Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's another quinoa salad recipe!

Common sense dictates that if one wishes to maintain the attention of an audience, he/she should keep the persons in question on their proverbial toes. A minister should pepper his sermons with jokes and personal (and relatable) anecdotes rather than repeating verse after verse of scripture. A teacher should break up the day so that the students cover a multitude of subjects – English in the morning, math and science after recess, and history and art after lunch. And a food blogger should provide a variety of recipes for his/her readers, posting about everything from lavender macarons to meat lasagna to seared scallops with truffled risotto.

A food blogger shouldn’t do something crazy like post about the same ingredient seven… err… eight times.

Or talk about said ingredient excessively when communing with other food bloggers.

Or eat it more than five times in a week.

That’s just absurd!

But… what if that food blogger couldn’t help herself? Because that food item makes her feel so gosh darn good when she eats it – full of energy and not weighed down like when she overdoses on pasta or bacon or a 16-ounce bag of cashews. Because that food item is a healthy way to balance out her indulgences, like that second helping of Mom’s stuffing on Thanksgiving or a ritualistic bowl of mint chip ice cream after dinner. Because that food item helps keep her mouth in check when she can’t wear her new pair of Joe’s jeans due to their tightness round her newish wobbly bits.

Is it acceptable then? Can the blogger on trial be absolved for eating the same quinoa salad for lunch four times during a one-week period because, like milk, she truly believes it does her body (and thighs) good?


But only if that salad tastes like this orange, edamame, goat cheese, and arugula quinoa salad – the perfect blend of sweet and savory to satisfy the poor healthy glutton’s cravings.

Except for that pesky chocolate one that seems to be most responsible for those wobbly bits. But she’ll get to that later.

She always does.

Orange, edamame, goat cheese, arugula quinoa salad
Serves 1 healthy glutton

¼ cup quinoa
½ cup shelled edamame, cooked
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
2 large shallots
1 large, genetically engineered orange
1 Persian cucumber, sliced and diced
Handful of arugula

1 ½ tablespoons orange juice (from an orange not a carton or can of concentrate)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon orange zest
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice shallots into thin rings and then roast (without oil) until crispy (approximately 30 minutes).

Prepare quinoa according to package instructions. When done, set aside until it cools to room temperature.

Supreme orange. Reserve juice from discarded bits and cutting board for dressing. Combine dressing ingredients with a whisk.

When shallots and quinoa are done, mix quinoa, edamame, orange segments, arugula, and cucumbers with the dressing. Plate, then top with crispy shallots and goat cheese.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake: A great way to screw with Thanksgiving tradition

Nothing says Thanksgiving like… raspberry buttermilk cake?

It was probably the least obvious choice for dessert on a holiday that pays tribute to the pumpkin, the pecan and the apple, but I couldn’t help myself. After tasting the delicate cake the week prior at my friends’ apartment, it was all I could think about – an oddity since I don’t particularly like cakes – especially ones that don’t contain chocolate or carrots or gobs of goopy frosting.

I hadn’t even wanted any dessert that night. I’d canceled a reservation at Breadbar to sample Pastry Chef Waylynn Lucas’ eight specialty dessert plates, because I was trying “to be good.” I made myself a healthy quinoa salad for dinner instead, and then trooped over to Erin and Hank’s place to watch “Glee” and “Modern Family” for my big social event of the evening.

“Spending time with friends doesn’t always have to involve eating,” I thought smugly. “I am capable of engaging in activities that do not include my stomach!”

Even when I discovered that Erin was baking Hank a cake for his birthday the following day, I held strong to my original stance – no sugar coma for me. I was not eating my feelings that night, thank you very much!

“Are you sure?” Erin said as she stood at the door of the kitchen holding three plates and three forks.

“Yep!” I sang with confidence.

But then I saw it. The thin layer of golden cake, speckled with whole raspberries that were oozing their juices into the supple interior.

And then I heard it. The groans of pleasure flowing from the birthday boy’s gaping mouth.

“Mmm… all my favorite flavors!” He said, already eying the pan on the table for a second helping.

My stomach rumbled with displeasure. No fair. It wanted buttermilk raspberry cake too.

“You should really try it…” Erin said, as though reading my petulant stomach’s mind.

The strong resolve I’d worked so hard to build immediately crumbled, and I pushed myself off the couch with slight irritation. “Fine! I’ll try some!” I grumbled on my way to the kitchen for a plate.

I cut off a tiny slice, fully expecting it to be like most cakes I frown upon – dry, flavorless and not chocolate. But it wasn’t dry. And it wasn’t flavorless. And while it wasn’t chocolate, it was still satisfying.

“I love the sugar on top!” I gushed, reaching over to slice off another sliver from the platter on the coffee table.

“It’s so moist!” I continued, shocked by my love for such a simple cake.

As I wiped the final crumbs off my plate, I announced to my friends, “I have to make this. I have to make this for my family – next week!”

And so it came to pass. I made a buttermilk raspberry cake for Thanksgiving. It stood proudly next to my mom’s pumpkin pie on the kitchen counter for all in my family to snub in favor of the more seasonal offering.

But I didn’t snub it. I topped it off with powdered sugar and a few more of the $4.99 raspberries, and then gave my thanks for the dear friends in my life who get me to try new things. Even when it means “being bad.” And even when it means eating something other than chocolate.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
From Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Gourmet, June 2009

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top (make sure some are facing upward so they don’t all fall to the bottom) and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes (mine was done in 19 minutes). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh my Gado Gado Salad!

M Cafe de Chaya's Gado Gado salad

Sooo good.” I moan over a mouthful of crunchy peanuts, crispy onions and greens laced with peanut dressing. “I don’t think I can ever order anything different here again!”

Ashley looks skeptical. “But you’ve never had the M Chopped before.” She points out, referring to her favorite salad at M Café de Chaya, the trendy macrobiotic eatery where we are eating dinner.

“I bet I could make this.” I continue, so caught up in the different textures and flavors in the Gado Gado salad that I can’t seem to focus on what she is saying.

Ashley shakes her head. “I think it would be easier just to get it here.”

“It wouldn’t be that hard!” I continue, again oblivious to the wise words coming out of my most practical friend’s mouth.

It’s already too late for me. As usual, once I get it in my head that I want to make something, there’s no convincing me do otherwise.

For better or worse.

Till death do we (the food item and my lips) part.

I took on M Café’s Gado Gado salad this past Saturday at a most inopportune time. Not only was I baking chocolate chip cookies for my friend, but I was also attempting to pack up to spend a week down in Orange County with my family. Of course, none of this seemed to matter to me. I was set on making the salad right then – even if it meant quadruple tasking and over-extending myself as usual.

Did I mention I was also running on five hours of sleep? And had further exhausted myself by working out for an hour at the gym that morning? And had to run to Nordstrom’s at the Grove to pick up a bag of Big Train Vanilla Chai for another friend’s birthday?

