Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Faves and Pans

I hope your Thanksgiving went well. Mine was a bit odd - no traditional feast. That is okay, because here is my family's usual menu:

Turkey (I'm a vegetarian)
Stuffing with raisins in it (why, God, why?)
Canned julienned green beans with canned cream of mushroom soup and Durkee canned onions (what did green beans ever do to my mom to deserve this?)
Mashed potatoes. I am okay with this.
Sweet potatoes from a can (I am not okay with this)
Brown and serve rolls (all right, I'll give you that).
Canned cranberry sauce with the little can lines in (ditto)
Jello ribbon salad - a layer of green, a layer of yellow mixed with mayo and canned pineapple (no, I am not making this up) and a layer of red. Pretty. But no.
Pumpkin pie from frozen (ick)
Apple pie from frozen (I am not a big pie fan)

Sorry to sound like a food snob, but let's face it, I am. If I lived in something larger than 500 square feet, I would invite people over here.

I wonder what next year will bring.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I am very sorry

I made my favorite curried peas and eggplant dish. I love it because it is very simple - chop up the eggplant and toss it and the peas in a pot, add some stock, spices, butter and cook until the liquid is gone.

The recipe calls for a couple whole chiles. I picked a couple jalapenos off my plant and tossed them in. At the end of cooking, you remove them.

Except I didn't.

Blogging and eating, I ate one of the very hot, late-season jalapenos.

I am very, very sorry.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Time flies!

Three months since I posted! THAT doesn't seem quite right. But I have been subsisting on frozen pizzas and steamed veg, so I haven't felt like my membership in the food blog world was up-to-date.

Why the hiatus? I dunno. Lazy. I live by myself, cook for myself...not that inspiring.

I do have a discovery, completely by accident - cherry tomato raisins!

This requires tiny cherry tomatoes (I used the yellow ones), a hot place, and a ventilated surface.

I had some little yellow cherry tomatoes sitting in a colander in a single layer in my kitchen, which gets very hot in the afternoons. After a few days, I noticed some beginning to shrivel and was about to throw them out when I thought "What the heck?" and stuck one in my mouth.

Pure sweet concentrated tomato heaven. Kind of like sun dried tomatoes, only a little softer and sweeter.

Give it a try. I would post a photo but Mr. Snackish is busy taking guitar pictures, so I don't have the camera today.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cara Cara, the pink orange

These Cara Cara oranges are beginning to appear at Farmer's Markets here in Southern California. They are sweeter and less citrusy than other oranges, and their flesh can range from a medium to a dark reddish orange. I'm not a big fan of regular oranges, but I love these.

Melissa's Produce has the whole scoop on where they came from, how to pick a good one, and nutritional values.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Rainy Day Roasting

After a week with temperatures in the 80s and 90s (yep, that's what I said), it suddenly got cold and rainy here just in time for the weekend.

So today we take on another much-hated vegetable - turnips! The key is to buy small turnips, not those softball-sized purple and white jobs.

I had a bunch of pretty white Japanese turnips in the fridge just waiting for the weather to turn. I had thought of a recipe that worked out stunningly a few weeks ago and that I wanted to try again, and it involves roasting, which heats up the house - a win-win situation.

Roasted Turnips with Honey Butter
1 bunch of turnips, the smaller the better, by no means over 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
3 Tbsp butter, more or less
1 Tbsp honey, the darker the better

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get out a big baking sheet.

Remove the tops from the turnips. If they are tiny and lovely, reserve them to make a vitamin-packed turnip greens recipe with. If they are large and spiny, put them in your greenwaste or compost container. If your city does not provide a greenwase container, call them and ask why.

Peel the turnips, even if they are tiny. Yes, you must. Because I have tried it both ways and it only works well with peeled ones, that is why. If they are unpeeled, they are too moist and get mushy.

If the turnips are larger, cut them in half and each half into four wedges. If they are small, just cut them into about 1 inch chunks.

