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Archive for February, 2011

I’m looking out our windows this morning and it is gray. The sky is that dark slate color that forces you to hunch your head in fear if you stand too tall you may find yourself deep within the somber clouds. The tail-end of winter has brought us winter storms, freezing weather and the flu. Us Portlanders can’t complain about the weather compared to much of the country, but still.

Spring is just a few weeks away and I can feel everything inside of me shifting and stirring in anticipation of its approach. Then it snows and then I have the flu. Lying in bed for three days with a fever that makes your bones ache and a cough that scares your concerned boyfriend is not my idea of way to spend my days. I sympathize with all of you who have suffered from this nasty flu.

I’m on the mend, however, and the cough is starting to fade. But boy could I use a little warm air and sunshine. With the wind throwing the rain against our windows this morning I woke with cookies on my mind. Light, crisp, and lemony with a touch of fresh herbs and a sprinkling of lavender sugar. I figure if I can’t get sunshine outside, I’ll make a bit of it indoors.

Cheers!

Honey Lemon Cookies

My dear friend Carrie sent me a Christmas care package from Texas, which included this amazing lavender sugar. I’ve been looking for an excuse to use it ever since. Feel free to sprinkle your cookies with a coarse raw sugar. Or nothing at all.

What you’ll need~

2 1/3 cup spelt flour, sifted

1-teaspoon baking soda

1 stick of butter, softened

1/2-cup raw honey

1 large egg

Juice and zest from one lemon

1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme or herb of your choice

Coarse lavender sugar, optional

Sift your flour and baking soda together in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until softened and add honey and egg. Blend well.

Add your wet mix to the flour mixture and blend.

Chill in your refrigerator for an hour or more. Or pop in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.

Roll your dough out on a lightly floured board to about 1/16 of an inch. Cut out cookies with your favorite cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet.

Sprinkle cookies with lavender salt and bake for about 6 minutes, turning pan halfway through, until cookies are just browned on the bottoms.

Let cookies cool completely so the flavors have a chance to mingle.

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I can’t quite remember where I found the inspiration for this recipe. Either it appeared in my inbox or I happened upon it whilst surfing food sites. Either way, it’s gone. Somewhere over the past two weeks I had in my hands a Caribbean influenced recipe that was spicy and fresh with red lentils. It sounded fabulous and perfect for these grey winter days, and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve searched and searched and not even my search history has revealed anything. All that remains are some random ingredients on a grocery list written down moments before that recipe was forever lost in the ether of the web.

Alas, all is not lost. A bit of a nosing around Amanda Hesser’s Essential NY Times Cookbook (read: recipe bible and one of my favorite reads) and I found a recipe close enough to what I had imagined that other to be like. Really I just wanted something bright and spicy, filling and sunny.

Using Amanda’s Red Lentil Ragout as a guide, this  stew came together dreamily. The red lentils and roasted carrots are a cheerful distraction from these cold, cold winter nights. And the spice from the sausages and smoked paprika will help cut through your vitamin D deprived fog and warm your bones.

Lord knows we could all use some of that.

Cheers!

Spicy Red Lentil Stew with Roasted Carrots

I went a little heavy with the paprika which is why I listed it to taste. You may like your stew a little less spicy.

What you’ll need~

One bunch carrots, about 7 small carrots

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 medium onion thinly sliced

Spanish smoked paprika, to taste

Chile powder, to taste

Crushed red chiles, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 bunch rainbow chard, sliced

Juice from two limes

1/2 cup white basmati rice

1 cup red lentils

5-6 cups chicken broth

3-4 spicy Italian sausages

Juice from one lemon

Half of a cucumber cut into chunks

Heat your oven to 450 degrees. Lay carrots on a parchment lined baking sheet and toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, a light dusting of paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and ground pepper.

Roast carrots for 15-20 minutes depending on how thick your carrots are.

Using your tongs, turn the carrots and add the onions. Roast for another 10-15 minutes or until the carrots are brown and tender. Remove from oven and let cool.

Cut carrots into 1/4 inch chunks and set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a large saucepan. Add carrots, onions, chile powder, red chile flakes and cook, stirring for about 1 minute.

