Years ago when I was a round nugget of a child running around in terry-cloth shorts I had a book I read to myself many times over. It involved some Amphibian or Owl With Shoes who lived inside a mushroom or hollow tree. I can’t remember much of the story but the one thing that stuck in my brain was that on many occasions this anthropomorphic critter would find himself without food or drink and would simply chop an onion or think about sad things in order to create his own version of tear tea. I remember being disgusted by the thought of sipping one’s own saline tears but that didn’t freak me out as much as the things he’d think about to coax the tears out of his eyes and into the kettle.
Torn books, uneaten mashed potatoes, no internet (ok I added that) and stubby chewed-up pencils that were no longer needed and left to roll behind the oven, never to be seen again. As a kid I could see those pencils laying there waiting to be found, just looking up at the ceiling thinking “I’m still good! Please! Anyone, I Can Still Make Notes And Drawings For You, I Promise You! Please? I’ll be good!” and wouldn’t you know I would begin sobbing every single time I got to that damn part of the story! Here’s where it gets bad – and you might want to stop reading here – the lead character would fill his pot up, wipe his eye, smile and exclaim something like “Tea’s Ready!” and flutter away.
What the hell? Did you really get my 5-year old emotions in a tizzy so you could have tea and then just walk away smiling? What about me? What about those pencils? They are still there, tiny and little, craving the warmth of a human hand! That hasn’t changed just because your thirst has been sated! You goshdarn son of a bitch dirty bird!
If I had to make a shopping list based on what I tried at the Winter 2015 Fancy Food Show, here is what I would recommend buying.
I thought I knew something about maple syrup, but now after talking to Dori Ross of Tonewood Maple I know so much more. Tonewood Maple has gotten some serious attention for their solid maple cube that you can shave to create maple sugar, but it was their single estate varietals of maple syrup that blew my mind. When processed separately (something that doesn’t happen everywhere) you get amazing differences in the flavor. Each bottle is labeled with the actual sugarbush it came from. Some are sweeter, others earthier or even a little spicy. They also make a maple cream, which is something I discovered in Canada. On the East Coast it’s fairly common, but I’ve never seen it out here. It’s a creamy spread made only from maple that you would swear has butter in it. It’s great on toast, pancakes or waffles. They also have a maple tree adoption program that gives you an opportunity to support small maple producers and sustainable farming practices, and bottles of four grades of syrup.
Some years I see a lot of fancy ketchup, this year I didn’t, but a few unusual ones stood out nonetheless. Traina Foods makes ketchup with sun dried tomatoes. They are richer, less sweet, more intense and fresher to me than conventional brands, but can definitely be used the same way you’d use any other ketchup. This year they released a sun dried tomato and sriracha ketchup. Their ketchup has higher concentrations of lycopene and less sugar and salt than other varieties, and is gluten free. I tried it on a spoon but can’t wait to experiment cooking with it.
Blackberry Patch is now offering fruit ketchups. I tried the raspberry chipotle, blackberry and blueberry. These can also be used just like regular ketchup, but have a much more sophisticated flavor. They are tangy and you really taste the fruit. I would use them as a glaze on lamb, pork or even chicken. The company is owned and operated by two farmers and everything is made in small batches.
I’m a pasta snob. I admit it and I don’t apologize for it. I believe that great pasta is an Italian cultural artifact that’s been given to the world. And when I talk about pasta I’m talking about DRY PASTA, that is, Durum Wheat pasta. Pasta made with semolina from exceptional (now, often North American) hard winter wheat.
Over centuries Italian artisans learned how to combine hard wheat with water, humidity and moving air into an easy to store source of calories and whimsy. High quality dry pasta is all about texture.
When properly made it is porous enough to absorb condiments or “sauce”, yet sturdy enough to withstand boiling in water and remain resistant while tender. Good dry pasta should be as satisfying to eat as meat. It is not easy to achieve and my favorites are all imported from Italy.
Raise your hand if you like breakfast for dinner? I LOVE breakfast for dinner and these days I am guilty of doing this more than once a week.
Life gets busy and time isn’t always on my side. On those days, I open the fridge at 5pm, stare at what’s on hand and dishes like this Shakshuka are prepped, cooked, and put on the table within 30 minutes.
Not only is this a great dinner (Levi and Isaac ate the sauce with a loaf of bread and a side of turkey sausage), but the leftover sauce, one or two eggs, and a bit of bread is a very, very easy week day morning breakfast.
