Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Soubise correction

Okay, I know you've been upset ever since you read the review of Avenue. You can't believe that me, a professionally trained cook would make such a mistake. Yes, I am human and I too forget the families of sauces from time to time.

It turns out, Soubise is made from Bechamel (white sauce) and not chicken stock. I referred to my LaRousse Gastronomique when I realized that I just wasn't sure about the sauce's origins. LaRousse says that Soubise can refer to any sauce of pureed onions (or finely dice) especially ones served with eggs.

Did you know that the sauce is named after an 18th century aristocrat and marshal of France, Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise?

No, I'll bet you didn't.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Adobo Wings

Every once in a while, I crave Adobo. If you haven't had pork or chicken Adobo you've missed out on a fabulous Filipino treat. It's a simple preparation that melds a few great flavors into one new taste sensation.
Basically Adobo is soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. There are many variations, but they all have at least these three ingredients. I always look around online and find a few recipes and then just make up my own.
Yesterday I had the craving for salty vinegar flavor and decided to whip up a batch of my Adobo Chicken wings. Bruce prefers his Adobo with a bit of sugar in it, leaning more towards a Teriyaki flavor, so I added 1/2C sugar and 1/2C water to the mix. I also used spicy chile vinegar instead of just white vinegar. Bay leaves are another often added ingredient and I used those too. Here's the recipe if you too have the salty/sour craving:

Vickie's Adobo Chicken Wings
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entree
8 chicken wings
1 C soy sauce
1 C white vinegar
1/2 C water
1/2 C sugar
10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 bay leaves
pinch of red chile flakes (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F.
Rinse the chicken wings well under cold water and then put them in a saute pan that can hold them all without much overlapping.
Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and keep the pan simmering. Cook for about 15 minutes until they are cooked through, turning them over in the sauce a few times.
Lightly oil a shallow baking dish. Remove the wings from the sauce and put on the baking dish.
Place the baking dish in the upper third of the oven and bake until they begin to crisp up (about 10-15 minutes).

Avenue Report for March

Well Avenue has still got it. We had a fabulous dinner there on Thursday. We shared the fois gras as a starter. They always have a fois on the menu. When it is a seared preparation, we love to order it with a glass of Sauternes, both to share now that we're watching our weight. A few bites is all you need and this month's fruity accompaniment made for a savory, sweet and rich sensation.
The owners know us by name now and Teddy was very sweet and gave the two of us the big booth in the corner with mirrors. We had never sat there and while that may not seem an interesting point about our evening... it is. The corner booth allows you to see the whole restaurant surreptitiously. Bruce was spying on everyone, people watching at will. Teddy pointed one of their investors eating in a booth by the front door...all very interesting.
Our waiter's doppelganger, the bus boy, served me the wrong entree and I tore into it before they could whisk it away to the other table. I didn't order the Elk, but wow, it was wonderfully tender and juicy. I had ordered the lamb loin, for the side dish (roasted eggplant and espelette{a small roasted red pepper}), but ended up with carrots and the elk. The staff were very kind and brought me a plate of the vegetables from the lamb dish and they were smokey-licious.
Bruce ordered the two way pork dish. The shoulder was fall-apart tender and the soubise was the star of the dish. Soubise is an onion enriched stock based sauce. The tiny diced onions were cooked down to tender sweetness. The only problem was that the sauce was a bit too sweet to match with the wine.
Yes, we're watching our weight (fluctuate wildly when we eat like this) but we didn't turn down the free dessert Teddy brought us. We had the chocolate cake with marshmallow spoon which is a lovely cup of moist cake and the perfect way to end the meal.
Once again, we are so thankful for the quality of food available at Avenue. Love it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where to eat next, that is the question.

Around this time each week my thoughts begin to wander to date-night and where we should eat this week. There is always a list in the back of my mind of places to try or revisit. In fact, there are many lists of places to eat based on subcategories like: go with the children sometime, or when we're in the neighborhood, or new place, need to try.

So, which will it be this week? I'm leaning heavily on a top contender in the local favorite as well as changing monthly menu categories: Avenue Restaurant here in Manhattan Beach. We are so thankful that Christian and his wife Teddy have chosen Manhattan Beach for their flagship fine dining restaurant. There truly is no one else creating an entirely new seasonal menu each month here in the South Bay. Served in a fine dining atmosphere that is both polished and casual, parents in flip flops rubbing elbows with lawyers in suits on the banquette, everyone enjoying the Shaffer hospitality.

