Guest Post by Stephanie Stiavetti: Crème Fraîche Stuffed Asian Pears

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For the next few weeks I'm taking a long overdue vacation. This is also my first vacation from blogging EVER as on previous escapes I always took my computer. It's one that is soundly needed. I'm touring China and Tibet with my mom and enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of locations such as Shanghai, Lhasa, and the Yangtze River. I cannot wait.

As beautiful as China is I cannot blog while there as blogger sites are blocked by the Communist Party of China (as is Facebook, my e-mail, Twitter, etc.). As such, I'm proud to announce Vanilla Garlic's first ever guest posts.

This second of two guest posts was written by my partner in culinary crime Stephanie Stiavetti. Her blog, The Culinary Life, is one filled with Gluten-Free Recipes and plenty of wit. She's also a well-known expert on the subject of SEO and an amazing freelance web and tech guru. So much so she's spoken on the subjects at many blogging conferences and has been hired by many big name bloggers you've definitely heard of.

Now, Stephanie and I agree on a lot of things. However, one of the few things we do disagree on is the subject of pears. I think they kick ass. She wants them expunged from human taste.

Except, that is, for one particular exception...


-Delicious pears and dairy.-

My name is Stephanie and I'm a sugar addict.

My family is bred of fine, sugar-obsessed stock, and as a result, I'm one of those people who finds themselves elbow-deep in a bowl of M&Ms before consciously realizing there's candy in the room.

As I've gotten older health issues have forced me to seriously scale back on my sugar intake, and this unfortunate fact has put a damper on my culinary enjoyment.

Avoiding sugar has been a struggle, especially with tempting blogs (such as this one) occupying my attention every day. Yet summer is an easy time of year to avoid refined sugar because we're surrounded by so much fruit that it's impossible to ignore the bounty of fresh stonefruit, berries, and jams that dominate produce displays. As summer turns cool, though, our natural sweets selection changes. White nectarines give way to apples, and root vegetables start replacing the colorful berries that monopolize local farmers markets from June through August.

While I find it terribly depressing to see summer fruit season end, there's a shining light piercing the early dusk of these chilly September evenings: Asian pears.

First, a confession - I hate pears. HATE them. Their gritty texture makes me want to rip every tooth out of my mouth and hurl them across the room. When I was little, my mom would try to feed me pears and I'd projectile spew them straight into her lap. So, as you can imagine, I was a little trepidatious about trying Asian pears.

I remembered seeing Asian pears at the grocery store as a kid; the produce manager would wrap each individual pear in a stretchy foam sleeve to keep the delicate flesh from bruising as the fruits sat stacked in shoulder-high mountains. I can't tell you how many times my grandmother smacked me up beside the head for stealing those sleeves, sliding them up my arms and running around the produce section like I was the ninja protectress of our local Safeway. As a staunch pear-hater, that was the only pleasant pear memory I had filed away in my mind.

Guest Post by Irvin Lin: Black Garlic & Vanilla Bean Marble Brownies

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For the next few weeks I'm taking a long overdue vacation. This is also my first vacation from blogging EVER as on previous escapes I always took my computer. It's one that is soundly needed. I'm touring China and Tibet with my mom and enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of locations such as Shanghai, Lhasa, and the Yangtze River. I cannot wait.

As beautiful as China is I cannot blog while there as blogger sites are blocked by the Communist Party of China (as is Facebook, my e-mail, Twitter, etc.). As such, I'm proud to announce Vanilla Garlic's first ever guest posts.

The first if from my buddy, Irvin Lin. His blog, Eat The Love, has only been around a short time but already possess a cult following for his inventive recipes, engaging voice, and sense of style.

Irvin has done something I've never been able to do: actually combine vanilla and garlic into a unique and musky-sweet dessert.

Bravo, Irvin. Bravo.


-Chocolate, vanilla, and garlic. Together at last!-

I woke up on a sunny bright day in Maui on the sixth day of my month long stay with my partner, AJ. Through saving, planning and a little bit of luck, we had been able to do an extended trip to Hawaii. My partner is a teacher and had the summer off and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I did not have a day job and could freelance wherever I wanted to.

