< Fresh Approach

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Samuel Adams Shandy

Samuel Adams Shandy
Originally uploaded by FreshApproach.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Branston Pickle (Ploughman's Lunch)

My juicy peach of a cousin, the indomitable Va-Voom, who is residing in London these days (oh what a glam life that chicky leads!) is constantly reminding me of the dramatic differences between their comfort foods and ours (ours meaning us kids residing in the US of A, theirs being England). And even going past comfort foods, just to every day staples, the variations can be astonishing culture by culture.

Which leads me to that British favorite (I tried to add the extra "u" in there, but I can't seem to figure out where it would go. My English teachers would be so proud), Branston Pickle. I've mentioned it before of course, and I would hardly say it's something the Brits claim as a national dish, or even particularly indicative of their culture, but I doubt any of them would deny that along with HP sauce (another ubiquitous brown condiment) it is so ingrained in the fabric of their lives, that they hardly know it's there, until they leave the comfort of their shores and end up someplace it is not...and that my friends, is where cravings originate. Wanting that foodstuff you may not be able to find. It can bring a tear to your eye.

When I was living deep in the heart of the West Midlands, (an area in the UK) this past summer (Why? Simple. I'm a silly girl) I had the great fortune to eat a lot of Branston Pickle and Cheddar Cheese sandwiches. I ate so many in fact, I had to start going to the gym twice a day just to combat any negative affects. (Well, that and the excessive drinking those Brits led me to, what with every night ending up in a pub and all) I came to love the combination of sharp, crumbly local cheddar, and the tangy-sweet-crunchy, thick taste of this combination of fruit and vegetables, vinegar and sugar.

In my quest to find this stuff, to make this sandwich, in ex-pat heavy Santa Monica, I still had to visit three stores (though, in fairness, it was sold out at the first spot) and plunk down $6.00 for a jar of this delight. And it is, in fact, a delight. I havent actually found any other things to do with it other than this, but as this is so sublime, I figure I'll stick with it. And of course, I strongly suggest you seek out a jar of it out in your town. It will be a pantry staple for sure. Try it, and enjoy.

1 small roll (I used cibatta)
Branston Pickle
Cheddar Cheese

Compose as you would any sandwich. Serve with gerkins (small pickles) and a beer. British delight will ensue.


Check out this excellently angry tirade and slew of responses regarding a Ploughmans Lunch recipe at Epicurious.

A ploughman's lunch is a midday meal often served in an English pub. The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary of this phrase dates from 1837. The OED's next citation is from 1970, indicating a long period of time when the meal was virtually unknown. It is this long disuse and recent rediscovery that has lead some people to portray the dish as being a recent invention dressed up as a traditional meal. A ploughman's lunch usually consists of a lump of cheese (usually Cheddar or Stilton), pickle (often Branston Pickle) and salad, accompanied by crusty bread and butter. - Wikipedia

900 new restaurants open each year in Los Angeles. 60% of them go out of business within 5 years. In the next five years, 60% of the remaining restaurants go under.

In Orange County, CA more than two dozen Japanese American farming families will be honored Sunday for their contributions to California's $1.3-billion strawberry industry. Japanese farmers started strawberry farming the early 1900s along the entire West Coast,
and came to dominate strawberry farming since. Now, Latinos have replaced Japanese Americans as the industry's dominant players. They now make up more than 56% of the state's 518 strawberry growers, compared with 14% for Japanese Americans. - Los Angeles Times

Monday, January 02, 2006


Devilish Cake

I'm on vacation but I wrote a recipe before I dashed off to this tropical paradise. I hear it's raining like crazy back home, so I am happy as a lark I'm not there. Until I return, enjoy!

This is a slice of chocolate cake. The give away I'd say is that it's brown. See? Brown. The only thing is, its not just a chocolate cake, it's a devil's food cake, and that means it's supposed to be red. Red? Yes kids, red. Or at least, reddish! I'm not all down with the science, but my basic (unresearched) understanding is that the chemical reaction between the buttermilk, cocoa and vinegar turns the cake red. Or, you know, it's supposed to.

So the question then becomes...is this still devil's food cake if it's not red? I don't know. I know that I went with a classic concept (minus using mayo as an ingredient. While it has a certain logic to it, I just couldn't go there) and came up with a very decadent, sophisticated, adult dessert without resorting to the use of food dye. Devilish indeed. Red? Not so much.

Try it, and enjoy. (Oh, and serve with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa. Mmmm.)

1 cup white flour
1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs

Heat your oven to 350F

Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.

Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and vinegar.

With your mixer cream the butter and sugar for at least four minutes (as I always say, don't skip this. Take the time, it makes all the difference) then add the eggs one at a time, blending completely before adding the next.

Pour the batter into your cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 35 minutes. Check to see if it is done by inserting a cake tester or a toothpick. The cake tester should come out dry.

Add the flour mixture and alternate with the buttermilk, ending with the dry.

When the cake is baked, turn off the oven, open the door and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool another 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

To serve, add whipped cream and a light dusting of cocoa powder.

Makes eight servings.


Drakes brand Devil Dogs snacks cakes (two oblong pieces of devils food cake with a cream filling) are available in stores in the Northeast of the United States, or for online purchase, here

"The reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color in these cakes would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Devil's Food" These days red dye is used to get the desired color. This was probably started after the introduction of the darker cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during World War II , some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes." - Baking 911.com

In 1902, the recipe for Devil's Food Cake first appeared in an American cookbook called Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book by Sarah Tyson Rorer.

