Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Handy Kitchen Hint - Yogurt Cheese

I don't believe in low-fat yogurt. Or worse, non-fat yogurt. It is a tool of the devil.

The only yogurt that enters my home is Straus Family Creamery Organic Whole Milk Yogurt or its not-so-secret cousin, Trader Joe's European-Style Thick & Creamy Oraganic Whole Milk Yogurt.

As a secret member of the amazing Margaret Fox's (Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook)Lily Gilder's Society, I can't leave my fabulous whole-milk yogurt alone, but must further creamify it by draining off the water.

You can do this any number of ways - tying it in cheesecloth and hanging it from the sink handle (bad in warm weather), or putting it into a cloth in a colander in a bowl in the fridge, but I have a super-easy tool for making labneh, or thick yogurt: the salad spinner.

I line the spinner basket with a clean cloth dishtowel, dump the yogurt in, and let it drain into the bottom of the salad spinner in the fridge. This has the advantage of fitting together well and having a lid.

6 to 12 hours later, yum, there's your yogurt "cheese." Now just add some thin-sliced cucumbers and snipped fresh dill and you have a tasty tzatziki.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

More specialized dishes - aceitunas

My love for olives is unbounded.

Nicoise, picholines, arbequinas, kalamatas, manzanillas...I love them all.

Knowing this, my friend Stacy got me this nifty snack dish at the Oakland Friends of the California Museum sale, an annual treasure bonanza.

The painting on the bottom says "Aceitunas," which means "olives" in Spanish. I had always thought it was "Olivos" because my dad is from Los Olivos, but that means "olive trees."

The larger vase-shaped thing on the side is labeled "Huesos" or "bones" for the pits. Ah, the wonderful economy of Spanish. The annoying hard thing in the middle of a fish is a bone, so why not call an olive pit a bone too? Makes sense to me.

The smaller thing says "palillos" or "little sticks" for used toothpicks. This is a party dish!

I don't have parties very often, but I eat olives all the time. I put them in the dish, toss some crackers and a few nuts and maybe a piece of cheese in, too. Then I have myself a little party and pretend I am watching the sunset in Spain.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book Review: Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas

So the nice people at DK Publishing sent me a free copy of "Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas" by Craig W. Priebe and Dianne Jacob to review.

(I wanted to add an image of the cover, but for some evil reason, it won't upload).

First of all, I learned something: a piadina is an Italian sandwich kinda like a pita sandwich, but using a folded-over thin pizza crust as the bread. Looks like yum.

In fact, most of the recipes look like yum, too. Priebe obviously knows his way around a pizza, having owned C.K.'s Grilled Pizza in Chicago for 7 years. His recipes are inventive and fun, running the gamut from traditional (Pizza Margherita) to the exotic (The Venezuelan pizza - chicken and plantain with coconut sauce).

He has perfected a technique that I am sure yields great pizza. He gives dough-making instructions and then has an extensive section of dough-grilling possibilities using a barbecue, panini maker, even a fireplace grill.

Basically you grill the dough, top it, grill some more and then finish in the broiler to cook the toppings just right.

I admit that I have not tried these recipes yet because I am waaay too lazy. The chances of me making dough, making toppings (many of which require pre-cooking, marinating or other steps) making a fire, (first I would have to buy a BBQ) waiting for the right heat, grilling the dough, moving the coals to one side, topping and grilling the pizza, THEN broiling it....It is all too much for me.

Maybe when I have that cute little soiree on the patio for a dozen friends. First I have to build the patio, though.

(To Priebe's rvedit, he does give alternatives to make the technique easier - buying prepared dough, for instance - but you can tell he is really in love with doing it his super special way).

This book would be great for an obsessive barbecue hound, that brother-in-law who is always trying to perfect the most delicious party food. If you get it for him, invite me over. This stuff sounds great.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The necessity of a good asparagus platter

I have a small kitchen and don't have much specialized cooking equipment or dinnerware. But one thing I always look forward to getting down from the high shelf is the asparagus platter, for that means that spring is here!

The plate is designed for steamed asparagus. The little impressions of asparagus on the plate allow any clinging water to channel away from the spears. And the pocket on the side is for delicious sauce.

My favorite way of making asparagus is to roast it under the broiler or in a hot oven. Coat the spears with a little olive oil, put them under the broiler and turn them as they start to get brown and spotty. Take them out when they have a few brown spots all over. I like the big fat juicy ones.

For sauce I have recently become addicted to mayo with a little Smoked Spanish Paprika mixed in. Ok, a lot of Smoked Spanish Paprika (I use about 1/2 tsp to every 2 tbsp of mayo). It tasted better if you make the sauce a few hours before so the paprika can meld with the mayo. It is also a pretty pink red color.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

They don't make it like that anymore

The other day I was going through the cookbook shelf (already I'm lying - as if I have ONE cookbook shelf) and found this hideous old cookbook that my friend Stacy gave me a long time ago.

