Thursday, October 30, 2008

Giada! Giada! Giada!

I sat right behind Giada at the Paley center's event on Tuesday. I was thinking, "I could just reach out and touch her hair right now." Would security kick me out? What's the worst thing that could happen? I decided if you are going to mash someone you should at least be polite and ask.

So I waited until she signed my book, innocently asked about her hair products and then asked her if I could touch her hair. The people in line behind me started cracking up. She grabbed a big handful of hair and offered it to me. I just gently rubbed it between my fingers and said it was soft and then ran off with my book, giggling all the way to the elevator. Now if I can only grope Anthony Bourdain my life will be complete.

Read about Giada at the Paley

Check out my "above board" blog linked above (where I don't admit to my crazy exploits) for info on the food and interview.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Drinks: The Vampira

Neccessity is the mother of invention. Camping in Mexico is a great time to discover that the only thing left in the cooler - mango nectar, is delicious with tequila.

It is also conveniently bright orange, making it a perfect Halloween drink. It's a little sweet, so the blood orange cuts the sweetness (and adds the fun!)

If you don't have Centenario, substitute another white tequila like Don Julio Blanco.

The Vampira

1 ounce Centenario plato tequila
1 cup mango fruit nectar
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime
2 ½ ounces freshly squeezed blood orange juice

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add tequila, nectar and lime. Mix. Carefully spoon the blood orange juice over the top and don't mix so it drips down like blood. Oooh, scaaaaarrry!!

If you aren't up to mixing your own (and live in LA), check out Halloween Cocktails: Seizing the Spirits

Everybody Loves Giada!

Tuesday night The Paley Center for media hosted and evening with Giada De Laurentiis. Often you leave events like this thinking, "If only I could have asked a question, if I only I could have met her, if only I could have tried the food I saw prepared onscreen..." Well, the Paley Center granted every wish you could possibly have and more.

The evening began with a preview of her new show, At Home with Giada, a twist on Everyday Italian. The show is largely a result of the birth 7 months ago of her daughter, Jade . She hopes the show will be a breath of fresh air. The large, sunny set allows more freedom of movement than the previous cramped kitchens "Everyday Italian" was filmed in. The show reflects more of her California influences. But none of Giada's charm is lost, whether it is tilting her head thoughtfully before adding another bunch of salt to a recipe or her occasionally unladylike exclamations at the deliciousness of the food. She is natural and unabashed before the cameras. Giada is Giada and you can't help but love her.

The following interview was indepth, covering Giada's childhood in Rome, and her difficulties adjusting to the United States before learning to speak English. Her confession to flunking the first grade was somehow extremely endearing. Few people know that her grandfather ran a business making pasta before moving to the United States, and Giada describes growing up surrounded by food. But when the time came to choose a career path, she was dissuaded. Her family was concerned that her small stature and gender would make it difficult for her to succeed at the manual labor of lifting heavy pots in a man's world.

So Giada graduated from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology - with a twist - she studied how food relates to culture. When her family realized she was not going to give up her dream of becoming a pastry chef, they sent her to the Cordon Bleu, insisting, "If you are going to go, go all the way." Again, the language barrier proved difficult for her. But she persevered and returned to work at Spago. The low pay and long hours of restaurant work led her to begin working as a personal chef (Ron Howard was her first client) and open her own catering company. On the side, this energetic overachiever styled food for Food and Wine Magazine.

The magazine ran a piece featuring her family, which caught the eye of the Food Network and they contacted Giada. It took eight months of talks for her to finally agree to the show "Everyday Italian." Finally her brother (whom she lost 5 years ago) told her, "Just don't tell anybody. Then if they don't like it, nobody will know." He coached her on working with cameras and conquering her shyness. Previously The Food Network rigorously media trained and coached their chefs, but with Giada they decided to try and let the chef's personality shine through. And it shone like a beacon.

She admits the first season's episodes were a little "rough". They had to work 20 hour days to produce a 22 minute show. And yes, the crew often got to eat the leftovers. Giada insisted on staying in Los Angeles although most Food Network shows were being filmed in New York. She felt she needed her real family around her to make it feel "real". In the beginning, the network was heavily involved, even suggesting adjustments to the recipes but she now enjoys the freedom to do her own thing.

For now, until her daughter is a little older, "Weekend Getaways" is on hold, but she is still appearing on the Today Show. She has just released her fourth cookbook, Giada's Kitchen, which not only includes everyday favorites, but shows her evolution as a cook, including many momentary favorites like artichokes and reflecting the happy, sunny, and expectant time during which it was written.

