Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Oh yeah, I leave for NYC tomorrow for a long weekend of friends, food, and fun. I hope to post while I'm there, but please don't hate me if I don't get a chance. I plan to return with lots of photos and recipes and other goodies.

Thanks for reading, one and all!

I'd Like the Good Stuff, Please

A few years ago I was up in Napa at Copia during a huge birthday celebration for Julia, what would become one of her last. All her friends were there, including some very famous chefs. There were panels of speakers throughout the day, cooking demonstrations, gorgeous gardens to walk through, and copious food to enjoy. One of the panels featured Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters, with three other chefs whose names I have sadly forgotten, but whose food I am sure I have enjoyed. Each of them told us a story about Julia, giving us a little window into the life of this legendary food maven.

I will never forget what Jacques said about Julia because it was so pure and sincere, and it summarized what made her so darn likeable. He told us that Julia loved food of all kinds. She would never have considered herself a food snob, and never would have wanted that term to be applied to her. As an example of how unsnobbish she was, he said that she had a fondness for McDonald's cheeseburgers. The audience laughed as he said it, but he insisted that it was true. Her reasoning, he said, was simple. She just likes good food. Now you can argue the merits of McDonald's, and I have yet to set foot in McDonald's after seeing Super Size Me, but that's not my point, nor was it hers. Good food is good food. Your determination of good is up to you, but I think that good encompasses more than just the top shelf food we pay through the nose for, willingingly, I might add, at the many fine establishments located throughout the world.

His words, or Julia's really, changed my perspective on food. Up until then I considered myself a foodie who dabbled in food snobbery, because that was "cool," especially in San Francisco, the city of gourmet food where a new food snob is born every day. It would bother me when people called me a food snob to my face, however, because I didn't feel like I was claiming that I was right, or better than anyone, or even that I knew what I was talking about. I only claimed to know what I liked, and it often involved what was regarded as the good stuff. But that day, I realized that I wanted to revise my outlook and my title, and stop posing as a food snob just to fit in.

So I hope to make this food blog an ode to good food of all kinds. From the food that feeds the soul to the food that earns stars. Because in my opinion, and in honor of one of food's greatest advocates, good food is good food. And that's why Tito's Tacos shares space with JiRaffe in my list of Good Grub in LA. Perhaps Raphael Lunetta would prefer not to have his food referred to as grub, but I don't mean it as an insult, rather a compliment. If it prompts me to adopt an English accent and intone in Oliver's best brogue, Please sir, I want some more!, then that's food worth talking about.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Mom Doesn't Want a New Blender!

Thus read the headline of an email I received a few days ago. According to Kodak, Mom would much prefer a custom card, photo album, or the classic photo mug complete with hilarious pictures of her thoughtful kiddies. I’ve been on the receiving end of Mother’s Day advertising for the majority of my almost 31 years on the planet. And for the first 15 years, it was bearable. But for the past 16 years, it’s been painful. I can only turn a magazine page or mute the TV so quickly, and I usually catch a glimpse of the happy family reminding me of what I’m missing before I’m able to turn away. I know they’re not real, and most families have more than their share of problems, but for a moment I feel left out. And those moments add up over the years.

The number one song on the pop charts the month my Mom died was Wind Beneath My Wings, by Bette Midler. It would be really poetic if I could claim that she was the wind beneath my young wings, but the truth is, I didn’t like her very much. I had just turned 15, what did you expect? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother, but I was in the middle of my teenage years, too busy pushing her away to realize how much I would want her later on. The truth is, at the time, I had absolutely no idea what I would feel like years later. If you’d asked me then, I would have predicted that it would get easier as I got older. As the years passed, the pain would subside, eventually blending into the rest of the background noise of painful experiences that course like a pulse beneath every day thoughts. It’s what most people call baggage. But now, after 16 years of her not being here, I miss her more than ever. I guess it’s a good thing, it would feel awful not to miss her so acutely. I would drown in guilt everywhere I went, seeing mothers and families and not being affected by them. Occasionally I wish that I could take a break from it all. I wish that commercials with happy Moms watching their daughters get married didn’t make me cry. And having friends with incredibly close mother-daughter relationships didn’t make me pine for my own missed opportunity. But emotions aren’t something you can turn on and off, despite how much people who are scared of them wish we could.

