Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dreaming of Rasa

One of the joys of cooking and eating vegetarian is exploring world cuisines. Many of the world's cultures eat either don't eat meat, or eat it sparingly - as more of a condiment than a focus. If you are a little adventurous, you can find incredible and satisfying vegetarian food in cultures other than our own.

I'm not sure where I first had it, but I have always loved Indian food. Unfortunately, living in Seattle, I had never had really good restaurant Indian food. In my opinion, what you find here tends to be very oily, rich, and - for lack of a better term - gloppy. Early in my cooking life, I instead turned to recipes that involved curry and devoured them. Periodically, I would try an Indian restaurant and would eat a ton of naan and then get a stomachache from the rest - just too much oil for me.

And then Randy and I went to Spain for our honeymoon. In typical Randy fashion, he was able to finagle a side trip to Paris and London so he could do some meetings and I could make it back to Paris for the first time in 12 years, and see London for the first time. (Randy is the master of making the most out of a travel schedule.) It is now hard for me to believe that in the first 32 years of my life, I had never been to London. Randy had been there many times without me for business and somewhere along the line, someone took him to
Rasa and he knew at first bite that he had to take me there.

I have stated this in more round-about ways in previous posts, but Randy is not a foodie. Until he met me, he was of the food-is-fuel mentality. He didn't really care what he was eating, just as long as it was nutritious and tasted decent and kept him from bonking. (Full disclosure: his "bachelor meal" is rice, tuna, salsa, and cheese. He still eats this if I am out.) So the fact that he loved this restaurant and knew I would love it, well, that's the kind of thing that made me marry him.

Although Seattle is no culinary capital, I have always been a good and curious eater. My parents are both from New York and I grew up going there at least once a year and in typical fashion for my family, food was the focus. Early on, I learned to love the many different types of Asian food that are represented so well here in the Northwest. But I had never had South Indian cooking and what I tasted at Rasa blew my mind. This is a gross generalization, but the cooking in the South tends to be lighter, spicier, cleaner, and has far less meat. Much of it is vegetarian or uses fish as a protein. The Rasa that we ate in (there are several) was, at that time, vegetarian. So imagine me, so used to getting the short end of the stick in restaurants, sitting in front of a menu with the most incredibly interesting and incredible sounding food -
all of which I could eat. I almost cried.

We ended up getting a tasting menu and I can honestly say, I have never been so full in my life. I literally could not stop eating everything they put in front of me. Everything was spiced perfectly, seasoned perfectly, balanced perfectly, and looked beautiful. Randy bought me the cookbook and I couldn't wait to get home and start cooking.

Not quite a year later, we had the opportunity to move to London for Randy's job. We went on a househunting trip and guess where we ate. Guess where we ate for my birthday dinner. Guess where we ate on a pretty regular basis. I couldn't get enough of it. We brought our friends Michelle and Dale there thinking that if we stuck to the less spicy dishes they would like it. They didn't - too spicy. But it remained my favorite place in London.

Whenever I want to make Indian food now, I pull out my two Rasa cookbooks. Many of the recipes use fresh curry leaves which are difficult to find. The one place I did find them in Seattle was at
Uwajimaya - an incredible Asian superstore in the International district of Seattle. It is far from our house, but totally worth the trek because the flavor of the curry leaves is unparalleled (they have nothing to do with curry powder). They look like small fresh bay leaves and have a pungent taste - almost rubbery. This may sound unpleasant, but truly they impart the most round flavor to every dish they inhabit. The last time I went to Uwajimaya, I was told that they could no longer carry them because there was a U.S. ban importing them. I'm not sure if this is true because peeking around the internet just now, I saw plenty of them, but suffice it to say, that while I made Indian food last night for my clients, I didn't use my beloved Rasa cookbooks.

Instead I used three trusted recipes from food magazines that I cut out long ago. One of them is Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas. In the Vegetarian Rule Book, one of the top requirements is that you like eggplant. I have never been a big fan, but it falls under the "Don't Like it Much, But Will Eat It" category instead of the "Don't Like It and Won't Eat It". (I think the
only thing on that list is okra.) This eggplant dish I not only eat but I enjoy it. The eggplants are first roasted at high heat and then mixed together with lots of spices, tomatoes, onions, peas, and yogurt so it becomes creamy and takes on the complex flavors that are in the dish. It is relatively easy, nutritious and very tasty.

A friend mentioned that she has seen curry leaves at R & M Grocery in the University District, so next time, it's back to my Rasa Cookbooks!

Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas

Serves 6

Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine

3 lbs eggplant

Vegetable oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 small yellow onion

1 jalapeno pepper, minced with some seeds

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger

1 dried red chile, broken

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. tumeric

1 1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 plain yogurt


1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet and pierce them all over with a knife. Bake for about an hour, or until the skin is blackened and the flesh is very soft. Let cool slightly. Peel off the skin and scrape the flesh into a large bowl. Mash the eggplant coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, heat the a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the cumin seeds and cook over high heat until they sizzle, about 10 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos, garlic, ginger and red chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and boil until all the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika and tumeric and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the eggplant and cook over low heat for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the yogurt and season with salt.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Birthday Weekend

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a total dork about my birthday. I have been this way since I can remember. Counting down the days to my birthday (starting one month prior) while still in grade school is one thing. Doing the same into my thirties is another.

Now that I am officially in my late thirties (!) and have two kids with their own birthdays to get excited about, I can report that I have become slightly less of a dork. I can no longer answer automatically how many days are left in the countdown - I actually have to count. On the big day, I no longer feel like I want to go up to the top of the Space Needle and shout so the whole world can hear, "Today is my birthday!" However, I do still kind of expect everyone who I interact with (including complete strangers) to wish me a happy birthday. Is it because I am a summer baby? I never had the cupcakes brought to school and no classroom full of children ever sang to me - am I still searching for that attention? And if so, why?

Fortunately, my husband indulges me and works hard to make me feel special on my birthday. This year we went to Portland for the weekend without our kids. This was the first time we have been away from both of them and, as much as I adore them, it was much needed. The idea of having one full day of just doing whatever we (all right
I) wanted without having to take their eating and sleeping schedules into account was, well, glorious. We didn't even really mind that it took us 4 1/2 hours to get there and back because traffic was awful - there were no children in the car and we actually had time to talk.

