Thursday, July 31, 2008
When my mom moved back to California from Costa Rica, she didn't enjoy cooking any longer. Her apartment had a full kitchen but she pretty much survived on microwaved food. When she came to our house, we'd make her home-cooked meals but that wasn't often enough, only once every several months. In time we came up with a plan. Whenever we'd visit her, we'd fill her freezer with food I'd prepared so she'd have home-cooked meals whenever she wanted. Frank gets the benefit of that well-rehearsed system. As often as possible I try to do the same for him.
When he was growing up one of his favorite dishes was oxtail soup. Since his birthday is tomorrow, I thought that would be a nice addition to his freezer.
Foods freeze well when a liquid coats the surface. Meat rubbed with olive oil survives freezing without any damage. Soups and stews do well because the food bits are submerged in liquid. The oxtail meat is succulent, but it takes several hours of braising to coax out all of its considerable flavor.
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 4 hours + overnight in the refrigerator
2 pounds oxtails (washed)
4 carrots (washed, ends trimmed, peeled, cut into 1" rounds)
8 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 medium yellow onions (peeled, ends trimmed, roughly chopped)
1 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
30 whole peppercorns
2 cups mushrooms (washed, sliced) portabella, shiitake, or brown
2 medium tomatoes (washed)
3 ounces tomato paste (preferably an Italian brand like Cento)
1/4 pound green beans (ends trimmed, cut into 2" lengths)
1 small bunch spinach (ends trimmed, washed thoroughly, roughly chopped)
2 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, cut into 2" lengths or kernels removed from the cob)
Sea salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove, let cool, pull off the skin, and roughly chop. In a large dutch oven brown the oxtails with olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, remove from the pan, pour off the excess fat and lightly brown 2 carrots, 1 chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves, the Italian parsley, 20 whole peppercorns, and 1 cup of the mushroom slices. Return the oxtails to the pan along with the chopped roasted tomatoes and 8 cups of water. Cover and simmer for 3 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
Remove the oxtails from the liquid, let cool, remove the meat and discard the bones. Strain out the cooked vegetables and discard. Return the meat to the liquid and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning skim off and discard the fat. Lightly brown the remaining vegetables with olive oil and the 10 whole peppercorns. Add the meat and soup, stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt. Serve with a fresh baguette, a plate of plain pasta or a mashed potato, and a salad.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
For my wife, Michelle, the market is a very different experience. The visuals of the market are almost as important to her as what we buy to eat. While I'm comparing the price and quality of heirloom tomatoes, Michelle looks at the flowers. She knows well that the farmers' market is the best source of affordable freshly cut flowers.
On Sunday we have our routine: we walk counter-clockwise around the Palisades market so she can look at the wild roses, the day-glo dahlias, the bright yellow sunflowers, and when they're in season the delicate sweet peas and fragrant lilacs.
This past Sunday Michelle was out of town. Because I missed her, I took the time to look at the flowers. They really are as colorful and vital as she says. Next Sunday she'll be home and we can take our counter-clockwise tour of the market as always. I expect that I'll take a break from my shopping to enjoy the flowers with her.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
This morning we walked with our friends Janet, Kelly, and Annette. We hadn't seen Kelly for a month because she and her family had been in Europe. She told us that one of the high points of the trip was a crème brûlée she'd eaten in Paris. That dessert was so delicious she couldn't stop thinking about its perfect crust and flavorful custard.
The walk was a short one because we had early meetings but there was enough time to catch up about kids going off to college in the fall (UC Davis and Cooper's Union) and trips everyone had taken (Japan, Europe, and Sundance). Before we left the beach to head back to our cars, Kelly wanted me to tell her how to make crème brûlée.
I told her that, personally I thought that a traditional crème brûlée takes too much work and uses too many egg yolks. If she wanted a good recipe she could find one by googling it. I offered her my custard recipe that is easier to make and less artery-clogging.
Custard with Baked Plums
Any stone fruit--peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots--will work as well as plums. Cherries would be pitted and halved. Peaches and nectarines cut into eighths.
Yield 4-6 servings
Time 90 minutes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
4 ripe plums (washed, pitted, quartered)
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 teaspoon sweet butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the plum quarters on a Silpat sheet or piece of tin foil on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the tops with raw sugar, then bake 30 minutes. Remove and let cool. Spatula up any liquid that accumulated on the Silpat and reserve to drizzle over the finished custard.
