Saturday, August 29, 2009


I always like the idea of things being passed down through generations. I have a ring my mom got from my grandfather (on my dad's side). It is unique and so pretty. I wear it all the time, but I don't think the "passing down" of this ring was anything momentous. I am pretty sure my dad's dad just gave it to my mom as a gift a long time ago, maybe before I was born. At some point I found it in her drawer and basically just took it since I know she does not wear rings.

I like old-looking jewelry and even sometimes furniture. There is something comforting about items that look like they have been through a lot. This certainly goes for old recipes as well. If something has been made so many times over the years by a certain number of people, it seems that by the time it gets to me it will be nearly perfect. People add their own touches to the recipe to make it better and better, and eventually there is nothing left to add. Of course there is something to be said about wanting to add your own touch to the list of changes.

I don't mention any of this because the following recipe is one that has been passed down to me. I mention this because it is a recipe with which I would like to start the pass-down process. I am sure there will be a lot of traditional recipes I will want to pass along, but I tend to put more importance on foods that say something about where my family comes from. Kafta (also sometimes spelled "kofta") is a traditional Lebanese dish. I ate a lot of Lebanese food (including kafta) growing up, but it was always bought prepared. It is important to me to for future generations of my family to know a thing or two about their heritage, and one of the best ways to ensure that happens is through food. Kafta is so simple to make, but it is a very traditional Lebanese food (the same can be said for hummus) so it was a great start for me. It is something I think everyone can enjoy as well.

Kafta for the Ages

Makes 8 sausages

1 lb lean ground beef or ground lamb (I used beef because it was what I had, but I would like to try it both ways before sticking with one)
1 C chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 C freshly minced white onion
1 large egg
1/2 tsp Lebanese 7 spices*
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

* You can buy the 7 spices already made from most Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.

Form into 8 sausages.

Put the sausages on the grill for about 15 minutes (until cooked to your preference)*
You can form the meat around wooden skewers if that makes it easier, but according to my dad, they should not be skewered.

*Traditionally, they should be slightly pink in the middle.

Serve with warm pita bread and hummus.

Please do not think I will be forgetting my mom's side of the family: the Puerto Ricans. I have such plans for them! There is a particular rice and beans dish my grandmother always makes for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas that I will be paying close attention to this year so any kind of posting on that will have to wait another few months. There is also the rum cake my Aunt Janet has perfected. I could go on.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It foods

I don’t know when this happened; probably it was around the time that everyone became a vegetarian. But hummus is now an “it food”. There is a short list of foods that have been around for a long time, but in just the past few years have become increasingly popular. According to my observations (which are honestly just based on my experience living in the self-important state of California) these “it foods/drinks” are: hummus, soy, green tea, lentils, yogurt, blueberries, egg whites, salmon and whole grain anything. These foods are generally associated with a healthy diet. I imagine they make up a significant chunk of the foods and drinks the kind of people who do a lot of yoga consume. Of course there is nothing wrong with any of the foods on this list or yoga (although I would like to use this opportunity to say I do not condone the practice of yoga as a replacement for intense cardiovascular activity). All of these foods have their own specific health benefits:

Yogurt has a high level of calcium and provides your body with what is described as “good bacteria” that you need for your digestive and immune systems

Blueberries/green tea contain high levels of antioxidants, which are compounds that essentially fight the good fight against the “evil” free radicals out to destroy your cells which are believed to be linked to cancer (although there is still debate about that).

Salmon provides high levels of protein and the ohsohotrightnow omega-3 fatty acids.

Egg Whites are simply a great source of protein without the fat and cholesterol found in the yolks. Although cholesterol may not necessarily be the beast we have made it out to be for so many years. For more on that, you should rent the documentary this guy made.

There is much controversy surrounding soy. It is difficult to know what to believe. I choose not to go into it here; I would rather leave it up to the experts for and against the bean product.

Whole grain foods have become increasingly popular as has the witch hunt against carbohydrates. While whole grains still contain carbohydrates, they are considered a healthier option than refined grains because of their fiber content.

Like lentils, hummus (made mostly of chick peas) is considered a healthy food because of its high fiber and mineral contents. Unlike lentils, I would eat hummus all the time regardless of its nutritional value.

Hummus is a food I grew up eating. Being of Armenian/Lebanese decent, it was something I ate and enjoyed with my family for as long as I can remember. The hummus situation in my house was always accounted for. Other Lebanese foods floated in and out of our kitchen over the years, but hummus was a staple. It was only the good stuff too. Our hummus was usually from the neighborhood Middle Eastern grocery store called Sahara in Tampa. It was fresh, the perfect texture, and full of flavor.

