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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.

Broccoli and Sweet Sesame Salad

March 24, 2011

Even though I fight against the stereotype of vegetarians eating salad all the time, I eat salad all the time.  At almost every dinner and sometimes for lunch too.  Not just because it is “healthy” – I really like salad.  I forget how many vegetables the food pyramid tells us we should eat these days, but I’m sure I eat double the suggestion each day.

When I was working as a personal chef, I got very creative with salads.  I am happy to eat the same one over and over at my dinner table but I assumed my clients needed a little more variety.  So, I made all different kinds with all different dressings.  Recently, I was reading on the Kitchn about things to throw in a salad.  All were good suggestions but I stopped at broccoli.  I love broccoli, why do I never put it in salad?  And then, as I was looking for a side dish to serve with the brussels sprouts dish, this lovely ensemble spoke to me.

Now I have to be honest.  There are days when I can sit and wait for words to come to me.  Words that would potentially describe how delicious this was, how I wanted to drink the dressing, how clean (and yet satisfying!) it felt to eat this salad, but this is not one of those days.  Rather than delay and stall, I figured that I would just offer the recipe up to all of you and tell you simply that if you love broccoli and if snap peas are starting to make an appearance in your markets, get right on this.

One Year Ago: Zucchini, Tomato, and Swiss Cheese Pie
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Broccoli and Sweet Sesame Salad
Adapted from Plenty
Serves 4

Ottolenghi calls for string beans in this salad as well, but I left them out.  You can bulk this salad up by adding a couple of handfuls of spinach.  I had a seed mixture called Gomasio in my spice cabinet which I used here.  It is a mixture of white and black sesame seeds mixed with Japanese sea salt and it was extra delicious in this recipe.  You can find it here.

1 pound broccoli, cut into small florets
½ pound snap peas, strings removed
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
3 tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tsp. nigella seeds

4 tbsp. tahini paste
¼ cup water
1 small garlic clove, pressed
1 tsp. tamari
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. mirin
2 tbsp. hazelnut or other nut oil

Make the dressing
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.  The dressing should be smooth and thick but with a pourable consistency, adjust the water as necessary.  Taste and add more salt if you like.  (This will most likely be more dressing than you need for the salad.  Cover and refrigerate the leftovers.)

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the broccoli and snap peas and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Drain and immediately rinse with very cold water.  Drain again and then dry with a kitchen towel.

Place the vegetables in a large bowl.  Scatter the cilantro leaves and the seeds over top.  Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese

December 5, 2010

Sometimes you need to cook for a crowd.  Sometimes that crowd is very mixed – young and old, male and female, picky and not picky.  You catch my drift.  I find it best in those situations to turn to good old macaroni and cheese.

Graham turned six (!) on November 28th (more thoughts on that milestone when I can actually write the post without crying).  We decided to have a party for him the day after Thanksgiving.  I found a very cool activity for the kids to do which happened to be right near our house.  As I was planning this little party, I felt very strongly that I wanted to have everyone (parents included) back to our house for dinner afterward.  And I felt even more strongly that I did not want to serve everyone the pizza fall-back that seems to be inescapable at a kids’ birthday party.

There is nothing wrong with pizza.  In fact, I love pizza and it is a terrific thing to serve to a mixed crowd, but I just got it in my head that I wanted to cook for these friends and family members.  Yes, we had just hosted 16 adults and 4 kids for Thanksgiving.  What can I say?  I got help with the turkey feast and also I am insane.

There was never really any doubt about what I wanted to make for the party but I wanted to change it up.  Since we all had just feasted on turkeys and stuffing and potatoes, I decided to lighten up the mac and cheese quite a bit.  A few years ago, I found a recipe for it using cauliflower in place of some of the milk and cheese.  I thought it turned out really well and I decided to re-visit that idea for Graham’s party.  I love mac and cheese as much as the next person but I always feel like it needs something else.  One note food tends to bore me after a few bites, no matter how delicious those bites are.  I decided to add some mustard for tang and heat, and some smoked paprika for some, well, smokiness.

Now, this is not spa food.  There is butter and there is milk (2% though!), and there is still a pound and a half of cheese here.  BUT.  There is also 2 pounds of pasta.  I made it to serve a large number of people.  Like 24 adults and 10 kids.  Not everyone ate it of course, but most did and I still had a bit left over.  Considering your standard mac and cheese has about a pound of cheese for 12 ounces of pasta, this is substantially lighter.  The cauliflower is virtually undetectable here.  I’m not a big fan of hiding vegetables in my kids’ food.  I want them to recognize vegetables for what they are and choose to eat them, not trick them into it.  But seeing as there is no way in hell that either of them would eat cauliflower willingly, I am glad that they got a little dose with their noodles.

I realize that you may not have many occasions to make such a large portion.  Nor may you have a pan to fit it all in.  I had a couple of large aluminum dishes that I bought for a long-ago catering job and that is what I used.  You can certainly fit all of this into two large baking dishes (like 13×9 or 15×10).  I’m also sure you can cut the recipe in half and just make a more normal sized (though still very generous) portion.  I did not test the recipe that way so I am giving it to you the way I made it.

