Monday, August 11, 2008

Nasty Additives to Serve Your Family: Available Now in Prepackaged Foods at a Store Near You

From time to time I receive offers from PR or marketing firms hired by food companies. They hope I will try their foodstuff, give it a glowing review, and recommend it to my readers. Sometimes this works as planned and I am happy to pass along a tip on a new product for everyone to enjoy. Sometimes, however, there's misunderstanding on both sides, and well, I get a yucky product, full of objectionable and questionable ingredients that I would nohow noway recommend to anyone on this planet Earth in this lifetime.

Such was the case recently. The brand name of the product is Wanchai Ferry (from General Mills). The idea is that you, the stressed-out consumer, would go for a prepackaged Chinese dinner in lieu of either making your own or stopping to get take-out Chinese. Now, as anyone knows who does make Chinese (and I am a big fan—
Szechwan, Cantonese, you-name-it—I love Chinese and I love to cook it!), some recipes are fast and easy (egg fu yong, mabo-dofu) and some are slow and tricky with a zillion ingredients (shrimp with lobster sauce, egg rolls). If you opt for the fast and easy ones, you'd be eating your creation before you could drive to the restaurant for take-out anyway—plus you know the ingredients that are going in your mouth, which is reassuring (who uses MSG at home, anyway?).

So Wanchai Ferry assumes you would like to cook Chinese but have no idea what goes into a given dish and somehow cannot do an Internet search for a recipe, nor have the confidence to put one together if you could. The dinner kits come with uncooked jasmine rice (some of us buy jasmine rice in 20-pound sacks and usually have several of those in storage at any give time, but then again, I am maybe a weirdo about stockpiling), and packets of flavoring. You provide the meat and any extra veggies. Suffice it to say that if you have rice, have meat and veggies and maybe a few Chinese seasonings, you could make the dish yourself. But let's say you want to try it the prepackaged way.

Now, before you start cooking, you just happen to glance at the ingredients list. You have been chatted up by the PR firm, praising you for your gourmet Chinese recipes and expertise on making Chinese cooking more approachable, so you assume the package will contain fine-quality ingredients.

How about this for some of those ingredients?

  • Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil Hydrogenated vegetable oils are linked to obesity and health problems, such as heart disease. Did you know the state of California has banned trans-fats? I suggest using natural oils like olive, safflower, or canola instead.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup There is a correlation between the rise of obesity in the U.S. and the use of HFCS for sweetening foods. I suggest using honey or agave sweetener instead.
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG, listed as "natural flavors" or "hydrolyzed vegetable protein") MSG is linked to obesity, is addictive, and causes allergic reactions in some people (like my husband!). I suggest using chicken or vegetable stock instead of MSG to increase flavor.
  • Artificial Colors Did you know you are eating petroleum when you use artificial food colors/dyes? And consumption of artificial colors is linked to behavior problems in children. Natural colors can be added instead. For instance, the spice turmeric makes a beautiful yellow color. Paprika adds a lovely red.

Kind of a shock, huh? For a foodie, that is.

(For examples of pre-packaged entrees that are actually gourmet—with none of the unhealthy ingredients listed above—look no further than your local Trader Joe's.)

But still, food companies insist on these heinous additives, because, voila—they make the food taste yummy and are addicting. Bad for our health, sure, but good for their pocketbooks.

Now the sender of the prepackaged Chinese dinner kits was a PR firm and not in the product development business, but my thought is that as consumers get savvier, we will look toward healthy products more often—and would be willing to pay a premium for such products. The end result is that healthy ingredients in prepackaged foods could help the bottom line too.

For my part, though, I intend to keep empowering my readers to make their own by learning the secrets, to use ingredients they know and love, and to keep things simple. You'll save money over buying prepackaged foods and your enjoyment—and your health--will benefit.

See my instructions for:

Fried Rice

Egg Fu Yong


Goi Cuon (salad rolls)

Ginger Pork

Chow Mein

Sweet & Sour Asian Stew

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

World Hunger Summit Leaders Dine on Cockroach Ragout and Yakitori of Rat, with Jellyfish Sashimi on Kudzu Leaves

File this under major irony of 2008, but this past Sunday, the world leaders who represent all the countries concerned with the global food crisis, "sat down to an 18-course gastronomic extravaganza at a G8 summit in Japan, which is focusing on the food crisis."

