Sunday, August 31, 2008

For Once, Not About Food

I have kept a journal since I was eight years old. My first one was technically a diary and it had Hello Kitty on it complete with lock and tiny key. My first few entries were all about a family trip we took to Atlanta and Florida to see relatives (whom we no longer talk to) and my incredible excitement about getting not only Mork rainbow suspenders, but also a Mork t-shirt that said, "Shazbot!" on it. A shopper even then.

Early into my fourth grade year, I finished that diary and started another and when I filled the last page of that one, I started another. Somewhere along the way, they became journals and I have always been faithful about keeping them. To be honest, they are mostly about the boys and men I have fallen in and out love with (yes, even in third grade) except for an unfortunate period where I was
obsessed with football and wrote about Seahawk and Husky games endlessly. Did I really think I would care about those games this many years later?

My senior year in high school, I took a wonderful elective English class called American Women in Literature. It was taught by a tiny yet grand woman named Meta O'Crotty who, when she wasn't teaching, could always be found outside on the deck of the old house which housed the upper school, smoking and reading. She chose Isabel Allende's
House of the Spirits as one of our books to read for that trimester - a book that remains on my top five list of favorites. In it, a woman keeps a journal for her future daughter and one of our assignments was to do the same. By this time, I had been keeping a journal for nine years, so that part came naturally. But thinking of a future daughter reading it changed how I wrote. I didn't leave anything out or censor what I wrote - I just gained a new consciousness of who a reader might be someday.

And then, many years later, I had two boys. When I found out my second was a boy, I felt a certain sadness and disbelief. It wasn't so much that I wanted a girl, I just always thought I would have one - I am a girl, why wouldn't I have a girl? And who will I leave my wedding ring to? And who will read my journals?

Oh those journals. There were years that I wrote a lot and years that I wrote a little. I had certain times of year that I would always write - my birthday, that moment in October when I get my first Thanksgiving food magazine (which signals the start of the holidays for me), New Year's Eve, and the summer solstice. There is one journal that I periodically think of burning - the one that chronicalled my split from my first husband. It is so painful - and embarrassing - to read that I think I should get rid of it. But it is an important part of my past and so I hang on to it.

Since I had my two boys, and in particular since I had the second one, I have been very bad about journalling. I get so far behind and so much happens that I can't even fathom sitting down with a pen (
a pen!) and writing (writing!) in my little book. My hand cramps just at the thought of it. I have not told my journal that my baby is finally - at 18 months - walking. Or that my older boy has adorable ways of saying some things like "popeyes" for french fries or "big poop" for Winnie the Pooh, or how he is so friendly that he will just go up hug random strangers, especially if they are female and pretty.

Blogging has allowed me to feel like I am still up on my journal - even though I am mostly writing about food - and maybe it will force me back to that most personal space. But for now, as I sit here filled with nostalgia after our trip to Sun Valley, I will write - or type - about it on my blog. At least it goes somewhere where I can read it again someday.

So this. When I was in the hospital after having my second son, sometime in the middle of the night, a nurse brought him down to me from the nursery. She said he was cold and needed me to hold him skin-to-skin to get his temperature up. I was totally groggy - drugged from my c-section - but was immediately alarmed that something might be wrong. I sat up (with assistance) and took that tiny bundle, naked except for the miniscule newborn diaper that he was swimming in, from the nurse and held him against my chest. He slept, I barely breathed while I tried to will warmth into him. An hour later she came and checked and he was fine.

Yesterday this same little bundle woke up from his nap crying. This is unusual for him - he usually wakes up cheerful and full of comments in his own little language peppered with lots of "mommy". I went up to get him and he kept crying and laying his head on my shoulder, even after I picked him up. My baby is a busy boy, not one to snuggle, so I was surprised that after a moment he didn't pick up his head and look at me with his beautiful tear-stained face. I sat down with him in his rocking chair and he kept whimpering so I started singing to him. He quieted and sat there with me, head still on my shoulder for another ten minutes or so. I was flooded with the memory of him being a tiny bundle, laying with me skin-on-skin, almost 19 months ago. Then his little curled up body barely covered my half of my upper body. Now he is a huge lump of love - over 30 pounds and tall - and he sprawled out all over my chest, stomach, and halfway down my legs. He felt so heavy to hold - even sitting - but I would have rocked until the end of time, if he had let me.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Goodbye for a Week

My little family and I are heading to Sun Valley tomorrow to stay with my parents at their time share condo. Although there is a kitchen there, I don't think I will be cooking anything of note besides cheese quesadillas for my boys. If something earth-shattering (food-wise) happens, I'll be sure to post, but otherwise, I'll see you in September.

