Friday, October 31, 2008

From My Plate to Yours

The best of this week's food blogs.

Smitten Kitchen gets the pretty picture award (again, see above): I don't know what this woman does to give me the gasp every time I go on her site, but she certainly knows how to give me some food envy. Her peanut butter bars, which she says are definitely not good for you, made me seriously want to stretch my calorie intake.

The slow cooker gets a makeover: I confess that I've had the stereotype that slow cookers aren't real cooks. What creativity is there in throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot and coming home to have it done already? But this post over at Epicurious could convince me otherwise.

I heart garlic: Don't ask why I've begun to speak in text message language, but I truly heart garlic. The Complete Book of Garlic made me happy that my hands routinely stink from chopping the savory herb.

A Martha Moment: Yes, I have had many days where the seemingly perfect, gorgeous idea lands on my brain -- though the execution doesn't always have the same flair. Chez Pim's Martha Moment involved a roast pig, butcher paper and some outdoor dining. Trust me, it looked far more elegant than it sounds.

And, a little eye candy for Halloween:

He's definitely not a meal, but this baby is deliciously beautiful. No, he's not mine, but if I were trying to pretend to be a "baby mama," my little cousin would be my first choice.

Come back next week for another "From My Plate to Yours."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bonsoir, La Dijonaise

La Dijonaise is a little cafe and boulangerie (aka bakery shop) tucked in the art district of Culver City, CA, an area that pulsates with "I could get discovered tonight" energy. Flanked with a sports bar with lines out the door and an Asian fusion restaurant, this cafe definitely doesn't sport itself as a mecca of haute cuisine, especially as their portion sizes were closer to Texan than Parisian. However, with a Parisian waiter names Nicolas, I was more than happy to be mesmerized by the way he sounded when he asked for my order and practice my shoddy French vocabulary.

As a friend and I sat and gabbed about careers, men and babies, we sipped still water and enjoyed the warm night air. Nicolas (my new bff) brought out crab cakes as a starter. Crab cakes I have usually enjoyed are usually dense and moist in consistency. These, which I devoured quickly, were surprisingly closer to cornbread in texture and lighter on the fish. Followed by salmon with dill sauce -- complete with a bed of long green beans and wild rice -- this little cafe won me over before we even hit dessert.

In between chomping and refusing to let my friend touch his food before I took pics, I couldn't help but grow thoughtful as recent events have brought some major life decisions to the forefront. Despite what many of my friends may think, I have a lot more cowardly lion in me than I would like to admit. Hence, I'm afraid, constantly battling between what's comfortable and familiar or deciding to leap into an unfamiliar (and potentially frightening situation). As I love being in control, rolling with change is not something that comes naturally to me.

Sometimes, the only adventures I like to take are edible. But anyone can change, right?

Dessert: Lest I get too deep, I hacked into the Napoleon and lemon tart with vigor, tossing aside my silent vow that I will only eat sweets on Saturday.

I let yesterday be Saturday.

Friday, October 24, 2008

From My Plate to Yours

The best of this week's food blogs.

A little gasp factor: I found the above pic of a pink lady cake over at Smitten Kitchen. Everything they post makes me makes me 1. gasp and 2. want to bite the computer.

Preparing for warm cider, stockings and knubbly sweaters: Orangette's description of the transition from summer to fall sounded as if it was a chapter from Wuthering Heights. Not necessarily a new post, but one that I can't stop reading over. And over.

An easy weekend breakfast: The Skinny Gourmet had my mouth watering with her olive and artichoke quiche muffins. Definitely better than the Trader Joe's frozen version.

Boire du petit-lait: Clotilde over at Chocolate and Zucchini continues in her weekly French idioms lesson. Sounds dry as toast? Only this woman can make French vocabulary interesting on a Friday. Check it out.

A yearning for home: Raphael Kushin over at Epicurious took me for a walk along Michigan Avenue today, taking me through the best of Chicago's hotel restaurants. His story took me back to the slow walks that I used to take throughout, enjoying the process and excitement of discovering new flavors and nooks -- whether it was 8 degrees or 80.

