Monday, December 27, 2010

Green Quesadilla


Everyone has their munchie of choice, you know that food item that you run to again and again in a variety of situations because you know it is the only thing that will solve your cravings. You know the thing that you make sure is always in the house so whether it's first thing in the morning, midnight after too much wine, or in the afternoon when you aren't feeling like a big production or like running to the store, the ingredients are ever waiting. My thing is a quesadilla.

The almighty quesadilla is beautiful because all you need is a tortilla, some cheese, and some fat to fry the two together: everything from that point on whether it be a pepperoncini or some kind of dashing calypso sauce will be considered a perk. And it's a tried and true food form, fruitful in delicious variations and perpetual in its ability to satisfy the palate. I remember when I was pregnant, nineteen years ago, I preferred white flour tortillas, pepper jack cheese and a dollop of store-bought potato salad on top. I know, ugh, right, but when you're pregnant, it's amazing what you will crave. Over the years I have transitioned refried beans into black beans and prefer sharper cheeses over milder choices and gone from piled high with salsa and guacamole to simple crispy disks of plain cheese and spicy chili bits. But one thing remains true, the quesadilla is the ultimate versatile meal in my repertoire of life long, love affair food. Today, in true fickle form, I present you with the recipe of my favorite quesadilla of the moment.

Green Quesadilla

Ingredients:
2 whole wheat tortillas
One pat of butter
Half cup grated organic sharp cheddar
Pepperoncinis with juice
Cooked black beans
Your favorite hot sauce

Heat the butter in a pan and then place one tortilla in. Add the cheese on top and two tablespoons of the black beans. Put another tortilla on top and fry till golden brown and then flip. Brown the other side. Take out and put on a plate. Sprinkle chopped pepperoncini slices on top with some of the juice to wet. Dash with the hot sauce and voila!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Like Dining in an Arabic Living Room


I love Mediterranean food so much that I am not that picky. I can just as easily visit a falafel cart as sit down in world class kabob joint. But recently I found a dream of a restaurant in Palm Desert called Kabobz that blows the lid of anything I've yet to taste in this fare.

The joys of living a block away from my best friend include being able to bop over to her house after work on any given day in slouchy clothes to drink a glass of wine on the porch and recount our days. Recently, after an hour of chat we decided to try Kabobz, a place only a few minutes away located in the Palms to Pines shopping center, tucked between a yoga studio where pole dancing classes are free on Tuesday nights and a yogurt shop. Entering the nondescript restaurant was like entering a private living room of a lower middle class family in the middle east. Tables with brown coverings sat with no centerpieces in a tiny square space with an oversized television set on the wall streaming in the Arabic pop music video channel. My dream. One waitress and a menu of delights awaited us. Being the only people in the place, we were catered to like kings.


The menu was full of traditional items and we ordered a little of everything. The lamb kabobs were tender and fell off with a flick of the fork, seasoned expertly with just a little pepper. Ala carte items like a whole roasted onion and tomato were exquisitely cooked to pull apart with ease. The gyro was dense and rich, wrapped in a fluffy, warm homemade pita with refreshing tzatziki dolloped upon it. The best dolmada that has ever passed my lips arrived in a small bowl of oil scented with a faint sweetness that accompanied my first bite. The falafel balls were moist and large.

It was nearly nine o'clock when two of the valley's renowned foodies strolled in with a megawatt bottle of good wine in their hands. One, the owner of a popular fast food restaurant chain, and his dining companion, one of my great writing mentors, sat down behind us and told us that they come there all the time with their own wine. They convinced us to stay on a few minutes and to partake in a glass of the glorious wine they had brought. It felt like we were in a home, sharing laughs, and we all rued the fact that the restaurant was relatively unknown because it's hard to find a place that offers no nonsense ambiance and food that good. We all toasted and said a prayer that the place would last.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Museum Mood Food

I love eating in museum cafes as much as I love visiting museums. Museum eating isn't like eating on regular sojourns because although it tends to be a quick stop for fuel, it is a more ponderous stop that is taken amidst hours of viewing breathtaking creations that beckon a more conscious and semi-adventurous form of fare. The food experiences tend to go hand in hand with the art experiences and I find myself crafting my eating in alliance with the mood and ambience of the museum I am visiting so that the culinary art becomes part of the overall taste I take away.

For instance, while visiting SFMOMA in San Francisco, I love to sit outside on their rooftop cafe with a big white ceramic cup of frothy-headed cappucino and a slice of rich Mondrian cake. It's the perfect sophisticated snack under the biting city chill while viewing the cooly distant and slightly intimidating spider sculptures of Louise Bourgeois.

At LACMA in L.A., I enjoy breezy afternoons with their special sangria, ripe with fruit spears, and a small salad of whatever is in season with exotic lettuces. This light lunch seems to go in line with L.A.'s health conscious psyche and the reputation of finding new food items with rare combinations first. Seeing major pieces of blue chip art in the Broad wing like Warhols and Koons peppered with the pure light and space painters of Southern California always brings a laisez fare attitude to the meal, sometimes spent until the wine jug is exhausted over conversations about what we've just browsed.

In Boston at the Museum of Fine Art, the meals tend to be regional and deep like a pint of hearty Guinness and hot bread and butter, perfect for that East Coast carb-appropriate brisk walking that occurs from place to place.