One in six British children think that broccoli is a baby tree

Friday, December 16, 2005


Friday Stew

Hola! I hope you are all having an extraordinary day so far. It being Friday and all, I thought I would do some housekeeping and remind everyone about a few things (boring, but true) before sharing a recipe.

First off, I am super excited to see how popular the Menu of Hope raffle raising money for the Kashmir region earthquake relief effort has become. Quite a bit of money (more than $5,000 so far) has been raised. If you haven't had a chance to donate there is still time. I am offering a box of Jin Patisserie chocolates and a brand new 3.5 inch Wuhstof Classic Paring Knife. Simply go here, make a donation of at least $5.00 and write in the comment section what gift you would like to receive.

The second thing on my itty bitty nudge list is that today is the final day to put in your nominations for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. This site was a finalist in the Best Recipe category last year and it was a total thrill for me. Really did change things in my little world and for that I will be forever grateful.

And now, for the recipe of the day. It is for happiness. Look around you, see the world and all it has to offer. Close your eyes and picture your loved ones. Go outside and listen for the birds singing and feel the sunshine on your face. Know that each and every day is a gift. Laugh at me for being so sentimental and then go cook something.


The Silver Spoon is the seventh most popular book on internet bookstore giant Amazon.com's sales list.

Additional Amazon oddness: the number one book on Amazon is The Chronicles of Narinia. With one less letter and one different one you get my last name. The number two book is 365 No Repeats by some overly perky Food Network Chef that I share a first name with. Fun, huh?

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Banana-Date Bread

Many, many years ago in a not so far away land there were some maidens who wanted to earn some extra cash to fund their leisurely lifestyles. They were clever and crafty young things and oh yes, they had the drive to succeed. All that held them back from their riches was the perfect idea. They had the will, the skills, the determination and let's just say it, the deadication to really do something outstanding when they got down to it.

For a short while they dabbled in hand-made custom order apron-dresses, (Kinda like this. Actually, exactly like that. Hmm. I must have issues because I still think they look sort of cute. Yikes.) but that proved to be excessively time consuming. Next up, they thought they could break into the fimo dough bead market, but alas, that was well covered. Then one starry night as they lay in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere Indiana, staring up at the stars with the strains of music lingering in their ears it came to them like a bolt from the blue. The way to their financial freedom was as simple as whipping up that tasty tropical treat, banana bread.

You see kids, in those days there was a fantastically popular band who roamed the globe with a merry band of followers, and if nothing else, that lot tended to be hungry. Very, very hungry. They pretty much seemed to subsist on a diet of burritos and grilled cheese, cookies and stir fry, popcorn balls and something a little more tricky called goo-balls. They ate tofu-jerky and quesadillas, and as our young heroines learned, they also craved banana bread, and could eat lots of it. So with that solid information, all our puerile misses had to do was hawk it at 1 slice for $3.00 or 2 for $5.00 from sweet little ribbon festooned wicker baskets in parking lots all over the nation and watch the money roll in.

Tweaking a recipe from the outstanding and infallible Joy of Cooking, they brought their banana bread forth, (six varieties in all) and it was good. Oh heavens was it good. So good in fact, they ended up making a tidy bundle of cash, and one of them (your narrator, I fear) ate so many gosh darned 'nanas she developed an allergy to them that persists to this day. Happily, that does not stop the former little chicky from baking her cosmically delicious bread from time to time, the scent of which brings her back to a long forgotten place, where "everybody's dancing in a ring around the sun."

Try this, and enjoy.

1 1/2 cups white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter (or shortening)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 large, completely ripe (brown) bananas, mashed
1/4 cup dates, diced

Preheat your oven to 350F

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, wheat germ, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Cream throughly (when you think you are done, keep beating for another minute) then add the eggs and bananas. Beat together completely. Fold in the dates.

Pour your batter into a well buttered loaf pan. Bake 45 minutes to one hour, or until a knife inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Cool in the pan. Slice and serve.

Makes one loaf or about 10 slices


A Short List of Bands/Singers with Food Names:
Meatloaf, Bread, Moby Grape, Jelly Roll Morton, Ice-T, Spice Girls, Cream, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Salt 'n' Pepa, String Cheese Incident, Smashing Pumpkins, Leftover Salmon, The Cranberries, Black Eyed Peas, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Phish, Skankin' Pickle, Vanilla Fudge, Hot Chocolate, Blue Oyster Cult, Cake, Korn, The Lemonheads, Flying Burrito Brothers, Electric Prunes and Ray Anton and the Peppermint Men

Remember the Chiquita Banana Song?

"I'm Chiquita banana and I've come to say - Bananas have to ripen in a certain way- When they are fleck'd with brown and have a golden hue - Bananas taste the best and are best for you - You can put them in a salad - You can put them in a pie-aye - Any way you want to eat them - It's impossible to beat them - But, bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator - So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator." Music © 1945 Shawnee Press Inc.


Dried Plum Financiers

Mr. David Lebovitz, (a man who's work I simply adore) of food writing and blogging fame, has challenged the world to create a dish with dried plums, AKA, prunes. As a matter of fact, he seems to have already completed his round-up! (Foiled by time zones again...drat!)

Well, I happen to have quite a bit of knowledge regarding said fruit, having slaved deep in the heart of the California Dried Plum Board publicity machine for what seemed like eons, but may really have been one single, life altering year.

That's right kiddies, The CDPB (then known as the Prune Board) has on retainer a top flight food marketing agency to spread the word, build the faith and keep their festive purple banner raised through good times and bad. Happily it was a snap, since not only are those dried drupe fanatics the nicest of people, but they also are all about promoting something that is tasty, nutritious, eco-friendly, an excellent fat substitute (its true!) and an amazingly versatile ingredient. (You'd think I was still on the company bandwagon with this banter, and yet...) I just love me those dried plums I tell ya!

