Kelly the Culinarian: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Food find: Flavorbank spices

I sometimes think I have the best profession in the world. Everyday is different and I get to meet interesting, funny and influential people. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer English, the creator of Food and Wine Radio Network and a James Beard Award Winner.

In her newest adventure, English purchased Flavorbank, a spice company that specializes in the highest quality spices available. Despite being the original creator of Emril Lagasse's spice line and supplying spices to the stars, Flavorbank was on the brink of bankruptcy when English bought it up last year.

Anyhow, on to the food! This little shop she's got is absolutely amazing. It smells spicy and pungent and it's as much a feast for the eyes as it is for your nose. It's so easy to become inspired when checking out the story. English sells as little as a teaspoon of spices at her loose spice bar. The store also has an array of exotic salts, some of which are picture above left and below. She also sells dried chilies, which you see below.

Jennifer was nice enough to offer up some cooking tips and trick for using these spices, some of which I've tried and will be sharing shortly. Today's tip: Salt needs its own kind of grinder, one with ceramic mechanisms, otherwise the moisture in the salt will corrode the inside.

The final photo is the assortment of spices that Jennifer set me up with. The best thing I've learned so far is that it's super simple to cook gourmet when you have spices like this on hand. I haven't changed my cooking techniques at all, I've just added high-quality spices from the store that dubs itself as the Cartier of peppercorns.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Gourmet desserts

Despite my declared disdain of organic grocery stores, I still find them interesting because of their willingness to educate the public. Both at Whole Foods and Wild Oats, there are classes and discussions about food and techniques. Last week, I went over to my local Wild Oats to take a gourmet dessert class with a friend.
The class was an hour long and was taught by Culinary Concepts' owner Judith Berger. The New Zealand native attended culinary school in order to become a pastry chef and now owns this cooking school. While her classes are generally start at $55, this one was only $10. The catch was we didn't get to do any of the techniques ourselves, it was more of a demonstration. But we did get samples and recipes.

The chocolate mousse on the left didn't have enough time to set up, but I did learn some interesting tips, such as do not use chocolate chips if you're going to melt them because they have stabilizers to keep them looking like that and it will interfere with the process. The banana fools recipe was different, I'd never had a dessert like that. Either way, I recommend giving these recipes a try because they could be created easily enough to impress company or a date. Just don't expect me to use organic ingredients to do it.
Chocolate Mousse
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
mint leaves for garnish
In the top of a double broiler, combine the gelatin and sugar, stir in the milk. Lightly beat the egg yolks and mix into the milk mixture. Place over simmering water and stir constantly, cook until mixture thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stir until the chocolate has melted. Pour into a clean bowl and set the bowl in a second bowl filled with ice. Stir in the peppermint flavoring and chill until the mixture is a thick as honey.
Beat the egg white to soft peaks or until they stay in the bowl when inverted. Gently fold the egg white into the chocolate mixture and pout into a one-quart mold. Chill until firm, unmold and garnish with mint.
Serves 8.
Banana Fool
3/4 cup mashed banana, about two
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
Chocolate curls for garnish
In a bowl, mash together the banana, brown sugar and lemon juice. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks and gently fold in the banana mixture. Divide the fool between four parfait glasses and decorate with the chocolate curls.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Note: Monsoon season sucks

My apologies for the lack of blogging. On Saturday, we had horrible monsoon rains to the point that some places received several inches of rain during the course of one hour. In the process, I was rear-ended while driving home. Also, our apartment complex was hit by lightning, frying my computer's ethernet card or some other technical thing I can't understand. Either way, I will make my triumphant return to the blogging world later this week when I get both of those things sorted out. Thanks!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: The Easy Bake cake

Last week, I wrote about how much I enjoyed my Easy Bake Oven as a child. I bought one at a thrift store for $6 and tried it out for nostalgia purposes.

I think it might have been more exciting as a child. I made this tiny, four-layer apple cinnamon cake in the oven. It took me almost two hours. I used a packaged cupcake mix because it was the perfect amount. Just for scale, look at how tiny these cake pans are. And you can only cook one pan at a time, each one takes about 20 minutes. I messed up on two of them ... who knew you could burn a cake with a light bulb?

