Archive for October, 2011

New School Rules

October 17, 2011

It’s a new school year and we have a new rule in our house.  This rule has to do with treats in lunch boxes.  Although my children have been in some kind of school since they were three years old, I am relatively new to the whole packing-a-lunch thing.  The preschool that Spencer goes to, which is the same one that Graham attended, serves the kids a hot lunch every day.  So in preschool days, I only pack a lunch when there is a field trip.  Packing a lunch – having a lunchbox, getting to drink juice at lunch, my food instead of the school’s – is special for Spencer just as it was for Graham.  I started a tradition in Graham’s first year of  preschool – including a special treat in his lunchbox.  That treat, when packed lunch was something that happened without regularity, was a chocolate kiss.

Once Graham started kindergarten last fall, I wanted to keep up the treat tradition.  As a child, I remember looking forward to lunch even in first grade, and I know my little foodie first grader is the same.  For the first few months of kindergarten, I stuck with the chocolate kiss.  Then, after Halloween, it was a piece of his Halloween candy.  And then Valentine’s Day candy.  And then Easter candy.  And then whatever candy we had lying around the house.  Now, I am fine with my kids eating candy.  I ate candy as a kid and I turned out all right.  But when I would offer him a homemade cookie as a treat and he chose some disgusting artificially flavored and colored thing instead, my feelings got hurt.

Hence the new rule.  It is hereby declared that all treats in lunch boxes must be homemade.  I will relent for a few weeks after Halloween because it is a BIG DEAL for my kids (most kids) but then it’s back to homemade.  I know, for us adults being force to bring a homemade cookie is hardly a hardship but for a 6¾ year-old, it might take some getting used to.

When Randy started his new job in January, I decided to send him in with treats every week.  I was good for the first couple months and then as my classes started getting busier I just couldn’t fit it in.  So it is now my hope that I can combine the lunchbox treat for Graham and the office treat for Randy and still have a few left over for Mommy.

I have a lot of baking books.  And yet, I can sometimes find making cookies uninspiring.  I look at recipes and my thinking is, “yep, seen this all before”, so I resort to tried and true favorites.  There is nothing wrong with those favorites but when I am feeling stuck, I often turn to Martha Stewart’s Cookies.

These cookies could easily fall into the “look pretty but taste boring” category.  But they don’t.  Cashews play a role in one of my all-time favorite cookies and they are wonderful here as well.  There are chunks throughout but you also purée some down with a bit of oil to make your own cashew butter.  The chunks and the butter, combined with the caramel drizzle on top, make for an addictive cookie.  These guys are sticky though.  I made them small so that I would get a large yield and they kind of wanted to just all stick together in one massive cookie.  I’m a little tired these days and finding a plastic container where I could lay them between layers of waxed paper seemed like a little too much effort.  Hence, they went to work with Randy in a foil-wrapped cookie ball and they are sitting in my cookie jar en masse.  You’ve been warned.

One Year Ago:  Cranberry Bean Soup with Farro and Fresh Tomatoes
Two Years Ago:  Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing and Holly B’s Cappucino Bars
Three Years Ago:  White Beans with Tomatoes and Sage

Cashew Caramel Cookies
Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. coarse salt
2½ cups roasted salted cashews
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. canola oil
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
24 soft caramel candy cubes (7 ounces)
¼ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Sift together flour and salt.  Coarsely chop 1 cup cashews; set aside.  Process remaining 1½ cups cashews in a food processor until finely chopped.  Pour in oil; process until creamy, about 2 minutes.

Put cashew mixture, butter, and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture and reserved chopped cashews.

Using a 1½-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart.  Bake 6 minutes; gently flatten cookies  Bake until bottoms are golden, 6 to 7 minutes more.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Melt caramels with cream in a saucepan over low heat, stirring.  Let cool a bit.  Using a spoon, drizzle caramel over cookies; let set.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature in single layers up to 3 days.

Book Larder is Open!

October 13, 2011






Come visit!

It Was Bound to Happen

October 11, 2011

Here was my Monday.  Up, showered, me dressed, boys dressed, me fed, boys fed, Graham’s lunch box packed.  8:45 drove Spencer to preschool, and 9:10 got Graham on the bus to his first grade class.  Sent a few emails and then 10:00 headed to Book Larder for a staff meeting.  Then worked for a few hours doing book related things.  3:30 went home to wait for Graham to get off the bus, gave him a snack, and then 4:15 drove him to an art class he recently started taking.  4:30 went to pick up Spencer at school and took him home for a snack and a few minutes of play for him and a few minutes of cooking prep for me.  5:45 got him in the car and we went to get Graham.  6:10 back to the house and started cooking.

