Archive for May, 2013

Five Years and a Strawberry Tart

May 10, 2013

Today marks five years since I started this blog. In some ways, I am surprised I started it at all. I don’t know what Myers Briggs personality type I am but I can be tentative, hesitant. Certainly far from the first to start or join anything. I wait in the wings until I feel safe and then maybe I join in. When I started writing here, I felt I was already really late to the party. The writers whose blogs I admired had already been at it for a year or two. Was it worth it to even start? Silly now to even think about how I felt then.

It is also a little surprising that I started given my, not fear, but deep discomfort around technology. The fact that I got a web site up and running, figured out how to upload photos, found a designer to help me with the aesthetics of it, all of this makes me realize that I was really motivated to write. And I’m so glad I bit the bullet. In the past five years, I have made some wonderful friends (some of whom have made the move to the Bay Area much more friendly), have been able to travel a bit to learn about companies and products, have pushed myself outside my comfort zone as a cook and as a writer.

Randy was out of town the first part of the week and I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. This is something I did often in Seattle and am just starting to do here in Oakland. I get the urge to cook but I don’t want to cook for just myself. So I have friends come sit around the table with me. I decided on this Strawberry Tart for dessert because strawberries are in full swing here and it seems a shame not to celebrate them. Every June, which is when strawberries start to make an appearance in the Seattle markets, I would bemoan my lack of a perfect strawberry dessert. When they are small and sweet and too soft to travel far, strawberries are a revelation. They have always been Randy’s favorite fruit but the first time he popped a real strawberry in his mouth, his eyes got wide and he was speechless. The taste is so clean and pure and sweet. My favorite berry is definitely the blueberry but very little can compare to the taste of the first of the season strawberry.

With a fruit this special, you want a dessert to honor it. Not crush it or overpower it, but celebrate it and make it even better than it already is. I have made many attempts over the years, but I have not found the right thing. So when I happened upon this Strawberry Tart in Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet, I thought I might have found the one.  In that moment, I started mentally composing this post. I would give you the background (see above) of my search for the perfect dessert to celebrate the strawberry and then I would reveal that (ta-da!) I had found it. Except it didn’t go like that. The crust, which was described as easy to work with and not crumbly, was hard to work with and crumbly. The filling, which sounded smooth and slightly tangy, had little bits of clumped cornstarch in it. The boys ate through all my small and delicate strawberries so I was relegated to the large (but still local) grocery store kind. I was annoyed as I assembled the tart. But in the end, it looked pretty and tasted wonderful. The crust had a nice snap and just a subtle sweetness, the filling was smooth and slightly tangy, and you could not tell that there was any undissolved cornstarch. The berries left a little to be desired but I dressed them up with a drizzle of my most expensive balsamic vinegar, a gift from a friend.

In thinking about this tart and my expectations for it, I realized that it is really a metaphor for this blog. Expectations, sometimes realistic and sometimes not, set, dashed, and then redeemed.  I started this blog because I wanted to write about food but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t secretly hoping for big things.  What those big things were are hard to say.  A cookbook deal.  Lots of recognition.  Money.  I was a theatre major and there is still a very small (very small!) part of me waiting to be “discovered”.  I’m cringing as I’m typing this – it is embarrassing but it is the truth.  My first few months worth of posts are not written in my voice.  I was channeling other people.  My food, other people’s voices.  Then I slowly started to find my groove.  People started to read.  And I realized that I liked writing.  A lot.  I liked keeping a record of  the food I made and I liked writing about my family.  I like the interactions I have had with my readers.  I like to think of you as a relatively small but loyal group of friends.  I am proud of the work I have done here.  So no publishers have been knocking down my door begging me to write a book and no brands have been begging me to be their representative.  But I haven’t chased those things down either.

Anyway.  Five years is a long time to do anything.  I know the past year has not seen the usual number of food posts here and I hope you haven’t lost patience.  A lot of travel and a big move in 2012 put me off kilter.  I am grateful for this space.  I am extremely grateful to those of you who read, those of you who comment and email.  I got my first negative comment the other day.  It was short and not a big deal and I deleted it.  But it made me realize how fortunate I am.  Five years with only love coming from you.  Thanks to everyone.

Two Years Ago:  Stir-Fried Sesame Broccoli and Tofu with Rice Noodles
Three Years Ago:  Corn Salad Sandwich with Tomatillos and Jack Cheese
Four Years Ago:  Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Moroccan Carrot and Hummus Sandwiches
Five Years Ago:  Meet Me
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Strawberry Tart
Short & Sweet
Makes one 9-inch tart

½ recipe Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (recipe follows)
Flour for rolling
½ cup milk
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg white
¼ cup super-fine sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup crème fraîche
3 cups strawberries

Chill the pastry for 30 minutes, then roll it out and line a shallow 9-inch tart pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper and dried beans and blind bake at 325ºF for about 30 minutes until a really golden color all over, removing the parchment paper and beans halfway though.  Allow the shell to cool completely.

