Archive for December, 2008

Something Savory

December 16, 2008

When we lived in London, I had the amazing opportunity to take a couple of cooking classes. Most were done at a delightful store called Divertimenti in my favorite neighborhood of Marleybone. They had a rotating roster of instructors, one of whom was Celia Brooks Brown – an American living in London who has written a number of vegetarian cookbooks – and another of whom was Richard Bertinet, a charming Frenchman who has just published a ground-breaking book on bread. I got to take classes with both of them.

The folks at Divertimenti really knew what they were doing. They had a lovely kitchen classroom downstairs from the main part of the store. The instructors used many different kitchen tools, talked about how great they were, and then encouraged us to use our 10% off coupons to buy said tools. For example, Ms. Brown used a square non-stick pan to make a Japanese omelet for a futomaki roll. Even though I could see right through this ruse, I somehow ended up with a square non-stick pan. (True confession: I love this pan. It does not have a silicone coating so I have used it blissfully through all the controversy over non-stick. If I could, I would buy another one in a heartbeat, but I can’t seem to find this German brand in the States.)

I also took some classes at Leith’s which was in my neighborhood of Kensington and is an old and nationally famous cooking school. Kind of the English equivalent of the CIA here. These classes were all about the cooking and not at all about the equipment. I took an amazing chocolate making class where we learned how to make chocolate truffles in molds so they look incredibly professional. Thankfully, I learned to temper chocolate there, otherwise I may never have attempted it. (It is still one of my least favorite things to do in the kitchen.)

The other class I took at Leith’s was called Vegetarian for the Holidays. Because I am a decent cook, and I have been vegetarian since I was sixteen, I didn’t find that I learned all that much at the Divertimenti classes. I enjoyed them, but didn’t learn much. Leith’s was another story. In three hours time, the chef whipped up seven dishes from start to finish without so much as breaking a sweat. I learned that it was possible to like parsnips (in an incredible dish garnished with kumquats) among many other things. A month or so later, I picked up their book entitled Leith’s Vegetarian Bible.

I must confess, I haven’t used the book all that often. I don’t like how it is laid out (by ingredient, rather than by course), so each time I reach for it, I end up just putting it down. But I have been in a bit of rut lately and wanted to dive into my second stringers. I am so glad I did. This dish was pretty outstanding. And not just for this dinner – this is a new outlook on risotto for me. I remember reading in one of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks that she doesn’t like risotto unless something interesting has been done with it. Just a puddle of it in a bowl doesn’t do it for her. I actually do like a puddle of risotto, but these wedges made me LOVE risotto. This technique is great – I had no wedge breakage as I have when I have tried to make croquettes. The actual risotto in this recipe is delicious but I plan to do with another type in the not too distant future.

Fennel and Brie Risotto Wedges
Adapted from
Leith’s Vegetarian Bible
Serves 8

I suggest you heat 6 cups of vegetable stock to make the risotto, although you may not need all of it. (Original recipe only called for 3). I recommend you freeze the Brie for about 30 minutes to make cutting the rind off a little easier. I used two Pyrex pie plates for the egg and the breadcrumbs. I made these early in the day and then reheated them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Great for a dinner party!

2 fennel bulbs
1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 lb. arborio rice

6 cups vegetable stock

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

8 oz. Brie cheese, rind removed and cut into
1/2 inch pieces

3 eggs, beaten


Olive oil, for shallow frying

Fresh fennel tops for garnish

1. Discard any damaged outer leaves from the fennel and cut each bulb in half. Remove the cores and reserve the feathery tops.  Chop the fennel very finely.

2. Heat the vegetable stock over medium heat in a medium saucepan.

3. Heat the oil and butter in a large shallow saucepan and add the fennel and onion and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a low heat for 20-25 minutes until soft but not colored.

4. Add the rice to the pan and stir to absorb the buttery juices. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring continuously and allowing the stock to become absorbed between each addition, until the rice is tender – this will take about 20-30 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper.