For the top layer, I put apples in the pan to cook them along with the batter. I also topped it with sugar and freshly ground cinnamon.

The cakes were adorable and tasty, just like they would have been out of the oven. It was time consuming, but if I was the target audience of children 8 years old plus, I think it would have been a cool experience to make a cake all by my little lonesome. I think every kid should have one of these.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kitchen gadget: Salad shaker

As previously stated, I love shopping at Goodwill. There's always fun stuff to be had. A little gem that I found last week was this salad shaker. It's a little device that's a bit like a vessel you use to mix cake batter. In the top is a little reservoir that you fill with 2 ounces of dressing. When you tummy rumbles, push down on the top and the dressing is released. Shake to combine and serve. Yum!

I like this because everything is self contained and doesn't require extra containers. Also, the dressing is equally distributed throughout the salad. It's not that difficult to clean either and I think if I had a dishwasher, it would be really easy. The only downside is that because of the shape, it's hard to eat salads with smaller chunks of veggies or cheese if you can't spear it with a fork.

If you're a salad enthusiast (or trying to be, like me) this is a great little invention and helps keep your lunch together.

Food find: Sonoran hot dog

Until a few days ago, I hadn't found anything that Tucson does better than Chicago. There's the dismal pizza situation, the scary wildlife that's always on the offensive and the crappy baseball.

But then, I met the Sonoran hot dog. Sonora is a Mexican states right across the border that America is very friendly with because it's a port of entry. Chicago dogs hold a special place in my heart; there's just something about a hot dog dressed with all the hamburger fixings that hits the spot.

But that spot has now been filled with the Sonoran hot dog. Let me set the scene for you: my boss took the office to this little stand called BK's, which took me back to my days of living in the Dominican Republic. It was an open-air cafeteria with picnic-style seating and crates all around where you were expected to deposit your glass Mexican Coke and Sprite bottles at the end of the meal. Polka music blasted on the PA and vagrants roamed the parking lot. It was a real classy joint, but super nostalgic.

And then there was the food. Everyone always harps on Chicago for having unhealthy food and obese people. Chicago hot dogs have nothing on Sonoran hot dog when it comes to general fat consumption. The hot dig itself is wrapped in bacon and then cooked on the grill. Then it's topped with beans, tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise and green salsa, and sometimes avocado or guacamole. Here's some more information about the assembly and ingredients.

The hot dog is messy and highly caloric. But it was so, so good. I highly recommend it. There are so many textures and flavors in one of these puppies: you get the crunch and smokiness of the bacon, the pasty texture of the beans, the crunch of the onions and moisture and freshness of the tomatoes, along with the creaminess of the mayo and tang from the mustard and salsa combination.

If you're ever in these parts, you have to try one. But just one, otherwise, it may give you a heart attack.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tasty Tucson Tours: Prickly pear lemonade

I don't have the recipe for this concoction, but I wanted to share this prickly pear lemonade I got at the Tohono Chul Park in Tucson. In case you're back in the Midwest, prickly pear is the fruit part of the cactus that can be harvested for a variety of dishes and desserts.

The lemonade itself tasted normal, except much sweeter. There was also very little tartness or sour aftertaste. It was also an odd, glowing pink color as well. I don't know how much prickly pear syrup is actually in the beverage, but it was really good lemonade. I highly recommend it, no matter how authentic they are.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Media meal: Ratatouille makes me like rodents -- sort of

I saw Ratatouille during the weekend and I was so impressed. I love animated flicks to begin with, but this was a great film overall. I thought there was a little bit of violence that may not have been appropriate for children, but I enjoyed it.

The Disney film is about a rat named Remy who enjoys the finer things in life, a trait not appreciated by his rat pack family. After being separated from his clan, he travels to Paris and begins having apparitions from a chef whose motto is "Anyone can cook." Through a turn of events, Remy transforms a kid who cannot cook into the head chef at this place.

The animation was fabulous, even though Pixar enjoyed putting together chase scenes far more than was necessary. There was decent character development for a cartoon, even though only the cooks in this French restaurant had accents, oddly enough.

