Monday, December 31, 2012

My First Chow Mein Christmas

To carry on in the vein of non-traditional traditions I seem to have acquired this year I was invited to spend Christmas with the Cute Gardener and his family for seafood and chow mein dinner.

Christmas dinner for me has always meant turkey. While growing up, the holiday morn meant waking up early to the smells already wafting in from the kitchen as mom cooked a trough of stuffing for the basted bird that would soon go into the oven. The family would converge in the living room around the tree with a big black garbage bag for discarded gift wrap and we would gorge on trays of brie en croute, goose liver pate and my mom’s famous white trash dip alongside cracker bread from San Francisco and miniature pumpernickel and rye bread slices while opening our stockings stuffed with treats. Throughout the day guests would arrive as my mother always claimed the day for all our orphan friends who had nowhere else to go. Hot toddies and white Russians would be poured long into the evening and clean up would be saved for the following day when we would scour the pots for leftover food and slices of pecan and pumpkin pie. As an adult, I continued on with the turkey to feed my own orphans but developed my own recipes for things like my famous (and constantly requested even from other people for dinner at their own houses) sausage and sage stuffing and tarragon green beans.

But this year it all started for me at Santa Monica Seafood, which became a strange Dickensian scene of mass people gathered around the fish monger deli counter five deep waving their hands in the air as their numbers were called in a frantic symphony of buyers and sellers of fruits of the sea. We danced around the crush of bodies, weaving in and out to choose salmon and crab and other tantalizing things to eat.

Later on our holiday destination, I watched as the CG prepared chow mein, something I have never participated in but have always been strangely fascinated by. For, like the CG says, “Chow mein is an odd meal in that you take a dry noodle and make it wet only to make it dry again and then make it wet again before it even reaches the dinner plate.”

In laymen’s terms this meant watching him first boil the special chow mein noodles in a large pot.

Then he painstakingly fried handful batches of the cooked noodles and then put them aside.

Next he stir fried cubes of tender pork that had been marinating in dark mushroom soy sauce all morning.

Then, he prepared vegetables: carrots, yellow bell pepper, mushrooms, and bok choy for the wok, cutting them all into roughly the same ratio of julienned strips. This was all stir fried together in a strategic order before a dousing of chicken broth, corn starch and oyster sauce that married all of the flavors together.

The noodles were then added and everything was tossed and plated along with the body, legs and head of this shell-y beast. 

I had the pleasure of cooking the salmon, simply baked, lain with thin, whole rounds of lemon slices under a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.

Although I am typically a red wine drinker, I find that it's really hard to find a libation that goes with Chinese food. Although, for this meal we found the perfect accompaniment in a Corpse Reviver cocktail that consists of gin, Lillet Blanc, lime juice, Cointreau and absinthe. 

I have never really cared for chow mein in Chinese restaurants because it tends to be oily, mushy and fat-ridden – not worth the calories. But after having this version, I am now an ardent fan and even may try to copy it in my own kitchen experimenting with the types of veggies, meat and sauces.

I also didn’t mind being the orphan for a change!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ringing in a Puffy Christmas Eve En Croute

The Cute Gardener and I are very fond of making our own traditions that are customized to us and unlike the normal ones we grew up with, not that there is anything wrong with those. This has meant eating Chinese food on the Fourth of July in the basement bowels of San Francisco’s Chinatown; creating private in-home tastings of food and drink away from the party-goer social world of New Year’s Eve; and for the past two grand occasions it has meant starting the meal with crackling, cold oysters. We even discovered a way to treat the occasional odd oyster swimming with the funky stuff by elevating it in a fluffy, egg yolk heavy, olive oil fried, fresh omelet.

Because we eat out so much, many of our favorite co-created rituals tend to be the ones that take place in the kitchens of our own homes. For Christmas Eve dinner this year, this meant starting a new annual event where we would dine in together, cook a meal together, and all that mattered is that whatever we cooked would be somehow integrated into puff pastry.

I have been an ardent fan of puff pastry ever since falling head over heels in love with it when I made mustard batons with it earlier this year. You just can’t go wrong with this brilliant creation of dough, painstakingly concocted by the a perpetual folding over method that means layers of flaky goodness when cooked, and multifaceted in that it can support any kind of dish from breakfast through dessert and in sweet or savory forms.

