Category Archives: Food

The Humble “Crumble” or Just a “Crisp”

ladies baking

I have written many times that my mother wasn’t really a cook. She was a working, single mother and it wasn’t really in her repertoire to cook. Occasionally, she would make a meatloaf or the requisite holiday dinner but normally it was a sandwich, doughnuts, Kraft Mac & Cheese, possibly a can of Campbell’s Pork and Beans (very Sandra Lee). 

It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that my taste buds began to experience real food and cooking. One of my teachers in my gastronomic learning was my roommate, Teresa. Born in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, from a family of 9, she quickly became someone I thought of as a family member; plus, she loved to cook. She made simple American dishes like “baking soda biscuits”, roasted chicken and made delicious “Apple Brown Betty” which is what she called it. Really it was just a “crumble” also known as a “crisp”. 

Brought over by English settlers, a crumble or crisp, is baked fruit topped with a crust of sugar, butter and flour. And one of the most amazing things in the American cooking world. It’s a simple concoction that conjures up Norman Rockwell scenes: kids frolicking in freshwater lakes, post an afternoon of strawberry picking or climbing apple trees, yanking down bushels of apples. (None of which I experienced growing up in Baltimore. Besides, I had never seen a berry plant much less an apple tree in the urban Seventies landscape.) 

Kids in a lake 1950

It was Teresa’s Irish family cooking which opened me to this bit of Americana. I can still smell the baking aromatics of cinnamon and nutmeg with the sweetness of the apples. She would pull it from the oven still bubbling hot and top it with some cheap ice cream bought at one of the local bodegas.  

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It sort of came back to me when I was moving. I was triggered to make a crisp for me and Nick. It’s funny how doing something can make you want to do something else. A move is stressful and I wanted to eat something nostalgic, when I thought life was simpler like living in New York City and being a club kid. (LOL) 

You will need: 

  • 2 pounds of hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 or 3 cups of fresh blueberries
  • 3 tbs. of cornstarch
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • ¾ cups flour
  • ¾ cups quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
  • ½ cups Butter

To Make: 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Put the berries into a large bowl. Toss berries with cornstarch. Butter a 10″ glass pie plate or loaf pan and place the berries inside. 

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats and cinnamon. Cut butter into the dry mix until resembling “crumbles”. Place over top of the berries.

Bake for 45-55 minutes with a rimmed baking sheet just in case it bubbles over.(Hate having to clean an oven!) 

Serve warm with your choice of ice cream…vanilla is probably my choice because it’s tasty and doesn’t conflict with the berries. You can top with some homemade whip cream. (Add a touch of bourbon to the cream….whoo- hoo!) 

Los Angeles Surprises & Garden Fresh Gazpacho

Subway image

Los Angeles is not known for trains or gardens. Normally, the Land of Pretty People is thought of as a place of vast asphalt and traffic jams. Where a minor fender-bender can result in a manslaughter charge. Tonight though,  Lulu, Don and I were going to high-tail it on three trains to get to Highland Park, a small off-shoot community populated with Hispanic families and which is fast becoming one of the new hipster areas that will soon be teeming with tattooed skinny boys, multi-colored haired women and piercing aficionados who know nothing about BDSM.

Ingredients for Gazpacho<

First, it was an early dinner of Gazpacho and Pasta at Lulu’s. When I arrived at Lu’s house, Don was in the backyard picking tomatoes but Lu was already setting up the image of the washed arugula and other freshly harvested vegetables to be shot for this blog.  After the requisite but lovely air-kisses, I was given the task of squeezing the meat from the large and beautiful heirloom tomatoes. (You don’t have to ask me twice!). It was a very Nigella Lawson moment as the joke abounded “about squeezing the meat”. Essentially, I was extracting the juice and pulp from the tomato so that it would be easier to puree into the soup leaving the…ahem…seeds from the meat. (Sorry, I said that it was very Nigella Lawson-like.)

Anyhow, into the blender went the squeezed tomato pulp, cucumber, onion, garlic and a little green pepper. and out came a sweet, refreshing chilled soup.

Lulu's Garden Gazpacho

After this delicious dinner, served with Shrimp and Arugula Pesto and a Smokey Roasted Tomato Pasta, we began our adventure of riding the Los Angeles train system. Getting on at Exposition and La Cienega, which we needed to take a car (only in LA), we bought our TAP cards and away we went. This particular line traveled by Leimert Park, Staples Center, Civic Center, University of Southern California and was almost completely above ground. It’s really a good way to see Los Angeles without the stop and go traffic. We swtiched to the Red Line for a bit of time and then, transferred to the Gold Line which took us up into the streets again. We slipped past Chinatown and South Pasadena and arriving at Highland Park, which is neon lights, tree-lined avenues and Latino thumping music.

