Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cooking Fish at Sur la Table

Our "adopted daughter" Sara has been very disappointed that I never got around to posting photographs of  the results of the essential fish recipe class we took at Sur la Table a few months ago. I confess, part of the problem is I can't find the recipes, so I'm not sure I'll get the names right on them.
First up is the crispy-skin salmon with edamame pesto. Unfortunately, the fish which was purchased for the class lacked skin, but it still tasted pretty good. When Sara decided to make it for the mother's day dinner at our house, Lisa told her there was no way she was going to get enough of it done to feed the 14 or 16 people in attendance in time for a reasonable dinner hour. I'm happy to report that they found a way to do it in the oven and Sara did a fine job on the pesto. My son Michael used the left-overs on pasta.
I think, though I'm m not entirely sure, this is roasted halibut with tomato jam and possibly a panko topping. It was delicious.
This is for sure grilled ahi tuna served with some sauteed vegetables. There may be an orange sauce, which means that neither Sara, my son, or our friend Lorien should eat it. It was good, but would need a new sauce for the Sunday Super Supper Squad.
This was a baked cod or sole dish with definite Mediterranean flavors of tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese.
And here we have a nice couple of views of the presentation before the class dived into dinner.
As you can see, Sara enjoyed herself.

Sur la Table at the Farmers' Market (adjacent to The Grove) on West Third Street in Los Angeles offers periodic classes on cooking fish, which is an excellent way to learn more about this healthy protein. I saw that there's an upcoming class which concentrates on grilling fish. My friend who has been running the cooking classes program for about a year is leaving to return to her career as a pastry chef at the beginning of July (sniff!) But there are a number of excellent instructors remaining, most of whom have graduated from culinary school and worked in restaurants. I would strongly suggest taking the essential knife skills class (offered often) for anyone who wants to improve their performance in the kitchen, as well as the more advanced class in knife skills (rarely offered) if you want to safe money in the meat department.

Most classes run $69-$79 and end with a good dinner (or dessert) to sample. It is especially fun to take a class with a friend or two. Most classes are hands-on, and I guarantee you will learn something new every time. Plus, there will be a nice discount card to use for a week after the class.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Edible Superheroes

My husband had a birthday last week and we celebrated with some of our Sunday Super Supper Squad on, well, Sunday. My husband Len Wein created Wolverine (and Storm, Colossus, and Nightrcrawler), so buying the cake pan that Williams Sonoma sells was a no-brainer. (If Len had created Wolverine for DC Comics, there would have been no need to buy the merchandise because it would have arrived in the mail, along with royalty checks, but that's another story for a different blog.)

We've been using the six-character cakelet pan for wall decoration, since so much of the rest of the house is all about superheroes. On Sunday, my son Michael baked and one of our "adopted daughters," Dani, decorated 13 (two pans plus one extra Wolverine) of the cakelets and everyone got to eat at least one. Dani had plenty of samples on display around the house to get the coloring close.
If you are thinking about buying one of the pans, it does come with a recipe but a box cake mix makes enough batter for the six heads with a bit left over (which is why two boxes had enough left over for an extra Wolverine.) Using the cakelet pan is an excellent idea if you have young comic book fans, but the decorating does take a bit of time and patience. I could see having a kids party and providing the baked cakelets and letting each child decorate his or her own. I also think Williams Sonoma and Marvel should get together and do some women superhero molds (starting with Storm.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Feast for Fans

My friend George R.R. Martin's been writing a series of books of which you may have heard. The first is called A Game of Thrones, which is the name under which it is being made into an HBO series. Season Two just ended. Five volumes of the book series have been published and the overarching title of the series is A Song of Ice and Fire.

George has many ardent fans, but the most interesting to me are the women who write the blog Inn at the Crossroads. For the past several years, they have turned George's descriptions of food (and there are so many in ASoI&F) into historically accurate and/or modern variations of the dishes. Their cookbook has just been published.
Look for A Feast of Ice & Fire at your neighborhood bookstore (if you have one, since so few of them remain.) I found this display at the nearest Barnes & Noble. It is available on Amazon.com, but Jessica's Biscuit hasn't stocked it yet.

