Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The recipe reviews just keep on comin....

Helene, a food blogger from France (now living in South Carolina), also offered up herself and her kitchen for the greater good. One of the stories in the book centers on Mama Rose’s Coconut Bread, taking place in the South Pacific. The writing is top notch, and apparently the recipe is too. (My sister-in-law also made a batch and raved about it.)

Check out Helene’s comments at tartelette aux on this delicious loaf (and the recipe) and drool over the fluffy end result. I could almost smell the aroma….

Palak Paneer - recipe tester's comments

Jenna of Jennatarianism blog fame was kind enough to take time out of her busy work schedule to test the recipe for palak paneer (a traditional Indian dish with spinach and fresh cheese). Unfortunately her post got lost in the blogosphere somewhere, so she emailed me the comments:

The recipe was so so easy, and turned out really great. There are, of course, two things that would have made the recipe easier for me, and this would be the Garam Masala and the Paneer, both of which I had to make. The paneer was so fun to make, and so easy, that I would suggest including a recipe for it in your book, but it's probably too late for that, come to think of it.

If there are folks out there who don't have paneer available to them (people like me who live in communities with little to no Indian population, hence no Indian grocery), all they have to do really is google "how to make paneer" and they'll have a gaggle of recipes to choose from. Hey! A gaggle from google! How clever!

The garam masala was actually my fault. I know it's a fairly common spice blend, but I forgot to pick it up at the store, and was too lazy to go back a second time, so looked that up as well and threw it together from what I had on hand.

While Indian cuisine is among my favorites, it's always a little intimidating to make because the spice prep is often pretty lengthy and intensive. This was not the case with your recipe! Very accessible to a cook at any level!

I brought the dish to work, along with some naan and basmati rice, and fed it to our cellar crew here at the winery. They said it needed meat (men!) but everyone loved it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Well, it felt like a goal to me. Caught up in World Cup fever, I turn on the TV each morning while getting ready for work and watch the early game. Great stuff. Anyway, back to me…. The cheesecake, mentioned in my Week in Review blog post, turned out GREAT and due to my lack of cheesecake-baking skills, this was a spot-on goal, with raves from the crowd. To recap:

“I am trying my hand at cheesecake. I have never been too successful with this dessert. My dad has entered numerous cheesecakes into county fairs and done well, but I missed that gene. So as to cover my butt, I am trying out a new recipe. If it fails, I blame the cookbook. Of course, it is from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, by Nigella Lawson. I am attempting her London Cheesecake, so the likelihood is that it wil turn out well, as I have yet to make anything out of this cookbook that turned out bad. Stay tuned….”

Now that you have obliged me by tuning back in afater my loooong “week in Review” post (thank you, thank you, thank you), I can tell you that the recipe was easy and delicious. Served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, the room became quiet as soon as it was served, a sure sign of a hit.

As cheesecakes go, this one is fairly easy. I adjusted it a bit, since I could not for the life of me find the bottom plate to my 8” springform pan. So I am giving you the quantities I used for a 9” pan.

1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 T unsalted butter, melted

24 oz. cream cheese
¾ cup sugar
4 eggs
3 egg yolks
2 T vanilla extract
2 T lemon juice

1 cup sour cream
2 T sugar
½ t vanilla extract

Mix the crumbs and butter and press into the bottom only of a 9” springform pan. Pop in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put on a tea kettle of water to boil.

Beat cream cheese until smooth, then add the sugar, mixing until well incorporated. Add the eggs and egg yolks and finally the vanilla and lemon juice. Take your crust out of the fridge and wrap the bottom in two layers of heavy foil. Pour the mixture into the crust. Place the cheesecake into a roasting pan and pour boiling water halfway up. Place in the oven for 55 minutes.

Mix up the topping and spread on the cheesecake, then cook for 10 more minutes. Remove pan from oven and take springform out, unwrapping the foil. Cool on a rack. When cool, place in the refrigerator. When chilled, unmold and serve.

Less than ½ hour of prep time. Simple ingredients. This yields a soft and creamy cheesecake. It is not heavy or dense and works well with fruit. Try it, you’ll like it!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pelmeni, anyone?