5. Carefully fold in the Parmesan and Brie cheeses. Allow to cool.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the cooled risotto out on the paper and gently form it into a circle about 1 inch thick. Make sure it is as even as possible. Chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. If you do leave it in overnight, cover the circle with plastic wrap.

7. Cut the cold risotto mixture into 8 wedges and sprinkle each side of each wedge with flour. In a wide shallow bowl, beat the eggs and in another wide shallow bowl, scoop out 1 cup of breadcrumbs. (You may need more.)

8. Heat a medium non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and fry the risotton wedges for 2-3 minutes on each side until hot, brown, and crisp. You can also fry the edges if you like. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt. Serve hot, garnished with chopped fennel fronds.

Catering a Party

December 14, 2008

Here is the good news about the party I catered on Friday. I remembered all the food. I got there on time. I remembered all the plates and serving pieces. I got all the food done on time. I got home on time to relieve the babysitter. Everything looked great. I remembered my camera.

Here is the bad news about the party I catered on Friday. The camera didn’t have the memory card in it. Doh!

So, I have not one photo from the party. I can tell you what I made (and I will!), I can give you an awesome recipe (and I will!), but I cannot show you what anything looked like. Bummer.

All in all, I have to say I was really proud of the work I did. I put this whole thing together in about two weeks and managed to get everything done while still cooking for my regular clients. It gave me a lot of confidence for next time. When I won’t forget the memory card.

(Note: The party hosts ordered a ham and I made everything else.)


Smoky Cashews
Buttermilk Peppercorn Dip with Crudite and Vegetable Chips

Parmesan and Thyme Crackers

Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates


“Grown Up” Mac and Cheese
Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Lime with Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Green Salad with Pears, Candied Nuts and Pomegranate

Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese

Blue Cheese Popovers


Pecan Pie Bars (I dipped half in chocolate)
Gingersnaps (I rolled
1/3 in red sanding sugar, 1/3 in green sanding sugar, and 1/3 in vanilla sugar)
Chocolate Peanut Toffee

Some of these recipes were new to me, some were old favorites. I figured I would share the recipe for the sweet potatoes since they are something I have now made three times and have had raves all three times. They are simple and fill the house with an amazing aroma. Healthy too! I served these on a large white platter (I tripled the recipe) with a silver bowl of lime wedges and a silver bowl of the dipping sauce at the bottom. It looked great.

Spicy Sweet Potatoes with Lime
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s
The New Classics
Serves 6

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), scrubbed well
2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. hot paprika (
DN: I used pimenton, or smoked paprika)
1 tsp. ground ginger

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Lime wedges for serving

Yogurt Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a baking sheet in the oven until hot, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise; slice each half into three wedges. Place in a medium bowl and toss with the oil, cumin, paprika, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper.

2. When the baking sheet is hot, remove from the oven. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a single layer on the sheet. Return to the oven; cook until the potatoes are crisp and golden on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until golden all over, about 15 minutes more.

3. Remove from the oven; season with salt and pepper. Serve with limes and the sauce.

Yogurt Dipping Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

1 cup plain yogurt (DN: Lowfat is fine.)
3 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro

2 tbsp. chopped toasted walnuts

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice

tsp. ground cumin
Coarse salt

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made 2 days ahead.

100 for 100

December 11, 2008

This is my 100th post! I thought I’d make a list of 100 things I like to eat. In the old days of being a vegetarian, people used to always ask me – incredulously – “What do you eat?” Of course, the answer is not what I (or any vegetarian) eats, but what I don’t. For me, there are four things I don’t eat. Red meat, poultry, the other white meat, and fish. Every single other food out there in the entire world is a possibility for me. It took me about 5 minutes to come up with this list and I could easily have come up with another 100.

Happy 100 to me!

