Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Discovery is one of the greatest joys of being a traveler. La Châtelaine Chocolaterie in Bozeman, Montana was so unexpected, so perfectly hidden, and finally—most importantly—so unbelievably delicious, it made being quarantined for 4 days at the C’mon Inn with “THE” flu absolutely worth it. Rolling one of their mint chocolates around in my mouth made me glad I waited until we were back in the truck. I sounded like I was in an Herbal Essences commercial. When Noah tried to ask me something I had to hold up my finger and shush him.
“Not now,” I said, “I’m having a moment.”
Tucked into a cluster of old buildings off of Bozeman’s main drag is a little white cottage—said to be part of an old homestead—advertising “Chocolat” in red neon letters. Noah and I wandered in after a lunch of red beans and rice at neighboring Cajun favorite, “Café Zydeco”. I was starting to feel like I was kicking the flu and my appetite was coming back with a vengeance. So we wandered into La Châtelaine, lured by a clever orange and chocolate-colored sign that took me back to my first trip to Paris, at 17 years of age. While on exchange in Berlin, I took the night train to the city of lights, and while there, blew half my monthly allowance on a silk scarf at the Hermès boutique. It is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I own, and the distinctive orange and brown box is part of the experience. The scarf sits, never worn, in a safe deposit box, still wrapped in the sizzle of it’s original tissue paper.
La Châtelaine’s Beautiful orange boxes, with chocolate colored Parisian font, tapped into my weakness for pretty packaging. But would the contents of these lovely boxes live up to the beauty of their façade?
Yes. Yes. And yes again.
With the help of proprietor and chocolatier, Shannon Hughes Grochowski [Click to see her blog: Chocolate and French Lessons ], we sampled a half dozen miniature chocolate delights, covered in smooth and refined chocolate and infused with flavors like blood orange, meyer lemon, and burnt caramel. There were caramels topped with merlot salt, a bergamot truffle infused with earl grey tea, and a chili spiced dark chocolate—all of them made in the back of the shop. High-quality chocolate, natural flavors, and handmade beauty all combined to make me giddy with delight.
As luck would have it, Noah and I went out for a lovely dinner that evening at Ted’s Montana Grill, located on Bozeman’s beautiful Main Street in the historic Baxter Hotel. And who had set up a gleaming orange and chocolate colored oasis in the lobby? It was La Châtelaine’s satellite location.
First, we walked past it, too full of roasted chicken and Delmonico steak to think about dessert, but an after-dinner sweet tooth slowed me down as we passed “La Petite Chatelaine” just long enough to notice a gleaming, churning tank of thick chocolat. Hot chocolat. We got halfway down the block before I decided we must turn around, dragging Noah, who was not so reluctant to indulge in his own steaming hot cocoa, topped with a handmade marshmallow and a dollop of whipped cream.
“Mmm,” he said in his masculine grunting sort of way, expressing his approval with a nod. No words, just attentive sipping. I could tell he really liked it.
If you’ve read the book "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris, there’s a good chance you remember the way the author describes the hot chocolat served in the main character’s candy shop; more elixir than beverage, possessing the power to hold it’s drinkers in a blissful trance. Her vivid descriptions tortured me with cravings for a French-style hot chocolate I had never tasted and didn’t know how to make. After the first sip from my little paper cup, my years-old craving was sated. This was the hot chocolat of Chocolat.
Driving back to our hotel, I found myself under the influence of chocolate-induced endorphins.
“I love you Noah!” I blurted. He laughed one of those ‘you are such a huge dork’ laughs. “I think this hot chocolate is like, intensifying my feelings,” I said.
We were both taken by surprise. Bozeman has changed a lot since our love story began in this neck of Western Montana, almost fourteen years ago. We spent our recent time there in awe of the changes, the growth, both good and bad. Alluring boutiques and the blight of big box stores canvassed over the foundation of what was not long ago one of the last real cowboy towns. Like any beautiful place, it has drawn people to it, and all that comes with that. Who would have ever thought that a place like La Châtelaine, worthy of the shop fronts of Paris, would grace this little Big Sky town?
Whatever drew the Grochowski’s to Bozeman, the people of this town are lucky they did. I left the store with one of those beautiful orange and brown boxes, but the contents of this one will never last to see the inside of a safe deposit box.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
There is so much to cover from our trip in Seattle—first and foremost, my sister Kim. I guess you can say that food runs in our family.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
It feels like we’ve been unplugged for the last few years, and for a reluctant technophile like me, that hasn’t necessarily been unpleasant. Dinner conversation in Juneau revolves around bears, salmon, whales, eagles, and how to survive the weather. Dinner conversation in Seattle covers music, iPhones, art, Twitter, and food. It’s the city versus country cliché, and I seem driven somehow to straddle both worlds; perhaps, with one foot more heavily rooted in the countryside realm.
Midway through our stay, Noah and I traveled to Whidbey Island for an overnight retreat.
Food dovetails so seamlessly into so many experiences, connecting us to each other, connecting our days, and granting me a unifying thread in my writing. So it was with delight that I sat with my friend Kurt Hoelting at the Whidbey Institute for a day of mindfulness, which began with a handful of raisins.
Three raisins to be exact, and I’m guessing we spent about fifteen minutes eating them.
After a city week of continuous indulgence, a feast of flavors at our favorite old haunts and a few new ones, I found myself sitting quietly, with a small group of people, in a little sanctuary, actively doing nothing for a day. No place to go. No cell phones or emails. Nothing to achieve but nothing.
Kurt welcomed the group with a beautiful poem: Love after Love by Derek Walcott. Then, he passed around a cup of raisins, and told us each to take three raisins from the cup, and refrain from gobbling them up. Instead, we held them in our hand.
“Look at the raisins, like you’ve never seen a raisin before,” Kurt suggested. And I began to notice the wrinkled brown nubbins in my palm. There were actually a number of colors on each fruit, red-brown, purpley-grey, and dimples filled with a whitish film. I picked up the biggest raisin, and saw it with new eyes, an alien edible.