Tea, who got me started in the food blog world, is a fantastic writer and an adventurous cook. Of course I am not only saying that because one of her stories is in my upcoming book, but because every post is a joy from a writer's point of view, not just from a foodie point of view. And given the comments on her blog, I think people tend to agree with me.

Tea also offered to test a recipe for me and chose the pelmeni, a Russian dish. Check out her post "Russian Roots" at: Tea and Cookies. Yum.

Mole Verde - recipe testing

Some of the recipes in the upcoming book are rather involved, albeit worth the time and energy. But the Mole Verde, one of the 7 moles of Oaxaca, was especially daunting with 22 ingredients and a fairly involved prep and cook time. But Fran from Flavors took on the challenge and wrote a beautiful and heartfelt post about her journey in the kitchen making this wonderful dish. Check in on her and the recipe for a delicious green pork mole.

Recipe Testers

I have been trying, in various ways, to post comments on recipes that have been tested for my upcoming book. On occasion I have posted a link to a blogger who did an extensive post and pictures for you to see. We are getting down to the wire, so I want to remind all recipe testers to send me their comments, as well as blog addresses and snail mail addresses (for a complimentary copy of the book), as soon as possible. And if I have missed posting a comment, please remind me!

Todays post is for Sate Lilit tested by Maureen Hargrave. The original recipe is:

Sate Lilit
Minced Seafood Satay
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Spice Paste (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons peanut oil, palm oil or other mild oil
1 pound fresh boneless firm white fish fillets, such as snapper, mahimahi or catfish
10 ounces fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1 egg white
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 kaffir lime leaves, cut into very thin slivers
4 teaspoons palm sugar or firmly packed brown sugar
Kosher salt
24 fresh lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed or wooden skewers soaked in cold water for 1 hour
1 large bunch cilantro, rinsed

Prepare the spice paste.
Pour the oil into a heavy sauté pan set over medium heat, add the spice paste and sauté, stirring continuously, until dark and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, use a very sharp knife to mince the fish and the shrimp. Alternately, cut the fish into chunks and put it, along with the shrimp, into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in the cooled spice paste, the coconut milk, egg white, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and sugar.
Set a clean sauté pan over medium heat, add a small amount of the fish mixture and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, until just done. Cool slightly and taste; it should be full flavored and slightly tangy. If it is flat, add more salt to the fish mixture; if it needs acid, add the remaining lime juice. Cover the fish mixture and chill it for at least two hours and as long as overnight.
To form the satay, line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Divide the fish mixture into 24 equal portions. With your hands wet, take one portion of the mixture in one hand and hold a skewer (lemongrass stalk or wooden one) in the other. Mold the mixture around the skewer, so that it looks like a sausage about 3-inches long. Press it firmly in place and set on the lined baking sheet. Continue until all 24 satays have been made. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook but no longer than four hours.
To cook, heat a stovetop grill to high or prepare a fire in an outdoor grill. Make sure the grill or grill rack is clean and brush it lightly with a mild oil. Cook the satays until they golden brown all over, rotating them a quarter turn about every 2 minutes. Use a thin metal spatula to loosen the satays before turning them.
Spread the cilantro over a serving platter and set the cooked satays on top. Serve immediately.

Spice Paste
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Thai or serrano chiles, thinly sliced
4 macadamia nuts
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
1-inch piece fresh galangal, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Black pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
Kosher salt

To prepare the spice paste, put the sliced shallots in a large mortar and use a wooden or granite pestle to grind nearly to a paste. Add the garlic and crush until smooth. Crush the chiles into the mixture, add the nuts and grind them until they are mixed in finely with the other ingredients. Add the ginger, galangal, coriander, and turmeric and mix until smooth. Season with several generous turns of black pepper. Stir in the fish sauce and 3 or 4 generous pinches of kosher salt. Set aside until ready to use.

Her comments:

First, thank you for letting me test the Sate Lilit. This recipe is
a winner!

