Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Five to Try Before Ya Die

The Traveler's Lunchbox has put out a call to foodbloggers: what foods have you eaten that you recommend everyone try before they die? The inspiring Kalyn's Kitchen tagged me to participate, so let me share my humble recommendations:

1. Fresh-ca
ught fish
Simple, yet profound. The fishsticks of your elementary school lunch bear no resemblance to a lake trout that has just left its watery home.

2. Fruit you picked

Knowing the secret patch of blueberries down the road, finding that neighborhood lemon tree that leans over the sidewalk. Whether you're urban or rural, it's extremely satisfying, both for your brain and your stomach, to forage your food.

3. Sadza
Sadza, a cornmeal mush, is Zimbabwe's staple food. It's tasteless and sits in your stomach like a rock. However, eating it is a humble reminder of one's privelige. I constantly pestered my host sisters when I studied abroad in this country, asking them for all their favorites, including favorite food. Invariably, the answer was sadza and I couldn't understand why. Finally, they were able to explain--"it gives us life."

4. Duck in any and all its forms

Such a small little bird with such a fabulous fatty flesh. Whether it's the tongue, the breast, the fattened liver--it's all good.

5. Goat cheese with fennel honey
I had to have some dairy on here, right? J and I had this dish at Babbo the night we got engaged. While the entire meal was divine, the simplicity of this dish is a reminder that often the best dishes are the least complicated. With the highest quality ingredients and a creative idea, it's hard to go wrong.

Who's next? I'd love to hear what Married...with Dinner, LA Ritz, Cooking in the 'Cuse, Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and LifeLoveChocolate have to say. Of course, anyone else who has ideas--please share!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Picnic under (and over) the stars

Though they're so popular now that getting in (and getting out) is an exercise in frustration, the outdoor movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery are still one of my favorite summertime LA events. We always pack a picnic, pillows and plenty of wine for a magical evening above and below the stars.

Chinatown, a fabulous LA flick, was the show on Saturday night, so perhaps dumplings and chow mein were in order, but we veered toward Italy instead. In addition to the requisite bread and cheese, we packed two cold vegetable dishes: caprese with roasted cherry tomatos and a raw summer squash antipasto.

The squash couldn't be easier or more delightful, especially if you let it sit in the fridge for awhile before you leave. Thinly slice baby zucchini or summer squash. Toss in some olive oil, pepper and chopped fresh oregeno or thyme. Then add freshly crumbled pecorino cheese. DO NOT add salt to the mix--not only will you draw out the water from the squash, making a soggy mess, but the cheese is plenty salty for the dish.

As for the caprese, Trader Joe's sells tiny balls of mozzarella that work perfectly with cherry tomatos. It's not the best cheese in the world, but it'll do--for Chinatown.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fiore Natural Italian Yogurt, Little Tokyo

fuzzy fiore yogurt: J's mix of kiwi, watermelon and almonds

Thanks to fellow LA foodblogger Colleen Cuisine, I knew that J and I could look forward to a sweet treat in Little Toyko after our dinner at Hama Sushi last night. Fiore Natural Italian Yogurt reminds me of a trendier TCBY, a staple of my youth (much to the delight of my sister and me, my father would often "lose control of the car" and it would magically take us to TCBY).

next time, I'm going for blueberry and mango

You can get the stevia-sweetened yogurt in two flavors--"original" which tastes tangily vanilla-esque and green tea. The toppings are where the excitement's at--fresh fruits of all kinds with no sticky syrup in sight, nuts, chocolate and the more exotic cucumber or red beans.

I'm still an ice cream girl at heart, but I enjoyed our relatively guilt-free dessert. Little Toyko's one of my favorite LA neighborhoods, and Fiore's location across from an always packed shabu shabu joint guarantees a fun spot to stop on a Friday night.

Fiore Natural Italian Yogurt
134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Five Gallons o' Wild Plums

My mom and grandma went wild plum-picking at home in Wisconsin the other night and this was their haul: a five gallon bucket filled with the fruit! Man, am I jealous. They have plans for jam, dried plums, a savory pork chop sauce and eating them out of hand. Hopefully I can at least score some of the jam when I'm home for the holidays.