Whisk the milk with the cornstarch, egg white, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan till smooth, then heat, whisking constantly, till boiling.  Remove from the heat, spoon into a bowl and cover with a plate to stop a thick skin from forming as it cools.  When cold, beat in the crème fraîche and spoon this into the pastry shell.  Hull the strawberries, slice them in half, and fan them over the top.  (DT:  I drizzled the berries with just a tiny bit of really good balsamic vinegar.  If you don’t have a good sweet one, take a cheaper version and cook it down, in a saucepan, until about half its original volume.  You want it syrupy and sweet.)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
Makes enough for two 9-inch tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
10 tbsp unsalted butter, cold but pliable
2 egg yolks
1-3 tbsp. ice water

Spoon the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl.  Break the butter into small pieces and rub this through the flour until it vanishes.  Stir the egg yolks with the water and mist this into the flour to form a very soft and smooth paste.  (DT: I needed an additional 2+ tablespoons of water to make this work.)  Pat it into a flat block, wrap well, and chill for at least 30 minutes before using as it needs time to firm up.



I Do Not Love Kale

May 9, 2013

I’m thinking of starting a support group for People Who Do Not Love Kale. Would you join me? Are you, like me, sick of hearing/reading about kale?  I’d actually like someone to explain the kale phenomenon to me.  Why is it that this vegetable specifically has been singled out as the second coming? Why the special treatment? And really – kale? It’s not the sexiest of vegetables. Someone I know said they would like to hire the PR firm that is responsible for the kale explosion.

Not only do I not get the hype, I have to say I don’t really get kale.  I use it. I like it better than some of its other dark leafy siblings (although I love this chard dish and chard is also lovely in this tart, and collard greens are terrific in this curry). I have made kale chips and my kids spit them out and honestly, so did I.  Often I have a choking sensation when I eat kale. Does anyone else have this reaction? I’ve learned to chop it in small bite size pieces no matter what dish I am throwing it into. I don’t have to do this with broccoli. Broccoli never makes me choke. (I love you broccoli!)

I keep trying to love it. I keep trying to get excited about it. I keep buying it at the farmers’ market because it is always there and I must need some of that, right? I put it in soups and stews and sometimes I just let it languish in my crisper drawer.   Which is saying something because kale keeps well.  Then I feel guilty and so I sauté it in olive oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes, let it cool, and then keep it in the refrigerator to eat with quinoa, avocado, and poached eggs. (My new husband-is-out-of-town dinner.)

Just as there is a lot of hype about kale, there is a lot of hype about Deborah Madison these days. (Nice segue, don’t you think?) The difference is, in my opinion, Deborah Madison deserves every bit of it and then some. Her new book Vegetable Literacy is a beautiful and well-researched tome that every vegetable lover should own. Especially if you garden (which I don’t). The thing I find so incredibly inspiring about Ms. Madison is that after all these years and all these books, she still has the passion for food that she has always had, and the curiosity to do investigative journalism about produce. The book, as you have no doubt heard, is arranged by vegetable “families” and I had plenty of surprises seeing which vegetables and herbs are related.

The recipes are true Deborah Madison. If you own a few of her books (or six like I do), you might see some familiar things. Sometimes things are a little more complicated than they need to be, sometimes they are shockingly simple. In just a quick casual glance through the book, I saw no fewer than 15 things I wanted to try right away. I’ve already made one thing twice (a simple dip of all things), and I know that her recipes are tested to perfection and fairly portioned. You never have to wonder as you attempt one of her recipes whether it will turn out. And if it doesn’t, it is most certainly your fault, not hers.

This dish spoke to me at a time when I was not eating many things. For three weeks, I ate fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lots of eggs. I was trying to see if my acid reflux had to do with a food intolerance.  You can used to a diet like that but it isn’t much fun. I decided that if I used 100% buckwheat soba noodles (which are gluten free) then this dish fit into my elimination diet. It is a testament to how tasty it is (even with the kale) that I would make it again, even now that I am eating normally again.


Buckwheat Noodles with Kale and Sesame Salad
Adapted from Vegetable Literacy
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a first course

While I will say that you should never rinse traditional Italian-style noodles, you should definitely rinse soba noodles.  They are very starchy and will clump together in one big lump if you don’t.  This recipe calls for both toasted and light sesame oils.  Toasted sesame oil is a tremendous flavor booster but you have to be careful with it as the flavor is very strong.  If you don’t have light sesame oil (I don’t), you can use peanut oil or even canola oil for that part of the recipe.