Recently, I visited the Getty Villa in Malibu and decided it was the perfect place to experience the "when in Rome" mentality. After viewing the Italian, Greek and Etruscan antiquities, the marbled columns and al fresco painted ceiling, I was craving a taste of European flair. My best friend Lisa and I lazed away an hour on the outside patio with an artisanal cheese plate, red wine and a sparsely dressed arugula salad. Something about the presence of brie and other fine cheeses, dried fruits like fig, apricot and date and brown wafers of dark toasted bread spiked with cranberries, seemed to carry us in our minds to the beautiful lazy lunchtimes in Italy where wine is fluid and the ingredients are simple, healthy, eaten slowly and with pleasure. With a view of the Pacific Ocean, we momentarily felt like we could have easily been dining on the cliffs of Sorrento.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lust for Lebanese

There is something about Lebanese food that drives me wild. For a cuisine based around simple principle ingredients such as lemon, oil, lamb, tomatoes, lentils and rice, it sure has a multitude of delicious variations. And the breads and cheeses are the absolute best.

Recently I found a tiny little Lebanese take out counter in San Diego and was introduced to Manaeesh and Labne. Manaeesh are mini pizzas traditionally garnished with cheese, Zaataar, spicy diced tomatoes, and onions. At this place, the pizza bread was perfect, cooked on top of what looked like a small cast iron half dome, perfectly crisp on the outside and full of hot doughy softness on the inside. Rolled up to contain all the spicy ingredients, it was also stuffed with Labneh, a specialty in Lebanon made of strained yogurt, that is spreadable and garnished with good olive oil and sea salt. Tasting similar to goat cheese, but more pure and clean, with a lightness that made it seem whipped, it was one of the most heavenly substances to ever cross my lips and put me on a good salivation trip for a week that left me hunting it out a week later in my own town.

 Alas, not being able to find Labneh anywhere, I settled for its twin sister goat cheese which is another favorite. The restaurant Tommy Bahamas makes a good American-ized version of a goat cheese appetizer which has turned into my fall-back dish at the bar when I can't find anything more exotic. A nice portion of the cheese covered in a tangy balsamic glaze and surrounded by corn and tomato nuggets to spread on crisp flat breads is the perfect light snack or late night meal.

Being that it is winter, I have pulled out a tried and true recipe for a Lebanese soup to make when I want something to tantalize the tongue but still warm the belly with goodness. The garbanzo flour makes it a hearty choice for dinner and it's even better reheated the next day.

Garbanzo Soup
Ingredients
1 tbs (15 ml) Unrefined Olive Oil
1/2 cup (120 ml) onion, chopped
4 cups (960 ml) cold water

1/2 cup (120 ml) Garbanzo Flour
2 tbs (30 ml) soy sauce pinch of garlic powder, optional
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet basil leaves, crushed
Preheat heavy saucepan, then add oil and onion and saute until soft.
Add 1 cup cold water.
Stir in flour until smooth.
Stir in remaining water gradually.
Add seasonings.
Let cook over medium-low heat until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, or over higher heat stirring constandy.
Do not allow to boil.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Evolution

This past Thanksgiving I decided to chuck convention. It's been a road that I have been heading towards for a few years now. It's become increasingly harder for me to dive into the idea of a big, gluttonous feast of turkey and fixings when my diet has become mostly healthy and vegetarian and my family has become so dispersed and insular. It's also been hard for me to justify the expense of the huge meal, or to expect it from anyone else in these economic times. Really, all that aside, I guess I am just turning into a bah humbug over holidays when the very meaning of holidays has seemed to become one big consumer fest of unnecessary food and money outlay. I mean, I am thankful everyday, I don't need one moment to suddenly allow myself to feel grateful or to hang out with my family or to tell people I love them - I already do that on a daily basis.

So this year, I traveled to San Diego where my friend Ian and I spent the wee hours of the morning inside a church kitchen with about twenty other people heating up food for the homeless we planned to serve at Petco Park later in the day. We had Motown music blaring and aluminum pan after aluminum pan of mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, turkey and stuffing heating for about four hours until every last pan was hot and laid into the back of a string of volunteer cars. Watching the food go by, I was becoming increasingly hungry.

At PetCo Park we hung around as many homeless people were fed. The faces of the homeless were different this year. There was a young mother with a baby, a twenty-something year old Hispanic man in a poncho with two huge dogs on leashes as his best friends, an older couple in tourist-looking sweatsuits; point being that the homeless were representative of any-man. Any of us at any given time could easily be them.

Afterwards we decided to spend the rest of the day doing nothing as the concept of doing nothing was something both of us were TRULY thankful for in our unusually busy work-filled lives. Exquisiteness and silent bliss and no agenda were the perfect agenda items for my holiday. Driving home we stopped at Evolution Cafe, where I fell in love with the 100% vegan fast food menu. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and fries. The burger came on a wheat bun with soy cheese, tempeh bacon and veggie burger and tasted exactly like the bacon cheeseburger of my dreams, which is some fine feat. The fries were sweet potatoes and perfectly carmelized and charred on the outside while mushy on the inside. Topped off with a nice cold Yerba Mate, I was completely content. I wish we had an Evolution in Palm Springs. I would eat one of everything on the menu for a month and still some.

I am thankful that I am learning to change the way I eat, to consider the food on my plate, to respect the concepts of energy usage and waste and that now, even in the fast food world, we are gaining some viable options.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

European Flair in the Hood

One of my favorite things about my new neighborhood is that I am a block away from a bustling street of shops, art galleries and cafes lending me a mini-city experience amidst the grandeur beauty of my desert environment. A fan of walking rather than driving, and of the daily coffee stop in the morning, my life has improved ten fold due to location alone. 

Even better, I've found a blissful, ritual morning place in Il Sogno, which means The Dream in Italian and oh, what a a dream it is. Located on El Paseo, the long rectangular space is dark, intimate and very European in flavor. Unlike the work-a-day rat race atmosphere of the in and out places like Starbucks, Il Sogno's whole ambiance is conducive to the long morning whittled away over a cappuccino frothing over with a thick, whipped head and bites of sinful pastries that line the shelves brimming with color and flavorful concoctions. Heart shaped chocolate souffle lava cakes and pumpkin pecan brulees come in small personalized sizes. Lemon bars cut in dainty strips to dip into tea and fresh pastel colored candies on plates tempt the eye. Buttery fresh croissants laden with rich chocolate, grilled egg and bacon paninis, and miniature quiches of mushroom and swiss cheeses arrive warm and inviting. The service is leisurely as is the conversation and I could easily see this becoming my regular lazy Sunday morning place, when there is nothing else on the agenda and one of everything to savor. 


