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Monday, September 22, 2014

These Days I Spend As Much Time at Starbucks as I Do at Home

Right now Starbucks has a "Sweet Receipt" promotion that rewards customers who stop by in the morning and return after 2:00pm. Bring the morning's receipt, choose any of the pastries and pay $1.00 instead of $2.45-3.45.
The promotion has been on-going for several weeks. Starbucks has promotions through out the year. Usually they are advertised with inclusive dates. But "Sweet Receipts" was on my receipt today, so next time you stop for your morning beverage and breakfast, ask for the receipt and read on the bottom to see if the $1.00 offer is still in effect.
You can have any of the baked goods: the almond croissant blossom, muffins, coffee cakes, sliced loaf cakes, croissants and scones. My personal favorites are the pecan tart and the George Washington Apple pound cake. Ask for them heated, on a plate.

Specialty coffee stores vs. Starbucks
The explosion of specialty coffee shops like Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, Caffe Luxxe, Stumptown, Groundwork and Handsome Coffee to name a few shows that people care more about their coffee than they used to. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer Starbucks. That's as much for the coffee as for the culture of the stores that invite customers to spend as much time as they want.

As a food writer I attended Starbucks Coffee College in Seattle. The experience was similar to a wine tasting. We were shown how to "cup" coffee to taste if it was full-bodied. And, just like a wine tasting, there was a lot of sniffing, swirling and spitting into a bucket. We learned about the growing and harvesting process in a slide show. At the end, we were led into a cavernous room stacked high with heavy sacks of sun dried coffee beans. In the middle of the room there was a large barrel shaped roasting machine.
The room was scented with the thick aroma of warm coffee.You could taste the thickness of the coffee-secented air as it floated onto your lips.
Starbucks looks like a college study hall
Starbucks is the best place to write. The stores have air-conditioning and free WiFi. All the stores in our area have been recently built or remodeled using a clean, airy design of dark wood tones and large picture windows. In the Southern California area, I have visited probably two dozen stores in the past year. No two have the same design.
I'm amazed at Starbucks' business model. Stop by most Starbucks stores these days and they look like college study halls. Just about every seat is in use. Long tables, four-tops and easy chairs are taken by people reading, writing or talking for hours on end.

The easiest way to engage with Starbucks is to download the APP and put money into your account. Depending on how often you use your account, you will be offered rewards and benefits, which include free brewed coffee refills every day and a free beverage or food item after 12 purchases or stars.

I don't need the "Sweet Receipt" promotion to encourage me to stop by Starbucks, but it is definitely nice to have the pecan tart at the end of the day as a break from writing.

I'm glad this business model works for Starbucks.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Old School Mexican Food Rocks at La Fiesta Brava on Venice's Rose Avenue

Long-time locals know that when you want an affordable, home-cooked Mexican meal, park in the Venice Ranch Market's small parking lot on the corner of Rose and 4th Avenues and walk into La Fiesta Brava (423 Rose Avenue, Venice, CA 90291, 310/399-8005, open 7 days a week 10:30am-9:00pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner). 
Crowds fill the restaurant and the dining room buzzes with laugher and conversation. La Fiesta Brava is a fun place to hang out and enjoy a well-made meal.

For decades, mom and pop businesses have served the largely Hispanic community in the surrounding neighborhood.  

But Rose Avenue is changing.

Challenging Abbot Kinney's reputation as Venice's restaurant row, between 5th and 6th Avenues on Rose Avenue, half a dozen trendy restaurants with outdoor patios are filled with upscale diners.

Cafe Gratitude, Simon's Provisions ("Wine. Draft Beer. Provisions."), Hostaria de Piccolo, Cerveteca, Venice Beach Wines and Superba Snack Bar have attracted a hip crowd, eager to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere with servings of quality food and beverages. 

And then there is La Fiesta Brava. 

Opened twenty-three years ago by Samuel and Evangelina Camarena, the intimate dining room looks more like a living room with tables and chairs than a restaurant. A family affair, Samuel and Evangelina managed the restaurant with their kids, Jasmin, Nancy and Sam Jr. Four years after Samuel's passing, the family continues to run the restaurant with the kids juggling work and school. The night we were there, Sam Jr. was waiting tables, taking a break from his business administration classes at El Camino College.
Samuel and Evangelina came from Jalisco and the menu reflects the dishes they prepared at home in Mexico.

Not bound by any one regional cuisine, what they serve is what they like to eat. The menu features stews with beef, chicken or shrimp, seafood sautéed with a variety of sauces, burritos, tostadas, fajitas, shrimp cocktails, enchiladas, moles, tacos, quesadillas, Huevos Rancheros, flan for dessert and hamburgers and fries.

