Time to go back to culinary school

It’s probably bad form to point out some idiocy happening on the airwaves of my former employer, but really, it’s just idiocy by association.  One of my former co-workers linked to this video on Twitter.  A chef from Cadillac Ranch in Tempe, AZ was on the Fox morning show today with a recipe for Guinness Beef Stew for Father’s Day when the forecast high is 103.

Guiness Stew + Phoenix + June= gross.

I’m pretty sure Dad would rather have a tie than a piping hot bowl of stew.

I have a really hard time believing a chef would come up with this idea.  I’ll take up my twitfriend Gastropoda’s crusade and say this stinks of clueless flackery.  Whoever sold this story idea should be stewboarded.

Snack food nation

American kids snack a lot and some parents are finding this to be a big problem. Snacks seem de rigeur whenever more than two children gather for… pretty much anything.
A recent story in the NY Times questioned the need for snacks at kid events that only last an hour and a half, or events that happen shortly before a standard mealtime. The story partially puts the blame on a society that seemingly pushes snacks on us from every angle.

Maybe because we do have the opportunity to eat pretty much whenever we please, the thought of NOT being able to eat for a couple of hours makes people feel as though they’re planning for end times.

Take for instance the really annoying thread that pops up from time-to-time on the sometimes infantile Craigslist Food Forum: Someone posts that they’re getting ready to take a flight and they want advice on recipes for airplane friendly food that they can pack and take with them to consume on their 4 hour flight from San Francisco (or New York) to Peoria, Illinois. They don’t want to subject themselves to the horrors of airplane food (that they now have to pay for), or what they deem as the unpalatable options at the airport. Apparently, a small bag of trail mix just isn’t good enough. They have to prove to the people in the seats around them that they are so culinarily evolved that even a simple snack food is beneath them.

God forbid they go more than 4 hours without shoving something into their gobs. They might starve up there in the thin air! They act as if there might not be food where they land.

And the author of the NY Times piece wonders why there have to be snacks at every event. The kids don’t demand it; it’s the spoiled parents projecting their infantile desires on their kids.

Mince Memories

When I first moved to Australia I was amazed at how mince tarts were everywhere at Christmas.  When I was a kid, mince pies were something my mom made at Thanksgiving or Christmas to accomodate the old people in my family.  I don’t know that I ever tried my mom’s pie because I was turned off by the word “mincemeat”.

So, imagine my surprise when I tried a mince tart my first Christmas in Australia and found out that- Hey!- I actually liked them. 

Last year, my last Christmas in Australia before moving back to the U.S., I had the privilege of participating in Mince Pie Making Day at Brendan’s house.  He and I worked on a radio show together and every year he invites friends and co-workers to his house to assemble hundreds and hundreds of mince tarts.  Everyone gets to take some of their handiwork home.

Brendan's kids helped show us the way to the "factory".

A lot of butter and a big bowl of mince were there to greet us. Brendan and Nicki's mince recipe is a tightly guarded secret.

Brendan's wife, Nicki, was the pastry roller extraordinaire.

Everyone takes a turn at the table filling their trays with mince tarts.

A tray of tarts ready for the oven.

We kept the oven quite busy. We made almost 60 dozen tarts.

Bruce and Brendan, my buddies from Gastronaut on Radio Adelaide.

The table for the finished tarts. For some reason the kids really enjoyed playing in here!

Chocolate milk wars

Marion Nestle continues to fight the good fight, trying to prevent every single American from becoming a Biggest Loser contestant in waiting.  This time, she’s taking on chocolate milk in schools and she’s taking heat as usual, being accused of being a Food Nazi and trying to tell people what they can and can not eat.

Well, screw that. 

Someone’s got to take responsibility for what’s being shoved down our kids throats if parents aren’t going to.

The milk industry is trying to convince parents that sweetened and flavored milk is about they only way they’re going to get their kids to drink it, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if parents fell for that argument hook, line and sinker.

Do these parents not remember elementary school, because I do. And I distinctly recall that chocolate milk was not an option back in the austere 1970s when the term “childhood obesity rate” was hardly ever used.  We all brought our 5 cents to school and got to choose between whole milk or 2% and we’d drink it every morning.  WITHOUT A SNACK!!

No one died. No one got sick.  No one complained.  We drank our milk because that just what you did.

I always wanted chocolate milk.  I would beg for it.  My mom refused about 99% of the time.  She told me it would ruin my appetite.  I sullenly drank my white milk, because she told me to.  Every once in a blue moon she’d let me have chocolate milk when we went to the local cafeteria and I got to drink it after I ate my dinner.  Once, I gulped it down so fast I threw up.

So what happened to those days? Why aren’t parents today insisting their kids drink plain milk and not viewing chocolate milk as an occassional treat?  My short answer is that parents are lazy.  It’s much easier to give into your kids who are always going to pester you for something sweet– it’s in our biological make up to want sweets.  And that is why kids are fat and getting fatter.

Someone needs to be a parent. Right now, Marion Nestle and the others who are fighting back against this chocolate milk propaganda campaign are the only ones with the balls to do it.  Call them Food Nazis if you want, but know that term is really just another term for being a grown up.