Ingredients - I had no trouble finding the ingredients. The seafood came from a small local fish restaurant that sells fresh seafood for home use. I used mahi mahi and shrimp. The rest of the ingredients I either had on hand or found at Ranch 99. The one item I have always had a problem finding was palm sugar - but was able to locate it this time. Because one of the individuals eating this satay had a problem with spicy food I used only 2 Thai chilies instead of 3. Other than that I followed the ingredients and quantities precisely (unusual for me but I wanted this to be a real test). I did use the full 2 Tbp of lime juice.

While I had read the recipe a couple of times before starting to cook, I was so concerned with the ingredients that the step where once mixed "chill for at least 2 hours and as long as overnight" totally escaped me. I know I read those words but nothing sunk in. Once I discovered this we were too hungry to wait. Since the satay was not the only item on the menu (steak wrapped in bacon and salad were the other items) I divided the batch putting half in the refrigerator for the next night and went ahead and grilled up what I had. Since the recipe is supposed to serve 6-8 as an appetizer, this seemed a safe bet when there were only 3 of us eating. So, from beginning to end on night 1 this mixture was never chilled.

Night 1 - the seafood mixture did not really adhere well to the skewers and quickly pulled them all out and threw them away. I ended up with oval sausage-like patties, some broke apart a bit (those were mine) but otherwise they grilled up nicely. I served them on a platter chopping the cilantro, sprinkling them on top of the patties. I love cilantro and wanted a little bit on each piece which I was afraid would not happen if the patties just sat on top of the cilantro.

Night 2 - the seafood mixture chilled for 24 hours. I still had a problem with the mixture adhering to the skewers even with chilling them a second time before grilling. Half way through grilling I just pulled them out and served them as patties. In the future I will make patties (like crab cakes) and forget skewers completely. In fact I think I would mix up the batch, form patties on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and chill then take them directly to the grill eliminating one whole chilling step.

The aroma and flavor was divine. There was not a patty left either night. In fact we would have continued to eat them rather than the entree had I grilled the whole batch at one time.

We were wondering about a dipping sauce or something to lightly drizzle over the top or around the plate. Most satays have a dipping sauce usually something with peanuts and chilies. We discussed this while stuffing our faces but could not come up with what kind of sauce and all voting against anything with the peanut flavor for the seafood. What do you think.

So, from 3 friends who love to cook and eat together - thank you for this lovely opportunity. I had a great time preparing this Thai appetizer. We enjoyed the layers of flavors in every bite, the fact that this traditional Thai dish could be made using seafood instead of always having to use meat, ingredients were readily available, and now that I have "chilling" ingrained can do the majority of the work the day before serving for dinner. I will make this again many times.

THANKS AGAIN MAUREEN. You and all the rest of the recipe testers are real troopers and your assistance in this endeavor us very much appreciated.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Week in Review

I am cheating this week. I have been very bad about posting and I am sure the blog police will be descending down upon me momentarily to give me a good swift kick for having been so remiss. But with the book in its end stages and holidays and birthdays and work, and the Canadians in town…well, there just are not enough hours in the day this week. So what better way to spend my Sunday afternoon than sitting out in the back yard, watching the tomatoes and peppers and herbs grow and recap my week in food.

Last Sunday was the first full day that my daughter’s Canadian friends, Monique and Nicoletta, were here. I decided to do several Thai dishes, so as to appeal to a whole crowd, including one vegetarian. Thai curries are very adaptable beyond the basic sauce. You can add just about anything and it will taste great. And it’s quick, too. Maybe 5 minutes of prep and 20 minutes of cooking. I chose a green curry, which has some kick to it. While my standard green curry is centered around scallops, today I made a mushroom and tofu version. The farmer’s market had a great selection of mushrooms and I used an extra firm tofu cut into small cubes. The basic recipe, which I adapted from A Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr is:

4-5 T oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 T green curry paste
2 cans coconut milk
4 T fish sauce
2 t sugar

In large pot, heat oil. Add garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the curry paste, stir with the garlic and cook briefly. Add the coconut milk, the fish sauce and the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes until thickened. At this point you can add whatever you want, in any combination. Soft veggies work best and my favorite is scallops and mushrooms. Cook until desired doneness. Throw in some cilantro at the end and serve over rice.