Sure, sure, some of you feel towards dried plums the way I feel about cilantro, (In other words, "no thanks") and I am not going to try to sway you to my way of thinking, since taste is taste and whatnot. What I will tell you is pretty darned fab are these financiers. A quick to make, breathy, crumbly French cookie/cake/bite that has the heady sweet nuttiness of almonds and sugar that opens your mind and palate. The addition of rich and chewy, dense and sweet dried plums only adds to the delight, but if you are so inclined, I think dried apricots are classic, and dried cherries would be a welcome burst of tang. Any which way, this takes less than six minutes to pull off (minus baking) and are a fanciful addition to anyone's repitoire. Super-fab-a-licious.

(I have been making these beauties for years, and follow my own hand written notes, though I am compelled to say the original recipe was created by Drew Nieporent. I think.)

2 Tablespoons of butter
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of table salt
5 large egg whites
2/3 cups butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (optional)
powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400F

Liberally butter (or much better yet, spray with bakers spray, these guys stick like mad) 12 non-stick small tart molds, (such as barquettes), or a mini-muffin pan. Put the molds on a sheet pan, and set aside until ready to fill.

In a large bowl, stir to combine the almonds, sugar, pinch of salt, flour and if using, the orange zest. Add the melted butter to the almond mixture and combine completely. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites until they hold a soft peak (this means they are whipped until just past frothy, and when mounded with a spoon, a small, soft tip will hold)

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half the egg whites into the almonds. Add the rest, doing your best not to deflate the whites, while mixing throughly.

Spoon batter into the molds/pan, leaving some room to rise. Top with a small dried plum.

Bake for 7 minutes at 400F. Reduce the heat to 375F and let bake another 10 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the financiers cool in the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Makes 12

Plum is the common name for a tree of any of many species of the genus Prunus of the family Rosaceae and for its fruit, a drupe. Of the plum’s more than 100 species 30 are native to North America. It has been cultivated since prehistoric times, longer perhaps than any other fruit except the apple. Alexander the Great is said to have introduced it into Greece from Syria or Persia, where the damson plum had long been grown. - Bartleby.com

California supplies 70 percent of the world’s supply of dried plums

The European Union's senior court yesterday granted Greece exclusive rights to produce "feta" over the protests of cheese makers from Denmark, Germany and Britain. The Court of Justice ended a legal battle stretching back over a decade and upheld Greek demands that the name "feta" should be reserved for salty, crumbly white cheese made in Greece. All non-Greek producers will have to remove all references to the word feta and will not even be permitted to spell it differently." -Telegraph.co.uk

I am flattered as a girl can be over this post at Yogurtland. What a delightful blog!

In 2001 the FDA granted the California Prune Board (CPB) permission to use "dried plums" as an alternative name to "prunes." The CPB requested the name change after research showed that the name "dried plum" offers a more positive connotation than "prune."


Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Lemon-Verbena Syrup

It's highly likely that, should nothing go awry, someday I will be an old woman, and when that happens, I want to know in my heart I have lived life to the fullest. I will hold my head up high and say "Why yes, I did once make Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Lemon-Verbena Syrup, thanks for playing." Because even when I am old, I will still be sassy. (I'd also like to be able to say that and that I once made out with Tom Ford, but since he is not playing strictly on my team, I'll just have to stick with the panna cotta comment. For now.)

This may seem silly (the pannacotta part, I'm perfectly aware the Tom Ford part is) but it's really just symbolic of all of those recipes that I have thought about for ages and never actually followed through with. (Interestingly, in my world, most of those un-made recipes include Lemon Verbena. I wonder why.)

For instance, with this one, I was hesitant. Full of trepidation. It actually intimidated me. But I rose to the challenge (the challenge being that I was sort of convinced it wouldn't taste all that pleasant) and made things happen. I was rewarded with a silky-smooth, creamy-tangy, food-porn-a-licious dessert that will have your taste buds reeling for days. It is the perfect foil for a rich dinner. Sweet and silky, bold and divine. And kids, let me stress that a glass of port or some icy limoncello as a bev along side this will make it soar. Try it, and enjoy!

2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
1 vanilla pod, cut lengthwise
1 cup full cream
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 cups buttermilk
For the syrup: (Not shown)
1/4 cup white sugar
Zest of one lemon, cut into thick-ish strips
2 tablespoons orange juice
A few leaves of Lemon Verbena, 1/2 of it chiffonade

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the hot water and let melt.

In a medium sauce pan, gently simmer the cream with the vanilla bean and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in the gelatin. Set aside and let cool completely, about an hour. Do not put in the fridge, it will set.

When totally cooled, add in the buttermilk. Stir and strain into six ramekins that are placed on a sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about six hours.

1 hour prior to serving make the syrup, by combining the sugar, water, lemon zest and orange juice in a sauce pan over low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

To remove the panna cottas from their molds, run a thin knife around the edge and invert each over a small dessert plate. Garnish with s few spoonfuls of the syrup and some of the lemon verbena.

Makes six


My, my do I have a soft spot for English boys with guitars. Add in "who cook," and voila my new rock and roll crush, Dennis. Check out his blog, and help encourge his new habit.

Buttermilk has no butter in it and is lower in fat than milk. Authentic buttermilk is the slightly sour, residual liquid which remains after butter is churned, ie. milk from the butter.

Lemon Verbena, a South American herb, was brought to Europe in the late 17th century. According to "The Meaning of Herbs" it symbolizes delicate feelings. Mint stands for for wisdom.



