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August 22, 2013

Comfort Food: Miso Soup with Tofu and Mushrooms

I was very sore after a chiropractic appointment yesterday, and needed a self-care night.  I've been thinking for awhile about making a pot of miso soup.  Last night was the right time for some slow cooking.  

We've been discussing the nutritive value of mushrooms in my course at IIN, and they're one of my favorite vegetables.  My exposure to sea vegetables is mainly kelp and nori.  This is another catgory of my pantry I will look to expand. 

Made by improvisation, I can estimate my recipe:  I used a 32 oz box of low-sodium vegetable stock, about a tablespoon and a half of miso, a generous teaspoon of ground kelp, about two cups of dried mushrooms, and three blocks of tofu.  I thinned out the broth with a few cups of water when I realized how strongly the mushrooms had flavored the stock.  I diced the tofu into fine squares and added it to the broth at the last minute to avoid degeneration. 

What soups do you enjoy making from scratch?  Do you invest a lot of prep time into them, or find them easy to throw together?  Have you tried many sea vegetables?  Feel free to leave a comment on the blog. 

Chocolate Chia Pudding

I bought my first "superfood"  this week:  Chia Seeds.  Chia seeds have more omega-3 than any other plant source, and are loaded with antioxidants, calcium, protein, and fiber.  

Two things influenced my purchase:  David Wolfe's lecture in my weekly podcasts from my class at IIN inspired my interest in superfoods in general, and at last month's FBLA meeting Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious made a raw strawberry chia jam that was absolutely befitting the title of her blog.  Lo and behold, there it was in front of me this week at COSTCO!  The bag was not cheap, at about fifteen bucks, but I'm told the bag will last forever.  In this recipe I used only two tablespoons of chia seed, so I'm guessing that's true.

I wanted to start out with a simple, easy recipe.  I've heard chia makes a great pudding, so I adapted a recipe from to try it out.  I modified the recipe by using soy milk instead of almond milk.  In future I'd like to try adding a bit of cardamom to compliment the cinnamon and cocoa in the pudding.  The final product tasted great and had the right gelatinous mouth-feel consistency.  I just kept thinking this would make a great dessert at a Halloween bash, as the pudding had a purplish-gray tinge reminiscent of brains.  I'll have to look into adding a food coloring next time.

Chocolate Chia Pudding
Yield:  2 Cups

2 c Vanilla Soy Milk
4 Tbsps Chia Seeds
2 tsps Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup (to taste)

Using a whisk, mix all ingredients together.  Refrigerate, checking back to mix a second time to avoid clumps.  Refrigerate overnight or at least four hours before serving.

August 19, 2013

Lisa Haley and the Zydekats Concert in the Park

This is a story about finding entertainment in the most unlikely of places.  

Lisa Haley and the Zydekats are a New Orleans-style zydeco band who were featured in an episode of the show "Las Vegas" back when I was a trainee.  I was just at the end of my 400 days and planning a huge party to celebrate and announce my union membership.  The Zydekats played my graduation party at The Castaway in Burbank in 2004.  I had about a dozen family members fly in from out of state to celebrate with me, in addition to my professional contacts.  By the end of the evening my aunt Ann was up on the stage singing with the band and my dear friend Brian was playing the drums.

I was at my credit union a month ago and breezed by all the pamphlets on the table--until one caught my eye.  The Zydekats were playing at a park in Santa Clarita as part of a free concert series sponsored by the bank!  It was great to be able to see them again this weekend, in a casual setting where I could picnic with the dogs.  But the moral of the story is to always be on the lookout for free entertainment.  It's likely right in your backyard.

Claire begged for fresh figs.  As usual, she got a few treats!

The beautiful outdoor setting.

Chance was happy to be a cuddle bug all night long.

August 18, 2013

First Time Juicing

I've had a juicer for over a year, but this week finally took it apart to clean it and used it for the first time.  I bought cucumbers, carrots, celery, and parsley to juice but ended up only using one cucumber and about eight carrots.  It was great juice, earthier than even when I buy fresh squeezed carrot juice at a health food market.  Carrot has long been my favorite, and the added cucumber was refreshing.  

Nutritionally, I know carrot juice is highly glycemic but that's probably why I like it so much.  It's a good transition for my sugar addiction as I begin to improve my habits.  I was surprised to find I didn't have a great need to munch on snacks for several hours following my juice consumption.  Juicing does remove a lot of the fiber from your diet, so is not the best source of vegetables.  However, if it gets you to eat what you otherwise wouldn't and overall increase the vegetables in your diet, I'm all for it.  

