9.30.2009

3. Marked 5

September 29, 2009



I had it all worked out, today. I got word last night that Marked 5 was going to be on Wilshire, in Korea Town, during lunch time. I had a light day and a perfect window to jet over there to check them out. After driving up and down the 3 block radius where they were supposed to be, to no avail, I decided to head back west (good ole Miracle Mile) to see if they were there (I got opposing Tweets on the matter).

To my utmost delight, I found them! They were right behind LA BBQ Guy, another one of the trucks on my list. Quandary. I want them both. I am not THAT hungry. Lord, I'm never THAT hungry. In the end I went with Marked 5 as they were the original intention (although the wild goose chase thing was slightly irritating).

I was only aware that Marked 5 served burgers. Apparently I was not privy to how that was defined until today.

Named after our 5 senses and inspired by Japanese fast-food chains, Marked 5 uses thin, square patties of sticky, long grain rice in lieu of a bun. I ordered the Torakku Beef ($5), a 100% Angus beef burger served with a torraku, or "truck" sauce--what tastes like a mixture of teriyaki, barbecue and sriracha sauces. The burger was juicy and delicious, but I was, sadly, not a fan of the rice bun. The rice did not absorb all of the saucy juiciness, and made the whole thing very messy. I will add that the sheet of nori under the burger did help to catch a lot of the drippies (I assume that was it's purpose?). I must say, though, that those flavors were indeed impressive. I also ordered the Shrimp Spring Rolls ($3), which were crunchy, whimsical and tasty.





I'm curious to return to try one of the 4 other burger options (5 senses, 5 burgers). The Chicken Curry partcularly interests me.

2. Bull Kogi

September 28, 2009



I was super geeked to try Baby's Badass Burgers, yesterday, after I received word (read, Tweet) that they would be at Wilshire and Fairfax until 2:30pm. I was in the middle of darting around town for work-related-ness, but finally had a window of time to squeeze in lunch. At 2:36pm (yes, a little late), after having a parking place swept out from under me, finding a new spot and racing towards the unmistakable pink truck, in all my excitement... they drove away. So I despondently shuffled my feet back to my car. If only that evil person hadn't taken my first parking place!

I decided to take Wilshire, east, towards my next stop, hoping to see a truck or two along Miracle Mile. There, on the same block, I found King Kone, Bool BBQ and Bull Kogi still in action. I certainly was not in the mood for ice cream, so it was between the other two. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe... Bull Kogi.

I ordered the Beef Kimchi Taco (The "BullKogi") and the Spicy Chicken Kimchi Taco ($2, each). I was disappointed. They have the same formula as the original Kogi; beef, chicken and tofu tacos marinated in a Korean barbecue sauce and topped with kimchi, but missing the zest. Zero zing. The meat was dry and the flavors had no boldness or confidence. That, coupled with the well-worn territory on which they tread, caused me to feel a little salty about them. I shan't return.




I still blame the ding-dong that stole my parking place...

9.29.2009

F for Food Trucks



Ever since my, most recent, bacon-wrapped hot dog exploit I have been, pretty much, obsessed with the local mobile food movement. I realize I am no trailblazer but, just recently, I have set my phone to receive Tweets from many of the food trucks roaming the streets so I can stalk them. It’s really fun, actually – like a scavenger hunt.

As I am a genuine neophyte in the food truck arena, I have given myself a mission. I am going to eat at 25 different food trucks before the end of the year. This all just in time for my New Year resolution: to lose the 25 pounds I will likely gain on said mission.

I began this past weekend, and have been to 3 so far. I have a list of the trucks I want to hit, but I am open to try any and all of them. So I welcome all suggestions, ideas, the best menu items and thoughts from everyone who has an opinion on the matter.

You can follow my guerrilla gourmand exploits, *pictures and reviews with the, ever-growing, list on the sidebar.

*Disclaimer: All of the photos in this series are taken with my camera phone, in the spirit of the entire concept. So they may not be up to my usual photography standards.

1. Kogi BBQ Truck

September 26, 2009



DO believe the hype.

It seemed only fit to begin my adventure with the most prolific of the food trucks. So while home this past Saturday afternoon, when I got my first Kogi Tweet informing me that they were not at all far from me, I immediately hopped in the car and headed to Wilshire and Crescent Heights to find the truck in a parking lot, with almost no line. Hooray!


I ordered their signature dish, the Korean Short Rib Taco ($2) and the Kogi Sliders ($5). I know it was my first food truck and, obviously, my first Korean-Mexican "Kogi experience" - so I had not much to draw from - but this was unlike anything I had tasted before. And it was divine. 



