Saturday, June 30, 2012

Venice Beach Whine

I am always on the lookout for good neighborhood wine bars; the kind you can walk to on any given night where the wait staff comes to know your name and which remain relatively obscure enough so that out-of-towners stay away. I really wanted Venice Beach Wines to be this place for me because it’s so close to my home and it’s tiny and cute, spilling out of the entry room of a renovated beach bungalow.  About a year ago I had lunch there and was delighted by the wall upon wall of wines and the open kitchen where chefs made pressed sandwiches and small appetizer type foods to accompany the grapes.

I convinced the Cute Gardener to try it out with me on a recent Saturday night after we had a strenuous day so we walked over hoping for some cheap eats and a nice glass of vino. Clearly, it’s a neighborhood place but unfortunately the entire neighborhood’s population seemed to be there. (Of course, I later found out it’s always this packed.) There are only about twenty real places to sit on the cramped patio butt to butt and elbow and elbow. While we were standing waiting for a seat, we watched two glasses crash down because of the overpopulation. The waitresses were very accommodating, and I could sense their niceties were constantly apologetic barters due to the lack of space. For those who like to feel part of a scene and don’t mind it very loud, this is the place to be. But for people like me who like to hear what my companion is saying while simultaneously savoring the experience, not so much. It was very hard to relax. 

I tried a 2009 Barbera that was light bodied and spicy with hints of maraschino followed by a lavish 2000 Tempranillo from Spain. Both very good and structured but, as the CG remarked, it was nothing we couldn’t find from Whole Foods down the street.

Which was exactly where it seemed they were getting their goods, as throughout the evening, chefs and others staff members were running in and out of the patron area to the street to procure and bring in more supplies like bread, oil and wines. With very little room to the place, it makes sense that they would store things off site or run to a store down the street to replenish their wine list as the night goes on but it seemed to happen so much and looked like a lot of effort for such an itsy bitsy place. I mean, I wondered how they were turning a profit.

I opted for a lambwich for dinner which was a super scrumptious pressed panini-like thing with real, good lamb meat spiced up by a dusting of exotic herbs and curry powder but they skimped, unfortunately, on their yummy, version of smoky, chipotle-esque tzatziki.

The CG said his buffalo (yes they have buffalo burgers) was indiscernible of taste between the buns as the patty was studded with other stuff he couldn’t ascertain.

A final cochon, aka fondue-ish pot of caramelized onions, fontina, arugula, parmesan and shallots (hey, we kept trying to like the place by trying more things) was absent of the menu’s touted charcuterie and instead brought out with a half loaf of dry baguette. The cheese had already hardened and it was almost impossible to spread.

I am not apt to try this place again, especially since it will probably grow ever more crowded as the new mixed use buildings along Rose Avenue across the street become more and more populated over the next year.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fantasy Fried Chicken, Finally

In this week’s Los Angeles Times, amongst the many things written about prolific writer Nora Ephron upon her passing, came the tidbit that she was a passionate foodie and cook in her private life. So much in fact, that she wrote a cookbook – one typed and bound in old fashioned spiral fashion which was never for sale but used as a gift for all of her cherished friends. Although she indeed spelled out many of her favorite recipes, the one for fried chicken read as follows: “Everyone loves fried chicken. Don’t ever make it. Ever. Buy it from a place that makes good fried chicken.”

I disagree with her on both points. Not everyone loves fried chicken. I didn’t for the past two decades of my life. Until recently, the last fried chicken I had eaten was a cold, drumstick in thick, buttermilk batter at a beach side picnic with my aunts and uncles as a child. It forlorned my palate due to its soggy delivery at the tail end of a day when the adults were too busy drinking to realize that the quality of the dinner wasn’t prime and I had a bad taste in my mouth ever since for the famous dish. My second try was later on at KFC and I don’t think I need to explain the gross monstrosity of gristle and fat that I received there to forlorn me even more.

But when I first met the Cute Gardener (who frequently chooses a food and proceeds to try every variation of that food he can find), he was on a fried chicken tour so I began to tepidly try a bite of each kind that would end up across the table on his dinner plate. Of the places we’ve gone so far, the honey syrup laced version I had last weekend was my favorite.

