Saturday, September 29, 2012

Simply Swordfish

I don’t know why I have always been afraid of swordfish; must be the long razor-esque nose and the fact that as a kid my step-father used to always order it at fancy restaurants – an automatic repellant for a teenage rebel who wants nothing to do with the culinary choices her parents make.

A week ago, though, I inherited two fat swordfish steaks from a friend who had overbought the amount of fish for his Saturday college football party and was heading out of town, therefore looking for someone who might do some good with the leftovers rather than throwing them out as waste. 

I decided to treat them like regular old steaks and was quite pleased with the results, learning that a quick sear and a respect for the fat layer surrounding its flaky girth was the best way to prepare the meat. With no adornments, I laid the steak on a piece of foil in the hot broiler for three minutes per side. Then I took one pat of butter, mixed it with some Italian spices from my favorite spice store, and set a dollop of the compound whip on top of the hot steak and let it melt naturally and ooze over the edges. Three collard leaves chopped and sautéed in olive oil and a fourth cup of diced onion was the only side dish I needed. A squeeze of Meyer lemon across the entire dish provided a last touch panache that tied the whole meal together with an undertone of blended tang.

Salty, savory and hearty, the dish changed my mind about swordfish and the ability of white fish in general to be dense, rich and comforting.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Much Ado About Dining


A few days ago that lovely cartoon started showing up all over Facebook. As a person who is just as tired as the next person of social media’s role in the massively inflated expression of people’s most inane moments and trivial thoughts, I couldn’t help but laugh. As a person who edits an online political magazine, I could relate to the sadness in the idea that there are probably mass majorities of our human population who would rather watch Food Network than stick their noses into a newspaper’s global political section for longer than a headline glimpsing second. As a food blogger, it made me feel a bit defensive and led me to explore the reasons I like to share my food experiences with those of you who like to read about them.

I turned into an official foodie while in Italy with my daughter in 2005. I was amazed to see the families (even with small children) who would dine at outdoor restaurants in the streets for hours until midnight, kids falling asleep on their chairs, and parents on their second bottle of wine, three amazing dishes of food later, with laughter ringing throughout the air. Nobody was rushing home to do homework, or get to sleep so they could get up at six to run to their cubicle in the rat race. No, they were enjoying life and each other’s company over great food. I came back changed and started to make food an elemental part of my overall life in many ways: the cooking of it using only fresh ingredients, the discovery and eating of it at restaurants all over the culinary map; and the enjoyment of food as a way to bring friends and loved ones together in otherwise busy lives.

Today, for me, dinner with the Cute Gardener has become a sort of tuning fork in my life, where I return over and over to find the place that grounds me most. Ritualistic in nature, these moments signify for me, a steady lamppost in an otherwise crazy life. Some people have church, their weekly book club, their date in front of the television set; but my life is held steady by the meals I share with my mate; my one true thing in life to rely on that calms my otherwise turbulent waters.

To further accentuate the metaphor, each dinner date provides an interesting port to dock my ship and escape the ordinary journey for a safe, haven of respite and fortification. The ritual begins by choosing a place. Our most recent outing takes us to Ado, a rustic Italian restaurant that resides upstairs and downstairs in a tiny yellow, seaside bungalow in Venice Beach. We keep a list of places we want to go and check them off when completed. This particular restaurant has been on my list for almost as long as we’ve been dating because it is nearby my house and every time I walk by on my afternoon stroll, I wave to the chefs hanging out the back bottom porch while the kitchen comes to life. They always have a smile for me while they ash a break-time cigarette or lug a barrel of cooking oil up and into the kitchen’s folds.

Sitting down across the table from each other, we always start with a clink of our glasses, eye to eye, in a silent toast. Then the strategizing begins: scouring the menu to find things that we want to eat the most, followed by a sharing of our choices, followed by a plan of how to order them knowing that half of all my items will end up mid-meal on his side of the table as he finishes what I can not. At Ado, it is no different as we choose for starters a Dungeness crab, salmon roe, Valencia orange and wild arugula salad alongside a wafer thin branzino carpaccio platter rolled with a hint of sea urchin and splayed like a translucent flower. Each picking at the dishes until complete, we usually have one kind of wine each and take turns sipping whichever is better for each dish, trading glasses of white back and forth between bites.

