Thursday, March 26, 2009

Buvare: Tijuana Speedball

One of my most beloved cocktails, edified by the master bartenders of cozy Cafe Soriah to the afterhours set of restaurant workers and au fait locals in Eugene, Oregon during the mid-oughts.
There was a strange "game" surrounding the presentation of the drink (which I still don't quite understand), where the bartender would bring the shaker to you and strain the drink table-side, and if they failed to empty the entire shaker and fill the glass to the top (without spilling over), they would leave the shaker with remaining deliciousness for you to finish at your leisure. Only thing was... there was ALWAYS extra.. Like, often twice as much extra!
Funny.. no one ever complained, and welcomed this odd ritual with hoots and hollers!

Tijuana Speedball
1 shot espresso
1 1/2 oz tequila
1 1/2 oz Kahlua
1 oz Baileys

Shake over ice
Strain into a chilled martini glass
Enjoy the rush!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Croquer: Gigante Tortilleria

Nondescript strip malls quietly fill Hollywood streets like banks in Beverly Hills, so after two years living in my Melrose Hill East Hollywood neighborhood, it's not terribly shocking that I'm still making discoveries only blocks from my home. In preparing for Taco Night with some friends at my place last week, I was having trouble finding the 4" small taco-sized tortillas. Once it was on my radar, boy was I surprised to see the word Tortilleria emblazoned on the first strip mall awning just North of my block. Inside of Gigante Panaderia y Tortilleria (936 N. Western Ave, LA Tel: 323.464.3139) is a mélange of formica booths, Mexican bread and pastry racks, cooler cases full of odds 'n ends, a hot food menu, and thankfully hot corn tortillas coming fresh out of a press, being wrapped in their plastic bags, steaming the interiors. The smallest bag of taco-sized tortillas was a stack of about 60. The woman behind the counter asked how many bags I would need. I laughed, one would do - which cost me $1.45.
Unlike most corn tortillas, Gigante's don't split when you fold them. They are thick and have a finer texture than most, with a delicate flavor. Quite a find!
I used Gigante tortillas here for brunch tacos of scrambled eggs, nopalitos, roasted anaheim peppers, and a fire-roasted tomato salsa.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Buvare: Lambrusco

I have to admit, I wasn't hip to the Lambrusco revival trend until a few months ago, when I decided to blindly try the wire-corked Le Grotte Reggiano Lambrusco NV Rosso Dolce at Trader Joe's. Impressed by the lively complexity of this $4.99 frizzante "soft red wine", I began my research, first coming upon a New York Times article bearing a tight-lipped, winking headline "Lambrusco, No joke!"
Dismissed by wine enthusiasts as a cloying fad of the Carter-Regan era (when sickeningly-sweet Riunite Lambrusco was the top selling export wine in the US), Lambrusco is making a serious comeback, and not just in suburban parlors.
Produced in four Lambrusco D.O.C’s (or denominazione di origine controllatas): three in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardia (more specifically in the area extending from Reggio Emilia, through Modena, to Bologna, and up to Mantova) and dating back to ancient Rome and the Etruscans, the Lambrusco grape (now with some 60 varieties) has a rather complex heritage. The best of its wines are fizzy reds meant to be drunk young, produced dry (secco), amabile (slightly sweet) or dolce (sweet). Lambrusco is characteristically light and low in alchohol (8.5% ABV), without much in the way of tannins or body. But it is a rare thirst-quenching wine, pleasantly fizzy with a floral bouquet and tart bite - An ideal picnic wine. On the tongue, most Lambrusco are vibrantly juicy but finish dry, with lots of dark berry flavors, violet, and a bit of earthiness. I was amused by one Lambrusco wine reviewed simply by the Kinks lyric "Drink Champagne and it tastes just like Coca Cola; c-o-l-a cola..."
Because it's so à propos.
Due to the acidicity, Lambrusco wines pair wonderfully with salty Italian aperitivi (Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma) and are a perfect complement to pizza. It is also an inexpensive wine (most are under $20), a said "red counterpart to Prosecco."
So step beyond sparkling, and impress your friends at the next Spring dinner party alfresco, and pop a cork on a slightly chilled bottle of liquid velvet Lambrusco.