When I bought a food processor the other day, the first thing I wanted to make was my very own hummus. I literally googled “what is in hummus” (although it turns out I knew exactly what was in hummus…I just didn’t want to miss something). Most basic hummus recipes are made up of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice and garlic. I put all these ingredients in my food processor and went to work. I ended up adding a lot more lemon juice than I had expected, but I was able to get it to exactly how I like it (which may be a little different for each person). I had to make two batches because unfortunately, due to either my inexperience using a food processor or my lack of common sense for the moment, I used my spatula to wipe the sides clean while the processor was still running. A small chunk of rubber was immediately chopped up into unrecognizable pieces and blended with the first batch of hummus I made.

Take two was infinitely more successful and even tasted better (probably because it did not contain small amounts of rubber in each bite like the first one did).

Not Just Because It Is Good For You Hummus:

2 Cans chickpeas, drained (I will post an update next time when I soak overnight and cook my own chickpeas to let you know if it makes a difference or not...I am guessing not)
1/4 C tahini (more or less to taste)
1/2 C lemon juice (more or less to taste)
2-3 cloves garlic (chopped, crushed or minced)
salt and pepper to taste (about a 1/2 tsp each)

Just put all ingredients in a food processor (mine is a 6-cup processor, and it was more than big enough). Process ingredients for about 3-5 minutes or until well-blended. Taste and add different amounts of the ingredients as you go along.

Garnish the dish with a high quality olive oil, pine nuts and paprika as pictured. Other common garnishes include chopped fresh parsley, whole garbanzo beans

COMING SOON: Keep an eye out for an upcoming posting I will be calling, "The Hummus Experiment". I will be mixing several (some very unlikely) flavors into hummus and ranking them in order of deliciousness. I have a huge list of spices, sauces, and other weirdo things I am going to try (I don't want to give anything away for now), but please feel free to make any suggestions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Brunch Club, August Edition

I am a huge fan of combined words. I know most people are not, but I cannot help it; they make me laugh. Brunch is a word that combines the words “breakfast” and “lunch”, and this posting is first of hopefully many “Special Brunch Edition” posts. Some of our friends have decided to get together for monthly Sunday potluck-style brunches. Everyone will bring a dish or beverage, and a different person will host each week. I will feature the recipe for whatever dish I make each month, and I welcome any of my fellow brunchers to post your recipes here as well. Here is the breakdown of characters and what they brought for this event…in combined word fashion, of course:

NATALUE: Natalie and Sue are the sisters. It was their idea to start this whole thing, so you can thank them for all following “Special Brunch Editions” whether you like’em or not. Natalie brought turkey bacon and tomatoes. She grows her own tomatoes as well as eggplant, peppers, and probably some other things. Sue tried growing basil once, but unfortunately it died.

ANDICE: Andy and Candice are Canadians. Of course, they are laid-back-super-nice-always-pleasant-to-have-around kind of people. This time they brought fruits salad with yogurt and honey (picture not available), but sometimes they like to stick secret ingredients like avocado in their vegan chocolate cupcakes so we always have to watch out for these two.

BREANNA: Brian and LeAnna’s combined names make an actual name, and I think that is really special. BreAnna brought brownies to brunch. That is a tongue twister, and something makes me think they did this on purpose.

SUBE: Sue (of Natalue) and Brian just got married in July. This makes Natalie and Brian family and sometimes arch enemies. Bratalue (Three names. Too much? I apologize) gets together once a week for “family dinner” which I think is very sweet. Sue is a vegetarian. Brian likes raw meat.

ROBILY: Emily has deep red hair. It used to be super curly like mine, but now it is straight…probably because there is never room for two curly headed girls in one brunch group. Rob works for NASA and occasionally leaves just a little too early from games of Loaded Questions. Robily did not bring anything to brunch, probably because they were not there.

LINDZACHARY: That’s us. We hosted this week. “We” made baked brie and little quiches. I left my not-that-great camera somewhere else this weekend and had to take all the pictures on Zach’s camera phone. I think they turned out pretty well considering. Unfortunately, it took him “a long time, like 20 minutes” to email me all the pictures individually. I think my baked brie made up for it.

