IN OUR MOTHER’S KITCHEN, WITH TAMARA MOATS

In many homes, the kitchen tends to be the central place of gathering.  Families prepare weeknight meals together, coffee is brewed to begin a busy day, and most dinner party guests seem to congregate here, no matter the direction of the host.  It is a warm place full of action, delicious aromas, and happy memories.

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I started to reflect recently on how many wonderful kitchen moments I’ve encountered in this life, and realized that at the center of most, was a multitasking and fabulous woman.  Usually one with children at her heels, along with friends of those children also hanging about… balancing meal prep, entertaining guests and generally keeping her home on a steady, forward moving course.  The wisdom that can be gleaned from these women is fascinating to me, especially as I start to feel the onset of that time in life when there are many responsibilities to juggle and the expectation to do it all and do it all well, starts to grow.  So, I thought it could be interesting to start a series where we visit women in that central hub and let them teach us a thing or two about what life is like in their kitchen.

Tamara Moats is an Art History teacher at a well known independent school in Seattle.  Her son Farrell is now in his late twenties, living an exciting life in the middle of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.  We caught up with the two of them when he was home visiting, and were treated to a delicious and classic meal that Tamara has made often for her family.  A few of Farrell’s oldest friends stopped by to partake in good food and join in the fun, a standard act throughout the years.  Tamara greeted them with open arms, perfectly demonstrating her warmth and open style of hosting friends and family alike.

 

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Tamara and Farrell at work together on a pan full of roasted brussel sprouts.

 

Tell us what you are making, and why this has been such a great family meal over the years?

This is called Sweet and Sour Brisket and it became a favorite the minute my son tasted it. I first made it when we had our French exchange student, Pierre San Miguel, living with us in 2001. I needed some more recipes for hungry boys that were easy to do and made large quantities. Pierre liked it too, and told me after tasting it that I was pretty good cook for an American. Tonight I made roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes to go with it, also a Farrell favorite. And of course, everyone loves tiramisu.

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Tamara’s beautiful and light filled kitchen.

 

What is your favorite part about cooking for family?

Food is love. It is one major way I show affection for my family, and care for their needs. I love to make good things that give pleasure, but most of all, I love to gather together to share food and communally enjoy something together. It builds emotional bonds.

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Tamara finds inspiration in French design and culture, which translates into many pretty spotted throughout her home.

 

Any tips for new mothers on feeding/raising their sons?

I fussed a lot with making baby food, and I even made little tiny quiches for Farrell. He ate them happily for a long time until he hit about 2 years old, when he rejected them and just about everything else I made. I cried once, but got over it! I learned it was ok for a toddler to eat a tablespoon of food at a meal, so I went with that. But one thing he loved was broccoli, so I used to heap huge piles of it in front of him, and watch him eat the whole thing. We laughed, he was so cute. He still loves broccoli.

I did not make complex meals when Farrell was growing up, mostly because he was picky and I was working, but the most important thing to me was to sit down every night together and have dinner. It was a great time to talk, and for a long time he did all the talking. When he stopped talking in his teenage years, I started bringing something from the newspaper or a magazine and read a section to him. This usually got a response, or at least I could see the wheels turning in his head.

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The lineup of hungry boys, ready to enjoy Tamara’s home cooking.

 

5 Kitchen tools or ingredients you can’t live without?

My ancient Cuisinart. My narrow metal spatula. The large copper pot. My two good knives, large and small, and my beat-up, metal, two-cup measuring cup.

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Can you tell us about your work?  What keeps you passionate about teaching?  How did you end up becoming a teacher?  And how did you balance work and motherhood in the early stages?

From the time I was a teenager and a camp counselor, I liked teaching art projects and thought I would be an art teacher, but found myself majoring in art history in college. I then spent 28 years as a museum professional. The last 19 were as curator of education at a modern and contemporary art museum, where I taught everything needed for the museum. I then made a sort of late career move to teaching at a private school. I love teaching because of the energy I get from students and I enjoy going into depth at school. I am most passionate about art history, and consider myself very lucky to be teaching it at the high school level. Art history is about everything.

