Saturday, October 31, 2009

What is YOUR favorite comfort food?

How about comfort foods? I had dinner with one of my best girlfriends the other night and we had one of those nights that girl's have. Plenty of laughing, talking, and drinking great wine. So let's just say, because of all the "fun" we had, the next day I was in need of a little comfort food.

After getting up at the crack of dawn, doing a whirlwind cleaning, then having an early photo shoot with three little girls, I was ready for that comfort food and a nap. The comfort food came in the form of a grilled Havarti cheese sandwich and some chunky tomato soup with basil. The nap never came.

It's been a long time since I have had this age old combination. But it brought me straight back to my childhood. I have recently started conducting some interviews about food to different demographics of people and one of the things that I've asked is, "What is your favorite comfort food?" I have been fascinated by the answers! I have heard things like pot roast & mashed potatoes, lasagna, and most oddly; escargot!

I think my own list of comfort foods would include scalloped potatoes, oatmeal with butter & brown sugar, wild rice, bbq ribs, soup, baked potatoes, cereal... I've pondered what qualifies one to BE a comfort food. In fact, one lovely young man that I interviewed wasn't sure what a comfort food was and asked me for a definition. I figured it's different for everyone because this type of food conjures up images of, well, comfort! A food that makes you feel safe & happy, right? Ah, once again, the power of food to rule over even our emotions!

So this is why everyone has their own view of what comfort food is to them. It depends on where you were when you ate that food, and what memories are attached to it. A lot of my comfort foods bring me back to childhood. Things my mom cooked. The stuff she made me when I was sick or the things I just loved when she made them. These are the foods with the most history with me, I guess.

So how about comfort foods? When is the last time one wrapped you in it's arms? And why do they comfort you so? Add your picks to the list!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Over the weekend during a, "What should we have for dinner?" conversation, I hear, "Have you ever made falafel?" I have never even THOUGHT of making falafel! I love falafel, but it always seems like such an exotic, mystery combination of things that it never occured to me to dabble in falafel making.

When I told my mom what I was making she said, "You're making waffles for dinner?!" No mom, falafels. If you are a falafel virgin like my mother, they are basically a fried ball of spiced, chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, served in a soft pita bread with some crisp salad veggies and a spicy, garlicky yogurt sauce.

This exotic Middle Eastern favorite, seemed a little intimidating, so I consulted the Food Network website & found a recipe by Bobbie Flay that I was going to go with, but then I read all these comments by frustrated people who had tried it and had their falafel disintegrate when they put it in the oil. Then I saw another by Maria Ostrosky that had rave reviews. I think this one works so well because it has an egg & bread crumbs added to help hold it together. So I jumped in and I discovered it's no more complicated than making meatballs!

I took Maria's recipe, and substituted 2 cans of chickpeas instead of using dried beans that need to be soaked overnight, added some more spices, simplified things a bit and here you go:

Here's what you need:

  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 3 green onions
  • a couple of garlic cloves
  • a handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 chopped seranno chili pepper
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 1/2 to 1 cup bread crumbs

Here's what you do:

Drain chickpeas and put them in a food processor. Add green onions, garlic, parsley, cumin, salt, egg and seranno chili. Mix baking powder with water and add mixture to food processor. Process until smooth. Transfer mixture into a small bowl. Add bread-crumbs until mixture forms a small ball without sticking to your hands. Roll falafel mixture into ping - pong - ball sized balls and flatten slightly. I refrigerated mine for about an hour before frying to make sure they stayed together.

Pour about 2 inches of oil into a heavy saucepan and heat oil. You know the oil is hot enough when you put the end of a wooden spoon in and bubbles form around the handle. Slip a few at a time into the hot oil, making sure they don't stick to the bottom. Cook, turning, for about 6 minutes, or until the balls are a dark, even brown on all sides. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve with chopped tomato, cucumber, lettuce and Yogurt Sauce (below) in a soft flat bread.

For the Yogurt Sauce:

Don't even think of leaving this out, it's the best part!!

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon very finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A couple Tbs. fresh, chopped parsley
Mix together the yogurt, tahini paste, garlic and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper

So don't be afraid! Get your falafel on! You're gonna love it!!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Subliminal Message

For me, here's the best part of writing a blog: Interacting with people who have a similar passion; swapping ideas, hearing what you're into, what works, what you've been cooking, eating, etc...

