March 31, 2006

How to know when the job is getting to you

Ex-chef cooks meals in his sleep "Gets up four or five times a week while asleep and heads to the kitchen" Not quite there ...yet!

March 30, 2006

March 26, 2006

Lemon Drop? Yes, make mine an Extra Large!

Lemons that weigh between 3 and 6 pounds each that yield lots of juice? Bring it on!

It's a bit early for an April Fool's joke, so maybe they are real! I'd love to get my hands on one of those!

I'll bet that The Food Whore would be interested in an extra large Lemon Drop, too.

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March 25, 2006

Book Review: I Want My Dinner Now!

"I Want My Dinner Now! - Simple Meals for Busy Cooks"

This book came to me in the mail, and the author even graciously signed it to me! How sweet!

This book was thoughtfully written, including all the info that a novice cook needs to put food on the table.

Any cookbook author should include ingredients and directions... That's a given, but including an estimate of the time it takes to make the food is a nice touch. Plus, Ms. Pottle includes a listing of dishes that go well with that recipe

There are also lists of pantry items which you should have on hand, market items, that you probably have to buy at the store, and even tips to make preparing the food a little easier.

MY FAVORITE THING about this cookbook, though, is that she includes measurements for TWO and for SIX servings for each recipe. No culinary math!

The one recipe I tried was the Skillet Chicken Paella. It didn't include saffron or any seafood, and it called for 'instant minced onion' and 'instant minced garlic' So basically, it's a chicken & tomato dish with peas. Not like paella all that much, but it was pretty good.

I have to confess, though, this cookbook's a little basic for me. I can make most of these items listed without a recipe, but I cook professionally so that's not a fair analysis. ChefSmiley I am sure that it would help my gravely kitchen-impaired friend Kumari, and if I ever see her again <sob> I'll give it to her. (she and I work too much and live too far away, it's so sad) I'm sure she'd get far better use of it than I would, and it's a good way for her to start getting accustomed to using her new kitchen.

If you'd like me to review YOUR book or product, please see the review policy here: [Chef JoAnna's Review Policy]

March 21, 2006

Happy Birthday to Mr. Yuk

Free Mr. Yuk Stickers:
To request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers, send a self-addressed stamped business size envelope to:

Mr. Yuk
Pittsburgh Poison Center
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
3705 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2583

Video Flashback!

March 19, 2006

Restaurant Wrap-up

There are three things the world does not need from me.

  1. Another cookbook There are a hundred already on my shelf, and a million more that will never make it there, so please, don't ask when mine is coming out. I have no desire to write one anymore.
  2. Another restaurant OK...yes, I see places that have great potential, and yes, I would love a kitchen I could call my own, and yes, I'm fairly certain that I could make one happen and be successful... but come on - there are so many failures and customers are so fickle that it's a lost cause before it even starts.
  3. An organized, comprehensive collection restaurant reviews I eat out so rarely, and so reluctantly, that it doesn't make sense for me to offer my opinions. I only dine out in a handful of specific situations. Either I want to entertain someone outside my home, I want to see what the other pros are doing out there, my husband has a hankerin' for something I wouldn't be able to whip up in 30 minutes, or when I'm not able to get to my own kitchen.

That said, here are a few quick restaurant reviews, because if you use the Internet to search for these places, and you want an honest comment on one individual's last experience at that venue, I'm glad to give it. Because, you see, I search for reviews, too, and I'd like to discover the everyman opinion right along side the S. Irene Virbila opinion... and often instead of her opinion!

So, here is a quick wrapup of the places I've been lately, and what I thought of them.

Drago   6/10
    I've lived within 1 mile of this place for 5 years, and never ate there. Despite his good reputation, and despite the proximity, it just never happened. Finally, I went, taking my friend Iliyan, recently returned from Hungary, to welcome him back to the United States. He and I went to culinary school together, and he's worked for me a bunch of times. So the first thing we did when we sat down was evaluate the restaurant. The busboys (what a horrible word, what else can we call these men? server-assistants?) were redundant, as soon as one guy filled our water glasses, the next guy would come over and try to refill them. But then they must have thought the other had it handled, and they never got refilled. When it was time for black pepper, same thing. I have no problem with people who don't have a grasp of language trying to get work, but I *DO* resent having to explain, and re-explain that I've already got pepper on my salad, I don't want any more! (I can't decide whether it would be rude to speak Spanish to the busboys.) Our waiter was a pro, though. I should have recruited him. We split an appetizer, which was lovely and delicious, but the entrées were horrible. Flat-tasting, ungarnished, and in the case of Iliyan's risotto, undercooked! Please, world, risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth like pudding, NOT al dente! Moreover, the food was presented on mismatched blue and yellow china that looked really, really horrible. My food literally looked like puke (green pasta with a grayish-brown venison ragu, made to look worse when served on a worn-looking blue and yellow plate) For $60 for the two of us for lunch (drinking only tap water, not wine!), I expected better. I would not go here again on my own volition, and certainly not on my own dime.


