Thursday, August 30, 2007

Food week in review

I have been a delinquent blog poster this week. I found myself with the proposal of gainful employment on Monday and been beside myself with excitement! My dream of working for a food company has finally come true. In preparation of actually starting the job, I have been racing around trying to get a new car, (I will be commuting outside SF) and going for doctor check-ups and such. Plus, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous, at long last, and I have been spending time outside. During my time at home, I have been working away in the kitchen.

On Sunday evening I made a nice dinner of Chicken Breasts with Shallots, Chèvre, Figs, and a Port Reduction Sauce from a recipe on While I quite enjoyed the dish, Mike wasn't too crazy about it. Perhaps it was too French for him? I thought the creaminess of the goat cheese with the sauted shallots and fresh thyme were nice compliments to the chicken. I always love figs. I served this with fresh green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes. I did manage to spill half the reduction sauce all over myself and the kitchen. Good thing there was plenty left for the meal but my god, what a mess!

I should have know that it wasn't a great day for me to be cooking. Earlier on Sunday, I struggled with my new food mill trying to Tomato Sauce from Lidia's Italian Table with some of my own additions, like garlic. It came out all right, once I won my battle with the food mill. After safely stowing the sauce in the freezer, I had to change my clothes. I was completely splattered in red sauce!

While I was simmering the tomato sauce another culinary disaster ensued. I attempted to make L'Affaire du Clafoutis as posted on fellow blogger, Garnett's site Vanilla Garlic and I used a tart pan where the bottom pops out. I should have know better. The mixture of eggs and milk was too thin for that pan and it all came roaring out the bottom of the pan. At that point I was out of sugar. I have been trying to find a suitable organic sugar to use for my baking sugar. I went to Mollie Stones and did some shopping. I came back to try my clafoutis again in a different pan. In moment of overconfidence, thinking I had memorized the simple recipe, I forgot the "pinch of salt." Well, the missing salt and use of fat free milk, not whole milk or cream, resulted in a flat and bland tasting clafoutis. A bummer because the Italian prunes sure were delicious!

On Tuesday night I went camping with my girlfriends near Stinson Beach under the full moon. We made s'mores over the campfire for dessert. Those sweet graham cracker sandwiches brought back memories of my childhood. We had big bonfires and cookouts in our backyard with all of our neighbors each summer. My dad would whittle the kids roasting sticks for the marshmellows. I would burn at least 10 marshmellows before I toasted one perfectly and could assemble my s'more.

On Wednesdy afternoon I made a batch of absolutely delicious Pear Ginger Muffins from blog, Coconut & Lime. They are sensational. Initially, I thought the ginger might be overwhelming but it was a perfect compliment to the sweet pear. I froze half and we have been snacking on the other half of the batch. I envision eating these muffins on my way to work this fall.

Today has found me in the kitchen again. I made a batch of Split Pea and Ham Soup from a Moosewood cookbook. Obviously, I added the ham to the recipe. It is the best split pea soup and it very easy to make. The secret ingredient is red wine vinegar which you add at the end of cooking. The acidity brings out the flavors nicely. It went to the freezer as well for the winter when we are both commuting.

As I type this post, I am slow roasting tomatoes using Kalyn's Kitchen's recipe. My herb combination was fresh basil, fresh rosemary, and dried oregano. I also used some fresh ground black pepper. They are coming along nicely and the house smells divine.

This week, I finally purchased Jamie's Italy which I had been coventing. It was a great purchase. I have also been reading the book, Alice Waters and Chez Paniesse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution. It is very well written and I can barely put it down, but don't want it end either. I highly recommend putting it on your "must read" list.

