Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lost in the Ether

Friends who read this blog have asked me how I have time to write. The truth is, with my small personal chef business and two boys under the age of four, I don't have much time. Most posts take me the better part of a day to compose. I sit for 10 minutes here and there, take a picture while there is some daylight and then finish the post in the evening.

A few days ago, I started a post about entertaining. I wanted to share the recipe for this great beet salad and I thought I'd share some thoughts on how to throw a dinner party. My thought was that salads may seem daunting because they need to be done at the last minute (never a good thing when you have guests), but that in fact, especially with this salad, much of salad making can be done in advance.

As per usual when I get on a role, the post grew and grew and I think I shared some solid advice. But because I was writing more than usual, it took me longer and the auto-save on Blogger stopped working. And then someone turned off our computer last night and the whole thing was lost.

Someday, I will re-create that post, but not today. Let's just get right to the recipe. One word on it: if you are planning on having friends over for dinner and want to make a salad, this one is a great choice. I would double the almonds and save half of them to use as appetizers for another party.

Beet Salad with Candied Marcona Almonds

Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine
6 Servings

You can use a mixture of beets here, but I would roast them separately so the red color doesn't bleed into the golden. Both marcona almonds and frisee are expensive ($5 a head!), so it is totally fine to use regular lettuce. By all means use the almonds - they are worth it.

2 pounds red or gold beets, scrubbed and trimmed

Olive oil

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. light corn syrup


Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 cup marcona almonds

cup orange juice
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 tbsp. minced shallots

1 small head frisee, torn into bite size pieces

Pecorino cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large baking dish, toss the beets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 1
1/2 hours, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into 1/2 inch wedges.

2. Meanwhile, line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the 1 tbsp. of butter with the sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch each of salt and cayenne and bring to a boil, stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Add the almonds and stir until evenly coated with the syrup. Scrape the almonds onto the parchment-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Bake with the beets for about 12 minutes, until golden and buggling. Let the nuts cool for about 25 mintues, then break into small clusters.

3. In a small saucpan, simmer the orange juice over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in vinegar, mustard, and shallots. Gradullay whisk in 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt. Add the beets and frisee and toss.

4. Transfer the salad to a platter or bowl. Garnish with the candied almonds, shave the pecorino on top and serve.

The peeled, roasted beets and the dressing can be refrierated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. The almonds can be made a week in advance, store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to Make Me Mad

No, these gorgeous tomatoes didn't make me mad. They ended up in some stuffed peppers and added so much flavor. More on those in a minute.

These are what made me mad. Those who know me would probably all say that I am a pretty even-tempered person. Mellow. I don't get angry easily. All the crazy cooking I have been doing lately? I've kept it together in the kitchen. No one has gotten yelled at, nothing has been thrown. Poorly written or poorly tested recipes? Those really get my goat. I have so little time to cook and am trying to do it for families in addition to mine (these days I am cooking for 11 people on Tuesdays). I can't afford to make something and have it not turn out.

Oh, these cupcakes turned out all right, but not without significant tweaking and additional dirty dishes. The proportions of the recipe were totally off. The basic idea is some chocolate cupcake batter in the bottom of the cup, a big spoonful of another batter that starred marscapone cheese and mini chocolate chips, topped with some more of the chocolate batter. After baking and cooling, they are dipped in a chocolate ganache. How could you go wrong, right? Wrong. As written, the recipe made only half as much chocolate batter as needed, twice as much marscapone filling as needed, and twice as much ganache as needed. So that means I had to frantically whisk together more batter (and add a new bowl and whisk to my dish pile in the sink), throw away half the marscapone filling, and half the ganache - a huge waste of costly ingredients.

I have so many cookbooks and I really do try and give them all their due, especially the baking ones. This recipe reminds me that there is a reason I have my favorites - they are trustworthy and don't let me down. For desserts, I often use one of
my notebooks because I know that all those magazine recipes have been tested to death. I wish this recipe had been. (By the way, the cupcakes tasted great, but that's not the point. Or maybe it is if you are my husband.)

, so as not to end on a down note, I will tell you how I used those incredible tomatoes. If I say stuffed peppers and you think so 1970's vegetarian, please stick with me. These are modern, healthy, and very tasty. And if you take a recommended short-cut, they can be quick. I don't have a photo to share of the finished product because some cupcakes (ahem) ended up taking too much of my time. But trust me, not only are they delicious, they are beautiful. There are gorgeous peppers available at the Farmer's markets right now (purple!) - a great way to use them up.

