Archive for December, 2009

Something for Balance

December 21, 2009

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And now, a break from all the sweets.

The scene: My birthday, July 26th.  The year: 2003.  The setting: London and environs.

We had moved into our little flat just weeks before and were still figuring out life in a new country.  Cooking for me was a real challenge because all of our kitchen equipment (including all my cookbooks) were 6 weeks behind us on a freighter.  Without my recipes, and without a computer in the flat, I was unmoored in our little kitchen.  Night after night I would attempt to make things for us drawing on my not insignificant experience.  But there was a lot of pasta boiled in the three tiny saucepans available to me at the time.  I am a much better and more innovative cook now and I would be much better off these days in that same situation.  But I have to say, I would still be lost without my cookbooks for a significant length of time.

For my birthday that year, my 33rd, we decided to do a bus tour and see some of the sites nearby the city.  There was a hotel that hosted these tours within walking distance of our flat and we chose a day touring Stonehenge and Bath.  I remember, quite clearly, that I was wearing a wool sweater and a jacket (in July) and thinking that Seattle had nothing on London in the weather department.  I remember being truly awed by Stonehenge, in spite of the fact that you are no longer allowed to get too close.  I remember being utterly charmed by the lovely town of Bath with its ruins of Roman baths.  Would you think the cultural experience wasted on me if I told you what I really remember was the restaurant where we had lunch?

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Demuths is a vegetarian restaurant and, even if the food had been bad, it was a most welcome site for sore eyes.  Is is quite possible to eat extremely well as a vegetarian in London, but you have to know what you are doing and the places to go (three words – Middle Eastern food) but I hadn’t figured all that out yet.  And so, a menu of unlimited choices was enough to make me emotional.  And then the food was delicious.  Everything was light and fresh with none of the heaviness that I had already wearied of.  Best of all, they had a cookbook which I snatched up in 14.5 seconds.

Our meals at home dramatically improved after our day away.  Just days later that unbelievable heat wave hit – the one where so many people died in France.  For the first day or so, our flat was tolerable but it soon became torture to do anything but sit, and even that induced sweating.  Sandwiches and salad were the only things we wanted to eat and I was so thankful that this new treasure of mine had so many choices.

Smoked tofu was something I had never tasted before our year in London but I found it everywhere there, even in the most basic grocery stores.  I put it in everything and even just ate it by itself.  As I was doing my shopping in a very veg-friendly store the other day (PCC for the Seattle people), I was shocked to find some from a B.C. company.  The first thing I thought of was this salad.  We’ll see how things go this week, but I may even credit this super nutritious and flavor packed salad with breaking me out of my cooking funk.

For many of you, the coming week brings turkeys, and roasts, and hams.  It brings mashed potatoes, gratins, and green bean casseroles.  It brings puddings, cookies, pies, and cakes.  And next week brings champagne and big dinners, and possibly even things like chips and onion dip in front of back-to-back football games.  I won’t blame you if you put this salad away for now.  But January resolutions are right around the corner.  If eating healthier is on your list, bookmark this recipe.  No deprivation here.  Lots of flavor, lots of protein, and lots of texture.  I made up my own dressing because the original was too “spa” for me.

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One Year Ago:  Holiday Cookies and Ultimate Ginger Cookies

Smoked Tofu, Le Puy Lentil, and Spinach Salad
With Thanks to Green World Cookbook
Serves 2

I encourage you to make this salad your own by finding the right balance of ingredients.  Below is how I made mine.  If you can’t find smoked tofu, any of the flavored types of tofu you find in your store would taste great.  Just be sure they are very firm.  Wasabi paste is something I always have on hand in my refrigerator.  It comes in a toothpaste looking tube and keeps forever.  The dressing will still be delicious without it, however.

For Salad:
1/2 cup Le Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
10 cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
2 small handfuls bean sprouts
1 small avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. roasted and salted sunflower seeds
4 ounces smoked (or other flavored) tofu, cut into fingers

For Dressing:
1/3 cup apple cider
1 tbsp. Tamari or other soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. Wasabi paste
4 tbsp. Grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water.  Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender to the bite but not mushy, about 25 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, bring the apple cider to a boil and cook down until it has reduced to about 2 tablespoons.  Set aside to cool.  Once cool, pour into a bowl along with the soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi.  Whisk well and then slowly add the oil, whisking the whole time.  Taste and adjust balance of flavors to your liking.

Place a bed of spinach down on each of two plates.  Scatter some of the lentils over top.  (You will have some lentils left over.)  Add the tomatoes, bean sprouts, tofu, avocado and sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the plate.  Lightly pour the dressing on to taste.



