'm even making cranberry cognac trifle again, if you can believe it.

A few years ago, I stopped purchasing gifts for family and friends.  Children are the exception--for some reason, they don't get excited about chutney or spiced nuts.  Everybody else gets things from the kitchen.  Always granola, and this year, some combination of lemon curd, cranberry vanilla jam, or these crisps.

Have you seen these crisps in bakeries or at nice grocery stores?  They're so expensive!  Generally around $10 for a small package whose ingredients cost $2.  I love them, but never buy them.  Brie or chevre are absolutely transformed atop these little things--they make crackers seem pretty darn boring.  I know I've been using an inordinate amount of dried fruits and nuts lately.  It's the season.  So much fresh stuff is out of season, so I dig into the pantry.

Since you're probably reading this much too late for more Christmas baking, I think these make wonderful New Year's treats or hostess gifts for that wild party you're going to.  (Our wild New Years always consists of holing up at Bethany and Chris' house in Bellingham and consuming egregious amounts of cheese.)

In Praise of Leftovers is going silent for several days since things in my offline life will be busy.  But I feel all sentimental signing off this time.  This is my first Christmas as a blogger, and I feel my community has expanded.  Thank you for your part in that.  And if I could digitally cry, I'd be crying as I tell you how generous, kind, and present everyone has been to us since the break-in. Daily, envelopes have arrived for Wyatt with money to restart his piggy bank, and his eyes get wider each time.  For all of us, it's a tangible reminder that we are loved.  I feel so sad (and yes, still mad!) for the person that was here in the dark, stealing cheese and chicken and spare change.  That's desperate. Wherever s/he is, I hope their envelopes start coming in the mail soon, too.  Merry Christmas, friends.

better than being at the mall

Fig Walnut Crisps
Have I directed you to Seven Spoons yet?  It's one of my daily reads.  I remember, right when I was starting my blog, I'd read Tara's with my jaw on the floor.  So beautiful!  And so beautifully written!  I still feel that way about it.  The only thing I changed from her recipe was adding some coarse sugar and salt to the tops of these loaves and baking them in mini pans instead of full ones.

softened butter for greasing pans, or nonstick spray
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup coarsely-chopped dried figs
1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed meal or whole flax seed, bashed in a mortar and pestle or pulsed in a spice grinder
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tb. coarse sugar
1 tsp. grey salt or flake salt

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease 4 mini loaf pans, or spray with a nonstick spray.

Spread the walnuts and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes until fragrant but without much color. Remove from the baking sheet and into a bowl, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir until combined. Add the reserved nuts and remaining ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Top loaves with a sprinkling of coarse sugar and flake salt.  Bake until golden and puffed, about 30 minutes. When touched, the loaves should spring back immediately. Turn the loaves out of their pans to cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack.

The bread is easiest to slice when fully-cooled. Leave the loaves to rest at room temperate for a few hours or, following do what I did and pop them in the freezer.  Once frozen, slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Heat to 300° F and bake them for about 12 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 8-10 minutes, until crisp and deep golden. Cool completely on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.

Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts

new christmas tradition

You're in charge of the carbs for Christmas breakfast.  Scones?  You're not inspired.  Muffins?  Muffins are so...the other 364 days of the year.  Look no further.  I don't care what your culinary plans for Christmas were. These are your new plan.

Tammy, loyal reader and hard-core promoter of In Praise of Leftovers, asked if I had a good cinnamon roll recipe.  I said no, but I'd work on it.  Three guesses what I did (and the first two don't count.)  I called my Mom, of course.  She rummaged through her recipe box and laughed that every recipe in there was from her friend Gayle.  Dear readers, that is good news for us.  Gayle is an excellent cook with a keen eye for good recipes. That's a skill I haven't talked much about here.  There's no shortage of recipes in the world--how many thousands of food blogs are there?  The trick is in being able to tell, after a minute of perusal, if a recipe is good or not.  I'm not sure how to teach that, but a lot depends on it.

So my Mom did it the old-fashioned way--she read the recipe to me over the phone, skipping parts according to the shorthand we have, and working up her own appetite along the way.  She made them the next morning, calling to confirm that yes, they were as good as she remembered and yes, I should definitely make them as soon as possible.

I brought them to my sister's house this morning and we attacked them.  Naomi decided to make them for Christmas morning. I'm telling you--these moist little rolls inspire changes of plans.  And you'll end up being more popular than Santa.  I made mine with pecans and orange zest, but can envision so many other combos--slivered almonds and almond extract; lime zest and toasted macadamias; little bits of dried fig and anise.  The dough is incredibly tender, you don't need to bother with yeast, and I'll stop trying to sell you on them. Because I think you might already be changing your plans.

digging-in

Easiest, Most Tender Cinnamon Pull-Aparts
I like these much better than any traditional yeasted cinnamon roll I've ever had.  In fact, I'm disappointed with cinnamon rolls most the time--too heavy, often too dry, with those annoying raisins clogging everything up.  The recipe, originally from Fine Cooking, directs you to put them in a 10" greased springform pan, which works beautifully.  If you don't have a springform, just bake them in a solid circle, edges almost touching, in the middle of a baking sheet.  You could leave the nuts out and be fine, I think.  My mom put chopped fresh cranberries in hers, and they were so delicious and festive.  Also, I didn't have all the spices around, so just used cinnamon, allspice, and some freshly ground nutmeg.

For filling:
3 Tb. melted butter
2/3 c. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/2 ts. allspice
1/4 ts. cloves
1/4 ts. cardamom
1 c. pecans

For dough:
2 c. flour
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1/4 ts. soda
3/4 c. 4% milkfat cottage cheese
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. sugar
4 Tb. melted butter
1 ts. vanilla

For icing:
2/3 c. powdered sugar
2-3 Tb. milk
1/2 ts. vanilla
finely grated zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 400 and butter a 10" springform pan.

For filling:  In food processor, combine pecans, brown sugar, and spices.  Pulse a few times until pecans are chopped semi-finely.  Set aside with melted butter in another bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda.  Set aside.

In a food processor, mix cottage cheese, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla, pulsing for about 10 seconds until just mixed and cottage cheese is pureed.  Add flour mixture to cottage cheese mixture, pulsing in short bursts until dough is just beginning to clump.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, kneading a couple times until smooth.  Dough will be very soft and fragrant, but surprisingly easy to work with.  Roll dough out into a 12"x15" rectangle. Brush dough with melted butter, leaving a little border around the edges.  Sprinkle pecan spice mixture over dough.  Roll the dough up lengthwise, pinching ends.  Using your sharpest knife, cut dough into twelve rounds.  I didn't have any problem doing this.  They will squish a little bit, but don't worry about it.

