MOVIN ON UP!

December 9, 2010

Hi everybody! We moved TastyBits over to a better location with nicer curtains. Please check out the new digs! I got the movers to move all current subscribers, so don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything to continue to get email alerts! Thank you so much to all who have been faithful readers. We have some really fun stuff up our sleeve for our new and improved site.

CLICK HERE WOO HOO!!


http://www.realfoodies.com/tastybits

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… And a Water Buffalo in a pear treeee!

November 21, 2010

HEIFER.ORG

— I just got the coolest catalog in the mail and surprisingly there isn’t a shoe or a toaster oven in site. Nope, this catalog is filled with rabbits, goats, chickens, llamas honeybees, ducks… well, you get the idea. I look forward to getting it every year partly because it gives me warm-fuzzies, but mostly because it is from one of my favorite charities.

You probably don’t know this about me, but charities make me nervous. Most things run by committees and board members make me nervous. I know how hard it is to get anything done with 2 people involved, let alone 100 people. I am one of these skeptical souls that really wants to know how much of my donation is going to help someone in need and how much is going to pay for their gorgeous headquarters.

I came across Heifer International years ago when watching tv. I love the word Heifer because I happen to enjoy cows both alive and as steak, so naturally they had my attention with the name. When I discovered that they help people obtain a sustainable source of food and income by giving them livestock, I was sold.

Take it away Alton:

I am going to make this short. If you are looking for a place to buy some good Karma, check out their web site. The printed catalog filled with furry animals is pretty sweet, but the online catalog does the job. Giving is very personal, so if this isn’t for you, I won’t be mad.

Oh, one last thing… if you are curious/cynical about a certain charity and want to find out stuff like how much revenue they make versus expenses check out CHARITY NAVIGATOR.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Thank you for reading my posts! I am VERY grateful. I will be tied up for the rest of the week with turkey extravaganza business, but I will be back next week when the food coma wears off with more tasty repartee!

BETTER THAN NUTELLA?

November 18, 2010

Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter on toast. Yummy! Photo by Ossa.

YES, BETTER. Put your guns down! This is my opinion. I, too, was in passionate love with Nutella for years until I read the ingredients. You are probably saying, “well, that was dumb.” and perhaps it was, but luckily for me, I discovered not only a healthier alternative, but a tastier one too! Justin’s is a crunchy company out of Boulder, Colorado, that has been in the nut butter business for several years.

16 0Z JAR

I first tasted Justin’s maple almond butter on a Virgin America flight a few years back. It was part of my $5 healthy snack pack. I was starving so I ripped open the little ketchup-packet-looking-thing of maple almond butter and sucked it dry. It was delicious… almondy, maple-e with a little touch of sea salt. I carried the little empty packet in my purse for a while with the intention of finding more and forgot about it until I ran into the Justin’s folks at the SF Fancy Food trade show at the beginning of 2010. I was so excited to see them there and didn’t realize what this reacquaintance would really mean until I sampled their NEW product, chocolate hazelnut butter! Nutella who?

The package of Justin’s hazelnut butter says ” Do you eat cake frosting for breakfast? I didn’t think so.” They are speaking to the fact that MOST chocolate hazelnut butters contain more sugar than anything else and artificial ingredients. Here are Justin’s ingredients:

DRY ROASTED HAZELNUTS, ORGANIC EVAPORATED CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC COCOA, ORGANIC COCOA BUTTER, ORGANIC PALM FRUIT OIL, NATURAL VANILLA, SEA SALT.

Whole Paycheck makes a “healthy” version of chocolate hazelnut butter too and honestly, it aint good! Sorry Whole Foods. I heart other things you make, just not this one.

I love that Justin’s sells all of their nut butters in little single serve packets as well. They are the perfect snack to have at your desk or in your purse when you are feeling a little low. I am not recommending that anyone eat hazelnut butter all day and everyday. Just like Nutella, it is a treat, but a much more natural treat.

The other aspect I love about Justin’s is that there is actually a guy named Justin who started the company and who really cares about whole ingredients, sustainability and doing business in a better way for all. Please check out their web site to find out more and to scope out where you can buy their products!