Many of the dishes sound familiar. Who hasn't had a fish taco? But the one served at La Fiesta Brava was unlike any I have eaten elsewhere.
The small plate arrived with the taco topped with shredded lettuce and a sprinkling of chopped tomato. The sea bass was grilled not breaded and deep fried. The piece of fish was longer than the plate was wide. Beautifully prepared the moist filet tasted fresh and sweet. Another pleasure of the dish was the price. At under $3.00, the fish taco was a bargain.

I am a sucker for shrimp cocktails, a legacy of having to accompany my parents to upscale restaurants when I was young. While they excitedly feasted on prime rib, spaghetti Alfredo and chicken Kiev, nothing on the menus ever appealed to me except for the shrimp cocktail. 

European style shrimp cocktails are elegant affairs, with shrimp hanging on the rim of a champagne glass served with a catsup-horseraddish sauce and a lemon slice. The Mexican version is a more primitive artifact. The one at La Fiesta Brava gave me a great sense memory back to trips I have taken to Tijuana, San Jose del Cabo and Playa del Carmen.
A large cut-glass goblet arrived at the table with a plate of lime wedges. A dozen sweet shrimp and fat chunks of avocado floated in a tomato sauce flavored with lots of chopped white onion and fresh cilantro. The sauce was good but I happily added to the flavor with a generous squeeze of the lime wedges and a good dousing of the housemade roasted chile ancho salsa. Delicious.

My wife ordered the garlic shrimp. Sautéed shrimps shared the large plate with generous portions of refried beans and rice. The garlic was pulverized and coated each shrimp in a spicy crust. The beans were sweet. The rice was moist.
Even though La Fiesta Brava does not have a liquor license, as Sam Jr. explained, they encourage guests to BYO. The "corkage" fee to bring your own wine or beer is $1.50. Yeah, you read that right. $1.50. This is a friendly restaurant!

We're looking forward to our next visit so we can sample more of the menu. The quandary is, we really enjoyed the dishes we ordered the last time. The solution is simple, we'll bring friends so we can order more and share everything.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Grand Central Market, Almost a Hundred Years Old and the Hottest Destination in Downtown Los Angeles

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market reflects the changes sweeping over Downtown Los Angeles. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the Downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















The shoppers who filled the aisles, bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .


The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world.
And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell. Anyone who needed an old-school Chinese-American food fix could eat at China Cafe and Broadway Express.
Today, many of the vendors have been at the Market for generations. On the Broadway side next to the floor-to-ceiling Grand Central Liquor, you can't walk by Las Morelianas without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made mini-tortilla. A personal favorite, to the moist meat I add  mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce all freshly made.
I first visited the market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and the ready to use mole paste at the very misnamed A&B Coffee where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. The tortillas were good, but, I had to confess,  the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today the market still has families doing their daily shopping but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the newly arrived vendors who have set up shop and added new flavors and culinary experiences.
To keep that new population updated, LA food blogs track the latest the developments at the Market. Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have opened stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at McConnell's Ice Cream, Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Egg Slut and Wexler's Deli. Compared to the original vendors, the new comers are definitely more upscale and more expensive.

I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at A&B Coffee (ask for a taste and find the one you like), pork ramen at Bento Ya, the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Las Morelianas with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables and the beef at Belcampo Meat Co. (terrific although pricey, Jared Standing, Head Butcher suggested I try one of the less expensive cuts, the chuck eye steak and it was delicious!).
The produce stands that are still in the market are very old school. The fruits, vegetables and berries are sometimes a great bargain and sometimes not so great. I can always find root vegetables at a good price. And on occasional seasonal berries that are half the farmers market price.

A balancing act

At this moment in time, the Market is perfectly balanced between the new and the old so that I can indulge my passion for affordable ethnic food and quality products from specialty purveyors.

The old and the new are pressed together in a mash up that reflects what's happening Downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Before that rediscovery, the Market had fallen on hard times. Local shoppers had turned to farmers markets for better produce. One by one stalls closed for lack of customers. The grit and grime of the city settled heavily onto the walls and floors. The Market had grown sad and forlorn.
But today, the Market is one of the most frequented Downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed. The large indoor patio on the Hill side is filled with families and professionals enjoying a large bowl of ceviche from Lupita's Seafood, a taco plate from Sarita's Pupuseria, Wexler's house smoked lox on a freshly baked bagel and Bento Ya's $5.00 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. Happily, there is 60 minutes free parking inside the Market building.

