Cooking Dinner with Guests

We’ve been hosting a lot of guests at our house lately and having a great time. One of the things I’ve made available is a cooking class, which in our small home kitchen, is mostly a demonstration. I’d like to make some room for it to be more of a teaching experience, definitely on the to do list. Recently, I made a lamb tagine (I don’t have a actual tagine, but I do have a le crueset dutch oven and it works great) with spiced rice, a riff on Zaalouk, which is a Moroccan eggplant salad, naan with za’atar, and an orange flower ruffled milk pie.

We talked about za’atar from Syria, pomegranate molasses, orange and rose water, preserved lemons from Morocco, and ate sheep milk feta. It was fun to share my take on flavors from Morocco; the region that stretches from Iran to Morocco is home to some of the tastiest foods in our beautiful world so I love an opportunity share flavors that represent any country in that area.

Lamb Tagine

adapted from


  • 3 -4# leg of lamb, bone in or out, out is easier to find
  • 2 ½ tsp salt, more as needed1 ¾ c lamb, beef, or chicken stock
  • 5 oz dried apricots
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks
  •  Large pinch saffron
  • 1 T pomegranate molasses
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  •  c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • ½ c slivered almonds
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  •  Fresh lemon juice, to taste


  1. Rub lamb with salt, let sit up to one hour at room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a tagine, Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, warm 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until hot. Add lamb to pot,  and cook until well browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add onions, tomato paste, ginger, 1 cinnamon stick and the spices to the pot, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Return lamb and any juices on the plate, the apricots and stock, and half the cilantro. Cover pot with foil and then its lid if lid isn’t tight enough.
  5. Cook in oven for 3 hours, or until lamb is tender, turning it occasionally. (If using a tagine, you don’t need to use foil.) Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat butter and 1 cinnamon stick over medium heat. Add almonds and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
  7. To serve, transfer lamb and juices to a serving platter. Top with toasted almonds and any butter left in the small skillet, scallions, parsley and remaining cilantro. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Serve with flatbread or couscous, if desired.



Eggplant Zaalouk

adapted from

  • 4 small eggplants, cut into bite size
  • 2 medium tomatoes or 1 c cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • I added 3 summer squash, sliced into 1/2″ half moons (bite size pieces), 2 bell peppers cut into rough 1″ squares and spinach. It’s not traditional, but we can all use more veggies in our lives.


  1. In a large saute pan, heat 2 T oil over high heat.
  2. Sear eggplant until golden, remove from pan and do the same with squash and tomatoes
    1. alternately you can leave your vegetables in larger pieces and grill them, then cut into smaller pieces
  3. When tomatoes turn soft, add minced garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. Cook 1 minute.
  4. Return eggplant to pan, add parsley
  5. Drizzle olive oil and add a pinch of cayenne.

Spiced RiceIngredients

  • 2 c white basmati rice
  • 2 T butter
  • 6-8 whole cardamom pods
  • pinch saffron
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 1/2 c water
  • salt to taste


  1. rinse rice thoroughly, let drain about 5 minutes
  2. melt butter in a saucepot with a tight fitting lid
  3. add rice to pot and saute about 1 minute, stirring frequently
  4. add spices to pot then water; Note, I don’t usually measure water for white rice. If you touch the top of the rice with your finger the water should touch your first knuckle.
  5. stir, bring the water to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes
  6. allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before removing lid and serving


Ruffled Milk Pie

This is directly from  I highly recommend you read her complete post. I won’t even try to rewrite it, Deb’s done a lovely job already. The only change I made was adding 1 T orange water, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon to the custard.

