Archive for May, 2011

Pedestrian Tastes

May 16, 2011

The other day I was talking with my friend Julie about pedestrian tastes.  Like, no matter how much you love food and no matter how great your palate is, there are some pedestrian things that you just love.  Pedestrian as in low-brow, even a little trashy perhaps.  I remember reading that Jeffrey Steingarten – food columnist for Vogue, judge on Iron Chef, and food snob extraordinaire – always travels with a stash of Milky Way bars because they are his favorite and he wouldn’t want to be stranded somewhere without one.  Now, I am not a food columnist or a judge for a TV show but I can be kind of a food snob.  But boy, do I love Chex Mix.  And Kettle Korn.  And while I have not stepped foot in a McDonalds in probably 15 years, I still remember their fries as being some of the best I have ever tasted.  And speaking of fries  – Red Robin.  Love them.

So here we are.  This is a no-bake slightly white-trash morsel disguised as something fancier.  Rice Krispies made round with peanut butter (Jif brand if you are me) and sugar, rolled in melted white chocolate and dusted with sprinkles.  I made a double batch of them so I would have enough for last weekend’s yoga retreat and for various treat-needing functions.  My boys eyed them in a “I don’t know what that is but it has sprinkles on it, so I will try it” kind of way and then gave me their highest praise.  “You’re a good cooker Mommy!”

By the way, check back Tuesday and Thursday this week for more giveaways.  And you have one more day to enter to win the Guy Fieri cookbook.

One Year Ago: Chickpeas with Lemon and Pecorino Romano and Potato Salad with Snap Peas
Two Years Ago: Moroccan Carrot and Hummus Sandwiches and Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Chickpeas, and Cumin

White Bark Balls
The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Makes about 3 dozen balls

1½ cups Rice Krispies
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
¾ pound white chocolate
Colored sugar for sprinkling (optional)

1.  Combine the Rice Krispies, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, and butter in a medium bowl, and mix until very well combined.  Firmly compress into balls 1½ inches in diameter.  Place on a baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours, or overnight.

2.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.  Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat, stirring until completely smooth.  Pour the chocolate into a wide shallow bowl.  Working quickly, in small batches, roll the chilled balls in the chocolate, turning gently with a fork.  Transfer to wax paper.  If desired, sprinkle the tops of the cookies with colored sugar.

3.  Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator long enough for the chocolate to become firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour, then transfer the ball to an airtight container.  (The balls can be stored in a cool place for up to 3 days or refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.)

This is Not a Guy Fieri Recipe

May 11, 2011

As a food blogger, I get offers from time to time.  Most of them are for things that actually make me laugh.  Why on earth would I want to publicize your product/blog/web site/personality if I have never heard of it or you?  Why would I want to give away a ham on my blog?  Here is a hint, check out my site and then ask me if I want to talk to the pork commission.

Sometimes something cool comes my way, like an offer to receive a “review copy” of a cookbook.  The thinking is that the publisher sends a copy of a new book to me, I like it, and talk it up on my blog.  Since I am always talking about cookbooks I like anyway, this is not a stretch for me.  A while back, I received an offer for Guy Fieri’s newest cookbook.  While getting a new free book in the mail was tempting, I sent a polite email back to the publisher thanking them but also explaining that Guy and I don’t really cook the same way.  I had never actually looked at any of his books, but I know enough about him and his tastes to think that others would appreciate the free book more than me.

Two weeks ago, this was sitting on my door step when I came home.  Now, I have nothing against Guy.  I have nothing against his food or his cooking.  It’s just not my style.  I know that dishes like Texas Hold ‘Em Sandwich and Crab and Asparagus Pizza and Chicken Avocado Egg Rolls might sound good to many people, but not to me.  No judgment, just not my thing.

This is more my thing.  I considered calling this post “This is Not Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables” because, if I had wanted, I could have had that very dish at all three of our dinners last weekend.  Apparently, that dish is what vegetarians are offered in the Napa Valley at this time of year.  I opted out of the third night because, as good as Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables can be, by the third night I was ready for a little something different.  Unfortunately, we were at Bouchon where my only other choices were side dishes and was that macaroni and cheese cheesy.  In other words, I came home feeling, as I often do after vacation, like I needed something very clean and healthy served alongside a large glass of water.