Beat together the eggs and 1/2 cup white sugar. Add the cream and (optional) vanilla and stir well. Butter a large 8" round oven-proof baking dish or 6 porcelain ramekins. Pour in the custard and put in the baked plum quarters. Add 1" of water to a large roasting pan. Put the custard into the water bath and bake for 30-60 minutes. Every 15 minutes rotate the baking dish and ramekins so they cook evenly. If the custard is browning too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top The custard is done when it doesn't jiggle when lightly shaken.
Remove to cool on a wire rack. Drizzle with plum liquid. Refrigerate until just before serving. To make the sugar crust, dust with the tablespoon of white sugar, then heat with a kitchen torch until lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Saturday morning, while Michael slept in, we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market to prep the meal.
The last time I shopped at the market I was working for
For an appetizer Ron was going to barbeque skewers of
There were stand-outs at the market: large bunches of watercress from White Crane Springs Ranch, peaches and nectarines from Frog Hollow Farm, and Ella Bella Farm's broccoli di cicco (sprouted broccoli). We also bought corn, tomatoes, arugula, and Italian parsley. The market is such a treat. Even if you didn't need to shop, walking through the crowds and enjoying the visual experience of the waterfront setting is more than enough reason to come to the market.
Ironically we would have missed one of the best parts of the market if the forest fires weren't raging in
We hadn't planned to eat at the market because we were on our way to
Claire had patiently endured our extra time at the market. We owed it to her to finish shopping quickly. While she ate a breakfast muffin from Downtown Bakery, I picked up a chicken from the Golden Gate Meat Company and a piece of Capricious cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company.
Later that afternoon Ron, Michelle, and I cooked our dinner, which included grilled chicken, sausages, and vegetables; a summer drink of white rum, mint, and limes that combines the best of a Mojito and a Caipirinha; Ron's skewers of Wagyu beef and morels were amazing, the morels' earthiness perfectly complimented the meat's buttery sweetness; chopped liver and egg salad; grilled lavash; arugula and carrot salad; chopped salad; watercress with grated Capricious cheese; and the banana chocolate chip walnut cake.
We had a wonderfully leisurely dinner with time to catch up about family, tell jokes, and talk about favorite movies. As a reward for my helping cook dinner, Claire made me a drawing in recognition of my "hard work and generosity." Appreciation is a great gift for anyone who cooks.
Of all the dishes we made, what Marii liked best was the chopped salad with grilled vegetables and Italian parsley. There will be more about the rest of the dinner in subsequent posts, but I wanted to start with Marii's favorite dish.
Summer's Best Chopped Salad
A salad with an infinite number of variations.
Yield 4 servings
Time 45 minutes
2 bunches Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems)
1 large avocado (peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
4 carrots (washed, peeled, cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs)
2 scallions (washed, ends trimmed)
4 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1/2 pound broccoli (washed, ends trimmed, stems peeled, florets cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs; if using sprouted broccoli grill whole)
1/2 pound string beans (washed, ends trimmed)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper
Put the chopped parsley and avocado into a large mixing bowl. Heat a barbecue grill. Drizzle olive oil on the vegetables, season with sea salt and pepper. Grill 5-10 minutes until lightly brown. If you don't have a grill, you can accomplish a similar result in a 350 degree oven. Turn frequently in either case so the vegetables don't burn. Remove and let cool.
Reduce the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on a low flame until you have a quarter of the original volume. The vinegar will become sweet.
Finely chop the grilled vegetables, add to the parsley, drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and transfer to a salad bowl.
Keep the salad vegetarian and grill any vegetable you enjoy, like squash, asparagus, onions or mushrooms, chop, and add to the salad.
Add grilled meats like Italian sausage or chicken or shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab.
Add cheese such as crumbled feta, finely chopped comte, mozzarella, Swiss or cheddar.
Add chopped olives.
Add chopped salami.Add chopped grilled eggplant.
Add chopped artichoke bottoms.
Add chopped hardboiled eggs.
Add homemade croutons.
Add chopped roasted beets.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Sadly this is a remembrance of things past because Sherwood Island where she and her family used to gather now prohibits clamming because of pollution. There are alternative beaches to try but her personal experiences speak eloquently about why environmental protection is not just an abstract notion.
Reading Valerie's description of clams cooked at the beach after being gathered by her cousins is a near-perfect scene: packing the steamers into "coffee pots with a couple of inches of water" and heated on the hibachis carried in by cooperative uncles; watching the water boil, the shells open, broth being seasoned, butter added, and then the adults happily eating the sweet chewy clams. As she says though this was an experience seen from two perspectives. While the adults appreciated the rubbery bivalves, "for us children, the thrill was the hunt..."