  • 5 tablespoons (70 grams) butter, melted (I used unsalted but if you want to use salted, just skip the added salt)
  • About 7 sheets store bought filo, defrosted (mine were 12″x17″)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Brush a 9-inch round cake pan lightly with butter, then use a large sheet of parchment paper to fit into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, creasing as needed. (This allows you to remove the pie in once piece. You can also skip this and serve it right in the pan.)
  3. Brush inside of parchment with butter.
  4. Place stack of filo sheets on counter and cover with a larger sheet of waxed or parchment paper (see note up top) followed by a larger lightweight dishtowel. Mist towel with water to get it damp all over, but not soggy wet.
  5. Remove first filo sheet and place it on unused part of counter and replace waxed paper and towel.
  6. Brush first filo sheet with butter and use your fingers to scrunch it the long way into a loose fan-like strip; don’t worry if it breaks or tears.
  7. Wind it up into a loose, messy spiral. Place in middle of prepared pan. Repeat this with remaining filo sheets, making 6 more ruffle spirals.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, checking at 20, until filo is medium golden brown (you can go a shade darker than I did) and crisp.
  9. Remove from oven, leaving oven on, and let rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes while you prepare the custard.
  10. Whisk eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bottom of a medium bowl. Pour in milk, whisking the whole time.
  11. Once 10 minutes of resting is up, pour custard all over baked filo and return pie to oven.
  12. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until custard is set.
  13. Let cool slightly before serving, dusting generously with powdered sugar before you do.
  14. Do ahead: Leftovers keep in fridge (impressively crisp, in fact) for, well, it’s been 3 days and I don’t think I’m going to find out if it can make it to 4, 5, or 6. But I think it can.


The myth of busy is all around us. I swear I’ve been too busy to put up a post, but I know it’s more that I haven’t made the time. After a day of work and kids and whatever else life throws at me, my couch sounds so appealing sometimes. Here I am today rectifying my laziness and getting up this post though, so victory is mine (yours? ok we’ll enjoy it together)!

On to empanadas…

So, being a child of the 70’s I grew up in a household where shortening was definitely all around me (remember butter flavored Crisco? is that even still a thing??), you can dork out about it here and here. That said I am so very wary of it, I’ve heard all the myths about how it’s an industrial lubricant created during WWII, etc., but in reality it was created in 1911 to store soap fat and someone realized it’s use in baking. The result is flaky pastry history.

Empanadas require shortening, a lot of it. These are not a health food, but they are delicious. Butter doesn’t have the same properties as Crisco so to achieve the desired consistency of the dough you do have to use it (lard is also totally acceptable, but not always practical if you need vegetarian empanadas for 100 people).

Empanada dough is quite soft, but because of all the shortening, it isn’t as sticky as you’d expect. You roll it out much the same way you would a pie crust, adding flour to the board and the rolling pin. I recommend using a biscuit cutter to get uniformity of size when cutting out your circles and it takes less filling than you think. As for folding them over, you can do it by hand and us the tines of a fork to make the pretty edges, but a press is pretty inexpensive and you can use it to make other types of dumplings (gyoza comes to mind), so you might as well get one. Another tip, when using the press put a piece of plastic wrap in it so the empanadas don’t blow out the back of it. That will make sense once you start making them.

You can fill empanadas with just about anything. The photos below are of roasted sweet potatoes and black beans. I seasoned them with oregano, cinnamon, ancho pepper, and cumin (pro tip, if you get too much cinnamon in a savory dish, add cumin to balance it out, amazing results). I’ve used chicken with olives, peppers, and onions; you could use pulled pork or beef as well. Use your imagination, and your leftovers, to make tomorrow night’s dinner.

Empanada Dough

makes roughly 60 empanadas


  • 4 c flour
  • ¼ c sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ c shortening
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • ½ c cold water, mixed with 1 T vinegar (white or apple cider)
  • special equipment-rolling pin, round biscuit cutter, dumpling press


  1. Combine flour, sugar and salt 
  2. Cut shortening into flour mixture until it resembles wet sand.
  3. Add the egg, stir until well combined.
  4. Add water and vinegar mixture, stir until the dough gathers into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 350 degrees 
  6. Cut dough into four equal pieces, put three of them back in the fridge
  7. Roll out each section and cut with biscuit cutter. Roll out any scraps and keep cutting circles until you’ve used it all up. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough.
  8. Fill each circle with the filling of your choice. The amount depends on the size of your circle, 2 tsp is a rough estimate.
  9. Pinch the edges of the empanada together to form a half moon and crimp the edges (you can do this to all of them at once, or get smart and use your press)
  10. Brush the tops with egg wash, bake 20 to 25 minutes until brown. 
  11. The filling wil be screaming hot so give them a minute to cool before you start inhaling them.