By the way, I am doing my darndest to figure out how to get an email feed available for those of you who would like to subscribe. Navigating the help sites is a bit like reading Greek for me, so please be patient and it will appear soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

(Th)Sufferin' (Th)Succotash

I'm sorry - how did it get to the end of August? I had all these recipes that I was thinking were really "summer" recipes, so I was going to wait for "summer" and now it's almost over. I have to keep reminding myself that it's not officially over until somewhere around September 21st, and the month of September really is lovely in Seattle. Still, if you ever went to school, you know that summer is, for all intents and purposes, over after Labor Day.

So, I'd better get to it with these recipes. I need to feature lots of peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and corn until the farmers start bringing in the mushrooms and squashes. This Succotash recipe is perfect if you shop at the Farmer's Markets or if you get a CSA box because almost everything you need will be easily found with the possible exception of the celery.

A word about the cookbook this came from. It's called
The Voluptuous Vegan and it probably, more than any other book, changed the way I cook. A vegan is someone who not only doesn't eat meat, but doesn't eat anything that comes from an animal - eggs, dairy, even honey. It can seem a little restrictive, but take a look at the pages of this book and you will see a whole new world open up. I am not a vegan but this is one of my favorite cookbooks and one of the first few I turn to when I want to make something special.

I got this cookbook before Randy and I got married, at a time when I was teaching yoga. I taught about 12 classes a week which, in addition to my own practice, was a lot of yoga. However, it left me a fair amount of free time and I used that time to cook. Up until that point in my life, I was a good and adventurous cook - I had made us some wonderful meals. But I was fascinated by the dishes I read about and, lucky for me, had the time to really experiment and try some of the more time consuming ones. The sheer bounty of the food made me re-think dinner. Why not make all the components incredible, not just the main course?

The Voluptuous Vegan, rather than chapters focusing on ingredients or courses, the author (Myra Kornfeld) has compiled a series of menus with some lovely little notes about each one including the order you can make things in and how it looks best served. Usually I don't like menu cookbooks - I don't want someone telling me what to serve with what - I like to have that creative license. But the choices she has made along with the flavor pairings, and the simply startlingly delicious, incredibly full-flavored, beautiful-to-look-at meals made me trust everything she said.

The first think I ever made from it was a Paella for a dinner party. There were so many steps, so many different components - steaming tempeh, then roasting it with cauliflower and chickpeas, making a tomato sauce to go into the rice, and then another sauce to be served with it. Roasting cherry tomatoes as a garnish, and using
silken tofu to make a roasted garlic aoli. It couldn't be worth all that work, right? Was it ever. Every other vegetarian paella I had had up until that point tasted like rice with vegetables and saffron with the exception of those I had in Spain on our honeymoon. Here was a dish that really stood on it's own and has impressed every single one of my meat-eating friends I have served it to.

If you make the whole menu, yes, this is a time-consuming (but not complicated) recipe. With the Succotash, you can make polenta squares topped with a homemade chile paste to spice them up. You can make (the best in my opinion) guacamole to dollop on top of the dish. Or you can just do your own thing and serve the Succotash with cornbread, grits, or even rice. It's fresh, light, and totally seasonal.

By the way, Randy didn't even notice the
beet greens.


Adapted from
The Voluptuous Vegan
Serves 4

Kornfeld suggests you use dried lima beans here and give instructions for cooking them. Everytime I have made it, I have used frozen which saves you a lot in the overall cooking time. Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients - it's just a lot of chopping. Here is the time to practice your knife skills!

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium carrots, sliced into
1/3 inch rounds
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/3 inch
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks

Olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1 cup frozen lima beans

2 cups water

1 each medium zucchini and yellow squash, sliced into
1/3 inch rounds
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob


Juice of one lemon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

In a large pot or saucepan, heat just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion, celery, carrot, bell peppers, and a good pinch of salt. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the lima beans and another pinch of salt.

Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Add the zucchini, squash, and corn. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Squeeze the lemon over the stew and sprinkle with cayenne. Adjust salt to taste.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beet (Shhh!) Greens

Each and every one of us has a list of foods that we love, a list of those we don't like but will eat if we have to, and a list of those that we won't eat. My "won't eat" list is pretty simple, any kind of animal and okra. And actually, if it is deeply hidden in a veggie gumbo or something like that, I might even try a bite of okra. My husband Randy's list is pretty simple too, although the confounding thing is that it doesn't mirror mine. His "won't eat" used to include lentils and peas along with beets. I have since taught him that peas doesn't have to mean canned mushy peas (although I have to admit that I LOVE those too) and now he happily eats fresh peas in things like risotto and Indian dishes. He has even eaten them all by themselves as a side dish with a little butter and dill and said he really liked them. Lentils he will tolerate, especially if they are the Le Puy kind which keep their texture more than the plain brown kind. Here is the lentil conundrum...he loves red lentil dal which, texture-wise, is not much different than split peas, or mushy peas. But there is no figuring him out.

