The Hungry Cat, Santa Barbara

My mom and her friend, Katie were in town last week. Mom was hell bent on seeing Michael Pollan speak at UCSB, so that's what we did. 8pm, Saturday night, Santa Barbara... But where to eat beforehand? This decision actually had me dithered out for a few days. I am not that familiar with Santa Barbara. I have only driven past it on the way to Los Olivos with the exception of one afternoon, last Summer, where I did tool around the city on a bit of a driving tour. But we moved onto Ojai by dinnertime. I heard of a fantastic taco stand which actually sounded like a really cool idea. However about halfway through the drive there in rush hour traffic on the 101 I realized wherever we were to dine I was going to need at least one glass of wine. The taco stand idea wasn't going to work. Then I remembered that the good, ole Hungry Cat had opened up a sister restaurant in Santa Barbara. Fresh seafood in an oceanside town, great wine list, in a central location, perfect. So we programed our little GPS (whch Mom and Katie named Serena) to guide us to our meal and that - ever growing with importance - glass of wine (or two).

The Hungry Cat here in LA is good. Wonderful, fresh oysters, innovative and seasonal menu, great wine list, and ZERO ambiance. In fact while we were dining there once my mom commented that she felt as though she was IN an oyster. It's very cold, hard and sterile. A lot of concrete. But the food and the cocktails (made with top shelf liquor and fresh squeezed juices and fruit) make it a worthwhile destination regardless. The Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara is another world altogether. It's lovely! In an old building on a corner lot, lots of (casement) windows, beautiful lighting, and much more intimate, this Hungry Cat was already the perfect choice.

We began the way I always begin at The Hungry Cat - with a dozen mixed, raw oysters on the half shell. They always have very fine and fresh oysters and tonight was no different. I could easily have a meal of only dozens of oysters and wine. Yum. I noticed on the fruits of the sea platters there was sea urchin (Uni is my most favorite item to order at sushi) but it was nowhere else on the menu. After inquiring I learned that for a mere $16 a sea urchin could be mine to enjoy! I've never had it served any way except over rice, wrapped in nori. Wow. This crazy, spindly, imposing creature appeared in front of me served over ice with house-made crackers, lemon and sea salt. It was so fresh and so delicate - such a contrast with it's armored and dangerous exterior - so decadent, so wonderful. Also such an experience! Both my mom and her friend, Katie were fascinated and impressed, had never had sea urchin before. I am so Team Sea Urchin...

I paired the oysters and the sea urchin with a glass of Chateau Durasse Bordeaux Blanc ($38, $9) which was nice if a little powerful for the food it accompanied (I should have just had a glass of prosecco or Sancerre).

I then ordered the grilled flatbread, smoked veal and confit tuna remoloulade ($15), my mom had the local halibut ($12) and Katie ordered the famed Pug burger ($14). Honestly my flatbreads were kind of heavy, salty and oily, Mom's halibut was fresh and delicious but the portion was tiny - almost a sashimi-style presentation. Katie's Pug burger was great. It's really a fantastic burger - enormous, and served with avocado, bacon & blue cheese. This burger, named after chef - owner David Lentz's dog, Pug, is hugely popular and has received much press as one of the best burgers in LA.

We all enjoyed our experience and our food quite a bit. I still think The Hungry Cat is most ideal for raw bar items and cocktails, but this branch in Santa Barbara has the ambiance factor down as well.

The Hungry Cat
1134 Chapala St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 884-4701



My mom and the Meyer lemon tree.

I recently noticed I have a Meyer lemon tree growing in my yard. I'm not as dense as that makes me sound. I just moved into a new house a few months ago that has a lot of grounds and quite a few nooks and crannies. I did notice the lemon tree at first but as it's not really in my daily path, kind of forgot about it. Then one day I needed a lemon and remembered... the lemon tree! Then when I went out to it I looked closely and saw it was Meyer lemon tree. I was elated! Even more exciting is that right now is smack in the middle of Meyer lemon season. Bliss. Big, grandiose plans, ideas churning, thinking cap on. Meyer lemon ice cream or Meyer lemon tart a la Alice Waters? A steamed artichoke with a Meyer lemon aioli? Meyer lemonade? 

So many choices. So many lemons.

Before I could realize this romantic notion of spending two days straight dressed in my cozies, listening to jazz in the kitchen, with the lemons and my elaborate plans for them, my mom came to town. Not to make Mom coming to town sound ominous in any way - she actually loves to cook and bake and we even had plans to bake bread while she was here.
After settling in, some shopping, and some Chateau Marmont time we hit the Sunday market and settled in for a day of KITCHEN.

