Freeze your carcass! (And make broth)

I’m snowed in! First we got snow; then we got freezing rain; then more snow. Frosted ice! Here’s the view out my kitchen window..

So nothing sounded better than putting a big pot on the stove to simmer all day. I’ve actually been collecting the ingredients for a good broth for months now. Back in October, I made Chinese chicken wings; for my recipe, you don’t use the wing tips, so I cut them off and froze them (a dozen of them!). Then, a couple of weeks later, I boned some chicken breasts and poached them; I threw the raw bones into a freezer bag. My big Christmas turkey ended up, picked clean, down to a bag of bones in the freezer. And when I cut up Rex the Rabbit for braising, I ended up with some bits and pieces of backbone, also bagged and frozen. Into the pot!–raw and cooked, chicken, turkey, and rabbit.

Stock is made basically from bones, bones, and bones (cooked, roasted, or raw),  with enough water to cover them. Add a mirepoix, which is just a mixture of chopped onions, carrots, and celery (equal to about one-fifth by weight of the bones). Simmer forever! Then in the last 30 minutes or so, add a sachet of bay leaf, parsley stems, cracked pepper, thyme, and garlic clove. I cooked my stock for a total of about seven hours, skimming it and stirring it occasionally. I added no salt; since I had brined the turkey, it had salt enough. Then I strained it through cheesecloth. I ended up with almost two gallons of stock!

With this mix of ingredients, it’s not an elegant stock, but very flavorful. I used a big ladle of it to make a soup for my early dinner, with frozen peas and toasted croutons made from last week’s rustic bread. I ate it sitting in my warm and fragrant kitchen, watching my icy garden slip into darkness.

Rex the Rabbit (Cacciatore)

This week I once again found myself with that restless urge to cook up something new. Rummaging around in my freezer, I pulled out a package from my Lefever Holbrook Ranch meat delivery: “rabbit ‘Rex’ 2.5 lbs.” Poor old Rex!–I may have scratched his ears back in September when I visited Paulette and her kids on the ranch. Rex wasn’t his name, of course–it was his breed, developed in France in the early 20th century. And now that I think about it, the rabbit I met in Goldendale did have a Gallic air about him, holding me with his dark gaze as I stroked his plush velvet coat.

The whole rabbit family on Paulette’s ranch is pretty cosmopolitan; here’s Madison with one of the babies (“kits”), whose mother was a New Zealand (in spite of its name, first bred in Mexico, also around the early 20th century) and whose father was our friend Rex. (You’d recognize a New Zealand–a big fluffy albino white rabbit with ears that blush pink.) Since rabbits raised for meat are often harvested at two months old, and I got my order from the ranch at the end of November, I’m now thinking that my Rex was actually Rex fils, one of these September kits.

With Rex now defrosting on my kitchen counter, I feel an unexpected pang. I know the usual things about him that I want to know about the food that I eat: where he came from, who raised him, how he was raised. But this time I know him.

Why am I a carnivore? Like you, I’ve read any number of articles about the need to eat lower on the food chain–much less meat and more fruits, grains, and vegetables. For one thing, it’s easier on the environment; it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and methane gas from farm animals accounts for around 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Also, we’d show some shred of solidarity with the other seven billion of us on the planet–we can’t all eat this way, so maybe none of us should. And then of course it’s easier on the animals!

But eating meat runs deep. When I was growing up in South Texas, we had meat at almost every meal. Ham and bacon. Plenty of beef–pot roast, steaks, hamburger in all of its chameleon forms. Chicken, the noble yard bird!–I remember helping my grandmother slaughter and clean them for Sunday supper.

We got some of this meat by hunting. I went a few times, but my father and brothers went every year. My dad had an old Scout (precursor to the now ubiquitous SUV!) welded and bolted into a hunting machine–braces for standing up to scan across the mesquite brush for quarry, gun racks, a ball-mount tow-hitch to pull his beat-up old jeep behind them. In early fall, before the break of day, they would load up the bird dogs and head out to their lease to hunt quail and white-wing dove. In November, they went off for long weekends to the hunting camp, getting up early every day to hike out to their stand and sit silently for hours watching for a deer to emerge from the dawn shadows and mist.