image via the internet

Monday, March 23, 2009

En Vitesse: Monday Night Dinner

Poblano pepper stuffed with soyriso, ricotta, and monterey jack, baked in salsa roja, with spicy chili-lime green beans.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Ricotta Hotcakes with Strawberry Coulis

These velvety hotcakes could work well as side to a savory supper, as well as a sweet brunch entrée.

Ricotta Hotcakes
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
juice and grated peel of one meyer lemon
splash of Tuaca
Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Beat eggs in a batter bowl, add remaining wet ingredients, then mix with the dry ingredients. Pour approximately 1/4 cup batter onto a hot, oiled grill and cook until golden brown, flipping once. Arrange on a warm platter; dust with powered sugar. Serve with strawberry coulis. Serves about 6.

Strawberry Coulis
1 cup fresh strawberries
1 to 2 Tablespoons agave nectar or sugar
a few drops fresh meyer lemon juice
Place in blender or food processor and purée. Sweeten to taste. Strain through a fine sieve and discard seeds. Keeps up to a week in the fridge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carnish Culture: Food Party!

I feel like I may have failed as a food blogger for not bringing up FOOD PARTY sooner.. Behold Thu Tran, mastermind behind the Food Party BLOG (AKA your new bizarro food Bible) and host/creator of the cooking show by the same blessed name. Imagine Tim & Eric producing Amy Sedaris' takeover of the Martha Stewart Show in the unseen kitchen of Pee Wee's Playhouse.. and you're part way there. Check out the series trailer below, and read this charming interview with Thu.

Food Party Trailer from Thu Tran on Vimeo.

Watch full episodes on the Food Party channel HERE.
And if you're in New York, keep an eye on Thu's blog for special new episode screening events.

Yes friends, you may never look at food the same ever again..

Photos via Food Party!

En Vitesse: LA Taco Madness!

AMAZING! One of my fave blogs LA TACO is holding an official tourney to declare the fairest taco in the L.A.nd! Playoffs have already begun, so make sure you VOTE for your favorites immediately! Will it be newcomer Korean hotshot Kogi? High-end pleaser Loteria? Hipster haven Taco Zone? Constant star Cactus? World famous Yuca's? I can hardly contain myself!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Voyager Bien DAY TRIP: Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

