Category Archives: Text

What’s in your chocolate?

Not actual cocoa butter if American manufacturers get their way. They want to be able to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil (yuck!) and still call it chocolate. And you know, that the Bush-appointed industry-friendly FDA will probably be all for it. After all, making our food less food-like is their whole mission. Well, this should be a reason *not* to buy American chocolate, just in case.
But you can still submit your comments to the FDA on this issue. You can find a link to it at Guittard’s “don’t mess with our chocolate campaign”:

Guittard protests proposal to allow vegetable oil in chocolate

A food-filled day

Today it was all about food. I don’t think I consciously meant it that way – though I wanted to celebrate Mike’s birthday – but I guess that’s where my mind, and my kids, led me.
It actually started yesterday at the supermarket when I was deciding what to cook for dinner. Mike wanted pork chops, and that’s what we got – but I saw some spareribs on sale and I suggested that for tonight’s dinner. Then they had huge sea scallops on sale so I wanted to try those too. And then I thought of French toast – how long has it been since I’ve had French toast? And I love French toast, so… you get my drift.

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Say Adieu to Free Range Chicken

rooster.jpgIf you are a fan of free range chicken hurry up and eat to your heart’s content – because you won’t be able to do it for much longer. A couple of days ago I was watching a German news program where they interviewed chicken farmers about the bird flu, which has already hit Germany. The flu has forced them to keep their chickens inside, and they don’t anticipate they’ll be able to let them out for a long time. Therefore the free-range chicken industry in Germany will be, for all intents and purposes, dead.
I can’t imagine the same thing won’t happen in the States. The bird flu hasn’t hit here yet, but it’s only a matter of time. When it does, it will be too dangerous to keep birds outside as well, where they can get in contact with flying birds carrying the virus. Sure they can keep them in large cages, but as the German farmer said, a cage is a cage, and you don’t have free range chicken when you keep it in a cage.
So let’s fill up on free-range chicken now, ’cause we may not be able to have it again.

Yes, chocolate is good for you

A new Dutch study shows that consuming chocolate or cocoa products helps reduce blood pressure.
Ok, ok – it doesn’t really, it just shows that healthy, elderly men who ate more chocolate had lower blood pressure than those who ate less. And as we all know correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
But other small studies have shown the same effect and cocoa beans contain flavanols, which are thought to increase nitric oxide in the blood and improve the function of blood vessels.
Arch Intern Med — Abstract: Cocoa Intake, Blood Pressure, and Cardiovascular Mortality: The Zutphen Elderly Study, February 27, 2006, Buijsse et al. 166 (4): 411

