Archive for June, 2013

A Slice of My Life – Week 24

June 25, 2013

Last week started on a high note.  We joined a community pool for the summer.  If you want to swim in the big pool, and jump off the diving board, you have to pass a swim test.  That means swimming a full length of the pool and treading water for 30 seconds.  Graham passed on his first try.  He was so proud of himself and I was so proud of him.

Speaking of Graham, I forgot to share this photo from last week.  People ask me all the time about his skin.  It is beautiful, right?  He is so brown.  I am brown too and most of my family is, but not like this.  We use sunscreen and he often wears a swim shirt, but he is just a really tan dude.

A rare coffee (and bagel) date with just one of my children.

My chocolate supply was getting a little low so I went a little overboard.

I grew up in a house with a lot of art.  My parents have a very cool collection of things they have bought over the years.  Randy and I have some really great pieces too and this is my very favorite.  It has a little story.  In March of 2004, Randy and I were living in London.  My parents came to visit and my mom and I took a little trip to Paris for a few days.  We went into a lovely gallery on the Île St. Louis and saw this artist’s work and we both fell in love with it.  I was just a few days pregnant at the time but didn’t know it.  Later, in July, just in time for my birthday, Randy and I were in Paris again, just before we moved back to Seattle.  I was 22 weeks pregnant and just starting to show, and I took him back to the gallery so he could see the paintings.  Our last full day there, Randy went to see the Tour de France riders come down the Champs d’Elysées while I stayed off my feet.  On his way back to our hotel, he stopped in to the gallery and bought this painting for my birthday and had it shipped back to Seattle as a surprise.  In our house in Seattle, it occupied a wall where it could not be appreciated as much as it should.  Here in Oakland, it has a prime spot.

If you are on Instagram, you probably see a lot of selfies (Instagram-ese for self shots).  I have unfollowed two people for their excessive selfies.  I try to limit mine to good hair days (check), new articles of clothing (check), or photo bombs by boys (check).

Date night in my neighborhood!  We are so excited to have an A16 in Rockridge.  We ate at the San Francisco location in the fall and are thrilled to have another East Bay place to frequent.  We had a terrific meal there and I can’t wait to go back.

We had friends come over for brunch on Saturday and I decided I wanted to make these chocolate brioche buns using the same dough as this recipe.  The dough looks so beautiful after its rise.

The recipe didn’t mention that the long side should have been opposite of where I put it.

Also, the glaze recipe was off.  You were supposed to dredge the dough in the glaze but it was too thick so it ended up not being dredge-able and looked a little funny.  Sometimes the Macrina recipes do this to me and it makes me mad.  But these were still spectacular.

Randy’s company did a picnic in Menlo Park complete with pony rides, a petting zoo, shave ice, and lots of swag for the boys.

Fresh chickpeas at the farmers’ market.  I’m going to make this recipe.

This week is Mommy Camp.  We leave for the Delaware shore on Friday so I thought the boys could stay home with me this week.  We could do fun stuff around the East Bay.  And then it started raining.  I don’t remember what to do with rain.


A Real 30 Minute Meal

June 21, 2013

If I say 30-Minute Meal, what pops into your head?  Letmeguess.  Rachael Ray.

There was a time when Rachael Ray was just a woman with a successful show on the Food Network.  Before her magazine, talk show, multiple endorsements, and annoying sayings.  Back then, I watched her occasionally.  I got a santoku because I liked the look of her knife (back when she used a Wüstoff, before she had her own line), and I got a kick out of watching her race through putting a meal together in 30 minutes.

These days, I have a hard time with her.  The sound of her voice alone is enough to make me leave the room.  I admire her.  I know she came from humble beginnings and is totally self-made.  She has worked hard for her many successes and I applaud her for all of that.  She, and her food, are just not for me.

The concept of the 30-minute meal is brilliant.  30 minutes is about the time limit of what a normal person wants to spend on making dinner.  (I am not a normal person and sometimes spend two to three times that long.)  What I have heard from friends who like her is that as much as they try to get all of her menus done in 30, it never works out that way.  False advertising.

