October 07, 2007

It's been a LONG time since I ...

It's been a LONG time since I gave a proper restaurant review on here, so i'm going to throw in a bit about the wine tasting we did, too.

Oh, BTW, let me interrupt myself:
      Hi Earl! :-* Smooch! :-* thanks for saying HI in the comments!

So Kelly and I celebrated our 13 year wedding anniversary on October 2nd. Yes, i was practically a 'child bride' by Los Angeles standards, but 23 is a perfectly acceptable age to get married in Chicago. About this time of year, after someone asks how long we've been married, I get to make the joke, "13 years, but 12 of them have been in Los Angeles, so that's like dog years." Ha Ha Ha.

Ok, anyway, the review. We've come to San Luis Obispo to do some wine tasting, restaurant dining and "antiquing" (basically thrift store shopping but the stuff is clean and works).

If you've never done a wine tasting, here's what's supposed to happen:

(i'm using the words winery, tasting room and vineyard somewhat interchangably here.)

You can buy a pass to get a chauffered tour, which will pick up several other potential winos at different hotels and B&Bs, and then takes you all to 4 or 5 wineries. The tasting fees are often included in the tour cost. At some point, there will be a stop for food (which might not be included, so bring some cash) You will automatically meet new people, as we did on the chauffered tour between wineries (and it got more fun as we got more buzzed!) but we were lucky in that the other couples were friendly and fun. YMMV. You'll be on a schedule, kind of, because there's probably another tour after you, and the driver and guide (might not be the same person) are working a job, not having fun, like you are. So while there's a built-in designated driver, you might feel rushed, as we did the time we did a limo-tour. At the end, everyone gets delivered back to their own hotel.

You can also drive to each of the wineries yourself. You'll have to scope out what vineyards seem interesting to you, map them, and figure out how to get there. You can bring a picnic lunch. You can take your time, and look around at everything as long as you want. If you're going for the experience, and not just to drink, drive yourself. Of course, one person's got to stay sober enough to drive.

I'm not getting into bike tours, but i hear that they can be fun.

Once you arrive at the tasting room, you belly up to the counter, and they let you know what they're going to pour. Most places present just one winery, but others have more than one, so you might be offered to choose one or the other or both. They take out a (usually) generically shaped glass, and pour the first wine for you.

They always pour lightest-to-heaviest, so they'll pour whites first, usually in this order: gewürtsraminer, riesling, sauvignon, chardonnay, rosé, pinot, zinfandel, cabernet, port. They will most likely not do all of these varietals, and may have different offerings, but that gives you the basic idea.

Now, a curious thing, to me, is that at each of the places we went to, there were people who refused half of the wines. One couple only wanted to taste reds. At the next place, one woman only wanted to taste whites. I can appreciate that maybe that's all you'd want to BUY... but why not give the others a taste? ME, i have to taste everything. And if you're with me, i want YOU to taste everything too! If i've met you more than once, and we're eating together, there will probably be a lot of passing forks back and forth. but i digress. as i do every post of more than 20 words. whatever.

ok, so they pour you your first white. You'll only get about an ounce or so in your glass. first you smell. then you swirl, then you smell. and then do it all again. If you're not used to smelling wines, sniff first, and THEN look a the tasting notes sheet, and then sniff again to see if you can find those flavors. You can go through the song and dance of rim variation, clarity, viscosity, and all that other stuff, but usually that's to learn about a wine that doesn't come with a tasting sheet. So just smell, and then taste. I usually taste at least 4 times. First a tiny sip, to get a first impression, and to acclimate my mouth to the wine. then a bigger sip, to reinforce that first impression, and let the acids and tannins get out of the way. Then an actual mouthful, which i drink kind of normally, but i hold it in my mouth a bit before swallowing, to get a feel for the alcohol levels (feels like pressure on your tongue) and to pick out some flavors. then finally, a last mouthful, to see what the finish is like, and to see how long it lasts in your mouth. Since i've been doing this a while, i've gotten better at picking out smells & tastes. it's fun. If i like the wine, i'll drink what's left in my glass. if not, i pour it into the dump bucket. Then you go on to the next wine... but don't feel like you have to rush!

OH, btw, nobody spits at these, not even the guys working there, who often take a sip or two along with you if you mention a scent or flavor that makes them raise their eyebrows. One day i want to learn how to spit in a perfect stream. Oh, such lofty aspirations! lol.

We went to Saucelito Canyon/Ortman Vineyards tasting room first...
Saucelito Canyon
Ortman Vineyards
...and tasted 6 7 wines ($5), with very little going into the dump bucket. They poured in the order mentioned above, intermingling the wines from both vineyards. Each of them presented a white that was spectacular. The reds were rich and interesting. We took home a bottle of a rich, red, gorgeous Zinfandel that had some lime undertones, that I want to see if i can make work with a meaty fish. The tasting room was small but cute, and the men behind the counter were friendly, charming and bantered with each other faux animosity. It was fun.

Oh, and the reason for the strikeout above: we got a special "bonus" pour of a newly released cabernet that the winery's rep was very proud of. As another aside, a LOT of people who are intimate with their wines are itching to share something new, or something they think is special, as a little bonus pour. with that in mind, take note, as they probably know what's worth mentioning, and also, be respectful, because saying it tastes like swamp water is not only rude, but insulting to their tastes.

Don't be afraid of asking questions,

Also don't think you have to like every wine offered. Like i said in the "do it yourself wine-tasting course", taste is subjective.

Ok, so on to the next winery. This was Claiborne & Churchill Theirs is the tasting room is made of bales of hay covered in stucco. It was so crowded, i considered suggesting that we try another place...6 pours for $5, you could see why...but soon enough we got our first pours. This winery specializes in dry gewürtztraminers and dry rieslings. We also tried a couple of their reds, which were very nice, but we finished with a port that was just superb. We purchased a bottle each of the gewürtztraminer and the port.

Another nice thing about doing a tasting is that they refund your tasting fee if you purchase a bottle. This might not be valid everywhere, but it did apply at both places we went. That's something you can take into account:
      pay for the tasting: $5
      got to a tasting, $5; buy a bottle, get $5 off.
so if there's something you like, when you look at the price, take $5 off per bottle, per person in your group. (In other words, if you are two people, and you buy two bottles, take $10 off the total.)

Each of these places had a cute little outdoor seating area where you could wait out your buzz if you didn't go with a group.

I'll write about dinner later... where there was even more wine!!!

Last thing I ate or drank: the above Crème Brûlée and the 6 grapes port.

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October 04, 2007

A new strategy for efficiency.

Do you procrastinate? I do. It's horrible. I can sit there and stare at something for a month and think, "I should really do that....." and that's where it ends.

I end up reading e-mail, sorting through my catering equipment, editing a podcast, testing a recipe, organizing my collection of pastry tips or some equally idiotic thing that keeps me doing what i should be doing.

Eventually, the important stuff gets done, and it does get done in time, but i fret about it from the time the thought is conceived until the damned thing is finished. (this blog is a GREAT way to procrastinate, although I'm not procrastinating right now, honest!)

So today, inadvertently, I've discovered a strategy to get stuff done.

I had a bunch of papers in the dining room, because that's the room the air conditioner is in, and I'd camped out to work there instead of my office during the heat wave. I decided that i should plow through some of those, and it didn't make sense to bring it back into my office to sort them until it was done. So i got started. I put on some music and settled in.

Once i had about 3 things that needed computer attention, i came into the office and paid a couple bills, sent off an invoice or two, and looked in my calendar... and then went back to the dining room.

After another 40 mins, I had another 3 or 4 things to do on the computer, so i went back to the office, sent and e-mail, looked up a phone number, paid another bill...and went back to work.

I realized that I'm doing that whole 45 mins on, 15 mins off time management thing. Which I've tried before, with the kitchen timer and such, but it never worked.

I think that the 'trick' here is that i can still hear the radio out there, barely, and it reminds me that i have more to do in the dining room.

So, I'm posting it here, so that you, my dear readers (all 3 of you) can use that, perhaps, to help to keep yourself on track and Getting Things Done.

Last thing I ate or drank: a really yummy combo of eggplant, onions and tomatoes that I made the other day for dinner, but Kelly decided he was craving pizza. Secretly happy that i got to save it for myself for lunch!

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September 04, 2007

Eat your heart out, Tay Zonday!

(If you can't click, copy/paste: https://www.youtube.com/v/X0qChxRmEWY

Video production: Kelly Mohan
Music: Kevin MacLeod
"Talent" (ha ha) *grin*JoAnna Minneci

Last thing I ate or drank: iced coffee (yawn!)

