Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Velvet Smooth

Classic Red Velvet Cake

With all the attachments of a healthy urban legend, Red Velvet cake has no doubt been a favorite with many here in the U.S. for decades -- including yours truly. Generally, it's a welcome treat around Christmas time for those living down in the Southern half of the country. However, a tasty dessert treat just about any time of the year, no one seems to know exactly when and where this scrumptious cake originated. Rumor has it, that a story (and a recipe) began circulating around the United States in the 1920s about a cake that supposedly was served in the restaurant in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel...

In any event, you can read more here about that original recipe, the Waldorf-Astoria chef -- who wanted to be *paid* for it, etc.

Meanwhile, here's the recipe I followed to rave reviews from my dinner guests this past Sunday for Red Velvet cake:

4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 ounce liquid red food color
3/4 cup water
1 pudding-type cake mix (white or yellow)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
4 tablespoons buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Heat oven to 325F.

Mix together cocoa powder, red food color, and a small amount of the water forming a paste. Add remaining ingredients except vinegar. Mix 2-3 minutes on medium speed until well blended. Add vinegar and blend completely. Pour batter into prepared 9" x 13" cake pan and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

This recipe serves 10.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Post Katrina: The Effort Continues

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Tomorrow, August 29th, will be the start of another effort in the recovery of the Gulf States ravaged last year by Hurricanes Katrina & Rita. It will once again be hosted by American Express and SOS (Share Our Strength), two organizations that have been at the forefront of this rebuilding since these disasters occured a year ago.

Find out more about Restaurants For Relief 2, and how you can help, at the Share Our Strength website.

Good Monday, all. Peace.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Taming Of The Anti-Cook

A friend and I had a discussion yesterday that reminded me of something. It's an otherwise sad (well, in some opinions, anyway) but nevertheless truthful commentary that there are in fact some people who * do not * love to cook.

This conversation also brought to mind one of my favorite cookbooks, and I don't mind admitting, one of the first cookbooks I ever bought in my younger, non-cooking-because-I- really-didn't-have-to days when it was first released titled the I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken. However, on my cookbook shelf these days, remains a follow-up to this classic book titled, The "Compleat" I Hate To Cook Book, which is just as much of a true winner, as its predecessor.

If you really would rather hunt for a meal -- than cook it, and approach a food processor or blender the same way you would a guillotine (or a weed-whacker), Bracken has got some totally easy-to-follow recipes and sharp, insightful anecdotes that would make the staunchest of kitchen haters stand up and take notice.

Peg Bracken is also the author of several other related books of good humor and helpful hints that are, unfortunately, no longer in print. And, I can only say that I wish they still were.

Thanks again, Peg. From the days of that "younger" me, that surprisingly still lives deep down inside there somewhere.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Build Your Own

Half-pounder at The Counter

After hearing much about them over the past year, one of the stops on my next trip to the West coast, is The Counter Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, now known for their famous custom-made burgers. Not to mention the numerous endorsements they've received courtesy of Oprah and GQ Magazine, where they were listed as one of the: 20 Burgers You Must Eat Before You Die.

The Counter starts off daily with freshly ground meat and the same amount of "freshness" applied to their veggie burgers. For those who always have to customize their orders with more of this and less of that, The Counter’s do-it-yourself menu is said to be an epicurean delight. From the Step-by-Step Checklist on a mini clipboard, you choose one of 10 cheese selections like yellow American, Danish blue or horseradish cheddar; four of 17 toppings ranging from your basic lettuce and tomatoes to the more exotic dried cranberries, grilled pineapple or roasted red peppers; and one of 17 sauces from mayo to peppercorn steak sauce to peanut sauce.

So after putting all those pesky cholesterol counts aside for the moment, read more here about "pimping out" your own custom burgers when you visit The Counter.

Good Wednesday, all. Peace.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cadaver Chic Is Out…Chunky Is Back

Of silk purses, and sows' ears?

For all of you guys and girls who jumped the bandwagon with Kirstie Alley on her Jenny Craig weight loss odyssey a few months back -- take heart. According to all the latest reliable trend sources, a little more meat on the bone is all the rage these days, and what was once considered chunky is now quite...trendy.

Holly Millea breaks it all down even further in this month's Details Magazine :

"The curve," Mae West observed, "is more powerful than the sword." Measuring 38-24-38, the five-foot-one sex goddess spoke from experience—lots of it. West’s bodacious successors—women like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Drew Barrymore, Rachel Weisz, and Kate Winslet, who hold fast to their cushioned curves even as their peers downsize more aggressively than General Motors—understand that maxim. Their faminista sisters do not. Now, the bigger-(relatively speaking)-is-better argument could easily be made with logic. But a growing faction of actresses who appear to have a healthy relationship with carbohydrates are making the point better than any polemicizing ever could. Simply line Hollywood’s wispy players up next to the lush likes of Scarlett Johansson, Lost siren Evangeline Lilly, Liv Tyler, Big Love star Ginnifer Goodwin, and an increasingly curvy Mandy Moore (gosh, is she really considered to be on the "Ruebenesque" side of things these days, too??)