Even better, the film nailed the food element perfectly. Anthony Bourdain consulted on the food aspect and was quoted as saying this was the best movie ever made about food. After reading his book, Kitchen Confidential, I see many elements of his perspective on the industry, such as how women in the kitchen must fight to be there and how everyone in the kitchen is a social outcast who couldn't fit in elsewhere. I also appreciate the emphasis they placed on working clean and the valid food and cooking tips offered in the movie, such as distinguishing a good bread by the crunchy sound of the crust when slight pressure is applied.

You're not going to be a chef when this movie is over with. But you will be entertained for a few hours and you might learn a little something about food and professional kitchens. Most of all, it will make you smile.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Vodka pasta

I was recently invited to a wonderful little dinner party hosted by my friend Lauren. For my portion of the meal, I brought a blueberry cheesecake that I blogged about last week. But it paled in comparison to Lauren's main course.

She whipped up this wonderful vodka pasta that you see here. It was utterly delightful. Most of the vodka cooks off, although it's impossible to cook it all out. It leaves a distinct tang in the creamy tomato sauce. Lauren used whole wheat pasta with this, which absorbed some of the sauce after combining. The dish was absolutely wonderful and believe me, there was definitely nothing leftover.

She said she will make this for the guy she wants to marry someday and I totally marry her after this dinner. She was generous enough to share the recipe, which you see below. This is a fancy looking entree and completely delicious, two thumbs up!

Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce (Serves 4)

Here's what you will need:

1 tomato
1/2 onion
1 garlic clove
1 bottle pasta sauce (I use four-cheese)
1/4 cup cream
1 cup vodka
Red pepper flakes
Italian seasoning
2 tbs olive oil
1 box penne pasta

Finely chop the onions, tomato and garlic. Place the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat until it's hot enough (to test, drop apiece of onion and it should immediately sizzle). Saute the garlic and onions for about 8 minutes until fairly soft. Add tomato, seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add pasta sauce and vodka. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.
IMPORTANT: Unless you like a kick to your pasta, it is important to let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes until it reduces and the alcohol has evaporated. It's called vodka sauce for the flavor, not for the alcohol. Otherwise the sauce will taste bitter.

When the sauce has reduced, add 1/4 cup of cream and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Serve over penne pasta with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An ode to the Easy Bake Oven

This week, Easy Bake Ovens were recalled because of a safety concerns. It got me thinking about my childhood toys. I got an Easy Bake Oven when I was 7 years old and it was the highlight of my Christmas. In case you never had one, the oven is powered by a 100 Watt light bulb. It takes 10 minutes to make about a 1/4 cup of cake batter. It's a cool toy that's been around for generations and is targeted primarily at girls, but there are newer models that are gender neutral. It's a bit of a rip off, it takes forever.

But, it was my first independent cooking experience. I was able to mix up their little tiny, overpriced cake packets with a tablespoon of water in a little bowl with the world's tiniest whisk. Then I spooned the cake batter into tiny pans the size of Post-It notes. After what seemed like forever, I got a tiny cake the size of a cookie you see at Panera now. There's even a video of me with permed '80s hair being a total brat at a birthday party for either my sister or my mother saying that I could have made a cake in my Easy Bake Oven. It would have taken me at least a half an hour in cooking time and it would have only served two, tops, but I could have.

The cakes actually come out looking pretty decent. While the it started out humbly enough, current Easy Bake Ovens are now labeled as "snack centers" as well; you can heat cheese for nacho and make S'mores too. There are Web sites all over dedicated to offering more Easy Bake Oven homemade recipe options.

But even without the snack center or heating area, this little toy has inspired many a chef. For the toy's 40th anniversary, National Public Radio did a segment on the gourmet Easy Bake Oven and how various chefs had tinkered with it in their younger years. Bobby Flay has said that he wanted an Easy Bake as a child, but his dad objected and said it was a girl's toy. Eventually, his mom broke down and bought him one, and a chef was born.

