Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dairy-free Chicken Pot Pie

Like Lauren, I think that the amount of meat Americans eat is unsustainable, unhealthy, and environmentally disastrous. That said, I don't feel the need to go completely veggie. Instead, I just reduce how often I eat meat and I try to chose fish and poultry over beef and lamb. I find that using meat sparingly in a meal is usually better than putting a big piece of meat on a plate. Enter: the chicken pot pie.

A good chicken pot pie is one of the yummiest, heartiest meals available to a wintertime cook. And, seeing as organic local strawberries are still weeks (months?) away for us way up here in Seattle, I'm still predominantly cooking winter foods. So when one of my roommates came home with a ton of leftover cooked chicken from some event she went to, this recipe got bumped to the top of my mental list.

The trouble with chicken pot pies is that almost every recipe calls for butter and cream. I modified a chicken pot pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen to use Earth Balance in the crust and rice milk to add creaminess to the fillings. In an effort to make it a bit more healthy, I used whole wheat flour for the crust. It didn't roll out quite like butter and white flour would have, but it was still delicious. I also made sure to make plenty of roux to thicken up the middle, in case the thinner rice milk wouldn't do the trick. Turned out great!

Dairy-Free Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the pastry:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cold Earth Balance, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

For the filling:

½ C olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 yellow onions, chopped
2-3 cups cooked chicken pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened rice or soy milk
2 cups medium-diced carrots
2 cups frozen peas
Glug of sherry (optional, I didn't bother)
½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves (optional, use them either)

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the Earth Balance and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. Add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (This can also be made a day or more in advance.)

Heat the chicken stock in a small saucepan. In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions and carrots over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock, rice or soy milk, and cooked chicken to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the peas, parsley, and a glug of sherry, if you’re using it. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among four ovenproof bowls. (Mine filled four smallish ramekins and one large glass dish.) Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into a circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Photo and recipe from 101 Cookbooks

I didn't actually bake these myself, but two of my roommates both made a batch: Alison made some one night and we ate so many that Julie made another batch the following day! I like that they're very warm and homey feeling with lots of ginger, they're small enough to eat in two bites, and with whole wheat flour, no butter, and no refined sugar, they're practically good for you! Alison made hers with 1/2 maple syrup and 1/2 agave nectar, which I thought was nice and not too maple-y. You could also substitute a different oil for the coconut oil, if you don't have any. I'm sure walnut oil would be delicious, and even olive oil might work.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/2 cup unrefined (fragrant) coconut oil, warmed until just melted
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. In a separate smaller bowl use a whisk to combine the maple syrup, coconut oil, and ginger. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 - 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I am a vegetarian. Or, more accurately, a pescatarian. Or, even more accurately, a kosher-keeping pescatarian who accepts the yearly urge to eat a piece of amazing beef jerky from Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop, CA and sometimes doubts whether I want to be a vegetarian at all. That being said, I tell people I’m a vegetarian; it’s just much easier.

My original motivation for becoming a vegetarian was very uninformed and almost arbitrary. The summer before 10th grade I was at a beach barbeque with my summer camp and I saw big pieces of ground up beef being put on a grill. Almost immediately I thought “Ew. That looks gross. Ok, I won’t eat that any more.” And that was that. I cut beef out of my diet starting that day, turkey came a couple of weeks later, and chicken in the months to follow. Because I’ve kept kosher since I was about 3, and because I’ve always been a very picky eater, those were the only three meats that I ever ate. Within the year, I was a full-fledged pescatarian. Why did I not cut out fish, you ask? That comes back to Kashrut once again. Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) requires that you never combine meat and milk. Fish, however, is not defined as a meat and is perfectly acceptable to eat with all the dairy of your choosing. So, since I grew up not considering fish to be “meat” at all, it seemed silly for me to cut it from my diet when I chose to stop eating meat. And what about this “yearly piece of Mahogany beef jerky?” I’m sure it is completely unacceptable in strict vegetarian circles to have such lapses, but once a year my family gets it and I simply can not resist. I’ve gotten over being ashamed of it and now just have to admit it from the get go. Oh well.

Over the almost 5 years that I’ve had this kosher-pescatarian-yet-once-a-year-meat-eating diet, my motivations for keeping it have changed. After my initial “ew” reaction back on that beach in 10th grade, I came to realize that what really got me concerned was animal rights and the inhumane ways animals could be raised and killed. Kosher meat gets around these problems in some ways (a very strict rule on how an animal must be killed) but not in others (there is no historical directive for how the animals are raised/farmed, though this is changing in some modern branches of Judaism). However, what really keeps me going now is the environmental issue. Just take into consideration some of these facts:

• Meat consumption has quadrupled worldwide in the last 50 years.
• It takes 4.8 pounds of grain fed cattle to produce one pound of beef for human beings to consume.
• According to the British group Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat, 10 people by growing corn, and only two people by producing cattle.
• Britain --with 56 million people--could support a population of 250 million on an all-vegetable diet.
• A pound of wheat can be grown with 60 pounds of water, whereas a pound of meat requires 2,500 to 6,000 pounds.
• Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer estimates that reducing meat production by just 10 percent in the U.S. would free enough
• grain to feed 60 million people.
(These facts come from an essay by Jim Motavallie entitled "So You're An Environmentalist, Why Are You Still Eating Meat?")