What do you do in Portland? Well, eat and shop. It is a much smaller city than Seattle, but has an incredibly vibrant restaurant scene and fantastic boutique shopping. I spent quite a bit of time researching restaurants and obsessing over which two would be perfect. I whittled it down to about 5 options because all the cross-referencing I did brought up the same five. Based on menus I saw online, I made the choice to go to
Park Kitchen and Bluehour.

Friday night we went to Park Kitchen and I really can't say enough good things about the place. We had an 8:30 reservation (pushed back from 7:30 because of the traffic) and they weren't ready to seat us. We grabbed a seat in the bar and Randy proceeded to almost pass out. He is hypoglycemic and for some reason, it takes him a while to realize that he desperately needs food. Sometimes I can recognize that he is being weird because he needs to eat and sometimes I just think he is being weird. Fortunately, he was able to ask the hostess for some bread and the most incredible giant slices of bread were in front of us before we knew it. As an apology for the table taking so long (we didn't sit until after 9), she also brought us some salted cod cakes which looked like giant fried golf balls and Randy said tasted like fish sticks - in a good way.

After that, the dinner was just lovely. We had an amazing server named Holly who, in addition to having just the right amount of cheer, was incredibly knowledgeable and opinionated about the menu. I love it when a server tell you with zeal what their favorite dish is and what to stay away from. As she brought us our salads (farro with giant chunks of feta and fava beans for me; green bean, apricot, and hazelnut with a caramel crouton for Randy), I mentioned that we had reservations at Bluehour the next night. She made a face. Was it too swanky, I wondered. She said that indeed it is kind of a see-and-be-seen place, and if we just wanted to eat good food, we should go to Lovely Hula Hands, another restaurant in the five I chosen from.

Our entrees continued in the same vein as the appetizers, interesting and delicious. I had stone-ground grits that were somehow the consistency of risotto (but with that amazing rich and buttery corn flavor), topped with a trio of beans - fava, wax, and kidney. They had been tossed with some kind of vinaigrette so the balance of rich, salty and acidic was perfect. Randy told me over and over again that I had to write about the lamb sausage he was loving to death, although I assured him that it really didn't have a place on a vegetarian blog.

As the meal wore on, and we loved the vibe more and more at this simple and yet sophisticated restaurant, I made up my mind. For my birthday, swanky was out and simple was in. We cancelled the reservation at Bluehour and decided to drive to a totally different part of town to check out Lovely Hula Hands.

We never did get the story behind the name of this place. Our experience there was good - it is on a very cool street and the place is small and sweet. They don't take reservations so we had to wait a good long while which kind of spoiled the mood of the evening for us. The food however, was terrific. Randy had a zucchini carpaccio for a starter and I had a perfectly dressed arugula salad with hazelnuts and pecorino cheese. My imaginative entree made me curse
all the risottos and pastas I have had at Seattle restaurants. Two huge cornmeal crepes filled with greens and ricotta, topped with a salsa of tomatoes and beans. Take that Restaurant Zoe!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ahhh, Paris

I wrestled a bit with what to write today. All week I have known that I wanted to share this recipe with you because it is seasonal and it is just so good and, I mean really, how cute are those zucchinis?

But last night I went to a memorial service for my lovely friend Sandy and I started to feel like maybe it was a little, I don't know,
frivolous to be talking about stuffing squashes when a beautiful soul like hers is being mourned by many. Then I realized that if anyone would want me to write about something delicious, it would be her. Sandy loved good food and she, as my boss in the promotion department of a radio station many years ago, made me a better writer. Furthermore, the recipe comes from The Paris Cookbook and I know that Sandy loved Paris probably more than any other city. So it is with her in mind that I share this deliciousness.

I bought this wonderful cookbook in the Waterloo train station in London, waiting to get on the train to Paris. When I went to find this recipe the other day, I was momentarily confused because there was no "zucchini" recipes in the index. I then remembered that this particular edition is British so the recipe was listed under "courgettes" which is the French word for zucchini and the term that the Brits use as well.
The Paris Cookbook's author is Patricia Wells and I truly love her recipes. At first glance, many of them don't look like much because they have few ingredients and simple instructions. Everything I have made from the three of hers that I own has made me re-think my attraction to complicated recipes with crazy ingredients and time-consuming steps. In her hands, simpler really is better.

This recipe is a little more involved than some of her others, but it is by no means complicated. It looks beautiful and the flavor is so complex with mint, curry, and goat cheese. I was able to find these amazing round zucchinis at the farmer's market but she says you can use regular oblong ones as well. I served these with a Corn Chowder and an Arugula Salad with Watermelon and Walnuts.

Zucchini Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint

Adapted from
The Paris Cookbook
Serves 8

8 small round zucchini or 8 small oblong ones

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1-2 tsp. curry powder

9oz. fresh goat cheese

Several tablespoons cream or milk

4 tbsp. fresh mint, cut into thin ribbons

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cut the top off the zucchinis. With a small spoon, carve out the the pulp of the zucchinis. Chop the pulp. Reserve both the pulp and the zucchinis and set aside.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the zucchinis and the tops and blanch until softened but still firm, about 5 minutes. Transfer the to a bowl of iced water to refresh, firm and help the vegetables keep their color.

4. In a small, heavy-duty frying pan, combine the onions, oil, and a pinch of salt. Sweat, covered, over low heat until soft and cooked through, about 5 minutes. The onions should not brown. Add the zucchini pulp and curry powder to taste and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more. Set aside. You may need to drain if there is a lot of liquid.

5. Mix the goat cheese with the cream in a bowl and stir until smooth. Add cream as needed to achieve a thick liquid consistency.

6. Place the zucchinis side by side in a large gratin dish. Spoon the curry mixture into the zucchinis, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with half the mint. Spoon the cheese mixture over the curry mixture, filling all the way to the top. Sprinkle with the rest of the mint. Place the top on the zucchini.

7. Place in the center of the oven and bake until the zucchini are soft, about 15 minutes. (If you use oblong zucchini, I would cover with foil so they don't dry out.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Made Them

I am new to the food blogging world. I'm not sure why it took me so long to catch on - I certainly love to eat food, love to cook food, and love to read about eating and cooking food. I really have no explanation but am continually amazed when I find people who have been blogging for three or four years. Where have I been?? Oh yeah, having children.

