Tuesday, October 31, 2006


My friend Sarah is on the left; I am on the right. Note the "tell-tale heart" in my hand!

Ghirardelli Fudge Cake

I don't know about you, but I am seriously addicted to chocolate anything! And, for a couple of months now, I have been deprived of the special pleasure of a lovely slice of chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Trolling the web for a little vicarious satisfaction, I discovered this recipe, originally printed on the Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa tin. If only I were able to get around better in the kitchen, I would put this little gem on my "to do" list immediately!

Ghirardelli Fudge Cake

2 c unsifted flour
1 3/4 c sugar
3/4 c Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c butter or margarine (very soft)
3/4 c milk
1/2 c water
2 eggs
2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour two 9 by 1 1/2 inch round cake pans. Measure flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into large bowl. Mix on low for one minute. Add butter, milk, water, eggs, and vanilla to mixture. Mix on medium for one minute; scrape down bowl. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Pour into prepared cake pans. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks. Frost with Ghirardelli butter cream frosting.

Ghirardelli Butter Cream Frosting

1/2 c Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa
1/3 c boiling water
3 c powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 t vanilla
1/2 c butter (very soft)

In bowl, dissolve cocoa with boiling water. Beat sugar into cocoa mixture. Add yolks and vanilla, beat until fluffy. Place bowl in another bowl of ice and water. Add butter in four additions, beating until frosting is lighter in color and thick enough to spread. Frost cake. Refrigerate to set frosting.

Candied Ginger

The last time we made a Trader Joe's run, my shopping list included TJ's Triple Ginger Cookies -- kind of like a ginger snap, but with three kinds of ginger: powdered, grated, and crystallized or candied. Trust me now, these are addictive little devils, but at their meager calorie count (something like 6 = 140 calories), they don't make you feel guilty at their palate-pleasing taste.

And now, with our holiday season approaching, here's a recipe for make your own Candied Ginger. I know it's rather Martha, but that's kind of a good thing every now and than!

Candied Ginger

1 3-inch knob fresh ginger
1 c water
1 c sugar
extra sugar (coarse crystals would be nice) for rolling

Peel ginger and cut into fine slices or into julienne strips. Combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add ginger; simmer over LOW heat until ginger becomes translucent, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain pieces on a wire rack until almost dry. Roll in sugar. Store in an air-tight container. This makes 1/4 cup, approximately.

Schnecken Time Is Here Again

Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer

Anyone who has lived in Cincinnati long enough to remember the late and still lamented Virginia Bakery on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton, will appreciate the news that Busken Bakery is now offering schnecken, the German cinnamon rolls made from the original Virginia Bakery secret recipe. Instead of only being available around Easter time, the new schnecken will be for sale year round, according to Something sticky like this comes from ... Busken:
The Busken version isn't just an approximation. These are the same buns that people used to line up for in Clifton, rolled three to a bread pan, loaded with butter and studded with raisins. They will even come in the same packaging, double-wrapped in wax paper and a Virginia Bakery box.

...The rich dough begins with a 14-hour proof, a rest period that develops flavor. After more flour is added, it rests another 24 hours.

Then it's rolled by hand into 10-foot ropes and flattened into sheets.

"We would normally use a sheeter (machine) to roll out the dough, because we're a larger shop," Busken said. "But they rolled it out by hand, and we're going to continue doing it that way."

There's only one difference in the Busken version: The loaf pans are slightly bigger, so this schnecken is 5 ounces more than the 1-pound original. "I hope that's not going to be a problem for anyone," Busken said.

This schnecken will be available year-round and will cost $9.95 a loaf.

"This is a fabulous opportunity for us to bring attention to independent bakeries," Busken said. "Cincinnati's lucky to still have several local full-line bakeries, but our big competition is convenience.

"We need to get people to make that extra stop, and these kind of special products are what will do it."

Almost as Good as Virginia Bakery's Schnecken

1 c lukewarm milk
2 scant T active dry yeast
2 t sugar
7 T sugar
7 T room temperature butter
3 beaten eggs
1 t salt
4 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Egg wash (1 egg white beaten with 1 T water)
Melted butter
1 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon or to taste
1 c chopped pecans
1/2 c raisins
Brown sugar and more chopped pecans (optional)

One day ahead: Mix warm milk with yeast and 2 t sugar and allow to sit 5-10 minutes. until yeast begins to foam at top. Meanwhile in another bowl beat together 7 T butter; 7 T sugar; beaten eggs and salt. Add yeast mixture to beaten mixture and gradually add flour. Beat dough about 5 mins. Add dough to greased bowl cover and refrigerate over night.

