Monday, December 17, 2007

The Persimmon Salad

This salad recipe comes from a long time friend, Becky who has hosted the annual holiday party for our women's group for the past few years. I had never eaten a persimmon salad before. I had eaten persimmons fresh, in cakes and baked goods, jams and preserves, but never in a salad. This salad has a lot going on with really very few ingredients and none too exotic. I don't know it's origins, ethnicity or from which culture it came. I believe Becky said it came from a Sunset magazine article. During last year's party she served it using walnuts instead of pecans and walnut oil in the dressing. It maters not where it came. It's a great salad.

Fuyu persimmons are available from fall through most of the winter. Pick pale orange ones that are firm to the touch, the dark more red ones are more mushy and not as good in a salad.

Persimmon Salad
(as served at Yolanda's holiday party for the Latin Va girls)


7 Fuyu persimmons
1 Bunch cilantro
1/2 Pomegranate
2 Limes
3 Tablespoons Avocado oil (or Olive oil)
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Roasted Pecans (toast in a hot dry skillet until fragrant)
1 Head of Romaine lettuce


Peel and cut the tops off the persimmons. Cut into bite size pieces. Put into a large bowl.

Wash and dry the cilantro. Remove the leaves and chop fine. Sprinkle it over the persimmons in the bowl.

In a bowl of water, cut the pomegranate in half and gently pull it apart and remove the seeds from one half. Remove any white membrane from between the seeds. Collect the seeds, place on a paper towel to drain a bit and then put them in the bowl as well.

Squeeze the lime juice into a small bowl and then add the cumin, Cayenne, salt and oil. Whisk with a fork.

Pour the dressing over the persimmons and gently mix well with a large spoon. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

Core the head of Romaine lettuce and cut into bite size pieces. Chop the toasted pecans into small bits.


Line a serving bowl with the Romaine lettuce, spoon the salad over the greens, garnish with the chopped pecans.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Slow dinner not slow enough?

The fund raising dinner at Campanile on Sunday night was a rousing success. I believe a lot of money was raised for the Slow Food event in San Francisco in May of 2008.
Two wines, a Pinot Gris as well as a Riesling were poured freely in the fountain entry and the appetizers were passed by tray by the waitstaff who were eager to please. But this didn't seem slow at all to me. It was a press opportunity for some. Alice Waters and Suzanne Goin were hosting questions and being as personable and homey as possible in such a see-and-be-scene town.
For a minimum of $250 per person, guests were romanced by the grilling virtuosity of Mark Peel (found him out front nursing the lamb legs, we remembered him, not so much on his side...), and the seasonal genius of Alice Waters.
She spoke before we were served our main course. For quite a while she spoke. It was inspirational and very informative to people like my husband who have only heard one person espouse the virtues of eating locally and consciously. For me, it was preaching to the choir. I needed a pep talk about how to make Los Angeles county as foodie friendly and as in touch with American culinary heritage as places like San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Temecula.
I had a great dinner. I was happy to participate. But I was craving more. It just wasn't slow enough for me. Maybe I was wrong to expect that?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Potted Shrimp from Brandy and Randy's Wedding

Our new neighbors were married last summer and they invited everyone on our block. The ceremony and celebration were as small town quiant as this beachside suburb of Los Angeles could muster. Guests were asked to bring a favorite dish and to fill out a card explaining what you brought and why. The cards were kept by the newlyweds as a fabulous memento of the pot luck feast created by their new neighbors.

I made Potted Shrimp. It's not one of my specialties, but when I thought about a summer wedding, I wanted something just fancy enough to be celebratory but simple enough to be eaten with one hand. I also had a few pounds of shrimp in the freezer which helped influence my decision! I looked around online and in a few cookbooks but ultimately I came up with my own recipe.

This got rave reviews from everyone. Enjoy!

Culinary Vixen

Potted Shrimp

(makes approximately 2 cups)
Recipe by Vickie McCorkendale


½ C minced shallots
4 oz. (1 cube) butter (divided), at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch Mace
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
½ teaspoon Emeril’s Essence or other Cajun Spice Mix
2 Tablespoons Brandy
1 lb shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined (you may use frozen or fresh, crayfish work well too).
2 Tablespoons chopped chives


Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of butter. When the butter melts, add the shallots and cook slowly until tender.

Put the remaining butter, the cream cheese and the lemon juice into a bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer). Mix on low speed to combine.

Add the garlic, mace, cayenne and spice mix to the shallots. Cook for one minute until fragrant. Add the brandy and cook until almost no liquid remains in the pan. Turn the heat up a bit and add the shrimp. Sauté until they are just cooked and bright pink on both sides, about 3 minutes.

Remove the shrimp from the pan to a cutting board with tongs. Chop well to desired consistency. Add the shrimp and the contents of the pan to the cream cheese and butter. Add the chives. Mix on low until thoroughly combined.

Put mixture in a serving bowl or crock and chill for at least 3 hours.

Serve with croutons (recipe below).

Garlic Croutons

Makes approximately 20 slices

Recipe by Vickie McCorkendale


1 baguette
2 oz. butter (1/2 cube)
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic minced
Pinch of salt


Slice the baguette into 1/3” slices. Place onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Put the butter, olive oil and garlic into a small bowl. Heat in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds until butter just melts. Add the salt.

Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top sides of the bread slices.

Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them. You want them toasted, but not completely brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool.

Vickie's Green Apple Cole Slaw

In Manhattan Beach the LA Food Show restaurant serves a green apple slaw which is quite tasty. This slaw is my attempt to make it even better. I use my mother-in-law's basic slaw dressing recipe (1/3 each sugar, vinegar and mayonnaise) because I think it's the best creamy tangy combination and perfect with the green apples too. The celery seeds add a nice warm and nutty flavor to round it out.

If this is too simple for you, try adding 1/2 Cup of crumbled blue cheese over the top just before serving. Wow!

Vickie’s Green Apple Cole Slaw
Serves 10 as a side dish

1 head of green cabbage
2 Granny Smith apples
1/3 C mayonnaise
1/3 C cider vinegar
1/3 C sugar
½ t celery seeds
Salt to taste

Cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the core. Shred the cabbage quarters using a food processor, mandolin, V-slicer or by hand.
Slice the apple into 1/3” slices off the core, then into 1/3" batons (sticks) and then into 1/3” cubes.
Put the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and seeds into a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Adjust to your taste with salt and more sugar or vinegar.
Add the cabbage and apple to the dressing. Fold to combine.
Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Note: Tabasco, Worcestershire, Soy Sauce, Liquid Aminos, and Dijon Mustard are each acceptable flavor enhancers for the dressing. Pick one and add 1 teaspoon and whisk to combine. Adjust to taste as stated above.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hawaiian Handrolls with Ham, not Spam

When my husband is out of town dinner plans become somewhat creative. I strive to find a way to make a single adult dinner with the remnants of plain Jane ingredients I used to make a simple, kid-friendly meal for my boys.

Tonight I was serving ham steak with barbecue sauce, steamed brown rice and cucumber slices. It was well received by the boys, but it certainly wasn't going to suffice for my dinner.

I've been toying with Nori. Nori is the seaweed sheets used for sushi rolls. I'm especially fond of very crispy Nori used for hand rolls. Hand rolls seem to be the easiest way to get the Nori sushi taste with the least amount of fuss or fancy knife work.

So, I slivered some of that cucumber, and then did the same to a scallion and a carrot. I thinly sliced about 4 ounces of the ham steak. I pulled a bottle of Chinese Chicken Salad dressing out of the fridge and pulled the Nori sheets from the pantry.

The true inspiration for the entire hand roll was the Shiso leaf I picked from the garden earlier in the day. So I washed two tender leaves and slivered them, adding them to the pile of vegetables.

