Friday, May 25, 2007

Total Eclipse of my Self-Control

So, when I was a kid, was exposed to a wide variety of foods. I realize that isn't a very interesting way to start a story, but deal with it. I wasn't exposed to sexual predators or random acts of violence, just the occasional palak paneer. This, on top of the fact that my dad was one heck of a cook, I got the foodie bug early.

I started out expanding upon the most basic, simple food I could make: mac 'n cheese. I started adding every herb I could identify to my food, quickly discovering that too much of it would surely taste like crap. Once I got the right formula worked out, my sister soon preferred my mac 'n cheese to my moms. Lesson learned? You don't always need to follow the box instructions.

I dabbled in other cooking but really didn't give it much thought for a good many years after that. Being an unstable adolescent girl really does take up a LOT of time. However, now that I am a stable-esque twentysomething, I can afford to reprioritize. "Obsessing about boys" is definitely down a couple rungs, maybe number 4 or 5 on my grand To Do list. And this brings me back to my love of food.

Food and I have a dangerous relationship. You know how you see needy girlfriends who get all angry and bent out of shape when they don't get to see their boyfriends enough? I'm somewhere between that and a junkie. Like a chemical dependecy, I get shaky, cranky and irrational when I haven't eaten. Maybe this is where it started but I've advanced from here to a true connoiseur.

Some people look at porn online. I'm all about recipe websites. If I had to pay to access the Food Network's website, I'd be toast. But while the site is free, there is a price you pay.

Food gets expensive, especially the good stuff. Even making it at home can really add up! Just like the guy who gets hooked on virtual poker, I keep finding a drain on my funds and it's leading straight to my mouth.

I'm trying to keep it under control, but as Bonnie Tyler once said, "every now and then I fall apart."

(sing it with me)
"AND I NEED YOU NOW TONIGHT! And I need you more than ever!"
Ok, enough of that.

The point of all this is... food is good. Food is awesome. Learn to make it yourself. If there are certain things you find yourself drawn to and craving, research them. You'll learn SO many neat things by just wading through recipe after recipe. The more familiar you get with ingredients, the more comfortable you'll become around them. Fear of cooking is no excuse, just start small.

I've been obsessing over pizza all week. After cruising through a slew of suggestions (and factoring in price and what is currently in my apartment), I came up with a brand new recipe:

- Pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joes (herb flavor)... or make your own, show-off!
- 3 good-sized mushrooms, sliced thin
- Half an onion, sliced into thin rings
- A yellow squash (just the good thick middle part), sliced into thin rings
- Shredded mozzerella
- Trader Joe's Pasta Seasoning
- Garlic salt
- extra flour
- The Sauce
( small can of tomato sauce
( a sprinkling of fresh thyme
( 6-8 leaves of fresh basil
( 1 tbsp. garlic in a jar
( 1 tbsp. neufchatel cheese, warmed... or cream cheese or any soft blendable cheese
( a splash of red wine, preferably cabernet sauvignon
( a few shakes of dried cumin powder
( 1 italian sausage
( 3/4 cup ricotta cheese*

Set the dough out to sit in room temperature for at least 20 minutes, just like the instructions say (or longer).

Heat up a pan (MED-HIGH). Grab your sausage and, in a way that will terrify any man, run a sharp knife down the length of it. You want to take off the casing. Get as much of the inner stuff into the pan as possible. Break it up** and cook until brown all over (put the NO in trichinosis!). Drain off any excess fat and set aside to cool.

Those veggies? Slice them now and set them aside. They don't have to be paper thin. Just imagine the thickness you would usually see of vegetables on a pizza.... You HAVE had pizza before, right?

Right about now, you can turn on your oven and set it to the setting indicated on your pre-made dough.

Now take all the sauce ingredients EXCEPT the sausage and ricotta and throw them into a food processor. If you don't have one, cut the herbs up as finely as you can and mix it really well. When things are looking pretty uniform, add the sausage. Don't overblend this stuff, just get it kind of even looking. Pour the sauce into a separate bowl and mix in your ricotta. You now have a sauce to die for.

Sprinkle some flour out on a flat, clean surface. You know what? Just use the pizza pan. Your dough should be ready by now (unless you're Speed Racer or something), so roll it out until it looks like a pizza crust (round-like, or if you don't have a round pan, rectangular. It will probably take some extra flouring to get it to stretch out and not stick to everything it touches. Take your time. Once it looks like the base for a pizza, sprinkle some garlic salt around the edge to season the crusts up. Next, dump your sauce in the center and spread it out about an inch from the edge. Cover it with a generous layer of shredded mozzerella (it'll look like a lot but it'll cook down). Lay out your veggie slices according to your whimsy and cover it all with a light sprinkling of that pasta seasoning (it's a really good mix!). Maybe sprinkle one more handful of cheese over the top just to seal things down. Now, throw it--NO! Carefully place it lovingly in the oven. Set your timer to whatever the the dough package says (with TJ's dough, 18-20 minutes). If after that time it doesn't look quite as "done" as you like your pizza, put it in for a few more minutes at a time until it is exactly to your liking. You're the cook. You have the right. Food tyranny, friends!

