Monthly Archives: September 2006

spinach crisis hits home

Zachary's stuffed pizza

The spinach crisis is a sad thing. It is an indicator of the sad and unsanitary working conditions of farm workers. It is sad thing for so many spinach farms that have had to pull their crops and suffer great losses, a sad thing for vegetarians who rely on spinach in their diet as a main source of calcium and other nutrients. A sad thing for restaurants that have pulled spinach off their menus.

But–it has not been too sad for me. You see, I am not a spinach fan. I have not really missed it, not even in the fom of creamed spinach.

Tonight, the spinach crisis hit home. I went to Zachary’s pizza and there it was, a sign that said, “We will not be offering our Spinach and Mushroom pizza until further notice.” Zachary’s spinach and mushroom stuffed pizza is their signature dish, a pizza beyond compare. What would I order in lieu of my usual spinach and mushroom? I opted for a concoction of mushroom and artichoke hearts.

Come back, spinach!


The past weekend in New York was a whirlwind of planes, taxis, walking for umpteen hours and finally crashing out in a low-star hotel in Soho. My partner and I, along with a very good friend, took a little weekend trip to celebrate my upcoming birthday (which is actually today, for those who wish to know 🙂

None of this would have been worthwhile without some kind of goal – a purpose, a mission, a raison d’etre – and mine was to EAT. This was to be the first of, hopefully, many pilgrimages to NYC – the gastronomic capital of the East Coast (with San Francisco being the West Coast equivalent, natch).

Our first refueling stop in the East Village (after trolling through the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy – more on that later) was S’MAC – run by Sarita Ekya and her husband Caesar. Sarita, an expat Canadian, opened the macaroni and cheese destination earlier this year to a rainy opening night – and crowds that ran around the block. The day we were there Sarita and her staff treated us to excellent service, amazingly friendly smiles and the time that is not normally taken by proprietors to share the experience with their patrons.

All for good reason! At S’MAC you can order one of about 20 different macaroni and cheese dishes ranging from Cajun to All-American to Indian styled; if you don’t find one to your liking? Make your own! Order from one of three sizes ranging from Nosh (a hearty serving for one) to Major Munch to Mongo (family sized, surely).

My friend Caterina had the Cajun with andouille sausage, peppers, cheese and a great topping of breadcrumbs (for, really, what is mac and cheese without breadcrumbs?) My partner made his own with parsley and bacon whilst I went for the rosemary/andouille sausage combo.

Not only is the dish amazingly tasty but served in a portion sized cast iron skillet that helps keep the entire dish warm till you’re finished is just too cute for words.

The space itself is creative, orange and yellow splashes enliven the exposed brick and the tiny open kitchen lets you see right to the heart of the operation. No reheating only going on here; sauce, noodles and fillings are combined a la minute and topped (or not, your choice) before being hit with the heat of the salamander to crisp up the topping.

With our bellies full of amazing mac and cheese and a beautifully warm welcome from Sarita (and a promise to stay in touch), we headed out into the warm New York autumn, fueled for what ended up being a marathon 200 block trek uptown and back. More on that to come (along with my dinner at Babbo!)

Food Network for 72 hours

Bill Buford, author of the must-read-book Heat, has a fantastic article in the New Yorker on the Food Network. Yes, the man watched the Food Network for 72 straight hours.

nougat montelimar

nougat montelimar recipe, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

My husband and I love nougat–some of you have seen this presented as a petit four, and some of you have seen this as an individually wrapped candy in Persian stores. It also comes in large bars called “torrone” in Italy. Some of you think that nougat is that stuff inside a Snickers bar (that’s not really nougat).

From a distance, it looks like a white marshmallow dotted with pistachio nuts, but as you bite into one, you know it’s something wholly different: firm and chewy yet with a taste as light as air, sweet and fleeting on the tongue. Depending on the recipe, you may taste a hint of rosewater or bite into a candied cherry, too. It should taste sweet but not too sweet.

