Archive for August, 2008

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

August 16, 2008

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Seattleites are known for complaining about the weather. Most of the year we gripe about how rainy and dark it is. When it’s sunny, we complain about how it’s not going to be sunny tomorrow or how it wasn’t sunny yesterday. And when it’s hot, boy do we bitch about it being hot. As my neighbor Jeff (originally from Minnesota) says, “You people are only happy when it’s 75 degrees with a slight breeze.” Yep.

So, it’s really hot today and it was really hot yesterday. I have basically been chained to my oven and stove so I have been complaining more than usual. In the last 36 hours, I have cranked out a considerable amount of food and my oven has been on virtually non-stop. When planning the menu for tonight’s “Market Fresh Dinner”, I knew I wanted really summery fresh food – as much purchased from the Phinney Ridge Farmer’s Market as possible. The soup and salad would be cold, the appetizers and main course would be room temperature, the dessert would be cold. Great, right? The problem is that everything still needs to be cooked before it can cool down to the temperature just right for eating. Hence, the sauna that is my kitchen.

But here we are, over an hour before people arrive and I am basically done except for some last minutes assembly. On the menu…

A Trio of Crostini: Green Pea with Mint, Tomato Jam, White Bean

Cold Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup with Mint

Beet Salad with Arugula and Ricotta Salata

Main Course
Eggplant Torta

Farro Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts

Raspberry Sour Cream Tart

I am excited about the Eggplant Torta. It’s a recipe that I’ve never tried before and although this is a terrible photo (I’m getting a new camera soon!), here is what it looks like…

The basic premise is that you are kind of making a lasagne but without noodles and in a cake pan. So not really like a lasagne at all actually. But similar flavors! You make a tomato sauce and layer it into the pan with eggplant, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella. Then you pour some egg into the pan and hope that it sets up a little like custard. I haven’t cut into it yet and fingers are crossed. Even if it turns out to be a mess, I know it will taste good.

The recipe I’m going to share is for the cold soup. I’m a big fan of cold soups – especially on really hot days, and this one is very refined. Simple, beautiful, complex flavors. I made some big changes in the method of this recipe but not in the ingredients. They wanted me to use my broiler and I simply could not turn on my broiler today, so I used my grill and stovetop. The recipe also doesn’t tell you to peel either the peppers or tomatoes (or seed the tomatoes for that matter), but unless you have a food mill (I don’t – one piece of kitchen equipment I actually don’t own), you are going to have a great tasting soup full of vegetable skins and seeds. Below is the recipe with the changes I made.

UPDATE: It is now the next morning. I just couldn’t get back to writing with the flurry of activity that is an 8 person dinner party. It was a wonderful success. The guests were all thrilled with the food and really enjoyed each other’s company. I had two wonderful helpers (moms from our old preschool class) who made serving the meal a pleasure. Thank you Rebecca and Shaynee! The Eggplant Torta was good (even for someone who doesn’t love eggplant) but really ugly. It was very wet so I would make some changes next time, like straining the tomato sauce, but I would make it again.

As they were leaving, I asked them which recipes they most wanted me to post. They mentioned the Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates (something I served while they were enjoying a glass of wine outside), and the Rasberry Sour Cream Tart. So, three recipes today! So I don’t have to type out all three, I will direct you here for the Raspberry Tart. In the instructions, it says you can make the crust and fill it with the sour cream filling up to one day ahead. I did that and felt that the crust got soggy. Next time, I would bake the crust one day ahead, cover it with foil and leave it out at room temp. I would also make the filling and put it in a covered bowl in the fridge. Then I would assemble the tart the day of the party. On to the other recipes.

