Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunny Side of Dinner

(You know me. I love a perfectly cooked egg.)

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The California Cook: Scrambled eggs: the sunny side of dinner
By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Food Editor
March 31, 2011

Scrambled eggs for dinner doesn't mean you have bad timing. Just add a few simple ingredients and they become a delicious and sophisticated light main course.

I've always loved Robert Frost's line about home being the place where, "when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Perhaps I'm putting an overly optimistic reading on it, but the idea that even on our coldest, darkest nights, there is always a place with a warm light in the window is reassuring. That's kind of the way I feel about having eggs in the refrigerator.

It doesn't matter how gruesome the workday has been or how late it is when I get home, give me a couple of eggs and some of this and that from the fridge and I know I can fix a meal that will not only get me through the night, it will even redeem the day.

Yet it seems like every time I mention eating eggs for dinner, I get met with a blank look — "Dude? You don't know those are for breakfast?" — or even worse, pity — "So, at long last it's come to this, has it?"

But while I'll happily acknowledge the rules-turned-upside-down pleasure of eating things like waffles and pancakes for dinner (or pizza for breakfast!), that's not at all what this is about.

These are egg dishes that make perfect sense as light main courses. Better yet, throw together a quick salad and you've got a complete, elegant meal that can probably be prepared in less time than it would take my big pasta pot to come to a boil.

Of course, there are omelets and frittatas. Those are easy answers. Eggs, cheese, a few bits of vegetables and you're there. But you don't even need to get that complicated.

You're going to have to trust me on this, but one of my favorite late-night dinners is scrambled eggs. These aren't your typical diner eggs, though. They're more like the ones you get at great restaurants, only there you usually get them elaborately piped back into their shells and garnished with caviar or truffles.

In restaurants, these are cooked long and slow, often over a double boiler, with some poor little commis standing there sweating and whisking the whole 20 or 30 minutes until the eggs are set. The result is glorious — rich and creamy eggs that are more like a slightly curdled hollandaise than what Andy brings to the counter with a couple of slices of bacon.

Several years ago I came up with a trick that makes them really easy to prepare at home. The secret is butter. Cold butter, specifically. Here's the deal: The trick to getting that creamy texture in scrambled eggs is monitoring the heat really carefully.

The proteins in eggs begin to set at a relatively low temperature, about 150 degrees (that's roughly correct — the whites and yolks set at different temperatures). And once they start to set, they get very firm very quickly.

One way to get around this is by whisking them constantly over very low heat, or you can just outsmart the proteins.

The way I fix scrambled eggs, I add just a little bit of cold butter to the raw eggs and start cooking over medium-low heat. You do need to stir constantly — a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula is perfect.

Keep the eggs well agitated and in a couple of minutes, when you can feel them getting thick and see them looking creamy (fun fact: that's the proteins unfolding and blocking the light), start beating in little cubes of cold butter, a few at a time. Adding the cold butter moderates the temperature, keeping it just below the point at which the eggs will actually set.

Oh, and the butter also emulsifies into the eggs, making them absolutely delicious. The eggs will be done when they have formed tiny, creamy curds. Some people (like my wife) don't like their eggs too runny; for them you can go just a little longer. Whatever your preference, take the eggs off the heat while they still look a little too moist. They cook so quickly they'll firm up more in the couple of minutes that you're dishing them up.

If you have caviar or truffles languishing on your counter, by all means use them for garnish. I usually use just a couple of pinches of minced fines herbes (a mix of any or all of parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives, varying according to what I have on hand). And I have to say that, in a pinch, a good grinding of cracked black pepper cuts the richness deliciously.

Another favorite dinner is based on a recipe for eggs fried in bread crumbs that I learned from my old friend Judy Rodgers. For years this was my standard order when I'd stop by her Zuni Café in San Francisco for Sunday breakfast. And they're even simpler to make than scrambled.

Put a generous handful of fresh bread crumbs in a small bowl (I've tried this with dried bread crumbs and with Japanese panko bread crumbs, and fresh works best). Stir in some chopped fresh thyme and just enough olive oil to moisten them nicely.

Cook the bread crumbs in a skillet over medium heat until they begin to toast. You'll see the color change from pale to light tan, and you'll also hear the change as the crumbs crisp and sizzle when you stir them.

