Category Archives: Chefs

Blackberry Oatmeal Cake

Wake up to "Blackberry Oatmeal Cake.''
Wake up to “Blackberry Oatmeal Cake.”

This is not a fluffy, lavishly adorned, and fancifully frosted cake you indulge in wickedly.

Rather, this is a cake that will stick to your ribs and set you up for a long, arduous day ahead.

Yes, “Blackberry Oatmeal Cake” is far from dessert, my friends. It is unapologetically breakfast through and through.

It’s austere and hearty, loaded with a ton of oats, a big handful of toasted pecans, a little strawberry jam for the merest sweetness, and fresh blackberries for summery goodness.

The recipe is from the wonderfully titled new cookbook, “Life Is What You Bake It: Recipes, Stories, and Inspiration to Bake Your Way to the Top” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Vallery Lomas, who knows a thing or two about the energy and sustenance it takes to forge ahead when the going’s not easy.

The Louisiana-native used to only bake for the holidays. But after taking a gap year in France after passing the bar exam, this lawyer found herself captivated by macarons. Who can blame her? So much so that when she returned to New York City to take her first job as an attorney, she somehow managed to set up a side business selling her own macarons, as well.

It wasn’t long before Lomas, who had begun the blog Foodie in New York during her last year of law school, started getting noticed. She was swayed to compete on “The Great American Baking Show,” and ended up not only triumphing, but became its first Black winner.

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The All-Natural Red Velvety Strawberry Cake

A most unique red velvet cake.
A most unique red velvet cake.

Admittedly, the hoopla over red velvet cake has always left me perplexed.

Sure, the dramatic color captures your fancy — for a hot second.

Then, as quickly, reality tells you that’s all due to red food coloring. At which point, I say, “Pass me a wedge of all-real devil’s food cake instead.”

“Red Velvety Strawberry Cake,” though, sparked a far different reaction.

It had me all in from the get-go.

Nope, no artificial anything in this stunning cake. No food coloring whatsoever — only an entire bottle of red wine.

And if that doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will.

Now, that my friends, is a cake.
Now, that my friends, is a cake.

To be fair, this cake doesn’t possess that vivid maroon you expect from red velvet. Instead, the wine, which first gets reduced before being added into the batter, adds the merest bit of rosiness to the dark chocolate-colored cake. The wine (I used a Pinot Noir) also adds a touch of acidity to balance out all the sweetness.

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Rodney Scott’s Smoked Prime Rib

Have you ever smoked a prime rib low and slow? This recipe will have you itching to try your hand at it.
Have you ever smoked a prime rib low and slow? This recipe will have you itching to try your hand at it.

Rodney Scott has felt the blistering heat at the heart of a raging fire.

Both in front of the barbecue pit and in life.

In his new cookbook-memoir, “Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy, this legendary pitmaster lays bare both his rise to success and the subsequent yawning chasm in his relationship with his father.

It’s a book that offers lessons in cooking, of course, but also in fortitude and perseverance.

What’s more, despite the legion of barbecue and grilling books that have flooded the market over the years, it’s also astonishingly billed as the first cookbook written by a black pitmaster.

About time.

James Beard Award winning Scott, chef and co-owner of the legendary barbecue mecca, Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, S.C.; Birmingham, AL; and Atlanta, GA, wrote the book with Lolis Eric Elie, a writer and filmmaker, and one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Scott has led a hard-scrabble life, in which his family eked out a living growing soybeans, corn and tobacco on their farm in Hemingway, SC (population 400). It was at the family-owned store that Scott’s father got the idea to sell barbecue. He took charge of the pig while his wife made the sauce.

As his parents’ only child, Scott grew up helping on the farm and at Scott’s Bar-B-Q from a young age. In fact, he cooked his first hog at age 11, stoking the coals every 15 minutes in the wee hours by himself.

When Scott grew older and branched out on his own in Charleston, winning widespread acclaim in the process, he butted heads with his dad. Unfortunately to this day, their relationship remains strained.

You can cherish this book simply for the inspiring story of a man who worked his way up from nothing to the very top of the barbecue pinnacle. Or you can also relish in cooking from it.

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It’s the Season For Slow-Roasted Romano Beans

Romano beans turn ever so soft and juicy in the heat of the oven.
Romano beans turn ever so soft and juicy in the heat of the oven.

They look like green beans on steroids that have been run over by a Mack truck.

Now’s the time to get your fill of Romano beans.

Don’t let these sturdy flat beans fool you, though, into thinking you can cook them just like you would green beans.

These meaty beans do best when cooked for a much longer time beyond al dente.

Earlier this summer, I tried the Zuni Cafe method for “Long-Cooked Romano Beans” in which they’re gently cooked on the stovetop. It’s a super-easy and wonderfully delicious recipe. But it does require 2 hours of cooking time. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are days when time gets away from me, and I find myself with all of 1 hour to get dinner on the table.

Thankfully, I came across this alternative method for cooking them that takes only 40 minutes in the oven. “Slow-Roasted Romano Beans” is from “The A.O.C. Cookbook” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) by Suzanne Goin, the chef-owner of Los Angeles’ revered A.O.C. and the dearly departed Lucques restaurant.

An alum of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, Goin has a skilled hand with most any ingredient, and especially seasonal produce.

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Dining Outside At Amber India In Santana Row

Chilean sea bass tikka with pumpkin ravioli -- only at Amber India's Santana Row location.
Chilean sea bass tikka with pumpkin ravioli — only at Amber India’s Santana Row location.

Chef Bikram Das couldn’t be happier to finally have the chance to show off his creative flair at Amber India in San Jose’s Santana Row.

Yes, it’s only recently that he’s been able to fully do that. Because Das had the unfortunate timing of arriving as head chef in March 2020.

Initially, he had high hopes that the restaurant would be able to succeed with food to-go.

But his optimism was dashed, when he realized that many of the apartments at the upscale retail-restaurant-housing complex were corporate-owned, and thus, largely empty during the pandemic.

However, with both indoor and outdoor dining now offered, Das is thrilled to offer an array of classic dishes, as well as contemporary ones that take inspiration from Italian and other Asian fare he’s cooked at hotels in India.

I had a chance to sample some of his handiwork, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week.

Revolver cocktail with draft Blue Moon in the background.
Revolver cocktail with draft Blue Moon in the background.

There are plenty of outdoor tables right in front of the restaurant, which provides for a great people-watching vantage point, especially with a craft cocktail in hand. Santana’s Revolver ($14) is a take on a Manhattan, a potent blend of Bulleit Rye, Tia Maria, and Angostura orange bitters for a smoky, honeyed-vanilla punch.

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