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September 03, 2007

Nice discount on OXO kitchen tools...

Just wanted to pass along some info on a good deal. I love OXO stuff, It's always my tool-of-choice. And those tongs are great. (I also recommend their tongs with the plastic tips, so you can use them in non-stick pans but they're not included in this set.)
regularly: $39.99
our price: $22.69
save 43% ($17.30)

PLUS, if you spend another $3, you'll get free shipping.

Click here to go to drugstore.com

Last thing I ate or drank: cold, cold water. Not even 10am and it's 85ºF in the house. (cry)

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August 31, 2007

Poor guy! I had no idea...

But last month, doctors gave Mr. Achatz, 33 years old, devastating news. A cancerous tumor was growing inside his tongue. The disease was so advanced that three doctors told him the only way to cure it was to cut out part of his tongue, leaving one of the world's most celebrated chefs to ponder life without the ability to taste.

A Chef Faces His Worst Fears - WSJ.com

August 27, 2007

bacon mat 4 mike

bacon mat 4 mike

Could there be anything more beautiful than an entire sheet of crispy bacon? Ideas for best utilization of this marvel of culinary technology:

1) after forming it, drape the mat over a bowl and baking it so that it formed a cup. (as i said in Kathie's post, "Take THAT, taco salad bowls made of deepfried tortillas!")

2) Set a beautiful, perfectly poached egg on top. I think poached eggs are more attracive on a plate than fried eggs, but i guess you could use a fried egg.

3) Bacon sticks together well during cooking, so I'm pretty sure that it would stay together enough to form the base of a canapé.

4) Paint the BaconMat™ with beaten egg yolk so that the design cooks in a different color. (this was baked, btw)

5) You could ''brand'' the BaconMat™ with initials and use them as edible placecards.

What else? Any suggestions?

August 24, 2007


I have no idea why my name is included in this blog:

LA Lunchbox kitchen wisdom restaurant reviews: "By the time Felix connected with Netty of Netty’s in the Spring of 2006, there were already multiple offers for the business; Sara Levine, Joanna Minneci and Tender Greens, among others, all wanted the chance to reinvent the visible Silver Lake corner."

I've never looked for a restaurant space in silverlake... so, um, HUH? .I was on the original BLOGEBRITY list, i have to post this to claim my link. If you're reading this, just ignore it. kthxbai

August 23, 2007

I'm not exactly going to say "lazy"... but...

I made myself a salad before i went to go cater a dinner-for-two this evening. I didn't have time to eat it while i was cooking, so when i left, i decided to just jump in the car, get out of their neighborhood, and eat my poor little salad.

So here i am, in my car, stealing borrowing someone's bandwidth, and i just thought to myself "i wish had some salad dressing..."

I realize that i have all the ingredients for it in the car right now, but i'm not going to bust out and whip up some salad dressing on the tailgate of my Element.

Last thing I ate or drank: undressed salad

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August 17, 2007


Over at Ashwin’s blog, you will find one crazy blog owner!! You can win $2500!! To enter just copy this text and paste it in your blog!! But hurry, this competition will not last long! So get posting!

Original post: http://www.ashwinkhanna.com/archives/19

Because, hey, why not!?

July 31, 2007

los angeles food/beverage/hospitality jobs classifieds - craigslist




Here's me trying to NOT be viciously catty and spew a bazillion curse words at the screen. A friend sent this CraigsList ad to me, saying sarcastically, "OOH! THE PERFECT JOB! (ROFLMAO)".

_____ is looking for someone for a manager-type position to include creating new food ideas.

40-hour per week salaried position
looking for a creative "foody" personality
overseeing staff of 10-15 people
organization a must!

We're limited in space so we only have small appliances. If you think you can be creative with them, then this is the job for you!

A Degree in related field a plus!
Cafe experience a plus!

$30,000 annual gross salary
2 weeks paid vacation/sick time
So, okay. Let's approach this piece by piece, starting at the end and work our way back up, shall we?

This is a full-time job, no mention of benefits except for 10 days paid-time-off, and the employee would get paid only $14.42 an hour gross pay. That's before taxes come out. And heaven forbid the employee should need to go to a dentist or something.

Oh, and you want a degree! Do you know how much even just an associates degree costs? Phooey.

Now, i get that you're trying to convey that it's a limited space, but i think that what you MEAN is that you don't have an exhaust hood, so that means you only have a panini press, a microwave, maybe a soup warmer, and other little tabletop cooking apparatus. This isn't that big of a deal, but you need only a sandwich-maker for that. Soup/Sandwich/Salad menu. That does not require the talents of a trained, degreed professional.

So, for this lousy under-$15-per-hour job, the employee is also supposed to manage as many as 15 employees? If these are the same pool of people i have to recruit from, and I'm paying at least $15/hr, you're in Big Trouble.

Even if I could afford to live in Los Angeles on only $30k/yr for a FULL TIME JOB, (that's gross, not net, mind you!) I still don't see how this job could be appealing in the very least. Having to schedule and manage up to 15 potential flakes and still be responsible for developing and creating a new menu is not worth $15 an hour.

Come work for me instead. The worst that could happen is that you might have to clean the stove or take out trash after an event.

July 18, 2007

Recruiting for catering staff on CraigsList

I've been recruiting additional workers for the larger of the catered events that I do. When i say 'larger', that could be misleading...I'm talking 8 to 30 people. Under 8, I can manage myself... but more than that, i need help. The trouble with these small events is that they're too big to do alone, but i don't do enough of them to keep any size staff employed for more than 2-3 days a month.

Usually that works out fine. If i have 50 people on the list of potential workers, and only 4 people tell me that they're available, i'm totally set. The kitchen work is intense, but we kitchen people are freaks and get off on the rush. The servers pretty much have to push food around and be pleasant while doing it. That shouldn't be a challenge.

I'm pretty sure i've posted this before, but SHEEEEEEESH, people, if you're gonna send a photo, i don't need your entire underwear model portfolio, i don't want to look at your pouty, unshaven, pretending-i'm-a-cowboy pictures, and last time i checked i don't serve the Nyataimori "naked-girl-as-sushi-buffet", so yeah, wearing some clothes in your photo wouldn't be a bad thing. Also please don't send a photo of you that might look like the mugshot of a serial killer. This effect can often be avoided by, oh, i dunno, smiling in the photo? And if you're going to bother sending a photo, make it one where your face appears larger than a quarter. And is vaguely in focus.

Resumes are another bucket o' fun, and scheduling people for "Face-to-Face" interviews are a gut-busting riot... but i just had to get the photo rant out of the way.