I played with this recipe a bit, making it even healthier than originally written.  If you are the type that things healthy means boring, I urge you to try this dish.  It is a 180 from the type of food we ate last weekend and probably Guy Fieri’s food, but no less flavorful.

Back to Guy.  I want to give this book away.  I don’t need it and I know one of you out there would benefit from some Guy in your kitchen.  This is the first of my giveaways to celebrate my three years blogging and 500 posts.  For that post I answered some FAQ’s.  Is there anything you want to know about me or the types of things I cook with or make?  Leave your question in the comments.  No question?  Just leave a comment with your favorite cookbook and I will pick a winner from the group.

One Year Ago:  Orange Grand Marnier Cake, 2 Amazing Sandwiches
Two Years Ago:
Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce, 2 Dips for Vegetables

Stir-Fried Sesame Broccoli and Tofu with Rice Noodles
Inspired by Deborah Madison
Serves 4

This recipe originally called for bean thread noodles but I couldn’t find any.  I substituted very thin (angle hair width) rice noodles which were great.  I would definitely try it with bean thread if you can find them.

10 ounces extra-firm tofu
6 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. roasted sesame oil
8 ounces very thin rice noodles
1 pound broccoli, cut into florets
Kosher salt
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, covered with near-boiling water
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced or grated
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
4 scallions, including the greens, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. mirin
2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
Sesame seeds, for garnish

Cut the tofu into ¾-inch cubes.  In a shallow dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the rice wine vinegar, brown sugar and the sesame oil.  Add the tofu to the dish and turn to coat.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to boil.  Have a bowl of ice water ready.  Put the dry noodles in a large bowl.  Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water and allow to cook for 1 minute.  Turn off the heat and scoop the broccoli into the ice water bath.  Take the very hot water and carefully pour it over the rice noodles.  Drain the broccoli and set aside.  Once the noodles are tender, drain them as well and add them to the broccoli.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the tofu (no need for any oil at this point) and dry fry until the tofu is browned on all sides.  Add the remaining marinade to coat the tofu, then scrape it out onto a plate and season with salt.

Replace the skillet to the burner.  Add the vegetable oil followed by the ginger, garlic, jalapeño, and scallions.  Stir fry for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and their soaking liquid, taking care to hold back any sediment at the bottom of the bowl.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add the tofu, noodles, and broccoli and toss well to combine.  Stir together the remaining soy sauce and mirin and pour over the noodles.  Toss well again.  Stir in the cilantro and garnish with the sesame seeds.

3 Years and 500 Posts

May 9, 2011

Friends – can you believe it?  With a little work and good solid use of a calendar, I was able to coincide my 500th post and my three year blog anniversary.  I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has ever read my blog, recommended my blog, commented on my blog, told me you liked my blog, or had any positive interaction with me and my blog.  I sound like I’m kidding but I’m not.  Three years ago if you had asked me where I would be with this thing three years in the future, I probably would have said that I had given it up long ago, or I had a cookbook deal.  Neither is the case and that is just fine with me.  I like my little space in the blogosphere and I really do thank you for being here with me.

I know many food bloggers have FAQ pages.  Truthfully, I don’t get that many questions through email but the ones I get tend to be the same.  So here are the answers to those questions.  I also get a lot of cooking related questions in my classes decided to share those answers too.

What kind of pans do you use?

I have quite a few pans.  I have an assortment of All-Clad stainless steel pots which I have had for about eight years and I have had great success with them.  They work well but they do not move me.  I also have three Le Crueset pans that I am emotional about.  I have a cast iron skillet which I need to season but I do love and I also have two non-stick pans which I use primarily for eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches.

What kind of oil do you use in your cooking?

Unless I am making Asian or Mexican food, I use olive oil in my cooking.  Extra virgin olive oil.  Now, to be clear – I don’t do a lot of pan-frying.  There are no steaks or chicken breasts in my pans.  I am mostly sautéing fairly quickly and olive oil works great for me.  For Asian or Mexican food, I find I want a more neutral tasting oil so I turn to canola oil.  Canola oil, in addition to being virtually tasteless, has a higher smoke point than olive oil which means you can cook at a higher temperature without your pan smoking.  Other good high smoke point oils are safflower and grapeseed.

