Date Shakes

by Steven Behling


Last weekend, some friends and I were shuffling through a handful of antique stores in the Portland metropolitan area when one of them happened upon an old tin of date crystals from Shields Date Farm in Indio, California.  Upon seeing its bright yellows and blues, I was instantly transported back to my time in Southern California.  Around this time of year in 2010, I was in the midst of a demanding pediatric psychology internship at Children's Hospital of Orange County, had just finished a week of being on-call for the emergency department, and wanted desperately to get away for the weekend...a feeling I can identify with right now.  February in Seattle, even one as balmy as this one has been, is perhaps the toughest month of the year, when the gray skies have worn out their welcome and spring coyishly flirts with its residents before winter sneaks up from behind and gives you a wedgie, reminding you that many a chilly (okay, chilly for Seattle) day lies ahead.  

Back to 2010.  In my quest to escape the rigors of my final year of graduate school, I set my sights on Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, a mere two hours' drive from where I was living at the time.  The weekend was a memorable one, and not just because it was the first time I heard a Justin Bieber song.  Joshua Tree National Park is an other-worldly, peaceful place to explore the beauty of the desert, provided you remember the "look, don't touch" rule when it comes to cactuses and scorpions.

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The group of Eastern European tourists that had arrived at the cholla cactus garden inside Joshua Tree had, unfortunately, never heard of this rule.  I pulled up to the garden mid-day, the interior of my charcoal gray Mazda 6 sending off fumes of 'Murica under the scorching sun.  Upon exiting my toaster of a transport, I noticed that one of the members of the tour group had reached down toward a fallen section of cholla that had rolled outside the fenced-in garden.  Cholla propagate by sending segments of their delicately-attached branches on the backs of roaming animals, or perhaps taken by the wind, laying on top of the parched earth until they propel their tiny roots into the ground, securing a place for the newly-established cholla.  Before anyone could say a word, the tourist lovingly picked up the fallen, spiky demon of torture and lifted it up for the others to examine.  The cholla's barbs quickly sunk into her fingertips, causing a shriek of pain to echo through the desert.  Instinctively, she reached over with her other hand to pull the cholla off the first.  Both hands had become attached to the cholla, producing an inhuman cry as she gazed down at her new handmuff.  Shouts proceeded from the group, with a particularly valiant(?) young man jumping in to pull the cholla off with his own bare hands.  It was like that Spice Girls song, "When Two Become One," but less sultry and more screamy.

When one has had quite enough of hiking through the desert, Oasis Date Gardens is waiting for you with something sweet and refreshing.  Although I've never been a fan of dates (to which my single status will attest), the clamoring online reviews of this tasty treat enticed me to partake of this creamy, dreamy, caramelly concoction.  Perhaps you want to enjoy it whilst perusing the selection of dates and date-related items in the gift shop, or perchance while sitting on a cheery picnic bench, or maybe during a stroll down the rows and rows of date palms.  

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Alas, you are probably sitting at home, far away from sunny SoCal, shivering in your PJs and watching the snow fall outside.  Here, let me bring you a little sunshine.

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Date Shakes

¼ c or more of dates, seeded and chopped
½ c milk
3-4 scoops vanilla ice cream

There are a variety of date shakes available online, some with coconut milk and diary-free ice cream for our vegan friends, others suggesting that a specific type of date tastes better than others.  I find that it's really a matter of taste, which means that you should just buy a bunch of dates, a gallon of milk, and at least half a gallon of ice cream, use the recipe above as a starting point, and keep experimenting until you find your sweet spot.  A few tips...be sure to remove the seeds if they didn't come pitted and, if you can, process the dates and milk on high to get a smoother texture before you add the ice cream.  As my 6-year-old self can attest, the more you stir ice cream, the faster it becomes soup.  Enjoy!


Lemon Curd & Vanilla Bean Oatmeal

by Steven Behling


Oatmeal is boring.  My earliest memories of the sticky substance consist of snowy winter mornings in 1980s Utah, ripping open a brown waxy packet of Quaker Instant Oats, either maple and brown sugar or peaches and cream, and pouring it into a bowl of nuked milk.  Stir, stir, stir.  "Where's the brown sugar?"  Spoonful, spoonful, spoonful.  Choke it down while standing over the heat vent on the floor, shifting my weight back and forth to keep the hot metal from burning my toes while trying to direct the hot air up my pant legs.  Brush teeth, snow boots, backpack.  School.