Mac and Cheese Previously on Dana Treat: Gratinéed Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes, Three Cheese Mini-Macs
One Year Ago: Spicy Tomato Jam
Two Years Ago: Seitan Bourguingonne

Healthier Macaroni and Cheese
Dana Treat Original
Serves 20-25

In spite of the name of this dish, I almost never use macaroni when making mac and cheese.  It’s too small and boring for me.  Other short tubular shapes are more interesting.

1 large cauliflower (about 3 pounds), broken into florets
2 lbs. short tubular pasta (I used gemelli)
Olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
½ tsp. smoked paprika
3 cups 2% milk, divided
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
½ cup half-and-half
1 lb. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
½ lb. Gruyère, grated
Panko or breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375ºF with the rack in the middle.

Bring a large pot (at least 8 quart) of salted water to boil.  Add the cauliflower florets and cook until fork tender.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower to a food processor.  Add more water to the pot and then add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, according to package instructions, then drain.  Toss the pasta with a bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the mustard, smoked paprika, and 2 teaspoons of salt, to the food processor.  Pulse until chunky.  Pour in 2 cups of the milk through the feed tube and process until you have a smooth and loose purée, adding a bit more milk if it seems too thick.  You want it like extremely thick cream.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or similar type pot.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour darkens slightly in color and smells nutty, about 3 minutes.  Pour in the cauliflower purée and stir well.  Slowly pour in the remaining cup of milk and the half-and-half.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until rich and thick.  Turn off the heat, add both cheeses, and stir until everything is nice and melted.

Place the cooked pasta in a very large bowl.  Pour the sauce over top and carefully mix until the noodles are completely coated with sauce.  Butter one extra large or two large baking dishes and then pour the coated noodles in.  Sprinkle with either panko or bread crumbs and cover with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake for another 10.  The center of the pan should feel hot.

Mushroom Redemption

November 9, 2010

Before we had children, one of our very favorite things to do was go to the theatre.  Each year we would get season tickets to either the Seattle Rep or the Intiman and see incredibly high quality shows.  One year, we did a special deal where, in addition to the tickets, we got a fixed price dinner (with a deep discount) and a restaurant right nearby.  The place is nice inside and the food was fine and we always enjoyed our evening.

This year, after only seeing a show here and there for the past four years, we got season tickets to the Rep.  We will see eight plays over the course of their season.  We have already been to two and I have to say it is so nice to have this part of my life back.  The other night, Randy and I went to see Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women and, for old time’s sake, decided to eat at that old restaurant.

It’s still a sweet place but the menu is almost exactly the same as when we last dined there, about four years ago.  That is never a good sign.  Worse, my food – which was always passable before – was pretty terrible.  My salad was soggy and there is not much I like less than soggy salad.  My main course, a wild mushroom risotto, was nearly inedible.  It was barely warm, chalky and mushy, with bits of undercooked sweet potato (huh?) scattered throughout and bits of brown that I could only guess were mushrooms.  As a nod to the “wild” part of wild mushroom risotto, there were a couple of chanterelles charred almost beyond recognition sitting atop the mush as a garnish, along with a giant sprig of tarragon (again, huh?).

Eating such a terrible dish made me want to give mushrooms a better experience.  Allow them to shine all their glory instead of hiding them throughout overcooked rice.  When I was planning to make the fregola the other night, I had a sense that it was going to be on the lighter side.  I felt like our dinner could use a more substantial side than just the green beans I had in my refrigerator.

This flavor packed side dish stars some Asian ingredients but it really would go with just about anything.  It’s the kind of thing that you keep picking up pieces to taste, long after you have decided that the seasoning is spot on.  I used cremini, shiitake, and chanterelle mushrooms, but any would be good here.  If you are going to roast whole shallots, as the recipe instructs you to do, I would use very small ones.  If yours are large, I would slice them into rounds and roast them that way instead of cutting then into quarters like I did.

Mushroom Sides Previously on Dana Treat: Asparagus and Grilled Shiitake with Ginger Soy Vinaigrette, Mushrooms with White Wine
One Year Ago:  Tomato & Goat Cheese Tarts
Two Years Ago: Eggplant Rollatini with Capellini

Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots with Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4 to 6

2½ tbsp. dark sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1¼ pounds mixed mushrooms (DT: I left mine whole, but you can cut in half)
10 small shallots, peeled
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil with the garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.  Spread the mushrooms on a baking sheet and drizzle with the sesame oil mixture; toss to coat.  Season with salt.  (DT: be very careful with the salt since soy sauce is so salty.)  Roast the mushrooms for about 30 minutes, until tender and glazed.

Meanwhile, on a second rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the shallots with the remaining ½ tablespoon of sesame oil; toss to coat.  Season with salt and roast for about 25 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and tender.

Place the mushrooms and shallots together in a bowl and add all the herbs.  Toss well to coat the vegetables with the herbs.  Serve warm.