Finally, when it is several slices of heaven waiting to be sliced, take it out and DEFINITELY let it cool. At least 5 minutes. Then cut it up, but you should still be careful when it comes to eating it. Pretty hot. In any case, enjoy. It'll probably go well with that cabernet you used or a light red wine like a chianti OR just about any good flavorful beer. Just none of that Bud/Miller crap. Food up!

*All measurements are rough estimates. If you want more of anything, go for it.
**If you don't have a food processor, break this up as finely as you can now. It's no biggie if it's still kind of chunky.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's so great about Friday?

Last week was a heck of a week. Not in the respect that I had a lot of work or a lot of stress. I actually had a lot of fun. All week long. Now, when I tell my sister back home what I do for fun, she will oftentimes ask, aghast, "On a weeknight?"

Maybe this is a midwestern thing. I don't know.
But really, like those inane chain-restaurant commercials say, "Why should Friday have all the fun?"

Let's see. Let's start on Saturday. It's not a weekday, but who cares.

"But Dana, you just set up this whole thing about weekdays!"

Shut up! This is my page and I'm telling you what I did on Saturday., Saturday I went to see Spiderman 3 after having spent the previous 5 hours watching the first 2. It was rather disappointing but hell, any critic can tell you that. Plenty of people talking about Spiderman. I'm over it. You know what? Forget Saturday.

Sunday, I hit the premiere of the movie "Baby" at the Visual Communications Film Festival.

The lead is a buddy of mine, David Huynh, who I worked with on a yet-to-be-finished film last summer called POX. My fondest memories of David from that shoot involved him wearing a sailor-suit/leotard hybrid with male-enhancement padding... but let's save that for the tabloids. The film was great and it took home a couple of big awards including Special Jury Award Best Feature and the Special Jury Award for Best Emerging Actor went to David himself. Attaboy.

Monday was Harold Night at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre on Franklin in Hollywood.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, The Harold is a long-form improv style developed and popularized by Del Close, co-founder of the ImprovOlympic. If you want to learn about it, read Truth In Comedy, but if you'd rather just experience it then UCB's Harold Night is your destination. For five bucks, you get 2 groups of well-trained performers putting on a full Harold each. Or, if you're like me and feel the need to take classes there, you get in for free. Depending on how you look at it. I may just be attending the most expensive show in town... Hmmm... anyhow! It's a good time regardless and, in truth, the UCB is almost always a good choice for a cheap night of quality enteratainment.

Tuesday night I went to record audiobooks at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Some people might not consider this a night of grand entertainment, but I always have a good time. Plus, the other volunteers there (at least the ones at the Reseda branch) are fun, a little crazy, and smart as hell.

Wednesday I hit another comedy club. Don't worry, they don't beat you for cheating on the UCB! No, I went to the Groundlings Theater for the Crazy Uncle Joe show ($10). I had been hearing for months from a very reliable source that this was really the best show at the Groundlings. Not having seen any others, I will say this one impressed the pants off me. Really. I left with no pants. Sure, I walked in wearing a dress, but that's beside the point. They did 2 acts with a brief intermission and I swear I don't know how their heads didn't explode. Good stuff. Lousy parking though! Show up early!

Thursday night was another nice cheap date. I hit a free screening of the surprisingly good 28 Weeks Later.

Thanks to the good people at LA Weekly and KROQ (not to mention my buddy Greg who couldn't use the tickets), I got to check out a sequel I had been more than a little leery about. Big fan of the original, you see. However, I was pleased to see that they neither A) tried to create a replica of the original or B) completely chucked everything that worked from the first one. While the scope of the movie was very different, this was still a horror movie with strong central characters that didn't forget the small-scale roots it came from. I liked Jeremy Renner as the one dissenting American soldier, and the opening where Robert Carlyle... no, I can't. It'll ruin it for you. I tell you, it may not be a must-see, but it's definitely a should-see.

Which brought me to Friday.
I had a really long week.
I had been running all over town.
I was tired. And running out of clean clothes.

So Friday night, I did laundry.
And it was good.

You know, the rest of the week really doesn't get enough credit.

Friday, May 4, 2007

So kid, what's with the name?

A brief explanation.

I don't want rumors circulating that I am a shut-in curmudgeon. I'm not! Honestly. I go to bars and see bands. I hit the occasional party or club. It's just that the clubs are generally of the comic variety and the parties are typically smaller than anything "on the scene".

You see, I'm not from these parts. Someone told me the other day that he knew for sure I wasn't from LA. I don't think it's written anywhere on my body so all I can come up with is that, essentially, I don't quite fit in.

Fine by me. Par for the course.

If you see me writing about something on here, chances are it's not hip, but it's fun. The restaurants I write about won't be star-magnets, but they'll be delicious and affordable. I'll give you tips on things you can do that neither break your budget nor boost your cred.

So don't listen to a word I say if you're hoping to rub Lindsay Lohan's elbow (or whatever else she's got out). But if you want to catch my rendition of "Under Pressure" at Rae's (don't worry, I'll tell you all about it), then take notes.

The weekend approaches! Live it up!