Right. Good. Just wanted to make it perfectly clear that I’m insane.

Instead of just grabbing the Gado Gado from M Café’s West Hollywood location that is only a mile from my apartment, I opted to do the following:

1. Make crispy onions by slicing shallots into absurdly thin pieces and then roasting them in the oven for 30-45 minutes (at 375 degrees).
2. Cook brown rice.
3. Marinate tempeh in soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, and sauté in pan with garlic.
4. Whip up a dressing with peanut butter, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, rice wine vinegar.
5. Slice green beans into inch long pieces and lightly steam them
6. Julienne baby carrots and red pepper.
7. Chop up roasted and salted peanuts.
8. Combine everything with arugula and top with the onions and peanuts.

The end result was good. Heartier than the version I had at M Café because of my addition of the brown rice (I heart carbs), but the dressing was a touch too gingery for the recreation. And my onions just didn’t have the same crunchy goodness as the ones topping M’s salad.

But it was a nice lunch. Not perfect, probably completely inauthentic in terms of traditional Indonesian preparations of the Gado Gado salad, but fine for my purposes (eating lunch).

Ultimately, however, I think Ashley was right. (She always is.) It probably would have been easier to just pick up one from the café.

But where’s the fun/insanity in that?

My version of the Gado Gado salad

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"In Bed Together" Exhibit Launch Party at Royal/T: Ludo returns. And oh yeah, there's art too.

I blame it on the rain.

Of e-mails, that is. It doesn’t actually rain in LA except for once or twice a year. Just enough to provoke headline news stories blowing a light sprinkle up to be “Storm Watch 2009!” Aah, hyperbole. Tis a lovely flavor to lure in the attention of the masses.

Unlike the drizzle that occasionally dampens Los Angeles, however, my Gmail inbox has been weathering a real “Storm Watch 2009” in recent months. Mostly because of the clutter from news and announcements I receive from Anthropologie, J. Crew, Martin & Osa (or “Martin & Osie” as my mom likes to call it), Borders Rewards, and the National Gardening Association (no clue), but also because, I’m kind of (not really) “a big deal.” Or just don’t know how to click the “no” box regarding receiving newsletters.

Two weeks ago I received a non-spam e-mail from Royal/T inviting me and a guest (or guests) to the “In Bed Together” Exhibit Launch Party this past Friday, November 20th. My eyes immediately focused in on the meat of the matter -- the words, “appetizers by luminary Chef Ludovic Lefebvre.”

Done! Sold! I’m there, I thought with giddy excitement and immediately forwarded the e-mail to Sook of Yutjangsah who is even more enamored with Chef Ludo’s experimental cuisine.

In my eagerness to RSVP and move on to the next e-mail (from Anthropologie – new sweaters! Squee!), I failed to pay attention to the rest of what was written in Royal/T's invitation. The event wasn’t just about noshing on Ludo’s inventive apps and celebrating the much-anticipated return of LudoBites, but also about viewing art.

Apparently, the whole “In Bed Together” theme is not only referring to Ludo getting in bed with Royal/T this December – it’s also referring to an art exhibition.

Color me embarrassed.

Especially since I didn’t actually realize this until I got to the party on Friday night.

“Who are all these people?” I whispered to Sook and Sarah from the Delicious Life.

I was specifically referring to the man in the Monk-like robes, but also to the more ordinary-looking art buffs from the community who were clearly not food bloggers or industry folk eager to rub elbows with Ludo and his lovely wife Krissy.

While I am not opposed to expanding my cultural horizons beyond food and my weekly appointment with “Glee,” in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that the art I appreciated the most on Friday was the art that came with a fork.

Ludo’s scallop crudo with pineapple and brown butter was a delight to my senses – the sweet fruit a compelling contrast to the buttery scallops. The buckwheat crepes were equally playful – the crepe tasted virtuous, but its healthful components were immediately nullified by the goat cheese and bacon jam filling.

Thank God.

Sadly, I was, again, so focused on the Ludo part of the evening, that I failed to pay adequate attention to curator Jane Glassman’s exhibit which features approximately 50 works by 50 artists. According to the release that I am finally reading in full today, the pieces “tell a compelling story of the contemporary art world today.”

Sigh. Again, I blame it on the rain.

Either that or on Chef Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre – the “it” couple in the LA dining scene. When they are in a room, it’s hard to pay attention to much else. Especially when Ludo is working the stove.

The “In Bed Together” exhibit will be on display at Royal/T now through January 30th, 2010.

LudoBites will be taking over the Royal/T space for December 2nd - 4th, 9th -10th, 13th - 17th, and 20th -22nd.


8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232-2326
(310) 559-6300

Monday, November 23, 2009

Canelé: Just like home

We needed someplace quiet. Someplace where we could talk with ease – like we would if we were just hanging out at home.

We didn’t want a scene. We didn’t want a hot spot. We wanted a local treasure – a place where friends gather, where couples go for a mid-week date night, where the chaos that so often defines Los Angeles doesn’t exist.

Canelé, the humble Atwater Village restaurant with my most beloved French toast, was the first restaurant that came to my mind for the occasion in question – a planning meeting for the EAT MY BLOG charity bake sale to take place Saturday, December 5th at Zeke’s Smokehouse BBQ. We – Cathy of Gastronomy Blog, Anjali of Delicious Coma, and Laurie of G-Ma’s Bakery, and I – had much to discuss and didn’t want to be distracted by a cacophony of noise or the incessant “like’s” and “totally’s” of two aspiring actresses.

Canelé was the answer. It was the place.

Tucked away at a corner table for four toward the rear of the homey restaurant, Cathy, Anjali, Laurie, and I were free to ramble on about dot stickers, table linens and the baked good drop-off protocol sans interruption. Except, of course, to order. And take photos. And eat. (Kind of the point of going to a restaurant.)

Canelé’s seasonal fare is fitting for its sweet honey-lacquered space. It’s comforting, cozy – the type of food one might actually get at Mom and Dad’s house on a crisp fall night. Roast chicken with corn cake, oven-roasted pork chop with small potatoes, beef bourguignon with buttered noodles – it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but is nevertheless thoughtfully prepared

On this particular evening, I opt for the persimmon salad with pomegranates, arugula and shaved parmesan ($11) to start, and the duck confit with parsnip mashed potatoes, red cabbage and plum sauce ($20) for my entrée. The salad is a farmer’s market affair – the kitchen is clearly taking advantage of the fall fruits that are currently in their peak. It’s clean, fresh and neat, and proves to be a prescient order given the heaviness of my second course.

