Friday, January 30, 2009

It takes two - POP Champagne and Dessert Bar

The champagne and the chandeliers are the stars at POP.

Let's play a game.

I'll say a word, and you say the first word that pops into your mind.

Bonnie . . .

Romeo . . .

Cheech . . .

If you said Clyde, Juliet and Chong, then you're battin' a thousand.

Now let's try it with food.

Soup and . . .

Chips and . . .

Milk and . . .

Did you say sandwich, dip and cookies? You're brilliant.

Now let's move on to champagne. This one's a little tougher. Caviar? Truffles? Mac 'n' cheese? (Don't knock that last one 'til you've tried it.)

If you didn't think of dessert, then you need to join me at POP, the new champagne and dessert bar in Pasadena. It's a pairing so perfect that it makes chips and dips seem like ice cream and pickles.

I attended Pasadena Magazine's "40 Under 40" event at POP last night and loved the chic San Francisco vibe, the loft meets old money look and the free flowing bubbly and sweets. Each miniature dessert, from the macarons to the macaroons, was one perfect bite.

Desserts on the regular menu, full-size and made in-house, are out of the ordinary - chilled strawberry and rosemary consomme or roasted lavender strawberries with creme fraiche. These sound lovely, but I'm always a sucker for a good souffle.

I'm also a push over for a good deal, and POP has that during their Wednesday through Sunday happy hour from 5 to 7 pm. Bellinis, mimosas and draft beer are $4.00 and appetizers are 20% off. On Wednesdays, the Veuve (my current favorite) is $10 a glass all night long.

In spite of the name, POP also serves up simple savories - appetizers, soups or salads, and daily chef specials - for lunch or dinner.

The most enticing item on the menu falls under dinner appetizers. The "Room Service for Mr. Lewis" (plucked from a scene from "Pretty Woman") offers two glasses of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir sparkling wine and local organic strawberries for $19.

Sounds like a perfect pairing for a perfect pair.

(What's your perfect pair?)

POP Champagne and Dessert Bar
33. E. Union St.
Pasadena, CA (between Raymond and Fair Oaks)

Update 1: If you go for Happy Hour, a note of caution about the 20% off on appetizers. Only four items qualify for the discount. Other appetizer-like foods, such as cheese or pate plates or miniature flatbread pizzas, don't make the cut.

Update 2: I just read in Pasadena NOW that Emily Earhart is the pastry chef at POP. Emily was in my Sunday School class ages ago. Her brother, Matt, is a partner in the business.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Water Bottle by Any Other Name

I received this foot tall Kor One water bottle for Christmas.

In truth, I saw it online, coveted it, ordered it, wrapped it, put it under the tree and told my family that it was from them. I even acted surprised when I opened it.

But I didn't have to feign sheer delight at the architectural design of this high-tech flask. It makes a statement.

It shouts, "I love good design."

It screams, "I am hip."

It yells, "I care about the environment."

It says, "I care about my body." (No cancer-causing BPAs, thank you very much.)

It whispers, "I'm willing to shell out $30 because this is a 'hydration vessel,' not a water bottle."

Yes, you read that correctly - 30 smackeroos for a water, er, hydration vessel.

It reminds me of the joke going around in the 80s, when Perrier water was selling for a buck a bottle. "They should call it "Derriere" water because you'd have to be an ass to pay that much."

But what can I say? I got it for Christmas, along with the $35 T-shirt from Patagonia that reads "Live Simply."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Regional Recipes # 4 - France

When you think of French cuisine, do you imagine challenging (to the American palate) foods like escargot and cow brains? Or do budget-breaking delicacies like truffles and goose liver pop into mind? Perhaps you envision delicious but artery-clogging ingredients like butter, whole cream and duck fat. Or maybe you're thinking about long hours of complicated preparations and a sink full of saute pans and souffle dishes.

I'm glad I volunteered to host January's Regional Recipes Roundup of French food because, as it turns out, French cuisine doesn't have to involve any of the above. There's not an offal, frog leg or snail in sight, most of the ingredients used by our contributors are economical and many of these tantalizing recipes can be whipped up on a weeknight.