Did any of the diners ponder their own hypocrisy for a nanosecond as their ivory chopsticks ascended to their well-fed jowls? Jowls quivering with such delicacies as milk-fed lamb, sea urchin gonads (known as "uni" in Japan), as well as the usual sturgeon roe and sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France (ho hum).

One wonders what an appropriate dinner menu for such an illustrious gathering might be. Anyone care to add to this list? The rules are that it must be:

  1. Abundant
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Easily attained
  4. Not harmful to the environment to raise/grow
Here's my suggested menu:
  • Mosquito fritter appetizer
  • Garden snail popcorn
  • Jellyfish sashimi on kudzu leaves
  • Pinto bean puree with a soybean reduction sauce
  • Cockroach ragout
  • Yakitori of rat
  • Crabgrass and dandelion salad with crabapple vinegar dressing
  • Rhubarb gelato with essence of compost syrup

Friday, March 14, 2008

Simple and Fabulous: Quick Savory Scaloppini a la Whitney

What do you make when you want something delightful, restaurant-like, but you need to make it fast? You'll do well to have a few ideas like this one, ready to whip out at any time. The trick is to marinate in advance--before you leave for the day would work beautifully. Whitney, who came up with this scaloppini variation, swears it works without marinating—but you decide. Scaloppini-cut or -pounded meat is so thin that it cooks quickly.


1 lb. chicken or turkey breast cutlets (cut or pounded for scaloppini)

(You can also substitute 1/2 cup ready-made roasted garlic salad dressing)

· 6-8 roasted garlic cloves

· ¼ cup olive oil

· 4 chopped scallions

· ¼ cup red wine vinegar

· ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)

· Ground black pepper

· ash sea salt

Savory Veggies

(Play around with these, depending on what you have, but definitely use capers!)

· ¾ cup marinated artichoke hearts (make sure they're oozing with marinade when you pull them out...but don't use the remaining liquid in the jar)

· 2 Tbsp of capers

· 1 large red bell pepper, sliced, then cut in half

Stir-fry and Conquer

1. Marinate the meat in the marinade for at least one hour—longer if you can plan that far ahead

2. Put the meat into hot non-stick frying pan

3. Brown one side of the chicken fillets (they should be just starting to turn brown).

4. Turn the chicken over.

5. Toss in the savory veggies

6. Stir to allow the veggies to heat through and absorb some of the marinade. Fry only until the meat is cooked through and the peppers are slightly softened. (You want the chicken to remain tender. Scaloppini cuts are easily overcooked.)


· You won't necessarily have a sauce, but the chicken will be fairly well glazed on both sides with all the flavors

· Goes well with rice pilaf and a salad

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Exotic-cool Martinis: Shaken, Stirred, & Twisted—Impress Your Friends with Ease

The beloved martini. Everyone has their favorite style and variations. Luckily, we live in a more culinarily experimental world than we used to (when I was coming of age, I'm pretty sure martinis came in either gin or vodka—that was about it for the options). Now even our local Cajun restaurant serves a spicy Cajun martini (The Palace Grill, Santa Barbara), many cafés have their own martini menus, and you could fill an entire store aisle just with vermouth permutations (Have you heard of Vya vermouth? Probably the world's finest, utterly drinkable alone, and it is made in neraby Santa Ynez valley). The world is your martini glass.

Lavender Martini
My hubby and I came up with this jointly. He—with all the advanced degrees in plant science—knew such info as, use culinary lavender seeds and not the purple lavender petals, because the petals are more bitter (even the seeds must be used with restraint). Since then, with a little more reading, I found that other lavender-savvy folks have thought of the lavender martini idea too, and there are actually many variations on it (and probably the petals are fine too).