Women in the Kitchen Event: September 14, 2006

What a great mix of Los Angeles females involved in food. I've seen Leslie Brenner speak before and she's extremely intelligent and engaging. Interestingly, this event is hosted by Los Angeles City Controller, Laura Chick. (via Slow Food LA)

From Controller Chick:

Please join me on Thursday, September 14, 2006 for my next Women's Dialogue: "Women in the Kitchen". I will be host to six incredible and prominent women from the culinary world for a panel discussion focusing on their experiences in this male-dominated field. Our panelists are:

++ Leslie Brenner, Food Editor, Los Angeles Times
++ Marilyn Caldwell, Owner, Catered Occasions
++ Melinda Lee, Host KNX Food News
++ Barbara Spencer, Owner, Windrose Farms
++ Tara Thomas, Owner and Chef, Traxx Restaurant
++ Patty Zarate, Manager, Homegirl Cafe

The Dialogue will take place on September 14th, 6:00pm to 7:30pm, in the Hearing Room of the Board of Public Works, City Hall, 3rd Floor, 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles. As always, I will provide refreshments and time for networking.

If you would like to participate in the "Women in the Kitchen" Dialogue, please R.S.V.P. to Miriam Jaffe at miriam.jaffe [at] lacity [dot] org by Thursday, September 7th. In order to accurately prepare for the evening, I ask that you respond only if you are sure you can attend.

Free parking will be available. You will receive parking instructions after you have verified your attendance.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dumplings in Koreatown

pork dumplings with deceptively spicy dipping sauce

As I mentioned, my office has moved from Culver City to Koreatown. While this is good for my tastebuds, and not too hard on my pocketbook, I'm imagining it will have an impact on both my waistline (Korean BBQ ain't lo-cal) and my work productivity (nor is it take-out).

My first favorite isn't BBQ though, it's dumplings. Authentic Korean Dumplings to be precise (the restaurant may have another name, but my Korean needs work). The first time I came here I ignored the logical voice in my head that said "Its name includes 'dumplings' therefore that's what you should order." Instead, I looked around and saw that nearly everyone was slurping a big bowl of hearty black bean sauce noodles. Mistake. These were boring and flavorless, I made it about 1/3 of the way through my huge bowl before giving up.

boring black bean sauce noodles

For round 2, I went with my gut and ordered the dumplings. They were filled with pork and green onions. It wasn't until I was paying and talking to the waitress that I realized you have a choice of fillings--kimchee and pork, pork and beef, or all vegetables--this may actually be on the menu, but I was ordering by pointing to the pictures, and there was only one dumpling photo.

I only made it through 1/2 my dumplings, not because I didn't love them, but because of their monster size. I marvelled at the businessman next to me who put away a whole plate of dumplings AND a bowl of noodles in about 10 minutes. The spicy red pepper and jalepeno-flecked dipping sauce for the pork packets was surprising. It tasted mildly spicy when it first hit my tongue, but about 5 minutes after chowing down, I realized my lips were on fire--but in a good way. Especially since it's only about $5 for six huge dumplings, I'll definitely head back for the other dumpling flavors soon.

Authentic Korean Dumpling
corner of Irolo and 7th St, one block south of Wilshire
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Food Writing Workshop at UCLA

UCLA Extension is offering a one-day food writing workshop this fall, featuring a couple of my favorite Los Angeles food journalists, Russ Parsons and Evan Kleiman. It's on Nov. 4 from 9:30 to 5 and costs $130. They're only taking 50 students, so you'll have to sign up quickly (you can register on the Extension website). Here are the details from the course catalog:

In this workshop, food writers and editors provide an overview of the techniques for turning a food-related experience or recipe idea into sellable articles for magazines and newspapers. Panelists share insights into such different disciplines as cookbook production and restaurant reviewing. Guest speakers include Elizabeth Evans, food critic, Orange County Register; Stephen Hamilton, Stephen Hamilton Photographics Inc.; Brad A. Johnson, National Food and Travel Editor, Modern Luxury magazines; Evan Kleiman, owner, Angeli Caffe, KCRW radio host, cookbook author; Russ Parsons, food columnist, Los Angeles Times; Nancy Ross Ryan, Fresh Food Writing; and Pamela J. Wischkaemper, food consultant/public relations.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Parents' Weekend: Campanile, Papa Cristo's, and More

