Worth speeding for

I'll admit that I speed. Not in residential areas or past schools, and never, ever in busy parking lots, but I push my Subaru a good 5 or more miles over the speed limit almost everywhere else. I am That Person. Last Thursday evening I drove a little faster than usual. It was CSF pick up day, and I had very little time to make it to Carrboro to get my share. They close shop at 6 p.m., and if you don't make it, you're out of luck.

Pedal to the metal (slight exaggeration) on Highway 54, I pulled into the Carrboro Plaza parking lot just in time. A gray tent sheltered a handful of people and a huge ice chest from the blazing sun. My share of fresh shrimp and scallops were tucked inside, driven up that day from Down East by the fisherman of Core Sound Seafood.

Yes, Down East North Carolina is a real place. It's the state's beautiful Coastal Plain region, made of up 13 communities that share one high school and one hospital. The seafood is amazing, and I jumped at the chance to support this great organization. They set aside one dollar for every pound of seafood sold to a special assistance fund. The fund provides financial help on an as needed basis to commercial fishing families. Pretty cool, huh?

I shared milky white sea scallops with my friend Beth Friday evening, but set the shrimp aside for another time. They were gorgeous, medium-sized shrimp that smelled clean, almost sweet, and not at all fishy. I can make many shrimp dishes without glancing at a cookbook, but I was eager to break from my standard repertoire. I wanted something light that didn't require a lot of oven time, as temperatures continued reach the upper 90s.

I rummaged through cookbooks, the pantry, and the refrigerator, and found a can of coconut milk purchased ages ago. Almost an entire bunch of cilantro lurked in the fridge's produce drawer, along with a serrano chile and a lime. I took cumin seeds from the spice shelf, my ancient Cuisinart from its hiding place, and made cilantro-coconut chutney as detailed in The New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider. It was perfect — a light recipe that used ingredients I had on hand. I made minor adjustments to suit my taste (more cumin seed, less chile, and I used unsweetened shredded coconut).

The sauce is wonderfully refreshing. The powerful flavor of cilantro is offset by coconut milk, the lime juice adds zest, and the chile pepper gives a bit of heat. Be sure to make the sauce before starting the shrimp — shrimp cook very quickly.

Down East Shrimp with Cilantro-Coconut Chutney
Adapted from The New Way to Cook
Serves 4

Cilantro-Coconut Chutney:
1 bunch cilantro, washed, large stems removed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 serrano chile pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut

Combine washed and dried cilantro (large stems removed) in the bowl of a food processor with toasted cumin seeds, serrano, and salt. Pulse on and off until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Add a pinch of sugar, coconut milk, and lime juice, and process again. Taste for seasoning, adjust as necessary, and set aside for dipping.

Poached Shrimp:
2 quarts water
large pinch kosher salt
1 lemon, cut into slices
1 bay leaf
1 onion, quartered
several parsley sprigs

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shells on

Bring the water and all ingredients except shrimp to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and shut off the heat. The shellfish will turn bright pink and curl when cooked through. This will take about 5 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and serve alongside the cilantro-coconut chutney.


Lavender-lemon cookies, revisited

Shortbread was the answer. I'm sure there are other good alternatives to the not-so-great-lavender cookies I made on my not-so-good day, but Sunday's shortbread experiment didn't disappoint.

In fact, Sunday was a nice day overall. I worked out, wished a good friend happy birthday, and dropped AT&T as my wireless carrier. I can talk on the phone! In my house. Walking the dog down the street. Anywhere in my neighborhood. The calls never drop, the connection isn't fuzzy, and I'm able to listen to voicemail messages in their entirety. I miss the iPhone's fun applications and colorful screen, but they're no substitute for a working phone line.

Back to the cookies: shortbread's tender crumb and buttery flavor provide the perfect backdrop for the lavender-lemon combo I was so eager to try. These cookies would be great with a cup of hot tea, and though I don't plan to consume hot beverages in this weather, I know this batch of cookies won't be thrown out.

They're so good I should call and tell someone about them.

Lavender and Lemon Shortbread
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 24 bars

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest, finely grated
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-2 teaspoons sugar to sprinkle on top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cream the butter and both sugars together with the paddle attachment of a heavy-duty mixer. Add the salt, lavender, and lemon zest, and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Add the flour and mix to combine. The dough should come together — it may look a bit crumbly. If necessary, add a teaspoon or two of water until it holds together. Lightly knead, then press into an 8 x 8-inch square, ungreased baking dish.