That, my friends, is NOT the kind of nougat I made the other night.

nougat cooling

As a believer in “learning from one’s mistakes,” I thought I’d share this experiment with you. Plus, I think it’s always entertaining to watch other people’s cooking mishaps–a good story is one in which something goes wrong (really, when was the last time you watched a soap opera where nothing ever went wrong?). So I hope you’re entertained (and don’t think I’m a total moron for screwing up nougat)!

I think I invented another kind of candy, a result of some hapless alchemy on my part. I was entranced by “The Cook’s Book” and its recipe for nougat montelimar, and made substitutions that I now regret. Instead of clear honey, I put in a brownish wildflower honey. I halved the recipe, too, not measuring the ingredients with much precision (did I add to much honey? I think I did). I added rosewater, because I like rosewater in my nougat (though to my benefit I substituted it for water).

The result: a very gooey, brownish goop that would not solidify, even when placed in the refrigerator overnight.
Its taste is not too off–the honey flavor is strong, but the concoction does resemble nougat…but it ends there. I will try again! I have to trust this recipe, as this cookbook is getting some rave reviews. Candy, like baking, is a precision sport.

(and Hallelujah! An Update on my nougat adventures: successful Persian nougat!)
Recipe follows…

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a lentil soup for writers

saturday dinner: Alexandra’s Greek-style lentil rice soup, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

What is it about writing that makes me hungry for beans and rice? Some of my favorite meals at a writing colony this past summer involved beans and rice. Maybe it’s the protein, maybe it’s the simplicity of one meal in a pot. Maybe it’s the idea of being able to spoon food into my mouth with one hand, while typing on the other–oh, if it were only true that I do get on such writing streaks that I cannot stop to pause even to eat! But, if that were to happen, I couldn’t do that with steak.

So when my friend offered to make a lentil soup during a weekend writing retreat, I happily consented. We were up in the mountains, with the temperatures falling below freezing point at night–the idea of lentil soup seemed so fitting. Autumn hits the Sierras first, and I’m looking forward to many more soup nights over the next months when Autumn arrives in the Bay Area too! Oh, and hopefully lots more productive writing weekends dedicated to my fiction.

I have her permission to type up her recipe for a Greek-style lentil rice soup here. I say Greek-STYLE because we missed a couple of the ingredients that would make it more authentic. Namely, we were missing a splash of vinegar that normally would brighten this dish and add a tanginess that according to my (Greek) friend would make it wholly Greek.

Recipe follows…

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The Sober Alchemist: non-alcoholic mixed drinks

lemonade punch drink, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

It’s hard to keep mankind in familiar territory for too long; we have a history of discovery (after all, we did make fire which led to cooking which led to…um, this food blog?).

This tendency towards invention definitely shines in the realm of beverages–the flavors and combinations have multiplied in packaged drinks. In addition to orange juice, there are a dozen kinds of “nectars” and “mixed citrus” juices. In the soda aisle, there is an even wider variety of flavors. There’s even a “Chardonnay” non-alcoholic drink out by Vignette that uses chadonnay grapes for a fizzy and delicious grape soda. The world keeps pushing the envelope of drink flavors, as if we want to introduce or invent a new flavor that does not exist out there.

These days, in the world of non-alcoholic mixed drinks, we have a lot more options than a Shirley Temple. (Though I adore a Shirley Temple). My husband loves to order an “Arnold Palmer,” which is a drink that is half iced tea, half lemonade. He likes to make this at home too, with Tejava and Paul Newman’s Virgin Lemonade. At home, I like to mix lemonade or limeade with sparkling water.

For years, I’ve compulsively mixed drinks at any fast food soda fountain. My favorite is half Sprite and half lemonade. Or half Sprite and half fruit punch. Do these have names? I don’t know, they might. I’m not the first to practice alchemy at a soda machine, judging by the “Mosstrooper” (root beer with a squirt of 7up).

If you want to make a new flavor on your own, it’s simple enough. And what better way to indulge the mad scientist streak in our humanity? The worst thing that can happen is that you come up with an awful tasting drink. 🙂 And the best case scenario? Well, you will have discovered something new and wonderful.

To help you along, here is a link to non-alcoholic mixed drinks recipes. My favorites are the fizzy, non-alcoholic drinks.