One note: This recipe includes a puree you make from roasted eggplant, chickpeas, and herbs. A kind of hummus essentially. To make this dish really fast, I would buy hummus and baba ghanoush (an eggplant dip, usually sold next to hummus), mix them together in equal parts, and add in the herbs described in the recipe. I didn't do that this time, but I will next time!

Roasted Peppers Stuffed with Chickpea and Eggplant Puree and Mushrooms

Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4

6 oz. fresh shitake mushrooms

6 oz. cremini or button mushrooms

1 lb. mixed cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

4 medium peppers with stems attached

2 cups chickpea and eggplant puree (recipe follows)

1 tbsp. pine nuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim and quarter the mushrooms. Halve tomatoes lengthwise. In a large skillet over moderately high heat, add enough oil to coat bottom of a large skillet. Add shallot and saute until softened. Reduce heat to moderate and cook garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, until they just begin to release their juices. Off the heat add the tomatoes.

Halve bell peppers lenthwise through stems and discard seeds and ribs. Season pepper shells with salt and pepper and in a large baking pan, bake in upper third of oven 15 minutes, until just starting to soften.

Spoon chickpea and eggplant puree evenly into shells, smoothing tops. Mound mushroom mixture onto center of puree and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake stuffed peppers in upper third of oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.

Chickpea and Eggplant Mixture
Makes about 2 1/4 cups

I found that this recipe needed some olive oil added through the food processor feed tube to make it come together.

pound eggplant
2 tbsp. Kosher salt

1 cup rinsed and drained canned chickpeas

2 garlic cloves

cup packed parsley leaves
cup packed basil leaves
1/2 tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
2 tbsp. water

Cut eggplant into
3/4 inch thick slices and sprinkle both sides with salt. Arrange eggplant in a large colander set over a bowl or in a sink and let stand for 30 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Wipe eggplant slices off with a paper towel and broil on a baking sheet or broiler pan about 4 inches from heat until deep golden, about 4 minutes on each side. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel off skins, scraping all flesh from skins and discarding them.

In a food processor, pulse eggplant with remaining ingredients until just pureed and season with salt and pepper. (
Can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

You Say Frittata

I have these on-going lists rattling around in my head. Top 10 Kitchen Tools I Can't Live Without. Top 10 Kitchen Tasks I Hate. 10 Cookbooks I Would Take to a Desert Island. Top 5 Things I Am Afraid to Do (in the kitchen.) On that last list, I would have to rate turning out a frittata pretty high. A frittata is kind of a crust-less quiche and it is made mostly on the stovetop with just a few minutes under a broiler to finish it off. If you are not afraid to do it, you then run a spatula around the edges and slip it out onto a plate to be cut into perfect looking wedges for your guests to ooh and aah over.

Now here is a big problem: I don't have a non-stick pan. After reading things like
this, I threw away my one non-stick frying pan. I'm sure it is possible to get a frittata out of a regular pan - Italians have been doing it for years, right? But taking the time to make something only to have it fall completely to pieces is not my idea of a good day. So here is my solution: just serve it directly from the pan. I just take a big spoon and scoop out a pretty little piece and no one knows (or cares) that it isn't supposed to be served that way.

(For another favorite frittata recipe, check
here. For some thoughts on sun-dried tomatoes, check here.)

Frittata with Cheese, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Basil

Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4-6

The original recipe called for much more butter in the pan and much more feta cheese. I find the butter is not necessary (it sticks anyway) and too much feta overwhelms the other flavors, but add as much as you like.