When the fast talking Italian waiter brings us our pastas we switch to bolder reds to accompany the starch and the dark meats. This time we eat most of our own plates; his a homemade red beet tagliolini with marsala quail ragu on top of taleggio cheese fondue (of which he will swirl my fork with a hearty sample somewhere in the midst) and mine a ravioli stuffed with beef tenderloin and black kale on tomato sauce and topped with sage brown butter. I take time to savor the rich and tiny squares as he finishes his plate and then promptly send it to his side while the waiter brings us another glass of red to share and tops it off at almost a two glass serving with the rest of the bottle in his hands. People seem to get generous when they see us sharing. Still hungry, I watch him eat a main of wild boar, taking a moment to spear a few bites of the flavorful meat myself. The dim candlelight, tables almost stacked right on top of each other, and the cool breeze coming in from the window that mingles with the hot inside air all combine with our casual chatter about our work week, the movies we wish to see, the tastes that are accompanying dinner in a brand new place, the scent of the wine, and the smiles that start to come over us as we relax into the last dessert glass of Moscato. 

For me, writing about food is more than showing the world what I ate for dinner. It’s one of the only things I do in life purely for me, not motivated by vocation, need, or a means to make an income, but simply bred from the joy I find within the act of doing. There are not a lot of things in life that stem from that spirit of pure, unbridled passion; things that we engage in merely for the sense of glee it brings. It’s not heavy, nor light, but somewhere in between in the land of fortifying hobbies and the bridges between our dreams that keep us afloat, lofty-hearted and engaged.

I know there are numerous things to be serious about in life and as an artist and writer by trade I do my fair share of living and breathing within those other poignant realms. What I love about sharing the art of cooking and eating is that it reminds me that I am also old enough to know that balancing both the fluffy fun and the sternly profound is the key to true fulfillment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rawgasms with Cashew Cream Exclamation Points

Yes this is a piece about my favorite palace of food porn; but not the cheap and tawdry, big breasted, Pamela Anderson-esque, boring all American fruit and pound cake version. This is the alternative food porn for those, who like me, have discovered and fallen into deep-seated and hot lust with the world of raw food.

This is an appetizer and basically consists of dried coconut strip jerky covered in curry that you then dip into a puffy swirl of raw cashew mayonnaise that I could slurp up by the spoonful all on my own. I actually run my fingers around the tiny silver bowl when done to get every last drop. There’s something about the way these raw food cooks use nuts to emulate fat and cream but in a way that also incorporates a hint of sweet that holds the key to my heart.

For the past year I have wondered how a restaurant could possibly even get away with having a name like Rawvolution Loves Euphoria!: touting themselves cockily as a place where bliss can be found! But then to my utter surprise I will end up falling into the deepest of heartache over and over again for the food. I have not had the same thing twice and that’s a huge feat for me. I usually find something I love and never go off it, and here, even though I LOVE everything I try, I still know that I am going to love the next thing so much that it has turned me into a constant daredevil.

The first thing I did a few weeks ago, after getting back into my little sea bungalow from a nomadic summer, was hop on my bike, head to my raw heaven, take a seat, get a kiss blown to me by the always friendly wait staff while receiving a glass of room temperature, refreshing cucumber water and look for something yet unexplored.

Sometimes the pad thai is made with zucchini ribbons but since that season is gone it was made with bursting, translucent kelp noodles. The sauce was a decadent almond cream and every bite burst in my mouth like a dose of ambrosia tossed with bits of red pepper, sesame seeds, faux egg that is eerily like uni, and long meaty rivulets of fresh, coconut meat.

I ordered way more than my stomach could handle and then I ate every single bite. It’s just like Chinese food in that you can eat a whole plate of something and get full and ten minutes later be hungry again and eat another bowl of something else. And you also think you are eating an outrageous load of calories but then in the end realize that the actual lack of them makes you just want to weep with joy.

Dessert made with all the nectar of raw nature like cacao, peppermint oil, agave, and spirulina but tasting like the most delicious chocolate and minty cake. Only denser and more filling!

Because I am a poor artist and writer, I only get to eat here once a month if that and it occurred to me while writing this entry that I can not continue to write about the same place so repetitively. So, I have decided to learn how to cook raw on my own so that I don’t have to withhold my desires, or the sharing of them with you, and was very happy to find a starter website with recipes that seem on par with my favorite place. 

I am sure you will be seeing them pop up here now and again as I learn the culinary secrets that drive us modern day, probiotic, super-food seeking rabbit types wild.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

French Country Vinaigrette Warms My Inner Francophile

I was at a very multicultural barbecue in Santa Monica recently. My Indian friend grilled some tandoori shrimp and tender chicken and offered jars of exotic licorice-like palette cleansing bits. My Michigan-bred, all American friend contributed the Spanish wine. A European actress toppling on high heels and batting her eyelashes contributed some stinky French cheese and crusty baguette slices. A pair of French siblings fried up some samosas and popped the sparkling white wine. I told them I had always wanted to visit the South of France, the smaller the countryside area – the better, and that I was a lifelong Francophile and that’s when all hell broke loose.

