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Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Breakfast We Can Believe In

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2009 at 9:43 pm

img_0392Tomorrow, many of my close friends and millions of others will be in Washington to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration. It wasn’t in the cards for me to be able to go, but I’m having my own little celebration while I watch from home. I’ve started a one-woman campaign called “Scrambled Eggs for Obama” and since the inauguration is airing at 9a Pacific time, we’re holding a Breakfast We Can Believe In. What do you eat in front of the tv at such an important moment? Will I remember the texture of the toast I munch as he puts his hand on the bible? Since Obama’s campaign emphasized everyday people, should I stick with straight scrambled eggs or go with the presidential favorite and add arugula and chevre?

Food’s incredible capacity to forge memories and emotional ties to events in our lives is also explored in Amanda Hesser’s Eat, Memory: A Collection of Essays from the New York Times. Hesser asked writers from various genres to contribute columns during her time as the food editor of the New York Times Magazine, pushing them to move beyond odes to grandma’s cookies and reflect on food stories that go beyond the actual food. It’s a great read to dip into every once in a while, each column is short enough to sustain you while waiting for your husband to find the car keys or while standing over the oven monitoring mini quiche. George Saunders’ column “The Absolutely No-Anything Diet,” was an easy favorite. Perhaps an irreverent backlash against the increasingly convoluted state of food politics, Saunders advocates a diet of nothing at all, complete with a recipe advising the reader to buy basil and whipping cream, then “go back to the store exasperated, return basil and whipping cream and stomp out of the store.” Other stories include fights while fine-dining, gravy as a barometer of success as a mother and Dan Barber’s now-famous carrot deception. Hesser’s short book illustrates how food can be at once central and yet float around the edges of significant moments. With that in mind, I’m off to contemplate the role oatmeal can play in Obama’s inauguration tomorrow morning..

Leftover Coconut Milk

In Home Cookin' on January 18, 2009 at 8:25 pm

img_0382A few days ago, I was watching Ming Tsai do crazy things with coconut milk and molasses on PBS, so I promptly got off the couch and made Suman. It’s a wonderful Pilipino sticky rice treat that is served with coco jam, basically a dulce de leche made with coconut milk instead of condensed milk. I was so excited, I opened up an extra can of coconut milk and spent the rest of the week figuring out what to do with it.

Solution #1: Thai-style chicken soup. Made a chicken soup that was heavy on the ginger and lemongrass in the broth, then a dollop of coconut milk to finish. yum.

Solution #2: Curry in a hurry. I make a veggie/tofu curry almost every week, and I’ve experimented a lot with adding/not creamy elements at the end (in addition to raitha at the table). This week I made some with coconut milk and another portion with fresh goat cheese. Both awesome.

Solution #3: Parfait of my dreams. Haupia is a delightful gelatin/coconut based snack from Hawaii that is the texture of very firm Jell-o. Saturday afternoon, I had literally 2/3 of a cup of the never-ending coconut milk left–couldn’t bear to chuck it- and made a very soft version of haupia, texture of a loose custard. Just heated the coconut milk, added a little sugar and cornstarch slurry, put in the fridge for 30 minutes.  I layered that with some defrosted mangoes and raspberries I saved from the summer, and leftover cubes of a shortcake I made the other day. The soft haupia was like pure silk–just amazing texture– not too sweet, combined with the tartness of the fruit and the great cake to soak up all the liquids….divine.

I enjoyed my coconut milk leftover solutions so much (especially the parfait), I’m thinking about accidentally opening up a can right now.

Top 10 Food Books: Affordable Alternatives

In Bookshelf on January 17, 2009 at 6:52 pm

img_0383At the end of the year, I love to hear all the great top 10 lists for books that proliferate on the radio, newspapers and podcasts, especially those focused on  food. As I have been perusing the lists the last few weeks, I was amazed at how expensive it is to buy many of the books new. I don’t buy many cookbooks, I usually need to save that money for the actual food, so I rely on my library’s generous renewal system.  (By the way, I do buy regional cookbooks when I travel, much more useful souvenir than a snowglobe.) So I’ve put together a few alternatives to some of the top 10 list books from 2008. The alternatives are either a little older, so easier to find in a library, or available in paperback, so cheaper and more widely available used.  And of course, they’re great books.

1. A Day at El Bulli, by Ferran Adria. Recc. on KCRW’s Good Food.

This book has been praised for being a great insight into the life of a very famous restaurant and what gooes into getting that delicious meal to your table. If you love famous restaurant backstory, A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter is a lovely narrative centered around the famed Taillevant in Paris. Each chapter corresponds to a course or aspect of a dinner at Taillevant, and is based on  what Todhunter learned during his short apprenticeship (amazing!) in the kitchen. Wonderful restaurant  stories and widely available in paperback.

2. Chanterelle: The Story and Recipes of a Restaurant Classic, by David Waltuck and Andrew Friedman. Recc on  KCRW’s Good Food.

Ellen Rose, owner of Cook’s Library in Santa Monica, described this book as a good gift for customers who like challenging recipes. I love when other people cook challenging recipes, but I like to actually make things that are a bit more accessible. The first cookbook I ever asked for as a gift was Staff Meals from Chanterelle, Waltuck’s 2000 book with recipes and helpful stories from the family-style meals the Chanterelle staff shares before opening every night. My most romanticized restaurant myth is the staff meal; great cooks making good simple food. If you love Chanterelle the restaurant (or the idea of it), but want a book that’s more geared toward family eating, it’s a great pick.

