Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Mystery Charlotte

Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
I got this idea from a Julia Child and Jacques Pepin show I saw a long time ago. It just popped into my head "all of a suddenly," as an old friend used to say. It is kind of a modified pot pie. I called it "Mystery Charlotte" because you could put almost any filling inside.

The crust is made from pieces of bread brushed with melted butter and pieced together to line an ovenproof dish.The side pieces are tall rectangles. The bottom of the dish was lined with one piece of bread cut in a circle to fit. The top was more pieces of bread (crusts cut off) cut to cover the top evenly.

I remember on the show, Julia wanted to use a LOT of butter and Jacques kept saying "More butter??" in a very worried tone.

For the filling I sauteed garlic, diced yellow onions, sliced carrots, potatoes celery and mushrooms with a bit of my new Penzey's Spices chipotle chile powder, fresh thyme and sage, some poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. I also threw in about half a cup of frozen peas, a little water, and a little vegetarian soup base.

Then I loaded it all into the bread-lined dish (I used Trader Joes Whole Wheat Poppyseed bread), topped it with more pieces of bread, and baked the thing at 350 for about 25 minutes.

I had to cover it with foil after about 15 minutes to keep it from browning too much.

It turned out deliciously! The buttery crunchy crust was a contrast to the steaming veggie filling.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Phoenix dining

On a five-day trip to Phoenix for baseball spring training, I was determined to ferret out some good restaurants. I like baseball (my cousin's son is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, go Doug!), but for me, the real raison d'etre of travel is food...

I knew there would be enough ball park food to go around - and as a veg the selections are pretty limited. The ball park vendors aren't grilling up many tofu dogs, that's for sure.

With the help of my friends at , I found some decent places to eat during breaks between ball games.

The first stop was Mucho Gusto Taqueria (AZ Republic Review) for afternoon snacks and margaritas. The big surprise was that they didn't sell margaritas by the pitcher. A really pleasant setting on University Avenue with a nice outdoor patio, part covered and part in the open. All Southwestern style, tiles and chile ristras. I had an Indian Fry bread pizza - black beans, lettuce, queso fresco and tomatoes on a piece of oh-so-healthy fried bread. It wasn't fabulous but it was a great place to enjoy a snack, a margarita, and the afternoon breeze. Tony claimed one of the shrimp in his shrimp cocktail was bad, but he didn't suffer any ill effects over the next three days.

We had lunch at Ibiza Cafe in Scottsdale and it was excellent. It is a tapas place, a very modern and interesting room with a huge bar. We split a big salad with a wonderful citrus vinaigrette, herbed goat cheese and pecans. We also had a nice garlicky hummus with warmed pita bread triangles. The best part of the meal was mushroom risotto croquettes served with a tomato mayonnaise. They had a great deep rich flavor and were crispy on the outside with a panko crumb crust.

The only bad part was the music, which was awful dance-trance stuff that I guess was supposed to make the room seem hipper than it was. It would have been fine at 11 p.m. with a bar full of people, but it just didn't suit a lazy Phoenix afternoon.

A late dinner at Bungalow Restaurant was good, too. It was quite the bar scene - dozens of fashionable twenty- and thirty-somethings ignoring loud 80's dance-music videos to talk at the bar or at tables out on the patio.

I had a good veggie burger with roasted red peppers with a monster pile of crispy fries and my friend had 4 tiny angus burgers that he just raved about, along with a huge salad dripping with a creamy dressing. I didn't look at the wine list before I ordered and when the bill came, I found my glass of Pinot Noir had set me back $11. The burger was only $9. Oops.

While the guys were at a baseball game, I had a solo meal at the Udupi Indian Buffet (AZ Republic Review) Madras-style vegetarian food.

The buffet had about 6 vegetable dishes, a dal, idli, parathas, salad, lemon pickle, 3 chutneys, raita, yogurt, papadum and dessert. Each meal also came with a wonderful, large, light rice-flour dosa (crepe), which enclosed a bit of mild spiced mashed potato.