Melt the butter and honey together in a saucepan over low heat. Add the turnips and toss to coat, then spread in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or so, turning every 15 minutes or when you remember. When they are done, they will be golden brown with some darker brown spots.

Try not to eat them all yourself. I did.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Easy to Love

John and Kira's Chocolates

Mr. Snackish did good for Valentine's Day, and since I love what he sent me so much I thought I would tell y'all about it in case you are in a gift-giving or self-treating mood.

At about 10 a.m. on Valentine's Day I got a call from Roger the security guard at work (the nice morning guy, not the kinda trippy afternoon guy) telling me there was a package for me.

"Is it heavy?" I said, thinking of the copier paper order.

"Oh, no, Miss Sue," said Roger (he has the most charming somewhere-in-the-Pacific accent), "I think this box has gooooodies in it."

And right he was. A nice wooden box, tied with a pretty dark red mesh ribbon, filled with chocolate squares from John and Kira's Chocolates. (I must say, though, that picture of whom I assume is John on the front page of the website is rather ominous and scary. It looks like he might have been sampling the coffee-whisky mixture on picture day.)

Like old-fashioned chocolates, the squares are marked with symbols and there is a little map to the flavors inside the box. The flavors include bergamot, lavender, ginger, coffee-whiskey, raspberry, strawberry and mint.

They are all good, even the lavender, which is a flavor I normally abhor in food (and in anything else for that matter).

They are not too strong, not too sweet, lovely and creamy. I am holding myself back with great difficulty from eating more than two per day.

Thank you, Mr. S. You are a champion among men.

Friday, February 10, 2006


I took a disappointing cooking class the other night. Why?

Two words: vegan cheese.

The class was a hands-on vegan demo, led by Ann Gentry of the very popular Real Food Daily vegan organic restaurants in Los Angeles.

That's Ann on the left

I was not afraid - as a vegetarian of two decades, I am fully conversant with vegetarian/vegan food and it doesn't seem at all odd to me.

My classmates, about 20 eager would-be cooks, were very welcoming and congenial, which is far more than I can say for most people in the nouveau riche my-new-facelift-is-better-than-your-new-facelift Westlake Village area.

The hands-on part of the class was kinda fun. We cleaned, chopped, sliced and diced (though most people in class, I am sorry to say, had scary knife skills) while our faithful helpers from the cooking school did the dishes. All good.

But when we tasted the dishes a pall fell over the class. They were uniformly horrible. The tempeh and potato salad was sharp and pointy from too much vinegar, the barley salad was mooshy and tasteless. The broccoli ( I saw it spelled "brocli" at Farmer's Market the other day and am tempted to adopt that spelling) soup was beyond boring, with fibrous bits of brocli throughout

The lasagna had tough noodles and undercooked veggies as well as that damned salty-yuk so-called vegan cheese. Why are vegans possessed to try and copy foods like cheese that are all but impossible to copy?

To top it off, the restaurant's famous chocolate chip cookie (some kind of non-wheat flour - I don't care enough to look up the recipe, but it contains maple syrup, etc) was bitter and inedible. A chocolate chip cookie that I could not eat?!? Now, that IS shocking.

What is so weird to me is that Suzanne Goin's (see previous post) curried pea soup was vegan and her salad could have been vegan without the parmesan chunks, and both dishes were perfect and glorious.

Is wearing a culinary hair shirt part of being a vegan? Just wondering. Hit me with the comments.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Goin to town

About 45 food lovers met to worship at the altar of genius chef Suzanne Goin Wednesday night at Let's Get Cookin' in Westlake Village, California.

We were packed into the demo kitchen area of the combination cooking school/gourmet shop/bookstore almost cheek-to-cheek, so to speak.

The reason for the crowd was that Goin is the chef/part-owner of two well-respected - one might even say beloved - restaurants in Los Angeles, Lucques and the trend-setting small-plate place, A.O.C.