Over the years I’ve developed a real talent for avoidance and emotional distance. I know exactly the moment to walk away or turn my head so I don’t have to see mother-daughter bonding unfolding in front of me. I can make a really good case for why I won’t see a particular movie about mother-daughter relationships. I can talk about my Mom to strangers and state random facts about her with pride. She grew up in the Bronx. She used to quilt. She was a fabulous cook, especially with desserts. And just when they ask me a follow up question about her, I tell them that she died when I was 15 and it was hard but I’m okay now. Then we change the subject. I don’t even mind the look of pity on their faces anymore. I know that I’m okay, and that’s what matters.

As I sit here writing this I am positively undone by how sad I am. Please don’t confuse that with depression. I am not depressed, I am profoundly sad. Your thirties are when you get to bond with your parents. It’s the age of friendship between the generations. It’s when you begin to realize that your parents aren’t that crazy after all. Or maybe it’s when their craziness surfaces in all its glory. Regardless of your relationship with them, it’s when the truth comes out. Their human side is revealed, and yours too. I think that’s why I’m feeling my Mom’s absence so acutely right now. I never knew her as an adult, and I think we would have liked each other. A bold statement for sure, but when you’re dealing with a person who has ascended to sainthood because she can no longer do anything wrong, I think it’s okay to assume the best.

Today, I have two blenders, neither of which was given to me by my as-of-yet nonexistent children. They’re part of my overstocked kitchen thanks to my obsession with food and cooking, inherited from both my parents. As legend has it, my Dad taught my Mom how to cook, and then she bested him. Personally, I think everyone should learn how to cook, but I know that isn’t possible. Learning to cook must begin with a desire to learn, and then it helps to have a really good teacher. I consider myself lucky, because I had two excellent teachers at the beginning, and I still have one. That’s one of the best benefits of losing someone you love early in life. It makes you appreciate the people who are left, which can never happen too soon. So as Mother’s Day approaches, I have a favor to ask you: If you have a relationship with your mother, particularly if it’s a good one, please take a moment to appreciate it. Because there are some of us out there who only get to peer in the windows at your happiness, and it’s nice to think that you might be appreciating each other before I have a chance to turn away.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Book Judged By Its Cover Yields A Good Story, Occasionally

All my life I have had what I like to call a "sensitive constitution." It makes me sound more lady like, which is comical if you know me. When I moved to LA, I was moved to look into my constitution and see if I had inherited something truly wrong with me from my founding forefather and mother. Thanks to a series of stupid tests, I now have an enormous health care bill and a serious distrust for doctors. But one good thing that came out of that experience was learning how to self-medicate in a more homeopathic manner.

For centuries people have used mint and ginger to calm the stomach. I've always been a huge mint fan, with Baskin Robbins Mint Chip and Double Rainbow Chocolate Chocolate Mint Chip Ice Creams ranking at the very top of my mint tower of affection. These served more to calm my psyche than my stomach, but knowing is half the battle. Back in the day, we had Tic Tacs, and those gross mint lifesavers whose only saving grace is that they spark when you chew them, a fact that spread like wildfire through overnight camps during the 80's.

I remember when my Mom brought home her first tin of Altoids. I suspect she got them at Cost Plus, a place that I revered as a child. Where else could you find all the cool candy from worlds then unknown? Botan Rice Candy with the wrappers that melted in your mouth. Swedish Fish that could be bought in mixed colors or just the red ones, a genius marketing decision in my book. And Haribo Gummi Bears that got even better as they became stale, another fantastic feature. My Mom loved Altoids instantly, but she was always a sucker for mints. She used to get the white Tic Tacs, which started off sweet and then burst into extra minty goodness in your mouth. But nothing prepared us for the shock of our first Altoids. They hurt! This was not something that I desired from my mint. So it's a good thing that I wasn't leading their marketing campaign.