In addition to the curry, I also made Pla Nuea Yaang Gub A-Ngoon, also known as Spiced Salad of Grilled Beef with Grapes. This is a meal in itself and a favorite in my household. The flavors in this salad dance on your tongue – the heat from the chiles, the sour of fish sauce, the tang from mint leaves, and a refreshing coolness from the addition of grapes. There is about 20 minutes of prep on this dish, plus 10-15 minutes to grill the beef, then another 5 to assemble. It is great for a summer main dish. The salad recipe came from my visit to the Oriental Bangkok Cooking School. One of the biggest highlights of my foodie life.

2 grilled flank or skirt steaks (medium rare)
10 Thai chiles
8 cloves garlic
1 coriander root, 1 mint stem, 4 mint leaves
1 t salt
10 T fish sauce
15 T lime juice
1 T palm sugar
1 cup sliced lemongrass
2 cups seedless grapes, red or green
2 cups mint leaves
Romaine lettuce

Grill steaks to medium rare. Let cool. (You can do this ahead of time and chill in the fridge.)
Make dressing by pounding chiles, garlic, coriander, mint stem, mint leaves and salt together. Add fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and mix well. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Chop lettuce. Slice beef and toss with dressing, adding lemongrass, mint, and grapes. Mound lettuce on a platter and top with beef, grapes, and dressing. Serve.

And for our finale, comes a recipe out of my upcoming book, The World Is a Kitchen. Having gone to the farmers market the day before, I had fresh apricots and berries and made a fruit clafouti. About 10 minutes prep, sinful as all get out, and simply served warm with either ice cream or whipped cream. This is always a big hit and can be made with a variety of fruit (see note below). Since it serves 12, we usually have leftovers, which are great for breakfast.

1 c butter
2 c fruit*
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 t salt
4 t baking powder
1 1/2 c whole milk

*raspberries, blueberries, blackberries; halved, pitted cherries; halved, pitted apricots, peaches or plums; ripe figs; or combination of fruit.
Preheat oven to 350°. Barely melt butter and pour into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, coating bottom and sides of pan. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk in milk until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Arrange fruit on top of batter. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until batter rises over fruit and is well-browned.

The remains of Sunday dinner kept us happy for the next few days and left me off the hook to cook, which was good, since I was busy. Monday I chauffeured Alex and friends over to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. First stop was Duarte’s for their famous cream of artichoke soup. Delicious, simple, and very satisfying. Not something I would normally have on a summer day, but given that we were all wearing sweaters and it was a bit windy and cold, it really was the perfect dish. We also treated ourselves to slices of their award-winning pies. I had the oft-written about ollalieberry pie, shared with Alex. The girls had peach and cherry. Not a crumb left on the plates, as even the crust is deelish.

Fortified we headed down the curve to Phipps Country Store and Farm to get some dried beans (of which they must have 50 varieties). Picked up a few veggies, and then headed back down to Highway 1 and the beach. The sea lions were out, sunning themselves quietly. Not too many people out on a chilly Monday but them sea lions. Driving down Highway 1, the weather began to clear a bit, as we headed into Half Moon Bay. We wandered the main street, meandering in and out of the shops, spending a few shekels, and being careful to avoid the Moonside Bakery, as I never get out of there without spending less than $30. Everything always looks soooo good, but with so much food at home, and me working on my weight, I had to turn a blind eye. But we did hop over to the chai shop on the other side of Highway 92. This little chai and coffee shop, in a strip mall on the north side of 92 has been written up so much, the owner is running out of wall space to put up the accolades. Part of this is due to much of the wall space being taken up by the owner’s own poetry, of which he is prolific. But he really does make the best chai, outside of my Nepali friend Raj. Redolent of cardamom and spices, it is the perfect balance of tea and milk and sugar. A nice warm-up as we headed back across the hill home.

