Welcome to issue no. 21 of Foodstuff

September 5, 1999

In this issue:

Important Message about the Future of Foodstuff

Prodigy Classic, through which this newsletter is sent, will cease operations as of October 1, 1999. I've enjoyed making the connection to so many cooking enthusiasts over the years and I certainly don't want to lose that. For that reason I will be making some very sophisticated changes to my web page, including a live chat room and an interactive Foodstuff! So bookmark www.cremebrulee.com and PLEASE visit often.

If you're not too sick of seeing me make crème brulee on television:

· The Main Floor (ABC affiliate) September 17th through the 19th (In L.A. it will air Sunday the 19th at 11:30 am)
· Smart Solutions (HGTV) October 8th, 1999
· Martin Short Show, October 12th, 1999
· Next Door with Katie Brown (Lifetime) TBA, please check www.cremebrulee.com for exact time
· Ed's Night Party (CityTV, Canada) TBA, again, check web page

In addition, I will be doing regular cooking segments on HGTV's Smart Solutions beginning late in the fall. My segments will emphasize how teens can fend for themselves when home alone and hungry, which, by no coincidence, is the focus of my next cookbook! Watch for my 15- year-old son Steven's big debut as he shows the HGTV audience what his dear old mom has taught him in the kitchen.

Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties, California

Planning a visit to California's Central Coast in the near future? Maybe your destination is Hearst Castle or even San Francisco. If you're making this trip from Los Angeles and the beautiful drive is actually part of the vacation, then consider a few fun stops along the way.

It seems so far from chaotic Los Angeles, but Ventura County is only about an hour away. Ventura beaches are usually much cooler than L.A. beaches so dress accordingly. The tiny downtown area of the city of Ventura boasts some of the best bargain shopping anywhere. Used bookstores, resale and vintage clothing, antiques shops, theaters, restaurants, and even the historical San Buenaventura Mission, are all condensed into a few short blocks. Make sure to visit Smith & Smith's salsa store on Oak Street. The shop is stocked with an outstanding collection of salsa, hot sauce, barbecue sauce and other flavorful condiments and seasonings. Downtown Ventura is just a few blocks off the Ventura 101 Freeway at California Street.

A short 15 miles inland from Ventura is the beautiful, artsy town of Ojai, and the fabulous Ojai Valley Inn. Built in 1923, this 220-acre resort has been the secret getaway for Hollywood celebrities and the corporate elite. Ojai is often selected because of its unique location (set beneath the stunning Topa Topa mountains) and magical ambience. In addition to superb golf, the Inn offers tennis, hiking, horseback riding, swimming pools and one of the country's most luxurious spas.

There are two wonderful restaurants to choose from on the Inn's property: Maravilla and The Oak Café. On our most recent visit for lunch, a large group of us choose the more casual and cozy Oak Café to celebrate a birthday. The setting is rustic and lovely with big old oak trees casting relieving, cool shade. This is an area with tremendous diversity in the fresh ingredients available from the ocean, the fertile fields of the area, and the lush gardens of the Inn itself.

Not to be missed on a visit to Ojai is the "Pink Moment." This is the instant at the end of the day when the sun sets over the Pacific, and the sunlight turns the surrounding Topa Topa mountains an exquisite pink. It's so spectacular that the Ojai Valley Inn prints the estimated time of arrival on its daily calendar. For more information about the Inn, call 800-422-6524, or to arrange for a "Pink Moment Jeep Tour," call (805) 653-1321 or 646-3227.

Outside the Inn, you will find many other great places to eat. Some local favorites include the very casual, family-owned Sea Fresh Seafood at 533 East Ojai Avenue (805-646-7747). It's the last place you'd expect to find sushi, but the sushi is excellent. Ask for Jesse and make sure to order the Jesse Roll (three types of tuna, sundried tomatoes, avocado, sprouts).

Of course there's also the world-famous Ranch House with its spectacular gourmet garden dining and award-winning wine list. Actually, there's too much for me to mention here, so for more on Ojai, (and there is so much more!) visit www.ojaivalleynews.com/pages/visitorsguide.html.

More good stuff about Ventura County can be found at www.oxnardtourism.com/vcattractions.html.

It's easy to speed past the tiny town of Cambria, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but do take the time to turn off onto Highway 1 (from the 101). There you'll be pulled away from high-speed traffic to a quiet, whitewashed, pedestrian town where you can linger over berry pancakes at a cozy bakery or nose around well-stocked antique shops, bookstores, and other quaint little shops. Just across the highway, pebble-covered Moonstone Beach awaits, unspoiled by modern life and often deserted after summer. Take a romantic stroll among the orange, green, blue, and white stones under you feet, or marvel at the tide pools of Leffingwell Landing, a little farther north. And for a quickie little side note to my foodie friends, if the opulent Hearst Castle is on the agenda (six miles north of Cambria), take Tour No. 2 which includes the enormous kitchen with its wood-paneled refrigerators that would be the envy of many a modern restaurateur.

For more information about this area, check out the website www.cambriasbest.com.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

There goes the diet; Krispy Kreme is only 30 miles away! I'm sure most of you remember the minor obsession I had with Krispy Kreme doughnuts after my second trip to Nashville. I was pretty grateful that these small, hot, wonderfully sweet treats were THAT far away. The good/bad news is that Krispy Kremes are gaining a tremendous amount of popularity in L.A., the city known for personal trainers and private nutritionists. There's a lot to like about these doughnuts, especially the way they serve the (best-selling original) glazed variety hot from the oven.

