Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cactus Fruit Delights

The other day I stumbled upon an odd delicacy, plucked straight from the garden of a green-thumbed friend and then peeled, sliced and placed on my breakfast plate: Cactus fruit.

Apparently, her breed of the night-blooming Cereuses had plumped up a bounty of small, strange purple globes that taste eerily like a more mellow and bland kiwi. The fruit inside was a fantastical white flesh pocked with tiny black dots (seeds) looking kind of like an ice white gelato studded with poppy seeds. Slightly sweet and great dipped in cold vanilla yogurt, I was thrilled to discover this new form of fruit.

The fruit is fairly soft and easy to cut and peel with a knife to get to the yummy center. Once peeled, it can be thrown right into the mouth, or sliced up an added to meals like fruit salads or granola. After telling someone about my discovery, they told me how to cut the fruit in halves and freeze to turn them into little individual bowls of refreshing sorbet for the kids.

Here’s a salad recipe I adopted for the occasion of my new fruit discovery that is perfect for our current torrid season.

Cactus Fruit Salad
2-3 cactus fruits
8 strawberries
8-10 blueberries
1 orange, segmented
1 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon

Wash and clean all the fruit. Peel the prickly-pear cactus fruit. Chop into pieces. Peel the orange and segment. Place all the fruit in a bowl. Squeeze the juice from the orange over the fruit. Mix gently with clean hands. Drizzle the honey over the fruit. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the fruit and toss gently with a spoon. Serve immediately.

This article first appeared on Palm Desert Patch

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Smoking Pasta at Guiseppe's

I read an interview of the feminine goddess Sophia Loren once where she was asked how she maintains her amazing figure and her reply was "a bowl of pasta everyday." Being otherworldly in her gorgeousness, I had no doubt that this prescription was one for the likes of Mt. Olympians, but one that surely would not work the same for us mere mortals. 

Pasta is a forbidden luxury for me and something that I usually eat rarely, angel hair style with just a little olive oil and salt and pepper, maybe a squeeze of lemon for tang. I also got spoiled in Italy with the hearty and simplified versions that are oftentimes mucked up in America with two much sauce, meat or cheese. 

But a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being taken to a new restaurant in Palm Springs by my two dear friends Sam (who is the director of Michael Lord Gallery) and his partner Carlo, (a well-known hypersurrealist painter). Guiseppe's, tucked away into the Smoketree Shopping Center, rekindled my love affair with good, family style Italian food. 

Walking into the place was like walking into a family living room. The tables and chairs in the low lit dining room were packed with people of all walks of life and lots of noisy camaraderie. A bar in the center was stacked seat to seat with after work drinkers and the family that runs the place was busy serving customers and spending time with their seasoned regulars, sitting down often to chat table side and share glasses of wine and conversation. 

One look at the menu and I was thrilled with the clever and creative pasta combinations going above and beyond the norm. A big bowl of dense bread and a nice glass of cabernet assuaged my hunger while waiting for my main dish of smoky chicken penne pasta. The penne was cooked to al dente perfection and studded with moist, tiny bites of white meat chicken, while strains of smoked gouda delighted every bite with a deep, rich aftertaste. Sam told me his secret of ordering a side of sauteed spinach to mix in with the pasta and he demonstrated on his own alfredo while I threw  a pile of the green deliciousness into mine as well. The bowls were so large I could only eat one fourth of mine, but had leftovers for two lunches later at home to enjoy. 

Before we left, our waitress Kim came to sit with us and drink a glass of wine. She told us that the restaurant was doing so well after opening in the "wrong" time of year, knee deep in the blazing summer, that they were considering opening a location in Palm Desert as well. 

Her tattoo summed up my feelings about the restaurant!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marilyn Worthy Mouthful

My best friend Lisa and I have the same set of Marilyn Monroe small square dinner plates.  Mine most oftentimes carry squirts of bright acrylic paints as they've been relegated to a second life as artist palettes. My best friend brings hers out on special occasions on particularly fun girl-days when we have something decadent to share. If one is going to eat off of Marilyn's famous Warholized-face it better be something worthy of the iconic star's lush sexiness.

Yesterday fit the bill.

After a morning spent picking out glittery glosses and metallic green moss eyeliners at Sephora, followed by exquisite gym and jacuzzi time, we stopped in at Trader Joe's for a bottle of cheap but good rose wine to take to the pool. Passing the cheese aisle stopped us in our tracks as we noted a long thick log of goat cheese completely wrapped in a fresh, smashed blueberry fruit rind. Tongues smarting and tummies aching, we bought the novel treat along with some thin, multi-grain and flax seed crackers.

Dangerous is the only word I can use to describe the taste of this cheese. Four bites and we were stuffed. The blueberries are moist and sweet and the cheese log's middle becomes stained into a gorgeous purple and lavender blossom that melts on the tongue. Perfect alongside a not too sweet rose and post-pool floating on rafts after the culinary rapture.