Sunday, November 14, 2010

A New Culinary Courtship

I recently moved into a new place to live, one in which I had been hankering for a while over. The location is directly behind a thriving street which is home to lots of choices in yummy food including the addition of specialty food shops, regular grocery stores, and all over the place price-wise restaurants. I decided immediately to avoid the big shopping trip to stock my fridge and shelves because I want to live more like the Europeans - shopping daily for that day's meals, picking things that are fresh and cooking them instantly, and even building up the spices, flavors and herbs in my kitchen to represent what I eat most rather than what most others have. It's been a fun adventure.

When at home, I've stopped thinking of meals in terms of three distinct timed-out things, instead opting to graze amongst a bounty of things I love to eat for both pleasure and purpose. Squares of dark chocolate, nuts, dates, organic sharp cheddar cheese, tortillas, and jalapenos have become my staples.

Today's lunch consisted of one of my favorite quickie home meals.

Sauteed Swiss Chard and Endive Boats

Two huge leaves of red swiss chard
2 cloves garlic
One tablespoon olive oil
One small endive
Walnuts
Gorgonzola Crumbles
Honey

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. Chop the cloves of garlic into tiny chunks and saute till almost browned. Tear the chard leaves into large pieces and saute in the oil/garlic for about ten minutes till wilted but crispy.

Wash and clean the endive and separate the leaves. Place on a plate in a row like tiny canoes. Sprinkle gorgonzola and walnuts into the boats and drizzle with honey.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

KUNST and Salmon Picata With the German



I love my friend Christian. He's a lot like me in that he's more interested in exciting humanity to passionate pursuits than anything else, which helps his business running Christian Hohmann Fine Art, because he enjoys connecting to people who love art and filling their lives with meaningful expressions of talented creatives who go into the zone to show us a little glimpse of ourselves we may be too distracted to see otherwise.

Tonight we dined at Back Street Grill to explore ways we could incite the community with art together and he told me of his travels back to Germany this summer to visit the artists he represents and see where their voices have taken them as well as gather new artists into his fold.

Salmon Picatta was the special we both ordered. Picatta anything is tang to my senses, a sensation that marks the good meal and this had it. Moist salmon finely crisped on the exterior, aligned with the infused sauce dotted with capers, verdant long and thin green beans sprinkled with copious amounts of parmesan, and of course, red wine.

I love talking to friends raised in other countries because it's fun to explore the similarities and differences together only to come out at the end discovering that the human gene is the human gene regardless of the accent.

He ran back to the gallery to finish a photo shoot and I ran home to design art tags for my exhibition tomorrow but it's those hours you take time out to share with friends that really fuels the fire.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ricotta Pillow Bliss


Visiting Arlene and Arline is always like a good dose of vitamins to the soul. A few weeks before our regularly scheduled dinner dates, the Arlene with an "e" will email me to ask what special requests I have for dinner. I usually answer roasted chicken since she makes the juiciest, most tender variety I have ever tasted. But since I have recently been veering my diet into more vegetarian options I opted for something creative in that arena to which she replied, she would make me her eggplant parmigiano with ricotta pillows. The instant ricotta and pillows were put in the same sentence together I started to drool.

The thing about these two friends of mine is that they live on a beautiful sprawling piece of desert property out in the middle of nowhere. Approaching their home from a half dirt road and a half hour drive always takes me into a peaceful frame of mind. As I drive up their path, unlocking the chain link fence, I am met by their two dogs, one frisky and one barking. The minute I step into their home, alive with fresh air from the open windows from which I see nothing but sundown over beautiful mountain horizons, I instantly feel a sense of calm wash over me. A bottle of red uncorked and Arline with an "i" joins us from her work in the garden pulling greens or her stint in her office writing one of her in depth and psychologically complex novels.

This time the scent of sage permeates the evening after an end of the summer hot and damp rain and mingles with the smell of lush things cooking. Our meal arrives at the table as we speak of what it means to be an artist-Arline meticulously interviewing me about the creative life in conjunction with a character in her current novel. We are trying to recall a Freud quote about life and art. The one I think of is: I cannot face with comfort the idea of life without work; work and the free play of the imagination are for me the same thing, I take no pleasure in anything else. A quote that perfectly describes how I feel about my art.

The eggplant parmigiano is cooked to tender perfection and lightly breaded with slices of hard boiled eggs sitting atop the perfect disks. The escarole is vivid green and plain, allowing the tongue to pull out the earthy flavors. But it is the special ricotta pillows that steal my heart, the ultimate little mounds of comfort food, crispy on the outside and filled with the most decadent, rich, creaminess inside. I could make these forever and eat them like royalty, a few at a time, with a glass of almond milk to accentuate the sweetness.

Ricotta Pillows

One pint of whole milk ricotta cheese
One large egg or two small
3 tablespoons grated pecorino romano cheese
2-3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Mix ricotta, eggs, flour and salt, then add pecorino romano and parsely. Stir and mix everything well. Consistency will determine how they cook up. Form into small pillows - to your aesthetic taste. Put butter into a frying pan and when hot (not brown), place in your formed ricotta pillows. Let brown on one side then turn. Hard to turn if mix is not firm enough. Brown other side and set on a platter. Can be served plain or with homemade tomato sauce.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Michael's Mexican Candy Hot Wings

Mexican candy. I never liked it too much but my daughter was addicted to it as a child. Saladaritos, hot mango chili suckers with worms in the middle, anything that was so tart upon first lick and then super lip burning hot and then sweet and chewy. Tonight, my brother went out of the box and concocted a chicken wing creation that made me rethink the value of a three-flavor bite that leaves the face tingling while the body burns with sweat. Not too bad, just a slow simmering delivered prior to a nice skin flush. At first bite it's sweet, then spicy, then carmelized crunchy through diced chunks of crispy jalapeno and garlic, and then the meat, succulent and moist. Good job brother, I will be making this healthy, candy dish many times in my future. But for now, I will just continue to go raid the fridge over the course of the next hour, reveling in the way they taste when cold as well.

