Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Fork in the Road: Beet Greens,Tofu, and Brown Rice

I think of my cooking as healthy because I like to cook with farmers' market fresh ingredients, I don't make elaborate sauces, and I'm careful to minimize fat. But I do cook with eggs, cream, red meat, bread, and lots of pasta. My wife, Michelle, enjoys what I cook but she's looking for a bit of a change. She's decided to try a fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, no red meat, non-caffeine, sugar-free diet.

For me, cooking this way will require adjustments. I'll try my best to make meals that have flavor and keep to her diet. This is a little terra incognita to me and it would be nice to have some road maps. If you have any suggestions, please send them in.

Sautéed Beet Greens with Tofu and Brown Rice

Yield: 4

Time: 45 minutes


1 bunch farmers' market fresh beets

1 yellow onion (washed, peeled, roughly chopped)

5 garlic cloves (washed, peeled, roughly chopped)

1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella (washed, roughly chopped)

1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)

1 pound firm tofu

2 cups cooked brown rice

Olive oil

Sea salt and pepper


Prepare the brown rice first. I use a Japanese rice cooker and the proportion is 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water. Turn on the rice cooker. When the cooker shuts off, fluff the rice, and put the cover back on for 10 minutes.

When you buy the beets, pick out a bunch with fresh looking leaves. To prepare the beets, cut off the beet greens. Clean the beets and reserve to use raw or roasted in a salad.

Soak the greens in water to remove grit. Cut the stems from the leaves. Finely chop the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

On a medium-high flame, heat a large pan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Sauté the beet green stems with the onions and garlic until they are lightly browned, then add the greens and cook until wilted. Stir frequently. Add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Add 1 cup water to deglaze the pan, reduce the flame and simmer 15 minutes.

Taste the greens to confirm that they are tender. At this moment I would add a pat of butter but that's entirely optional.

Pat dry the tofu and make 1" thick slabs, then cut the slabs into 1"x1" cubes. The tofu needs to be heated. That can be accomplished in a number of ways. Personally I like to lightly sauté tofu to add a bit more flavor. In a frying pan, heat olive oil and lightly brown the tofu pieces. If you'd like to avoid this step, the tofu can be heated in a microwave.

Add the tofu to the beet green sauté and gently toss together to coat the tofu with the sauce. Serve with the brown rice on the side.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blackened Peppers Go to the Head of the Class for Versatility

We're at the end of summer and some seasonal vegetables are getting scarce, but happily there's still a bountiful supply of peppers at the local farmers' markets. On a recent visit to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market I saw beautiful examples of red, yellow, and orange peppers at Gloria's Fruits and Vegetables and the Beylik Family Farms stands.

Peppers can be used raw in salads or in a crudité and they're a welcome addition to a stir fry or a sauté.

I've come up with a way of prepping peppers so they're even more versatile.

Grilling Peppers on the Stove Top

To start, simply grill the peppers on top of a gas range, remove the blackened skin, discard the seeds, and put them in a sealed jar where they'll keep a week in the refrigerator or for months in the freezer.

Miraculously overnight the peppers will create their own oil. The peppers can then be used as an appetizer on bread with cheese, in a pasta, or a sauté.

Use a mix of peppers so the result is that much more colorful. As a side note, I haven't had as much success grilling green or purple peppers, so I stick to the red, yellow, and orange ones.

Blackened Peppers with Capers, Parsley, and Garlic

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 15 minutes

To add more layers of flavor, I've come up with a simple marinade.


3-4 red, yellow, or orange peppers (washed, pat dried)

4 garlic cloves (skin on)

1 tablespoon capers (drained, finely chopped)

1 tablespoon parsley leaves (washed, dried, finely chopped)

1/4 cup oil from the grilled peppers

4 anchovy fillets (finely chopped) optional


Lay the peppers on a wire rack on a gas burner with the flame turned up high. Turn frequently so the charring happens evenly. Be sure to char the tops and bottoms of the peppers as well. Let cool on a plate, then remove the blackened skin and cut open the peppers and discard the seeds. Put the cooked peppers in a jar and refrigerate.

In the morning you'll find that the peppers have created an oil, approximately 1/4 cup for every 3-4 grilled peppers. The peppers can be kept in any form you like: whole, quartered, julienned, or diced.