I must run. Mike is taking me out to dinner to celebrate my new, cool job. We are headed to a great place in the neighborhood, Firefly. Then tomorrow I jet off to Miami, FL to spend the weekend with my Cornell girlfriends. Art deco, cuban food, and the beach, here I come! I just love, L-O-V-E Miami! And Rachel too. She is the one we are celebrating this weekend.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer risotto of corn, wild mushrooms, and spinach

Having picked up some shiitake mushrooms at the Farmer's Market last week, I set about finding a seasonal recipe in which to use them. After searching for a while, I came across a recipe on for Roasted Corn, Wild Mushroom, and Spinach Risotto. We love risotto and Mike adores fresh corn. I was also sold on the fact that it was a hometown recipe. It is from Boulevard, a very upscale restaurant in San Francisco. It was more work than I anticipated, but it turned out marvelously!

Roasted Corn, Wild Mushroom, and Spinach Risotto
adapted from Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Boulevard, September 1997
Serves 5-6, in my opinion, the recipe said 4

4 ears of fresh corn that has been husked
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups of wild mushrooms thinly sliced (I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms)
2 tbsp, fresh thyme, chopped
6 cups of chicken stock
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups of baby spinach, stems removed
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chopped chives or green onions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the husked corn on a baking sheet. Brush or rub the ears with olive oil. Roast the corn in the oven until tender and brown in spots. Turn the ears occasionally and roast for about 40 minutes. Remove the corn from the oven and let cool to the touch. Cut the corn kernels off the cobs. Reserve 1 cup of the corn kernels. Combine the remaining corn and 1/2 cup of chicken stock in a food processor or blender. Blend until almost smooth. Set puree aside for later use. This entire step can be done in advance and refrigerated.
Toss the sliced mushrooms with the chopped thyme and 1 tbsp of olive oil on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast mushrooms until tender and they are beginning to turn golden, stirring once. This will take about 15 minutes.

Bring 5 1/2 cups of chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot. Reduce heat to low and keep the stock hot.

Meanwhile, prep the remaining ingredients. Then heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add rice; stir for 3 more minutes. Add wine, stir until liquid is absorbed. This will take 1-2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the stock. Simmer and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Add a 1/2 cup of the stock at a time thereafter. Simmer until stock is absorbed before each 1/2 cup addition of the stock. Stir mixture frequently. You are looking for tender rice that is still slightly firm in the center and the mixture looks creamy. Taste rice grains as you go. Mix corn puree, reserved corn kernels, half the mushrooms, spinach, Parmesan cheese, and butter into the risotto. Stir in the last 1/2 cup of chicken stock to moisten, if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Serve risotto in soup bowls and topped with remaining mushrooms and a sprinkling of chives or green onions.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Storing fresh basil

I frequently buy fresh herbs. When I get home from the market I typically store the fresh herbs immediately, wrapped in a damp paper towel in a ziploc bag with all the air pushed out. Without fail the basil goes bad in no time. Frustrated, I finally decided to look up how to make my bunch of basil last longer.

I pulled out my trusty Field Guide to Herbs and Spices book and the book told me to stick the stems of the fresh basil right a glass of water on a windowsill. A couple hints for success include changing the water every couple of days and using just enough water to cover the end of the stems by about a half inch. It works!

That is basil I bought about two weeks ago and it still good. Fresh and green. The stems even grew some sort of root things to allow the plant cuttings to get more water. A few more days and it will have to be dumped, but this is some sort of record. The basil is within my eyesight and not buried in the fridge so I use it frequently and inventively!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Refill Not Landfill

I came across the Refill Not Landfill campaign by Nalgene on fellow blogger's gezellig-girl's site. I have been following the press on tap vs. bottled water for quite some time. It is refreshing that people are starting to understand the actual costs of drinking imported, bottled water.

I am a proud tap water drinker. My mom's philosophy was, "Why pay for water when there is perfectly good water coming out of the faucet?" Then with college came the must-have Brita. But we never changed the filter so basically we were drink cold tap water. Then in New York City, there was no way in the world I was carrying bottled water from the store up to my apartment. Bottled water is heavy! One of my friends made a good point, "City tap water is the best, there is no way they are going to give bad water to an entire city full of people. Think of the lawsuits!" I never looked back, guzzling down all the tap water I could in both NYC and SF. And, I always drink tap water, unless in a foreign country, at restaurants. Not necessarily for the environment, but because I am cheap, and I drink a lot of water. Now some restaurants in San Francisco have taken bottled water off the menu and are using in-house filtering systems for sparkling and still water.