The duck confit is a well-executed version – the crisp skin providing the proper textural juxtaposition for the tender dark meat underneath. I find ample pleasure in pulling it apart and mooshing it into my parsnip puree and supple cabbage. It’s not the type of thing that would appeal to my friend Ali who hates when her sides and protein touch, nor is it particularly couth of me to eat it in this manner, but I don’t feel my behavior is imprudent in the restaurant environment. It’s what I would do at my own dining room table – except with salmon and edamame mash since I’ve yet to attempt duck confit.

I finish with a special dessert that evening – a spice cake with poached pear and marscapone. While I was expecting something less overtly sweet, I am smitten with the marscapone that someone with a heavy hand has heaped in the center of the dense cake. It’s not a dessert I would crave, but is one I would surely accept should a sweet-faced relative offer it to me during a family dinner.

Cathy, Anjali, Laurie, and my meal at Canelé was exactly what we needed it to be that evening. We left satisfied – proud of the work we accomplished over our two-hour meal, and satiated by the soul-warming dishes. Mom would approve. Especially since the hostess didn’t let us leave empty-handed – we each received a mini canele for the road.

3219 Glendale Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies: The perfect way to say "I'm sorry I flaked on your birthday"

I live in fear of the “Evite.” Just the sight of one in my inbox fills me with a profound sense of dread – “How am I going to get out of this one?” I think, my conscience already grating a hole in my stomach. Give me spam, give me another Nelnet bill, give me chain letters threatening seven years of bad luck lest I forward it on to twenty five of my besties, but please, don’t send me an Evite.

It’s not that I hate people or that I even hate all parties. Every so often I enjoy putting on a pretty dress, spending more than three minutes on my make-up, and “hitting the town” with my close friends. If “hitting the town” means going to a lounge or bar where I can get a nice glass of wine and won’t be ogled by a cadre of frat boys who can burp the alphabet.

I explain my unnatural stance on partying by telling people that I’m the oldest 26-year-old I know. They don’t argue with me. My roommates shook their head in disbelief when I snuggled up on the couch with a cup of Rooibos tea and the remote on Halloween, and I’m certain my behavior last weekend would elicit a few raised eyebrows among my demographic. Instead of going to my friend Rob’s birthday house party last Saturday night, I spent the night with my parents in Orange County. While he and his friends partook in Jell-o shots, I ate mint chip ice cream and watched “Grey’s Anatomy” with my mom.

Sigh. It was a really great night.

What wasn’t so great was the guilt I felt after. Rob has always been a loyal friend to me. He came to my birthday party this past September, which I, incidentally, invited him to via Evite, and when we go to dinner he gives me veto power over which dessert we order. He’s even let me get the gelato instead of his favorite --- the butterscotch budino -- at Pizzeria Mozza.

I IMed Rob first thing this past Monday morning with a promise to make it up to him. I didn’t tell him how – because I wasn’t quite sure myself – but I knew it would involve food (since it’s pretty much all I think about). It didn’t take me long to settle on the best prescription for any malady – chocolate chip cookies.

Despite my adoration for the NY Times perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, I opted to try Smitten Kitchen’s crispy chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe instead. Deb has never let me down like I’ve let down my friends who are celebrating birthdays, so I knew she’d come through for me in this pinch. And just like I suspected, she did.

The smile on Rob’s face when he bit into the cookie this afternoon finally released me from my prison cell of guilt. In such instances it’s not such a bad thing that I’m the oldest 26-year-old my friends know. When I’m not busy drinking tea, reading the Business section of the paper and going to bed at a reasonable hour, I can make a mean chocolate chip cookie.

Crispy, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Smitten Kitchen who adapted them from

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used 1 1/2 cups Ghiradelli 60% cacoa bittersweet chips)

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time (for giant cookies) or a tablespoon at a time (for smaller cookies) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake larger cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones (check your cookies before they’re done; depending on your scoop size, your baking time will vary) in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Little Next Door: It hurts so good

I actually look forward to them – my Bar Method classes. I can’t wait to get to the studio after work for some good old fashioned tension release – the kind that doesn’t involve alcohol, inane reality television or eating chocolate. I excitedly announce to the Twitterverse, “Can’t wait for Bar Method tonight!” and regularly turn down social engagements that conflict with my class schedule. It isn’t until about 15 minutes into the gut-busting workout that I realize, “Damn, this hurts.”

It’s not just a little hurt – it’s a big hurt. I’m huffing and puffing, turning a shade of red that could stain a rug, and silently cursing the instructor who is commanding me to do yet another 16 reps of thigh tucks. The entire session is misery, yet when I’m lying on the floor post-workout, my head clear of all neurotic thought, all I can think is, “Wow, that was amazing. I love Bar Method!”

My experiences with the Little Next Door, the cutesy French cafe on West Third Street, seem to proceed in much the same fashion. I love the restaurant and am the first to suggest it when a friend wants to meet for lunch in West Hollywood, yet, when I’m there I want to strangle the waiters for the impossibly slow service.

I grumble with dissatisfaction as my stomach digests itself waiting for my bowl of carrot parsnip orange soup.

I groan when I see my server walk right by my frothy vanilla latte that’s been sitting on the counter for five minutes getting cold.

And I want to get up and walk out when I finally get my darn soup and can’t eat it because my friend doesn’t get her bowl of French onion for another ten minutes.

But then I taste the latte with its soft cap of foam and subtle vanilla undertones. And I savor a spoonful of the carrot parsnip orange soup ($6) that envelopes my mouth with the perfect collusion of sweet from the carrots and bitter from the orange zest. Then the quiche lorraine ($8) arrives – a haughty square of egg, ham, cream, and cheese a top a field of tepidly dressed mixed greens. Each bite better than the next, I marvel over the quiche’s texture that is somehow both rich and light at the same time – like a savory souffle.

Suddenly I don’t mind that I have to use both my arms to wave down a busboy to get a refill of water. And I don’t mind that my friend and my quick lunch has taken two hours out of my Sunday. It’s all forgotten because the rewards of eating the well-prepared, thoughtful food make the slow service a mute point – just like the pain of a Bar Method work out becomes a distant memory after class.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the cute French waiter doles out a free lemon macaron with our dessert – a perfectly executed doughy chocolate chip cookie ($1) and the restaurant’s version of an Oreo. ($1.50) It’s sweet finishes like this that make me such a glutton for Little Next Door’s punishment. It hurts so good.

Little Next Door
8164 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: (323) 951-1210

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top Chef Season 6, Episode 12: Don't let the Bocuse d'Or hit you on the way out!

This is it guys. The last challenge in Las Vegas. The stakes are high, the tension is building, and everybody is freaking out. Except for Michael Volt. Because, well, he’s Michael Voltaggio, gastro god, and his arm tattoos make him invincible to harm. Or, more accurately, like a pretty boy who is trying really hard to look macho while he slices cucumbers.

Eli makes the profound revelation that he and former “Top Chef” contestant Richard Blais are BFFs, and I suddenly lose all respect for Richard. He really had Eli as his best man at his wedding? And more importantly, does this mean that Eli wore something other than a white undershirt?