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It was an art gallery opening that we are in the area to see but the subway or elevated or whatever transportation system Angelenos start calling our “train”. It’s a great way to avoid traffic, not worry about parking and see The City of Angels without wings.

Garden Fresh Gazpacho
You Will Need:
2 to 3 lbs Heirloom Tomatoes
1 large, peeled, seeded cucumber
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 half onion/ shallot chopped.
1 chopped bell pepper (red or yellow are preferable)

Let’s Finish This Puppy
1. Using a fine mesh strainer, squeeze out the meat and push through gently. Leaving behind the skins and seeds.
2. Place everything into a blender or food processor including the tomato pulp or liquid.
3. Hit that button marked “puree”. Voila, gazpacho.

Ideas: Taking this basic premise, you can add vegetable stock to make it thinner. Add some sour cream or creme fraiche to finish it. Maybe a little cilantro to make it feel special.

Farmers Market Haul and Lulu’s Gardening Class

Let’s begin with lovely Lulu’s gardening class before we get to Farmers Market Haul.

Lulu's Gardening Class

Shelley, Lauren, one of Lulu’s co-workers and Lauren’s husband, Chris, along with me, were students in Lulu’s backyard for her first-ever gardening class. Lu has been gardening since she was a child back in her homestate of Pennsylvania. It was always one of her aspirations to create an edible garden where she could cook and share her plantings. Since she purchased her home over 8 years ago in the PicFair District of Los Angeles, she has fashioned a dozen raised beds where many varieties of home-grown edibles have ripened to seasonal perfection. Being an urban/surburban kid and thinking for many years that vegetables came hidden in a supermarket’s underbelly, I’m massively awestruck by her cultivation of cantalopes and watermelons…. along with being supplied gifts from her seasonal harvests which have included lettuces (romaine, red leaf, and green leaf), tomatoes (some which she has used for canning and I used for sauces), cucumbers, artichokes, eggplant, basil, spaghetti squash, raspberries, blueberries, lemons, limes….and on and on. In each one of the approximate 2 1/2 feet by 6 feet areas, the soil has been tilled, rested and loved to reap some of the most deliciously edible gems I’ve had. There is nothing like direct farm to table to do a body good.

In this class, Lu’s immense knowledge was demonstrated when she dug up her compost turning out a dark, rich and thoroughly alive concoction with do-gooding worms (pictured). The class was a fully active hour and a half experience. For this city slicker, it still shows the difficulties of being a 21st century farmer. Farming is an arduous task. It’s about the right amount of water, sun and nutrients but I can absolutely see it’s rewards for the grower as I was rewarded cuttings from Lulu’s hardwork such as baby kale, zucchini, squash blossoms, and fresh mint.

Lulu's Compost

All of this, on this Memorial Day weekend, brings me to Farmers Market Haul. Today, it was tiny Japanese bell peppers (Yakatori Farms), purple baby artichokes (SunCoast Farms), beautiful frisee, mizuna and baby chard (Windsor Farms), green Zebra Rita’s and baby spinach (McGrath Family Farms), small sweet Maui onions for grilling (Can’t remember the farm…), and rosemary (ABC Rhubarb).

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(It was a small shopping excursion as I had the vegetables Lulu gave me from the class.)

I love the Hollywood Farmers Market. A weekly Sunday ritual like heading to church without the pie bake off at the end. It’s reminiscent of NYC’s Union Square Market. I prefer HFM before 11:00am, before my shins are black and blue from the strollers, wagons and pushcarts but still appreciate that families bring their kids to learn about food and its production. I love the urbanity of it: hipsters with their multiple canvas bags; the mid-thirty parents, who gave their nanny the day off, and are clutching too many children and too many vegetables; the single women holding onto lattes and the bottom of their maxi-dresses; the married gay men, leering over organic zucchini and the street musicians giving the market it’s soundtrack.
There’s no competition between farmers. One of the farmers didn’t have Bloomfield spinach, a fave lovely lettuce, and pointed me to another canvas stall ala “Miracle on 34th Street”/Macy’s vs. Gimble’s sort of way. I feel like this is the way life should be, simple, uncomplicated, free of CNN’s ticker tape, which is located around the corner.

One of the great things at HFM, I get to learn about my food and ask questions of the individual purveyors. I get to know them, they know me. They become a constant. I like that. It’s a small village atmosphere in a metropolitan city. The market is there to serve and keep me, in my mind, safe…that’s why I go. Its one of the few times in my week…when out of my car and out of my apartment… I feel sheltered and we are there to buy nourishment and feel nourished.