The entrance is on the Hill Street side, almost to 2nd street. Spend $10.00 and ask the vendor to stamp your parking ticket. Go to the Security Desk next to the China Cafe for validation, then (yes, you still have one more step) go up the stairs to the parking garage and to your left you'll see a parking kiosk. Put your ticket in and you'll be told if you owe any money. Take the validated ticket with you to use at the exit.

On the weekend, the open air parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

I'll write more about the Market in coming weeks. Until then, I hope you take the time to visit the Market yourself.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), Sunday-Wednesday 8:00am-6:00pm, Thursday-Saturday 8:00am-9:00pm (selected vendors only open past 6:00pm).

Monday, August 4, 2014

752 Reasons to Submit Your Film to the Short Food Movie Project at the Rome Film Festival 2014 & Expo Milan 2015

The Short Food Movie Project Feed your Mind, Film your Planet is doing something pretty amazing.

Win an all-expense paid trip to Rome

Foodie-Filmakers have the opportunity to share their work in a unique setting. Anyone over sixteen can submit a 30 to 60 second video to the Short Food Movie Project before September 10, 2014 to be eligible to win an all-expense paid trip to the 2014 Rome Film Festival.

The videos should be about food related topics. Filmmakers can talk about what interests them: the environment, recipes, food policy, culture, nutrition, hunger or sustainable food production.

Rome is the first stop on the way to EXPO Milan 2015.

One film will be a winner, chosen by crowd-sourcing. The movie with the most “likes” on the Project’s web site will be shown at the Rome Film Festival, which is held between October 16th – 25th.

One movie screens in Rome, all the movies screen in Milan

All the movies uploaded to the web site before March 31, 2015 will be screened on a giant Samsung video wall constructed out of 752 screens in Pavilion Zero at the entrance to the Expo.
 

According to Project coordinator, Diamara Parodi Delfino, the shorts can be animations, narratives or docs. The production values can be simple or visually complex. Given the short length of thirty to sixty seconds, the films need to make simple statements.

When all the films are curated, the video wall of screens will be a visualization of EXPO MILAN’s central themes of Feeding the Planet.Energy for Life.  

Look at the web site and it’s apparent how widely different the shorts can be.

Every movie is unique

If a minute seems like a short amount of time to make a statement, some filmmakers need even less. In thirty-five seconds, Mauro Jonathan Manzo creates a dizzying “Mosaic of Food to celebrate the foods we love: soups, hamburgers, shawarma, French fries, sunny side eggs, pizzas, desserts, fresh berries, sausages on a grill and a pastry with whipped cream.
 
Using a low-res camera and a simple narrative, Greta Gabriel’s “Naturale” watches as two young women take very different culinary paths. One woman watches TV, drinks a soda and eats a hamburger filled with nuts and bolts while the other enjoys a green salad, a bowl of fruit and a glass of water. The result of their different diets is immediately apparent. The hamburger-woman looks ill and exhausted after her meal while the natural-woman walks happily on the beach. Sure it's didactic but the contrast of a sensible diet with one that disregards health is a lot of fun.

Many of the shorts go into kitchens to illustrate the making of a favorite dish. Grace Hsia’s “Shall We Eat Homemade Dumplings” lovingly details how to make pierogies according to an American friend’s recipe.

Your Word for Food” Belgium’s Aurélie Duray created a montage of stills showing people from around the world holding up a small blackboard with their one word description of food. The words come fast and furiously: joy, satisfaction, pleasure, rice, grain, carrots, quality hunger, balance, inequality, life…. The list goes on and on, ending with a question for the viewer: “What’s your word?”

From the U.S. in “Be the Change: 3 Meals a Day,” Sarah Gulick uses title cards to create a peppy, thirty-eight second film that makes the case that every one of us can help save the planet if we eat green.

Italy’s Emilia Garuti shows people and animals eating in his impressionistic, 59 second long “´E Ora di Pranzo” (“It’s lunch time”): a woman in a small kitchen making tortellini for nursing home residents, cows being fed, a butterfly hovering over a flower and a man in his city patio feeding chickens.

France’s Simon Bonanni goes to the dark side in a comic look at two young men who load up on supermarket food for a road trip in “Chevaliers” (“Knights”). Overcome by a savage hunger, they rip open bags of chips and junk food as they drive down a quiet country road.