We agreed that this food fit the halls of "orgasmic" cuisine. How apropos that we enjoyed it alongside the memory of the world's most famous sexpot. Here's to Marilyn!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sonoma County Champagne Sojourn

Visiting Northern California always takes me back to the bliss of nature. Whether rural, suburban or urban bound, flora and fauna still reign supreme. Trees command street sides, doe appear across the street from housing complexes nipping on stray bushes and weeds, sidewalks are lumpy where green things are constantly threatening to break through and long lazy afternoon drives through wine country produce spontaneous culinary adventures found in verdant pockets and wineries along the American River.

 My most recent sojourn through this woodsy nirvana was accompanied by two friends who took me to a very old graveyard where family members lived in eternity amongst crumbling marble stones, petrified mushrooms and ancient monuments to icons like the God of Bacci. Pretty apropos for a crew whose next stop was the Korbel Headquarters in Guerneville.

 I love wine tastings but have never tried a champagne tasting: 6 samples of champagnes varying from super sweet to ultra brut. I ventured off my usual course for the rose and was pleasantly surprised by the semi-sweet blush that wasn't cloying but fruity and crisp. This is a rose I would buy at home. I also didn't realize that Korbel made brandy but they do and it comes in a sampler pack alongside champagne varieties for about $50.

I was happy we had brought along an ice chest packed with interesting sodas bought at an old fashioned candy store along the way. A bottled coffee soda from Simpson Springs tasted amazingly similar to my old time favorite soda Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge and was perfect caffeine kick response to the bubbly in our brains.
The Korbel deli provided an exquisite foraging in the forest worthy lunch that consisted of a vegetarian sandwich that took my breath away. Thick artisan brown bread spread with tangy olive tapenade and layered with grilled eggplant, provolone cheese, mushrooms, tomato, red pepper and dark lettuces. 

Belly full, I could have easily spent another few hours there listening to the sounds of the nature around me. And watching the romantic ebbs and tides of the life going on all around us, including this beautiful little grasshopper duo playing piggy back across a thin wood railing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Fantasy Life

If I ever had the need to create a request for my single last meal before death, it would contain honey greek yogurt. I have been obsessed with the food of Mediterranean Greece for as long as I can remember but it wasn't until this past year when greek yogurt started popping up the shelves of almost every boutique grocery store that I realized I could be perfectly happy eating just this item of food for the rest of my life.

Growing up American, yogurt was always a part of my culinary fare. I have had many phases with the creamy dairy delicacy and minor periods of obsession with certain flavors. My Catholic school '80s era lunch boxes were full of Yoplait strawberry banana. My high school lust was for boysenberry generic brands. And my twenties were filled with plain yogurt mornings mixed with granola or vanilla tubs taking the place of ice cream for dessert.

My Sebastopol sister Sonia picked me up from the airport on my last visit and the minute I got in the car she asked me if I had a spoon. She asked it as if having a spoon getting off an airplane was a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. My first thought was, "What, does she want to do a snort of cocaine? That is so '80s" but those sordid thoughts were relinquished when she pulled out the big tub of honey greek yogurt that she had purchased along the way and couldn't wait to dive into. We spent the next two days making trips to Trader Joe's for the stuff. At least I know now that I am not the only crazy one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Greens Addiction

I know this ranks under the freak files, but I crave greens like normal people crave chocolate. I was one of those kids who actually loved brussell sprouts, too. As an adult I have come to relish the discovery of all things verdant and plucked from the earth from mustard greens to burgundy tinged artisanal lettuces, from broccoli to radicchio.

My obsession of late has been to visit my friend Leslie's garden on a weekly basis for a canvas tote full of freshly grown kale of which I eat daily in egg scrambles. Our mutual friend Paige, who runs a major art gallery by day, is a member of our kale-crazed club who is constantly surprising me with her own creations like kale chips which are basically made by throwing kale onto a baking sheet and sprinkling with olive oil in a hot oven till crisp.

If you're still reading and are like me, then you will love this warm, Southern, summer greens salad that I tossed together yesterday. All ingredients can be bought for discount prices at your local Fresh and Easy market. In under fifteen minutes, I had a savory dish that can be eaten alone or as a side accompaniment to meat and fish.

Warm Southern Greens Salad
Total dish is 300 calories
Makes one serving as a entree salad or 2 servings as a side dish

1/4 bag of Fresh and Easy's Southern Greens (a delightful mixed bag of kale, leafy dark cabbage and whatever else is currently in season)
3 slices of Fresh and Easy's center cut bacon
One tablespoon Olive Oil
One tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
One tablespoon crushed garlic
One tablespoon Fresh and Easy's flake parmesan cheese

Heat up a pan and the olive oil. Throw in the garlic and heat until just before brown. Throw in the greens and heat on high until they wilt down, about ten minutes. While heating the greens, cook the three slices of bacon in a microwave on a plate between paper towels for four and a half minutes to get it extra crispy. Crumble the bacon and then throw into the wilted greens along with the balsamic vinegar and toss together for about 30 seconds. Heap it all onto a plate and cover with the parmesan cheese!