Archive for December, 2012

A Slice of My Life – The Final Chapter

December 19, 2012

Hello friends.

First things first.  I absolutely loved reading about your holiday traditions.  Many of them involved food and most of them involved family.  It made me realize that we need to start a food tradition here in the Dana Treat household, some kind of opening presents treat.  I’ll get back to you on that one.  I do want to thank you all for sharing with me.  One of the biggest reasons I like giving things away is that I get to ask questions like this one and learn more about the folks who read here.  The winner of the Harry and David gift box, randomly chosen #86, is Emily who describes her favorite holiday tradition this way, “My favorite holiday tradition is our annual Christmas Tree Hunt off Forest Service roads up near Crystal Mountain. There’s nothing better than playing in the snow, snow shoeing to cut down a tree and our chili lunch cookout. The trees aren’t as thick as a farmed noble, but every year we have one with character and the experience makes it worth it!

So this.  I have come to the end of my Slice of Life posts.  I’m sure some photo worthy things will happen between now and December 31st but I can’t promise that I will have the time to sit and post about them.  (You can always follow me on Instagram, I am @danatreat.)  I am hoping to give you some food, some recipes between now and then, but I don’t want to promise things I can’t deliver.

I’m curious.  What next?  Did you like the Slice of Life posts?  Should I continue?  Should I do something more food related, some kind of round up each week?  Would you rather just have more recipes?  What do you want to see from me?  Your input is most welcome.  I appreciate each of you.

I am leaving you with this photo of my boys.  A typical “please, both of you smile and look at the camera” shots.  I love this shot.  It is posed but not.  They are doing what I am asking (smiling, looking at the camera) and also, not.  It shows their personality.  It also shows their eyes which, and I may be biased, are amazing.  I have brown eyes and Randy has blue eyes.  Graham has gray eyes (which you can really see in this photo) and Spencer has hazel eyes.  These boys – they fill me up so much.  With pride, love, thankfulness and also frustration, fear, and apprehension.  You get pregnant and you carry that baby and you have no idea who that person will be.  You know you will give birth to someone who will keep you up at night and will require a lot of diaper changes and feedings, but you don’t know who they will be at 8 and 5 5/6ths.  Right now I am fielding questions about Rudolph’s role in present delivery and how Santa visits people who don’t have trees and remembering their attempt to say the Hanukkah blessing along with me and feeling lucky, thankful, and blessed.

I am hopeful that I can deliver a post or two before the end of the year.  Please know that posting on a regular basis is at the top of my New Year’s Resolutions list.  I hope you all have a wonderful couple of weeks and the very happiest of holidays to you.

So Good, I Made It Twice

December 13, 2012

Common sense would say that the second time you make something, it is better than the first.  Right?  The second time you know your way around the recipe, or the ingredients if you are creating it yourself, and the tinkering makes it better.  You are committed to that dish, having enjoyed it enough once to make it again, and it tastes even better.

Not always so.  At least in my kitchen.  I rarely make things twice because I have a deep need for variety in my diet.  Occasionally I make something I really like and find myself craving it soon after the leftovers are gone.  So I make it again and 89% of the time (scientific figure) I like it better the first time.  Is it because I tinker too much?  The old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” idea?  Who knows.  When that happens, I either don’t write about the dish, or I do with the first run haunting me as I type.

Recently I had one of those weeks where I didn’t want to cook from recipes.  I wanted to just have fresh or freshly cooked ingredients at my disposal and figure it out as I went along.  I am not really that kind of cook.  I am a recipe cook but the years of cooking experience and finding treasures at farmers’ markets have mellowed me, and cut my reliance on hard and fast recipes.  So I spent an afternoon stocking my refrigerator with things I like and decided to just figure it all out as the week progressed.  Dinner one night was bowls filled with sautéed kale, quinoa, topped with bits of roasted squash and a fried egg.  There were more bowls filled with rice noodles, baked tofu, and bok choy.  There was a Niçoise salad or two.  At the end of the week, I made a soup whose base was a bunch of leeks I had not used and a lonely potato that was sitting on my counter.  I added what I had leftover and like most soups that are born from ingredients that you like, it was terrific.  I even ate the leftovers for lunch a couple of days later.  Me.  The leftover hater.  The next week, I still had some quinoa, so I roasted more squash, sautéed more kale, and made the soup again, assuming that it wouldn’t be as good the second time.  But it was.  So I had to post about it.

