10.20.2010

Bringing It Back


I’ve never really been a big breakfast person. I love breakfast foods and, hell, brunch is my most favoritest meal of all, but I really just have absolutely no appetite within the first two or three hours of waking up. Coffee does the trick just fine until lunch (which I usually eat a bit late, as well). Additionally, in the breakfast department, ninety nine point nine percent of the time I will opt for savory over sweet. For example, I much prefer eggs, potatoes and bacon to pancakes or waffles.

About a year or so ago I stumbled across an article in Gourmet (RIP) about a cookbook by Marion Cunningham entitled, The Breakfast Book. At the time of the book’s publication, in 1987, there were almost no other cookbooks concentrating on breakfast. In the midst of an era applauding frozen waffles, microwaves and "Nouvelle cuisine" (think Dorsia), Cunningham wanted to get the home cook back in the kitchen.

I was already familiar with Cunningham as she edited The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, authored The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, and roamed across the country cooking with James Beard. But this cookbook was a new one for me.

So although breakfast is not my favorite meal of the day, nor have I ever relied on a recipe to prepare any breakfast dishes, upon hearing Cunningham say her Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots are the lightest of hot cakes, and seeing this quote, “Cooking is one of the legacies we can leave to the future, and I would like to be remembered for my baking. We all know we’re not immortal, but after I’m gone, I would like my son and daughter to be able to say, ‘Our mother made real yeast bread for breakfast.” – I was sold.

I believe I have mentioned a fond memory of my grandfather, Paw, back in Roanoke, Virgina, making sausage biscuits. He would make a whole baking sheet full of biscuits, cook up a ton of sausage, assemble the biscuits, and leave them on the tray on the counter in the kitchen. As friends and family ambled in and out of the house everyone would, at some point, wander into the deliciously sausage-y smelling kitchen and help themselves.


So, as very much a non-baker, when I discovered Cunningham’s recipe for Cream Biscuits, described as “superior and no student ever failed to make good ones in James Beard’s cooking classes”, I gave them a go. She was right. They are delicate and buttery with a light crumb, and they are delicious. And yes, simple enough that even I didn’t mess them up.

Recently, I remembered that it’s just about the time of year when I order piles of my favorite sausage from Broadbent’s – which I know I’ve mentioned before.

Then it all came together: sausage biscuits!

So last weekend, once my sausage order arrived, I tore into the kitchen to make this marriage happen. And I did it just like Paw. For two days everyone that came in and out of the house enjoyed those incredible and home-made sausage biscuits that sat on the baking sheet on the counter in the kitchen. It made them happy but it made me happier.

Funny thing: Maggie, who also has ties to Roanoke, mentioned that the whole thing reminded her of her grandfather. Sausage biscuits, on the baking sheet, on the counter in the kitchen, always. Sniff.

So I decided that this will be a theme this Fall and Winter. Yesterday I made another dozen biscuits and cooked up a bunch of sausage. They were all gone by Noon today.

Thank you, Marion Cunningham, for bringing my friends and family back to the kitchen. 


Cream Bicuits


Makes one dozen biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar 
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Use an ungreased baking sheet.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir the dry ingredients with a fork to blend and lighten. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Gather the dough together; when it holds together and feels tender, it is ready to knead. If the dough seems shaggy and pieces are dry and falling away, thenslowly add enough additional cream to make the dough hold together.

Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. Pat the dough into a square that is about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 12 squares and dip each into the melted butter so all sides are coated. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the biscuits are lightly browned. Serve hot.

10.16.2010

A Fork in the Road


A couple of nights ago I met up with Chris at Susan Feniger's Street. We have been trying to use up our Blackboard Eats coupons before they expire. Ryan and I went about a year ago and ordered a few menu items and several glasses of wine. This, however, was Chris’ maiden voyage. We met at 8:30 with reservations but decided to ditch them for the bar. He was already at the bar; that’s usually my seating preference anyway.