Finding steamers in Los Angeles is near-impossible so my experience is with Manila clams from Carlsbad Aquafarms at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. My own remembrance of eating clams is from a very brief stint crewing on a Gulf Coast fishing boat. I remember the work as tedious, back-breaking, dangerous, and hot. The clams however were the best I've ever eaten. The captain of the boat showed me how to make what he called sop which he applied liberally to the clams, creating a perfect mixture of the bivalve's brine, butter's sweetness, beer's sourness, and Tabasco's heat.
Clams Barbecued on the Half-Shell with Sop
Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes
2 dozen Manila, Littleneck or Butter clams (washed, scrubbed clean)
1/4 cup sweet butter (melted)
1/4 cup beer
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Season the melted butter, beer, and Tabasco sauce mixture with a little black pepper. Put the clams in a a covered saucepan with 1/4 cup water on high heat for 2-3 minutes or until all the clams open. Discard any that don't open. Reserve the broth to use as a base for clam chowder or a pasta sauce.
Let the clams cool, then tear off and discard the shell that doesn't have a clam. Pour a little sauce over each clam in its half-shell (about 1/2 teaspoon/clam) and put on a hot barbecue grill or in a 450 degree oven for 5 minutes, then serve with a fresh baguette.
Sauté until lightly brown 1/4 cup Italian parsley or cilantro (leaves only, finely chopped) and 2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped) in olive oil and add to the sauce.
Sauté until lightly brown 1/4 cup Basil (leaves only, finely chopped) and 2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped) in olive oil and add to the sauce.
Friday, July 4, 2008
In the Palisades the 5k/10k races finished by 10am. As is the tradition, the night before folding chairs are put out to guarantee a curb-side seat for the parade.
We're home making food for our picnic. Our friends have called to confirm what they are contributing to the pot-luck picnic.
We saw a beautiful cabbage at the farmers' market, so we decided to add cole slaw to the salads we're bringing tonight.
Cole Slaw with Capers
Yield 10-12 servings
Time 30 minutes
1 bunch Italian parsley (washed,leaves and some stems, finely chopped)
1 scallion (washed, trimmed, white and green parts finely chopped)
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup capers
Sea salt and pepper
Cut out the bottom core and discard. Slice into slabs then chop to create 1/2" square pieces.
Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve chilled.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Once in awhile there's a standout. When I first ate at the Loteria! Grill, the mole was a revelation.
Just about everyone we know has eaten at the original Loteria! Grill at the Farmers Market. Located in the geographic center of the Market, there is always a line waiting to order. The lunch time crowd tends to be tourists and people who work in the area. At night families have dinner before they go to the multiplex at the Grove.
For Jimmy Shaw, the chef-owner, Loteria! Grill is a passion project. Born into a family of cooks, trained by his mother in their Mexico City home, Jimmy opened the Grill because so many of his friends missed the taste of authentic Mexican food. An instant success, the Farmers' Market Loteria! Grill was the talk of LA.
Looking to the east Jimmy has opened Loteria! Grill Hollywood, a restaurant-bar in the heart of Hollywood (6627 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood 90028, 323/465-2500) next door to Geisha House.
With an open space and high ceiling, the interior has the feeling of a modern cantina. Jimmy held onto the favorites from the Farmers' Market menu: his incomparable mole sauce, the comforting tortilla soup, the perfectly seasoned black beans...
There are so many great dishes, a first-timer can get an overview by circumnavigating the menu with the Probaditas Sampler and its dozen mini tacos on hand-made tortillas. Sit at the bar, order an ice cold margarita, and you'll be happy for the rest of the evening.
We were part of a lucky group invited to a preview dinner. Served practically every dish on the menu, our favorites were the Mole Poblano con Pollo (of course), the Sopa de Tortilla (ditto), the Champinones con Epazote (mushrooms with Eeazote), the Albondigas En Chipotle (meatballs in a tomato and chipolte Sauce), the Enchiladas de Mole (with chicken), the Summer Salad, the Guacamole y Chips, the Aguas Frescas (watermelon, lemonade, horchata)... I'm probably giving away the fact that we enjoyed every dish.
Jimmy was so generous in letting us sample the menu that we found ourselves with food to spare. Not one to waste food I braved the embarrassment of carrying out to-go containers and took home some of the Carnitas en salsa Morita (pork in a spicy sauce), the black beans, and rice. The next day I was happy to have such terrific ingredients and made a delicious soup. Our friends Ron and Annette came over for our weekly Sunday dinner and we served the soup as the main course. We raised our glasses to toast Jimmy Shaw, to thank his mother for teaching him how to cook, and to our returning to Loteria! Grill Hollywood.