Stir in lentils, rice, lime juice, paprika and broth and bring to a simmer. Let simmer stirring occasionally for about 20-25 minutes.

While lentils are cooking. Place sausages in a pot of rapidly boiling water and let cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from pot and slice into half-inch chunks. At this point you can stir the chunks of sausage right into the stew, or, optionally, as I like to do, give the sliced sausage  a nice browning in a skillet before adding to stew.

Stir garlic and chopped chard into your stew during last 10 minutes of cooking. Finish stew with a squeeze of lemon.

Serve soup warm with a sprinkling of fresh cucumber.

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There is something so perfectly simple about making bread. Yeast, water, flour. Bring those three ingredients together and magic happens. Adding water will make yeast bloom and come alive. Add flour and maybe a bit of salt to the mix, nature takes over and before long your dough will ferment and grow and rise with little help from you.

There is no question why bread is called the staff of life or why the Parisians started a revolution for it. It’s nourishing, filling, versatile. Visit any country and you’ll find a beautifully creative interpretation of bread: Injera in Ethiopia, Chapatis in Northern India, Black Bread in Russia.  There is no doubt that bread is good for the soul.

For all its simplicity, however, bread can be complicated and temperamental to make. Too much or too little yeast can change things dramatically. Cold room temperatures can cause arduously long and possibly failed risings. Sticky dough, dry dough, wet dough; all these things can potentially ruin a great bread. Making bread requires intention and focus. It also requires you follow to the recipe, which is why I asked the beautiful Kim Boyce permission to bake and reprint her recipe for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread. Which she graciously granted.

Kim’s recipe calls for using a stand mixer. In lieu of having a stand mixer she suggest using your hands. After some consultation and gentle encouragement on her end (and the fact I don’t have a stand mixer and the dough hook on a food processor not being appropriate for this recipe) I decided to brave kneading by hand. Why I was afraid I’ll never know. OK, actually I think I do know. I have many childhood memories of my Mom making filhos, also known as malasdas or Portuguese doughnuts, by hand. Let’s just say there were much kneading and much grumpiness in the kitchen. But damn were those filhos good. She always made them with a bit of lemon zest and a dusting of powdered sugar. Maybe it’s time I asked her for the recipe…

But kneading by hand is NOT as scary as I had imagined. There’s something instinctual and meditative about it. As your fingers and knuckles and palms gently press and roll your dough it’s as if you’re connecting with women throughout history. Thoughts quiet down and it is just you and your dough carrying on thousands of years of tradition. I absolutely loved it and will, from now on, always knead by hand.

Cheers!

P.S. I wanted to make a few more pictures for you, but I didn’t for two reasons. The first, I didn’t want to mess with and move, much less uncover, a rising bread. The second, I’ve been pretty sick with a fever all weekend and just couldn’t manage any more than these.

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread from Good to the Grain

Reprinted with permission from Kim Boyce

I did make one or two mistakes with this bread. I didn’t realize this was a two-bowl operation, one bowl for mixing, the second, buttered for rising. I ended up making the whole recipe in one buttered bowl. Turned out just fine, but I’ll list the recipe as Kim intended.