SHOW ME

November 11, 2010

I will let you in on a little secret. Sometimes, late at night, I get comfy in bed with my iphone and some headphones and surf YouTube for how to make certain dishes or how to learn a cooking technique. I am not a good book learner, but if I see something performed once, I can usually get the hang of it, not to mention seeing it performed multiple times.

I am in the process of taping some TastyBits videos on everything from how to freeze bacon to my perfect rib technique. I know, you are on the edge of your seat, right? Well you should be, cus they are going to be great.

I always tell people, if you ever doubt how to wrangle an ingredient, just Google it or look on YouTube, chances are, someone has written about it or made a video. I am not saying that every video is great and this is why I am going to begin making my own, but when you watch 4 short videos on how to clean clams, you pretty much get the idea.

A good technique for finding better videos on YouTube is plugging in reputable sources like food network, Chow or chefs that you like, for example “Mario Batali bolognese”. There are a lot of lesser known cooks with great videos too, but the pros are always good to have in the mix.

Here are two different videos on how to make ragu bolognese, one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The first is Mario Batali and the second is a guy named Pat who has a site called kahunasfoodandwine.com … I loved Pat because he has zero sense of aesthetic. His toddler is sitting in the background, stacks of paper, so if you don’t have patience, just fast forward because he knows his bolognese. I enjoy the train wreck because he loves food.

 

Mario’s video is a bit old and the quality is not so great, but the content is pure gold.



Are there any videos you love? Have you taped your own? I would love to see them and feature them on TastyBits. Stay tuned for my videos and a whole new look and feel for TastyBits in the weeks to come!

BRILLAT SAVARIN, NOT THE MAN.

November 4, 2010

Photo from Say Cheese in San Francisco

The cheese.

Brillat Savarin was the famous lawyer and gastronome from the early 1800’s often quoted for saying,”Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”, but more importantly,  for this post, he is the man after which someone named one of the most creamy and luscious cheese experiences I have ever had.

Have you tasted Brillat Savarin, again, not the man, but the cheese? …When the rind is perfectly bloomy? When it has been sitting around for a few hours, a little droopy and defeated,  feigning humility, yet taunting you to come hither?

If you have, then you know that when you have a taste of said – cheese enchantress, nothing else matters, neither the juicy steak waiting to be slapped on a firey grill, nor those perfectly ripe figs resting on your counter. These are but lifeless objects compared to this living creamy being that you transport carefully to your mouth by means of cracker, apple slice or finger. Guilt always ensues.

I touched upon my love for Brillat in an earlier post, but I felt it deserved it’s own post. Every time I put it on a cheese plate, before anyone has tasted it, they invariably ask me, “what kind of brie is this?” To which I respond, “you peasant, this isn’t Brie, this is Brillat Savarin”. (of course I don’t say that) I, too, thought it was Brie and I wasn’t too far off because it does have a white bloomy rind like brie and it is similar in color and comes from France, but other than that, one is a pearl and the other a genuine faux pearl.

What I love about Brillat Savarin is that it isn’t simply creamy and luscious. I feel that you can sense the milk and the grass that the cows ate and it feels like a dream. If you buy a little wedge of this cheese at Whole Foods or your local gourmet food store, make sure the rind is really white and bloomy. More yellow and less bloomy equals older cheese. I am not saying it tastes bad, but start with a very fresh wedge first and see what you think. I think the best vehicle for this cheese, besides your finger, is a slice of green apple. They bring out the best in each other. Enjoy

There are so many amazing cheeses to be savored, but I felt this one deserved a special mention because of the response I get from everyone who I give it to for the first time and that is “Oh My God, that is insane”.

(for those of you cheese Nazis out there… yes, this is a type of Brie and it is also a triple creme. Feel better? Oh, and it is from Normandy. I am sure I still missed something)

 

GIVING BACK IS TASTY

October 27, 2010

 

Me teaching killer vinaigrette.