For our debut dinner in this vein, we chose to adapt Emeril Lagasse’s Fish en Croute with Lemon Butter Sauce . It had a little bit of French to satisfy the Cute Gardener’s butter lust and a little bit of green New Orleans spice and sass to cover my bohemian blood. I copied the recipe exactly save for two things. I didn’t spice the fish with Emeril’s Essence Blend because it would be too hot for my man, so instead I added a couple dashes of Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset blend but you could use any bevy of spices that float your boat. And I didn’t sieve mesh the lemon butter sauce at the end because all my lemon bits fell to mush anyway and I didn’t feel the need to do so and it turned out perfectly fine.

You can also use any kind of whitefish for this dish and we chose two large filets of fresh sole bought at the Santa Monica Seafood Company.

I found it was really important to place the cooked spinach on the fish in equally spaced out portions so that when the meal was done, every forkful from the belly of this creamy beast was an equal ratio of fish to veggie.

To make the lemon butter sauce, I chose a Clos Du Bois Sauvignon Blanc for the called for dry white. It was an excellent choice and smarted off well with the tart lemon, creating a tangy juxtaposition for the two sticks of butter. Poured over the final presented puff pastry fish, browned in an egg wash, the sauce brought together the meal with a dose of swimmingly warm satisfaction.

Simply roasted carrots and three kinds of sautéed mushrooms (baby bellas, white button and a few shiitake) were the only sides needed for this overall decadent dish. It kicked off the weeklong food coma to come quite nicely and prepped our palates for the parade of holiday goodness that only comes around once a year along with the excuse to eat everything you want until the final relatives are gone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Desert Déjà vu at Europa

It’s always a little strange for me to visit the Coachella Valley as someone who doesn’t live there anymore after spending three-fourths of my life there completely entrenched in the arts and non-profit communities. It was a place where I couldn’t walk down the street in the morning without seeing someone I knew. When I left, I extricated myself from that kind of familiarity in return for the anonymity of Los Angeles where I could hide my head in the sand, focus on my art and writing and not have to socialize for work anymore but rather spend my spare hours on foodie adventures in a strange, new land.

So I found it very amusing when the Cute Gardener and I went to the desert for a friend’s birthday party last weekend and had a quintessential case of desert déjà vu while dining at Europa Restaurant in the charming and quaint Villa Royale resort in Deepwell, which remains one of my favorite non-disturbed neighborhoods in Palm Springs.

I had only eaten there once before about ten years ago, treated to a meal by a well known donor in the gay community who I worked with closely on a yearly humanitarian awards gala. Funnily enough, the moment we were seated, in walked this same man who had introduced me to the place all those years prior with a new party of people to introduce to the restaurant. And even funnier, I knew each and every one of those people too as they had been people I had either worked with or had been clients of mine when I lived there. I chuckled inwardly at the fact that I couldn’t get away from these people or the desert in my blood if I tried but that I was really happy to be causally dining next to them as a visitor from my new life rather than feeling that old feeling of the impetus to network instead of enjoying my meal.

Over enormous Hendrick's gin martinis, the déjà vu continued with the meal because Europa represents an ambiance that is customary to old school valley cuisine. There are certain characteristics of this culinary genre like expensive classic dishes from the archives of a glamorous yesteryear perpetually served and rarely updated for the times, dim golden lit living room type settings, the excessive usage of seasoning and sauces, beefed up manly cocktails and the last bastion of above average service.

So of course, I ordered the escargot to start given all of these particulars and it was an odd variety of four mealy little nuggets served on top of a hard sourdough bun cut down the middle and swimming with lemony, thick marsala sauce. All of the elements were tasty albeit a little strange as the snails seemed to have lost their sense of chewy that I am used to, instead breaking down in the mouth like a wet meatball would.


The Cute Gardener’s beef tartare came in a huge portion seemingly shaped by an antique deviled ham can and was speckled with an overdose of capers. Again, the dish was perfectly tasty, but a little odd and served with a generous smattering of bread slices.