I buy my cooking olive oil at Costco.  Although I use a light hand with oil in my cooking, I cook a lot and I go through a lot of oil.  I need quantity and I don’t want to pay a fortune.  I have found that the Kirkland brand that comes in a glass bottle, not the type that comes in two plastic jugs, is decent for cooking.  I always have a finer and tastier olive oil on hand for salad dressings and drizzling.  I don’t have a favorite – I just spend about $20-$25 on each bottle and taste all different ones.

What kind of salt do you use?

When cooking, I use kosher salt, Diamond brand to be exact.  I keep a ramekin of it by my stove at all times.  When baking, I use table salt, unless a recipe specifically says to use kosher salt.  I use sea salt (and I have a variety of them) as a finishing salt only, like a garnish.

What kind of knife do you use?

I have an assortment.  In my knife block, you will find Shun, Global, Wustorf, and various others.  I believe that a knife is a deeply personal thing.  Everyone’s hands are different and everyone’s style of chopping is different.  The most important thing you can do is hold a variety of knives and see which feels best to you.  Most people will tell you that you only need a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife.  I believe this – I just happen to have a variety of chef’s knives.  I also like having a tomato knife for cutting citrus.

Where do you shop?

I shop all over the place.  I would love to say that I do one big shop per week but I find it next to impossible to accomplish that.  I try to do one big basic shop in a regular grocery store (or using Amazon Fresh) and then hit up Whole Foods or PCC (a local Whole Foods-like store) for more specialized ingredients.  In the summer time,  I usually hit between two and four farmers markets a week.  Consequently, the amount of time I spend in food stores is ridiculous and our grocery bill is through.the.roof.

Are your kids veg?

Yes, my kids are vegetarian.  They have never eaten meat.  They are now old enough to know that they are vegetarian and what that means.  They also understand that other people eat meat and that is just fine.  For now, they are happy with this arrangement.  I assume that someday, they will turn to me and say, “Wait a second, I want a hamburger!”  I will accept them making that choice as long as they understand that all the food I cook is vegetarian.

Does your husband eat meat?


Does that bother you?


How does that work exactly?

It works for two big reasons.  One is that I am the cook in the house and two is that Randy is a good eater.  He eats strictly veg at home (I never cook meat) and will eat meat or fish when we are out or at someone else’s house.

Do your kids eat all the crazy things you make?

I wish I could say yes but the answer is no.  We are in the habit of feeding our kids first, around 6:00, and then eating our dinner together later.  This habit started because for many years, Randy would come home from work after the kids were in bed.  I found that I liked having dinner just the two of us.  We are busy people with busy lives and I enjoy being about to carve our a quick dinner together before the chaos of boys’ bedtime ensues.  Consequently, the boys usually eat something different, something more kid friendly than what we have.  I feed them well and always try to introduce new tastes to them and in general they are very good eaters, especially Graham.  We always ate together as a family when I was a kid and Randy did too with his family.  We are committed to making that happen as the kids get a little older.

Did you go to cooking school?

Nope.  I am a self-taught cook and baker.  I have taken classes here and there along the way that have helped me refine certain skills but most of what I know I taught myself.  Having over 150 cookbooks helps.

I hate my day job!  I want to quit and do what you do!  How do I get started?

I got this question a lot when I was working as a personal chef with regular clients.  I still have people asking me how to break into personal chef-ing/catering/teaching cooking classes.  For me, it happened very slowly.  I had one young baby when I started and I didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy so I built my very small business very slowly.  My very first client fell into my lap and I built from there.  I always encourage people to do a lot of research – what are other people doing in your area, how can you set yourself apart?  I have been fortunate in that the money I have brought in has been extra – not something we needed for our family budget – so I was never under pressure to make a living at cooking.  In my experience, it would have been difficult to really make enough money for it to make sense as a full time job, but people do it.  In general, I have worked very hard and have done the very best I can do with every personal chef meal, event I have catered, and class I have taught.  It is easy to try hard when you love what you do.

I want to take a class with you!  Have you added any more to the schedule?

Why yes, I have!  I added another Thai class to June and I will be teaching two baking classes.  Come join me!

With all the treats you bake, how do you not weigh 300 pounds?

