Archive for March, 2013

Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

March 24, 2013

Thank you for all your entries into my ActiFry giveaway!  I’m so glad to hear that so many of you share my intense love of French fries.  The winner, chosen at random, is Michelle who says, “French fries and Ben & Jerry’s Red Velvet Cake Ice cream. Have to have both sweet and salty or the craving for the other would drive me crazy! Acti-Fry come live at my house!”  Congratulations Michelle!

On another note, I apologize that there is only one photo here.  For some reason I am not able to upload photos in the way I have been doing it.

I go through phases in my cooking.  Maybe you all do too.  Sometimes, I am very book focused.  I pay special attention to books I have been neglecting or those that are new to my collection.  I challenge myself with fancy dishes, dinners that take an hour or more to pull together.  Other times, I am wanting to cook from the most current issues of the magazines I receive.  Up the minute perfectly seasonal dinners with on-trend ingredients.  Sometimes I want to shop the farmers’ markets and let the produce I find there inspire me to search out new recipes from books or blogs that I trust and love.  And other times, I just want to be surrounded by things I like and figure it all out as I go.

This last option is how I’ve been cooking lately.  I know that much of the country is still in winter but Northern California is staring down the barrel of spring without really having had winter.  A walk through an East Bay farmers’ market these days will reveal citrus, avocados, strawberries, cauliflower and broccoli, tons and tons of greens, winter squashes, radishes… the list goes on and on.  It is inspiring to say the least.  I just walked through picking up things that I like, handing over a few dollars here and there, and making up dishes as I went along.  It was not precise or especially thought out.

So, with a big kabocha squash, a large head of cauliflower, some spring onions, and a bunch of other things I already had in my refrigerator or my pantry, I made three dinners.  Three meals that were nothing ground breaking, but all three were healthy, tasty, and satisfying.  I didn’t make multiple stops at the grocery store because I had already bought things I liked and just trusted that I would have enough to make good meals.  It is important for me, when I am cooking this way, to have plenty of salad greens and other goodies for the salad bowl so that even if dinner turns out a little thin, we can enjoy a big salad.

First up, I had an eggplant left over from making Eggplant Parmesan.  Eggplants keep surprisingly well and this one still felt firm and had no bruising.  It had been a while since I last made polenta and I keep seeing notes on how best to cook it.  The current thought is that you don’t have to stir it constantly and that the longer it sits, with an occasional stir, the creamier it gets.  Once it has spent about a half hour over direct heat, you can move it to a double boiler and let it stay for an hour or more.  I’ve always given my attention to polenta at the beginning of the cooking process and then more or less left it alone, but had never tried the double boiler method.  I actually found that mine got a little dried out so I will need to tweak the amount of liquid next time I try it.

I love polenta just about any way but I do think it truly shines when paired with a tomato sauce of sorts.  For this one, I made a  basic puttanesca, minus the anchovy, and added small cubes of eggplant to it.  This is the kind of sauce that can be made in big batches and squirreled away in your refrigerator or freezer for the next time you want to just surround yourself with things you like and figure it out.  I kept this dinner pretty simple but it would be divine with the addition of cheese over top (Parmesan, ricotta salata, or feta would be my picks), or even a fried egg.  This recipe will probably make more sauce than you will use for the polenta, unless you like it very saucy, so try the leftover sauce over pasta or with eggs.

Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

The full teaspoon of red pepper flakes makes this sauce nice and spicy.  If you would like yours a little more mellow, just add less.

1 cup polenta
3-3½ cups water or vegetable broth
Olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, cut in small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 generous tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup Kalamata olives, sliced
2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
Handful fresh basil leaves, sliced

Make the polenta:
Place the water or broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly.  It will look like there is too much liquid at first but it will start to thicken quickly.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and keep whisking until the mixture is quite thick, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat down to low and just give the polenta an occasional whisk, every few minutes or so.  If you would like to try the double boiler method, after half an hour, transfer the polenta to a heatproof bowl.  Fill the saucepan (no need to wash it) back up with water, then heat the water to a simmer.  Place the bowl with the polenta over the simmer water and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel.  It can sit like this for an hour or more with an occasional stir.  If you are going to try this method, I would definitely use the 3½ cups of liquid and maybe even 4.