The audience was then invited to ask questions. Everything from her favorite local restaurants ( Georgio Baldi and Mozza) to her favorite movies produced by her grandfather (Orca, no, Flash Gordon!) I asked her what her last meal would be, and she said, "Chocolate. Chocolate Tiramisu. Lots and Lots of chocolate."

The evening ended with complimentary copies of Giada's Kitchen, and she sat there and patiently signed every single copy. Meanwhile, there was an open bar and appetizers of the foods we had just watched being prepared in the episode of At Home with Giada. You have not lived until you have tried her cherry mojitos and orrechiette.

Every week Giada invites you into her kitchen as if you were her friend. During the interview and book signing she was open and trusting. It seems like we are not just a bunch of fans and strangers to her. With Giada, everyone is welcome. Everyone is her friend.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Have your Soup and Eat it Too

This week the weather started cooling before soaring back into the 90s. Just enough time for me to make soup. But I couldn't decide between albondigas and pasta fagioli. So I figured, why not have the best of both worlds?

I lifted the meatballs from Biba's Trattoria Cooking cookbook, with a few changes. I will make the meatballs smaller than the ones in the picture next time. The stock is open to interpretation. I like the flavor of "real" carrots with the tops on, but I'm willing to take shortcuts for the stock. You can probably cook the soup much faster, but I like to take my time.

Greedy Soup

Around 10 cups beef broth
1 (14.5-oz) can chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 bunch fresh carrots, sliced
2 small zucchini

Bring beef broth and tomatoes to a boil. Very lightly dust meatballs with flour. handle them very carefully. Drop a few at a time into the boiling broth. Let boil for about an hour.

Turn soup down to a simmer and add vegetables. Cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.


2 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound ground beef or veal
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients together with your hands until well-combined. Roll 2 to 3 Tablespoons of meat at a time gently between the palms of your hands to form small meatballs.

Beef Stock

You know how some cooks tell you they don't have a recipe because they just throw in a little of this and a little of that until it looks right? I hate to do that to you, but stock is an inexact science. I will do my best to guess amounts. I used chopped tomatoes instead of tomato juice or puree because I had a box of Italian tomatoes, which were more flavorful and mushy than "American" chopped tomatoes. The young butcher at the market didn't know what "trimmings" were, so I told him to give me "the ground beef before it was ground" and paid full price. I miss the good old days when butchers gladly handed you an abundance of assorted trimmings. And at Eschbachs, they used to give me slices of sausage and little German kinderbourbon candies too, sigh. Of course I was 5 years old.

3 pounds beef trimmings or stewing beef
1 pound veal (whatever you can get, use less if it's $$$)
2 marrow bones or oxtails (preferably oxtails)
1 onion, quartered
1 head garlic, peeled and smashed
3 stalks celery, including tops
1/2 pound of baby carrots (the ones in a bag)
1 big bunch of fresh rosemary
1 big bunch fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
2 cups pureed tomatoes or chopped, diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken broth
Water to cover by around 2"

Throw everything into a pot. Cook the hell out of it, for maybe 5 hours. Skim the top of the icky beef froth occasionally.

Let cool a little so you don't burn the hell out of yourself and strain into another pot. Yes, I'm assuming you have as many gigantic pots as I do. If desperate, use a giant bowl, a lasagne dish, the Stanley Cup, whatever.

Return pot to stove (If you used a bowl or the Stanley cup you will have to pour the broth back in the original pot), add some salt, and let boil and boil until it is reduced to around 10 cups and tastes right (see, this is the vague crazy-making part of recipes).

If it boils down to 10 cups and you feel like it is still bland, keep reducing, add some more herbs, and later make up for it with chicken broth. Cool overnight, and remove the fat that has accumulated on the top of the pot. Tah Dah! That wasn't confusing at all, was it? The good news is you can basically do whatever you want here. It's hard to screw up. Go to town.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lost in the Supermarket

I had to take a picture of this supermarket display today. Mmmm, pizza and strawberries! A classic combination!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cabo Day 2: Getting to Know You

We had most of Monday to just hang out, see the town, and get to know each other. Carol and I took a taxi into town for breakfast. First I tried Mama's Royale Café, which was supposed to have the breakfast in town. The taxi driver waved at the locked gate; they were closed. So I tried asking for another place, Felix's and the taxi driver just waved at the same place. I looked at the signs. Mama and Felix had a very close relationship. Undaunted, I tried door #3 - Pancho's, and thank goodness they were open. Pancho's was on my "margarita list" not my "huevos list" and it was way too early for margaritas.

In spite of the super "Mexican fiesta" theme party decor, and the fact that they are known for their tequila, Pancho's made the best chilaquiles I have ever eaten, bar none. Oh my God, I just want to climb up to the computer and lick this picture.