The amount of land, energy, water, etc., that we are using to produce cattle for meat-based diets could feed millions, if not billions of people if this land was used grow grain that fed people directly. Now, I fully recognize the benefits of a diet that includes meat, as I am suffering from some of the effects of one without it (low iron, for example). Furthermore, I am not railing against all meat-eaters as evil, environment-hating, or anything of the sort. The other two lovely bloggers on this site, for example, are both meat-eaters and environmentalists alike. I am just providing my own, personal reasoning for kosher-pescatarianism, and also hoping to bring some facts to light along the way. Consider for a moment, the last fact I presented to you: “Reducing meat production by just 10 percent in the US would free enough grain to feed 60 million people.” I recognize that this statistic (along with some of the others) is lacking some vital information (This would feed 60 million people for a day? A year? Are we talking a balanced diet here or just a helping of lentils?, etc), but it does show what my ultimate “point” is: reduce. I’m not encouraging meat-eaters to throw down their steak-knives indefinitely, but I do think people could benefit from reconsidering how much meat they eat, where it comes from, how it is raised and slaughtered, etc. Our world’s resources are rapidly disappearing. We need to start thinking about the long term sustainability of our eating habits and how they effect not only our own health, but the health of the earth as a whole.

Layer Cake vs. Cupcake wine

As I've said before, I don't know a lot about wine. But I do know a lot about cakes and cupcakes. And let me tell you, it would take a whole lot of wine for me to confuse a slice of a layer cake with its cuter, paper-lined, frosting-on-top cousin.

Strangely, the possibility of confusing these two sweets is at the heart of an amusing lawsuit: the wine label Layer Cake is suing a different wine company whose wines are named Cupcake. From the 53-page lawsuit:

This is an action against Defendant for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition in connection with Defendant's use of the CUPCAKE trademark, which is confusingly similar to One True Vine's LAYER CAKE trademark.... Both marks refer to a form of "birthday cake"--with One True Vine referencing a grown-up "LAYER CAKE," while the Defendant has chosen to reference the alternative and youthful "CUPCAKE." One True Vine knows of no other wines sold in the Unites States under trademarks that refer similarly to "birthday cakes," so when consumer, who have imperfect memories, are trying to recollect the "CAKE" wine that they enjoyed or saw advertised in a circular or on-line, they will not be able to distinguish readily between LAYER CAKE and CUPCAKE.

Confusingly similar?! A wine labeled Cupcake is so similar to one labeled Layer Cake that it's trademark infringement? Wine drinkers are really unable to tell the difference? Now that's just stupid. But it gets better! Layer Cake also alleges that Cupcake is infringing on its rights because both companies use "a multi-varietal format for a single brand" (like, oh, almost all wine brands?) and both bottles feature a description of the wine that mentions its layers, a connection to cake, and a grandparent.

From Layer Cake: My old grandfather made and enjoyed wine for 80 years. He told me that the soil in which the vines lived were a layer cake. He said the wine, if properly made, was like a great layer cake, fruit, mocha, and chocolate, hints of spice and rich, always rich. "Never pass up a layer cake," he would say. I have always loved those words.

From Cupcake: Here the grapes mature slowly, giving them layers of complexity and a vibrant zing, reminiscent of your grandma's lemon chiffon cake. The flavors are integrated, delighting the senses with layer upon layer of Meyer lemons, Key limes, and a finish that awakens the appetite.... Between these layers are hints of kiwi, citrus, and grapefruit, giving this wine faint resemblance of a lemon chiffon cake.

Now, I'd argue that anything reminiscent of homemade cakes could realistically be connected to family recipes, baking at home, and even grandparents. Not such a stretch here. Definitely not a valid lawsuit, in my opinion.

Only one way to tell: A taste test! With real cake for comparison, of course. :)

(Incidentally, if you're interested in pairing wine with cupcakes, check out this article from Wine Enthusiast for ideas.)

Pug Therapy

I have a pug with a bum leg. Two bum legs, actually. His front left leg curves in an odd way due to a birth defect. It may be due to poor breeding; we have no idea about his pedigree. His front right leg, however, is messed up because of the cruelty of his former owner, a drug dealer. Police seized the pug as part of the drug raid, and--after a short stint with the SPCA and then a pug-rescue organization--the little furball came to us.

So Won Ton goes to water therapy to help his leg stay strong. Twice a week at first, and now once a week, he walks on a treadmill in a glass box filled with water to his shoulders. That's him, above, chugging along as his brother, Mu Shu, begs for treats from the technician.

The treadmill gently forces him to walk through the water, which adds both resistance (to make his muscles work harder) and buoyancy (to alleviate the wear on his messed-up joints).

The therapy works! His atrophied right bicep has grown from 14 cm around to 16 cm, and his overcompensating left bicep dropped from 17 cm to 15 cm. This means his musculature is more balanced, and the added muscle on his right side does a better job of counteracting the torquing from his injury.