The first shop opened in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1937. The chain spread across 25 states before it finally hit California. In the next month or two, shops will be opening in Ontario Mills, Orange and Van Nuys. It's the Van Nuys location that frightens me. Two family members that I visit frequently live only minutes away from Van Nuys!

History of Food on Exhibit at UCLA

If you've ever wondered how potato chips were invented, which president introduced the waffle iron to America or what hungry pioneers ate when crossing the desert, you don't have to look further than a new exhibition at the Powell rotunda, of the UCLA College Library.

"America the Bountiful: Classic American Food from Antiquity to the Space Age," a traveling exhibition of American food history, answers the potato chip question (they were created in Saratoga, N.Y. by a chef trying to please a finicky diner who kept sending back his soggy French fries) and more. The president behind the waffle iron? Thomas Jefferson. The desert pioneer menu? Locust stew.

The exhibition was researched by a team led by Dr. Louis Grivetti, a nutritional geographer and professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Grivetti and his team created a time line of over 400 years, tracing the eating habits and food creations of Native Americans, colonists, pioneers, 49ers, soldiers in the World Wars, and the generations of the late-20th century.

By highlighting the 10 enduring foods of the American diet (beef, chicken, turkey, pork, wheat, corn, potatoes, beans, greens and apples), the show demonstrates how the great American Melting Pot has adapted to create a national culinary heritage.

"We illustrated the chronology of food development in the context of historical events and technological innovations to give visitors the big picture," says Grivetti. "It's interesting to know that the year Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address was also the year when the first breakfast cereal was developed. Most people would not think their cereal dated back to the Civil War."

The exhibition is open now through Sept. 17th, at the Powell rotunda of the UCLA College Library. Free to the public, the exhibit is open Monday through Thursday from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M., Friday from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Saturday from 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. The show has also visited San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and New York City. For more info, email Kevin Bush at kbush@publicis-usa.com.

The Cast Iron Skillet

Next to barns and old tractors, the most distinctive artifact of the old-style American family farm is the cast iron skillet. There was a time before the aluminization of cooking utensils that these skillets could be found in almost every rural kitchen. These days, they're not so common.

You can find cast iron utensils at hardware stores, kitchen supply shops and some grocers, of course, but no new skillet measures up to a well-used one. Like fine wines, these culinary implements get better with age.

You just can't beat cast iron skillets for even heat, durability and reasonable price. Shiny stainless steel pots and pans are great for lots of cooking jobs and non-stick pans are great for quick jobs, but if you took away my cast-iron skillet, I would have a hard time preparing many of my favorite dishes.

A good cast-iron skillet, properly cared for, can last for generations. I have two in my kitchen: a 10-incher that I rescued from a junk shop about ten years ago and use almost daily, and a 12- inch heavy-duty monster that, with its lid, weighs a whopping 15 pounds, in which I fry chicken, smother steak and produce all manner of main dishes.

From my five years selling kitchen equipment, I know many people never could quite get the hang of cast-iron cooking, and so gave up on it without ever discovering the joys of using cast iron. Complaints ranged from sticking problems to burned food to rusting. Of course many of these people had never heard of the seasoning process that is essential for cast-iron cookware. And to make a bad situation worse, they were attempting to clean their cast-iron by scrubbing with cleanser. Cast iron has a porous surface. The seasoning process serves to fill and smooth the surface of the pan. It's true that the more you use and season a cast-iron skillet, the more non-stick the surface becomes. Here is how you season a new or used cast-iron utensil:

To season a cast iron skillet, or other cast iron utensil, melt solid vegetable shortening and apply it to the surface with a soft cloth or paper towel. Place the skillet in a 350-degree oven upside down with a cookie sheet on rack below to catch drippings. Bake for one hour, then turn oven off and let the pan remain inside until the oven cools.

Re-season your skillet after cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes, but never, EVER, wash it with soap or dishwashing detergent. Use just boiling water and a bristle brush to clean. Wash immediately after use, while still hot. Never store food in skillet.

A well-seasoned skillet with decades of experience producing hundreds of batches of corn bread, and fried chicken is practically priceless. What a prize!

Vintage cast iron cookware is not only useful, but collectible. Along with skillets, collectors haunt estate sales and flea markets in search of waffle irons, corn stick pans, Dutch ovens, and griddles.

Here are two of my favorite recipes utilizing cast iron cookware.

Carrot Cake

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flours and baking soda. Add cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Beat egg, sugar and buttermilk together separately and add to mixture. Then add grated carrots and raisins. Pour olive oil into cast iron skillet and swirl it around so that it coats the entire inside surface. Then pour mixture into the skillet. Bake for 40 minutes or until the edges of the cake are dark brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Southern Corn Bread

What makes it southern? Well, for one thing, it's not sweet. But mostly what makes it southern is the method. Heating the oil in the skillet first makes for a wonderful, crispy crust. This recipe really does work best with a cast-iron skillet, though you can use another kind of pan.

2 cups cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine cornmeal, baking powder, soda and salt in a large bowl; add eggs and buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Add oil in a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet and place in hot oven for four minutes. Carefully remove skillet from oven and make sure oil coats entire bottom of pan, then pour hot oil from pan into batter. Mix slightly, then pour batter into hot pan. It should sizzle! Don't forget that the pan is hot when you pick it up again. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter and honey.

© 1999, 2003 Debbie Puente
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