Saturday, October 31, 2009

Momma’s Morsels: Swedish Pot Roast

One of my earliest memories is of waking up with the smells of Swedish Pot Roast cooking in my home. A wine-based scent spiked with nutmeg and cinnamon that wafted into my childhood dreams on days when I would I would awake happy knowing that the night's meal would be one of my favorites. One of my mother's infamous crock pot dishes, the meat would literally fall apart with barely a touch from the fork, and the slight ginger sweetness infused into the beef combined with hearty chunks of vegetable side dishes, made this one of those hearty meals that one grows up craving for life for cold nights with the pleasures of family.

My mother decided to make this for us the other night on occasion of my brother being in town to help me with our new joint project of gutting and rehabbing the cherished family home, and between tearing up old carpet pads and scrubbing wallpaper paste from the walls, we relished in the smells wafting in from the kitchen. Just like old times, the three of us piled our plates full, pouring a reduced ginger snap dressing over the tender meat, and ate together on the couch just like we used to do twenty years ago.

I woke up near midnight that night listening to the sounds of my daughter and her boyfriend raiding the fridge to heat up plates of their own and chuckled as my daughter's "oohs and ahhs" sounded exactly like my own...

Swedish Pot Roast

4 lbs. beef pot roast
2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
4 bay leaves
2 Tbls. shortening
2 onions, sliced
1 clove diced garlic
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine

Combine nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt and pepper and rub into meat. Let sit in the rub in fridge for at least two hours. Heat cooker (crock pot) and add shortening. Brown meat on all sides on stove in pan. Add meat to crock pot and add onion, garlic, brown sugar dissolved in wine, and bay leaves. Close and cook on low all day. 

Serve with steamed carrots, potatoes, and a salad of romaine, walnut, and gorgonzola with simple balsamic/olive oil dressing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Girls Night at Tropicale


One of my favorite restaurants in Palm Springs is Tropicale. It opened a few years back and brought a sense of tropical chic to the valley. With a great gay and straight mix, awesome happy hours at a Flamingo-esque bar, smoking hot negronis, and a great selection of food, it has become my choice for monthly girls' night out. Some stand out items include the nori roll, which is served slightly warm with a cream wasabi sauce; the barbecue chicken personal-sized square shaped pizza which is a mouth explosion of sweet grilled corn kernels, even sweeter, tangy sauce and perfectly melted cheese (I wake up dreaming about this pizza) and the red velvet cupcakes dessert (which I have once every few months because it is up in the top ten of my favorite sweets)! Last night was the perfect girls' night--with a great bottle of red and the pleasure of the best booth in the house (thanks Michelle!) and the sweet smile of owner Rand, we whooped it up late for a school night. Even though my rule is to try something different at restaurants each time I eat there, it's impossible for me to do at Tropicale. My friend Stephanie and I always order the same meal. A starter soup of butternut squash floating with slices of long thin mushrooms that is not to heavy or creamy and a small filet mignon salad that is served warm with small potato chip strips to add the perfect dose of crunch. Highlights of the evening: the gay waiter telling us of his recent weight loss when he left an older man, Stephanie's tales of her summer in Italy with her new man, Edna's admission of new love in her life, Denise's goddess mama laughter ringing through the house, Nicky upset from her Phillies losing but jovial nonetheless, and my plans for my next art photo shoot starring Stephanie as a pre-Raphaelite vixen. Nothing like good food and good friends on a school night, especially friends I have known since junior high.

Filet Mignon Salad (My Own Twist)
Serves 2

Ingredients:
Leftover filet mignon, cut into strips
4 cups Arugula
1/4 cup Gorgonzola Cheese Crumbles
3 Tablespoons Girard's Champagne Dressing
1/4 cup Beet Vegetable Chips smashed up into medium sized pieces

Throw everything together and toss! Serve room temperature.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maria's Mascarpone


My friend Maria is insane in a very good way. She is an entrepreneur who comes up with these incredible ideas, but unlike most people, actually researches, learns and carries them all through to some level of success. A few years ago, she decided to start her ice cream company called Maria’s Mascarpone, with the key ingredient of the mascarpone cheese, elevating her above normal ice cream companies with its bizarrely good textural elements and creamy, good richness infusing the age old dessert with a contemporary twist. Not only is her ice cream great but also the flavors are out of this world: Pumpkin Pecan Spice, Buttered Date Pecan, Pumpkin Caramel, Peppermint Tree Bark and Chocolate Ganache (creamy dark chocolate heaven!).

