Monday, May 29, 2006

BSE dispatch #1 and my very favorite recipe

Last week, I got the following email:

Who wants to have fun Monday, and that means bbq shrimp and pineapple and pingpong and spades and euchre and maybe even horseshoes and MAYBE diplomacy! No, not diplomacy. But we'll be cooking and eating and enjoying a day off, and we encourage you guys to come too, and anyone else we might have forgotten or intentionally omitted.

I don't know, I didn't plan this very much. I just want fun real bad.

Clearly someone who understands BSE. I was really excited. The first barbecue of the season, spending some time with new friends, and perhaps even some diplomacy. Not to mention an opportunity to make the single recipe that I actually feel is my creation from start to finish, and is so delicious that I get raves every time I make it and never have leftovers. The only one!

The recipe was inspired by a bowl of berries I had on the dreamy patio of Zinc Cafe in Laguna Beach years ago, but it's all mine. Yes, there are berries aplenty, but also so much more. Really, you should make it -- it's sooo good!

Mango and Berries Salad

3 small or 2 large mangos
12 oz (2 small packages) raspberries
6 oz (1 small package) blueberries
1 orange (for juice and zest)
25ish large mint leaves
3 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs cinammon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Dice mangos and place in large bowl. Add berries. Zest the orange, and add the zest to the bowl. Slice orange in half and squeeze about 3 tablespoons of juice over the fruit, avoiding getting the seeds in there. Thinly chiffonade the mint and add it to the bowl, along with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir gently, being careful not to crush the raspberries. Allow to chill/macerate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The BSE!!

This year has been a pretty busy one so far. I've had more responsibility at work than I've ever had, our family had a couple milestones (one very happy, one very sad) that took a lot of time and energy, and I've been taking a class that has been taking up more of my time than I expected it would. Somehow life has just seemed more hectic than I recall it being. So, whiling away hours in front of the office at work, I've been dreaming of summer lately. I'm ready for the lazy hazy days like never before. Summer is by far my favorite season. I love the hot weather, and recall spending nearly every day in the pool when I was a kid.

Somehow this year, I've been putting a lot of weight on summer. And it appears I'm not the only one. I was talking to my sister about it, and she felt the same way -- planning to indulge in barbecues, ice cream, and finding the perfect beach. My cousin Sam in Chicago told me it's going to be the "Summer of Sam". And I recently visited my friend Brad at his new home in Manhattan Beach, and he told me he decided it's going to be the Best Summer Ever. I concur. Bring on the outdoor dinners, pool parties, thick slices of watermelon (although, I don't really like watermelon... but it just feels right), nighttime walks! People are ready.

You know what's great about the Best Summer Ever? It's four months long! It's already started. Some BSE activities that have occurred already:

- Margarita at Pancho's in Manhattan Beach (margaritas ARE summer, and this place was airy and bright and perfect) last week, followed by a beachside walk on The Strand. Brad's new house is a block away from the water. 3 ocean-view balconies. Doesn't suck. He also happens to be a master barbecuer (He's responsible for introducing me to the glorious world of barbecued beef ribs back in college). I intend to spend lots of quality time with him this summer.

- Stealing away from the office to buy some sandwiches from The Cow's End in Marina Del Rey and eat them on the sand (it was very hard for us to peel ourselves away and go back to work after that one).

- Last night at the bar at Tart, the new restaurant at the Farmer's Daughter Motel (on Fairfax, just north of Third), I had a glass of pinot noir. I know nothing about wine except that I like it a lot, but our resident know-it-all told me that pinot noir was a lighter fruitier wine than, say, his cabernet, and therefore perfect for the Best Summer Ever. He also told me he's really into mouthfeel now as far as wine is concerned. Earnestly. This is beyond my scope. But, I'll buy the pinot noir thing.

- Today, I went to the beach! We bypassed the Venice boardwalk madness by meeting at the end of Washington Blvd. instead, and it was great. The ocean isn't quite aware yet that the BSE is 4 months long, so it was pretty freezing, but our resulting numb feet and legs didn't stop us from splashing around in the waves, and it just made the sun seem that much warmer when we finally got out. Ended the day with sweet cream ice cream with fresh raspberries. Hello -- yum!

And there's a lot more to come -- barbecues, more margaritas, salady meals, sundresses. I hope everyone will join in the effort to make the BSE a reality, and here's why: You know what's the best thing about the Best Summer Ever? It makes you realize how lucky you are. I needed that.

When life gives you basil...