“You wouldn’t like it as much as you think,” they both told me.

The brother continued, “The people in the villages are not very welcoming.”

My American friend jumped in, “The one time I traveled to a small French village, I walked into a church where they were doing a traditional dance and they literally stopped and stared at me.”

“That hasn’t been my experience,” my Indian friend chimed in.

“Just don’t tell anyone you want to go there and you won’t have to hear negativity like this,” the French sister advised.

I hadn’t said a word since my original admission of always wanting to visit the South of France but sat there and watched the opinions fly. My innocent love of a cuisine and landscape had unleashed an odd stream of bile.

I was a little disconcerted by the way everyone was so quick to feed into the global perpetuation of cultural stereotypes and I like to believe that experiences in life shouldn’t be pre-projected but rather lived in the present from which conclusions can then be made. I also have never been one to buy into generalities about any person or place until I have actually been there myself and interacted one on one with the people there. Because of this, I have never been prone to these experiences that others warn me about but instead usually have meaningful exchanges that lead me to rub my head in baffled wonder about whatever these others are constantly warning or talking about. Maybe I am just lucky, or maybe we have the kind of experiences we imagine ourselves to be having because we create the outcomes by our original thoughts.

In any case, I wanted to rid the bad vibes so the next night I decided to make my favorite quickie French countryside-inspired meal, based on a classic dressing used in restaurants all over France that I turned into an adornment for a nice salad and a chicken dish. It’s my go-to comfort food meal that always warms my belly with good feelings.

I buy the French Countryside Vinaigrette starter from Penzey’s Spices, one of my favorite spice stores for its wide selection of creative starters, rubs, and spice combos from all cultures. The vinaigrette starter is basically a mixture of sugar, crushed brown mustard, salt, garlic, Telcherry black pepper, lemon peel, onion, French tarragon, chives, white pepper, thyme and rosemary. To make one dressing portion, I put two tablespoons of the mix into one tablespoon of water and let it steep for five minutes. Then I add 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar (you can also use red) and ½ cup of good olive oil and whisk the whole thing until blended.

For the salad, I halve about 20-30 grapette tomatoes and place in a shallow bowl with a sprinkling of ¼ cup of chopped, fresh basil. Then I pour about ¼ cup of the vinaigrette over the whole thing. Mix well and place in refrigerator. About ten minutes before serving, I will take this out, sprinkle a tablespoon of crumbled feta over the top and let it come to room temperature.

Pour the rest of the dressing in a small, glass, square, baking dish. Take ¼ cup (per chicken breast) of your favorite seed like pepitas, sunflower seed, or the like and sprinkle it into the dressing mixture. Then take a thawed, boneless skinless, organic chicken breast (or two) and swath it into the marinade, coating it on both sides fully with plenty of the seeds on the top to create a coating. Marinate this covered in the fridge for at least an hour. Then place the whole thing into a preheated 375 degrees for 20 minutes. When it’s done, spoon any extra dressing from the bottom of the pan over the chicken and serve.

I ate alone with a nice candle and some lavender tea and mentally toasted my two American, gay male friends Bruce and Tommy who have been living in the South of France six months a year in a barnlike home for the past 20 years with absolutely no problem.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cafe de la Fin du Monde Feeds the Soul On and Off the Playa

Sometimes all you need is a good cup of coffee in the morning with a good friend to put your life into perspective. Last weekend I landed back at home after a nomadic summer that produced many strains of deepening within me. One of the more memorable things that happened within my psyche was the realization of those who were in my life who truly loved me, those who were only in my life when I made the effort, and those who were in my life to somehow suck off of me. It’s amazing what occurs when you become uprooted and your only sense of feeling grounded comes from deep within your soul; and how that small sense of independence fortifies you for the truths you learn to the point where you can’t imagine living anything but truth going forward.

Upon returning home I was invited over to my friend Puma’s Den for a cup of coffee and to catch up at the tail end of both our summers. He had just returned from Burning Man where he had volunteered to fund, construct and manage Café de la Fin du Monde: a café serving free coffee to the Burners out on the Playa day in and out for ten full days. 

