Monday, November 30, 2009

Day the 30th - Nablopomo no more.

To be fair, I got WAY more than a lousy sense of satisfaction from posting every day for 30 days. It did push me to be more creative, push me to focus on something else than what was right in front of me (even if that usually meant whatever I was eating), and it pushed me to commit to something else than what I get paid for, or whatever I do when I procrastinate un-creatively not to do what I get paid to do. And I am very happy that I did stick with it. That a cold, a trip to the Bay Area, various professional melt-downs and canine emergencies did not detract. The challenge fulfilled its promise of keeping me anchored.

What lies ahead?

Well December of course. I am going to Matsuhisa with my father tomorrow night (the birthplace of the Nobu empire). You didn't think I'll let that go by un-blogged?

And December will also bring a return to Oregon and my co-blogger, so maybe we'll do something extra special with MB's holiday suggestions. Like what I don't know. But stay with us. There's more to come.

Too much.

After a weekend of excess, (actually, I wasn't that bad, all things considered), I am starting the week with a simple and almost austere breakfast. No pie for me today. Black coffee and grapefruit. One of my favorite things about December is that this is when I can get good citrus. As a child in California, we had an orange and a lemon tree in the back yard. We also had parents who worked full time and raised three children, so doing things like properly fertilizing said citrus trees was not a priority. The oranges that the tree produced with were gross. Dry in the middle, sometimes no juice at all. Once they had clearly been frozen on the tree during some freak frost and it ruined the oranges. The lemons had a pith that was half an inch thick. My father always insisted that for breakfast we each have a quarter of whatever orange was available, regardless of texture or taste. The result is that I have not been a huge citrus fan as an adult. However, a few winters ago, I rediscovered the grapefruit. Having a bit of sunshine for breakfast in this occasionally bleak Pacific Northwest weather is a wonderful antidote to the blahs.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

day 29 - my wish list, part 1

All I want for Christmas is this deep fryer. And a pound of beef tallow. And some Belgian bintje potatoes.

If I had all that, I could make you the real belgian fries, the kind of fries that defy all expectations, and taste better than any deep fried potato you can get this side of the Atlantic.

The secret is in the double frying, and of course the potato (and the bintje's very unique ratio of size to starch - similar to, but not quite as good as a Yukon Gold), the sprinkling of salt and the mayonnaise. The double frying, which so many people ignore elsewhere, is what makes a Belgian fry perfect. It also should be beef tallow, not duck fat. I know its become the gourmet bistro trick of the last year, but duck fat just does not do the trick. Also - did you know that McDonald's used to use beef tallow to make their fries? It's one of the reasons Julia Child declared them to be so good. There are many rumors as to why McDonald's switched to vegetable oils in the 90's, none of which we need to go into now. But if you;ve had a McD's fry lately, you'll know they taste as sallow and weak as any other fast food fry. Beef tallow my friends, beef tallow!

And the yolky mayo to take it over the top.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

day 28

If MB and I had to drive down from the Bay Area to LA on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I would certainly hope we'd drive down in a stretch something driven by someone else than MB or I. That way we wouldn't notice the rest of California driving down the 5 today. Nor would we mind getting stuck in traffic for EVER on the last 50-mile stretch into LA.

The lovely driver of said stretchmobile would also be the one to stand in line at the Kettleman City In n' Out Burger and bring it back to us, so we wouldn't have to share space with that half of humanity that was not across the street getting Sundaes at McDonald's.

MB and I would probably have a lengthy debate as to whether the In n'Out burger is better than the Burgerville burger, and we'd be busy discussing it for the next forever hours as we inched our way back to SoCal after 2 very short but lovely days in the Berkeley hills.

PS: the weird non-food picture was taken while driving very slowly through the Cajón pass.

Friday, November 27, 2009

day 27 - the day after

Not to skimp on the 27th post of the month, but : "what she said".

My co-blogger and I had a similar morning, except I did my guilty eating at Café Fanny in Berkeley. But it felt a lot like what was going down in McMinnville.

The Morning After

We had a lovely day. Roasted bird, red cabbage, brussels sprouts and bacon, roasted root vegetables, sweat potatoes, stuffing, gravy (that my brother saved from separating). Then pecan pie, pumpkin pie and apple pandowdy. Now, for my favorite part of this holiday: a morning run then hot coffee and leftover pie for breakfast. I am truly thankful for that!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

the 26th - it's done!

Unfortunately I stopped taking pictures once dinner got started, which is why there is no evidence of infamous vegetarian shepherd's pie. Just above is a picture of what is essentially the lower layer of the pie. I made a creamy buttery batch of mashed potatoes and celery root, layered it in a very pretty casserole dish and broiled it it for 15 minutes while the chicken (no pics) cooled. It was DELISH! Definitely the vegetarian special occasion meal of the moment. It takes at least half a day to prepare, but it is totally worth it. It is sort of the vegetarian version of boeuf bourguignon without the boeuf or the heart-valve clotting effect.

