Food Buzz


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring is in the air!

When I think of spring I think of the farmers market's fresh asparagus and strawberries and bright greens and spring onions.  But one of my favorite spring fruits is lemons!  And with a dinner to attend tonight where I was asked to bring "something sweet," I checked out the lemons in my fruit basket and searched all over the web for a good lemon cookie recipe.  This one just sounded good and I'd like to thank for this great recipe!

Giant Lemon Sugar Cookies

2 C. sugar, divided
Zest of 2 lemons, divided
1 C. butter, softened
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
2 3/4 C flour
1/4 t. salt
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda

Prepare lemon sugar: In a mini food processor, blend 1/2 C. sugar with 1 t. lemon zest. Pulse several times until the lemon zest is incorporated into the sugar. Put sugar mixture in a shallow bowl and stir lightly with a fork to break up any clumps. Set aside.

Prepare cookie dough: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, cream of tartar and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and remaining 1 1/2 C. sugar. Blend in eggs, one at a time then add vanilla, lemon juice, and remaining lemon zest. Add flour mixture, one cup at a time, blending well after each addition, until all flour is incorporated.

Refrigerate dough for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Shape the cookies: Using a jumbo cookie scoop or your hands, shape two tablespoonfuls of dough into a ball and roll in lemon sugar. Place ball of dough on cookie sheet and press down lightly with the bottom of a glass until cookie is about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat. Six cookies will fit on one 18″ x 13″ baking sheet.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.

The cookies came out great - i varied the size of the cookie as the first batch came out really large (just like the name of the cookie!).  They are cake-y in the middle, have a nice crunch from the lemon sugar on the outside and have a really nice lemon flavor that I love.  I am sure they will go over well at dinner tonight.

What are some of your favorite things about spring?  Any favorite veggies and fruits?

Chow for now! :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Following a dream!

Well, I'm sorry I've been out of touch - I had my first exam yesterday in Nutrition class (did well, I think!), My sister's baby shower is this weekend, lots of family and friends in town... therefore lots of cleaning and "getting ready." I almost considered not going to my cooking class tonight. Almost. And once I was there I thought man, this could've been one of the most perfect nights to skip class - we were told we were going to be making brown stock (been there, done that). That's it. But that wasn't it at all. While the stock was bubbling...we got to hear about our Chef/professor's life!

Chef D has had an interesting career - starting in college when she was getting her degree to teach Home Ec (she knew she wanted to teach since she was a little girl) she babysat for spending money. The parents of the kids she watched asked her to start cooking for the family each night. Here she was a Jewish 20 year old from NY who was asked by her wealthy Mexican employers to cook them dinners every night (and Mexican dinners at that). Of course she said yes, but she had a lot to learn. And they let her practice and learn on the job, perfecting and learning about items beyond tacos (which until then she had only had at Taco Bell).

Fast forward to graduation, she got her degree and as luck would have it she also got a job pretty quickly teaching Home Ec at the high school level. All was well and good until the economy began to turn (sound familiar?) and she was handed a pink slip. While waiting in line at unemployment (pre-online/mail-based unemployment filing) she began thinking about other possible jobs she could do. She did some research (in the want ads - again, no internet) and found that there was an agency hiring private chefs for wealthy Beverly Hills clients. Without giving too much away, let's just say she cooked for very wealthy residents of LA who loved her and her food. She cooked for families, she cooked for the staff of families, she cooked for small and large parties. She did this until she could get another teaching job then realized she could do both at once and make a ton of money! So she did.

Since the earlier years, she has continued doing what she enjoys: a full time teaching gig (at both the high school and college level) along with running a part time catering business. She travels all over the world in her free time to taste food from every culture, she spends as much time in France and Napa taking classes and as I can tell from attending her class, truly enjoys what she does and wants everyone in her class to love this as much as she does.

Since my layoff I have had to spend a lot of time soul searching to figure out what was next for me. For some people, choosing a career (or careers) is easy - it could start for someone as a 6 year old playing "teacher" in a friend’s house, or at age 11 singing in to a toothbrush in front of a mirror. For others of us, and I would say for the majority of us, it is an evolving process.

Over my 36 years I have wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, a physical therapist, a personal assistant, a dog masseuse, a dog trainer, a therapist, and probably others that I don't even remember. But right now I want to be a chef. I will be a chef. I am inspired by my professor and by chefs on tv, and by one of the students who showed us his carving technique and by anyone else following their dreams.

It is so important to follow your dreams. If you are in a job you don't like anymore, take the time to explore other options. You don't have to be unhappy.  It will take a lot of time, a lot of money and some soul searching but it is NEVER too late.

Have you ever changed your career (and surprised everyone around you)? Or were you the little girl or boy singing into your toothbrush?  Share your story - I'd love to hear it! 