Now, I’m not going to suppose that you have cooked quinoa, roasted squash, and already sautéed kale in your refrigerator.  I would imagine that you could probably make this soup without doing any up front work.  You could add the squash along with the leeks and potatoes, allowing it to get nice and soft.  You could pour in the quinoa after the broth is boiling and I assume it would cook all right.  You could add the kale near the end, cooking it enough that it gets tender but still stays nice and green.  You could do all that and it would be good soup.  But I don’t think it would be that good.

Here is why.  Quinoa cooked properly, not in too much liquid, retains a nice texture and crunch.  Roasted squash gets nice and caramelized making it much sweeter than just cooking it in liquid.  And kale.  Well.  I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this before here but I’m not a huge fan of kale.  I cook it and I eat it because sometimes there is a need for big dark leafy greens and I like it better than chard.  But you will not find a love letter to kale here.  And yes, I have made kale chips and no, not a single member of my family thought they were anywhere near as good as potato chips, and I may have actually just dumped them in the compost bin.  Ahem.  What I have learned about kale is that I need a bit of garlic cooked along with it and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes.  It needs to be cut in small pieces and it needs to cook long and slow until it is really tender.  It also needs to be Tuscan or lacinato kale, which is much more tender than its cousins.  So precooked kale, made just the way I like it, worked really well for me in this soup.

Can I call this a chowder?  Does chowder mean that there is cream involved?  Chowder means chunky to me so I’m going to call it that.  And as for the extra squash and kale that will be left after the soup is gone?  Use them in risotto, pasta, on top of pizza, stuffed in a sweet potato, or shoved into an omelet.

One Year Ago:  Posole Verde, Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two years Ago:  Brown Rice Bowl with Marinated Tofu, Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, Healthier Mac and Cheese
Three Years Ago:  Holly B’s Stollen, Spicy Tomato Jam, Sweet and Salty Cake (I’m making this next weekend)
Four Years Ago:  Breton Apple Pie, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Lemon Rice Rolls with Lemon Tahini Sauce

Potato and Quinoa Chowder with Winter Squash and Kale
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4

I used red quinoa here because I had some I like the color better than the regular stuff.  The regular stuff will work just fine here, your soup will just be a bit more monochromatic.  Delicata squash is my squash of choice because you don’t have to peel it and they tend to be smaller than butternuts.

Olive oil
3 leeks, white and pale green part only, cut in half, washed, then thinly sliced
1 large baking (russet) potato, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
Leaves from 4 lemon thyme branches (or regular thyme)
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cooked quinoa (recipe follows)
½ delicata squash, cut into 1-inch pieces (recipes follows)
½ bunch sautéed kale (recipe follows)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a large-ish soup pot over medium-low heat.  Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot, then add the leeks along with a large pinch of salt.  Stir frequently until they start to soften, about 4 minutes.  Be careful with them as they can burn easily.  Add the potato and carrots and allow to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the lemon thyme, cook for another minute, then pour in the broth.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a lively simmer and cook until the potato and carrot are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the quinoa, squash, and kale to the soup pot and bring the heat up so the soup really simmers.  Allow to cook for 10 minutes so that the added ingredients warm up and the flavors of the soup really meld together.  (Soup can be made up to 3 days ahead.  It will thicken considerably, so add broth or water to it as you reheat it.)

To make quinoa:
Bring 1½ cups water to a boil.  Add quinoa, then lower heat to simmer and cover the pot.  Cook for 15 minutes, then remove lid.  (This will make a bit more than you need for the soup.  You might even want to increase the amount so you have some extra hanging around.  Just use 1½ the amount of water to the amount of quinoa.)