1. Chickpeas
2. Lentils

3. Black beans

4. Pinto beans

5. Edamame

6. Black eyed peas

7. White Rice

8. Quinoa

9. Farro

10. Bulgur

11. Millet

12. Couscous

13. Pasta

14. Brown rice

15. Tofu

16 Tempeh

17. Seitan

18. TVP

19. Eggs

20. Parmesan cheese

21. Manchego cheese

22. Membrillo

23. Montrachet

24. Miso

25. Seaweed

26. Udon noodles

27. Soba noodles

28. Rice noodles

29. Bean thread noodles

30. Ginger

31. Galangal

32. Lemongrass

33. Chiles

34. Cilantro

35. Parsley

36. Broccoli

37. Carrots

38. Celery

39. Onions

40. Garlic

41. Red and Yellow Peppers

42. Green beans

43. Zucchini

44. Corn

45. Broccoli rabe

46. Asparagus

47. Artichokes

48. Winter squash

49. Mushrooms

50. Thyme

51. Rosemary

52. Mint

53. Sage

54. Chives

55. Oregano

56. Basil

57. Potatoes

58. Sweet potatoes

59. Tomatoes

60. Avocados

61. Leeks

62. Shallots

63. Scallions

64. Peas

65. Bread

66. Peanut butter

67. Jam

68. Honey

69. Olive oil

70. Balsamic vinegar

71. Nuts

72. Seeds

73. Butter

74. Chocolate

75. Yogurt

76. San Pelligrino

77. Syrah

78. Hummus

79. Baba Ghanouj

80. Feta cheese

81. Felafel

82. Frozen yogurt

83. Pistachios

84. Marcona almonds

85. Caramel

86. Gnocchi

87. Beets

88. Arugula

89. Ricotta cheese

90. Watermelon

91. Nectarines

92. Apples

93. Raspberries

94. Blueberries

95. Pineapple

96. Cantelope

97. Pears

98. Sundried Tomatoes

99. Tahini

100. Coconut Milk


December 10, 2008

Do you have a favorite small world or deja vu story? Up until recently, my favorite was this:

About fifteen years ago, I was walking around Greenlake which is a great little lake right in the middle of Seattle. It has a 3 mile loop around it – perfect for walking and running. I passed a woman who looked a lot like Debbie Armstrong. Deb won a gold medal in skiing in 1984 and also worked at the camp my brothers and I went to on Lopez Island. As I passed this look-alike, I wondered how she was doing. I had heard she was living in New Mexico and was doing a lot of wonderful charity work. Not ten minutes later, I passed… wait for it …Deb Armstrong. No, it was not the same look-alike, it was her. I couldn’t even say hi I was so stunned. And that day I went and bought a lottery ticket (I didn’t win.)

Now this story has become my favorite. Six months ago, I was doing my regular food delivery. One of my clients is never home when I deliver so I have keys to their house. I let myself in and started putting everything away. I realized I forgot something in my car and went out to get it. When I got back to the door, it was locked. Although I had unlocked the deadbolt and the door knob to go in, the door knob never unlocks without a key – a fact I didn’t know until that moment. Their keys and, more importantly my keys, were in the house. Immediately my mind started racing – how was I going to get home to relieve the babysitter?

At that moment, the next door neighbor pulled in to her driveway. I went up to the car, introduced myself, told them I brought food to E and J and did she by chance have a key to their house? She immediately asked, “What do you mean you bring food to them?” I had to switch from panic mode to selling myself and my business mode very quickly. I gave her my (very short) pitch and we exchanged emails so I could send her more information. Then, very kindly, she and two of her daughters walked around the house with me to see if E and J had hidden a key somewhere (they hadn’t), and she also walked me over to another neighbor’s house to see if they had a key (they didn’t). Fortunately, I did have my cell phone and I was able to get in touch with E – after 20 panic stricken minutes – and was able to let myself in.

Meanwhile, my husband was working on putting a brunch together with a Naval Academy classmate who lives in Seattle. We had been going back and forth on dates and had finally settled on a Saturday. Two days after my mini panic attack.