Gavin Kaysen, who represented the US in the Bocuse d’Or, the most serious cooking competition in the world, is judging this week’s Quickfire Challenge with Padma. I know he’s supposed to be this big bad chef and all, but I just can’t get over how small he looks next to her. She’s wearing a man suit with a puffy shirt a la “Seinfeld,” and Gavin looks like he’s her little ventriloquist dummy. But apparently he’s no dummy, guys. He cooked in the Bocuse d’Or! Better write that name down. Because it won’t be mentioned more than 100 times in this episode.

For the Quickfire, the remaining five chefs have 90 minutes to create their own version of Gavin’s Bocuse d'Or dish – a ballantine which consists of a protein in a protein in a protein. Jenn giggles, “I’m going to make a turducken.” She’s not, but I appreciate her sense of humor during do or die time. Everyone else is far too serious. C’mon, where did all the smiles go? Are they hiding in Kevin’s beard? Michael is especially crotchety. He says of Jenn, “At this point in the competition, there’s not a whole lot left for her to do.”

Oh contraire, Sir Voltaggio! Jen wins the Quickfire for her calamari steak stuffed with salmon and scallops, and Gavin gives Michael a slap on the wrist for not actually making a ballantine. Michael sulks, “I don’t get where he’s coming from.” Hmmm me neither. Maybe he’s from Munchkin land in Oz?

With no immunity awarded for the Quickfire, Jenn must rally again for the Elimination Challenge, which, surprise surprise, also relates to the Bocuse d'Or! It’s a really big deal. Like huge. Like Michael’s head big.

For this final challenge, the chefs will be competing in the “Top Chef” version of the competition (it’s called the Bocuse d'Or in case you forgot), and each will have to create a presentation platter with one protein and two garnishes. They have a choice of either lamb or salmon as their protein (can you guess which one Kevin will pick?), and will then have to concoct two garnishes that showcase their technique and skill. Gavin gives the example of a zucchini that’s been woven into a basket, and Kevin’s pig tattoo almost runs off his skin and goes “wee wee wee all the way home!”

The stakes are kicked up even further when Padma reveals they will be cooking for twelve judges, including Thomas Keller and representatives from the American advisory for the Bocuse d'Or. The winner will not only make it to the next round, but will also receive $30,000 courtesy of the M Resort and a chance to compete for a spot in the… what’s it called again? Oh, right, the Bocuse d'Or-- almost forgot because nobody said it for 1.2 seconds!

The chefs are off to Whole Foods, and I start to worry about Kevin when he says he has no dish planned whatsoever. He later asks Bryan how to sous vide lamb and visions of Googly Eyes Carla start dancing in my head. “No Kevin, don’t do it,” I want to scream out. Bryan’s a good guy though and gives him a quick 101, and says, “Being a chef is very much about sharing information. Some believe that. Some don’t. My brother might not believe that.” You think?

Tension in the kitchen is high the next day. Nobody’s really talking now that chatter box Robin is gone, which means there is far too much cooking and actual chefery going on. Tom comes in to do his usual unsettling Q&A’s mid-way through, and Eli tells Tom he’s trying to do things he’d normally do and make them small and sexy and tight – just like his white undershirts. Tom nods. Your undershirts are not sexy, he thinks.

The dining room is a bastion of cruelty this week. Gone are the giggling Natalie Portman and useless magicians – these 12 judges mean business. As Michael says, “They’re here to look for flaws in the food.” I’m guessing this means Padma will not be likening anything to a small prick in her mouth nor declaring to Thomas Keller, “I’ve actually had bulls testacles.” Oh no, these judges are hard core – they are out to maim the chefs for their shortcomings without the use of sexual innuendo. Kevin’s poached lamb loin with beets and baked asparagus, while well-liked, is described as “elementary,” and Michael’s salmon dish with cauliflower chickpea cake and cucumbers stuffed with caviar, is slammed for lacking harmony. Nobody understands why he is describing it as Mediterranean. Bryan’s dish, a crusted lamb with orzo pasta gratin contains harmony and vision, but is criticized for the undercooked lamb. Eli also struggles with undercooked lamb, and Jenn’s lightly poached salmon is inconsistently cooked.

Despite the mishaps, everybody is really proud. The chefs are proud, Tom is proud, even Thomas Keller is proud. There is a lot of pride in the kitchen tonight, guys. And not all of it is inside Michael’s big ole handsome head!

Judge’s table is a repeat of what we already know from the dining room. Kevin’s dish was a little simple, Michael shouldn’t have described his dish as Mediterranean, and Bryan, Jenn and Eli all failed to execute their proteins properly. Ultimately, however, Kevin Red Beard is awarded the win for not screwing anything up, and Eli is sent home for serving Sean Bocuse d'Or raw pieces of lamb fat. He cries, and says, “I’m totally ok with going home because of who is going forward instead of me.” A sign of maturity? I think so. Especially since he’s wearing a clean red shirt – not an undershirt – when he says it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teriyaki Salmon w/ Edamame Mash: Diana goes (sort of) low carb

I don’t really do low carb. Mostly because carbs feed my soul and fuel my workouts (and taste really really good), but also because I became exceedingly irritable when I neglect them. My evil eye comes out, I start slamming doors, and Lord help whomever is driving in front of me in traffic.

If, however, there is anything to get me to back up the trolley on my stance to never eat a low carb meal ever, it’s my latest healthy obsession – edamame mash. (Though technically it’s not completely low carb since I add a little potato to it!)

The idea came about courtesy of Sonja of Active Foodie. She’s a fellow quinoa queen like me, and always has great ideas for recipes that are both satisfying and runner/health nut-friendly. She posted a picture of an edamame mash she served with some eggs for breakfast, and I immediately thought to myself, “By golly, that would go fantastic with some teriyaki salmon!”

And by golly, it did! I was a bit lazy with the preparation of my salmon – marinating it with Soy Vay Veri Veri Teri Yaki sauce instead of concocting my own marinade, but I think it’s okay to take a few shortcuts to prevent kitchen burnout. Pairing from scratch recipes with not-so-from-scratch items helps keep me sane. (Unless I’m neglecting the carbs -- see above.)

With some green beans that I stir-fried with garlic, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and honey, I had a winning dinner on the table in less than 45 minutes. “Winning” because everybody wins – my heart, my stomach, my taste buds, and my roommates who didn't have to bear witness to the “angry” version of my typically smiling self.

Edamame Mash
Serves 2

1 heaping cup edamame, cooked
1 new potato, approximately ½ cup cooked
¼ cup milk
Splash of chicken broth
2 cloves of garlic, roasted
Salt, pepper to taste
Cilantro (optional)

Drizzle two cloves of garlic with olive oil (leave skin on) and roast for approximately 15-20 minutes in oven preheated to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, steam potato.

