Archive for August, 2011

Pilaf as a Main

August 30, 2011

Randy and I have sort of a don’t ask/don’t tell approach to my cookbook collection.  As in, don’t ask me if I have bought any new ones lately and I don’t tell you.  Sometimes eyebrows are raised.  Sometimes mental measurements are taken on the diminishing space on the “overflow” shelf.  Sometimes heads shake.  As in, no, no, no, not another one.

But here is the thing.  I am kind of a girly girl.  I like to dress up and I like nice things.  I could very easily be collecting shoes or purses or expensive perfumes.  Instead I collect cookbooks.  Relatively inexpensive and something I use every day.  Whenever he starts to comment I remind him, oh so gently, that his life is greatly enriched by the fact that we are surrounded by so many wonderful books with so many wonderful recipes and so much of the wonderful food I make comes from these wonderful books.

Tonight our dinner came from one of my newest acquisitions – Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume.  The book was written by the chef of an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.  In bookstores, I pick up Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookbooks all the time – those are the cuisines I miss most from our year in London and is difficult to find decent restaurants in Seattle.  Most of the books I peruse have too many meat dishes for me to buy them.  Although this book has a meat and poultry chapter, as well as one for fish, there are still so many tempting recipes for me to try in those pages.  And not just mezze.

I tell you this because the book happened to be sitting near us as we ate and Randy put down his fork (put down his fork!), picked up the book (picked up a cookbook!), and started reading through the recipes, voicing aloud the ones that sounded good to him (!!!).  In other words, this dish was that good.  If you know Randy, and if you read here often enough you probably feel like you do, unsolicited praise means a dish is out of sight.  Actually picking up a book and requesting dishes to be made out of it it is unheard of.

This pilaf is the third thing I have made out of the book (the soup I made last night is next up on the blog), and all have been incredible.  And in need of serious tweaking.  I’m not sure if this is the result of a restaurant chef writing a home cookbook or if something happened when the British measurements got transcribed into American ones, but if I didn’t know a thing or two about cooking, I probably would have thrown the book across the kitchen in frustration.  Of course, I am far from an expert about this kind of cuisine, but I do know that 1½ cups of rice and 3 ounces of pasta will need much more than 2 cups of liquid to turn out all right.

So, I’ve tweaked.  And I’m giving you the tweaked recipe.  I changed the proportions, I used spaghetti instead of vermicelli (angel hair is what I normally use but my little market up the street didn’t have it and what’s more, we both liked the thicker strands of pasta in there).  I added spice where there was none and some additional shallots.  This dish is probably meant to be a side dish along side some lamb or chicken.  We ate it as a main course alongside the previously mentioned soup and some perfect steamed green beans.  The author says it is street food, Turkish-style.  Both Randy and I say it is food we could eat everyday and be completely happy.

One Year Ago:  Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Cream Frosting
Two Years Ago:  Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Pilaf with Vermicelli, Chickpeas, Apricots, and Pistachios
Adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume
Serves 4-6

I have a large spice cabinet and I actually have something called Turkish spice mix, bought at a farmers’ market.  This dish needs something so, assuming you do not have Turkish spice, you can add pinches of cumin, coriander, even a bit of curry.  Fennel would be fine too.  And lots of black pepper. 

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 shallots, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron
2 tsp. Turkish spice mix
3 ounces vermicelli pasta (or angel hair or spaghetti), broken into 1-inch lengths
1½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup cooked chickpeas (I used canned)
½ cup chopped dried apricots
4 cups vegetable stock or water
½ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Melt the butter, then add the shallots and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes.  Stir in saffron and the spices.  Add the vermicelli and stir continuously until the pasta starts to turn golden.  It burns easily so be careful.  Add the rice, chickpeas, and apricots and stir to coat the rice with the fat and the spices.  Pour in stock (or water) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid.  Cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Check for water a couple of times as you might need to add more.

When the rice is tender, add the pistachios and turn off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with a clean kitchen towel and replace the lid.  Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes – this will allow the the rice to cook further and become more fluffy.

One more thought:  My dish was not particularly fluffy.  I didn’t mind, it was stick to your ribs hearty which is nice for a main course.  Arborio rice, the one that was called for in this recipe and which is also used to make risotto, is starchy and heavier than a basmati.  I imagine that if you use basmati or jasmine, you will end up with a fluffier pilaf.  Let me know if you try?

