Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cheese Report - Robert Downey Jr.

I worked at the market today. I've been working at the Pacific Palisades Farmer's Market at the Heritage Kitchen booth since January. I work with Edythe Preet selling vintage linens, homemade jams, jellies, pickles, chow-chows and chutneys, fresh baked goods, and CHEESE! I love cheese. I really enjoy spending each Sunday morning displaying, sampling and selling fine artisan made cheeses. What's not to like?
Today I looked up to hand out a sample I had just sliced from the Carr Valley Mobay. It's a sheep and goat cheese with a fine layer of grape vine ash in between the two which creates a beutifully layered wedge when cut. The goat cheese is a pure beautiful white and the sheep half is a buttery yellow. As you can see, I like CHEESE! But I digress. I was sampling the Mobay and as I reached out with the little bit of cheese on a waxed paper square I looked into the eyes of Robert Downey Jr. I stayed calm and sliced more samples and kept handing them out. He asked us which three cheeses we would pick and we steered him to our favorites: Three Sister's Serena and Carr Valley's Snow White Goat Cheddar (which won Best in Show at the 2008 American Cheese Society's annual competition) and Black Truffled Sheep. He sought out our Honeyed Goat Cheese with Blueberries and also picked up some fresh Dinosaur Plum Preserves. He wanted to know what made the Plums Dinosaurs. Edythe, a food historian, explained that Dinosaur Plums are a spotted heirloom variety. He paid for his products and was off. He seemed nice enough. He certainly knew what he wanted... CHEESE!

Friday, March 27, 2009

REAL Italian in the South Bay

I took a friend out to dinner last night for her birthday. She lives in Redondo Beach and wanted seafood. I headed towards Hermosa Beach and brainstormed along the way. I really wanted Italian food. Then I remembered Il Boccaccio at Pier Plaza in Hermosa Beach.
I discovered Il Boccaccio after eating their lasagna at the MBEF wine auction three years ago. One bite and i was hooked! They make the best lasagna I've ever tasted. They use homemade pasta sheets and a rich meat sauce and creamy ricotta which give it a hearty lusciousness that is addicting.
So we headed over to the Pier Plaza and walked right in. People who live in the South Bay know that the Pier Plaza is a party area. I think of it as a frat party for those in the 30-50 year old range. There is always loud music coming out of the various bars. The rent is high and these places pack them in and pour the liquor liberally.
But Il Boccaccio is not like that, in any way. It evokes the feeling of a small family run restaurant in Italy. The menu is simple and contains the basics of Italian food from many different regions. However, the specials are what really makes this place stand out. They are seasonal, freshly prepared and always changing.
We ordered the fennel and blood orange salad. The classic combination of flavors was fresh and clean.
I couldn't resist the Pasta Puttanesca made with FRESH anchovies. I love oily fish and these were very tender laying on top of a bed of angel hair dressed with tomatoes and capers. Another classic combination, this one made even better with the big juicy anchovies.
My friend ordered the grilled scallop special and seemed to really love them as they were gone by the time I looked up to ask her how they were!
Before leaving we chatted briefly with the chef/owner (Joe?) and let him know how happy we were to be enjoying a wonderful meal prepared by those who care - rather than being part of the cacophony that was going on just outside on the plaza. He appreciated the comments and we loved the evening.
Their website is a bit outdated, but don't let that stop you from going. If the website was all up to date I'd be worried that they weren't concentrating on the food!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Joys of a hearty breakfast

Did anyone else watch the Oprah show last week that was designed to get Americans cooking for their families? She sent out a few celebrity chefs into actual homes to show people just how easy and thrifty it is to make home cooked meals. The families which were chosen had fallen into common American eating ruts - relying on pre-made microfood, take out restaurant foods or just plain fast food to nourish their families.
You may think I had nothing to learn from such a show. But in fact, I too felt a bit inspired by the hearty breakfast section.
I have done my reading about nutrition and I know that a breakfast high in protein gives a satiated feeling that lasts well into the day. So why haven't I been feeding my children a high protein breakfast each day? I found it too tiresome. Until recently, when I embraced the hard boiled egg and began boiling them by the dozen and feeding them to my children liberally. I have also embraced bacon. I love bacon and so does my family. Who says my boys can't start the day with a few slices of crispy pork to fill their bellies? It's certainly better than the processed junk we Americans call cereal.
Now if I can only find a decent BBQ sauce and Blackberry jam which don't contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. These are the latest in my NASTY food discoveries. My boys hate me for that. Oh well...

