Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Twist on Tastings: Sticky Flights

Forget swishing around and observing the color on some vintage varietal...After reading this AMAZING article on honey, I'd like to host a honey-tasting soirée. Wouldn't it be grand (and sweet-tooth satisfying) to offer up delicious, half-sized honey sticks, each with it's own unique blend of floral and herbal aromas? And according to this information-packed little piece, honey pairs well with an array of cheeses. Le perfect! Of course, to really get the buzz going about honey, refreshments would have be a nice, dry bubbly...Sweet!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Kitchen Convention: I before E, Except After Bread Pudding

There are two sets of rules in cooking. There are the science-based rules—a widely accepted canon including the likes of: never add flour as a thickener without first cooking it in a hot fat, or you will have a lumpy, gummy thickener on your hands. Or: when cooking rice, the standard ratio is 2:1; liquid to grain. Then there are your own rules that develop over the course of your culinary adventures, which govern the nuances of how and why you cook the way do. Why you prefer to use one brand over another, or why you always add a dash of this to that; why you serve a salad before a main course, or why your menu has a well-rounded combination of starches to protein to vegetables. It's a highly individualized rubric, a bit trial-and-error based, a bit passed down, and a bit chalked up to social norm, and often we don't even realize how ingrained these rules have lodged themselves into our culinary sub-consciousness until someone brings them to attention with an alternative or asks, why? And I find it is precisely when this happens that the exceptions to our own rules are born and our culinary language expands for the better. Our habitual sense of order and structure in the grammar of our kitchen—from prep work, a midday snack, or even an all-out sunday brunch—is made more complex, a more difficult dialect to consume, enabling all-around, deliciously improved upon ways of eating.

Yesterdays brunch menu was based on exceptions, and simply divine.

Pecan Apple Bread Pudding
(Rule: bread pudding is a dessert, except when making with whole grain wheat bread and layering with apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and substituting Lactaid into the egg mixture; it's now a healthier dish much more appropriate for brunch and/or lactose-intolerant guests)

Poached Eggs with Sautéed Veggies & Veggie-sausage Medley
(Rule: Vegetarian "meat" products are not as good as the real thing, except for Morningstar breakfast sausage patties , which, chopped up and spooned over poached eggs, offer a savory meaty-less burst of flavor.)

Vanilla Infused Pancakes with Vanilla Panna Cotta Syrup
(Rule: Pure maple syrup is the best sugary topping for pancakes, except when you have left-over chilled vanilla panna cotta pudding to spoon onto the hot cakes for an extreme vanilla alternative.)

Canadian Bloody Ceasars
(Rule: never drink anything with Clamato juice in it, except when drinking Ceasars, which is essentially a Bloody Mary with a few fun tweaks, and, in my opinion, just as yummy.)

E.V.B.O. Part II

This is the follow up installment to E.V.B.O Part I, click here to read.

So I arrived for the Extreme Vanilla Bake-Off with ingredients, champagne and an electric mixer. [Note: for future culinary experiment/dates, hold them in your own kitchen. You’ll have your own equipment on-hand (e.g.: artisan mixer) and you’ll effortlessly know your way around, decreasing any disorientation that will crush your culinary adeptness and hold you victim to flirtatious nerves.] The experiment began well. We opted for the standard recipe, but decided on the mini-cookie version to facilitate smaller tasting sizes. After all, I wouldn’t want to get sick from too many cookies and have to go home, right? When it came time to add the vanilla, we split the dough into two batches, and our experiment immediately became a contest. I went to measure out the first addition of vanilla. Full disclosure, I was totally distracted by where the measuring spoons were, where the vanilla was—the fact that I really wanted to kiss this guy who was making me laugh and standing just close enough to drive me crazy—and so, of course, the extract went everywhere but the measuring spoon. (See note re: date location above). I stammered out something about the consistency of the vanilla and tried to find paper towels to mop up the now vanilla-y range. He, deservedly, laughed at me. Ok, back to the task at hand. We quadrupled the amount of vanilla in my batch; his was the control. I quipped about his ability to drop teaspoons of dough evenly onto a cookie sheet, and tried not to drink my champagne too fast. The cookie dough tasted amazing (mine considerably stronger on the vanilla—a good sign); we each got one beater to lick clean, and I realized things must be going well considering we were completely comfortable acting like sugar-crazed five-year olds in front of each other, licking spoonfuls of dough and, well, forgetting to check on the cookies. I smelled something burning, and my stomach sank. Wasn’t the timer supposed to go off? I pulled both trays from the oven. A minute more and they would have been scorched to a black crisp. Though not unbearable, the cookies were burnt enough to erase the subtle detection of any vanilla variation. My grand visions of vanilla conclusions began fading fast. What had happened? That’s when I was told the oven hadn’t really been working properly. (See note re: date location above). We still strained our taste buds to test the vanilla, but to no avail. I immediately suggested E.V.B.O. take two in MY kitchen. We did have fun, after all. And even though the extreme vanilla threshold remains unknown, I did discover a direct correlation between the level of cookie dough consumption and the brazen lack of self-control for a crush.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Soup du Jour