I logged onto my computer and sitting in my inbox was a message from Garrett, both flattering and pleading, asking me if I would consider writing a guest post for him, as he went off on his own extended trip to China and Tibet. I immediately said, “Of course,” and then went into a minor panic about what to write about.

It’s easy when I’m writing for my own blog (I have no standards there, I just ramble about my own life stuff) but a guest post for someone else should probably be a little more… ahem… well put together. However, I went about the rest of the day in my usual vacation way (going to the beach, laying in the sun, getting slightly sunburned) with that email in the back of my mind, not sure what I was going to write about, but hopefully I would think of something.

-Marbled goodness.-

That day in paradise did not go well. I had a rather adventurous evening the night before, with my partner and I ending up in a new friend’s hotel hot tub and there were large plastic tumblers of wine involved (it all sounded like a good idea at the time, and not the least bit sordid as it does now, in retrospect). I was not feeling so hot at the beach, which of course, was one of the more difficult beaches to get to (why do the gay beaches have to be the ones that you have to climb over treacherous terrain to get to?). When I told my partner I was having gastrointestinal issues – something you really don’t want to have on a remote gay nude beach with no restrooms (did I not mention it was nude?) – we left shortly before what I’m sure was a spectacular sunset. I was too concerned about my stomach to pay any attention to what I might have missed.

I spent the next six hours curled up in my bed, fading in and out of consciousness, while my partner fretted and came in with various beverages and medications for me. Perhaps it was the wine, the not-so-sanitary hot tub, the strong tropical sun that I still wasn’t use to, dehydration, or a combination of it all, but I pretty much felt like I was going to die.

When I woke up right after midnight, exhausted but very much happy to be alive without any real urgency to run to the bathroom, I knew exactly what I was going to write about for Garrett. Black Garlic Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Marble Brownies.

Murderlicious: How to Boil Crayfish

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

-Yeah, the title lets you know that these guys met a very unfortunate fate. In my tummy.-

"So did you hear that Sacramento passed an ordinance that lets you keep three chickens in your backyard?" I beamed as I informed my friend Adam of the news. "Sure, I mean, I still need a house to keep them in, but when I finally get one that means I get to have egg laying hens!" For years I had been hatching plans on having hens. I had spent a little time researching various breeds; everything from reading up on their temperments and grooming habits to color of eggs and rate of egg production.

Adam just looked at me as if I had told him I planned to flap my arms and fly to Mars. "Really? I just can't picture you with animals like that?"

"What?" I was practically incredulous. "How so?"

He just stared at me with a wide and knowing smile that said it all. Those birds will kick your ass.

"Oh, I don't plan to kill them. I want their eggs. And when you go for them the worst they do is give you a peck. I mean, Christ, they're chickens. You walk up and say 'Boo!' and they flee for their lives. Plus, I've killed plenty of them before."

"Wait, what?" He seemed confused. Me being pastry person with a penchant for cheese and a reluctance to eat a lot of meat it was understandable.

"Oh, yeah. Plenty of times. You walk in grab one - or, well, catch it with a net or stun it with a pipe to the head - and then grab it by the neck and swing it around your head," a motion I then demonstrated, "until you hear a cracking noise."

-"Oh God, where am I?"-

Adam just stared at me a bit horrified. I gathered he had a mental image of me decimating a chicken's life swinging it over my head like gay cowboy with a feathered lasso.

"After that," I continued, "you drop the body in boiling water and pluck the feathers. Chop off the head, drain the blood, and then break it down. It's pretty easy. It smells and personally I'm not the biggest fan of doing it all, but it's simple enough. And hens are easy. Roosters are assholes who'll fight back and have gnarly talons that'll fuck you up but good given then chance. Seriously, it's a hospital visit for some stitches."

"Really? You do this?" he sat stunned.

"Well, not all the time. Last time was with my friend, Hank. His neighbor has some ancient roosters that needed to be put down, so we went over and killed, plucked, and broke them down. The meat was crazy tough and almost black from being so strong. Here, wait, I have a picture..."

-Yep. This one. Please no cock jokes.-

"Wow. That is you with a naked, dead chicken."

