Recipes, products and tasty morsels that move me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ode to Ina

After college I worked for Williams-Sonoma. At the time I didn't know a thing about cooking or baking but I learned a lot from the women and men that worked there with me and I credit that experience for my love of cooking and baking today. When you enter a Williams-Sonoma store it is a bit like sensory overload - but the thing that always stood out to me is the variety of cookbooks they sell. When the store was quiet and we had a little down time I loved to look at the books and dream about what I might be able to cook some day.

One book stood out to me above all the rest - The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, by Ina Garten (Published by Clarkson Potter). I was drawn to this book like a moth to a flame. The photography, the recipes, the writing style - but mostly the author herself. I admired her seemingly carefree and perfect life in the Hamptons. I loved the way she described food and how and why we should use certain ingredients, cook's tools and methods.

Since that time Ina has grown her foodie empire. She has had several cookbooks published, has two shows on the Food Network and has a line of mixes and baking/cooking supplies that are sold in retail stores. I try to catch her show at least once a week and she's always teaching me something new about best practices in the kitchen. She is not, as far as I know, a professionally trained chef and her recipes aren't all that difficult. They are just good. If I'm having people to dinner and I want the menu to shine I always consult her cookbooks first or one of her latest recipes that I've seen her prepare on her television show. Ina preaches over and over again the importance of using the best quality ingredients that you can afford or find. This simple advice has advanced my cooking immensely.

My friend Sara and I are so enamored of Ina that we are sometimes questioned by people that over hear us with "Who is your friend Ina?" We discuss her show a lot. Ina's husband Jeffrey frequently makes appearances on her shows and Sara and I sometimes include anecdotes about him in our conversations, further confusing our friends. "Did you see what Ina made last night?" or "Wasn't it cute how Jeffrey was going on and on about Ina's roast chicken?" These are some typical points of conversation between us. I am certain that we sound like lunatics.

Last week I invited Sara over for a girl's night in and, of course, I cooked her a meal I had seen prepared the week before on Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. The entire menu can be found here. Sara is pescatarian and when I saw Ina prepare Red Snapper in a mustard sauce I knew I had to make it for her. The fingerling potatoes and broccoli were the perfect supporting players for the fish. We enjoyed every bite and I enjoyed it again the next day when I got to eat the leftovers.

Ina has legion's of fans, this is just my small effort to bring attention to someone who has made a difference in my quality of life without ever having met me. I hope anyone reading this will be compelled to pick up one of her cookbooks or check out her shows on the Food Network. Maybe she'll ignite in you the same thing she ignited in me - the desire be a great hostess and to cook beautiful and delicious things for family and friends.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

As most of you know, I spend my days fielding baking questions for a pretty big baking mix company. Over the course of a day I might talk to 100 different consumers about their trials and tribulations with muffins, cookies, cakes and any number of baked goods. I often have people suggest alternate methods for baking a product but I rarely have someone suggest a specific recipe to me - and until Monday I hadn't had any consumers suggest a recipe that I actually wanted to try. And then Amy from Lexington told me about Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake.

Through out my conversation with Amy I could tell that she was a woman that knew a good cake when she ate one. We had several favorite mixes and flavors in common and she had mentioned some more advanced recipes that she had tried - so I took her word for it when she said this was the "best chocolate cake I have ever made." I had to try it.

Wednesday night I had some extra time on my hands so I picked up the ingredients I needed and went to work. The recipe is simple for a "from scratch" cake and the ingredients were mostly things I already had in my pantry or fridge. Always a bonus. Once the cakes came out of the oven I stole a few crumbs and could already tell I was in for a treat. I cooled the cakes and made the frosting which was intensely chocolate flavored. I frosted the cake and covered it for the night, I had promised co-workers that I'd be bringing the cake in for them to try so I couldn't sneak a piece.

The cake was a triumph. I had several people ask me for the recipe and many "oohs" and "aahs" as it was devoured throughout the day. If you love intense chocolate flavor and a slightly denser cake (almost like a flour less cake consistency) then this is a cake you should try. But I'll warn you ahead of time - plan to share it with others because you won't want this lethal confection hanging around your house.

The recipe can be found here.

Now get in the kitchen and bake!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I love spuds.

"I give every french fry a fair chance." - Cameron Diaz

Cameron, you're a girl after my own heart. I, too, love a good french fry. Or any form of potato for that matter. If I had to make the cliche choice of just one food for the rest of my life I would pick potatoes without even thinking about it. So long as I could endlessly change up the toppings and method of cooking. I like them fried, baked, boiled, mashed, hash browns, with garlic, with ketchup with nothing. I laugh when waitresses offer me the choice of salad or fries - as if there is a choice. I've been known to make a special trip to McDonald's just to order fries with their spicy hot mustard sauce (you have to pay extra, but it's worth it).

As you can see, I've eaten a lot of spuds in my life. Probably more than you're average 33 year old American woman. I don't consider myself an expert but I am certainly a connoisseur. Last week I ate, with out a doubt, the best french fries I have ever had. The best part - I didn't even know it was coming. I ordered these fries on a whim at a bar that I almost never go to. What if I hadn't been hungry, what if I'd suggested another watering hole? What if I hadn't ordered that third vodka and soda and therefore not been just drunk enough to think fries were a good idea?Oh, the terror to even think about it! I met my former co-workers at Jabu's in lower Queen Anne. Now this is a fine bar, they serve alcohol, play music and have lots of games to distract you - but nothing ever suggested to me how delicious their french fries are. No one has ever mentioned this bar to me in the numerous conversations I've had about my love of potatoes. How has this not been discovered? The fries came out piping hot, they were somewhere between a steak fry and an average width fry, sprinkled with just the right amount of salt and - and this is key - with the skins still on. Some of the fries were crispy and some were a bit softer and had just the right amount of oil on them. I was in fry heaven. I'm sure my friends were disgusted by the pace at which I was scarfing these fries down - but I did not care. If you live in the Seattle area, and you love fries, I urge you go to Jabu's and give them a try.

Jabu's Pub, 174 Roy St, Seattle, WA 98109.

And since we're on the subject, here's a list of some other potatoes I love and where you can get them.
  • Best Fast Food French Fry - Zip's Drive In, several locations in Eastern Washington State
  • Best Sweet Potato Fry - The Palm Restaurant, several locations throughout the US.
  • Best Mashed Potatoes - Sour Cream Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes at Moxie , W. 816 Sprague, Spokane, Washington
  • Best Potato Salad - Mary Cummins, Richland, WA - most of you will never get to taste this, so just take my word for it. Outstanding!
  • Best Potato Chip - Ruffles All Dressed Chips, only available in Canada
  • Best Way To Make Potatoes At Home - roasted reds, recipe follows

Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary


5 medium red potatoes, cut into 2 inch chunks

2-4 cloves garlic, minced (depends on how much garlic you like, can be omitted entirely)

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped very fine

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Sea Salt


Preheat oven to 425 degrees, place your baking sheet in the oven while it pre heats. If you put the potatoes on a hot baking sheet they will be crispier when they come out.

While the oven is heating chop your potatoes and rosemary and mince your garlic. In a large mixing bowl mix potatoes, rosemary and garlic with the melted butter (using butter is also key for crispness). Once oven is heated pour potato mixture onto hot baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to give the potatoes a turn and then bake for 10 minutes more or until you can put a fork through them.

These directions are for two servings. This can easily be scaled up to feed more people.