Monday, August 31, 2009

Last Hoorah Summer Salad

I don’t want summer to end. I like wearing white and cute flowery skirts, I like the reduced traffic on my morning and evening commutes, and I like the general sense that even though I cannot afford to go on one, I could take a vacation to some exotic locale if I were so inclined.

The thing I enjoy most about summer, however, does not in any way relate to the trips I’m not taking or the adorable Sechelles sandals I get to wear on a daily basis. While I quite enjoy strolling about town in my pastel-colored threads, the thing that gets me most revved up in the summertime is the food – specifically the seasonal fruits and vegetables like corn on the cob, cherries, yellow nectarines, and heirloom tomatoes.

With Labor Day just a week away, it won’t be long before the seasonal produce goes foul and/or acquires an $8/lb price tag, and yesterday, I decided to make a last hoorah salad with two of my favorite summer items – sweet corn and nectarines. (The salad may or may not have also been inspired by a desperate need to cleanse myself after eating way too much sausage, pork, tri-trip, apple tart, and caramel brownies at my dad’s rotary BBQ.)

The best thing about this salad is its simplicity. I kept everything really clean in order to allow the natural sweetness of the corn and nectarine to really shine. The contrast against the peppery arugula and creamy bite of goat cheese was really compelling, and it all went together nicely with the grilled chicken breast that I marinated with an apricot vinaigrette. It was the perfect way to balance out my indulgences from the previous day, and even more importantly, the perfect way to say goodbye to my favorite season of the year.

Diana’s Last Hoorah Summer Salad
Serves 1

4-5 ounce chicken breast
1 ear of yellow corn, boiled and shucked
1 yellow nectarine, chopped
1 tablespoon goat cheese, crumbled
1 ½ cups arugula
Squirt of lemon

Combine apricot jam, white wine vinegar, squirt of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve one spoonful for dressing.

Marinate chicken for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook and husk corn and prepare other ingredients.

Grill chicken on bbq or grill pan and then assemble salad. Toss corn, nectarine, arugula together with a small spoonful of dressing and an extra squirt of lemon juice. Plate, then top with grilled chicken and goat cheese.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

TJ's Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds: My new must have

I walk slowly down the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s, my eyes desperately searching for my favorite dark and milk chocolate covered cashews among the long row of chocolate-covered items on the shelf above the freezer.

There are dark chocolate covered cashews, milk and dark chocolate covered almonds, but the dark and milk chocolate cashews are nowhere to be found. Just like the hot & sweet mustard that disappeared off TJ’s shelves last fall, the cashews have vanished without a trace.

My left aorta seizes for a moment, disrupting my balance as I come to the realization that another of my beloved treats will be my beloved no more. If I were one to shed tears like those weepy contestants on "the Bachelor" or "Dancing with the Stars,' I might shed one now, but I am too firm a soldier for such overly emotive behavior. Especially with so many vicious shoppers in my immediate vicinity. I’ll save the Kleenex’s for a truly desperate situation – like if TJ’s ever decides to discontinue the Soy Creamy Cherry Chip ice cream which seems to only be in stock on Saturday mornings (never on Thursday nights when I am hit with a massive craving).

I sigh, gather my bearings, and make the big girl decision to buy the chocolate almonds instead. Almonds are healthier than cashews, anyway, I tell myself. And I can justify eating more than the paltry five cashews I normally eat for my lunch dessert.

I’m about to head to the dried fruit and nut section to secure another two bags of dried cranberries (I have a weird compulsion to buy at least one or two bags every single time I step into a Trader Joe’s), when I spot another type of chocolate covered almond in a smaller tub.

“Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds: reads the yellow mustard colored label. I glance down at the milk and dark variety. Then back up at the sea salt ones. Then back down again.

I’m stumped.

While I do adore the sweet and salty combination like it was the spawn of my own brain, it’s a gamble. The almonds look slightly chalky – like they might leave a trail of cocoa dust on my hands, clothes and mouth. I’m not so good with chocolate as it is. My skirts are perpetually stained with small smears of muddy brown from my indecorous consumption of the product, and I routinely discover chocolate freckles on my face hours after I’ve eaten my dessert.

It’s kind of a problem.

I decide to go with the original dark and milk chocolate almonds, grab my dried crans and then head to the cash register to check out. I study the basket contents of the woman in front of me (a habit of mine – I like to make superficial judgments about people based on their TJ’s must haves) and see the sea salt almonds huddled next to a bag of carrots and some containers of Greek yogurt.

It’s a sign, I think, and immediately set down my basket and race back to the freezer section to make my almond swap.

When I dig into the almonds a couple days later, I’m not sure that I like them. The salt is assaulting at first, and I’m not sure I detect the turbinado sugar part of the equation. The dark chocolate shell is nice though. Properly bitter, but still sweet enough to set my insulin levels aflutter. I’m also pleased to discover that the chalky exterior is only chalky in appearance and doesn’t leave the dreaded trail of evidence I was concerned about. I finish my six almonds and feel satisfied, but don’t have any inclination to vocalize my appreciation with any yummy noises. I also don’t feel immediately inclined to e-mail my friend Ali about them, as I do on occasions of great food product discoveries.