A toy this creative that has inspired scores of young people to try their hand at cooking can't go off the shelves, especially at a time when more and more adults are eating unhealthy fast food simply because they don't know the techniques to creating meals at home. It is my sincere hope that Hasbro gets its act together to bring this toy to children safely.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Food find: Huge french fries

I'm in the midst of preparing for a cooking and baking bonanza because one of my friends is out of town and letting me use her kitchen. In the meantime, check out this huge fry I got from Wendy's. Could this have possibly come from one giant potato? It was at least eight inches long.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Food find: McDonalds cinnamon melts hurts my heart

I eat way, way too much fast food. That said, I have an iron stomach and an adventurous nature, so when I was starving one morning recently, I picked up a McDonald's Cinnamon Melts thing for breakfast. They advertise it as just the middle of the cinnamon bun, "commonly known as the best part."

Well, it didn't look like the best part. Essentially, it was a cinnamon pastry put in a mold made to look like it was "freestyle" or something. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious. The pastry was kind of moist, plenty of cinnamon flavor and coated with butter and icing. The toppings weren't distributed evenly, which is kind of annoying, but I was hungry and it tasted good.

In the course of writing this, I did a little research. McDonald's does not list this item in breakfast, but rather, under desserts. Probably because this little "snack" rings in at 460 calories!

But, I'm sure you can make it better for you if you tried this make-at-home version of the Melts recipe. I can't vouch to the recipe's ability to replicate the real thing, but it can't be that difficult because the presentation is messy by design.
I'd eat it again if my thighs didn't tell me it's a bad idea.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Media Meal: A big guy wants to make your kids little

Shaquille O'Neal is the biggest thing in sports, both in height and name recognition. His newest venture, Shaq's Big Challenge, is summer show Tuesday evenings on ABC. In this show, Shaq attempts to motivate a group of overweight kids to slim down and become more healthy.

He does this by employing celebrity chef Tyler Florence to change the school lunches. In the episode I checked out last night, it turned out disastrously; the kids were waiting in line forever and didn't have enough time to eat. But the alternative lunch looked mighty tasty.

Shaq has a team of nutritionists, physical trainers and coaches to get these kids slim. These kiddies, some of who are 90 pounds overweight, are put on diets, work out regimes and sports programs. It's cooperative effort between Shaq's team, the kids parents and the kids themselves. If each kid loses at least 20 pounds, they all can go to a Miami Heat game.

It's an interesting experiment and I actually enjoyed this show. The team doesn't hide it's failures, but works through it and the kids seem to get something out it. On camera, at least.

On another note, Ace of Cakes premieres at 10 p.m. eastern and pacific time on Thursday with Duff Goldman's extreme cakes from Charm City Cakes in Baltimore. I'm all a tither with excitement!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Screwdriver punch

There's nothing quite like a morning dip at the pool on a lazy morning with a tasty drink. I whipped up this little punch for a few friends; it was really quite simple.

Here's what you need all of the following ice cold:

1 can orange juice concentrate

3 cans club soda

3/4 of a can vodka

1 sliced orange, for garnish

Just add everything to a pitcher, maybe some ice and some orange slices, and stir. Remember, no glass at the pool! Serve cold with an orange slice on a warm morning. Yum!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Food find: Finally decent pizza!

I found a place that's kind of like Chicago and I'm so, so excited. While I don't have a photo of the pizza (I wasn't on my game that day), I stopped by Oregano's recently and it hit the spot. It is an Arizona chain, but they try to make it Chicago-ish with Chicago art and a skyline and such. I didn't go with the Chicago deep-dish because I knew I'd be disappointed.

My dining companion and I split an Oregano's Classic salad and small, thin-crust 'Frisco Pizza. You can check out the rest of the menu here. The pizza tasted so great. The crust was crispy and tasted like it was toasted in an oven, unlike most of the stuff I've tasted here that might have been in a microwave or under a heating lamp. There was a creamy tomato base to the pizza, which I thought was an original combination that wasn't too heavy. There was also a spicy feta cheese on top and cheddar cheese, which was a nice combo of tangy and creamy cheese. The bacon on top was crunchy and the tomato was cooked, but not mushy.

What you see in the photo is the small Oregano's Classic salad. That's what's in the foreground of the photo. Another dish to write home about. The dressing was both sweet and sour, and the crunchy peppers along with more feta, salty olives and sweet, plump raisins. So yummy with stuff to take home, too! It was a great combination of salt and sweet with a crunch. There's also some cheesy garlic bread and a pasta dish in the background.