July 16, 2007

Speed up dinner preparation - a few of my tips

Lifehacker posted an article from Real Simple, and readers also posted their comments & suggestions on how to speed up dinner preparation. Here are a few of my tips.
  • Plan what you're cooking in advance Let's say if you're going to make stir-fry, and the rice takes 20 minutes to cook, you can start the rice first, and while it's simmering, chop the veggies and make the sauce. If you leave the rice to the last minute, you'll have the stir fry ready, but have nothing to serve it over. Then you wind up waiting around for the rice to cook while the veggies get cold and then you have to heat the veggies again, wasting more time.
  • chop chop chop If you're cutting stuff up, cut up twice as much. This may sound like a contradiction, but since you've already got the cutting board, peeler and knife out, chopping an extra couple of veggies saves you from doing that mise en place a second time, and now you only have to wash the cutting board once. This works best for veggies like carrots, celery, onion, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, snap peas, cabbage, cauliflower, squash & green beans.
    A few things will suffer from advance prep. In general, don't prep things that shouldn't be refrigerated or bruise easily. 1 tomatoes, which, if they're properly ripened, turn to mush once cut. Also, if you refrigerate your tomatoes and i find out about it, i'm coming after you. 2 Potatoes oxidize, but keeping them submerged in water to prevent browning changes the quality of both texture and flavor. Also, refrigeration turns the starches into sugars. Also not desirable. 3 Basil is so fragile that it starts to go bad as soon as it's cut. It's something that should be done as last minute as possible. 4 Garlic gets its pungent garlickyness when the different substances in the garlic combine. the more you crush it, the more intense the flavor... but it also dissipates quickly. It's another 'last minute' thing. Add it to recipes twice: once at the beginning of cooking, and again, just before the end of cooking. Another garlic tip: If you chop/crush garlic and give it a 10 minute rest before using it, you get the most health benefits from it.
  • Use recipes as shopping lists. Let's say that you've decided on the 3 things you're going to cook this week (double batches of course, so that you can eat the extra servings for lunch or freeze the leftovers) Find the recipes, whether online, or from your cookbooks, or your mom's old recipe cards. Then, go on an in-home shopping spree. Do you have the cornstarch you need for the stir-fry? How about the soy sauce? Did you use the last of the breadcrumbs? Do you have enough olive oil? Do you even have dry mustard? You can avoid buying stuff you already have, and be sure you will buy what you don't have. Seems simple, but it's SO easy forget if you have something, and it's much easier to avoid the time-sucking roadblock of missing ingredients.
  • Know which corners are worth cutting. Buying canned beans saves you LOTS of time over soaking & boiling dry beans, and without losing much quality. Frozen, pre-chopped broccoli is (usually) just fine in certain recipes. Frozen, pre-chopped carrots are AWFUL pretty much no matter what. 3-minute microwaved idaho potatoes or sweet potatoes are nearly as good as 45-minute baked ones. Microwaved corn on the cob is almost as delicious as boiled, but frozen corn on the cob is horrific...even though bagged frozen corn kernels are quite nice, and much better than canned.
  • Time is money, even in your own kitchen. Yeah, you can save a few cents by buying a brick of cheese instead of the pre-shredded stuff in the bag. BUT - You're not saving money if you throw out half a brick of dried-out or moldy cheese. Keep that pre-shredded bag in the freezer and it will last forever. Smack it on the counter a few times before opening it, sprinkle out what you need, then chuck it back in the freezer. Another example: If chopped bagged lettuce is more likely to be eaten than full heads of romaine and iceberg (which need to be carefully washed) then pay the premium for the bagged stuff.
  • Clean up time counts, too. It takes a lot longer to take apart and clean the food processor than it does to wash a knife. If you can't put something in the dishwasher, and must instead wash it by hand, are you factoring that into your cooking time as well? In my case, for example, i'd rather use 3 small cutting boards than one big one, because i can fit all the little ones in the dishwasher. Will you destroy what you're making if you stir the pasta with the same spoon as you're using to stir the sauce? Can you maybe throw a few broccoli florets into the water that the carrots have been cooking in? Do you REALLY need to use a steamer basket, EVER? Try to use as few cooking & serving things as possible, short of eating from the same pot you cooked in. (I'm guilty of that one...)
So, my dear readers, got any other tips?

July 09, 2007

my eBay addiction

  • Chef JoAnna: i've got a problem with ebay. i'm obsessed with getting parts for my Oster Kitchen Center. it's out of control...
  • Friend: LOL. You're an addict.
  • Chef JoAnna: it's just like gambling.
  • Friend: Hahaha. Don't you have a newer machine?
  • Chef JoAnna: Yeah, but this old thing works like a champ. The parts are old, though, so if it breaks, you can't just order a replacement from walmart or target. I need to find extras on ebay.
    Friend: OK, settle down! Am I gonna have to hose you off?

Last thing I ate or drank: iced coffee. Refer to twitter posts. LOL!

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June 28, 2007

Review: Jancis Robinson's Wine Course

Netflix: Jancis Robinson's Wine Course

Just watched this 2-disc DVD, and it was very interesting and quite entertaining. It's slightly out of date (pre-sideways, it raves about merlot!) I confess that Jancis grated on my nerves for the first episode, but by the end, I would happily sit down to a glass of wine or twelve with her!

...and I'm lusting after a French Sauvignon Blanc called Asteroïde.
At over $1000 a bottle, I don't think it's going to be a satisfied lust, but hey, if all my dreams were attainable, what would I have to look forward to? Not to mention, I'd happily sit down with it's maker, Didier Daguenau.
yes, he's wearing a spoon on his nose.
20 minutes with a pair of scissors (and maybe a nice shirt? //giggle//) and he'd be teh hotness. How could you not want to spend time with someone who thinks like this:
"I make wine to give people pleasure. I sell happiness. It's a good job to be in. I want my wine to be a good moment in people's lives. It's like good food, beautiful music, a beautiful painting. I think that wine should be considered as art in the same way as painting or music. Unfortunately there are not many who think like that. Often they've inherited their vineyard. It's not a trade they have chosen, or if they have chosen it, it's because they think they can make a lot of money. In my opinion, 80% of growers are thick. Of the 20% that are left are the people that work because they to achieve something good... something well made to please people. Often these people are loners because they upset others because they do something different. But they are the ones that are close to the truth."

Oh yeah, and he says this all in French....swoon...

People wax poetic about his methods, technique and the intensity of this wine. Not bad for a wine varietal that most people associate with cat pee.

June 26, 2007

i can has cheezburger!

YAY! Chef sez i can has cheezburger! KTHXchefjoannaBAI!

IM in UR dux, eatin' teh liverz!

IM in UR kitchenz, makin' UR foodz!

...And there are other styles added to my CafePress store, too. Got any other lolcats-style ideas I should make into a t-shirt?

June 22, 2007

Cooking Podcasts, by Chef JoAnna

So, i've mentioned once or twice that i have been doing what i call "culinary tech support" for a company called ChefsLine.

Well, part of my job with ChefsLine is to do podcasts on subjects that people ask about. Here are a few of my recent podcasts:

I just recorded another one about crêpes, and the lovely and talented Jenn will be editing that beastie into something coherent very soon. Once she's finished, I'll post that link, too.

If you have any questions you need answered, feel free to post them to the ChefsLine blog: http://ChefsLine.com/blog

Last thing I ate or drank: Pizza from Dino's. It's a tradition to get pizza the night before I cater a party, and Dino's in Burbank is really really good. Like, good enough to make me want to cater more often. ha ha

June 16, 2007

Quick romance, tucked in a picnic basket

Over at lifehacker.com they are talking about Picnic Essentials.

I keep a picnic basket for two filled with a bunch of basic non-food things in the car. The weather's nice, so I like to picnic with Kelly at a park a couple blocks away from his work. It's an ongoing thing on Thursdays. Sometimes I bring home-made food, sometimes i pick up carry-out on the way over. Either way, it's a nice break in the day for both of us.

I even took a photo of the contents, just now, since I was putting the stuff back in from Thursday's picnic.

Here's what's in it: You can get all of these at a resale shop, and it can all be tossed in the dishwasher when you get home.

1) two cheap but sturdy GLASS wine glasses
2) one can opener/bottle opener thingy
3) one corkscrew
4) two each forks/knives/spoons (stainless)
5) a handful of paper napkins (it's bad enough i'm gonna do dishes, but i'll be damned if i'm gonna do laundry too.)
6) One Good Sharp Knife (make a cardboard holster if you need to)
7) Two melamine plates (lighter than china!)
8) a cutting board, or a third melamine plate *also good as serving dish, etc.)
9) a few white-plastic-grocery bags, Good for sitting on, collecting trash, then wrapping dirty dishes so you don't have a leaky picnic basket
10) the picnic basket itself!
11) a few babywipes or wetnaps, if you feel like your hands would be dirty.
Bonus: cheapo disposable vinyl tablecloth, if you've got the heebie-jeebies about cooties.

Even if you bought it all new at the dollar store, you'd spend about $10. (except for the basket) I also like these Sterlite containers, because they've got handles! Make sure the one you get isn't too small for a normal sized plate.

I've also been known to do a grocery-store picnic, where i'll buy almonds, cheese, veggies, dip, fruit, crackers, bread and something lunch-ish from the deli. A bottle of wine and a bottle of water, and you're good to go. If you'd consider doing this too, consider stashing a vegetable peeler in your kit.

It's really cool to be able to have a spontaneous picnic... and now you'll be ready!

Last thing I ate or drank: lime fla-vor-ice. I'm 6 years old sometimes, what can i say?

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June 15, 2007

Freezer Flush is BACKFIRING!

So last night i made the sweet & sour stir fry with pork, and that's what we had for dinner. i also baked two pans of cornbread and a giant crockpot of chili. I sent Kelly to work with a container, and i had some for lunch, too. I also cooked the chicken for the cordon bleu pasta.

The goal of this project is that i'm trying to clean out my cabinets and cupboards, and empty the fridge. As i cook chili for example, i'm adding canned tomatoes and cans of kidney beans... so when it all gets done, it gets frozen. When i make the cornbread, that gets wrapped and frozen. when I make the rice for the sweet & sour pork, that gets topped with the veggies and then gets frozen too. So i'm basically re-combining things and putting them in the freezer. So calling this operation freezer flush is quite a misnomer... but i'm using stuff that's taking up space and making edible-in-5-minutes food.

Tonight, I'll be makeing a test recipe of the cordon bleu pasta sauce, to see how it works when using powdered milk. I've also marinated boneless, skinless chicken leg/thigh pieces in sherry, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and white pepper. That's going to get cooked with celery and cashews for the cashew chicken. I'll serve that over white rice, just for the change of pace.