Chow for now! :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You say Endive, I say "On-deeve"

Class started last night with a very informative (and very old school) video from circa 1980 about how endive is cultivated.  I had little knowledge of the process before and just assumed that it was done the way other lettuces are done - seeds are plantecd and eventually the lettuces grow like crazy, you pick them and eat them with a nice balsamic vinaigrette.  I gave little thought to the fact that endive is actually is predominantly white in color and I didn't think about why that is.

Endive actually comes from the chicory root (those who have frequented New Orleans surely have tried the famous coffee which is flavored with chicory - used to cut the edge of the bitter coffee grounds).  Farms plant chicory seeds and once the leaves have matured, the green tops are cut and discarded and the roots are pulled from the ground and brought into an indoor location where they are kept at high humidity and mild temperatures and given doses of hydroponic-based water/fertilizer solution.  Since they are grown inside without sunlight, the vegetable is mostly white in color!  Eventually the roots begin sprouting little white leaves (see picture from below):

The plants stay inside for the full growth period then they are picked and sorted into three grades based on size (baby, standard and extra) ans sent to market.  The chicory roots can only grow one endive plant before being recycled as high grade cattle feed.

The video was provided to our Chef by California Vegetable Specialties and you can see step by step pictures of the process as well as learn more about the history of this delicate lettuce on their website.

Hopefully this makes you think about how other fruits and vegetables are grown and cultivated. There is a wealth of information online and when you visit your local farmer's markets, talk to the farmers - they will love to tell you their stories.

Happy St Patrick's Day to you all!

Chow for now. :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is there such a thing as TOO much cheese?

If there is such a thing, it happened last night.  I anticipated that our class would revolve around cheese because on Tuesday, Chef was excitedly talking about all the cheeses that the director of the department would be purchasing for her in time for our class last night.  Little did I know just how many cheeses we would try and in how many forms!

Teams made the following dishes:
Croque Monsieur (a french grilled cheese and ham sandwich with a bechamel sauce)
NY cheesecake (we don't get to try it until Tues, that's a good thing)
Chile Rellenos (stuffed with potatos and cheese)
"Super Nachos"
Cottage cheese pancakes with warmed maple syrup
Poached pear in red wine reduction with mascarpone
Beet avocado and burrata cheese salad
Apple, endive and blue cheese salad
Mini-Caprese salads on toothpicks
Cheese plate

Our team was in charge of the pancakes (a walk around appetizer) and the cheese platter.  We also served our cheese torta that we made on Tuesday - isn't it beautiful? (as a reminder, it's layers of goat cheese/cream cheese and garlic that has been blended, with layers o sundried tomato pesto and basil pesto):

We learned a little history of the cheeses (I can now name blue cheeses from 5 different countries) and found a local purveyor to buy great burratta (this rich, creamy mozzarella  can be found at Marios in Glendale).

Onto the recipes... I've provided the recipe for the pancakes and the poached pear dessert.  The pancakes were light and airy as a result of folding in the egg whites... As Chef said  "they slide down your throat."

Cottage Cheese Pancakes
3 eggs separated
1/4 tsp salt
1T sugar
3T flour
1 cup plus 2T cottage cheese

1. Separate the eggs making sure not to get the yolk in the whites
2. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks
3. In another bowl, beat the yolks with the salt, sugar and cottage cheese
4. Stir in the flour
5. Fold in the beaten egg white in two additions
6. Drop by spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle
7. Turn carefully as they are very fragile when browned.
8. Serve with warm maple syrup

Poached Pear in Red Wine Reduction

yields 8 pears

8 pears
1/2 bottle red wine
1 c sugar
mascarpone cheese
1 c water
8 squares of milk chocolate

1.  Peel the skin from the pears leaving the stem intact
2. Cut a flat bottom so the pears can stand in a large pot
3. Cover with wine, 1 c water and 1 c sugar.  Cover the pot and cook until the pears are tender.  Be sure to baste while the pears cook.
4. Remove pears and boil the paching liquid until the wine is reduced to a syrup and coats a spoon.
5. When the pears cook, remove the core from the bottom.
6. Serve with sauce and a dallop of the cheese and a square of chocolate.

the final beautiful product:

Chow for Now! :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Who knew I liked lamb?

After many years of saying to my mom "I really don't like lamb, I don't like it.  It's gamey, I hate the smell.  Mint jelly is gross." and mom replying "You don't know what you are missing!" I have finally figured out that mom was right, AGAIN!  Last night, among the many recipes that were cooked at class, teams one and two made lamb shish kebab with mint pesto.  Wow - it was really good!  Lamb was marinated in a mint pesto (recipes below) for about 45 minutes then was skewered with green pepper and onion and grilled.  The kebobs came out delicious and not overly gamey or minty! I was pretty proud of all the teams last night - we made some good stuff.

