Posts from December 2010

Spice Inflation, From Prices in Khari Baoli to Fiery Heat Made In Calabria

I am used to see gold, copper, rare earth materials and the like mentioned in business news.

The laws of supply and demand are at work in the spice market too.

Anjli Raval visits Khari Baoli market in New Delhi and reports in Spice price rises prove hard to swallow in India (Financial Times, December 31) on spice inflation in 2010 citing 2 most extreme examples, "turmeric whose future price went up 150% between January and November" and "black pepper with 80% rise over same period."

As usually with commodities, debate is raging on whether to blame it on relative prosperity of the expanding middle class in developping countries or 'evil' speculators'?

Spice inflation can also be found in the heat index as shown in Calabrian Bomb Spaghetti Recipe by Nancy Silverton shared by LA Times Magazine (December 2010).

What's the heat source in Nancy's book? To keep things safe this heat bomb is sold as Tutto Calabria Crushed Hot Chili Peppers and sold in a jar ready to give instant spice cred to your creation of the day.

The Calabrian Bomb Recipe comes from A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes (Knopf, March 2007).

The recipe does not come out cheap because of the original investment of $13 in spice jar and 32 white anchovies. It will definitely not land on the $5 Dinner Mom menu.

Buying a spice alternative in bulk if you can should bring cost down.


The Spice Road led me to A Walk in Khari Baoli Spice Market (Eat and Dust, February 2010) by Pamela Timms. Her photos bring the place to life for us.

(* Photo of Spice Wholesalers at Khari Baoli Market from Eat and Dust piece)

1 Most Read and 4 Underrated Tokyo Thursdays in 2010

If you have been reading Serge the Concierge for a while, you came to realize that certain themes get a weekly treatment.

In the case of Tokyo Thursdays, It has survived or rather thrived for over 3 years now.

As 2010 comes to an end, I look back on one definite hit and a few misses or should I say under-the-radar stories.

Definite hit (most read) has to be Erotic Art of 17th to 19th Century Japanese Bedroom, Poem of the Pillow and the Floating World (October 28).


Online, many stories have a short life span, this one is still an attention getter.

Now for those who got overlooked.

In the culture realm, I wish that Tokyo Wonder Site, New Art and Culture in the Heart of Tokyo (September 9) showcasing this beehive for talent got more attention. More than an art center, it also faciliates international cultural exchanges.

Foodwise, Vegetarian Kaiseki Restaurant in Spotlight, Sustainable Tokyo, Earth Day 2010 (April 22) might have been too 'niche' for most, yet it is worth looking at the long vegetarian tradition and the love and patience that goes into its preparation.

Same was true with Dusting Off Sake's Image, Smile Nihonshu Events Attract Younger Crowd (July 29) on how Sake connects with the hip crowd. Not everyone is ready to sit down for a professoral take on Sake. Informal tastings are a way to go.

Samurai movies were not a hot item when I offered free seats in Revenge, Redemption, Win Pair of Tickets for Kenji Misumi's Destiny's Son Film Screening (February 16)...Maybe it was announced on too short a notice?

Looking back on 12 months of Japanese Flavors for Tokyo Thursdays # 172

Previously: Ame Zaiku, Candy Sculpture as an Art Form in the Hands of Takahiro Mizuki

(* Illustration from Poem of the Pillow, courtesy of Phaidon, its publisher)

Famished Guests, Creamy Eggplant Spread on Bruscetta, Holiday Recipes

How many times have you walked into a party, cocktails and wine are plentiful , one thing that is conspicuous by its absence or paucity is food.

You came straight from work and are famished. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea.

All the host needs to have are a few finger foods ready for the taking, like today's recipe from Italian Home Cooking (Kyle Books) by Julia Della Croce.

Creamy Eggplant Spread on Bruschetta

Serves 4


2 medium Italian eggplants

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

freshly sliced and toasted artisan bread, for serving

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

The Italians have so many delicious ways of cooking eggplant, but this, perhaps one of the simplest, is a favorite of my daughter, a vegetarian. The clear flavors of fresh eggplant and good olive oil pop because no herbs or spices distract save a pinch of oregano. The trick to transforming eggplant from bitter to sweet without salting it is to remove excess seeds after roasting or grilling (if charred on a wood-fired grill, the pulp will take on a pleasant smoky flavor).