A few days ago, while riffling through the icebox looking for something salty (its all about the salt with me kids. All about it. I swear, if I cut salt out of my diet, I would instantly be two sizes smaller) to nibble on, I spied a tragically lonely, single serving of wild caught Coho salmon calling out for some attention. Not being in the mood for sashimi, I cut short my quest for a nosh, and proceeded to pull together one of the worlds oldest preserved food recipes: gravlax. Sure, sure, it takes a few days to cure, but I have patience, and it is so very well worth the wait.

Now, as a long-time reader (ha ha) I'm sure you recall me saying this past summer I had found a recipe for Snapper Vera Cruz, the single most popular recipe taught at my cooking school. Turns out, I may have to revise that statement, since in the 18 months I spent at that fine academic institution we pretty much made gravlax once a week. That my peaches, is a heck of a lot of cured fish. Maybe they have an agenda I wasn't aware of...

Being obsessed (along with many other things - Pickles and cocktails come to mind) with Scandinavian food (My mother is partly Swedish after all. More on that some other time. It's fascinating stuff.) and what all, the consumption of vast quantities of this ambrosial (can you apply ambrosial to a savory food?) goodness has never been a problem for me. And the beauty is, you don't need much fish to feed quite a few people, you most likely have all the ingredients on hand, and it can be made in a heartbeat.

To serve it to the glitterati in your life in the most fab-ulicious kind of way, I suggest a slice of rye or pumpernickel bread, a thin layer of a 50/50 cream cheese-butter mixture, capers and pickled red onion. It is just the most beautiful combination of nearly translucent fish that has a hint of juniper, with the shockingly pink, crunchy onions and the creamy mouthfeel of the cheese. A mouthful of Valhalla. Try it, and enjoy

1 Salmon filet, skin on, bones removed, cut into 2 equal sized pieces
Equal parts white sugar and brown sugar
Salt equalling the sugar amount
Clear Spirits (I used gin. Aquavit or vodka are classic choices too)
Minced herbs (Dill is most traditional. I used Lemon Verbena because I had it)
Spices (I used cardamom. Try black pepper or cumin)
Freshly ground pepper

The recipe for this is pretty simple. Moisten the flesh of the fish with some of the spirit. (Wow, did that sound religious or what!) Top with minced herbs.

Combine the salt, sugars and pepper in a bowl.

In a non-reactive (meaning, glass or ceramic) dish, make a layer of the mix. Add the fish, skin down, coat heavily with more of the mixture. Top with another piece of fish skin side up, then pour the remaining mixture over it and pack down. Cover the container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two to six days, turning once a day and draining any extra liquid. The time you leave it depends on how thick the filet is. To check it is done the fish will have turned completely opaque.

When done, brush off the sugar/salt mix. Slice as thin as can be and eat. Will keep up to a week.


The Food and Drug Administration sent letters last week to 29 cherry growers and packagers warning them that declarations such as Amon Orchards claim on its Web site that "cherries prevent cancer." Or Brownwood Acres Foods Inc., saying cherries "knock out gout," are "serious violations" of federal food labeling laws. - Washington Post.com

60 percent of the world's marine stocks are either fully fished, over-exploited, depleted or recovering at a slow rate. With seafood growing in demand, it is critical that sustainable fishing practices are followed. - Whole Foods.com

A Swedish specialty, gravlax is raw salmon, cured in a salt-sugar-dill mixture. It's sliced paper thin and served on dark bread as an appetiser, often accompanied by dill-mustard sauce. Lox can refer either to cold smoked salmon, or to salmon cured in a brine solution (also called gravlax).

Tiffany. AKA The Mermaid, since she is sexy, beachy, (yet intellectual) and has a Siren-like ability to coerce even the most even keeled people (not that I count myself in with that group) to do things with just a flash of a smile and a bat of her impossibly long eyelashes.

It seems that just like our dearest peach Ms. LaRue, my Mermaid-like friend has a fixation with pumpkin, and recently wondered aloud on her extra-fab site Breakfast At Tiffany's (so chic!) if I may be able to provide some culinary relief by challenging me to make a vegan pie. (She isn't vegan, she is just a level headed and healthy girl) That's right. A vegan pumpkin pie. And seriously kids, how could I resist her request? I am nothing if not a girl who will rise to a challenge. (That's actually not true at all, but whatever)

With that I looked, I searched, I scrambled, I fretted (over a course of six to eight minutes) and in the end, with options including pureeing silken tofu, using $25 worth of maple syrup instead of sugar or adding prune puree for body and texture, I said no thanks. While I think being vegan is super fantastic, I also know enough about my limitations as a baker to not want to try to mess with a American classic. Ergo, the pumpkin pie you see right here on this page.

So for you, sweet Tiffany, here is a completely vegetarian virtual pumpkin pie. It was silken, and creamy (due to cream, I'm thinking) very spicy and had a strong and comforting pumpkin flavor. I would offer you a slice, but much to the joy of several people, every last crumb of it has been consumed. It took less than five minutes to pull together, and the scent of pie wafting through the house made the hour it was baking pure heaven. (And torture, knowing it had to cool before I could take a taste!) Try it, and enjoy.

3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 9-inch pie crust, par-baked

(I made my own pie crust, but I am just not in the mood to write out my recipe. Maybe next week.)

Preheat your oven to 450F

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, flour, salt and spices. Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450°F. Whisk first 8 ingredients together in large bowl to blend. Whisk in pumpkin, molasses and eggs, then cream. Pour mixture into the crust.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325F and bake until the center is just set, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, and cool completely.