Last year just after New Years, before returning to the grind, three friends and I set out on an impromptu adventure, heading forty miles North of Santa Barbara to the wine region made popular by tourist Danish village Solvang, a little flick called Sideways, and some damn good wines - The Santa Ynez wine country. After a delightful romp through the tasting rooms of several roadside vineyards off Highway 246 and the Solvang streets, we settled more comfortably in the quaint, more mature (and tasteful) town to the North, Los Olivos. We each even enthusiastically [read: intoxicatedly] joined the wine club at our last stop, in the humble main drag tasting room of Daniel Gehrs. After an incredible leisurely dinner at Brother's Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern, we returned to our hotel satiated from the bounty of this rich valley. But there was one region we barely touched on that I knew would prove much more fulfilling upon revisit. Just North of Los Olivos and Mattei's is a windy two lane country road leading to the source of many of the tasting room's wares, the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. All along the picturesque anicent oak studded hills are nestled modest vineyards (OK, and Firestone) producing some of the region's best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah and Cab Franc.I appreciate that for my Daniel Gehrs wine membership (technically I am in their Port Club - STELLAR ports) whenever my quarterly shipments are available, I get a postcard for pickup. Sure they could be shipped for an additional fee, but there's something about "having" to drive up to Los Olivos several times a year that quite appeals to me. So I pretend that's my only option and plan accordingly. A couple of weekends ago, I decided Saturday was the day to pick up my wine. One of my friends from the previous trip had club wine ready as well, so we hit the road nice and early, coasting into Los Olivos by 11am.
After filling nearly a case with our club shipments (my friend hadn't picked up any of his wine the whole year) and enjoying our complimentary member tasting, we hit the Qupé tasting room just up Grand Ave for some earthy Rhônes, and then the Los Olivos Grocery to finish packing our perfect wine country picnic lunch (that we never got around to enjoying). And off into the Canyon we went!
We bypassed the first several vineyards, those which we hit last year, including the popular Fess Parker, trendy Andrew Murray and rustic Koehler Winery. Koehler's elegant Viognier was one of my favorite tastings and purchases from the previous trip out, well worth a stop. We pulled over alongside a weathered picket fence to try one of the vineyards a local woman at Daniel Gehrs had suggested, the aptly named Foxen Vineyard.Immediately charmed by its provincial shed-like tasting room and tastefully rudimentary logo/design, the roars of content laughter and conversation coming from inside were even a better indicator. Our sunny, good-natured (and tie-dyed) wine pourer made us feel immediately part of the pack here, and one after another poured impressive wines. A rather enthusiastic [read: intoxicated] woman insisted on taking our photos with my camera and was quite the chatty cathy. She suggested Riverbench and Rancho Sisquoc further up the road for "our tastes" (detecting snobbery), so once I wrangled my camera back and evaded her (and her eye-rolling husband) in the crowd, we headed to the car with a semblance of a plan. The clouds had thickened and a definite chill was settling into the valleys. Riverbench just up the road is a sprawling estate with gorgeous panoramic views and a contemporary farmhouse tasting room. They specialize in estate-grown Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, so I opted for the Pinot flight (love Pinot, not a huge Chard fan). Interrupting our relaxed tasting was the woman from Foxen, obvious even more tipsy (and LOUDER) than when we last met. We hurried through our flight as the woman behind the bar widened her eyes and whispered through clenched teeth to my friend that she would pay us to leave and take "our friend". We ducked out with a wink and hurried back into the darkening day to continue the tour.Rancho Sisquoc was next, and sits off the main road a short ways down a one lane dirt road, past brambly foliage, a decrepit church and a shuttered home covered in cow skulls and PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs.. all of which in the shadowy calm before the storm was rather.. foreboding. We pulled up to the barn-like tasting room and were greeted with- well, in fact we weren't greeted. A few unfriendly couples tasted quietly, echoing the creepiness outside. Once we finally got the wine pourer's attention, she seemed rather irritated to help us. The wines we tasted were decent, but nothing stood out terribly until the final pour, which was a limited library wine club exclusive blend, available to us on special. It was actually quite round and palatable; a perfect table wine (which I took to a dinner party a week later, garnering unanimous praise). We also enjoyed Sisquoc's toothsome little wine biscuits, which were slightly sweet and a perfect foil between tastes (much better than the cardboard water crackers elsewhere). But we left without a thank you or a goodbye, all they wanted were our CC receipts; a rather drab end to our tour... So we didn't end there! We called around and Tres Hermanas Winery was tasting until 6:00pm, and on our way back toward town. Voilà! To be honest I can't recall most of what we tasted here, but did end up buying a bottle of the 2006 Rosé of Syrah, the only thing that really stood out to me. Meanwhile my friend couldn't let go of how WHITE our wine pourer's teeth were, which made everyone laugh. "But you drink WINE all day..?!?" He insisted.
It had begun to rain outside and was getting dark fast. We certainly needed a fulfilling meal and a rest before anyone would be driving home, especially in rain. We retired to our beloved Mattei's Tavern at the base of the Trail for a bite in the bar (reservations generally required to get a table in the restaurant). The crackling fire and warming scent of wood-fire-cooked food brought my tired tastebuds instantly back to life. We settled into a table in the dark bar and opened a bottle of Daniel Gehr's Cabernet to have with our giant Kobe burgers.
This is happiness, I thought.
After an espresso and near perfect creme brulée (I am a connoisseur!), we were ready to head back LA. And by that I mean only that we could no longer afford our adopted lifestyle. Lazy Sunday beckoned. But it always helps leaving knowing that in another 2 months a cream-colored postcard will arrive in the mailbox inviting me back for a friendly and carefree day in the hills, relishing in the sights, smells and tastes of the rich Santa Ynez Valley countryside.Disclaimer: Please drive responsibly! The country roads are narrow and windy. Also, it is not rude to spit out your wine tastes, consider especially if you're the driver. If you do drink too much, get a hotel room for the night and take a cab if you go out for dinner (the best cabbie I've ever had was in Buellton last year). The Days Inn Buellton-Solvang (the windmill hotel just off the 101) is an inexpensive alternative to the boutique "winery suites"-type rip-offs in Solvang, and just a short drive from everything). If you do stay the night there, hit up Ellen's Danish Pancake House in Buellton for a robust homecooked breakfast before the drive home!

