Archive for June, 2009

Chilled Avocado Soup

June 10, 2009


When I cook for my clients, I almost always bring them a three part meal.  Some sort of main, some sort of side, and some sort of starter.  If left to my own devices, the starter would always be salad but I don’t want to bore my clients.  I do make a lot of salad – rarely the same one twice – but I have also branched out into appetizers and soups.   I have really come to appreciate a starter soup because I sometimes find it easier to match them to my menu of the night.

In my quest to keep things interesting, I have also branched out into cold soups.  And that is where this lovely soup comes in.  It comes from Deborah Madison and it is one of my favorites.  So much so that I throw that “I don’t really repeat recipes” thing out the window and make it often.  We had beastly hot weather in Seattle last week and all I could think about was this soup.

There are many things to love about it.  It’s cold, it’s refreshing, it’s incredibly rich tasting but actually quite healthy.  It is also very adaptable.  Madison suggests you use lots of different herbs and that you garnish it with pistachio nuts.  I chose to use just a bit of dill, but mostly cilantro to go along with my menu.  And I garnished it with roasted pumpkin seeds instead – just to keep the flavors all in the same family.  The soup was heavenly with the roasted vegetable quesadillas I made last night (more on those at a later date), but I would be equally happy eating it with a variety of different dishes from different lands.


One Year Ago:  A Long Winded Restaurant Review and a Really Good Pasta

Chilled Avocado Soup
Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 4-6

The list of ingredient here may seem long, but the soup comes together in no time.  It is just a matter of blending, pouring into a bowl, adding chopped things to the bowl, and refrigerating.  This is a great soup to in advance since time in the refrigerator improves the flavor.

2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 cup yogurt, full or low fat
1 large avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 large garlic clove
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 slender scallions, white part plus a bit of the green, finely minced
2 tbsp. chopped dill
1 tbsp. snipped chives
1 tbsp. minced marjoram or oregano
1 tbsp. minced tarragon
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime

1.  Purée the buttermilk, yogurt, avocado, and a quarter of the peeled cucumber in a blender until smooth, then pour into a bowl.

2.  Mash the garlic with 1/2 tsp. salt and stir it into the purée along with the scallions, herbs, chile, and lime zest.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lime juice.  Finely chop the rest of the cucumber and add it to the soup.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.  Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasonings.

3.  To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with any or all of the following:

Thinly slivered radishes
Pistachios, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
Finely sliced chive and chive blossoms
Dill, mint, and cilantro sprigs

Cooking for Karen and Kerry

June 9, 2009


I’m back from LA.  It was a sweet trip.  We really just hung out the whole time I was there.  Aside from a few trips to get groceries and a few hours in a great park, we just stayed home.  I got to hear Karen talk about her daughter while sitting across the table from her and I got to see photos of her taken just days before she died.  I got to watch our two boys play.  And I got to feed those two lovely mommies.

I had thought I would fly south armed with a few recipes but then decided to just see how things played out.  Like many people who love food, I think about each upcoming meal.  What time will I eat, what will I eat, and will it satisfy me?  Yes, I had offered to cook for them, but maybe they would want to go out or order in.  I relaxed my expectations and tried not to plan.

Now, I have known Karen since my freshman year of college (which was a long time ago) and we have eaten many many meals together.  We have shared food in dorm dining halls, New York City, Paris, Los Angeles, and Seattle.  She is a closeted vegetarian and loves the chance to eat that way with me.  But somehow, in all the years I have known her, I have never cooked for her.  To get to do so was a treat.  Uncharacteristically, menus just came to me.  I didn’t consult cookbooks or even this blog.  I just improvised (though still wrote out a shopping list – really old habits die really hard).  I’m happy to say I made some good food.

This chickpea dish is something that I’ve made incarnations of over the years.  It stars one of my favorite things in the whole world – chickpeas – and some of my favorite flavors.  It is hearty and satisfying but still really healthy.  The yogurt sauce that I drizzled over the top brought a nice tang to balance out the intensity of the spices.  I told Karen I would make it again when I got home so I could post about it, but the truth is, I would have made it anyway.  It is the kind of dish that I crave.  Basmati rice and roasted cauliflower are great accompaniments here.


