These Violet Delights

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Sweets

The last few weeks have been busy with not much time to stop and swoon…that is, until my friend Mika tipped me off to these new dark chocolate-covered violet marshmallows from Whole Foods and I dropped like a stone.

Of all the floral flavorings that Kirsti and I have written about, violet is my favorite. Add a true violet essence to soft, pillowy marshmallows, then dip them in dark chocolate—oh là là!

These confections are imported from France (where violet sweets are de rigueur) and taste just like the versions that Mika enjoyed when she lived in Lyon. True to their French provenance, these mauve guimauve are both charming and tasteful, providing the perfect blooming bite to serve as a snack, conclude a meal, or float in a cup of hot chocolate.

However, these violet delights have violet ends, because the box says “Limited Botanical Edition,” so head to Whole Foods tout de suite, because missing out on these cute sweets would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Violet Marshmallows

 

 

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All That Jasmine

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink

After several days of “May Gray” here in Southern California, the sun finally broke through this week. Today has been cloudy and cool, but the weekend forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the high 80s. A whiff of summer is in the air. On my evening walks, the smell of night-blooming jasmine has been so thick that I can practically taste it, but if I want to actually taste it, I reach for a bottle of Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water from World Market.

Folks, there’s no way to describe the wonder of this water. It contains no sugar or other additives, just the essence of a thousand fragrant blossoms floating down an effervescent stream. As our regular readers know, Kirsti and I love floral flavorings, but while it’s common to find rose petal jam, lavender honey, and all that jazz on supermarket shelves, it’s more rare to come across culinary jasmine.

Of course, I enjoy drinking white and green jasmine teas, but they have a different, more delicate flavor than this sparkling water, which exudes a potent perfume similar to that of Medicine Flower’s jasmine extract. I found it tucked away on a shelf at the far back of my local World Market, so you might have to do a little hunting to sniff out this hidden gem, but it’s SO worth it.

Summer’s almost here, Swooners! Drink it in.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Jasmine Sparkling Essence Water

 

 

Royal Tea

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Tea

I remember when Princess Diana married Prince Charles. I got up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding on TV. It was the most spectacular wedding I had ever seen. That giant dress, the huge church filled with people, Diana’s perfectly feathered hair…I swooned and wondered what it would be like to be a princess.

Years later, I watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, also so lovely, with William in his red splendor, Kate in her modest, yet elegant, dress, and Pippa minding the train. The wedding was like a tasty British fairytale.

In 2011, master tea blenders Harney & Sons were commissioned to create a bespoke tea for the wedding of William and Kate. Now, with the impending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19th, the tea is back!

Royal Wedding Tea is a white tea blended with pink rosebuds, cornflowers, marigold petals, and coconut and vanilla flavors. It is as beautiful as it is delicious. Flecks of pink rose petals are offset by the blue of the cornflowers and specks of marigold. The mild taste of the white tea is enhanced by the floral notes, and the addition of the vanilla and coconut give it a unique flavor that is fit for a princess, a duchess (Meghan Markle will be given the title Duchess of Sussex after the wedding), or even a girl from the Valley (me!).*

Come May 19th, I look forward to getting up in the middle of the night wearing my most regal pajamas, brewing a pot of Royal Wedding Tea, and shoving my face with scones, jam, and clotted cream. I might never be a princess or a duchess, but now I can drink tea like one, and that’s good enough for me.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Harney & Sons Royal Wedding Tea

 

The tin of sachets featured in this post is currently out of stock on the Harney & Sons website, but the loose tea is still available for purchase, so grab your share and a spare, or you may have to abdicate your chance to try this tea until the next royal wedding.

 

*I just found out that the future Duchess of Sussex is also a Valley girl, having grown up in Kirsten’s and my hometown of Woodland Hills. Like, OMG!

 

Good Earth Day

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Nostalgia, Tea

Recently, I mentioned Good Earth tea to a friend and received a blank stare in response. It suddenly occurred to me that she was born and raised in New York and might not have heard of The Good Earth, a chain of health food restaurants that was locally popular in the 1970s and ’80s. It played an important role in my young life, but it’s funny how we can take for granted that others share many of our formative experiences, only to be brought up short when we’re reminded that the world is vast and varied.

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mother went on a health kick and overhauled our kitchen: white bread was swapped out for whole wheat, butter was replaced with margarine (believed at the time to be a healthy substitute), and sodas, potato chips, candy, cookies, and ice cream were suddenly verboten. The most decadent thing in our pantry was a box of plain graham crackers, so when my mother took me to The Good Earth for the first time and I realized I was permitted to get one of their large chocolate chip cookies (because it was “healthy”), it instantly became my favorite restaurant.

Aside from the tempting baked goods displayed in a glass case by the register, The Good Earth had a full menu of satisfying selections, my favorites being The Earth Burger (a vegetarian patty made from “nuts, grains, adzuki beans, mushrooms, and exotic spices from around the world”), the Garden Patch Vegetable Salad, and Eggs Lorraine with a side of Ten Grain Pancakes and homemade syrup. But whatever I ordered, it was always accompanied by endless cups of their famous Privately Blended Spice Tea.