Get there: From LA take the 101-N just past Santa Barbara to Highway 154, a scenic pass that will take you through Los Padres National Forest and alonside tranquil Lake Cachuma. Once you reach Highway 246, turn left to head into Santa Ynez and Solvang, or keep straight on the 154 and you'll hit Los Olivos and the Foxen Canyon Trail.
If you're staying in Buellton, take the 101 all the way up along the coast until you hit Highway 246 and you're there.

Voyager Bien: Tucson, Culinary Destination

My mother sent along this impressively astute article today on how my hometown, Tucson AZ is a leading food world trendsetter and underrated culinary powerhouse, fusing cultural and regional traditions, the integrity of the land, and forward thinking. I have always held these opinions, but considered it an inherent bias.. My mother showed similar feelings, as the article does mention her place of work, the modest but glorious desert reserve Tohono Chul Park, but there is a reputability in the writing here. Reading this tourist view of Tucson not only boosted my pride of my homeland, but also stoked an envious craving for the meal the writer enjoyed at the posh Ventana Room, which I have (always wanted to, but) never been to. A lightly smoked Arizona Jojoba beef tenderloin with Tohono O’odham white tepary bean coulis and Saguaro syrup gastrique, paired with a 2004 Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape? A course "break" of prickly pear sorbet in a saguaro cactus seed cone to snack on while enjoying a 2005 Hopler Gruner Veltliner?? Yes, please!
My next trip home, I will have to decide where to splurge now - My standby favorite restaurant (of all time??) Cafe Poca Cosa (please go here if ever in Tucson), my mother's new favorite hot spot Harvest, or goodness the Ventana Room. I'll keep you posted on what I decide... photos via Loew's Ventana Canyon Resort Tucson

Monday, March 16, 2009

En Vitesse: Monday Night Dinner

Niman Ranch bacon-wrapped chardonnay-apple sausage on baguette with horseradish mustard; wild arugula and strawberry salad with poppy seed dressing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: A Perfect Poach