My parents were in town for a long weekend, and boy-oh-boy did we stuff ourselves silly. Other than the always pleasant company, here were some of the highlights:

Picnic at the Hollywood Bowl: In addition to Mahler's First Symphony, we savored Trader Joe's finest picnic snacks and some homemade muhammara, a Lebanese - Turkish - Syrian (depends who ya ask) dip made of walnuts, roasted red peppers and pomegranate syrup.

a blurry spoonful of muhammara

Lunch at Papa Cristo's: This Greek place at Normandie and Pico is both restaurant and Greek food emporium, with an impressive deli and butcher shop. The fresh, pillowy pita bread puts other versions to shame.

Dinner at Campanile: J and I had only done grilled cheese night and brunch at this LA institution. Now we can add dinner to the list of good meals we've had here. The service was impeccable: for example, a too-cold air conditioning vent was fixed immediately, and apologized for by both the busboy and the maitre'd. J and my mom each had a ridiculously large yet succulent pork "t-bone"--more than enough to generously share with my dad and me (we opted for fish). Other highlights included a sprightly heirloom tomato salad with cukes, and a carnival doughnut (funnel cake!) with huckleberry sauce for dessert.

Tipsy Afternoon at Silver Lake Wine: I'd never been to a Sunday tasting at Silver Lake Wine and now I can't imagine ever going back to the elbow-to-elbow Monday and Thursday events. The small crowd allowed owner George to give the group more details about each of the Sangioveses we tasted--his explanations were the perfect mix of wine geek details and info the non-initiated could appreciate. The substantial snacks provided by Brandon Boudet of Dominick's completely changed my opinion of this restaurant's food; I'd eaten there once for Sunday Supper and left unimpressed. Not any more--Boudet's arancini (risotto balls) and spicy meatballs had me drooling and wanting more.

heirloom tomato salad with basil and oregeno

Market Dinner at Home: Sunday morning we made our usual trip to the Hollywood Farmers' Market and gathered ingredients for a blowout final dinner. Chicken from Kendor Farm, teeny-tiny potatos from the Weisers, heirloom tomatos, sweet corn and herbs from various other stands. After an excellent lesson in cutting up a whole chicken from my mom, we slathered our bird with the Boyfriend Chicken marinade, a further guarantee (other than our sparkling wit and fabulous good looks) that we hang on to our respective husbands.

Papa Cristo's (closed Monday)
2771 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006

624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Silver Lake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cubanas on Olvera Street

Los Cubanas: beer and lime juice over ice, with salt

My folks have been in town this week and on Friday we kicked off a downtown tour with lunch at La Golondrina, housed in the oldest brick building in Los Angeles. It's centered on Olvera Street, a touristy historic landmark in downtown, filled with market stalls selling Mexican wrestling masks, guayaberas and brightly colored tchotchkes.

Most of the restaurants on the street have pleasant, shaded patios and serve fairly authentic Mexican dishes. Mole tacos, spinach enchiladas, and chile verde pork graced our lunch table and all were fine examples of the cuisine, if a bit expensive.

The highlight of the meal was a new-to-me, bright and refreshing drink: La Cubana. Here's whatcha do: rim a beer glass with salt. Fill with ice, pour in a 1/4 c or so of fresh lime juice. Fill the remaining part of the glass with beer--Dos Equis and Tecate were our choices. Fabulously yummy--a Mexican version of Rachael's (of Fresh Approach Cooking) Summertime Shandy.

La Golondrina
W-17 Olvera St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More of North Africa: Charmoula

Lately, there's something about the smoky, spicy North African and Middle Eastern flavors--they're all I want to eat. Continuing the condiment theme, I recently discovered charmoula, a North African herb paste used to marinate meats or fish for the grill. It is often paired with eggplant as well (see here). Like harissa, the recipes vary, but most include cilantro, garlic, cumin, paprika, olive oil and vinegar.

