Archive for July, 2010

Good Enough To Repeat

July 17, 2010

With notebooks full of food magazine recipes dating back to 1993 and well over 100 cookbooks, I don’t repeat recipes often.  There is always the next thing to try.  So it should tell you something significant that I made this salad twice in one week.

Spinach salads are not my favorite.  I find raw spinach to be kind of gritty texture-wise and kind of a zero in the flavor department.  Not that lettuce is so flavoful but at least it has crunch.  I love the idea of a wilted spinach salad because I do like cooked (or at least softened) spinach, but my experience of those is that they contain bacon.  Who knew you could just roast cauliflower and use that as your spinach softener?

Amongst the many treasures to be found in the Ottolenghi cookbook, this is one of the first recipes I flagged.  Originially the cauliflower was meant to be grilled, but I roasted mine in the oven so I didn’t have to watch it too carefully.  The ingredients may sound pedestrian but the result is not.  The dressing is so good that I just kept adding to it over the course of the week and combining it with different things until I made this salad again.

One Year Ago: Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce
Two Years Ago: Zucchini Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint

Roasted Cauliflower with Tomato, Dill, and Capers
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook
Serves 4-6

I served this as a salad but it could be a side dish as well.

2 tbsp. capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 tbsp. wholegrain mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the cauliflower
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets
1 tbsp. chopped dill
4 oz. baby spinach leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

For the dressing, place the capers, mustard, garlic, and vinegar in a medium sized jar.  Add a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Give the jar a vigorous shake.  Add the olive oil, then shake again.  Taste for balance of flavor and adjust accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Place the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Roast in the middle of the oven until cooked through and deep brown in spots, turning once, about 25 minutes in total.

Place the spinach, tomatoes, and dill in a large bowl.  Once the cauliflower is done, and while it is still hot, add it to the bowl as well.  Drizzle in about half the dressing and toss to coat.  Add more dressing as necessary.  Can be served warm or room temperature.

Leftover Love

July 16, 2010

True confession time.  I have a deep dislike of leftovers.  There.  I said it.  Randy would be happy to spend the rest of his life eating left over food out of plastic containers, but I would rather eat a plain bagel than last night’s dinner tonight.  Why?  I don’t know.  I have no good answer for you.  If forced, I still need to make something fresh – a crostini or a big salad – to negate the leftover-ness of the meal.

Leftover ingredients fall into a slight different category.  Bits and pieces that I can be creative with feel more like a challenge to me than drudgery.  As I do more catering, my refrigerator can, at times, have some pretty interesting things in it.  I did that party last Friday and then friends came over for dinner on Saturday.  I was thinking I wanted to keep things pretty simple after making appetizers for 25 people but, as usual, I got kind of carried away.  I started with the idea of making a Spanish tortilla for dinner using up the leftover potatoes pieces and Romesco sauce.  Soon a crostini with balsamic sauteed red peppers got added along with a green salad featuring watermelon, haloumi, and fennel.  And homemade white chocolate chocolate chip ice cream sounded like a terrific idea for a hot night.  Can simple food still be called simple if there are many different components?

Remember those chickpeas?  Remember that when I tasted them at Cantinetta they were the fresh kind?  Well, when I want to the store to buy the zucchini that I decided to add to the tortilla, my Whole Foods had fresh chickpeas.  What is a girl to do but buy them, painstakingly pop each one out of the skin while she should have been doing countless other kitchen tasks, quickly boil them and give them the olive oil, lemon juice, and Pecorino Romano cheese treatment?  {Moment of silence.}  Those things are so good.  Check out my bean section on the side bar to your right and you will see that I love me some chickpeas.  Fresh is a whole different animal.  I mean really different.  Fresh they taste more like a pea than a bean and they are tremendous as a garnish on this tortilla.

This is a non-traditional way of making a tortilla because the potatoes are already cooked and I just served it right from the pan rather than turning it out.  I know this.  Please don’t sic the tortilla police on me.

Tortilla with Potatoes and Grilled Zucchini
Dana Treat Original
Serves 6

2 medium zucchini, cut into thirds lengthwise
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cup potato trimmings or cooked slices of potato
10 eggs
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
¼ cup fresh basil, julienned

Preheat a grill to high.  Place the slices of zucchini on a baking sheet and toss with a drizzle of olive oil, a healthy pinch or two of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Place each slice on the grill and cook, until grill marks appear, turning once.  Make sure the zucchini are tender but not mushy.  Remove and allow to cool.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF with the rack in the middle position.  Heat a large cast iron skillet, or other oven-proof pan over medium-low heat.  Drizzle olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl then give them a good whisk.  Add in the potatoes, zucchini, ¼ cup of the Pecorino Romano, the basil, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Carefully whisk the mixture together and then pour it into the pan.  Cook slowly, occasionally scooping up the edges of the tortilla to let some of the raw egg seep around the edges of the pan.  You don’t want to stir it and you don’t want to cook it so fast that the bottom gets brown.  Turn down the heat as necessary.

