“Chef” Gets the Scene and Story Right …But Bring Your Own Food

Chef, movie

Ever since the movie Swingers I’ve loved Jon Favreau.   I haven’t agreed with his movie choices lately with blockbusters such as the Iron Man films, but I enjoy his Dinner for Five Series and now Chef brings him back to sharing food, friends and stories.  He’s written a film about a self-absorbed chef who gives up his safe restaurant job after a bad review, for creative integrity, and ends up searching for a new way to express himself and discover happiness on a food truck.  While food is everything to him, Chef Casper is forced to explore his relationship with his 10 year old son, himself, ex-wife, friends, and the ways of the Internet.   His journey is an enjoyable one to watch.

 

I went to see Chef at a matinee with my foodie friend.  Unfortunately I was late for our planned lunch and the theater café was closed.  The thought of eating concession popcorn for lunch was unthinkable, so we snuck in some food from neighboring Japantown.  No.  I’m not above sneaking in food.  Although my friend wasn’t pleased.  However I won’t be forced to eat junk from the theatre.  Plus I cleaned up after myself, which is more than I can say for many theatre goers. You’d never know where I ate my tea noodles.

 

Chef was big with food and personalities.  In addition to Favreau (Chef Casper), there’s Sophia Vergara (the ex-wife), Scarlett Johansson (the hostess), Dustin Hoffman (the restaurateur), Oliver Platt (food blogger/critic) John Leguizamo (the sous chef),  and even Robert Downey Jr. (Sophia’s other ex) .  The 10 year old son, Percy , is played by Emjay Anthony.  He’s got an old soul  and can hold his own with Favreau beautifully.

 

While watching this film my friend and I were very pleased to eat our contraband lunch. Food itself is one of the main stars in Chef.   It all looks amazing and delicious and you wish you could taste every dish.  Everything from caviar eggs to grilled meats to chocolate lava cake to cubano sandwiches are on screen – sizzling and tempting you for two hours.  In addition to the beautiful food is the carefully chosen soundtrack to help transport you as the food truck travels from Miami to Los Angeles and has the rhythms and beats to match.

 

Chef is one for the time capsule.  The backdrop is the foodie scene as we know, live and eat it today.  Learning via Twitter where a certain food truck will be during your lunch break.  Reading the latest food blog that can make or break a chef.  Kids knowing more than their parents about the ins and outs of videos and the Internet.  Teaching kids the importance of cooking, sharing and eating good, real food.   There’s even a reminder of one of my favorite other food movies, Ratatouille (see past review) in the feel good ending.  Stay past the credits and watch famous Korean taco truck chef Roy Choi, who consulted on Chef, teach Jon Favreau how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.  For all these reasons I really enjoyed the film.  So go …but not hungry.

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Easy, Fast Foodie Gifts for All

A View of My Countertops

Since I like to cook and everyone likes to eat, I like to make food gifts for the holidays.  They’re always the right size, never go out of style and can be made non-denominational.  So everyone can be pleased – from neighbors, to friends, to teachers, to family, etc.

Because my oven is still working, even though never “fixed”, I’m kind of scared to turn it off.  O.K. not really.  But it seems like it’s been on and I’ve been baking for 2 weeks solid.  I’m not complaining, although I need more counter space.  I’ve made a few usual favorite cookies such as Molasses Sugar Cookies.  But this year I opened my December Sunset magazine and was inspired to try their cookie contest winners.   The White Christmas Dream Drops  (click for recipe) are chewy and refreshing (and easier to make than say the name), and I can see why they won first place (Good going, Dustin and Erin Beutin of Tustin, CA).  They were my son’s choice for his school party.  While the Chai Spiced Shortbread cookies are more subtle.  I love them with tea and can’t wait to experiment with different types of tea bags for the dough.  They were a runner up (Congrats Anissa Shea from Walnut Creek, CA).  I made a variety to give to neighbors and our contractors (yes, we’re in the middle of some construction to make the holiday a bit more hectic).

 

crushing candy canes
White Christmas Dream Drops
chai spiced shortbread

For those who may receive lots of sweets at the holidays, I make a cookie mix jar.  This way you are giving a fun treat for the recipient to make anytime they have a craving (whether it’s January or July).  They are festive looking and the jars are quicker to measure and assemble, than make than the actual cookies.  Plus the 1 quart reusable jar has lots of recycle uses (we use them for shells and eraser collections at my house).  To present them, I found some good sturdy reusable bags with peace signs at Whole Foods that are cute.  This year my kids asked “How come we never make those cookies, just the jars?”  A good question.  So I made a batch for us, no jar necessary.  They are yummy!  Good thing, since we made them and gave them to teachers and friends.