The next day roll dough out on a floured table into a large rectangle (or divide and roll into two rectangles) about 1/4 inch thick Brush egg wash lightly around the edge of rectangle nearest you. Brush top of dough generously with melted butter. Sprinkle top of dough, to taste with sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans and/or raisins. Beginning at the edge farthest from you; roll dough up jelly-dough fashion. Prepare loaf pans by covering bottom of each with 1 tsp melted butter and 1 tsp warm honey. Cut rolled schnecken crosswise into 1 1/2" slices. Place 3 of the pieces on their sides, in the prepared pans (so you're looking at the spiral dough/cinnamon/sugar part, not just the dough standing up on end). Cover pan with towels and place in warm oven for about 45 mins. to rise. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until brown on top. Once removed from the oven, place each loaf pan on a rack and allow them to cool for 5 minutes. (This lets the caramel glaze form). After 5 minutes, turn each pan over onto a sheet of wax paper (use a big sheet so you can just wrap them up like they did at the bakery) and you're finished! Makes about 30 schnecken.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cream of Pumpkin Soup

I know I am just one more lemming when it comes to raving about Trader Joe's, but there's a site I've just found called Trader Joe's Fan which has a really great section for recipes that readers have created using TJ's products. While having a TJ label is not really necessary for everything, many of their products are special to the store and become fan favorites.

Since we are in the throes of pumpkin season, here's an especially yummy recipe for an autumn soup, submitted by poppymom.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup

1 quart Trader Joe's low-sodium chicken broth
2 6-oz cartons Trader Joe's Greek-style honey-flavored yogurt
1 15-oz. can Trader Joe's organic pumpkin
1/4 t sea salt
1/8 t ground cayenne
1/8 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cumin
1/2 t fresh-grated lemon zest

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and whisk until all the lumps of pumpkin are gone. Heat gently over medium heat for 15 minutes or until heated through. Be careful to not simmer, or the yogurt will curdle. Serve warm.

Makes about 4 dinner-sized servings or 8 soup course servings

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sundance Iconoclasts

Photo: Sundance Channel

Mother of California Cuisine Alice Waters and legendary dancer Mikhail Barishnikov are featured this Thursday on the Sundance Channel's Iconoclast series, 9pm ET/PT. They share their philosophies of art, food, teaching and community with visits to New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California and at a dinner at Waters’s legendary restaurant Chez Panisse.

Hot Chocolate

With the season change coming on apace, can we possibly have too many recipes for hot chocolate? I think not! Here's one from François Payard of NYC's Payard Patisserie & Bistro. I would use Ghirardelli's Sweet Cocoa Powder in this and omit the extra sugar.
Payard Patisserie & Bistro's Hot Chocolate

2 T cocoa powder, preferably Weiss
1/2 c fresh cream
1/2 c whole milk
Sugar to taste

Bring chocolate powder, fresh cream, and milk to a boil; stir; and pour in a cup. Add sugar if desired. Note: For a lighter version, use 1/3 cup fresh cream and 2/3 cup skim milk.

The Palate goes to another fabulous Pittsburgh dinner party!


I can only say that I was at a party last night and there was a hundred year old bottle of Balsamic vinegar there. We each got spoons and put about an eighth of a teaspoon on them and indulged. Some did the pinky dip bit by bit. I rested my tongue on the edge of the drop and let it soak in, then licked the rest up. It had an amazingly rich flavor, like smoke and oak, but also like fermented prunes, although the sense that it was vinegar was still there. I wanted to try it on ice cream, but apparently in that house they only use 50 year old balsamic on ice cream.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"French Wines Experience"

In this Agence France-Presse article, French wine swallows its pride to win back British drinkers, which I have just, you should excuse the expression, stumbled upon, journalist Christophe Schmidt fills us in on the doings at the annual Wine Show in north London. Doings in which "[t]he French wine industry has pulled out all the stops at the [U.K.]'s biggest wine fair this weekend in an attempt to win back drinkers who have switched to bottles from the 'New World.' "
Instead of the various regional distinctions that mark out French wines, bottles will be rebranded by "experience" at the show.

The aim is not to baffle non-wine buffs but at the same time keep the idea of diversity, which is one of French wine's key characteristics.

...the British wine industry is small and the vast majority of the wine drunk is imported.

Although French wines are still top choice in bars and restaurants, they have been overtaken by their Australian rivals in the retail sector. Californian, Chilean and South African wines have also staked their claim.

"An average supermarket line now has wines from 20 countries," said Florence Rhydderch, from the French marketing agency Sopexa that is masterminding the Gallic makeover.