And…no matter what I think of war or our politicians, it’s people whom I’ve known such as the farmers who had many children go to war, who help feed the young men and women who have served our country….to both, I salute you.

…at Shelley’s: Bean and Swiss Chard Soup

Shelley is, without a doubt, one of my best friends. She’s always there for me. Recently, she took care of Holly, my beautiful pitbull. “Big Girl”, as I call her lovingly, is best friends with Carlos, Shelley’s 85 pound Golden Retriever (aka “Big Boy). While I drove my mother back to the Inland Empire after her birthday and Mother’s Day extravaganzas here in Los Angeles, Shelley watched Holly. The two canines romp and growl, growl and romp in her backyard, while she works and watches their rough-housing. Shelley also loves to cook. What more can you ask of a friend? A dog-sitting service and a food goddess in one person. Wow!

Shelley loves to make beans but not just any beans, she sources the for freshest suppliers and looks for inventive ways to prepare the lovely legumes. We’ve had many conversations about our favorite and it really is Rancho Gordo by Steve Sando. Tastier than just buying regular beans at the market. Rancho Gordo brand is the best and you can truly taste the difference between chain store and his.

Shelley was kind enough to say to me after dropping off, Holly, “Do you want to stay for dinner when you pick her up? I made a pot of beans.” I’m like alright. Two hours to my mother’s place and then the drive back. Who wants to cook after all that driving? IHOP starts looking good by then. She took care of Holly, I can stay and eat too.

Bean & Swiss Chard Soup with Orzo
Bean & Swiss Chard Soup with Orzo

And she made a delicious bean soup. On this night, I was the sous chef to Shelly’s cooking. I peeled and smashed the garlic. Turned the rosemary and anchovies into a paste. Washed dishes. Shelley sauteed up the chard, browned the garlic and stirred in the paste. The dogs played happily and were under our feet.

Lulu, one of my other besties, came over in a chic new bob and joined us impromptu. She’s starting an urban gardening class in her backyard which is a pretty stellar idea. Lu is a pretty amazing gardner. In her Los Angeles urban backyard, she grows corn, melons, a variety of squash and lettuces. She picks raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for her morning breakfast. We’ve had fresh teardrop heirloom tomatoes and used the homegrown herbs to add addtional flavor to our dishes. Lemons, limes and grapefruit also start brightening up her trees around this time. When I lived with her, we had regular baby artichokes for grilling. A little homemade infused garlic oil for dipping….yum and directly from the farmer….Lulu.

There we sat, two dogs, two great women and me eating a flavorful soup of beans, vegetables and orzo. Talking and laughing. This is when life is great.

*Note: This is just one recipe…Shelley’s and its from my memory. There are a lot of recipes out there on this soup that includes bacon, pancetta, different beans. Whatever. Be adventurous.

YOU WILL NEED:
1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy (2 cups), picked over and rinsed (Make the beans or use canned if it’s the weekday. Hey, we lead busy lives.)
2 anchovy fillets or anchovy paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian)(Homemade stock is best, but let’s not quibble, not everyone is going to want to make their own or have the time. If you don’t make your own, buy organic stock and skip anything that requires a can-opener)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 lb Swiss chard (or Red or Rainbow, Kale and Spinach would do well too), stems discarded and leaves halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise

MAKE THIS EASY:
1. De-stem the chard and cut up the leaves.
2. Saute up the Chard (or spinach or kale or dark green leafy vegetable) until limp.
3. Set aside.
4. Take your pot, something to hold the liquid and place olive oil. Heat up the oil.
5. Peel, smash and place garlic in olive oil until brown. We are infusing the olive oil with the garlic. Remove the cloves.
5. Make a paste with chopped rosemary leaves and anchovy fillets. Add to infused garlic olive oil.
6. Stir until dissolved.
7. Add beans, chard and stock.
8. Get it to boiling and add orzo or small pasta.
9. Simmer until pasta is cooked.

LET’S FINISH THIS PUPPY:
Ladle into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a crusty bread. Voila!

Farmers Market Haul and Mother’s Day Frittata

Farmers Market Haul for May 12, 2013.
Farmers Market Haul for May 12, 2013.

You know its the beginning of summer with berries, stone fruit and tomatoes at almost every stall in the market. I went to my favorites ABC Rhubarb, Windsor Farms, McGrath, Drakes’ Family Farm for goat cheese, and St. Mortiz Bakery for a crusty French baguette that was a perfect size. I also purchased some asparagus and always a variety of lettuces, lemons, and onions. Lemons are, for me, completely necessary for a marinade, a dressing and just to drizzle on grilled or roasted chicken.

