Archive for May, 2009

Successful Party Food

May 31, 2009

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The party was a success.  The birthday boy was happy with the food and everything I tasted was great (I didn’t taste the two shrimp dipping sauces because, well, I don’t eat shrimp.)  I continue to have this lingering feeling that I didn’t make enough food but my husband, who has a healthy appetite, assures me there was enough.

I had a lot of fun catering this party and not just because the clients are such good friends.  I made a nice mix of tried and true recipes and new-to-me recipes.  I chose a mix of things that could be made ahead and things that needed to be made day of.  I stuck to my daily task list and never felt overwhelmed by what I had to do.  And once I spent an hour or so finishing everything up at their house, I was able to walk out of the kitchen and enjoy the party.

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I’ve made these dates probably 10 times now and am always blown away by how much people like them.  I think the only person who doesn’t rave about them is me.  I don’t really like dates but I love how easy this recipe is and the fact that the filling can be made a day in advance.  You can find the recipe in this post – scroll to the bottom.

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Here is another recipe I have made many times.  You are basically guaranteed rave reviews.  My friend Lauren said the tomatoes tasted like sunshine.  Another one you can make well in advance and just assemble before serving.  You can find the recipe in this post.

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I was really happy with how both dishes on this platter turned out.  Neither of which I had made before but both I will make again.  Roasted Artichokes with Red Pepper Relish and Oven-Fried Rice Balls with Gruyère.  I could easily have eaten about half the rice balls on that platter – they were that good.  I made them the night before and just let them rest in the refrigerator on a baking sheet.  They tasted incredible just out of the oven but were still good after sitting out for an hour or so.

Oven-Fried Rice Balls with Gruyère
Adapted from Food and Wine
Makes 20-30 rice balls

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups water
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (2 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup mixed chopped herbs (DT: I used lemon thyme, oregano, and basil)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1.  Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the shallot and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the rice and cook, stirring for 30 seconds.  Stir in the water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the water has been completely absorbed, about 10 minutes.  Scrape the rice into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

2.  Stir the Gruyère, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and all the chopped herbs into the rice.  Season the rice with salt and pepper.

3.  In a medium stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm peaks form.  Stir one-fourth of the whites into the rice to loosen the mixture, then stir in the remaining whites.  Roll the rice into 1 1/2 inch balls.  (DT: Periodically wetting your hands will keep the rice from sticking to you and will allow you to make more compact rice balls.)

4.  In a shallow bowl, toss the panko with the remaining 1/4 up of Parmesan.  Dredge the rice ball in the panko crumbs and transfer to a large baking sheet.  Bake the rice balls in the upper third of the oven for 25 minutes or until golden and crisp.  Let stand for 5 minutes then transfer to a platter and serve.



A Party for John and Lauren

May 30, 2009

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One of my favorite people turned 40 last week.  His amazing wife (another of my favorite people) is throwing him a party tonight and guess who is catering?

Months ago, I offered my services to Lauren.  I told her I would be happy to do something as simple as bake a cake and as complicated as cater the whole party.  She kept telling me she didn’t know what to do for him.  10 years ago, when he turned 30, she flew him to Napa and had a few of us come down to meet them.  She had reserved a convertible for them to drive from the airport and a limo for all of us to tour the wineries.  She had made appointments at wineries and made dinner reservations for the group, all without him knowing about it.

These days, lives are a little more complicated.  They have young children and busy careers.  They just finished a kitchen remodel.  And because John is one of the more mellow people I know, she dragged her feet a bit on the planning front.  A month ago, she called to tell me to reserve this Saturday for a party at their house.  Last week, she called to ask me to help with food.

Now, her request was very simple.  Could I just make a couple of things and they would handle the rest?  I could have said yes to just that.  I could have made an appetizer or two and maybe even a cake.  But these aren’t just any friends.  These are the friends whose house I stayed at the night my ex-husband moved out of the house.  And not only did I stay at their house, but they took me out for sushi and didn’t ask me any questions.  These are the friends who later stood by me during a long and painful relationship that they knew was wrong for me.  These are the friends who planned a wedding shower for me, helped me with a wedding and reception, and through two pregnancies and infancy of two children.  These are lifelong friends.