The short rib, stuffed into corn tortillas (or the slider buns), is served with shredded cabbage, and a relish of scallions, cilantro, soy, sesame seeds and citrus is an unexpected meld of rich, tangy, sweet and savory. The meat is tender and succulent. It's Korean. It's Mexican. It's Californian. It's perfect. 

I can't wait to return to, eventually, try everything on the menu.

9.25.2009

Sharing is Caring


Tradition is generally defined as long-standing beliefs, practices or customs that have been handed down from one generation to the next. Every culture, every race or group of people have their own rich customs and traditions. Tradition has several key elements. First, tradition involves a group of people; it's collective and social in nature. Second, traditions have guardians such as historians that have access to the knowledge or the truth of tradition's sacred rituals. Third, tradition stirs emotion within individuals to bring about a greater sense of self-awareness. In some cultures, these rituals are important to one's self-identity within the context of a larger society.

Dixon used to have a roommate that, it seemed like, every evening made the same dinner. She would flitter through the living room, tinker about in the kitchen for a while, and flitter away with a steaming plate of mystery food. What was on that plate and was it really so good that it begged to be eaten with such frequency? I was intrigued. Months later, I finally asked what it was on that plate. In her chirpy voice, she said simply (as though it was obvious), “chili spaghetti!” right before she, again, disappeared with her goods and left me just as perplexed as before – if not more so.

So I researched.

You see this is not just a bowl of chili. Oh no. This is chili served over spaghetti. There are even several restaurants and fast-food chains in the Cincinnati area – and even in other parts of Ohio, and into Kentucky, Indiana and Florida – that serve this bizarre heap of foodstuff. One of these chains, Skyline Chili, boasts the “3-Way Chili” as their signature dish: “Steaming spaghetti, covered with our original, secret-recipe chili and topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese.” 

I went to college in Ohio for four years and was never privy to this concoction that is their regional fare, officially called Cincinnati Chili.

Ways Cincinnati Chili is ordered:
- 3-way: Spaghetti with chili, covered with shredded cheddar cheese
- 4-way: Spaghetti with chili, then cheese, then onions
- 5-way: Spaghetti, beans, chili, cheese & onions
**No 2-way chili is served in Cincinnati; the cheese must always go on top.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of chili each year, topped by 850,000 pounds of shredded cheddar cheese.

Who knew? I guess I didn’t dine out much during my tenure in Ohio.

April has long since moved from Dixon’s place and she and I have remained close, to this day. We dine out and in, sometimes we cook, but nothing too ambitious - yet. And sometimes we just order pizza, watch BBC and drink too much red wine. However, for quite some time, now, I have hounded her to make her signature dish for me. Why won’t she do it? I feel like there’s some secret chili sect that knows something I don’t. I want in! I MUST be missing something truly remarkable and divine, right?

Well, joy of joys (as though you don’t know what’s coming next), April made me her chili spaghetti!  It’s true. Just last night I went over to her house, with my camera, pen and paper, to document the process of this revered Cincinnati concoction.

I must say that last night was a blast. Over a beautiful bottle of rosé and jazz, April happily chopped veggies, explained the process, and shared stories of her chili spaghetti – related, childhood in Cincinnati. Her family even dined at the famed Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili restaurants, she told me with pride. She went on to say, a little wistfully, that her mom would order the “3-Way, Bean” to avoid that pesky onion addition in the “4-Way”.  Her dad would order the 5-way” (the full monty) sometimes with extra chili even AND a cheese Coney.  

Last night, all the way from Cincinnati to Hollywood (by way of Texas), April continued a tradition from her childhood, her identity, and passed it along to me. I was touched. By the way, we went all out: 5-Way style.

So I’ll say it. I’m a fan! It was outstanding, full of richness, flavor and texture – and good heat. I wasn’t sure about the actual chili and pasta union, but wonder of wonders, it worked! I loved the hot, melty cheese on top with the fresh, crunchety, chopped white onion.

I will add that (in addition to being a Texan (post Ohio, pre-Los Angeles), hence the mass pepper influence in the recipe)) April has been a vegetarian since the age of 14. So she used texturized vegetable protein in lieu of ground beef. I found it astonishingly good, and didn’t miss any body, texture, or saltiness in the substitution. It was robust and delicious. Another surprise was the wine pairing. One would think a powerful red would be in order. But, as it was an unusually warm evening, we went with the 2008 Urban Uco Sauvignon Blanc, from Argentina. We both agreed that it’s acidity and tart crispness cut through the weight of the dish and its grassiness a great compliment to the tomatoes.

I always say sharing is caring. So to keep the tradition alive, be it April’s or Ohio’s, I am sharing with you, April’s Chili Spaghetti recipe. I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it did the two of us.