Chilled Roasted Tomato Red Pepper Soup with Mint

Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4

2 lbs. red peppers, quartered and seeded
2 lbs. tomatoes, halved and seeded

1 small onion, cut into
1/2 inch thick slices
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Olive oil

1 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 cup water
4 tbsp. heavy cream

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. salt

4 tbsp. finely chopped mint, or to taste

Preheat gas grill to high. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes and bell peppers with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Grill on high heat until the skins of the veggetable start to blacken and the vegetables themselves get tender. Allow to cool, then peel the skins off the peppers (don’t worry if you can’t get all the peel off) and slip the skins off the tomatoes. Place both in a bowl and add all the juice squeezed out of the tomato skins.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and coriander and continue to cook until the onions are slightly brown, stirring often. Remove from the heat.

Puree the vegetables in batches until smooth in the blender. Add a little water to get the blender going if necessary. Stir in all other ingredients except mint. Chill soup until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days ahead. If you make it ahead, you may need to add additional water to thin when ready to serve. Garnish soup bowls with mint.

Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates
Adapted from
The New Classics by Martha Stewart
Makes 16

You can make the goat cheese filling one day ahead and refrigerate it. These hors d’oeuvres can be assembled several hours before serving. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to three hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

4 oz. soft goat cheese
3 tbsp. shelled salted pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
8 plump, soft dried dates (preferably Medjool), pitted and halved lengthwise

1. Stir together the goat cheese, the pistachios, and the chives in a small bowl until smooth. Season with pepper.

2. Arrange dates, cut side up, on a platter. Using a small spoon and your fingers, fill each date with a small mound of the filling. Garnish, if you like, with additional chopped pistachios and chives.

Two Tofu Tips

August 13, 2008

Yes, two tofu tips. Say that 10 times fast.

I have another weekend of cooking on the horizon. My baby brother is turning 30 and we are going to a bbq for him on Friday. I got roped into (or did I volunteer?) making two desserts, two appetizers, and a side dish. On Saturday I am cooking the “Market Fresh Dinner” I donated to the Phinney Ridge Community Center auction back in May – five courses. Since I haven’t started anything for either of those events, I figured it was in my best interest to start cooking ahead for tomorrow’s client dinners so I could free up some time to cook ahead for the other events. Whew.

Besides, tomorrow’s main course is a stew and I can’t think of a single stew-like thing that doesn’t benefit from sitting overnight. Flavors meld, liquid gets absorbed, spices mellow – all good things. In this recipe, you are advised to freeze a block of tofu, then allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge. Once it is thawed, you squeeze all as much liquid as you can out of it and then puree it in the food processor. What I ended up with is something that looked like a spongeball, but when I added it to the stew, it just disappeared. Almost completely – just little white flecks. Indistinguishable in a stew with lots of other ingredients.

I immediately thought of all the people I know who are trying to get more protein or soy or both into their diet (or into their children’s diet), and how you could use this same technique for just about anything with a liquidy base. Any soup, tomato sauce, stew – whatever. Tofu, as we all know, doesn’t really have a flavor so I really do believe you can try this with any of your favorites.

I used a pound of firm tofu for a very large quantity of stew, so maybe start with half a pound. Remove it from it’s packaging and wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in the freezer. It will turn a kind of alarming shade of yellow, but will turn back to white once it is thawed. Once thawed, squeeze out the excess water and puree.

That’s tip #1. #2 has to do with silken tofu. That is the stuff that is vacuum packed in cardboard and is usually found on the Asian food aisle (not in the refrigerated section). Silken tofu is a lovely substitute for sour cream – yes, it’s true! The dish I made today is a Corn, Tomatillo, and Hominy Stew and (coming from a vegan cookbook), the author advised making a Ginger Lime “Cream” to go alongside. I used a carton of silken tofu (usually around 12 oz) and pureed it in the food processor with ginger, lime juice, rice vinegar, canola oil, and salt and pepper. It has a slightly different flavor than sour cream, but the same texture and is filled with protein. It would be delicious with fajitas or enchiladas. I have also made a faux aioli with roasted garlic and lemon juice that fooled my whole dinner party. No one knew it was tofu. Do not be afraid of soy!