...At wine shows, French wines are normally presented by where they come from but if studies are to be believed, this has left consumers scratching their heads.

In the "French Wines Experience," the specially-created "zones" will be themed "nights in," "nights out," "dinner parties," "celebrations," "outdoors" and "Christmas."

So instead of being bamboozled by racks of Bordeaux, there may be a syrupy number from the Loire Valley next to a champagne or a Cote du Rhone, helping buyers to choose for a particular occasion.

French wine experts will be on hand to guide anyone needing a helping hand in choosing.

Why don't they just go all the way and put little variations of smiley faces on the labels?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Un vrai restaurant for the soul...

A fragrant bowl of garlic soup

May I present you with my secret weapon for restoring one's soul after a night of carousing: Mecklenburg Gardens' Garlic Soup.

Once upon a time, back in the mid-1980s, there existed a heavenly restaurant in Cincinnati called Mecklenburg Gardens. Founded in 1865, by a German immigrant named Louis Mecklenburg, it went through several incarnations along its path to being revivified by the members of an ashram, who purchased it and restored the building to its former glory, complete with its old grape-vine covered biergarten. Under the ashram's management and Rob Fogel as chef, Mecklenburg's initiated its splendid and unique New's Year's Eve Reveillon celebrations and was awarded the Mobil Four Star Award for Excellence in Fine Dining along the way. This Garlic Soup, there made with roasted vegetable stock, was one of the restaurant's most famous dishes:

Mecklenburg Gardens' Garlic Soup

2 cups beef stock
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of fresh or dried thyme
1 egg
Slice of toasted bread
Grated Gruyere cheese
Chopped parsley

Bring beef stock to a boil. Add garlic, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and thyme. Slip in egg, unbeaten. When white begins to set, pour soup into oven-proof bowl. Cover top of bowl with the bread and cover with cheese. Place under broiler till cheese is melted with a brown crust. Garnish with parsley and serve. Makes 1 generous serving.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I was reading a Q & A with the father of molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adrià, in NY Mag and was intrigued and suspicious of this little exchange:
Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

FA: Yes, Bollycao. Something you grow up with as a kid in Spain: a kind of bread, sweet and eggy, with chocolate in the middle.

After reading his description, I thought perhaps this might be a Spanish relative to the French pain au chocolat. But after seeing this picture, I've come to believe it may be more of a kissing cousin of the legendary American "Twinkie"!


Oh, how I'd forgotten how much I adore popovers until I visited Baking and Books and found Ari's post about Breakfast Popovers today. A few years ago, when I was staying at a friend's house and recuperating from surgery, I would marvel at the easy way she would go about making fresh, simple, homecooked dinners every evening, despite her busy workday schedule. Popovers were the "icing on the cake", so to speak: the unexpected, special treat that made her dinners so memorable. Now, where is that muffin tin when I need it? ;-)

Perfect Popovers

2 eggs
1 c milk, at room temperature
1 T melted butter, or vegetable oil
1 c flour
1/2 t salt

Adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven; preheat the oven to 400°. Grease each popover cup generously with softened butter or solid vegetable shortening.

Combine the eggs, milk, melted butter, flour and salt in a blender or food processor; process for about 40 seconds. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times and blend until the mixture is completely smooth.

To make by hand, whisk together the eggs, milk and butter in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt and beat until very smooth.

Pour the batter into the greased cups, filling them half to two-thirds full. Bake until the popovers are puffed and golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Do not open the oven door during baking or the popovers will collapse.

Yields 6-8, depending on the size of the baking cups

Per popover: 105 calories, 4 g protein, 14 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (2 g saturated), 61 mg cholesterol, 177 mg sodium, 0 fiber.

From Flo Braker, who began writing The Baker column for The San Francisco Chronicle in 1989. She is author of "The Simple Art of Perfect Baking" and "Sweet Miniatures."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Comisars have officially left the building

Golden Lamb's Shaker Sugar Pie, $3.25 (Photo: Roadfood)

Sad, really sad. Now it's official. The Comisar family has completely left the restaurant business after 75 years with its sale of the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio (See Golden Lamb up for re-do, Cincinnati Enquirer). Stevens Hospitality, based in Blue Ash, will take over management of the Inn starting at the end of this month. The Portman family will continue to own the building, which has a rare collection of Shaker materials including documents, literature and furniture and, over the years, has played host to 12 American Presidents. "The inn has been operating continuously since 1803. The Portmans' grandfather Robert Jones bought it in 1926 and ran it into the 1960s. The Comisars took over the operating business in 1969."