Happy Eating!



empanada dough


sweet potato, black bean empanada


finished emanadas

Rhubarb Pickles

Spring and summer are full of amazing produce and as hard as I try I just can’t eat enough to keep up with the surplus of food from not only my own garden, but from those of friends and family (I know, I know, life is tough). You all know how much I love to bake, and eat baked goods, but sometimes you have to put down the butter and flour and eat something else, even I concede this is true. Now, I’m not a big fan of jam (unless it’s in cake, them jam on), so pickles are my go to way to use that produce. At the risk of sounding too Portlandia, you really can pickle most anything. I’m not a huge fan of canning either so I make quick pickles, they last for months in the fridge, or minutes if you bring them to a summer bbq.

My favorite is rhubarb. You might be confused, but it makes the best pickles, seriously. The sour quality of rhubarb pairs with the vinegar, salt, and sugar and goes with nearly anything. I don’t have a set recipe for pickles, I do use a standard ratio though. 1:1 water and vinegar coupled with 1:1 sugar and salt. Then use 1:16 water and sugar. So what that translates to is 1 T sugar for every 1 c water. You can then add in your herbs and spices as you choose. I made a batch recently and added cloves, allspice, cinnamon, bay, and red pepper flake, the warming spices coupled really well with the rhubarb. When I make cucumber pickles, I use coriander, whole black peppercorns, bay and sometimes rotate in star anise and fennel. You can dump the spices in with your brine, or wrap them in cheesecloth so you don’t have to pick them out of the pickles. I fluctuate back and forth, depending on their use (and sometimes if I have cheesecloth around the kitchen or not). The other thing to consider is which vinegar to use, because part of preserving is making sure you have created something that is safe to eat. It is typically recommended that pickles have a certain pH (the exception to that is lacto-fermentation, but that’s a different discussion), and while we have a pH meter where I currently work, I don’t have one at home, and most restaurants and professional kitchen don’t either. So, my default is to use distilled white vinegar for pickling, occasionally substituting apple cider vinegar if I want to change the flavor.

Basic Pickles


  • 1T sugar
  • 1T salt
  • 1 c water
  • 1c white distilled vinegar
  • aromatics; coriander, peppercorns, bay, cinnamon sticks, clove, allspice, etc.


  1. adjust ingredient quantities for amount of produce to be pickled
  2. bring all ingredients to a boil
  3. let steep like tea for at least 10 minutes (you can leave it for hours if you like, but bring it back to a boil if you wait longer than 10 minutes)
  4. pour hot liquid over prepared produce, weight with a plate or bowl to keep produce under liquid
  5. let cool completely before covering
  6. refrigerate and enjoy the next day

Happy eating!

rhubarb pickles

Strawberry Rhubarb Pies

You know how nothing is as easy as you envision it? Or sometimes we get in our own way and create a situation where it isn’t as easy as we thought it could be. Cooking is my safe space for creating, and fixing, disasters; ok so maybe not disasters, but certainly learning that mistakes are not only learning opportunities, but (nearly) always fixable. Baking on the other hand is a trickier business. It is a process of chemistry, combining ingredients in that just right way that results in fluffy, creamy, crunchy in just the right ways, and a balance of sweetness or savoriness that captures your tastebuds and makes them ooo with excitement. So, clearly I really like baked goods. 

This week’s baking adventure involved strawberries and rhubarb. I grew up loving this flavor combination, my mom made strawberry pies with a jello filling. We often picked the strawberries ourselves from a local berry farm. The strawberries were suspended over her flaky crust, encapsulated in red gelatin, and bursted with the flavor of summer in every bite. When she added rhubarb it was often in a crisp, it turned creamy when it was cooked and the tart mixed with sweet flavors are what early summer means to me. 

