Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust

Some of my favorites from 2006 (clockwise from top left): My first taste of mango with sweet sticky rice; peeps-topped cupcakes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan; spurred on by the May Eat Local challenge, becoming a regular at my local farmers' market and eating lots of carrots; concocting rhubarb schnapps; going as local as my work parking lot for passion flower fruit; and settling on a cozy neighborhood sushi bar.

It's been a yummy year here at Erin's Kitchen--as Shakira would say, my hips don't lie. Though gym-going rates high on the resolution list, you can expect much more deliciousness here in 2007. With the world only getting crazier by the minute, I wish you all comfort and joy in your kitchens and at your table in the year to come. Cheers and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Grandma Sally's Cinnamon Rolls

8 year-old Erin, Christmas morning: "Please can't we open presents? Puh-leeeze?"

Erin's mom, Christmas morning: "Not until everyone has a cinnamon roll and the adults have their coffee."

Luckily, my Grandma Sally's cinnamon rolls are so good, my sister and I almost didn't mind having to eat one before we could open presents on Christmas morning. Almost.

Now, we're the last ones out of bed on December 25, and often more excited about the presents we're giving rather than getting (J says: not true). Even better, this is the second year that my sister and I have helped my Grandma make the cinnamon rolls, and I think I'm ready to attempt a batch on my own.

Like most grandma-perfected baked goods, exact measurements are difficult to ascertain. Use the recipe below as a general guide, but feel free to experiment. Serve warm with butter.

Grandma Sally's Cinnamon Rolls

¼ c sugar
2 tbsp shortening
4 t salt
4 c warm water
1 pkg yeast

12-14 c flour
1 stick butter, softened
brown sugar

2 9x12 cake pans, greased

Place sugar, shortening and salt in medium bowl. Add warm water, then stir in yeast. Mix well until yeast is dissolved, shortening will remain lumpy.

Sift 10 cups of flour into large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add yeast mixture. Stir well until all flour is incorporated.

Sift approximately 2 cups flour onto clean counter. Turn out dough onto sifted flour. With floured hands, knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If the dough's too sticky, add some more flour. Lightly grease large bowl that flour was in, and return dough to that bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

Punch dough down with your fist, and let rise again for about 1 hour.

Turn out onto lightly floured surface, and roll out into a large rectangle, approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Liberally brush dough with softened butter, covering entire surface. Spread buttered dough with brown sugar, completely covering surface. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Tightly roll dough into cylinder. If your rectangle is really long, an extra pair of hands is useful for this step. Turn cylinder seam-side down, and cut into rolls approximately 2 inches wide.

Place rolls into greased cake pans, about 12 to a pan; do not crowd since they have to rise again. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400. Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve warm, or reheat in low-temperature oven before serving. You can freeze them too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wine 101 at San Antonio Winery

If you're like me, you probably have one or two gifts left to figure out before Christmas next week, right? Here's what I say: skip the mall and send your friend or family member to the a "Wine 101" Wine Tasting Seminar at San Antonio Winery in downtown Los Angeles. An afternoon sipping some of California's best and snacking on branzino and duck ravioli will go over a lot better than another sweater from the Gap, dontcha think?

The same seminar will be held both January 20 and 21, from 12 pm-3pm. The cost includes a lots of food, and the chance to taste a bunch of wine, including Turnbull Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Napa Valley, Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2005 Napa Valley, San Simeon Chardonnay 2003 Monterey County, San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2001 Tuscany and Sterling Vineyards Merlot 2002 Napa Valley.

San Antonio Winery was founded in 1917 and remains a family-run business. Fellow LA blogger Franklin Avenue describes his recent visit here. My favorite fact from Franklin Ave? The winery made it through prohibition by supplying the Catholic church with wine. Hee!

To make reservations for the event, call (323) 223-1401 x 71 or email The cost of the event is $60.00 per person. Click here for directions.

Full disclosure: The winery has invited me to attend this seminar as its guest, and I plan to go. Of course, it was not a requirement for me to post the event info, and if I don't like it--you'll be the first to know!

Last Chance to Win Big (and feel good about it!)

The Menu for Hope ends tomorrow (Friday) at 6 pm PST, so you have a little over 24 hours to buy your $10 raffle tickets and bid on prizes like dinner for four with wine at Mozza, the new Batali joint in LA, or dinner with NYT wine critic Eric Asimov.

We've already raised $40,000 (who says bloggers don't have power?)! Can you help push it to $50,000? Make your bids now!

Here at Erin's Kitchen we've sponsored prize UW15: a brand- spankin' new copy of Arabesque by Middle Eastern food expert Claudia Roden, a cookbook that covers the history and the food of Turkey, Morocco and Lebanon. And if that wasn't enough, I've thrown in a $25 gift certificate to Penzey's, an online emporium of herbs and spices at great bulk prices. They carry six different kinds of cinnamon, seven peppercorn varieties, and everything else you need to build a Middle Eastern pantry.

Best of all, every penny raised goes directly to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which began in 1963, as the United Nations' frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2003, WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries, including refugees and internally displaced people and families left homeless by natural disaster.

So, go to First Giving and buy your raffle tickets today. Be sure to enter the number of the prize(s) you want. For a full list of prizes visit Chez Pim, and for those of you who like to play the odds, check out Becks and Posh for the odds of winning each of the West Coast prizes. And of course, big thanks to all of y'all who have already donated!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I Like My Nuts Candied:
Cinnamon Almonds and Gingered Pepitas

uncandied almond photo by dano

Promise me, dear readers: after reading this post you will never again buy ridiculously expensive, fancy-pants candied nuts. Or at least you'll only buy them in a dire nut emergency. Life or death, okay?