Anyone who has ever been to Burning Man knows that there is a huge difference between having a service camp and just going as a regular. It takes a special person to decide to devote their time to offering up free goods that benefit the other campers’ overall experience under the sweltering sun and blinding dust, requiring thankless, selfless and payless work. Having been there myself, I know that I have a special appreciation for these people who will suddenly appear on a street corner at midnight to offer up a fresh grilled cheese sandwich after you’ve been living on the tail end of your beef jerky rations for two days in a row; or the chorizo burritos on the second to the last morning that you wait behind 100 other people for, hoping the supplies don’t run out before you get up there, hungry for the taste of anything other than the metallic bottom of your thermos that has been emptied of fruit juice or whiskey for 24 hours, reducing you to your last gallon of water.

The people who run and volunteer at these camps are special and always surprise you with a smile as they hand you whatever edible they have to share. My friend Puma fits that bill and this year, Café de la Fin du Monde, which was a part of the French Quarter Camp and sat front and center right on the busiest corner of the Playa, delivered over 500 cups a day from sunrise to sunset. Anyone who brought his or her own cup over was treated with a freshly ground, dark roasted bean brew.

It was good to be served a few cups of this coffee and to learn about his experiences there, the way he had the most fun while meeting all the people who walked up to his counter daily from all over the world, and how grateful everyone was just to get this one, simple thing in life.

As I was leaving he gifted me with a brand new French Press. His third eye must have been working because I had just jotted the words French Press down on my list of things to buy as I moved in to my space again.

I write all of this now on my comfy couch, resettled into my space with basic necessities unpacked as Bravo continues to run teasers about this season’s Housewives of New York shows. I hear these girls, all of the age to be more mature than what they express, fighting, backstabbing, obsessing over clothes and plastic surgery and staying young and getting money and I laugh at the thought of any of them having any kind of authentic experience in life. I think of the things I have learned over this summer while on the road and the true colors I was shown in my world of close friends and how I have embarked on the conscious weeding of unconscious people from my circle.

Thank you Café de la Fin du Monde for further fortifying my soul.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Caviar Martinis and Curried Squid Ink in the Land of Spoiled GIrls

When my best friend told me she loved Petrossian’s (and that she’s been to both the one in Beverly Hills as well as the one in New York) I should have known it was going to be a girlie place. She’s the type of woman who always has perfect nails and perfect poise and an insider’s bluebook in encyclopedic detail in her brain when it comes to finding the perfect champagne – lady’s lunch – boutique experience on a dime. I know because I have been on many of these jaunts with her. Granted, I am usually the only one dressed in black and she’s usually flecking things like paint and lint off my clothes as we walk through pristine, polished glass doors at these place that remind me of aquariums. 

So when the Cute Gardener and I decided to go for dinner at the Beverly Hills location last week, we were both a little bit like fish out of water. But we had a reason: this particular place isn’t only white and regal and queen-like feminine, it happens to have a menu crafted delicately around the almighty ingredient caviar. That’s right, the regal fish roe appears in at least one half of the menu’s offerings from drink to appetizer to entrée.

We had signed up for a caviar class, which I will no doubt be writing about in a few weeks, and had received free blinis…

…that coupled with the CG’s desire to try their burger on his Los Angeles burger hunt (which he thought was very good) had us sitting across from each other on a random Wednesday.

We basically had the whole place to ourselves save for two women in their 20s who couldn’t stop complaining about how miserable their lives were and how they were tired of their cheating and lying men while dripping in gold and sipping a $100 bottle. We, on the other hand quite less monetarily endowed yet enjoying each other’s company, splurged on $18 caviar martinis that went perfectly with the blinis. They were speared with a trio of caviar salt cube, caviar stuffed olive and a cocktail onion. Nothing quite like salty pearls on the tongue with a swish of cold vodka down the throat.

It’s definitely a place for girls with means who want quick, luxurious lunches mid-shopping, society dames and those who crave old fashioned sounding dishes like caviar egg tartines and egg royale (a decadent and fluffy looking egg pie that arrives on a silver plate dolled up with both caviar and crème fraiche and that I spent a good deal of time ogling so I can recreate it at home.)

But it also pleased a quirky, artistic foodie like me with a one-time meal that I will remember even if I am not prone to return for another. My big pile of “oddly adventurous” (the description I heard about this dish from two different people) squid ink pasta floating in a shallow pond of delicious curry and topped with a generous amount of briny uni seemed to be created for just my funky palate.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pizza, Pizza in Echo Park


We’ve been on the hunt for a decent Chicago-style, deep, dish pizza for a while now and this past weekend, we finally found one that sated my fancy.