It was bustling. Large parties, couples, friends, special dates, casual meet ups, all sorts of diners filled the small-ish dining room and adjacent patio. The color scheme consists primarily of orange and black. There are graffiti inspired street murals by Huntley Muir covering a good deal of the non-slated wood wall space, both inside and out. The overall effect of this aesthetic is somewhere between Blade Runner and being physically inserted into a Keith Haring piece. Both might be neat, but both are 1982 and neither, in my humble opinion, create the ambiance of “cozy” for dining.

So let us travel down this road now, shall we?

Right out of the gate we were served an Amuse-Bouche.  A savory version of a Rice Crispy Treat: Millet Seed Puffs, with Marshmallow, Fennel, Curry, Coriander, Cumin and Black Currant -- I liked all of the flavors but found the texture to be more on the moist rather than crispy side.


We began our order with the famed Kaya Toast which is Street’s tour de force. Originally a breakfast dish from Singapore, this is toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam served with a soft poached egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper ($11). This undoubtedly lives up to the buzz.  While Kaya Toast is very simple, once in your mouth it becomes incredibly complex both in texture and taste. It’s surprising, imaginative in every way and absolutely illuminates the palate.


Next up we visit Turkey and Syria with the Lamb Kafta Meatballs over warm Syrian cheese wrapped in grape leaf and drizzled with date and carob molasses and served with za’atar spiced flatbread ($10). I thought the meatballs were succulent and robust.  I could have eaten a pile of them. But what I was confused about was the dish as a whole. The flatbread was crisp like a cracker. Was I supposed to spread the cheese over it and then eat a bite of meatball? I attempted to put some meatball on the cracker with the cheese but to no avail. Meatball falls off. I wish the bread was giving and accepted the meatball so I could have that perfect bite. That aside, all elements on the plate were appetizing on their own.

With the meatballs we ordered the Sauteed Black Kale with Refried White Beans served with toasted olive bread and white anchovy butter ($7). Again, everything on the plate was good. I prefer my kale and kale-like greens cooked down a little more, but that’s a preference thing (after all, I did grow up in the South). I am also a fan of any version of white beans that can be created. I also love butter and am over the top for anchovy butter. But I still found myself at a dead end when assembling everything for the perfect bite. Where does the anchovy butter go? I still smeared it over the smear of refried white beans over the kale over the bread.

Our bartender/server had told us that, very recently, Cat Cora was in the house shooting a part of the show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Apparently, Iron Chef Cora’s favorite thing to eat is Feniger’s Mandoo Vegetable Dumplings: Asian vegetables, sweet potato and kimchi filled dumplings with roasted ginger yam and sesame dipping sauce ($9). So off we went to Korea. I will say that while I was underwhelmed with the actual dumpling, I really enjoyed the ginger yam puree combined with the sesame oil and the tang of the soy. It did make the dish but it didn’t make it in the echelon of best things I have ever eaten. 

Now let us jet off to Thailand for the Thai Rice Noodles: flat wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, seasoned pork, tomato, mint, thai basil and chiles ($15). I was downright disappointed with the actual noodles. They were flaccid with no chew to them. The pork was seasoned and cooked to perfection. I didn’t find anything that would define this dish as special and it would have a tough time standing up to most of our wonderful Thai restaurants within a couple miles of Street. I also felt the $15 price tag was a tad high.

Our last dish was in Japan with the Tatsutage Fried Chicken marinated with soy, mirin, and sake crispy fried in rice batter and topped with spicy kewpie mayonnaise sauce ($15). Chris and I have always adored this dish at Ita Cho and we were excited to try this version. The chicken was over fried and very oily. While the meat of the chicken was cooked nicely, the marinade was nowhere to be tasted. The kewpie mayonnaise was a nice touch, a little creamy, a little citrusy and little heat. The pickled vegetables seemed like an afterthought. They were under pickled and seemed lost on this plate. 
Chris and I have been bandying about the idea of a “Greatest Hits From Around the World” restaurant for years – mostly jokingly. A single chef attempting to master so many different cuisines seems like machine gun fire. Something will hit the mark but impossible to land them all.  Street’s concept actually suffers in a City like Los Angeles; a city replete with street food from all corners of the world – delicious, authentic, and affordable.

All in all I'd say this evening led us down a street with very uneven pavement.