The soup is another keeper - it insanely easy, and tucked away at the beginning of the last historic Gourmet magazine, it is one of the many reasons you need to get a copy of it while you still can. The carrot and beet play off each other very subtly, and the soup doesn't taste of one or the other, but of a sweet and tart and slightly spicy earthy bowl of goodness. And you can't beat that soup for color! I added a dollop of sour cream and some toasted walnuts. It was pretty, and it was yummy.

We had a lovely dinner, and I was and am thankful to have shared it with the people I was with.
And now I look forward to eating left-overs and not going near a pot for at least 2 days!
But I'll report on that too, because there are 4 more days of November left, 4 more days of Nablopomo, 4 more meals (at least) to tell you about, and 4 more evenings to collect myself and post something before I collapse in bed with an episode of Community on, or one of MI-5 from netflix (if you don't know what I am talking about, drop me a comment and I'll elaborate), 4 more days during which I'll live my life with an eye towards what may be blog-worthy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 25 - stock, soup and everything else made it

Even with traffic getting out of LA and an unexpected car-oil replenishment in Kettleman City, the beast and I have arrived, and the stock and soup were still frozen by the time we got here.
I almost finished my neighbors granola bars, but its the excedrin migarine pills (with the caffeine) that kept me going...
There will be much cooking tomorrow, and hopefully some pictures of the vegetarian shepherd's pie I've been thinking so much about, and my co-blogger's chicken, which is replacing the turkey this year, yay!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 24th - hanging on by the skin of my teeth

It's been a tough couple of weeks. Not because of Naploboetc - that may actually turn out to be exactly the lifeline I intended it to be. But everything else is making my joins creak and bones ache and head throb.
Today I had a very rare quiet hour in my office - door closed, lecture and slides done, 1 hour to go before office hours. I'd picked up a salt bagel from a local bagel shop that does a decent job (by SoCal standards) and had the NYT crossword puzzle with me - I must have sensed I would have time to do it today.
I sat at my desk, salt bagel shmeared with scallion cream cheese and a slice of tomato in the left hand, pen in my right, bent over the crossword puzzle until both were done.
It was quite easily the best hour I have had since the matzo ball soup on Saturday.
Tomorrow I am driving 374 miles north - my delightful neighbor gave me a batch of her home made granola bars, and between those and the peanut butter & jelly sandwich the beast and I will share on our drive up, I think I will be quite satisfied.
I hope to be able to get the recipe for those granola bars , because they are insanely good, and because I'd like, for once, to give you and actual recipe on this blog. The bars are sweetened with brown sugar and dates, and they have oats and sunflower seeds and almonds and god knows what else in them. My neighbor says their healthy. Right.

Monday, November 23, 2009

day 23 - she cooked in riverside

I wish I could expound on the huitlacoche I made, and the tortillas I bought at the Maxi Supermercado on Brockton avenue in Riverside, and the very kind man who gave me a glass of horchata water for free, but I can't. I had 2 beers, and 2 excedrin, and waaaay too much carnitas, huitlacoche, puerco en salsa verde, guacamole and salsa, and now I am sitting here with my friend F and A talking about how cute their daughter C is.
This will have to suffice.
Buenas noches!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

on the 22nd day, she made stock and soup

Today I solved the NYT crossword puzzle (it was an easy Sunday puzzle), finally saw and spoke to my parents on skype, and I made a vegetable stock for the vegetarian sheperd's pie for thanksgiving (on your right, the vegetables for the stock roasting) and the scarlett carrot soup (on the left, in its pre-blended stage). I also made bulgur and chickpea salad and chocolate chip cookies for a faculty meeting tomorrow.
My intention was to keep a photographic record of the enterprise. However, the vegetable stock recipe asks that you degaze the pan with red wine, which I did. I then served myself to a glass of wine, and from then on - no more pictures...
The stock is more like a vegan gravy:
-onions, mushrooms, red bell pepper, carrots parsley and garlic - roast with olive oil for 40 minutes at approx 350 degrees
-take out of oven and straddle over two burners over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of tomato paste and mix
-add one cup of red wine (I had a Cote du Rhone on hand) and deglaze
-(serve self glass of wine)
-pour all that mess into 4 qt pot, dd 4 cups of water and let simmer for 40 minutes
- pour out over fine mesh sieve and discard solid.

That's it. This is the gravy that will hold the sheperd's pie vegetables together, but I can imagine using this stock in any vegetable stew that requires richness and a deeper umami-like flavor that vegetables don't always have.

The choc chip cookies are for my colleagues, but I should have one right? Just to make sure they're good...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 21 - behold the matzo ball

Isn't this a thing of beauty? After my co-blogger posted a roast chicken that has had me salivating all day, I needed to at least honor her efforts with a picture of my dinner.
Oregon is sorely lacking in decent deli food, so when I am in LA, I indulge that side of my cravings.

After a rather awesome work-out rolling around on hard balls, making ourselves cry in pain, my friend Alli (who has all the news of LA restaurants on her blog) were starving. The instructor told to take it easy on ourselves and not to indulge over dinner. We were not to eat anything cold, raw or alcoholic. As if we hadn't suffered enough already!