Make the sauce:
Place a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the pan, then add the onion and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic.  Cook for 1 minute, then add the eggplant, the dried basil, and the red pepper flakes.  Give it a good stir, then allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is tender and starting to brown in spots, about 10 minutes.  Pour in the tomatoes, add another pinch of salt, and bring the sauce up to a simmer.  Cook off some of the liquid so that the sauce is nice and thick, about another 10-15 minutes of cooking time.  Stir in the Kalamata olives and the capers and cook another 5 minutes just to bring the flavors together.  Stir in the basil right before serving and season to taste with salt and pepper.

A Slice of My Life – Week 11

March 19, 2013

Last weekend, the one before this past one, Randy and I went to Napa with a busload of parents from our school.  We were supposed to be on a tricked out school bus but instead it was like a big prom bus.

We bought this excursion at our school auction and the organizers did a great job.  We went to three wineries.  This is Trefethen which was our first stop.  We all really liked the wine although Randy said he would never order it in a restaurant because he wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.  That made me giggle.

Next stop was St. Supéry where they prepared a lovely wine and cheese tasting for us.  We also got to have a catered lunch on their grounds.

Last stop was Louis Martini.  It isn’t the most scenic winery but I loved this tree.  They were the only winery that would allow a busload of 28 people come by on their last wine tasting stop.  Let’s just say things were a little rowdier toward the end of the trip than in the beginning.  There was even an after party that we did not make it to.

First baseball game.  All the little league teams are named after major league teams.  Spencer is a Texas Ranger.

I’ve been leaving my cookbooks alone for a bit and have been just cooking things I like.  I will share three recipes this week and share a bit more about this style.

Love the intersecting lines.

Fog!  All of lower Oakland, San Francisco, and Marin socked in.

An amazing (and brand new!) shop near my house.  Lesley Evers is a local designer and, as it turns out, a mom of kids at our school.  Apparently she has trunk shows.  I bought this one.

Washing farmers’ market lettuce.

This is Veronica.  She was taking a break from being on the wall because the wall was being painted.  We started calling her Veronica because she looks like one (and we call our GPS Veronica), and then we found out from the artist that the model’s name was, in fact, Veronica.

New shoes.  I’m in love.

New bracelet.  Ditto.  You can see the tiniest little bit of my tattoo in this photo.

Strawberries from the farmers’ market.  The best.

When we first moved in to our house, we met some neighbors up the street who mentioned that they too had moved from Seattle.  They also mentioned that occasionally when it was a “hot night” many of them would gather in the cul-de-sac, order pizza, drink wine, and make s’mores.  After the first of these that we joined in, Spencer started asking when it was going to be a “hot night” again.  So the gatherings are now officially called a “hot night” by everyone.  It is pretty amazing sitting in a camping chair, watching the sun go down over the Bay, drinking California wine, while the kids ride bikes in endless loops.  Life is good.

A Sincere Love of French Fries

March 13, 2013

When I was just about a year old, my parents took me to Europe for a three week trip. It was the time of Europe on $5 a Day and the flights and hotels were so inexpensive they couldn’t afford not to go. I don’t think it was a particularly easy trip for them, I was only one after all, and there was some seriously hot weather that we all dealt with in Italy and the south of France. They have told me over the years that I got heat stroke and that I also ate french fries all through Europe. Given my intense love of french fries, even now, this is not surprising. If you are a regular here, you know that most of my savory food is very healthy but you should all know, if I haven’t mentioned it already, that if stranded on a desert island, the one food I would want to eat until the end of time is french fries. Second choice would be ketchup to accompany the fries.