"The Comisars also ran the Maisonette and LaNormandie downtown and Chester's Road House in Montgomery. Chester's was sold in 2002, and the downtown restaurants were closed in mid-2005."

Sister Lizzie's Shaker Sugar Pie
(from the Golden Lamb site and memory)

2 T butter
1 c brown sugar
2 c light cream or half and half)
1/3 c flour
1 t vanilla
9" unbaked pie shell

Put the brown suger and flour into an unbaked pie shell. Mix the flour and suger together, by rubbing the dry mix back and forth between the palms of your hands. After it is thoroughly mixed, spread it out even into the pie shell. Pour the cream and vanilla over the sugar/flour mixture, but DO NOT stir (during baking it bubbles and mixes on its own). Evenly place the butter slices atop the creme, and sprinkle the entire top of pie with nutmeg.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees, for at least an hour. The pie is done when it becomes firm; another way to test for doneness is give the pan a twist back and forth, if the shell moves easily in the pan, it's done.

*The Golden Lamb used pizza ovens, and the pie pans sat directly onto the floor/base of the oven. In this style of oven the cooking time is 40-45 minutes.

Top chef blog draws me in

Despite not having cable, I am really intrigued by Top Chef. Imagine...a cooking competition where the chefs actually COOK and have good resumés! (That is my major disappointment with Hell's Kitchen, at least its second season, where you didn't really get the feeling that, based on what had been shown, anybody really deserved to win such a big prize.)

So, thanks to Gaston Gallimard for turning me on to Amuse-Biatch, TV’s “Top Chef” & Other Matters Gustatory. I see my pick, Elia, is featured in the post, Mexican Spitfire Spits Tacks and the observations by blog contributors Charlus and Miss Xaxa about the new cast are both biting and snarky. We approve!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Home Cooking

OK, so I'm wandering aimlessly through the New Yorker's website — always a fun thing to do — and I came across this little Q & A by Matt Dellinger with the legendary Calvin Trillin from the 2004 Food Issue. Topic is "regional cuisine and the phenomenon of home-town food fetishes." Enjoy.


Yummy, yummy cannelés! (Photo: worldtable.com)

After much too long of an absence, I finally took a little virtual trip to San Francisco and a little read of one of my favorite blogs, Chez Pim where I found, hidden amongst the comments on a post about Chowhound and censorship, a comment from Bux, late of eGullet and now of her own blog at World Table. And what should I find there, but a lovely recipe for one of my favorite Parisian treats, cannelés! Granted, I've only had one, but it was from Dalloyau, across from les Jardins du Luxembourg, and I was dazzled by its presence in the glassfronted pastry case. Such a pretty caramel color and pleasing little molded shape -- and then, the intricate dance of choosing, paying, and finally picking it up from the saleslady behind the counter before gaining custody (albeit for such a short time before devouring it!). Little did I know then of its history or of the difficulty in achieving such a pleasing luscious interior crumb and contrasting crunchy exterior. One of these days, maybe I'll finally have the opportunity of having another (or of baking my own)...

Note: Gael Greene, in a review of Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, writes that "word on the pastry circuit is that her classic canelés de Bordeaux—lush custard inside a burnt-sugar shell—are a revelation."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Laura Chenel sells to French company

According to the article, For American Chèvre, an Era Ends, Laura Chenel, 57, a pioneer of the California food movement, has sold her company to the French artisan cheese corporation, The Rians Group.
... Ms. Chenel produces a fresh goat cheese that some call the best in America. Both she and the new owners pledge that it will not change. The deal also lets her keep her entire herd of 500 goats on the property and sell their milk to the new company. It also takes good care of her 18 longtime employees, who are now employees of the French company.

Perhaps most important, the deal gives her a break. After all, one can only carry the food revolution for so long.

“My name is on every little piece of cheese that goes out,” she said. “For years I have just felt a deep responsibility. I don’t want that any more. It’s a great weight off my shoulders.”

...The French company has 1,300 employees and produces 40,000 tons of goat and cow cheese a year. It specializes in finding small family operations and buying them with the promise to keep the product and philosophy intact. The company owns about a dozen cheese-making operations, but Chenel will be its first in America.

...To understand why the sale has such impact, a short history of chèvre in the United States is in order. And it is short. No one was making goat cheese commercially in the late 1970’s, the tween years of California cuisine.