Come back next week for another "From My Plate to Yours."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recession Style Stir Fry

Last Sunday was one of those days in Los Angeles that only a good breeze can produce -- beautiful sunshine, a blue sky and air I can breathe versus see. In obedience to my financial counselor, I was on a quest to cut costs in my grocery shopping wherever possible (even though I silently thought if he expects me to cook boring food in an effort to save money, he's crazy). Armed with all the ingredients to make what I like to call "recession" style stir fry -- and full of happy hormones from a run along the beach -- I was ready to cook.

Consistent Pirouette readers know that cooking mistakes are part of my charm. After all, what fun would it be if I didn't burn something every so often or think that I was getting the correct ingredients for a soup, only to get home and realize I didn't have anything I needed? However, my latest gaffe didn't have anything to do with what I was cooking, but the fact that I got into an argument with a dear friend as I was in the middle of stirring a garden of vegetables and whole wheat noodles.

Making a casual observation to a friend turned into a 30 minute (tense) conversation, covering years of "you're also this way" and "I could say the same thing about yous." I maniacally focused on stirring the tomatoes and onion, while inside all I was thinking was, "How on earth did we get into this?" and verbally looking for a way out. Which never helps.

It took everything in me to not just focus on stirring so that I could reign in my emotions as my friend looked like she was going to burst into tears. The conversation ended in awkward silence -- me holding a wooden spoon tightly. The kitchen (and my hands) smelling like ginger and garlic. Little drops of tomato sauce on my favorite Northwestern sweater. And a kitchen full of vegetable peels.

We decided to part ways for the day -- she got leftovers, and I got my thoughts and clean-up.

Relationships are so wonderfully fragile (especially when we're hormonal) that they're like fine silken threads -- pulling it just a little too hard can break them. In those moments when gritting your teeth is better than saying anything, I try to remember that no one is really right when it comes to such matters. I always talk about how blessed I am with friends, but to be frank, that day wasn't a stellar example of me being the bigger person -- that didn't come until later.

Instead, I took solace in my whole wheat noodle stir fry -- as I watched "Chef Jeff" and cooks make city skylines out of cake.

Recession Style Stir Fry
(adapted from Budget Friendly Stir Fry,

1 small piece of ginger, peeled and chopped fine
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup of broccoli
1/2 an eggplant, chopped
1 chicken breast, cooked and chopped (I steamed mine, using a little garlic salt and lemon pepper)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 can of diced tomatoes
whole wheat noodles
soy sauce

1. Heat 2 tbs. of vegetable oil in a skillet.
(in a separate pot, boil about 3/4 a pack of wheat noodles in lightly salted water and cook until al dente)
2. Add ginger, onion, red pepper, eggplant and cook for about a minute, stirring continuously.
3. Add garlic, broccoli, and the can of diced tomatoes. Stir thoroughly.
4. Add about 3 tbs. (or more, depending on your taste buds) to the mixture.
5. Add the chicken and stir.
6. Last, add the cooked noodles. If you need to use a pair of tongs and a spoon to make sure the noodles are thoroughly moisturized, then do so.
7. Enjoy!

I actually did all the chopping the day before. But that doesn't make me a cheater.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why I Hate Rachael Ray

Don't get me wrong. I don't typically get too ticked at morning show hosts -- or use the word hate. Maybe it's just that I've been feeling a bit of morning show condemnation, now that I have a tv in my office that doesn't feature snow. Between Rachael's supposedly quick meals and Martha Stewart's "oh-so-simple" Tiger Lily costumes for babies (made out of orange felt and wire), I've about had it with things that take only 30 minutes, but really don't. Thus, after watching an episode of Rachael where she made stoop (a cross between stew and soup), I feel more than justified to write this post. Here are the 10 reasons why I hate Rachael:
1. She uses the word "EVOO."
2. She loves biscuits -- my arch nemesis.
3. Her kitchen is an odd cross between NY chic and the 1950s. Can anyone say frigidaire?
4. She is one of the many people Oprah has made famous -- I'm suffering from envy. Drat, if I can just that woman my manuscript, I'll never have to work another day.
5. She tries to pretend that she is just like us, clutzily (is that a word?) dropping food and telling us that she once set the kitchen on fire.
6. When I go to the supermarket, it's Rachael Ray mania. I can't even grab a gift card without seeing her smiling face holding a casserole dish.
7. Her dry laugh works my nerves in the morning before I've had my chai latte.
8. Her carpe diem attitude towards fatty foods is great, but tell that to my waistline.
9. She makes a mini-cheeseburger salad. This should be an oxymoron, but it's not.
10. Worst of all -- she makes me love her. Even with her cackle-like laugh and fetish for potatoes, I still rush to turn on her show every day. I just can't help myself.