April’s Chili Spaghetti

Serves 8

April told me she usually prefers to use spaghettini, but last night we used spaghetti. She also tells me that this dish is even better the next day.



Ingredients:

1 ½ yellow onion chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
10 cloves garlic chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 jalapeños finely chopped
2 ½ cups texturized vegetable protein, soaked in hot water
1 15 oz can black beans, in their juice
1 15 oz can pinto beans, in their juice
1 15 oz can kidney beans, in their juice
1 15 oz can “mixed chili beans”, in their juice
1/2 15 oz can tomato sauce 
1 15 oz can stewed tomatoes (with onions, celery included)
4 Roma tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
¾ cup corn kernels
1 cup white onion chopped
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 16 oz packages of spaghetti
1 tbsp salt


Directions:

Sauté yellow onion, green, yellow and jalapeño peppers in olive oil until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, texturized vegetable protein, and Roma tomatoes and muddle the ingredients together. Sauté until tomatoes are falling apart, about 15 minutes.

 

Add beans, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and corn and simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Meanwhile boil spaghetti until it's al dente, about 10-12 minutes.



Serve over spaghetti and top with shredded cheese and your choice of chopped white onion, sour cream and oyster crackers.


*I should add that April does not support my mention of sour cream anywhere in this recipe.



9.21.2009

A watched pot will actually boil.

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

I have contemplated the meaning of that phrase for some time, now.  I’ve never really understood it. My dad sure loves to use them, but most of those old proverbs seem nonsensical to me. Phrases we all use when they seem apropos but really never stopped to think what in God’s teeth they mean. And, really, do they even have meaning anymore?

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

What? Okay, I think that one means that it is better to have a small actual advantage than just the chance at a greater one. Well, I beg to differ.

Back to the cake. Let’s try to suss this out.  First of all, why would you possibly have a cake and not eat it? And if you have cake why can't you eat the cake? It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing you’d want just hanging around, getting moldy and gross. Eat the damn cake and get another one, if you must. What’s the big issue? It seems to me, that the proverb implies negativity – it says to us, you can’t have it both ways, and you most certainly can't have it all. Sometimes you can, right? Is it always so simple, so black & white? I think not.

I have never been a baker. I can cook, yes, but bake, no. A couple of Christmases ago, Dixon gave me a baking stone for my winter assignment to myself: Project Bread. I had this romantic notion of never having to purchase bread, out, again. I would bake my own, each morning from my prized mother starter that would continue on for generations of bread baking. I tried to bake bread three times that winter and I failed miserably with each attempt. Dixon seemed almost smugly pleased, and most certainly surprised, at my categorical shortcomings in the kitchen (I’d like to think that’s because they’re rare?). Although I did not succeed, I tried, tried again. Perhaps I tried to walk before I could crawl. Regardless, I gave up.

This is the last day of summer, and I feel that I accomplished my summer assignment: Project Grill, with arguable success. Now, it’s time for my fall assignment. I’m trying again, but now calling it: Project Bake.

I don’t actually have a wild and crazy sweet tooth, except for the occasional I-NEED-CHOCOLATE-RIGHT-THIS-MINUTE kind. I do love a cupcake. But I never order desert and I don’t keep sweets around the house. But, I remembered having a similar desert a handful of times over the past few years, in a couple of different places, that really spoke to me – a sort of olive oil cake. One time it was served with champagne grapes and honey, and the other, fresh berries and cream. I loved it’s subtle-sweetness and it’s simple, complexity - or, perhaps its complex simplicity. I found it surprising and earthy and luscious. Together with a seasonal fruit on top created a beautiful marriage of the bounty of Italy and Southern California.
Well, hello there, fall. I baked a cake!
I must tell you, dear readers, my first cake turned out brilliantly! I was so satisfied and proud of myself all evening, like a little peacock, strutting my stuff. I shared the cake, and its story, with anyone who would listen. I also have eaten quite a bit of it. So far Project Bake is looking good for the fall.

While there is some left, I know it won’t be around forever. But you know what? I can make it again, and I will. It’s so exciting that I successfully baked a cake, shared a cake, ate some cake, and can make cake again. I think I can confidently say that I can, in fact, have my cake and eat it too.



This recipe is from the Italy’s Valpolicella region, and one I have adapted from Saveur (issue #75). I topped my version with a Honey Crème Fraiche (simply mix 2 parts crème fraiche with 1 part creamed honey). Fresh blackberries, figs or champagne grapes would be a beautiful and delicious adornment, as well.

This would pair exquisitely with a Tawny Port.