Last weekend I woke up on Sunday morning passably hungover to overcast skies, wanting nothing more than to enjoy a perfectly poached egg. Congruous was the realization that though poaching is my preperation of choice, I had never actually poached an egg myself. It was the perfect simple project for a day with such limited ambition!
I decided to do a simplified benedict (no drive or patience for hollandaise this particular morning), with english muffins, Niman Ranch apple wood smoked bacon and green heirloom tomatoes.
As much as I love my cast iron skillet, I've been enjoying my thick cut bacon prepared in the oven. It is far less greasy and a nice even cook. To do so, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a lipped baking sheet with tin foil, then place a wire cooling rack over the foil. Lay the bacon flat across the rack and cook for about 15 minutes or to desired crispness. Turn off the oven and let sit until your eggs are ready to serve.
Common Poaching mistakes I've learned are using too much water and with too much heat. The water shouldn't be rapidly boiling, rather a torrid simmer. I also remembered hearing that adding vinegar and salt to the water will aid in holding the egg white's form. My first pass was sub-par, overcooking the yolks. After a second pass, this is what I found worked best:
First, retrieve a medium-sized skillet or shallow pan that has a lid. Fill the skillet with only about 3 inches of water. Put the skillet on high heat and cover to speed up the heating time. Meanwhile, carefully crack each egg into individual measuring cups or small bowls.
When the water in the skillet boils, remove the cover. Add one tablespoon of vinegar (I use apple cider) to the water, and some kosher salt. Lower the lip of each egg-cup 1/2-inch below the surface of the water. Let the eggs ease out into the water. Immediately return the lid to the pan and turn off the heat. Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. More or less for runnier or firmer yolks. While the eggs cook, you have time to toast the english muffins and slice the tomatoes. When the timer goes off, remove the cover and lift each egg from the water with a slotted spoon. Lay the bacon and tomato slices on each piece of toast and then gently top with a poached egg. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like a little chipotle hot sauce on mine. Enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Croquer: A Class Act Brunch at Cecconi's

Upon approaching the recently opened West Hollywood outpost of legendary Venetian (by way of London) institution Cecconi's in the old Morton's location at Melrose and Robertson, the last thing you might expect is a sign reading "complimentary valet". Having strolled a few blocks from my street spot on Melrose, this was only the first of many unpretentious surprises Cecconi's had in store.
Once past the vine-sheered terraces flanking the host station and through the welcoming french doors into Cecconi's, it is impossible to resist the arresting chic color pallette of black/white marble and tourquoise velvet/leather upholstery throughout the room. All of the fixtures are imported relics of exquisite craftmanship, the chandeliers linked hand-blown glass.
Beyond the bar (filled by a family of suspended dried meats and sausages, as well as glassware), to the back of the restaurant is the screened-in exclusive Butterfly Room, impressively presided over by a striking Damien Hirst original.I saw one of my companions seated in a plush velvet corner banquet across the room and joined her, admiring the modest prime location with a view of the entire restaurant. Our extremely good-natured server appeared to fetch us drinks while we waited for our third.
Without needing to be told, I knew from first sip that my cappucino was LAMill espresso, which always scores big points in my book. The mimosa, though made from delicious fresh squeezed oranges, could have used a splash more sparkle. I did not taste my friend's bloody mary, but it looked spicy, thick and peppery, as I prefer mine.
What impressed me immediately upon viewing the menu was the accessibility and affordability of this high-end brunch fare. Starting from eggs any style & toast or an egg white omelette ($6) and delights such as waffle with mascarpone & raspberries or ricotta hotcakes with preserved blueberries ($8), who can really complain this is overpriced Westside dining? Because it's one of my favorite brunch dishes to prepare myself at home, I had to order the Panettone French toast with maple syrup ($9) and a side of applewood smoked bacon ($4). The custardy housemade panettone was thin but in no way flat, bursting with rich cream and dried citrus flavor. The chunky homemade orange marmalade was a perfect match. The bacon was also thinner than my liking, but lean and cooked to perfection; both chewy and crispy.One of my companions splurged on the scrambled eggs with shaved black truffle ($24), which was a divine luxury for the tastebuds.. The eggs were scrambled on the softer side, and the side order of mushrooms she ordered were simply butter and garlic sauteed; nothing special. An eclectic bread basket accompanied the meal, along with an array of other homemade jams, the strawberry which was my second favorite to the marmalade.
After a French toast breakfast, dessert was nowhere near my mind, but after truffles, my guest was ready to sample something on the sweet side. Of course it was no arm twist for me to agree to *try* whatever she ordered. It was unanimous that the blood orange cake with caramel & yoghurt ($9) was the best bet. And it was exquisite. The whipped yogurt was tart and light, a perfect foil for the tacky rich pool of caramel that footed the moist pudding-rich, orange-veined cake. A perfect way to finish off a top-notch afternoon nosh.
Yes, fair Cecconi's with your vast offerings from breakfast through afternoon "Chichetti" and into your Midnight menu, it is safe to bet I will be back - especially for your handmade pastas, which our server's eyes rolled back for a moment trying to put into words.
'Til we meet again..