Do you have food hosts you love to hate?

Friday, October 10, 2008

From My Plate to Yours: Election '08 Edition

Besides having a momentary panic about whether my roommates and I needed to buy canned goods and quarantine ourselves to the house, the state of the economy didn't really take a toll on me this week (unlike Wall Street). Like the rest of the country, I was consumed with the debate -- and was curious to see who (as I like to say) would bring his "A-game." Unfortunately, I do think McCain brought his A -- and I don't even like the man.

In the midst of all the money, war and healthcare talk, the toll the election and the economy are taking on the food world was buzzing in the blogs. Here's a quick recap:

Update: A Detroit pizzeria is offering McCain supporters free pizza if they trade in their lawn signs. Weird.

Steven Colbert gave his laughing audience a rundown of the fluctuating Dow. The only stock to rise on Sept. 29's historic drop? Campbell's.

Michael Park of Epicurious told us why a gourmet should care at all about November 4, namely that the artichoke hearts you love to prepare may not be so accessible depending on the man (or woman) in office.

McCain and Obama now have chocolates that would-be supporters (or haters) can buy. Blogger Heather Tyree was vehemently accused of using her blog for political ends. I said get over it -- it's just chocolate.

All four Prez/VP candidates have burgers that bear their name -- from Sarah Palin's hockey puck sliders to Biden's Bluehen-Footinmouth. McCain's burger was the only one that didn't have a cool name -- I wonder what the Early Show was trying to say?

Who knew food could get so political?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Taste of Seattle

When I was a little girl, I used to stick my nose out of the car window to smell the bread baking at the Wonder Bread factory on Seattle's Jackson Street. I'm sure passersby thought that I looked like a dog. I, on the hand, loved the smell so much that my grandmother would drive me by the factory on purpose just so I could take a sniff.

I haven't been back to the Emerald City for more than 15 years, avoiding family rifts that are better left unspoken, but -- needless to say -- must be dealt with now. When food blogger Esther Sung mentioned an upcoming trip to Seattle and gave a shot out to ask for coffee shop and restaurant recommendations, many memories spiked like little earthquakes in my mind -- some with pain, others (admittedly) happy. Thus, this post is born out of that moment -- that sweet shaft of pain through my chest that told me her story struck a nerve.

My food memories of the city are simple ... I grew up watching my 5-foot grandmother, an expert southern cook, give a pinch of this and a dash of that, and emerge from the kitchen with a banquet. Hey, no pressure, Pirouette, as you grow as a cook ...

She used to begin the rue for her gumbo at 6 in the morning on holidays. As I cracked crab legs and enjoyed the dish she was famous for, I didn't realize until last Christmas how much work it took to make. What took her three hours took me five -- and I had a sous, two cookbooks and her on speed dial.

These are the little threads that hold me to the city.

I am going back in just a few weeks, ready to see the skyline, smell fresh air, hit up a few raved-about restaurants and face my past. More pics and reviews to follow ... as well (I hope) a closed door on some longstanding issues.

P.S. I am on the hunt for some of the best restaurants and cafes, because I have three days to do a lot of eating. Any suggestions?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just a Little Tequila ...

I lost my eyebrows this weekend.

