Snacks

Toast Is In Season

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Props, Mr. Dickens, a more accurate turn-of-phrase is difficult to come by.

It’s been Spring in Los Angeles since….three years ago? With the exception of a few days of either rain or blistering humidity. The farmers markets are finally (and when I say finally, I realize I have zero control, which is as it should be) matched with the season. Green things are everywhere. Stone fruit season is the most wonderful time of the year – a description I ordinarily attribute only to March Madness and Champions League Soccer.

It’s also apparently a season of toast? I am hard-pressed to remember a time when I wasn’t thoroughly surrounded by artisanal Wonderbread upgrades. FYI, I’m sure I’m supposed to provide some sort of commentary on the patriarchal cultural norms currently causing me to cluster the letters forming the last name of the woman in the vintage ad below ad into “Barbie” instead of “Barrie.”. Respect for Wendy Barrie being one of the O.G. talk show hosts, but the 84 out of 100 women who participated in the advertised test (see the lower-third of the photo) deserve both better bread and a less vapid iteration of publicity.

Hearing about The Mill in San Francisco clued me into the amount of money individuals are willing to pay for delicious bread, butter, and spread. ($4.00, by the way, in case you’ve got better things to do than click on the links I attach.) I am also guilty of paying $6-8.00 for a tartine at various other establishments. (Btw, those are open-faced sandwiches which have roots in the Middle Ages, when thick slices of bread called “trenchers” were used as edible plates to not waste the juices of whatever was placed on top of them, then given to the poor or fed to animals. I digress. This post is getting way longer than I originally intended it to be.)

Yesterday, Francis Lam, an editor and food columnist, tweeted this brilliance, to which I am countering, “How Many Days can I live on Sourdough Bread with Whatever Spring Shit I have in the Fridge?: An Experiment by Sydney.”

Today’s toast has green onion butter, fava beans, and basil.

Spring Toast

 

What’s the Deal with Spam?

We do not eat Spam. We eat fast food burgers and hot dogs from street carts at 2:00 AM, but we do not eat Spam. Spam is for weirdos…..what’s it made out of, anyway? Eating Spam would destroy my reputation.

What if I told you Spam is delicious?

First, open the can….you don’t even need a can opener. Break the seal and slide it out (this is not sexual at all – trust)….in this moment your entire existence will change. This is the moment you decide who you are….there is no “reset” button. Now look. The reason we “don’t eat Spam,” is because Spam doesn’t play by the rules. We don’t know what’s in it. It comes in a can. It’s processed. It’s strange.

Why?

It’s found all over Hawai’i. It’s found all over the world. In 2007, seventy years after its inception by Hormel, the 7-billionth can was sold.

I’m serious! You can go on and on (and on) about how you “don’t get” Spam. That doesn’t change the fact that 30% of American households consume it on a regular basis. The highest per-capita consumption is in Hawai’i, but that makes sense, considering it was developed by local Japanese residents during World War II to be used by American troops. The large military presence in Hawai’i cemented its use after the conclusion of the war.

Its most common use is in Spam Musubi.

musubi – (Japanese) a rice ball wrapped in nori, usually with some kind of filling – usually something salty

Wait! Don’t pack up and leave yet. Go to Amazon and purchase a Spam Musubi mold for between $4-6 if you don’t have one. (I’m assuming you don’t, since you’re most likely reading this post with moderately perturbed curiosity, unless you’re a member of my family.)  If you don’t like this recipe, you can use this mold for other Japanese sushi rice cooking endeavors. Try it.

A basic teriyaki sauce consists of equal ratios of soy sauce and sugar (i.e. 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for every 1 tablespoon of sugar, for those of you not used to talking in ratios,) and you’re going to use this magical unicorn sauce principle to make Spam taste delicious. This isn’t about ego, this is about you experiencing a simple, onolicious flavor that’s da kine, bro. I don’t have time to explain what “da kine” means, because I’m too occupied trying to get you to try Spam. Google it after this.

Onolicious Spam Musubi

STEP 1: Prepare steamed white rice. (I use a rice cooker. You may use the stove. Tomato. Tomaahto.)

STEP 2: Remove Spam from can and slice lengthwise into 8 pieces.

