Soba valentine.

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Winter is drinking out of mugs and eating from bowls. Winter is Valentine’s Day- we say we don’t like it but love it anyways. Winter is the scarf you knit in eighth grade and still wear; it’s remembering and nesting. And, as it happens, winter is finding the last delicata squash, sweet and tender and golden, in a picked-over bin at the market. Which is what happened this past week and is what leads me to soba.

This recipe employs a lean winter larder- seaweed, soba, kale, squash- and a bit of memory. When I was in high school, I spent some time as a foreign exchange student in Japan. My first bite on the mainland was that of soba. It was summer, and the soba was hot, and I was jetlagged in an Ambien-induced haze. Needless to say, soba was not particularly impressive to my sixteen year-old self; it would take a nudge from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, seaweed, and a little pantry desperation to make me reconsider the earthy, buckwheat soba noodle.

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Living near the ocean in Seattle makes me want to try new things. Maybe that’s why unbelievably ridiculous shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World happen on the beach. The expanse of unknown water, the strange little creatures that make their way onto the shore, the barnacles and salt; I’d like to think that, though oceanic nudging, I’ve become a new-found devotee of many new things, including soba. (Other subjects- thigh tattoos, double IPAs, purposeful hipster mullets- are still under debate.)

In recent times, soba has gone mainstream and you’ll find it in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores. Watch it when you’re boiling the noodles; cooked too long soba will be as bland and mushy as boiled cardboard noodles. Cooked al dente and seasoned while still warm and soba takes on a new identity: buttery, complex, and beautifully supple.

So, soba, tonight for Valentine’s Day dinner when you ask me to remember you and to cook and to love you, I will check “yes.” You taste exotic and yet comforting, humble and rich. You absorb flavors like no other noodle and you soften tough vegetables like kale and seaweed. It’s nice to dine with you again. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! ❤

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Soba with Seaweed and Delicata Squash

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango” from Plenty.

Serves four.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, cored and sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (such as canola oil)
  • 1/2 large red onion, very thinly sliced
  • small bunch of lacinato kale, roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces / 3 bunches dried soba noodles
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 sheets dried seaweed laver, cut in strips
  • handful of fresh cilantro and/or parsley, chopped
  • handful black sesame seeds and/or peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, toss delicata squash rounds with  1/4 cup brown sugar, canola oil, and a hefty pinch of salt. Pour out onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally , until squash is crisp and caramelized.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Make the dressing by combining vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger , sesame oil, and lemon zest and juice in a jar. Shake jar until sugar dissolves and liquids emulsify.

Cook the soba noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. While the noodles are still warm, place in a large bowl and toss with dressing, cooked squash, onions, kale, some of the seaweed, and most of the herbs. Garnish with remaining seaweed, remaining herbs, and peanuts and serve warm.

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Citrus salad with black pepper and tarragon.

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Helloo-oh, it’s winter. And Seattle has had some dark, short days. When I moved here this past summer, I selectively forgot about latitude, sun patterns, and the winter solstice. Why would a southern girl ever need to remember things like that? Evidently, it’s important in the Pacific Northwest. Evidently, it’s why the vampires from the Twilight series live in a town near me.

But (non-vampire) people have survived this far north for decades, centuries; I must be able to adopt the evolutionary adaptations that Seattlites use to cope with pasty skin and seven months of darkness, right? From my initial observations I’ve found that some days you have ginger cookies and milk for lunch. Some days (ahem, all days) you take hour-long baths. Some days you kayak and/or hike in the snow and/or rain. Every day you eat well.

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Never before have I been in a place that loves its seasonal food as much as the Pacific Northwest does. Winter is no excuse for bland colors. Instead, the markets burst with sunny persimmons, dark green lacinato kale and seaweed, silver-gilded oyster mushrooms, temptingly red endives, and citrus, their oranges, reds, and yellows like sweet, fragrant winter suns.

When our winter began in November, I made this citrus salad with grapefruit, tangerines, and pomegranate seeds. It was simple  and bright, a challenge to the months of gray to come. As winter has progressed, I’ve added a splash of sultry blood oranges, bit of freshly ground black pepper, handful of allspice. I need this salad like I need Vitamin D; in all its peppery, herbaceous lightness, it’s edible sun.

Postscript: As I write to you the sun is out in Seattle. In fact, the past week has been wonderfully, surprisingly sunny (three days of [foggy] sun! Sun, people!) Coincidence? I think not. Thank you, citrus salad.

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Citrus Salad with Black Pepper and Tarragon

Feel free to make this salad your own with different fresh herbs, spices, and types of citrus. For balanced flavor and pleasing visual appearance, pick types of seedless citrus with different levels of bitterness and varied interior colors.

Serves four, with leftovers for breakfast.

  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves, split in two bowls
  • 2 blood oranges
  • 2 mandarin oranges, navel oranges, or tangerines
  • 1 pomelo or oroblanco
  • 1 grapefruit (ruby red looks particularly lovely)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (pink pepper would work wonderfully as well; it’s just a bit harder to find.)

