Tag Archives: food

The Riffing Range



Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

To riff (v) –  to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff.

Riff (n) – an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation. 

You know those recipes that you go to when you can’t even manage an internet search for “Easy dinners” and your cookbooks seem to be judging you? Those dishes that you always seem to have most of the ingredients for, but even if you don’t, there are some easy and accessible substitutions that will bring you close to your target? These recipes exist within what I call the riffing range. Recipes within this range have some common characteristics:

  1. They are relatively simple (usually 5 main ingredients or fewer, not counting seasonings).
  2. They take 30 minutes or less
  3. They don’t require any specialized skills or equipment.

So basically an ideal situation for when you just can’t even.

Riffing Range Recipes:

  • Pasta Puttanesca
  • Burritos as discussed on the blog here
  • Salad (obvious but one that must be mentioned as we are currently in the throws of summer produce season).


Pasta Puttanesca is one of these recipes because I always have some sort of noodle product and cheese, as well as garlic and  a version of canned tomato (whole peeled, crushed, cubed and even puree will do). From there you just need an herb (parsley is traditional but basil holds its own), an olive (again, kalamata is traditional but green pimento stuffed, oil cured or even black olives are great). Capers provide a nice zing but are not 100% necessary and finally, anchovies or even sardines or tuna in a pinch. Hungry Ginger recipe here and a sardine version here. You could even go crazy if you have some eggplant on hand and ricotta salata and turn it into Pasta alla Norma.

During these strange times when going to the grocery store can feel perilous, it is comforting to have these types of recipes in your culinary tool belt and ready faster than it takes for Uber Eats to deliver a lukewarm burrito. 

I encourage you to try riffing in the kitchen. It is a  great way to practice with flavors and get comfortable cooking without a recipe. Best scenario, you will discover a new go-to recipe, worst scenario you will have used up some ingredients that may have been lingering in your pantry for too long anyway. 

Seasonal Spotlight: Asparagus Part 1

Asparagus post-1

Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Without restaurants being open declaring their seasonal specials and leisurely grocery store trips, it’s easy to forget the culinary seasonality that is Spring’s gift. Morel mushrooms with their craggy domes and earthy aroma, crisp sweet peas, and of course asparagus. 

Out of season asparagus is an expensive and rather dingy vegetable in my opinion. In-season, locally grown asparagus, however, is slightly less expensive but miles above the more commercially produced, year-round stuff. It is sweet and bright, tender and crisp. It is great simply steamed or quickly broiled with a squeeze of lemon and some flaky sea salt to finish. It is delicious chopped up in some fluffy scrambled eggs or in a delicate soup. 

Last week’s PCC newsletter naturally featured asparagus and coincided nicely with a grocery delivery order I was putting together. I bit the bullet and ordered 2 pounds and planned out my menu. I would start on Saturday with a preparation featured in one of my favorite cookbooks, Roast Chicken and Other Stories and roll into Sunday afternoon with an asparagus soup from the same book and then, as an accompaniment to our Sunday roast chicken dinner, a bright asparagus and orzo dish from the aforementioned PCC newsletter.

The asparagus arrived…$23 worth, closer to three lbs, but I won’t complain. Then Saturday came and we had a late lunch so I planned for a late light dinner. I browsed the recipe a bit and mentally ran through the steps. It was a bit fussy, as this particular cookbook can be, but I wasn’t too worried. 

The recipe is called Delices D’Argenteuil. According to the cookbook, the Argenteuil region which is outside of Paris is famous for its asparagus. This is a pancake dish that combines the classic flavors of egg, asparagus and ham. The author calls them “pancakes” but it is essentially crepes with asparagus and prosciutto rolled up inside them. And because it is French, covered in hollandaise. Simple enough I thought to myself. Mmmm, yeah, not really.