I scanned some of the pages and put them up as a flickr set for all to enjoy.

As a preview, just in time for Easter preparations, here is one of my favorites:
Deviled Egg Mold

Saturday, February 09, 2008

That's afternoon tea to you

Oh, yes, doesn't "high tea" sound elegant and refined?

The problem is that the thing we do where we spend too much money on a pot of tea with finger sandwiches and scones with our lady friends is NOT "high tea." If you're an American, strike "high tea" from your vocabulary because it is unlikely that you will ever have high tea, or at least if you do, you will probably call it "dinner" lest you confuse people.

The thing pictured above? With the impossible beautiful little scones, pot of clotted cream, homemade marmalade and 6000 calories of sweet treats? That's afternoon tea.

I'm just telling you so the waiters at the Ritz don't talk about you behind your back when you use the wrong term. I'm a giver, that's what I am.

Glad we got that straight.

The tea pictured above was at Jin Patisserie in Venice, California (sadly not Venice Italy). They have a lovely calm patio with a squat murmuring fountain and bamboo growing around the edges, quite calming and nice.

The tea included a pot of your choice of 36 (I think) teas, two egg salad finger sandwiches, two little tangerine scones, a mini quiche, a little piece of blueberry bread topped with a chocolate, clotted cream, homemade lemon marmalade, and sweets including green tea, passionfruit, and white chocolate. The sweets were all light and not horribly sugary.

There was so much food that I only could eat part of it there. I hate egg sandwiches so I skipped those. The rest I packed up and ate in the car on the way home. See how I am?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Trade Show Booths

While we’re on the subject of drinks I tried at the
NASFT Fancy Food Show,
I want to mention other two non-alcoholic beverages I tried besides my beloved Dry Soda.

Vignette Wine Country Soda is sweetened only with wine grape juice and comes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rosé flavors. The flavor is not at all like wine, but rather a refreshing, fruity, but not overly sweet soda.

My friends and I walked up to the booth, which was small and out of the way, not one of those big glossy monsters on the end of a aisle.

We were greeted by the founder’s brother, who, after giving us tastes of the product, talked warmly and effusively about Vignette. I could just feel the pride and excitement he had for the business. He didn't care who WE were - he cared that he had a product he loved.

We complimented the flavor and the labeling, and he thanked us and gave us promotional materials. It was a short, simple trade-show encounter, but we left impressed by both the product and by the guy we had talked to.

Contrast that with another non-alcoholic beverage, Bionade, which is made in Germany.

The product was tasty, another not-too-sweet bubbly beverage. Their booth was big and on the end of an aisle. They had such impressive-looking packaging, all modern and cool, and they were serving their tastes in screen-printed glasses, not plastic cups.

But they wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t interact with me. At first I thought the guy couldn’t speak English (a problem at a few of the French and Italian booths) but then I thought “Hey! Doesn’t everybody in Germany speak pretty good English?” And if they don’t, why are they sending them to rep their product in San Diego?

I know I’m not a trade-show big fish, but being a rep at a trade show is kind of like being a politician. You should really try to be at least polite and efficient with everyone because you never know who you are dealing with. It's a trade show fergoodnesssake, so put your game face on.

And there was another booth that I won't even mention by name. Let's just say they were selling tea products. The problem is that they wanted to control their image so tightly that, when they found out I write about food, they freaked out a bit. Um, nameless tea company - consider your image controlled. Thx.

My small-fish recommendation - If you want some flavorful, non-alcoholic beverages made by super nice people for your next event or for your restaurant, check out Dry Soda or Vignette Wine Country Soda. Those are my recommendations and I’m sticking to them.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dry Soda

My very favorite new product from the NASFT Fancy Food Show in San Diego a couple weeks ago was Dry Soda.

Not only did they have one of the most stylish booths, their product rocked my tastebuds like a hurricane.

Let me state for the record: I want to have a long-term, meaningful relationship with Dry Soda. I want to have a Dry Soda fountain in my house. I want to have a Dry Soda megachurch with 5,000 members.

Did I mention that I never drink soda? If ever ordered a soda when out with friends, all conversation at the table would stop.

But this is different...better.

It is "lightly sweetened." About 50 calories a pop, instead of 120 for your average carbonated beverage. In other words, it isn't like drinking candy.

The flavors are different, too - kumquat, lavender, lemongrass, rhubarb. Did I hear you making gagging sounds? Shut up! They're GOOD. Well, I didn't try the lavender because I have a strong aversion to All Things Lavender, but the other flavors made my mouth very, very happy.

It is available at BevMo, but I am going to start nagging more places around here to carry it because it is such a delightful, adult-style beverage.

Added bonus: their packaging rocks, too.