Friday, March 30, 2012

Barbie's Kitchen

Alice's Barbies turn out to have a kitchen; one of them agreed to show me the refrigerator. I like this better than the earlier Barbie kitchen I posted here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Passover is Coming Soon

Last night I attended a wonderful baking demonstration by Lori Shepard, chef and owner of a catering company called Simply Scrumptious Catering.

Above, you can see the demo table which had been painstakingly prepared by Lori (left) and Esther, our hostess. Throughout her demo, Lori fielded questions from attendees, who included novice cooks as well as those who were highly experienced. She showed a number of techniques, such as beating the egg mixture for a Mexican flan, folding the dry and then the wet ingredients into beaten egg whites (to prevent them from deflating), tapping a pan of cake batter before baking (to remove oversize air bubbles), and turning a cake upside down with a bottle in the center of a tube pan (to prevent the cake from sinking as it cools). Lori showed us an incredible variety of Passover desserts. Some were conventionally kosher for Passover; others were ultra-kosher, meaning they not only were free of flour, corn products, and leavening, but didn't even contain any matzo products.

Though I do not change dishes or remove any foods from my home or from my diet during Passover, I was fascinated by the demo. Passover, I believe, ties all Jews together, whether they are secular and minimally observant like me, or like Esther, who is highly observant. Esther reminded us that among many meanings, Passover represents the birth of the Jewish people. In her view, the careful and limited diet at Passover represents the care with which one feeds a newborn baby!


The ingenuity of Passover desserts also fascinates me. Without careful thought, what baked goods could be made without flour or leavening? And for those who keep kosher there's the added requirement that a meat meal (the usual choice for the Seder) include only non-dairy desserts. Well, in the photo above, you can see three classics -- left to right: sponge cake, carmel fudge torte (in Lori's extraordinary version), orange and nut torte with non-dairy frosting. Everyone was offered full-sized portions of every dish -- I opted for small bites, but we were made welcome to also take home what we couldn't eat.

My friend Abby is the master of the nut torte, but otherwise among the versions of these desserts, Lori's were far better than most that I remember. These three cakes, along with some extraordinary brownies, were waiting for the participants when we arrived; we also watched demonstrations and tasted several other baked goods.


Also on the demo table, were both basic and unusual ingredients for Passover baking. The usual: matzo cake flour, nuts, eggs, coconut milk (to substitute for heavy cream), lemons, and oranges. Unexpected: confectioner's sugar made without cornstarch; vanilla extract made without grain alcohol; specially handled chocolate and cocoa powder. For pie crusts, Lori makes her own graham crackers from Passover ingredients -- another unexpected item.

Lori's Simply Scrumptious Catering provides meals or pastry for weddings, family reunions, business meetings, holiday parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and many other celebrations. Menu choices include a variety of ethnic and American dishes; while she offers kosher catering, she also does lots of work outside this area.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fluxus Food

The art movement "Fluxus" is the subject of an exhibit here this month. It seems to me that this movement, which mainly dates from around 50 years ago, owes a lot to Marcel Duchamp. For one thing -- the use of boxes of chosen objects to illustrate a point, often an obscure point. Also the use of "ready-mades" or found objects. As I have said, Marcel Duchamp is a favorite of mine, so I enjoyed this exhibit of his followers, and appreciate that some like Claes Oldenbourg and Daniel Spoerri produced work outside the confines of Fluxus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quiche = Pie for Pi Day

Here's the pie -- in this case a Quiche Lorraine -- for this year's Pi Day, today, 3-14. I like the idea of round food for Pi Day! I baked the big letter PI separately and added it as a decoration.

For my quiche I started with my old standby piecrust recipe from the Cuisinart cookbook. I adapted this evening's method as well as filling from Julia Child's first great cookbook. That was the first quiche recipe I ever made, to me the authentic and original (not any of those debased concoctions from the 1980s!) Tonight, heretically, I used skim milk in place of cream.

Below you can see the ingredients, ready to assemble: a partly-baked 8 inch pie shell, a mixture of eggs, milk and spice, and some lightly browned bacon, for which I used pancetta. Note that pancetta is a less-heavily smoky bacon than the usual kind, so I didn't blanch it. Blanching smoky American bacon was a step that Julia Child needed because the lighter European style bacon varieties weren't then available here. So I don't feel that was a heretical choice at all!

I arranged the bacon on the crust, poured in the eggs, dotted the top with a few pats of butter, and baked it as directed. It did puff up and was very delicate and good!

The first time I ever ate quiche was at my friend Olga's college apartment. She was such a sophisticate! I had never heard of it, but not long afterwards, I also tried quiche in France, and then came back to learn to cook French food from the recently-published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche was published quite a lot later, after the crimes against quiche that were propagated by second-tier restaurants that made it days in advance and thought you could just warm it up and put a leaf next to it and call it French. No way. This is the real deal.