Here's another shot of him, hard at work on the job at hand:

This therapy is neither cheap nor easy to find. In my major metropolitan city of umpty-million people, there are maybe three or four places that do this for pets. I have to drive a half hour each way for the the weekly appointment.

Nonetheless, those of you with pets will recognize instantly that this is worth it. The therapy I purchase for him is nothing compared to the therapy he gives to me, gratis, and with a willing heart.

When he's finished, he gets a toweling-off and lots of hugs and praise from the technician. I love this shot, because he looks like a cross between Rocky Balboa and an Ewok, with maybe a little Flying Monkey from Oz thrown in.

Way to go, Won Ton!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flowers with Lasting Power

A few days ago, I wrote about the importance of fresh flowers in our homes. What I didn't mention is that some flowers last better than others. We all want great blooms that won't fall flat after a day or two. To help that along, as soon as you get your flowers home, re-cut their stems on a diagonal (under water is best) with a very sharp knife or pair of shears. Change the water in the vase every day or so, and keep them out of direct sunlight.

All of these flowers, if properly cut and maintained, should last well over a week, possibly over two weeks. Here are some of my favorite long-lived blossoms:

Gerbera daisies (below) look great, bunched or singly displayed in bud vases. Sometimes they are sold with a very thin wire snaking up their long, slightly furry stems. Leave the wire in place; it helps hold up their big, fat blooms.

Oriental lilies aren't cheap (you can see in this photo, below, they are priced at $4 per stem). But they are extravagantly beautiful, and even one stem will give you quite a show as the pods continue to split open and reveal beautiful blossoms for days on end.

Sunflowers just have to be some of the happiest-looking flowers on earth! Those sunny yellow petals, that big, friendly face! These chunky blooms with their thick stems won't fit in a slender bud vase and will look silly if you plop them in a coffee cup. So give them something tall and sturdy to stay in, like a pitcher or a glass carafe (the kind inexpensive house wine comes in at your neighborhood Italian restaurant).

Dianthus, or Sweet William, and I were introduced to each other at my neighborhood farmer's market. Related to carnations and to pinks, Dianthus sports multiple little flowers that make a big total impact. I bought this bouquet two weeks ago when I took this photo, and the flowers still look great.

Lastly, if you live anywhere near a Trader Joe's, run over there, fast! They are having their annual Daffodil sale, and a bunch of 10 happy daffodils is selling for the ridiculously low price of $1.29! That's a lotta flowers for very little cash, people! Because I haven't learned how to embed the link into the words "Trader Joe's" yet, here is the link: http://www.traderjoes.com/
And as with all produce, look at their labels (or ask the friendly flower seller at the farmer's market) to learn where the flowers came from. If it's a choice between Alstromeria (another long-lasting bloom!) grown in Peru and some grown just outside your city, please choose the local flowers. Mother Earth will thank you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eating Well, Eating Healthy

A few days ago I did a mid-week grocery-store run. You know the kind; just a few things to tide you over until the next major expedition. As I stood in line, the man ahead of me turned around,surveyed my stuff (pictured here) and said, "Wow, you make me feel really guilty for buying this stuff."

Now, I wasn't thinking about him or his purchases at all, but since he called my attention to it, I looked. And what I saw was pretty bad: a gallon of full-fat milk, three huge packages of red meat, a pound of pork sausage, one cucumber, one small box of strawberries, a half gallon of bad-quality sherry and a half gallon of bad-quality brandy.
Then I looked at him. Sixty-something, tall, with silvery hair and blue eyes, he may have been handsome once. But he had a gut and bad skin, punctuated with an open sore on his nose. He looked awful.

I said something noncomittal and friendly. He said something about going home to babysit his pesky one-year-old grandchild, and then turned to go.

As he lumbered off, I thought about the evolution of eating well.

Years ago, many of us consumed full-fat milk, pork and red meat on a regular basis. (I've never bought bad sherry or brandy; life's too short for cheap booze!) My two girls, both in their young 20s, remember me serving them TV dinners. All three of my children recall with fondness a certain processed-potato product (rhymes with "gator hots") that clocks in at 1 gram of fat per bite!

But for those of us who have heeded the health warnings, eating patterns have changed. We drink nonfat or 1% milk, maybe even soy or rice milk. We eat less red meat and less fat. We've lowered our salt intake and raised our fiber intake. After diets too heavy on the overprocessed and the oversalted, we've learned to eat (and cook) more the way our great-grandparents did: fresh food, simply prepared, with a minimum of additives.

There's still room for indulgence in this way of eating. Not a day goes by in my life that doesn't include a bite of chocolate. I enjoy a glass of wine several times a week. If I'm going to bake, be it cake or scones or cupcakes, I'm going to use sugar and butter. No nondairy substitutes, no pseudo-sugars with their scary, polysyllabic ingredients.

But even with these indulgences, I am eating well and eating healthily. The silver-haired gent with his jugs of bad booze? He's...well, he's just eating. And when I'm his age (I'm guessing that's 10 or 15 years from where I am now?), may Providence strike me down if I EVER complain about going home to babysit a grandchild!


"According to my mom, these ruffly, layery, decidedly not “retro housewife” aprons are just as fun to wear while cooking and baking as they are to where whilst twirling around and entertaining your pugs."