  1. Pro Tip: When working with milk and eggs and melted butter, make sure that the milk and eggs are close to room temp before you add in the melted butter. If not, the butter will quickly solidify and thwart you as you try to pass your batter through the fine sieve required by the recipe.
  2. It has been an age since I made crepes so it took some doing to get 6 decent ones.
  3. One does not just whip up a hollandaise, as the book casually declares at one point, unless one is a chef or makes it frequently and in that case, one is probably not as healthy as one would hope to be.

I got all my little crepe and asparagus/prosciutto rolls all ready and in the oven, and  then conscripted Andrew who has a much better grasp of the whole emulsified sauces thing than I. I halved the hollandaise recipe because one stick of butter per person seemed a little wrong, especially as it was nearing midnight. We biffed the first attempt but luckily before we added the butter. The second round took nicely and we soon had a beautiful silky sauce. That was spooned over the rolls and broiled so the sauce just melted in and the resulting dish was both sweet (without any added sugar) and savory, from the prosciutto, and fresh with a nice crunch, courtesy of the asparagus. Served with a sparkling Rose cava just before midnight, totally worth the wait.

We went to bed satisfied and even a little triumphant, having done this seasonal treat justice. Next stop, Asparagus soup!


Photo by Oklahoma Academy Country Store on Unsplash


Anatomy of a Cuban Sandwich


During the post holiday malaise of January and February, it’s nice to have something to look forward to, a fun trip, a staycation, a cooking project that results in a fun and delicious meal. During the month of January, I’m usually a little burnt out from holiday excess and in the midst of a yoga-fueled health kick. That doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a little treat though! That’s why, when Sosios in the Market left me a message saying they had Seville Oranges in stock, five precious cases that were sure to go quickly, a plan involving the best pressed sandwich there is began to take shape.

The origin of the Cuban sandwich isn’t necessarily “shrouded in mystery” but it is a bit murky. The sandwiches were popular with workers in Cuba’s sugar mills where entrepreneurial folk would set up restaurants inside the mills and sell them to workers on their lunch breaks. A Cuban type sandwich called a “sandwich mixto” was common in cafeterias and restaurant menus in Cuba by the 1930s and there were mentions of the same in Tampa during this time as well. The cigar industry in Florida had shifted to Tampa in the late 1800s and tens of thousands of Cuban workers moved there over the next 30 or so years, so some believe that these old mixtos became the Cuban sandwich as we know it today. Miami, drawing a large influx of Cubans after Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, also claims a stake in the Cuban sandwich game and by the 1960s, the Cuban was common among the expat community there as well.


There are a few slight variations to the Cuban – some use a salty Serrano in place of a sweeter ham and others add an olive salad similar to a tapenade to the mix. The building blocks, however, are always the same: pork, ham, swiss, pickles and Cuban style bread. Now what is Cuban style bread exactly? Its unique properties make it ideal for pressing because it develops a uniform crunch on the outside with a soft inside breadiness that smooshes down to a perfect bread to filling ratio,  while remaining sturdy and actually quite portable. No messy filling falling out situation here!

cuban bread

Besides the Cuban bread, the other unique ingredient in this delicious sandwich is the Seville or sour orange. Seville oranges are prized worldwide for traditional English Bitter Orange Marmalade as well as the Mojo Criollo marinade for our Cuban sandwich pork. Here in Seattle, the only place I have found them is the aforementioned Sosio’s in Pike Place Market and only for a couple weeks in January/February. This is why I am on their call list and so, a couple Saturdays ago, we headed down to the market to pick up our precious bag of citrus. I always love visiting the stalls in the market because the purveyors are so passionate about produce. They wax poetic about asparagus and all but sing sonnets about pears. And they love food nerding it up with regulars and telling tall tales to tourists. So fun!


Citrus acquired, we called up El Diablo Coffee Co, a Cuban inspired cafe on Queen Anne and the only place in Seattle where we have been able to find legit Cuban bread for purchase. Given enough notice, they are happy to order 3-10 extra loaves for us. When we first started doing this, they made the bread in house but after some turnover, they started sourcing it from Miami. Now I think they are baking it in house again and it is just as amazing as ever!