STEP 3: Heat a few tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is warm – NOT smoking – add the Spam slices and sprinkle sugar on top. Cook, flipping occasionally, until caramelized on both sides. Remove with a spatula and drain on a paper towel.

ASSEMBLE: Lay out 1/2 sheet of nori (that’s the dry seaweed sold in the red bag in the international section, for those of you without access to a Japanese market) and place the musubi mold on top. Fill the mold with rice, a singular cooked Spam slice, and more rice. (Don’t overstuff the mold, or your musubi will fall apart.) Press the top of the mold down to compact the rice and spam. Wrap the seaweed around the finished pressed filling.

007

I know what you’re hesitation is. I honestly do, but you’re doing the right thing. Trust.

Turn to Popcorn

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating, there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”          – John Ruskin

It’s finally raining in Los Angeles.

We need it. Farmers need it. The reservoirs need it. Everything needs it. What we don’t need is the increased traffic, subsequent automobile accidents, and everyone coughing, sneezing, and shivering.

Meanwhile, life needs to go on the way it does in every other part of the world that has ever experienced rainfall. I stare forlornly out of the shower window and fight with my Lazy Girl urge to call in sick. (Yes, there’s a window in my shower. It has a great view of a wall.) Don’t worry Mom, Dad, and employers of the word. I’ve never called in fake sick for ANYTHING. I’m too concerned about my karmic cosmic balance kicking me in the face at an inopportune time.

Although not a bad alternative, there are only so many coffees and delivery containers of Hot and Sour Soup I can go through before I start staring forlornly out of the window again. In my world, rainy days are an ideal time for popcorn. Have it curled up under a blanket with some sort of movie or TV marathon on, or eat it at your work desk while skimming through Business Insider and Buzzfeed on your ten minute break.

Popcorn is an ancient variety of comfort food. I’m talking 3600 BCE in what is now New Mexico ancient. Maybe even 4700 BCE in Peru ancient. Don’t believe the hype that English settlers learned about popcorn from Native Americans. There is no evidence to suggest that popping corn grew in New England during the colonial period.

Popcorn mania began during the Great Depression and World War II, when farmers struggling for cash supplied it to purveyors who sold it for 5 to 10 cents a bag. (It also helped that candy production was focused on making products like M&Ms to send to the boys in the trenches overseas, but that’s another history lesson for another time.)

Also, if I haven’t been clear, I’m referring to the type of popping corn made on the stovetop and in over-priced (but still badass and cravable) popcorn machines. It’s easy to make, but remember to keep an eye on the heat. If the heat is too high, the outer layers of the popcorn break too early (burned/scalded popcorn or popcorn with a hard texture.) If the heat is too low, the pressure inside the kernel won’t increase enough to pop.

Oh, calm down. It’s easy. Plus now you’ll get to see what all those gourmet varieties of popcorn are about (although I’m pretty devoted to my name-brand Orville Redenbacher.)

Popcorn Instructions:

Heat a few tablespoons (enough to cover the bottom of the pot) of extra virgin olive oil or butter in a large pot over medium heat. Throw 3 individual popcorn kernels and cover the pot, leaving a small crack for steam to escape. Once all 3 kernels have popped, pour in 1/2 cup of popcorn, and tilt the pot to spread the kernels around evenly. Re-cover the pot, leaving a small crack for steam to escape again.

Now listen for the magic. The same rules for microwave popcorn apply to stovetop popcorn – 1 or 2 seconds between pops (“One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand”) means the popcorn is done.

Pour the popcorn into a bowl and season to taste with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, salt/truffle salt/garlic salt/various other toppings.

Now, your only mission is to eat the entire bowl in one sitting.

Popcorn

Wake Me Up When September Ends: Denial of Summer Growing Season Ending Charred Corn Salad

“Don’t you love New York [i.e. Los Angeles] in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I’d send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

-Meg Ryan (sort of) in, “You’ve Got Mail”

Things that excite me about September:

  • Not being socially shunned for drinking hot coffee
  • Festive legwarmers and boots
  • Soup, Stew, Chili, and every other warm, hearty comfort food

Things that are the opposite of exciting in September:

  • Pumpkin mania – Thanks, Starbucks for killing my soul by offering Pumpkin Spice Lattes in 95-Degree August Los Angeles weather
  • The implication of everything becoming serious again, i.e. school beginning for those still doing that sort of thing and work vacation time elapsed with no end in sight until Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • The end of the summer growing season

I love so many things about autumn, but I’m definitely attempting to ignore summer being over like a parent dealing with a bratty child….which is not unlike how decent human beings treat ratchet girls at the club…..I digress.