It seems to me that Altoids started the mint craze. Tic Tacs and Life Savers and Breath Savers had all been around too long to have started it. And those Altoids tins were so popular. I braved my way through an entire tin just to have the keepsake at the end. More people must have felt like my Mom did about them. Nobody wanted to take bad breath lying down, well, especially not lying down, but that's another story entirely. So the mint craze hit and Altoids became a household word. And the mints arrived, in tins by the thousands. It seemed like every day there was another brand of mint boasting its unique minty flavor and breath-defying capabilities. I was pleased, for sure, since sucking on a mint is a good way to calm my stomach. Now we have different mint flavors: Peppermint, Spearmint, Wintermint, Cinnamint, Licoricemint, Gingermint.... That last one intrigued me. Combine ginger and mint, two of the most important natural stomach settling agents into one? I'm in.

There aren't many Gingermints out there. Altoids makes tins of Ginger Altoids, but sans mint. I suspect I'd have good luck in many of the Asian markets in LA or SF, but I need to enlist some of my Asian friends to join me and serve as translators if necessary. So you can imagine my excitement when I happened upon this gorgeous tin at Surfas the other day.

Surfas is a wholesale cookware and food warehouse for people in the food industry. They allow us mortals in as well. I could live there. Anyway, to be truly honest, I bought this tin for its retro coolness more than for the gingermint chews inside. But the chews are good! More spicy ginger than mint flavor for sure, but they're great. And next time I have a stomach ache, I will employ one to help me in my hour of need. After all, the "lively peppermint elevates the cool in ginger for an exciting flavor awakening!" I am always game for an exciting flavor awakening, especially if it puts my sensitive constitution to sleep for another day.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Two Turntables and a Microphone

I hadn't really labeled the cake trend these days. It never occured to me that we'd strayed from the over-the-top cakes of yore to the "restrained preciousness" of cakes today. Not that they're implying that we started over-the-top, but it makes the trend sound more dramatic to overstate it. So leave it to the Cake Man to set new standards of cake excellence and help some kids along the way. While I'm impressed by the cakes, I'm more impressed by his ability to parent kids that aren't his own, guiding them into adulthood simply by caring about what happens to them. You hear about the battling that goes on in kitchens, the backstabbing, the competition, the ego wars. It's refreshing to hear about a man who cares about his cakes and the people who make them. So three cheers for the Cake Man. Coo coo catchoo!

Read about the Cake Man.

I'll be in New York next week. I think I'll stop by and say hello.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Recipes for Ms. Otis

Since Ms. Otis was unable to lunch on Tuesday, I am sharing the recipes from our glorious lunch with her and the rest of you. Please note, the recipes are more of an idea than exact instructions of how to create the dishes we enjoyed. Experiment happily, won't you?

Cream of Spinach and Watercress Soup with Garlic Croutons

1 Onion, diced
2 Tb Chopped Garlic
2 oz. Unsalted Butter
2 bunches Spinach, washed and de-stemmed
2 bunches Watercress
1/4 cup flour
1 quart Chicken Stock
6 oz. cream
White Pepper

In a preheated pot, melt butter and saute onions and garlic. Add watercress and spinach, allowing them to wilt. Dust with flour to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Pour chicken stock over the greens. Once the soup comes to a boil, add the cream. Bring it back to a boil. Puree the soup in a blender. Pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer. Adjust seasonings.

To prepare croutons, use a bread you like. Dice and add to lots of butter and garlic in a hot pan. Saute until brown and crisp and buttery.

Gnocchi with Garlic, Basil, and Tomato

3 large Russet potatoes
3/4 lb. all purpose flour
1/2 lb. grated Parmesan Cheese (Use the good stuff!)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
Pinch of nutmeg
White Pepper

Bring whole potatoes with skins on to a boil in cold salted water. Once potatoes are tender, remove from water and peel. Pass hot potatoes through a ricer or food mill. Make three equal piles of potatoes, grated cheese, and flour. Knead the cheese into the potatoes, using the heat of the potatoes to melt the cheese. Add flour as necessary and use a pastry scraper to work the flour into the potato cheese mixture. Drizzle eggs over the mixture, add spices, and knead to combine. When the dough is soft and no longer sticky, cut it into fist-sized pieces and roll into long strips. Cut into small 1-inch pieces. To shape the gnocchi, gently press the pieces of dough onto a fork and let the pieces roll off onto the counter. They should have a thumb print on one side, and a fork mark on the other if done correctly. Cook the gnocchi in boiling water. When they float to the top, remove and shock them in ice water. Drain well and toss in a plain oil, such as corn or canola oil.