Michael's Mexican Candy Hot Wings

Package of chicken wings
1/4 c. Frank's Hot Sauce
1/4 c. A second cayenne based hot sauce
5 garlic
5 jalapenos
Brown sugar

Take about twelve chicken wings, put in a bag. Pour in the Frank's hot sauce and the cayenne based hot sauce. Dice the jalapenos and the garlic. Throw it in the bag. Shake shake shake it. Heat oven to 400 degrees and place wings on a shallow pan. Sprinkle brown sugar over the wings and place the pan in the oven for ten minutes. Take out, flip the wings and sprinkle more brown sugar over the top and bake for ten more minutes till carmelized. Enjoy!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Meditating With Mahi Mahi

There are some foods in life that are enhanced by the environment in which they are eaten. Fish and chips is one of these meals. On a recent trip to Dana Point with good fiends, we happened upon the marina that reminded us all of a place stuck back in time; a more innocent time when men walked down to the docks in the morning to throw a line in the sea, sitting for hours waiting for a bite but there for the meditative experience of staring out into the deep blue more than for the hope of actually catching anything. The marina was dotted with restaurants with names like Jolly Rogers and Proud Mary's where the hard wood floors were darkened with age and many layers of hardened wax; the smells of brine embedded deeply into the plush vinyl booths and old patterned wallpapers. Places where the sound of silverware clinking and bar glass being swooshed across thick wood mingled with the sounds of patrons eating eggs benedict breakfasts and waiting for whale watching cruises or their sailors to come in from the sea. We opted to dine al fresco at the Wind and Sea grill, pulling our plastic outdoor chairs close together in the cool air to enjoy rock salted bloody marys and mahi mahi fish and chips. Doused with copious amounts of tangy malt vinegar, lemon and salt, and a perfectly thin and crispy beer batter, we enjoyed our own fruits of the sea while reading the names of the sailboats in the dock and watching groups of people head off upon the water hoping to catch some of the light tailwinds coming in that day under a sky streaked with grey clouds. Belly content, we sat there for hours contemplating the water-a therapeutic escape from the everyday, where stratas of blues over the horizon washed every stress and care away.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Post Burn Fuel


We brought trail mix, pistachios, almonds, coconut water, and wine.

We also brought plenty of whiskey for our canteens that we would sip periodically through the harsh and cold evenings. Just one or two sips would cure our frigid bones for the evening, going quite nicely with the fire that burned in various places across the stark desert. I learned that whiskey was the drink of choice on the playa for this reason. Everywhere we would go and flash our canteens, people would ask, "Is that whiskey?" and we were expected to share a drink. It was like the calling card of friendship for the burn.

We subsisted on a gallon and a half of water a day, fed each morning into the camelbacks that dressed our shoulders.

There was no produce nor anything else that needed refrigeration. We were down to bare minimum during this exercise in radical self survival.

The only sustenance we could count on were the daily offerings from other camps in this gift economy, camps that offered chorizo burritos on a Monday morning, or pancakes at center camp, or the three vegetarian meals a day that were made with love by the Hare Krishnas where we were staying.

The vegetarian meals were iffy at best. Because we had no clocks or technology or cell phones, we depended on the good old sun to relate the time of the day, which meant arriving at the meal tent for breakfast, lunch or dinner hoping we weren't too late to dip our recycled spoons into curried rices, sweet potato and spinach mashes, and other meals that tasted good but all blurred together under the heat.

It didn't matter though, that our food was slim pickings or unpredictable, because we were on another planet where food was just the fuel to let you go back on the playa, bicycle wheels whipping the dust and icy yellow light, until your thighs burnt so bad you were forced to go back to the tent to lie down and recuperate for the evening ahead. An evening that would consist of walking the landscape at night, gallons of water disappearing and food nowhere near the mind.

After we left, food was heavy on the mind. My camp mate Sonia told us about an Indian food taco truck that was usually parked at the exit to Burning Man and sure enough, there it was offering wraps and other goodies to a crowd with a big portion of attendees in the healthful eating genre. Cars were lined up to get an order of richness back in the world of the hungry.

As I drove home to the desert the next morning, my gut was aching for Indian food but as I suspected there were only signs along the highway for the usual fast food restaurants, offering puffy fats and chemical tastes, and my week had somehow made me averse to even the smell emanating from these places. Then, like a mirage an Indian food restaurant arose on the side of the highway in Sacramento and I quickly took a turn when I saw the banner exclaiming "Wraps to Go". Piryani with extra vegetables, curry sauce and a sweet mango lassi later and I was on a new food mission back home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rosh Hashana Challah Manna

On the Jewish New Year I honor my Jewish tribe with a toast via a piece of moist, raisin studded challah bread, drizzled with honey, chewy and slightly sweet. Jewish fare is another in a long string of my cultural favorites that begins in the Mediterraean with lamb, feta and dolmadas, whips through India with eye watering samosas, tamarind, paneers and rice puddings, then leans to the Persian with coriander (it's American cousin being cilantro) and chick peas, buttery pomegranate piled, scented, burnt rices and then the middle eastern falafels, tangy lemony cous cous and hummus dipped into with pita tears (as in rips not drops of sadness).