Because I like to fit into my pants, french fries are not a regular part of my diet. One of the benefits of being a parent is getting to steal them off my kids’ plates. But I never order them for myself. While Randy and I were trying to get pregnant, I regularly told him that as soon as I got a positive test, I was having french fries for dinner. We were living in London and had been trying for 8 months which is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but is a very long time when you are really wanting to get pregnant. On April 1, 2004, I went to see an OB because I wasn’t getting my period but was still not getting a positive pregnancy test. I assumed that I was having some hormonal trouble, something I had dealt with in the past and she ran a panel of tests including a pregnancy test, “just in case”. I was sitting in a laundromat later that day, watching our sheets spin around in the dryer, when the previously frosty and now cheerful doc called me back to tell me that I was, in fact, pregnant. I will never EVER forget that afternoon of pure and private joy, the hours spent grinning and dreaming, alone with my incredible secret. I met Randy in his office that evening and told him that my appointment had not gone well. “APRIL FOOL’S!!”

That night we went to a pub where I gleefully ordered lemonade (which is like Sprite in England) instead of beer and “chips” (hold the fish) for dinner. I was in heaven in more ways than one. Over the next few months, I sampled fries all through London, thankful that my morning sickness actually happened right before bed time and was never too bad, so did not interfere with fry consumption. Toward the end of our time in Europe, Randy and I took a trip, supposedly for Randy’s job, that brought us to Talinn, Stockholm, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and then we continued on to Provence for a week with American friends. I continued on my fry diet, adding in plenty of Belgian and French chocolate, along with a few healthy things. I can tell you that the best chips/fries/frites I had were in a certain pub in London (in Chelsea) and also in Amsterdam.

In my non-pregnant and non-world-traveling days, I am perfectly happy making oven fries. Not only are they healthy and almost as good as the real thing, but they create very little mess. The same can not be said of frying your own potatoes. Or can it?

A couple of months ago, the good people at T-Fal wrote to offer me an ActiFry. This is a machine, the email said, that allows you to fry food with only one tablespoon of oil and is so easy to clean that you can put most of its parts in the dishwasher. This sounded suspiciously too good to be true, so of course I said yes. My machine arrived, I took a look at the instructions and enclosed recipe packet and realized that, because I don’t eat meat, that this would be kind of a one trick pony in my kitchen. Potatoes only. But after sampling the fries that came out of it and after making my own potato chips with it, I am happy to have a device that does one (or two) things.

How does it work? Magic, I think. I prepared my potatoes as I usually do for fries, which is that I sliced them as evenly as possible, then let them soak in a big bowl of water – this is essential for getting a crispiness whether you are using an Acti-Fry or making them in the oven. I dried each fry carefully with a kitchen towel, piled them in the machine, drizzled one tablespoon of olive oil (a tiny measuring cup is included) and turned it on. Then I went about my business making the rest of dinner. After 35 minutes, maybe a few more, the fries were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and tasted, well, like fries. Not greasy in the slightest and evenly cooked which is not always the case with oven fries. If 35-40 minutes sounds like a long time to make fries, consider that it takes at least that long with the oven (including pre-heating time) and probably that long for the old-fashioned way (including heating the oil to the proper temperature, double frying, and making them in small batches). I was able to fit 3 medium sized russet potatoes worth of fries in the machine and I am slightly embarrassed to tell you that I had intended for our family to eat them but I made something else for the boys so Randy and I could devour them all. At the end of dinner, I washed machine parts, which weren’t all that dirty to begin with, easily with hot water and a bit of soap. They didn’t even need a trip through the dishwasher.

So, would you like an Acti-Fry? I receive a fair number of product offerings here at Dana Treat, most of which I decline. (Bacon of the Month club for a vegetarian blogger?) When I do accept, I always ask if I can have an additional one to give away if I like the product. I imagine that it is clear that I am fond of the Acti-Fry and they were kind enough to say I could give one away. I’ve shared my desert island food – what is yours? Tell me in the comments what food you would eat until the end of time. I will pick a winner, randomly, next Wednesday. You have until 5pm PDT to enter. Good luck!