Growing up, my family’s tradition was to go to a place in the desert called Paoli’s on Friday nights. The family run joint was next door to a famous gay bar and my sister and I would spend the half hour or so it took to cook our deep dish sausage pizza by sneaking outside and over the fence along the gay bar’s perimeter to try and peer into whatever holes in the wood we could find to spy on what we thought was surely a hedonistic paradise. Of course, what we typically saw were cowboy booted and vest-wearing men with funny beards and girlie drinks. By the time the pizza would arrive hot and piping, the back of my tongue would start to tweak with the tang of anticipation I knew only a Paoli deep dish could bring. The slices were the size of a plate and thick with salty, dense crust that was perfectly buttery, toast-like on the bottom and wet on the inside. The tomato sauce was spare and more like a few whole crushed tomatoes sprawled along the yeasty hills and valleys. The cheese was stringy, pure mozzarella hanging down from the teeth, lips and tongue between bites and out of control. I could never eat more than one slice but breakfasts all weekend consisted of leftovers cold.

I had real Chicago deep dish over a decade ago and couldn’t even get through one half of the slice and I also learned then and there that Paoli’s was a half-breed; not quite authentic Chicago deep dish but far removed from any other version of pizza that I had ever known.

This same bastardized deep dish is what we found in a place with a Japanese name (that actually does mean “dough”) in the beautifully artsy and blue collared neighborhood of Echo Park at Masa Bakeryand Cafe. We entered the restaurant's bowels and found a dark, low-lit, nicely padded womb that resembled my grandparents' old Southern California Brady Bunch-style home. A bar stood front and center surrounded by tables covered in both red checkered tablecloths and mint green Asian florals further punctuated into the surreal with kitschy silken flower arrangements and black and white films without sound flickering in the corners on television screens. The wait staff of pony-tailed and beard-gruffed hipsters was aplenty as they rushed around delivering bowls of steaming meatballs and liters of cheap Chianti to tables where everyone seemed to be waiting for a deep dish.

We only ordered other items from the extensive menu because we were hungry and anticipating our Italian sausage pie that would take 45 minutes, or so we were warned. This consisted of a large, bulky deconstructed Caesar bowl of loosely dressed romaine, a garlic-studded sliver of toast and bacon slices. The bread was a large, hot globe with a knife sticking out of it – homemade.

When the pizza finally came it actually tasted a lot like Paoli’s to my delight plus had a lovely disk of thin and flavorful sausage to chew apart. Sated, we carried our leftovers down the street to the car past a lovely sunset coming down over the high rise apartment buildings with everyone hanging their bits and dinnertime cooking clamor out the windows into the end of summer’s humid and pregnant, moistened air studded with juicy, dewy clouds.

It ended up being my kind of Sunday supper and I even got leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

P.S. We didn’t anticipate Masa having a liquor license or anything beyond cheap Italian wines to soak up the robust red foods so we stopped for a happy hour glass at City Sip down the block beforehand. The slate consisted of some nice bold reds and I had the Rioja. The Cute Gardener got to a try a Testarossa pinot that had been on his list. But the star was our happy hour five-dollar caprese slider dish which came with two small versions on the traditional Italian starter only slid between two grilled, crunchy baguette slices.

Monday, September 10, 2012

David Lynchian Dinner Diversions

My favorite things about David Lynch films include but are not limited to:

…characters going out in a normal, everyday fashion only to be side swept onto some surreal journey through the underbellies of humanity.
…the gritty old school joints a’la dirty diners, grease-floor slicked delis and dive bars with semi-macabre/vaudeville, aged and melancholic backgrounds.
…the slightly lewd and lascivious secondary characters that populate the aforementioned travels.
…the always cheeky ingénues.
…the often pompadour-coifed or subversively clean-cheeked beaus of said ingénues.
…the way you secretly want to crawl into these worlds and disappear for an afternoon.

…which is sort of what the Cute Gardener and I did last Thursday after innocently enough just going out early for a burger at the tail end of an ordinary workday to escape the presidential convention onslaught that had besieged us already all week on television …

We started out by visiting Golden State on Fairfax in Los Angeles for their Thursday night lamb burger. Not bad with a decent glass of pinot for a burger joint. The Greek salad that accompanied was really good with juicy capers in the mix. The guys at the counter appreciated the CG’s SPAM tee-shirt, commenting that he’s surely got good taste in meat and even though the only other guest in the house was a famous rapper and his entourage (I know my daughter would laugh at me for this because I always see famous people that I know are famous by sight without knowing who they are by name), the place quickly filled up to brim while we were seated to serve a diverse assortment of the eternally hip peppered with the unassumingly normal.

