Sunday, August 30, 2009

Slow Food Done Kinda Fast: Oakland's "Eat Real" Food Festival

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients”
--Julia Child

Today I ate some of the best cheese I have ever tasted! Mozzarella curd, pulled to order, drizzled with Arbequina (a type of olive) olive oil, good quality salt, and torn basil leaves. I ate my little puddle of cheese alongside some fat slices of heirloom tomatoes!

I purchased this simple cheese puddle at Jon’s Street Eats, one of the many vendors set up at Oakland’s “Eat Real” festival. Jon was boiling the cheese in some sort of magical way (well it was probably very simple but it tasted magical!). Mozzarella tends to be a mild, almost bland cheese, but when paired with the right accoutrements, mmmm!

In addition to the freshly pulled mozzarella, my friend, Michelle, and I shared a grilled eggplant sandwich—grilled eggplant, ratatouille, shaved Parmesan in a grilled split top bun! Everything tasted heavenly—the bun was just the right amount of buttery and salty, the grilled eggplant slices complemented the ratatouille so well!

The Eat Real Festival is loaded with crowds of people cruising along the boardwalk, tasting street food from various vendors highlighting fresh summer fruits and veggies, multicultural snacks, handcrafted local beers, and ice cream sold from the back of a bicycle! In connection with the Slow Food Movement, Eat Real aims to put eaters in contact with the real people -- the farmers, chefs, and producers -- who make our food.

For dessert, Michelle and I shared a fruit salad—watermelon, cantaloupe, cactus fruit, mango, pineapple, cucumber, and jicama. We ate it the authentic way with chili powder, salt, and lemon juice! YUM. Perfectly refreshing on a nice summer day!

Check out these homemade s'mores!

The line for this paella was a heap of tomfoolery! Look at those HUMONGOUS stoves!

A truck devoted to chowder. Gotta love the Bay Area...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Strawberry Agua Frescas and Alfajores (aka Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies!)

Swimming goggles. My new best friend. You really do make a difference. I can see under water! How ‘bout that?

I’m trying to swim more. Besides being a full body workout, the weather is warm and the pool is cold. Go take a dip in the pool and cool off.

It’s hot.

It was hot at 9 am. It is hot at midnight.

Strawberry agua fresca. You are my savior in this extreme heat wave! I want nothing but to quench my thirst with your smooth, slurp-me-up refreshing vibes. Strawberries, water, and a touch of sugar. Nothing fancy—blend and serve over ice.

If you do not have strawberries, use any fruit of your choice—melons, berries, citrus...

Strawberry Agua Fresca

1 basket of (organic) strawberries
¾ cup of sugar
1 quart of water (roughly 4 cups)

1. Wash and take off the green top of the strawberries.
2. Put the strawberries and the water in a blender and blend until smooth.
3. Add the sugar and blend for a moment more.
4. Put ice cubes in a glass and pour in the strawberry agua fresca.
5. Gulp, gulp, gulp!

Dulce de leche. Literally “sweet milk.” You have a similar consistency and taste as caramel. You work wonders drizzled in ice cream and spread on baguette (the French call it “confiture de lait”). Today you are the gooey filling nestled between two crumbly butter cookies sandwiched together to make an alfajor.

Alfajores are commonly seen in Latin American counties (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico…) and Spain. They are often dusted with powdered sugar (sometimes cinnamon or cocoa powder, too!), rolled in grated coconut, and/or dipped in chocolate.

David Lebovitz’s easy recipe for dulce de leche is a must!

adapted from nook&pantry

1 - 1 1/4 C AP flour
1/2 C corn starch
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 C sugar
1 stick of butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Dulce de leche (store bought or homemade)
Powdered sugar, cinnamon, and/or cocoa powder (optional)
Freshly grated coconut (also optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together the flour (starting with 1 cup), cornstarch, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

3. Add the egg and vanilla to the butter and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and beat until the dough comes together. Add some of the remaining 1/4 C of flour if the dough is too wet.

4. Roll out the dough to about 1/8 in thickness and cut into whatever shape you desire. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown.