Flash forward to college, when I witnessed a couple of graduate students in the psychology department at The University of Utah use hot water from the electric tea kettle in their shared office to subsist off the aforementioned oatmeal packets and Kraft Easy Mac.  If only I had paid attention to this and other warning signs, I might never have tortured myself with seven years of my own graduate studies, the first of which was frequently spent living off the vending machine across the hall and arranging the cushions from the questionable couch in the first year office into a makeshift bed so I could sleep on the floor of my advisor's lab when I was too tired to schlep home at 3:30am after hours and hours of running someone else's data.  Higher education, ladies and gentleman.  

In adulthood, it seems I've been blessed not only with male pattern baldness, but also with genetically high cholesterol.  Enter oatmeal.  Hello, old friend.  Let's see if we can dress you up a bit, make you a titch tastier.

Lemon Curd & Vanilla Bean Oatmeal

1 c steel cut oats
3-4 c water, milk, almond milk, etc.
1 vanilla bean, split
1 pinch salt
1 or more jars of lemon curd

Bring the liquid to a boil.  The more you start with, the silkier the oatmeal, but hey...some people like it thick.  Remove from heat, split vanilla bean down the center with a sharp knife, scoop out seeds, and drop them and the husk into your liquid .  Let sit for 15 minutes, returning to stovetop and bringing mixture to a boil once again.  Slowly stir in oats and pinch of salt.  Simmer on low, stirring periodically to prevent the oats from sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 30 minutes or until the liquid has been largely absorbed.  Remove from heat and extract the vanilla pod.  Scoop out generous portion and stir in lemon curd to taste.  I usually toss in a spoonful or two, more if it's the coveted lemon curd from Bridgewater Bistro in Astoria, Oregon, and it just so happens that my friend Lauren smuggled us some across the border during her most recent trip down the coast.  

Heads up...it smells like Play-Doh.  Tasty, tasty Play-Doh.

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Of note, if one seeks a more floral experience, try steeping about a teaspoon of lavender buds in the milk, straining, and stirring in a tablespoon or so of rose water and a spoonful of caramel once the oatmeal has finished cooking and you've placed a dollop in your bowl.  Voilà!  Lavender & Rose Water Caramel Oatmeal.  #BONUSrecipe

 


Here Comes Truffle

by Steven Behling


Readers of NOSHology may remember my friend and professional colleague Lisa, first mentioned in an entry capturing the most wonderful dinner party held near the end of this past summer.  Her home is now decked out beautifully and elegantly for the holidays, and I didn't hesitate to take my dear friend up on her offer make chocolate truffles together.  Before my arrival this morning, she had already melted 12 ounces of chocolate into 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream several times over, refrigerating the ganache until ready to scoop onto parchment paper, re-refrigerated, and ready to roll.  Although most of the ganache was pure chocolate, one batch was infused with finely chopped candied ginger, another pistachio extract, and yet another Frangelico hazelnut liqueur.

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Seasoned trufflers might not be as surprised as I was by the intoxicating scent of chocolate wafting through the air as my body temperature warmed and softened the truffles as we rolled them between our hands to form rustic spheres of delight. 

Once rolled, the truffles were dropped in a variety of toppings, including chopped pistachios and pecans, roasted cacao beans, powdered cocoa, and melted chocolate topped with a square of candied ginger.  Of note, those little corn on the cob holders are perfect for picking up truffles and dipping them in melted chocolate.

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Once the truffles had been lovingly placed in their individual paper cups, Lisa boxed up a collection and I tied them up in a bow.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Follow that with a lovely performance of "Silent Night" with Lisa on piano and her daughter Analiese on cello and there was absolutely no doubt that the very best of the holiday season had begun.  Happy Holidays!

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A Sucker for the Holidays

by Steven Behling


One of my best childhood memories of the Christmas season was when my sisters and I would help our parents rub oil on the inside of metal molds, insert paper sticks, and set them on an aluminum cookie sheet placed on top of several inches of snow in the backyard.  Returning to the toasty warm kitchen, we stirred together sugar, Karo Syrup, and water in a saucepan, stirred until boiling, clipped a candy thermometer on the side of the pan, and watched as the temperature climbed.  When it hit soft crack stage, we'd carefully drop food coloring onto the bubbling surface and watch the holly red, starlight yellow, or wintry green spread throughout the syrup.  

