Archive for May, 2008

Friday, at last

May 16, 2008

Ah yes, Friday. Most of us look forward to this day and I am certainly one of those people. This week I have been counting the days more than most because Randy, my husband, is coming home from a business trip to NYC. He works long enough hours that he doesn’t see our baby during the week (he comes home after the baby is in bed), but I have come to rely on him putting our 3 1/2 year old to bed each night. By the end of the day, I am toast so to not have to do that one last thing is a real life saver. It has been a long week but the boys have been great and I had a really nice dinner party last night, so all things considered it wasn’t a bad week.

Seven of my friends from our preschool co-op came over last night. About half of us are no longer actually in the co-op (we are in that half) but we were lucky enough to have a terrific class and many of the women have stayed friends. We are all in similar places in our lives – young children consuming much of our energy – so everyone really appreciates (and needs!) a night out. It made me laugh that almost everyone got here exactly on time – these women needed a cocktail! It was such a lovely night that we sat outside for the first part of the evening where we drank wine and nibbled on White Bean Spread with Crostini and the Stuffed Dates that I had made at the last minute.

After the last woman arrived and it started to get too chilly to sit outside, we moved in to the dining room for dinner. The thing I love about the menu I served is that everything was room temperature and aside from tossing the salad, everything was made in advance. I have thrown a lot of dinner parties and one of the many things I have learned is that it is no fun to try and actually COOK when your friends are there. Last minute assembly of a dish is fine, but to try and focus and follow a recipe while also worrying whether everyone has wine, carrying on a conversation with three different people, and shooing your toddler away from the oven is, well, no fun. And dinner parties should be fun, even for the host(ess).

And fun, this one was. We lingered at the table for hours and I got to catch up with some people who I deeply care for. Aside from the few moms nights out that we have cobbled together, most of the time I have spent with these women is with children present – and if you have children, you know that a two minute story can take 20-30 minutes to tell in the presence of babies and toddlers. So just to have uninterrupted conversation was nice. My boys behaved themselves beautifully and slept through the whole thing. And the food really was good. The last time I made the Fontina Galette from the Macrina cookbook was for my clients and I didn’t taste it – I’m happy to say it’s really good. I made a Beet Salad with Green Beans, Ricotta Salata, and Arugula and it made me curse Randy (again!) for not liking beets. It was delicious and I made it up myself. Before I forget when I put in it, here is the recipe.

Beet Salad with Greens and Green Beans and Lemon Honey Vinaigrette
Serves 4

You can use red beets or a combination of red and gold beets (be sure to use some red for the color). If you use a combo, cook them in separate pans so the golden don’t get stained by the red.

For the salad:
2-3 large beets
A handful of green beans, ends trimmed and cut in to 2″ pieces
A small wedge of ricotta salata (Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market carry this cheese)
About 5 oz of arugula or other salad greens

For the vinaigrette:
1 small shallot, minced
The juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp of honey
5 tbsp of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the dressing, combine the shallot, lemon juice and honey together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. With the lid on, give the ingredients a shake. Pour in the oil, add the salt and pepper and give it a really good shake. Taste and see if it needs more of anything. If lemon is too overpowering, or if the dressing seems too thin, add more olive oil. (The dressing can be made up to week in advance. You can double it and have salad dressing for the week).

To cook the beets, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the beets in an oven-proof dish and fill it with about a half inch of water. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour (or more). They are done when you can pierce them easily with a knife. Allow them to cool slightly, then peel off the skins with a paring knife. Cut in to wedges and toss with a few tablespoons of the dressing. (These can be made 2 days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge).

To cook the string beans, bring a medium size pot of water to boil. Add a good pinch of salt, then the beans. Cook for 3 minutes then drain. Rinse well with very cold water and drain again. (You can shock them – which sets the color and stops them from cooking – in a bowl of ice water, but to me, that’s one more dish to wash).

