Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Now about last night. Edan had to teach a class last night and wouldn't be home until 9pm. I went with her to the class and read in a coffee shop until she was finished. This meant we wouldn't be eating until late. Potentially very late. So we decided to make it a tapas night. We figured, hell the Spanish eat at ten, eleven o'clock, why not do the same?
Edan threw together an impromptu cheese plate of whatever we had in the house (it wasn't terribly "Spanish" in nature, as it included Roquefort and Cotswold, but whatever). I had some Medjool dates leftover from Christmas (I had used them in a muffin recipe) and decided to make bacon-wrapped dates. This was a favorite of ours from Devotay, a restaurant we used to frequent in our Iowa City days. It's a simple recipe (the one I used is from Tapas, but I imagine they're all variations on the same basic ingredients):
Cut a few rashers of bacon in half. Pit some dates. Wrap the pieces of bacon around the dates and secure with a toothpick. Peal two cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil and the two cloves of garlic in a pan. Fry the bacon-wrapped dates until they are brown and crispy. Eat the hell out of them.
Along with the dates, Edan roasted some orange and yellow bell peppers, and I made "Potatoes Rioja-style with chorizo" from a terrific cookbook by Jose Andres called Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. Basically, it's a Spanish stew of potatoes and chorizo with onions, garlic and paprika. It's one of my favorite dishes, so spicy and flavorful, and so delightfully...well, red. We paired it with a Cote du Rhone, as that's all we had in the house. It probably would've been better with a temparinillo, but we don't choose these things, they choose us.In the end, the stew was a little overdone. The potatoes turned into much, making it more of a mashed potatoes with paprika and chorizo than a stew. It was still tasty, but not quite what I set out to make. The date were delicious, but a little greasy, and I felt the meal lacked some greens. Next time we do tapas I think we'll make a zucchini dish and have a simple mixed greens salad with it as well. Oh, and Edan hated the wine (I thought it was nice. Maybe it's a varietal thing. It wasn't big enough for her). Other than the fact that we didn't eat until 10:30 (!), it was a pretty successful meal. Not terribly healthy, maybe, but tasty just the same.
Pollan has an article in this past week's issue of the New York Times Magazine which focuses on the rise of "nutritionism" in America's supermarkets and food culture. In short, he says Americans have shifted from eating food to eating nutrients. The article, which is itself an argument against simplification. His argument, in part, is that food, like a banana or a salmon steak, is a complex thing, and reducing it to its component parts -- its fatty acids and antioxidants -- and then attempting to pump up the good and reduce the bad, is a tricky and often dangerous endeavor. In other words, it's better to eat a banana than attempt to get the nutrients of a banana into a breakfast cereal.
If you want to be healthy (and he's not certain that looking at food as a means to health is necessarily a good thing), he has some fairly simple advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It reminds me a little of advice I heard once from the actor Jon Favreau (he of Swingers fame). He was speaking at the film school where I was a student. Someone in the audience asked him how he lost weight or gained weight for the different roles he played. Favreau said, "I have a revolutionary weight management program wherein if I want to lose weight, I eat less and exercise more, and if I want to gain weight, I eat more and exercise less." I can't believe he hasn't made millions as a diet guru yet.
Pollan expands his advice to ten basic rules of thumb, which include things like "Cook," and "Pay more, eat less," meaning to spend money on smaller portions of superior quality foods. He also urges people to do as much of their shopping outside the supermarket as possible. Generally speaking, I agree with this, although I think it's possible to eat well and shop mostly at your local supermarket. I heard a nutritionist (they are useful for some things) on NPR once recommend "shopping on the outer edge of the supermarket." Most of the good stuff is there -- the meat, the produce, and the dairy. Venture as seldom as possible into the aisles, since that tends to be the province of high-fructose corn syrup and transfats. I would also recommend eating processed foods only if you can see the person who processed them. It seems better to buy bread from a baker and sausages from a butcher. I'm not sure why, it just feels right to me. And that's, in a round about way, the point of Pollan's article. Eat food that's recognizable as food, and stop worrying so much about what's in it.
Monday, January 29, 2007
If you’ve ever been to 25 Degrees, the fancy burger joint inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, then you know just how exciting it is to blanket your patty with something other than cheddar. I loved my prosciutto and burrata burger there, but I felt full (too full, I think) for hours afterward.