Arrange in the springform pan (or in a solid circle in the middle of a baking sheet) and bake for about 20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  This is super essential. 28 minutes max, depending on your oven.

Let cool for about five minutes, then whisk powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest to make your icing.  Drizzle icing over buns, let cool for about five more minutes, then unmold the springform.

Favorite Places: Vancouver at Christmas

vancouver skyline

Yancey and I just got home from our yearly Chrismtmas date to Vancouver.  We've been going every year for at least 10 years, through pregnancies and newborns, even, thanks to a very brave Nana and Papa.  By now, Yancey and I have a routine, and it goes something like this:

  1. Get a good hotel room for cheap on Priceline
  2. Drop Wyatt and Loretta off in Bellingham
  3. Get to Vancouver by noon for yam tempura, mango crunch rolls, and smoked salmon rolls
  4. Catch a matinee--this year, Up in the Air, which was wonderfully understated and true
  5. Check into our hotel room, inspect all the amenities, marvel at the clean room
  6. Go to Urban Fare (snooty grocery store) and buy a completely extravagant picnic--cheeses, bread, olives, wine, chocolates, a few perfect pieces of fruit
  7. Eat in our bathrobes, looking out over Coal Harbor, sometimes talking about the kids and how great they are (why do they always seem perfect in absence?)
  8. Have nutella banana crepes for breakfast on Robson, read mounds of magazines
  9. Squeeze into our favorite ramen shop for spicy miso ramen with chicken, lotus root, and a pile of julienned leeks
  10. Come home and talk about  next year


up in the airharborside view

For the last leg of our trip home, we had to take separate cars.  Yancey was in front of me, his taillights glowing in the rain.  I turned off the White Stripes, put on the sappiest playlist--the mix I made for our 10th anniversary 5 years ago--and followed him home.  The Jayhawks came on, and now I'm getting TOTALLY sappy on you--I don't know what day it is/I can't recall the seasons/ I don't remember how we got this far/All I know is I'm loving you for all the right reasons/In my sky you'll always be my morning star. In spite of the P.S. you're about to read, I'm going to bed happy, loved, and in love.

early morning walk

P.S. Picked up the kids, finally got back to Seattle, turned the key, and discovered our house had been broken into for the second time this year.  We are so grateful that we had our computer and camera with us.  Clearly they've been watching our house, and Wyatt couldn't fight back the tears.  He was so stoic the first time--I guess he used up all his braveness.  You can keep us in your thoughts as we figure this out.

hallowed creperie

Russian Teacakes (aka Little Spheres of Perfection)

russian teacakes

(Foolishly?), I have begun making most my Christmas gifts in the last few years.  I'm realizing how much TIME it takes, and that it's not necessarily much cheaper.  I picked Emily up for our Christmas date last night.  When she asked me how I was, I said, "I'm not in the Christmas spirit."  I haven't had time to putter around in the kitchen yet, I'm stressed about a few outstanding commitments with clients before Christmas, and I feel generally discombobulated.  (That is an awesome word.  It sounds discombobulated, doesn't it?) Being with Emily for the night helped, though.  We finally went to Delancey and got so absorbed in conversation that we were late to our movie. (For the record, both of us hate being late to movies.  I always joke that I'd pay to see two hours worth of previews.)  We got the pizza special--finely chopped brussel sprouts, cooked down with cream and white wine, spread on perfect crust and topped with lots of bacon. Sounds like a Leftoverist pizza, if I do say so myself.

If I'm not being cheered up by Emily, these cookies are another option.  I am certainly not the first person to expound their virtues. They're also called Mexican Wedding Cakes (or Viennese Crescents or Snowballs or so many other things.)  In my family, we've always called them Russian Teacakes.  I think of them as Little Spheres of Perfection.  They are fast, unfussy, can be made without going to the store (especially if your house is a nut warehouse like mine), and have come through for me a million times.  And for some reason, I don't make them unless it's Christmas.

I make mine on the small side--two bites' worth.  I love that first bite, when the powdered sugar bursts out in a little cloud, and it becomes deliciously obvious how much BUTTER they contain.  You decide not to care (it's Christmastime, after all, and you've been discombobulated).  Besides, they're little.  So little, in fact, that one is definitely not enough.

Russian Teacakes
You can use finely ground pecans, walnuts, or almonds.  Pecans are my favorite.  Though there are some baking recipes where nuts are optional, this isn't one of them.  And the double roll in powdered sugar is imperative, too.  The first tumble helps the sugar start sticking to the warm cookies.  The second one really coats them.  And since there's not much sugar in the cookies themselves, you can really go for it with the powdered sugar.  And I usually make a double batch.  Once baked, they'll keep well for several days.

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2  c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. finely chopped pecans
about 1 1/2 c. more powdered sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Add vanilla.  Combine flour, salt, and pecans; stir into sugar mixture.

Roll dough into 1" (or a bit smaller) balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

While hot, roll in powdered sugar.  Cool for a bit, then roll again in powdered sugar to coat.

Favorite Places: Bob's Quality Meats

smithfield ham

Here it is--a 15 pound bone-in Smithfield ham, dry-cured in North Carolina and sold by my neighborhood butcher. Before cooking, he's instructed my mom and I to soak it in two changes of water, 12 hours each time, in a big cooler.  It's a Christmas adventure inspired by Saveur's mouthwatering December issue.  Stay tuned.

We've lived in or near Columbia City for 13 years.  When we first moved there, the main street had a tavern, an office supply store, and Bob's Quality Meats.  Now, there's an artisan bakery, several coffee shops, renowned Neapolitan pizza, sushi, a wine bar and yes--Bob's Quality Meats.  They have new wood floors, a spiffy neon sign, and gleaming new coolers, but the same friendly, knowledgeable butcher that's been there for years.  He knows his sources, cures his own ham, makes all the sausage, sells unusual cuts, and has bent over backward for me several times.  Years ago, catering a wedding, we had called everywhere looking for the impossible: lamb from Eastern Washington, cut into boneless chunks, enough for 300 people, and ready by the weekend. Bob's said, "No problem."  This summer, catering a wedding rehearsal, I grilled 150 of Bob's handmade sausages outside.  By the end, there were just 2 left sizzling over the coals, and 10 people standing around waiting for thirds.

I love that Bob's stayed around during the height of supermarket, agribusiness mania when no one knew where their meat came from or thought to ask.  Its neighborhood clientele sustained it long enough for the local butcher to be in vogue again.  And nowhere else in Seattle have I seen Smithfield hams hanging from hooks above the cash register.  Am I a lucky girl or what?

