Monday, November 28, 2011

Persians & Pilgrims Party Rice

My husband, Dara, is of Persian descent, and we've been married a dozen years now. In the course of our marriage, I have learned to make Persian rice -- no easy feat, especially for a German-Irish-English-Dutch-mutt cook being scrutinized at each step by a clinical pathologist mother-in-law. Talk about detail-oriented!

To Persians, properly prepared rice is nearly holy, at least the way Dara and his family talk about it. Cooking it makes the whole house smell like popcorn, and it comes with a crunchy, buttery, salty, saffron-scented layer at the bottom called tadik (pronounced tad-eek).

Here is a dish that I made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey, dried cranberries, carrots, peas, pistachios, caramelized onions, Indian spices and Persian rice. I broke up the tadik and mixed it in for crunch. I like to call this Persian & Pilgrims Party Rice because it's colorful, with a little glitz and glamour just like a Persian wedding, but it's also kind of dowdy, like some Pilgrims showed up and crashed it.

To make the Perisan rice, you start with high-quality, long-grain basmati rice from India. You rinse it four or five times to get rid of debris and starch, and then you add it to rapidly boiling, salted water and boil it for a few minutes, until it's slightly tender. Then you drain it, return it to the pot and stir in a touch of vegetable oil, butter and salt. Use a mortar and pestle to crunch a few pinches of saffron, and fill the mortar with water. Drizzle this water over the rice. Put a clean tea towel over the pot to absorb excess moisture, and then seal it with a lid. Steam the rice on low heat for an hour or so, until a crunchy layer has formed at the bottom.

The rice on top should be fluffy and white, laced with saffron yellow here and there, with each grain separate and distinct. Use a gentle hand -- like you're measuring flour -- to scoop this onto a platter. The crunchy layer on the bottom -- the tadik -- should be golden brown. Use a spatula to scrape the tadik onto its own platter, keeping it intact as much as you can.

I'll type out a full recipe as soon as I can. In the meantime, party on, Persians and Pilgrims!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chicken & Dumplings

Mmm. What a comforting end to a crisp, fall day. My mom used to make something like this, and I realized I had never made it myself. I seldom hear about chicken and dumplings. It's a dish that's old-fashioned, modest and homey...actually, kind of farmy. The last time I ate it, I think I was at Bob Evan's on a road trip, hung over.

Before making it I was trying to explain to Dara what the dumplings are like, and I had trouble. Kind of like biscuits, but not. They're laid on top of rich chicken stew and steamed, and you want them fluffy, with lots of holes. So don't work the dough too much. In any case, this version (my own adaptation of the Joy recipe) was a smash hit, and we're adding it to the Sahebjami household's fall/winter menu. Come on over!

Serves 4-6

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1/4-1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 bone-in chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 medium celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 heavy cream

First, make the dumplings: Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Bring butter and milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Add butter-milk mixture and parsley to the dry mixture. Use a fork to stir until a dough comes together. Knead the dough just 2-3 times to smooth it out, but don't worry that it's not completely smooth. Cut the dough into 18 portions. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Next, make the stew: Heat butter in a large, heavy pot on medium heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the butter. Cover and cook, turning occasionally, until chicken is browned on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add onion to butter and cover pot; let onion sweat for a minute or two, then remove lid. Saute onion until golden. Stir in flour and saute for 1 minute. Add broth and water. Turn heat to high and whisk until the broth bubbles; it should be smooth and have some body, almost like a sauce. Add carrots, celery, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Return chicken to the pot as well. Cover and simmer on low heat until the chicken is almost fully cooked, about 15 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the chicken and place it on a cutting board. Cut it off the bones and into shredded, bite-sized pieces. Return these pieces to the stew. Stir in the cream, taste the stew, and adjust seasoning as needed. Lay the reserved dumplings on top of the stew, cover pot, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Pecan Crunch Cookies

Have you noticed that it's hard to find a good cookie these days? Sometimes after lunch, or in the afternoon with my tea, or after dinner, I just want a sweet, flavorful bite of yummy. Not a trendy cupcake or mini pie. Not a scone, brownie or muffin. Not a cookie the size of my head. Just a good little cookie. Preferably in a flavor other than chocolate chip, oatmeal or peanut butter. And that's surprisingly hard to find.