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Chile Verde Recipe

I've been making green chile stew or chile verde for quite a few years. Originally I'd use a recipe I found at the old newsgroup, which was quite simple, but never really had enough punch for my taste. So, I've modified it over the years and it's become better and better.

I usually make the dish using pork. I dice up a picnic roast or pork butt roast (it's really pork shoulder, don't ask me why they call it butt!). Recently I made it with chicken and it turned out wonderful. If you are using chicken, I suggest boiling a whole chicken with some onion, carrot, celery, parsley and peppercorns and then pulling the meat from the chicken. Now you've made the chicken stock for the recipe and you don't need to brown the chicken, just add it after sauteing the onion and spices.

I think either way, this is a fabulous recipe and worth the effort.

Vickie's Chile Verde
Serves 6

8 fresh Anaheim green chiles
8 fresh Pasilla dark green chiles
1 lb. fresh Tomatillos
1 large white onion
4 garlic cloves
2 lb. lean pork, cut into large dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
salt and pepper
1 12-oz. bottle of Mexican beer
1-2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 lime

Roast, peel and de-seed the chiles. Cut them into small dice. If you have never done this, please, look online and read up on how to do it right. You really want to get rid of all the skin off the chiles and blackening them is the best way.
Preheat your oven to 375F. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse them well. Put them on a baking sheet. Cut the onion into quarters and put them on the baking sheet as well. Roast the tomatillos and onions until the tomatillos have brown spots and are soft (20-30 minutes).
Roated onion, tomatillos, garlic & zucchini - did them all in the oven for this batch.

While the tomatillos are roasting, smash the garlic cloves. Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Salt and pepper the diced pork. Brown the pork a few handfuls at a time. Don't crowd the pan, you want the pork to get some nice brown carmelization. Set asside the cooked pork.
Browning the cubed and seasoned pork in small batches to get some good carmelization going.

Pulverize the tomatillos in a blender until smooth. Dice the now softened onion. Saute the onion in the pot, add the garlic, cumin, oregano and a little salt and pepper. Now add back the pork and stir well. Pour in the tomatillo mix. Stir again. Add the beer and enough chicken stock to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the roasted green chiles, mix well. Add the lime juice and mix again. Taste. Adjust for salt.
The final stew.  This batch had multicolored chiles and added zuccini.

  • Add a minced serrano to make it more spicy.
  • Add some corn (cut from the cob and fried up a bit OR a small can).
  • Add a can of hominy.
Accompaniment ideas:
  • Tortillas hot off the griddle
  • Corn tortilla chips
  • Mexican Crema or sour cream
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sliced Green Onions
  • Xenepek (google it!)

Black Bean Salad - EASY!

I had a request for my black bean salad recipe and I thought for SURE I'd be able to find it online. But no, it was never posted on a website, or a newsgroup, or saved by me at all. So, here is the recipe, it's easy to make, travels well and doesn't need to stay refrigerated, which makes it the perfect picnic and potluck dish.

Black Bean Salad

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can of corn, drained
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
5 green onions, the white and some of the green, sliced thinly
1 green chile pepper (optional) chopped fine
2 garlic cloves pressed or minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro chopped fine
juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoon of olive oil

Combine the black beans, corn, tomatoes, green onions and chile pepper in a large bowl. Make a dressing with the garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, cilantro, lime juice and oil. Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking by adding more salt, or lime juice. Pour over the salad, mix well. Chill for an hour before serving.