Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gala Parfait: Holiday Party Libations

I love entertaining, I love the holidays, and I love good drinks. So naturally holiday punchbowl concoctions are of my most favoritest things! Egg nog, Gluhwein, you name it, I'll drink it!
Here are several recipes, some traditional, others offering new ideas, or a contemporary update of a classic.

Nathan's Christmas Champagne Punch
I made this impromptu punch for a holiday party last weekend. It was a hit! Not too sweet, with robust dark red fruit. (And I was able to get all of it with one stop).
Serves a lot

Many bottles of inexpensive sparkling wine, 6-10..
One bottle citrus vodka
One bottle cherry cider
One bottle raspberry dessert wine
1-2 bottles sparkling pomegranate or cranberry juice
Two bottles seltzer water
1-2 bottles Lambrusco or other "soft" (semi-sparkling) Italian red wine
One bottle Triple sec
One can frozen lemonade
2 large oranges, sliced into wheels
3 lemons, sliced into wheels
Frozen black cherries
Fresh cranberries

First (4 hours to a day ahead), make an ice float (or two) in a jello mold, or tupperware lined with plastic wrap using the frozen lemonade concentrate, water, and some of the craberries and lemon wheels. Freeze.
I prepared the punch to taste, starting with the frozen cherries, the entire bottle of vodka, about 1/3 of the triple sec, 1/3 of the cider, 1/3 of the dessert wine, 1/2 of the soft red wine, 1/2 the pom juice, one whole bottle of seltzer, and about 3 bottles of sparkling wine (added last just before serving). Add an ice float and garnish the surface with more citrus wheels and cranberries.
As the punch level went down, I added the rest of the ingredients throughout the evening.
Note: There is never too much sparkling wine.... (I asked all of my guests to each bring one bottle).

Farmer’s Bishop
adapted from The Holiday Drink Book, Peter Pauper Press, 1951
Serves 24

6 oranges
around 4 dozen whole cloves
1 bottle apple brandy
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 gallon cider
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
and if you have any pimento dram kicking around, an ounce or so would work wonders here

Stick each orange with 8 cloves, and bake them whole in a slow oven (300F) for 1 hour. Place them in a heated punch bowl and prick them well with a fork. Heat the apple brandy in a saucepan until warm — CAREFUL, especially if you’re using a gas stove — and pour over the oranges; sprinkle with the sugar. While warming the brandy, heat the cider to almost boiling. Take 1/2 cup of the cider and mix the remaining spices in it, then set it aside. Carefully light the brandy — I like to use a sugar cube soaked with a bit of the brandy, place it in the bowl of a long-handled spoon, light it and then stand back while placing the burning cube in the boozy punch. Let it burn for a few seconds, then add the hot cider to extinguish the flames; stir in the cup of spiced cider. You can keep it warm in a chafing dish or on the stove.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Perfect Egg Nog
"I love egg nog, but I can’t stand the thick, gelatinous goop they sell at the grocery store. Even if you were to cut it with alcohol, it’s still so overly-pasteurized and full of preservatives that it would be anything but enjoyable to slug down at a Christmas party. So I set about concocting the simplest, tastiest Egg Nog recipe I could, and here’s what I came up with.
"This recipe can be made in just about any home or bar, since the ingredients are fairly simple. It can be done entirely in a blender, so there are no whisks or beaters or rubber spatulas or stovetops needed. It yields two healthy servings, so you can easily multiply it to serve more. It doesn’t use a ton of heavy cream, so it’s fairly light. In other words, it’s practically perfect."

2 large eggs
3 oz (by volume) granulated sugar
½ tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
2 oz brandy
2 oz spiced rum (I use Sailor Jerry’s)
6 oz whole milk
4 oz heavy cream

Beat eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add sugar and blend for one additional minute. With blender still running, add nutmeg, brandy, rum, milk and cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine and serve in chilled wine glasses or champagne coupes, grating additional nutmeg on top immediately before serving.
One note about blenders. This recipe works great in home blenders, but the commercial models are designed to heat whatever they’re blending, which can result in scrambled eggs by the time you get around to the sugar. If you’re using a Vita-Mix or similar commercial blender, cut that initial blend time down to a quarter minute or so.

The Good Neighbor
Created by: Toby Maloney (Alchemy Consulting, Freeman's)

2 cups Laird's Applejack (or Calvados)
2 cups rye whiskey
3/4 cup fresh squeezed ginger juice (from any fresh juice purveyor)
3/4 cup sugar
1.5 cups fresh lemon juice
7 dashes of bitters
1 bottle hard cider (dry's best)
Large, cold ice cubes

Combine everything but ice/cider in a large bowl. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Put in fridge for a couple of hours. Add ice/cider at last minute. Garnish with apple slices and lemon wheels.

Gluhwein (Hot Mulled Wine)
Serves 12-15

4 quarts dry red wine (zinfandel, Côtes du Rhône, burgundy, etc.)
1 pint brandy
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
5 cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods
5 black peppercorns
10 cloves, whole
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp mace
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 oranges, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
Special equipment: a 6- by 4-inch piece of cheesecloth; kitchen string

Wrap cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and cloves in cheesecloth and tie with string. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a 5-quart heavy pot, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then add the wine and begin heating over low heat. As it begins to warm, add brandy, vanilla bean, allspice, mace and spice bag. Heat thoroughly, but do not allow to boil! Add the lemon and orange. Steep for about 1 hour over low heat. You may add more sugar during this time if desired, stirring well so it disolves. Serve hot and garnish with orange slices. A stick cinnamon could also be used.

Negroni Punch
Serves 8

4 cups assorted fresh fruit (such as cranberries, pitted cherries, sliced apricots and oranges)
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 cup Campari
1 cup sweet vermouth
1 cup gin
2 750-ml bottles chilled Prosecco
Ice cubes

Place fruit in large punch bowl. Sprinkle with sugar to taste, if desired; stir and let stand 10 minutes for sugar to dissolve and juices to form. Add all remaining ingredients except ice cubes. Divide punch among 8 tall ice-filled glasses and serve.