 

cookie mix jar

 

cocoa chocolate chip cookies from jar mix

Finally, this year I also gave a mulled wine kit.  I picked up a copy of A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith, which has lots of DIY ideas for gift giving.  I wish I had it earlier in the season.  Filled with fun crafts for kids too.  This recipe was easy and something different from the usual wine hostess gift.

mulled wine bouquet

Mulled Wine Kit

1 cinnamon stick, break into 3 pieces

6 cardamon pods, lightly crushed

fresh nutmeg, grated

12 cloves

1 square cheesecloth (7 x 7)

1 pinch ground ginger

length of twine

1 bottle red wine (I used a french red table wine)

All the spices go into the center of the cheesecloth.  Carefully sprinkle the ground herbs over the whole.  (Because some may come out the cheesecloth, I wrapped the spice bouquet in plastic wrap before attchin to the wine bottle.  Gather cheesecloth and tie into a bouquet.  Tie around wine bottle with instruction card.

Instructions for Mulling Wine:

Put the wine, spice bouquet and 1/2 cup water and 6 tablespoons raw sugar into t pan.  Heat gently until sugar has dissolved, but don’t allow wine to come to a boil.  If you’d like optional ingredients include:

slices of oranges and lemons

juice of 1 orange

splash of port or brandy

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10 Worst Food Trends According to Sunset Critic

Pulitzer-prize winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold dishes out the latest food trends he can’t handle.  Read the entire, sarcastic and funny article.  Here’s his top 10 and my thoughts on a few.

1. “Changes and Modifications Politely Declined”

I agree this works both ways.  Some diners want to create their own meals and menus with their suggestions, ommissions and substitutions.  Just cook at home yourself.  However some chefs can be too dismissive for a simple request.

2. Sous vide

Watch Top Chef like me?  I’m not even eating the sous vide dishes made, but am tired of watching them be prepared.

3. Untranslated menus

This can certainly make one feel intimidated if you don’t recognize a dish or ingredient.

4. $5 tap water

While I haven’t experienced paying for tap water, I don’t like the way some waiters ask if you’d like sparkling, stilled or (lower your voice) tap water.  As if if sounds so bad to accept tap (say loudly for effect).

5. Bartender overreach

6. Chef overreach

7. Tuna surprise

I agree that chefs should know what’s sustainable and what’s in danger and buy and create menus accordingly.

8. Truffle oil

This one I don’t agree with.  Yes, truffle oil is not the same at truffles, but it’s very tasty and I’ll blog more about that next.

9. Third-wave coffee

10. Better living through chemistry O.K. I’ll admit, I would like to go to WD50 and taste Wylie Dufresne’s food.

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Matzo, Matzo Man.

This week marks the celebration of Passover for many families and children.  Making holiday foods (eventhough it may not be “your” holiday) is a great opportunity to introduce different customs, cultures, religions and traditions to your children.  The first time I made this my son cried “wow a giant pancake!”

Matzo is packaged in a box and found in the ethnic sections of grocery stores and is a large wheat cracker, made with only wheat flour and water.   Commonly served for Passover breakfast, snack or side dish.  It can be made both savory or sweet.  This version is sweetened with the addition of powdered sugar, cinnamon and fresh berries.

 

Makes 1, 8 – 10 inch pancake

6 pieces matzo (I use Tahova)

1 cup boiling water

2 cage-free organic eggs

2 tablespoons butter

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

 

Sprinkling (optional)

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup fresh organic berries – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or combination

 

In a large mixing bowl, break the matzo into small (1-inch) pieces. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the matzos to soften for 1 minute.

In a small bowl whisk eggs together with salt.  Mix the eggs and salt into the matzo.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter.   When the foam subsides transfer the matzo mixture into the pan and flatten with a spatula.  Fry until crisp and golden (about 4 minutes).

Carefully flip over with a spatula to fry the other side (about another 4 minutes).

Slide matzoh brei onto a large plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon and top with fresh seasonal berries.