Eggplants in the Summer

August 29, 2011

Occasionally, someone will still introduce me as a personal chef.  It surprises me because I hung that hat up years ago.  It was my job for three years and was a big reason I started this blog, but it really has been two years since I regularly cooked for anyone other than my family.  I loved that job.  The only reason I stopped doing it is that I found it too solitary.  I cooked alone in my kitchen, drove alone in my car, and let myself into empty houses.  After three years, I was ready to have more direct contact with people.  Adult people.  I started doing more catering and now I teach regular classes.

One of the things I do miss about the personal chef gig is the incredible creativity that the job required.  Or, I should say, that I decided it required.  None of my clients ever told me that I had to make something different for every meal, but I thought I should give them tremendous variety.  This necessitated me using my many cookbooks well.  Within my own insular cooking world, I tend to reach for the same books over and over, or make up recipes based on restaurant dishes I have enjoyed, or just let the gorgeous produce at the farmers’ market guide me.  But when I was cooking for several families three times a week, I couldn’t be that willy nilly – I had to be very organized.  I sat down each Friday with a big stack of books and decided on the week’s menu.  Saturday I would shop.  Sunday I would prep.  And Monday I would start to cook in earnest.

I don’t miss the pressure of those days but I do miss the forced creativity.  I miss my books.  Most weeks I am either catering an event or teaching at least one class and I find myself turning to easy old favorites to fill in.  Coming back from our week in Sun Valley, and with a relatively quiet week before the insanity of September begins, I indulged in my books.

First up was this delicious (if a bit ugly) stew from what is probably my real true favorite cookbook – Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.  (If you don’t own any of her books, I would buy Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone first, then buy this one.)  This is a relatively slim volume but I’ve made about half the recipes and they are all winners times ten.  It is my only cookbook where most of the pages have separated from the binding.  Her recipes are tested to perfection, written clearly, appropriately portioned, and, well, just plain tasty.  Everything.

Eggplant and I are not BFF’s.  It wants to be my friend because I have been a vegetarian for 25 years and vegetarians are supposed to love eggplant.  I have never been one to rock the boat too much but I have not been able to fully embrace eggplant as the meat substitute of the vegetarian diet that people claim it to be.  Let’s face it.  Much of the year, eggplants are giant, bruised, and bitter.  In late August/early September, they are small, perky, firm, and sweet.  It is then that I start to understand why some people love them.

Like many that highlight the glories of late summer, this recipe is really a guideline.  I found everything at the farmers’ market because my pantry/refrigerator/fruit basket was empty after a week away.  You probably have some late summer produce on hand and you should use what you have to make this delicious.  I changed the recipe by slicing things differently, adding more herbs and a dose of white wine.  This is a great dish for a warm night because it is delicious served at room temperature.  I intended to make a quinoa studded with fresh corn kernels and scallions to serve alongside but decided at the last minute to keep it simple.  I wish I had made the quinoa – this dish needs a grain of some kind.

Summer Potatoes Stewed with Eggplant, Peppers, and Olives
Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 3-4

I used oil-cured black olives in this dish and they were sublime.  They are my favorite olive to cook with – you can find them in the olive bar of your grocery store.  They tend to have wrinkled skin and are jet black.  Kalamata can be used instead.  I usually reserve my non-stick frying pan for eggs, but it’s a terrific tool to cook eggplant.  You can get it nice and brown with a minimum of oil. 

This is a great place for “second” tomatoes – your tomato farmers’ cheaper, slightly ugly, but still delicious offerings.  Finally, Madison gives instructions for salting the eggplant, allowing it to stand, then continuing with the recipe.  If you use super fresh eggplant, you don’t need to do this.

About 2 tbsp. olive oil
1½ pounds super fresh eggplant, cut into thin rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced lengthwise
2 large bell peppers, cut into ½-inch strips
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 large garlic clove chopped with a handful of parsley leaves
2 tbsp. chopped oregano
1/3 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup (or more) dry white wine

Place a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the eggplant along with a large pinch of salt and a couple grinds of pepper.  Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the eggplant starts to turn golden brown.  It doesn’t need to cook through, just take on some color.

While the eggplant is browning, heat another tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven.  Add the onion, potatoes, and peppers along with a large pinch of salt.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned here and there, 6 to 8 minutes.  Lower the heat, season with another pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Stir in the tomatoes, garlic/parsley mixture, and the oregano.  Pour in the wine and stir to combine.

Add the eggplant and olives and gently mix everything together.  Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes, or longer if time allows to concentrate flavor.  Add more wine if things are sticky or the stew seems to dry.  Serve garnished with additional parsley.