To assemble the salad, right before you are going to serve it, mix the beans in with the beets and allow them to get coated with a little of the beets’ dressing. Lay a bed of arugula down on a large plate (or in a salad bowl). Scatter the beans and beets over top and then crumble the ricotta salata over top. It looks best if the crumbles are about the size of chickpeas. Spoon the dressing over the salad and enjoy!

Spring Challenges

May 14, 2008

I got an email from a friend who asked how my spring was going. I caught myself thinking that it was actually February instead of May. I’d like to say that this spring is worse than others – that it has been colder and rain-ier than any other EVER. But as I write that complaint, I know I have written it before and the truth is that we never really have much of a spring in Seattle. The winter weather continues with longer days until somewhere around July 5th when summer kicks in. Therefore I find spring cooking to be a bit of challenge. I am tired of winter fare and feel ready to dive in to peas, asparagus, artichokes and stop ROASTING for goodness sakes. But yesterday I turned on my gas fireplace and today I am wearing wool socks. So yes, spring brings its challenges.

Speaking of challenges, I am in the midst of a cooking frenzy. Randy is out of town and so, to give myself something to look forward to, I invited a group of friends over for dinner on Thursday night. Thursdays are usually a client cooking day, so this week I brought food to them on Tuesday and Wednesday instead. It is a lot for me to orchestrate three client/friend worthy meals in one week (three days in a row no less) but I did some doubling up on recipes.

Tuesdays dinner was a Chickpea and Six Vegetable Stew from The World Vegetarian cookbook. I also made Dates Stuffed with Pistachios and Goat Cheese and a Beet Salad with Oranges, Mint, and Lemon Vinaigrette. I was proud of myself because I didn’t use a recipe for the Beet Salad. I am such a cookbook cook and it is hard for me to break out of that habit. I find myself knowing the kind of dish I want to pair with another but rather than just winging it, I spend time I don’t have trying to track down a recipe in one of my many cookbooks. I think the salad turned out well and I made enough beets to make another, slightly different salad for friends on Thursday. Roasting beets – ugh. Why does it take so long??? But the results are, of course, worth it. Randy hates beets so I always try and make them when he is not here because I love them.

While I was roasting the beets, I roasted some carrots for an Orzo Salad with Carrots and Dill. This was a nice surprise. I always think of some kind of Greek taste when I think of orzo – you know, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, etc. But this had very different flavors – LOTS of dill, and the carrots gave it a nice sweetness. I’m already thinking I would make it again the next time we have a big group over for dinner – Sunday of Memorial Day actually. Tonight, I made it to pair with a Spinach Feta Pie, Steamed Asparagus, and a White Bean Spread spread on crostini. I made about a gallon of the spread (my motto: when in doubt, double!) so I have enough for my dinner party tomorrow night.

So, on deck for the party… Along with the spread (and possibly more stuffed dates) I am going to make the delicious and beautiful Fontina Galette from the Macrina Cookbook, Orzo Salad, another Beet Salad (this one with Green Beans, Arugula, and Ricotta Salata) and an incredible dessert (if I do say so myself). I found a recipe for a Gianduja (chocolate hazelnut) mousse and it looked very easy. But of course, the recipe said that it is delicious sandwiched between chocolate cookies and frozen overnight. Being me, I couldn’t just let it stay simple, I had to make the sandwiches and I had to make my own chocolate wafer cookies to make the sandwiches (from Pure Chocolate). Oy! But I have a reputation to uphold, especially in the dessert department and now that I have finished it, and the chaos in my kitchen is under control, I’m glad I made the extra effort. We’ll see how my friends like it!

THE Lemon Tart

May 10, 2008

Randy (my husband) and I are heading to some friends’ house for dinner tonight and I was asked to make dessert. This is a common request when I offer to bring something because most people we know don’t bake and they know I love to. Our sweet friend Regan said he is inspired to cook a spring dinner (although the weather in Seattle hasn’t exactly been spring-like) and I when I think spring I think lemon.

In my experience, if you are going to make a dessert that you want everyone to like, either make chocolate, lemon or apple. I have never had someone refuse a bite of anything from one of those three families. People have opinions about rhubarb, cherries, even ginger, but everyone loves a lemon tart, an apple pie, or a chocolate cake. I have made many lemon tarts in my day but the best one by far is from the Tartine cookbook and that’s the one I will be making today.