MOTHER’S DAY

“You know what it is, honey, food is love.” – Streisand as Joyce, GUILT TRIP

Last night, my mother and I watched GUILT TRIP with Striesand and Seth Rogen. Interesting. Cute. Not hilarious but some poignant moments especially if you had just spent 5 hours in the car with your mother like I did. I was picking her up from her home two hours away and driving back to Los Angeles, where I live. It wasn’t 8 days, like in the movie, but sometimes 5 hours can seem like infinity especially in stop-n-go traffic. (When I was 7, my mother and I took a road trip across country on Interstate 10. We drove through the Southern states, Arizona, Texas, Georgia….Certainly, one of the greatest memories of my life.)

So the film and it’s theme resonated with me as I went about my weekly Farmers Market shopping excursion. Cooking is about giving back, food is love, etc. My mother wasn’t the most prodigious of homecooks as I was growing up. She was a single, working mother. Hard enough. But, she loves reading my food posts and is an ardent fan of mine. (Surprise.) And I wanted to do something special.

We both aren’t into noisy crowds and she’s not really able to get around as swiftly so I thought the easiest thing to do was to make something at home. Besides, she loves tomatoes and they were everywhere so I wanted to buy some for her. (She loves tomato sandwiches. Mayo, tomato, on white bread.) We could only do that if I cooked. I originally thought of an omelet with Cheddar, Tomato and Asparagus but that would mean two pans. (One for her, one for me.) With a frittata, which as we know, I’m fond of making, it’s one pan clean-up. Ultimately, that’s what she got for Mother’s Day, a frittata but I wound up making a Drake’s Family Farm Goat Cheese & Red and Green Pepper Frittata. Served with a Bloomfield Spinach Salad tossed in a Balsamic Vinagrette with fresh Albion Strawberries.

Made with Drakes' Family Goat Cheese
Made with Drakes’ Family Goat Cheese

The Big Beef Tomato needs it’s own stage and not lost in egg. Besides, my mother worked hard all her life and deserves the first taste of summer lushness simply. So on her birthday tomorrow, as she turns 77, it will be sliced, with a little mayo on a crusty baguette.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Farmers Market Haul (May 5, 2013)

Beautiful lettuces and assorted items.
Beautiful lettuces and assorted items.
It was strange Spring “Cinco de Mayo”. The southern California Santa Ana winds were blowing making it a little blustery and there was a strange grayness to the day, probably caused by the wildfires near Camarillo. There was a bit of humidity but you still needed a jacket.

Still, it’s Sunday and the Hollywood Farmers Market, so it’s become my favorite day of the week because of it. There is nothing like getting to know the farmers, and in turn, they know you. For me, it gives me a beautiful sense of community, one that I don’t get in a corporate grocery store. Going directly to the source and learning, as I did today, that peaches start early and are small. As the season goes on into summer, they are larger and more of a variety to choose from. (At the market, Reiger Farms had the first peaches and nectarines of the season).

Additionally, today’s purchases included Bloomfield spinach (again, from Windsor Farms), stunning rose-like green and red lead lettuces, radicchio, peaches and nectarines for salads, lemons and onions (always).

I also bought a delicious raw milk cheddar from Spring Hill Farms in Petaluma. It’s not exactly local but better than the Trader Joe’s stuff. It has a slight tanginess, offsetting the rich lushness of the milk.

Let’s see what I comes out the food this week.

Chicken Soup

Homemade Chicken Soup with Store Bought Dumplings, Savoy Cabbage, Carrots and Swiss Chard
Homemade Chicken Soup with Store Bought Dumplings, Savoy Cabbage, Carrots and Swiss Chard

Whatever I’m doing, I’m in that moment and I’m doing it. The rest of the world’s lost. If I’m cooking some food or making soup, I want it to be lovely. If not, what’s the point of doing it? – Sade Adu

When I’m sick, as I have been for the past several days with the flu. I turn the world off. My head is pounding. My body is aching with chills and fever. And the only thing that I want to eat…nothing else….is Chicken Soup. It makes me feel better instantly as I can smell it wafting through the house with rosemary, onions, thyme, garlic, celery and chicken.

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I can't do the canned stuff. Not anymore. It makes me puffy from the salt as a preservative not as a brightener/ enhancer.

I prefer making my own. Even with a fever of 100. I was shaking violently as I cover the chicken with water. Cutting up the vegetables. Slowly. After, throwing everything into the pot to simmer, I go back to bed. There is something nourishing and lovely with aromas perfuming the house so that I when I wake up I feel better instantly. I can't wait to have it coat my sore throat and warm me up.

Plus, I have leftover stock for later for when I'm not sick.