We wandered through the town, and I bought vanilla. Ever since I was a little girl, we never left TJ without a giant bottle of Mexican vanilla. We looked in trinket shops, and I fell back into bartering so easily it surprised me.

We wandered around the touristy harbor, and I paid a guy a few bucks to take the stupidest sucker photo ever, but I have come to love this picture of the iguana in a sombrero so much I put it on my new business cards. It may be the greatest picture I have ever taken. Of course, just as I'm being a total dork photographing an iguana stereotype we run into Rachel and Chris - small town. Chris and I toyed with the idea of buying tiny sombreros for the sea turtles to disguise them from predators.

Carol and I went to stare at the Dolphin Adventure and try to decide if we wanted to swim with dolphins or not. It looked kind of sad and really silly, plus you can't take pictures. You have to buy their pictures. It was also a 3 hour ordeal. I knew I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but as we were walking down the stairs after deciding against getting attacked by dolphins, I noticed the way the water flowed off of the tank and took a picture of that.

I was technically outside of the aquarium area. I was technically not photographing any aquatic mammals. So I wasn't really breaking any rules. But the hand of fate disagreed and slapped me down. I totally fell down the stairs. I hate falling down the stairs. What I hate even worse is the aftermath of falling down the stairs, when people rush over and try to coddle me. I don't care if I break my leg clean off, I refuse to show any pain and just want to pretend I'm fine and make the people go away. That macho attitude once made me walk for 2 hours on torn ligaments in New Orleans until my ankle was the size of a softball.

This injury was a little less severe

The pool had a swim-up bar, so we met our fellow travelers there for lunch and disproved the 1-hour swimming rule. I had a well-seasoned pounded steak sandwich. I don't know the cut, but was much more tender than carne asada. Resort bars aren't usually known for their food, but this place was fantastic - even their french fries were killer. It was hot as hell outside, and it was such a luxury to dine while up to our chests in cool water.

The palapa was the main feature of the swimming area

from inside it looked like a giant straw hat

Around 4 o'clock, we were picked up in vans for a long night at the ranch. It was beautiful.

There was a guest house next to an arroyo where Rene said they do a lot of bird-watching.

The Arroyo was kind of scary deep. Of course Lisa fearlessly sat right on the edge.

The main building was just steps away from the beach.

And then the fun really began...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pasta alla Tesoro

We will return to our regularly scheduled turtle programming in a moment, but first, this delicious recipe!

Now that Autumn is here, it seemed like time to play with some new flavors and add a little spice after summer's lightness. It may still need to be played with a little. I am also thinking that the flavors would work nicely as a ravioli filling.


1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, chopped fine
10 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1" cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup champagne
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon Brandy
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 (16-ounce) package linguine

Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

In a large pan, melt together butter and olive oil. Toss in pancetta and sage, stirring to break up the pancetta. When browned, remove pancetta and sage with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add chicken to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is lightly browned and no longer pink in the middle. Add garlic for the last few minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.

Slowly sprinkle flour into the oil in the pan, whisking constantly. Stir for about a minute, then slowly begin whisking in liquids.

Add spices and let cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add pancetta, sage and chicken back to the pan and heat through. Adjust spices.

Boil the pasta according to package directions, and toss with sauce.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cabo Day 1: Two Tickets to Paradise

The flight into Cabo was barely 2 hours, and pretty cheap. In spite of its proximity, visions of drunken frat boys on Spring Break benders have always kept me away. An invitation from ASUPMATOMA, a group that rescues baby sea turtles, gave me faith that more is happening in Baja than guys in sombreros pouring tequila in your mouth and spinning you around.

Upon arriving at the airport, I had some trouble finding my ride. I finally found Pepe, and together we hunted down Carol, a fellow journalist. Carol is easygoing and quick to laugh. But she is still a New Yorker; so there is a sense that when it comes down to it, she can handle whatever comes her way. I took a liking to her immediately.

Pepe, our driver

On the ride down, I asked Pepe if he wouldn't mind stopping at a taqueria. I was famished. It was definitely "authentic". The horchata was cold, and the fish tacos, made from pargo, a red snapper, were delicious. They only use one tortilla, not the double-tortilla common to Los Angeles taquerias.

Total Suicide Food

It was about a 20-minute drive from the airport, barring any emergency taco stops

Waiting for us at the hotel was Rachel, our PR contact. She definitely kept everything running smoothly. The pool was gorgeous ! Our rooms were gorgeous ! Definitely stay at La Finisterra if you are heading to Cabo.