Here's why you can renounce your candied-nut buying ways: it's easy-peasy to make your own, and you can make them exactly the way you want--cuz you know you're picky about your nuts.

Candied nuts make an excellent gift--I sent all my holiday party attendees away with jars of cinnamon-orange almonds. If you live within the orbit of an all-powerful Trader Joe's, you can hook yourself up with cheap nuts, too, of all shapes, sizes and flavors. I always start with the plainest nuts possible--no salt, unroasted--so I have complete control over the flavors.

I prefer the on-the-stove technique over oven-roasting, again, because of the control. I encourage you to experiment with different recipes to find what works best for you, and once you have a technique down, your flavor options are endless.

Cinnamon-Orange Almonds

1 orange, grated rind only
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
nutmeg, freshly grated
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups almonds

Combine the orange peel, sugar, cinnamon and water in a deep sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until it boils. Add the nuts and reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid is simmering. Stir constantly while the water evaporates. At first, the glaze will be shiny. As the water boils off, the sugar will form brown, crusty crystals on the nuts. When the nuts are completely coated and all the liquid has evaporated, remove from the heat. Make sure to stir constantly to prevent the nuts from burning. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet to cool and crisp. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Gingered Pepitas and Peanuts with Dried Cranberries
adapted from Martha Stewart, December 05

4 cups pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. coarse salt
2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
2 c. roasted peanuts
1 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300. Spread pepitas out on a rimmed baking sheet and toast about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

While pepitas are roasting, stir together 1/2 c sugar, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a big bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine vanilla, remaining 1/3 c. sugar, and 3 tbsp. water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in fresh ginger. Add peanuts and toasted pepitas; cook, stirring, until liquid has almost evaporated and sugar is starting to crystallize on the nuts.

Remove pan from heat and immediately mix in sugar-ginger mixture until nuts are well coated. Spread out nuts on a baking sheet and let cool completely, ideally overnight. Stir in dried cranberries. Mixture can be stored in airtight containers at room temp up to two weeks.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sugar and Spice: Holiday B'steeyas

Cinnamon sticks by Mika

Throughout the holidays, you can often find a small pan of water simmering on my stove, redolent with the smell of the cinnamon sticks floating inside. Their fragrance signifies Christmas to me, and a hefty pinch (or two or three) finds its way into most of my holiday sweets.

This year, I decided to let the cinnamon run wild through my savory recipes as well, and opted for a Middle Eastern-esque menu for our annual holiday open house. Mini chicken b'steeyas -- savory and slightly sweet phyllo-dough meat pies -- were the stars of the show.

Unfortunately, my digital camera's resting comfortably in my great-aunt's house in Luray, Virginia, having forgotten to get in my bag when I left last weekend, so I have no pictures of this feast, but hopefully my schematic's more useful anyway.

Mini Chicken B'steeyas
I made my filling the day before and assembled them morning of the party. You can refrigerate the b'steeyas for a few hours before you cook them, just place on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Take the wrap off, and they can go right into the oven. Recipe an adapted melange from both Arabesque by Claudia Roden and Martha Stewart Living.


olive oil
10-12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast
salt and pepper
splash or two of white wine
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. raisins

Salt and pepper your chicken breasts. Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute your chicken breasts in the pan until just cooked through, about 5 minutes a side. Remove breasts to plate and set aside.

Deglaze pan with a slug of white wine, scraping up the brown bits from the chicken. Add a bit more olive oil if need be, and then add your onion. Cook for 6-8 minutes until translucent, stirring ocassionally. Add ginger, tumeric, cinnamon and sugar, stir well and cook for a minute or two until very fragrant. Stir in raisins, take off heat and set aside.

Return to your chicken breasts. Cut them into teeny-tiny pieces. Mix with the spicy onions, and that's your filling.

1/2 c. whole almonds
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed (you may not need the whole package)
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400. Whir your almonds and the powdered sugar in a food processor until powdery. Take your phyllo dough out of the fridge. Keep it covered with a damp kitchen towel when you're not using it so it doesn't dry out. Phyllo dough comes in big long rectangles. You want pieces that are about 3-4 inches wide by whatever the short side of the dough is (about 7-8 inches) tall. I've found that most packages of phyllo dough often crack right about at the 3-4 inch mark, which makes for easy measuring.

Take one 3ish x 7ish piece of phyllo dough. Brush it with the melted butter. Sprinkle some of the almond-powdered sugar mixture on it. Place another piece of dough on top. Brush it with butter. About 1/2 inch from a short end, place about 1 tablespoon of chicken filling. Fold it up like a little package, following schematic above. Place on cookie sheet and repeat. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until crispy and light brown. Sift a mixture of cinnamon and powdered sugar over the top before serving.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Taste of What's on the Menu for Hope

Sarah of The Delicious Life posted a great round-up of some of the items from the Menu for Hope raffle on ThisNext, and I wanted to share the bounty here. Click on the images above for descriptions, or scoot on over to Chez Pim for the full list.

