Thursday, December 18, 2008

Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe

On busy nights when I need to get a quick dinner together for the boys I often rely on this simple tomato sauce recipe I learned in my professional baking class. The instructor made the sauce in front of us as we kneaded our pasta dough. By the end of the night we had homemade pasta with this lovely marinara to munch on before leaving.


Simple Tomato Sauce
(enough for 1 lb of pasta)
1/2 - 1 Onion, diced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
pinch of red chile flakes
1 garlic clove minced
5-10 fresh basil leaves
1 28oz can of imported Italian Plum Tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute until tender (5-7 minutes). Chop the basil leaves into little strips. Open the can of tomatoes and use the sharp edge of the lid to cut up the tomatoes in the can. Add the garlic and chile flakes. Stir for one minute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and basil. Break the tomatoes into bite size pieces. Bring to a boil and then turn down to lowest heat setting. Cook for about 5 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper.
Use as is, chunky, or cool for a few minutes and puree in a blender for a smooth sauce (more kid friendly).
Variations: Add more garlic or chile flakes to your taste. Add a 1/2 C of red wine when you add the tomatoes for a more rich sauce.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Easy Chicken Mole

This year I offered to host the Tin Va lunch. This is a gathering of ladies I dance with every week at the Spectrum clubs around the South Bay of Los Angeles. I've been taking these classes for over two years and have made quite a few friends. Last year another classmate graciously invited us into her home for lunch with the dancing ladies. This year was my turn.

I wanted to make Mole of some sort. I love Mexican Mole sauce, but I have done it from scratch a few times and it takes at least two days to do it right and not go insane. I didn't have two days to give to this dish.

Luckily I hosted another party over the weekend and they became my Guinea Pigs. I made it on Saturday night and it was a hit. My husband said it was good and that was good enough for me.

It WAS good, and a great easy crowd pleaser. I can't help but feeling guilty, it is SO easy!

Here is the recipe I used:

Of course nothing compares to the real deal and now I'm inspired to to spend a few days making something only half my family will touch. I'm thankful the sauce freezes well... I can make it last!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Menu

We visited my family in Virginia over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a small gathering of eight for what turned out to be an early Thanksgiving dinner (lunch). As usual, my roasted turkey cooked quicker than I had anticipated and we were ready to sit down by 1:00pm.

I kept the menu basic and to the point. Everyone loved it. Here was the menu with links to the recipes that inspired my cooking this year.

Fresh Cranberry Salsa
Tortillas Chips

Brined and Roasted Maple Turkey
Homemade Gravy
Cornbread and Sausage Dressing
Mashed Potatoes and Celery Root
Roasted Cranberries
Green Bean Casserole
Baked Yams with Marshmallows
French Rolls and Butter

Friday, October 31, 2008

Belgian Waiter with Attitude

He saw me taking pictures and wanted one of himself. So he posed and I took it. He really would have preferred that we sit and eat an overpriced seafood dinner at his restaurant, but we didn't.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Slow Food Dinner - Hayes Street Grill - The Pass

We were seated very close to the kitchen, which I loved. We could look over and see the staff tending to the wood fire oven which was used to grill a few of the seafood dishes. The entire restaurant was used for this dinner so the staff had to prepare about 80 plates for each course and then they were served all at the same time. Not an easy task! We were impressed. But we were the only ones looking in the kitchen. The rest of the guests were content listening to the fishermen describe their boat and their families and the types of fish they caught. We were more happy to watch as the guys in the back of the house took those beautiful fish and prepared them carefully into a VERY tasty meal.

Slow Food Dinner - Hayes Street Grill #2

I wonder why they sat us at our own table...

Slow Food Dinner at Hayes Street Grill

Here I am at the seafood dinner at Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco. We were the only ones with children with us. We had a table to ourselves, which is unusual as Slow Food dinners are meant to bring people together. We didn't mind, it was a great meal.

Slow Food Nation 2008 - Bread Snail

We took the kids to San Francisco for the Slow Food Nation weekend. They loved this snail at the tasting pavilion. It's made of loaves of bread.

Andrew Zimmern Filiming in Paris

Have you watched Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the travel channel? We happened to find him filming on the Concorde in Paris during our trip. Bruce snagged this quick shot before they walked off into the Tuileries.

Le Gavroche - Table Tally

Dinner at Le Gavroche was as Parissienne French as it could possibly be. The tiny place was packed and the one waiter kept a tally on each table of what was ordered. This picture shows our tally as well as a bottle of one of their house wines from the Rhone region of France.

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Japanese in MB

We walked downtown yesterday and had a late lunch at Sashi: Sushi + Sake. This place has been open for a few weeks but this was our first time trying it. Sashi is located in the Metlox Shopping area in downtown Manhattan Beach. On Sunday afternoons there is live music in the patio which contains the outdoor seating areas for Petro's, Shade Hotel, and Le Pain Quotidian. We had a great few of Incendio warming up and then playing their first set.

The boys order the kid's Bento Box and Tempura Udon Bowl. We start with an order of the Jalapeno Yellowtail. Bruce has the Angry Chicken and Sashimi combo and I try their Miso Black Cod and a stir fried beef dish.

The free concert sets a relaxing mood. It's a good thing too as the service keeps us waiting. The Yellowtail comes out in about 10 minutes. One of the kids meals quickly after that. But it's another 15 minutes before the remaining three entrees arrive at our table. In the meantime our waitress, or any waitstaff at all is non existent in the patio area. When she does appear, she drops something off and then runs away.

The food is tasty and well prepared. I find the stir-fried brown rice served on each dish to be a bit off the mark. Next time we'll have to ask about plain steamed white rice. Everyone enjoys their lunch.