On a very rainy Sunday night, with myself having suddenly fallen all sicky, icky, coldy and fluey (and I never get sick, seriously) we baked the bread which turned out fantastic, I prepared bacon-wrapped dates for noshing, some sauteed kale, and a roast chicken with fennel and Meyer lemon. Some friends flitted in and out during the cooking and eating (everyone loves my mom) and we all had a snuggly, cozy, rainy, Sunday night filled with food, friends and family. Everything was delicious.

After Mom left to return home (with the bug she caught from me) I threw what was left of the chicken into a pot and made a wonderful stock that put me on the path to wellness. This dish is truly one that keeps on giving.

Roast Chicken with Meyer lemons

1 small chicken (4 pounds), washed and dried
4 Meyer lemons, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced thinly crosswise
8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper


About an hour ahead, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice 2 of the lemons paper thin with a knife or a mandoline. With your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the meat on the bird. Insert 5 or 6 lemon slices underneath the skin. Put any unused slices and the ends of the lemons into the cavity, and rub the salt over the chicken.

Cut the remaining 2 lemons into 8 wedges and scatter them in the bottom of a shallow baking pan with the fennel and garlic. Place the chicken on top of the fruit and vegetable-ness. Pour the olive oil over the bird, then season with a few grinds of black pepper.

Roast chicken in the oven for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and roast for about 20 minutes longer, or until the meat is firm, the skin is golden, and the juices run clear (a thermometer placed into the thickest part of the bird will register 165 degrees). The vegetables and fruit will have started to caramelize.

Let rest 15 minutes, then serve with the roasted lemons and fennel.
"We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons." ~Alfred E. Newman


Koraku Restaurant

Dixon and I had a hankering for some Japanese noodles last week. We headed to Little Tokyo where we were really excited to try out Daikokuya. Sadly, they were closed that evening to celebrate the Japanese New Year. We poked our heads in a little saloon a couple of doors down to have some sake, regroup, and perhaps get some advice from the locals for a backup plan. We were advised to check out Koraku for the ramen - and on our way we went.

Before I continue let me state that neither Dixon nor myself are connoisseurs of ramen world but are rather beginning our exploration and education.
I quite liked the interior and it's ambiance - open kitchen, orange, vinyl booths, 70's wood paneling - a little dingy and totally charming.

We started with the hakusai tsukemono (Japanese style pickled nappa cabbage) ($2.75) to start followed by the goyza ($4.25). The hakusai tsukemono was refreshing, crisp and perfectly pickled in a light rice vinegar. The gyoza were tasty but a little oily - I prefer them a bit crispier.
hakusai tsukemono


My big-bowl-of-noodles-choice was the shoyu ramen. The ramen is in pork based soy sauce soup with seasoned bamboo shoots, a piece of hard boiled egg, bean sprouts and two slices of pork. The ramen itself was a decent and chewy egg noodle that was absolutely delicious. The broth was somewhat uninteresting and one dimensional.

Dixon however hit gold with his choice, the gekikara miso yasai ramen ($8.25). Full of beef, egg shreds and vegetables, this was hearty and spicy - just the right amount of burn while the miso provided a velvet texture.

We had some cold sake and a big Sapporo with our meal - and a hundred glasses of water with Dixon's dish! The servers were sweet, responsive and helpful, the food came out swiftly, the prices were right. I was pleasantly surprised with our almost - arbitrary restaurant selection this evening and anticipate returning to explore more of the items on the menu.

Take note:

They are open until 3am
Cash only

Koraku Restaurant
314 E. 2nd St.
Los Angeles 90013



I miss the South right now, y'all.

Although I now tout myself as a Southern Californian I sometimes forget that I was born and raised in the South - the Capital of the Confederacy, the Old Dominion - Richmond, Virginia. 

I was raised by two culinary talents, both with their distinct (and very disparate) kitchen super powers. While Dad embraced the 80's haute cuisine scene with meals like seared swordfish steaks over broken rice and schezwan string beans , Mom went the way of the almost Asian macrobiotic. Honestly I don't even know what was in some of those dishes of hers - I know we jokingly referred to some item as "babydoll" as it seemed similar in texture to the rubber from which dolls are made, and "wet dog" - bulgur. But don't get me wrong, there were excellent things too. She is a fantastic cook and baker (and it is near impossible to be both).

All of their fads aside they both had their Southern staples passed down from generations - people who turned cooking from hard work to creative work. It's also interesting to note that the South created the only cuisine in this country.

Sometimes I miss the comfort of home and my family - eating fresh mint on the front stoop with Dad while he waters the yard and chats with the neighbors in the Spring, the most perfect Falls with all the trees turning to bright oranges, reds and yellows in symphonic unison, Winters waking up to a pink sky in the middle of the night and knowing I will awaken to snow in the morning (no school!), late-Summer afternoon thunderstorms and cicadas singing for the sunset, tubing down the James River, Hanover tomatoes, real barbecue (Los Angeles just can't seem to get it right)... Wow. 

