31 May 2010

Kitchen disasters: smoke and mallows

I've nearly burned down the kitchen twice.

The first time, I was attempting to fry falafel. As I plopped the nuggets into the hot oil, the sizzling quickly gave way to smoldering to, truly, great balls of fire. Fortunately I was quick to recall that baking soda puts out grease fires, as does smothering the heat. Crisis averted (though I've never again attempted falafel at home).

The second time still haunts me.

We'd just finished remodeling our kitchen. I mean, that DAY. The new white cabinets gleamed; retro black and white tiles glistened. Everything was pristine.

To celebrate getting our kitchen back after 10 long weeks of cooking in the microwave and washing dishes in the bathroom sink, we concocted a celebratory meal. A christening.

And what celebration doesn't call for dessert?

I'd seen Rachael Ray make a mean pan of s'mores brownies on 30-Minute Meals a few days prior. A longstanding sucker for the gooey goodness of warmed marshmallows + chocolate, I knew they'd be perfect for the occasion.

I whipped the mix together and poured the batter into the pan, planning to pop them in the oven as soon as I returned from teaching a fitness class at the local pool.

You probably think you know where this is going. Oh NO! She didn't put the brownies in the oven then walk out the door?! She couldn't have!

She didn't.

I knew better than to leave my factory-new oven unattended.

I waited until I returned home, exhausted and smelling of chlorine, to set the treasures into the oven. As I showered, the aroma of chocolate wend through the hallway. I sighed, contented.

The oven buzzer rang. I hurried to the kitchen, pouring our glasses of milk and waiting for the brownies to cool.

But something wasn't quite right... There was the chocolate, the graham. The brownies looked pristine -- perfectly crackly and shiny and... oh DANGIT! Why could I see the top of the brownies?

I had forgotten the marshmallows.

Partway through the recipe, I was meant to have dotted the batter with the fluffy, sugary pillows, letting them nestle between the par-baked brownies, securing to the top of each bite as they continued to bake and brown.

We couldn't have s'more brownies without marshmallows.

Grabbing what I thought was my thinking cap, I decided to put the marshmallows on now. "I'll just tuck them under the broiler for a minute to toast them," I told Nate.

And now you see where this is headed.

I turned to the sink to wash up -- a mere two feet from the slightly ajar oven door -- for a speck of time. I scrubbed a spatula and, maybe, cleaned a bowl. 30 seconds tops.

But in my haste, I'd lost track of my internal checks. I'd put the newly crowned brownies on the top rack -- mere centimeters from the broiler element. And, thinking we'd get to devour dessert sooner, I'd set the broiler to High.

Instead of golden, toasty perfection, we got fire and flames. Now, instead of chocolatey goodness wafting to my nostrils, it was thick, billowing smoke.

I screamed. I had to get a flaming pan out of the new oven, but I had no idea where I'd stashed the oven mitts in the new kitchen configuration.

I prepared for the worst (and peppered the air with cusses).

Fortunately, Nate is the level-headed one in our household. He grabbed a dishtowel, whisking the brownies from the oven and into the sink, batting out the flames.

Meanwhile, I cried, envisioning our sparkling white kitchen ashen and destroyed.

The story has a happy ending: The only thing charred that night was our brownies -- and the aftertaste in our mouths as we tried to eat them, even after spending 10 minutes scraping off the burned bits. The kitchen was safe.

And I learned a new adage to add to the list of life lessons: Don't turn your back on the ocean -- or a new oven.

I know I'm not alone. Tell me, what's your worst kitchen disaster/cooking snafu?

27 May 2010

How the tide has turned

How funny to find myself on the flipside.

I've told you the beginnings of my story on going vegetarian. More about this will come in due time.

But today, I'm chuckling with a strange revelation. Legions of foodies, bloggers, and regular folk are trying vegetarian diets for fixed periods of time, like Meatless Monday. I guess, technically, I'm now one of them.

Some participate in Meatless Monday out of respect for the environment (going veg also equates to going green, in many cases). Or because it's cheaper. Or, simply, because they like a challenge.

Some, like Lorna from The Cookbook Chronicles, are taking the notion of a challenge seven steps further. Lorna is trying to stretch the meat-free diet to an entire week.

But, in an unexpected trick of irony, I am on the other pole.

I'm trying to put meat back in to meals. For me, this is the challenge.

Left to my own devices, I'd cook meat-free on Monday (and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). It's habitual and comforting.

So to all of you out there who are trying to go meat-free for a day or a week or a year or a lifetime, I encourage you: It should get better. You'll find your groove. You won't starve! And, maybe going meat-free, permanently, isn't for you. That's ok, too.

(I'll put a plug in for my favorite vegetarian cookbook. It's full of simple and flavorful dishes that can be made quickly and on a budget. I consulted this book daily while cooking meals on a college-kid's income.)

Good luck!

26 May 2010

Altered reality

I can't stop staring at this.

A little trick of PhotoShop and, voila.

It makes me smile.

19 May 2010

Backyard Happy Hour

Last summer in Seattle was, perhaps, our greatest on record. At least to the knowledge of my three-decade memory.

The sun shone hot, warming my shoulders and my soul, for weeks on end. It beckoned me outside, away from my dayjob or post-work trips to the gym. A sultry temptress, she.

I frolicked at the park, plunged off the highdive into the cool waters of Lake Washington, and sat on the front stoop soaking in the warm late-night air til way past bedtime. I felt (hear comes the cliché) like a kid again.

I also spent a lot of time in the backyard, transitioning to after-work mode with a cool drink, a book, and a bowl of tortilla chips in hand.

