Category Archives: Los Angeles

Making a Pot of Vegetables and Meat: Stewing Between Holidays

There’s a period of time between the holidays, Thanksgiving to Christmas that are laden with maybe one to two parties a week. A lot of talk goes into what to eat and drink at these festive soirees. Fitness trainer and Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper says to “get one small plate and go to buffet once. You can make it as high as you want…but that’s it.” Great…and then run 10 miles the next day.

Though not much is said about what to eat at home between parties and holidays. Do you eat only salad? Fruit? Before too long, you are headed to the leftover cookies and fudge brownies you brought over from Aunt Bertha’s and Uncle Don’s “ugly Christmas sweater” party. With temperatures in the northern states below 45, you want something to stick to your ribs. Hearty. Manly food, even if you are a woman. (Not that I’m saying you should be manly…or womanly…or even gender-specific…just that a protein and carbohydrate meal is considered “manly”….oh for Chrissakes, GLAAD will be calling me in a minute) And there is nothing more body-warming, stomach-filling, calorie-conscious and easy to make than a pot of stew. Chicken, beef, fish or vegetable. Or even a combination of any….and it’s cheap and quick. Do it on a Sunday after your weekend evenings have been taken up by “Jingle Bell Rock” at Chrissy and Hef’s place on one night and the other was about George and Ben’s Christmas tree trimming party. (You had to bring two balls…but only silver or leather….to hang.)  Back to the stew…if you are one person, a pot can get you through a week. If you are a couple, maybe a dinner twice or lunch….if you have a family, maybe just for dinner…but it will only cost you maybe $15, if that.

Stews which are just thicker and heartier soups are essentially the first one-pot meal. Everything thrown into a pot and simmered until done. Also, the are incredibly low in calories topping out at 300 calories for a bowl of goodness.

You Will Need (Basic guidelines):

Two pounds of meat, cut into 1″ x 1″ cubes (beef, pork or chicken…you can do veal, lamb). Buy the cheap stuff or on sale. This is a braise and really, the cheap stuff is the most flavorful. Get that.

Your favorite root vegetables (Parsnips, turnips, celery root, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash). Peel and cut them into, as best you can, uniformed bite-sized pieces.

Flour for dredging

Olive oil

Fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano and marjoram

Can of San Marzano tomatoes

White or red wine (optional)

Chicken or beef stock (optional)


Let’s make a stew;

Using a dutch oven or stockpot, heat up the olive oil perhaps about three or four tablespoons.

Dredge the meat in the flour and brown in the oil on all sides. The flour will help create the gravy for the stew and gives a nice texture to the meat of your choice. Once browned and coated, remove from heat.

Now pour your liquids such as a cup (or two) of wine, stock or water. Throw in your herbs, garlic and onions (if using) and then throw the meat back in. Bring it to a boil and then simmer.

Next, throw in the veggies but not all. Use the tubers first like the parsnips, potatoes, turnips, celery root…they take a little longer to cook. At simmer, they should be 45 minutes. 20 minutes before finished add the squashes. (Think of this as if it’s above ground, shorter cooking time; below, longer).

Add the tomatoes (if you like) and more stock. You can also add beans. If the stew is still too thin, take a cup of liquid from the pot and using flour, cornstarch or arrowroot thicken gradually with a teaspoon. Stir. Add another, stir. Continue doing this until you get it to a roux. Then pour into the stew. Continue simmering.

In 45 minutes, everything should be done and yummy. Serve it up in a bowl and freeze the rest!

No Cook Thanksgiving But If I Were…..

I stopped cooking Thanksgiving meals about 5 years ago. I know, I know. It’s one of the big days that all caliber of cooks want to shine showcasing their adeptness in the kitchen, commercial or home. If you know anything about me, cooking is one my favorite of the things. Therefore, you would think that I would be all over this but I’m not. Not anymore. I stopped cooking for the holiday when I was ending a decade plus relationship that entailed my work and my personal life. I also moved from San Francisco, where I lived for 3 years, back to Los Angeles at the same time. (Hey, no one ever said that I liked to do it easy). That first Thanksgiving, as a single man, turned out to be a horrible experience as I was invited to eat at one of my ex’s friend with their 30 plus dinner guests. My only excuse for going was I that I was still delirious from the break-up.

