New Cookies and New Cooking Classes

July 16, 2013

Before I tell you about these cookies, I need to tell you something else.  I know you aren’t supposed to capitalize in posts or emails.  That it means you are yelling.  But I need to yell this.


Excessive exclamation points are gauche too but I don’t care!  (!!!!)  It has been almost a year since we moved to the Bay Area and I have missed teaching so much.  I am not able to do it in my home kitchen because it is too small.  I looked into multiple opportunities to teach elsewhere but nothing felt right.  Recently, a dinner out with a friend turned into a partnership and now my classes, at long last, have a home.  Want to join us?  We’ve got some terrific things coming up – a Warm Weather Soups and Salads class in August, an End of Summer Classics in September, and a Knife Skills class also in September.  Much more information can be found on the Classes page of this site.  I’d love to see some new faces in class!

Onward.  Recently Randy gave me a look.  A deeply disappointed look.  Sorrowful even.  It could only mean one thing.  The cookie jar had been empty for far too long.

It’s true.  I went on a little cookie baking hiatus.  The last cookie recipe I posted here was back in March (Chocolate Truffle Cookies with Crackly Crust – they are terrific).  They aren’t the last cookies I made but truthfully, there haven’t been many since those..  Sorry to the cookie lovers.  I hope these make up for it.

I was remembering Randy’s look as I headed into the grocery store yesterday.  I hadn’t had time to page through my new cookie books to find something to make, so I turned to the trusted Epicurious app and typed in “peanut butter cookies”.  Why peanut butter?  Good question.  I wanted to go a little different direction than usual.  There aren’t many peanut butter recipes on this site – cookies with milk chocolate chunks, peanut butter cup brownies, Holly B’s peanut butter brownies.  Wait.  Is that a lot?  I don’t think in over five years of writing that is a lot of peanut butter recipes but maybe I’m wrong.  In any case, as I said in one or all of those posts, peanut butter cookies are not my first choice.  There must be chocolate.  I found these to be especially charming because they have a bit of honey in them and the chocolate, while delicious, is restrained.  It is first and foremost a peanut butter cookie but the chocolate, semi-sweet this time, helps keep it from being too monotonous.  The texture can only be described as pillowy which feels just right for a peanut butter cookie.

Yes, I baked these for my family, but I doubled the recipe so I can give them out as a treat at the end of my class this week.  Oh, I didn’t mention that I give out Dana Treats at the end of each class?  Another reason you should join us!

Two Years Ago:  Ganache Filled Brown Sugar Bars, Soba Noodle Bowl, Lemony Chickpea and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew
Three Years Ago:  Asparagus and Leek Bread Pudding, Big French Salad, Kosheri, Chocolate Pavé
Four Years Ago:  Grilled Vegetable Salsa, Coconut Bars, Vegetarian Bahn Mi, Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars, Roasted Tomato and Olive Galette with Fontina
Five Years Ago:  Leek Frittata

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks
Makes about 24 cookies

I doubled this recipe (why not?) and made my cookies on the larger side.  I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the batter and patted the scoops down lightly with the palm of my hand.  The batter is extremely soft so do take the time to refrigerate it.  Lastly, I almost never grease or line my cookie sheets – the amount of butter in cookies makes them kind of non-stick, so I skipped that step of the recipe.

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned chunky peanut butter (about 9 ounces)
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Mix flour, oats, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat peanut butter, brown sugar, butter, honey, egg and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in chopped chocolate. Cover and refrigerate until dough is firm and no longer sticky, about 30 minutes.Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 heavy large baking sheets. With hands, roll 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough for each cookie into 1 3/4-inch-diameter ball. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake cookies until puffed, beginning to brown on top and still very soft to touch, about 12 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using metal spatula, transfer cookies to rack and cool completely. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

A Slice of My Life – Bethany Beach, DE

July 10, 2013

My husband Randy’s immediate family lives in Richmond and Houston, but the entire extended family, and there are a lot of them, live in the Baltimore area.  The family is close and they see a lot of each other.  Every year, over 4th of July week, the entire crew picks up and heads to the Delaware shore for beach time, eating, drinking, and singing.  We go every other year and it is a trip I really look forward to.