We'll have to try again, perhaps when the live music isn't distracting the wait staff???

Sushi + Sake Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peach Salsa - last taste of Summer!

Peaches, grilled peaches. This was the inspiration for dinner. Bruce wanted chicken too and teriyaki. So I bought some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and cut them into big chunks. I marinated the chicken in a teriyaki marinade for a few hours.

But what to do with the peach idea. Salsa. I turned out fabulous!

Fresh Peach Salsa
1 clove of garlic
1" piece of ginger
1 Serrano chile
7 mint leaves
1 Tablespoon of honey
2 Tablespoons of lime juice
white pepper
1 large freestone Peach
4 green onions
Mince the garlic and ginger together until very fine. Mince the mint leaves into tiny pieces. Put the ginger, garlic and mint into a medium bowl.
Slice the top off the chile. Slice it in half lenghthwise. Scoop out most of the seed and membrane inside the chile. Finely mince the chile flesh and add to the bowl.
Add the lime juice and honey, a little salt and a little white pepper. Taste the mixture and adjust for sweet, sour and saltiness.
I was lucky enough to have a huge freestone peach to use. If you use just any peach, you may need to slice the flesh off of the stone before dicing it. Either way, dice up the peach flesh into 1/2 inch pieces. Add them to the bowl. Slice the green onions thinly and add them to the bowl. Fold the mixture together gently.
Voila! The spicy sweet taste of summer goodness! Excellent with teriyaki anything. Also good over grilled fish.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wine Morons

Last winter we were dining at Restaurant LuLu in the Village at Mammoth Mountain. It was just my husband and I enjoying a nice dinner without the kids. We've been to this Californian/Mediterranean bistro a few times before. They specialize in family sized servings from their wood-fired oven, grill and roaster. They also have a wonderful selection of wines with loads of California, French and Italian selections. They even offer a few flights of interesting wine types such as Burgundian style whites and Rhone style reds.
A group of six arrived and was seated next to us. They were around our age and discussing their children. It soon became obvious that these people were dating each other, singles, not married couples.
When the waitress arrived, the three men deferred to the one among them deemed the wine expert. He was expected to order in a way to impress the ladies. He ordered a bottle of Opus One. They hadn't decided on starters or main courses, they just ordered the wine.
The overpriced Cabernet Sauvignon blend arrived, was opened and then poured out into the six large wine glasses. Soon they were sipping it up quickly. The men exclaimed with gusto - "Ah, that's the stuff" "Yeah, great cab." and the like. The waitress was busy and took a while getting back to their table. They were a bit rude to her as they ordered their appetizers.
The bottle of Opus One was finished before a morsel of food arrived at the table.
Is it just me who thinks this behaviour is ridiculous?
Is it only the price tag of the Cabernet (because it always is a Cabernet) that implies wine knowledge?
Doesn't a big tannic red deserve to breath?
Doesn't a Meritage of that magnitude and over-hype need food, fatty rich food, to be enjoyed fully?
In the wine classes I've taken the first rule we learned was, drink what you like. I take this to heart, fully. Sometimes a $10 red is all a meal needs. The company will appreciate the value, the food is simple enough to shine with something basic but flavorful.
Still other times a wine needs to impress. If it's very important to pair a wine with a meal, I ask for help. I know my limitations and I also know that the sommelier or wine merchant is never used enough and is complimented by a directed inquiry. By directed I mean - know what you like. Heavy or light? Fruity or dry? $20 or $200?
If I was under the pressure of the single rich guy next to us that night, I too may have ordered the Opus One. It certainly impressed everyone at the table. But I also would have been sure to order a wood fired flat bread topped with a few cured meats and cheeses, a platter of grilled vegetables and perhaps even something beefy rich to really pull the flavors out of that bottle.
The quick slurping of that bottle made me sad.
Sad for the guy who missed the other half of his opportunity to impress.
Sad for the bottle, it wanted a slow enjoyment, to be savored and appreciated fully.
Sad for my husband and I for we had to witness their showy stupidity and it was very distracting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gardena Adventure

Just east (~5 miles) of the bucolic beach town where I live lies a wondrous melting pot where the ethnic foods are genuine and the architecture shockingly diverse.

On a recent family outing we venture to Gardena with a few specific goals in mind:

  • Scout Shop for Cub Scout Supplies (Gardena Department Store)

  • Korean Tofu Lunch (Lee's Soon Tofu)

  • Japanese Groceries (Marukai)

  • Handmade Sausages (Eschbach)

On our drive to Gardena we pass through sedate suburban neighborhoods with sun-baked front yards. Some are well kept with family members working tirelessly on well clipped hedges. Some have fences surrounding the entire property and bars on all the windows. Still others seem to be neglected entirely with dirt yards, unpainted trim and dilapidated front porches.

We know we're close when we get to the Donut King 2 (My children always ask where Donut King I is located). This is one of the iconic buildings in Los Angeles with a 25' donut on the roof of a small shack of a donut store. We make a few turns and arrive in the central shopping district of downtown Gardena. The buildings have the faded facades of 1940's-50's architecture and give you the distinct outdoor shopping experience of the same era.