Um, what? I can't believe that sentence came out of someone's mouth who was not a part of my family!

The quote is from a blog entry entitled "Apron Deathmatch 2009" from the blog "Bake and Destroy." The apron in question is from Funktion, but I somewhat ironically find to be too ruffly and layery to be really functional. How would you wipe your doughy gross hands on something with so many ruffles?

From the article: "I love the way half aprons look, but I get too much confectioner’s sugar on my boobs to find them practical."

That said, I adore the ball fringe on this apron from Red Velvet Art.

My new favorite apron maker, though, is Boojiboo on Etsy. She has retro-inspired aprons in all shapes and sizes and made of the absolute cutest prints. This red polka dot apron reminds me of a dress I used to have in high school and which I wore for years even after it was just a bit too small on me. And with a sweetheart neckline, who couldn't love it?

Thursday, March 26, 2009


There aren't nearly as many flowers up here in Seattle as there are in Los Angeles, but I do love how daffodils are everywhere. In neighbors' yards, along medians, even in the parking lot at work. They just seem so happy and prove that spring really is around the corner, even if our grey skies don't quite agree.

Lemon Curd

A few weeks ago a friend in my cooking group brought a shopping bag full of lemons from her tree to share. I took a half dozen or so. Now what? It's still not hot enough to think about making lemonade, and I'd just made a lemon sorbet recently. So I turned the lemons into that wonderful teatime concoction, Lemon Curd.

Lemon Curd looks a little like a thinned-down lemony pudding. It is reminiscent of the yellow part of a good, homemade lemon meringue pie. (Not those horrible, gummy, storebought pies.!) It's made of just five ingredients--lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, butter, and eggs. That's it. It's fresher, brighter, richer, and not as cloyingly sweet as pie filling. And it's made in a matter of minutes.

Spread on scones or English muffins or crumpets, Lemon Curd is a staple at an English afternoon tea. I've also discovered it's heavenly used as a sauce for dunking fresh strawberries.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fresh Fruit

Strawberries! The first fruits of Spring have arrived, and I couldn't be more excited. Not only does this mean fresh, local strawberries for me from the Trader Joe's just off of campus, but it means that summer fruit is around the corner, and oh, how I looooove my summer fruit! So, this is breakfast today: a bunch of ripe, red strawberries, a piping hot cup of medium roast coffee, a piece of toast, and a glass of milk.

Also on the fruit front, my sister has come across this great website called Fallen Fruit, which, according to their website, is "an activist art project" that encourages people to make and post maps of public fruit ("all fruit on or overhanging public spaces such as sidewalks, streets or parking lots") in their neighborhoods, for everyone to harvest and enjoy. They have a map of my college town, so I'm planning (perhaps this weekend?) on going on a small harvesting expedition to see what I can find. I'll be sure to post the results here, but until then, I'm just going to keep on munching on my strawberries.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Restaurant review: Lou

724 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 962-6369 Let me start by saying: I love this place! It's my favorite new food find in Los Angeles since a few years back when I discovered Bossa Nova is open until 4am.

Lou is almost impossible to find. It's tucked into a corner of a strip mall in the heart of Hollywood, on Vine just north of Melrose. I drove down this street every day on my way to school, and believe me that this section of it isn't too pretty. The restaurant looks closed from the outside. There's patterned contact paper in the windows and thick curtains beyond that. They didn't even have a sign out front until a few months ago. As I got out of the car and looked around, I was already thinking of places on Larchmont nearby where perhaps our dinner plans could be rescued. But my dear friends Harrison and Robert had chosen Lou, and they asked me to humor them and reserve judgement until we stepped inside.

Just inside the door, the whole scene changes. The restaurant is rather dark and cozy, a tad loud due to its small size, but beautifully illuminated by candlelight reflecting off red and black decor. One wall is painted like a blackboard with chalk drawings (including an adorable pig nursing a cocktail), a map of the U.S. farms where all their cheese and meats are from, and tonight's specials. One of the major downsides is that the restaurant is tiny with no place to stand, so we ended up waiting for a table near the waiters' station and scooting to the side every few minutes so they could grab clean glasses or refill a bread basket. I'd recommend calling for a reservation in advance to avoid practically becoming part of the wait staff. Even though we were standing, a waiter helped us (read: Harrison and Rob) pick out a bottle of wine. Most wine talk goes over my head, but he seemed very knowledgeable and friendly, gave us suggestions, and poured us a taste of one of his favorites to try.

We were seated about 15 minutes later at the long communal table that runs the length of the restaurant. (We were also offered an individual table, but my friends amusingly enjoy talking to strangers.) On to my favorite part: the food! Lou bills itself as a wine bar, but their menu is top-notch. Offerings change weekly, sometimes even daily, depending on what's around, but cheese and charcuterie are big foci.

