Archive for October, 2008

Asian Food

October 22, 2008
Do you have someone in your life that doesn’t like something and you are convinced you can make them think otherwise? If you have read this blog, you know my dear husband Randy doesn’t like beets which kills me because I love them. Every time I make them or order them in a restaurant, I make him try one. There is some evidence that supports the fact that your tastes do change and that you should try “dislikes” periodically to see if that has indeed happened. (At least, that is what I tell Randy.) He tried one last Friday night and swallowed it with great difficulty.

My brother Alex, who eats just about everything, does not like mushrooms or artichoke hearts. But that list used to include olives and about 10 years ago, he had a Eureka! moment and discovered that he loved olives. So there is hope for mushrooms and artichoke hearts. And beets for Randy.

My client Mark told me he doesn’t like Asian food. Now, this is a little trickier than beets because it encompasses an entire continent. When asked to clarify, he said he doesn’t like stir-fries. What does that mean exactly? I will need to do some further investigation. I have been steering away from Asian food since his confession but the truth is, I really miss it. Put me on a desert island and my first choice would be french fries. My second choice would be rice noodles with lots of tofu with, perhaps, a Thai curry sauce.

So, last night I decided enough was enough and made something I thought would be perhaps pass muster with him. I made Baked Spring Rolls with a Soy Dipping Sauce, Spinach Salad with Asian Pears and a Peanut Dressing and Soba Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy. Nothing was stir-fried. No wok was used in the cooking of this food.

The noodle dish is the kind of thing I crave, nice and savory with lots of interesting flavors going on – lots of ginger and spice. The balance of starch (from the soba) protein, and green vegetable is very satisfying. Even so, as I was eating it last night I said to Randy, “Mark is going to hate this.”

Notes on ingredients: You should be able to find everything you don’t already have easily in the Asian section of your grocery store. Rice vinegar is sometimes kept in the aisle with the other oils and vinegars. Soba Noodles always surprise me with how much you get out of them. They usually come in 8.8 ounce packages. Buy two for this recipe and just know that you will probably have some noodles left over. Trader Joe’s has great extra-firm tofu in 1 lb. packages. And lastly, I almost always use tamari soy sauce but in this recipe, because there is so much used, I chose the low-sodium and that was the right decision.

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Bok Choy
Serves 4

I very very loosely adapted this recipe from Cooking Light.

1 lb. soba noodles
1 lb. extra firm tofu

1/4 cup mirin

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 tbsp. grated ginger

2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tbsp. dark sesame oil

2 tbsp. honey

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 clove garlic, minced

4 heads baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and soba noodles and cook until just al dente, 4-6 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Set aside.

Mix the mirin, soy sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, red pepper flakes, and garlic together in a bowl with a whisk.

Cut the tofu crosswise into four pieces. Heat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and just enough soy mixture to come half-wat up the sides of the tofu (dont’ use all of it). Bring to a gentle boil and cook 4 minutes. Turn the tofu over and cook another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Place the bok choy halves in the same pan and pour in some more of the soy mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat. (You may have to do this in batches.)

To serve: Place a tangle of soba noodles on a plate and top with tofu and bok choy. If you have leftover sauce, you can pour this over the noodles. If not, just give them a little shake of soy sauce.


October 20, 2008

One of the joys of living in the Northwest is that this is mushroom country. The rain and damp that, admittedly, I often curse give us these wondrous delicacies. I have written about chanterelles here before so forgive me if I am repeating myself. There is just something about them that I find irresistible.

On Sunday mornings, as long as the weather is somewhat decent, Randy goes for a bike ride. The fact that he does this is a little hard on me. I am with the boys all week and come the weekend, I am really ready for a break. He works very long days and is not here much during the week, so to be gone an additional half a day is a lot. But I love him and he loves to ride. He is a much nicer husband when he has been on his bike and I also know it makes him very happy. I have reconciled myself to this routine but I do find I need to get out of the house with the boys.

This past summer, I started taking them to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market every Sunday morning. There are many markets in Seattle, but this one is my favorite – even though it is not close to my house. It is relatively small, the best farmers are there, it is all food (no crafts), and not too crowded. We go, park the car, get the baby in the stroller, and then stroll through the stalls and make sure my almost 4 year-old gets a taste of everything. This week, they shared a croissant, had some Italian plums, some apple, and various other things that the older one filched out of the bins and I ended up paying for.

I hadn’t planned on buying anything specific for the week, but managed to find Asian pears (which I needed for a salad), amazingly gorgeous raddichio and delicata squashes (which I needed for gnocchi later in the week), and these chanterelles. At $9/pound, I just couldn’t resist. I spent $7 and got four huge perfect mushrooms and just next to the mushroom guy, I was able to pick up some fresh lemon pepper pasta. Guess what’s for dinner tonight?

Homemade Desserts

October 15, 2008

(Please excuse dark photo!)

