Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm a Wiener!

My beautiful aeron chair perched on top of the desk, crowding my beautiful aluminum Apple 23 inch LCD monitor and my beautiful nearfield audio monitors. And all these in turn were hidden behind floor to ceiling puffy panels. So you see, I really wanted to update Foodatista, but literally couldn't reach my computer. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our professions. But I really missed you all, and thought of you happily bustling about in your kitchens while L. and I made do with our fried eggs and quinoa dinners while we worked around the clock to complete our latest studio project.

Re-entering the blogosphere, I find I have just squeaked in by an asparagus tip into the winners circle of this month's Does My Blog Look Good in This. I'm thrilled!

Big Thank You to the judges, Ilva of Lucullian Delights, who posts gorgeous shots of Tuscany along side her food shots, and to Georgia of Caribbean Free Radio, journalist, editor and media producer based in the Caribbean. And Big Thanks to Melissa, the fabulous Cooking Diva for an absolutely charming job hosting the event.

According to the DMBLGIT founders, this event/contest is to give everyone a chance to enjoy some of the best pictures of the month posted on food blogs. I encourage you all to participate - it's great fun and the pictures seem to get better and better. Still plenty of time for next month's contest. Go ahead. Give it your best shot.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring Garden Market in San Jose

The melody flows inside my head like the rain streaming through our bermuda grass. And you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful spring. And you make ask yourself, well, how did I get here? Letting the days go by/water flowing underground*. And overground, and down the driveway and into the tiniest gap between my raincoat collar and my momentarily exposed neck. This is not my beautiful California.

For weeks in a row I repeat my mantra, Rain Is Good, with an early morning peek at the grey clouds, bustling and sniffling about in a cold sky and weeping on and off through the day and night. Today I am happy. I have just seen the notice for the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara 12th Annual Spring Garden Market. And it is this Saturday, April 1, 2006. No April Fool's joke, there really will be a spring market, rain or shine. And the way I look at it, a beautiful spring can't be far off.

The market will thrill tomato fans - 70 varieties of heirlooms for your perusal. And I eagerly anticipate debating amongst the cinammon basil, the cardinal basil, the lemon basil, Italian pesto basil, spicy saber basil and the other 9 varieties of my favorite summer herb. Eight varieties of eggplant will be vying for attention. And no doubt you will find friends with which to compare the merits of the flashy troutback and the emerald oakleaf lettuces among the herbs and greens and flowers.

This event is put on by the Master gardeners, University of California Cooperative Extension. Here's a link to the event. And here's a quiz to test your master gardener yearnings.

The event runs from 9AM to 2PM at Mercury News Facility , 750 Ridder Park Dr., San Jose (West Parking Lot).

Looking forward to Spring, same as it ever was.

*adapted from Talking Heads "Once in a Lifetime"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tilapia with Oyster Mushrooms and Turmeric Cream Sauce

I'm not sure I want to admit how fast it is to make. After all, I subscribe to the slow cooking (and shopping and eating, etc.) habit and can not shed lingering suspicion that meals cooked in less than 30 minutes must not be quite that tasty. Unfortunately, this dish takes much less than 30 minutes to cook, so I'm afraid you won't believe how good it is. Until you try it for yourself. Well, it qualifies for the Is My Blog Burning event, Make it in 30 Minutes, hosted by Too Many Chefs. But you won't have to breath a word about that.

The cream sauce is made with a reduction of white wine vinegar which keeps it from tasting too rich. And the turmeric, while adding a cheerful yellow, also adds a delicate, faintly exotic flavor that further cuts the cream. It's a wonderful foil for this moist fish.

Turmeric Cream Sauce
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 shallot
3 sprigs parsley
3 black peppercorns, crushed
  • In a small sauce pan, combine vinegar and water and bring to boil. Meanwhile, mince shallot, tear off parsley leaves and crush the peppercorns. Add to mixture and reduce until there is about 1 tablespoon left. This will take about 3-4 minutes.
  • Strain out the parsley and shallots and return liquid to pan.
  • Add the heavy cream and tumeric. Stir and simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
  • Salt to taste.