The Gardena Department Store is a discount clothing store which houses an amazing array of items. Most people come to the store for the scouting items, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, you name it. But they also carry every type of uniform you may need including most gang uniforms. Yes, I said Gang Uniform. You need a bandanna, do-rag, wallet chain, trucker hat, belt buckle, or pair of low-riding Dickies? This is the place for you! The selection of goods fascinates me and I usually find myself wandering through looking for a bargain because I usually find one. Last year I was in need of a tropical dress for an upcoming Hawaiian party. I wandered through the women's clothing and found the perfect all cotton, spaghetti straped, black and white flowered print, made in Hawaii dress and it was $19.99! Fits like a dream as well! I highly recommend the Gardena Department Store for your basic clothing needs, they sell all types of Levi's and a rainbow of Hanes t-shirts. This is cheap boy clothes heaven.

With the cub scout uniform updated and patches sewn on securely we venture towards lunch. At the corner of Redondo Beach Blvd. and Western Ave. there is a blue tile roofed mini-mall with a bounty of Asian food choices. Sushi? Noodles? Pho? Tofu? All this and more in one mall. We've tried most of the places but our favorite for lunch is Lee's Tofu. The hot pots of tofu soup are basic Korean fare done well, with all the vegetable trimmings to munch on as the blazing hot soup cools down. The kal-bi (bbq ribs) are excellent as well. My sons make a meal out of the ribs, rice and seasoned seaweed sheets. My husband and I add the wicked kimchi directly to the soup which adds a nice fiery flavor.

With lunch out of the way, it's time to get more errands out of the way. We drive down Western to Artesia Blvd. to the flagship Marukai market. Marukai is more than a Japanese grocery store, it also houses mini-stores featuring everything from cell phones to furniture. There is also a food court and we've had a decent lunch here as well. Usually we are on a mission for specific ingredients: rice, udon noodles, miso, and fish cake, lots and lots of fishcake. My oldest son can eat an entire fishcake loaf in one sitting. It's always fun to search the aisles for an adventure. Most labels are in Japanese so you'll need to know what you are looking for or be bold enough to ask a Japanese speaker to help you out.

We leave Marukai and again head further South on Western Ave. On a previous outing I had spotted a very interesting site. A place called Eschbach's Meats and Sausages. This tiny Sausage company seems to have been here since the 1940's. The building certainly has. It's cinder block construction is a bit off-putting from the parking lot. They usually leave the door to the back room open and you can see all the large stainless steel equipment used to make sausages there on the premises. The meat counter has everything from Bratwurst to ground beef, but the sausages are obviously the star. Many people swear by their inexpensive and tasty sandwiches and according to chowhound the place gets quite the lunch rush crowd. We are there on a mission - Brats for a birthday party. They have four types, regular and Hungarian both raw and smoked. We pick up 20 regular, 10 Hungarian (which have extra garlic and the spicy kick of hot Paprika), and one smoked Hungarian (for me to eat on the way home). The recipe for the Bratwurst is fabulous. They are flavorful and not too fatty. The smoked Hungarian one I snacked on was like the ultimate Slim Jim, except it wasn't slim, it was fat, chewy, spicy and smokey. Heaven in a meat stick.

Our adventures in Gardena usually end there. At this point our car has perishables that need refrigeration and we need to get our kids home. The adventure is always a success, bargains found, great lunch enjoyed, more sights and sounds that we have time to process. Gardena is a unique Southern Californian city/town that truly can boast a few very genuine ethnic experiences. A large population of Japanese have called it home for over 100 years. In the past 30 years Latinos have moved in to create a unique mix of people and place. If you get a chance, go explore.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lena's Wine Cooler

Our Swedish friends were visiting last month. We organized a picnic lunch at a beautiful spot for a warm sunny day. Lena and I made a special trip to the Farmer's Market in Santa Monica for the ingredients and then we couldn't carry all we wanted to buy. We ended up making loads of food - Grilled Asparagus with Blood Orange Sauce, Marinated Cucumbers with Dill, Mustardy Potato and Green Bean Salad, Tarragon Chicken Salad, Fresh Peach Cake and there may have been a few other items I have forgotten.

The hit of the day was the wine cooler I devised based on Lena's suggestion of Cucumbers and Green Apples as substitutes for the citrus I usually use. I happened to have a few sprigs of Lemon Verbena in my produce drawer, left over from the previous week's farmer's market outing. I can't resist the smell and taste of Lemon Verbena it's just about the best one leaf breath freshener there is and the beautiful bush is easy to grow in our Southern Californian climate. Usually I don't find a good use for what I buy, but simply eat it leaf by leaf for the experience. But this time it made the perfect infused sugar syrup to go with the cucumbers and apples.

I choose to use a wine called Colombelle. It has a purply lavender label and a screw off top. It's under $10/bottle and comes from the Southwest of France made from Colombard and Ugni blanc grapes. If I didn't use the Colombelle I would have used a Sauvignon Blanc as you want a light citrusy wine with no oaky overtones.

Here's the recipe:

Lena's Cucumber and Apple Wine Coolers

Makes 2 - 1/2 gal batches

1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Water
3 sprigs Lemon Verbena

2 750ml bottle Colombelle
2 liter bottles of seltzer water

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, thinly sliced
2 granny smith apples, sliced thinly off the core

In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water and lemon verbena. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the syrup with the lemon verbena. Take it off the heat and let cool for several hours or overnight.

In a one gallon pitcher place the apple slices, cucumber slices and a few cups of ice. Pour in 1/2 of the sugar syrup, one bottle of wine and one bottle of seltzer. Stir gently. Serve over more ice with a thin slice of apple or cucumber as garnish.


BLT in One Step?