1 small shallot, diced
1 small clove garlic, diced
Olive oil
8 peeled and seeded roma tomatoes, rough cut into 1/8 pieces
Mixed herbs, rosemary, thyme, and parsley
10 oz. Jus de Poulet (You can use veal stock as well)
Butter (He put in a lot of butter, about 1 stick. Put in as much as you want, but it will taste better with more.)

Saute gnocchi in a pan with olive oil until they are golden brown on all sides. In a small saute pan, sweat the garlic and shallots in olive oil. Add the tomatoes and allow to simmer. Deglaze the pan with the Jus de Poulet. Add the browned gnocchi to the sauce. Finish with the mixed herbs, basil, and butter. Season with salt and pepper and grated parmesan cheese.

Poached Scottish Salmon with Tarragon Mustard Nage

2 1/2 pounds salmon fillet
1 pint fish stock
1 pint chicken stock
1 onion, rough cut
1 carrot, rough cut
2 stalks of celery, rough cut
1 cup white wine
2 oz vinegar
2 small sweet onions, sliced
2 Tb Dijon mustard
2 Tb whole grain mustard
1 Tb tarragon, chopped
1 tsp dill, chopped
1 tsp parsley, chopped
3 Tb butter
1 Tb tomatoes, diced
Lemon juice to taste

Combine fish stock, chicken stock, onion, celery, carrot, white wine and vinegar in a large pot. Bring to a simmer. Cut the fish fillet into 4 oz serving sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Add fish to the poaching stock and cook for 4 to 6 minutes.

For the sauce, put 8 oz of poaching broth into a small sauce pot. Reduce liquid by 1/3 and add sweet onions. Allow to come to a simmer and add both mustards. Whisk in the butter and finish the sauce with lemon juice, tarragon, and dill. Place a piece of fish over sauted fennel and swiss chard. Spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with dill and tarragon sprigs.

Chocolate Lava Cake with Raspberry Coulis

5 eggs + 4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
8 oz butter (1 stick)
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and chocolate together over a double boiler. Mix yolks, eggs, and sugar together. Combine the warm butter and chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold to combine. Pour into greased ramekins. Bake for 10 minutes. They will be soft and melty in the middle, like lava. Garnish with whipped cream, raspberry coulis, and a mint sprig.

1 package raspberries
Sugar, to taste
2-3Tb water

Bring all ingredients to an active simmer until the sauce develops. Puree in a blender. Put into a squeeze bottle and use to decorate the plate for serving.

Recipes courtesy of Chef Mark Kropczynski and Pastry Chef Patrick Jozwicka.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ms. Otis Regrets

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of a leisurely lunch with my Aunt in Santa Barbara. But it wasn't just any lunch, it was cooked for us, as part of a cooking demonstration, by a chef and his pastry chef/assistant in my Aunt's gorgeous kitchen. There were also 12 other guests enjoying the bounty of our good food fortune. If you've ever heard the song, Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little, you'll know what the atmosphere was like. If you haven't, these are the ladies who lunch. I felt like a flower just beginning to bloom among a brightly colored mixed bouquet. I was a pedicure and a few carats outclassed, but no one was counting. So I put aside any thoughts of my impending(?) 1/3 life crisis, and dug into the demo.

The menu being prepared for us is as follows (Careful not to drool on your keyboard):
Cream of Watercress and Spinach Soup with Garlic Croutons
Gnocchi with Garlic, Basil, and Tomatoes
Poached Scottish Salmon on Braised Fennel and Swiss Chard with Tarragon and Whole Grain Mustard Nage
Chocolate Lava Cake with Whipped Cream and Raspberry Coulis

Chef Mark and Pastry Chef Patrick arrived around 11am that morning to begin preparations for the feast. Potatoes were set to boil for the gnocchi, the poaching liquid for the salmon was prepared, and they created all the staging areas necessary to please the audience, while allowing space to plate the food properly before its unveiling at the tables.