Late Summer

August 26, 2011

I’m away from my desk, my kitchen, and my home.  I feel bad leaving you with a spotty August this year – just too many things going on in my life to post regularly.  But!  I did much better in past years so here is a little reminder of what late August can mean to you.  (For me, it seems to either mean travel or party food.)


Tortellini Skewers are great for any party.  I made these recently and I stuck a cherry tomato on there as well.


Little balls of food are always welcome at a party, especially if it is marinated mozzarella.

Eggplant Caponata is good for groups large and small.  Serve it with crackers, baguette slices, or your favorite carb.

These little cheese stuffed Peppadew peppers are one of my favorite things to make for gatherings large and small.  I always get raves and lots of comments about them.

If you are a CSA member, chances are you are getting a lot of chard and will get a lot of chard in the coming months.  This tart is a delicious way to make your way through those bushels.


Cleaning out the Fridge

August 23, 2011

By the time you read this post, I will be long gone.  It’s the end of August and that means, every other year, that we are in Sun Valley with my parents.  This is a sweet trip for me.  I have been going to that lovely mountain town since I was 11 years old.  When I was younger, it was hot days and cold nights, hours spent at the pool, horse back riding, river rafting, time spent with camp friends, and teenage boys who were my crushes.  Nowadays it is hot days and cold nights, hours spent at the pool, going on slides at the playground, splashing in the town fountain, time spent with my family, and very young boys who are my children.  My life has changed plenty, Sun Valley is mostly the same.

Leaving town means leaving a refrigerator and that means doing your very best to make sure that refrigerator is next to empty.  I had some goodies to use up and I came up with a truly delicious pasta to do so.  I see posts like this frequently and I wonder, why on earth would I make your dish?  I am never going to have those same odds and ends on hand.  But this is a dish worth shopping for.  As Spencer, my four-year-old, is fond of saying, “For reals life.”

Orecchiette with Roasted Tomatoes and Corn

Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

The inspiration for this dish was ingredients on hand, plus a long-ago cut out recipe for a pasta with Brie cheese to make it creamy.  It is best to remove the rind in this dish.  If you Brie is super soft, just pop it in the freezer for about 10 minutes and it will slice right off.  I also had a blue cheese in the refrigerator and I contemplated using that in the pasta instead of the Brie.  Finally, the “stuff” to pasta ratio is high here – you could bulk up the pasta to feed more people and leave the “stuff” the same.

2 cups cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1½ cups fresh corn kernels (from 1 large cob)
2 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
8 ounces orecchiette

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the cherry tomatoes on a small baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper and, using your hands, mix well.  Pop in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove and scrape into a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the shallots along with a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until soft, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the thyme, followed by the corn.  Continue to cook until fragrant and the corn is soft, about another 3 minutes.  Remove and scrape the corn mixture into the same bowl with the tomatoes.  Put the cheese and the basil in there as well.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Pour in the orecchiette and cook until al dente, according to the package directions.  Taste to make sure.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop the pasta into the bowl with the other ingredients.  Stir gently, adding some of the pasta water if it seems to dry.


When Life Gives you Radicchio…

August 19, 2011

…you make a radicchio tart.  Which I will tell you about in a moment.  But first, yesterday was one of those days when the stars were in very strange alignment.  One of those days when coincidence became kind of creepy.  Not once but several times.  One of those days when I should have bought a lottery ticket because, clearly, the universe was trying to tell me something.  And, because I have approximately one million other things to do rather than tell you this story, I am going to tell you this story.

This was my day.  On the way out the door to take Graham to day camp, I saw my UPS guy.  I waved.  Walking Graham to the playground at camp, I started talking with another mom who was walking her daughter as well.  I had never met her before but her name is Jill and she teaches music at my old high school.  Kind of weird.  Spencer and I ran errands, went to the wading pool, and then got frozen yogurt.  As we walked in, we passed my UPS guy and while we were sitting and eating, Jill came in on her bike.  Pretty weird.  Then, last night, I taught a class.  One of the participants was a guest at a wedding my brother was in over the weekend, and two of the participants were former yoga students of mine from a regular class I taught in 2003.  They didn’t know it was me, their former yoga teacher, teaching the class, they came because one of their sisters-in-law recommended me.  Really quite weird.