Otherwise it feels like I'm talking to myself.

With my friends and physical family, we have adopted the food hotline. You know, where you have that person to call in a food emergency, or to brag about something fabulous you just made, or sometimes, it's even just that part of the conversation that starts with, "so... what have you been eating lately?" For real, this is, among other things, what we talk about.

When I was attempting my sister's daunting Lilikoi Cheesecake, I called her about three times AND had to call my mom to have her bring over her mixer. (See the September post)

My sister just called me the other day and I had to walk her through making a cream sauce, and stayed on the phone till she was tasting the pasta & giving me her reviews.

My mom called the other day, just to proudly tell me of a shrimp and green pea salad she invented.

I got a text message just today from a guy friend of mine asking if I have any ideas for deer!

Anyway, all this to say... I love this! And, dear reader, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU TOO! I love to read your comments and love to hear what you think! Plus, it gives me a better idea of what you're into & what I should write about! So go ahead, don't be shy... It's our way of sharing a meal together vicariously!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sexy Food

Here is an ongoing conversation that I have with my food-loving sister. It started when, while eating a pomegranate, she declared to her boyfriend that they are a sexy food. He didn't understand & said, "How can a pomegranate be sexy"? And so our conversation started.

CAN food be sexy? And if so, what foods ARE sexy?

My contemplation began with, "Absolutely, food can be sexy!" I continued to ponder on my opinion that things you can eat without utensils have potential sexiness. Well, maybe not crackers. Doesn't even sound sexy. Or how about pickled pigs feet? Falls into my definite UNsexy category.

So I figured, if there are un-sexy foods like pigs feet, that must mean that there are equally sexy ones, right? My sister added figs, oysters, Italian ice cream & strawberries to the list. But I have to say, I had a bad oyster/strawberry experience once... they work individually, not so much together...

So I seconded her strawberry & raised her a raspberry. Especially when floating in a glass of champagne. And dare we forget plain old dark chocolate? And even the perfect espresso with it's dark, mysterious elixir-qualities and creamy foam. I would also have to say BBQ ribs. My vegetarian friends might disagree. Sounds carnivorous & barbaric perhaps, but what's sexier than licking fingers, I ask?

This conversation has been going on for the majority of 2009, and to the original list, I now add a few. Hands down, top contenders: lobster & muscles. Also oozy, melting cheese, risotto, lilikoi (also know as passion fruit, hello!) & chocolate cake. Just tonight I heard that pasta sauce can be sexy. Who knew? And the conversation continues...

So please join us! What do you think? Can food be sexy? How about un-sexy? Add your two cents worth in the comment section below & let me know what you can add to the list!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roasted Garlic

Ahhh... glorious roasted garlic. Is there anything else who's whole flavor is so radically transformed by spending some quality time in the oven? I think not.

I first tasted roasted garlic at a little catered birthday party for my sister when I was about 20 & just realizing how much I loved food. I was in disbelief that this creamy, savory, and almost sweet brown stuff on my bread was the siamese twin of the hot, smelly (in a good way) little raw cloves.

All these years later, I have developed a real appreciation, dare I say, love for roasted garlic. I buy garlic in the big bag from Costco and use it in almost everything I cook. I've been told I go to bed with my hands smelling like garlic, even after doing the dishes & taking a shower. Good thing I'm not dating a vampire!

When I have plenty of heads of garlic laying around, I try to throw couple in the oven whenever it's on & then keep it on hand to sneak it into whatever's on the menu.

If you haven't been practicing this move, you really, really need it! It couldn't be simpler. Just lop off the top of a couple of heads of garlic, pour on a little olive oil and some salt & pepper. Wrap the whole thing in some tinfoil and toss it in the oven. Leave it there until the smell starts making you're brain want to be slathered in it. You can tell it's ready when the cloves start to pop out.

Spread some on some french bread with a slice of brie. Throw some whole cloves in your next pasta sauce, chicken dish, or just about anything you have simmering on the stove. And PLEASE, let me know what you come up with!