I smeared some hot brown rice onto half a sheet of Nori. I dressed the pile of vegetables with a tablespoon or two of the bottled dressing. I placed 1/3 C of the vegetables onto the rice on each Nori sheet. The ham slices were added last. Rolled up into a tight bundle, they made for a fabulously innovative way to use Nori, eat the remnants from the kid's meal and to truly enjoy the pleasure of the Shiso leaf picked from the garden.

The Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand went with it fabulously!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Ribs

Many years ago we were planning our annual outing to Mammoth Lakes, CA for the Fourth of July celebrations. Bruce put in a request with me for some baby back pork ribs for the feast. He wanted something smokey and spicy with perhaps a dried chile sauce.

At the time my selection of barbecue cookbooks was dreadful. I spent some time digging around in books and on the internet. But then, in a strange place I found the great rib recipe. It's a Mark Miller recipe which was published in a book titled: Cooking with Patrick Clark. Patrick Clark was a chef who passed away suddenly and left a wife and children. The book was put together as a fundraiser for the family. It's filled with Patrick's recipes as well as all the top chefs from the early 1990's.

I always tell Bruce that it takes three days to make these ribs. But the truth is, we made 12 racks of ribs for a party two weeks ago and I didn't put them in the marinade until the night before and I made the sauce on the morning of the party. Easy Peasy. I suppose the other two days are spent gathering all the ingredients, there are lots of them and in large quantities. Don't skimp, this is powerful good stuff!

Glazed Prok Ribs with Black Coffee Guajillo Barbcue Sauce
Based on Mark Miller recipe
Marinade and Sauce for up to 6 racks of ribs
4 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
6 Tablespoons honey mustard
2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon salt
3 Tablespoons ground chile molido (pure chile powder)
1 1/2 Cups apple cider vinegar
1 Cup balsamic vinegar
1 Cup honey
1/4 Cub liquid smoke

Combined all the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl. Stir well. Rinse the ribs in cold water and place in a non reactive container. Pour the marinade over the ribs. Let them marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

To Prepare the Ribs
Remove the ribs from the marinade and place in a single layer on large baking dishes. Cover them tightly with foil. Bake at 225F for at least 2 hours. At two hours check the ribs to see if they are tender to your liking. For more tender ribs, bake longer.

The Sauce
1 Cub chopped white onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 Cup sherry vinegar
1 1/4 Cup tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Cup crushed dired quajillo chiles
1 Cup strong, freshly brewed black coffee
1/3 Cup molasses

Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. Sweat the onion and garlic over low heat for 10 minutes until very tender. Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar and add all the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 - 30 minutes until the chiles are very tender. Puree until smooth and strain if desired.

Heat a grill to medium heat and char the ribs on both sides for 2-3 minutes per side.
Slather the sauce onto the ribs as they come off the grill.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Ubiquitous Melon and Prosciutto

Travelling through Italy with four young boys ages 4-8 can severely slow the pace of four adult gourmands. Lucky for us we were in the countryside at the height of perfect melon season. Thick slabs of the sweet slick orange flesh were devoured with hand shaved slices of country cured prosciutto. As it was on just about every menu as an appetizer or salad, it was ordered often. Made at home with our market picks, it was a favorite of both the children and adults.
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cranberry Bean Recipe - from the Italian Vacation

After filling the house with necessities we were eager to supplement our pantry to include some of the great produce we knew was growing in nearby farms. We had read through the document which came with the rental house and found a list of local farmer's markets. The soonest and closest weekly market was on Monday, in Marschiano.
It was a quick drive with only one little mishap when I turned into a farm entrance instead of making the next right turn. No harm though, we turned around and arrived in Marschiano finding it bustling with activity. We found parking as best we could (Is it legal to park at the top of a T-Junction in Italy? Others were doing it, so we did too!)
The market was actually mostly clothes and house wares. More of a swap meet than Farmer's market. But then we turned a corner and found the food. We first discovered a few catering trucks and they were all serving the same thing - roasted whole pig. They cut large slabs of the meat and served them as tortas on a bread roll or simply flat on a plate. There must be high demand for such a meal or there wouldn't have been three trucks!
Then, the produce. It was beautiful!
The apricots, peaches and nectarines were large and cheap. We loaded up. I was actually happy NOT to see pluots and other such newfangled breeds. No, thank you!
All the tomatoes practially glowed with ripeness. The Roma tomatoes were amazing. These were quite different from the ones in the U.S. These were quite long (4-6"), skinny (1.5" across) and pointy at the end. We had to have some of them.
We also purchased lovely tiny tender french green beans (haricot vert).
We were hoping for some fresh beans and I turned a corner and found them. They were cranberry beans which have a white and red swirly color on both the pod and bean. I grabbed a bunch of them in hopes of doing something special.
On our way out of the market we found a truck with meats and cheeses. The woman working there spoke English quite well and helped us pick a large cut of Romano cheese as well as a few sausages.
So, what did we do with the beans?

I shelled them right away. I couldn't keep my hands off them. They were so fresh and moist and plump. I loved popping them out of their pods.
Two days later we had them with dinner. I made a sausage and bean ragout (or stew), which was great, flavorful and chunky. The beans were the star of the dish.

Cranberry Bean Ragout

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 small mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1 lb fresh cranberry beans
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots. Cook for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and the sausage. Break up the sausage into tiny bits as it browns. Continue to cook, breaking up the sausage until it is cooked thoroughly. If there is lots of oil in the pan, pour off the excess.
Add the beans, bay leaf and enough water (or even better, chicken stock!), to cover the beans by about 1/2".
Bring to a boil. Simmer over medium low heat until the beans are cooked completely (about 20-30 minutes). Add water if they seem too dry.
Add salt and pepper at the end, to taste. They should need quite a bit of salt (1-2 tsp).
Enjoy with a salad and some crusty bread.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Foraging in an Italian Country Market

We arrived in Rome early on a Saturday morning. We had rented a car and knew our mission: find the house and fill it with enough food to feed eight people for the next two days, before nightfall. If you travel to Italy, you hear the stories: "Italy shuts down on Sundays!" "You can't buy a thing on Sundays, the stores are all closed!"

So my husband whisked us North through rolling hills of farmland, through tiny crossroads and roadside mini marts and service stations. We knew roughly where we were going, following a major road for most of the way. One of the boys needed the restroom just as we neared the exit for Amelia, an ancient town on a hill nearby. I came to Italy with visions of Amelia due to a poster in my eye doctor's office. It shows a castle like structure on a hill and in the foreground is a huge field of sunflowers all facing the sun, like a golden ocean below bright blue skies.

We pulled off the highway and stopped at a market/bar/gas station (in true Italian fashion) at a crossroads called S. Pellegrino. And although this tiny area had the correct name for the bottled artesian water, I don't think it was the same San Pellegrino. This tiny foray into Italian culture, just a restroom stop, gave us the confidence to drive on, up the hill to Amelia. And what a hill it was! Ancient narrow stone roads twisting between three story buildings, turning around and around until you can't really imagine fitting into any of the available streets. We found a small parking lot and a local was nice enough to point us to an empty spot.

It was our first walk around an Italian town and it really did give us a taste of what the rest of the trip in the country held for us. Thick city walls surrounding an ancient stone village of three story buildings. Businesses were tucked here and there on the bottom floors of buildings, often with not much signage, but sometimes you'd see an official government sign for a hotel or restaurant. I thought these businesses would be the ones to frequent, they've been around so long that the government helps you find them!