10 large eggs

cup whipping cream
cups crumbled feta cheese (about 3 oz.)
10 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

4 green onions, thinly sliced

cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
tsp. salt
Black pepper

2 tbsp. butter

cup pitted Kalamata olives, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler. Whisk eggs and cream in a large bowl to blend. Stir in feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, basil, salt and grind in some pepper. Melt butter in large oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add egg mixture; do not stir. Cook until eggs start to firm and sides and bottom begin to brown, lifting sides occasionally to let uncooked egg run underneath, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with olives and Parmesan cheese. Transfer skillet to broiler and cook until eggs start to puff and brown, about 2 minutes. Serve directly from pan either warm or room temperature.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hold the Anchovies, Please

The last time I was in France was in the summer of 2004. It was at the tail end of our year abroad living in London. One of the best things about that year is that I got to go to Paris four times in one year - heaven for a Francophile like me. We would take the Tube to Waterloo station, get on the Eurostar (which is the train that goes under the English Channel), and less than three hours later, we would be in Paris. No airports, no airport security, and no getting from the airport way out in the middle of nowhere into the city. We went from heart of the city to heart of the city. Truly civilized.

As much as I love Paris (and I
love Paris), I have never really had great dining experiences there. I have delighted in bakeries and charcuteries and still can taste the felafel sandwiches that are everywhere in the Marais district, but eating out in restaurants? Disappointing. For me anyway.

Interestingly, that didn't hold true in other parts of France. At the end of that year abroad, Randy and I rented a car in Paris and took our time going south and east to meet up with some Seattle friends in Provence. We spent two nights in the Loire Valley, two nights in Lyons, and one night in an incredible part of the country called the Gorge du Tarn, a place I had been 15 years earlier
on a bike.

All along the way, we ate well. At roadside stands, the meals were three courses, fresh, and good. I had wonderful salads and pizzas and vegetable plates that chefs would put together for me when nothing else sounded good. In Lyons, which some people call the food capital of France, a man actually shook his head and said he was sorry for me when I asked if they had anything vegetarian. Not sorry that they couldn't accommodate me, sorry that I was going to miss out on the delights (i.e. meat) inside.

Once we got to Provence, we stayed in an amazing house owned by an Anglo/American couple. We were not in any town, but close to several tiny ones that in spite of their size, had terrific food on offer. We were able to drive to Nimes to see the Tour de France come through which was really thrilling, even for a non-bike enthusiast. Most nights we stayed close to home and cooked in our sweet little villa and ate in at the open air picnic tables to the sound of cicadas.

A few nights we went out and those simple meals were some of the best I have ever had in France. Provencal cooking is deeply rooted in the seasons and we were there at prime time - July. I had no trouble eating as a vegetarian, even if there was nothing on the menu for me. The chefs seemed to be delighted to whip something up with the bounty available to them. One of my very favorite things I had was a Pissladiere or Onion Tart. Traditionally this is made with anchovies, but a wonderful chef in a very small town left them off for me. In this same lovely restaurant, when they asked me what I would like to drink I told them that I was pregnant. "Ah, champagne!" was their solution. I love France.

Before the recipe, let's talk about onions. The only trick I have ever used to stop crying while slicing or chopping that even remotely works, is to breathe only through my mouth and not nose. Even so, I have to walk away several times in the process so my mascara doesn't run all down my face. To get good caramelization,
get some really good color on them at medium-high heat. Don't worry if there are burn marks at the bottom of your pan - when you turn the heat to low and cover them, a lot of liquid will be released and that will come up easily. If you don't get the color to start, the onions will be kind of a pale brown - still delicious but not as pretty.


Adapted from
Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook
Makes 2 8x12 inch tarts

This recipe was designed to be cut into 2 inch pieces for appetizers, but I cut it into wedges and serve it for dinner. Either way it is delicious.
I find the best way to thaw puff pastry is to let it sit in the fridge overnight. If you want to cut this recipe in half, take one sheet of puff pastry out while it is still frozen and re-freeze the other half, wrapped in it's plastic.

3 tbsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

5 pounds onions, sliced and cut into 1/4 inch thick rings

1 tbsp. fresh thyme, plus 8 sprigs for garnish

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Flour, for dusting

1 17 oz. package frozen puff pastry (2 unbaked sheets), thawed

1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash

20 small cherry tomatoes

20 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

For the tomatoes:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Toss tomatoes with 2 tsp. olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until slightly shriveled but still maintaining shape. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Return to room temperature before using.)

For the onions
: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the onions and cook, stirring every 5 minutes, until the onions are slightly golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the thyme, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and caramelized, 40-60 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, set aside. (The mixture can be held in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for 1-2 days.)

