Food Buzz


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Family week - dishes galore!

This week my mom was visiting us and time went by very quickly.  She is on a plane right now returning to NY.  Miss you already, mom!

Also visiting us this week was a serious heat wave (hitting 113 degrees at my house!) so using an oven was not really an option for the most of her stay.  I took some pics of our favorite meals this week, some cooked earlier when it was more comfortable outside, some eaten out at restaurants, all enjoyed thoroughly!

Over the weekend, we went to the Abbot Kinney Festival, a great craft and food fair set up all along Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice, CA.  Such a fun day, but glad we went early.  It got hot and crowded as we left.  While we were there we tried one of the roving food trucks, the Dim Sum Truck.  Dad and I really liked the shu mai (shrimp and pork dumplings) and shrimp and bamboo dumplings but mom wasn't as impressed.  If it wasn't so hot I would have had to try the Grilled Cheese Truck or Nom Nom.  Both on my list for the next cool day.

During the heat we had delicious, healthy smoothies from Whole Foods and lots of frozen yogurt.  Menchies on Montana Ave in Santa Monica was my favorite!

Takeout was necessary on one of the hotter nights so we had some delicious dishes from Pitfire Pizza.  We started with an amazing rustic Tuscan Bean Soup (which I am going to try and recreate later this fall), followed by a bolognese pasta dish for mom and an heirloom tomato and ricotta pizza for me.  Everything was so tasty and the tomatoes were very sweet and locally grown!

Earlier in the week before the heat wave, I had a lot of fun cooking with my mom and sister.  We decided to make two dishes and dessert that night. Jenn made a delicious spinach and mushroom tart and peach crumble for dessert. Both dishes were amazing. In fact for the tart, she took a recipe she found in a magazine and completely changed it around to make it her own.  Maybe she will go into business with me!  I like her style. :)

I made carrot coriander soup, a dish that was made in my class last week that I completely fell in love with.  This dish is a gorgeous orange color, very easy to make and is really quite healthy for you.  We ate it warm but I am sure it would taste good as a cold soup, too...

Carrot Soup with Coriander
serves 6

10-12 carrots
1 russet potato
3 shallots
6 T unsalted butter
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3 c vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 c milk
freshly ground pepper
2-3 T dry sherry
1/2 creme fraiche or sour cream
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Peel the carrots and cut crosswise into thin pieces.  Peel the potato and cut into small cubes.  Cut the shallots crosswise into thin slices.  Set aside.

2.  In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add the shallots and saute, stirring occasionally until softened, 2-3 minutes.  Do not allow to brown.  Add the carrots, potato and coriander and saute 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the broth, sugar and salt.  Raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low, cover partially and gently simmer until the vegetables are soft when pierced with the top of a knife, 20-25 minutes.

3.  Remove from heat.  Using a hand held blender, process the soup until pureed.  Alternately, you may puree the soup in batches in a blender (be careful not to burn yourself with the hot soup).  Add one cup of milk and pepper to taste.  Place over medium heat until just beginning to simmer.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add more milk if too thick.  Just before serving, add the sherry to taste.

4.  Ladle into warmed soup bowls.  Top each bowl with 1-2 spoonfuls of creme fraiche or sour cream and a generous sprinkling of cilantro.
I substituted dry white wine for the sherry since that was something we had on hand.  I also used chopped fresh cilantro in place of the ground coriander.  The dish is so delicious - we served it with home made croutons also made by Jenn. :)

I will miss my mom while she is back on the east coast but will cherish the memories we all made together cooking, shopping, touring and sweating together.

Any favorite dishes you like to cook when family is in town?  Please feel free to share here!

Chow for Now! :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Now we're cooking! First real night of cooking in class... en Francais

If I was concerned about this class not being advanced enough for me, I realized on Tuesday night that this would not be the case.   Chef is giving our team the opportunity to choose which dishes we want to cook and is also giving us extra tasks to complete.  Definitely a challenge!