Peel garlic, and combine with potato, edamame, splash of chicken broth (for flavor), milk (amount to taste depending on desired texture), salt and pepper. Blend together with immersion blender, traditional blender, or handheld mixer. Reheat until piping hot. Serve with teriyaki salmon and stir-fried veggies of choice. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heath Bar Apple Walnut Oatmeal Cookies: Tasty treats, no thanks to my 8 month year old niece

“Diana, come look at her!” My mom calls from the other room.

I look down at my bowl of sticky toffee apple cookie batter and shake my head. “I can’t! I have to finish baking these cookies!”

A squeal erupts from the other room and my mom, dad, brother, and sister-in-law laugh with appreciation. My little eight month old niece is quite the charmer – her face perpetually lined with a gaping smile.

“You have to see her!” My mom says again.

I grunt in frustration. I had wanted to have the cookies done by the time my brother, sister-in-law and niece Addison arrived at my parents house for dinner.

“Just a second!” I call back, quickly rolling a few more balls of cookies before popping the sheet in the oven. I rinse off my hands and dash into the family room where Addison is sitting in the middle of a blanket on the floor. She grins up at me, showcasing her two tiny teeth, and my heart melts. I fall to the floor and reach out my hands for her to clasp onto with her pudgy little fingers.

“She’s the cutest baby ever.” I gush, not wanting to go back to the kitchen to finish my latest dessert experiment – a Heath bar apple oatmeal cookie inspired by a tweet from the Duo Dishes about a toffee apple peanut cookie they made.

The timer screams a warning, and I begrudgingly climb to my feet to check on the cookies. They aren’t done yet, which means I need to stand idly by until they are done – spending more precious time away from my niece’s infectious giggles. It’s a simple recipe that’s been complicated by Addison’s presence nearby.

Why does she have to be so adorable? I think, as I heave the next batch into the oven and rush over to again “ooh” and “aah” over her.

When did I become such a sap? I wonder. Is this my maternal clock ticking?

No, this time it’s just the kitchen timer.

The cookies are finished, and actually turn out quite well no thanks to my dear little distraction. As I nibble the chewy toffee bits that have oozed out from the edge of the cookie, I imagine baking them for Addison someday when she has more teeth. I’ll tell her she was so cute I almost didn’t finish them. And then I’ll send her home to her parents with a sugar high.

Heath Bar Apple Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 18 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
3-4 Heath bars, crushed
¾ cup toasted walnuts

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture.

Heat diced apples in microwave for approximately 1 minute or until slightly tender. Add apples, Heath bar pieces and walnuts to batter. Stir until just combined.

Chill the dough for approximately 30 minutes so it is easier to work with.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and then roll the dough into golf ball sized balls. Bake for 13-15 minutes depending on hot your oven is/how cool the cookies are. They are done when golden brown. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I think I prefer my food not from a truck

“Save-r,” She says.

“Sav-or,” I respond with equal confidence.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Save-r,” Cathy, the Gastronomer, repeats.

I jut my lower lip out into a pout, not wanting to admit defeat. “I like Sav-or.” I mumble.

Cathy and I are discussing how to pronounce the title of food magazine, Saveur while walking down Broadway toward 6th street in Downtown LA. We, along with my good friend Ashley, are participating in food blogger Javier Cabral’s “The Rise of LA Food Trucks: A Walking Gastro Tour” – Art Walk’s new walking tour that Javier hosts the second Thursday of every month.

While Cathy and my debate is silly, the word sticks with me long after I’ve left the final food truck of the evening – my stomach engorged and steeped with irritation for my indiscriminate consumption of too much eclectic street food. The stew of conflicting flavors has not sat well, and I am feeling bitter about the mediocrity of the fare I’ve sampled over the course of the tour. When I get home, I brew a cup of Rooibos tea and hotly announce to the Twitterverse, “I think I prefer my food not from a truck.”

The backlash is immediate, but I hold firm. It’s not that I think all food trucks are inherently bad – I just enjoy eating my food at a table. With chairs. And silverware. And wine.

Atmosphere and comfort play an important part in the dining out experience for me. Because I cook the majority of my meals at home, I want to be able to completely sit back and relax while someone else does all the work for me – preparing a unique dish I’m not likely to make for myself, bringing it to me when it’s ready, and taking it away when I’m done with it. I like being able to transport myself from my usual kitchen rituals, and the setting – the cloth napkins, cushy chairs and table scrapers do play an important role in that experience.

That’s not to say I’m loathe to eat at a restaurant with paper napkins and unsightly neon lighting, or "above" getting fish tacos from a stand, but in such circumstances the food better be good enough to compensate for the lack of ambiance.

While I have only sampled fare from four food trucks to date – Don Chow, Cool Haus, Lomo Arigato, and India Jones – none of the food, except for that from India Jones, seems worthy of the precarious nature of eating it. If I’m going to be noshing on a plate of Chow Fun noodles with carne asada (one of Don Chow’s signature Mexican Chinese fusion dishes) while sitting on a bucket in the middle of the sidewalk, those noodles better be far superior to any of the noodles I could obtain from a traditional sit-down eatery. As I discovered this past Thursday, they weren’t. Nor was the BBQ pork taco that my friend Ashley later described as “the worst taco [she’s] ever had.”

Even the much-adored Cool Haus truck, which serves gourmet ice cream sandwiches with premium ice cream made at Milk, failed to impress me for the second time. Despite my lackluster first experience with the truck, I was still anxious to try a balsamic fig marscapone ice cream sandwich. Just like the first time, however, I found the sandwich awkward to eat, and ultimately discarded the hard sugar cookies to eat the ice cream by itself. Again, the quality of the product did not compensate enough for the effort and discomfort it took to consume it.

Of the five different bites I sampled on Thursday night (including a taste of the lomo saltado from Lomo Arigato that was fine, but unremarkable), the only item that stood out to me was the potato paratha with raita ($3.50) from the India Jones truck. The fragrant spices in both the raita and paratha made me regret the stomach space I wasted on the Chow Fun noodles that were, incidentally, the most expensive thing I purchased at $6. I would be interested in sampling more of India Jones’ offerings – including the Frankies (essentially a slim wrap) that several people around me were enjoying.

Ultimately however, I don’t see myself craving another food truck experience in the near future. Even though the paratha was tasty, I missed what I consider the most pivotal part of any dining experience – being able to “save-r” or “sav-or” whatever dish it is I’m consuming. Standing on the corner of a busy street, balancing a camera, a purse, a water bottle, and a plate of food, does not allow for such enjoyment. Especially when the food does taste exactly like it came from a truck.

Friday, November 13, 2009

EAT MY BLOG Charity Bake Sale

When Cathy, the Gastronomer, one of my favorite partners in eating crime, asked if I’d be interested in participating in a charity food blogger bake sale a few weeks ago, I didn’t even hesitate. I don’t recall my exact words, but knowing me I probably used an excessive amount of exclamation points (it’s a problem) in my affirmative response before begging to help her plan it.