“Put the raisin up to your nose," Kurt guided us, "noticing how your arm moves your hand to your nose, with ease, without thinking, with effortless coordination, and inhale the scent of the raisin.”
The perfume filled my nostrils, like a glass of very old port. Sweet. Musky. Burnt sugar and vanilla and mineral soil. How had I never noticed the scent of a raisin?!
“Now put the raisin in your mouth,” Kurt said, “but don’t chew it up right away. Roll it around in your mouth. Feel the shape of it on your tongue.”
I sensed it’s softness, firmness, ridges, dimples. And when I was ready, I bit into it, feeling the skin break between my teeth, feeling the density of it’s dried pith, and most of all tasting the full explosive complexity of this ugly little fruit that I never really cared for. I had never thought about a raisin. If anything, I merely tolerated them.
I had been devouring my way through Seattle’s culinary Shangri-la, and I found my mind wondering what levels of flavor, texture, and aroma I had been missing out on. Not to say I didn’t appreciate all those wonderful meals (with gusto), but what might they have tasted like if given this kind of attention? What deeper level of richness could I bring to the experience of eating, just by slowing down, by paying closer attention?
Without haste, we moved on to the second raisin, this time keeping in mind how the raisin was made. What went into this little fruit? Earth. Water. Sun. A trellis for the vine to grow on. A hand to pick the grapes, and some way to dry them. A box to store them in, ship them in, sell them in. A truck to transport them on, and a driver to deliver them. A buyer. A shopping bag. And a hand to open the package with. This time, when I tasted the raisin, I uncovered mineral elements, flavors that went beyond my own personal experience and tiptoed onto the bigger picture. When I held an appreciation for the earth that grew the raisin, I could taste the terrior—or geography of the fruit. This was an even deeper level of paying attention.
Finally, with the third raisin, Kurt brought our attention to the little stem or hole on one end of the raisin, and asked us to think about what the raisin was attached to. My third raisin had a tiny peg of a stem, and it made me think of an umbilical cord. I pulled the stem from the raisin, and the hole it left made me think of a belly button.
“We are all connected somehow,” Kurt reminded us, and I thought about how each grape is connected to a stem, a stalk, a leaf, a root, the earth. Words like holistic and interconnected get thrown around a lot these days. It’s easy to forget their true meaning, to forget how to feel the connection we share as living organisms on this planet.
What an eye opening experience, all because of three humble little raisins. Before breaking for lunch Kurt said, “Let’s bring the spirit of the raisin into our experience of lunch today.”
The spirit of the raisin. I like that. It’s something I hope to carry with me from that day on Whidbey, and something I wanted to share with you. Happy Thanksgiving Food-G readers. May you bring the spirit of the raisin into your experience of your own Thanksgiving meal.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
...Back in Juneau, when the time came to clear out our freezer, I found a bag of blueberries I had picked back in August. It’s hard to compare the intensity of an Alaskan Blueberry to those of the Lower 48. They are so much more tart, more intense, so full of dark juice-- I’ve got quite a few ruined tee shirts to prove it. They stain your teeth and lips and fingers and everything they touch with deep magenta. When I eat them, especially along the trail, it’s as if I can feel their nutrients energizing my body—emphasis on the “-zing”.
I held the bag in my hands and wondered, “When will I be back here? When will I be able to taste the radical wildness of these berries again? I must not let them go to waste!”
I grabbed a skillet, a tub of cottage cheese, and my trusty box of Bisquick (yes, Bisquick. It’s part of my childhood, and one of the few convenience foods I love too much to give up). Noah poked his head into the kitchen, lured by the smell of toasting batter in a buttered pan.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Here’s one solution:
Citrusy Pecan Garbanzo Couscous.
It’s crisp, crunchy, nutty, and warm. It also happens to be vegan. (Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a side)
1 cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
1 – 15 oz. can Garbanzo beans, drained
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 orange, juice and zest
½ cup diced red bell pepper
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons dried currants
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare couscous according to package instructions. Meanwhile combine all remaining ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Drain couscous and add to bowl while still hot. Thoroughly mix all ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately, because I believe it to be one of the most transformative forces in the universe. It’s been a trying year for many. Our jobs, our homes, our savings, have been tested, and sometimes lost. Our illusions of security and stability have been deeply rattled, if not dissolved. But even during the hardest times, we can find things to be thankful for, and doing so brings us back to the present, and back to basics. The silver lining, in these wanting days, is that we are remembering how much we already have.
I was thumbing through some papers the other day, and I found this little journal entry, dated December 19, 2008:
(Missoula, MT) Noah and I had lunch at Taco del Sol today—seems like everything happens there. We had just sat down with our fish tacos when I saw a disheveled derelict-looking guy walk over to the table next to us and set his taco down in front of him. He stood over his food, and pressed his hands together in front of his mouth. He was smiling, huge. Before he sat down he raised both fists in a little cheer.
“Yeah” he said, so excited to eat this good food. He was looking at it the way someone might look at a trophy or a new-born child. He admired it for a while before taking the first bite, and when he did, he chewed the food quietly, thoughtfully, like a prayer.
Later, while we were warming the car up, I saw him on his way down Higgins Avenue. One of his legs had a rough hitch while he walked, and one of his arms was turned grotesquely inward. I wondered if he was a veteran. It was 8 degrees. He had no gloves on and limped down the street, slowly. But his eyes were lit up, like the food he had just eaten was casting a warm glow, outward from his full belly. All day I couldn’t stop thinking about him, cheering over his taco. I’m learning so much about gratitude these days.
Our household has gone back to basics of late. Noah had his wisdom teeth removed last week, so I’ve been making a LOT of mashed potatoes—great practice for American Thanksgiving. I pretty much have it down to a science at this point, and believe me, mashed potatoes are a science. Below you will find my mashed potato primer.