Anyway, if you're interested in reading more, pick up that container of Ben & Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" instead of putting it down -- and read more here, along with a visual smorgasbord of the "sexiest plate-scrapers" ever.

Good eats, and good Monday, all. Peace.

Friday, August 18, 2006

No Subtle Tea

Kirsten Dunst and the latest in organic thirst-quenchers

I actually caught a glimpse of the recent episode of HBO's Entourage, where a director was house-sitting for his girlfriend’s parents in a mansion they bought with a Kombucha fortune. And just what is Kombucha, you ask? Well, it's said to smell a bit like a rank pile of fertilizer. But then again, it also promises to restore your digestion, liver function and cell integrity -- in addition to claims of helping to burn up your nasty old body fat. In other words, it's supposedly: Good for what ails you.

The organic, bottled Chinese tea (pronounced kom-BOO-cha) is cultured for 30 days to produce its "active enzymes" and "antioxidants." It’s also got authentic, albeit odd-looking strands of something green floating around in it. In either case, I'm almost sure that if you've ever smelled the ripened fruit of a female Chinese ginkgo tree, this stuff might just be a smelly close second. Still, on the West coast it appears to the A-listers' big beverage of choice these days, according to this month's New York Magazine.

Hey, Andy Dick drinks it everyday, and Kirsten Dunst looks mighty happy holding a bottle of G.T. Dave's Synergy in the photo above. So, um... need anyone say anymore?? By the way, this new Kombucha trend has also made its way to the East coast, and said to be flying off the shelves over at the Fairway Market here in the NYC area.

So... Cheers!

And that about wraps it up for me here this week. Make it a great weekend, all. Peace.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cat's New Title

Iron Chef Cat Cora

Huge congrats to Iron Chef, UNICEF spokesperson, and president and co-founder of Chefs For Humanity, Cat Cora, who has now been named Executive Chef of Bon Appetit Magazine.

Read more here.

She'll no doubt do them proud – guaranteed.

Chef Cora is also the author of Cat Cora's Kitchen: Favorite Meals for Family and Friends

Good Wednesday, all. Peace.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Over Easy

The CBS fall line-up coming soon to your local dairy aisles
(and breakfast plates)

Far and away from the modern-day sale of advertising space on everything from receding hairlines to pregnant bellies on Ebay -- I've got to admit that I found it quite an advertising stroke of genius when I first saw this on the side of a container of Moo Shu Pork from a local Chinese take out. And now, the CBS TV Network has also decided to take up the mantle in this recent phenomenon in advertising.

The network will be placing laser imprints for TV show ads on our morning eggs -- 35 million of them -- in the months of September and October. CBS’s copywriters are referring to the medium as “egg-vertising,” hinting at the wordplay they have in store. Some of their planned slogans: “CSI” (“Crack the Case on CBS”); “The Amazing Race” (“Scramble to Win on CBS”); and “Shark” (“Hard-Boiled Drama.”). Variations on the ad for its Monday night lineup of comedy shows include “Shelling Out Laughs,” “Funny Side Up” and “Leave the Yolks to Us.”

Egg-static, egg-citing… heck, I've just about run out of adjectives and cutesy catchalls for this new marketing wave. So I'll just let you guys read more here on this new CBS move.

Eggs-hilarating stuff for my morning glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice -- to say the very least.

Good Monday, all. Peace.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Move Over, Jamie Oliver

Sam Stern

Making an impressive (actually, I think he's downright adorable!) U.S. appearance this past week on NBC's Today Show, there's no doubt the latest young culinary whiz on the other side of the pond is 15-year-old Sam Stern from Yorkshire, England. His new book is aptly titled Cooking Up A Storm: The Teen Survival Cookbook, and along with receiving rave notices, I guess you could probably say it's a book after a mother's own heart -- simply because it inspires teens to explore the joys of cooking their own food, for a change. Man, where was this book a few years ago -- when I needed it?

Anyway, dubbed the new Jamie Oliver after the famed British chef and cookbook author of the same name, and inspired by British culinary names like Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay, Sam's book offers pancakes for breakfast and easy lunches like soups or salads to pack up for school. Quick meals like spaghetti or omelets for busy school nights; and for weekends more serious dinners like homemade lasagna or whole roasted chicken. And let's not forget his fancy, mouth-watering desserts. It's a book basically geared toward teens, and even offers a few chapters on how to "impress girls" for all those young teen males who might decide they really wouldn't mind this particular... approach.

Way to go, Sam.

Read more about this new young culinary dynamo along with a Q & A here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Caught Up In The Crisis

Anthony Bourdain on location in Beirut, Lebanon

The Travel Channel has been airing a promo for Monday, August 21st in which world traveling chef, author, and TV host Anthony Bourdain will share more of his recent experiences in battle torn Beirut. As reported, Bourdain and the film crew of his Travel Channel show No Reservations were caught inside Beirut while filming an NR episode when the fighting erupted between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces.

Bourdain later told the New York Post, among other things, that he just wanted to have a drink at the bar. "The mojitos here are great," he said. But as expected, this comment managed to rub a few people the wrong way, and generated lots of posts at the eGullet website and the No Reservations message boards.