For dinner I had the tipsy Sardinian pasta. True to its moniker, it started out looking really good: a hearty pile of linguine sauced with a saffron cream vodka sauce that was surprisingly spicy and large meaty shrimps and scallops. But as the dish had time to sit in the sauce and get drunk it turned loose and greasy, as sots tend to do and became a little too much. There was also something off about the scallops texturally to the point of not being finished off by the CG who never leaves anything left on my plate untouched.

His risotto was very good in my opinion, full of mushroom flavor and made with quality Arborio rice. I am used to chefs in Los Angeles naming plates “risotto” and then serving glorified pilafs or other versions of less starchy rice.

And of course, everything was stuck with little trees of parsley just like in the old days.

As we were leaving I glanced at a few more tables that had filled up alongside us and noticed more people whose faces I knew. The sense of déjà vu followed me throughout the evening as we mingled with old and new friends who had merged into a larger circle of my same old life and I knew that no matter how much I left; there was a part of me that would always be back.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Santa's Lap of BOA Steakhouse

Goat Cheese Baklava at BOA Steakhouse

In the twelve years I have known my friend Mark, I have only seen him eat a handful of different things: football game potato chips and French onion dip, yogurt, milk, hamburgers, Kraft macaroni and cheese, feta, Caesar salad, corn, watermelon, swordfish, take-put pizza and gnocchi. In many ways he is the most All American Danish dude I’ve ever met. All the aforementioned foods float in as sides and snacks around his main food of choice, which is prime beef steak. Getting him to order anything beyond an aged New York for dinner is like trying to give blood to a vegetarian.

So the classic American steakhouse tends to be his restaurant of choice and I get to reap the rewards of his prime cattle love when he takes me out to celebrate certain special occasions in our friendship. On the way to Burning Man together one year, Flemings Steakhouse became our last solid meal before a week of starvation and radical self-reliance and our first meal when we returned from the Playa ashen with dust. Last year for my birthday I enjoyed another meal, this time at BOA in Santa Monica. And last week for Christmas, he treated me to BOA again as a merry way to ring in the holidays.

I don’t do steakhouses often. Nothing wrong with a piece of perfectly rare beef, sublime vegetable sides and savory starches but the Cute Gardener and I tend to adventure all over the culinary map. Meat and potatoes never seem to win the choice over all the other more exotic choices on our “to eat lists.” But on the rare occasion I do step back into a really great steak house I remember just how wonderful they are and get a silly sense of nostalgia for things like John Wayne’s voice, a warm crackling fire and my grandfather’s laughing belly. And BOA is absolutely my favorite steakhouse of all I’ve tried.

Butterscotch pudding at BOA Steakhouse

 Here’s why:

- The goat cheese baklava is on my top five favorite appetizers list. A fluffy, creamy whipped pillow of the cheese is placed between two perfect puff pastry pieces dotted with pistachios like some kind of bastard Middle Eastern whoopee pie and there’s no way to express how the mixture of dense dough to oozing, sweet cream is on the tongue.

- They make your Caesar salad on a rolling tray right next to you at the table with superbly fresh and salty anchovies.

-The bread is served warm and the butter lukewarm.

-They offer you two cuts of meat when you order a steak, one that is full fat and one that is leaner with the fat cut off. The second option gives you more meat for the protein dieters of L.A.

-They have a filet mignon option that comes on the bone.

-They offer four rubs or crusts and four sauces that you can choose from to adorn your steak. My favorites are the blue cheese crust, the peppercorn rub and the chimchurri sauce.

-There sides are more creative then your normal sautéed mushrooms or spinach a la carte options. The smoky, chipotle corn kernels are incredibly addicting and go well with the rare tenderness of the meat.

They were out of the seasonal gingerbread pudding by the time I had unwrapped all of my presents including an amazing Nespresso milk-frothing machine so we settled on the butterscotch pudding. It came in a cute little glass jar and wasn’t as sinfully decadent as Gjelina’s butterscotch pot de crème but delivered in flavor and was topped with perfect pieces of caramel popcorn!

Another thing my friend Mark likes to do is read this story by comedian Steve Martin to inspire the true meaning of love and Christmas unto all he adores:


Carolyn wanted so much to give Roger something nice for Christmas, but they didn't have much money, and they had to spend every last cent on candy for the baby. She walked down the icy streets and peered into shop windows.