Kelly and I spent the day in Pasadena yesterday, putzing around in various shops and such, basically just enjoying the day in a different neighborhood, so we were predisposed to having all our meals and snacks OUT. Here's the summary.

Zankou Chicken 8/10 So much has been written about the Kou that you don't need me to much else on it... except that Kelly said that he thinks that the one in Pasadena is the best he's tried so far. I concur, but why do they fill the tarna, which is wrapped in pita, with MORE pita? Did I get ripped off?

"Food Court" in the 99 Ranch Plaza  5/10
    Well, no false advertising there. It was a food court, just like you'd see at a mall, but that's all it was. I spent a little too much time trying to find a link to anything that had anything to do with this place, and that chowhound link was all I found, so hopefully, this is the PSA that it needs to be. *grin* The inexact address is 1300 S GOLDEN WEST AVE, ARCADIA, CA
91007. It's at the corner of Golden West Ave and Duarte Ave in a strip mall, however, it has an indoor "food court" with several counters, and a big seating area in the center.
The first thing you see when you walk in is a gorgeous little cafe -slash- pastry shop. There's a big open window where the pastry chefs did their thing, and several cute girls working the counter. Free sample of tiramisu was delicious, and the willpower to simply have tiramisu for our lunch was tempting. We went inside, and looked at all the booths, and the first thing I noticed was that every place BUT the pastry place had a "B" grade from the Los Angeles department of health. But many asian food places usually do. Oh well, I was giving this a shot anyway. As Kelly mentioned later, it would be even scarier to eat vietnamese street food in Vietnam, so all things considered this was a pretty small risk. Besides, I was jonesing for some duck, and there was a BBQ duck place, so that settled that. I had Duck Leg Noodle Soup. So, basically, a pho type soup with a roasted duck leg thrown on top. I was given a spoon, a fork, and some chopsticks. I could manage the noodle part but I was reduced to a caveman as I had to eat the duck leg by tearing it up with my hands, and gnawing on the bones. It was hardly worth the effort, but hey, what do you want for $5? My second choice would have been to just get half a duck, but I wanted more than just duck-meat. Kelly had fried rice, but barely ate half, saying it was burned-tasting. Sadly, he didn't go for any of the prepared items in the hotpans - those really looked good, and if I didn't have my heart set on duck, I'd have gone for their combo plate and gorged on japanese eggplant and tofu and sautéed bok choi - but alas... I couldn't justify getting what I wanted (duck from the duck guy and veggies from the other lady), just eating as much as I wanted, and inevitably throwing the rest in the trash. Such is the dilemma of eating out when the person you're with doesn't want the other half of what you're having, and you don't want half of what you know is going to be sub-par fried rice.

Zephyr Coffee House and Art Gallery   8/10
    Kelly noticed this place and suggested we give it a shot. We could see workers from the street, but thought it was going to be kind of dead. It wasn't, in fact: we got the only two sofa-seats available. I had a mocha and he had a double espresso, but no food. They had a panini press and a crêpe maker, and as far as I could judge, a decent menu considering they have such limited ability to cook. (they're using applicances that don't require a ventilation hood) The vibe of the place was comfortable, and I would certainly make an effort to go there again, perhaps the next time we go see our friends' show at the Pasadena Playhouse. The only thing that skeeves me out about going there after 8pm on a Saturday night, is knowing that they are closed on Sunday and likely will be trying to use up whatever's leftover from the week. Frankly, the prices are too low for me to think they're using quality ingredients. In closing, I want that place, and I want it right now. I want to turn it into a bistro/cafe of a higher caliber, and serve a more sophisticated menu. I think Zephyr is like a non-elegant version of Jin Patisserie *NOTE: OVERDONE SITE: WINDCHIME AUDIO AND FLASH ANIMATION* If I could dress it up, elaborate the menu, and keep it comfortable and homey, I would have to reconsider not having a restaurant... but I don't really want to deal with it. In the hour that we were there, we generously estimated that their revenue was under $35. That's ridiculous. Even so, I like to keep my little fantasy alive.

