Seafood Queen: Cynthia Nims Brings Her New Shellfish Book to PDX

Cynthia Nims is a prolific author. The list of books she's written would take up most of the space in the cupboard I've dedicated to my whole cookbook collection—don't ask where I keep the stacks of other cookbooks that have yet to be shelved. In total, her work is a comprehensive overview of the bounty we Northwesterners enjoy, a celebration of the seasonal riches harvested from our rivers, our forests and our oceans.

There are Nims' recent single-subject seafood books, including Crab, Oysters and her latest, Shellfish. Then there are the Northwest Cookbooks e-book series (Crab, Salmon, Wild Mushrooms, Appetizers, Breakfast, Main Courses, Soups, and Salads & Sandwiches); plus the dear-to-her-heart Salty Snacks and Gourmet Game Night. Personal note: I've been angling to visit Nims in Seattle to get a tour (and maybe a taste) at her period-perfect Lava Lounge where she spins recordings—only vinyl, my dear, please—serves cocktails and runs a board game emporium for friends.

Like many of us in the food writing world, it wasn't her automatic career choice:

"Cooking has been under my skin for as long as I can remember, inspired by the sheer pleasure of cooking with my mom and big sister. I mastered the canned-pear-half-with-cottage-cheese-tail bunny salad, subscribed to Seventeen magazine for the recipes, and had my high school third-year French class over for dinner, which included a soupe à l’oignon that began with beef stock made a couple days prior."

A math degree with an eye toward becoming an engineer was scuttled after Nims attended the stagiaire program at La Varenne, which culminated in receiving the school’s Grand Diplôme d’Etudes Culinaires. She's cooked for Julia Child and the Flying Karamzov Brothers, beginning her immersion in the subject of seafood, appropriately, at Simply Seafood magazine. Nims has taught classes and co-authored, edited and contributed to dozens of publications, including the highly lauded series Modernist Cuisine.

You can meet this culinary wonder woman this weekend at two events in Portland where she's bringing her new book, Shellfish: 50 Seafood Recipes for Shrimp, Crab, Mussels, Clams, Oysters, Scallops, and Lobster, to Flying Fish on Saturday, July 23rd, from 1 to 3 p.m. Nims will be in the Chef Shack alongside Chef Trever Gilbert, who's featuring the book's Harissa Roasted Shrimp, Carrots and Radishes. Then she'll be demo-ing a couple of recipes at Vivienne Kitchen and Pantry—in their Secret Bar, no less—on Sunday, July 24th, from 3 to 5 p.m.

If you want to get a taste of just how fabulous this book is, try her simple (and seriously divine) Grilled Clam Pouches with Bay Leaf and Butter (photo above right). I made them just last night and after his first bite, Dave said, "This is going on the list for camping."

Grilled Clam Pouches with Bay Leaf and Butter

Fresh bay leaves really stand out in the preparation; dried leaves won't offer as much fragrant flavor. A rosemary or thyme sprig in each packet, or a couple of fresh sage leaves, can be used in place of fresh bay. And you can't go wrong with just buttter and clams on the grill, either. I use 12-inch wide aluminum foil; you can use larger and/or heavy duty foil if you like.

The packets make a good serving vessel perched on a plate for casual dining. You can instead transfer the clams and buttery cooking juices to shallow bowls. These lighter portions are ideal as an appetizer, followed perhaps by other items destined for the grill while it's hot.

Makes 4 servings.

2 lbs. small to medium live hard-shell clams, well-rinsed
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
8 fresh bay leaves, divided
Sliced baguette or other bread, for serving

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high direct heat.

Cut 8 pieces aluminum foil about 12 inches long and arrange them on the counter stacked in pairs for making 4 packets.

Put 1 tablespoon of butter in the center of each foil packet. Fold or tear each bay leaf in half which helps release its aromattic character, and put 2 leaves on or alongside the butter for each packet. Divide the clams evenly among the pouches, mounding them on top of the butter and bay and leaving a few inches of foil all around.

Draw the four corners of the foil up over the clams to meet in the center and crimp together along the edges, where the sides of the foil meet, so the packet is well-sealed. The goal is to create pouches that will hold in the steam for cooking and preserve the flavorful cooking juices that result.

Set the foil packets on the grill, cover, and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes for small clams, 12 to 15 minutes for medium. Partly open a packet to see if all the clams have opened, being careful to avoid the escaping steam; if not, reseal and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Set each pouch on an individual plate and fold down the foil edges, creating a rustic bowl of sorts to hold the flavorful cooking liquids. Or carefully transfer the contents to shallow bowls. Serve right away, with bread alongside, discarding any clams that did not open.

