Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Day in DC

9 AM: Market Lunch, Eastern Market
"Bluuuuuuebucks!" shouts the cashier. "An order of Bluuuuuebuuuuuucks!" replies the line cook, and my breakfast was on its way. Blueberry buckwheat pancakes, of course, with real maple syrup and nearly a full ice cream scoop of whipped butter. The bustling Market Lunch counter anchors one end of Eastern Market, Washington's only remaining public market. If you don't order the pancakes, you have to order "The Brick"--egg, cheese and sausage or bacon on a homemade biscuit. Of course, if it's lunch time, you can't pass up the crab cake sandwich--much more crab than cake, this flaky, flavorful patty is the best I've ever had. Lines are long on Saturday morning, but it's well worth the wait. Even if you're full, you must head to the other end of the market and grab some tiny "Toll House" chocolate chip cookies from the bakery; these buttery beauties will wow you. Take a stroll around the outside of the market as well; winter means the local produce is scanty, but the arts and craft tables abound.

12:30 PM Virginia Apples and Cowgirl Creamery Cheese
Back in my hotel room, a working lunch, chomping some crisp Virginia apples and crackers slathered with Cowgirl Creamery Cheese, a California original that just opened a store in downtown DC.

5:00 PM Firefly Lounge
After an afternoon of American portraits and folk art, I need a drink and a snack. The Firefly restaurant and lounge in the Madera Hotel fit the bill. Happy hour specials extend through Saturday night, so all sorts of fun charcuterie items are only $7. I munched on quick cured duck breast with roasted apples while sipping a bracing Manhattan (not on special-a whopping $12). Comfy chairs and cozy candles make this an ideal spot to rest after a long day.

6:05 PM Palena
Palena is my favorite restaurant in Washington, though I've only eaten in the bar. Run by Frank Ruta, a former White House chef, this inventive restaurant serves an extremely reasonably priced cafe menu in the bar, but you can also order individual dishes off the main dining room's prix fix menu (no wonder the no-reservation bar fills up immediately upon opening!). I've found the waitstaff to be wonderfully accomadating to solo diners, and the convivial atmosphere usually leads to one or two delightful conversations with my politico neighbors. The $10 burger on a homemade roll is quite famous, though I usually settle on something a bit more adventurous. This time I relaxed with a bowl of richly-rosemary- flavored minestrone and a small portion of gnocchi with a basic ragu. You can't skip desserts here--my ice cream sandwich, with chocolate chocolate chip cookies was a surprisingly adult-like (not too sugary) end to my meal.

Photo credit: Eastern Market photo by SusanNYC; Firefly tree and Palena logo from the restaurant websites.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Pocky Problem

Have ya had Pocky? If you haven't, don't. Unless you're ready to develop an addiction, ignore this Japanese candy/snack. It's dangerously irresistable.

At first bite, you may think, "Eh. What's the big deal?" The chocolate coating's not great, the cracker-like stick isn't salty. It's kinda boring. But then. Then. The package will sit on your kitchen shelf. You'll come home late from work. You'll grab one. You'll grab another. You'll surreptitiously sneak two more. You can't stop. Something sweet after dinner? Grab one, maybe two--they're small. Pretty soon, all you think about is Pocky. Planning your days around trips to Famima! to buy more Pocky. Every night, you rush in the door, head straight for the Pocky pack. Pocky, Pocky, Pocky. Your favorite is the "Men's Pocky" and you worry--can eating too many of these be self-fufilling? Not yet, my friends, not yet.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pinkberry Addicts Can Get Fix in Los Feliz

Not sure who's eating frozen yogurt in this weather, but the latest in the popular Pinkberry chain has opened its doors in Los Feliz. It's on Vermont Ave, east side of the street, a bit north of the restaurant Vermont. Newish Pasadena-area foodblogger Superspark recently tried her first Pinkberry, and has the picture of the carefully-delivered-to-her-home yogurt to prove it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Almonds and Bananas in my Stew