Meyer Lemon Lentils

meyer lemon lentils

I have been in heaven with a whole bowl of Meyer lemons on my counter, sent from Barb's tree in northern California. Honestly, better than winning the lottery if you're me.

One of the most delicious refreshers in the world:  Squeeze half a Meyer lemon into a tall glass.  Fill with ice, top with seltzer water. You would not believe how much juice one gets from these things.  Am I rubbing it in too much?  Lay off?  I will, after I talk about this soup.

Two nights ago, I had exactly 45 minutes between coming home and leaving again.  45 minutes to plan and make lunch for my friend Cheri, and no time to go to the grocery store.  I have this acquaintance...I think she calls herself The Leftoverist or something silly like that.  I think that's a weird name, but apparently she can go through someone's cupboards at a moment like this and emerge with a plan.  I facebooked her (I heard she's always on there), opened my cupboard, and gave her an inventory.  When she heard about the big bag of lentils, she said they cook really fast and would be safe for vegan friends like Cheri.  After getting wind of the Meyer lemon bounty around here, I thought she might get off her computer and drive on over, but I guess she has some boundaries.

It's a good thing I made some quick soup. Tentative dinner plans with Emily got confirmed later in the evening, so I had this soup for lunch at Cheri's house, then for dinner when Emily came over.  There isn't even one tangy little lentil left.  I think that would make the Leftoverist happy.

Meyer Lemon Lentils
If someone didn't send you a case of Meyer lemons, things aren't as dire as they might seem.  Costco carries them!  And they're completely affordable--a clamshell of 6 or 8 for around $5.  If Costco is already part of your life (a blessing AND a curse, really), I suggest buying some for a winter treat.  Or, you can use half lemon and half orange juice here--just make sure it's fresh.  My rosemary plants are the definition of hardy, still thriving after our cold snap.  My thyme, however is gone for the year.  The fresh lemon thyme in this soup came from a rare shopping trip to Whole Foods, where I discovered really luscious fresh herbs in cello for around $2.25--not bad, considering thyme has gone into everything this week and I still have some left.  I served a scoop of rice in the middle of this soup for the kids--that's another Leftoverist trick, I think.

3 Tb. olive olive
1 small onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
2 c. lentils, washed
2 bay leaves
2 Tb. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 Tb. fresh lemon thyme, finely chopped
juice of one Meyer lemon + 1 Tb. finely grated rind (OR juice of 1/2 lemon + juice of 1/2 orange)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add onions and garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add lentils, bay leaves, and enough water to cover by about 2".  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low boil, skimming foam occasionally and adding more water as necessary.  You don't want the soup to be too thick--I like enough water so the lentils float around in there versus stick together in a glob.

When lentils are almost tender (about 25 minutes unless they're really old), add fresh herbs, Meyer lemon juice and zest, and tomatoes.  Simmer until flavors meld and lentils are tender, about 10 more minutes.  Adjust seasonings as necessary, adding more salt, pepper, herbs, or lemon juice/zest to taste.

Cranberry Pinwheels

cranberry pinwheels

Alright already!  Enough not-so-subtle hints dropped about my Mom's cranberry pinwheels!  Sheesh.  It's fun pretending I'm annoyed, but my Need to be Needed tendencies love it.

My Mom's been making some version of these cookies on our Christmas baking day for a few years now.  This year, she used fresh cranberries and pecans.  Other years, she's used dried cranberries and pistachios.  I can't decide which I like better.

December usually finds a bag of cranberries in the fridge or freezer and you are probably sick and tired of all my cranberry recipes. Sorry.  They're not over yet.  Does anybody else stalk Foodgawker?  It's the website that showcases photos from food blogs.  Certainly there are lots of seasonal things on there--squash, apples, cranberries--but I'm always amazed at the preponderance of completely out-of-season things like fresh raspberries or asparagus.  a) Expensive b) Very low flavor c) Huge carbon footprint d) I'm a snob.  I'm no locavore (I could never do without lemons and olive oil, for instance), but asparagus?!  I'll save that for spring and then make a whole meal out of it.  Gives me something to look forward to.

For now, in the bleak of winter, these bright berries show up everywhere.  And I promise I'll lay off the cookies once 2010 dawns. Unless, of course, you beg me to keep going.

mom in my kitchen

Cranberry Pinwheels
I was in the kitchen when my Mom made these this year, but didn't watch her and haven't made them myself.  They are always ambrosial, but I'm not in a position to give any special tips.  Mom?  Bethany?  You want to chime in?

1 cup fresh cranberries
1 c pecans
1/4 c brown sugar
1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp orange peel
3 c flour

For filling: Combine pecans , cranberries, and brown sugar. Pulse  in food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat butter for 30 seconds, then add sugar,baking powder and, salt. Beat until combined. Beat in eggs and orange peel. Beat in as much flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour with a spooon. Divide the dough in half,cover and chill for a hour or until easy to handle.

Roll one ball of the dough between pieces of waxed paper into a 10" square to and spread cranberry filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges. Roll dough into a log.  Moisten edges to seal. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 4 to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Preheat oven to 375. Cut rolls into 1/4" slices and place 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 min. or until edges are frim and bottons are light brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 min. Transfer to wire rack; cool. Makes about 60 (don't believe it).

P.S. My Mom made a quick icing for the cookies pictured.  Sift 1 c. powdered sugar into a bowl, then whisk with 1 Tb. milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk to reach desired consistency.  Drizzle over cooled cookies.

Emergency Frittata

potato and feta frittata

10:00 p.m., I'm straightening up the house before bed, and remember I'm supposed to bring snack to my mom's group. Rarely is my refrigerator as empty as it was on Wednesday night.  If it's rice, dried chickpeas, or canned tomatoes you're after, I'm your gal. Otherwise, it's emergency frittata time.

Unless things are really dire, I've always got a carton of eggs and some bits of cheese, and I lucked out with a half pint of cream. Nothing green, so settled for onions, potato, and a few of the plump sundried tomatoes from DeLaurenti's that have saved me a million times.

I gave a bunch of frittata tips here.  If I posted every one I made, I'd lose readers in a hurry.  We eat them for dinner, I bring them to potlucks.  They're best at room temperature and easy to transport.  You can serve it in the skillet or slide the whole thing out on a flat plate and cut it on arrival.  I know there are a lot of nonstick-avoiders out there.  You're more conscientious than me.  I couldn't do without my 10 and 12 inch nonstick skillets, a $50 Calphalon set.  For perfect eggs, it's hard to beat them.  Like I've said before, top quality isn't paramount where nonsticks are concerned--they won't last a lifetime no matter what you do. Essential for frying up potstickers, too.  I haven't written about frozen potstickers yet, but they keep me in good standing with my kids.  If I didn't vary all our kale and curries with potstickers, I'd have a revolt on my hands.