Just kidding. But when I saw a recipe on Epicurious for Tequila Shrimp, which required me to light the alcohol on fire in the pan, I will admit I was a little bit terrified. Couple that with the fact that I -- pretty much an only wine-drinking Christian -- went to the store, bought a large bottle of white tequila and a box of matches and brought it home to my new roommates (at 2 in the morning on a Saturday), I must say the experience was interesting. I convinced them that I was not a closet alcoholic, but rather, that I use alcohol for cooking purposes only.

My weekend was filled with the typical runaround that characterizes my days off:

1. Get hair done -- check
2. Balance the checkbook that hasn't been done in a week -- check
3. Wax eyebrows that look like Groucho Marx's -- check
4. Neurotically check food websites for what I want to cook -- and plan when I can make a mad dash around the store -- check

To multi-task, I roped my bff into shucking and "deveining"/"depooping" a pound of shrimp for the dish that I was so eager to light on fire. Maybe I am an undercover pyromaniac -- whatever -- but like the nerd that I am, I kept telling everyone that I got to light the alcohol in the pan. I was so excited that I put more tequila than the recipe required just so I could light it twice.

All in all, the recipe had to be tweaked a bit in order to bring out that famous "bite" that the recipe author swore it would have. But once the improvising was done, the white tequila added a unique flavor. Coupled with fettuccine, the shrimp was the perfect way to end my Sunday -- carbs and a double chick-flick: "Meet Joe Black" and "Forget Paris."

Tequila Shrimp
(adapted from
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup white or reposado tequila
3/4 cup crema or sour cream
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon garlic salt
About a palm size minced onion

Toss shrimp with kosher salt, 3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper, garlic salt and onion.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté shrimp, turning, until pink and just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add tequila, then increase heat to medium-high. Tilt skillet over gas burner to ignite tequila (or ignite with a long match; use caution, as flames may shoot up high). Cook, shaking skillet gently once or twice, until flames subside. Remove from heat and stir in crema. Serve sprinkled with scallion.

Friday, October 3, 2008

From My Plate to Yours

Confession: There are few things I enjoy more than reading a description of a good dish, food experience or a well-written recipe. Fortunately for me, I have the privilege of coming across food writers daily who inspire me to new heights of culinary creativity and writing -- who take a souffle from a batch of eggs to a waltz or a shrimp recipe to a sublime experience.

I'm not kidding.

I decided not to hog all of the food blogs I consume (you won't get me to admit how many blogs I read -- it borders on shame). Thus I present to you "From My Plate to Yours," a collection of the best of this week's food blogs. Judging by what made the cut, I would definitely say I had France on the brain this week, as every article that struck me either mentioned the country or reminded me of it in some way:

David Lebovitz consistently get me into trouble by posting something delish that I am all of sudden desperate to make -- from gelato to fresh pesto. His gorgeous pics of cheesecake brownies (see above) made me want to run to the store and buy the ingredients (I settled for showing all my co-workers the recipe), and his description of the French response to cheesecake, "le cheesecake is always spoken of with a reverence normally reserved for the finest cheeses and most exclusive wines" made me laugh. He never disappoints.

In southwest France, Kate Hill's one-paragraph description of her Gascony home made me want to see its beauty in the fall: golden leaves, dew, that first crispness in the air and foods like pumpkins, mushrooms and pears that I've been waiting to be in season all year.

And while I was happy that Chocolate & Zucchini is having its fifth anniversary party, I must admit that I was a little bitter that the soiree was (sigh) in Paris. Clotilde, I wish I could hop a plane this week to meet you, say congrats and thanks for all your insightful tips and fun stories.

It's funny how reading all these blogs made me remember how much I missed Paris -- a city that I was in for only eight days but whose culture and food I can still taste and remember. I was able to eat bread three times a day and not feel guilty. A simple breakfast of yogurt and fruit never tasted so fresh. And the wine I enjoyed held a category of its own.

I hope I will be landing in France again soon. But for now, I will settle for singing "La Vie en Rose" in my Kia and promising myself yet again to order Rosetta Stone's French edition. I gotta grow beyond saying "Where is the bathroom?" in French.