11.17.2010

The (It's Almost) Winter of My Content


Admittedly, I did not have a mission – a design – for this post until I put the proverbial pen to paper. The actual dish below is one I have made half a dozen times, now. I learned of it through Chris, about a year and a half ago via his favorite magazine, The Week. He made it the first time I ate it, but I have made it each time hence (but not for Chris).

It’s November. As I’ve mentioned, perhaps ad nauseam, it’s that time of year. Bring on the Snuggie version of foods. Unfortunately, but also not surprising, our fair city is throwing me some major curve balls in the weather department. During the days it’s Summer. At night it’s downright cold. So a meal that sounds good when I start planning my dinner (right after lunch) is not the same meal that makes sense once the sun has sunk into the horizon.

Why is this relevant? I guess it’s not. But I was thinking how it’s not unlike my hair this week. First of all, I always want long hair. I think most girls do. I have spent years and years of my life trying to accomplish long hair. And by God, every time I do I realize the same thing. Long hair simply does not look good on me. It doesn’t help that I don’t really know how to do fun, pretty things with my hair. I don’t own a blow dryer or a curling iron, or a flattening iron (or whatever that’s called). I'm not really sure how to braid, but Maggie did show me how to put twisty-twirlys in my hair.

But also, it’s almost Winter. It’s supposedly cold-ish and fireplace-ish and scarves-ish. So what did I do earlier today? What did I do after working on growing my hair out for the past three years? What did I do the week before the holidays? I got all my hair cut off.

It looks good and I’m really happy with it. I’m even wearing a jaunty hat right this minute. It looks good with the jaunty hat. I have even already gotten a few compliments! Well, all three of those people saw me very recently with my lots of hair. I guess they had to say something.

So back to the weather, and the food. A couple of evenings ago I did my grocery shopping for the week. It was a cool night and my menu planning was hinged around that. Big food. Warm food. Cozy food.

Then, the next day I was out, in the world, doing my thing – and I was downright hot. I was wearing a tank top and a skirt and was still all sweaty. All I wanted for lunch was a salad and buckets of water. THEN, a mere few hours later, I get back home, up in my canyon, the sun sinks and it’s cold again. I swiftly changed into my warmies.

This was all fortuitous as Dougerton was coming over for a cold night kinda meal that I had planned out on that recent grocery shopping night. This brings us to the dish Chris taught me from The Week – with a few twists and turns, of course. It’s not the prettiest dish in the world, no matter how you work it. But it is really delicious.

In the aesthetic department, at least I have my new, fun hair! And, of course, the jaunty hat... (You SO thought you were getting a picture of my hair, didn't you?!)


Sausage Over Creamy Lentils

Serves 4


2 oz. smoked bacon, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small parsnip, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
12 oz. lentils, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 fresh pork sausages, such as sweet Italian sausages
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil


Cook bacon in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, until its fat has rendered, about 6 minutes. Add butter, onions, garlic, parsnip, and celery; cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Tie parsley, thyme, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine; add to pan. Stir in lentils and 5 1⁄2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Discard herbs. Stir in mustard and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring sausages, wine, and 1 cup water to a boil in a 12" skillet over high heat. Cook, turning sausages occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 12–15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add oil. Cook sausages until browned, 6–7 minutes. Serve the sausages over the lentils.

11.14.2010

Nonplussed

This past week I have been hit from all sides by episodes that have left me saying to myself, “Really?... Seriously?.” Did you really have to say that about me? Did you seriously put me in a position to have to answer that question? Did you really answer the phone that way? Are you really going to behave about this that way? Are you seriously doing that right now? Did you really have to zip three lanes across traffic on the 2 while driving 117365 miles an hour and almost knock my car off the road?

I’m having one of those moments, which we all have, in our lives when we wonder if everyone around us is a little crazy – or if we are.

It has rendered me exhausted.

It has also compelled me to take the bull by the horns and do and see things that I love in this city. Things that make me happy and comfortable. Things that are mine and no one can take them from me, by golly.


So last night, I met a friend, and I treated myself to my favorite martini at one of my favorite places in my favorite city: Musso & Frank.  I have been going to Musso since day one of my tenure here. That night, I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Rueben, about Orson Welles. Apparently I was sitting upon the very barstool that the erstwhile Mr. Welles sat upon as he essentially drank (and ate) himself to death – and also, as it were, ordered his martini exactly the way I did. Reuben and I were fast friends.