But beets. Oh beets. I so love beets and they are so in season right now and he so hates them. I must say, he is a good sport about periodically trying them but I don't think he can be converted. I will say the last bite of yellow beet he tried he hated less than the traditional red ones - note to self. So what is a beet lover to do? Try and trick him! I have heard so many times that the greens that come attached to the beet are one of the most delicious of the greens family (think chard, kale, etc). So, when I bought all the beets for the Market Fresh Dinner, I kept the greens and am going to saute them tonight. They will go around or on top of a large crouton which will be topped with a copious amount of sauteed mushrooms (a Randy favorite), and a poached egg or two. I'm hoping the softness of the greens along with the juice of the mushrooms and the yolk of the egg will make the crouton go just the right amount of mushy and the flavors will meld so much that he says, "What is that delicious green taste?"

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Protein Question

I recently joined Facebook. Just as I was late to enter the world of blogging, I was late to enter the world of online social networking. And what a trip it is! Nearly everyday, I get an invite from a "friend" and some long lost (to me) person is back in my life - however superficially. One of the best was reconnecting with Victoria, my college roommate. In an email exchange, she mentioned to me that our mutual friend Meg was going to be in town from Connecticut and, thanks to Vic, I was able to meet up with her.

The boys and I picked her up on Sunday and we made a mad dash to the West Seattle Farmer's Market. I have to say, of all the markets here in town (and sometimes we go to four a week), West Seattle is my favorite. It is small, all food, not too crowded, and seems to have the best farmers. I wanted to show her the bounty on offer here in this part of the country - and I needed some things for dinner.

Meg mentioned to me, as so many people have, that she is eating way less meat these days and is really interested in eating vegetarian a few times a week. The thing that she finds most difficult, she said, is making sure she gets enough protein. This is perhaps, oh - maybe the 1000th - time I have heard this dilemma from wanna-be semi-vegetarians. And people, I am here to tell you, you don't have to work that hard. I have been a vegetarian for 22 years now, through two pregnancies and nursing two babies, and I have never had an issue with protein or lack thereof.

When you eat meat, the protein becomes the focus of the meal. Watching shows like "Top Chef", I am always amazed by how the dish a cook is making shapes up based on what the protein is - they even call it "protein" not meat. We vegetarians don't look at our plate the same way. I've mentioned this
before here, but our eating lives don't revolve around the protein, starch, vegetable trio. Sometimes dinner is a one dish wonder with the protein, starch, and vegetable all living together in perfect harmony. Sometimes, there is no protein, or not an obvious one. Pasta has protein but no one would ever mistake it for steak.

This is a big shift in thinking. If you have cooked (or eaten) one way your whole life (and had it drilled into you that you need protein), it may seem scary to be able to eat a lovely summer stew filled with seasonal organic vegetables and whole grains...with no trace of "protein" in sight. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a nutritionist. I can just tell you what I know from personal experience - you will be just fine if you don't worry about it too much. Sometimes I will realize that several days have gone by and I've eaten a lot of vegetables and a lot of starch but not much protein, so I will make something Asian and add a lot of tofu. Or I will make a bean dish. Or I will throw a bunch of chickpeas into the salad for the night.

Now, I've never tried to run a marathon and I've never wanted to become a power lifter, but I did teach intense Ashtanga Yoga for two years with a vigorous practice of my own, and never needed to eat any differently than I do now. I say none of this to judge what anyone else is eating - hell, my own husband eats meat. I just put it out there for those of you who have asked me, those who are interested in going veg a few times a week, how I get my protein. And the answer is, it all works out in the end. And truthfully, if you are eating meat or chicken or fish a few times a week, then you
really don't need to worry about it.

This is a recipe for a Black Bean Salad that I created today to serve with Cold Avocado Soup (photo above) and Rice with Leeks and Poblano Chiles. It isn't lovely, but it is really tasty. Beans are a great way to keep protein in you diet - they are cheap, easy to use, and nutritious.

Black Bean Salad with Corn and Cotija Cheese

Serves 4

If you are unable to find Cotija cheese, you can substitute Queso Fresco, or even Feta Cheese.
You want all your vegetables and cheese about the same size as the black beans.

2 cans black beans, drained

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 small or
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 small can mild green chiles, drained

1 ear yellow or white corn, husked and corn cut from the cob

1 small avocado, diced

1-2 limes

-1 tsp. ground cumin

cup cotija cheese, cut into small dice
cup chopped cilantro

In a large bowl, combine the beans, bell pepper, chiles, corn, and avocado, stirring gently. Add the juice of one lime and 1/2 tsp. of salt and cumin. Stir again gently and taste adding more lime juice, salt, and cumin as needed. Keep in mind that the cotija is salty. Add the cotija and cilantro and stir again. (
Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Seattleites are known for complaining about the weather. Most of the year we gripe about how rainy and dark it is. When it's sunny, we complain about how it's not going to be sunny tomorrow or how it wasn't sunny yesterday. And when it's hot, boy do we bitch about it being hot. As my neighbor Jeff (originally from Minnesota) says, "You people are only happy when it's 75 degrees with a slight breeze." Yep.