The idea seemed genius – how cool would it be to finally get to taste all the amazing confections that my fellow LA food bloggers make? The pumpkin swirl brownies from Dishing Up Delights, authentic macarons from Food, She Thought, and the ginger scones my friend Ashley from Blank Slate is always gushing over. That it would all be done for charity – specifically the LA Regional Food Bank – seemed to be the (matcha) icing on the black sesame cupcake.

What began as a simple “What if?” has been transformed into something bigger than any of us on the planning committee could have imagined when we began brainstorming ideas. There are now 30 food bloggers involved, Challenge Butter has signed on as a sponsor and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will be supplying fresh brewed coffee to pair with the sweet treats. It will provide much needed relief from all the sugar – we anticipate over 600 baked goods to sell on the day of reckoning – Saturday, December 5th (10 am – 4 pm).

There are now just three weeks to go before the first EAT MY BLOG Charity Bake Sale commences at Zeke’s Smokehouse BBQ in West Hollywood, and I can hardly wait to see Cathy’s vision come to life for such an important cause.

And, let’s be honest, I’m also really excited to eat my weight in sugar. Carrot cake cookie, anyone?

More information (including a list of participating bloggers) can be found here.
Zeke's Smokehouse BBQ
7100 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA‎
(323) 850-9353‎

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top Chef Season 6, Episode 11: The British are here!

There's not much for the six remaining “Top Chef” contestants to whine about in the opening sequence of last night’s episode now that misogynist egomaniac Mike Isabella is gone. It’s a big deal, according to Jenn C., who thought he would be there till the end, but actually it’s just a big deal because it means Robin is still there. (In case it wasn’t clear in the previous ten episodes, everybody hates Robin.)

In other news, Bryan Volt misses his wife and 22 month old son. We all cry a tear for the humble soft-spoken daddy, who is only on “Top Chef” to get security for his family. Right. So that’s why he’s always getting his wrinkle-free tighty whities in a bunch when younger bro Michael beats him – because he just wants security for his toddler! It's always about the darn kids. Just ask Eli's mommy and daddy.

So the chefs are - surprise surprise - not heading to the M resort today. They are going deep into the catacombs of the Venetian... dun dun dun! I'm not sure why it's so scary, but apparently the chefs are really freaking out about it. While the cheftestants try to figure out who they might see today (Eli’s big head is spinning around like a top looking for Jedi Knights), they get a phone call from a robe-clad Padma for room service. It’s her best Quickfire look yet. Maybe she should steal it from her hotel room to wear over her onesies?

Today’s guest judge is chef, cookbook author and British sensation Nigella Lawson, who Eli describes as “a modern, updated, less French version of Julia Childs.” In other words, she is nothing like Julia Childs. At all. He also informs us that Gordon Ramsay named a turkey after her which apparently makes her legit. It really has nothing to do with her cookbook or fabulous skin or silky hair or charming British accent. For the record, we love Nigella. We really and truly do.

For this week’s Quickfire, which will not offer immunity, the chefs must cook Padma and Nigella room service breakfast in 30 minutes. Because the kitchen is small, only two chefs will cook at a time. First up are Eli and Robin. Eli prepares a fried egg Reuben Benedict with Thousand Island hollandaise. He’s pretty confident about his dish, but confesses to Nigella and Padma that he doesn’t usually eat breakfast because he’s not usually up by that hour unless there’s a Star Wars convention or his mom needs him to take out the trash.

Robin is a mess as usual – her cheese blintzes fail to impress the “beautiful” Nigella, and Robin berates herself for being a spazz when she presented her plates to the judges. “I always just ehhh trip.” She’s doing an excellent job of pinch-hitting for Mike I. with all these self-inflicted insults.

Up next are wonder boys Michael Volt and Kevin Red Beard. Michael’s pissed because Robin left a mess in his station, and when she comes in to clean it up, he snaps, “I’d rather you just be gone right now.” Don’t we all, don’t we all. The boys impress Nigella with their substantial dishes – Michael with his Huevos Cubano with banana puree and crispy bacon, and Kevin with his gussied up steak and eggs. Surprise, surprise, that Kevin Red Beard likes a hearty breakfast! Fortunately, so does Nigella.

Jennifer and Bryan are the last to present. Jennifer makes SOS creamed chipped beef that has Nigella wishing she could call an SOS so she wouldn’t have to eat it, and Bryan makes a warm fermented egg with vanilla. Nigella is not a fan – “I couldn’t cope quite with the vanilla,” she declares oh so cutely. I scratch my head – is she talking about the flavor or Bryan's personality? Eli ultimately scores the Quickfire victory for his Reuben Benedict that slapped the jet lag right out of her. He gets nothing for the effort, but knows his win is legit because it’s from Nigella the turkey.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs will be celebrating the crown jewel of Vegas – the Strip, by creating dishes inspired by six of the hotels. Bryan draws the Mandalay Bay, Eli draws Circus Circus, Jenn draws Excalibur, Robin draws the Bellagio, Kevin draws the Mirage, and Michael draws New York New York. Rather than filling the middle hum-drum part of the episode with the usual tomfoolery at Whole Foods, we instead get to see each chef case their assigned hotel for inspiration. It’s not very inspiring. Bryan does buy his son a stuffed shark from the gift shop at Mandalay Bay, which I know is supposed to make me go “aww,” but I refuse to allow my emotions to be manipulated by anyone except Kevin Red Beard. And maybe Michael V. when he’s not wearing his backwards hat.

After finding their inspiration (or in Jenn’s case, no inspiration), the chefs have three and a half hours to prep for service. They will be catering for a party attended by 175 of Las Vegas’ elites on the roof of the World Market Center. Things are not looking good for Jenn who isn’t really sure what she’s doing, but likes the “Sword and the Stone,” and Robin who took one look at the artwork at the Bellagio and decided that gelatin would be involved in her dish. Shudder. She’s making panna cotta which she hasn’t really made a lot, but she’s still way excited about it because she looooves sabotaging herself. And we looooove watching her sabotage herself. Until someone else sabotages themselves even worse and she somehow manages to not get eliminated. Again. And again. And again. And again.

Eli’s depressed because apparently there is no circus at Circus, Circus, guys, and he has to wear dirty undershirts as t-shirts since his mommy isn’t there to do his laundry for him. He’s making caramel apple peanut soup with popcorn and raspberry froth, which sounds like a terrible idea because it is a terrible idea. Nigella declares in her prim British accent (again, love her!), “I’m more frightened than I can say and I’m not going to be the first to go in.” Padma makes a yucky face and says, “I don’t like it at all.” The soup, along with Robin’s panna cotta disaster and Jenn’s tough NY strip steak with roasted beets and red wine reduction are predictably awarded the most visceral comments from the judges.

