Monday, August 31, 2009

To make you giggle

I purchased a little book the other day, just because it made me laugh. It's full of one-liners regarding money, consumerism, and the economy. Some are snarky and sarcastic, and some are insightful and helpful. Here are a few I found regarding food:

Buying items in bulk makes you feel like a stalwart pioneer woman. (Or like one of those mothers on the Discovery Channel who have twenty kids.)

Packing your own lunch saves calories, too.

Kale, okra, and mustard greens are still a bargain.

Lets cut to the chase: buying chickens won't save you any money on eggs.

Don't skimp on plastic wrap. The name brands are actually better.

And definitely don't skimp on paper plates- unless you like having a meal slide into your lap.

One bite of something delicious is worth ten bites of something so-so.

If you buy a pound of coffee at Peet's they give you a free cup of coffee.

You can freeze nuts practically forever so that they don't go rancid.

Chili is so filling!

The less you eat, the more your stomach shrinks.

A blind-taste study found that nonexpert wine drinkers prefer cheaper wines.

Good Prosecco is better than bad champagne.

Caviar doesn't sound as tasty when you call it "fish eggs."

It's time to try all those vegetables like cabbage that you once had the luxury of avoiding.

Maybe Ronald Reagan was right- ketchup is a vegetable. And it's available in gigantic free quantities almost everywhere.

And my favorite of the entire book not necessarily having to do with food....

You'll feel better if you can categorize everything you can't afford as "tacky."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sticken' it to 'em

I have very mixed feelings about the new guidelines for sugar intake that the American Heart Association has recently come out with. The basic information is this: try to keep sugar intake to 100 calories of added sugar. Added sugar is defined as sweeteners and syrups that are added to foods, either during the manufacturing process or at the table. This does not include natural sugars that show up in foods like fruits and dairy products.

So let's think about what that means, then. 100 calories is about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams of sugar. That's not a lot. Especially when you remember that added sugar often shows up in non-dessert food like ketchup, spaghetti sauce, teryaki, and do you know how much sugar is in an energy bar?

So lets look at the world through cookies- as I so often do. If you count that an average chocolate chip cookie recipe has about 1 1/2 cups of sugar (that includes the chocolate), that is 72 teaspoons of sugar (1.5 cups x 4 tbsps in a cup x 3 tsps in a tbsp). Assuming the cookie recipe makes two dozen cookies, that's 3 regular sized cookies. In a day. If you never eat any sugar in anything else.

My feelings are quite mixed about this whole thing. I do like my sugar, you know. I wanted to try this out, but in a way which I could succeed. I have decided to start with straight white sugar (so it doesn't include the honey in my tea, or maple syrup I may put on a pancake) that may be added to my cereal, desserts, sauces, and any other food, and limit it to 25 grams. This is hard. It will remind me to drink water, as I do not want to waste my sugar intake on juices and other sweetened drinks.

On the other hand, I LOVE this! You see, if the average can of soda has 8 teaspoons of sugar- that's already 2 teaspoons above the recommended level. The government is indirectly discouraging the consumption of soda, candy, and many other processed foods produced by companies that have long controlled these agencies and all their official "recommended intakes." (Not sure what I'm talking about? Where do you think the food pyramid came from?)

I am curious to see how this pans out. I do think this information has not thus far been highly publicized for a reason. I don't think we'll ever see a commercial recommending the limit of sugar the way the dairy industry advertises having 4 servings of dairy a day (or whatever amount they have decided to push on the American people). In the mean time, I encourage you to join with me in this sugar experiment, and see if we can limit our sugar together.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Hundred Different Ways

I consider myself an artist. After all, the pastry school I graduated from was The Art Institute...As an artist, I appreciate so much when I am cooking or baking something special for someone and they have an idea of what they want. (Rather than, "Oh, I don't know, just make something good.") My father in law, who is visiting, (and is also an artist, I might add) perhaps understands this. When I asked him what he wanted for dinner last night he said, "Eggplants and Italian food!" It's sooo much easier to find inspiration to make people happy when I know where to start!

I honestly don't eat eggplant that very often. The problem is, if done incorrectly eggplant can tend to be too sour and even bitter. This recipe I found in one of my cookbooks takes care of all of those problems, mixing the eggplant with an array of other flavors of tart, sweet, and spicy. It's really like a party in the mouth!

I was quite shocked on how delicious this dish ended up being. We ate is as recommended- served on sliced baguette, a la bruschetta. However, the texture and flavor of it is so fantastic that I was dreaming up other ways to serve it as I was enjoying it. You could serve it hot, cold, or room temperature. On bread, with ciabatta and mozzarella as a sandwich, on rice, on pasta, on it's own, or with tortilla chips or crackers. Mmmm, might be good in a pita with feta and olives, too. Needless to say, it's something great to have around in the kitchen for meals or snacking.