Featured Brunch Recipe: Mini Crustless Quiche

(recipe adapted from Bread and Honey)

4 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 grated carrot
1 grated zucchini
3 small mushrooms, finely chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
handful of chopped fresh parsley
1 C ground chorizo sausage, cooked (you can just leave this out completely for a vegetarian recipe. I made 6 quiches with the chorizo and 6 without. Bacon or breakfast sausage might also taste nice.)
large handful of grated cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon flour
salt & pepper
*You can use any vegetables or cheese you like (broccoli, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, spinach, etc)

Preheat oven to 350ºf.
Quickly saute grated carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, shallot, and garlic until tender.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, fresh parsley, grated cheddar, flour, and pinches of salt and pepper.
Generously grease a 12-muffin tin with butter. In the bottom of each cup, spoon in a small amount of sautéed vegetables. On top of that, spoon some of the cooked chorizo (or whatever meat you are using. Fill in by pouring the egg mixture to almost the top in each cup.
Bake for 20 minutes or until firm and puffy. Allow to cool a little before attempting to remove.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Whole Package

Everyone has something special they do for birthday, anniversary or Valentine's Day celebrations. Some of you like to have your favorite home cooked meal made for you, or maybe you have a special cake your mother has always made for your birthday. Zach and I do steak dinner. We will use any reason to celebrate by going out for a steak dinner. We do about three of these dinners each year: my birthday, his birthday, anniversary (sometimes Valentine's Day). We treat each other for our birthdays, and we try to find different places to go each time. The ones we have done since moving to Los Angeles include: Houston's, The Lodge (which is closed now, unfortunately), The Montecito Cafe, Ruth's Chris, and Fogo De Chao. A quick review of each, you ask? Why, of course:

Houston's: Although they have some in Florida, I never went to Houston's until I moved to Los Angeles. I would describe this place as the kind of restaurant that wealthy folks will go to for a hearty burger. It is nice, always busy, and the food is everything you want it to be when going in for a steak dinner: The steak is always cooked properly, the potatoes are creamy with a salty and crisp skin, and the wine selection is more than I can ask for.

The Lodge: Apparently, this place is closed now. It is a shame because it was definitely a restaurant to which I was planning a return visit. Oh well.

Montecito Cafe: We went up the coast about an hour and a half to Santa Barbara for our anniversary last year. This place was not a steakhouse. They had a variety of dishes, steak being one of them. The thing that impressed me about this place was the way everything went together. Usually at a steakhouse, I am just there for the steak and nothing else really matters, but this meal felt so complete. The side dishes (mashed potatoes and vegetables) and the appetizer (goat cheese pancakes) were outstanding without completely stealing the show. It was a nice overall experience.

Ruth's Chris: I always enjoy steak dinner. This one was delicious and satisfying as usual. However, I don't think I will be back. This place was a little too prissy for my taste. Of course everything was fantastic, but I prefer the laid back atmosphere of Houston's. I even prefer the steak at each of these other places to the steak here. Here is the gist of it: I like my steak to be tender, juicy and beefy; this steak was tender, juicy, and delicate which is fine... just not my preference.

Fogo De Chao: Holy cow! This place is intense, and by intense I mean life-changingly delicious. Lovely servers parade around the restaurant with skewers of filet mignon, parmesan encrusted pork loin, tender chicken wrapped in bacon, top sirloin, lamb, and other delicious things I cannot even remember. There is a salad bar full of fine cheeses, vegetables, and cold cuts. The bread is warm and gooey. This is definitely the most expensive place on my little list (start saving now!), but it is also an amazing experience. I have said enough on this.

Ah, steak dinner. It has been quite a few months since the last time we had one of these celebratory outings. I was craving this sort of thing the other day but had not the special occasion nor the special funds required to celebrate. Zach and I took a ride to the grocery store and bought the materials to make an extravagant steak dinner with all the fixings for just $9.00 each. $18.00 bought us 2 juicy filet mignons, fresh bruschetta on garlic clove artisan bread, balsamic roasted asparagus, and homemade sweet potato fries. We broke open a bottle of wine we had left from our trip to Sonoma that probably cost about the same amount as the entire meal. Either way, we enjoyed a $140 meal for a little more than it costs for a trip to the movies in Los Angeles for two. Anyone who knows me knows I love movies, but I do dare to call this meal:

Better than the Movies Steak Dinner:

In the leading role, we have: Filet Mignon

2 steaks (filet mignon and NY strip are among my favorites)
pinch of salt and pepper for each
dab of olive oil for each

Rub the olive oil into your room temperature steaks, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The idea here is to let the flavor of the steak take center stage. Grill steaks for about 10 minutes (5 minutes on each side) on med/high heat for a steak that is medium rare. That is according to our grill, but you should not be ashamed to slice it open a little to take a peek inside if you need to.

