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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Non-fat Greek Yogurt Review

Today I ate six containers of Greek yogurt. Ok, not really. I tasted six different brands of Greek yogurt. You can probably find Greek yogurt in your local supermarket, its become increasingly available in the United States over the past few years (I've been told it's still a bit hard to find in parts of Canada). First of all, let me clear something up, the Greek yogurt you find in the US is not yogurt from Greece. All the brands I found were produced domestically. Greek yogurt is strained and some of the whey is removed, so it's thicker than typical yogurt. It's dense and creamy, buttery in flavor and higher in fat. But there are also non-fat and low-fat Greek yogurts. You can use the yogurt in place of sour cream, with granola and/or fruit, drizzled with honey or a dollop of jam or preserves. It's also used in lots of Greek recipes . The good news is, that all the full fat Greek yogurt I tried was absolutely delicious. You really can't go wrong with the...
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook Review

On the TV show Top Chef , contestants create dishes to impress the judges often with limited resources of time or money or ingredients. From a viewer's perspective, the biggest problem with the show is that you can't taste the food. Still I love it. Perhaps it's because I enjoy the challenging aspects of cooking--like every other home cook, I am challenged to use what ingredients I have and the techniques I know, to cook something delicious, day after day, night after night. Sometimes I wonder if I would agree with the judges. And I wonder how good those cooked-in-a-flash dishes with barely any ingredients really taste. I may never bother cooking something sous vide, break down an entire side of beef or serve 200 guests in one evening, but I'm happy to say I can now duplicate various dishes presented in the quickfire challenges on Top Chef thanks to Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook . Top Chef: The Quickfire Challenge Cookbook features mostly recipes that home cooks...
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hope for the Holidays

This week my parent's gardener showed up asking if he could do some work, because he needed money. And by the way, he asked, could he have something to eat? Not only did he not have work, he was hungry . My parents gave him some work and made him two sandwiches, one for now and one for later. They may not be rich, but they do have plenty to eat. Imagine not having the energy to look for work because you haven't eaten anything. Imagine looking for work anyway. Imagine not having enough food to feed yourself or worse, your family. In your own community, no matter where you live, there are people struggling to put food on the table. There is no greater gift than to help those in need. Are you looking for a last minute gift? How about making a donation to your local food bank in the name of a friend or family member? Or make a donation to the Menu for Hope and help someone to provide for their family in the coming year. It doesn't matter which prize you choose, because...
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter & Hazelnuts Recipe

If Lee had to choose one vegetable for the rest of his life, it would be brussels sprouts. Winter is not my favorite time of year when it comes to fresh produce, but I have to admit, it is partially redeemed simply because it's brussels sprout season. Like so many other vegetables, brussels sprouts benefit from roasting. They turn brown and the textural contrast of tender and chewy with a bit of crusty crunch is ever so satisfying. When it come to flavor, brussels sprouts are very mild when roasted and can go in many delicious directions. I like them with salty capers, olives and olive oil or with bacon and balsamic vinegar or with chili flakes and parmesan. Think of them like a slightly sweet canvas to paint with flavor. For Thanksgiving I worked on a variation of brussels sprouts with brown butter and hazelnuts. The combination was good, yet missing something. Acid. Just a bit of zesty lemon peel gives this dish the boost it needs. When making something with brown butter it&...
Monday, December 21, 2009

Vita-Mix Blender Review

I've longed for a Vita-Mix blender ever since I saw them being used on various competitive cooking shows, such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, so I jumped when I was offered the chance to review one. Frankly I was curious to see if I could make velvety soups and sauces like the ones I've had at restaurants but sometimes found difficult to recreate at home. I'm happy to say, the Vita-Mix gave me excellent results. I put it to the test making potato soup, butternut squash soup and mole sauce. I have also made countless smoothies with very good results. You can get creamy textures using a blender but not the super smooth luscious creaminess you will achieve using the Vita-Mix. At first I thought perhaps the larger size of the jar would make it difficult to blend small quantities but I didn't find that to be true at all. The base of the jar is larger, but the blades are flatter, and don't stick up quite so vertically as they do in a conventional blender. I have had very ...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Allison Arevalo?