There is a simple answer and a complex answer to this question.  The simple answer is that although the baking I do is full-fat and decadent, most of my cooking is very light and healthy.  I really like healthy food and don’t use a lot of oil, butter, dairy, or much cheese in my savory food.  I do taste everything I bake but I don’t eat very much of it.  I like to have something sweet after dinner but most of the time, I can be satisfied with just a bite or two.  The more complex answer will come someday perhaps to this blog, after some soul-searching and some therapy.  :)

Again, thank you to all of you for reading, emailing, commenting, and just being swell in general.  Check back soon, I will be doing some celebratory giveaways.


May 6, 2011

Before I get to today’s post, I just wanted to let you know that I have added a few classes to my calendar.  If you have ever wanted to learn some baking skills, using four different doughs and one batter, check out my class 4 Doughs, 1 Batter.  It is sure to be a fun and delicious class!  Details on the classes page.

Is it Friday yet?  I thought this week would pass very quickly.  Saturday marks the two year anniversary of doing yoga retreats with my friend Jen.  Because I can no longer be trusted to keep track of my calendar in my brain, I planned a trip away with Randy and some friends over the very same weekend.  So, for the fist time in 12 retreats, I will not be on Bainbridge getting my yoga on.  Before you cry for me, I will be in Napa getting my sun, wine, spa, and food on – so I will not be suffering greatly.  But I treasure those retreats and the amazing people who attend them.  I will be sad to miss the group.

I could not leave Jen in a lurch food-wise so I offered to make the food anyway.  Usually, I have the better part of a week to get ready for a lunch for 25 people – this time it was compressed.  Menu planning, shopping, cooking and food delivery all had to happen within a span of a few days.  In other words, I had a whole lot to get done before that plane left with me and a large glass of wine on it.

So, with much to do and not a lot of time to do it in, I figured the days would fly.  And then on Sunday, Spencer, my four-year old, decided to try and go down a slide with a plate of food in hand.  He fell and fractured his wrist.  A buckle fracture, which is not that severe, but still pain, an x-ray, and a splint.  Oh, and a very mad little boy who did not want to be injured and did not want to show his friends at preschool his fancy splint.

On Tuesday, I got the call that Graham, my six-year old, got pushed at school and went head first into the white board.  The words “gash” and “scar” were used and it was all I could do to hold it together.  Back to the pediatrician we went where we learned that it had been cleaned well, did not need stitches, and would most likely not scar.  But our doctor did reinforce my belief that if he had lifted his head even 1 millimeter as he hit, he would have lost his eye.

By that night, the persistant stuffiness in my nose that I was trying to believe was allergies turned into a full-blown cold.  Much nose blowing, coughing, and mouth-breathing ensued.

So my week did not fly.  It dragggggged.  I had too much to do; cooking for Saturday, trying to prep for classes I am teaching next week, planning for future classes, attempting to stay on top of my day to day, and my family – including me – was falling apart around me.  Food was starting to feel like work.  This happens to me sometimes.  My art, the thing I love most to do, becomes no fun.  And it’s not like I can walk away – we all need to eat.  Three times a day preferably.

It is times like these that I reach for nourishing dishes.  Nurturing and nourishing.  Of course, I always want to nourish, it’s just sometimes I need it.  The inspiration for this recipe comes from a book called Plenty and no, it’s not the Ottolenghi one.  Believe it or not, I have two cookbooks called Plenty, both written by English authors.  This Plenty, like the other, is a treasure of seasonal, healthy, interesting recipes.  Unlike Ottolenghi’s, this Plenty features plenty of meat.  But it is the rare cookbook that I am happy to put on my shelf, even though I can only make a small percentage of the recipes.

I tweaked this recipe significantly.  I probably could have just made it up myself and it would have been just as lovely.  But with my stuffed up head and my slightly dented heart, it was nice to have a little guidance.

One Year Ago:  Gianduja Gelato and Spaghettini with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon
Two Years Ago:  Niçoise Salad and Mexican Brownies

Kaye Korma Curry
Adapted from Plenty
Serves 4

I used asparagus for something green in this dish because I had some in my refrigerator.  Not quite right – too vegetal.  Try using a small handful of trimmed green beans or 1 small chopped zucchini instead.