Empire City Punch
from “Bartender’s Guide by Trader Vic” 1947
serves 50

2 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 oz. Curacao liqueur
2 oz. Benedictine liqueur
1 qt. Jamaican rum
1 bottle cognac
4 bottles Tokay wine
2 bottles Madeira wine
4 bottles claret
4 lemons
2 oranges
½ pound sugar cubes
2 bottles club soda
Large block of ice
1 pineapple, diced
12 oranges, thinly sliced
1 box strawberries, sliced
6 bottles champagne, chilled

Mix together all liquids except champagne and club soda and chill.
Rub the lemons and oranges with cubes of sugar until all color has been absorbed by the sugar. Dissolve sugar in a punch bowl with club soda.
Add ice, fruit, and liquid mixture.
Just before guests arrive, add chilled champagne. Serve in punch glasses or champagne goblets.

English Christmas Punch
This recipe makes 27 individual drinks when served in white wine glasses. As with any drink that is flamed, caution should be taken when making English Christmas Punch and igniting the ladle filled with rum.

750 mL bottle dark rum
750 mL bottle dry red wine
3 cups strong tea
1 lb superfine sugar
juice of 1 large orange
juice of 1 lemon

Heat, but do not allow to boil, the wine, tea, lemon and orange juices in a saucepan or chafing dish. Pour the heated mix into a heat proof punch bowl. Place as much sugar as possible into a large ladle and any excess sugar into the punch bowl.
Saturate the sugar in the ladle with rum. Ignite the rum and sugar in the ladle and pour it while still aflame into the punch. Stir well and extinguish the flames.
Pour the remainder of the rum into the punch. Stir well.
Serve in white wine glasses.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Polvorones (Mexican Wedding Cakes)

I know my blog has been very RECIPE-HEAVY lately, but 'tis the season folks - I'm broke and I'm nesting, so you bet I'm cooking away in my little kitchen! That said, I hope some of these recipes are helpful or enlightening.

Known by many names (Polvorones, Wedding cakes, Pecan Sandies, Russian tea cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Southern Pecan Butterballs, Viennese Sugar Balls, Snowballs..), these little melt-in-your-mouth-and-in-your-hand buttery cookies get made every single year at Christmas in my kitchen. They are simple, delicious, and always a crowd-pleaser. The secret is using the best quality butter and pure vanilla extract you can find. You may also experiement with different nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts all work well), and also small additions of cocoa powder or cinnamon. Though I haven't tested them, these Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes sound delicious.

Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Toast Nuts: Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool. Once the nuts have cooled completely, place them in a coffee grinder (or in a food processor with a little flour) and process until finely ground (but not a paste). Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the remaining flour and salt and beat until combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls between your palms and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, line another baking pan or tray with parchment or wax paper. Sprinkle the remaining powdered sugar on the bottom of the pan and then place the slightly cooled cookies on top of the sugar. Gently roll warm cookies to coat. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool. Repeat the process once the cookies have cooled completely.
Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gala Parfait: Throwing a Perfect Holiday Brunch

Sunday brunch is, in my humble opinion, the best part of the week. Add the cozy rush of the holidays and you've hit my ultimate soft spot. Bright morning light, a crisp winter chill, steaming mugs, rich savory food, sparkling wine and merriment.
Last year I condensed all of these things I love so much into a successful holiday open-house-style brunch the Sunday before Christmas, where friends were invited to stop by throughout the morning for some good food, drink and conversation.
Due to a maxed-out calendar, my brunch is taking this year off, but follow this easy guide and you can throw a perfect affair, and even enjoy it while it's happening. The secret KEY to this menu is that you can make almost ALL of it the night before, with just light preperation in the morning before guests arrive.

Night Before:
1. Prepare both of the casseroles and refrigerate
2. Halve and segment the grapefruit
3. Peel and slice citrus for salad
4. Juice oranges and grapefruit for mimosas
Day of:
1. Broil the grapefruit, then set aside to cool
2. Lower the heat on the oven and bake the Sausage Egg Breakfast Casserole as directed
3. Mid-way add the French Toast Casserole to the oven and bake as directed
4. Prepare citrus salad and set table
5. Set up mimosa station (ice buckets for prosecco bottles and juice carafes)
6. Brew tea and coffee, and heat milk for café au lait on stovetop as guests begin to arrive

Panettone French Toast Casserole with Apples

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon water
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 pounds granny smith apples
6 1-inch slices panettone
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (for serving)

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add brown sugar and water until combined. Spread this mixture over the bottom of a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. Whisk together milk, cream, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon, set aside. Trim the bottom crust of the panettone. Starting at the bottom end of the panettone, cut it crosswise into 6 (1-inch thick) round slices (reserve the top piece for toast!). Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4 inch thick slices. Heat remaining butter over medium heat. Add apples and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until apples are cooked but not mushy. Spread apples over the bottom of the baking dish. Cover apples with the panettone slices. Pour egg and cream mixture over panettone, coating all slices. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat over to 350°F. Bake French toast uncovered for 35—40 minutes until lightly golden. Dollop the mascarpone atop French toast when serving.

Sausage Egg Breakfast Casserole

16 oz day old bread, cubed
10 eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups light cream or whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1 pound sausage, cooked, crumbled and drained
1 bunch scallions, chopped

Butter 9 -by 13-inch baking pan. Place cubed bread in the pan. Sprinkle with cheeses. Combine wet ingredients, and pour over the bread and cheese. Top with sausage and scallions. Cover tightly and refrigerate over night.
In the morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the casserole, and bake for an hour, or until golden brown.