Pissota con l”Olio
Makes 1  9" cake
1 tbsp. butter

3 cups plus
2 tbsp. flour

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1⁄4 tsp. lemon zest

3⁄4 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil

2⁄3 cup milk

3 tbsp. Grand Marnier or Brandy

1 tbsp. baking powder



1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 3"-deep round 9" cake pan and the outside of a heavy 3"-deep 3" ovenproof ramekin or bowl with butter, then dust with 2 tbsp. of the flour, tapping out excess. Put ramekin or bowl upside down in center of prepared pan. Set prepared pan aside.
2. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add remaining 3 cups flour, lemon zest, oil, milk, and liqueur and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and stir until thoroughly combined.
3. Holding ramekin or bowl firmly in place, spoon batter into prepared pan around ramekin or bowl. Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to let cool completely, in its pan.
4. Top with fruit, a generous drizzle of honey crème fraiche and serve.

9.19.2009

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.


This is the last weekend of summer (so says the calendar), and it’s still pretty hot. At least the days are. The nights have been breezy and temperate – pretty much perfect. Right now a light air is blowing in through my living room window, my dog is snuggled up next to me on the couch, I’m noodling with the crossword and listening to Good Food on the radio. I’m also contemplating what to do with my newest batch of Ryan’s tomatoes. Incidentally, the current topic on Good Food is, literally, what to do with all those tomatoes! It’s one of those cosmic muffin moments.

I love to make lists. I make lists for everything under the sun. I even add things to to-do lists after I’ve accomplished them, just so I can cross them out. So to take advantage of this consummate moment I find myself compelled to make a list of a few (25) of my favorite things (in no particular order).

* Extremely stinky cheeses
* The Chateau Marmont
* Friend of the Night, by Mogwai
* Oysters, on the half shell
* Maldon sea salt
* Sea Urchin
* Rueben’s martini at Musso & Frank
* Grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon at Osteria Mozza
* My watch
* The Wire, in marathon-watching mode
* Suzanne Goin’s heirloom tomato salad with torn croutons and opal basil
* Chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream
* Film Noir
* Cadbury Crème eggs
* My mom’s laugh
* Brander Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley
* Movie theater popcorn with an inordinate amount of salt


I know I have mentioned, previously, my love of soup and my love of tomatoes. I’d say, with the aforementioned radio show topic, my question regarding what to do with my tomato riches has been answered. It’s kismet. It’s a tomato soup.


I have served this soup, both, hot and cold, and I think it works, just as well, either way. It pairs absolutely perfectly with one of my favorite wines, the Brander Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley.

The croutons are a lot of fun and quite good on their own, as an appetizer.



Creamy Tomato Soup

Serves 4


Ingredients:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
3 pounds ripe summer tomatoes (4 cups chopped)
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
½ cup heavy cream


Directions:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook just until tomatoes are falling apart, about 5 minutes. Stir in basil, and remove from heat.

Let cool slightly. Transfer tomato mixture to a blender. Make sure to really get a good puree. If your blender is not powerful enough you may want to use a food mill to achieve a velvety- smooth texture.

Return soup to saucepan. Add cream, and adjust consistency with water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.



Basil Croutons with Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 12

½ baguette
2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
12 -15 cherry tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400°. Slice bread, on a slight diagonal, into 12 slices, about ¼ inch think. Arrange slices on a baking pan, and toast until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from oven, set aside.

Mix together basil, garlic, and Parmesan in a small bowl. Pour in oil; mix to combine. Add salt and pepper; mix to combine.

Spoon a small amount of basil mixture onto each crouton, using the back of the spoon to spread slightly. Slice cherry tomatoes in half, and place halves facedown on croutons. Season with salt and pepper.


9.15.2009

But is it art?

 
Guerrilla art is the surreptitious, and often sudden, creation or installation of unauthorized public art, often with the purpose of making an overt political statement. It is also about reclaiming space, access and non-permanence. Graffiti, sticker art, wheat pasting, street installations, video projections or even guerrilla theater are all examples of guerrilla art. Heck, Lil’ J put on a guerrilla fashion show in season 2 of Gossip Girl.  Or how about just 2 names: Shepard Fairey and Barack Obama.

To quote Allan Schwartzman (Street Art, 1985), “Artists have challenged art by situating it in non-art contexts. ‘Street’ artists do not aspire to change the definition of an artwork, but rather to question the existing environment with its own language. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them.”
 
Well, food is art and these days food has joined the guerrilla cause. Here in LA we have a long-standing relationship with the taco trucks/stands and the hot dog carts. Food trucks, have been quite the daily dish of late – ever since LA County officials passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor to park a food truck in the same place for more than an hour. Violators face penalties of up to $1,000 in fines or six months in jail. 