Still, from then on, I was inspired to be more adventurous with my hamburger, and for me, that meant taking risks with the cheese.
Burrata (sans Prosciutto), a pulled-curd cheese from Southern Italy, is basically the remnants of Mozzarella and cream held in a bag of curds. Sounds gross, I know, but it’s really divine. When you cut into the soft ball of burrata, an incredible creaminess spills forth, perfect for spooning onto your frying burger. Add some grilled onions on top and watch the burrata melt. This stuff’s like Mozzarella on steroids.
If you’re a blue cheese fan, I suggest you don’t mess with anything crumbly, like Maytag or Shropshire Blue. Instead, try St. Agur, a creamy cow’s milk blue from the Auvergne region of France. It’s fairly mild, so it won’t dominate the meat flavor, and its texture makes for easy application. If you want something more extreme, I recommend Papillon Roquefort, the classic sheep’s milk blue from France, famous for being Charlemaigne’s personal favorite. (Check out its legend of origin.)
My last recommendation is Cotswold, an English cheddar peppered with chives and onion. This cheese melts easily and will give your burger enough spice that the meat itself doesn’t need a thing. Cotswold, as you might’ve guessed, is also great on a grilled cheese.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Here's what you do. On your way home from work, stop by the nearest Whole Foods or Gelsons (or your fishmonger, if you're lucky enough to have one), and pick up a pound of their absolute best, freshest tuna (I use Ahi, but there are other varieties that work, too). Again, this stuff had better be fresh. Ask when they got it. If it doesn't look good, abandon the plan and order take out. If they've got the good stuff, get it. Pick up a bottle of wine. Grab some mixed greens, some fresh tomatoes, and anything else you want to throw into a salad. While you're in the produce section, pick up a lemon and a few dried red chili peppers. Finally, head over to the bakery and get a nice loaf of sourdough, the fresher the better. Got everything? OK. Stop by the video store and pick up a good rom com or whatever it is you like to watch on a Friday night when you're absolutely not leaving the house. Now go home.
Throw the salad together. You could get more ambitious and make some sort of lemon grass slaw or something, but this meal is all about ease and convenience, so I say stick to a simple mixed green salad. Slice the sourdough bread into big, thick slices, and broil it until dark and crispy. Drizzle some olive oil over the toast. Cut the lemon in half and crush the chilies. Now, take your sharpest knife and slice the tuna into 1/4 inch strips, cutting across the grain of the meat. Plate the strips and season with sea salt, freshly-crushed black pepper, and the crushed chilies. Serve with the lemon, toast, and salad. Enjoy. The total cost of this meal is about $35, and that assumes you have to buy the chilies and the lemon, and that you spend about $8 on wine. It's probably cheaper than what you'd pay at a restaurant, it's almost certainly healthier than Chinese takeout, and you don't have to cook a thing (OK, you have to toast some bread, but come on). That's some serious fast food.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
- January 23 was National Pie Day. If I had known, I'd have baked a pie, or something. (Isn't it odd that there's even such a thing as the American Pie Council? Who sits on this council? Homer Simpson?) I wonder if the Pie Council's jurisdiction extends to tarts, because this is a nice looking recipe for a leek tart.
- It's down to Marcel and Ilan on "Top Chef." Snack points out that Ilan has quit his job, leading to rampant speculation that he is the one true Top Chef, as it were. Or maybe he just hated his boss or something?
- Pinkberry has moved in down the street from us, so now we can "love, obsess, and indulge in this pure, swirly lifestyle." We tried it last night. For those who don't know, Pinkberry is frozen yogurt. What sets it apart from other frozen yogurts is that it tastes like yogurt (unless you get the green tea flavor, in which case, it tastes like green tea). I thought it was interesting, but I didn't have the experience described on Franklin Avenue.
- We all know that global warming is a natural phenomenon, like the cycle of the seasons or nuclear winter, that has nothing to do with greenhouses gases. What we didn't know, is that it's going to change where we grow our wine grapes. Fancy a Syrah from Sussex, guv'na?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Until then, I've posted a (rather pathetic) picture of the sandwich that changed it all for me (It really was better than it looks), and a picture of one of the meals for which I worked so hard -- fillet of beef with shallots and sauce porto (not pictured, soggy, sucky frites).
