The Nasty Bits: Foodie Book Club Post

>> Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I was so excited when Ashley M. at (never home)maker decided to start up an online foodie book club. The two most enduring loves in my life are the love of food and the love of books. I need to start brainstorming on edible books...but I digress. The first selection for the book club was The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain.  I voted for this one so I was pretty pleased that it would be the first book I got to read for the club. I love Anthony's show, No Reservations, my sous chef and I watch it religiously and we both read his first book, Kitchen Confidential. I dug in, eager for more kitchen exploits and travel tales. The book was separated into sections based on taste: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Unfortunately, I think most of these disjointed missives could fit mainly under the "bitter" banner. You know how moms say "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"...? Well...I will keep this post brief. ;)
Anthony Bourdain is living the high life, as he sheepishly admits just about every other chapter. Despite this fact, he has repetitive vitriol to spew at pretty much every other chef in his position. His ego knows no bounds and his self-indulgent attitude comes at the expense of those who make dining choices he does not approve of (hello vegans, vegetarians!) My edition of the book even had a section at the end where he commented/reviewed each chapter. If you want to make changes, edit! People do it all the time! Maybe I am too sensitive but for me, this book read as alternating chapters of bragging and complaining. The bragging chapters were definitely preferable though still irritating. Yes, I DO want to eat at Sushi Masa, however I will probably not rob someone in order to be able to afford it, as he facetiously suggests.
As corny as this pun is, it's true. This book left a bad taste in my mouth. I really can't wait to move onto the next book, Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. Just looking at the cover is breath of fresh air after slogging through The Nasty Bits.


Cauliflower and Tofu Red Curry

>> Saturday, March 27, 2010

 Now that we have all made a fresh batch of Red Curry Paste, (right everyone?) it's time to use it in a recipe! This dish was inspired by a veggie curry I saw on (never home)maker. I can't get enough red curry. I love the way sweet creaminess of the coconut milk plays off the rich flavors of the curry paste and cools the spiciness of the sriracha while the salty, unctuous fish sauce adds brightness. Now I'm hungry. I could call for some quick Thai takeout or I could just whip this little number up! It's easy, healthy and best of all, scrumptious. Try for yourself and see, there is no better reward for slaving away (hardly) to make your own curry paste!


- 1 red pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 large head of cauliflower or 1 medium to small head, cut into medium sized florets
- 1/2 block extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
- 14 ounces coconut milk
 - 1 - 2 Tbsp homemade (or store bought, you stinker!) red curry paste
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 splash dry white wine
- 1 splash fish sauce (optional)
- 1-2 tsp of sriracha chili sauce (optional and VERY spicy)
- Olive oil

 In a small bowl, whisk together the red curry paste, brown sugar and coconut milk until well combined. Set aside.

 In a medium pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add your drained and cubed tofu (you may want to pat it down with paper towels to ensure you get all the moisture out that you can) and cook until well browned on all sides (as you can see from the picture, you will want to use a NON-stick pan and plenty of oil.)
Place a steamer insert into a medium to large pot and fill with water to just below the bottom of the insert (you shouldn't see any water.)
 Place cauliflower florets on top of the insert and cover the pot with a lid, bring to a boil and allow to steam for 5 - 10 minutes or until softened but still slightly al dente or crisp in the middle.
When the tofu is browned, add the red pepper and sautee a few minutes in the oil with the tofu to let it soften just a bit.
 Once the cauliflower is steamed to your desired level of crunch, add the curry mixture to the tofu and peppers, stir to mix then add the cauliflower.
Bring to a strong simmer then taste the curry and add fish sauce, wine and sriracha to your taste.
Reduce heat and cover pan, cook over low heat for another 15 to 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Taste again to determine if any additional seasonings are needed. Serve over rice.
Adapted from (never home)


Reason #328,439 why I love L.A.

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010

 When I tell people I moved to Los Angeles from Boulder, Colorado, I always get the same question: "Why?" The second question most people ask is "Do you ski or snowboard?" The answer to question number two is "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA, no." The answer to the first question takes longer to answer.
 Main Street in my home town

Boulder (or Louisville, to be specific) is lovely, as anyone who has been there or lived there will attest. It has stunning mountain views, warm, interesting people, a dizzying sequence of seasons (sometimes Louisville has Winter, Summer, Winter, Spring Summer, Winter then Fall in that order all in one year. Or all in one month. Sometimes all in one day) and all sorts of activities and amusements. I loved growing up in Louisville and I wouldn't trade my childhood there for anything. Not to brag but it was voted the NUMBER ONE place to raise a family by Money Magazine. Still, for me, nothing beats L.A.

