Monthly Archives: February 2010

Presenting… The Ayayayayays!

I’m going on my first-ever scavenger hunt tomorrow! And I’m super excited. If you’re intrigued by the title of this post, well, that’s our team name. The inspiration: Xena, Warrior Princess. She’s awesome. She’s fearless. She rocks the leather look. She has lesbian tendencies. Who wouldn’t want to take that on.

Back to the hunt. It’s going to be a trek through LA’s subway stations, scouting out the best art pieces. I’m a pro when it comes to Red Line art–hanging bicycles, Spanish tile, provocative emoticons. That’s right, pro-voc-a-tive.

Still irked by NYer

The results are in for The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest #226. It’s time to vote for your favorites. Nothing close to resembling my idea is among the Top 3. Now, I don’t know if that’s because my fake entry was so clever that no one else imagined it or the top three were head and shoulders above the rest. I’m rooting for the former. But since I am not technically in the contest, I’m going to throw my support behind Mr. Jewett. His entry is better than the rest.

Not Submitted by Claudia Bustamante
Los Angeles, Calif.

  • “The facelift and chemical peel will give you youthful skin, like me. Guess how old I am. Come on, guess.”

Submitted by Anthony Griffin
Riverside, Calif.

  • “I’m going to give you something for your humanity.”

Submitted by Cody Walker
Ann Arbor, Mich.

  • “There’s a cure—but it’s light-years away.”

Submitted by Mike Jewett
Ashland, Ore.

  • “You won’t have to drive to this clinic. Just wait in your cornfield.”

My Dinner was Crackalackin’!

Well, I shot myself in the foot last night trying to keep this blog going at the same time. I didn’t realize how precious minutes were when you had so many different plates going.

To recap: It was 5 p.m. and I needed to have my stuff ready to go by 6 p.m. I had the mushrooms stuffed and the soup heating, but that was it. What I desperately needed to do was get the quinoa going, asparagus blanched, vegetables julienned, fish packets prepared and polenta cut. My cool confidence turned into crazed and deranged.

Enter Sous-chef Nathan Baird and Vegetable Chef/Dishwasher Lys Mendez. That title kinda sux. I’m going to promote her to Executive Chef Assistant.

As Executive Chef, I exercised my power to delegate. Mendez julienned. And the sous chef, when not getting in my way, cut the brownies, got the polenta ready for the oven, arranged items on serving plates and prepared the fish packets. Oh yeah, he also had a hand in making the seating chart, which I signed off on.

Lucky for me, I had extra time to get stuff in order though at the expense of my dinner guests who were stuck in traffic on the way to the deepest trenches of the SFV. If they had been on time, I would have eaten in my Lakers t-shirt and “Happy Pig” apron.

Note: No pigs were injured in the making of this meal.

Here are the rest of the dinner photos.

Polenta Crostinis topped with Parmesan, thyme and drizzled with olive oil.


Cocktail hour begins with the stuffed mushrooms and polenta crostinis. Oh man, I forgot to take a picture of my Pink Ladies. Well, use your imagination, pink bubbly champagne drinks.

The main course taking shape. A fillet of tilapia on parchment paper with zucchini and carrots, topped with fresh thyme sprigs, lemon, a pat of butter and splash of white wine. A risk, I know, but if you can’t experiment with new recipes on your first dinner party, when can you?

Asparagus–one of my favorite vegetables to cook. And yet, this was my first time blanching them. It’s fun having a bowl of ice water, like the great chefs use on TV. Afterwards, they were quickly sauteed in garlic salt. Voila! Good eats.

Of everything on my menu, I’d only made two items before last night. One of those was my quinoa with sundried tomatoes. I expected it to be my least nerve-wracking dish. It was. Then the stove kept turning off as it simmered. Oh well…
Here’s the black bean soup, plated and topped with fresh cilantro. It came out pretty well… kinda tasted like a meatless chili.

Only one brownie was shaped into a heart before I gave up on that plan. It wasn’t that it was too difficult, it just would have limited the number of brownies available. Since those went fast, I think it was one of my many smart choices last night. Go me!
Another smart idea. I used Madagascar Valentines as place cards. A) “Madagascar” and “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” are crackalackin’. B) It added a flair of Africa… which I’ll be visiting again soon. (More to come on that!)