But nothing in the world compares to the fried chicken he makes at home. Part of the reason he is on a fried chicken tour is to try and find a version that bests his own. For a typically modest man, you know the chicken is THAT DAMN GOOD when he even admits to something like this. I had it a few weeks back and am still waking up in the middle of the night wishing I had it for a cold, midnight snack.

I am not allowed to say what’s in it. So here is my recipe for fried chicken a’la Ephron cookbook style:

“Find a partner who knows how to make it better than anyone else and seduce him/her so they’ll make it for you.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Good Ship Lollipop for Adults at MB Post

There’s nothing like a scrumptious lunch waiting at the tail end of a long bike ride to motivate the legs to keep on moving through the crests and troughs of oceanic headwinds on a summer Saturday.

The Marvin BraudeTrail stretches along the California coast from Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes, only jumping off the beach once to snake its way around the Venice Beach canals adjoining Marina Del Rey. The full loop is 43 miles but this past weekend, the Cute Gardener and I decided to tackle eleven miles at its mid-section from Venice to Manhattan Beach.

Manhattan Beach tends to be a little Stepfordian for my tastes but we were on a mission to try MBPost, the self-proscribed “highly soulful and personal” restaurant created by Chef David LeFevre of Water Grill and Charlie Trotters fame. I was not disappointed.

A friendly atmosphere permeated the place accentuated with blocky, wooden interiors, a full bar, and down home-style food elevated by the Chef from standard, Southern comforts to gourmet, feel-good brunch.  I ordered two of my items from the hand written choices that were added to the menu that morning due to daily inspiration and whatever is ripe and available.

These have taken the favorite biscuit spot on my list for now. Scone-like and gooey with cheddar cheese, butter, bacon chunks and chives and served with a whip of honey butter, they were right up my alley. The CG mentioned that they weren’t really biscuits and wondered why everything had to be covered in such sweet sauces and syrups. He actually may have said something like, “What? Are we six years old where everything has to taste like candy in order to get us to eat it?” Even though he did like the place, it was clearly more geared to the six-year-old little girl in me than the cantankerous, curmudgeon in him.

My salad was a peachy, little pot of stone fruit slices with a nice touch of honey and mint and crushed ice on top. The pluots added a bit of tart to the overall sweetness.

Super yummy, and again a bit sweetened with honey, fried chicken that had a batter of dense yet not dry, flavorful crust.

This sandwich made me swoon. The softest bread ever, verging on pretzel, but not quite and earthy, doughy and yeasty within. It sandwiched a fluffy piece of burrata, a zesty green olive pesto and roasted red pepper. It came with massive chips.

There is also a nice artisan cocktail list, and the CG had one, but I was afraid of getting pulled over for a BUI. Yes, those do exist, as I came to realize when I saw the sign near the marina that they would be performing a checkpoint later on. Biking under the influence is apparently a common crime in these parts with all the Jimmy Buffet style revelry that takes place in all the fish joints near the piers and docks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Not-So-Nicoise Salad

Maybe it was due to our plan of seeing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus before eating dinner that inspired me to take a stab at a spaceship-sized platter of nicoise salad. It also coincided with my mission to make every single recipe out of Dorrie Greenspan’s Around My French Table for the Cute Gardener over the next few years. As I walked around Whole Foods on a Saturday afternoon gathering all of the ingredients, I was feeling rather earthy, hearty, and ready to take on a mission the size of a planet for this classic, countryside meal. Of course, when we arrived home post-cinematic experienced, I realized rather quickly while compiling the ingredients that I had completely forgotten to buy the most important ingredient: the nicoise olives. So I ended up compromising for the sake of hunger and laziness to making a large country vegetable platter that doubled as a salad when you picked and chose your mixings and threw them all into your own bowl together. And because I seemed to be propelling my inherent Lucille Ball genes into action on more than one tangent, I also realized while cooking that I had only photographed one page of the recipe from my boyfriend’s cookbook thus leading me to seek out my Julia Child recipe to patchwork with the Greenspan one creating an even ever more so bastardized version of the salad. It was still quite good.

4 entrée-sized servings

8-12 small potatoes such as baby Yukon Golds or fingerlings
¼ pound green beans trimmed
4 hard boiled eggs
4-6 handfuls Boston lettuce, mesclun or other soft salad greens, rinsed and dried
1 shallot, freshly chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Double recipe of Everyday Vinaigrette (see below)
2 5-6 ounce cans of tuna packed in olive oil
10 grape tomatoes, whole or halved
2 tablespoons capers
8 anchovies

Put the potatoes in a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender about twenty minutes and then take out and put into a bowl to cool.