With each progressive year, I feel less and less like big festivities. This year, I think it’s just Nick, Holly, JJ and my mother. I don’t really think of the holiday as exceptional anymore but I celebrate it quietly with people who love me and I, them.

At the heart of it all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday and New Year’s Eve clustered together in a 6 week period, is that I really just want to spend quality time with the people whom I cherish. I don’t want to wrapped up in a kitchen anymore for the entire day. Let someone else shine and enjoy learning about cooking. (To brine or not to brine? Fried or not to fry? Oysters in the stuffing or sausage?) I’ve made a lot of turkeys, roasts and hams in my life and I’m now willing to give up the “big star” turn to others. Cooking quietly, simple easy meals on a daily basis.

However, if I were to cook for a dinner of 8 to 10 (LOL), this is what I would make and why:

Butternut Squash Soup: Simplicity. Ease and elegance. Besides, Butternut Squash Soup screams fall!

Roasted Turkey Stuffed with Prunes: Mario Batali’s way of cooking a large bird is ingenious. Have your butcher remove the bones and use them for stock and gravy. Beautiful. Easy. Delicious and quick.

Homemade Bread: There is nothing in the world like homemade bread. Nothing. It can be made two or three days in advance and frozen. Just one of the most beautiful things ever. No Knead Bread is revelatory.

IMG_20140823_150336 (2)

Salad: If I were making the dinner, the recipe for this Kale, Fennel and Apple Salad would be it. And I would leave it at this. It feels very European this meal. A protein. Bread. Salad. Soup.

This would be the meal. You don’t have to do too many things. If you want to throw in a traditional dish of roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, go for it.

Oh, but don’t forget for dessert. HA! I don’t make a lot sweet things and there are reasons for it. I don’t want it around because I will eat it…ALL…but if I find something sweet and light.

Sparkling water and flat. Always.

White Wine: Duckhorn or Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. Both are perfect wines for cocktails and for the first course. Lovely and herbaceous.

Red Wine: Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Pinot is lovely for this dinner. Light, bodied, earthy red with hints of cherry.

Beer: Brouwerij West “Saison”. Not to hoppy, excellent flavor, Belgian-style beer. Craft beer made in Los Angeles.

Happy Turkey Day. Enjoy your family, friends and food!

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.

photo (117)

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.

…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.

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

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.

Ladle into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a crusty bread. Voila!

Dinner at Mark’s

There is nothing like being with friends. Then, there’s nothing like being with friends and eating. Lastly, there’s nothing like being with friends, eating and laughing as we like to do when you sit down over homemade Indian dinner of Mulligatawny Stew, Spicy Pan Fried Cauliflower and Eggplant with Red Peppers.

Eggplant with Roasted Peppers
Eggplant with Roasted Peppers

It’s a connection that we don’t find so much as when there is a waitperson hovering around asking you what you want to eat. At someone’s house, after drinks are served, which you normally pour for yourself after inspecting each label, you walk into the kitchen and peer into the savory-smelling pots, asking, “What’s this? It smells so good!”

I’m blessed that I have friends who love to cook and share their food with me. I do think it’s truly a gift. Someone has taken the time out of their schedule to shop, slice and dice, and serve something made by their hands. It’s an emotionally soul-satisfying experience, kicking back and gossiping, talking about our latest trials and tribulations as being in their home or mine. It’s an intimate exchange between people and honestly, I’ve never ever had a bad meal at someone’s house. I really can’t say that about a restaurant.

Oven Roasted Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower
Oven Roasted Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower

Mark’s Indian Oven Roasted, Spiced Cauliflower & Potatoes

1 (or 2 small) cauliflower, cut into florets
lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water

TO start: Place a shallow baking pan on rack, while preheating oven to 475°F. You are getting the pan hot to begin roasting the vegetables.

Then, mix: Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

Continue with rest of ingredients: While vegetables are oven-roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes.

Let’s finish this puppy: Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

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.