Even if you don't know the difference between a clafouti and a cobbler or you can't tell Julia Child from Sue Child (my college buddy), I'm confident that you (and even I) can master these French recipes. Two of the entries are Fast and Easy Entrees, three are Slow but Easy Entrees and two are Company-Pleasing Desserts.

Fast and Easy Entrees

This recipe for Scallops and Leeks with Crème Fraîche was submitted by food and cat lover Catherine of Kits Chow. This is just the kind of recipe I love: all three of the basic ingredients are in the title. Throw in butter for sautéing the scallops; garlic, saffron and salt and pepper for flavor and there you have a quick and easy recipe that's elegant enough for company. Catherine serves hers over linguine, but you can subsitute your favorite pasta, rice or French bread.

I’m especially happy to see how simple it is to make your own crème fraîche at home. Sour cream and cream? Who knew?

Pam's Sidewalk Shoes blog isn't just about food. "It's a blog about food, and a little about reading, and some sewing, and I might even knit something," writes Pam in her subhead. What she doesn't mention is that, like Kits Chow, she loves cats (or "chat" in French - pronounced "shah"). Is there a cosmic connection between love for fast and easy French food and an affection for cats?

Pam's submission for Chicken with Tarragon Vinegar Sauce is another dish that's "easy-peasy" enough for weekday cooking but special enough for guests. Pam adapted the recipe from The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh, a book that she says lives up to its title.

Slow but Easy Entrees

One Perfect Bite's Braised Short Ribs Cotes du Rhone

Mary from One Perfect Bite submitted this slow but easy recipe for Braised Short Ribs Cotes du Rhone. She writes, "Its kissing cousin is, of course, beef bourguignonne, but this luxury version produces aromas that will drive you wild." Mary also promises that this is "like no stew you have ever had."

This recipe takes a little more advance preparation than our first two entries, but it looks like it's worth the effort. I'm ready to be driven wild.

Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok, the developer of this Regional Recipes series, created a French country classic, cassoulet. Cassoulet is to the French what macaroni and cheese is to Americans: the perfect comfort food. Darlene calls it "comfort food made for sharing."

Darlene admits that this is not a quick recipe that can be whipped up in a single evening. She worked on this over the course of seven days, but the total prep time was about four hours. After a week of work, I think the cook could use a little comfort.

TS and JS of Eating Club Vancouver had the same dilemma as Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok. Fancy and refined or rustic? They ended up doing both with their Roast Pork Belly with Puy Lentils. JS also used this as an opportunity to perfect "that crackling skin with still soft-and-tender meat."

Even though the pork belly takes several hours to roast, this recipe is simple and very French.

Company-Pleasing Desserts

Ning of Heart and Hearth is another fan of food that's delicious but fast and easy. She wasn't sure if it was possible to find such a dish in the French food category until she discovered this recipe for apple tart (tarte aux pommes in French).

Let's add "beautiful" to that list of adjectives.

Clafoutis Aux Cerises (French Cherry Clafouti) from Wandering Chopsticks

Wandering Chopsticks is a creative Vietnamese cook, but she doesn't limit herself to Asian food. This recipe for French Cherry Clafouti shows off her comfort with French desserts and her willingness to experiment by adapting (and acknowledging) three of the best clafouti recipes in the blog food world.

For this clafouti, she substitutes soy milk for cream and adds a sprinkling of sugar at the end for a beautiful caramelized look. Like the apple tart, this clafouti is fast, easy, delicious and beautiful.

Thank you to all seven contributors for inspiring me with your luscious photographs and well chosen recipes. I think it's time for me to advance beyond fries and a salad named Nicoise. And special thanks to Darlene at Blazing Hot Wok for creating this Regional Recipe event.

The next regional recipe: I just realized that I get to select the next food region. Since my friend Madhuri is giving me my first Indian cooking lesson this Saturday, I pick India.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack O-Spam-a Musubi (Spam Musubi)

I'm finding that I have a lot in common
with our soon-to-be-president Barack Obama.