Toss the green beans into the pot of remaining water and blanch until crisp, tender, around 4-8 minutes. Drain and dunk into cold water to set their vibrant color. Drain, then pat dry.

Toss the beans with the shallots, spoonfuls of vinaigrette and salt and pepper. Toss the tomatoes with a spoonful of the vinaigrette. (Halving the tomatoes works best I discovered because if you don’t, you don’t get the juices mingling on the plate and this is a dish where mingling makes everything better.

Arrange the lettuce on a large plate as a base. Place the potatoes in the center and arrange a mound of beans at either end of those. Put mounds of the tuna at regular intervals around the plate. Halve the hard boiled eggs and ring the plate with the halves sunny side up and a nice curled up anchovy on each. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the entire thing and then scatter the capers on the whole thing. Let sit for a while so that flavors mingle and the salad comes up to a nice room temperature. Serve with bowls so that people can grab what they wish!


I chose this vinaigrette for this salad because it has mustard overtones in it that work well with the vegetables. It can be used for a myriad of salads and is one of my “go-tos”.

1 tablespoon of wine vinegar (red or white)
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sal and fresh ground pepper

Put all ingredients in small jar, cover, and shake vigorously until blended.

The leftovers kept quite well overnight in the fridge so we learned that they made a great base for a nice runny egg accompanied by some toasted olive bread the following morning.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euphoric Raw Food for a Red, Ripe Heart

Once a week I take my bike for a long morning ride to a regular meeting and on my way home I lock it up to a stake outside a place that I have developed a serious feel good crush on: Euphoria Loves Rawvolution! Yes, that is really the name of a restaurant. I know it may sound hippie dippie and strange but there is no mistaking the serious caliber-above-the-rest ambiance and food at this amazingly seductive place. It has all the best things about a yoga girl without the hoodoo voodoo sense of flakiness some may veer away from in the new age.

I have had serious addictions to health food joints before like my old desert haunts Native Foods, Palm Greens, and Luscious Lorraine's but this one has currently stolen my fickle heart with its penchant for real, authentic quality of ingredients and exquisite, NON-health food tasting health food greats. And it's ALL RAW. I know I am in lust when it takes me an excruciating amount of time to order because I want everything right then and there. I never order the same thing and probably won’t until I try every single thing on the menu. If health food could be called comfort food for the body, joints and bones, this place would win the golden seal.

I always walk in and sit on a stool at the very same place in the middle of the space where a wooden bar lets me sprawl out with a book pulled out of my purse and even plugs for my laptop when I am feeling like getting a little social fodder for my short stories.

They have an amazing array of salads, soups and wraps that you won’t find anywhere else. My favorite bowl of greens is this version bursting with seaweed, kale, sesame seeds, tahini and cashew cheese tofu. It seems small but I walk away full, tanginess on my tongue.

They have special drinks, boosts, shots and elixirs that contain secret ingredients like superfoods, tonics and tinctures. Today, after feeling a little bit spent after last night’s solstice rituals I performed with friends, I was seeking a little extra support for my heart, which is currently in full love mode for the world and those I hold dear. I asked the waitress which one would provide my blood a healthy dose of circulation and she pointed to one on the menu. But when she actually delivered the ripe, ruby red little potion to me, she whispered in my ear that she had concocted a special one for my bursting aorta that was not on the menu but that she felt would be best for my desires. It tasted like the pulp of some heavenly, angelic fruit.

Today’s surprise was this Italian pizza made on Rawvolution’s famous onion bread, of which I was lucky enough to discover the recipe online and will definitely be making at home someday when I decide to finally purchase a dehydrator. The dense, cracker like bread, savory with onion flavor came topped with fresh sunflower seed cheese spread, sliced mushrooms, green olives, sun dried tomato sauce, and bits of lettuce. Each bite was a slice of healthy ambrosia.