This year I tore and drizzled and savored the bread chunks with my best friend Lisa.

L'Chaim! to all my Jewish friends who have sustained me with your warts and all wisdoms, your simplicity, foods, sensuality, mysticism, adherence and discipline, I love you all!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Everything in the Kitchen Soup


An eight hour drive on Thursday brought me to the blissful, sunny wine country of Napa, so pronounced by a beautiful big wooden sign right before the left hand driveway I was told to drive into, behind the big white wall, to the Lub property. The Lubs, a family of Russian descent, were graciously providing me with three nights of lodging as we all met for the first time to travel to Burning Man together. My twin and male best friend Charles, who is in love with the daughter Lub, was the conduit who brought me here but I immediately fell in love with the vibes of the place and the people who occupied it.

I was first greeted by 21-year-old Nick Lub, with sparkling kind eyes, reddish hair and an extreme passion for brewing his own beers out of rich homegrown hops. He gave me a tour of the property that included various barns and sheds set up as art studios here and there to be used for his graffiti paintings, his mother Gaye's wood and paint female assemblages and his sister Sonia's elegant and sexy feather earrings that fall from your ears, onto your bosom, splaying silky threads of color.

Then he regaled us with a beer tasting that lasted into the wee hours.

The next day we set about setting up a mock camp: hours of building and placing our tents, tarps, chairs, shade structures and supplies so that we would not run into any actual problems once we hit the real playa that is unforgiving with no room for error. Nick fixed bicycle tires and tubes. Gaye Lub cooked dinner for us all to enjoy together after the labor.

Gaye described her pureed butternut bliss as "everything in the kitchen sink soup". Basically she had simmered a pot of vegetables from the garden including squashes and carrots with butter and coconut milk until everything was soft and tender. Then she pureed it and let it stay warm until we were done with our Burning Man prep. Served in bowls with fresh parmesan cheese alongside freshly cut cantaloupe slices, tangy olive bread, a wedge of mimolette cheese and red wine from a neighboring winery, it was the perfect simple belly warming meal. Can't go wrong on a cool night after a long day by offering soul-soothing soup, a hunk of cheese, sliced fruit and bread. Manna!

When I told Mama Lub how much I loved to read and write about food, she insisted I start to read a book immediately as she grabbed it from her shelf. "Tender at the Bone" by Ruth Reichl, part one of a three book series about the author's experience growing up at the table with a slapstick cook mother and family of food lore. I snuck away with my last glass of red to my fluffy Napa farnhouse bed with the red mandala looking down upon me from the window tapestry, and sunk into the perfectly witty and addictive book. Heaven...




Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Ophelia Sister's Salade Orgasme!


Maybe it's because Cat is French with a sylph-like demeanor, always clad in black with an olive-skinned face framed by a muscular, swath of jet black hair, that makes me pay extra attention to the things she eats.

Maybe it's the pre-cooking fun we always have at the grocery store, holding hands like ten-year-old girls, dancing through the aisles, disturbing the refrigerated produce displays, tripping on kiwis and juggling red peppers that makes her salads taste so damn good. Anything made with passion and fun is sure to be infused with the personality of its creator.

Or maybe it's the fact that twice in this lifetime, the first was two years ago, she's managed to create a salad that sent me reeling and made me declare it was the best one I had ever tasted yet!

Recently, she topped it off again, and this one I have no doubt, should be called Salade Orgasme. A table full of moist, roasted chicken and pomegranate-blood orange martinis went largely untouched as three dinner guests and myself ate three servings a piece of this delectable, sinful, taste-bud tweaking, extraordinary bowl of goodness.

"The secret lies in the mix of odd ingredients that you wouldn't normally think go well together," explains Cat, our salad sylph.

And I wholeheartedly agree, including the odd little Filberts that were new to me-tiny hazelnut tasting round nuts that provide a tantalizing crunch!

My adaptation goes like this.

Toss a big box of dark green artisanal lettuce, one half cup of filberts, one diced yellow bell pepper, one diced red bell pepper, one sliced avocado, a bunch of whole cilantro (stalk and all), a half cup of feta cheese, a half cup of plump blueberries together and top with your favorite balsamic vinegar infusion!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hilarious Gnudity in the Duplay Kitchen!

Charlotte Duplay is one of my favorite foodie friends and muses and a few nights ago she invited me over to share a meal created from her latest box of bounty from the Inland Empire CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This group is great: a collective of farmers who pile their fresh fruits and vegetables together every few weeks and deliver them to certain stops in cities where all of their healthy-eating subscribers pick up treasure boxes full of food, never knowing exactly what delights they will discover inside. When I arrived to Charlotte's home, I was greeted with a lush still life that included tomatillos, red onions, avocado, cherry tomatoes, grapefruit, zucchini, leeks, yellow snap beans, cantaloupes, fennel, swiss chard, white carrots, and russian arugula!
A beautiful slate of roasted tomatoes was set upon the counter waiting for its starring role in a creative new form of bruschetta. As Charlotte, assembled the dish she explained the recipe. Take a bunch of cherry tomatoes, halve them, and roast them in an oven on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, sprinkled with honey, rosemary, thyme and olive oil until they shrivel and pop. Then cut up slices of a crispy, baguette and toast the bread in the oven. Spread ricotta cheese on the toasted bread and then top with the tomatoes. Add an additional drizzle of honey and top with basil. This appetizer was incredibly sweet and with the lightness of ricotta cheese, felt less sinful with every rich bite.

After the bruschetta was done, we went about preparing the special dish that Charlotte was trying for the first time: Gnudi. Sounds like gnocchi and is similar but is made usually from a blend of spinach, ricotta and flour and then piped through a pastry bag into a pot of boiling water in thick, inch long, noodle-like forms. This is when all hilarity ensued.