I had always wanted a career and children, but I had no idea how hard it was to do both. I had no choice, so I just did it. My mother helped a lot. The lucky part was that Farrell could come to the museum with me during programs at night or on weekends. He either participated in the kid’s workshops, or read in the back rows during lectures. He grew up there.

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An easy entertaining style is key for Tamara, and guest often pitch in to help with small tasks. 

 

Favorite place to travel and explore that region’s food landscape?

Paris. I have been there countless times, with a four-month séjour with Farrell that was the ultimate experience. I hardly ever eat out there, but love to explore the marchés and experiment in a tiny kitchen. I learned a lot from the French about how to cook and eat, especially my homestay mother, Natacha Nicolas.

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Biggest lesson you’ve ever learned in the kitchen?

Do not try a new recipe on guests.

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Any cookbooks that are standbys or have stood the test of time?

I use my ex-husband’s cookbook a lot, Northwest Bounty, and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Otherwise, I have a book of clippings that I use the most.

 

Guilty food pleasure?

Ice cream!

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Relaxing before Tamara’s delicious Tiramisu is served.

 

Who taught you the most about cooking for family?

My grandmother. She was Bohemian and cooked and baked constantly. When she babysat us, making bread dough and shaping it into myriad sculptures was the activity. She also believed food was love and stuffed us mercilessly.

 

Best food memory?

A small lunch in the countryside in France, hosted by some friends of our exchange student Pierre. Vivette made a squash potage to start, Boeuf Bourguignon, a salad of light greens, and tiramisu served in pretty glasses. We were seated in the alcove of their warm kitchen, fire in the fireplace nearby, surrounded by all sorts of charming knickknacks. I will never forget it.

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Tamara graciously sent over the recipe for the lovely meal we all shared.  Pair with a bottle of your favorite French wine, and you’ll be set to serve a fabulous meal for family and friends.

Sweet and Sour Brisket

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

3 1/2 pounds trimmed brisket or pot roast

1 tbl olive oil

2 large onions, sliced

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 beef stock

1 cup chili sauce

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large skillet that can go in the oven, and brown the brisket. When you have turned it over, add the onions. When browned on both sides, remove the brisket and continue to cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, wine, stock, chili sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and bay leaf.

Cook together to combine and return the brisket to the pan. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven for at least two hours.

To serve with roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes, place them in a roasting pan and coat with olive oil. Put them in the oven in the last 1/2 hour before the brisket comes out. When you take it out, turn up the heat to 425 and roast them for another 1/2 hour. Cover the brisket with hot pads and keep it on top of the stove to keep it warm.

Serves 6.

 

All photos by Matt Villanueva Photography.

THE SWEETHEART COCKTAIL

Happy Valentines Day!  We put together a super simple cocktail that is a major crowd pleaser, along with a nice little appetizer spread. You can’t really go wrong with an evening like this, and it’s perfect whether you’re entertaining a group, or just with that special loved one.

 

The supplies are very low fuss.  Pick up a bottle of Prosecco, some fresh cranberries, and black cherry juice for your cocktail recipe.  Along with the drinks, I’ve been enjoying serving cheese and meats in a new way.  Simple & Crisp has these great little packages of dried sliced fruit, that I’ve been using in place of a cracker.  They add a new dimension of flavor to a standard cheese plate, and are of course, a very pretty addition to the spread.  I also found the orange slices make a gorgeous topper to any drink, as the fruit catches the light in that stained glass window way.  So pretty and festive!

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For the Sweetheart Cocktail, measure out 1 ounce of the black cherry juice and pour into your champagne flute, then pop that bottle!

 

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Fill your glass with prosecco, and carefully place a few cranberries on top.

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Garnish with a bright piece of the Simple & Crisp dried orange fruit thins.

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Set out your appetizers, pass along a cocktail, and enjoy your Valentines Day this Saturday evening!

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Images by KettleWerks

 

 

CARROT CUPCAKES

In the spirit of starting fresh, and looking towards Spring, I decided to do a little light baking last weekend.  I was craving something very un-holiday-ish… anyone else feeling weighed down by rich chocolatey sweets and just flat out decadence?