Black Beans, Farmers' Market Vegetables, and Spicy Pork Soup
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked pork
1 small onion, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1 slice of bacon, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, washed, kernels cut off the cob
1 carrot, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup cooked rice
In a large sauce pan sauté the onions, garlic, bacon, corn, carrots, and parsley in the olive oil until lightly browned. Shred the meat and add to the sauté. If you are using pork, chicken, or beef that is already seasoned, then you may not need to add any heat. Taste and add Tabasco or taco sauce as needed.
Add the black beans and chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Just before serving reheat the rice in a microwave oven. Put 1/4 cup of rice in the bottom of each soup bowl, then ladle in the hot soup.
For a vegetarian version, don't use the meat, bacon, or chicken stock (use 4 cups water + 1 tablespoon butter instead).
Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley
Substitute cooked chicken or beef for the pork
Add 3 cups of spinach leaves (washed, stems removed, roughly chopped) to the sauté
Add 1 cup chopped raw shrimp (washed, deveined) to the sauté
Add 1 cup grilled sausage rounds
Top with homemade croutons and shredded cheddar cheese when serving
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
To prepare for the picnic, we shop at the local farmers' market, buying as many fresh vegetables and fruits as we can carry. On the 4th we spend the day cooking for the pot-luck picnic we organize with a dozen of our friends. So we'll have a good spot to watch the fireworks, we meet at 6:30pm at the park opposite the high school. We look forward to the picnic because we can catch up with our friends. Even though the picnic is pot-luck, we make extra just in case... Some of our friends who like to cook bring their specialties, like Lesli's mixed berries, while others make a run to Bay Cities or Gelson's and bring containers of deli treats and rich desserts.
By 9:00pm cars are double-parked on both sides of the street and people have crowded into the park, taking up every square inch of space. Everyone is ready for the fireworks to begin and yet...the sky is not yet completely, definitively dark. In the cool night air we bundle up and pull closer together. Only when all traces of the departing sun have been drained from the sky will the fireworks begin.
And when they do, they are a treat. From the first high-streaking skyrocket that bursts into a hundred points of light to the last crescendo of a dozen overlapping explosions, the crowd oohs and aahs. With the last firework dying in the sky, we get up slowly, feeling the dampness of the ground, hug and kiss our friends goodbye, and make our way back to our cars through the haze of gunpowder smoke still hanging in the air.
4th of July Picnic
In our experience salads work well at the picnic: beet salad, carrot salad, potato salad, egg salad, and corn salad. Finger food is good too: bread & butter pickles, salt-boiled corn on the cob and grilled artichokes. This year we'll also contribute a platter of deliciously salty and sweet Brown Sugar Ribs.
Brown Sugar Pork Ribs
1 rack of pork ribs
1 pound brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
6 ounces Italian tomato paste
1 small yellow onion (peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
Trim excess fat, the membrane, and flap from the ribs. (Caprial Pence the owner-chef of Caprial's Bistro in Portland, Oregon and a fellow contributor to Eat Drink or Die shows how to prep the ribs with easy-to-follow photographs.) Reserve the flap, trimmed of its membrane, to grill for tacos.
Spread a piece of plastic wrap on the counter 5” longer than the rack. Dust the meat side of the ribs with the cayenne. Mix together the brown sugar and kosher salt. Spread half the dry mix on the plastic wrap. Lay the ribs on top, then cover with the rest of the dry mix. Cover with a second piece of plastic wrap, seal, fold in half and place into a Ziploc or plastic bag. Refrigerate in a pan overnight.
In the morning remove the ribs. The dry mix will have transformed into a slurry. Very alchemical! In a sauce pan sauté the onions and garlic with olive oil until lightly browned, season with pepper. Remove the ribs from the plastic bag. Use a rubber spatula to remove most of the liquid from the ribs and plastic bag and transfer to the sauce pan. Add the tomato paste and simmer the sauce on a low flame for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavor if necessary.
Line a large baking tray with tin foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking tray, then lay the ribs on the rack. The ribs can either be cooked in a 350 degree oven or on the “cold” side of a covered grill with the heat on high. Cook the ribs 30 minutes on each side, then baste the ribs with the sauce another 30 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from the oven, cut apart the individual ribs, and serve.