Saturday, November 1, 2008

En Vitesse: In the Hamburger Patch

I've said it before and I'll say it again.
I love a perfect burger.
Yes, I love hamburgers SO much, I would steal them.
Sooo I had to be this guy for Halloween:

But if you REALLY want to be scared, check this out!
WTH!?! (Thanks for the tip Marni!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Vintage Halloween Treats

These festive Americana party treats always reminds me of a more innocent time when caramel apples and unwrapped candy could safely be accepted by trick-or-treaters. And since I tend to prefer my Halloween in vintage style, try these recipes to add some old school charm to your masked soiree.

Goblin Gorp
My favorite! And more than just a kiddy mix to eat out of dixie cups. Last year for a Halloween-themed dinner party that I co-organized, cellophane-bagged Goblin Gorp sat on each plate as a festive place holder and take-away.
I've updated the classic recipe with a few twists of my own.
Makes about 4 qts. of mixture.

2 1/2 qts. popcorn or kettlecorn
2 c. mini pretzels
1 c. salted peanuts
1 c. plain M&M's or Reese's Pieces
1 c. candy corn
1 c. Good & Plenty candy
1/2 c. sunflower meats (not seeds)

In a large bowl, mix and toss all ingredients together. Serve in dixie cups or wrapped in clear cellophane party bags.

Online I also found a zesty taco-flavored version with pumpkin seeds that intrigues the midwesterner in me..

Pumpkin Punch
My version of this simple (adult) witches brew, served in a real pumpkin shell.

1 large pumpkin
1 part real apple cider
2 parts ginger ale
1 part dark rum
vanilla bean ice cream

Cut a large opening in the top of the pumpkin using a knife and scrape the inside until it is clean and smooth (don't throw away the seeds! See recipe below). Wash inside if desired (though I prefer to let the pumpkin essence meld with the punch). Fill with rum, cider and ginger ale. Add enough ice to keep it cold and top with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Once the froth forms on the surface grind fresh nutmeg on top and serve.
And if you wanna get REAL crazy add some dry ice for effect (always use heavy gloves to handle the dry ice and place on a plate in the bottom of your pumpkin).

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 300°F. Remove seeds from pumpkin using large spoon. To separate seeds from pumpkin fiber, place mixture in large bowl and fill with cold water. Stir mixture, and seeds will float to surface. Remove seeds with slotted spoon and pat dry on paper towels. Place seeds in bowl and coat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Spread on foil-lined baking sheet, coated with non-stick spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I sometimes make several batches with different flavors: chili powder for a kick or curry powder for an exotic twist. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Goblin Cupcakes
My mother used to make these for Halloween carnivals and bake sales when I was a kid. I loved the texture, and the ridiculously brilliant marriage of cream cheese and chocolate.

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops yellow food coloring
1 c. chocolate chips
Combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, salt, orange peel and food coloring in a small bowl. Beat until smooth. Add chocolate chips. Set aside.

1 1/2 c. unsifted all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. vinegar
Combine ingredients in order listed. Blend well on low speed. Fill 24 paper muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cheese filling onto each cupcake. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Happy Gobblin'!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Weekend morning experimentation has lead me to many of my favorite recipes. Last Saturday's hangover lead me to this enjoyable rich brunch treat. I have yet to find a cottage cheese pancake recipe that beats my old roommates', but this is probably the closest I've come.

1 c. flour
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 beaten egg
1 c. milk
2 tbsp. oil (safflower)
1 c. cottage cheese
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Splash of orange juice

3 ripe plums, sliced
1 lemon, sliced into wheels
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tbsp. Apricot preserves
Powdered sugar

Start off making a batter like any other.. In a batter bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In a med mixing bowl combine the egg, milk, oj and cooking oil. Add egg mixture to dry mixture, stir just til moistened. Fold in the cottage cheese.
For standard size pancakes, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot greased griddle or cast iron skillet. Flip when the edges bubble and dry.
In a seperate skillet, heat a tbsp of butter and add the sliced plums and lemon. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, add the nutmeg and let simmer. After a minute or two stir in the apricot preserves. Once warm and carmelized, spoon onto the pancakes and sift powdered sugar to finish.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voyager Bien: Eugene, OR

The other day my mom sent me a Budget Travel survey link to submit what my "Perfect Day In Eugene" would be. After filling it out, I figured what the heck, might as well post my answers on the blog for any prospective visitors..