Though my cod stew was rich with fresh ginger, za'atar, and sesame seeds, the almonds and green bananas (in lieu of green plantains) stole the show. The almonds swelled but maintained their crunch, and the bananas added a subtle sweetness. This was the first recipe I've tried from The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Food and Flavors of Africa by chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia, was adopted by a Swedish couple as a child, and grew up eating Scandanavian food, the basis for his well-regarded restaurant, Aquavit. In this cookbook, however, he returns to the land of his birth and the 250 recipes representt a culmination of multiple years of travel across the African continent. It includes dishes from Morrocco to South Africa, Libya to Senegal. I'm often skeptical when anything claims to represent all of Africa, considering its enormous size and diversity, but in this case I think he's done an admirable job, stating clearly in the introduction the impossibility of truly expressing the magnitude of the continent and its cuisine. Also, it's enjoyable to read a celebration of the food and the people of the region, when so much of what we hear about Africa is negative.

The book opens with many spice rubs and mixes, and includes multiple bread recipes (always a favorite of mine), including the toasted peanut bread I made to accompany the stew. Dense and dark, it tastes like natural peanut butter, making it as fine for breakfast as for dinner. The book's photos pop, and I enjoyed the stories interspersed with the recipes, giving the reader a true sense of place.

Cod Stew with Sesame Seeds
Adapted from The Soul of a New Cuisine Serves 4-5

1/2 c. whole almonds
4 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
3 tomatos, roughly chopped
2 tsp. Za'atar
3-4 c. chicken stock, depending how stew vs. soupy you'd like
1 c. canned black beans, rinsed
1 lb cod fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 green bananas or plantains, peeled and diced
1 large handful spinach leaves or other greens
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
juice of two limes

Toast the almonds in large soup pot over low heat, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, stir constantly until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatos, za'atar, chicken stock and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce temperature, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Stir in the beans and the cod, simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the bananas or plantains and the spinach, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for about 10 minutes, until thickened a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and sesame oil in a small saute pan over low heat. Add the sesame seeds and saute, stirring the seeds in the pan, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 5-7 minutes.

Swirl the toasted seeds into the stew, then stir in your lime juice. Add salt to taste.

banana photo by mshades

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Holy Mole

If you're exhausted after a long week of work, walking into Guelaguetza will immediately lift your spirits--the live music, long tables of families celebrating birthdays, smell of mole spices in the air, and of course, the sight of margaritas shaking at the bar.

Guelaguetza has three locations in LA (we visited the one at Olympic/Normandie) and specializes in mole. For those unfamiliar with this Oaxacan treat, it's not "mohl" but "moh-lay". This long-cooked, chili-based, multilayered sauce comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, known as the "land of the seven moles." Ingredients usually include chocolate, roasted nuts, fat of some kind, roasted vegetables, and thickeners such as corn tortillas or plantains. Foodblogger Mattbites recently made his own mole, quite the project.

At Guelaguetza you can get red, yellow, green or black mole. Everyone gets to try the red-it comes slathered on a complimentary plate of fresh tortilla chips. The sweetish sauce gets a kick from the fiery green salsa served on the side. We cleared our portion in no time, and the waiter happily brought us more.

Though the expansive menu includes many non-mole related dishes, I had to try another, so I went with the enmoladas, three fresh corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, drowning in black mole. They come with your choice of meat on the side (really, on the top). My cecina (pork cutlet) was nothing to write home about, but it was a fine vehicle for devouring more of the addictive mole. Smoky and chocolate, a tad bitter and spicy too, I couldn't get enough of it.

Small but potent margaritas rounded out our evening (J ate the carnitas--large bone-in chunks of fried pork with tortillas, rice and beans), though we eyed with envy the tequila shots at the table next to us. We joined in a few rounds of Cumpleanos Feliz (Happy Birthday), then made our way out into the night. We passed up the chance to buy some mole to take home--we couldn't imagine having nearly as much fun in our kitchen alone.