To my shocking surprise, my favorite of them all was her Avocado Ice Cream. I know, it sounds like the weirdest thing in the world and I was very leery of trying it, but after one bite I was completely hooked and can honestly say it remains my favorite ice cream flavor ever. Something about the way avocado flavor turns subtle and refreshing while made cold with just a hint of sweetness is kind of the same result that happens when I eat green tea ice cream at Japanese Restaurants. And apparently I wasn’t alone; her Avocado Ice Cream took first prize at an Avocado Festival. Her date ice cream won first prize at the Date Festival as well.

Today, my dear Maria delivered a nice little surprise to my house during lunch, a new flavor called Walnut Chestnut Maple, adorned with four perfect pumpkin spice cookies embellished with fig spread. After finding chestnuts at Williams Sonoma, she spent a few obsessive days tasting the small morsels in her mouth while feverishly trying to find accompanying ingredients. Because the chestnut flavor is so distinct, she didn’t want to mess it up too much, thus the perfect addition of another mellow nut—the walnut. The maple syrup ribbons add a spike to the nuts that fills the belly with the tastes of Fall. One bite and I started to feel the holidays envelop me with all that good home hearth warmth.

Maria’s ice cream is not cheap. At ten dollars a pint it is a definite splurge. But she’s not willing to succumb to mass production and lower standards so she makes her ice cream on special order during holidays and major events for custom order. Each batch is a three-day process of melding flavors, creating infusions, and then the final mix and freeze. It is a splurge worth doing when you are trying to impress guests over holiday dinners or as presents for friends.

To order some of your own, email Maria at maria.zang@yahoo.com. Your mouth and the mouths of those you love will thank you!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Indio Sushi


My friend Hugh is like the male version of me. He likes show tunes, is often mistaken for gay because of his knowledge of swing dancing and non-top 40 cultural icons, (which I am occasionally mistaken for because of my knowledge of 70’s disco classics), he enjoys coming to the opera with me, as does his goddess of a wife Jeni and his little less-than-a-year-old son Lincoln who is my current boyfriend of choice, and he enjoys a good drag show. But we also share a love of food. One of the best gorgonzola chicken salads ever was served to me at one of his weekly family dinners where I, by proxy of adoption, am permanently granted entry. We also share a love of a Palm Desert dive lounge lizard bar called Casey’s which serves up piano-bar style soul nearing twelve midnight on any given good night where an aged b-actress or two waits her turn to belt out the blues.

In any case, I don’t have regularly scheduled hours with Hugh. No formal meetings or occasions on the calendar set months in advance like everything else, with him it’s more impromptu. His wife knows I am one of the guys, so when we slip out for a glass of some fine liquid or decide that we are going to train for the Palm Springs marathon next year together, she just sighs her sigh, and thinks, “thank god he’s got someone to play with him who I love too.”

Today, it was sushi in Indio at Frankie’s. Now to any other person reading this blog, they might think sushi at Frankie’s sounds not so out of the ordinary but to those of us who live in the Coachella Valley (an area far enough away from the sea that most people don’t trust sushi unless it’s No Da Te on El Paseo which serves up a $25 all you can eat sushi deal every summer to loyal locals), we know that you can not find good sushi most places.

Then, there are what I call the low down places like Joe’s Sushi in Palm Desert near the 1-10 freeway—always packed, always fresh, always cheap and the coolest chefs ever and when you are in the mood for ghetto strip mall kind of Sunday afternoon deal-down-round-the corner -meal, with hot sake of course, it’s perfection.

But if you think of the simplicity of good Mexican food and the only caveat being fresh implementation, it’s not that far away of a hop, skip and jump to sushi—simply done in the standard and true-blue styles of spider roll, spicy tuna hand wrap and of course, hot salted edamame.