NOTE: This recipe works well in the oven, too. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Use a broad, shallow vessel, such as a large cast-iron skillet or a 12-inch gratin dish or similar baking dish. Add the butter pieces and bay leaves to the dish and put in the oven until the butter has melted. Take the dish from the oven, add the clams in a relatively even layer, and return the dish to the oven. Roast until all, or mostly all, of the clams have opened, 12 to 15 minutes. Spoon the clams into individual shallow bowls, discarding any that did not open, then carefully pour the buttery cooking liquids over the top.

Three Totally Chill Summer Soups

Looking at the weather forecast for the next few days, and knowing that the dog days of summer (i.e. August in the Pacific Northwest) are just around the corner, I thought I'd get my proverbial ducks in a row ahead of time.

Gazpacho isn't always red…this is made with yellow tomatoes!

Like most of you, the last thing I want to do when the temperature hits 90 degrees or more is to turn on the stove, so I looked up the plethora of chilled soup recipes collected in the archives here at Good Stuff NW and found a few that are going to come in handy sooner than later.

Luckily for us Northwesterners, the summer harvest is coming on strong after our extraordinarily cold, wet spring—that sound carried on the wind is local farmers heaving a big ol' sigh of relief—so the tomatoes, fennel, fruit, peppers and other cooling things you'll need will be in good supply at our local farmers' markets. 

Cucumber, fennel, avocado…

Gazpacho is what most often comes to mind when chilled soups are mentioned (photo at top and above left). A fresh tomato soup made in a blender with other vegetables and a bit of bread to give it body, you can make it ahead of time or right before serving. It's handy to have a jar on hand in the fridge for a quick lunch, appetizer or light dinner with a hearty green salad.

I'm personally in love with Persian cucumbers, the smaller, less seedy version of their big, waxy cousins that we're used to. Many local farms have started growing them for customers who like their size and that they don't have to be peeled and seeded, yet still retain the cucumber's fresh, crunchy flavor and texture. A common featured ingredient in chilled soups, combining them with other seasonal vegetables is a great way to go.

Don't let the garlic scare you…this is a gently flavorful, cooling soup.

A Spanish chilled garlic soup is cool and light with a requisite zing from the garlic and a soothing sweetness from halved grapes. It's the perfect starter to a summer evening in the back yard. It would also be terrific poured into a lidded pitcher and taken on a picnic (or a concert on the lawn) with a rotisserie chicken from the store along with a fruit salad and a bottle of chilled rosé. 

So when it eventually does start to heat up and you feel that cranky demon lurking right around the corner, take inspiration from these three cool customers. With a minimum of chopping and a quick whir in the blender, they'll turn that sweaty frown upside down.

Tomato Gazpacho

Adapted from Julia Moskin's recipe in the New York Times.

Makes a full blender.

5-6 medium tomatoes
1 small Persian cucumber or a small, peeled and seeded regular cuke
1 poblano or Anaheim pepper
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Cut all the vegetables into rough chunks. In the blender, put in the tomatoes first (they'll liquify quickly and pull in the other stuff) then add cucumber, poblano pepper, onion, and garlic. When that has been puréed, add vinegar and blend until very smooth. With the motor is running, add extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add salt if needed. Chill or serve with ice, and add a little water if it's too thick to drink easily.


Chilled Cucumber, Avocado and Fennel Soup

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded, or 3-4 Persian cukes (no peeling or seeding needed.)
1 avocado, peeled and seed removed
1 fennel bulb, quartered and cored
1/4-1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 c. water
1/2 c. sour cream
1, 1" slice day-old artisan bread, crusts removed and cut in 1/2” cubes
Salt to taste

Place half of the cucumbers, avocado, fennel bulb, onion, garlic, lemon, water and sour cream in a blender. Blend until mixture is thoroughly puréed. Add half of bread cubes and continue to blend until it is a smooth mixture. Add salt to taste. Pour into large mixing bowl. (At this point you can taste and adjust amount of onion, etc., for the other half of the soup.) Repeat with second half of ingredients. Stir to combine. Can be refrigerated (or not) before serving.


Sopa de Ajo Blanco

My friend Judy Holloway learned to make this soup when she and her family lived for a time in Spain.

1/2 c. blanched almonds
3-4 slices of large-sized baguette, more if using smaller loaf
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. salt
4 c. water
5 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
16-20 seedless green grapes

Put slices of bread in water to soak. Peel garlic. While bread soaks, put garlic and almonds in processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Squeeze water from bread, tear into pieces and add bread and salt to blender. While blending slowly, add oil, vinegar and finally water to blender. Taste, adjusting salt, vinegar and oil to taste. Chill at least 2-3 hours or overnight. Serve grapes on side, or put several in soup bowl and pour soup over grapes. Serves 4.