This week we learned about French cuisine, and each team made a french dish.  Our team made three dishes!  We chose to make a Cherry clafouti and an Italian plum clafouti.  The cherry one came out great.  We followed the directions to a "T" and it looked gorgeous when it came out of the oven.  Unfortunately we left out an important ingredient in the plum clafouti, ground almonds, which was a result of miscommunication with chef.  Not a big deal, we were able to mix that last ingredient in before cooking and all ended up fine.  Pictures of both are below. We also made a shallot butter sauce which was served with Group 1's potatoes.  This came out divine.

Cherry Clafouti
serves 4

2/3 c all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c milk
3 T heavy cream
3 T unsalted butter, melted
12 oz fresh sweet cherries,washed and pitted
confectioners' sugar for dusting

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.  Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.  Add sugar, milk, cream and melted butter, mixing well after each addition.  Strain to remove any lumps.

2.  Butter a 6 cup ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle the cherries over the bottom, then pour in the batter.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until an inserted knife tip comes out of the batter clean.  Serve warm, generously dusted with confectioners' sugar.
Clafouti is basically a flan or custard like dish with fruit in it, made in a buttered casserole dish.  This dish is typically made with cherries but any stone fruit could be used instead. The dish is finished with powdered sugar and served at room temperature.  Here are the two we made:

cherry clafouti
plum clafouti
Other dishes from class included a beautiful, fresh nicoise salad, a bright orange carrot and coriander soup, tomato and goat cheese on french bread toasts, and ratatouille.  Dishes in bold are pictured below...  All in all a fun first class and a round of applause for the students who are learning how to cook in the class as they did a great job!

Do you have any favorite french dishes?  Feel free to share with me!

Chow for now! :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sometimes it's fun to prepare a restaurant style dinner at home!

I have been getting all ramped up for this week's TV premieres... most specifically The Event (starring Jason Ritter... swoon!).  I thought it would be fun to come up with some sort of fancy dinner to make/eat while watching the shows tonight.  This is something my mom and I used to do when I lived at home... usually in honor of the Oscars or the Emmys.  We would make something fun or order in Chinese food and celebrate while ooing and aahing over all of the fancily dressed celebs walking the red carpet.

I also wanted to get in some autumn themed dishes as practice for an upcoming "chef potluck" night that I am going to in early October.  I have to come up with an autumn themed dish that also has a relationship based story behind it.... Wish me luck.

I remembered seeing a recipe for butternut squash gnocchi in one of my notebooks o' recipes and thankfully I found it pretty quickly.  This girl is hungry!  The original recipe is from Sunset Magazine

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Serves: 8

1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
About 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for shaping
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese, such as asiago or pecorino), plus more at the table
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  With a fork or sharp knife, poke holes all over squash. Microwave it on high 10 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Halve squash lengthwise; scoop out and discard seeds. Flesh should be tender when scraped with a fork; if it isn't, microwave on high (cut side down) in 1-minute intervals until tender. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Scrape out flesh (discard peel) and mash until smooth.

2.  In a large bowl, thoroughly combine 2 cups mashed squash (save any extra for another use), 1/2 tsp. salt, the white pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time, until a dough forms (it will pull away from inside of bowl).

3.  Turn dough out on a generously floured work surface. With well-floured hands, knead dough 10 to 12 times.

4.  Divide dough in half and cover 1 batch with plastic wrap. Roll other batch into a 3/4-in.-thick rope and cut into 1/2-in.-long pieces. Put pieces on a floured baking sheet and set aside. Repeat with remaining dough.

5.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil gnocchi until they rise to the surface, about 4 minutes; cook 30 seconds longer and then lift with a slotted spoon, making sure water drains from gnocchi, and place in a large serving bowl. Gently toss with butter and top with cheese and a sprinkling of black pepper. Serve hot and pass extra cheese at the table.