3. How to Cook Everything 10th Edition, by Mark Bittman. Recc. by T. Susan Chang, National Public Radio

Ok, I’m cheating a bit on this one, because I actually bought it and it’s at the top of my personal top 10 list for 2008 ( and I have somewhat of an epicurean crush on Mark Bittman). I literally open it everyday, not neccesarily for precise instructions, but ideas to build my own recipes on. However, I only bought it after spending the entire summer with a library copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Every Saturday, I came home from the farmer’s market and looked up recipes by ingredient based on what I had purchased that day. Well-organized, not too Western-centric like so many cooking tomes can be and everything was not only delicious, but presented in a way that inspired me to improvise with confidence.  Many thanks to the San Bernardino County Library system for letting me renew this book 5 times and re-check it out 3 times.

4. Fish: Without a Doubt, by Rick Moonan and Roy Finamore. Recc. by Epicurious

I was happy to find this book at my local library. I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App on my iphone to buy sustainable, clean fish, and Fish: Without a Doubt gave me the chops to expand my repertoire beyond tilapia and Alaskan wild sockeye. However, I also wanted to learn more about fish as food and The Story of Sushi, by Trevor Corson, was a great way to explore beyond recipes. It’s a fun read, loosely based around following a class of students at the California Sushi Academy, and packed with great historical and cultural anecdotes about every facet of sushi, including the fish. I’ve never been so amused by mackeral stories in my life. Widely available in paperback.

Winter Goodies at the Farmer’s market

In Home Cookin' on January 15, 2009 at 11:28 pm

img_0371In the winter, it’s easy to neglect your famer’s market. A few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t made a meal with fresh vegetables other than onions for days. The privilige of living in California is that nature’s bounty is a year-round event. At the Sacramento  farmer’s market, the fruits of the ocean are in fine form and the longest lines are around the oyster tent. Here in the Inland Empire, the Riverside market has been moved because of construction, but last weekend there were still about a dozen growers doing business. Meyer Lemons, pears and winter squash abound right now. For me, January is synonymous with blood oranges; that unique plummy-orange taste is unbeatable. This is a great time to buy shellfish and citrus, so brave those chilly 75 degree days and get to the market!

Holiday Lessons Learned

In Home Cookin' on January 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm

img_2230So, this holiday season, I finally had time to tap into my inner crazy person. You know, that person who makes no sense, but succombs to the social pressure to be martha/angelina/giada. That must be why I found myself sewing stockings and doggie coats, crafting 3 dozen individual felt animals with the recipients’ names embroidered on them, hosting a big holiday party and baking and frosting about 500 cookies between Dec 22 and 27. Along the way, I learned a few lessons in the kitchen:

1. Almost anything can be a drying rack for baked goods. I am way too cheap to  buy drying racks, but finally found a good substitute this year. Since you’re baking all of those cookies, your roasting pans and other deep pans must feel neglected. Enduring weird looks from my husband, I had him hold each pan while I tightly wrapped a grid of leftover knitting yarn around each one. Worked like a charm.

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2. Don’t be a frosting fascist. The first major batch of cookies I made was for Christmas with my in-laws. I made dough each night for a week, spent a whole day rolling and baking and another entire day frosting. They looked perfect, but when I saw the whole beautiful thing laid out, I felt like a nut. Three days after Christmas, we hosted a big house party, and I laid out a couple of hundred cookies for helpers to frost before everyone else arrived. I spent five minutes trying to demonstrate flood and pipe…then looked up and saw eyes glaze over. They tried my method, but the results were much better when I left the room. We had gingerbread pirates with peg-legs, Pollock-esque Christmas trees and grotesque, bloody mittens. Not the idyllic winter wonderland of cookies, but awesome anyway.

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3. Plan your menu, then cut two dishes. Seriously, especially at a family party, make two amazing things that people will fawn over you for and prioritize convenience for the rest. When serving a dozen teenage boys, in-laws aged 4-94 and college friends, it’s not the time to produce cutting-edge culinary creations. I simply ran out of time for my last two dishes, which absolutely no one missed. After spending hours preparing whole foods and researching recipes, the most popular item at our holiday party was barbecued pork sticks from a Pilipino grocery store.

Yup, I only learned three things. But hey, what do you expect, I was really busy eating.

Tastes: Moules Mariniere

In Home Cookin' on January 14, 2009 at 11:06 pm

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In the bleak of winter, or if you are in socal, the sunny, 78 degree days of winter, one source of indubitable comfort is that seafood is often at it’s peak of tastiness. That is why I have literally been daydreaming about mussels for the last three weeks. If you live near a body of water, slurp an oyster, steam a clam and by any means neccessary, make a big pot of moules mariniere. Recipes abound on the internet, but I feel like I was taught how to eat mussels at Cafe Montrose, a little Belgian place in Houston. For $7, the cook would saute some shallots, celery and flat parsley in butter, add a bit of stock and dry white wine, then throw in the mussels and cook until they all open. You must eat it straight from the pot with a lot of crusty bread, because it’s a tough call whether the broth or the meaty little mussels are the best part.