Pierce the dough deeply with a fork, sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar (if using), and place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the edges are a light brown. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and cut into squares while still warm.


Sea scallops and teal toes

It's like living in New Orleans without the benefits. No Creole cottages, no charming trolley line, no Sazerac cocktails with friends under live oaks — just crazy hot and humid weather all the time. This week's temperatures were record worthy, and I was determined not to turn on the oven Friday night. No way, no how. I couldn't raise the indoor temperature a single notch.

I'd invited my friend Beth to dinner that evening, so an acceptable cold or room temperature meal was required. Gorgeous scallops arrived in my CSF pick up Thursday (this is new, the community supported fishery thing), and I couldn't let them sit in the refrigerator while we ate something else. My mind drifted back a good 14 years, to a kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a menu that at one point included a seared scallop entree. It was served with steamed couscous and a winter green salad, and dressed with a tangy tangerine vinaigrette. Not right for this meal, but a good jumping off point.

I soaked a few bamboo skewers in water before heading to work and considered my menu throughout the day. A quick market run on the way home yielded an orange, a couple of limes, and large bunch of fresh cilantro. I was ready for supper.

My scallop dish was loosely based on the aforementioned menu item. Grilled scallops yes, citrus yes, couscous yes. From there, it's a departure. My dish was served cold, I was too time-strapped to steam the couscous (if you can, steam it at least 3 times instead of going the 5-minute boiling water route as suggested on most boxes)*,  and I strayed into pseudo-ceviche category with jalapeno, citrus juice, and red onion. Diced cucumber provided cool crunch, the pepper added a bit of heat, and the citrus gave a refreshing tang. Everything was served on a bed of leafy greens tossed with citrus vinaigrette.

After a lovely meal accompanied by great conversation (food always tastes better in good company) I walked Beth to her car and asked about her toenails, nails that caught my eye early in the evening — the shiny blue-green polish stood out. My query was exactly what was intended: she produced a business card for www.tealtoes.org, an organization devoted to raising ovarian cancer awareness. My red polish is off, I have a small stack of tealtoes business cards in my possession, and I look forward to finding the perfect blue-green for my own toenails over the weekend.

* Note: Paula Wolfert's brilliant, aptly titled cookbook Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco explains how to steam couscous. I'll try to cover it in a future post, but this book is worth purchasing. Wolfert's experience with Moroccan cuisine is second to none, her writing is clear and concise, and she'll introduce you to a world of possibly unfamiliar (and delicious) flavors.

Grilled Scallops with Citrus and Cilantro
Serves 2-3

3/4 pound fresh sea scallops, ligament removed from the side if attached
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1 Valencia orange, pith removed and cut into segments
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 small red onion, finely diced
1 small cucumber, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
3-4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

Prepare your grill for high, direct grilling. Be certain the grates are well-cleaned and well-oiled to avoid sticking.

Toss the scallops in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Thread them onto metal skewers or bamboo skewers that have soaked at least 30 minutes in water. Place the skewered scallops onto the hot grill and cook through, turning once. This will take about 5 minutes. Allow them to cool, then cut in half or quarters, depending on size.

Removed the peel and white pith from the orange. Hold it over a bowl to collect juice while you remove the segments from between the membranes with a paring knife. Cut the orange segments in half. (You can use the orange juice to make citrus vinaigrette if serving with greens).

Place the orange segments and scallops in a bowl. Add the lime and lemon juice, red onion, cucumber and jalapeno. Toss to combine and chill, covered, for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator. Add freshly chopped cilantro just before serving. Check seasoning, adding additional citrus juice, salt and pepper as necessary.


Not my best day

Yesterday wasn't my best day. It was far from my worst, but it was a not-quite-right day, a day of miscommunication, a dog on Prednisone, and lack of sleep.

My CSA farmer drops off boxes of produce at a local restaurant each Wednesday, and my friend Cathy or I (we're splitting a share) swing by for pick up late in the afternoon. I thought she was getting the box yesterday. She thought I was picking it up. Oops. It's probably still there, but my plan to have grilled vegetables for dinner fell to the wayside.