The first time I made this for Eli, after he ate it, I got both a hug and a kiss. It’s a win-win for all! Keep a dozen eggs and this sauce in the fridge at all times. Now, that’s an order!
“…definitely the tuna tartare, and the hazelnut crusted chicken, and… then a nice, big crudite platter…”
My client was reviewing my menu suggestions for her 150-guest cocktail party, adding the last one on her own.
“NO”, I said, a little more aggressively than I had intended. “No”, softer now, but with the same sentiment. “I just can’t do crudite anymore.”
My client paused. The phone was silent. “Ok”, I caved, “we’ll figure something out. Maybe a small crudite is alright.”
Years ago, I worked as a free-lance chef for a big-time catering company in Los Angeles. We would cater colossal parties for the astronomically rich, where every display was over the top. There were epic platters of food – with sausages and cheese flown in from other countries and cupcake towers the size of New York brownstones.
We would cut vegetables for days, whittling jicama and carrot wedges into little pointy daggers, nipping the tops off radishes, and blanching broccoli and sugar snap peas into the brightest green they could be. It was a thing of beauty for sure, but we had to buy and cut three times more veggies than anyone could ever eat.
Catering is all about making platters look full at all times – which means there has to be tons of coverage. We have to make sure that if someone suddenly goes on a Persian cucumber binge, the display still looks abundant. Hey, nothing says success like excess, right? Well, 75% of the cascading peppers, baby tomatoes, and asparagus would wind up in the garbage. It was heartbreaking.
It always amazes me how a handful of ingredients can come together in such stunning ways. Take carrots and raw cashews. Who knew? Combining them with some chicken broth resulted in an extraordinarily different kind of soup. It is creamy and light as a cloud at the same time. Neither liquid nor broth, but more of a puree with texture.
First I cooked the carrots in chicken broth until they were tender, then I dropped them into a blender with cups of raw cashews, salt, and a dash of ground cloves.
I loved the taste, but wanted to layer on another flavor. At first I thought about topping the soup with a swirl of port glaze. I've always loved carrots and port together. Yet, when I spied a bunch of cilantro sitting on the kitchen counter, I opted for the green. With a quick pulse or two in the food processor with some deep green oil, salt and bit of garlic, I had my drizzle.
This soup is sublime. Healthy. Simple. And totally satisfying.
It wasn’t often that my dad was in charge of making supper, but every once in a while my mom would hand preparation of the last meal of the day off to him. His motto in the kitchen was, "the simpler, the better." He’d open a can of Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, mix it in a pot with some water, then slice up a couple of hot dogs and toss them in. He had supper on the table in no time at all. And, I think we liked it. Ugh.
My standards for bean soup have a come a long way since then. No more Campbell’s for me. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, I love having a pot of homemade bean soup simmering on the stove.
I like to use dried beans when I can. They are very inexpensive and I find their taste and texture to be so much better than canned beans. I like to use a quick soak method, boiling the rinsed beans for 2 minutes, then removing the beans from the heat, allowing them to soak for an hour in the hot water.
I am all about kabocha squash.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I do have other obsessions, but today it’s squash.
I bought some of the stuff (aka Japanese pumpkin) at the Farmers’ Market in Santa Monica last weekend, from a vendor who had very nicely already pre-seeded, pre-peeled and pre-cut it. (Actually what I am all about is people who pre-do things like this since if I had to do them myself I would never eat the food that requires such tasks.)
Anyway, all I did was steam the squash till it was tender, then whip it up in the food processor with a little salt and pepper and a tablespoon of coconut milk and it was dreamy.
Kiss your butternut squash goodbye, my friends. This one is much smoother and sweeter. Needs no added oomph, like it’s demanding cousin butternut does.
There is probably no other fruit more versatile than citrus. Most people would assume citrus fruit, because it's sweet, can only be used in desserts. But citrus is great in both sweet and savory recipes. Just think of lemons, which are widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. And oranges, too, are often used in savory recipes. Citrus juice also makes a flavorful marinade and tenderizer for meats. I love oranges in salads, especially when they are paired with Asian flavors in the form of a dressing. This salad features peppery watercress, flaked almonds for crunch, and tangelos, which lend wonderful flavor and juiciness.
