Saturday, December 31, 2005

Christmas Culinary Presents

J and I lucked out in the present department this holiday. A mix of things we asked for, and things they thought we'd like, our families treated us very well. My favorites: homemade jam from Grandma Sally; La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint- Ange from my sister--this is the first English translation of what's basically the French Joy of Cooking, first printed in 1927. It is full of detailed technique descriptions, and reads as culinary history as much as a cookbook. Also, Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin. Goin amazes me--shes' relatively young, and has been working in restaurants since her senior year of high school, and helms two of the most successful restaurants in Los Angeles (not including her role in her hubby's place, The Hungry Cat.) It's a complex cookbook and the menus are time-intensive, but the recipes inspire. I tried her beet and tangerine salad last night, and her simple garnish of fresh mint made the salad sing.

Finally, the pasta machine from my parents! So, so excited about this. We've tried our hand at making homemade pasta a few times but have not achieved thin-enough dough (though maybe with my new non-stick rolling mat, a gift from J who has experienced my frustration with rolling dough enough times to know it was necessary for his sanity as much as mine, it could happen). Anyway, I see piles of papperadelle in our future.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Holiday Traditions: New, Old, and Rediscovered

First, the new. For the second year in a row my mom made an amazing bacon-wrapped, savory breadcrumb stuffed beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. This year was even better than the last, with the fine, buttery, herby, crispy breadcrumbs providing an excellent match to the rich, medium rare roast. Turkey’s got nothin’ on this.

She also made a pumpkin-apple soup for the first time, veggie-stock based for my vegetarian sister. The light and flavorful soup was a refreshing start to our decadent meal.

Second, the old. When I was a kid, the first hour or so of Christmas morning was torturous. My sister and I could open our stockings, but no presents until all adults were awake, caffienated and we had all eaten breakfast. The torture was somewhat mitigated by the fact that breakfast was always my Grandma Sally’s amazing cinnamon rolls, helping to quench our present lust. Not overly sweet and not dripping in a sticky glaze, these simple rolls, heated and spread with butter, always delight. I’d asked my Grandma for the recipe awhile back and she explained the only way I could learn to make them was for her to show me. This year my vacation timing worked out and my sister and I took a cinnamon roll making lesson. She starts with a basic white bread recipe, and fills her rolls with a layer of butter, copius amounts of brown sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon. I plan much practicing this spring.

Finally, the rediscovered. My other grandmother, Grandma ‘Nita, is Finnish. Recently, my dad began making Pannu Kakku again, a Finnish baked pancake that you spread with jam. It’s custard-like in texture, reminiscent of flan. We had this on Christmas Eve morning, but it works equally well as a dessert. Also, my Grandmother brought us a loaf of Nissu, a sweet bread spiced with cardamom, made by a friend of hers. This is also an excellent breakfast item, toasted and spread with more jam.

All in all, a delicious holiday, made more so by the joy of sharing it with my wonderful family. And of course, this is just my side of things—J’s family is full of food traditions as well—the absolute best apple pie ever, thin, crisp, buttery sugar cookies, his Mom’s cinannmon bread…More than a few extra gym hours will be necessary in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

(Real) Cold Weather Cookies

Cooking in my parents' kitchen always delights--not only is it huge compared to my own, with plenty of counter space, you also have a lovely view of their back hillside, currently blanketed in snow and often visited by families of deer. I especially enjoy baking in it at the holidays--having grown up in the Midwest, making Christmas cookies feels more right and less decadent when it's snowy and a mere 10 degrees outside.

Inspired by Darla of Messy Cucina and her Biscotto Bake-A-Thon, I decided to try them myself for the first time. I followed her master recipe and stayed simple with my goodies--chocolate chips--with a final dip in chocolate. It pays to stay patient after the first bake and wait a full half hour before you try to cut the logs, otherwise you'll just make a crumbly mess. Also, my dad's lactose-intolerant so I substituted margarine, which didn't seem to hurt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Holiday Open House

Rather than an evening get-together, this year J. and I decided to host a holiday brunch/open house. We liked the idea of friends popping in and out all day, while we sat on the couch, nibbled yummy treats, drank wine, and enjoyed our Christmas tree. We served a mix of typical brunch fare--quiche, frittata, coffeecake, holiday fare--cookies and spiced nuts, and J and E's favorite fare--cheese, olives, cornichons and a homemade terrine (more on that project in a later post). As a savory foods person, I'm always surprised when most people go for sweet foods--the coffeecake was the hit of the party. It was a recipe out of the LA Times Food section (say what you will about the rest of the Times, this section always rocks)--you make the base dough the night before and let it rise, then fill with a meringue in the morning, full of whatever flavoring you want (I went with chocolate) then bake. Drizzled in a powdered sugar-Kahlua-vanilla glaze, it looked and tasted quite decadent.