After a very taxing day at work yesterday, I sequestered myself in my kitchen for a dual relaxation/reward night making comfort foods: Braised Short Ribs, Pasta Carbonara, and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. The success of the evening was a new recipe I was attempting to re-create from the restaurant I cocktail waitress at when strapped for cash, The Edendale Bar and Grill in Silver Lake. Our chef, Justin (who not only makes superb food, but also lets me snack on as many french fries as I want during my shift), may kill me for posting his recipe for the world to know, but I did make some minor adjustments, and can (somewhat) pretend it's my own. I shall title it "Justin's Squash soup with Pear and Chipotle." Thanks a mil Justin, you're a darling!

Justin's Butternut Squash Soup with Pear & Chipotle

1 large butternut squash, halved
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Anjou Pear, cubed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 can chipotle peppers, in adobo, seeded
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 c. milk or cream
Apple cider vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste

In a 400-degree oven, roast the squash, face down in a glass baking dish until tender, about 1 hour. When cool, scrape squash from skin into bowl and set aside.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft and onions become translucent. Add the pears, and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine, and boil until the liquid reduces by three-fourths, and the alcohol cooks off.

In a blender, purée the squash and pear/onion mixture and 1/2 the chicken broth. Add the chipotle pepper, and continue to blend until mixed well. Pour mixture into sauce pan, and reheat over medium. Add the rest of the chicken broth and the cream, slowly stirring in to desired consistency. Bring to a boil, and adjust for seasons with the Apple cider vinegar. I added in some of the adobe sauce for added spice. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche, and a sprinkling of fresh sage.

Serves 4 as a main course; 6 as a starter

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Extreme Vanilla Bake Off 2007

So I have this vanilla obsession that started when I was about six years old. I loved baking cookies and my favorite part was adding the vanilla extract.
My mom would turn around and I'd secretly swipe the bottle and pour in an extra teaspoon or two. There was something so alluring about that little bottle, which never disappointed me in turning out the intoxicating aroma of extreme vanilla. While my obsession is now grounded in more age-appropriate products: PERFUME, STOLI and VANILLE (a fabulous online home/gift boutique), I still like to sprinkle in extra vanilla to my cookie dough just for kicks. And apparently, I'm not the only one. Enter cute crush of mine, whom, much to my delight, revealed yesterday that he also has a penchant for adding extra vanilla to cookie dough. Five minutes after exchanging this small detail, the Extreme Vanilla Bake-Off experiment was born: just how much of that rich, 35%-proof deliciousness could the cookie dough handle, we wanted to know? Perhaps my current read, The Biography of Julia Child (which I highly recommend!), had me in a scientific state of mind; perhaps I'm really just a sucker for a good challenge. Either way, the EVBO experiment is set for Saturday night, and I'm not sure what I'm more excited about: determining the vanilla threshold or my lab partner…

Homework: click here for extreme vanilla product and follow up next week for the science report.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bookmark: Solo Suppers

Last night I found myself so exhausted and sore from running a half-marathon on Sunday that I couldn't really move. So I decided to get into bed at 7:30 p.m., ice packs and all, and surround myself with indulgent reading material—my new cookbooks.