This is when I can call either of them for recipes for cheese grits, tomato aspic, oyster stew, pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, fried chicken livers, creamed chipped beef on toast, sausage biscuits, Brunswick stew, Aunt Babe's mashed potatoes, crab cakes, spoon bread, apple crisp, etc., all of which they are able to tell me right off the top of their heads. I imagine it gives them as much pleasure sharing these recipes, their history and pride as it does for me to prepare and eat them.

Oyster Stew
Makes 4 Servings

A couple of weeks ago I called both Mom and Dad within an hour of each other for this recipe. As expected they were each prepared to relay it to me, and of course they differed ever so slightly. Mom kept it pretty simple and succinct while Dad had to throw brie and Worcestershire sauce in. This is the version I prepared with a few of my own ideas. It turned out to be fantastic.
Serve with crusty bread and a smooth, hearty red wine, perhaps a Margaux or a Bordeaux.


4 Tablespoons butter
2 pints shucked oysters including their liquor
1 teaspoon grated onion (I used a zester to almost liquify the onion)
1/4 cup of brie (with the rind removed)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
1 Tablespoon of cream or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley (or chives)


In a heavy pot over medium-low heat sauté onion in butter.

Add oysters with their liquor, milk, cream, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. 

Add brie in small pieces and stir until it dissolves.

When the oysters float, the butter has melted and the milk and cream are hot.

Garnish with parsley or chives and serve immediately.

Printable Recipe

"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?" ~Lin Yutang

Let's talk some Savoy Cabbage

I was listening to Good Food this morning on KCRW and was very interested in Mark Peel's (chef-owner of Campanile restaurant) chat about the super-in-season-right-now, Savoy Cabbage.

Idea #1. He slices the cabbage into ribbons, chiffonade style, about the slice of cole slaw, and sautés it with garlic and onions in olive oil. Once it's softened, he suggests that you can add 2 quarts of chicken stock to make a soup. You can also add cubed potatoes, chopped carrots and fresh noodles.

Idea #2. If you want to eat the savoy cabbage as a side dish, sauté the cabbage, onions and garlic and thin slices of apple until softened. Add salt and pepper to taste. (or even try the recipe with kale...)

One can find savoy cabbage and other fresh and in-season delectables at the Hollywood Farmer's Market or any of the other great markets around town.

* Fun fact time!
What distinguishes California's certified farmers’ markets from supermarkets is that the former are operated in accordance with regulations established in 1977 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. In order to pass muster as a CFM, the county agricultural commissioner must certify that farmers sell only agricultural products they grow themselves. Certification does not imply produce is organic, though some CFMs may tout “organically grown” produce and some, like the Berkeley CFM, pride themselves on their abundance of organic produce. In California, the use of the term organic is restricted by law to crops grown on lands where no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers have been applied in the previous three years. (From VIA Magazine March, 2000)

Welcome to the Church of the Holy Cabbage. Lettuce pray. ~Author Unknown


Suehiro Cafe

My frequent dining companion, Dixon, a mutual friend of ours and I went downtown last night to see Point Break, LIVE!, the absurdist stage adaptation of the 1992 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze extravaganza (don't ask).

We figured since we were downtown and it was a bit later than than the normal dinner hour that Suehiro Cafe was the perfect choice. I had been to Suehiro a handful of times but not in several years. I would find myself there late at night with a group of people after a couple of cocktails and an art opening or two. My memories of it were good but blurry to say the least.

Suehiro is essentially a diner with vinyl booths, be-aproned waitresses and simple, Japanese comfort food. It draws a loyal group--Little Tokyo locals, museum/Gallery Row patrons, artists from the loft districts nearby, and even the post bar-closing crowd (Suehiro is open until 1am during the week and until 3am on the weekends). There are usually one or two people waiting in front of the Please Wait to be Seated sign but tables turn quickly, there is often room at the bar, and the two servers regularly working are very fast, kind and accommodating.

Last night I ordered the
Okonomi Plate ($9.60) which is served with rice and miso soup. With this dish one may select one item from three lists.
For example:

Column A:
-Ginger Beef -Pork or Chicken Katsu -Broiled Saba (Mackerel) or Sanma (Saury)
Column B:
-Gyoza -Shumai -Edamame or Natto
Column C:
-Cold Tofu -Lightly Boiled Spinach -Two Eggs Over Easy

I chose the broiled Saba, shumai and cold tofu
It was presented on an actual compartmentalized cafeteria-like plate along with macaroni salad and a shredded cabbage salad.

The miso soup was very well executed with abura-age -- a nice surprise to the soft tofu one normally finds in this dish. My Saba was a definite highlight, marinated in soy glaze and broiled masterfully. I just love the saturated, crispy under skin paired up with a dollop of daikon. 

