Monthly Archives: June 2008

Does Star Power Mean Star Performance?

These days, it seems like everyone who has ever appeared on the Food Network is touting their new product. Rachael Ray has a new line of cookwear out, Emeril has been hawking his sauces and spices for years and we’ve all seen Wolfgang Puck’s ubiquitous pizzas.

But when it comes to expensive cookware, does star power always mean star perfomance? My former colleague and friend Juliet Chung asked several noted foodies to put some of the newest cookware to the test and let us know the results in this Wall Street Journal article.

The results weren’t pretty for some celebrity cookware. Rachael Ray’s frying pan caught fire and the nonstick coating from Todd English’s cookware quickly chipped.

The only one the testers would use in a commercial kitchen was Marcus Saumelsson’s, but at $500 for a 10-piece set, you’re definitely paying for quality. Rachael Ray’s 10-piece set, by comparison, costs about $140 on Amazon.

Like they always say, you get what you pay for.

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Posted by on June 25, 2008 in Food Reads


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Fromage Heaven

In car-obsessed Southern California, it’s rare that we get out of our vehicles and actually walk. While some places are truly unwalkable, certain neighborhoods reward those who step on the brakes and step outside. Hillcrest, in San Diego, is one of those neighborhoods. Fully of funky shops, cute restaurants and dive bars, Hillcrest is also home to Taste: Artisan Cheese and Gourmet Shop.

I stumbled upon this gem of a fromagerie while window-shopping yesterday and was delighted by the products. The store features cheeses from all over the world, as well as imported items such as truffle butter, real Balsamic vinegar and confitures. I stopped to chat with one of the proprietors, George Palmer, and tasted two cheeses, the “Bra” from Italy — a mild, creamy cheese with a woodsy aftertaste — and the Tete D’Moines, a pungent, steamy cheese with mushroom tones. Both were delicious so I purchased a couple of chunks to pair with a bottle of red wine chez le boyfriend that night.

Taste is next to a wine bar and shop, so you can always pick up a bottle after sampling several cheeses. The arrangement is perfect if you want to host your own wine and cheese tasting, but if you’re not inspired, Taste is going to offer Wine, Cheese & Movie nights this summer. The first tasting party will likely feature “Le Chateau de Ma Mere” by Marcel Pagnol and the tastings will include Provancal wines and cheeses. Yum!

Taste is located at 1243 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103. (619) 683-2306

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Posted by on June 25, 2008 in Restaurant Buzz



Food Prices Skyrocket: What’s a gourmand to do?

The boy and I braved the hot, hot, hot weather and strolled through La Jolla’s farmer’s market this morning with a Pannikin blueberry-bran muffin (crumbly, moist, dense — these muffins are the best thing in the morning) and latte in hand. But even more shocking than the heat were the prices!

$2.50 for a head of organic lettuce!

$4.50 for a pound of regular, ol’ Early Girl tomatoes

With those kind of prices, we were conservative and didn’t buy much. We chatted about the food budget a bit later and wondered, how much does it cost to feed two people each month? Do you cut back on the goodies — the wine and cheese and fancy chocolate? Do you stick to canned goods and produce on sale? When you’re paying nearly $5 a gallon in gasoline to even get to the store, how much is there actually left for food?

While thinking about this topic, I stumbled upon a great article by an old colleague of mine at the Los Angeles Times, Jerry Hirsch, on how to keep eating well during this recession.

His tips:

* Buy good stuff like meat and serve smaller portions (which is better for you anyway). The boy and I don’t tend to eat a lot of chicken — we’re trying to eat more vegetarian entrees these days — so when we get the bird, we splurge on the good stuff (even then, I’m not going to lie, I almost fainted when I saw the price per pound on the organic, free-range chicken we bought today).

* Negotiate if you can — particularly if the item has a sell-by date that is close to that day. Vendors would rather sell at a discount than throw food away.

* Buy in bulk. This one’s tricky. When you buy in bulk, you save more, but you also tend to eat more. Hirsch advises that you split the bounty with friends and family.

* Eat in season. This one used to serve me well, but I’m telling you, tomatoes — which should be in season around this time of the year — were $4.50 a pound at the farmer’s market!

* Avoid the take-out department and try to make stuff yourself. This one’s probably the hardest one to follow. Sure, the lentils in the wholesale department are less than a $1 a pound when they’re dry and uncooked but those ready-to-go lentils salads are SO much easier.

Alas, so it looks like it’s time to spend a little more time in the kitchen and to let go of convenience foods in these rougher economic times.

Good luck shopping. It’s a scary, scary world out there.

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Posted by on June 22, 2008 in Food Reads



Is Organic Always Better for the Environment?

Last week, as I bounced through the halls of Whole Foods with a $25 gift certificate in hand (thanks to the boy’s efforts — he drove a Subaru Forrester as part of a marketing gimmick to win the certificate), my mind turned to an article in Wired I had read recently about organic foods.