Serves 8


In an excellent example of solipsism, please do visit Breakfast at Tiffany's today (and tomorrow, since it was so durned long) for my extra cheeky shopping tips

Mexicans are Latin America's largest per-capita consumers of instant ramen. Diners consumed 1 billion servings last year. The Chinese ate nearly 30.5 billion servings last year. Outside that region, only the United States, Russia and Brazil gobbled more instant ramen than Mexico. Its consumers ate an average of 9.4 servings in 2004, according to the Japan-based International Ramen Manufacturers Assn.- LA Times.com

It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup

Research has found that men find "pumpkin pie" to be the sexiest scent

Scarcity leads to desire. Well, I'm not entirely sure that's true, but in the case of truffles (the mycological kind, not the chocolate ones) it must be. They are rare and coveted, mysterious and magical, and I love them. The tantalizing smell of dark rich soil and heavy muskiness fills every corner of your head and lingers like wood smoke. The pungent aroma gives most people a swooning feeling and a fullness of your senses.

What drives me to the brink (the brink!) is that this is something that is so elusive that we have to limit ourselves to special occasions to indulge. Or do we.

Fresh white Italian and black French truffles are only available in autumn and early winter, but with the proliferation of truffle peels, lower quality truffles and some that are harvested in Oregon, an ever widening availability is upon us. While I am leery of most of the so-called truffle-by-products (they are usually chemically enhanced) such as truffle butter or truffle oil, there are some that drive me to distraction. Like truffle cheese. It makes my head swim, my senses perk up and my eyes dance. I love it. While I have seen a few (maybe four) available around town, the most easily obtained is the truffle studded, soft cows-milk Sottocenere.

Because there is a chill in the air (ok, it's not that cold, but you know it's gloomy-wintery) I wanted some warming soup and this cheese, so I made the logical jump to roasted cauliflower and potato soup, and then topped it with the cheese. It was smooth, redolent of the roasted cauliflower sweetness and had just enough essence of truffle to send me into orbit. I was utterly blissed out, rising upward into the empyrean. You will be too. Try it and enjoy.

1 medium head of cauliflower
Olive oil
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 leek, white part only, sliced thin
1 large potato, peeled and rough chopped
Truffled cheese to taste
Chives and black pepper for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400F

Slice the cauliflower and toss with some olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, season with some salt and roast for 35-45 minutes, stirring a few times, until golden browned.

In a large sauce pan, sweat, (cook over low heat until softened but not browned) the leeks in some olive oil. Add the chicken stock, potatoes and a good dash of salt. Simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are softened, about 10 minutes depending on the size you cut the potatoes. Add 3/4 of the cooked cauliflower and simmer for another few minutes. Using an emersion blender or (in small batches) your jar blender puree until smooth.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with some of the remaining cauliflower, some chives and top with a few crumbles of the cheese.

Makes four to six servings


Someone, somewhere, once told me Italians call white truffles angels and black truffles nuns, but I can't seem to clarify that anywhere online

The Italian white truffle is considered to be superior in smell and taste to the French black truffle

North Americans consume about 140 pounds of potatoes per person/year. Europeans, 290 lbs per person/year

Cauliflower is a variety of cabbage, with an edible head of condensed flowers and flower stems called curds

Those deliriously perfect, outrageously cheerful red cascabel peppers drive me to distraction. I am constantly buying them, without plans for what on earth I can do with them. They normally end up mixed with some eggplant, or minced into any number of rice and pasta dishes. But that always seems so UNFAIR. How can something so whimsical not earn a starring role?

That, coupled with an article in The New York Times Style Magazine on the Spanish affinity towards filadefia cheese (that's what they call any cream cheese) led me to a transatlantic culinary pow-wow with Maria-Jose, my resource for all things Spanish (and beloved sister-in-law). Could I make something with these peppers AND some cheese?

One thing instantly came to mind for her, and she was all about me trying it. With her Andalusian lisp (yes, she lisps, yet, hasn't got a lisp.) meshed into her dead-sexy English, she instructed me "Oh Ray-schell! You thake de filadelfia, and you, how is it you say? Give it mince up with thelery, and you take thee limon, and deth-herb-thes..." well, you get the idea. I could listen to her talk all day all lilting and joyful. The recipe she did end up giving me was delectable, but for my taste, I added some goat cheese just for the tang, but other than that, it is indeed her creation. And exactly like her, they are stop traffic glamour, super model beautiful, internationally spicy (oh, you know what I mean) and a vision indeed.

The other night, to get ourselves (more) excited for the annual Warren Miller movie, Higher Ground (which I highly recommend!) I had some friends over and offered the resulting peppers with some extra smooth sipping tequila and put out the extra filling as a spread for crackers. The crowd seem to have enjoyed them immensely. Thank goodness I set one aside for myself, because otherwise, I would have been shut out. I suggest doing the same if you are offering these as a cocktail nibble. I cut down on the anchovies called for in this recipe, but if you like them the way I do, go ahead and use three instead of one. Either which way, I urge you to try this...and enjoy!

26 cascabel peppers
olive oil
1/2 cup goat cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cream cheese
zest of one small lemon
a few teaspoons minced chives
1 small anchovy, minced
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 large pinch Spanish paprika
Chives for garnish

Preheat your oven to 300F

Pull off the stems of the peppers and fish out the seeds. When you have them all done, put them in a nice oven proof pan (I used my loaf pan, lined with foil for easy clean up) and cover with olive oil. Roast for about 25 minutes or until they are just starting to soften. Remove from the oven and let cool in the oil.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season to taste. The butter is in there for a few reasons, one to add a smoothness and pleasant mouth feel, but also it cuts the taste of the stronger goat cheese, and potentially too recognizable cream cheese. It also makes it just taste yummier.

