Archive for January, 2009

Pea Salad

January 19, 2009

This may sound funny, but I think side dishes are tough for vegetarians. They seem to often include potatoes or another kind of starch, or they are really just vegetables. Often my main courses are very starch heavy or vegetable heavy and a traditional side just doesn’t sound right. When I find a good one, I hang on to it and use it with a variety of different dishes.

I love this pea dish because it can do double duty. It can be served as a side (as I did last week with a healthier version of mac and cheese), or it can be a salad. The original recipe calls for pea shoots which can be hard to find unless you hit a farmer’s market in the spring (their season), or live close to an Asian market. If I want this dish to be more salad-like, I will either toss some arugula leaves into the salad itself (as I for the party I catered), or I will serve the peas on a bed of arugula.

I suppose this dish would be simple incredible with fresh peas, but we are months away from that luxury here in Seattle and I think using fresh would make it incredibly expensive and time consuming. Frozen are fine here. The original recipe tells you to cook them, but I just allow them to thaw for a good few hours and use them that way to save time and dishes to wash!

Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese
Adapted from
Bon Appetit
Serves 4-6

1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tsp. honey

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

1 pound frozen peas, thawed

1 bunch radishes, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 oz.)

3 cups arugula (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the cumin, lime juice, and honey. Gradually whisk in olive oil; stir in dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

In a large bowl, place the peas, radishes, and feta cheese. Add the dressing and toss to coat. If desired, add the arugula and toss again. (Note: If you are not going to serve the salad right away, wait until serving time to toss in the arugula, otherwise it will wilt.)

Facing Fears

January 17, 2009

(Warning: If you have sensitive stomach, you may want to skip this post.)

I am not forgetting for one minute that this is a food blog. I know that almost everyone who reads (and thank you for doing so!) is interested in the food I am making and the recipes I post. Maybe you are a little interested in who I am and some of my stories. Because of that, I have to share what I have just lived through. Children with stomach flu.

You see, I have a vomit phobia. I know no one likes to vomit or clean it up, but for me it is a true phobia. When I was pregnant with my older son, I would worry, almost on a daily basis, about him getting sick and how I was going to handle it. He wasn’t even born yet! I was more worried about throwing up while in labor than I was about the pain or the birth. And after he was born, I would still lie awake at night worrying about stomach flu.

He made it four years without getting it. But on Thursday night, both he and my almost 2 year old came down with it. Yes, both of them at the same time. While that was hard, it was probably better for me just to get it all over with at once rather than worrying about when the other one would get it. Because do you know what? I really did fine. It was gross of course but I could totally handle it. As the night wore on and I wasn’t sure when it would stop, it got harder for me. As the baby kept vomiting yesterday and saying, “I need water please” well, that got hard too. But I think we are now officially out of the woods as far as the kids are concerned. Now I can turn my anxiety to me or my husband getting it.

How about you? Any other phobias out there??

Milk vs. Dark

January 15, 2009

As I have written about here, the year we lived in London, I got to take some great cooking classes. The highlight by far was the chocolate making class at Leith’s. We learned how to make hand rolled truffles, how to temper chocolate, and how to make truffles using chocolate molds. We also learned a lot about chocolate itself. One of the first things we did that day was have a tasting where the instructor passed around different chocolates with all different cocoa contents and from different areas of the world. We were told to write down our tasting notes which we then shared at the end of the tasting.

One of the chocolates we tasted was clearly milk chocolate – the rest were semi or (mostly) bittersweet. To me, the milk tasted delicious and was my favorite of the bunch. As we started to share our notes, it became clear that I was, not only the only American in the room, but the only one who liked the milk chocolate. People called it “cloyingly sweet”, “tongue coating” and other insulting things. I called it “what chocolate should taste like” but didn’t share that with the rest of the class.

So there you have it. I have outed myself. I am a milk chocolate lover. Sometimes it feels like I am in danger of having my foodie license or my chocolate-loving license revoked if I admit that, but now it’s out for the world to see. For some reason, you are supposed to like dark chocolate and the darker the better. But if I am going to eat a piece of chocolate (and because I am always watching my weight, this is rare), it is going to be milk.

