Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tasty Words

My first serious crush on food writing started in a tiny break room at the top of very narrow stairs in Mimi's Cafe, Yorba Linda. Up in eves where the wait staff absently counted their tips complaining all the while about tight customers, lazy boyfriends and nasty cooks. I didn't do those things, I read recipes. In particular I loved the food section of the OC Register.

Thursday was the big day for the paper, the photo spread that accompanied a well thought out recipe selection was presented like a fine art piece in newsprint and food editor Cathy Thomas was the artist. I spent many a break under the slanted roof in Mimi's syrup perfumed space, savoring and snipping out articles, carefully preserving them in shoe boxes then storing them... somewhere.

Curious why I clipped newspaper food articles in the 1980's and keep them for over a quarter of a century and just store them? Me too! I rarely cooked from recipes at home nor did I work them in the menu of my fledgling catering business, I simply read and kept them.

The answer came at a luncheon (a gathering of food friends who love to eat, live, grow and write about it in Orange County Ca.) and book signing with Cathy Thomas earlier this month. In her comments Cathy explained the details of how she writes so people can see, taste, hear and smell the object of her writing. Good food writing is an art as well as a gift to readers. It is more then a useful recipe, it's more like a crash course on food they may have never experienced.
 Cathy wrote, "A ripe mango will yield to slight pressure between your hands. Often the skin will show a blush of either red or yellow-orange. A loose or shriveled skin is a sign that the mango is past it's prime", if a reader was unfamiliar with mangoes, they could now feel comfortable shopping for one.

At the luncheon, Cathy shared her newest cookbook, "Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce" featuring Melissa's (very fine) Produce. Cathy continues to write in such vivid detail, you could nearly taste her words. Speaking of taste I will share the recipe for the salad I made for the luncheon with apricots from Melissa's as some of you asked, so I finally set down and wrote it out...I'll also put it on my blog, Fresh Ideas.


 Orzo and Wild Rice Salad with Grilled Chicken Apricots and Pecans

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 small red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 3oz Packages Melissa's dried apricots sliced
  • 1 cup toasted pecans
  • 1 cup Fetta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Dressing
  • 1/4 cup  red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves
  • 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Chicken
  • 2 pounds boneless chicken breast
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil
  • season with Melissa's Italian Herb blend


  1. Bring the wild rice and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender 20 to 45 minutes depending on the variety of wild rice. Drain off any excess liquid, refrigerate until cold.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the orzo pasta, and cook until al dente, 7 to 8 minute. Drain, rinse with cold water, stir in canola oil and chill.
  3. Place the chilled rice and orzo into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the red onion, apricots, celery, parsley and basil. Season with oregano, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. 
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, preserves, mustard, garlic, pepper sauce, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and dry basil. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Stir 3/4 the dressing into the pasta, and refrigerate 2 hours before serving. 
  5. Before serving, grill chicken, cool and slice. Stir pecans and fetta cheese into salad. Arrange sliced chicken over pasta and drizzle with remaining dressing. Serves 24


~ Chef Louise said...

Renee, I am such a fan of your writing... This is one of your best posts~ the intro is my favorite part. kudos- write from your heart, i love it!

Quyen - Kitchen Runway said...

Such a beautiful salad! I also collect that I think about it...I have so many but I rarely use them. For some reason I love reading the recipes and of course looking at the pictures. I guess it's true...if it's well written it can teach a great deal and also inspire! You guys sure put on an event...hope to make it to the next one!

Nancy said...

Beautifully said Renee!!! I am so glad that I got to meet you at the luncheon and I am looking forward to spending more time with you!!!

This salad was delicious and a recipe that everyone should have in their collection since it is perfect for luncheons, dinner... ah heck, it's perfect for just about anything!!!

Renee Weir- Fontes said...

Thanks you guy's! I've met so many nice people lately that love food and write about it...Strange hobby, lol!