When the edges are looking set but the middle is still runny, scatter the remaining Pecorino Romano over the top and place the pan in the oven.  Bake until the middle is set, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven (it will be extremely hot) and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Slice it into wedges and serve topped with Romesco sauce.  (And fresh chickpeas if you are lucky enough to find them.)

Partying with Potatoes

July 15, 2010

Once upon a time, long long ago, I was a yoga instructor.  In the fall of 2001, I got laid off from a job that I hated in Seattle.  I decided to go to San Francisco for an Ashtanga yoga teacher training.  I worked my ass off, got good at what I did, then landed back in Seattle and found work.

My very first job was teaching in a gym that had a studio which housed mostly aerobics classes.  Consequently, it was freezing, glaringly lit, and kind of stinky.  My first class there had two students.  One I never saw again and the other came to almost every single class I taught thereafter.  He was an enormous African American man named Vester who had been a pro football player.  He set his mat down in the very same spot every class and even if he wasn’t there, which was extremely rare and only when he was on vacation, no one took his spot.  One day, Randy and I were walking downtown when I spied Vester on the sidewalk.  He had on leather chaps, leather jacket, bandana, combat boots, and black eye-hiding glasses.  The guy was about 6’8″ and probably 300 pounds.  I know Randy thought I had taken leave of my senses when I ran over to him and gave him a big hug.  But that was the thing about Vester.  He looked mean but was actually incredibly sweet and sensitive.  He was an intergral part of my class.

As much as I hated that space, I loved those students.  I had Lisa who was a stage manager for the Seattle Rep Theatre and whose body was so flexible that I would often have her demonstrate things rather than me.  I had Stephanie who, with her fabulous friendly energy, changed my class from people sort of eying each other nervously to actively engaging with one another.  I had Lindsey who had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and who wore her bald head with grace and pride.  And I had Brooke, a Pilates instructor for the University of Washington dance department who brought her sweet boyfriend David to class.  At first I knew he didn’t want to be there but over time, I think he grew to like me and my style.

After two years of teaching (there and elsewhere), making friends, building my class from two to forty students, Randy and I moved to London.  I lost touch with almost everyone.  I have run into Stephanie who is now teaching yoga classes all over town.  I have not heard about Vester, Lisa, or Lindsey.  Through the power of blogs and the internet, I got reunited with Brooke.  She reads my blog.  She and David (now married) opened a Pilates studio not far from where I used to teach them yoga.  She is a devoted foodie and francophile.

Those good folks recently had a party for their students and the ever-thoughtful Brooke asked me to cater it.  Brooke is allergic to eggs and cow milk, so I wanted to make things that she could eat.  Sometimes I just get an idea and my head and have no idea where the inspiration comes from.  I decided I wanted to make potatoes with a Romesco dipping sauce.  In my head I saw a bowl full of potatoes and a bowl full of sauce and a cute tin of bamboo toothpicks to unite the two.  Then I realized that it would not be easy to eat.  No Pilates studio needs Romesco sauce on their floor.  I changed my approach to hollowing out the potatoes and putting the Romesco sauce directly inside.

How to prepare the potatoes…  Boiling, in my opinion is not kind to potatoes.  It is fine if you are making a salad with them where they will be cut up or mashed.  But if you want them whole, the potatoes get kind of wrinkly and the skin separates from the flesh.  They also taste kind of water-logged.  While the flavor is better if you roast them, the same skin separation thing happens.  I remembered seeing a recipe where you roast the potatoes at a relatively low temperature on a baking sheet filled with coarse salt.  I was so excited about this approach, anticipating crispy exterior and creamy interior, that I bought a couple of extra boxes of salt for the future.

Ultimately, the potatoes didn’t end up as fantabulous as I had hoped, but they were certainly good.  The skin was still more shrively than I would have liked.  Still, I would try this method again but only if it is not 94ºF outside.  Maybe on a normal day when I don’t mind the oven being on for a significant amount of time.

Moving on.  This Romesco sauce is ah-may-zing.  It’s not just this recipe.  Just about any Romesco that includes fried bread, almonds, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, and a significant amount of sherry vinegar is something I want to eat.  I remember making this version when I was a much less experienced cook.  It was the suggested accompaniment to a chickpea stew and at the time, I thought it was an awful lot of fuss for a sauce.  Then I tasted it.  These many years later (and it has been a lot of years), my brain told me Romesco sauce and it told me to find this recipe.