Over the years Reuben has regaled me with fantastic stories of the things he has seen from behind that bar over his past 45 some odd years there. Stories so amazing that those stories have stories. I know where Raymond Chandler sat and wrote. And drank. The same goes for Charlie Chaplin. I know about a producer from The Streets of San Francisco, who officially drank the most booze in one sitting that Reuben has ever seen: 24 vodka and Coke’s within about an hour. Oh, and this was in the late morning, prior to going to a court case!

Then there was the time Hunter S. Thompson asked Reuben, “Do you know who I am?” To which Reuben replied, in all of his naïve honesty, “A pimp?” I see Mr. Gore Vidal there on the regular. That dude loves his martinis as well. I could go on and on, but you should go visit Reuben and ask him yourself. Hell, he’s even got a story about me now… Go ahead, ask him.


Rueben and Musso & Frank always remind me of everything I love about this city. Its sunshine and shadows, its history and lore, its tragedy and comedy. We may not have very many old buildings or enormous historic events that have transpired here in Los Angeles, but go to Musso and you’ll immediately understand our version of history.

Then earlier today, I needed some silence that wasn’t in my home so I treated myself to a long lunch at the Chateau Marmont. This is another spot I’ve loved for a very long time. Long before I moved here, in fact. The Chateau is also a place that is saturated with LA history. It’s where John Belushi died of a drug overdose, Jim Morisson swung from the roof into the window of his room, Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles through the lobby, Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Jean Harlow, Hunter S. Thompson (twice in one post!), and Howard Hughes, to name but a scant few, all stayed there frequently, or in some cases, lived there. Britney Spears has been banned from the place. Helmut Newton died when his car crashed into the wall outside of their driveway while exiting the hotel. I was actually there that day. I’ve even got a few Christopher Walken and Sean Penn (separately) stories to tell, myself. Ask if you run into me. Humphrey Bogart famously said, “If you’re going to get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.”


Admittedly, I have gotten into my fair share of trouble there as well. But that was a few years ago, now.

When I have visitors from out of town I always make a point to take them to the Chateau for brunch, or at least a glass of wine. You can’t not love the place, but you’re also almost guaranteed a pretty great celebrity sighting (in fact, Johnny Knoxville is sitting next to me, right now. I have to admit it – he really is cute.)

While I have had late nights there, spent the night there a few times, enjoyed the pool, attended parties, and eaten every meal there, inside and out, my favorite thing to do at the Chateau is to take the paper or my computer, order a pot of coffee and camp out on one of the ginormous couches while doing the crossword or writing until it’s well into Wine O’Clock.

The food is not amazing or memorable (which I always really want it to be), but it’s perfectly fine, for the most part. Today’s choice was a glass of iced tea and a bowl of the French onion cauliflower soup. Quite good. I also wrote everything up to this point there. Loveliness.


So, after back to back Musso and Chateau times, I am feeling a little less nonplussed. We all have bad weeks. We all have external elements that make us feel like the world is against us. That everyone is crazy. Or that we are crazy because everyone else can’t be crazy, right? But after treating myself to some quality time at two of the places that remind me of everything that I love about my own microcosm, a few stiff cocktails, a lovely bowl of soup, and some happy writing times, I feel I have effectively exorcised myself of the yuckadoonies.

To celebrate, Chris is coming over for dinner and I am going to prepare him some handmade pasta that I have spent the past month, obsessively, mastering. Why? To prove a point to no one but myself. 


The Revenge of the Homemade and Handmade Pasta


Ingredients

1 cup Semolina Flour
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Olive Oil (or vegetable oil)
2 large Eggs
1 pinch Salt
1 - 2 tbsp Water

Directions
  • Sift together semolina flour, all-purpose flour and salt.
  • Whisk or beat with fork eggs, olive oil and water.
  • Make mountain of flour on any flat surface, and form well in the center of it.
  • Pour in ½ of egg mixture and begin forming dough with 2 fingers while supporting the mound of flour with other hand, adding in the rest of the egg mixture once the dough gets going.
  • Kneed dough for 8 - 10 minutes, flouring surface with semolina as needed.
  • Form dough into ball and wrap with plastic wrap.
  • Let dough 'rest' in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
  • Cut dough into 2 pieces with a knife or dough blade.
  • Roll out dough into thin strips the thickness of a nickel. Hand cut as desired for type of pasta.
  • If making ravioli: Fill with ravioli filling, brush edges with egg wash, then close and seal individual ravioli dumplings making sure no air is trapped inside them.