On top are Michael V., whose spiked out hair makes me miss the baseball cap, Kevin Red Beard for his wild sockeye salmon with compressed vegetables and cucumber broth, and Bryan for his halibut that has garlic chips and a lot of other fancy words involved. Apparently, fancy words make his dish legit. Of course, not as legit as having a turkey named after you, right Eli? Michael V. ultimately wins a really big bottle of wine and a trip to a vineyard in Napa for his righteous crispy chicken wings with a twist. Bryan goes and hugs the stuffed shark in the corner.

Jenn, Robin and Eli are then lined up in front of the judges to receive their lashings. Robin forgets that it’s Tom’s job to make her feel like an incompetent fool and says, “I was playing with something I hadn’t done again. I’m such a jerk.” Fortunately, the judges don’t need much convincing. In spite of Jenn’s tough steak that Nigella likened to a stone, and Eli’s major soup fail, Robin is finally sent home because her panna cotta didn’t’ “quiver like a young courtesan’s thigh.” It’s an anticlimactic moment. No cheering. No chest bumps between Eli and Kevin. Sweetheart Jenn even walks poor grandma to the door. For a moment I miss Mike I. – he’d know what to say! But then the moment passes. Ding dong, the purple witch is gone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

T Salon: The new tea shop around the corner

New York-based T Salon’s founder and CEO Miriam Novalle does not look like a CEO. Walking about her new tea shop location at Melrose and La Brea in free-flowing earth toned clothing, she looks like the type of person who could be a distant relative – or the neighbor next door who is always willing to share a cup of sugar.

She’s rocking her newborn grandson in his stroller when I arrive at the sustainable tea café and market the day after Halloween. The shop is empty aside from a silent fellow reading (and sulking) at one of the cafe’s many tables, and I feel slightly self-conscious when Miriam strides over to welcome me with a broad smile. She’s so happy I’m there, and, despite my inability to be an anonymous browser/lurker, I am too.

I immediately begin gushing to her about how excited I am to have a tea shop/café in the neighborhood – I’ve grown weary of trekking out to Les Palais De Thes in Beverly Hills or Lupicia at the Century City mall to keep my loose-leaf tea supply well-stocked. She grins as I continue my tirade, nodding along as though she is totally following all the gibberish I’m spouting out of my mouth. When I’m finally finished, she gently asks me what kind of tea I like so she can help me pick out something from T Salon’s 300 unique tea blends.

“I love green tea.” I say.

She gives me a knowing smile and leads me past the wellness teas, the red tea and the black tea to the shelves that house the shop’s extensive green varieties.

While I stand there making googly faces at her precious grandson, who she is babysitting for the day, Miriam climbs onto a stool and selects a couple tea blends for me to smell. One is the Rafia – a green sencha tea blended with lemongrass, oranges, and pineapple, the other is the Japanese Berry that has been infused with pieces of strawberry.

“Green tea with strawberry is my favorite blend,” I say as I breathe in the intoxicating scent.
She asserts her approval of my tea preferences and then finds me a canister of the Japanese Berry ($13.50).

“If you bring this canister back, you’ll get 10% off your next purchase,” she informs me. It is yet another indication of the T Salon’s commitment to creating an environment-friendly space. The lighting in the shop is made from recycled tea bags, the packaging is all recyclable, and the construction was done with sustainable bamboo. It’s impressive – even for LA where there is a Prius at every stop light.

As I approach the counter to pay for my tea, Miriam shows off the rest of the T Salon’s offerings – a full menu of healthy eats like salmon marinated in tea, quinoa with pomegranates and fresh fruit. It is slightly reminiscent of M Café de Chaya next door, but I am nevertheless impressed with the quality of food. I can see myself spending hours there on a future weekend afternoon – sipping some tea, nibbling on some quinoa and writing at one of the tables in the front of the shop.

I wave goodbye with a promise to be back soon. Maybe even before I run out of the delicious Japanese Sencha tea that I've been drinking every morning since my visit.

T Salon
7111 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 954-8327

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Swirl Brownies: The perfect thing to make with your male best friend's roommate

When my best male friend/neighbor Hank told me he was getting a girl roommate last May, I was a teensy bit alarmed. I’m not ashamed to admit that, I, like many girls in my demographic, am the possessive sort. I don’t like it when my roommates use my tiny spoons or special mugs or tear my newspaper apart when they read it, and I don’t like it when my best friends are hijacked by other people.

The new roommate situation was especially disconcerting to me because I loved Hank and my one-on-one time at his apartment. We regularly got together to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” to order embarrassing movies like Twilight, and for me to rant and stew about the latest irritant in my life. I didn’t want some other girl interfering in our special time – laughing at all the wrong moments or talking right during the punch line of Tina Fey’s sandwich-related joke on “30 Rock.” It never occurred to me that I might actually like the intruder, and that we would immediately become good friends/Target buddies.

This past Thursday night, after a hard day working for the man, I hijacked my male friend’s roommate to make Esi’s (Dishing Up Delights) pumpkin swirl brownies. I crossed the street like I’ve done a hundred times, bounded up the stairs that I could ascend with my eyes closed, and strode into Erin’s – not Hank’s – apartment. I came bearing wine, flour, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate chips, baking powder, and an electric beater. She was ready for me with wine glasses, eggs, butter, pumpkin puree, bittersweet chocolate, parchment paper, and lots of utensils that we would subsequently make very dirty.

While Erin tackled the chocolate layer – which required melting butter and chocolate together in a double broiler (we used a glass bowl and a pot), I got started on the batter. We worked in tandem, deftly assisting the other without (completely) getting in each other’s ways. She measured out the pumpkin and oil for the pumpkin batter, I yelled at her for wanting to lick the bowl (but let her do it anyway because that’s what friends are for), and then we proudly assembled our pumpkin brownies layer by layer. Well, fine, just layer on top of layer – we both concluded that the chocolate layer, pumpkin layer, chocolate layer, pumpkin layer scenario was overkill. We’re rebels like that.

Erin and I were so busy baking and chatting and breaking recipe rules that we hardly noticed when Hank came home mid-way through our kitchen session. It was a striking moment for me. She wasn’t the intruder – he was. But we let him stick around for a few minutes anyway before he left for a party because apparently it is possible to be friends with more than one person.

Instead of accompanying Hank to the party like we both might have done in different circumstances, Erin and I parked it on the couch, watched “Modern Family,” “Community” and “30 Rock,” and picked at the pumpkin layer that we deemed superior to the chocolate layer in our brownies. It was a nice evening – a land mark event in our burgeoning friendship. Especially since neither of us laughed at the wrong moment or interrupted a punch line during any of the TV shows we watched.