Photo credit: Allison Arevalo Have you discovered Local Lemons yet? Blogger Allison Arevalo is a New York transplant and perhaps that is why she embraces the local Bay Area food scene with such enthusiasm. She's been blogging less than a year, but her writing is already finding a home in print and beyond. She makes food that looks and sounds soul satisfying whether she's making Duck Fat Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Cranberries or her own high caliber everything-from-scratch version of a Big Mac . Her food blog is focused on sustainable living but without a hint of attitude or fundamentalism. Plus you have to love it when she improves upon potato pancakes by adding Italian sausage and leeks and topping them with poached eggs! "I never really thought about it. But now that you ask, it feels like hundreds of reasons are floating in my mind, justifying the insanely long hours I seem to spend in the kitchen. If I had to name a few, let’s start with these: I ...
Monday, December 14, 2009

Menu for Hope 6: Top Chef/Iron Chef

Are you or someone you know addicted to Top Chef and Iron Chef America? If so, this prize package is just for you: Season your way to good taste with Diamond Crystal® kosher, coarse and fine sea salt and put to use that iconic salt cellar you've seen Alton Brown using on Good Eats. Use a $25 CHEFS gift certificate to purchase anything else you might need, then cook like the chefs with signed copies of Michael Symon's Live to Cook and Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook (signed by chefs Jen Biesty, Jamie Lauren and Ryan Scott ). You'll also get a copy of Good Eats: The Early Years , Top Chef: The Cookbook and Top Chef Quickfire Challenge Game to keep you busy until next season. WHY IS SALT SO IMPORTANT? Perhaps you've noticed a lack of salt or too much salt is often a crucial element in the judging of chefs on Top Chef and Iron Chef America. Chefs like Alton Brown and Michael Symon know that to bring out the true flavor of food, you have to know how to use that ...
Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookbooks by Friends & Bloggers I Know

This year a number of my friends and fellow bloggers wrote books. I will not pretend to be unbiased when it comes to these books. I wish the authors much success! Here is a list of the books that I got a chance to review and enjoy: L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook My friend JoAnn Cianciulli wrote this terrific book with profiles of the vendors at the market at 3rd and Fairfax. Having visited the market I fell in love with the book. JoAnn is a fabulous storyteller and having written several cookbooks she knows how recipes work. Another reason why I love this book is the variety of recipes. There are dishes from all over the world yet the ingredients and instructions are very straightforward. I've made the crepes and the spiced nuts, both are winners. You could cook out of this book for a year and never get bored, you'll find everything from Seafood Gumbo, Kalbi, Tuna Sambal, Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche, to Almond Horns and Banana Cream Pie. If you love street foo...
Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Best Cookbooks of 2009

It's time for my annual cookbook round up. There were a lot of great cookbooks this year. Here are my picks for all kinds of cooks: Ad Hoc at Home I didn't want to include this book in my list but I couldn't help it. Sure it's a coffee table book, it's big and it's expensive but it has soul. Thomas Keller signed my book "It's all about family" and really that says it all. Food is about connecting with those you love. Ad Hoc is a book of recipes from Thomas Keller and Dave Cruz that shares those very recipes; delicious home style cooking but taken up a notch. Ok, taken up a few notches. Want to know how Keller makes a hamburger? Fig-stuffed Roast Pork Loin? Crab Cakes? Meatballs? Chocolate Chip Cookies? Sure you do. You'd be crazy not to. In addition there is fantastic photography and lots of personal stories. Best for: anyone who appreciates really good food Coco 10 World-Leading Masters choose 100 Contemporary Chefs Who do masters lik...
Monday, December 07, 2009

Jam Bars Recipe

I'm something of a party pooper when it comes to Christmas. I can't stand anything red and green and find Christmas trees universally tacky. Don't even get me started on the rampant Christmas consumerism or we'll be here all day! But I have always had a soft spot for Advent calendars. I like the surprises behind the windows, even if they are just paper windows. So I couldn't resist when the folks at Lexiophiles invited me to participate in their Recipe Advent Calendar. It's a bit like those Cookie of the Day newsletters that I sign up for every year. It doesn't matter that I don't actually make any of those recipes, the surprise of seeing them appear in my email box each day is a treat. This recipe is one I've been making since college. It's super easy and you can prepare it in no time at all. I've made a few adjustments to it over the years. Most importantly, don't use jelly, use good jam, or better yet, use preserves. I used Oregon ...
Friday, December 04, 2009

Interview with Paula Wolfert

At the Worlds of Flavor conference a few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking with celebrated author Paula Wolfert about the subject of her latest book, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking . It's one of the books I was most excited about this year, and I've already bookmarked a number of recipes that I can't wait to try. Why cook with clay? This is the way people in the Mediterranean cook. All the pots used have meaning. The saute pan is great for fast cooking but most slow cooking is best done in a clay pot. Try cooking butternut squash or an eggplant without any water or salt with paper over it (meaning a round of parchment paper as a lid) very slowly. See what happens when food returns to the earth. A pot is made of earth. What kinds of foods cook well in clay? Mediterranean food; breads, beans, stew. Commit yourself to underutilized cuts of meat. Buy spareribs and lamb necks, because you can cook in clay in increments and you will see the difference, the m...