It's also really simple and really good for you. It took me about 25 minutes from start to finish. I have no idea what "caponata" means.

Eggplant Caponata

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1(14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and saute until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Add the red pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, raisins, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend and the mixture thickens, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar, and capers. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Is your kid a picky eater? It's all your fault!

No seriously, it is. I know that's harsh. I am surprised at how many parents unknowingly help their kid hate food. I know that you don't love your children any less than anyone else, but you must face the facts. You do need to know that it's never too late! Assuming your child doesn't have food allergies or any other special need, here's how you can help it:

1. Give them a variety of foods from day one. This is the biggest and most effective way of helping your kid eat different foods. Many kids are stuck in a PB and J/ mac and cheese rut because that's what the parents are stuck in. Give them avocado, smoked salmon, different nut butters, curries, foods with different herbs and spices etc...When they are older, put a couple of options on the table and let them choose what they want.

2. Give it to them again...and again....and again...I've heard that it can take up to eight exposures for a kid to start eating something. One of the biggest mistake a parent can make is decided his or her child doesn't like something and never serving it to them again.

3. Don't force them to eat. This is one is just my opinion, but if the pack order is correct in the home, then a battle of will does not need to be fought over that last bite of meat on the plate. Sometimes kids eat more, sometimes kids eat less. But...

4. Don't accomodate their pickiness. Don't be a short-order cook. Let them have a preference, yes, but serve the same meal for everyone. If you are having Dover sole, don't make your kids pizza, make them what you are eating!

5. Please, oh please, don't make them over-boiled frozen broccoli and expect them to like it. It's just not good food. Make your kids good food.

6. Make it fun. For older kids, this can make all the difference. As a family, you can learn a new cuisine together. Or go to the grocery store and find a funny or interesting piece of produce and try it with each other. If your kid has good manners, take them to a nice restaurant with no kid's menu.

7. Allow them to not like some things. You don't like everything, do you? I don't like fresh tomatoes. Some people have a genetic tendency to think cilantro tastes like soap. Some people hate the texture of cottage get the picture. It's OK to not like a couple of things. It's not OK to not like anything.

8. Trust me, you'll never have to teach your kids to like junk food. It's like TV. Even if the first taste is at three years old, they will still be all over it.

9. Go by the motto, "It's OK to not like something, but it's not OK to not try something."

ps. Isn't the kid in that photo creepy looking?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The 3/50 Project

You may have to click on that to read it. Or you could just go to the website's home page. I picked up this very flier at a clothing boutique in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, and I think it's an absolutely wonderful idea. It doesn't particularly apply to only food businesses, but today we will study it from this context. I don't need to explain to you the idea, since that has already been laid out, but I will tell you why I think it's great.

You ought to know, especially if you are thinking of going to culinary school, that owning a restaurant is exhausting, back braking work that most likely won't bring you a mansion and a yacht. Even the restaurants doing great really don't have that much of a margin of profit. Any trained chef will tell you that. A small restaurant (as compared with large chains) cannot negotiate a price on, for example, thousands of pounds of meat. Think even farther about a business that may have a menu that changes seasonally- they cannot get a lower price for having a standing order for the same ingredients year round. Rarely does family owned restaurant have the resources to grow and/or farm its own food (although the small ones that do are insanely delicious and insanely expensive).

The truth is, if you choose your restaurants based on price, you will (generally speaking, of course) almost always end up at a chain. Seattle is a very community minded city, full of people who do not mind paying a little more money to get a lot more quality. Therefore, this city is probably the least of all cities in the US that need to worry about supporting local businesses (not to mention that a few of our "local" businesses include Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Microsoft). There are also a great number of foodies (like Raj and I) who do not need to consciously remember to go to smaller restaurants- we usually end up there, anyway. My point is, there are a ton of local restaurants here doing great.

Other parts of our country don't think this way (i.e. the town I grew up in, though it's finally beginning to shift). Even when the economy is doing great, if no one goes to the local businesses, they will cease to be. As will the artistry of the chefs who most often don't do it for the money (like large chains), but simply for the sheer joy of being able to live out their passions (if you are that person, then culinary school is for you).

So maybe you can't even afford to spend $150 extra at local business. Still, think to yourself- can you afford to pay $2 more for a burger or sandwich? I think you probably can.

