Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dining with Oscar: Fave Food Movies

I'm going to be making my monthly appearance on KPBS radio's These Days this Wednesday morning from 10 to 11 and this hour will combine two passions of mine -- food and movies. Since the Academy Awards will be on next week, we decided to do a show about food films.

In anticipation of the food movie hour, I thought I'd throw out some of the movies I've enjoyed that celebrate food. Some are obvious, some you might have seen years ago but may have forgotten, and some may be new to you. And, help me jog my memory with those I may have left out!

  • Julie and Julia: 2009, directed by Nora Ephron (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci) Based on Julie Powell’s blog/book of the same name and Child’s book, My Life in France, written with nephew Alex Prud 'homme. Most of my friends agree we'd have rather spent the two hours, or more, just with Julia/Meryl, but still a delicious movie.
  • It's Complicated: 2009, directed by Nancy Meyers (Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin). Forget the ridiculous plot. I want Meryl's house and garden and I want to make croissants with her.
    • Big Night: 1996, directed by Campbell Scott (Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub and cast of thousands) Remember the big dish, Timpano, which you can buy at Lotsa Pasta in Pacific Beach? A feast!
    • Eat Drink Man Woman (Taiwan): 1994, directed by Ang Lee – remade into Tortilla Soup in 2001 with Hector Elizondo about Mexican-American family. The former is one of my very favorite movies. I love the scenes in which the father prepares multiple complex Chinese dishes for his daughters. Woks sizzle, cleavers fly, crustaceans and chickens give it up for the sake of a sumptuous family meal. The remake is fine, a close parallel with the Taiwanese family film, but there's just something so much more poignant about the original.
    • Babette’s Feast: 1987, based on novel by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) set in 19th-century Denmark. The setting is grim and as restrained as you can get, setting us up for the stunning opulence of the dishes Babette prepares with her winnings.
    •  Mostly Martha: 2002 German – remade in 2007 into No Reservations with Catherine Zeta- Jones and Aaron Eckhart. I think Mostly Martha is the better film, showing us a woman chef who must take in her niece following her sister's death and learn how make a family, not just food.
        • Chocolat: 2000, French, directed by Lasse Halstrom (Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Leslie Caron, Lena Olin). France. Chocolate. Johnny Depp. Mmmm.
        • Soul Food: 1997, directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Irma P. Hall, Nia Long, Brandon Hammond). One of the great family movies and, oh, the Sunday night dinners. But the family begins to disintegrate with Big Mama's illness. Can a great meal bring them back together?
          • Last Holiday: 2006, directed by Wayne Wang (Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Gerard Depardieu, Timothy Hutton) Yes, it's a silly silly movie, but I love Queen Latifah and her character's passion for food. And Gerard Depardieu is the quintessential French movie chef.
          • Sideways: 2004, directed by Alexander Payne (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen) Oh, the angst. Oh, the Pinot Noir!
          • What’s Cooking: 2000 (Mercedes Ruehl) Taking place in LA’s Fairfax district, four families of different ethnic groups celebrate Thanksgiving in between dealing with family conflicts.
          • Ratatouille: 2007, directed by Brad Bird (Pixar) – Parisian Remy the rat wants to be a chef. That rodent can cook!
          • Christmas in Connecticut: 1945 (Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sidney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, SZ  “Cuddles” Sakall) This movie actually made me hungry for kidneys. But America's top food writer Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) can't cook! No, she can't cook.
          • Waitress: 2007, directed by Adrienne Shelley (Kerri Russell) Sweet, heartbreaking on so many levels. All about the pies!
          • Dinner Rush: 2001, directed by Bob Giraldi (Danny Aiello, Polly Draper) Food and the mafia. It's New York's Little Italy so why not?
          • Woman on Top: 2000 (Penelope Cruz) Motion sick Chef Penelope starts out in Brazil then goes to San Francisco and ends up a TV celebrity chef. Uh huh. But it's a fun romp.
          NOTE: Here's a link to listen to the show if you missed it. It was quite a funny conversation!

