Mighty powerful writing going on. This is the reason there are blogs. Can’t get your book or poetry published? Who said that?
Sunday, my normal farmers market day, I bought some sunchokes. It was the first time that I had seen the cute, horseradishy-looking tubers this season and I was a little excited about cooking them. They’re kind of like a potato in the kitchen. Once you wash the residual dirt off them, there is no need to peel. You can just simply cut into slices, toss into some olive oil, spread onto a cookie sheet, and using dried or fresh rosemary, bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Throw a little salt on them….and it reminds me of a baked potato.
While I was strolling through my favorite LA farmers market (Melrose Farmers Market), I additionally saw some parsnips and turnips both of which I love and thought to myself, as I do often (thinking to myself that is…you really don’t want to know what goes on in my head), “Why not make a meal of roasted white vegetables?”. And, so I did.
Parsnips have that lovely sweetness. Combine them with turnips which have a bit of peppery bite and throw in the artichoke flavor of the sunchokes; toss all of them with some fresh garlic gloves, still in their paper, salt and olive oil. Perfection.
There isn’t only a nickel-and-dime experience in buying these particular edibles but its also an education in doing something different. It’s nice to change things up…. taking a different road to get to the same place. Roast a piece of fish next to them…voila. Simple.
Let’s make this puppy:
1. When shopping through the farmers markets, buy one or two parsnips, one or two turnips, and pound of sunchokes.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Wash everything thoroughly. No need to peel the sunchokes which are knobby little tubers, looking somewhat like ginger or horseradish. However, the turnips and parsnips need to be removed of their skin. Cut the veggies into about the same thickness and shapes across the board for even roasting.
4. Throw into a shallow roaster and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and rosemary. (Optional: Cutting up slab bacon and or pieces of pancetta tossed into the pan.)
5. Serve up by themselves or with a dense, oily fish like salmon or maybe a roast. Lovely.
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
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!
It’s the holidays. Families and friends come to visit but you don’t want to be married to the stove. You’ve taken a couple of days off during the week to enjoy that time. You have expensive dinner with a movie plans in the evening but don’t want to spend a lot of moola during the day. What do you do in that case? Starbucks is everywhere and you want something that will be an LA experience, a local hangout your guests haven’t done in The City of Angels. You’ve been to brunch on Sunday at Toast, Four Seasons Los Angeles, Shutters on The Beach and The Standard. Well, pile them into the Los Angeles chariot (we call it a gas-guzzling SUV) and take them to one of my favorite places for breakfast. The food is good. Simple. Easy. Tried and true. I selected these because they are close to an attraction but also because they are fun, inexpensive, delicious grub and a good place to bring a family with children, your LGBTQ best friend, the Caucasion folks, the mixed race peeps, etc.
Quality on 3rd (Los Angeles): This is one of the great independents on Third. My feeling is that it’s been there for almost 20 years. Astounding buttermilk biscuits and phenomenal Corned Beef Hash.
Nate & Al’s (Beverly Hills): I love diners, old movies and matzo ball soup. Mario Batali’s eateries have never been painted by Edward Hopper. Hopper’s “Diner” is a portrait of old-time diners. Decent food. Cheap. Cigarette-smoking waitresses (then) named Esther…asking if you want another cup of joe. I love this place because it reminds me of New York City. Ribald waitresses still take your order but without the tobacco. If you close your eyes, Bogie and Bacall walked in. Located in Beverly Hills since 1945 and still counting.
Jan’s on Beverly Boulevard: Another throwback for me as it reminds me of the Greek deli restaurants that used to be on every corner in Manhattan. Then, in NYC, they would serve up these big omelettes cooked in butter-flavored oil and hash browns that were sliced potatoes and cooked in bacon fat. That was then, this is now. Simple, easy food…a throwback without a fancy price tag. I can get that anywhere.
Good Neighbor Restaurant (Studio City): Good Neighbor is located across the street from NBC/Universal Studios. Good place for people watching. Another good independent family restaurant with really great service and friendly smiles. Stunning hash browns…if you go…go for the hash browns. They have these great white board mural which showcases the waitstaff and owners.
Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Melrose (Dupar’s, Charlie’s, Short Order) Lastly, the Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and Melrose. Besides, the restaurant it hasn’t really changed that much in the 18 years I’ve lived in LA. It’s a super cool place where you have some great butchers, seafood mongers, bakeries and places to hang your hat like Dupar’s that make yummy pies, Charlie’s where you can go and get a really great breakfast burrito for under $5 bucks and then there is Short Order where you can get a Verve coffee and a pastry for about $20 bucks. …kidding…expensive but good…and it’s not Starbucks…but that’s there too.
