Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giveaway: Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn

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Here's a great phone call to get from a cookbook publicist at work in the middle of a ho-hum afternoon: "Our afternoon plans got scrambled, and we've got some free time. Do you have an hour to meet Lucinda?"

In this case, "Lucinda" is Lucinda Scala Quinn, the head food guru at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and author of the new cookbook Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys. And yes, I did have time - as did Kate (@Savour, who writes the lovely blog Savour Fare) and Hilary (@HilaryCable, who pens the LA Baking Examiner column). And fortunately, the three of us work in the same building. So down we went to our local Starbucks, where we sat outside for an hour of girl talk about Mad Hungry with Lucinda on a breezy afternoon.

Mad Hungry grabbed me right away, because, as you may know, I live with one very hungry husband and two very hungry young boys, and feeding them is mostly my job (to be sure, a job I truly enjoy). I had all kinds of questions. Is it true what they say about the bottomless pit of the teenage boy stomach? (Yes.) Do yours eat vegetables? (Yes.) Even salad? (Yes, and in fact, there's an essay in the book about how to get boys to eat salads. The trick, apparently, is keeping pre-washed greens on hand at all times, and we're talking crisp manly greens like romaine, not soft delicate greens like mache.)

One bit of advice Lucinda offers in the book - which I happen to think is brilliant - is to use what boys eat outside the house as inspiration for what you cook at home. Those greasy bacon-egg-and-cheese-on-a-bagel sandwiches you find at every New York corner deli? When one of her three sons started eating those daily, Lucinda started cooking them up at home, minus the extra grease, of course (p. 20). When another came from a vegan friend's house raving about soup, she called the other mom to find out what kind of vegan soup could have her son in such raptures and added it to the family menu (lentil, p. 87). I guess that means I'll be trying to reproduce chocolate old-fashioned donuts and sushi soon - oh, wait, I know how to make sushi!

There are, of course, rules to feeding men and boys. Here are some of Lucinda's:
  • Learn to understand the urgency of boy hunger. There's no "I'll get something later." When they're hungry, they need food NOW.
  • Lucinda doesn't buy much in the way of clothes, jewelry or cars: She spends her money on quality ingredients for her family. 
  • That said, she doesn't serve lamb chops when the whole crew is home. It's just too expensive. She'll wait until there's a night with just her and one boy, and then the lamb chops come out. For the big crowd (that's her, husband, three boys ages 15, 18 and 22, and usually three friends), she sticks to longer-cooking but less dear cuts of meat.
  • Lucinda is a two-vegetable-per-meal woman. They'll eat at least one, she says, and eventually they'll learn to eat both. Just keep putting it in front of them, and eventually it will go in. But learn how to cook vegetables so they appeal: No one likes mushy steamed cauliflower, she points out, but if you slice it thinly, toss it with olive oil and salt, and roast it at 400 degrees until it's brown and crispy on the edges, watch how quickly it disappears.
  • Always make at least two cups of rice. You can put anything over rice in the morning, and they'll eat it. Fried eggs on rice is a favorite.
  • Her family has beans and rice once a week. They'll eat a vegetarian meal, but they do prefer their beans laced with a little bacon.
  • Speaking of bacon: Never run out.
So now that you know how Lucinda feeds her family, aren't you dying for a copy of this book? Well, you can have a chance to win a signed one just by leaving a comment on this post. In the comment, tell us one tip you use for feeding your family or friends - we've all got good ideas to share! To get an extra entry, tweet about this giveaway, then come back and leave another comment with a link to the tweet (you can get a standalone link to a particular tweet by clicking the datestamp under the tweet when it appears in your list). I'll pick a winner at 5pmPT on Monday November 23, 2009.

Let me tell you, I am feeling generous today, because I really really want to keep this cookbook for myself! But no...my blog friends come first....

Good luck!

Friday, November 13, 2009

An evening with Jeffrey Saad

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If you watched season 5 of The Next Food Network Star, you'll remember Jeffrey Saad, who almost won - but didn't. I got the chance to meet him tonight at a small event, where he demoed a few dishes and handed around tastes. Everything he served fit with his spices-make-the-world-go-round outlook: butternut squash soup with an allspice cream, Chinese five-spice shrimp sliders with an Asian slaw, and turkey topped with a cranberry-harissa-mint sauce.

Note: Jeffrey's jar of Chinese five-spice powder was from Penzey's, whose catalogs I believe should arrive in the mail in a plain brown wrapper, so high is the food porn content within. He admits that he sometimes goes in just to stick his nose into various jars and inhale. Me too. It's a better high than drugs (I imagine).