Whenever I go to meals at Charlotte's, we have a little assistant in the kitchen-Charlotte's cheeky monkey daughter Camilla. Armed with blue rubber boots, the perfect summer sundress and her tiny mitts in enormous potholders, she followed us around the kitchen as we cooked, even stepping in to help once in a while. This time, Camilla, who I hadn't seen in about five months, was extremely chatty and excited, she had grown into quite the personality and I noticed that the kitchen became much more slapstick than normal now that we had a little miniature addition to our preparations. In the past, she would just sit and stare at us from her baby chairs, but suddenly she was underneath our feet, chasing the dog, and providing a sense of comedy to Charlotte's normally smooth processes. The fact that she had just started potty training was a central point of the cooking as she would continue to tell me in finger pointing and demonstrations that she was now a big girl who could go to the bathroom. At one point, she presented me with her toilet bucket in which she had just dumped a "big girl gift", very pleased with her new found talent. I guess the fact that her big girl gift had all the same textures and shapes of the aforementioned gnudi we were trying to prepare was our first subliminal sign of things to come.
Cooking something for the first time is always a hit or miss, especially when one is also attempting to substitute ingredients. It started well: we blended the blanched russian arugula and swiss chard greens and ricotta together and then added small amounts of flour to the whole mix. Maybe there wasn't enough flour, or maybe we should have stuck with spinach for some textural depth reasoning, or maybe Camilla sitting at the blender and pressing the blend button too much caused the texture to lose its integrity, or maybe it was the fact that we didn't end up kneading the dough enough in consideration of time (at this rate we wouldn't be eating close to any dinner hour!) but whatever it was, by the time we piped the gnudi into the boiling water and waited for it to float to the top well done, we were most likely already doomed. Green pickle like forms rose to the top of the pot which we strained and set into a dish on the side. Realizing that it looked more like mush than pasta portions, we then started to add more flour to the dough hoping it would help it stick together. We persevered making the gnudi until the final batch was done but Charlotte snuck on a pot of wheat spiral pasta just in case the gnudi was going to end in disaster. She heated up a homemade pasta sauce made from chopped tomatoes simmered with onions and a whole stick of butter and we finally converged around the table.

The funny thing is that once we piled our gnudi into our bowls and topped it with the butter rich tomato sauce and a sprinking of parmesan cheese, it actually tasted really good. Aside from the bizarre way it looked, we actually all really enjoyed it. I would definitely be up for making this recipe again under better conditions, it could actually become a favorite. I didn't even have to eat the Plan B pasta!
For dessert, we were served warm grilled peach halves accompanied by a dollop of homemade peach ice cream. The perfect sweet and innocent end to a belly-laughter filled authentic evening!

The morning after my wonderful meal with the Duplay family, Charlotte wrote me this note: "Food blogs that recall the disasters in the kitchen are very entertaining - think of Julie and Julia. If you do end up blogging about last night's unique meal please tell the truth!"

So I did. I am looking for the next time I get to get gnudi in the kitchen with Charlotte!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Avocado, Strawberry and Organic White Cheddar - My Version of Eat, Pray, Love!

The other night I bought ripe avocados, plump red strawberries, organic New Zealand sharp white cheddar and chunky sourdough artisan bread inspired by a rush of grilled cheese recipes I have seen lately on the food blog scene involving cheese and fruits. Slicing up all the ingredients thinly and making the traditional buttered bread grilled cheese sandwich in a pan with this filling, I was super happy with the results. The mellowness of the cheese combined with the smooth texture of the avocado and the sweet strawberry accents that turned glistening and juicy when heated created such a  comfort food sensation in the mouth, inspiring me to put this sandwich on my regulars list. My picky daughter who doesn't like melted cheese, her boyfriend who doesn't eat many fruits and vegetables, and my brother who has sophisticated tastes, all came for seconds. Pleasing an entire assortments of palates isn't easy but this one sure did!
Even the next day, the same ingredients translated into a chunky, rich and pleasing cold sandwich. And then the following day, to utilize the leftovers, just chopping the bits into a bowl, and drizzled with honey, made a quick and easy summer lunchtime salad!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hinkle's Asian Artistry


Last night I was invited to the home of my friends Michael and Tatiana Hinkle for a meal and a tour of Michael's fantastic art studio. Michael's been on a serious health kick for a month to enhance his lean-dom and gain mucho muscle so he's been experimenting with healthy food recipes. A master cook, he's come up with some really delicious recipes to go along with his new regimen, so good in fact that it doesn't even feel like the taste buds are skimping with the lack of sugars and fats. Last night's meal was Asian-inspired and so good and fresh that I had to share it here. The Ahi appetizer was so simple, spicy and good that I will be recreating it often. The Chunky Veggie Lemongrass Soup takes a little more preparation but once the smells hit the nostrils over a supreme bowl of this amazing dish, it becomes evident that the labor of love is entirely worth it. 

AHI CHILE CARPACCIO

1lb Yellow Fin tuna (Ahi)
4 serrano peppers
3 stalks of celery
1 tbsp cilantro
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
juice of one lemon
dash salt & pepper

Combine sesame oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Slice tuna into small bite size squares, slice peppers and celery into small pieces. Place small pieces of pepper and celery on each piece.  

Pour the oil, lemon, soy sauce mixture over the tuna pieces. Place small cilantro leaf on each piece. 

Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes....and serve.

apr. 5 servings.