I hope this is not false advertising.  In my house, this is a 30-minute meal.  That includes time to make a salad.  Over the many years I have been cooking and working with food, I have gotten to be very good at working efficiently in the kitchen.  So this is how I would make this meal.  I would start the polenta first.  It takes a bit of your attention at the beginning and then it basically cooks itself with an occasional stir.  This is one of the beauties of polenta and why you might want to make it part of your regular menu planning.  While it is doing its thing, I would heat up the sauce pan and chop the onion and red pepper.  Once those are sautéing, I would chop the mushrooms and the basil.  Once all the ingredients are in the pan and simmering, I would put together the salad.  I actually think the sweetness of the cherries in this salad would balance nicely with this super savory dish.  Seriously.  30 minutes.

Two Years Ago:  Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, Late Spring Pizza with Nettle Pesto
Three Years Ago:  Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, Flo’s Chocolate Snaps, MY TATTOO!
Four Years Ago:  Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream, Feta Radish Spread, Spring Vegetables with Lemon Vinaigrette
Five Years Ago:  Spicy Tofu in Lettuce Cups, Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars, Mushroom Pearl Pasta with Sweet Peas

Polenta with Spicy Mushrooms
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4

You can use any grind of cornmeal for the polenta.  It does not have to be labeled “polenta”.  I’ve had success with all of it.  I personally think the polenta itself has a ton of flavor with just vegetable broth and a small handful of Parmesan cheese but you can add cream and more cheese if you want it to be richer. 

Unless I am serving them stuffed or grilled, I almost always scrape the gills out of a portabello mushroom.  There is no flavor in the gills and it just make the color of whatever you are cooking muddy.  I just use a teaspoon to scrape them out.

1½ cups polenta or cornmeal
6 cups water or vegetable broth
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 large portabello mushrooms, gills scraped out, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound cremini or white mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
2 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, shredded
Additional Parmesan cheese

Pour the water or broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly.  Continue whisking until the mixture seems really thick.  It will seem like too much liquid at first but will thicken up quickly.  Add a pinch of salt and turn down the heat.  Cook, stirring once every five minutes or so, until very thick, about 25 minutes.  Stir in the ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, place a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and red bell pepper along with a large pinch of salt.  Continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and just start to brown, about 7 minutes.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant but make sure the garlic does not burn, about 3 more minutes.  Add all the mushrooms, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook until the mushrooms are brown in spots, another 7 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate.  Pour in the wine and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Stir in the basil and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve bowls of polenta topped with the mushroom mixture and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

A Slice of My Life – Week 23

June 19, 2013

This was my view last Sunday.  I had spent the weekend in Vegas with some friends and our plane had a broken air conditioner so we were grounded while they tried to fix it.  Grounded in Vegas on a plane that only had one working air conditioner in 110 degree heat.  I spent a good 30 minutes talking myself down from panic while my friend dozed next to me.  They finally let us take off but it was the hottest flight of my life.  Drinks were free though.

I still think of produce in Seattle terms.  Meaning that almost every trip to the farmers’ market is a surprise and delight.  Eggplants have always been a late summer vegetable for me and here they were in June.

This was a day that I didn’t need anything at the market.

We are up to our eyeballs in salads these days.  I’ve always made a lot of salad but I feel like it’s all I’m making these days.  In other news make this one!

Last week of school frozen yogurt.

There are still so many places in the East Bay (meaning Oakland and Berkeley) that I have yet to try and Dopo was high on my list.  A friend and I shared a lovely dinner and I’m looking forward to going back.  The pizza was great and the side dishes were swoon-worthy.

The boys thought we should give their teachers my chocolate chip cookies to thank them for a good year.  I thought we should take it one further and paint them cookie jars at one of those paint your own pottery places.  I forced myself to quiet my design critic and not have any input on their creations so Spencer chose three shades of orange and green for his jar.  And a San Francisco Giants theme (his teacher is a big fan).

On the last day of school there was a picnic at the lake right near our house.  We are so fortunate to be a part of this amazing community.

The party was a potluck and I brought the Browned Butter Rice Krispie treats from Deb’s cookbook.  In the time it took me to get my phone out of my bag, they were gone.

Date night with the hipster.

On Saturday we headed out of town to visit some friends and stopped to pan for gold along the way.  Spencer got a few flakes and a lot of rocks.

Our friends, who live in El Dorado Hills, have an incredible backyard complete with this pool.  After catching the boys a few times at the bottom of the water slide, they were totally able to do it themselves.  And within an hour they were jumping off the diving board and swimming over to the side on their own.  This is going to be the summer of swimming.

Randy spent Father’s Day on the lake getting up on a wakeboard for the first time and hanging out with these two.  And me, of course.

