Potato and Cucumber Salad with Smoked Trout

A couple of weeks ago, I paid $133 to keep me in produce until Thanksgiving. A coworker helps out at a farm that has a CSA, and they were doing a middle-of-season share push. I am all about supporting CSAs, but as I am often cooking only for myself, my produce bin can easily be overwhelmed. But… $133. Time to start inviting more friends over for dinner.

Portland keeps talking about how everything is coming so late this year. “Well, I wanted to make cherry pie earlier this summer, but everything is coming in so late.” “I keep waiting for blueberries to show up, but everything is coming in so late.” Now here it is, the end of August, and we’re finally laden with farmers’ markets that have more than greens to offer. It’s time to slice up whatever you’ve got, toss it with some good olive oil and call it dinner, because the bounty has arrived. And my own late arrival to the CSA has me jumping right in.

I threw together a nice heirloom tomato salsa yesterday and munched on that while I simmered five pounds of apricots on the stove with ginger, cinnamon, sugar, lemon zest, and rosewater. After pouring that jam into the canning jars, I made this potato salad to take to Amanda’s birthday party. As I’m all about plowing through CSA ingredients, I’m also into rifling in the back of my pantry, and yesterday I pulled out a can of smoked trout. How could I go wrong? I thought.

When I left the party last night there were merely a few specks of cilantro remaining in the bowl. It’s messy, it’s bright, it’s comforting, it’s summer.

Potato and Cucumber Salad with Smoked Trout
makes enough for a potluck

Cook 2-3 pounds new potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and run under cold water, and when they’re cool enough to handle, slice. Put in a large bowl with half a diced jalapeno, the kernels of an ear of corn (canned/frozen won’t work well here – omit if necessary), a big handful of roughly chopped cilantro, a few sliced basil leaves, 3 sliced scallions, a peeled-seeded-sliced cucumber, a tin of smoked trout, and a couple of diced tomatillos (optional). Toss with about a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a few glugs of good olive oil.

Larb, Kind Of

I’m pretty ace at saving recipes. Letting them sit in my mind long enough to want to recall them when it’s time to consider dinner, however, not so much. I subscribe to CHOW’s daily recipe and Splendid Table’s Weeknight Kitchen, and both provide extra tastiness to my morning e-mail check. 9 out of 10 get stashed in their respective folders, and most are never to be seen again. You should see the recipe folder in my bookmarks. It’s a little ridiculous.

Not so this recipe. Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s “Salad of Beef with Lime, Chile and Mint Inspired by Laos” (whew) raised my eyebrows enough that I made it last summer for Avery, and tonight for Ben. This is a riff on Lynne’s riff on larb, the Laotian crisp, spicy, protein-heavy salad that breaks summer heat into tart bursts of flavor. I’ve been using tofu, with a curiosity about shrimp for the next go.

Whereas Lynne broke out the grill for this, I seared the tofu; she used rice noodles, and I picked up a fun squishy pack of kelp noodles at the store that work beautifully. Instead of tossing it all together, I laid those big gorgeous pieces of soy curd right on top. After I snapped the photo, I realized I had an avocado, too. That took this from delectable to downright scarfable.

Larb, Kind Of
adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper
serves 2-3 as a main course

1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspons grated fresh ginger
2 packed teaspoons brown sugar, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper
zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons water

1 12-oz package kelp noodles, or 12 oz dry rice noodles, soaked in warm water to soften
4 whole scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly torn
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage

1 16-oz package extra firm tofu, pressed for at least 30 minutes
1 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup neutral oil, like sunflower, canola, or peanut (coconut oil would be good, too)

Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Mix salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

Stand the block of tofu on end and slice down the middle. Stack the two slabs and cut into thirds, making six pieces. Put cornstarch on a plate and coat the tofu in it.

In a large skillet, heat oil barely to the smoking point. (Really. It’s got to be hot.) Pull tofu out of your cornstarch dredge, tap off the excess cornstarch, and lay each piece carefully in the hot oil. Shake the pan occasionally to make sure nothing’s sticking, but otherwise leave it in there for 2-3 minutes to let it get a nice brown crust. Turn with a fork and brown the other side. Remove from oil.

Toss the salad with 2/3 of the dressing and spread on a platter. Arrange the tofu on top and finish it off with the rest of the dressing. I recommend an avocado, too.