When the peppers are cooled, use a slotted spoon to remove them and do your best to wipe off the residual oil. The oil left in the pan is a keeper. It will taste slightly sweet.

Fill the peppers with the cheese mixture. The best way to do this is to wet your hands (slightly) and roll small balls, then drop them into the peppers. Garnish with sliced chives and serve.

Makes about 26


Cascabel peppers are moderately hot (4 on a scale of 10) and the name means "jingle bell" in Spanish.

"Over breakfast in San Sebastia¡n, Spain, a friend I was visiting volunteered a list of the five things the Spanish could not live without: 'coffee, cigarettes, jamon, freshly squeezed orange juice and filadelfia.' - Peter Meehan, NYTimes.com

Cream cheese originated in the United States in 1872 when a dairyman in Chester, NY, developed a "richer cheese than ever before," made from cream as well as whole milk. In 1880, a New York cheese distributor, A. L. Reynolds, first began distributing cream cheese wrapped in tin-foil wrappers, calling it Philadelphia Brand. - Kraft.com

Please don't forget about A Menu For Hope! Donate $5.00 for the Kashmir region earthquake relief and win some great prizes.

I once worked (slaved?) at a restaurant with a pastry chef who's baking made my mind swirl. She was not only hilarious, lovely, smart and kind, but this woman, this BAKER, was named (prophetically?) Baker. She earned bonus points in my world by being nice to me when I was not exactly excelling (may have had something to do with the fact that at the time, my cooking was slow as molasses on ice. That and I could never really reconcile myself to wearing those hideous checked pants) at the gig. She took me under her wing, and inspired me with her endlessly creative recipes.

This recipe is a cheap knock off of something she used to make, and while it could in no way emulate the fantasticness that she produced, it is still totally yummy and worth the effort.

I may still not be much of a baker, but I am still always willing to give it a go, and I hope you will too. The components are gingerbread cake, cranberry coulis, and cranberry-cinnamon poached pears.This is not so much about the recipe (you could poach the pears any way you like, and use any gingerbread recipe that strikes your fancy) as it is about the composition and building of flavors and textures.

The cake will have a spicy warmth to it, the pears a tart coolness, the coulis adds color and a fruity sweetness and the whole thing together equals heaven on a plate. While you are baking the cake, go ahead and poach the pears. Everything needs to be cool when you start to assemble anyway. A lovely addition would be some cinnamon whipped creme fraiche, but alas, I did not have any. Try it, and enjoy.

4 whole firm pears, peeled
1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup water (and more if needed)
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water

1 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water
2 cups white flour
1 cup water, boiling

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Butter and flour a 9- by 2-inch square baking pan. Line the bottom with buttered parchment paper.

Melt butter in a small pan over low heat and then set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, molasses, spices, and salt then and add the melted butter and whisk to incorporate.

In a cup dissolve baking soda in warm water and whisk into the batter.

Sift the flour over the mixed batter and whisk until combined well. Add boiling water in a slow stream, whisking, and pour batter into baking pan.

Bake gingerbread in middle of oven 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool gingerbread in pan on a rack. When cooled, turn the cake over, peel off the paper.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, combine your cranberry juice, water, sugar, orange zest and cinnamon and heat over a low flame to melt the sugar. Add your pears and place a small round (heat proof) plate directly on top of them to keep them submerged. Cook at a very low simmer for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove from the heat and cool the pears in the liquid. When cooled, remove the pears with a slotted spoon. If you are making the dessert later, store the pears in the liquid.

While the pears are poaching and the gingerbread is baking, combine your coulis ingredients (cranberries, water and sugar) in a small saucepan and simmer over a low flame for 30-45 minutes. Strain the cranberries out using a fine mesh strainer and set the liquid aside. fish out a few of the cranberries and add back to the sauce to use for garnish.

To assemble the dessert, you will first need to slice the pears in half through the stem. Remove the seeds with a melon baller or a sharp knife. Then to create the fan effect, lay the pear half down on your cutting board and slice from just below the stem down to the bottom, repeat four of five times moving across the pear. When sliced, push down slightly with your hand and it will fan out. Voila.

Next up you will need a round cutter. (or, a tuna can with both ends cut off, that has been scrubbed) Cut out four circles of cake, then slice them in half through the middle. (Equator) Brush with some of the cranberry coulis to moisten. Layer with half a poached pear fan, top with the second circle of gingerbread then dust with some powdered sugar and a few of the reserved cranberries. Make all four of your cakes, then pour the remaining coulis on four chilled dessert plates. Add the cakes and put the other half of the pear on the plates and serve.

Makes four

Oh, and those cake scraps? Keep them, gingerbread only gets better the next day. Mmmm.


Coulis. A mixture—often a fruit puree—that has been strained of tiny seeds or pieces of peel so it is perfectly smooth.

In Medieval England gingerbread meant simply "preserved ginger" and was a corruption of the Old French gingebras, derived from the Latin name of the spice, Zingebar. It was only in the fifteenth century that the term came to be applied to a kind of cake made with treacle and flavored with ginger. - Ginnys Gingerbread House.com

California produces 60% of the nation's total Bartlett pear crop

I am adding another item for the Menu for Hope. If you haven't made a donation yet, perhaps a brand new 3.5 inch Wusthof paring knife will tempt you. Just go to First Giving and make a $5 donation (or really, any amount more than that you care to) and specify in the comments section what item you would like to win. (A full list of items, minus this new addition is here). All money will go to Unicef, to help with the Kashmir region earthquake relief effort.