This is a Bahn Mi Salad.  Tell me, why did it never occur to me to make this?  Coming to my dinner table tonight!

Limes.  From my lemon tree.  You know.  I guess the guy who rebuilt our house after the fire was an amateur aborist or botanist and grafted the limes onto the tree.  I am very grateful to him.

Many years ago, I started singing the Hippo Song.  It was what I would sing to rock Graham to sleep after he had a nightmare or if I just wanted to hold onto him a bit longer before putting him in his crib.  It goes like this:

I love hippos
Yes I do
I love hippos
How about you?
I’ve got a big big hippo
A little little hippo
And I have a baby hippo too.

As you might guess, this is Big Hippo and this week, Graham decided that he is too big for him.  They gave him a farewell breakfast (of Legos) and he is joining a new family today.  (sniff)



Stocking Up

June 17, 2013

I know.  A few more salads and I’m going to have to change the name of this site to Dana Salad.  I can’t help it.  I love salad and it is salad season.  Actually, in California it is always salad season.  I’m making a name for myself as a good cook and baker in my community and some people have even called me a salad master.  This is serious stuff.  It is all because of inspiring produce and my experience – years of making lots of salads.

This beauty grew out of having a well-stocked refrigerator.  Most cooks will tell you that having a well stocked pantry is the key to cooking on fly but in my life, I need produce in the fridge too.  I shop for specific meals I am making but I also just kind of buy what I like.  This goes for cheeses too.  I regularly go to the Cheeseboard Collective, an incredible cheese shop in Berkeley, and just buy chunks of things that speak to me.  Having a couple of good cheeses can make something decent into something special.

I needed a salad to bring to a kindergarten end-of-the-year potluck.  In my head I had a couscous dish that my mom used to make.  It is entirely too boring for me to recount the ways in which I changed this dish, so much so that my version only resembles the original in the dressing, but I think it is important to note that it was so very good because I had bits of pieces of some of my favorite things on hand.  Why did I buy three ears of corn at the market?  Because they looked good and we love corn.  I had no dish containing corn on the menu that week, but we like corn and I figured I would use it somehow.  Just that one decision added deliciously to my salad.  I cook so much and always seem to be making food to share, that even impulse purchases almost always get used up.

So what is going on here?  Israeli couscous, chunks of carrot, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, and the kicker – haloumi cheese.  In my mind I was going to use feta but it turned out that I used the last of it in this salad.  Because I love haloumi, I always have some in my cheese drawer.  I like to be able to fall back on this appetizer, especially now that I have a lemon tree to draw from.  I used to stockpile it a bit because it was not always that easy to find but that is changing.  Whole Foods is a pretty reliable source as is any well-stocked cheese shop and just today, I found it at Trader Joe’s, pre-sliced and about $5.  I’ve never paid less than $10 so that is a huge deal.

Two Years Ago:  Mandelbrot, My Mostly Not Potato Salad, Gnocchi with Morels and Spring Peas
Three Years Ago:  Brown Rice with Tempeh and Tahini Sauce, Pasta with Chickpeas, Chili-Cheese Gratin Sandwiches
Four Years Ago:  Spicy Chickpeas with Ginger and Kale, Chilled Avocado Soup, Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas
Five Years Ago:  Barefoot Contessa’s Brownies, Curried Red Lentil Stew, Feta and Ricotta Cheese Pie

Israeli Couscous Salad with Haloumi and Mint Vinaigrette
Dana Treat Original
Serves 8 or more

The corn is not cooked in this recipe.  I like the crunch of raw corn but if you have leftover cooked (or grilled!) ears of corn, by all mean use them.  I would never normally rinse Israeli couscous but doing so keeps it from clumping.

For the Mint Vinaigrette:
¾ cup mint leaves, plus a few more for garnish
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. kosher or sea salt
2/3 cup olive oil

For the salad:
1½ cups Israeli couscous
1 package haloumi cheese, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into very small chunks
2 ears of corn, shucked, kernels stripped off the cobs
½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Make the vinaigrette:
Place everything except the olive oil in a blender jar.  Blend to a paste.  You might have to scrape down the sides of the jar.  Through hole in the top, slowly pour in the olive oil, allowing it to emulsify.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  (This can also be made in a food processor.)