We had an espresso in a tiny bar and wandered up and down the tiny streets until our jet lagged heads needed a break. When we were ready to leave Amelia we had to first wait out a long line of motorcycles streaming through the city. There must have been at least 50 of them, all shapes and sizes and ages. The locals came out in full force to witness the parade. We had a heck of time getting through the ancient city gates, these towns were not designed for traffic!

Armed with the ability to find a restroom, order a coffee and find parking in an ancient town, we proceeded towards Todi, the largest town near our rental. Like professionals, we found parking and walked up the hill to a small piazza, in search of our first Italian pizza! It was somewhat of a touristy place, but we didn't care, we had just walked 3/4 of a mile, uphill with tired and cranky boys and we needed refueling. So, pizza and wine! It was fine. I'm not going to critique this place, but I will say that it reminded me, once again, how difficult it is to make great Italian food. There are so few ingredients and if any one of them falters, so will the dish. So my arugula salad, faltered on the Peccorino they used which was not only poor quality but cut into large chunks that were difficult to deal with. The pizza was fine. Bruce had the best one, with some spicy meat on it that just made it sing. The crusts were light and crisp and true to what I had heard, they were not sliced. Each person gets the pleasure of cutting the chewy cracker dough into as large or as small of slices as you desire.

We had spotted a few markets on our way into town and were thinking, hey we've got this made, just stop on our way back to the car and get some produce, pasta, meat and cheeses at the quaint "Alimentary Tipical" (Groceries typical of the region) store. But while we were eating our pizzas, Todi was doing the siesta thing and shutting down fast. Everything was closed, signs posted said that they would re-open around 4:30pm. Okay, that puts a twist into our stocking the house task.

After a winding country road drive and a few little problems with the written instructions to our rental, we eventually found it. It was all we had hoped for and more. We toured the property with the owner and then promptly, each in our own space, fell asleep.

Around five pm I realized that if we were going to get groceries, it was now or never. So I woke everyone up, (pretty much, our oldest son staggered as he sleep walked to the car and did not stir from the back seat for the whole adventure).

Rather than venture back into Todi, we attempted to follow verbal and written directions from the proerty owner to the closest grocery store. But we turned the wrong way and ended up at a tiny crossroads called Madonna di Piano. Just as we were going to turn around I spotted a meat market and mini-mart. Ah! We parked across the street and I ventured in alone as Bruce kept an eye on the sleeping children.

At the time I thought the place was small, a 20 foot square room with an openning in the back. There was also a door way which led to another room with dry goods and such. Two large refrigerated display cases lined the left wall. One was for cured meats and the other for fresh. I recognized some of what I saw, prosciutto, various salamies, and braesola on the cured side. The raw side perplexed me a bit more and the two ladies behind the counter tried to help me in Italian. I explained that I don't speak Italian, but I do like to eat Italian. I pointed at a few meats and asked her to please slice some for me. She would bring a handful of each on wax paper to show me and ask if I wanted more. I just kept nodding and hoping it would taste as good as it looked.

In the drygoods room I found a few bins of vegetables and fruit. I picked out what looked good and what I thought the children would eat. There were a few wines on a high dusty shelf, I picked two reds and proceeded back to the meat side. I watched as she took the dusty and well carved half of a prosciutto and put it shank end down into a wrought iron square clamp which held the thing in place. Then she proceeded to take out a long sharp knife and held it horizontally and shaved off transparent slices of the sweet and salty meat. The room filled with the mineraly scent of aged meat.

I paid for my goods thinking how well I did in such a meager little town at such a tiny shop.

Now, after the fact, I know that the little meat market in Madonna di Piano was more than just functional. We shopped at tiny markets in Todi, Orvieto, Castillano di Vibio, Deruta, Marsciano and Ponterio, some no larger than a walk in closet. Compared to the others, this was a great find. We were lucky to have such great selection of fresh and cured meats just a mile awy from our rental in the Umbrian countryside.

But on that Sunday afternoon, we were just happy to have enough food to feed eight people through the Sunday shut down.

Back from Italy

I'm still mentally digesting all the foodie information we ingested during our trip to Umbria. We spent a week in the countryside of Umbria. We rented a house with good friends. We each brought our kids, so there were four young boys to keep an eye on, which can really cramp your fine dining dreams. But peasant food abounded and simple regional dishes were found even in the small towns of Todi and Orvieto (the largest towns near our rental).
I'll get a few posts out this week... look for: Shopping at a small town market; Eating al fresco with friends; Wines we discovered in Umbria (if I can remember them!); The Agritourismo Dinner or Romantic dining for 8!
It's good to be back home...

Monday, June 11, 2007

My last bite from Mozza

I just finished a light lunch of roasted beet and horseradish salad and bruschetta with salt cod puree and olives. It was just lovely. These were the last bites of yesterday's late lunch at Mozza. My husband and I took two 8 year old boys with us to our reservation at 4:30pm on a Sunday. I had to make these reservations 3 weeks ago.

In fact, my plan was to get our family together with another foodie family and to have a great pizza family fooding adventure. Only it didn't go that way. It's a long story, but the fact is that Mozza will not accept reservations for parties over 6 people. It is a small place. I've since discovered that they have a private room, so for a price, they will allow a larger group to enjoy their great food.

If you don't already know, Mozza is the hot new pizzeria which is a Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali collaboration. This means incredible dough, pastry and breads combined with the best of regional Italian cooking along with handmade cured meats done the old-fashioned way and provided by Mario's father.

It's a tiny little place at the corner of Melrose and Highland Ave. This corner has been begging for attention for years and it's great to see the place all abuzz.

We ordered the two items I mentioned earlier, the beet salad and the salt cod bruschetta, as starters. The boys wouldn't touch them, but we found them excellent. The boys loved their pizza margherita, ordered without basil. They both were quiet for about five minutes while they devoured them.

Bruce and I shared the white anchovy with roasted hot peppers - incredible, lovely clean pickley fish flavor from the anchovy balanced with sweet heat and creamy texture from the roasted peppers pulling it all together.

We also tried the fennel sausage pizza with roasted onions. This one was sweet and oh, so savory. The sausage chunks were dark brown and crunchy on the outside and moist and flavorful inside. The sweet onions just put it over the top.

The dough was, as expected, incredible. Just light enough to have a great crunch and just weighty to hold up to all the great ingredients. I'd make reservations again, just to have another pizza from here.

Another reason to come back would be the caramel and the butterscotch desserts. Oh, wow. The butterscotch Bundino has been mentioned in a few articles, reviews, etc. But we really thought the caramel dessert was even better. The carmel had the crunch of cookie, the incredible sticky cloud of homemade marshmallow, the rich and creamy caramel ice cream and then the salty peanuts sprinkled over the whole thing and sinking into the various textures making craters and being coated by each sweet concoction. MMM.

Mozza really lived up to all the hype. It was worth the planning and although it wasn't the lunch I had originally planned, it was still quite wonderful.

Pizzeria Mozza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Have you eaten a crosne?

Yes, its sounds like a mean old witch, but in fact it is a very small root vegetable, less than 2" long, shaped like a screw or a bumpy grub worm, white, plump and shiny.
picture of a crosneI read about crosnes last fall. Several newspapers carried food articles hailing these little tubers as the latest gourmet ingredient. Almost immediately I saw them on several menus. The first time was at Melisse. A week or so later we found ourselves at Providence and once again crosnes were scattered around a plate or two. And in NY for my birthday trip, we found crosnes on the menu at Per Se.

At Melisse they were offered as a starter, just sautee'd with some herbs and butter.

At Providence and Per Se we found them scattered on the plate with a meat course. They do a good job soaking up flavorful sauces.

But what are they? Where do they grow? How do they taste? Well, they taste about as bland as they look. There is a slight earthiness to them but to my taste, the flavor is so minor as to be non existent.