I used a recipe from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook, which unconventionally uses rice wine vinegar for its "milder, sweeter nuance." I used the charmoula to marinate Santa Barbara sea bass kabobs for the grill--the cookbook recommends at least 4 hours of marinating (leaving out the vinegar and lemon juice so you don't "cook" the fish), but we only had 1/2 hour. Considering how fresh our fish was and that we slathered more of the sauce (now with the acids) before eating, the abridged time wasn't much of a problem.

adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques

2 tbsp. whole cumin seeds, toasted
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro
1 c. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 1/4 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Blitz the first 7 ingredients in the food processor until paste-like. Slowly mix in the olive oil.

If using as a marinade, about 1/2 will work for 2 1/2 lbs of meat. Save the other 1/2 for after the meat has been cooked. Mix the left-over 1/2 with the rice wine vinegar and the lemon juice, and brush over cooked meat.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Harissa -- en tube!

Harissa (pronounced huh-REE-suh) is a Tunisian chile paste often used as a meat rub or a condiment. It's smoky, slightly sweet and spicy flavor adds punch to Tunisian couscous, fish dishes, or in soups or stews. Recipes vary, but it often includes smoked chili peppers, coriander, garlic, cumin, and sometimes tomatos.

Usually, you find it sold in small cans. I hate this because I often only need a tablespoon or less, and the rest of it often goes bad in the fridge before I can use it. So I was delighted to find Harissa -- en tube! (as the box proudly proclaims) at Nicole's Gourmet Foods in South Pasadena (you can also find it online). This toothpaste-tube-like container has a tight screw top and I imagine it can last in your fridge for months.

I haven't experimented nearly enough with this fragrant paste, but I like the following harissa vinaigrette over wilted spinach with Moroccan Spiced Salmon. If you have other ideas/favorite dishes, send them my way!

Harissa Vinaigrette

1 tbsp. harissa
1 tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil

Whisk the harissa, vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper together in small bowl. Slowly stir in olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, whisking all the while so the mixture emulsifies.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Happy Anniversary: Sunset Tower Hotel and Bar

Maybe it happened when the conceirge graciously informed us we were upgraded to a suite. Or maybe it was when we arrived in our 14th floor suite and gaped through our floor to ceiling windows (even in the shower!) out onto the Sunset Strip. Or maybe it didn't hit us until a few minutes later, ensconced on a comfy lounge pillow by the pool, noshing a bufala mozzarella, basil and avocado sandwich, accompanied by a salad comprised of nearly a whole head of crisp butter lettuce, listening to the mindless girls next to us flip through US Weekly ("Reese? Snore. Jesse Metcalfe? Fantastic. You know, I love saying that's just, fantastic"). I'm not sure when exactly the realization dawned on us, but it was not long after we arrived at The Sunset Tower Hotel that we knew we were in for a, like, fantastic anniversary weekend.

To celebrate our first year of no-longer-living-in-sin, we spent one night in this recently renovated, resplendent art deco tower, steeped in Hollywood history. Built in the 1920s, and was a hangout for stars like Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra.

The hotel's current service and decor exudes quiet sophistication and was very welcoming to a decidely non-Hollywood couple like us. Everytime we turned around someone was asking us how they could help. We didn't leave the grounds during our stay, choosing to enjoy our celebratory dinner at the nook-filled Tower Bar. Tucked in a dark corner near another window overlooking the city, we started with champagne and melt-in-your-mouth beef carpaccio, drizzled with lemon, pine nuts and shaved parmesan. While listening to the 80-something, pink-bow-tied pianist play his way through the standards, we battled over bites of rosy lamb shanks (mine) and parmesan-encrusted steak (his). Both meats came perfectly medium rare, as we requested, tender and juicy. Each were accompanied by the requisite starch (marscapone polenta for me, whipped potatos for him) and vegetable (sauteed cavolo nero for me, asparagus for him).

For dessert we shared a strawberry upside down cake and the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cake. Both were tasty, but the real treat came a bit later--sitting in front of our magnificent windows, watching the Saturday night action on the Sunset Strip, sipping some scotch (J's present from me), realizing--holy shit--we're actually married.