Quote of the day:
"What garlic is to food, insanity is to art."
~Agustus Saint-Gaudens

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pear & Gorgonzola Salad

Here is perhaps my favorite salad of all time. Every once in a while I will pick up a hunk of gorgonzola cheese and go on a binge. I have made this salad for many a Thanksgiving dinner, fancy lunch, or midnight snack.

Gorgonzola is an Italian blue cheese, named for the small town near Milan where it is reported to have originated. The whole moldy cheese thing is always a little creepy, but gorgonzola's
creamy & pungent flavor just works.

To make this salad even cooler, I stumbled upon Sekel pears yesterday. I have never bought them before, but they are so cute, I couldn't resist! They are about the size of a tangerine, maybe smaller.

This salad is great with any leafy greens, red onion, pecans or walnuts & a simple vinaigrette. Give it a try. It's so simple but the combination of sweet, salty & nutty flavors is perfect.

I'm Having Babies!!!

Ok, I, the plant killer am trying again. I am a self confessed Fickle Gardner. It's probably a metaphor for my life, I realize, but when the seeds sprout and the miracle of life rears its magical head, I get all starry eyed and hopeful. I remain enraptured while the plants are growing, and when I can pluck something from the ground and put it on my table later, I tell you, it's close to love.

But inevitably, something happens. I get distracted. Busy with other projects. Lazy, perhaps. The watering starts to ebb. Things get dry and the future looks bleak. This is when things really start to plummet. Days and days go by in total neglect and my crime moves from involuntary plant-slaughter to straight up murder. This is when only the toughest, drought friendly (to put it nicely) plants survive. I have to walk by the garden on my way to my studio every day and am faced with my transgressions.

Then the remorse sets in. What is wrong with me?! It takes a few measly minutes to water! It's so worth the challenge. I love to dig in the dirt, I love the whole magical process, I love to grow my own food. I live in Hawaii, for crying out loud! It's summer here all year long! How hard can it be???

And then I find myself staring down some seed packets and cowering before the familiar lady in the garden department of Home Depot who always asks how my projects are going. But I do it again, even in mid October, right before the crazy rush of the holidays and all that they bring. I dug up the back yard again the other day, planted my seeds and seven days later I have babies!!!

Beside the herbs and hot peppers that have survived, I planted an eggplant, some lettuce & tomato plants, and started seeds for cucumbers, carrots, radish, beets, zuchini, cantelope, spinach, peas, beans & yellow pepper. Not only am I taking the plunge again, but it's probably my most ambitious garden yet.

So I'm throwing it out there. I'll let you know the progress. If I kill them, please come and whack me with the hose.

Quote of the day:
"Everything comes to those who can wait."
~Francois Rabelais

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Outrageously Fabulous Sandwiches

In my book, pizza and sandwiches are tied for first for the most diverse and all purpose food. Every once in a while I get a hankering for what we call "outrageously fabulous" sandwiches with about a hundred different things tucked in between some kind of killer bread.

I did a little research on the history of the sandwich and found that the first one came to be in the 1st century, and it has continued to evolve since then. Ironically my current home, Hawaii, is also known as the Sandwich Islands. Turns out the 4th Earl of Sandwich was patron to Capt. Cook, who named the Islands after him!

I think there are a lot of reasons that sandwiches work so well. First of all they are a portable meal. Second, they can contain all four food groups within their walls. Third, there are a million different options of what to do with them. As far as being able to be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, a burrito might be the only closest runner up.

But really, there's the breakfast sandwich ingredients like eggs, bacon, ham, cheese & sausage. And I dare you to try it with tomato & avocado and of course, hot sauce.

For lunch or dinner, we could go on for eternity. I'm going to hit on just a few combos that have rocked my world recently. How about these two from my favorite sandwich joint on Oahu, Mix Cafe. The first is roast pork, gorgonzola & carmelized onions. They also make the best tuna sandwich I've ever encountered. They mix tuna, red onions, capers, calamata olives & cherry tomatoes and some olive oil & a little vinegar, then put in some blanched green beans and dare I say, some cheese! These are both served on a baguette. If you're in the neighborhood, they are on the corner of Beretania & Bethel St. in downtown Honolulu.