A Taste Memory Resurrected by a Grandmother's Kimchi Recipe

My first taste of kimchi was a revelation…salty, acidic, crunchy, and searingly spicy with the heat from Korean red chiles. I still salivate at the memory of it.

The fermentation pots, or onggi, on the roof of my host family's home.

It was made by the mother of my host family in Daejon, South Korea, having fermented in loosely covered clay pots, called onggi, on the flat, exposed roof of their home alongside other mysterious concoctions that drew my curiosity with their richly funky, exotic smells, aromas that were as foreign to my middle-class American palate as tuna noodle casserole and Swiss steak would be to my host family.

I seem to recall the family eyeing me suspiciously as I lifted the chopsticks containing that first bite to my lips, not sure how the big American girl they'd taken into their home might respond. Would she scream? Gag? Run out of the room?

They were probably relieved, if maybe a bit disappointed, that none of those happened, though I remember my lips burning by the end of the meal of fish, wok-seared greens and kimchi. It helped that there was plenty of rice and traditional scorched-rice tea (sungnyung) to help mitigate the fire of the chiles, but I was intrigued.

Gochugaru, coarse ground red pepper, is a critical ingredient.

Since that college trip I've been wanting to recreate the taste that was almost literally seared into my memory 40 years ago, and my experiences with fermentation made me pretty confident I could do it without killing or sickening my friends or family.

So when I found out that my friend Denise was willing to help me make it from the recipe her sister had transcribed from her mother Betty Ann's recipe—one that Betty Ann had learned from her mother, Annie—I was all in. (Read the story of Annie Mah's odyssey and get her recipe for gochujang.)

It began with Denise and I making a trip to one of the city's many large Asian supermarkets to get the coursely ground Korean red peppers, or gochugaru, that is the critical ingredient in kimchi, one that cannot be substituted if your goal is to make the real deal. I'd already picked up the Napa cabbage, daikon and carrots, my preferred mix of vegetables—though the recipe just calls for five pounds of whatever suits your tastes.

Remarkably simple, Denise's family recipe is fairly mild as kimchi goes, confirmed when her relatives sampled my second attempt in which I'd upped the cayenne quotient, making it more like the version I'd had in Korea. Mind you, they liked it, but as her Aunt Else said afterwards, clapping me on the shoulder, "You make it like a Korean would!"

High praise, indeed!

Kimchi (Kim Chee)

Adapted from Betty Ann della Santina's recipe by her daughter, Cynthia Forsberg.

For the brined vegetables, any of the following, about five pounds total:
Daikon, shredded or chunked
Napa or green cabbage, chunked

After brining the vegetables above overnight, add as many of these as you want:
Green onions, sliced in half or quarters lengthwise, cut crosswise in 2 to 3-inch lengths
Yellow onions, chunked
Carrots, shredded

For the paste:
1/2 c. fine to medium crushed Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
3-inch piece ginger peeled and grated (with juice)
5-7 large juicy garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 Tbsp. shrimp powder, shrimp paste, or fish sauce, or a combination
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. water (only enough to make into paste)

Soak cabbage and daikon in brine of 1 c. salt mixed in one gallon water for 14-24 hours. The next day, rinse thoroughly in cold water. Drain vegetables and press out most of the remaining water.

Red pepper paste.

Mix together red pepper (gochugaru), grated ginger, crushed garlic, shrimp powder (or fish sauce), sugar in a large bowl with just enough water to make a thick paste. 

Add brined and cut vegetables to the paste and mix thoroughly. Press into clean wide-mouth quart (or pint) jars. Press down firmly, allowing 1" space at top, and close the lid tightly, allow to ferment at least 24 to 36 hours on the counter.

[Fermentation time can vary depending on temperature and other factors. I allowed mine to sit in the basement for 5 to 7 days, and started to taste it after the third day until it had developed the "funky" taste I wanted. - KB]

Store in refrigerator.

Devilishly Delightful: Four Favorite Deviled Egg Recipes

I don't know about you, but whenever I make deviled eggs, for my family or a gathering, the ooh-ing and aah-ing just won't quit. Maybe it's the eggs from pasture-raised chickens with their marigold yolks—I've been accused of using turmeric to amp up their color—but they invariably disappear without a trace.

This is the time to buy the best eggs you can get, so don't settle for store-bought eggs that may be up to a month old. (And be forewarned: their extraordinary flavor and freshness might just convince you they're worth the price to use all the time.)

Here's a pro tip: use my tried-and-true, easy-peel method to hard-boil those fresh-from-the-farm eggs. And another tip: if you don't have one of those deviled egg platters like the one in the top photo, slice lettuce or other greens into chiffonade and spread them over a plate (photo, left). The eggs sit up like champs!