TIPS FOR THE ULTIMATE MASHED POTATOES
Got it? Start in cold salted water. Cook till fork tender. Drain and place in a mixing bowl. Add hot liquid, hefty salt (and pepper), and cold (salted) butter. Blend briefly with a hand mixer, and avoid over mixing.
Follow those tips and you’re well on your way to perfect mashed potatoes, and we can all be grateful for that.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I’m going to let you in on a big, expensive secret. I had to go to culinary $chool to get a thorough grasp on the concept, but it’s been the single most important lesson I took from my formal training.
At the heart of every great meal ever made is this one guiding principle, the key to unlocking flavor, the essence of kitchen success. Are you ready? Drumroll….
ACID. SALT. FAT.
That’s it. The acid-salt-fat balance is a three-legged stool. Flavor comes to life when there is the right amount of fat (in the form of oil, butter, meat renderings), salt (kosher, sea, seasoned,soy sauce, etc.), and acid (citrus juices, vinegars, wine, etc.) When one of the “legs” is out of balance, it just doesn’t stand up.
But when you strike that harmonious three-note chord … LaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaH… success!
Ever made hollandaise sauce? Egg yolks, butter, salt, lemon juice? The stuff is pure fat, salt, and acid. While making hollandaise I’ve tasted the yellow froth consisting of pure egg yolks and butter, before the salt and lemon were added. Bleck! But add a hefty pinch of salt, and the right amount of lemon juice, and it’s, “like Baby Jesus sliding down your throat in velvet slippers.” (from Ruth Reichl’s memoir, "Comfort Me with Apples").
How do you know how much fat, salt or acid to add? Taste. And taste again. Take baby steps at first, following the rule that you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Soon, you will become a master.
This recipe is a great one for learning to tune your acid-salt-fat senses. Anyone who knows a lick about cooking knows how to make a tomato sauce, but if you want to make one that takes your quick Tuesday night pasta dinner from lackluster to HALLELEUJAH! then make this.
Olive oil carries the flavor, white wine and tomatoes brighten it with acid, and enough salt makes your mouth say hooray! to this Chicken Cacciatore. If it’s not working, add another sprinkle of salt, stir, and taste. Close your eyes, roll it around in your mouth with a noodle or two. Tastebuds are a cook’s best friend. They’ll let you know exactly when you’ve hit the bull’s-eye.
Chicken Cacciatore (serves 4-6)
1¾ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½” cubes
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon seasoned salt (like Lawry’s)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons sugar
¾ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Dash cayenne (optional)
½ cup white wine
1 – 6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 – 4 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. dried pasta of choice (gemelli, rotini, or penne recommended)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
1. In a large ziplock bag combine the flour, seasoned salt, and pepper. Shake to mix thoroughly. Add chicken to the bag, and shake to evenly coat pieces. In a large (5 quart) dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over med-hi heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
2. Reduce heat to medium, and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil pan. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, paprika, herbs, sugar, salt, and cayenne to the pan, and cook stirring, 1 minute more.
3. Add wine to the pan and bring to a simmer before adding artichoke hearts, olives, browned chicken, and crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. While sauce is cooking, boil the pasta. Before serving taste and adjust seasonings in the sauce. Top or toss pasta with sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Mangia!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Ahhh chanterelles . . . one of the best things about fall. We are lucky to have two edible varieties of this mushroom that grow in Southeast Alaska. The photo above shows the ridge-like and cross-veined gills characteristic of cantharellus cibarius.
The recipe below is an addendum to my latest Local Flavor column in the Juneau Empire.Click here for the full article, including my recipe for Sautéed Chanterelles with Pancetta and Pine Nuts. This versatile mushroom sauté was used as a topping for a lovely autumn meal:
Pine Nut Crusted Chicken Cutlets with Chanterelles (serves 4 to 6)
This scrumptious dish will wow your dinner guests with the colors, tastes, and smells of the season. If you don’t have access to chanterelles, don’t worry; cremini or even button mushrooms make a fine substitute. Serve with a steamed green vegetable like broccoli or green beans, and a buttery chardonnay.
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced into ¼” thick cutlets
½ cup pine nuts
2/3 cup bread crumbs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Olive oil, for frying
8 ounces wild rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
Chicken broth, optional
2 cups Sautéed Chanterelles with Pancetta and Pine Nuts (click here for recipe)
Lemon wedges and fresh rosemary leaves, for garnish
First get the wild rice cooking. It takes at least an hour. Follow package instructions, adding bay leaves and garlic to the pot, and replacing water with chicken broth if desired.
If serving with a steamed green vegetable, get the vegetables cleaned, chopped, and set up in the steamer, so all you have to do is turn it on about 10 minutes before dinner is ready.
Prepare recipe for Sautéed Chanterelles with Pancetta and Pine Nuts. Set aside and keep warm. If mixture becomes dry, you can splash in a little chicken stock, or olive oil.
In a food processor combine pine nuts, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Grind to a very fine meal. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil, and preheat oven to 325. Dredge chicken cutlets in the meal, and lay flat on lined baking sheets.
In a large skillet heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot and shimmery, use tongs to add a single layer of chicken cutlets to the pan. Once the cutlets are golden brown on one side, flip them and brown the other side, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Return to baking sheet and set aside (the chicken will not be fully cooked at this point), Work in batches, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all the chicken has been browned.
Once the rice is nearly finished cooking, place baking sheets on center racks in oven, 5 to 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Rotate pans halfway through cooking. If necessary, reheat mushroom mixture.
To serve, place a mound of rice on each serving dish, top with a few pieces of chicken, and a scoop of the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with a few fresh rosemary leaves, and serve with lemon wedges, and steamed green vegetable if desired.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Japanese-Style Edamame Hummus (makes about 2 cups)
Serve with crispy rice crackers.