Sometimes to get my fix, I resort to baking. And this here, this is a good cookie, especially with Halloween and Thanksgiving around the corner. I started with a recipe, but decided it wasn't quite awesome enough, so I played with it.

It's pumpkin-flavored. Crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. (That comes from proper baking time and temperature.) It has a dab of salty, cinnamon caramel frosting. And it's topped with crunchy candied pecans. Overall, the whole thing isn't too sweet, and it's got some complexity in flavor and texture. Hooray!

Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Cinnamon Caramel Icing (recipe below)
Pecan Brittle (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy. Stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, and beat just until combined. Drop tablespoons of dough 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 6 minutes, then rotate baking sheets and bake 6-7 minutes more, until cookies just begin to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool slightly, then use a spatula to transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Use a small offset spatula to ice cookies with Cinnamon Caramel Icing, and sprinkle with chopped Pecan Brittle.

Makes about 2 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (light brown sugar will work, too, but won't be as rich)
1/4 cup milk
1  1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves

Place butter and brown sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until brown sugar dissolves. Let cool, and whisk in remaining ingredients.

Makes enough for chopping and sprinkling on the cookies, plus a little extra

1  1/2 cups roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2-3 drops lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place a silicone baking liner or a sheet of buttered parchment paper next to the stove. Place chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast 6-7 minutes, until fragrant. Meanwhile, stir together sugar, water and lemon juice in a clean saucepan. Turn heat on high, and let cook until medium brown; your goal is to get the color as deep as possible without burning it. Stir in the hot, toasted pecans. Spread this mixture as flat as possible onto the silicone baking liner and let it cool completely. (To clean the sticky saucepan, fill it with some water and simmer it for awhile, until the caramel dissolves.)

Photo: Dara Sahebjami

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

San Juan Apples

Last week Dara, Calvin the baby, Chloe the dog and I boarded the ferry to visit Hawk and Suzy Pingree at San Juan Island Distillery. We stayed for a couple of days, learning about how they make their products and helping pick cider apples. (Calvin, to be honest, wasn't a very productive worker.) We met these retired agricultural academics through their rockin' daughter Haley, who's our friend, neighbor, and my former colleague.

In a spare, red-trimmed building just around the corner from tony Roche Harbor, the Pingrees work with their partner Richard Anderson to make Westcott Bay Cider, a tasty hard cider made from Richard's proprietary mix of apples grown just down the hill. Then they distill some of the cider to create an aromatic, award-winning apple eau de vie. And then, they age some of the eau de vie in oak barrels; the vision is that someday they'll produce a smooth, Calvados-like apple brandy that's worthy of Washington's apple reputation.

While they're at it, they make use of their gorgeous 200-liter copper still from Germany to create several other distillations, most prominently their Spy Hop brand gin, which has a delicious and unique botanical taste that comes not only from the more traditional juniper, lemon, star anise, cardamom and orris root, but also from some San Juan Island inhabitants like blackberries, wild roses, lavender and madrone bark. They make some brandies and liqueurs, too. My favorite is the old-fashioned lavender and wild rose liqueur...something about it makes me feel like a lacy flapper partying on a local lumber baron's yacht.

When we were there, Hawk and Suzy were experimenting with a Golden Delicious apple mash they got off the island. The still produced not only "heads," "hearts" and "tails" -- terms for the different components to discard or keep -- but also cozy warmth and an unmistakeable fall aroma. That was nice.

Did I mention that Suzy shakes up a mean cocktail? Yeah, this is a pretty cool couple to hang out with! Here are a couple of recipes she gave us:

2 parts Spy Hop Gin
1/2 part lemon juice
1/2 part Lavender & Wild Rose Liqueur
1/2 part maraschino liqueur

2 parts Spy Hop Harvest Select Gin
1 part lemon juice
1/2 part cider syrup (simple syrup made from hard cider instead of water -- clever, right?)
Top-up of Westcott Bay Cider

Photos: Dara Sahebjami

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saveur's Maultaschensuppe: Don't Try It at Home

I just about died when I saw a feature in the November issue of Saveur about Central European soups. Are you kidding me? Give me a rich broth with some dumplings and sausage, and I'll follow you just about anywhere.