Mom's Mustard Deviled Eggs 

6 hard-boiled eggs
2 tsp. Dijon mustard, either smooth or stoneground
1/4-1/3 c. mayonnaise
Paprika or smoked paprika for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and putting them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Mash yolks with fork until there are no lumps. Add mustard and mayonnaise and combine, stir well until smooth, adjusting mayonnaise to taste (you don't want it too dry or too creamy). Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture. 

Place a fine sieve over a small bowl and add paprika. Carefully lift the sieve about 10" above the eggs and tap the edge to gently shower them with a dusting of the paprika. Serve.


Spanish-style Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs
2 anchovy fillets
4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
9 green olives, preferably anchovy-stuffed Spanish olives
Pinch of smoked Spanish paprika plus more for sprinkling
Moroccan harissa or other chile sauce for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve eggs, putting yolks in small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Using long-tined fork, crush yolks until thoroughly mashed. Add anchovy fillets and mash into yolks. Chop six of the olives finely and add, with mayonnaise and pinch of paprika, to egg yolk mixture. Mix thoroughly. Fill whites with egg mixture and arrange on platter.

Slice each remaining olive crosswise into four rounds and top each egg with one, then put a small bit of the harissa on top of the olive. Put another pinch of smoked paprika into small mesh sieve and, tapping lightly, sprinkle platter with paprika. Serve.


Curry Mustard Deviled Eggs with Fried Sage Leaves

6 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. dijon mustard, either smooth or stoneground
1/4 c. mayonnaise (approx.)
2 Tbsp. canola oil
12 sage leaves
Smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton) and sage flowers, if available, for garnish

Hard-boil eggs using my method. When cool, halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and placing them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on a serving platter. Mash yolks with fork. Add curry powder, mustard, oil and mayonnaise and combine, stirring until there are no lumps. Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture.

In frying pan, heat oil until it shimmers but doesn't smoke (I always flick a few drops of water into the oil…when it spatters it's hot enough). Add sage leaves, a few at a time, and fry for a few seconds on each side. Like making crostini in the broiler, the key is to not turn away because they'll burn the instant you do. So stand there and wait. Remove to paper towel to drain and cool. Sprinkle eggs with pimenton (see method, above), top each with a sage leaf and scatter sage flowers on the platter.


Fresh Horseradish Deviled Eggs with Chorizo

6 slices Spanish-style chorizo*
6 hard-boiled eggs
1-2 Tbsp. fresh horseradish root, grated finely (a microplane works great)
2 tsp. dijon mustard, either smooth or seeded
1/4-1/3 c. mayonnaise
Paprika for garnish

In small skillet over medium-high heat, cook chorizo slices until crispy. Remove to paper towel to drain. When cool, halve and reserve.

Hard-boil eggs using my method. Halve hard-boiled eggs, removing yolks and putting them in a small mixing bowl and placing whites on serving tray. Mash yolks with fork until there are no lumps. Add mustard, finely grated horseradish and mayonnaise and combine, stirring well until smooth, adjusting horseradish to taste (it can vary in strength and heat depending on where it's from, how old it is, etc., so start light and adjust). Fill halves of whites with yolk mixture. Top each egg with a half slice of chorizo.

Place a fine sieve over a small bowl and add paprika. Carefully lift the sieve about 10" above the eggs and tap the edge to gently shower them with a dusting of the paprika. Serve. 

* Spanish-style chorizo is a salami-like cured product. If you can't find authentic Spanish chorizo at your specialy grocer (like Providore), Fra' Mani makes a Salametto Piccante, or you can use Olympia Provisions' chorizo.

Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista: Put Something Fermented On It!

I had another one of those slap-my-forehead moments when I was reading Ginger Rapport's weekly newsletter from the Beaverton Farmers Market. As Market Master—I love that title—it's part of her job to not only recruit, interview and decide on vendors, but to test their products as well. This week she sampled a fermented product from Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista, putting it in a grilled cheese sandwich which she—like me—had never even thought of.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a go-to favorite for most meals because they are easy, delicious and highly customizable. Over the years we have seen dozens—maybe hundreds—of combinations of bread, condiments, cheese and add-ins, all resulting in a gooey tasty sandwich. However, we have to confess that it never occurred to us to use sauerkraut as a solo add-in until we saw a recipe for a grilled cheese with sauerkraut and Dijon sandwich from Umami Girl

When we think of sauerkraut on a sandwich, most of us think of the classic Reuben which is made with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on rye bread slathered with Russian dressing. The sauerkraut acts as a counterbalance to the richness of the cheese, meat and dressing, much the way pickles do on other types of sandwiches.

