Monday, September 27, 2010


Bella thinks crème fraiche is "awesome."

She loves salads.

She lives to use the Global chef knife.

Bella has redefined vegetarianism. She won't eat anything that comes from a fish, chicken, or cow. But pigs are fair game. We've been having a lot of prosciuitto, bacon, guanciale, serrano ham, and chorizo.

If Bella makes her own dinner, she eats more of it. 

Considering these current requirements/restrictions/tendencies, we came up with a plan last Saturday night that worked quite well. Bella was to make a salad all by herself that included bacon, lettuce, tomato, crème fraiche, and lots of herbs. I set out the mise en place, asked her to make a salad large enough for the 3 of us, and stepped back.

Dash wanted to join in. When he tried to juggle the tomatoes we sent him to the other end of the house to watch Wallace and Gromit.
Dash and I have had our peaceful moments cooking together, but in general he is a very physical cook. He climbs up and down the stool 20 times, the fridge flies open constantly, and there's lots of yelling, sweating, and swearing coming from me. Cooking with Bella is a much slower and more meticulous experience. She is cooking at a whole new level now since she is starting to taste and adjust dishes to her liking. This give her a lot of control. Bella likes to be in control.

Bella's neutral face is very serious. She inherited this from me. I swear she was having a great time.
I'm teaching Bella that cooking involves all of your senses. Smell and taste the dressing several times as you make it. Taste the salad several times as you dress it. Mix the salad with your hands so you can feel if the leaves are evenly coated. It's also more fun.
Bella has always said that she hates pepper. But she kept picking up the pepper mill and adding more and more to the dressing. Maybe it was just fun to turn the thing. Or maybe when kids are involved in cooking, the part of the brain that normally says "no" and "ew" and "I hate that" can start to shift.
I really wanted to crumble some blue cheese on top of the salad. Bella said, "Hell no." It was her creation so I didn't push it. I asked her if she could define deconstructed and she said, "Taking one thing apart to make another." You go, girl. So here's Bella's Deconstructed BLT Salad with Crème Fraiche and Herb Dressing.

This recipe includes the ingredients and approximate measurements. I recommend making it the way Bella did. Taste as you go along. Add and subtract ingredients as you wish. It's a very forgiving salad.

15-20 stale 1" baguette slices, grilled and rubbed with a garlic clove while still warm 
8 pieces of bacon, cooked the way you like
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
2 shallots, peeled and diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped herbs (any combo of mint, parsley, and/or basil)
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar, white wine, or champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6-8 tablespoons olive oil
1 head of butter lettuce (or hearts of romaine, baby gems, arugula, spinach)
4 medium-sized tomatoes, cored and cut in wedges

Make croutons and cook the bacon. Set aside.

Place crème fraiche in a bowl. Whisk in shallots, green onions, herbs, vinegar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Slowly whisk in about 5 tablespoons olive oil. Taste. Add more olive oil if necessary. But make sure the dressing is tangy enough because otherwise the salad will be bland. Place lettuce and tomato wedges in a bowl. Drizzle over some of the dressing, salt, and pepper. Mix with your hands. Taste. Add more dressing, salt, and pepper if needed. Place cooked bacon and baguette croutons on top of the salad. Drizzle over some more of the salad dressing. Sprinkle more herbs on top. Serve immediately.

more things to add:
blue cheese
hard-boiled eggs 

Monday, September 20, 2010


Sibling rivalry has kicked in with all kinds of screaming, punching, and drama queening. Often, hanging with both Dash and Bella is so intense that I just want to hustle them to bed as quickly as possible. I'm craving time alone with each of them. Bella and I have been going out on dates to fancy dinners without Dash. Last week we sat at the bar of a very popular local restaurant called Wood Tavern. In between bites of burrata and roasted peaches, we talked about second grade, the San Francisco Giants, Silly Bandz, and what life would be like without Dash (she decided she wants to keep him around). It was dreamy.

This year Dash is in school every day but Friday. So Friday's our day. No school. No Bella. Just the two of us.  I'm hoping to do a series of posts called "Fridays with Dash" in which we do a new recipe together every week. Or maybe every other week.

From the back of the car last week, Dash announced, "We have to pass through ALL the cafés to get to school."

Dash's relationship with Berkeley is like a Chutes and Ladders board paved with cafés.
I don't know what kind of drugs you all did in high school, but I skipped class to do lattes. This early addiction lingers and I'm a much better mom when I'm caffeinated. Dash is psyched to go to a café every morning because he always scores a pastry. He went through a cheese danish phase, a pumpkin bread phase, and now he always wants cheese bread from The Cheese Board. Last week, we were lucky enough to get a table next to the cheese counter.

"Holy shit, look at the cheese!" I shouldn't open my mouth before I've had a full cup of coffee.

"Holy SHIT, Mama? Why?" asked Dash.

"Holy cow, Dash. Holy guacamole. The cheese is just so beautiful."