Inspiration Strikes

August 12, 2008

As I have mentioned here before, I am really a cookbook cook. I very rarely make up a recipe on the fly. When someone says something nice about my food, I always feel a little guilty taking the compliment – I didn’t make up the recipe, I only cooked it. Oh, I realize I do have a knack for looking at a recipe and knowing whether it will be good or not, and I also put foods together well. I do wish that I was more adventurous when it comes to seeing what looks good at the market, and making something up on the fly once back in the kitchen.

I was recently reading an article in The New Yorker magazine about how inspiration strikes. There are scientists who are actually trying to figure out what happens in the brain when you have a “Eureka!” moment. In doing their research (I’m summarizing big time here), they found that when posed with a puzzle, a person either tended to reason out the problem, or it just came to them – inspiration striking.

For some reason, farro, corn and green beans just came to me this week. I don’t believe I have had a dish like this any time in the recent past, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I know, this isn’t nuclear fusion – it’s just vegetables and a grain, but this was big for me. I bought my star ingredients at the Farmer’s Market and today I started playing. A good rule of thumb for combining vegetables is “if it grows together, it goes together”. Thus, corn and green beans – great. Winter squash and mushrooms – yum. Asparagus and parsnips – not so much. So since both green beans and corn are in season, I figured at least that part of the dish would taste right. And if you have never had farro, you are in for a taste and texture treat. I have heard it compared to barley, but it has more nuttiness and none of the mushiness that I associate with barley.

To start, I blanched a bunch of the most beautiful green beans I have ever seen. They are Randy’s favorite vegetable, so we eat a lot of them in our house, but usually I am picking through the pathetic offerings at the grocery store to find a few that aren’t moldy. Every single one of these was pristine, skinny, and perfect. For $10 a pound I could have bought haricot verts which are even skinnier but, come on – $10 a pound? After letting them boil in salted water for a few minutes, I put them in an ice water bath. This is called “shocking” them and it stops the cooking and sets the brilliant green color. Yes, it’s an extra step and totally worth it.

I sliced up a bunch of shallots into thin rings and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil. I added a bit of minced garlic and as the shallots started to turn brown, I added the corn from three cobs. Since corn is fresh now, it only needs just a short swim around the pan to cook through. Next went the cooked farro and the juice of half an orange. I was trying to think of an acid that would balance these flavors well and knew what I would think of vinegar if I tried that. I had a bunch of oranges left over from the Orange Pound Cake that I made as this week’s treat, so I thought I would try that.

Off the heat, I added the drained green beans and some gorgeous purple basil that I found at the market. I drizzled in some olive oil, the juice from the other half of the orange, and plenty of pepper and salt. And do you know what? It was awesome! Farro is nutty and has a wonderful bite to it which contrasted wonderfully with the soft and sweet corn. I maybe would have cooked the green beans a little longer but they were great (so sweet!) and fit in with all of the other flavors. It looked gorgeous – especially with the purple basil – but if you can’t find it, don’t let that stop you from making this recipe. I actually found farro at the University Farmer’s Market but you can find it in specialty shops (Whole Foods sometimes has it) or order it online from Bluebird Grain Farms.

By the way, the other dish in the photo is Lentils with Beets and Tarragon and I served both of these dishes with a cold Green Pea soup.

Farro with Green Beans and Corn
Serves 8

Like most grain dishes, I think this tastes best served at room temperature. You can make it up to 8 hours in advance but I would add the basil just before serving so it keeps it’s color.

2 1/2 cup farro
1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed

3 ears fresh corn, kernels cut from the cobs

3 large shallots, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried

Sea salt


Olive oil

1 orange

10-15 large basil leaves, preferably purple basil

To Make the Farro and Blanch the Beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the green beans and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a large bowl filled with ice water. Allow them to cool completely, then drain. Meanwhile, add the farro to the water and boil for five minutes, then lower the heat and simmer until tender but with a pronounced bite – 30-40 minutes. Drain well and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking together. (Both of these components can be done one day ahead, refrigerate separately.)