Needless to say, I felt somewhat vindicated when this February’s Food and Wine featured milk chocolate. Apparently there are pastry chefs out there who share my love of the light stuff. I marked every recipe as one to cut out (except the one containing gelatin – did you know gelatin is not vegetarian?) and decided to make this cake first.

Here is the thing. It was a little sweet for me. A little cloying, a little – dare I say – milky. Don’t get me wrong. If I was having a chocolate attack and a slice of this cake was put in front of me, I would have no problem eating it. And this recipe has a lot going for it. It’s fairly quick and easy, makes a square cake (which I think looks really cool), and would be great for a kid’s birthday. But I think for me, when it comes to cake, I’m going back to the dark side.

Milk-Chocolate-Frosted-Layer Cake
Adapted from
Food and Wine
Makes one 9-inch layer cake

This cake can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Make sure you bring it to room temperature for about an hour before serving, otherwise the cake will taste dry and the flavor will be muted. You can also freeze it but allow the frosting to harden in the refrigerator first.

1 1/4 cup cake flour
cup unsweetened cocoa powder
tsp. baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter

cup whole milk
6 large eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 pounds milk chocolate, finely chopped

1. Preaheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch square baking pans.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour, cocoa and baking powder. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter in the milk over low heat. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the egg yolk and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.

3. In a clean bowl, beat the eggw hites with the slat until soft peaks form. Grahually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat at medium-high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy. Fold the beaten whites into the batter until no streaks remain. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 25 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool completely.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream on top. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. (DN: If you go to whisk it and there are still large pieces of unmelted chocolate, put the bowl over the still warm burner and let the heat melt it.) Let the frosting stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.

5. Turn the cakes out of the pans and put one layer on a plate. Top with 1 cup of the frosting, spreading it to the edge. Top with the second layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cutting into squares.

Meet My New Love

January 12, 2009

Full disclaimer: I am not a knife expert. I am not an anything expert but I do have opinions about knives and do know a thing or two. Since this is my blog, I am going to share.

The New Yorker‘s food issue came out recently and in there was a fascinating article about knives. The author followed a man named Bob Kramer who is only one of 122 people in the world who carries the title of master bladesmith. This man hand makes knives and has (at press time) a two year waiting list for his creations. Two things about this story really caught my eye. One is that the guy is local (used to live in Seattle and now lives in Olympia) – I’m a sucker for a fellow Northwestener. The other is that they mentioned that in a Cook’s Illustrated article on chef’s knives, the very frugally minded magazine rated Kramer’s very expensive knife as the best they had ever tested.

Reading this article got me really thinking about my knives. In the 16 years I have been cooking, I’ve never really loved a knife. I started out with some rejects from my mom’s knife block and a few I picked up from Goodwill. When I got married the first time, I registered for a whole Henckel’s set and did certainly notice that they were better. Along the way, I have upgraded and tried new things, all the while not really knowing what I was looking for and just falling for a pretty (Shun) and not so pretty (Global) face.

When you read about knives, one of the first things they mention is balance. The knife should feel balanced between the blade and the handle. I never quite understood what meant. What I didn’t realize is that a knife can technically be balanced but not feel balanced in your hand for a variety of reasons, size of your hand being an important one. This is why it is crucial to hold a knife and, if possible, try it out before you buy it.

A couple of weeks ago, my little family and I were in Kirkland checking out the train store (my two boys are obssesed.) As we were looking for someplace to eat, I noticed a sign for Epicurean Edge. Randy, bless him, suggested we go in. He had to have known that we were not going to walk out of there unscathed and yet he encouraged me. I started talking to the guy behind the counter and told him what knives I had and about the article I had read. It turns out, not only does he know the guy profiled in the New Yorker, but he apprenticed under him and he too is a master bladesmith. The waiting list for one of this guy’s knives is 9 years. Randy suggested I get on the waiting list and then asked how much a knife went for. An 8 inch chef’s knife, in today’s dollars, goes for $1800. It’s a good thing I have 9 years to save for it!

