Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

The cool weather is lingering, with rain to boot.  Keep on cooking!

Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin of The Observer

I barely needed to read the recipe after seeing this stunning photo of Nigel Slater's Mild Chicken Curry in the London Observer.  Nigel, a humble but stunning cook and food writer from the U.K. is a rock star across the pond. His books shoot to best seller lists and his articles appear all over the place.  Ergo (in this case), his recipes aren't to be missed.  This curry is his way of tackling his overflowing spice cabinet.  The flavors of cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cumin, and coriander blend together to make a homemade curry mixture that gives this chicken its distinctive Indian flavor.  And remember, if you haven't cleaned your spice drawer out in the last year, now is the time to do it.  After 12 months your ground spices have lost all their luster so toss them out.  Next time buy spices whole (i.e., cumin seed v. ground cumin).  Grinding them as you need them will bring out all the essential oils and give you tons more flavor than the ground versions.

Photograph: Kirk McKoy for the Los Angeles Times

About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class with the amazing Russ Parsons of the LA Times.  He was humble, friendly, generous, and well versed in the Indian ingredients we were cooking. I've been reading his writing ever since and it continues to impress me, and many others of course.  He has a realistic approach to food, meaning he likes if fresh and real, fancy be damned!  Nothing epitomizes this more than his article today on good old-fashioned Romaine lettuce.  My 7 1/2 year old son loves Caesar salad so I find Romaine on my grocery list every week.  It's sturdy with a longer shelf life than other lettuces, it has a mild flavor which makes it a great partner to bold dressings, and the crunch can't be beat. Today Russ re-introduces us to anchovy spiked the Caesar (with grilled Romaine), the herbaceous Green Goddess (with shrimp), and his version of the "wedge" with Romaine (and of course blue cheese).  I hope to cross paths with Russ Parson again but in the meantime I'll keep cooking what he's writing because it always tastes good!

photograph: Evan Sung for The New York Times

Last night I taught a class all about eggs (and cheese).  We poached, fried, frittata'd, and even soft boiled/breaded/fried some eggs for gorgeous dishes.  So, I was immediately taken by Mark Bittman's version of Jean Georges Vongerichten's simple Fried Rice.  Writer Bittman and Chef/Restaurateur Vongerichten have collaborated on many books and recipes so they know each other's work well, making Bittman the perfect translator of the famous recipes from many of Jean Georges' hot spots (think Jean George, Mercer Kitchen, Spice Market, and many more).  When you think of the restaurants, simplicity might not be the first adjective to come to mind but wait until you read this recipe.  Cooked rice is stir fried with crispy ginger and leeks then topped with a fried egg.  To me this is dinner on a plate, really-what more do you need?  Who knew it was so easy to cook like a restaurant chef!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Cabin Fever!  It's been pouring in San Francisco.  I know, I'm from Seattle and the rain shouldn't bother me but, Seattle rain tends to be drizzly and constant.  This is buckets, dumping sideways from the sky, with massive wind, thunder, and lightening to go along with it.  And, since that Seattle-girl in me is absolutely opposed to umbrellas (hate the things), I'm staying inside.  What better time to cook, right?

So you say you can't bake?  I know the type-I have students like you in my classes all the time.  Last night I asked them who wanted to make the homemade doughnuts with homemade raspberry and hot fudge sauces and there was a long pause.  Many looked away, hoping not to catch my eye.  Finally, Ferdie stepped up and did a damn good job, I may add.  It amazes me that anyone wouldn't like to bake but I guess the fear of having to really follow directions scares people off.  As I read today's LA Times I thought of all of you.  There is a recipe for something called "Crazy Cake", and it is a bit unconventional, if I may say so myself!  With no butter or eggs, the recipe calls for canola oil, used in cakes to keep them very, very moist without adding a strong flavor.  I'm generally a butter girl but have had oil-based cakes before and been pleasantly surprised.  Some say the cake evolved out of WWII rationing and others cling to its Kosher roots, having no dairy in the recipe.  Either way, it's an unusual method of adding all the ingredients right to the pan and stirring them together-hey, less dishes and a gorgeous end result.  Try the Chocolate or Poppy Seed versions and you may just realize that, yes, you can bake!

You probably know I've been on a granola kick lately.  After my recent post, friends were sharing all kinds of granola hints with me.  Some of my favorite add ins to try:  flax seed, pumpkin seeds, fresh ginger, cocoa nibs, agave syrup, and now peanut butter!  In today's Washington Post there is a very simple recipe for homemade Peanut Butter Granola.  I'm sort of "ok" on peanut butter, don't love it but will eat it in a pinch.  However, I LOVE almond butter and am all over this recipe, using almond butter instead of peanut butter.  I'll throw in toasted almonds, try those cocoa nibs, and let you know how it goes.  Any other ideas?