We took a left hand detour when leaving rather than going straight to the car to Canter’s as I am hard pressed to pass up the opportunity to buy some rugelach from a Jewish deli counter when I see one. Like stepping into a time warp on cheap, hundred years waxed over tiles, there were the same old men eating pastrami in the vinyl booths that may have been there forty years before. I ordered two each of the tiny pastries in fruit, nut and chocolate versions for later and we were on our way.

Before reaching the car we walked by a senior living center where it seemed the entire population were perched in their wheelchairs watching us young-uns stroll across their three feet of line of vision as if we were far more interesting than another year of political news coverage in their lives.

Then a mysterious staircase leading nowhere.

Then driving through West Hollywood on our way to the freeway, we were distracted by the lure of BevMo sales and ended up in the bowels of a parking garage where an elevator delivered us to deals on my dark blackstrap molasses rums and the GCs cognac.

We noticed that one of the old bastions of old Hollywood movie star hang-dom was on the corner so we decided to stay for a drink. The Formosa looks like a Chinese restaurant from the outside but from the inside appears more like a dim, Palm Springs-retro, gay cabaret club. Smoky red light, plush red vinyl booths, and walls plastered with famous people of yesteryear, it is dive-y in that ultra glam way that makes you want to sit on a stool and watch individual dramas ensue as the night goes on and the drinks go down. We ordered a round drinks while perusing the menu and noticing a bizarre assortment of Chinese mixed with American cuisine. The bartender and waitress seemed to be caught up in a passive aggressive flirtation the entire time we were there which provided some entertainment as we decided against our better judgment and ordered a plate of Landmark Ribs. A huge pile of meaty bits was put before us tasting like day old slabs of meat splashed with ginger water. But we still bought a second round because we discovered there was a cocktail list and it had things like a Marlene Dietrich on it. Always a sucker for anything slightly Lucille Ball-esque, I opted for the honey, gin and lemon rich Bee’s Knees (one of her favorite phrases).

Arriving home much later than originally expected, we managed to bypass the droning on of more speeches and settle down with our dessert to catch Jon Stewart’s humorous take instead.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Prostituée d'Oeuf

The Cute Gardener's favorite cherry on top of his signature rice hash.

Yes, that’s right, I am an avid egg whore … and an easy one. All you really need to do to float my culinary boat is to stick a softly fried egg with a runny yolk on top of pretty much any plate of food and you will watch me melt along with the bright yellow ooze that accentuates the positive in just about any dish.

But the lust doesn’t stop there. I go equally gaga for nicely quartered, hard boiled chunks in a warm nicoise; disks super fried in bacon grease on any breakfast sandwich; fluffy poached and runny on beds of artisanal lettuces or Lyonnais; truffle oiled and deviled coldies; diced into a curried egg salad on moist, fresh bread with pickles; stuck to the rice caramelized on the innards of a Korean bibimbap hot pot; in a pile of fluffy yellow, scrambled with lemon thyme; quail-sized and raw in aphrodisiac, shot glass form at the tail end of an exquisite sushi supper; or swirled as a final touch into any bowl of freshly made and steaming pasta.

Omelets are perfect for leftovers, in this case it was diced red pepper pesto chicken.

And of course, nothing is as sublime as the concept of the simple omelet that can be made for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In one of my all-time favorite television shows from the BBC, Gavin and Stacey, the mother of one of the characters is famous for whipping up omelets every time a guest arrives. In English style, hers are flat and filled with a thin layer of cheese and nothing else. In France, they are made purely with eggs (and don’t you dare cause any part of it to become brown) and then adorned with a chunk of cheese, typically Brie or some other creamy version, and a sprig of herb. Here in America they are traditionally stuffed to overflowing with vegetables and other goodies. I love them all.

Today in the Los Angeles Times, one of my favorite female chefs Nancy Silverton from Mozza, wrote an article about the perfect frittata with some excellent tips on cooking one. I think it may become my next food test obsession in the kitchen because unlike thick, quiche-like versions that I am used to, hers are touting a thin, soft base for toppings almost like a pizza.

