The Cook Book
For those of us who didn't go to culinary school, culinary knowledge is gleaned here and there: we skim recipes, watch chefs on TV, get tips from blogs (hopefully), and, more importantly, learn from the people around us. In this way, our culinary skills reflect our histories of love and loss, good times and dark times; the times we lived high on the hog, and the lean times.
For example, I rarely eat a grilled cheese sandwich without thinking of my mother (who made them for me on rainy days) or my first serious boyfriend, Mark, who was a master and taught me the tricks of the trade (good thing too, since we subsisted largely on cheese and starch in those days): butter the bread before you throw it in the pan, cook at medium heat, use plenty of cheese, turn down to low, and cover until the cheese melts. Home baked bread is Julie Daniel (who set a standard I have still not reached) and Mary Lou Goertzen (who took me under her wing and taught me how to bake bread when I was eight or nine). Eggs Benedict is my friend "princess" Abigail and my husband, to whom she passed her secrets. Stuffed jalapeños are Greta Dahling. And so on...
Food connects us to our past, to our heritage, to the people we love. And so, without further ado, a vital yet unsung culinary strategy from my friend Samuel Ferris Harmon, master of breakfast. I certainly never eat scrambled eggs without thinking of Sam, and here's why: he makes the brightest, fluffiest scrambled eggs you've ever seen. Sam taught me two key tricks years ago (make sure you whip the eggs thoroughly before throwing them in the pan and don't add anything because it tends to mess with the texture and color), but I asked him for additional details for this post.
Sam's Perfect Scrambled Eggs
(in Sam's words)
Heat a non-stick pan to medium high heat (6 or 7).
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork or whisk briskly until they start bubbling.
Make sure that the pan is hot and put a generous amount of butter in the pan. Make sure to keep it moving and that the pan isn't so hot that the butter burns. Next, pour the eggs over the butter.
Gently fold the eggs with a spatula into the center of the pan until done.
When they are done is personal preference. I like them cooked all the way through, but some people like them a little bit runny. Don't use any salt until the eggs are served--I've found that putting salt in before you cook them tends to make them dry out.
Rolling with the punches.
June is not soup weather. Let me rephrase that: June shouldn't be soup weather. But here in Seattle, we roll with the punches. This year, June is soup weather. And, if I've learned anything from living 30 odd (and they have been odd) years in the Pacific Northwest, the best way to deal with the weather is to get into it. Raining again? For the tenth day in a row? In the supposed summer? Turn on the heat, pull out the wool socks, put the kettle on, and cozy up with a good book. In other words: embrace the weather. Which brings me back to soup.
Working from home affords me a small luxury: I get to cook myself lunch every day. That may not sound luxurious, but after years of brown-bagging it, eating a hot meal at lunch is a step up. Yesterday, in honor of the rain and a visit from my friend OCD, I whipped up a simple, easy, affordable soup for two. The end result is thick, hearty, and reasonably low fat.
prep time: 10 minutes
time on stove: 1 hour and 3 minutes
you will need:
2 tbsp. of olive oil
1 tsp. of dill
basil (5 leaves minced fresh or 1/2 tsp. dry)
onion chives (chopped)
paprika to taste
pepper to taste (I was liberal in my application)
salt to taste
1/2 onion (chopped)
5 cloves of roasted garlic (chopped)
3 small potatoes (chopped)
3 mushrooms (sliced)
1 cup of canned corn
1 pint of chicken broth
2 pints of water
1/4 cup of white wine
1 carrot (minced)
1. Heat oil at medium heat in medium sauce pan.
2. Add onions, potato, and mushrooms.
3. Add dill, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, and wine.
4. Stir occasionally. Cook until onions are translucent.
5. Add broth and water.
6. Cook for one hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add carrots and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
8. Serve, sprinkled with chives.
A grilled cheese sandwich, fried in butter to crispy perfection and sliced diagonally, sits on a wooden plate on the bright oil cloth table. Next to the sandwich, a bowl of Campbell's tomato soup is classic, placid, delicious. Outside the rain falls on the Oregon woods. I am six years old.
My mother made me grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup, and the meal still seems like the ultimate comfort food. In theory, I love Campbell's tomato soup. But I can't remember the last time I bought a can of Campbell's or any other type of canned soup. I detest the metallic can flavor, most canned soups have questionable ingredients (hello, high fructose corn syrup), and I consider making soups from scratch a form of leisure entertainment.
Enter the flu and my friend Cornelius, who brought me a can of Amy's Thai Coconut Soup, claiming it made him feel better the last time he was sick. Cornelius has pretty good taste in sustenance (his devotion to Chock Full o' Nuts Coffee aside) and the soup is organic and made of whole, recognizable ingredients, so I approached the can with a relatively open mind. (Plus I was really too sick to have any desire to cook anything from scratch.)
I found the coconut broth tasty--light, aromatic, pleasantly spiced, and remarkably free of any "can" flavor. It tasted even better when I added a lime, a teaspoon of chili oil, and a few leaves of cilantro, but that's true about homemade Tom Kha too. The soup contains shitaki mushrooms, sweet potatoes, green beans, shallots, tofu, and even kaffir lime leaves. The mushrooms were good (and I don't even like shitakes), and the tofu was chewy, but the vegetables were predictably mushy--the carrots, in large slices, being the worst offenders. That said, I ate the contents of the can in one sitting. Cornelius was right--I did feel better.
Overall, a good product, and at 280 calories for a whole can (2 servings) a pretty healthy choice.
Today OCD and Candy and I were downtown for gelato, but got waylaid by waffles. From the outside, Sweet Iron looks like a swanky nightclub. Inside, everything is so clean and shiny and streamlined that we at first suspected it might be a chain (we asked, and it's not). I'm not a fan of the aesthetics of swanky nightclubs or slick corporate cafes, but I am a fan of Sweet Iron's delicious Belgium waffles.
It's immediately clear that a lot of thought has gone into these waffles. We tried a special, The Prosciutto, which was drizzled in crème fraiche, piled high with chopped prosciutto, and garnished with minced green onions. Being a fan of salty meats and rich dairy products, I assumed that the garnishes would demand most of my attention, but surprisingly, the waffle itself took center stage. Thick and dense, Sweet Iron waffles have a pleasing texture that is accentuated by the light crunch of caramelized pearled sugar (imported from Belgium). Definitely a meal in itself, and a good deal at 5.99, especially when you consider that Sweet Iron uses fresh ingredients and buys local and organic when possible. I also sampled the Ice Cream Waffle, which was topped with a veritable ice cream sundae, including Lopez Island Creamery ice cream, delicate whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and sour cherry compote. For 5.99 you get ice cream, and a meal-sized waffle. I’m definitely down with the idea of eating a meal that also happens to include ice cream and whipped cream. We didn’t try the Classic Waffle, but it’s only 2.99 and you can get its chocolate dipped brethren for 3.49. I will be returning.
Also, I’m probably selling the aesthetics of the joint short—I should mention that it has nice high ceilings and there were fresh yellow and red tulips on each table.
You can read The Stranger’s interview with the owners here.