Thanks to fellow LA bloggers LAist, Gastronomy 101, All Kinds of Yum, Franklin Avenue for highlighting this charity event. We've already raised over last year's total of $17,000 and we still have many days to go! You can place your bid at First Giving--Remember to add the code for the prize you want. The Erin's Kitchen prize is UW15.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Cookies

Right now, I'm anxiously awaiting my flight back to LA from DC, dreaming of hunkering down in my kitchen and baking, baking, baking. Here's a glimpse of what I plan to bake--all tested recipes that I know will turn out well (unlike my legislative wrangling here on Capitol Hill)!

Linzer Cookies, from Gourmet 2005

Left to Right:
Fig Swirls, Gourmet 2005
Chocolate Cookies, Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook (without powdered sugar topping)
Gingersnaps, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

By the way, have you bid on your Menu for Hope Prize yet? Don't forget prize UW15, sponsored by yours truly--a $25 Penzey's gift certificate and a copy of Arabesque, one of the best new cookbooks of the year, from one of the world's great Middle Eastern food experts. Buy your ONLY $10 raffle tickets here and spice up your 2007. You have until December 22.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hope for the Holiday Season

10 million people die every year from hunger.

This holiday season, you can help.

Erin's Kitchen is participating in Chez Pim's 3rd Annual Menu for Hope, a foodblogger event to raise money for the UN World Food Programme, which helps the hungry around the globe.

The event is an online raffle, with foodbloggers providing all sorts of great prizes. Tickets are only $10, and you can bid on specific prizes. For a full list of prizes, visit Chez Pim, and for a list of all West Coast participants, visit Becks and Posh. See below for bidding directions and information on the prize I'm offering:

Arabesque by Claudia Roden and $25 Penzey's Gift Certificate
CODE for raffle tickets: UW15
Where to buy the tickets: First Giving Menu for Hope

Can't afford a trip to Morocco, but crave the spicy-sweet flavors of a well-made tagine? This prize is for you. Arabesque, the latest cookbook by Middle East food expert Claudia Roden, bursts with lively, flavorful recipes from Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. She provides a wealth of historical and cultural tidbits as well as details on unfamiliar ingredients. In addition to a brand new copy of the cookbook, shipped direct from Powell Books, you'll get a $25 gift certificate to Penzey's Spices, so you can build your Middle East spice cupboard.
Details on how to bid:

1. Go to the donation page at First Giving Menu for Hope. Remember, the code for my prize is UW15.

2. Make a donation, each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify the prize code(s) of the prize(s) you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 for UW02.

3. If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the result of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Night in Umbria with my First Truffle

Shaved onto a delicately scrambled egg, my first truffle tasted like dirt. That’s not quite right—let’s try this: it tasted of earth—the earthiest, woodsiest, richest fungus I’ve had. Luckily for her, the woman waiting in line behind me looked a bit like my grandma, or I wouldn’t have had any qualms about blocking her access and stealing her plate of truffled eggs.

The shaved fennel salad and the fresh figs were my favorites.

This truffle came to me by way of my friend Kelly, who generously invited J and I to an Umbria tasting tour sponsored by various Italian trade promoters at the Sunset Tower Hotel. Umbria, the only landlocked region of Italy, has plenty of gustatory treasures to share with the world; in addition to the truffles we sampled regional cheese, pasta and artisanal olive oils. However, the centerpiece of the event was the region’s wine.

Our favorite discussion was with a representative of Vino Bravo wines, who passionately outlined his company’s vision when we stopped at his table: they only import wines made from grapes indigenous to Italy. They focuses on small producers and grapes the likes of which a wine neophyte like myself has never heard of, and bring them to many restaurants and stores in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere. At this table we sampled Antonelli's Sagrantino di Montefalco and Montefalco Rosso, a Sagrantino blend; read more about the robust Sagrantino grape here.

This event was part of a wider promotion by trade officials from Umbria that continues across the city through the 15th. You can find special Umbrian-focused menus at Ago, Caffe Roma, Drago, Enoteca Drago, Grace, Il Grano, La Botte, La Terza, Piccolo Ristorante, Patina, Sor Tino, Valentino and Wilson.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Roasted Chestnuts

I have no open fire, nor is Jack Frost anywhere near my Angeleno nose, but roasted chestnuts are a swell treat for the holiday season. This time of year, bunches of nuts in their shell turn up at your local grocery store, and my local Albertson's carries piles of chestnuts.

Unlike walnuts and pecans, you shouldn't eat chestnuts without roasting them first, which couldn't be easier. Preheat your oven to about 375. Cut a small X in the skin of each chestnut with a sharp knife, otherwise you'll have exploding nuts, which puts a damper on the holidays. Place in an oven proof dish, and roast for about 15-2o minutes, until the skin starts to curl back (see picture above). Wait until they cool, then peel.

The sweet, slightly soft nutmeats work well in a risotto, or sprinkled on a salad--you can toast them first if you like. I first encountered them in Jamie Oliver's recipe for Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto, a ridiculously rich and complicated dish that's easily simplified and modified (see the kabocha squash, chanterelle and chestnut risotto pictured below).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Buenos Aires Dining Tips and Resources

Bar Federal, San Telmo neighborhood, Buenos Aires

Though I could opine for ages on the delectable treats we ate in Argentina, I'm gonna wrap things up with a few tips and resources for anyone planning a trip to this fabulous country. And if you are going, I'm sure you have extra room for me in your suitcase, right? Feel free to email if you have any questions: erinskitchen [at] gmail [dot] com.

Previous Buenos Aires posts: Best steak places; good coffee and breakfast; empanadas.

