smoked salmon

swept up in the momentum

I’ve never been much of a football fan. Oh, when I was in the 9th grade, the quarterback of my high school football team was a lean beautiful boy who threw tight spirals down a long green field. (Improbably, his name was Track.) A few times, my father and I climbed high in the bleachers on what felt like chilly Friday nights — I grew up in Southern California, so it was probably 65 degrees — and stomped our feet on the wooden boards beneath us as the team marched down that field. I remember being so swept up in the momentum of the crowd feeling that I jumped up and down, shouting “Go Track, go!” with the couple hundred other people doing the same. It felt good, in that moment, to be part of something.

That’s the last time I attended a football game.

Baseball has always been more my thing. All those clean lines, clear rules, and individual moments of triumph. Oh, how I loved baseball as a kid, sitting on the floor of my living room listening to Vin Scully call out the plays, a Dodger dog in one hand, my glove on the other. In those days, I bled Dodger blue. I was convinced I would be the first woman in the Major Leagues, then crushed when I wasn’t allowed to play Little League because I was a girl. I still think my most triumphant moment in life might have been when the 5th-grade boys didn’t want me to play softball with them at PE, even though I had to go all the way to the principal to advocate for the right to play. I begged them to let me take one at bat. If I struck out, I’d be backstop catcher. (That’s the person who stands behind the catcher, and picks up the balls that skip between his legs.) After arguing back and forth, the boys allowed me to stand at the plate. I hit a home run.

So I have no essential problem with sports.

Football, to me, feels like war. All that marching and whistles and smashing and strategy. I know those men are padded well, but every time I see one enormous man with bulging biceps and thighs the size of canned hams ram his head into the chest of another one, I cringe. It’s just not my thing, all that violence. I’m probably just too sensitive for this world. (People, I tear up when I watch Daniel Tiger with Lu, because I grow grateful that she has Mister Rogers in her life the way I did.) Seriously, I’m probably not meant for football.

But Danny? He’s a football fan. That’s not to say that he’s any less sensitive than I am. Sometimes I look over to see him listening to Lu tell a story about climbing a tree, and see her put her hand on his for a moment, and his eyes tear up. He has no violence in him. But he’s a boy from Colorado still, and he loves his Broncos.

All fall and winter, Lucy and I had a date Sunday afternoons. We spent a few hours at the library, choosing her latest towering stack of books, then went to our local tea shop to share a pot of gingerbread rooibos and a cheese plate with grapes to read every book in that toppling stack together. I cherish that time with her. We began that ritual so Danny could watch the Broncos, alone, unabashed to stand up and shout when something unexpected happened.

On Sunday, we had a house full of people watching with him.

super bowl spread_

You probably know the ending to this story already. Surrounded by a crowd of people dressed in blue and green, my man in orange watched his team end their season in ignominy. After the game, sweetly, a dozen of our friends texted him, saying, “Sorry, Danny. Better luck next time.” And to his credit, he recovered immediately. He laughed with our friends and went on with our feasting. He’s the most loyal person I know. He’s a fan, no matter what. There’s always next year.

Me? I didn’t care who won, either way. It was great fun to watch the area I live in relax into that crowd momentum for days before the game. On Friday, I walked through our island grocery store confused by the number of people dressed in football jerseys around me. Even the old hippie couple buying seitan in the produce section wore Seahawks winter hats with tassels. (It turns out the grocery store was offering 12% off the purchases of anyone wearing regalia for the team, in honor of the 12th man. I would have painted my fingernails blue and green, if I had known.) As my brother said to me the day before, we could probably use more reasons to paint our faces and chant songs together in this world. There’s not enough communal spirit in this culture.