I really need to go back to my roots though. You see, I grew up in a restaurant. My parents had B.J.'s BBQ & Deli & I worked there from the seventh grade until I graduated form high school. And, ehem, I humbly confess, I had a sandwich named after me. The "Heidi Special" was basically a Philly cheesesteak; this one made with grilled prime rib, onions, peppers & jack cheese on a toasted bun. But really my favorite creation was the sliced bbq beef sandwich on an onion roll. I souped mine up with swiss cheese and pickles.

I have also become a loyal fan of the Cubano sandwich at Soul de Cuba Cafe. It is slow cooked lechon (pork), ham, salami, swiss cheese and pickles (I always snag some extras for mine) with mayo & mustard on french bread, squashed in a panini press. So simple. So good.

And then there's the classics. Pastrami & Swiss. French dip. When's the last time you had a Monte Christo? Remember that crazy combination of french toast meets grilled ham & cheese?! Or how about a BLT with cucumbers and sprouts? And of course chicken and turkey sandwiches - I'm not even going there, with the exception of the post-thanksgiving turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce. That one's gotta be the biggest comfort food of the holidays.

I'm going to save hamburgers for a whole other post. These might just be the king of the sandwich in my book.

So, if all of these options don't get you salivating for the endless options of the almighty sandwich, something might be wrong. Go on... whip up something outrageously fabulous!

Quote of the Day:
"I just had a sandwich, ... and I felt much better".
~Steve Elkington

Friday, October 16, 2009

Swanky Breakfast

I found this recipe for "pain perdue" in the May issue of Gourmet Magazine. This is a savory version of french toast with poached eggs & greens. The recipe said to make it in a baking dish, but I had just scored these ramekins the day before at a yard sale and was itching to use them, so I had to do just a little improv.

So if you're lounging around this weekend and want something impressive to serve along with the Sunday paper, here is your thing:

Preheat oven to 400, whisk together 1 cup milk, 1 egg & some salt & pepper, then pour over 6 slices of baguette in a baking dish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese & press lightly to help the bread absorb the custard. Let stand 15-30 minutes. (I know this seems like a lot of liquid when you see it, but something mysterious happens in the oven and it all makes sense). I buttered the ramekins then layered the bread in, then dot with butter and bake, uncovered for about 20 mins, till puffed and golden.

Now I'm not a poached egg cooker, so to speak. They seem high maintenance & scary. But I did it. Just bring a couple of inches of water to boil with a couple of drops of vinegar in a small deep skillet. Break an egg into a cup & slide it into the water. (Do two eggs total). I'm not sure what the secret is to getting them to look like the perfect ones in the magazine. Mine didn't. you do have to spoon the white around a bit. Who cares anyway right? It's the weekend, you're in your jammies, so just chill if your eggs are ugly! Anyway, let them cook for a couple of minutes, depending on how runny you like them.

Meanwhile, toss some greens with a little vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Serve the eggs over the bread custard, and put the greens on the side. Sounds weird, but it works. Try it!

Quote of the Day:
"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."
~John Gunther

Sugar Cane

Ok here's one for you. What do you do when your children drag home a seven foot piece of sugar cane that the neighbors shared? It's beautiful. It's exotic. But it's just a little overwhelming to have an ingredient that is bigger than you.

I asked my sister what to do with it. She said to take a machete and hack it into smaller pieces. Call me crazy, but I don't have a machete. I do have a circular saw, hmmm...

Anyway, I feel like I should make some use out of this thing, but I need your help. I've done a little research on raw sugar cane recipes, but I'm going to put out the call for help with this one.

If you have any ideas or come across some interesting recipes please, please, PLEASE post something here! In the meantime, I will be hunting down that machete...

Quote of the Day:
"A wise woman puts a grain of sugar into everything she says to a man, and takes a grain of salt with everything he says to her."
~ Helen Rowland

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Introducing Mr. Edmeades

Alright, as you can see my wine pick is lacking two of my usual qualities: The catchy name and the snazzy label. It DOES have the most important quality, however. It's great!

If you share with me a love of big, flavorful reds, you will appreciate Mr. Edmeades. This is my go-to wine when I go to my favorite wine bar, Du Vin in downtown Honolulu, which boasts a gigantic, overwhelming wine list. As long as Edmeades is on the list, I don't have to worry.