Don't Miss The...

House-made hard cider. After a hot morning of tromping around the city, this light, low-alcohol refresher will restore you for an afternoon of exploring. We enjoyed it at Bar Federal in San Telmo and Proscuitto in Monserrat.

Helados (ice cream). On practically every block you can find artisanal ice cream--made on the premises. My late afternoon staple was banana, a flavor I rarely find in the U.S.

Havanna alfajores. Havanna, a popular chain of cafes across the city, produces these traditional dulche de leche filled, chocolate covered cookies by the boxful. We snagged a bunch to share with our families at Christmas, and I'm struggling not to devour them right now.

What You Need to Know to Eat
  • The tap water in Buenos Aires is safe to drink, but bottled water is cheap and ubiquitous. Decide whether you like "sin gas" (still) or "con gas" (fizzy), the first question you'll be asked at many a restaurant.
  • Be ready to stay out late. Enter a restaurant before 8:30 pm, and you'll have the place to yourself.
  • Make dinner reservations at the popular spots. Day-of reservations worked for us, and the front desk staff at our hotels were happy to help. Double check the hours, too--many spots close on Sunday and/or Monday.
Can you tell I'm an Americano while I enjoy my cafe con leche?
  • Check please! Even if you chill out and shed your American impatience, you'll likely want the bill at some point--waitstaff don't automatically bring it. Learn: La cuenta, por favor.
  • Entrada means starter, not entree. Had I known this, I wouldn't have ordered a spartan potato dish our one night in Lima, Peru. Most higher-end restaurants will have a menu in English if you ask.
  • If you see the unfamiliar "cubierto" on your bill, that's a small service charge for dishes, silverware and bread. It doesn't replace a tip, which is typically 10%.
pedestrian bridge, Puerto Madero neighborhood, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Trip Planning

We used the Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires guide, Lonely Planet Buenos Aires, and Lonely Planet Argentina for our side trip to Puerto Iguazu. The Moon book had great info on day trips outside of BA and a useful set of neighborhood maps at the front. We also had the Wallpaper Buenos Aires guide, which directed us to a few good shopping spots and architectural marvels, but the dining section is for trendoids.

We split our hotel time between the Youkali Hotel in San Telmo/Monserrat and Malabia House in Palermo. Youkali had the most uncomfortable bed I've ever slept on in my life and horrible pillows, but it was a charming building and had a great breakfast. Malabia was lovely in absolutely every way and I would highly recommend it. In Puerto Iguazu, we stayed at the very respectable Park Hostel Iguazu, clean, comfy, spartan rooms.

All three hotels advertised the availability of airport transfers, but we were 2 for 4 on our trip. We scheduled with every place we stayed (including the fab Hotel Antigua Miraflores, our one-night-in-Lima spot), but only the Miraflores and the Hostel actually showed up. Wasn't a big problem, however, as getting a taxi (or the more expensive, supposedly safer "remise"--car service) was easy as pie.

The most fabulous bookstore in the world, El Ateneo Gran Splendid, a former theater. Lots of great Argentine cookbooks.

Web Resources

Buenos Aires Travel Blogs:
This real-person travel blog site is an excellent place for general inspiration and excitement-building about your trip.

30 Things to Do in Buenos Aires:
From expat blog Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance.

Argentina on two Steaks A Day: Vibrant portrait of dining in Buenos Aires.

Guille Buenos Aires:
Overall good guide to the city for visitors.

The Empanada Trail: Expat blogger Saltshaker has a wealth of dining info on his site.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thirty Cent Lunch

A quarter and a nickel, or about one peso--all ya need for a toasty empanada in Buenos Aires.

It was our first day out and about in Buenos Aires, and we were starving. A few blocks from our hotel, we wandered into a tiny neighborhood lunch spot, full of middle-aged guys. A glass case on the counter housed flaky empanadas, and various pie shaped items. The only Americans in sight, our non-existent Spanish got a few smiles, but we got our lunch--our first empanadas--and devoured them in a matter of minutes.

These tasty, portable pockets became our go-to lunch throughout our vacation--varying among the carne (beef), pollo (chicken) or jamon y queso (ham and cheese). Often the carne and pollo ones had some chopped hard-boiled egg as well. Crust quality varied, but for the price, you can't complain. The most expensive ones we ate were at Iguazu Falls National Park, a whopping two pesos each (about 60 cents).

Even the famed La Cupertina, a homey cafe in Palermo that's received accolades for the best empanadas in the city, doesn't charge more than 1.5 pesos. Their empanadotas, double-sized empanadas, went for a titch more. These wood oven-baked treats, representative of the Tucuman province of Argentina, deserve the praise; here the beef is hand chopped (not ground as in most we ate) and the sweet corn and cheese can't be beat. As the New York Times noted, you almost feel like apologizing when you pay.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Meat Lover's Paradise: Buenos Aires Steaks

Working the grill at Cabana Las Lilas in the Puerto Madero neighborhood, Buenos Aires. To successfully order rare steak in BA, start practicing: vuelta y vuelta

Hold out your hand. Make a fist. Now imagine a filet mignon bigger than your fist, dripping pink-red on the inside, charred crisp and crunchy on the outside, screaming COW in every tender bite. That was my first Argentine steak, and my-oh-my did it deliver on my expectations. (And yes, I ate it all).

