Archive for November, 2010

Mini Macs

November 15, 2010

Let’s face it.  Macaroni and cheese makes most people happy.  It really doesn’t matter how old those people are.  It’s just a happy dish and it’s tasty.  Mac and cheese = tasty.  Small things also make people happy.  Mini cupcakes, muffins, petits fours.  People think they are cute.  Mini things = cute.  So what we have here is tasty and cute.  It could be worse.

If you want to have a guaranteed hit on your party menu, make these little guys.  The look on people’s faces as you pull them out of the oven (that combination of “that smells so good” “they are so cute!” and “mac and cheese!”) is priceless.  I would make these for every single event I do, but they really need oven time right before serving.  Sometimes I am catering a party where that is not an option, so they don’t appear on the menu.  I have made them a few hours in advance and then just reheated them right before party time.  It works but they really are best if you bake them off just as guests are arriving.

This recipe calls for good old American cheese slices presumably for their melt-ability.  This last time, I went for the more “natural” version – Horizon brand – and I have to tell you they were better with the cheap stuff.  Just like you want to bake with Jif rather than an all-natural brand of peanut butter, you want to make these with Kraft rather than the all-natural.

One Year Ago: Creamy Artichoke Dip
Two Years Ago: Bulghur and Green Lentil Salad with Chickpeas

Three-Cheese Mini Macs
Adapted from Food & Wine
Makes 48 Mini Macs

½ pound elbow macaroni
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp. flour
¾ cup milk
4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded (1 packed cup)
4 ounces deli-sliced American cheese, chopped
1 large egg yolk
¼ tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 5 minutes.  Drain, shaking off the excess water.

Spray four 12-cup nonstick mini muffin tins with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. Parmesan.

In a large saucepan, melt the 1½ tablespoons of butter.  Whisk in the flour over moderate heat for 2 minutes.  Whisk in teh milk and cook, whisking, until boiling, about 5 minutes.  Add the Cheddar and American cheeses and whisk until melted.  Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolk and paprika.  Fold in the macaroni.

Spoon slightly rounded tablespoons of the macaroni into the prepared muffin cups, packing them gently.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan on top.

Bake the mini macs in the upper and middle thirds of the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden and sizzling.  Let cool for 5 minutes.  Using a small spoon, carefully loosen the mini macs, transfer to a platter and serve.

Ode to Tom Douglas

November 11, 2010

Eating out has always been important to my family.  This was challenging in the days before Seattle became a city with good restaurants.  We used to drive regularly from Mercer Island to Magnolia (to go to Szmania’s) for a decent meal.  If you are not local, that is about a 40 minute drive and it involves two bridges.  Another favorite of ours was a place called Café Sport which was housed right near the famous Pike Place Market, which was closer and it only involved one bridge.  The chef there was a man named Tom Douglas and the food was innovative, interesting, and delicious.  It wasn’t long before he started creating his own restaurants.  He now has a virtual empire.

Douglas has just opened a brand new spot but aside from that one, I have eaten at his other five restaurants.  I really like all of them.  The food focus ranges from pizza to seafood to casual bistro to quintessential Northwest, and most of the time he nails it.  Something I deeply appreciate is that there is always interesting vegetarian food to choose from.  In a town where you sometimes feel lucky to even get an option on a menu, Douglas usually give you two and both of them sound terrific.

Of all of his gems, I think my favorite is Palace Kitchen.  It has a terrific bar front and center with friendly and knowledgeable bartenders and giant bowls of pistachio nuts to crunch on while you drink your French 75.  The food is hearty and casual but always interesting and seasonal.  And they have the most amazing salad.

He calls it “Enormous Garlic Crouton and Romaine Lettuce with Parmesan Dressing”.  I love that.  It is most definitely Caesar in spirit and for me the very best thing about a Caesar salad is the croutons.  Why not just make a giant one?  Palace Kitchen’s is perfect.  Crunchy on the outside but soft enough on the inside that you don’t break your teeth trying to eat it.  It has enough flavor that I suspect it is cooked browned in a pan with butter and then rubbed down with a raw garlic clove.  Yes, the dressing is wonderful and the Parmesan is the good stuff, but it is really all about that crouton.