What you’ll need~

Butter for the bowl and pan

1 package active dry yeast

3 tablespoon unsulphured molasses

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups bread flour

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly

1-tablespoon kosher salt

  1. Lightly butter a large bowl and a bread loaf pan about 9x5x3.
  2. Add 2 cups of warm water, yeast, and molasses to the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir yeast, allowing it to bloom for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. If it doesn’t bubble the yeast may be inactive. (My yeast didn’t bubble much, but it didn’t seem to affect the dough)
  3. To autolyse, measure the flours, oats, and butter into the bowl with the yeast mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon/ Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. If using a stand mixer, attach the bowl and the bread hook to the mixer, add the salt, and mix on medium for 6 minutes. The dough should slap around the sides without sticking to them. If the dough is sticking at any time during the mixing, add a tablespoon or two of flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft and supple, slightly tacky, with a beautiful sheeting effect. If kneading by hand, knead the dough for about 15 minutes adding flour as needed. I found I had to keep my hands somewhat moist with water to prevent the dough from sticking too much to my hands.
  5. For the first rise, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times. Put the dough into the buttered bowl, cover with a  towel, and leave it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it is doubled in size.
  6. To shape the dough, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough, working it toward a square shape while depressing all of the bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up for the bottom to the middle. Next, bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together and pinch the seam in the middle, sealing the seam with your fingers. Pinch the sides together and roll the shaped dough back and forth, plumping it so that it’s evenly formed and about the size of your loaf pan. Place the dough in the pan with the seam side down and press it gently into the corners of the pan.
  7. For the second rise, cover the dough with a towel and let rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough rises to half again its size or puffs up barely or just over the edge of the pan. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  8. When the dough has finished its final rise, sprinkle the top of the loaf with oats or bran, if desired.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes rotating halfway through. The loaf is ready when the top crust is as dark as molasses and the bottom crust is dark brown. To see if the bread is ready, give the top of the loaf a thump to see if it sounds hollow. If the hollow sound isn’t there and the bread isn’t quite dark enough, bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cook on a baking rack, preferably for a few hours, so that the crumb doesn’t collapse when you cut into it and the flavor has time to develop.

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I wish I could blame the moon or the alignment of the planets for last Friday’s chaos, but I don’t know if I can. I wish I could point my fingers at too much wine, or not enough sleep, but no. I can only blame myself for taking on a subject that I have little knowledge, aside from Bourdain’s adventures to Southeast Asia, and a vaguely remembered conversation involving adzuki beans and plum sauce a few days beforehand with one of my culinary friends named Ryan. Yes, I have two culinary friends named Ryan. Truth be told, I really had no idea what the heck I was doing. And I’ve got the burned fingers and bruised bones to prove it. Yeah, it got physical.

As you may have read in an earlier post, I’ve recently found myself intrigued by Asian cooking. Not sure where that came from as I’ve had little to no interest in cooking Asian in the past. Perhaps it was the adventurer in me. The itchy feet and almost constant desire to explore unknown lands and peoples. Or maybe it’s simply the challenge of learning to balance new and exotic ingredients and tastes. Either way, I had no business taking on something so vastly different than what I’m used to cooking without a map. Read: cookbook.

Thus, it begins. The first thing I attempted to make that fated morning seemed simple enough. At least in my head. Barley and adzuki patties with leeks and golden beets. Of course, it started out innocently enough. Beans and grains cooked nicely on the stove, beet was roasted to perfection, leeks thinly sliced and laying adorably with their little spiraled anticipation. Then I remembered I needed breadcrumbs. Despite having a galley kitchen, our counter space leaves us wanting. Our toaster was, unsurprisingly, shoved behind a few random pans so the logical thing to do, of course, was pop a couple of slices of bread in the oven for a quick toast.

Oh why haven’t I learned my lesson with that one? How quickly memories of burning slice after slice of bread in our oven when we were between toasters drift from my mind.

So, I’m in the kitchen, bread gently toasting in the oven as I am, as usual, distracted with something else. Oh geez! The bread. I open the oven door and not only are my once lovely slices of whole grain bread burnt to a blackened char, They Are On Fire. Yes, fire. Flames, Dina yelling, “OH GOD”, Adam jumping out of bed and into the kitchen as I’m blowing out these giant flames trying to remember where the heck the fire extinguisher is in our building and how quickly could I get to it before this turned into a REAL fire. Blowing, blowing, blowing, and by the time Adam reaches the kitchen the flames have been reduced to smoldering char. It happened that quickly.

And I try again. But using our toaster this time, and magically the bread toast perfectly. After a quick zoom through the food processor, lo and behold! Breadcrumbs.

Just so you know, when things like this happen I usually blame the Catholic in me. For some reason, even if we are no longer practicing Catholics, we have a knack for making things as difficult as possible. Our version of self-flagellation, I suppose. Did I mention that I burned my fingers on a not quite cooled pan AND fell down the stairs (bruising my hip and straining the heck out of my right arm. Thank goodness I’m left-handed) taking out the trash? ALL in the same morning?