The view from my balcony

There were hawks flying around at eye level

Oh, they do have the world's biggest moths in Baja. Unless this was a baby hawk or another hallucination. (I imagine Hunter S Thompson attacking it with a tennis racket) This here's bat country!

On our first evening out, our host, Rene, invited us out for dinner. He had an air of old world courtliness about him. He holds himself proudly, like a matador. He was accompanied by Elizabeth, the group's Biologist, who was monolingual, and unfortunately I speak very little Spanish - very badly. I speak just enough to order food, find the bathroom, and start a fight. Definitely not enough to discuss anything scientific. But Elizabeth was good-natured and seemed to find us amusing.

Everyone was discussing wine. I think no one wanted to be the first one to drink alcohol - or up the host's bill. I finally broke down and admitted I could use a beer. Rene perked up and asked if we'd like to try beer a different way, so a few more people joined in.

They squeezed 2 or 3 limes in a glass, added a little salt, a little sparkling water, and then a Bohemia. It was a little like a shandy, or a beer mojito.

Carol and I soon discovered we made a good team, because I am a compulsive talker, and she is a compulsive note-taker. It is hard to do both and eat a meal at the same time.

I was seated across from Lisa, who is that person you dream about becoming when you grow up. Years of working with National Geographic have given her James Bond-like experiences few of us will ever experience. Her opening sentence might be, "When you are in zero gravity..." or "Walking along the bottom of the sea..." But she is as matter-of-fact about it as you or I would be recounting the plot of a movie we just saw. There is no braggadoccio, only a vague sense of wonder.

The restaurant, Romeo and Juliet, was mid-scale Italian. The atmosphere was warm and slightly romantic, but the menu was not too pricy. There were no Mexican-Italian "fusion" dishes which would have fascinated me - just straight-up Italian. The Caesar salad was intense but delicious. It was invented in Baja, after all.

My gnocchi was heavenly

I tried a bite of "fileto pesce a la mugnaia" fish in a white wine and lemon caper butter sauce with olives, which was delicious.

Chris, who is Rachel's husband, offered me a bite of his lasagne and I think he scored. That was the best damned lasagne. It was all meat, no ricotta or white sauce, and handmade pasta. It might even be better than mine, and I make a mean lasagne.

During dinner, the bulk of the conversation involved turtles, naturally. Rene explained that when the turtles lay their eggs they go into a trance and don't even know you are there. He said in general the turtles were tranquilo and he almost wished they were a little more aggressive.

In the first of many inappropriate and unusual outbursts, I exclaimed, "We could train them!"
Chris said, "We could fit them with laser beams!" and I knew I had a partner in my insanity.
I said, "We could attach jet packs so they could fly, and with the lasers, hell, they'd be like Gamera!

After awhile conversation led to the enormous size of some of the turtles. The elusive leatherback can grow to the size of a VW bug. I blurted, "Can I ride one? Oh my God! I want to ride one! That is totally going on my bucket list."
Chris laughed at me, "Bucket list!"

We received a lesson in the correct pronunciation of ASUPMATOMA. I confessed that I kept thinking of it as "Asuptomania". Chris said he just calls it "Hakuna Matata".

The dessert tray was too tempting to pass up, but nobody wanted to be responsible for actually ordering dessert. So I ordered a Tres Leches and a bunch of forks, and Lisa followed up with an order of chocolate flan for the table. Tres Leches is one of those dishes with a short window. If it doesn't sit long enough the cake isn't saturated - too long, and it gets mushy very quickly. This restaurant had it just right, and the cake was pure heaven. It was finished with a little swirl of mango and another of raspberry coulis.

Later, when a small group of us were discussing the "Dolphin Adventure" in Cabo, and the morality of swimming with captive dolphins, someone said, "I heard they don't like it. I heard they (pause) bite you."
Chris said, "They do worse than that."
I knew what everyone was dancing around, so in spite of being completely sober I said, "I heard they try to "force themselves" on you."
Chris said, "Umm, yeah. That."
I said, "That's OK. Being assaulted by a dolphin is also on my bucket list."

Is this the sign for the bathroom?

I was secretly relieved that there were a few people with my terrible sense of humor. But in spite of the randy banter, it was a pleasant and relaxed evening, and we couldn't have hoped for nicer hosts or better ambiance. Back at the hotel I explored a little bit.

I sat up on the hill overlooking the city drinking a margarita on the rocks.

a stray cat jumped into my lap. I sat there petting it, looking at the city lights and felt more content than I had in a very long time. Then something spooked the cat and it ran off, knocking over my margarita.

I grabbed my swimsuit and headed for the beautiful pool.