Edmeades is a zinfandel from Mendocino, CA. It is a fairly young winery, with the first grapes planted in 1963. Last year Food & Wine Magazine put Edmeades 2006 zinfandel on the "Best wines under $20" list.
Another great thing about this is my discovery of it on the shelves at Costco!

I must admit, while at a wine tasting last week, I was perusing a shelf and saw a bottle of my man. I almost choked when I read the back and saw the description of it's flavors as blah blah blah, with "dollops of smoke"!! If you read the "Mollydooker" article in September, you know how I feel about these silly adjectives. Forget about the smoke dollops, and just believe me when I say, It's big, smooth, and has a great flavor. Give it a try!

Quote of the day: "I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity."
~ Maya, from the movie "Sideways"

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I was rummaging in my pantry the other day, pawing through all my jars of pasta & rice and realized I had five different kinds of rice. Is this normal? Does one girl really need this many rice options? There was brown, aborio, jasmine, red/brown, and wild rice.

I have always loved rice. When I was a kid, Minute Rice was one of the first things I learned to cook. I would eat it alone with just butter and salt. Wild rice has always been the delicacy of rice with me. I was born on an Indian reservation in Minnesota where wild rice is still cultivated. Every once in a while my dad will send me a bag of this gold and I ration it as much as possible. Again, butter & salt is all I need in a big bowl of wild rice to make me purr.

I live in Hawaii, where sticky rice is the local rice of choice. When I first moved here and had some friends over, I served jasmine rice. A local girl pulled me aside and gave me the "Sister, what's up with the rice?" conversation. Sorry guys, but I must say, sticky rice doesn't do it for me. Jasmine or basmati is just much more fun.

All these years, I have never been a fan of brown rice. Ah, but things have changed. My favorite little hole in the wall Thai place in Chinatown, called Fort Street Cafe serves their killer curries with the choice of white or brown rice. I, of course, always opted for white. But the boyfriend always goes with brown. Which isn't just brown, but the brown & red rice. Slowly, I have been converted. It's not the dry, boring, oh too healthy stuff of my memories, but it's slightly nutty & actually really good. And now, my pantry has welcomed both of these new additions to the shelves.

The last member of my rice collection is aborio, which is the stuff of my beloved risotto. Sometimes it's hard to find it in my neighborhood. We are sadly lacking fancy Italian ingredients. So when I see it at Safeway, I always gobble up a box.

So whether it's swimming in a spicy chicken curry, sitting under some teriyaki chicken, or with a simple dressing of butter and salt, I guess for me, you can never have too many different kinds of rice!

Friday, October 9, 2009


Potatoes are one of my all time favorite foods. Probably because there are a hundred & fifty million things you can do with them. My new faves in the potato department are fingerlings. Some are about the size of your thumb, some are a little smaller than a regular red potato.

I have wondered if these tiny wonders are simply baby potatoes, or if they are a breed of their own. Turns out they are, indeed fully mature. The coolest feature of these little guys is their variety of colors. They go from creamy white, pink and even a deep purple! Can you find a more exotic potato??!

I have started using these a lot more since I discovered Costco selling them. They come in a 5 lb bag for about $6 bucks! These are great in recipes that feature their demure size, like in potato salad or in my standby: roasted with garlic, onions and fresh herbs.

When I make them, I like to keep them whole if their not too big. For the bigger ones, just cut them so they are all about the same size as the whole ones. I throw in some sliced onions and whole, peeled garlic cloves, and sometimes some baby carrots. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast in a 375 oven till tender. When you take them from the oven, throw some chopped herbs over them and serve.

If you haven't fallen in love with these yet, you surely will. And they look so cute!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Brie & Grape Quesadilla

Here is a fancy little snack that goes way back in my archives. My sister & I discovered something like this years & years ago at the Hali'imaile General Store on Maui. This is such a great combination of savory and sweet and it looks so pretty!

This is served with a green pea pesto that adds freshness and even more flavor. To make the pesto, thaw about a cup of frozen peas and put into a food processor. Add some fresh basil, about a 1 inch chunk of chopped red onion, some salt & pepper and about 1 Tbs. olive oil. Mix till combined.