Ici opened on Labor day weekend.  So far, i have sampled both ice creams cakes (two are available – one with fruit flavors and one with chocolate flavors), the ice cream sandwiches and the coffee bonbons.  All are quite delicious.  The bonbons don’t look it, but carry quite a strong coffee punch, so be warned.  And I found the current (flavors change depending on what’s in season) fruit ice cream cake to be a revelation.  The base is vanilla chiffon, then it’s layered with strawberry ice cream, blackberry sorbet and creme fraiche ice cream.  It’s like three layers of tanginess, but each with its own complexities.  I’d never had anything like the creme fraiche ice cream… I suppose the mascarpone sorbet I’d made some time ago, or Christine’s buttermilk ice cream would be similar, but it managed to be milky, tangy and nutty at the same time.  De-lish.  Go check it out soon, but get there before I do, or there won’t be anything left! 

“This is Just to Say:” aka a post on almond-plum buckle

almond-plum buckle, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

Now is the time for plums, sweet and juicy and oh so tempting. Plums are so inviting that they are the subject of William Carlos Wlliam’s famous poem, This is Just to Say, which contains the famous lines, “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold”

Everytime I think about plums, I think about those lines (I’m a writer AND a foodie, what can I say?). I also think about the plum tree in my childhood backyard, frilly with the lace of blossoms in spring, and then laden with the shiny purple fruit in summer, hanging like so many extravagant earrings off the branches. We fought the birds for the juiciest fruit. “A bird nibbled on that one. It’s probably the tastiest one of all.” We were so greedy for the fruit that we cut out the bird bites and ate the rest of the fruit. Yes, the birds knew how to pick the best plums. Eventually, the branches, bent heavy with the fruit, straightened out until the tree became utterly normal looking by winter. Plums and their trees can only be magical for so long, I guess.

Alas, I developed an allergy to plums and all stone fruit a few years ago, and now I can only indulge in them when they are cooked. So I keep my eyes peeled for a good plum recipe.

almond-plum buckle

Here is a good recipe. It is called an almond-plum buckle (and I think you can make it with other fruit to great success). I have made it a few times now, to great acclaim. It is a fairly easy cake to make, with a very fun name, “buckle.” (A buckle is a dessert cake that has fruit placed on top of cake batter…durring baking the cake rises and the fruit “buckles” in, hence the name “buckle.”) One time, I didn’t have almond extract, so I did what I love to do: I adapted the recipe. I put a splash of kirschwasser in place of almond extract, and it was just delicious, the hint of cherry flavor from the brandy gave the almond and plums an extra punch. But it’s also quite excellent according to the original recipe (found on epicurious).


Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1/2 cup whole almonds (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (one time I put in a splash of cherry brandy in place of almond extract and it worked quite well)

1 1/4 pounds plums (about 8 medium), halved, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (you will actually need a LOT fewer plums than this! I have never used more than 4 medium plums for this recipe, where did they get EIGHT?)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spray 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round.

Finely grind almonds in processor. Transfer to medium bowl; whisk in flour, baking powder, and salt. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add 1 cup sugar; beat until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract, then flour mixture just until incorporated.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread evenly and smooth top with spatula. Gently press plum slices, flesh side down, into batter in spoke pattern around outer rim and center of cake, placing close together. Mix cinnamon and 4 teaspoons sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle over plums.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 20 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen. Invert cake onto platter; remove parchment paper. Place another platter atop cake. Using both hands, hold both platters firmly together and invert cake, plum side up. Cool cake completely. Cut into wedges.

almond-plum buckle

p.s. Someone who ate this cake said it reminded her of Marion Burros’ famous plum torte. What–I wondered, was this recipe to end all recipes? I googled “marion burros plum tarte recipe” and found this fantastic write up on The Wednesday Chef. I am so utterly intrigued and must try this out. Oh, and still make time to make the clafouti I’ve been dying to try! And post all the food write ups I’ve got queued up! Oh, and write my novel!


Want to write for Slashfood? Thought I’d pass the word.

Foodie Gossip!

There is a very juicy article about Chez Panisse in this month’s Vanity Fair.  Just so you don’t have to flip to the Baby Suri photo spread, I’m posting a link to it here.