"Roger is so proud of his shinbones. If only I could find some way to get money to buy shinbone polish."

Just then, a sign caught her eye. "Cuticles bought and sold." Many people had told Carolyn of her beautiful cuticles, and Roger was especially proud of them, but she thought, "This is the way I could buy Roger the shinbone polish, selling my cuticles!" And she rushed into the store. 

Later at home she waited anxiously as Roger came up the steps to their flat. He opened the door and wobbled over to fireplace, suspiciously holding one arm behind his back. 

"Merry Christmas!" they both said, almost simultaneously. 

Roger spoke, "Hey nutsy, I got you a little something for Christmas."

"Me too," said Carolyn and they exchanged packages. 

Carolyn hurriedly opened her package, staring in disbelief. "Cuticle Frames?! But Roger, I sold my cuticles so I could afford to buy you some shinbone polish!"

"Shinbone polish!" said Roger, "I sold my shinbones to buy you the cuticle frames!" Roger wobbled over to her. 

"Well I'll be hog-tied!" said Carolyn. 

"You will? OH BOY!" said Roger. 

And it turned out to be a great Christmas after all!

There’s nothing like the masculine ambiance of a serious steakhouse for a nice little S and M Christmas ditty.

Of course, I sent the Cute Gardener the story the next morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Palate Paradise Phenomenon of the Los Angeles Strip Mall

Three of the best things about Los Angeles’ food scene are: there is so much to choose from that you can seek out a restaurant and miss miserably but literally have another option right around the corner at any given time; you can eat at a new joint once a week for years and never return to the same place; and you can stumble upon the quirky ethnic or niche-specialty food shops in practically every neighborhood that turn into gem little prizes to be found at random. The Cute Gardener and I pride ourselves on having the ability to flex with the first trait (he keeps plans b and c and even d in his mental pocket whenever we venture out for a meal). We’ve definitely availed ourselves of the second, having only returned to a mere two or three places out of lust or nostalgia in our entire year together. And of the third, we’ve happily discovered quite a few treasures that have provided our fridges and pantries with exotic delights.

For example, take our endeavors this past Sunday. At eleven o’clock after a morning of movies on the couch we got a burger craving and so took a trek to Glendale on the search for a beefy lunch at Eden Burger Bar. Located in a seedy little strip mall in a nondescript stucco building attached to a wine shop, we found an odd interior paradise that was conducive to a Russian strip club mob scene in a bad B movie. A dark and cold dining room full of chairs and tables already laid with oversized wine glasses awaited as we were seated by a leather jacket wearing and tattooed hostess who was the only other person there behind the young, fresh faced boy tending bar. White upholstered and padded walls surrounded the periphery of the space that was also lined with plush royal purple benches. Bizarre massive paintings in color blotches and intricate chandeliers completed the strange European club-like ambience that took us back to the early nineties and the feeling that at any given second my dining companion could be potentially approached in solicitation of a lap dance.

We ordered from the short and simple burger and pizza menu.

He chose the Mediterranean burger, which came topped with hummus, feta, mozzarella, heirloom tomato, onion, arugula and a slab of roasted red bell pepper that resembled a tongue. In the mouth it provided a dose of salty, comforting and savory goodness. Unfortunately, it dehydrated the CG hours later after he was home.

I had an odd, never-heard-of-before burger that was topped with slices of grilled fig, seared in a soy-like crust and topped with lemon basil aioli, gruyere, sundried tomato, crispy prosciutto and olive tapenade. The prosciutto gave it a kick of crusty salt that married well with the strangely nice blend that took place with the other sweeter ingredients. I loved the brioche bun in original taste and content although by bite three it had entirely disappeared as an element becoming completely shriveled and sogged in the juice of the ample patty. The juice of the meat proved that the burger was good though and packed a meaty flavor.

We ordered sweet potato and regular fries at $4 a pop for sides and they were the hit of the meal. After trying countless fries in the city, I have come to learn that I specifically enjoy those that are relatively thin and cooked in a way where the outsides are crispy, the insides are moist, and the ratio of those two facets are equal. Eden succeeded in this department.

