Department of Missed Opportunities, also Novelty Hybrid Chinese Restaurant Department: Chino Bandido in Phoenix. Doh! I was just in Phoenix last month. Too late, found out about this restaurant via email from David Chan. Check out the weird panda sculpture. I think this may be the first time I’ve had a Chinese restaurant offend me with a Mexican stereotype instead of the more usual Chinese stereotypes (yes, the Evil Chinky Font is a typographical stereotype). Further randomness: I notice they have snickerdoodles on the menu. Snickerdoodles?! I don’t think they’re Chinese or Mexican, but snickerdoodle is one of the all-time great cookie names. Obviously a visit is in order next time I go to Phoenix. The things I do in the name of art. Sheesh.

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As much a salad queen as I am, I used to have a hard time with salad in the winter. It felt too cold, too light… too summery. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but the key, of course, is to adapt saladmaking strategy to the season. Duh. Thus, arugula transitions me through the late fall, & chicories of all kinds are now getting me through the winter. Problem solved! Chicories feel hearty & earthy to me. Their bitterness plays well with winter citrus & cheese in bigger chunks (don’t know about you, but winter definitely makes me want more fat). Lettuce-oriented salads get to remain happily in the warmer part of the year, where they belong—an entirely personal thing, since excellent lettuces are plenty available (around here, at least). They do still make it into the salad bowl, but mainly in a supporting role.

Or, in this case, not at all:

This is Treviso (or something close) from Riverdog, tart oranges from our friend Cooking Show’s backyard tree, Satsumas & walnuts from Kaki farm, plus some cheap goat cheese from Trader Joe’s. Red wine & mustard vinaigrette courtesy of the famous Orangette, whose spring salad was instrumental in starting me down the path to chicory salads. This photo is a little misleading because I actually added a lot more citrus to the bowl halfway through eating this salad. I’m not above making corrections & adjusting ratios mid-meal. Hey, it’s my kitchen & there’s a ton of fruit sitting right over there, so why suffer, even a tiny bit?

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I think I have finally nailed the latkes. It’s not that I remember having problems with my latkes in the past, but this time, baby, this time we ate some killer latkes! The latke aroma permeated the house, wafting memories of Hanukahs past. As our latke co-conspirator Cooking Show pointed out, the measure of our success was the way her clothes smelled the day after. Not only the clothes she wore in our kitchen, but even other clothes took on the delightful latkeness. All of this might seem like a bit too much latke funk for some of you, but maybe that’s because you aren’t eating the right latkes, hmm?

I started with some really good taters, about 5 fist-sized Yukon Golds from the Temescal Farmers Market (which is not my usual farmers market, so please forgive my forgetting the farm’s name) & then 2 enormous Russets (from, er, Whole Paycheck) that were about a pound each—the very picture of robust, hearty tater health. I peeled em all, grated em in the Cuisinart, & dumped em straight into a cold water bath. After a few minutes I pulled them out & set them to drain in a colander. After the first big puddle of water drained off I salted the taters, mixed them around & then let them keep draining for a good 2 or 3 hours.

Then I made applesauce, adding a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook recipe. I washed some salad chicories; you need something crunchy & a little bitter to balance the latke grease. Sliced satsumas in the salad help too. You can’t see em in this photo but they’re in there.

I grated a huge yellow onion (from Catalan Farm, growers of amazing onions) & left it in the Cuisinart bowl. When the time came, I threw the onions (minus the juice in the bottom of the bowl) in with the taters, squeezed everything gently to get more liquid out, then poured the shredded stuff into a big bowl with 4 beaten eggs, salt & pepper. Then I began to debate with myself, flour or no flour? Cooking Show arrived & I asked her opinion, but she put on her tough-love act & insisted that I must arrive at my own cooking decisions. I decided to try a couple without, & then add flour if necessary. Turned out there was no need.

Rule #1 about frying latkes: DO NOT FEAR THE OIL. It is all about the oil! As I was repeating this like a mantra, Donna & I agreed that both of our mothers would fail miserably at latkes because they fear the oil. (Cooking Show’s mother never had this problem.) You have to just bloop it into the pan unstintingly. All told, we ended up using about 1/3 of a bottle of safflower oil. Cooking Show got involved despite herself (she isn’t called Cooking Show for nothing) & pointed out that it’s best to add oil & let it heat up properly between batches of latkes, as opposed to introducing cold oil when they are in the midst of frying. So you must be bold & add the right amount of oil (that would be “a lot”) all at once between batches.

Rule #2 is that the first few latkes are just warm-up, & they improve significantly after that. Donna took over the frying duties & the latkes got very very good. She raised the temperature a hair & figured out some tricks to correct for the unevenness of the flame, rotating the latkes strategically for perfect browning. Latke perfection sent us into a frenzy of greedy latke-eating! We were barely able to restrain ourselves & save enough for Plastic Lam, who was arriving late because she was busy whipping up yet another batch of her famous ice cream. By the time she got here, I felt that I myself could keep a temple lit for months.

We ate teeny tiny spoonfuls of rich roquefort ice cream.

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Hey, how do ya like my new look? We should see some improvement in functionality around here now, which was the main instigation for the change (some odd things started to happen after Blogger migrated to Google), but of course I couldn’t resist cooking up a new color scheme while I was at it. Don’t hold your breath for the rest of the site, though. Other than that whole frozen in time thing, it’s still working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Also, I will be gradually adding more links, so don’t go feeling neglected prematurely!