1 - 12 oz. bag frozen, shelled edamame (soy beans)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame tahini
1 tablespoon pickled ginger
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 large clove garlic, minced
Boil edamame in well-salted water, about 7 minutes or until quite soft. Drain, and rinse with cold water to cool the beans. Add to food processor along with remaining ingredients, and pulse until blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
This morning I rolled out of bed to a grey and breezy morning. The thermometer read 47 degrees. So I fixed myself a cup of tea, pulled my puffy coat out from it’s summer hibernation, donned my fuzziest slippers, and stepped outside. From my down-warmed perch on the porch, I watched the waters of Lena Cove ripple and swirl like a moving picture of the wind. Seagulls navigated the gusts, and a murder of crows flapped their way from one tree to another. I sat for almost an hour out there, and all the while I was utterly cozy, nestled in my black down jacket like an oversized raven.
How lovely, I thought to myself, to be so comfortable outdoors, feeling, hearing, and touching the weather rather than watching it through a window.
It’s getting colder and I feel genuinely happy about that. Much as I welcome the heat of summer, the shift in seasons is a beautiful thing, regardless of the weather it brings. Loving the cold, I’ve discovered, is about having the right gear. Noah bought me this coat in Wyoming last year, for Christmas, right before a cross-country ski trip into the heart of Yellowstone—commonly one of the coldest places in the lower 48. Temperatures barely brushed the positive side of zero while we were there. I loved that trip, and thanks to Noah and my new puffy, I was never cold.
Yellowstone N.P., Lone Star Trail (Where's Ginzo?)
“I am in love with this jacket,” I told Noah. “I can’t believe I ever went into the backcountry without one. Why have I ever been cold cold, ever?”
Loving the cold is about having the right gear on the inside too. People of the Northern regions, this is no time for gazpacho! It’s time to eat warming foods. Seasonal foods. Foods that are nutrient dense. Foods like root vegetables, winter squash, dried beans and grains, served in soups, stews, gratins, and with slow-roasted meats.
There are a lot of ways to think about warming foods, but any way you slice it, winter is approaching in the Northern hemisphere, and if you want to feel joyful about that, give yourself the right gear, both inside and out. You’re on your own with the puffy coat, but what I can do is give you this recipe for Butternut Squash Bisque. It’s like a down jacket for your tummy.
Butternut Bisque (serves 6 as a main course)
When I made this soup for one of the Thursday night feasts at Rainbow Foods, I got feedback from more than one customer saying, “I don’t like squash, but I loved this soup.” Luscious, smooth, and deceptively healthy, this is squash even your kiddos might like. Serve with Cheese Toast (recipe below) for a satisfying meal.
Dairy does not freeze or boil well. Soup may be frozen for up to 2 months, if you hold the milk and cream, and add it just before serving. When reheating the soup, take care not to let it come to a hard boil.
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 med. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1” cubes
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
½ cup half and half
½ cup milk
1. In a large (5 quart) soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion. Saute until onions begin to brown in spots, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Add half the sherry and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated and onions once again begin to brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan by adding the remaining sherry and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated and onions are a rich brown, about 1 minute, stirring. This process is called caramelization, and caramelizing the onions will help bring out their sugars (i.e. sweetness).
2. Add squash, carrots, celery, and apples to the pot along with ¼ cup stock, and cook covered, stirring occasionally until vegetables have begun to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Add stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until squash is very soft, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, and add rosemary, milk and half and half to the pot. Using a blender, puree the soup in batches. USE CAUTION when blending hot liquids. Steam pressure can build up in the pitcher, causing the lid to pop off when you turn the machine on. The easiest way to avoid burns and a hot mess is to fill the blender no more than halfway when pureeing hot liquids, and start on a low speed, and gradually work your way up.
Serve warm with cheese toast (recipe below).
Cheese Toast (makes 6 hearty servings)
1 baguette or artisanal loaf, sliced into 12 – 1/4” thick pieces
1 cup grated cheese (Gruyere is best, but any good melter will do)
Olive oil, or olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray or lightly brush bread with olive oil. Sprinkle with cheese, and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until crisp and melty. Serve warm with Butternut Bisque.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
September has become a kind of lose the stress-induced spare tire and get ready for our summer vacation month. That’s right, our summer vacation is about a month away, and begins every October when the last cruise ship is long gone from Juneau, and we have a few months off before heli ski season starts up. For the last four years, Noah and I have been on a seasonal routine where we fit 12 months of work into 8 or 9, and try as I might, the heavy summer grind takes a minor toll on my bod.
Our summer eating routine reads like a primer on how to gain weight:
Step 1: Skip Breakfast
We are both so busy in the summer that a regular breakfast consists of caffeine, and maybe a yogurt.
Step 2: Get Ravenously Hungry Before Eating Again
It’s go go go until 2 o’clock rolls around and you’re so hungry you’re ready to raid the fridge, eat a bucket of fried chicken, or blow an extra 300 calories snacking-out while you procure some form of midday meal.
Step 3: Stress Out, then Veg Out
When you hit the ground running, and don’t stop for 12 to 14 hours (thanks to AK summer daylight), it’s hard not to have an extra beer or helping of whatever when you finally put your feet up.
Step 4: Eat Your Biggest Meal of the Day Right Before Bed
For Noah and I, when we have but a couple waking hours together each evening, we try to make dinner time special. Fire up the grill, open a bottle of wine, sit on the deck and share the stories of our day…usually around 8:30 or 9 at night. We eat healthy stuff, but dinnertime can definitely be too much of a good thing. Then it’s straight to bed for a repeat.
While looking at my charts, my doctor once remarked, “You’re kind of opposite most people. You gain a little weight in the summer and lose it in the winter.” Not like I’m putting on 20 pounds—more like 3 to 5, but still it requires management. Neither of us is overweight, but part of being beyond our twenties is staying on top of it, and this time of year I am getting ready for some serious play time…in a bathing suit.
So…breakfast. It’s true what they say, and I have learned (from the school of hard knocks) that when I skip it, I overindulge at dinner time. One of the quickest ways to shrink my lil’ pooch down is to go to bed just a little bit hungry. After a couple days my whole routine starts to shift, and I start to wake up with a real desire to eat. Within a week or two I’ve made friends with my pants button again.