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          Friday, February 26, 2010

          Con Pane to Move to Liberty Station

          Catherine Perez, the owner of the marvelous Con Pane bakery in Point Loma, says she packing up and moving from her current digs at the corner of Rosecrans and Canon to a larger space at Liberty Station on June 1.

          "Our goal is to close one day here and be open the next day there," she said. "This, of course, may not be realistic. I would like to minimize the impact on our business here. I'll be better able to judge it when we are a little closer."

          The new space gives Con Pane almost 4,000 square feet inside along with another 1,000-square-foot patio. That means Perez will be able to expand her wholesale business (she already supplies bread to The Pearl, Roseville, and Tender Greens) and will offer more sandwiches, teas, and pastries to retail customers.

          Con Pane’s new address at Liberty Station will be 2750 Dewey Road.

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          Monday, February 22, 2010

          Cheese, Lite

          Want to make a die-hard foodie crazy, absolutely loony? Start talking about reduced-fat or, better still, "lite" cheese. I know, because when I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to be writing about this topic, I got lectured and harangued by people who are convinced that the only good cheese is a full fat cheese and that if people just ate in moderation they could enjoy a triple cream Brillat Savarin, a Herve Mons Camembert, or luxurious Italian Gorgonzola Dolce.

          And, for people who excel at moderation, I'm all for indulging in full-fat cheeses. But some of us have proven track records of excess and for those people, who need to cut back and need help doing it, there's an entire industry of cheese making that is offering products that are less fatty and lower in sodium than their counterparts. One of these company's Beemster, actually sparked this search. Their PR folks sent me a new product of theirs, Beemster Lite.

          Now you won't find these "lite" cheeses, including Beemster Liter, at Venissimo or Taste Artisan Cheese in San Diego. Gina Freize, owner of Venissimo, explained that she doesn't carry reduced-fat cheeses because "True cheese is simply milk, salt and rennet. And milk naturally has fats. Of course, some cheese types are made with skim milk with naturally lowers the calories, but they are not altered in any other way."

          Taste's Mary Palmer doesn't source for them either. She's tried a few so-called low- or reduced-fat cheeses and found that they seem to lose flavor, texture, richness, and many of the distinctive qualities we eat cheese for. But, she said, "I've had customers on restricted diets who are avowed 'cheese nuts' and so I try to search out the skim milk cheeses that deliver."

          Now, as both said, some cheeses are naturally lower in fat. These include string cheese, part-skim mozzarella, farmers cheese, and Neufchâtel. Plus, goat cheeses tend to be lower in fat than cheeses made from cows milk. So, all is not lost, but other than the goat cheeses, these typically aren't exactly the most flavor-packing cheeses either. And, while you'll certainly find low-fat versions of Jack and Cheddar, Swiss and Muenster, you'll discover quickly that, by and large, the flavor is lacking and the texture rubbery. This is what has the foodies who lashed out so infuriated. And, they have a point. So, if you're looking for flavor and mouth appeal, are there any good options?

          Armed with my package of Beemster Lite and in a quest to find other reduced-fat cheeses that might hold some promise, I headed to Trader Joe's, Taste, and Henry's to see what they had. I was already familiar with a couple of the cheeses, of the new ones some were quite palatable, even strikingly good; one was an utter bust.

          Let's talk about the Beemster Lite first, since this is what launched my little quest. If you're unfamiliar with the Beemster name, let's just say that their Beemster X-O is a godly little Gouda. Made for centuries in The Netherlands, the cheese is matured for 26 months, which results in an intensely complex flavor and gritty texture, thanks to the moisture's evaporation, that makes it wonderful served on a cheese plate or grated like Parmesan. You can find it at Taste.