I returned home to give my dog steroids and lots of Benadryl — looks like Gussie's allergies are getting worse — and decided a little baking therapy would help turn things around. I love the clink of measuring spoons and the feeling of accomplishment I get when freshly baked cookies emerge from the oven. Too bad last night's cookies didn't turn out so well.

I've been eager to use the dried lavender flowers my friend CB brought me the last time she visited. Lavender is heady, perfume-like — it reeks of summer. Since summer officially began June 21, why not try to celebrate (this is not my favorite season) and bake something with a seasonal vibe? After combing through numerous cookbooks, I settled on a lavender cookie recipe in The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It was quick, simple, and I could easily make minor adjustments without doing damage. I thought lavender would be enhanced by lemon, so I left out the vanilla extract and added a little over a teaspoon of freshly minced lemon zest.

Lavender and lemon were not the problem — it was the sugar. The cookies are too sweet, at least for my palate. I planned to take the bulk of the cookies to work (trying to cut back my calorie intake these days) but after trying one, I'm not comfortable sharing them with anyone. The sugar lingers in your mouth, rather than the flavor. It coats your teeth. Ick.

So I have a new project: to develop or find a lavender-lemon cookie recipe worth sharing. Instinct tells me to try a shortbread. Wish me luck!



My weekend escape to Washington, DC may have been the best ever. That's saying something, as I've been to the nation's capital many times — and I used to live there.

After 4 1/2 hours driving on interstate highways, I relaxed on a small patch of green outside the sculpture garden Friday evening. I enjoyed live jazz, drinks, and a few tasty snacks with friends old and new. We had outstanding sushi that night followed by fantastic crepes the next morning at Eastern Market, a food and flea market on Capitol Hill (I also walked away with a cool t-shirt and a new piece of art for the house). Saturday afternoon involved window shopping and catching up with a dear friend in Old Town Alexandria, followed by another great meal. Sunday brunch with former co-workers wrapped up the weekend.

Quick trips to a city I called home for years are always lovely, but this particular weekend was stellar. Especially remarkable: gluten-free chocolate waffles at Sunday brunch. My friend Kathleen is allergic to gluten, and this dessert was perfect for her. Rich and dark, the waffles were topped with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and drizzled with hot chocolate and caramel sauces. Gluten-tolerant members of the party (myself included) missed nothing.

Back home in Chapel Hill, I started thinking about waffles. A lot. I thought about how much I like the crisp exterior that adds an interesting bit of crunch to any meal. I recalled how waffles make breakfast feel special, smeared with soft butter and drizzled with honey or maple syrup. I remembered how terrific they can be when served as dessert.

Lots of sugar in my diet is a bad thing — time to cut back on calories and crank up the exercise — so the idea of savory waffles took hold. Chicken and waffles are big in the South, and I love waffles topped with creamed mushrooms, but I needed something light. I found my favorite buttermilk waffle recipe and made a few changes, cutting back on sugar and adding shallots and fresh herbs. They were a great substitute for salad croutons at dinner, and I enjoyed one reheated for breakfast this morning.

Just a little bit of waffle to brighten my day, and to remind me to plan another trip to Washington. Soon.

Normally I would use 2 cups of buttermilk in this recipe, but I didn't have enough on hand after making cucumber soup last week. I added yogurt and whole milk to make up the difference. If you don't have buttermilk, you can make a quick substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup of room temperature whole milk and letting it sit for 10 minutes.

I had a lot of parsley out back, but use your favorite fresh herbs. I love the slight heat of jalapeno — leave it out for a mellower waffle.

Fresh Herb Buttermilk Waffles
Serves 4-6

1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup shallot, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons thyme, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced

Whisk the wet ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together. Add the shallot, parsley and jalapeno, and stir until thoroughly combined.

Ladle the batter into a greased, preheated waffle iron and cook for 7-8 minutes, until crisp and golden. If serving warm, place them in a 250 degrees Fahrenheit oven (on a rack) while you cook the remaining batter.

If you won't be consuming them all at once, cool the waffles completely on a rack at room temperature before wrapping. They will keep in the freezer for one month.