This recipe is ridiculously simple. Twenty minutes gate-to-gate simple. Use-up-the-last-summer-corn-before-it’s-too-late-you-fool simple. Seriously, go make it. Slice some avocado on top of it, while you’re at it.

Charred Corn Salad

  • 4 Ears of Corn, Shucked
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/2 Small Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Jalapeno, Diced
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling over Medium-High heat for 12-ish minutes, i.e. until charred all over.

Meanwhile, let the onion sit in the lime juice for 10 minutes to mellow out the flavor. After 10 minutes have passed, add the maple syrup, jalapeno, and 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the corn is charred to your liking, remove from the cob and toss with the dressing you’ve just made. Tear the mint, parsley, and cilantro leaves – because chopping is too much damn work when you’re hungry – and add the torn leaves to the corn mixture to your liking.

???????????????????????????????

A Two-Ingredient Side Dish for Dieters who Miss Mashed Potatoes

This weekend, I was all set to consume a few cocktails. I wanted to lie poolside and bake myself as golden-brown as a cookie. (Wear sunscreen though, kids. Safety first.) And it RAINED?? All weekend?? Rude.

Cauliflower gets featured in a lot of magazines as a dieter “go-to.” Some claim the texture of baked cauliflower resembles the taste of oven chicken wings. It doesn’t. Shift topic to mashed potatoes. It’s not just a Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish. Restaurants serve it year-round, and….why shouldn’t they? Eating mashed potatoes is like eating a buttery cloud of unicorn magic.

I’ve been asked about healthy alternatives to mashed potatoes, and I promise this one will give you the idea you’re craving. The texture and creaminess is on point. All you need is cauliflower and nonfat plain Greek yogurt, plus whatever herbs/seasonings are already in your kitchen.

What to do:

Turn your oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with non-stick spray. Chop up the cauliflower (the smaller the pieces are, the easier it will be to mash) and distribute evenly on the baking sheet. Season to your liking – I only used kosher salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes on this one and it was fantastic.

Make a foil package of sorts by putting another layer of foil over the top of the baking dish to seal in the heat.

Roast for 20 minutes. Then remove the top layer of foil, and roast for another 15 minutes. Mix with 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the nonfat plain Greek yogurt, then puree in a blender or Vitamix, pausing to stir up and mash with a fork every now and then.

I consumed this with spirit and fervor – not unlike battling my cousins for side dishes during family holiday dinners. Maybe I could use this as a training mechanism for maximum holiday meal efficiency. Hmm….

Sorry your car is at a 45-degree angle in a ditch….try the muffins?

I shouldn’t complain about the hours I work. I mean, I lived with two djs. I’ve seen how exhausted they are after setting up for an event all day – heavy lifting, making sure sound works correctly, usually doing all this under the sun in black t-shirts – only to have to stand on their feet for five hours or more at night for their gigs. I’m used to not having Mr. Right in bed next to me when I head for sleep and not being able to say goodbye to him when I leave for work in the morning. It’s a working relationship. Shit happens. I’ve got so much respect for those ladies and gentlemen dating chefs, bartenders, bouncers, dancers, and the like. Snaps to all of you for making the commitment to making it work.

That being said, work weeks get stressful. I work 6-7 days a week. Yes, I realize that means I have no days off occasionally. Once again, shit happens. When I’m not at one museum, I’m at the other. I used to work for a contemporary photography gallery on top of those two museums. If I’m not at any of those places, but still not home? I’m either at the ice rink or in the dance studio – teaching and trying to convince my non-teenage body that I can still move in a way that’s moderately aesthetically pleasing.

I really, really shouldn’t complain. Real talk, I love it all. That being said, the vacation we just took to visit my family in Sacramento and spend time in Napa and San Francisco was needed.

A moderately accurate representation of my inner self during this trip.

Mr. Right and I spent an entire day shopping for food and alcohol while Hey-Telling (for those of you who don’t have this app, get it – it’s a walkie-talkie throwback to Nextel phone days) one of my best friends who was planning on joining my family’s celebrations.