Make pesto! So say you decide to make a caprese. You guy to Trader Joe's and buy one of their giant packages of really good and incredibly large basil leaves. You use about 8 of said leaves for the caprese, and then you have like 500 left over. It's like having a time bomb ticking away in your fridge -- if you don't use them fast, they will turn into a puddle of black sludge, which would be such a shame because they are so pretty and fragrant and bright.

So, make pesto. It's quick, delicious (I was literally licking the blades of the food processor after I made it. Fully aware of the potential for tongue-slicing, but really, it's worth the risk), and can later make a fresh summery dish with pasta, fish, vegetables, or whatever else. Or just spread it on bread or crackers for a snack.

Not going to include a recipe because there are a bunch online. This is mostly just a public service announcement: make pesto! It's good!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

2 great tastes that taste great together

Daichi and Pharrell. Awwww, so delicious!

i hate computers, but this is really cool

so it turns out there is more to life than food. more boring stuff generally. anyways, i'm having some complex computer dealings of late -- i'm taking a class in Houdini so that I can learn something and one day shake off the coil of being a lowly techie and not a digital artist. it's a fine class, the teacher is really good (and an old coworker), and i'm learning a lot. however, my computer at home is a mac. a cute little ibook that i love dearly, and that, generally, serves me very well. the fine people at side effects software do not make Houdini software for a mac. this, for me, is a Big Bummer. windows? yes. 500 different flavors of linux? yep. mac? nah. grr.

fortunately, my dad has kindly lent me his windows machine. which is incredibly generous and such a lifesaver! however, after procrastination had run its course and it finally came time to get cracking on my final project... guess what? blue screen. no kidding. battery issues, evil windows issues, woe is me. this is where the computer hatred comes in (i mean.. one of many places...).

so, last night, after i let the battery run all day so i could reboot, i finally got everything in order, downloaded houdini, all is good! woohoo!

I still hate computers.

BUT: This is really cool. Leave it to the Belgians:

It's theft protection software for Macs, it's made by some people named Orbicule (cute!), and it's called Undercover. As your thief surfs the web, it traces their activity back to the network they're on, giving clues as to where they are located. It takes screenshots every few minutes, that may reveal emails, chats, forms being filled out, etc. AND! If your computer has an iSight camera built in, it will periodically take pictures -- so you can see the thief in his surroundings. It also fakes hardware failures and makes loud noises. INGENIOUS! I love these people.

I also like this bit from the FAQ:

Is Undercover available for Windows?

No. We focus all our software development efforts on Mac OS X.

Teehee -- take that, Side Effects!

(wonder how many people i alienated with this post...)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Baking really mellows you out

My dinner tonight was a result of scavenging through my fridge - no ingredients were purchased expressly for this meal. Therefore, I don't think that my recipe is the best way to do it. It's just a result of what was on hand, and a lot of the ingredients can be replaced with other similar ones.

Having said that, don't think mine is not special. The particular mix of ingredients is kind of interesting -- take a bunch of really strong flavors, pour cheese on them and stick them in the oven. They come out and they're all like, "Duuuude... you got any Doritos?" Super mellow.

Green Gratin (If you want it to be fancier, you can call it Gratin Vert... all French and stuff)

So, this recipe is really a theme and variations. Pretty much everything is interchangeable with whatever you have in the fridge, and the portions can be modified as well... be adventurous! I particurly like the beet/red cabbage idea -- you'd have a gratin rouge! Note that these proportions don't make too cheesy a gratin -- it's pretty light. Up the cheese and milk proportions for a richer end result.

1/4 C 2% milk (or milk of any other fatness, or soy/rice/almond milk, or cream (you might want to water down the cream))
1/2 tsp cake flour (or regular flour, or 1/4 tsp corn starch, or in a pinch, nothing)
3/4 C grated mozzerella cheese (i used the dense melty supermarket kind, not the juicy fresh kind) (or any other melty cheese - gruyere, fontina, cheddar, jack, swiss, crumbled blue, etc.)
1 tsp creamed horseradish (use more if you're not a wimp like me)
salt and pepper

2 C broccoflower pieces (or broccoli, cauliflower, chinese broccoli, zucchini, beets (peeled), or carrots (peeled))
1 C arugula leaves (or spinach, (red) cabbage, or chard)
2 Tbs grated parmesan cheese (or romano or any of the melty cheeses above)
1 Tbs breadcrumbs (or cracker or corn flake crumbs)
1 Tbs flax meal (this is in here for the omega-3 fatty acids, so the only substitution is ground-up oily fish like salmon or mackerel... yeah... let me know how that goes)
salt and pepper

Prehead oven to 325.