1. Preheat an oven to 400°F.

2. Place the whole eggplants and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and slide the pan onto the middle rack of the oven.

Roast the garlic until soft, about 15 minutes; remove from the oven and set aside.

Roast the eggplant until completely soft and collapsed and the skin is blackened, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Use a spoon to scoop and discard excess seeds from the eggplant. Putthe pulp in a sieve and allow it to drain to release excess moisture, from 1 hour to overnight, chilled.

3. Peel and mash the garlic and place it and the eggplant pulp in the bowl of an electric mixer. Alternatively, place it in a mixing bowl and use a hand whisk.

Add the vinegar. Using the whisk attachment, or whisking by hand, whisk the mixture while pouring in the olive oil little by little, as though you were making mayonnaise, until the eggplant mixture is creamy and light. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Spread the eggplant cream onto the warm toasted bread slices. Sprinkle with oregano and serve.

Ahead-of-time note: This spread can be made well ahead of time and stored in a covered vessel, chilled, for up to 5 days.

Let me know how this goes down at your party.

(* Recipe by Julia della Croce from 'Italian  Home Cooking' (2010) reproduced by permission of Kyle Books, photography by Christopher Hirsheimer)

5 Dollar Dinner Mom Balances the 2011 Budget, New Year's Resolution Interview

I had pangs of guilt after reading Monica Bhide's Motto for 2011 -"Let tomorrow come tomorrow" knowing that my last interview of 2010 would be with Erin Chase otherwise known as The $5 Dinner Mom on her upcoming book, The $5 Dinner Mom 'Breakfast and Lunch' Cookbook coming to to a store, Kindle or public library shelf near you on January 4, 2011 thanks to St Martin's Griffin.

I thought that interviewing Erin before the New Year has arrived and we start to feel that a spell has already been cast on our New Year's resolutions was the right thing to do.

Here's our fruitful if not juicy conversation.

Q: Erin, do you apply the same principles during the holidays?

Yes Serge, all the same shopping strategies, couponing strategies and planning strategies both work (and need to be) applied during the holidays.  It’s easy to let these things slip through the cracks during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but it’s important not to lose sight of your food budget. Hey, any $$ leftover in your grocery budget can help pay off all those Christmas gifts!

Q: If you do, some suggestions for NY Year's Eve and NY Year's Day get together?

For a NY Eve or Day get together, make a plan and share it with your guests.  Let them know where you might need some help, like an extra dessert, appetizer or bread.  Guests are always willing to bring a side dish or pick up something on the way to the party.  During these tough economic times, the expectation that the entire cost of the food and drink at an event belongs to the host/hostess is set aside.  Don’t be afraid to ask others to share their culinary expertise with everyone at the get together.

Q: Have you always had a 'thrifty' attitude towards food and meal planning or did circumstances bring a change?

Yes and no.  I think I’ve always been had a healthy attitude towards spending money on food and being diligent about food.  It wasn’t until we went from two incomes to one, coupled with the rising cost of gasoline that nearly crushed our monthly budget, did I set out to spend as little as I could at the grocery store, while still making healthy and wholesome meals.

Q: Does living in Ohio makes it easier to be that way than if you lived in NY or Los Angeles?

A thrifty attitude towards food, that includes the use of meal planning and couponing, can be used anywhere in the country.  I know there are caseload sales, meat markets with fabulous prices on different cuts of meat, as well as farmers markets in both NYC and LA. There will be some markup on the prices, but not a huge markup in the more expensive markets.  The key is “are you looking? And are you looking in the right places?” for these great deals and steals on food.

Q: Your book is published in the first week of a new year. If you where to offer 3 pieces of advice to big spenders in the food department who want to change their way, what would they be?

  • Open up the store circular, or find the link online to your stores circular, and make your meal plan and grocery list based on what you see on the front page of the circular. Then add the fruits and vegetables that are on sale to your list.  If you’ve never cut a fresh pineapple, or butternut squash before, don’t be afraid to buy it and give it a try.  There are plenty of online tutorials (including on that can help you make something fabulous with these new-to-you pieces of fresh produce.
  • Stock up on your favorite meat cuts when you see them on sale for less than $1.99/lb…cuts like boneless skinless chicken breast, ground chuck, pork chops, chuck roasts, etc. Freeze the packages if you don’t cook them right away.  Then when you want to make your favorite chicken bake 2-3 weeks later, you don’t have to spend full price on the chicken.  You’ve already paid for it, and you paid the lowest price possible!
  • If you don’t want to clip paper coupons, learn how you can save coupons to your store loyalty cards for instant “electronic” savings.