She was in town selling her new cookbook "Sunday Suppers at Lucques,"
a collection of recipes based on the restaurant's weekly prix fixe three-course meals that change with the seasons, as all good menus should.

Curried Pea Soup

Goin was a bit reserved at first, maybe nervous, launching into a recitation of the steps she was performing to cook the demo meal, but warmed up as the audience relaxed and began tossing out questions.

Because she had said her first cooking job was as a pastry assistant at Los Angeles (now-defunct) institution Ma Maison, I asked "When you started out, did you want to be a pastry chef?"

The question launched an extended job history - a student internship followed by a job at Ma Maison at 17, Al Forno in Rhode Island during her years studying history at Brown University, a stint at Chez Panisse, time in France, first at an awful restaurant whose owner assumed she only knew how to cook hamburgers because she was an American, then a thankful escape to the temple of cuisine L'Arpege.

Blood orange, arugula and date salad

I don't know how old Goin is, but doing the math, she may be closer to 40 than she appears - she has the kind of understated upper-class beauty that has a certain timelessness.

For someone who loves food as much as she does and it is obvious from the confident, attentive way she moves in the kitchen that she loves food, she is very thin. She explained her weight when someone asked, saying that she rarely eats meals because she needs to taste things at work all the time, and truly tasting food when you are full is difficult and "kind of gross."

Her demo meal was like a poem to Spring. She made:
Curried english pea soup with creme fraiche and mint
Salad of arugula, blood orange slices, dates, thick-sliced parmesan pieces and almonds with a toasted almond oil dressing
Saffron chicken with parmesan pudding and snap peas, green onions and pea shoots
Meyer lemon tart with a thin layer of chocolate

It was all truly, truly good. I especially loved the salad, and the Meyer Lemon Tart, which had more butter in it than one would care to divulge in public.

As a special celebrity-spotting bonus, a lovely young actress, Camilla Belle, attended the class with her mom. It wasn't like she was standing up and saying "I'm a movie star," - most of us wouldn't have noticed her, but a crew from the New York Times was there doing a feature on her, so the camera action got a little intense at times.

Belle starred in the kind of creepy "Ballad of Jack and Rose" with Daniel Day Lewis last year and will play the lead in the soon-to-be-released remake of "When a Stranger Calls."

Saffron Chicken. Not vegetarian, but Mr. Snackish gave it his thumbs-up

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I'm going to be a Mommy!

A big shoutout to the Evil Fruit Lord - check out my banana crop. I am so excited to live in a banana-growing microclimate so uncommon in the United States.

I didn't do anything to make this happen - the flower just spontaneously appeared one day, then the petals started spreading out, then oozing sap, then falling off to reveal...tiny bananas!

I don't know what variety this is. Probably Cavendish. I looked up banana gestational periods and they vary wildly, but Cavendish (supermarket bananas) is one of the shortest at 6 to 8 months.

If I am lucky, I will be slicing homegrown bananas on my cereal by September.

p.s. Evil Fruit Lord - why don't I have access to your site anymore? Is it something I said?

Friday, February 03, 2006

I promise this is the end of the Fancy Food Show

I can't write more about the NASFT Fancy Food Show after this because I am in serious blogging trouble - I have a new post, complete with photos, ready to write, but I haven't finished the previous subject yet. So let's put an end to the Trade Show of My Dreams with a post about one of my favorite foods: cheese.

In a word: farmhouse cheddar.

My first favorite Farmhouse (why a farmhouse? Maybe because it sounds better than "Factory, but a rather small cozy factory") Cheddar was from the Fiscalinis of Modesto. They make a bandage-wrapped cheddar that is out of this world, despite the fact that "bandage-wrapped" conjures some up some rather unfortunate images in my brain. The cheese itself is white (why Americans insist on Safety-orange cheddar is beyond me), flaky and tangy andjust the best. I could eat this cheese al day long. They also make an interesting, nutty cheese called "San Joaquin Gold" that is very fine, too.