5. Cool on a rack.

6. To assemble, slab a thick layer of dulce de leche on one side of a cookie and top with another cookie.

7. Dust the tops with some powdered sugar (add a tiny bit of cinnamon/cocoa if preferred). Dip the sides in freshly grated coconut so that the white flakes stick to the dulce de leche.

**I skipped the dusting part and just went straight to the eating part! Be prepared for a crumbly mess of gooey goodness!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jews, Schmooz, Barbecues

Ahh, the start of a fresh school year…

The sun is shining, people are happy…there are new beginnings aplenty!

Fraternities and sororities are bustling and bursting out in rush-songs and secret handshakes. Incoming college freshmen are scurrying around campus trying to find the correct building. The co-ops are still semi-clean. Actually, nevermind. I take that back.

Clubs and organizations parade you with fliers and free food, trying to get you to sign up for this and that.

Berkeley Hillel, a Jewish center for student life, is all about giving free food to hungry college students and encouraging social interaction…

Every Wednesday, a handful of students join together to prepare a massive barbecue at Berkeley Hillel. We make a rockin’ guacamole and salsa, a leafy green salad, a colorful pasta dish, barbecued chicken and hot dogs with accompanying bread buns (we always do a vegetarian option, too!), French fries, and a dessert!

Cooking for a crowd is a whole lot different than cooking for four. We usually barbecue enough for about 300-500 people!

I used to be a sucker for following a recipe step-by-step and taking my time to slowly and thoughtfully put a meal together. Now I have learned how to use a recipe only as a guide and how to cook mostly by feel, leaving lots of room to experiment and get creative in the kitchen!

While I sometimes miss cooking for four, when cooking for a crowd there are many more compliments, which always make me feel good after a long afternoon of chopping, roasting, baking, and sautéing!

When cooking for a large crowd, it is a luxury to be able to get a case of avocados. Avocados are a miracle fruit. They can fit into many different cuisines—Japanese sushi, Mexican guacamole, American sandwich filling…Recently, avocados are used as a thickener and base to hold everything together in baked goods, and also makes for a creamy ice cream flavor! Although I have yet to try this, avocados are also great for make-at-home face masks and beauty regimes. They are great for the skin and have a lot of “healthy” fats and vitamins.

I make guacamole by feel. Sometimes I like to have the chunks of avocado bits and other times I like to mash the avocados for a smoother feel.

Rockin’ Guacamole
Serves 2-4

2 avocados
¼ red onion, finely minced
lemon or lime juice (about 1-2 Tablespoons)
salt and pepper

optional add-ins:
1-2 tomatoes, diced
jalapeño, finely minced
fresh corn
diced mango

1. Slice the avocados in half. Scoop out the pit or lightly bang with a sharp knife and twist it out. See here for a more thorough explanation for how to cut and peel an avocado. **Reserve the pits (see step 7)
2. Score the avocados into a criss cross pattern and scoop out the cubes with a spoon. Alternatively, you do not have to score the flesh and can just scoop it out with a spoon and mash with a fork or potato masher.
3. Finely mince the onion and combine with the avocado.
4. Add in the lemon/lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add in diced tomato, jalapeño, and cilantro to garnish.
6. For a fun twist, add in fresh corn or diced mango!!
7. If you are not eating the guac right away, place the pits in the guac to prevent browning (I do not know if this really works, but I do it anyway!! It looks pretty, too!).
8. Serve with chips, veggie crudités, corn tortillas, or use as a sandwich spread!

One tip I learned while working at Spago Restaurant is how to correctly boil pasta. When you boil the water, throw in enough salt for it to taste like an ocean! Really, a LOT of salt. When you add the pasta to the water, the salt gets incorporated into the dough and then you do not have to add so much extra salt to your sauce.

Do a taste test. Taste some plain pasta that has been cooked in heavily salted water and then try some that was cooked in only water. Wow. The flavor of the salt really pops out and makes such a big difference! Thank you Spago chefs!

Another tip is to reserve some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta to incorporate into a sauce.

Pasta salad with summer vegetables

You can adapt proportions according to how many people are eating!

Dry pasta (I like to an assortment of fun shapes!)

Fresh seasonal produce (I used cherry tomatoes which I left whole, fresh corn, zucchini and yellow crookneck summer squash, red bell peppers, garlic, and onions!)