The photographs are lovely. The recipes I've tried from the blog have been delicious. George has at least two more books to write, so I do wonder if there will be a sequel, but you can always check the blog for new entries.

The decision to use food trucks to promote the first season of the show was nothing short of brilliant, and Tom Colicchio's food was wonderful, as I wrote here just about a year ago. Other shows may have followed suit (at least I've hear rumors to this effect), but descriptions of food are integral to these books and this cookbook makes a great gift for anyone you know who may be reading the series or who fell in love with the show.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


My name is Christine and I'm a dishoholic.

I'd like to think that my obsession began when I would pick up items for food photography, back in the day when I was a full-time photographer, but that's not at all true. I didn't even have a decent set of dishes back then, just some Corelle that was easily replaceable and some ugly stoneware I got as a wedding gift.

Around the time my son was two, I decided I was tired of living like a college student and took advantage of a china sale at a department store by purchasing 8 place settings of a Noritake china pattern called Adagio (picture of the pattern below.) I managed to get the soup bowls and my brother gave me the sugar and creamer and that's what I owned I went off to law school a few years later. I discovered the pattern had been discontinued when I went to do a gift registry when I married Len.
That was frustrating, and for a while I considered choosing a different fine china pattern, but we managed to pick up some stoneware with a sun and crescent moon pattern (salad plate below) called Galaxy that we both liked and which served the purpose of matching dinnerware when we hosted Thanksgiving for several years. Len likes to say before I came along, he was happy to have enough jelly glasses for dinner guests. A beautifully laid out table is what makes me happy, and if I'm putting in the work for that many people at Thanksgiving, I deserve to be happy.
The 1994 earthquake caused us to lose pieces of both sets of dishes. The Galaxy pieces were still available in some places (I think I managed to pick up some at Ross, actually) and Target came out with a very similar pattern that provided some additional serving pieces. The only piece of Galaxy I have not been able to find again is the creamer, but friends gave us a cobalt etched glass piece that goes well with it instead.

It was soon after the earthquake that I discovered china replacement services like Replacements, Ltd.*  in North Carolina, and I managed to replace the few pieces of Adagio that broke. I also haunted flea markets--a somewhat less satisfying, in terms of deals, alternative to the house auctions I used to attend with my mother when I was growing up and while I still lived back east.

One fine day, I stumbled upon a trove of Adagio place-settings and service pieces. Heaven. $225 for what would have cost me $1100 through Replacements. It gave me place-settings for almost as many people as were coming to dinner for Thanksgiving (the record has been 23.)

The thing that is really most responsible for indulging in my dish obsession came into being around that time: eBay. I was suddenly able to find Adagio in abundance, and, at least in the early days of eBay, it was possible to find real bargains. Over the past 12 or so years, I've acquired the rest of the pieces I need for service for 24 in Adagio and I've got every serving piece except for the coffee server (my two "almost" stories involve dishonest sellers,  and although I did not lose any money, I didn't get the piece.) I used to have one of the demitasse cup and saucer sets, but the cup was broken during the house fire and I've never found another one. I've even got napkin rings for 24. My Thanksgiving table looks lovely. Except for a bargain on the coffee server or finding the demitasse sets, there's really nothing more I need or look for in Adagio. I don't really like the etched crystal (incredibly rare) made in the pattern and the only thing I'd love to have are snack plates (also known as tea and toast plates), which might once have been special ordered but were never actually made for general sale.

Ultimately, the pursuit of dishes is All About The Hunt. I've got a number of different dish patterns I collect and I keep an eye out for those collected by my friends. The Hunt is more fun when it is done on foot with friends, but eBay has had a negative effect on the existence of antique shops and second-hand shops where china and silverware are sold. Many of them just went on-line. In L.A., there is at least one good flea market every weekend and there are still places like Pasadena and Old Town Orange where there are collections of antique malls (though not nearly as many as 15 years ago.) We used to go to the Rose Bowl Swap Meet almost every month, but it has been years since Len's felt up to the walk or I've felt like facing the parking issue. I do, however, try to go to the Pasadena City College Swap Meet every few months, and I like to hit what is left of the antique shops in the San Diego area when we go down for Comic-con. It is rare that I don't find at least one item to add to my dish collection.