Despite my perfect breadcrumbs, failure still reared his ugly little head. The adzuki-barley mixture tasted wonderful, but I couldn’t get the patties to hold together in the pan. Maybe it’s because I’ve never made non-meat patties before and I, big surprise, didn’t have a recipe guiding me. So I stirred in an egg, and then two, into the mixture and then realized that I just royally screwed up and had no energy to try to save the dish. Into the trash it went.

Here is where I didn’t fail: pork chops glazed with homemade plum sauce. You are going to hate me because I made the sauce by taste, a splash of this and a dash of that. So this is where I say trust your instincts. Lick your fingers and let the flavors mingle on your tongue until it, well, feels right.

As Ryan number two says. This is where you cook.

Cheers!

Pork Chops Glazed with Plum Sauce and Micro Greens with an Appetizer of Braised Baby Bok Choy and Miso Soup

Feel free to use bottled plum sauce. I just couldn’t find any when I was shopping, so I decided to make it myself instead of going to another store.

What you’ll need~

~ For the Plum Sauce

One jar of plum jam (I used Susinata Italian Plum Preserves). The fewer the ingredients, the better.

One clove of garlic, minced

Two teaspoons or so ginger, finely shredded using a microplane

About 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar

A splash or two of shoyu

A splash or two of sesame oil

A few dashes of crushed red pepper flakes

A handful of chopped cilantro

~For the Pork Chops

Olive Oil

Two pork chops

~For the Appetizer

Braised Baby Bock Choy and Miso Soup

Adapted from Epicurious.com

1 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter

3-4 baby bok choy

1 clove minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Splash of rice wine vinegar

Juice from one small lime

Large pinch of freshly ground green peppercorns

~Plum Sauce

Combine all of the ingredients, minus the cilantro, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove pan from heat, stir in cilantro, and let sit for 15 minutes or so to let the flavors meld.

~Pork Chops

Preheat your oven to 350

Warm olive oil in a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan over medium to medium-high heat. When your oil begins to shimmer, gently place pork chops in a pan and sear one side for about 3-4 minutes.

Using your tongs, flip pork chop to sear other aside. As chop is searing, brush plum sauce over seared side.

Flip chop, brush second side with plum sauce and place pan in preheated oven.

Cook pork chop for about 15-20 minutes, turning it with your tongs a few times during cooking time. If you have a meat thermometer, the center of the cut should read at 165.

Serve over a bed of micro greens.

~Braised Baby Bok Choy

Bring broth and butter to a simmer in a large saucepan. Add bok choy, garlic and rice wine vinegar. Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes until bok choy is tender.

Remove bok choy from pan and place in a serving dish. Keeping it warm.

Bring broth mixture to a boil and let reduce to about 1/4 cup. Stir in sesame oil, lime juice and ground pepper to taste.

Pour mixture over bok choy and serve with miso soup of your choice. I like chickpea miso made by Miso Master.

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Esmeralda has worked for the farm for 18 years. She has lived in her tiny room in the camp for 4. I wanted to take more photos of her but the clicking of the shutter made her nervous. She was afraid she would get caught.

There’s a beautiful stretch of road in Oregon that ambles you towards the coast. Looking out your car window, your eyes are greeted with peaceful farmlands, rows of green leafy vegetables, grape vines, berry vines and Mexican farmworkers. Your first thoughts are likely further from the truth than you realize. Perhaps you think that the owners of these farms invite workers up here, house them, feed them, and even medicate them. You are partly right. Or perhaps you, like many people in the United States, shake your fist and curse these workers for “taking your jobs” “milking the system and living off of welfare”. Guess what, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Esmeralda

There is much I don’t know about the plight of Mexican farmworkers in this fair country of ours. Like, for example, if you drive through some of those beautiful farms in Washington County, take a side road past the farms to where there is no view of the main highway, you’ll come across rows and rows of shanties. Lean-tos. Housing fit for garden tools or trash, not human beings. Maybe you see a lovely old barn and imagine horses and cows gently dozing while nibbling on hay. Chickens roaming freely, scratching at the dirt and pecking for bugs. Imagine something closer to this: 200 plus men crammed in a small barn sleeping on board-thin, stained mattresses wondering where their next meal is coming from or missing their family so deeply they stifle their tears so as not to appear weak to the other workers. Does that sound like slave labor to you? It does to me.