Alli knew of an old deli in the neighborhood, and I am SO grateful we went there and not to any of our West Hollywood delis. Roll n Rye makes the best matzo ball soup. Rich and deep in flavour, with nice juicy chicken bits and noodles like the ones my grandmother put in her soup. It was divine. Their potato pancakes were not bad either. Not as good as crunchy and fresh as my mom's, but they hit the spot.

The black and white cookie looked good, and the waiter was selling it pretty hard, but I controlled myself.

Roasted chicken, wine tasting and books.

So I made my roasted chicken. It was pretty darned good. I used the fabulous Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken recipe - slightly modified. There seem to be several versions online, but I like this one the best as the writing is humorous and witty and the recipe complete. Basically, I failed to start prepping my chicken the day before. That morning I pulled a frozen bird out of the freezer and let it thaw. The Zuni recipe wants you to clean and dry your bird for a day or so before you roast it. I have done this before, and while the chicken was good, I am not sure that it was noticeably better. This one I just washed and dried, stuck some rosemary under the breast and in the cavity, then liberally covered with salt and pepper. Cooked it on my trusty cast iron skillet in the oven, flipping it at 20 minute intervals. Everyone loved it.

Here in the valley, this weekend and next are big wine tasting weekends. We are going to do our part a bit today and taste some hopefully nice pinots this afternoon. Since we are close enough to the holiday season that the store is busy (yeah!) I will be working in the morning. This leads me to consider a slow cooking soup for dinner tonight. I have some dried fava beans in my pantry that I will be using with some of the left over chicken. Will report on progress later. I haven't given Thanksgiving cooking a second thought yet! Kudos to my co-blogger for being organized. I have considered just roasting the annoying cat and calling it good, but I think that my children would be unhappy.

Oh, as I wrote this, I INHALED a cornmeal waffle with chestnut honey on top. So. Good.


It's the 20th - countdown begins

As of tomorrow (technically today) I will be counting down towards the last day of November, which also happens to be the eve of my father's visit to LA, which is quite irrelevant on this blog, except that he and I like food, although I am quite sure he does not share my MB love. He probably doesn't even know who MB is.

Anyway, I started shopping for Thxgiving today - I acquired celery roots. Those things are ugly, but they contains such lusciousness! They are proof that you cannot judge a vegetable by its dry, warty, ugly, peel. And they keep well. I know there's a metaphor here somewhere, but I am too tired to figure it out. Good night!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On the 19th day of NaBloPoMo

On this, the 19th day, I had dinner at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. Among the many things we ate was Thomas Keller's signature roasted chicken, which I have to say, was pretty amazing. It takes two days to get it ready - what with the brining and the convection oven and then normal roasting - and the end result is very good. Unfortunately everything else was quite oversalted, so my memory of the chicken is a bit overshadowed by my swollen self. I am sure my co-blogger will ACE her chicken, and she'll mind her salt.

The dessert was a nice enough chocolate mousse, presented in a minute but very cute little pot one a very pretty plate. Don't you think it is pretty?

On other issues, did anyone notice how amazingly in-synch MB and I are??? I post about my list of thxgiving preparations yesterday, and HE makes his list of 101 dishes to prep before the big day. It's like we are connected or something...

Just try...

I am going to make a roasted chicken tonight. You can't stop me either. Nope.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 18 - and only 7 more days till Thanksgiving

That's a scary title - considering I am driving up to Berkeley on Wednesday and will have to prep a series of things before I leave so I have time to the rest of the prepping on Thursday morning. There will be 7 people at this year's dinner. One of them is a vegan, the other a vegetarian, 2 are extremely picky. Only 3 of us will eat anything.

The plan is to make the vegetarian shepherd's pie from the very last issue of Gourmet magazine. It involves making a deep and rich vegetable stock and roasting enormous amounts of vegetables and peeling pearl onions etc. It will also involve two baking dishes since the recipe calls for cream and butter in the mashed potato&celery root puree, which I will leave out of the vegan version.

Then there will be chicken instead of turkey, and my fingers are crossed that this increases to probability that the picky eaters will have some of it this year.

I am quite sure they won't care for the acorn squash stuffed with bulgur, pine nuts and cranberries, or the fennel& radicchio salad, or the scarlet carrot soup (again from the last Gourmet RIP). But maybe they'll have some of the mashed potatoes I'll save from the shepherd's pie before I mix in the celery root. And there'll be lots of bread for them to nibble on (thank you Acme).

This w-e I will make the rich vegetable stock and freeze it. On Tuesday evening I'll make the scarlet carrot soup (beets give it the color) and the vats of frozen stock will keep it cool on the way up. I need to find a cooler that'll keep all this stuff safe from the hound, who like 3 of the 7 dinner guests, is a complete and uncontrolled omnivore.
Come to think of it, what I actually need is a locked safe...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 17 -dinner at the Apple Pan

After an early morning, office hours, lecture and a very long drive to pick up the dog, all I could do when I got home was pour myself a bourbon on the rocks. Me, my dog and the NYT xword puzzle = perfection.
I recovered from the day, I relaxed.