Eating to combat climate change


There are so many things I could write about that are food related for the Blog Action Day theme of climate change.  I’m sure a lot of food bloggers are writing about eating less meat, eating local and organics, and that’s all great.  But I’m going to focus on something a lot of people probably wouldn’t think twice about when it comes to their food: packaging.

When I lived in Australia, I began buying more fresh food than ever in my life because of the abundance of fresh food/farmers markets and fruit and veg shops.  Most butcher shops there didn’t use styrofoam packing trays for their meat, although the grocery stores did.  What I noticed quite quickly was how little trash my husband and I were creating because we ate so much fresh food.

There were very few cans, boxes and bottles in our garbage.  What few I did use, made it into the recycle bin because South Australia had a wonderful curbside recycling program.  We’d get to the end of another week and have only a puny bag of garbage to go in our great big wheelie bin.  It made me feel virtuous.

So the moral of this story is that fresh food is not only good for you, it’s good for the environment, too, because it cuts down on the packaging filling our landfills that will hang out there for who knows how long.

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

Apparently celebrity farmers are the Next Big Thing.  And while a humble Sonoma County vegetable grower probably isn’t going to achieve the cult status of say, Joel Salatin (who was popularized in The Omnivore’s dilemma), Leonardo Urena was a Rock Star (captial R, capital S) at the Harvest Fair yesterday.

About a dozen people surrounded him as he told the tale of his 1110 pound pumpkin which took first place in the annual pumpkin weigh-off.  He grew it organically, kept it shaded and watered, and even cut chunk out of it to prevent mold from spreading and destroying his prized pumpkin.

Watching him answer questions made me realize that for every celebrity farmer, there are hundreds- if not thousands- of others who will live their lives in relative obscurity, and it makes me glad there are competitions like this at state and county fairs because it gives these quiet people a chance to shine before they come back down to the earth to which they’re so connected.

No more flavorless tomatoes

It’s tomato season and I should be happy about that, right? Certainly I am, but tomato season brings with it the disturbing reminder that most people don’t have a clue that tomatoes even have a season, a fact that was reinforced for me twice yesterday in a most ironic way.

First, I read this great piece about workers who pay the ultimate price for our insatiable desire for tomatoes and what one woman is doing to change that.  Then, I went to dinner last night at a nice restaurant that claims to use “the freshest possible local ingredients”, and while it served me grass-fed beef, it also served a firm, flavorless tomato that was barely pink -all the hallmarks of an industrially produced tomato-with a salad.  Why on earth, when tomatoes are everywhere right now, would a chef serve this abomination to local food?  Perhaps he chooses to cut that corner because he thinks that since most people are willing to eat that kind of tomato in winter, they’re willing to settle for it at any time of year.

How is this possible? Every summer I hear the same thing: people oohing and ahhing over fresh homegrown tomatoes and how wonderful they are and how much better they taste than tomatoes they eat in the winter.  You’d think people would get a clue and quit wasting their money on tomatoes in the winter.

I finally clued in a few years ago during my gastronomy course when our professor used the term “esculence”, which technically means suitable for eating, but her usage implied not only suitability, but perfection or a peak ripeness.  Learning that word was a game changer for me and I gradually quit buying fresh tomatoes during the winter.  And you know what? It was liberating, culinarily speaking, especially when it came to making salads.  In place of fresh tomatoes I used pears, dried cranberries, sweet mandarin slices, and-yes- even sundried tomatoes that were preserved when tomatoes were at their peak.  All of these fruits helped make the salads a wonderful change of pace from the run-of-the-mill garden salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber that is ubiquitous because it requires so little thought.

But the best part about my wintertime tomato ban is looking forward to this time of year when we’re inundated with tomatoes of all different colors, shapes and flavors.  This summer, because Iwasn’t lulled into complacency by insipid winter tomatoes, I was one of the first people in line at the farmer’s market to buy the first homegrown tomatoes of the season.  I can honestly say I’ve savored every bite knowing that I’ll never eat a flavorless tomato again.

Hell on wheels

Big food has gone and done it again. 

Following in the footsteps of individually-owned mobile food trucks and carts, like the L.A.-based Kogi truck that became a twittering sensation, Taco Bell is now tweeting the location of its taco truck.

WTF? Why on earth would Taco Bell need a mobile taco truck? You can’t swing a dead cat and not hit a Taco Bell– they are everywhere.  The people following these tweets must be seriously impaired if they can’t find a bricks and mortar store somewhere.  They probably believe in death panels, too.

The whole idea of mobile food carts tweeting their location is because they don’t have a bricks and mortar location or a multi-million dollar marketing budget like Taco Bell.  Plus, quite often, as is currently happening in L.A., the trucks get shooed away from certain areas where they park, so they have to move along– losing clientele each time they have to pull up stakes.  It would be the equivalent of cops coming and chasing away all the customers at  a restaurant with a permanent location.

Big Food has jumped the shark again.  Never, ever doubt its ability to co-opt a good idea and make it stink.

Organic Twinkies, anyone?