To Finish the Dish: Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, then add the shallots and a good pinch of salt. Allow them to cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the shallots start to brown. Add the thyme and stir just until it becomes fragrant, then add the corn, saute for 2 minutes. Add the farro, and the juice from half of the orange. Add a pinch of salt and stir just until heated through. Off the heat, add the green beans, the juice from the other orange half, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir in the basil and taste for salt and pepper.

A Sunday Lunch

August 10, 2008

My youngest brother Michael just moved back to Seattle a week or so ago. He hasn’t really lived here since he graduated high school. Although we are eight years apart, we have always been close. When we were really young it was because I was kind of a second mother to him, and now that we are adults, it’s really just because we like each other and have a fair amount in common. I have really missed having him close by, especially once I started having kids and he only got to see them once a year.

One of Michael’s favorite things to do on Earth is ride bikes and that is one thing we do not have in common. My three month tour of France basically forever ruined my urge to ever get on anything with two wheels again. My husband, however, is a biking nut and I think he is really excited to have a buddy to ride with and someone who can challenge him. Randy did a crazy ride called RAMROD a couple of weeks ago and RAMROD stands for Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day. If you are not from around here, Mt. Rainier is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states and this ride was about 160 miles and 10,000 feet vertical climb. In one day. Randy told me many times that he was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to finish. He called me after he did finish to let me know that he came in fifth. And he started half an hour late. Michael can’t wait to join him next year.

Another of Michael’s favorite things to do on Earth is eat. In spite of his extreme carnivore-ness, he is a very enthusiastic audience for the vegetarian food that I make. His friends once got him a bacon-of-the-month package for his birthday, but he insists that if he were eating my food, he could be a vegetarian. Awwww. So, needless to say, he is fun to cook for. I decided to make lunch for the guys today – something I don’t normally do. I do a lot of dinner cooking, so breakfast and lunch tend to be simple around here (or eaten out). But since we had no plans this weekend, I was getting the urge to get in the kitchen anyway.

I must have the cut the recipe for this sandwich out 15 years ago or so, and have never made it. I am actually not a huge sandwich person. In my experience, vegetarian sandwiches are ho-hum at best and oily greasy messes at worst. I also always get to the end of a sandwich and think, “That’s it?” I guess they just don’t satisfy me. This baby is another story all together. This is a meal. I used the recipe as a starting off point and made a few changes, one of which being to add hard-boiled egg slices. I figured the guys would want a little extra protein after a long ride. The best part about this sandwich is that it can be made a day ahead – it’s actually even better since the flavors of the filling have time to seep into the bread. Yum. This would be a great dinner on a night that you just can’t face the stove or the oven. I served it with a summer squash soup with small shell pasta and tons of herbs, but a salad would be lovely as well.

Olive and Jarlsberg Sandwich
Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4 (very hungry) – 6 (slightly less hungry)

You could substitute a different kind of cheese here (I would use something mild as the other flavors are very assertive.) You can also swap out some of the parlsey with a different herb – basil would be delicious. If you eat fish, I would imagine that a drained can or two of tuna would great great mixed in with the olive mixture.

an 8 inch round loaf of peasant bread
cup drained pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped fine
cup drained Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped fine
1/2 cups grated Jarlsberg cheese (about 6 oz.)
6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped fine

1 cup drained bottled roasted red peppers, chopped fine

2 cups packed fresh parsley leaves, minced

1 tbsp. drained capers, chopped fine

olive oil


4 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced

Cut the top quarter off the loaf horizontally with a serrated knife and remove the soft crumb from the top and bottom sections, leaving a 1 1/2 inch thick shell. In a bowl, stir together the olives, cheese, artichoke hearts, peppers, parsley, and capers. Stir in just enough olive oil to moisten it, not make it greasy. Add salt and pepper as needed to taste, keeping in mind that the olives and capers are very salty.

Spread a thin layer of hummus (or more if you love hummus) all over the inside of the bowl and lid. Spoon half the olive mixture into the bread shell and top with a layer of hard-boiled eggs. Spoon in the remaining mixture and top with the remaining eggs.