For the quesadilla, put a little butter in a heated pan, add one flour tortilla, layer on thin slices of brie cheese and some sliced grapes. Top with another tortilla and allow to brown on both sides. Remove from pan, cut into triangles and serve with green pea pesto. So easy. So good. And dare I say, so sexy!

Queen of the Marinade

I've gotta say... I've gotten raves on my marinades. The thing is, whenever someone asks me what my recipe is, I always have to say that I don't really have one, which makes it seem mysterious and secretive. But really that's not so.

There is a secret and here it is: A great marinade needs to have a combination of these five
"S"-words. Savory, Sweet, Salty, Spicy & Sour. So basically what I do is open up the fridge and see what condiments qualify.

For the savory, things like oyster sauce, worcestershire, hoisen sauce, ketchup, and dijon mustard are great options.

For the sweet; brown sugar is a must, honey, orange marmalade, and even citrus juice or soda have worked.

For the salty; soy sauce is always the base. A little bit of fish sauce is a nice addition too (I have to keep that a secret in my house though, or everyone will freak out!).

For the spicy; harissa is fantastic (see September post for recipe), Chipotle Tabasco gives it a nice smokey flavor, sweet chili sauce is also great.

For the Sour, you really need just a touch of something acidic. My favorite is balsamic vinegar.

I also always add some fresh chopped garlic, herbs and fresh ground ginger.

And there you have it, sounds like a million ingredients, but it should be all things that you already have in the fridge, and this is where improv is key! Before you add your meat, just keep tasting to see that you have the right balance, not too salty & just sweet enough.

If you have the large, gallon ziplock bags, they work great for holding whatever you are marinating. This way you can pour everything in, throw it in the refrigerator, and give it a jiggle every now and then. The longer you can leave it the better. Overnight is perfect, an hour at the least. Also if you are using a large piece of meat, like the one pictured, poke it a few times on each side with a fork to allow marinade to penetrate.

When it's time to throw it on the grill, or put it in the pan, pat it with a paper towel to dry off the outside as much as possible. Then pour remaining marinade into a small saucepan, bring to boil and then reduce slightly. Brush this on as the meat cooks and reserve a little to pour on the finished meat and voila! Get ready for the rave reviews.


Next to salt & pepper, herbs might be my next favorite thing to throw a handful of into a pan, or onto a finished dish. Years ago, I used to buy a bunch of parsley or basil from the grocery store, bring it home, put it in the fridge, use it maybe once, then eventually throw the slimy, black bag of goo away a few days later.

Then I attempted to grow my own herbs in little pots in the kitchen like the TV sets on the Food Network had. However, that area of my kitchen became known as Death Row. I confess to killing many a plant on death row.

Years later, I finally moved into a house with a tiny yard and decided to plunk some herbs into the ground and see what happened. Much better success! Since then, wherever I have lived, I stake out a patch of dirt to put a few plants. It is so worth it to have your own little supply for whenever you need it.

I do better with the larger herbs like basil & rosemary that are lower maintenance, since my death row skills are still alive & well. But right now I also have sage, lemon-thyme & parsley surviving nicely but I have recently killed some oregano, regular thyme & mint.

I have also finally figured out that if you cut some fresh herbs and then keep them in the kitchen in little vases of water, they last much longer than putting them in the refrigerator, and they bring a bit of life into your kitchen!

So if you're not using fresh herbs, shame on you. If you are using them but you're buying them from the store; boo! If you have some growing outside and you don't know what to do with them, bring them inside and keep them handy to throw in your creations! Fresh herbs make your dishes and your kitchen come alive!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Salt & Peppa

So I thought I would delve into the essence of spice and flavor today. I figured we needed to get a little scientific & research-y, throw in a little history and statistics on the two things we use most in the kitchen: salt & pepper.

I can't imagine cooking food without having these two little bowls at my fingertips. Spices have been so valuable through the ages that they were used as currency.

Here's a whacky piece of trivia: Salad literally means "salted" from the ancient Roman practice of salting leafy vegetables.

Salt is a pretty fascinating thing, actually. Wikipedia tells me that it is a dietary mineral composed of Sodium Chloride. Turns out, salt is essential for animal life, yet toxic for plants. Interesting. It is a crystaline solid, either white, pink or pale grey and is obtained from sea water or rock deposits.

