Monday, May 5, 2014

Fun Facts Learned During California Avocado Grove Tour

Since Cinco de Mayo is one of the highest avocado-consuming days of the year, I figured its timely to post about my California Avocado tour in the Temecula Valley. And even though my love & familiarity with this buttery fruit spanned decades, I was surprised by the number of things I learned during this one-day outing.
avocado on trees
Our first stop was Persea Tree Nursery in Fallbrook, a nursery & greenhouse facility that grows, grafts and sells avocado rootstocks to groves and orchards. 
Avocado Nursery
As we toured through the facility, including an "avocado dark room" & swelteringly hot greenhouse (the humidity helps these young plants — which are native to the tropics — thrive,) I picked up on these fascinating tidbits:
  • a single avocado pit can supply enough energy to start up to 6-7 plants.
  • when properly cared for, a tree can start producing edible fruit in 2 years.
  • when stressed, the trees have a tendency to bear fruit on alternate years - resulting in a cycle of high & low yields (and consequently, prices in the market.)
  • 95 percent of avocados produced in California are of the Hass variety (I knew they are the most popular, but wasn't aware of how big a majority they made up; meanwhile, I'm crossing my fingers for the giant, round Reeds - my favorite varietal - to take up more of the market share & be more readily available.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pleasure of a Weekday Off at Copa Vida, Petrossian LAX & Crustacean

When given the option of an extra day off, most folks I know prefer to bookend their weekends, tacking on a Monday or Friday. Me? Personally, unless I have an out-of-town excursion, I actually prefer taking midweek days off. It splits up the workweek, I can "staycation" on a mellower day of the week, and not worry about the traffic & crowds from other long weekenders too.

Of course, being able to partake in some tastings was the icing on that cake. So that's exactly what I did last Wednesday.

My first pleasure was, to no one's surprise, sleeping in. Even though I did freak out and bolted up on my usual workday time, upon realizing "oh yeah, I took today off" I went back into the bliss of the warm bed and slumbered for another lovely 2 hours.
After finally getting up & ready around 10:30 a.m., I had a quick but leisurely breakfast at Copa Vida, my new favorite "fancy coffee" place in Pasadena. 
Normally I wouldn't hesitate to order their divine open-faced Croque Madame, but there's another food affair coming up soon so I opted for their ham-cheese-caramelized onions stromboli. And of course, one of their fantastic pourover coffee of the day (this time it's the Colombian El Roble estate roasted by 49th Parallel.)
Following the late breakfast, I headed to LAX; not to fly anywhere, but to check out Petrossian's newly opened shop at their new champagne & caviar bar at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (which has gotten quite a facelift recently). There, we were treated to caviar & roe-topped bites by Giselle Wellman, who heads up the kitchen here & at the Petrossian West Hollywood Restaurant/Boutique. They were all delicious, but my personal favorite were a simple spin off the classic caviar presentation—with a dollop of creme fraiche on a buckwheat blini.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Recipe: Express Tiramisu

Back in the mid-late 90s, tiramisu was the "it" dessert. And thus, it was something I consistently order every time I see it on the menu, all the while feeling very sophisticated about the layers of cake & custard, with a hit of coffee and sometimes a splash of booze.

And even though this dessert has already seen its heyday, it's still something I whip up regularly for gatherings. Just saying that you're bringing tiramisu to a party lends a whole sense of "Ooo la la," even though it's impeccably easy to make. Moreso given the time- & effort-saving shortcuts I take, which means it's really a little prep work (namely, brewing then cooling down some coffee), half an hour for mixing & assembly and then a few hours' (or overnight) in the fridge before serving.

Express Tiramisu (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • 18 ladyfinger cakes (readily available at Italian markets)
  • One 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cup espresso or strongly-brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 oz. simple syrup (1:1 sugar-water mix)
  • 3 oz. Amaretto, or your liqueur of choice (optional)
  • Chocolate shavings for garnish (I used a vegetable peeler on a bar of dark chocolate)
Directions:
  1. In a shallow pan or dish, combine coffee, simple syrup and Amaretto, set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, ricotta cheese, half cup of sugar and vanilla extract; mix until smooth
  3. By hand or machine, whisk together half cup of sugar with the heavy whipping cream until it has soft-to-medium peaks. Then gently fold into the cream & ricotta cheese mixture.
  4. Dip ladyfingers, one at a time, into the coffee mixture - gently rolling both sides until they start to soften, then place in a 8" x 8" dish or pan. Repeat until you have one layer of coffee-soaked ladyfingers in the dish (feel free to break apart the cakes as needed to fill any big gaps or holes.)
  5. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture until the ladyfingers are no longer visible.
  6. Repeat with another layer of soaked ladyfingers & cheese mixture. 
  7. Top with chocolate shavings, cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours (or overnight). Serve chilled.