3014 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006-2516
(213) 427-0608
There's a parking lot in back, but there's also ample street parking
Photo by Justin

Visiting Guelaguetza means I get to cross another spot off my to-eat list. Here's the latest below--I've added a couple thanks to Tableau Vivant and Melting Wok. If you have recommendations, let me know and if I haven't already visited, I'll add them. They've gotta be east of La Cienega and not too $$.

The 2007 Erin's Kitchen Cheap To-Eat List (in no particular order)

Angeli Caffe (thx, Gastronomy 101)
Annapurna (thx, Kalyn's Kitchen--it's not east, but she's not a local, so it counts)
Casa Diaz (via Taco Hunt)
China Islamic (thx, Chez Shoes)
El Huarache Azteca (thx, Chez Shoes)
Food Garden Restaurant (thx, Melting Wok)
Golden Deli (thx, Anon)
Guelaguetza (via myself)
Halal Tandoori (via Eating LA)
J & J Restaurant (thx, LA-OC Foodie)
La Curva (via Foodie Universe)
Los Balcones de Peru (via All Kinds of Yum)
Noshi Sushi (thx, Rachael)
Paris Baguette (via LA Ritz)
Shin Sen Gumi Ramen (thx, Tableau Vivant)
Soot Bull Jeep (via Colleen Cuisine)
Zeke's Smokehouse (via Best of LA)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Five Reasons to Love Lucques

Though I've cooked from the book and snacked at the bar, until my birthday earlier this week I'd never had a proper dinner at celebrated chef Suzanne Goin's first LA spot, Lucques. Here are the top 5 reasons the dinner rocked (thanks J!):

1) A perfect start, part I: drinking the bar's well-made sidecar, with a dash of vanilla and some fresh squeezed citrus.

2) A perfect start, part II: the small dish of the restaurant's namesake olives and oven-roasted, olive oil slicked almonds delivered to your table delights with rich flavors and satisfying crunch, and the intimate act of eating with your fingers sets the mood.

3) The farmers' names show up on the menu: those crosnes I mentioned earlier this week, from the Weiser farm stand? Listed as "Alex's crosnes" in the description of the rabbit dish I ate.

4) Cozy, cozy, cozy: the fireplace, the booth seating, the warm wood, the scented-but- not-stinky candles in the bathroom. LA's cold snap conquered!

5) The complex, layered, comforting dishes: every bite of my rustic and hearty stuffed saddle of rabbit warmed me to my toes. Similarly, my white bean and wild nettle soup toasted my insides while tickling my nose with its peppery bite.

For a more detailed report on dining at Lucques, check out fellow foodblogger A Finger in Every Pie. Update: also check out Monster Munching for a report with pictures!

For those of you not celebrating a special occasion but wanting to sample the Lucques magic, visit the bar after 9:30 PM for its late-night menu, including a marvelous steak frites and a decadent grilled cheese sandwich with roasted shallots.

8474 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Buddha's Hand

It's creepy food week here at Erin's Kitchen.* I got my buddha's hand ("fo-shou" in Chinese; "bushukan" in Japanese) from the jolly Jim Churchill at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Churchill is one of the many citrus growers facing severe losses after the recent cold snap; he was even sharing pictures of his attempts to save his fruit.

Buddha's hand was likely the first citrus fruit known in Europe, and is sometimes given as an offering in Buddhist temples. It holds very little flesh, but the thick peel is not bitter, therefore you can use the entire thing as you would zest or lemon peel. Mine currently perfumes my kitchen with its musky lemony smell, but I have plans to candy it later this week. I'm also intrigued by buddha's hand jam and buddha's hand fruit cocktail.

**I've taken to putting the buddha's hand up my sleeve and pretending its my own then teasing my cats--because I'm that enlightened, ya know.