UPDATE: Contest closed!  Winner has been selected.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies with Crackly Crust

March 7, 2013

When I was pregnant with Graham, over eight years ago, I discovered the perfect chocolate biscotti. It was sliced very thin, had nice height, crunched with a lovely snap but not so much that you hurt your teeth, and a beautiful subtle cocoa flavor studded with tiny chocolate chips. Because I was pregnant, the craving for that biscotti became a necessity. My perfect biscotti could be found at the then newly opened Dahlia Bakery, just next door to the Dahlia Lounge, a longtime favorite restaurant in Seattle. The duo sit side by side on 5th Avenue just under the monorail. It is just far enough away from the department stores that parking is not terrible, especially if you go around 3pm which I did, just about every day.

I am pretty careful about my weight and don’t allow myself afternoon treats – unless I am pregnant. (There is a post brewing on this topic.) After I delivered Graham, I continued to eat the biscotti during the first few months of nursing, seeing as chocolate was a requirement both times I nursed, and then I gave up the habit. Soon after getting the positive pregnancy test with Spencer, I trudged downtown to the bakery, toddler Graham in tow, only to find that they no longer made my precious biscotti. I was heartbroken but, of course, found other things in that lovely bakery to enjoy. The problem was none of them satisfied me in the same way. I was looking for a sweet treat – crunch, snap, chocolate. Too many of their goodies where of the dinner-ruining variety. I carried both of my babies really high, and I am not all that tall to begin with, so as I got into my third trimester, the amount of room I had in my body for food diminished.  Every day it was a choice between dinner and snacks and dinner always won out.

All this to say that when I received a copy of the Dahlia Lounge Bakery Cookbook, the first thing I did was look to see whether the biscotti recipe was in there. Sadly, the answer is no. There are many treasures inside though and the things I have made have been lovely. Not exactly subtle though. These cookies, which boast a whopping 2 pounds of chocolate, are pretty much the opposite of those delicate biscotti. They are large, heavy for their size, and fully of pure chocolate flavor. The texture is great, soft enough but with some crisp on the outside, and the whole cookie is punctuated with bits of more chocolate. My husband, who continues to profess that he does not like chocolate, inhaled these. By the way, if you have a recipe that you like for chocolate biscotti, one that more or less fits the description above, will you send it my way?

One Year Ago:  Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting, Sesame Snap Peas, Green Curry Noodles, Wasabi Dip, Corn Muffins with Raspberry Jam, Watercress Salad with Marinated Figs, Sambal Talur
Two Years Ago:  White Chocolate Tiramisu, Red, White, and Green Lasagne, Somen Noodle Soup with Spring Vegetables, Asparagus Risotto
Three Years Ago:  Apple Torte, Honey Roasted Pear Salad, Paparadelle with Lemon, Herbs, and Ricotta Salata, Red Lentil Dhal, Grilled Haloumi Cheese and Lemon
Four Years Ago:  Mushroom Enchiladas, Winter Thai Curry, Palmiers, Rosemary Flatbread with Blue Cheese and Grapes, Smoky Cashews,

Chocolate Truffle Cookies with Crackly Crust
The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook
Makes about 30 cookies

I have made these a couple of times now and I will give two tips.  One is to sprinkle a little fleur de sel over the top of the unbaked cookies, just after you have flattened them.  That much chocolate needs a little salt.  Also, they are easy to underbake.  They will start to look crackly early but let them have the full 14 minutes in the oven – at least. 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pound plus 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Generous 2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a bwol, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Stir in the salt and set aside. Place the chopped chocolat ein a heaproof bowl over a saucepan of very hot water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water), stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and cream on medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mising on medium speed unti the eggs are incorporated.

Increase the speed to high and beat for a few minutes until the mixture is very light, creamy and pale in color, scraping the bowl down as needed. Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla extract and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl form the mixer and fold in the dry ingredients using a rubber spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Start scooping the cookies as soon as you finish making the batter. The batter is very soft at first, but it starts firming up quickly as it sits, which will make it more difficult to portion. The easiest way to portion the cookies is with a 2-ounce ice cream scoop. Pack the scoop only about three-quarters full. Or use a scant 1/4 cup of cookie dough for each cookie.