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one sheet of the puff pastry to a 10x14 inch rectangle. Trim 1/2 inch wide strips from each side of the puff pastry and set aside. Brush a little of the egg wash around the edges of the pastry, and place the reserved strips on the egg-washed area to make a raised border. Prick the base of the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Brush the egg wash over the raised borders and over the center of the pastry. Repeat with other pastry. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Bake the pastry until it is golden and puffy, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Finish the pissladiere:
Scatter an equal amount of the caramelized onions on each tart. Top with the oven-dried tomatoes, olives, and sprigs of thyme. Return to the oven and heat until the onions are warm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Dip to Die For

Whew. Feeling better now. Am back to wanting to eat and cook food.

As I mentioned last post, one of my clients had her vegetarian daughter, son-in-law, and newborn granddaughter in town last weekend. This is the same woman who
I made brownies for since, when I was a new mom, I couldn't get enough of them. This time she asked me to make them dinner for two nights and, because her daughter is breastfeeding, to please not use dairy.

Just that request really brought me back to my baby (now 19 months) being a newborn and trying to make it through those first few months. When I was pregnant with my first son, we took part in a study called Becoming Parents which focused on the couple relationship and how that bond could be strengthened and kept strong before and after birth of baby. It was around 10 weeks of classes, all of which we enjoyed. We mostly talked about communicating and managing expectations, but we also talked a bit about the babies that were on the way.

One of the things they felt strongly about was that there was no such thing as colic. Babies who "had colic" were just misunderstood, and if you could get better at reading their cues, they wouldn't be so fussy. I nodded my head along with all the other moms-to-be and proceeded to have my first son, who was a non-colicky baby. Each time I heard someone say their baby had colic, I would smirk and think to myself how that person must be doing something wrong because, as we learned, there is
no such thing as colic.

Then my baby was born. For the first three weeks, he was super mellow. Randy and I congratulated ourselves on having another easy baby and then, right on schedule for colic, he started to cry. He cried every night, non-stop, from 6-11pm, from 3 weeks old to 3 months. I took him in to the pediatrician practically demanding a cure, but of course there is none. It is not well understood and basically you just have to somehow live through it. There are doctors who suggest all kinds of diet changes for the mother, but ours just thought he just had to outgrow whatever trouble his tummy was giving him. I would have eaten seaweed straight out of Puget Sound if she told me that would help. But we just took turns rocking him, we ate standing up, I bought one of those big bouncy balls and wondered why my thighs didn't get rock hard from all the bouncing I did with him.

Right around the three month mark (which is text-book for colic), things began to look up. He didn't cry for quite as long and by month four, we had our mellow little guy back. No such thing as colic, my a**. I don't know if changing my diet would have had any effect, but I can certainly respect any decision a new mother makes in regards to anything making those first few months easier.

In thinking about a non-dairy menu, my thoughts went immediately to one of my favorite cookbooks,
The Voluptuous Vegan. You may wonder how "voluptuous" and "vegan" can be used in the same title, but many of the menus in this book are indeed incredibly satisfying and, yes, voluptuous. Vegan cooking doesn't use any animal products, so no eggs, no dairy, and no honey. It may sound restrictive, but in this author's hands, it doesn't feel or taste that way.

I made a very flavorful and seasonal Provencal stew and an incredible aioli to go with it. Aioli is typically uses a homemade mayonnaise (egg) as a base, but this one uses tofu. I am not a big fan of substituting meat things with non-meat things (I have never had Tofurkey, for example) and am usually not a big fan of substituting vegetarian things with vegan things (vegan margerine for butter, for example), but trust me when I say this aioli is incredible. You roast a whole head of garlic until it becomes buttery and sweet and add it to the food processor along with some other friends and voila! you have an amazing dip for vegetables, a pool for you artichoke leaves to get to swim in, a sandwich spread that would put mayo to shame, and other things I can't think of at the moment. Let me know how else to use it!

Let's talk about roasted garlic. I always make this in my toaster oven. It seems silly to heat up my whole oven for something so small. Of course, you can roast it along with something else in there, the temperature doesn't matter all that much, as long as it is over 350 degrees. The most important things are to remove the outer papery skin from the head, to give it a good drizzle with olive oil, and to wrap it tightly in foil. It is done when the the garlic feels squishy and not too browned.