Did I mention we put sauteed mushrooms on top of the steaks?



2 medium sized tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes in different colors like red, orange, and yellow work nicely)
4 think slices of an artisan-style bread (about 1 1/2 inches thick)
high quality olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 clove garlic (whole)
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes (not too too small), and try to get rid of excess tomato seeds and juice. Add salt, pepper, minced garlic and 1 tbsp of olive oil to the tomatoes. Mix together and set aside.
Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each slice of bread with olive oil on all sides. Place the slices of bread in a nonstick pan over med/high heat until it turns a golden brown color. Flip each slice of bread to do the same on the other side. Rub the whole garlic clove into the surface of each slice for flavor.

Pile the tomato mixture generously on top of each slice of warm bread. The bread should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Sweet Potato Fries

Two medium sized sweet potatoes
olive oil (to coat)
kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven 425 degrees F
Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Cut potatoes to shape and size of preference. Place potato slices in a Ziploc bag. Add olive oil, and shake the slices around in the bag to coat with the oil. Once the fries are coated with oil, add the salt to the bag and shake it around again to coat with salt. Spread the coated potato slices on baking sheet, making sure to keep a little space between each one. Bake for 10 minutes; flip each slice and bake the other side for another 10 minutes or until toasted to your liking (should take about 20 minutes in all).

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus spears
1/4 C olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven on to the broil setting.
Make sure to trim the base ends of the asparagus (if needed). Put asparagus spears, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a Ziploc bag. Shake it all about to coat. Spread asparagus spears out on a large baking pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Broil for 5 minutes and serve right away.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No Groceries? No Problem.

I love grocery shopping.

When I was in middle school and high school, I used to go grocery shopping with my dad. We would normally go on weeknights. Some things I remember always being on our family’s grocery list included:

shredded cheddar cheese (for melting over broccoli)
sliced provolone cheese and deli meats (for sandwiches)
lettuce, tomatoes, feta cheese, lemon juice (for my dad’s salads with homemade dressing)
ice cream
shredded wheat cereal (for my dad)
apple jacks / cookie crisp / frosted cheerios / rice crispy treat cereal (for my brother and me)
skim milk
bisquick pancake mix
rice crispy treats from the Publix bakery (we would usually eat these before we got home so that my mom would not find out)

When I went to college, grocery shopping by myself was very exciting to me as well. It made me feel like a real adult, even though I was not really paying for my own groceries or anything. I never made lists. I would just wander through the isles picking up things that caught my eye after hitting up the basics. I did not cook much in college so there was a lot of sandwich/salad supplies purchasing going on.

As what some might call a “real adult”, I still find trips to the grocery store fun. I thought the feeling would go away and be replaced by annoyance or dread, but it is still something I look forward to each week. Maybe it just reminds me of the good times scanning the isles at Publix with my dad when I was younger. I shop a little differently now. I usually plan what meals I will make for the week in advance. Now that I cook, my grocery list is usually just made up of the ingredients I will need to make the meals for the week. I rarely buy snack foods anymore. My list is made up of things like 1 large white onion, ground cumin, mango nectar or baking powder.

Like all things I actually enjoy doing, it is sometimes hard to find the time to go grocery shopping. Since I tend to buy what would be considered more ingredient-type foods rather than general foods or snack foods, if I skip a trip to the grocery store, I am pretty much left with a bunch of random things that do not go together in the refrigerator. This was the case yesterday for lunch at work. I had not done any grocery shopping in a while. I had plenty of leftovers thanks to Zach’s family that was recently in town visiting, but of course I left them all at home yesterday. As lunchtime rolled around, I scrounged the following things from the refrigerator that belonged to me: double fiber english muffins, little bitty cherry tomatoes from the farmers’ market trip on Sunday, some random pepperonis and a half-block of monterey-jack cheese. Sounds like pizza to me!

No Groceries No Cry Pizza

1 english muffin
4 quarter inch slices of cheese (right off the block)
about 8 cherry tomatoes
4 slices of pepperoni (or whatever deli meat is in your refrigerator)
salt and pepper to taste

Toast the English muffin in a toaster oven until it has started to turn brown.
In a small bowl chop up the cherry tomatoes into tiny pieces (or you can just squeeze them all together), and add salt and pepper
Spread tomato mixture over each English muffin half.
Place the cheese slices on top of the tomato and then the pepperoni on top of the cheese.
Microwave your little pizzas for about 30 second to melt the cheese.
Put them back in the toaster oven until crisp to your likeness.

