Archive for February, 2009

Cookies for Michael

February 21, 2009

My brother Michael is 8 years younger than I am. I remember being kind of pissed off when my parents told me they were going to have another baby, being perplexed when they woke me in the middle of the night to tell me that this baby was coming 6 weeks ahead of schedule, and being disappointed to find out he was a boy (I already had a brother.) But as soon as I saw him, I fell in love. Being the oldest child and a baby lover, Michael became my baby.

Soon after he was born, my mom went back to school to earn her nursing degree. I did a lot of caregiving for Michael and it brought us very close together. We are similar in a lot of ways and as we have become adults, our bond remains strong. At the end of this past summer, he decided to move back to Seattle after having not lived here since high school. I am delighted to have him back. My boys adore him and I love being able to spend some quality time with him.

One of my favorite things to do with Michael is feed him. He is an incredibly enthusiastic eater. He is a hard core carnivore, but at the root of it all, he just loves good food. He is happy to eat vegetarian at my house and has even said that he could eat that way all the time if I was cooking for him. He is not a big sweets person but he absolutely LOVES cookies. The other night he and my parents came over for dinner and I realized that I had only one palmier left. Being the person I am, I can’t know someone loves something and not be able to offer it to them.

So, I pulled out a special recipe. I made these about a year ago for my clients and they prompted a special note from one of them. She said they were the best cookies she had ever had. I do have to say there is something special about these. The oats make them soft and the coconut adds a new dimension of flavor – don’t skip it even if you think you don’t like coconut. There is no white sugar in these, only brown, so they bake up nice and golden and have that cararmel-y taste. Plus, I like oatmeal raisin cookies as much as the next person, but I would really prefer chocolate chip. I gave Michael a big bag to take home with him and yet he dipped into my cookie jar for a “few for the road”. Guess they were a hit.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Adapted from
The Greyston Bakery Cookbook
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 cups old-fashioned rolled ats

3/4 cup shredded coconut (
DN: I used unsweetened.)
7 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks (
DN: I used chocolate

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer set on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together for 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until well combined, scraping down the sides as necessary.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the oats, coconut, and chocolate.

Drop the batter in rounded tablespoons, 2″ apart, onto baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Filo, Part Deux

February 20, 2009

I have written here before about working with filo dough. In my experience it is one of those things that sometimes goes well and sometimes does not. I would like to blame it on the condition of the filo but really, it has nothing to do with the dough and has everything to do with me. If I am in a hurry, things do not go well. I try to rush a process that should not be rushed or I get bored and just stop half way through. The best time to work with filo is when you have the time and want to take on a project. If you slow down and relax and enjoy the process, the rewards can be great.

I made Ina Garten’s Spanakopita recipe the other night for my clients and I was very happy with how they turned out, both in the looks and taste departments. The filling was very flavorful and not too tangy (using a really good feta cheese helps), plus they baked up incredibly crispy. I think this was due to a fine dusting of bread crumbs in between each of the four filo layers, and also due to my light hand with the olive oil when brushing the layers.

Ina suggests making very large triangles, but I couldn’t enclose the filling with her dimensions, so I changed that in the recipe below. You can, of course, make these much smaller and serve them as appetizers. You can also get them ready to the point of baking them, put them on a baking sheet and into the freezer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag (the initial freeze on the sheet insures they won’t stick together once in the bag), and store them in the freezer for next time.

Here are my filo tips from the previous post:

First, the day before you are going to use your filo dough, remove it from the freezer and put it in the fridge to let it thaw overnight. Then use it directly from the fridge.

Second, filo does dry out quickly but not that quickly, so try and relax as you are working with it. Once it does dry out, the corners start to crack and it can be a little hard to separate the layers. The best way to keep it moist is to just cover the portion you are not working with with a clean kitchen towel. Don’t bother with plastic wrap or a damp towel, just a clean dry towel.

Third, use olive oil to brush the layers. Your choices are usually butter or olive oil, but when I use butter I have to keep rewarming it to keep it liquid so I just stick with oil. This is true even for sweet things (like baklava) because the oil doesn’t really add much flavor, it’s just there to keep everything moist and to give you a nice crisp crust on the outside.

Fourth, if it does tear – don’t worry about it. Almost anything you make with filo will have many sheets of it layered on top of each other so any tear will be invisible and insignificant. If your top layer tears, just brush it with oil and add one more layer to the top.

Dinner Spanakopita
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Makes approximately 15 strudels

Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped

3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

4 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Plain dry bread crumbs

1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cups small-diced feta cheese (12 oz.)

3 tbsp. toasted pine nuts

24 sheets frozen filo dough, defrosted

Flaked sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook for another 2 minutes until the scallions are wilted but still green. Meanwhile, gently squeeze most of the water out of the spinach and place it in a large bowl.

When the onion and scallions are done, add them to the spinach. Mix in the eggs, Parmesan cheese, 3 tbsp. bread crumbs, the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Gently fold in the feta and pine nuts.