Bruléed Ginger Grapefruit

1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 large pink grapefruits

Preheat broiler. In an electric coffee/spice grinder combine sugar, ginger, and vanilla and grind fine. Halve each grapefruit crosswise and run knife around each section to loosen membranes. Arrange grapefruits, cut sides-up, in a flameproof baking dish or baking pan just large enough to hold them in one layer and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Broil grapefruits about 1 1/2 inches from heat until sugar melts and tops begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve grapefruits at room temperature.

Maple Citrus Salad

4 navel oranges
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch cinnamon

With a vegetable peeler remove a 2 by 1-inch piece of zest from 1 of the oranges, being careful not to peel off any of the white pith. Cut into thin strips and set aside.
Cut about 1/2 inch off of the top and bottom each piece of fruit. Remove the peel and pith from each piece of fruit by standing it on its end and cutting down along the curve of the fruit. Slice the fruit into 1/4 inch thick rounds and arrange on a platter.
In a small bowl combine the maple syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon. Pour the dressing over the fruit, garnish with the zest and serve.

French Market Style Café au Lait
Once you have brewed a pot of Cafe Du Monde Coffee and Chicory (available at World Market), just add an equal amount of steamy hot milk for Café au Lait.

1 part hot Coffee and Chicory or French Roast Coffee
1 part hot milk

To heat milk, scald over low heat in a sauce pan just until a thin film forms. Pour equal parts hot scalded milk and hot coffee into a large mug. Or, as in some New Orleans establishments, provide a pitcher of scalded milk and a pitcher of hot coffee on the table so that your guests can pour their own, exactly as they like it.

Prosecco mimosas with fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices

Christmas Morning Tea

Ask your guests simply to bring christmas cookies or their other holiday baked goods and have a platter or tiered server available. Whole clementines are always a nice touch too, aesthetically as well for light snacking with tea after the meal.

Happy Brunching!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Recession: Gifts From Your Kitchen

If there has ever been "A year" in recent times for making gifts, this would have to be it. I've perused the magazines, websites and blogs and these are the batch of goodies I am whipping up for some lucky boys and girls this year.
Another tactic I am using this year is wrapping some of my favorite "Super Bon!" food items in festive cellophane as gifts. Most of these items are all under $10 and a fine addition to any food lover's cupboard.
(Note: Though it's now too late to start the limoncello in time for the holidays this year, BOY is it fun and easy - and a crisp delicious treat any time of the year, especially come summer!)

Rosemary Limoncello
(From Sunset Magazine, December 2007)
Italy's Amalfi Coast and adjoining Sorrento Peninsula are the regions most famous for this intensely lemony liqueur, traditionally served ice cold as an after-dinner drink. Here, it is enhanced with a subtle note of rosemary.
Prep and Cook Time: about 1 1/2 hours, plus at least 2 weeks and up to 80 days of infusing time. Notes: Either Meyer or Eureka lemons work in this recipe (the fragrant Meyer is especially good, though). To speed up the process, shorten the infusing time in steps 2 and 4 to 1 week each, and you'll have a fine although less intense liqueur. Limoncello keeps indefinitely in the freezer.
Makes 10 2/3 cups (ten 8.5-oz. bottles) (serving size: 1 oz.)

18 Meyer lemons, washed and dried
One 4-in. rosemary sprig, washed and dried
2 bottles (750 ml. each) 100-proof vodka, such as Stolichnaya
4 1/2 cups sugar

1. Peel lemons with a microplane or sharp peeler, taking only the zest (top layer) and avoiding any white pith. Put rosemary in a 1-gal. glass or ceramic container with a tight seal. Add zest to jar. (Juice the lemons and freeze for future use).
2. Pour 750 ml. vodka over rosemary and zest; seal container. Let sit undisturbed in a cool, dark place for 40 days.
3. In a saucepan, bring 5 cups water to a boil and add sugar. Cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Let sugar syrup cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
4. Pour syrup and remaining 750 ml. vodka over lemon-vodka mixture, stir, and seal container. Let sit in a cool, dark place for another 40 days.
5. Pour limoncello through cheesecloth into a large spouted pitcher and divide among gift bottles.

Ginger Sandwich Cookies
(From Food&Wine, December 2008)
World-renowned pastry chef Nick Malgieri adds a puckery note to his gingersnap cookies by sandwiching them with a fresh lemon cream.
Makes 20 three-inch sandwich cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (You'll have plenty of this around if you made the limoncello!)

Preheat the oven to 350° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Make the cookies: In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until incorporated, scraping down the bowl.
Working in 2 batches, drop scant tablespoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until risen and fallen and slightly firm; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let cool slightly, then transfer the parchment paper to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.
Make the filling: In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice.
Arrange the cookies in pairs on a large work surface. Spoon or pipe 1 rounded tablespoon of the lemon filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing them together so the filling spreads to the edge.
The sandwich cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to 1 week.

DIY Flavored Pistachios
The beauty of pistachios are their diversity. So to flavor them, don't be afraid to get creative with the ingredients.. You're not limited to "chili-lemon". Bourbon-maraschino.. tequila-black pepper-lime.. salt & vinegar.. cayenne-clementine... (liquid) smoke-cinnamon!? Get nutty.
Start with bulk pistachios. First dry the nuts a little more than they are when you buy them. To do this, put them in a large pot in the oven on low heat for a few hours.
After that add about 1/2 cup of Kosher salt per 5 pounds of nuts, spices or liquors to season them, and then water to dissolve the spices (no water if liquor).
Let them soak for 2 or 3 days to absorb the flavors, agitating them at least once a day and adding more liquid or spices if the nuts dry. The nuts will be soggy after this.
Then roast them by putting them in an oven with as much surface area as possible in contact with the air and dehydrate them at about 150 - 200 deg for 4 - 5 hours. Then roast them at about 300 deg or slightly more for about 1/2 hour to 45 min.
It helps to spray them with olive oil, or butter. This brings out more nutty flavor.
ginger cookie photo by quentin bacon

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Panettone French Toast

For this recipe it's best to leave the panettone slices out and unwrapped, under a tea towel, to dry overnight. This will prevent them from soaking up the egg mixture too quickly and becoming mushy.