Big, healthy, filling breakfast = smarter lunch, conscious snacking, and better discipline at dinner. And that = me strutting down the beach in a two-piece. No pooches allowed.
Good Morning Granola (makes about 5 cups)
A little bit of molasses and ginger gives this cranberry almond granola a rich mahogany spice. Sprinkle ¼ cup of this on top of your yogurt, add a diced banana, and you’ve got a 400 calorie breakfast that will carry you all the way to a healthy lunch.
Granola is one of those “technique” things. Once you’ve got the grain to nut to seed to fruit ratios down, as well as the right amount of oil and sweetener, and the correct baking time and temperature, the possibilities are endless. Feel free to plug in other ingredients to find your signature blend.
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup chia, sesame, or flax seeds (or a combination)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup (or all honey)
2 tablespoons molasses
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, diced (optional, for ginger lovers)
Preheat oven to 300. Grease a rimmed baking sheet.
In a large mixing bowl combine oats, almonds, seeds, salt, and spices. Stir to combine.
In a separate small mixing bowl combine honey, maple syrup, molasses, vanilla, and canola. Stir well until thoroughly mixed.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Spread the mixture evenly on baking sheet and place in oven on middle rack. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and toss with dried fruit. Granola will dry as it cools. Once cool, store in an airtight bag or container. Keeps for several weeks.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Simple Heirloom Tomato and Sea Salt Bruschetta
Green Goddess Soup with Fresh Peas and Mint
Delicata Squash stuffed with Ground Turkey, Greens and Garlic
Sweet Corn Spoon Bread
Tender Lettuces with Raspberry Viniagrette and Toasted Almonds
Stone Fruit Crisp with Maple Whipped Cream
I am lucky to be able to work with beautiful organic produce. Most of the time my Thursday Night Dinner menus are ethnically inspired, but this kind of menu is inspired by the produce, and limited only by the product I have to work with. In late August, my palette is full of colors: Ruby red pluots, bright orange peaches, deep green chard with magenta stems, butter yellow corn, golden beets, ripe tomatoes in a sunset-hued array, burlap-colored potatoes, and eggplant in a shade of it’s own name.
Some menus excite me more than others, and I felt especially happy with this one. Seeing it all set up on the buffet was like looking at a rainbow—how appropriate considering the name of the store (Rainbow Foods). I liked to think about the customers filling their bellies with those colors. This week, I was just a sous chef to Mother Nature, a conduit between her wares and the people.
The recipe below was a fortunate accident. I had planned on doing a stuffed summer squash (patty pan, zucchini, or crookneck), but the produce department was short, so at the last minute I opted to use Delicata squash. Most people think of hard squashes as winter fare, and it’s true that they do last a loooooong time (hence the “winter” classification), but I think the best time to eat them is now and into early fall, just as they’re coming from the fields. Freshly picked produce is often higher in sugar, and as time elapses, those sugars turn into starch. Corn on the cob is a great example of this. It seems to me that winter squashes are especially sweet and moist early in the season.
Of the entire menu, this dish received the most enthusiastic reviews:
Apologies for the fluorescent lighting in the photo—it doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the finished product. This is how they looked before I topped them with cheese.
Stuffed Delicata Squash with Ground Turkey, Greens, and Garlic
(makes 10 stuffed squash halves)
I played off the natural sweetness of the squash here by doing an especially savory filling with lots of rubbed sage, roasted garlic, and nutty cheeses like parmesan and gruyere. Delicata is an heirloom squash variety, and has a thin edible skin (if you so choose). I think ground turkey sausage would make a great stand-in for the ground turkey, but you can also make this vegetarian by substituting a ground meat substitute like “Gimme Lean”. Recipe can be prepared through step 4 up to 1 day in advance.
1/3 cup peeled garlic cloves (whole)
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
5 delicata squash
1 large yellow onion, diced small
1 pound ground turkey (see other options above)
1 ½ teaspoons rubbed sage
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 bunch chard or Lacinato kale, stems removed*(see note), and finely chopped
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups grated gruyere or gouda cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine the garlic cloves and the oil in a small ramekin or oven-safe dish. Place in oven and bake 30 to 45 minutes or until the cloves are starting to turn golden brown in spots. This is an easy way to roast garlic and at the same time make a garlic-infused oil. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. Wash the squash and cut it lengthwise, through the middle. Use care here, this can be a little difficult. Place the squash halves cut side down onto an oiled baking sheet and place in oven, 25 to 30 minutes or until the squash gives a little when squeezed. Remove from oven, flip the squash so they’re cut side up, and set aside until cool enough to handle.
3. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large soup pot (with a tight fitting lid) over medium high heat. Add diced onion and sauté about 3 minutes or until onion has softened a bit. Add ground turkey (or sausage or ground meat substitute), herbs, and seasonings and cook, stirring until browned. Add greens to the pot and stir until they begin to wilt. You may need to add about ¼ cup water to the pot (for steam) if the mixture is too dry, but the meat and greens should release some liquid as they cooked. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pot, and cook until greens are tender, stirring occasionally (kale will take longer than chard, so taste for doneness). Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese. Remove roasted garlic from oil with a slotted spoon and add to mixture. Taste the filling and adjust seasonings. It should be pretty robust, so add salt to taste. The filling will be a little bit wet, but that’s good—it will help keep the squash moist when baking.
4. Gently scrape the seeds from the squash and discard. Arrange on baking sheet, cut side up, and brush the cavity with a light coating of the roasted garlic oil. Divide the filling evenly among the halves. Top with grated gruyere.
5. Cover and return to oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and everything is heated through (this will take longer if they’ve been refrigerated overnight). Enjoy!