For the 4th: Hotdogs, Aussie style

Last month’s Bon Appetit feature, “Around the World in 80 Hot Dogs”, really irked me.  The editorial staff’s major “brainstorm” for a hotdog topping that screamed “Australia” was mushy peas.  MUSHY PEAS? Now, I understand this article was all in fun and wasn’t an anthropological study of hot dog toppings around the globe, but come on! Couldn’t they come up with anything better than mushy peas?

Apparently, these folks haven’t spent much time eating in Australia.  The best I can figure, they’ve been to Sydney ‘s W hotel and gone to a pretty popular food cart near there called Harry’s Cafe de Wheels which does sell a hot dog with mushy peas, chili, cheese and some other kitchen sink ingredients.  The only other Australian dish that I can think of that features mushy peas, or in this case pea soup, is South Australia’s pie floater. Regardless, these two anecdotes of mushy peas hardly merit making peas a quintessentially Australian hot dog topping. 

This being my Aussie husband’s first 4th of July in the States, I decided to come up with my own hot dog toppings based on popular Australian tastes, and personally, I think they’re much better than Bon Appetit’s suggestion.

The evidence:

Hot dog with tomato-ginger-chilli jam & coriander (aka cilantro)

Hot dog with tomato-ginger-chilli jam & coriander (aka cilantro)

Hot dog with beetroot-pineapple relish, pineapple and bacon

Hot dog with beetroot-pineapple relish, pineapple and bacon

The tomato ginger chilli jam topping is my take on Modern Australian cuisine’s incorporation of Asian flavors and ingredients into every day dishes.  This topping is basically a chunky ketchup, but has a spicy kick from dried chiles and the freshness of the coriander (what Aussies call cilantro).  To make the jam, I used rice vinegar and a coconut palm sugar with ginger that I got at the Willunga Farmer’s market from the spice purveyor.  I also added onion and dried, crushed red chiles and I was good to go.   The jam was a killer topping and I loved the cilantro, although if you’re not a fan, you can certainly leave it off.
For the other hot dog topping, I incorporated ingredients used to top an Aussie Burger with the Lot (minus cheese, egg and salad).  I made a beetroot-pineapple relish by grating fresh beets and combining them with a few pineapple chunks, chopped red onion, some pineapple juice, liquid from some pickled beets I made earlier this week, a tablespoon of Kangaroo Island Tea Tree honey and a pinch of mustard powder.  I cooked it until the liquids evaporated and the beet had softened some but still had a pleasing crunch.  I topped the relish with some more pineapple chunks and crumbled bacon.  This was my husband’s favorite of the two toppings.
The other reason this was so much better than BA’s suggestion of using tinned mushy peas (which honestly, I’ve never seen any Australian eating unless they were super drunk eating a pie floater), is that these toppings were so much fun to create and play around with.  I can’t wait until next year when I try making a hot dog-meat pie combo!

A new take on shortcake

Strawberry shortcake is, in my opinion, the most perfect dessert.  Of course this is dependent upon the quality of the shortcake and the strawberries.

In June, you can pretty much count on strawberries being top notch. I’ve also found what is probably the best shortcake recipe on the internet– one that is as good as– no, actually trumps– the shortcake recipe on the Bisquick box which was long my favorite despite the fact it was on the Bisquick box.  The completely homemade shortcake recipe was on the Food Network website and it was really wrong, but thank goodness for reviews and comments because that helped correct all its flaws.   It makes a lightly sweet, slightly crumbly shortcake that’s soft in the middle and has a pleasantly crunchy crust. 

I’ve been making this particular shortcake for about a year and have recently found myself wanting to experiment with some new flavors.  My basil is starting to go nuts and I’m not quite ready to start making pesto, so I wanted to incorporate some of that.  I made a lemon-basil shortbread a couple of years ago that was absolutely intoxicating. I figured if lemon and basil works in shortbread, why not shortcake?

I mixed the dry ingredients for the shortcake together and cut in the butter and shortening before adding in the finely chopped basil, lemon zest and lemon juice.  After I’d incorporated that, I poured in the half-and-half (did I mention these aren’t lowfat?) and stirred until the dough just came together.  The shortcakes went into the oven and came out 15 minutes later lightly golden, flecked with basil and sparkling on top from a sprinkling of raw sugar.

I couldn’t even wait for them to cool before I pulled a tiny nibble off one of the shortcakes.  They brought the memory of that lemon-basil shortbread back to life.  With ice cream and strawberries it was a  taste of summer with the basil and lemon providing a  je ne sais quois — that turned the familiar into something new and intriguing.


Next time, I’ll try the shortcakes with blueberries– I think the blueberries and basil will be an even more divine combination.


Lemon Basil Shortcake

2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. sugar (or a little less)
2 Tbsp. shortening
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2/3 c. plus 1 Tbsp. half and half
melted butter
raw sugar

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut or rub in shortening and butter until dough is the size of small peas. Add basil, lemon juice and zest and stir (don’t be tempted to the add lemon juice to the half and half– it will curdle it). Add the half and half and stir until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough just comes together. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake in a 400 degree oven 15 minutes until lightly golden.  Makes 8 shortcakes.