In response, however, Bourdain has apparently posted his further thoughts on the situation. He writes at eGullet: "I’m very aware of how flip my response to the Post was (made very early in the crisis) as I sought to reassure family and friends that we were safe and okay and in good cheer. It was--at the time--very representative of the (outward) attitude of the people of Beirut, who pride themselves on their resilience and their determination to ‘keep the party going.’"

He continues later:

"It is indeed heartbreaking and horrifying what has happened to this lovely country--to spanking new, lovingly restored, resurgent Beirut in particular, in only a few days of sustained and seemingly senseless destruction. A few days ago, this was a place where people were bursting with pride for the relative tolerance, progressive attitudes, and lack of conflict between groups. I was standing with a group: a Sunni, a Christian, and a Shiite--by the Hariri memorial when the gunfire started and the Hezbollah people appeared driving through city center and honking their horns in 'celebration' for the capture/kidnappings. The look of dismay and embarrassment on all three faces...and the grim look of resignation as they all-- instantly-- recognized what would inevitably come something I will never forget."

Read more about Bourdain's Beirut drama here.

And certainly above all -- glad to hear that you and all those traveling with you were rescued to safety, Tony.

Good Wednesday, all. Peace.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pesto With A Twist

A great lover of pesto myself, and on just about any kind of pasta dish (as well as an out-of-this-world stuffing for chicken breasts with assorted cheeses and wrapped in prosciutto ham!), Pistou is France's much-loved answer to this sauce favorite from the Proven├že region. And in this month's Food & Wine Magazine, Paula Wolfert shares her recipe and ways to use it.

Typically added to a vegetable-rich soup, pistou has had a long history. The Roman poet Virgil described a sauce made by crushing herbs in a mortar with garlic, salt and olive oil. Over time, the sauce morphed into the heady Genoese pesto, which then morphed into pistou in Nice.

Making my pistou starts with adding tomatoes and olive oil to basil, garlic and salt, then crushing the mixture in a mortar with a pestle until it's smooth. (In the Proven├žal dialect, pistou means "pounded.") The pistou is then stirred into the soup, amplifying the flavors of both.

Find out more about the making of this versatile sauce here.

Paula Wolfert is also the author of several cookbooks which capture the essence of foods from other parts of the world. Her latest is titled The Cooking of Southwest France : Recipes from France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine.
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It's Monday, gang. Make it a good one and an even greater start to the week. Peace.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Team Deen

Food Network's newest stars, Bobby and Jamie Deen

If you tune in regularly, you probably already know that down-home darling, Paula Deen, of Paula Deen's Home Cooking is not the only Deen family member gracing the screen over at the Food Network channel these days.

In the spirit of their mom, Bobby and Jamie Deen, co-owners of Paula's The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, are the new hosts of Road Tasted, their very own show where they get out on the open highways and literally "taste America" by making various stops at specialty shops and small food purveyors around the country that are also available online to take your orders for the same food offerings -- you've just seen. And not only is it an interesting concept, but I happened to tune in last week, and just like their mom, Bobby and Jamie's southern wit and charms are infectious.

So check your local listings and tune in on Bobby and Jamie as they continue to take their show on the road.

Paula Deen is also the co-owner of Uncle Bubba's Oyster House in Savannah, Georgia as well as the author of several cookbooks. One of them, is my favorite, Paula Deen And Friends: Living It Up Southern Style . As indicated, she starts this one off with her trademark greeting of "Hey, Y'all!" in addition to a *well * put together assortment of recipes.
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Stay cool as possible and have a great weekend, all. Peace.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More Nasty From Bourdain

Yes, I'm back from my little hiatus, after having caught up on some interesting, and in all cases, *entertaining* summer reading. One of which, was the latest non-fiction offering from one of my favorite bad boy chefs, Anthony Bourdain, of Kitchen Confidential fame. This new one is entitled Nasty Bits: The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones .

Just as exceptional a writer as he is a chef, Bourdain pulls together a feast of tidbits in the form of his past magazine articles and essays, comprised from his many years of cooking and traveling. And in his typical "As The Stomach Turns" style, this one also covers his on-the-edge eating experiences, such as his devouring a slaughtered seal with an Inuit family in Alaska. But apart from his obvious disdain for celebrity chefs, i.e., Rocco DiSpirito, et al, to his longing for the old days of the sex and drug scenes in New York's old Time Square, those of you who tune in regularly to watch Bourdain's weekly "extreme cuisine" series No Reservations on the Travel Channel will already have a sense of the familiar "Bourdain on Bourdain" type commentary in this book. In any event, Nasty Bits makes, as always, for a totally engaging read from this truly gifted chef and writer.

Well, it's August, and soon this summer of non-stop power outages all across the nation will hopefully be at an end. No doubt, my hat is off to those brave folks right here in Queens, New York for all they had to endure in last month's Con Edison debacle. Glad to hear that for the most part, some of your lights and refrigerators -- are finally back on.

Good Tuesday, all. Peace