Chocolate Caramel Treasures

December 17, 2009

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If you are relatively new here, you might think that this is a baking only blog.  First there is the name.  Dana Treat implies, well, treats – right?  And then there would be the fact there have been an awful lot of cakes and cookies here as of late.  The last time I wrote about a main course was on November 20th.  (Peanut Curry.  It’s a good one.)

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The fact of the matter is that after I cooked for Thanksgiving, main courses have not been a big part of my life.  The things I have been making are not really worth writing about.  My husband has been traveling a lot so I’ve been eating a lot of scrounged leftovers and baked potatoes.  Yawn.

And then there is the fact that between the teachers, bus drivers, babysitters and speech therapists in our lives there are 13 gift bags to fill.   Don’t even get me started on family.  And so, I started baking.  And I just kept baking.  And actually, I have some more baking to do.  But I also have some big meals coming up so I hope to share a few more savory things in the next few weeks.  Until then, go make these cookies.

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This is yet another one of these delicious recipes that I made long ago and just lost track of.  As I was making out my Baking List 2009, I stumbled upon them.  This is a great bang for your buck recipe.  Yes, there is a bit of fussing but nothing about it is hard.  The dough is incredibly easy to make and you can do it a day or two ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator.  The caramel filling is nothing more than store-bought caramels melted down with some cream, so if making caramel scares you – no worrying necessary.  Gourmet?  Not really, but who cares?  And the chocolate drizzle requires nothing more complicated than a Ziploc bag.  At the end of it all you get this very fancy looking and incredibly delicious cookie.  Double the recipe because you will want lots.

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One Year Ago:  Ina Garten’s Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread

Chocolate Caramel Treasures

Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

I really never grease my sheets when making cookies, but you will need to do so with this recipe.  Or you can use parchment paper.

For Cookies
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

For Caramel Filling
10 (1-by 1/2-inch) plain caramels, unwrapped
2 tbsp. heavy cream

For Chocolate Drizzle
3 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Make cookies:
Beat together butter, sugar, yolk, milk, and vanilla with an electric mixer until blended well.  Sift in flour, cocoa, and salt and beat on low speed until mixture forms a dough.  Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Roll scant tablespoons of dough into balls, then coat with egg white, letting excess drip off, and roll in nuts to coat.  Arrange balls, as coated, 1 1/2 inches apart on greased baking sheets and press your thumb into center of balls to flatten, leaving a depression.  Bake in batches in middle of oven until puffed slightly but centers are still soft, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately press centers of cookies again.  (Use the handle end of a wooden spoon.)  Transfer to racks to let cool.

Make filling while cookies are cooling:
Heat caramels and cream in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and mixture is smooth.  Spoon into centers of cookies and cool completely.

Make chocolate drizzle:
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Cool to warm (this will take about 45 minutes) and pour into a sandwich size sealable plastic bag.  Seal bag, press chocolate to one corner and snip off a very small hole.  Drizzle chocolate over cookies and let stand until set, about 30 minutes.



Chocolate Gingerbread Bundt Cake

December 16, 2009

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Yesterday I made some Holly B’s Christmas Lebkuchen in spite of a raging migraine and a younger child who woke up coughing from his nap and was absolutely inconsolable for over an hour afterward.  The cookies smelled amazing and looked, well, terrible.  Flat and brown with really no visual interest at all.  Not even a powdered sugar sprinkle was going to help out with this one.  The flavor was good but overall, it’s not a recipe I was eager to share.

And so, cake!  I got in my head that I wanted to make a chocolate gingerbread bundt cake over the weekend.  A recipe was surprisingly hard to find.  Most places I looked didn’t have those two flavors together and the few recipes I did find were just not quite right.

Leave it to Martha.  This recipe is actually on her site as bars but I figured I could double it and put it in a bundt pan.  I went to a trusty site to find out the volume of an 8-inch bar pan to see if doubling it would fit in a 12-cup bundt pan.  According to that site, an 8-inch bar pan is 6 cups.  Just right, right?  After putting the batter in the pan, I realized that it was going to be a sad flat cake.  Fortunately, I also have a 10-cup bundt pan and so the batter was switched over.  All was well in the end and the cake tasted just as I wanted it to.  Deep rich gingerbread flavor, chewy texture, and chocolate chips sprinkled throughout.  The balance was perfect.

Bundt cakes are usually very easy but they do have the incredibly annoying tendency to want to stay in the pan rather than come out and be eaten.  So here are a few tips for urging your cake out.