A few days of work, a few days of leftovers, with some fajitas thrown in, and we headed into Friday, which brought a day in Berkeley with Alex and the girls, followed by me throwing a dinner party for 20. The weather was glorious heading across the bridge to Berkeley. Heading up to Telegraph Avenue, we parked and walked for a few hours, stopping in at an Indian restaurant, of which I cannot remember the name, and had a great meal. Garlic naan and some kadai paneer were heavenly, although mighty spicy. But it was so good, I kept shoveling it in, only stopping long enough to pour liquid down my throat to quell the burn. The heat and the garlic stayed with me and I decided we needed ice cream to counteract the mouth abuse. We headed down to 4th Street, a cute upscale shopping neighborhood. We found Sketch, a little hole in the wall serving only a 16 handmade frozen treats. Thick ice cream, fruity sorbets, and icy granitas were met with smiles all around. Alex had the toasted almond ice cream, Monique the dark chocolate ice cream, Nicoletta the watermelon granita, and I had the best of the bunch (IMHO), jasmine tea granita. Not a bad taste in the bunch, and we soon regretted only ordering small scoops. But it did the trick in calming our palates and made for a happy ride home, traffic and all.

Then it was back into the kitchen. Aforementioned Nepali friend, Raj , and his beautiful wife P.K. are in town from Atlanta for a week. In their honor, I threw a little shindig for “Friends of Raj”. Twenty of us tucked into Cajun prawns, sopping up the spicy sauce with crusty bread as we went along. (I’ve temporarily misplaced this recipe, although here is a picture!)

The main course was red beans and rice, flavored with spicy andoulle and some creole chicken sausage from Schaub’s, where my son works. (and a vegetarian version for some of our guests). This is something I don’t really have a recipe for. In general, I dice up one onion, one green pepper, 4-6 ribs of celery, and 3-4 carrots. I sauté those in oil, add some chopped garlic, and cook all for 15-20 minutes. In go the beans and a ham hock, and enough water to cover plus about 2 inches. I bring to a boil, then cover and turn down low and simmer until beans are tender, adding water if necessary throughout. Then we throw in a couple tablespoons of creole seasoning, sliced andouille sausage, and Tabasco to taste. Cook for another 20 minutes and seve over white rice, with extra Tabasco on the side for the hearty souls.

The shrimp and red beans left barely enough room for the bread pudding for dessert. Since we had the welcome donation of a key lime pie, we only made one pan of bread pudding, rather than the planned two. Since we had some wonderful ollalieberries and blackberries, we decided to alter the recipe a bit, adding the fruit and cutting down on sugar and eliminating spices. It was hit, although the original version has also garnered rave reviews in the past. Just in case you are interested (and still reading this REALLY LONG blog post), here is the recipe:

1 10-oz loaf stale bread (challah works best)
4 cups mile (or ½ milk, ½ heavy cream)
2 cups sugar
8 T butter, melted
3 eggs
2 T vanilla
1 cup raisin
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1 t cinnamon
½ t nutmeg

Chunk up bread with knife or by hand into cubes. Mix all wet ingredients with sugar and spices. Add in bread, raisins, coconut, and pecans. Pour into buttered baking dish. Cook at 350 degrees for 75 minutes or until top is golden. Serve with whiskey sauce. (see below)

Whisky Sauce
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 egg, yolk or whole
½ cup bourbon

Cream butter and sugar over medium heat until all butter is absorved. Remove from heat and blend in egg. Pour in bourbon gradually to your own taste, stirring constantly. Sauce will thicken as it cooks. Serve warm with bread pudding.

Since I never know how many people will show up at these shindigs, I, of course, cooked wayyyyy too much. We fed 20, with enough left over for 20 more. So, looks like we will be having some leftovers this week too, which is just find with me as tonite I am cooking for Father’s Day and Gabriel’s 23rd birthday. (No rest for the wicked, they say.)