According to the piece, organic farming sometimes results in lower yields that conventionally farmed produce, resulting in more land needed for agriculture. Environment loses.

Plus, when organic produce is flown around the world so that Whole Foods can stock organic tomatoes from New Zealand next to organic butternut squash from Israel, lots and lots of fuel is consumed in the process.

So what’s a greenie to do? Is it a lose-lose situation or can you be green and eat pesticide-free food?

It is, as always, not an easy solution. The best thing, without a doubt, is to buy local. Shop at the farmer’s market and buy local produce — even if it is not organic.

Don’t turn down genetically engineered foods — GE foods often raise yields, meaning less land has to be used for farming.

And eat seasonally. If you’re buying tomatoes in the dead of winter, whether they are organic or not, they are likely being grown in either a greenhouse or halfway around the world.

Cut down on dairy and meat. Cows are big emitters of greenhouse gases (methane, anyone?).

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Posted by on June 19, 2008 in Uncategorized


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Love Salmon? Don’t Eat it (for now, at least)

Spread over a bagel or roasted on the grill, salmon is one of my favorite fish. Packed with those heart-healthy Omega-3s, salmon is both healthy and flavorful.

But the salmon fishing industry is less than healthy. The fatty orange fish have been heavily overfished and fish farms are suffering from a virus that’s leaking into the wild population. According to this op-ed by Taras Grescoe in the New York Times, farmed salmon is also heavily treated with pesticides, and because the FDA doesn’t test for one particularly toxic one, it could very well be present in most salmon you buy at the supermarket. Farmed salmon also takes enormous amounts of fish protein to sustain.

So what’s a fish lover to do? Eat lower down the food chain. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a bounty of information on which fish to eat and which to avoid. Rather than serving grilled salmon, for instance, opt for trout, striped bass, tilapia, sardines or Pacific Halibut. Check out their resource guides to find the best fish to eat for your region.

Given how cheap salmon is — check out the jumbo packages at Costco — it’s easy to buy without guilt. But the price we’ll pay if we continue gulping down this aquatic being is that there may not be any in the years to come.

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Posted by on June 10, 2008 in Fish


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Taste of Summer: Apricot Clafoutis

Summer is here, which means apricots, plums, peaches and pluots galore. When I worked at Fairview Gardens, I used to bring home box upon box of peaches, which made for the sweetest, juiciest jam I’ve ever tasted.

Apricots, peaches and plums and all of their hybrid combos are ideal for pies, crumbles, slumps and tarts, but why not impress your guests and serve this easy-but-sophisticated French dessert instead? Clafoutis is traditionally made with cherries, but one can easily substitute another stone fruit. A baked layer of eggs, flour and sugar covers a spread of perfect summer fruit. Heaven.

As expected, I’ve lightened up the recipe here, so this isn’t the traditional melange of ingredients. I’m sure you’ll find that the taste is still fabulous and your waist will thank you as well 🙂

Apricot Clafoutis

7-8 ripe apricots, pitted, halved

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs + 3/4 cup egg beaters (or 6 eggs total)

1 and 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour

2/3 cup fat free plain yogurt (you can use low-fat, too)

1 tsp. vanilla


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 Celsius). Cover a deep pie pan or rectangular ceramic dish with cooking spray. Line the pan or dish with the apricot halves, placing the cut part face down.

2. In a large bowl, whip together the eggs and sugar until it becomes a foamy, mousse-like mixture. I used a Cuisinart stand mixer with the whip attachment, but you could easily use a hand mixer.

3. Add the yogurt and vanilla extract and whip until well combined.

4. Add the flour into the egg/yogurt mixture a little bit at a time until it is well mixed in.

5. Pour the egg/flour mixture over the apricots in the baking dish and bake until a skewer inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Serve warm… Delicious with a little bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Posted by on June 4, 2008 in Fruit Desserts


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First there was wine tasting… now coffee?

The wine snobs were first, with their sophisticated noses and babbles of dusty, mid-palate tones and tannic finishes. Close behind were the cheese tasters, raving of a strong-but-whimsical bleu cheese or perhaps a tangy gruyere. The chocolate tasters were next — single origin chocolate has now become all the rage.

And now, my friends, there is coffee tasting.

I suppose it makes sense that this dark, bitter beverage would make the tasting rounds; after all, its bitter cousins chocolate and wine were already on the tasting menu. But it’s becoming a little crazy. What’s next? Kool-Aid tasting?

I have to admit my curiosity is piqued. After all, I do love the dark brew (even in its decaffeinated form) and I’d be curious to taste several cups side-by-side. How does the Intelligentsia brew compare to Starbuck’s new Pike Place Roast, for example? I came to love the Chicago-based company’s fresh coffee and would love to see how it stacks up to the mass favorite.

Coffee tasting, in case you too want to try it, is called “cupping.” There are several “cupping” clubs in New York already and I’m sure that next time your trendy friends invite you over, it won’t be for a wine-and-cheese party, they’ll want to “cup” with you.

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Posted by on June 2, 2008 in Coffee and Tea


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