On the menu (as we were still working on marinades/pestos) was fennel slaw with pistachio pesto which was pretty good, mushroom duxelle stuffed tomatoes (really delicious and would have been even better with summery ripe tomatoes instead of hard-ish winter tomatoes),  pasta with sundried tomato/parmesan/cream sauce, dijonaisse chicken breast (a decadent chicken breast recipe with a dijon/mayo/parmesan topping), and finally, our team made a cheese torta (cream cheese, goat cheese and garlic, whipped in the food processor then layered with a home made sun dried tomato pesto in a springform pan and refirgerated).  We didn't get to taste the final product as it needs to refrigerate over night.  We will eat it Thursday when we have a CHEESE presentation (I am not eating all day Thursday in preparation!).  I will take pictures!

Some of these recipes had summery ingredients... do you have a favorite summer recipe or ingredient that you are getting excited for?  Spring is just around the corner! 

Here is the kebab recipe.  Enjoy and chow for now! :)

Mint Pesto
yields 9.5 oz

1/2 t salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 oz pine nuts
1 oz parmesan cheese, grated
2 oz mint leaves, fresh
1/2 t chile flakes
4 fl oz olive oil
TT pepper

We used a mortar and pestle.  If you want to go this route, put salt and garlic in the mortar and use the pestle to pound the garlic until it's very soft.  Add pine nuts and pound until blended.  add cheese and pound until well mixed.  Add mint leaves and chile flakes and pound some more.  Put mixture into a bowl and slowly stir in olive oil until well mixed.  Add a little pepper to taste.

If you want to use a food processor, combine all ingredients into the bowl of the processor and blend until a smooth paste.

Lamb Shish Kebab
Yields 16 skewers with 4 cubes of lamb on each

5 lb of Lamb (leg or shoulder, boneless, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes)
6 medium onions cut into 1 inch squares
6 green bell peppers cut into 1 inch squares
16 skewers, soaked in wataer for about 1/2 hour.

Procedure: Grill or broil
1. Marinate the lamb in mint pesto for one hour
2. Place cubes of lamb on each skewer, then a piece of onion and bell pepper, alternating the vegetables and lamb (4 pieces of lamb per skewer).  Grill or broil to desired doneness.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mmmmmmmm. Cake.

I know I said I was going to make cake yesterday but didn't get around to it.  Today, after scouring the interweb for a "great" sheet cake recipe and only finding only "ok" or unrated recipes on the usual sites, I consulted my trusty "Joy of Cooking" for help and boy did Joy come through for me.

I made what is listed as "1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake" in my edition but is also called "Four egg yellow cake" in more updated editions.  Hollah!!  It came out great!  I made the batter as called for but instead of using 3-8x2 round pans used one 13x8 pan.  I didn't put all of the batter in - left about 2 cups of the batter out but I probably could have fit it all in, cooked it a little longer and it would have been fine.  I am envisioning this cake as THE cake for my sister's baby shower in a couple of weeks. Two-13x8s layered with strawberries and homemade whipped cream... YUM!  No pictures becuase I didn't ice it and it looks sort of naked but trust me it tastes great.  It's light, fluffy and has a distinct vanilla taste with a tiny undertone of almond.

So, speaking of Joy of Cooking, in class this week we were given a handout with the Top Ten Books for Future Chefs (this list was originally published by "Working World" magazine in 2005 so there are probably some others to add).  I am happy to say I've read or own three of the ten (starred below) and have put in a request to the LA Public Library to hold some of the others for me.  Drum roll please.....

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg and Jaren Page
*Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
*The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer
Larousse Gastronomique, A Culinary Encyclopedia
Le Guide Culinaire by August Escoffier
*The Making of a Chef by Michael Rulhman
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
The Professional Chef, published by the Culinary Institute of America

Also recommended by my prof is The Soul of a Chef by Michael Rulhman.  I LOVED Anthony Bourdain's book - he's such a smart ass and tells it like it is. 

Do you have any favorite cookbooks that you use often or do you rely solely on the internet for recipes?  What are some of your favorite websites for finding new and interesting recipes?  I probably go to, and most often.

Happy Sunday - enjoy the Oscars!!

Chow for now. :)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rainy days can be inspiring!

Ahhh... there is nothing like making comfort food on a rainy/snowy/cold day (are you feeling me NY?).  I know, I can't typically complain about the weather. I am living in LA LA land, after all, but today it's raining.  Although it's only 10:40 am, I already have cabin fever.  But going out in the rain means dealing with LA drivers who can't figure out how to drive in this weather.  So what does one do?  Make comfort food!!