If they got their shot, on the way back home they would stop at Gafford’s grocery store to leave the dressed animal in a rented freezer locker. It was a tradition in our family that my dad would share his deer with a Mexican woman who worked with him, and then a few days before Christmas, she and her family would bring us venison tamales!–Dozens and dozens of them. To this day, when I am home for the holidays we have chili and tamales for our Christmas Eve meal.

So eating meat, for many of us, is part of who we are, where we came from, how we savor the earth’s bounty together. Do we need to become vegetarians or even vegans? I can imagine getting there (or at least getting close) some day, but for now I just try to choose and prepare my food as thoughtfully as I can.

So, I’m still a carnivore, though I hope a more minimal and mindful one. And today I braised poor Rex alla Cacciatora (hunter style). He was delicious!

Rabbit Stew (recipe from the New York Times, January 4th, 2012)

  • 1 whole rabbit (2 1/2 to 3 lbs.)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, for dusting
  • 2 cups onions, finely diced
  • 2 cups leeks, finely diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften drained and finely chopped (save the liquid to add to the sauce)
  • 8 oz. cremini or portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used portobellos)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
  1. 1. Cut up the rabbit; the directions were complicated, but basically you want more or less the same pieces you’d get with a chicken–a breast (you can split it into two pieces), two front legs, a back, and two back legs (possibly split into two pieces each–thigh and drumstick, more or less).
  2. Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep, wide heavy skillet over medium heat. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour. Lightly brown the rabbit for about 3 minutes o both sides, working in batches. Drain on kitchen towels, then transfer to a baking dish in one layer. Heat over to 375 degrees.
  3. Pour off the used oil, wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons fresh oil. Heat to medium-high, add the onions and cook till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, rosemary and mushrooms. Season generously with salt and pepper; add red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and wine, and let the mixture reduce for 1 minute. Add the broth and mushroom liquid, bring to a simmer, taste and adjust the seasoning (but remember that the red pepper flakes will get hotter).
  5. Ladle the mixture evenly over the rabbit. Cover the dish, and bake for 1 hour. Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

I ate my first serving on a bed of fettucini. Tomorrow I might serve it on rice. Or potatoes? Or just a big slice of beautiful rustic bread.

Cooking Anne Hilton’s Christmas chapbook

My friend Anne made a chapbook of vegetarian recipes for her mother’s Christmas present this year, and I was lucky enough to get a copy too! Entirely handcrafted, “from paper cutting and ink mixing to typesetting and the actual printing,” this little chapbook took me back to my first glimpse, in some dimly remembered college course, of the complicated construction of early letterpress books. Preparing the paper and ink, assembling the type into forms for each page and color, making each impression– every single stage calls for huge care and precision.. And no trivial task, either, to get from a flat sheet of paper to a folded booklet! (Try it! Using these pictures as a guide, take a sheet of printer paper, mark off one side into eight sections, and fold yourself a copy of Anne’s book.)  Anne tells me that the whole project took more than 100 hours of work.

The project also weaves together threads of the story of Anne and her mother; Anne explains that “while I was living in Korea, my mother sent me a book of vegetarian recipes for Christmas one year that she had written by hand. I still have and use that book, so I wanted to return the favor.” What could make a better gift?  The Korean character on the over of the chapbook means “good fortune, luck, or happiness;” Through her craftsmanship, I think Anne has made a little bit of all three–certainly luck for me!

Turning through the booklet, I noticed a recipe for “seitan” and green bean curry. Seitan?–Never heard of it. (At what point will I stop running into new ingredients?) Seitan, it turns out, is seasoned wheat protein–essentially, a very dense reduction of wheat gluten. (Not for everybody, obviously.) Look for it in the same case as tofu. Some people consider it “meat-like;” I bought a version called “chicken-style.” (I used to scoff at vegetarians who ate “pretend meat”–think veggie-burgers–but the more I learn about the costs of diets like my own Texas-size carnivore fare, the more inclined I am to explore alternatives. If a plant food can satisfy a meat craving, so much the better!)

This recipe came from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, one of numerous excellent cookbooks put out by the famous Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, NY. I went ahead and bought the book, but you can also find the recipe online (for instance in Google Books).