... Laura Chenel, who had grown up in a liberal Sonoma family that tried its hand at chicken and turkey farming, had turned her attention to goats, which had become the hip farm animal of the moment for back-to-the-landers. So had her friends. Among them, they had more milk than they could drink, and there was no market for selling beyond the neighborhood. To find a way to make goat-keeping pay, she tried to make cheese, but to very ill effect. Eventually, she took off to France, attending a series of apprenticeships with cheesemakers that the famed French dairy scientist Jean-Claude Le Jaouen arranged for her.

Back in Sonoma, she found a way to make pillows of soft, creamy cheese, white as chalk and with a tang that says “goat,” but quietly. She began selling it to a few shops, but waited on tables to pay the bills.

The big moment came in 1981, when Alice Waters, who had started her own little revolutionary restaurant called Chez Panisse, tasted the cheese and placed a standing order for 50 pounds of the little disks a week. It was way more than Ms. Chenel was making. She quit her day job...

Move ahead 20 years, and Ms. Chenel is selling 2 million pounds of cheese a year. It takes 18 hours to turn goat’s milk into curds and whey. From there, it’s a matter of processing and shaping. Among the Chenel products are four-pound tubs of a fresh, mild cheese called “chef’s chèvre” for restaurants, as well as popular egg-shaped, five-ounce chabis and, for Chez Panisse, the eight-ounce log, a size she also makes and labels for Trader Joe’s...

She still seems surprised that she created a viable company out of not much more than the love of a goat.

“I know that what I did made a difference in people’s lives and I feel really good about that, but it’s not like I had that as a goal,” she said. “I was trying to make something different in my own life.”...

$40 entrees! Sides? That'll be extra...

While perusing Chowhound's Food and Media News Board, I found this post about a horrifying article in yesterday's New York Times titled Entrees Reach $40, and, Sorry, the Sides Are Extra.
..."Forty is the new 30," said Richard Coraine, the chief operating officer of Union Square Hospitality Group, which recently began charging $42 for a 1¾-ounce appetizer portion of lobster at lunchtime at the Modern in New York. 10% of its lunch patrons order the dish, it says.

Hovering just below the $40 mark is an even vaster group of $38 and $39 entrees, waiting to cross the line like thirtysomethings approaching a zero-ended birthday. The arctic char at the Indianapolis branch of the Oceanaire Seafood Room chain is $38.50. Metropolitan Grill in Seattle serves shrimp scampi for $39.95. At Mike’s, a new steakhouse in Brooklyn Heights, $9.95 chicken nuggets share the menu with $38.95 veal chops....

Restaurateurs say rising rents, ever more elaborate interior-decoration schemes and the increasing cost of premium ingredients — especially beef and fish — leave them little choice. Chefs, so fond of listing purveyors on menus, do not want those names to be Tyson and Del Monte. They "take pride in getting carrots or beets that no one has," Mr. Coraine said....

But what makes the rise of the $40 entree so significant is not just the price creep, it’s the sophisticated calculation behind it. A new breed of menu "engineers" have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal.

"Just putting one high price on the menu will take your average check up," said Gregg Rapp, one such consultant. "My mom taught me to never order the most expensive thing on the menu, but you’ll order the second."...

The towering prices at wildly luxurious restaurants like Per Se and Masa in New York and Alinea in Chicago have set a new price in the collective dining consciousness for a truly top meal, nudging up what diners will pay for far more modest dinners. In Las Vegas, the current talk is about Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, where desserts alone are $22 each and a meal for two can easily run $500.

"I love when I hear about that stuff, because then Craft becomes inexpensive," said Tom Colicchio, chef of the quickly multiplying restaurants, including a steakhouse in Las Vegas.

Oddly, as entrees rise in price, they seem to be shedding their traditional accompaniments. Today a $40 main dish is often now just that. Order a side dish, and the entree price climbs dizzyingly close to the 50’s. At the highly influential Craft, Mr. Colicchio serves pricey, naked hunks of protein and charges extra for vegetables. (He says the portions are enough for two.) Porter House, a new steakhouse at the Time Warner Center in New York, even charges diners separately for sauce.

"I blame Tom Colicchio for this," said Barry Okun, a New York lawyer who has established a personal price limit of “between $50 and $60” per entree. “It’s not that I’m happy about it,” he added.

Mr. Colicchio acknowledged the influence of his pricing, adding that restaurants like those of the Bistro Laurent Tourondel group in New York "completely ripped off the concept" of focusing on individual elements.

To which Mr. Tourondel replied, "He should look back at the old-time steakhouse menus that were around way before Craft ever existed."...