But then the next day, I find myself looking forward to my after lunch treat. Sometime during the past 24 hours, the almonds went from being pleasant to crave-worthy. And today, one month later, they’ve become a staple in my red Hawaiian TJ’s bag. I’m not to the point of buying a tub or two on every visit (like with the crans), but I can easily imagine reaching that level in the future. Especially given TJ’s propensity to discontinue all my favorite products.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Top Chef Season 6, Episode 2: Cajones, ceviche and gay marriage, oh my!

Last night, the “Top Chef: Las Vegas” producers dropped a big present under the tree of all the Bravo viewers who were bored by the lovey dovey, drama-free aspects of “Top Chef Masters.” Gone were the hugs and “way to go’s!” Gone were the gentle eyes of teddy bear Hubert Keller that couldn’t contort into one of Jennifer Carroll’s glares if they tried. And gone were any illusions that this is all just a fun game among friends.

For the season 6 contestants on “Top Chef,” this isn’t just a game. It’s a battle. A battle against the gender stereotypes that Jersey boy Mike Isabella likes to prattle off like all those nicknames he has for his fellow chefs. (I’m still scratching my head over that “pickles” one…) It’s also a battle between brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio to see who, to borrow a phrase from the barely comprehensible Hector, has the biggest “cajones” in the kitchen.

Finally, if last night’s episode was any indication, it’s also a battle to see whose whine can shatter the glassware in the GM kitchen first. Jesse’s tears are pretty righteous, but my bets were still on good ole golly gee whiz Eve from Michigan until she had to go dig herself into another shrimp hole.

But to her credit, at least she pronounces “ceviche” correctly. I think?

The big drama of last night’s episode was not, however, about whether “ceviche” is “cevich-ay” or “cevich” as the scary yet wickedly talented Jenn C. pronounces it. The big drama was about the political correctness of an elimination challenge that required the cheftestants to pair food with shots for a bachelor/bachelorette party. Ashley, one of the three gay contestants in this season’s roster, was more than a little upset to be cooking for a wedding ritual that she cannot take part in because gay marriage is not legal in all states in the US. As to my thoughts on whether she was voicing a valid complaint or being overly sensitive, I’ll leave that can of worms to be opened at next year’s Miss USA pageant. I’m sure Perez Hilton will have a few words to share as well.

Moving on… the marriage drama and the sibling rivalry between Michael and Bryan Voltaggio were quickly established as the main story arcs. They also provided the only two nail-bitters of what proved to be a room temperature episode that lacked any real, un-manufactured sizzle. There was no question in my mind that the boys would best the girls with their fancy molecular gastronomy and more adventurous dishes. (Ladies, please lose the lettuce leaves and unfortunate garnishes.) There was also no question in my mind that poor confused Eve would be the one sent home for yet another incomprehensible dish.

What was less obvious was whether Ashley would be able to overcome her emotions and still come out unscathed by Tom, Padma, Gail, and Todd English’s well-sharpened knives. (Ultimately, no, due to an unfortunate decision to create a second dish – a savory sage panna cotta that failed to impress with its bitter undertones.)

Of course, for me, the main concern was whether dreamboat Michael would best Bryan in yet another challenge. I’ve already voiced my feelings (maybe a little too loudly for some) about him here, so I won’t digress/embarrass myself any further. Except to say, his wife is a very lucky woman. And I heart chefs with tatts and nitrate.

In the end, Bryan’s “whimsical” macaroons that I still haven’t quite figured out because I couldn't take notes fast enough (sweet and sour, what?) outshone Michael’s apple sorbet and goat cheese cookie, and Todd English pronounced him the victor of the second elimination challenge. Does this mean his “cajones” were bigger than Michael’s last night? Perhaps.

Either way, the Voltaggio boys are keeping things interesting. And not just because of their washboard abs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Old Sardine Factory: "I'll give you a little tippy"

Palms Thai in Hollywood will forever be the place where my date took me up on my offer to split the $26 bill with the response, "Why don't you put in $10 and I'll take the leftovers."

Sam Woo’s BBQ will always remind me of the grouchy waitress who shushed me when I asked for vegetables.

And the Old Sardine Factory in Monterey, California, will live on in my memory box as the place where I said, “I’ll give you a little tippy.”

It’s a shame really. The restaurant, an institution on the infamous Cannery Row, deserves better than that. While I’m not really a cream in my soup kind of gal (I prefer my cream in frozen form), I did enjoy the complimentary bowl of chunky clam chowder I received from my waitress in the lounge. She was kind to me – a solo diner in a sea of empty chairs and mini couches that were only temporarily occupied by older parties waiting for their tables. I was a bit of a sad sack with my sun burned face and blood shot eyes (from exhaustion, not booze), but she pretended not to notice.