A breakdown of what we ate:
  • Pig candy - looked sort of like caramelized bits of bacon, but I didn't try it as I don't eat pork. One of their signature dishes.
  • Cheese plank - a selection of five cheeses, ranging from a soft cow's milk (Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, which has long been one of my favorite cheeses) to a sharp cheddar to hard sheep's and goat's milk cheeses.
  • Savory leek and goat cheese tart - the crust on this was flaky buttery amazingness, and the cheese filling soft and almost slightly sweet.
  • Farro with cranberries and hazelnuts and a crostini with goat cheese - good lord this was delicious. It was like the best hippie food you could ever think of, but all dressed up for a fancy dinner and even better than you remembered it being. I actually closeed my eyes upon eating the first bite, the room fell away, and I was momentarily transported somewhere heavenly. Don't know if I've ever done that before. I am clearly going to have to learn how to make farro.
  • Harrison had pork with gnocci, which he loved. Kept wishing he could give me a bite, but it was all swimming in pig juices.
  • Rob had a steak (ordered "bloody, mooing if possible") which looked good, but it seemed a little "safe" to me given the rest of the restaurant. I've seen plenty of steak, potatoes, and greens to last me a while.
  • Two bottles of red wine, neither of whose names I can remember. I know the second was Spanish, and it was perhaps the most interesting wine I've ever had. It was a favorite of the same wine waiter as before, who was again spot-on with his recommendation. Tasted almost like mead, but also a little peppery.
  • Guinness cake with apple compote - Tasted a lot more like a spicy gingerbread than a Guinness cake, but it was good. I think I could have made it on my own, but usually that's a complement coming from me for a dessert. Wasn't over-the-top good, though.
  • Mini-glasses of dessert wine, but I don't think I ever even learned the name. Whatever I know about dinner wines, I know even less about dessert wines. I think I've had three glasses of dessert wine in my life, and they've all been with Harrison.
(Lest you think we were all totally drunk at the end of the night, we had this meal over the course of quite a long evening, and we started pouring glasses of wine for the friendly wait staff out of our bottle as it got later. I had probably the equivalent of four drinks over three hours. We were the last patrons out of the place and had a ball of a time.)

Total cost for dinner for three was about $200 plus tip. Not exactly sure because both Harrison and Robert are experts and not letting me pay for food, so I didn't have much time with the bill. (Thank you for dinner, guys!) Although that seems rather pricey for dinner, my guess is it had a lot to do with the wine choices. The menu is priced very reasonably: $5-12 for appetizers and salads, $12-19 for mains, $8 for desserts. You could easily get out at $35 per person, if you so chose. An even better deal is the Monday night prix fixe menu of three courses and five wines for $55. (If only prix fixe menus weren't always unkosher I'd be right there.)

Bottom line: Lou is a diamond in the rough, a tiny little nowhere place with excellent choices for wines, cheeses, and meats. The service is friendly and knowledgeable, the setting is intimate, and the food divine.

Something from (Almost) Nothing

When I was young, my mother taught me to make soup stock from leftover scraps. She said it was in our Scottish heritage to be thrifty. You don't have to have any Scot in you to know we need to make our food dollars go as far as possible these days.

So, here's a primer on how to make a beautiful soup stock from almost nothing:

First, designate a spot in your freezer for a sturdy plastic box with a tight-fitting lid. If you don't have such a container, you can use a zip-type, gallon-size plastic bag.

Next, every time you prepare vegetables or meat, toss them in your stock box. Things that should go into the box: Butts, tips, and peelings of carrots, parsnips, turnips, and/or rutabagas. Butt ends of celery and garlic cloves. Leftover bits of green bell peppers (not the seeds). Outer layers of onions and shallots. Slightly wilted green tops of green onions, leeks, and celery. Potato peelings. Denuded chicken carcasses--cooked or not. Beef or lamb bones--cooked or not. Chicken skin. The yummy, meaty bits left over at the bottom of a roasting pan or frying pan, loosened up with a little boiling water, helped free of the pan with a little scraping from a stirring spoon. Leftover water from boiling or steaming veggies. Toss it all in the stock box, replace the lid, and put the whole shooting match back in the freezer.

What should NOT go in the box: Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, or dark green things, like spinach, kale, and chard. The first category will give the stock a noxious, "brassy" taste, while the dark green leafies will turn the stock nasty and swampish. Also, don't use fish scraps. (You can make a delightful fish stock, but that should be a different plastic box or bag entirely, into which you would tip onion, carrot, bell pepper, and pototato scraps, plus lots of fish bones and skin.)

When the stock box is full, take it out and set it in the fridge for half a day to loosen the frozen contents from the sides. If you're in a hurry, you can run very hot water over the outsides of the box, and the frozen block of scraps should slide out after a minute. DO NOT put the plastic box in the microwave to heat it up. (Health professionals suggest we use glass or microwave-able china to heat up our foods.)

Dump your collected scraps into a stock pot or a large sauce pan and cover everything with just enough fresh water so all the scraps are submerged. Here's my collection of scraps, just as they looked after dumping. I can see white and sweet potato peelings, celery hearts, bits of onion, carrot peelings, and some chicken carcasses:

Add some seasonings: a bay leaf or two, some thyme, a sprinkle of salt, some freshly ground black pepper. Here's what I added:

Cover and bring quickly to a full boil (this is an important step that kills off any pathogens that might've been lurking on your chicken or meat carcasses). Lower the heat and simmer for an hour or more, until the contents are pretty horrible-looking: limp and ugly and uniformly beige, kinda like this:

Ugh! But it smells really good by now.