The best part of the event (other than having quality time with our friends of course) was the leftovers--I packed an amazing meal for my plane ride to WI the next day, inspiring jealous looks across the aisles!

E & J's 2005 Holiday Open House Menu

Mixed Greens Quiche (adapted from LA Times recipe)
Potato and Wild Mushroom Frittata (E's recipe, with a little inspiration from Moosewood)
Overnight Coffeecake (LA Times)
Country Terrine (Gourmet Dec. 05)
Cheddar and Brie (from Say Cheese, Silverlake)
Olives and cornichons (Trader Joe's finest)
Cinnamon Orange Almonds (E's adaption of recipe found on Chocolate and Zucchini forums)
Gobs of cookies

Cinnamon Almonds
• 1 orange, grated rind only
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• nutmeg, freshly grated
• 1/3 cup water
• ¾ cup sugar
• 2 cups almonds

Combine the orange peel, sugar, cinnamon and water in a deep sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until it boils. Add the nuts and reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid is simmering. Stir constantly while the water evaporates. At first, the glaze will be shiny. As the water boils off, the sugar will form brown, crusty crystals on the nuts. When the nuts are completely coated and all the liquid has evaporated, remove from the heat. Make sure to stir constantly to prevent the nuts from burning. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet to cool and crisp. Store in an airtight continer for up to two weeks.

Makes 2 cups

Saturday, December 17, 2005

California Winter Salad

The bounty of SoCal farmer's markets is one of the few reasons I would truly miss Los Angeles. Today, in late December, we picked up burstingly ripe organic yellow and red cherry tomatos--I can only imagine how dejected tomatos look in a New York grocery store right now. Tonight those tomatos joined sauteed baby shiitakes, frozen corn, a little fresh marjoram and tarragon on a bed of mixed greens, topped with a sliced avocado and a drizzle of sherry vinaigrette. Is it really December 17??!?!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Patina: here comes the fromage

Having picked up some last minute tickets to the Harry Shearer/Judith Owen Holiday sing-a-long at Disney Hall last night (yes I'm a sucker for everything Christmas), we had empty stomachs and about an hour and a half to kill before the show. We had to keep it within walking distance since the car was already firmly ensconced in the bowels of the music center. Being big fans of bar dining as a way to sample but not splurge at pricey places, we thought we'd grab a snack at the bar of Patina, restauranteur Joachim Splichal's marquee place, located at the southeast corner of the Gehry-designed concert hall.

Well, we already had drinks in hand when the bartender informed us the only food service at the bar was caviar or cheese. Us: Okay, we'll get a cheese plate. Him: Let me get the fromager. Cue fromager to wheel in his big ol' cart of cheese. While I was thrilled by the diverse selection and piles of accoutrements (membrillo, apricots, lavender honey), it was rather awkward to sit in the restaurant's very tiny bar, right next to the hostess stand with other patrons coming in and out, and order our cheeses. Awkwardness wasn't alleviated by the annoying schmuck next to us, looking over our shoulder and pronouncing that all he needed was a block of Velveeta. However, the fromager was unfazed and managed to quickly put J. and I at ease.

We sampled three cheeses: Beaufort, a hard mountain cheese from France; Le Gariotin, a French goat cheese, this one soft and from the Perigord region; and finally a satisfyingly stinky Spanish Cabrales, which paired beautifully with the lavender honey. (The fromager gave us a small brochure with a listing of the cheese we got and a few notes--that's how I "remembered" the list). While not what we had in mind when we first sat down, the cheese service was a delightful way to begin our evening and experience the luxury of a chichi restaurant without committing to a whole meal.