Of blogging, turkeys and Thanksgiving

I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’m not sure why – or rather, it’s become quite clear to me that I can no longer juggle all aspects of my life: house, children, family, husband, work, friends, entertaining, cooking, writing, reading, etc. I can handle a few at the time, but not all. I can’t short change my family, but everything else must be put aside from time to time. Lately, I’ve done a good job of keeping the house clean, planned our upcoming trip to Argentina, threw a big Halloween party and a small screening of the Wal-Mart movie, and done quite a lot of other things. I haven’t cooked much, though, and have done absolutely no writing. It’s time for that to change.
So let me start by writing about turkey. I hate turkey.
I love the concept of turkey, don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful bird, perfectly golden it dresses a table as nothing else. I love the traditions around it, the idea that people all over this country are having variations of the same meal tickles my traditionalist bone.
I encountered my first turkey at my first Thanksgiving dinner, a mere month or so after first arriving to this country. I don’t remember the food as well as I remember the discomfort of the situation. We were having dinner with the family of the husband of the sister of the nun who had taken care of my sister when she’d been a baby. They were people we didn’t know and who, other than the sister, didn’t speak Spanish. I was 12, an age at which I didn’t want to be around adults, much less complete strangers. Still, it was a good introduction to the holiday.
In the following years, my dad would sometimes get a turkey for Thanksgiving. Supermarkets often given them out for free, and my parents are not people to reject a free gift. I ate leg meat and in general I was fine with it. At least I don’t remember any differently.
It wasn’t until my last year of college that I cooked a turkey myself. My best friend had come for the long weekend and for whatever reason we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner. We were joined by J., another friend from Egypt, and an Egyptian friend of his. I found a recipe in the newspaper for orange glaced turkey, and even though it was my first big meal, I had no problem following it. The results was a perfectly cooked turkey with the yummiest, most beautiful skin ever – and turkey-tasting meat underneath ( to make the glace mix orange juice with honey and brown sugar and baste the turkey every 20 minutes for the last hour or so). But hey, the skin was worth it.
In the years to come I roasted turkeys a few more times and continued to be unexcited about the meat. I also ate turkey cooked by others with the same reaction. A couple of times my friend Lola made goose for Thanksgiving, and I loved it – but the times I tried to cook it, I didn’t do a very good job of it. When I went back to hosting Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years back, I forwent the turkey altogether and made a Basque dinner featuring chicken instead (along with foie gras and other goodies).
Then last year I decided that I had to give turkeys one last try. I wanted to get a Heritage turkey, but I didn’t order on on time and instead I bought an organic free range turkey. I brined it, made a good recipe and the turkey was good – for a turkey. But it was still a turkey. And no matter how much I want to like turkey, it’s still a dry, tasteless bird.
Needless to say, this year I’m not making turkey.
I do want to make something special, however. I like the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving with something that I’m not going to make at any other time of the year, something that will have us all look forward to it all year. Like turkey – but actually good. I want it to be something big, that can make a great centerpiece at the table, and that I can make year after year.
Prime rib roast could be a logical choice, but I made that last Xmas eve and I think it’ll become our Xmas eve tradition. I first thought about making lamb shanks – a braise seemed like a logical thing for this time of year and I’ve yet to cook lamb shanks at all. Plus, they could be served with all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. But hard as I tried I couldn’t get excited about lamb shanks. They are not big, they are not rare and they just don’t scream “special occation” to me. So I decided to make a lamb rack instead. It’s not particularly big but it’s high price tag (about $13 a pound for a cut that is mostly bones) guarantees that I won’t be making it often (indeed I have yet to make it, precisely for that reason). And it can have a beautiful presentation. So I looked up recipes on the internet and I settled on the following menu:
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Lemon and Saffron
Rack of Lamb with Red Currant Wine Sauce
Toasted Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts & Parsley
Sweet Corn Tomalito
-Green Beans Almondine
and some storebought dessert
I tasted an amazing Jerusalem artichoke soup at Aziza last year, and I’d love to try it again. The lamb recipe got high accolades at epicurious – and I’m pretty fond of sweet sauces in general. Which such a delicate meat and sweet sauce, however, traditional Thanksgiving side dishes wouldn’t work so I spent quite a while figuring out what to serve (now that Camila won’t let me read while I feed her, I have plenty of time to think of things as she nurses herself to sleep). Couscous is my starch of choice when serving sweet dishes, and the one time I had Israeli couscous I loved it. Plus it’s pretty popular now when regular Maghrebi couscous has become passe. The corn tomalito is another sweet yet gentle dish that I love but have never made, and while it won’t look too different from the couscous, it’ll have a completely different flavor. Asparagus might work best as the vegetable – but Mike doesn’t like it, so the very simple green beans almondine seemed like the best choice.
The menu seemed both mouth watering and well balanced and I was excited about cooking it – until today. Today, is when I went shopping for the ingredients.
It would probably have been a better idea to have Mike drop me off at the different supermarkets while he did something else with the kids. As it was, they were both very tired, very grumpy, and very loud. I usually like shopping, but tonight it was sheer torture. So much so that I realized that I’m just not emotionally ready to cook a big meal on Thursday.
I always look forward to cooking as something fun and relaxing. I often try to do too much so it seldom is (and soon I’ll blog about my Halloween party, when this became very clear), and often time it becomes stressful rather than fun. Though usually I can revel on the fruits of my efforts at dinner time. But still, I haven’t started cooking yet and I’m tired and stressed – that’s how I’m supposed to feel at the end of the cooking day, not the day before! Of course, part of the stress is that I couldn’t find some of the key ingredients: the Jerusalem Artichokes, the Israeli couscous and the rack of lamb. OK, they had the former, but I thought the ones at Costco looked better so I was planning to send Mike to buy it tomorrow.
So I decided I have to simplify things. Instead of doing a rack of lamb, I’ll do a leg of lamb. That’s something that we make during the year, but I have a recipe which is both simple and delicious. Plus I can serve it with the typical Thanksgiving dishes, so my new menu is:
Persimmon soup (as I have so many persimmons)
Armenian Roast Leg of Lamb
Sweet Corn Tomalito (already bought the masa)
-Garlic Mashed Potatoes
-Baked apples & yams (maybe, if I have time, for the girls)
-Stouffer Stuffing (’cause it’s easy and I like it)
-Green Beans almondine
Some Safeway bought dessert.
and that’s that. Won’t be grand but I’m sure it’ll be better than turkey.