Anyway, as I read from various sites that I like (and there are always new ones to me), I notice certain trends that the food blogging world gets all excited about. One was the
no-knead bread that seemingly every food blogger worth their salt made and wrote about. The original article was written about two years ago, so I am a little late to bring out my yeast and share my no-kneading experience with you. I will make it some day because I really can't understand what all the fuss is about - I have a KitchenAid mixer that kneads dough for me.

The newest thing that people seem to be incredibly excited about is
this recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I usually ignore recipes for chocolate chip cookies because they all claim that what is in this recipe will totally change how you feel about chocolate chip cookies. I wonder - what could possibly be improved upon from the Tollhouse recipe? Is the 2 tablespoons more /less brown sugar going to alter my life and curse the many years that I have been leaving out/adding in that 2 tablespoons? I just don't think so.

This recipe, though, is pretty different. It calls for two different kinds of flour - neither of them all-purpose, and it also tells you to refrigerate the dough for at least 24 hours. It also doesn't include nuts which really made me sit up and notice. I don't like nuts in my cookies, but when I leave them out of the Tollhouse recipe - something just doesn't taste right. And when I saw how much salt it calls for and the fact that you sprinkle sea salt on them before you bake them, well, I had to make them. I love salt.

The verdict?
I don't know. I'm such a tease. I am desperately trying to lose the last of my baby weight (can you call it baby weight when your baby is 18 months old?), so I didn't try one. But Randy loved them and he says he doesn't like chocolate (which is a lie.) My neighbors loved them and I'll check with my clients. I was really impressed with how brown and lovely they looked when I took them out of the oven. Carmel-y. Yum. Yes, they were hard to resist. Why don't you make a batch and let me know what you think?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Green Goddess, Indeed

Would you think I was weird if I told you I often crave salad? I do and no, I'm not weird. Not really anyway. We have some kind of salad 4-5 nights a week. Cooking for my clients has really improved my salad repetoire. Left to my own devices, we would probably eat the same one over and over with little variations. Greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, avacado are the must-haves; pea sprouts, chick peas, hearts of palm, and olives are the variables. But since I need to be more creative on food delivery days, I have really delved into my salad recipes and have probably made over 100 different ones in the last two years.

I find I most often crave salad after coming back from vacation. I know everyone eats less healthily when they are away from home, but I think it's even more true for vegetarians. Unless you are traveling in large cities (and even then sometimes), your options in restaurants tend to be starch, starch, and more starch, and if there is a vegetable, it is covered in cheese or butter, or both. Even salads are so heavily dressed and rich that I find myself longing for my own little healthy and flavorful salad and a mass of steamed broccoli. If this sounds annoying, like I am healthier than thou, please know that if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be french fries. No question.

Last night I made a new salad that included a new dressing - Green Goddess. I have actually made Green Goddess before but always with prepared mayonnaise and this recipe had you make it from scratch. Sounds daunting I know, but all it really takes is a little patience and elbow grease. Want a good arm workout? Make your own mayonnaise! This was the base of the dressing. From there you blend a bunch of delicious herbs with some lemon juice, garlic, and grapeseed oil and mix it with the mayonnaise. What you get is a brilliant green, creamy, verdant dressing that is delicious with the salad, but would also be great on a sandwich or as a dip for vegetables. I didn't try it with pre-made mayo, but I'm sure it would still be great. I also think you could easily substitute olive oil for the grapeseed.

While on the subject of salads, I thought I would also share one of my favorites - a Greek Salad. This is always delicious but especially so in the summer where the cold and crunch of it is so welcome. It is hearty enough for dinner - especially if you serve it with pita bread and an assortment of dips. Greek salad is one of the few things that I make where I don't use a recipe and I encourage you to play around with it too. Love feta cheese? Add double amount I suggest. Don't love feta cheese? Add less. You see where this is going. If I happen to have an extra red pepper around, I will throw that in, and sometimes I add romaine lettuce to the mix to make it more substantial. When I served this the other night, I made a vinaigrette with lots of oregano from my garden, but usually I just drizzle it with olive oil and either lemon or red wine vinegar. Don't be tempted to use Balsamic here, it will discolor the salad.

Green Goddess Salad with Romaine, Cucumbers, and Avacado

Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Serves 6

This is the original recipe from the book. Notice that it calls for anchovies which I did not use to no ill effect. If you are a hairy fish eater, by all means -use them! I also used a large egg yolk and it was fine.

2 large heads romaine lettuce

1 extra-large egg yolk

1 cup grapeseed oil

1 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup packed watercress, cleaned, tough stems removed

2 tbsp. tarragon leaves

3 tbsp. minced chives, plus 2 tbsp. 1/2 inch snipped chives

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, bones removed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. champagne vinegar

2 large ripe avacados

3 Persian cucumbers or 1 hothouse cucumber

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves of the romaine. Trim the root and core and separate the leaves. Tear the larger leaves in half. Clean by submerging in cold water. Spin dry, and chill in the refrigerator.

Place the egg yolk in a stainless steel bowl. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the oil in the bowl, drop by drop, whisking all the time. Continue in this manner as the mixture thickens. Once the mayonnaise has emulsified, whisk in another 1/4 cup of oil in a slow steady stream.

Puree 1 cup parsley leaves, the watercress, tarragon, and minced chives in a blender with the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, and remaining 1/2 cup oil.

Whisk the herb puree, vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper into the mayonnaise. If the dressign seems too thick, thin it with a little water. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Cut each avacado in half lenghtwise, remove the pit, and peel. Slice into long wedges. Taste the cucumbers and peel and seed them if necessary. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, and cut them on the diagonal into 1/4 inch thick slices. Season the avacado and cucumber generously with salt and pepper.

Place the romaine in a large salad bowl, and toss with 1 cup dressing, 1/4 tsp. salt, and some more black pepper. Gently toss in the avacado and cucumber. Arrange on a large chilled platter, and scatter the remaining 1/4 cup parsley leaves and the snipped chives over the top.

*I found it hard to get the herbs to puree in my blender with only the juice from the lemon. I added enough water to get it all going and then didn't need to add water later.

Greek Salad

Serves 4

English cucumbers are the kind that are shrink-wrapped plastic. I like them because you don't have to peel them or seed them and the color of the peel is striking in this salad. If you can't find them, use a regular cucumber and if you want to leave the peel on, just wash it well. Do seed it because otherwise the salad will be too watery.