Potato Feta Frittata
Frittatas are perfect vehicles for leftovers.  You can vary just about everything in here according to your inventory.  This is just an example of one that's materialized recently in my kitchen.  I cut it  into 16 little wedges so all of us multitasking mothers could eat them while chasing children.  If you were going to sit down with a fork, you could definitely make the pieces bigger.

2 Tb. olive oil
1 small onion, very thinly sliced into rings
1 small potato, very thinly sliced into rounds
salt and pepper
8 large eggs
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. plump sundried tomatoes, julienned
handful fresh herbs (I used oregano, but you can use parsley, cilantro, whatever you have around)

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat olive oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Add onions and saute over medium high heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then add potato rounds, making sure as much of their surface as possible is touching the pan so they get browned and a a little caramelized around the edges.  Stir a couple times so both sides of the potatoes get cooked.

Spread onion/potato mixture evenly around the pan.  Whisk eggs and cream together, then pour over onion mixture.  Turn heat down to low, cover, and cook until eggs are starting to set, about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle cheeses over eggs, then sundried tomatoes and herbs.  Cook for about 5 more minutes on the stovetop, then finish, lid off,  in preheated oven until eggs are puffed and just set in the center, about 5 more minutes.

Let cool before slicing.

Chocolate Cake for Ginger

chocolate cake for ginger

My old high school friend Tammy started reading In Praise of Leftovers in the spring.  She told her friend Ginger about it, who quickly became Leftoverist Fan #1.  Tammy contacted me this summer with an idea--for Ginger's 40th, could I come and surprise her?  So we've been planning since then.  Mostly Tammy, actually.  She invited Ginger's friends, set a beautiful table, faked getting lost on the way to the party.  And we were not disappointed.  Not even a little bit.  When Ginger knocked, I opened the door.  She looked at me, looked back at Tammy, then said, "Is this Sarah?"  When Tammy nodded, the freaking out ensued, and it was easily one of my 2009 highlights. Screaming, hugging, laughing, jumping up and down.  All of us.

There were so many things about the evening that I loved--seeing Ginger's friends love and celebrate her; seeing Tammy's sheer delight in surprising her in such a thoughtful way; meeting new people and getting to be part of their lives for a night.  Even more, though, I'm so honored that they wanted me there.  More than my food (which we ate plenty of), they invited me so we could cook together, rub off on each other a little bit.  Ginger said a few times, "If I were you, I'd be feeling really good right now." And I was--in every way.  Thanks for a memorable night, ladies.  And Happy 40th, Ginger.  Such good things are in store for you.

me and the birthday girl

One of the prerequisites was chocolate for dessert.  That's a pretty wide boundary, but I knew right away I would make Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  It's in her book, and I'm sure it's all over the blogosphere.  But no one has made it for Ginger's 40th before, I'm willing to bet.  This almost-flourless cake is dependable, easy, perfectly silky and rich, and can be dressed up any way you want.  This photo with a bit of orange zest is from a few weeks ago.  I've also poured a balsamic reduction around it, and last night, I served it with candied Meyer lemons and lightly sweetened whipped cream.  I cut it into very small wedges, as it's akin to eating a truffle--you just need a bit.  Plus, by that time, we were hardly hungry anymore.

I keep Molly's book up with my cookbooks, and it's all dog-eared and grease-stained already.  I join the thousands of other food bloggers who say things like, "I started my blog after reading Orangette," or "I was inspired by Molly."  Though her posts have been infrequent the last few months, I'm still drawn there--her humor, descriptive (but not overly) prose, and the light she shines on her little corner of the world.  In many ways, the joy of last night could be traced back to one winter day last year when I sat down to read her blog for the first time.

Molly Wizenberg's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
I used nicer chocolate this time, but I made this before with Trader Joe's bittersweet chocolate and it turned out just as good.  I wouldn't advise using semisweet chocolate chips, though.  Too sweet and chalky.

7 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Callebaut 60%, and Molly says you can even use Ghiradelli 60% chips)
7 ounces (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter  cut into ½-inch cubes
1 c plus 2 Tb. sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tb. unbleached all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 375F degrees, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Finely chop the chocolate and melt it gently with the butter in a double boiler, stirring frequently to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well until dissolved, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition before adding another. Lastly, add the flour. The batter should look silky and luxurious (though it might not look that way 3 eggs in--don't worry).

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (I usually set the timer for 20 minutes initially, and then I check the cake every two minutes thereafter until it’s done. At 20 minutes, it’s usually quite jiggly in the center. You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.)

Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan onto a flat dish, remove the parchment, and flip it back over onto another flat dish, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.

You can keep this fresh on the counter for 3 days, wrapped in plastic wrap, or tightly wrapped in the fridge for 5 days.  And you can serve it with a million different twists depending on what's in season.

Tomato Rice Soup with Kale

tomato rice soup with kale

It's canned tomatoes season.  I use them like crazy all year round, but it's in these dark winter months that I especially appreciate their thrift, flavor, and omnipresence.  I always have at least two kinds in my pantry--diced and whole.  Whole ones tend to be sweeter--those bitter seeds haven't been pulverized and floating around in there.  And I buy whatever's on sale at Trader Joe's or Safeway. Occasionally, if I'm feeling celebratory, I'll buy a can of San Marzano plum tomatoes, but they're at least twice as much.  The beautiful can is half the pleasure.

These are the sorts of simple meals that sustain us in the winter--quick soups that we can eat 3 nights in a row. The kids don't thrill to vegetable soups, but I think the amount of pizza we eat makes up for it--don't you?  Plenty of bread for dunking usually helps quell the rebellion, too.

canned tomatoes

My soups always contain some sort of thickener--if I don't use rice, potatoes, pasta, beans, or a bit of flour, I'll take a few cups out and pulse them in the food processor.  When I eat soup out (rarely), I find that they're either distressingly thin or too thick. When you're in your own kitchen, you can fiddle with them until they're just the way you want.

My friend Kathy says one reason she likes cooking is the feeling of getting something done.  You start at 5:00, and you've produced something by 6:00.  There aren't many things in life like that--i.e. "By 6:00 I'm going to have become a better parent," or "Tomorrow morning I'm going to gain confidence."  But soup--that's another matter.  You can have a crappy day where nothing gets done, people let you down, and the heater in your car breaks.  Then you can come  home and make soup. It might almost even out.