6 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk or cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh clementine zest
8 slices panettone, about 3/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons butter for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Lemon curd
Real maple syrup

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk or cream, salt, vanilla extract, cinnamon and clementine zest. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large non-stick frying pan or griddle. Working a few slices at a time, dip panettone into the custard, turning to allow both sides to absorb the custard. Grill the soaked panettone slices until they are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining butter, panettone slices, and custard. Transfer the French toast to plates. Dollop lemon curd atop each. Lightly dust with the powdered sugar. Drizzle maple syrup over and around the French toast and serve immediately.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Super Bon!: Mexican Hot Cocoa

Screw gourmet "drinking chocolate"! Ibarra is still my favorite!
Abuelita instant packets are great for lazy evenings (or a as a quick additive to other drink recipes), but cinnamon-spicy Ibarra tablets in the red-and-yellow hexagon-shaped box are the tastiest.
To prepare, use approximately two wedges for each cup of milk or water. Heat the milk until it is near boiling, then blend the milk and chocolate in a blender until the chocolate is completely dissolved, and serve hot. Ibarra can also be prepared on the stove by dissolving the wedges in hot milk, then whisking the cocoa with a wood or wire whisk. In Mexico, in the traditional Aztec and Mayan form, Cayenne pepper is added to make it a spicy chocolate drink.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Super Bon!: Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Behold.. The only bitters you will ever need (or desire?) ever again!
I scored the last bottle from Barkeeper the other night, where the staff collectively oooed and ahhed as the glass clinked; the final bottle lifting from the shelf. I turned to see the owner give me the "you know what you're doing, friend" eye. I grinned back.
Why such a fuss?
For starters, this premium bitters is extremely difficult to get - A strictly limited edition item, aged in the Fee Brothers' own front window and only bottled once a year in the spring. Barkeeper said they can only place one order (for only one case) per year.
The Fees age these aromatic bitters in freshly emptied oak whiskey barrels from Tennessee, interiors charred and soaked with aged whiskey. The result of mingling these great flavors is spicy and bold, with cinnamon and clove notes, smoke, mint, sharp bark and citrus oils. This product is interestingly the *only* bitters commercially available in U.S. that contains real angostura bark as a bittering and flavor component (Yep, Angostura bitters does not!). The small addition of this original ingredient makes a huge difference.
So how does one use these special limited edition bitters?
"Use it in anything that your fertile mind comes up with," says Joe Fee, part of the current generation of Fees. Brilliant! But use sparingly, even a drop can shape up a drab Manhattan, or even I am told a Margarita! I have added the product to my drink-o-the-season, the Appalachian which perfected it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Beer Soup!

'Tis the season for hearty soups and packing on our winter layers (yes, I mean pounds). Beer piques our palates as the weather grows colder, and what better way to enjoy it than as added depth of flavor in seasonal stews?
Here are a few rich a tasty options, from Eastern Europe to Mexico to the Midwest.

Bratwurst and Beer Stew

3 (12-ounce) bottles dark beer
2 pounds fresh bratwurst sausage links
4 slices bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips
4 cups sliced onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch sticks
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour 2 bottles of the beer into a medium (oven-proof) Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Using a small knife or fork, pierce each sausage link several times. Add bratwurst links to the beer, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the sausages from the pan and set aside to cool slightly. Reserve the sausage-cooking liquid. Slice the sausage links into 1-inch pieces and set aside.
Add the bacon to the Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the sliced bratwurst to the bacon drippings and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring often, until lightly brown and wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds. Stir in the reserved sausage-cooking liquid, the remaining bottle of beer, chicken stock, potatoes, carrots, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaf to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, and cover.
Place the Dutch oven in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig. Stir the crispy bacon into the stew and serve hot with crusty bread.

Sausage 'n Stout Cheese Soup

4 potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups water
2 (12 fluid ounce) bottles cream stout beer
2 pounds kielbasa sausage, sliced thin
4 green onions, diced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder
1 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups milk

Bring potatoes, water, and beer to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the sausage, green onions, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard powder, and liquid smoke. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are completely tender, about 15 minutes.
When the potatoes are tender, stir in the Cheddar cheese until completely melted, then add the milk. Heat through, stirring until cheese has melted but do not boil.

Mexican Sausage Stew

1 tb Canola oil
1 Bottle Mexican beer
1 lb Beef brisket; cut into
1 c Water
1/2 lb Hot sausage; cut into chunks
1 Sweet potato; peeled, sliced
1 c Sliced onion
1 Box (10-oz) frozen corn
2 Cloves garlic; chopped
2 tb All purpose flour
1 ts Ground cinnamon
3/4 c Shredded Monterey Jack
1/2 ts Ground allspice
2 tb Chopped cilantro
1 cn (13-oz) beef broth

Heat oil in large dutch oven. Working in batches, saute brisket and sausage until browned, approx. 10 minutes. Transfer to plate. Add onions and garlic to drippings in pot, cook until tender, about 8 minutes, being careful NOT to burn the garlic. Stir in cinnamon and allspice, cook 1 minute. Return meat and sausage to pot. Reserve 1/4 cup beef broth. Stir in remaining broth, beer and water. Cover and simmer until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Sitr in potatoes, cook until potatoes are tender, 15 minutes, stir in corn, heat through. Whisk flour and reserved 1/4 cup brothe in small bowl. Stir into pot. Cook stirring until thickened. To serve.... ladle stew into bowls. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons cheese. Garnish with cilantro, accompany with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Super Bon!: il Panettone

This famous Milanese Christmas cake is one of my favorite delicacies of the season!
It is available at most Italian markets/delis (and World Market), and keeps remarkably well. More of a sweet leavened bread studded with raisins and candied orange and lemon peel, Panettone is delicious alone, toasted with butter or lemon curd, ideal for french toast, or even used in turkey stuffing.. It is versatile and adds a festive punch to any recipe.