My love for citrus fruit continues this week with tangelos. You have probably heard of tangerines, so that is half the story behind tangelos, which are a genetic cross between grapefruits and tangerines. The most popular variety is the Minneola, named after the city in Flordia. The fruit features a knobby stem end and has easy-to-peel skin and juicy flesh. The flavor and aroma of tangelos are very unique, not too sweet and exotically subtle. I've only been familiar with tangelos for a few years now, but I've come to love eating them almost immediately. Their juice is what makes them so renowned.
A couple of years ago if someone told you that your blueberries were loaded with anthocyanins, you'd probably have dumped the bowl down the garbage disposal and called 911 to report being poisoned.
Anthocyanin sounds scary, kind of like cyanide. Fortunately it's a good word; "anthocyanin" is derived from two Greek words, "anthos " (flower) and "kyanos" (blue). It makes sense, therefore, that anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the blue, purple, and red color of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
When it comes to food, anthocyanins are little health workhorses. They're associated with a decreased risk of many illnesses including cancer, high blood pressure, and even Alzheimer's. Fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored are even better for you. That helps explains why pomegranates, blueberries, broccoli, and red grapes are on virtually every Top 10 Healthiest Foods list ever written.
My husband’s birthday was coming up. As it approached, I kept coming up with ideas. “Surf and Sand in Laguna?” I asked, as he passed me in the hall. Nothing. A few days later, “Malibu Beach Inn?” Nada. A week later, I added what I thought was a fresh idea, “Ojai Valley Inn?” Still, no response.
These are MY ideas of what to do on a birthday. We usually end up at a beach somewhere because, well, we should do something, right? Then, with less than a week until the actual date, he reminds me that it’s HIS birthday. What?!! Incredulous. And now he’s thought about it and really wants to go to Photo LA, the annual photo show, which is no longer held in Santa Monica, but at the LA Mart, downtown.
DOWNTOWN? But there’s no beach. I needed a few moments to come to terms with this. “Okay,” I peeped. He said let’s get a room for the night and check out all the hipness we keep hearing about downtown. He mentioned the Standard Hotel. But I remembered everyone, meaning my son, talking about the Ace Hotel. My husband took charge and booked it. I think he feared I would switch it behind his back to a beach hotel. He said restaurant reservations were up to me. He thinks of that as my territory. And, well, it usually is.
Sometimes you just need a big restaurant in the middle of the city to warm you up on girls night out. We're at McCormick & Schmick's in the Park Plaza Hotel in Back Bay. Everyone is glad to see us and it's bright and cheery. If you're upstairs in the hotel, what could be easier? It's Friday and we suspect it gets frantic when there's a convention but this is not one of those nights. How happy are we that we crossed the street? Just ask me.
It's six o'clock, and their happy hour bar menu is ranked #1 by USA Today. Get it from 4-6:30 and it picks up again at 9 pm. (Saturdays it begins at 10 pm only). Janet's ordering and she's got her eye on ahi yellowfin tuna. It's puddled in pepper sauce they went to Mongolia for and if it doesn't take you out, there's no shortage of jalapeño. It's smoky suited in black and white sesame seeds and pepper, lots and lots of pepper. This dish lays to rest, once and for all, my/your happy hour stereotypes whatever they are. The tuna stands on its own. We will concede, because we're big fans of hot, that the sauce is good though I feel bad the star fish is wearing a mask. What a question, of course we want another Pinot Noir Mirasson.
by Joseph Erdos
Warm yourself from head to toe with a hot drink on a blustery day like today. Mulled wine does that and more. Popularized in Germany and Scandinavia, mulled wine has been a holiday favorite for hundreds of years. Christmas markets in cities and towns all over Europe swell with shoppers who turn to mulled wine when they want to warm up their...Read more...
by James Farmer III
Baby, its cold outside! I’ve found myself sippin’ and savorin’ a warm drink of sorts all day – Earl Grey this morning, Orange Zinger later on, the latter two combined and then for my nightcap, this warm cider was just the ticket.
Every year, my fair peach state yields the last of its famed crop towards summer’s end. Afterwards, apples from our...Read more...
by Matt Armendariz
Because our holiday parties tend to revolve around themes and menus of yesterday (I blame my house, it’s terribly 1950s to the extreme, and no, I wouldn’t change a thing), I wanted to experiment with a category of drinks that are probably better suited to Patagonia rather than Sunny Southern California: hot cocktails.
Regardless of the outside...Read more...
by James Moore
I like to use this recipe during the winter, when there are lots of great...Read more...