My entrée, the sand dabs with chive risotto, sautéed seasonal vegetables (spinach, carrots, haricot verts), with a lemon butter sauce ($21.95), was also satisfying enough to merit more than just a flippant mention in a post centered around an unfortunate slip of my tongue. Unfortunately, it’s just not going to happen. The buttery pan-fried dabs and pedestrian risotto filled my stomach with a comforting blanket of fat, but still cannot receive the designation as the most memorable part of my evening.

Maybe if my experience at the Old Sardine Factory had ended when I signed the check, the food might have reigned supreme in my consciousness. But it didn’t end there. It ended when I went to retrieve my car from the young valet outside.

“How much?” I asked, already digging into my bag for my wallet.

“It’s free.” He responded with a coy smile. “We do it right here.”

And then it happened.

I don’t know if it was the glass of wine, my temporary stay at a restaurant better suited for my parents than a 25-year-old, or just pure exhaustion, but the words came out of my mouth before I had time to pass them through my mostly useless filter.

“Well, then!” I announced with a little demonstrative wave of my hand. “I’ll give you a little tippy!”

Regret and horror immediately capsized the pleasure from my full stomach. I shyly handed the valet a few dollars and then, once inside my rental car, I proceeded to bang my head against the steering wheel. The deed was done, and the restaurant’s fate was sealed.

The Old Sardine Factory: The place where I gave a valet a “tippy.”

The Sardine Factory
701 Wave Street
Monterey, CA 93940
Phone: 831-373-3775

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making paella pals at La Espanola Meats

They look a little lost. Maybe even disoriented – like they aren’t quite sure they are supposed to be here – or even want to be here.

I can tell right away that they must be at La Espanola Meats in Harbor City for the same reason my friend Erin and I are there on a humid Saturday afternoon – for Tony C of Sino Soul’s paella/blogger feast/love fest. The man has an inexplicable ability to get his friends and semi-loved ones to drive exorbitant distances for food. He also has an inexplicable ability for arriving at said gatherings late (I suspect to force the random individuals he invites to become friendly with one another without his assistance as the tie that binds everyone in the Twitterverse together).

Plus, I secretly think he enjoys making an entrance.

“Are you part of Tony’s group?” I ask the couple (who I later learn are not a couple at all).

They nod eagerly at my opening, introductions are made, and as we begin perusing the small space of the charcuterie/specialty Spanish storefront, I feel a fledging affection for them. Ben and Sylvia seem like good folk, I think.

While I am busy knocking bottles of artichoke mousse onto the floor and nibbling on the stinky (ie. delicious) cheese samples near the cash register, Erin picks out a pleasant 2001 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva for us to enjoy with our lunch. She’s excited because it’s a Tempranillo, and I’m excited because I don’t have to make the decision.

Soon thereafter Tony arrives with his beautiful new bride Hayon, and informs us that he has requested 16 orders of paella – one for every two people. He also informs us that the paella is not what we’ve driven 30 miles for – La Espanola’s premium cured meats are the real draw. I ignore the voice in my head that is screaming, “You’re wrong, Tony C! Wrong!” and join Erin in the long line that is forming to order individual meat and cheese tapas plates. Both Erin and I are more interested in the paella (and our bottle of wine), but decide we can handle the slight charge of $4.99 for some fatty pork, as well.

It is at this critical juncture that the aforementioned Ben of B-Side Blog does something that completely eradicates the possibility that Erin and I will forget his and Sylvia’s names and remember them as “the couple who is not really a couple.” He starts to talk to us as we wait in line. One thing leads to another and Erin asks if they want to share our bottle of wine. Ben agrees and ups the ante with the proposition for a shared plate of tapas as well ($7.99 for 4 people). In mere moments, Ben, Sylvia, Erin, and I have become paella pals.

As we sit on the patio, sipping wine and demolishing our seafood paella cartons that are more noteworthy for the fluffy texture of the fragrant rice and the sweet strips of roasted red pepper than for the slightly overcooked seafood, we become bonded over our mutual appreciation for the food.

Tearing through the meat plate (whilst carefully avoiding the salami-esque pieces that Ben describes as “fine” – ie. not fine enough for me), I start wondering if this is Tony’s intent with all his gatherings. That maybe he doesn’t just care about getting everyone sauced and stuffed on a hot summer afternoon. Maybe he wants to bring kindred spirits together like he’s a Foodie Cupid. Maybe he’s the Great Asian Hope for Los Angeles – the man who can bridge a thousand personality, demographic, ethnic, and geographic gaps. Or maybe Tony’s just a guy who really really likes being in control.

Any which way, it works.

Especially when he brings along containers of homemade Honey Lavender and Coffee ice cream.

La Española Meats, Inc.

25020 Doble Avenue

Harbor City, California 90710

Phone: (310) 539-0455

Fax: (310) 539-5989


Note: Paella only available on Saturdays for lunch.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Top ten signs that you are at a grown up BBQ

1. The libation of choice is wine, not Pabst Blue Ribbon from a Keg, and the wine does not come in a box and/or bottle labeled “Charles Shaw.”