11.10.2010

SugarFISH: Would Still Be A Deal at Twice the Price.


My dad was in town visiting a couple of weeks ago so I packed our schedule with all things food. I also scheduled October’s Dinner at Eight to coincide with his visit. So maybe I was showing off a little bit.

A few days prior to his arrival I received an email from the peeps at SugarFISH, inviting me and a guest for a meal. They were having a soft opening at their new location in a prime spot downtown, a stone’s throw from Bottega Louie. They officially opened on October 28.

I have been loving Nozawa’s sushi for the better part of a decade. Heather took me and my ex to Sushi Nozawa before we even moved out here and I have returned many times hence. I had not, however, ever been to any of his SugarFISHeseses – or, for that matter, heard a whole lot about them.

Oh, something to mention: my dad doesn’t like sushi. Or so he says. Yet, only the night before, I witnessed him happily devour a healthy slab of uni – an item that even many sushi lovers are wary of. So I figured, if I show Dad the freshest, most wonderful stuff I can think of and he still “doesn’t like sushi”, then that’s fair.

And so we begin.

Based on the website images of the other locations, I was expecting a big, open, si moderne sort of atmosphere (which is just not my cup of tea). Designed by Glen Bell of DEX Studio, to reflect the neighborhood which it inhabits, this SugarFISH is actually a fairly small space. And while it is design-y and conceptual, it maintains a certain intimacy. I dug it. The sleek combination of metal, wood and concrete, along with a smattering of clear, glass, pendant lamps suspended at different lengths from the ceiling actually give the effect of being at the bottom of the ocean with air bubbles rising to the top.

Oh, and while there is a bar, there is no sushi bar at this sushi bar. The chefs are back in a proper kitchen.

Immediately upon walking in we were greeted with a warm smile by one of the founders, Lele Massimi, who actually joined us for our meal. As we dined Massimi explained to us the driving force behind the SugarFISHeseses.

I mentioned Nozawa above. What I have not yet mentioned is that which is Sushi Nozawa. Number one, it’s exceptional. The quality of the fish is almost unparalleled. It can also be prohibitively expensive, especially to go on the regular. And then there is Kazunori Nozawa himself. At times referred to as the “Sushi Nazi”, Nozawa has become both lauded and feared for his omakase-style “Trust Me” menu and his extreme disdain for requests for California Rolls, cell phone usage in his establishment and any soul expecting special treatment (insert any number of A-list celebrities here).


And so the birth of SugarFISH: a streamlined menu hinging around three fixed price options with the same quality of fish without the same price tag. Nozawa still handpicks all of the sushi as the first in line at the fish market each morning (5am!). And while Nozawa himself is not preparing your meal, his son, Tom, is manning the kitchen. Additionally all players back in that kitchen have been directly trained by Nozawa.

As my dad and I looked between the “Trust Me” ($28.50), the “Trust Me / Lite” ($19.50) and the “Nozawa” ($35-$38), Lele decided to take matters in his own hands and told our sever that we were all getting the “Nozawa” (and then some).

And so, with my small bottle of Nozawa Super Dry sake ($9), and Dad with his Sapporo Light ($5), our gracious host, and dining companion, Lele, we dove into the food…

We opened with small plates of cold, organic edamame, which was light, lovely and crisp. This was followed by big eye tuna sashimi, which was drizzled with a delicate house-made ponzu and topped with thinly sliced bright-green scallions: diaphanous. 


Our next plate had a trio of sushi items: albacore, salmon and yellowtail. These were all supple and rich with Nozawa’s signature warm, vinegary rice (which I adore). I believe these were followed by an order of halibut sushi and an order of large scallop sushi. The scallops were plump with a beautifully sweet brine.


Next up was the toro hand roll followed by the crab hand roll. Sigh. So amazing. And we were informed by Lele to EAT IMMEDIATELY! Or the smartly crisped nori would no longer be smartly crisp. Noted. Always a favorite at Sushi Nozawa, and these did not disappoint tonight.


The item following the rolls was a surprise even to me: halibut fin sashimi. This is something I have never had before. The fin was firm and toothsome and swimming in that lovely ponzu. This was followed by salmon eggs, which were like big salty, oceanic bursty bubbles.