Anyone who thinks grass-fed beef can't be tender hasn't had this mignon at Cabana Las Lilas, one of the preeminent steak houses in Buenos Aires. On the recommendation of R.W. Apple, J and I descended on this institution our first night in town. Cabana's steaks come from the restaurant's very own estancia (ranch); though we turned on the charm, J and I were not offered a private flight to the ranch like Mr. Apple.

Serious eating takes place at an Argentine parilla (steakhouse), you must prepare yourself. Cabana Las Lilas starts you out with a complimentary tray of small bits--roasted tomatoes, beef carpacchio, dome of roquefort, some salmon--as well as bazillions of breads. Breads in a basket, bread on its own stand, bread from the dedicated bread man popping over your shoulder with his tongs.

Our last meal in town was as fabulously steak-y as our first, this time in the Palermo neighborhood at La Cabrera. We shared a long strip loin steak that came with a dizzying array of small porcelain dishes filled with all sorts of wonders--roasted eggplant and peppers, applesauce, brined garlic cloves, pickled onions. We made it through this one too, though J did the heavy lifting.

In case that wasn't enough to stop your heart in its tracks, you'd want to take a day trip over to Colonia, Uruguay and order the steak milanese at a waterside cafe. On top of your thinly pounded, breaded and fried steak, you'll get....a slice of ham....a melted slice of shit...a fried egg.

The best part? You can eat like the biggest movie mogul in town for mere pennies. At La Cabrera, we shared a chorizo (the traditional start to an asada), a big bowl of potatos, the steak, bottled water, two espressos, a dulche de leche flan, and a bottle of Malbec. Total? 52 bucks, 25 of which was the Malbec.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's about the food, not the scene

The New York Times has read my mind regarding dining in the hipster 'hood of Palermo in Buenos Aires. We ate at three of the restaurants discussed in the article--the truly Argentine and truly fabulous La Cupertina and La Cabrera, as well as painfully hip Casa Cruz, or casa food poisoning in my case.

Dining Finds in Buenos Aires (NYT)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Buenos Aires Morning Ritual: Cafe Con Leche y Medialunas

J fixes his cafe con leche at La Biela, a cafe with a fabulous outdoor patio in Recoleta, the chi-chi-la-la neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A great place for porteno (BA resident) watching.

Having returned home to empty cupboards late last night, I rushed into Starbucks this morning so as not to enter the workday a complete zombie. After my first bite of reduced-fat pumpkin loaf and sip of burnt coffee, I knew I was in for a rough day. How could I survive without my Buenos Aires breakfast?

With a cafe around every corner, visitors to Buenos Aires quickly realized that coffee and its rituals are a critical part of your average porteno's (BA resident) day. Mornings begin with cafe con leche, served tableside as two small pitchers, one filled with coffee, the other filled with steamed milk, so you can mix your own. The usual accompaniment is three medialunas--small, sweet, flaky croissants; many cafes list "cafe con leche y 3 medialunas" at the top of the breakfast menu or as a special on the wall.

As the day wears on, cafe con leche is replaced by an espresso, cortado (espresso with a splash of steamed milk), or my favorite, a submarino (steamed milk and/or coffee with a chunk of chocolate "submarined" inside). J and I whiled away many a pleasant mid-morning, late afternoon and post-dinner time with one of the above.

Drinking my biting Starbucks while I waited at the bus stop this morning was a depressing jolt back to the working world. Over the next few days, I will ease the transition by sharing some of my favorite food finds from the trip. Next up: Steak!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Don't Cry for Me....

.....because I'm headed to Argentina. The laptop stays home, so you'll have to wait for updates until I return at the end of the month. I'm sure I'll have stories of great steak, ice cream, and empanadas. Not to mention the wine....

In the meantime, keep yourself entertained with the archives on the left and my blogroll on the right. And have a happy Thanksgiving!

Going Local in Boston

Thanks to fellow foodblogger A Mingling of Tastes, I knew exactly where to eat during my whirlwind trip to Boston this week. Her recommendation, Oleana, combines two of my food passions--the spices of the Middle East/eastern Mediterranean and local, sustainable ingredients. This cozy spot's chef, Ana Sorton, has won a James Beard Award, and her produce comes directly from Siena Farms, run by her husband.

It was dark. My pictures were bad. So I made them "artistic"! This is the white bean pate.

A few sips into my apertif--prosecco with pear and cardamom--and all my cares and woes had disappeared into the bubbly. Soon my tasty drink was joined by an even tastier pret a manger (ready to eat), one of a handful of small bites that kick off the menu. I opted for Armenian white bean and walnut pate with homemade string cheese. Atop each ball of pate glimmered two ruby pomegranate seeds, providing a sweet pop contrast to the mild spread.

Always a sucker for a special salad, my next course was the pea green salad with julienned apples and dates wrapped in bacon, stuffed with mozzarella. Though the salad was a bit overdressed, I gobbled it up. The crisp, tart matchstick apples, combined with a small bit of rich date made for a fabulous bite.

Fuzzy apple and pea green salad. Mmmmm...bacony, cheesy dates.

The salad was light enough (or perhaps I was hungry enough) that I still had plenty of room for my main course--homemade sujuk with a quince dolma and butternut squash rice cake. Don't know what sujuk is? Me neither, until I asked the waitress and was pleased to discover it was a homemade Armenian sausage. Though I live in the heart of LA's Little Armenia, this was my first foray into Armenian meats. Slightly spicy, bursting with juice, I need to eat more of these sausages soon!