The buffet was all-you-can-eat and had a nice mix of spicy and mild. They would bring you more dosas if you wanted, but after one big plate I was full and happy. The food wasn't fabulous like The Woodlands in Chatsworth, but it was far better than I, for some reason, expected to find in Phoenix. The place was a big bustling room full of Indian families, a kind of diner for South Asians.

On our last night, we made a trek over to Mesa to the Blue Adobe Grille. I had heard a lot about their wonderful New Mexican cuisine.

It was great, but if you're looking for vegetarian food I have to warn you - it is a meat palace! The food is really, really, good but it all has meat. The rice and beans are made with chicken stock. We got them to make us stacked cheese enchiladas - one with red sauce, one with green - which were just tortillas layered with cheese and sauce. The sauces were to die for, but it wasn't the most creative or tasty thing I have ever eaten.

Greg got 2 soups, because there wasn't a vegetarian one so I gave him mine. I, being a very bad vegetarian, tasted them both. There was a creamy chile, potato and pecan (with chicken stock) and a pork pozole. Both were just great - complex, deep flavors wonderfully combined.

The people obviously know their way around the kitchen and how to make very fine food. It just isn't a place for the veg heads among us.

Penzeys Spices

Penzeys Spices
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Penzey's Spices Field Trip

I am in Phoenix for baseball spring training. Luckily for me, Penzey's Spices has a brand spanking new store in Scottsdale.

What an incredible, lovely, wonderful (let me see if I can get any more effusive) opportunity. They have spices, herbs and blends categorized and organized from A to Z. Each product has a sample jar you can smell before you buy. This enabled me to do side-by-side comparisons and realize that some of the products I had been told were "best" weren't to my liking.

For instance, I had always heard that Tellicherry peppercorns were the best. But I liked the Malabar better, so that was what I bought. And you'd think that the French pepper blend would be delightful, but it smelled like a barnyard to me.

I ended up buying several kinds of cinnamon. The Vietnamese extra-fancy cassia cinnamon was complex and deep. I didn't like the smell or the Korintje, but was intrigued by the Ceylon Cinnamon - it is more citrusy and doesn't have the deep bottom notes. They recommend it for fruit dishes, so I bought a small jar.

Their prices are really good. Most 1/4 ounce jars were under $3. Vanilla beans had come down in price to $6 for 3 or $23 for 15.

They sell herbs, spices, mixes and salt - and that is pretty much it. Empty jars. But no accoutrements, cooking tools, books, art, or anything else to get in the way of the full spice experience.

I only spent $37, but my friend Tony was so inspired that he decided to replace all his herbs and spices and add some to his collection. He ended up with $370 worth - 4 boxes - and had to buy a new piece of luggage to get it all home.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pumpkin Cupcake/Muffin with Coconut Custard Topping

Pumpkin Cupcake/Muffin
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.

These pumpkin cupcakes with coconut custard topping were my entry in the "Is My Blog Burning?" monthly themed cooking challenge. This month's theme is "My Little Cupcake (or Muffin)."

I was inspired by my interview of ex-White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier earlier this month and decided to use a recipe from his recent book Dessert University. found a recipe that he describes as either cupcakes or muffins - perfect!

I followed Chef Roland's recipe to the letter, except for one modification: he uses raw coconut in the custard topping. I toasted the coconut beforehand, because I like toasted coconut a great deal and am not so big on the raw stuff.

I have been handicapped in tasting by a terrible cold. When I first tasted these, the pumpkin and spice flavors seemed too subtle. Two days later, my sense of taste is returning and they are becoming quite lovely. They are moist and a nice dark orangey-brown color. I think the topping is a bit of lily-gilding – a little too sweet for my liking. I like them cut open and toasted, with a little butter.

Pumpkin Muffins with Coconut Icing

1 1/2 cups white flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12 muffin tin.

Combine dry ingredients except sugar. Combine wet ingredients and sugar in a different bowl. Mix together until just moistened. Put batter in muffin tin and bake for about 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool in tins 5 minutes. Turn out and cool completely.

1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg yolks
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut, lightly toasted in toaster oven or regular oven until barely brown.
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine ingredients except coconut and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture boils. Remove from heat, add coconut and vanilla. Cool to room temperature before spreading on muffins.