Gather the crumbs into two low mounds that are as near to a single layer as you can manage, and then immediately crack an egg over each mound (this recipe can multiply out for as many eggs as you want to make, but I find four eggs is about the most that will fit in a 9-inch skillet).

Cover the pan and, if necessary, adjust the heat so the eggs cook evenly without scorching around the edges. When the yolks are as firm as you like (they really should still be runny but thickened), transfer the eggs to a plate and quickly sizzle about a tablespoon of vinegar in the pan to free up any stuck crumbs or bit of eggs and pour that over the top.

This is the epitome of subtle sophistication. Simple ingredients are cooked in a smart way to get the most out of them. The toasted bread crumbs add crispness to the eggs, and the vinegar finish keeps them from being too rich.

Serve it with just a tart salad, but at this time of year, when I seem to be eating as much asparagus as I can hold, it's even better with the egg laid languorously over a bundle of steamed spears.

It's a simple thing, really just fancy fried eggs, but knowing I've got this waiting for me when I get home, I don't care how my day has gone or how long my commute might be — how dark the world might seem at the moment — there is a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Attention Sushi Lovers!

Radiation in Your Food: Is It Worth Worrying About?
Caroline Russock
Mar 28, 2011 (

The nuclear crisis in Japan has many concerned about the safety of imported foods. Although Japanese imports only make up about 4 percent of the foods brought into this country, the question of contaminated foods still lingers, especially when it comes to sushi. Higher-end establishments have been known to import top quality fish from Japan, but for the most part the fish served at the majority of sushi counters is not Japanese in origin.

Experts say that Japanese seafood is at a far lower risk of contamination due to the fact that any possible radiation is diluted to trace amounts in large bodies of water. But even with the dilution, nearly all sushi restaurants have eliminated Japanese seafood from their menus. Long story short? Feel free to enjoy all the sushi you'd like. This style of eating might have been created in Japan, but the fish is coming from other waters.

Other import worries come from evidence of extremely high levels of radiation found in spinach, milk and canola grown near the Fukushima plant. To counter any possibility of contaminated foods entering the U.S., last week the F.D.A. put a temporary ban on the importing of food coming from the areas surrounding the plant. The F.D.A. is also screening all foods imported from Japan before being sold to the public. If that's not enough to put your mind at ease, consider also that since 9/11, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S.D.A. has been screening virtually all imports to this country, including all food items. All of these precautions make the chances of contaminated foods making their way into our shores pretty slim.

Still concerned with the possibility of coming in contact with contaminated food? To put all of this worry into perspective, one expert says that you'd have to consume a gallon of contaminated milk each day for one year to absorb as much radiation as you do during a CAT scan, making radiation contamination through food highly unlikely.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

1 box Butter Golden Cake Mix
3 eggs
1/2 C butter, room temperature
2/3 C water
1 tsp vanilla
1 bag chocolate chips

Make cake according to box. Add vanilla and chocolate chips. Preheat over to 375 degrees and bake cupcakes 20 minutes. Once cooled cut cones out of the tops (see pictures) for fillings.

Center Filling:
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

To make the cookie dough filling, combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. Fill holes made in cupcakes immediately and top with cone (filling will be sticky but easier to manage).

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
3½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
2½ tsp. vanilla extract

To make the frosting, beat together the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until creamy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Beat in the flour and salt. Mix in the milk and vanilla extract until smooth and well blended.

Frost the filled cupcakes as desired, sprinkling with mini chocolate chips or topping with mini chocolate chip cookies for decoration.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Recipe: Curried Chickpeas

Culinary SOS (LA Times)
Recipe: Curried chickpeas from Joan's on Third
By Noelle Carter
October 21, 2009

The curry blend in this recipe gives an otherwise simple salad wonderful depth and robust flavor. Coriander and cumin lend fragrant earthiness, with a little cayenne pepper added for a hint of heat. The caramelized onions add richness, and the cilantro and lemon juice brighten the salad nicely, distinguishing the flavors. You can make it in advance; this is one salad that improves with an hour or two of chilling time.

Curried chickpeas
Total time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time
Servings: 4
Note: Adapted from Joan's on Third

1/2 cup diced onions
4 teaspoons best-quality olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

1. In a large sauté pan heated over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until deep golden and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic and lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the chickpeas, cilantro and lemon juice and continue to stir to develop the flavors, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and season with one-fourth teaspoon salt, or to taste.