The GourmetSleuth offers a few good images and some information, but for the truly curious I recommend this Mother Earth News article titled Crunch a Bunch of Crosnes. Apparently the plant is a relative of mint. They can be grown quite easily. The Crunch a Bunch article has recipes, sources for buying, sources for growing and much more than even I care to know about the crosne.

Pickling is mentioned at both sites. I have not tried them pickled and now I'm even more intriqued.

Strange little things. Has anyone else experienced the crosne vegetable? What are your thoughts on the grub of the vegetable world?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Balsamic Reduction Chimmichurri Sauce for Beef Steak

By special request...

We've done Argentinian inspired Chimmichurri sauces for beef on several occasions. They are an easy addition to any grilled beef dish as you can make them ahead of time and twist the ingredients to fit the rest of your menu.

For this dinner I wanted to incorporate a reduced balsamic vinegar in the sauce.
Here's what we did:

Balsamic Chimmichurri Sauce for Grilled Beef

1 bottle cheap Balsamic Vinegar
1 bunch Italian parsley
3 garlic cloves
red chile flakes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
freshly ground pepper
juice of 1/2 of a lemon

Pour the vinegar into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil over medium heat until it has reduced down to about 2/3 C of liquid. Let it cool.

Wash and mince the parsley leaves. Crush or mince the garlic cloves.

Pour 3 Tablespoons of the reduced balsamic vinegar into a medium sized bowl, add the chopped parsley, garlic, a pinch of red chile flakes and a dash of salt and a grind of black pepper.

Pour in 1/3 Cup of olive oil. Mix well with a fork and taste. Add 1-3 teaspoons of lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) to add a little acidity if it is too sweet. Add more salt, pepper or chile flakes to your taste.

Set aside, spoon over cooked beef!

Take the beef off the grill a little early, RARE. Let is rest a minute and put it onto a broiler plate, the metal ones from steak houses. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the sauce over the steak. Crumble 2 Tablespoons of blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Saga, or Cabrales) over the steak. Put it under the broiler for 10-20 seconds - heating the steak, softening the cheese. Yum.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Millionaire and the Indian Part II (John M. Simpson)

My Foible, It Was a Flat Iron

At the bbq the other night (see previous post), we discussed new cuts of beef and the NY Times article about them we had each read the previous week. I was happy to be trying one of the interesting new products my meat supplier had delivered the day before. I made a mistake in my post about the menu - I was just in the freezer and found a box of Flat Iron steaks but no Hanger Steaks were to be found. Oops!

The second interesting box of beef I found in the freezer is something called: Wagyu Kobe Beef Sirloin Steaks. They are a beautiful super dark puple color. I found a website with a good explanation of the Kobe designation.

I now need to ask my meat guy to verify if this meat is from Harris Ranch, where they are doing it right, or just someplace trying to use the words to make money on beef.

We are going to try two of the steaks for dinner tonight. Can't wait to see how they taste.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hanger Steak Dinner

The holiday weekend inspired us to invite a few friends over for a barbecue. My meat supplier has hooked me up with some beautiful hanger steaks so we decided to give them a go.

Weekend Barbecue Dinner
Assorted cheeses, fig spread, with crackers and bread
Black beans, grilled corn cut from the cob, roasted red peppers, and teardrop tomatoes
in a Blood Orange Dressing
Roasted Lemony Potatoes
Grilled hanger steaks with balsamic chimmi churri sauce
Assorted berry crisp with oatmeal topping served with vanilla ice cream
The black bean salad was really nice. I made the dressing with the juice of one blood orange, Canola and Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper. It was tangy but boring. I wanted creamy. I added some mayo until it had a creamy edge over the tang. It was a bit salty, but over all the vegetables it was magic.
The baby yukon potatoes were microwaved and then quartered lengthwise and put on a roasting pan. I combined a little lemon juice, a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few shakes of some greek seasoning. This mixture was brushed on the potatoes. There were then put in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes until browned at the tips.
I bought a cheap bottle of Balsamic vinegar and then reduced it down to about 1/2 C of liquid. A little of this was used as the base for the chimmi churri. Chopped parsely, minced garlic, salt, fresh ground black pepper and a pinch of red chile flakes were also added. It was dark and glossy.
The steaks were marinated for about an hour in some Worchestershire, soy sauce and chopped garlic.
The guests brought the crisp and it was fabulous. I'm still eating the leftovers!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Menu for a Country BBQ (or Cole's Bday Lunch)

For those who are interested, and I believe there actually are a few, here is the menu and a few links to recipes from the Country BBQ lunch we had last weekend for our little boy - Cole.

  • Homemade Lemonade
    WOW - was that tart. Next time, taste and add more sugar!
  • Watermelon Wedges
    Make sure they are cold, best on ice.
  • Quick Pickles - assorted vegetables
    No recipe, looked online at a few recipes and winged it. Good stuff!
  • Pat's Cole Slaw
    Best basic and addictive slaw - ever! 1/3 each, sugar, mayo and vinegar
  • Corn on the Cob
    Basic, boiled and buttered.
  • Creamy Tarragon Potato Salad
    No recipes, only a craving for creamy tarragon dressing.
    It could have used more salt.
    New potatoes, celery, mayonnaise, tarragon, sour cream
  • Baked Maple Beans
    These were cooked over 12 hours. I used navy beans.
    I'd do these again anytime. I trust Bobby Flay's American fare recipes, always hearty, always tasty.
  • Grilled Lemon Chicken
    This was the best grilled chicken I've ever had.
    We used two techniques, brining and basting.
    We found this Chez Panisse brine and decided to try it.
    I wanted an award winning grilled chicken and I found this
    garlicy basting recipe from Oregon. Fabulous, but a bit salty.
    I need to weigh or measure somehow the amount of ice I add to the brine
    in the cooler to make sure the amount is correct according to the recipe.
  • Pat's 4 Bean Salad
    I don't have her recipe - this and the cake were the only things I didn't cook!

There you have it, a feast fit for a crowd of four or forty year olds!

Monday, May 7, 2007

New York Image III - Buddha's Hand Citrus

This is a Buddha's Hand citrus that we saw at a market in SoHo during our trip to New York.
Good food porn for us hybrid citrus fans!

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New York Image II - Daniel Birthday Plate

This was my birthday dessert course at Daniel.
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New York Image I - Sopranos at Aqueduct

Here is Bruce at Aqueduct with Gandolfini (Tony) in the background. Tony was taking pictures of his children who were posing at a table nearby.
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Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Millionaire and the Indian - a classic Vixen tale

A quick note: I wrote this piece over fifteen years ago. Recently Bruce and I tried to explain this evening to someone... here's the true tale.

As originally published on

The Millionaire and the Indian

Why does a millionaire continue to work fifty-hour work weeks? This was the burning question my husband had for Rod, the young, good looking, executive he'd been working with for several years. Rod had decided to leave the company and Bruce, my husband, decided that this was the perfect time to invite Rod over for dinner to discuss the big question.

Once Rod was invited, we remembered that he had some food allergies and a few quirky dislikes. I had Bruce ask Rod to let us know his food guidelines and he shot back a quick answer: "No wheat, no dairy, no cold meats, eggs are okay".

"Okay, I can do this", I thought. It took a few days to shake off the fear and to realize that there was a lot left to serve. Vegetables, rice, hot meats and fish came to mind. I began working on a menu and sent Bruce back to ask Rod if he could handle spicy foods. Thank God the answer was yes! Bruce and I love spicy foods and I couldn't imagine how I was going to make the food shine without using some chile heat.