I ate that salad the other night before an event at his party venue, and again I marveled at how good it is.  Time to attempt a re-creation.  Recently I have been making a Caesar-like dressing that I like a lot so I bathed whole romaine leaves in it and sprinkled them with my best Parmesan.  I decided to see if I could just douse giant cubes of sourdough bread in olive oil, sprinkle them with salt, and bake them in the oven.  And guess what.  I could!  My bad news is that I actually forgot I was doing that and so, they there were a little more done than I wanted.  The other bad news about that is that, as I give you the recipe, I am not exactly sure how long to tell you to bake those heavenly croutons.  Forgive me?

One Year Ago: Orange Swirls
Two Years Ago: Spinach and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Romaine Leaves with Caesar Dressing and a Big Crouton
Inspired by Palace Kitchen
Serves 2

2 roughly 2-inch by 2-inch cubes of bread, cut from a sourdough loaf, crust trimmed off
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup low fat mayonnaise
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
5 dashes Tabasco sauce
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 romaine heart, end trimmed and leaves separated

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Place the bread cubes on a small baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Turn the cubes a few times on the sheet to make sure they are evenly coated with oil.  Place them in the oven and bake until they are lightly browned, but still have a bit of give to them when pushed hard.  I’m guessing mine were in the oven about 20 minutes before I remembered they were in there, so check yours around 15 minutes.  Once they are done, rub each of them with one garlic clove.

Using a garlic press, press the other clove of garlic into a medium bowl.  Add the mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Using a whisk, mix together well.  Add the olive oil in a slow steady stream, whisking the whole time.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  If the dressing seems too thick, you can add more olive oil or even a bit of warm water and whisk well.

One by one, drizzle each leaf of romaine with the dressing and sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese.  Arrange the croutons along with the romaine on a serving platter.  Serve with additional dressing and Parmesan.

Mushroom Redemption

November 9, 2010

Before we had children, one of our very favorite things to do was go to the theatre.  Each year we would get season tickets to either the Seattle Rep or the Intiman and see incredibly high quality shows.  One year, we did a special deal where, in addition to the tickets, we got a fixed price dinner (with a deep discount) and a restaurant right nearby.  The place is nice inside and the food was fine and we always enjoyed our evening.

This year, after only seeing a show here and there for the past four years, we got season tickets to the Rep.  We will see eight plays over the course of their season.  We have already been to two and I have to say it is so nice to have this part of my life back.  The other night, Randy and I went to see Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women and, for old time’s sake, decided to eat at that old restaurant.

It’s still a sweet place but the menu is almost exactly the same as when we last dined there, about four years ago.  That is never a good sign.  Worse, my food – which was always passable before – was pretty terrible.  My salad was soggy and there is not much I like less than soggy salad.  My main course, a wild mushroom risotto, was nearly inedible.  It was barely warm, chalky and mushy, with bits of undercooked sweet potato (huh?) scattered throughout and bits of brown that I could only guess were mushrooms.  As a nod to the “wild” part of wild mushroom risotto, there were a couple of chanterelles charred almost beyond recognition sitting atop the mush as a garnish, along with a giant sprig of tarragon (again, huh?).

Eating such a terrible dish made me want to give mushrooms a better experience.  Allow them to shine all their glory instead of hiding them throughout overcooked rice.  When I was planning to make the fregola the other night, I had a sense that it was going to be on the lighter side.  I felt like our dinner could use a more substantial side than just the green beans I had in my refrigerator.

This flavor packed side dish stars some Asian ingredients but it really would go with just about anything.  It’s the kind of thing that you keep picking up pieces to taste, long after you have decided that the seasoning is spot on.  I used cremini, shiitake, and chanterelle mushrooms, but any would be good here.  If you are going to roast whole shallots, as the recipe instructs you to do, I would use very small ones.  If yours are large, I would slice them into rounds and roast them that way instead of cutting then into quarters like I did.

Mushroom Sides Previously on Dana Treat: Asparagus and Grilled Shiitake with Ginger Soy Vinaigrette, Mushrooms with White Wine
One Year Ago:  Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts
Two Years Ago: Eggplant Rollatini with Capellini

Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots with Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4 to 6

2½ tbsp. dark sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1¼ pounds mixed mushrooms (DT: I left mine whole, but you can cut in half)
10 small shallots, peeled
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil with the garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.  Spread the mushrooms on a baking sheet and drizzle with the sesame oil mixture; toss to coat.  Season with salt.  (DT: be very careful with the salt since soy sauce is so salty.)  Roast the mushrooms for about 30 minutes, until tender and glazed.