Several months ago I received an email from a girlfriend telling me about a non-profit that was looking for volunteer chefs to teach six week classes on healthy cooking and nutrition, so naturally I jumped at the chance. It is not that I have all the free time in the world while building RealFoodies aside from other duties related to impending nuptials, but I have ALWAYS wanted to do this and it would only be one day a week for a few hours. I know what you are thinking, “you are not a chef” and you would be correct. I did do some time in culinary school, a very expensive lesson on how to section an orange and I have taught cooking classes here and there, but chef, not so much. I am however, not shy and I love people and food, so as long as no one cared that I am not officially a chef, I was overjoyed to teach this class.

Today I completed my 4th class and I am so sad that it will be over soon. I walked into this a  little nervous and unsure how much value I could give my students. We expected about 10 people and have had the same 21 people show up every week. We have even had to turn people away. I told the students the first day of class that I was not there to teach them how to cook because most of them could probably teach me a thing or two, but that I was going to teach them how to cook what they love in a healthier way, while stretching their dollar.

Group prepping broccoli and oranges.

So who runs this program? It is a little confusing. There is a national non-profit called SHARE OUR STRENGTH that is mostly known for incredible programs like TASTE OF THE NATION, GREAT AMERICAN DINE OUT and this program formerly called Operation Frontline, but has now been re-named COOKING MATTERS…phew.. but that’s not all. SHARE OUR STRENGTH partners with local non-profits to carry out their programs, such as the class I am teaching and locally, their partner is Fresh Approach, which is a subsidiary of Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market Association. You got all that?

The nutrition portion of the class.

Anyhoo, I LOVE this program and intend to teach another class starting in February. My students love the class. They rave about everything they have learned and the meals they have prepared for their families at home. It has also done wonders for my stand-up routine. I am going to do whatever I can to raise awareness for this great program. I have just been invited to be on Bay Area committee for COOKING MATTERS, but this is not about me me me. It turns out that you you you can also volunteer! Whoo hoo. Each class has a chef, kitchen assistant, nutrition person and extra volunteer. My team rocks. They are kind, intelligent and generous people that are doing an amazing service a few hours every week. There are classes in many languages, including English! I have a small group of English speakers in my class, but it is a mostly Latin American group.

 

Cream of broccoli with spinach salad and whole wheat cheese toast.

I could go on, but a picture speaks a thousand words. Please ask me about the program and please contact Fresh Approach about Volunteer opportunities in your area. My goal is to get some media attention for this program, so if you know anyone in the media, tell them I will give them a kidney.

The class is very hands on!

 

 

Veggies from the Farmer's Market, ready to be prepped.

A really cool feature of this class is that at the end of every class, each student gets a bag of produce from the Farmer’s market to take home so they can prepare the recipes they learned.

 

 

IF SOPHIA LAUREN WAS A GRAIN.

October 19, 2010

Rebecca's Farro Salad

She’d be Farro.

I had never tasted Farro until a friend ordered a Farro Risotto at Bar Jules in San Francisco and little did I know that it would contain no rice. I took a bite of the creamy farro risotto and was instantly besotted. Sadly, it wasn’t until almost a year later that I would attempt to wrangle Farro myself.

The inspiration to purchase and cook farro came from my girlfriend Rebecca. She is a great cook and a master of healthy and tasty. She gave me a little bowl of farro, of which I took about 3 tablespoons home. I woke up the next morning, pulled it out of the fridge and savored the tiny amount of leftover farro salad-eyes closed.  It has been a while since I have been so inspired not only by the flavor of an ingredient, but by the texture. There is a toothsomeness to Farro that makes chewing extremely enjoyable, not to mention the lovely mildy nutty flavor that takes residence in your mouth.

I had to make this salad myself!

REBECCA’S FARRO SALAD

1 cup Farro

1/4 Cup crumbled Feta

1/2 Cup little tomatoes – some sliced

3 T Kalamata Olives chopped

3 T dried currants (reconstituted in hot water for a few minutes then drained)

3 T Pine nuts – toasted

1/2 a cucumber peeled, seeds removed and chopped

1/2 cup basil (my addition)

Juice of 1 lemon

3 T olive oil

Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

HOW TO MAKE FARRO

1 cup semi-pearled farro
2 cups water (or broth)

Add water, some salt and farro to a sauce pot with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and steam for 25-30 minutes. Taste after 20 minutes and if farro is done before 30 minutes and there is still water in pot, simply drain like pasta. Allow to cool and add all ingredients. Yum. You may switch up ingredients and replace pine nuts for walnuts, blue cheese for Feta, raisins for currants, cilantro for basil and even add chicken! Go crazy.