The Sunset Tower Hotel and Bar
8358 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

We can also highly recommend the Sunrise on Sunset room service breakfast. For a mere $14, you get french-press coffee, fresh squeezed OJ, a basket of baked goods, breakfast meat of your choice, two eggs any way, and fried new potatos. I've had more expensive and much less tasty experiences at many hotels.

Photo by furcafe used under a Creative Commons license. I forgot my camera.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Martha and me: guess which ones I made

From the August issue of Martha Stewart Living, Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprints. My thumb-skills obviously need some work, but the cookies were still a hit at the office. I subbed fresh currants for strawberries. For more adventures with Martha's impossibly gorgeous baked goods, check out my experience with her meringues last Christmas.

photo on the left from

Friday, August 11, 2006

New (or new to me) in the LA foodblog world

Do you like noodles? Then you'll love Noodlewhore, which reviews all sorts of Asian noodle joints across Los Angeles. The site has easy to use drop down menus organized by location and type. Yum!

If you're a Chowhound Los Angeles board regular, you've probably read PoetKitty's restaurant reviews. Lucky us, she's now started a blog, OMGFood!, and her recent take on Silverlake's Malo is right on the money.

For those of you who live (or travel) anywhere along Colorado Blvd (Glendale, Eagle Rock, Pasadena Arcadia, and Monrovia), you've gotta check out Colorado Chow. This blog's been around for awhile, but I just discovered it when looking for other reviews of Spitz.

Finally, from a link in la.foodblogging's comments, I found Gastronomy 101, a newish blog covering restaurants and recipes in LA. The author recently took a trip to Italy, however, and has some drool-worthy pictures of a salami plate and prawns in white wine sauce.

Happy reading (and eating)!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Spitz hits the spot in Eagle Rock

Since this is Hollywood, it's easy to think of the story of Spitz: Home of the Doner Kabob in pitch form:
Boy travels to Spain for semester abroad. Tastes a doner kabob and falls in love. Learns everything he can from the old and grizzled master kabob-maker. Comes back to the U.S. with a grand kabob vision, graduates from college, and partners with an old friend to bring the magic of this late-night European treat to America. But! They run into obstacles and it's unclear whether their dream will become reality. They have a falling out, followed by a dreary, sleepless night, soundtracked by a wailing Middle Eastern ballad. Not to fear--the friends reunite, the restaurant opens to great acclaim and spawns a Spitz chain across California.
Or something like that (melodramatic fight/reunion not true-to-life, as far as I know). There's a reason I'm not in the entertainment industry!

Doner kabobs are sandwiches made from a mixture of ground lamb and beef, somehow turned into a big slab o' meat, slowly cooked in a vertical roaster, then sliced paper thin. The sandwiches at Spitz are served on either thin foccacia or even thinner lavash. Unless you order the sandwich a la carte, it comes with a fountain drink and a side of fries or fried pita strips and hummus. For 75 cents extra, you can get sweet potato fries or a salad instead.

The thin strips of meat pack a flavorful punch, helped along by the cool tzatziki and spicy chili sauce. My palate is not refined enough to pick up on the mix of lamb and beef flavors, and while I really liked my sandwich, it's very reminiscent of a gyro. Other than the mix of the two meats, are there other major differences I'm missing?

Spitz also serves gelato, a nice treat on the patio after your sandwich, if you have room (the sandwiches are huge). We'll definitely be back, and hopefully, as The Daily Nosh requests, this place will get a beer and wine license sometime soon.

Other Spitz reviews from LA foodblogs: the new to me Colorado Chow and la.foodblogging (they've changed the foccacia since these pics were taken--it's much thinner now).

Spitz: Home of the Doner Kabob
2506 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Help me find the best boba

My employer just moved our offices to LA's Koreatown, and it's a food bloggers' fantasy world. In addition to all of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants to explore, the neighborhood is filled with hip coffeeshops, most of which sell boba (typically, cold fruit or milk teas with tapioca balls inside).