1 English cucumber

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

4 oz. good feta cheese, cut into small cubes, or crumbled

1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (optional)

Olive oil

Lemon juice or red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Cut the cucumber in half and seed if necessary. Slice each half into three pieces and then cut cross-wise into 1 inch chunks. Place in a large bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and add to the cucumbers along with the cheese and the oregano, if using. Mix gently, then add a generous drizzle of both the olive oil and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Light Bulb Moment

Every so often, I have a light bulb moment in the kitchen. A moment where I go, "Aha! That's how that works!" or "My cooking has just changed for the better!" Starting to use fresh herbs was a definite light bulb - I feel like the quality of my food changed noticeably. When Randy and I moved back from London in the summer of 2004, I had to give away all of my dried spices and herbs. The U.S. is really stringent about what they allow into the country and any kind of food - even canned goods - was a no go.

When we arrived back in Seattle, I had to start from scratch with my collection and it took me a a while to put it all together again. Since it was summer time, I started to really think about buying fresh as much as possible, and there were tons of delicious herbs at all the farmer's markets. Previously, I had always taken the lazy approach and if a recipe suggested you could use either fresh or dried, I had copped out and used dried. But once I tasted my food with fresh herbs, there was no going back. Now I am lucky enough to have thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, oregano, and chives all growing in my garden. I am out there at least once a day picking something for a recipe.

After tasting today's pasta salad, I am going to have to plant some basil. You see, as much as I love pasta - and I really love pasta - I have never been a huge fan of pasta salad. It seems no matter what wonderful ingredients are in there, it always tastes the same. So no matter how much love and affection I give a pasta salad, no matter how much I adore all the vegetables and cheese in it it, it tastes no different than the tri-color rotelle slop in the cheap grocery store. It is so unfair that something that just screams summer and is a great thing to feed a crowd, just hasn't done it for me.

Until today when I had my light bulb moment.
Vinegar. All of those salads, those I have made, those I have bought, those I have had in delis, they all taste of vinegar. That is what makes them all taste the same. That is the pesky flavor that overwhelms all others! Don't get me wrong; I like vinegar, just not, apparently, in pasta salad. As I was tweaking the recipe for tonight's Orzo and Broccoli Salad I noticed that it had no vinegar. I was about to add some but, fortunately, tasted it first. Bing! The light bulb went on. This is what I have always wanted to taste. The starch of the pasta, the richness of the olive oil, the salt of the cheese - all clear as a bell without that acid aftertaste. It was sublime. This is officially my go-to pasta salad from now on.

This recipe comes from
Bon Appetit Magazine although I made quite a few changes. One of the things I did was add sun-dried tomatoes because I felt like it needed the color and that wonderful sharp flavor that they add. Let's talk about sun-dried tomatoes. I never buy the kind that are packed in oil. The formerly (pre-babies) weight-conscious me just can't go there. Plus what do you do with all that oil? The kind that you have to reconstitute with water - those are flavorless. Once in a while, I find a special kind that are not packed in oil, but are ready to use; they don't have to be reconstitued. They are supple enough to cut easily and have great flavor. I most recently found them in Metropolitan Market but have also found them in the produce section of QFC (Kroger's). If you find some and aren't sure if they are the right kind, just give them a bend through the package. If they feel brittle, move on. If they feel supple, stock up because they last indefinitely in the pantry.

Finally, let's talk about pine nuts. Like many nuts, pine nuts really hit their stride only once they have been toasted. But they go from being toasted to burnt toast in about 4 seconds. I can't tell you how many times I have thrown away dark dark brown pine nuts. So here is my easy way of getting them perfect. Put them on the baking tray of a toaster oven heated to 350 degrees. Set your timer for 5 minutes (if you don't set your timer, you will forget about them,
trust me.) After five minutes, give them a shake, then set the timer for one more minute. Turn off the oven and if they look perfect, pull them out. If they still look a little pale, let them sit in the turned off toaster oven until they look golden brown.

Orzo with Broccoli, Feta, and Olives

Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 8

Orzo is a rice shaped pasta. If you are unable to find it, any small shape will do.

1 lb. orzo

2 lbs. broccoli, cut into small florets

1/4 cup olive oil

6 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

12 sun-dried tomato halves, thinly sliced cross-wise

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove to an ice water bath. Swish around with your hand until the water feels cool and then drain well. Add to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, add the orzo to the boiling water. Cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Taste to make sure. Drain well and add the olive oil; stir well.

While the pasta cools, add the sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, olives, red pepper flakes, and cheese to the broccoli. Check to make sure that the orzo isn't sticking together. If it is, sprinkle with more olive oil. Add the orzo and basil to the bowl along with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Weekend, Part Two: Family

I am one of the few people I know who actually grew up in Seattle. I can't legally call myself a "native" because I wasn't born here and the people who were born here, well, they would try to get me in trouble for calling myself a native. So I'm an almost-native. Aside from a few friends who went to high school with me, everyone else I know is from somewhere else. Seattle is a great place to live and somewhere around the late 80's or early 90's, people started to figure that out and move here. I went to college in Connecticut and for my first few years, I got asked the following questions on a regular basis:
  • "Seattle, is that in Oregon?" (This would be pronounced "ore-gone" which, in case you are reading from the East Coast, is not how you say it - it's "ore-gun".)
  • "Seattle, doesn't it snow there a lot?" (No, it doesn't.)
  • "Seattle, doesn't it rain there a lot?" (Yes, it does.)
  • "Seattle, do you go to LA a lot?" (This would be like asking someone from Maine if they go to Florida a lot.)
  • "Seattle, isn't that right by Alaska?" (Well, there is this thing called Canada in the way.)
And so on and so on. However, by my senior year it became, "Seattle, I'm moving there!" And boy did people move here! The city totally changed in the four years I was away at college. Finally people started to appreciate all that our beautiful city had to offer and to understand why so many of us stayed. My parents and one of my brothers live about a half hour away and the other brother is moving back at the end of the month.

