Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pissota con l'Oio

I had the pleasure twice in the past week to make a delicious Olive Oil Cake.  I know that likely sounds weird, but it is so wonderfully easy to make and delicious.  I first found the recipe a few years ago.  Not being a baker by any stretch of the imagination, I needed something unique, but easy.  This fit the bill the first time I made it, but this time… well, this recipe should be in everyone’s repertoire. 

I found it on Saveur’s website.  I find that to be a great source of recipes that are normally easy, authentic and great to eat.  But this time I dressed it up.  I know, you’re thinking you can’t mess with baking.  Improv and baking do not mix.  Baking is like chemistry; if you fiddle with quantities and ingredients you risk too much.   But risk is fun, live a little.

I followed the recipe carefully, but did the following:
Doubled the lemon zest and used the juice from half a lemon
Included about a table spoon of poppy seeds
Was generous with the booze, in the style of Julia Child.  I used Cointreau.
Before I poured the batter in the bundt pan I sprinkled just a little rock sea salt in the pan

When I was ready to serve it I drizzled chocolate sauce over it recklessly, making a mess all over the counter, which I had proactively spread paper towels on.  To serve I included a scoop of lemon sorbet and a couple mint leaves.  I wish I had a picture, but we were all having too much fun to stop for such a thing.  I will do it again, and include a picture then.  In the meantime, try this recipe.  The kids love it, adults love it, and it’s versatile.  It could be iced, served alongside a cup of coffee in the morning, or done as a dessert as I did.  Go for it.  And when you tell people it’s olive oil cake, most will be surprised and intrigued.  And wait till the salt pops in their mouths.  The smiles are priceless.        

Monday, February 25, 2013

When Food Meets Your Mood

Sometimes there’s a beautiful confluence of weather, mood, and food.  After an early morning bike ride along the coast amidst a gorgeous blue sky, great surf, little traffic, the sounds of gulls and a rising sun I found myself in an unstoppable mood.  You know that sense that you can do anything and it would be easy?  It was topped by this breakfast…
Small, multicolored potatoes thrown in the frying pan and once heated through, two eggs thrown in and cooked through, yolks still runny and perfect for getting mixed with the potatoes.  I took a look at it on the white plate, the sunshine outside still lighting me up and had to snap a picture and share.  Nothing starts a day like a great breakfast to match the weather and your mood.   

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pizza Night, Movie Night

Another Friday is here.  Fridays are special in my family.  We call them “Friday night, Pizza night.”  So long as the four of us are all home and there are no parties, practices or other activities we have pizza and a movie.  Kids want predictability and routine, even if they seem to butt their heads against it sometimes.  But the reality of this routine…our kids love it.  In fact, our daughter will try to rearrange potential sleepovers to protect the sanctity of our Friday nights. 

Most often we just grab a couple pre-made pizza crusts and top them.  Sometimes we will use the dough from Trader Joe’s and once we made it from scratch.  No matter the crust option, the kids often participate one way or the other…topping, kneading, mixing…pizza is easy for the kids to jump in and out as they like.  Sadly, their favorite…no…their only toppings are ham and pineapple.  I am horrified and offended and really struggle to allow such a thing in my house.  I’ve tried to explain to them that a true pizza, as defined by the EU and Italy under its Guaranteed Traditional Speciality laws, doesn’t allow pineapple on pizza but they just ignore me.  Do they not care about the law?  What kind of kids am I raising here!?

Alas…the pizza goes into the oven and the next step of our tradition begins.  The kids curl up on the couch and start a movie.  This is one element that sees variety.  Sometimes they each pick a movie and we watch half of each and finish them on Saturday.  Sometimes they agree, then pigs fly over the house, and we watch just one.  My favorite nights are when we, the parents, pick the movie and we get to watch what I consider Special Event movies.  These have been Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, James and the Giant Peach, The Secret World of Arriety and most recently, The Sandlot.  And I have them queued up for the next few years… The Dark Crystal, Spirited Away, Willow, Bridge to Terabithia, and so on. 