When I wrote about our Supper Club dinner party in the last post, I neglected to mention what I made for dessert. Over the years of cooking for friends at all different events and at all different times of our lives, I have developed a reputation for making good desserts. Most would acknowledge that I am a good cook but I would guess that many of them, in their heart of hearts, would qualify it by saying I am a good cook, but a vegetarian cook. Friends like my food (a few love it), but I can’t help but feel that dinner at my house is somehow lacking for them because, well, there is no meat.

But carnivores and vegetarians alike can agree on dessert and both camps always are thrilled to have something homemade. This is one of my dinner party tips that I blogged about and lost a few weeks ago (I promise I will re-create that post soon.) People love dessert and they love something homemade. It doesn’t matter if it is crooked, over-baked, or even just brownies or cookies – they will feel the love it it came from your oven and not a store or bakery. I think I started on my path to being a baker years ago when a friend asked me where I had bought the Linzer Tart I was going to serve for dessert. When I told him I had made it, he completely didn’t believe me. Once I convinced him, he was excited – and touched – that I had made something so beautiful and delicious for him and his wife.

Dessert doesn’t have to be epic. As I said, make cookies or – even easier – brownies. I almost always make something that can be done a day or two ahead of time, especially if it can sit out at room temperature and not take up valuable real estate in my refrigerator. Supper Club’s dessert had components that could be made ahead of time, and the day of prep was relatively easy.

It’s hard for me to believe this, but for the first time in my life, I made ice cream. I have had an ice cream maker since Randy and I got married six years ago, and I cannot tell you why I have waited this long. Actually, I probably can tell you. For some of those years, the machine was packed away, then it was unpacked but I had no idea where it was, and for the small amount of time that it was unpacked and in my pantry, I was afraid of it. I tend to get intimidated by machinery until I know how it works and then I’m fine with it. I use my standing mixer and my food processor without thinking about it, but using the ice cream maker required me to read the manual, which made me fearful.

Now, of course, it was about as easy as they come, and after I did the small amount of work needed to get the ice cream mixture ready and I put the machine together, I kicked myself repeatedly for the all the times I have served store-bought ice cream with homemade desserts. Undoubtedly, there are wonderful ice creams out there, but if you want to send your dessert over the top, give your guests a little extra love and make your own. The rest of the dessert was lovely and easy to make, but the ice cream was the bomb.

Apple Tartlets with Cinnamon-Balsamic Syrup and Butter-Toffee Ice Cream
Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes 4

I was serving 8 people, so I 1 1/2‘ed the ice cream (which was enough) and doubled the rest.

Butter-Toffee Ice Cream
3 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/2 cup half and half

1/8 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tbsp. Scotch

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup toffee bits (such as Skor)

Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in sugar, then half and half and salt. Bring just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Whisk eggs in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot half and half mixture. Return mixture to same saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until mixture thickens and finger leaves path on back of spoon when drawn across, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream, scotch, and vanilla. Strain into medium bowl. Cover and chill until cold, about 2 hours.

Process cream mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add toffee bits about three minutes before ice cream is done. Transfer to container; freeze. (Can be made one day ahead. Keep frozen.)

Cinnamon-Balsamic Syrup
cup balsamic vinegar
cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

2 tbsp. water

Bring all ingredients to boil in heavy small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and boil until syrupy and reduced to generous 1/2 cup, about six minutes. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in microwave 10 seconds before serving.)

Apple Tartlets
cup packed golden brown sugar
cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, cut into
1/8 inch thick slices
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3 oz. package, thawed)

1 large egg, beaten to blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar and butter to blend in small bowl. Divide mixture among four 1-cup ramekins or custard cups, pressing to cover bottom evenly. Layer apple slices over sugar mixture, pressing slightly on apples to compact and almost filling cup.

Open pastry sheet. Using biscuit cutter or small plate, cut out 4 rounds the same size as top diameter of ramekins. Using fork, pierce dough all over. Place 1 dough round atop apples in each ramekin. Bursh tops with beaten egg.

Bake tartlets until pastry is puffed and deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool at least 4 minutes. (Can be made 4 hours ahead, let stand at room temperature.)

To serve, invert warm or room temperature tartlets onto plates. Drizzle with syrup and serve with scoop of ice cream alongside.

Two Dishes out of One

October 13, 2008

A few months after my oldest son was born, I got it into my head that I wanted to start a supper club. Everything is a little foggy from that time in my life so I don’t remember what made me decide that was the right time – especially since I could barely make pasta with jarred sauce because of the exhaustion I was experiencing. Maybe it was a desperate attempt to get back to the cooking I loved and missed with the care required for a newborn. Regardless of the reason, start one I did and almost four years later we are still going strong.