Here’s your list of ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped (~2 cups)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh chile, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
  • 4 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (~3 to 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound seitan, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • toasted unsalted cashew nuts

This dish is essentially a stir-fry; you want to have all these ingredients ready to go, so that you can work rapidly. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes before adding the chile or cayenne, garam masala, and cumin. Stirring, sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the green beans, then the seitan, and mix well. Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk, and water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the beans are firm-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve topped with toasted cashews for a nice contrast in texture. It came out very nicely! Instead of rice, I cooked farro to go with the curry. Farro (also called emmer) is also a new food for me, although I gather that it is an ancient grain, even collected in the wild by pre-agrarian people as long as 17,000 years ago. My farro, though, was grown by Lentz Spelt Farms from Foundation Seed in arid eastern Washington, in Marlin over by Moses Lake.

This is not a demanding dish to prepare! But as I cooked, I thought about Anne’s mother writing down recipes for her to cook in Korea, and about eighteen hippies in Ithaca, NY forming a collective back in 1973 in to celebrate vegetarian fare, and about Washington farmers carrying forward the life of an ancient grain, and about Anne spending 100 hours crafting her chapbook. And as I serve dinner, I break into a grin: “we made this!”

(By the way, Anne also has a food blog!–be sure to visit her!)

Sauerkraut on the menu for a hearty autumn dinner

I never really went for sauerkraut. I love cabbage a dozen ways–steamed, or rolled around a filling and baked in a sauce, or blanketed with cheese, or shredded raw in a slaw or taco filling. But fermented?–No thanks.

Then my friend Bob Rose introduced me to Pleasant Valley Farms organic sauerkraut, made just an hour’s drive north of here in the Skagit Valley. Here’s Bob standing in front of the operation’s fermentation tanks, near La Conner. (Pleasant Valley Farms has a great story of its own, by the way; stay tuned for an upcoming post about it.)

Love this sauerkraut! Tangy cabbage, not lumpy vinegar. Crisp and crunchy, not limp and slimy. Here’s the entire list of ingredients: organic cabbage, organic cabbage juices, water, and salt. That’s it. As it says on the package, “made the old-fashioned way.”

So I can add one more food product to my growing list of those that taste completely different when fresh or prepared authentically. Ever taste canned asparagus?–Don’t. Still shaking Parmesan from the green can?–Stop; buy a block of the real stuff and grate it yourself. And go get some of this great kraut. You can get it at Whole Foods now; look for it in its plastic pouch in the refrigerated case (and store it in your fridge at home).

After my Thanksgiving cook-a-thon (timelines! flowcharts!), I got interested again in the problem of recipes for whole meals, not just single dishes. So here is one way to use this sauerkraut in a very nice dinner for a chilly autumn evening!

Bratwurst with sauerkraut and beets on their own greens

Start about an hour and a half before you want to eat.

Preheat your oven to 425°. Choose beets (leafy tops intact) that are about the same size, so that they will cook evenly. (I used organic red beets from Ralph’s Greenhouse, also from the Skagit Valley!) Cut the greens off your beets (leaving a short stub) but don’t peel the beets or cut off their tails. (I gather that the stubs and tails help keep them from leaking juice during the roasting.) Rub them with a little olive oil, wrap them in aluminum foil, and roast them for about an hour. (When they are done, you will be able to pierce them easily with a sharp knife.)

After you get the beets in the oven, put the beet greens to soak in a bowl (or sink) of cold water. (At this point, you now have about an hour to kill.)

After the beets are roasted (say after you’ve watched the news), put them on a plate to cool and start the bratwurst. Bring a pan of water to a simmer, add the brats, and let them simmer for about 20-25 minutes. (Don’t boil them!–The casing will split open). Turn them over every so often.

After you’ve gotten the brats going, make a vinaigrette for the beets. Mince a clove of garlic, then add a half-teaspoon of kosher salt on top. Smear the garlic and salt around with the side of a knife-blade until you have a paste. Put it in a small bowl and mix it with a half-teaspoon of a nice coarse (country-style) dijon mustard and a tablespoon of good vinegar. (I used a nice sherry vinegar.) Then, whisking like crazy, add three tablespoons of a good olive oil. (I fill a tablespoon with oil, then rest that hand on the rim of the bowl and let the oil drizzle in as I whisk with the other hand. Then repeat twice.) Set the vinaigrette aside for now to let the flavors blend.

Chop about a quarter-cup of walnuts; toast them if you want to in a dry skillet (but watch them like a hawk because they burn easily).