          You can't say the same about Beemster Lite. Yes, it's in the same family but you simply can't get the same qualities in a cheese that contains 30 percent less fat than other cheeses and 20 percent less salt. That being said, if you can appreciate it as a different being, it still has a very clean, nice flavor that works for making a grilled cheese sandwich or even just munching on. You won't get that marvelous X-O texture, but it's not at all rubbery. I melted slices on homemade sourdough for breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed it.


          Then I turned to a cheese I've bought in the past and liked for the same reasons I liked the Beemster Lite. It melts well and has good flavor. That's the Kerrygold reduced fat aged cheddar. Henry's carries this cheese and I'm quite happy to grate it onto a tostada or bowl of chili or eat it in a quesadilla or on a piece of toasted bread with sliced fruit for breakfast. I probably wouldn't serve it on a cheese plate for company, but it's a good workhorse of a cheese for people who want a flavorful lower fat cheese but are looking to cut back calories.

          Since these tasting games are more fun and useful with other people involved, I invited my friend Gayle Falkenthal over to help with the rest of the cheeses, which included a Cabot reduced-fat cheddar, a "lite" Celtic cheddar from Trader Joe's--not surprisingly called "Paddy Joe's"--a "lite" Brie, also from Trader Joe's, and a slice of Tomme de Savoie from Taste.

          Clockwise from top: Kerrygold Reduced Fat Cheddar, Cabot Reduced Fat Cheddar, "Paddy Joe's" Reduced Fat Celtic Cheddar, Trader Joe's "lite" Brie, Tomme de Savoie

          We ate the cheeses alone, with crackers, and melted a few on flour tortillas to make quesadillas.

          The very orange Cabot reduced cheddar was fine, but nothing special. It melted well, it had a clear cheddar flavor but without any real sharpness or interesting texture.

          On the other hand, the Paddy Joe's Celtic Cheddar was Gayle's favorite. It had a wonderfully crumbly texture as opposed to the usual reduced-fat rubbery quality you tend to get and it had a pure sharp flavor.

          The lite Brie was dreadful. It has 50 percent less fat and 30 percent less calories, according to its label, and 100 percent less flavor or texture, according to our palates. I had left it out for two hours to come to room temperature and it remained a rubbery example of what not to do to cheese. We each had a bite and then I tossed it.

          Now, the Tomme de Savoie was a whole other animal. This is an example of what Mary Palmer and Gina Freize were talking about, a semi-firm cheese naturally made from skim milk--in this case cows milk--with an earthy, almost mushroomy flavor. Tomme de Savoie is an AOC-protected French cheese from the Alps ("tomme" simply means wheel of cheese, so it's a wheel of cheese from the Savoie region of France). These cows are dining on mountain grasses and the skim milk is the leftover from the cream used to make butter and richer cheeses. So, it's naturally lower in fat content (between 20 and 40 percent) but still packs the flavor and has a lovely creamy texture and pleasingly sour rind.

          While, by no means comprehensive, the little scavenger hunt proved instructive to me. I think I have to agree with my foodie respondents when it comes to high-fat cheeses like Bries. I don't think you can come close to replicating the pleasure in a lower fat version. Indulge if you must, but moderately if you can. But, I've been back to Taste for more Tomme de Savoie (and Beemster X-O), and will continue to buy the reduced fat Kerrygold cheddar as well as the TJ's copycat. Let me know if you have some favorite lower-fat cheeses you enjoy and where they can be purchased.

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          Tuesday, February 16, 2010

          Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Brings Renegade Lunch Lady, Ann Cooper

          Children's nutrition advocate Chef Ann Cooper, widely known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady” and the author of "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children," will be the featured guest at the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Expo with the Albert Einstein Academies, a South Park Charter School here in San Diego. The two-day event begins Thursday, Feb. 18, with a press conference at Whole Foods in Hillcrest, followed by a community lecture at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.