Sarah Pesout of The Fermentista at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

The sharp fresh taste of the kraut helps cut through the rich fat of the cheese, making for a more balanced bite. This is especially true if you are using aged or sharp cheeses with a lot of flavor and fat. Once the idea of adding sauerkraut to a grilled cheese made sense to us, the next question was, what kind of sauerkraut do we use? So we turned to the market’s expert on the subject, Sarah Pesout, owner and chef of The Fermentista.

Sarah specializes in fermented vegetables from sauerkraut to salsa. Fermenting gives food a sour flavor without any added acid, which differs from pickling, which involves putting food into an acidic brine. Fermenting is a healthier and, in our opinion, tastier way to preserve vegetables such as cabbage. Sarah makes several delicious krauts so we asked for her recommendation. Market Master Ginger Rapport was leaning toward her Caraway Sauerkraut because she loves the hint of onion that Sarah adds to the mix. However she changed her mind at Sarah’s urging and instead picked up a jar of Fermented Leeks with Black Pepper.

Sarah explained that the leeks, like pickled onions, are a perfect accompaniment to grilled cheese and wanted us to know that she and her assistant hand-cut every leek she uses. Despite the resulting tears shed by the duo, they are committed to finely shredding the leeks by hand to avoid bruising and mangling of the otherwise sturdy allium. The final result is a product that is crunchy but not tough, full of flavor but not overpowering, and is a perfect match for a sharp cheddar and fontina grilled cheese on Jewish rye bread with Dijon mustard.

Note: In Ginger’s first sandwich she was very conservative with the leeks, not knowing what to expect. They were surprisingly gentle so she was much more generous with them in subsequent sandwiches and they were a big hit with her family.

The Beaverton Farmers Market one of the generous sponsors of Good Stuff NW. Top photo and middle photo by Beaverton Farmers Market. Bottom left photo of the sandwich I made with my husband's fabulous sourdough, organic sharp cheddar and my homemade sauerkraut!

Across Oceans and Generations, Gochujang Recipe Connects a Family to Its Past

Annie Mah was 14 years old when a man named Chong Chin Joe—known as C.C. Joe—of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, chose her picture from among those of young Korean women from peasant families that were presented by a network of family friends. In 1925, she left her family in Hawaii to make the arduous journey across an ocean and most of a continent to marry a man she'd never met.

She brought with her only the basics she needed for the journey, but Annie also carried with her the recipes her mother had taught her, recipes that her own mother had brought with her from Korea when she was imported to work in the pineapple fields of Kauai in the early 1900s. The recipes were for staples of the Korean diet like kimchi, a traditional dish of vegetables fermented with salt and chiles, and another for a sweet-spicy miso paste called gochujang (or kojujung, as the family refers to it).

Annie Mah and her family. From left: C.C. Joe, Normie (on C.C.'s lap),
Gert (standing), Betty and Tom (seated), Elsie (standing), Peter, and Annie.

I first tasted Annie's gochujang at a dinner at my friend Denise della Santina's home. I was entranced by the sweet, spicy tang of umami and the thick, jam-like texture of the miso, chiles, garlic and honey as it spread across my tongue. I'd used a store-bought brand in my Pandemic Pantry Mapo Tofu, but like so many mass-produced versions of traditional condiments it didn't have anywhere near the depth of flavor that this homemade sauce had.

Of course I immediately begged Denise to share the recipe, one that her sister Cyndi had demanded from their aunt Elsie, Annie's second-oldest child (photo, above). (I confess that I myself am guilty of "forcing" my mother to share family recipes.) After observing Elsie’s techniques, Cyndi had tried it, tweaked it, and finally written it down so it could be consistently reproduced. Denise offered to coach me through the process via text, since it takes several hours to cook the paste down to the proper consistency. Even so I could have reduced it even more, according to the family members who've tried it. Except for that, Denise pronounced it almost identical to her family's and in fact, because it dries out as it ages, she liked that mine was softer and more spreadable.

An outdoor picnic, perhaps with some of the "German ladies."
Annie is seated at the far left rear with a baby on her lap.

As for Annie herself, after arriving in Milwaukee she joined Mr. Joe in his Oriental Food Company, bearing six children over the next decade. Elsie said she remembers her mother standing at the end of a long counter, chopping vegetables for the business's signature chop suey, which C.C. produced for the lunch counters at Woolworth's and Newberry's.

Because she was so young when she arrived, Annie had almost no experience raising children, and certainly no experience with Midwestern winters, but Elsie recalled that there was a group of "German ladies" from their church who basically adopted the family and helped teach Annie how to keep house and take care of the children. Elsie remembers "five spinster sisters," the Lindenlaubs, who taught Annie to make corned beef with cabbage, as well as a warm German potato salad.