I can't make more stuff until i see whether i have enough space to freeze it, so the korma and the chhole will have to wait until Monday, i think.

Amazingly, I've been good at keeping up with the dishes i use, because i'm just cleaning one or two big things, instead of a dozen little ones. This project has all kinds of benefits!

Last thing I ate or drank: a blue fla-vor-ice. now i have an attractive blue tongue.

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June 14, 2007

Operation Freezer Flush

OK, so day one wasn't a challenge at all. I had defrosted a package of ground meat (i buy the big packages on sale and re-package in ziploc baggies) so with half of that, i made us each a hamburger served on a bakery roll, also from the freezer, and we ate that with trader joe's salt & pepper potato chips. They're ok, not as good as the kettle brand, but they were $2 a bag instead of $3.50, so i thought it was worth a try.
I took the other half of the seasoned burger mix and made little meatballs, cooking them in the cast iron pan while it was still hot from dinner. They'll go into a soup of some kind later this week. I think.

Also, today was the day i'd designated to make "The Lunches". See, i make a whole bunch of lunches for Kelly to take to work. I take one or two days every six weeks or so and make a large batch of five or six different entrées. I package those up in plastic containers and fill up the freezer, so Kelly can just grab one in the morning before he leaves for work. If he's clever, he takes one & puts it in the fridge the night before so it takes a little less time to defrost. Usually he forgets.

For a few days before the day of cooking orgy, I nag ask him to think of what he'd like to eat. He's either totally clueless, or absolutely definitive and knows exactly what he wants. The former is 99% of the time, and the latter 1% remaining is usually something that doesn't freeze well or is out of season. He tries tho.

Here is what we came up with, with much coaxing from me:
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta This is a combo of grilled chicken and seared ham over rotini pasta with mornay.
  • Chhole an Indian dish of chick-peas and onions in a tomato sauce
  • sweet & sour pork over brown rice I do it 'naked style' meaning i just stir-fry the pork instead of breading and deep-frying it. The sauce & veggies are the same.
  • Chili & Cornbread He likes the chili i make with beans, that's bulked up with bulgur... and i just use the standard corn bread recipe from the box.
  • Korma Jasmine rice, dried fruits, nuts, whatever.
  • cashew chicken He has eaten this three times in the past two weeks, and he saw i had cashews so he asked for it again.

Now, the tricky thing is that we came up with this menu LATE LAST WEEK. Before i opened my big mouth and banned grocery shopping. So, yeah. I have taken the chicken, pork & beef out of the freezer to thaw. I'm a little light on veggies, but i bet I can make it work with what's in the freezer or in cans, but i don't have fresh milk or swiss cheese for the mornay sauce. I have powdered milk i use for baking, and there's some kind of cheese in the fridge. I think. Fact is, typing up this post is a lame attempt at procrastinating the cooking.

Actually, that's not entirely true. It's 90ºf here today, but it's breezy. I don't want to heat up the house, so i took the toaster oven outside and i'm roasting the chicken. I also took the rice cooker out there, and have a big batch of brown rice going. Later, I'll haul out the electric burners and the crockpot and whatever else i need to do to get stage one in motion. I <3 appliances="" my="" p="">
I think i mentioned before that the night of the Challenge was the night i finished my baking. I bake for breakfasts. I had enough bananas in the freezer to make three batches of banana bread. I had also made those 30 or so scones. So those are all in the freezer, wrapped in portions and stashed away to be taken out a couple at a time. I'm not sure if i can get those to last two months, but there are also bagels, English muffins and sliced bread.

See what i mean? I always joke that if the grid ever goes down, like in an earthquake, I'd open a neighborhood restaurant. Propane, butane, canned fuel... i've got it covered... but i never realized how much food I'd have at my disposal, too.

Well, i've gotta go get some lunch for myself, I've had a pear/ginger scone, half a peach, a plum and an apricot. Then, before i sat down to type this, i had a little slice of banana bread. That did more to pique my appetite than suppress it.

I'll post about tonight tomorrow. I think that's gonna be the best way to chronicle this, because as this progresses, i'm going to have to stretch my imagination a bit.

Last thing I ate or drank: slice of the banana bread mentioned above :-)

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June 13, 2007

Challenge: No grocery shopping for a month.

My husband Kelly and I went to the grocery store last night. Everything we bought was fresh produce, some cotija cheese, and a box of 'bacon ends'
    tangent (Tangent? You've only said one line of blog, how do you tangent already?) I don't use bacon as a breakfast-meat side-dish, I mostly cook with it as a flavor/fat ingredient (lardons, bacon bits) I buy a box of Farmer John bacon 'ends' at $1.25/lb. I package it up into smaller portions with plastic wrap, and toss those portions into a big ziploc, and take out a baconcicle when i need one. so,for that, bacon 'ends' are a way better value than the standard sliced bacon at over $4/lb.
We went up and down every asile in the store, just looking around, making fun of people's photos on the packaging, looking at the horrid food photography, checking out the aisle with the holy candles and incense and Good-Luck-Spray for that santaría stuff. This was in a store called Vallarta that caters to a Spanish-speaking clientele. They've got GREAT produce for really cheap. It's the main draw of that store, but they have lots of other cool things too. Do we need bread? no. Do we need cereal? no. Do we need pasta? no. Do we need peanut butter? Mayonnaise? Beans? Sugar? Rice? No, no, no, no and no.

THEN somebody gets the bright idea of telling her husband, "We don't need any of this stuff. I bet I could feed us for two months with what i've already got in the house.
So he challenged me to actually make it a bet. No grocery shopping for two months.

I mean, I'm not so old that i grew up in a depression... And growing up, we weren't wealthy but we always had enough to eat... so why are my cupboards and freezers bursting with food? Maybe it's just a reflection of my obsession, and of how much i like to cook. For me, it's so easy to be able to whip up a dinner with what i've got on hand, because i've got everything on hand!

It's just the two of us, and we've got a fridge, a chest freezer, a large pantry, another narrow cabinet, and an old dresser that's used just for dry goods storage. I've got meat, eggs, veggies, onions, potatoes, all kinds of grains, all kinds of oils/vinegars/condiments, pasta, and lots of beans. And that's not counting the stuff in cans and jars. Of course, i've also got a lot of esoteric stuff like rice paper, nori, masa, dried shrimp, teff flour... and now i've got 3 lbs of bacon!

So there's the challenge. It's not about saving money, because that money's already spent. Not to mention I'm already cooking Kelly's lunches and freezing them so he can take them to work. It's not about nutrition, since we don't go out to eat often and what we eat at home is actually pretty healthy. I think it's just a way for me to force a little creativity on myself, and plow through some of the stuff already in the house.

I'll be using up the fresh stuff i have first, then raiding the freezer, and finally using up the canned/jarred things, while interspersing the bulk stuff. He said that I could have a $20 allowance after the first month to replace the most basic of veggies and because by then, we'll both be dying for a salad.

I'm not sure what will come of it, but i'll post what's going on from time to time.

Wish me luck!

Last thing I ate or drank: buttered toasted onion bagel and a 1L bottle of Arrowhead water

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June 06, 2007

Chef to the Undead

Chef to the Undead

I requested this zombie art from
http://www.monsterbymail.com Custom made art, drawn by hand, for a pittance.

My very own zombie! Seriously the coolest thing ever.

So....what does the Chef to the Undead serve?

Appetizer: Brainschetta
Salad:Heirloom Brains with Neuron Vinaigrette
Soup: Cream of Brains
Fish: Brains Amandine
Intermezzo: Brains Sorbet
Entrée: Cerebellum with Occipital sauce
            served with Brain Soufflé and Sordid Baby Vegetables (ha!)
Dessert: Blood Poached Brains à la mode, Dulce de Cerebro Ice Cream
Mignardises: Ginger Synapse and Chocolate Covered Brainsins

can't wait for Halloween.

June 05, 2007

What it's like when a party goes well!

I just finished catering a party for 15 people. Oh, my stars, I am so exhausted but everything went well and the client asked for a lot of business cards. And, even though I am really tired, I am really happy that the client was happy, and that he pulled off his surprise, too!

May 17, 2007

Flickr Photos - finally posted!

easiest thing to do, probably, is just go to flickr:

Click here

May 10, 2007

Scam Update!

I'm so glad to discover that the e-mail i sent to every culinary person i know is getting the word out about this check-cashing scam!

Click here

Click here

Anyone know of any others?

and... who knew that there was an entire directory of this stuff? Click here to research other scams like this: http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/

Whoops! I left a blog in the draft!