This year, I think I would like to try making my own with this recipe from ItalianMade, served the traditional way with Crema Di Mascarpone. Yum!

Keep an eye out for various Recettes Secrètes of mine throughout the season using Panettone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Beth's Corn Puddin'

My cousin Beth might be one of the funniest people I know. She also mans a Thanksgiving kitchen like nobody's business. The several years I've spent Thanksgiving at her brother's home up the road in Sherman Oaks have been some of my tastiest. Turkey wrapped in woven bacon is truly a scrumptious sight to behold (and taste!), not to mention candied sweet potatoes with melted See's butterscotch kisses on top...

Apparently my sister's good friend Abby has even adopted one of Beth's famous side dish recipes and makes it every year the night before Thanksgiving at my sister's home, a tradition they now refer to as "Pies, Puddin' and Wine". The puddin' refers to Beth's Corn Puddin' - what she calls "major comfort food!" And what better time of year for it?

Corn Puddin'

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 beaten egg
1 stick melted butter
1 each- canned cream corn and canned kernel corn (liquid included)
8 oz sour cream

Mix all together. Pour into a lightly sprayed casserole. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. May have to cook longer if you use a deeper dish. Will be a bit soft in the middle but will set up upon cooling a bit.


P.S. I check the temp of the pudding in the middle with a knife and my finger...if it isnt really hot, I sometimes bake another 5-10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buvare?: Chewable Cocktails

Could it be true? A revival of solid booze?
Bless Tasting Table New York and NY Times for tipping me off on this trendy new movement. But we're not talking your average dimestore jell-o shot.. From absinthe-flavored gummi bears and Ramos gin fizz mashmallows (Eben Freeman of Tailor's "Solids") to strawberry-flavored vodka and Chambord jam on warm baguette ("French Toast" by Thierry Hernandez of Benoit) I would say the emerging examples raise the bar a notch. Or three.

The best part? Here's a recipe for you to attempt the much-lauded Pumpkin Pie Shot concocted by Eric Hara of davidburke & donatella - just in time for Thanksgiving! I'm definitely trying it.. Let's swap notes after the holiday on whose grandma got more wasted!

Pumpkin Pie Jell-O Shots
Makes 8 pies

8 Keebler mini graham-cracker piecrusts
1 envelope Knox gelatin
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 tablespoon cold heavy cream
Fresh whipped cream, for serving

1. Arrange the piecrusts on a baking sheet. Place 1 cup cold water in the top of a double boiler and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let stand for three minutes.
2. Heat the gelatin mixture over a gentle simmer until the granules have dissolved. Add the pumpkin, sugar and spices and heat, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin and sugar are completely melted. Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the vodka with 1/4 cup cold water and the heavy cream. Whisk in the pumpkin mixture and immediately divide it among the piecrusts. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours. Slice the pies into wedges, if desired, top with whipped cream and serve.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Beer Brussels Sprouts

Just in time for Thanksgiving!
Cook time: 20 minutes
6 servings

2 tablespoons good olive oil
6 ounces Italian pancetta, or applewood-smoked bacon 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 12oz can lager beer

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden brown and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Meanwhile heat the beer and about a cup of water in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add the sprouts and quickly return to a boil. Cook uncovered for 3-5 minutes. Drain.

Add the Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper to the fat in the saute pan and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the raisins and brown sugar. Lower the heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. If the skillet becomes too dry, add a little water. Return the pancetta to the pan, heat through, season to taste, and serve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buvare: Applejack

Last Halloween, saddled up at the cozy bar inside Freemans, I fell in love. My drink contained Applejack, a colonial "cyder spirit" from Laird & Company that Johnny Appleseed himself once taught his congregations along the Ohio River Valley how to produce. Technically an apple brandy, when mixed Applejack can take on more of a caramelly bourbon role. Try it on the rocks with rye whiskey, in place of brandy in your favorite cocktails or on its own. Lately I've been enjoying mine like this..


2 oz Applejack
2 oz Knob Creek Kentucky straight bourbon
2 dashes Fee’s Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters
¾ oz unpasteurized apple cider

Pour the Applejack and bourbon into an old fashioned glass, add bitters, then two or three ice cubes, and top with apple cider. Stir gently.

Other delicious Applejack cocktails from some inspired mixologists..

New York Trading Company
from William Tigertt, owner of Freemans (NYC)

2 oz Applejack
½ oz simple syrup
¾ oz Velvet Falernum
¾ oz lime juice

Shake together all ingredients and strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a bitters-soaked apple wedge.
“Applejack is a great fall liquor that blends really well. We mixed it up a bit and added Velvet Falernum, which is a sugarcane liquor that gives it some spiciness and complexity. The bitters on the apple slice soak into the drink as you sip it, adding more complexity.”

Northern Spy
from Josey Packard of Alembic (San Francisco)

2 ounces Applejack
1 ounce fresh apple cider (flash-pasteurized is okay, but no preservatives!)
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ - ½ ounce apricot brandy, to taste, depending on brand*

Shake well with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass that’s been rimmed with cinnamon sugar. Top with champagne, if you like (be sure to goose up the sweetness a little to compensate for the extra acidity), and for the holiday go ahead and garnish with a cranberry.
* or pimento dram, or ginger liqueur, or ……

Applejack Old Fashioned
from Misty Kalkofen of Green Street (Cambridge, Mass.)