The menu came together as: Crudites with dilled white bean dip; Blackened red snapper; Parsleyed rice and berries with sabayon for dessert. I kept it simple but tasty. I didn't want a failure on my hands.

The day of the dinner arrived. I spent the afternoon slicing vegetables, cleaning berries, and making the spice mixture for the fish. Rod was due to arrive at 7:00pm.

At about 5:30 pm we received a phone call. It was Bruce's sister, Lenae. We hadn't heard from her in at least a year. This call was a very mixed blessing. At the time, she had a drug problem. Spending time with Lenae was stressful to say the least. "Don't you live in Culver City?", she asked. "Yes", Bruce replied. Lenae then proposed, "Let me come over and show you my Indian." Well, the conversation just deteriorated from there. We really had little choice but to have her over. We truly missed her, wanted to see how she was doing and were curious about this Indian thing. We let her know about Rod coming over and asked that she make it a very short visit. She complied.

About ten minutes later, true to her word, she arrived, with an Indian. His name was Russ, or Red Feather, or The Indian, whichever you prefer. He was dressed in black leather with silver studs from head to toe. He had at least one ring on each finger and about fifteen necklaces around his neck. He looked tough, but had a friendly smile. Lenae looked her old self, tired, run down, your typical speed freak. We sat and chatted for a while. This was in 1992, just after the riots in South Central Los Angeles. The Indian told stories of his looting exploits during the pandemonium. People just started handing him stuff, he assured us.

Time was running short. We reminded them of our previous commitment and began showing them to the door. Then our phone rang. It was Rod, he was downstairs waiting to be buzzed into our building.

We quickly said our good-byes. Bruce and I walked them down the hallway towards the entrance of the building. As we approached the door at the end of the hall, it opened and Rod walked toward us.

It was a tense and odd moment. Should we introduce the millionaire to the druggy sister and her Indian? We opted not to. They passed each other in the hallway with only a hint of amusement passing across Rod's face. Bruce and I didn't have time to digest this bizarre moment.

Back in the apartment things started off well. The appetizers were received with compliments. Bruce and Rod began to discuss the issue at hand. I began heating up the frying pan for the blackened fish.

I had made the recipe before. I made sure to turn the stove's exhaust fan on, open a few windows and to heat the pan until it was white hot. I carefully added the seasoned fish fillets.

The small apartment quickly filled with spicy, burning, smoke. The fire alarm began wailing. Bruce opened the door to the apartment to help create a cross breeze. I attacked the smoke alarm, tearing the batteries out as quickly as I could.

Rod began wheezing, then coughing. He quickly found his inhaler. Bruce led him to our tiny balcony where the air was clear. Rod sucked on his inhaler hungrily as he tried to clear his lungs.

There wasn't time for me to panic. I had to finish cooking the fish. I knew that the smoke would stop once the fish was out of the pan. I did what I could to quickly finish preparing the meal.

The smoke hazard was over in less than ten minutes. Bruce and Rod stayed outside for at least twenty. They came to the table as the last of the smoke was clearing from the apartment.

The rest of the evening went smoothly. The fish was perfectly cooked and had the distinctive red-hot taste of the blackened spices. The sabayon turned out rich and creamy. Rod could eat everything we served and was lavish with his praise for the food.

Rod did try to answer Bruce's question. It seems that some people are willing to work hard not just for money, but for the desire to succeed. Rod wouldn't speak for himself, only others he knew, who did exactly that. Whether for power, greed or in competition (with themselves or others), some people never cease to work tirelessly.

Hmm, like me in the kitchen, always striving to reach new heights? Perhaps.

Bruce-a-lot (New York Part V)

We awoke to a cold morning and cigar breath. We washed away the remnants of the night before and bundled up for a new adventure. We decided to go back to The Cupping Room for breakfast. It was a Sunday morning and the place was packed. Young couples, old friends, and families with children in tow were lined up in the bar awaiting a table. We lucked out and were seated at the last table for two. We ate quickly and then caught a cab up to Central Park. I had decided that I couldn't go to New York City and not visit the park. On our first night in the city we could see one corner of the park, while we dined at PerSe. But I wanted the real experience, a walk in the park.
It was still cold when we started our walk and we kept our jackets closed and walked quickly through the mostly deserted park. We passed many of the famous landmarks of the park. Each new scene we came upon made me think of all the movies and television shows I had seen with these vistas as the backdrop. Similar to places in Los Angeles, these were landmarks that the world recognizes, but these places truly are familiar and part of home to some. And here we are soaking in it; New York City, breathing it in.
We wander over to Rockefeller Plaza towards the Theater District. We had tickets for the afternoon matinee of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Schubert Theater. Rockefeller Plaza was in the midst of being decorated for the coming Christmas season. The tree was erected and had scaffolding surrounding it and going up... what seemed like 100 feet high. There was a Santa Clause in the FAO Schwartz building, looking out on the scene and waving at the crowds below. People idly ice skated about below and we decided we'd had enough of this scene. We walked on towards the Schubert in hopes of finding some food before the show started. We came upon Sardi's and had to take the opportunity to check it out. Sardi's is an institution in the Theater District. It's where theater people have eaten for generations. There are caricatures all over the walls boasting the long tradition of theater. Well, the place was a mad house, crazy busy. They were quick to seat us, but then we were ignored in our little corner table. Ten minutes clicked by and we were never seen by a waiter. We spent our time laughing at the out dated menu and ridiculous prices and just about crying for the sad people who had saved their money, come to New York to see something on Broadway and someone tells them that this is the place to get the best true theater dining experience. The over worked waiters and tattered room make the place just seem sad and shabby. We walked out. We decided to do the real NY thing and eat a hot dog off the cart down at the corner. The hot dog was perfect... well the idea of the hot dog was perfect, the dog itself was bland and not Kosher beef, which I prefer.
Bruce and I are not into musicals. As a young musician in a youth orchestra he was often called upon to play all the Broadway favorites. He knows his Music Man from his South Pacific and he hates them all with a passion. Their simplistic melodies and repetitive nature are enough to drive a young mind to join a Punk band.
I however found musicals very entertaining, when I was 12 years old. That was when I tired of them as well. My mother subscribed to the local civic light opera and dutifully took her daughters to see all their productions. I think of musicals as entertainment, for children.
So Spam-a-lot might not seem the obvious choice of things for us to do during our trip to NY, but we are both big Monty Python fans and I thought it would be cool to see it in NY before it was sent around the country (the deal for which had not been announced at the time of our trip).
I bought great tickets from an online broker. We were right up front to the right in about the 3rd row. The play was very funny and well done. I even loved the costumes, beautiful dresses are one of my weaknesses.
Near the end of the play, at just about the climax of the show, a large artifact is unveiled on the stage and needs to be interpreted. I stared at that thing as the cast bantered back and forth "CIOI? C101? Chaio?" "what does it mean?"
I leaned over to Bruce, "That is your seat number."
Bruce just has a chance to feel under his seat to see if there is something there, when...
At that moment one of the cast members jumps down into the audience, pulls Bruce from his seat, dumps the holy grail into the seat and proclaims Bruce to be the "Best Peasant". Bruce is pulled up on stage, the cast sings a song to him, a picture is taken, an award and certificate are given to him.
I am in shock. I can't even take a picture, Bruce had the camera in his pocket. A nice lady sitting next to me in the audience took a picture and my address (she really did send us the snap shots too!).
Bruce returns to the seat, and he's in shock too. Wow.
After the show ends, the cast is selling items as a charitable fund-raiser. We buy the poster signed by the cast and while we're standing at the booth buying it, Bruce was asked to sign another person's poster, so that it has the "whole cast".
We wander out and catch a cab back to the hotel. Wow, this has become an incomparable city adventure.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tiffany and The Sopranos (New York Part IV)

