A safe bet

November 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

One day last week when T. and I were across the lake, we had sandwiches for lunch at a spot I had read some raves about. They were great, hulking things, wrapped in double layers of wax paper, which might have helped contain them a little had we given eating them any strategic thought. With each bite, contents gushed—onto fingers, face, paper. These were very good sandwiches, made onto very good baguettes and slathered, without any sense of restraint, a creamy aioli so garlicky I’m sure it had me in a cloud for hours afterward. But I realized, halfway through mine, sitting on a bench up the street for lack of a free table inside, that I was relieved we were sitting out of direct view of anyone else. After five minutes I quit wiping the aioli off my face, but it’s a trick to be comfortable with charred onion slices hanging out of your mouth in public, even on a sidewalk bench. I mean, what if someone driving by who might not ever see you again—but might!—saw you in such an undignified state? So, I told T., damn good sandwich be damned, I’m not sure I would go back for a second—unless I could secret the thing away to a secluded spot and practice scarfing one down with the paper keeping the whole thing tight.

And I describe this little outing because I want to point out that eating alone is highly underrated, for many reasons, but one being for maintaining pretensions of grace when messy foodstuffs are on hand. I sometimes say that one great obstacle of serving some of my favorite things to eat to company is their unwieldiness on the plate, on the fork, into the mouth. Worse than severe discomfort while eating publicly? Making other people uncomfortable eating something you served and prepared yourself. I could, I imagine, make a few little serving adjustments, plate things a little more neatly, pile things a little less relentlessly high, and it would make a good bit of difference in the bigness of the spectacle of the eating. But, you know, when it comes to piling things on top of things meant to be eaten with the hands, like toast (and about 60 percent of the things I really like to eat involve stuff on toast/grilled bread what have you), I really like a lot of stuff. Stuff piled high and spilling over the sides so that the bread to stuff ratio is quite what I like. And sometimes a knife and a fork just makes things messier—or at least fussier to eat, and who needs that?

So, wow, ramble city today. What I really mean to say is that leeks vinaigrette on toast with some nicely semi-soft boiled eggs is really really nice, and it’s a good thing to make for yourself when you’re on your own for a meal (or with someone who won’t mind the sloppiness of it all).

leeks

Leeks on toast are always a safe bet (these two are both brilliant), but I love this version especially because it doesn’t demand much in the way of timing. You can boil your eggs and let them be for a bit, sauté your leeks, and while they’re cooking and cooling, make the vinaigrette, slice toast. And nothing will suffer if your egg shells are a royal pain and take you 15 minutes to clean up. I like taking the leeks just up to tender, so that they’re sweet and succulent, but not meltingly soft. The colors stay vibrant and they hold up to the vinaigrette better, which kicks their sweetness into relief with a little punch of dijon and vinegar. The eggs aren’t exactly necessary here, so you could, theoretically, leave them out. It’s just… these things are always nicer with eggs.

Leeks Vinaigrette on Toast with Semi-soft—boiled eggs

2-3 slender-ish leeks, cut in half on the vertical, rinsed, and sliced thinly (about 1/4 inch thick)

1 T. plus 2 t. extra-virgin olive oil

few sprigs parsley

1 T. salted capers, rinsed

1-2 pieces of toast, about 1 .5 ounces each (or whatever you like)

1 t. Champagne or white wine vinegar

1/2 t. Dijon mustard

sea salt, coarse-ground black pepper

2 medium-sized eggs

Prep the eggs first: Have a bowl of ice water ready. In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with water. Bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as they come to a boil, take them off the heat, cover, and let stand for 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of your eggs. Six is good for large eggs; mine were on the slight side, so I drained them after five. Transfer to the bowl of ice water to cool for 10 minutes. Drain, gently crack, and peel.

In a small Dutch oven or a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, a pinch of salt, and a teeny dribble of water, and stir. Cover and cook, removing the lid to stir every couple of minutes, until their color is bright and they’re just tender, 5-7 minutes or so. If they seem nearly done and the liquid is evaporated, remove from heat and let them steam with the lid on for a couple of minutes more—they should finish cooking more gently that way. When you have the leeks right where you want them, scrape them into a bowl and let them cool to room temp.