Rosemary Aioli

Adapted from
The Voluptuous Vegan
Makes about 2 cups

For this recipe, you will need the vacuum packed silken tofu you find on the shelf in the Asian section, not the refrigerated kind. I usually buy extra-firm, but I don't think it matters all that much. This recipe keeps for a couple of days, although you will need to stir it before you use it. Add the rosemary right before using because I find that if it sits too long, it becomes really pine-y - not in a good way.

1 head garlic

Olive oil

1 box silken tofu

1/2 tsp. mustard powder
Juice of
1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the papery outer skin of the garlic and cut off the top fifth. Place the garlic on aluminum foil and drizzle it with olive oil. Wrap the garlic completely in the foil and place on an oven rack to roast for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool enough to handle. Squeeze the softened garlic cloves out of their skins.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil, the tofu, the mustartd powder, lemon juice, and salt. Process until smooth. Add the rosemary and pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl and let sit about 20 minutes before using.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturation Point

It takes a lot to get me to this place, but I am totally done with food. I don't want to think about it, eat it, or cook it anymore. It has been a hell of a weekend. I cooked for Randy's work team on Friday night - 20 people. But, this being Seattle and people being on the sort of flaky side, only about 12 of them actually stayed for dinner. So what do you do with all that extra food? You have friends and family over on Saturday night and, me being me, you make one extra thing because you are always afraid there isn't going to be enough food.

Next up, one of my client's had her vegetarian daughter in town and asked me to cook them two additional meals this week. I opted to do those dinners for Sunday and Monday so I could have Saturday to prep. It was important to me to get both of those dinners done and delivered today (Sunday) so I could start preparing for the new week tomorrow. So, in case you aren't following along, in the past 4 days I have cooked one dinner for 20, one dinner for 7 (mostly leftovers), and two dinners for four. I'm telling you - I can't even go in my kitchen. The worst of it is, it was all such a frenzy that I took no photographs so I can't really even blog about any of it.

But tomorrow is a new day and I will approach the week with my usual sense of excitement about the food I am going to make and the dread I feel as I wonder how I am going to get it all done. This time I
will take photos.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What to do with Zucchini?

Oh how I wish I was a gardener. I like to say that I am a cook, not a gardener although I know there are people out there who are both. And those people likely save a fortune on groceries, especially if they are vegetarian and are buying a ton of produce a week. I admire people who can get totally Zen out there in the sun, weeding and helping their lovely vegetables and flowers to grow. I'm sorry, there are lots of bugs out there and I just can't do bugs. Plus, at this point in my life, even if I were a gardener, I would have to choose each day whether to cook or garden, since my window of time without my baby boys is very small. I would choose cooking every time.

One summer while I was still in high school, I got it in my head that I wanted to grow a vegetable garden. There was a little plot in our yard where a climbing structure had been and it seemed perfect to my teenage mind. I had no idea what I was doing although I got a little advice from the nursery where I bought my seeds. I don't even think the soil was soil - it might have been sand - but I was determined.

As with all good teenagers, soon after I planted everything and didn't get immediate gratification, I kind of lost interest. Sometimes I would water my little garden, sometimes I wouldn't. I never weeded. I hadn't paid any attention to what kind of light this little plot got. And not surprisingly, nothing really grew. Except zucchini. I got, as everyone who has ever planted zucchini in this Pacific Northwest climate knows,
a lot of zucchini. So much that I just stopped picking it and then it grew to obscene proportions.

When we moved into this house, I loved the idea of having a vegetable garden, but I was 7 months pregnant at the time and just knew that it was doomed for failure. Instead, we planted lots of herbs and I have absolutely loved having mint, oregano, 4 different kinds of sage, chives, and 3 different kinds of thyme just out there for the picking. I was sort of at peace with just getting my produce at the Farmer's Markets and the grocery store until I went over to my new client's house to bring them their first dinner. In their backyard, they have the most amazing array of vegetables, all in lovely wood boxes, all growing beautifully. There was fennel, chard, English peas, winter squash, zucchini, tons of tomatoes, and more. All in the backyard of a very urban area. I immediately started picturing our yard and where we could start our vegetable garden, but then the memories of my sad little garden 20 years ago came flooding back and I resigned myself to just being a cook.

