I try to  live my life without regrets, but when I read a story like the one in the Sunday Times Magazine, on buttermilk, it's hard not to have at least one. Years ago, while staying at Blackberry Farm, the fabulously luxurious Relais & Chateau Inn nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the then-chef of the inn's acclaimed restaurant, John Fleer, told me about two of the sources behind his biscuits-and-gravy breakfast: One was the buttermilk-producing family featured in the Times article, the other was Allan Benton, one of the lone surviving producers left of the nearly extinct population of Southern, mostly Appalachian makers of country ham. The two were in opposite directions. I was driving from coast-to-coast and had a general rule, in order to eventually make it to California, of trying at the very least to drive in one general direction. I asked him which I should visit, and he told me Benton. I mean, if I had to choose. Benton is indeed special--both he and his hams, w ...

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Guacamole and Chips Until today, I was perfectly content with my level of achievement in the guacamole department, especially since my friend, the original celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman, cited me in the headnote to his guacamole recipe in his book, A Great American Cook. I didn't particularly like the part where he referred to me as "one of his Mexican buddies" because I thought it made me sound like one of the guys he shot tequila and played dominoes with in some smoky Deer Hunter-esque lodge, but I was probably projecting, and anyway that is, as they say, another story. Plus, I forgave him because I felt so proud that this great American cook, and a native Californian to boot, would source me, a psuedo-semi-Mexican guera for what is arguably my native country's biggest contribution to the American culinary landscape. (Salsa has been so misappropriated I don't even want to go there.) But all that was then. Before The Foodinista invited me to her first ever Guac-Off. On her blog, s ...

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Every once in awhile I do something in the kitchen that even I think is cool, and today was one of those days. It wasn't difficult. Not even that surprising. Still, I've never known anyone else to make a hot breakfast cereal out of quinoa. (In fact, a quick Google search turned up tons of others who have done this before me, including one recipe with a picture that makes you want to take a bite out of your computer screen, on the blog 101 Cookbooks; but I didn't know about them, so it was still an invention for me!) Quinoa is an ancient South American grain (actually it is the seed of a plant, but for cooking and eating purposes you can think of it as a grain). Heathfoodies, particularly those that don't eat animals, love it for its high protein content. And it's a good thing for the sake of the quinoa, because it's the kind of food that has to be loved for something other than it's deliciousness. Although it's not bad, and it can actually be kind of good, it's not good enough to insp ...

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I have a running joke with myself about my Japanese friends, that you need an instruction booklet to be friends with them—and the same thinking applies to Japanese cuisine. I suppose one can enjoy Japanese food even without such a manual. For years I lived a life of sushi where I considered eel rolls and yellow tail adventurous choices. And I was happy. But after my friend, Hiroshi, took me to sushi for the first time, my eyes were opened to a new way of sushi being, and my sushi eating self would, could, never be the same. [For a guide to eating sushi the Japanese way, see this article that I wrote for The Los Angeles Times.] That night, Hiroshi and I went to a little dive on Sunset Boulevard, his regular joint, where we sat at the sushi bar for three or four hours while the sushi chef plied us with one gorgeous creation after another—from the unusual (eel made in-house, not cryovacced and sent, MSG and all, from Japan); to the exotic (tiny crabs drowning in a glass of sake one mom ...

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