Carrot Cake, one of my all time favorites immediately came to mind.  I love the addition of grated vegetables in baked goods as it adds substance but doesn’t dry out a cake or a bread.  Of course, you can’t have Carrot Cake without that classic cream cheese frosting… totally negating any hint of healthy-ness, but just so tasty it’s worth it.  I found theses pretty floral paper cupcake holders, which are perfect for Spring, and got to baking!

 

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For 12 cupcakes you will need…

 

1 cup of flour – I prefer to use cake flour…makes for a better consistency

3/4 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 cups of carrots grated

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

2 eggs beaten

Set oven to 350. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and powder. Separately in a larger bowl, combine the carrots and oil. Slowly add flour mixture until just mixed. Add the eggs, and stir lightly. Prep your muffin liners in the cupcake pan, and fill each one about 2/3 of the way up with batter. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch. Let cool, and then frost as directed below.

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting you will need…

 

4 ounces of cream cheese

4 tablespoons of butter

2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Blend the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until nice and smooth. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, and then top your cupcake.  For a slight variation, I sometimes add 1/2 a teaspoon of orange zest, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh orange juice.  This adds a brightness of flavor, perfect for beating off those Winter blues!

 

 

Image by Kettlewerks

AUTUMN PRODUCE AT IT’S BEST

This transitional time of year is one of my favorites in terms of the produce we see at the markets.  There are still so many options to choose from, so many satisfying recipes to tackle, and beautiful rich color schemes everywhere you look.  We thought a few photos of such bounty would be a good homage to the season.

Eggplants always draw me in with their incredibly shiny purple hues, and various shapes.  I also love how root vegetable are just starting to sit next to items like zucchini and eggplant, signaling the change of the season.

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Produce or art?  I see it as both, and try to approach home cooking with that same philosophy.

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Pears and apples are plentiful, especially in places like Washington State, where we grow some of the very best in the country.  I’m always ready for hot apple cider, or a pear tart with vanilla ice cream.

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After perusing the markets and gathering produce that has caught my eye, the next best part is planning out dishes I can create at home. Last year I received the cookbook, “Vegetable Literacy”, by Deborah Madison as a wedding gift.  I absolutely fell in love with it, as it feels very much like Madison is in my kitchen, teaching me how to look at vegetables in new ways.  She’s a real expert when it comes to vegetarian cooking, with years of experience and so much helpful information to impart.  The recipes feel new and fresh, but the ingredients are simple and quite healthy.

One of my favorite that I’ve tried, is her version of a Gratin.  It literally melts in your mouth, and uses up all the gorgeous eggplants I tend to stockpile this time of year.

 

Eggplant, Tomato, and Zucchini Gratin, from “Vegetable Literacy”

For 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side dish

Even though these vegetables come into season in mid summer, I think of this an an autumn dish.  It’s a good way to use the last vegetable-fruits before a freeze puts an end to them.  The vegetables are cooked first until they are soft, then they are baked under a cover of bread crumbs.  It’s something of a two-part dish, which has its advantages.  Once you have cooked the vegetables, you can finish the dish when the time is right for you, whether it’s right away or a day later.

Late season vegetables don’t necessarily gain their full size, so you might end up using a few eggplants, rather then just one, and smaller tomatoes – or possibly one last big one.  This recipe isn’t at all about precise amounts.

1 Rosa Bianca or other oval or globe-shaped eggplant (1 pound or larger)

Sea Salt

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish

1 large onion, sliced crosswise

3 plump cloves garlic, smashed with a knife

5 tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and quartered

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

freshly ground pepper

3 or 4 smallish zucchini (about 12 ounces), sliced on the diagonal about 1/3 inch thick

2 teaspoons tomato paste

 

Finishing Touches

1 large clove garlic

sea salt

2 tablespoons chopped oregano, or a scant teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

 

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise, then cut each quarter crosswise into slices about 1/3 inch thick.  Unless the eggplant is very fresh, salt the slices lightly and set aside while you prepare the other vegetables, then blot dry.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly oil an 8 by 10 inch or 10 inch oval gratin dish.