Why hello you sweet things! How are you today? Let's dish. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and ordered something off of the menu with a full mental picture of what you were going to receive, but when the food is set down, it is unfamiliar or maybe just a little bit off? You know, maybe you asked for a wienershnitzle and got veal instead of a hot dog? That kinda thing.

Of course, with a zillion possible variations on any one theme, is there really any absolute version? Even with classics - something tried and true, we almost always tweak it to our tastes, to what is available or to what we are able to pull off. And if you have never even seen the original version, who is to say your version is off? Right? Right. And for me, it's exciting to see how someone else interprets a dish I think I know so well.

All that said, I made pot stickers last night. At least, what I consider pot stickers. Tasty bites of pan fried and steamed stuffed noodles. I could eat them all day. I have had pot stickers in restaurants in North America, but never in Shanghi, (where I guess they originated) so I only know this style, and I can honestly say they meet and exceed my own expectations for yumminess.

They are tricky to serve as a cocktail snack because they require utensils to dip them into the salty, tart and gingery sauce, so I suggest serving them as a starter to a meal, or just for yourself as an indulgent morsel. (Though, if you are going that route, cut the recipe by 3/4, ya?)

The method, one you have tried it, it quite simple really. Authentic, of course not, but scrumptious none the less. The best type of food.

The basic idea is that your ingredients need to be minced fine and cooked, then the potstickers built and cooked. The ingredients themselves can vary any which way you like, so long as you end up with about 2 cups of filling for 24 wontons. At that point you can keep them for a few days (no more than three I would say) and make them to be served hot. The beauty here is that unlike with pastry type turnovers, the noodles and the filling will stay the same size when cooked, so you can stuff them as full as you like, so long as they seal shut. Try them, and enjoy.

24 wonton wrappers
2 pounds mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion
2 tablespoons ginger
A few scallions
Vegetable oil
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine or black vinegar
Sesame seeds
1 cup water, chicken or vegetable stock
Chives for garnish

Optional additions:
Minced chicken or pork, water chestnuts, celery, cabbage, carrots, chiles, peanuts or cilantro

Finely mince the mushrooms, garlic, onion, ginger and scallions. (And any other ingredients you want to add.) In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the minced ingredients until they are fully cooked. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Mix together your dipping sauce. It should be to your taste (obviously) but to get you started, go with three tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the wine/vinegar, a few drops of sesame oil and a teaspoon of minced ginger. Whisk that together and then add a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Taste and adjust.

Pour a little bit of water into a small container.

Place about a teaspoons worth of the filling onto the lower half of each of the wontons. Lightly moisten the top edge of each noodle, fold over to create half moons and press down to seal. (Ideally you would create a few decorative folds at this point, but you know, who has the time...)

In a large pan with a lid, heat a few teaspoons of your vegetable oil until it is rippling. Carefully add the potstickers in a single layer. Do not move them. Let cook for three minutes. Peek under one and see if it has browned. When they are browned add enough stock/water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Slap on the lid and let steam three minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spatula onto a cutting board. Blot with a towel if they are super wet.

Garnish with sesame seeds and chives and serve


Black Vinegar: A dark complex vinegar made of glutinous rice and malt somewhat similar to a balsamic used in Chinese stir-frys, braises and sauces. Substitutions: Red rice vinegar - Gourmet Sleuth.com

Japan’s two-year-old ban on American beef was lifted and Colorado ranchers sent their first shipment out Wednesday. Japan is putting limitations on types of cattle that will be accepted, "all animals must be 20 months or younger." - KRDOTV.com Cattle are Colorado's top commodity - there are approx. 2.5 million head, valued at $2.5 billion statewide - Denver Post

Dumplings have been made in China for more than four centuries. They are still a favorite in Shanghai and Beijing, where hundreds of specialty stalls make nothing else. They should be eaten with a dip of vinegar and shredded fresh ginger. Dumplings are called "pot stickers" because the base of the dumpling is crisped and browned in oil before steaming. - Do Dumplings.com

There is still time to take part in Menu for Hope. If you haven't made a donation yet, perhaps a brand new 3.5 inch Wusthof Classis paring knife will tempt you, or a box of Jin Chocolates. Just go to First Giving and make a $5 donation and specify in the comments section what item you would like to win. (A full list of items is here). All money will go to Unicef, to help with the Kashmir region earthquake relief effort.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Menu of Hope II

Oh my dear, sweet loyal readers. How I wish I could reach right through this screen and give you all a warm hug today. Why today? Because today, I have to ask something of you. It's not a big something, but it is a something that MEANS something.

There was a horrifically devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake on October 8th in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan. The people who live in the area are still fighting for their lives. Shelter is scarce, the weather is extreme and aid has been slow in coming. While we are here (where ever your "here" may be) millions go without. I know I sound dramatic, but it IS dramatic and needs our attention.

In an effort to do something, food bloggers around the world have gotten together for an event called Menu of Hope II. We are offering items in a virtual raffle and the cost to you my dears, is $5.00 a ticket. That's right my peaches, five smackeroos and you can win a fab prize from your favorite food blogger AND do something good for humanity. Does that not sound like a deal?

So what do you do? Thats easy my loves. Click here, and donate. Specify in the comments section of your donation form which item you want and then on New Years Day, check back to see if you are the winner.

The first item I am donating is something that is near and dear to my heart. A $25.00 box of the outrageously sinful Jin Patisserie chocolates. Made in Venice, California by Kristy Joo (a graduate of my alma mater, The California Culinary Academy), these exquisite delights are beyond compare.

The 12 piece, 2 pound box of chocolates includes: The de Concubine, Passion fruit, The du Hammum, Mango Kalamansi, Caramel Clove, Cinnamon, Pandan, Chrysanthemum, Lavender, Ginger, Café Rhum, Black Roasted Sesame.