Susan Feniger's Street on Urbanspoon

10.13.2010

34. Get Your Lardon at Domaine LA’s Second Tasting

Note the ominous look of the sky with the ocean layer rolling in. I love it.

A week ago, last Sunday, along with my usual posse, I attended Domaine LA’s second wine tasting. This one was structured a little differently than the first, and all for the better in my humble opinion. First, it was scheduled a couple of hours later in the day: from 4-7pm. This seems a wiser time frame than from 2-4pm, as it enables people to settle into their evening a bit and have a few more sips. I’m sure you get the idea. Additionally, there were nine wines to taste as opposed to three: four whites and five reds ($15). Another very cool element to this affair was that the wine makers were in the house, pouring and chatting. And did I mention that the Get Your Lardon truck was there?!

This was considerably more populated and lively than the first one – which is saying a lot since the first one was pretty spirited as well. And so along with Maggie, Chris, Doug and I welcomed Wine O’Clock.


White wines:

Domaine de la Pepiere, Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, 2009 (Melon de Bourgogne is the grape, appellation is Muscadet-Sevre-et-Maine (Poured from a magnum) About this wine, Jill says, “Many people assume the grape is Muscadet but it's not.” This was actually my favorites of the whites. I have become a big fan of the Muscadets since my trip to France a few years back.
Peillot Altesse de Montagnieu Bugey, France, 2009 (Altesse is the grape)
Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne, Chitry, 2008 (100% Chardonnay, from very close to Chablis)

Mayr Nusserhoff Blaterle, Sudtirol Vino de Tavola (2008 -- bottle has a code to indicate this even though the wine is not legally vintage dated)

Red wines:

Thierry Puzelat Le Tel Quel, Loire Valley  (2009 -- but as with the Blaterle this is a Vin de Table, so not vintage dated but this does come from the 09 vintage)

Cascina Tavijn Ruche di Castagnole, Monferrato, 2009 (Ruche is the grape) This one was my favorite of all of the wines I tasted. Maggie and I actually bought a few bottles to take home with us.

Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone Vaison-La-Romaine, 2007 (100% Grenache)

Arianna Occhipinti SP68, IGT Sicilia, 2009 (blend of Frappato and Nero d'Avola)

Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorres, Beaujolais L'Ancien, 2009 (100% Gamay) 


The structure of this tasting was very casual. You could pretty much begin and end in whatever direction you desired. Everyone was everywhere. Everyone was happy. Kudos, again, Jill!

Let us now talk bacon.


I have been really, really excited to sink my teeth into the Get Your Lardon truck. They’re one of the newest kids on the block, but have still managed to hit the streets with a lot of fanfare. I mean, who doesn’t like bacon? Hell, one of the girls at the tasting who claimed to be a vegetarian “most of the time” still housed the Frisee Lardon Sandwich and the Lark Brownie in a New York minute.

And, as I always say, that’s why they call it bacon.


I was introduced to Get Your Lardon at Thrillist’s Best of the Food Truck Rally and sampled their Baco (pronounced like Taco): Potatoes and Cheddar in a Bacon Shell Served with Horseradish-Bacon Sour Cream ($4). It was essentially a deconstructed baked potato taco with the bacon literally serving as as the taco shell. It was divine and the perfect food to eat on the move. I had high hopes for everything else on the menu.


After we had pretty much finished the tasting Maggie excitedly raced out to the truck to gather up our bacon-filled supplies. Upon her return, she glowed with a smug comfort as she carted in what looked like one-of-everything. She even had a sticker with a star on her hand to symbolize her claim on the last Bacone the truck had to offer. Score!

So here we go.

The Bacone: 3 Strips of Bacon, rotating inclusions ($4) We had duck, boar and hickory smoked. The duck was both of our favorites. It was less fatty than the others and had a wonderful, almost jerky-like texture. The boar was great, but certainly the fattiest (not a problem if you’re bacon, of course). The hickory smoked is exactly what you’d want and expect it to be. Doug thought, “The cone of bacon was fun. I was surprised by how I couldn't tell the wild boar from the pork.”

 Note the "last Bacone" badge on Maggie's hand.

