That little old wine drinker Nancy Leson found herself in oenophile heaven recently. She joined fellow journalists as guests of the Washington Wine Commission at wineries in Woodinville and Seattle as part of events surrounding the Auction of Washington Wines.
Nancy Leson asked me how the horseradish got its name. It's not because of its resemblance to a certain part of a horse. And it's not because horses like to eat it -- the stuff's actually poisonous to them. The "Horse" in horseradish is just an antique adjective describing anything large or strong. For my taste, the stronger the better.
It's not hard to grate your own horseradish but if you do, it wouldn't hurt to wear a nuke suit or at least a gas mask when you do. Once the cell walls of the root are broken down two chemicals previously kept separate combine to form allyl isothiocyanate -- the stuff that shoots the vaporized razor blades through your sinuses. It's the plant's natural defense against getting eaten. Ironic, no?
Nancy tells how she accommodated the picky eaters at her dinner party.
Nancy tells me "This week I had relatives in from out of town, young cousins, their romantic partners, their room-mates, and I had to figure okay what am I going to feed everyone?" That decision could have been easier had she not asked "Is there anything that some people don't eat?"
So, a month or two ago my wife (The Lovely & Talented) C. DeGroot woke and spoke but a single word. And lo, the word that she spake was "Waffles." I offered to make them but DG insisted on doing it and an hour later we were eating some of the best waffles ever. More than we could eat. So we froze the leftovers for future toasterizing.
Then, just last week while browsing some fried chicken recipes it hit me! Waffles in the freezer. I could make chicken and waffles -- a combination I had first heard of in the Joan Crawford vehicle Mildred Pierce but never tried.
What Nancy's doing with the bumper crop of apricots her tree yielded this summer.
"So Stein," Nancy asks me. "Do you say APP-ricot or AYP-ricot?" Sure, I know that an AYP-ricot is where an ape sleeps but as a certified fruit-o-phobic I prefer not to say either. Even typing out the word "apricot" makes me a little queasy, but in the interest of Art I'll tough it out.
Nancy's apricot tree, an under-performer for decades, finally came across. This week's Food for Thought covers some of the stuff that she, her son Nate, and her dog (video follows) did with all that fruit.
Dick swears to Nancy that these "crab" cakes made with zucchini instead of crab really do taste like the real thing.
I admit it. When Kelly from KPLU Listener Relations first mentioned Zucchini Crab Cakes to me I scoffed. But after my first bite I stopped scoffing and started scarfing. They're good, with very much the taste and mouth-feel of regular crab cakes.
And, as Nancy pointed out, they're just the thing for eaters allergic to shellfish – or just to the high cost of crab. And even if you do use real crab, this method is a great way to stretch it.
Oh my God," I told Nancy. "That sounds horrible." But she swears that Vashon's Kurt Timmermeister of Kurtwood Farms tomato jam ice cream is "Beyond the pale of delicious." I'll have to take her word for it. But you don't have to. The author of Growing a Feast:The chronicle of a farm-to-table meal has opened a tiny shop on Capitol Hill's new Chophouse Row selling his cheeses and...unusual ice cream.
Making sure seafood is both healthy and sustainable can be complicated.
A new label called Smart Catch is trying to change that. Launched in Seattle, Smart Catch attempts to make consumers aware of how their purchased seafood came to their plates by placing a seal of approval on restaurant menus.
There can be no doubt that restaurant shrimp cocktails are never big enough. Oh, the individual shrimp may be sizeable, but though they be proud they are also the few. Which is why I was compelled last weekend to create a shrimp cocktail big enough to have its own zip code.
Nancy Leson agrees that size matters, but her idea of what constitutes the crustaceanaceous concoction left me shocked – simply shocked.
Dick and Nancy share stories about their Dads in this Father's Day installment.
At the start of this Father's Day edition of Food for Thought Nancy asked "Hey Stein – do you feel left out on Father's Day because you don't have children?" After assuring Ms. Leson that I have all the tacky neckties I can use we moved on to Tales of Our Dads in regard to cooking and eating.
I credit my father with teaching me to keep my fingertips curled under when slicing stuff. To this day the remaining 7.5 of those tips thank him for it. Murray also gave me my first exposure to fermented tofu – a taste he acquired during prohibition while dining with the Chinese bootleggers he sold supplies to.
Three capital letters appeared in the air over my head when I saw the sign: The Root Beer Store – World's Largest Root Beer Selection. I pulled a 6G right turn onto Tacoma's 6th & Orchard, roared to the door and charged in.
I was not disappointed.
These people are serious about root beer. The Root Beer Store stocks over 100 different brands of root beers, birch beers, ginger ales, ginger beers, and other specialty sodas, plus root beer candies, root beer rental kegs, even root beer apparel. Besides the one I visited in Tacoma there are Root Beer Stores in Puyallup, Redmond, Lynnwood, and sometime this summer, Mill Creek.
How to keep herbs fresh in the refrigerator for at least three weeks.
Never again cry "They've been slimed!" when you pull a bunch of what were recently fresh herbs from the crisper. Now your parsley, cilantro, and other herbs can stay fresh and crisp for three or more weeks after the day you bought them.
Dick and Nancy talk about Vadovan, a French-influenced curry blend.
I'd mentioned to Nancy Leson that I was out of two of my favorite spices. Recently, shopping one of our favorite food stores, Big John's PFI, the ever-thoughtful Leson picked up my Aleppo pepper and sumac and mailed them to me, along with a bonus spice. Thanks, Nance!
Nancy had included a small bag of bright yellow powder. One of her favorites, it was a blend I'd never heard of called vadouvan. So what is that stuff?
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.
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.