We awoke groggily with Champagne hang overs and vague memories of making plans to go to a racetrack. Our friend called to arrange a time for us to meet them at the owner's boxes. We looked up Aqueduct online and found it located roughly between Queens and Brooklyn out near JFK in an area described as Jamaica, Queens. It looked like an adventure.
We were hungry to start the day and had heard many good things about Balthazar and decided to walk by and see if we could get in for breakfast. It was packed, people pouring out the door. We continued our walk through SoHo and then slowly north and ended up at a place called NoHo Star and it was great. Clean, great creative menu, hot tasty food, what's not to like? But it was getting close to lunch time by now and we needed to do a little shopping before hitting the track.
Bruce had promised me a little Tiffany gold for my 40th birthday gift. We also needed to pick up a sport jacket for him to appease the turf club's jacket-required dress code. So we hopped in a taxi up to the big Tiffany & Co. store on Fifth Ave. and speed shopped for some beautiful gold jewelry. We found what I wanted rather quickly and then wandered around the store diamond and people watching. We loved looking at the over the top super duper pieces and even asked one of the workers to hold up a piece (similar to this one) to let us see if it makes tinkling noises when the chains bump into each other (no real tinkling was detected). Finally, our pieces had been placed in cloth pouches and the pouches into hard hinged jewelry boxes and the boxes put into Tiffany blue cardboard boxes and wrapped with white satin ribbon and wrapped into tissue and put into a bright blue Tiffany & Co. shiny paper shopping bag. Whew, thank you, beautiful, let's get out of here. Over to...
Hugo Boss, speed shopping now, we only have 1 hour to get out to the track. We wander up and down through the store and eventually find something that will work fine. We go to pay and now our fine financial institution has decided that this isn't a normal day of shopping for B&V and wants us to jump through a few maiden name hoops before allowing us to pay for the jacket, remove the tags from it and put the Tiffany jewelry on before jumping into a cab and heading towards Queens.
There is traffic, tons of traffic. It takes forever. Our friend calls to make sure we are okay. We eventually get dropped off by the cab on the wrong side of the track. The entrance is closed, but Bruce uses the information we have and inquires through the cheap bourbon fumes wafting out of the booth "It's Bruce and Vickie, we were told you'd know us and that we shouldn't pay the $2.00 fee?" The guy looked at Bruce like he was nuts and pointed at the old yellow school bus turning around just in front of the booth in the parking lot. We got aboard and it took us around to the main entrance and we found the turf club entrance. They DID know who we were and didn't even ask for the fee, just rushed us upstairs to meet our friends, but not before asking if we were with the Soprano party. Baffled, we rushed upstairs and to the restroom before asking the host to seat us. He promptly asked if we were with the Sopranos. We said no and thought it a bit strange that now two people had asked this same mysterious question. We followed the host to our table... just past, oh my god, it's them, Tony, Paulie and the guys - the four tables behind us filled with the cast of the Sopranos show on HBO. They were there celebrating a birthday. We did our best not to stare but did manage to get a few pictures of each other with Tony in the background. The races whizzed by and neither Bruce nor I won much if any money. We did have the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with the trainer for our horse. He is from France and travels around the world with his horses, visiting some of the richest places on earth and flying on specially configured airplanes. When it was time for the big race of the day we moved down to the paddock so we could watch the race from ground level. We met the jockey and the horse. The Soprano's horse was running against ours and so the guys were all down at the track rubbing shoulders with us. I'm sure it gave them a thrill. Luckily our horse did NOT win, but neither did the Soprano's horse, so we all left the area without incident.
Bruce and I did our best to get out out of there fast in order to get back into the city for a dinner reservation at Daniel. But when we take the school bus to where we think a subway station should be, we are encouraged, by the policemen attending the exit, to return to the club house to call a cab. So we board the bus again and when we get to club house we run into our friends from the owners table. They board the bus with an adventurous attitude toward the subway station and we follow like good little tourists.
One of the friends is a NYC native. She calls the port authority to ask when we should expect a train and where would be a safe place to change trains on our way back to MidTown Manhattan. I remove my Tiffany jewelry and put it in my purse, but I'm still holding my bright blue bag which seems to at this point be glowing and pulsating. Our train arrives and the cast of characters couldn't have been better. All colors, all shapes, all sizes, hair nets, tattoos, piercings, but my favorite is a guy with a golden bicycle. Bruce offers up his seat to a few people and gets a few takers - what a nice guy!
We emerge, three trains and 50 minutes later, three blocks from our dinner reservation at Daniel. I stop outside the door to put my Tiffany gold back on, smooth down my hair. We enter a jewel box of calm sophistication. They bring us to a corner table which is in a beautifully colorful tent. It's luxe in every way. They bring a small plush seat for my purse and I try to remember where I have dined that has done this before (I still can't remember). They make Bruce keep his jacket on, house rules, even though he is over-heated from the quick walk to the restaurant. They treat us like kings and we indulge in a wonderful meal. The wait staff takes a liking to us and recommends a place called Lexington Bar and Books for an after dinner drink and a cigar. Ah, what a great suggestion.
We waddle out of the restaurant and up to the bar. We are buzzed in and seated at a cozy table. We indulge in cognac, single-malt Scotch and a cigar each. Wow, what a day. Wow, New York City!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

That Salad - found it!

Would you believe, this article from 1997 is still out there! It has the outline recipe for The Salad. I recently rewrote the recipe and article.

Here it is:

Variations on One Great Salad
I love salads. But for the longest time preparing a good salad was a mystery to me. I was never sure that ingredients I chose would come together once they were tossed and dressed. Then there was the question of the dressing. Long ago I'd stopped buying bottled dressing. Ninety-nine percent of the salad dressings on the market are terrible tasting with added stabilizers or freshening agents. So, I'd pour over cookbooks, websites, whatever I could get my hands on to find creative dressing recipes. I'd follow each recipe to a "t"! Salads simply made me nervous and I wasn't going to mess around without a strict guideline!
Those salad scare days are long gone. My new found dressed-green confidence came in the form of one great recipe. Handed out casually during a cooking class, it didn't have a name other than: Watercress, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad. It was lightly dressed in a Spanish sherry vinaigrette. The contrasting textures, colors and flavors made everyone in class take notice. We all devoured it and I added it to my favorite list right then!
Since then I've seen many versions of this salad at all types of restaurants. From a classic Italian combination of gorgonzola and walnuts to a California French type using a thin slice of St. Auger blue cheese and a caramelized pear, all of them incorporate variations on a few simple ingredients.
Chosen for balance of color, taste and texture a handful of high-quality ingredients can come together in a grand way. Be sure to imagine the finished product... how it will taste, appear on the plate and feel in the mouth? Always critique your creation. Would a different cheese have made it come alive? Next time, switch a few ingredients and critique once again. The possibilities are endless.

An Outline Recipe for My Favorite Salad
Ingredient Outline
Washed and torn dark green leafys which contrast with the cheese used.
  • The nutty flavor of Watercress with goat cheese OR
  • Rich and simple Spinach with intense blue cheese OR
  • Spicy Arugula (Rocket) with Nutty Parmesan OR
  • Classic French combination of Roquefort with celery OR
  • Spicy Baby Green mix which may go with any of the cheeses.
Crisp fleshed fruit thinly sliced (for fancy presentation fan slice the fruit)
Pears or Apples work great - use creative types (Fuji Apples, Asian Pears)
Caramelized pear halves make a special addition, beautiful!

Quality Cheese:
  • Crumbled or grated top quality cheese Montrachet is a flavorful goat cheese OR
  • Parmesan - Italian Parmesan Reggiano - only! (No California or Wisconsin Parmesan need apply!) OR
  • A Blue Cheese - St. Auger, Stilton, Roquefort or Saga OR
  • Choose one which is made as locally as possible to you!