We discussed the upcoming social season, the silly things we buy with money, the downsizing of our generation to build a kinder, gentler (and more show-tuned filled kind of culture) bi-partisan human race, and ate until we were too full to finish…

LADIES ROCC

My friends Dixie, Lisa and I started a lunch club called The Raw Oyster and Chardonnay Club (LADIES ROCC); really just an excuse to eat raw oysters and drink Chardonnay for lunch. We’ve been all over the valley. Fisherman’s Market is great for loud boisterous summer days with Cajun salmon Caesar salad and fish tacos; Pacifica when they are visiting me on my side of town, Le Vallauris when we are feeling particularly luxurious and crisp in the Fall; but most often Zin because it comes along with owner Mindy, great wine and lots of laughter that ensues when one gathers with friends midday in a favorite, comfortable place. 

One dozen is usually enough unless it’s somebody’s birthday or anniversary (that is when the spouses arrive). The oysters at Zin are always compact and meaty, creamy little morsels set perfectly in their shells with a nice trio dish of cocktail sauce, horseradish, and mignonette. I usually spear a chunk of the dry horseradish and throw it in the shell then take the whole thing into a nice mignonette dip. Never is anything more needed.

A white that Dixie picks (because he is the wine guru) is followed by the famous roasted chicken salad. Okay, this salad is undoubtedly in my top five salads of all time: the amazing subtle dressing which manages to stay extremely creamy while remaining just a trace, drizzled across the salad of red leaf lettuce, dandelion and mustard greens, and perfectly moist roasted chicken strips is exquisite enough if not for the jewels of tiny kalamata olives, and the Roquefort cheese spiked into the mix in a few tangy crumbles.

We talk about life, work, future dinner parties, art projects, sex, and politics and usually end up with a toast of one form or another, most likely to the fact that we are grateful we have each other.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Momma’s Morsels: Salmon Patties With Creamed Peas

For Anny Cooper and Irene Dixon

My mother was born and raised in Iowa in a town you can ride your bike around in half an hour, surrounded by cornfields and farms that dot the perimeter and provide harvests of fresh foods all year round. I still can’t go back to visit my grandmother there without being force-fed twenty-four hours a day. In Iowa, just walking into a kitchen starts a plethora of “Want some fresh coffee cake I just whipped up?” “Want some fresh baked chocolate chip cookies?” “I canned some peaches last night in sugar, want some?” Considering I gain about a pound a day while there, I rarely stay more than a week.

Being the Midwest, this meant my mother grew up being a die-hard fan of the spud and the ear of corn and the crock pot and the worker man’s casserole designed to feed, with the ever essential ingredients of a vegetable, a meat, a can of Campbell’s cream of something soup, and a slab of Velveeta, a whole army of kids destined for the tractor pull life.

While I was little and my mother was still a single woman raising two feisty girls, these recipes made there way to our small dinner table quite often. Not only was the food cheap and easy, it provided leftovers for easy heat up in the microwave and was the kind of food that was better the next day anyway. Although we had our favorites, my sister and I grew up craving the more exotic California fare of our lifetimes and favored nouveau cuisines to the staples from my mother’s hometown and we relegated these dishes to the fond memory file, not prone to cook this kind of food on our own, while we were delving into all things vegetarian, Indian or Thai. I vowed never to buy a box of Velveeta as long as I lived.

Like most things left over from the fifties, (Lucille Ball style cigarettes in a cup in every room of the house, gin and tonics at 4 p.m., and artery-clogging amounts of cream and sugar and butter in everything), my mother’s olive green plastic recipe box with its numerous varieties of lined index cards stained with lard fingerprints and bits of years’ old sauces and cake smudges of flour, remains in my family home but more like a cultural icon to a day when we knew less about (or plain didn’t give a damn about) healthy eating and lifestyles.