The next day, I sent this nice neighbor an email telling her all about my business. She, after having been cc’ed on the emails from Randy, immediately recognized my last name and put two and two together. Yes, this nice and helpful neighbor – whose house I have been driving by for two and half years – was none other than the wife of a college classmate of my husband’s and my brunch date two days after “meeting” her. There are ways that this story could have been kind of weird (if, in talking about my business, we had realized that her neighbors were my clients – or if I had gotten to talking with her outside one day, and realized that our husbands had been classmates), but the way it all worked out was very weird. I should have bought a lottery ticket – I’m sure I would have won.

Now, the reason I tell this long story is so that I can tell you this wonderful couple has asked me to cater a Christmas party for them at their beautiful house. Friday. For 30 people. I am knee deep in food and wondering how I will get it all done (in addition to delivering food to my regular clients.) But I will. I always do. More on the menu next time.

Not Your (or My) Mother’s Stuffed Cabbage

December 7, 2008

When I was a kid, my mom cooked a lot of 1970’s fare. Meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, corned beef and cabbage, bbq’ed chicken, stuffed cabbage. As my brothers and I grew up and really started to appreciate food (she is a good cook), she got more adventurous. She started reading cookbooks and branching out. Once I became a vegetarian (at age 16), she branched out even farther and started making more ethnic food and eventually became a vegetarian herself.

All along, my dad never complained. He is an enthusiastic eater and loved whatever she made. I think if you asked him, though, he would love to have one of those old dishes again. Especially stuffed cabbage. Her recipe was sweet, sour, and substantial. Cabbage parcels stuffed with a meat and rice mixture flavored with lots of cinnamon, and all bathed in a piquant tomato sauce. It makes me laugh to think that she used to take the meat out of the cabbage so I didn’t have to eat the cabbage part. Now it would be the other way around.

Up until recently, I never attempted a vegetarian stuffed cabbage recipe. Perhaps I was haunted by the memories of that meat mixture, or perhaps I was just lazy. Sometimes I am funny that way. I’ll spend hours making a cake but the idea of making a filling and then preparing a vegetable wrapper, and then doing the actual wrapping just sounded like too much. Until the time I actually tried it and realized that it is easy and makes for a delicious dinner.

For this recipe you use collard greens instead of cabbage. Really, any of the leafy greens make good wrappers. I removed the vein in each leaf and used two roughly same-sized halves, slightly overlapped, for each roll. That way, you can make dinner sized parcels and don’t have to worry about the filling spilling out. As yummy as the filling is here, the sauce is what makes it. If you have left over, it makes a delicious salad dressing or sauce for tofu, or really just about anything.

Middle Eastern Lentil Rice Rolls with Lemon Tahini Sauce
Loosely adapted from
The New Whole Grains Cookbook
Serves 4

cup Le Puy lentils (can use plain brown lentils)
cup short grain brown rice
1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

olive oil

bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. mild vinegar (such as apple cider)

2 bunches large-leaved collard greens, about 24 leaves

cup tahini
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

cup lemon juice
cup water
tsp salt, or more to taste

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly so the water stays at a gentle boil. Cook lentils until tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Taste to make sure they are done. Drain and set aside.

Bring a medium size pot of water to boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and then add the rice. Give it a good stir, then allow to cook, keeping the water at a boil, until done but with a little bit of a bite, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add the onion. Cook until beginning to soften, then add the garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, then add a good pinch of salt, the cayenne, the oregano, and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add the parsley, give it a good stir and remove from the heat. In a bowl, mix the saute with the rice, lentils, lemon juice and another good pinch of salt. (This mixture can be made one day ahead and refrigerated, covered.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Cut the collards in half along the stem, removing the stem and discarding it. Drop the leaves in the boiling water and stir for 2-3 minutes, until softened and bright green. Drain and rinse in cold water immediately. Shake each leaf off and lay on a kitchen towel to blot dry.

Take two roughly same-sized pieces and overlap them slightly. Scoop a couple of tablespoons of the rice mixture and place right where the leaves overlap. Fold the sides in and then roll up the leaves, cigar-style. Place on a serving platter seam-side down. Serve at room temperature.

For the sauce, put the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice in the work bowl of the a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the water and the salt and process to make a pourable sauce. Serve with the rolls.

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