A NOTE ON PHOTOS: My camera is still MIA, so I've been taking advantage of flickr and the Creative Commons license. Many of the photos I've been using for the past few weeks are licensed under Creative Commons and I'm using them in accordance with the license rules.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Crazy, Crispy Crosnes

crosnes in their natural French habitat, photo by charleebrown

First, it gave me colorful cauliflower. Then, gonzo spinach. Now the Weiser Family Farm stand at the Hollywood market has dazzled me with crosnes: a tiny bulbous tuber from the mint family.

Crosnes (the french name) or Chorogi (the Japanese name) can be eaten raw or cooked like a potato. I agree with a fellow foodblogger that when chomped raw they're reminiscent of jicama, though not as moist and with a bit of a bitter aftertaste. I sauteed mine in butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper, for about 5 minutes--as they cook the bitterness disappears but the crunch remains.

They aren't cheap--$16/pound. Also, I will admit the shape gives me a tinge of the creeps--they remind me of albino slugs. Definitely worth a taste, however; the Weiser stand is on the north end of the Hollywood market, east side of the street.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nick and Stef's Steakhouse

"Yeeeargggghhh...touchdown!" yelled the guy at the bar as J and I walked in to Nick and Stef's Steakhouse in our philharmonic-going finest. We were planning to grab a quick but elegant snack before taking in some Mahler at the Walt Disney Concert Hall--we'd forgotten the TVs in the bar at this downtown temple of beef, and didn't realize the ample bar menu doesn't exist on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Oh well. We had already parked in the bowels of the skyscraper, and the nearest alternative was much farther away than we wanted to walk in LA's bone-chilling (okay, 4o something degrees, but still!) cold. Twist our arm, we'll order off the regular menu and eat some meat. The dry-aged, midwestern corn-fed steaks here have nothin' on our recent Argentinian grass-fed behemoths, but J's petit filet mignon was more than passable. My tender, moist kurobata pork chop sat atop creamy, tangy not-from-a-can white beans and cubes of bacon and disappeared quickly, amid bites of our shared sides--creamed spinach (eh) and roasted new potatos (hard to go wrong).

The Nick and Stef's ideal, however, is a weeknight happy hour (warning: you may think you're in Washington, DC, what with all the white guys in blue button down shirts) -- bartenders here make a mean martini and the bar menu includes delish mini-hamburgers sold for song at $2.

NOTES: Don't be alarmed if your waiter brings you a bottle of sparkling water you didn't ask for. They don't charge ya for it (I don't know whatcha do if you like flat). Also, be sure to get your parking ticket validated, or you'll pay a ridiculous amount and feel like a dope. Not that I know or anything.

Fellow LA foodblogger, The Delicious Life, recently went to Nick and Stef's too.
Nick and Stef's Steakhouse
330 S. Hope St
Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, January 13, 2007

China + Islam = Crazy Delicious

Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, home to one of the largest Chinese-American populations in the country, is like a treasure hunt--around every corner you can find a delicious surprise, but you need good clues to get you to the right places. My latest clue came from Chez Shoes and her recommendation of China Islamic in Rosemead, and boy did she steer us in a fabulous direction (more on Chinese Islamic cuisine).

Last night J and I feasted on a heap of nang (unleavened sesame-scallion bread), spicy-salty chicken, three flavors wonton soup, and lamb mu shu. The steaming bowl of soup was our favorite--laced with thin strips of chicken, lamb, carrots and bamboo shots, dappled with bobbing shrimp, pea pods and wontons--its robust broth was perfect for a cold Los Angeles night.

Muslims don't eat pork, so lamb takes its place in many dishes on the menu. Our waiter kindly and expertly rolled our delightful lamb mu shu pancakes, spreading just the right amount of sweet plum sauce on the inside. The sesame scallion bread, unfortunately, was not well-matched with the dishes we ordered. I had read reviews explaining that you'd use the bread in lieu of rice. Had we ordered more saucy dishes that didn't have their own delivery systems (e.g. soup bowl, mu shu pancake), it would have worked well, but on it's own it's a little blah.

Another treat here is the tea--the aromatic brew is flavored with a smidge of orange flower water, a musky, mysterious smell that you'll want to breath in deeply.