Anyway, radicchio!  We all get surprising things in our inboxes, right?  A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Emily at Royal Rose Radicchio.  She was offering to send me some radicchio straight from their farm in California.  Odd?  A  bit, yes.  But I do like radicchio and don’t buy it all that often.  It is terrific in salad for a little bitter bite and I love it grilled or roasted.  That bitterness mellows and a wonderful sweetness emerges under heat.  (My brother says it is great on a sandwich instead of lettuce.  Good call.)  So sure, I said, send me some of those gorgeous purpley-red heads of goodness.

Late last week, a giant box appeared on my doorstep.  Inside was no fewer than 20 heads of radicchio.  Now, I do like it but 20 of anything is a lot to get through, especially if it is highly perishable.  For the record, these were gorgeous specimens.  Tight heads, not a blemish in sight, heavy for their size, more beautiful than any I have seen in the store.  I gave some to the neighbors, gave some to the potluck people, roasted a bunch of it (it’s terrific on top of crostini topped with blue cheese and a bit of honey), and I made this tart.

I am a member of a very cool book club – a foodie book club.  Every book club I have ever been a part of has always been much more about the food and drink than about the book so I thought this was a brilliant idea.  Each member contributes a dish from the book we read.  This month we read a book of Julia Child’s letters and we had free reign to make one of her recipes from any of her books.  I have my mom’s copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking which, truthfully, I had never even opened until this week.  With my plethora of radicchio, I figured it only made sense to try and use some of it.

Radicchio is a member of the chicory family along with things like endive, escarole, and other bitter greens.  I knew Julia wouldn’t have had access to radicchio in the 60’s but I knew, without even looking in the book, that there would be endive recipes.  I road a bike through five different regions of France when I was 16 and we had homestays with families in each of those regions.  I had endive, in various styles, in every single one of those homes.  The French like their endive.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking boasts several endive recipes but as soon as I saw a tart, I knew that was the thing to make.  It does feel like sacrilege to change a Julia Child recipe but I made this my own by using my favorite tart dough, putting it in 9-inch square pan, and using a different chicory.  I planned to use half milk and half cream for the filling but found I was out of milk, so all cream it was.

One final note.  I made this tart in a 9-inch square pan which looked very snazzy, I must say. It  is a little tricky because not everyone gets a piece with crust.  You can certainly make the recipe in a 9-inch round pan but if you have a 10-inch (or even an 11-inch), I would use one of those.  Any way you slice it (ha!) you might not need all the filling and please resist the urge to overfill.  If you do, the liquid goes over the sides of the crust and makes the crust soggy and the tart difficult to remove from the pan.  Just to be safe, I always bake my tarts on a baking sheet to prevent any egg leakage on the floor of my oven.

One Year Ago:  Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon
Two Years Ago:  Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata, Torn Croutons, and Basil (if you have not made this, do so!)
Three Years Ago:  Black Bean Salad with Corn and Cotija Cheese

Radicchio Tart
Inspired by Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Makes one 10-inch tart

My plan was to use Gruyère cheese but I was out.  I opted for Parmesan instead.

1 medium head radicchio, outer leaves removed, cut in quarters, cored, and thinly sliced
½ cup water
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 eggs
1½ cups whipping cream
Pinch of nutmeg
Few grinds of pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

½ recipe Olayia’s Tender Tart Dough (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Boil the radicchio over moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the water, lemon juice, salt and butter until the liquid has almost evaporated.  Lower the heat and stew gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the radicchio is very tender and has lost its brilliant color.  Allow to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs, cream, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, and seasonings in a mixing bowl to blend.  Gradually stir in the radicchio.  Check seasoning.  Pour into the partially baked pastry shell.  Sprinkle on the other ¼ cup of cheese.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and browned.

Olaiya Land’s Tender Tart Dough

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1¾ tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. (2¼ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
8 tbsp. (or more) ice water
1½ tsp. apple cider vinegar

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor.  Add butter; using on/off turns, process until coarse meal forms.  Add 8 tablespoons ice water and cider vinegar; blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by the teaspoon if dough is dry.

Gather dough together.  Turn out onto work surface; divide dough in half.  Form each half into ball and flatten into disk.  Wrap disks separately in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour.  (Can be made ahead.  Keep dough refrigerated up to 2 days, or enclose in a resealable plastic bag and freeze up to 1 month.  Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.)  Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

For this tart, use half the dough.  Roll out into a 13-inch circle or square.  Transfer the dough to the tart pan and prick the bottom all over with a fork.  Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Remove from the freezer and line the pan with parchment paper or foil.  Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is still pale, but dried out and starting to turn just a bit brown.  Proceed with the recipe.

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