Monthly Archives: July 2010

chocolate & spinach

I have begun featuring salt and heat into my desserts, so I figure that I will try to rise to the challenge of creating two completely different dishes with almost identical ingredients. This idea arose when making my mom’s signature chocolate bark to bring up to LA with me. I had chopped more orange zest and almonds than were necessary for the amount of chocolate I had, and I had an entire peeled orange that needed to either be eaten or used in some capacity. It was also dinnertime.

Sweet: Dark Chocolate with Orange Zest, Almonds, Salt, and Chili Powder

6-8 oz. good quality dark chocolate
2 tbsp. orange zest en chiffonade
1/4 c. almonds, chopped
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. sea salt

Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Add half of the ingredients to the melted chocolate. Pour chocolate into a lined pan. (I used a loaf pan lined in tin foil but my mom uses a cookie sheet lined in wax paper. To each, his own.) Sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top of the chocolate. Refrigerate for several hours, or until completely hardened. I was able to break mine up into pieces about four hours after putting it in the refrigerator, but my mom typically leaves it in overnight.

Savory: Sautéed Spinach with Orange Juice, Orange Zest, and Chopped Almonds

2 large handfuls of baby spinach
1/2 orange, juiced
1 tbsp. orange zest en chiffonade
1/8 c. almonds, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. oil

Heat frying pan to medium heat with the oil. Add the spinach, orange juice, salt, and chili powder. Sauté until the spinach is significantly wilted, then add the almonds and orange zest. Continue to cook until most of the liquid (from the orange juice and the spinach) has boiled off.

lemon butter (and other, less spectacular things)

The process of bringing ingredients from their raw form to a complete meal with just a sharp object, some heat, and perhaps some cold will never cease to amaze me. My default example is onions: they phase-shift from spicy crispness to unmatched savory sweetness in about thirty minutes over heat. Put yeast in wort (the sweet, nutritious, warm soup of barley and hops), let it do its thang, and after a few days (in a brewery) or a few and then you have beer. Magic!

It is essentially a form of art therapy, which I think contributes to why I like it so much. You have the power to create something beautiful and delicious from start to finish, choosing the ingredients and how you will treat them. It is an excellent way to unwind. Even better, though, is sharing this experience with someone. I find few things more fun and relaxing than cooking with a friend. They’re there to tell you that your dressing needs a little more salt or that the meat should be taken off the grill a few minutes earlier than you were planning to remove it. It also shaves the intimidation off trying a new recipe or working with a new ingredient.

This past weekend, I visited my friend Adam in Los Angeles. I brought a bag of vegetables with me (two giant artichokes, summer squash, asparagus) which contributed to the makings of an excellent meal. We were both craving summer fare, so we agreed on gazpacho. A trip to Figueroa Produce rounded out the menu: grilled shrimp, grilled vegetables, grilled bread, steamed artichoke, tabouleh.

As long as you have the proper tools, making gazpacho is a cinch. A high-power blender or food processor is necessary to massacre your ingredients into a creamy, tasty soup. We threw in four heirloom tomatoes, half a red onion, one green bell pepper, half a peeled cucumber, three large cloves of garlic, four slices of baguette bread, a glug of extra virgin olive oil, cumin, salt, pepper, and some water. This amounted to monstrous amounts of yumminess, especially when served with ice cubes, homemade croutons, chopped cucumber, and diced red onion. After the first spoonful, Adam and I high-fived; it was that kind of meal.

The grilled veggies were standard but very good; the asparagus and summer squash had come from a farm merely days before, and I thought it was pretty clear when you bit into them. Grilled bread is good on its own, but this was drizzled in olive oil and rubbed with a tomato. It was everything I love about the bread of a tomato sandwich but more elegant. The bread was also a very good edible spoon for the gazpacho. Also, the tabouleh was excellent, refreshing and gorgeous.

The star of the dinner, though, was most definitely the lemon butter. Lemon juice + melted butter = religious culinary experience. The artichoke was pressure-cooked in water with some cloves (um, neverwouldathought, but sofreakingood), and Adam instructed us to dip it into the lemon butter. This caused the artichoke, which was certainly delicious, to become a mere vehicle for lemon butter transfer.

Even though this meal consisted of light, summer fare, it took about two hours to rest off the food coma it induced. This was probably worsened by the amount of beer I had been consuming, but either way, it was a very welcome coma. Very, very welcome.

harriet the spy tomato sandwich

I am full of food memories from scenes of people eating and drinking in films and on TV. There is something about seeing and hearing food that just makes you want to eat it, a phenomenon most obviously exploited by the Food Network and its most recent iteration, Cooking Channel. FoodPornDaily appeals to that voyeur in all of us.* But in these instances, food doesn’t necessarily have a story beyond horrible vignettes from the life of Sandra Lee (e.g., “Those fondant covered marshmallows were just darling for my niece’s birthday party.”) With film and television, characters contextualize then food and show us a real person eating a real meal for a real reason. I want to eat those same meals, and I will do so here.