141 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Turkey Meatball + Everything Soup

It was another cold day in Los Angeles (I can hear my Midwestern family scoffing as I type), so more soup was in order. Started by sauteeing some onions, carrots and mushrooms, added salt, pepper, fresh thyme and a bay leaf, then a couple cups of chicken stock, couple cups of water. Tossed some in some chopped potatos, brought it to a boil then covered and turned down to a simmer. Managed to turn off the OCD part of my brain that irrationally worries about the apartment burning down and left it on the stove while we walked to the store for a loaf of bread. When we came back the potatos were done and it was time to add the frozen Trader Joe's turkey meatballs (if you haven't had these, you should!) and some frozen peas. After a few more minutes and handful of chopped parsley, dinner was on the table.

I'm glad we ended up making soup, because we were this close to ordering take-out. We had lots of holiday cooking projects going in the kitchen and the temptation was high to avoid making more dirty dishes, but I must keep reminding myself that making a yummy weeknight dinner at home need not be complicated or time-consuming (and that it's okay to "cheat" with some prepared items). If you have favorite weeknight recipes that keep you sane, please share in the comments.

Champagne + Stout = Good (and drunk)

This weekend J's company hosted its annual holiday party. The food was once again quite good, but the best (and most surprising) treat of the evening was one of the featured drinks at the bar--Black Velvet. It was 1/2 stout beer, 1/2 champagne, and boy was it tasty. I have always been skeptical of mixing beer with anything, but this worked. The tart and sparkly champagne cut and complemented the hoppy beer flavor. I think this may become a holiday staple.

Photo by Mandolux, used with permission.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Linzer Cookies

This recipe came from Gourmet magazine's Dec. 05 issue, and I'm quite pleased with the results. The cookies are just barely sweet, with a wintry hazelnut flavor. I used some seedless raspberry butter for the filling, and though the Gourmet recipe doesn't call for it, I sifted powdered sugar over the top cookies (I think this must be an oversight on the mag's part b/c the accompaning photo shows snowy tops).

Full recipe here: Linzer Cookies

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Solar de Cahuenga

Stopped at this newish spot in Hollywood for breakfast Friday morning. Nice space, with a comfy-looking patio, though suffers the fate that many patios in LA do--open to a busy, speeding car-filled street--though most Angelenos don't seem to mind. According to Gayot, on the weekend's it'll be open 24 hours--If true, always nice to add another option to the late-night dining list in close proximity to home.

For breakfast, I had the Aspen crepe--spinach, mushrooms, swiss and green onions. The eggs were light and fluffy and the crepe was slightly sweet and nicely browned. I liked it a lot more than the ones I've had a the crepe place in the Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax, it seemed much lighter. The side of fruit that I paid an extra couple bucks for (instead of the potatos that came with it) was pretty sad--primarily day-old apples with a few grapes and one sliced strawberry. Next time I'll forgo healthy for tasty and stick with the potatos. The menu also had a long list of paninis, and both sweet and savory crepes.

Solar de Cahuenga
1847 Cahuenga Blvd. (corner of Franklin)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Peppermint Meringues, Attempt #2

The second time around my meringues turned out much better. I still used a warm water method, but used a thermometer to measure the temperature as it heated, not my finger. Other changes I made from the first try: started with all the ingredients at room temperature, as instructed by the Joy of Cooking. Added a 1/2 tsp. of cream of tartar. Mixed some of the decorating gel with regular red food coloring to form more of paste.

See my first try: Peppermint Meringues, attempt #1

The meringues, while still not the perfect Martha stars, were much more kiss-like in shape. I think I need to practice piping, and perhaps need a bigger pastry bag (or need to not fill it so full). I still made a god-awful mess as you can see, and when the meringue again started to come out of the top of the bag, not just the bottom, I lost my concentration and from then on was just racing around trying to keep my hands (and the floor, my jeans, my hair, the cats' water dish, etc) semi-clean and finishing piping all the kisses before my meringue batter lost its staying power. This happened a bit anyway, and the last few looked more like the discs of my first attempt, albeit with more red.

Now, the reality part: for all of that work, yes, they look nifty, but I don't think they're worth it. The taste is okay, but I'd rather have a really good chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. I thought about making one more batch to further practice the piping, but have decided I'd rather try something else (like all of the holiday cookies in the latest Gourmet and from the cookie swap!)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Late Night Dining: Beechwood and The Hungry Cat

These places aren't exactly unknowns, but thought I'd quickly mention my recent experiences at each. As the title indicates, both provide something fairly rare in LA--a place to get a bite that's not only open late, but still bustling at 10:30 p.m.