In the spirit of art, resilience and, perhaps, resistance, people are finding new, innovative ways to keep their trucks serving food, and their customers are hungrier than ever for the goods. Thanks almost entirely to Twitter, blogging, and even Facebook, the Kogi Truck, Fishlips Sushi Truck, Marked 5, The Buttermilk Truck, The Gastro Bus and Green Truck on the Go, to name but a few, are smack in the middle of their 15 minutes. They have provided LA with a moving party of food. Although it’s exclusive as far as becoming informed, it couldn’t be a more welcoming and inclusive environment. It’s our newest sub-culture. Forget Thursday, food trucks are the new Friday.

I don’t go to bars all that often, except maybe a wine bar. But last weekend I met my friend Brandon on the East Side for a few cocktails at a couple of bars. We ended up out fairly late and upon stumbling walking out of the last spot - like a lush oasis in the middle of this asphalt jungle - was a bacon-wrapped hot dog cart.  The bacon-wrapped hot dog vendors are brilliant and truly on to something. They are elusive and exclusive. They are only out late at night to catch the horde of the inebriated and hungry, and they do not have a set location. All of this, much like the un-crackable nut, only adds to their allure for me. 


It’s simple. Wrap bacon around a hot dog and grill it. Put it in a bun and add grilled peppers and onions. Top with your choice of mayo, mustard, hot sauce and ketchup. Heaven. And all this for $3. 

Would it be as special if I could set out on a mission for one of these delicious dogs, at any time, and succeed? Maybe, but I think not. Because when you happen upon one of these carts, along with the smattering of other folks, when you're a little tipsy, late at night - you’re in a bubble. This moment, these people, this corner, and this hot dog will not happen again. Not like this. Like a snowflake, or the concept behind a Jackson Pollack painting or a graffiti piece that changes daily, with the weather and time, you can’t predict it and you can’t force it to happen again. Its ephemera and its prohibition are its beauty. It’s also incredibly tasty.



For a list of some great food trucks around town click here.




9.11.2009

Pure Poetry




The way I remember it, which oft differs from real history, I was in the Girl Scouts for all of one minute. I know I wanted to get in on the cookie action and that was about it (to this day, I can house an entire box of Samoas in one sitting). I don’t remember much about the meetings, or even the cookie selling, anymore. However, I do remember a little song we had to sing quite often – much to my chagrin. I believe it was called, “The Make New Friends Song”. I only remember the first line, but as I write this I can’t keep from humming along… “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold." 

There really is nothing more important to me than my friends. And, interestingly, this has been a very significant summer for me with regards to more than a few of my friendships. I have made a number of new friends – people that I feel will be around for a long time. I have also reconnected with some very important people from my past  I almost thought I’d lost. 

In a few weeks fall will officially be upon us - a period that recalls memories of back-to-school-times. 

Back then school was, really, the only way we made new friends and kept up with the old, beyond high school, and perhaps into college. These are the friends that stay with us, in one form or another, for the rest of our lives. These are the friends that become family. Like it or not. Warts and all.

If I haven’t mentioned it previously, I am a soup person. I am just absolutely gonzo for soup. I love to make them at home and I also love to see how inspired a restaurant is by their soup du jour. And, oh man, I love the garnish on a soup. It’s like putting the star on the tippy top of the Christmas tree. And fall just makes me get that much more hog-wild for soups. Oh, I do miss the thrill of back to school shopping, with it’s Trapper Keepers, spiral notebooks, pens with colorful inks, protractors, compasses, and, of course, new clothes. But I get a similar thrill when I start to plot my shopping for the new, fall produce: ingredients for a heartier, snugglier autumnal cuisine. Let’s just say, I get souper geeked to get my soup on. Forgive me for that.

The soup here is a beautiful one, and an adaptation of a recipe that my good friend Chris, made for me last fall. It is a recipe that an old college friend - a wise bunny who very recently popped up out of nowhere – requested I share. So I prepared this just yesterday to be able to do exactly that. 

I might add that I shared the tangible result with my ultra-new friend, and also, my tomato trafficker, whom I have only just met this summer. 

Excuse me, there’s a poetry in my soup.

I don’t know about anyone being silver or gold. Perhaps they’re all platinum. What I do know is I’m thankful for all of my friends: old, new, forgotten (for now), remembered, as yet undiscovered, loved and even not so loved (by me). I hope to make them soup. Or just share the recipes. Hey, that’s what friends are for.

Most soups are deceptively simple to prepare and this one is no different. Just take care not to overcook the kale as you want to keep the integrity of the color in order to maintain the vivid green. Look how beautiful this soup is in each stage of preparation... 



For the vegetarians in the house, simply substitute the bacon with butter, and the chicken stock with vegetable stock. But make sure to add a little extra salt, to compensate.

This dish would pair beautifully with a very light Pinot Noir, perhaps the La Crema, Sonoma Coast ’07, and a few chunks of a rustic loaf.