He went on to show me a bunch of different knives, all well under the $1800 price tag I will someday be hit with, and makes I had never heard of. What a treat to see so many different things when you see all the same brands at places like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. Even some of our local cookshops carry the same exact brands as the big stores. These were almost all Japanese and completely foreign to me. I mentioned that I have small hands and so the Shun knives were really hard for me to use for long periods of time, they are just too heavy. The 3 gorgeous specimens he showed me all felt perfectly balanced – and light – in my hand. It was a tough choice but I went with the one that felt the best. It is an Asai Damascus Santoku and if it asked me to marry it I would say yes.

It is beautiful, razor sharp, and does all the things you want a knife to do with ease. It slices cleanly, chops without bruising the food, and has the perfect rocking motion that allows me to actually enjoy chopping herbs – something I usually hate doing. I can cut an onion so quickly that I almost don’t even cry. And it feels so comfortable in my hand that I can use it for hours without getting tired.

If you don’t have some spare cash lying around or if you do and don’t want to spend it on knives, I would highly encourage you to sharpen the knives you do own. Every time I have cut myself it has been on an onion and it has been with a dull knife. (Except for last week when I was using a cheese slicer on a too small chunk of cheese and cut a chunk out of my thumb. Like a big enough chunk that I found it and threw it away. Last time I checked thumb is not vegetarian.) A sharp knife will grip onto the slippery surface of an onion or a tomato and a dull one will slip off and onto your finger. If you care about them, bring your knives to a cutlery store or kitchen store. I know our local grocery store will sharpen up to three knives for free, but I don’t trust them. Especially not with my new baby.

Stuffed Mushrooms for Dinner

January 9, 2009

My clients who hate mushrooms are in Paris at the moment. I thought it would be a perfect time to recreate the meal I made for my family on Christmas Eve (minus the dessert) for my other clients. This mushroom dish is a real favorite of mine and one I have wanted to make for my clients for a long time – I just had to wait for the mushroom haters to leave town.

If you, like so many other people, are watching what you eat this January, or are trying to eat more vegetarian food, this is a great place to start. It is very satisfying and filling and you can vary the amount of cheese to suit your taste.

Let’s talk about chiles. This recipe calls for poblano chiles and, as with so many other chiles, the heat can vary. Poblano isn’t a particularly spicy specimen, but when I made this on Christmas Eve, there was a definite spice in each bite. Last night there wasn’t. So, if you are sensitive to spice, taste your roasted chiles first and then decide how much to add. On to roasting. You will often see suggestions to roast chiles (or simply peppers) directly over a gas flame. I am not a fan of doing it this way. Yes, the skin comes off very easily, but the chile (or pepper) is raw inside. I like them cooked a bit more so I always roast chiles (and peppers) in the oven as I describe in the recipe below.

Poblano-and-Cheddar-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Adapted from
Food and Wine
Serves 4

You can make the rice and chiles a day ahead, or even all of the stuffing a day ahead and keep it, covered, in the refrigerator.

3 poblano chiles
4 jumbo portabello mushrooms

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

5 oz. baby spinach

1 cup cooked rice

cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the chiles on a baking sheet and bake until skins start to turn black, turning once, about 20 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and carefully wrap a piece of foil over the chiles. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and remove the skin from the chiles. Remove the seeds and membranes as well and finely chop. Set aside.

2. Preheat the broiler. Drizzle both sides of the mushrooms with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil the mushrooms, turning, until softened, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a plate, stem side down; let drain and cool.

3. Meanwhile, put a medium skillet over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the baby spinach (you may have to do this in batches) and cook until wilted. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid in the pan has cooked off. In a bowl, mix the spinach with the rice, cheese, cilantro, and the chiles. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Preheat the oven to 325. Season the mushroom caps with salt and pepper. Spoon the rice mixture into the mushrooms, mounding it slightly. Transfer the mushrooms to a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the top is lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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