The garlic can be used either raw or grilled. If cooked, they'll have a milder flavor, which I prefer. Leave the outer skin or paper on the garlic and skewer the cloves. Blacken them on an open flame on top of the stove until the skins have all but burnt away. Remove and finely chop.

Toss together the peppers, garlic, parsley, and capers. Return to the sealed jar and keep in the refrigerator.

Marinated Peppers as an Appetizer

Yield: 8 servings

Time: 15 minutes


2 cups marinated peppers (julienned or finely chopped)

1/2 pound soft cheese

Olive oil

Pepper flakes

Sea salt and pepper

Toast rounds or crackers


Perfect for a TV-watching party (Presidential debates, football games, any reality show) or an appetizer with wine before a meal, the peppers have so many layers of flavor, they go well with lightly toasted or grilled toast rounds or even with crackers.

Start with a thin slice of goat cheese, a triple cream, or mozzarella, lay on a strand of marinated pepper, and drizzle some of the pepper's own oil. There are variations to play with: add chopped avocado or scallions or cherry tomatoes or grilled corn...

Top with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.

Add a bowl of olives and a glass of chilled white wine, and you'll have an easy-to-make starter.

Vegetarian Pasta with Blackened Peppers and Garlic

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 15 minutes


3/4 box pasta, penne, cavatappi, or spaghetti (cooked in boiling salted water until al dente)

1 cup pasta water

1 cup marinated grilled marinated peppers

1 tablespoon red or yellow onion (peeled, finely chopped)

1 cup olives, cracked green or kalamata (pitted, quartered)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

1 cup Romano or Parmesan cheese (grated)


Sauté the marinated peppers, butter, and deglaze the pan with the pasta water. Simmer a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the pasta and toss, continuing to reduce the sauce until it coats the pasta. Add the olives and onions, toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper. If you're using anchovies, you won't need any salt.

Top with the grated cheese, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss and serve with a green salad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

I haven't been home for the last three weekends and I'll be traveling the next two as well, but I'm not complaining. It's been good to get out of Los Angeles and break my routine. But traveling means eating out and even if the food is great, I miss home-cooking.

When I got home I wanted to make a meal but I needed to cook something that didn't take too much effort. A rotisserie chicken definitely fit the bill. With only a couple of minutes of prep, I could walk away and let the chicken cook itself. The skin seals in the meat's delicious juices while it crisps on the outside. You get the best of both worlds: moist and crisp.

Whenever I've seen rotisserie masters like Thomas Odermatt of RoliRoti, they always put potatoes and onions in the drip pan at the bottom of the rotisserie. The vegetables soak up the drippings and fry crisp-on-the-outside from the indirect heat. I correctly assumed that a lot of other vegetables could be added to the drip pan and gain a flavor advantage.

If you don't have a rotisserie, no problem. You'll get a similar effect if you roast the chicken in the oven. Just turn the chicken every 30 minutes so it cooks evenly. About the vegetables, I used potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts but you can add just about any you like--eggplant, squash, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, turnips...

Chicken-Roasted Vegetable Soup

And there's a two-fer here: save the bones and make stock, then chop up the left over roasted vegetables or sauté new ones, and make a chicken-vegetable soup. Top with homemade croutons and you have a second easy-to-make home cooked meal.

Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 2 hours


1 farm fresh 3 1/2 – 4 pound chicken ( washed, pat dried, legs and wings trussed)

2 carrots (washed, ends trimmed, peeled, cut into 1/4" thick rounds)

1 yellow onion (washed, ends trimmed, peeled, roughly chopped)

1/2 pound Yukon (washed, cut into pieces 1/2" square) or fingerling potatoes (washed, cut in half, lengthwise)

1/2 pound mushrooms (washed, dried, quartered)

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts (washed, root end trimmed, quartered)

Olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

Sea salt and pepper


Rub olive oil on the trussed chicken, season with rosemary leaves, sea salt, and black pepper. Put onto the rotisserie spit being careful to tighten the wing nuts so the chicken doesn’t slip during cooking. If a rotisserie isn’t available, roasting the chicken in a 350 degree oven and turning every 30 minutes will have a similar result.

In either case, put the vegetables into a roasting pan, toss with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. If using an oven, put the chicken on a roasting rack over the pan. If using a rotisserie, position the chicken on the spit so its juices will drip onto the vegetables.