Ah, the snack conundrum.  If you have kids, you know what I mean.  Soccer snacks, school snacks, after school snacks, playdate snacks, ballet snacks, etc.  Did we eat all these snacks when we were kids?  There is a great article in today's NY Times, written by Los Angeles mom and NYT  bureau chief Jennifer Steinhauer.  I am definitely a proponent of the healthy snack and am often amazed at the junk people feed their kids between meals.  The "grazing" effect of snacking all day has its pros and cons too.  Do kids really need snacks after every sport and activity? If a kid eats so many snacks he can't eat dinner, something's not right.  On the other hand, if my son is famished the hour before dinner I'll give him a bowl of cut raw veggies and then he can bypass them at dinner, if he wants.  When it comes to feeding kids and creating eating habits that serve them for life, parents have a big responsibility.  It is up to us to guide our kids in the right direction, teaching them which foods are good for their bodies and which make their teeth fall out.   What do you give your kids for snacks?  I'd love to know.

Happy Reading, Happy Cooking, and Stay Dry!

Friday, January 15, 2010


My earliest food memory is peeking over the cutting board to watch my great grandmother (Grandma King) prep all her ingredients for homemade mac and cheese.  She was an amazing cook who'd come up to Seattle, from San Francisco, and stay with us each summer.  Everything she made was amazing.  My paternal grandmother (Noni) came from a Mediterranean background so watching her pull homemade phyllo dough and roll it into amazing pastries was pure entertainment for me. My mom and her mom were big bakers-cookies, brownies, cakes, bagels, Danish, breads, you name it-it was always homemade at our house.  Each week my grandma would send my mom an envelope full of recipes she'd clipped from newspapers and magazines (granted she only lived about 15 miles away). From the time I could read I was loving these clippings and devouring cookbooks.  My absolute favorite was the Betty Crocker Cooky Book.  The technicolor cookies were stunning to a kid, I wanted to make each and every one (and I think we almost did). 

I think everyone who has a passion for cooking remembers an early love for recipes. 

I read the January newsletter from Mary Risley, owner of (my employer) Tante Marie's Cooking School  and I loved it.  Mary, an inspiration to me, is someone I've known for 12 years .  I have heard many stories of her family and her time growing up in New York and Toronto.  What I never knew was where she got her earliest cooking inspiration.  The photos she includes of her plastic covered sheets of recipe clippings made me smile (one of them is above).  I encourage you to read the newsletter here.  Not only will you learn a few new things about Mary but you'll get an amazing recipe for Duck with Pomegranate Glaze from the new Insalata's Mediterranean Table cookbook.

I'd love to know where your earliest cooking inspiration came from...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

In today's LA Times Sarah Karnasiewicz writes all about savory pies.  Coming off the holidays you may have dabbled in pumpkin pie, apple pie, or pecan pie.  But, winter is here and having a rich pie crust filled with warm savory fillings like Chicken Pot Pie with Leek and Fennel or Curried Lamb Pasties with Spicy Sweet Potato and Tamarind could be one of the best things to store in your freezer, ever.  Sarah offers two types of crust-a basic dough made with a combo of shortening and butter (for perfect flake and flavor) and a cream cheese variation, which is the best for people who hate making dough (the cream cheese keeps it tender every time).  I taught a class last night where I did a variation on the savory pie, filling my version of cream cheese dough with diced mushrooms that were sauteed in shallots and butter and stirred with some sour cream.  Like the pasties, these were individual small pies but we were serving ours as appetizers so we made them two-bite sized.  So good!  Once you have these doughs mastered (and it doesn't take long), play with your favorite fillings and shapes-the variations are endless.  If freezing is your thing, make both recipes all the way through except the final baking.  Freeze them, tightly wrapped, for up to a month, and no need to thaw before baking (just add 10-15 minutes of extra time). 

Like Mark Bitmman, Melissa Clark writes a damn good recipe.  Well tested and simple, when I cook her food from the  NY Times, it just works.  Today it's all about suprêmes de volaille-yes, a fancy French way to refer to boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  In my kitchen, the white meat is often overlooked in favor of juicier more flavorful cuts like legs and thighs.  Melissa might win me back with four recipes that will make your weeknight dinner table a lot more exciting.  Chicken Paillard with Oyster Mushrooms, Olive Oil Chicken Confit with Anchovy Parm Dressing, Crispy Stuffed Chicken Cutlets with Ham, Cheese, and Sauerkraut, and Gently Cooked Chicken Breasts with Garlic, Chili, Ginger Sauce.  If you're like my dad and can eat chicken every night, these new recipes will be a welcome change of pace.  I'm starting with the Chicken Confit-flavors remind me of a Caesar Salad and I think poaching the chicken in olive is a great technique for keeping it juicy.