Put the lid on the bread bowl and press down to compact. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. If you want, you can place a heavy pot on top to compact it even further. Chill it for at least one hour and up to 24. Cut with a serrated knife.

Summer Recipes

August 8, 2008

In addition to my somewhere-over-70 cookbooks, I currently I get three food magazines – Gourmet, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit. At different points in my life I have also gotten Cooking Light and Cook’s Illustrated (which I plan to re-subscribe to.) Every month, these little treasures come and I relish being able to sit down on the couch with a pen and mark each thing that looks good to me. Then they go into a magazine basket to be forgotten until the day, six months later, when I realize that I am six months behind and I go on a recipe tearing-out frenzy. I spend a day tearing, a day cutting the recipes out, and another day taping the recipes into four notebooks that I have expressly for this purpose.

I am not a neat or organized person. But my recipes notebooks are one of my greatest achievements of the organized person I wish I was. It all started with one notebook which then became a really big notebook, which then got split into two, and has now become four. One houses appetizers, salads, and side dishes, one houses soups, breads, and cookies, one houses main courses, and another houses desserts. If my house caught on fire and I got my family out safe, and all the photographs…I would save the notebooks next. Any of my cookbooks and any of my kitchen equipment can be replaced, these can’t.

The problem with being perpetually six months behind is that when I open the pages to the most recent recipes I have pasted in there, I am totally off seasonally. What sounded good in the February issue is not what sounds good now. It will sound good next February when I stumble on it again so all is not lost, but it doesn’t work for me now. That is why, when my Food and Wine and Bon Appetit came last week, I was determined to make a dinner out of some of those recipes. That way, when I finally get around to cutting and pasting them next winter, I will have actually gotten to enjoy some of them.

Last night’s dinner was Pasta with Cauliflower and Peppers, Leeks Vinaigrette with Mustard Breadcrumbs, and Green Gazpacho Salad. I made the leeks because they sounded so tantalizing – and they were incredibly delicious. They were sliced in half and baked at high heat for a long time with wine and broth so they became soft, browned and incredibly sweet. An intense mustard-y vinaigrette was poured over them and then they were topped with breadcrumbs which had been baked with more mustard. Really an incredible way to serve this delicious vegetable, but NOT for summer time. I have two ovens and they were both on for a grand total of somewhere around 80 minutes and so my not-too-hot house became really hot. I will absolutely make this recipe again (and share it with you), but not until the fall comes.

Now pasta is another story. I find I make a lot of pasta in the summer because it tastes nice and light to me and the prep is often minimal. And perhaps more importantly, the stove time is minimal. I don’t often bring pasta to my clients because many of the recipes that I love need to be served right after they finish cooking. But this lovely recipe states that it tastes good warm or cold which means it can be made in advance. The pesto for this pasta is made from cilantro, parsley, garlic, and olive oil and it coated the pasta beautifully and tasted rich and nutty. If you are not a huge fan of cilantro – I can honestly tell you that, although it calls for a fair amount of it, it’s flavor is pretty muted. You could probably just use all parlsey or even substitute basil. The pesto can be made a day ahead which makes the finished dish really quick. And your stove is only on for the time it takes the pasta to cook.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Peppers, and Walnut Pesto
Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine
Serves 6

I needed to serve 7 people so I upped the pesto slightly and used one pound of pasta. There was plenty left over. Because I was not going to serve this right away, I used more of the pasta broth so it wouldn’t get dried out.

1 1/2 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves
cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
cup walnuts
2 garlic cloves

cups olive oil
Kosher salt

pound orecchiette
1 small head of cauliflower (1
1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 2-by-
1/4 inch strips
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into 2-by-
1/4 inch strips
Freshly ground pepper

1. In a food processor, pulse the cilantro, parsley, walnuts, and garlic until finely chopped. Add 6 tablespoons of the oil and process until smooth. Season with salt.

2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add the cauliflower and season with salt. Cook over moderately high heat until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook until tender and brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl.

4. Add the pasta, pesto, and the reserved pasta water to the vegetables; toss until the pasta is coated. Season with salt and pepper.

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