When I was growing up, my mother's everyday dishes were from Stangl. She had the Fruit and Thistle (below) patterns.
My siblings and I each had a place-setting of Stangl Kiddie-ware. Mine was Indian Campfire. Only the cup remains and the price for replacing the plate and bowl is steep, if they can be found.
 When I found out my sister had gotten mom's Thistle pieces,  I started looking for pieces for her as gifts, and found many through eBay, flea markets, and second hand shops. Because Stangl was a New Jersey company, it was not nearly as wide-spread in the west as it was back east, but eBay was the great equalizer.

Back in the day when antiquing was a regular part of my San Diego Comic-con weekend,  I ran across several snack sets in a Stangl pattern called Country Garden, where each dish had a different flower or combination of flowers carved and painted onto the surface.
 It turned out to be one of the most extensive Stangl patterns in terms of servingware variety, which made it a great choice for The Hunt. Once I started, it was hard to stop. Besides the typical five-piece place setting (dinner plate, salad plate, bread and butter plate, cup and saucer) there were soup bowls, sauce or berry bowls, lug soups, sandwich trays, bread trays, divided vegetable bowls, serving bowls from about 12" in diameter down to 8", kidney-shaped platters, chop plates, egg cups, sugars, creamers, tea pot, coffee pot, salt and pepper shakers, and those snack plates with an indentation for a cup. I got many of them.
When my sister came to visit two years ago as we were moving back into our house after the rebuild, she helped me wash things which had not been cleaned by the packing company. She told me I could not buy any more dishes. I didn't need them. They took up too much space.

She seemed particularly concerned with my snack plate obsession. In addition to the Stangl sets (probably 16 of them), I had two different snack set patterns in glass. One was clear glass in a button and bow pressed glass pattern and the other was a milk glass pattern called Orange Blossom.  Both were mid-century glass sets made by Indiana Glass.
There were a lot of them and they were hard to store.

Good thing I didn't still have the Fan plates I had been accumulating. Those I gave to a friend who already  had a large collection when the triangles caught my eye.
In addition to the snack plates with cups, I had begun finding cocktail plates which allow a guest to slip a wine glass into a hole so the two items can be held in one hand at a party. These are actually easier to store (I was only able to acquire two dozen of them because Presido Designs either discontinued them or went out of business and the ones I found were at Ross--and I went to every Ross in a 50 mile radius from where I live to hunt them down.)  I've managed to find other plates with the opening for wine glasses, but none are quite so nice and well thought out as this line called Amuse Bouche. Since we entertain so much, these are really useful.
 As a concession to my sister and my space limitations,  I decided I could get rid of the triangular button and bow plates. They were a little hard to wash and a friend had asked to borrow some for a party. I think just gave them to her. They actually look very nice with her colored depression-glass punch cups replacing the plain clear glass cups of the set. I packed up some green and yellow snack sets I had and sent them back east with my sister as a gift to her daughter. Culling  gave me a little more room for my next quarry: Aynsley Cottage Garden.
I picked up an Aynsley Cottage Garden tea pot, creamer, open sugar bowl and cookie plate at a flea market one day many years ago. It is a floral pattern with butterflies (and I'm pretty sure a the snack set I found in a second hand shop was a cheap Asian knock-off of this pattern.) On eBay, I had found a cake plate and a serving plate for crackers, but I didn't think about looking for more.

While we were in the rental house, I  scored some Cottage Garden vases, candy dishes, and a strawberry basket on eBay for bargain prices. Lots of other pieces started showing up and there was something so cheerful about the pattern, I kept up with The Hunt, expanding into place settings. I'm still looking for the snack plate set in the U.S. (I can find them from U.K. sellers, so maybe if I go to London with Len in February, I'll be able to buy them.)
Initially, I thought the pattern would finally be The One for my breakfast-in-bed set (a goal I've had ever since I saw a display at an antique shop of a  Johnston Brothers breakfast set on a  tray.) In fact, I've acquired so much of it that it that I can do a spring brunch on the patio for a dozen people if I can acquire some more tea cups. I do have enough egg baking cups for half a dozen people.
The Aynsley makes a beautiful display in my kitchen for ten months of the year. It makes me smile and I've carried the butterfly motif through to the curtains in the kitchen and some other things. (I own at least one of most of the vases below, and a number of other shapes.)
As I acquired more of the Aynsley, I realized that I wasn't really using the Stangl Country Garden any more. Since my sister had said that my niece loved the color yellow, and since there were so many big yellow flowers in the Stangl pattern, I offered the dishes to my niece, who happily accepted. If I had realized how much the shipping would cost, I might just have sold the pieces on eBay, but all except the very last of more than a dozen boxes went out last week and she is now reveling in a more complete set of china than I owned until I was almost 20 years older than she is. It is a good home, and, because she's on the east coast, she's got a better chance to find the missing pieces (soup bowls and salad plates, particularly) to round out the place-settings. She's got all the serving pieces she could possibly want.