Many San Franciscian's carry their trusty Nalgene everywhere they go. At my old job, I kept one at my desk, refilling it frequently. That is why I think the Nalgene, Refill not Landfill, campaign is so great. Nalgene water bottle's are easy to wash, carry, and refill. They come in a variety of sizes and are trendy. So why not paste on a great message to the bottle so that your Nalgene drinkers can spread the word? Think Lance Armstrong's "Live Strong" yellow bracelet. I have high hopes for this campaign!

My five top reasons for drinking tap water:
1. Tap water quality is well regulated and it is publically available information. There are more regulations governing the quality of tap water than bottled water, thus tap water is likely healthier for you.

2. There is no waste. There is no bottle to dispose of when you are done drinking. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles used in the US end up in the trash. Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.

3. Tap water is an energy-efficient infrastructure. Transporting bottled water long distances involves the use of a lot of fossil fuels. Think about it. Shipping water from Fiji or just turning on the tap.? Maybe if there is less demand for fossil fuels, your gas prices will go down?

4. It is free. I admit it again, I am cheap. Not so cheap that I don't purchase organic products and support sustainable farming practices though. But seriously, why waste the money?

5. Tastes great! If it doesn't, install a filter on your main faucet. I believe I read somewhere the average cost of installing a filter is 10 cents a gallon.

Find out more about the benefits of drinking tap water at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

After surveying our fridge for fresh vegetables, I threw together a quick salad to go with our turkey burgers. Here is what I put together in about five minutes. It turned out to be a great side dish.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1/4 cup capers, drained
1 cucumber, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 tomato, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 can/jar of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 lemon, juiced
Olive oil

Combine chickpeas, capers, cucumber, tomato, and artichoke in a bowl. Juice one lemon over the mixture and be sure to avoid getting any lemon seeds into the salad. Pour the olive oil over the mixture. Crank the pepper grinder a couple times and add about a teaspoon of salt to start. Capers are salty so you might not need much additional salt. Stir everything together. Taste and adjust seasonings as required. Serve at room tempurature.

Put any leftovers in the fridge and have them the next day for lunch. I added some diced salami and smoked turkey to the salad for some extra protein. Tasted great the next day too!

The lure of cinnamon rolls

Sure I go to the farmer's market because of all the delicious, homegrown, genetically unaltered food. I thoroughly enjoy walking around the market picking out a a week's worth of produce for our household. I start to get very anxious with so many choices and alluring colors. Whose tomatoes look better? Who has the best plums? How much can we really eat in one week? Who sells that delicious corn we had last week? What in the world is that Asian vegetable? This is all a part of Saturday morning farmer's market fun. But you really want to know what gets me out of bed on Saturday morning and to the farmer's market? It's this:
This cinnamon roll is to die for. Really. It is enormous, just slightly smaller than a child's head. And you can only get it at the Alemany Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. It is the best thing I think I have ever tasted. I know I am exaggerating, but after five days of healthy cereal eating for breakfast, this indulgent baked good hits a note love in my stomach. It is like Christmas morning every Saturday. This particular vendor has lots of other yummy looking pastries, but I cannot get past the cinnamon roll. The cinnamon and sugar mixture, doughy bread, and icing are perfectly proportioned. I can't even tell you how much self-control it took me to get these rolls home so that I could photograph them. And then every morsel of the treat has vanished and I begin to consume the fruits and vegetables I purchased for the week, meanwhile fondly looking forward to the next Saturday morning.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Top Chef - Mid-season antics

The latest widget. Things are getting very competitive! Both teams had so many flaws in last week's restaurant challenge that they get a redo. Tre is still my personal favorite, but CJ is a close second. He has a lot of natural leadership abilities which would come in handy as a "Top Chef." The lady chefs are dropping like flies with only Casey and Sara left in the running. Howie is loose cannon. No one in the industry is going to want to work with him after seeing his behavior. Keep watching on Wednesdays things are just starting to heat up as the contestants dwindle!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Happy birthday Melissa!

