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Making a good vegetable stock has a primal appeal: it’s the vegetarian version of using all parts of the animal. And, while building up flavor from a semi-predictable roster of veggies that need only simmer in water until delicious sounds like it would require less ingenuity than, say, making pigs’ feet taste tasty, I’ve found it to be a challenge.

After reading countless recipes, and reviews thereof, and failing to make broth that rivals its store-bought counterpart, today’s result was encouraging (there have been plenty of mistakes to learn from).

Here’s my take on how to approach broth, given that the whole point is that a hard-and-fast recipe doesn’t square with either the frequent impetus behind broth – wanting to use up leftovers – or the happy reality that there’s many ways to get it right.

Don’t skip the herbs – even if you don’t have fresh ones. Fresh herbs are great – and it’s great to find another use for them after preparing the meal for which they were originally intended – but do head to the spice cabinet if sprigs of thyme and rosemary aren’t at hand. Herbs are an important part of creating a layered and satisfying flavor profile. I was happy with the result of using dried Italian seasoning – oregano, basil, thyme, and marjoram.

Don’t fear the peppercorn.
While I’m sure it can be overdone, I saw a few recipes calling for just 2-4 peppercorns. I used eight peppercorns with a generous 3 quarts of water and it didn’t overwhelm.

Be conservative with the water.
Yes, more stock is better. Yes, that onion is fucking huge and seems like it could successfully perfume the Caspian Sea. And, perhaps the most compelling among reasons to keep adding water, you can keep reducing the stock until it strengthens. However: mess with the flavorings-to-water balance too much and you’ll be hard-pressed to arrive at a tasty stock.

There are fixes for a weak stock. Beyond adding salt and continuing to simmer, here are flavor enhancers you might consider:
1. Miso. This is my favorite by far, bringing savory depth without asserting its own identity too strongly the way soy sauce can.
2. More alliums. Leeks, scallions, garlic, whatever you’ve got – if the broth is anemic, this is a semi-speedy and effective way to get it tasting like real food.
3. Add a splash of wine. Even a part-wine aperitif like Lilllet Blanc works well.

Chop well. The veggies will be discarded so there’s no need to make them bite sized. However, the more surface area you can expose, the more flavor can be leeched from them. So, while it’s kind of thrilling to halve an onion and call it a day, it may be worth doing a bit more breaking down before adding the vegetables to the pot.

The big question I have is if roasting veggies before putting them in water noticeably deepens their flavor.

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Ras el Hanout-Seared Scallop with Carrot Broth and Wilted Spinach

While it seems clear to me that the human digestive tract and teeth are built for eating meat – setting aside increasingly relevant ethical and health concerns like ‘How often?’ and ‘From where?’ – I’m just not a big fan. I generally find the flavor and texture to be overwhelming and even unpleasant (Prosciutto, I wanted to love you).

That being said, I adore seafood. Exposing myself enough times to fish that I began to crave certain favorites has been an exciting journey, from salmon to oysters to uni. (Incidentally, reluctant scallop-eaters should try the amazing dish that a friend’s wife shared in her Contemporary Moroccan Cooking class at The Pantry at Delancey in Seattle: Ras el Hanout-Seared Scallops with Carrot Broth and Wilted Spinach. You sear the scallop after dredging it in a freshly toasted and ground mix of spices, then serve it in a pool of sauce with spinach wilted in a little olive oil. The sauce is the magic: you reduce 16oz of fresh carrot juice, 1/2 cup white wine, and minced shallots for 30 min, then whisk in 5 TBSP of butter very slowly, piece by piece.)

At the end of the day, though, there are certain foods I’m almost always in the mood for. Cheese is #1 – a modest hill of extra sharp cheddar and water crackers, spinach-green chile enchiladas, green pepper and olive Round Table pizza, etc. #2 is a family of side dishes that follow the formula of VEGGIE + NUT + FRUIT. Here are some of my favorite combos:

  • Broccoli, red grape, and almond salad

Toss halved grapes, broccoli florets (blanched for 1 min first if raw broccoli sounds like a lot of chewing), and toasted almonds (slivered or sliced) with a mixture of mayo, yogurt, garlic salt, pepper and a dash of rice wine vinegar.