Tea @ Home

My friends and I are now getting together monthly for tea. In May, we celebrated my birthday with tea at the Ritz. In June, Regina was supposed to host but she was too busy (poo poo her!). In July, we celebrated Lotty’s birthday at Lovejoy’s and this month it was time to celebrate Vienna’s birthday at my house (we are out of birthdays for September!).
Our experience at Lovejoy was so positive that I modeled my menu after their own. Of course, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to replicate those incredible fluffy scones, so I decided to make a ginger scone recipe that has been getting raves in the Craigslist food forum. They were very, very good, even though I overbaked them a little bit. I served them with European-style butter, clotted cream (available at Joaquin Deli), orange marmalade, raspberry jam, lemon curd and dulce de leche. The dulce de leche was by far the most popular toping (ha!). I was glad that I got to use the little bowls that I bought at the Japanese restaurant again.
I also served three types of tea sandwiches: cream cheese & cucumber, chicken salad and Stilton and apple – all inspired by the offerings at Lovejoy’s. The cucumber sandwiches were the least popular, apparently traditional cucumber sandwiches have cucumber and butter, not cream cheese. Next time. The chicken salad ones were great and the Silton worked very well with the thin apple slices. I’d originally meant to make them with pear, but the pears available at Safeway are just not very tasty this time of year. I used white sandwich bread to make them and cut the crusts myself, which made them look not very neat. Unfortunately, Safeway no longer stocks Ironkids Crustless Bread, which I LOVE. Does anyone know a source?
Finally, I got a tripple-mousse cake from Safeway, which was delicious.
Lotty brought crumpets, but we never got around to them.
The teas were Akbar Yellow Gold and an Orange Pekoe Tea that I got at the 99-cents store. Both are from Sri Lanka, and both were delicious. I suspect I drank too much, as Camila had a pretty restless night.
In all, we had a great time. The tea started at 3pm and went on until 8pm. It won’t be my turn to host again for several months but I’m looking forward to the next time.

An afternoon in Rockridge

Once a week I take my little girls to a “field trip” somewhere that is Bartable and yesterday we went to Rockridge. Camila (6mo) is pretty cranky lately and Mika (3 yo) gets bored easily but all in all we managed to have a good time. We started by visiting Crepevine, part of a chain of restaurants serving sweet and savory crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta dishes. I had told Mika that we were going to a “panquequer

Tea time

In Argentina, where I grew up, tea time is an honored tradition carried out by grandmothers and elderly aunts everywhere. Families with children usually have a merienda, a meal that consists of a hot drink (tea, a latte, chocolate milk, hot chocolate, mate cocido) with cookies, toast or pastries, perhaps relegating tea time for weekends or for when they have guests. But practically everyone has a tea pot and a nice set of tea china waiting to be used.
When I was growing up, I had tea time at my grandmother’s house twice a week or so, when I visited her. By necessity it was at a little after 5, when I got off school, though the more usual time for tea was 4 PM. Everyday tea, served in a regular pot, was served, like a merienda, with cookies and toast or scones with butter and jam. On special occasions, most commonly when we had guests, special pastries (masas finas) and delicate sandwiches (s


Why, or so why, are leeks soooo expensive? $3.60 a pound, which means only 2 leeks! It’s really absurd for things that are little less than glorified onions.

Camila’s Welcome Ceremony

Last Sunday it was Camila’s Welcome ceremony. I was going to make empanadas, but the store where I usually buy he shells was out of shells for baking, they only had the frying kind. My mom thought I should try them nonetheless but I figured it was easier to change the menu.
I decided to go with a Maghrebi theme and cook a couple of past favorites. The piece the resistance was a Chicken Tagine with honey and apricots. This was one of the first dishes I learned to cook, soon after I got married, and for many years was one of my staples at dinner parties. I’ve been on the cooking by the alphabet kick for several years now, so I hadn’t made it in a long time, and I knew it’d be a hit. It was, though I overcooked it a little and the chicken was a tad dry. But the sauce is to die for!
I doubled the recipe, but used only 1 1/2 times the butter it calls for.
I also made an Algerian soup, from which I ommitted the chicken so it’d be vegetarian. It was a much less popular choice.
I also served bread, pita bread & crackers with hummus, brie, pate and salame and for dessert we had ice cream cake from Baskin Robins.