The Frisee Lardon Sandwich with a Fried Egg and Vinaigrette on Toasted Brioche ($6): I had a couple of bites of this sandwich and Maggie pretty much ate the rest. We both liked this as well. The egg was delicately fried with a super soft yolk that ran all over the place upon the first bite. A little messy? Yes. A lot luscious and deelish? Also yes. 


Lark Brownie with Bacon Nutella Spread ($3.50): Well we have all discovered, recently, the joy and wonder of the bacon and chocolate marriage, thanks mostly to the boys at Animal. And not unlike their Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar; this was rich, savory, sweet and tremendously satisfying.


Doug and Kendra ordered “The Lardon” BLT: Nueske’s Peppered Bacon, Butter Lettuce & Heirloom Tomatoes with St. Agur Blue Cheese Served on a Toasted Baguette ($6). I did not try this, but Doug says, “The BLT was complex with thick, crusty bread, juicy tomatoes and blue-cheese spread that set off their trademark bacon.” I do think this was one of the most visually appealing items I have seen from the menu. I mean, look at those tomatoes!


I’d say everyone was happy with Get Your Lardon. I went out to say hi to the gang in there at the end of the whole affair - they were elated with the turnout and pretty much sold out of everything.

So, another happy, wine (and bacon) fun times Sunday at Domaine LA. I see this becoming a habit...

10.06.2010

Food That Loves


Oh, the rain. How I love it. The smell, the sound, the fact that I don’t need to water my garden: I love it. I’ve had fires roaring in the fireplace for the past two nights, jazz playing loudly, and cooking lots of food that just hugs you all over.

A few days back I was reading Orangette’s column in Bon Appetit, and remembered how I really wanted to try my hand at meatballs. They fall into that category of food that I’ve not experienced much in my life – kind of like the meatloaf or "Taco Night". And when dining out I will almost always order Pasta alla Carbonara or Penne alla Vodka over Spaghetti and Meatballs. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever ordered Spaghetti and Meatballs.

So, back to the column. I have followed Orangette for years now. Since before her fancy and exciting column in a fancy and shiny magazine. I like her writing, I like her photography, and I almost always like her recipes (of which I have made my fair share). This particular recipe not only caught my eye for its meatball factor, it also caught my eye because it originally came from Carla Leonardi and Jordi Viladas, owners of Café Lago in Seattle.

Before you ask, no, I have never been to Café Lago. Nor have I been to Seattle, actually. But I did make their recipe, Pomodori al Forno, after reading about it in Orangette’s column in the Fall of 2008. Both Chris and I loved it and I have made it many times hence. Anyway, meatball excitement overcame me so I jumped in the car to wrangle up ingredients smack in the middle of the afternoon. I then spent the remainder of the day and night preparing enough spaghetti and meatballs for 10 people. I was all by myself. (Note: Much later that night Maggie ate some. The next day Chris and Maggie ate some more. The day after that I made a meatball sub with some more, and later that night Brandon took the rest home in Tupperware. So it all worked out.)

I had so much fun making these meatballs. I usually hate making a mess and wash my hands constantly. But realizing that there was no way around it, I embraced this tactile experience. With my fingers separated and immersed in the milky, meaty, eggy, bready mess, I melded the ingredients to their proper consistency. By the time I finished rolling them all into perfect golf ball sized spheres and dropped them in the sauce, I was filled with a child-like glee. Bring on the mess!

Then I sat on the couch, in front of the fire, with Ahmad Jamal melting my ears with his beautiful, jazzy mastery on the piano. And waited.

And then, with much anticipation, I served myself a heaping pile of spaghetti and meatballs. I poured a massive glass of Dolcetto. And I very much enjoyed my perfect Fall evening. I may have been the only dinner guest, but I felt entirely embraced by this dish.



Spaghetti and Meatballs


For the best texture, don't overwork the meat mixture and use Parmesan that's ground to a fine powder (use the processor or the rasp side of a box grater). For more heat, add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper to the sauce.

6 main-course servings
  • PREP: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • TOTAL: 2 hours 45 minutes

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt

Meatballs

  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

Preparation

Sauce

  • Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

Meatballs

  • Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.
  • Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  • Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.
  • Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
  • Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.
  • Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.
  • Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.