Every 30 minutes, toss the vegetables for uniform cooking.

Cook for 2 hours or until the legs move easily, remove, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the chicken to let it rest 5 minutes. Put the vegetables on a plate and either lay the whole chicken on top or, what I prefer for ease-of-serving, cut apart the chicken and slice the breast pieces.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Chef's Gathering in Support of Foie Gras

Last week I was in London and Paris, writing an article for Peter Greenberg's travel site. In Paris my friend Randa was my guide, taking me to her favorite markets and shops. My trip was a whirlwind of activity, walking miles every day, taking photographs, eating wonderful meals, tasting chocolates, cheese, and wines, and catching up with Randa.

Paris was wonderful, but I was there such a short amount of time, I didn't have the

time to sit in a cafe, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and while away the day talking.

I knew I was going to bring back food that would memorialize the trip. Stopping in Randa's favorite cheese shop, I wanted to take arm loads of cheese, but I consoled myself with large pieces of Comté and Gruyère. From Le Bon Marché I bought two jars of Rillettes de Canard aux Olives and a large bottle of duck confit. From Goût, Thé et Chocolat near the Marché d'Aligre, a box of handmade chocolates.

Back in Los Angeles, it took me 3 days to get over a debilitating case of jet lag and when I did our friend and neighbor Norm invited me to join him at the Chef Gathering & Tasting Event.

Set up in the open-air courtyard of the Bel-Air Bay Club, the gathering was a celebration of fine food and wine. A who's-who of LA's gourmet chefs were there to taste generous offerings of foie gras from Rougié, Gourmet Imports amazing selections of cheese, smoked salmon and caviar from Universal Seafood, wines from W.J. Deutsch and Sons, Pommery champagne, and Yvan Valentin's petit fours and hand-made truffles.

Following Norm's lead, I filled my plate with foie gras in every form imaginable, duck prosciutto, smoked salmon with caviar, a piece of Puits d'Astie (a sheeps milk cheese from the Auvergne that Gourmet Imports ha

s just recently imported) and a slab of the very runny Snowdrop (a goats milk cheese from Boulder, Colorado

made by Haystack Mountain), petit fours, and handfuls of Yvan Valeni's truffles.

After we found a place to sit, Norm and I had the chance to enjoy the food, drink a glass of Pierre Sparr

Pinot Blanc from W.J. Deutsch and Sons, return for more samples of the foie gras and cheese, and because his good friend Pierre Sauveget (Executive Chef, Bel-Air Bay Club) had joined us, a parade of chefs stopped by to chat. Finally I was enjoying my Parisian experience, albeit only half a mile from our house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sofitel in London and Chef Albert Roux

A major figure in the world of English cuisine, Chef Albert Roux created two signature restaurants for Sofitel at their London St. James and Heathrow hotels. A chef of incredible energy--witness his involvement in many restaurant ventures--he is also a man of exceedingly good humor.

We were enjoying lunch at his Brasserie Roux at the London St. James Sofitel and I had the opportunity to be introduced to him. He was sharing with a friend a samplings of his cheese and dessert service. I explained that I was writing about the Sofitel for Peter Greenberg and that I also had a food web site and enjoyed cooking. He patted my stomach and said that I still had some way to go. I didn't know if he meant that as a cook or as an eater-of-fine food. (I don't remember having a slight paunch when I left LA three days ago.)

Chef Roux's attention to detail has influenced many of the chefs who have worked with him, including his talented brother and son, Michael.

What I found so enjoyable about the meals we had at the Brasserie Roux and the night before at Heathrow, was his light touch. Freshness is all important in his cuisine. The preparation, presentation, and saucing of each dish is designed to pull the best from all the ingredients.

As a signature feature of the lunch service a 4 course meal is offered at all the Sofitel Hotels. Chef Roux's take on the meal is a French riff on the Japanese bento box. 4 plates share a tray offering an appetizer, 2 entrees, and a dessert. Our lunch had a perfect balance of rich (Ballottine of foie gras), spare (Scallops, pea puree), comforting (Guinea fowl with mushrooms and tarragon sauce), and sweet (Lemon tart). Just as the 4 dishes counterpointed each other, so the flavors within each dish were perfectly balanced.