I finally found something that reminds me of home. I love food. It's cheaper than a plane ticket.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Blueberry cheesecake

Remember that blueberry sauce I used on top of my patriotic grilled dessert? I used the same recipe for blueberry sauce, substituting orange zest and juice for lemon, to top a cheesecake.

I was invited to a dinner party, and that presented a problem for me because I wanted to bring something, but it's still a bajillion degrees outside, so I didn't want to turn on the oven. Instead, I bought one of those no-cook cheesecake mixed and made the sauce on the stove top. It was really simple, not that messy and apparently a success. Even a fellow party guest who doesn't like cheesecake said it was good, but she may have been flattering me.

As the photo shows, the crust was a little crumbley, but overall, a great summer dessert because it was cold and not too heavy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tasty Tucson Tours: Tucson Sidewinder

Tucson is known for baseball because it holds spring training for the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs train down the road in Mesa. I went to a Tucson Sidewinders game last week for fun -- it was $5 to get in and it was $1 hot dog night. This team is a AAA associated with the Diamondbacks.

When we drove up, we all laughed about how "packed" it was. We estimated there was 150 people there, but the announcer later told us there were 2,038 people in attendace (we think they counted people who have season passes).

First off, I am extremely peeved at this placed because they wouldn't let me bring in my nalgene bottle of water, which was complete with lemon slices and ice cubes. What else could it be other than water? Plus, it was 110 degrees and out crappy seats were in the sun. I later learned it was OK to bring sealed bottles of water in, but only one per person. Don't they know that 150,000 plastic bottles are thrown out in Tucson every day? Jerks.

Plus, the security guards didn't search anything else besides purses. If I really wanted to bring alcohol into that place, I easily could have, but I'm a good kid.

Then our seats were in the sun and we weren't allowed to move elsewhere, even though there were about 10,000 seats available.

The hot dog was fine. Nothing to write home about. It was essentially a plain ol' Oscar Meyer hot dog with a white-bread bun and ketchup.

I miss Chicago. Real baseball, real food.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Food find: In and Out-rageous food

Remember when Paris Hilton got wasted off of (allegedly) one margarita, got a DUI and said it was no big deal, she was just hungry and wanted to go to In-and-Out Burger?

I do.

A new In-and-Out Burger was recently planted in Tucson and I am so grateful. I think Paris Hilton would be too, if she could find Tucson on a map. If you can imagine what McDonald's used to be back in the day, that's what In and Out is. There are only a handful of basics on the menu: cheeseburger, burger, fries and a couple of shake and soda options. Nothing fancy, but it's really, really fast. Your meal is made to order and even though the line at this joint is always long, you're out of there within 15 minutes, tops.

First time around, I order a cheeseburger and fries. Tim got the same thing, when he was in town. He did not like the cheeseburger, but loved the fries. I was the other way around -- I was impressed by the burger; the fries, not so much. The burger was huge and I could taste the freshness of all the ingredients. The fries are made from real potatoes, not frozen, that are peeled, sliced and fried in short order, but I would have liked them saltier.

The second time I went to this joint, I heard about the glories of the secret menu. Essentially, if you know the lingo, the menu there more than doubles. I got animal-style fries, which you see in the photo next to a plain cheeseburger. These secret fries come with cheese, secret sauce and grilled onions.

And they were glorious! It was salty, cheesey, savory and messy. Quite messy, in fact, and I had to use my Tide pen at the end of the meal to get the spills out of my top. The burger was exactly the same -- if nothing else, this place is consistent.

Overall, I can see why Paris Hilton made a beeline for this place. I wonder if she went there after she got out of jail. It's just that yummy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Food Finds: Ladies' night just got classier

Some lovely ladies and I headed out to 58 Degrees & Holding for Ladies Night last week. The store seeks to be your destination for wine -- it has a wine store, wine bar and restaurant and wine storage lockers available for rent, if you're really serious about it.

On Thursdays, both Tucson locations offer a selected wine, champagne and cocktail for $5. We went to the St. Phillips Plaza locations and I had a champagne, following by a light red that I would call pink in color.