A few splashes of Balsamic vinegar and good quality extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs such as basil or parsley

Optional: cheese (feta, Parmesan, mozzarella…_)

1. Cook the pasta in boiling SALTED water.
2. Drain (reserve some of the pasta water in case you want to add some back).
3. Chop the veggies into shapes of your choice—circular slices, thin strips, small chunks…
4. Sauté the onions first for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the veggies and stir until cooked. Add some salt.
5. Combine the sautéed veggies and pasta.
6. Add a splash of the balsamic vinegar and olive oil and stir. If the mixture seems dry, add some of the reserved pasta water (although most likely the vegetables will add enough moisture).
7. Stir in cheese. Garnish with fresh herbs.

After making the Silver Palate cookbook recipe for homemade barbecue sauce, it is hard to eat the store bought stuff. This is a really fresh tasting sauce that you can add or substitute ingredients according to your own taste buds.

I often make it and then toss it with some chicken to either pop in the oven or throw on the grill! It is always a hit, tastes better than the store bought sauce, and is super easy to prepare!

Homemade Barbecue Sauce!

Adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook
Makes about 3 cups

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
Juice from 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce (I used a drop of Asian red chili sauce)
2 Tablespoons unsulfured molasses
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic (I used a few cloves of roasted garlic...mmm!)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, to heat through and to blend the flavors, 10-12 minutes. Do not boil.
3. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

San Diego Detour—Chino Ranch

Chino Ranch Farms. Located in the midst of one of San Diego’s most exclusive suburbs, Rancho Santa Fe. The Chinos run a quaint produce stand called the Vegetable Shop.

Chino Ranch gained national prominence when Alice Waters of Chez Panisse discovered the exceptional produce. She now has weekly shipments of Chino produce delivered to the Berkeley restaurant. Currently on the menu are Chino’s lima beans, which are literally HUGE and will probably change your notion of the frozen pasty lima beans you may be used to…

Wolfgang Puck also uses Chino Farms produce at his Spago Beverly Hills Restaurant: Chino Farms Heirloom Tomato Soup, Roasted Chino Farms Beet Layer Cake…

The Chinos practice sustainable growing practices—labor-intensive cultivation methods and extreme devotion to harvesting only the best tasting produce.

Both Laurel Miller from the Oakland Tribune and I agree on the exquisite: “Rows of sparkling clean lettuces -- the Chinos grow 60 varieties -- lie next to pristine microgreens and herbs; snowy, baby icicle radishes, purple kohlrabi, burdock root, baby cauliflower in purple and apricot-hued "citrus" varieties; cardoons, red and Thumbelina carrots; warty-looking, dusky blue, hard squash; freshly scrubbed Jerusalem artichokes; Brussels sprouts the size of marbles; and containers of fresh, shucked heirloom shelling beans of every imaginable pattern and hue.”

I tried some of their strawberry figs! The riper and squishier the better! And they really had a hint of strawberry flavor, too! I also tasted these big, fat figs that I believe are called king figs? Either way they were yummy!

My family bought some tiny little colorful tomatoes, which were just so cute and tasted divine! Big tomato flavor! Very fresh. We devoured the little basket in one sitting; it was like eating healthy jellybeans!

If you are in the San Diego area and are a fan of pretty views and fresh produce, it is worth it to swing by the modest Vegetable Shop at Chino Farms.

Friday, August 21, 2009

20 Minute Family Dinner with the Help of Good Ol’ Trader Joe

Dear Trader Joe,

You are filled with fun snacks and irresistible brand name treats! Why do you tempt me so?

Your thick cinnamon raisin bread is just heavenly when turned into French Toast! Your Raisin Bran and Vanilla Almond Clusters cereal…once I start, I can’t stop! All of those cute prepared salads! And your pizza doughs! Don’t even get me started on your trail mix collection and those gosh darn chocolate covered almonds! You used to carry this Greek style Fig Yogurt, but now you don’t...tears...sniff sniff...

In case you haven’t seen this video yet, anyone familiar with Trader Joe’s market should watch! Here you go!

Anyway, I just spent 5 days with the fam basking in the San Diego sunshine, cruising the beaches, and riding the waves on a sailboat and a powerboat, a kayak and a jet-ski!