2. The “hot dogs” are actually sausages, and they are served on whole wheat buns.

3. Dips are not bright orange and are not made from the Hidden Valley Ranch season packets. They are served in a glass bowl and come adorned with Carr water crackers.
4. Chicken breasts and tri-trip are marinated prior to grilling and are sliced in attractive pieces for optimal presentation. Nobody fears contracting a foodbourne illness from ingesting them.

5. Someone makes spanakopita. From scratch.
6. There is something green on the buffet table, and it is not mold.

7. Pictures taken can be shared on Facebook without concern that your boss or potential future boss will see them.

8. The bathroom has toilet paper. And scented hand soap.

9. Guests go home with unopened bottles of wine.

10. Guests go home.

Recipe for the "something green" (ie. Waldorf Salad) can be found here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dametra Cafe and the merits of dining with people who like food

There are few things I enjoy more in the world than eating. I can probably count them on one hand. Or, more accurately, two or three fingers. (One is shopping and I’m not sure I want to disclose the others.)

Okay, fine. Maybe I’ll disclose one more…

It involves a small man rubbing my feet with fragrant oil. And it may or may not result in my toenails being painted bright pink.

But moving on…

As I may have mentioned once or twice, eating pleases me. Of course, not all situations involving the satisfaction of my stomach are created equal. Some meals disappoint and fail to give me the emotional lift I seek due to inferior preparation/ingredients, sometimes poor service throws a wrench in my mouth party, and other times it’s the company that spoils the show.

Despite my clear affection for the ingestion of calories, one of my least favorite pastimes is eating with people who don’t enjoy food. Where’s the fun in shoving my own face whilst making animalistic yummy noises if there is no one around to echo and imitate my own behavior? My sociolology profs from Northwestern can attest to this – people feel more kindly toward individuals who mirror their behavior. As such, I like to surround myself with friends who aren’t afraid to do some damage to their waistlines in a sometimes indecorous way.

A week ago Friday, I had the privilege of dining with two such individuals up in Carmel, California. After a long day of working for “the man,” we were exhausted and more than a little anxious to begin making the aforementioned animalistic yummy noises. Upon the recommendation of Hemang (gmangoman on Twitter), I miraculously secured us dinner reservations at Dametra Café (I begged and pleaded), and at approximately 8:30 pm, my two co-workers and I descended upon the small Mediterranean café on Ocean Avenue.

Despite the tranquil outside setting of the sea-side town of Carmel, the scene inside the café was decidedly less so. Not only because the owners sang and played musical instruments whilst our fellow diners clapped along, but also because the incredible food inspired my party to abandon any and all table manners at the door.

Words were replaced by grunts and moans of approval as we dug into our steaming basket of freshly baked bread, and hefty appetizers of fried calamari ($9.95) and hummus and pita ($5.95). The huge, meaty strips of local calamari were unrefined in size, and even more appealing because of it. I couldn’t stop eating the tender seafood French fries and was happy to see that my companions were equally unapologetic about their inability to exhibit self control either.

With the reckless abandon of kids who don’t need to worry about securing a husband or fitting into the sample size, we filled our appetizer plates with gargantuan spoonfuls of the creamy delicately spiced hummus, and tore through the fluffy pita bread like we were carbo-loading for a marathon. If we’d been in “Girl’s Night Out” mode, we might have declared ourselves too full for more, but our bellies still begged for further sustenance. Without a whisper of the loathsome words, “I shouldn’t,” or “I have a date tomorrow night,” we each ordered full-sized entrees.

My lamb kabobs, a special of the evening ($17.95), were plump with meaty flavor, and despite the serious appetizing I’d done prior to their arrival I had no trouble plowing through the succulent pieces of flesh. At the insistence of my friend, I also sampled a bite of the four cheese ravioli ($12.95) that she declared, amidst sighs of pleasure, were the best she’d ever had. My other dining companion was less vocal about her Greek Combination Platter ($17.95), but her facial expressions disclosed equal amounts of gastronomical pleasure.
Dametra’s large portions of well-prepared, hearty Mediterranean food were exactly what we needed after our long day of work. The meal was incredibly satisfying not only because it tasted good and that’s all I have to say about that, but also because of how much my party enjoyed eating it together. Food tastes better when it isn’t qualified with “I shouldn’ts.” I much prefer sighs of pleasure and unrestrained grunts and groans.

Dametra Cafe
South East corner of Ocean & Lincoln
Carmel by the Sea, CA 93921
(831) 622-7766

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Chef Season 6, Episode 1: A Love Letter to Michael Voltaggio

Dear Michael Voltaggio, Las Vegas "Top Chef" Contestant and current LA resident,

I love you.

Even though I suspect that the playful rack of lamb dish you made in last night’s Elimination Challenge might be indicative that you enjoy the company of many ladies and I have no shot at winning your heart, I still yearn for your presence in my life (or more accurately, on my TV). Not only because I live by my stomach and know that I would eat well if you were in my kitchen, but also because you are very attractive and I enjoy looking at pretty things.