Yesterday I celebrated one of my dear friend's birthday. We started off the day with some ladies golf at a public course where we could go as slow as we wanted to (we are pretty bad), then a divine dinner at Canteen (side note: go to Canteen, the food is just delicious and the service is among the best in SF), and then we went to a bar to meet up with the larger crowd of celebrators. With all the planning that went into making the event special, I was most worried about the cake that she asked me to bake.

I don't bake, or at the least, I don't bake very well. Every layer cake I have ever made is terribly lop-sided and not very tasty. But for the first time, I had some success. The layers were fairly even in size and cooked flat on the top. The icing job looked pretty good. The cake was moist and light.
Some of the success was due to finally owning some quality baking equipment, an accurately and evenly heated oven, and following the instructions extremely carefully. She requested a chocolate cake, chocolate icing, with some fruit additions. So I dug out my The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook and set to work. I chose a milk chocolate layer cake with milk chocolate butter cream icing. As a special treat, I iced the middle layer of the cake with organic strawberry jam and topped the cake with strawberry halves and toasted almonds. Perhaps the decorations could have been a little more stylish or even gold in color in keeping with color scheme of the fiesta. But for my first cake success, I am not going to worry about such little details.

Perhaps the most harrowing of all, the cake even made up and down the steep hills of San Francisco without any damage. Thank you to my trusty cake holders!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Batch 3: Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

Pinkberry does not have anything over this vanilla frozen yogurt. This stuff is heavenly. It tastes so refreshing and is not so bad for you that you cannot have a little bit every evening. Or if I were living through some of the heat that the rest of the US is experiencing, I would probably eat this for a meal topped with lots of fresh fruit and nuts.

Here is a picture, albeit a poor one, of the frozen yogurt. I am too impatient to take a picture before I start scooping this stuff directly into my mouth. And yes, that is a half of a donut.

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt (1 qt)
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebowitz)

3 cups of plain, whole-milk yogurt (I prefer organic)
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp of high-quality vanilla

Whisk together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla until well-blended and the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate for an hour or so. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the machine's instructions. I have found that it takes a little longer to churn frozen yogurt than ice cream.

This recipe is so easy and disappears so quickly, you'll be making batch after batch to keep up with the demand.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sustainable Table

I discovered the Sustainable Table website about a month ago. Every time I visit, I end up a little more educated about sustainability thanks to the wealth of information that is available. As you might have guessed, this organization supports the sustainable food movement and educates people on food-related issues. Their goal is to offer a guide to the increasing number of consumers who want to shopping smarter, eat healthier, and enjoy fresh, locally-grown products. I am one such consumer and this site not only explains the sustainability movement, but also offers news about the movement from around the country, as well as where to shop for sustainable products. I recently used their site to help a friend find out what fish would be environmentally-friendly to serve her wedding guests. This is not a one-time website visit. They have tools that you will want to use often, so bookmark the site.

They also have a blog, The Daily Table, that I read regularly (add it to your Reader). Currently, the blog is devoted to the happenings on the Eat Well Guided Tour of America, a cross-country tour promoting local food. They are making stops at sustainable farms and restaurants. There are some truly amazing things that are being done around the US to support sustainability. It is quite inspirational.

I encourage you to check out this website. It will broaden your horizons about how you eat and shop for food!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Super easy summer entertaining

This summer menu could not be easier to make. We had some friends over for dinner the other evening and this is what I prepared:

Appetizers - Salsa, Guacamole, and Tortilla Chips

Main Course - Dry-rubbed Flank Steak, Zucchini Bread, Heirloom Tomato Salad, and Corn on the Cob

Dessert - Homemade Ice Cream

Here are some hints to making this meal come together seamlessly.