So, it's really hot today and it was really hot yesterday. I have basically been chained to my oven and stove so I have been complaining more than usual. In the last 36 hours, I have cranked out a considerable amount of food and my oven has been on virtually non-stop. When planning the menu for tonight's
"Market Fresh Dinner", I knew I wanted really summery fresh food - as much purchased from the Phinney Ridge Farmer's Market as possible. The soup and salad would be cold, the appetizers and main course would be room temperature, the dessert would be cold. Great, right? The problem is that everything still needs to be cooked before it can cool down to the temperature just right for eating. Hence, the sauna that is my kitchen.

But here we are, over an hour before people arrive and I am basically done except for some last minutes assembly. On the menu...


A Trio of Crostini: Green Pea with Mint, Tomato Jam, White Bean


Cold Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup with Mint


Beet Salad with Arugula and Ricotta Salata

Main Course

Eggplant Torta

Farro Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts


Raspberry Sour Cream Tart

I am excited about the Eggplant Torta. It's a recipe that I've never tried before and although this is a terrible photo (I'm getting a new camera soon!), here is what it looks like...

The basic premise is that you are kind of making a lasagne but without noodles and in a cake pan. So not really like a lasagne at all actually. But similar flavors! You make a tomato sauce and layer it into the pan with eggplant, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella. Then you pour some egg into the pan and hope that it sets up a little like custard. I haven't cut into it yet and fingers are crossed. Even if it turns out to be a mess, I know it will taste good.

The recipe I'm going to share is for the cold soup. I'm a
big fan of cold soups - especially on really hot days, and this one is very refined. Simple, beautiful, complex flavors. I made some big changes in the method of this recipe but not in the ingredients. They wanted me to use my broiler and I simply could not turn on my broiler today, so I used my grill and stovetop. The recipe also doesn't tell you to peel either the peppers or tomatoes (or seed the tomatoes for that matter), but unless you have a food mill (I don't - one piece of kitchen equipment I actually don't own), you are going to have a great tasting soup full of vegetable skins and seeds. Below is the recipe with the changes I made.

It is now the next morning. I just couldn't get back to writing with the flurry of activity that is an 8 person dinner party. It was a wonderful success. The guests were all thrilled with the food and really enjoyed each other's company. I had two wonderful helpers (moms from our old preschool class) who made serving the meal a pleasure. Thank you Rebecca and Shaynee! The Eggplant Torta was good (even for someone who doesn't love eggplant) but really ugly. It was very wet so I would make some changes next time, like straining the tomato sauce, but I would make it again.

As they were leaving, I asked them which recipes they most wanted me to post. They mentioned the Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates (something I served while they were enjoying a glass of wine outside), and the Rasberry Sour Cream Tart. So, three recipes today! So I don't have to type out all three, I will direct you
here for the Raspberry Tart. In the instructions, it says you can make the crust and fill it with the sour cream filling up to one day ahead. I did that and felt that the crust got soggy. Next time, I would bake the crust one day ahead, cover it with foil and leave it out at room temp. I would also make the filling and put it in a covered bowl in the fridge. Then I would assemble the tart the day of the party. On to the other recipes.

Chilled Roasted Tomato Red Pepper Soup with Mint

Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4

2 lbs. red peppers, quartered and seeded

2 lbs. tomatoes, halved and seeded

1 small onion, cut into
1/2 inch thick slices
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Olive oil

1 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 cup water
4 tbsp. heavy cream

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. salt

4 tbsp. finely chopped mint, or to taste

Preheat gas grill to high. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes and bell peppers with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Grill on high heat until the skins of the veggetable start to blacken and the vegetables themselves get tender. Allow to cool, then peel the skins off the peppers (don't worry if you can't get all the peel off) and slip the skins off the tomatoes. Place both in a bowl and add all the juice squeezed out of the tomato skins.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and coriander and continue to cook until the onions are slightly brown, stirring often. Remove from the heat.

Puree the vegetables in batches until smooth in the blender. Add a little water to get the blender going if necessary. Stir in all other ingredients except mint. Chill soup until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days ahead. If you make it ahead, you may need to add additional water to thin when ready to serve. Garnish soup bowls with mint.

Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates

Adapted from
The New Classics by Martha Stewart
Makes 16

You can make the goat cheese filling one day ahead and refrigerate it. These hors d'oeuvres can be assembled several hours before serving. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to three hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

4 oz. soft goat cheese

3 tbsp. shelled salted pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
8 plump, soft dried dates (preferably Medjool), pitted and halved lengthwise

1. Stir together the goat cheese, the pistachios, and the chives in a small bowl until smooth. Season with pepper.

2. Arrange dates, cut side up, on a platter. Using a small spoon and your fingers, fill each date with a small mound of the filling. Garnish, if you like, with additional chopped pistachios and chives.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two Tofu Tips

Yes, two tofu tips. Say that 10 times fast.