          Last August, Whole Foods partnered with Chef Ann to create the “School Lunch Revolution” campaign, which raised more than $600,000 to fund, a collection of free online tools for healthier lunches available to all schools. The campaign included a national video contest for PTO/PTA organizations working to transform meals in their school cafeterias.  As the winner of the “Lunch Room Makeover” contest, the Albert Einstein Academies will receive the upcoming visit from Chef Ann, as well as expert consultation about how to improve the school’s lunch program.

          The Expo will raise awareness to improve school lunch programs. Whole Foods Market, Slow Food Urban San Diego, and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) representatives, along with  local vendors and chefs from Alchemy restaurant, will participate in the Healthy Meals/Healthy Kids Expo.

          Here's what's on the agenda:

          Thursday, Feb. 18
          10:30 a.m. – Noon
          Whole Foods Market Hillcrest
          Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Press Conference

          Chef Ann, local and state politicians, as well as representatives from SDUSD and Whole Foods Market, will discuss ways to improve the current school lunch program and will launch a call to action campaign to ask Congress to increase the USDA lunch allocation via the Child Nutrition Act. Whole Foods Market will provide a Chef Ann-inspired “healthy school lunch” menu following the press conference. 

          6– 8 p.m.
          Balboa Park Natural History Museum
          Chef Ann Cooper is on a mission to ensure that every child in America receives healthy, delicious food every day in school This lecture, co-presented by Slow Food Urban San Diego, Whole Foods Market and the San Diego Natural History Museum, will be held at the museum; there will also be a pre-lecture reception with local food artisans and community food groups.  Advance registration is recommended. Tickets available for $5 online at or call 619-255-0203.

          Friday, Feb. 19
          8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
          Albert Einstein Academies
          Local chefs, including Alchemy Executive Chef Ricardo Heredia, will create tasty and affordable school meals that meet school district guidelines and ingredient requirements. Chef Ann will visit classrooms at the school to discuss healthy eating.

          3 – 3:45 p.m.
          Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Expo (open to the public)
          Albert Einstein Academies

          Chef Ann hosts an open forum to discuss the goals of the School Lunch Revolution.
          Location TBD.

          3:45 – 4:30p.m.
          Slow Food Time for Lunch: USDA Petition Signing; Kids Letter Writing Campaign
           (open to the public)
          Albert Einstein Academies

          Alchemy restaurant, with student chefs, will provide samples as local vendors and Whole Foods Market, Slow Foods Urban San Diego, and SDUSD representatives, and community organizations, discuss the importance of improving school lunch programs.

          4:30-5:30 p.m.
          Social Hour with Chef Ann (open to the public)
          Alchemy (located at 30th Street and Beech Street)

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          Sunday, February 14, 2010

          Gōng Hè Xīn Xǐ: Happy Chinese New Year!

          It's a banner day when you can celebrate love and tigers on the same day. Today is not only Valentine's Day, but also the Chinese New Year, which happens to be the Year of the Tiger.

          The day before any major holiday is bound to be filled with intense preparations so where better to get a glimpse of the festivities to come than 99 Ranch Market? And, it was bustling with families. As I was walking in children were hovering around vibrant red decorations and displays of cards while men were edging their way out weighed down by cartons of Tsingtao beer, much on display at the end caps.

          Nearby was a rush on oranges, magnificent oranges--and tangerines. It's a tradition in some areas of China to give oranges to family and friends because the word "orange" sounds like "Ji," which means good luck.

          Bins in the produce department were piled high with some wonderful products. I talked briefly with an elderly lady who was piling bamboo shoots into her cart. Each selection required intense contemplation. Was the skin clean of bruises? Were they fresh enough? Evidently, yes, because a quick look at her cart five minutes later (she was still there) showed it filling with the shoots. And, you have to appreciate the work that was going to represent.

          Starting from the bottom, you need to pull off each papery piece of husk until you reach the tip and there's nothing left to grab. Then you boil it/them in water for about half an hour until a skewer can slide in easily. Remove the shoots from the water and let them cool. Then trim the end and the tip and slice. You'll discover a flavor you never had encountered in the canned version. If you can't use it all right away, put it in a container of water and refrigerate. They'll last for about three days.

