Cooking the books: Celebrate the holidays with Northwest chefs
There's nothing more delicious than a cookbook, and I've amassed an enviable collection. It's one I turn to daily for edification, recreation...
Seattle Times food writer
Nancy Leson on KPLUTHE SEATTLE TIMES writer's commentaries on food and restaurants can be heard on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Wednesdays, and 8:30 a.m. Saturdays.
Here in the bountiful Pacific Northwest we've got many reasons to celebrate the season and a vast number of Northwest cookbooks to peruse in search of holiday recipes. For someone like me, who thinks of my favorite cookbooks as "old friends," it's interesting to count how many of my cookbooks are, in fact, authored by familiar names and faces.
My collection is rife with books by high-profile chefs like Tom Douglas, Jerry Traunfeld, Leslie Mackie and Greg Atkinson. And by authors associated with some of our city's finest specialty-food shops — Kathy Casey, Marcella Rosene and Kurt Beecher Dammeier.
Seattle's hardest-working recipe testers have cookbooks to their credit. Among them, Cynthia Nims, Shelley Lance and Sharon Kramis. Perhaps you (or someone you know) has contributed a recipe to a compilation — like the Junior League of Seattle's much-beloved "Simply Classic" and its successor, "Celebrate the Rain."
Combing through my stacks, I've chosen some holiday-worthy recipes and added a few classics from The Seattle Times files. Then I rang up a handful of authors whose books line my shelves to ask what they've got cooking for the holidays.
Rosene is the founder of Pasta & Co. — since sold to Dammeier — and the woman behind my favorite cranberry-sauce recipe. That nearly 30-year-old recipe was published for posterity in "Pasta & Co. By Request," and replicated in its follow-up, "Pasta & Co. Encore."
I personally didn't like cranberry sauce," said Rosene — until she got the notion to marry fresh cranberries, red-currant jelly and dried sour cherries. A dose of dark rum didn't hurt the product either, quickly turning that ruby-red holiday staple into one of the company's top-sellers.
At Thanksgiving, Rosene leaves the cooking to her mother, a sturdy octogenarian who "didn't approve of young girls spending time in the kitchen" but nonetheless managed to raise a woman destined to become Seattle's original takeout queen.
Will Rosene be contributing her justly famous cranberry sauce this year? "I always offer to bring it, but my mother doesn't want it," she laughs. "She likes the kind in the can!"
Greg Atkinson will make good use of local cherries this year when he and his family head to San Juan Island for a holiday vacation.
"This Christmas, we're planning to make roast duckling with cherry sauce," he said. "We'll roast the duck, bone it, use the bones to make a stock and reduce the stock to get a concentrated demi-glace. It's something I only do at the holidays, not because it's labor-intensive but because it's time consuming."
Consuming local ingredients — like San Juan Island's Westcott Bay oysters and the chanterelles he foraged and froze in September — is also part of his plan.
Yet Atkinson, author of "The Northwest Essentials Cookbook" (and four others) notes, "I love to bust out of my traditional Northwest locavore thing" to make good use of the bright flavors of seasonal-citrus fruits, a taste he no doubt cultivated growing up in sunny Florida.
I cultivated a taste for Brussels sprouts long ago. Unfortunately, my family hates them. But that hasn't stopped me from asking friends to contribute what my husband refers to as "bitter little pills" to our annual Thanksgiving potluck. "The trouble with Brussels sprouts," said Atkinson, "is people don't cook them properly."
Folks like me, who prefer their sprouts crisp, should heed his advice and cook them twice — first boiled in salted water, then sizzled in a pan, or popped in the oven with a little fat.
"If I'm roasting duck, it would be duck fat," he said. "But olive oil or butter add great flavor." Pancetta does the trick, too, and it's among the ingredients in his recipe for braised chestnuts and Brussels sprouts with pancetta.
After seeing Tom Douglas' rustic bread stuffing with dried cranberries, hazelnuts and oyster mushrooms in the November issue of "Fine Cooking" (www.taunton.com/finecooking/recipes/thanksgiving-bread-stuffing-cranberries-mushrooms-hazelnuts.aspx), I'm considering switching out my golden-oldie from the "Silver Palate Cookbook" this year. But I'm still planning to make that other starch-fest favorite, Etta's Cornbread Pudding from "Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen."