Zucchini Stuffed with Chickpeas and Israeli Couscous
Adapted from Martha Stewart's
The New Classics
Serves 6

6 small zucchini (6-7 inches long), halved lenthwise

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 shallot, very thinly sliced into rings

2 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger

1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

tsp. ground cumin
tsp. ground coriander
Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of saffron

1 cup canned chickpeas, drained

cup Israeli couscous
2 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1 cup of water onto sheet; set aside. Using a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out pulp from center of each zucchini, leaving a
1/4 inch thick shell. Transer pulp to a kitchen towel, and squeeze out excess liquid. Coarsely chop pulp; set aside. Sprinkle zucchini shells with 1 tsp. salt. Place shells, cut side down, on paper towels to drain.

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil then add shallot, ginger, and jalapeno. Cook, stirring 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt, the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and saffron. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add zucchini pulp and chickpeas; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.

3. Stir in 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Add couscous, and return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has absorbed and couscous is tender, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 mintues. Stir in parsley. Season with salt if desired.

4. Wipe zucchini shells to remove any liquid. Mound about 1/4 cup filling into each shell. Transer to prepared rack. Cover with foil, and bake until zucchini are tender and filling is heated through, 20-25 minutes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tomato Heaven

I kind of have to credit Molly of Orangette fame for getting me into blogging. In spite of the fact that my husband works for a software behemoth, I am a little intimidated by the computer and the internet. I read Julie and Julia, which started out as a blog, and the whole time I was reading it, I wondered where one could find a blog. Really. I mean, I knew it was somewhere out there in cyber-space to find it? To be fair to myself, I have spent the last almost four years dealing with pregnancy, nursing, hormones, diapers, sleep schedules, tears (my kids' and my own), not to mention trying to cook, so I do forgive myself for not branching out that much.

Then Molly started writing a column in
Bon Appetit and I just loved it. I loved how conversational she was and her obvious love of food was infectious. I mustered up the courage to type her blog address into my browser and nothing jumped out of my monitor to bite me! I devoured her posts and started browsing sites that she had in her blogroll (listen to me! how far I have come!) Soon, I realized that this would be a great outlet for me in terms of both cooking and writing.

Four months later, I am building my blog and I have to say, I still really enjoy Molly's column in
Bon Appetit. The recipe in the September issue almost made me jump off the couch - the most incredible appetizer from Cafe Lago in Seattle. We had just been there and had shared said appetizer and I was totally blown away by the incredible concentrated flavor of those tomatoes. I am usually a salad-as-a-first-course meal kind of girl, but I know what I am getting whenever we go back to Lago, and no Randy, I won't share.

The beauty of this recipe is that, although the tomatoes take a while in the oven, it requires very little hands-on time. Their flavor gets more and more concentrated and more and more delicious while you are free to go about your day. I was a little close on time toward the end, so I just left them in a turned off oven and they turned out beautifully. Tonight, my clients will spoon them onto crostini spread with a soft goat cheese, then tuck into a Penne with Tomatoes and (Veg) Sausage served with Green Beans, Turnips, and Peas with Herb Vinaigrette.

Pomodori Al Forno

Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 6

1 cup (or more) olive oil, divided

2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded

1/2 tsp. dried oregano
tsp. sugar
tsp. salt
1-2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. minced fresh Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Pour
1/2 cup oil into 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange tomatoes in dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil. Sprinkle with oregano, sugar, and salt. Bake 1 hour. Using tongs, turn tomatoes over. Bake 1 hour longer. Turn tomatoes over once again. Bake until deep red and very tender transferring tomatoes to plate when soft (time will vary, depending on ripeness of tomatoes, about 15-45 minutes longer.

Layer tomatoes in medium bowl, sprinkling with garlic and parsley over each layer; reserve oil in baking dish. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil, adding more if necessary to cover. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.
Do Ahead: Cover; chill up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mushroom Liker

Mushrooms. One of those polarizing vegetables. People either love them or hate them. My brother Alex will eat almost anything you put in front of him except, you guessed it, mushrooms.

I would have to put myself in the "like" category. I really do like most fungi but a few really put me off. Morels, for example. I can't get over their brain-like look and texture and also don't want to deal with eating whatever dirt and small creatures are living in the impossible-to-clean-grooves. Some of the meatier mushrooms also give me the willies - that chewy texture reminds me of meat and therefore grosses me out. I have made my peace with portabellos but others like lobster mushrooms, I just can't eat.