Randy's family is all on the East coast and no, they haven't asked me any of those ridiculous questions (except for the one about the rain.) His immediate family is spread out between Atlanta, Richmond, and Houston. The extended family is all in Baltimore (with a few strays in Texas.) I love this big family - they are the most welcoming and fun group of people you could hope for when marrying into a family. The Baltimore clan all live within a few miles of each other and they are always gathering to eat, drink, and have a "hootenanny". Many of them are musical so after a few beers, the guitars come out and everyone who wants one, gets a turn.

The very first time I met this clan was when Randy and I were dating. I play the guitar and sing which gave me an almost immediate stamp of approval. But I was nervous. Imagine meeting your boyfriend's large family, trying to keep everyone's names straight, trying desperately to make a good impression, trying not to drink too much wine, oh! and then someone hands you a guitar and expects you to
sing. Well, I did it and they were all lovely about it. At every Hootenanny since, Randy's Uncle Mike gently coerces me into singing one of the 10 songs I remember from my college coffee house days, and I always make myself a mental promise that I will take playing up again when I get home. Sigh.

Uncle Mike and his lovely new wife Kathy were in town for a brief moment this weekend on their way to a cruise to Alaska (see? It's far enough away that you have to
cruise there.) I would have loved to spend the day with them but we had our supper club waiting for us on Bainbridge Island. I thought of just getting some bagels for us to eat and then thought better of it. I decided to make one of my favorite easy and delicious dishes - a Leek Frittata. For some reason, I also thought it was time to make Cinnamon Rolls. This was actually my first attempt at cinnamon rolls and, because I was short on time, I made the quick kind - no yeast. The frosting was good but the rest was just kind of, eh. I wouldn't make them again. The leek frittata on the other hand, is something I have made countless times. I've literally made it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everyone always likes it. It is a great thing to serve for company because it can be made ahead of time, it's quick, and it looks pretty. And it tastes great too!

And just because we didn't have enough going on this weekend, my family came over for dinner on Sunday night. My brother Alex is married to a great woman named Amy and they have two adorable kids. Each of their kids are one year older than each of ours - so they are so cute together and play really nicely. Even though they live close, we don't see enough of them, so we decided to really make an effort to get together every other week.

I decided to grill salmon for dinner - or have Randy grill salmon. Amy, my mom, and I are all vegetarians, but the men are all carnivores. Randy is fond of saying that he never really ate much meat until he married me - his vegetarian wife. Whenever we would go out for dinner as a family, he would order fish and my dad and brothers would order steak or lamb or pork. Eventually, he wondered why he wasn't doing that too and now he fully embraces his inner carnivore.

Grilling salmon made it a little easier on me since all I had to do was make side dishes. I made a Farro Salad that I really like with broccoli rabe and grapes.

I also made a new one for me - Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese.
This one was a real keeper because it starred one of very favorite things - English peas. They are still in abundance at the markets and sweeter than ever. I must have eaten half the bag on the way home. And look at those radishes! Purple! I also used pea shoots in this salad which is what the leafy things are. These are part of the vine that English peas grow on and they taste just like peas but with a totally different texture. You can also find those all over the farmer's markets. Two recipes today since I promised Kathy the Frittata one!

Leek Frittata

Adapted from
Main Course Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 4

If you are new to this site or new to leeks, I give some info about them

3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried

6 eggs
1/4 cup low fat milk

2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with non-stick spray.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute, stirring often, until tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs in large bowl. Beat in the milk, cheese and then a pinch each of salt and pepper, then stir in the leeks. Pour the mixture into the pie plate.

Bake 25-30 minutes, or just until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overcook.

Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese

Food and Wine
4-6 Servings

I am mostly printing the recipe in it's original form although I made a couple of changes. In the dressing I used ground cumin instead of toasting and grinding cumin seeds. I also used mint instead of dill and I loved how subtle the flavor was. I love dill as much as the next person, and it is great with peas, but so is mint so feel free to use either. The recipe says you can use frozen peas but really, for this one, I wouldn't bother making it with frozen. After cooking my peas, I put them in an ice bath (which is just a bowl of water with a bunch of ice cubes.) They kept their brilliant green color and didn't get all wrinkley so I would recommend taking that step.

2 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tsp. honey

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp. chopped dill

4 cups fresh shelled peas (from about 4 pounds English peas)

1 bunch radishes, trimmed, halved, thinly sliced

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 oz.)

3 cups pea tendrils, coarsely chopped (optional)

Heat small skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and toast until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Cool, grind finely in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Whisk lime juice, honey, and cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil, stir in dill. Season dressing with salt and pepper. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Cook peas in pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Add radishes, feta, and dressing; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. If using pea tendrils, sprinkle over top.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Weekend, Part One: Friends

The Subtitle of this post is "The Vegetarian goes to a Steakhouse".

This weekend is a crazy one for us. Lots of time with friends and family and LOTS of food, so I decided to break it down into a "friends" post and a "family" post. Tomorrow's post will have photos and a recipe or two.

Friday night we went to El Gaucho with Deb and Jeff, our wonderful neighbors and friends, and the
builders of our house. We have shared many a happy hour together; summer ones out on the deck while the older kids chase each other around the yard, and winter ones where it is dark by 4:30pm and we are wondering how to survive until the kids go to bed. During one of these happy hours we somehow got on the topic of eating dinner at El Gaucho and the fact that Jeff had never eaten there. Jeff is - how do I put this? - a meat and potatoes guy, emphasis on the meat. I often bring them food and he is always lovely about it, but I'm sure as soon as I am out the door he asks his veg-friendly wife, "What the hell is this crap?" So I found it funny that I have been to the Palace of Meat and he hadn't.

We hatched a plan to go for the July birthdays (Jeff and me) and had a great meal and a lot of fun with them. You may be wondering - why on earth would someone who has been a vegetarian for 22 years want to go to a place that is basically a celebration of meat? Actually, there are several reasons. I'm a sucker for a baked potato and they have a great one. I know exactly what I am going to get (side dishes) so there is none of the
expectation that is almost always dashed when I go to other restaurants. The service there is impeccable. And it is so swanky. I always feel like I am in some other city or some other time when I go there. And they have Bananas Foster of which I don't eat the bananas or the ice cream, but would drink the caramel sauce out of a wine glass if I could get away with it.

We were out pretty late but I managed to get up and go for a run the next morning before some family came over (more about that tomorrow). We were a little rushed because we needed to catch a ferry to go to Bainbridge Island for a get-together with our supper club.