Fortunately all the men in the family like steak and potatoes, so we are having marinated London broil, fingerling potatoes (done in my own special way) veggie kabobs, and salad. For dessert, I am trying my hand at cheesecake. I have never been too successful with this dessert. My dad has entered numerous cheesecakes into county fairs and done well, but I missed that gene. So as to cover my butt, I am trying out a new recipe. If it fails, I blame the cookbook. Of course, it is from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, by Nigella Lawson. I am attempting her London Cheesecake, so the likelihood is that it wiil turn out well. Stay tuned….

Friday, June 09, 2006

Food Bloggers

I think that up until now, there have only been 2 things in my life, outside my immediate and TT family, that have provided me with instant and helpful hands. One was when I was pregnant and I had a wonderful support group through The Birth Place Resouce Center in Menlo Park. We all had something in common and were there for each other with questions, answers, hints, tips, and resources. The second time was when my son was in CYSA - club soccer. Our families all bonded instantly and shared food, rides, Starbucks runs, training tips, and medical wisdom on a regular basis for 4 years.

Now I find myself part of the food blogosphere. It was quite by accident through my friend Tea, but the support and rapport and sharing I have gotten from all over the world is just incredible. People offering suggestions, helping with recipe testing for my book, and providing feedback has enriched my life immensely. There is a learning curve to blogs, and I am still in the freshman stage, but I am always in awe of the wonderful writing I encounter along the way, the gorgeous food photography I am witnessing, and the delicious recipes that I cannot wait to try. It amazes me that food can bring such a connection.

So a big thank you for helping to shape my early experiences and making me hungry for more. And for wanting to do everything better - the writing, the photography, the food. You are all quite inspiring.

And along that vein, please go check out Cream Puffs in Venice. She recently completed one of four recipe tests for me, a delicious classic Crepes Suzette, and did an incredible blog post, that includes some mouth-watering photography. God, I love this stuff!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Food Miscellany

I am trying to get through this month’s magazines before the stack becomes any higher and topples off the living room table. In this month’s Gourmet (June 2006), I am intrigued by the Good Living section, which carries little statistics and factoids. Several got me thinking, so I am going to comment on them all:

8.2 billion hamburgers were served in American restaurants in 2004. Well, I suppose this includes fast food chains, as well as sit-down restaurants. But with so much wonderful food out there, why are we eating so many hamburgers? I rarely serve hamburgers, and even more rarely eat out at a fast food chain. The basic exceptions to this are the Fred Burgers from Schaubs, where my son works, as they are mighty tasty, and the occasional cookout where we do mixed grill, with burgers, sausage, chicken, ribs, etc. I know burgers are quick and easy, but so are many other things. So next time you think about cooking a burger, how about substituting a tasty sausage – maybe a Michigan White Hot, Texas Sage Hen, or Creole Chicken Sausage. Or slather some of Emeril’s spices on a thin pork chop and grill it for 3-4 minutes a side. Or for the vegetarians in the bunch, grill a big Portobello mushroom and top it with blue cheese—all of which can be served on a tasty artisan bread or focaccia. Lots of alternatives – think outside the bun…..

About 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced. Well, the British would certainly be appalled at this. In fact, I am appalled by this. Granted, my grandparents came from the U.K. and I grew up drinking hot tea on a regular basis (although I do not spoil mine with milk and sugar). My cupboards are full of tea. I lugged home cartons of it from all parts of Taiwan. I seek out unusual teas from local tea shops. I don’t go in much for the herbal or fruity teas, being much more partial to the black and green teas, with the occasional high-priced white thrown in. During the colder months, we have tea after dinner. I drink hot tea every day at work. Not that I don’t have the occasional iced tea. I do make large jars of it in the summer time to keep in the fridge as an alternative to water and soda. But the iced tea has never outweighed the hot in my household. My guess is that the South is responsible, with their pitchers of sweetened tea being set out in homes and restaurants everywhere. It’s a staple, much like water in most parts of the country. But there is a whole world outside of Lipton. Little tea farms in the high mountains of Japan and surrounding Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan are working hard to reward our palates with fine oolongs and pur-erh teas. Women sit on stools and hand roll tea leaves for our pleasure. Hand-tied leaves that open to look like Chrysanthemums await our teapots. And even though summer is coming, you might think about enjoying a nice cuppa in the morning in lieu of that costly latte….