There's nothing in the fridge though, and I really should not be around knives after having bourbon, so when my friend Marne came over we decided dinner was going to be a burger. We went old school - all the way to the Apple Pan, where there's plaid wall paper dating from 1953 on the walls, and wood paneling, and the menu hasn't changed since they printed it. We had burgers and fries with a side of hickory sauce - the tartest relish and ketchup concoction imaginable, and it was delicious! We sat at the horse-shoe shaped counter and Marne flirted with the septuagenarian waiter and I left with my hands sticky from that sauce.

What a way to end a very long Tuesday. Upwards and onwards to Wednesday and day 18!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 16 - and a lunch made in 16 minutes or less

My flight back to heLL-A leaves at 8.30pm, there's a booksigning in P'land at 6, a class to prep for tomorrow and an overdue paper to revise, so this is a busy Monday.

So busy that lunch was improvised with the 4 eggs left in the fridge and a quick stop at the Lafayette Mercado. Result: calabaza jalapeño omelettes with quesadillas and green salsa. I snuck in a very non-vegetarian chicken and potato cruchy taquito with roasted jalapeños and green onions.

Perhaps it was not the low-fat lunch we should be focusing on, but it was good. And it was quick!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 15 and a list of 15

This was a w-e if excess: a 2-day pinot charity fest that culminated in dinner last night with many bottles and then one more to cap the evening. All I wanted today was caffeine and comfort food.

I started the day with a bagel and lox (it was ok, but Portland is not NY in this respect) and ended with the most perfect grilled chicken breast and green salad, courtesy of chef Chris at the Dundee Bistro. It was not on the menu, but when I explained the nature of our w-e and my need for comfort, he knew what I meant.

His dinner takes #1 place on today's top 15 list of Juliette's comfort foods. Below a complete list not exactly in order of preference, the makings of which are almost always available in my fridge and pantry.

#1 grilled chicken and green salad with tangy lemon&olive oil dressing
#2 home made tomato soup
#3 my mom's rice pudding
#4 gouda, butter and wheat bread sandwich
#5 my grandmother's chicken soup
#6 soft boiled egg with toast "soldiers"
#7 corn flakes with sweetened milk
#8 PG tips tea with splash of milk (not technically a food, but serious comfort nonetheless)
#9 cream of wheat with sour cherries
#10 cucumber sandwiches made with soft English white bread
#11 sliced tomatoes
#12 plain yogurt with brown sugar
#13 apples (any kind as long as they are tart and hard)
#14 cheddar cheese + avocado + mango chutney
#15 Ritter Sport milk chocolate with hazelnuts

What's on your list?

I know, I know, two posts in one day.

Since I actually did some cooking today, I thought that it was worthy of a post. We are headed to some friend's house for Sunday Supper and were instructed to bring a salad. I had several very large beets in my fridge from my CSA that really needed attention. Another friend suggested I try a salad with beets and oranges. After reviewing several different recipes, I made some modifications and developed this. It is really quite simple.

Beet Orange Salad

Prepare two to three large beets (I mean really large. These were softball sized, so adjust your beet quantities accordingly). I am not going into detail as to how to prepare them, assuming that you either a) already know how or b) can figure it out. Once they have cooled, sliced them into thin (2mm thick) slices, then cut into wedges, like an apple. Really, you can cut them anyway you want.

Take three large mandarin oranges. Peel and slice the sections out so there is no pith and no membrane on them. Cut or rip each slice in half.

Toss together in a large bowl with about 3-4 TB coarsely chopped chives. Take one small red onion and slice as thin as you can - like paper thin. Add about 2-3 TB of the onions and the chives to the bowl. Toss.

Add salt to taste - something with texture to it like fleur du sel is ideal. Add freshly ground pepper - also to taste. Take best quality olive oil and drizzle on top. Add about 2-3 TB of red wine vinegar. Toss all together and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. Often cold dishes need more salt for the flavors to really meld. I also added more vinegar to cut the sweetness of the beets.




This morning I want to talk, briefly, about something that is amazing. Anyone who has ever received a home edition of the Sunday New York Times knows that they come in these curiously strong blue plastic bags. These bright blue bags act as a beacon of hope on a cold wet morning, when snuggling in bed with coffee and the paper is all you really want to do. You peer out the window, hoping that your delivery person made it through all the sleet and snow of Saturday night, and *gasp* then *sigh*, you see the blue bag on your front walk. The morning is safe, and you can return to bed for a few more minutes of sleep while waiting for the coffee to brew.

These blue bags are great not just for holding The Times, but a myriad of other things as well. In our house, they get stuffed in a basket by the front door and when we are taking the dog for a walk, we grab one to use as a poop-bag. I have also used them to hold sandwiches, a collection of parts from a child's crib, and dog treats. They must be made of very special plastic because they rarely break, and in the wettest weather, my paper is always dry.

Except for this morning. You knew this was coming right? My paper is wet. From the masthead to the fold - soaking. So I have spread the paper out in my living room to let it dry. I type this while I nurse my frustration and wait for the bread to toast. I know, I should be grateful that I can even get home delivery out here in the boondocks, but this really chaps my hide.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Day 14

I like food, and I am not particularly disciplined about that. I run a messy kitchen when I am cooking, and I enjoy riffing on recipes, reinventing them and going off book.
I also love my dog, and she has benefited tremendously from my love of food and my lack of discipline. I got her in the days before the Dog Whisperer, so her education/training, if any, was brought about through luck, not design. We have spent a lot of time together, that dog and I, and maybe she did learn a thing or two from me...