Pour milk in small saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk. When the mixture thickens slightly, add mozzerella and keep whisking until you have a thick, slightly stretchy sauce. If it's too thick, add more milk. Add horseradish and salt and pepper.

Cover the bottom of a small ovenproof dish with the arugula. Place broccoflower over arugula in an even layer. Pour cheese sauce over top, covering as evenly as possible. Sprinkle parmesan, breadcrumbs, and flax meal over the whole thing; season with salt and pepper.

Baking time varies depending on the vegetables you use. Bake until vegetables are at desired softness, cheese sauce is bubbling, and top is golden brown. If the top browns too quickly, cover it with foil and continue baking. For my particular combination, it took about 35 min, no foil -- and my broccoflower still had a bit of crunch.

Serves 2 as a side, or 1 as a main course.

Here is a work-in-progress pic and a finished-product one:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

lactard caprese

Remember in high school when you learned about sonnets? I always found them particularly impressive. I have a book of Shakespeare's sonnets, and there are so many I love. He manages to get across a point that is so astute, emotionally resonant, and verbally nimble, all in 14 very strictly regulated lines. All forms of poetry have their merits, and I can get a lot out of the most self-governed rambling TS Eliot poem. But there is something to be said for starting with a set of restrictions, and working within them to build a great piece of art.

I feel the same way about dietary restrictions. While I have some remnants of a kosher childhood baked into my diet, for the most part, I myself eat most things. But I love the opportunity to entertain guests who can't eat one thing or another. I used to be annoyed with the hassle of working around a handful of limitations, but now I enjoy the creative challenge. Whether it's for family members who keep kosher, bookclub members who are vegan (and if you're talking restrictions, veganism is the sestina of the culinary world), it's fun to come up with an appetizing dish without resorting to the old standbys.

I have a couple friends who have made cooking within dietary restrictions their life's work. One is a vegan chef whose sloppy joes and pumpkin 'cheesecake' have singlehandedly turned me around on the plausibility of delicious vegan food. The other is currently in Paris, studying to be a wheat-free pastry chef, in the interest of making pastries she can actually eat. I look forward to tasting the fruits of her hard work when she's back in town (last I heard, she was learning to make macarons... mmmm)!

I had my friend Rachel over for dinner tonight. Rachel is lactose-intolerant, or as she says herself, she's a lactard. She's discovered over the years that the smallest bit of dairy can destroy her insides, so she steers clear. We went with an Italian theme tonight; for the main course I made this recipe for sliced steak with arugula (she loves arugula, and so do I). It feels very much like summer this week, and so I felt like a caprese salad would be delicious alongside. But alas mozzarella would mean certain destruction for dear Rachel. Time to improvise... let's see... summery, California, rich, fresh, and sliceable.... got it! Avocado! I replaced the mozzarella with avocado, which I sprinkled with a little lemon juice to prevent discoloration. I added some lemon zest to the whole lot -- not traditional, but we've gotta give the lactards something special!

So the complete menu: caprese salad, mini ciabatta, sauteed broccoflower (have you seen this stuff? It's kind of amazing), and the steak. Satisfying and lactose-free. By the way, the lactard caprese works great as an appetizer to a meat meal in a kosher kitchen (in fact, use kosher meat for the steak, and you're good to go on the entire menu). Gluten-allergics can replace the bread with a gluten-free bread, and for vegans, it would be interesting to try replacing the beef in the steak dish with sliced portobello mushrooms.

By close of meal we felt we'd ate a horse,
And ended with some tea -- no milk, of course.

(ok so i'm no shakespeare...)

file under: dining in

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hollywood Night

A thick fog of stereotypes surrounds the type of person who lives in Los Angeles. Vapid actresses, fake tans, fake boobs, wannabe screenwriters with nothing to say, pretentious film snobs who pontificate on how horrible every movie ever made is, wily executives with no regard for humanity. The entertainment industry, it seems, brings with it a set of very unsavory types.

Guess what? It's all lies. Last night I went out to dinner with 3 people: Rachel, who works for a production company while working towards starting her own; Peggy, who is an editor for film and TV, and Chris, who is a previs arist on major motion pictures (previsualization is the 3-D, computer-animated souped-up counterpart to storyboarding). Round this oh-so-Hollywood table out with me: I work as a programmer for a visual effects studio.