*After cooking with a LOT of hearty greens at Rainbow Foods, I’ve learned a trick for removing the tender leaves from the tough stems. With one hand grasp the stem end of the leaf, and use the other hand to grasp the leaf at the base. Pull upwards along the central rib. The tender part of the leaf should come right off, ready to be chopped and cooked up. Once you get a feel for it this goes super fast and works well with both chard and Lacinato Kale.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
If you had to choose the cuisine of just one country to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Me? Vietnam. Hands down, no contest. The reasons for this are many, and include things like summer rolls stuffed with shrimp, a well-made fish sauce, green papaya salad, pickled carrot, lemongrass, and the meaty essence of Pho broth. It’s about the way I feel after I eat Vietnamese cuisine, and the fact that when I don’t feel well Vietnamese food makes me feel better. It’s the balance of sweet, sour, salt, and spice in a bowl of chilled rice noodles, with fresh vegetables, and grilled meat. It’s the way they use fresh mint, basil, and cilantro so liberally, and so well. And it’s the fact that Vietnamese food is revered as one of the healthiest of cuisines, using things like fresh citrus juice, herbs, vinegar, and fish sauce for flavor, rather than lots of fat or dairy. I echo the words of Tony Bourdain (if I humbly may) in saying that, “I’m in love. I am absolutely over-the-top gonzo for this country.”
When I was in culinary school in SF, if we ever had the chance to leave school for lunch, this is what we would eat:
Vietnamese Banh Mi. Pickled carrot, liver paté, sliced pork (usually), cucumber, cilantro, and fiery jalapeño coins tucked into a crackly mayonnaise-smeared baguette. Certainly not the lightest of Vietnamese specialties but boy is it good. There was a place a couple blocks over from the old California Culinary building on Polk St., a dingy little hole in the wall in the heart of the Tenderloin (pretty much the worst part of town), where an old Vietnamese couple made and sold Banh Mi for five bucks a piece. I don’t think the place had a name, but it wasn’t very hard to find; just look for a handful of culinary students in hounds tooth checked pants and chef’s whites, standing on the sidewalk eating baguette sandwiches, smoking cigarettes, and drinking guava nectar from a can.
I suppose in a way we were applying our education. See we learned in school about how the presence of French colonists in Vietnam showed up in their food. Baguettes? Mayonnaise? Paté? All French. Pickled carrot? Cilantro? Fresh jalapeño? All Vietnamese. So Banh Mi is a shining example of the fusion of these two cuisines.
I live a long way from the Tenderloin now, so when I get a hankering for Banh Mi I have to make it myself. Once you’ve got all the toppings, it’s actually pretty simple, and totally worth it. Taste for yourself. Here’s the recipe:
Vietnamese Steak Sandwich or Banh Mi (serves 4)
Pork is more traditional than steak here, but I like to grill up a bunch of flank for dinner one night, and use the leftovers for this sandwich the next. You can also use marinated and grilled pork loin, deli ham, chicken, or even bologna (might be pretty rich with the paté). Although the paté is optional, I highly recommend using it. It adds an irreplaceable base note to the overall flavor. This makes a great picnic sandwich.
1 long baguette, sliced lengthwise through the middle
1 lb. marinated and grilled flank steak, thinly sliced (recipe below)
½ cup mayonnaise (I used light)
½ to 1 teaspoon Chili-garlic sauce, Sriracha, or hot sauce
3 ounces liver paté (pork, duck, goose, whatever) optional
1 – 5 inch section cucumber, very thinly sliced
2 cups pickled carrot (recipe below)
1 ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed, dried, and loosely packed
1 jalapeño, sliced thinly into coins
1. Combine the mayonnaise and Chili-garlic, Sriracha, or hot sauce in a small bowl, and smear both sides of the sliced baguette.
2. Thinly slice the paté and layer it evenly along the top half of the bread. On the bottom half of baguette, layer the sliced flank steak, followed by the cucumber, pickled carrot, and cilantro. Finally, add the jalapeño coins to taste—they add a LOT of heat.
3. With a serrated bread knife cut the sandwich into four portions and serve. If wrapped and refrigerated sandwich will keep for up to 1 day.
Marinated Flank Steak
Use up to 2 lbs. of meat in this marinade. I grilled this up the night before and used half the meat on a Thai Beef Salad, saving the rest for Banh Mi. The pineapple juice is important because it will really help tenderize an otherwise tough cut of meat. Lightly score flank steak in a cross-hatch pattern before grilling to prevent the meat from “curling”. Let the meat rest 5 to 10 minutes after removing from grill, and always slice across the grain when serving.
6 ounces pineapple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
Combine all ingredients and add meat. Marinate 4 to 6 hours before grilling over medium high heat, 4 to 6 minutes per side.
Quick Pickled Carrots (makes 2 cups)
Used in chilled rice noodle bowls, in summer rolls, on salads, or in sandwiches, these are a staple of the Vietnamese kitchen. Make double if you like and keep them in the fridge for up to 5 days.
1 ½ cups water
½ cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrots
Combine first four ingredients and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Add grated carrot and let sit at least 15 minutes or up to 5 days (refrigerated). Drain before serving.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Last weekend, while trying to figure out where to go berry picking, my friend Tess had the brilliant idea of kayaking out to one of the islands with our berry pails. As we were gliding along, berry pails in tow, sun shimmering on the water, glacier glowing in front of the Mendenhall Towers, I had a moment—a Juneau moment, where life here feels almost surreal—and it was all I could do not to burst into Julie Andrews-style song.
Here's Tess paddling on Fritz Cove with the Mendenhall Glacier in the distance.
We've had an uncommonly good summer here, and the berries are popping. Berry picking one of those Zen activities that you just lose yourself in. When I start picking I can feel the eons of hardwired gathering instincts all come to peace within me. You simply can't compare those energy-sucking shopping trips to the satisfaction of gathering your own food.
Tess and I found so much food in the forest that day. Check out this Chicken of the Woods mushroom!