  • Have a good non-stick pan.  Sounds obvious I know, but if you have your mom’s old rusty pan, it’s time to replace it.  Most cookware stores carry some non-stick version and run between $20 and $30.  If you are only going to buy one, get a 12-cup.  Most cakes call for that size.
  • Grease that pan up good.  Yes it is non-stick, but please trust me when I tell you that you still need to grease it.  The non-stick surface helps but does not guarantee that your cake will pop out.  The best combo (and again, trust me here) is Crisco and flour.  Be generous with your Crisco and be sure to get the whole pan.  Cakes really like to stick to the part of the pan that sticks up in the middle.  If you are making a chocolate cake, you can dust with cocoa powder instead of flour.
  • When the cake is done, let it sit for 10-15 minutes on a rack.  Take a very thin knife (a palate knife if you have one) and run it around the outside edge of the cake and the inside part of the pan that sticks up.  Using your oven mitts, give the cake a firm little toss in the air.  It will become clear what part of the cake is still stuck to the pan so go over that part again with your knife.  Give it another toss.  If it all seems free and clear, carefully turn the cake out onto a cooling rack.
  • Remember, if all else fails and some of the cake sticks in the pan, powdered sugar can cover a lot of mistakes.  And if there is a glaze involved, even better.

Best of luck with your holiday baking and check back here in the next few days for lots more treats.

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One Year Ago:  Fennel and Brie Risotto Wedges (this is so delicious)

Chocolate Gingerbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 10-14

8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar for dusting

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Using Crisco, grease a 12-cup bundt pan.  Sprinkle with cocoa powder and make sure pan is even coated.  Dump out excess.  In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour, ginger, pumpkin-pie spice, , and baking soda.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, molasses, eggs, and sour cream until smooth.  Add flour mixture; stir just until moistened (do not overmix).  Stir in chocolate chips.  Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

3.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let sit for 15 minutes.  Run a thin knife all around the outside and inside part of the pan that sticks up.  Using your oven mitts, give the cake a firm little toss in the air.  It will become clear what part of the cake is still stuck to the pan so go over that part again with your knife.  Give it another toss.  If it all seems free and clear, carefully turn the cake out onto a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely.  Sift powdered sugar over top, if desired.

(DT: In my experience, this type of cake freezes beautifully.  I didn’t try it with this one in particular but I wouldn’t hesitate to do so next time I make it.  Just wrap it really well in foil and put it inside a plastic bag (the type found in the produce section of grocery stores is perfect for this job.)  I think it’s safe to freeze for up to a month.  Thaw at room temperature.)



Learning to Love Onions

December 13, 2009

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I have introduced my husband Randy to many different foods over the nine years we have known each other.  In some ways, I feel like I have introduced him to food period.  Randy has always been athletic and so he has always viewed food as fuel.  Before he met me, he had some crazy calculation for the protein to carb to vegetable ratio so that he could just keep moving without bonking.  It had very little to do with taste.  There was a lot of tuna, chicken, rice, and salsa in his life.  Occasionally a vegetable or two.

Then along comes me.  Vegetarian.  Loves to eat.  Loves to dine out.  Loves to talk about food.  Loves to research restaurants in far away cities.  Loves to obsess about each and every upcoming meal.  I’ve got to hand it to the guy – he has made a huge effort to embrace the obsession.  He tries new restaurants with me.  He enthusiastically eats everything that I cook, even the most aggressively vegetarian food (he is a carnivore).  He has opened his mind up to food that he thought he hated.  And I have converted him.  Peas, lentils, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and tofu used to be on the black list.  He eats all of them now.  (Brussels sprouts are still dicey and cauliflower only if it is roasted.  But still, progress.)  The only dislike he holds on to is beets.  And I can live with that for now.

But before I pat myself on the back too heartily, there are foods he has brought into my life for which I am eternally grateful.  It is hard for me to believe, but I had never tasted Pho (the Vietnamese rice noodle soup) before a trip we took to Vancover together.  Now Pho is a large part of our family’s life.  He also reawakened my love for Mexican food, spicy food in general, and he made me embrace onions.

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I still don’t like raw onions, but I do love them in all other ways.  Especially caramelized onions.  I have been cooking up lots of them lately.  I love them in these tarts, and in a quick and easy appetizer that I will share here shortly.  When my brother and sister-in-law came for brunch yesterday, I knew I wanted to make this frittata.  I’m not sure why so much time has gone by since my last go-around with this lovely dish but I guess that’s what happens in a busy kitchen.

Now, you might be wondering – are those eggs brown?  Did she overcook the frittata?  We all know that overcooked eggs are one of the worst things about brunches in restaurants, right?  Let me reassure you.  That brown top is actually balsamic vinegar that has been cooked down so that it is syrupy and sweet, and then brushed over the top of the frittata.  Not an A+  in the looks department but definitely in the taste department.

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Want another Frittata?  Check out this one.