First up: Joyce Goldstein's latest, Solo Suppers. You know, dinners for one. Uno. (This little treasure was in my X-mas stocking, and though I love my mom's enthusiasm for embracing my singleness, she forgot that I live with my best friend and dinners are always for two.) So despite the fact that I have to double every recipe in the book, I would like to say it was simply fabulous. Goldstein's unwavering stance on which gourmet products must never be compromised are dead-on, and she conveniently offers tips on ways to budget accordingly—particularly in the wine department with the Private Reserve wine preservative spray (genius). Her section on sauces alone was enough to make me want to clear my schedule next Sunday, and spend an entire day preparing each one (which, when stored properly, will last in the refrigerator for up to four months.) So when I'm craving a dollop (or four) of mango chutney on some leftover pork, it's right on hand. Her eclectic mix of dishes leans a bit heavily on the Italian side; however, the suggestions throughout for variations on a theme (flavoritively, speaking) will encourage any one with a sense of adventure or improv to fool around with new combinations of spice and circumstance. The single most delightful discovery of the book, though, was the recipe for Parmesan Cheese Pudding. In Italian, it's called sformato. It appears a smoother, molded version of a polenta cake, but the ingredients promise a custardy, Parmesany, melt-in-your-mouth lightness. She offers three sauces to pair with it, omitting the inclusion of vegetables due to a self-proclaimed cheese obsession. That said, I will be trying it this weekend with vegetables...

Any one have a sformato tale or advice? Do tell...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Booo on the Back Door Cafe

Normally I'm not such a negative nancy. But this morning was a special one. It's my best friend/roommates birthday, and in an early-morning moment of dedicated love, I woke up extra early to get breakfast treats—croissants and lattes—to celebrate her quarter century mark. My horrible singing forced her out of bed, and we headed to The Back Door Cafe in Silver Lake. I need to emphasize here, that Back Door is the ONLY traditional bakery/cafe in "East Silver Lake" (Cafe Tropical is a Cuban-inspired alternative, but it's farther from the reservoir epicenter) that is independently owned, making it the ONLY non-Starbucks option for the likes of coffee and early bird snacks within walking distance to the Silver Lake reservoir. This simple fact, in my opinion, is an utter tragedy.
You see, at the Back Door Cafe I imagine the mantra goes something like this: "We have no competition, (and we know our clientele has no viable alternative within walking distance) so we can suck at everything—service, cleanliness, you name it. And we can charge as much as we want!" Though the doors open at 7 am, at 7:40 am today—on my best friend's birthday—they didn't even have the freshly baked goods out of the oven yet. You're a bakery. Get it together. Get up earlier. And this wasn't a one time deal with the pastries. I'm in there getting coffee many mornings after walking my pup Beau around the lake, and rarely is there a stocked counter. LE disappoint.

I officially nominate the Back Door Cafe for The Worst Bakery in the world award. As soon as I win the lottery I'm going to open Cafe Front Door. Across the street. May my croissants, danishes and muffins be piping hot, ready to serve the minute the doors open. At 6:30 am. Consider yourself warned, BDC. Oh, and my employees will also a) know how to smile; b) get paid enough to want to do so.

Feel free to nominate your "Worst Bakery." Be sure to comment where and why!

The Raven's Kitchen: Red Chard Risotto

By contributing writer the raven is dead

Here's a recipe that I adapted last night from an Epicurious listing, using mostly ingredients from Trader Joe's - total shopping budget: $15. This feeds at least five people if paired with a simple salad and baguette.

Bella Red Chard Risotto
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1.5 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used shitty Charles Shaw, but something better would be way more fun)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 big handfuls sliced cremini mushrooms
1 white or yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large shallot, sliced
1 bunch red chard, ribs removed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated good Pecorino Romano cheese

Heat stock to a simmer and cover, keeping a low flame.

Meanwhile, saute onions, garlic, shallots, and mushrooms in olive oil on medium heat until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add rice and chard and saute, stirring often, until chard is slightly wilted and rice becomes translucent on the edges. Add wine and stir constantly until all liquid is absorbed. Grab a ladle and add three or four ladle-fuls of stock to the rice mixture (just enough to cover it completely). Stir to incorporate the stock. Simmer on medium, stirring every minute or two, until all of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Add another 1/3 of the stock and repeat until all of the liquid is absorbed. Finally, add the last of the stock and, stirring constantly, cook until all liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese, mixing thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Raven's Kitchen: Resolution: 5-a-day

By contributing writer the raven is dead

After a pretty disgusting chocolate and alcohol gorgefest in December, I'm for reals committing to eating more fresh vegetables this year. A lovely organic foods delivery service is making it all that much easier.

