Nancy says "I love gardening." But she admits that she's not good at it "the way I'm good at cooking." Me neither. I'm a way better cook than a gardener. I'd rather have chicken guts on my hands than dirt any day.
But this year Nancy's got a brand new gardening bag. It's called "Square Foot Gardening" from Mel Bartholomew's book of the same name.
Make the Chinese-American restaurant favorite Shrimp & Lobster Sauce at home.
Both Nancy and I have loved this Chinese American restaurant staple since childhood.
I've been playing around with the dish, adding my own refinements and tweaks for years before finally synthesizing a method for Shrimp & Lobster Sauce as I remember it from childhood dinners at New Rochelle's House of Wu.
Nancy thought we should do S&LS for a FfT but I was reluctant. I've been making this dish for so long that it's second nature to me.
I had no idea about measurements or how to tell anyone to go about putting it together. "No problem," Nancy said. "You cook. I'll watch and take notes."
So Nancy came over, watched me cook and asked many questions. By the time we'd finished and worked the recipe up I saw that what seemed simple to me is actually more complicated than I realized. Still, it's not cold fusion. Follow the directions below and you'll be rewarded with the Platonic Ideal of this old Chinese-American favorite. Ready? Let's saddle up and go.
It's RamenMania in Seattle these days and Nancy Leson's favorite slurp is Samurai Noodle. "It's long been my favorite place to get a big, rich bowl of Ramen noodles." Recently Nance got to hang out with owner Ryo Izawa and got a look at how they make their tonkotsu broth. Short version: Pork bones, water and 20 hours of slow simmering.
Nance explained that flavorful Tonkotsu broth is not de-fatted or strained for clarity. "That's where the mouth feel and flavor comes from." Now me...
Nancy in Netherlands. Beer and herring. A lot of herring.
Nance, husband Mac and son Nate are back from a spring break outing to The Netherlands. While there she ate herring. Quite a bit of it.
Pickled herring with onions. Deep fried herring. Whole herring (pictured above) which she lowered into her mouth while it screamed for mercy. Herring Bun (a great pattern for a man's suit). She also learned a new word.
Foods we just couldn't stand as kids. Some we like now. Some we still don't like.
I never liked fruit. Wouldn't even eat fruit baby food. Nancy Leson always hated calves liver. We both reviled asparagus. That was because we'd only had the canned kind, never fresh. Paraphrasing Mark Twain I told Nancy the difference between fresh and canned asparagus was the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Lemon is a frequent ingredient in the cuisine at both the Stein and Leson households. Nancy says "It's a rare day when I don't use one or three of them when I'm cooking." I like lemons, too but my wife (The Lovely and Talented) Cheryl DeGroot believes there's nothing they can't improve.
Dick and Nancy reminisce over the marathon private lunch they shared with like-minded eaters at Seattle's Salumi last week.
Yes, it's true that I ate three days worth of food in three hours. Wretched excess? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Need you ask? Besides, I think Nancy ate more. So what were we all doing there? Well, it's a medium-long story.
The huge variety of international groceries on Highway 99.
Pork Rinds, Pirogi, Injera, Oh My!
My Food for Thought pard Nancy Leson happily cruises the strip malls of Highway 99 in search of hole-in-the-wall international grocery stores and she thinks you should, too. "Yes," she says, "And the more interesting, unusual to us, and adventurous the better."
Nancy's favorite recipe and tips for preparing Italian potato Gnocchi.
I've never been able to make Italian potato Gnocchi (NYOH-kee). I admitted my secret shame to Nancy Leson in this week's Food for Thought. "I just end up with this soggy, waterlogged mess. They almost dissolve. Where am I goin' wrong, here?" Nancy's answer was a question.
That sneaky Nancy Leson! She tried to get me to name the musician I'd most like to have entertain at a Valentine's dinner for me and DeGroot. Naturally, I refused. If I name someone, then I'm excluding everyone else, I told her.
I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Nancy, of course, has no such qualm.
Summer is made endurable by anticipation of the winter to come. How I look forward to those long nights and lovely gray, rainy days! And to eating the pot that was already legal in Washington — pot roast, pot pies, pot au feu.
But Nancy Leson? In deepest, darkest February, she's thinking salad, and some pretty enticing ones, too.
It's January, the best time of the year to eat Pacific Northwest oysters. In this encore edition of Food for Thought, Nancy sings an ode to the joys of slurping and answers the question "What goes best with an oyster on the half-shell?" Stein's answer: courage!
All it took was for friend and colleague Nick Morrison to mention that his wife Ceal had brought home an electric griddle for visions of panini to dance in my head. So while wife DeGroot rolled her eyes, I rushed to the store for my own Cuisinart Griddler.
They've been saying, "They just don't make'em like they used to" since shortly after the first stone ax was updated. But when that old saw is applied to the KitchenAid stand mixer, Nancy Leson says it's true.
Nancy Leson was suffering from cake envy. For husband Mac's birthday, she'd gone to all the trouble of baking a big deal birthday cake for him But at the party, "a cake that came out of a box" stole the glory from her "multi-layered, gorge-a-mondo" job.
"Stein, are you much of a cake baker?" she asked me.
Not really, but my kid sister Debbie Buchanan used to bake fancy cakes for a living. So we got her on the line from Annapolis to answer Nancy's questions.
During the years she was the Seattle Times restaurant critic, Nancy Leson was often told she had the perfect job. Go out to eat every night on the boss's dime — that ain't workin'.
But it wasn't all honey for nothin' and tips for free. As Nancy asked me back then: "How'd you like to go back to a restaurant you didn't like? Twice? After all, any restaurant can have a bad night. And that's what you have to do if you're going to give a fair review."
From now on, my my pizza stone is demoted to trivet duty. I've been reading about pizza "steels" for a while now, and last week, in a moment of wild abandon, actually shelled out $42 for a 15"x15"x1/4" plate of carbon steel.
As we all know, the real reason for the Thanksgiving Feast is to ready the components of the post-TG turkey sandwich (PTGTS). Like just about everyone, I have strong feelings as to what constitutes its most perfect manifestation.
Nancy Leson always hosts huge gatherings for Thanksgiving. How huge? Huge enough to require two birds, each the size of a turkey-shaped dirigible.
One way she keeps the cooking-day rush to a minimum is to make what she can in advance, especially her favorite cranberry sauce, which keeps so well she can make it six months ahead of time. I was shocked — simply shocked.
"Nancy Leson," I gasped, "I cannot believe that you are talking on an NPR affiliate about a cranberry sauce recipe that is not Susan Stamberg's."
The editor of Food & Wine magazine owns up: "I am going to be honest: I am not a great cook."
Early in the book "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen," author Dana Cowin acknowledges that she's "messed up literally every type of food."
But there's no cooking conundrum that can't be made at least a little more manageable, especially with the help of top chefs such as Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, who wrote the introduction.