4. Cool the salad, then transfer it to a container, cover and refrigerate until chilled before serving, at least 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning and lemon juice as desired. This makes just over 3 cups salad.

Nutrition in Elementary Schools

Nutrition is elementary in No Kid Hungry campaign
(LA Times)
By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2011

Every morning, children at hundreds of Los Angeles schools start their day hungry, making it tough to learn much or to get through the morning without a trip to the nurse with headaches or belly pains. That doesn't happen at Rosencrans Elementary School in Compton, where breakfast is the first subject.

At the start of school, children designated from each room come to the Rosencrans cafeteria to get a rolling cooler — filled one recent Wednesday with beef sausage on English muffins, milk and apples.

"I like pulling the cart to deliver breakfast to the whole class," said Shawn Hansborough, 8. "The teacher told me I got to do it because someone else was being bad and I was being good."

And getting more students to eat breakfast at school is a major goal of a new Share Our Strength campaign called No Kid Hungry, kicked off March 17 at another school, Figueroa Street Elementary in South Los Angeles, with a program that included U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Food Network celebrity Guy Fieri, former L.A. Laker A.C. Green and Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, as well as nonprofit and community leaders.

Even with all that star power, it was a group of Figueroa students who got by far the loudest applause when they said the school's pledge, ending with a rousing "I do my BEST!"

In L.A. County, more than 300,000 students who eat free or reduced-price school lunches don't eat school breakfasts, according to the California Food Policy Advocates.

Nationwide, 32 million children take part in the school lunch program, 20 million of them getting meals free or at a reduced price; only 9.5 million students eat free or reduced-price school breakfasts, said Bill Shore, founder and executive director of the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength,

And about $1 billion in federal reimbursements is being "left on the table," Shore said. Rather than start new food programs, No Kid Hungry, with funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation, intends to help childcare centers and schools make better use of funds already available. The goal is to increase participation in school breakfast programs by 10% the first year.

Under legislation signed in December by President Obama, school meals will have less sugar, fat and salt, and more whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Vilsack noted that the law also reduces the paperwork for certifying children as eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Bridges, spokesman for the national No Kid Hungry campaign, which has a goal of eliminating childhood hunger by 2015, called the level of hunger in the U.S. "insane. It's so clear it doesn't have to be that way."

Bridges, who has been involved in anti-hunger programs since 1984, said he'd like to make a film documenting creative ways that schools all over the country are fighting hunger and serving meals. He said he'd also like to see children encircling the Capitol to issue a hunger report card to Congress.

The California Food Policy Advocates and other groups have promoted breakfast in the classroom as a way to make sure everyone eats, because students who arrive just before the bell often miss out on breakfast served outside of class.

Few California districts do it; officials say that teachers and staff are sometimes resistant, fearing a mess and a loss of instruction time.

"The biggest hump for us is a series of perceptions about the barriers, but when people try it, they don't go back" to serving breakfast before school begins, said Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer at Share Our Strength.

At present, about 200,000 LAUSD students, including preschoolers, eat school breakfast, said David Binkle, deputy food services director. For those who can pay, a school breakfast costs 60 cents for elementary school students and $1 in secondary school. About 80% of LAUSD students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

At Rosencrans, "there's almost a complete turn-around" in detractors' opinion, said Cheryl Johnson, the district's facilitator for breakfast in the classroom. "It changes students' alertness; they're more positive. The time until lunch runs smoother."

In the classrooms, students eat while they practice multiplication tables or the teacher makes announcements. Parent volunteers help younger children open milk cartons.

"I like this time, like when you are at home eating with the family. It's an informal time to connect," said Teja Fields, a kindergarten teacher. She puts problems on the board for kids who want to do them. She said the meal takes 15 or 20 minutes.

And more children are eating, Johnson said. Last October, about 110 at this school ate school breakfast; now the total is about 420, she said.

Compton plans to have all 23 elementary schools taking part by summer, said Tracie Thomas, director of nutrition services.

Vilsack said breakfast in the classroom is a good concept, but there are other strategies that work as well, such as serving breakfast between early periods or from carts with "grab-and-go" breakfasts.