For $29 a week, Organic Express will deliver a box of super fresh seasonal organic vegetables and fruit to your home or office in the SF Bay or LA areas.

My roommate and I subscribed just last week, and in our first box, we got some gorgeous red chard, cauliflower, pears, apples, sweet potatoes, an acorn squash, oranges, grapefruits, and pretty little fingerling potatoes. It's all really fresh and pretty affordable, especially if you factor in the amount of time it normally takes to battle your way into the nightmare that is Trader Joe's on any given weeknight or some other horrendously overcrowded market filled with "organic" Mexican imports.

So, anyone know how to cook chard?

Dinner and a Record

I believe in a certain mentality in the kitchen, and part of that
truly happens when good music—which is directly correlated to a better
attitude, hence leading to better food—is a part of the process. I
also believe in listening to entire albums as a compilation while in
the kitchen. On vinyl. A record is a complete work. Like a meal. There
are different elements you hear, or taste, at the same time, that when
enjoyed from start to finish leads to a sort of gastronomic/musical
fullness that rarely accompanies a one bite treat or a one hit wonder.
And come on, there is nothing like dancing around your kitchen in one
of those silly little Anthropologie aprons belting (or humming,
depending on the day, the mood, the music…) into your wooden spoon.
The necessary pause—tap your feet and bop your head ever so
slightly—to stir, stir, stir. Then back to the mic as you
simultaneously taste your sauce and pick up at the chorus:

Is it wicked not to care/when you've wasted many hours talking/
endlessly to anyone that's there...

Adjust for seasonings; flip the record.

The menu last night was coastal Italian-inspired, and I dedicate
the record—Belle & Sebastian's The Boy with the Arab Strap—to the lightness of angel hair pasta, the zing of the caper, the panache of a plum tomato sauce, all silky and shiny from quality extra-virgin olive oil, the sharpness of the Pecorino Romano and the forever upbeat Kalamata olive.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Monday Night Movie Club—2007 Premiere

Last night, the Monday Night Movie Club ushered in a new year of enjoying fine friends, delicious food and great cinema. And in celebration of the newest member of the M.N.M.C, baby Jett Freissen—known locally as the Sultan of Silver Lake—we rented a flick à la Blockbuster and dined in on traditional American family fair: Roasted pork tenderloin with apple chutney, green peas and a spoonful of fluffy mashed potatoes with real butter. Mmmm. We all agreed that pork tenderloin is the most underrated meat around. And buy it at Costco, yes, Costco—extremely tender meat and very affordable. Dessert: Vanilla Bean ice cream and Italian soda. Btw, "Trader Giotto's" Soda Italiana (available in bulk) is hands down the soda of the year. We sipped a lovely bottle of Ferrari-Carano 2003 Sonoma County Siena [thanks, Dad, for donating your x-mas gift wines to your penny pinching daughter!] and enjoyed Cillian Murphy's commendable, albeit bizarre, performance as a struggling Irish transvestite searching for his/her phantom mother in Breakfast on Pluto. As Krissy Wall, social chair of the M.N.M.C. astutely noted, "he didn't break character once."

Monday, January 8, 2007

Here's The Scoop

A friend once told me that fun follows me wherever I go. I like to think she was right, but I also think what she really meant to say was that FOOD follows me wherever I go. I also follow food wherever it—and all things related to it—goes. At 25, I have an unabashed habit of bringing my passion for all things culinary into just about every area of my life, and The Pink Spoon is my way of stringing you along for the ride. And whether I’m recapping last night’s sit-down dinner for eight made from scratch; drooling over a yummy new recipe in the NY Times food section; bashing the latest Rachel Ray acronym (Seriously, EVOO?); embarking on a budget-inspired operation leftovers; or swapping trade secrets with my fellow gourmands in various locales around the globe, this kitchen is going to get crazy.
Get ready to have some fun.