This is a pretty quick and easy pie to make, I usually have a couple of balls of pastry dough hanging out in the freezer so that makes it even easier. There are typically two styles for the crust on this pie, the familiar Pâte Brisée on both the top and the bottom, or just on the bottom and a crumble on the top. The crumble includes, oats, brown sugar, butter as a jumping off point and whatever strikes your fancy as the flavor notes (cardamom, cinnamon, etc.). I decided I wanted a lattice top so pâte brisée it was for both.

I looked at two recipes because I was curious how the final results would differ, the main difference between the two was the thickener, berry pies require a starch to thicken the liquid. So in my usual fashion I blended the two and split the fruit mix in half adding the relative starch to each bowl.

The first was cornstarch, I have lots of experience using cornstarch for all sorts of things, it’s easy to use and produce consistent results. 

The other thickener I used was tapioca. This produced a bit of a conundrum as the recipe called for quick tapioca, which doesn’t mean tapioca starch, and none of the bags of tapioca at the store claimed to be quick (or slow, just tapioca). I made the decision there was going to be some tapioca pudding in my future and on to the kitchen I went, bag of tapioca in hand. 

You can see the difference in the unbaked pies, pictured below, a few of the small white balls of tapioca hanging out at the top. Because these pies are for personal chef clients, I decided one large pie didn’t make sense, full size muffin tins were the perfect solution (more on how, er, perfect that was later). It turned out I didn’t have quite enough rhubarb for the recipe, but I did have a lot of strawberries so instead of equal parts I used a larger amount of berries. I used a large round ring mold/cookie or biscuit cutter to get the desired size for the bottom crust and used my handy, dandy bench scraper to cut the strips for the lattice. After and egg wash, into the oven they went. I typically use baking times in recipes as a guideline as every oven is different, and once you change the size or shape of the baked good you’ve thrown off the cooking time anyway. I find checking at the 15 or 20 minutes mark lets you assess when to check next. 


Once the pies were done I let them cool completely before removing them from the tins. This is where I ran into some difficulty. I usually bake pies in a glass pie dish, or make crostatas, which easily slide off the baking sheet. In either of those cases removing the lovely little pies is easy, not so the muffin tins. I didn’t pan spray the tins for two reason, I dislike pan spray and I was worried the crust would get too dark before the fruit cooked. Mistake made, lesson learned, pan spray for next time. I lost crust on a few of them and the lattice got bent on most of the others. Thankfully, half of this recipe test was being eaten by me and my coworkers so I had plenty of cute pies for clients, plus they’re so tiny I’m pretty sure even in their slightly sloppy form, most people would be happy to eat them. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie


  • Pâte Brisée, you will need two rounds of dough
  • 3 1/2 c rhubarb, 1/2′ slices
  • 3 1/2 c strawberries, hulled and sliced or halved if tiny
  • 1/3 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 c cornstarch or 1/4 c quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 T water or milk
  • optional: coarse sugar for garnish


  1. preheat oven to 400°
  2. combine rhubarb, strawberries, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch/tapioca, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Let the flavors marry while the oven preheats
  3. roll out your chilled crust to the desired size and carefully lay into your pie tin or (prepared) muffin tins
  4. if you are making a lattice top, you can cut strips out of your rolled out dough and lay them over your pie individually or make the complete lattice and lay the whole shebang over your pie
  5. lightly brush the top of the pie crust with the egg wash, this is the moment to sprinkle coarse sugar if you’re going that route
  6. place the pie onto a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turn down the temperature to 350°F and bake 25-30 minutes longer
  7. Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. Do NOT cut into it until it’s completely cool, seriously, step away now.


Tips: This a great pie to make a day in advance so the filling has time to set. You can also freeze any unbaked pie for up to three months, simply pull it from the freezer and pop it into your hot oven.

Happy eating!



I’m dreaming of albondigas this week. I haven’t made them for a while and the last time they were made in my house my son made them for a school project. I seriously need to bust out the masarepa and make those soon! Check your local bodega for masarepa, it’s different than masa. Masa is corn treated with nixatamal, masarepa is precooked corn meal that is great in quick bread like arepas. I don’t recommend using masarepa for tamales or masa for areas. I also recommend using grass fed beef for this (well for all beef recipes actually), the flavor is worth it.