I believe in the idea of paying kindness forward.  Throughout John and Lauren’s incredible display of friendship to me in difficult times, I knew that there was no way I could repay them for what they showed me.  They have one of the best marriages I know – there is no way I can directly support them they way they did me.  But I have kept them in mind when I have done acts of kindness for others.  When Randy and I went off on our honeymoon, I gave a key to our house to a friend who was fighting with her boyfriend.  She felt trapped and I wanted her to have a safe place to go.  I thought of John and Lauren as I handed over the key.  I thought of them the other day when I gave my babysitter some extra money because she is going through a tough break-up. I wanted her to be able to do something nice for herself.  I am trying to pay forward what they did for me.

Catering this party is a big thank you to them.  Thank you for so many things that are long in the past and thank you for being such great friends.  They both love good food and I am thrilled to be able to nourish them and their guests.  The fact that I get to eat it too is an added bonus!

My blog has been quiet this week as I have been preparing for the party.  I have been cooking each day but not much has been photo worthy.  I would not qualify myself as an organized person but when I cook for a party, I do very un-Dana like things such as make lists and time manage.  It’s a must with two small boys in the house.  I will bring my camera tonight and will take lots of photos.  I will post recipes of the dishes that people like best.  For now, I give you these crackers.  I first saw them last week on Hélène’s blog (she got the recipe here), and knew I had to make them right away.  For all you Raincoast Crisp fans out there – here is a way to make them at home without spending the $8 per box.

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One Year Ago:  Getting Started

Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps
Adapted from Dinner with Julie
Makes 6-8 dozen crackers

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed, ground
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir a few strokes.  Add the raisins, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed and rosemary and stir just until blended.

Pour the batter into two 8″x4″ loaf pans that have been sprayed with nonstick spray.  Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.  Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.

The cooler the bread, the easier it is to slice really thin.  You can leave it until the next day or pop it in the freezer.  Slice the loaves as thin as you can and place the slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake them for 15 minutes.  Flip them over and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until crisp and deep golden brown.  Remove from the sheets to a cooling rack.  They will continue to crisp as they cool.



A Love Letter to Lopez, Part 2

May 27, 2009

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This past weekend, my little family and I spent a couple of days on Lopez Island.  It’s a place I have mentioned here more than once (most notably here) and that is simply because it has been – and is – a big part of my life.

Now that I have a better camera, I was able to take some photos to share.  They tell a much better story of how special the place is than I ever could – even if I was the most eloquent writer around.

The top photo was taken from my parents property.  I love this view because it has a Madrona tree which are native to this area and don’t really grow much outside the Pacific Northwest.  I think their red bark and gnarled branches are striking.  We are looking out at Mud Bay and at the former location of Camp Nor’wester.  Camp has relocated to an island called Johns and that incredible 350+ acre piece of property now belongs to Paul Allen.  He uses it about one night a year.  It used to house teepees and an authentic NW Coast native long house and now it houses 5 gigantic structures that sit empty 364 days a year.  But I’m not bitter.

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This is where Randy and I got married.  The most lovely, small, and scenic church I have ever been to.  In true Lopez fashion, it is shared by the Catholics and the Lutherans.  From the church you can see these fields and barns, plus the cemetery which has some graves from the late 1800′s.

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This is where we had our wedding reception, The Bay Cafe.  It is my most favorite restaurant in the world.  Last year when we ate there, we were a little disappointed in the food but I am happy to report that it is as good as ever.

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This was my main course.  Grilled tofu with chick pea and black bean cakes all on a bed of curry and served with chutney, asparagus, and spinach.  All restaurants in Seattle could learn something from this dish.  This is what vegetarians want to eat!

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This is the most incredible beach I have ever been to.  It’s called Watmough and it is kind of difficult to find.  Once you park, you walk down a long and heavily shaded path.  Even in the dead of summer, there are puddles and slugs along the way.  Because there are so many trees, you have no idea what awaits you at the end.  A perfect bay, a view of 10,777 foot Mt. Baker (I know it’s that big because I climbed it), and these cliffs.