Amigo's Restaurant and Cantina   7/10
    After Kelly ran some errands at Guitar center, we drove up and down Colorado Blvd in an effort to find somewhere that had metal utensils and didn't require a dress code. We drove past this place and it caught our attention, so we turned around to find it, missed it, and turned around again. My hopes weren't high, but all I really wanted was some chicken nachos or something that would keep my stomach from rumbling too loudly while watching our friends' improv group. The place was kitschy-mexican-cute with a few tijuana-bought painted clay suns and a mural, but the pencil sketches of famous/infamous Mexican generals by the register were impressive. We split an appetizer platter for two, and I also had a "cup" of Albondigas soup. The "cup" was $4.95 and was as big as a large soup bowl in my own cupboard. The service was good, the prices were good, the music was bad (Chuck Mangione? Huh? Why didn't they play Spanish-language music?), the food was above average, but not knock-your-socks off good. But then again, I'm judging this place on a bowl of soup and an appetizer platter. YMMV

So, there you go. A few more restaurant reviews. That didn't hurt too much, did it?

Last thing I ate or drank: a mini-loaf of raisin bread spread with cream cheese, washed down with passion fruit tea.

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March 16, 2006

Cooking Experiment: Salmon, traditional vs. sous vide

Here are the results of my most recent culinary adventure --- The Salmon Experiment:

I bought three servings of salmon, one each of Sockeye ($12/lb) Scottish ($16/lb) and Wild King ($24/lb),

Usually when I make fish for myself, I just put in some butter, some basil and some lemon, and set it on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil, pop it under the broiler and cook it until it's firm but still moist. Usually the kinds of fish I buy aren't the ones that are cut thick enough to use a thermometer, so I just use the touch-test method. Fish should be pretty firm, because you want it cooked through all the way.

I took half of each portion, packaged each separately with a lemon slice, basil chiffonade and butter, using my FoodSaver Vacuum pack thingy, vacuumed out all the air, making tidy little sous-vide packages. The other half, I put in it's own foil "boat" and topped them with the same lemon slice, basil and pat of butter.

The sous vide portions were put in poaching water (about 160F) until done to touch. The foil-boat portions were put under the broiler until done to touch.

The results?

The sockeye was nasty both ways. It tasted fishy like cheap canned tuna and the texture was bad, kinda sticking to your molars and generally gross. It might have to do with the fact that it was previously frozen, but properly frozen fish, properly maintained, should still retain quality.

The Scottish salmon was pretty good in the broil-in-foil method, but it was great done sous-vide. Sweet, tender and the texture was lovely.

The wild king was excellent done by broil-in-foil, but was gluey (molar sticky) and had an unpleasant bland fish flavor done as sous-vide.

So the surprise result is that if you want to take full advantage a moderately priced piece of fish, you can use sous-vide and have an excellent result.

Let me extend thanks to my darling husband Kelly for letting me feed him a three course dinner consisting of fish, fish and fish. Poor guy, he thought that when I finished with culinary school he was done with experiments and practice. He never complains when I try something new, and luckily, no horrendous failures to date, except for that satay tofu fiasco... a story for another time.

Feel like trying out some experiments of your own? Here are some salmon recipes from Whole Foods... none of them are sous-vide, though.

March 15, 2006

C is for cookie

my desk smells like cookies and I have no idea why, because there are no cookies here.

I wouldn’t mind some cookies...

Anyone wanna stop by with some cookies?  I’ll make tea!

March 13, 2006

This would be perfect for my kitchen...

<a href="" target ="_blank"><IMG SRC="" height = "100" ALIGN="absmiddle"><BR>really, this is too cute.  I bet it would actually be pretty easy to make, too.  Even out of a dinner plate, if I could figure out how to drill a hole through one. </a>  

March 12, 2006

Where you at?

add yourself to my frappr map!

Last thing I ate or drank: latte. about to do some baking, so I'll have a muffin or some coffee cake in a little while.

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March 02, 2006

Cooking on Kathy Griffin's Show

Click here to see the photos from my latest brush with fame: Los Angeles: Chef JoAnna on the Kathy Griffin Show (I'll post more here when I get the originals from the CD. )

Kathryn Hill is a fantastic photographer. Hire her right now and give her all your money.