Recently, my friend Dixie gave me a copy of his own mother Irene’s recipe box but made into a new booklet by his handy graphic designer hands and we shared an afternoon laughing together nostalgically while reading the little momma bon mots that reminded me of my own. A pinch of Bisquick to every bread. Tator tots as the perfect topping to any baked dish. And so on…

Al of this talk made me miss some of my momma’s meals. One of my favorites was salmon patties and creamed peas. I recalled her version crafted of canned salmon and bread crumbs and eggs with the rich cream swimming with sweet peas to top it off and always a side of mashed potatoes so that we could make a mountain of everything on the plate so that every bite contained every ingredient. Don’t know why all of this smashed together was so belly-warming but it was. When I mentioned my craving to my mother she laughed, recalling when my sister Katie, in her new wedded domestic state in Santa Barbara years ago, called from a grocery store aisle when looking for a can of creamed peas so she could impress her new husband with this nostalgic statement only to discover she had to actually make the stuff from scratch. Mom invited me to join her that evening for dinner and served the following updated (aka slightly less heart-attack inducing) version that made my soul shake with goodness!

Salmon Patties and Creamed Peas
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
Trader Joe’s Alaskan Salmon Patties
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
I can peas

In a small saucepan melt the butter and add the flour, stirring with a fork until it is a paste. Add one tablespoon of milk at a time while stirring constantly as the cream sauce is formed. Keep repeating this slowly until all the milk is used. The trick is to stir with a frenzy with each addition of a tablespoon of milk until perfectly blended and a little bit thicker. This takes about ten to fifteen minutes. Add the peas and fold in. Keep warming on stove on low heat, stirring occasionally while cooking the salmon patties per the packages directions. Spoon the creamed peas over the patties. Salt and pepper to taste.

For extra soul soothing, serve with mashed potatoes and get a bite of everything at once with each bite.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Frog's Leap Wine Dinner at Zin


What do you get when you combine one of the best chefs in the desert with one of the best restaurants in the desert with one of the best organic wine companies?

Clearly, an excuse to fork out $70 bucks and find a friend to dine with pronto! Which is exactly what my friend Kaleo and I did this past week when we heard that Chef Aaron Kiefer (East Meets West Catering) was crafting a special parings menu for Frog's Leap Vineyards wine at one of our favorite restaurants in town Zin.

Mindy Reed, owner of Zin American Bistro in Palm Springs is offering wine dinners monthly with guest chefs and this was my intro to the inner sanctum of foodie delights. We ate family style at a table that happened to be filled synchronistically with old friends: a local radio personality, a local PR guy, a renowned and fun food writer and his wife and an old female mentor of mine who owns a grieving children's non-profit. Wine, good conversation, dimmed golden lights that lent a surreal and tasty haze to each bite and laughter ringing throughout the night!

The Menu:
Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, 2008
Spiced Pumpkin Bisque with Chive Spaetzel,
Manchego Cheese
"One person at our table upon taking a bite of this soup exclaimed It Tastes Like Fall!"
The toasted almonds and chewy spaetzel fragments created a mouth textural explosion in this soup that wasn't too sweet like some pumpkins.

Merlot, Napa, 2006
Potato Wrapped Veal Sweetbreads, Melted Leeks, Fingerling Potatoes, House Cured Maple-Spiced Bacon
Pairing this spicy dry merlot with the sweetbreads was brilliant as the red wine tempered the poignancy of the sweetbreads and the perfect portioned strips of potato around the musky meats lent the perfect crispy package before the sweetbreads burst in the mouth.

Zinfandel Napa, 2007
24 Hour Braised Beef Short Ribs, Fig and Arugula Risotto,
Pistachio Pesto, White Asparagus “a la Plancha”, Zin Jus
The fig and arugula risotto was so subtle and a perfect example of Chef Aaron's ability to infuse his progressive dishes with just hints of aromas and tastes that other chefs might go overboard on. The short ribs fell from the bone just by looking at them, and the very slight smokiness of the seared exteriors was the only flavor accentuating the exquisitely cooked beef just like it should be.

FRĂ–GENBEERENAUSLESE, Late Harvest Riesling, 2007
Rum-Ricotta Cake, Vanilla Croutons, Meyer Lemon Crema,
Aged Balsamic and Blueberries
The tang of the Meyer lemon creme in this desert put an exclamation point on the evening!