I'd been wanting to try Beechwood ever since reading the LA Times review eons ago, but I'm rarely that far west later in the evening. Finally, an evening work meeting provided an opportunity (who whoulda thunk I'd meet with moderate Democratic Representative Jane Harman at the hippie coffee spot The Cow's End, but that's for another blog I guess). Anyway, liked the chaise lounge-y seating in Beechwood's bar, and loved the HUGE pulled pork sandwich with fried pickles even more--at $12 it was a steal. Unfortunately, the sweet potato fries weren't as revelatory--I think Bowery's are much better. Had a decent glass of red wine, couldn't tell ya what it was. J. had a steak (skirt, I believe?) that was nothing special. His regular fries were much better than my sweets. All in all, a nice joint if you're in the neighborhood, but not a destination.

The Hungry Cat has been a reliable favorite ever since it opened. We usually sit at the bar and get 2-3 items to share. On Monday night, we met to celebrate the end of my UCLA class, and celebrate we (at least I) did. Besides the fantastic seafood, the Cat has a creative drink menu, mostly fresh fruit juice and relatively unknown (at least to me), high-end liquor. I started with what their subtly tangy Sidecar (you'd be amazed at how many bartenders don't know how to make this--I've had it served in a wine glass with ice), followed by a gin and tonic, made with Raj Gin, and I think just a look at the tonic bottle. J. and I shared a fall salad (roasted squash, blue cheese, hazelnuts, dates, greens with a balsamic dressing) and a bowl of the special homemade papparedelle with lobster, in a lobster/beef stock. The Hungry Cat is not cheap, but it's an excellent value.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lentil Soup with Potatos and Spinach

I love it when I can make something fairly substantial just using items in my pantry/fridge/freezer, particularly items I've been wondering how I could use up. Even better if that something results in leftovers for lunch throughout the week (my office is in a lunch-spot wasteland).

It was what passes for cold in Los Angeles today, so I wanted a warm and hearty dinner. Remembering a lentil soup recipe in Cook's Illustrated, decided to give it try. If you're not familiar with this mag, you'll have to check it out sometime. The recipes are usually touted as the best of the basics, with lots of experiments in the science of food backing up their decisions, and they often revisit dishes they feel are executed poorly on a regular basis. Lentil soup was one of those dishes, of course. The key to a superb lentil soup, according to the serious Cook's Illustrated folks, is sweating the lentils before boiling. Who knew.

I had almost everything I needed except bacon and carrots, which no doubt would have made the finished product even better (especially the bacon), but I refused to make a trip to the store. My other major modifiction was the addition of potatos and a bag of frozen, chopped spinach--the spinach especially added a nice color since lentil soup tends to look kinda boring. Here's the recipe (with the bacon and carrot included), and if you want the full-on scientific explanation of which lentils to use and why, check out the Feb. 2004 issue of the magazine.

Lentil Soup with Potatos and Spinach

3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomotos, drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme and/or rosemary
1 c. lentils, rinsed and picked over (I used a mix of beluga and brown lentils)
1 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 c. water
1 c. potatos, chopped
1 16 oz. bag frozen, chopped spinach
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1. Fry bacon in your stockpot over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 3-4 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring occassionally, until veggies begin to soften, about 2 mins. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 secs. Stir in tomatos, bay leaf and herbs; cook another 30 secs. Stir in lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened, about 8-10 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high, add wine, and bring to simmer. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil, cover partially, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30-35 minutes.
2. Puree 3 c. soup in blender until smooth, then return to pot; stir in spinach until heated through. Stir in vinegar and serve.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Peppermint Meringues, Attempt #1

While I've made a decent souffle or two in my time, I don't yet have a very good relationship with whipped egg whites. I think it's the kind of thing I need to see someone else do once or twice--so I know exactly what stiff peaks look like for future reference. I also need to improve my ability to take things I've learned in previous cooking experiences (like cream of tartar helps your egg whites stiffen) and apply it to new recipes. This is all a preamble to the fact that I tried to make Martha Stewart's Peppermint Meringue Chocolate Sandwiches the other night, and as you can see, they didn't turn out very well.