I thought for a first try at gnocchi, it was pretty good. I honestly haven't eaten a lot of gnocchi in my life so I don't have a lot to compare it to.  I thought they looked really pretty, and tasted good with lovely autumn notes from the nutmeg and squash.  Unfortunately, they were a little heavy, not light and fluffy and pillow-like as I had hoped.  But they were still edible and something I would play around with again in order to perfect them. I know that the important factor is to mix "just the right amount" of flour in... perhaps I was heavy handed or maybe I kneaded a little too much..

Once they were done, tossed them with sage infused melted unsalted butter and a little Parmesan cheese. :)  Cheese makes everything better.  I used pre cut squash from Trader Joe's.  Two bags yielded one cup of cooked mashed squash.  Also instead of microwaving, I roasted mine at 375 degrees for about an hour.

I also threw together a little farmer's market salad with baby and wild arugula, heirloom tomato and a great Trader Joe's dressing (Pear Champagne Vinaigrette) pictured below.

What are you favorite fall dishes?  Is there any dish you have always wanted to try cooking but never had the guts to do it?  Want me to try it first?  Feel free to send me a recipe or post here.

Chow for Now! :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Comforting meals with some of my favorite moms!

Now, I don't know if I'll ever be a mom, but I am getting a lot of practice being the best aunt (blood related and otherwise). :)

Yesterday, I had a lovely lunch with my friend Diana who, even with an almost four month old in tow provided a very gourmet lunch of seafood terrine and cold cucumber soup.  Where does she find the time?  I think she might secretly have a clone.... I provided a loaf of french bread made earlier that day.  We also had delicious homemade crunchy almond cookies whipped up by my friend, baker and artist, Nicole. Didn't get a picture because we ate them too fast but they were scrumptious!

Today was another day of pampering those whom I adore and it started with providing much needed banana chocolate chip muffins to my very cute, pregnant friend Mandy who, in addition to becoming a good comrade, is also my personal chef guru.  We had a great chat and delicious tea and muffins and discussed, what else?  BABIES!  She is a glowing 5+ months along and I even got to see little boy Unruh kick (or punch) a few times in my doubt a reaction to the muffins: "more, mommy, more!"

After that visit I headed over to my sister and brother in law's to try out a new recipe that I got from Vegetarian Times.  Don't get excited meat lovers, I am not going veg, but I did subscribe to get some more ideas for my non meat dinners and also for future vegetarian/vegan clients.

I decided to make Poblano White Chili and corn bread.  Both came out really great!

Poblano White Chili
from Oct 2010 Vegetarian Times magazine

3 c cooked white beans or 2 15 oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained
1 recipe Rajas (see below)
2 c low sodium vegetable broth
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 c chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
1 T lime juice
1/4 c low fat milk
3 oz goat cheese
1/4 roasted pumpkin seeds

Roast and peel six  poblano or Anaheim peppers, slice into 1/4 in strips and set aside.  Heat 2 tsp vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 large onion, sliced thin and two cloves of garlic, minced and cook 6-9 minutes or until onion is soft and golden brown.  Add 1 tsp dried oregano and poblano strips and cook 3 or 4 minutes more or until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1.  Bring beans, Rajas, broth, oregano and cumin to a simmer in saucepan over medium heat.  Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in corn, cilantro and lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper if desired,  Cook 2 minutes more.

2.  Warm milk in a separate saucepan.  Add goat cheese and stir until smooth.  Serve chili with goat cheese sauce, pumpkin seeds and cilantro.

For the most part I followed this recipe pretty closely.  To save time you could prepare the Rajas and refrigerate ahead of time.  You can also roast the pumpkin seeds earlier.  I used sliced almonds since that was something I already had in the house and I knew the flavor and crunch would work well.  When using store bought Vegetable broth (or chicken, or beef) do look at the nutritional information.  These products are notorious for having a LOT of sodium.  I picked a brand that had 330 mg per one cup servings... some of the ones I picked up, including popular brands had almost 1000 mg of sodium!  That's way too much. 

This dish was great and the corn bread had a sweet/hot taste that really tasted great with the chili. The chili could easily be made into a meat-based dish by adding sauteed sausage, ground chicken or turkey.