Diamara Parodi Delfino encourages everyone to take their cue from the movies already uploaded to the site. Any one who has a professional camera, a point-and-shoot camera, a tablet or a smart phone, start shooting and UPLOAD your movie so you can be part of the fun.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

West Hollywood's RivaBella Ristorante: Italian Luxury Just Off The Sunset Strip

RivaBella Ristorante is in West Hollywood on the border of Beverly Hills and within sight of the Sunset Strip. From the outside, RivaBella has the look of an expensive fine dining restaurant.  Walk inside and the friendly bar men will offer you a cocktail or a glass of premium wine, then you'll enter a dining room with rustic wooden tables, brick walls and a massive hearth. The spacious restaurant has the feel of an upscale country inn. 
RivaBella balances elegance with casual dining. On the evening we had dinner, some diners were dressed in business suits while others wore shorts and colorful sport shirts.  A retractable ceiling opens to the sky. Natural light floods into the room through floor to ceiling windows. At night, candles on the tables and strings of white lights give the room a romantic, festive aura. 
RivaBella puts on a show
You'll experience the restaurant's theatrical side when you enter the dining room and pass the DJ who is working through a play list of pop songs. Order the mushroom risotto and the waiter brings a cart to the table heavily laden with a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel large enough to fit on a Mini-Cooper. 

The server ladles the hot risotto on to the wheel of cheese. As he swirls together the delicate grains of slow cooked Acquerello rice and sautéed mushrooms, the Parmigiano Reggiano yields to the heat forming a more perfect union of rich deliciousness. 
At the other end of the spectrum, Carmelo, our waiter, encouraged us to order the ice cream prepared table side using liquid nitrogen. The menu describes a dessert that you expect will be a dish of vanilla bean ice cream and a choice of toppings as varied as candied pistachios, chocolate pearls, fresh strawberries, salted caramel and Nutella sauce. But the dessert arrives not in a bowl but on another one of those carts, this time with enough machinery and "smoke" rising into the air to make Willy Wonka swoon. The liquid nitrogen supplies the pyrotechnics. The waiter works the machinery and presides over the transformation of mere mortal ingredients into a memorable sweet feast.

The menu
Executive Chef Luigi Fineo and Chef-Partner Gino Angelini created a menu that draws on many traditions. Northern Italian dishes like cavatelli with broccolini come directly from chef Fineo's grandmother's kitchen. So too the bucatini carbonara and shellfish caciucco are classics of Italian cuisine. But the chefs are open to discovery, which is how the popular lamb reuben with pickled cabbage materialized on the menu.
As a starter, we ordered the corn soup with crab. Everyone dipped a spoon into the bowl for a taste. By the time I pulled out my camera, the soup was half gone it was that good. Somehow chef Fineo created a "creamy" soup without cream that tasted like summer. Bits of steamed crab and finely chopped chives were a great addition.  I liked the dish so much, chef promised I can come back to the restaurant and he will do a video demonstrating the recipe. 

For a salad antipasti we had a plate of prosciutto di Parma topped with wild arugula and chopped burrata. Salty prosciutto was mellowed by the burrata and countered by the spicy arugula. 

Chefs Fineo and Angelini are masters of contrasting textures and flavors. That was apparent repeatedly through out the meal. A dish of roasted octopus had the right amount of char to bring out a sweet chewiness that was balanced by oven roasted fingerling potatoes, salty olives and spicy salsa verde.

We enjoyed the strozzapreti with langoustine. The slender, twisted pasta and the soft, pink langoustine paired well together and both benefited from a musky sautéed wild mushrooms-brown butter sauce. 
Their preparation of a ricotta chicken breast also made good use of wild mushrooms. The bottom of the flat bowl had a thick pool of sauce flavored with Hen of the Wood mushrooms and Padron peppers.  


When we asked about the bone-in ribeye steak, Carmelo said the 20 oz. cut was large enough to share. Covering a rectangular wooden platter, the thick steak had a beautifully charred crust. Seasoned with salmoriglio, the lemon-garlic-chili flake topping brightened the moist, fatty meat. Accompanied with a large side of oven roasted vegetables, the shared steak was perfect for two. 


The dessert menu had a good selection of choices. Besides the liquid nitrogen ice cream sundae, there were classics like tiramasu, sfogliatelle, crostata, a selection of gelato, an inventive milk chocolate pana cotta layer cake and sweets fabricated to look like a plate of charcuterie. The desserts sounded delicious but we had eaten too many antipasti and entrees. Carmelo was disappointed that all we wanted to end the meal was a round of double expressos and macchiatos.  Next time we'll save room for the sfogliatelle, a favorite from my days living in Providence, Rhode Island and I'd definitely like  to be entertained with a nitrogen ice cream sundae.

