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

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
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.