Q: On a personal level, does saving money on your weekly meals allows you to splurge in other areas?

I have a few things that I like to splurge on, but it’s a rarity and happens only 2-3 times per year. My husband and I are working hard on meeting some lofty financial goals, and a large part of why we can meet these goals is because I can spend so little at the grocery store each week.


Q: Is having a 'reward system' for 'good behavior' important? Does it add to one's motivation?

A financial reward system for good behavior. That would depend in large part on the individuals personality and spending/saving patterns.

Q: What do you consider as the 3 worse money wasters in the food department?

1. Convenience Bakery Items – Bake them yourself. You not only have better control of what ingredients are used, but you’ll save yourself up to 50% by making homemade.

2. Convenience Dips and Sauces – Make them yourself. For the same reasons as #1.

3. Frozen foods – with the exception of frozen vegetables and fruits, I prefer making my own convenience foods than buying them frozen. Again, you have control over the ingredients used and the cost is considerably less.

Do you see a pattern there?!?! ;)

Q: Do you frown on food waste for other reasons than money?

I lived in the Dominican Republic for 6 years. I’ve seen starvation and poverty at its lowest point. I’ve served rice and beans to 2 and 3 year old children who live in the city dump and have to scavenge for food scraps. The rice and beans is their only “full meal” every week. So yes, I frown upon food waste because I know that 80-90% of the people on the planet live with little to no food and have no clue how or when they will get their next meal.

Q: Best use for leftovers?

My favorite is turning leftover pork, beef or chicken from a slow cooker meal and shredding it up, tossing with BBQ sauce for pulled BBQ sandwiches. Never fails.

Q: Can you share your favorite recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner? Breakfast –

Breakfast -Chorizo and Egg Tacos

Lunch –California Club Wraps

Dinner – Good Old Fashioned Spaghetti with homemade sauce

Q: Is 'how do you do it' a frequently asked question?

Yes. I have help. A lot, lot of help. I have people who work and write for me, as well as a young gal who helps me take care of the kids a few mornings a week. And lest I forget, a supportive and helpful husband! Oh yeah, and being hyper organized and overly Type A helps too.

Q: Most positive element on being the $5 Dinner Mom?

The joy and satisfaction in knowing that I am inspiring and empowering thousands of others to both start and continue on their journey to spending less at the grocery store.

Q: What was the most expensive meal you had in your life? Did you pick up the tab?

I once had an $80 steak. At an uber-expensive steak restaurant. *please don’t throw tomatoes* I was out to dinner with my family and my dad was insisting that I try it. I insisted that I not, on the grounds that “it really couldn’t be that great to be worth $80.” He won the argument, and he was right…it was probably the most amazing few bites of any food I have ever taken. In my entire life.

And yes, he picked up the tab.

Thanks Erin for opening your savings bag of tips....

P.S: I was not raised on Caviar and Champagne and I surely can fix a meal for few dollars yet I have to confess I am a somehow failed coupon clipper. I do like to buy things on sale as long as they agree with me. I love lentil soup yet I might add a few slices of Pancetta to it upon serving.

Snow Shelter Illustrated Guide, How to Build an Igloo, Must Have Book

Experts said that snowstorm that just visited us on the East Coast produced snow too powdery for snowballs or snowmen.

I guess it qualifies as too flaky for igloos too.

I will have to peruse How to Build and Igloo 'and other snow shelters' (W.W. Norton, 2007) to find out once I get my hands on a copy.

"In this instructive, whimsical, illustrated manual, Norbert E. Yankielun, a seasoned cold-regions explorer and researcher, takes readers step-by-step through the process of constructing and inhabiting a range of useful snow structures—from the most basic to the more complex. Whether you’re a veteran backcountry skier or a backyard builder, this is one book you won’t want to be without." (illustrations by Amelia Bauer)


No need for yeti woman a la Robert Crumb.

Five Love that Cabardes Wine Pairings Courtesy of Ryan O'Connell

After 3 weeks of piling up the recipes on you, I thought it was time to make some wine pairing suggestions.

I sent a few enlightened wine minds a list of 5 recipes and asked them to offer 5 pairings. 