I have another weekend of cooking on the horizon. My baby brother is turning 30 and we are going to a bbq for him on Friday. I got roped into (or did I volunteer?) making two desserts, two appetizers, and a side dish. On Saturday I am cooking the "Market Fresh Dinner" I donated to the Phinney Ridge Community Center auction back in May - five courses. Since I haven't started anything for either of those events, I figured it was in my best interest to start cooking ahead for tomorrow's client dinners so I could free up some time to cook ahead for the other events. Whew.

Besides, tomorrow's main course is a stew and I can't think of a single stew-like thing that doesn't benefit from sitting overnight. Flavors meld, liquid gets absorbed, spices mellow - all good things. In this recipe, you are advised to freeze a block of tofu, then allow it to thaw overnight in the fridge. Once it is thawed, you squeeze all as much liquid as you can out of it and then puree it in the food processor. What I ended up with is something that looked like a spongeball, but when I added it to the stew, it just
disappeared. Almost completely - just little white flecks. Indistinguishable in a stew with lots of other ingredients.

I immediately thought of all the people I know who are trying to get more protein or soy or both into their diet (or into their children's diet), and how you could use this same technique for just about anything with a liquidy base. Any soup, tomato sauce, stew - whatever. Tofu, as we all know, doesn't really have a flavor so I really do believe you can try this with any of your favorites.

I used a pound of firm tofu for a very large quantity of stew, so maybe start with half a pound. Remove it from it's packaging and wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in the freezer. It will turn a kind of alarming shade of yellow, but will turn back to white once it is thawed. Once thawed, squeeze out the excess water and puree.

That's tip #1. #2 has to do with silken tofu. That is the stuff that is vacuum packed in cardboard and is usually found on the Asian food aisle (not in the refrigerated section). Silken tofu is a lovely substitute for sour cream - yes, it's true! The dish I made today is a Corn, Tomatillo, and Hominy Stew and (coming from a vegan cookbook), the author advised making a Ginger Lime "Cream" to go alongside. I used a carton of silken tofu (usually around 12 oz) and pureed it in the food processor with ginger, lime juice, rice vinegar, canola oil, and salt and pepper. It has a slightly different flavor than sour cream, but the same texture and is filled with protein. It would be delicious with fajitas or enchiladas. I have also made a faux aioli with roasted garlic and lemon juice that fooled my whole dinner party. No one knew it was tofu. Do not be afraid of soy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inspiration Strikes

As I have mentioned here before, I am really a cookbook cook. I very rarely make up a recipe on the fly. When someone says something nice about my food, I always feel a little guilty taking the compliment - I didn't make up the recipe, I only cooked it. Oh, I realize I do have a knack for looking at a recipe and knowing whether it will be good or not, and I also put foods together well. I do wish that I was more adventurous when it comes to seeing what looks good at the market, and making something up on the fly once back in the kitchen.

I was recently reading an article in The New Yorker magazine about how inspiration strikes. There are scientists who are actually trying to figure out what happens in the brain when you have a "Eureka!" moment. In doing their research (I'm summarizing big time here), they found that when posed with a puzzle, a person either tended to reason out the problem, or it just came to them - inspiration striking.

For some reason, farro, corn and green beans just came to me this week. I don't believe I have had a dish like this any time in the recent past, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I know, this isn't nuclear fusion - it's just vegetables and a grain, but this was big for me. I bought my star ingredients at the Farmer's Market and today I started playing. A good rule of thumb for combining vegetables is "if it grows together, it goes together". Thus, corn and green beans - great. Winter squash and mushrooms - yum. Asparagus and parsnips - not so much. So since both green beans and corn are in season, I figured at least that part of the dish would taste right. And if you have never had farro, you are in for a taste and texture treat. I have heard it compared to barley, but it has more nuttiness and none of the mushiness that I associate with barley.

To start, I blanched a bunch of the most beautiful green beans I have ever seen. They are Randy's favorite vegetable, so we eat a lot of them in our house, but usually I am picking through the pathetic offerings at the grocery store to find a few that aren't moldy. Every single one of these was pristine, skinny, and perfect. For $10 a pound I could have bought haricot verts which are even skinnier but, come on - $10 a pound? After letting them boil in salted water for a few minutes, I put them in an ice water bath. This is called "shocking" them and it stops the cooking and sets the brilliant green color. Yes, it's an extra step and totally worth it.

I sliced up a bunch of shallots into thin rings and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil. I added a bit of minced garlic and as the shallots started to turn brown, I added the corn from three cobs. Since corn is fresh now, it only needs just a short swim around the pan to cook through. Next went the cooked farro and the juice of half an orange. I was trying to think of an acid that would balance these flavors well and knew what
I would think of vinegar if I tried that. I had a bunch of oranges left over from the Orange Pound Cake that I made as this week's treat, so I thought I would try that.

