Food for Thought

What kind of madcap optimist attempts homemade pastrami?  Well, uh — me.

When I told Nancy Leson about the breakthrough recipe I found at Mandy Lee's utterly swell Lady And Pups blog, she had to try it too.

Dick Stein / KNKX

I got so excited last week listening to Nancy describe her homemade tortillas that I ran right out and bought a tortilla press and some masa harina.  My intention was a taco feast with homemade Mexican chorizo and salsa verde and homemade tortillas.  What could go wrong?

Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Why would you make your own tortillas when they're available in every store?" I asked Nancy Leson.

"Because I can. Because it's fun.  And it's easy!"  And, she claims, better than store-bought.  Read on for Nancy's tortillas, the book they rode in and actual live footage of La Leson wielding her tortilla press.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Nancy Leson was just over the moon about the Persian cooking class she'd recently taken from cookbook author and teacher Najmieh Batmanglij.  I took one look at Batmanglij's site and immediately found recipes I had to try. 

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Nancy Leson is the first to talk up the virtues of the produce on sale at local farmers markets, but she was wowed by the tomatoes she saw at Eugene's Lane County Farmers Market.  Her only regret?  "I just wasn't in a position to take home a box of San Marzanos that were just unbe-LEEEV-able."

I had thought San Marzanos were the same thing as the Romas I'm growing.  I was half-right.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

"Hey Nance," I asked Ms. Leson.  "Mussels or clams – which wunna dese?" 

"Of dose?" she Philly'd.  "I like 'em both, but it would have to be mussels.  Especially in the summer."

Here's why.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

As a guy who excludes fruit from his diet, I have no business pointing a finger at anyone else's food phobias.  But I will, anyway. 

How can my wife, the Lovely & Talented Cheryl DeGroot, a generally omnivorous woman, hate grits? And she'll have nothing to do with Pisum sativum, either no matter how I beg her to give peas a chance. 

Nancy Leson's husband Mac won't eat the cheeses she finds so pleasing. This week Nance and I commiserate on our spouses' food phobias and offer recipes for stuff that they won't eat, but you might love.

Jim Robbins / KNKX

This showdown's been brewing ever since Nancy Leson claimed she could make perfectly good bagels, start to finish in one hour.  Naturally I scoffed, but Nancy swears they're good.  We and about ten other guests finally got a chance to do a comparison tasting last weekend.  The results surprised me.

Dick Stein / KNKX

Mayonnaise is Chile's favorite sandwich spread.  It's a must for the famous Chacarero (farm style) beef, tomato and green bean sandwich.  I made one recently and, in the process, discovered a whole new use for both mayo and my gas grill.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

“Seattle restaurants are so uncomfortable that it’s driving me crazy,” Nancy Leson beefed.  Nancy’s main complaint is fundamental.  “Isn’t the definition of 'restaurant' to restore?  How restored can you get when your tush is numb after a half hour?”

Nancy Leson / KNKX

Last week, Seattle celebrated the grand opening of the new Pike Place MarketFront. It was a long time coming. Not only for folks who tried to navigate Western Avenue amid the mass construction, but for all of us who love Pike Place Market and use it regularly, whether we’re showing off the city’s historic centerpiece to out-of-towners or eating, drinking and shopping there — as I regularly do.

Nancy Leson / KNKX

I asked Nancy Leson what she likes to chop on.  Once we got past her lumberjack (Jill?) joke I learned she likes plastic for cutting and wood for serving. 

I'd always preferred wood for cutting and hubcaps for serving. Now I'm a convert to the convenience of plastic for cutting.  Especially the new one sent to us by a listener.  What’s so great about it? 

It’s full of holes.

"My kid finally got a real, paying job," Nancy Leson announced.  Young Nate's now a B.C. barista.  Which led us to reminisce about our first food service jobs.  Nancy's was at the Chalfonte, a venerable Cape May, N.J. hotel. 

My first food service job nearly earned me a deep-fried head.

Nancy Leson

We all have favorite old standby recipes, comfortable and familiar as well-worn jeans.  Recipes like that don't come along often, but when they do you just know you'll be making them again.  This last week, both Nancy Leson and I were lucky enough to come across several new "old favorites" to add to our lists.