Right now, there are thousands of people camped out on the streets in downtown Seattle. Some of them huddled into sleeping bags in 19° weather and slept on sidewalks overnight to stake their claim to a piece of concrete. There’s a giant parade in honor of the Seahawks going on. I hear coffee shops and restaurants are running out of coffee. Now this is a Seattle story. This is a polite city. After the game was over, clutches of people took to the streets to celebrate, waiting until the light turned green to throng into the streets, then dispersing when cars needed to drive through. (There was a hashtag on Twitter: #howseattleriots. My favorite? “Buying out all the Skittles in the city but not eating them because of the corn syrup.”) As little as I want to sleep on the streets in the cold to watch cars full of football players drive by, I sort of grin when I think of it. We could use some more wide-open cheering these days.

The friends who gathered at our house for the Super Bowl aren’t the types to go downtown for a parade in the cold. Michelle is a nurse and professional skeptic. She kept asking Tony, “Wait, why did that team stop throwing passes?” And he explained first downs to her, and the frustration of not getting one. Marie is a social worker and advocate for children with different learning abilities. She most enjoyed following Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, talking about the physics of football as the game went on. The kids romped and played, pretending to be interested in the game, far more interested in the commercials at times, since most of them had never seen one. (We all, as one, diverted their attention when the violent video game commercials came on.) There was a lot of conversation about how creepy the computer-generated lines on the field are, because they’re so realistic. We sort of watched the game.

Mostly, we gathered. We were the isle of misfit toys Super Bowl party.

Last week, when I posted a link to a spread of gluten-free treats Saveur magazine featured, someone wrote me an angry email: “Saveur? For the Super Bowl? What, tortilla chips and bean dip are beneath you? You don’t have to be a snob to be gluten-free.” I laughed, actually. But it also made me wonder. I wonder what happened in her day to make her this angry. I wonder where we got the idea that we have to march ourselves into separate, contained corners. “I’m a football fan. I’m the kind of person who disdains football and can’t believe all this ridiculousness. I eat real food. I eat normal food without making a fuss.” Can’t we stop playing war with our likes and habits?

I’m a woman who doesn’t much like football who enjoyed the heck out of the Superbowl, surrounded by friends who don’t much understand the game, and ate roasted kabocha squash wrapped in crisp prosciutto and smoked salmon potato cakes with parsley dressing for the big game. And a handful of Skittles to celebrate the Seattle victory, after Lucy pressed them into my palm.

Life’s too short to not enjoy it, any way it arrives.

 

smoked salmon potato cakes

 

Smoked Salmon Potato Cakes

Yield: about 24 to 30

We’re pretty crazy about potatoes around here. Ahern is an Irish name, of course. Honestly, if we have a day without potatoes, Danny starts to feel a little squirmy. Luckily, I have learned something great lately. If you cook potatoes, and let them cool, you reduce the glycemic index of the potato by half. Plus, cooked potatoes that have been cooled to room temperature form resistant starch, which is the kind of food the good bacteria in our guts love. Add smoked salmon and it’s a party.

Let’s eat potatoes!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds new red potatoes
  • 1/2 pound smoked salmon, chopped into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix of your choice (we used 2 parts almond flour, 1 part arrowroot)
  1. Set a large pot filled with cold, salted water on medium-high heat. Put all the potatoes inside. Bring the potatoes to a boil and let them cook until a sharp knife slides easily into the potato, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Drain the potatoes. Cool them completely, preferably overnight.
  3. The next morning, grate the potatoes on a box grater, skins and all, into a large bowl. Add the smoked salmon, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, egg, and potato starch. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Heat the oven to 425° Form a small cake in your hands. Dust both sides of the cake with the gluten-free flour. Set a large skillet over medium heat then pour in a bit of olive oil. Brown one side of the cake, then flip it over. Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Take the potato cake out of the oven. Let it cool enough so you don’t burn your mouth! Taste the cake. Happy? Proceed. Not quite? Season with more salt, pepper, or spices.
  5. Form the remaining potato mixture into equal-sized cakes and dust them in the flour. Set the skillet back on medium heat, then pour in more olive oil. Fill the skillet, reasonably, with potato cakes. (Think about a train at 10 am, not rush hour.) Brown the bottoms, then lay them on a sheet pan lined with greased parchment paper. When the sheet pan is filled, put it in the oven to continue cooking the cakes until they are firm to the touch and browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
  6. Continue this until you have cooked all the cakes.

