In the late 1940s and early 1950s the French were watching a lot of the popular films coming out of this country.  After a little while they stopped to pause and wondered what in God’s teeth was going on over here?! In these films there were men coming home from the war to find the women had taken their jobs, their wives cheating on them or leaving them for the men who weren’t even “manly” enough to go to war, and their children were completely alienated from them. We were full of cynical attitudes and sexual motivation. Absolute disillusionment. We were broken people. A broken country.

But we didn’t seem to realize that at the time.

The French called this era, this genre of film, Film Noir. Black film. These films all have elements of German Expressionism and Italian Neo-Realism. They all incorporate low-key lighting, unbalanced compositions, femme fatales, narration, hard-boiled detectives, and non-linear plot structures (a lot of flashbacks and flash forwards). They are almost always self-reflexive. Some perfect examples of these are: The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, D.O.A., The Woman in the Window, The Lady from Shanghai, The Big Combo and Out of the Past. And I just adore The Blue Dahlia. Interestingly, most all of the material for these films evolved from the pulp novels of writers during the Depression (Chandler, Hammet, etc.)

It seems that usually when we, either as a body of people, or individually, go through big changes we don’t necessarily see it until after the fact. It then is something we went through to get to where we are or where we may be going. Change is more easily understood and seen in a future want, like a New Year’s resolution, but most commonly in retrospect. Others can usually identify our changes before we do.

But occasionally we have those times they are a changin’ that we are staring square in the face. You didn’t even make a New Year’s resolution but suddenly look around and every element of your life, especially the thing that is the most secure, is hanging in the balance. Everything is changing before your eyes, like it or not.

Good, bad, beautiful or ugly – welcome to my now. My change. And right at my birthday. And no, I’m not going through menopause.

This is good. Really. But admittedly, exceedingly daunting. I’ll let you know how it turns out when I can be less reflexive and more reflective.

One change that is occurring that I am conscious of and working towards is my panic with certain fruit related issues. I know I’ve touched on it at least once in the past, but let me really explain the way this works for me:

I do like fruit.
I don’t like fruit touching other fruit.
I don’t like hot or cooked fruit, but I’m getting a little better there.
I am usually wary of fruit in my savory dishes, but I’ve come a long way with that one.
Gooey fruit, such as that in most pies, crumbles, compotes, etc. disarms me. It’s unfortunate.
Fruit FLAVORED anything is a big no.
Any citrus is exempt from all of the above.
If I so much as see applesauce, I will leave the table. That will never change.

As I said, I’m working on most of these things. As a foodie it is a major detriment to hate anything edible. I’m aware of that. But I can proudly say that I will eat anything else in the world.

As you may know, my mom is the pastry chef for Dinner at Eight. The first dessert incorporated fresh strawberries. They were not cooked but they did have some liquid that made me a little edgy. I tasted every version we tested for that meal and enjoyed each one. But not without hesitation. For this last Dinner at Eight she made a rustic cherry tart with almond ice cream. Warm, cooked cherries. I tasted the first test and second test runs.

On the first tart we used whole, pitted cherries. They looked like bloody eyeballs to me. I did have a small slice, to make sure it was up to par for the dinner party, but no more than that. And it was really good. I just couldn’t get past the cherries staring up at me. Everyone else who tasted it thought it was divine. Round two is what is photographed here and its recipe is below. We just had to chop up those cherries a bit and I was okay with it (mostly). Again, everyone else that tried it was over the moon.

We’ll see what happens with my whole fruit thing. As I mentioned, I’m working on it. And I guess we’ll see what unfolds with all of these other big, broad strokes of my life. As my friend, Brian, used to always say, “Everything will work out. Or not.”

Rustic Cherry Tart with Almond Ice Cream


1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup + 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted & cooked a little)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375.
Toast almonds on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
Cool and place in food processor with sugar; pulse to coarse meal.
Add flour and salt and pulse to combine with almonds.
Transfer ingredients to bowl, add melted butter, vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon ice cold water.
Mix until just combined.
Press dough into a buttered 9" fluted tart pan.
Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.


1 pound fresh cherries coarsely chopped (chop around pits); toss chopped cherries with 3 teaspoons of sugar and leave in bowl until ready to use
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400
Place butter, sugar, flour, egg and vanilla extract in a bowl; mix until combined.
Remove crust from refrigerator; prick surface with a fork.  Using an offset spatula, spread the mixture evenly over crust and chill 15 minutes more.
Remove tart from refrigerator; spread the cherries evenly over the tart mixture. Bake 20 - 25 minutes.