I will be making a permanent reservation at these dinners. If anyone wants to join me, visit www.zinamericanbistro.com for the schedule. Would love to fill a big table for the November evening!

Fig and Arugula Risotto
Ingredients:
For the Vegetable Stock:
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 celery stick, coarsely chopped
Salt

For the Risotto:
1 and 1/2 oz (40 grams) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
12 oz (350 grams) risotto rice
5 tablespoons dry white wine
1 and 1/2 tablespoons Parmigiano cheese, freshly grated plus extra to serve
6 fl oz (175 ml) single cream
Small bunch of Arugula, chopped
½ Cup Dried Figs

Salt and pepper
 
Directions:
Prepare the Vegetable Stock:
Place all the vegetables in a large saucepan, pour in 1.5 liters (2 and 1/2 pints) water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly, then strain into a bowl pressing down well on the vegetables with a spoon.

Prepare the Risotto:
Bring the stock to the boil.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan, add the onion and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, until grains are coated in butter.
Add in the wine and cook until it has evaporated.
Add a ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring until it has been absorbed.
Continue adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, and stirring until each addition has been absorbed. This will take 18-20 minutes.
Just before the rice is tender, stir in the Parmigiano cheese and cream, sprinkle with the arugula and season with and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a warm serving dish and serve with extra Parmigiano cheese. Serves 4.
USE A WOODEN SPOON!!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Crusty on the Outside, Soft on the Inside


A friend brought me a big fat Jersey heirloom tomato the other day that she had received in a shipment from the East coast. It was the plumpest. juiciest tomato I have ever seen and I wanted to do something special with it so I asked my friends for advice on what to make.

I received a dozen comments including:
“Slice or just bite into it”
“Salt and straight up”
“Olive oil and fresh mozzarella”
“Drizzle warm balsamic over it with cracked black pepper and some fresh basil sprigs”
“Arugula, sherry gastrique, micro sourdough croutons and manchego cheese”

Although these were all good suggestions, I wasn’t in the mood for a cold salad on the first evening in the desert that I actually felt a perceptible whiff of Fall and the absence of the brutal summer heat so I decided to get creative and make a new twist on an old and solid gold comfort food, the BLT.

I had a few slices of California Pizza Kitchen bread left over from my salad lunch—bread, which I never end up actually eating but that suddenly seemed quite appealing for the task. Something about the thickness of CPK bread has always appealed to me, as well as the ovular shape small enough for the perfect decadent sandwich. It became the perfect bread for this meal that upon grilling created a crust on the outside but stayed airy soft on the inside. This mixed with the mellow room temperature warm, soft and perfect tomato, and the slightly grainy crunch of a bacon-mayonnaise became the ultimate textural combination worthy of trying with your leftover CPK bread.

CPK Bread BLT

2 pieces of leftover CPK bread
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 slices of bacon, cooked well done and crumbled
1 large, minimum ½ inch thick slice of heirloom tomato
2 tablespoons butter
Cracked pepper and salt to taste

Melt butter in pan and place two slices of bread in side by side and grill until golden brown crust forms on bottom. Use a rolling pin to reduce the bacon strip to powdery crumbles and then mix the bacon with the mayonnaise. Slather both sides of the bread with the mayonnaise and add the tomato slice with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cinammon Sin

My friend David Dixon made me do it. I can have one cardinal sin a month, provided it just randonly comes to me in a sweet little package that I didn't ask for, and is most often a gift, so how can one not take it?

Today, it was this sweet cinnamon roll from Palm Springs Koffi, heated up for 30 seconds... 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You Can Take The Girl Out of Jersey…


Being a unorthodox foodie has its advantages, for example, I don’t need to follow any rules and I like to mix weird things together that normally wouldn’t pair well. For instance, classy pasta seafood meals with Major League Baseball—an unlikely combination that recently uncovered for me quite hearty results.

My friend Nicky is quite the cook and has been teasing me with the promise of Tunisian Harissa pasta for the past few months. Due to our dual PR lady careers, we’ve been typically too busy to get together and the only time that was a possibility for us (before the pasta went stale in her cupboard) was a night last week when she was committed to be home to watch her Philadelphia Phillies play an important game of the year.