Friday, October 20, 2006

It's autumn and Cincinnati Chili time again

Jane Stern and a tableful of chili! Photo: Roadfood

My new friend, Cakegrrl, a Cincinnati ex-pat, confides that she's more of a Gold Star Chili fan than a Skyline one, but I fall into the Camp Washington Chili contingent! Open 24 hours a day, six days a week, AND a winner of a James Beard "American Regional Classic" Award and accolades from Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood fame, where else could you run into little gangs of Goths at 3 am, scarfing up 4-ways after a hard night of partying at The Warehouse? ;-)

Here, for the record, is the recipe I have used to make Cincinnati chili from scratch ever since I was in high school, thanks to my best friend back then, Peggee. It is meatier than Skyline or Gold Star because it has twice the beef called for in the traditional local recipes and, for me, seems more like Camp Washington's offering. Finely grate that cheddar cheese and chop those sweet onions while the chili is cooking and filling your kitchen with that fabulous spicy aroma. To make it a true Cincinnati chili meal, serve it with a small bowl of oyster crackers and have a root beer to wash it all down!

Peggee's Cincinnati Chili

2 lbs ground chuck
4 medium or 2 large onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed or 1 t minced
1 1/2 T vinegar
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 T chili powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t cayenne pepper
1 square (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate
Salt to taste (optional)
1 quart water
Spice bag (I use a tea ball):
--4-5 dried red peppers or 1 t red pepper flakes
--5-6 bay leaves
--35 whole allspice or 1 1/2 t ground

Combine all ingredients in heavy pot, breaking up meat with slotted metal spoon until finely separated. Bring to boil, stirring frequently to blend ingredients, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 3 hours, skimming fat off of top. Remove spice ball. (You may also refrigerate overnight and skim fat off the top the next day, adding water to dilute mixture.) Serve over cooked spaghetti and cheese (3 way); spaghetti, cheese, and onions OR beans (4 way); or spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans (5 way). It's up to you whether you choose to wear a bib! LOL

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trader Joe's again

Major props to Cakegrrl out Sacramento way for turning us on to the fact that our beloved Trader Joe's has a brand new website. And, yes, the new Fearless Flyer is finally here! :-))

Q&A: Christopher Kimball, cooking's bow-tied academic

"The gourmet cooking thing is over," says editor and author Christopher Kimball.

I don't know about you, but I have been addicted to Cook's Magazine since the 1980s and all those beautiful watercolor illustrated covers. So it was a great surprise to find this recent interview from the Washington Post with Christopher Kimball, the brains behind the outfit. Until now, I had no idea that he had a cooking show on PBS ("America's Test Kitchen") -- now I am determined to find it.
Where do you typically find your recipes when you're cooking for yourself? When you follow a recipe, are you doing what they say, or are you already editing?

I rarely cook out of a book. I make recipes I've come up with over the years. I did make one out of "Baking With Julia." It was a ginger cake, and it called for two cups of molasses. I'm going, that's a pretty serious amount of molasses. And I only had blackstrap molasses, which is like killer. You never want to cook with blackstrap molasses. So I knew I had to fiddle with the recipe.

Do you choose a recipe to teach a technique or for the flavors?

CK: It's neither. We determine what to publish almost entirely based on a very sophisticated research system. The most successful stories for us are foods that people are familiar with and have a problem making. So, pie dough, for example, is huge because nobody in America can make pie dough anymore. But there are things you can teach people about it which makes it relatively easy.

As there's a growing knowledge about international foods, how do you balance authenticity with convenience?

CK: If you can't find it in a local supermarket, I'm not going to call for it. End of story. Restaurant food and home cooking bear very little resemblance to each other. So you have to figure out which restaurant recipes you really would want to make at home because they're practical. If we did enchiladas, it's going to be nothing like Rick [Bayless] does. It's going to be an Americanized version that is reasonable.

You don't mind that they're not authentic enchiladas?

CK: No. Because if that means you can't make them at home, what's the point? I mean, I'm not Alice Waters. I'm not telling people to grow arugula behind the schoolyard. I'm perfectly happy teaching people how to make a well-done hamburger or mashed potatoes. I think the gourmet cooking thing is over. That happened in the '70s.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Top Chef returns tonight!

Elia Aboumrad of Mexico City, trained with Joël Robuchon and at École Lenôtre and specializes in everything from French cuisine to chocolate making

Oh, dear Willa. So sad that you are cable-poor. One of my favorite reality TV shows, Top Chef, returns for a new season on Bravo tonight (11 ET/10 CT)! I remember several weeks ago you wrote that Mrs. Salman Rushdie (aka Padma Lakshi) had been chosen as the new host and I hear that Tom Colicchio (Craft) and Gail Simmons (Food and Wine Magazine) are returning as judges.