Friday, January 19, 2007
- What a shock -- Walmart's organic food may be not all that "organic."
- The Food Network will hold its first awards show, which will air on April 15. Billy Crystal is already busy creating a hokey dance number that involves ceviche and canapes.
- Supermarkets are struggling to stop people from stealing meat. One idea is to bring back the old human-to-human interaction with the butcher. In the end, though, they'll probably just figure out a way to fit a rump roast into one of those impenetrable plastic jewel cases they use for CDs and DVDs.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Anyway, this week they gave Cliff the boot. In a scene that could've been taken from the "Deleted Scenes" portion of the Full Metal Jacket DVD, Cliff held down official show whipping boy Marcel in an attempt to forcibly remove his bizarre trademark hair. This has become a reality show commonplace in recent years: a contestant gets a little liquored up, crosses some sort of line, and has to have a sober conference with the head judge (or in the case of "Project Runway," the head judge's bag man, Tim Gunn). I find these episodes a bit tiring. Bravo's reality shows have been a cut above the rest for one simple reason: the contestants actually have a skill or some talent. When they air an episode like this, it threatens to drag the entire episode down to the level of "Real World vs. Road Rules." What makes it doubly annoying is that after the incident, the rest of the episode is full of righteous indignation from everyone else on the show. The judging scene turns into Judgement at Nuremberg. Even Padma's blog seems over the top this week. I'm secretly hoping that all of this is an elaborate attempt to make Marcel more likable so that he can actually win.
(Thanks to Apronite Doug for the tip!)
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The Times, for its part, seems to be in denial. Alongside newsy reports on the frost and its effect on local markets, there are articles on barbecuing in winter and recipes for "always sunny margaritas." I found the barbecue article to be particularly insufferable. I guess it's sentences like this one that I find so tiresome:
"On a gray afternoon, barbecuing becomes a private, meditative, poetical sort of thing, kind of like hiking back to town for a gallon of gas."
Right. The author goes on to regale us with boastful tales of grilling in a light drizzle, with only a beer to keep him warm. Listen pal, I'm from upstate New York, and I have seen my brother cook a flank steak on an outdoor grill during a blizzard. So spare me the Hemingway-esque musings on the manly solitude of the grillmaster. Seriously. And while we're on the subject, I don't find it difficult to stay warm on these chilly California nights. I've got a little something I like to call Kentucky straight bourbon to keep me warm.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The pork turned out better than I could've hoped, so I decided to post the recipe here. I highly recommend throwing in a little demi-glace (Demi, for those who don't know, is basically veal stock heavily reduced with red wine) if you have it lying around. I did, and I think it made a big difference. For you kosher or vegetarian Apronites...Man, I pity you.
cote de porc a la charcutiere
(from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook)
4 rib chops (I used three, because there were only three of us, and we're not gluttons.)
salt and pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped (I actually substituted a large shallot, which worked great.)
1 teaspoon Wondra flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup dark, strong chicken or veal stock (I used veal.)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
10 cornichons, thinly sliced
1 sprig of flat parsley, chopped
oven-safe saute pan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In the oven-safe saute pan, heat the oil, then the butter. Season the chops with salt and pepper, then sear in the hot pan for about 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for another 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the chops. Set them aside on the platter, loosely covered with foil, while you make the sauce.
Return the saute pan to the heat, and add the onion. Cook until golden brown. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and reduce by half, scraping, scarping, of course. Add the stock (and you really do need a good, dark, strong stock for this). Reduce the liquid by half. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the mustard. Add the cornichons, the parsley, and any juice that has run off the cooked pork chops. Adjust the seasoning. Arrange the chops on the platter and pour over the sauce. Eat.
Monday, January 15, 2007
"That's roast chicken, numbnuts! And if you can't properly roast a damn
chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron.
Take that apron off, wrap it around your neck, and hang yourself. You do
not deserve to wear the proud garment of generations of hardworking,
dedicated cooks. Turn in those clogs, too."
The truth hurts. After some initial shock at how many of the recipes require veal stock (And Bourdain is diligent in his efforts to get us to make our own stocks), I set out to try a few of things. His steak au poivre was good, but too buttery for my taste. His rack of lamb, on the other hand, was delicious. I made it for Christmas dinner. And his French onion soup...Sweet Christ in a kick-line.