Cool as a cucumber

I'm escaping town. Tomorrow! It's time for a mini-vacation. Washington DC, my old haunt, is my destination — I hope I don't melt during the drive. A few books on CD are ready for the journey (I stopped by the library last night in a rare moment of foresight), but I've still got to do laundry, pack, and walk the dog. Thankfully, dinner is taken care of. A soup made with my CSA cucumbers sits in the fridge, chilling to a perfect 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

Trying to rid the refrigerator of perishables before my departure, I scanned its contents and realized cucumber soup was the answer to my problem. A half-empty buttermilk container sat of the top shelf, dill and mint were available in the yard, and both lemon cucumbers and a few of their oddly shaped, thin-skinned green relatives lingered in the vegetable bin. Lemon cucumbers are aptly named. Round and a very pale yellow, they seem vaguely exotic. Sliced open, the flesh is a pale, yellow-green hue. They taste just like an average cucumber.

If you have thick-skinned, waxy cucumbers from the grocery, you must peel and seed them before proceeding with the recipe. Peeling and seeding more delicate cucumbers, like Kirbys, is a matter of taste. I ignore super small seeds, but scoop out the rest with a spoon. Tonight I left the cucumber skins on — I like the green flecks they leave in the soup — but they add texture that some people don't care for.

This is a very simple soup, one that could be jazzed up with grated ginger, made with yogurt and a little cold water instead of buttermilk, garnished with walnuts and walnut oil for a taste of Persia. Experiment.

Cucumber Soup with Jalapeno, Mint and Dill
Serves 3-4

4 cups roughly cut cucumbers, about 6 Kirbys/pickling cucumbers, skins on but seeded
2 garlic cloves
5 scallions, whites and light green parts chopped
2 teaspoons fresh mint, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (quantity depends on heat of pepper - taste and adjust accordingly)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
kosher salt
white pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice, if necessary

Peel and seed cucumbers if necessary and set aside. Crush garlic cloves on a cutting board and grind into a paste with a sprinkling of kosher salt — a mortar and pestle would work as well. Place the cucumbers, garlic paste, and remaining ingredients into a blender and process until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper to taste; add a few drops lemon juice if needed.

Chill the soup for at least one hour before serving. Garnish with additional freshly chopped herbs.


Bejeweled carrots

Last week's CSA box contained the most visually arresting carrots I've ever come across. Purple outside, orange inside, these carrots were stunning. I wasn't sure what to do with them — if cooked, would the colors bleed and muddle? Unseasonably hot weather (it feels like August in early-to-mid June) meant I wouldn't find out. No way was I firing up the oven on a day with a heat index over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combined with parsley, mint, oil and vinegar, carrots make a refreshing, ideal summer side dish. Feel free to substitute another light vinegar for the lemon juice and white wine vinegar used here. If I'm lucky enough to receive another bunch of purple carrots, I'll slice them thinly and blanch for a minute or two — they look particularly gorgeous when cross cut. Tonight, I opted to grate them. The picture above looks like a dish of carrots and beets, no? No. The purple flecks are the outer edge of these beautiful veggies, post-grating.

A Google search revealed that purple carrots have more beta carotene than their ubiquitous orange relatives. If I ever live in a house with a decent yard, I hope to plant some and enjoy them more often.

Carrot Salad with Parsley and Mint
Serves 1-2

1 1/2 cup grated carrots
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons mint, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk in the extra virgin olive oil, creating an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the grated carrots and combine with freshly chopped parsley and mint. Chill for one hour before serving.


Continued good fortune

This ridiculously hot and humid weekend had a definite upside: it was filled with good wishes, good friends, and a celebratory lunch with my mother. It was my birthday weekend.

I spent time doing selfish and indulgent things, like getting a pedicure and hunkering down during a thunderstorm with a book instead of cleaning house. At this age I'm not into gifts, but I was happily surprised with a fabulous robot drawing — I thought it was a chicken, but no matter — from my 4-year-old nephew, now prominently displayed on the refrigerator.

Don't you think it looks like a chicken?

I also lucked into another 1 1/4 pound bag of fresh clams from my friend Lisa, a CSF member who isn't down with the texture of bivalves. Not a birthday gift, but definitely a weekend highlight.

