Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Things I Love: California

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I wanted to share a few food photos from my family’s recent vacation to sunny Southern California. I feel extremely lucky that we were able to escape the east coast’s brutal winter for a few days and run away to the glorious and golden west coast. I went from feeling wan (lack of sunlight), itchy (dry skin situation), and forlorn (the ice pack surrounding my house is never going to melt), to feeling like I could break into a Katy Perry song after my first day of basking in the warm, bright, sea air. For this much-needed transformation, I can thank my in-laws, who have the consideration to snowbird in California every winter so that we can then visit them. Here is their friend and fellow snowbirder from Minnesota, Dan Ivory, greeting me my first night with one of his infamous killer margaritas. Kind of says it all.

photoBesides drinking margaritas all day and hoarding vitamin D, I never fail to eat very well when I’m in California, and this trip took me to both the San Diego area and Los Angeles, so I feasted on everything from mahi mahi fish tacos and animal-style double cheeseburgers at In & Out Burger (see photo up top), to omakase, fresh date shakes, and avocado toast…

P1290702There is always one outlier meal on our California sojourns (a few years ago it was discovering that one of the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten was prepared ironically at the local aquarium). This year it was the discovery of a ramen restaurant in Legoland! After I spied it at the park in the beginning of the day, it was all I could think about as we traipsed from ride to ride, “we’re getting ramen for lunch!” My family may not have been as excited about this discovery as I was, but once we sat down to our bowls of noodles and broth and plates of chicken teriyaki, I think they’d agree that it was worth the lengthy backtracking through Miniland USA to find it. When I looked around to see who the other customers were happily slurping their bowls of ramen instead of eating chicken fingers, I realized it was mostly Asian families or hipster-type parents (not to stereotype but let’s just say they were more Kinfolk than Land’s End). We are neither but I think we could all agree that our lunch was better than what they were serving at Fun Town Hot Dog.

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My other must-visit whenever I’m in the San Diego area is to The Vegetable Shop run by the Chino family in Rancho Santa Fe. Here is an Instagram pic of my haul:

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I’ve written about this unique farm stand before, but it never ceases to awe me. What makes their fruits and vegetables superior from any other is not only that they are able grow so many unique varieties with their extended growing season, but also the fact that they do not pick their crops until the vegetables are at their peak (versus days before they ripen so they can be transported to a supermarket). They are also smaller than normal industrial-sized vegetables and pack a lot more flavor.

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This is Tom Chino who summoned a tray of their frais de bois strawberries from the fields for me to try, it was a generous treat because their crop was devastated during rain storms the week prior…

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Tom, as always, was also very generous and gave me two big bags of heirloom vegetables to take home, basically one of everything I tasted. There are always new things that I have never seen before, like this peppery red edible flower used to give heat to soy sauce served with sashimi (see in yellow bowl below)…
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There were purple cauliflowers and violet-skinned  radishes (see below and on the avocado toast up top)…
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And this purple kale and brussel sprout hybrid that was fantastic…
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There was also this beautiful and delicate variety of rapini that I took home and sauteed with lots of garlic and tossed with eggs and prosciutto for breakfast…

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At one point, Tom started opening up these clear little boxes for me to taste, full of different varieties of microgreens, something I never find out here in the mid-Atlantic region. When I got home, I literally showered everything I ate with these tiny leaves of arugula, cilantro and whatever else Tom gave me, including nasturium, which makes any salad look like fairies made it.

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OK, enough vegetables. There was also a Rubio’s run for fish tacos. Why there is not a Rubio’s on the east coast. I don’t know. After In & Out Burger, I think it’s is arguably the best fast food place in the country…

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The BIG event of the trip was taking the kids to Disneyland for the first time. I have only ever been to Disneyland, never Disneyworld, so I can’t compare, but it really is an amazing place. I mean, can it be any cleaner? And everyone who works there is just so into it. No matter if they’re dressed as a monster on a pogo stick or Snow White, there is never any “wink-wink” irony. Everyone is ALL in, so you kind of can’t help but get swept up in it all and before you know it, you want to wear a hat with mouse ears on it like everyone else. I was particularly impressed with the area made up to look like Cars the movie. We stopped at just the right time, at dusk, and I honestly began to feel like I was on an animated Route 66 in southwestern dessert and that pick-up trucks could talk.