Tomato Rice Soup with Kale
You know me and my love for bitter greens.  If you don't share that love, you can use spinach, but don't add it until the very last minute so it retains its flavor and color.  You could leave the carrot and celery out of this soup, too, and it will still be delicious.  And I threw a parmesan rind in here because I had one (what's left when the actual cheese is gone), but you could certainly leave it out.

3 Tb. olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into very thin coins
2 bay leaves
1 Tb. fresh thyme or 1 ts. dried thyme
1 large bunch kale, washed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes with juice, pureed in the food processor with a few chunks left in
1/2 c. long grain rice (such as Basmati)
4 c. water
parmesan rind
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
celery leaves, olive oil, and grated parmesan for serving

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil.  Add onion,garlic, celery, and onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, salt, pepper, and thyme.   Add kale, stirring vigorously, and saute until kale turns bright green and is beginning to wilt.

Add pureed tomatoes, water, rice, and parmesan rind.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender, adding more water to your liking.  Add more salt and pepper to taste and some crushed red pepper flakes, if you like.

Serve with finely chopped celery leaves, finely grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Meatloaf Sandwiches and Meyer Lemons

meatloaf sandwich

No recipe for you tonight--just an exhausted version of myself that can't help checking in here anyway.  I do have a delicious, simple soup up my sleeve (I warned about soup season, didn't I?) and a couple delectable cookies.  I'm being hounded for my Mom's cranberry pinwheel recipe, and I have it.  Soon, I promise.  And they're worth the wait.

Some highlights of my crazy-*%# week:

  • This meatloaf sandwich, hurriedly eaten over my computer before a client meeting today.  Yancey made meatloaf when I was gone last night, and the good news is that it's better than mine.   That's the bad news, too.
  • Coming home, arms full of diaper bags and flip chart markers, and finding a box full of Meyer lemons on my porch. Jordan's mom Barb picked the first harvest from her California tree Monday morning, boxed them up, and sent them to me.  Meyer lemons are a cross between lemons and oranges, thin-skinned, with the most delicate fragrance and flavor. I wish I could pipe that smell into your wireless network so you could exclaim about it with me.
  • 2-year old Loretta saying to 3-year old Milo in the backseat, "You can't play with my toys.  Only Jesus can play with my toys."
  • After dinner the other night, my children witnessed a rare scene--me just sitting there, spacing out.  I wasn't cleaning, coordinating, ordering them around, checking email, folding laundry.  Yancey was at the firestation, it was the first time I'd sat down all day, and I was tired and preoccupied with all the tasks looming in the week ahead.  Wyatt ran around for awhile, then must have noticed my inactivity.  He came back into the kitchen, sidled up to me, then just stood there for a few minutes, putting his arm around me and rubbing my back.  What is better than that?

Okay--maybe the only thing better is a meatloaf sandwich.  To make it the Leftoverist way, cut a thick slice from the cold, ketchup-sticky loaf in the fridge.  Lay a slice of cheese over it (Gruyere, in my case) and warm it up in the microwave.  Toast two slices of bread--if you have some artisan potato bread around, good for you.  This week, all I had was two heels of almost-stale Costco wheat bread.  Spread a bit of mayo on one piece of toast, and a bit of ketchup on the other.  (I am an unabashed mayo lover.  I don't know if I should admit that or not.)  Lay your cheesy meatloaf on one side, and a big mound of crunchy lettuce on the other.  Press together, pour a glass of milk (why does milk taste so good with meatloaf sandwiches?), and think about how you can make this very ordinary moment into a blog entry.

meyer lemons

Sugarpalooza (and Hazelnut Butter Toffee)

hazelnut butter toffee

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and my mom and dad were here yesterday for our annual baking day.  All 10 of us in 800 square feet with nuts toasting, sugar on the floor, and dress-up clothes carpeting the living room.  It was one of those days where I intensely wished for a bigger house, but my kitchen was up to it.  What a hardworking, accommodating bit of space it is.  It's where our life happens.  The kitchen table is the only work surface in the house, so the afternoon found my dad working at Wyatt's little desk, knees up to his ears.

We made English toffee, bittersweet chocolate fudge, Russian teacakes, cranberry pinwheels, thumbprints, shortbread cut-outs, spritz cookies, chocolate peppermint cookies, and pecan butter cookies.  No way am I going to feature all those recipes here and induce diabetic comas across the region.  Just being around all that sugar makes me want to go on a week-long celery diet.

Christmas Bake-Off 2009

After everyone had left, Wyatt said, "I liked today because I could always come into the kitchen and help with something." Thank God for grandparents and aunts who seem to be infinitely more patient with supervising children "helping" than I am. While I hovered over my candy thermometer and did dishes, my sister helped the kids decorate Santa sleighs and my Dad made a "Dr. Seuss" Christmas tree with them.  On days when I let my kids watch cartoons all day, remind me they had this day, too.

Here is one of my offerings--butter toffee with toasted hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate.  As I was prying it off the baking sheet and cracking it into sweet shards, all of the sudden I was surrounded by hands, big and small, sneaking bits.  It keeps perfectly, and looks beautiful in a cellophane bag with a bow.  As of today, it still doesn't tempt me at all, but I aim to give it away soon. Otherwise, I'll be up in the middle of the night, the crackling cellophane giving me away.

Christmas Bake Off 2009

Hazelnut Butter Toffee
Makes one cookie sheet-full, or about 1/2 lb and enough for 3 gifts.  Adapted from the Seattle PI, back when it was around and I blessedly got it on my doorstep every morning.  I didn't own a candy thermometer until last year when I bought one for $8.00 at Safeway to make this toffee.  You really need one to make this, but it won't break the bank, and it sure is cheaper than buying your Christmas gifts at the mall.  I made one batch with almonds and one with hazelnuts.  Both were delicious, but I liked the hazelnut better. Oh--one more thing.  I buy my bittersweet chocolate at Trader Joe's--those giant "pound plus" Belgian bars for under $4.  Best deal anywhere.

1 cup (two sticks) butter, plus a little extra for buttering the saucepan and baking sheet
1 c. sugar
3 Tb. water
1 Tb. light corn syrup
1 c. chopped almonds or hazelnuts, toasted
3/4 c. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or semisweet chocolate chips)

Butter the sides of a heavy 2-qt. saucepan, then melt 1 c. butter in it.  Butter a baking sheet with sides (jellyroll pan).