My Perfect Day
A brisk walk down Pearl Street from my old historic home (Emil Koppe House) hugging Skinner's Butte lands one at my favorite bakery for laid-back morning ambiance, Palace Bakery. If you're on the go though, you can't go wrong with a hazelnut croissant from Eugene City Bakery and a drive-through Dutch Bros. Coffee.
Walking or biking along the Willamette River is a lovely way to bypass downtown (also a great place to pick berries in the summer) to get to the scenic U of O campus where you can visit the redesigned Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. The 5th Street Market is a Eugene staple for shopping, and if its a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday be sure to drop by the downtown Farmer's Market for field fresh produce and goods. After the market, hit the Kiva for a great cheese and local artisan bread selection and pack a picnic for a hilltop afternoon on the grass at the wooded Hendrick's Park. Stop for antiques and English tea at Ruthie B's cozy farmhouse (once a bordello for loggers) tucked beside the bridge connecting Springfield and Glenwood.
If you're in the mood for a casual dinner, head straight to veggie haven Pizza Research Institute and get the carefully hand-crafted Chef's Choice pizza, but be prepared to wait. It's worth it. Then bee-line to Sweet Life Pâtisserie for an indulgent vegan dessert. But for a top notch dining experience there is no substitute for Marché Restaurant in the 5th Street Market. Marché is my favorite restaurant on the globe, and has been ever since I left its staff in 2004. Treat yourself to the real slow food experience and see why. My favorite classy after-dinner drink spot "where everybody knows your name" is the cozy Cafe Soriah. These bartendars run the town, and make a darn good Sidecar and too. Don't be surprised if you find yourself drinking Spanish Coffees and Tijuana Speedballs into the wee after-hours. On the flipside, the nuclear hangout for the younger college set is always at the divey Horsehead. If you want to dance, pray it's 80s night and head to John Henry's down the block.
The ONLY place to stay in Eugene is the Campbell House Bed & Breakfast - Across the street from my old house on Skinner's Butte. If you want a second opinion, ask my parents! (Rooms + breakfast from $129. Stellar service!)

A quick best-of, to help us finish up:
The Best Local Shop: Marché Provisions
A Must-see Attraction: The Heceta Head Lighthouse
A Souvenir That Sums It Up: A bottle of King Estate Pinot Noir
The Best Outdoor Option: A day trip to taste the magnificent wines of the Willamette Valley
Great, and Completely Free: Drive the country road along the beautiful McKenzie River
Rub Shoulders With Locals At: Max's Tavern, alleged inspiration for the Simpsons' Moe's

Been to Eugene? Submit your perfect day to Budget Travel here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jury Duty Dining: Inside the Downtown Lunch Scene