This will cost you only about 250 calories for both pizzas.

The List

Everyone has their own list of foods they do not like and will not eat under any circumstances. Who knows how certain foods get on this list. I know for some of us, there are foods on our respective lists that we have never even tried before or at least have not tried in a very long time. For example, my intolerance for mayonnaise comes from a time in my childhood when a friend’s mother made me a bologna and mayo sandwich. I was not used to mayonnaise in my sandwiches. My mom used to make them with just bologna, and that was the way I liked them. I believe it was that episode that stuck mayonnaise on the list for me until the end of time. I have not really tried it since then, but it is just the smell at this point that makes me queasy. This recently got me wondering what is on my list and why. I did not want my list to get too long because I don’t like missing out on too many things when it comes to food. In my conscious effort to slash my list, I think I have done a pretty good job in the past year or so. Here are just a few things that used to be on this list that have since been removed:

Chicken on the bone – This was a great hurdle to get over, but there are so many times I find myself in a position where this is what is for dinner (with no escape). I do not remember the specific dish that got me out of my funk, but now I eat it all the time and even make it myself without even a second thought.

Sushi – Everyone kept saying you just have to have it from a good place. This infuriated me because it was like people just did not believe me when I said I did not like to eat it. People, it is raw fish! I think I eased into this one by tasting a Philly Roll (salmon and cream cheese) dipped in the wasabi and soy sauce that Zach ordered once. And no, it was not from a “good place”. It had more to do with the mood I was in I suppose. Either way, I am glad I like it now; it is very un-Californian to hate sushi.

Avocado – The only thing more Californian than sushi is avocado. These people put it in everything: their salads, their sandwiches, pizzas, burritos, tacos, omelets, etc. I found myself asking waiters to 86 the avocado from pretty much 50% of dishes I would order in restaurants. It was not until last December, when we had our assistants’ holiday potluck that I even tasted guacamole for the first time. We were waiting on everyone to arrive, and I was starving. There were chips and guacamole that someone had made sitting on the table, and I thought I would give it a shot. Check!

Honeydew – This green melon is just too prominent in fruit salads. I was sick of leaving ½ of the fruit salad on my plate at restaurants. Everyone just needs to suck it up and eat the green chunks. It is tolerable and even good at times if it is ripe.

Mushrooms – It was out of necessity that I learned to like mushrooms. Every time we ordered a pizza, Zach would want pepperoni and mushrooms. It was just silly to pick them off every single time so eventually I just left them on. I will even dare to say I like them now if cooked and seasoned properly.

Beer – Light beer is the alcoholic drink with the least amount of calories for the amount of liquid you get. It is also the cheapest adult beverage you can buy when out “for drinks” with friends, which is an inevitable and even frequent situation if you work in the entertainment industry. If you are watching your weight and your wallet, it is really the best thing you can do for yourself to learn to like light beer.

A few things are still on the list and are likely to remain for the rest of time, but I guess you never know. For now, my list remains small:

tuna (excluding ahi tuna)
chicken salad
egg salad

A great way to ease into something that is on your list is to try a dish that includes the food instead of just eating the food on its own (the same way I started to like mushrooms on pizza). I slashed artichokes from my list a long time ago after trying spinach and artichoke dip for the first time. I love spinach and artichoke dip. When I found a recipe for spinach and artichoke macaroni and cheese, my heart melted. It just sounded like the marriage between two things that I could not love more. It did not disappoint.

All Good Things Come Together Spinach and Artichoke Mac and Cheese

(a Rachel Ray recipe)

Salt to taste
1 pound regular or whole wheat penne (cooked al dente according to box instructions)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups milk
1 tsp nutmeg
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung dry
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped artichokes, defrosted and wrung dry
Ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top
1 1/4 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

While the pasta is cooking, place a medium pot over medium-low heat with 2 turns of the pan of olive oil and the butter. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook the veggies until very soft, about 10 minutes.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and sprinkle the flour into the pan. Cook for about 1 minute then whisk the wine into the pan, cooking for another minute. Whisk the milk into the pan and bring up to a bubble. Add the nutmeg, veggies (spinach and artichoke), some salt and pepper to the sauce, and simmer until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Add the cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted.
Toss the prepared sauce with the cooked pasta and transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle some more Fontina and Parmigiano over the top and bake until the cheese has melted and the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Pictures of the batch I made were digitally misplaced so this is a picture from Rachel Ray's website. I will replace it with my own picture the next time I make it, but I did not want anyone to have to wait another minute to try this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Something's Missing

It is sometimes really difficult to tell when something is missing. I remember those little picture games growing up where you had to compare two photographs and figure out what is different between the them. Or sometimes a person is just off, and it is hard to explain exactly why. The following story is not a case of this. It is very clear what this person is missing, his dignity.

