Monthly Archives: September 2007

Mayonnaise lover: Garlic Aioli

aioli in progress

There are those who hate mayonnaise. Absolutely HATE it–will explicitly state to a sandwich maker, “NO MAYONNAISE!!!” (yes, with the three exclamation marks). In fact, maybe a few of you have stopped reading the article at the mere mention of mayonnaise.

A friend of mine once refused to eat scrambled eggs on a backpacking trip because instead of butter, I used mayonnaise in the pan (note to backpackers: those packets of mayonnaise are GREAT–since mayonnaise is really lots of oil, it makes for a great butter/oil substitute in cooking). By then, if she hadn’t been told there was mayonnaise in the food, she would not have known–it was long past being mayonnaise and had broken down to its essential oil. But you see, that’s how much she hates mayonnaise. I told my husband, “Keep the mayonnaise hush hush in the future!”

And then there are those who cannot imagine a sandwich without that creamy dressing. A sandwich without mayonnaise–is just…DRY. Hand me a sandwich without mayonnaise and I will just not eat it. If you put mustard (sweet or French’s) in it, that’s ok–but my palate will still be missing the mayonnaise.

I like Miracle Whip (yes, I count that as “mayonnaise), Best Foods Sandwich Spread (with the relish! Relish is another key ingredient in all my sandwiches), Hellman’s/Best Food mayonnaise, and most recently, I’ve fallen in love with this wonderful French garlic aioli that comes in a small plastic tub. The name of this aioli escapes me and of course, I can’t look at the container because–well, you’ll know when you read on.

So when I opened my refrigerator the other day, determined to make myself a sandwich for lunch, you can only imagine my dismay when I realized that I had NO mayonnaise in the fridge.

What to do what to do? I wanted to eat without delay, but didn’t have time to go out and fetch a jar of mayonnaise (or what I REALLY wanted: a jar of beloved garlic aioli) from the store.

And by now, you know that a sandwich isn’t a sandwich to me, without some mayonnaise.

So I decided to make myself some aioli. Yes I would.

Ah–break the eggs, peel the garlic! And most fun of all: drizzling in the olive oil…

aioli in progress

And watching the alchemy occur–from mixed eggs that looked ready to scramble in a pan into a light whipped…mayonnaise. It’s that simple and miraculous. Really!

homemade garlic aioli

And in the end, just a few minutes later? I made my sandwich. Happiness! Even better: I got to EAT it. Joy!

sandwich made with garlic aioli

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Plums and figs oh my!

kadota figs and prune plums

While Susan is bravely (and successfully) navigating the landscape of the South Beach Diet (which I presume is filled with the image of bikinis and warm beaches ala South Beach Miami)…I present to you my fascination with plums and figs in recent days. Ah yes–for every disciplined person, there is another who eats carbs and sweets with abandon. And that person, my dear readers, is ME. I gladly take that role!

Even though I’m totally allergic to stone fruit, the memory of a sweet plum haunts me at all times during plum season. I loooove plums. Not so much peaches or apricots, but I dearly miss plums (and cherries). And so occasionally, I will still sneak a bite of the heart shaped purple fruit, letting the juice of it fill my mouth, even if it means an itchy swollen throat afterwards. I am not advocating this behavior (if you are allergic to a food, you should avoid it), but I am telling you that this is how much I love plums.

But the days of eating an entire basket of ripe royal purple plums are gone. To eat that quantity, I must cook the stone fruit and its poison away. This usually means a crisp or crumble or pie or galette or buckle. Sometimes, however, a girl just doesn’t want all that pastry and flour and butter.

Why can’t the fruit stand alone? Sometimes, all I want is a plum, in its simplest form possible.

kadota figs and prune plums

Just look at that image–the deep purple prune plums coupled with the light green and amber kadota figs are a color palette to behold. (Thank you Eric, for giving the shout out for prune plums–for when I spotted them at the store this week, I grabbed them–ohhhh they are sooo gooood). Not just to behold, but to remember forever. How fresh how beautiful! I always believe the best color palettes are found in nature, not in a sample card of Ralph Lauren or Sherwin Williams paints.

This is the season for prune plums and figs. September. A sweet harvest to kick off Rosh Hashanah (when sweet fruits are so fitting in ushering a sweet new year) and welcome Autumn with its bounty.

And how can one consume them?

If you’re like me and are looking for non-crust/pastry recipes, you can poach them–in red wine and sugar and balsamic vinegar. And serve them with a dollop of mascarpone cheese. Mrmmm. This makes for a tart and sweet mouthful.

poached kadota figs and prune plums with mascarpone

The plums took on a new kind of character when poached, transforming from a cool, sweet bite to something juicy and warm, just like the transition from Summer to Fall. Of course, if you know me, you’ll know that I prefer a fresh and simple plum. We always want what we can’t have.

Or you can broil and caramelize some figs and eat them with honey and mascarpone. I grew up with a fig tree, laden heavy with figs in September, whose fruit would drop on the ground, much to the delight of my parents’ desert tortoise who ravished them. We ate the fruit straight off the tree, and so perfect were they that I never thought of cooking them.

When I told Connie that I have never eaten a cooked fig, her eyes opened wide in surprise and out of her mouth, immediately, popped a description of a fig perfectly caramelized and served with creamy rich white mascarpone that made me feel like I was missing something in my life.

caramelized kadota figs with honey and mascarpone

“Just cut a fig into fourths, but not all the way so that it looks like a flower, sprinkle with sugar, put under the broiler, and then serve with honey and mascarpone!” she wrote in an email to me, when I asked her exactly how to make them.