I left as always hankering for more. I always intend to eat a slice of one of the many dessert cheesecakes made from things like natural cacao, maca, goji and others nutritious sweets in the deli case near the cash register, or at least a dollop of their vegan gelato. But the small sized entrees are perpetually deceiving as they get you properly full without the added promise of extra body weight.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vendome: A Secret Wine Tasting Home

"Let’s go have some wine before dinner," the Cute Gardener said to me last Friday night as we were headed out for supper at Sweetsalt Food Shop in Toluca Lake. But instead of a winery or some cute, boutique bar, I found us turning into the parking lot of a liquor store called Vendome.

Oh, I thought, we are participating in a wine tasting, I see. But this was no ordinary wine tasting either.

Inside a well-stocked and rather impressive regular old liquor store sat a normal looking square bar with chairs on all sides and an island in the middle. Five others were already bellied up sampling options from their note cards, which they were busy checking off boxes and circling things upon. When the bartender walked over to us, the CG said, “I see you’ve lost some hair,” to which the bartender explained that he had recently shaved a beard that had hung down to his chest. This all made me realize that I now knew why my boyfriend drove all the way to Toluca Lake to buy his wine. Where else could you find a bar in a store that provided tastings in such a cool fashion.

And by that I mean this. They give you these cards that have a front and back. The front shows you all the wines that are being featured to taste and how much they cost per pour. We were celebrating Italian Wines that evening so I chose a few baritone-voiced reds. The backside had wines that were still left over from the tasting the night before, where you could now sample them all for a dollar. This was cool because even the pours from the previous night that had been 4 or 5 dollars per pour were now only a buck. For me, luckily this meant trying some nice French Rhones that were right up my romantic palette’s alley.

Then once you are done tasting you are offered all the bottles on the list for a discount price, an easy 4 – 10 dollars off they would normally cost had you just walked in and chose them off the shelves. I walked away a happy girl with three more reds for my collection, which I have now come to define as founded strongly in sexy, feminine Frenchies and hot, bullfight worthy Spanish and Italian reds.

Plus, they also offer you cheese to go along with the cracker and bread basket they give you for free. The cheeses are $2 a pop and you can pick your variety from a big basket of wrapped wedges. We discovered and fell head over heels for green, sage cheddar this evening alongside safe, familiar favorite Brie.

Another great find by my man, who I am pretty sure at this point I would even follow to the moon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In Praise of the Local Taco Shops

Due to the large population of the Hispanic community in Southern California, you are pretty much guaranteed to find a great, cheap, down and dirty taco shop in just about any town you search for one. Not a plastic bench-seat and colorful-walled fast food joint mind you, but a place where food is made authentic and served up fast by those who really know what they are doing, just as if you were ordering from one of the corner food carts or wooden picnic bench outdoor places in the heart of the country itself. The best ones are typically basic counters with the usual bevy of combination plates on the menu, an island full of peppered and pickled hot mix vegetables and salsa varieties from low fire to high, swirling horchata machines and deli cases with some beer where you know you can eat a filling meal for about ten bucks. This isn’t gourmet food or fusion fare found in the high class Oaxacan restaurants or even standard sit down entrees like chili relenos or tamales, but convenience street food meant for a quick bite like simple, carne asada and pork meat tacos, burritos dry or smothered in ranchero sauce, tortas (meat sandwiches) and sopas (buns covered with meat, lettuce and cheeses).

Growing up in Southern California*, these taco shops have always been fixtures on my foodie landscape. Two hard shell tacos filled with shredded chicken meat, rice, beans and a bowl of crispy chips with verde sauce have passed my lips hundreds of times in the last decade.

I always enjoy it when I find one of these shops that goes above and beyond to offer something a little special and indigenous to the particular area it resides in or to the owner’s heart. A recent journey through San Fernando landed us at Tortas Ahogadas Las Originales where I enjoyed the novelty offering of BBQ pork tacos Mexican style aka two wet corn tortillas smothered in BBQ sauce (unlike American ideas of BBQ, this meant Heat rather than Sweet) and filled with copious amounts of shredded pork.

The tortas was filled with nice charred piece of beef and the usual toppings you would find on a hamburger.

A deli case offered many dessert treats like flan, rice pudding, jellos and fruit and the counter above it promised various kinds of frutas frescas, something I don’t often see in places like these, which basically mean all kinds of smoothies and sodas spiked and adorned with fresh fruits.

Our entire lunch was $15.  