I can easily think of ten other foods that I love as much as I love eggs but the lovely, ovular globes may just be one of those foods that I would put into my top five list of things I would choose if I could only eat five things for the rest of my life.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Elevated Leftover

Growing up, we had a saying in our household “even better the next day.” It applied to leftover food and covered everything from day old popcorn to mom’s famous casseroles to her meatloaf that was simply stunning in cold slabs on sourdough bread for our brown bagged school lunches. As an adult, I am still a big fan of the takeout container in restaurants, as I tend to frown upon the concept of leaving waste on a plate that will get dumped in the back when there are so many hungry people in this world. But the one thing that has changed in my habit of keeping my spare food for the next few days is the way I eat it. Instead of just heating it up, I tend to find a fun, foodie challenge in creating an altogether new dish out of the contents provided.

For Labor Day, the Cute Gardener and I did our traditional thing of going to a Chinese Restaurant for the holiday, a ritual we started in San Francisco on the 4th of July. Being raised by a mother who cooked Chinese often, as her parents had owned a Chinese restaurant in her youth, he doesn’t feel the need to seek out the cuisine as much as he likes checking out his favorites of French, Japanese and Italian so we relegate it to the events when everyone else in the nation is celebrating American-style.

We chose Newport Tan Cang Seafood in San Gabriel. A typical Chinese, family style restaurant of which we had heard about their signature whole fried lobster and crab but when we arrived we were disappointed to learn that the dishes were steeped in hot chili peppers. So instead of ordering what everyone else in the world seems to visit the restaurant for (by the end of the evening there were at least thirty people standing in the parking lot waiting for tables), we opted for other items on the menu that we thought we might like.

The deep fried noodles with broccoli and beef were tasty but the sauce was overly thick. It seemed like all the dishes like this, aside from the monstrous crab and lobster plates that came gleaming from the kitchen, were merely an afterthought, which was unfortunate.

The whole steamed cod (although we think it may have been red snapper) was delivered with full glossy eyeballs and authentic style, except mostly a spiffy fanfare of bones, tail and skin lacking a substantial amount of ginger and green onion steamed meat to pick.

We had wanted to try the elephant clam but after learning that it cost over $100 a serving, we stuck to the squid with broccoli, which was good but a little bland.

We were served enough food for a small army so we ended up taking the squid home. That’s where the redemption came into our entire experience and where the beauty of utilizing leftovers with panache began.

Although it left us a bit unsatisfied on the spot, a few evenings later, the CG ended up throwing the leftover squid, broccoli and sauce into a new pot of his own special broth with udon noodles and furthermore garnished with quartered, hard boiled eggs and made a fusion dish worthy of the money we had spent.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Seduced by Soup: Thomas Keller's Vichyssoisse

The clock struck five and I still sat at my makeshift desk in the Cute Gardener’s house trying to painstakingly choose the last of fourteen colors that would make up the hue palette in my new art series, obsessively hunched over a computer poring through paint swatches from different manufacturers that would match up in an antique vein with the old washes on antiquated tarot cards, and I was taken away by a particular scent in the air.

Behind me in the kitchen, for who knows how long, the CG had been busy chopping and dicing as he is prone to do when the clock hits dinner preparation time, and now the most glorious fragrance of boiling potato and leeks was filling the air.

I recalled coming home from the grocery store earlier in the week with a pint of heavy cream that he had warned me not to touch for my morning coffee. I then had a flash of the hearty-stalked leeks he had picked up at Whole Foods. A potato had obviously come out of the cellar beneath his stairs. And now a food processor was sitting on the kitchen tile island full of cucumbers from the garden, chopped in large, crude bits.

It could only mean one thing: he was making Thomas Keller’s cucumber vichyssoisse clipped from a recent Los Angeles Times article we had both perused with hunger. My man never makes dinner from printed recipes, but when he does, it is oftentimes because he has tasted the food of the chef who has written it and thinks it’s good. In Keller’s case, I go time and again to his roasted chicken preparation whenever I need a good juicy bird for a base. Knowing I would get the double threat treat of a Keller soup with my boyfriend’s sublime touches (he has a green thumb for honest and simply good food), I closed my computer for the day and instead, focused on the fragrance of the food.

The smell of potato ceased to permeate the room as it sat on the stove post boil in its cream bath. Next came the scent of blistering meat as sausages began to bust their seams in the toaster oven. Not only was I getting this exquisite silken, summer soup but a nice fresh sausage and red pepper pasta to boot.

But anything would have tasted good after the first dollop of creamy broth touched my lips, coating them with the oblivion that usually happens when the CG makes me food.