Back outside, and realizing it was still daylight (something the cave-like restaurant with its generous stream of midday Sunday diners dressed in more nighttime-esque clothes had surreally masked), we decided to look around the rest of the strip mall. A strange little chocolate shop called Mignon (the chocolate shop and restaurant could have changed names and they would have fit each place better) beckoned from the corner. I didn’t buy anything because the candies in the case looked average but it did have an interesting selection of ethnic candies wrapped in beautiful jewel like foils and I knew this was a good place to find all those treats that perform in Middle Eastern celebratory occasions.

Then we ventured to the other side of the parking lot to the Middle Eastern market where I hit Eureka! Strolling slowly down the aisles (freezing cold), I started to spot items infused with rose – something I had desired for a while. I grabbed a jar of rose butter and the CG asked me if I wanted a cart. I declined. Then I grabbed a quart of rose and sour cherry juices and he asked again and I declined. By the time, I reached for the chai masala and rose hip teas, I took his suggestion and went on to fill the basket with hazelnut and milk chocolate spread, rose jelly, and red pepper spread for my egg scrambles and labne covered toast breakfasts. For twenty dollars I scored a trip to the Middle East and all the foreign condiments my heart could possibly want.

Another ordinary food adventure in L.A. filled with cinematic worthy and strange settings, moody winter weather, a cornucopia of multi-cultural delights and unexpected twists.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Foundry's Elevated Bar Food

It’s getting cold in Los Angeles, finally, after a month or so of thinking that global warming was truly going to bestow a summer-like winter upon all of us who choose to live so vicariously near the tempestuous sea. I noticed the cold more than ever this past weekend, as if a frost light switch had been flicked from warm to cool in a matter of 24 hours. This was ever present as The Cute Gardener and I found ourselves at an outside table Saturday night warmed by the buzzing heat lamps that become part of the California dining equation at places all up and down the state this time of year.

We were at The Foundry on Melrose, renowned Chef Eric Greenspan’s homey little joint known for odd things like grilled cheese sandwiches and other bits of upscale bar food that are as equally quirky as their jolly giant of a creator. Originally on our list because we’d heard of its burger, tonight we were searching for a proper dinner.

We ordered a truly bizarre assortment of dishes merely because we chose based on what we craved from a chaotic and disjointed menu of delights rather than trying to put together a cohesive weave of flavors. In each dish, we noticed that we really liked certain flavors and textures but had never tasted them paired quite the same way before. Although everything was truly good, we were left a little baffled at the end from each thing we had tried. This is good in that it’s not something that happens often – the surprise combinations and wondrous gazes across the table as if we were finding new ways to eat – but also strange in that you aren’t sure after eating something whether or not you love it, are just mildly shocked and happy about it, or have just been given a question in which you are struggling to find a satisfactory answer that seems to just float a few inches past your grasp.

The famous grilled cheese was made from taleggio cheese and bits of short rib between two slices of raisin walnut bread and an apricot caper puree. It was delicious, elevated from the norm but not too fussy. Of course, any grilled cheese other than the superman version we discovered at the Citron in the Viceroy Palm Springs will always be second best. It’s not hard to make bread, cheese, and meat look good when married together.

Prawns over beans with interesting sweet and sour bits of sauce that alternated with a smoky crunch of cicharon-style bits became the very mysterious dish of the night. The taste of burnt fat with plump shrimp, neutral buttery beans and the strangely spiked sauce was an underhanded gift.

The cocktail menu was interesting. My first drink was made with rum and honey and bitters and my second was a nod to egg nog -- perfect for this time of year.

Pork belly scallion pancakes were more like shredded pork quesadillas, arriving on the plate at two wedges per a five-dollar order. A good deal for some seriously generous bites of meat between dough, perfect for dipping into the black vinegar dipping sauce and topping with a sliver of brightening scallion before popping in the mouth!

My entrée was a hand rolled, fresh pasta adorned simply with sprightly lemon juice, bits of al dente broccoli and cauliflower bits and an odd dash of mealy breadcrumbs –super simple and satisfying and something I could easily see myself making at home.