Naturally sweet and spicy, the restaurant brewed its tea strong and dark. When I had a view of the servers station, I would see coffee pots filled with fresh water and stuffed with seven or more bags of tea, then left to sit until the liquid had turned a deep brown. By the time I left the restaurant, I’d have had at least four cups of it.

Good Earth tea was so delicious that I would often meet friends at the restaurant for nothing more than tea and a chat. On Saturday nights during high school, when other (i.e. “normal”) kids were at a dance, seeing a movie, or trying to sneak into a club, my friends and I would go to The Good Earth to discuss books and philosophy over cups of spiced tea and goblets of soft-serve Tofutti.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult that most Good Earth restaurants were located in California and might be unfamiliar to those from out of state. There were several locations in the San Fernando Valley, where Kirsti and I grew up and currently reside, but they began disappearing one by one in the 1990s, until the last holdout in Studio City finally closed its doors in 2014. (Apparently, there are two restaurants still open in Minnesota, but that’s quite a distance to travel for a taste of nostalgia.)

Fortunately, Good Earth tea lives on! Their online store sells a variety of black, green, white, and herbal teas, but it’s the classic Sweet & Spicy blend that still makes me swoon. I always give it a good, long steep to bring out its natural sweetness.

Today, as we focus on the good of the Earth, I’ll be brewing up this nostalgic blend and having a Good Earth Day.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Good Earth Sweet & Spicy Tea

 

Good Earth tea has gone through a number of different package designs over the years. The latest version features a white background with vibrant splashes of color, but I’m partial to the previous purple packaging that appears in these pictures.

 

Bon Bon Bon Appétit

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Sweets

Kirsti likes to say, “Do one thing, do it well.” Whether a Rolex watch or a single malt Scotch, focusing on one product in order to achieve mastery elevates it to the level of fine art. It’s a philosophy that she and I share, particularly when it comes to food (refer to her post about Killer Shrimp for a classic example). Recently, we heard about the proprietors of a chocolate shop in Detroit, MI, that don’t just do one thing well, they do it Bon Bon Bon.

Bon is a French word meaning “good.” Bonbons are petite confections, typically covered in chocolate, that are “good-good.” Bon Bon Bons, on the other hand, are rectangular receptacles of tempered chocolate filled with an exhilarating array of flavors and textures that can best be described as “swoon-worthy.” Conceived and constructed by a talented team known as the Babes Babes Babes, these unique sweets are master pieces.

Kirsti and I were seduced into ordering the Spring Collection, featuring floral flavors like Classic Jasmine and Lavender Honey strewn among more cutting-edge combos like Mesquite Smoke and Shaded Jade. It arrived in spare, industrial-style packaging that belied the lush ingredients within, but cleverly protected each bonbon in its own tiny box.

The company’s website states that “each Bon Bon Bon packs two polite bites (or, one less-than-polite bite).” Given that the chocolates were delivered to me and it was my responsibility to carefully (and fairly) cut each straight down the middle, saving one half for Kirsti, I believe I deserve props for remaining “polite.” But a polite bite still packs a punch, with enough layers of sensation to leave a lingering impression.

If this shop was located down the street from me, I’d be in trouble, but there’s also a troubling amount of packaging required when shipping chocolate to warm climates like ours in Southern California. A person only has so much use for cold packs and sheets of insulated mylar bubble wrap, so Kirsti and I may have to limit our indulgence to the winter months. But for those around the country who are still mired in rain and snow, now is a great time to jump on the Bon Bon Bon wagon and treat yourself to some of these singular sweets. Bon appétit!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bon Bon Bons

 

 

Killer Shrimp – A Love Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Recipes, Savories

Original Killer Shrimp menu.

Shrimp and bread, shrimp and rice, shrimp and pasta. Along with sweet potato pecan pie, those were the only items on the menu at Killer Shrimp, a restaurant that opened over 20 years ago in Marina del Rey, CA. The shrimp was thrown, to order, into a spicy sauce that the restaurant says is simmered for 10 hours, and comes with fresh French bread to dip into the magical elixir. To say this dish is thrilling is no exaggeration.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley and would often make the hour-long drive to eat at this punk rock homage to shrimp. The restaurant in the Marina was on the 2nd floor of an ugly 1980’s mini mall, but inside it was dark and cool and they played rad music—the kind you played in your room on vinyl after riffing through the import section at Moby Disc. No one played music like this in restaurants back in those days. Then again, no restaurant had only three things on the menu either. Killer Shrimp was more like a club than a restaurant. We even waited in line to get in. It felt a little dangerous, but exciting. Kind of like the way it felt to go to Melrose Ave. in the early ’80s when it really WAS wild to see someone with pink hair and a nose ring.

The original Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey, CA.

Then, as if my dreams became real, they opened a Killer Shrimp in the Valley. The Valley restaurant was also very dark, but much bigger, and all the servers could have been in fashion spreads for The Face. They all wore black and, according to my friend Christy who worked there, the girls were required to wear Viva Glam red lipstick from MAC (the very first Viva Glam). It was a microcosm of cool in the Valley that hadn’t existed before or since. What all self-consciously cool restaurants these days aspire to be, Killer Shrimp simply was.