If you are serving them for breakfast, call them muffins. For dessert, call them cupcakes. Isn't that sneaky!

Friday, March 18, 2005

10 Things That Can Ruin a Vegetarian's Day

Any meat in there?
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
1. Finding out that the vegetable items at your favorite Chinese restaurant all contain chicken stock.
2. Or that your favorite Mexican restaurant uses lard in their beans. Does not wanting to know make me a bad vegetarian? Are the vegetarian police going to come get me in the middle of the night?
3. Discovering a big chewy chunk of pork in your otherwise vegetarian meal. Hello!
4. Running out of Beano. Consider the diet. Beans, legumes, tasty cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and broccoli...Beano is not an optional item. It is a staple.
5. Having the "Why are you a vegetarian?" conversation with your in-laws, parents, or boss. Again.
6. Going to a family-style Chinese or Thai place with meat-eaters and having everyone order one dish. Yours is the only vegetarian dish. Everyone else gets eat four or five different things. You get one entree and all the rice you can choke down.
7. Being trapped in a room with your brother-in-law who loves to tell hunting stories.
8. Having pizza lunch at work. There are 10 pizzas, one vegetable. Everyone else takes slices of meat and one of vegetable, leaving you with one lonely slice of veg.
9. Having people look at your lunch and say "Oh my God! How can you eat tofu? How gross!" (This one has gotten less common in recent years, thankfully).
10. Being told at a family meal "I thought you could just pick the vegetables out of the meat stew and eat those."

Actually I am a lot more light-hearted about being a veg-head than this may sound. I try not to disturb others with my preference and have on more than one occasion prentended to eat a full, satisfying meal while pushing a lot of food around on my plate, as not to offend (as in the cases of #6 and #10.)

I imagine that some things ruin a meat-eater's day, too, like eating family-style with a vegetarian who wants to get all the dishes without meat while the meat-eater is dying for something chewy and dense. Or hearing endless factory farming horror stories, or warnings about clogged arteries and colon cancer.

As a food lover, sometimes I consider going back to eating meat because there is so much more cuisine to explore. But the truth is that I just don't like it. Never have, probably never will. Eating meat was always more of a chore than a joy for me, even when I was a little kid.

I remember my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Crockett, asking the class what their favorite foods were. My classmate Jeff Feeley said "Steak." I remember thinking "Steak? WHO likes steak?" I couldn't imagine it. My favorite food was artichokes.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Commercial Indian flatbreads

Commercial Indian flatbreads
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
One of the glories of an Indian meal is the breads. Nothing can compare with those that are freshly-made, of course.

But at the end of a long day of work when you just can't cook, these flatbreads make leftovers tolerable or even enjoyable.

I find them in the freezer section of an Indian grocery, but I am sure that many supermarkets in urban areas carry them as well.

The parathas are my favorite. Unfortunately for my nutritional needs, I like the white-flour ones more than the "atta," or whole-wheat ones.

They are light and flaky. Some types are stuffed with fillings like chickpeas and potatoes. The onion are flecked with tiny pieces of green onion.

You just put them in a lightly oiled frying pan, cook until brown spots form, then flip.

Voila. Leftover magic.

Great rice, just not for horchata

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Horchata - Mexican Rice Drink

I am not going to post a horchata recipe until I get it right. But in case you are experimenting, here's my advice: do not, NOT, use basmati rice as your base. I made a pitcher of it yesterday, with much blending and straining and squeezing, and when it was all done, it has a distinct basmati-ish popcorny flavor. That may be a nice thing with Indian food, but believe me, it is not what you want in horchata.

Why did I use basmati rice in the first place? Yankee thriftiness, I suppose. Basmati is all I have on hand because one day I was shopping at the Indian market and decided to spend $15 on a 10 lb sack of the most beautiful, long-grain basmati I had seen.

When I got to the counter, the shop owner pointed to a sign "Two for the price of one." So I ended up with 20 lbs of rice.