Salt comes in three different forms:
Unrefined (sea salt)
Refined (table salt)

Unrefined salt has different mineral qualities that give them their different flavor. Fluer de sel is the swanky salt I see the Food Network guys using. It is harvested by hand, made by the evaporation of sea water in shallow basins warmed by sunlight. It's unique flavor depends on the region it's harvested in. No wonder it's spendy. Because of it's more natural harvesting, there are those who think it is the healthier option. Makes sense to me.

Refined salt is the most widely used. Food grade salt is only a small part of salt production, the majority is industrial. This is used in things like beauty products, pulp & paper, dyes for textiles & fabrics, soaps & detergents. It comes from rock salt, obtained from mineral deposits.

Salt has been used as the best known preservative for gajillions of years & It's amazing how it has shown up in almost every religion from Christianity, Muslim, Hindu, Judaism, Shinto, Aztec, & even pagan Wicca rituals. Egyptians, Greeks, & Romans also invoked their gods with offerings of salt & water.

Too much or too little salt in our diet can effect such health issues as heartburn, osteoporosis, cancer, high blood pressure, edema, ulcers, heart disease and asthma. The FDA recommends less than 2300 mg of sodium a day.

So there's a little salt 101, most of which are facts that I take for granted. But the simple value of having these little grains from the sea to flavor our savory dishes, balance out our sweets and keep us healthy is a pretty precious thing.

When I did my wikipedia search for black pepper, I had to sift through such options that I did NOT want like: chili pepper, Sgt. Pepper, sweet pepper, Dr. Pepper, and even the Butthole Surfers song, 'pepper'. Seems as though pepper has also had quite an influence!

But alas, black pepper, I discovered, is the fruit from a flowering vine. The fruit; a green, unripe peppercorn, is cooked briefly in hot water then dried and ground to be used as the spice we know & love. This peppercorn is unrelated to the bell or chili varieties that share the same names.

Black pepper is native to India, but is also cultivated in other tropical regions. Vietnam is the worlds largest producer & exporter of pepper.

I've always wondered the difference between black & white pepper, (besides the obvious), and discovered that it is just the wrinkled black skin that is removed to give pepper a colorless appearance in light colored dishes. Seems like a lot of fuss to me. No one I'm cooking for is going to notice, let alone squawk if there is visible pepper in their white sauce.

Some more trivia:
*Pepper has been figuratively used for centuries for "spirit" or "energy".
*The French word "poivre" means pepper! As in steak au poivre. You probably knew that, but I've always wondered!

Pepper also has it's medicinal purposes. In India, it is used to treat constipation, diarrhea, ear ache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver & lung problems, sunburn & even tooth decay.

As for the sneezing effect, few controlled studies have been done, but it is thought that either the substance "piperine" found in black pepper irritates the nostrils, or it might be the effect of the fine dust when the pepper is ground.

By monetary value, pepper is the most widely traded spice in the world and made up 20% of imports in 2002.

So the next time you pass the salt or throw in a little cracked pepper, take a second to appreciate the journey these little grains have taken through the ages and the value that they have held. And just try to imagine your dishes with out them!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lychee Martini

While we're on this tropical kick, here's an exotic cocktail to add to your collection. Lychee is a very cool fruit that grows in tropical areas. It has a spiky red outer shell and the inside is much like a peeled grape with a seed in the middle.

This is a really simple martini to make. You can find canned lychee in the Asian food isle in the grocery store.

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker. Pour in about 2 Tbs. of the juice from the can of lychee. Then add a shot of vodka, and shake it senorita! Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a couple of skewered lychee.


Lilikoi Cheesecake Trifle

Ok, I've said it before, I'm no baker. I don't like to have to strictly follow a recipe. I like to cook simple things that don't take hours & hours with lots of steps. If you're like me, this recipe is NOT for you. BUT, if you feel like tackling something time consuming, messy, and really, REALLY good, this is just the thing!

I had to pry this recipe from my sister's reluctant claws. This is her go-to secret recipe dessert to impress a crowd. The difference is, she makes it in a rectangular cake pan, and I made it in two smaller trifle dishes. I did this mostly because I knew I would need to get rid of a lot of it, lest I eat the whole thing.