*In honor of the Southern-California bred Mexican (by association) in me, here is one of my all-time poems by Sandra Cisneros: 


You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all
through the next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I'd let go the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
Maybe. Maybe

For you.
You bring out the Dolores del Río in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The mariachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona, in me.
The Pandora's curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocaust of desire in me.
The Mexico City '85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccíhuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustín Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.

Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the kitchen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,

like it or not, honey.

You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Acapulco cliff diver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The ¡Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in your light. Oh,

I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
the primoridal exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporal and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.

Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Piñón. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible.
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,

I invoke you.

Quiero se tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Atarte. Amarrate.

Love the way a Mexican woman loves.
Let me show you. Love the only way I know how.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bogey and Bacall Made Us Do It

The historic theater district in downtown L.A. has seen much better days; when ladies and gents thought nothing twice about going to the drycleaners in a seersucker suit then sauntering over to a coffee shop for a simple egg cream before a night at the cinema amongst lavish, burgundy curtains, crystal chandeliers, baroque French décor and 1,999 other guests dressed to the nines. Long gone are those days now that we have the cookie cutter, personality-devoid strip mall Cineplex where the most fancy piece of garb on a patron will be the buttoned up shirt on an usher. But this past week, the historic Los Angeles Theater on Broadway (now closed most of the time, sitting amongst a resurgence of old-architectural gems-cum-hipster lofts) opened its doors to screen the classic noir Bogey and Bacall flick The Big Sleep as part of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s annual program Last Remaining Seats.

So the Cute Gardener and I decided to make a proper night of it. And what would a night for us be without the eternal hunt for new space for our perpetual foodie trysts? We wanted a place that was intimate enough for a few glasses of wine and some bites to eat but that could also easily double as a rendezvous joint for the likes of a real dick and dame, such as the two we would watch later on film. After an illicit drink at King Eddy’s Saloon down the street, (thank you Anthony Bourdain for turning us on to that great dive bar!) we upped our ante towards a little more class and strolled into the cobalt blue walled French wine and cheese bar Mignon.

 A little plate of 50/50 was calling our names: rich and varied olives for him and warm, salty powdered almonds for me and a little sharing of the two in between.

At six o’clock we were the first ones there, which was great as we were able to put in a healthy order of small plates before the onslaught of after work happy hour women who quickly filled up the remaining few seats around the central, and solo, rectangular hearty wooden bar. The CG joked about the place being so clearly a chick joint and I retorted that the $5 priced nice red Rhone was as carnal as his sarcastic heart. We quickly devolved into 1950s noir speak from there as we racked up a bevy of dishes to eat and I crossed my legs to up my coyly flirtatious, yet alluringly mysterious, yet highly acerbic and intelligent game.

He turned into a master gentlemen on the adjoining barstool able to swirl his swish of white wine around like a belle around the dance floor and clever enough to remark on the plethora of nice legs while watching the liquid ones run down his glass – as detached and aloof as Phillip Marlowe. 

“A little lubricant for your loaf?” he asked as he passed over a nice little sliver of bread.

Two glasses down, I welcomed the sexy, tawdriness of that remark and smiled mischievously as the next dish arrived looking exactly like the Cheshire cat. Two beautiful eggs baked side by side with leeks and cream and toast points.

“A little pitter for your patter?” he continued, as a perfect plate of radishes and two rambunctious carrots was set before us completed by a small pot of creamy French butter flecked with fleur de sel.

“A little meat from your mate?” I shot back, while cutting a slab of chunky pate and spreading it onto a crispy, doughy slice to feed into his mouth.

Before leaving, and true to form amongst our newfound surroundings, we enjoyed the Chef’s choice dessert plate. Every real woman knows that all things that end well do so because of the final exclamation of a cherry on top and this escapade came with two halves on a creamy bed of goat cheese with a leaf-wrapped sister and a honey drizzled brie, all luxuriating like my taste buds on the final slices of warm baguette.

Leaving through the double glass doors, I took one last sidelong glance at the cursive letters beckoning others into the place; my seat filled quickly with a couple who had been waiting, and as fast as Romeo could say Juliet, we were off to the theater.

He whistled while we walked and I, beside him perfectly content, whistle wet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rick's "Not So Verde" Chile Verde

“I am making a huge batch of my chile verde,” my friend Rick said to me on the phone, “and I want you to come over on Wednesday night to try it out.” I know by now that when Rick calls, I go a runnin’. So far he’s made me exquisite salmon and I’ve made him birthday carbonara. We have a ping-pong supper club for two where we eat, drink, and share spiritual insights towards the “searching for meaning” journeys we are both on.