What is your favorite way to pamper a loved one?  Comfort foods?  Chocolate?  Feel free to share here! 

Chow for now!  :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicken gyros...Opa!

I have been craving chicken gyros.  Not sure where it came from; I haven't had Greek food or passed by a Greek restaurant in recent days... But I have been dreaming of cool tzatziki, crispy/soft pita and garlicky chicken for days.  I'll be honest, I went to Google maps to find a Greek take out place before I remembered - I'm a chef!  Make it yourself!

So, I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for a highly rated recipe I found on Epicurious, then came home to make it.

It took some time because I roasted a chicken (rather than buy a rotisserie chicken, as some of the reviewers did).  But boy was it worth it.  This gyro rivaled any one I have had at an authentic Greek restaurant and I knew that the ingredients were fresh and mostly local.  Good stuff.

Chicken gyros with cucumber salsa and tzatziki sauce
from March 2009 Gourmet Magazine

2 Kirby cucumbers, divided
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (3/4 pounds)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, divided
5 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 rounded teaspoon dried oregano
1 rounded teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1 (12-ounces) package naan bread (four 8-inch pieces)
or 4 (8-inch) pocketless pita rounds
1/2 roasted chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded (about 2 1/4 cups), and carcass reserved for stock
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced

Preheat broiler.

Peel and grate 1 cucumber, then squeeze it with your hands to remove excess water. Stir together with yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, one third of garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper to make tzatziki.

Cut remaining cucumber into 1/4-inch pieces and stir together with tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper to make salsa.

Gently simmer oil, oregano, rosemary, remaining garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small heavy saucepan, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss chicken with 3 tablespoons garlic oil and brush one side of bread with remainder.

Heat bread, oiled side up, in a 4-sided sheet pan, covered with foil, 3 to 4 inches from broiler 3 minutes. Uncover and broil, rotating bread for even coloring, until golden in spots, about 2 minutes.

Spread some of tzatsiki on warm bread and top with chicken and some of lettuce and salsa. Serve remaining lettuce, salsa, and tzatsiki on the side.

* Tzatziki can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.

I used a hothouse cucumber, but any small seeded cucumber should work fine.  I also used pocket pitas, even though they aren't recommended.  I found that they worked just fine once they were broiled and warm.  Last thing I substituted was romaine instead of iceberg lettuce.  I didn't have any rosemary on hand and I didn't miss it.  Sometimes rosemary can be a little strong, anyway.  The real "aha moment" came when I took the cooked/shredded chicken and tossed it with the garlicky oil.  YUM!  Mine was especially garlicky because I roasted the chicken with five cloves of garlic stuffed in the cavity!

Like I mentioned earlier, it was delicious!  It requires quite a bit of chopping and prep, especially if you roast the chicken yourself, but for short cuts you could use store bought tzatziki and already cooked rotisserie chicken.

Do you have any Greek favorites?  Feel free to share with me here!

Chow for Now!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Have you ever found yourself in a Food Pickle?

One of my favorite food sites, has just added a great feature... it's called Food Pickle (because haven't we all found ourselves in a food pickle at one time or another?).

On this site you can ask your food related question - anything at all related to technique, ingredients, equipment, baking, substitutions, etc and the idea is that you would get a response to your question pretty quick.  I tested this out by asking a question about substituting an egg in a bread recipe when I realized (after placing half of the ingredients into my bread machine) that I was out of eggs.  Within 5 minutes I received an answer (I could use silken tofu, applesauce, ground up flax seed, and other options!).  I expect that even more experts will have their own ideas about what to substitute.  It is the readers, many of whom are chefs, foodies, or otherwise wrapped up in food, who provide the answers to the questions!  It's a brilliant idea.

Even cooler, Food Pickle is on Twitter!  Say you are at a grocery store and you aren't sure which pepper is hotter; habanero or jalapeno.  You could tweet your question to Food Pickle and get an answer before you hit the check out line.  I love this idea!