Grafton Village Cheese Company makes a 7 year old (ok, maybe it was 6 or 8, things were a little fuzzy at this point) cheddar that rocked me back on my heels, it was so good. A blast of pure cheddar power. This is a great cheese to eat when you want to KNOW you are eating cheese - this is a flavor you can't ignore. If you ever get the itch to send me a gift basket, make sure it has a chunk of this cheese in it. You can skip the beef log, thank you very much.

And then there was blue. I didn't taste much blue cheese at the show, but I am glad I stopped by the Rogue Creamery booth. Their Rogue River Blue and Oregon Blue Vein cheeses were as fine as any blues as I have ever tasted. Their highly-touted Smokey Blue, smoked over hazelnut shells, was a bit much for me, but if you are a member of the Lily Gilders Society, this may be the over-the-top flavor bomb for you.

One last crispy tidbit: if you need something to eat with your cheese, strongly consider picking up some E.A.T. flat breads from Eli Zabar. .I loved the Parmesan and Not-Quite-A-Chef Stacy swears by the cinnamon pecan (or was it the cinnamon raisin?) crisps. Really a rocking product. Everything a little tasty crackery thing should be. I could eat these every day, except that they are rather expensive.

All of the recommendations in these past zillion posts about the NASFT Fancy Food Show come from the merit of the products, not from any commercial endorsement deal. Though if you have a product and need a shill I might consider it...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fancy Food Show Part 4- Chocolate

Only two more posts about the Fancy Food Show, then I will shut up about it. I am sorry about the serious lack of photos, but no photos were allowed on the show floor. Of course, no wheeled carts were allowed, and no removing samples from the premises, but we saw plenty of both those things going fact I just finished the last of my chocolate samples tonight.

I tasted some BAD chocolate, let me tell you. There are a lot of people out there who seem to think "Hey, if that Scharffenberger dude can make chocolate, so can I!" Wrong. Those Scharffen Berger guys were chocolate geniuses, and most people aren't. Put down the cacao beans and step away from the grinder.

But the good news is I tasted some stunning chocolates, too. Godiva and Valrhona were not among them - I passed by both booths, sated by five hours of sampling other things. Besides, I already KNEW how they tasted.

My favorite for both flavor AND packaging was the lovely Mariebelle. . The Aztec Dark hot chocolate was unbelievably rich, even when made with just water, not milk. Perfect chocolate flavor balance. I think this will be my mail-order gift of choice for a long time to come.

The beautiful almost-Tiffany blue and brown tins don't hurt, either.

Venchi Chocolates come in some interesting flavors like Spicy Chili Pepper and Absinthe. The Spicy Chili is spicy indeed, and the Absinthe has a unique, intriguing fennel-like flavor. Their chocolate is very good, and the odd flavors just added to the fun. I tried their 85% cacao Cuor di Cacao, which I probably wouldn't eat every day, but for a real cacao lover, it just might do the trick. Also full of those antioxidants everyone is always talking about.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fancy Food Show Part 3 - Olives

I was surprised to find not a single olive to knock my socks off at the Fancy Food Show. None were truly awful (unlike some of the chocolate I tasted) but nothing stood out as something super-special.

I guess I will stick to my old standbys, like the superb Divina Mt. Athos Red Pepper Stuffed olives.

I did, however, taste two great olive oils. I have always been partial to Spanish olive oils over the Italian ones, and the Valderrama Olive Oil did not disappoint. The suave Spanish sales guy (see coffee post below) explained that these oils were extracted within 45 minutes of picking to maintain all the fresh olive flavors. They sell a variety of single-varietal oils, and the three I tasted - arbequina, hojiblanca and something else - were all wonderful, each with its own flavor profile.

I didn't realize our friends down under were getting into the olive oil market but it figures - Australia has a nice Mediterranean climate, just like California, so it is only natural that they should want to grow olives as well as wine grapes.