The cold tofu was exactly what one would expect and did not disappoint. I only craved a bit more saltiness in it, perhaps some ponzu or soy. It's topped with grated ginger, green onion and bonito flakes. Simple. Absolute. The shumai was steamed superbly and very tender but was wholly unremarkable in my opinion. I found that adding a tiny drop of the extremely spicy mustard helped bring some intrigue to it. The two salads that accompany the meal are very strange, unexpected and fun. I am admittedly a big macaroni salad fan and somehow - in this wacky little Japanese diner - this wacky little accoutrement is a delicious adornment in it's ideal place.

Dixon ordered the Combination Plate of sashimi and tempura ($14.00). The tempura was deftly prepared - light and crisp; melted in my mouth. He particularly liked the pepper. The sashimi is cut thick, and is very fresh (it is "chef's choice" but always tuna). This is also served with miso soup, rice, shredded cabbage salad, macaroni salad, daikon, pickled cucumber, and your choice of ice cream for dessert. We opted for both the green tea and red bean.

Our friend also ordered the Combination plate but with chicken teriyaki and sashimi and was very much pleased. We paired our meal with a couple of large Sapporos as they offer a large beer and sake selection. People are always fond of their Ramune as well (A 7 Up like soda, served in a glass bottle with a marble in it).

Lamentably, I forgot to order the House Special - a sweet miso based stir-fry of eggplant and green pepper which is reputed to be a major hit. It's slightly premature to be writing this review never having had the noodles, which ostensibly make Suehiro a destination point for many. The menu offers soba, udon, unagidon, shoyu ramen, katsu curry, suriyaki, gyoza, and much more. I've even heard rumor that they've got the best katsu-don found outside of Japan. I promise to visit again very soon and order a cross section of said items with words to follow. With prices like theirs I could probably order it all and still not break the bank.

Suehiro has good food, a homey feel, solid service and amazing value. I don't have a Japanese mommy, but if so I imagine the food would be like this.

Suehiro Cafe
337 E. First St.
(213) 626-9132



Michael Pollan Speaks!

How very special that Michael Pollan will be speaking at University of California, Santa Barbara on Thursday, January 17, 2008 @ 8:00 PM, Campbell Hall. I think my mom and I will be attending while she's visiting me here in sunny California for a spell. Let's all go!
Michael Pollan is the author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, to be published in January 2008 by The Penguin Press. His previous books include The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post; The Botany of Desire; Second Nature; and A Place of My Own, pictured here. Pollan is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and is a Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Click here for information and to buy tickets

Ricotta Puddings with Glazed Rhubarb

So I have made this dish once before when I was hell bent on using every ounce of the rhubarb (which I had never cooked with before) that I had purchased at the farmer's market. I have to say that out of the multiple rhubarb variations I tinkered with, including a balsamic rhubarb compote, this was my biggest success. I plan on revisiting it around April when the rhubarb season returns.

Ricotta Puddings with Glazed Rhubarb
(from Gourmet May, 2006)

Makes 6 dessert servings.
You will need a muffin pan (preferably nonstick) with 6 (1/2-cup) muffin cups

(for puddings)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta (8 3/4 oz)
1 whole large egg plus 1 large yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons mild honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

(for glazed rhubarb)
31/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 lb fresh rhubarb stalks (about 2), cut diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Make pudding batter:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly oil muffin cups.

Blend together all pudding ingredients in a blender until smooth, then divide batter among muffin cups.

Prepare rhubarb:
Stir together sugar and cornstarch in a 9- to 10-inch glass or ceramic pie plate. Add rhubarb and toss to coat, then spread in one layer.

Bake puddings and rhubarb:
Bake puddings and rhubarb, side by side, carefully turning rhubarb over once halfway through cooking, until puddings are just set and edges are pale golden, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove puddings and rhubarb from oven at the same time. Set rhubarb aside and cool puddings in muffin pan on a rack 5 minutes (puddings will sink slightly).

Run a thin knife around edge of each pudding, then invert a platter over pan and invert puddings onto platter. Transfer puddings, right side up, to plates and serve topped with rhubarb and its juices.


Scarlet Runner Bean Salad

Let me begin by stating that I used dried beans instead of fresh (the recipe calls for fresh if you can find them). I soaked them for three days and then simmered them in water, salt, chicken stock and a chilé de arbol for the better part of a day before allowing them to cool, peeling them, and splitting them lengthwise. After all of this tedium, they still were not the tender creatures I had anticipated. 

But I had never dealt with the scarlet runner bean before. If you can't find this variety of bean I suggest cannellini beans. (Dixon LOVED this recipe!)

This turned out to be pretty tasty. Very fresh and summery. I would serve it with some olives, a crust of bread, and a glass of crisp, sauvignon blanc (I recommend the Brander, 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley).