Oy. As you may well imagine, we were getting pretty full at this point. I was anticipating my usual ‘dessert’, uni. And so Lele had a couple of orders brought to the table. I often tend to judge a sushi restaurant by their uni and this did not disappoint. The Catalina sea urchin was creamy, briny and decadently delicious. Fortunately for me, Dad was getting so full that he could only eat one of his uni. More for moi!

We capped off our culinary adventure with the more traditional sushi “dessert”, unagi. There’s was just right: sweet, savory, warm and crunchy. Ooh, la la.


And so there you have it. SugarFISH has achieved their goal. They are serving up quality fish at a deal and a half. And guess what? Dad’s a convert! He loved it!


 All food and drinks were hosted.

Photos courtesy of SugarFISH.

SUGARFISH Downtown Los Angeles

11.01.2010

With My Feet In the Air and My Head On the Ground.


This all began last night, the Saturday before Halloween. Basically, the night the city is celebrating. At least the grown-ups do. Except me. I made a big, beautiful chili (yes, chili can be beautiful), opened a lovely bottle of Zinfandel, built a fire, and watched What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Sure, all my friends were dressed to the nines and out partying. My night was wonderful - just the way I like to celebrate.

It’s not that I’m a Halloween party pooper. Obviously I loved it as a kid. I would get dressed up, go Trick-or-Treating, eat too much candy - all that good stuff. I remember there were quite a few years, while my mom would help me get into my costume, the doorbell would ring suddenly; a little too early for the onslaught of Trick-or-Treaters. I knew who it was. I would race to the front door, swing it open wildly, to find The Secret Pumpkin: a beautifully illuminated and carved pumpkin, facing towards the door, looking squarely at me. Turns out my dad was behind the whole happening. The same man, mind you, who now celebrates Halloween by buying a bag of Snickers bars, turning out his lights, and sipping wine (or rum), while watching movies and eating said Snickers bars while costumed kids ring his doorbell to no avail.

These days I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and hardly eat any candy. I haven’t dressed up in a costume in well over a decade. I don’t really get many any Trick-or-Treaters up in the hills (I imagine the walking would be tough on the little buggers). I love scary movies, though. Love them. In fact, Halloween is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve even been on the Dearly Departed Tour here in Los Angeles and am obsessed with Find-A-Death. So, I guess it’s kind of a mystery - me and my ambivalence towards Halloween.


And so tonight is the night: All Hallows Eve. Yes, Halloween is upon us, and I find myself in my cozies, listening to Tortoise, with the TV on the Cooking Channel (muted) with a head full of thoughts of food and cooking. I spent the early part of the day at the Farmers’ Market and then the swap meet. I bought my usual whole chicken at the former and six vintage cookbooks at the latter. My mom gave me a clay pot last year for Christmas that I have yet to use. So I figured I’d find some way to dig up an old recipe, like Coq Au Vin, and reinvent it using the clay pot. Then I realized I had to soak the pot in water overnight prior to using it for the first time. I also realized that the chicken needed to “marinate” in its herbs and whatnot overnight as well.

So I uncorked a bottle of Bordeaux and heated up the chili from the night before.

But I was restless. I really wanted to play around in the kitchen. So I dug around in the cupboards to find something to inspire me. I also wanted to find something that had been around for a while to exorcize my kitchen of.

Pecans.

I didn’t have enough to do any major pecanification and I had already conceded to chili again for dinner. So I rifled through the sweets-ish section of one of my new-old cookbooks and bumped into a pretty – and fairly simple – recipe for pecan shortbread. Now, I know I said I don’t have a sweet tooth… but hells bells, I do so love some buttery, rich, decadent shortbread.

And so, without even meaning to, I feel like I sort of did something Halloweeny. Upon this realization, I decided to submit. In the final stretch of making my shortbread I switched the music to Goblin. And while I ate my shortbread I turned on Halloween.


Pecan Shortbread
Makes 4 to 6 Bars

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup finely ground pecans (2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the center. Butter a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes.

Add the flour, pecans, salt and vanilla; beat on low speed for five minutes.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Score the dough into bars, and prick the surface decoratively with a fork.

Bake until the shortbread looks dry, about an hour. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Turn the shortbread out of the pan, and cut along the scored lines.