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Once the thermometer hit 300° F, we'd quickly whisk it off the burner, stir in flavoring oil with the wooden spoon (which also doubled as a spanking utensil), and take the pan outside to pour the scalding solution into the molds, steam rising and the overpowering scent of spicy cinnamon, fragrant clove, or bracing peppermint filling our lungs.  

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Once cooled, we would remove the clip at the base of each mold and it would (sometimes) spring away from the finished product.  Wrapped in individual bags and closed with a twist tie, we would give handfuls to neighbors and dear friends to celebrate the season.     

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During the tail end of graduate school, I re-ignited this family tradition in snow-exempt Southern California, sadly watching the lollipops cool slowly on the kitchen counter as the thermometer outside hit 80 degrees.  The cinnamon, clove, and peppermint flavors of my childhood seemed out of place in such balmy conditions, so I went with options like peach, grape, and root beer.  Nevertheless, using my father's handwritten recipe below still captured some of that Christmas magic.

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Today I make around six batches or so for my clients and their families, and I must say that the response I get from these is fantastic.  

"Ooh!  They're so lovely."

"Did you really make these yourself?"

"It's like stained glass!"

Either folks really do like them, or they have such a mediocre expectation of my ability to produce something delicious in the kitchen that they are knocked off their feet by these little suckers (pun intended).  Regardless, if you're feeling so inclined to recreate this tradition in your kitchen, I get my lollipop molds and oils during trips to my favorite kitchen and restaurant supply shop in the Salt Lake Valley, Orson Gygi.  You can visit their online store to pick up Sweet Creations Lollipop Molds and LorAnn Oils, lollipop sticks and bags.  I now use a little bit of jute to tie a bow at the bottom of mine, but you could use yarn or metallic twist ties as well.

See you later, suckers!


The Spice House

by Steven Behling


Upon entering The Spice House in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, one is immediately overcome with the aroma of the most intense, unexpected blend of herbs and spices: spicy cinnamon, piquant peppers, luscious citrus, earthy mushrooms, savory sage, summery basil and oregano...and more. It seems that encountering such a motley blend of scents all at once might seem overwhelming, and perhaps it is to some, but to me it is one of the most meaningful sensory experiences ever. Other spice merchants try, and I suppose they'll do in a pinch, but none seem to reach the pinnacle of perfection that my beloved Spice House achieves every time I enter its doors. 

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Readers who don't live in Chicago or Milwaukee (or Napa Valley... I saw several of their products during a visit to The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone) will be pleased to know that The Spice House's entire catalog is available online.  Shipping isn't too bad if you purchase as many items as I do when it's time to restock my pantry.  Some of my favorites include Vulcan Fire Salt, Back of the Yards Garlic Pepper Butcher's Rub, Lake Shore Drive Seasoning, and Chicago Old Town Premium Spiced Sugar. Chef Alton Brown likes The Spice House too, and has created several proprietary blends in conjunction with owners Tom and Patty Erd.

Check out The Spice Town in person or online. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. The location pictured above can be found at 1512 N Wells St in Chicago, Illinois.  


Jell..Oh!

by Steven Behling


I have a conflicted relationship with my place of birth.  On the one hand, Utah is filled with beautiful, sweeping landscapes, clean air (well, minus the inversion), and is home to the Sundance Film Festival, smiling faces, and a non-negligible portion of my family and friends.  On the other hand, aspects of the culture there drove me further away from, as opposed to closer to, a calm, clear, purposeful sense of my own spirituality...and there's so much Jell-O.  And blonde hair.

Utahns consume more Jell-O per capita than any other state in the union.  There was even legislation passed recognizing Jell-O as the official favorite snack of the State of Utah.  And who can blame them?  Sweet, versatile, jiggly...no, I'm not making a list of attributes for my LDSMingle.com profile...I'm talking about Jell-O.  Growing up, my favorite were the Jigglers, peach or grape, please.

July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, so it made perfect sense for my friends Mark and Emily to host a classy gathering in their midcentury modern Seattle apartment celebrating all things gelatin.  