Homemade sujuk. The plate smelled a bit like sauerkraut when it came out, raising alarm bells for cabbage-hatin' me. It was just the sauteed greens however, and they tasted nothing like kraut.

Oleana's popular for a reason--the seasonal yet exotic food hits all the right notes. It was not a particularly good place for dining solo, however. It has no bar, and at my seat smack in the middle of the tiny, crowded dining room, I felt like I was on center-stage. Plus, with such an interesting menu, a companion or two would allow you to sample more dishes.

134 Hampshire St
Cambridge MA 02139

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stuffed with Dressing

Stuffing, dressing, whatever you call it--it's my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. For our inaugural turkey day in California, J and I were joined by both of our immediate families for our first attempt at this major American meal. Though we cut a hole in the bottom of our cheap tinfoil turkey pan, spilling precious juices on the kitchen floor, everything turned out edible; particularly our Country Bread Stuffing with Parmesan, Raisins and Pine Nuts, now a tradition in our household.

This year, we'll be celebrating the Pilgrims a bit differently--with some steak, red wine and a view of an amazing waterfall. I will miss the stuffing, but the fabulous recipes and photos posted by other foodbloggers will tide me over. If you're cooking at home this November, check these out:

101 Cookbooks: Sage, Walnut and Dried Fig Stuffing
Too Many Chefs: Oyster and Leek Stuffing
The Chocolate Lady: Herbed Hominy Dressing
The Bacon Show: Bacon, Pecan, Cornbread Stuffing
Kalyn's Kitchen: Whole Wheat Stuffing with Sage, Italian Sausage and Pears

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Apple Beer

Want a crisp, cold drink of fall? If you're in LA, then you have to hustle yourself over to the Hungry Cat and hope that they still have Delerium Tremens' apple beer, Floris Pommes, available. A relatively low alcohol content plus a smooth taste means you can put away more than few if you're so inclined. Drink blog Days that End in Y gives a great tasting description here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How to Eat Persimmons

Fuyu Persimmons photo by kanko

My first taste of persimmon came at the Pasadena Farmer's Market, in the fall of my first year in California. A woman was handing out slices of fuyu persimmons and I was immediately captivated by the spicy flavor.

Now, four years later, I am well-versed in these fruits, and know the differences between the always crisp fuyu and the ripen-til-it's-soft hachiya.

What to do with Fuyus

Every morning this week, I've riffed on Square One's fruit salad scheme and sliced a fuyu and a fuji apple into a bowl, added some chopped walnuts and a dollop of apple butter. Square One peels theirs, but I'm lazy so I don't. I do cut out the middle if it's looking a bit woody.

I'm a big fan of serving this spiced persimmon chutney with a roast pork loin, and chunks of fuyus work wonderfully on a cheese plate, especially if there's a pungent blue involved.
Hachiya persimmons photo by elroySF

How about Hachiyas?

First of all, remember to wait until these are super-duper soft before trying anything. Otherwise, you're in for an astringent surprise. Once soft like a water balloon, you're good to go.

You could try juicing them to make a persimmon margarita with a salt-cinnamon rim, like the one I had at the Hungry Cat this week. Otherwise, you could try Elise's persimmon cookies. Or perhaps Rachael's persimmon cake? What about Egghunt's persimmon pudding?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What Victory Tastes Like

Today, the world's a little bluer. And goddamn, it feels good.

LA Tamale Festival this Weekend

I went last year and had a blast--should be even better this year at the lovely MacArthur Park, between Parkview & Alvarado Street on 7th Street.

November 10, 11 & 12, 2006
Friday: 3pm - 8pm Saturday:10am - 9pm Sunday: 11am - 6pm

Details here

Monday, November 06, 2006

Preaching the Spinach Gospel

Soon after sauntering up to the Weiser Family Farms stand at the Sunday Hollywood Market, a gonzo green spinach leaf is waving under our noses.

"You've gotta try this spinach. It's fantastic!"

So we do. And yes, it is fantastic. Robust and toothsome, this leaf surprised me with its sweetness (I believe it's Bloomsdale). The stand man smiles knowingly, as he genially forces his spinach on other customers. We buy a bagful and absorb his rapid fire patter--don't worry about the stem...just break off the bottom...cook it with some garlic and olive, take a few extra leaves. A woman next to us rudely declines his offer, and we look at her with pity. More for us!

Paired with sliced persimmons, blue cheese, walnuts and an apple cider vinaigrette, this salad highlighted, more than an e.coli outbreak ever could, the benefits of skipping the bagged grocery greens and eating locally grown spinach instead.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spicy Sausage Stew

Yesterday's crisp evening air led to a hearty one dish dinner; a meal unimaginable under today's hot summery sun. Ah, November in Los Angeles. The leftovers will have to wait until the chill returns.

Spicy Sausage Stew

Merguez (or mirqaz in Arabic) sausage, native to North Africa, is often made with lamb and spiced with harissa. I bought mine fresh at Bristol Farms. The "Tuscan" beans are a lightly spiced mix of cannelini and chestnut lima beans. Trader Joe's doesn't always have these beans, so I buy lots when they do.

small handful dried cremini mushrooms
3/4 water

olive oil

2 merguez sausages
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 small onion, diced
2 small carrots, diced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme and/or marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
1 can Trader Joe's Tuscan Bean Medley, drained

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour water over them. Set aside.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add merguez sausages, cooking for about 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Heat a few swirls of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add thyme and/or marjoram sprigs and bay leaf. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.

