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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Move over, Giada, there’s a new girl in Food Network town and she happens to be my current favorite: Claire Robinson from 5 Ingredient Fix. What’s so great about her? Well, for one thing, she’s great to look at. Just kidding, although I’m sure the guys will appreciate me saying that. Claire’s just got amazing on-screen personality, a wealth of knowledge, and she makes everything seem so easy. Come on, you can’t go wrong with just five simple ingredients, and that’s the premise of the show. We’ve got the series recording every week so I can catch up on what Claire’s been cooking. Here’s something I want to make either this weekend or next: Grilled prawns and caper tzatziki. Check it out.

If I haven’t already mentioned it, one of my favorite books is The Skinny: How to Fit Into Your Little Black Dress Forever by Melissa Clark and Robin Aronson. And I am SO thrilled and honored to announce that I got to interview the beautiful and lovely Robin for my MEET series. In addition to writing the sassy, cute, and witty book on how to shed some pounds while still enjoying your favorite foods, Robin also co-wrote a pregnancy book called The Whole Pregnancy Handbook: A Guide to The Wise Use of Conventional and Alternative Medicine Before, During and After Pregnancy (Gotham 2005) and writes a blog called Local Or Express so check them all out!

Robin Aronson

Robin Aronson (right) with her wonderful mama

Hi Robin. So you co-wrote The Skinny with your good friend, Melissa Clark. What are some of the rules of the book that you still live by? – I still pretty much eat the way we describe/suggest eating in The Skinny.  I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables; at holiday meals I hit the veggie sides hard.  I balance my meals, so if I have something bready for breakfast I’ll have a salad for lunch. If I know lasagna’s for dinner, I have yogurt for breakfast, etc.  I snack on tea in the afternoon (that’s always been very helpful for me) and for a midday sweet I have a little dark chocolate instead of a baked something or another.  Lately I’ve been less attentive to portion size and I’ve been finishing every last bit of dessert, even after the flavor sensation has ended and even if I don’t love it.  I’m thinking I need to readjust a little on those fronts.

What’s a typical day’s worth of food for you? – I’ll have either a half a bagel or some cereal (hot or cold with soymilk) for breakfast. If I get hungry midmorning I sometimes have a small cup of Ronnybrook Farm drinkable yogurt.  Lunch at home might be an avocado or a bowl of soup, along with a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts and a few pieces of dark chocolate.  Tea mid-afternoon (it’s often green tea).  I really struggle with snacking around 5 when I’m making dinner for my kids. (who doesn’t?) If there are pita chips and hummus in the house, fuggedabout it, so I try not to keep them in the house. Dinner might be eggs and a salad or soup and salad or tofu or chicken or chorizo with peas and roasted peppers. Afterwards I have fruit and then a little later some herb tea and a cookie or something else sweet. I try to stick to one cookie at night, it’s not that hard by now, but if I’m watching TV, I knit—because bored hands nosh!

What do you do for exercise? Was working out an integral part of getting back into pre-baby shape? – Truthfully, exercise had nothing to do with losing the last ten pounds of baby weight but it does have a lot to do with me getting back to pre-bay shape. What I mean is when I started eating “on The Skinny” I lost all the baby weight and then some.  So I was thin, but I wasn’t exercising regularly and I wasn’t in great shape. Right before I got pregnant, though, I was in great shape.  I was heavier, but my body felt better and stronger. Then, about a year ago, when I turned 40 and my kids were four, I started running because the nurse practitioner I see told me I was at risk for osteoporosis and I needed to do weight bearing exercise. So, it’s not for love of running but fear of falling that I now run for thirty minutes (give or take) three days a week. But, secretly, once I’m out running I sometimes enjoy it, and I’m always glad to have done it and I feel much stronger and better than I did at my thinnest.