Canola oil
2 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 inch piece fresh garlic, peeled and minced
½ tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
8 ounces fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled, halved, and sliced on a diagonal
1 pound red potatoes, cut into chunks
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can “lite” coconut milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Place a Dutch oven, or similar pot, over medium heat.  Pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then add the mustard seeds.  Once they start to pop, immediately add the onion along with a large pinch of salt and stir well to coat.  Cook until nice and brown, then add the garlic and ginger.  Sprinkle in the ground spices and cook, stirring frequently, until nice and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and chickpeas.  Stir and cook for 4 minutes to soften the tomatoes, adding a little bit of water if things are sticking.  Pour in the coconut milk and season with salt and pepper.  Bring the curry to a light boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook until the vegetables are just tender, adding more water if the mixture seems too dry, about 20 minutes.  (At this point the curry can sit for several hours.)

Add the peas and cilantro just a few minutes before serving.

The New Favorite Cracker

May 3, 2011

Let’s take a little quiz.  In each of the following scenarios, which would you choose?

Store-bought cracker or store-bought cookie?
Store-bought cracker or homemade cookie?
Homemade cracker or store-bought cookie?
Homemade cracker or homemade cookie?

It might surprise (shock? repulse?) you to know that I would choose the cracker.  Yes, if the store-bought cracker was nice and salty, like maybe a Triscuit, I would choose it over a homemade cookie.  What can I say – I’m a savory girl.

Knowing that, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I have fallen head over heels in love with these crackers.  I have been a big fan of making my own crackers and until recently, I had my two favorites.  But move over kids, there is a new cracker in town.  I just served these to my Vegetarian Basics class last week.  One of my attendees – a good friend – suggested I call them (Crack)ers.  Has someone else copyrighted that name yet?  It’s perfect.

This is about as easy as it gets.  Soften butter, toast nuts, grate cheese, and you are basically there.  Having made them several times now, I can give you some tips.

1)  This is the time for good Cheddar cheese.  We always have some mild stuff in the cheese drawer for kids quesadillas and you probably do too.  Don’t use that cheese.  Buy something special and yummy.  It will make a difference.

2)  Chop the walnuts nice and fine.

3)  Double the recipe.  Form the dough into two logs, bake one off and wrap and freeze the other.  Tiny bit more work for double the crackers and the dough freezes beautifully.

4)  If you follow tip #3 and you use a Beater Blade for your standing mixer, switch to the metal blade.  This is a very stiff dough and when I quadrupled the recipe (what?  2 sticks and butter and 2 pounds of cheese – I’m not scared), I broke my beater blade.  You have been warned.

5)  As you are mixing in the flour, you might think to yourself, “This needs some liquid, like milk perhaps.”  It doesn’t.  (Made that mistake!)  Be patient and the dough will come together.

6)  Make sure the walnuts are distributed well throughout the dough, otherwise it can be a little tricky to get to the dough to roll out into a snake without falling apart.  Totally do-able, just a little annoying.

7)  Finally, prepare yourself for the smell coming out of your oven.  Ah-mazing!

Crackers Previously on Dana Treat: Parmesan Thyme Crackers, Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps
One Year Ago: Chocolate Truffles
Two Years Ago: Classic Currant Scones, Rhubarb Struesel Tart, Bean Tostadas with Sofrito

Cheddar Crackers


I’m not giving you a yield here because it totally depends on how small your dough logs are, how thin you slice your crackers, etc.  The original recipe said you can get fifty 1-inch round crackers, but honestly I don’t see how that is possible.

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 1/3 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped fine

In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cheese and butter and beat on medium speed until combined.  Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Mix in the walnuts on low speed.  The dough should be fairly stiff with small chunks of cheese and walnut visible.

Transfer the dough to parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1-inch in diameter.  (DT: I found it difficult to get the dough this small, so my crackers were bigger.  Darn.)  Wrap well and place in the refrigerator until hard, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick liner.

Unwrap the log and cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices.  Arrange the crackers on the prepared pan, spacing them apart about 1 inch.

Bake the crackers until golden brown on the edges and lighter in the center, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on size and thickness.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.  The crackers will keep in an airtight container in cool dry place for up to 2 weeks.

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