The savory tarragon sauce with chanterelle mushrooms drifted down over the chicken breast and shared the bottom of the plate with a helping of mashed potatoes and sauteed savoy cabbage. After the fullness of the appetizer and entrees, the lemon tart finished the meal on the perfect note.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grilled Corn Salads

Luckily there's still great corn available in the farmers' markets although some farmers have run out.

Summer for me is defined by vegetables: great tomatoes, corn, melons... Our favorite way of preparing corn is simply grilling the ears on the grill with a little olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Eaten on the cob is so delicious but added to salads is also a great way to go.

I posted 2 recipes on Mark Bittman's site, Bitten. One combines the grilled corn with parsley, the other features tomatoes. They're easy to make and go with just about anything. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Word of Mouth: San Gabriel’s Chung King

Finding a new and a great restaurant isn’t easy. I read hundreds of reviews and clip the best ones but they usually just languish in a file. I would never have gone to Chung King but for Jonas Goodman who leads expeditions to new restaurants. Foremost on his list of must-try-restaurants is Chung King, recommended to him by his friend, the wonderful novelist, Nicole Mones, an expert in all things-Chinese.

Not all Chung King’s are created equally. The only one to try, according to Nicole is the one run by Linda Huang’s at her address at 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776 (626/286-0298). The restaurant inhabits a cinderblock building on a non-descript block in San Gabriel. The exterior doesn’t invite you in, which is why the recommendation of a noted author and respected authority on Chinese cooking is needed.

We weren’t able to join Jonas when he led a recent outing to the restaurant. Our visit last weekend was completely serendipitous. We had driven out to Banning to pay our respects to my mom who is buried there. If you have ever gone to Palm Springs, you have passed through Banning, which sits at the foot of the Idyllwild road. My parents moved there when I was in High School and I don’t have fond memories of the town but that’s where my mother is buried, so we make the trip there to spend a quiet moment with her.

My mom used to joke that the most beautiful place in Banning was the cemetery and our last trip there proved her correct on that score. Blissfully quiet, the graves are placed on a broad plateau that sits high above the desert floor. No freeway or town noise reaches this far up into the mountains. Eventhough the dry heat bakes the landscape, the well-watered grass is green around the graves and the trees that surround the plateau stand straight and tall. We shared a peaceful moment with my mom, had a group hug, and then headed back to LA.

We were tired and hungry and debated whether or not we should take the time to stop and eat or just go straight home. We realized that we would drive through San Gabriel so we decided we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to finally try out Chung King.

The advantage of eating with a large group is being able to sample more of the menu. With four of us, we stayed close to familiar dishes: Kung Pao Chicken (#59), Green Beans (#105), Wonton Soup (#31), and Szechwan Shredded Pork (#53). I took a chance with a dish I hadn't seen before, something called Crispy Rice Crust with Shrimp (#77). Frank discovered the pickled Szechwan vegetables on the cold table; he picked the bean sprouts and sea weed. We ordered steamed rice for the table and now we waited to see if the restaurant deserved the rave given to it by Nicole and Jonas.

The first dish was the Szechwan Flavors Cold Dishes. Perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of heat, the sea weed and bean sprouts (with a few slices of carrots and shredded scallions thrown in for contrast) were delicious. I ate them as a topping to the steaming rice. We had barely gotten half way through the large serving when the Kung Pao Chicken arrived, Michael’s favorite. The outside of the chicken was crispy, the inside moist. The caramelized sauce was counter-balanced by the heat of the Szechwan peppers and the barely cooked scallions.

Then the Shredded Pork arrived. Again, the flavors were perfectly balanced, the meat succulent. After our time in the desert and almost four hours driving, the meal was starting to revive us. Then came two revelations: the Crispy Rice Crust with Shrimp and the Won Ton Soup.

Actually called Broth Wonton, the soup was a minimalist version of a won ton soup. No carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, bok choy, or chicken, the soup was as advertised, broth + wontons with a sprinkling of chopped scallions. The soup was lightly spiced with black pepper but was otherwise fat free and clear. The pork inside the won tons was sweet and lightly seasoned. This was soup and won ton wrapper and pork, pure and simple. Each ingredient as fresh as possible, each complimening the other with simplicity. In her novels and food articles, Nicole Mones speaks eloquently about the sophistication of Chinese cooking. The soup was such a good example of what she describes.