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My dad calls them, affectionately, the cliffs of insanity.  (Name that movie.)  They go on up at least twice as high and perhaps three times as high as you can see in this photo.  I have seen many things on this beach.  I have seen people skinny dipping.  I have seen my brothers kayak in from our house.  I have seen tarps strewn across the driftwood with freezing cold and soaking wet kids from Camp Nor’wester huddling underneath.  And I have seen a ruby ring in a bronze box when Randy asked me to marry him.  Here on this beach.



Lettuce-less Salad

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We eat a lot of salad in the Dana Treat house.  Almost every night that I cook, I make a salad.  It is usually simple with just lettuce with some essentials (tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado) and a rotating list of favorites (hearts of palm, olives, chickpeas, pea sprouts).  The stuff to lettuce ratio is always heavy on the stuff.  I don’t love lettuce-y salads.

And sometimes I don’t want lettuce at all.  Sometimes I want something light and crunchy and nothing like my regular salads.  That’s when I make this one.  Blanched green beans, thinly sliced fennel, and mushrooms get tossed in a lemon balsamic vinaigrette with lots of herbs.  It’s really a lovely salad when you want something cold and crisp but don’t want to wrestle with lettuce.

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One year ago:  Roasted Potatoes and Onions with Wilted Greens

Green Bean and Fennel Salad

Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 4

This recipe originally called for a lot of parsley.  I toned it down here a bit.  Next time I make it, I am going to add some tarragon to the mix because I think it’s slightly anise-y flavor would be most welcome.

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, and cut into 2 inch pieces
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced cross-wise
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
Zest of one medium lemon

Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl to blend.  Season with salt and pepper.

Cook green beans in a large pot of salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl of ice water.  Drain beans.  Pat dry.  (Can be made one day ahead.  Cover and chill dressing.  Wrap beans in paper towels and chill.)

Place beans in large bowl.  Add fennel, mushrooms, parsley, chives, and lemon peel.  Drizzle dressing over, toss.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and chill 30 minutes.  Toss again and serve.  (Can be made 3 hours ahead.  After that the green beans start to discolor.)



Pantry Staples

May 25, 2009

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Lots of cookbooks these days seem to start with a chapter on pantry staples.  These are things that you want to always have on hand so you can – voilà! – cook up an amazing meal without a trip to the store.  I agree with this theory and I have a pantry and I have a lot of pantry staples.  I am not, however, turning out incredible meals with what I have on hand.  Produce figures in strongly in most of my meals and if you buy a lot of produce you know, it doesn’t last long.

That said, I think this was a great meal and it could easily become a go-to recipe for me.  There are two only perishable things in this pasta.  One is parsley which I always seem to have in my refrigerator and the other is feta cheese.  Feta has an incredibly long refrigerator life span so next time you see it on sale, buy a few.  Do yourself a favor and buy good feta – one that comes in a block and not in a tub.  The pre-crumbled stuff tastes like sawdust to me.

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One Year Ago:  Niçoise Tartines with Peperonata

Greek Pasta Casserole

Adapted from Vegetarian Classics
Serves 4-6

1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound small pasta shells
1 (15 oz.) can ready-cut diced tomatoes with their juice
1 (7 oz.) jar roasted red peppers, well drained and diced
1/4 cup pitted and roughly chopped black olives (DT: I used Kalamata)
2 tbsp. red wine
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup (about 5 oz – but use more if you like!) crumbled feta cheese

1.  Bring a large quantity of water to boil in a stockpot.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds; do not let it get at all colored.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

3.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until very al dente, soft but not quite cooked through.  It will continue to cook in the oven.  Drain thoroughly in a colander and place back in the pot.  Pour on the garlic oil and toss well.  Let cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally to prevent sticking.

4.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

5.  Mix in all the remaining ingredients.  Place in a shallow 3-quart casserole (such as a 13×9 inch pan).  Cover with foil.  (The pasta can be assembled and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.  Bring to room temperature before baking.)

6.  Bake, covered, for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes to lightly brown the top of the casserole.



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