Each of these wine minds gets a different list of course.

We start with young dynamo, Ryan O'Connell, of Love that Languedoc who just added to his panoply an e-book Wines of Carcassonne . Makes sense since his family's property O' Vineyards in Cabardes is located minutes from the city of Carcassonne.

Here are 5 wines Ryan paired with 5 recipes I gave him, all from Cabardes area:

For Cauliflower Bacon Gratin from Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan (HMH Books), Ryan goes for Domaine de Cabrol - Vent d'Est 2007 (60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Cabernet)

"The trick here is to pick a wine that will accompany the bacon, potato, creams, eggs, butter and cheese of a gratin without amplifying these ingredients so much that you lose the cauliflower. The last thing you want is to bog the meal down in alternating rounds of excessive tannin and excessive cream.  Also, people tend to serve this as a side to another rich dish like a roast, so I'm going to try for a wine that will pair well with the entire meal.

That's why I chose Vent d'Est from Cabrol.  It is an exquisitely structured wine that is still fresh with a touch of austerity.  It exemplifies the Cabardes appellation of France which offers deep, flavorful wines that benefit from the Mediterranean sun while maintaining a cool temper thanks to the Atlantic influence in our climate."


Number 2, Buttermilk Leg of Lamb from Salted by Mark Bitterman (Ten Speed Press) he offers  Proprietor's Reserve 2005 from his family Domaine O' Vineyards without hesitation.

"Mmm, a nicely spiced leg of lamb.  I paired it with one of my own wines, a deep, rich wine with so much structure it can lift this hefty leg without a hitch.  Every bite of food and every sip of wine can last a full minute as different flavors of amazing depth roll around your tongue. Featuring the sun-drenched flavors of the Mediterranean and a sumptuously meat offering, this pairing is intense and hedonistic, not for the light of heart."

Third, a comforting White Bean Soup by The Crabby Cook aka Jessica Harper meets Chateau de Brau - Cuvée Chateau- (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah)...

"Now we're on a lighter dish with a lot of great herbs like rosemary, thyme, and garlic which all grow wild in this region of France.  These wild herbs of the underbrush are referred to communally as "la garrigue".  I'm pairing this soup with a younger organic Cabardes that will offer dark fruit (think blackberries and currant) and a sort of liquorice quality that are a natural fit with the flavors of the garrigue."

In fourth, vegetarian Middle Eastern Chickpea Burgers by Rebecca Katz (and Mat Edelson) from The Cancer- Fighting Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2009) finds its match with Chateau Salitis Viognier 2008

"Chickpea paddies like this tend to be much lighter than street food such as falafel. These particular chickpea burgers depend on their amazing herbal flavours and you don't want a wine so heavy or sharp that it will crush the food.  I think a dry, crisp Viognier from Chateau Salitis would be a perfect pairing.  It's bright, and will underline the aromatic qualities of the burgers."


Let's finish on sweet side of things with Vanilla Sugar Drops from Heilala Vanilla and an experiment in dessert wines Font Juvenal - ? 2004 - "Les vendanges passerillées" (Viognier and Muscat Blanc Petit Grains)

"So the enigmatically named "?" cuvée is not strictly Cabardes because our appellation only has red and rosé wines.  Instead I chose the ? which is an experimental dessert wine from one of the Cabardes' best producers.  A late harvest sweet wine made from Viognier and Muscat blanc petits grains.  If you're not into sweet on sweet, I might recommend you stray a bit south of my appellation to the sparkling Blanquette de Limoux which will offer a lighter and more uplifting pairing for these vanilla sugar drops."

I hope this piqued your interest in the Cabardes area offerings. Want to know more, Try your Luck at Winning a Free Copy of Wines of Carcassonne.


Hopefully more wine pairings from different areas will follow if other wine minds are not too wrapped up in the holidays to find time to contribute.

(* illustrations top to bottom, vineyards at Domaine de Cabrol, Tuiles rooftops of Font Juvenal, Ryan ready to conquer Carcassonne)

Pollack becomes Colin, Sells Likes Fishcakes, Affordable Sustainable Fish

In my conversation with Fishmonger Bart Van Olphen around his book Fish Tales (Kyle Books), I wondered if some species were neglected by customers because they were perceived as cheap (= bad).

There are echoes of that concern in Fish industry next target for celebrity chefs' campaign (Guardian, December 23).