Pureed Kale & White Bean Soup
Serves 4


Ingredients:
1 strip of bacon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, coursely chopped
2 1/2 cups, loosely packed kale kale leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
a small sprig of rosemary
3 cups (approx. 2 cans) of cannellini beans
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 3/4 cups water
4 large basil leaves, chiffonaded
2 tbsp truffle oil
salt and pepper


Directions:
  • Toss chopped bacon into pot over medium heat, allow to cook for a minute or two, until a little grease is released.  Add olive oil, onions garlic, and rosemary. Stir occasionally for five minutes or so, until onions are translucent, garlic browns, and bacon is cooked.  
  • Add chopped kale and stir for a minute or two until wilted.
  • At this point, add the drained beans and stir for a few seconds.  Then add the stock and water and let cook until the soup thickens to a nice consistency.  
  • Let cool enough to transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree until smooth. Transfer back to pot and reheat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Top with basil, drizzle with a finishing oil and serve.
Printable Recipe

9.07.2009

Lillet it on me.


It’s probably a ruse. It’s probably that I’m up in the hills. But, and only very recently, the days seem breezier and cooler and the nights feel almost brisk. The light even seems to have changed. I know summer isn’t running away yet, but it is certainly dropping a hint or two. I always get excited when the seasons begin to change. While I love each season and each of their defining characteristics, as subtle as they may be here in our fair city, the late-summer-into-early-fall time is my favorite. This air, this light and this time of year is the most beautiful and temperate – and elicits fond memories from almost every phase from my life. And so as this summer draws to a close, I’d like to reminisce, with you, about my favorite summer drink.

Lillet (pronounced lil-LAY), first produced in 1887, is a French aperitif: a fortified white wine from the Bordeaux region. It is a blend of 85% wine and citrus liqueurs made from a variety of oranges. Lillet is matured in oak casks and available in red and white versions. The red is slightly less bitter and sugary, and more fruit forward. I only drink the white. It is traditionally served over ice, with an orange twist.

Lillet is a very cool drink. So cool that James Bond ordered Lillet in his martini in Casino Royale (actually name-checked in Ian Fleming’s original book) and Quantum of Solace. Even the bottle is beautiful, although they have recently changed the label. I’ll have to get used to that.

Lillet is a classic, restorative drink, slightly sweet, with aromas of herbs, candied orange, honey and apple that come through on the palate. I’ve always said, simply, “it tastes like flowers”. Whilst drinking Lillet, I often feel like I’m IN Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine”, “Ramble On”, or “That’s the Way” (“and yesterday, I saw you kissing tiny flowers”). It makes me feel wistful, breezy, tranquil, and, dare I be so mawkish as to say, romantic. It’s a perfect drink for the sunset – before even considering sitting/settling down and committing to dinner.

Today is Labor Day, symbolic of the end of the summer and my friend, April, will be coming over in a bit. Unusual for me, I have made a statement that we will NOT be cooking dinner or planning any specific activity. We have simply dedicated the afternoon/early evening to lounging in the breezy, waning sunshine, maybe making a few noshables, playing some cards, catching up and drinking Lillet.



FYI - Lillet may seem like it would be hard to find, but it’s really not. Chances are that it is sitting, collecting dust, in your local liquor store.

9.04.2009

S for Steak

To begin, I should mention that this website’s title is an homage to Orson Welles and his last major, completed film, F for Fake.
And there was this and, my all-time favorite... this.

For years, now, I have asked myself and my friends this question, “If you could have a dinner party with 5 other people – alive or dead – who would you invite?” Only one of my friends, Chris, has ever answered this question deftly and with confidence. He immediately replied that he would invite five evil dictators from different eras and parts of the world. This both impressed and irritated me. First, what a great answer and what an interesting dinner party! But you see I am STILL unable to answer that question. I simply cannot do it. After all these years I can only say, and I know without pause, I want Orson Welles at my dinner party. He was brilliant, irreverent, meticulous, creative, hysterical, dark, beautiful, rejected, embraced, thirsty and hungry. He was truly and completely an artist. In more ways than one Orson Welles was larger than life. I’m so jealous of Rita Hayworth.

F for Fake is Welles’ self-reflexive, wistful meditation on fakery, forgery, swindling and art – and more importantly, the very definition of those words. The film focuses on three hoaxers, Elmyr, the gentlemanly forger and "old emperor of the hoax," Elmyr's biographer Clifford Irving, himself later caught in the act of faking a partnership with Howard Hughes to produce the reclusive multi-millionaire's life story, and Welles himself - the ringmaster - was the man who once convinced people that Martians had invaded New Jersey.