I know by now that when Rick cooks, he makes a bounty of food so I decided to walk to his house for this feast along the Venice Beach shoreline to Santa Monica at the perfect time when the sun was setting along the watery horizon. It took an hour and a half of blissful thigh burn to get there, which made me primed for his take on the classic Mexican dish.

According to Rick, his “Not So Verde” Chili Verde (like all of his other wondrous dishes) does not come from a recipe card noted with specific quantities and measurements because he doesn’t do it that way. He prefers to encourage others to experiment, which he believes is the true joy of cooking for an individual’s unique palate.

Rick’s “Not So Verde” Chili Verde

Start with a lean cut of pork, a shoulder roast or a loin, cubed into bite size pieces. Soak it in beer overnight. Any Mexican beer will do.

Chop up a large, sweet onion and sauté it. Throw in a couple cloves of diced garlic and add a couple large cans of crushed tomatoes.

Buy four to six EACH of poblano, yellow, jalapeno and any other chiles that strike your fancy. Roast and peel them and throw them into the tomato sauce.

Drain and dry the cubed pork and brown it on all sides and dump it into the pan.

Add a little cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Throw a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar in. Throw in a couple cans of El Pato brand Mexican hot sauce and a bottle of La Victoria chunky salsa verde.

Lastly, throw in two large cans of roasted and seeded Ortega Brand green chiles. Slice them lengthwise before throwing them in.

Cook it down until you like the way it tastes.

Rick also makes his famous refried beans to accompany this dish. Start by cooking finely chopped bacon and sweet onions and then throw in a can of pre-cooked pinto beans. Salt and pepper to taste and mash to a pleasing consistency.

Make a big pot of the chile verde and keep some in the freezer because it gets tangier and saucier with each heat up. Serve with warmed up tortillas, your choice of queso, avocado slices and the refried beans.

We ate ours with a little Negro Modelo followed by champagne, rice pudding and caramel flan custard. Ole!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Apples That Fall Miles Away From the Tree

When I was born my *mother oftentimes joked that I must have been the result of an unconscious affair with a foreign milkman because my palate was decidedly non-American. I always preferred Indian and Middle Eastern fare to American white bread and casserole culture. And when I was in my early twenties and on my own, my palate happily lapped up the discoveries of international cuisines, collecting new favorites in Thai, French, Italian Mediterranean and many more.

So when my own daughter was growing up, with that American girl palate that preferred red meat and potatoes, I always made her partake in the “one bite rule” wherein she had to taste everything at least once before deciding whether she liked it or not. This is what led her to like things like sushi and Thai sticky rice and some other dishes that she would never have known about had she not tried.

Recently, I hoped to introduce her to my love of dim sum. Whereas I grew up knowing things like tator tot casserole, Swedish pot roast and scalloped potatoes and ham were considered comfort food to my family, the more my palate explored as an adult, the more comfort food for me shifted into the doughy, steamed and sweet world of the Chinese. 

So this past weekend while my daughter was visiting, the Cute Gardener and I took her and a friend into the bowels of Los Angeles’ Chinatown for a dim sum brunch at Ocean SeaFood Restaurant. I could tell she was way out of her familiar zone as we walked up the red, ornate staircase to the place where large, tanks of massive crabs and lobsters and other shelled sea creatures welcomed us with waving claws and tentacles. 

We started rapidly ordering dishes from the carts of the more tame variety like chicken and pork filled sweet and savory buns, bok choy, honey and walnut shrimp, pork shu mei, and various other stuffed dumplings. My daughter and her friend took a few bites of a few things and then spent the rest of the time enjoying the chatter of the carts, the swirling patterns of the place and people watching the other diners. Even though they enjoyed the scene, they were too mystified to want to eat.

I loved the place, and stuffed myself more than normal. Dim Sum is something that should only be eaten about once a year to truly engage in the experience and appreciate the food that arrives in mass doses. 

I realized that I have always been a person who feels more comfortable in a crazy, swirling, Chinese place then in the hearth of an American restaurant where things are more familiar. For me, disappearing into the atmosphere of an entirely different culture has always been a joyous thing; one in which has fed my lifelong feelings of being foreign in my own world.