Chanterelles are another story altogether. In my opinion, they are the most lovely, subtle, and delicate of the mushroom family. Their texture is soft and the flavor almost buttery. We are so lucky to live in a climate where they are plentiful. I found them at a Harvest Fair in our neighborhood for $12 a pound which seemed like an incredible bargain. They don't weigh much, so you get a lot for your money.

Whenever I buy chanterelles, I make a risotto. I think it is the best way to showcase their soft flavor without overwhelming it with too many flavors. Every fall, I make several renditions of it and I think this version was the best so far. I have to share my favorite piece of mushroom advice which came directly from a forager. I asked him how to clean the chanterelles, which are always dirty, since I had heard that rinsing them made them absorb too much water and ruined the flavor. He looked at me like I was a total idiot and said, "Mushrooms grow in the forest. In
this climate. They get rained on all the time. Just rinse them." And so that is what I do.

Chanterelle and Corn Risotto with Fresh Thyme and Basil

Serves 6

If you have the funds, or just really love chanterelles, feel free to use up to a pound for this amount of risotto.

1-2 tbsp. butter

lb. chanterelle mushrooms, ends trimmed and thickly sliced
3 ears corn, shucked and kernels trimmed from the cob, cobs reserved

Several stems fresh thyme, leaves stripped



Olive oil

1 large leek, white and light green part only, cut in half, then thinly sliced

2 cups arborio rice

cup white wine
6-8 cups vegetable broth

1/2-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste
1/2 cup basil, thinly sliced

For the mushrooms:
Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and saute until beginning to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the corn, stir and allow to cook until the corn is tender, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

For the rice:
Pour broth into a large saucepan. Add the corn cobs and heat it until it is hot to the touch. Heat a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the leeks. Saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Begin adding ladlefuls of broth to the rice mixture, stirring until each one is absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes in all. Taste as you go and when the rice is softer, but still very al dente, add the mushroom mixture and a handful of Parmesan cheese. Continue adding broth as described above until it is the desired doneness. Stir in basil and cook for another minute. Add more Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Toffee, Not Coffee

My husband Randy doesn't drink coffee. Not only does he not drink it, he doesn't like it. In case you are wondering, you are allowed to live in Seattle if you don't like coffee, but you have to plead your case in front of a jury.

To add insult to injury, he doesn't like coffee flavored things - so things like Mud Pie and Tiramisu are out. (However, we ordered a sky high slice of Mud Pie at the Pioneer Saloon in Sun Valley and I noticed that he ate his share. Hmmmmm.)

I know, between
the beets and the coffee, it's a wonder I married him. He does have many redeeming qualities, one of which being that he is very smart. I mean, really smart. Like has two master's degrees, one of which from that school back East that starts with an "H". So it really tickled me when I offered him some of this amazing toffee the other day. He said he didn't like toffee. I said, "It's basically hardened caramel, peanuts, and chocolate - what's not to like?" After careful consideration he said, "I think I think I don't like it because toffee rhymes with coffee." OK, Mr. Mensa, glad we cleared that up. As my (blond) neighbor Deb said, "That is such a blond comment!"

After a taste, I was unable to keep his hand out of the bag. For you coffee haters out there, don't discriminate against delicious things that rhyme with your hatred! This toffee is easy, decadent enough for a dinner party, and it makes a ton - and keeps well. Hup to!

Chocolate Peanut Toffee

Makes about 3 pounds

I was unable to fit this pan in my freezer, so I put it in the fridge for about 2 hours. It hardened just fine.

4 sticks (1lb) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 cups sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

4 cups whole cocktail peanuts, plus 1 cup chopped (1 lb. 10 oz.)

8 oz. 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Equipment: a 15 by 10 by 1 inch baking pan (also called a jelly roll pan), a candy thermometer, a metal offset spatula

Butter baking pan and put on a heatproof surface.

Bring butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a 4-5 quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden and registers 300 degrees on thermometer, 15-20 minutes.