Each hot dog served at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis came with a pair of white cotton gloves so that diners wouldn’t burn their fingers. I am confused here. Were the dogs not served with buns, which would have protected the fingers from burns? The white gloves certainly elevate the dog to a higher level. Wonder what else they served at the 1904 World’s Fair?

Chilean sea bass live at least 40 years; orange roughy can reach the age of 100; and pacific rockfish have been known to survive for multiple centuries. Exactly how do they know this? Do fish have rings like trees? How do you age a fish? I checked Ask.com and found out that fish never stop growing and that they have a bone located behind the ear, called an otolith, that is used for dating. Just like a tree, it has rings that can be counted.

Approximately 70% of all processed foods in the U.S. grocery stores contain bioengineered ingredients. Ouch! Now I don’t buy a whole lot of processed foods, but I imagine that things like pasta, breads, cereals, etc. are included in the “processed food” category. Statistics like this make are real eye-openers and make me more determined to shop at farmer’s markets and to try my hand at making more of my own foods, like pasta. I definitely need more hours in the day. Then again, are all bioengineered ingredients bad? I’d like to know more.

This past January, as part of a weeklong celebration of Finnish cuture in Michigan, a woman created a larger-than-live mitten made out of 16,000 multicolored jelly beans. Now this is clearly a woman with too much time on her hands, and she should be spending more of it avoiding those bioengineered ingredients. And how exactly to jelly beans and mittens tie in to Finnish culture?

Every month, a small number of businessmen and traders in New Delhi, India, visit the central jail in order to purchase a meal of prison food consisting mostly of rotis and dal. They believe that doing so will protect them from ever being throw in the slammer themselves. Hmmm. Are these businessmen corrupt to begin with and are hedging their bets? Is there something to this theory? I, personally, like rotis and dal, but I don’t think that these items are on our local prison menu, but if I am ever in India, it might be worth a try. Not that I plan on any illegal activities…..

The average American receives 14% of his or her daily calorie intake from soft drinks. Well, this just goes to prove, once again, that I am not an average American. You are probably thinking that I don’t even drink soda. But you would be wrong. I love Diet Coke. Have one most every day. But I have never been a drinker of sugared soft drinks, and if I do happen to have one it is usually by accident or if it is something unusual, like a humdinger of a black cherry soda in Pennsylvania, or something.

The first sea urchins appeared on the planet over 400 million years ago, Today, there are just 900 living species; about 7,000 have become extinct. Why is this factoid in a food magazine? I know that we eat sea urchins, but this is just a bit too obscure. I guess it might come in handy on Jeaopardy someday.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sweets in the Southland

I spent last weekend in the L.A. area doing some planning for my book and having fun with my brother and his family. I did some advance scouting before the trip, digging out clippings of special culinary destinations in SoCal, just in case we ended up in the vicinity of any of them.

My friend Jen is always game for food hunts, so we left Pasadena on Friday morning and headed down the freeway(s) to Sherman Oaks to visit Baby Donuts. I read about this establishment in the November 2005 issue of Food & Wine Magazine. They reported that Baby Donuts makes their product to order. You pick the type of donut you want, the kind of filling, if any, that is desired, and the frosting or topping of your choice. Interesting concept. Pulling into the uninteresting strip mall off the main drag in Sherman Oaks, we saw the sign, but as we approached the door, we realized something was wrong. It was dark, and clearly closed for business. Not just closed today, but closed for good. Amazing that something that appears in a mag like Food & Wine goes out of business 6 months after being feted. A restaurant, yes, but a donut shop? Definitely a huge disappointment (not that I needed the calories, mind you).