This club started soon after my older son was born. Because that whole period of my life is a little foggy (sleep deprivation, anyone?), I don't remember why that suddenly seemed like a good idea. Whatever my thinking was, I was certainly inspired when it came to asking the couples I did. I picked an old friend, a medium friend, and a new friend couple. Jen and Tom (I've known Jen since middle school), John and Lauren (I've known them for 12 years), and Lauren and Travis who Randy and I met at the Lamaze class we did together. All are people who love food and wine, and all are people who I sensed would really hit it off.

We hosted the first dinner in February of 2005 and have been getting together on a regular basis ever since. We have eaten a lot of great food, drank a lot of great wine, shared some wonderful late nights at Jen's parents' incomparable compound on Whidbey Island, and celebrated the births of four of our children together. The group has gelled wonderfully - having a supper club night is one of my very favorite things to do in all the world.

Saturday, Jen and Tom bravely opened their home to all of us
with our children. Now, they have four of their own, so not much phases them, and their home and incredible yard is so idyllic and safe, you just relax as soon as you get out of our car. With a baby on her hip, Jen proceeded to put together delicious snacks and an early dinner for us, only to have us rush off and leave them with a huge mess so we could catch our ferry back to the city. Sorry guys!

I offered to bring dessert since it seemed crazy to me that she was going to cook for eight adults and ten children - thankfully she took me up on it. I went against my intuition (which is all-chocolate-all-the-time, except in summer when maybe a fruit pie is acceptable) and made a Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake from the Sunday Dinners at Lucques cookbook. Deb at Smitten Kitchen raved about this cake and also noted that she covered the cake in a chocolate ganache, so I figured I would go for it.

Truthfully, I didn't like it. But I don't really like nuts, especially in my desserts, so I guess it's not surprising that I really just wanted to lick the ganache off the top and do away with the cake. But Lauren F., who is a big fan of my desserts, said it was in her "top five" - wow! I'll have to file that away. Randy politely ate his piece and half mine but I know him and I know he didn't like it. Maybe he is not a nut guys either. Because I didn't love it, I am not going to post the recipe but if you are a hazelnut lover, check it out here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Why Dana Treat?

I like to think I learned how to bake from my mom. Or, at least I learned some of the basics from her. Some of my earliest memories in the kitchen are baking with my mom. She has recently had a "baking disaster" (her words) each time she has tried to make a dessert for some special occasion, but she really is the one who got me started on my path as a baker and as a cook. My mom is very exacting and precise and VERY neat, so it makes sense that she would take well to baking.

The two lessons from my mom I remember most vividly are how to level flour with a table knife (I have recently switched to using my finger in my eternal quest for reducing the number of dishes I do in a day), and to make sure to gather all the ingredients for a recipe before you start. Maybe because I never really cooked with my mom (only baked), I only do this very helpful gathering step when I bake. I read the recipe very carefully (as she does), pull everything out of the pantry and refrigerator that I will need, and retrieve all the measuring spoons and cups so I will have everything right at my fingertips.

When I cook, I am a lot less organized. I don't grab all the things I will need from the fridge or the vegetable basket, I don't pull out all the knives and measuring devices I will need, I don't pull out bowls in which to put the various vegetables I will be chopping and adding at different times. I'm not sure why this is and everytime I am knee deep in something and realize that I have to rinse my hands,
yet again, to dig down in the vegetable bin for the forgotten scallions, I wonder why I don't just get everything out in advance.

I love to cook and to bake about equally although they do feel very different to me. I always approach a baking recipe with a certain amount of trepidation - even if it is something relatively simple. Maybe that is why, when a recipe turns out, I get an incredible sense of satisfaction that I don't always get when, say, the pasta sauce turns out great. Is it because baking feels like magic? You mix stuff together, put it in the oven, and poof! something delicious (and sometimes even beautiful) comes out.

When my older son was just over a year old, a friend asked a group of us where to get a good birthday cake. I thought about it and realized that apart from
Macrina Bakery, there wasn't a single place that I could recommend. As I was kind of itching for something to do besides being a stay-at-home-mom, I thought that perhaps that could be my niche - baking for friends' birthdays, dinner parties, or just because. I had the idea that every time I brought a dessert to someone, I would include a "treat" as just a little extra. A couple of cookies or chocolate truffles - just to thank them and to make my dessert that much more memorable.

A few months after that baking fantasy started, I had lunch with my friend Stephanie. She told me that they had just started employing a personal chef to cook for them a couple of times a week. Stephanie and her husband Mark love to eat and they love good food. She herself likes to cook and is quite good at it, but she was finding that with her work and travel schedule, cooking was becoming too much of a chore. She was thrilled with the new service for the convenience but she wasn't thrilled with the food. It was too much like her mom used to make and the dishes were too heavy. Without thinking too carefully, I said, "I'll cook for you." Without missing beat, she asked, "You will?" And that is how I became a personal chef.

We started slowly - I had (at the time) a 17 month old and both she and Mark (but especially Mark) LOVED their meat. I cooked for them once a week and was so excited about it, I would lay awake at night thinking of menus for them. Soon after our start, they decided to fire the other chef and have me cook for them twice a week. Soon after that, they referred another couple to me who wanted me to cook for them three times a week, so Stephanie and Mark signed on for three days too. I kept up this schedule until shortly before I had my second son and, after a 6 month maternity leave, I went back to twice a week. This month, it will be a year that I have been back.

From the very beginning, I wanted to incorporate baking into the meals for them. I took my own idea of bringing them a "treat" as a thank you for their business and to help make the meals more memorable. Thus, Dana Treat was born. I bring them a treat every Tuesday and it has allowed me to make some delicious things. Tonight's cookies are from
Martha Stewart's Cookies and they prompted Randy to say, "I don't care if she is a felon - these are amazing!"

For some reason, whenever I make cookies, I never end up with the same yield as the recipe says. I almost always end up with less. So when I read that this recipe should yield 3 dozen sandwich cookies with only 1 3/4 cup of flour, I scoffed and then doubled the recipe. When I read to use a 1 inch ice cream scoop to measure out the cookies, I scoffed and used my 2 inch. People,
listen to Martha. Unless you want 10 million cookies, don't double it, and the 1 inch ice cream scoop makes just the right size. My one quibble is that the filling took longer than the 1/2 hour she says to set up - give yourself at least an hour and even then it will be soft - but no one will care.