I love chorizo.  The Mexican variety, which is more like a sausage-not cured or cooked, is my favorite.  But, the Spanish style, cured more like salami and much firmer, is also packed with heat, paprika, and garlic, giving tons of flavor to any dish where you use it.  In today's Washington Post they play with Mexican chorizo in four recipes.  I'm partial to the Crispy Mexican Tacos with Potato, Scallion, and Chorizo but check them all out here.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Homemade Granola

On my quest to eat well and spend less, I've been making mounds of homemade granola.  I use an old Bon Appetit recipe I've had for years, with a few of my own modifications.  I'm still playing with it, trying different fruits and flavorings.  Stay tuned for my cocao nib version!

Homemade Granola
4 cups oats (I use oats from Bob's Red Mill)-be sure to avoid the quick cooking variety
1 cup toasted nuts (I like slivered almonds, coarsely chopped pecans, or skinned hazelnuts)
3/4 cup dried fruit, in bite sized pieces (I've been using cranberries but also love cherries and apricots-be sure to use unsulfured apricots-the bright orange ones are too soft and will burn in the oven)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup neutral flavored oil (canola, safflower, vegetable, grapeseed, etc.)
1/4 cup good honey
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, toss together the oats, nuts, fruit, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon, being sure to break up any chunks of brown sugar.  In a small saucepan, combine the oil, honey, and sugar.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pour it over the oat mixture.  Toss the mixture until all the dry ingredients are coated with the honey mixture. 

Spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet.  It will look like this:

Bake the granola until very golden and fragrant, 30-40 minutes, stirring it well every 10 minutes or so.  When it is done, it will look like this:

(notice the change in color?)

Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and cool the granola completely.  When cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  I store mine in glass or tin, as opposed to plastic, as I think it keeps it a lot more crisp.

The granola is great with milk and fresh fruit, served straight up as a snack, or sprinkled over yogurt with berries for a parfait.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

When I was growing up my grandma used to "fly south for the winter", spending time in Orange County when the rains poured down in Seattle.  An amazing cook herself, she was a huge fan of the LA Times food section and would always clip recipes to send my mom and I (see where I get my passion?).  Our favorite envelope was the one containing the first issue of the year as it included the Times' Top 10 Recipes of the Year.  As I read through the list today, I have no doubt in my mind that grandma would have made the Orange Flavored Shortcakes with Strawberries and Cream and Julianne's Graham Cracker Chewey Bars.  I myself like the look of the Quinoa Salad with Shitakes, Fennel, and Cashews.

If you're used to the "dal" at your local Indian take out joint, let me open your eyes.  When you see the word on an Indian menu, it actually refers to lentil and bean dishes, in general-not just the smooth puree you might think of when you see the word.  Lentils and Beans are SO full of nutrition-not only do they have a significant amount of protein but, they're packed with fiber too.  In today's NY Times, Mark Bittman explores the ins and outs of perfect dal.  His top three tips? 1) Choosing the right bean/lentil-with so many varieties out there, you've got tons of choices and you should use what you like (just adjust the cooking time as needed).  2) Seasoning-Dal can be very mild or intense and spicy.  You can adjust the flavor profile with ingredients like chilies, garlic, ginger, and cumin.  He likes using a "tarka", essentially melted, seasoned butter or oil drizzled over the dal at the end-yum!  3)  Lastly, think about extra ingredients who's flavors would compliment your legumes-fruit, nuts, vegetables, or meat.  Ready to give them a try?  Spiced Red Lentil Dal, Mung Bean Dal with Apples and Coconut Tarka, Lentils with Curried Tarka, Navy Beans with Poppy Seed Tarka, and French Lentils with Cashews.  Where to begin?

Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapenos.  Not only do they pack a lot of heat but, if you buy them canned in adobo sauce you get a bonus.  The sauce itself, spiked with vinegar and infused with the smokey chiles, is delicious.  I love them chopped into aioli, added to chili, stirred into shrimp for tacos, and now, spread on top of a chicken burger.  In today's Washington Post there is a recipe for Chipotle Glazed Chicken Burgers that looks light and tasty.  Served over greens instead of in a bun ("protien style" for you In-and-Out fans), it won't weigh you down.  Try it with the Black and White Bean Primavera Salad for a nice weeknight dinner when you want to turn up the heat.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Taste of Things to Come

15 hours into 2010 and looking ahead.  I'm definitely a glass-half-full kind of girl and have only good thoughts about what's to come in the new year.  I hope for the expected, health and happiness, and then a few other things to top it off...delicious food, lots of writing and work, and the best students a cooking teacher could ask for.  Traveling to a few new places would be icing on the cake.