Nancy Leson

Sometimes the simplest kitchen tools are the most useful.  One of my favorites is an old rubber mallet I picked up at the auto parts years ago.  I use it for pounding meat.  It was cheaper than the "official" flesh whackers sold in kitchen stores and way easier to handle than the frequently suggested substitute, a cast-iron skillet.

Nancy Leson

"All the chefs think they know how to season your meal," complains Nancy Leson about the disappearance of salt and pepper shakers from restaurant tabletops. 

That's never bothered me.  Mainly because I think the chefs do know how to season my meal.  But for those who want it saltier, Nance has the solution: Bring your own.   

That and other restaurant-going tips and tricks, dos and don'ts in this week's Food for Thought.

Concept: Stein; Photoshop: Parker Miles Blohm

"Well, Nance," I reminded Nancy Leson.  "Mother's Day is Sunday – let's talk about some mom food."   Since Nancy actually is somebody's mother I wanted to know not just what dishes her mother made, but also the ones she thought her son would remember. First her own childhood favorites.

Cheryl DeGroot

Nancy Leson and I love to share cooking and eating tips and tricks, but we don't always see things the same way.  Nance says we agree to disagree.  I say we agree to each think the other is wrong and say so. 

Nancy Leson

So Leson emails me a link to a Bon Appetit recipe which claims to make mushrooms taste like bacon.  In the subject line she writes "Methinks this has a FfT in it."  Methought the same.

Nothing evokes memory like smells.  Nancy Leson says one whiff of mint, and she's suddenly 6 again.  My ticket to 6 is a strong snort off a box of Crayolas.  Try it sometime.

Nancy Leson

A slight touch of pneumonia got in the way of the dim sum feast I'd planned with my visiting sister Debbie and niece Jen, both ace cooks.  Fast forward a year and we were ready to roll (wrappers) again.  Naturally, Nancy Leson came to share the cooking and eating.

Nancy Leson

Hi. Nancy here.  I recently read an article about the joys of being a restaurant regular and the tears inevitably shed when your favorite restaurant hauls out the “closed” sign — for good.

It got me thinking about the places I hit on a regular basis, and what it is about those particular restaurants that turned me into a regular in the first place.

Nancy Leson

Traditional lore says sear your steak first then finish it at a lower temperature. I recently tried J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's "reverse sear" method, which saves the sear for last and liked it.  Nancy Leson's approach is sear first, oven second..

Photo: Cheryl DeGroot. Layout & Design: Parker Blohm

"Stein, what do you eat when no one's looking?" Nancy Leson asked.  I turned the question back to her and Leson was firm in her preferences. 

"It's gotta be fatty, salty, preferably both," she said.

Nancy Leson

Nancy Leson grew up with plain old paper napkins, but planned for a more elegant wipe while still a teen.  These days, she mops her mug at every meal with linen napkins.  When not on duty, those napkins nestle in their own rings, engraved Madame or Monsieur. 

Nancy Leson

Nancy Leson asked, "When did you start drinking coffee?"  

In an instant (forgive the expression), I remembered elementary school mornings when my mom, Chesterfield ash trembling dangerously over my glass, dripped some drops of her barely brown Maxwell House into my milk.

Nancy Leson

When I asked Nancy Leson about the cooking classes she's been teaching she said, "The more I teach, the more I learn – especially from my students." 

Yeah, yeah, all the teachers say that. 

"So what have you learned lately?" I challenged her.

Charles Kelly / AP Photo

I am not a Luddite. I'm not; I'm not; I'm not! I mention that only because when Nancy Leson confessed to her seduction by Amazon Echo, I had to ask her what that was.


Nancy Leson

I hoard shrimp shells.  "I've got a wad of them the size of soccer ball in the freezer," I told Nancy Leson. They're a great start to a good seafood stock.

The L&T Cheryl DeGroot

A man and woman meet in a bar and get along perfectly — same sense of humor, same favorite authors and movies, food, music; they're a perfect match.  Naturally, they wind up at her place that very night.  There on the living room floor he sees a dead horse.

"My God," he exclaims. "A dead horse!"

"Well," she shrugs, "I never said I was neat."

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