Almond Ice Cream

2 cups raw (whole) almonds
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks (large)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat over to 375
Toast almonds on baking sheet for 10 minutes.  Cool and chop coarsely.
Put 1 cup of the almonds in saucepan, pour in milk and cream.  Bring to boil over medium heat.  Remove from heat and cover- (30 minutes)-flavors will infuse.
Bring mixture to boil once again.  Remove from heat.
Whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl.  Remove almonds (with slotted spoon or small strainer) from milk/cream mixture.  Whisk 2 to 3 tablespoons of warm mixture into the yolks & sugar.
Add remainder (slowly) while whisking.  Add vanilla extract.  Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat (stirring frequently with rubber spatula) for 8 minutes or until custard thickens and coats the back of the spatula. Strain mixture and chill for 2 hours.  

Process in an ice cream maker (refer to manufacturer's instructions).  Stir in remaining almonds when done.


It's Gettin, It's Gettin, It's Gettin' Kinda Hectic.

I am getting nervous. I am nervous.

In just one short week the second Dinner at Eight will be upon us. But this one won’t consist of six of my friends. This guest list includes six of my fellow food bloggers – only some of whom I have met personally. My peeps, yes, but these are also critical minds and educated palates.

I have the menu pretty much put together. I have been and will continue to tweak and test all of my recipes. Plus, I have to shuttle all the samples to Jill at Domaine LA so she can get all of the pairings just right. Sadly, Jill won’t be able to personally attend this next dinner party. I will have to find a substitute Jill. That should be interesting. I’ll add that to my very long Dinner at Eight to do list, now.

The other night I had Doug over to be a taste tester for a few of the recipes. One would think most people would not hesitate to say yes to that invite. But it was the night of the last game of the Lakers/Celtics thing. So, I agreed that we could tune into the game and taste test simultaneously . Awesome meal + Lakers/Celtics thing + my effervescent company? Not for free, buddy. Doug had to install the hardware for my new curtains--a little off my talent chart. That’s a fair trade, yes?

Some things worked out well, some needed attention. Such is life. We had fun. A couple of the recipes that will be involved in the next dinner I have already written about here and here. But today I am going to share with you the recipe for the salad course.

I know I have told you about my moniker from my days (years) in Atlanta. Michael Fancini coined a new name and it stuck. I became known as The Duchess - to me it was endearing and strangely flattering.

According to my Larousse Gastronomique, Green Goddess dressing is a variation of a dressing originated in France by a Chef to Louis XIII who made a Sauce Au Vert (Green Sauce) which was traditionally served with 'Green Eel'. Another story has the dressing invented at the historic Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the 1920's in honor of William Archer's hit play The Green Goddess. Much like my Duchess moniker, I don’t see the royal Goddess parallel anywhere with either of these stories. So, with a few twists and toggles, I have created a Duchess dressing. You saw that coming, right?

This dressing is crisp, cool, tart, and light, yet creamy, rich and delicately textured. It needs very little in the salad-bells-and-whistles department: merely romaine lettuce, avocados, cucumbers and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.

Duchess Salad with Romaine, Avocado, Cucumber and Pine Nuts

Serves 6

2 large heads romaine lettuce
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 cup grapeseed oil
1 1/4 cup Italian parsely
1 cup packed watercress, cleaned, stems removed
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
3 tablespoons minced chives, plus 2 tablespoons 1/2-inch snipped chives
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, bones removed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
2 large ripe avocados
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the outer leaves of the romaine. Trim and separate the leaves, clean and chill in refrigerator.

Place the egg yolk in a stainless steel bowl. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the oil in bowl, drop by drop, constantly whisking. Continue until mixture is emulsified. At this point whisk in another 1/4 cup of oil in a steady stream.

Purée 1 cup of parsley, watercress, tarragon and minced chives in a blender with the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice and remaining 1/2 cup of oil.

Whisk the herb purée, vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper into the mayonnaise. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Cut avocados and cucumbers into long diagonal wedges and season generously with salt and pepper.

Place the romaine in a large salad bowl, and toss with 1/2 cup of dressing, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some more black pepper. Gently toss in the avocado and cucumber. Arrange delicately on a plate and sprinkle with pine nuts, parsley and chives.

Printable Recipe


Shiso Special

Last week I finally made it to Sushi Park for dinner. It was fantastic, fresh and inspired. The only drawback for me is its price tag is a bit prohibitive to be a place I could frequent.