So one very interesting thing about Jeffrey is his level of energy. And animation. And just plain in-your-face intensity. It's easy to see why he grabbed us from behind the TV camera. Look at these snapshots, and the expressions I happened to catch within a two-minute span, and you'll see what I mean:

Of the dishes he made, I was most intrigued by the shrimp. He salted them, coated them in Chinese five-spice powder, then sauteed them over high heat for just about a minute total. I thought the spices might burn and turn bitter, but they didn't at all, because the cooking time was so short. He took the shrimp out of the pan, threw in some shallots, then deglazed with rice wine. He added the shallot mixture to the shrimp (chopped up) with a little mayo, and put the shrimp on a small soft roll. The Asian slaw that topped it was just julienned cabbage tossed with seasoned rice wine vinegar, salt, and some shredded carrots. It made a tasty little bite with an interesting savory-aromatic overtone (the five-spice blend).

The cranberry sauce Jeffrey served over the turkey was also notable. He cooked fresh cranberries with water and sugar, then added toasted cumin seeds, harissa (a spicy Moroccan paste), and chopped fresh mint. I didn't taste the harissa - I'm sure he toned it down so as not to offend anyone with too much heat - but the mint was a great addition to the cranberries. I'm definitely going to try that come Thanksgiving. (Here's the cranberry sauce recipe on Jeffrey's blog.)

And here's the single most important thing I learned from Jeffrey Saad: "There are three reasons food cooked at home doesn't taste as good. The pan's not hot enough. The oil's not hot enough. And the food is wet." Dry your meat, poultry and fish, people, before you put it in the frying pan! Don't be afraid to crank up the heat! That's the only way to get a good sear, that brown goodness that keeps the inside tender and makes a beautiful crust on the outside.

Jeffrey's not on the Food Network yet, but he will be, I'm confident. Meantime, before he gets to television, you can watch the videos on his website (http://jeffreysaad.com/). I just watched his video tutorial on how to poach an egg, and I'm ready to conquer my fears. Now if he'd only do a video about pie crust....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giveaway: Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

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One of my aspirations since moving to California has been to get a reservation at the French Laundry. Hasn't happened yet, although admittedly I've been too busy to chase it down recently. But someday I'm going to get there. Until then, I'll have to experience Thomas Keller's wonderful cuisine in other ways. Next week, for example, I scored an invite to one of the opening celebrations at Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills. It's sure to be a star-studded affair, and oh yes, the FOOD! I'll bring my camera and report back, to be sure.

I'm also going to start cooking like Thomas Keller, now that his gorgeous new book is out. It's called Ad Hoc at Home: Family-Style Recipes and is full of the kinds of recipes I might actually cook. Take, for example, the pan-roasted halibut recipe I got permission to share in my LA Cooking Examiner column; it's about as easy as fish can get, and doesn't it look gorgeous? I think that will be on the menu this weekend in my house.

I've got good news for you. I also scored a SIGNED copy of Ad Hoc at Home to give away right here on my blog. Yes, you heard that right! All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment at the end of this post and tell me which recipe from either this blog or my LA Cooking Examiner column you like most. (Yes, I'm shamelessly trying to get you to read some of my recipes, I admit it!) You can get an extra entry by tweeting about this giveaway, and then leaving a second comment on this post with a link to the tweet. I'll choose a winner randomly on November 20th at 8pm (Pacific time).

Good luck - and whoever wins the book, will you come over and cook me dinner from it?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recipe: Apple cider quick bread

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I am a girl who is really and truly addicted to carbs. Nothing on this earth makes me happier than french fries. Give me pasta and I'll love you forever. And bread, my love, mon amour, cara mia - is there any form in which you don't send me? Nope. Bread, I'm yours, forever and ever.

A few months ago I saw a recipe for beer bread, and I started experimenting. Now I don't drink beer - never really have understood the yeasty, foamy fuss - but the refrigerator had a bottle or two left over from a party, so I baked one bottle up into this really lovely whole wheat beer bread with wheat germ. If you ignore the melted butter poured over the top of the dough, it's actually a fairly healthy bread option - you know, whole grain and all. Nice toasted, slathered with more butter, or maybe spread with peanut butter and a little jam. Oh, baby. Now that's breakfast.

But then we had another party, and this time, in addition to leftover beer, we had leftover hard cider. And I got to thinking: hard cider. Some grated apple. The same whole wheat and wheat germ base. That might be nice, eh?