Scarlet Runner Bean Salad
(From "Unusual Vegetables: Something New for This Years Garden" by the editors of Organic Gardening)

4 Servings

1 lb scarlet runner beans
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 bunch of watercress
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon prepared mustard

Wash the beans, snap off the ends, and French-cut into lengthwise strips. Steam briefly, until just tender; drain thoroughly, and place in a large bowl with the onion, tomatoes, watercress and garlic. Toss well. Combine the remaining ingredients to make a dressing. Pour over the beans, toss well, and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving to blend flavors.

Printable Recipe


A|O|C - I love you.

Let me begin by stating that AOC has been one of my top favorite restaurants in LA since it opened its doors in 2002. Co-owned by Lucques partners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, AOC takes its name from appellation d'origine controlée, the French system governing the origin and authenticity of wines as well as regional foods of quality. The menu (manned by chef Goin) consists of Mediterranean small plates and the wine list (overseen by wine guru and front of the house overseer, Styne) boasts over 50 by the glass in their cruvinet.

I revisited AOC last week with Dixon after at least a six month absence. We always like to sit at the wine bar where we can go at it a bit more casually, graze, taste lots of wines and chat with the knowledgeable and conversant bartenders.

The menu is divided into six sections.

It is suggested that you should order approximately three dishes per person.

One cheese ($5)
Three cheese ($15)
Five cheese ($25)
There are 4 or 5 selections of each; goat, sheep, cow, and blue.
From the wood burning oven

Upon being seated one is presented with bread served with harissa and olives. The harissa is wonderful and one of Goin's signature elements, chile de arbol is a prominent accent.
To get started we ordered the Echo Mountain Rogue Creamery Blue from Oregon and the roasted dates, stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon ($6). The cheese was divine - firm, smooth, earthy and subtle. The dates, an ordering staple no matter the season, are split, pitted and stuffed with a tiny wedge of Parmesan, then tightly mummified with bacon. They are served hot, hot, hot, so try to be patient or you won't be able to taste the remainder of your meal. Even if you do burn your tongue these dates are absolutely sublime - crisp, smoky, salty, and sticky-sweet. So far, everything is divine.

Next we selected the foie gras terrine with quince jam ($21). I admittedly love, love, love some foie gras. Man, do I love it. Can't get enough. With absolutely no rancor to their charcutier's skill (whom I hold in great admiration) I admittedly was underwhelmed. The terrine, while perfectly pink, billowy and succulent - I found to be overly smothered with the quince jam.

The Rabbit ragoût with dijon, chestnuts and tarragon ($15) actually gave cause for me, and the normally appeased (and always sated), Dixon, to raise our eyebrows and question. My main beef was the fact that just about the only stand out flavor in this dish was mustard. It was seemingly a dish consisting of (not awesomely braised) rabbit swimming in watery mustard. I couldn't even necessarily decipher the chestnuts and other delectables in there. We asked our server the official definition of ragout as we thought we may have been mis-educated somewhere along the way. I have to assume this was just a bizzare, one-time, oopsy. I do know Suzanne Goin was not in the kitchen that night...

The c
hanterelles, ricotta gnocchi and sherry cream ($15) showed up last and were good but not exceptionally memorable. I love chanterelles. I love sherry. The gnocchi were a wee bit more al dente than I would have preferred. No big deal. It was good enough but maybe just an unfortunate closer to the meal.

Don't get me wrong, I love AOC. Forget Clive Owen - I sweat Suzanne Goin (well, and Clive Owen, but you get the point). I dream about her
Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Toasted Bread Crumbs, the haricots verts with hazelnuts, proscuitto and burrata, the pancetta-wrapped trout with grapes and sorrel, braised pork cheeks with fava bean pesto, and anything she does with skirt steak. I have her cookbook (Sunday Suppers at Lucques) and refer to it often. I respect her creativity, her technique, her love and respect for food and the land from which it comes, and how it all arrives out on the plate in front of me. She is the consummate artist.

I will never stop going to AOC or Lucques for that matter. This was just unfortunately an off night.

8022 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 653-6359


Daube Provencal Recipe

This is my dad's friend, George's recipe. Though I have not yet made it I thought it looked so wonderful and elaborate that it should be published.

Serves 8

7 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of Cote du Rhone wine
8 garlic cloves
3 yellow onions, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
4 pounds of lamb (shoulder or leg), cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
12 baby carrots
3 tbs flour
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes with the juice

salt and pepper to taste


Day 1:
Put peppercorns and bay leaves in cheesecloth. In a large bowl, combine wine, half the garlic, onions, and the peppercorns and bay leaves. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Day 2:
move lamb from marinade. Discard peppercorns and bay leaves. Reserve the wine, and strain and reserve the garlic and onions.

Brown lamb in oil for 3-5 minutes per batch, a few pieces to the batch. Remove the lamb and set aside. Add the reserved onions and garlic, the other half of the garlic, and the carrots, and cook while stirring on the cooktop for 10 minutes.

