2.16.2012

Being Sweet But Craving Savory


I’m not sure why, but I have been baking like crazy lately. And I don’t mean biscuits or chicken – I’ve been baking dessert-appropriate stuffs. I’ve been home a lot in the past week. Maybe it’s that. I’ve been trying not to go out and spend money. Maybe it’s that. Fred’s out of town. Could be that. I have also had a windfall of all-things-citrus growing in my canyon. So much so that I don’t know what to do with it all – and y’all know how I hate to waste a thing. Oh, and I have recently just reorganized the kitchen and discovered all sorts of baking-related tools I had forgotten that I had. I guess I thought it would be fun to put them to use – finally.

So I guess I’ve answered my own question as to why I’ve been on the baking jag.


Let’s see, I think it started with apple crumble muffins last week. I noticed Maggie had some apples in the crisper of the fridge that had gone unnoticed for some time and, I felt, were in dire need of saving. They turned out okay – or so I heard. I don’t eat the cooked fruit, so I didn’t have one. But I heard they were nice and moist.

Then I deigned to make my Mom’s lavender cupcakes. I have always loved them. The Portsmouth icing is so sweet and decadent it hurts my teeth (in a good way). That sweetness coupled with the cupcake’s simple, clean lavender-ness work really nicely together. I think. I gave most of those away, too, but I had a few bites here and there. They were delicious, if, perhaps not the most beautiful cupcakes I had ever seen.


Then Maggie and I teamed up to make an orange cake. I worked the cake part whilst Maggie worked the fruit part. It turned out all right but not great. We both thought it was a bit dry, but were confident we could get it right next time ‘round. It sure was pretty, though. And we had loads of fun doing it together.


Then a couple days after that I found a recipe for a grapefruit pound cake that I had to try. No, grapefruit was not growing in my hood, so I did have to do a little shopping for this one. I’d say this was my biggest success to date. The cake came out perfectly and it looked beautiful. Maggie, who had tasted everything thus far, agreed. In fact, I do believe she’s had at least three pieces already today.


Then today, I stumbled upon a recipe for orange-walnut cake. I had some black walnuts from the salad course of the last Dinner at Eight, and clearly I have oranges. Done. But when I needed to grease the cake pan, I remembered Maggie had left it in her car. And she wasn’t home. So orange-walnut muffins it was. I think these guys turned out pretty great. I would do a thing or two differently next time, but I’m not awesome at riffing in the baking department yet and the cake-to-muffin switcharoo at the last minute threw me for a loop. I made so many that I made Maggie take two thirds of them to work with her to share.


I’ve been baking something new practically every day for the past week. And nothing has been too shabby either. That makes me feel pretty good about my kitchen prowess.

But what’s ironic is that I haven’t been eating any of the stuff I’ve been baking. I’ve just been baking to bake.

But you know what I’ve been craving to eat? Oysters. I mean, I always crave oysters, so that’s no shocker. But about six months ago I discovered the bliss that is the Grilled Oyster. I was at Salt’s Cure. Ever since, I order them each time they are on the menu and ooh and ahh before and after every single bite. They are just barely cooked, you see. They still maintain their raw-ness, but not in essence. They are warm and they embody a sultry smokiness.  Grilling oysters over high heat really just saves you the trouble of shucking them first, since the intense heat forces the shells open on their own. They are nothing short of magic, I tell you.

Then, about a month ago, Fred took me to his family cabin in Inverness for a weekend. I loved it there. Everything about it. But one of the most amazing things that we did was buy a couple dozen fresh oysters from a guy with a stand between our road and the water. We then went back to the house and, though it was rainy and blustery - and now dark - Fred lit the charcoal grill out on the patio. While the coals got going we whipped up a salty, garlicky, lemony, buttery sauce. He put that on the grill in a little saucepan to keep it warm and, as each oyster popped open to tell us it was ready, he yanked it off the grill, forked it out of its shell, dunked it in the butter sauce and popped them into one of our mouths. It was so cold out that steam came out from our faces as we slurped away.


All of this with champagne, mind you.

Afterward, we went inside and built a fire.

I loved it there.

Hell, I guess I do miss Fred.


So, although you probably thought I was going to share with you a recipe from one of my baking adventures, I am really here to help you to have grilled oyster night all on your own. Just don’t forget the champagne.


Grilled Oysters with Garlicky, Lemony, Buttery Sauce

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

12 fresh oysters
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or substitute with dashes of Tabasco)
1/4 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley

DIRECTIONS

Heat a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. When hot, add the olive oil and the butter. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, chili pepper flakes, salt, pepper and parsley. Turn off heat.