The two months of the year that the Aynsley goes into storage is for the Christmas holidays when my Lenox "Holiday" pattern china comes out.
I started collecting it before the house fire and I kept it stored in the garage, so it managed to avoid damage and being unavailable to us during the Christmas holidays of 2009. What makes this pattern really fun is that it is active, easy to find, and Lenox introduces new serving and decorative pieces every year. Plus, it has matching flatware, linens, and Christmas ornaments. I love the way the table looks on Christmas morning, when my friends Karen and Michael show up for a day of food and fun.
It is a very specialized pattern, though, so I really can't use it the other ten months of the year.

There is a part of me that might consider swapping out the Aynsley for Lenox's equally cheerful "Butterfly Meadow" pattern.
Like Holiday, it is active, readily available, extensive and always expanding. Like the Stangl Country Garden, it features a variety of flowers on the different pieces. Although I have bought some of the linens, I can't really take on a second butterfly and floral set of dishes without people questioning my sanity.

That doesn't mean I won't dive into something completely different, because I just did.

I went on line a few weeks ago to look for some serving pieces decorated with horses for the Belmont Tea I will host on Saturday. I started hosting a tea for the last of the Triple Crown races during the last decade when it looked like a possibility that some Thoroughbred would finally make it a dozen winners. We're still   waiting for that, and it has been four years since I last had an excuse to hold the tea. This will be the first in the new house and with the 73" TV. Almost like being there in person in New York, right?

So, back to the Internet. I think I typed in horse teapot or horse china on eBay, which I've done a few times before, but not with the results I got this time: a beautiful pattern with Arabian horses.
The pattern is called "Chevaux du Vent." It is a fairly new pattern (it debuted sometime in the past two or three years, I think) and it comes from France. I found it from an eBay dealer in Canada, although there does appear to be a local authorized seller in L.A. I've only picked up a couple of serving pieces and part of a place setting, but this will be The One for my breakfast set and I am looking forward to using the pieces I've purchased at the Belmont Tea.

I've purchased a salad plate:

A bread and butter plate:

A candy dish with a mare and foal:

And a beautiful 12" cake platter:
I love the bread tray and I can't wait to get the larger tea pot. The dinner plate is rather plain, with the decorative pattern on the edge, so I haven't purchased it yet. I'm trying to decide whether I'll get the breakfast-sized tea cup or the mug for my morning drink. I did get a cereal bowl and I'm looking forward to sitting out on my patio eating breakfast out of it. I expect The Hunt to go on for quite a while, but that's fine. Bargains will no doubt be hard to come by.

I do want to share something else I saw, but which I cannot in any way even consider buying: Hermes Cheval d'Orient.    
The horses are a more abstract interpretation of my beloved Arabs, and it is gorgeous, but the place setting is around $1700.00 with a soup bowl and the teapot alone is $1225.00.
No wonder I first saw this on a website called "Wealthy Tables." Comfortable I am, but wealthy I am not. However, if anyone wants to bequeath me a set, I would not turn it down.

* Replacements, Ltd., was founded in 1981 and its owner, Bob Page, came under fire for opposing the passage of Amendment One last month. Please consider supporting this business (I don't recommend going so far as Christine Lavin has by breaking china just to replace it), which was the first of its kind and is the largest replacement service in the U.S. When putting together this post, I discovered they even carry the Galaxy pattern. Maybe Replacements will get my missing creamer in some time, but I just discovered there are matching demitasse cup and saucer sets.