China Islamic
7727 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA 91770-3003

Visiting China Islamic means I get to cross another spot off my to-eat list. Here's the latest below--I've added one thanks to LA-OC Foodventures. If you have recommendations, let me know and if I haven't already visited, I'll add them. They've gotta be east of La Cienega and not too $$.

The 2007 Erin's Kitchen Cheap To-Eat List (in no particular order)

Angeli Caffe (thx, Gastronomy 101)
Annapurna (thx, Kalyn's Kitchen--it's not east, but she's not a local, so it counts)
Casa Diaz (via Taco Hunt)
China Islamic (thx, Chez Shoes)
El Huarache Azteca (thx, Chez Shoes)
Golden Deli (thx, Anon)
Gueleguetza (via myself)
Halal Tandoori (via Eating LA)
J & J Restaurant (thx, LA-OC Foodie)
La Curva (via Foodie Universe)
Los Balcones de Peru (via All Kinds of Yum)
Noshi Sushi (thx, Rachael)
Paris Baguette (via LA Ritz)
Soot Bull Jeep (via Colleen Cuisine)
Zeke's Smokehouse (via Best of LA)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fresh Fennel Chips

photo by yearofeats used under Creative Commons license

Next time you're using fresh fennel bulbs, make this tasty treat to enjoy while you cook. First, cut a few very thin slices of fennel. Place on plate. Drizzle with a slug of good olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Sprinkle with a coarse salt, like Maldon Sea Salt. Then crunch, crunch, crunch. I learned this technique from my HipCooks class ages ago and its one of my favorite snacks.

Fellow foodblogger Cookthink has an excellent guide on how to prep and use fennel (via Columbus Foodie).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Casa Diaz and the 2007 LA List

Casa Diaz carnitas tacos. Photo courtesy of The Great Taco Hunt.

A few days ago, I asked y'all to help me get outta my dining rut. Between your comments and a perusual of my fellow LA foodbloggers, I've got a list of low-end, east-ish, new-to-me joints to get me started. The goal? Trying at least one of these every couple weeks until the list runs out. I'll keep ya updated on the progress, and if you have places for me to add, please list them in the comments.

The striver that I am, I've already crossed one of the list: Casa Diaz, a taco spot down the street. While the James Beard awarded two-blocks-away Yuca's is my standby, the Great Taco Hunt has convinced me to expand my horizons. Like Yuca's, Casa Diaz has a jolly matron to take your orders. Unlike Yuca's, the menu here includes fried bananas with black beans and sour cream--a dish I can't refuse--as well as agua frescas like tamarindo. A generous plate of the fried fruits, plus two carnitas tacos, only $1.25 each, drizzled with a spicy red salsa and thin avocado sauce, made my Saturday afternoon quite sunny.

The 2007 Erin's Kitchen Cheap To-Eat List (in no particular order)

Angeli Caffe (thx, Gastronomy 101)
Annapurna (thx, Kalyn's Kitchen--it's not east, but she's not a local, so it counts)
Casa Diaz (via Taco Hunt)
China Islamic (thx, Chez Shoes)
El Huarache Azteca (thx, Chez Shoes)
Golden Deli (thx, Anon)
Gueleguetza (via myself)
Halal Tandoori (via Eating LA)
La Curva (via Foodie Universe)
Los Balcones de Peru (via All Kinds of Yum)
Noshi Sushi (thx, Rachael)
Paris Baguette (via LA Ritz)
Soot Bull Jeep (via Colleen Cuisine)
Zeke's Smokehouse (via Best of LA)

Update: Secret Zankou Garlic Sauce

Thanks to the comments of themirthmobile of Things that Make You Go Yum, I've discovered that intrepid chowhounders have attempted to recreate the Zankou sauce themselves. For those of you not in SoCal, that may be the way to go, though if you live here, I'd say just pony up the cash and buy some extra on your next Zankou trip.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Gonna Take You for a Real Good Meal**

If you live in LA, (I hope) this isn't a newsflash: Zankou Chicken rocks. But did you know that the original Zankou was opened in Lebanon in 1964? Or that one of the original owners shot and killed his sister, mom and then himself in 2003? Whoa.