Here’s our recipe:


Ingredients (About 4 servings)


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup masarepa
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 2T canola oil
  • 1T all purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2c hogao
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro




  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Add onions, garlic, scallion, red bell pepper, masarepa, egg, salt and pepper. Mix well using your hands.
  3. Form the meatballs and place them on a sheet tray.
  4. Roast meatballs in oven for 12 minutes


  1. reduce beef broth by half
  2. heat canola oil over low heat, sprinkle in flour, whisking to combine
  3. Slowly, whisk in beef broth
  4. Add the hogao and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Return the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly and the meatballs are heated through, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over white rice.



Ingredients (MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS)

  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the tomatoes, scallions, garlic, ground cumin and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring until softened.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, add the salt and , cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Failure is always an option 

As a professional cook, my job is to make tasty food. Period. Somedays things don’t go as you hope and you have to fix it, in the quickest, cheapest way possible. I’ve done it many times. The goal is not to have to fix things, but the reality is it happens. Mistakes are made, something-equipment, ingredients-doesn’t respond as they should and still food must go out to the guest. So we learn to remedy sauces with cornstarch, add sugar/vinegar/seasonings to make a dish delicious even when it’s not quite what was intended. I’ve shown up for jobs found out there are ten different unplanned special meals needed and had to create something that fit the theme of the event for each of them (it’s helpful when there’s a dry erase board so I can create a chart in those situations!). 

At home I use those skills too.  My downfall in cooking in adhering to a recipe. My special power is looking in a fridge or cupboard and creating something tasty out of anything. When I teach a class, students want to know how the recipe works or what is the technique they should use: the reality is I spend so much time cooking by feel I don’t always know. So when I cook at home it is occasionally, interesting. My sweet children have almost stopped asking, “mom, what is it?” When casually asked to try something I’ve prepared. Their once picky tastes have expanded to include a decent array of flavors. They however hold firm to their opinions of texture and disdain of most cooked vegetables. 

This week I’ve had some down time and I’ve been cleaning out the freezer/fridge/cupboards at home, which has resulted in some delicious brownies (two versions, as usual Baking with Julia had the better recipe), and a mediocre banana cake. That was a combination of equipment fail, mistake, and inability to adhere to a recipe situation. Definitely on the, I’ll try it again list though. 

The best part of this week is I’ve been in a rut as far as experiments go, and now…I feel inspired to read some new cookbooks, try some new ideas, and keep working on improving my ability to adhere to a recipe. Failure is always an option, because that is how we learn. 

Here’s to pushing through and learning!

Happy New Year!

I’ve sat down to write at least three times in the past two weeks and something (or someone) has pulled me away, but at long last the radio silence is over!

My big project for 2017 is going to be focusing on charitable giving. Now as you may know, I’m a chef, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, we are not rolling in the dough (that just gets messy). What I can do though is give my time, and cook. Thankfully Chef Traci over at Succulent Catering is into this idea so we’re teaming up on a couple of projects, with more to come. We’ve been donating extra food to the homeless and firefighters for years (not completely connected, but I do want my firefighters well fed).

In our November planning meeting for the next quarter we laid out a short list of causes we feel passionate about and while there was some cross over, we each have a cause that we are focusing on at the moment. Chef Traci’s passion is seniors and we are cooking (see what I did there??) up a plan to offer lunch to the seniors living at Pike Place Market once a month. As for me, I have a big event coming up in a couple of weeks.

On January 26 we will be hosting an Aid for Syria fundraiser and auction at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. I wanted to be able to donate more than just a piddly little $20 to provide some relief to what’s happening in the region so I decided to invite 100 people to join me to donate. I’m so terrified about it. I’ll be honest, there’s a reason I’m a cook. People terrify me, but what’s happening in our world scares me more and I feel compelled to do something.

Other than that I’m updating the Wallingford Culinary Studio calendar this week and planning delicious classes. We have a new private dining room space so we’ll be adding some onsite dinners to our repertoire. AND I just heard there’s a new casual Louisiana style restaurant opening up near our kitchen, so I’m pretty sure that’s on my agenda this month too. I have to do some research for our Mardi Gras Dinner in February!