After sitting in traffic on the way back to Los Angeles, we had no desire to “futz” around in the kitchen. Quick, easy, and delicious was tonight’s motto.

We decided to be inventive and use up whatever was left in the house (which was pretty slim pickin’s since we were out of town for 5 days!).

Well, those “slim pickin’s” made a mighty fine 20-minute dinner! We took the easy way out and popped some Trader Joe’s brand “chicken tenders in panko bread crumbs” in the oven with marinara sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. We sautéed a little spinach with some garlic and salt to top it all off!

Trader Joe, you did it again! We took your simple already made chicken and kicked it up a few notches with our own twist!

To keep our chicken dish company, I prepared a “musgo” (pronounced muZgo; term for everything in the fridge “must go”) chopped Italian style salad with celery, cucumber, hearts of palm, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and pepperoncinis. Drizzled with some oil and vinegar, a dash of salt, and a sprinkle of rosemary, this salad was a big hit tonight for the fearsome foursome!

Breaded Baked Chicken with Tomato Sauce, Spinach, and Cheese

1 package of Trader Joe’s “chicken tenders in panko bread crumbs”
½ a large jar of your favorite marina sauce
a few handfuls of shredded cheese (mozzarella…parmesan…)
Garlic (1-2 cloves)

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking dish with foil.
  • Place the chicken tenders on the foil and cover with sauce. Sprinkle with cheese.
  • Bake until heated through and the cheese is melty, about 10-15 minutes or so.
  • Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a pan and add the garlic. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. Add a bag of spinach and sauté until wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. When the chicken comes out of the oven, lay the spinach over the top!

"Musgo" Chopped Salad

4 stalks of celery
3 Persian cucumbers
1 can of Hearts of Palm
Sundried tomatoes in oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vinegar (I used Balsamic, but feel free to use Red wine or another vinegar of your choice)
Rosemary (I used dried but fresh would be ideal! Also, you can substitute whatever herbs you prefer!)

  • Chop everything into bite-sized pieces. Dress lightly with oil and vinegar, herbs, and salt.
  • Feel free to add in whatever ingredients you have on-hand or like to eat. I would love some chunks of feta cheese! Some toasted nuts! Artichoke hearts! Avocado! Let your imagination run wild!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Peaches in Wine & Candied Mint + Breakfast Parfait!

“Do you really need a recipe for a platter of figs? No. Is that the point? Yes…The platter of figs perfectly illustrates the idea of eating with the seasons…As with good tomatoes, you wait all year for the best figs to arrive. The reward is heavy, juicy fruit with oozing centers—sweet figs to swoon for…”
-David Tanis
A Platter of Figs and other recipes

The title and cover picture won me over with this book! David Tanis, one of the head chefs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, organizes this book by the seasons and his recipes are super simple so as to enhance the beautiful glory of the food itself.

Yesterday I tested out his recipe for peaches in wine. Slice up some stone fruit, sprinkle with a little sugar, pour over a bottle of dry white wine and BAM! Damn good.

This is great to serve as a before the meal “drink” or an after dinner, light summer dessert. Just spoon some peaches in a shallow bowl and don’t forget to add in some of the wine juices!

Peaches in Wine

Adapted from David Tanis, A Platter of Figs

8 ripe peaches (I used a combo of peaches and nectarines)
2-3 Tablespoons sugar
1 bottle (750mL) dry white wine or rosé

1. Peel the peaches with a good quality peeler or paring knife. Slice the fruit and put in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle with sugar and toss gently. Pour the wine over the fruit, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.

3. To serve, ladle the fruit slices into shallow bowls or glasses, adding half a cup of the winey juices to each.

To go along with the peaches, I experimented with candied mint leaves. Almost every time that I intern in the pastry kitchens at Chez Panisse, one of my jobs is to candy rose petals or fresh red currants.

It is quite the arm workout to whisk egg whites until super foamy. You want the foam that sticks to the side of the bowl. Brush your desired ingredient with the egg foam, and lightly dip in sugar. Place on a rack to dry.

I did not let my mint leaves dry out long enough. They looked really nice but they were more of a garnish as I probably would not eat more than one tiny leaf!