And then there was the food. What you see in the photo is a cold peach puree soup with pancetta in the foreground and a warm curry-based soup in the background. The peach soup was delicious and dessert-like. The combination of pancetta on top was very interesting because it added a salty crunch to the creamy, cool soup. My curry soup packed a pleasant kick, but not enough to keep me from finishing it. Also, I could taste hints of crunchy celery and pungent spices in the thick soup -- it was quick filling. My dining companions got dessert such as a tres leche cake with cream freccia and a flourless chocolate cake.

Overall, this was a great experience for not just the food and drinks, but also the atmosphere. We lounged in a spacious and uncrowded wine bar area on suede couches with a low, dark-colored wood table between us. There was not the stale smell of beer and desperate frat boys that's usually associated with ladies night, either. In fact, it was all women in the lounge area, although there were some couples in the dining area. We're making a trek to the other Tucson location to check it all out, for good measure.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Food find: More subpar pizza

Alas, I tried again to get pizza outside of Chicago. I was out and about socializing on Fourth Avenue enjoying some celebrating with friends. But I was starving and someone suggested pizza, so we trekked over to Brooklyn Pizza Company, which is on Fourth Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets.

It's a cute little shop with outdoor seating and an industrial feel to the interior. You can buy whole pizzas or by the slice and they deliver. I ordered a slice of cheese and slide into the stainless steel bar. I waited for a bit while I watched the busy pizza people toss up up giant pizza pies and got served up this cheese slice.

They get an A for effort -- the crust was pretty good. But overall, it tasted like something I could have made from frozen. I ate it because my tummy told me too, but my tastebuds weren't happy about it. It wasn't even true New York style because I couldn't fold over the slice.

So my search for decent non-Chicago pizza continues.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Food find: Organic food makes me sad

July is national Hot Dog Month as well as Ice Cream Month. It's a momentous season.

In honor of this, I trekked over to my local Wild Oats for a hot dog and ice cream tasting. I hate going to those places because it just reminds me how much better I could eat if I could afford it. First up, I had an organic hot dog with organic ketchup.

It was horrible. It tasted like nothing I've ever had, and not in a good way. I know it's better for me, but how they can turn an American classic into THAT, I'm not sure.

As for the ice cream and apple pie, they were much better. The ice cream was really creamy and had a deep vanilla flavor that lingered after the velvety ice cream dissolved. The apple pie was sweet and the crust was flaky. However, when I asked if they pies were made on site, the lady told me they were "ovened" on site, meaning they get them frozen and heat them again. I do that at home much cheaper -- we call it frozen food. Apparently it's different if it's organic.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Media meal: "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain

I just finished Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential." Yes, I know I'm quite behind the times. But here's a little info about the read.

Bourdain has been in the food business for longer than many of us has been alive. He attended the Culinary Institute of America and went on to work at myriad eateries and establishments.
In this book, he shares what he knows about food and his experiences in the fire pit of New York's finest restaurants.

If you have any interest in knowing where your meal really came from and whose been working on it, I really recommend this book. The beauty of Bourdain's writing is that he does not try to sugar coat anything -- his kitchen is simply how it is and nothing more. He's candid about his drug use, his lack of enthusiasm for previous employers and his real aspirations in life.

But there are many lessions to be gleaned from this novel. First, never EVER eat brunch. Even at the classy establishment Bourdain darkened the door of, brunch was simply a way to get rid of leftovers from the night before. Also, pass on fish on Monday. It's simply leftovers from the weekend, ordered as far back as Thursday. YUCK.

Now, the more positive advice. Here's what Bourdain says is needed to create professional-looking dishes: First, a chef's knife, perhaps of the Global brand for their ease of maintenance and care. A flexible boning knife, also the Global brand, but only if you plan to bone and fillet your own fish. If your butcher does it, you can skip this. A paring knife is nice for smaller work and many chefs take on an offset serrated knife, which is ergonomically designed for cutting bread or thick-skinned tomatoes.