Add 1/2 of the kale to saute pan, stir in gently. As the first batch of kale wilts, add the rest of the kale.

While the kale is wilting, cut your sausages into 1 inch chunks. Once the kale is wilted, add sausages to saute pan. Add the beans as well. Remove the dried mushrooms from their water bath, and pour a bit of the mushroom water into the skillet, just enough to moisten everything. Add the mushrooms, too.

Cover pan and let cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Remove lid, and if there's still a lot of liquid, let cook over high heat for a few minutes to evaporate it. Serve with some crusty bread.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kashmir Lamb Curry

This hearty curry came from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, which I picked up on clearance in Berkeley at Pegasus Books, a great spot for book deals in general. (I've also found deeply discounted copies of The Silver Spoon and Russ Parsons' How to Read a French Fry there.)

The Chronicle cookbook contains a wide ranging mix of recipes, edited by the paper's restaurant critic Michael Bauer. Many of the recipes highlight California's superb ingredients, and a significant number come from some of the Bay Area's top chefs. No pictures, but lovely illustrations, and well thought-out instructions.

My homemade curries rarely have the depth of some of my restaurant favorites, but this one comes close. Toasting the spices helps, as do the almonds. Be sure to cook the ginger and onions long enough so you don't end up with unyielding crunchy bits. Serve your curry with rice or flatbread like naan. Also, I froze my leftovers in individual portions, perfect for a cozy meal during a busy work week.

Kashmir Lamb Curry
adapted from Laxmi Hiremath for the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
4-6 servings

2 lbs boneless lamb, like the Trader Joe's lamb loin
1/4 c. almonds
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 inch cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 medium tomatos, seeded and chopped
3 medium potatos, diced
1 c. water
2 c. plain, full-fat yogurt
1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed

Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and set aside.

Put almonds in a plastic bag and smash gently with a rolling pin, set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cumin seeds. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Stir until the onion and ginger are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the coriander, tumeric, paprika, cayenne and salt. Stir for a minute. Add the lamb and cook, stirring, until the cubes are browned on all sides. Add the tomatos and potatos. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 c of water.

Stir together the yogurt, crushed almonds and remaining 1/2 c water and add to the skillet. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30-45 minutes, or until the meat is tender.

Add the peas and heat through. The sauce should be thick, but if it is too thick, add a bit of water. If too thin, boil to reduce.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

No time for Halloween hijinks this year, other than pulling together my Cleopatra look for a costume ball. If I was going to cook, here's what I'd explore:

Martha Stewart's decadent pumpkin cupcakes. Made these last year and they were gobbled in an instant.

Not Martha's delightful Crawly Cakes, made from Hostess Snack Cakes.

Sean of Hedonia's Pumpkin Butter.

And for those of you in Los Angeles in search of yummy Halloween treats, I hear the bakery Boule on La Cienega has some homemade candy corn and caramel-fleur de sel apples. Also, Koreatown gelato spot Mi Amici's serving a punchy gingerbread gelato. Enjoy!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fraises du Bois

I picked up these fraises du bois, or wild forest strawberries, from the Jaime Farms stand at the Hollywood Farmers' Market a few weeks ago. Smaller and more delicate than regular strawberries, the fraises have an intense strawberry perfume and sweetness. They originate in Europe, and in the 1400s were depicted extensively in religious art.

Whatever you do with these beauties, you want to make sure the berries are the star. I wouldn't hide them in fruit salad or drown them in syrup. I ate mine out of hand, and threw a few on a small spinach salad with a few pinenuts and a splash of balsamic.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Apple-Potato Mash

When J tasted the apple-potato mash I served with our bourbon-glazed grilled chicken last week, he had to admit his initial skepticism of the dish was unwarranted. The sweet-sour apples with the creamy potatos soaked up the chicken juices nicely, providing a welcome diversion from our typical potato dishes.

I based my chicken on this bourbon-glazed turkey recipe from Every Day with Rachael Ray. My delicata squash also went on the grill--in a tinfoil packet with a splash of olive oil, glug of maple syrup, salt and pepper.

Apple-Potato Mash
about 3 servings

4 small-medium red potatos
2 tart apples, like Granny Smith, cored and sliced
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
salt and pepper

Boil your potatos in a big pot of water until fork tender, about 25 minutes. When finished, drain and put back in large pot. Set aside. Meanwhile, saute your onion and apples in a tablespoon or so of butter over medium heat, until soft and slightly mushy.

Mix apples and onions in with potatos. Use a potato masher or a pastry cutter to roughly mash. Add salt, pepper and butter to taste.

**If you want a creamier mash, first run the apples and onions through a food processor. Then add to the potatos and mash as usual.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Your Favorite Weekend: No Work Allowed

Every Thursday (er, or Friday), skip the C-list celebrities and C-list recommendations in the LA Times column, My Favorite Weekend, and check out what real Angelenos have to say on Erin's Kitchen instead. Want to share your favorite weekend? Email erinskitchen [at] gmail [dot] com.

Gastronomy 101's Favorite Weekend

KT of Gastronomy 101 is an attorney by day, food explorer by night. Check out her blog for great LA tips and stories from trips to San Francisco and beyond.

Canter's Bakery, photo by indieman

FRIDAY: The weekend begins with me stumbling into my apartment, thoroughly beaten down and oppressed by a week of working and of not sleeping. My dog, Buster immediately runs me over and licks me about 1532 times because we are both so happy I am home. Once I can drag my husband away from the computer by pestering him so much that he gets annoyed and can't work anymore, we all go the couch and snuggle up together with the phone, a laptop and the remote control.