Faux Pas

October 5, 2010

This is the dish I made to serve alongside the ratatouille on Sunday night.  I like to think of it now as the dish that could have killed my reputation, at least on Twitter, as a cook.  Let me explain.

The first time I ever had ratatouille also happened to be the first time I had polenta.  My beloved high school drama teacher had a daughter a few years older than me who really liked to cook.  One summer, newly vegetarian and home from college, they had me over for dinner.  They made me the ratatouille from the Moosewood cookbook and served it on top of a bed of polenta.  Truthfully, I was nervous.  I was maybe 19 and although I had always loved food, my palate was not what I would call overly sophisitcated.  But I loved that simple stew and I fell head over heels for the polenta.  Ever since, if I make ratatouille, I make polenta.

With Matt and family coming over, I wanted to make a little fancier riff but still keep it a Sunday night dinner.  In the Plenty cookbook, I found this idea.  This polenta is cooked with rosemary, butter, and Parmesan, and then poured out onto a sheet to cool and solidify.  Some mushrooms that are sauteed in olive oil and then tossed with garlic and herbs.  Taleggio cheese is carefully place over the top and the whole thing put in an oven warm enough to melt the cheese.

I bought my mushrooms, as I did almost everything for this meal, at the farmers market.  We are in prime mushroom season right now in the Northwest.  The chanterelles were $8 an pound and I splurged on a few porcinis as well.  I washed all the pine needles out of them and allowed them to dry, sauteed them as directed.  The few bites I stole told me that even without the polenta, this was going to be a great dish.  My polenta didn’t solidify as much as I wanted but the taleggio melted just as it should and the mushrooms were definitely the star.  After everyone went home, I put the polenta in a container but ate the mushrooms off the top as I did the dishes.

At 3am I woke up with a cramped stomach.  I did not go back to sleep that night.  I never felt terrible but I did not feel good.  My stomach tends to be pretty hard to upset – it is only very rich food or frivolous amounts of olive oil that make me feel sick.  Consequently, because I cook pretty clean, I have almost never felt ill from something I have made.  I knew it had to be the mushrooms because everything else I made was pretty healthy – I even used a lighter hand than advised on the cheese.  In other words, I was very concerned that I had poisoned my guests.  Is it not bad enough to feel the pressure to cook for a food blogger that you respect, but then you have to go and poison him and his wife?

By the time my boys woke up and I had made it about halfway through a novel, I was feeling better.  I sent a tentative email to Matt.  Were they feeling all right?  I was just a teensy weensy bit concerened about the mushrooms.  A tense hour went by in which I envisioned hospital visits and my reputation slaughtered, not to mention a budding friendship between three year old boys squashed.  But no, all was well in their house.  Phew!  So as it stands, my two worst cooking gaffes are the African peanut stew I made for a friend who is allergic to peanuts (I didn’t know!) and the frittata I served to a couple who came for brunch and who don’t eat eggs (I didn’t know!  And wouldn’t you mention that you don’t eat eggs if you are invited for brunch?)  What is your greatest cooking faux pas?  Come on – make me feel better.

Providing you don’t buy poisonous mushrooms, this is really a great dish.  Polenta is one of those things that can be hard to serve to guests.  If you are going to go the soft route, it really needs to be made just before serving (unless you want to cook it in a double boiler).  But if you make it this way, it can sit until you need it and it will still be hot from its trip to the cheese melting oven.

Polenta previously on Dana Treat: Polenta Baked with Corn, Basil, and Tomatoes
One Year Ago: Smoky Chard Over Grilled Bread
Two Years Ago: Mediterranean Five Lentil Soup

Mushroom and Herb Polenta
Adapted from Plenty
Serves 4

The recipe instructs you to add truffle oil to the pre-formed polenta but I was out so I left it out.  I opted to pour my polenta out free-form on a sheet of parchment paper for a more rustic look, but you can also pour it into a oven-proof pan sprayed with a little non-stick spray.

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 pounds mushrooms, very large ones halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon
1 tbsp. chopped thyme
3 cups water or vegetable stock
1 tsp. salt
¾ cups coarse cornmeal
¼ tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. chopped rosemary
3 ounces Taleggio cheese, rind removed, cut into very thin slices

Heat half the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add half the mushrooms and fry until they are cooked through and brown in spots, about 8 minutes.  Try not to move them around too much.  Remove from the pan, add the other half of the oil and repeat with the rest of the mushrooms.  Off the heat, return all the mushrooms to the pan and add the garlic, tarragon, thyme and a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Line a medium-sized baking sheet with parchment paper.  Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the salt, then vigorously whisk in the cornmeal.  Bring it back to a boil, stirring all the while, then reduce the heat as low as it will go.  Cover the pan.  Stir every 5 minutes or so until the polenta is smooth, about 20 minutes all together.  Add the butter, Parmesan cheese, rosemary, a good pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Spread the polenta over the parchment paper and allow it to cool and firm up, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Top the polenta with Taleggio and place in the oven until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble, about 5 minutes.  Remove and top with the mushrooms then return to the oven just warm for a minute or two.

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