P1290855We had lunch at Ariel’s Grotto (my friend Sujin told me they made the best margaritas there and it’s TRUE…I’m now realizing there was a margarita theme to this trip), so that Belle could meet the princess brigade. Since she is at the tail-end of that part of her childhood that is still into this kind of fantasy, I figured we should do it right, and get the full treatment. She met them all: Ariel, Aurora, Belle (get it?). Conor actually blushed scarlet when Show White cooed hello in his ear. I thought the best part of the lunch foodwise were the children’s lilliputian desserts…

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From San Diego I headed north to Los Angeles to film the Home & Family tv segment and stay with my lovely friend Suze, who is about to open up the first drop-in mediation studio of it’s kind. It’s called Unplug and if you’re in L.A. you must go and center yourself in this beautiful and serene space. One day for lunch we walked from her studio to the famed Sushi Sasabune (logo: “No California rolls. Trust us!”) and I had the omasake lunch to end all omasake lunches.

P1290946It was all so fresh, the rice the perfect warmish temperature, each piece of sashimi brushed with it’s own magical sauce or topped with a translucent slice of cucumber. Although they don’t do California rolls, to end my lunch I was given a blue crab roll that was simply nori, stuffed with rice and fresh blue crab meat… it was so simple and perfect.

P1290948I can’t wait for my next trip to California, but until then, I’ll dream of spring and maybe ask Dan for his margarita recipe. I also watched the new show Doll & Em last night, have you seen it? I feel like it totally captures that certain feeling and vibe of L.A., from the houses and hedges to the conversations and people you meet at parties. Check it out!

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Monday, March 17th, 2014

Winning!

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So happy to share the news that KEEPERS won a big culinary award this weekend…

We were chosen as Best General Cookbook by members of the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals), which I compare to winning a SAG award because you’re chosen by your writer and editor peers. Our fellow nominees were cookbooks from two grande dames of the food world, which makes this even more gob-smacking: Alice Waters and Mollie Katzen. It’s kind of like going up against Meryl Streep, twice. The first cookbook I ever bought was The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Katzen, and my first forays into cooking in my early-twenties were with her recipes as my guide. And I own several of Water’s books (THIS one is actually my favorite) and I’m waiting for the day when I can finally visit the famed Chez Panisse.

HERE is a list of all this year’s winners. Congratulations to everyone!

 

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Thursday, March 13th, 2014

KEEPERS on Home & Family!

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Yesterday, my co-author and I filmed a cooking segment for the morning show Home & Family on the Hallmark Channel! The experience was a bit surreal because the show’s set is in an actual working house that was built on the Universal Studio Lot; so on one side of us was a wild west street right out of Bonanza, up the hill was the Bates Motel (a guy playing Bates actually popped out and gave me a creepy wave when I drove by), and then down the road was the New England village they used to shoot Jaws.

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While we hung out on our set by the trailers and craft services, trams with tourists would drive by and I could pretend for a moment that I was an actual sitcom star (or more like a sitcom extra) rushing to the set. Here is me, pretending to be a character from Desperate Housewives in the green room:

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Hallmark Home & Family

For our cooking segment, we made Shrimp Wonton Soup with the extremely lovely host, Cristina Ferrare, who has always wanted to learn how to make wontons from scratch (it’s super easy if you buy the store-bough wrappers and a great thing to make with kids who are interested in cooking). We made the filling, filled the wontons, cooked some up, and then served them in gingery broth with bok choy for the rest of the guests…luckily there was a lot of hmming-and-ahhhing, especially from Ed Begley Jr. (he was on as a guest to promote his new reality show about building a new “green” home).

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For the recipe click HERE and to view the episode, just go to the Home & Family website. And of course, it’s also in our cookbook KEEPERS, along with lots of helpful step-by-step photos for your DIY wontons that I promise are better than take-out.

 

 

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Friday, March 7th, 2014

What Meal Makes You The Happiest?

photoI’m happy to report that I’ve temporarily left behind the frozen tundra that is New Jersey and shed my Spiewak parka and salt-crusted snow boots (which I literally haven’t taken off in three months) for beautiful and sunny southern California. My legs are as pale as marshmallow sticks but I don’t care, I’m wearing shorts and life is good. So my posts will be a little less frequent  this week, but I wanted to share a photo of a bowl of ramen I recently devoured at one of my favorite places—Ippudo NYC—as a reminder that, no matter where you are, or what the weather, a favorite meal can have the power to make the best of anything.

For me, ramen is that happy button meal that I can push to improve any polar vortex situation (a large Sapporo doesn’t hurt either). The rich broth, the silky noodles, the runny egg, the tender pork belly, the healthy dollop of miso paste and drizzle of garlic oil,  the cabbage floating atop it all like a savory Japanese bath of goodness…I’m a happy slurping mess whenever I get a bowl in front of me. And funny enough, on our first full day in San Diego, we took the kids to Legoland, and guess what we had for lunch…yes, ramen! As my friend Sujin said, only at a California-based theme park would they have a ramen restaurant.

So what is your happy meal (not the kind with the movie-tie-in toy inside…but you know what I mean)? I’d love to know!

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Monday, March 3rd, 2014

How do you create a recipe?

P1290508Whenever I’m trying to come up with a new recipe, or tweak a dish to make it a bit different or seasonal or more healthful, I have a few methods to get the juices flowing. I thought I’d share a few of them here, for those rare moments when inspiration, time, creativity, and hunger are aligned. So first off, there’s:
-Day-dreaming. Typically done while lying on the couch with the dog (presumably he is also day-dreaming about food), or while staring into the depths of the fridge or pantry. This can be surprisingly effective method for coming up with a new recipe because random ideas tend to jump out at you when you’re not trying too hard (like the sight of a carton of eggs in the fridge crammed up next to a bunch of herbs and a tube of anchovy paste gave birth to my green goddess deviled eggs). The negative flip side of this activity is that staring into your fridge can make you very hungry.
-Cookbook Grazing. Taking down my old-reliables from favorite authors—Deborah Madison, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich, Madhur Jaffrey, Alford & Duguid—and hoping they trigger some sort of idea or forgotten combination. An example of this is remembering Hazan’s technique for removing the skins from chickpeas before using them in a soup, or a Batali recipe for a citrus salsa that uses the whole lemon, peel and all, reminded me that I can use the ENTIRE lemon for some raw preparations. Warning: This technique of reading cookbooks also has the potential danger of making you very hungry.

-Eating: This might seem too obvious but having a good meal, particularly one cooked by an ace home cook or inventive chef, can spark a flurry of ideas. This weekend I had an egg sandwich called The Forager at High Street on Market in Philly, and to dress the sandwich (which consisted of scrambled eggs, braised kale and seared mushrooms on a kaiser roll), they made a black trumpet mayo…why I never thought of adding mushrooms to mayonnaise, I don’t know, but now the idea is latched in my noodle.

-Doodling: I find this method to possibly be the most satisfying. If I can draw the ingredients, then I can visualize how they might work together. This is particularly helpful when trying to create a dish with lots of layers and components, such as a 8-layer Nacho recipe, so that a sketch like this:
P1290510Will hopefully end up looking like this:

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This is also a fun thing to do with the kids–have them draw their fantasy meal and then see if you can both make it for real. They might end up drawing something like gummy bear lasagna…but I’d actually love to see that doodle. If you want to be really inspired, check out this website: They Draw and Cook, which features illustrations of recipes from artists of all kinds. Pure eye candy.

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