Make the salad:
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil.  Pour in the Israeli couscous and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 6 minutes.  (Taste to make sure.)  Drain and rinse, then drain again.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Carefully lay the haloumi slices in the pan.  Cook until lightly browned in spots, about 3 to 5 minutes, then turn over and cook the other side.  Remove and allow to cool enough to handle, then cut into roughly chickpea sized pieces.

Place the couscous and all the other salad ingredients, including the cheese, in a large bowl.  Drizzle lightly with the dressing (you won’t need all of it).  Toss carefully and taste to make sure there is enough dressing and there is enough salt.  Adjust as necessary.  Just before serving, toss in some slivered mint leaves.


June 6, 2013

Most of us have food idiosyncrasies.  (I just spelled that word without spell check.  Did you know I won the 4th grade spelling bee?)  I am grateful that my husband doesn’t really have any.  He is pretty black and white.  There are a few things he does not like (beets the hardest one for me to accept) and otherwise he is happy to eat whatever I make for dinner.

All in all, I consider myself to be a good and not picky eater.  I don’t eat meat and I don’t like okra or papaya.  Even my idiosyncrasies are things that don’t prevent me from enjoying a meal at your house.  Curious?  Here they are.

I don’t like nuts in my sweets.  I’ve mentioned this many times here.  I would never put nuts in my brownies and I only tolerate them in cookies like this one.  I like nuts by themselves and in savory food but please keep them out of my treats.

I don’t like my food to touch each other.  I’m fine with soups and stews where things are all mixed together but if I have a dinner plate with three different things on it, I will eat those things one at a time, and I would prefer that they not actually touch.  Weird?  Thanksgiving is tough for me.

I don’t like fruit in my salads.  I like fruit salad.  I just don’t like fruit in my salad.

But I think it is good to challenge idiosyncrasies or dislikes, which is why I make Randy try a beet at least once a year.  And it is why I made a salad with cherries.  Guess what?  It was great!  The key for me was creating a good balance for the sweetness of the cherries.  I used peppery arugula as my lettuce and a salty tangy feta.  I threw in some scallions for a bit of heat, a very rare addition salad addition for me since I don’t really like raw members of the onion family (idiosyncrasy?)  I always make my vinaigrettes with a lot of bite but this one was downright assertive and it went perfectly with the rest of the salad.

A few notes.  Arugula has a lot of personality in the taste department but it is a soft lettuce and wilts quickly.  Dress the salad right before you are going to eat it.  I will always encourage you to buy great cheese and feta is no exception.  Bad feta, usually the kind that is pre-crumbled, is dry and tastes a bit like sawdust.  You want either a French or Greek cheese that is sold in a brick, not a tub.  This recipe will make more dressing than you need for this salad but it will keep for a week or more in your refrigerator (this is true of most salad dressing you make).  Finally, I would say this salad serves four normal salad eaters but Randy and I ate the whole thing.

One Year Ago:  Roasted Pickled Cauliflower Salad
Two Years Ago:  Puff Pastry Squares with Pea and Tarragon Purée,
Three Years Ago:  Radishes with Sweet Butter and Chive-Sage Salt, Asparagus and Grilled Shiitake with Soy Vinaigrette
Four Years Ago:  Oven-Fried Rice Balls with Gruyère, Mexican Pizza, Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Five Years Ago:  Gazpacho

Arugula Salad with Cherries and Feta

Dana Treat Original
Serves 4 as a first course

For the dressing:
1 large garlic cloved, pressed or minced
1½ tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
4 tbsp. sherry vinegar
¼ tsp. each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup + 1 tbsp. olive oil

For the salad:
2 scallions, white and pale green part only, thinly sliced
12 cherries, pitted and halved
1 small avocado, pitted, and cut into small chunks
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
3 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes
5 ounces arugula
2 tbsp. sunflower seeds

Make the dressing:
Place the first five ingredients in a clean wide-mouth jar or a bowl.  Use a whisk to blend.  (This helps the honey get incorporated.)  Add the olive oil and whisk if you are using a bowl, or cover and shake vigorously if you are using a jar.  Taste.  If the dressing is too strong for you, add a bit more honey and a bit more olive oil to taste.  (Store the unused portion of the dressing in the refrigerator.  The olive oil will solidify in the cold so remember to allow the dressing about minutes at room temperature before using it for the next salad.)

Make the salad:
Place all the ingredients except the sunflower seeds in a large bowl.  Drizzle with a bit of dressing and toss carefully so the cheese doesn’t fall apart.  Scatter the sunflower seeds over top and toss again.

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