Advanced menu preparations (some tasks are days before or hours before):
Flank Steak - Rub the steak with the dry rub of your choice an hour before your guests arrive. Put the steak back in the fridge to keep cold.

Corn on the Cob - Fill a stock pot with water. Do not salt the water or it will make the corn tough. Have your corn shucked and ready to drop into boiling water.

Heirloom Tomato Salad - Have your tomatoes diced and in your serving bowl. Covered and refrigerate. Whisk together the dressing and set aside.

Zucchini Bread - I made the zucchini bread earlier in the week and froze the loaf. I got it out the night before serving and set the loaf on the counter to thaw.

Ice Cream - Make in advance, at least long enough for it to freeze a bit in the freezer.

Guests are due to arrive:
Turn the burner on high heat under the stock pot of water. Go socialize with your friends and eat some of the appetizers that you just set out. For the appetizer, I would suggest buying a fun type of salsa. We served this fun Cherry Jalapeno Salsa that my aunt sent me. And buy the guacamole, it is easier. Trader Joe's has a good one.
Grilling the steak:
About a half hour or so before you are ready to eat, light the grill on high. Let the grill heat for 15 minutes. Remove your steak from the fridge and place on the grill, still on high heat, for 4-7 minutes, depending how you like you steak to be cooked. Then flip for another 4-7 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, cover loosely with a piece of foil, for 10 minutes to retain the juices in the meat.

Getting the other dishes together while grilling:
While you are grilling, place the corn cobs in the now boiling water for 10 minutes. While the corn is boiling, bring out the heirloom tomatoes and gently toss with the dressing. Slice the zucchini bread and plate. Lastly, slice the flank steak in thin slices at an angle and again the grain and serve on a platter.

Don't forget the sweet stuff:
For the dessert, have the homemade ice cream made ahead of time. Remove from the freezer about 10 minutes before serving so that you can easily scoop up the frozen dessert. You can serve with cookies or solo. Delicious either way!

This stress-free menu is sure to be a hit with your guests and it is easy for the cook to do a lot of socializing because they are not in the kitchen the entire time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are starting to appear in farmer's markets and groceries stores. I became interested in why these tomatoes are so special, besides the fact that they taste wonderful and so I did some research.

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated and are not genetically modified like many of the tasteless tomatoes in the produce section of the grocery store. This means that these seeds are saved for many generations and passed from gardener to gardener. Hybrids, on the other hand, are the onetime product of a forced cross pollination. The cross is meant to generically modify the tomatoes so that they survive long, cross country trips to your local market. This cross usually is done at the expense of taste of the tomato. This means farmers have to keep purchasing the hybrid varieties' seeds (such as Burpee Big Boy or Beefsteak tomatoes) each year. Guess who makes money on this deal?

Heirlooms are self-fertilizing tomatoes that come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors. And actually, heirloom tomatoes are a broad term for these types of tomatoes which include: Big Rainbow (or Hillbilly), Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Taxi, and Mortage Lifter, just to name a few of the many varieties. Heirlooms thrive on natural selection and reproduce specimens that show the best characteristics of their generation.

A few other tomato facts:
  • Tomatoes are native to the Americas and the Aztecs and Incas were cultivating them as early as 700 A.D.
  • The original Aztec word for "tomato" was "tomatl."
  • Tomatoes were the first genetically engineered food approved by the US FDA. It was all downhill from there!
  • Hothouse tomatoes represent nearly one-fourth of the retail tomato market in the U.S.
  • You better get your heirloom tomatoes while you can! The season lasts from July to October.

Here is a quick and easy salad that brings out the beautiful flavors of these fresh and natural tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

3 lbs of heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges or 1/2 inch dice

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/2 tbsp Djion mustard

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegars, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly stream and whisk in the olive oil until emlusified. Place your cut tomatoes in a large bowl and toss with the dressing and serve immediately.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday night is pizza night!

