Sample This.

I love samples. I love little samples of makeup and spices and the little snacks to sample at farmers’ markets, Whole Foods and especially Bristol Farms. Their samples are the fanciest. Although I used to like to get perfume samples, I don’t any more. After many years I have my perfume, and I am comfortable and secure with my choice. But I do really love the little sample-size perfume bottles. They are just so dear. Same goes for samples of shampoo, conditioner and all sorts of fun beauty products. Here in LA we even get little samples of rocks dropped off by our doors. Well, at least I do. Two little rocks in a plastic bag with an advertisement for the rock company that wants to get hired to do the driveway or something. Even those samples intrigue me.

Samples seem precious – like Boo Radley’s gifts he leaves in the tree for Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She covets them and keeps them in a small trunk in her room: chewing gum, two pennies, and a ball of twine, soap carvings to resemble Scout and her brother, Jem, and a pocket watch that doesn't work. Precious treasures.

You know how much I love hip hop (well, mostly old to middle school hip hop)… It’s made up of samples!

And who doesn't like a sample sale?

I get extra excited when I get fun food samples in the mail (or any package in the mail – even if I order it from Amazon and ‘send’ it to myself). It happens every so often when one is a food blogger, I suppose, that one gets these food samples. Last week I got a whole box of salami from Columbus Salame.  A whole box of salami I tell you!

What to do, what to do.

And then Fred appeared with one of his bright ideas. Mussels.

The first meal Fred ever made for me was on our fourth date. I was exhausted from doing a Dinner at Eight the night before and so Fred offered to cook for me.  He made mussels with cider and bacon and Cacio e Pepe. Not together. Mussels first, then pasta. I had never been to his apartment, and when I arrived I saw he had put a little two-person bistro table in the middle of his living room, all set, with taper candles. It was so cute I wanted to pull my hair out. I think he was a little nervous to cook for me. But I tell you what - everything was delicious and perfect. And listen, Cacio e Pepe is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I’ve tried to make it. I did a terrible job. Fred’s was perfect. And so were those mussels. And so was that little table with the taper candles and everything else about that evening.

For this version of his mussels, Fred had the idea to use the Chorizo Casero, from Columbus' box of salame samples, in lieu of bacon, in an otherwise classic interpretation of mussels and white wine. And we also added some Tuscan kale from my garden. It was delicious and colorful and the chorizo really was the perfect touch. 

Speaking of samples and Fred and dates and food and fun - tomorrow is my birthday and Fred is taking me to Los Olivos. And you know what we're going to do while we're there? Sample wines! A great one to pair with this dish is actually from Los Olivos and one I plan to sample tomorrow; Brander Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley (2011).

Mussels with Chorizo & Kale

2lbs mussels
8 oz chorizo cubed
1 med onion diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup Tuscan kale, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté the chorizo and onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown.

Add the garlic, and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add the mussels and toss quickly to coat.

Add the wine.

Cover and cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the mussels begin to open.

Discard any mussels that do not open.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels and sausages to a warm large serving bowl.

Add kale to pot.

Cover to keep warm.

Boil the kale and juices remaining in the pan for 1 minute.

Whisk in the butter.

Pour the sauce over the mussels, sprinkle with the parsley, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately with crusty rustic bread.

One year ago: Yerp: Part 3
Three years ago: The Hall at Palihouse


Churning Things Up.

My house flooded a couple of weeks ago. There was some damage, but not a ton. Mostly it was a big pain and a big bummer. But, after a week, most of the repairs had been completed by the workmen , the clean-up had been done (by me), and save for the warped hardwood floors and the stench of mildew, all was back to normal.

And another week passed. The mildew smell was not getting any better. In fact, it seemed worse. So I looked up mold on the internet. The words fungus and lungs (in the same sentence) popped out at me and I promptly freaked out. I emailed the landlord that he needed to bring over a dehumidifier tout suite and that he, himself, come check out the situation. That didn’t really happen.