As far as presentation, Bourdain says to invest in some cheap-o plastic squeeze bottles. You can fill these things with sauces and herb-infused oils, then use the bottle to delicately place them on the plate. You can also use toothpicks to swirl little designs in the oils and garnishes. Also, invest in some metal rings in various sizes -- this is how chefs arrange food in tall, artful stacks. Finally, a mandolin helps chefs achieve uniform slices in vegetables and side dishes.

He also says that if you can't dent some one's skull with a pot or pan, it's not worth buying. And no kitchen, in Bourdain's opinion, is complete without butter, stock, chiffonaded parsley, roasted garlic and demi-glace, but you'll have to check out the book for details.

This books is definitely worth it's price, but I'm sure by now you can pick it up at the library. It's a quick, easy read, so check it out.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tasty Tucson Tours: San Xavier del Bac Mission, with a side of fried bread

A little synopsis of the San Xavier del Bac Mission, located in Tucson: The church was built from 1783 to 1797 by Franciscan monks and is perhaps the best example of mission architecture in America.

The congregation began in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino on land belonging to the Tohono O'odham tribe. It is still on a Native American reservation of the Tohono O'oodham and members lived on the land in front of the church until this century. They still sell their wares outside the church, including this delicious fried bread.

Outside of the church, there are several little stands that have probably been there for a century. There, the Indians sell crafts and mostly food. Fried bread is a recognizable Native American dish. It cost me $1.50 for a plain dish and it was made right in front of me. The woman flattened out what she referred to as a tortilla dough. It was then fried in a pot over a make-shift grill. The whole production took less than three minutes.

It came out golden brown and quite greasy, but damn it tasted good! It was crunchy and toasty on the outside, but moist and soft on the inside, similar to what a proper bagel tastes like. The flavor was just like a tortilla or flour-based salsa chip. I couldn't finish the thing, but I think it would have been better with the honey and cinnamon that was offered for $2.

If you want to see more photos of the mission, including antique photos of women preparing fried bread in the same exact location, visit my photo journal.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Food find: English foods are hit and miss

I saw these things at Fry's, which is a supermarket around here that is related to Kroger. These were a quarter a piece, so I got one of each variety. These Snapz are made in the United Kingdom out of apples and beets. There is no sugar or additives. The flavors were beets, apple, apple cinnamon and strawberry apple.

The beets were just horrible. They tasted like dirt. The apple ones had a great crunch, but they were sliced so thick that they tasted fibrous. The strawberry apple were just too sweet. There was no sugar added, but it was still sickly sweet. Finally, the cinnamon apple was just right. The spice subdued the normal sugary flavor and I was finally able to finish a bag of these puppies.

I'd recommend the apple cinnamon. It was yummy, but not particular filling. However, they are only 75 calories per bag, so you can add it to a sandwich and call it a meal. One out of four flavors I guess isn't that bad ...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Food find: Mexican Coca Cola

People think they need a passport to come down to Tucson. There's a common misconception that we are located in Mexico. In fact, there is a mere 40-minute drive that separates Tucson from Mexico.

As a result, we get all things Mexican out here, including food. My boss gave me a bottle of Mexican Coca Cola a few weeks ago, and I just got around to tasting in. It is illegal to use artificial sweeteners or corn syrup in Mexico, so the Coke is still made with sugar. Plus, they still use those cute little glass bottles and a top you have to use a bottle opener on.

And the Coke does taste different in Mexico. The manufacturer probably has to use a different combination of chemicals to keep the sugar from settling to the bottom of the bottle. I thought it tasted slightly metallic. It could have also been the metal top. Another thing to consider is that when you get Coke in a plastic bottle, the acids interact with the plastic, perhaps skewing the taste.

I'm not much of a Coke drinker anyhow, but I could stomach this again. It's definitely different.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Patriotic grilled dessert

It was quite hot in Tucson for the holiday, so I whipped up a dessert that I could cook outside. This is a grilled apple a la mode dessert with bluberry sauce.

You will need:

2 red apples, cored and sliced in halves

Spritz of cooking oil

Ice cream of your choosing

2 cups blueberries, fresh or thawed
1/3 cup sugar

1/4 water

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons sugar (for garnishing)

Combine the blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, water, lemon and butter in a sauce pan. Cooking on the grill for 15 minutes, stirring often and crushing the berries to release the juice. Place oiled apple slices cut down on the grill, cook for right to 10 minutes and turn over. While it cooks on the other side, dust the presentation side with sugar; it will melt as the other side cooks.