Pi Day Reposted

From two years ago, for Pi Day -- 3-14. Circular food. Also see this and this.

Breakfast: a round omelet, round tomato slices

Lunch: 2 Pi inches as measured along the edge of the 8 inch pita bread

Dinner: Chicken Pie with a mashed potato crust AND the Pi Day masterpiece --

Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Few Great Restaurants


Last week in Hawaii, we ate out several times, using the kitchen in our condo the remainder of the time. The photo above is a visual summary of the foods we ate and the presentations of food we enjoyed. To see the individual photos at full size, check out my Flickr site here: Kona Dining Out 2012.

Over the years, the food in Hawaii has developed in a most wonderful way. On our early visits around 20 years ago, most restaurants served vegetables and salads made from Mainland produce -- neglecting the possibilities of local farmers. Meat was probably frozen, and the food was typical of big hotels, or was the fake Trader Vic's type of Pacific made-up exotica including overly sweet cocktails etc. Even restaurants that served fresh fish didn't pay much attention to the side dishes or create very exciting results with the remarkable ocean products they could easily obtain.

Back then, local farming wasn't very noticeable -- maybe a farm stand with a few bananas and papayas from the tree. Farmer's markets were maybe just getting started, but they aren't my topic today.

The exception to this sad situation, beginning in the late 1980s, was Merriman's Restaurant in the upland community of Waimaea, where Peter Merriman had worked with local farmers to develop the types of high-quality produce that were in fact natural to grow in the wonderful Hawaiian climate. He contracted for lettuce, tomatoes, corn, and many other kitchen-garden crops, as well as special pork, lamb, beef, and fresh local fish, and the result was then and continues to be highly satisfying.

Merriman also was a founding member of an association of Hawaiian restaurants from other islands that was developing its own style, originally called Pacific Rim Cuisine. (The term has been misused and appropriated since then, I'm afraid.) As the current Merriman restaurant website says: "In a time when a typical restaurant's fresh ingredients were sourced only from large distributors, and local producers were forced to sell at the same price points as their imported counterparts, Merriman went against the grain. He was the first in Hawaii to go directly to local farmers and ranchers to source his menu, and was happy to pay a higher cost."

On our first trip, Merriman's was still unusual, though it had one direct competitor called The Palm Cafe, which closed a few years later.* Our lunch at Merriman's last week demonstrated the continued quality of the restaurant -- despite the fact that it's now one of several Merriman's restaurants on other Hawaiian islands.

The influence of Merriman's and of the local produce movement is highly visible in other restaurants where we enjoyed a variety of dishes. For example, Island Lava Java was originally a cafe and bakery, and is now serving locally sourced lunches and dinners -- I don't know when they expanded their menu, but the cafe has been in business for a long time. I had a really good Salade Niçoise with seared ahi tuna, local greens, and other local vegetables when we ate there. I also had Salade Niçoise at Merriman's a couple of days before: the Lava Java one was comparable, and Merriman's does not include tuna, only anchovies, alas.

Another restaurant that's been around a while serving fantastic local foods is the Keei Café, in one of the small towns going south out of Kona. We've been there on several recent trips, and again found it very enjoyable. After several fish dinners, I ordered rack of lamb, and found it delectable. Their desserts are most tempting, but I always seem to order the mango cobbler, which I love.

On our early trips we ate at a small Indonesian place in town called Sibu in a picturesque old shopping area under a gigantic Banyan tree. A few years ago, this went out of business and was replaced by Rapanui, a sort of general New Zealand and Polynesian restaurant. Wonderful fresh fish! You can get lots of Asian-style vegetables and flavored rice, OR for the really lazy eater, you can do what I did and order fish and chips. Also a delightful coconut cream pie in an individual tart shell all covered with whipped cream, which I seem to order every vacation.

Two other restaurants I like are Kenichi Pacific and The Coffee Shack. Kenichi Pacific is oddly located in the same shopping center with our main grocery store, Long's Drugs, and a movie theater. But it has really nice but pricy sushi, beautifully presented, as well as elegant and quite delicious fish entrees.

The famous Coffee Shack -- mainly a breakfast or brunch place -- is most of the way to the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and to one of the world's best snorkeling beaches. We stopped there on the way from snorkeling over the most amazing yellow, purple, and greenish coral and seeing every type of fish we could imagine. It's a very nice life in Kona!

* As I wrote in 1999: Our favorite restaurant has been replaced by a Hard Rock Cafe. This lamented location was called the Palm Cafe (upstairs) with a less formal version Under the Palm below, in Kona. It featured Pacific Rim or fusion cooking, very delicate. I had delicious ravioli filled with chicken and ricotta in a vinegary sauce, followed by local swordfish. For dessert, the creme brulee (3 little dishes, coffee, coconut, and chocolate) is marvelous, as is the ginger creme caramel. Between 1993 and 1996, I think the Palm Cafe improved on an already good thing. But I guess it wasn't really making it.