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.
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.
Sparkling water and flat. Always.
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!
Last night, I published a blog item. In it, I was profusely apologizing about my lack of posting for the past two weeks (to my two fans). Life became life and with dinners out, work (which sometimes is about going out), seeing friends, looking for new apartments with Holly (the pitbull), JJ (the Frenchie) and Nick (the Man from Wisconsin) so I wasn’t able to write until this weekend. Once I hit publish, it vanished. Right then and there. Poof. Twilight Zone-like. I talked to WordPress, “chatting” with “Pam” about where it could have possibly gone. (We both agreed that it went the way a pair of socks in the washer…). So, I have to recreate it which might be a good thing; right? Let’s take the lemons and make lemonade? Still, I hate re-dos.
And through all of this up-and-down, in-and-out, I find that I get a little anxious when I can’t eat or cook the way I want. Fresh, sustainable, local. For me, eating and being out is overwhelming at times. Admittedly, it’s a personal control issue. Hands down. Who doesn’t want to go out? Isn’t that what commercials ask of us? Let’s eat at Applebee’s, Chili’s, MickeyD’s? But I do it frequently and have eaten out often, eating with clients and enjoying their meals…all in the name of work. However, I really like being in my home and cooking. There is such safety and calmness in it. Some people turn to the bottle of wine, videogame or television, I look at recipes and try to cook. It’s inspirational and very meditative. I sometimes think that if I could, I would grow my vegetables, butcher my livestock and sow my own wheatfields just so I can get as close as I can to eating well. After all, eating well is the only thing I can control. Once, I step out my door, I feel that my life becomes an issue of circumstance.
With all that said, I have eaten some glorious sandwiches at my client Carvery Kitchen. Handmade and house-baked bread, succulent meats piled in innovative ways with dipping sauces. My favorite: Eating the freshly roasted pastrami in a French dip. Clean and lustily juicy.
Over this past weekend, I attended The Shelton Bros “The Festival” which was hosted at clients Brouwerij West. I’m not a beer geek but I’m learning a lot about the process of making beer. Sometimes, it a lot about engineering. There is a process to it. Winemakers let the liquid sit and ferment, creating delicious drinks. With beer, it’s a process of taking the grain and extracting the “wort” (sugar water) and turning it into lusty libation.
Many amazing things were said about the event from LA Weekly and The Los Angeles Times famed beer writer, John Verive. It was from these articles that I truly realized the importance of the craft beer movement. It’s not unlike the Slow Food Movement or artisan winemakers. Truly, craft beer making is an art form.
Besides Brouwerij West, there was a really interesting beer from Treehouse Brewing in Ohio. It’s called “Double Shot”; like the name implies, it’s made with coffee from Oregon’s Stumpton. It’s aroma was powerful with coffee and malt. Not a combination I would ever have thought I would smell together. Coffee and beer. It used to be “Black Coffee“.
First, I really try and honor the commitments that I make to myself and friends. So on weekends when I should be writing and thinking about my food posts, I was out and about eating glorious (and not so glorious) food instead of cooking
Plus, Nick and I are in the midst of looking for a new apartment because Holly, my beautiful 9 year old pitbull, was called a liability by the current building, even though they knew I had her. We also have renters’ insurance which should take care of any issue with that. Regardless, cooking was not on my mind. I really dislike not being able to pay attention to my food. With eating out, it’s difficult to eat really well when you can’t make it yourself. By that, I mean knowing every single ingredient that goes into it, where it came from and how it might make you feel.
I ate at a major chain, another division of another chain and one of my fave LA restaurants, Il Fico on Robertson. The last one Il Fico is an amazing independent restaurant. The chef, who originally is from Puglia, creates everything on the menu and you can even purchase a few of his sauces. Delicious and worth every penny.
For tonight, my Meatless Monday night, I didn’t even plan anything. Normally, I try and think of dinner at least two or three days in advance of cooking…but it doesn’t always work that way which is why a frittata is always a good thing to know and make.
You will need an ovenproof skillet but that’s it. It is that simple to cook. Great thing is that you can even use leftovers to mix in with the eggs. Sauteed vegetables. Roasted meats. It’s a handy dish for the holidays….so you can use all the food that you didn’t eat on Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
You will need:
12 ounces of ricotta
1 bunch Swiss Chard (Washed, Trimmed, and stems cut-up)
Salt and Pepper
Butter and olive oil
Let’s Make This Puppy!
1. Using the ovenproof skillet (I prefer my cast-iron), oil and butter the pan. Cut up all the veggies and saute them. First, the leeks until soft and then trim the leafs off the chard removing the stems; then cut up the stems.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Put all the eggs into a bowl and add the ricotta. Stir it all together. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Stir again until its done mixed together.