By the way, one of my favorite spots to visit when I'm in my home town is Eggs N' Things. It's not the fanciest establishment, but it's local, it's loved by the neighborhoods, and, even though I've had better food, you can just tell that they care. Start there!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blender vs Food Processor

My mom just called to ask me about this very thing. I Googled the topic, thinking that I would find dozens of other blogs about this, but all I found were a few forums and a rather vague article from Real Simple Magazine. Good for me- I can pioneer the subject!

One would think that this would be discussed more often. Once I was reading an article about simplifying your life, and it asked the question, "Do you really need a food processor and a blender and a mixer?" Of course, my answer was a resounding YES! (And as I've said before, I try to keep my kitchen gadgets to as little as possible.) I realize that not everyone does as much exploratory cooking as I do (such as my mother), and for others the money and cupboard space do not need to be spent on all three items. But which to keep?

Let's start with the mixer. Yes, if you do any baking at all you need a stand mixer. I value mine above all other appliances, and think this is the first thing to invest in. The second two are a little less obvious- different from the mixer, but similar to each other. They both chop, they both have blades. So, which do you need more? The answer is personal. I am now going to compare and contrast both.

Blender: A good one will run you $100-$200
Food Processor: $200+

B: Crushes ice
FP: Do not crush ice if you can avoid it. It will dull the blades.

B: Better for purees
FP: Better for sauces with a little more texture (Note that you really can't puree completely)

B: Usually has a pulse option, but doesn't do much
FP: Easy and effective pulse to chop foods

B: Only one blade
FP: Removable attachments such as graters, mandolins, and kneaders (although I don't think the last works very well)

B: Poop out after a couple years
FP: Last a very long time, in my experience

B: I use to mostly to make crepe batter, shakes, mixed drinks, smoothies, and purees for sorbet
FP: I use mostly to make pie dough, mayonnaise, salsas, etc. I definitely use it most often.

That's all I can think of for now. If you can think of any more differences/similarities I would love to hear them. I hope this helps you make a decision!

*Photo from*

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Salad for salad haters

I have a confession to make. I have brushed on this once or twice before in my blog, but have never said it outright. Here it is:

I hate leafy greens!

There! I said it! At least I have admitted it. I have felt very guilty about this for some time, but I just. don't. like. lettuces. Especially bitter ones. Really, the only thing I like is spinach, which I pretty much cling to for nutrients, iron, and regularity (if you know what I mean...) Otherwise, I pretty much force myself to eat any and all greens.

Obviously I don't have a hatred for all things green. Green vegetables are fine, green grapes, green apples, etc. So I don't think I am going to die if I don't eat the aforementioned leaves. Also, my sister validated me once by telling me that my Ayurvedic body type (what's that, you say?) doesn't need as many bitter greens anyway. But what do I do so that I don't get left out of the salad club? I make the very best Greek salad that you can possibly imagine- throwing out all leafy tops. I am sharing with you now my very own recipe, because it is officially perfected.

Really, the only things that make it Greek are the olives and crumbled feta, but you can leave those out if you are cooking for a picky crowd. Also, last time I made this for Raj and I, he went down to the corner market for feta and brought back a jar of the cheese in 1/2" dices marinated in olive oil and herbs. My first response was, "That's not what I meant by cubed feta, dear." It actually turned out to be a very happy accident. I wish I had paid attention to the brand, but if you can find it, you should use it.

Greek Salad

1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
2 cucumbers, seeds removed and sliced to 1/2"
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 jar pitted kalamata olives, drained
Crumbled feta

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Save the olive jar, and in it measure 1/2 cup olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 cloves of pressed garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake it up, and then pour over your salad.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hello There!

Somehow, time has run away with me. I have recently meant to do oh so many things with this blog. I meant to celebrate with you my one year anniversary writing. I meant to remind you ahead of time that August is "national goat cheese month." I meant to remind you, that your career as a professional chef could begin with culinary school whenever you want it to. I meant to not have nearly a two week break between blogs....

There are other things that I purposely meant not to do, such as cook. Seattle had an insane heat wave! And I'm not complaining- I'm not complaining, but when it's in the nineties and even hundreds and only 20% of the homes have air conditioning (and I am not one of that percentage), there is no chance on God's green earth that I am going to turn on my stove or oven. Also, the Southern Californian in me beckoned me to spend every free minute I had outside in the sun. In fact, it beckoned me all the way to a weekend in California where I am right now.

I have noticed something while I have been here- frozen yogurt. What the heck is with SoCal's obsession with frozen yogurt?

Anyhow, when I return Seattle will be back to its mild seventies, and I have scads of recipes from this month Gourmet that I can't wait to try, a new cookbook to go through, and maybe a food scandal or two to report. Oh, also I will have a review on Julie & Julia, and perhaps even Food Inc

Until Then!