And then there was the Crispy Rice. I thought this might be like a Korean rice dish I’d had before with the rice crisped on the bottom of a hot stone pot, but this was something else entirely. A clear sauce, stir fried vegetables—bok choy, carrots, onions, tree mushrooms, fresh bamboo shoots--and shrimp were ladled on top of half a dozen crispy rice cakes. Where the sauce had touched the rice cakes, they had begun to soften, but where they were still separate from the sauce, they retained their crunchy, smoky flavor.

We ate and talked and ate again, the food reviving us after a long, hot day. The meal was perfect for the occasion, because we were hungry and because my mother was famously a lover of Asian food: Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese (her favorite). It was appropriate that we had visited her just before and then eaten at Chung King. She would have enjoyed the meal.

The 20th Annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off

Labor Day Weekend I was one of 18 judges at the amazing Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks, Nevada, I was also covering the event for Peter Greenberg's travel site. The piece I wrote "Ribs, Ribs, and More Ribs," is up now with a profile of two of the cookers (don't call them "chefs"). I hope you'll take a look.

Part carnival and music festival, the Labor Day weekend Cook Off was front and center a celebration by and for people who love pork ribs.

Some days the temperature pushed above 100 and other days the wind picked up, but no matter, everyone was having fun and that means 500,000+ people standing in line to sample the ribs from 24 of the best barbecue cookers in the country.

The weekend was a blast and I'm going to write more about what I saw, how the judging worked, the people I met, the music I listened to, the barbecue sauces I tasted, and the enormously large amount of meat I ate in a four day period.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where to Go, What to Do in London and Paris

A good friend in Paris saw my post asking for suggestions about travel to London and Paris. Randa warned me, "Your request was very brave. You will be swamped with millions of great ideas, and you only have TWO DAYS!!!"

The last time I was in either city was more than 30 years ago. I spent a week in London, a few days in Paris, and four days in Madrid. In Paris I visited Fran, my ex-wife, who had fled the "dullness" of America for the excitement of Paris. Her year in Paris was incredibly productive. She directed a documentary on Salvador Dali, wrote a screenplay, and had the best time of her life. For that trip, the plan was I would see London on my own and she would be my guide in Paris. I don't remember the time I spent in London but what I did in Paris is still vivid to me because I saw Paris through her eyes.

Which is why I am grateful that so many of you sent your recommendations about where to go and what to do in London and Paris. Instead of bringing a generic guide book, having those suggestions is like taking a personal scrapbook with me. I'm looking forward to the trip even more than before. There's so much to see and do, I want to go back and I haven't even been there yet.

I'm posting the ones I've gotten so far. I hope you'll continue to send more. I'll update these lists as more suggestions come in. We'll create our own Guide Book to London and Paris!

About London:

From Susan, "In London there are things I love but hardly unknown things. I love the Covent Garden Hotel. The only danger is that you run into every Hollywood agent you don't want to see. Just across the road, in a tiny and famous courtyard, is Neal's Yard Cheese which you of all people absolutely must go to if you never have. It's heaven. Cheese is a religion there, and it's still a tiny old-fashioned shop. Other obvious things: the Tate Modern, which really is amazing, and specifically the walk from St. Paul's to the Tate across the foot bridge. I just love walking in London basically. Also walking from the Tate to the new Globe. I've never seen a performance there, but just touirng the building is wonderful (for me, anyway).

A somewhat underrated place I think is the Museum of London in the dreadful Barbican. I find that kind of history fascinating. Oh, and the new British Library which has been so derided as bad architecture I think is not that bad at all, and the exhibition room takes your breath away: the actual real Beowulf, Jane Austen's writing desk, the only known recording of Virginia Woolf's voice, first folio Shakespeares etc. etc.

I don't think this is much help, cause I don't have any secrets to offer, but I sure as hell wish I were going. Have tremendous fun."

From Melissa who lived in London with her family for a year, "Some suggestions: I assume you know about the Borough Market. If not, it's open Th-Sat, but Fri (from noon) & Sat (open @ 9?) are the best days.