I think the key to the freshness of this dessert is in using fresh lilikoi, also called passion fruit. Fresh lilikoi is really hard to find in stores because it ripens really fast and doesn't keep long. The reason I decided to take on this crazy thing is because I stumbled upon (literally) some lilikoi on a hiking trail a couple of weeks ago and brought one home so that I could plant the seeds and grow my own vine. Then I remembered my sister's recipe and decided to go back to the trail the next weekend to hunt for more. I ended up stuffing my shorts pockets with about 20 of the lime sized fruits and schlepping them out of the forest.

If you don't happen to have a jungle nearby to forage in, and no fresh lilikoi are in sight, I'm sure you could substitute canned or frozen juice.

There are basically three steps for the three different layers. Here's what you need:
1/2 box yellow cake mix
1 1/4 C. sugar
1 package unflavored gelatin
2 8 oz. packages cream cheese
3 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 C. vegatable oil
4 eggs
1 C. passionfruit (lilikoi) juice
2 C. water

Here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 350.

For the bottom layer:
Combine cake mix, 1/2 C. water, 1/4 C. oil and 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve egg white). Mix with an electric mixer for about two minutes. Pour into pans. I used two 4 inch ovenproof glass bowls. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Set aside and allow to cool.

For the middle layer:
In a saucepan, combine 1/2 C. sugar, unflavored gelatin, 1/2 C. passionfruit juice, 1/2 C. water, and 2 egg yolks (reserve whites) over med-high heat and stir constantly until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile take reserved egg whites and put into a very clean, very dry bowl, (if you happen to be so pro-ish to have a copper bowl, this is supposed to be perfect). This clean bowl thing is key because this is one of those crazy scientific steps that makes me wonder why in the world I am baking. Also, a side note here: I'm sure you all have a mixer. I'm sure you didn't attempt to make bread dough with yours and blow it up. Because that would just be crazy. And if you did happen to do such a foolish thing, do not attempt to use a food processor, it won't work. And really, trying to do it by hand is just futile, although it will give you a good deltoid workout. Trust me on this one, just call your mom and have her bring hers over and save yourself the headache, I'm just saying...

Alright, so even my baking-guru sister struggles with this stiffly beaten egg white requirement. So I did a little google-ing and found that room temp whites work better, add a pinch of salt in the beginning and then a pinch of cream of tartar halfway through and a pinch of sugar at the end for success. Finally, it worked.

So once your egg whites are beaten into submission, in a separate bowl, beat cream cheese with 1/4 sugar. Then add cooled passionfruit mixture. Next, gently fold in egg whites, spread over cakes and refrigerate.

For the top layer:
Grab your saucepan again and combine remaining 1/2 C. juice, 1/2 C. sugar, 3 Tbs. cornstarch and 1 C. water. Cook over med-high heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Allow to cool and then spread over top layer of cakes.

The longer it can stay refrigerated, the better it will set. If you go with the trifle option, just know that it's going to look it's prettiest before you serve it. Once you dig in, well, it will look a little... rustic.

Now pour a glass of wine, put your feet up and relax, after toiling through this recipe, you've earned it! Enjoy...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

I didn't think Swigs and Grinds would be a place to find a movie review, but then yesterday I took my daughters to see Columbia Pictures' and Sony Pictures Animation's "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs". I didn't realize I was going to be in for such a treat!

This is the story of Flint Lockwood, who's been trying to become an inventor since he was a kid. He had his share of not-so-successful inventions over the years, like spray on shoes, hair un-balder and a monkey thought translator. But it wasn't until he invented a machine that makes your dream food fall from the sky, that he changed his whole town.

As a lover of food, this is a fascinating thought! The animation is amazing, especially as the falling food keeps getting bigger and bigger. And the characters are so great. And of course, this movie has to deal with issues of gluttony, greed, self-confidence, and loooovve! Just like in real life - mine anyway!

So if you want to go on food-overload without eating a thing, if you need to remember the benefits of optimism or the dangers of too much of a good thing, this movie will feed it all to you.

We laughed our heads off and stayed to sing along with the theme song and dance in the isles on the way out, because in the words of Flint Lockwood, "We've got diem to carpe!"