Place on sheet of filo dough flat on a work surface with the long end in front of you. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of bread crumbs. Working quickly, slide another sheet of filo dough on top of the first, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. (Use just enough bread crumbs so the layers of filo don’t stick together.) Pile 4 layers on top of each other this way brushing each with olive oil and sprinkling each with bread crumbs.

Cut the sheets of filo in thirds lengthwise. Place 1/3 cup spinach filling on the shorter end and roll the filo up diagonally as if folding a flag. They fold the triangle of filo over straight and then diagonally again. Continue folding first diagonally and then straight until you reach the end of the sheet. The filling should be totally enclosed. Place each finished strudel, seam side down, on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil.

Continue assembling filo layers and folding the filling until all of the filling or all of the sheets have been used. Sprinkle sea salt over the finished strudels and bake for 30-35 minutes until the filo is browned and crisp. Serve hot.

(DN: These can be made 6 hours ahead and reheated in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.)

Two Ingredients

February 17, 2009

I have lived in France twice for short periods of time. The first time was for three months on a bike, and the second was for a semester in Paris during my junior year of college. The first time I gained 15 pounds because I simply could not get over how delicious the pastries were (or the bread, or the cheese, or the chocolate, etc.) The second time I was much more careful and tried to stick only to the bread and a little cheese. Once in a while, I would allow myself a treat and there was never a question of what that would be.

I discovered Palmiers in a small town in Normandy about 1/3 of the way into the bike trip. I was 16, homesick, freezing and wet. The first month of our trip was spent in the Loire Valley and Normandy which, in case you are wondering, is not a good place to be biking in late March and early April. We got rained on, snowed on, and hailed on. We did not see the sun once during the entire month. We were sleeping in tents and biking all day. I only took comfort from my friend Jen, the hope of mail at the next homestay, and bakeries.

By this point in the trip, I had established my favorites in the boulangerie. Pain au chocolat was a given, brioche was always welcome when I wanted something more bread-like, a croissant when I wanted something less sweet. Seeing a Normandy is apple country in France, a whole new world of apple pastries opened up to me and I tried every one of them. One day, when I was feeling particularly homesick and wanting a cookie, I opted for a palmier. The charming butterfly shape disguised what a sophisticated treat this was. They are made from puff pastry so the layers upon layers of butter worked into the dough make each bite shatter under your teeth as you enjoy the flakiness of a croissant and the honey sweetness of lots of sugar. They became a true favorite of mine and I asked for them repeatedly during the rest of that bike trip (this contributed to the 15 pounds I gained, in spite of biking 1500 miles).

When I returned to France 3 years later, I asked for them in boulangeries all over Paris. I have gotten them for my boys here in Seattle whenever I see them. And I’ve made them a few times which I highly encourage you to do. You see, there are two ingredients in this recipe. Puff pastry and sugar. That’s it. Of course you can make your own puff pastry but why? Why when there is DuFour out there? Yes, it’s expensive (about $13 for 14 oz.), but when there are only two ingredients, you need to use the very best. I have no problem using Pepperidge Farm (about $4 for 14 oz.) when I am making something savory – when I know the flavor of the pastry is not the star. But if you are going to make these cookies, and you should, use the best. (Update: Thanks to two helpful comments, I can tell you that both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry all-butter puff pastry for less than the DuFour. I will be sure to look for those!  Update #2: In the Seattle area, you can find terrific and reasonably priced puff at DeLaurenti and Grand Central Bakery.  Trader Joe’s seems to be seasonal and I have never found a Whole Foods brand.)


Adapted from The Martha Steward Living Cookbook – The New Classics
Makes about 20

The only real change I made here is an added step of coating each side of the palmiers in more sugar. Yum!

3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dipping
14 oz. all butter Puff Pastry

1. Sprink half the sugar on a clean work surface. Place the dough on top, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining sugar.

2. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the dough into a 9 x 15-inch rectangle 1/8 inch thick, being careful not to press too hard around the edges. Continually coat both sides with sugar.

3. Place the dough so one of the long sides is closest to you. Using your fingers, roll the dough length-wise into a long cylinder, as tightly as possible without stretching it, as you would a roll of wrapping papers, stopping when you reach the middle. Repeat the same rolling procedure with the other long side until you have 2 tight cylinders that meet in the middle. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap; place in the refrigerator to chill at least 1 hour.

4. Unwrap the dough; using a sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Dip each side of each slice into a shallow bowl of sugar. Place the palmiers on an ungreased baking sheet, and firmly flatten with the palm of your hand. Cover with platic wrap; place in the refrigerator 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the palmiers in the oven and bake 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees; continue baking until the pastry is golden brown and well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; using a thin spatula, immediately transfer the palmiers to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve shiny side up.

Ooey and Gooey

February 16, 2009

We had a kind of impromptu dinner party last night. By “impromptu” I mean I only had 24 hours notice. Usually if we are going to entertain, I like to have lots of time to mull over menus and to plan my time. I also like to have the option to make things in advance so I am not madly cooking when the guests arrive. Does this make me sound like a control freak? I’m really not. Cooking is important to me and I know our friends expect something delicious when they come to eat with us.