Seasons are nice but we all know what the best season is and that is SUMMER! In L.A., if it's not Summer, it's almost Summer or was just Summer and Summer can pop up any day of the year. There is always something to do, every minute of every day. Our museums and beaches and concerts and plays and operas and hikes and restaurants and bars are the best of the best and here for the taking. I could go on and on about all the things I love about L.A. (sushi, driving up PCH, a Trader Joe's on every corner) but I am going to use this post to highlight just one of my favorite things about the city of angels. I mention this feature in almost every post so it's time to go in depth on the topic of...Farmers Markets. You can find a Farmers Market operating in Los Angeles every single day of the week. Two of my favorites are the Santa Monica Saturday Organic Farmer's Market and the Studio City Farmers Market which operates Sunday mornings.
 A rainbow of greens

I love the Santa Monica Market because it's all about the produce. They aren't messing around with food booths and handicrafts; this market is for chefs.
You can often spot restaurant chefs feeling up the carrots and crossing things off their huge lists.
 You can also find home chefs like me picking out some farm fresh eggs or stunning heads of romanesco.

There are always tons of samples to be had and the vibe is very food oriented. Sometimes the Border Grill truck is set up in the middle and it's impossible to resist the siren scent of sweet corn tamales and spicy tacos. Mmmmm. One of the other things I love is this market's proximity to the beach. Every Saturday we drive to the top of the free parking structure next to the market and we get to look out over the coastline. You can see the ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach and the cliffs leading to Malibu. It's breathtaking and reminds me why I live here.
A Beautiful Bouquet in Studio City

The Studio City Farmer's Market is very different. The focus here is not just on produce, though the produce is terrific. Check out these bright berries and gigantic artichokes!
 There are also lots of booths with people selling things like aprons made from antique flour bags and toys for little kids. The whole market is very kid friendly and is always packed with strollers and baby bjorns bearing adorable little beebees. One end of the market features some huge bouncy slides and pony rides.
 There is a petting zoo with tiny baby animals that I have to be dragged away from so I don't abscond with one of the piglets (it's gonna happen.)
 This market is always, ALWAYS good for a B-list or lower celeb sighting. We've ogled Teri Hatcher, Jason Bateman (swoon!) and Eddie Jemison (who?) I love me some celebs but what I love even more is the FOOD.
I'm not talkin' japanese cucumbers and oro blanco grapefruit, I'm talkin' gourmet mac and cheese (not Gfree, sadly), bacon wrapped hot dogs, breakfast burritos bigger than your head, vegan Indian food and sooooo much more.
One of the best kept foodie secrets in LA is hiding out at this market. I will tell you about it soon but first I need just one more weekend of them all to myself...


Make Your Own Red Curry Paste

>> Tuesday, March 23, 2010

 Let me begin by apologizing for my prolonged absence from the blog. Over the past few weeks I've been struggling with some pretty ugly headaches. They are not eradicated yet but with the help of my doc, I am working on it. Despite this setback, I want to stick to my promise to post more often so let's start this week right (yeah, I know it's Tuesday, give me a break!)

Spring is here! In Los Angeles, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green, the sun is shining and the fruits and veggies that have been absent all winter are sneaking back into the farmer's market stalls, one by one. Strawberries! Asparagus! Artichokes! WooHOOO! Veggies of all kinds are perfect for today's recipe.

I love Thai take-out but I my sous-chef and I are working on saving money by cutting way down on eating out and ordering take-out. This curry paste lets me make my favorite Thai curries at home! Using fresh veggies and making my own rice, we can eat for pennies and the food is so good, I actually like it better than the take-out we used to get because I can customize it and make it my own. Bamboo shoots: out! Cauliflower: in! SO easy!

I got many of my ingredients from Simpang Asian Market and plain ol Ralph's. If you are having trouble finding these ingredients near you, you might try asking someone from your fave Thai take out place where they get their lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves.
 I learned how to make this Thai curry paste in cooking school. My cooking school blog has been in a holding pattern while I work on merging that blog with this one but I couldn't wait any longer to share this recipe with you. It's incredibly vibrant in color and taste, it will stain anything it touches but will also drown veggies, fish, tofu, chicken or anything else in flavor. I like to mix it into some coconut milk and add enough Sriracha to make it a little spicy then go nuts with add ins. I will share a couple of great curry recipes in the next week or so, but first, you gotta make this curry paste! P.S. It's vegan!