To toast hazelnuts or almonds, spread out on a baking sheet and toast at 350--about 8 minutes for hazelnuts, 10 for almonds. To skin hazelnuts, spread warm nuts in a clean dishtowel and rub them.  Many (not all) of the papery skins will come off. Don't worry about the stubborn ones.

Add sugar, water, and corn syrup, cooking and stirring over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils.  Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture reaches 290 degrees, watching carefully after 280 degrees.  (Note:  The temperature will hover close to boiling, 212 degrees, for awhile as the water boils off.  Don't be fooled into thinking you can leave the pan unattended or stop watching the temperature.  One the excess water is gone, the temperature will shoot up fast.)

From from heat and quickly and carefully stir in 1/2 c. of almonds.

Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the buttered baking sheet.  After 3 minutes (and not a second less, as I discovered), sprinkle the surface with chocolate.  When the chocolate begins to melt, spread it evenly over the candy.  Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top.

Chill until firm (at least 15 minutes), then break into pieces.  (Note:  Slip a spatula under a corner of the toffee and lift to easily remove chunks from the pan.)

Banana-Date Bran Muffins

banana date bran muffins

I generally avoid hauling out my mixer on a weekday morning.  We have toast and fruit or oatmeal, pancakes a couple times a month if I don't have a morning meeting.  But what's a girl supposed to do with some softening bananas sitting on the counter?  Just throw them away, you say?! Never.  The Leftoverist is not sensible like that.

I was up late last night folding laundry and watching mindless television.  Yancey's been gone for 2 days now, and I just needed some kid-free time, even at the expense of sleep.  I prepped what I could for these muffins before I went to bed (mixed dry ingredients, chopped dates, etc.) so it wasn't a crazy-making morning.  At least , it was less of one than it might have been.

Good thing I didn't get into this parenting gig in order to feel valued and appreciated.  Wyatt wrinkled up his nose at the muffins and said he wasn't hungry.  I forced him to eat (Somewhere I've read this encourages children to have an unhealthy, adversarial relationship with food.  Great.), and he plugged his nose and washed each bite down with orange juice.  Then, to really torture him, I wrapped some up for his teacher.

Wyatt: [Whining, shoulders slumped] Mom, why do I always have to take things to my teacher?
Me: What are you talking about?  I send something to school with you maybe once a month.  It's not going to kill you.
Wyatt: [Almost crying now] Mom!
Me: Think of it this way--the more muffins your teachers get, the less you have to eat.
Wyatt: [Brightening considerably] Oh yeah!  Good point.

Don't let Wyatt's display influence you, though.  He has a vendetta against whole grains.  I thought they were just about the perfect muffins--molasses, orange zest, walnuts, gooey bits of dates.  I had a cold one with coffee this afternoon, and it tasted even better.  I made sure to save one for Wyatt's after-school snack.

Banana-Date Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.  Adapted from Ina Garten.  I used that weird, pellet-looking all-bran cereal because that's what I had around.  You can use wheat or oat bran flakes, too.  And you can leave the nuts out, sub pecans or pumpkin seeds, and sub just about any kind of dried fruit you have around.

1 cup wheat or oat bran flakes or all-bran cereal
1 cup buttermilk (shaken)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dates, coarsely chopped
3/4  cup coarsely chopped walnuts

For topping:
1 Tb. oats
1 Tb. wheat bran flakes
1 Tb. sparkling or regular sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into 1 (10 or 12-cup) muffin tin (or lightly butter your muffin cups, which is what I do.  I'm not a big fan of paper liners.)

Combine the bran and buttermilk and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, 1 at a time. Scrape the bowl and then add the molasses, orange zest, vanilla, and mashed banana. (The mixture will look curdled.) Add the bran/buttermilk mixture and combine.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the batter just until combined. Don't overmix it! Fold in the dates and walnuts with a rubber spatula.

Fill the muffin cups to the top.  Mix oats, 1 Tb. bran flakes, and sparking sugar together in a small bowl and sprinkle over muffins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

One-Hit Wonder: Cranberry Cognac Trifle

cranberry cognac trifle

I brought this to a Christmas party last night.  Unless you suddenly get laid off from your job and are injected with gallons of extra energy at the same time, I don't necessarily advise making it.  It was delicious--eggy, vanilla cake; cranberry jam; orange-scented custard;, and cognac syrup, fit snugly into a (newly purchased) trifle dish and soaking up each other's flavors.

Loretta helped me "paint" the cake with syrup and jam.  It took me twice as long, but she acted like I just flew her to Disney World. She kept crinkling up her nose, smiling her biggest smile, and saying, "Mom, what can I do now?"

Despite that cute story, I'm still warning you to think twice--maybe three times--before you spend all your precious time so flagrantly. You have to make the cake, and you need THREE baking sheets to do it.  Then you make the jam and custard (which, despite my years of cooking experience, I still find nerve-wracking).  Then you assemble the damn thing, which has never been my forte.  I'm all thumbs when it comes to making things look pretty.  Rustic is more my thing.

sugared cranberries

But it turned out, I reverently carried it on my lap to the party, and it garnered the desired oohs and ahs when I unveiled it.  And it tasted....how should I describe it?  Like Christmas in a bowl.  A really good Christmas, when it snows on Christmas Eve, you have a week's vacation coming up,  and someone gives you an iPhone (totally hypothetical).

On the way home, we loaded tired kids into the car and I put my licked-clean new trifle bowl on the floor.  We took a sharp corner and it fell down and shattered against the door.  Yancey said, "Well, that was one-hit wonder."  Looks like I won't be making another trifle this year (or maybe decade), but it was a wonder nonetheless.

P.S. If you want a little taste of the magic without the insanity, read my Cranberry Vanilla Jam guest post on Eralda's blog, The Split Pea.

cramberry vanilla jam

Cranberry Cognac Trifle
Thankfully, I was able to find this on Epicurious. I wasn't about to type it out for the 1 reader that might think about making it.  Not to mention the carpal tunnel that would ensue.  The recipe jauntily says something like, "You can make this over several days and assemble it eight hours before serving!"  Like that's supposed to make you feel better.

Find the recipe here

Puttanesca

puttanesca

It's here, isn't it?  Christmastime, I mean.  I'm not one of those people that gripes, "It just gets earlier every year!"  I know the premature lights are usually erected to get us buying more, but I've decided not to care. Until today, it's been abysmally dark and wet, so putting up more lights makes a lot of practical sense.  It's either that or we all succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  That's a real problem in the Northwest--means we have to stick together, check on one another, and keep the lights in the kitchen on.