4. Once the veggies are sauteed up, turn off the flame and remove from the burner. Add the egg mixture.
5. Pour over the veggies and stir again. Place into the oven.
6. Cook for about 20 minutes. It will be puffy from the air but then will deflate. Still it will be lovely.
7. Eat with a salad. Any salad. I prefer lettuce. HA!
Sadly, I didn’t have a good food childhood. Once my parents divorced, it was mostly canned stuff my mother (or I) prepared, since the only one who cooked was my father. My mother would make the occasional meatloaf, with packaged breadcrumbs and Heinz ketchup. That was pretty much it except for the holidays when all the vegetables we ate would be canned. String beans. Corn. Beets. I wasn’t a fan of any of them, especially the beets. Oye. I thought canned beets were disgusting. I know she tried. She just wasn’t a cook. (Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like them.)
Cut to living in New York City, and a very awkward young man walking through the Union Square Farmers Market. I would only buy potatoes, not sure what else to purchase or do with any of it. I was fairly ignorant of food, until I started working in restaurants. First as a waiter; then, as a bartender. Not only was I learning how to do pattern-making (it went the way of geometry) while attending Fashion Institute of Technology, but I began to acquire knowledge of food and drink. A lot about the drinking. One of my favorite sayings was and still is, “Pour me into a cab.” I learned about wine while working at Soho Kitchen & Bar as well as scotch, cognacs, gins, and beer. We sold over 110 wines by the glass, 60 types of bottled beers with 24 on tap and all could which would be paired with simple bar food, like Spicy Buffalo Wings, pizzas, easy salads. But the star was the grape: chardonnay, cabernet, merlot. The restaurant had on the menu a Grilled Chicken Salad with Roasted Beets. It was a fairly simple meal of grilled chicken breast sliced against the grain, on a bed of mixed greens with roasted beets in a mustard vinaigrette.
But it was the beets that I ate. And ate. And ate. I realized that when cooked properly, they have a sweet, buttery quality with a chewy, yielding texture. I loved them. Their colors are brilliant hues such as a bright orangey, yellow which is tantamount to the color of a fall sunset or the purple, reddish color that reminds me of exotic, richly colored Indian batiks.
Now, I cook them all the time and love every minute of it…and the beet goes on….
Let’s make some beets.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. While the oven gets up to speed, cut off the beet leaves and save them for a salad the next day. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut up the large ones in quarters, then wrap them loosely in foil. No need to dry the beets before wrapping.
2. Place the wrapped beets on a baking sheet and roast for 50-60 minutes.
3. Let the beets cool before handling them. Using a paper towel, rub the skin off. It should come off easily.
4. Now, cut them up to eat. My favorite thing is to dress them with a little olive oil and mix them into a salad of butter lettuce, bleu cheese and filberts with garlic chives. Awesome!!!
Lettuce is one of those funny foods that I don’t think anyone really thinks about. There was a time when it was just diet food, especially the much maligned iceberg. Iceberg is not the most nutritious,but it’s so edible and fun. You can use it in place of taco shells, make cole slaw, use it in place of chips for dips. It’s sturdy just like it’s sister lettuces, romaine and red and green leaf. Funny to think that this vegetable, formerly thought of as a weed by Egyptians, is sturdy and durable….the Tonka truck of the food world.
Personally, I love lettuce and yes, even iceberg. It’s all about the texture. Crunchy. Watery. Green. It’s then about the toppings, the dressings, the vinaigrettes, the lovely sauces that cover and cling.
Let’s think about some of the lettuces: Bibb (probably the Queen…expensive); the red and green (Fraternal Twins); Romaine (the Glamourous one….in the Caesar, dressed up in bleu cheese too) and then the Iceberg (the Stalwart). We also have raw spinach, lamb’s leaf (my favorite….tossed with a little olive oil and really good salt! Dreams are made from this…), arugula. There are also Endive (the European…it’s curly, fancy…has an accent). However, lettuce stick to the well-known lettuces on this little episode.
Fun Facts about Lettuce:
1. It’s the number two vegetable behind potatoes of most consumed in the United States.
2. 75 % of all lettuce is grown in California. (Since, the state is currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history, it will be very costly soon.)
3. You can’t preserve it. It is impervious to canning, pickling, bottling or freezing.
4. Lettuce was introduced to the New World in the mid-15th Century.
Just a little fun trivia…to lighten your day.
You Will Need:
Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad
1 head of Romaine lettuce (Outer leaves peeled off)
Salt & pepper
Let’s Make This Puppy:
1. Heat a gas grill. (If using a charcoal, cook all the meat and let them embers cool. We want grill marks and a slight wilt….not blackened vegetables.)