Oh yes, I was missing out. Let’s take another, closer look at the figs. Aren’t they beautiful?

caramelized kadota figs with honey and mascarpone

A new year for some of you, and a new season for all of us, looms ahead. And I’m happy to say that I’m putting my hands on as many sweet things as possible, starting with plums and figs.

Some Diet!

Well, with much kicking and screaming, I commenced the South Beach diet about a month ago. I was not at all happy about this, but it felt like a necessary step, plus my other family members were doing it, so I gave it a try. Much to my shock, it not only is NOT torture, but it’s working. I’m becoming acquainted with some pieces from my wardrobe from long ago, and the food! The food is not. Bad. At. All.

After the initial cold-turkey first four days or so, when I was very sad and freaked out, I got used to the lean meat/vegi thing. It helped a lot that we could snack on cheese, since I am a cheese maniac.

But I thought I would share here some of our favorites from the last month.

One of our big surprises was pork loin. The first thing one does on the SBD is to carefully study the list of “allowed foods” because it isn’t a long one. I noticed that “pork loin” was A-OK. We have never eaten a pork loin, let alone prepared one in our own home, and the sound of it was not appetizing to certain family members (especially my husband, who swore off pork forever after hearing the sound of pigs being slaughtered outside our window on Christmas Eve in Estelรญ, Nicaragua almost twenty years ago). But I could not bear the idea of being sentenced to a life of chicken breast and salmon, so…

porkloin.jpgI remembered an episode of Take Home Chef, that goofy show where the young blonde chef accosts people in grocery stores and then follows them home and shows them how to make some awesome meal. He jumped out of the car about a block from this woman’s house and tore an armful of rosemary of one of her neighbor’s bushes. Then he brought it home, soaked it in water for a while, rubbed the big hunk of meat (I think it was actually a leg of lamb, not pork loin) with garlic, salt and pepper, wrapped it all in rosemary and put it on the grill. The family went nuts over it. It looked so good, I could practically smell it through the television screen.

WE happen to have a monster rosemary bush in our front yard. It’s about the size of a small buffalo, lying down. I took to it with a pair of shears and hacked off an armload of very fragrant little branches. I soaked it, then slathered the pork loin with garlic, salt and pepper. I tied the pork loin up in the rosemary and threw it on the grill. Guess what? The family went nuts. We’ve had it twice now and it does not fail to garner amazing groans of delight. For an extra touch, I put a small dollop of pesto on the pork and mmmmm, is that good.

chickenparm.jpgThanks to some online South Beach Diet forums, I’ve also found creative ways to get around the no-carbs thing. It’s actually only NO carbs right at the start, but then it turns into low-carb, complex carb.

My family really likes chicken parmesan, but I thought that was out forever due to the breadcrumb thing. NO! But someone suggested using almond meal (ie., crushed almonds) to bread the chicken. We tried it a few days ago. Mmmmmmm. Very delicious. Add some no-sugar tomato sauce and some part skim mozzarella, and … yum.

This isn’t so bad at all. And incidentally, I’ve lost 14 lbs eating this good stuff!

Frozen yogurt for Summer’s last hurrah

homemade frozen yogurt with mango

I know we’ve hit the dog days of Summer, those last few weeks of the season filled with fire and heat, a finale to end all finales–and it all coincides with Labor Day weekend, often considered the end of summer, even though summer does not officially end until September 22.

These days, the sun dawns warm, the day gets hot, then hotter. The vegetables in the garden limply bow their stems by the middle of the day, the curtains are drawn, and evening is a welcome, festive, and joyous time. In the Bay Area (and even in Berkeley and San Francisco where the fog is markedly absent), we’re going through a heat wave that is not letting us forget what time of year it is. We’ve had watermelon chilling in the fridge on a permanent basis, and for once, I wish we had an automatic ice cube maker.

I find the weather quite frightful, and so my eyes are turning towards all things icy. This means taking out my ice cream maker and putting the freeze on the heat. Or rather, leaving the bowl of my ice cream maker in the freezer on a permanent basis, ready at any time to be of service.

I was recently tasked by my editor at the magazine where I freelance to write an article on Pinkberry and frozen yogurt–and so these days, I’ve been curious about frozen yogurt. I grew up in Southern California, during the first wave of the frozen yogurt craze in the 1980s–going to Penguin’s and eating a yogurt piled high like soft serve, with toppings (m&m’s, heath bar crunch, nuts, etc., etc.) galore. The yogurt had a subtle tang, but seemed ashamed of its yogurt roots. Its intent was to taste like ice cream. And somehow, I found it “neither nor there.”

Oh, and how could I forget about Yogurt Park in Berkeley’s southside neighborhood, which I frequented so often as a college freshman? But that too, screamed “I want to be ice cream” more than anything.

Now it seems that frozen yogurt has taken on a pride of its own, embracing its tangy yogurt identity. It no longer feels compelled to taste like ice cream–and I like it much better this way, a rich and tangy and sweet dessert that stands all on its own.

homemade frozen yogurt with mango

And since there is no Pinkberry up here in the Bay Area, I thought I would make frozen yogurt at home, using David Lebovitz’s rich frozen yogurt recipe. (Again, his ice cream “cookbook” Perfect Scoop is The Bible of ice creams, sorbets, granitas, and frozen yogurts. I have yet to try a recipe of his that is a dud. Indeed, all the recipes are stellar).

It was so good that when I made it this morning before any of the household guests woke up…I ate some for breakfast, with some mango. I couldn’t resist. You can eat it plain, too, of course.

Oh, and for the record–that’s mango with the yogurt…a delicious, juicy, Kent mango (my favorite variety).

Recipe follows after the jump…
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