While the leeks are cooking and cooling, snip the parsley from the stems and chop them fine. Rinse the capers and chop them, too. Transfer both to a small bowl. Make the vinaigrette: Using a small fork, whisk the mustard with the vinegar until smooth, then whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Taste for salt, and add a few grinds of coarse black pepper.

Depending on the volume of your leeks, you may not need to use all the vinaigrette. Start by adding about 2/3 of the vinaigrette to the cooled leeks in the bowl, along with the parsley and capers, and combining well. If you’d like the leeks glossier or richer or punchier, add the rest of the vinaigrette.

Assembly: Toast the bread—either in a toaster, which I have taken to lately in laziness, or by brushing it with more oil first and toasting it in the oven, which is decidedly finer. When it’s golden, a bit crisp on the outside, but still chewy and tender, pile on the leeks, then a bit of chopped egg. I find 1 egg is usually enough for garnish, so the second one is mostly for eating in halves, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and any last drops of vinaigrette. I find this toast tastiest when eaten with the hands.

*A note on capers: I call for salted capers here because they taste like capers, not vinegar, which I find is the case with capers packed in brine. They can be a little more expensive and difficult to find, but if you can find them in bulk or in large (kg +) bags, snatch them up. They are marvelous and will last for a looooong time.

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Dare I say it

November 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

You might check in with me again in a few months. Maybe I’ll be biting at my nails, crazed in the eyes as I plead desperately with the sun to come out, come out, or… or else. But I’m going to say that so far, I don’t mind Seattle’s gray, or the drizzly afternoons, or the winds that make our little cabin roof twitch and creak. It’s partly because our view, for the time being, is onto Lake Washington, and, as our house faces south, Mt. Rainier fills up our breakfast window on a clear morning, so that we can eat muesli with our mouths hanging open, which, if you’re wondering, is charming. But it’s also because those crazy winds, high enough last week that the 520 bridge into Seattle closed, give the lake a look of the ocean, waves crashing into the dock and gulls dashing the foam—and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I secretly want to live on the beach one day. It also helps that it smells like a Christmas tree everywhere, one of which I have also, at times, wanted to live inside. And because when the sun comes out for even 20 minutes, it feels like a little whispered bit of grace. Besides, when it all comes down to it, gloom is a reason to stay inside and read, or cook, or do other understated things, and I am most often glad for an excuse to be quiet. Maybe it’ll get old; maybe the clouds will bear down and the reminders grow thin and we’ll start losing our wits. I don’t know. I’ve got good feelings, but you know what they say. We have a little waiting and seeing, T. and me.

In the meantime: holy moly, I am glad to be in the kitchen again. I’m not going to go wild about Seattle’s farmers markets yet, because I’m still missing my favorites in D.C., like wonderful Tree & Leaf and Next Step Produce, and there’s plenty of time for that. But I wanted to mention a little dish I made for myself a couple of nights ago. It’s a simple thing, little potatoes split and roasted with olive oil, pepper, salt, and a little caraway. But it’s the caraway that takes these potatoes out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t think of adding anything else, lest it get in the way of its complexity—earthy, with herbal notes of resin, and a woodsy, floral character that is pure seduction with buttery fingerling potatoes. My friend Rachel, a wonderful caterer and cook, taught me the dish, and though she covers them a bit longer in oven so that they steam a bit more than roast, I think they’re lovely either way.

potatoes1

Tim was away on a business adventure, so I held little back in filling out my plate: with a celery root-parsnip remoulade bound by creme fraiche and liberally accented with parsley, twigs of mildly funked Comte cheese, and ribbons of lacinato kale, braised to a silken heap with onions and olive oil. It worked out.

potatoes2

Caraway roasted potatoes

3/4 pound fingerling potatoes

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 1/2 T. olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Scrub your potatoes clean, and dry them. Cut them into halves, and toss them with olive oil, caraway seeds, and salt and coarse black pepper to taste. Lay them out in a shallow roasting pan (I like an aluminum jelly roll pan best), cover them with foil, and roast for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the foil and roast for another 15-20 minutes or so, or until the potatoes are tender and beginning to crisp around the edges and take on a little color. You can also leave the foil on longer, which gives the potatoes a more buttery taste but less crisp exteriors. I’ve tried to compromise with half and half, but there’s no right way about it. Just be cautious of leaving the foil off too long and burning the caraway, which would be a shame.

Serve rather immediately; you should have enough for two.

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