Daily Archives: April 3, 2008

Best Digital Sources of Foodinspiration

When I’m looking for inspiration on where to eat out, which new ingredients to try, or what to make with ingredients I have at home, I turn to my favorite email newsletters. I’m sure there are zillions out there, but in an effort to keep inbox clutter to a minimum, I pared them down to five:

1. Zagat Buzz

Best For: Reading about the hottest new restaurant openings and keeping up the food buzz.

Get it: At Although you have to be a Zagat member to browse through the reviews on the site, the Buzz is free.

Too Bad: Only offered in select cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Washington D.C. and Philly.

Get a Taste: Planning to be open 22/7 (closed only from 4–6 AM), New American newcomer Lift is a much needed late-night destination, set on the ground floor of a born-again Hollywood apartment complex; its fair-priced menu lists innovative fare like lobster mac ’n’ cheese, Sonoma duck confit hash and oatmeal crème brûlée, served in a room with 21st-century coffee-shop decor.

2. The Splendid Table

Best For:Perfecting one recipe. The Splendid Table often offers tips for shopping and preparing the entire dish.

Get it: This food read is brought to you by American Public Media. Get it at

Too Bad: There’s usually only one recipe. Don’t like the week’s offering and it goes directly to the trash.

Get a Taste: Fragrant Curried Chicken with Creamy Yogurt: Daunting though it may appear, most of these ingredients are tossed in a food processor for a fresh curry paste. What I like is how no browning is needed for the chicken, saving you from a messy stove top. Finishing with cool yogurt stands up to the nip of chile, black pepper and spice. Basmati rice is the classic partner here.

3. The Dish from Food and Wine (Weeknight Edition)

Best For: Spicing up your meals mid-week, getting ideas for great, inexpensive wines, learning how to pair your meals with wine. Click over to the site for luscious photographs and slide shows that will inspire you to create greatness any day of the week.

Get it: Free at the Food and Wine website.

Too Bad: There is simply not enough time to try all of the fabulous recipes. I’ve saved a bunch of these in my inbox (including “15 Hearty Vegetable Soups, Fantastic Hot Sandwiches” for a rainy day).

Get a Taste: Get a Taste: Our top 15 warming soups are all hearty and delicious. Try the Vegetable Soup with Fennel, Herbs and Parmesan Broth—antioxidant-rich fennel is one of its several good-for-you ingredients.

4. CHOW Digest (Chowhound at Home edition)

Best For: Getting tips from other foodies on weird foods, different places to go out in new locales, and what to do when you have too much of one ingredient.

Get it: Sign up as a member on (free) and register for the digest.

Too Bad: While the newsletter is edited by a Chow staffer, you’re getting tips from people you’ll likely never meet. Cook beware.

Get a Taste: Jennalynn requested suggestions for what to do with “a bunch of fresh purple passionfruit,” and Chowhounds responded.
mlgb uses fresh passion fruit anywhere one might use lemon juice, such as fruit salad, yogurt, salad dressing, or fish. “One of my favorite dishes now is pan-grilled salmon with a passion fruit squeezed over,” says mlgb.

5. Daily Candy

Best For: Finding out about cute new cupcake shops, hip cafes and the hottest new dining spot. Aimed at young women, this daily digest also includes fashion, makeup and culture finds.

Get it: Get your daily cuteness at

Too Bad: Like Zagat, Daily Candy is only offered in select cities. Bummer.

Get a Taste: If you’ve got other designs for your day, start it off at BLD, chef Neal Fraser’s (Grace, Iron Chef America) bright, airy new digs, where morning meals are just as important as lunch and dinner. (BLD, get it?). With ingredients from small growers and indie gourmet lines (specialty products like Berkshire maple syrup are sold in the market corner), Fraser uses fresh techniques to make gourmand versions of traditional bites. Like classic egg dishes (try the frittata with Prosciutto di Parma-wrapped asparagus with Gruyère and arugula); bruleed grapefruit; white bean huevos rancheros; and brioche French toast with Cowgirl Creamery crème fraiche. Or choose freshly baked breads and pastries to go with your breakfast cheese plate.


