Archive for December, 2010

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese

December 5, 2010

Sometimes you need to cook for a crowd.  Sometimes that crowd is very mixed – young and old, male and female, picky and not picky.  You catch my drift.  I find it best in those situations to turn to good old macaroni and cheese.

Graham turned six (!) on November 28th (more thoughts on that milestone when I can actually write the post without crying).  We decided to have a party for him the day after Thanksgiving.  I found a very cool activity for the kids to do which happened to be right near our house.  As I was planning this little party, I felt very strongly that I wanted to have everyone (parents included) back to our house for dinner afterward.  And I felt even more strongly that I did not want to serve everyone the pizza fall-back that seems to be inescapable at a kids’ birthday party.

There is nothing wrong with pizza.  In fact, I love pizza and it is a terrific thing to serve to a mixed crowd, but I just got it in my head that I wanted to cook for these friends and family members.  Yes, we had just hosted 16 adults and 4 kids for Thanksgiving.  What can I say?  I got help with the turkey feast and also I am insane.

There was never really any doubt about what I wanted to make for the party but I wanted to change it up.  Since we all had just feasted on turkeys and stuffing and potatoes, I decided to lighten up the mac and cheese quite a bit.  A few years ago, I found a recipe for it using cauliflower in place of some of the milk and cheese.  I thought it turned out really well and I decided to re-visit that idea for Graham’s party.  I love mac and cheese as much as the next person but I always feel like it needs something else.  One note food tends to bore me after a few bites, no matter how delicious those bites are.  I decided to add some mustard for tang and heat, and some smoked paprika for some, well, smokiness.

Now, this is not spa food.  There is butter and there is milk (2% though!), and there is still a pound and a half of cheese here.  BUT.  There is also 2 pounds of pasta.  I made it to serve a large number of people.  Like 24 adults and 10 kids.  Not everyone ate it of course, but most did and I still had a bit left over.  Considering your standard mac and cheese has about a pound of cheese for 12 ounces of pasta, this is substantially lighter.  The cauliflower is virtually undetectable here.  I’m not a big fan of hiding vegetables in my kids’ food.  I want them to recognize vegetables for what they are and choose to eat them, not trick them into it.  But seeing as there is no way in hell that either of them would eat cauliflower willingly, I am glad that they got a little dose with their noodles.

I realize that you may not have many occasions to make such a large portion.  Nor may you have a pan to fit it all in.  I had a couple of large aluminum dishes that I bought for a long-ago catering job and that is what I used.  You can certainly fit all of this into two large baking dishes (like 13×9 or 15×10).  I’m also sure you can cut the recipe in half and just make a more normal sized (though still very generous) portion.  I did not test the recipe that way so I am giving it to you the way I made it.

Mac and Cheese Previously on Dana Treat: Gratinéed Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes, Three Cheese Mini-Macs
One Year Ago: Spicy Tomato Jam
Two Years Ago: Seitan Bourguingonne

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese
Dana Treat Original
Serves 20-25

In spite of the name of this dish, I almost never use macaroni when making mac and cheese.  It’s too small and boring for me.  Other short tubular shapes are more interesting.

1 large cauliflower (about 3 pounds), broken into florets
2 lbs. short tubular pasta (I used gemelli)
Olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
½ tsp. smoked paprika
3 cups 2% milk, divided
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
½ cup half-and-half
1 lb. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
½ lb. Gruyère, grated
Panko or breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375ºF with the rack in the middle.

Bring a large pot (at least 8 quart) of salted water to boil.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until fork tender.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a food processor.  Add more water to the pot and then add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, according to package instructions, then drain.  Toss the pasta with a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the mustard, smoked paprika, and 2 teaspoons of salt, to the food processor.  Pulse until chunky.  Pour in 2 cups of the milk through the feed tube and process until you have a smooth and loose purée, adding a bit more milk if it seems too thick.  You want it like extremely thick cream.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar type pot.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour darkens slightly in color and smells nutty, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the cauliflower purée and stir well.  Slowly pour in the remaining cup of milk and the half-and-half.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until rich and thick.  Turn off the heat, add both cheeses, and stir until everything is nice and melted.