I'm going to hit opentable and see if we can get in tomorrow night!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sorry, we can't tell you.

It's the day after. Time to review my work. Critique the food and vow to learn from any mistakes. I'm trying to stay focused on this process, but my boys have absconded with four whisks from my kitchen and are playing an attack game in the next room quite loudly. Ah, the battle has now ended, and they even remembered to put them in the sink so I may wash them before the next battle!

Okay. Asian feast. Yes, the Ahi Poke. Now called: Pacific Rim Ahi Poke
We picked up the sashimi grade ahi in Redondo Beach at International Seafood. A nice 2" slice with a thick rigid rind of dark blue scales.
But the flat leafed herb I picked up at the Saigon market was not shiso leaf. So, I kept it simple with the ahi, scallions, avocado and daikon in a soy sauce, mirin and wasabi dressing. It was GOOD. The avocado and ahi so tender and tasty in the dressing, the daikon shreds added a little crispy texture. I served the Poke with sesame flat bread which added another harmonious flavor and a nice crunch.

Vietnamese inspired Grilled Steak and Herb Salad
We've made the beef salad a few times. It's out of the Lettuce In Your Kitchen cookbook by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. They call it Spicy Cabbage Salad with Chile-Rubbed Flank Steak. It turned out wonderfully. We left the herb leaves (cilantro, thai purple basil, and mint) whole for the first time. It worked perfectly because we could prep the salad early and it didn't turn brown from oxidation on any cut edges. I'd definitely do that again.
We used a gigantic beef sirloin steak. Bruce did a great job grilling it. There can never be enough dressing for that salad, excellent stuff - sweet, salty, spicy, sour - hits them all. I just had left overs of it for lunch.

Thai Green Papaya Salad
Those things are tough to grate. I didn't enjoy that task. But the salad was pretty darn good. Not the best I've ever had, but good. I read a few recipes for this dish and we did a little research over the past two weeks. Bruce and I had lunch at Chaba Thai Bay Grill in Redondo Beach twice and dinner once and we've ordered their green papaya salad each time. We were only able to have it twice. The first time was the best. It was fresh and very spicy and the acidic dressing had a real kick. We tried asking the chef for information about their dressing and received a polite, "Sorry, we can't tell you." The second time we tried to order it, they said it's not available at lunch, which is strange because that's when we had it last! The third time we ordered it at dinner and it was not the same. It was boring, soggy, not sharp tasting and it had mushy tomatoes in it. Eeew. I digress.
My salad was tasty and a friend who had some of the left overs claimed it was better than any she's ever had at a restaurant. But it's just not as good as the one at Chaba Thai Bay Grill, if you get it on a good day. The dressing I made was very similar to the one on the Beef Salad above (chilies, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, peanuts). I've gotta keep working on this one.

The Noodles: Stir Fried Egg Noodles with Chinese Mustard Greens and Chicken
I stumbled upon "Hunan Style Egg Noodles" with a label written in Thai, not Chinese, at the same Saigon Market in Gardena. I was nervous after reading the cooking instructions when I got the package home. It said to soak in cold water, cook in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and then they are ready to cook. That just didn't make sense to me. But I did it. And after straining they looked like they were going to clump up and be a mass of messiness. But I charged on anyway, wondering if the final dish would be even edible. I heated up the wok and stir fried some ginger, garlic and added ground chicken. Cooked thoroughly and broke into tiny bits, removed from pan. A little oil, more garlic and ginger, then the mustard greens, sliced red pepper and scallions, toss toss toss, add noodles and our magic sauce toss toss toss add meat back, toss and serve. What magic sauce you might ask? It's called Sweet Chile Sauce for Chicken, it's a bright red sauce you can get in any decent Asian grocery store.
I was amazed at how well the texture of the noodles turned out. They were slippery slick and the sauce melded great with all the other ingredients. Not bad for completely winging a made up Asian dish!

I had to make a second batch of the Green Tea Ice Cream. There didn't seem to be enough with just one. But I don' t think I needed to, we had plenty. It was good, everyone liked it. I would have liked a more intense green tea flavor, like the stuff I get at cheap Japanese take out joints with it's otherworldly green tint.

We skipped one of the whites wines (the one with the horse on the label, the Sauvignon Blanc). But I think the show stopper was the Granache from Spain - Los Rocas, at $13.99 a bottle, I think I'm going back there to buy a case! Fabulously rich and smooth and could handle all the spice on the plate. Loved it.

Okay, that's it. I'm going to have a scoop of that green tea ice cream!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Three White, One Red

Joe helped me choose some very fun wines to go with my menu.