That bread-pudding recipe will be familiar to anyone who's enjoyed it as the signature side to Etta's pit-roasted salmon with grilled shiitake relish. And it's intimately familiar to Shelley Lance.
As Douglas' cookbook co-author and chief recipe-tester, Lance is the creative genius behind the creative genius — and his go-to gal for such savories as that rustic bread and oyster-mushroom stuffing. "It's one of my favorite recipes that Tom and I ever came up with," said Lance, who explained its genesis: "Tom loves oysters, but he hates oysters in stuffing."
Jerry Traunfeld loves oysters, too. And for the owner of Poppy in Capitol Hill and the author of two celebrated cookbooks, the holidays wouldn't be the same without them. 'Tis the season, he said, to enjoy the briny delights of kusshis on the half-shell, the perfect precursor to an elegant roast — perhaps his Maple-and-Herb-Brined Pork Roast from "The Herbfarm Cookbook."
With the Northwest's truffle season coinciding with the holidays, "black truffles are wonderful if you're doing a prime rib," Traunfeld said. He suggests grating the fabulous fungi into the beef's flavorful jus for our prime-rib recipe, and I suggest seeking out the Foraged & Found Edibles stand at local farmers markets — where I recently bought a fragrant black truffle for $3.
I first tasted Kaspar Donier's lamb shanks braised with lentils, root vegetables and Northwest beer at his eponymous Lower Queen Anne restaurant — now a special-events facility that caters to 600 guests with a groaning buffet on Thanksgiving. That recipe resides in Cook's Illustrated's cookbook compendium, "Restaurant Favorites at Home," where it's long been a favorite at my house.
"It's comfort food," said Donier. "You can't go wrong with lamb shanks." What's more, by preparing the dish in advance of a holiday meal — and reheating it while a small turkey is resting, "it gives people a choice," he said. And in the unlikely event there are any leftovers, "you can take the meat off the bone, put it in pasta or over polenta and serve it the next day."
After roasting umpteen turkeys earlier this year while testing recipes for "Cooking Light" (you can view the results in the magazine's November issue), cookbook author Cynthia Nims has seen enough turkey to turn her off the traditional bird. "I might go with game birds this year," she said, though you might go with chef Walter Pisano's four-onion risotto recipe.
"Risotto is an awesome template that can go in many directions," said Nims, who included Pisano's recipe from Tulio Ristorante in her second edition of the "Northwest Best Places Cookbook."
That recipe — with sweet onions, scallions, leeks and minced chives — makes a great side dish, a holiday-appropriate vegetarian entrée and "reminds you how many different flavors the onion family offers." Adding diced pumpkin or other squashes, wild mushrooms or Dungeness crab, can make this classic Italian dish reflect personal preferences along with our regional riches, Nims said.
Fresh chilled Dungeness dipped in melted butter is the traditional Christmas Eve treat for Sharon Kramis, who develops recipes for Anthony's Restaurants and has co-authored several cookbooks.
"We keep it real simple," she said of her Christmas feast, served with a salad and fresh bread. The same can be said of the baked yams with Oregon hazelnuts from her aptly named "Northwest Bounty." Long before she co-wrote her first cookbook, Kramis had a chance to study with the Northwest's most revered cookbook author and food authority.
"I had the privilege of taking cooking classes from James Beard," she recalls, describing seven "wonderful" summers spent in Seaside, Ore., under the tutelage of the late, great chef. One day, Beard stepped out to allow his students to plan a brunch menu. With pen and paper in hand, "We were flying veal in from Seattle for veal scaloppine and carving watermelons," Kramis said.
After "shuffling back in, and taking a seat in his director's chair," the dean of American cookery surveyed their menu. Unimpressed, "he shouted, 'That's the damndest, most pretentious menu I've ever seen! Where's the coffee cake? Where are the sausages?' " Kramis recalls. "He was the real thing, the one who really grounded me in using fresh, local ingredients."
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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