I reviewed "Educating Peter" by Lettie Teague but I left it in the drafts section of my blog. So please click & check it out!

Last thing I ate or drank: thai iced tea with rice milk... which, by the way, curdles! It tastes better with sweetened condensed milk, so although rice milk and splenda are a perversion, it's satisfying the craving.

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Yay meat!

Heavy Eaters Against The Enemies of Meat™
* Do you think 'vegan' is an alien race from a sci-fi movie?
* Would you prefer a baloney sandwich to a nature burger?
* Do you love steak, poultry, pork or other meats?
* Are you sick of being vilified for your own private eating habits?
* Do you believe in the freedom to choose what we eat?
* Do you feel that a meatless meal is not really a meal at all?
* Do you believe that humans are at the top of the food chain?
OMG this website is so funny! and

they've got T-Shirts!
It's making me hungry!

May 07, 2007

Book Review: Simmer Down (A Gourmet Girl Mystery)

I haven't been served any subpoenas, nor been contacted by anyone's lawyers, nor has anybody tested the ferocity of my two overprotective pitbulls, so mister preacher man is still at bay. ...and hey, who wants to mess with a chef, really? We have big knives, and we know how to skin things with excruciating precision. My sex-tech expert friend, Regina Lynn knows all about pervertibles, but just imagine what you could do, torture-wise, with a full battery of kitchen implements? Knives aside, there's the Crème Brûlée torch, trussing needles, rolling pins, and a whack on the noggin from a cast iron pan wouldn't do you no good...

And if you are a chef inclined to murder, there are plenty of places to hide the body! I mean, we actually have freezers that big.

Anyway, this is the second culinary murder mystery I've ever read. The first one, Death by Rhubarb written by Lou Jane Temple, I got from a resale shop for 50¢. The link goes to the amazon page, where there are both flattering and unflattering reviews. My review would be included in the latter, but it's not necesary for me to be harsh.

This was written by a mother-daughter team, Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant. I was also promised a copy of their first book, Steamed, but i haven't received it yet.

Let's just say my expectations for a culinary murder mystery were pretty low, after having had the rhubarb book as my introduction.

I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading Simmer Down In fact, my sights were set so low that i cracked the book in the middle, which i never do, to see if there was any substance in it before i invested a whole lot of time in it. The page I turned to let me see that this was put together by someone who knew a kitchen, so I gave it a shot, and started from the beginning.
The female lead, Chloe, comes off as kind of a spoiled brat, whining about a lot of mundane stuff, and although she tries to improve, she goes about it so begrudgingly it is uncomfortable. Partly because it's very clear that Chloe is an incarnation of the daughter half of the team. (red hair, social work, etc.)

The food detail, though, and the cooking stuff: very good. If you've ever worked in a pro kitchen, the nuances of an expert's voice comes through in the writing. it actually made me a little 'homesick' for working in a cramped kitchen, filled with people wearing their whites, speaking lots of Spanish and nibbling on the bits and scraps of stuff that can't be served, like the remnants on a sheet pan when circular portions have been cut out if it.

ok, ok, sorry, got a little dreamy-eyed there; back to the review.

I don't think i'd get along with chloe, but i'd love to work with josh. The writing about his intensity in the kitchen really comes across. I kind of imagine him to act like the guy who won the first top chef. The tall dark and handsome one, kind of brooding and quiet, but very focused on his work.

So I'm giving it four stars, out of five. All the cooking and food-related stuff was spot-on. The relationships between the characters came off as kind of dodgy. Maybe an extra make-out scene or two would be nice, too.

and HEY, btw, don't read the amazon reviews by the pro reviewers. they practically tell the story in their review, and as you can imagine, it rather spoils a murder mystery!

Last thing I ate or drank: licorice jellybeans

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May 06, 2007

a fine line between dedication and obsession

This guy may very well be teetering on the threshold, but BOY HOWDY would I like to discover what maniacal obsession tastes like when the results look as good as this:
 my own mozz, but if I could get my hands on some rennet, I'd probably try. (I make my own butter out of heavy cream if I can't use it up before it would go bad.) When we spend the whole day out, or if Kelly has a hankerin' for pizza on a Friday night, we found Dino's in Burbank, and they do quite well. Best I've found in the area. If you know better, tell me!

I still have to write about my horrific dinner at ¢ele$tino from Saturday night. I am still trying to put some distance between it and myself, though, so that might have to wait.

AND...I've got a couple of book reviews coming up... BOTH were totally rave-worthy, and I want to make sure I can blog about them both in detail.

This is AMAZING! more cool cakes

Keep in mind, this was made by a mom, for her daughter, as a wedding cake!

Discworld Cake

nevermind that she's a professional... it's still pretty amazingly cool!

I wanna play with buttercream and marzipan, now too!

May 05, 2007

you won't believe these photos...

Completely edible artistic sculptural cakes!

The next time someone tells me, "you've got too much time on your hands" when I do something I consider fun or whatever, I'll show them this.

really incredible cake

day-um, these are some amazing cakes!

Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

Fast food looks like crap. Everyone knows what you see in the photos never looks like what you get on the plate, right?

Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

Hell, even Denny's, which is famous for it's photo menu, serves food that looks like it's been tossed around the kitchen for a while before they put it on a plate.

What if fast food workers were given food styling lessons?

May 04, 2007

Is that... Venison...?

I saw a dead deer on the side of road, and the first thing I thought was,

"OOH!  is that... Venison?"

I think I was hungry, but not hungry enough to eat roadkill.  :-P

May 01, 2007

Book Review: "Educating Peter" by Lettie Teague

The full title of this book is Educating Peter: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert

I will cheat, just a teensy bit, by posting an excerpt from the amazon page:
Lettie Teague knows wine. She has been the wine editor at Food & Wine magazine for almost a decade. After many years of fielding these questions, Lettie was determined to debunk the myth that learning about wine is hard. She decided to find just one wine idiot and teach him a few fundamentals -- how to order off a restaurant wine list without fear, approach a wine merchant with confidence, and perhaps even score a few points off a wine snob.
If you're so inclined, you can also listen to the Splendid Table interview, which you can find here OK, now that you know the gist, I will offer my opinion, which is why Ms. Teague's people graciously sent me this book: to review it and post it on this blog.

I loved this book. I read it through voraciously, sometimes up to two hours at a sitting while I waited for the rest of the world (well, my world) to wake up. Big pot of hazelnut coffee, spa-type waffle robe, flip-flops, and this book, outside on my back patio. I felt as though I should have been taking notes. As I read it again, I plan to have a pen and paper handy. (and dammit, I have a no-renew-because-there's-a-waiting-list book checked out from the library.)

The book is fun, although as a read a passage out loud to my friend, he said, "it sounds like someone ran it through a thesaurus and replaced all the normal words with longer words, so it sounds more impressive," which is kind of accurate, (I don't think the average reader should have to pull out a dictionary (or dictionary.com) to comprehend a book like this, but beyond that i thought it was a fun read.

Anyway, yeah, it's a keeper, and very well worth the price of admission, if you consider that you'll have learned several tricks to avoid bad wine that you'd otherwise pour down the sink. And it's also good to have a few good wine-drinking terms up your sleeve for tossing around at dinner!

My only comment would be that I'd have liked to see her talk about how to actually drink wine before the very last chapter. It sounds as though she let that poor Peter go around like a dolt until he got to the restaurants.

April 29, 2007

"Bishop" Ben Okafor: Man of god, husband and father of two writes back...

I'm thrilled to pieces that this Ben Okafor from Benin thing has actually gotten interesting... the other scams I've received and posted here on my blog didn't get much play, but I've never had a scammer write me back and threaten me!

He sent me an instant message:
299 88 75 72

Yup, exactly the kind of response I'd anticipate from someone who represents the word of god. Whatever.

But THEN I got two other messages from other chefs who contacted me.
Bishop Ben Okafor from Porto-Novo

Kingdom Life Ministries International

kingdom Life Ministries Int'l.

...and as I told this last chef, no, I'm NOT already defending myself against legal action. With this schmuck or any other kind. I sent an e-mail to the actual KLM in Canada, so someone MIGHT be contacting him about some legal action, but me, I'm content if I helped prevent these two other chefs, and any others, from getting scammed.

He's SOOOOOO pissed off that I've ruined his little scheme! I love it!

Anyone else been contacted by the kindly Bishop? Please speak up, either in the comments, or write to me directly.

April 28, 2007

OMG what an exciting opportunity! (gimme a break)

I think someone's going to fall for this eventually... but it's not gonna be me. (this was copy/pasted verbatim from the e-mail I received.)

