As is often the case, my birthday week had several parts. First came the party.
I have an article in the current issue of Grow Northwest with some recipes for fresh Dungeness crab, which is in season right now – I know, what a terrible job, right? While I was working on it, some friends pitched in by throwing a crab party so I could try out some new recipes. Also, I had never cooked or cleaned a live crab before (my family always bought them pre-cleaned) so I got to watch the process, as well as eat warm, just-cooked crabmeat. These are good friends.
Before the party, I made up some different dipping sauces to try with both plain crabmeat and with the crabcakes I was going to cook – it seems like everyone serves crab with sweet Thai chile sauce these days and I’m really tired of it. I made a cucumber mignonette, nuoc cham, and a creamy buttermilk dressing that was somewhere between Green Goddess and ranch. I loved all of them with the crab but especially the cucumber, which made a fresh vinegary punch with the rich crabcakes. Continue reading
We had our usual end-of-summer party last weekend (god the weather was fabulous), and to my not-very-great-surprise we had tons of leftovers. The next few days, therefore, became a challenge to see how much of them the two of us could eat without getting completely sick of them. We had shrimp in tomato-chipotle sauce, grilled corn, pinto beans, grilled flank steak, raw seasoned flank steak, cornbread, raspberries, one brownie, two kinds of salsa, corn chips, enough tortillas for two more parties at least, cotija cheese, and crema mexicana. Obviously, we ate a lot of tacos for a few days.
By Monday night, though, I was feeling pretty burned out on the tacos, and we still had that whole uncooked flank steak on hand. We decided to pull out our meat grinder and run it through, then make hamburgers out of it. We did add an egg, since the flank steak made for a pretty lean burger, but it worked very well – the chile-cumin rub that had been on the steak got incorporated into the meat and tasted great. To go alongside I stripped the kernels off the remaining ears of grilled corn, then heated them gently with a few fresh tomatoes that were also left over and a bit of cilantro. With a good drizzle of crema on top and some salty cotija, this made a really nice dinner that, thrillingly, was not tacos.
We made this cake for my grandfather’s 97th birthday. I’m not going to write down the recipe for it, because you really should just go buy Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking: From My Home to Yours, and make it out of that (it’s the one on the cover, with cake crumbs patted all over the outside). I do recommend our one embellishment, which was to stuff the frosting layers with fresh raspberries, and have lots of additional raspberries available to scatter over the top. Raspberries + chocolate cake + marshmallow creme frosting. Oh, yes.
It was a bit of a messy dessert, as the marshmallow frosting got soft and melty in the sun, and the raspberries were so ripe they turned people’s hands crimson. But it’s not like that was a real problem.
the end-of-summer party
Last weekend we threw our annual end-of-summer party. After the filthy wet weather on Labor Day I was half expecting it to turn into a huddle-inside-and-eat-soup party, but it turned out to be a glorious day. We sat in the sun and drank margaritas, caipirinhas, Negra Modelo, Jarritos soda and Pinotage. And ate a lot.
I made tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, and chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, Jon grilled flank steak and spiced sweet corn, and our friend Knut brought a pile of beef ribs that he marinated in a vast heap of fresh herbs and vegetables with a melon sauce, then smoked them on the grill.
There were fresh cherry tomatoes, Concord grapes, carrot salad, and ripe melon. We bought paletas for dessert, from the local Mexican supermarket, but people were still eating corn and drinking beer at 10 pm, so we never quite made it to dessert.
It’s been a beautiful summer, but I think we’ve successfully rung in the autumn. And that’s OK with me.
Well, this was the big birthday weekend, and I do believe we did it up right. In honor of my birthday, my aunt’s birthday, my father’s 60th birthday and my parents’ upcoming 40th anniversary, we hired our friend Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering to come out and cook up a paella for us and about thirty friends and neighbors. Despite the annoyingly autumnal weather (wind AND rain, sheesh), everything went beautifully.
My parents put together this contraption for the paella pan – Knut said it was the best fire setup he’d ever used. The great thing about the metal rails was the way the pan could be slid onto the fire and off again. There was plenty of good fruitwood to burn, too.
The paella was built up gradually over the course of the afternoon. We all stood around and watched and got in the way while eating olive bread from the Anjou Bakery (thanks, Heather & Kevin!) and a wonderful goat cheese/pear/butter mixture that Knut had brought.
The first thing to go in was the chorizo, to render all that good pork fat into the pan. Continue reading
a good party, with good leftovers
We threw our End of Summer party this weekend, and boy did we luck out – after weeks of rain and ridiculously cold dreary weather, the clouds parted and we had a perfect, mild, sunny evening. Guests could sit in the sun and not be too hot, or in the shade on the patio and not be too cold. I made Indonesian yellow rice, sesame noodle salad, peanut sauce and chopped cucumber salad, and Jon grilled pork satay, Japanese eggpant and fresh corn. I’m fairly sure nobody starved to death.
You never know what’s going to be left over from these parties. We ended up with a half gallon of my favorite IPA in the world, small quantities of rice and eggplant, and a large tub of sesame noodles. There was also a bag of thawed shrimp in the fridge which I had intended to put out at the party and, well, just decided not to. I got tired. But that meant we had some good lunch fixings today – I poached the shrimp in salted water and mixed them into the noodle salad with a good squirt of Sriracha sauce, all of which was excellent washed down with a glass of IPA.
Indian Feast 2008
Back when I was a freshman in college, I took a class on the history of India. Partway through the term, our professor hosted a dinner party at her house, featuring traditional Indian foods. I volunteered to be part of the cooking team, and learned how to make chai, pop mustard seeds and fry potatoes. The rest of the class arrived later, ate a vast quantity of everything, drank chai and all fell asleep on the professor’s living room floor. I think some of us had to be carried back to our dorms.
Inspired by that experience, for a number of years now we’ve hosted an event at our house, formally dubbed the Quasi-Annual Skagit County Indian Feast & Hike (QASCIFH?) As you might expect from the name, it involves a hike followed by a lot of home cooked Indian food. We’ve found that a brisk walk in chilly weather helps work up a good appetite and keeps us awake longer. We don’t usually go far – maybe 2 to 4 miles – but it’s a fun outing, with the prospect of good food at the end.
We usually hold this event early in the year, when weather is uncertain, but usually it works out pretty well – we’d never had to cancel on account of weather. Enter spring 2008. The day of the party it snowed. And hailed. And rained. And snowed some more. We all stood inside staring out at the ice pellets as they poured down and skittered across the sidewalk, and decided that drinking wine and eating pappadums was the better part of valor. So no hike this year, save for a small excursion around the block during a sunbreak. Continue reading