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Fun Find: Hungry Bunny Store and Website

I love discovering new things…restaurants, books, hotels, foods, activities, shops.  So when I walked into a new (new to me, it’s been there about 6 months) store in San Francisco called Hungrybunny, I fell in love.  This store has unique and fun gifts and products all having to do with food.  Everything from stationery, toys, books, gadgets, crafts, aprons and games.  Want to play a game about food?  Get Wasabi! or Food Fight.  Need a fun baby gift?  I couldn’t resist a soft , plush roast chicken with removable drumsticks.(see above – hysterical right?)  Then there’s felt food sandwich and sushi making kits for toddlers.  Aprons and cooking sets for helpers in your kitchen.  And food craft kits for older kids who want to create their own cupcake pillow.  And even well designed kitchen tools, funny notecards (below)and interesting reusable water bottles and food carryers for yourself.

 

This is my new go to place for gifts for people of all ages.  There’s also a carefully chosen selection of local condiments, confections, teas and spices – great for housewarming presents.  If you’re not in the Bay Area, luckily you can shop Hungrybunny online.

 

 

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Reward Offered….Missing Sugar Baby (Mardi Gras Wrap Up)

Last night we did our final mardi gras meal and king cake for the season.  There was much build up after all the recipe testing and fanfare.  I even found these fun mardi gras masks.

After reading an article recently from the SF Chronicle about grits making a comeback in restaurants, I thought I’d try their Shrimp and Grits with Tomato-Bacon Relish for Fat Tuesday dinner.  This was great and did not dissappoint.  I wasn’t able to find yellow grits, so I made white.  I only used half the amount of Tabasco and substituted smoked red pepper powder for the cayenne in the shrimp, as my kids are not always excited about too much spice.  I ended up deconstructing theirs (shrimp without sauce, and grits on the side), as the sauce was still a bit hot for my daughter.  But they really loved the meal, especially the grits with cheddar cheese.  I will make this again and would even make it for guests as it was easy and very pretty, besides tasty.  (See entire recipe below)

The moment everyone was waiting for was the king cake.  I decided I had made the cresent version and the cupcake version and was time to try and compare a traditional version of someone else’s.  And sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t make everything, all the time.  It was difficult to find a local king cake, but I  called around and ordered one from Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael.  They were making them for Fat Tuesday only.  This was a good option because while it was still large it wasn’t giant like many of those online and most of the recipes (makes 2 cakes to serve 12 – 18 people).  This was mid-week, after school, Tae Kwon Do and doctor’s appointments, so I would be able to squeeze in a cake pick-up but not a make from scratch cake.

My first impression was “This is lovely and very reasonable at $15.”  While it had all the mardi gras colors, it was somehow not as tacky as many pictured online.  Plus everything from Arizmendi (pizzas, scones, muffins etc) is wonderful.  After out great dinner it was time to cut the cake.  I explained to my family what the baker had told me about the “baby”, and that it was “a baby made out of sugar”.  We were so anxious to see the sugar baby.  We each chose a piece and took a bite.  My next thought was “This cake is great”.  Sweet frosting on top of wonderful layers of brioch.  We found the occassional hole that we thought the baby was hiding, but no.  We only ate about 1/4 of the cake and no one found the baby.  My kids and I were very curious.  We decided to cut the remaining cake into slices. 

Still no baby.  We were still hopeful and not yet ready to wreck the yummy cake.  We waited…

Overnight.  Again after dinner, we each chose a slice.  No baby was found.  It was time to butcher the cake.  We cut the remaining slices into small pieces and we never did find the sugar baby.  However we did find a hole with about 1/8 teaspoon sugar.  Was this once the baby?  Did he melt?  Or was this just another sweet bite and the baby made an escape before baking?  We’ll never know.  This baby didn’t bring us luck, but lots of intrigue. 

Shrimp & Grits With Tomato-Bacon Relish

Serves 4

 From Brenda Vuenviaje, chef-owner of Brenda’s French Soul Food cafe in San Francisco. Prepare the grits – which should be soft and spoonable – with 4 parts salted water and 1 part grits.

  • Tomato-Bacon Relish
  • 1/4 pound smoked bacon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, about 1/2 cup
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, some juice reserved
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce like Tabasco or Crystal, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, or to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or to taste
  • — Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • 2 cups prepared grits (Bob’s Red Mill yellow grits preferred)
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 ounces
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound large shrimp, 26-30 count, peeled and deveined, tails on
  • — Kosher salt, to taste
  • — Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • — Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • — Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

For the relish: Thinly cut bacon crosswise into lardons about 1/4-inch thick. Cook bacon in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Move bacon to paper towels and reserve. Drain skillet and discard excess fat, while wiping away any burned bits. Add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook – stirring frequently – until onion is a medium brown color, about three minutes.