Heat the oil in a wide skillet with a lid over medium high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, eggplan, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the pan, turn the heat to high, and when the vegetables begin to sizzle, turn the heat to low.  Lay the zucchini over the top of the vegetables, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.  By this time, the vegetables should be soft.  Using a slotted spoon, turn them into the prepared gratin dish.  Stir the tomato paste into the liquid remaining in the skillet, then pour the liquid over the vegetables.

To finish the gratin, pound the garlic with a few pinches of salt in a mortar until smooth.  Add the basil, oregano, and oil, and work together, forming a paste.  Spoon the paste over the vegetables, and then intersperse the cheese among them.  Cover the surface with the bread crumbs.

Bake until the bread crumbs have browned and the vegetables are hot and bubbling, about 35 minutes.  Let the gratin settle for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

 

All photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.

AN EARLY THANKSGIVING…

Last week I hosted a Thanksgiving meal!

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Not really…Carlton and I shot a Thanksgiving campaign for work, and I roasted a turkey, made stuffing, dished up cranberry sauce, baked a pecan pie…you know the drill.  Both husband and dog were completely mystified by the chaos and delicious wintery smells eminating from the kitchen, that’s for sure.  It felt too early, but then again, every magazine out there is touting their “new and improved” turkey recipe on this month’s cover.  Perhaps I’m a bit of a purist, but my belief is that as long as you know how to properly roast a bird, the old stand by recipes always do the trick.  Since it only comes once a year, I generally prefer to forgoe kitchen experiments on this occasion, and stick with what works best.

And, when it comes to the best, Alice Waters is who I continually turn to.  Her cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food”, has been a kitchen standby of mine since it came out in 2007.  Of Chez Panisse fame, Waters is the woman who pioneered organic, farm to table eating, long before it was mainstream.  Her take on food has always been to buy locally and sustainably.  Her dishes reflect that, and the food speaks for itself, by actually tasting like that food.  Her recipes are a solid foundation for any home chef, wishing to nurture friends and family through tasty and healthy cooking.  So, once again, I pulled down my favorite cookbook, and got to work.

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Roast Turkey Recipe from “The Art of Simple Food”, by Alice Waters

“Turkeys in the 12-18 pound range are easier to handle than larger birds, and will feed 8 to 12 people, allowing for some leftovers.

Season the bird generously with salt and pepper, inside and out, at least a day ahead, preferably two or three.  Turkeys can also be made tastier by being submerged in a seasoned saltwater brine for a day or two, but I no longer bother with brining, especially since more flavorful heritage breeds of turkey have become available again.  Flavor the turkey with herbs, if you like; stuff the cavity with herb branches, rub the skin with chopped herb leaves, or work sprigs under the skin of the breast and thighs.

Make sure the turkey is at room temperature when it goes into the oven, and rub it first with softened butter, both outside and under the skin.  If you stuff it, do so at the last minute, with freshly made stuffing, also at room temperature.  Fill the cavity loosely so the bird will cook evenly.  Extra stuffing can be cooked separately in an ovenproof dish.

Put the bird in a heavy roasting pan, breast up, preferably on a rack or cushioned by a bed of herb branches, in a preheated 400 degree F oven.  Figure roughly 12 minutes per pound for a 15 pound unstuffed turkey (less for a bigger one).  If the turkey is stuffed, allow about 5 minutes more per pound.

After about one third of the total cooking time, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and turn the turkey over.  Roast it breast down for the middle third, and turn it back breast up for the final third.  Baste it once or twice while it roasts after the final turn.  Check for doneness at the leg joint as you would a chicken.  Cook it to a temperature of no more then 160 degrees F at its thickest points, at the fattest part of its breast and deep in its inner thigh.  Take it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you carve it (its internal temperature will continue to climb).  The pan juices make wonderful gravy.”

 

 

Do you have a favorite roast turkey recipe?  A holiday standby that pleases year after year?  Please share with us if so!

 

Photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.