And so it was. I like this one toasted and topped with a beautiful slice of cheese - a riff on the old apple-pie-and-cheddar motif. Peanut butter and jam worked also. Plain, still pretty good. I'm a fan.

Apple cider quick bread
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored, and grated
  • 1 12-oz bottle hard apple cider (the alcoholic kind)
  • 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, melted
 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the grated apples and toss so the apples are coated with the flour mixture. Add the hard cider and stir with a spatula just until the ingredients are combined; do not overmix.

Pour the dough into the loaf pan, smooth the top, and pour the melted butter over the dough. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown on top and a tester comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the loaf out onto a rack to rest.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Recipe: Pork green chile posole stew with nopales

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Last week I was lucky enough to attend A Taste of Santa Fe, a meet-and-greet put on by the Santa Fe and New Mexico visitors' bureaus and American Airlines at the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica. The event was mostly for travel professionals, but a few food bloggers made the list, and I'm glad we did, because we got to meet a couple of the folks who run the Santa Fe School of Cooking. They'd brought in a few dishes from Santa Fe restaurants - yes, flown the food in that morning ready to warm and plate - to show us what their Santa Fe restaurant tours are like.

I liked the bison short ribs from Rio Chama, something I'd never tasted before; they were bolder than beef but just as tender. The Frito pie from Plaza Cafe, served in an actual Frito bag, didn't do much for me. But the grilled shishito peppers that went with a sheep's-milk cheese and quince paste, from La Boca, were both adorable and tasty, and the roasted piquillo pepper stuffed with paella from Amavi was very nice. (See more photos from A Taste of Santa Fe.)

I was drawn to the prep table, which sported, among other things, a large bag of posole, the traditional New Mexican lime-treated corn. Nicole, the manager of the Santa Fe School of Cooking, kindly gave it me after I drilled her with questions about how to cook it and where to buy it locally. "You can't," she said, and handed me the bag. One less thing for them to pack to take home, so a win-win, but still, I was thrilled and grateful.

I must have been thinking about New Mexico earlier this fall, because when I saw New Mexico Hatch chiles at my wonderful local Bob's Market in Santa Monica in September, I bought a few pounds, roasted them, and froze them. Good thinking, hm? because they're perfect for posole. I got a few pounds of pork butt, cut into cubes. And then, at the farmer's market last weekend, I bought a little zip-top bag of cleaned and diced nopales - cactus paddles. I'm not actually sure if nopales are consistent with New Mexico, but what the heck.

I got up very early yesterday - darn clock change - but that gave me enough time to make this stew before I left for work. The whole house smelled like toasted corn, and meat, and warm spicy tangy. Made it hard to leave for the office, but gave me something to look forward to all day.

If you can't find dried posole, you can use canned hominy, but the dried stuff is really much better. The Santa Fe School of cooking has an online market where they sell all kinds of local foodstuffs. Note that the dried posole needs to be soaked before you cook it in the stew. And yes, it's spicy. Give your kids macaroni and cheese, just this once.

Pork green chile posole stew with nopales

  • 2 cups dried posole (substitute canned hominy if you must)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs pork butt or other pork stew meat, cubed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 4 New Mexico Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled and diced (substitute 1/2 cup canned green chiles)
  • 2 cups cleaned, diced nopales (cactus paddles)
  • 2 chicken broth cubes or packets (I am partial - no, maybe addicted - to Savory Choice Liquid Chicken Broth, thanks to my wonderful friend Rachel)
  • 1 tsp dried ground chipotle powder, or other chile powder (but NOT chili seasoning mix, which is mostly salt, anyway)
  • juice of 3 limes
The day before you plan to make the stew, put the posole in a pot, cover it with water by a few inches, and leave it to soak overnight.

Time to cook: In a large pot over high heat, heat the oil, salt and pepper the meat, and brown the pork on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate. Add the onions to the pot and stir to coat the onions with the pork juices. Saute the onions for 3-4 minutes, until they soften. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds more.

Now add the pork and any juices on the plate, the soaked posole, the chiles, the nopales, the chicken broth cubes or packets, and the dried chile powder, and cover the whole mess with water. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about two hours, or until the pork is tender and the posole is chewy and some of the kernels have started to - well, not explode, exactly, but open, sort of like little flowers. If, at this point, the stew looks too watery, take off the lid and simmer it a while longer, until things have reduced to your liking.

Add the lime juice - you'll definitely want a shot of acid at the end to balance everything out - and add more salt if you need to. Serve just as it is, with lots of broth, and maybe some fresh corn tortillas on the side.