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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Never Apologize: Things I Learned from Julia Child

I think I will always, in one way or another, be a student.  I love to learn and gain knowledge, so that I can share it with others.  When I was in the restaurant marketing world I was young and I was focused on finding a mentor.  That's what many chef's do- if you look at the bios that are sent forth from their PR agencies you will see their resume does not list things such as, great knife skills, amazing palate, people personality, etc.  It lists where they've worked, and especially which chefs that have worked under.  The understanding is that just by being in a great chef's orbit and airspace you have gleaned something of value.  (By the way, the word chef, in French means "chief," so if you tell someone that you are a chef, they may ask you what you are chief of, so you must say you are a chef de cuisine, if that is the case. )  In my search for a mentor I asked some people to mentor me.  No one stepped up, and it was disappointing, until I realized that you don't need to formally declare a mentorship relationship with someone, you just have to ask the rights questions.

While I was in France I read Julia  Child's memoir, "My Life in France," which the movie Julia & Julia was partly based on.  I know several people in Boston who were in direct contact with Julia when she lived in Cambridge, and by all accounts she was an amazing, larger than life person.  One thing I learned from her was to never apologize for your food, even if it''s obviously terrible.  If you look at cooking as a creation, then you must never apologize for it.  Number one, it's probably not as bad as YOU think, and it puts the person eating your food in an uncomfortable situation.  When I read that part in the book, I vowed I would never demean my own cooking again.  You make mistakes all the time, some things are out of your control, you might think you made the best souffle to ever grace this planet and your guests will still not like it cause it brings them bad memories from their childhood.  Just remember, every time you get into the kitchen and cook, it's a gift.You must always honor that gift.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Malibu Family Winery: AMGEN Festival

A few weeks ago Malibu Family Winery hosted one of the best food and wine events I've ever been to.  Although I belong to their wonderful wine club and frequent their al fresco tasting room often, I had no idea that they had a huge ranch directly across the street.  Unequivocally this place is the prettiest winery in all of Southern California!  We were greeted by alpacas, horses, camels and even zebras as we drove up to through the breathtaking property.  There is an amazing view of the valley, framed by rolling hills of grapevines- this is what California living is all about.

The food and wine festival featured huge jumbotrons for people to watch the AMGEN cycling race, and provided a place for food and wine lovers to eat and drink to their heart's content.  I even got a massage from the Westlake Four Seasons Spa!

Here are some pictures of the fabulous food and some Chef friends I ran into that day.

 The very talented and friendly Chef Alberto Vasquez from Mediterraneo Restaurant in Westlake.  He made my favorite dish of the day.  A crispy flatbread with sunkissed cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, caperberries, olives, and fresh herbs.  A good chef like Vasquez can elevate a simple, unfussy dish into a sublime eating experience by taking into account the setting, the seasonality, the textures and colors of a dish such as this one.  The flavors just burst in my mouth and catapulted me into summer in this gorgeous setting.

And of course I saw my favorite Top Chef, Fabio.  I just love this guy!  This is his second time I've accosted him to take a picture with me and he's been duly gracious every time.  Go visit him at his restaurant, Cafe Firenze, in Moorpark.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Blind Leading the Wine


Recently our friends Pat and Cynthia McKeever invited us to celebrate Cynthia's birthday by hosting blind wine tasting party.  The rules were simple: each person brings a bottle of wine, which is whisked away by the hosts upon arrival and then assigned a brown paper bag and number.  Collectively, we taste and rated the wines on a point system from 1-5.  1point was deemed "trash," a 4 rating "Damn this is good, " and a 5 signified "perfect."

