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Baking and Chocolate

Southern Italian Desserts

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by Susan Russo

Southern-Italian-DessertsWhen I was a little girl growing up in Italian-centric Rhode Island, I relished my Sunday morning tradition with my Dad. He and I would drive to our favorite old-school bakery in Providence, LaSalle Bakery, and buy my family’s favorite treats. Sticky pull-apart cinnamon raisin buns for my brother Chris, creamy éclairs for my brother Paul, cannoli for my Dad, and sfogliatelle for me. My mom mystifyingly always passed.

Of all the Italian pastries, the Campanian sfogliatelle, the clam-shaped flaky pastry with ricotta filling, has always been my favorite. I relished the crackle! emitted with every bite into the crisp shell and sighed with happiness when I reached the soft, creamy ricotta cheese center.

Years later as an adult I thought I’d learn to make sfogliatelle. That thought quickly passed when I realized how labor-intensive they were to make. Pastry dough must be run through a pasta machine twice to render it paper-thin. Then it must be carefully stretched, rolled, and molded by hand until a dizzying number of layers are formed. I didn’t have the constitution for it. Fortunately for me (and you), Rosetta Costantino does.

A self-taught baker who was raised in Verbicaro, Calabria, Costantino now resides in Oakland, California where she and her mother teach Americans how to make many of Italy’s most beloved desserts. In her latest book, Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily, she shares over 75 recipes for authentic regional Italian desserts that are virtually unknown in the United States making it a singular addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.

The Cookbook Taster - Valerie Gordon's "Sweet"

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by Bob Wyman

sweetcover1There are a lot of elements to writing a cookbook. There are the obvious ones, like creating over 200 recipes, getting beautiful photos of your food and writing the text. There are the really hard ones, like finding a first-class publisher to actually publish and market your book. There are the ones that you might not have known about, like finding a friend to test all of your recipes in a home kitchen as required by your first-class publisher. And finally there are the ones that are completely unnecessary, like being married to the home tester, and thereby getting to sample all of the goods. That's where I come in.

Valerie Gordon, a dear family friend, has written a cookbook, entitled Sweet, which will be in book stores in early October and available on the Valerie Confections' website. Valerie is the co-owner of Valerie Confections, one of the top artisanal candy makers in the country and she has been expanding into baked goods, teas and jams. Since 2004, when she first opened Valerie Confections, Valerie's toffees and candies consistently have won wide critical acclaim. More recently her baked goods, in particular, her petit fours, have been featured by major food media, including the Food Networks' Best Thing I Ever Ate.

(My high personal journalistic ethics do not allow me to actually review the cookbook or even let you know that it is a truly gorgeous book filled with amazing sweets; nor will they let me tell you that the book is a must have for anyone who has ever wanted to learn baking or jam making or candy making or ice cream and sorbet making or anything at all about the wonderful world of sugar. I cannot and will not shamelessly plug THIS MUST BUY COOKBOOK.)

When Valerie first told us about her cookbook, she explained that she needed a home cook to test her recipes as her publisher, Artisan, would not publish until she confirmed that everything had been reproduced successfully in a home kitchen. My wife, Peggy, mostly because she really had no idea what she was getting into, agreed to take the job – though her payment, and by extension mine, came in the form of calories.

Green Market Baking

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by Susan Russo

greenmarketLaura C. Martin wants you to have your cake and eat it, too. That is, only if it's baked with all-natural, preferably locally sourced ingredients. Think it can't be done? Martin proves it can in her new book, Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats

The recipes, some created by Martin and others by influential chefs and food writers including Alice Waters and Dan Barber, are made with all-natural, organic, sustainable ingredients. Refined sugar is out. Brown rice syrup, agave nectar, and barley malt syrup are in. White flour is used, but many recipes suggest substituting at least part of the flour with whole-grain alternatives such as rye or spelt.

This is the type of the cookbook that you really must peruse first before delving right into a recipe. Otherwise, you'll likely find that you don't have many of the listed ingredients in your pantry. Here's where Martin helps: In the book's opening, she explains unfamiliar ingredients, suggests sugar substitutions, provides guidelines for using oils and dairy in baked goods and even tells you how to stock your pantry.

Easy Artisan Bacon Cheese Bread

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by Cathy Pollak

easy-artisan-bacon-cheese-bread-This. Bread......Wow.