One of the many conversations F for Fake tackles and the one I find the most compelling is: What is art and who defines it? For example, Elmyr could effortlessly, and I mean EFFORTLESSLY, reproduce the paintings of Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso to the degree that no expert on Earth could tell his fakes apart from the real thing. To this day there are probably more than a few Elmyr’s hanging in our most celebrated museums throughout the world parading as authentic. Why is that not art? I believe that art is something larger than any one author. I also believe, as trite as it may sound, that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Really, I could discuss F for Fake ad nauseam but that’s not what this platform is for. So, on that note, I would like to share with you a recipe that the aforementioned Chris, a talented artist both in the kitchen and in the studio, has deliciously “recreated” from a collaboration of two of his favorite chefs - Julia Child and Jacques Pepin - that I am now shamelessly reprinting for you.

I have a singular place in my heart for this dish as Chris has made it for me on countless birthdays, special occasions and also on evenings when he just thought I needed some food prepared with a little love. 
And my guess is Orson Welles would like this dish as well. Honestly, it's hard to imagine the man ever met a steak he didn't like. Hell, I could even serve it at my dinner party. 



Steak au Poivre
by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin
from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

Makes two 6 to 7 ounce steaks

Steak au poivre is a classic preparation for sautéed steak. Here Julia Child and Jacques Pépin update the dish by using a mixture of black, green, white and Jamaican peppercorns, which is really allspice. A sauté of mushrooms and a full-bodied red wine are a fine match.

Ingredients
1 thick-cut well-marbled strip steak, about 1 pound total weight, and 1 1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons mixed whole peppercorns, including black, white, green, Szechuan and Jamaican (whole allspice)
Salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter

For the pan sauce
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons cognac (or bourbon or red wine)
1/2 cup flavorful dark stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
Garnish
Chopped parsley
Watercress

Method
1. Trim the steak of all the surrounding fat and cartilage. Cut the meat into 2 pieces and crush the peppercorns using the bottom of a heavy skillet.
2. Sprinkle salt to taste on the top and bottom of the steaks; then press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily, as you prefer.
3. Heat the oil and the butter in a heavy sauté or frying pan over high heat. When the pan is quite hot, lay the peppered steaks in. Fry for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the undersides are well seared. Turn the meat and cook the second side for about a minute. Press with a finger to test for the slight springiness that indicates rare. Cook to desired doneness and remove to a warm platter.

Making the pan sauce
1. Add the shallots to the pan and sauté briefly, stirring with a spoon to scrape up the drippings. Lean away from the stove (averting your face) and pour the cognac into the pan; tilt the edge of the pan slightly, over the burner flame, to ignite the alcohol. The cognac will flame for a few seconds as the alcohol burns off; cook for a few moments more and then add the stock. Bring the liquid back to the boil, and cook about 1 minute to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, add the soft butter, swirling the pan until it melts and incorporates with the juices.
2. When blended, pour the sauce over the steaks. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and garnish each plate with sprigs of parsley or watercress.


"If you try to probe, I'll lie to you.” - Orson Welles in a 1962 interview

9.02.2009

Am I slow-roasting or being slow-roasted?


It’s hotter than Georgia asphalt here in LA. And on this scorching September afternoon, firmly planted 3 feet away from my fan, I feel myself slow-roasting. I have a sweat moustache. It’s as though I’m in a really un-sexy Tennessee Williams moment. It’s too early to open the white wine. Oh, how I suffer.

Slow-roasting is a fascinating, yet simple, concept and process – and one that occupies an oddly prominent and quite interesting nook of my life, in the kitchen and beyond. It requires complacent confidence and infinite patience, neither of which are my strongest suits.

The theory behind slow-roasting has the simplicity of genius. If the oven is set at the desired internal temperature of the meat, then the meat can never overcook because no part of it is subjected to a temperature above the optimum. This is essentially transferring heat from the outside of the roast to the inside by conductance. The physical process is the same whether the oven is at 400 degrees or 200 degrees. The benefit of slow roasting something is less moisture loss and a more tender product. Oddly however, at the moment, I find myself feeling quite overcooked and dehydrated. Hmpf.

Even though, more often than not, pot roast comes to mind, in actuality one can slow-roast just about anything. Short ribs, pork shoulder, venison, chicken, duck, salmon and even tomatoes can all benefit from this method of cooking. For slow-roasting some people use crock-pots, others use ovens and recently, I used my grill and a chicken.

