Thursday, March 29, 2012


Generally speaking I'm a believer in "all things in moderation," but there are times when that simply can't apply. Like the annual Oscar Night of Gluttony. You may recall hearing about it here and here. Basically, three of us make a dish or drink that represents each of the nine best picture nominations. And then we eat it all while watching the Academy Awards. Thankfully because this is a live event and we're on the west-coast, we get started early, but somehow that means we don't stop early. We tend to keep eating and drinking while we watch hours and hours of post-show commentaries on fashion, winners and parties.

I think the menu and the execution this year deserved an Oscar. Seriously, every movie was stellarly [Is that a word? It should be.] represented. Most courses/movies we wanted more, which is actually kind of disgusting considering that three girls were putting away nine courses — and they weren't small, lady-like portions! Case in point: my chili cheese dog with caramelized onions and crushed Fritos. This was my Moneyball dish. When I think of baseball, I think of hotdogs. And when it's the Oscar Night of Gluttony, you kind of have to go all-out! See Exhibit A:

I'm not one opposed to spending hours and sometimes even days in the kitchen to make a fancy or special meal, and I'm happy to report it's usually met with positive, even borderline adoring, comments. But I basically didn't make anything for this dish except the caramelized onions. I was just off a plane so was rushed for time and made a detour to 7-11 to grab a cardboard dish [yep, that's the best serving vessel they offer] of chili, which they were nice enough to give me for free — probably because they've never seen anyone during daylight hours come in trying to buy some. It's kind of like eating at Krystal's during the day — you Southerners know what I'm talking about! Anyway, I boiled the hotdogs (which I did try to find some that were nitrate-free, grass-fed, somethin'-or-other—I do live in CA, you know?), toasted some buns, and added some spicy mustard, caramelized onions and grated cheese. But for the crowning touch, I added some crushed Fritos, which I also picked up at 7-11 along with the chili. A stroke of genius I wish I could claim, but I think I saw it on some Man vs. Food episode, which probably also included a Philly cheese steak and fried mozzarella sticks on top. How that dude is still alive is a mystery to me. . .

Anyway, it was borderline gross but delightfully delicious. I mean no one would normally serve this to guests or eat this unless they're at a diner at 3 am with a blood alcohol level of 0.3, but damn was it good! And despite the fact that it took me a mere 10 minutes to assemble this dish, I don't think I've even received such a rousing chorus of accolades. One guest even told me it was the best thing I've ever made. I'm like, "You mean the best thing I've never made?" I wasn't offended because it really did hit the spot after . . . . the 8 other courses we had!

Meredith kicked us off with a classic and perfectly chilled mint julep, the quintessential Southern cocktail, in honor of The Help.

That was followed by spam sushi, representing The Descendants, which takes place in Hawaii. Spam is a beloved "protein" of the Islands, but we tend to mock it here on the mainland. After eating this dish, I must say, as white trash as it sounds, I think we need more spam over here! It was delicious, albeit heavily dressed in a sweet, tangy, doctored-up soy sauce. I've always said with enough soy sauce, anything can be consumed. . . .

Meredith finished out her triple with some homemade — yes, homemade! — soft pretzels with habañero mustard as a homage to New York City, where Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was set.

Karen got a standing ovation for her pan-seared Kobe rib-eye with béarnaise sauce (for The Artist, an elegant dish representing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in the 1930s), which she served with glazed baby turnips and carrots (for War Horse — even though I'm quite certain no horse has eaten vegetables that delicious!). Seriously, it was probably one of the best steaks I've ever had. I hope she'll share her secret.

Karen closed out her session with petits pains au chocolat, in the spirit of Hugo, which was one of two Best Picture nominations set in France.

We continued our venture to France, when I served up roasted ratatouille on olive bread crostini with chèvre cheese for Midnight in Paris, which was one of my favorite movies on the year.

My last movie was probably the hardest one for me to pair: Tree of Life. I didn't see it but know it was about a family in Texas in the 1950s. I was channeling Southern food — think bacon and buttermilk — and a little smokiness for Texas — enter cayenne, and the stay-at-home mom of this era who'd bake you cookies when you came home from school. The result was a delightful, slightly spicy chocolate chip pecan cookie made with buttermilk and bacon grease.