At the start of our fabulous meal at Le Cinq in Paris we were offered several types of freshly baked breads. Most were the usual choices, brioche, olive bread, a crispy roll. But one choice stood out from the others. Thin slices from a loaf of bacon bread. Yes, cooked bacon lardoons strewn throughout a rich buttery white bread loaf. Each of us had to try it. We had never seen anything like it.
It was amazingly good. (I'm sure they wouldn't have served it if it wasn't.) The smokey taste of the bacon permeated each bite and the chewy bacon pieces added interesting texture and flavor which was hard to resist.
The bread sparked a discussion about the joys of a BLT sandwich and how interesting it would be to toast up a few slices of this bread, slather it in a fresh mayonnaise and then top it with a slice of fresh tomato and crisp lettuce. The idea was intriguing.
Two nights later Bruce and I started our evening with a cocktail at the beautifully posh hotel bar at the hotel (Four Seasons George V). We were brought a small tray with a dish of warm assorted nuts. A few minutes later the bartender brought out two small muffins, hot from the oven. He said that they were arugula muffins. What?
They were delicious. Somewhat like a zucchini bread or carrot bread, but less sweet, not quite savory. We devoured them and the discussion regarding the unique BLT began again.
Not only can you make bread with bacon in it, you can also add the greens into the mix as well. Well then, why not add some slivers of plumped up sun dried tomato as well?
Wouldn't one need only to toast a thick slice of this creation and slather it with some fabulous homemade mayonnaise, perhaps an aioli, to make just about the most simple and creative BLT sandwich ever made? Add a sliced avocado and now we're close to simplistic perfection in a sandwich.
I have yet to experiment with a recipe. I may consult my baking friends on the idea... when I get closer to making this dream a reality, I'll address the subject again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Paris Eats III: George V

A year ago my husband and I were at the annual ginormous fund raising event for the local school district. We've attended each year since moving here. It's a fabulously entertaining event with great food, lots of wine, and the best people watching venue of the year - everything from casually clad beach trash to skimpily dressed packs of cougars roam through tennis courts filled with food and wine booths and hundreds of silent auction items. The live auction occurs toward the end of the event, when everyone is sufficiently drunk enough to feel comfortable bidding on the ultra high end lots of goods. Last year's auction was sluggish. Each item was taking an excruciating amount of time to be sold off at a decent price. I wasn't paying much attention until the business class round trip tickets to Paris with four nights at the Four Seasons hotel came up on the block. The bidding started around 5k and my husband's hand shot up. That caught my attention. In the past we had sat silently watching the auction, never really bidding on anything or even caring what was going on up there, but here he was with a serious and determined look on his face (as serious as he could be after drinking a few bottles of wine). "What are you doing?" I asked. "As long as it's under valued I might as well bid!" was his reply. And he was right, we were planning a trip to Paris with friends for the following Spring and business class seats would be a fabulous catch, not to mention a few nights at one of the best hotels in the world. The bidding continued and his hand stayed put in the upright position. 7,8,9k "Are you sure?" "Why not?" 10, 11, 12k gulp 13, 14, 15, 16k and we got it. Wow! It was below value and we were thrilled - vibrating with excitement. My husband refers to that night as "The night we pretended to be rich."

Fast forward a year and now you'll understand how we found ourselves checking out of our tiny Montparnasse "hotel" and into the Four Seasons Georges V HOTEL for our last four nights in Paris. The George V is not large by any standards but the luxury and class of the place hit you as you walk in the door. For the first day or so the level of service and attention to detail keep your attention. Each and every person on staff says hello or bonjour as you walk past. Every corner of every room is cleaned and polished, all the time!

We have a posh Parisian breakfast the morning we check in and watch a team of workers, we referred to them as the "water boys", roll a low flat cart in through the lobby restaurant and into Le Cinq (the high end dinner restaurant) and retrieve all of the tall, and I mean tall, 3-6', cylindrical vases which are filled with water and orchids. They carefully roll them out of the restaurant to refill them and then return them. This is done each morning and is quite a chore taking well over an hour to complete. The staff are endlessly busy.

We love our room without a view. It's beautifully decorated and has every amenity one could wish for. We spend time resting there between Parisian adventures, just soaking up the beauty of the place.

Our finest meal during our Paris trip was at Le Cinq in the George V hotel. It was the last meal we shared with our friends who travelled with us in Paris. Our reservation was for 8pm and we were the second party to be seated for the night, a woman and her grand-daughter had beaten us to the dining room by a few minutes. We are sat in a corner, overlooking the hotel's courtyard, at a round table. It was raining and continued to come down more and more steadily as the evening progressed.

The menu offered items a la carte as well as two types of tasting menus, a chef's menu with five courses and a menu de la gustation offering eight courses. The entire table would have to order the same tasting menu if one was chosen. As we noshed on the wonderful fresh breads that were offered with the Normandy butter we had become addicted to, we pondered the tasting menu question. There wasn't much discussion... we had to do it. When would we be here again? When would again have the stamina to persevere through such an undertaking? Of course we'd have to have wine paired with each course as well, doing without was out of the question. This decision was easy for me as the menu had no pricing on it all. I had almost forgotten the old fashioned practice of not allowing the women to see the cost of the meal she was ordering. So quaint and so helpful because I'm not sure I would have pushed for the larger menu if I had known the extravagance of the price.

I won't list out the entire menu giving descriptions of each dish. It's not my style and the truth is I wouldn't be able to remember enough detail to give justice to the chef's work (Eric Beaumard). I do remember morels, sorrel, asparagus, a truffled parmesan crisp, lamb that was a bit too gamey for my taste, and then... the cheeses.

The service was impeccable as well as friendly. I'll never forget how a swarm of waiters would circle our table delivering each course under a metal dome placed at each setting "un, deux, trois" and the domes would be lifted simultaneously.