Then one evening Fred was ribbing me about the lack of photos of us and moreover, the fact that I hate him trying to take my picture all the time, so I ran into my room to grab one of my old photo albums to illustrate the fact that many pictures of me actually exist. And well… the source of the mildew stink was unearthed. My precious photo albums had fallen victim to the flood. And they reeked.

I’ve often stated that, if I were only able to save one thing from my burning house (living things aside), that it would be my pictures. Though I’m not entirely certain I still feel that way, this made me quite upset. And so began the process of saving the pictures. It was kind of late at night following a few glasses of wine and Fred helped out. We started with High School. I pulled the pictures out of the album and he laid them out on any flat surfaces he could find in the dining nook. It took about an hour or so and it all looked very strange when we were done. There was High School – a mosaic of snapshots – covering every surface in the room. It appeared very abstract.

The next day I was trying to find space in the kitchen to put away the new cast iron items my mom gave me. There is a serious dearth of space in my kitchen. In this process we found my ice cream maker. We decided we should definitely make ice cream. Well, It was mostly Fred’s brain flower. So for the entire day we dug up crazy ingredients around the house and garden and made batch after batch of ice cream!

Well, mostly Fred did that. I had to deal with putting High School into a new album and beginning the same process with College.

It took a few days but I finished dealing with all the photo albums and the stinky is almost all gone. But what a mixed bag that turned out to be. I am usually prepared for what I am going to see and feel on the rare occasion that I bust out the old picture pages. I also can select which ones I will see. But seeing my life, my past, laid out in pictures across two rooms of my house like an in-progress ChuckClose piece… well...

Friends I hardly remember anymore, friends I think about all the time, friends that have died, friends that are still my friends, old loves, old likes, family – alive and dead, me with bad hair,  mom with bad hair, dad with the same hair, where I used to live, where I used to play, what I used to do and the people I did it with. All of this thrown up on itself all over the house over an innocent ice-cream-making weekend with Fred.

A mixed bag, I tell you.

But it was a good thing, really. I edited. Put some of the pictures away elsewhere, reorganized the albums, tightened them up, and all the while I remembered. It was a surprise gift, when I think about it. All of these images, people, places and events are part of the mosaic that is me and my journey. Pretty much exactly like a Chuck Close piece.

And when I was done, I got to sample what Fred was up to during this process:

Fresh Mint and Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Blood Orange Ice Cream with Vanilla Bean & Fresh Orange Thyme
Toasted Coconut and Thai Basil Ice Cream (pictured below)

The boy was busy! And, as it turns out, he is very talented in the ice cream making arena. The mint chip was my favorite as I like the classics. The garden-freshness of the mint added an energizing quality. The blood orange one ended up being very sherbet –like to me, but was my mom’s favorite. The coconut was probably the most interesting and successfully quirky-yet-also-delicious one of the trio. Amelia, from Lindy Grundy, was over the moon for that one.

Fred used a standard recipe for the basic ice creams and riffed when it came to the various flavors and textures. Here I am providing you with David Lebovitz's mint chocolate chip recipe. Why? Because I have the most memories attached to that ice cream flavor. It was one of my favorites as a kid. And still is. I’d even go so far as to bet there is a picture of me eating a scoop of it in one of those photo albums.

Fresh Mint & Chip Ice Cream
(recipe from David Lebovitz)

Makes about 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
2 cups packed fresh mint leaves
6 large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
For the chocolate chips:
5 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, chopped

In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, vanilla and mint.

Once the mixture is hot and steaming, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to infuse the mint flavor.

Remove the mint and vanilla bean with a strainer, then press down with a spatula firmly to extract as much mint flavor and color as possible. Once the flavor is squeezed out, discard.

Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top.

Rewarm the infused milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then slowly pour some of the warm mint mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

Cook the custard, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. If using an instant read thermometer, it should read around 170ºF.

Immediately strain the mixture into the cream, then stir the mixture over an ice bath until cool.

When mixture is thoroughly cold, churn using your method of choice. Add chocolate chips to the ice cream when there are about 5 minutes left in the churning process. Transfer to a freezer safer container and freeze for several hours before serving.

One year ago: Yerp: Part 1