Now, I am completely sports illiterate and sports on television has mostly always meant to me the background soundtrack to a feeling of childhood comfort when you know that your parents’ friends are all around the house, chilling and drinking beer and cursing at the television with tons of patties and weiners cooking somewhere on a grill. Nicky on the other hand is a Phillies freak and basically guaranteed me that if I was coming over for pasta, I would have to endure her own testosterone-emulated hoots and hollers at the screen.

I have to say there was something quite apt about the combination of the thick strips of spicy pasta, lovely carmelized shrimp, biting red wine and the stadium-worthy guttural screams emanating from my pint-sized friend in her cap and tee every time one of those cute boys in the white pants from the wrong team ran across the screen missing a home run ball hit by one her favorite team’s players.

Jersey Girl MLB Pasta

1 pound Pappardelle's brand of Tunisian Harissa pasta
4 tablespoons extra virgin or extra light olive oil
Several handfuls of crimini mushrooms
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 pound of Trader Joe's Argentinian red shrimp

Saute mushrooms in olive oil until semi-tender.
Add shrimp and garlic (let simmer for 20-25 minutes).
Cook pasta to al dente, then gently stir in with remaining ingredients.
Top with cayenne pepper, cracked black pepper, salt and grated parmesan to taste.

Serve with an organic 2008 Monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Proper Lunch with a Proper Doyenne


Lilli Joseph is one of my favorite friends. At 86 years old, she could be my grandmother, but the sparkly way her eyes light up with mischief when I tell her about my 36-year-old life, or the schoolgirl throaty giggles that escape her lips every time I tell her something particularly bold about myself, place her real age at more of a level of peer-someone I may have known since high school.

We eat at two restaurants all the time. Once a month during high season (when she's not in La Costa for the summer playing tennis three times a week) we skip away for a long one and a half hour full of conversation and French food at either Palm Springs' Le Vallauris or as in the case of today, Palm Desert's Cuistot. The ritual is always the same. I arrive and park my car and pass the valet stand where her car is prominently parked with its COMTESSA license plate. I enter the classic building designed to look like an impressive and cozy French estate and a waitress delivers me to the waiting Lilli, who has her glass of water by her side and a ruby-lipped kiss to stain my cheeks. She always orders a salad with grilled shrimp, avocado, and papaya ("dressing on the side and please tell the chef it's for Miss Lilli Joseph") and I always get the spinach salad with walnuts and topped with two perfect triangles of decadent Roquefort. When we are feeling particularly rebellious I will order champagne or red wine and she will take a small tumbler of scotch with a water back and sip it slowly throughout meal.

Today she tells me that having young friends like me are the reason she stays so alive. Not willing to hang out in the old folks home or with people who she says "can't carry themselves anymore upon their necks," she instead passes the time asking me a million questions.

"Are you married yet?"
"How is that gorgeous daughter of yours?"
"Aren't you taking any lovers?"
"You must one day find true love but the only way you are going to find it is when you aren't looking."
""When are you going to move to the South of France and become like Picasso in your paint-stained ball dress?"

Then she tells me she's proud of me and I tell her how much she has taught me over the past five years. What Lilli doesn't know is that, in return, her presence at our decadent expensive French salad luncheons, equally inspires me to live. Through my time with her, I have learned that the only way to truly live is fully, embracing my authentic self one hundred percent, and to enjoy the time I have over food and good wine with people like her more than the time I spend worrying about my career or how I might be perceived by others. You don't make it to 87 on this earth without knowing something!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Supper Club Stimulus Plan

I belong to this ultra-secret supper club. We get together once a month or once every few months, depending on all of our busy work schedules, and we pick a theme. Everyone brings a dish on the theme. 

When I first joined this club, I was let in as a guest of my best friend, who is a great cook specializing in the California outdoor grill...and I was bluffing my way in to the inner circle because I really had no idea how to cook and was really just looking for a surrogate family where good food would always accompany the good company. 