Pumpkin Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Everyday Food via Dishing Up Delights

Makes 16 brownies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Erin & I omitted because we don’t like spicy desserts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Scant 1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*2/3 cup chocolate chips (Erin & my prescient addition)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, and cinnamon (we added the chocolate chips here!). Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don't set.

With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Marché Moderne: Simply mahvelous, darling!

The perfect lunch is not qualifiable by food alone. Yes, food is important, but there’s more to it than that. Little seemingly inconsequential details like cloth napkins. And comfortable chairs that don’t turn one’s backside numb. And table scrapers that collect up the bread crumbs from a warm, fragrant piece of French baguette.
Are these formal restaurant conveniences a requirement for the perfect midday meal? Not necessarily – my lunch at Ricky’s Fish Tacos was wonderful even without the proper utensils and products for wiping my mouth – but sometimes a lady needs to be treated as such. Especially if she spends any time in a Los Angeles bar.

When my mom and I arrived at Marché Moderne, a refined French bistro at South Coast Plaza in Orange County that many consider on par with the top restaurants in Los Angeles, my soul was haggard from a tough week up north. Despite the late hour – nearly 1:30 pm on Saturday – the restaurant still had a 15 minute wait time for a table. I felt bad making my already starving mother delay her lunch any further (I caught her sneaking a fun size Snicker’s bar before we left home), but my heart was set on dining at the highly-acclaimed restaurant.

Fortunately, I was able to lure my mom in with a promise to check out the Nordstrom’s sale next door while we waited. She was game. (Of course, she’s pretty much always game when it comes to pleasing her children.)

The sale proved to be a bust, so we quickly retreated back to the restaurant to gawk over the plates coming out of the kitchen instead. Oh how times have changed since my days of post-pubescent clothesession. On-sale Joe’s Jeans no longer thrill me like the sight of a scallop and shrimp salad with expertly sliced Persian cucumbers and avocado. My heart’s pitter patter continued to increase five-fold when my eyes fell upon pastry chef Ameliz Marneau’s prix fixe menu dessert – a dainty sliver of espresso cheesecake with a chocolate macaron crust.

“We may have to get dessert.” I whispered to my mom, my lips already parting with great gastronomical expectation.

As soon as we were seated at a corner cabana on the covered patio outside, all the concerns that had plagued me during the week finally weaned themselves from my body. The tranquil setting, the ambient background noise from our fellow diners’ quiet conversations, and the personable service tempered the neurotic whirring in my head.

Or at least the neurotic whirring as it relates to my social and professional life. (No amount of tranquility can keep me from fretting over what I’m going to order.)

At our exceedingly pleasant server’s recommendation, it –shockingly—didn’t take me long to decide upon the Santa Monica McGrath Family Farm beet salad with pinenuts, orange, goat cheese, and petit basil ($11). My mother opted for the light Market Greens with red wine vinaigrette, toasted walnut oil, cucumbers, and avocado ($7); and then we requested the Alsatian Tart Flambee with caramelized onion, smoke ham, crème fraiche, and cave aged Gruyere ($13) to share.

The time that lapsed between ordering and biting allowed my mom and I plenty of time to discuss my week’s affairs – the lame pick-up lines I received at my friend’s birthday party the night before (“Have you been here before?”), and my sitcom-worthy experience driving out to Intelligentsia Venice specifically for a cup of chai only to discover that they were out.

We enjoyed the pause – the time we were gifted to share a special moment with each other, but our lips were quickly silenced upon receipt of our meal.

While my beet salad with its creamy streaks of mild goat cheese was the type of affair that reminds me that I actually do like beets (apparently the chef marinates them immediately after they’ve been roasted), the Alsatian Tart Flambee is worth a repeat drive down the 405 from LA. The tender yeasty crust (essentially pizza dough), the sweet caramelized onions, and decadent comforter of crème fraiche and Gruyere were transformative for my bad mood.

“I want to take really small bites to make it last longer,” My mom confided. “The onions are so good.”

I nodded in agreement – also taking my time to cut each of my two slices into the smallest pieces possible. It was far too delicious to scarf down like my Amy’s frozen pizzas.

My mom and I concluded the meal just as I had hoped we would – with the espresso cheesecake ($8) from the 3-course lunch tasting menu that changes daily. Paired with a cup of the restaurant’s custom blend of coffee for my mom, and a pot of green tea for me, it was the perfect ending for our perfect indulgent ladies lunch. I can’t wait to have another bad week so I have an excuse to go back.

Marché Moderne
3333 Bristol St # 3001
Costa Mesa, CA‎

Phone: (714) 434-7900‎

Friday, November 6, 2009

Intelligentsia: Why I will never order coffee there again

Can I do it? I think as I approach the barista at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Silver Lake on Saturday afternoon.

Can I actually order chai at a place renowned for its coffee?

I scrunch my face up and nudge my friend Anna. “So you’re getting a mocha?”

“Yep. Definitely in a mocha mood.” She answers confidently.

“Right.” I respond dully.

Am I in a mocha mood? I wonder, attempting to tap into my innermost cravings.

I think about the lingering aftertaste – the foul smell that will penetrate my tongue after I drink it. No, I don’t want coffee breath today, I decide. I want something sweet and spicy, but not too spicy. Perfectly spicy. With lots of foam.

I want a chai.

“So the chai is… err… good here?” I ask when I approach the counter.

“Yep.” The barista responds.

I nod at his noncommittal response. Duh Diana. Of course he’s going to say that. He isn’t exactly going to tell you it sucks! I berate myself.

“Okay, I’ll have the chai then.” I answer firmly after a moment’s hesitation. “Oh and can I get that with skim milk? Please?”

He nods, I smile sheepishly and then move away quickly before I start embarrassing myself any further.

“Chai?” Asks the other barista responsible for whipping up the drinks.

“That’s me!” I pipe up enthusiastically.

“Love the chai here.” He responds as he steers my brimming porcelain white cup and saucer across the counter.

I beam at him. “Really?! Because I wasn’t sure if I should get it…” I pause, glance at the long line of people behind me and cut myself off. “Right. Very good. Thank you!”

Anna and I find seats at the counter inside and I steel myself for disappointment. I’m picky when it comes to my chai. I prefer it to be sweet and milky rather than overly spicy, and it must must must be served with an ample layer of frothy foam.

I take a tentative first sip. A smile bursts across my face as the well-balanced chai saturates my tongue with flavor.

“It’s good!” I tell Anna with pride – clearly my act of ordering it has made it so.

I continue to rave until the subject grows wearisome, and then we move on to more serious matters like all the things I want to buy from the Cheese Store of Silver Lake next door.

“I think I want to get the ‘Ants on a log’ chocolate and maybe the Morning Glory chai cashew brittle. Or should I get the peanut fleur de sel flavor? Is it silly to spend $5.95 on three pieces of brittle?” I start rattling off as Anna sits quietly sipping her mocha.

Just another day in the life...

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
3922 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2242

(323) 663-6173