Phyllis, my mother-in-law, called last night to make sure we were okay.  She had been watching news of the manhunt on T.V. Turns out, the guy that killed four cops was caught in my neighborhood early this morning. There is an absolute firestorm of rage, anger, and fear going on the Seattle area right now, and a lot of folks asking, "What's wrong with this world?"  This violence is real, the pain of these officers' families is real.  But I still think part of the problem is that we aren't telling the stories of peace and reconciliation that are out there, the stories of healing and recovery.  I have no interest in pretending bad things don't happen.  They do--we all carry the pain of them around all the time.  But it's also true that stories of peace don't sell well. Even these last couple days, I've checked the news far more obsessively than if a peace accord was about to signed or a treaty to slow global warming might be reached.  Maybe it's that recovery is usually so slow and violence so quick.  We don't have the attention span to wait around for the good stuff.  Where do you get your good news?  Any favorite magazines or websites?  Seems like we should share those with one another in this season of lights.

And we should share this with one another--this tangy tangle of noodles, olives, anchovies, tomatoes.  (Notice again my warped ability to link anything to food.  You'll forgive me, I hope.) When the days start getting shorter, I have an unstoppable impulse to make puttanesca.  Every ingredient is something that's almost always in my pantry.  So I don't have to go to the store or put this on a menu plan--it's always there, like the most attentive and reliable friend.  The kids, of course, pick out the olives and capers, but there's plenty in the tomato-infused olive oil for them to slurp.

I've had versions that are basically marinara sauce with some olives thrown in.  Not so this version--or, if I'm snotty about it--the real kind.  Real puttanesca should be an olive oil-based sauce.  More olive oil than tomatoes. Clearly, not for the diet-conscious.  But, #!*!. So deliciously, crazily comforting.

I don't know what's wrong with the world, either.  I have theories and guesses, but lately, none of them help much.  I do know that there are millions and millions of things RIGHT with the world, though, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of them while you're standing in line at Home Depot, arms full of Christmas tree lights.

Pasta Puttanesca
If you're a vegetarian or an anchovy-avoider, you can certainly leave them out.  I love the depth and richness they add, though.  And I only use spaghetti when I make puttanesca.  Other pasta shapes just don't hold the oily bits as well.

1 medium onion, finely diced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. capers, drained
1 1/2  c. pitted Kalamata olives, some coarsely chopped and some left whole
4 or 5 flat, olive oil-paced anchovy fillets, finely chopped
3/4 c. best quality olive oil
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tb. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes
1 lb. spaghetti
grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley for garnish

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 c. of the olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add capers, olives, and anchovies and the rest of the olive oil, and saute another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes, and simmer until flavors are melded and sauce has begun to darken, about 25 minutes.  You might even want to add a little more olive oil before serving (yikes!).

Cook spaghetti in a large, salted pot of water until al dente.  Drain, return to stockpot, and add all of the sauce, mixing well. Immediately serve in pasta bowls, garnishing with lots of freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Oat Fruit Scones

oat fruit scones

It's really feeling like winter--at Seward Park today, the trees looked distressingly barren.  I read a science feature on NPR recently that said leaves don't really fall from trees--they're pushed off in order to preserve the tree. Turns out the tree is much more proactive than just waiting for the wind to come along.

When I think about change, the cliché is true--change is the only thing that's constant.  But it's also true that life is sometimes preserved when we meet change head-on, when we don't wait around for that last big gust of wind before taking charge.  Lately, I've been living in the middle of this paradox.  I have zero control of the cosmic things (life, death, destiny) but tons of control in my day-to-day and moment-to-moment choices.  And one thing the seasons teach me is that everything in life is seasonal, especially for women and mothers.  If it's horrible, it will get better.  If things are wonderful, those seasons end, too.

winter trees

No matter what season you're in--winter, spring, summer, or fall--warm scones in the morning might help you navigate it. Growing up, I'd often wake up to the smell of my mom baking in the kitchen.  I remember lying in bed, wondering what she'd made and soaking in a few minutes of calm before  my carpool or school bus or rounding up homework.  Isn't it funny?  I thought I had worries then.  I wish I could go back to Little Sarah and tell her that algebra test wasn't worth all the angst.

I've been making some version of these scones for years and am more and more satisfied with them every time.  I've made them for baby showers; potlucks in graduate school; early morning meetings in my office days; and now for my kids who have little worries of their own.  Bring it on, wintertime.  We're ready.

teatime

Oat Fruit Scones
Adapted from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri.  He uses raisins, which are actually quite good in these--makes them taste like big, soft oatmeal raisin cookies.  I'm not normally a raisin fan, but make an exception for these.  I like to bake mine in a round and cut them apart after removing them from the oven.  The tops are crisp, but the sides are still totally tender. Quicker, too.

1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. oats
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 Tb. baking powder
1/2 ts. baking soda
1 ts. salt
8 Tb. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 c. coarsely chopped dried apricots
1/2 c. coarsely chopped prunes
1 c. buttermilk, plus more for brushing tops
1 Tb. sugar mixed with 1/4 ts. ground cinnamon

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450.

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse 5 times.

Cut the butter into 12 pieces, add to the bowl, and pulse 12 times, until the mixture resembles fine meal.  Add the dried fuit and cup of milk and pulse 3 or 4 times to form a very soft dough.

Generously flour your work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and fold it over on itself 3 or 4 times, until it is less sticky.

Make one large disc and cut it into 8-12 wedges (don't separate them) or make two discs, cutting each into 4 or 6 wedges, depending on how big you want your scones.  Brush top with buttermilk and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake scones for 15-20 minutes, until they are golden and firm.  Be careful not to overbake.

Butternut, Black Bean, and Turkey Chili

butternut chili

I like the day after--the day after Christmas when everything is quiet;  the day after a catering gig or a stressful piece of work with a client.  And yes, the day after Thanksgiving.  With a blog about leftovers, this would seem to be my signature day, except the leftovers are always at someone else's house.  I did come home with a ziploc full of turkey, though.  Is there anything better than that?

This is my mother-in-law Phyllis' recipe.   Phyllis and I are remarkably compatible in the kitchen--just one of the many things I enjoy and appreciate about her.  In-laws are funny things.  They become a giant part of your life after marriage, but you don't choose them.  I totally lucked out with Phyllis--she loves me, she adores my kids, she supports our family in every way imaginable.  And she anticipates my every move in the kitchen, handing me a knife just before I reach for it or pouring me a glass of wine while I salt the soup.