There are only two of us in the household. Despite over a year of eating what is, for us, a fair amount of rice, I still have about 4 lbs left. I just haven't been able to bring myself to buy other kinds of rice when I have so much basmati in the house. Thus, popcorn horchata. Ya think maybe I should just bust out the dollar for some other kinda rice?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Whole-Wheat Khachapuri

Whole-Wheat Khachapuri
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
I started the day making horchata, a Mexican drink. Later I moved on to the food of a different continent, making Khachapuri, which are ostensibly from Georgia (not the one in the U.S., the one in Asia), though I have met any Georgians or eaten any Georgian food that I have not made with my own hands, so I don't know how correct I am being.A real Georgian might be appalled by my efforts. All I can say is that my Khachapuri have Greg's stamp of approval, and he is a pretty tough customer.

I found the recipe in Cooking Light magazine a long time ago and modified it - and you know they modified it from the Georgian recipe. So by now it may be completely unrecognizable. But that doesn't mean it wasn't good.

It is pretty much any sort of finely chopped melange in a yogurt-based bread crust. Using what I had on hand, I chose cooked spinach, potatoes and onions mixed with leftover myzithra cheese (see previous post). The only caveat is that the filling you make be rather dry, because wet mixtures will make the dough damp and leaden. You need about 2 cups of filling for 4 khachapuri.

The dough:
1 1/2 to 2 cups flour (I used 1/2 cup white and the rest wheat)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Oil a large baking sheet.

Mix one cup of flour with the baking soda. Add the yogurt and stir until combined. Begin adding flour until you have a dough that is no longer wet and tacky. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 3 or 4 minutes, until the dough is elastic and soft.

Cut dough into 4 pieces. Roll out to about an 8 inch circle. Put 1/4 of the filling in the middle of the dough, leaving about 3/4 inch border aroung the outside.

Begin folding sections of the dough over the filling in an overlapping pattern like flower petals (see photo). Push down on the middle of the dough to seal the "petals" and then flip the bread over. Push down on the back until it is about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 6 to 7 minutes until golden brown. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Spaghetti with Myzithra Cheese

I created this recipe at Greg's request for his friend Jim. They both love, love, love it, which is sort of a mystery to me. I find it a bit plain. It is deceptively rich but simple and salty.

Aged Myzithra Cheese is a hard white Greek cheese made from sheep's milk that grates up really well. I have only found it at Whole Foods and specialty Greek or mediterranean markets - you won't see it at Albertson's next to the American singles and chalky low-fat cheddar.

The dish is pretty easy to make and gives you the fun of saying "Myzithra," which is a cool-sounding word.

I was too busy cooking to take a photo. C'est la vie. Greg, who is always telling me to cook healthy, bought a wedge of St. Andre Triple Creme brie, an olive bread, and huge red grapes for an appetizer. Go figure. I didn't have the strength to discourage him because the St. Andre is one of my favorite cheeses.

I made a lovely light carrot-potato soup too, with a few leftover green beans and a bit of white corn to give some visual appeal.

Spaghetti with Myzithra Cheese at its most simple
1 lb good spaghetti.
Note: The good kind of pasta isn't bright gold and almost shiny - the good kind looks a little rough and dusty and will definitely set you back more than 69 cents a pound. Latini runs about $4.69. Sinful, I know. But it is worth it. The difference is the little roughness captures more of the sauce on the pasta, giving it a better flavor. Honest. I justify it by saying "At least we're not eating out. That is the same way my friend Coco justified hiring a personal chef – "It's less than eating out all the time." Yeah, if you eat at those kinds of places Coco eats. Gotta love that girl.
4 to 6 Tbsp unsalted butter depending on how much sauce you like
1 1/2 cups grated myzithra cheese using the smallest holes on the grater (about 1/3 lb)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Cook the spaghetti in lots of boiling salted water.

Heat the butter over medium heat until it turns a nice golden brown color, about 8 minutes. Remove it from the heat. Drain spaghetti, pour butter over, toss in some myzithra and parsley. Stir & serve.

Greg's Version
Cook some mushrooms in the butter while you are browning it. Add some finely chopped cooked broccoli and finely sliced green onion while you are tossing the pasta with the myzithra.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ex-White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier

I got to interview Chef Roland Mesnier tonight.He was in town promoting his book, "Dessert University."

He was White House Pastry Chef from 1979 to 2004.