To give you an example: the first time I ever was called upon to host this shindig of a club, I cheated completely by making the theme way more fun then the food. White Trash Rock And Roll Bash. Everyone had too much fun concentrating on what to wear: white wife beaters, slashed denim, vulgar colored high heels, too much makeup....and I knew the food caliber for this kind of thing would be low and fun. The menu consisted of potluck style contributions of the following: twinkie cake done up by a fabulous artist to equal the mammoth appeal of Salvation Mountain, a fizzy Coca-Cola jello cake, et all. My dish, which I fabulously demonstrated in under ten minute with the flick of a rosemary sprig was old fashioned midwest bratwursts gone gourmet. Just a sprig of rosemary swiped through some olive oil and onto the porky brats and then grilled away. How can one go wrong? In ensuing evenings, things got a bit tougher. 

On Tapas night I actually boldly professed that I would make a lentil salad which required soaking the said beans (that another friend Robert likens to eating dirt) for a day and then making a basic round of simple sugar syrup. It was the first dish I ever made, complete with ripe and halved cherry tomatoes, that actually tasted good when I spooned it in my mouth. These supper club dames were making a cook out of me! 

Shortly after that dinner, another one required me to make meatballs in adobo sauce. For whatever reason, I was getting off a plane from somewhere and had no time to actually make the sauce which is a cardinal sin. But instead of risk getting kicked out, I begged a friend in the club to help me when I realized the lid on the jar I had bought in the store was not coming off and her triceps were far more in tune than mine to that muscular counter clockwise motion. Thank god she liked me, and didn't want to see me get kicked out, and she not only helped me free the sauce from the jar, but also helped me prepare it in the pan by adding tiny bits of water as it fruitioned into substance, something I would never have known how to do, nor was written anywhere on the bottle. 

I am proud to say that since then, I actually have become quite the cook, spurred on by these lady friends who know everywhere in the valley to buy the things needed to become good culinary masters. I have listened and learned and feel proud to say that the most recent gathering of the club was a good one because I, for the first time, felt a little less retarded, and a little more hearty in the domestic goddess department with the joys of my first fully made "on my own" salad. It was Lebanese night and I made a perfect Lebanese cucumber salad (starting slowly with the salads before venturing into the entrees!). The recipe below yields a huge batch that only gets better the more it sits....and that among the fine dolmadas and rice and lamb that was served that night lent miles to the perfect evening under the stars all of us friends had...even if it degenerated by the end to scotch and song and poolside dancing once the babies all went to bed!

Lebanese Cucumber Salad

Adapted from the oh-so-useful The Healthy Kitchen cookbook by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley.
SERVES 4

Ingredients

* 2 cucumbers, diced
* 4 roma tomatoes, diced
* 1 red onion, minced
* 1/4 cup lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (any variety)
* 1/4 cup pitted sliced kalamata olive
* 1 cup cubed feta cheese or crumbled feta cheese
* salt and pepper

Toss cucumbers thru cheese in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill at least 3 hours.

A Jew and Some Arugula

Every time my friend Gene comes over, we get mired down in bottles of wine and too much conversation. He is a college professor and mad scientist and writer, so mostly, it's me sitting on the back patio listening to the overspill of content from his latest forays into his fiction=not a lot of time to stand around in the kitchen cooking. This time he brings a bottle of high end Korbel from his recent trip to Napa. He can't drink much or he gets loopy...something about mixing with meds...so I enjoy the champagne alone while whipping up salmon steaks coated with Trader Joe's special Soyaki sauce, broiled for only ten minutes and an arugula pine nut salad that is out of this world simple and good, with only a tad bit of slick and subtle oil taste among the leaves to mingle with the slightly sweet flavor of the fish. This and champagne and outdoors in the desert and a wild Jewish professor spouting apocalypse theories is about all I can handle in one evening.
Arugula and Pine Nut Salad
  • 4 cups young arugula leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large avocado - peeled, pitted and sliced
DIRECTIONS
  1. In a large plastic bowl with a lid, combine arugula, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, oil, vinegar, and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover, and shake to mix.
  2. Divide salad onto plates, and top with slices of avocado.