The best part of the night was the "reveal," and we were all shocked by the results.  Here they are:

1. (49 points) Shenandoah "Special Reserve" Amadour Zinfandel, 2008, $9.99, K&L
2. (48 points) Fetzer Merlot, 2008, $6
3. (44 points) Wakefield Cabernet, Clare Valley, 2006, $35
4. (43 points) Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, 2008, $12, Target
5. (41 points) Charles Shaw "Two Buck Chuck" Cabernet, 2009, $2, Trader Joe's

5. (41 points) Brunello La Rasina, 2004, $58, Cinderella Wine
6. (40 points) Jaffurs Mouvedre, 2008, $27, Jaffurs Wine Club
7. (36 points) Deloach Pinot Noir, Sonoma, 2008, $16
8. (35 points) Trader Joe's Coastal Syrah, 2007, $3.99, Trader Joe's
9. (34 points) Sanctuary Pinot Noir, Santa Maria, 2006, $30
10. (32 points) Fattoria dei Barbi Rosso di Montalcino, 2006, $30
11. (23 points) Frei Brothers Syrah, 2006, $23
12. (22 points) Turning Leaf Chardonnay, 2008, $4.99, Ralphs

Here are some tips to hosting your own blind wine tasting party:

1.  Keep your invite list limited to under 12, or you will all be seeing double by the end of the evening.
2. As with all soirees involving drinking, provide food beforehand, so no one has to taste on an empty stomach. 
3. Create a scoring sheet and have plenty of pens.
4. Make sure you have a spit bucket for those "trash" wines. 
5.  Have plenty of plain crackers on hand for palate cleansing, as well as pitchers of water handy for rinsing and sipping.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Meal: Cheesecake with Strawberries & Lemon Curd

Graham Cracker Crust Cheesecake with Lemon Curd & Strawberries
20 (small) graham crackers, crushed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 lb strawberries, sliced
¼ cup sugar
1 jar lemon curd
Macerate by mixing sliced strawberries with ¼ cup sugar,  and small pinch of salt.  Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees . Grease a 9 inch springform pan with butter.
In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. Press onto bottom of springform pan.
In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk, and then mix in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth. Pour filling into prepared crust.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, and let cake cool in oven with the door closed for 5 to 6 hours; this prevents cracking. Chill in refrigerator until serving.
Serve each sliced with a drizzle of lemon curd and some artfully arranged strawberries.

Mother's Day Meal: Coriander Roasted Salmon Salad

Coriander Roasted Salmon Salad Recipe
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook.
2 lbs  center-cut skinless salmon fillets, cut into 4 ",slices
1 cup celery, diced small
1/2 cup red onion, diced small
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 head of butter lettuce, torn into bite size and washed and dried
Half a cucumber, de-seeded and sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toast coriander seeds in a pan for about 2 minutes, or until the whole kitchen starts to smell like coriander.  Do not burn.  Grind the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle or in a ziplock bag.  Let cool.
Season the salmon filets salt & pepper.  Press crushed coriander seeds on top of salmon, to form a crust.
Cook the filets in oven for about 20 minutes.  Let chill refrigerator or cool to room temp.
Break filets up into small chunks and put into a bowl.
Mix onion, celery, capers, dill, raspberry vinegar, olive oil in a bowl. 
With your hands break the salmon into chunks and add to bowl, gently mixing all of the ingredients.  Season with salt & pepper.
Arrange butter lettuce and cucumbers on a plate, add a good serving of mixed salmon salad in the center of the plate, garnish with dill and serve.

Recipes for Mother's Day Meal: Rosewater Mint Lemonade

Rosewater Mint Lemonade

  • 34 cup sugar
  • 34 cup water
  •  2 quarts water, plain or carbonated
  • Juice of 4 or 5 lemons
  • 12 to 1 teaspoon rose water (found in Middle eastern or Indian stores)
  • Dried rose petals, mint sprigs for garnish

  1. Make simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan over moderate heat and stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. That takes maybe three to five minutes.
  2. Cool the syrup to room temperature. Pour into your serving pitcher.
  3. Juice the lemons, reserving some lemon slices for garnish. Add to the simple syrup.
  4. Top off with water. If you're serving all of it right away, sparkling water is a nice touch.
  5. Add rosewater.  Start with ½ teaspoon increments, and increase for taste.
  6. Serve over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, mint sprigs, and dried rose petals.  This is also good with vodka if you want an adult beverage.