Candied Mint Leaves
Adapted from my cooking experiences in the Chez Panisse pastry kitchens

Mint Leaves (you can use anything you want…rose petals, fresh red currants, berries…)
Egg whites

1. Whisk your egg whites until super foamy!! You want to use the foam that hugs the side of a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, pour in some granulated white sugar.
3. Take your mint leaf, brush it lightly with egg foam, and lightly dip it in the sugar on both sides. If it is not completely covered with sugar, dab with some more egg foam and sprinkle with more sugar.
4. Lay the leaf on a drying rack to air-dry overnight.
5. Repeat with remaining leaves. You will want to re-whisk the egg whites throughout the process to get them really foamy again.

Of course, I preferred my peaches in wine the next morning, drizzled over some yogurt and granola for an exquisite breakfast! Enjoying my parfait in a pretty martini glass made everything taste just that much better!

I began my parfait with a mix of cereal topped with some Greek Fage yogurt, poured in some wine soaked stone fruit, and dolloped on some more yogurt! As a final touch, I added fresh blueberries, plain rolled oats, and a sprig of mint leaves!

Yogurt Parfait with Wine Soaked Peaches

¼ cup of Cereal (I used a mix of Kashi Heart to Heart and Bear Naked Peak Protein Granola!)
½ cup of plain yogurt (I prefer Greek Fage or Straus brand!)
A few ladles of wine soaked peaches
To garnish:
1 or 2 peach slices in wine
Fresh blueberries
Plain rolled oats
A sprig of mint

1. Start with a little sprinkle of cereal.
2. Dollop with some yogurt.
3. Spoon in some wine soaked fruit.
4. Top with more yogurt.
5. Sprinkle with a little more cereal.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

Frolicking in the rose gardens of Berkeley and smelling pretty flowers like Fragrant Rhododendrons. They smell like fresh melon! Mmm.

The Bad:
My camera broke. I have been borrowing cameras from friends. This stinks.

The Ugly:
My car got broken into. Parked in the EMPLOYEE parking lot of a successful Berkeley restaurant. Radio stolen. Air conditioning control system stolen. At least they had the decency to leave my bright pink sunglasses. Hmph!

The Good:
This cornbread. Yes, this is really the best ever cornbread! The secret? Browned butter—my new favorite ingredient in baked goods! I will post the recipe shortly.

The Bad:

Overeating- you know that feeling when you eat and then you just keep eating and then 30 minutes later you are so full that your stomach wants so badly to expand but is stuffed to the brim? Yah. Awful feeling. This is happening a lot lately. Come on, stomach. Toughen up, will ya?

The Ugly:
I have to move tomorrow. Just the thought of carrying heavy bags and living out of a suitcase makes me cringe.

The Good:
Fourth of July barbecues and special dinners with friends. There’s nothing like a good, hearty meal and some cheap alcohol!

More Good:
Weekend trips #1—SF mission district. Bi-rite ice creamery. Delfina pizzeria. Tartine bakery. Dolores park. Noe valley homes. Hipster shops. Dog-eared books.

Bite-Rite. Go there. Go there and wait in line. Do it. Drool over the menu. Sample the flavors—coffee toffee (really strong coffee flavor!), brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, strawberry balsamic, burnt caramel, crème fraiche…It really is good to the last lick.

The cones are not as good as the ‘homemade with chocolate on the bottom’ cones from Ici ice cream in Berkeley. But hey, its summer and summer means ice cream shall be eaten. Go to Bi-rite. Eat your ice cream in Dolores Park. Read a story out load to friends. Flare your nostrils and smell the fresh “herb.” Lay on the grass and bask in the glory of San Francisco!

Tartine Bakery. Go for breakfast and order a cappuccino and a pastry--I recommend the morning bun or the famous bread pudding. Go for lunch and order the Croque Monsieur, an open faced sandwich consisting of thick country bread, layers of cheeses and herbs, topped off with seasonal veggies!

Weekend trips #2—Kayaking along the Russian river. Sunshine. Trees. River. Calm waters. Jumping off of large rocks into the water! Road tripping! Good friends. Right in the heart of Sonoma county…the Russian River is nestled in a quaint little town, surrounded by green trees, vineyards, and cute “mom and pop” shops! Rent a kayak and take the day to drift along the 5 mile river path.