6 ounces soba noodles (make sure they are 100% buckwheat if you want gluten free)
Toasted sesame oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale)
5 tsp. light sesame oil (not toasted)
Sea salt
4 brussels sprouts
1 plump garlic clove
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden
2 pinches red pepper flakes
Slivered chives or green onions to finish

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Check the package for how they need to cook and taste a noodle to make sure they are not overdone.  Drain and immediately rinse with cold water, running your hands through the noodles to make sure they are cool.  Give them a good shake and then drizzle them with a bit of toasted sesame oil, mixing them with your hands.

Slice the kale leaves off their ropy stems and discard the stems.  Working in batches, stack the leaves, roll them up tightly lengthwise, and then thinly slice them crosswise into narrow ribbons.  Put the ribbons in a salad bowl with 1 teaspoon of the light sesame oil and a pinch of salt.  Squeeze the leaves repeatedly with your hands until they glisten.

Discard any funky outer leaves from the brussels sprouts.  Slice them paper thin on a mandoline (or with a very sharp knife), then toss them with the kale.

Pound the garlic with another small pinch of salt in a small mortar until smooth.  Stir in the vinegar then whisk in the remaining oil and the soy sauce.  Pour the dressing over the greens and toss well.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can also chop it roughly on a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic with the salt, and then use the flat side of your knife to smoosh the salt into the garlic.  You are looking for a rough paste consistency.  Then just transfer the garlic to a bowl and continue.)

Just before serving, toss the greens with the soba noodles, the sesame seeds, pepper flakes, and the chives.



A Slice of My Life – Week 18

May 7, 2013

Last week was a fun and busy one with three separate trips into the city and some serious heat in the East Bay.  (Side note: I remember a conversation with Irvin as we were starting to think more seriously about moving to the Bay Area.  He told me that people in San Francisco call it the “the city” or, very occasionally, SF.  No one calls it San Fran or, heaven forbid, Frisco.  I thought this was kind of silly – “the city”?  Aren’t there a lot of cities this could be referring to?  But no.  I now, 9 months into being a Bay Area resident, always refer to San Francisco as “the city” and occasionally SF when I am writing.  He was right!)

I swear I could move my bed into the Ferry Building and be very happy.  The Ferry Building has a huge (and very crowded) farmers’ market on Saturdays.  They also have a much smaller and much less crowded one on Tuesdays, so I ventured in to check it out and stock up on favorites inside the terminal.  I swear, every time I go in there, I see so many new treasures.

I bought a huge bag of English peas.  One of my earliest food memories is walking through the Pike Place Market in Seattle with my mom and just popping peas out of the pods and eating them raw.  It is still my favorite way to enjoy English peas.  Whenever I see them at markets, I buy a ton of them and put them in everything.  I thought I had finally met my match with this bag but every single pod held candy-sweet treasures, and we had no problem finishing them.  See also: pen in the background.

Dinner al fresco.

On Wednesday, I got to go back into the city for a book event with Jennie.  I had the good luck to meet Jennie last summer when we both happened to be in Paris at the same time.  In true Jennie fashion, she invited us over for a glass of wine and snacks.  We arrived, with a lukewarm bottle of rosé, to a huge hug from lovely Jennie wearing an apron around her waist and her signature sunglasses on top of her head.  We sat around her small kitchen table eating melons and bread and cheeses, and got to know her and her sweet girls.  It is one of my favorite memories of our trip to France.

Now Jennie has a beautiful cookbook out called Homemade with Love and she is stopping in a few cities to promote it.  She had a signing at a bookstore but she also invited some friends old and new and she cooked a beautiful lunch for us.  Everything was vegetarian and I loved every bite of everything.  That panzanella, on the left, is the first thing I’m making from the book.  I kept stealing croutons long after I was full.

This (deep breath) is Mollie Katzen.  The woman who wrote The Moosewood Cookbook among many others.  She is to vegetarian cooking as Justin Timberlake is to pop music.  Mollie was at the party too although I didn’t know it until she said “excuse me” on her way out.  I might have squealed.  I might have thrust my hand at her in a lame attempt at a shake and said something dumb about how I’ve been a fan forever.  Damn!  I wish I had had time and clarity of thought to actually thank her for all she has done for the vegetarian cooking world.

I got to try out a new-to-me tip for fava beans.  Use a Y-vegetable peeler down the seam of the pod to open it easily.  I’ve always used a paring knife but the peeler worked better.

The favas got puréed with lots of lemon juice, mint, and olive oil.  That got put on top of toasted bread and topped with pecorino.  Also, burrata topped with crushed pink peppercorns, olive oil, sea salt.  Look carefully and you can see my reflection in the pan.

It was hot all week, one day close to 90º.  We were very thankful for friends with pool memberships.  This one in the Oakland hills…

…this one just a stone’s throw from the Ferry Building.