It’s been a while since I last talked about roasted cauliflower and I have some new tips.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you are in for something special.  Even if you think you don’t like cauliflower, give the preparation below a try.


One Year Ago:  Balsamic Vinegar Salad Dressing

Spicy Chickpeas with Ginger and Kale and Lime Yogurt Sauce
Dana Treat original
Serves 3-4

The chickpeas:
1 large shallot, peeled and diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. tumeric
2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
4 leaves kale, tough stems removed and cut into bite size pieces
3 tbsp. chopped cilantro

The yogurt sauce:
1 cup full fat or low fat (not non-fat) plain yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lime
20 small mint leaves, chopped
Pinch of kosher salt

Heat a medium pot over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot and add the shallot, garlic, and ginger.  Season generously with salt.  Stir until softened but not brown, about 2-3 minutes.  Sprinkle on the spices and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the chickpeas and toss to coat with the spices, then add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Mix together well and bring to a simmer.  Add the kale and give it a good stir.  If the pot seems to dry at this point, add a little water – about a tablespoon at a time – to keep things moist.  You don’t want it soupy but you want enough liquid to cook the kale.  Adjust the heat to keep it at a simmer and cover the pot.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is very soft, adding water as necessary.

Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce.  Stir together all the ingredients and set aside.

Just before serving, add the cilantro to the chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve over basmati rice with a drizzle of sauce over top.  Serve the cauliflower alongside.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 large head cauliflower
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Wash the cauliflower well and cut it in half.  Remove the core from each half, then cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Place on a baking sheet (dark works great in this instance) and drizzle with olive oil and a healthy pinch (or two) of salt and pepper.  (Cutting it into slices rather than florets gives you more surface area on the baking sheet which means more caramelization which means more yum.)  Mix with your hands and then place in the oven.

Allow the cauliflower to cook undisturbed for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and flip all the slices over.  Return to the oven and cook for another 15 minutes.  You will want quite a bit of brown on your cauliflower so if it looks too pale, give it more time.  Once it is done, you can cut the slices into bite size pieces.

Not How It’s Supposed to Be

June 6, 2009

Last fall, I went to L.A. to visit my dear friend Karen.  At the time, she was pregnant with twins – a boy and a girl – and I was thrilled to be able to spend some time with her before the chaos of two newborns kicked in.  I got to tool around Larchmont with her, meet her adorable little boy, and spend time lounging in their lovely new house (complete with guest house).  It was such a nice weekend and I couldn’t wait for a future date to get our families together.

Karen ended up on bedrest right after I left for the duration of her pregnancy.  She listened to her doctors and was able to make it to 35 weeks, close to full term for twins.  She delivered two healthy babies.  She had struggled with post-partum depression after the birth of her first child and so she left the hospital this time armed with medication.  When I talked to her soon after the birth, she sounded exhausted and overwhelmed but all right in the grand scheme of things.  They had help lined up.  She knew she was going to make it through that most difficult of first years.

A few months ago, I got an unthinkable phone call.  Karen’s mother called me to tell me that the girl twin had died.  A baby who I felt I knew but never got to meet died of SIDS at 8 weeks old. After a tearful conversation with Margaret, I had a brief and gut-wrenching talk with Kerry, Karen’s partner.  Then I hung up the phone and squeezed my children tighter than I ever have.

What can you do for a grieving mother who happens to be one of your best friends?  All I wanted to do was get on a plane and get myself in her kitchen.  I wanted to cook up a massive amount of nourishing and healthy food, enough to fill their refrigerator and freezer so they wouldn’t have to think about eating – the food would just be there.

As it happened, people flew in from all over the country.  I know Karen and I know the presence of one more person would have stressed her out and stress was not what she needed.  I stepped back.  I let them know I was here and would love to come down for a visit when they were ready for me.  I called weekly to check in but just got voice mail.