Again, maybe not the most common cookie recipe you'd whip out for company, but definitely fitting for the gluttonous occasion. And dang, I gotta say those were good cookies. Recipe to come for sure! Because gluttony loves company!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

April Showers

I'm not sure if April knows this or not, but it's not supposed to be here yet. And its showers are definitely not supposed to be here yet. But that's what we've got in Santa Barbara at the moment. Early April Showers. Or Late March Showers. And that means soup was a necessity for dinner tonight. And I'm not even going to feel guilty for the fire I built and am sitting in front of as I type this. It's chilly. It's wet. It's good to be in a toasty home.

I've had this recipe sitting around for eleven months. I never got around to making it last spring, but today seemed like a good time to try it. It's fresh-tasting but comforting. And after an indulgent evening last night attending a gala which was follow-up by bottle service here, I felt like feeding my body something nutritious might help make up for the excessive alcohol and late-night pizza? Wishful thinking perhaps but I have always been an optimist.

Curried Shrimp-and-Corn Chowder
from Southern Living

1 medium-size sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large Yukon gold potatoes (around 1 lb. total), peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato (1 lb.), peeled and diced
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
1 (14 oz.) can chicken broth
1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened lite coconut milk
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb. peeled large shrimp, chopped if desired
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Saute onion in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat 5 minutes or until tender; add garlic, and saute 1 minute.
Add Yukon gold potatoes and next 7 ingredients; bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Stir in shrimp and cilantro; cook 4-5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
If you want to get fancy, top with chopped green onions, cilantro and/or roasted peanuts.
Serves 8.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Market Research

I'm a big fan of market research. Big fan. Wow, I know I sound like a total geek but it's true. I find it fascinating what kind of data is being collected out there and how it's being used to retarget you for products and promotions. I was even convinced when they first started making you enter your zip code at the gas pump that it was part of some elaborate project to see how far away from your house you buy gas so they could determine the catchment area and open more gas stations, a kin to what Starbuck's does when they open a store on each street corner. Clearly, my imagination got away from me because everyone knows the zip code is tied to your credit card billing information and is actually a security measure. OK, so it appears that everything is not about market research.

But years ago I read an interesting market research article on scotch — more specifically why people don't order scotch when they're out on the town. The result: Men felt it was a stodgy drink their fathers or grandfathers would consume, and the women were of the opinion that it was too strong for them to handle. As a result, the flavored vodka craze commenced because the research showed that vodka was the magic mixer. You could infuse it with almost anything and people would buy it. For obvious reason, bars and restaurants loved it, as well as the distilleries. Another interesting outcome of the market research was that if a signature cocktail with scotch was offered as a special, the sales catapulted. It turns out people don't really know how to drink scotch. But if my cool bartender gives me the thumbs up, I'm likely to try it. The most popular concoction they found during their research was scotch, pineapple juice and grenadine. Honestly after I read that, I went out that night and ordered the same thing. And guess what? It was pretty good. But not good enough to dethrone my beloved bourbon and convert me into a scotch drinker. Not even close.

Anyway, this weekend I enjoyed a lovely (and late) dinner at a new Greek restaurant in town. As my dinner companion and I were leaving, the owner came over to see how we enjoyed the meal and service. We raved (which was genuine) and told him we were headed out for a nightcap. He implored us to stay and have a drink at the bar on the house. And he insisted on serving us his favorite drink, called Glenlivet's Girlfriend. In spite of my past positive market research experience with scotch, I was skeptical. Mainly because I think it tastes like peat moss on wood. But I'm not one to turn down free alcohol, so accepted the gracious offer.

The bartender served up a beautiful yet simple cocktail comprised of Glenlivet and a honey liqueur called Bärenjäger, which is something I've never heard of let alone tried. It was finished off with a lovely lemon twist. It had a really nice warmth to it, almost butterscotchy, even though it was served cold. It was super well balanced, with the smokiness, honey and citrus. It was so good that I drank half of it before I thought about taking a photograph of it! And then I had a second!

Honestly, if you ever feel a sore throat coming on or it's pouring cats and dogs when you're looking for a nightcap, I highly recommend this. But if you just want to participate in some self-directed market research, then by all means investigate!

Saturday, March 3, 2012


I know Spring doesn't officially arrive for a few more weeks, but I think it already sprung in Santa Barbara! And this makes me feel a little giddy. Warmer weather, longer hours of light, the scent of honey suckle wafting through the air, and flip flops so you can wiggle your toes. . . . Ahhhh, what's not to like?!

I am fresh off a trip to the farmers market this morning and couldn't help but share the color fest of items that greeted me. I think every color of the rainbow was represented:

And I love that I always see something new at the market. Today it was a stunning flower called Cancelaria, which almost had a sea urchin-like quality to it — with a little suspended hat overhead.

Happy weekend to all!