I made bean and cheese tacos for the boys which means making guacamole for Graham to put on his.  I envisioned a miso soup with lots of vegetables for Randy and me, and also roasted some tofu because I was craving it.  And a salad – we have salad almost every night.  I had pulled a stick of butter out of the fridge early in the morning with a plan to make cookies and I resisted the urge to give up on that plan and got them going and in the oven.  So, simultaneously, I was making soup, cookies, tacos, guacamole, salad dressing, roasted onions, and roasted tofu.  After a busy day, one of these things was bound to not go right.

Fortunately, it was just the soup.  Everyone got dropped off and picked up at the right times and in the right places and we had other things to eat, so I tried to be philosophical about the soup.  It tasted fine but I did not cook the vegetables enough and crunchy is not the right adjective I like to use when describing soup.  Having something not turn out made me realize how infrequent it is in my house to have a cooking fail.  I’m not patting myself on the back here, I’m just observing.  I cook a lot.  All that practice comes in handy.

The highlight of our meal was the salad.  Last week, when I was working at Book Larder, Tara stopped in.  She mentioned that she was the lucky recipient of 20 pounds of Asian pears and did I have any ideas of how to use them.  Immediately I thought of a salad that I used to make years ago, back when Asian pears were harder to find.  I got the recipe from some magazine and, rather than trying to remember where, or even looking online, I decided to re-create it.  I’m kind of in love with this dressing.  The whole salad really.  The only downside is I only used one Asian pear so I don’t think I helped Tara with her problem.

One Year Ago:  Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Pie
Two Years Ago:  Holly B’s Praline Almond Scones
Three Years Ago:  Quick Olive and Cheese Bread

Arugula Salad with Asian Pear and Roasted Onions
Dana Treat Original
Serves 2 (generously)

You will have dressing left over which is a great thing.  Toss it with soba noodles, use it as a dip for vegetables or satay, or just drink it.  :)

For the Dressing and Marinade
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup tahini
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. chile paste
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. sugar

For the salad
1 medium red onion, halved, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
½ an avocado, cut into bite size chunks
1 Asian pear, cored, and cut into matchsticks
4 ounces arugula
Sea salt

Place all the ingredients for the dressing/marinade in a blender.  Blend until very smooth.

Place the onions in an oven proof baking dish, pour a couple tablespoons of the marinade over top and toss well to coat.  Set aside and allow to marinate for 30-60 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425ºF.  Place onions in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, tossing once, or onions are soft and browned in spots.

Place the grated carrot, avocado, and pear in a salad bowl then place the arugula on top.  Sprinkle the leaves with a pinch of sea salt.  Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of dressing over top (you won’t need much).  Toss and add more dressing to taste.  Serve the onions along side the salad.

Brownies for the Adults

October 7, 2011

Let me get this out of the way.  These are not pot brownies.  I have not made or eaten pot brownies.  Not that there is anything wrong with pot brownies – they are just really not my thing.  I have to say that because I bet there is at least one person out there who sees “brownies for adults” and assumes they must have weed in them.

And here, rather than just tell you why I think these brownies are for adults (cocoa nibs!  but my kids loved them too!) and why I liked them very much although they are quite different from my favorite (cakier!  less intense!), and why I made them (yoga retreat!), I have to tell you about my dad.

My dad is a retired oncologist.  He spent 30-something years treating people with cancer and doing so with kindness and empathy.  The man who would famously tell his kids and wife, sort of jokingly, “Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning” when one of us was sick, was the most compassionate kind of doctor.  I know because he really is a compassionate dad and I also know because every single person I have ever met who was either in his care or had a family member in his care, practically swoons at the mention of his name.  Nurses too.  And nurses know.

One Wednesday this past summer, I brought my parents to our neighborhood farmers’ market along with the boys.  It is something we like to do together when the timing is right.  Outside, a man was gathering signatures to introduce a measure to legalize medical marijuana in Washington state.  My dad stopped, broke away from us, and went over to sign the ballot.  He is not the ballot-signing type so I was surprised.  I know his views on drugs are more liberal than the average 68 year old but still.  I asked why he felt so strongly.  I asked if he thought that pot does actually help people who are nauseated by chemotherapy.  He said, “Not at all.  Medically, I don’t think it helps.  But if someone has cancer and is that ill, and their immune system is compromised and their hair is falling out and they can’t eat because everything nauseates them, and they think that the pot helps?  Then they should be able to smoke all they want.”  Go Dad.