When I was 7 or 8, I discovered Harriet the Spy. What a movie! What a book! After seeing it, I tried as hard as I could to become Harriet, even asking Santa Claus for a spy kit and a full-time nanny (even though I had/have a perfectly good mom). The nanny never came, but I got a deluxe spy kit, complete with mirrored spy glasses and chalk dust for fingerprinting. (Come to think of it, I wonder if my desire to be a successful childhood spy has anything to do with my embarrassing obsessions with crime shows like CSI: Miami and Law and Order: SVU. I’d say it’s likely.)

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Anyway, one of the most memorable scenes of this film was the process of Harriet making a tomato sandwich. The entire thing lasted approximately 73 seconds, but the novelty of a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread struck me. My school lunches up until that point had been prepared with something from my grandparents Italian deli, and white bread was never an option. Only “Dr. John bread,” as my mom would call it: whole wheat, just as my pediatrician ordered. So this evening, with only the heel of my “Dr. John bread” remaining and an heirloom tomato begging to be consumed, I had a tomato sandwich with mayo.

I have always been a lover of the tomato seed juice that tends to squirt out of tomatoes. Many people get rid of it before eating their tomato, including Harriet, but I found that it combined with the mayo was pure succulence. Both seeped into the toasted heel of bread, and few things are better than when toast begins to reconstitute its moisture with other flavors: balsamic vinegar, marmalade, butter, and in this case, tomato seed juice (does this have a real name?) and mayonnaise.

I’m not the only one to feel nostalgic about this sandwich; a quick Google search led me to this Epicurious blog entry and a host of other recollections and recipes, so at least I know I’m not a crazy person who remembers a tomato sandwich from some flick she saw in first grade.

*Bragging rights: A picture from the sandwich post on Best I Ever Had was featured on FoodPornDaily. I nearly cried with excitement when I found out, and I was obvs so proud of photographer Scott. Funnily enough, the featured sandwich also had heirloom tomatoes, but that’s actually not funny at all because a consistently-fruiting heirloom tomato plant is one of my desert island items. I lub dem.

pancakes and curry

Adams Avenue Farmer’s Market (AAFM) in Normal Heights leaves much booth-volume to be desired. It is a pretty meager excuse for a farmer’s market, covering only one-third of a small parking lot. However, I went because I had a coupon for a free giant artichoke with a $10 purchase from Suncoast Farms. I walked away with two bunches of asparagus and three giant artichokes, and they aren’t kidding. I ate one on the 4th of July with my cuz, and we steamed it with lemon, garlic, rosemary, parsley, and ginger. Twas yummy.

Thai food has somehow managed to stay out of my life for the past few months. After passing a Thai place in La Jolla on Sunday, though, I’ve been craving the stuff like a famished hyena craves gazelle flesh. Cue the afro’ed employee at the Thai food vendor at AAFM, who helped me through my indecisiveness. I ended up getting the chicken and vegetable curry over rice, with ten of these little coconut pancakes. With no tables in sight, I sat at the edge of a slide that I had to give up in the middle of my meal to two frowning, disgruntled children.

Eating hot things that taste really good is a recipe for esophageal cancer (EC, as I lovingly call it). With no care to the pain of scalding curry sauce running down my throat, I kept eating, wasting no time to blow on my food. It reminded me of an evening last semester when my friends made a tagine with homemade meat balls and fresh bread; those of us who ate it just sat there moaning in pain and satiety. Temperature will not get in the way of experiencing this flavah, no sir.

The curry was all well and good. It had the perfect amount of spiciness after adding some Sriracha and sweet chili sauce (thanks, admayer), which is always key with curry. However, the star of this farmer’s market show was the coconut pancake. Called Kanom Krok, they are a mixture of coconut milk and rice flour cooked in a dimpled cast-iron pan.