While I realize that our mutual love may not be meant to be (a mug like yours belongs next to a mug far fairer than mine), I am the reasonable sort (sometimes) and still only want the best for you.

In other words, I want you to beat all those other Season 6 "Top Chef" contestants, including your brother Bryan. (No offense to Bryan -- he does seem quite lovely, but he doesn't have any tattoos.)

Let’s begin the blood bath with Jennifer Carroll, the self-proclaimed “bitch in the kitchen,” whose vice is doing stupid things when she drinks lots of different types of alcohol. I know she works with Eric Ripert and has made men cry and looks like Amy Winehouse when shucking clams, but that “I want to win everything” nonsense is already wearing on me.

Then let’s move on to Mattin, the moderately cute French guy who I think is only there because he has an accent and everyone misses Fabio. Is that why the relay race challenge included clams? Were the producers hoping it might spur Mattin to go off on a rant about serving monkey asses in clam shells? Either way, he needs to pack his berets and go.

From there, I’d like you to make some mince meat pies out of Eli and Mike Isabella. While I did enjoy Eli’s “Bacon” shirt and his proclamation that he cooks because he likes to eat (I do too), I’m not really sure I trust his beady eyes. That self-described “fat kid” has got some passion in there that could be dangerous in later rounds. He and Mike, who seems to be the kindler, gentler male version of Jennifer (she haunted my dreams last night), need to be schooled sooner rather than later. Especially Mike because he tried to knock Pretti over in Whole Foods. Not cool, Mike, not cool.

I’d also really appreciate it if you could ex-nay Hector before he starts talking about his cajones again. The only balls I want to hear about in the kitchen are the edible kind – meatballs, risotto balls and maybe Sno-balls if it's for a vending machine challenge.

I’ll let you hold off on Ron Duprat, the Haitian guy who talks kind of slow, but only because he reminds me of a teddy bear and I have a guilt complex about preying on defenseless creatures with sob stories. Also, I’m not repulsed by Kevin Gillespie even though he has a crazy red beard, so you can let him be for now too. Plus, it was like majorly exciting when he beat Jennifer and Mike in the Elimination Challenge, because they both sooo thought they were going to win. I also hear that red heads feel pain more acutely than us fairer and darker follicled folks, so go easy on him for now. I know you’ll still come out ahead in the end.

As for the others – ie. the ones Wolfgang described as “turkeys,” don’t let your pretty head fret for a minor minute about them. Bravo always casts a few of those contestants like Eve from Michigan that make the audience wonder, “Why are they here?” It’s for contrast. Gotta have the head-scratchers to make the winners seem more, well, winning. They’ll be gone soon enough. Until that day comes, just be glad that they allow you to look all the more becoming in the GM kitchen lighting.

Hugs and Kisses,

Diana Takes A Bite, aka your biggest fan

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Soup and Universal Kitchen Truths

It’s a universal truth known round my kitchen that if I pre-plan and shop for a specific dish, I will inevitably crave something else on the day of reckoning.

It’s also a universal truth known round my kitchen that if I am preparing two items at once – one complicated and one simple, the simpler item will be better than the more complicated one. But more on that later…

I full intended to prepare a vegetarian version of my grapefruit, avocado, Edamame quinoa salad last night, but around 3:00 pm yesterday afternoon things started to get a little dicey. My throat began doing that itchy thing it does when I’m getting sick, and all I could think about was how much I wanted a bowl of the heirloom tomato bisque that I enjoyed for lunch at the Gallery Cafe in Pebble Beach while I was working at the Concours D’Elegance car show. Of course, since said soup was all the way in NorCal and I was all the way in smoggy SoCal, I would have to settle for my own version. Waaah waaah.

After a brief consultation with Cathy, the Gastronomer, and my mom, who was fairly useless since she has never made tomato soup from scratch and didn’t know how many tomatoes I would need to prepare it (last night’s version required 2 ½), I made a quick stop at Whole Foods on my way home from work. I collected all my ingredients for the soup, plus some goat cheese and zucchini to make a quick roasted veggie and grilled cheese sandwich. And then I got to work.

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I tackled the job with the ill-conceived confidence I use when I’m pretending that I belong at those trendy Hollywood bars I never go to. (I prefer lounges, wine bars and wearing clothes that cover all my bits.)

The procedure went something like this…

Throw a carrot in there?

Why not!

Keep the soup chunky rather than straining out the tomato skins?

Sure thing!

Add a little balsamic vinegar?

Plop! In she goes!

The end result certainly looked like tomato soup, but unfortunately it didn’t even come close to the Gallery’s version that I am guessing benefitted from some serious strainage and a more liberal use of cream (my paltry 2 tablespoons of half & half were probably not cutting it).