"Rooster," I corrected.

It's true. I don't have a problem killing an animal for my own food. I say a little prayer for the animal and thank it for it's life, and then I do what needs to be done: butcher the begeezus out of it. I eat meat because I like the taste of it. I like the energy it gives me. This is how I choose to live my life.

I just rarely ever cook with meat since I find good meat to be rather out of my budget (a vegetable-focused diet is simply a more fiscal one) and, due to using so little of it, I don't know how to cook it all that well.

Not that I can't get creative with a pint of pig's blood or a good wild duck if my buddy Hank throws some my way. It's odd. I actually know how to cook wild game and chickens better than pork or beef.

Still, most people don't have the gall to kill their own food. It's too personal. We have to accept the fact that when we take a life that we mean to eat we not only devour the flesh but absorb a bit of its anima. We connect to the spirit. I don't mean to sound new age. I simply mean we connect to the fact that we are taking the life of another living, moving, vocal creature.

Though, admittedly, it's probably a lot easier when it's not cute and fuzzy. It's why I think so many "vegetarians" eat fish and shellfish.

And little, angry, hotheaded crayfish.

Cheese and China: Mahon Macaroni and Cheese with Zucchini and Chili Oil

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

-How can something so delicious be so divisive?-

“What is that you’re eating?” asked my coworker, Mai. Her hair was popped into a rough ponytail tied too high giving her head a slight pineapple appearance that may have looked silly on anyone else but, somehow, seemed to only further accentuate her demure Hmong features.

In fact, her figure was one of the great mysteries of life. During the course of the day I would watch her finish off an entire meal from McDonald’s, a few bags of chips, half a steer of beef jerky, and an extra large seafood pho that she would horrifyingly sweeten with six or seven sugar packets and made me wonder if she in fact had any sense of taste at all. All this and she would not gain an ounce. I eat a french fry knowing I’ll have to use my lunch break to take a healthy two mile walk in exchange.

Mai also ate a smorgaborg of Hmong food that she prepared herself or with her family the night before; finely minced and chili studded larb hotter than a California heat wave, pickled and roasted pig knuckles, face-scrunching bitter melon stuffed fat with pork and ginger, fermented cabbage redolent with the pungent odor of fish sauce, roasted chicken rubbed with lemongrass, soups filled with herbs and eggs.

-I'm horribly spoiled.-

Even better, in traditional Hmong fashion she always brought extra to work. Since most of our co-workers were unfamiliar with her food and, therefore, more often than not afraid of it I was usually the only person she was feeding. In exchange I brought her homemade pickles, jams, and breads. It was this alimentary connection that ensured we would become good friends early on.

The only thing she didn’t care for in our food exchanges was the copious amount of cheeses I brought in to snack on. Her face would wince as if she has just given herself a paper cut when she got a good smell of them. A particular run-in with a particularly ripe and oozy slab of Taleggio actually cleared her up and out of the room so fast she forgot all the files she had brought with her to my desk. When she finally reclaimed them she made a particular note how the pages now stunk like her husband’s old work shoes.

Today she looked at the offending piece of spoiled milk in my hand and gave me another paper cut wince. A particularly bad one as if she had sliced herself along the fingernail.

“It’s Piave," I said.

“It smells. How can you eat that?”

“Oh, come on. You’ve never even tried it. Plus, this has a mellow scent. It’s not a smell. It's an ah-row-MA!” I pulled out the last word like taffy in an effort to get her to really take in the cheese’s nutty, hay-like perfume in hopes she would deign to try a bit.

“I don’t like cheese,” she mewed.

“All cheese?”

“Well, there is a cheese I buy at the store that comes in a tube and –“

“STOP! No! Stop. That’s not cheese.” I said with only slightly exaggerated exasperation.

“It’s not?” she asked, her pineapple leaf spikes of hair bounced atop her head.

“No. That’s processed cheese-like product. There’s probably little dairy in there. More flour and thickeners than actual milk.”

“But I like it!” she said. She laughed as I sighed in defeat and popped the rest of the classic Italian cheese in my mouth.

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