One last note.  Be sure to save the trimmings of the potatoes.  Just put them in a container and refrigerate them for a day or two.  You can use them for a Spanish style tortilla you can top it with some of the leftover Romesco sauce.  Recipe coming tomorrow.

One Year Ago:  Honeyed Goat Cheese Tart with Pistachio Crust
Two Years Ago:  Green Goddess Salad with Romaine, Cucumbers, and Avocado

Romesco Filled Potatoes
Dana Treat Original (mostly)
Makes about 30

This is how I cooked my potatoes but feel free to use any method you like.  Just make sure they keep their shape.

2½ pounds small red potatoes
Approximately 3 lbs. kosher salt

For the Romesco: (Inspired by Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
1 large slice country bread, toasted
½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 Roma tomatoes
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 roasted red bell pepper (jarred is fine)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
Olive oil

For the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Pour a thick layer of salt onto a large rimmed baking sheet.  Place the potatoes in rows, making sure they don’t touch.  If necessary, pour salt in between each potato.  Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until tender when pricked with a paring knife.  Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then brush off the excess salt from the potatoes.

For the Romesco:
Put everything except the vinegar and oil into a food processor.  Sprinkle with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Process until smooth.  Add the vinegar and process again.  Add just enough oil to keep loosen up the mixture but not so much that it becomes runny, about ¼ cup.  Taste and adjust to make sure the sauce has plenty of piquancy and enough salt.  (You will have a lot of sauce which is not a bad thing.  It keeps for up to a week, covered, in the refrigerator.)

To assemble:
Cut a very thin slice off what you want to be the bottom of each potato.  (This will help the potatoes stand upright.)  Cut a larger slice off what you want to be the top.  Using a small melon baller or a paring knife, scoop out some of the potato innards.  Leave a shell of the potato and don’t take too much of the inside out – you will want to still taste the potato.  Using a small spoon, carefully fill the potatoes with the Romesco sauce and top with a parsley leaf, if desired.

There It Stayed

July 14, 2010

On July 5th, I went to a workshop with the incredibly lovely and talented Aran of Cannelle et Vanille.  Have you seen this woman’s photos?  I mean, come on.  She is in a league unto herself (along with Helène of course).  The workshop was less about photography and more about food styling.  While Aran is a terrific food photographer, her real passion lies in how the food looks in the photo.  She has an amazing eye and a clear picture in her mind of how she wants things arranged just so.  She has amassed a collection of linens, plates, silver and other props to make her already beautiful food look spectacular.

I learned a lot from our few hours together.  Here were the two big takeaways for me specifically.  I am not, nor will I ever be, a food stylist.  I make food that I want to eat and then take pictures of it, usually moments before I eat it.  Yes there are things I could do to make it look better, but usually I have impatient dinner guests who are waiting to dig in while I get my shot.  Even if that was not the case, I don’t have the artistic eye that some of those incredibly talented people do.  And (big takeaway #2) I really need to learn how to use my camera.  Aran made some reference to her old photos and how she (shudder) had her camera on auto-everything.  I have my camera on auto-everything.  I know the terms aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field, but I don’t exactly know what they mean.  Someone in the workshop suggested a book for me and I ordered it as soon as I got home.

Aran gave us some general pointers and then demonstrated them with example after example of her gorgeous photos.  One of her “rules” that stood out is to make the food look organic.  “Like it just fell there.”  I believe those were the exact words and I know there were quotation marks around them.  I’m pretty sure the above photo was not what she meant.

Yes, this cake did more or less just fall there.  I turned it out of its pan onto my lovely white square platter and it did a bit of a skid.  Then it decided it was too fragile to be moved into the center of the platter without shattering into a million cake pieces.  So there it stayed.

So let’s talk about this cake.  If I say “flourless chocolate cake”, do you think one of those gooey centered things that are just about everywhere on restaurant menus?  When those things are good, they are pretty awesome.  Not so good and not so much.  This cake is actually not much like that at all.  It is indeed flourless but there is nothing gooey about it.  It’s just light but not too airy and tastes purely of chocolate.  While I like my chocolate a bit denser, I really liked this as an option – especially after a particularly heavy meal.  Lebovitz says this tastes best the day it is made but I froze half of it, thawed it wrapped at room temperature, and it suffered no loss of texture or taste.

One Year Ago: Roasted Tomato and Olive Galette with Fontina
Two Years Ago: Orzo with Broccoli, Feta, and Olives

Chocolate Pavé
Ready for Dessert
Makes one 9-inch square cake

In the original recipe, Lebovitz says to decorate the cake by sifting powdered sugar over it and then drizzling melted chocolate over that.  Yum.  But I knew I was going to try the freezing thing and powdered sugar starts to melt into cakes and look slimy after an hour or so.  Trust me. So I skipped that step.