To make roasted squash:
Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Split squash down the middle and scrape out the seeds.  Slice each half into half moons about ½-inch thick and lay them out on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove and turn all the slices over.  Roast for another 7 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To make the sautéed kale:
Wash a large bunch of kale.  Strip the leaves off the stem, you can do this just using your hands or you can slice them off with a knife.  Chop the leaves into 2-inch pieces.  Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add two minced garlic cloves.  Immediately add a large pinch of red pepper flakes.  Just as the garlic is starting to turn light brown, add all the kale leaves.  It will look like a lot but, like all greens, it will cook down.  Stir frequently and add a bit of water if the kale is sticking.  Taste to make sure the kale is really soft, it can take up to half an hour for me to get it where I want it, then remove from the heat.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

A Holiday Giveaway

December 12, 2012

You might already know this but we are approaching the middle of December.  Fast.  I still seem to be under the impression that we are in October.  It might have something to do with the fact that it has been sunny and in the 60’s here in Oakland.  December, the one that I know, is rainy and in the 40’s.  If that.

I’m doing my best to get in the spirit.  I’ve made up my baking list and am starting to tackle it.  We listen to holiday music at night.  We have been lighting our Menorah.  We went and got our tree over the weekend and spent last night decorating it and setting up an amazing train set that Randy’s parents sent to us.  (We are a mixed faith household.)  The stockings are hung, we have lights on our house.  It just doesn’t feel right to me though.  There is not much I miss about our Seattle house, but I do miss how it looked at Christmas time.  We had very high ceilings and each year got an enormous tree, one that smelled just like a forest.  Our ceilings are lower here, our tree is smaller, and we were not able to hang all the ornaments.  It doesn’t smell as good as a Washington tree.  The day we cut it down, the boys were wearing shorts.  In our old life, I made dinner for my family on Christmas Eve to celebrate my parents’ anniversary and we all opened our gifts that night.  It will be different this year.

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer.  I have a wonderful life and so much to be thankful for.  It’s just moving is hard and the smooth sailing I felt after we first got here has morphed into missing home.  But enough sadness and nostalgia.  Time to cheer up and time for new traditions.  Yes our tree is smaller but when we turn out the lights in the living room, not only do our tree lights sparkle, but so do all the lights in Oakland, San Francisco, and Marin.  We can see them all from our cozy couch.  We have been invited to parties with new friends and I have new teachers to bake for.  I’d like to know what your traditions are, how you celebrate this season.  And I’m giving something away.

Last fall, I went to visit the nice people at Harry and David.  I wrote about my trip here.  Since then, I have bought several boxes of pears from them to give as gifts and also just for our family.  If you have never had a Harry and David pear, they are the best you will ever taste.  They are also gorgeous.  Because they are a generous company, they have sent me a box of Washington apples (the only produce, next to wild mushrooms, that I miss from my home state) and a box of pears this year.  And they offered to give away a great box to one of my readers.

I got to hand pick which box to giveaway and I chose this one for a reason.  This is the Bear Creek gift box and I love it.  It offers the very best of the company, in my opinion.  Plenty of pears, a couple apples, some savory snacks (nuts, crackers, Rogue River cheese), and some sweet (cookies, chocolate covered cherries, and the all-important Moose Munch).  Want one?  Just leave me a comment and tell me what your favorite holiday tradition is.  I always like learning more about my readers.  The winner will be chosen at random on Monday morning around noon.  Thanks for being here and for your continued support.

A Slice of My Life – Week 49

December 10, 2012

Lots of food photos this week.  Tuesday, I got to eat lunch at Chez Panisse and Thursday I got to take a food tour of the Gourmet Ghetto, a small area in Berkeley where there is lots of terrific food.

Mecca.  I met Tracy and Allison there.  We had a lovely lunch, the space is so pretty and we had terrific service.  I have to say, I was underwhelmed by the food.  I know it is simple, I was ready for simple.  I like simple.  Nothing was bad, just not what I imaged Chez Panisse would be.

Pizza with wild mushrooms and gremolata.  The mushrooms were stellar, the rest was, um, underwhelming.

The best part about lunch, aside from the lovely company, was a jar of these of these candied citrus peels.  I don’t think I would ever had had the patience to make them myself, so I am grateful to have them!