Annie (center, rear, in white dress) and the children going back to Hawaii from Los Angeles.

Denise said that her mother, Betty, put a Korean twist on the traditional German corned beef recipe—she referred to it as "yangnyeom," Korean for "seasoning," which my own mother would have called "doctoring"—since all that was available was canned corned beef, chopping in garlic, onions and ginger with the cabbage, along with splashes of sesame oil and soy sauce.

The Milwaukee chapter of their lives was upended around 1940 when C.C.'s business partner absconded with the business's money and he was forced to close it. The family then made their way to Los Angeles, where they had relatives. Annie and the children eventually continued on to Hawaii, while C.C. moved to Santa Barbara to test his fortunes. Having entered the U.S. illegally, he didn't have papers to travel outside the country—at that point Hawaii, not yet a state, was a territory of the United States and required official identification from travelers.

Family lore also suggests that having selected what he thought was a dutiful Korean wife, instead C.C. had married a strong-willed, independent thinker who wasn’t interested in being managed—and it meant their future as husband and wife wasn’t to be. But the gochujang lives on among the family members in Minnesota, Portland, Berkeley and beyond, wherever the family (and their friends, like me) still make it.

Annie Mah's Kojujung (Gochujang)

Adapted from Elsie Rie via Cynthia Forsberg.

Prep time approx. 3 hours. Yield approx. 2 quarts.

2.2 lbs. (1,000kg or 1 kilo) red miso) [I used Jorinji Red Miso. - KB]
1 c. toasted sesame oil
8 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 c. chopped ginger (peel & grate, do NOT lose the juice)
1 c. toasted, crushed sesame seeds [best in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder; my processor didn't grind them fine enough. - KB]
1 1/2-2 1/2 c. dark soy sauce
1 1/2 c. honey
1 c. Korean red pepper flakes plus 2 Tbsp. cayenne for heat as needed
6-8 Tbsp. shrimp powder [If not available, 4 Tbsp. fish sauce is an acceptable substitute. - KB]

Slowly brown the miso in a large, heavy frying pan (13" cast iron works well) over a very low flame.

Toast sesame seeds [I used a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, shaking or stirring constantly until golden. Cool. Crush sesame seeds in mortar and pestle with salt or grind in spice grinder until fine. - KB]

Add each ingredient while stirring and browning constantly over very low heat.  

Add the soy and sesame oil in half-cup increments, stirring until dissolved. Continue browning until it achieves a dark chocolate brown color, but retains a thick, paste-like consistency, about two hours or even more. Turns the color of very dark molasses, but it takes constant stirring on a very low flame. Should be a thick paste.


Get Denise's family recipe for Greek dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves)

All photos courtesy Denise della Santina.

Stifatho or Stifado: However You Spell It, This Greek Beef Stew is F-A-B!

Call them stews or braises or, as New York Times food editor Sam Sifton termed this class of long-simmered, pot-cooked bellywarmers, "balms against winter’s bite," there's nothing in a cook's repertoire more satisfying on a cold night. Whether cooked on a stovetop or in the oven, the house starts to feel warmer almost immediately, and as the meat is browned and the vegetables are sautéed, the aromas begin to make stomachs growl in anticipation.

My first introduction to this particular stew was waaaaaaay back in high school when I became friends with a young woman who lived in our suburban neighborhood with its cookie-cutter ranch houses and striving white-collar families. Exotic in my stolidly middle-class experience, their house was littered with Balinese art and South Asian throws. Shelves of books rather than American colonial furniture were the focus of their decor, and when I was lucky enough to be invited for dinner they made curries and ethnic stews rather than noodle casseroles.

In other words, I was enthralled.

This all came back to me when friends—who've traveled extensively in Greece and are exotic in their own way—served us a Greek stew called stifatho that uses vinegar instead of wine or tomatoes to braise the meat, and calls for an equivalent weight of onions and beef. When I got home I dug through my trusty tin recipe box and found the original recipe from that family's home in high school—yes, I collected them even back then—and tinkered with it until it tasted just as I remembered.

Stifatho (Greek Beef Stew)

3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2" cubes
1/2-1 c. flour
3 lbs. pearl onions (approx. 3 14-oz. packages frozen) or 3 large yellow onions, cut in 1/2" dice
2 c. canned or roasted tomatoes
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. oregano
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or to taste
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Put flour in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag with a generous amount of salt and pepper and shake to combine. Add 8-10 cubes meat to the bag and shake to cover them with flour, working in batches to do all of the meat. You only want a dusting on each piece, so shake them off to make sure they're not clumped with flour.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add floured cubes to the pan, making sure not to crowd them. Brown them well on at least two sides. This will require several batches, so as they brown remove them to a plate or bowl. When all the cubes are browned, put them back in the Dutch oven and add onions, tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, oregano and bay leaves. Place in oven for 90 minutes.