What are some of your favorite restaurants and the dishes you order from them? – Let’s see: I love the chile rellenos from the Mexican Taqueria around the corner from us.  I think about lunch at The Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village all the time (Caesar salad and oysters OR no salad but the oyster po boy) but I haven’t been there for two years. At Keft on the Upper West Side they serve a great sheep dumpling and sausage dish. And then there are the tempura green beans at The Red Cat. Yum!

Do you cook much? If so, what are some of your favorite recipes and cookbooks you always turn to? – I cook a lot and often from Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley and Melissa (Clark).  There’s a lentil soup with lemon and spinach in there that’s a real go-to for me.  I also like to use The Art of Simple Cooking by Alice Waters, especially for stews, and Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen. (I’m not a vegetarian but I try to limit how much and how often we eat meat.)  I like her spicy chickpea soup and spinach, corn and quinoa chowder.  For baking, I’ve got to say, Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook has done right by me. I regularly make the recipes from Melissa’s Good Appetite column in the New York Times: Lentil soup (I like soup); ratatouille pot pie with sausage and cornmeal biscuits (I’ve made it with tofu that’s been gently fried, too and it’s great); olive oil granola; I could go on. I just got the Gourmet Today cookbook, and I expect I’ll use it pretty regularly for a while.

What are three things on your current wish list? – I’m extremely anxious about climate change so I’d have to be a big downer blowhard and say: I wish that plastic bottles and cars would go away to be replaced by bicycles and public transportation. I wish that I had more counter space and room for a composting bin. I wish that farmers and governments would stop clear-cutting rainforests in Brazil and South East Asia. Honorable mention: I wish I could get a ring or two from Heike Grebenstein’s collection. Maybe a pair of earrings, too.  She uses recycled gold!

If you could throw your fantasy dream dinner party, where would it be, who would you invite and what would you serve? – This kind of question makes me extremely anxious! Also, at one of the best dinner parties I ever threw I served one of my worst meals ever. (It was overcooked drunken pork loin from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking; I’d never made pork before and didn’t realize I should have gotten the shoulder!) And I also think that big, famous people don’t necessarily make for a great dinner party. That said, let’s see. My husband (does that go without saying?) Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft; George Eliot and her companion George Lewes (I’m so curious to see how they were together, although we’d be a lot of Jews for them); I would say someone like Edith Wharton or Jane Austen, but I’d be way too anxious about what they thought of me to enjoy myself (With Eliot at least I’d know I’d have some sympathy.); and my friends Natalie and Peter, who first introduced me to the magic of dinner parties when we were all in graduate schools together and really know how to make a table work.

Now you need location and food. Let’s see: If I could host a dinner party anywhere, it might be on the island of Corsica where I went with my family the summer I was seven.  It was magic and I’ve never been back. And if we were on Corsica I’d have to serve a big soppy delicious not overcooked fish stew with fresh crusty bread, garlicky mayonnaise, a big bowl of bitter green salad, a stinky cheese course, and fresh fruit and little perfect cookies and chocolates. (I think my parents had a dinner party like that when we were there and I don’t think I’ve quite gotten over not being allowed to attend.  The pictures look fantastic. It was the seventies and my mom was even in a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.)

I cooked a huge batch of quinoa over the weekend so I could eat it in place of rice alongside some steamed fish and veggies but I had so much left, I had to use the leftovers somehow before it went bad. So I whipped up a super yummy salad with the leftover quinoa and had it for dinner and I urge you to try it if you want something light, tasty, and healthy. I also stole some of Chris’ tomato sauce (from his ravioli dinner) and threw it into the mix as well.

Leftover quinoa (about 2 cups)

1/2 cup of feta cheese

One head of lightly boiled broccoli, chopped

3 tablespoons of greek salad dressing

Toss everything together and eat up!