Add the flour, cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the wine, tomatoes and the juices, and bring to a boil. Add the lamb to the mix.

Cover, cook on high in a slow cooker for 6 hours. Skim fat. Transfer lamb and veggies to a bowl, simmer sauce on the stove top for 30 minutes to reduce, add lamb and veggies back in.

Serve with toasted bread. 

Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi

Forget that I was seated in a chair already warmed by David Mamet's butt, John Mayer's muscular (and surprisingly expansive) back was 3 feet from my arm's reach and a very pregnant Christina Aguilera's text messaging was almost readable to my 20/20 eyes. These distractions did not work. 

This restaurant is quite good!

I thought the ambiance and food would be somewhere along the lines of Dan Tana's meets C&O Trattoria meets Pace but it was much more intimate, with elegant simplicity and a small, entirely Tuscan menu. Yes, it was full and, yes, there was a short wait but it was Saturday night at 8:30pm. When you realize that the wait and the crowd are the result of a quality restaurant and not just a papparazi hang in this town it can be quite the double surprise.

Since 1990 owner-chef, Giorgio Baldi, dishes out the dishes and sips his favorite Amarone while surveying the dining room like Yurtle the Turtle from his open kitchen. His daughter, Elena, seats the customers while peppering the already seated with greetings, smiles and suggestions. The waitstaff all appeared to be from the old country and quite possibly have been serving these dishes since the restaurant opened 18 years ago. They were very sweet, knowledgeable and proud of their menu. The space is warm, modest and very nicely lighted.

We began our meal with the special beef carpaccio with white truffle cream sauce (white truffles arrive fresh from the Piemonte region every fall) and a proscuitto crostini with fonduta. The carpaccio was so carefully and thinly sliced and so fresh that it just dissolved in my mouth. From the handmade, hand-cut pasta menu I ordered the agnolotti, ravioli with sweet corn and white truffles. The raviolis were about the size of a quarter -- the portion was perfect, not too chaste not too monolithic. They were just wondrous, tender and delicate. I felt a symbiotic relationship with some musty, mountainous woodland, surrounded by large oaks and dappled light. Really just delightful. 

Our wine pairing you ask? We paired the entire meal with two bottles of the very same Amarone that Mr. Baldi was sipping while he worked. This is a powerful wine with some definite oak flavors and fresh red fruit. A perfect match for pastas, veal or even the bistecca fiorentino.

Maybe it's silly. Maybe it's so Hollywood. Maybe it's overrated. It is certainly a bit pricey. But for an expensive, silly, Hollywoody, overrated Los Angeles (well, Santa Monica Canyon) haunt the food was damn good and the night was chock full of entertainment and fun times. 

I love this town.

Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi

114 W Channel Rd
Santa Monica, CA 90402
(310) 573-1660

Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi

Almost No Knead Bread

"All sorrows are less with bread." ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

I have been trying to bake recently. I have tried to make the same type of bread three times to no avail. My mom gave me a recipe that seems like it should be pretty basic but apparently not for me. Good, old Dixon, my frequent cooking partner even gave me a baking stone as a gift in a moment of sympathy (I believe he even made some comment about getting a certain amount of pleasure regarding me having such botches in the kitchen). I then went to dinner at a friend's house where one of the guests brought a loaf of bread he had made. It was amazing and perfect - exactly what I had been hoping to achieve. This is the recipe.

Simple Crusty Bread 
Adapted from ''Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day'' by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

This takes about 45 minutes plus about 3 hours' resting and rising.
Makes 4 loaves.
1 1/2 Tablespoons yeast

1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough



In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely. 

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

Tomato Aspic (Yeah, I know... It's gross)

This is a recipe served at my family's Christmas Eve dinner EVERY YEAR since forever. We are very Southern and pretty old school.

I have always been disgusted by gelatinous, vibrate-y foods and never deigned to touch it. One year I tried it. I didn't hate it and we'll leave it at that.

When I moved out west and it became more and more difficult to get home for the holidays I started embracing some of the dishes that reminded me of home. I swallowed my pride and called my dad, who snickered and said he had to call Aunt Babe, the matriarch of our family. She shared. The few times I've prepared this dish not a soul will touch it - people don't even want to really think about it's presence on the table. I can't say I blame them, but at least it helps me feel a little closer to the family for the holidays.

Here it is... 

Aunt Babe's Tomato Aspic

Dissolve one small package of lemon jell-o in one cup of hot water.

Add 1 can of tomato soup
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon horseradish
1 pound of baby shrimp, and grated onion to taste

Pour into mold and refrigerate overnight.

Garnish with mayonnaise and parsley.

Note: Using crab meat and adding something hot are options.

Holy Mole, Lamb of God

This is my dad's friend, George's recipe.

