Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Za'atar. for lack of a better title. . .

With a history as mysterious as its flavors, its no wonder the earthy spice blend Za'atar is slowly getting recognition in the east bay. A rich blend of toasted sesame seeds, Marjoram, and Thyme provide a perfect base for the simplest of dishes.

Za'atar is thought to have begun as simply wild Marjoram that was dried out in the sun. As time moved on so did the development of the spice. Women of the Arabic peninsula began creating distinct recipes that were kept secret. So much so that they would not even be passed down to next of kin. Each having it's own distinction explains the lack of an original recipe. It has now evolved into so much more. Many modern day Za'atar recipes now call for savory and sumac, which add a very floral dimension.

This Middle eastern spice is not limited in its uses which makes it a local favorite. Added to a first press olive oil, It makes for a delicious bread dip. Dry rubbed on lamb prior to grilling gives BBQ a one up . Pita bread or Nan can also be seasoned with Za'atar then baked.

Want to sample this spice first hand? Appropriately named restaurant "Zatar" in Berkeley offers many dishes that boast the unique qualities of this seasoning. If playing with the spice at home is more attractive, Whole Spice of Peteluma,CA offers an exceptional blend .

With Za'attars versatility and nutty flavor expect to see it showcased more often within the east bay for this culinary trend is on the rise.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Staples in the freezer.

Did you know that keeping your freezer stocked will lower your bill? It's true!
It takes more energy to keep a freezer cold that does not have much in it as opposed to one that does. Thus my top 10 list of the freezer essentials for every Epicurian. Without further adieu in no particular order:

1. Puff pastry. Puff is the most versatile dough, and a lot easier to use than phyloo. Left over mashed potatoes become empanadas. Those chocolate chips and ice cream are now garnished with a flaky crust. Use your imagination! The versatility of its uses go from savory, to sour, to sweet.

2. Two whole chickens. Make it a goal for yourself this year to learn how to "break down" a chicken. Many meals can be made out of a single one. BBQ, baked, or fried its worth it. Most importantly its child friendly. The eating of the chicken not the cutting. :)

3. Fresh chicken stock. Know that you know how to break it down, don't you DARE throw those chicken bones! Stock is easy to make. Onions, carrots, leeks, and some seasonings will make chicken stock a new found friend for you.

4. Ice cream. Just because every girl has her days. . . . And boys!

5. ice cold martini and beer glasses. Okay I know I'm pushing it with this one but it is quite impressive and tasty when a libation is in it's frosted glass. . .

6. A small portion of your favorite stew. Stews always freeze well and are a great go-to when you are on the run and need your vegetables and your protein. Set some aside the next time you make a batch!

7. A cake. Surprisingly cake freezes really well. It is after all mostly sugar. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but my husband and everyone else in this world does.

8. Frozen mixed vegetables. Okay I prefer fresh but in desperation i'm not picky.

9. Stuffed specialty pasta. I bought some fantastic butternut squash raviolis that I intend on being greedy with! On this note, I also store a portion of any pasta dough I make in the freezer. Just because It is so time consuming to make I figure I should save that time.

10. Duck fat. I love duck fat. Again, I love duck fat.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mama knows best!

So this weekend I have a catering gig. I did what I always do and called mom to give details and get advice. She remembers "the little things" and knows a few tricks of the trade herself. I needed to go to my personal heaven (AKA East bay restaurant supply) so she joined me on this excursion and our 30 minute drive was a lot of her talking and me listening. Typically my mother won't waste a breath on things of unimportance so when the topic of hot dogs came to her mind I knew it would be an "Interesting" Diatribe. She asked me:
"Lydia, what do you do with the extra hot dog buns you get in the package?"
I responded:
"Let them mold."
I hate to waste but it's an honest answer. I never use them. Guilty as charged. So began my mothers uses for those two annoying extra buns and now I share with you!

1. place buns in cuisenart and mix until crumbled. Toss in olive oil in a small bowl. Saute on low heat until crispy. Breadcrumbs are complete! Use to bread pork-chops, chicken, meatloaf or save for the top of a cassarole.

2. Let buns dry out. (but not mold) use as directed for base of a savory or sweet bread pudding.

3. Open face your buns. Drizzle with olive oil. Add dried oregano, crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Place in oven at 350 for your own personal garlic bread!

So there you have it! Now with this wisdom theres no excuse for any waste or any mold! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"You don't know how good you have it!"

Time to get semi-sentimental. . . . . At work today I had the lovely opportunity of talking to two women with a lot of history. One 71 years old and the other 72, both grew up on farms. One in Kansas and One in Texas. Although they lived states apart the similarities of their livelihoods were amazing. Almost in unison they exclaimed to me "you don't know how good you have it!" After our talk I realized just how good I really do have it. In their young lives if you wanted butter you churned it. If you wanted milk you milked it. If you desired fried chicken for dinner. . . well you get my drift! I loved hearing stories of homemade bread only on Saturdays, and the joys of getting to help mom wring the laundry. One of the ladies was however a bit taken aback from my reaction to her stories. Shocked in fact! I said I was jealous. That's right, I'm jealous of what she assumed as mediocrity. Although I realized I do have it pretty good with the luxury of a baker right down the street, How much more do we appreciate food that we have made ourselves. The act of knowing WE completed the process. It feels better, tastes better, and betters others when we share what we have done. With this I encourage you to take the time to make something yourself today. Don't ask for help, and then share it. You will be left with much more than you expected, I promise. :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


When I was in high school I had many difficult classes. In College they became even more difficult. Little did I know that the most difficult class I would ever take in my life would be at Culinary school. Butchery. Weird right? Who would have thought the most challenging point in my academic career would be breaking down a lamb. It's tough! It's also becoming one of the most popular and sought out culinary classes in the nation right now. This meaty art is on the rise, and as much as I am one to take a challenge I don't think I want to go back to butchery days at school. Which leads me to the fine appreciation I have developed for the butcher. Creating a great cut of meat and obtaining the knowledge of said cut is something to be sought after. If you live in the San Francisco bay area here's a link to an upcoming class! Hat's off to you my fellow meatheads.
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