Tilapia with Oyster Mushrooms and Turmeric Cream Sauce
Serves 2
2 tilapia filets
6 ounces baby spinach
1 shallot
6-8 oyster mushrooms
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Saute the mushrooms in a dab of olive oil until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  • In large saute pan, heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil on medium flame until just smoking. Add the minced shallots and saute until just translucent, about 1 minute.
  • Add the spinach and stir until wilted, about 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Add more olive oil into pan if required.
  • Rub the filet with salt and pepper. Saute the tilapia, about 3 minutes each side, depending on thickness of the filet or until completely opaque all the way through.
  • Make a mound of spinach on plate. Drape the filet over the spinach. Add 3 little mushrooms surrounding the fish. Spoon sauce over fish and between the mushrooms.
Le me know how you like it!

Tagged with: +

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Olive Blogging

It's still raining outside, but not for me. I am imagining what it was like in the place we call southern Italy, but before the Italians, the Romans, even before the Greeks graced the spot sporting the latest in leather sandals. Then there were the Enotrians, the wine lovers, as the Greeks came to call them. It is 1000 BC. Wind rustles the leaves of the olive trees. I gaze at a cloudless blue sky. The air is quiet and still except for a few birds challenging territories through song. The squeak of a potter's wheel in the distance. A splash of wine poured into a glass. The leathery wheeze of an olive press. Maybe I amble over to fill my bronze vessel with a little olive oil for skin pampering later. Well, a girl can dream, can't she?

Now you might ask what inspired this bit of daydreaming? A rare example of a pre-greek site is going to be excavated in southern Italy, a happening place even before the Greeks arrived. And I discovered this news by way of the fabulously interesting web site, the olive blog.

This is a site singularly devoted to the Olive. There are always fascinating tidbits of information offered. If you aren't reading the Olive blog, you might overlook the auction notice for the entire the village of Peccioli located in the hills between Pisa and Florence, and miss your chance to live the Tuscan lifestyle amid the olive trees - there's great inspiration for a daydream! Perhaps you have more modest dreams - simply to admire Roman mosaics from the Bardo museum in Tunisia. Or to make olive oil ice cream. Interested in olive commerce? This is the place to learn why Spanish olive oil will be more expensive. Want to learn the latest on olive oil nutrition? Or explore some olive festivals? This is the spot.

So stop on by and say hello to the olive blog. You will find something to dream about, even if it's just a molten chocolate plate doused in extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Celtic sea salt.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two Minute Calamari

Two minute calamari. She thought that sounded excellent since she didn't have much free time. And she hated it when people said, as they often do, that they just don't have time to cook and that's why they use packaged food. No, she wasn't going to surrender to "convenience" food.

Hightail it to Whole Foods for ingredients
Scallions - check. Examine 25 boxes of couscous - none say Israeli. Head for the bins. Pine nuts, currants - check. Proudly displayed next to the barley is - Israeli couscous - check. This is going to be easy. Still missing calamari and caperberries.

Approximately 30 minutes.
Jam over to Lunardi's.
Trip up and down all the aisles looking for capers. Find them in the last aisle. Beautiful fat caperberries from Spain. No calamari.

Approximately 25 minutes.
Decide to seek the calamari at the gigantic Chinese grocery store, 99 Ranch Market 13 miles away. Not sure which of 2 streets it is on. Choose the wrong one. Head back. Finally locate the store.
Rush to the fish counter. Yes! They have baby squid, but they aren't nice and white and cleaned like she remembered them. Oh well, buy them anyway.

Approximately 1 hour.
Decide it is now too late to make this dish since, upon closer examination of the recipe, they realize that one of the ingredients takes 45 minutes to make ( the tomato sauce). L. makes whole wheat fettucine with baby spinach and black olives and capers instead.