Note: that bump she has on her shoulder is gone. Now she is bumpless and still ravenous.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, November the 13th day of NaBloPoMo

I am not a supersticious person by nature, except that I think Friday the 13th is a lucky day, I like black cats and walk under ladders. And my Friday the 13th day of this adventure was indeed a lucky day. I was not expecting to have a late lunch with my Oregon sister and dear co-blogger and her daughter (thereby, technically, my Oregon niece).
And yet that is what I did. They surprised me at the end of my hair appointment - we had tofu fries and veggie rolls at a modern and sanitized version of a Thai-ish noodle bar in a nice open air Oregon mall where a disturbingly high number of stores have closed since last year. And then we had a bag of candy from a store I think will make it through this recession (because people will delay buying shoes, but candy is immediate therapy).
These two fabulous girls - these two! - they were my therapy, and between them and the candy and the insane weather (hail! sun! rain!), this was exactly the kind of day that erases all the grime of LA from me, and encompasses many of the reasons why I want to (will) live here.

And the rest of the day was spent sampling pinot noirs.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday 13th, is it?

Day 12 - and I am on a plane

A long time ago I swore I would never forsake my Blackberry for the sleek, glib, facile iPhone. The universe has a way of laughing in my face, loudly. First there was the broccoli revelation: after 39 years of professing I was a true blood broccoli hater and that the stuff made me gag, I had the most amazing broccoli dish at Nick's Italian cafe in McMinnville. Its tangy garlicky tartness made me a broccoli lover forever. Then there was that Coldplay song that made me eat my words about Chris Martin making my eardrums bleed. And ultimately the iPhone, upon which I am writing this post, one finger-tap at a time, from up on high in my Alaska Airlines seat. iPhone apps RULE, especially those that let you draft post from miles in the sky.
Because of this app, I can write this, my 12th post, before the end of the 12th day. And I can share the news that the Chipotle burrito franchise closest to LAX has the most unexpectedly interesting clientele - orange county mom with two surly kids, office friends, a soldier, a Mexican mother-daughter pair, a very tattooed dude, a very preppy guy, and a father with his son and teh son's girlfriend, not talking to each other, not one single word for the duration of their burritos. And while my burrito could not hold a candle to yesterday's cheese or the coffee cup I'll get from my boyfriend tomorrow morning, it sure as hell beat the pitiful dining options in terminal 3.
While we are on the subject of apps - I love the epicurious app, and the wholefoods recipe app which is surprisingly easy to use and practical. And the measurement conversion app of course.
Internets, or my fellow and dear co-blogger, what are your favorite food related apps?

Landing in 15 minutes. Must turn iPhone off. From high above Ashland, Oregon

Your committed nablopomo blogger

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The symmetry of the number 11

I like the number 11. It's the smallest double digit prime number. And since it is still 11 o'clock - I am beating the clock and will manage to post today!
Apart from liking certain numbers , you know what else I like? I like cheese. A lot. And after yesterday's salt soup fiasco I vowed like Scarlett O'Hara never to do that again.
I had an errand to run in Beverly Hills today. There's not much I like about BH, but there is one place I LOVE. And I mean, I luuuurve it. Meet today's boyfriend: the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.

I walked in as if I were walking out of the desert and into a cold glass of diet coke. I inhaled the smell of mold and tangy goat milk, and looked into the eyes of a real cheese monger and told him -"I want three pieces of cheese. They'll have to be enough for dinner, and they have to rock my world".
They did. I got one sharp Sardinian cheese that tasted like a mature version of a Ptit Basque, and a Spanish creamy blue cheese that made my knees melt, and the most pornographic tiny burrata. I ate the cheese with a delicious balsamic cream (yes you read right: balsamic.cream. it was amazing) and shaved fennel with a tiny bit of lemon, olive oil and sea salt. The last of the gooey burrata (the part that was spread out over the plate, mixed in with some lemony fennel dressing and drops of the balsamic cream) was neatly scooped up with chunks of a honey crisp apple - those really are every bit as good as everyone says they are.

Ah redemption, thy name is burrata.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

day 10 - getting into a rythm

I just had TJ's onion soup. Remind me never to do that again. It is made largely of salt. The ingredient list onions, and broth, but mainly it's all salt.
Why would someone who idolizes cookbook authors eat such crap? Because of a chronic case of lethargia, brought on largely by a case of Los Angeles. This town does not inspire to cook. Or perhaps it's the LA kitchen? Or the fact that it is still too warm to embrace winters soups and stews, but the tomatoes don't taste like anything anymore either.
This w-e, as I lay in bed waging war against the flu, the one bright spot was the arrival of the NYT on Sunday. It's not just about the x-word puzzle (although it is largely about that) - I always (mostly) enjoy the food essay in the magazine.
This week's essay was about the return of a retro appetizer - the bagna cauda. Not only do I LOVE bagna cauda, it also reminds me of one of this summer's dinners in Oregon, and it reminds me of my Oregon mama Joanie who told me how to make it and what pot to use and what best to dip into it.
Bagna cauda uses three of my favorite ingredients: butter, anchovies and garlic, and my other boyfriend - olive oil. Mix those four together and you have the mother of silky smooth baths of savory yumminess, which I am pretty sure is the literal translation of 'bagna cauda'.
I made it for a dinner party we had this summer - 4 people plus us, and I had never met them before. The bagna cauda and a big plate of sliced crusty bread, chiogga beets and fennel and we were all fast friends by the time we were scraping the garlicky anchovies off the bottom of the pot.
That an a couple of bottles of bubbly made for the perfect introduction on a perfect Oregon summer's evening, the perfect memory of which will hopefully carry me away from the salty TJ's experience I am laboring to digest.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cold + wet = soup.