"Wow, way to take lemons and make lemonade, Nathan.."
I smiled, looking out of the plate glass lobby of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at a bride awkwardly discharging tulle out of a vintage limo door on the other side.
"Well hey," I retorted into my phone, turning toward the escalator to underground parking. "If I am going to be forced to spend a whole week or more in downtown LA with generous hour and a half lunch breaks, you can BET I will take advantage and at least get a decent blog story out of it." It was day three and I had already covered several downtown neighborhoods and classic LA dining establishments. I was officially on a jury panel in Judge Ito's courtroom and opening statements had been made. Ito guestimated a "couple day" trial, but I was prepared to be around for a while. Luckily downtown LA is one of my favorite sectors that I don't visit nearly enough. Thus I was excited for the challenge to diversify my generous lunch break each day and sample the best of what the civic center has to offer.
On day one I was a bit anxious come lunch as I was to report to a different courthouse after my break for a jury panel selection. Nervous about being late, I just followed the suits to the nearby CPK where I knew I could score a cold pint to calm my nerves. After lunch I walked through the sublevels of the California Plaza adjacent the MOCA and found everywhere I should have eaten, including the "wine country-inspired eco-artisan" Mendocino Farms Sandwiches & Marketplace barracaded by a mob of menu-wrinkling accountants. I picked up a small cup of green tea ice cream at the eurasian-vibed convenience store Famima!! and made my way back to the courthouse.
The next morning started with a long unplanned coffee break, which I filled with a piping cup of champurrado on nearby Olvera Street. Growing up less than an hour from Mexico, I understand that Olvera is touristy yes, but still a great place in LA to score some authentic cuisine, and actually introduced me to the rich frothy masa harina, chocolate, and cinnamon breakfast beverage champurrado - a hearty new favorite of mine.
By lunch I had a new friend and she insisted on introducing me to the world famous Phillipe The Original, self-proclaimed originator of the "french-dipped sandwich." Entering this madhouse took me back in time, one long deli counter runs the length, fronted by a battalion of sandwich-makin' matrons in 50's waitress smocks and paper diner hats doling out trays to one of some 12 long lines of hungry downtowners. Anticpation mounted in the line as I shifted on the sawdust covered concrete floor, deciding between sandwich meat; mayonnaise-based side salads; and kosher pickled items on the side.. I ended up with an au jus-logged pork french dip with swiss, paprika dusted old fashioned potato salad, bright purple pickled egg, a sweet pickle and arnie palmer to drink. Possibly the most satisfying of my lunches all week, I was ready to get back in line for sampling #2 when my fellow juror and I realized we were running late. I will SOON return my fair Phillipe..
Day three brought me back to square one, as my new friend was dismissed from the panel and the jury was locked. I decided that today I would take a longer walk to South Main and Winston, a block down from Pete's Cafe and the hip Old Bank DVD to Vietnamese hot spot Blossom Restaurant. I snagged a patio table out front and immediately had an iced coffee with condensed milk and menu in front of me, waitress asking what I'd like. They obviously were used to the lunch rush here. I ordered the lemongrass steak and eggroll Bún (cold vermicelli rice noodle bowl). Within minutes I was chopstick-deep into one of the most delicious peanut-dusted cilantro-heavy Bún bowls I've ever had. I routinely enjoy Silverlake's Pho Café, but in the future might venture downtown more often for my Shaking Beef.
Since Jurors get into MOCA free with their badge, I decided after we were released at 4pm to make the most of my plan-free evening. After checking out the fantastic Martin Kippenberger Retrospective at the MOCA on Main, I continued on to his massive "Problem Perspective" installation at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo, coupled with a colossal group show Index: Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection. I left filled to the brim; a daze that took me back to art school reviews, so I quelled myself in the Japanese Village Plaza with mindless shopping for cheap household goods at Tokyo Japanese Outlet and a dinner grocery stop at Nijiya Market, one of my favorite food shops that I affectionately refer to as the "Trader Joe's of Asian Markets." I skipped them that night, but Fugetsu-do and Mikawaya are also two essential stops in the neighborhood, sweet shops specializing in Mochi that have been operating since 1903 and 1910 respectively.
On day four I returned to Olvera Street for the food.. Most locals know to pass up the over-priced sit-down restaurants and head straight for the hole-in-the-wall counter spots that get lost among the cluttered vendor booths. Though corner mast Cielito Lindo is arguably the most popular of these, and though I usually visit La Noche Buena for my taquito, tamale and jamaica fix, Juanita's charming vendor who sold me on the champurrado earlier in the week brought me back for what may have been the best tangy guacamole sauce covered taquito combo plate on the street yet.
Finally, deliberation day had come, and I knew I had to use my last lunch wisely. There were so many places I had not tasted yet: Señor Fish's new downtown location, The Redwood Bar's infamous burger, historic French bistro Angelique Café, or my favorite hidden gem in Little Tokyo - the yellow-awned Daikokuya on First Street serving up the best ramen in LA. But history trumped taste buds today and I ventured down old Broadway all the way to 8th Street to finally see the eccentric Granddaddy of all cafeterias, Clifton's. The redwood forested interior was delightfully dated, though the clientele were less inviting than I'd hoped, and actually caused me to check to make sure I still had my wallet. I went through with it though and moved down the line with my warm damp tray, camping it up with a carrot/raisin slaw, Americana enchiladas, spanish rice, jello, and horchata "with fruit". I settled into a table on a terraced forest step and watched the REAL downtown LA dine in front of me in all its glory. The food was.. well, cafeteria food. The fruit was a nice addition to standard horchata however. The big kick came in the form of a cube of jello. Now, I got the opaque white jello with yellow shreds thinking "festive piña colada?" No, it was not. I chewed the first bite unable to detect a flavor. Bites two and three kept me guessing. But the shreds definitely were not coconut or pineapple.. rather a little waxy. It was official this was not a sweet jello. So what WAS it? It hit me with a sickening gulp that I was eating a flavorless white gelatin filled with bland shredded American cheese. I set down my fork, gathered my belongings and left Clifton's then, happy to limit our historic affair to viewing the kitschy vintage postcards on their website.
"Part of me is a little sad," I said into the phone as the bride outside beamed for the photographer. "I've been enjoying this surreal metropolitan urban life. Like I could become a public defender, get a refurbished loft and never look back." After a pause, my friend started laughing, and before I knew it I was too.
'Til next time, downtown...

Monday, October 20, 2008

En Vitesse: Harvest Moon

One thing that I always miss around the Harvest season is the annual Grower's Dinner at Marché (in its 10th year!) where all of the local Willamette Valley farmers, ranchers and foragers are invited for a communal multi-course dinner in appreciation for their hard work throughout the year bringing the best artisan ingredients in the region to the Marché table.
Last night in Tucson, my mother and her good friend-and-blogger Monica (AKA Tucson Cowgirl) attended a similar dinner at Sonoran slow and sustainable food flagship Janos, and couldn't say enough good things about it! Read Monica's recap of the event and drool over the scrumptious harvest food pairings with locally produced Southern Arizona microbrews and wines.

And while we're on the topic of Farmers, check out this interesting New York Times article on the future of food in America - How it's a bigger issue than we're hearing about and what the next president can and should do to remake the way we grow and eat our food.

Photo by Monica Surfaro Spigelman

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

En Vitesse: Tasty Trompe-l'œil

So I've know for some years now that my good friend Brooke is a very very talented cake decorater and all-around taste maiven. But when I saw this recent 50-person-feeding chinese vase cake I literally lost my breath. Thank goodness she has her new blog littlebirdbigcity to document all her various creative projects. From knittery to marzipan, expect to be impressed, and learn a thing or two as well.