22 hours later.

Prepare tomato sauce.
Grate carrot. Gather from garden and chop 3 Tblsp fresh thyme, garlic, onion. Sauce thickens as savory aroma wafts through the house.
Approximately 1 hour 5 minutes.
Gradually sinks in that squid needs to be cleaned. Research how to clean squid. Find great directions in Professional Chef, the Culinary Institute of America.

Approximately 8 minutes.
Clean and prepare one and one half pounds of baby squid.
Approximately 20 minutes including time spent staring at them, not really wanting to pull the heads off and then bravely stepping up to the task.
Prepare the Israeli couscous.
Easy except for the ice bath. Our bagged ice is one solid lump. Attempt to pound this diamond-like substance into smaller chunks. Warm up smarting hands under hot water and perch pan on top of bag and hope for the best.

Approximately 15 minutes.
Assemble and cook pine nuts, currants and red pepper flakes. Slice scallions.
Approximately 4 minutes.
Cook calamari.
Stir in the prepared squid.

Total time for 2 minute Calamari : 25 hours 49 minutes.

But it was worth it. Delicate calamari rings backstroking through a sweet, sour, hot, nutty dish. Now that she is an expert at cleaning squid, she can't wait to make it again.

Recipe from Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 cups

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 spanish onion ( I substituted a yellow onion)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 28 oz. cans peeled whole tomatoes
Kosher salt to taste
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a 3 quart sauce pan. Add onion and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the garlic slices.
  • Add the thyme and carrot and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  • With your hands, crush the tomatoes and add them with their juices. Bring to a boil, stirring often, and then lower the heat and simmer from 30 minutes.
  • Add salt to taste.

  • This sauce holds for 1 week in the fridge and for up to 6 months in the freezer.

    Two Minute Calamari
    1 cup Israeli couscous
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons pine nuts
    2 tablespoons currants
    1/2 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes (Batali calls for 1 T pepper flakes, which makes it Very Hot)
    1/4 cup caperberries
    2 cups Mario's Basic Tomato Sauce
    1 1/2 pounds cleaned calamari, tubes cut into 1/4 inch rounds, tentacles halved
    Fresh ground pepper to taste
    3 scallions, thinly sliced
      Cook the couscous in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and plunge into an ice bath. When cooled, set aside to dry on a plate.
    • Heat olive oil in medium saute pan until just smoking. Add the pine nuts, currants, and red pepper flakes and saute until the nuts are just golden brown, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully - this can happen very quickly.
    • Add the caperberries, tomato sauce, and couscous and bring to a boil.
    • Add the calamari. Stir to mix and simmer for 2 minutes or so, until the calamari is just cooked and completely opaque.
    • Season with salt, plate and sprinkle with scallions.

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Class acts in the South Bay

    Sur La Table in Los Gatos teaches us some international tricks...

    World Cuisine: Moroccan Tagine
    Tuesday, March 21, $55
    Demo - Learn the sublime secrets of fantastic, flavor-filled Moroccan tagine cooking. Featuring a caravan of exotic spices, hearty tagine stews will transform your kitchen into a delicious desert oasis.
    MENU: Eggplant and Lentil Zaalouk Spreads with Moroccan Flatbread - Orange and Olive Salad - Monkfish Tagine - Couscous-Stuffed Chicken with Sweet Almonds - Caramelized Carrots - Rice Pudding with Pistachios, Raisins and Saffron

    Saveur Spain
    Wednesday, March 29, $75
    Hands-On - Join Saveur magazine and Sur La Table as we savor the authentic regional cuisines Spain. From Valencia, rich with the aroma of spicy paella, to the crowded tapas bars of Andalucia, you'll learn some of the most valuable secrets of Spanish cooking. Each participant will receive a one-year subscription to Saveur and a complimentary gift bag.
    MENU: Tortilla Espanola - Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach with Chickpeas) - Alcachofas en su Salsa (Artichokes in Their Own Sauce) - Paella de Marisco (Shellfish Paella) - Patatas a la Riojana (Potatoes Stewed with Paprika and Chorizo) - Gelat de Creama Catalana (Burnt Cream Ice Cream)