I tasted some really fine oils from Silvertree of New South Wales. Like Valderrama, they take pride in processing the oils soon after picking. These oils tasted fresh, green, grassy and full of life. They were significantly different than either Italian or Spanish olive oils, a whole different animal. I liked them a great deal and look forward to trying more Aussie olive oils.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fancy Food Show Part 2 - Coffee

One thing I learned at the Fancy Food Show - If I ever go on a culinary vacation, I'm not going to France. I'm not going to NYC. I'm going to Spain.

The best food I tasted was from Spain, but that was only part of it.

Adding to the pleasure was meeting the suave men who were the sales reps. When was the last time you met a suave guy in the United States? Funny, yes, friendly, yes - but suave? Not since Cary Grant.

The Fancy Food Show was full of Spanish men who not only knew their products, but who also had the ability to make a gal suddenly begin to feel the estrogen flowing through her veins or wherever estrogen flows...all the while describing the wonders of single-varietal olive oil. EVOO never sounded so good.

Ahem. Back to the products. Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

Let's talk coffee first because of its place in my heart and my life. I go through a couple quarts a day, so I should know my beans. Lately I have been roasting my own, but that is for another post.

The best coffee I tasted, hands down, was Tarrazu Sustainable Coffee . My new best friend Javier brewed me a cup of the smoothest espresso I had ever tasted while laying that warm Spanish charm on me and Chef Shirley. At the end of the day, she and I agreed this was one of our favorite products at the show, and that Javier was one of our favorite men of the past 20 years or so.

I also loved the people over at Gavina Coffee . I got so busy talking to Jose Gavina about roasting coffee that I forgot to taste his, but he clearly had a passion and love for his craft. I was impressed that someone who had been in the coffee business his whole life still had such excitement about it and generosity enough to talk to me for so long at such a busy show.

I had another fine cup of espresso over at 30 West Coffee. Their website My Best Coffee is rather undeveloped, but they are worth keeping an eye out for. Good stuff.

I won't tell you about all the bad coffee I drank, mostly because I didn't take brochures or keep notes on the stuff I didn't like. But be assured I did choke a lot of it down because I care about my readers and wanted to give them valuable information. I'm a giver, that's what I am.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Fancy Food Show

I just got back from a long day at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Did I enjoy it? Let's just say it's a good thing I wore my fat pants.

The Fancy Food Show is a trade show with several million exhibitors that covers several thousand acres in San Francisco. Ok, I exaggerate, but only slightly. I think the real tally is (let me check my show directory) 1,100 exhibitors and 80,000 products.

My friends Chef Shirley and Not-Quite-a-Chef-But-Damn-Near-Indespensable-to-a-Very-Fine-Restaurant-Anyway Stacy and I paid our $35, put on our comfy shoes, and hit the show, ready to see all the fancy food world held for us.

The first question we had to answer was "What makes food 'fancy'"? It seems that fancy food is that which you are more likely to find when you are on vacation at the quaint little tourist gourmet shop that at the Safeway, but even that definition could be stretched.

The show is open to the trade only, by which they mean anyone who will pay the entry fee. No, I am sure the requirements are stricter than that. Or not. Let's just say I didn't see many people getting stopped at the door and quizzed about their culinary credentials.

There are samples of everything, which, in my mind, puts this in the pantheon of trade shows. It sure beats the hell out of those printing trade shows I used to attend, where you would end up with a goody bag full of pens that quit working after two weeks and beautiful posters that said things like "The Next Wave in Kiss-Cut Labels!" on them. No, here you could sample wines, cheeses, caviar, prosciutto, tea, chocolate, jam, olives, and on and on.

To narrow down the field, I tried to stick to sampling only chocolate, coffee, olives and cheese, but even that was overwhelming. I wanted to sample everything, but by hour five was wearing out. You know when you pass the Valrhona chocolate samples and say "Eh, I don't feel like it," that it is probably time to head home.