This bread dough recipe is inspired from the amazing book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I have been baking their regular bread recipe for what seems like forever. If you've tried it, you know it's about the easiest, no fail recipe out there.

Their bread formula has been a life-changer for me. It allows me to bake bread several times a week that tastes delicious and looks like I've spent hours in the kitchen. No kneading or punching down is necessary. And the taste and texture are spot on.

I can highly recommend their books, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. These are some of the best recipes for those of you who are a little intimidated about making bread. You will be surprised how easy it is to achieve some gorgeous loaves.

Simply Sensational Cookies

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by Susan Salzman

nancybaggat-bookFinding random emails in my in box, requesting a review(basically asking if I want “free” stuff) of a product, kitchen gadget, or cookbook always ignites my curiosity.

I get request quite often, but the reality is, is that between family, menu planning, my kid’s schedule, my consulting clients, and work, there is not much down time to sit in a chair and read a cookbook. I used to be able to do that regularly, but now when I do find myself stealing a few of those moments, I embrace them and hang on to them as long as possible.

However, when I saw what book I was being offered, it didn’t take me long to respond with an enthusiastic YES! Nancy Bagget’s new book; Simply Sensational Cookies is filled with many classics but with a twist.

And as I read through the book, there were several that I earmarked, knowing that I could convert them into a gluten free version. An added bonus to this book is that all of the photography is shot by the art and mastery of Todd and Diane.

Great recipes, mouth watering photography, and new inspiration.

A Year of Pies

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by Susan Russo

a year of pies frontcoverWhen I received a review copy of A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English, my first thought was: Did they send it to the wrong person?

You see, the only pie I truly enjoy making is a spinach pie — no deciding between shortening or butter, no fluting of the edges, no waiting until it’s no longer jiggly in the center.

Traditional pies, in contrast, are high maintenance. I can make pie (under duress or after my husband guilts me into making one), but I don’t enjoy it. With her new cookbook, English may just convert me into someone who likes to bake pies.

English offers 60 seasonal, home-crafted recipes for all types of pie: sweet, savory, double-crust, single-crust, hand-held, galettes, tarts, and more. Winter pies include festive Minty Chocolate Cream Pie and soul-warming Spiced Meat Pie. Spring ushers in fresh Strawberry Crumble Pie with Lemon Verbena Whipped Cream and elegant Asparagus and Dill Quiche. Summer samples include Classic Blueberry Pie along with newcomer, Nectarine and Lavender Crostata. Autumn (my personal favorite) has heart-warming Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds, hearty Roasted Butternut Squash, Cheddar, and Sage Galette, and a positively charming Figgy Pudding Pie.

Alice's New Classic Brownies

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by Matt Armendariz

ImageOh.

No, really, oh. Oh as in “Oh my, these brownies”  and “Oh damn, these brownies.”  Oh as “Oh I can’t believe this recipe is so amazing” and “Oh there goes any bit of self control I had.”

Get the picture?

You can roll your eyes a bit when you say “Oh”.  It helps.

Even though I don’t claim to have the world’s largest sweet tooth and go for salty over sweet most days, I can’t help but claim this brownie recipe as one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Because to me, brownies seem like the perfect treat in theory. Chocolately, studded with fun things like nuts or fruit, small and compact and enough to satisfy thanks to their rich nature. But sometimes, well, you can’t help but feel let down sometimes when you bite into a brownie that’s dry, too moist or not moist enough, tastes like a mix or worse, doesn’t resemble a brownie at all.

Loving Nancy Silverton: Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

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by Susan Salzman
labreabook
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I have purchased a lot of cookbooks over the years and most of them are worn out.  I have all sorts of books; baking (obviously), lots of ethnic books, books by famous chefs, including Nancy Silverton.  I used to frequent her “grilled cheese” nights at Campanelli, back in the early 90′s and oh do I miss those early morning breakfast’s before heading off to create in my first furniture studio.  Tartine in S.F. reminds me of what Campanelli used to be; intimate, delicious and casual.  

I like the food at Mozza (not the wait or the crowd) and I have saved every Food and Wine Magazine that she contributed to (a particular Thanksgiving meal in 1994(?) was one of my all time favorites).  My most favorite marinade for flank steak is in her book Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Home.  Also in that book is one of the BEST Meyer Lemon Tarts, ever!!!!  I have a meyer lemon tree for this very recipe.