First, to pair with the Ahi, avocado, soy sauce, shiso and daikon:
2006 Colombelle a Southern France mixture of 70% Colombard and 30% Ugni Blanc.
Promises citrus and tropical fruit flavors.

With the Thai Green Papaya salad and it's spicy acidity:
2005 Haras Estate Sauvignon Blanc from the Maipo valley in Chile.
This one will also offer citrus and fruity aromas but with more body.

A nice red to go with the Vietnamese Beef Salad with basil, mint and cilantro:
2004 Las Rocas Garnacha from Spain.
Loads of rich plumy fruits and earthy too!

For dessert, the Green Tea Ice Cream:
2004 Dante Rivetti Riveto, Moscato d'asti
A light refreshing finish to a big meal.

Looking forward to it!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

That ain't Irish

We're having a few people over for dinner on Saturday. We've been eating lots of Thai lately and Japanese is now a weekly staple so the menu is Asian inspired. As always, there is a planned menu and then there is what happens during the 24 hours leading up to hosting a meal. We will see if I can find all the ingredients I want to make these dishes. And it's not just finding them, it's finding them in good quality. We will see.

St. Patrick's Day Dinner for Six
(If St. Patrick lived in South East Asia somewhere)
Hawaiian Ahi Poke
with avocado, cucumber, daikon and shiso leaf
Spicy Thai Green Papaya Salad
Vietnamese Grilled Steak Salad
with cilantro, basil, mint, and peanuts over Napa cabbage
Shanghai Stir Fried Noodles
with red peppers and mushrooms
Homemade Green Tea Ice Cream

I still haven't bought the wines. I'm putting myself into my wine guy's hands. (Joe at http://manhattanfinewines.com/)

Happy grocery shopping!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This is Debbie

This is Debbie and I in the back of my old Explorer on the morning of our first catering adventure. It was a birthday party for a five year old girl. We made pizzas in the tiny kitchen in Lomita and Debbie had created a fantastic antipasta spread. I don't think we made any money, we were just checking out the catering thing. We both hated it. But it was a fun day and we helped out a friend of mine.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Tale of the New York Trip (part 1)

We had never vacationed in New York City together. We had a layover once on a long flight and managed to squeeze in dinner at Gramercy Tavern and live Jazz at some club, but that was the extent of my New York experience.

For my big Four-Oh, we decided to plan a long weekend in the late fall. But where to eat? So many choices, so few vacation days.

Per Se
Mesa Grill
Les Halles

The list kept growing. We had to weed through them all and plan accordingly. We called Per Se 3 months to the day before the Friday of our stay. By the time I got through on the phone, only lunch reservations were available. Now that may not seem like such a bad thing. But we had been to French Laundry only once and it was for lunch. I really wanted the dinner experience. I asked the nice reservationista if there happened to be anything available late the night before (the night we were flying in). Yes, she said that someone had called in and cancelled a 10pm reservation and that it was available. I snagged it. Our flight was scheduled to arrive around 6pm. Ten pm eastern time is seven pm pacific time, which was just perfect.

As the trip got closer we booked other dinners, wd~50 (Wylie Dufresne, uber-tech-chef); Daneil (Daniel Boulud, class act French chef) and bought tickets to the Sunday matinee of Spamalot.

Well travelled friends recommended the SoHo Grand hotel. We booked a corner room. Two weeks later I saw that the Oprah show's designer guy picked it as his favorite place to stay in NY. We were set.

Two weeks out we found out that the well traveled wife would be in NY during our stay. We added one to our reservation at wd~50 for Friday night.

A coworker of Bruce's who telecommutes and lives in NY wanted to arrange to meet us for dinner one night. We offered him our last night in the city, Sunday, after Spamalot. We were looking forward to meeting them in person.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's like a boat.

Part of me wants to own and run a restaurant or wine bar type place. But another part of me knows how hard the work would be. This is what kept me from jumping into the food culture years ago. I want to enjoy dining with friends and family on the weekends when my husband is available.

I know I don't want to own a boat. My father owned a boat while I grew up. I spent every other weekend on that boat with my dad, his wife, her two kids and my sister. We didn't want to go, we had to go. And there was lots of hauling of stuff from here to there and maintenance on the boat, constant work. But I like to sail. Later in life I've had the opportunity to sail with others on their boats. I have to say , this is the way to go! No commitment, just a day of sailing.

So you see where I'm going with this? I've learned it's good to have a friend with a boat. It's also good to have a friend with a restaurant. At least that's what I'm hoping.

