Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nothing Better Than Breakfast For Dinner

I spent a recent Sunday with my old friend Karen Riley who is the Executive Director of the S.C.R.A.P. Gallery otherwise known as the Museum for the Environment. We were making art pieces for an Earth Day exhibition together and I remembered why I liked her so much as she bounded about the airplane hangar full of donated scraps creating exquisite and inspired impromptu art pieces out of what others would call simply nothing. At the end of our creative spurt, she mentioned in her typical bubbling manner that she was going home to make Sunday Breakfast for Dinner with her husband.

I had forgotten all about that concept for so long but immediately remembered the comforts of eating a bowl of cereal or whipping up some eggs for dinner; an experience I used to crave at the end of busy days, maybe subconsciously wanting to feel the first spurts of day when energy is renewed and the sun has just broke through the horizon.

Breakfast for Dinner Feta and Spinach Omelette

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup fresh spinach, washed, stems removed
salt and fresh ground pepper
2 or 3 eggs
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Cook olive oil and garlic until garlic sizzles, add spinach and cook for one minute. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Heat skillet, melt butter, pour in egg mixture whipped out of rest of ingredients, and cook omelette. Spoon garlic/spinach mixture and feta down the middle and fold omelette.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Taste of Palm Springs Highlights Tried and True Gems and Newbies to the Scene

A week ago I attended my first Taste of Palm Springs at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The premise was simple—get any and all Palm Springs area restaurants together under one roof to offer their best culinary wares and raise money for AIDS Assistance Program in the process. I found it very fitting that the organization in our community that gives free food vouchers to those living with HIV should be a beneficiary of a food event. I had never been before so didn’t know what to expect for the $50 ticket fee and was pleasantly surprised to find that the price was an extreme deal that allowed one to try copious amounts of good food and four glasses of fine wines. 
One of the best highlights of the evening was the sheer scope of the food from convenient and quick restaurants like Chipotle to the upper echelon of fine dining establishments. A sampling of cuisines for every occasion and pocketbook presented itself in a wide array of booths and I enjoyed not only finding new wonders at already-beloved restaurants but being introduced to good eating from places I might not ordinarily try. In the true spirit of representing the diversity of our valley’s food, I will discuss what I consider the surprises and true treasures of the evening, with props to the chefs and restaurant staff who decided to go a little beyond the norm to provide a creative taste to us guests of this great event and to all for helping raise money for those who need to eat!
The Greek-owned restaurant JOHN’S has been a local favorite forever with its cheap food, no nonsense diner style atmosphere and an eclectic menu of things that never go out of style like huevos rancheros for breakfast and fried zucchini for late night appetites. What makes John’s different than the traditional diner are the customized special items like the spaghetti with the clove-spiked sauce and an amazing saltibonca chicken entrée that begs to make the restaurant a top of mind awareness spot for quick and easy comfort food dinners when you want to dine in jeans with no pretension.
On Arenas Road across from the bars where the boys come out to play, the old pizzeria Just Pizza used to sit where you would go after dancing for hours to refill the carbs with some greasy slices. Now, it’s a new place called Café Palette and they still serve pizza, but it is much better than it used to be and comes in thin crust versions with savory toppings like spicy, crumbled sausage. Could become a new, favorite stop in place on the way home on Sunday afternoons. 

For those who love short ribs, there were two standout versions at the event. One from MATCHBOX (which, along with Spaghetteria and Papa Dan’s has the best pizza in the valley) that was served falling apart tender on a mash of carrot puree (which I predict will be the next trend at all black tie galas). The other was served on top of faro with crispy onion curls from MR. PARKER’S.

Another normal pizza stop, CPK, handed out generous portions of tamale and corn ravioli which was so rich, sweet and filling I could only eat two pieces. Would be a great accompaniment to share with a BBQ chicken salad and a friend.
SISTERS CUPCAKES were doling out miniature versions of cupcakes in all flavors like cherry chocolate, red velvet and peanut butter but it was the crème brulee version that took the cake.
NEW LEAF CATERING served samples of their big fat pan seared scallop with coconut beurre blanc served atop a creamy polenta gory with cheese. 
RIVIERA RESORT dished out slices of lamb with an ancho raspberry sauce that was so perfectly cooked it made me want to actually dine at the restaurant at least once to overspend on this fine meat dish. 
But the highlight of the night was the molecular gastronomy experiment being orchestrated on hand at the PEAKS TOP OF THE TRAM RESTAURANT booth. Each visitor was handed a push up pop type ice cream contraption that contained brown sugar bacon and cinnamon ice cream. Sounds bizarre yes, and created an equally surreal experience in the mouth when the spicy cold cinnamon and vanilla melted on the tongue to produce remaining bits of crispy sweet bacon. I will definitely be trekking up to the tram to try this again. 
Call This Short Rib a Cab!

As a wine and food junkie, I look forward to the Taste of Palm Springs each year and to the pairing possibilities it undoubtedly affords. As in years past, the wine sponsor was Jacob's Creek, Australia's largest wine brand. That being said, this behemoth of the industry still offers easy drinking wines that are of great value and high quality.

After sipping the Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet and Shiraz, I determined the tobacco and blueberry-inflected 2006 Reserve Cab to be the most food friendly wine of the night. My decision was strongly influenced after tasting the incredibly tender braised short ribs with onion straws and mushroom risotto from Mr. Parker's. The meat was a great match for the Cab's smooth tannins, and I encountered more of the same with the Riviera's roasted lamb loin (cooked sous vide), which brought out the wine's subtle fruit.
One of my favorite dishes of the night guessed it...a delectable morsel of short rib perched atop carrot puree courtesy of Matchbox Pizza. The beef flavors were intense and joined well with the hints of tobacco in the Cab. A return visit to this restaurant and its own wine list is in short order.