Toasted Nuts:
  • Walnuts and blue cheese go great together OR
  • Pecans pair well with goat cheese
    (for a special occasion, caramelize the pecans. Fabulous!) OR
  • Almonds for a simple and lighter flavor OR
  • Pine Nuts go well with Parmesan
Vinaigrette Dressing
The original salad recipe had a Sherry Wine Vinaigrette. Spanish Sherry Vinegar is a great addition to any one's pantry. It has a flavorful and sweet taste and is a cheaper alternative to quality Balsamic Vinegars.

The dressing should have vinegar, salt, pepper, perhaps a little garlic (not much!), perhaps some chopped fresh herb (something mild like thyme or parsley). Use a mild oil or a mixture. For the mild safflower or Canola work well. A splash of extra virgin olive, hazelnut or avocado will add richness and complexity.

Pour the vinegar into a bowl, add salt, fresh ground pepper, any herb and maybe rub the inside of the bowl with a sliced garlic clove. Mix well and start drizzling in oil as you whisk. Taste often and stop adding oil when the vinegar no longer has a bite to it.

Serving the Salad
Toss the greens with a little of the dressing. Make a bed of greens on each plate or a large platter.Place the fruit decoratively over the greens.Sprinkle on the cheese and then the nuts.Drizzle more dressing over the top. Grind a little pepper over the top.

Voila! Serve, enjoy, savor the compliments and don't forget to critique for next time!

--Culinary Vixen

Bottled Dressing Rant

Some would say that I have a particularly strong hatred of all bottled salad dressings. It is true that very few get a passing grade from me. Most bottled dressings taste of the thickeners, preservatives and flavorings they use as ingredients. Once in a while I'll find one with a tolerable balance of acid and flavor but I'd still be afraid to read the ingredient list!

I loathe spending money on ranch dressing for my children. I have tried various brands looking for one with no MSG or high fructose corn syrup, but when I'd find a healthy version, my children would stick their noses up at it. I believe Marie's refrigerated jars are the best compromise I have found so far. But I digress...

The real reason I HATE bottled salad dressing is that there is no excuse why you shouldn't make your own. A vinaigrette is simple to make and can be made with as few as 2 ingredients (not counting salt and pepper!). Any decent cook should have a handful of salad dressing recipes in their repertoire.

The basics of a salad dressing is a balance of oil and acid with seasonings added to create more flavor. All dressings are made by combining the acid and seasonings and blending well then slowly adding the oil while whisking the mixture to combine. Oil should be added to a ratio of 1 part acid to 3-5 parts oil. Notice there is a wide range for the amount of oil. This will be determined by taste and takes into account the seasonings which will change the flavor and the oil needed to create a balanced dressing.

So, where is a recipe you ask? I give you, Vixen's Sherry Vinaigrette. It's a recipe adapted from my professional cooking part IV class. Sherry Vinegar is a wonderful dark amber color with a rich winey flavor. It's magical in this dressing and is the perfect for The Salad. I'll save that recipe for another day.

Vixen's Sherry Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 quart (can be halved)

1 each clove of garlic, peeled
1 each shallot, peeled, roughly chopped
2 Tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried herb of your choice
(mixed Italian or thyme or oregano or Herbes de Provence or basil or tarragon)
¼ Cup Sherry wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
5 grinds black pepper
1-1 1/2 Cups Olive oil

Put the garlic, shallot, mustard, herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper into a blender. Process for 30 seconds until the garlic and shallot are finely minced and the mustard has dissolved into the vinegar.
Put the olive oil into a cup with a lip, so it pours easily (like a glass measuring cup). While the blender is running on it’s lowest setting, very slowly pour in the olive oil. It should blend into the mixture quite easily. If it starts to pool on top of the mixture, slow down your pouring and wait until the existing oil is emulsified before continuing.
Once you’ve poured in 1 Cup of the oil, taste the dressing. Add additional oil to make the dressing thicker and less tart, to your taste.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste as well.
Note: This dressing is best on the day it is made but will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature and shake or whisk well before using.

Monday, April 23, 2007

New York Part III

Our first full day in New York was gorgeous. It was crisp and sunny outside, the perfect Autumn day. We had decided on the plane that we had to go see the Borat movie during our trip. Before we even went downstairs to breakfast I had looked up show times at a few theaters and picked one a good walk away from our hotel.
We made a serious effort to eat breakfast at our hotel. We were seated and then ignored. We were starving and didn't think the service would improve anytime soon, so we left. We walked down one block and found the perfect breakfast spot. It's called the Cupping Room. They make all their baked goods on site and we were not disappointed by anything we ordered. It's warm and cozy with a real local feel to it.
Once fortified with coffee and food we proceeded on foot towards the East Village. We arrived at the City Cinemas Village East theater just in time for an early afternoon showing which did not disappoint but made us writhe in our seats with laughter.
After the movie we were free for the afternoon and wandered through Chinatown and Little Italy with a few stops for shopping down Elisabeth Street. We found a wonderful vintage handbag store and Bruce was kind enough to indulge me while I looked around and picked out a beautiful brocade clutch about 2' long from the mid 1960's.
We rushed back to the room with our purchases and changed for dinner. We had to meet a friend for dinner at Wd-50.
The friend we met for dinner has a home in Manhattan Beach and we met her about a year ago. She and her husband get along with Bruce and I famously. They travel - A LOT - and she happened to be scheduled to be in New York during our visit, so we decided to make a date to go out together.
Wd-50 is a very trendy restaurant with a chef, Wylie Dufresne, who is quite famous for being one of a handful of pioneers in tech-cooking. These new chefs us techniques and chemical processes to create stylized food the likes of which most of the world has never seen (other than Spain and if you have to ask why Spain, well then you shouldn't bother going to Wd-50!). These new food warriors can take any liquid and create stable liquid balls - like caviar. Or thicken any sauce, hot or cold, to the exactly desired consistency. Sousvide is also hugely popular. It's a hot water bath that you place plastic wrapped food into and it cooks very slowly and without any browning to change the flavors of the ingredients within... tender pink precious meats are the result.
We had a heck of a time finding the place and it's in a somewhat dodgy neighborhood. But if you know Bruce and I, you know we have no problem handling ourselves in just about any neighborhood, so we just kept walking back and forth until we found the place. It looks almost like a diner inside with basic booths and a few pieces of large art on the walls. Our friend was waiting for us.
We had a marvelous meal of de-consctructed foods that were described as dishes you know and love but were transformed on the plate. It was all tasty, well prepared and the service was good too. In fact the waiter was so nice that we got to talking about food and drinks. He was impressed by enthusiasm for a creative cocktail and gave us the phone number for a very cool bar called Milk and Honey located on the lower East side of New York City that you have to make reservations for to get in. And you can't just look up the phone number either, you have to be given the number by someone 'in the know'. So now, we are appearing pretty hip in this big city! (Side note: we never did get to try Milk and Honey as our schedule just didn't have time to fit it in.)
By the end of dinner our friend had talked us into meeting her and her friend (a race horse owner) at the owners box for some horse racing out at Aqueduct the following afternoon. We didn't have any plans for the day and we thought it would be an interesting if not unique experience. Wow, were we right.
We left our friend that night after dinner and returned to our room. Bruce had an arrangement of orchids delivered as well as a bottle of nice Champagne. Such a nice guy!
Stay tuned for part IV - The Sopranos!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hellloooo Carnitas!