I recently got Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery.  I read it cover to cover before deciding on what to make first.  I started with her scone recipe.  I love making scones and have made all kinds.  I like to make lots of different flavors at once and then flash freeze.  This way, my kids have scones on any given morning and scones are only good when right out of the oven.  

Booze Cakes

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by Susan Russo

ImageWhat would the holiday season be without desserts? And booze? Fortunately, the sassy ladies behind the spirited cookbook Booze Cakes have got ya covered. Authors Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone have created the ultimate fun baking book with over 100 bodacious, boozy confections.

The book is divided into four sections:
1. Classic Booze Cakes such as English Trifle and Tipsy Tiramisu.
2. Cocktail Cakes such as Pumpkin Martini Cakes and Tequila Sunrise Cake.
3. Cake Shots including Rum & Coke and Screwdriver Shots.
4. Cakes with a Twist such as Black Jack Praline Cake and Rosemary Limoncello Cake.

Castella and Stone are girls who want to have fun, and they want you to have fun too. That's why they include helpful icons for special occasion cakes and a cheeky "Booze Meter" that rates cakes as "Lightweight," "Feeling It," or "Totally Tipsy." (In case you're wondering, I picked a "Totally Tipsy" cake.)

Biscotti Cookbook

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by Charles G. Thompson

ImageBiscotti comes from the Latin word biscoctus meaning ‘twice cooked, or baked.’ Baking them twice makes them dry, so they’re easy to store for long periods of time. This was highly advantageous at one point in time. Twice-baked breads were useful during long journeys and wars, and were a staple food of the Roman legion. Now, it’s simply a lovely left-over result of the original recipe that we’re still enjoying today. From the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, ‘Biscotti’ is a very special cookbook, a small love letter to one of Italy’s most famous sweets.

The book is the first in a series of small hardcover cookbooks on single subjects to be published by the American Academy in Rome in conjunction with the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a program devoted to providing organic, local and sustainable meals for the community of artists who work and study at the AAR. Author, Mona Talbott is the American born, Chez Panisse-trained Executive Chef who oversees the kitchens of the Academy. Alice Waters is also part of the collaborative dining program advising on menus, and food choices. The program was first implemented in 2007 when the Academy remodeled and revamped the AAR kitchens. The Rome Sustainable Food Project facilitates the AAR’s move towards sustainable, and local cooking and eating.

Baking Basics and Beyond

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by Susan Russo

bakingbasicscover.jpgAre you pie-challenged? Does your meringue collapse after you whip it? Do you even attempt meringue? Have you ever made brownies from a box mix and claimed them as your own? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, know three things: 1) You are not alone. 2) You are still a good person. 3) There is hope.

Pat Sinclair’s Baking Basics and Beyond, 2nd edition, is here to help you. With over 25 years of experience as a cooking teacher and cookbook author, Sinclair knows what she’s talking about. In her easy-going, uncomplicated manner, she leads beginning bakers through step-by-step instructions for everything from scones, biscuits, and cookies to pies, custards, and cheesecakes.

Each of the 100+ recipes is written in clear, succinct prose, that’s easy to follow and many are accompanied by lovely color photographs. Don’t know what a “jelly roll pan” is or what is means “to cream” something. Not to worry. Sinclair explains. Indeed, she tells the novice baker everything they need to know from how to measure liquid and dry ingredients to how to dissolve yeast. Sinclair takes both the guess-work and the anxiety out of baking.

Bon Appetit Desserts

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by Charles G. Thompson

bonappetitdesserts-872x1024.jpgI like books a lot. All types of books. I really, really like reference books. The comfort of all those facts, and answers so close at hand. But I love, love, love cookbooks. I’m a cookbook collector. I have so many that my other half thinks I have a problem and need to enter a 12-step program. Single topic cookbooks are at the top of the list for me. (I just bought ‘Salted’ by Mark Bitterman, 312 pages on nothing but salt!) I like having cookbooks on my bookshelves that I can refer to, that I can pull from a shelf when I’m looking for information or a recipe. When I received Bon Appetit Desserts for review it made sense. A whole book, a huge book actually (680 pages), devoted solely to desserts. Every dessert you’ve ever heard of, every dessert you could ever want or need to make. All in one book. My kind of book.

The book was edited by recently resigned Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief, Barbara Fairchild. In her introduction she writes about how while growing up her family had dessert after every dinner, something sweet was included in her lunch, and how her mother always served a sweet of some kind whenever company dropped by. I like that. To me it reveals the sentiment behind this book.

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