One of my all-time favorite items when I'm in sushi-land is the scallop with a shiso leaf. It is usually garnished with a bit of coarse salt and a droplet of mirin. It is not to be dipped in soy sauce. This little gem of delight is impossibly delicate, subtle and perfectly rounded in both texture and flavor. The shiso adds an earthy, yet minty accent to the rich and sumptuous scallop bite – which makes sense as it is from the mint and basil family.

As I was waxing rhapsodic about the wonder and delight of the shiso leaf, our chef – who couldn’t help but overhear – generously handed me two small bundles of the little lovelies. I was already on cloud nine with the meal (with the exception of their sweet shrimp – not so hot), but this was just the shiniest, specialest thing ever!

So, the next two days my mind swirled with ideas of what I could do with my bounty of these prickly, pungent leaves. I found that Heidi, at 101 Cookbooks, had a lovely looking recipe for Edamame Salad with Shiso and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. But I was still trying to find a way to incorporate it into a dish that had no Japanese influence or ingredients. I actually made a pasta salad with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, chives, and – in lieu of basil – I opted for shiso leaves, chiffonade. I dressed the whole thing with some oil, a little mirin and a scant dash of soy sauce, salt and pepper. It turned out nicely: fresh, sprited and surprising, if perhaps a bit busy.

That night, for dinner I had planned on preparing a steak using my awesome “perfect steak” recipe. Then it struck me, the steak could topped with a shiso leaf butter! That lovely, crisp and fresh accent to the steak would be a superb idea. I hoped.

Well it really worked out beautifully. This would be great item sharing a plate with a crisp salad and some sweet corn. All so fresh and Summery, colorful and creative.

Shiso Leaf Butter

14 medium shiso leaves, coarsely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Smooth butter into a container and refrigerate. 

Place a generous dollop on top of your steak!



You know it was a party when, the next morning, your guests send pictures as evidence and call with stories of their maladies that occurred in the aftermath of the evening. That reminds me, someone promised a picture that I have not yet received...

No, really.

What a cool night. The setting was ethereal, the wine was flowing, the food turned out pretty great, and everyone seemed to have a blast. The only sad part is that this is all hear-say for me as I was in the kitchen the entire time. And I was a little crazed. But I was happy. I was in The Zone.

Vichysoisse atop a Hama Hama Oyster, Garnished with Caviar

But, with a few pacing and plating issues figured out (too little time between a few courses, way too much time between another and I need to plate slightly smaller portions) I believe this whole Dinner at Eight brain flower of mine might just take off!

Grilled lamb chops with mint and lemon over spring pea risotto and heirloom carrots braised in vermouth, sweet butter & sage

The next day (or maybe a couple of days later to allow everyone to cater to their recovery period) I emailed, called, texted and sent smoke signals to everyone for their - no-holds-barred - input. Theoretically this was why I wanted them to come in the first place. What I found the most interesting is that everyone found the salad course, and the pairing with it, to be their favorite. The salad??

It is an interesting salad, I must admit. It is composed of endive, which is great fun to eat with one's hands. In the spirit of Alice Waters, who prefers to eat salad with her hands, I had Heather (our awesome server for the evening AND one of my oldest friends) instruct everyone to do just that. And to add a little more fun to the course, Heather had suggested we provide the guests with rolled, hot hand towels both before and after the course was served for clean hands. I'm guessing the delicious salad was even more so with a little process, a little story.

So, from the maiden voyage of Dinner at Eight, I share with you today the recipe for the salad course. For last Saturday’s complete menu and pairings, and for future dates, reservations and menus, visit Dinner at Eight.

Endive salad with roasted garlic, walnuts and oil cured olives with Meyer lemon cream

Serves 6

1 Meyer lemon, very thinly sliced
5 Belgian endives, cores removed, separated into spears
Meyer lemon cream (recipe follows)
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, in small chunks
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 bulb roasted garlic (minus a couple of cloves for the Meyer lemon cream)
1/3 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Place the endive in a large bowl and pour the Meyer lemon cream over them. Add the walnuts, lemon slices, and sliced shallots. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat the endive with the dressing. Taste for seasoning, and arrange on plate. Scatter the olives and herbs over the salad.

Meyer lemon cream

2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
2 cloves of the roasted garlic
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the shallot, roasted garlic, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil. Gently stir in cream, add a few grinds of pepper, and taste for balance and seasoning.


This Little Light of Mine.

