Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unorthodox Meals: "Worthy of its Rainbow Moniker" Trout

You know how it is when you first move into new digs, the kitchen is usually the last thing you unpack and replenish. Especially when there are colorful art supplies to arrange, clothes to arrange and all your favorite photos to place around your new space. The pantry suffers until exhausted from your efforts you realize suddenly on a Sunday afternoon that you are hungry.

I had made a trip to the Farmer's Market for greens but hadn't gone much further and was living on salads for a week when I realized I would finally have to go shopping the next day but alas wasn't ready to put on the shoes and make the trek to a local Whole Foods yet on a grey, gloomy beach afternoon. I finally opened the freezer to see what bounty a close friend had brought over to hold me over and found an odd assortment of things: frozen fiber bagels, some stir fry veggies, a whole turkey leg, a piece of rainbow trout and some jars of exotic condiments.

Rainbow trout! I have never really been a friend of trout. I think the last time I ate a piece it was seriously smoked and laid on a bed of greens at lunchtime years ago when I worked for an insane artist who had a penchant for dry fish. I wasn't really impressed and usually am a bit of an embarrased snob when it comes to filets of the sea, preferring salmon and halibut and scallops and shrimp and other bizarre bits. But I was determined to try and make something glorious with the glowing pink steak and ended up making something that was worthy of its "rainbow" moniker.

My Midwest mother raised us on dishes where every protein on the plate could easily be mashed in a pile with the veggies and potatoes and cream sauces that seemed to accompany everything so that the whole mushed together bite would deliver a delight. I am proud to say that this meal qualifies in that realm as well, albeit in a signature to Southern California way.

Rainbow Chutney Trout and Green Beans

Cut a beautiful one inch thick filet of trout from the middle, most wide portion of the steak.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of crudely diced white onion, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh mango, salt and pepper and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Let sit for ten minutes so the flavors have a chance to meet and mingle.

Oil a piece of tin foil and place the trout filet on it and cover that with the chutney mixture. Pull the tin foil up and pinch at the ends so it makes a nice little boat for the fish but leave a hole open in the center for steam to escape.

Separately, fill a baking dish with green beans. Chop up two cloves of garlic and throw them in the dish around the beans. Throw in three pats of butter and sprinkle rosemary on top from three long, fresh sprigs. Salt and pepper to your liking.

Put the trout and the beans into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes and voila! The trout comes out beautifully moist with a sweetness accentuated by crunchy onions and exquisite cilantro scents. The beans get all shriveled and crusty with the fragrance of rosemary. Put on a pretty plate and enjoy! My mother would be proud...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Manhattan Beach Greek

In early September I made my annual trip to Burning Man and the theme was Rites of Passage. For me, this held particular meaning because the moment I came back from the ten days out on the Playa I moved right into my new home in Venice Beach. I had bought a bike for the Burn and settled into my new home with the intention to begin bike riding again regularly. I made a vow to use my car as little as possible, instead biking when I could to go about my daily life. One of my friends who I met at Burning Man is a man named Ray who coincidentally, I came to find out, lives only a four minute bike ride from my new place. Last weekend, he helped me begin my new biking goal by taking me on a 22 mile round trip ride along the coast from Venice to Manhattan Beach.

Riding along the coast was interesting as we passed the cities of Marina Del Rey, El Segundo and Playa del Rey and watched all the weekend revelers on the sand. Fit young things playing beach volleyball were interspersed with the RV set who plopped their chairs in the ground around smoky smelling barbecue grills. Serious speed roller bladers whizzed by me as I pedaled feeling the long lost muscles in my thighs become rejuvenated. At the end of the jaunt, Ray rewarded me with a meal at an upscale Greek restaurant in Manhattan Beach called Petros., which touts itself as serving Hellenic-California cuisine.

We had to power our way up the steep road from coast to the restaurant and by the time we arrived, locked our bikes, and took our seats, I was ready for a nice glass of foreign red and a healthy meal to accompany my new healthy, physical routine.