I have this friend...of a friend of a friend of a friend. It is not necessarily that far removed, but I am trying to protect this person's identity as to not cause irreparable damage to his reputation and whatever self-respect he may have left. Anyway, this young man moved to New York City after graduating college and secured a job at a large company. This person moved up in the company after a relatively short time into an administrative assistant type position. While the rest of the country was mid-downward spiral into the economy's toilet, this guy was on the way up in the world. Apparently, the pressure of a steady, paying, and coveted job was too much for him to handle; he decided he needed to quit. Two weeks? Phone call? Letter of resignation? All not necessary to this guy. He thought things would be easier to just not go in one day...and then the next day and then the next. Yes, that's right...he would just not show up to work ever again. This may have seemed like a good idea for a little while, but not for long. This young man began to feel like he made a terrible mistake by not informing his employer of his intentions to quit his job. He did what any well-raised boy would do; he called his mama. The details here are fuzzy, but it does not even matter how this came about. All that you need to know is that this guy's mom called his boss and quit for him.

Yes, hello Mr. Boss, this is (we'll call him) Henry's mother. I would like to thank you for all you have done for my son. However, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you we will not be requiring your employment beyond this point. If you should have any questions, please do not hesitate to continue wondering. But I will not be answering anything further at this time. That will be all. Thank you.

Sometimes it is easy to tell what is missing, but when it come to cooking, that is not always the case. I made these cookies for the first time by the recipe exactly. They are delicious and unique. I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying them either way. However, I felt like something was missing. They tasted delicious. They were sweet, nutty, and flavorful. It was the texture that seemed off to me. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are usually soft and chewy, and these did not have a chewy texture. They were thick, but crispy and very sweet (likely because of the coconut). I like them, and I would even consider making them this way again, but I wanted to experiment. The original recipe did not call for an egg so I tried making them again, just adding an egg. The cookies with the egg were softer, less sweet, and thicker almost more of a muffin-type texture). Both versions were great. The combination of ingredients here go so well together, and I would recommend baking them whichever way sounds more appetizing to you. I will likely continue experimenting with this one and update if necessary.

Mamma's Boy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

(adapted from an Everybody Likes Sandwiches recipe)

1 C butter
1 C brown sugar, lightly packed
1 t baking soda
1/4 C hot water
1 large egg (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 C oats
1/2 C dried coconut
2 C semi sweet chocolate chips (if you want to add walnuts, mix some crushed walnuts in with the chocolate chips to equal 2 cups)

In a small bowl, beat the egg. Then add the vanilla.
In a large bowl combine butter and sugar with an electric mixer and then slowly add the egg mixture.
Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water and add to the butter and egg mixture.
In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (except for the chocolate chips and nuts)
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, stirring well.
Add the chocolate chips (and walnuts if desired).
Drop dough onto a greased cookie sheet. This should make about 24 medium sized cookies. I don't like them to be too small.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sweet Tealessness

Within the first week of moving to Los Angeles, I found myself at the one place I knew I could find the good ole' sweet tea I was looking for: McDonald's. No one else seemed to serve it up in this town. Although it is not something I drink regularly, I definitely need some sweet tea every once in a while as a refreshing treat. It was piping hot outside, perfect conditions for a large $1 McDonald's sweet tea with lots of ice. I cruised up to the drive-thru window and placed my order. Silence. And then:

"Sweet tea, mam?"
"Yes, please. One large sweet tea with lots of ice."
"Ummmmm, well we have iced tea, and we have sugar."
"You don't have sweet tea?"
"Well you can put the sugar in the tea I guess."
(defeated) "Never mind. I'll take a diet coke."

I realized that day that not only do people in Los Angeles not serve sweet tea in their restaurants, they do not know what it is. I was disappointed in my new city. I decided if I ever own a restaurant one day, I will be sure to slap it on the menu. I would find a recipe similar to the sweet tea they sell at Chic-Fil-A, Publix, or Sonny's BBQ.