Quinoa, feta, and broccoli salad

My quinoa, feta, and broccoli salad

Mushroom ravioli

Chris' ravioli dinner, from which I stole some sauce

Ha! I made up my own recipe while baking cookies and it’s easy as pie. Just remember it as The Rule of Thirds and you can’t go wrong. They were originally going to be chocolate chip cookies but then I wanted to bust out my One Lucky Duck pure cocoa powder so I made a recipe up and they came out tasting light, healthy, delicious and perfectly sweet. Dig this:

1/3 cup of butter, softened

1/3 cup of flour (I used wheat)

1/3 cup of white sugar (brown if you want it more chewy)

1/3 cup of sliced almonds

1/3 cup of oatmeal

1/3 cup of cocoa powder

1/3 cup of chocolate chips

1 egg

A sprinkle of salt

Bake for 10 to 13 minutes

Chocolate chip and cocoa cookies

Ok they aren't the most visually appealing but they were GOOD

The weekend was all about football (yay Colts and New Orleans! I called this a loooong time ago) and pizzas. We invited a couple friends over, including Chris’ buddy, Rich, who is known for making bomb pizzas from scratch. He was gracious enough to bring all his pizza tools and resources over so we could prep the dough during the first game. Actually, Chris and Rich prepped the dough since I spent the first half of the Jets/Colts game at the gym – yes, the gym. Are you proud? You should be. I spent an hour there doing interval training on the elliptical, treadmill, stairmaster, then finished my session with weights and abs on a BOSU ball. Hells yes! On to the FOOD…

Fresh pizza dough

Fresh balls of homemade pizza dough

cans of san marzano tomatoes

The ONLY kind of tomatoes you should make pizza with - San Marzano

Different types of flour from Surfas

Rich's special arsenal of flours from Surfas in Culver City, CA

Mozzarella cutter

Yep....a special mozzarella cheese cutter. Rich is a pro.

Using an immersion blender on the tomatoes

Our friend, Jay, doing tomato duty with the immersion blender

Three men and a kitchen

The pizza making crew

Pizza making station

Our pizza making station

Pizza baking in the oven

Getting baked

Margherita Pizza

The Margherita Pizza

Pesto and goat cheese pizza

The pesto and goat cheese pizza

Lamb and mushroom bolognese pizza

Salami and mushroom and cheese

Shannon on the decks

Ladies taking over with the pizza making!

Cold cut pizza

Chris making his cold cuts pizza: salami, turkey and roast beef

Cold cut pizza

A close up of the cold cuts pizza with baby balls of fresh mozzarella

Garbage pizza

This was mine, called the "garbage pizza": breakfast potatoes, pesto, feta cheese, mushroom

Ok I am losing track...

Salami and mozzarella pizza

Shannon's ultra yummy salami and mozzarella pizza

More pizza

Yeah, we're pigs...

Lamb bolognese and mushroom pizza

The all around favorite: Lamb bolognese and mushroom pizza

That’s it, kids. I am stuffed just blogging about this.

One of my favorite books ever is The Skinny: How to Fit Into Your Little Black Dress Forever by Robin Aronson and Melissa Clark. Full of wit and humor, this book is anything but a diet book. Part Sex and The City, part health magazine, it’s an easy read filled with eating and exercise tips that just make sense. In fact, after reading the book, I was able to drop a few pounds while still enjoying lobster mac n cheese for lunch and chocolate souffle for dessert. Awesome, right? Melissa Clark is also a talented food writer and I am so happy to see that she’s got a video for our viewing pleasure: Tips For Cooking In A Tiny Kitchen. I plan on making this dish myself, it’s way too easy to pass up. Enjoy!

I work in Santa Monica, California which is simply beautiful and gorgeous. One of the best parts about working in the neighborhood that I do is the close proximity to Bergamot Station, a huge art gallery complex and cultural center located on eight acres in the heart of Santa Monica. And tucked inside Bergamot Station is Bergamot Cafe, a busy and bustling eatery that has a super dedicated following including my co-workers and myself. We eat there at least twice a week, if not more. Jeffrey Stuppler, the owner, is responsible for churning out yummy specials like the Shrimp Louis Salad or Wednesday’s Mac N Cheese. But most of all, I’m wowed by Jeffrey’s amazing customer service and warm friendliness, something that I find many eateries lack. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Jeffrey, who was so sweet to do this interview.