          The same goes for water chestnuts, which also were in abundance at 99 Ranch yesterday. Forget the canned stuff. Really. Do not buy them if you can get fresh. These little brown nuggets only require peeling and then they're ready to eat out of hand or slice into a stir fry. They're crisp and sweet, reminiscent of jicama. Again, store the peeled chestnuts in water in the fridge to keep them fresh for a few days.

          I'm preparing stir fry lotus root tonight for myself. One of my favorite ways to learn about how to use foods unusual to me is to simply ask someone who's shopping for them what to do. Don't be shy. Most people are eager to share what they know if they have a moment. A lovely woman took some time to explain that she enjoys preparing lotus root stir fry.

          She said I should peel the root, then slice it crosswise. Stir fry it briefly so it retains its crunch but add rice vinegar at the end to finish it off.

          My cart was filling with these, and bags of baby bok choy, fresh ginger, pea shoots (add them to a stir fry just before serving), and fresh daikon since I have a thing for radishes. Speaking of which, take a look at these stunning purple radishes from Korea. They're huge. Think the size of a very large eggplant. I imagine they're used for pickling.

          Moving on to the meat and fish department was a little challenging given the crowds. The store will clean fish and even fry it for you, and the guys behind the counter were busy at both.

          People were flocking for fish balls to boil in soup, and there was a big rush on shrimp, crayfish, and live crabs. This little girl was having a wonderful time waiting with her father.

          Time to think about dessert, of course. You can pick up gorgeous custard tarts and marvelous chewy sesame balls filled with red bean paste. But, if all this shopping has left you hungry, this is the time of year that 99 Ranch brings out the pancake cart.

          These delicacies, typically street food of Southern China and Taiwan, are filled here with either red bean paste or custard and cost a whole 60 cents apiece. You have to eat them on the spot or at least within the hour. They simply don't keep well or reheat. But fresh from the cart, oh my. They're more like a pancake sandwich, with two thick and chewy pancakes encompassing the sweet center. I'll end here with a video of them being made. A very sweet young woman, Meng Rong Lee, who grew up in Taiwan and has lived in the U.S. for a couple of years, explained that these are a childhood treat, eaten year-round but very popular for the New Year. Another woman I met later while standing in line explained the symbolism. These pancakes have round edges, of course -- no corners or straight lines. That's a sign of good luck.

          Gōng Hè Xīn Xǐ!

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          Thursday, February 11, 2010

          Cooks Confab: The Incredible Edible Egg!

          Is there anything in the food world as wonderfully packaged and divinely luscious as your basic egg? It's the magical ingredient that can bask in the glow of its own light, scrambled, poached, or fried and lends a hand with other ingredients to puff up a souffle, add rise to a cake, and substance to a sauce.

          So, it's no surprise that the next Cooks Confab is turning its attention to eggs. The confabularie is preparing brunch on Sunday, March 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. and this time newest member Trey Foshee of George's California Modern in La Jolla is hosting.

          Here's a taste of what you'll be tasting and the chefs who are preparing it for us:

          Brian Sinnott (1500 Ocean)/Nathan Coulon (Quarter Kitchen)
          Stracciatella alla Romana
          Escarole, Parmesan
          Chicken egg
          Hawaiian Loco Moco
          Handmade SPAM, mushroom gravy, rice
          Guinea hen egg

          Andrew Spurgin/Donald Coffman (Waters Fine Catering)/Timothy Kolenko/Jeff Jackson (A.R. Valentien)
          Schaner Hen Egg Quiche
          Shaved Mushroom "Salad", Chervil, Parsley, 
          Frill Greens, Pickled Artichoke
          Pickled Egg with Finnan Haddie, Beets and Horseradish

          Jason Knibb (Nine-Ten)
          Truffle Deviled eggs
          Sous Vide Duck Egg, chilaquiles