What to do with my good fortune? I combined the clams with sausage, beans, and kale — a Portuguese-inspired stew that's a meal in itself, ideally served with a piece of toasted country bread to soak up extra juices. I cooked the cannellini beans early in the day with aromatics, combining them at dinner time with hot Italian pork sausage and dinosaur kale for a complete meal. The beans are creamy, rich and flavorful.

You'll have extra beans if you cook the quantity listed below. They're wonderful on their own, served with meat or poultry, or pureed for a dip or crostini topping.

Cannellini Beans

1/2 pound dried cannellini beans (I used Rancho Gordo brand), soaked overnight in water
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed

large pinch of kosher salt

After soaking the dried beans overnight (8+ hours) in water, drain and place in a large pot. Cover with fresh water and add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves and garlic. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender, 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Add kosher salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking — adding it too soon will prevent the beans from cooking through.

Clams with Sausage, Beans, and Kale

1 1/4 cups cooked cannellini beans, cooking liquid reserved (see above)
1 link hot Italian pork sausage (I found a local sausage at Whole Foods)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 pounds clams, scrubbed
1/2 bunch kale, ribs removed and cut into ribbons
parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the sausage from it's casing, break up the meat, and cook in a large saucepan or skillet (I'm partial to my cast-iron beauties) over medium heat, rendering the fat and crisping the meat. Add 1/2 cup chopped white onion, one minced garlic clove and saute. Add olive oil if necessary.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add chopped kale (about 1 cup, packed tightly after cutting into ribbons), the cooked beans and their cooking liquid, and cook 5-6 minutes, adding water if necessary — you don't want anything to brown.

Add clams and more water as needed, cover, and cook 10 minutes, until clams open. After cooking, discard any unopened clams. Season to taste, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with toasted bread.


(Really good) deviled eggs

I have a weakness for deviled eggs. They are the high school quarterback gone all-American, the little black dress at a cocktail party, the hors d'oeuvres equivalent of a perfect apple pie. Deviled eggs are a dish most everyone loves, classic and timeless, ideal for a summer gathering. When Karen and Crystal sent me their summer dinner party menu and asked if I would bring a starter or two, deviled eggs were the first thing that came to mind.

I grew up with good-but-not-great-deviled eggs. Who can forget the paprika-sprinkled yellow-and-white orbs that emerged at every picnic? The spice added color and a bit of flavor, but I don't think they did the egg any favors. My mother added jarred pickle relish to the yolk mixture, and while they were tasty, the relish sometimes overpowered the yolks. Eggs are delicious but delicate. It's important to enhance the goodness that is a perfectly hard-boiled egg without overwhelming it.

As an adult I learned to 1) make my own mayonnaise and 2) break away from the relish-dominated-paprika-dusted model. I learned that simple is better if you use the best ingredients. Eggs are easier to shell when they're old, because the air pocket between the hard outer shell and the contents expands over time. Hard-boiled eggs are easier to peel if you do it quickly, just after shocking them in cold water, and while still submerged.

I'm always up for variations on a theme: curried deviled eggs, deviled eggs topped with chow-chow, with caviar, with country ham — but these are my favorite.

(Really good) Deviled Eggs
Makes 24 eggs if split in half lengthwise; 12 if used as cups

12 large eggs
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup homemade mayonnaise (recipe follows)
3 teaspoons freshly chopped tarragon or chives

Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Immediately shut off the heat and cover the pan when the water hits the boiling point. Set the eggs aside and let them rest for 10-11 minutes.

Drain and rinse the eggs with cold water, shaking them against the edges of the pan to crack the shells. Peel and cut in half (more traditional), or remove the top third of the egg, forming a cup. Remove the yolks and set the whites aside.

Push the cooked yolks through a fine-meshed sieve. This is time consuming but worth it  — the filling will be significantly creamier than if you simply mashed the yolks with a fork. Combine the sieved yolks with vinegar, sea salt, sugar, and homemade mayonnaise. Taste and adjust seasonings (vinegar, salt, mayonnaise) as necessary. Use a teaspoon to fill the whites with the yolk mixture.  Sprinkle with freshly chopped tarragon or chives just before serving.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon Coleman's dry mustard
1-2 pinches sugar
2 egg yolks*
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, dry mustard, and sugar in a bowl and whisk to dissolve the dry ingredients. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine. Begin whisking these ingredients at a fast pace,
then slowly — drop by drop — add the oil. The mixture will thicken and lighten in color, at which point you can pour the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.