Vendors I liked:
Brindisa Spanish Foods (they also sell amazing Grilled Chorizo sandwiches with piquillo peppers).
Neal's Yark Dairy
Monmouth Coffee (the BEST cappuccino I have ever had outside of Italy)
Total Organics green grocer (Jamie Oliver is rumored to shop there)
The Ginger Pig (great butcher shop)
Konditor & Cook (bakery) Every bakery there has a thing about brownies - huge mountains of them...I thought K&C's were the best.
The Rake (extremely small pub known for its amazing beer selection)

Marylebone High Street Area:
Marylebone Food Fayre (Farmer's Market) - Largest one in London with about 40 vendors (they think that's a lot) - nice (depending on the season) but small. It's in the Cramer St. Car Park on Sunday from 10am-2pm
The Natural Kitchen (a small market and cafe) River Cottage (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) is one of their suppliers
The Fromagerie - great cheese store & cafe
The Ginger Pig (also at The Borough)
Rococo - chocolate shop
The Providores - Tapas - Spanish by a New Zealand Chef. Downstairs - breakfast, lunch dinner...very casual/Upstairs - more upscale

Ottolenghi - Amazing prepared food & pastries served at communal tables (although the Islington location actually has table service). I love this place (there are 4 locations) - they just published a terrific cookbook.
Baker & Spice - similar to Ottolenghi, but smaller.
Whole Foods (yes Whole Foods). JUST as we were moving back to LA, they opened up a gigantic Whole Foods on Kensington High Street. It is so different than any of the UK supermarkets, and I was very sad that I wasn't really able to shop there. If this market does well (I haven't kept up with how it's been received) it will really change the way London shops for food.
Waitrose - The Gelson's of London. Locations all over London. The one on Marylebone High Street is rather small (they revamped it to compete with the Natural Kitchen) and not indicative of what they stock.

I know this is a lot more than you have time for - but these were my haunts and thought I'd share them with you. I didn't list any restaurants but if you tell me where you're staying, I'll try to come up with some suggestions of places in the area.

Have a wonderful trip!"

From Tom a memory from his semester in London when he was a starving law student, "You have to go to a chain called Wagamama. They're everywhere. I ate at Wagamama almost every single day because it was affordable and delicious. Total comfort food. And the Food Court at Harrod's. It's out of control. You could eat every meal there. Relatively sensible meals at affordable prices."

From my Rhode Island friend Hank,

"London is it?...Hmm, I'd suggest an afternoon visit to the Tate Modern and an early dinner at the River Cafe...

The Tate resides in a converted power station and houses, as the name suggests, a rather extensive collection of "modern" art. It's a hoot and the crowd is youthful, lively and oh, so interested....a fun afternoon.

The River Cafe is all it's cracked up to be....That is a hip, timely, expensive and the place to see and of course eat. It's busy and buzzing with all those who count and is operated by a couple of woman proprietors who take food, cooking and consuming very seriously. I like these "serious cookin'" places and these gals do a bang-up job.

Oh, and if time allows, you might zip out to Kew Gardens, a very interesting horticultural gem not more than 20 minutes by tube from most parts of London. The green house dates from the mid 19th century and houses a world class collection of tropical flora (this place is something like 300 feet long and 3 stories tall-incredible). The grounds (many, many acres) are home to huge collections of....everything that you need to see that grows in the earth and can survive at Kew.....

And the only thing I can recommend for Paris (been too long to remember much) is a mass at Notre Dame...breath taking.

Rock on Mister Latt....lucky you!!!!"

Hank's recommendation of The River Cafe was seconded by Chris, "You have to go to River Cafe--it's a ride out to West London, but it is the epitome of local, seasonal, sustainable 'let the ingredients speak' cooking in the UK."

Sibyl remembered both London and Paris, "How fun that you’re taking a trip to London and Paris. Back when I was married my ex and I spent our first anniversary having dinner at the Savoy in London. It was one of the best meals I’ve had, and the atmosphere was incredibly romantic and classy. The Kirov ballet company was at the next table. So that’s the only thing I’d recommend in London.

I was in Paris last summer with my kids and we stayed in the Latin Quarter where there’s a bakery called Keyser (I think it’s spelled that way and named after Eric Keyser, the owner) that we went to every day. It was amazing. Always a line that moved very quickly. Try anything they make with pistachios.

Have fun!!!"

About Paris:

From Ned,

"About five years ago Helena and I were taken by a friend to an astounding dinner at L'Arpege, Paris. Still dreaming about it. Their strange website: http//

An accurate review:

Valerie remembers a seriously wonderful cook store called E. Dehillerin (18 rue Coquillière, 1st arr., 011-33/1-42-36-53-13). That made me curious about other cookware and cookbook stores in Paris. Online I found Clotilde Dusoulier's 2005 comprehensive survey, "My Paris is Better Than Yours," from MSNBC ( and the full article with other foodie-recommendations: and Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.