Cocoa powder, for preparing the pan
1 cup salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
½ cup plus ½ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square cake pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder, then tap out any excess.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the butter and both chocolates.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and ½ cup of granulated sugar on high speed until the mixture leaves a defined ribbon on the surface when you lift the beater, about 5 minutes.  Fold in the melted chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.

In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt on low speed until they form soft, wet peaks.  Gradually beat in the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar and continue whisking at high speed until the whites hold stiff peaks.  Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture just until there are no visible streaks of egg whites.  Don’t overfold.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top.  Bake until just barely set in the center (it should still feel jiggly), about 35 minutes.  The cake will rise as it bakes and form a slightly crackly top.  Let cool about 15 minutes.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan.  Invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, and re-invert it onto a large platter or cutting board.  Let cool completely.

(DT: I served this with the Caramel Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop.  I don’t think I need to tell you that it was the perfect combination.)

For Your Next Potluck

July 13, 2010

One of the things that can be challenging in vegetarian cooking is creating a colorful and interesting dinner plate.  I don’t mean the meal as a whole, I mean what you actually find as your main course.  If you eat meat, your plate is probably something like protein, starch, green vegetable.  In England they call that meat and two veg.  There used to be a vegetarian restaurant in London called Eat and Two Veg which I thought was hilarious.  Anyway.  On our plates, that diversity is harder to accomplish.  You can’t just swap out the steak for tofu.

When I am making a special dinner, I try really hard to come up with a three part main course.  I always have at least one course preceding the main, but I like that main to look really colorful and appetizing.  I found a recipe for this wonderful couscous dish and knew I wanted to make it for my brother’s special dinner.  If I make a starchy side, I try to make a protein-heavy dish along with a clean vegetable.  Galettes are great for dinner parties but in this case, I thought the crust and the couscous would be starch overload.  This time, I made a crustless quiche with kale and zucchini and that amazing blasted broccoli.

This dish was so lovely.  Two kinds of couscous mixed with slow roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and fresh herbs makes for a substantial and delicious side.  The recipe instructs you to top it with dollops of homemade labneh – a type of strained yogurt cheese, but I opted out of that easy but time-consuming step.  I could have probably bought some labneh, but I opted out of that time-consuming third stop on my grocery shopping tour and just bought fromage blanc.  Really, after tasting the dish, I would probably use something more pungent next time – like a Montrachet or even feta cheese.

If you make this as written, you will end up with approximately one ton of couscous, so it would be a great addition to your next party or potluck.  Never a bad thing.

Ottolenghi calls the larger couscous mograbiah which apparently is the Lebanese name for what we call Israeli couscous.  It is about half the size of a pea.  Sometimes it is difficult to find so when I see it, I buy it.  I have used a small Italian pasta as a substitute (not acine de pepe or orzo) the name of which, for the life of me, I cannot find.  I liked it in this dish because the color is not so uniform so it had a more rustic look and texture.  Anyone know the name of what I describe?  (Update 7-16-10: Thank you to Mary for reminding me of the name – fregola!  If you can find that type, use it here.)

One Year Ago:  Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars
Two Years Ago:  Leek Frittata

Couscous and Mograbiah with Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook
Makes a lot

I know this seems like a crazy amount of tomatoes, but just make them and use them in other things if you don’t want to add them all to the couscous.  They are delicious.

16 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut into halves lengthwise
2 tbsp. muscovado sugar (DT: or sub brown sugar)
Olive oil
2 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar
2 onions, thinly sliced
8 oz. Morgrabiah or Israeli couscous
1 2/3 cups vegetable stock
Pinch of saffron threads
8 oz. couscous
2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon (DT: basil would be good here too)
4 ounces fromage blanc, Montrachet, or feta cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.  Arrange the tomatoes halves on a baking sheet, skin side down, and sprinkle them with the sugar, some olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours, or until the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.

Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium-high heat and drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Add the onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a dark golden color – 15 to 20 minutes.  Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil.  Add the mograbiah and cook it as you would pasta until tender but not overcooked, about 10 minutes.   Drain and rinse well with cold water.  Drain again.

In a separate pot, bring the stock to boil with the saffron and a little salt.  Add the (small) couscous, give it a stir, then immediately turn cover the pot and turn off the heat.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then use a fork to fluff up the couscous.

In a large bowl, stir together the mograbiah, couscous, tomatoes, tarragon, and onions.  You will most likely need to add olive oil to keep things from sticking together and a couple good pinches of salt.  Turn the whole dish out onto a platter.  Scoop some of the fromage blanc over top or crumble one of the suggested cheeses.

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