Scrub oysters under running water; discard any that are open and do not close within a few seconds.

If you can find large, fat oysters, you can place the oysters directly on the grill grates. It's best to wear long, sturdy BBQ gloves so you can handle the oysters by hand instead of using tongs, spoons or spatula. However, if the oysters are small and flat, you'll run the risk of spilling its valuable, flavorful juices as well as the garlic-butter sauce.

Put oysters flat side-up directly on the grill when coals are pure white hot.
Remove with tongs when shells begin to open, about 5 minutes.


If you are a good shuck:
Shuck the oysters, spoon a little sauce in each oyster. Place oysters on a very hot, preheated grill, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes or until the edges of oysters curl slightly.

If you are a bad shuck:
Place the oysters, cup side up on a very hot, preheated grill, cover and cook for 1 minute. The oysters should now be slightly open. Quickly remove the oysters. Hold an oyster with an oven mitt and use a shucking knife (or a clean screwdriver if you don't have one) to pry open the oyster. It should easily open. Spoon sauce into each oyster and return oysters to the grill. Cover and grill 4-5 minutes.



2.08.2012

Flora and Fauna



I usually appreciate all four of the beautiful seasons that we are presented with each year. I love the differences, big and small, that each one embodies. And even though we hardly ever have much of a Winter to speak of here in LA, and that this Winter has been one of the mildest in my memory, I simply can’t wait for Spring.

I feel kind of like a jerk for saying that. I do appreciate the now, just so you know.

Maybe it’s my enormous jade plant in the front yard, that Uncle Dougerton gave me when he moved recently, with it’s new blossoms’ magical, floral scent floating past my nose each time I walk by. Or maybe it’s the produce at the markets changing, now giving us strawberries, carrots, blueberries, peas, rhubarb, asparagus, green garlic and artichokes. Or maybe it’s that slight change in the light in the sky – that hint in the breeze that we may very well shed our warmies and get out our sweet, little dresses and sandals. Well, us girls anyway.

I’m ready.


This Winter has been great and all - one I will remember for the rest of my life, in fact. But I’m ready to press on. I’m ready for watching the day slowly melt into evening, on my patio, listening to Alice Coltrane, with a glass of Lillet in my hand and the smell of the charcoal on the grill just getting going. I love it when I’m that house. The house that smells so awesome, everyone walking or driving past races home to open a bottle of wine – or a beer – and grabs some meat – or veggies? - to throw on the grill, and relax in the waning afternoon/early evening. So they can then be that house. And so on.

I imagine you’re with me now, right?


Well, we all need to just chill out. Because it’s only early February. And even though our City of Angels throws these climate curve balls at us, we have another month and a half until it’s officially Spring.

Though the flowers and the market veggies belie this truth.


I’m going with a theme this month. Why not? It's garlic.

Soup is – and has been for some time – my thing. I’m sure it’s other people’s thing, too. I guess. Biters.


The recipe I’m sharing with you is another one from the last Dinner at Eight (double theme for February!), and involves spring market produce and garlic. Green garlic. It’s like the super hero of garlic. Its alter ego likely being black garlic.

I’ve just had a few glasses of wine. Sorry.

Okay. Soup O’Clock. I’m not certain as to how, exactly, this brainflower of a recipe happened, but it did. This was also the dish at the last dinner party that had the magic ingredient that almost caused my undoing. But the elusive green garlic was found, in plentitude, at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market - where it will remain for quite a few more months.

Here’s to the promise of long sunsets with Lillet, the smell of the charcoal grill and the promise of Spring!



First-of-the-Season 
Creamy Green Garlic Soup with Bacon & Black Garlic Chips

Serves 6


Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices minced bacon
  • 3 cups sliced green garlic
  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock, more if needed
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves of black garlic, sliced, fried and crumbled (for garnish)


Preparation:

Add the olive oil and bacon to a soup pot, and place over medium heat. When the bacon is cooked and starting to get crisp, remove and set aside for garnish. Add the green garlic. Cook stirring for 3-4 minutes. Add the broth and potatoes. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes and garlic are tender. Use more broth as needed. 

You can use a potato masher to break up any large pieces of potato. Use a stick or regular blender to puree about 70% of the soup, and leave the rest unblended for texture. Add the cream, and season to taste. Once the soup is heated through, serve immediately topped with the bacon and black garlic.  


Four years ago: Special Toast