On the West coast, if you tell people you are going to Delaware, they look at you funny.  Why Delaware?  For the beach, of course.  Beach to a West coaster, unless you are talking about Southern California, is a place to enjoy beauty, maybe play in the sand, perhaps dip a toe in the water on a really hot day.  East coast beaches are for lounging all day and swimming, really swimming, in the ocean.  Every time we go, I have a hard time with the sand for the first day or so.  My boys do too.  “Where is the pool?”, they want to know.  But then we all settle in, get used to sand being everywhere, and adjust to long lazy days with nothing much to do.  Every morning, Uncle Dan heads down to the beach in front of his house and sets up chairs and umbrellas and then people come and go throughout the day.  Some stay all day, some just come for happy hour beers.  It is a great vacation.

We flew Virgin America for my first time.  I’m no longer a Virgin virgin.  It was great having the convenience of screens in the seats, on demand movies and food and drink.  It was also great flying out of terminal 2 in San Francisco where there are great restaurants and even a yoga studio.  We were able to take advantage of these things because we had a three hour delay on our way out.  Then we had to circle for an hour over Washington D.C. because a tornado hit near National airport.  It was quite a trip out but the trip back was worse.

We never try and make it to the shore in one day because of things like delays and tornadoes.  We spent the night near the airport and the boys shared a bed.  When they went to sleep, they were head to head but sometime during the night this happened.

Weird to drive over two Bay bridges on opposite sides of the country within 24 hours of each other.

This is so not a West coast sky.

One of the highlights of the trip was spending time with Randy’s sisters, their husbands, and all the kids.  Cousin Charles got a big kick out of his big boy cousins.  (The frozen custard was pretty great too.)

Each time we go to Bethany, we make sure to spend at least one day at the boardwalk in Rehoboth.  It has a great area for rides that is especially good for young children.  It was bittersweet to walk by all the kiddie rides and realize that my children are much too old and big for them now.  They still get a tremendous kick out of trying to win animals.  For some reason, we had never gotten fries at Thrasher’s but we remedied that this trip.  I was disappointed.  They were greasy and not salty enough.

One of the biggest family activities is the one or two hootenannies that happen each week.  Many of the family members are musical, so singing and playing guitar is a big part of their lives.  I sing and play the guitar, I used to perform in coffee houses, but I almost never sing or play anymore.  Each visit, I am coerced to play for everyone so I spend some time practicing so I don’t make a fool out of myself.  The boys were captivated when I played.  (Note to self: play more often.)  Spencer thought he might perform a song of his own but decided he wouldn’t sing.  He would play the guitar only and it would be “jazz”.  In the end, he opted to play with the cousins instead.

Graham, on the other hand, performed a song of his own writing, music and lyrics, on both hootenanny nights.  I was proud to bursting and he brought the house down.

At the 4th of July parade.  Yes, you can see up my dress but I promise that is a bathing suit underneath.

You know.

This was home for a week.  So many of the houses along the shore are huge like this, built for multiple generations to be able to stay in one house and that is exactly what we had.  15 of us slept comfortably!

On our way back to D.C., we always stop in Annapolis to visit Randy’s alma mater.  We walk around the beautiful campus, stop in a few buildings, then hit the store for Navy gear for the boys.

Our flight home was supposed to leave at 10am.  We got to the airport at 8:30am and proceeded to wait for 12 hours.  The crash in San Francisco closed down two of the runways so everything was backed up.  It was one of those, “are we ever going to get home?” days.  We have been lucky with flying and had never been severely delayed so I wasn’t sure how the boys would do.  It turns out they are expert travelers and were amazingly flexible with our weird airport day.

Lots of walks up and down the terminal, new books, comic books, coloring books, treats, a surprisingly small amount of screen time, and they were true troopers.  We finally got on the plane, took off, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  And then I realized we still had a 5½ hour flight and a drive back across the Bay to Oakland to get through.  We got home at 1am which was 4am our time.  Still, I will never take landing safely for granted, especially at SFO.

Finally, I like to let you know what I am reading.  This is the current book.  I had high hopes.  Let the Great World Spin is on my top ten list of all time.  This book is beautifully written.  I have to stop and slow down and just marvel at the sentences and images sometimes.  But I’m not captivated by the story.  I admire it.  I can’t say I like it.  I have a lot of other great-sounding books waiting in the wings though.



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)



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