Our friends Joe and Karla are opening a bakery and restaurant in NorCal in just a few months. They came over for dinner last week (see Beef Short Rib recipe) and gave us details and now we're really excited for them. We can't wait to check it out. We wish them the best. They've offered to let me come up and cook. What can be better than a friend with a restaurant?

Evolution of a Dinner Menu

Steinbeck was so right, about the "best laid plans" thing. So we had dinner for 5 adults it turns out. The menu turned out like this instead of the post from yesterday:

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Spring Garlic, Red Wine and Porcini Mushrooms
Roasted Root Vegetables with coarsely ground Cardamom - carrots, parsnips and potatoes
Apple and Blueberry Crisp with almonds and oatmeal

The meal was good. I didn't have time to deal with a starter at all. It was actually a double dinner party night. I made pork ribs, fried potatoes and broccoli for my two boys and two others BEFORE our adult dinner guests even arrived. I'd do the crisp again, but use lots more topping and very thinly slice the apples as the Pink Lady apples were quite firm.

I'm most proud of the short ribs. No recipe, just winging it and they were awesome. Here's what I did:

Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs
Serves 5-6
3 lbs Beef Short Ribs cut into 3" pieces (ask your butcher)
2 Tablespoons Flour
Salt and fresh ground pepper
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 heads green/spring garlic
3 whole carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 large onion
500 ml (3/4 bottle) red wine - something good, but not fancy
1 15oz can Beef Broth
1 oz. package dried porcini mushrooms
1 Cup boiling water
bouquet garni of fresh herbs - 3 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs rosemary, 3 sprigs thyme, tied into a bundle of cheesecloth
In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Open up your meat package, rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper the meat. Sprinkle with the flour. In small batches, fry the beef ribs in the oil making sure to brown on all sides. This takes time, but it's worth doing a good job. As the beef finishes, remove to another dish and set aside.
Chop the onion, garlic, celery and carrot into large dice (3/4" - 1"). Make sure to remove any fibrous outer layers of the garlic heads.
When the beef is all browned, pour out all but 2 Tblsp. of the oil. Add all the diced vegetables and lower the heat to medium. Stir well coating the vegetables with the hot oil. Cook for about 5 minutes while you prepare the bouquet garni and boil water for the mushrooms.
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add 1 C boiling water. Let sit 10 minutes. Taste the soaking water. If it tastes good, not musty, not dirty, but like mushroom tea, use the water in the dish. If the water tastes terrible, don't use it, just strain the mushrooms, use them and a cup of water instead.
Salt and pepper the vegetables in the pan. Return the beef ribs to the pan. Tuck the bouquet garni into the mix. Pour in the wine and beef broth. Now add the mushroom water. Bring to a boil. Put on a tight fitting lid.
Put in a medium low oven (325F) for about 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Pull out the meat and put on a platter. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to another bowl. If you'd like, de-fat the juice and return to the pan. Reduce, the juice for a few minutes and taste for seasoning.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Midweek Dinner for Six

Well, I hope they are omnivores. It makes things so much easier. Besides, I have my heart set on short ribs. Yes, I know, beef. It's so banal. But comforting as well. And easy.

Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs
Roasted Parsnips and Carrots with butter and parsley
Egg Noodles with poppy seeds and butter
Green Beans "perfectly cooked" with pepper bacon dressing
Some great white and red wines, to be picked and/or purchased in the next 24 hours
Apple and Blueberry Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream

God, I hope they are omnivores.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Roasting a Whole Chicken

I'm convinced that a roasted chicken is the perfect Sunday dinner.
  • I love the ritual of rinsing off the chicken and then slathering it in some concoction of spice, citrus, fat and flavorings before putting the thing in the hot oven.
  • I love the smell that wafts through the house as it begins to brown and the fat drips into the roasting pan.
  • I love tucking root vegetables around the chicken in the pan. The easiest side dish ever!
  • I love crispy chicken skin and being the chef means I get first dibs.

So, this Sunday I did a Greek rub on my bird. I'd do it again, except I'd leave my bay leaves whole as I had to scrape them off the chicken before slicing - they are just too tough to eat. I wish bay leaaves were tender and edible, I love their flavor!

Greek Rub for Roasted Whole Chicken

2 lemons, skin and pith cut off, leaving only the supremes
3 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, roughly chopped
2 whole Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon Greek Oregano*
1 Tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
5-7 long pepper corns (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Combine the above ingredients in a bowl and smash with the back of a spoon to release the lemon juice into the mix. Slather inside, outside and under the skin of a chicken before roasting.