Dessert was a tiny morsel of a velvety chocolate cherry cupcake from Sisters Cupcakes by Design, followed by a sip of the subtly-oaked red. Not the most traditional of pairings, but why stick with the tried and true when you can step out of the box and still be delicious? If I have learned one thing about this smorgasbord of a night, it is just that.

Special thanks to:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hybrid Mediterranean Picnic

I have been involved with a supper club for the past few years of close friends and tribe members who are all foodies with creative minds. Every month or so, we get together, pick a theme and cook gourmet menu items surrounding that theme to cook. Then we get together at a revolving series of homes and enjoy good food and wine together. The parties have evolved through the course of time to adapt to our lives and have gone from very formalized settings to casual, down home atmospheres. Over the course of time, babies have started to appear all around us and today, our parties have come to include the occasional afternoon fete or picnic to accompany the presence and schedules of all these new little people who have cropped up. Our most recent party was a hybrid Mediterranean picnic, incorporating a menu that took the best of al fresco dining from both Mediterranean and American cultures and mixed it up.

Roasted Shrimp Salad with Couscous
Green Salad with Shaved Fennel, Red Onion and Orange Vinaigrette
Grilled and Marinated Chicken Breasts with Grilled Portobello Caps
Crudite and Potato Chips with Onion Herb Dip
Tabouleh and Pita Bread
Charred Corn and Tomato Salad
Deviled Eggs
Marinated Olives and Feta
Grilled Sweet Pepper and Asparagus Platter
Lemon Bars

One of our club members Charlotte, who is one of those recently new mommies I speak of, came up with a quick and easy version of a cold corn and tomato salad that was the hit of the afternoon and used creativity (the use of Trader Joe pre-cooked charred corn kernels) and fresh ingredients for the mother on the go who still wants to provide healthy fare.

Cha's Charred Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad
Serves a crowd!
6 ears of corn (If out of season or pressed for time, use frozen charred corn from TJs-what a discovery!)
1 lb. heirloom tomatoes
1-2 cups fresh herbs from your garden (oregano, basil, cilantro, parsley, sage and rosemary were used in this one)
3 tablespoons orange muscat champagne vinegar (TJ's again, and if not, use red wine vinegar)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook corn until charred on hot BBQ and scrape kernels into large bowl. Add chopped tomatoes. Emulsify all dressing ingredients and add to the tomato and corn, no more than 1 hour before serving. When ready to serve, mix in the herbs!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fruit Salad Fantasia

For all of us who live in the desert, a place that already now in April is showing hints of summer, the refreshing summer salad is a mainstay. My favorite combination for the simple and quick meal during these times is to buy a fresh and ripe variety of fruit, pair it with a rich cheese and a nut, and drizzle honey over the entire thing. At the moment, pears are perfectly tender and sweet and there's nothing better with pear than a little blue cheese and walnuts.

The possibilities are endless though--here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
Cheddar, apple, peanut and honey
Brie, dried cranberries and pecans
Gorgonzola, strawberries and pine nuts
Peaches, pepperjack and pignolas

You get the drift!

Don't forget to drizzle honey over everything!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Festival of Food and Wine During Fashion Week

Every year on El Paseo in Palm Desert, Palm Springs Life Magazine throws Fashion Week to introduce the community to new designers, new lines, and a barrage of after-parties with the cultural freaks. This year they introduced a new weekend full of food and wine events in conjunction with the week where famous valley restaurants and chefs appeared to showcase their signature fare as well as a bevy of local and non-local wineries who offered generous tastings throughout the day. Below is some unabashed promotion about some of the food highlights of the day and the talented people behind them!

The Riviera Resort's sticky, hot toffee cake was out of this world. Chewy, rich, sweet and carmelized gooey goodness. I usually don't eat in the Riviera's Restaurant because it is way to expensive for the kind of normal, basic food that is prepared but I spend lots of time in the Side Bar with the black and white checkered floor when out of town guests come for a quick drink and I will certainly be adding this exquisite concoction to my order list while enjoying martinis with friends in the after dinner hours.

My friend Hugh immediately pointed me in the direction of the Old Town Temecula Olive Oil Company who had a table set up with my favorite thing: skinny french bread loaves and a variety of olive oil/balsamic vinegar duos in small plastic cups. Upon dipping and tasting, I walked away enthralled most by the creative pairings of flavors this company produces like the citrus-infused olive oil with the vanilla and fig balsamic vinegar.

Tropicale Restaurant is already one of my favorite restaurants in Palm Springs just based on their filet mignon salad alone but I was extra delighted to see my second favorite menu item, the red velvet cake, given out to festival goers in a cute, sprinkle-topped cupcake form!

Peppers Thai, a Palm Springs-based restaurant, caught my eye with their fresh, tofu spring rolls which were undoubtedly the freshest and most flavorful I have had in the desert yet. Not sure I can jump off the track of loyalty towards Thai Smile and Le Basil (my ultimate favorite valley thai restaurants) but these rolls could be something I specifically quest after often.

Lobster and asparagus cream soup from Sullivan's was cold, satisfying and rich enough to sate in just a small amount. Paired with the restaurant's famous blue cheese wedge would be my choice for future meetings with this luscious soup.

Zin American Bistro's asparagus omelette bites and grilled citrus shrimp were my favorite pick of the day. Eggy and spiked with sharp parmesan, these bites made me want to have breakfast for dinner everyday!