Notes

You can eat these hot from the oven. And you might want to, certainly. But I think they’re best cooled to room temperature, dolloped with a good homemade mayonnaise or parsley dressing, as we did here.

gluten-free Super Bowl

Back in January, when Danny and I were planning out the food we’d make for the blog in February, we both looked at the calendar and thought, “We should probably make some Super Bowl food.”

Good idea, right? Most of the country seems seized by the need to sit in front of the television and cheer or grow so angry when the wrong player runs down the field for a touchdown that the veins in their foreheads bulge or at least tune in to watch the commercials that we’d be missing our chance to make great gluten-free food for people who need it in a party situation.

Here’s the problem. Our friend Adam laughed the other day when I told him we’d be cooking all the next morning to make Super Bowl food for this site. “You guys don’t make Super Bowl food.”

“What kind of food is it?” I asked him.

“You take a jar of that pre-melted cheese, dump it over a bunch of chips, and heat it in the microwave. Or you get that box with the summer sausage and the cheese ball rolled in nuts and you dig in with crackers. Or you fry up ground beef and make tacos with those hard taco shells that come 12 to a package.”

Oh dear. I wanted to dispute him. Sure,  it’s football, but it’s also a party. People can eat anything at a Super Bowl party, right? I’m seeing blog posts flying through the sky these days. Everyone has Super Bowl appetizers.

And then I realize this: I have never been to a Super Bowl party. Never.

I’ve watched a couple of times over my life, at home with the family, or with Danny when he wasn’t working that day. But I have never once thrown a Super Bowl Party. Or attended one.

So, you’re saying that this tray of fresh vegetables with romesco sauce, green goddess dressing, and blue cheese dip with green onions (all inspired by our friend Cynthia Nims’ fun cookbook, Gourmet Game Night: Bite-Sized, Mess-Free Eating for Board-Game Parties, Bridge Clubs, Poker Nights, Book Groups, and More) probably wouldn’t show up on most Super Bowl party tables? Particularly the way Danny decorated the tray with escarole?

(Lu enjoyed it for lunch, however.)

Popcorn. Surely there must be popcorn at a Super Bowl party, right? Sometimes I feel like there should be popcorn at every meal. This is a staple.

However, this popcorn was made with herbes de provence, a blending of thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, and lavender.

Shoot. This isn’t Super Bowl food either, is it?

However, I will tell you this: you MUST make this popcorn. The slight sweetness of lavender combined with the savory herbs, all blended with butter and salt? Unbelievable. I first tried this combination when I was at a fascinating spice weekend at the McCormick headquarters in Maryland. (As I have written here before, we have been paid by McCormick to use their spices and write about how we use spices in our kitchen.) When the McCormick people told us they believed that the combination of herbes de provence and popcorn might be one of the big flavor profiles for this year, I was a little dubious. However, since I ate this cheesecake with an herbes de provence-popcorn crust, I have been fixated. This is the one of the best cheesecakes I have ever eaten — so light — and it’s naturally gluten-free.

(The McCormick folks were lovely. They made the entire menu for the weekend gluten-free for everyone so that I could eat everything offered.)

So maybe this wouldn’t show up at most Super Bowl parties. But it should show up in your kitchen soon.

Nachos! This has to be the world’s best party food, right? Surely those will show up at Super Bowl parties.

Some folks might think that mini nachos are a little fussy to make. Treating each chip as its own individual tray of nachos? Why not just throw the cheese and salsa on and call it good?

Seriously, make it this way. Each chip is its own nacho nirvana.

(You can see the recipe for these mini nachos over at the Food Network’s website. We’re honored that they have asked us to create gluten-free recipes for them on a regular basis now.)