And that’s all she wrote. My first attempt at a dinner party and I think it was a success. My guests had fun. I took a census and the food was “amazing” and “succulent.” The brownies rocked. I even won over those peeps who for some unheard of reason don’t like walnuts in their brownies. I kinda feel that’s unpatriotic.

Muchas gracias to my sous chef for taking orders splendidly; to my executive chef assistant for, well, assisting in every aspect; to my parents for helping me prepare and then staying out of the way; to my consultant in San Francisco who helped fine tune the menu; to my guests for bringing the booze and suffering through my first attempt at culinary stardom! Overreach?

Starting to take shape

Well, it’s about 2 hours left before the grand event takes place. So far, I have my dessert done. My soup already heating and waiting on some last-minute finishing touches. My stuffed mushrooms waiting for their spotlight in the oven.

No grand disasters yet. Things have gone more or less smoothly. I have been spending WAY TOO LONG cutting, dicing, mincing. I definitely underestimated the value of prep work, my mise en place (Thanks Top Chef, for teaching me that word).

This is the beginning of my Maui black bean soup. Some red onion, garlic, celery, carrots, red and green peppers are sauteeing.


Now, here’s the soup taking shape after some broth, diced tomatoes and black beans.
This here is a taste of what’s getting stuffed into my mushrooms. Yes, that’s walnuts in there.
Tada! Stuffed mushrooms topped with paprika and awaiting the oven.

Top-Notch Menu

Oops, I forgot to mention in my last post that this isn’t going to be one of those dinner parties where I throw a box of pasta in boiling water and top with a jar of Prego.

Just to whet your appetites, here’s the menu for tonight:

HORS D’OEUVRES

Stuffed Mushrooms

Polenta Crostini

SOUP

Black Bean Soup

MAIN COURSE

Fish en Papillote

Grilled Asparagus

Quinoa with Sundried Tomatoes

DESSERT

Pepitas-Topped Kahlua Brownies

Five hours to go… I think I’ll start with the soup now.

Countdown Begins… To Cooking Glory!!

In a little more than 6 hours, I’m going to be able to say that I have hosted a dinner party–complete with cocktail hour and made-from-scratch brownies. I’m the kind of person that talks a big prep game, but wastes away the time reading, catching up on TV shows or chatting with her bff about how awesome my dinner is going to be and how I plan to prep as soon as I’m off the phone with her. S

The festivities are set to begin at 18:30 and all I have accomplished so far is the dessert. It still needs to be tweaked, but at least the oven is free for everything else.

I’m going to blog periodically throughout the day, posting photos about this grand event, wasting valuable cooking time to show you how I can handle the heat.

I have my recipes. I have ALL my ingredients. I’m pretty sure I have enough pots and pans.

3… 2… 1…

And I’m off!!!

Salty-Covered Success

I’m officially checking something else off my LIST. After two hours and a sink full of dirty dishes, I successfully made brownies from scratch! Go me!

And they’re actually good. No new pics though.. they look exactly like the photo.

I’m not going to lie and say the process was a walk in the park. It wasn’t. It required three times the number of bowls, a double burner and some messy ingredients, both dry and wet.

But, I followed the recipe to a T… sorta. I took liberties and doubled the amount of Kahlua. The result: PERFECTION. Moist, sweet, salty and an extra little kick. My recipe will make me the bell of the ball.

It’s Brownie Time

Ok, I’m ready to knock something else off this ever-growing List. Last month, I saw the above recipe for pepitas-topped kahlua brownies in Latina magazine. It looked inspiring. I was expecting to need to find more than 20 recipes and was comforted by the seeming simple list… flour, sugar, butter, cocoa powder and kahlua.

I need to whip up a batch soon since I’m planning to serve them at an upcoming dinner party. If they blow, I will give them to my brother instead and find a suitable dessert for my dinner guests.

Like I said, the ingredients were simple:

  • flour
  • cocoa powder
  • baking powder
  • sugar
  • salt
  • eggs
  • semi-sweet chocolate
  • unsalted butter
  • kahlua
  • roasted pepitas

Of the 10 ingredients, I had one in the house. Just one! I thought the only thing I had to buy was the chocolate, cocoa powder and pepitas. Nope, the only thing in stock at CASA Bustamante was salt. Only whole wheat flour and I didn’t want to chance this recipe. No sugar. Ran out of eggs this morning. And to my surprise, no dusty bottle of Kahlua kicking it in the back of the liquor cabinet.