Then, put a steamer-basket in a saucepan, add water up to the bottom of the steamer basket, and bring the water to a boil.  While you wait for the water to boil, take the beet greens out of the cold water they’ve been soaking in, trim about an inch off the bottoms of the stems, then cut the stems on the bias into pieces an inch or so long. Cut the leaves across their width into ribbons about an inch wide (in cooking school they tell me this is a chiffonade.)

Close to the end of the wurst’s simmer, heat up a skillet, turn the heat to medium-low,  and add a little oil. When the sausage is done, transfer it to the skillet and turn it occasionally as it browns nicely.

While the brat is browning, turn the heat to low under the saucepan with the steamer basket, add the beet stems, and cover the pot. After about five minutes, add the leaves and cover. Cook until the stems are tender and the leaves are wilted but still have nice texture and color. (When are they done? Nibble on a leaf and stem!–Cook them until they are the texture you like. I cooked mine about five more minutes after adding the leaves.)

As the brat continues to brown and the beet greens cook, rub the skins, stem stubs, and tails off your roasted beets. (Just rub them with your hands!–The skin slides right off.) Slice them into rounds and toss the rounds with some of the walnuts and vinaigrette. (Whisk the dressing again if it has separated.) Put the sauerkraut in a microwave-safe bowl and zap it until it is steaming-hot. (Add caraway seeds or dill seeds if you like, but it is great by itself!)

Everything ready? Make two beds on your plate, one of sauerkraut and one of beet greens. Put the bratwurst on the sauerkraut and the dressed beet slices on the greens. Add some of the dijon mustard to the brat if you like. Sprinkle the beets with the rest of the chopped walnuts.

Pour yourself a German beer or a sturdy red wine and enjoy!

Old friends and great food in Bozeman

For years, way before I’d ever given the least thought to learning how to cook, I spent many a weekend evening sitting at my friend Carolyn’s kitchen counter, glass of wine in hand, chatting with friends while she prepared us a great dinner. Then she and Barrie deserted Seattle for Bozeman!–What now?

Well, seven years without dinner is too long, so my friend Mary and I hopped a plane for a  weekend visit. Back in Carolyn’s kitchen once again! She’s a planner, so by the time we got there she already had her mise pretty much en place; while she put the finishing touches on her delicious chicken and squash tagine, our tasks amounted to the old ones of chat and sip.

I’ve become a city person; from the deck off my kitchen, I can touch the magnolia that shades my whole back garden, and I can nod at my neighbors digging in their vegetable plot a few feet away on the other side of my trellis fence. Barrie and Carolyn offer an entirely different proposition!-We are in the West now. Here’s my friend Mary, pouring herself a judicious glass of wine for dinner, in front of the sweeping backdrop that is Barrie and Carolyn’s back yard. And here are Barrie and Carolyn themselves, about to tuck into our dinner spread. I took the seat on this side of the table, looking across the dip and swell of the field to the blue edge of the mountains in the distance, so I could savor the dinner and the view as well.

(An aside: among their many talents, Barrie and Carolyn are musicians, and lately they’ve been performing with a Bozeman group called the DupliKates. Check it out!–Carolyn’s in the straw hat and slacks and Barrie’s behind that post on keyboard.)

Carolyn shared her recipe (below) for the chicken and squash tagine, which she actually made in a Dutch oven. Delicious! I’ll make it myself soon and let you know if I do as good a job as she did. But before I go, I just have to tell you about the next couple of days that Carolyn and Mary and I spent in Yellowstone Park!-A first for me. Have you seen pictures of Old Faithful?–I took some too, but it struck me as the tamest of the park’s features. The acres of steaming, muttering pools and vents that perforate the thin crust of the ground make the world seem about two days old! The commentary on the interpretive boards carries the ominous news that the timing or force of the numerous geysers has been altered repeatedly (and recently) by explosive releases of pent-up pressure. As I take in this information, I’m standing with say a dozen other people on a boardwalk over a pool of boiling water swelling up from a black worm-hole that coils down who knows how deep. Faintly, the question forms . . . is this a good idea?

The water in Yellowstone pounds down as well as boiling up. Before we left the park, we also climbed a few hundred steps down a metal stairway bolted to the side of a mountain to get a head-on view of the magnificent Lower Falls–then the next day walked to the platform at the top of the Falls (barely visible at the top right edge) for a top-down look.  So before I go back to my kitchen, I’ll leave you with this uncharacteristically outdoorsy shot of myself!