Due to restaurants' lack of sweet tea, I have recently gone on to open my mind, mouth, and heart to alternatives like raspberry teas, honey green tea, chai tea, thai tea, and long island iced tea (which I realize does not really fit in this category but is still tasty). I will sometimes brew a nice cup of hot chai or green tea at work in the afternoon. I usually add a packet of artificial sweetener and a little bit of milk to the brewed cup. Try this for a nice, relaxing, aromatic drink for only about 15 calories or so (depending on the amount and type of milk you use).

Since that encounter at the drive-thru, I have come across one restaurant in Los Angeles that serves sweet tea, Zeke's Smokehouse . Although it is far from Chic-Fil-A sweet tea caliber, I applaud them for including it on the menu. Also, I am proud to announce there are a few McDonald's stores finally catching up with the times. Sweet tea is slowly popping up on menu boards across the city. And why shouldn't it? It is such a great, refreshing summer drink. I stopped attempting to make the kind of sweet tea I love because there always seems to be something missing when I make it myself. Yes, I said it. There are just some things that cannot be improved upon by making them at home. Joining sweet tea on this list would be french fries, doughnuts, and pizza. The best version of each of those foods will never be made in my kitchen. I could never make french fries that taste as good as the ones they serve in most restaurants. Anyone would choose Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and the famous Cafe Du Monde's Beignets in New Orleans over whatever fried dough I could slop together. And nothing...I mean NOTHING homemade beats a pizza pie from one of the following Los Angeles joints: The Village Pizzeria on Larchmont, Tomato Pie and Joe Peep's New York Pizzeria in the valley.

In an attempt to avoid disappointing myself by retrying my hand at regular sweet tea, I decided to make something I have never had before. I don't know if this makes me a good judge in this case, but I can certainly say with confidence that this mango tea pleases my taste buds. I wouldn't mind sipping on this all summer.

Pitcher Perfect Mango Iced Tea:

(a Bobby Flay recipe)

1 1/2 quarts water
6 black tea bags
2 cups mango nectar (mango juice will do if you cannot find nectar)
Sugar (to taste...I used 1/4 C)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
Thinly sliced mango

Bring water to a boil, turn off heat add tea bags and steep until tea is dark, about 5 minutes.

Remove bags, add mango nectar and add sugar, to taste. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Place in pitcher and add mint leaves. Pour over ice and garnish with mango slices.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Give me a Break.

I know I have mentioned the concept of “Sammy Days” in my previous, non-food related blog. Basically, “Sammy Days” is a term that refers to the self-appointed days off my brother and I would take during high school. This is not to be confused with sick days or planned days off for a special trip or vacation. These were literally days that I was basically too tired or lazy to go to school, and they were never decided upon in advance. I know this all sounds bad, but I like to think that my “Sammy Days” provided the right amount of freedom and self-responsibility I needed to respond positively to the high school experience. My brother and I have both become very self-motivated adults; I feel that this fact can be attributed, at least partially, to our common use of the “Sammy Day” or our shared tendencies to realize when enough is enough when dealing with teachers, books, and dirty looks.

Everybody needs a break at some point. Good things can come out of being given the opportunity to relax and/or be lazy like this slow cooker recipe. It is almost too easy. This will by far be the greatest return on your cooking time/effort investment you have ever seen. This meal is so complete and tasty, it cannot be easier and it is nearly impossible to mess it up. Try this recipe when you need a break, but you do not want dinner to reflect that in any way.

Sammy Day Mexican Chicken:

(adapted from Recipe Zaar)

4 frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 15oz can golden corn
1 15oz can black beans
1 15oz jar salsa (however spicy you like it)
1/3 C hominy (optional)- this adds a little more of a grainy flavor as if you like that sort of thing.
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese (the original recipe calls for 8 oz of regular cream cheese, but I think a half-package is plenty, and I cannot tell the difference between the reduced fat and the regular, but adjust as you will)

Just throw the chicken, corn, black beans, salsa, and hominy (optional)into a slow cooker.

Cook on a high setting for 4-5 hours or on a low setting for 6-8 hours.
For the last 1/2 hour, place the cream cheese (in chunks) on top of the mixture.