Immediately stir in whole peanuts, then carefully pour hot toffee into center of baking pan. Spread with spatula, smoothing top, and let stand 1 minute, then immediately sprinkle chocolate on top. Let stand until chocolate is melted, 4-5 minutes, then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula. Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts, then freeze until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Toffee keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for two weeks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

(Almost End of) Summer Rolls

As a personal chef, I feel really lucky to have such great clients. I currently have three couples that I cook dinner for twice a week (one couple is just once a week), and they have been really flexible and understanding whenever I go out of town, or one of my kids get sick, or I decide to take a 6 month maternity leave. Perhaps best of all, they eat whatever I bring them. None of them is vegetarian but they are happy to eat that way and they haven't really had any dietary or dislike restrictions. I have just been able to show up with what I felt like making that day and they have been happy to eat it.

Until about 3 months ago. My friend and longest standing client Stephanie told me that her husband really doesn't like Asian food and neither of them really like mushrooms. This was a blow because a) I LOVE Asian food and b) mushrooms are an important part of vegetarian cuisine - for me anyway. They travel on a semi-regular basis so whenever they are gone, I make Asian food or Things with Mushrooms or Asian Mushroom Food.

Last night I made a Red Curry with Summer Vegetables and Fresh Summer Rolls. The rolls are something I have been working on for years. I used to order them all the time at the Noodle Ranch in Seattle where my taste buds were forever spoiled because they were so good and are so mediocre at most other places I have tried. I have experimented with all different recipes with all different fillings, and have attempted to perfect my rolling technique. I have to say, last night I think I nailed it. I borrowed an idea from here and there and I used an incredible dipping sauce from
Everyday Greens. Some day when I am the master of my new camera (it is currently the master of me), I will document a step by step photo montage of how to make these. For now, I will just have to try and be descriptive. They are not hard to make, just a little time consuming and so so so so worth it.

A word about the tofu. I found tofu that had already been fried at
PCC. This was huge for me because I hate frying tofu, or frying anything for that matter. If you are unable to find it and don't want to fry your own, you can either just use plain or use one of the flavored varieties (stick with Asian-y flavors). You can also use my super simple and delicious method described here.

Fresh Summer Rolls with Tofu and Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce

Makes approximately 12

The carrots, cucumber, and tofu can all be prepared a day ahead and stored, separately, in the refrigerator. The herbs are flexible here. Use just mint and Thai basil if you hate cilantro, or all mint if you can't find Thai basil.
Rice paper rounds can be found in the Asian section of some supermarkets - Whole Foods has them. They are about frisbee diameter. For the noodles, look for those that are about the width of angel hair pasta. Any thicker and it won't turn out right.

12 rice paper rounds

3 medium carrots, cut into very thin matchsticks about 3 inches long

1 lg. "English" cucumber

4 oz. thin rice noodles

12 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long

Cilantro leaves

Thai Basil leaves (substitute mint, if desired)

Blanch the carrots in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut both ends off the cucumber. Stand it on one end and, avoiding the seeds, cut down the length of the cucumber. Keep turning it 45 degrees and making the same cut, then discard the seedy interior. Slice the four pieces into thin matchsticks, about 3 inches long. Set aside.

Place the noodles in a large heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand 10 minutes, drain, and set aside.

Mix the cilantro leaves and Thai basil leaves in a small bowl.

Have all your ingredients ready in front of you. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and spread out a clean dishtowel on a work surface. Place one rice paper round in the water and allow it to soften for about 15 seconds. You want it slightly pliable but not mush. It will continue to soften once you get it out of the water. (If you leave it in for too long, it will become like plastic wrap and be difficult to work with.) Scatter a few cilantro leaves and a few Thai basil leaves over the surface of the paper. Starting about 2-3 inches from the bottom of the round, place a few pieces of carrot, then a few pieces of cucumber, then a few pieces of tofu, and then a small fingerful of noodles. Stack them one ahead of the other, not one on top of the other. Resist the urge to overfill until you get the hang of what is the right amount.

Fold the bottom of the circle over the filling and try to compress the filling a bit. Continue rolling, then fold the right and left side in, then roll up to the top. Roll it over on itself so the seam will stick. Continue with the rest of the papers and filling ingredients. Rolls can be made about 4 hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator, covered loosely with a damp paper towel.

Peanut-Hoisin Dipping Sauce

Adapted from
Everyday Greens
Makes about 1 cup

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

1/3 cup water

1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Heat the oil in a small saute pan and add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finely chop and transfer to a small bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir.