Monday, November 28, 2011

Kitchen Stocking Stuffer Marvels Revisited

One would think I've spent my time looking for kitchen stocking stuffer ideas to top last year's Banana Carrier (last year's post).  I really haven't, but with my addiction of going into any kitchen oriented store should it cross my path, I just can't help myself.  I'm also a sucker for clever design.

This year's oddity was found over Labor Day weekend at a quaint kitchen store in Port Townsend, WA.  I had to do a double take on this one.  This rubbery, flexible jelly fish-like gadget is a Foodpod.  It will surely deliver a giggle on Christmas morning.  What?  You didn't know you needed a Foodpod?  If one boils/blanches/steams or drains, then this is the gadget Fushionbrands has created for the hipster on your list.

No hipsters on your list?  Then you may want to go for the more practical kitchen spider to handle the same task.  I had one of these floating around my kitchen for years; I believe it came with a wok we bought.  Silly me, I hadn't considered using it to remove veggies and the like from a pot of boiling water until a year ago.  No more removing a pot of piping hot liquid from the stove, over the floor, over the cat, over the dog to the sink to drain.  I loved it so much I went out and bought a more durable one that is dishwasher safe.

For the practical, "don't want to scrub pans, baking with less fat" kind of cook on your list, I highly recommend picking up a Silpat.  Should you be a fan of the Food Network's "Iron Chef," you may have seen these in action.  A Silpat is a non-stick mat made of Silicon designed by M. Guy Demarle.  Many a professional french pastry chefs have relied on these over the years.  Not only can it take the heat (up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit), it makes a wonderful pastry roll out mat.  The Silpat also is incredibly easy to clean by merely using a little soap, water and a sponge to wipe down.  And unlike parchment paper, there's one less thing to throw away.  One caveat, I'm suggesting to Santa he stick with the original Silpat.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, my mom and I had sticking issues by using a knock off version of the mat from Bed, Bath & Beyond when it came to rolling out pastry.

My latest little treasures are iSi's Flexit Silicon Bowls.   Light and easy maneuverability, I can't imagine making anything in my stand mixer without the help of these pinch-able prep bowls.  A nice feature is they come with lids; a brilliant design for prepping and storing your mis en place.

Dear Santa, everything mentioned above can be had for just under $25. 

Do you have any other stocking stuffer ideas (kitchen or ??) for Santa?  If so, feel free to share!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pizza Is NOT a Vegetable

Does that pizza look like a vegetable to you?

No, not to me either.  However, our Congressional leadership seems to think it is.  They must have missed that day in school because otherwise I don't understand how they could draw this conclusion.  Maybe they were busy eating one of these "healthy" school lunches and dosed off during the class when the food pyramid was discussed.  I've tried to stay away from anything deemed political in this blog, but recent headlines have ignited a fire in my belly.

Tomatoes are vegetables.  But two tablespoons of tomato paste mixed with processed cheese and who knows what else does not meet the USDA recommended allowance of vegetables in a kid's diet.

Although I don't have children, it doesn't mean I don't care about our global future.  If too many generations lose understanding of what a real vegetable is, then my characterization of our leadership won't be too far off.   It's well documented children of today are suffering from an obesity epidemic which directly ties into long-term healthcare costs.  No matter which way you look at it, we all pay for the problem.

How shortsighted can they be?
"In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children". ~ President Harry Truman in 1946  
Enough said, if you feel as I do, write or call your Congressman.  In the meantime, here's some ideas to make your pizza more vegetable-like.

 Smash tomatoes in a baggie
Let all the tomato goodness simmer for 30-40 minutes

Drizzle olive oil and add fresh ground pepper on the crust

Fresh basil and tomato sauce; notice it's heartier than Congress' 2 tablespoons of tomato paste

A real vegetable topping!  Proscutto & Artichoke

Want a vegetarian version?  Quattro Fromage topped with Arugala

Marinara Sauce Recipe
courtesy The Chopping Block, Chicago

1/4 cup extra virgin oil
1/2 onion, medium dice
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 cup red wine
One 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with their juice
1 tsp fresh thyme, roughly chopped
2 tbl basil, leaves torn
Salt & Pepper to taste
Sugar or balsamic vinegar if desired

1.  Heat a heavy pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.  Add the onion and saute' until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook an additional 1 minute or until aromatic. Add red wine.
2.  Crush the tomatoes up in a sealable bag.  Add the tomatoes with the juice to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the sauce to thicken, about 30 minutes.  Taste!  A bit of Balsamic vinegar can brighten the flavor.
3.  Fold in the thyme and basil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add a pinch of sugar if desired.
4.  Use on pizza or it makes a great dipping sauce for calamari.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finding Okonomoyaki

Have you ever been on a quest to recreate a great memory? Some might say, that's living in the past.  In this case, I don't care!  If nothing else, this journey has taught me much about friendship.

Over 10 years ago, my husband and I whimsically took a vacation to Japan.  I say whimsical because our decision to go was based on finding an amazing airfare.  We had no earthly idea how difficult the trip would be due to the language barrier.  We might as well have traveled to Mars.  And this trip occurred before the days where Internet communication with Japan is where it is today.

Andy in the Akihabra District
Once we decided to go, I remembered that a good work friend from our San Diego days had relocated there.  Fortunately, he met up with us early in our trip.  We knew immediately how to find him in the sea of Asian faces...look for his signature Chargers ball cap and Hawaiian shirt.  That was our Andy!  Without Andy's guidance we wouldn't have been nearly as adventurous.  He showed us how to navigate the subway and neighborhoods; all the maps were in Kanji with little English translation.  He helped us make reservations on the bullet train.  We found most Japanese are not conversant in English.  And he exposed us all kinds of culinary experiences from Unagi-only and Katsu-only restaurants to the sweet joys of red bean paste treats from a street vendor in Tokyo.  He built up our confidence.

We left Andy to venture to Kyoto on our own.  Getting a satisfying meal wasn't too difficult since we were well practiced at pointing.  Pretty much any sit down restaurant has a window display to lure the passerby on all their specialities.  One restaurant in Kyoto, though, lured their customers in by cooking street side.  They served one thing.  Okonomoyaki.

To my American eye, it looked like an open-faced omelet, a pizza or tostada.  In reality it was much more complex.  My husband and I pointed and each got one.  We took our Okonomoyakis to the back of the picnic table laced restaurant, armed ourselves with chopsticks impressing our fellow Japanese Okonomoyaki patrons and gobbled it up.  Oh so delicate and yet so filling!  Japanese soul food being sweet and savory at the same time.  I must remember to have more of these in my lifetime.  Surely with the Asian influence in the United States I'd be able to do so.

I came to discover, not really.  When we first returned from vacation, we were still living in Dallas.  Initially, I'd silently scour our favorite sushi and yakitori restaurants looking for any hint of this yummy dish.  Nothing. 

I shared my Okonomoyaki experience with a work colleague describing that the word oknomi, means "what you like" or "what your want."  Yaki means "grilled" or "cooked."  Further elaborating that it had cabbage, bits of fried batter, eggs and red pickled ginger, mixed with a wheat flour mixture and baked on a grill.  The "what you like" part could be additional vegetable, seafood, pork or tofu.  The Okonomiyaki sauce, nori (dried seaweed), and bonito flakes could be added to your liking.


With my work friend's natural talent of befriending proprietors of establishments, he asked one of our popular sushi haunts if they'd served it on request.  But, the proprietor said he only made it for his employees.

Upon moving back to California, I started the hunt again.  I find Daichan, a restaurant in our sushi row on Ventura Blvd who specializes in Japanese soul food.  I feel I'm getting close.  My girlfriend from work is ready and willing.  The cozy little joint makes everything but.  However, they knew the dish well.  Their food is great and I will return, but we leave disappointed. 

Another foodie friend of mine starts researching and indicates there is food truck in downtown Los Angeles that makes them on Thursdays.  I work in the valley and a trip downtown at the lunch hour, well, we might have to rename it the "lunch half-day." Not convenient but I really appreciate the effort.

Then there is this last weekend.  I'm visiting my BFF in San Diego and do a yelp search.  Bingo.  A restaurant in San Diego.  Is she game?  Heck...YES!  And so is her daughter.  My treasure hunt comes to an end in Kearny Mesa at Tajima with two lovely adventurous ladies by my side.  It was just as mouthwatering as I had remembered. 

Teah & Lizbeth (BFF)
Tajima's Okonomoyaki

Yes, I can recreate experiences and create good new memories.  In this case it was with the help of Andy, Jesh, Laura, Eric, Lizbeth and Teah.  Thank you my friends for making my quest your quest too! 
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Enchanting Hostess or Hostzilla

Chances are, if you've been over to our house for a meal, I have it noted in my menu/entertaining diary.  It's not the kind of diary where I recap every thought or conversation.  Mine is more of a snapshot of the meal I planned and executed.

It's working so well for me, I thought I'd pass along my tip since we are upon the holiday entertaining season.

My diary started as a way to focus my preparation for planning a Thanksgiving meal while jotting down a grocery list in a notebook.  The notebook ended up becoming extremely handy keeping me focused while I was in the midst of cooking and serving.

I never really thought of myself as disorganized when it came to entertaining, but in the same token when you have house guests and you get busy chatting, well... the brain has many opportunities to miss something I had intended.  I know what you're thinking; no it has nothing to do with getting older!

On the back end, there have been additional benefits from my notebook.  When one of my guests returns for another evening of wining and dining, I don't repeat myself.  Without my handy notebook, the odds are I admit, I probably wouldn't be able to remember what I served the last time.  Or if the meal was a success or had a nice pairing with a side dish, I will recreate the menu for a new set of guests.

For all the reasons above, my notebook...okay my diary...keeps me calm in the kitchen.  I say, do whatever it takes to maintain that calmness.  The ultimate goal is to create a nice, memorable meal where you can enjoy your guests; not a harried one turning you into hostzilla.

If you want to get a grip in the same way I do when it comes entertaining, here's what I recommend you include:
  • Acquire a journal or keep it electronically
  • Note the meal being planned (i.e. Cocktails/Appetizers, Dinner, Brunch, etc.)
  • Holiday or celebration if relevant
  • Guest names
  • All dishes and beverages to be served
  • Identify the cookbooks, recipe sites, etc. for quick reference
  • Ingredients for a run to the store or Farmer's Market
  • Optional:  decoration(s), special serving plates, invitations
  • Optional:  Room for notes on the meal's pros and cons
  • Optional:  if keeping electronically, take pictures

    Just think of this as one more step in your Mise En Place.  Do you have any tips that make entertaining a bit easier?

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