 

Labor camp in Washington County, Oregon. This camp has been abandoned for many years, but farmworkers will soon be placed in it again. When we drove away from this camp I cried.

Labor Camp in Washington County, Oregon

Here’s something I didn’t know: The reason why there has been such a large influx of undocumented workers over the past 17 years is directly due to the United States signing of NAFTA. This “fair trade” agreement caused more than two million Mexican farmers to close their farms. Why? Because NAFTA allows wealthy countries (like ours) to sell foods for well below what it cost to produce them. The United States started exporting corn at 30% below its cost of production to Mexico. Show me a small farmer that can compete with that.

-“Before the free trade agreement the harvest was well paid, especially for corn and beans. But then, free trade arrived and prices went down from there. A kilo of corn now costs a peso, and what’s a peso worth? Nothing…less than a quarter.” Farmworker, North Carolina[1]

Raul has worked here for 10 years. He no longer is a resident of the camps you see behind him due to an incident that got him kicked out.

As much of a ham as Raul was, nervous and tension were present after the first click of my shutter. This look tells me- enough.

Here’s another thing I didn’t know, because agriculture is one of the most dangerous and lowest paying jobs in the U.S, the farming industry can’t recruit American citizens to fill jobs. Rather than improve conditions, agriculture recruits laborers desperate for work from abroad.

The folks that cross our borders do it for work. They pay taxes and social security (of which they can’t collect on); they are not eligible for welfare, food stamps or healthcare. In fact, most ill farmworkers are given a choice when ill, see a doctor and lose your job, or work sick. And sick they are. Poor living conditions, pesticide use, physical abuse, rape, you name it.

Labor Camps in Washington County, Oregon. Much of what I shot was from a moving vehicle. Even if the camp looked abandoned, my guides could get in serious trouble with the camp owners if caught with a photographer.

What’s sad is that these farmworkers do have a voice. There are many farmworker rights advocate groups in the states representing these people and doing there best to speak for them and bring attention to their situation. But ask a farmworker what it’s like? They may tell you, especially if you speak Spanish, but it rarely moves beyond that. The fear of being beat, losing their job, being sent back to Mexico, or worse, jail, keeps these folks silent. It’s as if all the work Cesar Chavez did in the 60’s and 70’s has all but disappeared.

Marisol is a 21-year-old single mother living in a small room with her mother and child. She is from Oaxaca and has been her for 8 years. The camp she lives in makes residents pay $140 each. Notice the nervousness in Marisol's hands.

Yareli, Marisol's daughter.

But there are folks out there doing what they can to help improve the condition of the farmworker. Bienestar (means well-being) is one of those groups. The focus of Bienestar is to help build affordable, and livable housing for farmworkers and impoverished individuals and families. They help educate them, and empower them through job training, ESL programs, and youth programs. Part of what Bienestar does is create successful citizens who contribute to our communities. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

This labor camp has been abandoned for several years. One of my guides lived here in the 60's. She said that nothing has changed in the treatment of farmworkers since then.

A window had been torn out of one of the camp windows. My guide said that a well-known transient likely slept there. I couldn't see in the window, so I held up my camera and snapped. Four bunks, one small room.

The Oficina at a labor camp in Washington County, Oregon

Chairs

I approached Bienestar several months ago because I not only wanted to learn about the state of farmworkers in our country, but I felt the need to document it as a photographer and as a writer, with the intention of not only sharing, but, perhaps idealistically, of helping to create a measure of tolerance. I want you to look into the eyes of Esmeralda and maybe see a reflection of yourself. Another woman trying to make ends meet. Or perhaps you’ll see your great-great grandmother in her eyes, who traveled here under horrid conditions in the bowels of a ship to live in the unlivable tenement housing of New York in the 1800’s. Who, despite all of her hardships, still holds on to the American Dream.