Add tomatoes, hot sauce, brown sugar and sherry vinegar then bring to a simmer. Cook briefly until slightly thick, stir in bacon and add salt and pepper to taste. The relish can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.

For the shrimp & grits: Preheat oven to 350°. Portion hot grits into 4 large, oven-proof dinner bowls, sprinkle cheddar over and place in oven until melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Or melt in the microwave, about 30 to 60 seconds per bowl.

Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons oil to a hot saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute briefly until slightly brown. Add shrimp then season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste. Saute briefly until edges of shrimp start to turn pink.

Add 1 cup white wine, deglaze pan and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the Tomato-Bacon Relish and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Cook for another minute until sauce is hot and slightly thickened and shrimp are cooked through.

Divide shrimp and sauce into the bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.

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To Market To Market…What To Buy Where?

I thought these articles about what to buy at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was very interesting and pretty true to my life.  Especially since these are my main markets.  Trader Joe’s for staples such as flatbread, crackers, cereal/oatmeal, baking supplies, cheeses (and of course orchids).  Whole Foods for well, whole foods (produce, meat, fish, specialty items). 

Take a look at these articles from Eating Well Magazine ….

Trader Joe’s

http://shine.yahoo.com/event/financiallyfit/what-foods-to-buy-and-what-to-skip-at-trader-joe-s-2450975/

Whole Foods

http://www.eatingwell.com/blogs/healthy_cooking/_4-healthy-food-deals-whole-foodsand-skip

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Books Reviewed – Calling Parents and Geeks

I’ve been getting a steady stream of books and a few have stood out in terms of offering some good information, while also having recipes as well.  I wouldn’t call them cookbooks, but they are informative books about food.

Beter Food for Kids by Joanne Saab, RD and Daina Kalnins, MSC, RD (of Canada;s Hospital for Sick Children) is rich with information about nutrition for kids ages 2 to 10.  There’s everything from reading food labels, to how much vitamins and nutrients are in which foods, to food allergies and safe food handling practices.  This book also has quite a few recipes (over 200) for snacks, and mealtimes throughout the day.  The quinoa with broccoli and chocolate chip squares were well received at my house.  Note: The health standards are Canadian, not American.

Pros: Lots of quick and easy recipes and nutritional info for each.  Most information is presented clearly with helpful charts.  Great for parents with children with nutrition issues, and those who want a real guide about vitamins and nutrients.  I’m a sucker for books that advocate healthy eating habits for kids.

Cons: Dissappointed the book does not advocate for organics and takes a government line that food manufacturers are honest (“Manufacturers of food products cannot make claims about their products unless they are proven to be true” – maybe this is true in Canada, but not in the US).

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter is a for those who want to know the how’s and why’s about food and cooking.  This is for someone who wants to go outside a recipe and create their own combinations, experiements and inventions in the kitchen.  Want to know the physiology of taste and smell?  Want to know the temperature when sugar carmelizes?  Anyone for molecular gastromomy?

Pros: Good for those with food science questions, who need more info than a cookbook.  Lots of recipes as examples to tips and experiments to test your new knowledge (and make good food).  Interesting interviews with food experts in many fields.  Good reference to have on hand, if have food question.

Cons: Not for everyone.  Small print and lots (sometimes too much) of information.  Wish the pictures were sometimes bigger or in color to stand out.  For this type of book, I prefer the simple layout and presentation of Harold McGee’s, On Food and Cooking.

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The Resident Chef at Kids Konserve

Kids Konserve has a great new blog from chefs that use their waste free food and drink containers.  Being one of them I was happy to share recipes that work well with their mini stainless steel containers. Perfect for packing snacks and dips, they are easy to pack into a lunch bag, backpack or even a purse.  Check out my recipes on the resident chef page for curry curry chickpeas, cherry almond granola and no-nuts trail mix, as well as other resident chef’s ideas and recipes.  Just in time for back-to-school, be sure to get 15% off your next purchase (valid thru August) with the code “minichef” at checkout.