Here is some of the gossip he dished:

Skinny Nancy Reagan always ate dessert. But sometimes she skipped the entree.

Nancy watched Ronnie's weight for him and wouldn't let him have the chocolate he loved. But when Nancy was out of town, Chef Roland used to whip up some chocolate souffle for Ronnie. "Then he was a very, very happy man," said Roland.

Bill Clinton was allergic to chocolate.

Rosalyn Carter arranged for Mesnier to become an American citizen in a hurry-up ceremony to avoid any scandal over him being foreign-born.

Mesnier is a very charming, old-world kind of guy. One of nine children, he grew up in France in a house with no running water and no electricity. One bite of sour cherry tart his brother, a pastry apprentice, gave him at age 12 made him fall in love with pastry. The memory of that taste still inspires him. The wonder of that flavor is what he is always trying to capture, he said.

He's a very hard worker: you don't get to be White House pastry chef for 25 years by being a slacker. His pastry apprenticeship started when he was 14 and finished 3 years later. He began travelling to different countries to learn different languages and styles of pastry.

"I always wanted to be a well-rounded pastry chef," he said.

Always aiming for the top jobs, he worked at the Hotel Georges V in Paris (he got a little misty talking about it), the Savoy in London and the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Rosalynn Carter heard about him and hired him after a 20-minute interview. You would too - he's that charming.

He said Nancy Reagan was his biggest challenge, because she was a demanding perfectionist who came up with difficult ideas that he had to produce. One time for a state dinner for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, she gave him 2 days to design and create 15 sugar baskets with 6 sugar tulips in each, filled with a variety of sorbets. He said he told her "But I have only 2 days!" and she replied "Yes, but you have two days and two nights!

But he said he thanks Nancy every day, because she made him a better pastry chef. (He also admitted it took him a while to get to that conclusion).

I loved meeting Chef Roland because he took such great pride and joy in his work. He managed to endow it with a great deal of seriousness and a lovely humor, all at once.

"After all," he said, "Dessert time is good time. This is not rocket science."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Whole Foods Expands in Thousand Oaks

I wrote a food-related article for work yesterday. I got to spend two hours touring a new grocery store, talking food, having them roast coffee beans for the freshest cup of coffee I have ever had, and eating. Not a bad day's work.

Whole Foods Market opens

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Whole New World of Horror Awaits

Bert Christensen's website will make you wonder why people hate food so much that they have to do these horrible things to it.

Anyone who makes Kitty Litter Cake should be slapped, hard.

What were they thinking? "Hm, you know what would be REALLY nice? A cake that looks like a poopy litterbox!" It makes the cake that looks like worm-filled dirt seem positively genteel by comparison.

Bert Christensen's Weird Recipes

And then there is my all-time favorite cake, which is horrible in its own way. In honor of Ms. Martha's recent release, here is her most anal of creations, the spring garden cake. (The link apparently won't take you right to the recipe, but if you type "spring garden cake" in the search box on the page the link takes you to, you will get to see it).

When you have a spare dozen hours or so, you can attempt to make Martha's cake. But keep in mind that it will never, ever, come out as nice as hers. That isn't allowed.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Marcella Hazan's Potato, Tomato & Yellow Bell Pepper Stew

Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
This is what I had for dinner. It requires 1/3 cup of olive oil with 1 1/2 lbs of new potatoes, so though it is an all-vegetable dish, it is quite rich.

I mopped up the sauce with bread, as Marcella suggests -- and Marcella can't be wrong, can she?

The Messermeister Serrated Swivel Peeler

You need this.

I don't go on much about kitchen tools. My feeling is that you really ought to be able to get by with about 3 pans and 2 knives and everything else is pretty much optional.

Everyone always wants to buy the expensive Japanese or German knife they see the hot young chef using, when the truth is the hot young chef uses some Global or F. Dick brand knife at work and only pulls out the Henkels on the TV show because it is a product placement, just like Tiger Woods and his golf clubs.

That being said, this is such a handy little gadget that even a clumsy dolt like me can peel anything with it -- even bell peppers. Yep, bell peppers.