RivaBella Ristorante, 9201 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (310/278-2060), http://www.innovativedining.com/restaurants/rivabella

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bring Your Own Food on the Airplane For An In-Flight Picnic




You can almost see the French cheeses and crackers on a tray with glasses of bubbly Champagne, an opulent first course meant to stimulate the appetite before a gourmet entree — chateaubriand, perhaps, or line-caught salmon with roasted asparagus. If you listen closely, you can hear the flight attendant whispering to leave room for the hot fudge sundae with fresh whipped cream and toasted almonds.
In coach, nothing is free. Sure, for now the sodas, water, and coffee are still complimentary, but if you’re hungry, have your credit card ready. Alaska Airline’s cheeseburger with chips is a relative bargain at $6, but Delta charges $9.49 for their hamburger and $10.99 for one of their wraps, and a vending-machine-type sandwich or salad is $9.99 on American Airlines. 
You’ll do a lot better if you brown bag it and pretend you’re on a picnic.

Choose food with staying power

Pack food that travels well: trail mix, your own tea bags and sunflower seeds. Fresh fruit is good, but avoid berries that bruise easily. Carrot and celery sticks are great, as are sandwiches. One caveat: Remember that you can only take 3 ounces of any liquid through airport security, so go easy on the salad dressing or condiments you bring.

Assemble sandwiches carefully

Sandwiches are an easy-to-eat option for in-flight meals because everyone gets to choose what they want. There are an infinite number of combinations from ham and cheese on rye to a grilled shiitake mushroom and watercress sandwich for vegetarians. Meat eaters in the family can go crazy and build a feast of turkey breast, salami and provolone on deli rye.
To keep your bread pristine, put the mayo or mustard (as well as tomatoes or lettuce) between the meat slices, not directly on the bread. Or, for really long flights, wrap the bread, meat and cheese in plastic wrap sealed in Ziploc bags and assemble the sandwich with condiment packets while you’re flying.
Avoid fillings that might disturb your fellow passengers. Overly messy food or condiments, like chopped liver and garlic paste are a bit too aromatic for an airplane’s close quarters.

Keep it fun for the kids

If kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, stop at a camping supply store and pick up a couple of refillable plastic tubes. The kids can choose their favorite peanut butter and jam and pre-fill the tubes at home. Now they have something to look forward to on the plane.

A salad bar in the air

Make carrot, potato or pasta salad at home and pack it in plastic containers. Keep a green salad fresh by assembling it when you’re ready to eat. (A tip: You can pick up a couple of the empty salad dressing containers at your grocery store’s salad bar.) At home, give everyone the chance to pack their favorite salad fixings. Besides lettuce or arugula, bring chopped tomatoes, scallions, croutons, olives, hardboiled egg slices, crumbled cheese, and carrot rounds — those salad-dressing containers work well for these items, too. It's a little more ambitious, but a grilled vegetable salad is well-worth the extra effort.  A treat anytime, at 30,000 feet, the sweetness of charred vegetables is especially delicious.
Besides salad dressing in one of those little containers, bring sea salt and black pepper as well.
Want to make your salad even more delicious? Try this simple vinaigrette. Just heat ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar over a low flame until it’s reduced to a teaspoon, then mix it together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The reduced balsamic adds depth and natural sweetness to the dressing.

Let your deli do the work

To glam up your meal, nothing says classy like a charcuterie plate and nothing is easier to prepare. Pick up a selection of favorite meats, pâtés, cheeses, and a small baguette or a selection of rolls at your favorite deli. Bring along some olives, a few cornichons — those tart French pickles — and a packet of Dijon mustard, and you won’t care what the first-class passengers are eating.

Celebrate your sweet tooth

For dessert, go wild and stop at your favorite bakery. Fresh fruit tarts don’t travel well, but cookies, muffins, scones and even eclairs do quite nicely if packed in plastic containers, like the ones used at the deli or the lidded containers sold by Ziploc and Glad.

Don’t forget the basics

Bring paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils so you can feast in style. A plain kitchen towel makes a perfect airplane tray tablecloth and helps with spills. Pack everything in plastic containers. Be a good neighbor and carry plastic bags for easy clean up so you don’t leave any trash behind. Take along sea salt and freshly ground pepper in empty 35mm film canisters (remember those?) or even the plastic containers used for prescription medication.

Why we love flying

With all the inconveniences, we easily forget that flying is a manmade miracle. Think about it, a hundred-plus people and all their luggage powering through the sky above the highest clouds. Amazing. If only we didn’t feel so claustrophobically uncomfortable, we could return to the wonder we felt as kids when we pressed our noses against the window and looked down at the earth below.
We can’t regain that lost innocence, but enjoying a delicious home-prepared meal, maybe we can reconnect with the fun of flying. A really good sandwich, some olives, and a crisp Fuji apple from the farmers market can do that for you.