So now, with everything in my kitchen, including a nifty cookie cutter, I will make brownies from scratch this evening.

I criticize because I love

Love and Hate–two sides of the same coin, right?

Well, that’s how I’m feeling about my precious New Yorker magazines. I’ve been a subscriber since 2003 when I spotted a clever magazine cover at the newstand in Westwood Village. I took it home and read cover to cover in one day. Now, I don’t particularly remember any of the main articles, but I do remember highlighting paragraphs from Seymour Hersh and Hendrik Hertzberg in “The Talk Of The Town” section. Given the approximate dates, I’m pretty sure it was insights into the invasion, war on terror and protests. Something about changing hearts and minds…

Lately, I’ve been a little disappointed with the magazine. The caliber of content remains more or less the same, but I’m tired of scanning the Table of Contents and being disinterested in most everything. What’s with David Denby reviewing movies I’ve never heard of or reviewing them months after they have come out? I can’t even remember the last time I read one of Sedaris’ witty revelations on the mundane? How about a Reporter at Large piece from Haiti… when’s that one coming? ((UPDATE: I see I complained too soon since it’s in the Feb. 8 issue which is currently available online))

..Which brings me to my BIGGEST complaint about The New Yorker.

For the last few months, I have been steadily receiving my magaizine in the mail… late! Yes, it’s not technically late if I receive it on its issue date. Maybe, I’m sounding petty.. but I need my magazine before Monday. First, it’s annoying to walk by a newstand and see it there the weekend before I get mine. Why do I bother paying the subscription fee? Second, and MOST important, I miss out on the Cartoon Caption Contest!! Those deadlines are always the Sunday before. I’ve missed opportunities before, but I’m really peeved after this latest issue.

I had the winning caption!! It was witty and funny and indirect and visceral… a perfect combination for the All-mighty cartoon caption judges to move my caption to the forefront.

I coulda been a contender!!!!

"The facelift and chemical peel will give you youthful skin, like mine. Guess how old I am. Come on, guess."

One Month Down, 11 To Go

Now that it’s February, I should take some time to evaluate how I’m doing on my List and on New Year’s resolutions. Let’s start with the more feasible–the resolutions.

In the month of January, I ran 36.55 miles. Read either six or two books. And ate kosher for maybe 10 percent of the month, which is to say three days, which is to say less than 10 meals. All in all, I’m on track though a little behind.

More than 30 miles in the month of January is not an unworthy amount, but that average won’t get me to my resolution before the end of the year. There have been days that I’ve felt like Prefontaine and others when I’m channeling Homer more than others. I need to find a happy medium if I’m going to make this work.

New goal: Bump up the monthly distance to 42.13 miles.

♦♦♦

To read 30 books, I need to pop out 2.5 books a month. The discrepancy is caused by the graphic novel Promethea. I had originally planned to consider the 5-book series as just one book. Then, life settled in and I didn’t read as much or as often as I had hoped. Either way, with six or two books under my belt, I still need to average just over 2 books a month.

This could be cheating, but before I start anything new, I want to finish those books I’ve started and just let fall by the wayside. Up next, The Savage Detectives. I’m more than OK considering a book like this one by Roberto Bolaño. See, I only managed to read about 300 pages, a sizeable amount, but not even half this beast.
New rule: If I want to count a previously read book, more than 50% must be read in 2010.

♦♦♦

As for the kosher diet, well, there’s no excuse except that I LOVE cheese and it’s hard to separate that from the rest of my life. Cheese ravioli with meat sauce. A turkey and provolone sandwich. A sprinkling of feta on my Greek chicken salad. A chicken quesadilla! Oy vei! I’m salivating at the thought. Obviously, three days is mediocre. After reevaluating, in February, I’m hoping for 30% kosher, that is to say 10 days!
New resolution: Build up to at least one 100% kosher month in 2010.


As for the big-ticket item, THE LIST. That will have to wait for another entry to discuss my progress.