Culinary lavender, if you haven't tried it, is a fragrant kick in the taste buds. Every foodie's kitchen should contain some (which is dynamite with chicken, lamb, or pork in marinades, and don't get me going on desserts!). Anyway, lavender would not have entered my mind if I did not live in the lavender capital of the U.S.. Not only does it grow abundantly in southern California, but it requires little water, and it always looks fabulous. There is even a Lavender Festival in nearby Ojai, California, where I learned more about culinary lavender and got to meet renowned food writer, Sharon Shipley, author of The Lavender Cookbook.

Where do you buy culinary lavender? Online is the best—that way you can shop for a bargain. If you waltz into your local health food store, you'll likely need a second mortgage to buy bulk lavender. One good source I found is San Francisco Herb Company, which has two different grades of culinary lavender and different quantities too.

You can also find lavender syrup—for the ultimate lavender experience, but I haven't tried it yet—if anyone does, please let me know. It is a sugar-based syrup, so would make your martini sweeter.

Assemble your choice of gin or vodka and vermouth, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker.
Add in one or two drops of lavender essential oil (if you have it—make sure it is edible essential oil—some are not the grade for consumption) per serving. Shake or stir, as desired, and strain into a chilled martini glasses (rimmed with sugar, if you like). Take a few culinary lavender seeds in your fingers and crush them to release their fragrance, then float them on top of the drink. Serve with the embellishment of a lavender flower. Now that's a 'tini sure to win a maiden's heart.

Rose Martini
I invented this, I'm proud to say, so let's call it the "Tumerica Rose Martini," shall we? Is there a patent for drink formulas? Nah? Just share and enjoy.

Assemble your choice of gin or vodka and vermouth, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker. Before shaking, add in a splash of rose water. (What the heck is "rose water"? Rose water is the essense of roses in a water suspension and is sold in Middle Eastern grocers. It's a condiment and is a common addition to many Middle Eastern desserts, as well as being added to lassis, those lovely yoghurt drinks you've probably had before. Rose water keeps forever, so it's great to have around as a staple for exotic occasions.) Strain into martini glasses (sugar-rimmed or not) and serve with a few rose petals floating on top. Beautiful. (Rose petals are edible, by the way—they even make great candy when coated with a sugar mixture. But make sure they are home-grown and not the kind from florists, which might not be wholesome.)

Chocolate Martini
Add half vodka and half chocolate liquer, along with suffient ice in a martini shaker (this is a sweet 'tini). Shake or stir, as desired, and strain into a chilled martini glasses. Serve with the embellishment of dark chocolate shavings (use a potato peeler or a grater to grate the chocolate)—the darker the chocolate, the better (look for 70% plus cacao content). Chocolate martinis are almost a slam-dunk to impress the one you love.

If you haven't caught on to the pomegranate craze, now is your chance to make up for lost time. Other than the long list of apparent health benefits, pomegranate juice is simply beautiful—a lovely shade of ruby red. You can buy pomegranate juice at any grocers (it costs a bloody fortune, but you use only a small bit here and there—it also lasts practically forever). Now, the Pom Wonderful (the best-selling brand of pomegranate juice) website lists a "pomtini" that is complicated and includes the dreaded sour mix. Here's how I feel about sour mix: ICK. Never accept a drink that contains sour mix. Sour mix is just lemonade or limeade that is reconstituted with water, and it contains all kinds of stuff no one would intentionally put in their body. Just say no to sour mix. When making drinks that call for it, you can substitute fresh lemon or lime juice, water, and sugar. (If it tastes like lemonade or limeade, then you made it right. If you have to heat the sugar in the water to get it to dissolve, that's fine also.)

But back to the drink, my version, which I'll call a pom-tini, calls for equal parts pomegranate juice (which is not very sweet), Grand Marnier or any orange liquer, and vodka. Add in sufficient ice, shake or stir, and then strain into martini glasses. Garnish with an orange or lime twist.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mai's Cafe on Main Street: Fabulous, Loving Service, and Kick-butt Authentic Vietnamese, Korean, and Hawaiian Cuisine—So Fun!

Got a yen for pho soup and have no idea where to get it? If you happen to be near Ventura, CA, think no more. Drive straight to Main Street and hop into Mai's Cafe (2815 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93003, 805-652-2061). You will be greeted with smiles and made to feel like an honored guest. You will have a delicious assortment of authentic Vietnamese, Korean, and Hawaiian specialties at your beck and call--for reasonable, if not low prices. Oh, yeah, the bartenders give a generous pour and there's live music on some days--call ahead to check. The bar has a roaring fire. And you get a happy feeling being there. The owners will likely come ask how you are enjoying your food.