One Leg of lamb, de-boned, de-fatted, de-sinewed and cut into rough chunks of a maximum dimension of one inch or so. Brown on grill or in fry pan with salt and pepper.
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 ounce chocolate
1 large can of tomatoes, or crushed tomatoes, the 25 ounce size
3 or 4 tomatillos
6 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 bottle of red wine
3 heads of garlic (yes, heads)
3 cayenne peppers
1 Tablespoon spoon of cumin
2 Tablespoons spoons of dark chili
1 Tablespoon spoon salt
2 Tablespoons of beef stock glaze


Set aside.

Grind the everlovin' bejeezus out of this stuff in a Cuisinart. It should look like lava afterwards.

Add lamb.

Add two bay leaves.

Add four cloves.

Cook covered in the oven for 2 1/2 hours at 275 degrees, then 15 minutes at 250 to
evaporate it somewhat. Lamb should fall apart.

Marbelized Mashed Potatoes

(for the potatoes)
1 1/2 cups white potatoes (Yukon gold or red creamers)
3 large sweet potatoes
4 Tablespoons butter
4 shallots
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
dash of nutmeg

(for the topping)½ cup fresh bread crumbs
6 tbls. melted butter
¼ cup parsley

Boil, peel, and mash the potatoes, keeping the two types separate throughout the process.
Sauté the shallots in the butter and add half to each of the mashed potato types.
Combine the whipping and sour cream together, then add half to each of the potatoes.
Divide the seasoning between the sweet and white potatoes.

In a baking dish, alternate layers of each of the potatoes on top of each other. When completed, stick a large spoon into the potatoes and swirl to achieve the marbleized effect. Finally, place the combined topping on top of the potatoes.

Cook at 350° for 30-35 minutes.

Let cool and enjoy!

The Ultimate Cassoulet

This recipe is insane and will take up the better part of a weekend. It's also wildly delicious. I found it from a guy named "Rodge" from Manchester, UK on a Group Recipes site.

Serves 8

Preparation time overnight

Cooking time over 2 hours

300g/10oz dried white haricot beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 onion, studded with a few cloves
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, a few sprigs each of thyme and flat leaf parsley and a 7.5cm/3in celery stick, tied together)
4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 Toulouse sausages
4 duck legs
350g/12oz belly pork rashers, skinned and diced
2 tbsp goose or duck fat (or oil)
1 large onion, chopped roughly
1 large carrot, chopped roughly
2 celery sticks, chopped roughly
350g/12oz lamb neck fillet, diced
350g/12oz boneless casserole pork, diced
290ml/½ pint dry white wine
400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 heaped tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaped tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper
green salad with mustard vinaigrette, to serve
For the topping:
1 large day-old baguette
2 fat garlic cloves, halved
4 tbsp goose or duck fat (or half butter, half oil)
2 heaped tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaped tbsp fresh thyme, chopped

Drain and rinse the beans, tip into a large pan and cover generously with cold water. Bring to the boil and skim off the scum, then add the studded onion, the bouquet garni, half the garlic and lots of pepper. Stir, half cover and boil for 30 minutes more. Stir occasionally and top up with water when necessary. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Prick the duck all over with a fork and put on a rack in a roasting tin. Roast for 30 minutes, then remove and set aside. Lower the oven to 140C/275F/Gas.

When the beans have been cooking for 1 hour, tip them into a sieve, discard the onion and bouquet garni. Set sausages aside.

Put the belly pork in a 4l/7pt flameproof dish and heat gently until the fat runs, then increase the heat and fry until just crispy. Add the poultry fat and heat until sizzling, then add the wine, onion, carrot, celery and remaining garlic, scraping up the bits from the
base. Fry over a gentle heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.

Increase the heat and add the lamb. Stir fry until coloured on all sides, then transfer to the plate and repeat with the pork. Tip the ingredients from the plate back into the dish. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée and herbs, then season with sea salt and pepper to taste. 

Add the haricot beans and 850ml/1½pt water to the dish and bring to the boil. Stir, then lower the heat so the liquid is just simmering. Keep the mixture in the same dish to cook or transfer it to an earthenware dish. 

Remove the skin from the duck, then tuck the duck legs into the liquid. Peel off the sausage skins, slice the sausage meat thickly on the diagonal and add to the dish.

Cover the dish and bake for 1 hour, stirring once. Stir, then cook uncovered for a further 1-1½ hours, stirring halfway, until the meat is really tender and the sauce is thickened. Take the dish out of the oven and remove the duck legs. Strip the meat from the bones (it will
fall off easily) and return the meat to the dish. Stir and add a little water, if necessary. Season if necessary, then return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes until all the meat and beans are very tender.

Cut the crusts off the baguette, tear the bread into pieces and put in a food processor. Add the garlic and chop into coarse crumbs (you should have about 200g/8oz). Heat the fat in a large frying pan until sizzling, then stir fry the breadcrumbs and garlic over a moderate to
high heat for 7-8 minutes until crisp and golden. Remove from the heat, toss in the herbs and stir to mix, then season well with salt and pepper.