Off the heat, I added the drained green beans and some gorgeous purple basil that I found at the market. I drizzled in some olive oil, the juice from the other half of the orange, and plenty of pepper and salt. And do you know what? It was awesome! Farro is nutty and has a wonderful bite to it which contrasted wonderfully with the soft and sweet corn. I maybe would have cooked the green beans a little longer but they were great (so sweet!) and fit in with all of the other flavors. It looked gorgeous - especially with the purple basil - but if you can't find it, don't let that stop you from making this recipe. I actually found farro at the University Farmer's Market but you can find it in specialty shops (Whole Foods sometimes has it) or order it online from
Bluebird Grain Farms.

By the way, the other dish in the photo is Lentils with Beets and Tarragon and I served both of these dishes with a cold Green Pea soup.

Farro with Green Beans and Corn

Serves 8

Like most grain dishes, I think this tastes best served at room temperature. You can make it up to 8 hours in advance but I would add the basil just before serving so it keeps it's color.

2 1/2 cup farro

1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed

3 ears fresh corn, kernels cut from the cobs

3 large shallots, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried

Sea salt


Olive oil

1 orange

10-15 large basil leaves, preferably purple basil

To Make the Farro and Blanch the Beans:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the green beans and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a large bowl filled with ice water. Allow them to cool completely, then drain. Meanwhile, add the farro to the water and boil for five minutes, then lower the heat and simmer until tender but with a pronounced bite - 30-40 minutes. Drain well and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking together. (Both of these components can be done one day ahead, refrigerate separately.)

To Finish the Dish:
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, then add the shallots and a good pinch of salt. Allow them to cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the shallots start to brown. Add the thyme and stir just until it becomes fragrant, then add the corn, saute for 2 minutes. Add the farro, and the juice from half of the orange. Add a pinch of salt and stir just until heated through. Off the heat, add the green beans, the juice from the other orange half, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir in the basil and taste for salt and pepper.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Sunday Lunch

My youngest brother Michael just moved back to Seattle a week or so ago. He hasn't really lived here since he graduated high school. Although we are eight years apart, we have always been close. When we were really young it was because I was kind of a second mother to him, and now that we are adults, it's really just because we like each other and have a fair amount in common. I have really missed having him close by, especially once I started having kids and he only got to see them once a year.

One of Michael's favorite things to do on Earth is ride bikes and that is one thing we
do not have in common. My three month tour of France basically forever ruined my urge to ever get on anything with two wheels again. My husband, however, is a biking nut and I think he is really excited to have a buddy to ride with and someone who can challenge him. Randy did a crazy ride called RAMROD a couple of weeks ago and RAMROD stands for Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day. If you are not from around here, Mt. Rainier is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states and this ride was about 160 miles and 10,000 feet vertical climb. In one day. Randy told me many times that he was worried that he wasn't going to be able to finish. He called me after he did finish to let me know that he came in fifth. And he started half an hour late. Michael can't wait to join him next year.

Another of Michael's favorite things to do on Earth is eat. In spite of his extreme carnivore-ness, he is a very enthusiastic audience for the vegetarian food that I make. His friends once got him a bacon-of-the-month package for his birthday, but he insists that if he were eating my food, he could be a vegetarian. Awwww. So, needless to say, he is fun to cook for. I decided to make lunch for the guys today - something I don't normally do. I do a lot of dinner cooking, so breakfast and lunch tend to be simple around here (or eaten out). But since we had no plans this weekend, I was getting the urge to get in the kitchen anyway.

I must have the cut the recipe for this sandwich out 15 years ago or so, and have never made it. I am actually not a huge sandwich person. In my experience, vegetarian sandwiches are ho-hum at best and oily greasy messes at worst. I also always get to the end of a sandwich and think, "That's it?" I guess they just don't satisfy me. This baby is another story all together. This is a
meal. I used the recipe as a starting off point and made a few changes, one of which being to add hard-boiled egg slices. I figured the guys would want a little extra protein after a long ride. The best part about this sandwich is that it can be made a day ahead - it's actually even better since the flavors of the filling have time to seep into the bread. Yum. This would be a great dinner on a night that you just can't face the stove or the oven. I served it with a summer squash soup with small shell pasta and tons of herbs, but a salad would be lovely as well.

Olive and Jarlsberg Sandwich

Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4 (very hungry) - 6 (slightly less hungry)

You could substitute a different kind of cheese here (I would use something mild as the other flavors are very assertive.) You can also swap out some of the parlsey with a different herb - basil would be delicious. If you eat fish, I would imagine that a drained can or two of tuna would great great mixed in with the olive mixture.

an 8 inch round loaf of peasant bread

cup drained pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped fine
cup drained Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped fine
1/2 cups grated Jarlsberg cheese (about 6 oz.)
6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped fine

1 cup drained bottled roasted red peppers, chopped fine

2 cups packed fresh parsley leaves, minced

1 tbsp. drained capers, chopped fine

olive oil


4 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced

Cut the top quarter off the loaf horizontally with a serrated knife and remove the soft crumb from the top and bottom sections, leaving a 1
1/2 inch thick shell. In a bowl, stir together the olives, cheese, artichoke hearts, peppers, parsley, and capers. Stir in just enough olive oil to moisten it, not make it greasy. Add salt and pepper as needed to taste, keeping in mind that the olives and capers are very salty.