  • Swiss chard with pine nuts and raisins

Soak 1/4 cup raisins in 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar for at least 10 min. Cut the ribs from a bunch of Swiss chard and chop the leaves roughly. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat and a minced clove of garlic and chard leaves, cooking for 2 min. Add the raisins and vinegar, cooking until leaves are fully wilted, about 2 min. Season, sprinkle with 3 TBSP toasted pine nuts, and serve hot.

  • Delicata squash with pecans and chives

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half the long way, then cut each half into scalloped arches about 1/2 in thick (the skin is thin enough to eat). Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in the oven until softened and slightly brown. Toss with toasted pecan pieces, finely cut chives, and a little more olive oil.

  • Arugula, hazelnut, and strawberry salad

If not already toasted, put hazelnuts in a pan over medium heat and dry toast them (no oil or nonstick spray) until they are fragrant and beginning to color up, removing immediately from the pan to prevent burning. Whisk together a simple vinaigrette that won’t overwhelm the ingredients. Add the baby arugula, sliced strawberries, and hazelnuts and toss to combine.

What’s nice about the “fruit + veggie/herb + nut” approach is that you can turn most of these from side dish to light entree by introducing a grain. I like quinoa or bulgur since they cook quickly and have a good amount of fiber (and because I’m horrible at cooking rice).

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Get thee to this fishery!

Until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I’d never eat canned fish, taking it  as a given that fresh beat tinned any day of the week. While I don’t fault former  me for the visual assessment – truly, it can look a whole lot like Fancy Feast – I  was seriously off base in terms of the high ceiling for overall quality. I  mean, I didn’t even know that whole fillets (vs. homogenous shreds) could  be canned, which better preserves the integrity of the fish’s texture and  flavor.

Much like frozen vegetables can be tastier and more full of nutrition  than out-of-season grocery store purchases since they’re often iced up so soon after being harvested, canned fish can allow a delicious, just-caught fish to enter a similar kind of suspension – meaning that it’s fresh as can be once you pop the top.

While tuna is pretty good if you find a nice brand, salmon is generally better for you (more Omega-3s, less mercury) and more sustainable (be sure to buy wild salmon).  It has a more complex flavor, too, for me – a delicate sweetness adds subtlety to the dominant oceanic heft.

The large concentration of local fisheries along the Oregon and Washington coast means that markets here are lousy with high quality canned salmon, but you can generally order them online, too, if you know where to look. My two favorite brands are Loki Fish Co. and Ecola Seafoods (which has smoked fish offerings, too).

A fancy feast, indeed.

A fancy feast, indeed.

Recipes-wise, below is a recent favorite that is adaptable to most veggies or nuts you have on hand. Note that jars of hearts of palm can be pricey so seek out a Trader Joe’s if you have one nearby.

Really good salmon salad

Serves 2 (entree portions)

  • 2 cups greens (I prefer baby spinach since the mild flavor complements the assertive salmon salad)
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced
  •  olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 can whole wild salmon (I get it sans skin and bones)
  • 3/4 cup chopped hearts of palm
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (dry toasted, then chopped coarsely)
  • chopped cilantro to taste
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • a splash of rice wine vinegar (you can use lemon or lime juice, too, but just a half or it’ll be too tart)
  • 2 TBSP mayo
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 and place baguette slices on cookie sheet, drizzling lightly with olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes or until nicely browned.

Place walnuts in a small pan and toast over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until walnuts become fragrant and have just begun to visibly brown.

Add mayo to the bottom of a medium bowl. Drain salmon and add to bowl, flaking it as you mix. Add in chopped tomatoes, hearts of palm, walnuts, and cilantro, tossing lightly to combine.

Mound spinach on two plates, topping with salmon salad, with 3-4 crostini fanned out on one side.

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Have you ever been hungover and driving home and had the realization “I can eat TACO BELL” wash over you in joyful cascades like angels methodically bathing each other in ambrosia? Monday was such a day for me, following a friend’s wedding in Saratoga Springs.