Opposition sometimes comes from people who say it's parents' responsibility to feed children before they leave home. But, says Norma Johnson, program specialist for breakfast in the classroom in the San Diego schools, with economic instability and the twin problems of obesity and hunger as well as a population of homeless children, "we have a lot of obligation."

Cooking Humor

Read that Rachael Ray headline slowly and carefully....

Tsunami Alters Sushi Markets

By Florence Fabricant

Seafood supplies in northern Japan were devastated by the tsunami that destroyed the region’s fishing fleets and aquaculture farms as well as the ports themselves. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday that fishermen in the area are living in shelters, transportation to the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo is not possible, and there is no ice to keep fish fresh.

So far, this grim picture is not causing serious shortages in American sushi bars, but how the situation will evolve remains to be seen.

“It has definitely affected the market,” said Jack Lamb, an owner of Jewel Bako in the East Village, where most of the fish is imported from Japan. But he said that the restaurant had made adjustments and was now buying fish from Kyushu Island in the south, far from the affected area, and was obtaining mackerel and octopus from sources in the United States.

Nobuyoshi Kuraoka, the owner of Nippon, a restaurant in Midtown, wrote by e-mail from Tokyo, where he was on business, that the “striped jack, yellowtail, sniper fish, sea eels and others are coming from Fukuoka on Kyushu Island through Korean airlines.”

Tadashi Ono, the chef and a partner at Matsuri in Chelsea, also said he is buying from Kyushu, as well as from Australian and New York waters. “Today fish comes from all over the world, so we’re O.K.,” he said.

There have been reports that restaurants and hotels in Asia and elsewhere have canceled all shipments of fresh produce from Japan after radiation turned up in products like milk and spinach.

But restaurateurs in New York said they import almost no fresh produce from Japan. They have also said that their customers do not seem worried. At Sushi Yasuda in Midtown, Scott Rosenberg, an owner, said that just a few customers have asked where the fish was from and whether it was safe. As for produce, he said that occasionally the chefs bring in highly specialized seasonal items, but it’s not the season now.

“We have great microgreens and all those things growing here,” said Richie Notar, a partner in the Nobu chain. “We don’t need to buy from Japan. We have California.” But he is keeping an eye on the supply of imported dry goods, including rice, nori and bonito flakes. “We’re starting to develop other sources, like South Korea, for some of these,” he said. “Our wholesalers have warehouses that are stocked, but who knows what the situation will be in six months in terms of availability or even safety from radiation?”

Reika Alexander, the owner of En Japanese Brasserie in the West Village, said: “We must keep buying what we can from Japan. We need to support Japan now.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cupcakes - Round 3 (Almond Joy Cupcakes)

So I got the idea for an Almond Joy flavored cupcake from someone else's recipe. But, as always, I tweeked it and made it my own. Here's the way I went about it:

Ingredients: box of vanilla cake mix, 1/3 c oil, 3 eggs,
1/4 c water, 1c coconut milk, chocolate frosting,
sweetened shredded coconut, and sliced almonds

Follow instructions on the box - however, I
substituted 1 cup coconut milk + 1/4 c water
instead of 1 1/4 cups water.
Also I added roughly 2 cups shredded coconut

Fill cupcake pans 2/3 way full.
Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes
I yield 2 dozen cupcakes

Let cool completely before frosting.

While cupcakes cool, mix bag of sliced almonds and
remaining shredded coconut in a bowl
(makes for easier dipping/topping later)




Monday, March 21, 2011

Cupcake Poll

I hope everyone can bear with me while I continue my search for the perfect signature cupcake. As you might have seen this past weekend I made three different cupcakes: Mexican Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon Icing, Angel food with Apricot filling and an Angel food with Lemon Curd filling.Thank goodness for a family pot luck and co-workers to help eat them up so they don't sit around the house taunting me.

The chocolate and lemon curd filling ones were pretty darn good; and probably will be made in the future both as cupcakes and as whole cakes. However, I didn't fall in love. I'm not 100% sure they are the ones I want to serve at my sister's bridal shower. 

So I'm still on the hunt for the perfect cupcake. 

Here is where you come in. I have a few options below of which ones to test out next. I have the name and description of each cupcake below and a poll on the side of the blog --> for you to let me know which you think I should try out next. (Thanks for your help!)