The last time I had a drink with tapioca in it, I was approximately 13 and it was some mass-market drink with tiny little pearls floating around. I hated it. Now I'm older, wiser, more adventurous and determined to explore the world of drinks with solid foods inside. I've tried one so far but it was just fruit syrup (peach) blended with ice, and though I liked the big, black tapioca balls, the drink itself was a bit sugary for my tastes.

So, dear readers, I ask you: what's your favorite boba? Do you know a great place in Koreatown? If you don't live in LA, what flavors do you recommend? Help!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Roasted Tomato, Bell Pepper and Corn Salsa

Tomatos are magic food. They can ward off certain kinds of cancer, keep your eyes in good shape, help maintain your brains as you age, and boost your immune system. The magic properties result from tomatos' secret weapons: lycopene and antioxidants.

Even better, the fruit's magic powers increase when cooked (heat increases antioxidant availability) and since lycopene is fat-soluble, eating tomatos with oil can improve absorption. All this makes my Roasted Tomato, Bell Pepper and Corn Salsa a perfect addition to Sweetnicks weekly antioxidant recipe round-up, ARF/5-a-Day.

To make this salsa, or anything involving cored and seeded tomatos, the tomato shark is an indispensable tool. To take out the stem/core, one quick scoop to the top of your tomato does the trick. Next, to remove the seeds, cut the tomato in half, then scoop the seeds out from each side. You may need a few extra scrapes along the insides to catch a stray seed or two, but the majority will come out in your first try.

Roasted Tomato, Bell Pepper and Corn Salsa
(if you're spicy, add some jalepenos and if ya love raw onions, add those too!)

makes approx. 2 cups

6-7 medium tomatos, halved and seeded
2-3 medium bell peppers, halved (preferably red, yellow or orange)
olive oil
salt and pepper
3 ears of corn, raw kernels cut off
1/2 c. cilantro, roughly chopped
lime juice
chili powder
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the tomatos and bell peppers on it. Douse liberally with olive oil (use your hands to spread the oil across all veggies if necessary) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast tomatos and peppers in oven for 40 minutes. Turn heat up to 400 and roast for an additional 10 minutes to carmelize. Take out of oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a few swirls of olive oil, then add your corn kernels. Stir constantly until kernels start to brown. Remove from heat and put kernels in a large bowl. Set aside.

When tomatos and peppers are cool enough to touch, chop roughly and add to bowl with corn kernels. Mix in the cilantro. Add lime juice, chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to let flavors mingle. Serve with tortilla chips and a cold beer.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Whole Foods Goes Local: Sort-Of

The Whole Foods in Glendale, CA sells items from the following local farmers: Be Wise Ranch, Beck Groves, Cahuilla Farms, Cuyama Orchards, Goleta Valley Organics, Green Kingdom, Johannes Farms, Nagatoshi Organic Farms, New Union Mushroom Farm, Windrose Farms, Chino Valley Eggs, Mauk Family Farm

Last week, The Food Section reported that Whole Foods was increasing its commitment to local farmers and local foods. Today when I visited the store the change was obvious--at least in the signage. Placards plaster the windows, extolling the benefits of local eating and highlighting individual farmers.

In the produce section, every item's label indicates its state of origin (in a few instances, the city too) and how it's grown--conventional or organic. The store considers anything that has "traveled no more than--and often much less than--seven hours from the farm to our facility" locally grown. It also includes locally made products in the mix--bread, booze, salad dressings, even candles.

Though a list of local vendors is available by the cash register, the names of farmers aren't displayed on the labels. This is where it gets complicated for the consumer--I can read the list of farms represented, but I have no idea what produce comes from which farm. Overall, a step in the right direction for the store and I hope the commitment extends beyond the nice window-dressing.

Background Info or "So, why'd Whole Foods do it?"

In his recent bestseller, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan severely questions the environmental benefits of "big organic"--large corporate-esque farms that ship their products all over the world. He identifies the Whole Foods chain as a key player in "big organic" and critiques the store for not doing enough to support small, local farmers. In many passages in the book, Pollan lumps Whole Foods and Wal-Mart together in one phrase describing the villains.