An open air atmosphere and serene beige interiors weaving the in and outdoor seating areas were dotted with simple, peach and light pink lead crystal candles on the table centers. It was unadorned and elegant, just like the simple bread basket filled with nice olive studded dark and sweet, sesame crusted white slices, upon which we spread a garlic and fava bean spread from a pool of high-caliber olive oil.

Lucky for me there was a special peach salad of the day in honor of the fruit's fresh seasonality. A crisp white plate appeared with five plump, grilled shrimp surrounding a magnificent bed of arugula towering atop diced, moist peaches. The arugula was mixed lightly with olive oil and manouri cheese  so that it became a fluffy, creamy and peppery dream in each bite that mixed perfectly with the room temperature, perfectly ripened peach chunks. The charred bite of the shrimp added to the salad, blending into the perfect combination of juicy, light and tangy that my taste buds were singing for. It filled me up but was light enough to give me fuel to head the 11 miles back home afterwards.

Ray had traditional chicken souvlaki and the menu boasted all the regular Grecian fare from spanakopita to lamb kebabs, but it was this special salad that impressed me and will have me going back for more. I could easily get used to this 22 mile ride with a delicious pit stop midway to rev up my body's fire.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garden Topped Margherita Pie

Tea With Iris' spokesmodel Elle in one of the company's new upcycled bows!
Yesterday I was visiting the desert for some business meetings and had an hour to kill between them. I have been missing my beautiful friend Leslie of Tea With Iris and her garden that used to provide my weekly doses of homegrown goodness. So, I gave her a call and she invited me over for an impromptu pizza lunch.

The beautiful thing about having a garden in your backyard is the multitude of additions you can throw onto a Trader Joe's pre-made, frozen margherita pizza. 

Ours was topped with diced yellow squash and new, ripe, gloriously-purple eggplants freshly plucked. 

Diced red tomato provided a nice crunch and after the pizza cooked on went chopped up pieces of fragrant basil, cilantro and arugula!

The end result produced extremely pungent, crispy, crunchy, and cheese-gooey slices of wonderful pizza pie to enjoy our catch up time alongside!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Just Like Momma Made It" Spanakorizo

Last night a dear friend of mine contributed a native dish to a potluck I attended and I loved it so much that I took the leftovers for today's lunch.

Panos is a filmmaker from Greece and he made creamy Spanakorizo, a traditional side dish served in every Grecian home, equivalent to mashed potatoes or rice pilaf or any Midwest casserole in America. Those side dishes are not so glamorous to us foodies who were raised on them, although when it comes to hankering for home cooked comfort foods they are often the dog-eared and grease stained recipe cards we turn to for a belly full of yum and nostalgia for mom's cooking.

When Panos came to America he remembers having to call his mother constantly for the recipes of his favorite foods. I recall my sister and myself doing the same thing to our mother upon fleeing the coop, items such as Swedish pot roast, tater tot casserole, creamed peas and salmon patties and scalloped potatoes.

Paired with a sweet eggplant spread-stuffed turnover and a can of Name Tag Lager, the rice tasted even better on day two. It will definitely be a go-to for me in the future.


Buy three bunches of spinach, 1 bunch of scallions, a can of tomato sauce, and 1 cup of rice.
Bring water to a boiling point, and boil the spinach for 5 minutes, then drain.
Saute the scallions in olive oil.
Add two cups of water to the scallions.

Add the rice, spinach and tomato sauce.
Bring it to a boiling point and then turn down to half.
Cover it up and let cook for 25 minutes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unorthodox Meals: Sinless Squaw Sandwich

Squaw bread is a beautiful thing. Dark and rich, it's typically made with unbleached, whole wheat and rye flours, yeast, milk, butter and not much else. My latest purchase of a loaf came from The Breadman, an L.A. based bakery that specializes in all natural artisan breads and pastries. They add a tiny bit of honey and brown sugar to create just the slightest hint of sweetness to the taste.