First of all, we're both self-described bi-racial "mutts."

And then there's the Occidental connection. He attended Occidental. I eat pizza at Casa Bianca, a favorite of Occidental students.

He likes to body surf in Oahu. I attempt body surfing at Santa Monica Beach.

And after a day in the surf or on the green, we both like to chow down on spam musubi, that simple but satisfying snack of Japanese steamed rice topped with fried Spam and wrapped in nori (dried sea weed). (For the record, the rice is the plain white stuff, not sushi rice. PLEASE don't call it Spam sushi.) The New York Times (and hundreds of other news outlets) reported that Obama ordered the popular finger food for lunch during a golf outing in Hawaii.

In honor of our new Commander in Chief, I'm bringing O-Spam-a musubi for a breakfast inauguration party tomorrow. I first made this treat a few months ago. For the O-Spam-a version, I upgraded to teriyaki Spam with this recipe from Recipezaar. The sweetness of the teriyaki sauce (1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 T. sugar) masks the saltiness of the canned meat.

Now go ahead and sneer and put your nose up in the air as I bite into my Spam musubi. I'm secure in the knowledge that Obama and I both love it. We have a lot in common, ya' know.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mission: Ultimate Crab Cake

Is this the ultimate crab cake? I'm getting closer.

I started out the year 2009 on a mission to find the ultimate crab cake.

I used a Williams and Sonoma recipe for the first batch I made for New Year's Eve. They were delicious, but, alas, not the ultimate.

Then I remembered the crab cakes I sampled at the Turf Club at Santa Anita Race Track five years ago. Now that was a crab cake. Slightly crisp outside, moist (but not mushy) and meaty on the inside. It was as though Merlin waved his magic wand and the fresh lumps of crab clung together without the help of bread crumbs, mayo or eggs.

I found the recipe online and decided to whip up a batch for a friend's birthday party. The first instruction was to reduce one cup of heavy cream to 1/3 cup. It provided no clue about how to reduce the cream. Should I put it on a Weight Watcher's diet?

I poured the cup of cream into a sauce pan over a low flame. I stirred and watched and watched and stirred. After 20 minutes it became a little thicker. I turned up the heat and stirred and watched for another 10 minutes. It still hadn't reduced to 1/3 cup, but I was running out of time. I needed to cool the cream before I could move to the next step.

I rushed the process and ended up with a soggy concoction that didn't stick together. I dipped the gooey crab mixture into flour, then egg and bread crumbs. I gave up after four crab cakes. The process was excruciating, but the cakes were exquisite.

I squeezed some lemon juice into the left over crab mixture and called it crab dip.

The next day I took the left over dip and made three more crab cakes. This time, the cakes stayed together a little more easily after a night of chillin' in the fridge. My hands were a mess, but the crab cakes were very close to being the ultimate. If only I could get that cream to reduce.

Santa Anita Crab Cakes
(Adapted from

1 lb jumbo lump crab
1 cup cream
4 tablespoons red bell pepper, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

flour and fresh breadcrumbs

Reduce the cream until it is about 1/3 the volume and is thickened. Add the red peppers at the end of the reduction -- do not cook further. Allow to cool slightly.

Place the crabmeat in a mixing bowl and separate the lumps very gently to avoid breaking apart. Make a "well" in the center of the bowl. Now add everything including the cream mixture to the center of the bowl. Very lightly and carefully toss this mixture together until all of the ingredients are combined. Refrigerate until well chilled, then remove and form into balls about 5 oz each, return to refrigerator until the crab cakes are firm.

Bread the crab cakes in flour, then egg, then fresh bread crumbs. Fry either in a pan or Fryer at 325 degrees until golden brown. Drain Slightly. Finish the crab cake in a 400 degree oven for about 7 or 8 minutes.

  • Make sure to start several hours in advance because of all the chilling time required.
  • I added a 1/4 tsp. of the Old Bay seasoning to the dredging flour.
  • I skipped the last step of finishing off the cakes in the oven.