We ate at Cobras and Matadors, a lively little tapas place a few blocks from my apartment. Never was the conversation vapid, pretentious, or cold. In fact it was a pretty perfect (adjacent to) Hollywood night. The place is dimly lit, with a hilly landscape of used-up wine corks lining the walls, along with big black and white photos. Feeds my Mediterranean obsession quite nicely. They played a nice mix of mellow my-generation music -- just enough off mainstream to be hip, but not so edgy to endanger the cozy mood the place had going. Rach and I got there early and picked up a bottle of red wine (sweet, with a little spice -- like us!) from the wine shop next door (Cobras and Matadors doesn't have a wine license, but the shop-next-door, no-corkage system works just fine).

And then, we ate. And we drank. As we grazed through arugula salad, very-paprika-y chorizo patty mini-sandwiches on olive oil bread, amazing fried lentils that were crunchy, nutty, and intriguingly sweet (like us!), and several other tasty bits, the four of us discussed future projects, world travel, Chris and Peggy's pending move to NYC, family dynamics, and a lot more. Of course there was talk of incompetent line producers and screenplays to be written, but we also planned the many dinner parties we will surely have when they are back from New York -- hopefully this will actually happen so Peggy can initiate me into the world of home-made Lebanese food (!), and I can return the favor with Persian food. Towards the end of the night, Peggy made the sweet comment that tonight was just another example how that now that she is leaving Los Angeles, she is meeting people she really connects with here. Aww.

We finished off dinner with churros con chocolate (my deep visceral connection to this dessert is a story for another day), adding to the perfection, then lingered a bit to polish off bottle number 2 of wine.

The take-home lessons:
1: Hollywood is not as gross as you think. In fact, there is an abundance of intelligent, creative, warm, *quality* people in the entertainment industry (although I'm sure that the there is an abundance of the yuck factor as well).
2: Cobras and Matadors is awesome. 7615 W Beverly Blvd, between Stanley and Curson (just east of Fairfax). Definitely make a reservation though: (323) 932-6178

salami taxonomy

2 amazing italian food etymology items. my heart is heavy with excitement:

1: From that genius of cooking, both haute cuisine and weeknight dinner, Sara Moulton:

In one way or another, lasagne seems to derive from the classical Latin laganum. But what was laganum? Something made of flour and oil, a cake. The word itself derived from a Greek work for chamber pot, which was humorously applied to cooking pots. And like many other, better-known cases of synecdochical food names, the container came to stand for the thing it contained. And eventually, by a process no one knows with any certainly, laganum emerged as a word for a flat noodle in very early modern, southern Italy. If you are persuaded by all the evidence collected by Clifford A. Wright, you will be ready to believe that in Sicily, an Arab noodle cuisine collided with the Italian kitchen vocabulary and co-opted laganum and its variant lasanon to describe the new "cakes" coming in from North Africa. Would you be happier about this theory if you had evidence of a survival of an "oriental" Arab pasta in Sicily? Mary Taylor Simeti provides one in Pomp and Sustenance, Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food. Sciabbo, a Christmas noodle dish eaten in Enna in central Sicily, combines ruffled lasagna (sciabbo-jabot, French for a ruffled shirtfront) with cinnamon and sugar, typical Near Eastern spices then and now.

Greek and Arabic connections to lasagna? Wow! And cinnamony lasagna? YUM! Sounds like my middle eastern mother's spaghetti sauce recipe. Here's the foodtv page this came from (with lasagna al forno recipe).

2: This one is from a somewhat sad New York Times article about dry-cured salami, and how restrictive Health Department guidelines are sending this millenia-old artisanal specialty to extinction:

The process of curing meat has been refined over thousands of years by people who are on intimate terms with their handiwork. Food historians believe that the Romans picked up the craft from the Lucanians, a tribe that for almost 1,000 years ruled part of what is now Basilicata in southern Italy, developing a reputation for sausages while fending off imperial conquerors. The Greek sausage loukanika and its Mediterranean cousins the longaniza (Spain), luganega (Italy), and linguiça (Portugal) are all descendants of the ancient lucanicus.

I would never have discerned a connection between loukanika and linguiça. Here's the article (you'll probably need to register.. but you know about, right?).

Ahh food etymology, you never fail me.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

a little bit delicious

as promised, here's the snack involving ricotta. granted, it ended up far less eloborate than anticipated, but it's about 10:30, all i needed was a bite of something to quench the need for something sweet. so, a spoonful of ricotta, a drizzle of maple syrup (one of my favorite things ever, and a lovely leftover from thanksgiving's annual pumpkin pecan pie), et voila: instant yum!

straight from the spoon into my mouth. sweet dreams indeed!

ps if anyone can tell me how to make close-up photos of food and stuff not blurry, that would be much appreciated.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Baby Tannaz!!!!