It is the bed of choice for one of my favorite sandwiches that includes all the right textural ingredients for a blissful mouthful. Creamy, crunchy, and popping with bursts of juice!

Sinless Squaw Sandwich

Cut two slices of squaw bread from a fresh loaf about half an inch thick.
Spread a layer of lowfat ricotta cheese on one slice.
Spread half of a soft avocado on the other slice.
Stud the ricotta layer with sliced, ripe cherry tomato halves.
Grab a handful of leafy artisanal lettuces and pile on the avocado side.
Salt and pepper to your liking and fold together.

Friday, September 9, 2011

In Praise of Farmer's Markets

I am a firm believer in buying fresh and local foods in support of our farmers, organic producers and overall environmental factors that favor fresh and sustainable seasonal eating over transportation waste, energy usage, packaging, manufacturing, and fare chock full of bizarre chemical preservatives.

It used to be that people were weary of eating organic because they thought it cost more than a regular grocery store but today with the advent of weekly farmer's markets, it's easy to buy your weekly food for fractions of the cost you would pay on similar items in the grocery store that factor in travel from farm to store shelf as well as employee labor into the mix. Plus, you get the best tasting food because it is grown, plucked and delivered right to your neighborhood market as it is grown, when it is in season, and while it is fresh.

Today, I visited the Venice Farmer's Market in my new neighborhood with a veteran shopper and new friend Jacquelyn who owns the organic, herbal elixir company Chakwave and spent $58 dollars on enough food for a whole week. Times four, that equals $232 dollars, a fraction of my old monthly supermarket grocery bills. Sure, I will have to supplement my bounty once in a while with things like salt and pepper and other staples, but I am thrilled to eat what is readily available and to know that every week will be a treasure hunt of what is ready for the eating and a creative new approach at daily recipe creation.

But it's not only about the cornucopia of the food. It's about the relationships I will build with the farmer's and sellers and the dialogue about food and interesting ways to use it that will come into play that excites me.

Today's bounty was not about merely shopping, but about getting to know the sparkle of the individual vendors and discovering items and new ways to consider their usage.

This included:
-a leafy head of kale for my thyme-tinged omelets, for baking olive oil spiced kale chips and for sprucing up a salad with crunchy texture
-pungent cilantro for salsas and slaws
-plump blackberries to pluck at random from the fridge for snacks or to blend into probiotic rich smoothies
-enormous heads of garlic
-sweet baby red onions for tacos
-gluten free, moist cookie squares adorned with chocolate chips and peanut butter made with love by opera singer Sonia Kazarova
-a bunch of yummy goodness from the cute boys at the Greek booth including eggplant turnovers that are great sandwich substitutes, greek feta cheese in a tub of oil, large balls of falafel for stuffing into pita with hummus, and tabouleh salad for refreshing side dishes
-bags of pinolas and filberts to accentuate fruity mixed green salads
-a long stick of rosemary to rub on roasted chicken and new potatoes
-a round loaf of dark squaw bread to pull chunks from for dipping into soups and various vegetable dips
-starter pots of swiss chard and collard greens for planting in the garden accompanied by directions by the passionate seller on what conditions to grow the goodness within
-clean, cool, and juicy radish sprouts from ther Jazzy herbalist who sticks to his sobriety program by playing music to his various sprouts with love for sprinkling on hearty tomato, ricotta and avocado sandwiches
-Korean pickled daikon and tempe for sprucing up vegetarian dishes and stir frys
-brown sticky rice to eat with the fingers for snacks
-robust yellow squashes to slice and then simmer in olive oil, salt and pepper with a crust of blackened parmesan cheese
-beautiful and massive peaches to slice up for dessert with lemon juice or creme fraiche
 -and a cup of hearty brewed and bold coffee to enjoy the beautiful morning while shopping

I am not sure I will ever enter a conventional store again.