Carolyn’s Chicken and Squash Tagine

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Moroccan spice mixture (see recipe below)
  • 2 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and drumsticks), skinned
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, cut into wedges
  • 6 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
  • 5 to 6 threads saffron, crushed
  • One 2-1/2 to 3-pound butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley

Directions

  • Prepare the Moroccan spice mixture. Rub the chicken pieces with 1 tablespoon of it.
  • In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Add the chicken. Cook, uncovered, for 6 to 8 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove chicken.
  • Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the Dutch oven. Add the onions, garlic, and saffron. Cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  • Add the squash. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture; toss.
  • Add the chicken and broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Add the raisins; cover and cook for 10 to 25 minutes more until the chicken is done and squash is tender.
  • Meanwhile, make couscous. (You can find it with the rice and other grains in your grocery store; follow the directions on the box.)
  • To serve, put the couscous on your serving platter and top with the chicken mixture. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with parsley.

Moroccan spice mixture (makes about 3 tablespoons):

  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper

Cooking Becky Selengut: Seared scallops with carrot cream

Becky Selengut sears a mean scallop! In her fantastic new cookbook, Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast, she divides the world of fish into shellfish, finfish, and littlefish & eggs, and under shellfish has a whole five-recipe section devoted just to scallops. The recipes proceed from easy to advanced, so I decided to tackle the middle one:  scallops with carrot cream and marjoram. Here’s what Becky’s version looked like. (Becky, don’t ever fire your food stylist (Clare Barboza)!–This is just one of dozens of mouthwatering shots of beautifully prepared seafood.)

The scallops section opens with a two-page spread devoted to tips for searing scallops. (You can also go to the video: www.goodfishbook.com.) I’m scared of high heat, so I really meditated on this tip sheet. Plus, I’ve never cooked a scallop in my (long, long) life!–But we’ll be fine; just listen to Becky.

Let’s take stock here. To cook this dish, we are going to make a carrot cream, we are going to pickle some carrot strips, we are going to make an herb oil, and to top it off we are going to garnish the whole thing with some fresh marjoram leaves. And of course cook our scallops! Becky’s recipe talks about the herb oil last, but (partly to postpone the showdown with the scallops) I’m going to move it up ahead of cooking the shellfish.

Carrot cream

This part is easy. And I can think of a dozen different uses for it–keep this one on hand. Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 lb. of carrots, peeled and cut into a large dice (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the carrots and salt into a medium saucepan, cover them with water, bring the pot to a boil, and cook until the carrot pieces are tender (7 or 8 minutes). (I turned the heat down a bit once they began to boil.) Drain them, put them in a blender with the cream and pepper, and blend them until you have a very smooth purée. That’s it! Set them aside until you are ready to plate the scallops.

Pickled carrots

Now on to our pickled carrots. Once again, easy. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 large carrot, sliced into short ribbons using a vegetable peeler (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

Actually, I tried using a vegetable peeler, but I didn’t get the nice fat shavings that look so great in the photo, so instead I used the slicing option on a box grater; it worked great. (I decided to put off worrying about how they made those cool curls.) The other thing to note is that “seasoned rice wine vinegar” is an off-the-shelf product. After fretting about how to season it, I just went to the store–no problem, there it is on the shelf in the ethnic section. Marinate the carrots for at least 20 minutes, then drain (save the vinegar for another purpose) and set aside until time to assemble the dish. Actually, as you’ll see, I ended up leaving the carrots in the vinegar for several days; still delicious. (These carrots would also be a nice garnish for an antipasto plate or appetizer spread, with pepperoncinis and other vinegary treats.)

Marjoram leaves

This has been a bad summer for my garden (sun? heat? no such luck). But my back deck does better than anyplace else in the garden, so my herb pots are flourishing. Which means I strolled out to the deck and pinched off a generous handful of fresh parsley and marjoram leaves for the herb oil and the garnish. Nice.

Herb oil

On to the herb oil. What you need:

  • 3/4 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil, like canola or safflower
  • pinch of salt

In a blender, combine the parsley, marjoram, olive oil, vegetable oil, and salt. Blend until the oil turns a vibrant green color, about 3 minutes. You can strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer if you’d like, or leave it with some texture. Transfer it to a bowl or squeeze bottle.