Slow-Roasted Chicken
3 - 3 1/2 lb chicken -- trimmed of excess fat
1/4 c butter – 1/2 of it melted
2 lemons
salt and pepper
additional herbs and spices as desired

Hardware: shallow roasting pan with rack
  • Heat oven and roasting pan (without rack) to 350F. 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 along with some of the butter. Put any unused slices and the ends of the lemons into the cavity.
  • Place the chicken breast-side up on the rack, brush with butter and season with salt, pepper, and herbs.
  • Place chicken in the heated roasting pan in the middle of oven for 30 minutes.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 200F and continue roasting for another 1 hour. Increase heat to 400F and cook another 15 minutes until a thermometer inserted into thigh registers 160F.
  • Remove from oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

In the above recipe, the initial 350F heat quickly cooks the outside (and skin). The reduced 200F heat keeps the outside hot at about the same rate as the cooler interior absorbs the heat. The final 400F period browns the exterior for those wonderful Maillard reactions.

The result, with something like a chicken or turkey is that the thighs and the breast approach doneness at something much closer to simultaneously and even if the breast is a bit overcooked when the thighs are done, the additional juiciness makes up for it.





Me, I’m still roasting. But dusk is just around the corner, and with that comes wine o’clock. As for you, may your home be air conditioned, your wine crisp and cold, and your fortitude in slow-roasting be met with successful results.



"It ain't the heat; it's the humility." -Yogi Berra

9.01.2009

Greenblatt's is SO my Regal Beagle.



A week and a half ago the love of my life, my 3-legged (as if that’s not enough) Chihuahua underwent spinal surgery that has rendered him virtually immobile for the next three weeks while he recovers. 

Well, as you may imagine, this has also left me virtually immobile. I put him in his crate while I shower or find it absolutely necessary to run an errand, but he screams bloody murder in there. I’m not so sure that the stress and screaming is all that great for the recovery process or my neighbors’ neighborliness, so he pretty much sits right next to me on the couch or in the bed. 

This makes him happy. This makes me unable to shop for groceries or prepare food, and most certainly inhibits dining out. This means delivery. This means Greenblatt’s.

As I was complaining about this whole delivery thing making me feel like a stereotypical bachelor-dude-type and also lamenting the lack of recipes or restaurants to write about, my friend suggested I write about Greenblatt’s.

Why in God’s teeth I have never discussed Greenblatt’s on here is beyond me. It is pretty much my favorite place. If I moved anywhere else in LA I would continue to patronize Greenblatt’s, and I have honestly thought that if I ever moved away from LA that it would be a damned shame to no longer have Greenblatt’s in my life (this being almost a driving force to remain, mind you). I’m only sad that it took me a few years of living here to discover the place. What did I do BEFORE? Okay, enough.

Established in 1926 (which might as well pre-date the Byzantine Empire by LA standards) Greenblatt’s is a New York style, kosher deli and fine wine shop that happens to be (too?) close to my house. They are open 365 days a year, from 9am until 2am. They offer dine in, take out and delivery. I’ve spent a Christmas night there in my pine cone jammies, drinking champagne. They are my friends.
 













From mile-high Ruebens, a bagel and lox platter that rivals Canter’s, their cure-all matzoball soup, an awe-inspiring clam chowder, a Cobb salad you could do laps in, to full chicken, turkey, rib and meatloaf dinners with any number of sides (stuffing, potatoes, green beans or broccoli, to name a few), they’ve got it covered.

The wine shop (which also sells liquor) is really and truly something special. It is vast, the prices are a solid couple of bucks cheaper than ANYWHERE else, I’ve found. And the staff knows what they’re talking about. In fact, most are certifiable oenophiles and a few are even studying to be sommeliers.

It doesn’t hurt that as a result of the frequency of my visits (and my undeniable charm?), I am on a first name basis with the entire staff and they are very familiar with my likes and dislikes. Or it could be that last Summer I bought them out of Lillet. Hell, my friends stop in to buy wine on their way to my house and ask the staff what I would like. And they KNOW. I do love me a Regal Beagle.

So during my dog’s and my own house arrest, the good people of Greenblatt’s may not be seeing my face, but they hear my voice – and I their‘s (they are in my speed dial). “Ralph,” I say, “It’s hot. I can’t imagine drinking any reds. Would you mind selecting me a few sauvignon blancs and rosés? I also need a bottle of Lillet, a Cobb salad, and the maple mustard chicken dinner with stuffing and broccoli. That should last me a few days…”. 30 minutes later my bounty arrives and, of course, Ralph’s selections are spot on. 

Now Beso and I can relax and watch the entirety of Season 1 of True Blood on the couch together. It may even get us into Season 2 of Gossip Girl. Hey, a girl can dream…

Greenblatt’s also has an impressive cheese and charcuterie selection AND a magical lemon cake that I could write a whole other blog about…


Greenblatt's Deli-Restaurant and Fine Wine Shop
8017 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-0606


Greenblatt's Delicatessen