Paula, Mother to Marisol and Grandmother to Yareli-from Oaxaca.

Can you imagine that?


[1] Farmworkers and Immigration PDF, Bienestar

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When Adam and I first got together I told him that I didn’t want him to bring me flowers on special occasions. I didn’t want the obligatory flowers on Valentine’s Day, or any other retail holiday, for that matter. I wanted him to bring me flowers when he was overwhelmed with a wave of inspiration or romance, not because the calendar and commercials on TV said it was time. So, of course, in our more than three years together he’s brought me flowers only once, and that was because his mom had just harvested some peonies from her garden (oh, I can’t wait for peony season this year!) and she sent some home with him.

Buying flowers is something that just doesn’t occur to Adam, but picking up my favorite fruit tart for no occasion at all, does occur to him. Or running around town helping me find the perfect props for a job when I’m in a state of unbelievable stress and the only thing going through my head is chaos and he is the only calm in my world, well, that’s the sort of thing he does.

Cooking for Adam, sitting at the table sipping wine and conversing about the world is my idea of a perfect romantic evening. Long walks around town talking of books and art, doesn’t get much more romantic than that. Lounging in our overstuffed chair reading while he plays piano for no one in particular? Sublime. Sitting in bed watching movies in our jammies- bliss.

So, no, I don’t need (nor want) Adam wandering the red and pink card aisle of Freddie’s looking for that “perfect” card. I don’t want him elbow to elbow with other men picking out roses or tulips. I want the long walks, the afternoons in bookstores and antique stores, the late night conversations, the constant, and I mean constant support (ok, tearing up now), the calm, old soul wisdom that is well beyond his years.

And the occasional fruit tart.

Cheers!

Dark Chocolate Espresso Heart Cookies

After making these cookies, there are a few things I would change about this recipe to make it much better. Adam really liked them, but I didn’t feel they were good enough to share.

I will give you the link to the original recipe to consider your own inspirations, however. It is not a bad recipe, by any means, just needs a bit more to make it interesting and delicious in my book. For example, I really wanted these cookies to be more chocolaty. Next time, I will stir in whole chocolate chunks or chips to the batter to offer a burst of chocolate with each bite.

Adapted from Gourmet or Gourmand

What you’ll need~

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3 oz, or more, bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Chocolove Extra Strong Dark, 77%)

1 1/2 cups spelt flour or all-purpose

3/4-teaspoon baking powder

1/4-teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick of butter at room temperature

3/4 cup of sugar (when I make this recipe again, I intend to increase the sugar by 1/4 or add brown sugar)

1-3 eggs, depending on the size of your eggs. Mine were tiny.

1-teaspoon vanilla extract

1-2 teaspoons instant espresso dissolved in a tablespoon of water (I used Medaglia D’Oro)

Coarse espresso salt to finish, optional

Combine cocoa, chopped chocolate and 1/4 cup of flour in your food processor and process until the chocolate is a fine powder. I didn’t process it quite that long as I wanted bits of chocolate in the batter.

Add the remaining 1 1/4 cup flour, baking soda and salt and pulse to blend.

In a large mixing bowl add butter breaking it apart in to small chunks with your fingers (that really is as wonderful as it sounds). Stir in sugar and cream together. Beat in egg(s), vanilla and espresso. Add flour mixture and stir well.

At this point you want to chill your dough. The original recipe calls for shaping it into a disc and wrapping in plastic wrap. I left the dough in a ball in the bowl and popped in the fridge for about an hour. I think this dough would have responded better with a longer, or even overnight, chill time, but it rolled out just fine. You may have to experiment to see what works for you. If your dough is sticky, add a bit of flour to it and re-chill.

Preheat your oven to 325 a line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface. A trick I learned from Kim Boyce is to use rice flour to flour your surfaces. Rice flour won’t incorporate itself into your dough and thus altering the consistency. Pretty neat, huh?

I felt these cookies were best rolled out a bit on the thick side. The espresso and chocolate flavors didn’t really sing with the thinner, crispier batch.

Using the cookie cutter of your choice cut out your shapes and gently lay them on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with espresso salt, if using, and pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes rotating half way through.