          Katie Grebow (Cafe Chloe)/Amy DiBiase (Roseville)
          Celebration of Egg Sauces
          Bearnaise - Roast Top Sirloin
          Gribiche - Local Asparagus
          Aioli - Pewee Fingerling Potatoes
          Emulsified Dressing - Baby Greens

          Paul McCabe (Kitchen 1540)
           Eggs Royale, Dashi Gelee, Sea Urchin, Tempura Sea Beans
          Scrambled Eggs, Perigord Truffles, Crème Fraiche, Buttered Toast

          Georges Team
          Vegetable Spanish Tortilla with Aioli
          Pan Perdu with Poached Apple Syrup, Smoked Bacon Cream
          Planked Salmon, Quail Egg, Caviar, Potato Foam

          Tickets are $80 per person, and includes food, beverages, gratuity, and tax. A portion of the ticket price goes to Slow Food Urban San Diego. For reservations, contact Kristine Sauer at 858-454-4244. George's California Modern is located at 1250 Prospect St. in La Jolla.

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          Monday, February 8, 2010

          Seeing Red on Valentine's Day

          Valentine’s Day food is just too easy to categorize. You have your aphrodisiacs like chocolate, honey, oysters, and ginger, your suggestive fruits like figs, and your liquid enticers like champagne. But, if you’re someone who just likes to play with your food and associates Valentine’s Day with all things red, break the mold, head to the markets, and have some fun.

          It's easy to create gorgeous dishes with red foods, plus you’re giving yourself and your loved ones some wonderful antioxidant nutrients, most prominent of which is lycopene. It can dramatically lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, lung, breast, and stomach cancers, and age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

          When we think of red foods, what first comes to mind, of course, are tomatoes, apples, watermelons, beets, red onions, and radishes. You can make a magnificent roasted red pepper soup or a divine cioppino with fresh seafood. You can bake an apple pie topped with toasted red walnuts from Terra Bella Ranch at the Little Italy Mercato.

          But branch out a bit. Stunning sour cherry preserves found at our Middle Eastern markets are sexy and delicious spooned on a couple of scoops of French vanilla ice cream. Blood oranges make a colorful mimosa or margarita. Buy a bag of Trader Joe’s Golden Berry Blend of golden raisins and dried cherries, cranberries, and blueberries to create an eye-popping batch of scones or muffins.

          Whether you’re preparing a special romantic dinner or having a group of friends over for Valentine’s Day, how about an appetizer of peppadews stuffed with lavender and fennel pollen-infused Cypress Grove Purple Haze goat cheese? Peppadews are a sweet piquanté pepper pickled in vinegar with salt and sugar. You can pick them up at Whole Foods and Bristol Farms, and sometimes at Taste Artisan Cheese, which is where I bought the goat cheese. Mary Palmer, who owns Taste with her husband George, offered a couple of useful tips for making these little treats. Make sure you thoroughly dry the peppers and simply cut a hole in the goat cheese package to  squeeze the cheese directly into the pepper halves. I topped each half with heart-shaped micro cabbage sprigs and a sprinkling of Alaea Hawaiian sea salt that I picked up at Specialty Produce.

          In fact, Specialty Produce is a bonanza for finding red foods. They sent me home with a variety of micro greens and flowers from San Marcos-based Fresh Origins. I’ve got beet greens, dianthus, orchid blossoms, miniature radishes, opal basil, the micro cabbage leaves… All make beautiful garnishes not just on solid food dishes but for cocktails.

          I also brought home some sweet little red carrots, red scallions, and a head of petite Pirella lettuce. With these I made a finger salad using each spear of lettuce as the utensil. Since the color of red carrots is only skin deep, I trimmed them and peeled just a couple of strands of skin, placing one carrot on a piece of lettuce. Then I sprinkled the plate with the Golden Berry Blend and slices of red scallions. I made a blood orange vinaigrette spiked with chipotle morita flakes, drizzled that over the salad, and finished it with a sprinkling of more chipotle morita. By the way, these chilis are a dark reddish purple variety of chili. They’re not smoked as long as the typical “ahumado” chipotle made from dried, smoked jalapeños, so they’re not considered to be the same quality as chipotles but they’re still very delicious and the flakes are colorful. 