When I think about what's in store in the world of food I've got a few thoughts.  Some of them are Bay Area-specific, some are completely self serving, and some apply no matter who or where you are.  Anything to add?

1) Cooking at Home:  This "trend" was on many lists last year after the apocalyptic economic meltdown.  I think it's taken a while for people to realize how important it actually is to have the skills, and desire, to make homemade food.  If you're not doing it yet, now is the time to start.  Need help?  Come take a class at Tante Marie's.

2) The rise of the cookie!  Bring back the good old fashioned American sweet treat.  I love a good cupcake but have a feeling the humble cookie may sneak back into lives with a vengeance. 

3)  Permanent street food.  Buying food from a cart or vendor has become so chic it's almost passe.  Trendy or not, there are people making some amazing things from street carts and I love the idea that a few of them may just set up shop permanently.  My favorite soon-to-be-permanent restaurant is Tacolicious.  No longer will my guajillo-braised beef taco craving be satisfied just one or two days a week.  In a short while, the now shuttered Laiola in the Marina will be transformed into a full time Tacolicious.  My stomach is growling just thinking about it.

4)  Braising and Stewing.  Always my favorite way to cook, the idea of slow cooking those tough cuts of meat gets more and more attractive when people realize a few things: 1) it's damn easy 2) it's damn tasty and 3) it's damn cheap.  If you're not braising already, get Tori's book, Braises and Stews, and start cooking.

5) Feel Good Food that makes you Feel Good.  Whether you're eating less or no wheat, trying to build up your immune system, or loading up on the vegetables, you'll be happy to know that restaurant menus will not leave you feeling left out.  I often find myself ordering a vegetarian entree at a great restaurant just because it sounds amazing.  I love Asian food because it has so many properties that leave you feeling satisfied and not weighted down.  Vegetable-centered dishes are on the rise and I'm predicting they will continue to taste fantastic.

6) Food Television with Less Boob and More Substance.  I watch the Food Network and once in a blue moon get a good tip or recipe.  Gone are the days of tenured chefs as they've given way to hosts with "likable personalities".  It's my hope that with the rise of more and more food television, programmers will see the why people love shows hosted by the likes of Rick Bayless, Jacques Pepin, and Lidia Bastianich.  Guess what?  Mad skills and likable personalities can actually coexist.

7)  Family Dinner:  Much like cooking at home, one of my "soapbox issues" is family dinner.  I strongly believe that eating as a family has nothing but positive benefits.  My friends who tell me their kids are picky eaters are usually the same people who tell me they feed their kids early then they feed themselves later in the evening.  What good is this?  First off, the kids don't see their parents eating all kinds of foods so the aren't learning by example.  Second, the conversation that happens at family dinner can not be replicated when people at home eat at all different times.  You'd be amazed and what comes out when you're sitting around a plate of roasted kale and pork loin.  As people cook more at home, let's hope they begin to eat together too.

8)  Fried Chicken, Hot Dogs, or Non-Traditional Burritos.  It's amazing how certain dishes can literally take over the culinary airwaves in such a short time.  We're seeing an obscene amount of luxe fried chicken, sustainable organic hot dogs, and "burritos" (I use the term loosely) stuffed with everything from kimchi to chicken tikka masala.  I don't think these trends are going anywhere in 2010 (and, by the way, that chicken tikka masala 'kati roll' from Kasa is actually my fave).

9)   Eating with your Head:  The general idea of knowing what you're eating and where it came from isn't new.  However, with convenience foods so accesible and cheap many people have veared away from thinking about what they are putting in their mouths.  Words like "local", "sustainable", and "organic" are no longer words for just elite food lovers, they are everywhere and it's a good thing.  If you don't want to think too much, try using any of the 64 simple rules from Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules.

10)  Restaurant Cooking at Home:  Want to make a bowl of ramen noodles like David Chang, of Momofuko?  How about beef stroganoff like Thomas Keller, of Ad Hoc?  Curious about Sardine-on-Toast Sorbet from Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Cookbook?  This is your year.  Cookbooks from restaurant chefs are nothing new but the trend of "home cook" version of these titles seems to be booming.   Some have been hugely successful while others still end up on the coffee table and out of the kitchen.  Either way, expect more to come.

Just a few of my thoughts to get the culinary juices flowing for 2010.  I look forward to an amazing year.
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