Put the apple on a plate, cut side up, and top with ice cream and sauce. Viola!

It was really tasty and there was a variety of textures to keep my mouth happy. The lemon kept the dish fresh too. My roommates also approved, so I would definately make it again. You can use the leftover berry sauce on ice cream, toast, pancakes or crepes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tasty Tucson Tour: Biosphere 2 and bagels

Ever see the movie Biodome? Well that place actually exists. It's called Biosphere 2 and it's just north of Tucson in Oracle, Ariz. To read more about the place, including the eight people who spent two years locked up in there, go here.

Anyhow, I went there for a story assignment last week (you can check the story out here), but I was in a complete rush to get there because I am not a morning person. So I stopped by Bruegger's Bagels, a Vermont-based chain that's located in 22 states, but not Illinois.

And I know why. Illinois residents, and Chicagoans in particular, know was a real bagel tastes like. And they know how much it costs. So handing me some pastry-like hunk of bread with sugary cream cheese and charging me $3 for it just isn't going to cut it.

I got the Asiago bagel with light plain cream cheese. There wasn't much cheese flavor at all. Furthermore, the cream cheese was sugary, sort of like a super thick, semi-sweetened cream cheese pie filling. Not appetizing. Neither was the price. As I said in my photo gallery, it might not have been the worst bagel I've ever had, but it was definitely the most expensive.

The Biosphere, however, was pretty interesting. It's been a bit neglected for the past three years, but now the University of Arizona will be taking over its operation, so here's hoping that it will become a tourist hub.

Oh, and if you go, I didn't see a place to eat on site. And bring water; they do have a tropical area inside. If you want to check out more pictures of this giant terrarium, check it out here.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: The carside casserole

Yesterday it was only 106 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the success of my dashboard-baked cookies, I was inspired to try something new. I did a little research on the Internet about what real solar cookers look like and how they're constructed, then checked out some solar cooking recipes.

I made a few modifications to my car to increase my likelihood for success (yes, I know the outside of the ride is quite dirty). First, I went out and bought a yard of black fabric for $3.96 -- it was nothing special, just something cheap. I also went to my local Goodwill and bought a casserole dish and pot with tight-fitting lids.

For the casserole, I used the following:

1 chopped carrot

1/2 head of broccoli, chopped

Handful of green beans, trimmed

1/4 white onion, chopped

1 tomato, sliced thinly

5 chicken breast fillets, marinated overnight in 1/4 cup Italian dressing

1/3 cup chicken stock

I layers all the items in the order listed, then tightly affixed the lid and carried it out to my car. I also attempted brown rice with onions, which was a total failure for some unknown reason. But let's not dwell.

I put it on the dashboard, wedged my sun shields around the dash to maximize the sunlight and left the dish there from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Not only did it turn out, but it was delicious. The chicken was super moist. Next time, I would omit and extra liquid because it caused the veggies to lose their color. Also, I would use a pepper in lieu of carrot -- it was still a little too crunchy for me in the end.

All in all, I'd consider it a success -- just forget the rice ever existed

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Food find: UA men can cook

When I moved to Tucson, I knew a total of one person. She invited me over to her boyfriend Cameron's house on Friday for a little cook out. Cameron and his roommates are University of Arizona students.

These guys are serious about their barbecue.

They have a home-made barbecue pit that can accomodate a whole pig, if the occassion ever presents itself. This time, the boys made steak and ribs.

I was not given the secret to these delectible bites, but here's what I learned while observing: Cameron basted the ribs with a store-bought barbecue sauce, then wrapped them in foil and put them in the oven on low heat. The ribs were then transfered to the grill and charred on both sides, while more barbecue sauce basting occured. Delicious.
As for the steaks, they were marinated in some soy-sauce based concoction, then cooked solely on the grill for quite a long time. They were still red and cool in the middle when they came off the grill at 11 p.m. I normally don't eat rare meat, but this made me a convert.

The best thing I can say about Tucson is that grilling is an option year round. And that makes me very happy.