CHUNKY VEGGY LEMONGRASS WITH CHICKEN

1 package CHICKEN breast (boneless, fat trimmed)
2 Jalapenos (remove seeds) - diced
2 cups Cauliflower – chopped to small pieces
2 cups Broccoli – chopped to small pieces
2 cup Napa Cabbage – chopped in to pieces
1 yellow or orange Bell Pepper – chopped to small pieces
3 cups Spinach
1 large Onion (any) - diced
1 sprig of Rosemary – diced
2 tbsp Cilantro – diced
2-3 lemons
1 Avocado (ripe)
1 tbsp dry seasonings (like Grillmates, or something with coarse pepper and salt etc.)
1 tsp chili powder
4 tbsp lemongrass paste (from supermarket)
½ tsp chili paste (same section as lemongrass) – serious heat adjust as needed.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups water
Salt & pepper
Olive Oil cooking spray (no calories, no nothing!)
-----------------
Preheat grill to medium – if using charcoal plan ahead to allow for the time.

Slice chicken into 4 oz pieces (apr. size of a deck of cards) into large bowl, sprinkle dry seasonings, some rosemary, chili powder, 1 lemon juice, 1 tbls of lemongrass paste, and combine together. Let sit for 10 -15 min while preparing the vegetables. Put on grill until charbroiled – apr. 8 minutes turning once. Remove from grill.  Shred or chop the chicken into small dice like sizes (I prefer the shredded, but they are hot from the grill!). Place in a bowl.

Coat a large deep pan with olive oil cooking spray. Heat to medium/high and put in the onions and jalapenos, olive oil and cook for 2 minutes until onions are transparent. Add lemongrass paste, chili paste, and fold into the onions.  Add the broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, cabbage, and 3-4 cups of water (*add three and see if you need the extra.) Sprinkle dry seasonings to taste, rosemary and a little bit of the cilantro. Cook 3 minutes, add the chicken and cover. Turn off stove and prepare to plate in bowls with lemon wedges and cilantro sprinkled on top.

Sometimes I add a little diced ripe avocado for another great texture and some good fat…
 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Kids Are All Right!


On a recent trip to Santa Barbara to visit my sister, I was thoroughly surprised and delighted to see how well my niece (aged 6) and nephew (aged 5) were eating. Every time they went into the fridge for a snack, they would choose ripe plump berries, oatmeal bars, string cheese, edamame or other fortifying bites. Upon dining with them at an Italian restaurant they chose shrimp and salads. I was thrilled to see my sister teaching them about food in good ways, and introducing their young taste buds to healthy things. I was further delighted later on, while at a party full of children, to notice the kids all eating the miniature beef sliders piled with grilled onions and whole ears of barbecued corn, rather than the tubs of chips that sat largely untouched. One of the parents, my friend Justine, told us that she has taught her kids to yell "Disgusting!" every time they see the golden arches of McDonalds. After spending a good deal of time this past year keeping tabs on superstar Chef Jamie Oliver as he has tried to infiltrate the American school cafeteria system to introduce healthy foods into the daily regimens of loved ones, I realized that eating well starts in the home and then trickles out into society. Nothing will change in the school cafeterias until the premature audiences that stock the lunch lines in their pigtails and scuffed up knees come to demand a higher quality of food. Parents today should feel personally responsible for stocking their cupboards wisely, teaching their kids how to make simple snacks and meals out of nutritious ingredients instead of relying on the prepackaged microwaveable meals that reek of convenience and complacency. When kids are taught to love a colorful bevy of fresh fruits and finger vegetable snacks, they come to rely on that as their sense of sweetness rather than candy and a mouth does not mature craving toxic sugars and overloaded fats. It's time for us all to think about the next generation of foodies, and to inspire, motivate, and create a natural tendency towards health and sustainability in the minds of the young.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grilled Pizza - Dog Days of Summer

My talented friend Karen Riley, Director of S.C.R.A.P. Gallery, the Museum for the Environment, has come up with a clever and scrumptious idea in desert summer outdoor dining. After months of grilling to escape having an indoor douse of oven heat in the above 100 degree temps we are accustomed to, she and her husband Mitch have taken to experimenting with the grill using other foods and recipes typically confined to baking. Her most successful attempt yet has been using the grill to make pizza. Turning the traditional pie into a fire smoked and crispy concoction is brilliance at its best. The possibilities are really endless but my favorite version of hers so far is this beautiful one topped with pesto as a base sauce, then layered with ground chicken, pine nuts, garlic and daubs of fresh mozarella!


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Build-Your-Own-Burrito

The burrito is one of life's greatest pleasures. Because of this, I have decided to start a series at Unorthodox Foodie dedicated to this wrapped food phenomena! A multitude of possibilities abound in outer shell; think corn, flour, spinach, pesto, sun dried tomato, and an assortment of other wraps! The fillings are equally diverse, bringing in any meal be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is one of the simplest meals to make and is a wonderful solution with any leftovers.

Today, I will focus on an accidental and newly discovered breakfast delight that takes less than ten minutes to make.

Fire Roasted Veggie and Black Bean Breakfast Burritos - Serves Two

Ingredients:
Five eggs
Tablespoon Milk
Salt and Pepper
1/3 Bag of Trader Joe's Frozen Fire Roasted Vegetables
2 Tablespoons Trader Joe's Non-Fat Black Bean Dip
Two Small Corn Tortillas
Two Tablespoons Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Directions:
Prepare the veggies according to directions on bag. Put in small bowl, cover to keep hot and set aside. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper for two minutes and then scramble over medium-high heat until done. Pour the veggies into the eggs and stir together loosely to combine. Toss with the grated cheddar cheese. Heat the tortillas directly on a high flame on the stove until they get hot and blacken around the edges. Spread a tablespoon of black bean dip on each hot tortilla and then divide the egg mixture up between the two. Roll and eat!

This savory breakfast will get you going on high speed in the morning!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Health Food Heaven at Natural Cafe

I am one of those people who actually love, ache for, and am addicted to the taste of health food cuisine. It started with Native Foods in the desert where I learned over a decade ago to go gaga for peanut sauce on brown rice and thick green veggies, the taste of nutty seared tempeh in things like burritos and curried bowls, and the satisfaction found in tahinis, hummus and Greek cheese whole wheat wraps. It's a taste I actually pine for: the slightly nutty, always grainy, sometimes sweet, choices in nutritious fare. Recently I discovered Natural Cafe in Goleta and Santa Barbara and have a new friend to go gaga over. 