As the ladies arrived, there was hand shaking and hugging and nice to meet yous and hellos! exhanged, and soon the show started. It was like being in the studio audience of a cooking show, except that annoying Rachel Ray wasn't on next and we were about 10 inches from the stage. The words that sold me on Chef Mark's abilities were when he said, "When I make soup, I think it should taste like the ingredients in the name. So this soup should taste like watercress and spinach." One point for Mark. Actually, let's give him two points, one for watercress and one for spinach. The soup was easy. Saute a little of this, add that, wilt the greens, boil, add cream, boil again, blend, garnish, and serve. Am I oversimplifying? Not really. And it was very good. It tasted green, like watercress and spinach even, and only a bit of cream. I normally don't like cream soups because they're too heavy, but this wasn't at all. See below.

(If you are fussy or picky, please avert your eyes, as I tucked into this delicious bowl of soup before the thought of capturing it on film even occured to me. So half eaten as it is, here is the soup in all its green glory.)

See? Green!

Next, we were on to the gnocchi. I LOVE gnocchi. That said, I am usually so disappointed by the gnocchi I order in restaurants, that I don't order it anymore. Gnocchi has become a synonym for glue ball or twice chewed gum at most establishments. It shares space in the culinary hall of failures with the matzoh ball, that hockey puck of a dumpling. But neither have to be relegated to the cob-webbed corners of cooking. Free the gnocchi! Long live the matzoh ball! Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. Would Chef Mark's gnocchi live up to the hype???

He had quite a bit to say on the matter. First, he thinks that gnocchi should taste like something. (His third point scored.) For the purposes of this demonstration, let's say cheese. His gnocchi was approximately 1 part grated Parmesano Reggiano (Kraft, exit stage left), 1 part hot potato, 1 part flour. The hot potato melts the cheese, the flour makes it more like dough, and then egg binds it together. The end result is a soft, workable dough. From there we rolled, shaped, and boiled the gnocchi, and Mark began the sauce.

His second bold gnocchi statement, was that it has no business being drowned in marinara or cream sauce. For those keeping score, Mark just scored 100 bonus points for eschewing the nasty cream sauce bath. But I had no idea the treat that was in store for us. Chef Mark introduced me to the Jus de Poulet, which literally means chicken juice, but actually means twice reduced chicken stock with extra veggies and yummy goodness. Now that's good cookin. The sauce he made had tomotoes, garlic, rosemary, thyme, parsley, jus de poulet, butter, and a basil garnish. But before he combined gnocchi with sauce, he sauteed the gnocchi in a pan with oil until they were golden brown and delicious. This is his third bold gnocchi statement. I have had them this way once before, and I think Mark's were better. Not sure why. Maybe it was because I watched them being made. It's always more exciting that way. See the finished dish below.

Did I mention that this dish was soooooo delicious? Mouthwateringly good. I am Pavlov's Dog. Just say gnocchi...

Third on the menu was the poached salmon. Normally, I'm not a poached fish kind of girl. I think it's because poached fish has a nursing home feel to it. Or maybe I usually have it overcooked. Whatever my problem, I didn't have it yesterday.

Watching a person behead, fillet, debone, and skin an entire fish is fascinating. Perhaps not to some, but that ain't my problem. When done properly, it looks easy, even though I know it isn't. The skin came off in one piece, as it should, the silvery-black scales standing at attention, making it look like a very sexy stocking or sleeve for a bizarre costume. Mark said he had once impressed Julia Child with his fish cleaning skills. I was equally impressed. Who am I to disagree with the Queen of Food? Efficiency in a professional kitchen is paramount, and Mark was proving his worth. So the fish was cut into serving pieces and then placed in the poaching liquid. The sauce was prepared, and soon we were dining on the best poached fish I can remember eating, and certainly one of the top fish dishes I've had in ages. The fennel and swiss chard were a yummy base for the moist fish, and the sweet onion and mustard sauce was the perfect finish. Sweet, tangy, light, and flavorful, but no one flavor overwhelmed the dish. It was soooo good.

