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...