Mix it all together. The chicken should just fall apart as you mix. I try not to mix it too quickly so that the chicken stays in slightly thicker shreds. You can serve over white or brown rice in a bowl, over tortilla chips for some intense nachos, or you can stuff it in a tortilla for a nice fat burrito. For a burrito, feel free to add rice, tomato, lettuce, or anything else...not that you really need anything more than just the chicken mixture; it definitely stands alone.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Under the Sea

Have I ever mentioned my baton-twirling days? Maybe I have not because they lasted about a minute, and I do not mean a minute; I mean a minute. I was in the third grade, and my best friend Michelle and I decided it would be a great idea to twirl some batons to the song, "Under the Sea" from the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid for the elementary school talent show. We literally knew how to do the following:

*twirl the baton vertically
*twirl the baton horizontally
*pass the baton in a figure eight motion between my legs

If it is hard to imagine the combination of the above three "tricks" being entertaining for the length of an entire song, that is probably because it would never have been considered entertaining by any stretch of the imagination the time at least.

A video of this exists. I believe it is in the form of a VHS tape in my friend Meagan's collection of insanely horrible and embarrassing videos from our childhoods. It is probably somewhere between the 4th grade solo I sang in a jean jumper of "The Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler and the lip sync I did with some gal pals of "Say You'll Be There" by the Spice Girls in 6th Grade (I was Scary Spice).

I don't know if my struggle with enjoying seafood began with the great "Under the Sea" fiasco of 1994 or not, but for as long as I can remember I have never been a fan. While I would enjoy the occasional fish stick, I never grew up liking salmon, shrimp, scallops, trout, sea bass, crab, lobster...none of it. I am just now beginning to slowly explore the world under the surface of the sea. Here is where I am at:

Shrimp ...yes please
Salmon, no thanks
Sea bass ...wonderful
Tuna ...never!
Scallops ...okay
Crab ...sometimes
Crab Cakes ...of course!
Sushi ...yes please
Tilapia ...okay
Halibut...YES YES YES (thanks to the recipe below)

Under the Mediterranean Sea:

(recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Everybody Likes Sandwiches)

2 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
1 small onion, quartered
4 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 t dried rosemary (plus additional sprinkle for fish)
2 T olive oil
1 t coarse salt
pepper to taste
1/4 c green olives
1 T capers
2 filets of fish (I used halibut)
juice of half a lemon

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a foil-lined walled cookie sheet, evenly line the pan with the cubed potatoes and large onion chunks. Drizzle with half of the olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and toss everything around with your hands to coat. Bake in oven for about 25 minutes until starting to brown.

On a plate, season the fish and the cherry tomatoes with salt and pepper and a bit of rosemary and coat with the remaining olive oil. Use your hands to make sure everything is covered with the oil and spice.

Push the potatoes to one side of the cookie sheet and place the fish and the tomatoes on the other side. Fill in remaining gaps with olives and capers. Squeeze lemon juice onto the fish and tomatoes.

Return tray to oven for another 20 minutes or so, until fish is cooked and tomatoes are roasted and wrinkled. Transfer onto plates and serve.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Co-worker Appreciation Day

I work with some really great people. Those of you who work in the entertainment industry know that times can get seriously tough in the office. Having supportive co-workers to lean on is key to survival when stressful situations arise. These relationships can be unique because the people you work with are really the only people who can understand what you go through on the job. Whether you send an actor to the wrong casting office for a big audition or you copied the wrong "Michael" on an email to a client, supportive co-workers can make all the difference in a work environment. They are there ... there to pull together and finish off the 6 lb bag of pretzels that mysteriously appears in the kitchen (we did it, guys!), to quickly instant message you the answer to a question your boss is asking, to help you track down scripts that can be hard to find, to send you entertaining links to look at when you need a pick-me-up, to help you find humor in what can seem like disastrous situations and possibly most importantly, to help you come up with hair-brained ideas to cover up your mistakes.

I like my job, and I like coming to work in the morning because I like these people. These people like food. As a result, I decided to make something delicious for them, something I know they are ALL fans of:

Everybody Likes Garlic Cheddar Biscuits:

Makes about 9 biscuits

2 1/4 C bisquick baking mix
3/4 C milk
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 C sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Mix bisquick and milk (as directed on the box)
add minced garlic and cheddar cheese, mixing thoroughly into dough
drop dough onto a greased baking sheet (should make about 9 biscuits depending on the size of each)
Bake biscuits for 8-10 minutes (more for larger biscuits)until they begin to toast slightly on the top.

While biscuits are baking, melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave.
Mix salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic salt into melted butter.

Right after removing biscuits from the oven, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of each biscuit with the butter mixture.

Remove biscuits from baking sheet, and serve while still warm.