I suspect I'm not alone in the "I'm-never-eating-again" pronouncements that ensue after Thanksgiving.  This soup will get you back on track.  Full of fiber, low-fat, warming enough to help you forget you're horribly overwhelmed by holiday to-do's and you have to go back to work on Monday.

Yancey's at the fire station, we're home from Dick and Phyllis' house, and this morning, the day stretched like an eternity in front of me. Piles of laundry, unpacked suitcases, no prospect of other adults for 24 hours.  So after breakfast, we took the train downtown to the Central Library and Pike Place.  I've been promising Wyatt a field trip to the Central Library forever.  He wasn't disappointed.  I had to "shush!" Loretta countless times, but I loved seeing their absolute wonderment at the neon yellow escalators, the book spiral, the honeycomb light.  They must wonder, "Why are all these adults just sitting here?" Indeed.

central library

Butternut, Black Bean, and Turkey Chili
Serves six.  Phyllis found the original recipe for this on a Weight Watchers recipe website, but I changed it a bunch.  You could add corn or a can of pinto beans, you can leave the turkey out or sub chicken for turkey.

2 Tb. olive oil
2 small or one large sweet onions, finely diced
1 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt
2 ts. chili powder (or more to taste)
1/2 ts. cinnamon
1 ts. cumin
1 ts. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
freshly ground pepper
6 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (from one large or two small squash)
1 qt. water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans rinsed and drained black beans
1 lb. cooked and browned turkey sausage OR shredded cooked turkey
cilantro and sour cream for garnish

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add bell pepper, garlic, salt, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, oregano, and pepper and cook for another five minutes, adding a splash of water if it's sticking.

Add squash and water (or stock), bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is barely tender, about 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, black beans, and turkey sausage (or turkey) and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, skimming off foam occasionally, until soup is thickening and flavors are melded.  Remove 2 cups of the soup and mash with a potato masher or put through the blender or food processor.  Add puree back to soup and stir thoroughly.

Serve garnished with sour cream and cilantro and hot sauce on the side, if you like.

Old Fashioned Apple Pie for Thanksgiving

old fashioned apple pie

I'm in charge of dessert for Thanksgiving this year--Yancey's mom is planning the rest, and we'll cook it together.  We're not making our usual trek to see my cousins, aunts and uncles in Yakima because of Yancey's work schedule.  I'll miss them, but this seems like a good year to stick closer to home.  In the last couple days, Loretta keeps exclaiming, "Our famwie is all together again!"  It's been a busy couple weeks, and a plate of turkey and early bedtime sounds like just the thing.

I'm a fan of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Except for pumpkin pie.  Since this is a food blog, I won't go into detail about my childhood experience of eating too much pumpkin pie.  I can hardly think of a food I don't like--I am the un-pickiest eater in the world. Pumpkin pie is a rare exception.  I tried a bite a couple years ago to see if I was playing old tapes.  Nope.  30 years later, those memories are still fresh.

None of us will be suffering with apple pie, though.  I've been amused with all the Pie Fright lately. I even noticed a local class which is about the art of pie crust--several hours in a therapeutic setting helping people build confidence and face their Crust Trauma.  Maybe this syndrome has never plagued me because I grew up watching my grandmothers, aunts, and mother make pies like they were making peanut butter sandwiches.  Or maybe I escaped it because I've never been concerned about the perfect crust.  Like I've said here before, one of my favorite mantras is Good enough is good enough.

Here are a couple apple pie tips and opinions that come to mind (I know--you're surprised I have opinions.  I'm so meek and mild-mannered normally):

  • Though Crisco does make a delightfully flaky crust, I don't use it.  Butter has better flavor and doesn't clog the arteries.
  • One thing that can ruin an apple pie much more thoroughly than an imperfect crust is underbaked apples.  It's better to overbake them.  You want your fork to slide through the pie with just a bit of resistance, not be slip-sliding around everywhere.
  • I think cold ice cream generally wrecks a good pie.  I prefer mine plain or with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
  • In order to adequately cook the apples before the crust burns or gets too brown, you may have to cover the edge of the crust with foil the last 20 minutes of baking.
  • I use my food processor for the crust because it helps me not overwork the dough and it's fast.  You can use a pastry cutter or fingertips, though.
  • Your butter must be as cold as possible and your water icy cold.
  • If I'm not cleaning out my produce drawer, I like to use a mixture of tart (such as Granny Smith) and sweet (such as Golden Delicious) apples.
  • It's imperative that you cut steam vents in your top crust to prevent a soggy bottom crust.
  • Do not cut into a pie until it has cooled on the counter for 2-3 hours.  Cutting into it too soon doesn't give the juices a chance to set and eating it hot (instead of room temperature) doesn't allow the flavors to come through.
  • Even if  your pie doesn't live up to your hopes for it, you will get a lot of kudos for trying and you'll feel proud of yourself.

This Thanksgiving, I'm overcome with gratitude for so many things--my health and the health of my family; a dry roof over our heads; Yancey's new firefighting career; my amazing and loving friends; the clients I've been able to serve this year.  At the top of the list, though, I'm thankful for you, sitting in your kitchen or at your desk, taking a break from your duties to read about what happens in my kitchen.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Old Fashioned Double Crust Apple Pie
Adapted from Gourmet.  Serves 12 if you have a steady hand and you've waited until the pie is completely cool before cutting it.

For dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 tablespoons ice water

Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

For filling:
3 Tb. flour
1 ts. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 ts. cinnamon
1/4 ts. freshly ground nutmeg
1/ 8 ts. salt
3/4 c. plus 1 Tb. sugar
1 1/2 lbs. tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and each cut into 10 wedges (about 5 cups)
1 1/2 lbs. sweet apples (such as Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and each cut into 10 wedges (about 5 cups)
1 Tb. fresh lemon juice
1 egg. lightly beaten, for egg wash

Put a large baking sheet on middle oven rack and preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together flour, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and 3/4 c. sugar in a large bowl.  Gently toss with apples and lemon juice.

Roll out one piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 13 inch round.  Fit into a 9 inch pie plate.  Trim edge, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang.

Spoon filling into shell.

Roll out remaining piece of dough on lightly floured surface into an 11 inch round.  Cover pie with pastry round and trim with kitchen shears, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang. Press edges together, then crimp decoratively.  Lightly brush top of pie with egg and sprinkle all over with remaining 1 Tb. sugar.  (the pie pictured has cinnamon and sugar on top).  With a small sharp knife, cut 3 steam vents in top crust.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet for 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temp to 375 and continue to bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 40 minutes more.  Cool pie on a rack to warm or room temperature, 2 to 3 hours.