Posted by on April 3, 2008 in Food Reads


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“Heat” it up

I have a sudden craving to go to Italy. I want to skip all of the museums, the monuments, the history and go straight for the dinner table. My ultimate heaven right now would be to slurp a bowl of handmade pasta, preferably with a thick ragu. As the boyfriend and I plan continue to plan our summer trip, I’ve mentioned the idea a couple of times.

heat2.jpg“Not now, dear,” he says quizzically, trying to understand where this Italy-philia is coming from. “Perhaps when the Euro is once again on par with the dollar.”

Let me explain.

I’ve been reading Bill Buford’s “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany.” I’d heard about the book on NPR and when I found the book at CC (the boyfriend)’s aunt’s house, I decided to skim.

Italy seems to charm us all. Browse over the travel section at your local bookstore and tales of Americans in Tuscany burst off the shelves.

I questioned whether this book would be any different — particularly because Buford’s way of waxing on about Italian cooking is by working through the kitchen of Mario Batali, owner of Babbo and many a Food Network shows. This, I thought, is just another “what’s-it-like-in-a-professional-kitchen” tell-all, much like “Making of a Chef” by Michael Ruhlman.

I was wrong. Yes, Buford regales us with tales of slaving away at the Babbo kitchen, working his way through the grill station, the pasta station, the prep. But his writing is delicious and amusingly self-deprecating. After cooking pounds and pounds of pasta, he writes:

“I learned many things at the pasta station, but I don’t want to exaggerate my achievement. I never got through an evening without one profoundly humiliating experience. By now, I was in the kitchen five days a week, and each time the service commenced I had the same thought: maybe, tonight, I’ll manage not to f— up.”

But what makes Buford’s book unique is that he goes above and beyond the kitchen. He retraces Mario Batali’s training in Italy, learning the art of making tortellini (which, by the way, legend goes are shaped to look like a woman’s navel), retracing the history of Italian recipes (the tomato sauces we so now associate with Italy? Well, they didn’t appear until tomatoes were brought over from the Americas into the Old World), and mastering the art of butchering at the shop of Dario Cecchini (the Dante-quoting butcher).

It’s almost impossible not to be hungry after reading passages from Buford’s books. He writes in such a way that your tongue feels like it is tasting and sipping right along with him. Upon arriving in Italy, he writes:

“I then ate two pastas. One was tortellini, small, complicated knots of dough with a mysterious meaty stuffing. The other was giant pillowy ravioli, distinguished by their thin, floppy lightness… They were dressed in butter and honey and filled with pumpkin so that when you bit into one you experienced an unexpected taste explosion.”

I found, too, that my cravings for meat intensified this week as I paged through the book. Although my leanings have been more vegetarian lately, I indulged in pastrami for lunch yesterday and have taken to wrapping fish in pancetta and prosciutto. The culprit? Buford. How can you read about ragu, bolognese, bistecca alla fiorentina (steak), sausages and peposo(slow-cooked beef shank) without your taste-buds yearning for some juicy carne?

Take this passage, for instance, on the typical ingredients that go into bolognese:

“A Bolognese is made with a medieval kitchen’s quirky sense of ostentation and flavorings. There are at least two meats (beef and pork, although local variations can insist on veal instead of pork, and sometimes prosciutto, pancetta, sausage, and pork, not to mention capon, turkey or chicken livers) and three liquids (milk, wine, and broth), and either tomatoes… plus nutmeg, sometimes cinnamon, and whatever else your great-great-great-great-grandmother said was essential… In any variation, the result if a texture characteristic of all ragu: a crumbly stickiness, a condition of neither solid nor liquid, more dry than wet, a dressing more than a a sauce or, as Mario describes it, a “condiment….”

One of my favorite parts about Buford’s writing is that he incorporates a wealth of culinary history into the book. He retraces, for instance, when Italians first started adding eggs into their pasta dough (if you do make homemade pasta, be sure to use very good eggs — from a farmer’s market, for instance) or different polenta cooking techniques.

But enough blabbing. Go get the book yourself. And make sure you have a cookbook or a reservation to a tiny, family-owned, authentic Italian restaurant handy (as for the boy and I, we’re heading to Lupi in La Jolla tonight).


Posted by on April 3, 2008 in Food Reads


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