And besides, this wasn’t really a dinner party per se – just two very good friends coming to dinner. But these guys are so awesome, they have even babysat our two boys so we could go see a movie and have offered to do it again. I knew we could do something more simple for dinner, but they are both dessert lovers and I really wanted to make a special dessert.

Because I didn’t have a lot of time, I thought of nothing else but this cake. If you are a chocolate lover, you probably have the ingredients on hand. Here is the gist of it. You make a flourless chocolate cake batter. You hold 2 cups of said batter back and put them in the refrigerator, then you put the rest into a springform pan and bake it until it’s just barely cooked through.

You allow the cake to cool, then you spread the uncooked batter on top.

The whole thing goes back into the fridge for at least one hour and up to 2 days, and then, when you are ready for chocolate nirvana, you put the cake in the oven for 10 minutes. What comes out is multi-textured. The bottom part is baked through but the top,
oh the top!, is gooey and pudding like.

I have one quibble with this recipe. Each time I make it, I remember that the edges of the cooked part of the cake get a little black in the final baking. (Note to self: Make a note in the actual recipe!) I think dialing the temperature down a bit from 425 to 400 (with perhaps a few extra minutes for the top to bake off a bit) would fix that. Last night I just carefully cut off the offending bits and no one was the wiser.

Double-Baked Chocolate Cake
Adapted from
Food and Wine
Makes one 9-inch cake (
DN: Serves about 8)

1/2 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 sticks (
1/2 pound) unsalted butter
cup unsweetened cocoa powder
7 large eggs, separated

1/3 cups sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper.

2. In a large saucepan, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter over moderately low heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.

3. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar until pale and light, about 3 minutes. In a large bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and beat until the whites are firm and glossy.

4. Fold the chocolate into the egg yolk mixture until barely combined. Fold in the egg whites just until no white streaks remain. Spoon 2 cups of the batter into a medium bowl and refrigerate. Scrape the remaining batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.

5. Remove the side from the springform pan and spread the reserved cake batter over the top of the cake, leaving a 1 inch border around the edge. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the cake for 10-15 minutes, or until a thin crust forms on top and the batter is soft and creamy beneath the crust. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve warm.

Make ahead: The cake can be prepared through step 4 and refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days.

Hot and Spicy Soup for a Cold Night

February 14, 2009

One of the tricky things about my business is coming up with a full menu. When I am cooking for my own family, I usually just plan the main course, perhaps a side of steamed broccoli (my favorite vegetable), and a simple salad. On rare occasions, it’s just a main. Or a very simple side. For example, one night this coming week we are going to have Mixed Bell Pepper Quesadillas. I will most likely make guacamole, but other than that will just probably heat up some re-fried beans and make sure there is plenty of salsa.

For my paying clients though, I need to make more of an effort. I charge them for each component of the meal, so I can’t in good conscience give them steamed broccoli. Sometimes the three courses just come to me and sometimes I have to scramble to put a menu together that works. This doesn’t mean that each course is a show-stopper – I do have time constraints – but I would like to think that each one is something that they wouldn’t necessarily make for themselves.

Before I started cooking for clients, I always thought of soup as more a main course dish. But as I saw the need to vary my menus, and to come up with interesting and innovative side dishes, I started making many more soups. If they are not a main course, I tend to keep them relatively simple. I feature one vegetable, or make them nice and light, or – as in the case with this soup – nice and brothy. I was looking for something flavorful, hot, and spicy to serve with the Red Curry last week. I remembered that I had made this soup once before and was very pleased with it. It turned out to be a great choice for a cold night.

Tom Yum Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu
Adapted from
Real Vegetarian Thai
Serves 4-6

You can make this soup much more substantial by adding rice or rice noodles to individual portions.

6 cups vegetable stock
3 large stalks lemongrass

Zest and juice of 2 limes

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 fresh jalapeno chili, diced

8 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1 inch chunks

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tbsp. roasted chili paste

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. soy sauce

1/2 tsp. salt

Zest the limes and set aside the zest. Place the jalapeno and green onions in a small bowl and squeeze the juice of the limes over. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil. Meanwhile, trip the lemongrass stalks. Cut away and discard any hard, dried root portions, leaving a smooth, flat base just below the bulb. Trim away the tops so the stalks are about 6 inches in length. Using the blunt edge of a knife, bruise each stalk, whacking it firmly at 2 inch intervals and rolling it over to bruise on all sides. Cut into 2 inch lengths.

When the stock is boiling, add the lemongrass and the lime zest and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the stock is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Scoop out the lemongrass from the stock and discard it (it’s ok if some of the zest comes along for the ride). Raise the heat to high and add the tofu, mushrooms, chili paste, sugar, soy sauce, and salt and stir well. When the soup boils again, turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cover and add the green onion mixture. Taste and adjust the flavors with more lime juice, soy, or sugar as needed.

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