While my grilled sandwich was an unequivocal success (because, as I mentioned, it was super easy to make and went together in less than ten minutes), the soup was super sweet and lacked the velvety consistency my sore-ish throat was craving. I did notice that the creamy goat cheese in my sandwich helped balance out the sweet bite of the soup, so I decided to pull a Tim Gunn on my concoction and “make it work” with a little improvisation…

I returned to the kitchen, got my goat cheese out of the fridge and added a fatty dollop to my soup. It certainly helped matters, but this soup is a long way from being ready-to-wear.

I will get there some day (because I’m a neurotic perfectionist and won’t be able to rest until I do), but until that day comes, I’ll be eating a heck of a lot of grilled goat cheese sandwiches.

Sort-of Heirloom Tomato Soup
Serves 1

¾ lb heirloom tomatoes
1/3 carrot, chopped
1/3 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons half & half
Dollop of goat cheese
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper
Basil, for garnish

Sauté onions, carrots and garlic with olive oil, salt, pepper in a medium-sized pot. When onions are translucent, add chicken broth, reduce heat and simmer until veggies are tender.

Meanwhile, slice tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees until they’ve begun to break down. Add to the soup and simmer together approximately 10-15 minutes. Use an immersion blender or blender to puree soup to desired consistency.

Return to the heat and add balsamic vinegar, half & half and goat cheese. Reheat to desired warmth and then serve. Top with optional basil.

Roasted Veggie Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich

2 slices whole wheat bread
1 shallot, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
¼ red pepper, sliced
Goat cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper

Roast shallots, zucchini and red pepper in oven at 375 until tender. May need to start shallots and red pepper first and then add the zucchini as it takes less time.

Top one slice of bread with veggies, and then dot the top with goat cheese. Cover with the other slice of bread and return to the oven. Bake until bread is toasty and cheese is gooey. Slice in half and eat with soup.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Bittersweet Goodbye

“It’s hard to stop eating it, isn’t it?” She says, tilting her head toward the half-eaten pizza in front of me.

I swallow, take a sip of my glass of Syrah and nod up at my server at the Fireplace Lounge at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey. “I think I may finish it.”

She smiles, refills my water glass and walks away – leaving me to enjoy the final moments of my last dinner in Monterey.

I feel oddly sad that the trip is ending. Despite the physical exhaustion I feel from the past six days of work and more work, I feel enlivened by the experience and the opportunity to show off my non-food related talents. It was a nice break from my typical hum-drum work days spent cooped up in the office, and a nice break from my monotonous daily life of excel grids, workout classes and trips to the grocery store.

I loved escaping LA. I loved living the uncomplicated life of hotel living (especially the king-sized bed part). And I loved eating myself into a food coma every evening sans the guilt I often feel in my day-to-day life because “I shouldn’t be spending the money,” and “I shouldn’t be ordering both an appetizer and dessert.”

As I sip my wine and pretend to read my book, Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, I feel acutely aware that this is my last hoorah before I go back to my wallet/thigh-friendly meals of oatmeal, brown bag lunches and quinoa and veggies. But even more than that, it’s my last glimpse of the world I created up there, and the world I got to be a part of with my co-workers and colleagues.

I turn my attention back to my surprisingly well-executed thin-crust pie that has been topped with prosciutto, pesto, asparagus, garlic, and four cheeses ($13), and take my time to savor each bite. I smear a tender roasted garlic clove over the cracker-like crust, cut it down to lady-like bites and eat slowly like those posh French women who don’t get fat.

When every crumb has disappeared from my plate (that is actually more like a platter), my server comes by to check on me one last time.

“Do you think I can get a scoop of the caramel pecan gelato to go?” I ask her sheepishly. “I want to snuggle up in my bed with the remote.”

She smiles back and returns a few minutes later with my bill and a coffee cup filled with two scoops of the lush gelato. It’s an appropriate end to my trip – a taste of the good life I’d come to enjoy so much while I was working it up in one of the most beautiful places in California. I enjoy every single bite.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Words of Wisdom from the Road: Reading the food signs

“I shouldn’t.” I tell the bartender at the Fireplace Lounge at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey, California.

He nods skeptically. I can tell he thinks I’m a bit loopy. And not just because my face is the poster child for why it is necessary to wear sunscreen, and my eyes are bloodshot from exhaustion.

I smile, pretending to be confident in my decision not to order the warm baked apple tart with caramel pecan gelato “to go.”

“The wine will be fine.” I insist, waving him off as I slide my glass of Sauvignon Blanc off the marble bar and turn toward the exit.

I plod across the parking lot toward building number eight – the location of my hotel room for the duration of my six-day stay in Monterey, and try to convince myself that I made the right decision.

“I’m so tired I won’t even care that I’m not having an overly indulgent dessert. I’ll be asleep within the hour.” I think. “The Hershey’s Bliss Dark Chocolates I brought with me, Thursday’s episode of ‘Royal Pains’ and the aforementioned wine will be more than enough of a treat after my long day of work. I don’t need to ingest 500+ calories to massage my battered soul.”