I cannot supress my excitement that this thing is finally out in the inter-world. My friends are crazy, and I love them so much. For the past 2 years, my dear friend Rachel has been having talent shows for her birthday. At the first one, Dave sang a song about me (well, kind of...)! It is going to Take Over The World.

Unfortunately the video is very very dark, but the audio's the thing here. So, for your listening pleasure, I proudly present: Baby Tannaz.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

how i love thee mango

My first introduction to mangos was late in life, considering my mother's obsession with fruit. It took place in Downtown Los Angeles. (Actually that's a lie -- i vaguely recall a tall oddly-shaped jar in the fridge of something called ambeh -- pickled mangoes -- in my childhood home. My dad ate it. It smelled bad. Having never experienced the fruit au naturel at that point, though, I had no idea this pungent mustardy-colored business had any origins in the natural world. Perhaps one day I'll change my tune on it.) So, we had gone downtown, my mom, my sister, and I, to visit my cousin's clothing store. Violet (that's Mom; we're on a first-name basis) made a stop at a tiny stand on a street corner and ordered us a mango. The man took a peeled mango, made diagonal slices all around it from the top of the mango towards the stone, squeezed a lime over it, making sure to get into the slices, and sprinkled it with really spicy chili powder (I later learned that this lime/chili combo is a super-common seasoning for fruits and a lot of other stuff in Mexico. Yet another fine contribution from Mexico to our LA palette). Stuck a stick in it, and handed it to us. As we walked, Violet held the mango, and we all broke off spears, made a sticky juicy mess, and savored every bite. Mango man, I thank you for setting us up in what has become a very solid relationship!

I'm not sure where mangoes are eaten/grown. I always thought they were tropical, but a trip to Maui without witnessing a single mango proved me wrong. I know they're big in India, and I believe we ate them when I was in Egypt. Hmm. Regardless, I love them deeply. I make a fruit salad with mangoes that is probably the recipe I am most confident about -- it's amazingly fresh and delicious. One day when I have reason to make it (it's the best thing to take to a potluck) I'll post the recipe. It's really good.

For today though, it's just me, and we are not making salad. We are making breakfast. And we're making it simply. The components: coffee, mango. Although I like the whimsy of the crosshatch method they have you cut mangoes these days, as Violet would tell you, it's pretty wasteful. So, I just cut it into workable pieces, peeled it with a sharp knife, then sliced it into spears. At this point, you can add any flavoring you like -- today I strayed from the Mexican theme and just added some orange zest, cinnamon, and a little sugar. Just add coffee -- instant breakfast!

There's plenty you can do with a mango -- salsa and smoothies are both delicious; crosshatched and grilled brings out the sweetness. I've been meaning to try a relish/salsa cruda thing with basil and balsamic vinegar to have with fish. Or you can just do as Sark says: "Eat Mangoes Naked. Lick the juice off your arms."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

all kinds of stuff, including...

- food blog stuff. i live (essentially) by myself. i don't cook that often. when i do, it's pretty scavengey -- whatever i can put together with whatever was left over from the last time i cooked. for example, i made a lasagna on sunday. sauce from scratch, 3 cheeses, chicken sicilian sausage. so... dessert or a snack one night soon will be ricotta with wildflower honey, maybe sprinkled with a bit of cardamom or saffron. hmm, or orange zest. not so fancy, but hopefully delicious. i'm no gourmand by any stretch, but sometimes there are breakthroughs. and besides, aren't blogs narcissistic by design?

- restaurant stuff. i live in los angeles. there will be tacos, and how!

- language stuff. the other day at work, we had a conversation about cheese. more specifically, about the words for cheese in every language. okay, maybe not every language -- as usual, sub-saharan africa gets the shaft. but, between the four of us at the table, we were able to cover english (duh), french, german, swedish, persian, hindi, arabic, hebrew, italian, french, spanish, japanese (chizu!), tagalog, korean, and mandarin. randomly interrogating various employees, we were able to add turkish, armenian, flemish, and dutch to the list. this was a solid start to what developed into one of my favorite conversations in recent memory. it also led to a miraculous document which, i feel, should be broadcast across this great intertron.

- progress on projects. i'm going to document my people's history. i better get on it.

- opinions. i have a lot of them.

- random other stuff. when the baby tannaz footage makes its way onto the web, you better believe i'll be linking to it here.

so, this should be interesting. to somebody... i hope...


how's it going?