I’ve noticed that watching these movies with the kids is really interesting.  If we are watching Scooby-Doo or The Power Rangers they simply stare, speechless, motionless for hours it seems.  Not a peep.  But when we watch these richer, more complex movies…the ones we watched as kids and never forgot…they can’t go five minutes without a question or a thought.  The level of engagement is all-together different.  This speaks volumes for why these movies stuck with us all these years.  And frequently the kids ask to watch these again the next day.  The first time we all watched The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Labyrinth, and The Neverending Story  they must have each been seen by the kids six times in a single weekend.   The same cannot be said of the Power Rangers.   

As for the adults… sometimes we sautĂ© some veggies and top a pizza, sometimes we just have cheese and crackers, some salad and a couple glasses of wine.  Sometimes we sit with the kids and sometimes we have to retreat to the dining room.  But we love the Special Event movies and nobody enjoyed The Sandlot more than my baseball-crazed wife.

Now if I can just find a movie that explains the atrocity of pineapple on pizza!         

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Foodie Movies From You

The post Foodie Movies elicited wonderful responses.  It only seemed right to respond with a list of the movies you all suggested.  I haven’t seen all these, but intend to.  And I have no idea how I left Ratatouille off the list.  Let’s call that a giant mistake.  So, here’s what you suggested we add…

Soylent Green – I have to giggle at this
Waitress – Keri Russell at her best in a beautifully simple movie
My Dinner with Andre
Julie and Julia
Like Water for Chocolate
In Organic We Trust
Future of Food
Who is killing the great chefs of Europe?
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
I am in Love
Catfish and Black Bean Sauce
Life as We Know It
No Reservations
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and His Lover
Tortilla Soup
Dinner Rush

I have no doubt there are more to add, so keep them coming.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Books That Brought Me Here

Sometimes I like to read about food as much as I like cooking or eating food.  Over the last decade or two we have been blessed with a lot of great foodie reads.  I thought I would share the ones that inspired me.  They have inspired me to eat more thoughtfully, share more openly and are a huge reason I write today and am working on a book.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver – Kingsolver is a great writer.  In this one she spends a year on her family farm doing her best to only use food grown within 100 miles of her home…and it isn’t easy.
Cooked: My Journey from the Streets to the Stove by Jeff Henderson – An inspiring story of how Henderson went from drug dealer to executive chef.  A great example of following your passions and your skills.
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal by Eric Schlosser – When it came out it really had impact, and I still see it as a great place to start for a new food-conscious reader.  If you eat fast food you really should read this for the same reason you look at Consumer Reports to buy an appliance.  
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain – Bourdain’s effort to find the perfect meal.  And it isn’t just about the food.  It’s the atmosphere, the company and the flavors.
Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle – a collection of short essays about the finer things in life, including escargot and caviar.  A deliciously fun, decadent read.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl – the hilarious and absurd of being a famous restaurant critic.
The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean and The Story of Sushi: An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice by Trevor Corson – Corson’s books are informative and entertaining and will tell you more about lobsters and sushi than you can imagine.
The Devil’s Picnic: Travels through the Underworld of Food and Drink by Taras Grescoe – Why are some cheeses and cured meats illegal in the US?  What’s up with absinthe?  What are coca leaves?  Learn the answers to this and more.  It is a captivating and thought-provoking read that will either make you book tickets to travel or call your congressional representative.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan – Perhaps the ultimate book for foodies.  Well-organized, wonderfully written and so very important.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes – I know it isn’t a traditional foodie book, but the way Mayes uses food to establish herself and her relationships in a new community is so much fun.
Man with a Pan edited by John Donohue – a collection of essays by fathers about how they feed their families and what it is like to be a father who cares about food.
Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford – This book told me taught me that the restaurant business is insane and that the best restaurants with the best chefs have some unbelievable demands.  Get to know Mario Batali much better and find yourself inspired to book a ticket to rural Tuscany to visit the greatest, craziest butcher on earth, Dario Cecchini.  I did.
There are easily another two dozen I have enjoyed and would recommend, pending your interests, but these are specifically the books that have me where I am.

What books have inspired your appetite?