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gala Parfait: North Dakota Church Basement Casserole Cookoff.. Party

My good friend Britt has been steadfast throughout my formative years, always lending a helping hand, warm smile and good ol' Midwestern hospitality. She is a proud Bismarck, North Dakotan of Norwegian descent who relishes in the quirks of her family and regional traditions. So when she decided to make casseroles for her birthday on a Sunday afternoon, in the “church lady basement” style, none of us flinched, and already began to brainstorm what to wear.
The spread was impressive (yes, on a rooftop patio in Santa Monica - not *quite* a North Dakota basement). Britt had been cooking for days; When we arrived, several casseroles housed in jadeite warmed in the oven, the fridge was stocked with jiggling jello molds crusted with pastel colored mini marshmallows, and "Slush" (formal name in the Stabo Scandinavian Imports ND regional cookbook) chilled in the freezer, ready to be served up with a spritz of 7-up. I brought a modest offering of Andrew Murray Sanglier "Pink Wine", but immediately wished I had made my infamous picnic standby Fusilli Pasta Fruit Salad (MmHmm). Two dishes really stuck out to me as the big winners, so thought I'd share them.. In case you might find yourself wondering what the heck to bring to an after-church potluck of your own!!!
Britt did give a disclaimer with these recipes: "I never really measure things... so, measurements are approximate. But...the beauty of casseroles...they need not be an exact science! Just whatever mama's got in the kitchen will work!"Glorified Rice
2 cups precooked white rice (arborio works nicely, but any kind will do)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 can pineapple tidbits
1 sweet apple (Gala or Fuji is quite nice)
1 box lemon jello
maraschino cherries
Do it:
Make jello according to box instructions & mix rice into dissolved jello. chill in refrigerator for a few hours until somewhat firm-- 2-4 hours (You can prepare before bed & mix the rest when you wake up). Chop an apple into bite-sized bits. Squeeze lemon onto apple if desired. Mix jello/rice with pineapple tidbits (drain the juice first) & chopped apple. Make whipped cream either by hand (arm workout!) or with a hand blender. It should be a thick & fluffy consistency. Fold whipped cream into mixture until all is light & fluffy. Use enough whipped cream so that the dish looks more white than yellow. Place in serving dish(es) such as a bear head bierstein and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Let the angels sing! Of the casseroles, the vegetarian (though defnitely NOT vegan) option was the clear crowd-pleaser..Tator Tot Hotdish! (Vegetarian style)
1 10 oz bag vegetarian beef crumbles or other similar product
1 can French cut (Fancy!) Green Beans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
about 1/3 cup milk
1 small yellow or white onion
1 can mushrooms (optional)
1/2 bag Tator Tots
lots of shredded Cheddar Cheese (maybe 4 handfuls)
oregano if you've got it
Do it:
Saute onion in butter on medium high heat. Add veggie beef crumbles & saute about 5 minutes. Season with pepper/ oregano. Add cream of mushroom soup & enough milk to moisten the mixture well. Layer mixture into bottom half of casserole dish. Maybe 9-12 inches. Drain the green beans & mushrooms & spread over mixture. Sprinkle cheese over mixture. Add Tator Tots- distributing over entire top of dish. Sprinkle a light layer of cheddar cheese over tator tots. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Start peeking at about 30 minutes to make sure it's not burning. Should brown nicely. Depending on your oven power, you may want to turn on the broiler for the last 5-10 minutes to brown the tator tots until crispy.
Voila! MMMM... Taste that culture! Now clear your plate before goin' to play with those cattails, ya hear!