And vying for title of Top Chef are: Ilan D Hall (24), New York, NY, Line Cook; Josie Smith-Malave (31), Brooklyn, NY, Sous Chef of Marlow and Sons in New York City; Marcel Vigneron (26), Las Vegas, NV, Master cook at Joel Robuchon at the Mansion; Marisa Churchill (28), San Francisco, CA, Executive Pastry Chef, AME; Mia Gaines-Alt (32), Oakdale, CA, Owner of Feed the People Restaurant; Michael Midgley (28), Stockton, CA, Line cook at Wine and Roses restaurant in Lodi, CA; Otto Borsich (46), Las Vegas, NV, Chef Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Las Vegas; Sam Talbot (28), New York, NY, Executive Chef in New York City; Suyai Steinhauer (29), New York, NY, Chef and Owner of New York Fork Meal Delivery Service; Betty Fraser (44), Los Angeles, CA, Owner of Grub Restaurant in Hollywood and As You Like It Catering; Carlos Fernandez (36), Fort Lauderdale, FL, Co-owner and executive chef of Hi-Life Café in Fort Lauderdale; Cliff Crooks (28), West Caldwell, NJ, Executive Chef at Salute! Restaurant in New York City; Elia Aboumrad (23), Las Vegas, NV, Assistant Room Chef at The Hotel; Emily Sprissler (30), Las Vegas, NV, Master Cook at Nob Hill at the MGM Grand; Frank Terzoli (39), San Diego, CA, Executive Chef of Heat Restaurant;

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tomatillos, olé!

The Palate weighs in. You recall last time, he was in a quandary over how to use all those yummy purple tomatillos from his garden:

I resolved my tomatillo quandary this evening with a variation on a cooked salsa. I must say it is truly amazing, even for a gal like you who disdains the foods south of the border. Of course I didn't follow the recipe but here is what I worked with from cooks.com:


1 lb. tomatillos
1 chopped onion
1 chopped green onion
2 tsp. minced jalapeno
1 c. chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion in large skillet until soft. Cook tomatillos in boiling, salted water for 2 to 3 minutes, then puree in blender. Add green onions to skillet just before regular onions are ready. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

I had way more than a pound of tomatillos, I used a large sweet onion, two jalapenos, an entire bunch of green onions and quite a bit more than a cup of vegetable stock. I cooked it down for about 45 minutes and finished it off with the juice of three lemons and a lime then cooked it for about 10 minutes more. I made a large pot of it and will freeze some of it. It is so rich, it tastes like a vegetable but also almost like meat. It would be really good over pork. But my first use of it is as a sauce for pasta with sausage. Oddly this recipe does not call for cilantro, which almost every other tomatillo recipe does. I think it would add a nice edge. The distressing thing is that the deep purple color that I cultivated so carefully is only skin deep, the color of the sauce is a brownish green. That could be worked with in future versions.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mrs. Saatchi goes shopping

This week in The New Yorker, John Seabrook accompanies Nigella Lawson as she surveys the offerings at a Manhattan Gristede's on the occasion of her recent visit to NY to talk about her new Food Network show, Nigella Feasts. Read more here.

The Palate continues his Houston adventure!

I managed to see quite a bit of the city and all the major art spots thanks to a GPS in the rental car. I fell in love with the woman who was the voice of my GPS. She got me every where I wanted to go and when I missed something she didn’t call me a “fucking idiot,” she just said “recalculating.” I thought if she could read the New York Times to me, or find the good local radio stations during the longer stretches between directions, she would be a great cross-country companion. The two highlights we saw together were the Rothko Chapel and the ArtCar Museum or "Garage Majal". Sort of opposite ends of the high art/low art scale, but I found eating barbecue between the two experiences was the perfect way to blend them. There was a lot of real Mexican food there so stopping at tacoria would work too. My personal BBQ highlight was lunch at Hickory Hollow. It was single story flat roofed building with a non-descript exterior and the door propped open. I walked in and they were playing rockabilly music, there were wooden tables with linoleum tops so the atmosphere was perfect. It was Sunday about 11:45 AM so it turned out I got there just before the church crowd. I had the HICKORY QUICKY (Chopped Beef Sandwich with Beans & Fries - $5.50), iced tea and a piece of pecan pie (that was about a quarter of a pie.) The meat was good and smokey but you know it is always about the sauce with me. This one is similar to the one at Beans and Things in Amarillo, that the Sterns like so much and claim trumps Calvin Trillin's fave Arthur Bryant's. You know I agree with them on this particular point. Do you remember that I drove from Amarillo to Cincinnati with a Styrofoam cup of it, covered in aluminum foil held on with a rubber band, in my car, just so you could have a taste? I believe we had it with grilled chicken. The spices were not as complex as Beans and Things and a bit more vinegary, definitely what the Sterns would call the three C's spice mix, it would be really good on the pork - had I known. Alas, the new liquid carry-on rules for air travel prevented me from bringing any back and my extreme light packing prevents me from traveling with anything more than a laptop and a couple pairs of underwear, so no checked luggage. I doubt a Styrofoam cup of BBQ sauce would have fared well in checked luggage anyway.