          The salad can be a prelude to a dish of baked polenta rounds topped with sundried tomato pesto. It’s an easy dish to make. You can make polenta from scratch and pour the batch into greased ramekins. let them set and unmold, or just buy a tube of prepared polenta at the market, and slice half-inch rounds. Brush each round with olive oil and then slide them into a mound of grated parmesan cheese. Cover them completely in the cheese and place on a greased pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. While they’re baking, in a food processor blend drained sundried tomatoes from an eight-ounce jar with a couple of cloves of garlic, Marsala wine, grated parmesan cheese, toasted walnuts, pepper, and enough olive oil to get a creamy consistency. When the polenta comes out of the oven, top with the pesto. You can also use the pesto to stuff chicken breasts or flank steak, toss with pasta, or even top a baked potato.

          Of course, you need dessert. Pick up some gorgeous strawberries now growing in Carlsbad at your local farmers market and make my friend Susan Russo's beautiful "Seductive Strawberry Zabaglione." You can also substitute or mix in raspberries. It's easy to make and who doesn't love a rich and creamy dessert? And, if you still feel you need that hit of chocolate, pick up some truffles from Eclipse Chocolat.

          We’ve been talking dinner, but this year Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday. How about brunch? French toast with homemade challah is a perfect and perfectly easy dish (try the wonderful challah recipe from Peter Reinhart’s masterful cookbook The Bread Baker’s Apprentice). And, sure you can top it with maple or blueberry syrup, but let’s stick to our red theme and go with a gorgeous raspberry puree. Make this a day in advance and then bring it to room temperature. All you need to do is combine a pint of fresh raspberries, ¼ cup of sugar, a tablespoon of blood orange juice, and a tablespoon of cointreau (or just double up on the orange juice) and a small saucepan. Stir in a cup of cold water thoroughly mixed with two tablespoons of cornstarch and bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Let it cool and then either use an immersion blender to puree the mixture or put it in a blender or food processor. You can then strain it through a sieve if you want a pure liquid sauce or enjoy the texture as it is. When you’re ready to serve the French toast, simply pour it over and garnish with some extra raspberries.

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          Sunday, February 7, 2010

          Four Emotions Inspire a Four-Course Meal

          Art and food are a natural pairing, entangling the senses and engaging the emotions. But, this upcoming event sounds like it will fuel more than just the appetite.

          Kitchen 1540 executive chef Paul McCabe is teaming up with "The Painter of Chefs" Christopher M. on Feb. 25 for what they're calling "The Art & Soul of Food." This collaboration will take shape as a four-course dinner with special wine pairings along with the unveiling of new original paintings by Christopher M. -- all fueled by the four emotions of Nostalgia, Blue, Amorous, and Euphoria. With each dinner course, a new painting with be served as well. Following the fourth course, guests can tour a broader collection of Christopher M.'s paintings, inspired by McCabe and Kitchen 1540. And, of course, the paintings are available for purchase.

          Not familiar with Christopher M.? He's become know for creating a body of original paintings celebrating celebrated chefs in their environment. He was the featured artist for the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, was featured at the San Diego Home & Garden Silver Fork Awards last year, and was recently chosen as the official poster artist for Art Expo Las Vegas. He's represented by EC Galleries.

          The dinner/art affair will begin with a cocktail reception at 5:30 on the Sunset Deck at L'Auberge Del Mar, followed by the dinner and art show at Kitchen 1540. Tickets are $85 per person, which includes champagne, wine, the four-course dinner, and a special gift. For reservations, call Kitchen 1540 at 858-793-6460.

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