Frittata with Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Sage
Adapted from Fields of Greens
Serves 6

2 tbsp. olive oil
3 medium onions, quartered and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 eggs
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/3 cup
1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
3 ounces mild creamy goat cheese, crumbled
3 tbsp. Reduced Balsamic Vinegar (method follows)

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet; add the onions, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Sauté the onions over medium heat for about 10 minutes to release their juices.  Add the garlic; continue to cook over medium heat for about 40 minutes, gently scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to keep the onions from sticking as they caramelize.  Transfer the onions to a bowl and set aside to cool.  (DT: These can be made days in advance.  Put in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl.  Stir in the onions along with the Parmesan and sage.  In a 9-inch sauté pan with an ovenproof handle, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil to just below the smoking point.  Swirl the oil around the sides of the pan to coat it.  Turn the heat down to low, then immediately pour the frittata mixture into the pan.  The eggs will sizzle from the heat.  Crumble in the goat cheese and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, until the sides begin to set; transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the frittata is golden and firm.

Loosen the frittata gently with a rubber spatula; the bottom will tend to stick to the pan.  Place a plate over the pan, flip it over, and turn the frittata out.  Brush the bottom and sides with the vinegar and cut into wedges.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

For the balsamic vinegar, heat 6 tablespoons of vinegar in a small saucepan and cook down gently until it is reduced by half.  If you want to have some of these amazing taste treat on hand, just make extra and store it in the refrigerator.  This process goes quickly, so watch your pot carefully.



Holly B’s Rugelach

December 9, 2009

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Top three favorite smells coming out of my kitchen.  1) Any kind of brownies.  2) This granola.  3) Onions caramelizing.  And if I can extend the list to four, I would have to include this rugelach.  Jam, cinnamon, nuts, and cream cheese dough all doing magical things in the oven.

Up until today, I had never made a sweet rugelach before.  I have made savory ones as an appetizer (where is that recipe? ) but never the traditional kind.  UPDATE 2010:  I found that recipe and made it again.  Check it out here.

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Shauna shared some amazing gluten-free rugelach with me last week and hers were filled with quince paste and bittersweet chocolate.  Hello yum.  Because this was my first time making this recipe, I needed to stick closer to the rules.  Holly calls these Raspberry Rugelach but I did have to bend the rules a bit and make Blackberry Rugelah because blackberry jam is all I have in my house.  A woman named Linda who lives on Lopez Island makes positively transcendent jam so we always stock up every summer.  The fact that Lopez jam lives in these Lopez cookies seems just right.

These little cookies are not the most beautiful things I have ever made but the smell matches the taste.  Delicious.  Buttery, flaky, sweet and spicy.  They are also really fun to make. If you are a person who is afraid of working with dough, this is a great one to start with.  It is very forgiving and does just what you want it to.

You can buy Holly B’s wonderful cookbook by visiting this site.

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Raspberry or Blackberry Rugelach

With Love & Butter
Makes 18 small pastries

Definitely keep these little treasures on the small side – they look much better that way.  I have large cookie sheets so I crammed them all onto one pan.  A lot of jam leaked out and I just transferred them immediately to a wire rack to cool.  I didn’t bother with the two fork option described below.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
7 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/3 cup raspberry or blackberry jam
6 tbsp. raisins
6 tbsp. sliced almonds
6 tbsp. brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add the cream cheese and combine until smooth.  Mix in 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar and the vanilla.  Gradually stir in the flour, blending until just combined.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap loosely.  Shape the dough into a disk about 6 inches across and 1-inch thick and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.  (DT: I refrigerated mine overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the center position.  Line 1 large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Begin rolling the dough into a circle, keeping both sides lightly floured and free from sticking to th rolling pin and work surface.  Continue rolling the dough into a circle about 18 inches across and 1/8-inch thick.  (DT: Because I seemingly incapable of rolling dough into a circle, I just did the best I could and trimmed the edges to make it circular.)  Brush off the excess flour on both sides of the pastry.  Smear the jam over the dough, right up to the edges of the circle.

Combine the raisins, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining 6 tablespoons granulated sugar in a small bowl.  Distribute this mixture evenly over the jam.  Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, gently cut the wheel of dough into 18 wedges.

Starting at the wide base of each wedge, roll the dough into a little tube.  It will look like a tiny croissant without the curve.  Place the pastries 1 inch apart on the cookie sheet(s).  One pan at a time, bake 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake 5 to 10 minutes more.  The Rugelach will be done with light golden in color.  Remove the pan from the oven and use 2 forks to relocated each pastry to a clean place on the parchment for cooling.

Cool thoroughly, then dust lightly with powdered sugar if desired.  Store at room temperature for up to 2 days.  Rugelach dough can be frozen for up to 1 month without any adverse effects.



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