NOTES:

Farro is very versatile. I have had it with fava beans, lemon juice and olive oil or as a risotto as I mentioned above. I love it because it is a whole grain and it is a healthy alternative to white rice and takes half the time of brown rice to cook. I purchased a bag of Farro at Whole Foods for almost $6. I have seen it online for upwards of $15. Farro is farely new to the states, yet pretty readily available. It is a tasty and impressive dish to serve your guests too!

EVERYTHING’S COMING UP PRETZEL!

October 12, 2010

Pretzel bread. French Laundry. Photo: tinyurbankitchen

For the last 15 years or so, I have been in perpetual mourning over the pretzels of my youth. It’s not like I’m German or anything, but I recall pretzels as being shiny, firm and chewy with a little sprinkle of course salt, not sweet and buttery like today’s mall-varietal. A few years ago I had dinner at a delicious restaurant in Lake Tahoe called the Lone Eagle and became re-acquainted with my long lost pretzel, at least partially. It wasn’t twisted like a pretzel, but presented as a mini loaf of bread along side other toasty and warm bread creatures, however, I didn’t care about it’s other yeasty basket mates… my eyes, nose and every other sense bearing organ were FIXATED on the pretzel bread. I had repeat orders of this bread. I rarely partake of bread at restaurants because more often than not, they are barely suitable as a buttery deliver method, but this pretzel bread, oh my.

Such as many summer romances, I day dreamed about this little pretzel bread and occasionally mistook other bread like specimens for my doughy tryst, but none could compare.

Fade to summer 2010. I am strolling along the bakery aisle at Whole Paycheck in search of dessert and what do I witness, you ask? I spy a tall plexi-glass altar to everything pretzel. There were little individually wrapped warm pretzel buns, shiny and flexible pretzel twists and long, brown and glistening pretzel baguettes. It was a pretzel grotto. I had arrived.  No, but for real, these were like the real thing. Even the little roll-like pretzel ball things… they tasted exactly like the pretzels of my wiley youth.

Pretzel bagel!

This is getting long right? Take a seat. Have you been to Noah’s bagels? They have pretzel bagels there, which I have to say, don’t really taste like pretzels, but do not defile pretzelry like their sweet and greasy mall counterparts.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this. I guess I would like to invite you to taste a real pretzel, not a Wetzel Pretzel or an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. A real, soft, warm, chewy and salty pretzel is something to be experienced. You may invite mustard or melted cheese to the party, but I like to take in all the pretzeliness sans accoutrements. I know Timberlake brought sexy back, but to whoever brought pretzel back, thank you.

Click here to get the Wiki on pretzels. How do you pretzel?

YAY! Sardines?

October 7, 2010
Brave little soldiers.

I have had sardines more than I would care to recall lately and not the canned-cooked-to-smithereens kind, but the, how-much-did-I-just-pay-for-that-fishy-experience-kind. Sardines have been a hot item this summer on hip restaurant menus, but I have found them to be really “fishy” and I don’t consider myself any less of a RealFoodie for saying so. This can’t be the way sardines are supposed to taste. Can it? (sardine pun)

I am intrigued by these little creatures of the sea and mostly because I hear they possess all of the great health benefits of fish, like really high omega threes and protein with a fraction of the mercury of larger oily fish, not to mention that they are easy on the dollar.

How hard can it be to make these guys at home and will they taste fishy?

SARDINE 101

Buy really fresh sardines. (We are lucky in California to have fresh Monterey Bay sardines) Look’em in the eye. Are they clear? Ask your fish monger to press on them. Do they bounce back quickly or stay sunken in? Have they been scaled? I prefer to scale them myself (just run fingers on little fish bodies from tail to head under cold water… the scales slide right off – you may also use the back of a small knife). Fish has a very short shelf life after death. My theory is that less handling = fresher fish. People are warm blooded and we transfer heat to these tiny little guys, speeding up the putrefaction process. Again, just my theory. I am no fishmonger.