Scoop the cookies onto parchment-lined baking sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each mount of dough slightly with your hand. (Tip: You can use a dampened hand, because the dough is sticky.)

Soon after the cookies are scooped, put them in the oven and bake them. If you are baking in batches, don’t refrigerate the scooped dough, but leave them at room temperature. These cookies will not spread properly if the dough is chilled first.

Bake the cookies until they are evenly cracked all over the tops and softly set, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through the baking time. If you have 2 pans of cookies in the oven at the same time, also switch them between racks.

Remove pans from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the baking sheets with a metal spatula. They stick to the paper a bit, but you can scrape them off with a sturdy metal spatula easily enough.


A Slice of My Life – Week 9

March 5, 2013

A couple of Sundays ago, I got to go on another Edible Excursions tour, this time in the incredibly exciting Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.  I was thrilled to be invited because I am still learning so much about this part of town and new places are opening all the time.

We met at the farmers’ market, which is in the DMV parking lot!, and right away ate two amazing things.  From the Cholita Linda booth, we got fish tacos (tofu for me) that were a terrific first bite.  I was excited to hear that they are opening a permanent location along Telegraph Avenue, where most of the action is happening.

Next up was a kouign-amann, a French pastry that I have somehow made it 42.5 years without tasting.  In all my many travels to France, I can’t believe that I never had the pleasure.  I remember seeing them in the better pastry shops in Seattle, but being nervous about how to pronounce it and what it actually was, I went for something more familiar.  The shame!!  Maybe it is a good thing because the one I tasted, here in Oakland, was so exquisite – I’m not sure the ones in Seattle would have set me off on the right foot.  I do not have a picture of it, probably because I was too busy stuffing it in my mouth (it was warm!), but above you will see the other offerings from Starter Bakery.

We got a sneak peek (and taste) of the then soon-to-open Juhu Beach Club which is operated by former Top Chef contestant Preeti Mistry.  Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines and I am thrilled to have a place so nearby that serves Indian street food.  The menu is super exciting and even offers the kids food in tiffins.  We got to taste an amazing fried potato puff sandwich, putting an end to any thought that potato and bread is too many carbs in one bite.  The surprisingly salty mango lassi, called the Sassy Lassi, was awesome.

Having thoroughly enjoyed myself on the Gourmet Ghetto tour last fall, I knew enough to pace myself.  Three hours of almost constant eating can be a bit much.  I took small appreciate bites of a grilled cheese and tomato soup at Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop, I took the doughnut from Doughnut Dolly to go, and went whole hog at Scream Sorbet.

Scream’s incredibly passionate owner came out from behind the counter and introduced us to Cranberry Tangerine, Coffee Hazelnut, Lime Mint, and three or four other amazing flavors.  I had enjoyed their surprisingly creamy sorbet on several occasions and it was a true treat to taste so many flavors at once.  Alas, once we had all fallen love with a flavor or two (or three), he informed us that Scream would be closing their doors due to high expenses.

Our tour ended with tofu stew, with a table full of delicious condiments, at Sura Korean Cuisine.  I have walked by this place plenty of times and was so glad to have a chance to try the food.

As if spending the day touring Temescal eateries and enjoying tacos, French pastries, potato sandwiches, and sorbet wasn’t a great enough Sunday, I got to go to an Oscar party with some of the moms from our school.  I can tell you, this is the first time I have watched the Oscars outside.

I met a friend for lunch in San Francisco and saw Bakerella.

At the same place (Marlowe) I had my new favorite lunch.  From left to right: artichoke purée, broccoli rabe pesto, burrata topped with olive oil and chile flakes, and grilled bread.

Dinner for one.

My parents came to visit.  Me and mom at the Ferry Building.

I never ever tire of seeing this beautiful bridge.  (That is the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley.)

On the crazy long pier at the Berkeley Marina.  My dad just celebrated his 70th birthday.

Graham ordered hot chocolate and this is what came out.  Coolest thing I have ever seen.

Waiting for our Saturday night dinner guests to arrive.

Spencer’s future bride.