The recipe was a warm-method meringue, and it never quite stiffened as much as I think it needed to. I ended up with something like marshmallow fluff. I decided to attempt piping it anyway, though I have little experience with this skill either. The combo of the gloopy mix and my inept wielding of the pastry bag resulted in peppermint egg whites all over the kitchen, on my shoes and even in the cat's water dish. Not to mention that the red stripes I'd attempted to paint on the pastry bag a la Martha's instructions resulted in barely visable pinkish stripes. The recipe calls for red gel food-coloring, and I think this must be different than the red gel icing pen I picked up at the grocery. Anyone know where to get gel food-coloring, and if that's actually different?

Anyway, I piped some flat circles (the meringe was too syrapy to hold star shape) and popped a sheet in the oven. This is where the story starts to get better, because they actually turned out quite tasty. The festive look from the magazine was not there, but I figured they'd still work as chocalate ganache sandwiches. Then, of course, things took a turn for the worse when I realized the cheap-o chocolate I'd bought at Albertson's was actually...

UNSWEETENED. Gross. By this point I was too uninspired to attempt sweetening the ganache with sugar or anything. So I was left with a tupperware full of quarter-sized peppermint meringues, one or two of which gets popped in my mouth whenever I head into the kitchen.

I plan another try of this recipe sometime this week. I've now looked through the Joy of Cooking's section on meringe, and it's so much more helpful than Martha's recipe. I think I will try a non-warm-method meringue, and definitely use cream of tartar. Any other tips you have for meringe perfection, please let me know!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Market Madness

When we lived on Capitol Hill, we could do almost all of our grocery shopping at Eastern Market--a long, high-ceiled building with a cheesemonger, fishmonger, butcher, baker, homemade pasta maker--it was all there. Weekend mornings we'd stroll the few blocks from our place, grab a cup of coffee, sometimes wait in line for the fabulous Market Lunch, othertimes we'd buy our produce at the outside farmer's market first, then finish our shopping inside. When we moved to LA, I thought it was one of the DC-institutions I'd miss the most.

Now, of course, I can't imagine what I'd do without the bounty of a California farmer's market. And I've found a replacement cheese store and bakery--of course they're not under the same roof and I still haven't found a convenient and decent butcher. I've tried to become a 3rd and Fairfax indoor farmer's market regular, but it's too far, too overrun with tourists, and too close to the Grove and its faux city square. I'm sure there are long-time Angelenos who will disagree with me, but Grand Central Market, on the other hand, feels much more authentic. It's always packed with primarily locals and the stalls are vibrant and many are bursting with exotic (to me) spices. It's not nearly as chi-chi-la-la as my beloved Eastern Market, and it's too far to walk, yet I thoroughly enjoy every trip there.

This Saturday we visited after a study trip to the Downtown Central Library. Went for the pupusas at Sarita's--chiccharon (ground pork), squash, and carne asada. Delicious in that gut bomb sort of way. Once we were home, naps were in order.

As a side note, markets like this seem to be popular revitalization efforts these days--I'll take it as a good sign that more and more people are interested in a closer relationship to their food and who sells it. Sarah at the Delicious Life recently posted about the Milwaukee Public Market in my home state of Wisconsin, and even though I travel there all the time for work, I've yet to truly try the vaunted Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco (a quick zoom around on a way to a meeting doesn't count).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Orange Blossom Chocolate Loaf Cake

One of the benefits of living near Little Armenia is a wealth of intriguing markets. One favorite is Kalinka on Hillhurst Ave, home of cheap and fresh feta. It's also where we picked up Orange Blossom Water about a year ago. I don't use it often, so whenever I reopen the bottle and get a whiff, I'm transported to a gauzy vision of Arabian nights, full of romance and intrigue (and yes, I know Armenia has no connection to Arabian Nights, but indulge me--they share ingredients).

Tonight, looking at a bowl of oranges on my table and feeling the urge for some chocolate, I decided to modify a recipe for chocolate loaf cake, incorporating both orange zest and the blossom water. The result was a richly satisfying dessert, with a subtle, wintry, orange flavor.

Orange Blossom Chocolate Loaf Cake

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 c. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. orange blossom water
zest from 1 large orange
4 oz. best bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. boiling water

Preheat oven to 375, and grease a 9x5 loaf pan. I lined the bottom with parchment paper, but I don't think you have to.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, orange blossom water and orange zest; beat well. Next, fold in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate. Sift flour and baking soda together. Add flour mixture and boiling water to batter in alternate spoonfuls until all mixed. The batter should be smooth and fairly liquid. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. The cake will be dense and a bit squishy inside, so a toothpick will not come out completely clean.