I saw your add online, and I got facinated at your profile. I am Bishop Ben Okafor from Porto-Novo, in The Republic of Benin. I am the General Overseer of the Kingdom Life Ministries International. I will be coming over to California, USA, on a missionary visit from the 30th of June to the 7th of July 2007. I will be coming in the company of my wife, daughter and son of ages 5 and 9 respectively.

Actually, we will be requiring the service of a Cook/Chef during our stay, in the USA. Ofcourse we are used to eating home cooked meal. So we thought its necessary to make arrangement to hire some one to take up the job for those periods of time. However we would like to be flexible in the contractual agreement. You are also welcome to live-in during the period of the contract.

We can pay in advance to cover all your logistic issues. besides, my wife would like it that way, so that we can be assured we have someone to handle that aspect on our arrival. All your expences would be taken care of by our Sponsor.

An early reponce from you in this regards would be appreciated. Please acknowledge if you can offer this service and give me a price quote.

Remain Blessed

His Lorship

Bishop Ben Okafor
General Overseer
kingdom Life Ministries Int'l.
Republic of Benin
Tel:+299 88 75 72

April 10, 2007

The company I'm going to work for was on TV

This company approached me to be one of their chef-consultants. The Early Show gave them some nice publicity, and actually, it's a very well done piece. Culinary Hotline Helps Cooks In Crisis, Tracy Smith: "ChefsLine" At The Ready To Help Those In Need - CBS News"

April 09, 2007

Cookbook Prizes awarded shortly...

I will post the results and the winners very very soon... it just requires sitting down with Kelly to do the judging... Which requires that bribes be baked! Thanks for your patience!

April 07, 2007

Ask the chef: pre-soaking beans for crockpot cooking

"Becky's Mom" writes:
I have a question you're probably going to think is crazy. I have some dried pinto beans that I forgot to put on to soak until a few minutes ago. I want to put them in my crock-pot over night. Will they be okay not soaking for 24 hrs. prior to cooking them?

Dear Becky's Mom,

Don't worry... even if you do it 'wrong', it's nothing a little Beano can't fix... :-) but I'll tell you how you can handle this predicament next time.

People argue back and forth over which method of handling beans before cooking gives the best results: boiling or overnight soaking. To me, the method that works best is the one you use... so if you don't have 12 hrs to soak 'em, boil 'em!
Overnight soak: Wash and sort beans; place in large sauce pan with 6 cups of water per pound of beans. Let stand overnight (10 hrs or longer)
Quick soak: Wash and sort beans, put in a large saucepan with 6 cups of water per lb of beans. Bring to a boil and keep boiling for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, let stand at least 1 hour. (but don't let them cool, )
You don't want to use the soaking/boiling water to cook the beans (why would you ingest the liquid that contains all the stuff you just soaked out of the beans?!) but you can use it to water plants. The soak water will have a good deal of vitamins and minerals in it, and your plants won't fart.

By the way, what does sorting mean? Sorting means that you pick over the beans and take out the floaters, remove any pebbles & twigs & other debris that might find its way into dried beans. Crunching on a rock in the chili is not my idea of a good time.

How do I know if the beans are done? Many people don't cook their beans long enough. Depending on the age of the beans, you may find it takes 30 to 60 minutes longer than what the recipe calls for. The way to test for doneness is to pull out a bean and mash it with a fork. If any of the insides seem white and crumbly, rather than soft and moist, then the beans need to be cooked longer. Add some more liquid and replace the lid, then test again later. Undercooked beans are nasty, and may even be toxic!

Suddenly, I have a craving for crêpes with green tea ice cream and red bean paste (sweetened adzuki beans, comes in a can from the Asian market - YUM!).

Last thing I ate or drank: Breyer's raspberry popsicle.

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April 04, 2007

three little letters. M T V

In the middle of last week, I got a phonecall from one of the assistant producers of MTV's Next, a dating show where the main contestant gets the chance to date five other contestants...but when the main contestant gets bored on the date, he/she says "NEXT!" and another potential paramour comes out to take his place.

The setup for this particular show was that the main contestant, a girl, wanted a guy who could cook. So they set up some challenges for the guy to pass. She "nexted" several of the guys, and finally found one she could tolerate. That lucky guy progressed to the next challenge... which was me. (Bwa ha-ha-ha!)

They pitted him against me in an Iron Chef style battle, to see how he fared against a professional chef. Well, not too good, but as the girl contestant said, he looked cute trying. (lol, he was teh hotness, even in his little pink chef's outfit)

I didn't speak on camera, but my name was said a few times, and my dish was pretty good for only being given about 15 minutes to make it (thank the FSM for the grace of his quick-cooking fresh noodly goodness).

They paid me, but they also sent me home with all the food they used as set decoration and props. LOOK at all this STUFF! That's 50 lbs of flour and 80 lbs of sugar, 10 packages of fresh fettuccini, 15 lbs of dry pasta, 4 lbs of butter....and all those potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, vine tomatoes, watermelons, pineapples, limes, peppers, corn, grapes, grape tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries ...and more! My freezer is going to be full of everything freezable as is, and I'll cook & freeze as much as I can of the other stuff. Plus, I'm making cookies for the staff, and they're having a PA come by tomorrow to pick them up.

It was a blast to have been able to do it. I had so much fun, everyone was so nice, and it's kind of cool to add MTV to my portfolio!

Last thing I ate or drank: plain little salad of hothouse tomatoes and iceberg, with bleu cheese dressing.

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March 31, 2007

Happy Taco Day! Feliz Día del Taco!

did you know that today was Dia del Taco?

Buen Provecho!

My Word with Douglas E. Welch: Foodie Q&A with Chef Joanna from BarCampLA-3

Douglas Welch has been kind enough to send me a link to the MP3 recording of the session I presented at BARCAMP-LA last weekend.

Sorry I didn't repeat the questions, as any good presenter should, but I sat on the edge of the stage and spoke loudly enough that didn't even use a microphone. (yeah, if you know me personally, you'd have a comment to insert here, I'm sure. :-P)

Also, I didn't know that this was going to be made available to me later, I thought it was for his own personal listening... but I'm delighted to be able to share it with you!

...Anyway, Douglas is quite the charming fellow. He has four podcasts that he produces regularly, each worth checking out.

My Word with Douglas E. Welch: Foodie Q&A with Chef JoAnna from BarCampLA-3

Beware, April Fool's day is tomorrow, lest you forget and stir salt into your coffee!

March 27, 2007

Ethnic Paris Cookbook - a book review. PLUS *contest* *prizes*

I recently received another book to review, and I'm happy to share the wealth with my blogs' readers, through a little contest.
The woman who is doing the promotions for this cookbook has got to be one of the most savvy people in her industry. You can't spill your champagne without having it drip on something that's referring to The Ethnic Paris Cookbook Link goes to the SuperChef Blog, and Juliette's review, since hers is very thorough already (yeah, I know it's kinda cheating but I'm certain she won't mind the traffic)... but I'll add my comments here, too.

First of all, it's CUTE! As in "OMG ponies!!1!one!1!" cute. Totally belongs on a coffee table, not on a shelf in the kitchen. Maybe display it on your kitchen island in a decorative book stand. The graphics aren't glossy, food-porn photography, but you know what? YAY! Because you can plate and present and display and serve like you want to, without fretting over how much it doesn't look like the photo in the book.

Second, it's got lots of interesting text. Each section has a few pages of background and history about how this cuisine got into Paris anyway, with anecdotes about how the cuisines became intermingled.

This gives me the opportunity to tell you a little story, too. Once upon a time, when the ink was still wet on my diploma, I worked for a Japanese Import-Export company. The bosses (both Japanese of course) would surprise us on a rare special occasion by taking our little 3 person department (me, Jeff & Paola) to a restaurant. Of course there were grand sushi experiences, mostly focused on "let's see what things can get the American girls to eat." One of the places, however, was a French/Japanese fusion restaurant called Yoshi's Cafe. The Chef trained in France, so his cooking had a Japanese flair. I have always been a foodie...and I was quite excited to go there. It's one of those places that you want to go to, but at 21, you could never afford.

The bosses (Mr. Ouchi & Mr. Asaba: I'll never forget those two) spoke in Japanese to the chef and his staff, and then we we 'kids' ordered. Paola ordered a Vichisoisse as her first course; She whispered to me that it was kind of cold. She didn't know. Jeff ordered the Tuna Tartare...although I'm certain he only chose it because that was the most expensive thing on the menu. He was absolutely blown away that it was raw when it arrived. I can't remember what I chose, probably lamb or fish or duck or something that wasn't beef or chicken...but I do remember that I was thrilled with my choice, and devoured it while Jeff and Paola poked at theirs. I didn't know enough then to appreciate it as fully as I might now, but I've always "ordered well". It was my introduction to fusion cuisine, and luckily it was a very good one. I think most people are against 'fusion' because their first experience wasn't very good.