Cupcake Possibilities

1) Pumpkin Cupcakes with a Butter cream frosting
2) Golden Caramel Cupcakes (dulce de leche type caramel)
3) Chocolate Cupcake with Peanut Butter frosting (from the Barefoot Contessa)
4) White cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting
5) Honey Cupcakes (honey, vanilla & buttermilk cakes with honey/lemon juice icing)
6) Lemon-Filled Coconut Cupcakes (made with coconut milk and coconut flakes on top)
7) Boston cream cupcake (so a Boston cream pie turned cupcake)
8) Almond Joy Cupcake (coconut cake with shredded coconut, almonds and chocolate on top)
9) Apple cupcake (with chopped apples and apple butter in the base)
10) Lemon Kiwi Cupcake (lemon cake with kiwi cream center)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cupcakes - Round 2 (Angel Food Cupcakes with Lemon/Apricot filling)

Oh Goodness!  These turned out FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC!

I used a simple Angel Food cake mix that only required 1 1/4 cups of water to be added to the dry mix. The baked 350* for 20 minutes creating beautiful crispy-topped mini-cakes. 

While they were still warm to the touch - using a pastry bag - I filled half of them with a lemon pie filling and the other half with an apricot filling. 

A nice shmear of vanilla frosting and a dollop of the center filling on top to identify one flavor from the next and ta-da! Yumminess as light as air! (You'll notice in the picture below a can of lemon-frosting I tried it on one of the apricot cupcakes and it was just too overpowering. The fillings were able to stand on their own so I stuck with the vanilla)

Another winner for the books!

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Remember - ignore the lemon frosting in the picture. :)

Keep the extra batter in the refrigerator between batches -
it will help the batter stay firm and not 

I used an ice cream scoop to measure out them equally - about 3/4 full
Bake at 350* for 20 minutes
They come out soft but with a hard exterior
Use a piping bag and push through the harder top.
Fill with your favorite fruit pie filling or custard
It's okay if a little comes out the top - it'll be covered with icing later
Lemon on the Left. Apricot on the Right.
Frost and decorate with a dollop of filling. 

Happy Eating!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cupcakes: Round 1 (Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting)

I've been in search of a delicious, unusual, fantastical, four-star original cupcake recipe. And in the chocolate category...I think we may have found a winner. 

Now there is nothing wrong with a plain chocolate cupcake with either chocolate or vanilla frosting. It's an oldie but a goodie for a reason. 

I was looking for something to spice that up a little. Take the "ordinary" to the "extraordinary". 

During the Christmas holidays I make a Mexican Hot Chocolate cookie. Chocolate with a hint of black pepper, chili powder and cinnamon. So I thought "Why not a cupcake?"

And since I've promised to share the "winners" with people here's the "recipe" as it were. 

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Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 box Chocolate Fudge cake mix
1 1/3 cup coffee*
1/2 cup vegetable oil*
3 eggs*
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

(* Denotes measurements instructed on the box. Follow your cake mix recipe but substitute coffee for any water)

1) Combine cake mix and all spices - blend thoroughly
2) Add coffee and oil
3) Add eggs, one at a time - mixing well in between
4) Fill cupcake papers 2/3 of the way full (I use an ice cream scoop so they come out equal)
5) Bake 20 minutes - or until toothpick comes out clean

While cupcakes are baking beat 2 teaspoons of cinnamon into white vanilla frosting (yes, I used store-bought). 

Once cupcakes have cooled completely - frost with cinnamon icing and decorate as you please (I used a light dusting of cinnamon on top). 

*     *     *

So far all of my "taste-testers" (aka family) love them and agree these are the winning Chocolate cupcakes!

Cupcake 911

To my fellow foodies and sweet tooth comrades, 

I am becoming over whelmed when I Google "cupcake". I need your assistance. Send me your favorite, your tried-and-true, cupcake recipes.

I'm not looking for something as simple as a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting combo.

I'm not looking for something so complex it will take me five tries to even pretend to understand what your recipe is telling me to do. 

What I am looking for is something light, fresh - perhaps berry or other fruit focused (though I'm not opposed to traditional chocolate/vanilla variations) - that would be perfect for an afternoon garden party (adults not children in attendance).

Send me links or put the whole recipe in the comment box. 

Who knows? 

Yours might just rock my socks so much I send you a little something special !
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