The wines paired with each dish were incredibly well thought out. And of course they were as the head sommelier (Thierry Hamon) at Le Cinq has won top sommelier of the world awards - so he knows his stuff. We saw him walk by a few times, but for the most part we had a few of his minions serving us. You could tell the sommeliers by the little grape cluster pin on each of their lapels - the fancier the pin, the more respected the sommelier - the head guy had gold with diamonds, which made his position obvious!

The highlight of the wines was the fun of a blind pour. Black wine glasses were brought to our table before our roasted langoustine and fennel dish. I perked up right away and began chatting up the wine guy asking if we were to have a blind tasting. He said yes, yes and we won't know if the wine is red or white. But a minute later another wine guy was removing our black glasses and we asked why. Weren't we doing the blind thing? Yes he explained, but we need to pour the wine away from the table or else you'd see the color of the wine is as it goes into the glass and he finished his explanation with a deriding remark in a thickly French accented English about the newby guy who had put the black glasses at our table "Pierre!". Poor Pierre! Unfortunately the wine was not too mysterious, there were no tannins to speak of and our guess of white was confirmed when one of our guests poured a drop onto her white napkin (CHEATER!).

During the lamb course I had eyed the cheese cart across the way. I didn't let it out of my sight... anxious for my turn to choose a few delicious bits. It seemed to take forever to come our way. We had to finish our main courses, have a bit of sorbet to cleanse our palates, and then wait patiently for it to be rolled over to our table. Each person at the table was able to choose a few to try. Our dining companions have somewhat less adventurous taste than my husband and I and we did our best to pick out a few standard favorites we knew they would like. The cheese guy was very knowledgeable and picked up on the differences between each of us and made sure to give my husband the stinkiest of all the cheeses and me the most interesting and rare, things I may not have tried before. They were all lovely, I rarely meet a cheese I don' t like. In fact the cheese was so good that when our waiter came to ask which dessert we'd like, the chocolate souffle or the something or other... I chose more cheese please! They couldn't believe it, no dessert? No, just another glass of that fabulous red we had with the cheese course (Chateau Chalon 1996 Domaine Pichet) and a few more slivers of the fatty rich aged dairy product please!
Besieds, I knew that any fancy restaurant worth it's cheese is going to put out a plate of sweets after the dessert is served and these few slivers of chocolate would be more than enough sweet for me. And they were!

I so impressed the wait staff with my love of cheese that one of them suggested a restaurant he knew of that paired a cheese with each course it serves. I asked him to please try to get me the information for this place as it sounded like an adventure made just for me. A few minutes later he came to our table with a page copied out of a restaurant book with the contact information for the restaurant. I wasted no time at all in making a bee-line to the concierge desk on my next bathroom break to ask them for help in obtaining reservations anytime over the next few days, please! (A note slipped under our door overnight regretted to inform us that the restaurant no longer exists. What a disappointment!)

We rolled out of the restaurant after midnight. We were the last people to leave. We were tipsy and still reeling from the sensory overload of the place, food, wine, service, expense and experience. We wandered out in front of the hotel and smoked cigars in the rain before saying a fond farewell to our friends as they were leaving for home the next morning. What a send off they had!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paris Eats Part II: Le Gavroche

Before we left on our trip to Paris, we choose a list of restaurants where we wanted dinner resevations for the whole trip. I didn't want us to get there and be scrambling for a place. I wanted a nice selection of establishments, both fancy and simple, located all across Paris, so that we'd be able to experience different neighborhoods and types of restaurnts. Truly in Paris there is a difference between a cafe, bistro, brasserie and restaurant (although don't quiz me on the brasserie vs. bistro one!).

Le Gavroche had a favorable review in the Pudlo restaurant guide and was described as an inexpensive bistro serving fabulous French classic dishes.

The place is very tiny with a small bar as you enter which holds maybe five people. There are tables pressed against one another in typical Parisian fashion which hold an additional 20 or so people in the main room. There is a second room which holds perhaps another 10. Similar to Hier et Aujourd'hui, there were only two people running the place two men, one in the kitchen and one in the front of the house.

We definately got to know your neighbors as we were seated eight inches away from them in either direction. The English men to my left talked loudly as if wanting us to chime in with our opinion. The single guy to my right was content eating and drinking in silence. I did notice that he had the same copy of the Pudlo book as we did, nice choice!

The local feel made me nervous at first, would we fit in? The menu made me relax because as promised it held all the French basics I wanted to see... escargot, fresh anchovies, charcuterie plates, pomme frites, steak with peppercorn sauce, etc.

We patiently waited for the waiter's attention and then blasted our order at him... big plate of escargot, marinated white anchovies, carrot salad, tomato salad, and a charcuterie plate. I loved the old fashioned way the waiter kept track of our order by writing directly on the butcher paper covering our table. We loved the wine choices. There were several wines from Beaujolais that had a proprietary label on them. We chose a Fleurie and Julienas over the course of our meal.

The escargot were good, everything was good. Not fabulous, but delicious, simply prepared classics. It all really hit the spot, we had been craving good French food and this delivered the food and the very Parisian experience I wanted.

Our entree's were equally basic, filling and well prepared. I had a grilled sausage salad, which was a bit gamey but, after borrowing the mustard from the English men's table, really perked up. The pork with Dijon sauce was deemed a hit by my husband and the veal with peppercorn sauce was perfectly cooked and disappeared quickly.

I ordered the Baba Rhum for dessert which Pudlo recommended and it was wonderfully moist and delicious.

While waiting for l'addition, the solo waiter stopped by to pour my husband and I one more glass of red wine, which we gladly accepted. At this point I knew that we had managed to fit in with the locals. We found that if you enjoy food, wine and a true French meal, which we certainly did that night, well then the Parisians are going to respect you and your joie de vivre.