I'm a big Mexican food fan. I love all the flavors of the new world; corn, tomatoes, chilies, cilantro/coriander, cumin, oregano, all of it. I especially love carnitas, Mexican roasted pork. I had never made it until this week and it will now be on my list of Sunday supper specials because it was just about the easiest Mexican taco dinner to be found.
The desire to try to make carnitas started at the Whole Foods market. They had pork butt in their meat department. I know, pork butt, sounds off-putting to say the least. But if you know your cuts of meat you know that this is the rich succulent cut that when cooked long and slowly will turn incredibly tender and tasty. Besides, it was only $5.00/lb, so I bought a small piece and decided to look into carnitas.
So, the trick is to think of carnitas as Mexican Pork Pot Roast. You know how to make a roast, right? Brown meat, add some vegetables and a bunch of liquid, perhaps some spices and then cook in the oven for a few hours. Magically when you open up the pot you'll find meltingly tender meat full of flavor. But wait you say, carnitas has a crispy chewy texture when I have it on a taco! Yes, you are right, the trick to the crispy texture is to pull the meat out of the liquid, shred into desired chunks on a shallow roasting pan and then bake in the top of a hot oven for about 10 minutes until desired crispiness is achieved. Warm a few corn tortillas, slice an avocado and a few green onions, and you have the easiest taco dinner ever. And any leftovers will be even better in a day or two - and you can remove a lot of the fat if you chill it while in the liquid and before crisping it. So make a double batch and only crisp up what you are going to eat. MMMMMmmmm good.

Vickie's Basic Carnitas

1.5 lb Pork Butt Roast
salt and pepper
2 Tbs Canola Oil
1 large onion diced
3 garlic cloves peeled and sliced
1 can Rotel Tomatoes and Chiles with Lime juice
1 chopped chipotle chile en adobo (from a can I keep in the refrigerator)
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 quart no salt chicken stock
1 beef bouillon cube

Salt and pepper the pork. Heat a large roasting pan on the stove over medium heat. Add the pork and brown on one side. Turn the pork over and add the onions and garlic around the edges. When the pork is browned on the other side, add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cook over very low heat for 2 hours. Check for tenderness and continue cooking until the meat falls apart when pulled at with a fork. Alternately you may put the pan in a 350F oven for the 2 hours.
Turn the heat up to 400F. Remove the meat from the liquid and place on a shallow roasting pan. Shred the meat into chunks or shreds as you desire, removing any sinew or extra fat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chunks from the cooking liquid and spread them over the shredded pork. Bake on the top rack of the hot oven until crispy (5-10 minutes).
Serve with salsa, avocado slices, green onions, lime wedges and cold beer!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thank You Sous!

This week was an uninspired food week. I didn't have the energy to get too creative. I also wanted to thin out the pantry and freezer, eating from what we have in the house. I had ideas on what to cook, but no energy to cook them.
Bruce really stepped up. He's been training as my sous chef for about 6 months now. He'll chop, dice, grate and saute anything I ask. I love it. He is learning and I'm getting a break. I get to conceptualize and he performs. Sometimes mistakes are made. There was the overly hot pan for the Chicken Picatta - burned the butter. Luckily it was the first step and he even had the idea himself that he should start over.
The Picatta turned out wonderful by the way, moist and flavorful, lots of capers and little tiny bits of lemon supremes (Bruce's favorite thing to prep).
He really outdid himself last night with the lamb loin chops. We were going to do them on the grill, but ran out of fuel. We quickly heated up the broiler and our biggest heaviest copper pot. He quickly browned the racks in the pan in a bit of olive oil. Then we put the whole thing in the oven for another 8 minutes. Perfection. He used his tools and checked the internal temp with a thermometer and pulled them out at jsut the right time, they were fabulous - light pink and juicy throughout with a flavorful outer coating of mustard and pepper. Wow!
The night wasn't without incident however. I found the large copper pot somewhat washed and abandoned in the dish drainer this morning. There was a splash of broiled on oil on the inside of the pan and the beautiful outer copper coating was pale and splotchy from all the heat. He gave me these lovely heavy monster copper pots for Xmas this past year and I absolutely love them. Nothing that I have ever used comes close to the performance these pans give. I picked up that pan and scoured it with my Bartenders Best Friend until it gleamed. It was dried and hanging before I had my first cup of coffee this morning. I kid you not.
I told him how to polish it for next time, but was happy to do it myself. I don't want to upset the kitchen staff, what would I do without him?
Thank you helpers everywhere, your hard work is appreciated!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Gassata or Naturale?

I'm returning to the La Sosta Enoteca/Bottled Water Tab Padding issue. I saw a friend yesterday. This friend and her husband are Italian. I told them about La Sosta Enoteca in Hermosa Beach and about my previous article. I mentioned the bottled water issue and how they really seem to push it, so don't be afraid to just say "No!".
My friend surprised me. She said that in Italy they only serve bottled water at restaurants so the custom is to ask which you prefer, sparkling or flat?
Whoa, it's a cultural thing. I will no longer say a disparaging word about the staff at La Sosta with regards to their bottled water obsession.
Perhaps the issue may now rest?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Scallops on hold, dang it.

Like everything in life, my plans to work in the kitchen this week have changed. "Mike", the manager notified me that unfortunately he forgot about a big wine dinner he was supposed to go to... ya, de, ya, de ya... so no scallops last night.

I was so excited I couldnt' sleep the night before and then one little email changed my schedule, attitude and demeanor. I was tossing and turning all night. How can you plate three scallops and make them look nice? How can I assure that the sauce is thick and smooth and rich? Should I strain it? Should I see if they have iteresteing little plates for serving?

I'm not giving up, I'm learning, it's taken me 40 years, to kick back and wait for the opportunity to come to me. I'll let you know when I finally get my chance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

New York Part II - Per Se

The flight to New York was uneventful. We snacked lightly looking forward to our huge dinner at Per Se. It was raining when we landed and the taxi ride seemed magical as we watched the skyline get closer and closer.

We were dropped at the SoHo Grand and checked in. The new cruelty has a tight hold on this place. The lobby was so dimly lit that I couldn't see across the room. It had an industrial feel to it and was smartly decorated with creative flair. But no one even offered to show us to our room or help with our baggage. We were on our own and it certainly wouldn't have taken any one's help to find your way around the minuscule room... but it did have a view over the corner into TirBeCa with all it's quaint water towers.

We spread out, unpacked and put on some music, got dressed and were ready to go to dinner. The taxi ride was blustery and the city lights were blurred by more rain. We were dropped in front of a large elegant corner mall overlooking a corner of Central Park. Per Se has a decidedly sophisticated city-sleek air about it. It's in stark contrast to the charming warmth of the French Laundry, Keller's other flagship restaurant. But the entrance into Per Se gives a nod to the garden courtyard on the property of French Laundry in Yountville, CA with a few wooden benches, an archway entrance and flower beds which I'm sure are used as a waiting area on busy nights. That night however, there were no crowds. We seemed to be among the last to arrive for the night, our reservation being for 10:30pm.

I'm not going to go over each dish here, I just won't . I can't remember it all and there were LOTS of courses. I believe we opted to add in the fois gras to our menu. We had wines paired with each course. Everything was wonderful. I spotted a crosne on at least one dish (article to follow). The only dish I had a problem with was the lobster. I always have problems with the lobster. I couldn't eat the lobster at French Laundry and I couldn't eat the lobster at Per Se. They were just too tough. Poached in butter, but as far as I'm concerned, too tough to eat. Yuck. But the rest, phenomenal. The service? Fantabulous. Absolutely attentive but only as chatty as you'd want them to be. They could tell we were excited and happy to be there and they were too!

We rolled out of there around 1:30am. Taxi'd back to the room to pass out. Day 1, done.