Even though there were three items on the menu, the ONLY acceptable order was shrimp and bread. Seeing the oversized bowl before you—hot, scented with rosemary and cayenne, and swimming with colossal-sized shrimp—was, in a word, exquisite. The bread that accompanied the shrimp was fresh and chewy and perfectly soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, but we have to talk about this sauce for a minute.

The flavor was so complex, with layers of richness and spiciness and herbiness…you would have to resist the bowl-licking urge with all of your might. There are many ingredients in the sauce, including butter (a lot of butter—just deal with it), Worcestershire, lemon juice, and beer, but even though the restaurant simmers their sauce for 10 hours, you can whip this recipe up in about 15 minutes with the same glorious results. I truly cannot overstate the majesty of this dish. It makes every annoyance in life tolerable. It makes me believe in a Higher Power. It proves, without a doubt, that food is more than fuel. It is the meaning of life in a bowl.

Killer Shrimp eventually closed all of its restaurants. There was a hole in my heart the size of a giant crustacean. I searched many times online for the recipe to no avail. Several years ago, they opened a new Killer Shrimp back in Marina Del Rey, but it is not the same. It’s more of a sports bar with a huge menu and no MAC red lipstick in sight. I can’t go there. Then, one day, my sister-in-law Stacey invited my husband and me over for dinner. She had found a recipe online claiming to be as good as Killer Shrimp and was going to make it for us. I was excited, but I didn’t have much hope that it would come close to the singular deliciousness of the original. Luckily, I was wrong. It tasted, well, KILLER.

And now, for those of you that have missed Killer Shrimp for all of these years, the recipe is now yours. And for those who have never tried it, I wish I could be with each and every one of you as you taste your first bite. Maybe when your mouth explodes with fireworks of pure umami and your brain recognizes the profoundness of the moment, you will think of me.

I may just have a tube of the original Viva Glam lipstick still in my makeup bag. I’m going to turn off all the lights, blast The Clash (on import vinyl) and and serve my husband some shrimp—dressed all in black, of course—and pretend that all is right with the world.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

KILLER SHRIMP

Adapted from a recipe found on the Internet many years ago
Serves 2 (can be doubled)

¼ lb. plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (can be doubled if you like it really spicy)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 lb. colossal shrimp in the shell (known as Original), or peeled and deveined
½ cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable stock
¼ cup beer at room temperature
French baguette

Combine ¼ lb. butter, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and dried herbs in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes to soften garlic, but be very careful not to brown or burn garlic and butter. Add shrimp and cook about two minutes (it is important not to overcook the shrimp in this dish). Add the last 2 Tbsp. butter and stock. Shake pan back and forth for two minutes. DO NOT STIR, only shake skillet, which breaks down the butter and liquid and emulsifies the sauce. Add beer and cook for one minute more, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Pour into two large bowls and serve sliced baguette on the side.

Cue The Clash and shove your face in that bowl.

You’re welcome.

 

And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

TABASCO PARMESAN POPCORN

½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce
salt
pepper

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.

 

*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.

 

Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Recipes, Sweets

For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.

There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.

In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

NANAIMO BARS

Base:
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts

Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.

Filling:
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Icing:
8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. butter

In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.

 

*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.

Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.

 

Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊

 

Castile Yourself

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes

Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.

Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.

Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.

I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.

It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

CASTILLIAN HOT CHOCOLATE

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)

Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.

 

*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.

You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).

 

Pluff Piece

Author: Kirsten K., Coffee, Food & Drink, History, Hot Drinks, Tea

This date is steeped in history. Two hundred and forty-four years ago today, trouble was brewing in Boston Harbor as colonists, angry about the British Parliament’s recent tax on tea, boarded ships of the East India Company and tossed chests of imported tea into the water. To commemorate this act of defiance against taxation without representation, you can now host your own Boston Tea Party with American heritage teas from Oliver Pluff & Co.

A purveyor of historic beverages, Oliver Pluff offers Colonial teas and remedies, pressed tea bricks, coffee, toddy mixes, and other early American potables. I wrote about their cacao shell tea last year, which now comes in a mint mixture that is perfect for seasonal sipping. Also apt for the holidays are their wassail mulling blends for making spiced wine and cider.

Among a variety of themed collections is a Teas of the Boston Tea Party gift box, featuring five teas that were popular in 18th-century America. A favorite of colonists was Bohea, a blend of pekoe and souchong teas with a strong, smoky flavor that will have you yelling, “Boo-hee!”

Taxes are once again on everyone’s mind, so after you stand up to make your voice heard on the issue, sit down to enjoy a cup of Colonial coffee or tea and celebrate the freedom to participate in representative government. There’s still time to treat yourself or someone on your list to a taste of history this holiday season with a gift from Oliver Pluff.

Leaf and bean come to you, and to you your wassail too, and we bless you and send you a Happy New Year. Cheers! ☕


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Oliver Pluff & Co.