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Contributions included citrus slices, mango ginger blackberry and raspberry peach shots, birdsmilk and raspberry squares (no, I don't know which birds Alena milked), "Troubled Waters" (blue Jell-O with Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids, and SweetTart accents), grapefruit shots with blueberries and mint, strawberry pineapple lemonade in the shape of a brain, "Cowboy Salad" (lemon/lime Jell-O, pineapple, Cool Whip, and cottage cheese), lime pear, raspberry pineapple parfait, "gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, Paleo AWESOMENESS!" (Naked Green Machine Juice and gelatin), classic rainbow, and strawberry white chocolate.  I ended up making lychee raspberry Jell-O with lychee cream dusted with Persian rose sugar from Capitol Hill's Sugarpill (upper right-hand in photo above, half made in my grandma's molds, half in cups).  Lime pear was the clear favorite, but my little lychee raspberry darlings earned the "Most Creative" award.  Emily snapped a photo of me gazing lovingly at the trophy and made it into an emoji using imojiapp. #winning

 

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The Scone Recipe Everyone Always Asks For

by Steven Behling


During my first year of graduate school, I couldn't afford airfare home for the holidays and ended up working at The Gap during the month of December to make ends meet. That was the year I got up at 4:30am to do markdowns, and during the walk to the El (what Chicagoans call their subway system), the watery eyes caused by piercing cold winds resulted in my eyelashes freezing shut. Also, the banana I'd put in my coat pocket had frozen solid in under ten minutes thanks to the subzero Chicago winter. If only I'd dipped it in chocolate before leaving the house.

During my second year of graduate school, I was able to afford a trip back to Utah to celebrate the holiday season with family.  While there, I happened upon this scone recipe, which is one of the two things that folks who visit me (or whom I visit...a good guest bakes for his or her host) consistently request.  Again.  And again.  And now it is yours:

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Orange Cranberry Scones

2 3/4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
12 T cold unsalted butter
1 c dried cranberries (or dried cherries, or chocolate, or both…just keep it 1 c)
1 T orange zest (if desired)
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 egg
Demerara or other course sugar for sprinkling
Parchment paper

Set oven to 375°F.  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add cold unsalted butter (I like to cut it into tiny cubes first), smashing it into the dry mixture with your hands or a pastry cutter until sort of mixed (you’re going to want to have some tiny bits of butter left in the mixture). Chop up dried cranberries (or dried cherries, or chocolate, or whatever) and toss in with orange zest (if desired). Mix with hands. Add cream and work it into the dry mixture. Pat into an 8-inch circle and cut into 8 wedges. Lay wedges on parchment paper placed atop a baking sheet. Make an egg wash by whisking one egg with 1 T water and brush mixture over the top of the scones with a pastry brush (or your fingers…kids love doing that).  Sprinkle with Demerara or another coarse sugar (kids also love helping with this part). Bake at 375°F for 26-28 minutes or until golden brown. Eat. Make another batch. Eat.


Case Study: Garlic Spears

by Steven Behling


Pike Place Market is by far my most favorite place in Seattle.  No doubt I'll dedicate at least one future blog post to this epicurean delight, but for today, let's focus on what I found at Manzo Brothers Fruit & Vegetables in the Main Arcade: GARLIC SPEARS!  Garlic spears, also known by the moniker "scape," are the flower stalks of elephant garlic.  Harvested early, they have a texture similar to asparagus and add a peppery, garlicky (duh) bite to recipes which mellows the longer the spear is cooked.   

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Experiment One: Sautéed 

Upon arrival at Casa NOSH, I sautéed several stalks in a manner similar to how one might prepare asparagus: a little olive oil, sour squeeze of fragrant lemon, finished with Maldon sea salt after about 15-20 minutes.  A little on the firm side, the texture was similar to asparagus but with an okra glide across the tongue.  Their flavor was delicate, but definitely garlicky...almost as if I had roasted asparagus in garlic oil.  Win!

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Experiment Two: Pasta

The next day, I cut up some spears into 1.5 inch pieces and tossed them into a pan with some olive oil.  After about five minutes, I added some hastily-chopped sweet red bell pepper (the aroma produced by garlic spears is known to induce hunger), then a few minutes later tossed in some diced Roma tomatoes.  Before serving, I plucked some fresh oregano and basil from my windowsill garden and tossed it all together with mini farfalle, hastily ground some black pepper over the top, pinch of kosher salt, and devoured the lot.

Experiment Three: Tuna Fish

Two days after purchasing the spears, I decided to go off-book and slice them ever-so-thinly (look at the beautiful pattern in the stem!) before placing them into a bowl containing canned white albacore tuna, scallions, mayo, and cayenne pepper, finishing the mix with a dusting of Northwest Alder smoked salt.  As pedestrian as it may seem, this was my favorite use of the spears, as evidenced by my repeating experiment three twice until, sadly, the stalks were gone.  

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