A soup of my own creation – so good I made it twice.  I know I owe you LOADS of recipes but this one will be first up.

I also sautéed up a big batch of tofu.  Tip – use extra firm, marinate in tamari (or other soy sauce) for about an hour.  Dry fry in a non-stick pan, taking care to keep turning the tofu so it browns on (almost) all sides.  If you think tofu is mushy or flavorless, try it this way.

I went on a Gourmet Ghetto tour with Edible Excursions and the amazing Sarah was my leader.  The Gourmet Ghetto is a small few blocks radius area in North Berkeley around Chez Panisse.  Many restaurants and food shops have sprung up around there in the years that Alice Waters has been changing America’s ideas about food.  The tour was a really nice mix of old traditional places and new start ups and we had many many good bites.  I was incredibly full by the end and had learned a lot.  The above photo is of an amazing chocolate tasting at Alegio Chocolate.  We had lots of samples but I was blown away by their simple 70% chocolate which only contains cacao and sugar.  We tasted it alongside another “premium” chocolate that has vanilla extract in their chocolate and, after Alegio’s, the competitor tasted like perfume.

I like ice cream as much as the next person but it surprised me that the best thing I ate all day was the gelato at Lush Gelato.  We got to taste as many flavors as we wanted and then got a cup to take outside with us.  I tasted every chocolate flavor (because tastes don’t count, right?), then settled on the chocolate orange sorbet and the apple sorbet.  I was totally blown away by the chocolate sorbet – incredibly creamy and very subtle orange flavor.

Potato Puffs.  Think fried mashed potato balls with a tartar sauce like dip.  Crazy good and addictive.

This is the sign at the Cheeseboard Collective.  Those are all cheese that are available on a given day.  That place is amazing and inspiring.  It features a pizza everyday (one that people wait in line for), as well as terrific baked goods.  We got to taste their sourdough and it was super sour and crisp.  I bought English muffins to take home and some of their pizza dough because, as easy as it is to  make your own dough, it’s even easier to buy it.  My boys Freaked Out about the muffins.  They are amazing.

The pizza that day.  Mushrooms, ricotta salata, scallions, sesame oil.  Doesn’t sound like it should work but it did beautifully.  Much better than the pizza I had at Chez Panisse.

One of our favorite holiday traditions when we lived in Seattle, was to go to our friends Jenn and Jos’s house.  The decorated their beautiful house with incredible gusto and good taste.  They always strung these little mittens across their fireplace and I was enchanted by them.  Each year, I would ask where they got them and each year I would forget to buy them.  Jenn and Jos came to visit us about a month ago and they brought us our very own mittens.  I was so touched.  Each one is filled with a little gift and the boys have LOVED opening them.  See San Francisco in the background?

I knew I was missing Cheryl’s cookbook on my bookshelf.  I didn’t know that I was also missing all of these other ones.  Turns out they were all partying together in a forgotten box but are now in their rightful place.

A Slice of My Life – Week 48

December 5, 2012

Last week I had to give up my beloved Washington state plates.

It was Graham’s birthday.  I wrote a post about him.  Thank you to all of you who commented or emailed.  I appreciate all of you.

Birthdays around here mean lots of treats.  There was ice cream at the best place in Berkeley.

Cupcakes in the classroom.  (Some of the kids didn’t like the frosting.  WEIRD.)

There was a birthday cake with two kind of homemade ice cream, chocolate glaze and homemade toffee.

The boys started karate.  When they first came out in these outfits, I almost died.  They were so proud.

Their favorite part of that experience was the fact that we went through a drive-thru and they got to have french fries.  Their first fast food.  Spencer said, “Mommy, why do these taste so good?”

In other news, I have a persimmon tree in my backyard.  Unfortunately these are the type of persimmon that need to be super ripe to use and the birds are eating them before I can get to them.

It was a spectacularly rainy weekend in the Bay Area.  Like scary rainy.  There were rivers off rain pouring off the Oakland hills and puddles the size of small lakes on the streets.  Our house held up with no flooding and no leaking.  Phew.