I’m gonna gut you like a fish! I now know what that feels like. Gutting a fish for the first time can be messy and a little sad, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Kinda like tax evasion. (Joke everyone. Just relax)

Ready to cook!

Im convinced that sardines taste fishy because they are old and/or people don’t clean/rinse them thoroughly. They are bloody little creatures and fish blood tastes, well, fishy so I like to run their little butterflied body under some more cool water to clean them out. European Sardinists are spitting on this post and saying, “we throw ze sardines on ze grill and eat zem whole.” Well, good for you Pierre, this here is the USA and we don’t like to look our food in the eye, not to mention chew up their heads. (crawfish don’t count) dramatization

I can honestly say that I wasn’t a true cook until I ran my fingers down the slit cavity of a little sardine and completed the heinous act by snapping the teensy spine between my fingers, not to mention ripping it out. Muahahahaha! Did I mention cutting the little head off? If there is fish Karma, I’m screwed.

Click here for a how-to site on cleaning sardines. I now see that I will have to create a video because I am NOT satisfied with what is out there, but this link will do in a sardine gutting pinch.

Sardines dredged or nude.

Gutted, Cleaned and Fileted, what now?

There are many ways to honor these little sparkly fish. I am a fan of simply lightly salting them and pan frying them skin side down (dredged in flour or nude) in a little chili peppered olive oil for a 3 minutes or so and then flipping them over for another minute or so, but here are some recipes that look tasty:

• Grilled Sardines with Sweet and Sour Lemon-Pepper Vinaigrette and Toasted Bread – Bobby Flay

• Pasta with Sardines: Pasta con le Sarde – Mario Batali

• Sartheles Psites: Baked Sardines with Garlic & Oregano – on About.com

NOTE: My method of prepping and cooking sardines resulted in lovely tasting little fish. The flesh of the sardine is like that of a miniature trout with slightly deeper flavor and NO fishiness! Enjoy.

HOW DO YOU SARDINE?

Originally written by Claudia Ossa for CarnalNation. CarnalNation is not affiliated with RealFoodies, Inc.

GO GADGET GO! Part Deux

September 28, 2010

Inspector Gadget

I am not a gadget pimp, but there are a few little items in my kitchen that make my life easier. This is part two in my series of “Go Gadget Go” posts. I may occasionally write about which gadgets got-to-go as-in, go in the trash, but for now I will be a lover, not a fighter.

Ikea Knife Magnet with Silicone Tongs.

I love myself a knife magnet. I especially fancy the $14.99 knife magnet from IKEA. I have installed 3 in my lifetime. I am not sure when the world assumed that a big wooden block was the place place for knives, but does no one wonder what lives in the dark extremities of that porous block of wood? I am sure no one does, but I do. Not only do I find knife blocks to be gross, but they take up valuable counter real estate. I also love that I can stick anything metallic to the magnet including kitchen shears and tongs. Handy is another word I love. If I could put everything I need in my home on a magnet, I would, but I am afraid it might throw off my electro magnet fields and drain my magnetic personality.

Tongs, not to be confused with tongues, are also so groovy. I do not enjoy the super heavy stainless steel tongs. I don’t need a hand work out when I cook. I love the super cheap mostly aluminum tongs, but as I do love to contradict myself, my current tong sweetheart is partially silicone coated stainless steel and retails for about $12 by Cuispro. They have a super easy locking mechanism. How many of you have battled with tongs that wouldn’t unlock when you needed them to or vice versa. I feel your pain. Not only are these tongs fantastic for sauteeing in a non-stick pan, but they remove your need for a tall person in the kitchen. You say that jar of tomato sauce is out of reach? Fear not, your handy silicone tongs will extend your arm length by 9.5″ and grip that glass jar with no-slip-ease.

I have a few more gadgets up my culinary sleeve, but I have to save something for future posts! Please please tell me what gadgets set your heart a flutter.

Click here to read the first Go Gadget Go post!