We stumbled out of our tiny table and took a picture of the chef in his tiny kitchen and he was happy to ham it up for the photo. They were certainly proud of the ambiance, food and experience they had shared with us that night. We were happy to have been there and I'd go back anytime!

Le Gavroche
2nd Arronidssement
19, Rue St Marc 75002 Paris, France
ph. +33 1 42 96 89 70‎

Friday, June 13, 2008

Paris Images: Hier et Aujourd'hui

Paris Eats Part I: Today and Tommorrow

We choose to eat at Hier & Aujourd'hui (In English: Today and Tomorrow) based on Pudlo's recommendation. The restaurant had won his year's Value for the Money award and we were anxious to see if it measured up to our expectations.

Hier & Aujourd'hui is located in the 17th Arr. - way the heck north in the outskirts of Paris. We took the Metro as close as we could and then walked and walked and walked trying to find the place. The neighborhood we passed through on rue de Saussure was the most un-Parisian we had experienced. It was very quiet, not a sole walking the streets. The area is filled with large apartment buildings most of which appeared to have been built in the 1960's or 70's. It seemed to be a bedroom community and there was no street-life to speak of. When we reached the huge train yard we knew we were close. We arrived at 8pm and were the first patrons to be seated for the night.

The place is simple and charming with dark wooden tables on a slab concrete floor, swaths of gray and white linen soften each table setting. A huge slate wall serves as the menu. The meals are all prix fixe here. There are five appetizers, seven main courses and five desserts to choose from.

The place is small, seating only a maximum of 40 people. I imagine this is the perfect size seeing that there are only two people running the entire place. One woman runs the front of the house which has one seating a night. One man is in the kitchen, quite methodically cooking and plating each dish. It's a marvel of hard work, focused calm and attention to detail which pull together to make this place seem bigger, more special than it's simple appearance.

The hand writing on the slate wall is difficult for us to read and our poor French makes things even more difficult. But we muddle through. Two of us order the beef entrecote as a main course, another a roasted fish fillet and I choose the slow cooked pork with pistou. For starters two spinach salads, the seasonal white asparagus with egg and I go for the gusto with the foie gras pots du creme (Pudlo had suggested it.).

The service is very French. We wait a long time to place our order, but by this time in the trip we have come to relax into the slow pace of a French meal. While we wait for our first courses, a beautiful country style terrine of pork and duck is brought to the table with a spreading knife sticking out of it, it isn't sliced, we're brought the whole thing still in the terrine in which it was cooked. A basked of fresh baked bread and a crock of cornichons round out the wonderful start to the meal. The terrine is perfectly seasoned and the bread is warm and just dense enough to hold up to a thick slathering of the meaty goodness. The cornichons add the perfect balance of acidity to wash away the fatty richness left in our mouths. We could actually make a meal out of just this... but alas we have to share the terrine. As our starters arrive the terrine is brought to the next table of patrons. An ingenious, if not hygienic, way to feed many in a simple manner.

The spinach salad has shards of a spicy cured meat laced throughout and has a creamy dressing. What seems a simple salad had obviously been well thought out, the spicy meat wakes up the spinach and the dressing pulls them both together. It's quite addicting and it's shared around the table. The white asparagus are wonderful, huge, perfectly cooked and dressed with French scrambled eggs and a creamy cheese which offers a tangy taste to offset the richness of everything else on the plate. The fois gras pots du creme arrive in two shot glasses. They are filled with thick creme and topped with a rich clear jus. Spread onto a thin toast or just spooned into the mouth it offers an explosion of foie gras flavor and creamy texture. It is so rich that I can only eat one and offer the second to Bruce who then offers me the second half of his spinach salad - a good deal for both of us.

Our main courses did not disappoint either. The beef entrecotes were large, perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Served with a lovely Lyonnaise potato salad neither serving could be finished as the portions are very generous.

The pork I ordered, rather adventurously as I didn't really understand the description on the board, is a simple and homey dish served in a bowl. It's pork shank that has been slow cooked and taken off the bone. It's served in a rich broth with large tender white beans, and cubes of carrots and zucchini. A basil pistou has been swirled into the broth offering a fresh flavor that brightens the whole taste. I was thrilled with this dish because it's something I can easily make at home and each bite is like the best home cooked meal you've ever had. Lovely!

For dessert we ordered one chocolate mousse, two yogurt, fruit and graham crumb parfaits and one baba rum. The mousse was light and fluffy served in messy large scoops onto a plate. Chuck inhaled it so quickly we could barely get a taste. Bruce loved the yogurt and vowed to eat his yogurt this way every day once we got back home. The Baba Rhum was served with a dollop of chantilly cream and was a bit dry. The entire bottle of rum, made in Martinique, was brought to the table and with a generous pour over the top, the cake and whipped cream became palatable enough through my rume induced haze.

We sipped coffee and espressos as we waited to get the waitresses attention for l'addition (check). This took quite a while as by this time every table was full and she was hustling calmly between each of them, serving, bussing, chatting, etc.

Pudlo certainly did not disappoint with regards to this fine establishment. The food was simply delicious and very affordable compared to most any restaurant we sampled in Paris. It's worth venturing out of the center of Paris to experience this wonderful spot as well as the unique neighborhood in which it resides.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pudlo for Paris

Hands down the best choice we made before leaving for our Paris trip this spring was purchasing the Pudlo Paris Restaurant Guide. We used this book for every restaurant choice we made. Before we left we used it to make a list of our desired dinner reservations to give to our concierge. On the trip we used it to look up places with great food that weren't too expensive, for our lunches.