If you are going to do it all in one go, set aside a full day for pork roasting for the Cubans, and if you are a prepared type of person, make the mojo the night before to give that shoulder a good long time in the marinade. In a pinch 2-3 hours in the mojo is fine but on top of that, you will be looking at 3-5 hours roasting time. All that Seville juice, garlic, oregano and porky goodness will make your house smell amazing!


Since most of the time on this is hands off, you will have plenty of time to whip up a couple pitchers of mojitos and relax. About at hour before go time, take your ham and Swiss out of the fridge to come to room temp. Then, when you are ready to griddle, smear some of the porky mojo onto the bottom slice, top with pickles, then sliced pork, ham and Swiss, a swipe of yellow mustard on the top bun, onto a buttered griddle and smash  that baby down with a heavy pot, (clean) brick or sandwich press.

And Voila!


You can find the recipes I used for both the pork and the Cuban sandwiches on my Trello Board HERE and HERE. These Sandwiches are great for a crowd or just a few friends and they make great leftovers! They reheat amazingly in the oven wrapped in foil and are delicious cold, trouncing that sad slice of pizza that you forgot you ordered last night.

Florida isn’t good for much, but thanks to some entrepreneurial expats, you don’t have to leave the lower 48 for an amazing sandwich and, once in a blue moon, the culinary stars align to bring such a wonder to this PNW Hungry Ginger.




Hungry Ginger Recommends – Holiday Edition

It’s finally reasonable to blast Christmas music and every office building in downtown Seattle seems to have a Christmas tree. You may think you have plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping, but you don’t. Also, have you put covers on all your outside faucets? It’s getting mighty cold at night and those old pipes could burst. Your neighbors have recently engaged in a Christmas decoration battle across the street, lighting up the neighborhood as bright as day, interfering with your sleep cycle. And speaking of day…does the sun even come out anymore? It’s dark when you go to work and dark when you leave. Ba Humbug!


This is what Hungry Ginger would say if she were a Grinch (which I am not). I LOVE the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean the above Grinchy complaints aren’t true or valid. Not everyone loves the holidays and, even if you do, it can be a stressful time, full of expectations, to do lists, crazy holiday traffic and stressed out shoppers. That’s why this Hungry Ginger recommends a few things to bring you a little Holiday Cheer with a lot of Holiday Chill.

Have a Drink

Go visit the Christmas Popup, Miracle at Rob Roy (if you are in Seattle). They have decorated the shit out of the place (complete with a twerking Santa!) and have seasonal drinks up the wazoo. One “Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker,” barkeep! Of course this popup is bound to be busy, so I recommend going early or late if crowds aren’t your thing. Honestly though, when we went at about 6 on a Saturday, it was packed but everyone seemed to be in a good mood and kindly made room in the cramped space. I don’t know if it was all the holiday cheer or what, but there was an unusual sense of conviviality among strangers that really warmed the cockles – could have also been the Rob Roy strong cocktails, but after two nogs, it’s really hard to tell.

If there isn’t a Christmas themed popup where you are, or if you just prefer to consume your holiday cheer at home, go buy some egg nog, mix with dark rum or bourbon and cognac and grate some fresh nutmeg on top and there you have it, holiday cheer. If dairy and booze aren’t your thing, try a cranberry old fashioned. Recipe is from Inspired by Charm.


Makes 1 cocktail

Here’s what you will need:
3 ounces quality bourbon whiskey
1 ounce cranberry simple syrup*
3 shakes Angostura bitters
Garnish with orange peel, Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries, and rosemary

In a serving glass with ice, stir together the bourbon, cranberry simple syrup, and bitters. Garnish with orange peel, fresh cranberries, and rosemary.

*Cranberry Simple Syrup – In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar, and one cup of fresh cranberries to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 4-5 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh sieve. Cool before serving.