Place the cooked pasta in a very large bowl.  Pour the sauce over top and carefully mix until the noodles are completely coated with sauce.  Butter one extra large or two large baking dishes and then pour the coated noodles in.  Sprinkle with either panko or bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake for another 10.  The center of the pan should feel hot.

Cupcakes and an Announcement

December 3, 2010

First, before I tell you about these cupcakes and how my feelings got hurt by a bunch of 5 and 6 year-olds, I must share some exciting news.  No, I am not coming out with a cookbook and no I’m not pregnant.  Hopefully someday on the first and never again on the second.

Starting next month, January 13th to be exact, I am going to be teaching regular cooking classes in my home kitchen.  This has been in the works for months and I finally have my tofu ducks in a row.  If you live near Seattle, or plan to be visiting some time soon, I’d love to have you!  Classes will be filled with food, wine, and lively conversation.  And no shortage of Dana Treats!  The classes scheduled for this winter are:

Vegetarian Basics – Beyond Pasta and Salad
Winter Seasonal Feast
Vegetarian (and Mostly Healthy) Mexican Food

More details, including dates, specific menus, and prices can be found under the “Classes” tab or you can just click here.


I have a summer birthday.  That means that all through grade school, my mom never came to my classroom to bring treats to share.  No classroom of 25 kids ever sang me happy birthday.  I am realizing, just now, that this may be one of the reasons that I am such a freak about my birthday.  The scars go deep.

So what is a mother with a November child and a February child to do?  Make extra special treats to bring to school every single birthday.  Just like I buy my kids whatever Halloween costume they want because my mom would never buy me a Halloween costume.  (I actually had a very nice childhood and my mom baked and bought me lots of things.)

Kids love cupcakes so I pulled down my Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes cookbook and decided to make these beauties.  I thought the pillowy topping, reminiscent of marshmallows, would be a huge hit and the almost universally loved flavor of Snickerdoodles would make these a slam dunk.

Alas, it was not to be.  I got some sneers and several kids actually came up to me and said, “I don’t want it.”  To that I said, “I don’t want it either so take it back to your seat.”  The teacher was mortified and I found that my feelings were really hurt – by kindergartners.  Do they know who I am?  That my treats are coveted by many?  My Graham, who made sure each child had their cupcake, ate his enthusiastically and yelled across the room, “It’s really good Mommy!”  Whether he really thought so or he was just trying to make me feel better – who knows.  But he ate his whole cupcake and incidentally, so did all the other kids, even the ones who said they didn’t want it.  Stinkers.

Two Years Ago:  Potato-Fennel Gratin

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes
Makes 24

1½ cups flour
1½ cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon, plus ½ tsp. for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1¾ cups sugar, plus 2 tbsp. for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cups whole milk
Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Sift together both the flours, baking powder, salt and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as  needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.  Cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

To finish, combine ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar.  Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip (Ateco #809 or Wilton #1A), pipe frosting on each cupcake.  Use a small, fine sieve to dust peaks with cinnamon-sugar.  Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are frosted; keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Seven-Minute Frosting
Makes about 8 cups

This is way more frosting than you will need for the cupcakes but I am reluctant to cut it in half in case it does not work for you.  Baking can be funny that way.

1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. sugar
2/3 cup water
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
6  large egg whites, room temperature

Combine 1½ cups sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230°F.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.  With mixer running add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating to combine.

As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230ºF, remove from heat.  With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream.  Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes.  Use immediately.  (DT: It took much longer than 7 minutes for my frosting to cool, more like 15.)

Inspired by The New Yorker

December 1, 2010

The New Yorker has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.  My parents, transplanted New Yorkers, have subscribed to it ever since they left The City in the early 70′s.  As a child, I would look through it every week, trying to find the Nina’s in the Hirschfield drawings and trying to understand the jokes that studded most of the pages.  As I got older, I would read the movie reviews and realized that if Pauline Kael actually liked something, you had to go see it asap.  I learned that some of the best short fiction was published in those pages and some of the best writing in this country, period.

When I moved into my first apartment after college, my mother’s housewarming gifts to me were a set of pots and a subscription to The New Yorker.  That was in 1993 and I have been getting it ever since.  Even in my dark days of exhaustion that comes with having newborn babies, I made every effort to read that magazine.  I may not have read anything else for four years, but I was always more or less caught up with The New Yorker.