The article mentions that "Shoppers could also consider more sustainable, good white fish alternatives to cod such as pollack, coley and pouting. In 2009 Sainsbury's relaunched unfashionable pollack – cheaper than cod but once deemed fit only for the cat – as "colin", after which sales soared."

The rest of the piece highlights efforts by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall alongside Jamie Oliver, Ricky Gervais and others though Fish Fight to stop waste in the North Sea catch.


They state that "half of all the fish caught in the North Sea is actually thrown back in the water, dead."

What a waste as Ian Dury once sang.

Tuesday at sea for Green Day # 158

Previously: Farm Together Now Book Tour Kicks Off in San Francisco

Ortegas Tuna Belly Basque Style from The Book of Tapas, Holiday Recipes

8 days ago I offered the Spanish Tortilla recipe as a good pick for a holiday brunch, here's a second selection from The Book of Tapas (Phaidon Press) that will add to many end of the year parties, large or intimate.

Basque-Style Tuna Belly Fillets

Ventresca de atún a la vasca

Serves 8


4 tablespoons olive oil

11 oz onions, sliced

5 oz long, thin green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 slices good Serrano ham, cut into thin strips

1 lb 2 oz tuna belly fillets


1 fresh red chile, seeded and thinly sliced

Balsamic vinegar, to serve

Chives, finely snipped, to serve



Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan. Add the onions and pan-fry over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add the green bell peppers and pan-fry stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a little salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the ham strips at the end so they do not cook.

Heat the remaining oil in a skillet or frying pan. Season the tuna pieces lightly with salt and pepper, add to the pan and fry over high heat, turning several times, until they are pink in the center, or done to your liking. To serve, put the chile in the center of a warm serving dish, then drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the chives. Spoon the onion mixture over the top with the tuna fillets. It is important to cook the tuna at the last minute.

(* Recipe reproduced from 'The Book of Tapas' by Simone & Ines Ortega courtesy of Phaidon Press)

8 Little Breads, 4 Flavors in 1 Holiday Wreath by Gontran Cherrier

8 breads, 4 flavors in 1 Holiday Bread Wreath ('Une Couronne') by Gontran Cherrier offers an adventure in taste.


The wreath is composed of 8 little breads in 4 flavors, one for each moment of the holiday feast. Curry and cereals goes with foie gras, chickpea and lemon pairs well with fish or oysters, traditional for meats and chestnut bread (popular in Corsica) with cheese.

On sale at Gontran Cherrier first and new Parisian bakery until January 2, 2011.

If you can't manage a trip to Paris to pick a couple of these, let me share 2 Holiday Bread Wreath recipes you might want to try at home.

First one is a Step by Step Guide (December 2008) from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Can it really be done that quick? I wonder.

Second comes Courtesy of Helen at Grab Your Fork (December 27).

(* Photographie copyrights Marie Taillefer)

Even Better The Next Day, Gluten Free Eggplant Parmesan, Holiday Recipes

You're stuck home as I am thanks to the day after Christmas snowstorm so why not try new and healthy dishes.

Here's one that will be welcome by those of you with celiac disease or looking for a gluten free meal.

Eggplant Parmesan from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elena Amsterdam

Serves 4

This is one of those remarkable dishes that magically tastes even better the next day. Over time, the eggplant soaks up additional flavor making it that much more appetizing. Less complex than the traditional version, you’ll find my recipe easier to make as I’ve eliminated the time-consuming steps of peeling and salting the eggplant.


1 1/2 pounds eggplant

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups Tomato Sauce (page 123)

2 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese



Preheat the oven to 350°F.

      Cut the eggplant into 1/4-inch slices. In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg mixture, then coat with the almond flour mixture.

      Heat the grapeseed and olive oils in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the eggplant for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until golden brown. Transfer the eggplant to a paper towel–lined plate.

      Pour 1 cup of the Tomato Sauce into a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Layer the eggplant over the sauce; cover the eggplant with 1 cup of the sauce and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Place the remaining eggplant over the top, then cover with the remaining sauce and mozzarella.

      Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbling. Remove from the oven and top with grated Parmesan cheese before serving.

From the same book we also shared previously the Kale Tart with Cranberries recipe.

(*Reprinted with permission from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elena Amsterdam,  copyright © 2009. Published by Celestial Arts, a division of Random House, Inc.)