I used it tonight to make a Marcella Hazan recipe that called for peeling a yellow bell pepper and it took me about 3 minutes. With a regular knife it would have taken six hours, because a trip to the emergency room would have been involved, since I no doubt would have filleted some body part along the way.

Messermeister Swivel Peeler

Friday, March 04, 2005

Pico de Gallo?

Pico de Gallo?
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
I got introduced to this dish when my friend Curt Humphrey worked at a silkscreen print shop with a bunch of Mexican guys, who ate it during breaks.

You simply take any type of ripe melon and sprinkle it with lemon or lime juice, chili powder and salt.

It is a happy warm-cool flavor combination that is as good in the middle of winter, thanks to imported fruit from south of the border, as it is on a hot summer day.

There is also a commercial product that pre-mixes the 3 flavors in a little shaker. The brand I have has a screaming rooster on the label and is called "Pikos Pikosos."

My online friend Cristina, who is from Mexico, insists that this is not proper Pico de Gallo. Real pico de gallo apparently has jicama and oranges in it with the same types of seasonings.

Nevertheless, I have heard Mexicans in the U.S. call this "Pico de Gallo," and my seasoning bottle says "Estilo Pico de Gallo" (pico de gallo style) on it, so that is what I am calling it.

Pico de Gallo means "Rooster beak," by the way. The phrase is also used to refer to a tomato salsa that is chopped in fairly big chunks, not ground in a mortar.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
Ok, I lied about using the Thai eggplants for Eggplant and Peas Charchari. I made caponata instead. I didn't follow a recipe, just tossed a bunch of stuff in a heavy pan.

After I posted this, Bob Shanbrom correctly pointed out the thing that was missing – he said caponata is always a sweet and sour dish -- this could have used a little wine vinegar to bump up the flavors and turn it into "real" caponata.

I will recreate it as much as possible:

Eggplant Caponata Recipe
3 Tbsp fruity Spanish olive oil
3 whole cloves garlic
3 large shallots, sliced fine
12 tiny seedy Thai eggplants
1 whole roasted red bell pepper
2 cubes frozen minced basil
(the above 2 items from Trader Joes)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp. capers packed in oil

Warm the garlic in the oil over medium heat, then slowly saute the shallots until they were limp. Quarter the eggplants (they were all less than 2 inches in diameter) and saute them until soft and brown.

Toward the end, add the roasted red pepper, chopped in small squares about 1/2". Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.

Take the caponata off the heat and add the capers, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bread or crackers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Mustard Greens

Mustard Greens
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.
While walking the dog in Wildwood Park today, I picked some mustard greens in honor of my mom, who lived through the Great Depression.

She says "We never went hungry, but we ate a lot of mustard greens." She says you have to cook them with bacon fat to make them taste right.

Some of the plants are almost 6 feet tall by now and beginning to bloom.

I picked new shoots from plants no more than 2 feet tall because I heard smaller plants had a milder flavor. Some have just a little zip, but others taste almost like horseradish!

One particular set of leaves I tasted made my eyes widen and water and my nose involuntarily wrinkle up -- strong stuff!

Sharky's NuMex Caesar Salad

Sharky's NuMex Caesar Salad
I have an apparently undying love for this salad. It is made from romaine lettuce, coated with a creamy dressing. It has chopped tomatoes, roasted pumpkin seeds and shredded cotija cheese.

This "NuMex" (whatever that means) Caesar Salad is liberally garnished with squares of spiced crispy flour tortilla and tiny thin strips of corn tortilla chips.

As you can see, I top it with about a cup of Sharky's Killer Original Salsa - made from canned tomatoes, I believe, but this is a good use for them. They are fire-roasted and ground with chiles, onions, garlic and cilantro. I could eat this salsa from a bowl with a spoon, by itself.

I started going to Sharky's a little over 2 years ago. I have probably eaten this salad 50 times. Pathetic? Maybe. I really, really love it.

Sharky's Organic Mexican Food

Sharky's NuMex Caesar Salad

Sharky's NuMex Caesar Salad
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.

Chef Tim Love

This is an article I wrote about a chef who visited Thousand Oaks a couple weeks ago. He and I went to Santa Monica Farmer's Market, where he was amazed by Rangpur limes (he plans to track them down to make a fabulous super-lime margarita) and baby purple artichokes.