Before the recipe, let's talk about vanilla beans. Yes, they are expensive, but their flavor is incomparable. If you have a vanilla lover in your life, these cookies totally plain will make them very happy - all because of the vanilla bean. I have been very disappointed by those that I have
ordered through the mail and have always been happy with the ones from Whole Foods. You want your vanilla bean to be supple and moist, not craggy and dried out and the beans at Whole Foods fit the bill. You find them in the bulk spice section and they are a fraction of the cost of the prepackaged ones in the baking aisle of any grocery store. To get those precious seeds out, use a paring knife to cut down the length of the bean, but don't cut all the way through. Open it like a book, then take the back of your knife and run it all the way down the bean. The seeds will stick to the back of your knife. You can then put the pod in to your sugar container for the most wonderful smelling vanilla sugar.

Raspberry Cream Sandwiches

Martha Stewart's Cookies

Makes 3 dozen

For the cookies:

1 3/4 cup flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved

For the filling:

1/2 pint fresh raspberries

2 tsp. sugar

7 1/2 oz. best quality white chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make cookies: Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. ut butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds; reserve bean for another use. Mix until smooth. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

2. Using a 1 inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through until golden and just set, 8-10 minutes. Let cool on wire wracks.

3. Make filling: Puree raspberries and sugar in a food processor. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing to extract juice; discard seeds.

4. Melt white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat; whisk in cream in a slow, steady stream. Add reserved raspberry mixture; slowly whisking until pale, about 3 minutes. Refrigerate 3o minutes (or longer).

5. Assemble cookies: Spread 1 tablespoon filling onto the bottom of one cookie; sandwich with another. Repeat. Cookies can be refrigerated between layers of parchment in airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Surefire Hit - White Beans with Roasted Tomatoes

Full confession. I actually made this dish on Thursday for my clients. I knew I wanted to post and also knew I wasn't going to be cooking much this holiday weekend - well, except for this...

...but I wasn't super thrilled with how the above turned out, so I figured I would tell you about a dish that is a surefire hit. Imagine your kitchen smelling like roasting tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It is intoxicating. Now imagine bringing a dish to a party that everyone (even people you don't know) asks you about and everyone tells you is delicious. This too can be you!! I have made this wonderful bean dish many times and it is always well received. The tomato/onion mixture would also be great over pasta, or spooned on to crostini. You will want to lick the baking pan. Seriously.

So, yes, you do need to heat your oven to 500 degrees, so if it is a boiling hot day, this may not be the right recipe. However, you could roast the veggies early in the day and just let them sit out at room temp for 8 hours or so. They may get more wrinkled looking, but their taste will actually improve.

I originally got the idea for this recipe from
Gourmet magazine but I have made significant changes to it based on ideas from the comments on Epicurious and also just from having made it so many times. The recipe calls for cipolline (pronounced chip-o-leenee) onions which are out-of-control delicious but not always easy to find. Apparently their season starts in the fall, so I was not able to find them this time - even at Whole Foods. You can most definitely substitute pearl onions and even (in an extreme pinch) frozen pearl onions.

If you are using fresh (and not frozen) onions, the best way to get the peels off is to put them in boiling water for about a minute. Drain them, allow them to cool, and the skins will come right off. If you are using frozen, allow them to thaw otherwise they will give off too much water and steam rather than roast.

White Beans with Roasted Tomatoes

Loosely adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 6

2 lbs. large tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise

1 lb. cherry tomatoes (mixed colors if possible)

1 lb. cipolline onions, peeled and halved if large

1 head garlic, cloves separated, left unpeeled

1 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar

2 15 oz. cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Toss tomato halves, cherry tomatoes, onions, and garlic cloves with salt, sugar, and oil and spead out on a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange tomatoes cut side up. Roast vegetables, uncovered, until the onions are browned, large tomatoes are very tender with brown patches, and cherry tomatoes are falling apart, 35-50 minutes. Pull out of the oven and immediately sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and toss to combine well. Allow to cool. Squeeze garlic cloves out of their skin.

Put beans onto a platter. Scoop tomatoes, onions and garlic over beans. Pour the accumlated juices over the platter. Scatter with basil leaves.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Artichoke Panzanella

Even though I am not really a list-making person, I have found myself recently wondering what 10 cookbooks I would take with me to a desert island (provided that said desert island has my stove, my pots, and my knives waiting for me). A definite on that list would be Annie Sommerville's Everyday Greens. No, it is not a cookbook full of recipes for collards and kale, it is from Greens restaurant in San Francisco, a vegetarian mecca. Like Fields of Greens and The Greens Cookbook, this book is one of my go-to's when I want to make something special. Because don't let the "Everyday" part of the title fool you - these recipes are fairly, uh, involved.

For quite some time I have been eyeing the Artichoke Panzanella recipe in there and have, up until yesterday, been tripped up by the first step which is to prepare a
completely different salad on a completely different page. This is how Sommerville gets you. You look at the list of ingredients and see only, say, six and think - not so bad. But then you realize that ingredients 1-3 are actually complete recipes found in other parts of the book and then you start to wonder, "Everyday Greens?"

This time I was determined and made the Simple (ha ha) Artichoke Salad so I could then make the Artichoke Panzanella. And when all was said and done, it was, as per usual with this cookbook, delicious and worth the effort. I have to confess though - it can be made a lot easier without sacrificing much in the flavor department. (Pardon me while I lock the door so the Food Police don't come after me). You can (
click) use frozen artichokes and jarred roasted red peppers.

Now if you are a purist, or if you really really love artichokes, I would just go ahead and go for it. My advice would be to use the babies because there is no choke so they are a little easier to manage. If you have never broken down an artichoke before, there is a terrific photo tutorial
here. I figured it out myself several years ago, but would have loved to have this advice at the time.

As for the peppers, if you do choose to roast them yourself, I find the best way to do this is to put them on a baking sheet into a 450 degree oven. Don't even bother brushing them with oil. Roast them for about 20 minutes, turning once half way through. Once they are browned in spots (it doesn't have to be all over), pull them out and either wrap a large sheet of foil around the whole baking sheet, or put them in a heat-proof bowl and throw a clean kitchen towel over the top. Either way, wait about 10 minutes, uncover and let them cool enough so that you can handle them - the skins will come off beautifully. I find this temperature and amount of time in the oven roasts them so they are wonderfully juicy (make sure you peel and de-seed them over a bowl so you catch all that wonderful juice) and tender without being mushy.