1 tsp (or to taste) real maple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Aromatic Bitters*
2 ounces Applejack

Build in an old fashioned glass. Give a little stir, a big chunk or two of ice, another little stir, then garnish if you like.
* If you can’t find the barrel-aged bitters, then Fee’s Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters will do (or, Angostura in a pinch). But really the Whisky Barrel Aged Bitters is an exceptionally fine product. If you can’t find it where you live, give the good folks at Fee’s a call and see if you can order some — they’re really worth the effort.

Another delicious apple brandy comes from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland (be sure to stop into their tasting room when in NW Ptown), which my favorite bartender utilized in nailing the perfect Fall cocktail..

Autumn Leaves
from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, head bartender at Bel Ami (Eugene, OR)

¾ oz Wild Turkey rye
¾ oz Clear Creek apple brandy
¾ oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
¼ oz Strega
2 dashes cinnamon tincture*
1 large strip orange peel

Stir ingredients over cracked ice. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass and garnish with orange peel.
*To make cinnamon tincture, soak 4 ounces whole cinnamon sticks in 16 oz grain alcohol for three weeks. Strain solids and bottle.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Los Días de la Vida

El Dia de los Muertos may just be my favorite holiday. The sentiment surfaced when I was living up in the NW where my withdrawl of Sonoran Mexican culture would pang most around the Day of the Dead. Every year since then I have tried to do something to celebrate the life in death, the Mexican way - be it an all-out fiesta or a simple altar of ofrendas in my home. Since living in LA, I've discovered the rich and vibrant cultural events that span the first several days of November, which seem more like Los Días de la Vida than Los Muertos to me.
While I attended Hollywood Forever's massive festival on Saturday Nov. 1 for the second year in a row, I found the crowds and queues more daunting than the rewards of the event. The vibe is invigorating and the costumes incredible, but it was the exceptional food and art of Festival de la Gente on Sunday afternoon that hit the spot for me.
It was there that I enjoyed the best pupusa I've ever had - spicy carnitas covered a seasoned pork and cheese pupusa, fresh from the grill and then topped with spicy marinated cabbage, cilantro, several salsas and crema Mexicana. INCREDIBLE!
A festive display of aguas frescas, but I went with a strawberry horchata to tame the fire from the carnitas.
An ofrenda of a Virgin Mary Pan de muerto.
And what luck - the 4th Annual East LA Tamale Festival was happening the SAME DAY. So, I popped down to MacArthur Park where the café-cum-community-building-project and self-proclaimed "tamale capitol of the world" Mama's Hot Tamales hosts the event.
Still full from the pupusa, I enjoyed a delicious champurrado and a "scenic" stroll along MacArthur Lake to attempt working up an appetite.
I stopped at the first tent where smiling ladies sold me a delicious steaming chicken tamale with mole negro, then headed over to Mama's to see what International delights she had on the menu.
Mama's angle, rather than focus on one region's cuisine, is to showcase recipes from the women who have come through her program from all over Latin America. Mama trains these pupils how to serve fresh food to the public, and thus helps create jobs in the community (read more here). Of the variety offered Sunday, I tried the decent El Salvador chicken which had a mild red sauce, bell peppers and potatoes inside a white masa tamale. It was the Honduras tamale though, made with chicken, olives, raisins, potatoes and rice that tantalized my tastebuds.

I already can't wait until next year. To tide me over, I think I may need to attempt my first-ever tamale making assembly line this New Year's Eve.. I'll keep you posted on that!

Recettes Secrètes: Pumpkin Choco-chunk Bread

2 c. flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 c. mashed cooked fresh pumpkin
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. oil
6 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices until well blended; set aside. Beat eggs, pumpkin, sugars, milk and oil in large bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Add dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Stir in chopped chocolate.
Pour into greased 9x5-inch loaf pan.
Bake 55 minutes to 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack. Cut into 18 (1/2-inch thick) slices to serve.

For easier slicing, wrap bread in plastic wrap and store overnight before cutting into slices.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

En Vitesse: In the Hamburger Patch

I've said it before and I'll say it again.
I love a perfect burger.
Yes, I love hamburgers SO much, I would steal them.
Sooo I had to be this guy for Halloween:

But if you REALLY want to be scared, check this out!
WTH!?! (Thanks for the tip Marni!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Vintage Halloween Treats

These festive Americana party treats always reminds me of a more innocent time when caramel apples and unwrapped candy could safely be accepted by trick-or-treaters. And since I tend to prefer my Halloween in vintage style, try these recipes to add some old school charm to your masked soiree.

Goblin Gorp
My favorite! And more than just a kiddy mix to eat out of dixie cups. Last year for a Halloween-themed dinner party that I co-organized, cellophane-bagged Goblin Gorp sat on each plate as a festive place holder and take-away.
I've updated the classic recipe with a few twists of my own.
Makes about 4 qts. of mixture.

2 1/2 qts. popcorn or kettlecorn
2 c. mini pretzels
1 c. salted peanuts
1 c. plain M&M's or Reese's Pieces
1 c. candy corn
1 c. Good & Plenty candy
1/2 c. sunflower meats (not seeds)

In a large bowl, mix and toss all ingredients together. Serve in dixie cups or wrapped in clear cellophane party bags.

Online I also found a zesty taco-flavored version with pumpkin seeds that intrigues the midwesterner in me..

Pumpkin Punch
My version of this simple (adult) witches brew, served in a real pumpkin shell.

1 large pumpkin
1 part real apple cider
2 parts ginger ale
1 part dark rum
vanilla bean ice cream

Cut a large opening in the top of the pumpkin using a knife and scrape the inside until it is clean and smooth (don't throw away the seeds! See recipe below). Wash inside if desired (though I prefer to let the pumpkin essence meld with the punch). Fill with rum, cider and ginger ale. Add enough ice to keep it cold and top with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Once the froth forms on the surface grind fresh nutmeg on top and serve.
And if you wanna get REAL crazy add some dry ice for effect (always use heavy gloves to handle the dry ice and place on a plate in the bottom of your pumpkin).