We left The Cheese Board with a tub of quark cheese (fresh cow's milk cheese made from sour milk). I was hoping to combine it in some killer way with the huge pile of tomatoes we had just picked with my parents over the weekend. Actually, my kids picked 3 tomatoes and my parents picked 103.
Dash and Bella jumped around gathering baskets, gloves, and clippers, but their enthusiasm was short-lived. "No farmer is she," said my dad as Bella harvested two tomatoes before complaining of the heat. Harry Potter was calling.
Dash, red-faced and sighing, heaved and hoed a bit longer than Bella.

So it's Friday and we're in the kitchen. I have quark and all the picked tomatoes and I think there might be some sort of tart to be made. When I'm trying to figure out a recipe I wander around the kitchen talking to myself. Fortunately, Dash is listening to my ramblings. "Put garlic in the tart, Mama."

So I roast a whole head of garlic. When it's soft, sweet, and caramelized, I whip it up with the quark, an egg, and some cream. Dash slurps a bunch of the mixture up like a milkshake.
We par-bake the tart shell, seal the bottom with a layer of mustard, and then Dash fills the tart shell with the quark mixture. He gently puts down overlapping concentric circles of heirloom tomatoes slices. 
And then Dash can't contain himself anymore so he smooshes some tomato slices between his fingers and throws them onto the tart.

"Dude!!! What a mess. Are you a big boy or a baby?"

He thinks about it for a moment and then says calmly, "I'm not a baby anymore. I broke my baby size."

 "Well, If you broke your baby size then you be a big boy and help me fix the tart."

And he does. 

1. I chose not to squeeze out some liquid from the tomatoes. I just didn't want to lose all the wonderful flavor. It's a very moist tart but I found that most of the liquid was reabsorbed back into the cheese base and the crust once it was done. You can certainly halve the tomatoes, scoop and squeeze out some liquid and seeds, and then slice them up.

2. Any kind of dough works for this tart. I used puff pastry once and shortcrust pastry dough another time. We're trying pizza dough tomorrow. On a pizza I would recommend slicing the tomatoes very thinly because the dough requires less cooking time. Not need to pre-bake the pizza dough.

3. Replace the quark cheese with goat cheese. Or make your own quark.

4. Top the tart with a combination of cheeses: parmesan, gruyere, piave, and/or pecorino.

5. Add niçoise or lucques olives.

6. Mix fresh herb in with the quark mixture. Or just sprinkle fresh herbs on top before or after cooking.

7. Add caramelized onions.

8. Add strips of anchovy.

If you use my recipe for shortcrust pastry dough, do the variation that involves adding the butter in 2 batches.

a recipe for shortcut pastry dough OR store-bought puff pastry
1 head garlic
1 egg
8 ounces quark
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
6-8 heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced about 1/2" thick (they will look prettier if you do horizontal slices, from the stem end to the bottom)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Make shortcut pastry dough and refrigerate for a few hours. Or remove puff pastry from the freezer about an hour before you're going to make the tart. Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut the tiniest bit of the tips off of the garlic cloves from the non-stem end. Rub exposed cloves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in tin foil, put it in a dish, and bake until garlic is soft. This should take 45 minutes to an hour. Check often to make sure it's not burning. Set aside to cool.

Keep oven at 375° F. Roll out dough and press into a 10 or 12 inch pie plate. Bake off for 10-15 minutes until just beginning set. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes.

Squeeze roasted garlic (it can still be warm just not hot) into the bowl of a standing mixer. Add egg, quark, heavy cream, and salt. Beat with mixer until smooth (or mix by hand). 

Spread mustard over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Evenly spread (or pour depending on consistency) quark mixture on top of that. Arrange the tomato slices in overlapping concentric circles on top of the quark mixture. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on top of the tomato slices. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top of the tart. Bake. Lots of moisture seeps out of the tomatoes during the first 30 minutes. Don't worry.  It will seep back into the tart. Remove the tart when it's nicely browned. This takes anywhere from 45-60 minutes. You can place it under the broiler for a minute or 2 at the end to get the desired color. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


If you had told me a year ago that I was going to start a food blog and come up with over 40 original recipes, I would have told you that you were on crack.

But I did just that and here's how it went down. It's all thanks to my parents (and one other person I'll tell you about in a minute).

A year and a half ago, my dad saw my interest in photography and gave me the most excellent gift: my very own fancy-pants Nikon camera. I proceeded to take a lot of out-of-focus photos. I even took the camera into the photo store to see if it was broken. "Your camera works just fine," said the cocky young hipster photographer dude. He continued, "You know, I'm known for being able to hold the camera incredibly still." And then he demonstrated. I went home and practiced a lot so I could kick his photography ass.
My mom is always looking out for me. A little over a year ago, she sent me the following email: "Phyllis - Because you can cook AND write, I think you should enter this contest.  Love - Mommie." It was an online contest put on by the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in which you were to cook some Julia Child recipes and write about the experience. I spent one crazy day cooking three Julia Child recipes. I even locked Dash in his room so that I could finish. Then I needed a way to submit my entry. I went to Blogger, started a blog (it took two minutes!), and named it after my children. That's how the Dash and Bella blog was born.