I didn’t take this picture (it was found using the Ye Olde Nouveau GoogleImage Search), but it depicts what I’m trying to say:

The last time I saw one of these pans was on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he went to a restaurant that allowed customers to make their own octopus meatballs. Mmmmmmm. But at the AAFM, my afro’ed friend let me try a sample of these pancakes and I was hooked. The middle is soft, gooey and warm but the outside is a crunchy and little charred from the seasoned cast-iron pan. It has unbeatable mouthfeel and a sweet but mild coconut flavor. I want to eat these at all times. I want to douse them in honey. I want to chop them up and eat them with strawberries. I want to spread peanut butter on one, blackberry jam on the other, and smush them together for a tiny PB&J. I want to buy my own dimpled cast-iron pan so I can make them for breakfast and serve them to passersby on my way to work. I have no idea where to buy one so if you do, help me so I can help others.

1. snorkel, 2. eat, 3. eat again

Snorkeling is an invigorating, tiring, hungering activity. As my cousin and I were searching for a place to fill our stomach voids, this woman working for the La Jolla Visitor’s Center asked if we needed help. I immediately ignored her because I thought she was trying to sell me something, but with her assistance,  we settled on The Spot for its diversity of burger meat offerings. Cow and buffalo and lamb, oh my! It has an easy-going sports bar atmosphere with open, full pane windows to capitalize on the California breeze. I was comfortable from the moment I sat down.

I ordered a buffalo burger with caramelized onions (duh), avocado (duh), mushrooms (duh), and provolone (duh). I got the green bean side dish for a semblance of health in my life, but ended up eating a load of my cousins fries so there that went. Whatever, they were delicious: crispy and light and beer-battered.

I also had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is a pretty excellent beer, but I was definitely enjoying it more before the burger came. The beer didn’t have quite enough mouth-rinsing power for a burger of this magnitude. Needed to ask for a water.

After walking around in La Jolla and shopping in stores that were almost too expensive for us to even enter (except this one where I bought 8 pairs of earrings for $10?), we stumbled upon Cups La Jolla, an organic cupcakery. We had both heard about it but never went, and when we were approaching the storefront, our craving for gelato was quickly replaced with an itch only a cupcake could scratch.

I got a vegan Chocolate Cheesecake cupcake, a rich chocolate cupcake with thick cream cheese icing. Vegan cream cheese icing tastes exactly like regular cream cheese icing: both are supremely rich and delicious. It also works very well in the roll of glue for a cupcake sandwich, my preferred method to eat this cupcake. My iced coffee was very fresh, and they didn’t even charge me for the soy milk!

Since Cups is not only a cupcake shop but also a lounge, they have a DJ. During our stay, he did transitioned from “Don’t Stop Believin'” to “I’ve Gotta Feelin'” seamlessly. I asked him how he got a gig spinning at a ritzy cupcake shop, and he told me that his girlfriend’s family owns the place. What luck.

i want to start a children’s pizza-making class

I taught two 5-year-olds and two 9-year-olds how to make pizza yesterday and it was pretty fun. Ani’s kids and his family friend’s kids really seemed to enjoy  gettin’ down n’ dirty with the flour.

The kids pizza had cheddar and olives, and the adult pizza had caramelized onions, red bell peppers, Parmsean, and mozzarella. Both had some pizza sauce that I threw together.

A preemptive oven removal left the pizza pretty doughy which seemed okay for the kids, but we threw the “adult” slices back in the oven. Pizza disaster averted! Yumminess ensued.

le monde de la lavande

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Driving up the I-15, through a grove, and down several miles of dirt roads lands you squarely amongst dozens of acres of lavender plans in Valley Center, CA. Keys Creek Lavender Farm, to be exact, “A Unique Boutique Farm.” My cousin and I attended a tea party there, with assorted lavender teas, freshly baked scones and, of course, the promise of lavender essence in the breeze.

Those scones were some of the best I have ever had. My first scone experience was as a 9-year-old in Starbucks, ordering a blueberry scone because I felt awesome about myself. They’re British, I thought, I’m suave. This was back when Starbucks served your pastries on a plate with real silverware if you indicated that you were going to stick around to eat it. Not so, anymore! Just those awful wax bags.

But yea, this Starbucks blueberry scone was pretty horrible. Despite the amount of lard I’m sure it included, it was so dry. I remember really struggling to get it down because if the Brits can do it and manage to still be supercool, I needed to do the same. Ever since, though, scones were my last choice of food. Until now.

The lavender-orange zest scones had optimal scone texture: simultaneously flaky and moist. Topped with clotted cream (I hate it. I love it.), strawberry jam, and lavender honey, these pastries were just divine. When paired with the fruit-lavender tea from those fairytale porcelain teapots, I couldn’t have been happier.

Also, I didn’t leave empty handed. I purchased some culinary lavender and lavender honey to enhance my edibles, and some lavender lip balm. It is full of lavender essential oil distilled in this little shack on the farm with a giant version of that tiny distiller pictured above.