This week, I'm going to make cote de porc a la charcutiere. Basically, it's pork chops with a sauce of Dijon mustard, cornichons, parsley, white wine, and veal stock. Edan and I are having a friend over for dinner, so it will be the pork, a vegetable tian from Barefoot in Paris, the French cookbook from The Barefoot Contessa, and a chocolate devil's food cake from Tartine, one of the previous year's best cookbooks. The cake is covered in a dark chocolate ganache and toasted cake crumbs, and it looks as challenging as anything I've ever made (I'm still a novice baker. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm pretty much a novice cook, too). If I survive the cake, the rest of the week should be easy as...er, pie.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Chow has up a great interview with Michael, in which he trashes his nemesis Tom Colicchio, tells a harrowing story of getting his wisdom tooth pulled in South Central, and explains that none of the challenges are as frenetic as they seem on the air. Oh, and Michael has a totally kickin' MySpace page ("Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta," indeed.), complete with candid, behind-the-scenes photos of the other "Top Chef" contestants. God, I hope his publicist didn't create it.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
- Does beef from grass-fed cattle taste any better than its corn-fed industrial counterpart?
- Like the wine at dinner? Ask for the label.
- Food industry muckraking continues to be a popular publishing trend. The latest salvo is from Barry Glasner. But is it as good as The Omnivore's Dilemma?
- The FDA assesses the risk of eating the meat of cloned animals. Mmm, I love me some cloned pork belly.
Aside from cooking time (I braised the meat for 3 hours, then chilled it for one day in the fridge), the recipe was remarkably easy to make. Other than star anise, which some of you may already have in your spice racks, the ingredients are common and easy to locate at your local supermarket. There's relatively little prep work to be done, and almost no chopping at all (one onion and a little ginger).
The only problem I had with the recipe was that the sauce didn't thicken up quite as much as I would've liked (In fact, I ended up throwing in a little cornstarch out of desperation). While this may have affected the presentation, it didn't hurt the taste at all. I found the meat to have intense flavor, a little like brisket, but much, much more tender. When I first took the oxtail out of its package, I was concerned that there wasn't enough meat, and that what there was would be hard to eat off the bone. It turns out I had no cause for concern, as the meat fell off the bone at the slightest touch of a fork. Incredible. What had I been missing?
I got a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz 2005 to pair with the oxtail. It was good choice. Very chocolaty and easy to drink. The sweetness and spiciness of the wine complemented the faintly licorice taste of the anise clinging to the meat. Really, people shouldn't eat this well on a Tuesday night. It's criminal.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
I’ve only been working in the cheese business for about two months, but already I’ve come across a few patrons who claim they don’t like cheese. Just the other day in fact, a family of four: father, mother, and their grown daughter and son, ventured into the shop to peruse our many offerings. All except the mother were adventurous cheese eaters—anything these three sampled was swallowed with half-closed eyes and an orgiastic groan. The mother, however, stood back from this feasting, a bit timid. She told me she didn’t like most cheeses because of their texture—and she certainly didn’t like pungent flavors, either. The challenge of finding something to her liking reminded me of my days as a bookseller, when teary-eyed mothers would beg me to recommend something enjoyable and appropriate for their sullen teenagers who preferred text messaging to all else—a difficult, but not impossible, task.
This particular cheese patron said she did like Fontina D’Aosta, a semi-firm Italian cheese made from raw cow’s milk (meaning it’s not pasteurized) and aged for four months. Fontina D’Aosta, by the way, is name-controlled, and should not be confused with the plain old, rubbery “Fontina” cheese you often see in the supermarket. Once I had this information, it was easy to find others she enjoyed. First, Chaubier, a lovely cheese from France, made from pasteurized goat and cow’s milk. This cheese, covered in an orange rind, is very mild without being boring, and its consistency rivals the chicest string cheese. Second, Istara, a sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenees. Istara is firmer than Chaubier, but in my opinion its flavors are better: nutty and sharper, without being the slightest bit offensive. Needless to say, this so called cheese hater took big chunks of both of these cheeses home with her, her palette expanding by the minute.