Homemade mayonnaise will keep in the refrigerator for about one week.

* Consuming raw egg yolks increases your risk of Salmonella or other food borne illnesses.


A chocolate chip thank you

Gus the Wonder Dog?

Um, no. Not always. I love my silly noodle dog, and he's generally well-behaved, but sometimes... Sometimes he's not. Gus' primary offense is choosing to ignore me when I tell him to come. 4 out of 5 times he's on target, returning to me for the treats I keep in my pockets. But there's that 20 percent chance he's going to find something better, more interesting than me. Something stinky and smelly, maybe even dead and edible. Then all bets are off.

I let Gus off leash the other night to play with some neighborhood dogs, and yes, he ran away. There was no returning when I called — it was into the woods at a gallop, me calling his name and commanding him to come, empty leash in hand. Fantastic. I walked through poison ivy infested woods, across my neighborhood, and into the adjoining development, searching for a black and tan mutt with a red collar — and getting angrier by the minute. I wondered if I should give up and go home. Or at least go home and get the car rather than hoofing it.

Then I heard someone calling my name. It was nice neighbor Steve, who'd captured Gus and put him inside his house along with his two dogs.

How much do I love Steve for this? Enough to go beyond a word of thanks, and what says thank you better than a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies?

My chocolate chip cookie recipe has evolved over time — it's Nestle Toll House ramped up. Best enjoyed right out of the oven, these cookies are chewy inside and crunchy outside. I use more (dark) brown sugar than granulated sugar, which gives them a deeper flavor. I also skip the semi-sweet morsels and replace them with a high-quality bittersweet chocolate chopped into chunks. Callebaut brand stays in my pantry — it's a nice chocolate that doesn't break the bank.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, softened
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position racks in the center. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Sift the flour and baking soda together; add the kosher salt and stir with a whisk to combine.

In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together on medium-high speed for a solid 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping again after each addition. Be certain they are completely incorporated into the dough. Add the vanilla and mix again.

Add the flour mixture with the mixer on low speed, then add the chocolate chunks. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold by hand to be sure all the ingredients are evenly mixed in.

Drop the dough on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 2 tablespoon increments. The cookies will spread a little as they cook  — I put 9 or 10 cookies on a sheet tray. Bake for 11-12 minutes, rotating pans once while they bake.

Cool the cookies on cooling racks, and bake the remaining dough as above. These cookies will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.


Clam roast for one

Firing up the oven this weekend didn't seem like a good idea. Temperatures hovered in the low 90s, my air conditioner hummed constantly, and neither the dog nor I could walk far without panting. I wanted to stay on the couch with a book and a tall glass of ice water. But I had clams — perfectly shaped, off-the-boat fresh,  hard-shelled clams — and I wanted, needed, just had to roast them. Even if it meant roasting a little bit, myself.

I must thank my friend Lisa for the clam bounty. Smart, personable, and open-minded, Lisa is up for most anything. Except bivalve mollusks. I'm sad for her, but it worked to my advantage. Lisa is a member of Walking Fish, a community-supported fishery (CSF), based on the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model. Each week she picks up her share of seafood, freshly delivered from the North Carolina coast. This week's delivery included the dreaded clam, which I was happy to take off her hands. Roasted in a cast iron skillet with potato, onion, garlic and tomato, clams make a perfect meal — simple, easy, and straightforward, but most importantly, delicious.

My former employer, chef Jody Adams, is the genius behind this dish.  I learned a tremendous amount about all things food when I cooked at Rialto years ago, but working with New England fish and shellfish in Jody's kitchen was especially enlightening. I grew up in a less-than-adventurous family. Seafood didn't make it to our land-locked dinner table, so there was a lot to absorb on the job. Jody's clear, clean flavors and beautifully balanced palate are exemplified in this dish, published in the Gourmet Today cookbook. It's a perfect meal for the home cook.

In typical Lynn fashion, I didn't have all of the required ingredients on hand and wasn't willing to make another trip to the grocery to procure them. I substituted grape tomatoes for plum tomatoes, adding them later in the cooking process than described to make up for their small size. I had far fewer clams than called for in the original recipe, and made adjustments accordingly. Also, I'm a huge garlic fan, so the quantity listed below isn't on par with Jody's recipe — but it made for incredible snacking. I hope you'll try it.