From Marii a recommendation for a restaurant she still thinks about,


From Maria Elena who lived and cooked in Paris and so has a great intimacy with all things food in France, "Two of my favorites when I would house sit for my friends Brad and Em, were near their old apartment in the 15th arrondissement: Le Florimond, 19 ave de la Motte-Picquet (at rue Bougainville) 7th arr, metro: Ecole Militaire--great basic French food, wine (says my sister) and the most polite owner around--he greeted, served, and apparently did a lot of the cooking; phone: 01-45-55-40-28.

L'Os a Moelle, 3 rue Vasco da Gama, 15th arr (at rue de Lourmel), phone: 01-95-57-27-27. You need to make a reservation ASAP for this. One fixed price menu for the night, 3 courses, great wine. The 2 sittings are always packed. Last time I was there we had raie (skate fish) in a sauce, pork chop with potato puree, and a chocolate dessert with saffron."

David lived in Paris years ago and even though he hasn't been back recently, he's never forgotten what he loved, "Here are the tourist things worth doing including FLEA MARKETS, take a night cruise on a bateau mouche on the Seine… do not eat dinner… do drink something… Paris lit from the river is beautiful.

Two of my favorite restaurants in the day were Brasserie Le Balzar and the informal patio restaurant at La Closerie de Lilas; I used to get the choucroute at Le Balzar and the steak tartar was great at La Clos; Place des Vosges; Rodin museum; Louvre & Musee D’Orsay; Eiffel Tower; Musee Pompidou and surrounding Beaubourg neighborhood; Ile St Louis with a visit to Bertillon for ice cream; Old Jewish quarter, from there walk to the Picasso museum."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Down and Out in London and Paris

I'd love some advice. I'm taking a trip this coming week to London and Paris to write a piece about upscale business travel. It's been many many decades since I've been in either city. In the meantime I've been clipping newspaper and magazine articles but that's not the same as personal recommendations.

If anyone has a favorite restaurant, farmers' market, specialty market, park, art gallery, museum, public space.....etc. that you think I'd be crazy not to visit, please send me a note.

Happy Birthday, Claire, This Cake's for You, a Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake

Years ago when I was living in Rhode Island, I was introduced to the idea of handmade gifts by friends Hank and Risa. Their gifts were never store-bought. For my birthday one year Risa made a knitted palm tree sculpture to remind me of the California I had left behind and Hank carved an elegantly simple kitchen spoon out of curly maple. Decades later I'm reminded of them and their generosity every time I see their gifts.

I don't knit, nor am I a wood-worker, I'm a cook, so my gifts are far less permanent, but I still think that a handmade gift is more personal and evocative, albeit in my case, fleeting. When Michelle's parents in New Jersey have a birthday or anniversary or I want to connect with my friend-in-food Valerie in New York, I'll make a dessert and send it Express Mail. Double-wrapped in Ziploc bags and cushioned to protect against the transit, the gifts always arrive as a happy surprise. (Only once did a food-gift not survive the vagaries of the Postal Service. When a package of homemade pickles reached Valerie's apartment, the doorman called her to say that a very drippy parcel was waiting for her downstairs.)

For our cousin Claire, we wish we were in San Francisco today to celebrate her birthday. I had wanted to send her a Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake, a dessert that my wife, Michelle, calls my "signature dish." Unfortunately I was laid low by a cold all week and didn't get the cake in the mail. Luckily her dad Ron is a chef-extraordinaire and hopefully he'll use the recipe to make Claire the cake so she and Marii, her mom, can enjoy our gift nonetheless.

Claire understands intuitively the power of a homemade gift. When we visited San Francisco in July, we stayed with them. I happily joined Ron and Michelle in cooking a dinner of farmers' market produce. In appreciation, Claire gave me 2 drawings, a whimsical rabbit and a colorful collage. Like her grandmother, Joanie, and Michelle's dad, Warren, she's a talented artist. I cherish those drawings because what she gave me was a gift of herself and that's a treasure.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

Yield 8 to 10 servings

Time 90 minutes

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.
  • 2. In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.
  • 3. Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, turning the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly. Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place it on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.
  • 4. Just before serving dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.