I started the day by skipping my usual healthy morning smoothie and went to the opposite end of the spectrum:  ham, egg and cheese on an english muffin and a great cup (or two) of Dunkin Donuts coffee (made in my coffee maker since they haven't figured out how many people want them to open up in LA!!). 

I think I might try some new recipes today as well.  I just got a 13x9 inch cake pan at Marshalls yesterday and might make a sheet cake (!) as a practice run for my sister's baby shower coming up in a few weeks.  Neighbors watch out - I'm bringing over some sweets for you to try!!

Dinner should be fun to figure out too...oh, maybe I'll start a slow cooker beef stew.  Mmmmmmm.

What is your favorite comfort food to make?  What do you do on cold rainy/snowy days to pass the time?

Stay warm and dry!

Chow for now!  :)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vegetarians need not apply

I want to start  off by saying have absolutely nothing against vegetarians (some of my best friends are vegetarians!) and I completely understand wanting to go meat free in this day of corporations buffing up every animal from chicken to swine with corn corn and more corn and hormones and salt water and whatever else.  But I am not sure how one can attend culinary school without being open to trying foods you don't normally eat. 

My team had a big discussion tonight about foods we like/dislike.  For instance, one of my team members doesn't like watermelon, but she tried the balsamic watermelon amuse bouche that we made. She still didn't like it but she TRIED it.  We also have a vegetarian on our team, but she's not in the culinary program, rather is getting a pre-requisite for her MS in nutrition so I give her a pass.  It made me wonder about people who may be vegan, vegetarian, hate orange foods, whatever... how difficult it would be to go through culinary school without tasting everything you cook!  So curious!

Tonight we worked on our chopping again, and also made a very nice meal.  Started with the amuse bouche and an amazing salad of baby greens, candied walnuts (which we made ourselves), dried cranberries, chevre (goat cheese), asian pears and a balsamic vinaigrette.  We also worked on marinades and dry rubs and made a marinaded chicken thigh dish and a really nice dry rub for pork loin (or tenderloin).  The pork recipe is below.  The best hint I can give you is keep your eye on the temperature of the pork.  You don't want underdone OR overdone pork.  It is no bueno.

Cumin Roasted Pork Loin with Apples and Onions

1 lb pork loin, trimmed of fat
1T cumin, ground
1/2 t curry powder
1t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 oz butter
4 oz onions, medium dice
1/2 t garlic, minced
1 medium apple, medium dice
2 oz white wine
2 oz chicken stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine cumin, curry, salt and pepper and rub the pork with the mixture.

Heat butter in a saucepan and saute the pork over medium heat until well bronwed on all sides.  Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the pork to a parchment paper lined sheet pan and roast in the oven until cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees.*

While the loin is roasting, reheat the saute pan, adding butter and saute the onions and garlic until transparent.  Add the apples and saute until tender.  Deglaze the pan with the wine and stock.  Bring to a biol and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Let the meat rest at 10 minutes.  Slice the pork (1/4") and serve on a bed of onions, apples and sauce.

* If you use tenderloin, you will probably only need to cook it in the oven for 10 minutes after browning in the pan.

Do you have a favorite marinade or dry rub recipe that you use often?  Any thoughts on attending culinary school on a special diet?

Chow for now.  :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Giada, will you marry me?

I have to say, of all of the chefs on TV and in the limelight these days, I think the one chef that has the most consistently good dishes is Giada De Laurentiis. Try any of her "top 100 recipes" here, and I can guarantee the dish will be very good!

I've made her chicken piccata, her butternut squash lasagna, her bolognese, her cioppino (oh that soup was wonderful), to name a few.  Tonight after watching a new episode of Giada at Home, I made one of her "comfort food" dishes: Trenette with Eggplant and Basil Pesto.  I substituted penne for the trenette and walnuts for the pine nuts in the pesto and left out about 1/2 the cheese but it was still quite wonderful.  I recommend making it on a cool night and on an empty stomach!

Trenette with Eggplant and Basil Pesto

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

Prep Time: 14 min
Inactive Prep Time: --
Cook Time: 30 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4 to 6 servings


2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (see Cook's Note)
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated Parmesan

1 pound trenette or other short-cut pasta
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated Parmesan, plus 1/2 cup
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (1 1/2 pounds) medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the pesto: In a blender or food processor, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the oil until the mixture is smooth and thick. Add the cheese and pulse until just incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. Put the pasta into a large serving bowl and add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Toss until coated.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant turns golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly. Add the pesto and toss until the eggplant is coated.

Add the eggplant mixture to the serving bowl with the pasta and toss until all of the ingredients are coated. Thin out the sauce with a little pasta water, if needed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve.

Cook's Note: To toast the pine nuts, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven until lightly toasted, about 5 to 6 minutes. Cool completely before using

Chow for now! :)