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Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

dec 09 025

 The only way I could stop myself from baking cookies this year during the holidays was to leave the house.  If I was at home I was baking.  From Thanksgiving until Christmas if I had a spare 20 – 30 minutes I was thinking “hmm. I have time to make some dough” or “I can bake one more batch”.  This also counted starting a batch at 11:30 p.m. (more on that later)  You name it I baked it.  All our family favorites from “kissed” peanut butter cookies (photo above), molasses sugar cookies, snickerdoodle biscuits, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, chocolate sliced cookies – just to name a few.  I don’t ever need an excuse to bake cookies.  I have cookie cutters (about 100) for every occassion and no special day at all (think octopus, train, lighthouse,  football, etc).  But this year, I seemed particularly driven.  The funny part is that I discovered I was not alone…

This year more than ever when I got together with friends and family they all had similar cookie baking stories.  Whether they were making them for the school gingerbread decorating, the family potluck or gifts for the neighbors, everyone was baking.  Was this because it was so cold?  My aunt (who rarely bakes, and gave us a beautiful container full of homemade sweets)  thought so.  We really had our share of cold and rainy days in the Bay Area and yes, I prefer baking cookies with my kids in a warm house in the late afternoon, over bundling and braving the weather at the park, again.  Another reason could’ve been the economy.  People tend to bake and eat comfort foods more than in the past.  What is more comforting than homemade cookies with milk?  My final reason is because it’s thoughful and a gift of time.  There seems to be a return to homemade gifts.  All the magazines talked about “green” gifting and things to make from the heart.  This year not only did we make cookies to send to relatives, we also make cookie gifts for neighbors, friends and teachers.  Here are a few of the packaging ideas that we used or received that are inexpensive and also green and fun to do with kids especially (and can be remembered for any time of year):

flower pot – filled with baked good and tied with a ribbon.  Kids can even decorate the pot with paint, stickers, glitter.

glass  jars – Ball, cookie, canning, french – in all shapes and sizes.  I found them for as little as $3.99 at the Container Store

dish cloths/tea towels – cookies or breads wrapped in pretty fabric that can be reused for dish or hand drying

china plates and bowls – scour flea markets, estate sales and china outlets for single, one-of-a-kind plates for unique presentation

With all the baking, gifting and shipping of cookies, I actually got burned out on cookies mid-way between Hannukah and Christmas.  Even my kids were a bit tired of helping mom and asked “why are we making more cookies?”  However at this point I had already committed to bring cookies to a few events and a friends’ house for the kids to decorate.  Starting a batch of cookies at 11 p.m. after a long day and evening of holiday shopping, wrapping and merriment did not produce my best results.  See below.  I was impatient and put the butter in the microwave to soften.  I knew it had gone too soft, but used it anyways.  As you can see the cookies spread and the results were more plump than pretty – although still just as tasty.  I already had some gingerbread men as well as other sucessful cookies to bring, so I brought them for the kids to decorate anyways.  They didn’t care.  It’s amazing what some frosting, sprinkles and raisins can do to transform the “failed” cookie.  Here’s a tip when decorating cookies, or really anything with kids – use a muffin tin lined with muffin cups.  This works great to hold a variety of small objects, in this case sugars, sprinkles, raisins, currents, marshmallows, coconut, died fruit, and candy cane pieces.  It makes it easy for kids to share, there’s less waste and mess than diving into separate bowls and clean up is quick and easy. oops! too

 

oops! The plump cookies (before)
oops! The plump cookies (before)

 

Christmas 2009 047
decorating tray

 

sugar and gingerbread after kids' decorated
plump cookies with gingerbread people after decorating

Since I was getting tired of cookies I wondered about others.  Think of the teachers, who while appreciative of homemade sweets probably get overwhelmed by sweets at the holidays.  I’ve always been meaning to make cookie dough mixes in jars and this year I tried it.  I liked the idea of short cutting the recipe and not shaping and baking more cookies.  I also liked the idea that the recipient could bake their cookies whenever they had a craving or wanted to share with others.  However I learned there is an art to creating the cookie mix and making it look presentable.  My first attempt, didn’t look as neat as my third.  Those pretty layers were tough to see.  I went online and found some tips that really helped.  The most important being :  flour and white sugar seeps down to other layers of ingredients, so layer those at the bottom and on top or between packed brown sugar.  Common sense, but easy to forget, again when you’re working late at night –  it’s easy to layer before thinking (and there’s no going back).

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
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