Spread a thin layer of hummus (or more if you love hummus) all over the inside of the bowl and lid. Spoon half the olive mixture into the bread shell and top with a layer of hard-boiled eggs. Spoon in the remaining mixture and top with the remaining eggs.

Put the lid on the bread bowl and press down to compact. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. If you want, you can place a heavy pot on top to compact it even further. Chill it for at least one hour and up to 24. Cut with a serrated knife.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer Recipes

In addition to my somewhere-over-70 cookbooks, I currently I get three food magazines - Gourmet, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit. At different points in my life I have also gotten Cooking Light and Cook's Illustrated (which I plan to re-subscribe to.) Every month, these little treasures come and I relish being able to sit down on the couch with a pen and mark each thing that looks good to me. Then they go into a magazine basket to be forgotten until the day, six months later, when I realize that I am six months behind and I go on a recipe tearing-out frenzy. I spend a day tearing, a day cutting the recipes out, and another day taping the recipes into four notebooks that I have expressly for this purpose.

I am not a neat or organized person. But my recipes notebooks are one of my greatest achievements of the organized person I wish I was. It all started with one notebook which then became a really big notebook, which then got split into two, and has now become four. One houses appetizers, salads, and side dishes, one houses soups, breads, and cookies, one houses main courses, and another houses desserts. If my house caught on fire and I got my family out safe, and all the photographs...I would save the notebooks next. Any of my cookbooks and any of my kitchen equipment can be replaced, these can't.

The problem with being perpetually six months behind is that when I open the pages to the most recent recipes I have pasted in there, I am totally off seasonally. What sounded good in the February issue is not what sounds good now. It will sound good next February when I stumble on it again so all is not lost, but it doesn't work for me now. That is why, when my
Food and Wine and Bon Appetit came last week, I was determined to make a dinner out of some of those recipes. That way, when I finally get around to cutting and pasting them next winter, I will have actually gotten to enjoy some of them.

Last night's dinner was Pasta with Cauliflower and Peppers, Leeks Vinaigrette with Mustard Breadcrumbs, and Green Gazpacho Salad. I made the leeks because they sounded so tantalizing - and they were incredibly delicious. They were sliced in half and baked at high heat for a long time with wine and broth so they became soft, browned and incredibly sweet. An intense mustard-y vinaigrette was poured over them and then they were topped with breadcrumbs which had been baked with more mustard. Really an incredible way to serve this delicious vegetable, but NOT for summer time. I have two ovens and they were both on for a grand total of somewhere around 80 minutes and so my not-too-hot house became
really hot. I will absolutely make this recipe again (and share it with you), but not until the fall comes.

Now pasta is another story. I find I make a lot of pasta in the summer because it tastes nice and light to me and the prep is often minimal. And perhaps more importantly, the stove time is minimal. I don't often bring pasta to my clients because many of the recipes that I love need to be served right after they finish cooking. But this lovely recipe states that it tastes good warm or cold which means it can be made in advance. The pesto for this pasta is made from cilantro, parsley, garlic, and olive oil and it coated the pasta beautifully and tasted rich and nutty. If you are not a huge fan of cilantro - I can honestly tell you that, although it calls for a fair amount of it, it's flavor is pretty muted. You could probably just use all parlsey or even substitute basil. The pesto can be made a day ahead which makes the finished dish really quick. And your stove is only on for the time it takes the pasta to cook.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Peppers
, and Walnut Pesto
Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine
Serves 6

I needed to serve 7 people so I upped the pesto slightly and used one pound of pasta. There was plenty left over. Because I was not going to serve this right away, I used more of the pasta broth so it wouldn't get dried out.

1/2 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves
cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
cup walnuts
2 garlic cloves

cups olive oil
Kosher salt

pound orecchiette
1 small head of cauliflower (1
1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 2-by-
1/4 inch strips
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into 2-by-
1/4 inch strips
Freshly ground pepper

1. In a food processor, pulse the cilantro, parsley, walnuts, and garlic until finely chopped. Add 6 tablespoons of the oil and process until smooth. Season with salt.

2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add the cauliflower and season with salt. Cook over moderately high heat until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook until tender and brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl.

4. Add the pasta, pesto, and the reserved pasta water to the vegetables; toss until the pasta is coated. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

OK well, not today. But 20 years ago this year that I graduated from high school and our reunion is tonight. As with every big milestone that comes my way, I have a hard time believing that this much time has passed. And having just celebrated a birthday, I feel kind of, um, old. Actually - maybe it's just that I feel tired because for some insane reason, we are hosting (and I am cooking for) this reunion.