Cast-Iron Roasted Clams
Adapted from Gourmet Today
Serves 1-2

2 medium red potatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch thick half moons
1/2 of 1 large red onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick wedges, root ends intact
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
scant 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds small hard-shelled clams, scrubbed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toss the potatoes, onions and garlic in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them in a large cast-iron skillet (10-12 inches is fine for this number of clams) and roast for 15 minutes. Add the scrubbed clams to the pan and cover with a lid or a piece of foil. Continue to roast for another 8 minutes. Add the halved cherry tomatoes to the pan and roast another 3-4 minutes, covered.

Remove the skillet from the oven and check to see that all of the clams are open. Discard any that remain closed. Add hot red pepper flakes, toss to combine, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.


The beans have arrived

The beans arrived! Twelve pounds of heirloom bean fabulousness was waiting on my doorstep when I returned home from work Tuesday evening. It was the highlight of my week.

"What beans?" you may be asking. The beans I've been meaning to write about for a while, but haven't found time. Now is the time.

I went out to dinner for with the vivacious Caroline a few weeks ago. We met at Poole's Diner, one of my favorite Raleigh restaurants. It's hip, it's happenin', it's downtown. It really was a diner in its former life, complete with tin ceilings and a Formica-clad bar saved in the renovation. Chef/owner Ashley Christensen serves local, seasonal, hand-crafted food at Poole's, usually of French or Italian pedigree, sometimes with a Southern twist. The Grand Marnier-spiked chicken liver pate is to die for.

I have worked in a few nice restaurants and I understand the special touches they offer, but this woman churns her own butter. Churns butter! Takes the term housemade to a new level.

Caroline and I enjoyed deviled egg salad and fried green tomatoes with roasted tomato relish; a lovely frisee salad with asparagus, poached egg, bacon cornbread croutons, and Banyuls vinaigrette; North Carolina soft shell crab on Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard Beans; and a Royale with Cheese (I love a good Pulp Fiction menu reference).

Everything was good, but my soft shell crab was the hands-down winner. Yes, the crab was lovely — a seasonal crustacean crisped to perfection and lightly sauced with a bit of aioli. But those beans. The beans! They were amazing. Rich, earthy, and melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. These are the beans I've been looking for.

I've read about Rancho Gordo for years —  it's made the pages of The New York Times, Saveur, Gourmet (R.I.P.), Bon Appetit, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Founder Steve Sando raises heirloom beans and seeds in California's Napa Valley, and ships his products internationally, and though I'd visited the company website several times in years past, I never made a purchase. After my meal at Poole's I marched forward to my trusty Mac G5, credit card in hand, and bought dried beans online. Many, many, many dried beans. With a flat $8.00 shipping rate, why buy one little bag? Stock up. Branch out. My pantry now holds 9 varieties of beans I've never heard of.

Dear reader, you are in for many a bean recipe. One pound of Good Mother Stallards sit submerged in water, waiting to be unleashed this weekend.

If you visit Poole's — and if you're in Raleigh, North Carolina, you must put it on your To Do List — know that reservations aren't accepted. Be prepared to wait. The charming tin ceiling is lovely to look at but doesn't help the noise factor. I've had to wait a little longer than I'd like for food in the past, though that wasn't the case on my most recent visit (do remember that everything is made to order). Oh, and you won't be given a menu. Several chalk boards hung on walls list the evening's selections, so you may have to get up and walk across the room to see your options. 

You should go. No doubt. The food is consistently terrific.


Green 'maters

I fell for the green tomatoes. Perched next to their red hothouse relations on a vendor's table, firm, somewhat tart, and close to the color of lime, they called out to me. Green tomatoes are often available in late spring or early summer in North Carolina, and again in late fall, when farmers and gardeners harvest the unripened fruit before it can be damaged by frost. At the height of summer, vine ripened beauties take over, so you buy green tomatoes when you see them, like I did at the farmer's market Sunday afternoon.

Driving home after a great evening with friends, I pulled into the Piedmont Triad Farmers' Market for a quick look around. Green tomatoes (and a few peaches) caught my eye, and I returned to Chapel Hill with visions of fried green tomatoes, green tomato relish, and green tomato pie. In the end, I made none of those. Instead I opted for pickled green tomatoes.