Watch a Holiday Movie

This is the time of year when the Hallmark Channel finally gets out of the red…and into the red and green! Oh yeah, I went there…Whether your idea of a great holiday movie is Mariah Carey realizing she is a princess while saving Santa from evil bankers trying to turn Rudolf into a stunt reindeer, or Bruce Willis barefoot in an air duct, holiday movies are a great way to get into the festive season and enjoy and cozy night at home. Some of my favs are the aforementioned Die Hard, Love Actually and the original Miracle on 34th Street (so dated, but so good!). The Thin Man is also a great one to watch between Christmas and New Years.


If you are in Seattle and feel like going out to a theater, the Cinerama is doing a Holiday Film Series this coming week and Three Dollar Bill Cinema is showing one of my favs, Auntie Mame!

Go on a Holidate


Every year, the hubby and I go on a holiday themed date, a holidate! We get brunch or holiday tea at the Fairmont, brave Nordstrom to get a little Christmas shopping out of the way and then settle down for a cocktail or three and a yummy dinner. A Holidate could be anything though! You could pack a thermos of spiked hot apple cider, some meats and cheeses and head up to the mountains for a snowy walk and picnic. You could check out the Enchant Christmas light show at Safeco and then get dinner in the International District, or drive over to Leavenworth and visit the year-round Christmas store and taste some full-bodied winter beers. You could do all of this with your S.O., your bestie, your Mom/Dad or your dog! The point is to make it yours so that the holidays bring you joy rather than annoyance. No matter what your religious beliefs may be, it makes sense that we have this festival of lights during the darkest time of year, so I invite you to get out there and enjoy it in whatever way warms YOUR cockles most!


Cookie Monster

At the tail end of September, I had a hell of a sweet tooth. Halloween was looming in the distance in all its candy corn studded, fun-sized glory, but I had a hankering for a very specific kind of sweet: the tried and true chocolate chip cookie. I grew up eating my Dad’s chocolate chip cookies. They followed your basic “back of the Toll House bag” recipe cooked to a pleasant crispness that isn’t really my jam anymore. But even thinking of them now evokes fond memories of Sunday afternoons playing dress-up with my friends or painting with my dad. A big bowl of cookie dough and me, attempting to eat as much of the raw dough as I could get away with. And then that freshly baked cookie smell. Ahhh….

So maybe I was trying to capture a bit of that magic in the midst of this exhausting adulting project that has so many deadlines but no real end. My subconscious self seemed to be aware of this even before my conscious mind and, one day, I looked at my saved recipes and saw a half dozen iterations of the chocolate chip cookie, just begging to be explored. I didn’t have so much a plan as a general direction. I would start with the classic ingredients – chocolate, butter, sugar, listen to my gut and see where it took me.


My recommendation for chocolate chips. Chunks are always better than chips because they don’t have stabilizers and these are high quality and “pre-chunked” for convenience.

First, I wanted a gooey buttery, chocolate chip cookie, the kind reminiscent of the Mrs. Fields cookies at the mall. I wanted warm cookie dough baked to food safety standards, but just barely. No fancy bells and whistles, classic, timeless. For this I chose a recipe from the New York Times. You can find it on my Trello Board HERE.

This recipe is pretty similar to the Toll House of yore ingredient-wise, but is distinguished by the fact that you chill the dough for up to 72 hours before baking. 72 HOURS, you say?!? But I want my cookies when I want my cookies! I don’t want to have to wait for up to three days! It may seem like a long time, but with some planning and adjustment of expectations, it’s totally doable and worth it! I mean, you can still snack on the dough while you’re making it!



That time chilling in the fridge allows the wet and dry ingredients to really get to know each other and creates a delicious unified flavor throughout the cookie. The only thing I did differently from the recipe as written, was that I formed the dough into balls before chilling, on the recommendations of the some of the comments on the NYT website. Chilled dough tends to be crumbly, which can make it difficult to form into balls for baking.

Chilled chocolate chip cookie dough

Something that I learned from doing this recipe is that I don’t actually have to bake all the dough at once. In fact, I can do just two for me and the hubby, as an after dinner  treat, and throw the rest in the freezer for another day.