I credit last summer's heat -- plus our limited budget due to my husband's layoff -- with the invention of Backyard Happy Hour at Chez Duchene. Instead of joining the masses at outdoor patio bars and wasting precious dough on highly marked up drinks, we made our own. My husband (a non-drinker) prefers a tall glass of lemonade or sleek bottle of Dry Soda. My choice is a perfect margarita, heavy on the salt, ice clinking as I grip the sweating glass for another sip.

This year, the yard is in much better shape (there are even flowers to look at). We'll be starting up our Happy Hours soon. Won't you join us?

Amy's Margarita
(Measurements are not precise; eyeball and taste to your preference)

Lots of ice
1.5 oz Sauza Gold tequila
.5 oz Grand Marnier
.5 oz Santa Cruz Organic Lime juice
2 T simple syrup*
Margarita salt
Fresh lime wedge

Load a shaker with ice and pour in the liquid ingredients. Tightly close the top and shake, shake, shake. Grab a serving glass (I prefer a stout highball) and run the lime wedge around the rim while gently squeezing, letting the juice rim the glass. Invert the glass over a bowl of margarita salt and twist; the salt granules should stick to the lime juice and form a salt rim. Open shaker and let the margarita -- ice and all -- tumble into your glass. Grab a side of chips and salsa and head outside.

You could double or triple or quadruple this recipe to make a pitcher for friends. In that case, I'd mix only the liquids -- no ice -- so it doesn't dilute. Keep a tub or bowl of ice nearby and let your guests fill their own glasses (again and again).

*Simple Syrup
Mix 2 parts water to 1 part Baker's sugar in a sauce pan. (I usually use 1 c. water to 1/2 c. sugar; this is about all I can work through in a month.) Bring to a gentle boil for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves fully, then reduce heat to a simmer for approx 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Can be stored in a glass jar or squeeze bottle for about a month. You can infuse simple syrup with fresh herbs, too; add the herbs (perhaps cilantro or lavender or mint) after the initial boil. Leave in until cool, then remove the herbs before storing in a container.

(Did you know it's WanderfoodWednesday? Read more food & fun!)

12 May 2010

Gorgonzola Pasta: A College Kid's Gourmet Staple

As many college students do, I lived on pantry staples during my off-campus-apartment days. Beans and rice - oh so nice! Anything in a can was in the menu plan. And lotsa pasta (it barely cost a thing).

My roommate introduced me to this dish, a recipe she'd received from her aunt in Seattle. It amped up our rote, bland meals with a gourmet flair, yet still fit the bill for being (mostly) shelf-stable and cheap (the recipe makes enough to stretch over the course of a few meals. We'd tuck into it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner after the initial serving. Or invite over our apartment neighbors to share the wealth.)

It's an unfussy, delectable concoction of creamy, tangy Gorgonzola cheese stirred into a sauce of whole tomatoes, ribbons of basil, and chopped/sauteed onions and garlic.

The result? A foodic representation of the Italian flag: white, red, and green. Simple yet smashing.

Gorgonzola Pasta (adapted from my college roommate's aunt, who lives somewhere in my fair city of Seattle)
Serves 8 (though I find it can be stretched to at least 12)

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can whole Italian plum tomatoes (or San Marzano, if you're not on a college-kid's budget)
1 pkg (or 1 cup, from your garden) chopped fresh basil* (can substitute 1 Tbsp crumbled dry basil from your pantry)
4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (This is the star ingredient of your show. It's worth the pennies.)
1 lb penne or other small pasta, like rotini
1/2 c. Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
salt/pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Stir in chopped tomatoes and basil. Cook until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally (about 20 mins.)

In a separate large pot, boil water & cook pasta until al dente (usually 6-8 minutes. Check the package for cooking times). Drain well and return to pot.

Return to your tomato sauce; whisk in the Gorgonzola until it starts to melt into a blush colored sauce.

Add the sauce to the pasta, gently tipping the tomato-sauce pan over the pasta pot. Stir to coat. Season with salt & pepper, and sprinkle with grated cheese before serving.

*If serving this for a date, reserve some of the whole basil leaves for a garnish.

Goes well with white or red wine or a light beer, crusty garlic bread, and a salad (Eat your greens!).

(Did you know it's WanderfoodWednesday? Read more food & fun!)

10 May 2010

Foods I can't live without

I have an unnatural obsession with tortilla chips. Like these little guys. I truly cannot go a week without restocking them to the pantry.

Same goes for Maranatha creamy peanut butter. My husband and I buy a jar a week. We have seriously looked into buying it in bulk from our local co-op and probably should embark on that journey soon (though we fear how quickly we'd go through an entire case).

There are also the seasonal obsessions, like the honey (aka Alphonso) mangoes in spring, Honey Crisp apples in fall, Florida grapefruits in winter.

In the interest of shaking up our repertoire, I encourage your feedback. What food(s) can't you live without?

06 May 2010

What do you want from Dish?

After a spirited conversation with my dear friend at Dream, Imagine, Happen last night, I awoke renewed and invigorated and full of ideas (as is often the case after our chats; that lady is an inspiration!).

First up, I'm going to try to spend at least a morning or two -- in the wee small hours of the morning, that is -- writing or brainstorming in this space. With a clear head, unpoisoned yet by the day.

Secondly, I'm dusting off my magazine editor's duds and getting to work on planning. I spent this a.m. jotting down a series of ideas to cover here over the course of 2010.

I want your feedback as well. What are you most likely to read or seek (here on Dish or any food/travel type site)? Recipes? Tips? Memories? Travel stories? All or none or something else?

Leave a comment and let me know!

05 May 2010


I love holidays, food, and Mexico. So Cinco de Mayo is definitely one of my all-time faves. Here are 2 shots of tonight's dinner (homemade guacamole, vegetarian tortilla soup, and a strong margarita on the rocks) + a pic of myself and my dear friend E (who lives in LA and whom I miss terribly).

Happy Cinco de Mayo!