Now before you think that I have completely gone off my rocker, I went to a very small high school. There were only 45 people in my graduating class and only about 15 or so are coming. So along with spouses or significant others, we will have somewhere around 30 people here. We have a good party house - an open floor plan and french doors that open to the patio outside, but any way you slice it, 30 is a lot of people to have in your house. And a lot of people to cook for.

Uncharacteristically for me, I haven't planned obsessively regarding the menu. Usually if I have any kind of party - even a small dinner party - I spend a lot of time thinking about what to make and tracking down all the right recipes. Maybe because it's summer and I just feel like we have a lot going on, tonight just kind snuck up on me. Several months ago, Randy and I talked about how we should handle the food and I brought up either having it catered or doing a potluck. He thought the potluck idea was "cheesy" and I thought finding a caterer and pricing it and going over menu ideas sounded exhausting, so here I am catering it myself. People may find it strange that I find the idea of working with a caterer more tiring than cooking all the food myself. I admit - it's weird. But that's me.

If it were wintertime, I would probably make some giant pan of incredibly rich macaroni and cheese and then fill in with side dishes. But I don't think mac and cheese translates as well in the summer - lighter food always tastes better in the warmer months. So, I decided that we (i.e. Randy) should grill salmon and I would make lots of flavorful salads to compliment it and be the main course for any vegetarians besides me. So, on the menu...

Dates Filled with Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Cheese and Crackers

Deviled Eggs
(made with curry and mango chutney this time)

Grilled Salmon

Potato Salad

Pasta Salad with Broccoli

Grilled Zucchini with Lemon and Mint

Green Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Avocado

Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Bread

Raspberry Cake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Now, I am not usually one to brag but I have to do so for just a moment. When all is said and done, I will have made all of this (except the cheese and crackers and the salmon) in two days. In the few years that I have been a personal chef and mother, I have learned to be really fast when I cook. I can multi-task incredibly well - the only area in my life where I can. But even I am impressed that I am accomplishing this much in this short a period of time.

Done bragging. Part of the secret to this success is choosing recipes that don't require a ton of work or time. I usually advocate choosing things that can be made well in advance, but because we only have one (over-stuffed) refrigerator, I couldn't do too much too far ahead of time. I will give you one great tip. I made both the potato and pasta salad yesterday and there is a TON of both of them. The only way I could store them in my fridge was to put them in gallon zip bags and stack them one on top of the other. I have done this before and it works beautifully.

The recipes I am going to share today are both for dessert. This time of year it seems almost a crime to not use the berries that are overrunning the markets. I couldn't decide whether to feature raspberries or blueberries, so I did both. The raspberry cake is something I make multiple times a summer. It is one of the most bang for your buck recipes out there. In just about an hour you have a cake that is fresh tasting with a complex flavor and also looks beautiful. Even if you are not a baker, you should have this in your repetoire. As for the blueberry cobbler - it is about the easiest thing I have ever made in my oven. And, now that it is the day after the party, I can tell you it was the most commented on of the desserts. It's not a beauty but it doesn't really matter when it tastes this good.

Raspberry Cake with Marsala, Creme Fraiche, and Raspberries

Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
10 Servings

I have made this in a 9 inch springform pan for years and it turned out fine.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 cup Marsala

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

14 tbsp. (1
3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 4 tbsp. sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. grated lemon peel

4 cups raspberries

2 cups creme fraiche or sour cream

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Butter 10-inch diameter spring form pan. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine Marsala and orange juice in measuring cup. Beat 12 tbsp. butter and one cup sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and lemon peel. Beat in Marsala mixture in 2 additions alternately with flour mixture in 3 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups rasberries.

Bake cake until top is gently set, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Dot top of cake with 2 tbsp. butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. sugar. Continue baking until tester inserted into center of cake come out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Release pan sides; transfer cake to platter. Cool to room temperature.

Mix creme fraiche and 2 tbsp. sugar in small bowl. (
Cake and creme fraiche mixture can be made 8 hours ahead. Let cake stand at room temperature. Cover and chill creme fraiche.) Cut cake into wedges and serve with creme fraiche mixture and additional raspberries.

Bill's Blueberry Cobbler

Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4-6

I don't know who Bill is but this is one easy recipe. For my party, I doubled this and baked it in a 8x11 inch pan. I put the butter in the pan and put it in the oven to melt it.

3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter

1 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup milk

2 cups blueberries (about 11 oz)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an 8 inch square or other 2 quart baking dish, melt butter. Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg and stir in sugar until combined well. Add milk and whisk batter until it is just combined. Pour batter into melted butter; do not stir. Pour berries into center of batter; do not stir. Bake cobbler in middle of oven for 40 minutes or until cake portion is golden and berries exude juices.

Serve cobbler warm or at room temperature.