I served the crab cakes with spinach sauteed in olive oil with garlic and dried cranberries.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's in the Bag

If a "sanctimommy" is a sanctimonious mom, then what do you call someone who cops a "greener than thou" attitude?


Yes, I'm a little full of myself when it comes to living green. I drive a Prius and blow the EPA estimated miles per gallon out of the gas station. I walk errands. We use those twisted compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the house. We keep the thermostat set at 68 in the winter and 80 in the summer. We insulated the attic and installed a whole house fan. I recycle and freecycle. I've forsaken plastic water bottles. I only buy appliances and office equipment with the Energy Star seal of approval. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

The truth of the matter is that I still have a long way to go.

For example, I can't seem to get the hang of bringing my own shopping bags to the grocery store. It's not for lack of totes. I scored these five bags in one week at a YWCA event and The Women's Conference.

I love City of Hope, but I wouldn't be caught dead carrying their bright blue tote bag.

Add the freebies to my home totes, and my collection looks like this:

I find fault with every one of these bags.

This Jensen's bag is a great workhorse, but I never seem to have it in the car when I need it.

At last, I found the perfect solution at The Women's Conference. A set of these three stylish nylon tote bags from EnV sells for $24.00.

Each lightweight bag can hold the equivalent of two plastic grocery bags.

I love the colors and patterns and lack of logos.

I finally moved the bags from my closet to the car and used these totes when I shopped at Super King this afternoon.

And, yes, I think the other shoppers were a little green when they saw Altadena's newest bag lady.

Do you say "paper" or "plastic" or do you bring your own tote? Do you have a favorite?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Live Simply - Crab Cakes and Champagne

Life is full of quests. The search for "the one." The quest for the perfect purse. And the pursuit of the ultimate crab cake.

If crab cakes are on the menu at a restaurant, I will order them, but, more often than not, I am disappointed. Too much filler. Not enough crab. Mushy texture. Not enough flavor.

It finally occurred to me that the ultimate crab cake might be found in my own kitchen. On the advice of a woman I met at Fish King on Christmas Eve, I used the recipe on the Williams Sonoma website. I cut the amount of breading in half and used Tabasco sauce instead of cayenne pepper. I used half and half instead of heavy cream. I doubled the amount of lemon and parsley.

The results were good. In fact, they were very good, but they were not the ultimate crab cake.

But the year is young, and who knows. I may find the perfect purse AND the ultimate crab cake in 2009. The search for "the one" may take a little longer.

Not the Ultimate Crab Cake but Pretty Darned Good

(Adapted from


2 slices French or Italian bread

3 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/4 cup minced green onions, including some tender green portions (3 or 4 onions)

1 lb. fresh-cooked crabmeat, picked over to remove any shell fragment

4 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup half and half

2 eggs

4 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. Tabasco sauce

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Lemon wedges for serving


Remove the crusts from the bread and discard. Cut or tear the bread into small pieces and put into a food processor fitted with the metal blade or into a blender. Pulse a few times to make coarse crumbs; you should have about 2 cups. Place the crumbs in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small sauté pan over low heat, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter. Add the green onions and sauté until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions to the bread crumbs along with the crabmeat and parsley. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half and half and eggs until well blended. Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard, salt and cayenne pepper. Slowly add to the crab mixture, stirring continuously so the bread crumbs are evenly moistened. Form into 8 or 12 oval or round cakes about 1 inch thick. Put the flour on a plate or on a piece of waxed paper. Lightly and evenly coat each crab cake with the flour, shaking off any excess.

In a large sauté pan or fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 2 Tbs. butter with the vegetable oil. When hot, fry the cakes in batches, turning once, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a warmed plate and keep warm until all the cakes are cooked. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. Serves 6.

Adapted from Chuck Williams Collection, Simple American Cooking, by Chuck Williams (Time-Life Books, 1994).

In 2009, I plan to live simply and consume more champagne, sparkling wine, prosecco and cava. I also plan to continue my search for the ultimate crab cake recipe.