mushroom pakoras

For a brief, interesting period, a Punjabi grocery store set up behind the outlet mall in the town just north of us. It was hard to find and only occasionally open, but they carried all sorts of things that we normally need to go to Seattle, or at least Everett, to find. It closed, of course – but we had stocked up on several ingredients first, including a bag of chickpea flour – which I inexplicably did nothing with for an embarrassingly long time.

Finally I decided it was stupid to have chickpea flour and not use it, so over the holidays we made pakoras to go with cocktails. Pakora is like Indian tempura: vegetables dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and spices, then deep fried – a bit of a production, but not at all difficult. I used a batter recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s first cookbook, but decided to use mushrooms after looking at my parents’ copy of Alford and Duguid’s Mangoes & Curry Leaves.

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blini with caviar

A sudden craving last weekend had me searching my cookbook shelf for a recipe for buckwheat pancakes. I don’t know where the urge came from, but I wanted that earthy, rich flavor, preferably smothered in applesauce, for Valentine’s Day breakfast.

It was harder than I thought finding a recipe, but I ran one down in a true American cookery resource, Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook from 1961. This is a book that reads like something from another dimension, including this marvelous bit of advice in the “Hints for the Homemaker” section:

Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply makeup and a dash of cologne. Does wonders for your morale and your family’s, too!

My family’s morale is going to have to wait until after breakfast, sorry, Betty. But in any case, the recipes are pretty sound. I halved the recipe for buckwheat pancakes, starting it  the night before as advised, and it turned out beautifully.

Valentine's Day breakfast

I thawed a container of Jonagold applesauce from last fall, and fried up a couple of homemade sausage patties that were left over from the previous week. The pancakes were wonderful, springy and chewy and with plenty of deep buckwheat flavor. They were also great with butter and syrup.

Even after halving the recipe, we couldn’t eat them all by a long shot. Eventually it dawned on us that we had made blini, and blini are made to be eaten with caviar. It was Valentine’s Day, after all…

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bell pepper

For the last six months or so there has been a recipe (a clipping from Bon Appetit or some such publication) stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet. I guess I somehow thought that if it was out in plain sight I would actually make it – sort of a triumph of optimism over experience. Turns out that staring at something every day doesn’t necessarily inspire you to do something about it…


I did make it, finally, for a middle-eastern themed dinner party we gave recently. Sort of a miracle, really. The recipe was for muhammara, a Syrian puree of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and it seemed so completely up my alley that I can’t believe how long I waited to try it. I’m usually such a sucker for anything with pomegranate molasses.  Continue reading

holiday wines & appetizers


Our latest event down at Gretchen’s Cooking School was a wine tasting with wine rep Tom Saunderson. The theme was holiday wines, and the food (prepared by us and Susan, the class coordinator) was a selection of appetizers: mostly finger food, featuring plenty of cheese.


There were six wines: four whites and two reds, which made for a different assortment than the usual. A lot of people do forget about white wines in the winter, but this was a lovely assortment with a wide variety of flavors.

Malibran Prosecco: one of the nicest Proseccos I’ve ever had. Bright, fizzy, and fabulously drinkable. We bought some.

Ponzi Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley: we have a bottle of this at home from the last vintage. It’s incredibly tasty and clean, with a bright grapefruit aroma. Continue reading

cooking class: sweet and savory bites

lemon daisies

A number of years ago, J worked for a summer as a delivery driver for a wonderful local bakery called La Vie En Rose. It meant that he had to leave for work at 1 am, which wasn’t so great; on the other hand, we ate a lot of really great bread that summer. The owner of the bakery occasionally gives cooking classes at Gretchens, and we finally got around to volunteering for one of these, which featured both sweet and savory bites and appetizers.

lemon puffs
chocolate banana wontons
banana wontons

The philosophy of the class seemed to be, “life is short, eat dessert first.” So the first course included a puff pastry “daisy” filled with lemon cream, plus a fried wonton full of chocolate and banana. I particularly liked the daisy, because I am a sucker for lemon curd in most circumstances. Continue reading

a few Washington wines

whidbey island wine
red wines

There was a nice little wine tasting at Gretchens last week, led by Noble Wines rep Renee Stark and featuring wines from Washington State. It was nice and relaxing for us (the kitchen help), since there were only two food platings and most of the cooking was either done ahead or very simple. Some of the wine highlights:

Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2005: Very drinkable, with good body. Not terribly acidic, but pleasant with the food.

Whidbey Island Lemberger 2006: I find straight Lembergers to be a bit one-dimensional, with very little body to the wine, but this had a nice flavor. Might be a good summer red, since it had a very clean finish.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot 2005: The star of the show. I’m not generally a big merlot drinker, but this was astonishing.

Bergevin Lane Calico Red 2005: A soft, rich, comfortable red blend from Walla Walla. Nice. Continue reading

tasting Oregon wines


We had our first class of the new season at Gretchens, a tasting of wines from the Willamette and Rogue Valleys of Oregon. It’s been a long time since the last one – it felt good to be back volunteering in the demo kitchen. The class was full, which was great – the tastings don’t always get as good a response as the cooking classes, which is always a shame. But this was a good one, and Tom the wine rep outdid himself as usual.

Tom the wine rep

willamette wines

The lineup was unusual in that there were as many whites as reds. I’ve recently been feeling more interested in whites, so that was cool with me. The wines we tasted (with some of my notes that I scribbled down) were:

  • Willakenzie Estate Vineyards Willamette Pinot Blanc: very acidic, clean tasting.
  • Ponzi Estate Vineyards Willamette Pinot Gris: bright but a little creamy, holds up to spicy food very well.
  • Kings Ridge Willamette Riesling: very good, not very sweet. A little creamy with a definite floral note.
  • Rex Hill Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir: nice pinot, excellent with smoked blue cheese
  • Hinman Vineyards Rogue Valley Red Blend: nice big tannic red, great with steak.
  • Silvan Ridge Rogue Valley Reserve Syrah: round and fruity, very straightforward and tasty.

infinite shrimp cake and crostini

To go along with the wines, we did three plates of appetizers. Continue reading