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Paillard of Chicken with Orange and Cardamom

    It seems the busier L. and I get in the studio, the more our kitchen becomes a source of mental nourishment. Sometimes it's a visit with an old friend, when we make something we prepare frequently. Or a trip home when we cook a family recipe. Sometimes we are artists, improvising a new creation.

    Palliard of chicken with orange and cardamom is a weekend getaway.

    Not the relaxing getaway where you loll around contemplating the sounds of the ocean, but the reinvigorating vacation where one afternoon you are absorbing Caravaggio's chiaroscuro lighting, the next, shopping for earrings on an old bridge, then waving to Tuscan sheep as you zip by on a moped.

    You see, when you make this dish, there's lots of different and deliciously brief activities. Pounding, squeezing, beating, slicing, playing with fire. You even get a 30 minute orange and cardamom aromatherapy siesta if all that activity proves too much.

    There are two steps that I enjoyed immensely. The first is pounding the chicken. You might think that this is a good way to work out your frustrations, but if you pound too hard, you will tear the chicken breast. This requires pounding with love, with a motion that starts in the center of the breast and moves outward. You can pound hard at first, but then you must do it tenderly, till the breast is a fragile 1/8 inch thick. This is not impossible, although I too had my suspicions as my 2 inch thick Rosie organic chicken breast called me into the ring.

    And then there's the requirement for previously flamed cognac. We tried lighting it with matches, but they simply fizzled out. So out came the blow torch usually reserved for creme brulee. Seconds later, blue flames dancing in a white bowl in the dark kitchen were mesmerizing. Turn off the lights to fully appreciate the show.

    By the end, you have totally escaped your working world and are also rewarded with a tasty dinner. The chicken is tender, subtly voicing a spiced flavor. But the marinade sauce sings a bold aria to the orange cardamom combination. Wonderful!

    Paillard of Chicken with Orange and Cardamom slightly adapted from Paula Wolfert's World of Food.

    Serves 2
    1 whole chicken breast, deboned, skinned, and sliced in half
    1 egg, beaten
    2/3 cup fine-ground breadcrumbs (optional - it would be great with just a dusting of flour instead of the crumbs - that's how I am going to make it next time)
    2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 Tablespoon olive oil
    12 julienne strips of orange rind, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes to remove bitterness

    1/2 cup fresh orange juice - that was 1 1/2 oranges but of course it depends on the size and juiciness of your oranges.
    3 tablespoons Cognac, previously flamed
    1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
    1/2 teaspoon cardamom
    Salt and Pepper
    • My favorite step : Flame the Cognac
    • Place the breast pieces skinned side down on a plastic cutting board or Silpat and pound with a smooth meat pounder to 1/8 inch thickness. If the meat gets too sticky, you can cover it with plastic wrap, and then pound.
    • Combine the marinade ingredients - the orange juice, Cognac, orange rind and cardamom in a bowl and add the chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature. (Ms. Wolfert warns that over-marinating will make the flesh mushy.)
    • Drain the chicken, season with salt and pepper and dust it with flour. Optionally you can dip it in the beaten egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Leave it on a rack to allow the coating to set, at least 5 minutes.
    • Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 of olive oil to a saute pan and heat until sizzling and just beginning to brown. Add the chicken and cook until golden on the first side, about 2 minutes, and then flip and cook for another minute on the other side. Remove the chicken breast from the pan.
    • If any fat remains, pour it off. Add the marinade and the rest of the butter to the pan and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.
    • Plate the chicken and pour sauce over the breast or pour the sauce on the plate and place the chicken on top. Decorate with the julienned orange strips and serve at once.