That was oddly enough the theme of the evening – most dishes becoming things that we admitted we could easily make at home. Although we want to eat out in places that make things we cannot create at home, we didn’t mind so much that this was our experience here because it gave us some ideas to try at home, particularly with the pork belly pancakes.


A plate of comforting seasonal turkey on a bed of grits and smothered in a rich, plummy gravy was the CG’s choice for an entrée.

We shared a bowl of steaming apple beignets for desert, which were more like doughnut holes than crispy exterior and puffy beignets. But we didn’t mind – the heat helped at the end of the night under the stars and crisscrossing power lines of industrial L.A. 

It was a nice thing to note that Chef Greenspan (fresh from his falling off of The Next Iron Chef competition -- in t.v. time, not real life time) was strolling the dining room and being super hospitable to his guests. Reminded us of our Sunday supper at Mark Gold's Eva a few months back and how much we respect chefs that walk the room and talk to their guests. 

There were other interesting items that I wanted to try on the menu but we simply couldn’t get to that I might go back to order in the lounge after a later concert night or something to that effect. These were things such as mustard spaetzle, shrimp toast, chicken and peach terrine and a potato soup poured over leek and bacon pudding with Gruyere and egg.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

French Onion-Hued Adieu at the Tournee au Chat Noir

What happens when you unleash a coven of dramatically inclined and artsy femmes upon the task of creating an au revoir dinner for a fellow Francophile female? Nothing less than an impromptu yet perfect Tournee au Chat Noir (Evening of the Black Cat) -- a creative and crazy, wine-soaked evening of comforting and classic soup, silk scarves instead of goodie bags, gourmet cookware, fresh fruit desserts, sexy costumes and the Edith Piaf station on Pandora radio as background for theatrical, still-life photo shoots. Dressed in black with a dose of my ancestors of the family Doucette around my neck in a vintage gold drape necklace, I arrived with mustard and olive batons (French puff pastry breadsticks that has become one of my new culinary calling cards) in tow and proceeded to enjoy my time around the cauldron with the rest of my friends.

Everything tastes better when it begins and ends with creamy cheeses on baguette slices with various jams made of combinations such as roasted kiwi, strawberry and pear.

A hearty and rustic table laid with wooden bowls and warm-toned linens helped us channel the spirits of Simone De Beauvoir, Amelie, Collette, and the tart-tinged spirits of other art and literature mademoiselles lounging in the ethers.

French onion soup coaxed to sensual aromas in a massive Le Creuset wok pan was the star of the evening.

I enjoyed filling each bowl with the hot onion broth for the ladies and then floating the mustard baton chunks melted with dried, aged Swiss on top in a flavorful alternative to the normal cheese and bread topping.

(Small salivation interlude. If I were a piece of cookware, I would be made out of cast iron and ceramic and fired a passionate and burnt, tomato red just like these guys.)

To properly cool our pinots, Champagne and Rhones, our host created a gorgeous ice bucket out of a mold using nothing other than cranberries and water.

Salad for dessert was spiked with candied walnuts, spinach leaves, dried cherries, miniature cucumbers and other nutty bits of goodness.

A knife in the hand of our friend who was leaving us all for the next chapter of her life….

 ….cut the final moments of our evening together through slices of freshly baked berry pie, conversation about our memories together that we will all cherish forever, and many expressions of exuberant good luck for all of us in our respective futures.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Best Friend Worthy Four-Garden Egg Breakfast

Up until over a year ago, I lived across the street from my best friend and my nightly ritual was to walk to her house after work where we would recap our day over a bottle of wine on the porch near her koi pond, her husband’s artistic landscaping, and her lounging French bulldog. The ritual was like soul food because we got to dump the activities of our day, embark in a kind of therapy together and boost each other up with a never-ending communication loop of support. When I moved three hours away from her over a year ago, I missed this nightly ritual and had to learn to live with the once in a while phone call and the mutual stalking of our Facebook pages to see what was going on in our lives. One of the things about having a best friend is that you share everything and when you don’t see them but once a year, a lot of information that you want to share piles up in the brain. So when she came to visit me last night for a long overdue sleep over we recreated our nightly ritual with a dinner out, long conversations on my front porch over a special bottle of red, chatting till the wee hours of morn and then waking up this morning ready to go for round two of the mutual brain dump before seeing her off to home.