I was ready for more cooking, but alas, we had just the dessert left to cook. Chocolate lava cake has been making the rounds at restaurants everywhere. Each place you go boasts a trendy chocolate as the star ingredient—the big three being Sharffenberger, Valrhona, and Callebaut— and usually the cakes are good. It's not hard to make a good chocolate lava cake, but it's easy to make a bad one. My only complaint about the lava cake that Mark made was that it wasn't chocolatey enough. Though when complaining about chocolate cake, that's a pretty big bone to pick. For you skeptics, yes, it's very possible to make an unchocolatey chocolate cake. Mark's recipe yielded a delicious, moist cake, but it only had semisweet chocolate in it, and just five ounces at that. To make a chocolate cake truly chocolatey, you need to add unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed if you have it), or unsweetened chocolate. Then it truly has a deep chocolate flavor. But I can ramble about chocolate for hours. I'll do that another time. Now I will show you the cake that I was served. Don't get me wrong, I ate every morsel. But if I were making the cake, I would have punched it up in the chocolate department.

After everyone had licked their plates clean, they bid us farewell, and my Aunt and I watched Mark and Patrick walk an hour in the shoes of their dishwashers. We chatted about food, FoodTV, what makes a good chef, how hard it is to cook for a living, what a pipe dream it is for me to consider changing careers to become a pastry chef unless I dive in feet first, and other various and sundry topics in and around the foodosphere. After our personal chefs for the day left, my Aunt and I talked about how sad it was that some of her friends couldn't make it, as they would have liked to meet me. Perhaps if Ms. Otis had refrained from her nefarious business, she could have joined us as well. I am quite certain she would have enjoyed her lunch immensely.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Curd is Way Hard

Last night I had a couple friends over for dinner. I made a pretty simple dinner, fish tacos and a salad, but I was really excited about dessert. I had planned to make mini tarts with grapefruit curd and cinnamon whipped cream. I've never made a curd before, neither lemon nor orange. And I couldn't find a recipe for grapefruit curd, which is what I wanted to make. My usual go to books didn't have any recipes for lemon curd, which I figured I could adapt to make grapefruit curd, so I ended up looking in my Joy of Cooking. Kickin it old skool, well, new old skool, since I have the revised edition. Joy of Cooking had two recipes, one for lemon and one for orange, which were surprisingly different. I decided that grapefruits were sweeter than lemons, so I would try the orange recipe. This may have been my first mistake.

The instructions were somewhat vague, as in whisk the mixture until it's lighter in color. Lighter than what? Depending on what eggs you use, it could have started out pretty light. I assumed they meant lighter than it started, but that requires a lot of whisking, and I soon got tired. When my arm gave out, I decided they were light enough. This may have been my second mistake. Then you put the mixture on the stove and whisk over medium heat until it thickens. It's one of those instant transformations. I was whisking and whisking and then suddenly it was thick. Once it thickens, let it simmer for a few seconds, and then remove from the heat to cool. I may have let it simmer for a few more seconds than I should have, which could have been my third mistake. After it cooled, I put it in the fridge to set, as per the directions. And the result is what you see below.

The flavor is good, I'm happy about that. But the texture is plain awful. My friends, kind as they are, didn't think so, but I think it's sandy—not smooth, tart, and creamy, like curd should be. I think I might have to try again this afternoon. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

How to win friends and influence people

Over the holidays I decided to have a party. It was supposed to be a house warming party, but since my house had actually been warm since April, it ended up being a dessert party. Given the overwhelming popularity of the South Beach Diet (blech, fooey), I threw a North Beach Diet Party, complete with nine different desserts. It was a hit. Take that South Beach! People ate everything, and very few mentions were made of expanding waistlines, etc. Thank god, that water cooler diet talk makes me itch.

I didn't have a lot of time to make something for my friends' wedding reception this evening, so I decided to go with the hit of the party, the chocolate peanut butter squares. They're easy as pie. Actually, they're MUCH easier than pie. Just throw the ingredients in a bowl or mixer, melt some chocolate, and voila! Dessert crack.