Watermelon, Mint, Feta, Basil, Tomato

You don’t need a recipe for this, right? I didn’t think so.

Seared Radish and Cream Cheese Bites

So let’s talk about the things I don’t like.

Celery. Boletus mushrooms. Blue cheese. (Majorly.) Truffles. Hard boiled eggs. (See previous post.) Radishes.

The thing is, though, you can make me eat all of these things if you use them properly. (Not the blue cheese, though. Never, ever the blue cheese.) The right amount of celery in a well balanced, brothy soup will sing. I once had gnocchi that involved truffles at Little Bird, and I nearly cried. And a couple of diced, hard boiled eggs in tuna salad can be just the ticket, sometimes.

I have found that the flavor of radishes is well aided by a generous schmear of dairy products, something that I am generally in favor of. A hot pan has also given me reason to buy a little red bunch of punch for the past couple of springtimes. Last year I cooked them with garlic and anchovies for bruschetta. A couple of weeks ago, as Talia was on her way over for dinner, I pulled out some rice crackers, cream cheese, and scallions, and popped these together just before the doorbell rang.

If you’re looking to fancy these up further, the cream cheese is a good vehicle. Lemon zest, chives (chive flowers!), anchovy, verbena, go crazy. You could even pipe it into mini tart shells instead of serving it on a cracker. Here’s the simple route, easy and tasty.

Seared Radish and Cream Cheese Bites

First, sear yerself some radishes: cut off the greens, then slice a couple of radishes into 1/4″ discs. Roll them up in a tea towel for five minutes to remove excess moisture. While that happens, heat a small frypan over high heat, with clarified butter or oil that has a high smoke point, like peanut. When a drop of water sizzles violently in the fat, add the radishes. Cook 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.

Spread a rice cracker with cream cheese, add a radish slice or two, and top with a bit of scallion green that’s been cut on a hard bias. Fresh-cracked pepper, anyone?

(I like this Little Bird, too.)

Egg and Tapenade Sandwich

I am weird about eggs.

I like custard, I like cake, I like clafoutis. But serve me toad-in-the-hole, sunny-side-up, even hard-boiled, and I can’t bring myself to swallow. I allow no runniness in my eggs. Give me migas, oh lord yes. Give me delicately scrambled sunshine, I gag. I will scramble an egg for myself, and I will let it sit in hot hot butter until it is browned. Only then has it coagulated enough that it becomes suitable for consumption. That’s why the photo below may sting a little bit if you are someone who likes to dip your toast in the yolk.

I love olives tossed in with scrambled eggs, and so when I saw an egg and tapenade sandwich on the menu at Lovejoy Bakers, I snapped to attention and devoured the plate of salty goodness presented to me. Then I sat with it for a moment and decided I needed another one. The server said, “Aren’t they delicious? It sounds a little weird to put those two things together, but it totally works.”

Not weird at all.

Allow one egg per sandwich. Scramble and cook in butter. (I will permit you to cook it less than I do.) Pile it onto a slice of buttered bread. Good butter. Good bread. Smear some olive tapenade on the other slice. Eat. Repeat as necessary.

Olive Oil, Ricotta, and Rose Quickbread

As we approach the Ides of March, I can finally look out the window to the skies that are still (still?) gray and say to myself, “Ah! February is over.”

This means that winter is shedding, and that my brain is waking up a little bit. This February I spent a great deal of time with lovely people whose company I enjoy and whose companionship is essential, but I overloaded my calendar and forgot how much time I need to myself. Last weekend I went to March Fourth’s bacchanalian anniversary show and danced until I dropped. The next morning I drove to Wheeler County, the least-populated county in Oregon, and left behind the urbanity and, uh, moisture of Portland. Dramatic, dry landscapes surrounded me and made me feel blessedly insignificant. I saw no one for miles.

Today is another day of catching up on self-connection. I slept for 11 hours, stayed in bed and read til noon, and then: I got up and scrubbed the bejeezus out of the stove. Months of cooking oil and blackened debris were no match for me and my steel wool. It didn’t clear my head as much as Wheeler County did, but it sure cleaned out a couple extra cobwebs. Elbow grease can be a powerful meditation, when the mood strikes.