I first tried it out on my family during a Hanumass (my family is Jewish but Randy and my sister-in-law are not) dinner. My brother Alex is among the best eaters I know. He went from being a VERY picky kid who would only eat rice, yogurt, and apple juice to an adult who will eat anything except mushrooms and artichoke hearts. It’s actually a huge bummer that those are the two things he has decided to not like because I love both of them and mushrooms are a big part of vegetarian cooking. Anyway, not only does he love almost all food, but he loves a lot of it and is very enthusiastic about every mouthful. He is not a big dessert eater unless that dessert is in the lemon family and then he goes nuts. So I decided, in honor of him, to try out this new lemon tart and I swear he ate half the tart himself. Needless to say, this became my go-to tart and everyone who has tasted it loves it.

Speaking of dessert, Randy and I had a good one at Trellis last night – a rhubarb strawberry pie with creme fraiche sorbet. I actually don’t love pie but Randy does and this was a nice one. The fruit was that perfect blend of tart and sweet and the crust was good and not soggy. It was a lovely date. Dinner was…fine. I was impressed that prices were so low – my salad was $6. When was the last time you paid $6 for a salad at a fancy-ish restaurant? My entree was (drum roll please…) pasta. Now it was a nice, obviously homemade spinach ravioli with a yummy tangle of spinach on top. There were also some tomatoes that had been cooked down (roasted?) that gave the dish some needed acidity. But why oh why does it always have to be pasta?? I have nothing against pasta – actually I love the stuff, but there are many more inspired veg dishes out there. Overall the menu was good, very simple clean-sounding food. Randy had a “wine country platter” as an appetizer that came with this delicious red onion marmelade that paired beautifully with bleu cheese. I think that is going on my menu for the week after next.

Meet Me

May 9, 2008

Once upon a time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I think about food all the time. I am that proverbial person that sits at the breakfast table wondering what I am going to eat for lunch and sits at the lunch table wondering what I am going to have for dinner, and so on and so on. (Actually, this pre-supposes that I sit down for meals which is a rare thing with two young kids).

Over time I have realized that there is nothing wrong with thinking about food all the time – it’s just what foodies do. Reading bits of this and that in the food blog world only reinforce how normal it is love food and to want to share that love with others. I have so enjoyed some of the stuff I have read recently and it has made me want to start posting a blog of my own. So here I am. I’m a vegetarian. I’m a personal chef. I’m a Microsoft widow (my husband is great). And I’m mom to two of the cutest boys you have ever seen (ages 3 1/2 and 15 months).

Tonight we are going to Trellis in Kirkland for a much-needed date night. I have read great reviews and my mom even liked it (she is a picky restaurant go-er, but not a picky eater). We’ll see. Vegetarians get the short end of the stick at restaurants, even in this veg-friendly city. It annoys me to no end. You can just hear the chef thinking, “I’ve perfected my menu…but oh, I guess I need something for the vegetarians. Well, we’ll just give them a (insert seasonal pasta or risotto dish here) and that will be enough.”. Ugh. Like Restaurant Zoe – love that place, love the vibe, love the drinks, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I have eaten there, my choice has been beet risotto. I like beet risotto and they do a really nice one, but give me a break. One time I even joked with the waiter about it and he very kindly offered to ask the chef to put together a vegetable plate for me. It was so awful I wished I had stuck to the risotto.

So yes, there is always Cafe Flora and Carmelita but I find the food there so overly flavored and complicated that I get tired just eating it. Why does the pizza have to have 10,000 weird ingredients on it when a simple Pizza Margherita done well would be sublime? I love to eat out. I love dressing up, I love seeing my husband dressed up, I love going somewhere other than my kitchen to eat, I love the pre-dinner cocktail and the wine with dinner (and sometimes the dessert wine). I just don’t like the eating part – or at least I always find it disappointing. So come on Trellis!! Make it one to remember!

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