My blender isn’t the greatest, so I don’t think I got the mix as completely emulsified as Becky intended. But, because I had a delay of a couple of days in the middle of finishing this recipe, the bright-green oil separated from the chopped leaves, and I was able to spoon some clear oil off the top of the little bowl. (Becky talks about variations on this recipe and explains why she uses the two kinds of oil, but hey, buy the book! You’ll be happy you did, and I’m ready to get on with searing these scallops.)

Seared scallops

What you need:

  • 1 pound sea scallops
  • salt (Becky uses sea salt; I used kosher) and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon high-heat vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil)

Here we go. Becky’s instructions: “To prepare the scallops, dry them with paper towels. Place them on a plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Add the vegetable oil and, when it is really hot, carefully add the scallops to the pan, being careful not to splatter oil on yourself or crowd the pan with too many scallops. Cook the scallops for 2 minutes on one side without disturbing them, or until they are caramelized, then flip, cooking the other side for only a minute or so more.” Before you get going, watch the video; it helps a lot.

I didn’t (the first time through). Plus, I did exactly what she warns us not to do–I dialed down the heat before I even put the scallops in the pan. So, to get some color on them, I left them in there for oh four minutes or so. Rubber! Say hello to the most expensive erasers you ever saw.

But let’s move on. A few days later (carrot cream, pickled carrots, and herb oil waiting in the fridge) I tried again. The second try was not bad; I still didn’t have the pan hot enough to get a really thorough sear on both sides, but they tasted pretty good. So I went for one more try, this time using grapeseed oil and my heaviest cast-iron skillet. Fire it up to high!–Don’t flinch! (I found it helpful to yell “Gaaaaa!” as my bare fingers placed the scallops into the slightly smoking pan.) Still not as pretty as Becky’s picture, but closer. And they had more crunch and texture, plus I swear they tasted sweeter and brinier for it.

So now to attempt to copy Becky’s fantastic presentation. It turns out that you can make the carrot strips curl by . . . well, curling them up. Once you anchor them in the carrot cream, they don’t uncurl too much, and look very pretty. Spoon on some oil, scatter some marjoram leaves. And then eat!

(Thanks, Becky, for giving me permission to clutz my way through your recipe in public. Everybody, look for Becky’s classes at PCC and elsewhere. You can also follow her link on my blogroll or go straight to her own site.)

Grilled pork loin with Bittman glaze and broiled tomatoes

Clear skies, temperatures finally above the 60’s!–Tonight I just had to grill! But grill what?

When I stopped at Rain Shadow Meats last week, in addition to my pork fat I also got a pork tenderloin (from the same provider, Carlton Farms in Oregon). And last Monday when I was up at La Conner Flats in Skagit Valley, I got four beautiful early tomatoes and a nice head of lettuce. Plus, think back–do you remember Mark Bittman’s glazed lamb ribs?–I made more glaze than I needed, so I had a tiny bit stashed in the freezer (I’m cheap).

So let’s pull something together! This morning I nuked the glaze, then brushed the pork loin with it and put it in the fridge to marinate. Come dinner time, I cut the almost over-ripe tomatoes in half across the equator and salted and peppered them. Then I went out to my herb pot on the deck and cut a big sprig of “spicy hot” oregano, chopped up the leaves, and sprinkled them on the tomatoes. Finally, I drizzled the tomato halves with my Portuguese olive oil. Ready to broil.

Next, I oiled my gas grill and fired it up to the max. I slapped on the pork loin and grilled it on its four sides about three minutes a side, then pulled it off and tented it with foil while I broiled the tomatoes. (It had nice color but needed to continue cooking under the foil for just a few minutes. I like pork pink in the middle; otherwise, it gets dry.) Taste?–The glaze had a sweet note from the honey, and the spicier flavors (coriander, fennel, vinegar) worked really well with the smoke of the grill.

So then I broiled the tomatoes for a few minutes, watching the whole time and pulling them out as soon as the oregano crisped up and they got some color (I didn’t grill them because I was afraid that they would lose structure and fall into the fire. They were ripe!)

Then I put down a crisp leaf of La Conner Flats lettuce, topped it with some tomatoes, and added some big curls of Parmesano-Reggiano cheese. I added a few slices of the pork tenderloin, and done!–I had a very nice dinner.

On a day like today when the evening news is absolutely soul-killing, it is comforting to enjoy a simple meal made from beautiful ingredients that are the products of intelligence and labor and care. Bon appetit!