Remove from oven. At this point you can either serve it later or finish seasoning the stew. If you're making it ahead you can cool it and either keep it in the refrigerator or transfer it to containers and freeze it. When you're ready to heat it for serving, thaw it or pull it out of the refrigerator and remove the fat that has solidified and proceed as below.

To finish the stew, stir in the fish sauce and cinnamon stick and heat on the stovetop. Taste, adding salt as needed, and when you can just detect the cinnamon flavor, remove the stick or it will dominate the stew. If it's overly vinegary for you, start adding brown sugar a tablespoon at a time, stirring it in and letting the stew sit for a few minutes before tasting again, since the vinegar flavor will get milder as it rests. The thing you want to avoid is a baked-bean sweetness, so add a splash of additional vinegar if that happens.

Serve with rice—I made my turmeric rice with tangerine peels and it was fantastic—polenta or roasted potatoes.

Chuck the Chicken: Try This Roasted Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

As a young married person starting a family, I didn't often cook fish for dinner because I didn't grow up eating or cooking with it—good fresh fish was hard to come by in our small Central Oregon town. Even after my parents moved the family to Portland there wasn't much available in the strip mall supermarkets around our suburban housing development, the streets strangely named after Native American tribes. (Pawnee Path? Shawnee Trail? Sioux Court? Seriously?)

My mother was much more comfortable cooking red meat, what with her upbringing in an Eastern Oregon cattle ranching family. When we did have fish, it was most often from a can—tuna or the dreaded canned salmon, which was unceremoniously dumped in a dish, the indentations of the rings from the can still visible on its surface. Any whole fish tended to be less than absolutely fresh, requiring lots of what was called "doctoring" to cut the fishiness.

Needless to say, there was a lot I had to learn about cooking it.

Fortunately, we now have a myriad of choices for fresh-caught fish available at farmers' markets or one of many retail outlets featuring species caught off our own coast or harvested from regional waters. Recently I bought a portion of a friend's share of sockeye salmon from her Iliamna Fish Company CSF (Community Supported Fishery) subscription, several vacuum-sealed frozen fillets ready to thaw and throw on the grill or in a pan. (Check out this guide to Pacific Northwest CSA and CSF offerings.)

Since the weather was too inclement even for Dave, who's been known to stand over his grill with a beer in hand in an ice storm, I decided to try roasting it in the oven with a lemon piccata sauce that our friend Dana had made for a dinner. She'd come across a chicken piccata recipe that sounded great, but she had rockfish fillets on hand. Ignoring tradition like any creative cook, she decided to try a completely new dish on guests, subbing in the fish for the chicken. Excellent!

It seemed like salmon might be a good match, as well, so I followed her lead. Start to finish, it's ready in about half an hour…and I think you'll agree it's a winner. And it pairs nicely with my recently posted recipe for Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels!

Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
1/2 c. fish or chicken stock
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. white miso (optional)
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine, for garnish (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and very briefly sauté until it's just warmed. Add lemon juice and stock and heat until it barely comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add capers and miso and stir to combine. Add a small amount of water to the cornstarch to make a thin paste. Add cornstarch to sauce while stirring, and allow to thicken slightly.

Place fish fillets in a 9" by 12" baking dish. Pour sauce over the top and roast in oven for 20-25 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Adventures in Vegetables: Sear that Radicchio!

Verona. Castelfranco. Treviso. Chioggia. Lusia. Rosa del Veneto. A wide range of colors from deep burgundy to pastel pink to soft yellow, and solid to streaked to brightly speckled.

Radicchio season has been glorious this year, as evidenced by the gorgeous abundance of varieties at farm stands, farmers' markets and greengrocers. Not only has the weather been spectacular for this late fall crop, but more local farmers than ever are growing these slightly bitter members of the brassica family.

One reason it grows so well here is that, as Anthony Boutard has pointed out numerous times, we're at virtually the same latitude as Italy's Venezia and Piedmont regions, which means crops that grow well there will more likely than not will adapt well to our maritime climate. Luckily for us, Brian Campbell and Chrystine Goldberg, owners of Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, Washington, have caught the "bitter is better" bug and are working with several Northwest growers to develop and adapt these chicories to our climate. (To find out more, check out the Gusto Italiano Project, a collaboration between the Culinary Breeding Network, Uprising Seeds and the northern Italian vegetable breeders at Smarties.bio.)