Heat means lots of ice cream.  This is Graham in his favorite jersey with our neighbor.  He is SO proud of that jersey, he asked for one from Santa.  Now that the Warriors are in the playoffs (right?  I’m not a basketball fan), he got lots of high fives from people on the street while wearing it.  Also, my son has darker skin than his Persian friend.

Hot nights mean gatherings on our amazing street.  S’mores as soon as the sun went down.

I got a request recently to do a post on books.  Novels I like as well as cookbooks.  What do you think?  In the meantime, I really liked this book.  I loved Olive Kitteridge too.  Both books were very readable but made me feel like I had accomplished something when I finished them.

Sunday trip to the farmers’ market.  All of this (plus a bunch of cilantro and 3 years of corn) cost me about $45.



Indian Food Pep Talk

May 6, 2013

Let’s talk about Indian food.  Do you love it?  Are you making it at home?  If the answer to the first question is yes and the second is no, why not?  Why are you not making Indian food at home?  I’m guessing it is one of these reasons:

1) The recipes are too long.
2) The recipes have unfamiliar ingredients.
3) It’s too spicy!
4) Who has all those spices?

You might notice that reasons 1-4 actually have to do with spices.  #1 Sometimes Indian food recipes have long lists of ingredients but if you look carefully, many of those ingredients are actually spices.  Sometimes up to half of the list really just needs to be measured out of a jar.  #2 Once in a while, I will find a recipe that calls for bitter gourd or drumstick (not the kind that is on a chicken) but usually the unfamiliar ingredients are actually spices.  #3 “Spicy” and “spiced” are really too different things.  Yes, there are a lot of spices in Indian cooking and that is why it is so intoxicating.  Most of the spices are there to give the food flavor and color, not necessarily heat.  When you are cooking it yourself, you control the level of heat so what are you afraid of?  #4 needs a new paragraph.

If you cook regularly, you probably have jars of cumin, coriander, and cayenne at home, these are spices commonly used in Indian food but also in Thai, Mexican, and Middle Eastern food, among others.  Perhaps you even have turmeric and mustard seeds.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you want to make a recipe that calls for fenugreek and garam masala and when you see that you think to yourself, “Now this is why I don’t make Indian food.”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go buy whole jars of things that you are not going to use on a daily basis.  Most grocery stores these days have a bulk spice section where you can buy a couple of teaspoons for less than a dollar.  An added bonus is that the bulk spices tend to be much fresher than those you get in a  jar because there is a lot of turnover.  Take a tip from me and clearly write on the bag which spice it is and then store all your little bits of spices in one Ziploc bag.  That way, you can pull out that one bag when you want to make Indian food.  If you are looking for online resources for spices, I can highly recommend World Spice Merchant and Penzey’s.  World Spice Merchant has a storefront in Seattle and Penzey’s has locations all over the U. S.

Now that we are not afraid anymore, can we continue?  I make Indian food often in my kitchen.  I was never a fan of the Indian restaurants in Seattle so when I craved it, I made it myself.  I turn to several trusted cookbooks over and over and although I am a person always wanting to try new recipes, I gravitate toward the same dishes.  They are that good.

This Cauliflower and Potato Curry is a great place to start if you are apprehensive about cooking Indian food.  The recipe is easy, the ingredient list relatively short, ingredients are familiar, and it is not spicy (as in hot).  I have probably made this recipe 30 times and I change up little things each time.  Sometimes I use big tomatoes that I seed, sometimes I use cherry tomatoes, sometimes I use canned tomatoes.  I have made it with more cauliflower and fewer potatoes, and also with more potatoes and less cauliflower.  I’ve added frozen peas on more than one occasion.  I’ve used all coconut milk and also half coconut milk and half water.  I have made it soupier and drier.  My point is this is a very adaptable recipe.  How you see it below is how I like it best.

One Year Ago:  Flan, Layered Pasilla Tortilla Casserole
Two Years Ago:  Cheddar Crackers (I’ve made these about 1,000 times), Kaye Korma Curry
Three Years Ago:  Gianduja Gelato, Orange Grand Marnier Cake, Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon
Four Years Ago:  Mexican Brownies, Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce with Tofu,

Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Coconut oil (or canola or peanut oil)
1 ½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chile powder
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ¼ pound new potatoes (assorted colors are nice), cut into large chunks
1 small cauliflower, about 1 ¼ pounds, broken into florets
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
4 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces water
Kosher or sea salt
Handful of chopped cilantro

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle in the fennel seeds and allow them to cook, stirring often, until they are toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is turning brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the turmeric and chile powder and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, coconut milk, and another healthy pinch of salt.  Next stir in the water.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Allow to cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to check with a fork or a paring knife.  If the mixture needs more liquid in your opinion, add more water or coconut milk.  Just before serving, taste for salt, and stir in the cilantro.



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