It had a blueberry stalk growing right up through the middle. So much abundance! We harvested some, but before cooking it up I did my research (like a good little wild crafter) and found that Chicken of the Woods, although easily identifiable, should not be eaten if it’s growing on a conifer tree. Since our forests here are made up primarily of Sitka Spruce and Hemlock trees, I was pretty sure that was the case for this stunning mushroom. Oh well. The moral of the story is to use caution when foraging. There is a LOT to learn and you’re better off safe than sorry.
When it comes to wild berries, the surly forager in me wants to be alright with the little worms common to Juneau berries, but alas, the culinarian in me is not. Maybe I’m berrynoid, but the first thing I do when I get my berries home is give them a 1-hour soak in cool, well-salted water (about 1 tablespoon per pint) to draw out any worms.
Here’s some more Berry Tips:
• Tess and I found that berries picked in open meadows were less wormy than berries picked under forest canopy.
• Bears love berries too. If you live in bear country, pick with a friend, make noise, sing, wear bells, carry bear spray, and stay alert. Bears have right-of-way in berry patches. If you see one, calmly vacate the area (don't run!).
• Freeze berries on baking sheets in a single, spread-out layer, before packing them into a sealed bag or container. That way you'll have individually separated berries that are easier to portion out when you're ready to use them.
• Don’t take all the berries from the bush. Leave about 2/3 for the birds, bears, and other critters that depend on them.
• Don't eat poison berries by mistake! Do your research. Get a thorough and reliable reference book on wild berry picking, and use it. You should be 100% sure a berry (or any wild food) is edible before putting it in your mouth.
Tess used her berry booty for a mean berry rhubarb crisp, with a coconut crust (brilliant!). The orange berries on the plate are cloud berries that she picked in the muskeg.
Here’s her recipe if you want to try it out. Thanks for sharing Tess!
Tess’s Jewel Berry Crisp
3 cups of wildberries (salmon berries, cloudberries, blueberries)
1 cup of rhubarb, diced
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 generous tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup shredded coconut
½ cup packed brown sugar
Gently mix the berries, rhubarb, flour, and sugar until evenly coated. Lick spoon.
Scoop the mix into a brownie pan and top with crisp. Lick bowl.
For the topping, mix all dry ingredients and cut in butter with a pastry mixer until it becomes pea-sized crumbs. Sample a pinch to see if you need more pumpkin pie spice.
Sprinkle the topping over the berries. Ideally you want an even ratio of berries to topping. That’s the best part, after all!
Bake until golden brown and slightly firm.
Enjoy with coffee, or a nice dessert wine.
*Adapted from a fruit crisp recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, 12th edition.
Click here to see my recipes for Wild Berry Basil Panna Cotta and Wild Berry Muscat Granita in the Juneau Empire. Here's what they look like (Granita in foreground) :
Thanks for stopping by Food-G, and happy foraging!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
We love Mexico-- the food, the people, the lifestyle, the surfing--and everytime we go a big part of our vacation is gathering and cooking up local produce and seafood. We pull over at roadside produce stands, we scour side streets for the local tortillerias, we watch for the panga boats coming in with a loads of just-caught fish, and we run after pick up trucks full of fruits and vegetables, bumbling along in spanglish with the farmers, and learning the names for things like cucumber(pepino), oranges (naranjas), or onions (cebollas).
That was almost four years ago, but I think about our honeymoon often, and sometimes, like in the middle of another busy summer, I want to bring a piece of it to the here and now. So when the day is ending, and the lowering sun turns everything all golden, I put on some music, make a new salsa, and whip up a batch of margaritas.
Salsa Verde (makes 3 cups)
I was pretty excited to figure out a good recipe for Salsa Verde (or tomatillo salsa), after a couple of failed attempts. The secret is that you have to cook (boil, grill, or roast) the tomatillos to tame their bitterness.
1 lb. tomatillos, husks removed
3/4 cup white onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled, and roughly chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
2 green onions, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 jalapeno, roughly chopped, with seeds
2 teaspoons green tabasco sauce
1-2 limes, juice only (to taste)
Boil, roast, or grill the tomatillos until soft and olive green in color. Let cool. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and blitz to a salsa consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with tortilla chips.
Serving Suggestions: Add extra salsa to tortilla soup, use as an enchilada sauce, top eggs or breakfast burritos, or add to mashed avocado for a zippy guacamole.
Honeymoon Margaritas (makes 2 pint glass-sized margaritas)
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon sugar
4 oz. tequila
8 oz. sparkling water
In a medium pitcher combine fruit juices with sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add tequila, salt, and sparkling water. Salt rims of glasses if desired by running a lime wedge around the rim and then pressing into a small plate of kosher salt. Pour over rocks and serve.
Friday, July 17, 2009
This year marked the third annual gathering of Burning Beast, the brainchild of Seattle Super Chef Tamara Murphy (chef/owner of Brasa). Burning Beast was her way of bringing the renowned Burning Man festival to her neck of the woods, and giving it her own spin. With the help of her friends at Smoke Farm (www.smokefarm.org) she had the perfect outdoor venue, and wa-lah! "Burning Beast" was born.
Imagine a handful of Seattle's best chefs, each with a different animal to cook outdoors the old fashioned way-- over flames, smoke, and/or hot rocks.
Spit-roasted pigs, stewed goat, perfectly charred rotisserie chickens, a carousel of smoked rabbits, fire roasted lamb finished in clay pots, giant Argentinian asado-style beef roasts, geoducks and regular ducks, and more. Part of the fun was seeing the "beasts" burn throughout the day, tended with the utmost care of Seattle's most adventurous and talented cooks.
A small crowd gatherd in the afternoon to watch "Oyster" Bill Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish clean the geoducks (pronounced gooey ducks) which would later go into tacos (they rolled the tortillas themselves). The uh, suggestive mollusks were enough to make a girl blush, and Chef Tamara Murphy remarked, "Well if that's not proof that Mother Nature has a sense of humor, then I don't know what is."
With ample space and an intimately sized crowd (the event sold out at 400 tickets), the chefs were hapy to chat about how they were tackling their animals. For $75 guests were welcome to explore the farm, swim in the river, camp overnight, and of course enjoy all the food you can eat.