Occasionally, if it’s a clear day or during a sunset, while I’m driving along Mulholland, I almost drive off the road. Even after 8 years of living in Los Angeles, she still takes my breath away.  It’s easy to forget, sometimes, what a beautiful city this is when the blinders of traffic, smog and sheer population bombard our daily life. But when you have a moment to breathe, to change perspective, to look down at this sprawling metropolis from up above, you only see the landscape, the colors and shapes. The honking, tedium and wheeling and dealing going on in small nooks and crannies throughout the city become invisible.

These moments are important to me, but I often fail to remember to take them. That’s why, when I’m chugging along in my junk-heap, gas guzzler of a car (with no air conditioning), and I suddenly get a little window - a glimpse – of the sparkly city I sometimes forget I live in, I am taken aback. LA is winking at me. Bringing me back to basics. And for this I am grateful.

There are so many things to see and do in our fair city. One can live here for decades and decades and never exhaust all of the culture, museums, restaurants, parks, events and communities to discover. It’s both exhilarating and daunting.

Obviously my main obsession in LA and life is all things food. I try to check out as many restaurants, hot dog carts, food trucks, and markets as I possibly can. I wish I was invited to lots of dinner parties as well, but either my friends don’t have them or I’m not invited because I may be too harsh a critic in their opinion. Gosh, I do hope it’s the former.

I also love classic Hollywood films. I actually studied Film Noir in college (obviously I didn't go to Yale). I love the way formality was a part of each meal: the coffee being sipped from beautiful china, toasts with jam & butter, fresh fruit and the morning paper being enjoyed in front of a bay window while dressed in silk robes, and perhaps an ascot (on him). The three-martini lunch being served by vested servers while sitting in a dark leather booth, dressed in a suit (him or her). And the dinner parties. The dinner parties, always served at 8pm, exquisite gowns (think Adriane), ornate place settings, cocktails, formal conversation masking secrets, mystery and intrigue. Interestingly, many of these films during this era took place in this very city of sunshine & shadows.

So guess what? I want to bring it back. I also want to give something to my city. My people. Myself. 

I have conceived of a dinner party: 6 people, 4 courses, once a month, complete with wine pairings from Jill at Domaine LA, under the stars in Laurel Canyon. The food is seasonal and primarily sourced from our local farmer’s markets and whatever I can utilize from my garden. Get here at 7pm for cocktails and noshables. The first course will be served at 8pm. Let's call it Dinner at Eight.

So, my fellow Angelinos, who’s in? Perhaps after dinner you can cruise home along Mulholland, have the city of angels wink at you and remember what drew you to this magical city in the first place.
Michael Mann, eat your heart out. Literally.

Dinner at Eight: The Maiden Voyage
June 5, 2010

Vichyssoise atop one raw Hama Hama oyster, garnished with caviar
2008 Domaine de la Fruitiere "Cuvée Petit M," Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine

Endive salad with roasted garlic, walnuts and oil cured olives with Meyer lemon cream
2007 COS "Rami," Sicily

Grilled lamb chops with mint and lemon over spring pea risotto and heirloom carrots braised in vermouth, sweet butter & sage
2008 Pithon-Paille "Graviers," Bourgueil

Fresh strawberries, chocolate mint & Chantilly cream with cornmeal shortcakes
NV Terres Dorées "FRV100," Beaujolais

Today, I share with you the recipe for the dessert course. For more information, recipes, or an invite… comment below!


 Fresh Strawberries, Chocolate Mint & Chantilly cream with Cornmeal Shortcakes

Serves 6

Cornmeal Shortcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425
Mix with fork:  flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 3 tablespoons of sugar.
Add butter; blend to a consistency of coarse meal
Quickly pour in cream and mix until dough starts to come together
Place dough on clean surface and bring together with your hands.  Shape into circle 1 1/4" thick.  Cut circle in half and then cut each half into four wedges.
Place shortcakes on buttered baking sheet
Brush with remaining tablespoon of cream and sprinkle a little sugar on top
Bake 15 minutes (until biscuits are golden brown)

Chantilly Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract together on high speed until soft peaks form in the mixture. Chill any unused Chantilly cream

Makes enough cream for one average-size cake or pastry recipe

Mascerated strawberries

2 pints strawberries
1/3 cup clover honey
1/4 cup chocolate mint, cut in small, thin strips
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Rinse the berries in colander under cool running water, pat dry with a paper towel.
Hull the berries and quarter
Add the honey, lemon zest and chocolate mint
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours

Refer to photo for assembly option.