Hi Jeffrey! Bergamot Cafe is one of my most favorite places to have lunch…how did you get into the food/restaurant business? I worked in the food service biz throughout high school and college. I Had fun learning everything from busing tables to frying chimichangas to flipping pizzas. One year out of college a family friend, who was an amazing self-taught chef and had a loyal following in Santa Monica, asked me to help him open and run Bergamot Cafe. I bought him out five years later. A lot of his recipes are still a big part of our menu.

What’s a typical day of work for you? I get in around 7:30am, make my Gaucho (House espresso drink) and start organizing the days catering schedule and finalize the days specials before the staff arrives. The early morning hours are also spent setting up and monitoring the promotions and marketing campaigns for the day/week and checking with my back of house and off-site kitchens to make sure they have everything they need for the days activity. I’ll usually run a couple of errands if needed.  My office is conveniently at Bergamot, so I always plan to be there during the pre-lunch and lunch rushes to lend a hand if needed. You’ll often see me wiping down tables during those busier times. After 2pm I generally plan meetings with vendors, managers or my partners over at Nook Bistro. I usually try to wrap things up by 4pm and head home by 5pm.

Where did you grow up? What were some of your favorite childhood dishes? Your least favorite? I grew up in L.A., not in a very food-centric family, but we traveled a lot, so I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines early in life. Favorite dishes growing up included My mom’s Chicken Divan (Very 70’s, but still delicious), Anything Piccata,  Carney’s Chili Burgers,  My dad’s banana pancakes.  Least favorites were spinach and chopped liver.

If you could go on a culinary tour through any one country, which country would it be and why? Wow, that’s tough! All things considered, I’d have to pick France. I really love French food for it richness and complexity. Additionally, I am always trying to broaden my knowledge of wine. Couple that with France’s amazing landscapes and Inn’s doting the countrysides, and I’d be very agreeable to such a tour. Mexico takes a very close second, by the way.

Let’s pretend you have the luxury of hiring ANY one chef from any restaurant or any food show to be your private chef…who would that be and why? My first choice would be Mario Batali, but on second thought, he’d probably keep me up to the wee hours every night handily drinking me under the table. My second pick would be Rick Bayless, winner of Top Chef Masters this year. I marvel at traditional Mexican cuisine and eat quite a bit of it. He is the hands-down master of regional Mexican cuisine, in America, and proved himself to have true depth in other areas during the course of the Top Chef competitions. Additionally, he seems to be a nice, unpretentious, down to earth guy as well, unlike that Chiarello guy.

Do you cook much at home? If so, what cookbooks and recipes do you consider your favorites? If you don’t cook much at home, and dine out, then what are some of your favorite restaurants in LA and their dishes? I cook once or twice a week at home. My quick reference cookbooks are How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, The Gourmet Cookbook, and The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.  From time to time I’ll refer to James McNair, Jamie Oliver, Ina Garten. Currently, I am perfecting a Turkey Meatball recipe for my 1 1/2 year old daughter. The secret is milk-soaked bread rather than bread crumbs. Favorite restaurants in L.A. include: Houston’s for French Dip, Sunin Lebanese Cafe for Kebab & Falafel, Shima on Abbot Kinney for Sashimi and Tofu, Mr. Cecils for BBQ, Jar for Ribeye, Nook Bistro for Mac N Cheese & Caesar (Yes, shameless plug, but seriously, one of the best), Osteria Mozza for their grilled octopus anipasti.

There is something about the salads at Bergamot that I can never replicate nor find anywhere else. What’s the secret to an awesome salad? Bold Dressings made with simple ingredients. Freshest cut vegetables. An awesome, dedicated, salad cook that has been making the same salads and dressings 305 days a year for 11 years.