Remove the hot pot from the stove and carefully strain the whole mess through a fine-mesh seive or colander into a clean container. I like doing this step in the sink to control splashes and so that I don't have to lift the heavy pot up so high. This lovely fine-mesh colander came from Williams-Sonoma:

If you know a lot of fatty things (chicken skin, roast beef scraps) went into your stockpot, carefully move the now-strained hot stock into the refrigerator. Let it cool uncovered overnight. The fat will rise to the top, and you can skim it off with a spoon and toss it. Either way, fatty or not-very-fatty, taste your stock to see how it's coming along. If it tastes rich and robust, congratulations! You're finished. You can use it immediatelly, or you can put the now-rendered stock into the freezer to keep for another day. (Just remember to label it so you know what is two months from now!)

If the stock tastes thin and watery, just pour it back into the stockpot and let it simmer for an hour or so more, uncovered, until it reduces in volume. This concentrates the flavor and renders it richer tasting. If you still aren't satisfied with the richness of the stock, you can add some powdered, cubed, or refrigerated bouillon to add a little depth to the stock. It's not cheating!

Here's what my stock looked like after being strained.

When you're ready to use your stock, put it in a clean soup pot, quickly bring it to a boil, drop it to a simmer, and then add whatever you want to make it into a lovely soup. This can be chopped bits of vegetables (more or less uniform sizes, please, for uniform cooking), a handful of uncooked rice, barley, or pasta. If you have cooked meat, add it in toward the last few minutes just long enough to heat it through. If you have cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), cook them separately and add them at the last few minutes just to heat through. Ditto with any spinach/kale/deep leafy greens. In about 20 minutes, all your raw veggies, rice, and pasta should be cooked through. Barley might take a little longer.

Here's a beautiful Scotch Broth I made out of my stock. I simmered a large handful of pearl barley and tossed in some pre-cooked meat left over from a pot roast. Scrumptious!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote for Spring foods

"I have eaten the first fruit of the season, and I am in love."

-- James Wright

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ummm, No.

I love teapots and teacups. I love using old things. I love recycling things in creative, clever ways. But sometimes it's better to leave well enough alone. For example, this idea, from a reputable national magazine (which shall remain nameless). The editors suggest creating a lamp base out of mismatched bowls, pots, cups, and saucers. The electrical cord on this...assemblage...doesn't even run down the middle of the stack, where it would be hidden, but jumps straight off the socket. So they call for tacking down the errant cord to the lamp base with electrical tape. Eeuuw.
How about leaving lamp design to the professionals and brewing some strong tea in one of those pots until the bad idea to use them as decorating mercifully passes?

Friday, March 20, 2009

These Shoes

As far as style goes, I am an incredibly simple person. Daily, I wear jeans, a plain short-sleeved and solid-colored t-shirt, flip flops or flats, and maybe some earrings or a headband if I'm feeling particularly fancy. That's it. No makeup, minimal jewelry (save the necklace, watch, and rings I wear every day and almost forget about), and hardly a pattern or print in sight. Sometimes I think that this simple style is a curse; I look at fashion magazines and blogs like The Sartorialist and think, "Why don't I do that? Why don't I pair a great printed scarf with a sharp, tweed jacked, and a killer pair of heels?" Often, these questions are answered by remembering that a) I live and LA and it is 70 degrees out, b) I do not have $300 to spend on a jacket, c) my feet would kill me if I tried to spend all day walking around campus in heels, and d) I like looking simple, for the most part. I try to remind myself of the blessings of a simple style, and why I gravitate to it in the first place. I like knowing that most of the colors I have in my closet all work together (I'm heavy on grey, black, green, burgundy, purple, for the most part), that I won't ever feel out of place on my laid-back college campus, and that my basic style does a good job of reflecting my personality. At times, however, I do need to force myself to jazz it up a bit, lest I fall into an unadorned, unembellished, and frighteningly uninteresting rut!

Case and point, shopping with my mother yesterday. We set out to find an under-$100 black-tie dress for my cousin's wedding in May, not an easy task at that price. After trying on numerous dresses that were too pricy, to big, or not dressy enough, we were just about to leave the store when the clerk pulled out a simple navy blue gown. Immediately, my mother fell in love, but it took me a couple of minutes to be sure. The dress was strikingly simple. It was made of a jersey knit, had a wide neckline, and was fitted to just below the knee, where it was gored into an elegant fishtail that swung out when I moved. It was simple, but beautiful. I soon fell in love as well and shortly thereafter we were out of the store with that great dress in tow! Next, it was off to DSW where we went looking for a pair of high heels to replace the ones I bought nearly 4 years ago and have worn straight through. After trying on a couple of pairs of shiny, sparkly, yet all together blah heels, I stumbled upon this pair, and I was immediately drawn to them.