I really think these cookies are meant for dipping, so be sure to serve these with the milky beverage of your choice.

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I have a confession to make, I’ve never really been interested in Asian food. I’m not sure if it’s because grew up on an, albeit, weird amalgam of it. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know exactly what I mean. Teriyaki chicken with macaroni salad and a ball of white rice with, let’s not forget, a blob of mayonnaise on top (although, I admit, mayonnaise and rice was a staple of mine through my early 20’s). Somehow, and sadly, Hawaii has managed to strangle the life out of food. Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese. Cultures that offer amazing foods, smooshed down to a sodium-laden box lunch.

Or if it’s because Chinese food, at least the Chinese food we get here in the States, is sticky, salty, MSG laden and, well, not very interesting. Not to mention, from what I understand, it’s nothing like real Chinese food.

Or maybe it’s because I don’t like bok choy.

Whatever the reason, Asian cooking has never been a part of my repertoire. But lately, there’s been a shift. I usually skim articles in food magazines that take you to Asia. When Bourdain travels to Indonesia or China, I watch with only half interest. If at all. I’ve never really understood the intense obsession chefs have with the foods of South East Asia and China. Frankly, I always thought they went there for the woman. Who would say no to a gorgeous Thai girl offering you a massage?

But that shift I mentioned? I think I’m beginning to understand why chefs are drawn to the Far East. It’s the challenge. Mediterranean foods, in a way, are easy. Vegetables of the Mediterranean grow fairly successfully in the States. There is no lack of cookbooks on the subject. Cookbooks that take you to a country, to a region, to a village, even to a family in a specific neighborhood in Italy, France or Spain. For many of us, it’s in our blood. We’re drawn to cooking with olive oil and roasted garlic. It’s innate. We’re born craving bruschetta. But mung beans? Water chestnuts? Well, not so much.

Cooking Asian food requires the hunt. Especially if you don’t have a functioning Chinatown nearby. Not even Whole Food’s has more than half an aisle devoted to Asian foods. Even then, it’s generally the stuff we’re all familiar with. Then, of course, there are the tools. And us cooks love any excuse to shop for new kitchen tools. Well if I’m going to cook Chinese food than I need a wok!

But the biggest challenge is the flavors. Bringing together and balancing lemongrass, black sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, chilies that will damn near burn your tongue off, in a way that sings on your palate? Instead of choking you? Now those, my friends, are fighting words.

So, I’m intrigued. Just like that. Maybe it’s because spring is right around the corner and I’m craving lighter foods. Maybe it’s because I’m ready for a challenge. I don’t know, but I sure am excited about it. The other day at Powell’s I bought a Japanese noodle book. Homemade udon noodles from scratch are so on the list.

Cheers!

This recipe was inspired by the lovely Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. I can always count on Heidi to inspire me with a gloriously healthy and delicious dish.

Turkey Curry Udon

Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

What you’ll need~

1-package Udon noodles

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 leek, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons green curry paste (more or less depending on how spicy you’d like it)

About a pound of a protein of your choice, cut into chunks. I used turkey, Heidi used tofu.

1 can of coconut milk

2 or more cups of chicken or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons ground curry or turmeric

1 handful torn dulse (Heidi used shoyu which I didn’t have on hand)

1-2 stalks of lemongrass, bulb cut off and dry leaves peeled off.

Splash of rice vinegar

1 scant tablespoon natural cane sugar

Juice of 1-2 limes

Handful of sliced almonds

1 shallot, thinly sliced and gently and briefly caramelized

Handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Cook your noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Warm your coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir in garlic, leeks, and turkey. Stir in curry paste. Cook until turkey is no longer pink in the middle.

Pound peeled lemongrass with the back of your knife to release the lemongrass essence (do take a deep breath at this point), then finely slice it. Stir in coconut milk, stock, curry powder or turmeric, dulse, lemongrass, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes.

Remove pot from the heat and stir in lime juice and noodles. Noodles might stick together, just use your spoon to gently separate them.

Serve noodles in bowls sprinkled with sliced almonds, shallots and cilantro.

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