Meanwhile, on a second rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the shallots with the remaining ½ tablespoon of sesame oil; toss to coat.  Season with salt and roast for about 25 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and tender.

Place the mushrooms and shallots together in a bowl and add all the herbs.  Toss well to coat the vegetables with the herbs.  Serve warm.

Dinner for Karen

November 8, 2010

It is early November in Seattle and that means several things.  The loss of daylight savings and therefore the return of the darkness settling in around 4:30pm (and it only gets worse), it means the wind picking up and the rain becoming more steady.  It means piles of wet leaves everywhere that no child would ever want to jump into.  It means starting to prepare myself for a large bird that will take up residence in my oven for the better part of a day.  It means birthday month for my son, my mother, my niece, my best friend, my best friend’s son, two of my kids’ closest friends, and others in my life.  And it means Karen is in town.

Karen and I were both theatre majors  in college.  Being two years ahead of me, I didn’t get to take that  many classes with her and we were never in a production together, but we were very close friends.  Her father was a professor at the college and I got to be very close with her family as well as they invited me over for Passover Seders, and allowed me to store my boxes of stuff at their house each summer.  (As a thank you, I would bring them an incredible luxury each fall.  Starbucks coffee!  It was a delicacy then.  Now, of course, there is a Starbucks in the small Connecticut town.)

Some people say that a theatre major is totally useless.  I would disagree.  Learning how to speak in front of people and the art of self-awareness; learning how to work together with other actors, how to take direction, and how to make friends with another species (the technical crew); learning how to juggle a school schedule while rehearsing until after midnight every night – all those things have actually really helped me in my life.  But I never “did” anything with my major.

Karen is another story.  As she got nearer to graduation, she realized that her real interest lay in casting.  She left college and took a $75/week internship with a casting director in New York.  She worked hard and got offered a real job.  Then she made a move to Los Angeles.  Then she got a very cool job at CBS.  Then she got an even cooler job at CBS which is being the casting director for comedies.  She has had that job for the past ten years or so.

There is a comedy festival in Seattle every year around this time and she has made it up almost every year.  It is such a treat to have her in town and such an interesting marker of our years as friends.  I remember sitting in her hotel room and telling her how my first marriage was falling apart.  We spent election night of 2000 running up to the bar from the comedy club checking on the results and crossing our fingers that it all would turn out all right (which for both of us, it didn’t).  There were years that I was pregnant and years that she was.  There were years I was nursing and years she was pumping.  She first met both of my boys on these November trips.  I have been so grateful that I get to see her at least once a year.

This time, she came in a little earlier than usual and we got last night together.  A night out in a restaurant sounded tempting but what I really wanted was to cook for her and to allow her to relax in our home with our boys.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have been in a bit of rut lately but when I was paging through my latest issue of Food & Wine, this recipe jumped out at me.  When something sticks in my addled brain, as this dish did, I know I need to make it.

What you see here is a mixture of fregola (which is very similar to Israeli couscous) and grated cauliflower all mixed together with a bit of broth, a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, and fresh mint.  It is sitting on a bed of surprisingly fantastic cauliflower purée and topped with oven roasted tomatoes.  I usually find the recipes in Food & Wine to be spot on but there was something missing here.  It was still a delightful dish and I would gladly fill a bowl with that purée and go to town with a spoon.  But the fregola needed something else.  A sprinkling of cumin during the simmer perhaps or an addition of caramelized onions that have been very finely chopped.  Or olives.  Or all three.  Just a bit more flavor to make it really main course material.

One Year Ago: Apple Pie Bars
Two Years Ago: Cowgirl Cookies

Fregola with Minted Cauliflower
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4

In addition to needing more flavor, I thought this dish needed more purée.  The original recipe instructs you to only use half a cauliflower and to grate one of those halves and purée the other.  I think you should purée the ¾ of the cauliflower that you aren’t grating and if you have any left over, you can use it as a side with another dish.

1 head cauliflower
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. water
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
Kosher salt
½ pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil
1½ cups fregola
¾ cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup mint leaves, torn

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Cut the cauliflower in half and cut one of the halves in half again.  Grate one of the quarters on the large holes of a box grater, stopping when you reach the stems; you should have about 1 cup of grated cauliflower that resembles coarsely grated Parmesan.  Finely chop the stems and add to the grated.  Set aside.