2. Cut the lettuce into fourths. If it’s a small head, maybe only in half…you be the judge. (You have the knife in your hand….I’m not going to tell you what to do.)
3. Brush the cut side with olive oil. Not a lot just enough to glisten and place cut side down on hot grill. DO NOT COVER. This is really just to give a slight taste of char, that BBQ outdoor flavor. It’s like parboiling a potato, we don’t want to cook it, we want to add a little character to it’s existing personality. Remember the first time your parents scolded you in public….and left a scar in your psyche, it’s like that; a little character development.
Leave the lettuce on the grill, creating the lovely grill marks. The rest of it might have a little bit of brown around the edges….again, a little character development or taste enhancement.
Remove and place on a plate.
4. Now onto the dressing: Take a wooden bowl that’s been thoroughly chilled in a freezer. (You don’t have to do this step. It’s only if you want to be fancy.) Rub the garlic clove on the inside of the bowl. Pour in about 1/2 cup of olive oil….couple of dashes of Worcestershire, a dollop of Dijon mustard, squeeze a little lemon…about 1 tablespoon….and add freshly grated Parmesan. Whisk it together in the bowl. (If you want it a creamier consistency…like in a chain restaurant….add some mayo.). Add the salt and pepper to taste.
5. Arrange the lettuce with the cut side up, Drizzle the dressing over the lettuce. If it’s a little thick, you can whisk in a little more olive oil. Grate some more cheese over it….and voila, Grilled Caesar Salad.
Note: I don’t like to add croutons to this. There is already a lot of crunch and we are dealing with half a head or a quartered lettuce. You won’t miss the croutons. Trust me.
I watched the new Lasse Hallstrom film “100 Hundred Foot Journey” with Helen Mirren…and it made me want to make an omelette. The movie is about a young Indian man who has a way with food. He’s creating sumptuous meals from his traditional Indian background but wants to expand into European haute food. And one of his tests, to truncate some of the film, is to make an omelet. According to the movie and to restaurant folklore, if you make a perfect omelet, you are a chef. (Is that from “Ratatouille”?). I don’t know if it’s true or not.
I do know that it’s not easy to make an omelette. I have tried for many years to do so and I think, by sheer chance, after using Nick’s saute/fry/ omelet pan, I’ve done it.
Before I go into that, let’s discuss the omelet. It’s really not a complicated meal but when made, it’s so satisfying. From a corner New York diner, to a luxury hotel, to an upscale restaurant, an omelet is one of those breakfast items that can also become dinner. In NYC’s, now legendary Noho Star, only by longevity, I would dine on an omelette called “Gold-n-Green”. Made with Wisconsin “golden” cheddar cheese and spinach (green), the eggy fold-over was a diners’ delight in low meets high brow experiences. (If memory serves me correctly, it’s cost was $12 over 20 years ago.)
Of course now, in LA, Petis Trois, the new Ludo Lefebvre French bistro, serves a $19 dollar experience and Napa’s The Grill at Meadowood, which also has the best hash, in my humble opinion, on the Pacific Coast clocks in at the same. Clearly, an omelet is an expensive experience as King Cole’s Bar & Salon in New York City’s St. Regis Hotel is $25 but the same dish is only $10 at the well-known Empire Diner on Eighth Avenue. For $9.95 in Los Angeles at Jan’s, which is kind of a holdover from a bygone era, you can get consume a four egg omelette with ham and cheese!!!!
Anyhow, the point of all this is, I finally made an omelette and all it took was Nick….who had the right pan. It’s made by Spring Switzerland, a company that I didn’t know. It was one of those strange yet pleasant discoveries that after I had whipped up two eggs and put into the well-oiled pan, I went looking for the S & P; ready to stir what I thought would be scrambled eggs, I noticed they had started to set and essentially finished an omelette….and I made them with the bi-fold, meaning that I folded the eggs over about a third, then gently slipped the eggs out of the pan. As the open side hit the plate, I folded that over and then, it became, folded twice. Instead of the one big flip in the middle. The bi-fold is just a little fancier and more pretentious, which if you know me well-enough, I can be.
I’m not really going to give you a recipe because we all know how to make one. The omelettes that I have pictured were made in this Spring Switzerland pan…and I can’t find a website for cookware. 🙁 Regardless, my suggestion is if you want to make an omelette/omelet invest in a good pan. That’s how you make an omelette; use a good pan. They aren’t cheap. If you want to make a true French omelette without the browning, use clarified butter and not oil or straight butter. The fat in both will brown the eggs.
And just in case you were wondering about the spelling of omelettes/omelets….