We love the pho soup, naturally. I enjoyed the citrus pork and we both loved the Vietnamese chicken salad (I noted I could have eaten a large bucket full of it). One of my favorites is Vietnamese spring rolls (goi cuon). For lunch, you can eat like royalty for less than $10. For supper, less than $20. Enjoy! And if you are lucky enough to hear the Hawaiian music band with the little hula dancer, you are blessed!


Saturday, February 09, 2008

How to Woo Your Valentine—with Chocolate Love

Non-traditional Chocolate Love

Diamonds? Nah—too pricey. Hallmark card? Too mainstream. Heart-shaped candy from the local store? Too blah. Flowers? Too obvious. Looking for a new way to woo your Valentine? Just say yes—to chocolate. Glorious, rich, reason-to-live chocolate. Cultivated and developed on this continent (Central America and Mexico—thank you Aztecs and Mayans—you rock!), it's one of the best-loved aphrodisiacs. Unlike, say, Viagra, the ingestion of chocolate is wholly pleasurable as well as its effects. Montezuma was so convinced chocolate was an aphrodisiac, he drank huge quantities before every trip to his harem. Is it the serotonin in chocolate? The rich fatty luxury of it? Who knows for sure, but you can experiment with chocolate—accompanied by the one you wish to woo—and get back to me on how it works.

Meanwhile, here a couple of ways to enjoy chocolate with your love:

Chocolate Mole
Ahhhh, mole. The chocolate curry of Mexico. Savory chocolate—what’s not to love? No better way to celebrate your passion for both chocolate and food by taking your honey out to enjoy some autentico Oaxacan or Pueblano mole. Here are two highly recommended spots in the L.A. area to try (surely you can uncover some near you with some research):

3014 W Olympic Blvd (Cross Street: Normandie Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90006-2516
(213) 427-0608

Described as, “straightforward, totally authentic, very flavorful, extremely reasonably priced, and super-delicious.”

Frida Mexican Cuisine
236 S. Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Tel: 310-278-7666

Described this way, “If you're after more authentic Mexican cuisine in smart surroundings and the chance of a celebrity sighting, then this is a must.”

For a more profound chocolate thrill—for those who dare—make your own mole (I do—it's worth every bit of effort). You will need a spice grinder (a coffee grinder works great), lots of nuts, garlic, dried chilies, and, naturally, a rich, good quality chocolate (preferably Mexican chocolate). Here’s a great site to teach you all you need to know about making mole (the process is not that difficult—it’s more a matter of gathering a lot of ingredients, taking your time, and not succumbing to shortcuts [use turkey or chicken on the bone, for example]):

Chocolate Truffles

Sure, there are chocolate bon-bons—those chocolate candies with mystery ingredients inside. But hard-core chocolate aficionados prefer truffles. Chocolate inside, chocolate outside—all the more chocolate to enjoy. But don't settle for the standard-issue truffles—go for the gusto at these spectacular chocolatiers—or search for handmade truffletiers near where you live:

L' Artisan du Chocolat

3364 West First Street
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Boule Gourmet Chocolates

420 N La Cienega Blvd (Cross Street: Rosewood Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 289-9977

Homemade Truffles

Don't forget that you can make truffles easily as well. Homemade truffles will not look as glamorous as ones you might find at a chocolatier, but they will be made with love—by you—and therefore may be even more potent as an aphrodisiac (see Like Water for Chocolate if you don't believe me).

Here's a quick and simple recipe—the results will astound both you and the object of your affections. Plus, there will be plenty left over to take to work and amaze everyone there. Enjoy! All ingredients can be purchased at your local Trader Joe's. Recipe makes five dozen 1" truffles.