Of course it made a mess of my kitchen--my Big Boss juicer leaked a bit from one place that is supposed to be sealed--but that may have been simply because of my lack of experience.   I was surprised by how much waste was created!  I thought about using the waste to make a loaf of carrot bread, but since I'd added the one cucumber, my waste was a mixed bag.  Next time I will know to clean out that reservoir before adding another vegetable so I can put the carrot bread plan into action.

the bag of mushy waste in comparision to the juice created

Do you juice?  How often, and what recipes?  What's the model of your juicer and what are its pros and cons?  Please comment on the blog!  I'd love to hear your experiences.

August 15, 2013

The Healthy Voyager Vegan Tasting

Honey Yougert Semifreddo with Raspberries and Pistachios

I had the good fortune to attend a vegan tasting put on by The Healthy Voyager and the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.  I sampled vegan red and white wine, entrees and desserts courtesy of the Hyatt's Chef Felix & Chef Ali.  


This is one of the first events I've had the opportunity to attend as "blogger press."  I was so excited to taste great vegan food that I forgot how early the sun is setting now that it is late summer, and I didn't take many photographs before losing the beautiful golden hour daylight. 

I had the chance to chat with Chef Ali and his perspective on food was refreshing.  Though none of the restaurants in this Hyatt are strictly vegan, there are vegan options on every menu. 

I tried foods I don't usually touch, including Asparagus with a Cauliflower Cream and Macadamias, and a Pea Soup with Mint Shooter.  Luckily I remembered to bring my blog business cards, and gave myself permission to chat up a crowd of strangers.  I made friends with the lovely Melissa of Baking with Melissa and had a fun ladies' night out hanging with her and her guest.  The wines from The Vegan Vine were a delight. 

Beyond the people I met, the highlight of the night was absolutely the desserts.  I fell in love with the Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroons.  The Strawberries stuffed with cheesecake and kahlua were extravagant in presentation as well as being delicious.  And the Chocolate Brazil Nut and Cashew Cream ice creams had a texture closer to gelato. 

In awe of the lovely poolside setting, I remarked how often I'd been next door at the Fox lot.  Next time my wrap puts me into rush hour traffic, I know where to stop and wait it out.

Hazelnut Macaroons

August 4, 2013

Pageant of the Masters

While I missed out on the Hollywood Bowl this season, I made a point to attend an event I haven't been to for at least ten years--the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.  At the event, living actors in body paint form tableaus of famous works of art, with narration set to live orchestral music.  My timing was perfect as this year's theme was "The Big Picture."

I'd gone by myself, so I had time to enjoy the town and the scenery.  I'd packed a picnic lunch, but was afraid I wouldn't be allowed in the theater with it (could find no info on their website, for or against) so I found this little spot just outside the entrance to enjoy my fresh figs and sweet-n-sour tofu outside next to a bubbling fountain.  As it turns out, nary an eye batted when I went in with my cooler, so now I know for next time.

Around the Pageant is the juried art festival known as the Festival of Arts.  Admission is free with your pageant ticket, so you can browse at length before or after the event.  There were concessions available on-site, and a green area with limited tables covered by shade sails set up in front of a performing stage.  There was a wonderful jazz/blues vocalist performing with his band who set the perfect relaxed tone for the evening.

Then, the Pageant itself....turns out my high school choir teacher was conducting the orchestra for the performance.  It was a joy to hear the music, apart from the visuals.  I'd used a groupon-like site to get my ticket, so my seat wasn't the best in the house, but it was still fun just to feel the energy of the audience and performers.  Most of the people involved volunteer their time all summer, so it's truly a tradition and an effort of love. 


A hallmark of the Pageant of the Masters is the demonstration of the process of putting together a tableau.  A backdrop is wheeled in as the narrator talks through the scene.  Actors are brought onstage in costume to take their marks, props are added, and a foreground set piece is wheeled in.  Piece by piece, the tableau forms and the stage lights come up to full brightness.  Lo and behold, "A Dash for the Timber" by Frederic Remington stands on stage.

Do you attend the pageant each summer?  What traditions do you hold in conjunction with it--dinner someplace special beforehand, a particular group of people gathering to go?  Please leave a comment on the blog post.

Vegetable Carving at the OC Fair

Chef Ray is the expert vegetable carver who contributed many sculptures to the Burbank Rose Parade Float that I worked on for the 2013 Rose Parade.  It was a pleasure to meet him in person at the Orange County Fair and have an opportunity to ask him about his craft. 

Chef Ray has several demonstration dvds for sale, and now a brand new app!  It's made for iPhone or iPad, and is just under $14.  Search the app store for "Chef Garnish Pro" and it will pop right up.  It's on my wish list right now!

My favorites at the fair were the little robo-bunny and the big turkey.  Which ones jump out at you?