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 300°F. Remove seeds from pumpkin using large spoon. To separate seeds from pumpkin fiber, place mixture in large bowl and fill with cold water. Stir mixture, and seeds will float to surface. Remove seeds with slotted spoon and pat dry on paper towels. Place seeds in bowl and coat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Spread on foil-lined baking sheet, coated with non-stick spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I sometimes make several batches with different flavors: chili powder for a kick or curry powder for an exotic twist. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Goblin Cupcakes
My mother used to make these for Halloween carnivals and bake sales when I was a kid. I loved the texture, and the ridiculously brilliant marriage of cream cheese and chocolate.

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops yellow food coloring
1 c. chocolate chips
Combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, salt, orange peel and food coloring in a small bowl. Beat until smooth. Add chocolate chips. Set aside.

1 1/2 c. unsifted all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. vinegar
Combine ingredients in order listed. Blend well on low speed. Fill 24 paper muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cheese filling onto each cupcake. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Happy Gobblin'!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recettes Secrètes: Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Weekend morning experimentation has lead me to many of my favorite recipes. Last Saturday's hangover lead me to this enjoyable rich brunch treat. I have yet to find a cottage cheese pancake recipe that beats my old roommates', but this is probably the closest I've come.

1 c. flour
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 beaten egg
1 c. milk
2 tbsp. oil (safflower)
1 c. cottage cheese
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Splash of orange juice

3 ripe plums, sliced
1 lemon, sliced into wheels
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tbsp. Apricot preserves
Powdered sugar

Start off making a batter like any other.. In a batter bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In a med mixing bowl combine the egg, milk, oj and cooking oil. Add egg mixture to dry mixture, stir just til moistened. Fold in the cottage cheese.
For standard size pancakes, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot greased griddle or cast iron skillet. Flip when the edges bubble and dry.
In a seperate skillet, heat a tbsp of butter and add the sliced plums and lemon. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, add the nutmeg and let simmer. After a minute or two stir in the apricot preserves. Once warm and carmelized, spoon onto the pancakes and sift powdered sugar to finish.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Voyager Bien: Eugene, OR

The other day my mom sent me a Budget Travel survey link to submit what my "Perfect Day In Eugene" would be. After filling it out, I figured what the heck, might as well post my answers on the blog for any prospective visitors..

My Perfect Day
A brisk walk down Pearl Street from my old historic home (Emil Koppe House) hugging Skinner's Butte lands one at my favorite bakery for laid-back morning ambiance, Palace Bakery. If you're on the go though, you can't go wrong with a hazelnut croissant from Eugene City Bakery and a drive-through Dutch Bros. Coffee.
Walking or biking along the Willamette River is a lovely way to bypass downtown (also a great place to pick berries in the summer) to get to the scenic U of O campus where you can visit the redesigned Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. The 5th Street Market is a Eugene staple for shopping, and if its a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday be sure to drop by the downtown Farmer's Market for field fresh produce and goods. After the market, hit the Kiva for a great cheese and local artisan bread selection and pack a picnic for a hilltop afternoon on the grass at the wooded Hendrick's Park. Stop for antiques and English tea at Ruthie B's cozy farmhouse (once a bordello for loggers) tucked beside the bridge connecting Springfield and Glenwood.
If you're in the mood for a casual dinner, head straight to veggie haven Pizza Research Institute and get the carefully hand-crafted Chef's Choice pizza, but be prepared to wait. It's worth it. Then bee-line to Sweet Life Pâtisserie for an indulgent vegan dessert. But for a top notch dining experience there is no substitute for Marché Restaurant in the 5th Street Market. Marché is my favorite restaurant on the globe, and has been ever since I left its staff in 2004. Treat yourself to the real slow food experience and see why. My favorite classy after-dinner drink spot "where everybody knows your name" is the cozy Cafe Soriah. These bartendars run the town, and make a darn good Sidecar and too. Don't be surprised if you find yourself drinking Spanish Coffees and Tijuana Speedballs into the wee after-hours. On the flipside, the nuclear hangout for the younger college set is always at the divey Horsehead. If you want to dance, pray it's 80s night and head to John Henry's down the block.
The ONLY place to stay in Eugene is the Campbell House Bed & Breakfast - Across the street from my old house on Skinner's Butte. If you want a second opinion, ask my parents! (Rooms + breakfast from $129. Stellar service!)

A quick best-of, to help us finish up:
The Best Local Shop: Marché Provisions
A Must-see Attraction: The Heceta Head Lighthouse
A Souvenir That Sums It Up: A bottle of King Estate Pinot Noir
The Best Outdoor Option: A day trip to taste the magnificent wines of the Willamette Valley
Great, and Completely Free: Drive the country road along the beautiful McKenzie River
Rub Shoulders With Locals At: Max's Tavern, alleged inspiration for the Simpsons' Moe's

Been to Eugene? Submit your perfect day to Budget Travel here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jury Duty Dining: Inside the Downtown Lunch Scene