You'll totally want to curl up with a yummy drink and a pack of post-its. Read through the rich stories, and mark off all the things you want to make on the first go-around. It might be good to have the computer close by so you can shop for local places where you can find esoteric ingredients, like konbu, nuoc nam, or kaffir lime leaves, and for things you must mail-order, like Djansan and Argan Oil. Los Angeles readers, you can just ask me!

You can also find more about this book at the book's official website.

OK, now the contest:

Send me a list of food items (by e-mail, not in the comments!) where each letter of the alphabet is represented by one food item. One point for each letter. Entries must be received by 8:00pm PST on April 1st. Points will be tallied, and the winners will be notified that they've won!

Sounds easy, don't it? it would be, if I didn't kick it up a notch (giggle)

  • 1. Is it food? It must be a solitary component of "food", that you can eat as-is, or cooked. That is to say, not a spice, like Vanilla; not a condiment, like Ketchup, not a 'dish' like Kung Pao Chicken, or a brand name like Zachary's Famous Barbecue Sauce... if there is such a thing.
  • 2. Is it English? It must be in commonly understood in daily American English. It's gotta pass the Husband-of-a-Chef test* No cheating by using Haricots Verts or Phú Quoc. Couscous would be ok, so would Phyllo. Get it? If you aren't sure, there's no penalty (or bonus) if you add a backup word.
  • 3. No specifications! Holstein cow, Waygu beef, Golden Carrots, Navel oranges... all will be disqualified.
  • BONUS POINTS!!! You will earn 6 bonus points if your list is based on a theme. You can choose the theme: all orange-colored foods, all pastry ingredients, all vegan foods, all root vegetables... whatever you like.
[* My husband will be roped in to help me judge. He's become foodie enough to know what couscous and phyllo is, but not so 'damaged' that he knows what haloumi or manioc is...so those wouldn't count.]

So there you go. On one hand, it's a bit more work than /F makes you do, but on the other, WAY less competition. If there's five valid entries, then all five entries get a book. Winners' lists and point totals will be posted on this blog.

Good luck!

March 24, 2007

People want to know: what do I need in my kitchen!?

I just gave a mini-presentation at BarcampLA. a Q&A on cooking and culinary stuff. I found it surprising that most of the questions were about cooking implements!
  • what kind of knives are the best knives? if you cook a lot, spend money on good knives, like wustof or henckles... if you don't, buy stainless steel ones from the asian markets, and consider them disposable.
  • which is better, cast iron or non-stick? If you're making crêpes or omelets, use nonstick, just keep it at a low temperature. I will always endorse cast iron!
  • what's the minimum set of cooking equipment that I should have?one 8" nonstick, one 12" stainless (or anodized) one 3qt saucepan, one 5 qt pasta/stock pot. nonstick is kind of a plus. and a silicone spatula and a flattened-tip slotted spoon. (I've gotta figure out what those are officially called!
  • Where do you buy the best veggies when you're not going to a farmer's market golden farms, or ethnic markets, like Jons or 99 Ranch.

if you ever have a chance to go to a barcamp, go for it. you learn a lot and you meet a lot of interesting people.

Last thing I ate or drank: wow... Can't remember the last time I ate an oreo - note to self, check teeth before talking to other people...

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March 23, 2007

"I had 'A Chef's Kitchen' cater for me, and it was terrible!"

I'm aware that there are several other women named JoAnna out there in the world, and that a good handful of them are also chefs... but wouldn't it be weird to discover that another chef named JoAnna was doing business in Los Angeles?

ARTICLE: A Chef's Kitchen sues 'copy-cat' business over use of name (The Virginian-Pilot - HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com): "The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against the use of the name and that the upstart business surrender to the court all infringing materials such as signs, business cards, letterhead, fliers, labels and logos. They also want the business to disconnect phone, fax and internet lines for 'A Chef's Kitchen,' and arrange for the lines to be forwarded to the Williamsburg business."

but yikes, look at all these domains:




Would you be surprised to realize that NONE of them belong to the either of the litigants! In fact

http://www.achefskitchen.biz/ the established company
http://www.achefskitchenonline.com/ the newer company

Ah, but the clincher, is that they're only an hour's drive from each other. _
click for the google maps page.

How can someone start a business, and go through all the trouble of filing paperwork and creating letterhead, registering domains and forming corporations... and then later discover that, OOPS, someone else already has been using the same business name, for the same business model, in the same area!

On one hand, Chef Gonzales chould have just waited for their inevitable failure. Nobody who's that stupid about starting their business can be that smart about running it... but if there is a potential that the other company is going to tarnish his name and reputation in the process, (duh: see above) then yeah, litigation is the way to go.

And, uh, please don't sue ME. :-D

March 20, 2007

THIS is newsworthy?

I'd have to admit, I'd be a little embarrassed about writing a press release for this for MY company...

Chef Mario’s Inc.’s Darcy Brennan ServSafe Certified

... besides, I scored a 93. THPFFFFFFT!

March 15, 2007

"Pesach for the Rest of Us" - a book review

I was raised Catholic. And further, I'm not Jewish. So what business do I have reviewing a book called "Pesach for the Rest of Us" by Marge Piercy?

Well, it was sent to me with the hope that I might review it, and I can be objective, at the very least!
Pesach is a holiday filled with rituals where every action and thought has a purpose. Upon reading the book, it was surprising to me how many of these were about food... What you can & can't eat, how you should eat it, and what you should do with the food and wine during the ceremony. Each portion of the ritual has a distinct and specific reason why it's included in the ritual.

It's not mysterious as to why that would be... Everyone eats, everyone enjoys good food, and it's something that everyone can experience and relate to. (of course, one should never use the word 'everyone' but I'm making a point.)*grin*

If I were into rituals, if I found something moving about poems and singing and symbolic consumption of foodstuffs (and of course, if I were Jewish) Pesach would be THE event of the year. In fact, according to Piercy, many Jews who don't go to temple or practice their religion during the rest of the year find a reason to participate in a Pesach event.

I consider myself pretty well read; I am familiar with the belief systems of many religions. Christmas trees and Easter bunnies, the symbols of THE most Catholic of events, are actually pagan carryovers. The sexy fertility rituals of Lupercalia were replaced with the chaste love-notes of St. Valentine's day. In studying about Kashrus, for the benefit of my clients who keep kosher, I've become rather familiar with many of the Jewish rules about food and holidays.

OK, enough religion, let's talk about the food.

For Pesach, there's a ritualistic consumption of food and wine, each item having a symbolism: parsley, which is dipped in salt water, lettuce, horseradish, roasted eggs, oranges, and of course, matzoh. If you don't already know what the symbols represent, there's probably no need to go into it here. (get the book!) each section includes some history, poetry and the author's personal anecdotes. It was a very interesting read.
Yeah, I actually read the books I'm invited to review (gasp) which is why it takes a couple weeks for me to post these blog entries. Not to mention that this one, with a subject mattern of a specific Jewish holiday full of symbolism, I had to keep referring to wikipedia to figure out what stuff meant. It was enlightening, though it took the better part of an afternoon. I didn't work this hard on book reports in school! But I digress...
There are LOTS of recipes, for matzoh ball soup, matzoh brei, tzimmes, kugels ...and a few recipes for from-scratch gefilte fish, which the author swears even she wouldn't make again. I think that something that may be especially useful is that she includes several ways to 'use up' the extra leftover matzoh.

Cute flash cartoon. Try this link if the youtube wouldn't play.

Also included are several recipes for this curious fruit-and-nut compote called Charoset, which seems kind of like a coarsely-chopped trail mix, with apples, sweet wine and cinnamon. Sometimes ginger, coconut, orange zest, whatever tastes good to you. You're not supposed to say you like Charoset It's intended to symbolize mortar... The ‘Israelites’ (were) fleeing an oppressive situation in Egypt. In Egypt they were slaves, building pyramids with mortar and bricks. Piercy doesn't explain the mortar analogy, (so I gotta say thanks Debra for the info included in the above italics) but acknowledges that it's more of a justification of getting something sweet on the seder plate, to contrast against the other bitter/bland stuff. Anyway, it does sound delicious.

I've been given several books to review, but I only post reviews about the ones for which I have positive things to say. There's enough negativity in the world already, I don't need to add to it.