We order a slab of cheese pizza and a chopped salad from Cheebo and watch all of the TV that our Tivo has so generously saved up for us throughout the week. At some point, someone on TV, or even someone in our very own living room will mention cake or cupcakes or cookies, and then we will all be forced to get up and walk to Canter's to get dessert. Because everyone knows that the words cake, cupcakes and cookies are magical words and once you say them out loud, you will not be able to rest until you actually eat one of those items.

SATURDAY: Saturday begins with a game where we try to stay asleep as long as possible and the dog tries to "accidently" wake us up by just happening to run up and down the hallway 58 times in a row. We then walk to Buzz and get some Groundwork coffee. I get Sumatra. Husband gets Black Gold. Dog doesn't get any.

At night, we oftentimes meet up with friends N. and Z. to have dinner at Angeli Caffe, where I will more often than not enjoy a pizza quattro stagione and a bottle of Bacio Divino "Pazzo" red wine (Not by myself! Geez, you guys, what kind of a lush do you think I am?). After dinner we will mean to do some activity out on the town like the raging partiers we are, but will instead start talking at our apartment and end up drinking 345 cocktails and talking for 87 hours straight, or until someone falls asleep in the middle of the conversation, whichever happens first.

SUNDAY: Sunday starts much the same as Saturday. Once coffee has been consumed, I will walk to the Melrose Place Farmer's market and buy some bread and whatever fruit or veggies Mr. Russ Parsons has commanded me to buy this week. And perhaps some gerber daisies, too. Very often, on my return I will then be called on to go meet my friend and former prom date, and his very handsome boyfriend and we will go shopping at the Grove. The Grove is not a fun place to go shopping UNLESS you first surround yourself with your gay boyfriends, and then it suddenly becomes a fabulous adventure.

After we have thoroughly criticized every item in every store (especially Abercrombie and Fitch) then they leave and I ravage the farmer's market for more ingredients to provide my week's meals, and stop and say hi to my friend Mike at Singapore's Banana Leaf and hope that he'll try to force some sort of free drink or food item on me. (PS: SCOOP - for those of you Pinkberry-spotters, he says they are opening one in the Farmer's Market near his stand.) At home again, I will cook something and we will spend our last hours of freedom very much as we did our first, watching Sunday night HBO and trying to stay up as late as possible, because when we go to sleep, then we will have to wake up to Monday.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Herbed Grissini

Really, these are just crunchy, thin breadsticks, but using the Italian name sounds much more impressive, no? These easy, no yeast carbtastic treats add a comforting touch to dinner; I've eaten mine with minestrone and other soups this fall. Feel free to adapt the flavors--I plan to add cheese to my next batch, maybe some chopped black olives too.

Herbed Grissini
adapted from Gourmet, 2002

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1-2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh herbs (I used sage, thyme and marjoram)
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. unsalted butter, extremely softened

kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk the first 5 ingredients together in a medium bowl until well mixed. Gently stir in the fresh herbs. Mix in the milk and the butter, stirring until it all comes together.

Remove dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. Roll dough into a log and cut into 8-10 pieces. Roll each individual piece into a long, thin stick, about 8-10 inches long. They may break as you roll, and that's fine. You can either smoosh them back together, or just bake shorter sticks.

Place all of your grissini on a parchment lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for approximately 20-22 minutes. I would check them at 20 minutes and see how they look--how long you cook them depends on how crispy you like them!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back to Square One

I'm not sure why it's acceptable to have dessert for breakfast, but I'm not complaining.

The first time J and I tried to eat Sunday brunch at Square One, we were turned away at the door by a very apologetic owner who explained that a majority of the kitchen staff hadn't shown up that morning, and they were about to close. He sent us away with a complimentary, warm, chewy chocolate chip cookie, and let us buy a couple of cups of coffee. We were disappointed, but impressed by the kind, calm service--he was obviously concerned, but not visibly angry or flustered.

We returned for breakfast this Sunday, and lucky for us, the entire staff had showed. We picked a shaded table on the patio, one of few in our neighborhood not next to a busy street. As usual, I faced my sweet or savory breakfast dilemma, ultimately settling on buttermilk pancakes with orange curd and chocolate sauce. J ordered the brioche french toast, with bourbon pecans and vanilla whipped cream. My tangy curd cut the richness of the pancakes and the real chocolate (no Hershey's here), but not enough that I could finish the behemoth dish. J's pecans were addictive, and also worked well when mixed with my curd. More often than not, I'm dismayed by brunch--so many menus promise more than the restaurant can deliver. Not so at Square One--if anything, my pancakes tasted even better than they sounded.

Balancing our indulgence was a shared bowl of fruit. Far from the usual tired, high-end brunch berries, this was a seasonal delight. Crisp apples and asian pear slices, mixed with chunks of persimmon, slivers of pluot and pomegranate seeds tasted fresh from the market.

The most important part of my morning--coffee--is good and strong at Square One, as is the freshly squeezed orange juice. Service was friendly and prompt; it's nice to see the owner around, checking on tables, chatting with customers. The menu houses a whole slew of egg dishes I can't wait to try, all featuring local ingredients and seasonal produce.

Square One
4854 Fountain Ave
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 661-1109
Be forewarned--parking's difficult and you may have to (gasp!) walk a few blocks.