Kim and I spent our time on the farm, eating, drinking wine, playing cornhole (yes, it's real game), and watching trapeze artists.
But the focal point of the event was of course the feast. At around 6 p.m. the dinner bell rang and lines (which were never overly long) began to form at each of about ten stations. The organizers of the nonprofit event had encouraged guests to bring their own plates and cutlery to minimize waste (b.y.o.p.), and reasonably priced beer and wine was sold in the bar for those who didn't b.y.o.b.
My first and one of my favorite tastes was a rich, red, goat stew called Birria, traditional to the Jalisco region of Mexico. Prepared by the chefs of Circa, and served with a warm tortilla, fresh cilantro and crema, I instantly broke my promise to pace myself and ate the whole bowl. Next we tasted Kim's favorite: crisp and smoky rotisserie chicken served with a refreshing cucumber relish. We followed that with the spit-roasted pig, which had roasted to an amber crisp over the coals all day, while being mopped with coconut water. It was served Balinese-style, on a banana leaf with sambal, rice, and fried shallots.
Chef Matt Dillon of Sitka and Spruce had coaxed beautiful and subtle flavors from his lamb, roasting and then stewing it in clay pots with what I think was fresh tomato, garlic, and dill. A dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lemon, and his stew moved into the number one spot on my list.
Tamara Murphy had roasted her pig all night in an earth oven, over apple wood embers and hot river rocks, covered with many layers of burlap and banana leaves, and steamed with beer poured into a copper pipe she had buried beneath the pig. Um, wow. That, I thought, was the finest example of amazingly cooked and seasoned meat. I even had the good fortune of getting a crispy, salty, succulent bit of the skin in my little mess bowl.
Then I ate a mini-baguette stuffed with smoked rabbit, pickled carrot, and a spicy aioli. Then, of course, I had to hit the "Heads" station for a grilled and split sockeye salmon head. As reccommended I tried the coveted cartilage behind the eye, which was rich and full of the animal's essence, like bone marrow.
Soon after, I hit a meat wall, and spent the next few hours glazed over with a glass of red wine, watching a twenty foot tall goat burn to the ground. I missed out on the geoduck tacos and the vegetable station, and slept through the dance party that started up after the third band finished playing (dangit!). I slept it off in my sister Kim's giant tent--The Taj Mahal--listening to the rain fall harder and harder into the wee hours.
In the middle of the night I woke up with a start when the rain awning that had collected about 5 gallons of water came crashing down, through the door, and onto Kim's head!! Oh no sister!!
She jolted up, disoriented and dripping wet. When she figured out what happened she said, "That was just like Flashdance!" and then tossed her soggy sleeping bag and pad in between our two other tent mates, and instantly fell back to sleep. You're one in a million sis.
The whole thing was unforgettable: the food, the farm, the friends, the Cornhole. I will be back. Burning Beast just made my permanent roster.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Last week my in-laws were in town, with two thirteen-year old boys in tow, whom I got to take sea kayaking for their first time. Mother Nature didn't cooperate as well as I hoped. The wind came up while we were out, making the seas a bit choppy, and the sun hid behind a low blanket of clouds. The biggest bummer was that the Stellar Sea Lion rookery we had paddled out to see, on Benjamin Island, was bare. The last time I had visited the rookery they were piled on the rocks and we could hear them from a mile away. I really wanted the boys to be able to witness their giant flubbery bodies, and their belchy-sounding roars, but this isn't the zoo, and sometimes the animals just aren't there. Ho hum. At any rate, we had a good paddle, a nice hike on the island with lots of tide pools to explore, and most importantly we made it back to shore safe and dry. All in all it was a great trip.
Something about eating outdoors makes food taste better, especially when you've earned some calories. So I decided to pack something special for lunch: A Brick Sandwich.
I first heard of this technique for the Brick Sandwich from Martha Stewart's website, and was further inspired by the famed Muffaletta sandwich of New Orleans. It's one of those things I've been wanting to make for years. The idea is to fill a loaf of bread (like ciabatta or focaccia) with a bunch of robust goodies, and then weight it down with a brick for at least 1 hour, and up to 24. The longer the better. All the flavors and juices and aromas marry inside the bread. It does to the sandwich what a night in the refrigerator does to home made spaghetti sauce-- it improves it, dramatically. Once sliced into portions all those zesty layers show themselves off. I didn't happen to have any bricks laying around the house, so mine became a cast-iron skillet sandwich.
Sitting on the beach of Benjamin Island, with a five-pound brick sandwich and a Tupperware full of chewy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, made for a great picnic, and I like to think it helped make up for the absence of our sea lion friends. Here's the version I came up with.
Italian Chicken Brick Sandwich(serves 4-6)
1 rectangular loaf ciabatta bread (or focaccia)
4 to 6 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese
1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained
12 fresh basil leaves
1 cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 - 8 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
2 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, grilled and sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 tablespoons vinaigrette-style Italian salad dressing
8 ounces thinly sliced salami
1. Using a long, serrated bread knife, slice the ciabatta loaf in half lengthwise (so there's a top and a bottom like a burger bun). Pull out some of the guts of the bread, leaving a 1/2" thick shell. Spread both the top and bottom halves with cream cheese.
2. In a small food processor or blender combine the sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil. Pulse to a fine chop. Spread the mixture onto bottom half of bread. Add the black olives and olive oil to the machine, and pulse to a fine chop. Spread onto top half of bread.
3. Toss the sliced chicken breast with the Italian vinaigrette to coat. Starting from the bottom, layer on the chicken, then the artichoke hearts, the salami, and the provolone. Place the top half of the ciabatta onto the sandwich, and wrap loosely in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator and top with a brick, a cast-iron skillet, or similarly weighted and flat object (you can also use canned food placed in a baking dish). Let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 24. When ready to serve, slice into 2 inch-wide portions and enjoy!