A note on the bread. I used a loaf that I had allowed to sit out on my counter for a few days so it was really stale. If you have fresh bread, take the step described in the recipe of baking the bread - if you have stale bread, you can skip it.

Panzanella with Artichokes, Olives, and Manchego

Adapted from
Everyday Greens
Serves 6

If you are using jarred roasted peppers, drain them well, and cut enough to measure 1 cup.

Simple Artichoke Salad (see recipe below)

1 pound loaf of rustic bread, crust removed, cut into 3/4 inch pieces

2 tbsp. sherry vinegar

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1 each large red and yellow pepper, roasted peeled, and cut into thick strips

24 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Large handful of arugula

2 oz. Manchego cheese, cut into very thin slices with a cheese planer

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the Simple Artichoke Salad and set aside.

Toss the bread cubes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned and just crisp on the outside, about 10 minutes.

Combine the vinegars, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a large bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the bread cubes, peppers, olives, and artichokes and toss to coat with the vinaigrette. Set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes. Just before serving, toss in the arugula and cheese and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. (
The salad, without the arugula and cheese, can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Store in the fridge but eat the salad at room temperature).

Simple Artichoke Salad

Makes about 3 cups

If you are going to use frozen artichokes, I would add them, unthawed, to the poaching liquid as described below.

2 pounds small artichokes, trimmed

2 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup white wine

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. Champagne vinegar

2 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife, skin left on

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

1 tsp. salt

Pinch of pepper

Combine everything except the artichokes in a wide non-reactive pan and bring to a boil. Drop in the artichokes and cover the surface with parchment paper or an heat-proof inverted plate to keep the artichokes submerged. Bring the liquid back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until tender, 10-15 minutes depending on their size. To test whether they are done, stick the tip of a knife into the base and the leaves, make sure both are tender.

Once done, drain the artichokes and toss them with:

1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest

salt and pepper to taste

One last note: To make sure the artichokes are done, I would taste one. You want to be able to easily bite through (and swallow the leaves). When I made this yesterday, the base was done but not the leaves so I ended up having to cut that part off and just use the base.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Never Enough Thyme

I lost my friend Sandy last Friday. Besides my grandparents, she is the first person I have been close to who has passed. I find myself thinking of her all the time. I have never really been clear about what I believe happens after we die. I can say that I have always thought there is something else after this life. Not necessarily heaven, not necessarily re-incarnation - just that I can't believe that this life is it for each and every one of us.

As Randy and I watched an amazing sunset on Friday night (I finally understood "purple mountain's majesties"), I just
knew that Sandy could see it. It's not so much that I felt her presence, I just felt certain that she was enjoying the beauty of her beloved Northwest as much as we were.

I am trying not to feel guilty that I didn't get to see her healthy before she died. I am one of those people who feels like they never have enough time. Things that I love to do and people I love to see fall by the wayside because I feel like I don't have the time. Yoga? Can't fit it in. Same goes for knitting and playing the guitar. And the list of people I care about but don't reach out to is a little embarrassing. Losing Sandy is a lesson for me - just take the initiative and reach out.

In Sandy's spirit I have spent some quality time with friends this week. I saw my friend Kelly who I have known since 3rd grade. She has been a wonderful friend to me over the years and, for no good reason, I just don't see enough of her. I also got to see some of my co-op moms last night for a Mom's Night Out and just reveled in their company. And today, I got to see two of my friends from the Lamaze class we did when I was pregnant with our older son. We all had our babies within two months of each other and created the most amazing support network. Some of the people I feel closest to in my life are from this group.

One of those lovely women moved a ferry ride away a while ago. She has been a tremendous sport about coming over this way while I have been extremely lame about going to her. One of the things we caught up on is that she recently had some bloodwork done and found out she may be allergic to wheat, dairy, and eggs. She is, with good reason, reeling from this news.

On my walk home from the park, I immediately thought of a recipe to recommend to her. I mentioned it once
here but didn't give the recipe. It is something I have made several times already and that is saying something because I don't repeat many recipes. Looking at the list of ingredients, you may wonder why this is a must make - please just trust me. The blend of flavors and textures is perfect. In addition to being extremely delicious, it is very healthy - whole grains, green vegetable, protein from the chickpeas and the almonds and the tahini...pretty much a perfect meal!

Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice

Adapted from
101 Cookbooks
Serves 4

As we are nearing the end of asparagus season, I would venture to guess that broccoli, cut in to small florets, would be a nice substitute. Do yourself a favor and make extra Tahini Dressing and store it in the fridge - you will want to make this again next week and it is nice to have extra dressing on hand. You can also make extra brown rice, drain it well, and freeze it.
Cook's Illustrated magazine recommends Joyva brand Tahini and I have to agree with them - you can find it on the peanut butter aisle.

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 or 2 cans chickpeas, drained

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 small bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch segments

3 cups cooked brown rice

1/2 cup almond slivers or slices, toasted

sea salt

Tahini Dressing:

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped

1/4 cup tahini

zest of one lemon

juice of one lemon

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. hot water

1/2 tsp. sea salt

Cook the rice:

As though you were cooking pasta, bring a medium size saucepan of water to boil. Salt the water well and add 1 cup of raw brown rice. Cook at a boil, uncovered, until it tastes al dente, about 30 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Make the dressing:
Place the garlic, tahini, lemon zest and juice, and a sprinkling of sea salt in to a food processor. Process well then stop and scrape down the sides. Turn on the processor again and add the oil and then the water through the feed tube. Scrape down the sides once more and process once more. Taste for salt and lemon flavor - add more as necessary. Set aside. (You can also make this with a bowl and a whisk - I just like the smooth texture that the food processor can give you.) Can be made up to a week in advance. Store in the fridge.

Finish the dish:
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and saute until translucent - about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions begin to brown. Add the chickpeas and asparagus and a pinch of salt, then cover with a lid to steam - just until the asparagus turns bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover and stir in the rice and almond slivers.
Drizzle each serving generously with the Tahini dressing and allow each person to add more to their liking.