This recipe turned out great! The cookies had great flavor and texture and, eaten warm from the oven with a glass of cold milk…perfection!

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies

Having satisfied my classic cookie craving, I looked abroad for some inspiration. There is a restaurant/bakery in Paris called Mokonuts. David Lebovitz has waxed poetic about it and more recently, the New York Times shared the recipe for their famous chocolate chip cookies. Find it on my Trello Board HERE. These cookies are inspired by the classic cookie but influenced by the chef owner’s middle eastern heritage, featuring not only dark chocolate chunks but also poppy seeds, dried cranberries and a mix of AP and Rye flour. “Sacrebleu! Sacrilege!” You may cry. How dare those French mess with MY classic All-American cookie! Well, I am happy to report that, not only is this version a tasty cookie, but it honors the original, while taking you on a flavor and texture journey that the humble Toll House could never hope to accomplish.

Mokonuts cookie dough

Now, I am not a fan of the oatmeal raisin cookie. To me, it is an impostor; disappointment masquerading as a tasty treat. It looks like a chocolate chip cookie but, where the delicious chocolate chunks should be, are instead shriveled up sadness. And the oatmeal is just too chewy…bleh. So I was loath at first to add rye and cranberries, let alone the inexplicable poppy seeds to what was already a good thing. However, I’ve gotta say, it worked. The rye played nicely with the AP to create a richer dough. The cranberries added a nice tartness to balance out the sweetness and complement the dark chocolate. And the poppy seeds added a surprising crunch without changing the flavor profile at all. This was an exciting cookie to eat, with each bite offering up a little adventure to spice up the familiar.

cookie dough, mokonut, baking

Another different aspect of this recipe is that the chilled dough is baked at a toasty 425 degrees for only 10 minutes. This results in a cookie that is just holds together, with a gooey center and slightly crisp edges. Not your grandma’s cookie but a delicious iteration nonetheless.

cookie, mokonut, baking

So far, we’ve gone old school and new French school and, for our final cookie, let’s go big or go home. This next cookie recipe has been making its way around the internet on various blogs for a couple years now. People are fascinated by both the cookie’s size and the seemingly fussy baking instructions that result in an entirely unique and delicious experience. Yes, this is a giant cookie. The recipe has us use a full 1/3 of a cup of cookie dough per cookie. This is a lot of cookie dough, when you consider most recipes ask for a heaping spoonful. I ended up using about 1/4 cup of dough per cookie and that was plenty big. Like the other two recipes here, chill the prepared dough. I ended up chilling my dough for a bit longer than recommended, mostly because I was a little intimidated by the sheer size of the things. This didn’t seem to negatively affect the end result.


Salt and pepper gnome here for scale…not sure why I thought this would be helpful but he’s pretty cute isn’t he? Needless to say, these balls were big. This is all of the cookie dough, which in a normal recipe would make about 18-20 cookies. When I finally baked them about four days later, I followed the involved baking instructions which have you bake at 350 for 10 min, then bang the cookie sheet on the oven rack so the cookies collapse, then repeat the process every 2-3 minutes until they have been baking and banging for about 18 minutes total. This creates a ripple effect that is both Instagram worthy and delicious. The cookies are soft and velvety in the center and slightly crisp toward the edges. The hubs and I mowed down with a glass of milk right before bed and were a little wired, so I recommend eating them earlier in the night to avoid sugar dreams.


Notice that two cookies take up nearly half of the baking sheet. These are not for the faint of heart and you can find the recipe on my Trello board HERE.

So what is the takeaway from this cookie adventure? Besides the fact that it is dangerous having ready to bake cookies in the house at all times, I learned that a beloved classic can be enjoyed in many forms and, just like in life, getting out of your comfort zone every once and a while can be a wonderful and eye-opening thing. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my Dad’s chocolate chip cookies but I look forward to making new memories with cherished recipes of my own.

Happy Baking!

Cookie monster