My co-blogger has inspired me to try to blog more. This is a crazy-busy time of year for me. But, there is something soothing and so normal about posting periodically. Since the weather is crap right now: really cold and wet, a soup for dinner was in order. Lately, we have been eating a lot of soups. They are fairly easy to make, don't take too long and are very forgiving. Here is what I made tonight:

Chicken Pesto Soup

In a deep pot or dutch oven saute in olive oil:
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks, chopped
2 small fingerling potatoes, chopped in small pieces
2 small sweet potatoes, yes, these are chopped too

In a cast iron skillet cook up two chicken breast until just barely cooked. Remove breasts from pan and set aside. Add some water and soften the browned chicken goodness with the water. Add this to the dutch oven with all the vegetables.

Add 6-8 cups low sodium chicken broth to the dutch oven. Add 3 TB of prepared pesto to the dutch oven and stir well. Chop up two large handfuls of fresh arugula and add to the veggie-broth mixture.

With an immersion blender or something like that, blend the soup together until moderately smooth. If you like really smooth, blend longer. If you like a little chunky, blend for a shorter period of time. Cut chicken breasts into bit-sized pieces and add to soup.

Add fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste.

I am going to serve this with a little assiago cheese and a baguette. I think everyone will be happy. The photo above does not do it justice, but it is good.

Sleep well.


Day 9 - and 20 years ago

I usually remember memorable meals, or I remember what I ate at memorable events. 20 years ago I was in Berlin at what qualifies as top-10 memorable moments of anyone's life. I was living in Brussels then, and after a flight from Brussels to Frankfurt with Lufthansa and then a connecting flight to Berlin on American Airlines - it was still East Germany so getting IN to Berlin still involved some acrobatics - I was there.

I think I crossed Checkpoint Charlie on one of the last days it was still operational as a real checkpoint. Within hours of our crossing into the East, chunks of the wall were being sawed off. I don't remember how I found a hotel room, I don't remember where it was, but I do remember walking towards the Siegesäule by the wall with an increasing number of people.

The hum of all those people walking towards a wall that had defined the city for almost 30 years, everyone from punk rockers in leather to nice middle class ladies taking a hammer or axe to the wall, my friends reaching up to hand a pack of Marlboros to the East German soldier standing on the wall. That soldier would never had been able to stand on that wall before the week in November. I don't think I realized, as they stood stoically on that wall, looking down at us, occasionally accepting cigarettes or flowers, that for many of them, that this was the first time they had stood so close to the other side, that it was the first time they could look into the city and the people they had been separate from for decades. They looked liked they weren't quite sure what they should do, so they stood sentry on the wall - but what I wouldn't give to hear the internal dialogue going on in their heads as they saw the no-man's-land strip between the wall and the watchtowers on the Eastern side, and the throng of people, television crews, cars and ice cream trucks on the other side. I wonder where those guys are now.

I spent 3 or 4 days in Berlin that time, and I have absolutely no memory of what I ate. I walked every where, I don't think I slept much, and I must have had at least a couple of Bockwürstchen in the street, the kind of sausage only Germans know how to make, with mustard that again only Germans serve. And I can't imagine I would have spent half an hour in Germany before buying a poppy seed pastry. Maybe I did, but I don't remember anything about it at all.

The good thing is, I don't have to try remember or forget this.

Day 8 on day 9 - and this is why I need to keep counting down

I missed yesterday. I completely missed posting. And I blame the fact that I am not counting down. The same way that if I don't count the eggs and put them in a separate dish away from the carton, I will lose count and end up with too many eggs in the dough, or too many drops of vanilla essence, or scoops of flour. I need lists (even if I ignore them - see recent Trader Joe's incident) and I need countdown.
Yesterday was spent grading midterms, an exhaustingly depressing exercise. Then I walked 3 miles to meet friends a chinese place that's become our place. It's chinese in a very American way - this ain't no Lucky Strike - Portland's rebuttal to precisely the kind of place Hunan Taste is. I don't think there's an attempt at authenticity here, unless the authenticity you crave is that of the chinese-american cuisine of pre-1982. Slippery shrimp in a silky eggy sauce with water chestnuts. Orange crispy chicken. Soggy moo-shu. Everything is sweet and soft, and when you are in the mood for that kind of nostalgia, there's no place like Hunan Taste (it's at 6031 San Vicente Blvd almost at Fairfax in LA, just in case our one reader is in the neighborhood).
Would I take Mark Bittman there you ask? Only if he shares a nostalgia for chinese food that may not exactly be chinese.
Am I going to enjoy the leftovers today? Absolutely!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