Of all the deeply comforting options, I set out to replicate Maultaschensuppe, which contains meaty dumplings that are a specialty of Swabia in southern Germany. They looked like puffy little pillows in the picture.

With my Saveur recipe in hand, I pestered the butcher at Ballard Market to wrap me 3 ounces each of ground beef, pork, veal and bacon. We're off to a good start, right?

I mixed together the dumpling dough and rolled it 1/16 inch thick, so it was satiny and translucent. I've made ravioli several times, and this was similar. So far so good.

To make the dumpling filling, I combined the four types of raw ground meat in a bowl with fried onion, cream, cooked spinach and eggs. I wondered briefly why I wasn't required to brown the meat to develop its flavor. Wouldn't that make it a little tastier than just steaming it inside the dumpling filling? Then again, I thought, this is a common practice for Asian dumplings. And if it's a flavorful filling overall, I'm sure it will turn out fine.

I also wondered why I had been asked to cook the chopped spinach before including it in the filling; was that really necessary? Wouldn't it just wilt when it steams inside the dumplings?

The real questions came when I was required to season the raw dumpling filling. "Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste."

So here I am, trying to follow this recipe to a tee because I'm completely unfamiliar with this soup, and they can't just tell me how much to season the raw meat mixture? I'm supposed to taste the raw meat several times not only for salt and pepper, but also for nutmeg? How do I know how much they want it to taste like nutmeg? At this point I'm sensing I've just invested a few hours of my life in a lazy, untested recipe.

I formed the dumplings and boiled them. To serve the soup, I added them to chicken broth containing diced carrot, celery and parsley. Never mind that the recipe description and photo featured chives, while the recipe listed parsley -- the broth was a total snooze. No roux to make it a little richer and more flavorful? No extra seasoning? How embarrassing.

The really sad thing about this recipe fail was that the issue's editor's letter was all about the feature on Central European soups -- how they've been working on it for an entire year, collecting recipes and photos from soup experts all over the region.

I guess it goes to show that recipe development and testing take a lot of time and attention to detail...and when you don't do it properly, you waste people's time and money. I thoroughly test any recipe before I list it here on Seasonal Seattle, so if you try one and it doesn't work for you, please please let me know. I don't want you to feel how I did tonight!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tomato Sauce, 3 Ways

We didn't grow tomatoes this year, and still we ended up with a wide variety from family and neighbors -- enough to make three small batches of tomato sauce. Despite the cold summer and their late debut, the fruit turned out juicy and flavorful, always reminding me of being a child in my grandparents' dense August gardens, making my way along aromatic gravel paths with a basket or a wagon for collection. With many years of eating tomatoes in many places, this is the memory that always returns.

For the first batch, I gently roasted a mixture of varieties, just dousing them with olive oil and adding a foil packet of garden-grown garlic. Once roasted for an hour at 400 F, I blended the tomatoes and garlic in the food processor for a basic and versatile sauce. For the next batch, I picked out some medium-sized, deep red orbs for deep roasting -- 400 F for several hours, like 4 or 5, until they were well-wrinkled and caramelized. Some of these were blended into a concentrated tomato paste, while others remained solid for smooshing onto turkey sandwiches. And for the third batch, I made a simple pasta sauce, with olive oil and butter, onion, garlic, tomatoes, Parmesan, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. For someone who seems to plan two dinners ahead, maximum, it felt good to be all stocked up.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The soil and sun of Eastern Washington create the best peaches in the country, hands down. At the risk of sounding like that friend of Forrest Gump who goes on about shrimp, I've made a few peach cobblers, an open-faced peach pie with a vanilla bean custard base, peach milkshakes, and a fun salad that was inspired by a citrus version served at Tilth:

Slice a perfectly ripe peach; no need to peel. Spread it attractively in a line on a white plate. Use sugar and a blow torch to caramelize the peaches. Accompany this bruleed sweetness with a little pile of dressed arugula from the farmers market (real arugula -- not that baby stuff from the supermarket), sheeps milk cheese and toasted pistachios. Proscuitto is optional.