Like many American families, Friday night is pizza night at our house. After a long week nothing tastes better than good pizza and a glass (or two) of red wine. We used to do the whole takeout/delivery thing, but recently we have been making our own pizzas. It is actually quite fun and you can top your pizza with whatever your heart desires, or rather whatever your fridge has in stock. Personally, I like our pizzas much better than most of the pizza you can get in San Francisco.
Homemade Friday Night Pizza:

1 ball of pizza dough
pizza sauce
mozzarella cheese (or other)
topping of choice, the options are endless

Buy or make pizza dough. We have been buying the Trader Joe's dough. We purchase several balls and freeze them so we always have them on hand. They have white, wheat, and herb varieties. The night before, move the dough from the freezer to the fridge so it is thawed by Friday evening. Then, about 10 minutes or so before you are ready to cook, take the dough ball out of the fridge and set it on the counter to warm to room temperature.

Move your oven rack to the middle. Put your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, prep your ingredients. Get out your pizza sauce and cornmeal. Slice or shred your mozzarella. Slice your veggies and/or meats.

Once the oven is heated, generously flour your counter top. Lightly flour your dough ball and rolling pin. Roll your dough into a 12 to 14 inch round. This works best if you don't overwork the dough and the dough is at room temperature. There is more elasticity and it will stretch better. Do not be discouraged, making the dough into a sizable round is the most difficult part. The first time I made a pizza I ended up making a calzone. Don't ask, everything was sticking. I still sometime have odd-shaped pies if I am not paying attention.

Remove the pizza stone from the oven and set on a clean counter top near your ingredients. Sprinkle cornmeal on the stone. This will keep the pizza from sticking. Place the dough round on the pizza stone. Sometimes I have to roll it back out a bit. Then top with sauce, cheese, and other goodies. I personally love fresh basil on my pizzas. Work quickly as you do not want the pizza stone to lose too much heat.

Place the whole contraption, pizza and stone, in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese is melting and the edges of the crust are browning. Watch for air bubbles. You might have to reach in the oven and pop them with a fork.

Remove the pizza and leave on the stone to cool for 5 minutes or so. This will make it much easier to cut with your pizza slicer. Meanwhile, if your are of age, pour yourself a glass of wine. Then slice, serve, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Batch 2: Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream

I was more adventuresome with my second batch of ice cream, pairing strawberries with sour cream for a sweet and tangy combination. I used perfectly ripe, organic strawberries from the farmer's market. This recipe was a Philadephia-style ice cream which does not require using eggs or making a custard. So much easier than the French Vanilla recipe I tried initially! The recipe I used was from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebowitz. However, I adapted his recipe slightly, using more heavy cream (1 1/4 cups) and slightly less sour cream (3/4 cups). For no reason other than I only had 3/4 cup of sour cream on hand. This time, I let the machine run longer so that the ice cream was even more churned than last time. Using the freshest, most natural ingredients makes all the difference in the quality of the ice cream.
Next up: Vanilla Frozen Yogurt (inspired by Pinkberry) and Kiwi Sorbet

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Field guides to food

These Field Guides are the best books for the home cooking basics. I could not cook without these books within easy reach in my kitchen. In total, there are four in the series, but I currently only have three of them. These books tell you everthing you need to know about the basics of meats, produce, and herb and spices.

The Field Guide to Meat book is sectioned by animal and there is an overview about each animal and how is graded and other general shopping tips. For each cut of meat, the book supplies a picture, other names of the cut, a general description, what part of the animal the meat comes from, how to choose, how much to buy, how to store the meat, general preparation techniques, and flavor affinities. What more could you need to know?

The Field Guide to Produce book is split into two sections - fruits and vegetables. In this book, the general description is longer and tells of all the different varieties of that fruit or vegetable. It also tells the season of the fruit or vegetable, what to look for when you purchase, how to best store, prepare, and suggests servings. Again, there are pictures of each fruit and vegetable. The book comes in especially handy in Chinatown when I have no idea what the vegetables I am looking at are!