My grandmother lives on a farm. I don’t mean this sarcastically, her house is literally in the middle of a functional field. The aftermath of a sunflower crop was everywhere while we were visiting.

In order to get to her house, one turns off the main road onto a smaller road….then off the smaller road onto a dirt road. It’s not exactly over the river and through the woods, but it’s far enough.

“If directions to your house include the phrase, ‘Turn onto a dirt road….you might be a hillbilly.'”

Heard it all before; trust me.

The outskirts of the field surrounding my grandmother’s house are lined with an irrigation ditch. A corresponding irrigation road runs alongside this. Do you see where the story is going yet? Since my girlfriend hadn’t been to my grandmother’s house since the summer following my freshman year at UCLA, she accidentally turned onto the irrigation road instead of the road leading to the house. A few yards into the turn, she realized she’d made a mistake, attempted to reverse, and…..

Damn. Festive firework added for this lovely lady’s privacy. Speaking of which, I love this woman.

Thankfully, no one was injured and we were able to make use of my AAA service. It took two tow trucks and two burly men quite a bit of effort to get the car back onto the road – as it turned out, only the front left tire was keeping it from going in the water – but the guys sent to help us in the 103-degree weather were nice, and my friend’s car didn’t even get wet.

After we were solidly dusty, they followed us back to my grandmother’s house for a plate of food. (I mean….it was the least we could do.) I also made sure to pour the poor girl an oversized glass of wine to go with the plate of carbs I shoved in her direction.

Muffins don’t fix everything….but they definitely help.

Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomato Corn Muffins (adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis)

Ingredients:

  • Two 8.5 packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (Don’t judge. Life must go easy on us, and our food sometimes. Besides, a lot of technology and money went into the box cake/muffin mix to make it taste good.)
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes – chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 cloves (or 3 tablespoons, if you’re working with the Costco-type of jar) minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs – beaten

Turn an oven to 375 and place paper liners in a muffin baking sheet.

Mix the dry ingredients together (the muffin mix, sun-dried tomatoes, corn, and garlic). Mix the wet ingredients together (the milk, sour cream, and eggs.)

Combine the dry and wet mix together. (As you can tell, this recipe is extremely difficult. Please note the tone of voice I’m saying this in.)

Bake for 15 minutes ish, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out without any gunk on it.

Serve with the comforting beverage of your choice. Also make sure your car is safe, while you’re at it.

I had to get in on the fun. And obviously, UCLA girls rock.

Fifty Shades of Salad #5: Mediterranean Vinaigrette (and a Moderately Serious Post About My Mother)

My mother loves fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes grown at my grandmother’s farm in Sacramento. She still finds it amusing that the bumpy, multi-colored tomatoes too ugly to sell for profit and only used for family meals are now the expensive “heirloom” varieties in stores and farmers markets.

I didn’t develop an appreciation for tomatoes and salad until my senior year of high school. Strange, but true.

My mom is awesome. I talk to my parents as often as possible, and can honestly say there are no secrets between us. Nothing is off-limits with them. From a very young age, they drilled into me their desire to always know – the sex, drugs, and Kim/Kanye elements of everything I do.

Don’t worry. She’s not this mom.

My parents let me experience things for myself before asking them for help. This is especially emotional for me to process now, since some of the stuff I pulled couldn’t have been easy to watch. It was recently the three-year anniversary of a very intense brain surgery my mother had in 2010. Needless to say, I’m feeling very nostalgic and had some tears to spare earlier.

Mediterranean Vinaigrette for Any of Mom’s Salads:

Whisk together 2 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Mash in 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.

Whisk in an additional 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley + 1 teaspoon dry oregano + 1 diced plum tomato.

This vinaigrette goes wonderfully with any Mediterranean-type chicken recipe.

Tell whatever motherly figure – family, friend, etc. – that you love them.

Love you, Mom. Real talk.

“Bark” Desserts Aren’t Only for Cold Weather

I grew up in Northern California, and consequently have huge appreciation for Ghiradelli and Scharffen Berger chocolate. I’ve toured the factories, looked up the histories of their processes, and always buy their respective peppermint barks when bagged versions hit stores in Los Angeles for the winter holiday season.