Under my newly scrubbed cooktop I baked this quickbread. I’d been craving an olive oil cake for awhile and had everything I needed on hand. In my fridge-clearing theme of late I also found some ricotta cheese that hadn’t gone moldy – hooray! – and from it got a wonderfully tight texture that opened up with the flavors of olive oil, rose, and lemon. The walnuts on top toasted perfectly and gave a buttery richness in their crunch that complemented the silky crumb. Everything in here came straight out of my pantry. As long as you keep rose petals on hand, it can come out of yours too.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup ricotta
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
1/4 cup lightly crushed dried rose petals
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup untoasted walnuts

Preheat to 350F. Butter and flour a loaf pan. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a medium mixing bowl combine eggs, ricotta, milk, oil, rosewater, rose petals, and lemon zest. Add wet mixture to dry and mix until barely combined. Add raisins and give it another few stirs. This batter will be thick. Spoon into loaf pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with walnuts. Bake 55 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let rest 5 minutes on the counter, then turn out onto a cooling rack.


I forget sometimes that my spice cabinet is awesome. I mean, I know that I’ve got everything I need, and that’s great, but a friend will be over for dinner and I’ll open it up to grab some fennel seed and if my dinner guest is a foodie, I’ll hear a little gasp coming from behind my left shoulder.

“Oh!” I say. “Right. Isn’t it pretty?”

It’s wonderful what old baby food jars and your co-op’s bulk spice department can do.

When I started cooking with any intention, I rigorously measured my spices. I think that when you’re trying to get your feet under you in the kitchen, this is a good idea – follow the recipe to the letter the first time you make it, then open yourself up to variations. I remember the first time I made a curry without a recipe. It was lousy. The second time I made a curry without a recipe, it was better. The third time, I nailed it. Since then I pull out my teaspoon set only occasionally, just to check up on myself and my estimating eye.

Chili for me is a very loose recipe. There are a few important things: scallions, lots of garlic, beer, and cumin. After that, it can take a million directions. I’m going to point out what may be obvious and say that I didn’t actually measure the spices I put in here. If you want to, please do, but really, it’s a dash of this and a bit of that, plus a whole lot of cans from my pantry. Don’t have white beans? Use chickpeas. The only constant I’d keep from that list of legumes is the black beans. But I love black beans.

I’ve fancied it up by making polenta cakes. This is a fun way to impress people and takes only a little finesse. This chili will be delicious by itself in a bowl, but if you’ve got an extra minute, make it special with this fun touch. The cakes aren’t vegan, but the chili is – and it’s all gluten free.

1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
4 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 oz grated sharp cheddar
1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 small onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
5-6 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
at least 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 chipotle, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup beer
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained
1 15-oz can white beans, drained
1 15-oz can corn kernels, drained
1 small can diced green chilies
1 12-oz package Mexican-spiced soy crumbles

Grits first. Put cornmeal, water, olive oil, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring water to a boil, then turn down to simmer, whisking often, until liquid is fully absorbed, about 15 minutes. (The thing with polenta is that it looks like it’s taken up all the water quite quickly, but keep cooking and stirring it for awhile longer and you’ll be rewarded with a much silkier texture.) Stir in cheese and butter; taste for seasoning. Spoon polenta out onto a plate and spread it about 1/2″ thick. Refrigerate while you start your chili.

In your favorite soup pot heat olive oil, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, and pepper. When spices are fragrant, add salt, onion, scallion, garlic, chipotle, oregano, and cocoa powder. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until onions are softened and just barely starting to leave brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Turn up the heat and as soon as things start to sizzle but not burn, add beer and scrape up all those lovely brown bits. Cook until you no longer get a big whiff of alcohol when you stick your nose in the steam, then add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer at least 30 minutes.

About ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, take the grits out of the fridge. Turn out onto a board and cut into desired shapes. The key here is to use a metal spatula, not plastic or silicone – you’ll need something a bit sharper to really dig under your grits cake, otherwise you’ll get reheated mush instead of nicely browned cakes. (I learned this the hard way.) Heat a good layer of olive oil – better too much oil than too little, in this case – in a skillet over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. Gently lay 2-3 cakes in the pan and fry 2-3 minutes, then decisively get your (metal!) spatula under and flip. 2-3 minutes more on the other side, then pull them out to rest on a roasting rack set over a plate. This is better than setting them on paper towels, because air will be circulating all the way around them.

Plate it up! Garnish with cilantro and some diced avocado. Queso fresco? Yum.