Roughly chop the rest of the cauliflower.  Put in in a saucepan along with the cream, water and 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Season with salt.  Cover and cook over moderate heat until the cauliflower is tender and the liquid nearly evaporated, 8 minutes.  If the liquid is gone before the cauliflower is tender, add a bit more water.  Scrape the mixture into a food processor and purée until very smooth.  Wipe out the saucepan and return the purée to it; keep warm.

In a small baking dish or on a small baking sheet, drizzle the tomatoes lightly with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and mix well.  Roast for about 10 minutes, just until the skins start to burst.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the fregola and cook until al dente.  Drain the fregola and return it to the pot.  Add the vegetable broth, crushed red pepper, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook over low heat, stirring until the sauce is creamy, adding more liquid if necessary.  Stir in the grated cauliflower and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mint.

Spoon the cauliflower purée onto plates.  Top with the fregola and roasted tomatoes and serve immediately.

Getting Out of the Rut

November 4, 2010

It’s been over two weeks since I last posted a main course recipe.  It hasn’t been two weeks since I cooked a main course, but sometimes cooking and posting do not go hand in hand.  Truthfully, I have been in a bit of a cooking rut lately.  I feel restless and agitated which is not conducive to good menu planning.  When I feel this way, I tend to want to revisit things I have already made and that does not an interesting food blog make.  (Curiously, I seem to have no problem with baking.  Hmmm.)

The best way to get out of a rut, in my opinion, is to choose a type of cuisine that you love and then turn to a cookbook that you trust.  In my ennui, I picked up my still relatively new but already much beloved copy of Plenty and begged it to inspire me.  Of course, it did.

The mere fact that I have a “noodles” category on my side bar (which is different from the “pasta” category) should tell you that I am passionate about Asian noodles.  I will happily eat any variety but I think rice noodles are my favorite.  Pair them with a homemade curry paste and coconut milk and we are venturing into “I could eat this everyday” territory.  I’ve made other variations on this theme before but this particular recipe had me swooning.  The curry paste is incredibly flavorful and actually, not hot.  I seeded my chiles because, although I love spice, you just never know.  I won’t next time.

Some notes and tips.  Ottolenghi instructs you to toss both the cooked noodles and broccolini with sesame oil.  I opted out of that to keep the dish healthier and also because I couldn’t see that distinctive sesame flavor as welcome here.  I made the mistake of adding Kaffir lime leaves to both the paste and the noodles and wow – yum.  I’ll continue to do that.  Ottolenghi says you can make this noodle dish with a store-bought green curry paste in a pinch but I say his paste is precisely what makes it taste magical, as stated above.  Do yourself a favor and double it.  This kind of paste can keep for several weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.  The changes I made are reflected in the recipe below.

One Year Ago: Holly B’s Lemon Sour Cream Muffins and Tomato Leek Soup
Two Years Ago: Harira Soup and Fattoush Salad

Broccolini with Rice Noodles
Adapted from Plenty
Serves 4

My Whole Foods always has Kaffir lime leaves.  Wide rice noodles are specified in the book but I couldn’t find them so I used Pad Thai width.  I would avoid the ones that are angel hair width.

1 pound broccolini, cut into florets with long stems
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. brown sugar
7  Kaffir lime leaves
1 14-ounce can “lite” coconut milk
1 14-ounce package rice noodles
Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for garnish
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Spice Paste
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium green chiles, seeded (or not) and roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, outer layer and tough ends removed, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 small shallot, roughly chopped
7 Kaffir lime leaves
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
Grated zest and juice of 1 small lime

Start by making the paste.  Place all the ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor and blend to a paste.  You might need to stop once or twice to scrape the mixture back down from the sides of the bowl or add a little water to it to loosen it up.

Sauté the onion with the oil in a medium saucepan for 3 or 4 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the curry paste and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.  Add a teaspoon of salt, the sugar, lime leaves and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Bring two medium saucepans of salted water to a boil  In one, cook the rice noodles for 3-6 minutes (check the package instructions and don’t overcook them).  In the other cook the broccolini for 2 minutes.  Drain each one and run cold water over them, running your fingers through the noodles to make sure they aren’t sticking together.  Squeeze the lime juice over the noodles and sprinkle with salt.

Divide the noodles among shallow bowls and top with the broccolini.  Spoon the sauce over top and garnish with the chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

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