1 Pound Plus bar of bittersweet 72% cacao Belgian chocolate (17.6 oz.)
1/2 pound Ghirardelli white baking chocolate
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 of a stick)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract (or substitute liquor, such as Chambord or Grand Marnier)
2 tablespoons water
Shredded coconut or chopped, unsalted nuts (to roll truffles in)

Boil a few cups of water in a pot. Place a bowl (or another pot) over the boiling water (thus creating a double-boiler, if you don't have one). Melt the chocolates in the upper bowl, stirring to mix the dark and light chocolates (taste, if desired). When the chocolates are melted and mixed, add in the butter, water, vanilla (or liquor) and mix thoroughly. Add in a dollop of heavy cream, stirring it in well before adding another dollop. When the cream is well–mixed, remove the chocolate, cover the bowl, and refrigerate it for two hours or until the mixture is firm enough to hold its shape (you may need to refrigerate overnight).

Spread out a sheet of parchment paper on the counter (or plastic wrap). Scoop up about a tablespoon of the chocolate and roll into a 1" ball, rolling between your hands to make a nice rounded shape (just like making meatballs). Roll the truffle in a plate with the coconut or chopped nuts to coat the outside. Place the coated truffle on the parchment paper. Continue in this way until all the chocolate is gone (be sure to sneak a few for taste-testing and quality assurance). You can find lovely food-grade boxes at Cost Plus World Markets to package your creations in. These simple truffles get such rave reviews, I’ve actually been offered money for them. The secret is using the high-cacao content chocolate and then adding in the bit of white chocolate to mellow and sweeten the mixture slightly (but not too much—mildly sweet is most irresistible).

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pancakes Day: Pancakes Limey style(ish)

It's Shrove Tuesday , the day before Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent and in the UK it's celebrated by making pancakes - and is therfore called Pancake Tuesday. NOT Sooper Toosday. The pancake is an emblem of the last feast before the penitence of Lent.

We have public pancake races... which a combination of insurance companies and the Health and Safety Act and stupid Police have managed to squash - apparently the town of Liberal in Kansas has one.

You need for a dozen pancakes:

110g/4oz plain flour with a pinch of salt
2 hen's eggs
275ml/7fl oz full fat milk
2oz butter - (1/4 butter stick)

Melt the butter and mix everything with a whisk, hand held mixer—get the kids involved—allow for spillages in mixing quantities.

Smear butter on pan get hot and spoon out the mix.

Toss when the surface is just about to smooth over - essential to whoooop!!! as it happens or it will taste unpleasant ... or use a spatula if anal and cautious , but be careful about the whooping

Boring traditional serving is sugar and lemon juice, but add anything, sweet , fruit and cream, ice cream, kids love peanut butter and jam.

Eat whilst watching an endless repeat of the last 2 minutes of the Superbowl.

Monday, January 28, 2008

One Man’s Feast is Another Man’s . . .

Americans ate heartily of horseflesh,

a mere century ago.

The English still eat with impunity

Christmas Pudding (the more lard the merrier)

That is years old.

They lack disdain for internal organs,

Like some Native American tribes,

The Japanese, and Latinos too

(Menudo: Tomato-intestine soup).

Terrapin soup, though

Not appetizing to me

is an aphrodisiac to the Japanese.

Who also treasure the slightly-to-deadly

Toxic puffer fish flesh—

Raw or otherwise.

An ardent Afghani admirer

Once made me goat stew.

And was it dog or not,

I dared not ask at the cafeteria in Manila.

Chinese are perfectly pleased

To eat most anything

That once moved—or still does.

The Japanese are fanatics of freshness, too.

Gui-odori, “eat-dance”

Means eating something alive.

A charming kimono-clad lady

Served me a still-struggling

Skewered sashimi of who-knows-what fish.

The Japanese also have a penchant

For the contents of crab crania.

It comes in little jars like jam—

all the better department stores carry it.

It’s the warm-cuddly that makes food yum—

vigor, prestige, memories of childhood.

Is Hawaiian poi innately appealing?

Or fermented soybeans (natto)

With the gooey texture of okra

And the smell of high school locker room?

These may be foods only a mother could love,

Or the former child of same

who grew up with them.

Let’s admit at least this...

One man’s feast is another man’s, well,

Would you mind passing the potatoes?


Can you identify the foods pictured above? Please send your guess to me at Tumerica