We took our sad faces and got back into the car and headed south to Beverly Hills, home of Sprinkles Cupcakes, another magazine find. Easy to locate on a main drag, but not easy to park near, this small storefront does a booming business with daily handcrafted cupcakes in 20+ flavors. We observed lines out the door each time we passed (we stayed around town for a few hours to have lunch and window shop). And people were not buying one or two (like us), but boxfuls. The cost: $3.25/pop or $13 for 4, $19.50 for 6, $36 for 12 (such a deal!). Sprinkles offers 8 flavors each day. Available flavors are banana, black and white, carrot, chai latte, chocolate coconut, coconut, dark chocolate, ginger lemon, lemon, lemon coconut, milk chocolate, mocha, peanut butter chocolate, peanut butter chip, orange, pumpkin, vanilla, vanilla-milk chocolate, strawberry, and red velvet. Also available are doggie cupcakes, which are mini-size, and run $2.50, and frosting shots for $.75. We tried the black and white and the chai latte. The cake in both was dense, with tops that bordered on hard, and sported a generous amount of frosting. The frosting was of good quality, with no gritty sugary mouthfeel. The chai latte had very mild spice accents, almost too light. I wanted to bite into the cupcake and have the chai flavorings burst into my mouth, but no luck. While not a bad cupcake, it wasn’t as moist as I would like, and neither was worth the price. I have used boxed cake mixes that tasted better. Given that there are 15 other flavors, there must be a reason that the line is out the door, unless it’s one of those eateries where the people line up just because there is a line or because the right reviewer raved about it.

Next on our list was Valerie Confections on S. Orlando in L.A. (off W. Olympic). Mentioned in a recent article in Saveur, titled “The Saveur List: 10 Chocolates,” this confectionary specializes in handmade hard toffee, a bit of a departure from the upscale truffles, sea salt caramels, and tasty ganache treats normally featured. Unfortunately, we were not able to find the store. We busted out again. I was beginning to feel that there is a conspiracy afoot to keep me from ingesting too many calories. I’ll save this for the next trip and make sure I call for directions.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it across town to the Hollywood and Highland Center to check out the famous chain of cream puff stores, Beard Papa. But since we had one open in San Francisco in May on Yerba Buena Lane, I can stop in on one of my little forays to the city, just 35 minutes away. In case you haven’t heard about Beard Papa, this is a Japanese chain that has migrated to the U.S. If you live in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii or California, you are in luck (and Louisiana is being added to the list as we speak). Beard Papa bakes their pate choux shells several times per day and stuffs them to order. Always available flavors are Vanilla Bean custard and Chocolate Custard. They rotate caramel, green tea, pumpkin, milk tea, and strawberry custard filings. Also available are éclairs in vanilla or double chocolate. Normally I don’t go in for any kind of chain restaurants, but the concept here is interesting, and I am willing to try just about anything once.

Saturday led me out to Torrance, off the PCH, to my niece’s volleyball tournament. Once we finished at 11:30, it was time for some food, so we headed up to Venice where I had been encouraging my brother to go for months. We were intent on hitting up Jin Patisserie, a bakery, confectionary, tea shop on Abbot Kinney. We walked in and scanned the walls which were lined with refrigerated glass shelving, strategically placed at eye level. The glass shelves contained mouth-watering desserts with fresh tropical fruits, ganache, genoise, teas, and other sweet treats. In the glass case at front were the handmade chocolates, small bite-sized pieces of art. Flavors such as Mango Basil, Lavendar, Black Roasted Sesame, Grand Jasmine, Lemongrass, Earl Gray, Caramel Clove, Chrsanthemum, and more tempt the palate. We opted for a box of 9 for $20.50, as well as 4 desserts, including the decadent Inspiration and Chocolate Heaven. The desserts were excellent, particularly the Inspiration (see picture), and the chocolates are a good small size, which do not elicit feelings of guilt whatsoever. However, the flavors are very subtle and shouldn’t be enjoyed with anything strong, like coffee or red wine, as these would overpower them. I loved the creaminess of the interiors, and the quality of chocolate is very good, but in some cases, the flavors were a bit too subtle. (Either that or my palate is losing its touch.)

All in all, I had a great three days in LA. While there was only a 50% success rate with attempts at taste testing, my waistline is appreciative. And I look forward to my next foray into the culinary bastion of the Southland.