I'm not Jewish! Can I still make Charoset, then? Rather, do I allow my self to make it, knowing it symbolically represents the opression of others? Will it still taste sweet, or (perhaps as intended) bittersweet, such as when tears fall into the batter for the wedding cake in Like Water for Chocolate?

As a hedonist, I'd rather make the Quail in Rose Sauce that stirs passion in everyone who eats it.

Like I said, I don't need to add to the negativity.

That's pretty deep thinking for a food blog!

Last thing I ate or drank: a chicken cacciatore sandwich, followed by cup after cup of Lemon-Ginger Tea over the 3+ hours it took me to research and type up this review.

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March 14, 2007

The Picadillo Challenge (or, "I have issues with poorly made food")

Ok, so you know all about the cassoulet, so I'm glad that's out of the way. [[phew]]

Now I have to tell you about the Fiasco de Picadillo.

On Saturday, Kelly and I spent the whole day running errands, the major one was to find some attractive pots for the three citrus trees I just HAD to have. So, I have a Meyer Lemon, a Mexican Lime and an orange that I forgot the name of, but I do know it's not a navel. Longhorn seems to stick in my mind, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, I digress. We were on a quest for some pots. After the third pottery store, it was feeling kinda like being in Cabo San Lucas, which, of course made me hungry for mexican food. In Cabo, a square meal for me means chips, salsa, guacamole and Coronas. You kinda have your food groups covered, if you have some sour cream with the guacamole.

Anyway, I digress.  AGAIN.  So, we bought the pots (cute, and what a bargain!) and by now, it's getting late, and I'm in the mood for Mexican. We thought we'd head to Casa Granada: It's close, it's REALLY good, but it's also popular, and on Saturday night, that could be bad. We didn't want to wait for over 30 minutes before we got our fix of chips and coronas, so as we drove past a Chevy's Mexican Food, Kelly said, "Hey, that place is big, I bet we can get in there fast." I'm cursed with a husband who doesn't even have an appetite most of the time, but if he says he's hungry, you KNOW he's serious, and you gotta feed him fast. So we tried. 15 minute wait. Ok, what the hell.

Chips and drinks were on the table instantaneously. (Thank Xenu for small favors) but when it came around to the entrées, what the hell was RIGHT ON.

We ordered the combo platters, one with picadillo, and the other with chipotle chicken, with the agreement that we'd trade enchiladas so we'd have one of each. When they came, I was appalled. The rice and beans were slapped on there like it was a prisoner's slop. No garnishes to speak of. It was all hot, at least.

The chicken was plain and the sauce tasted like it had been poured straight out of a can. Upon tasting the picadillo, we both looked at each other and said. "Sloppy Joes!" because that's exactly what it tasted like. Too sweet, too runny, all one flavor. We plodded through dinner, sated but not delighted. I love picadillo and I was let down by the crap they passed off as dinner.

You're a chef who just ate a nasty excuse for a meal.
You were looking forward to eating a favorite food, and they gave you stuff not even suitable for grade school hot lunch.
You know the recipe for this favorite food by heart.
      So, why don't you make it more often, then? Uh, no good reason.
You have an embarassingly well-stocked pantry and freezer.
What do you do?
You go and make a huge batch of picadillo, the RIGHT way, with raisins and bell peppers and capers and tomato and cinnamon and green olives . Man, doesn't that sound like a mess? If you've never had it, it's way better than you'd think: it's simply divine. Salty and sweet and aromatic and rich. MMMmmmMMMmmMMM. It's definitely a 'portion control required' thing, because you can eat WAY too much of it and feel stuffed. I have lots of little containers of Pica-Dee-Liciousness in the freezer, just enough for these DINKs to indulge in a little quick and easy picadillo goodness. Enjoy with brown rice or French bread, and a salad, and you're good to go.

Sometimes it's good to eat out so that you know how lucky you are that you don't have to eat like that too often!

Last thing I ate or drank: a quarter of an avocado, sprinkled with salt, and eaten with a demitasse spoon right out of the shell.

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March 12, 2007

Paying for expertise... Charging for expertise...

This is one of my favorite parables:
A man took his car into a repair shop because his engine was making a funny grating noise. The repairman opened the hood and looked around with a flashlight. Then he grabbed a rubber mallet and banged on the engine a few times. He told the car's owner to go ahead and start the engine, and lo and behold! No more funny grating noise!

When the satisfied car owner went to the cashier to pay, he was astonished to see his bill. $143.00!! He went over to the repairman, and demanded, "Hey, what the hell? All you did was hammer on the engine!"

The repairman calmly replied, "Yes, that's true. Here, let me itemize this for you." Taking the bill from the customer's hand, he explained, "I charged you $3 for pounding on the engine with the rubber mallet... and $140 for knowing where to pound, how hard to pound, and when to stop pounding."

Last thing I ate or drank: chugged a diet pepsi... i feel sleepy, and need caffeine!!

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At last, the Deuling Cassoulet story!

Act One: I'd been reading this book, called "You Can't See Paris From Here" which is the writer's account of taking his family to the south of France. He watches how this small village has been revitalized by it's sole attraction: a restaurant (called La Récréation, which is French for "recess" as it's in a schoolhouse.)  It was a very warm and moving story, about the struggles and the successes of a classical French restaurant, and the local businesses that supplied and supported it. The descriptions of the cooking and ingredients and the people made me wish I was there. But there's no international travel for this girl for a while, so I would have to suffice with books and my imagination. Duck, both as confit and foie gras, was consumed with fresh local vegetables and washed down with the local Cahors wine. Yum yum and YUM!

Act Two: In anticipation of making dinner for myself and my husband, I took out some ground meat from the freezer. I was pretty sure that it was ground beef, but didn't pay much attention. When I went to go make dinner, it was ground pork... and I didn't think he'd go for a hamburger made of ground pork. So I made little meatballs, and sautéed them in a pan, thinking I'd get inspiration. Ground pork is basically unseasoned sausage, right? so I seasoned it like sausage, and the smell made me think of Cassoulet. But I have no duck! I saved some duck fat from a previously enjoyed duck, (for cooking potatoes!) so I used it to sauté the onions and carrots. I had the right beans, though I'd have to compromise by using canned. I had some frozen turkey, from legs that I had stewed for hours in a big rondeau, sealed in vacuum-bags. The dark meat might be sufficiently gamey to pass for the rich flavor of duck. So far, so good. No salt pork for lardons, but I did have bacon! A blob of tomato paste and a few flavor adjustments, and I was satisfied. I toasted up some small cubes of bread in some more duck fat, salted them, and crossed my fingers.

When I served it for dinner, dressed with the croutons, I explained to Kelly that it was 'fake cassoulet'. He really liked it. I couldn't help but ponder whether it was close enough to the flavors of a proper cassoulet, or if it just tasted good, but Kelly said he liked it enough that he could eat it once a week. I then explained about the quantities of duck fat & bacon, and he said with a laugh, "OK, twice a week!"

Act Three: Kelly got an amex gift card from work, for being the stellar employee that he is,  and instead of buying himself some gadget or amusement, he decided we should go out to dinner. There is one restaurant near my home that I just adore. Bistro Provence. It's lovely, comfortable, the food is outstanding, yet still very reasonably priced. I called for a reservation and surprisingly, got a table at 7:30.

As we were offered menus and the wine list, Kelly proposed champagne. (WOOT!) and as I perused the menu, the thing that my eyes landed on was the cassoulet. WOOT!! See, I love duck, I love confit of duck, and I love cassoulet. ...but did I want to eat it two nights in a row? Hell yes! As I said in a previous post I really don't like to eat the same thing in the same WEEK, much less on consecutive nights.

I was too excited at the opportunity to compare the poseur concoction I made the previous night to the genuine article. So I ordered the cassoulet.

YES, his flavors were deeper and more complex. Yes the oily duck was pleasantly satisfying, and yes, the sausages were sublime. But the one I made in about 35 minutes with stuff in my pantry wasn't far off! I was thrilled! Isn't that silly? I had to restrain myself from licking the crock clean.

We polished off the champagne and shared a slice of an intensely flavored but surprisingly light mocha cake for dessert.

Act Four: The next day for lunch, I ate cassoulet yet again: leftovers of the faked stuff, which was still delicious after a rest in the fridge and a slow reheating in the microwave. Even after eating the real thing, I felt my little impostor really held it's own.

I'm done with cassoulet for a while, (hee hee) but it was fun to have that experience.

Last thing I ate or drank: French bread, drizzled with olive oil, spread with labne, sprinkled with mint & chili, topped with thinly sliced yellow tomato.

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