Chopping and Chewing

 Potato Buttermilk Soup, Potato Chips:
From the Chicks With Knives "Root Down" Menu at Test Kitchen on September 30, 2010.

I can confidently say that I have reclaimed my kitchen identity of late. I have re-bonded with my kitchen. I guess it began a few weeks ago when the temperature dropped into Autumn degrees. I simply suddenly wanted to be cooking. A lot. And so I did.

As you may recall, there was meatloaf. But there has also been spaghetti and meatballs – actually, my first-ever homemade meatballs (recipe to come). There has been a beautiful zucchini and basil soup (recipe to come), Swiss chard “purses” with sausage stuffing (recipe to come), and then there was the day I spent cooking in another kitchen world entirely.

I have recently become acquainted with Rachael, from Chicks with Knives, who asked me if I would like to help out in the kitchen in the preparation of their dinner at Test Kitchen. Incidentally, A friend had already asked me if I’d like to be her dining companion for the actual dinner. But hey, I could still spend the day prior helping with all things prep.

 Chicks With Knives: Suzanne & Rachael

At this point I might add that I have never worked in a professional kitchen. Nor have I ever really worked with other chefs. It’s always pretty much just little, old me in my little, old kitchen. But in there I can work magic. So why not spread out a little bit? Gain some perspective? Learn some new things?

At this point I might also add that I am a very prideful person. I’d say prideful to a fault. I really hate to screw up in front of people. When I was a little girl and got my first pair of roller skates, rather than have my mom show me what to do, and have her see me fall down in the process, I went around the block and taught myself how to skate. I didn’t come back around to my house until I had gotten it right.

So, I was admittedly nervous when, on the phone the night before, Rachael asked me to rate my kitchen skills from picking chervil to somethingsomethingsomething Eric Ripert (I couldn’t hear most of her sentence – just Eric Ripert). Gosh. I don’t really know since I’ve never had anyone to compare myself to except from watching Iron Chef or Top Chef. And if that’s my gauge, I guess I’m picking chervil.

 Rachael and some of the kitchen gang.

Miss Squashblossom in front of the wood burning oven, plating salads for the evening. 

And so, with thoughts of embarrassing myself in front of others, I spent a restless night. And then the next morning, with my freshly sharpened chef’s knife and my apron, off to Test Kitchen I went.

Hey, guess what? Everything was fine. Actually, everything was better than fine – I felt that I was really helpful and I had so much fun! Hell, six hours flew by like ten minutes! I hardly even noticed that I had given myself a right hand full of blisters from so much knifery. It felt good. I slept well that night.

"A Nice Salad"

So this brings us to the next night: the actual dinner, which I was to attend. I am almost always a super on time person and I abhor tardiness. But for some bizarre reason I am almost always running late when this friend is involved. And she’s always early! Not this night. I got there a little early even. Enjoyed the better part of a cocktail at the bar while I waited. Popped my head into the kitchen window to say hi to everyone. Kinda wished I was back there, too, but I knew I wanted to experience both sides of the coin regarding this meal. It seemed, to me, a rare opportunity to go into a restaurant to dine with the insight and exposure that I experienced prior.

Poached Rib Eye, Juniper, Parsley Root Puree

Dinner was great. The food was plated beautifully and the pacing was absolutely perfect. I felt their food was thoughtful, seasonal and inspired. Their cuisine is not too far off from my own, conceptually. And it was simply too much fun to take notice of “my” beautifully julienned celery in the fennel, persimmon, celery and chorizo salad, and to taste the lovely, creamy and nutty parsley root and potato puree that I saw from beginning to end the very day before. And even though I can get freaked out by cooked fruit, I savored every bite of the apples – that I had peeled!

Pumpkin Pot de Créme. Chocolate, Beet. Apple Tart Tatin.

And so. A little micro-adventure for F for Food. A new thing. And this makes me very happy. Except my kitchen seems kind of small, now.


*All of the lovely photographs of the food I swiped from Kevin Eats.

Test Kitchen on Urbanspoon