Give the cassoulet a good stir. The consistency should be quite thick, but not stodgy. If you prefer it slightly runnier, add a little water. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary, then sprinkle the topping over the surface in a thick even layer. Serve in warm bowls with a green salad dressed in mustard vinaigrette.

Pissaladière with Herb Salad

1 sheet puff pastry
4 yellow onions, sliced thin along the grain
Sprig of rosemary
Unsalted butter
2 anchovy filets, cleaned and sliced diagonally
5 or 6 pitted nicoise olives, sliced
Sprig of thyme
1 egg yolk mixed with a few drops of water


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sauté onions in butter, add rosemary, lightly salt, and cook over medium heat until caramelized.

Add a dash of cassis and cook off. Turn off heat and cool slightly.

Roll out puff pastry to desired shape (square, rectangle, or circle), puncture in places with a sharp knife, put on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.

Spread cooked onion with a light hand over puff pastry leaving a small rim.

Scatter thyme leaves, sliced anchovy filets, and olive slices over top. Paint rim with egg yolk.

Bake in oven for five minutes, check, and turn pan in oven. Cook till bottom of crust is light brown.

Let cool slightly, cut, and serve with fresh herbs tossed with fleur de sel, lemon, and olive oil.

Printable Recipe

Sausage and Cheese Grit Casserole

Recipe from my Aunt Connie in Roanoke, VA.

Preheat oven to 350

In a large (5 quart) pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
Slowly stir in 1 cup of instant grits.
Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and stir occasionally for about 5 or 6 minutes.

Stir in 2 cups of grated, sharp, cheddar cheese.
Add a dash of Tabasco sauce and a couple of dashes of garlic salt.
Stir in 2 large eggs, beaten.
Add 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Stir in 1 pound of cooked sausage (I used Grandma Broadbent's sausage).
Salt to taste

Pour it into a greased baking dish (I used a cast iron skillet), and cook it for 1 hour.
Sprinkle a little bit of grated cheese on top, and put it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until it browns a bit.

Let it cool for a bout 10 minutes before serving.


Flourless Chocolate Cake

This recipe is very easy with delicious results. Beware, it is very rich. Serve with fresh whipped cream and berries.

Serves 8-12


1 cup butter, in pieces
1 1/2 cup semisweet chips
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup sifted, unsweet cocoa
6 eggs


Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 inch springform pan.

Over low heat melt the chips and butter together, Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa and sugar. Whisk in the eggs. Then add the cooled butter and chocolate mixture.

Pour into pan. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Cool, cover and refrigerate. Can be made a day ahead.

*For variations: add 1-2 teaspoons orange zest or 1 Tablespoon espresso powder.

The Varina Recluse's Beer Can Chicken

My mom's boyfriend, Bill, gave me this strange contraption a couple of Christmases ago.

I had heard of beer can chicken in passing previously and knew that my mom and Bill were having a bit of a phase with it, making it weekly, and sang it's praises relentlessly. So a friend (who happens to be from Texas which seemed apropos in this adventure) and I prepared this recipe. I have to say it was fantastic - crisped on the outside with an unexpected moisture and flavor that saturates entirely through.

Bill's Beer Can Chicken Recipe

Here's the basic deal on Beer Can Chicken.

Get a beer can or soda can.

Punch a few extra holes in the top of the can with a "church key" (old
fashioned opener that leaves triangular holes). Don't have to do this step,

Half fill the can with beer, basalmic vinegar, root beer, lemon soda, sherry
whatever you think might enhance the flavor of the chicken as it turns to
steam inside the bird. HALF FULL CAN!!!!!

Mix a couple of teaspoons or more of your dry rub into the liquid in the can.

Wash the bird. Pat dry the bird inside and out with paper towels. Apply dry rub by rubbing it in like a good massage. Set the bird inside the refrigerator for a couple of hours to really pick up 
the flavors (not absolutely necessary, however).

Remove bird from fridge and set on stand with the half-full can jammed up the bird's butt.

Place a piece potato or other small roundish veggie at the top of the chicken to block off the neck hole. This will tend to keep the flavored steam inside the bird.

Place the whole contraption bird and all in a shallow baking pan with some water to keep the drippings from flaming up or becoming tough to clean up afterwards.

I say cook 30 minutes per pound... 20 minutes per pound is not enough in my opinion.....just don't under-cook the thing. 325 degrees. Skin should be dark brown...

When ready, remove from oven. leave on stand. Let cool for 10 -15 minutes, then carve while bird remains on the stand.

Here is the rub recipe, use the measurements generally...omit stuff , add stuff.. add more of this or less of that. It's your call.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of black pepper ground
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
2 teaspoons of onion powder
2 teaspoons of celery seeds 
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, if you like it "hot"