Once a year, the magazine comes out with a food issue.  As you can imagine, it is heaven for me.  Amazing writing about food – I treasure every article.  This year, I was captivated by a recollection written by Chang-Rae Lee about growing up in a Korean household in New Rochelle.  In addition to telling a wonderful and heartfelt story, the writing in this article is extraordinary.  I am a good and fast reader.  I find that, these days, I skim a lot of what I read.  Sometimes I happen upon something that is so well-written that I calm down, slow down and savor.  I did that while reading Away by Amy Bloom while on vacation and I did it with this article.  There are some beautiful passages in there and the story really affected me.  (If you are a fiction lover and have not read Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, please go buy it from your local bookstore.  It shot right up into my top 5 favorite books I have ever read.)

This may sound trite, but one of the things that stuck with me from that article is the following:

“She cooks an egg for me each morning without fail.  I might also have it with fried Spam or cereal or a slice of American cheese, which I’ll unwrap myself and fold over into sixteen rough-edged pieces, but always there is a fried egg, sunny-side up, cooked in dark sesame oil that pools on the surface of the bubbled-up white in the pattern of an archipelago; try one sometime, laced with soy and sweet chili sauce along with steamed rice, the whole plate flecked with nori.  It’ll corrupt you for all time.”

OK.  Corrupt me.  I could not get that idea out of my head.

In general the words “rice bowl” are intoxicating to me in the way that the word “chateaubriand” might be to someone else.  I had to make this.  But.  I also had to change it, add to it.  Make it more about the rice and less about the egg.  As I started to create my version of the dish, I realized it was starting to look an awful lot like this rice bowl and so I went off in a slightly different direction.

Here is what I ended up with.  Brown rice studded with scallions, grated fresh ginger, sesame seeds, and avocado chunks.  Tofu and red pepper marinated and baked in a mixture of tamari, sesame oil, sherry, and kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce).  That sunny side-up egg is cooked in sesame oil like described and the whole thing is topped with a healthy dose of sweet chili sauce and all together it tasted nothing like the stuffings and mashed things of last week.  In other words, it was awesome.

A few notes.  I cook brown rice like I cook pasta and you should too.  It will not end up mushy if you make it this way.  Instructions are below.  I really like the flavor of tamari, so I try to use that when using soy sauce.  You can use whatever you have on hand.  Kecap manis, as I mentioned, is a type of sweet and very thick soy sauce, and I have fallen in love with the flavor.  It adds a lot here, but if you don’t have any, you can just add another tablespoon of tamari and a tablespoon of honey to the marinade instead.  (The dish will no longer be vegan in that case.)

One Year Ago:  Holly B’s Stollen
Two Years Ago:  Breton Apple Pie

Brown Rice Bowl with Soy Sauce Marinated Tofu and a Fried Egg

Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

For the Tofu
10 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
3 tbsp. tamari, or other soy sauce, divided
1 tbsp. sesame oil, plus more for frying the eggs
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1-2 tbsp. kecap manis

For the rice
1 cup short-grain brown rice
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 small avocado, cut into ½-inch chunks
3-4 eggs
Sweet chili sauce (such as Sambal Olek)

Make the tofu
In a medium baking dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the tamari, sesame oil, sherry, and kecap manis.  Add the tofu and the red bell pepper and gently stir to coat all the pieces with the marinade.  Allow to sit for at least half an hour and up to 8 hours.  Cover and refrigerate if longer than 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until almost all the marinade has been absorbed, about 40 minutes.  Set aside.

Make the rice
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the rice and cook, keeping at a boil, until tender but with a slight bite, about 35 minutes.  Taste often to make sure you don’t overcook it.  Drain and allow to cool just slightly.  In a bowl, combine the cooked rice with the remaining 1 tablespoon of tamari, the sesame seeds, grated ginger, the white and pale green part of the scallions, and the avocado.  Use a rubber spatula to stir so that it doesn’t become too mushy.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Carefully break the eggs into the skillet, trying to make sure they don’t touch one another.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cover.  Cook until the whites of the egg are set but the yolk is still soft, about 5 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove the eggs to a paper towel-lined plate.

Finish the dish
Place a portion of rice in a bowl.  Top with pieces of the tofu and red pepper.  Lay a fried egg on top.  Garnish with the dark part of the scallions, chili paste, and more tamari to taste.

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