I wanted to make her a special breakfast full of fresh and soul affirming foods. I had some gems from the Cute Gardener’s yard to share and we spent a few early morning hours walking along the beach and stopping at various stores to choose more items that I would come home to cook. I wanted the meal to be full of vitamins but also comforting tastes to warm the bones while we ate together, again on the patio, dumping the rest of that encyclopedic storage of catching up from our minds.

In the spirit of a four seasons pizza, I created a best friend worthy four garden egg plate consisting of the following:

One butternut squash, peeled, diced and tossed in one tablespoon of olive oil and sea salt and then roasted in a 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. Once done, I tossed the perfectly caramelized cubes in a tablespoon of mignonette, the vinegar and shallot coating the nuggets with a tangy and warm, apple pie-type kinship.

One leek chopped, bulb and stem in all, and sautéed in one tablespoon of olive oil till wilting and then covered with a lid for five minutes while the pieces softened and turned velvety.

A perfect pair of eggs scrambled to fluffy goodness and then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and diced San Marzano tomatoes.

Three leaves of chopped collard greens sautéed with onions and topped with a fresh sprinkle of fresh lemon juice to brighten and punch.

Cooking for those I love is one of my greatest joys. That mixed with a healthy dose of talking and sharing, listening and giving feedback is one of the things I live to do.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Festa Dei Cinque Pesci Birthday

The Italians have a Christmas tradition called Festa dei Sette Pesci in which they serve seven different kinds of fish including salt cod and smelt and join together with family to celebrate the holiday season. Yesterday, I took part in an adapted version minus two fish for the Cute Gardener’s birthday. 

Because we are such avid foodies and eat out all the time, it’s just not the same to think about birthdays in terms of a fancy meal out at an expensive restaurant so instead, when it comes to celebratory occasions we do a reverse ritual of making the days special with creative food sojourns of our own. For New Year’s, this meant caviar tasting at home; for Valentine’s Day I made homemade ravioli; and for the Fourth of July we spent time in San Francisco whirling through an Asian extravaganza.

I am pretty sure that the Cute Gardener would choose crab as one of the elements in his last meal alive if it was something he was able to plan ahead so I called the Santa Monica Seafood Market and Café to make sure they were stocked on fresh Dungeness before we made our way there. With crab as the centerpiece of the day’s wish list, I knew everything else could go a little more organically.

We started out at the Café for lunch to eat down and dirty comfort-food-on-a-cold-beach-day traditions like fish and chips fried to a fluffy pillow of perfection and a buttery, lemon aioli-dressed lobster roll in baskets full of perfectly cooked fries. I soaked mine in malt vinegar and enjoyed memories of the East Coast when I had first discovered a love of the classic Maine-style frites.

After lunch, we grabbed more food from the fresh, deli case and headed home for a disco nap before a gluttonous seafood dinner. 

We bought a dozen Pacific oysters for $1.50 a pop and prepped them on ice in my fridge. There was something extremely satisfying about shucking them and presenting them as a gift to my man. Six of them were scintillatingly salty and crispy, brine-tinged Malpeques while the other six were large and meaty, black and smoky Fanny Bays in the most gorgeous gradients-of-green, lotus blossom layered shells.

Next the CG sashimi-sliced a dark slab of opah moonfish to clean the palate before our main course. We ate the raw delight with small dabs of salt and black olive tapenade, which made a surprisingly good bite on the tongue.

Although I shucked the oysters, I left the crab discombobulation to the pro.

This in particular is one of those funky things the CG likes to eat and specifically asked the fish monger at the mart to leave on and un-cleaned – the head. I tried a spoonful of the mustard yellow, mushy stuff he pulled out from its ethers and gladly handed over the rest of the delicacy to him as a birthday gift. I actually got pleasure off watching him enjoy it though, unlike the gelatinous eyeball I saw him once slurp off a red fish at a Chinese restaurant.

We proceeded to eat the rest of the crab meat alongside a nice pile of angel hair pomodoro.

To top of the festa, we enjoyed my homemade almond lace cookies with Satsuma tangerines from his garden, a pile of LEGO and old black and white movies. Traditions are best when made fresh and unique by the participants involved!