Creative Inspiration from the Orange County Fair

The art decoration at the OC Fair always astounds me, and this year was no exception.  From oversize cupcakes to a collection of globes, bundt pans, or recipe boxes displayed together, the feast is one for the eyes.   As a food photographer and stylist, I soak up this creative inspiration. 

What are some common items around your home that could be displayed as an eye-catching collection?  Please feel free to comment on the blog.

August 3, 2013

Great Grills

In my cooking class at Glendale Community in the spring, I got a bit lazy towards the end of the course and stopped photographing what we made.  Frankly, we were onto the meat portions of the course, and it wasn't pretty to look at.  I did all the veggie prep for each meal, often making a salad to go along with our actual lesson.  I also made the sauces, leaving the meat prep to my classmates.  One of these was a sweet and sour sauce that accompanied pork.  I've been looking for an excuse to make it again since.

Another thing I'd like to learn to do better is to marinate tofu.  I often buy a Teriyaki tofu from Trader Joe's that is ready-made.  I know this is something that would be easy to do on my own, and much more economical, but my fear of sauces has long stood in my way. 

So, when FBLA announced the theme of "Great Grills" for the August meeting, I figured it was time to give it a try.  I was wondering if the tofu would actually soak up the sauce and be flavorful, or if the flavor would just come from the sauce on top of the tofu.  I made the sauce from scratch, to taste, and didn't know if it would be thick enough.  Also had to guess at whether or not I could pour the sauce over the tofu while the sauce was still warm, or if I needed to cool it separately first.  I chose to pour it on right away.  Because I'm vegetarian, I'm picky about my grills--I like to keep my food away from the meat jujus.  So though our hostess for the FBLA meeting was kind enough to offer a grill to use, I chose to bake the tofu at home prior to the meeting.  I was fairly confident in the range of heat to use, but really had no idea how long it would take.  All of these technical experiments came together to make a great dish.  I was really pleased with the results, and it's definitely something I'll add to my repertoire. 

Sweet and Sour Baked Tofu

4 pkgs (8-12 pieces) Firm or Extra Firm Tofu

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Minced Garlic
3 oz Bragg's Amino Acids or Soy Sauce
1 1/2 c Ketchup
1 c Sugar
1 20 oz. can Pineapple Chunks in Pineapple Juice
3/4 tsp Cornstarch

Drain the tofu.  Sandwich the tofu in between two plates and put something heavy on top of it.  Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Heat the garlic in the oil.  Add all ingredients except cornstarch, including pineapple juice, to saucepan and bring to simmer.  I used my immersion blender (stick blender) to pulverize the mixture so the pineapple would stick to the tofu.  Add cornstarch just before removing from heat and blend again.

Lay tofu in a baking pan with some room in between each block.  Pour the sauce over the tofu. Cover and allow to marinate refrigerated overnight. 

Bake at 325 till warm, about 40 minutes, or grill (on well oiled surface) for three minutes per side. 

Tomatomania 2013 at Loteria Grill

I brought my bright red "Isis Candy" tomatoes to share at the annual tasting held at Loteria Grill this year.  I saw another plate with the same label that were a completely different color--an orange/yellow.  I didn't realize the sunlight could affect the color so very dramatically.

Loteria Grill in Hollywood is as usual a perfect venue for this tasting, and Chef Jimmy Shaw was gracious as ever.  The event's been running for at least six years now, and I've gone several times.  I love hearing what's the best new heirloom flavor, how the season has been for growing, and any new growing tips straight from the master.  However, like the Good Food Pie Tasting, the event has evolved over the years, and not necessarily in a good way.  Chef has done an impressive menu of samples each year on a complimentary basis for Tomatomania and Loteria customers, and this year finally ceded to demand to open the event to the public by having a sit-down meal following the official tasting.  So there were no actual food samples, though the tomatos were opened up for sampling after the welcome and discussion. 

I was on my way to a food bloggers meeting following the event, so I elected not to stay for Chef Jimmy's meal, even though he offered a discount to those who participated in the tasting beforehand.  I did bring the menu to the FBLA meeting and also the contact for Tomatomania's owner Scott Daigre.  I'm hoping he'll be able to come speak to FBLAers sometime in the coming year. 

Scott spoke about the hot topic of "Blue" tomatoes and introduced a new product from Tomatomania in the testing phase, a foldable coated wire tomato caging.

The tomato tasting went on for miles this year, including the entire L-shaped restaurant counter and an added row of tables in the back.   It's intriguing that as many people as there are participating, there are rarely any duplicates of varieties offered.

Some fun ones that I would like to try next year include the grape-shaped "Blondkopfchen" and the teeny tiny "Spoon."

What did you grow this season?  Please feel free to leave a comment on the blog post--I'd love to hear from you!
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