Add sugar, 1/8 cup tarragon, and 1/8 cup water in a jar and shake until the sugar dissolves and tarragon bruises. Strain syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve for salad. Tarragon syrup will keep for a week in the fridge and can be used as a cocktail mixer, pancake topper, etc… the sweet possibilities are endless!

Cut off the base and stem end of each citrus and peel citrus with cut side flat on the cutting board. Make sure to peel off any bits of bitter white pith. Slice citrus crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Arrange citrus on a platter. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper over top, drizzle with tarragon syrup, and finish with remaining tarragon.

The peppermint patty.

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Looking for a beautiful, handmade gift idea for Christmas?

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Homemade peppermint patties!

You haven’t had a peppermint patty until you have one that’s made by hand. These peppermint bites are relatively easy to make and very pretty, perfect for holiday gifting. Plus they actually taste like peppermint, a far cry from synthetic, aluminum-flavored York peppermint patties. This recipe comes from a pastry chef who once ran her own chocolate making business, teaches classes on handmade candy, and with whom I just finished editing a cookbook; the lady knows her patty.

And, side note: I’ve started writing a food column for Misadventures, the ridiculously awesome magazine for adventurous women; you can find a funny story behind peppermint patties here!

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Handmade Peppermint Patties

Makes 24 patties. Recipe adapted from Ash­ley Rodriguez.

  •   2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  •   1 1/2 table­spoons unsalted but­ter, softened
  •   1/2 tea­spoon kosher salt
  •   1 1/2 tea­spoons pep­per­mint extract
  •   1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only (optional, but so good)
  •   2 table­spoons heavy cream
  •   12 ounces good qual­ity dark chocolate
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine confectioner’s sugar, butter, salt, peppermint extract, vanilla, and cream. Beat with a paddle attachment until mixture comes together. Turn mixer on high and beat until candy comes together and is light and creamy. When you touch it, it should be soft but not at all sticky; if it seems sticky, add a little more powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
  2. Scrape candy paste out onto a long piece of cling wrap and form into a thin tube about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap well in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Once candy is firm, use a large sharp knife to slice off rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Return to refrigerator.
  3. Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring in 30-second increments to prevent overheating.
  4. Remove candy discs from refrigerator and dip into melted chocolate. With a fork, let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl and set dipped peppermint patty onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper. If patties get too soft to dip, chill briefly in the refrigerator until they’re firm again.
  5. Let patties set at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Sunshine lentil soup.

When I’m lonely, I like to fill the space with spices and soup. I’m back at school, but haven’t been able to keep Seattle and my brother off my mind. It’s probably rainy in Seattle right now. And likely a bit lonely.

IMG_7572On quiet, drizzly days in January, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of soup and a house that smells like an Indian mother’s spice cabinet.  But aammaa India who cooks the best curry in town wouldn’t have a cabinet. Instead she’d have a tin filled with her favorite spices.

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To chase away the clouds, I made a super easy lentil soup that takes 20 minutes to cook. Seriously. While at yoga school in India, I picked up a technique for toasting spices in oil to bring out their fragrance and flavor. Just one disclaimer: get ready for smells. Toasted coriander or cumin or mustard seed is the friend that lingers for an hour at your house even after you yawn, “well this was a fun party,” or “it was great to see you; when’s your bedtime?” I still smell the cumin seeds I toasted for last week’s curry when I sit on the couch.

Second disclaimer: get a pressure cooker. It will cook anything in five minutes, I swear. Pressure cooked food retains more nutrients than steamed food. And, hey, every person on the Indian subcontinent and her sister (or, around half the world population) has a pressure cooker to make traditional lentil soup, daal, in five minutes. After returning from Nepal and India two Christmases ago, the only thing I wanted was a pressure cooker (and to rid myself of the intestinal parasite I picked up during fieldwork research in a dusty village; but that’s another story.)

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Coconut Lentil Soup

Serves 4.

1 can coconut milk
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water
Generous pinch of salt
2 Tbsp coconut or peanut oil
1 onion, diced
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Choose 3 of the following to create your own curry powder:
1 tsp red pepper flakes, 2 tsp if you like it hot
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground cumin or cumin seed
1 tsp ground coriander or coriander seed

  1. Cook lentils until soft in broth with salt. If you’re using a pressure cooker, let the lentils cook on low heat for 5 minutes after the pressure  goes off.
  2. As the lentils cook, caramelize the onions with a bit of fat and salt. When browned, take out of pan and put aside.
  3. In the same pan, heat oil on high and let spices fry until barely browned. Turn off heat and add onions.
  4. When lentils are done, add onion-spice oil mix and coconut milk. Let simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.
  5. Serve with lime, a dollop of greek yogurt, vinegary cucumber salad, and naan toasted in butter and minced garlic.

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