The book is organized by arrondissement and uses symbols to give details such as fancy or everyday, expensive or affordable, and whether the food is exceptional for the amount paid.

Our best meals, with the most Parisian ambiance and very local feel as well as great traditional French food were chosen directly from Pudlo's best food for the money choices. The worst meals we endured in Paris were found when we went on our own without any Pudlo guidance.

The Pudlo book is similar to both the Zagat and Michelin guides. Similar to Zagat as it is written with authoritative opinion and direct quotes from the reviewers (Pudlo uses a team of people to review each restaurant). Similar to Michelin in the breadth of detail and local flavor given to the guide (you need to know the article for the name of the restaurant to find it in the index - le? la? l'?).

We ended up destroying our Pudlo Paris book during the trip. It was my husband's idea. Why not rip out the pages you need for the day and just put them in your day pack? This worked like a charm as the book itself is quite large and heavy. We tore out pages with abandon and left the tattered shell in the trash of our George V hotel room on the last day. The book comes out yearly, so clearly we'd need another one for our next Parisian adventure.

It's well worth the expense!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Plating and Prepping in Ferndale

As the new year approached our family drove up north (WAY up north) to Ferndale, CA for a visit with our long time friends the Ruedlingers. Joe and Karla moved to Ferndale to start a new life for themselves just a year and a half ago. They truly embraced the Victorian atmosphere of the town by purchasing their own 100 year old home and doing a beautiful and true to the era remodel bringing the house back to it's original splendor.
But a house remodel was just the beginning of their new life. Karla's true passion is baking and after completing a professional course over at the CIA Greystone in Napa, she was ready to make her name in the pastry business.
The have leased a very quaint Victorian building with a great location on the main road into the small town. They gave the restaurant a beautiful face lift with a lot of hard work, paint, plaster, furniture and a state-0f-the art kitchen.
La Petite Maison has been open since last summer and has received lots of great press and attention. Karla's cakes have become THE cake to have for any function, be it a birthday, anniversary or wedding. She uses only quality ingredients and doesn't skimp on any of the good stuff!
Petite Maison has become more than a bakery, it's a cafe as well. They put their heart and soul into the foods they make and you can tell... soups, salads, pizzas and bistro fare are all above and beyond the pale food choices available in that small town.
Our visit to Ferndale was designed for us to finally see the restaurant first hand, but also for me to be able to play in their kitchen. You see, I have a secret desire to slave away in a professional kitchen and this was my chance to do so... at least for a few days. I was very lucky that my husband was willing to entertain our boys while Karla and I played in the kitchen.
On my first night in the kitchen, Karla had me plating food. I have to tell you, I didn't think this was a good thing for me to do... I'm not an artist, I'm a cook. But Karla showed me her tricks for dotting the sauce across her plates and fluffing salads so they stood up beautiful and fluffy. I actually had a great time and learned a few things.
On New Year's Eve they had quite a few reservations for dinner and we had a lot of prep work to be done before service could start for the night. Joe rattled off the soups we'd need to make, garlic and tomatoes to be roasted, a beef stew special, a caramelized onion sauce and any other mise en place necessary for the pizzas and salads on the menu. It took a little while and a good show of my speed in the kitchen before Joe felt comfortable enough to escape with my husband and the boys for a beach adventure on The Lost Coast. Whew! Now I could relax and cook, pretending it was MY kitchen. Karla and I had great time, working hard and gossiping about family and friends at the same time. I watched her knead her magic into loaves of bread, dinner rolls, a few cakes and pizza dough. The woman is one wicked baker!
As dinner service approached we all braced for the busy evening. Once again I was on the plating station and also stepped in to open wine bottles as necessary... their daughter Paige (the front of the house diva) has a hard time with the corkscrew and I could wow her easily with my quick cork removal skills!
The only trouble I got into during my work that week was when I got carried away and started calling out orders as they came in on tiny little note paper, hand written by Paige. I so much wanted that high energy feeling of working the pass, being the controller, watching the magic of pulling a meal together in minutes... I overstepped my bounds. Besides, the place is quite petite and the guests could hear my loud voice calling out the orders over the quaint French music, ruining the ambiance. Ooops.
Thanks Joe, Thanks Karla, I had a blast!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

Spicy Garlic Shrimp Scampi, a la' Marina del Rey

I entered a recipe contest once. It was back in the early 1990's. Marina del Rey, CA was holding a food festival (the first and only) and had a contest asking for recipes that encapsulate the Marina lifestyle. There may have been categories, I don't even remember. I do remember that I had been toying with a simple shrimp scampi dish at home and decided that I could fiddle with it and make it into an entree by serving it over pasta.

I won first prize for my Spicy Shrimp Scampi dish which the contest organizers renamed as: "Festival Shrimp Scampi". It was published in the free local paper and I believe I won two or three dinners for two at local restaurants. I've never entered another such contest. I figured I'd quit while I'm ahead.

The shrimp in this dish, made without the cheese, pasta or breadcrumbs, but all the spices, makes a fabulously simple first course or party appetizer. The trick to make succulent and juicy shrimp instead of dried out and rubberized seafood lies in not overcooking them. While tossing them in the hot pan, be ready to take the pan off the heat as soon as the last few shrimp are turning from grey to pink. They will finish cooking if you let them rest after seasoning them one last time and squeezing a little lemon juice over them. Lovely.