I arrive in my room and set my wine down on my bedside table. Just as I start to pull on my pajama shorts and tank, I remember the Jazz apple, sunscreen and aloe vera that I’ve left in my rental car downstairs – a short distance away from the hotel’s bar and, by extension, the apple tart.

“It’s a sign!” My inner greedy gobbler declares with enthusiasm. “Clearly this means you were meant to have it!”

“But by the time I get it back to the room the ice cream will have melted into a soupy mess.” My rational tenth rebuts.

“Not if you request the ice cream in a separate to-go container.” The gobbler points out.

My inner neurotic smiles. “Well put, Sir Gobbler. You are quite the intelligent voice of nonsensical reasoning.”

I yank my dark wash Joe’s “Honey” jeans back on – ignoring their snugness after five days of emotional eating, and head back down the now too familiar narrow suitcase.

“I think I need the apple tart.” I tell the bartender with a sheepish smile once I’ve obtained the sack of Safeway acquisitions from my vehicle and have arrived back at the bar.

He gives me a tired look, but gives no verbal indication that my bizarre behavior has worn down his patience. I hand over a tenner for the $7 dessert – fully cognizant that this indulgence will not be expensable – and he heads back to the restaurant to put in my request for the apple tart with caramel pecan gelato on the side.

Minutes later the two diversely tempered containers are in my hands, and I’m off again in the direction of my room. When I arrive at the door, I picture the key card malfunctioning and immediately decide that if said unfortunate event should transpire, it will be a sign that I truly am off my rocker and shouldn’t have gone back for the dessert.

I hold my breath as I slide the key back in. I’m fully expecting to see the evil red and yellow lights that mean the card has been demagnetized yet again.

The single click and subsequent flash of green eradicates any and all doubt in my mind.

I really was meant to have the delectable tart that I soon discover is worth every single one of its 500+ calories.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Theo Chocolate & Bread Bars: Parting is such sweet sorrow

In my ever-continuing quest to vacate the contents of my bank account, I just paid $7.99 to get Internet access so I can write up a right good farewell before I depart for Monterey, California for a six-day business trip. It's a small price to pay in comparison to the $29 I spent on Jennifer Weiner's new book Best Friends Forever, which I opted to not get at Target for $16 because I was trying to leave the store without spending $100.

I still spent $101.

And now I'm down $13.

Such is life. Or at least, such is my life -- a little bit reckless and a lot bit irrational. And very very pink.

A couple months ago I exhibited more of the reckless spending I pretend to avoid when I bought this Theo Chocolate & Bread Dark Chocolate bar at Whole Foods. It was an impulse buy -- like most of my purchases at Whole Foods are, and I recall being somewhat appalled at the price point when the cashier scanned it, but went with it because I was, as always, too embarrassed to say, "Hold the phone, I can't spend $2.99 (or was it $3.99?) on 2 measly ounces of chocolate! Take it back! Take it all back!"

So I left the store with it (plus a Chocolove dark chocolate cherry & almond bar) and then promptly forgot about it because my chocolate drawer at work was already overburdened with Fling bars and Hershey Bliss dark chocolate bites and See's candies and Trader Joe's sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds. But then yesterday I had a craving for something supremely indulgent and stumbled upon the Theo bar underneath the Haribo gummy bears I bought when I gave up chocolate for Lent. (Twas another impulse buy.)

Upon unwrapping the Theo bar, I was pleased to discover that the 65% cocoa bar can be easily broken into four segments if one possesses superhuman self-control and wishes to stretch it into an absurd four servings. I like having the option to be superhuman, but still eat two segments for the price of 130 calories because that is the serving size, folks, and I follow the rules of society. Most of the time. (I occasionally make illegal U-turns. And jaywalk.)

I was also pleased to discover that the Theo bar has the much-coveted "snap" factor (ie. it snaps in the mouth), and is a decent thickness unlike the Ghirardelli squares that always tempt me at the register at Cost Plus World Market. But it also has something a little extra (aside from an egregious price tag).

Salty toasted breadcrumbs.

While the salty sweet combo is becoming as clichéd as an episode of “Gossip Girl,” the Theo Chocolate & Bread bar is still seriously delightful. The bit of crunch, hint of salt and punch of the bitterly sweet dark chocolate elevates this bar from mundane to something special – an experience. The salty breadcrumbs actually remind me of the Grape Nuts in Tai Kim’s infamous brown bread ice cream at Scoops. This is a very very good thing.

My only regret is that I’d had the foresight to impulse buy more of them so that I could bring them with me to Monterey. But alas, I am stuck with Hershey Bliss bites and the aforementioned TJ’s sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds. They will have to do.

And this post will have to do until my next one. Which most likely won’t be coming tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next day. But I will be back. Because if one thing is certain it’s that I will spend recklessly again. And it will most likely be for something that will be going into my stomach.

Monday, August 10, 2009

San Antonio Winery Beer Boutique: RIP "Cleanse" Diana

I drove all the way to San Antonio Winery yesterday and all I ate was this carne asada taco and taster of Mission Ale.