i must really have meant it

When I committed to this November thing, I had no idea that interesting stuff does NOT happen everyday. It certainly does not happen when you are in sick bed.
Food-wise, life is particularly uninteresting, making my commitment to post daily really difficult. Yesterday's matzo ball chicken soup from Jerry's was excellent, today's Trader Joe's raspberry non-fat yoghurt delightful.
Although I guess I could start posting about anything. Like the fact that my pillows start feeling kinda lumpy after lying them for 15 hours, and at some point you really do run out of stuff to watch on I watched the entire first (and only?) season of Kitchen Confidential - the dramatization of Anthony Bourdain's book - the last time I took to bed, so what else is there? Firefly? Done. Hell's Kitchen? I dislike Gordon Ramsay profoundly.
So dear reader, if you are there, what should I watch ?


While my co-blogger is doing her part for the LA economy (at least supporting Trader Joes,) I ventured yesterday to two very different food meccas.

Uwajimaya - This is the mecca for Asian food in the Pacific Northwest. There are three stores, one in Beaverton, OR and the other two up in Seattle, WA and Bellevue, WA. Their selections are huge, but I suspect that a more discerning and knowledgeable shopper would have some complaints. Uwajimaya can be expensive, partially because some of the items just cost more, but also they can charge more because they are almost the only game in town. I took my friend SD for her maiden visit. She came with a list. I was like - list? I just wander around and fill my cart! No wonder I end up spending more than I should when I go there. I bought:
vermicelli rice noodles
Jasmine tea
pocky sticks (very important)
ponzu sauce
ginger/honey tea packets
gummie candy (stocking stuffers)
fish sauce
a bottle of wasabi mayonnaise (gift for my brother)
a bottle of gamay (not Asian, but so, so good)

Then, I introduced the lovely SD to another favorite store of mine. The Dutch American Market and Import store. I discovered this place in college when I was cleaning house for a Dutch couple. They had all sorts of Dutch treats in their kitchen that I hadn't seen since my childhood. Bolletje, gouda, roggebrood. Since then, I trek out there a few times a year, but always near the holiday season so that I can stock up on chocolate and treats. Purchased:
chocolate letters (kids and cousins initials)
chocoladehagel (chocolate sprinkles)
gestampte muijes (literal translation is "stomped mice" - is actually powdered anise with sugar)
hopjes (coffee flavored hard candy)
seems like there was something else, but I cannot remember what

All in all, a very fun trip. We ate Lebanese food for lunch (oh how I love thee fresh-out-of-the-oven pita) and had a great americano at Barista.

Came home to take-and-bake pizza, which is actually pretty good!

Today is very, very wet and the first time it seems cold. Husband has prepared a veritable feast - green chili enchiladas and red chili posole and pork soup. Looking forward to it. Delivered the gouda and roggebrood to my Dutch grandfather. He rubbed his hands together with glee. I think that he was almost as happy as when I bring him cigarettes.


Friday, November 6, 2009

woe is me

I think I have the flu. Or at least I am pretty sure I will spend this night fighting it off. Matzo ball soup is on the way, but where is MB solution to the flu? I am sure I remember him making an easy quick version of what I need, but I can't find it at or in my cookbooks.
Probably because I really do have the flu and am delirious.

And now, for something completely different (and a week late):

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 5 - this has to stop

I need to stop counting down, but that's not what I meant. It took me another 2 hours to get home from work today. This is what HAS to stop.

The other thing that must end is my addiction to the Beverly Hills Juice Club juices - they are bar none the best juices in LA, and when you order the smoothie with their banana-sunflower mush, it's a meal in a cup. A smooth, nutritious, tart yet sweet (esp if you mix the apple-mint juice with the banana mush) perfectly raw and healthy meal. But at $10 a pop, and probably a million calories, carbs and sugar, it must stop. Or maybe I can just ease off a little.

But I would definitely take MB there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 4 - what's in YOUR shopping cart, Mr Bittman?

I went to Trader Joe's hungry. It was 5 pm, I had eaten crackers (from ikea) with a few slices of gouda, 1 apple and some sorry left-over pirate bootie smart puffs for lunch and I was RA-venous. I went with a short list : chicken, sliced almonds, red onions - the plan was to pan roast a chicken breast for dinner with a cucumber salad made with a lonely cucumber from the fridge.

Here is what I walked out of TJs with:

Eggplant hummus
pitta bread
yellow peppers
apple juice
loaf of sandwich bread
firm organic tofu
fresh cranberries
2 small ivy topiaries
babybel cheese ( one of which was consumed in situ)
banilla protein shake (also consumed before check out)
frozen alsatian tart
frozen mac n' cheese
12 mini mint ice-cream mouthfuls (I am eating one right now)
3 packs of spaghetti
2 packs of penne
1 chicken
1 bag of teeny weeny potatoes
vitamin C packets
agave syrup
3 pots of nonfat TJ fruit yoghurt
mache lettuce
green lettuce
organic dry roasted almonds
sweet&spicy pecans
(i should have just taken a picture of the receipt - damn!)
2 cartons of low sodium chicken stock

There were also whoppie pies on display, but I controlled myself, and I am glad I did, because hello mini mint frozen mouthfuls, and look here.