Thai Curry Paste
- 10 large dried red chiles, Guajillos or New Mexican
 - 2" section of Galangal or ginger
- 1 tsp lime zest
- 2 whole kaffir lime leaves, chiffonade
- 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
- 3 Tbsp cilantro stems
- 3 garlic cloves
- 5 shallots
- 1-2 fresh thai chilis (cut of the top and toss in)
Cut tops off dried chiles, cut in half, remove seeds and soak the chiles in HOT water until tender.
 Reserve the water to use later in thinning the curry paste.
Pound the chiles, garlic and galangal together until semi-smooth with a mortar and pestle OR blend in a blender.
My blender was not up to this task so I moved everything to the food processor and pulverized it.
Once smooth, add the remaining ingredients and blend until completely smooth. 
If needed, add a small amount of leftover chile water to get a smooth paste. (I added too much. My paste ended up with more of a pudding consistency but it still tasted great and works fine in recipes.)
This recipe yields 1/3 - 1 cup curry paste. It will keep up to 2 months in the fridge in an airtight container or zippered plastic bag.


"What the Kale?" chips

>> Friday, March 12, 2010

I hope I can redeem myself from my last heart stopping post with this healthierish one. The blogs have been ablaze the past few months with eaters extolling the virtues of kale chips. "Addictive!" they proclaimed, "Taste just like potato chips!" they promised, "You'll eat a whole head of kale in one sitting!" they declared. After falling head over heels for kale in this salad, I knew this snack was going to seal the deal. I bought 3 bunches of kale at the farmer's market, rushed home, cooked em up and...I was underwhelmed. Sad to say. My first batch was too salty. My second was better but it sure didn't make a kale-aterian of me. I think I might try again with curly kale instead of the flashy Cavolo Negro I used but many other bloggers seemed to love the CN. For those of you who still haven't tried this recipe (is there anyone still out there?) here is what I did. Please try it and let me know if you think I'm bananas for not jumping on the highway to kale (I'd apologize for the puns, but I'm not sorry!)

- 1 Bunch Kale (I used black kale or Cavolo Nero, I think curly might work better)
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Tsp Seasoned Salt*

Preheat oven to 350
Remove stems from kale leaves. If using Cavalo Nero, cut leaves away from hard stems, if using curly kale, just cut off the stem at the bottom of the kale leaf. Rip or cut kale into bit size pieces.
Wash your Kale well. Mine was from the Organic Farmer's Market in SaMo and had all kinds of buggies and crusties up in it.
I washed the heck out of it then gave it a long whirl in the salad spinner.
Blot with paper towels and set out until completely dry. Any wetness will cause the kale to steam rather than bake/roast and it will be soggy and not crunchy.

Place dried kale in a bowl and toss with olive oil.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread kale out in one even layer on baking sheet, you may need two sheets in order to avoid piling the kale up.

Bake for 10-20 minutes or until crispy but not brown.

Immediately after removing from the oven, sprinkle with seasoned salt.
Serve right away!

*I made one batch with kosher salt and one with garlic salt and I wasn't crazy about the flavor of those two. They were a bit too bitter and waaaaaay too salty. You can play with whatever seasonings and spices you like. Seasoned salt was my fave.


Unholy, Unhealthy: The Hawaiian Elvis Sandwich

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Everyone knows and loves the classic Elvis Sandwich. Peanut butter. Bananas. Bread. Butter. Heart Attack. Repeat. What I have for you today is an even more artery clogging treat. The addition of Nutella and toasted coconut takes this most comforting of dessert sammiches and makes it better than you ever thought it could be. No need for an involved recipe here, just go with your gut. Then pray that your gut doesn't forsake you for forcing it to digest this calorie bomb.

- Two slices of gluten free bread (I used Gluten Free Pantry mix in my handy dandy breadmaker)
- 1/2 banana, sliced
- Nice glob of Jif peanut butter (I don't eff around with my PB. Jif is the only one for me. I eat a jar a week. It's a sickness.)
- A thin coating of Nutella (it's got a stronger flavor and will make a huge mess if you use too much)
- A small handful of toasted coconut shavings (take sweetened coconut flakes or shavings and toast them in a skillet until golden brown and fragrant)
- Butter

Instructions: Toast both bread slices until they are just golden brown. This seems crazy but gluten free bread doesn't seem to cook through on the griddle the same way wheat bread does. If you want your sandwich to be evenly cooked and crunchy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside, heed my advice and take this step.
 Smear on side of a bread slice with Jif peanut butter then place banana slices on top of the peanut butter.
 Smear the other slice of bread with Nutella then sprinkle on toasted coconut. Smush the two pices of bread together and butter the top of the sandwich. Heat a nonstick skillet to medium heat then place the sandwich butter side down in the skillet.
 Now butter the naked top of the sandwich. Cook until bottom is golden brown then flip and continue cooking until both sides are golden and the innards are gooey and starting to melt out the edges. Remove sammich from skillet, slice in half diagonally and eat. Nom nom nom.