I’m not entirely certain who I was trying to fool with that above sentence, but the truth is, I eat peppermint and mint ice cream/frozen yogurt as often as I can get it all year. So why not peppermint bark? Why not orange bark? It’s delicious, and ridiculously easy to make.

Remember, this is coming from someone who believes she is genetically conditioned against making dessert. Below is an accurate visual reference of what usually occurs when I consider baking.

This week, peppermint bark has turned my heart into a melted puddle of unicorn rainbow joy.

My Dad is a big on dark chocolate/orange things. Mr. Right (or rather, his entire family) enjoys the peppermint bark that mixes white and semi-sweet chocolate. So this one goes out to all the badass men in my life who make it seem like the holiday season year-round.

FYI: Writing this post was also a great excuse to create a Pandora Holiday station.

Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate – if you buy a baking bar, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Peppermint Extract
  • 1 pound white chocolate – once again, cut into 1/2-inch pieces if you buy a baking bar
  • Candy Canes or Peppermint Candies (Crushed) OR your grocery store may sell peppermint pieces by the jar…but this takes away from the therapeutic nature of smashing this ingredient yourself

Line a baking sheet with foil – shiny side up.

Time to make the classic chocolate-melting double-boiler: Heat one inch of water in a saucepan until steaming and make sure whatever bowl you’re going to melt the chocolate in is nonreactive (i.e. glass) and can wedge in the top of the saucepan without the bottom of the bowl touching the water. – DON’T let any water get into the chocolate. I’m serious. This will kill the flavor of the chocolate, and that’s a buzz-kill party foul.

I now provide you with a guide to tempering chocolate that’s so easy to accomplish that my fears of working with chocolate have become permanently alleviated.

Sydney, what the f**k does tempering chocolate mean?

I’m so glad you asked.

Tempered chocolate is what non-pastry-chef earthlings like me inadvertently associate with professional chocolate products and desserts. Chocolate that has gone through the tempering process has a smooth texture and look, with a shiny finish. When you break it into pieces, it snaps crisply and cleanly. In other words – you eat with your eyes first, and tempered chocolate provides that.

Back to your recipe – it’s time to melt (and temper) the chocolate you’re working with.

Separate about 3/4 cup of the semisweet chocolate. Place the rest into the nonreactive/heatproof bowl you’ll be melting the chocolate in. Set the bowl over the saucepan of steaming water and stir until about one-third of the chocolate in the bowl melts.

Now, remove the bowl from the heat. The bowl has already heated enough to melt all of the chocolate. Stir in the reserved chocolate until melty goodness is achieved. If you need to, return the bowl to above the saucepan of steaming water for more heat power (but I doubt you’ll need to.)

Your chocolate is melted and tempered! Does it look shiny and pretty? Good. If not, you’ll get it next time.

Stir 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract into the chocolate and pour onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Spread it out evenly with a spatula or back of a spoon. Tap the sheet on your countertop a few times to get rid of any bubbles. Let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes (i.e. while you’re preparing the white chocolate.)

Put aside about 1 cup of the white chocolate, then dump the rest into a new nonreactive bowl (or be lazy about dishes like me and wash/dry the bowl you just used to melt the semisweet chocolate.) Repeat same melting process used above. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract once fully melted, tempered, and pretty.

Pour the melted white chocolate over the semisweet chocolate and spread around evenly. (Some mixing of colors will probably occur here – don’t stress. It looks marbled and lovely.) Sprinkle with crushed peppermint.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, lift out of the foil and break into pieces.

Tidings of comfort and joy. No, really. I was actually unable to be sarcastic for a full hour after consuming this.

I realize I also promised you Orange Bark. I wanted to let you know that most dark chocolate is vegan….i.e. the Awesome Former Roommate and all your other vegan friends can consume this one with glee. Plus, dark chocolate is an antioxidant. So eat it and get happy, damn it.

To make orange bark:

Melt 1 and 1/2 pounds of dark chocolate using the double-boiler method described above. Set aside about 1 and 1/4 cups of the chocolate to stir in as described. Stir in 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of orange extract. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with foil shiny side up, spread evenly, and tap to get rid of any bubbles. Zest 1 orange over the top and sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes. Break into pieces when ready to serve.

It’s enough to make me emotional.