Anyway, murders aside, Zankou's chicken chawerma plate sits high on the list of Erin's LA favorites. You gotta get the plate, because it's about the whole package--the warm pitas, the rich, creamy hummus, the tahini (sesame) sauce, and of course the garlic paste. For merely 50 cents, you can get an extra garlic paste to take with ya--keep it in your fridge and you can pleasantly transform boring weeknight meals into fabulousness.

My favorite location is the original--corner of Sunset and Normandie. Some on the review site Yelp have labeled this the "ghetto"--um, no. The only risk you'll run here is that of potent garlic breath. Have fun!

Zankou Chicken
5065 W Sunset Blvd
corner of Normandie and Sunset
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Click here for info on other locations

**Check out Beck's song Debra for some Zankou Chicken love

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hail Cesar

Last night I had cauliflower and I liked it. That's the power of Cesar, a tapas bar with locations in Berkeley and Oakland: turning cauliflower haters around.

The crisp fried cauliflower with spicy salsa rojo and lush salsa verde is just one of many delicious treats I've savored in my four trips to this convivial spot. It was founded by three Chez Panisse alums, so the food is always seasonal and made with high quality ingredients. Case in point: the bright orange, mint and black olive salad Jess and I shared last night, drizzled with a fragrant, snappy olive oil.

Also, the Cesar martini ranks as my favorite cocktail right now: vodka with a teeny splash of pastis. The hint of licorice in the ice cold vodka perks ya up and primes your palate. Not that it needs much encouragement here--just looking at the menu gets me going.

Try to grab a seat at the bar or the communal tables at either location--chatting with your neighbors and glimpsing their orders will certainly lead to trying new dishes--maybe even something you think you hate, like cauliflower!

Bar Cesar

4039 Piedmont Avenue
Daily 11:30am to midnight

1515 Shattuck Avenue
Daily noon to midnight

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hello Los Angeles, Remember Me?

Nothing better than an LA sunset

Considering that the Los Angeles Times was kind enough to include Erin's Kitchen in its round-up of LA foodblogs this week, I think I need to stop my travelling and give my city some love and attention.

To do that, I need your help. I'm in a dining-out rut, frequenting the same old spots. Of course, I've got a zillion places I'd love to try, but when it's Friday night, 9 pm, and I'm are starving, do any of them come to mind? No way. So--I'm gonna keep the "to try" list on the fridge, and no more return trips to the Hungry Cat until every last new-to-me place is crossed off. So far, Guelaguetza (Oaxacan moles) and Soot Bull Jeep (Korean BBQ) top the list. My requirements for the list are simple--must be new to me, must be low-to-mid-range in price, no further west than La Cienega, and it must remind me why living and eating in LA can be so fantastic.

Dearest Los Angeles readers, what should come next on my list? Post your ideas and links in the comments, and I'll post my final list in a few days, and update y'all on my adventures.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Meyer Lemon Bites

Eureka on the Left, Meyer to the Right: photo by Wayne Surber

Meyer lemons--another "not until I came to LA" delight. These mild and sweet lemons have begun their annual appearance at the farmers' market, and if you Californians take an afternoon ramble around the block, I bet you'll find a Meyer lemon tree or two in your neighborhood.

Their smooth, dark yellow-ornage skin gives them away, as does their (usually) squat, circular shape. Their peels tend to be softer and less thick than your regular lemons. They were first discovered in China, and scientists believe they are a hybrid of a regular lemon and a mandarin or orange. Due to their sweetness, I like my Meyers in desserts, but they can work in savory recipes as well, but not as well in things that should be acidic, like vinaigrettes.