If you're patient, let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack before turning out. I am not patient and turned it out after only an hour of sitting, and it was still warm. This caused a bit of crumbling, but I can assure you, did not affect the taste. Many samples were tested, just to be sure.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's "How to Be a Domestic Goddess"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Highland Park Excursion: Tacos and Pop

I first discovered Galco's Soda Pop Stop a hot and sweaty August day when I was all dressed up for a work meeting in Highland Park. The meeting had ended, and my nylons were sticking, and all I wanted was a cold beverage on my way home. Instead of grabbing my usual Diet Coke, Galco's gave me row upon row of delicous sounding choices. I settled on Peach Nehi, a fizzy revelation.

While I'd been wanting to return to Galco's forever, a faint recollection of a LA Weekly article on good regional Mexican joints in the same neighborhood led to a two-for-one Sunday afternoon excursion, and landed us at Tacos el Michoacano, a hole-in-the wall joint, before soda-shopping. The article claimed Tacos el Michoacano had first-rate carnitas and indeed it did. The pork was cubed not shredded, and covered in a light green slightly spicy salsa. We were given chips and salsa as well--this salsa was smoky red and chunky. We gobbled our tacos and chips quickly, slurping sweet and milky strawberry licuados all the while. 2 tacos a piece, 2 licuados, less than $10.

We then headed to Galco's and proceeded to fill two six packs with a mix of sodas. We're splitting one a day, first trying a Plantation-Style Mint Julip, which was both the color and taste of spearmint gum, though not so sugary. We decided it would work well for an ice cream float. Last night we opened Jackson Hole High Mountain Huckleberry Soda--I can honestly, un-hyperbolically claim this is the best soda I have ever had. Lightly sweet and fully fruity, completely refreshing. I have a feeling we're going back for a case soon.

Galco's Soda Pop Stop

5702 York Boulevard
Highland Park
(323) 255-7115

Tacos el Michoacano

5933 York Blvd
Highland Park

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Recovery

After a delicious, thoroughly decadent, butter and sugar-filled Thanksgiving in Kentucky, you land Friday night at LAX, hungry (amazingly enough), tired, and tempted to drive directly home and order in. Instead, you swing by Little Toyko and drop in at Hama Sushi. There's no better way to revive your appetite, both for healthy food, and for living in Los Angeles. This tiny sushi bar has become a favorite in this neighborhood, particularly on Thursday nights after visiting the (free) MOCA.

Its no-nonsense signage masks a warm interior and good-natured sushi chefs, particularly after they've consumed a couple Budweisers. Friday night after soothing bowls of miso soup, we enjoyed yellowtail and salmon sushi, spicy tuna cut and hand rolls. We also shared a plate of albacore tuna sashimi--this wasn't my favorite, possibly because of the slivered green onion topping--the fish was fresh, just not to my taste. On other visits, we've enjoyed the salmon skin hand roll--but the crispy, salty fried skins didn't fit our "recovery" mode. Next time.

Hama Sushi
347 E. 2nd St.
(213) 680-3454

Saturday, November 26, 2005

SHF/IMBB Cookie Swap: Cranberry-Orange Drop Cookies

The creative minds behind Sugar High Friday and Is My Blog Burning came up with an excellent idea to help prepare for the holidays--a virtual cookie swap. My contribution, Cranberry-Orange Drop Cookies, have become a holiday staple since I found the recipe in Bon Appetit 3 years ago.

Though the actual recipe calls for a bizillion ingredients, I've defintely added and subtracted in the past--you can replace the dried cranberried with more fresh ones, pistachios with all walnuts, lime juice and zest for the orange. I like to chop the fresh cranberries and the nuts in my food processor, but if you like larger chunks you may want to chop by hand (I end up with cranberries flying all over my kitchen if I do that--but you're probably more careful than me).

The full recipe is here: Cranberry-Orange Drop Cookies. Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2005


After some "low key relaxation" (as opposed to all that high-stress relaxation) at Silverlake Wine's Monday night wine tasting, but before we go home to pack for Thanksgiving vacation, dinner at Pho Cafe was just what the doctor ordered. My knowledge of Vietnamese food is virtually nil, and I'm sure LA is home to many more authentic pho joints. Certainly, there must be pho joints where you're not elbow-to-elbow with the painfully hip.