A big shout out to Nigella Lawson for her recipe that I have mostly followed in my exploration to find the perfect chocolate to peanut butter ratio. Nigella rocks. I went to see her at a book signing over the holidays, just before my party, and she was delightful. She's so down to earth, funny, and smart. I loved hearing her talk. I especially loved hearing her discuss how she deals with her kids' various eating preferences. She said her daughter doesn't like peas. Her response is, fine, but let's not have a conversation about them, just don't eat them. Amen, sistah! Special thanks to Sx for introducing me to Nigella in the first place. See, we Yanks have good taste. :-)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

The base:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
5 Tb butter
1 cup creamy salted peanut butter (use the natural stuff, I like Laura Scudder's Old Fashioned Peanut Butter)

The top:
12 oz bittersweet chocolate (you can use semisweet too)
1 Tb unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream (milk works too)

Put all the base ingredients in your Kitchen Aid mixer and mix until smooth. You'll have to scrape the sides of the bowl and do a little manual work yourself to make sure it's all incorporated. Press the mixture into a foil lined 9-inch square pan.

Melt the chocolate, butter, and cream in a bowl either over a double boiler or in the microwave. The microwave is easier. Evenly spread the chocolate onto the base mixture. Put it in the fridge to set. When the chocolate is hard, cut it into squares. It's rich, so go small. You can always have seconds. Or fourths.

Recipe inspired by Peanut Butter Squares from Nigella Lawson's book How To Be A Domestic Goddess, published by Hyperion.

Fred 62: Dining for the tragically hip

I just returned from brunch on the East side with a few of my fave Eastsiders. Since I'd never been to Fred 62, (I know, how dare I consider myself cool?), we decided that today would be my initiation. I arrived fashionably late, as any cool person must, and we were seated promptly. I am told this isn't the usual experience, but that's what happened, so I'm reporting it just like a the fake foodie newster that I am.

The menu is long and involved, and has fun names like Bearded Mr. Frenchy and The Dime Bag. One of my compatriots ordered a Bearded Mr. Frenchy for the table, just so we could taste french toast dredged in corn flakes. It was delish, a perfect combination of crunch with fluffy, buttery, yummy french toast, just right in the egg department, i.e. not soggy at all. The bread tasted like brioche, but I'm not sure what it was. Regardless, it was good.

I was having the same sweet vs. savory debate I always have at brunch, so the french toast solved my problem right away. I ordered the California omelette, complete with goat cheese, avocado, chicken sausage, grilled onions, and sun-dried tomatoes, which I left out and subbed in fresh tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes are so 1990, I mean, where are the oven-dried tomatoes? This prompted a long discussion with our server, who agreed with me that sun-dried tomatoes aren't so good, but she was coming from the "I just don't like tomatoes" camp. Even though we'd arrived at the same place, I think her kind are delusional and missing out on one of life's great treats: the sun-ripened, home grown tomato. But I digress. My friends ordered the Santa Fe Frittata (eggs, chorizo, roasted pasilla chiles, grilled onions, diced tomato, tortilla chips & jack cheese, topped with rancho habanero chile sauce, scallions, cilantro, and sour cream), and the Eggs 2 X 4, which is your basic eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage, and toast deal. Everyone seemed happy with their meal. I thought my omelette was good, but I have yet to have an omelette where the eggs aren't hopelessly browned and dry and flopped or folded over on all the ingredients. I guess I'm looking for something between an omelette and a scramble. Maybe I'll find it one day.

All in all it made for a very nice morning. It's absolutely gorgeous out, and I couldn't be happier. I wouldn't mind catching my second wind after the food coma wears off, however. All in good time. Now I must tend to the chocolate peanut butter truffles, or squares, or tiny bites of heaven that I'm bringing to my friend's wedding reception this evening. Remind me to elope and then have a party when I decide to get married. It seems so much more sane. Dad, I'm not talking to you. I might change my mind.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Burrito Update!