When I got the email informing me that I had actually won the contest, Dash ran around the apartment yelling, "I won! I won! I won!" And he was right, in many ways we did all win. Yes, we got LOTS of loot.
But beyond the cookbooks, the dishtowels, the bamboo spoon, and the  enormous Le Creuset pot, this blog changed the cooking vibe around our house. It wasn't a revolutionary change, but a legitimate shift in focus. Much like a destination vacation, everything we needed for hours of fun, day and night, was now found in the kitchen. It became the most exciting room in the house.

My kids now know what's in season. Bella is often schooling Dash. "No strawberries in December! They'll taste awful."

They know the knife rules. Curl your fingers in, angle the knife away.

They've learned some new vocabulary. Last week, three-year old Dash busted out with the question, "Is that savory or sweet?" I didn't use the word savory until I was 25.  

They follow cooking projects through to the end. Look at Dash's concentration as he grates the garlic into the chicken marinade (recipe for Kitchen Sink Chicken coming soon).

Bella's commitment to her Watermelon Salad blew my mind. She was sweating by the end.
One more person supported this blog in a huge way. It's true that a team of people from Knopf chose my entry as the winner, but one member of this team stuck around the whole year. She read my early posts and urged me to keep writing, she tweeted about my blog when it was on Real Simple and Apartment Therapy, and she got excited about my version of bread pudding. Her name is Pamela Cortland and she rocks the house.  

I know this is a long build up to my final blogiversary tribute (and this is the edited down version). But I've arrived. I dedicate the following end-of-summer-use-up-the-corn recipes to my mom, my dad, and Pamela Cortland at Knopf. I couldn't have sustained this blog without their encouragement (and I certainly wouldn't have started it in the first place). Thank you.

The first recipe represents my cooking past. It's a Corn, Goat Cheese, Lemon, and Basil Tart that is inspired by a Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart that my mom and I have been making for 15 years. Dash filled the tart shell with the cheesy corn filling and claimed the batter was as tasty as cookie dough. I can't confirm this.
The tart puffs up beautifully in the oven. The texture is a bit like ricotta cheesecake. It's not silky smooth, but it still has a melt-in-your-mouth quality. I served this tart with a basil infused olive oil, though it's not necessary. But do serve this tart with something acidic like sliced tomatoes with balsamic and olive oil. Or an arugula salad with a tangy dijon vinaigrette. You can find my recipe for this tart over at food52. It was chosen as an Editors' Pick (woohoo!).

The second corn recipe is Pasta with Grilled Peaches, Corn, Shallots, and Lillet Blanc. This recipe represents a new confidence I've found in creating my own recipes. Until 9 months ago, I was glued to cookbooks. Now I love to freestyle and mess with preconceived notions of what should be savory and what should be sweet.

The key is to marinate the sliced peaches in shallots, garlic, and balsamic before grilling them up.
Then cook the corn in the remaining peach marinade on high heat for about a minute. Finish it off with a big old glug of Lillet Blanc (or white wine).
Add some pasta water, parmesan, and parsley and that's it. I've made it with goat cheese ravioli, spaghetti, bucatini, and penne. All worked really well.

serves 2
I use raw corn for this recipe and it only cooks in the sauce for a few minutes. If you like your corn a little more cooked, you can cook it before cutting it off the cob. This recipe works well with goat cheese ravioli. But it's just as good (and less rich) with plain dried pasta. Or try spaghetti, bucatini, or penne.

4 firm peaches, peeled and thickly sliced
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, grated or pressed
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar 
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
big pinch salt
a few turns of pepper
olive oil for grilling
3 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob (raw)
2 tablespoons Lillet Blanc or white wine
3/4 pound pasta or ravioli 
1 teaspoon salt
parsley, coarsley chopped
parmesan, sliced with a vegetable peeler

Marinate peaches, shallots, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper for 10 minutes. Hit a grill pan up until smoking. Brush grill with a bit of oil. Sear peach slices for a minute on each side (just to blacken with grill marks). Don't do this for more than a minute on each side or the peach slices will fall apart. Save remaining marinade. Set grilled peaches aside. 

Bring large pot of water to the boil for the pasta. Add salt. Add pasta.

When the pasta has about 3 minutes of cooking time left, heat up a pan to high heat. Mix corn kernels into remaining peach marinade. Add corn and marinade to the hot pan and cook for one minute. Add Lillet or white wine and cook down for another minute. When the pasta is al dente (usually a minute or two less than instructions suggest), don't dump it into a colander. Instead, leave the pasta water in the pot. Scoop the pasta out of the water and place it directly into the pan with the corn. It's okay if some of the cooking water comes with the pasta. Toss until pasta is coated. Add a little more pasta water if it seems dry. At the last second pour over the grilled peaches and any juice. Gently toss once more. Serve immediately topped with parmesan and parsley. Sprinkle extra salt, pepper, and olive oil over the top.