I think three days is about as much time as you need to see Houston, though. I was happy to leave all the large guts on Republicans in big cars and come home tonight. I will be in Baltimore later this week so I guess I will be eating crab cakes, meanwhile I am back in Pittsburgh. In this town whenever any one suggests there is a better place in the world the popular come back is, "Yes, but can you get a salad with fries on top there?"

Make your own Beans and Things Barbecue Sauce

2¼c catsup
2¼c water
2t beef broth
3T brown sugar
½t Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1T lemon juice
½t liquid smoke
1¼t dry mustard
1t chili powder
½t garlic powder
1t black pepper
¼T cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan and bring to boil; then simmer for 15 mins. Cool and store in refrigerator until needed. Makes 1 quart. Recipe: The Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort Food from the Mother Road

Beans and Things
1700 Amarillo Boulevard, East (Old Route 66)
(806) 373-7383
Look for the cow on top. (And Cadillac Ranch nearby)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Report from Houston: The Palate checks in

Oh, our dear friend The Palate just lives the most beautiful life! Although he had been looking upon his business trip to Houston last week with dread -- (I mean, come on! Flying into George Bush International Airport? What is up with that?) -- when he called this afternoon, waking me from a blissful sleep, he could not contain his glee.

Against the ebb and flow of a car alarm wailing in the background, waiting for a plane to return home to Pittsburgh, he excitedly told me of his visit to a local BBQ place called Hickory Hollow for lunch. Aside: To understand our mutual love of BBQ, you must know that before The Palate made an extensive driving tour of the South and Midwest some years ago, I presented him with my dogeared copy of the Sterns' Roadfood as a travel guide. I am proud to report that he followed it -- from Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City to a hole in the wall cinderblock place in South Carolina with its vinegary, mustard-based sauce! Anyway, at Hickory Hollow he had the beef barbecue sandwich with thin red sauce.

more to come...

Soulful chef becomes blogger

Michael Soul of a Chef Ruhlman has gotten the blogging bug after guesting on Megnut.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Puck swallowed by Shark?

Since it is almost Thursday again and I am still held hostage by my TV, I just wondered whether anybody else out there is hooked on Shark, that new James Woods' series on CBS. Last week I was intrigued by the mention of Wolfgang Puck listed in the string of guest stars. Naturally, I thought this would just be a quick walkon in one of his restaurants since the show is filmed in L.A. -- but, No! Unless it was a subliminal appearance, he was never there!

Am I going bonkers or did somebody else see him?

10/24/06: Update: I think I know the secret now. If you see the name of a well-known celeb listed in the cast of this show (OJ mouthpiece Robert Shapiro was also amongst those in this category), they are probably sitting at the table of Shark's weekly poker party!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Purple Tomatillos


I don't know if you know much about tomatillos, as I recall you are not a fan of things south of the border, except for a few tawdry tales about which you have made reference in jazz clubs. I planted a purple variety this year. Unlike the green variety that I planted last year. They are now coming in in droves looking like plums with paper husks. Last year I waited for the green ones to turn yellow so they were quite sweet. With these the darker the color the sweeter the veggie-fruit. Anyway, I am trying to figure out something to do with them other than salsa or a sauce, which is what I made last year. I'm stumped - there aren't many options I can find on the web for what to do with large amounts of them. Have I asked you this before? Is it a yearly question for me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pringles, anyone?

Coming from the city of the World Headquarters of Procter and God, I must admit to a certain amount of trepiditation when I read about Vosges Haut Chocolat's newest contribution to the chocoholasphere: Red Fire Chocolate Tortilla Chips, described by this blurb in New York Magazine as being packaged in "a chic Pringles-style canister of organic corn chips dipped in milk chocolate and dusted with ancho- and chipotle-chile powder that pick up nicely where chocolate-covered pretzels leave off" -- and only at a stylin' $20 for 6 ounces tab, for those of us with an excess of snacking moolah burning a hole in our collective pocket. I mean, really, people. Have we no shame?

Note to self: Oh, my God. My hair is almost that same color!