The first line is kind of silly, but all of Tim's talk about a trailride just got me in the cowgirl mood.

Here's his website, the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro.
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro


Look out, pardner, Texas restaurateur Tim Love is saddling up to become the newest celebrity chef.

The James Beard House named him one of the "rising stars of American cuisine," and now he is working on taking his creative cuisine to a national audience.

Love, 33, hit the trail this week, teaching cooking classes at three spots in Southern California, including the Let's Get Cookin' kitchen shop and culinary school in Westlake Village.

"He's not afraid to do things that are complicated, unusual and interesting," said Phyllis Vaccarelli, the owner of Let's Get Cookin' who has hosted some of America's most famous chefs in her store.

Love is on his way to a Food TV network special in June and a new New York City restaurant opening within the next year.

He recently released a line of kitchen equipment called Love Style Restaurant Edition cookware.

Love made his California trip to spread the word about his restaurant in the Forth Worth stockyards, the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, and share some cooking tips along the way.

"Don't take the recipes away from this class; take the techniques," he said after spending 10 minutes showing an audience of about 30 how to properly julienne an onion.

"It may sound simple, but it's the little things that make the difference," Love said. "That's why people say the food doesn't taste the same at home as it does at the restaurant."

He explained that onions cut parallel to the root end won't brown evenly but if cut the other direction, they will.

Love made a four-course menu for the class that included lobster cakes in a citrus beurre blanc (he said "In Texas, we call it butter sauce,"), roasted corn and black bean salsa and spice-ribbed buffalo tenderloin.

"We love the menu," said Lynn Gilbert of Thousand Oaks, who brought her husband, Martin Penson, to the class as a one-day-late Valentine's present.

"We'll have to try his restaurant next time we are in Texas," she added.

Love's favorite recipes have complex, layered flavors based on Old West traditions combined with a wild experimental streak.

"I just get in the kitchen, pay attention, make mistakes, and sometimes I come up with some fun stuff," said Love.

Indeed. His cookbook "Tim Love on the Lonesome Dove Trail" could scarcely be more creative.

It contains recipes for coffee-rubbed kangaroo with cilantro-lime mashed potatoes and rattlesnake cakes with guajillo chile aioli.

Love majored in marketing at the University of Tennessee and knows the value of having a gimmick as he spins his skills into culinary gold.

Love created the culinary trail ride, a cooking road show that takes 22 cooks, six horses, two cowboys, a camera crew and three buses across the country.

They collect all their ingredients along the way, stopping outside cities to mount horses and ride in to wow locals with five-course meals pit-cooked in Dutch ovens.

"It's quite a deal," said Love, who has a knack for understatement.

His next trail ride will be to Chicago in August.

Love said his two previous trail rides have raised $60,000 for Spoons Across America, an organization that teaches children to cook healthful and creative meals.

He said the willingness to juggle cooking six nights a week, dinner parties for up to 25 friends every Sunday, expanding his career and being father to three toddlers comes from one thing: his love of food.

"All I want to do is cook and play with my kids," Love said. "That's about it."

Making Bran Muffins work

My naturopath, Dr. Melissa Metcalfe, is a great doctor. She just glows with radiant health, so I have to figure she has a clue about how to live.

She gave me a recipe for some extremely healthy bran muffins, but I thought they needed something.

I have made variations of her recipe about 10 times now and have finally hit on a way to make them better. They still aren't the sticky, dripping-with-oil bran muffins you find at bakeries everywhere, but they are at least edible.

The most important change I made was to add the zest of a whole orange. That brightens the flavor and gives them some zip. I also added a banana, 1/4 tsp of cloves, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. All good.

Bran Muffins
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg
1 smooshed overripe banana
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
zest of one orange
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups.

Soak wheat bran in milk for 20 minutes. Add to same bowl the brown sugar, the egg, lightly beaten, the canola oil, vanilla, banana and orange zest.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry to wet and stir to combine. Put batter in muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes.

Bran Muffin

Bran Muffin
Originally uploaded by suebobdavis.