Then, she called.  She sounded good, grounded.  Thoughtful, introspective – all the things that you wouldn’t expect from someone who had lost a child.  They were ready for me to come.  Maybe I could cook for them, but what they really wanted was for me to bring my older son.  Karen had met him once when he was around 2 years old and he captured her heart.  (This is the same kid who hugged Dave Matthews.)  With all the sadness that had been in their house, and all the visitors, her older son had gotten a little lost.  Karen wanted a buddy for him for a couple of days.

So, we are going.  My son and I are getting on a plane this morning and heading off for the weekend.  Maybe I will cook.  I know I will watch two cute boys play in a lovely backyard.  I’m sure I will cry.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to go and give some love to people who need it.

Thai Yellow Curry, A Wedding, and a Coffeecake

June 4, 2009


I’ve mentioned my fabulous babysitter Erika here before.  I feel more and more that she is a member of our family.  One of the wonderful things about her (and there are many wonderful things) is that she has introduced us to some of her friends.  When she is unable to sit for us, she will work hard to find someone who can.  I am one of the luckiest moms I know because we have a small stable of wonderful young women who watch our boys from time to time.

One of these lovely young women is getting married this summer.  After having some problems with caterers, she approached me and asked if I would be interested in taking the job.

It’s a wedding for 50, the location is a ferry ride away, and they want to do an Asian theme.  All significant challenges for me.  So of course I said yes!  Kirsten and her fiancé are incredibly sweet and accommodating and, most importantly, flexible.  She is about as opposite from a bridezilla as you can imagine.

Because they have never eaten my food (just looked at this here blog), I invited them over for dinner last night.  We had a lot to discuss and I wanted to make sure they liked my ideas and my food.  I decided to make Vietnamese Yellow Curry because I seemed to remember the last time I made it that it was delicious.  I thought it might be something I would make for the wedding, mostly because I know much of it can be made in advance.


Truth be told, it’s pretty tasty, but not worth the amount of work involved.  There are four distinct steps in making this dish and a ton of chopping.  If I counted up the number of pots I dirtied in making this humble curry, you would be appalled.   I don’t know all my readers well, but I would guess that no one would actually make this labor intensive curry if I spent the time to post the recipe – especially I told you it wasn’t worth the effort.  So instead I give you cake.

I expect you must be tired of my yammering on about Holly B and her amazing bakery on Lopez Island.  But this cake is exactly why I love her, her bakery, and her book.  When I walk into a bakery, I don’t want a treat that defies the laws of gravity.  I want something homemade, homey, and delicious.  Not exquisite, just exquisitely delicious.  As I pulled this cake out of the oven, I imagined it in my perfect restaurant/bakery – the one I will open someday (the one with good sandwiches).  Nothing earth shattering here, just a simple cake on the bottom, a fruit compote in the middle, and a crumble topping.  But somehow it all tasted perfect.


One Year Ago:  Gazpacho (I highly recommend you make this asap.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Adapted from With Love & Butter
Makes one-8 inch cake

In the introduction to this recipe, Holly mentions that you can make this same cake with any fresh or thawed (and drained) frozen fruit.  If you do use another combination (favorites include Raspberry-Peach, Blackberry-Nectarine, and Cherry-Apple), there is no need to cook the fruit.  Just lay it over the cake batter.

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
2 cups whole strawberries
2 1/4 tsp. lemon juice
5 tbsp. sugar
3 3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup cold butter (1/2 stick), sliced
3 tbsp. old fashioned oats (not quick or instant)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Make the filling: Combine the rhubarb and strawberries in a saucepan and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice.  Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg.  Distribute over the fruit, stir and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, until the rhubarb is tender and the liquid has thickened.  Set aside.  The filling can be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Make the streusel topping: Place the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel knife blade.  Pulse to cut in the butter and make a nice sandy-textured topping.  Don’t over-process.  Stir in the oats by hand and set aside.  Reassemble the food processor without washing.

Preheat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the center position.  Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

Make the cake layer: Place the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and butter in the food processor bowl.  Pulse until the butter is reduced to BB-sized bits and the mixture is dry and crumbly.  Scrape into a bowl  Whisk the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in a small bowl and add to the dry mix.  Stir just until a dough forms.