Some recipes I want to try include preserved Meyer lemons, Meyer lemon black pepper icebox cookies, Meyer lemon martini, and the very intriguing Meyer lemon pizza. For even more on these special citrus fruits, check out Cooking with Amy's All About Meyer Lemons.

On to my New Year's Day creation. Take a recipe for lemon bars, a mini-muffin pan, and viola. They're so small, no one will know you've already broken your resolutions by baking them.

Meyer Lemon Bites

3/4 c. flour
3 tbsp. powdered sugar
3/4 of a stick of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 tbsp. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
2 tbsp. fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tsp. finely grated Meyer lemon zest
powdered sugar for sifting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 24-count mini-muffin pan.

For the crust
Whisk the flour and sugar in a medium bowl to combine. Using a pastry mixer or your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Using your fingertips, press about 1/2 tbsp. of dough in each mini-muffin cup, filling about 1/3 of each cup. Bake for about 10 minutes, until tops are pale gold.

For the filling
While the crust is baking, blend the eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Blend in the flour, sugar and baking powder until thoroughly combined (iIf you're not lazy like me, you can mix the dry ingredients together in a seperate bowl before adding to the lemon mix. I didn't want to dirty another bowl).

Add a few spoonfuls of lemon mixture to each mini-muffin cup. You can fill them quite full--they don't rise much. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool about 10 minutes in pan, then remove to rack. When completely cool, sift powdered sugar over the top.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Chocolate Mint Pot de Creme

chopped chocolate photo by Santos.

Deep down, J and I are antisocial homebodies (not that deep if you ask our families, I'm sure). Example: our first New Year's eve together, I had just returned from a semester abroad in Zimbabwe, and he had made reservations at a fancy-schmancy joint in Iowa City. I sheepishly asked my not-quite-yet boyfriend to cancel the plans and could we make dinner together at his apartment instead? Little did I know, J was happy as a clam to stay inside, and we enjoyed a lovely eggplant parmesan.

It's since become something of a tradition for us to ring in the New Year with a home cooked feast for two, a quality champagne, and a movie rental. Last night was no exception and we puttered most of the evening away in the kitchen--roasting herb-encrusted lamb, concocting a cannelini bean gratin, savoring a delicate salad of roast beets, clementines, mint and a hint of orange-flower water.

The star of the low-key show was dessert: chocolate mint pot de creme--a fancy way to say deep, dark, dense chocolate pudding. Not wanting to make another run to the store, we settled for pots du "half and half", which worked just fine--I can't imagine it could get that much creamier without giving you a heart attack.

Chocolate Mint Pot de Creme for Two
adapted from "The Herbal Kitchen" by Jerry Traunfeld

1 cup and 2 tbsp. half and half
handful peppermint leaves
3 1/2 oz. high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used E. Guittard)
3 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place two 1 cup oven-safe ramekins in a large lidded baking or roasting pan (I used a roasting pan).

Bring the half and half to a full boil in a small saucepan. Remove pan from heat and gently stir in the peppermint leaves. Cover and steep for 10 minutes.

Put the chocolate in a medium saucepan and melt slowly over low heat (if you're worried about burning the chocolate, use the metal-pan-over-simmering-water method). When chocolate is melted, remove saucepan from heat. Gently whisk in the egg yolks and sugar.

Slowly strain the half and half into the chocolate mixture, adding about 1/4 c. at a time, whisking gently until incorporated before adding more. You should have a smooth, fairly liquid custard when all of the half and half is added.

Carefully ladle your chocolate custard ino the ramekins, leaving about 1/2-1 inch headspace (you may have a little left over). Put the dish holding the custards into the oven, pour about 1 inch hot water into it, and cover. Bake until the custards are just set, 20-25 minutes.

According to Jerry Traunfeld, author of The Herbal Kitchen, "They [the custards] should jiggle like very loose Jell-O when you move them, but they will not be liquid in the center."

Once out of the oven, let the custards cool, uncovered, in the water bath for 10 minutes. Then remove them from the bath and refrigerate until cold. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if ya like.