Or at least that’s what “Cleanse” Diana did in her wildest dreams.

The real Diana – the "Diana Takes a Bite" Diana whose stomach may or may not resemble a pregnant lady’s when she eats large quantities of food – opted for a different tact…

Consume. It. All.

And then go to Pazzo Gelato for two scoops of ice cream after.

I told myself that I wasn’t going to go completely overboard when my friend Katie and I arrived at San Antonio Winery yesterday afternoon for the Beer Boutique Tasting and Food Pairing. After a two week break from indulgent eating and drinking (excepting my mother’s birthday and a glass of wine at Laurel Tavern this past Thursday), I was feeling confident in my ability to resist the temptation of an all-you-can eat and drink buffet.

Especially considering that I’m not a beer girl, and Mexican food doesn’t typically have a kryptonite effect on my iron will like chocolate or pizza or “D,” all of the above and more.

It started out all well and good. I savored my pour of a crisp Maddalena Pinot Grigio (wine was also available at the event), took one chicken taco instead of both the chicken and the carne asada, and when asked if I desired white beans, I said (a smidge too girl-on-a-diet-esque), “Just a little.”

My black rectangular plate looked refined in those early moments – chic even, and I was proud of my ability to ignore the sweet Siren’s song luring me toward gluttony. I thought to myself, “I can do this. I can be a normal person who doesn’t eat her weight in food and then go back for more.”

And then I saw them. Not one, not two, but four different types of tamales.

In less than one minute my plate went from a chic runway model to a prime candidate for TLC’s “What Not to Wear.” It was a train-wreck, and after two weeks of eating whole grains, fruits & vegetables, and lean proteins, I was more than a little ready to hitch a ride on the Overindulgent Eaters Express.




As the live jazz band began filling the space with an ebullient energy, I found my pulse bobbing to the beat of food lust.

“I’m sorry, I can’t focus on talking right now.” I apologized to Katie as I eagerly tore into the El Salvador chicken tamale at one of the round tables set up for the 200+ guests. Stuffed with potatoes, succulent pieces of white meat chicken, and other curious items like peas and raisins, it should have been called the “Everything but the kitchen sink” tamale. Or, in valley girl speak, the “Like Seriously Rando” tamale. Either way, it was really really good, and outshone the pork tamale, chicken taco, rice and beans, corn salad, and cilantro cabbage salads also renting space on my plate.

“I think I need a break.” Katie moaned as we headed to the beer stand to sample one of the nine beers available for tasting. (Note: Drinking counts as a “break.”) I had started with the lightest beer– the Czech Rebel Pilsner, and opted to proceed to the next lightest – the aforementioned Mission Ale – next.

Emboldened by my discovery that I’m not entirely repulsed by extremely cold light beers served in cute little glasses, I forgot all about my plan for a “break” and headed back to the buffet for a carne asada taco. And when that was gone, I headed back to the beer station for another “break” to sample the Weihenstephaner Weisse from Germany. The beer stirred up my appetite once again, and I was soon holding two more plates – one with sausage and multiple mustard dipping sauces, and another with lean strips of jerky-like tri-trip and fries.

At this juncture in the afternoon, my food baby had reached its second trimester. I would have been completely content to call it quits (after a brief foray with the mini brownies and blueberry coffee cake) were it not for the words, “my favorite beer here.”

My ears perked up at the sound of a potential missed opportunity. Despite the “no vacancy” sign that was now hanging over my stomach, I couldn’t leave without trying "the best beer here."

Throwing caution to the nonexistent wind (the event was held indoors), I strode over to the nearest beer tasting station and proudly thrust my glass across the make-shift bar.

“I’ll have the Great White, please.”

Now, as previously discussed, I am not a beer girl. While I did do a 30-second “Keg Stand” in college, my taste for the frothy brew has formed an inverse relationship with my taste for wine. I love wine therefore I now (almost always) hate beer.

Or so I thought.

The Great White from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California was a, wait for it, “Eureka” moment for me. Since I don’t possess the beer vocabulary to describe the taste (other than "yummy"), I’ll let the words on the disposable coaster do the talking.

“An American version of a Belgian style, this unfiltered beer has a translucent golden color. It has a full-bodied mouth feel, yet is surprising light to drink. Great White is topped with a hint of citrus and a secret blend of herbs, for a crisp refreshing finish. KILLER BEER.”

It was the perfect way to, wait for it, “kill” off “Cleanse” Diana once and for all.

At least it was until Katie and I exited the 101 freeway and decided that we had to have ice cream too.

Two scoops of blueberry white chocolate and fudge mascarpone later (courtesy of Pazzo Gelato), and I was ready to be wheel barrowed into the delivery room.
I named her “Cleanse Diana” in memory of the girl who died and went to Heaven yesterday.

May she rest in peace.

San Antonio Winery
737 Lamar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90031
(323) 223-1401

Sunday, August 9, 2009