Assemble the cake:  Spread the batter evenly in the pan and cover with the strawberry rhubarb filling.  Distribute the streusel topping over the fruit.  Bake the coffee cake for 50-60 minutes, or until no gooey batter shows when you probe into the cake.  Cool the cake for at least an hour before serving.

Haunted by Pizza

June 2, 2009


Last weekend, while up on Lopez, my husband thought it would be nice to take a picnic to the beach.  I stopped in to a little prepared food store to get some things for us to eat.  It’s called Vita’s and it’s in the most adorable building I have ever seen.  We have bought wine there, but never food.  I got Randy a sandwich and got myself a hummus box and was appalled by the size of the offerings (tiny) and the prices (huge).  Clearly, this place exists for the tourists.

Miffed, we walked back across the street to get something from Holly B’s for the boys and there it was on the bakery counter.  The Mexican Pizza.  I had totally forgotten that Holly makes pizza and I had also forgotten the sheer deliciousness that is Holly’s Mexican pizza.  I couldn’t bring myself to shell out another $6 for lunch food (yes, the bakery is expensive too but it is worth every penny) so I went without the pizza.  But I did not stop thinking about it as I ate my stale pita bread and I have not stopped thinking about it since.

I have the Holly B’s cookbook and it includes the Mexican pizza recipe.  But when I went to look at it, I realized that it is kind of a gut bomb.  I mean, it’s totally and completely delicious but it’s pretty rich and filling.  Refried beans are slathered over pizza dough, canned tomatoes and chiles are thrown over the top, and the whole thing is drowned with a heavy dose of cheddar cheese.  I decided to make one from Annie Sommerville’s Everyday Greens instead.


This is no pizza “lite” but the ingredients are fresher and a little less heavy-handed.   It is still very topping heavy, but the toppings include chipotle purée spread over the dough, fresh corn and tomatillos and a scattering of black beans.  I opted to use a cotija cheese rather than the cheddar and Monterey jack called for in the recipe and that lightened it up just a bit more.  I also added avocado slices because it just seemed right.

A few notes about this recipe.  You will need chipotle puree which is simply canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce.  You should be able to find these in any grocery store on the aisle where Mexican food is.  You will just need to whiz up the contents in a blender or food processor (a mini food processor is perfect for this).  Whatever you don’t use can live in your refrigerator, covered, for up to a month.  If you like that smoky spicy flavor, you can add a bit to soups, rice, beans, etc.  Also, I streamlined a few steps here because Sommerville has a tendency to make you work harder and create more dirty dishes than is necessary in my humble opinion.  I forgive her everything because all the food in her books is incredible.


One Year Ago:  Deviled Eggs

Mexican Pizza with Corn, Tomatillos, and Chipotle Chiles
Adapted from Everyday Greens
Serves 4-6

By all means, make your own pizza dough if you have the time.  Yesterday I didn’t have the time so I used a good store bought dough.  I used a full 2 tablespoons of the chipotle purée and it was spicy.  We like things with heat here so it was fine for us, but if you are sensitive to spice, just use a bit of the purée.  Substitute 1 cup of cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup of Monterey jack cheese mixed together for the Cotija if you prefer.  You can make this pizza with a pizza pan or even a cookie sheet instead of a stone.

One recipe Pizza Dough
1 1/2 tbsp. Chipotle Puree
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1/4 pound tomatillos, husked, and chopped into small pieces
2 ears of corn, shaved, about 2 cups of kernels
3/4 cup canned black beans, drained
Fine cornmeal for dusting
1 1/2 cups crumbled cotija cheese
1/2 a large avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat it to 500°F.  Make sure it heats for at least 30 minutes.

Season the tomatillos with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and add the onions.  Cook until tender and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  Add a little more oil to the pan followed by the corn.  Season the corn with salt and pepper and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Roll out the pizza dough and place it on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the dough.  Spoon a little (or a lot!) of purée over the dough followed by a thin layer of cheese.  Next add the corn, onions, tomatillos, black beans, and the remaining cheese.

Bake the pizza in the oven until the crust is golden and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, lay the avocado slices on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

Newer Posts »