After the book was published, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO wrote an open letter to Pollan defending the company and its practices (see Pollan's response and Mackey's response to the response). It's an interesting exchange and I think both men make valid points. Pollan's book definitely shook my world view and I'd highly recommend reading it. However, I think there's a continuum of virtue and we all should do the best that we can. I feel better about going to the farmers' market than Whole Foods, but I feel better about going to Whole Foods than Albertson's, and sometimes, in my busy life, that's what happens.

Everybody Must Get Stoned**

This time of year, our kitchen table fruit bowl brims with juicy stone fruit specimens--peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots--and my favorite--the pluot. The first week I lived in California, J introduced me to this hybrid and I was charmed. 2/3 plum, 1/3 apricot (2/3 apricot, 1/3 plum is an aprium), created by cross-pollination, the pluot resembles a plum, but has a sweeter flavor without the tartness of the typical plum peel. Of course, since it was created in the late 20th century, both fruit names are copyrighted. Ah, corporate farming.

Ripe, high-quality stone fruit tastes fabulous out of hand, but bake it in a little brown sugar and butter, and you have an equally good treat (if not better when your fruits are bit underripe). Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times printed a recipe for Plum Upside-Down Cake, and it's become a summer staple, though I use a mix of plums and pluots. The original has a few putzy steps that I've adjusted, making this a dessert you can whip up whenever the craving hits.

Plum and Pluot Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from the Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2004)

1/2 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 to 8 ripe plums and pluots (or peaches or nectarines)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut one-fourth cup butter into pieces and add it to a small saucepan or skillet. Heat over medium heat until the butter browns but does not burn. Pour the browned butter into a small bowl and refrigerate until the butter solidifies.

In a small bowl, mix the milk and vanilla. Set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. Remove it from the heat and add the brown sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-2-inch buttered cake pan, evenly coating the bottom of the pan.

To cut the plums in half, cut the fruit along its circumference through to the pit. Then, holding each 1/2 in one hand, twist gently but firmly until the top half comes off. Remove the pit from the bottom half, then cut each piece into 3 or 4 slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer of concentric circles, beginning at the outside edge of the pan, so they are touching but not overlapping. Cover the bottom of the pan, then arrange a second layer of fruit on top. Set aside while preparing the cake batter.

Beat the cooled browned butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg until blended.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder.

Fold the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture alternately with the vanilla milk.

Gently spoon the batter over the top of the sliced plums in the cake pan. Spread the batter over the fruit so all the fruit is covered and the batter is distributed to the sides of the pan.

Bake until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for a few minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen the edges. Put a serving plate on top of the cake and invert. Carefully remove the baking pan from the cake. Serve warm. Alternately, you can leave the cake in the pan and serve the upside-down cake right side up.

**I don't think Bob Dylan had peaches, plums and pluots in mind when he wrote the song that titles this post, but in my relatively straight-laced household, stone fruits will have to do.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Outside my office door: Wilshire Center Farmers' Market

My office just moved to Koreatown, and I'm discovering new culinary delights around every corner. On Fridays, from 11:30 to 3:30, on Mariposa between Wilshire and 6th, the Wilshire Center Farmers' Market springs up. When I stroll into work around 9 am, the vendors are beginning to unpack, and intrepid Korean grandmas immediately pounce on the best produce before the market even opens. By noon, it seems that the entire neighborhood has taken lunch at the same time to enjoy the bounty.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

When Lamb Gets Perky: Curry-Masala Burgers

I know Rachael Ray gets a lot of hate, and I'm not sure why. I've never seen her TV show, but I'm a huge fan of her newish magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray. I've read complaints from foodies that she uses too many prepared, processed foods but if you take even a cursory glance at her mag, you'd find 90% of her recipes have no cheese whiz in sight. Plus, she really emphasizes the ease of cooking--often encouraging readers to estimate when measuring and try different flavor combinations. Yeah, she's perky and uses some annoying shorthand (EVOO for extra-virgin olive oil), but c'mon, she's actually getting more people to use EVOO, and that ain't bad.

These Curry-Masala Lamb Burgers were inspired by a recipe in the July/August issue of her magazine. I get my ground lamb at NatureMart, a hippy-dippy natural food store in Los Feliz that sells meat from Harmony Farms. This specialty butcher in La Crescenta sells hormone-free beef and a range of exotic meats including kangaroo and wild boar sausage.