Lamb shepherd’s pie. Is this Super Bowl food?

It’s meat and potatoes and gravy. That’s a crowd pleaser.

Just don’t tell people that there’s lavender in there. Lamb and lavender are best friends, says Danny. It will just taste fantastic and people won’t know why.

(This recipe will be posted on the Food Network’s site today, so watch for it!)

I suppose this isn’t typical Super Bowl food either, is it?

I suppose it’s probably pretty clear that I don’t really understand the food that’s right for a Super Bowl party. How could I if I have never been to one? Danny has been to plenty of Super Bowl parties in his time, but this is the food he likes to eat.

From listening to my other friends, I know that there are plenty of people out there who love great food and love the Super Bowl too. They’re not mutually exclusive, no matter what my friend Adam says.

We just make the food we like. If you like it too, great.

And maybe, like me, you’ll be avoiding the whole thing anyway, sort of horrified by the spectacle and kind of amazed that people would actually gather in front of the television, eager to see advertisements.

(Secret: I don’t even know which teams are playing.)

If that’s you, maybe you’d like to do what I will be doing on Sunday: making a new batch of these pear-cardamom brown butter muffins.

Go team!

HERBED BISCUITS WITH SMOKED SALMON, adapted from Gourmet Game Night: Bite-Sized, Mess-Free Eating for Board-Game Parties, Bridge Clubs, Poker Nights, Book Groups, and More by Cynthia Nims

Clearly, looking at our friend Cynthia’s book, game nights and football parties do not have to mean dumbed-down food. With recipes like mole flank steak with pickled peppers, tuna tartare on daikon slices, empanadas with chicken and walnuts, and polenta squares with spicy sausage and spinach, this book inspires us to throw even parties than we do now.

With all these choices, we wanted to make these biscuits first. We’re still working on cut-out buttermilk biscuits, and you can make this recipe that way if you wish. But making them drop biscuits removes the anticipation of perfection. Cynthia makes them, then slices them open and tops each half with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. (Damn you, South Park!) We decided to put the smoked salmon right into the biscuits. Such a nice surprise in some of those bites.

We decided to work with specific flours here for their properties. Millet makes a good crumb. Buckwheat groats, ground into a flour, have a hearty taste and a bit of the feeling of whole wheat flour. (The raw flour is pretty darned different than the packaged flour, however. We just grind some groats in our blender. Flour happens immediately.) Potato flour adds a lovely softness. Arrowroot binds. Cornstarch adds a bit of crunch. But feel free to substitute our whole-grain flour mix or any combination of gluten-free flours that work for you. Just be sure to substitute by weight.

Notice that these do not have xanthan or guar gum in them, so if you use a mix with those ingredients, the texture of the biscuits will be different.

Have fun playing!

75 grams millet flour
75 grams buckwheat flour (not the toasted kind)
45 grams potato flour
42 grams arrowroot powder
42 grams cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
115 grams (1 US stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fine-chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons fine-chopped fresh dill
2 ounces smoked salmon

Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. Put a large cast-iron skillet into the oven.

Combining the dry ingredients. Combine the millet, buckwheat, and potato flours with the arrowroot powder and cornstarch. Whisk to combine and aerate the flours. Add the baking powder and salt. Whisk.

Finishing the dough. Working quickly, put the butter into the flours. Using a pastry cutter or two table knives, cut the butter into the flours. You want the butter and flour to mix, with the final pieces of butter about the size of lima beans. Pour in the buttermilk and the smoked salmon and stir until the dough is thoroughly mixed. Only mix until the dough comes together. The less you work with the dough, the flakier the biscuits will be.

Baking the biscuits.  Scoop up about 3 ounces of biscuit dough (this is about the size of a baseball) and loosely form it into a ball. Set it aside then finish the rest of the dough the same way. Run the end of a stick of butter around the hot pan, then put the biscuits into the hot pan, nestling up against each other.

Bake until the biscuits are lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes about 8 biscuits.

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