*A note on Greek Oregano: I used an herb called Threebe. It's a rare Greek herb that my husband bought for me at Le Sanctuaire (great spice and kitchen stuff store in Santa Monica, that you should have heard of if you consider yourself a foodie). I like Threebe but I actually prefer Greek Oregano, which is a more fragrant and bright sister to the Mexican Oregano that is readily available. I'm out of Greek Oregano, hence, Threebe.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Who is Debbie?

I met Debbie in cooking school. We were in a few classes together but we bonded and became friends in the wine course. She is allergic to alcohol so after one or two sips (out of a minimum of 12 each class) she was bright red and chatty. It turned out our lives had many parallels. She was recently married, as was I . She had been with her guy for lots of years, so had I. She worked for a large university in a posh position that paid the bills but not her soul, so did I. We took the professional cooking program courses at UCLA in hopes of changing careers into the food world. We quickly became friends.
She helped me cater a pizza party lunch, creating a fabulous antipasti display for a five year old's birthday. I remember hosting a fancy dinner party for a few frieneds at my home. Debbie created a three layered cake piece with pistachio mousse and nuts and whipped cream. Anyway... Debbie and I shared paths in cooking school for a while and she did what I was afraid to do. She jumped into an internship at Patina. She just showed up in her whites and clogs ready to go and they put her to work. They quickly started paying her, minimum wage. She began moonlighting on her fancy golden handcuff university job. It changed her life. It stressed her marriage. Her husband accepted a research grant in the desert somewhere and she let him go. It was just her, her cats and her two jobs. Eventually she jumped out of student housing into the full-time restaurant culture. She worked under Joachim Spilchal at Patina for a few years. It was back when he was just creating the network of restaurants he eventually sold off to make his fortune.
My most memorable meal is a dinner for 10 at Patina. Debbie ate with us and it was her first and only time to do so as a guest. All at the table were up for an everything tasting and that is what we had. Each of 6 courses were 2 or 3 dishes and we would swap around until we had tasted everything. We basically ate our way through the menu. In addition, there was wine paired with each course. The sommelier was at our beck and call. To top it off, the chef , Joachim himself that night, comped us an enormous amount as we were there with Debbie. It was a rainy night, we had rented a limo so we could all relax, even Debbie, who was quite red!
Eventually she left Patina to work under Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery when it was simply the little tiny store front bakery attached to the Campanile restaurant. In addition to the breads for which Nancy is famous, they were in charge of the desserts for Campanile. When my oldest son was just born we had breakfast at Campanile with Debbie and a few other friends. Mark Peel came over and greeted us warmly and had good wishes for my little baby, little Miles had slept through the whole meal.
So then things speed up because I can't get out to see her now that I'm a parent. And she is working her butt off at Four Season's. It's a HUGE operation and she's learning things she didn't think she wanted to even know. She wants to do FINE dining.
So she moves to Napa and gets a job at French Laundry. No, really. She was one of the few females to work for him back then. She stayed for a long time. Learned a lot. Has great respect for chef Keller.
The rest of the list is there. She's bounced around from there. I visit her as often as I can. We have similarly strong food ethics and I know where ever Debbie is working, there's a great meal nearby.

Sparkling or Flat Revisited at La Sosta

We dined at LaSosta Enoteca for a second time this past week. The experience was even better this time. We shared one of the special starters - a platter of hot polenta, sauteed porcini mushrooms in a light wine sauce and chunks of sweet gorgonzola. We loved the way the blue cheese melted into the polenta. B had the rabbit loin which was described as stuffed with pancetta but in actuality the lovely rich and saucy chopped stuffing was made of the kidney, liver, etc. from the rabbit. It was tender and utterly perfect.
I had the sliced filet served over arugula with perfectly cooked chopped swiss chard and a pile of strips of roasted red and yellow peppers. The beef was tender enough to eat using only a fork. It's well seasoned, lean and of obvious quality.
We ordered a wonderfully well balanced Barolo to go with it all and were not disappointed.
They treated us to a profiterole dessert for our anniversary celebration, which was very sweet.
But what about the water you ask?
Two different servers offered us "Flat or Sparkling?" and in both cases we made a point of clearly picking "Tap.", which wasn't even offered. So, I must revisit my earlier discussion of other reviews which claimed that tabs were padded with expensive bottled water charges. I have to agree that a certain amount of pushing of the bottled is going on here. I don't like it.