Curry-Masala Lamb Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

1 lb. ground lamb
Approx. 1 tbsp. curry powder
Approx. 1 tbsp. masala spice mix
salt and pepper
medium handful of cilantro, finely chopped
medium handful of mint, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely diced
squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 c. plain yogurt, preferably full-fat

In a large bowl, mix the lamb, curry powder, masala spice and salt and pepper well. Don't be afraid to use your hands! Form lamb into 4-5 patties, depending on how thick you like your burgers. Place patties on a plate, and set aside (you could put them in the fridge if you worry about these sorts of things, but it'll only be 5 minutes--I promise).

In a small bowl, mix the cilantro, mint, garlic and squeeze of lemon juice. Add the yogurt and stir until mixed. Set aside.

Coat lamb patties with a little olive oil and either cook in a cast iron skillet on the stove or on the grill. Either way, the patties will need about 3 minutes on either side.

Use whatever kind of buns you like--we used English muffins, which Rachael recommends pitas. Serve the patties with the sauce at the table and allow folks to add as much or as little yogurt sauce as they like. You know I'm gonna say it: yum-o.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Gourmet Goes Local

This month's Gourmet has two great articles about local eating. "Plow to Plate" focuses on farmer-chefs and restaurants with their own farms. It highlights Arrows in Ogunquit, ME, Cinque Terre in Portland, ME, Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY, and, from my home state, Roots Restaurant and Cellar in Milwaukee, WI.

The second article isn't positive, but it is illuminating. "Local Heros?" discusses the false promise of eating locally at many restaurants. The author complains of chefs that sing the praises of local eating, meanwhile hoping that patrons don't notice that the menu is full of items from the four corners of the world. I share his concern that the fad of local eating may inspire more flowery verbiage than fabulous cooking, but the article would have been stronger if he'd named the restaurants he critqued.

Gourmet's articles aren't online, so you'll have to pick up a copy. If you still want to read about local eating but don't want to shell out a few bucks, then check out this recent article by Los Angeles food legend Jonathan Gold in the LA Weekly, Certifiable.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Peanut Sesame Noodles

As I was mixing the sauce for this dish together last night, I got hung up on the peanut butter. The same stuff that pairs so wonderfully with strawberry jam works just as well with soy and ginger for a savory sauce. It can flavor spicy north African dishes or mix with chocolate, serve as a dip for celery or apples. I can think of few foods with such versatility.

I highly recommend using a natural peanut butter for this recipe. This means no Skippy; instead you want the non-high fructose corn syrup kind--available at Trader Joe's and health food stores. You'll get a richer, more peanuty flavor without the extra sweetner.

As for the noodles, you have lots of options, but I'm partial to yam soba (buckwheat) noodles. These light purplish-brown beauties have a sweet, nutty flavor, and provide a tasty contrast when mixed with plain wheat-flour somen noodles as I did. Most regular grocery stores in Los Angeles carry some form of Asian noodles, but I found the yam ones at Surfas and the others at a Thai market in my neighborhood.

Peanut Sesame Noodles
dinner for two, with lots of leftovers for the next day's lunch

4 tbsp. soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 inch square of fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp sugar
3-4 large spoonfuls natural peanut butter
1-2 dashes rice wine vinegar
2-3 dashes hot sauce (Tabasco or Srichacha)
1 tsp. salt
8-10 oz. Asian noodles, preferably soba or somen
2 tbsp. sesame oil
black and white sesame seeds

Mix the first 8 ingredients together in a nonreactive bowl and set aside.

Cook your noodles in a large pot of boiling water, following the directions on the package (probably for 3-5 minutes). Drain and rinse well with cold water. Return to pot and mix noodles with 2 tbsp. sesame oil.

If you want to eat your noodles cold, let them cool in the oil before mixing the peanut sauce with them. This will help the flavors stay bright. If you're eating them right away, mix the peanut sauce in right away and enjoy. Sprinkle sesame seeds on individual portions for extra flavor and crunch.