Festival Shrimp Scampi

1 lb medium size Shrimp (I used peeled, some may preferred unpeeled)

3 T butter
3 T olive oil (best quality you have)
3 cloves garlic, minced (more if preferred :)
1/2t ground white pepper
1/2t red pepper flakes
1/4t Cayenne pepper
1/4t dried oregano (or 1/2 t fresh minced)
1/2 lemon - juice of
1/2C Parmesan cheese
5 T Italian bread crumbs (or bread crumbs with a little salt, pepper,
oregano and basil added).
1/4C parsley - minced
salt - to taste
1 lb cooked fettuccine or linguine

Melt butter with the olive oil in a saute pan that is large enough to hold the shrimp in a thin

When mixture is hot, add the garlic. Toss about and don't let it burn. While it cooks, add the white pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and Cayenne pepper, stir well. When garlic looks cooked but not brown (2 minutes), add the shrimp. Toss the shrimp about in the pan, coating with the spiced oil. Add the lemon juice and keep tossing over the heat. Quickly add the parsley, bread crumbs and Parmesan. Toss to coat completely. The shrimp should now be bright
pink and cooked through.

Place the pan under the broiler until cheese looks melted and the smell infuses your kitchen (1-2 minutes). Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (will probably need a bit of salt).

Serve over the cooked pasta, with additional Parmesan sprinkled over the top.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Simple Joys of Mirepoix

I'm teaching my husband how to cook. He helps me with my mise en place on big recipes, stirs and flips, and keeps an eye on slow braises and stews. It's a great thing to have an extra set of hands in the kitchen.

In teaching him, I've tried to follow the guidelines I learned in cooking school so long ago. We've started with knife skills and are moving on to stocks and soups. He's a slow prep cook and I give him a hard time about it. I don't know if it's just that I'm quick or if he truly is as slow as the culinary sloth I think he is.

I haven't really been strict about teaching the fundamental cuts for vegetables (brunoise, baton, small, medium, and large dice). It's now become a priority. If I don't specify right up front the exact size I want the vegetables, they are likely to become very small dice. He really likes to cut things small, he thinks it takes more skill and he's anxious to please. But most of the time these little bits are too small. I can sometimes turn them into a good thing, pureeing them into a sauce as a final step. But, most of the time, they turn to mush before the dish has finished cooking.

One of Bruce's most favorite lessons in cooking has been the basic mirepoix (onion, carrots and celery). The novice cook may not appreciate these three basic ingredients. But the knowledgeable chef knows the value of this first step in most any classic dish. Mirepoix is the first set of ingredients for almost all stocks, soups, stews, braises, and roasts in French cooking. Whether vegetarian or meat filled, all dishes are enhanced by starting with these three vegetables cooked slowly (sweated) in a little olive oil or butter. These simple ingredients become magically fragrant and add an amazing richness to home cooked foods. They fill the kitchen and the house with the warm savory fragrance of ... home, of food lovingly prepared, of something good, simmering slowly.

We love garlic and often add a few cloves in after the vegetables has been sweating over a nice low heat to add a distinct piquant richness that only garlic can. There are a few different varieties of mirepoix with other such additions or subtractions. Here are a few I find useful:

Cajun or Southern Mirepoix: Onions, Celery and Green Peppers

Southwest or Mexican Mirepoix: White Onion, Garlic, Chile Peppers

Indian Basic Aromatics: Onion, Chiles, Garlic, Ginger cooked in Ghee (clarified butter)

Italian: add a few cloves of garlic; use olive oil instead of butter or a combination of both

White Mirepoix: Onions, Celery and Parsnips (leeks and mushrooms often added)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bruce's Chile and Spice Rub

Last summer when grilling season was in full swing I pulled out my Bobbie Flay cookbooks and used them as inspiration for quite a few meals. I was impressed by the bold flavors and spice combinations. We used his recipes as a starting point for our own creations.
Yes, I said, OUR. As always when grilling is involved, the man of the house becomes quickly interested in dinner preparation, as he is the expret on the proper execution of a barbecued meal.
When the holidays rolled around I was looking for a simple but fabulous food gift for friends and family. A spice rub came to mind and I began my research to create something tasty and inspired. I pulled out an article from 1995 that I had clipped from Bon Appetit. It had a few different spice mixtures I thought were interesting 13 years ago. But now they seemed tired and had no WOW factor.
So Bobby Flay's books came out again and we revisited his Ancho chile and coffee rubbed steaks recipe. I went to Penzey's spice store and bought a whole bunch of corriander seed, cumin seeds, ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder and a few other interesting bits.
I came home with my treasures and Bruce and I went to work mixing up a huge batch of spice mix. We toasted all the spices that were whole seeds, which quickly filled the house with a
pungent, acrid spice smell and put us in the mood to create. We ground them finely using my old coffee grinder that had been sacrificed to the exotic aromas of spices years ago.
I found some whole cane sugar which had a wonderful earthiness to it. We pulled out my Illy ground espresso beans. Now we were ready to mix.
The ingredients are listed below from most to least used, but the amounts should be adjusted according to your own taste.
Like it spicy? Add more ancho chile powder.
Love garlic? Pour the garlic powder freely!
Need some smokiness? Use a little more ground chipotle chile.
If sweet is your thing, be heavy handed with the sugar.

The intensity of the flavors as well as the smoky / coffee flavor lend themselves to beef, but pork could handle it too! Just be sure to rub a crushed clove of garlic all over your meat before liberally coating it with the rub.


Bruce's Chile and Spice Rub

Coriander Seed
Cumin Seed
Whole Cane Sugar
Espresso Beans
Ground Chipotle Chile
Ancho Chile Powder
Sea Salt
Granulated Garlic
Ground Black Pepper