*My mother reads this blog, and nine times out of ten she will leave some comment or call and leave a message on the phone. “You are brave,” she will say; or, “Glad I am only reading about your adventures and not eating them.” This past week, her quote was: “Sushi and sausages, gross! What’s wrong with a good old fashioned potato?”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Playing with Links, Logs and Wieners

Because I have an eternal lust for sausages and after experiencing a lovely Austrian sausage meal by Chef Bernhard Mairinger at Bier Beisl earlier this year, the Cute Gardener and I decided to recreate a sausage tasting together at home. After a little research we discovered that Mairinger buys all of his sausage for the restaurant from Continental Gourmet Sausage in Glendale so we decided to take a Saturday trek for links.

The deli was a serious place and aside from the crazy woman who ran in while we were there frantically demanding “gooseberry” jam, it had just about everything anyone would look for when trying to replicate an authentic German meal. Sausages galore, various lingonberry spreads, raspberry jelly candies, all the brands of European chocolates and yogurt based treats, dense marzipan roll cakes, mustards in various grains, and hearty, rye and rustic breads. They only take cash or checks though which is a little odd in this day and age but good to know if you are going to drive all the way to Glendale.

We chose our loot consisting of the following sausages:

Gelbwurst (veal)
Blood sausage
Swiss Bockwurst (Weisswurst)
Debreziner (Hungarian spiced wieners)
Kase Krainer (Swiss cheese stuffed sausage)

and ventured home.

On night number one, we decided to cook links and try each out with various preparations.

For the fragile and subtle Weisswurst, we chose to prepare a slow boil of leftover chardonnay, vermouth and white wine vinegar studded with onions and carrots. Once simmering, we added the plump white logs and covered to slow cook.

For the Swiss cheese stuffed variety and a wiener, we decided to toaster over them into a crisp outer plumpness accentuated by juicy innards and laid them in a bed of carrots and fava beans to roast.

We then made a mustard sauce the GC found in his French cookbook normally used for veal kidneys that turned out a hit for the evening.

Simple Instruction for this sauce that would be good over a variety of rich meats:

Melt four tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add two shallots that have been peeled and minced till soft. Stir in ¼ cup of cognac then six tablespoons of heavy cream. Lastly, stir in about three to four tablespoons of Dijon mustard to your particular taste. 

We understood after a few minutes of simmering the Weisswurst why Chef Mairinger had painstakingly slow simmered the sausage in a bath of soft milk. Ours split and popped open in an unfortunate moment causing the poor thing to look like some poor, circumcised…. well you get the idea.

Not prone to reject the runt that still probably offered us a good taste, we served it side by side with its better looking brother and decorated it cosmetically with the mustard sauce.

We also simmered another of the Hungarian spiced wieners in a broth of ginger ale and gin. It cooked nicely enough but was wrinkly and less exciting then its relative that came out of the toaster oven.

The lesson we learned this evening is that sausages take a certain amount of care and cook really fast. The carrots and favas from the toaster oven had to be pan, flash sautéed to catch up with the rest of our meal at the end. We also learned that the grainier sausages and the ones stuffed with cheese, are much better grilled, baked or toasted, while the more fragile ones with the dense and fine grains are better slow simmered and cared for with kid gloves. And that everything tastes good with a hunk of pretzel bread.

On evening two, we decided to skip the cooking and have a little cheese and charcuterie. We created a great starter salad out of artisanal lettuce, butternut squash chunks, chia seeds, champagne vinegar, walnut oil, and the reduced remains of the carrot-onion broth from the weisswurst sausage simmer the night before.

Cold, leftover slices from the night before’s cooked sausages, adorned the plate around freshly sliced circles of the blood and Gelbwurst sausages. With grainy mustard on Cuban white bread and rye sourdough, it was fun to mix and match the meats. I favored the dark and dirty blood while the GC favored the pale, clandestine veal; not uncommon for our puzzle pieced palates.

And of course, as is customary to our evenings in, we enjoyed some good cream and blue cheese and a magnificent bottle of pinot alongside the meal.

We ate like Viennese royalty for two nights straight for a fraction of the price of any similar restaurant. I am definitely a fan of seeking out the cuisine of different cultures, not in the grocery store, but in the delis and small businesses run by people who not only know and present the authentic food, but also who charge the respectable prices.