We started off getting together about every other month and now we have slipped a bit so it is only four or five times a year. We are all committed to making it more frequent, but coordinating four families’ schedules (there are ten children between all of us) makes it a little difficult. We hosted this past Saturday night and I thought long and hard about what I wanted to make. I feel like the past few times we have hosted, I have made something a little on the “weird” side – something aggressively vegetarian – so I thought I would dial it down a notch and make something more approachable.

Fall is the perfect season for dinner parties. It’s cozy to be in someone’s home rather than a restaurant, and the possibilities for seasonal dining are endless. I chose to feature some of my favorite flavors – apple, squash, balsamic vinegar, sage. We started with a simple green salad with lots of herbs (chervil, parsley, and tarragon) and a wedge of Camembert cheese. Because the dinner was going to have a lot of strong flavors, I chose to keep the salad very green and clean. The dressing was a simple vinaigrette with whole grain mustard and champange vinegar.

The main feature of dinner was a Butternut Squash Galette, a variation on this one from the Macrina Bakery cookbook. The squash was mixed with cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, plus a couple pinches of fresh sage, and that mixture was topped with sauteed apples which had been tossed with the same spice mixture. Lest this all seem to sweet for dinner, there was a healthy scattering of Gorganzola cheese and parsley over the top to keep it nice and savory. To accompany the galette, I made incredible cipolline onions (you can find the recipe here) which will certainly be a repeat on my Thanksgiving menu. Until I met Randy, I would never have considered an onion anything other than an element of a mirepoix, but he has taught me that onions need their due.

Because two of the three parts of the plate had sweet elements, I thought the third needed to be really savory. For some reason, white beans jumped out at me and I decided to make some with sage and tomatoes. I usually find bean dishes too dry, so I was determined to make this nice and moist with lots of flavor. My end result met my expectations but because I am me and I chronically overcook, I made way too many beans. Ultimately, this was a great mistake because I used them the next night to make a simple and delicious soup. All I had to do was saute some onion and finely chopped celery and carrot until soft, add the beans (which already had a fully round flavor of their own, especially after a night in the refrigerator), a little vegetable broth and voila – soup!

White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage
Dana Treat Original
Serves 6 (with enough for soup, see recipe below)

When I made this, I used 1 1/2 pounds of beans to serve 8 and I had a tremendous amount left over. This recipe is a little more modest.

1 lb. dried white beans, such as cannelini
Olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 28 oz. can Italian whole tomatoes, with added puree

3 tbsp. chopped fresh sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the beans a large pot and cover with cold water by at least two inches. Allow to soak overnight.

Drain the beans and rinse them well with cold water. Refill the pot with the beans and enough water to cover by at least two inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly, cover, and cook until tender. Depending on the freshness of your beans, this can take 30-60 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the beans.

In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and saute until starting to brown. Add the beans and the tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Be sure to add all the puree in the can. Add enough cooking liquid to get a thick stew consistency (you can always add more if it seems to dry). Sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and the sage and cook, uncovered, until thick, about 20 minutes.

Place leftovers in a covered container and refrigerate overnight.

White Bean Soup
Serves 2

You can blend part of this soup or all of it to get a thicker consistency. I had planned to do so and then found out my immersion blender was broken.

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

Olive oil

Leftover White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage

1-2 cups vegetable broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small soup pot, heat just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft and the onion starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and broth, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened slightly.

Just the Recipe, Please

October 8, 2008

I feel like I have been very wordy lately. I guess it’s a cyclical thing with blogging. Sometimes you have a lot to say and sometimes not much. Sometimes a story goes naturally with a recipe, sometimes not.

I don’t have much to say about this bread except that it is one of those exceptional recipes that requires little of your time and delivers a lot. It is moist, incredibly flavorful, and totally addictive. From now on, I am going to call those “bang for your buck” recipes. I don’t mean “buck” as in money but as in time or effort. To me, these kinds of recipes are priceless. Some examples from this blog would be this cake, this tart, and these tomatoes.

I made this bread yesterday to serve with the 5 Lentil Soup and a Chopped Salad with Apple Vinaigrette. Because it doesn’t take any extra effort, I doubled the recipe and put one in the freezer for a dinner party this coming Saturday. I would recommend always doing this with any type of quick bread – they freeze beautifully for a month or more. Just be sure to double wrap them in foil and put them in a plastic bag (the ones from the produce department of your grocery store are great for this.) The bread is also great served cut into small slices and served as an appetizer.

Quick Olive and Cheese Bread
Adapted from
Mediterranean Harvest
Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf

I used oil-cured black olives this time, but I have made it with Kalamata olives in the past and it was equally delicious.

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 large eggs

1/3 cup white wine

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup imported black olives, pitted and sliced

1 1/4 cups tightly packed grated Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack in the the center. Butter or oil a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the pepper.

3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and whisk in the white wine and olive oil. Quickly stir in the dry ingredients, then the olives and cheese. Scrape in to the loaf pan.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the bread is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then reverse onto a rack to cool completely.

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