However, Pho Cafe always satisfies. J. gets hot noodle soup with beef balls, I get cold noodles with lemongrass grilled beef. The plates of fresh herbs are piled high, and the beer is cold. The food comes fast and cheap--with an extra plate of what they call egg rolls (Gingergrass calls them imperial rolls) we're outta there in under 1/2 an hour and under $30.

Pho Cafe
2841 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026-2125
(213) 413-0888

Moroccan-spiced salmon with (sort-of) tabbouleh and wilted spinach

This meal was a combo of two different cooking classes I've taken in the past year: one on fish at Be Gourmet in Silverlake, the other on grilling at Hip Cooks at the Brewery downtown. I vastly prefer the classes at Be Gourmet, with chef Tim Ross in his home kitchen. The classes are small (3-5 people), personal, reasonably priced, and I have picked up both new (or improved) techniques and new, easy recipes in the three classes I've taken there. Starting with the name, HipCooks wasn't my favorite. I did learn about a great Armenian market in my neighborhood, and we got a lot of chopping practice. However, while eating the dinner we had constructed, a few friends of the instructor Monika, came over and she started chatting with them, ignoring the class. Then, when it was time for "clean-up" she sat drinking the rest of the wine with her friends, while we followed her instructions. Not that I mind helping clean, but for $50 a pop, I don't expect to scrub her kitchen.

Anyway, to the food. The Moroccan-spiced fish couldn't be easier. Preheat oven to 400. Whirl some coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds in a spice mill (aka an old coffee grinder). Mix in some salt and pepper. Cut your salmon into 2-3 in. cubes, and dip one side in the spice mix. Place the fish pieces spice-side down in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until spices are fragrant and toasty (about 3-4 minutes). Place skillet in oven until fish is cooked thru, about 30 sec-1 minute.

In class, we served this over some wilted spinach with a spicy harissa dressing. Having no harissa on hand, I threw together a half-assed tabbouleh--bulghar, dried mint, lemon, dried cranberries and pine nuts. This was loosely based on the good tabbouleh recipe I got out of the HipCooks class--really less a recipe and more a list of possible add-ins--finely diced fennel, hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, etc. Matched the salmon nicely, and with the spinach, it was a healthy, flavorful meal.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Walnut Shortbread

I am in love with these cookies. So simple to make yet sophisticated to eat. They pair wonderfully with a cup of coffee, crisp enough for dunking. A few notes on slight changes I made to the original recipe. First, I sifted my powdered sugar to ensure a smooth batter (though if you sift directly into your stand-mixer bowl, scrape the sugar down into the bowl before turning on the mixer--unless you want to end up with fine white dust all over yourself and your kitchen--not that I would know, of course). Also, in the original, Batali instructs the cook to use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. No specification on what shape or size of cutter, and there's no picture. Instead, I cut them into 2 in. squares, which required a tad more time baking time than he suggested.

Walnut Shortbread

from The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali

4 c. walnut pieces
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. dark brown sugar, packed (I used light brown and the sugar police never showed)
3/4 c. sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Granulated sugar for sprinkling (I forgot this step)

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Spread the walnut pieces on a baking sheet, and toast for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Cool completely, then blitz in a food processor until just finely ground. Set aside. Reduce oven temp to 300.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and powdered sugar together until very smooth and creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together the ground nuts, flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat to form a soft dough. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to roll, about 30 minutes.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
5. Divide the dough in two, roll one piece out to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a knife, cut out as many 2 in. squares as you can and place them on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough (you may have to bake multiple batches). Sprinkle each cookie with granulated sugar.
6. Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes, or until they turn light golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cafe Figaro: A Redeeming Quality?

When I first moved to Los Feliz, Cafe Figaro on Vermont looked like a possible replacement for one of my DC favs, Bistro Du Coin. How wrong I was. The decor is lovely, but I find the food overpriced and instead of a convivial atmosphere, it always seems hushed and snobby. Once I stopped in for a morning cup of coffee to go, and it was $4. It was good coffee, but $4???