So in late fall, my heart leaps when I see the first heads of Treviso and Castelfranco at the markets, and I can't seem to get enough of them in salads, chopped in wide ribbons and tossed with other greens and fall vegetables like black radish and fennel. I've also discovered an affinity between radicchio and our own hazelnuts—I've been crushing roasted hazelnuts and scattering them with abandon, where they bring a sweet counterpoint to the bitter notes of the chicory.

This year I've also discovered how delicious these fall beauties—particularly the tighter heads of Treviso, Chioggia and Verona—are when seared in a pan over a fire or on the stovetop. It takes just a few minutes to quarter them, sear them in a bit of hot olive oil and drizzle them with my creamy Miso Vinaigrette (below). And don't forget the roasted hazelnuts!

Seared Radicchio with Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

For the radicchio:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 smaller heads of Chioggia, Verona or Treviso radicchio
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, crushed

To make the vinaigrette, combine the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk together.

Slice the heads of radicchio in quarters, leaving the core intact so the leaves will stay together. (The cores will soften while searing and be quite lovely.) Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and place the quartered wedges cut-side down and sear until very dark brown (don't worry if they look blackish…that's good). Turn and sear the other cut side, then turn onto the back and sear. Remove to a serving plate and drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with crushed, roasted hazelnuts. Serve warm.

Photo of heads of radicchio from Slow Hand Farm. Radicchio print from Culinary Breeding Network Etsy shop where you can buy lots of radicchio merch!

Before I Forget: Deconstructed Ratatouille

My first efforts here at Good Stuff NW were to simply record things I came across, from a new-to-me charcutiere in Seattle to a road trip south to Redding, California—which we promptly named after the Robert Mitchum classic "Thunder Road"—to a profile of our first Cardigan Corgi, Rosey. All themes that have remained mainstays of what has become my second career.

Northwest seasonal bounty in spades!

You see, GSNW—so much nicer than just "this blog," isn't it?—is also a record of sorts of my journey through food. It's chronicled my sense of betrayal when I found out how my until-then-beloved Tillamook cheese actually sources its milk, to discovering the true meaning of nose-to-tail eating through a pig named Roger. It included finding out that we do indeed have a "food system" here in the Northwest that impacts our health, our communities, the environment and the climate. Wow.

What does that have to do with ratatouille, you might rightly ask? Good question.

Since the beginning, I've also recorded favorite recipes* from the basics like a quick tomato sauce and mustard vinaigrette to what to do with leftovers (a series I call "The 'L' Word") to a yearly Crustacean Celebration of our world-class Dungeness crab. It's been a boon to scroll through this list on those I-have-no-idea-what-to-have-for-dinner nights and find something that will fill the bill of fare.

Which brings me to ratatouille. (Finally!)

I love eggplant, whether in a ginger-rich Chinese sauce or an Italian Parmigiana. But ratatouille, that Southern French simmered melange of vegetables, has never broken my top ten eggplant dishes. Maybe it's the color of the finished dish, which tends to turn to the drab side of the spectrum when finished, or that the vegetables lose their individual flavors in the stew, especially sad when the members are fresh from the farm, vibrant in color and hardy in texture.

But then…

I'd just picked up our CSA share one week and there it was (above, left). Deep purple-to-pale-lavender eggplants, yellow and green summer squash, and tomatoes fresh off the vine. It took no urging to get Dave to fire up the grill, and I pulled a couple of chicken thighs out of the fridge to throw on with those gorgeous vegetables. Tossed with a caper-studded vinaigrette, it was a definite keeper.

Which, because of the post you are reading, I'll now have to refer to the next time I find myself in need of dinner ideas.

Grilled Ratatouille

Eggplants
Italian peppers (red, yellow and orange, or any mix of those)
Summer squash (yellow and green zucchini, patti pan, crookneck, etc.)
Tomatoes

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables, mix and match amounts and types as available and adjust amounts for the number of people you're feeding.

Make a fire in the grill (we use a chimney for that purpose). While coals are heating, make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisking them together. Then chop or slice all the vegetables except the tomatoes into larger grill-able pieces. I usually cut larger eggplants into 1" slices and halve the zucchini. Usually the peppers can be grilled whole then seeded before using. DO NOT OIL VEGETABLES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES prior to grilling. When coals are white-hot, dump them out and spread evenly in one layer. Place vegetables on the grate over the fire and cook until tender, turning as needed and pulling them off the fire onto a platter as they become done.

When all the vegetables are cooked, chop into bite-sized pieces, including the fresh tomatoes. Place on platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Find more recipes for leftovers, or get the whole massive list here and here.