Have you ever been stumped by something related to food - try Food Pickle - I promise you won't be sorry!

Chow for Now! :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Cupcakes!

While up in Big Bear, a neighbor friend of my dad's was celebrating a birthday.  Her husband made a Mexican feast of carne asada, refried beans, rice and sweet delicious peppers sauteed with a little oil and Worcestershire sauce (not sure how "Mexican" that is, but they were delicious!) and invited a few of us over to eat.  To help round out the meal, I offered to bring dessert.  I thought cupcakes would be festive and fun so I went to my "go to" baking cookbook (online) - the Joy of Baking - and found an easy sweet recipe for vanilla cupcakes.  They came out great!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Butter cream Frosting (from
Vanilla Cupcakes:
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 large lemon (outer yellow skin)
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

Butter cream Frosting:
2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or light cream

Vanilla Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. If you want flat topped cupcakes then slice off the dome of each cupcake, with a sharp knife, before frosting. If you want to pipe the frosting, I like to use a large Wilton 1M star decorating tip.

For the Frosting: In an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed. Tint the frosting with desired food color (I use the paste food coloring that is available at cake decorating stores and party stores).

Makes about 12 cupcakes
I didn't use the lemon rind because we didn't have any lemons in the house.  Also, after making the butter cream, I thought the cupcakes looked a little too...plain.  Too white on white.  I am not a fan of using food coloring, so I looked around to see what I could add to the icing to make them a little more festive.  I separated the butter cream into two bowls. We had a bowl full of peaches fresh from a friend's tree so I peeled a few of those and added the crushed fruit and juice to half a bowl of the butter cream.  In the other bowl, I added chocolate powder.  The chocolate butter cream was really delicious and super sweet.  The peach butter cream was more of a chunky peach glaze that was really amazing.  Those went quicker than the chocolate, but I am happy to say all twelve cupcakes were eaten pretty quickly.

Do you have a favorite birthday cake recipe?  What do you like to bring to a birthday party?  Feel free to share here!

Chow for Now!  :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer vacation over - lots of food news to share!

Hello everyone, my camping trip is over and I am sorry to say that the most gourmet food I cooked was corn wrapped up in tinfoil with butter and herbs and peanut butter rice krispie treats.  Not that they weren't delicious but I just wasn't feeling gourmet last week.  Perhaps it was the 35 degree weather!  Yes, in August in Big Bear Lake it was 35 degrees at night... luckily temps rose 40 degrees during the day making for beautiful sunny, warm days spent fishing, hiking and enjoying the fresh air.  We made the usual fare: hot dogs, pork ribs, beef stew and lots of toasted marshmallows and hot chocolate to stay warm at night.  It was a fun week, but I am excited to be back in LA to start class again!
Peanut butter Rice Krispie treats!
Last night was my first night of International Cooking at GCC.  It is being taught by Chef Greenwood (my favorite teacher from last semester) and is proving to be a fun class again.  Two students from my class last semester are taking the class, making us the "advanced" team... so instead of watching the introduction to chopping vegetables video last night, we got to make bruschetta, we caught up on each other's summers, and sampled lemon poppy seed bread that Chef's high school class made earlier that day.  Yes, it sounds like a fun way to spend a Tuesday night, but I hope to learn more this semester.  I think once we get past the introduction to cooking and kitchen safety (which some new people in the class will DEFINITELY need), we will have more fun stuff to do.  I think she will have our team help guide the other students and cook some more advanced recipes.  Works for me!

Next Tuesday we don't have class but we do have an extra credit opportunity to attend a great event at the Skirball titled: "Are Celebrity Chefs Good For Food?" - should be an interesting lecture with some great LA chefs and food fans (including Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly,  Nancy Silverton of Mozza, Ludovic Lefebvre of LudoBites and “Top Chef Masters” star Susan Feniger of Street).  I will be there!

How was your Labor Day?  Did you do anything fun?  Try any new foods?  Please feel free to share here!