My ritual goes like this. Arrive in Santa Barbara for business, get to my sister's house, throw my stuff in her guest room, and immediately leave for a trip down Hollister Street to that unassuming little corner cafe where my food lust currently resides. The place is tiny and cute. A refridgerated case even serves wine and beer. Periodicals about health and yoga and spiritual wealth abound on wooden cabinets while you wait for the food. Daily specials are abundant. The menu is rich with sandwiches, meat or veggie fare, salads, and specialties like Mexican enchiladas and yummy options in burgers. Every meal comes with crunchy chips and salsa. I have been three times in the past month and vow to try a different menu item each time I go there until the entire menu is exhausted.
My current faves. The teriyaki chicken sandwich which comes piled with a tangy, moist roasted chicken breast, melted cheese and abundant lettuce, tomato and sprouts on whole grain bread; and the equally tangy chicken ranchero quesadilla filled with spicy shredded chicken in a whole grain tortilla and served with a generous portion of sour cream and guacamole and a side salad with your choice of dressing - my fave being the tahini!

My taste buds are smarting just writing down the words!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Geeks and Big Chips

I have known my friend Gene since high school but it wasn't until we were both in our twenties and venturing into our careers as writers that we really started to bond over our mutual geeky passion for words. He's one of the only people I know who can sit with me for hours discussing literature and bizarre concepts like madness' proximity to genius. We also like to eat and our tastes tend to range towards the cuisines of the Middle East. My first ever authentic Greek meal was served to me by his teacher mother in their modest home strewn with papers, tomes, notes and writing utensils. We typically get together once a year for some kind of literary trek and this year it was to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. After a wonderful day of pouring through book store racks and hearing Johnny Temple from Akashic Books enlighten us on the current state of affairs in publishing, we ventured to Westwood to Gene's favorite food pit stop Falafel King.

I am now a complete convert and find myself trying to think of reasons to drive to L.A. just to eat there. This is why. At the fast food style deli-esque counter, for $10, you order the platter that comes with three large falafels, salad or rice, warm pita bread, hearty amounts of hummus and two sides chosen from a bevy of sides like lentils, slaw or eggplant. Not only is the platter huge compared to the price but at Falafel King, you also get a smattering of their signature chips. Chips at a Falafel joint you ask? Yes, big crunchy batter fried hot chips that are not like American chips but are more like tempura battered chips in a bright orange color. You dip them in the tahini sauce and become instantly addicted. I never eat chips aside from these. Thank god there is not a Falafel King in the desert because those chips equal huge hips on someone like me. But knowing that they exist in a place I can visit once in a while is pure heaven.

Unfortunately, I found out two weeks ago, that you can buy a bag of the chips to go. Gene brought a bag back from a day trip and I devoured them whole.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Homestyle Outdoor Pizza Making with the Hubbards!

Last night I attended my brother in law's birthday party, hosted by the dynamic and dashing Hubbard couple who live in the Riviera section of Santa Barbara's most beautiful hillside area where every outdoor deck is located in front of the homes to maximize the view of the city and the sea below. The Hubbards, who own the beloved Italian Pottery Outlet on State Street, have a stand alone outdoor pizza oven on their deck, and invited us all over for a homestyle contemporary Italian feast. Tables were strewn with traditional red and white checkered paper tablecloths and the air above was strewn with festive red and white globes. All of the adults showed up armed with wine and food to accompany the centerpiece pizzas that were made in batches throughout the evening. Menage a Trois red wine from Trader's, Cuban cigars for the men,  and some upscale Patron, and we were good to go.
An amazing spread of prosciutto wrapped ham in a basket lined with salami and centered with various salty olives, a stilton and brie platter adorned with apples and walnuts, a black bean and cream cheese dip (made simply from Trader Joe's fat free black bean dip combined with a slab of cream cheese and microwaved and stirred till blended) and an insane hybrid avocado salad/guacamole dip set the stage for grazing while the pizzas cooked. 
 
 Rick Hubbard, who has mastered a light, thin crusted flaky dough for his outdoor pizzas, told me the secret to his pies was not only the light doughs, but also the use of quattro fromaggio in just a light smattering across the disks instead of the traditional "gummy" mozarella. He invited everyone to come and create their own pizza and the varieties that ensued were all tremendously delicious. Think pepperoni, cheese and kalamata olives, or a divine pesto, cashews and anchovies version. With four minutes in the super hot oven, the edges were perfect and crunchily blackened while the centers stayed virile enough to host the main ingredients. 
 
The true hit of the night was a pizza first spread with a rich fig jam as the foundation sauce, then sprinkled with the quattro fromaggio and then laid with thin slices of prosciutto. After cooking a hearty pile of fresh arugula was thrown across the top. This was my favorite, and one I will attempt to make on my own often. I even woke up this morning still craving the tang of the fig jam mixed with the creamy cheese and peppery arugula.
I would also be completely remiss if I didn't go back to the hybrid avocado salad/guacamole that was so good, I could simply eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of my life. Forget the chips, I could eat this with a spoon on its own. So creamy, sweet and delicious and healthy, I will be adding it to my palate's oeuvre often! Basically, you chop one red onion, a quarter of a red, green and yellow  bell pepper, one tomato, and a healthy portion of cilantro and throw it all in a bowl with frozen corn kernels and let sit a few hours. Then you add seven large diced avocados, the juice of four small limes, salt, pepper, and white wine vinegar to taste and mix it all together into a beautifully scented mash with chunks still evident. This is so good that today, not even 24 hours later, my sister is in the kitchen whipping up another batch for our dinner!