The Field Guide to Herbs and Spices book follows the same pattern. However, this book is particularly helpful in identifying what herbs or spices to use with what type of dish or protein and also supplies a recipe for each herb or spice. There is also a section of the ingredients in spice mixtures from around the world.

I still need to buy the Field Guide to Seafood.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Caponata, the Italian salsa

I have recently discovered a delicious caponata that was given to me by a friend. Caponata is traditionally made of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, pine nuts, capers, and vinegar that has been cooked together with olive oil. It is a Sicilian dish. Generally, it is served warm temperate as a side dish, salad, or relish.

This particular caponata is made by a company called Sicilianaire. The owner of the company, Joe Romano, has canned his Italian mother's recipe for caponata to share with the rest of us. The recipe is a blend of sauteed eggplant cubes, red bell peppers, celery, oregano, tomato puree, basil, sugar, capers, red wine vinegar, olives, and fresh parsley. The caponata has well-balanced flavors. It has bite-size chunks so that you get a mix of the flavors with every bite. I like that the taste of the olives are subtle and are not overwhelming. And a plus is that, like salsa, this a healthy product with lots of vegetables. Check out the website for Silicianaire for information on how to purchase this product.

In additional to the usual uses, there are several things you can do with caponata that would make it worthwhile to keep a jar of this yummy stuff on hand. You can put it on a antipasto platter with Italians meats and cheese. The red color of the caponata would look wonderful on the platter. A very nice bruschetta could be made by smearing a bit of ricotta cheese on a piece of toasted bread, then add a dollop of the caponata, and top with a shaving of Parmesan cheese. This is a very easy and elegant appetizer that assembles quickly. Serve the caponata in a small dish and supply crostinis with which to scoop the relish right into your mouth. You could even top a bowl of pasta with this hearty caponata!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Jetlagged, but well fed

I am tired. The five hours of restless hours of sleep on the red eye were mediocre. Notably, for the first time I did not watch five straight hours of the Food Network on a JetBlue flight. Don't worry, Bobby, Giada, Rachel, Alton, and Emeril, I will tune in on the return flight.

Anyway, after resting and cleaning up a bit, I headed out to grab a bagel (and large iced coffee!) at my favorite bagel place, Murray's Bagels, on 8th Ave and 22nd Street. This place claims their bagels are so good that you don't need to toast them. And guess what? They don't need to be toasted. They are that good. I got my usual: whole wheat with hummus and sliced tomatoes. Yum!!

I proceeded off on a long walk through Chelsea, the West Village, Soho, Nolita. I enjoy wandering around, looking in store windows, seeing what restaurants have closed and opened, and how things have changed since I lived here. I just love that people eat in NYC at all hours.

Somewhere in Nolita I spotted an infamous Pinkberry! Admittedly, I was still going strong on my bagel, but when in Rome... So I stepped into the sherbet colored atmosphere. I ordered an original with blueberries. Heavenly! They aren't kidding, this stuff is amazing. It is real yogurt, tang and all, frozen, and paired with fruits or other less healthy toppings. This stuff is good, really good. I know that people have been freaking out about this stuff in NYC and LA and I just have to point that the 40 Carrots restaurant in the basement of Bloomingdales has been serving this type of delicious fro yo for a long time. It is the primary reason to go shopping at Bloomies at lunch time. "Ladies That Lunch" in department stores have been in the know about this type of frozen yogurt for years.

Crossing back through Soho I wandered into a new speciality food shop, Despana. This market carries all sorts of imported Spanish foods. I sampled some cured meats, oils, and olives. Sadly, I had to reason with myself that, thanks to the liquid rule on planes, I really could not buy anything. This place is lovely. It makes you want to head to Spain to take cooking classes. Isn't this a cool picture?