Well, last night on the way home I decided I needed some good bread for my eggs. I was walking from the bus stop, and Figaro's right on the way, so against my better judgement, decided to give the bakery portion a try. Remarkably, the service was friendly and they do something I've never seen before--you can buy just half a loaf of bread (it's not precut either, they take a fresh full loaf and cut it). It was still ridiculously expensive ($6 for half a loaf), but the olive bread was crusty outside, pleasantly chewy inside. Next time I'm feeling spendy, lazy and hungry for carbs, I'll stop in again.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Slow Scramble

A few weeks ago, the LA Times food section ran For Luxury That's Worth the Wait, an article about slow-cooking scrambled eggs. This will shock those of you who know me I'm sure, but I'm not exactly a patient person. However, the article cited The Hungry' Cat's Tweety Scramble as a slow-cooked masterpiece, and I'd have to agree, so I was willing to try the technique at home.

I started as the Times instructed--whisked my two eggs with a little fat (olive oil) and salt and pepper. Melted a bit of butter (ok, as you can see by the pic, maybe more than a bit) over extremely low heat, then added the eggs. One good idea mentioned in the article is to rub your wooden stirring spoon with garlic ahead of time, but I'm lazy.

After about 3 minutes of stirring, the eggs started to turn cloudy with a trace of curd. As per instruction, I started varying my strokes to discourage crazy curd development.

This photo was taken after approximately 7 minutes of stirring. More curds were developing, seemingly from the egg whites. Maybe I hadn't whisked well enough prior to scrambling?

At this point, I'd been stirring for 10 minutes, and I'll admit it, I was getting antsy. The eggs had noticeably thickened, but still remained custard-esque. Was I ever going to eat? Plus, I had to toast my bread, and reach for my goat cheese and herbs. How could I do that while continuously stirring? Ack! Turns out there are benefits to having a small kitchen. It was right after the ten minute mark that I stirred in a dollop of goat cheese. A few minutes later I tossed in the herbs.

And just like that (well, someone might have turned the heat up a smidge), they were done. Curdy and shiny. I took the pan off the heat and kept stirring. When the toast was ready, I spread the eggs on top and enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I have to admit, the first time J. and I drove by here, we scoffed at the NY-named bar and subway tile look--cheeseball. However, Bowery's location between our two employers made it a convenient place to meet for an after-work drink without resorting to a more club-like Hollywood venue, and I'm glad we did.

It's a long, narrow space with lots of mirrors. The large front window opens wide to the street, alternately providing fresh air or cigarette smoke. Two tvs above the bar, which normally annoys me, but it works here, perhaps because they're so high and the sound is off.

I started with some sweet potato fries while I waited for J. It may have been my hunger talking, but these tasted fabulous. Crisp on the outside but sweet and slightly creamy on the inside. They were covered in a generous dusting of salt, but it enhanced, not overwhelmed, the sweet potato flavor.

The dinner menu is short and simple--burger, steak, short ribs. The salads both sounded and looked good as well--the cesar and the mixed greens with goat cheese both passed by our table--the portions appeared large and well-dressed.

I opted for the chicken sandwich and J. orderd the burger with the works (mushrooms, gruyere, bacon, sauteed onions). The chicken was disappointing--though the baguette was crisp and well-buttered, the chicken itself was dry and boring. It came au jus, which unfortunately didn't help--the jus tasted like water colored brown. According to J. the burger was tasty, hard not to be with all the accoutrements. However, it came served on an english muffin??? Huh??? Perhaps a interesting concept, but as J. argued, a concept that should have been nixed the first time the kitchen attempted it, particularly when the burger has lots of toppings.

Overall, a solid place for a drink and a snack. Decent wine list, good beer list (despite the $5 cans of PBR--my Midwest roots are appalled at what hipster Angelenos will pay for Pabst), and nice liquor selection, including a solid collection of scotch. Bowery's proximity to the Arclight will I'm sure lead to more visits from us before or after movies. While we haven't eaten at Bowery's neighbor, Magnolia, we have had drinks there and much prefer the space (and service) at Bowery.

6268 Sunset Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 465-3400

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Wonder of Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is just one of the many culinary reasons I love southern California. Its produce sucks, and you can never be sure they won't discontinue your favorite item, but overall, it's brilliant. This pizza dough is but one example. Delicious, yet easy, with plenty of room for creativity (i.e., whatever's in the fridge). Something you can't get anywhere else. Crust turns out crisp, yeasty, and full of herb flavor. F'ing brilliant.