Because I know that you were all dying to hear about how I satiated by burrito craving, I went to Chipotle this afternoon and stuffed myself silly on this lovely burrito.

It was delicious. And I even braved the scene over on Beverly, which is normally very sceney, and today was even more so because they were shooting a movie. Gotta love LA.

Okay, I'm taking some of my Pecan Cake to my friend's house tonight for a barbecue. Better get a move on.

Taqueria Cancun, How I Miss You

I woke up this morning thinking about burritos. I just had a burrito the other night for dinner, so there's no good explanation for my craving, except that they're really darn good.

I'll admit I didn't understand the lure of the burrito at the beginning. I remember my friends in high school talking longingly about them. And we'd make special trips to San Francisco just to get them. But at that time I just thought they were food. Now I understand. A burrito is the perfect form of food. It's warm, hearty, satisfying, customizable, delicious, and portable. A good burrito lasts for two meals, or one very long one. Just the other night I went to a friend of a friend's party and we stopped at Chipotle along the way. It was my first trip to Chipotle and I am hooked. They have only a few choices, a la In'n'Out, and you choose your filling and then tell them what other goodies you'd like to throw in. Onions and peppers, guacamole, different salsas, etc. I got the veggie version. I'm going to have hard time getting anything else when I go back, because it was so good. And on the veg version, the guac is free. And guac makes the burrito.

When I moved here two years ago, I went searching for my San Francisco style burrito. Once I finally understood the burrito, it became one of my staple foods, and I had been eating them for the seven years I lived in that amazing city, so I was pretty determined to find something akin to the little burro I love. Alas, LA sports very different Mexican food than SF. And it's taken me a little while to get over my disappointment of not being able to find the burrito joint I long for. But along the way, I have discovered some pretty delicious Mexican food, and now you can benefit from my findings.

For a fabulous foil-wrapped burrito, go to Chipotle. Their ingredients are fresh and flavorful. This is not the sloppy, refried bean burrito you might want. But try it, I guarantee you'll enjoy it.
For a delicious, down-home, burrito mojado, go to Gilbert's El Indio.
For tacos to die for, and a damn fine bean and rice burrito, go to Tito's Tacos. This place is funky. They're sort of taco nazis, as in they look at you funny if you ask for anything different than what's on the menu. But the end result is so good it doesn't matter.

Links to all these places are in the side bar. I'll explore the East side soon and will be sure to get back to you when I do.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pecan Cake

I'm having a bad day. Okay, a bad week. It's stupid really, and I know I should just get over myself and move on, but I can't seem to. So I decided to bake a cake. Cooking makes me happy. I love mixing together all the ingredients and waiting to see what happens. The eating part is fun too, but I've never been a person who eats to solve her problems. So I searched through my cookbooks and landed upon an amazing recipe in James McNair's Cakes. It's for a Nut Cake and I chose to make it with pecans. I accidentally bought two bags of pecans at Trader Joe's the other day, so it seemed like an excellent way to use them. And boy is it. The cake is yummy, fragrant, nutty, and moist. I'm thinking that I'll make two cakes next time and frost them with cream cheese frosting and make a gorgeous layer cake. Yum. Here's a picture of the cake. Apologies for the giant slice missing from it. The directions said that it's lovely eaten warm from the oven. So I did.

The recipe:
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
5 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup light cream or half-and-half (I didn't have either, so I substituted 1/4 cup sour cream + 1/4 cup milk)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure almond extract
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Grease and line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the nuts and 3/4 cup sugar. Grind to a fine meal. Set aside.

Place the flour, baking powder, and salt into a sifter and sift into a bowl. Add the ground nut mixture. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid Mixer fitted with the flat beater beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer still running, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl. Continue beating at medium speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly drizzle the eggs and beat well, stopping at least once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the cream or half-and-half or sour cream milk mixture and the vanilla and almond extracts. Blend well. It will be quite liquidy.

Add the nut mixture. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly touched in the center and a cake tester comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out to cool completely.

Transfer the cake to a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar. Use a cake stencil if desired. Serves 10.

Recipe taken from James McNair's Cakes by James McNair and Andrew Moore, published by Chronicle Books.