I live alone when I am in LA, except for every second w-e when I am joined by one vegetarian and two children who prefer hot dogs, pizza or scrambled eggs (note: none of that was purchased today). Also I rarely eat frozen and pre-packaged food, I usually make my own hummus (did I buy that lonely eggplant to absolve myself of the tub of trader middle east eggplant mush?), and I cannot remember the last time I chose to add "sweet&spicy" pecans to anything.

The cucumber is still in the fridge, untouched. I ate so much eggplant hummus that by the time the chicken was done, I ate almost none of it. And now there's no room left in the fridge and Gala (the dog) has been doing all sorts of acrobatics trying to reach the chicken leftovers on the stove.

It might be interesting to find out what my co-blogger purchased at the supermarket (hi S - comments below!), what I am really dying to know is what MB buys at the supermarket when he shouldn't.

And anyone else - feel free to share in the comments. Please make me feel better about all that pasta I have to store somewhere and the 8 limes that are joining the other 7 in my fridge.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

day 3

I drove 200 miles today - 70 miles to office hours and a lecture, 30 miles to pick up my dog, 100 miles in rush hour traffic. That last stretch took 2+ hours.

Brain = dead.

That is all.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 2 - I have managed to upload a logo; and other things

But since this is just an itty bitty amateur blog, we don't have a sidebar like the grown-up blogs. No matter, here is a logo!!!! It makes it all so official.

And now, for our first installment of "where I would take MB", the November edition:


I scoffed at the ridiculousness of the name the first time I visited Oregon. It ranked a close second to 'Tacotime' as places I-won't-eat-at-based-on-their-name-alone-no-matter-how-much-the-locals-love-it.
I hope I am well on the way to becoming sort of a local, but I still will not eat at Tacotime. I mean, Tacotime? Plus, every Tacotime I have seen always has a mobile taco truck parked close by. And I will always prefer my tacos from a truck. But Burgerville, now that's a whole 'nother story.
How many burger franchises (Burgerville is a NW Oregon franchise) can boast a largely local list of providers, sustainability partners for everything from composting waste to recycling their cooking oil into biofuel, as well as seasonal items that are actually seasonal, and again, sourced locally? Once the strawberry season is over, there's no more berry lemonade. And if you like your pumpkin smoothie (I don't) better get it this month.
All that AND they make great burgers, with their 'burgerville spread' (which incidentally is not all that different from the In-n-Out spread) and Tillamook cheese, the best fast-food chicken strips (made with chicken, not chicken mush shaped into a nugget), 2 kinds of veggie burgers etc.
And no, they are not paying me. But if becoming an Oregonian requires allegiance to certain institutions (the Blazers, the Ducks, Keen shoes), consider me Oregonian in the Burgerville way.
And as an Oregonian, I would take MB for a burger and a shake at the Newberg Burgerville before catching a movie at the Drive-In (yes, we still have those here).

Day one: Pigs in Blankets - a taste test.

Did you know that MB does not have his own pigs-in-a-blanket recipe? neither does Ruth Reichl or Deborah Madison - although there may be a very good reason for both of them not to spend too much time reinventing this particular classic. The Silver Palate cookbook, nada (shocking considering it was all about the party menus), Moosewood - obviously not. Saveur Athentic American - zilch. The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia Romagna, the heartland of Northern Italian Food - just kidding, I didn't even bother looking in that one. The Joy of Cooking? You guessed it , it says to use store-bought frozen crescent dough.

But the domestic goddess came through! Nigella Lawson has the simplest scone dough recipe, to which she adds some grated cheddar. Wrap that around some lil' smokies and the results is a heaping amount of of pigs in blankets for children, adults and a couple of vampires at a really fun Halloween party at S' house. Nigella is always good for crowd pleasing easy recipes. She's good for that and a plunging neckline. (Btw, I just saw she's going to be on NPR's Morning Edition tomorrow!)

I made the Joy of Cooking pigs with Pillsbury Crescent dough, just for fun and because they make it so very easy. It literally takes 2 seconds to roll out the dough from it's cardboard tube.

The verdict: Nigella wins, hands down fershure. It does not take a discerning palate to tell the difference between flour+milk+ egg vs something that comes out of a cardboard tube and has "butter flavoring". The store bought stuff doesn't develop a crunch and the dough is, for want of a better word, weak. Nigella's dough is scrumptious and so easy (does that sound vaguely naughty?) and her pigs were good even eaten cold.

To the cheese haters (I am looking at you Dad): the cheddar is not necessary, but it does add the slightest hint of sharpness to the dough. If I didn't tell anyone there was cheese in the dough, they wouldn't know. I guess a dash of cayenne would work just as well and save some calories, but come on, it's sausages and dough. Pork+dough - cheddar = still a lot of calories per bite. Life is short, indulge.

To those of you tempted to go the Joy of Cooking road: don't. That would be a waste of calories.