"Wow, way to take lemons and make lemonade, Nathan.."
I smiled, looking out of the plate glass lobby of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at a bride awkwardly discharging tulle out of a vintage limo door on the other side.
"Well hey," I retorted into my phone, turning toward the escalator to underground parking. "If I am going to be forced to spend a whole week or more in downtown LA with generous hour and a half lunch breaks, you can BET I will take advantage and at least get a decent blog story out of it." It was day three and I had already covered several downtown neighborhoods and classic LA dining establishments. I was officially on a jury panel in Judge Ito's courtroom and opening statements had been made. Ito guestimated a "couple day" trial, but I was prepared to be around for a while. Luckily downtown LA is one of my favorite sectors that I don't visit nearly enough. Thus I was excited for the challenge to diversify my generous lunch break each day and sample the best of what the civic center has to offer.
On day one I was a bit anxious come lunch as I was to report to a different courthouse after my break for a jury panel selection. Nervous about being late, I just followed the suits to the nearby CPK where I knew I could score a cold pint to calm my nerves. After lunch I walked through the sublevels of the California Plaza adjacent the MOCA and found everywhere I should have eaten, including the "wine country-inspired eco-artisan" Mendocino Farms Sandwiches & Marketplace barracaded by a mob of menu-wrinkling accountants. I picked up a small cup of green tea ice cream at the eurasian-vibed convenience store Famima!! and made my way back to the courthouse.
The next morning started with a long unplanned coffee break, which I filled with a piping cup of champurrado on nearby Olvera Street. Growing up less than an hour from Mexico, I understand that Olvera is touristy yes, but still a great place in LA to score some authentic cuisine, and actually introduced me to the rich frothy masa harina, chocolate, and cinnamon breakfast beverage champurrado - a hearty new favorite of mine.
By lunch I had a new friend and she insisted on introducing me to the world famous Phillipe The Original, self-proclaimed originator of the "french-dipped sandwich." Entering this madhouse took me back in time, one long deli counter runs the length, fronted by a battalion of sandwich-makin' matrons in 50's waitress smocks and paper diner hats doling out trays to one of some 12 long lines of hungry downtowners. Anticpation mounted in the line as I shifted on the sawdust covered concrete floor, deciding between sandwich meat; mayonnaise-based side salads; and kosher pickled items on the side.. I ended up with an au jus-logged pork french dip with swiss, paprika dusted old fashioned potato salad, bright purple pickled egg, a sweet pickle and arnie palmer to drink. Possibly the most satisfying of my lunches all week, I was ready to get back in line for sampling #2 when my fellow juror and I realized we were running late. I will SOON return my fair Phillipe..
Day three brought me back to square one, as my new friend was dismissed from the panel and the jury was locked. I decided that today I would take a longer walk to South Main and Winston, a block down from Pete's Cafe and the hip Old Bank DVD to Vietnamese hot spot Blossom Restaurant. I snagged a patio table out front and immediately had an iced coffee with condensed milk and menu in front of me, waitress asking what I'd like. They obviously were used to the lunch rush here. I ordered the lemongrass steak and eggroll Bún (cold vermicelli rice noodle bowl). Within minutes I was chopstick-deep into one of the most delicious peanut-dusted cilantro-heavy Bún bowls I've ever had. I routinely enjoy Silverlake's Pho Café, but in the future might venture downtown more often for my Shaking Beef.
Since Jurors get into MOCA free with their badge, I decided after we were released at 4pm to make the most of my plan-free evening. After checking out the fantastic Martin Kippenberger Retrospective at the MOCA on Main, I continued on to his massive "Problem Perspective" installation at the MOCA Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo, coupled with a colossal group show Index: Conceptualism in California from the Permanent Collection. I left filled to the brim; a daze that took me back to art school reviews, so I quelled myself in the Japanese Village Plaza with mindless shopping for cheap household goods at Tokyo Japanese Outlet and a dinner grocery stop at Nijiya Market, one of my favorite food shops that I affectionately refer to as the "Trader Joe's of Asian Markets." I skipped them that night, but Fugetsu-do and Mikawaya are also two essential stops in the neighborhood, sweet shops specializing in Mochi that have been operating since 1903 and 1910 respectively.
On day four I returned to Olvera Street for the food.. Most locals know to pass up the over-priced sit-down restaurants and head straight for the hole-in-the-wall counter spots that get lost among the cluttered vendor booths. Though corner mast Cielito Lindo is arguably the most popular of these, and though I usually visit La Noche Buena for my taquito, tamale and jamaica fix, Juanita's charming vendor who sold me on the champurrado earlier in the week brought me back for what may have been the best tangy guacamole sauce covered taquito combo plate on the street yet.
Finally, deliberation day had come, and I knew I had to use my last lunch wisely. There were so many places I had not tasted yet: Señor Fish's new downtown location, The Redwood Bar's infamous burger, historic French bistro Angelique Café, or my favorite hidden gem in Little Tokyo - the yellow-awned Daikokuya on First Street serving up the best ramen in LA. But history trumped taste buds today and I ventured down old Broadway all the way to 8th Street to finally see the eccentric Granddaddy of all cafeterias, Clifton's. The redwood forested interior was delightfully dated, though the clientele were less inviting than I'd hoped, and actually caused me to check to make sure I still had my wallet. I went through with it though and moved down the line with my warm damp tray, camping it up with a carrot/raisin slaw, Americana enchiladas, spanish rice, jello, and horchata "with fruit". I settled into a table on a terraced forest step and watched the REAL downtown LA dine in front of me in all its glory. The food was.. well, cafeteria food. The fruit was a nice addition to standard horchata however. The big kick came in the form of a cube of jello. Now, I got the opaque white jello with yellow shreds thinking "festive piña colada?" No, it was not. I chewed the first bite unable to detect a flavor. Bites two and three kept me guessing. But the shreds definitely were not coconut or pineapple.. rather a little waxy. It was official this was not a sweet jello. So what WAS it? It hit me with a sickening gulp that I was eating a flavorless white gelatin filled with bland shredded American cheese. I set down my fork, gathered my belongings and left Clifton's then, happy to limit our historic affair to viewing the kitschy vintage postcards on their website.
"Part of me is a little sad," I said into the phone as the bride outside beamed for the photographer. "I've been enjoying this surreal metropolitan urban life. Like I could become a public defender, get a refurbished loft and never look back." After a pause, my friend started laughing, and before I knew it I was too.
'Til next time, downtown...