I'll pickle just about anything. Pickled turnips, pickled okra, pickled pumpkin — something is ready any time of year for pickling. I adore the crisp zing and complex flavor pickles provide. They can be sweet, sour, spicy, curried. Imagination takes over, and it's great fun to experiment. I went with a quick refrigerator pickle this time. Unlike their canned counterparts, quick pickles last only a couple of weeks chilled (there's no sterilizing of jars, no boiling-water processing), but it's easy to go through a small batch. They're terrific snacks and incredible counterparts to grilled meats. Give me a pickle platter any day.

I improvised this recipe. Feel free to adjust ingredients or add new ones to taste. Adding a hint of sugar, as I did, isn't required, but I think it evens out the flavor. If you don't like your pickles spicy, skip the hot red pepper flakes. Add celery seed or coriander — experiment.

If you don't have green tomatoes, try onions, young turnips or daikon this time of year. For a classic dill pickle flavor, use a handful of dill fronds and leave out the sugar, mustard seed and bay leaves.

Green Tomato Pickles
This makes enough brine for 2 pounds of vegetables

2 pounds green tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

6 cups water
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or 2 dried red chile peppers
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
several sprigs of fresh thyme

Cut the green tomatoes into 1/2-inch wedges and place in a heatproof container, like Pyrex.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over the prepared tomatoes in a heatproof container. Cool to room temperature (about 1 1/2 hours), cover, and refrigerate in a non-reactive container.

These pickles must be stored in the refrigerator and will last about 2 weeks.


Bring on the ribs

You only have one chance to make a first impression. Keep that in mind the next time you eat with strangers.

I went a dinner party hosted by my friends Karen and Crystal this past Saturday. They live about an hour-and-a-half from me, and the other guests were local. I was excited about helping with hors d'oeuvres, spending time with my old friends, and the opportunity to make new ones. I packed a bag, sent Gus the Wonder Dog to overnight camp, and hit the road.

Karen and Crystal planned a very seasonal menu, perfect for Memorial Day weekend (the unofficial start of summer, marked by the opening of swimming pools, men in seersucker, and increasingly hot temperatures). We had corn and red onion salad with basil, fantastically flavorful baby back ribs, and sauteed asparagus. A pound cake garnished with lemon curd and berries rounded out the meal. It was summer on a plate.

Maybe I enjoyed everything a little too much. In my enthusiasm, I managed to dribble rib sauce down my shirt. Onto my right breast. Nice! After a little grief from another dinner guest — she borrowed my camera and documented the stain — I marched upstairs to my suitcase, found another t-shirt, and quickly changed.

Rubbed with dry spices and allowed to sit overnight before spending a long time in a low oven, the ribs were tender and delicious. The kind of ribs that get a person (me) into trouble. Crystal graciously shared her recipe, a riff on Alton Brown's. Be careful: wolfing down ribs too quickly could result in stained clothing.

Crystal's Baby Back Ribs
Adapted from Alton Brown

Use for 3 racks of pork ribs. 

Dry rub:
2 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup chile powder
1/8 cup chipolte chile powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cardamom
1/8 cup cumin
1/8 cup smoked paprika
close to 1/4 cup Italian seasoning
1/8 cup thyme
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/3 cup kosher salt

1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all of the dry rub ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread the rub evenly on the ribs — the coating will be fairly thick, though this recipe makes enough for more than one batch. Wrap the ribs in heavy aluminum foil, shiny side out, and marinate at least one hour (Crystal's ribs marinated overnight) in the refrigerator.

Combine all of the glaze ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high power for 1 minute. If nuking isn't a option, combine everything in a small saucepan and heat until the honey dissolves.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator but keep them wrapped in foil. Place them on a jelly roll pan and cover with the glaze. Bake at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 hours. To test if the ribs are done, twist them in the center — if the middle ribs turn easily, they're ready.

Take the foil packages from the oven and pour the liquid contents into a medium saucepan or skillet. This is most easily accomplished by snipping off one end of foil. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook for a minute or two, reducing to sauce consistency. Brush the glaze onto the ribs and broil until caramelized. Slice the rib slabs into 2 bone portions, place in a bowl, and toss with the remaining glaze.