I tried them on, literally laughing because they seemed so out of character for me--bold, flashy, colorful, patterned--but I couldn't take them off, I liked them so much! So, after my mom pointed out that the reaction they got (a big smile across my face) was totally worth the craziness, and that my wardrobe could benefit from a little "pop," I am now the proud owner of these awesome shoes. :-) (For a better look, check out this page on the DSW website.) I like that they are a bit out of character, will add some fun to whatever I'm wearing, and just simply make me smile! And really, what more could I ask for?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Irish Cupcakes, Alana's Version

I made the same Irish Car Bomb cupcakes as my mom did on St. Patrick's Day, but I've been a little later getting my photos up. Although let me assert that it was my idea first, and she stole it! :) Mostly kidding. I actually got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who incidentally changed the name of her post to "Chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes" because so many people complained that the name "Irish Car Bomb" was offensive. I'll agree with insensitive at least, but come on--it's the name of the drink from which this cupcake was derived! Can't really change that fact. And although the drink sounds disgusting (drop a shot of Baileys and whiskey in a pint of Guinness and chug it before it curdles), the cupcakes were delicious. The night after I baked them, I had a dream that I weighed 150 lbs. and I woke up very worried. Hmm... subconcious trying to tell me something? Luckily, my total consumption of this batch will be three cupcakes over three days. I find that rather reasonable.

Even better, and totally made my week: my cupcake photo was featured on one of my favorite food blogs! The Internet Food Association has a feature called "Daily Food Porn," and today they posted a photo I took of my finished products, shamrocks and all. Yay! This makes me ridiculously happy and excited. (IFA is not only one of my favorite blogs, it's also one of Mark Bittman's favorites. Maybe he's seen my cupcakes now!)

The minor differences between my cupcakes and my mom's:
- Mine domed a little bit (but not much), possibly due to filling my cups with batter higher.
- My chocolate ganache centers had a touch of Irish whiskey in them, while my mother was somehow surprised that we don't have any whiskey in the house.
- I added a shamrock made of green-tinted marzipan, just for fun and cuteness. :)

Chopping Scharfenberger chocolate for the ganche

The picture that got posted on Internet Food Association

An inside view of the chocolate whiskey center

Packed up in the cutest cupcake box ever (thanks, Mom!) to take to work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Irish Cupcakes

In honor of the holiday yesterday, I made Irish-themed cupcakes. They feature Guinness stout in the batter, Baileys Irish Cream in the buttercream frosting, and a filling of chocolate ganache. (Ganache is basically a chocolate truffle: a mixture of chocolate, cream, and a bit of butter.) It was my first time making a filled cupcake, and it went very well. First, I cut out a "plug" from each cupcake using my smallest Ateco circular cutter. The plug clung nicely to the interior of the metal cylinder, easily pulling out when I withdrew the cutter.

Then I piped the still-soft ganache into the center of each cupcake:

I had extra ganache after all the cakes were filled, so I piped out bite-sized bits of ganache into candy papers to make "naked" truffles. (To make them proper truffles, first warm them up to room temperature and then roll them in a coating--like cocoa powder or finely ground nuts.)

I frosted the cupcakes using a star-shaped pastry tip and lightly sprinkled them with green sanding sugar.

Here's the finished product! The Guinness in the batter wasn't detectable; it just added a certain smoky depth. (It reminded me a lot of my family's traditional chocolate birthday cake, which has a cup of strong coffee in the batter.) The ganache was a rich, dense surprise for the unsuspecting eater. My favorite part was the Bailey's-laced frosting. The addition of the liqueur transported a regular frosting to something heavenly.Note to the bakers out there: These cupcakes do not "dome up" when you bake them, making them perfect for when you want a flat-topped finished product. They'd be the right choice if you were laying a complicated fondant "cap" over your cupcakes, or if you wanted to emulate the look of a Hostess cupcake.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuxedo Pointe Shoes

Why have I never thought of these? (Seen on Nicholas Kniel's Fine Ribbons and Embellishments.) So cute, and an amusing play on gender norms. I have a feeling Theo would like them. Can't think of a good reason to wear them on stage, though; the detail would be lost.

Rose Cupcake

This cupcake looks just like a Sterling Silver rose! (My favorite rose color and smell, for sure.) I don't know how the swirl was made so rose-like, but I just love the silver dragees along the spiral. So simple and so beautiful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Neighborhood General Store, But Green

For half a year, I've been driving by a modest-looking storefront (http://www.green-and-greener.com/) on a busy boulevard in my neighborhood. The store sign said, "Green and Greener," which sure looked intriguing. I told myself I must check it out some time. But I was always in my car, on some other errand, when I caught a glimpse of the shop out of the corner of my eye.

Finally last week I walked over to take a look. What a treasure trove! The store carries some of my favorite eco-products, like biodegradable, corn-based trash bags for dog poop http://www.biobagusa.com/ and stainless-steel water bottles http://www.kleankanteen.com/. But there is so much else! They have paraben-free bath and body products, organic-fiber towels and bedding, non-toxic cleaning supplies, and a whole section devoted to eco-sensitive baby bedding, clothes, and toys. There's no-VOC milk paint and recycled-paper journals and pencils made from twigs. They sell adorable, stacking stainless-steel lunch containers that look like the love child of a Bento box and a backpacker's mess kit.

I came home with the eco-friendly poop bags and a bar of handmade goat milk soap http://www.chivasskincare.com/ that smells deliciously of peppermint and citrus. (I'm a sucker for a yummy-smelling bar of soap.)