It is a treat worth having.

And now, for the small print: Menu of Hope II, via Just Giving, is raising money for Unicef with funds earmarked for the earthquake victims in the Kashmir region. Each $5 donated gives you one chance to win a prize of your choosing. Just state which on in the 'comment' section of your donation form. You can donate more than $5 of course, each $5 will give you one chance at one prize. (Yes, you are allowed to specify more than one gifts if you donate more than $5.) Menu of Hope II will not be collecting any money, Just Giving will forward all the money raised directly to Unicef.

I will be adding more donation items in the days to come. Please do take the time and open your hearts and pockets for this worthy cause. Thank you all so much, you are all shining stars in my universe.

And lastly, please visit some of the other fantastic food blogs participating in this important event. Chez Pim, Becks and Posh, Chocolate and Zucchini In Praise of Sardines Gluten Free Girl and many more. They are all offering incredible items and I hope you will take the time to check them out.


Unicef was created by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1946 to respond to the suffering of children in European countries devastated by World War II. In 1953, UNICEF was made a permanent arm of the UN to address the plight of children in world wide. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.

Every day, more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes--one child every five seconds

Most of the affected areas are in mountainous regions and access is impeded by landslides that have blocked the roads. An estimated 3.3 million were left homeless in Pakistan. The UN reported that more than 4 million people are directly affected, as winter snows start. Many of them are at risk of dying from cold and the spread of disease. It has been estimated that damages incurred are well over 5 billion US dollars. - Wikipedia

Monday, November 21, 2005


Flying Solo/Warm Mixed Nuts

The flight from Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in NYC is approximately five hours and 22 minutes. Tack on the hour given to through traffic to the airport, the two-hour-in-advance security (what a joke) check, plus the thirty minutes to get my bag at the other end, a 25 minute cab ride then a two hour Jitney ride (the worlds most silent form of transportation. It's beyond odd. The coach is packed, and yet no one breathes a word. Then, the ticket girls pass out chips and water. And you stare at the chips, and might even want the chips, but NO. That would break the eerie silence. It is pure torture.) and ten minutes to Auntie Shesh's house, and let's just say that by the time I am there, I am ready to lay my little head down and pass out until I have to turn around and go back.

If that sounds like I'm complaining I am not. It's all worth it to be somewhere wintery for a fun holiday with my family who I so adore. I could have stayed home and gone to Auntie O's house, but this year I wanted to go east. So back to my flight. I get my seat assignment. The flight is sold out/over-booked. The woman behind the counter, giddily tells me the man I will be sitting next to is cute, and she "thinks" might be a celebrity of some sort, but she isn't sure. I blush, thank her, and retreat.

The next two hours I sit wondering what celebrity she meant. If it is going to be someone super good, I may have to struggle to maintain my composure. Then again, anyone that good would be on a private jet, right?

My flight is called and at the last possible minute I climb aboard and scan for my seat and for who I will be sitting next to. My eyes land on him, thankfully he is looking the other way. My heart skips a beat, and not in a good way. I panic. I look around wildly for another seat. I contemplate swapping out for a middle seat in coach. This is awful! 5 hours and 22 minutes next to this man? This man is no celebrity! (Infamous maybe, but thats about it) This man is my ex-boyfriend. I retreat to the galley, explain everything to a very sympathetic flight attendant, who graciously agrees that is not who I want to be next to for the next chunk of my day, so she discreetly starts asking other passengers if they will swap with me, deviously explaining I am a touch ill and need to be nearer to the front of the plane. (Bless her heart) Finally a deal is stuck, a woman casually relocates and I sink into my seat, buckle in and pray he doesn't notice me. I am so not in the mood for his charms. He does of course, and comes over after the meal to say hello, I was able to smile bravely and it was over in no time.

Now, none of that has anything to do with the spirit of the holiday, or even food. So as a consolation, here is my recipe for warm, spiced nuts. Not at all like what they serve on the plane...in fact, much better. Sweet, hot, salty and delicious (Not just a recipe for cocktail snacks, it's the recipe for my ideal boy! Ta-dum!) try this quick recipe, and enjoy.

2 cups mixed nuts (any type you like)
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons powdered (confectioners) sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary and thyme
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of salt
Pinch of black pepper

Add the nuts to a large saute pan over high heat. Shake vigorously to lightly toast. After 2 minutes, reduce the heat to low. Add the butter, let melt and stir to coat the nuts. When coated, add the rest of the ingredients, stirring constantly for another 2 minutes.

Pour the hot mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper or a cool non-stick baking sheet. Stir as it cools. The sugar-butter mixture will harden, don't worry, just break it up.

Serve immediately or can be kept in a sealed container for up to three days.


California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial US supply and two-thirds of world supply. The first commercial plantings in California began in 1867 when Joseph Sexton, an orchardist and nurseryman in Goleta, planted English walnuts. - Walnuts.org

Airline crews are advised to drink four glasses of water per hour of in-flight time

Goat meat imports to the U.S. jumped about 140% over a seven-year period ending in 2003. Now some California farmers see gold in goat. They are expanding their herds, hoping to cash in on consumers' broadening tastes. 40% of the goat meat consumed in the U.S. is imported from Australia and New Zealand. The remainder is produced by farmers with herds ranging from 15 to 8,000 animals. In California and across the nation, the fast-growing Muslim, Latino and Asian communities are pushing up the demand for one of the most widely consumed meats in the world. California — with more than 100,000 goats — trails only Texas and Tennessee in the size of its herd.
-Los Angeles Times

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