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. 


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.


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


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

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

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!