So yes, I know that this is a bit of a stretch – brownies with cocoa nibs to pot to my dad and ballot measures, but sometimes stories just must be told.

Onward!  I have a lot of brownie recipes here at Dana Treat.  As a chocoholic, I consider brownies a perfect treat.  And because I love chocolate, my perfect brownie is dark, dense, and intense.  But sometimes it is nice to have a brownie that is more like a little piece of cake than a piece of fudge and that is where this guy comes in.  It is not a wimpy brownie, I would say it’s very pleasant.  Well-behaved.  Slightly elegant but also quirky with a bit of crunch.  If you have not tasted cocoa nibs before, they can fool you a bit.  For me, in the first second, I taste chocolate, then coffee, then a bit of bitter.  I like chocolate chips in brownies because I like the break in texture from smooth and rich.  But sometimes some less sweet, less chocolate-y, is welcome.

One Year Ago:  Ratatouille and Mushroom and Herb Polenta
Two Years Ago:  Asian Coconut Noodle Soup and Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Arugula
Three Years Ago:  Mediterranean Five Lentil Soup

Cocoa Nib Brownies
The Modern Baker
Makes about 24 brownies

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
9 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1¼ cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs
½ tsp. salt
¾ cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cups flour
½ cup cocoa nibs

Line a 13x9x2-inch pan with foil.  Butter foil and set aside.  Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.

Put the cut-up butter into a medium saucepan and place over medium heat.  Let the butter melt, stirring 2 to 3 times, then allow it to bubble for about 10 seconds.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate.  Gently shake the pan to submerge the chocolate in the hot butter and set aside for a few minutes so that the chocolate melts.  Use a small whisk to mix smooth.

Place the brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat in 1 egg on lowest speed using the paddle attachment.  Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each.  Add the salt, sugar, and vanilla and beat smooth.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to mix in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Mix in the flour followed by ¼ cup of the cocoa nibs.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Scatter the remaining ¼ cup cocoa nibs on the batter.

Bake the brownies until they are firm, but still very moist in the center, about 30 minutes.

Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack.

Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate the brownies for several hours or overnight before attempting to cut them – they are very moist.

Mellow Yellow

October 4, 2011

I’m going to keep this short because, you know, it’s October and I’m still talking about corn.  On Saturday, my little family went apple picking and we passed farm stand after farm stand advertising corn.  It occurred to me, after the fifth one or so, that I had yet to make corn chowder.  And even though what I really wanted to make is butternut squash soup, I can’t deny corn when there is corn to be had.

Chances are, if there are still a few ears to be bought where you live, you might want to get right on making this soup and not read a rambling post from me.  But a few notes.  I love this version.  I don’t like super creamy soups so this has just a hint and it comes from puréed corn kernels and coconut milk.  Big chunks of potatoes are key, I used some with a lovely pink skin and a while flesh and I kept fishing them out of the pot long after I was full.  And I think tarragon is really important here.  Basil would be good too if you want to defy me.

One Year Ago:  Savory Rugelach
Two Years Ago:  Smoky Chard Over Grilled Bread
Three Years Ago:  Fruit and Spice Granola

Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

4 ears of corn
1 cup of coconut milk, divided
Olive oil
1 large leek, washed well, trimmed, cut into quarters, and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound red skinned potatoes, scrubbed well, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped

Shuck the ears of corn and set aside two ears.  Cut the kernels off the other two and place the kernels in a blender along with ¾ of a cup of the coconut milk.  Add a pinch of salt and purée until smooth.  Set aside.

Set a soup pot over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot and then add the leeks, carrots, celery, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir well, then add the dried thyme.  Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are fragrant and starting to soften, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the potatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.  Pour in the corn/coconut milk mixture and stir to coat the vegetables well.  Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook until the potatoes are tender, about another 10 minutes.

Cut the kernels off the other two ears of corn.  Add to the soup pot and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the corn is just cooked through.  Stir in the remaining ¼ cup of coconut milk.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve in soup bowls garnished with tarragon.

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