Thomas Keller’s Cucumber Vichyssoisse
4 servings

¼ cup of largely diced shallots
¼ cup of largely diced leeks
½ cup largely diced onions
½ tablespoon butter
1-1/4 cup peeled, baking potatoes, largely diced
½ quart of water, or as needed
¾ cup heavy cream
1-1/2 tablespoon crème fraiche
1 cucumber
1-1/2 tablespoon mint leaves
Salt, per desire

In a large pot, sweat the shallots, leeks and onions in butter until completely soft. Add the diced potatoes and enough water to cover. Bring the water to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add the cream and simmer an additional 20 minutes.

Transfer the soup in two batches to a blender and puree, adding 3/4 of a tablespoon of crème fraiche to each batch. Once pureed, pass the soup base through a fine chinois into a bowl, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Taste each cucumber to ensure that there is no bitter flavor. Cut the cucumbers into chunks, combine with mint leaves and then pass through a juicer (or use a blender and then pass the puree through a strainer). You should have at least 3/4 cup juice. When the soup base is completely chilled, combine it with the 3/4 cups of cucumber juice and season to taste.

Keller suggests serving the soup garnished with basil, crème fraiche, or cherry tomato confit.

For step number four, mine came with a beautiful pile of tiny, diced tomatoes, basil, and a teensy bit of wasabi powder to hint at heating things up.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sharing a Quesadilla with Georgia O’Keeffe

We returned home from New Mexico earlier this week and were getting settled into our normal routine and I was making lunch the other day. We hadn’t gone grocery shopping yet and the fridge was full of a bunch of loose ends and I found myself compiling some odd things together to craft a raw quesadilla.

I couldn’t help but think back to the overwhelming feelings that had come over me in the most unaccustomed way while standing in the Georgia O’Keeffe museum just a short week prior.

I have never been a huge fan of Georgia O’Keeffe’s but only because my individual taste leans more towards the dark, psychological, conceptual and geometrical. Even so, I certainly appreciate her place in history, her talent for painting, her unique passion for her subject, and her voice as a trailblazing feminine role model in the arts.

But as a strong-willed female artist myself, I felt a strikingly poignant sense of relevancy while looking at three very distinct things in the museum.

Georgia O'Keeffe on Evening Walk with her Dog, Ghost Ranch, by John Loengard, 1966

This photo of Georgia on a mountain touched me deeply because it was a portrait of a woman in command of her environment; intimately reigning over the landscape that both inspired and sustained her, with only her dog as companion trailing behind as she powerfully traversed the solid ground beneath her feet that she called home. Almost biblical, she strides confidently across the ridgeback beneath a tumultuous sky, stylistically yet unconsciously rending the land before her into textural halves as if she were encompassed in the sensual folds of nature she so boldly articulated onto canvas.

As an artist, I know the joy of walking into a studio and seeing the materials and supplies that facilitate in the creation of my ideas laid out before me glimmering with the seeds of potential of that which may spring forth. Oftentimes it is more exciting for me to see the unique still lifes of other artists’ art supplies than it is to see their finished pieces. It’s like a secret handshake glimpse into a world that makes me giddy by relation and in O’Keeffe’s case, I received utter inner joy from seeing her color practice sheets where color danced in gradients upon swatches and hue washes were born.

The exhibition currently on display was full of the normal flowers and voluptuous mountains but the piece that caught my eye was a small and exquisitely simple clamshell, softly unveiling its lush muscle inside. I could taste the lavender meat and equally feel a cool shiver up my spine.

The three of these images gelled together in my mind as I admired the perfection in this painting and I suddenly felt the welling up of tears in my eyes. This woman’s life made me recall how much life is NOT a dress rehearsal and how it should be lived zestfully every single second of the day. This wash of tears on my face reminded me so much of this ideal and O’Keeffe was the conduit of this reminder for me.

Maybe that explained the odd meal that currently sat out before me on the kitchen counter. Instead of going for something ordinary and easy, I was compelled to choose ingredients that were totally calling out to me in the moment. Two homemade style tortillas, thick and doughy, transferred back on the plane from Albuquerque. One half covered with a soft herbed cheese spread and a smattering of nutty green pepitas. The other half painted red by the firm and juicy halves of grapette tomatoes plucked fresh from my boyfriend’s garden. And a drizzle of sage flavored honey over the top of the whole thing like a stringy thought falling out of Jackson Pollock’s dreams.

From the things we eat, to the things we say, to the people we choose to give our time to, to the way we make our minutes matter, I made a recommitment to myself that my life would truly be extraordinary for me and that I would continue to wholeheartedly craft it as my own.