While the plan was ultimately derailed by Siri – who was only able to tell me of Taco Bell locations nearby, but not those directly off the highway – and I ended up eating a spinach stromboli (followed by, um, a slice of cheese pizza) – I was lucky enough to stumble across the below Yelp review while hot on the trail of Mexican pizza and Seven-Layer Burritos:

“Drive thru gets a little backed up late at night especially when there is a show at Northern Lights. The food is very well made and extremely hot. Special requests are accommodated easily. Friendly workers.” – Mike L.

How did I not know or assume people reviewed fast food restaurants?! While the impulse to review a local Taco Bell eludes me, the review itself seems like it could be helpful to the discerning local eater. I love the idea of ‘well prepared’ and ‘extremely hot’ being the ultimate criteria for culinary success.

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So, apparently an eventful summer is not super-conducive to writing things down. Here is a patchy reel of gastronomic happenings from the last few months:

Fun to find a savory recipe for a springform pan. This mix of pasta, cheese, peas, and mint – pleasingly odd-looking when cut into slices – is compliments of Bon Appetit:

A trip to Kauai in September involved an embarrassment of raw tuna and some freshly cleaved coconut:

This fine half-pounder of tuna, seaweed, and sesame oil came from Foodland’s (convincingly recommended) poke bar which had at least 15 different cold seafood salads on offer. I ate this over the course of a couple of days with cold beer and macadamia nuts.

Near Ke’e Beach on the North Shore. I also tried the younger coconut, more popular with locals, which is mild and has a jelly-like texture (unlike the meaty, shreddable heft of mature coconut flesh).

This was one of the best at-home salmon meals so far: arugula salad, simple, grilled salmon, and homemade versions of potato chips, tartar sauce, and pickled red onions for sides.

At $6/lb, very fresh, and the perfect size to feed two, rainbow trout was the grill favorite of the summer. Stuffed generously with cilantro, lemon slices, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Here’s the trout topped with a gremolata of coarsely crushed roasted almonds, lemon juice (and some minced rind), olive oil, and cilantro.

Nature’s Easter eggs! Almost too whimsical to be true. These are from a farmstand somewhere between Seattle and La Conner, WA.

Summer brought a BBQ to the balcony. Shrimp grilling in their shells for maximum flavor.

Habanero gazpacho with crab and chives. This was really, really good.

The Leavenworth area was lousy with early-season pears (and sprinklers to water them, perfect for frolicking).

Lobster mushroom. This appealing monster was toothsome and flavorful cooked with butter and swiss chard.







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Here is the savory Swiss chard tart I tried to trick out today and messed up to an as-yet-undetermined degree (it’s still cooling):


The tart-damning modification that kicked off a series of issues was the decision to use my new springform pan. I thought: oh yes! Geological layers of beautiful food – plus I won’t need or want to have a full pie crust’s worth of dough!

So, to make the layer idea happen, I placed jewel-like nubs of roasted squash on top of the Swiss chard mixture before pouring the cream fraiche and egg concoction on top to finish the tart.

It looked like soft orange ships had been wrecked in a sea of dairy – not pretty. But the true trouble started when white liquid began dripping from bottom of the pan, around the edges.

Why did no one tell me spring form pans aren’t water-tight? Isn’t the point of them that you can make molded things in the oven then, voila, remove the sides and serve? Once my sad lunch labor springs free, I will have to investigate if I assembled it wrong or if I just misunderstood the concept of the pan.

The one good modification I made to the recipe was to add in mushrooms in a new way, a duxelle. (Thanks to Peachie Keen for the hot tip.) This French mushroom preparation involves dicing mushrooms really finely then throwing them in a pan with a little butter, minced shallot, and an acid of some kind (vinegar or lemon juice seem popular). The idea is that the mushrooms release all their moisture, which you cook away, and are then left with a rich, savory paste. The end product would be as delicious as part of an entree ensemble (as in this tart) but also could be an egg dish protagonist. I’ll probably add this to risotto right before serving, too.

Finding out about duxelle is incredibly exciting not just because it will make the dish better but because I have found a way to enjoy mushrooms. I’m all about their flavor – it’s the rubbery, molar-slippage texture that I find revolting.

Time to try the tart…

Forensic evidence below:

Duxelle prep

Layering on the squash

Swiss chard (stems and leaves), duxelle, and Gruyere

Squash shipwrecked on dairy seas. MAY DAY.

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