There were so many fascinating things to explore, I'll have to go again just to take it all in. And best of all, they give you a 10% discount off everything you purchase, every time, if you come to the store on foot or by bicycle. So, thank you, G&G! and I'll see you again soon.

A Ballerina in Every Pot

Oh my goodness, I love this picture! It's two of my loves all rolled into one amusing, charming, and beautiful photograph. The ballerina is Pacific Northwest Ballet's Kari Brunson, and the photographer is Mike Urban. (Read an interview with him about this picture here.) Even better, she writes a food blog called Anticiplate, which I find an adorable pun on both dancing and cooking. Plus I'm a sucker for a Seattle-based food blog. Everything is the right season and made for the right weather! Perfect.

UPDATE: I decided to follow Kari on twitter (@anticiplate) because I love her quirky, down-to-earth style and her mix between planning recipes and just throwing things together until they come out right. That's a lot how I cook. Then, surprise surprise, she decided to follow me back! So now she will ostensibly be reading about my food adventures as I post them 140 characters at a time, and may perhaps even stop at the blog. This makes me really ridiculously excited. (Hi Kari, if you're here!)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I'm going to be honest: I have a semi-food-fear of cooking red meat. It's mainly that I just don't have much practice, seeing as I don't eat much red meat. If I'm going to eat some yummy beef thing, it will probably be at a restaurant. Forget cooking lamb or goat or anything else like that... I'll leave those up to my friendly neighborhood Indian restaurant.

And yet, traditions must continue. So at the market yesterday I bought a hunk of corned beef, intent on cooking it up for St. Patrick's Day. I had no idea what to do with it, and so went poking around on allrecipes.com until I found a recipe that looked good and didn't call for a "spice packet that came with your corned beef." Um, no? I bought my beef at a meat counter!

Then my housemate Julie had the genius idea of using her Crock Pot, so I didn't have to be up tending a pot of simmering beef for three hours. Upon further inspection, I found a video made by allrecipes.com that showed all the steps of making corned beef and cabbage in a slow cooker! Yay!

Here's what I did, based on an amalgam of the recipe, the video, and Julie's suggestions:

Into the slow cooker bowl, I put my hunk of beef fat side down. The piece was about 0.7 pounds, including a thick layer of fat. I didn't trim off any of the fat mostly because I know nothing about cooking meat and decided that it would probably flavor everything and if it was too fatty I could cut it off at the end.

Cut 1/2 a white onion and 1/2 a red onion into chunks and threw those in too. I'm sure a full white onion would be more authentic, but that's just the scraps we had in the refrigerator and I hate cutting into something new when it's not necessary.

I only had one potato, but I peeled it, cut it in quarters, and added it anyways. Couldn't hurt.

I'd run out of carrots from the last time I made roasted root veggies, so a few handfuls of baby carrots had to do. And hey--I'm lazy sometimes, and this was easy. Smashed and peeled about five cloves of garlic too.

Then, what I've decided is the magic step: Poured in a bottle of Guinness! Yum. Supposedly this makes everything taste a lot better and makes the beef more tender. I figure it's fun and yummy. Added enough water to totally cover the
meat, but some of the veggies were left uncovered. Sprinkled salt and pepper all over, and really wished I had a bay leaf. (Note to self: add on mental shopping list!)

I cut half of a huge head of cabbage into quarters and laid them on top of the whole mess. I like steamed cabbage, as opposed to boiled, so I'm hoping that they don't get all mushy while the thing cooks overnight. Julie said hers didn't, so that's a chance I'm willing to take!

Set the slow cooker on cooking for 10 hours at super low heat. I'm headed off to sleep, but hopefully there's an Irish feast ready when I wake up! This will be a really exciting and yummy lunch tomorrow. If only I could bring a Guinness to work. :)

UPDATE: My stew turned out overcooked, but still yummy. Definitely would redo this dish, but for only 6-8 hours in the slow cooker. The meat was literally falling apart, which can be good, but I was hoping to cut it in slices across the grain. That was a no-go. The veggies were pretty much all soft and brownish, which wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Should've taken the video's advice and only added them for the last hour or two of cooking. It's still good--I ate it for lunch today and I'll be having more tomorrow--but not quite what I was hoping for. Oh, well. There's always next time.

Pi Pie

I know I'm one day late, but this picture is just too cute: Happy Pi Day!

A Day in the Park

Twice a month, the city's pound brings eligible dogs and cats to my local park for adoptions. I volunteer as a dog handler, which means I work with one dog for the day. Together, we greet the public, answer questions, and try to land a "forever family" for the dog. This Sunday, my charge was a one-year-old, slightly shell-shocked 18-pound chihuahua mix. He had no name, since he was brought in a week ago as a stray. He started out the morning withdrawn and not making eye contact, looking a bit forlorn:
After several hours of greeting other dogs and people, a full bowl of dog food, and a couple dozen laps around the park, he was all tuckered out:
By the end of the day, Hallelujah! He had a new family to go home to tomorrow! I swear he somehow knew he lucked out, because at last he relaxed totally, snuggled up next to me, and took a nap in the sun with his belly up, a blissed-out, relaxed dude:

Happy new life, little guy!


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