Monday, January 8, 2007
This week, we decided on braised oxtail with star anise and Chinese greens, pumpkin ginger soup, Cornish game hen, and orecchiette/tomoto/ricotta, a pasta recipe from one of our favorite cookbooks, Italian Two Easy. The challenge is clearly the oxtail, which not only requires three hours cooking time, but also must be refrigerated one to three days before it can be served. The other meals should be safely in our wheel house. I'll post updates on how each meal turned out later in the week.
Despite my supermarket troubles, the meal ended up being excellent. I couldn't find jicama anywhere, so we went with a typical green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers instead. It broke up the Asian theme we had going, and it didn't look quite as nice on the plate, but it was still tasty. By far, the highlight of the meal were the rice fritters. When we were forming them by hand, they kept breaking apart and refusing to hold their shape, yet somehow they cohered enough in the frying pan to crisp up into tiny patties of deliciousness. It was miraculous. I think we'll probably make this recipe again, if only for the fritters.
Friday, January 5, 2007
Conveniently, Chowhound has polled a group of LA-based foodies and come up with their Ultimate Los Angeles Restaurant of 2006. The results are in, and the clear winner is Providence , a two-year old seafood restaurant. Runner up was Spago (Better luck next year, Wolfgang). Sadly, I haven't been to Providence yet. Taking a quick look at the top twenty restaurants, I've been to several. Jar, at which I ate two weeks ago, came in at number eight. I've been to Jar twice. The first time I was blown away. I had the Kobe beef special (which was also on the menu the second time), as well as fries and an appetizer of black mussels, ong choy, lobster Bearnaise, and fennel salt. The fries are served in a little newspaper cone. It was sick. And by sick I mean, completely amazing. Last time I was there, however, I wasn't moved. I had the rib eye, and again the fries. My wife, Edan, had the Kobe, and she was impressed. The rib eye was good, but it was no Kobe. Lesson learned. Also, I was there with a friend who eats kosher, which made it difficult to order any starters, since pretty much everything was rich with shellfish. All in all, I would eat at Jar any chance I get.
Further down the list is the recently-opened Maryland-style seafood spot The Hungry Cat. I ate there a few days before my wedding with Edan and my grandmother. I had a Thai-style Alabama bay shrimp concoction that I see has since been removed from the menu. So it goes. Edan had squid stuffed with tomatoes, and my grandmother had the peel-and-eat shrimp. The restaurant was packed, and we had to sit on the patio, which was actually quite nice, much cozier than you'd think, considering it shares a courtyard with a Border's books. The general consensus was that the food was tasty, but relatively small portions (everything is a la carte). I give the service bonus points for taking it in stride when my grandma ordered her beer "on the rocks."
Even further down the list was BLD (whose website still says it's "coming soon." Come on, BLD! You're big time now. Get a webmaster, already.). Edan and I ate there with a friend. We had purchased tickets to see The Queen at the Grove (I hear it's great) and thought we'd catch a late dinner, then see a really late movie. The only problem was that without a reservation, we ended up waiting about half an hour for a table. It's a testament to the great atmosphere at BLD that we decided to wait and risk missing Helen Mirren's tour de force performance as an embattled monarch. We all had the prix fixe dinner menu, which offers a choice of steak, chicken, fish, or a vegetarian option, coupled with sides and a dessert. I'm fairly certain we all had steak, and I know we all left happy. We never saw The Queen. I hear it's great.
A few of the old standards made the list, including Langer's, Sanamluang, and of course, Zankou Chicken. Mmm, Zankou...
Thursday, January 4, 2007
This is the first post, the inaugural voyage of the good ship Apron, Napkin. This blog is about the food in my life – either the food I’m cooking or the food I’m eating, or both. I should say up front that I’m no chef. I’ve never worked in a restaurant (unless you count that summer in high school I spent scooping ice cream), and I’ve only cooked seriously for the last few years. There are blogs out there written by restaurant industry insiders and producers at the Food Network, and they’re great. This blog isn’t one of them. This is more of an everyman’s look at cooking and eating…assuming this particular everyman has a taste for diver scallops and knows his onglet from his rib eye. In the future, you can expect reviews of restaurants and cookbooks, recipes, anecdotes of culinary failure and success, and rants about Rachel Ray. But for now, let me just say “Welcome.”