In coming days I will post information about some of my favorite finds. I can't wait to get my hands on some of the chocolates and cheeses I tried. Until I can place orders online, I will be stuffing my face with the samples I brought home.

There are Fancy Foods shows coming up in Chicago in May and in NYC in July. Mark your calendars and invest in some loose-fitting clothing. You're going to need it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hating what is good for you

What is your most hated food? For some reason, certain vegetables seem to top most people's lists. Lima beans, beets and brussels sprouts are some of the foods with the highest yuk factor.

Not for me, of course. I save my bile for abominations like Cool Whip, that plastic orange Nacho cheese goop and Jell-O with chunks of things embedded in it (celery does not go with ANY flavor of Jell-o, people. Nuts do not belong in Jell-O. Meat or fish products DO NOT BELONG IN JELL-O. (Note to PETA people: yes, I know what Jell-O is made of).

I used to hate lima beans, but then I met a guy at Farmer's Market who was selling shelled zip-locs full of tiny, fresh green limas. Sauteed with a little butter, some green onion rings and a dash of salt and pepper, they made me a convert to the Lima Bean cause.

I have loved beets and brussels sprouts ever since I was a kid. Weird, I know. And I never liked steaks or hamburgers. I guess I am a natural-born vegetarian.

I really want to know: hit me in the comments section with your three least-favorite foods. I will post results Jan. 15.

Sweetnicks has a new meme: ARF Tuesdays. Anti-oxidant Rich Food Tuesdays. Here's the rules: Pick a high-anti-oxidant fruit or veg, cook it up on a Tuesday, post, and let her know.

Here is my first contribution - my favorite recipe to fool brussels sprout haters. It is modified from Margaret Fox's small but mighty book "Cafe Beaujolais."

Brussels Shreds
Brussels Sprouts
Lemon juice
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Trim the bottoms off the brussels sprouts and remove the outer, loose leaves and any buggy parts (brussels sprouts attract aphids like computer keyboards attract spilled coffee).

Cut the sprouts in half through the stem. Lay them flat side down, and using your best knife skills and a good, sharp knife, slice them into very fine shreds starting at the top (parallel to the root) and working your way down.

Melt enough butter to coat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Throw in the brussels sprout shreds, toss a bit, squeeze a little lemon juice over, and slam a lid on for about 3 minutes. Remove the lid, toss on some grated parmesan, and put the lid back on for another three minutes or so.

This makes the sprouts tasty but so un-sprout like that your victims - I mean guests - may not recognize what they are eating. The bitter flavors that people hate are less concentrated, and they don't have that mooshy texture that sprouts get when you cook them long enough so that the middle is soft.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Creative Granola

Sure, you can buy granola. But it always has either too little of what you like or too much of what you don't like. Making granola gives you a chance to mix and match your favorite ingredients.

Here's my recipe:

4 cups old fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup light vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 cup chopped raw nuts (sometimes I use pecans, sometimes almonds or cashews)
2 tsp ground cinnamon. Lots of cinnamon is key to making this taste great.
Optional: 2 Tbsp. each sesame and flax seeds for crunchy goodness
1 cup dried fruit or dried fruit pieces (usually cranberries but sometimes raisins, cherries, strawberries or blueberries)
1 cup unsweetened toasted coconut strips or shredded coconut

Mix the oats, nuts and cinnamon in a large bowl. Mix honey and oil together and pour over oat mixture, stirring. Don't worry if it clumps up - when it is in the oven, the clumps will melt in the heat.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread oat mixture on a large baking sheet and cook for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so. If your coconut is raw, you can put it in about 15 minutes before the granola is done so it cooks with the other ingredients.

Remove from oven, add dried fruit (and coconut if you haven't put it in already). Voila. Granola how you like it. It makes a good snack as well as a breakfast cereal.