Monday, February 27, 2006

Roatan Report, Part 1: Fresh from the Sea

Here come the lobsters.

This cheerful building housed the kitchen that fed us.

I never envisioned my first Italian family-style dinner taking place in a Garifuna fishing village on a tiny island in the Cayos Cochinos, a series of islands in the Caribbean 40 miles off the coast of Honduras. Well, the food wasn't Italian, but the 25+ vacationers that accompanied J and I on this day trip from our home base of the island of Roatan most emphatically were. The gesturing, the arguing, the cigarettes, the oft-exposed boobs--and of course, the gustatory relish with which our lunch of fresh-caught lobster and fish was consumed.

A blurry picture of the, um, tail end of my meal.

The Garifuna of Honduras descend from African slaves and indigenous Caribbean peoples, and were first brought to Honduras and its islands by the English in the late 18th century. The village we visited subsists on small-scale commerical fishing, and feeding the occasional tourist group visiting the Cayos. Having watched the fishermen pull the flailing red snapper off the line and observed the lobsters enjoying their last moments crawling around the bottom of a boat, I knew we were in for a treat. The lobsters were the largest I've ever seen, and the fried fish was some of the best I'd ever tasted--the flesh of the snapper was moist and meltingly flaky, the skin made flavorfully crispy by a fry in what I imagine was the accumulated grease of many a previous meal. Rice with tomato sauce rounded out the meal--reminding me once again that just about everyone in the world, including secluded islanders, make much better rice than I do. How can I always screw up rice?

Anyway, the meal made the bone-jarring, soaking-wet boat ride 40 miles across choppy open water back to Roatan a bit more bearable, and was one of the highlights of our trip.

The carnage after the feast.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Meat-tastic: A Photo Essay

We're heading to Honduras tonight for a week (belated honeymoon), so I leave you with this. Reports of lobster and good coffee soon.

It was the summer of my sophomore year of high school, and I was staying in Epinal, France with a local family for three weeks. My visit coincided with Bastille Day, so I accompanied my hosts plus their extended family to a restaurant in the country for a celebration lunch. The menu was prix fix, and I watched in horror as the first dish arrived--it seemed to be a slice of cold meatloaf with pickles inside. I took a small bite, cringed, and tried to figure out where I could slyly hide the rest of the dish.

That was my first terrine. If only I appreciated then what I appreciate now, foodwise--I'm sure it was amazing. I'm still not the most adventurous meat-eater, but I've come along way. When J. saw the article in last December's Gourmet about making your own terrine, he convinced me that we should try. So we did, and served it at our holiday party. For the full recipe, visit here.

it all starts simply enough, sauteed onions, garlic and thyme

then the chicken livers appear

after a whir in the food processor, the livers get mixed with the other meats, spices, and sauteed onions--ideally with your hands

you line a loaf pan with bacon, and then fill with the meat mixture

fold the bacon over the top, then you weight down the top, keep it in the fridge for a couple days, then bake, then the fridge, again. patience my friend, patience. it's worth the wait!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Four Times the Excitement

LA Ritz tagged me for the fours meme, while long ago A Curious Mix tagged me for the five cooking challenges meme. Let me try to combine them.

Four Jobs I've Had in My Life:

1. Weekend night shift factory worker (6 pm to 6 am, baby)
2. Waitress at the college club, aka my professors' hangout
3. Deputy Field Director, congressional campaign
4. Capitol Hill staffer

Four Places I’ve Lived other than L.A. (with food memories from each)

1. Holmen, WI (hometown): cheese curds, dad's pancakes Saturday mornings, more recently, wedding-planning lunches at The Blue Cup
2. Northampton, MA: Friday afternoon tea at Smith, late night chili cheese fries at Packards, warm mixed nuts at the Tunnel Bar
3. Zimbabwe: sadza (staple food, a heavy cornmeal mush), bread cooked overnight in the coals of the fire, fried eggs on toast
4. Washington, DC: breakfast at Eastern Market, discovering moules frites at Bistro du Coin, platanos at Haydees

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:

1. Islands of Sea of Cortez, Mexico (kayaking)
2. Kings Canyon National Park, CA
3. Puerta Vallarta, Mexico
4. France, Germany, Italy

Four Websites I Visit Daily:

1. The Note
2. NYT
3. Go Fug Yourself
4. Dooce

Four of My Favorite Foods:

1. cheese in all shapes and sizes
2. potatos in all shapes and sizes
3. sesame balls
4. duck

Four food challenges for the year:

1. Conquering crust
2. Making my own sausage
3. Making my own ricotta
4. Learn history as I learn recipes

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:

1. Roatan, Honduras (2 more days!)
2. With my sister in Milwaukee
3. Washington Sqaure Park, NYC (preferably this past weekend with all the snow)
4. Honestly, life here in LA is pretty good these days

Bruni has a Blog

This is too cool. NYT Food Critic Frank Bruni started a blog. It event has comments.

Nothing Says Romance Like Fried Shrimp Heads

Having no Valentine's plans until about 4 p.m, yesterday, J and I decided to wing it, and kicked off our celebration with drinks at the Golden Gopher, a downtown bar with fabulous sidecars. We then headed up to Little Tokyo and found seats at the sushi bar within Izayoi, an izakaya (Japanese pub food) joint. The crowd was low-key, a handful of couples and larger groups of Japanese businessmen. We started with amberjack sushi, followed by a small bowl of plum-marinated shark fin and a plate of fried fish cakes. The fine ribbons of shark fin on top of sliced daikon were not my favorite, but the fish cakes delighted, filled with vegetables, lotus root, garlic, burdock and squid.

Sneaking a peak at our neighbors plates, we opted for the popular sweet shrimp sushi, a dish in two parts. First, the body of the shrimp on sushi rice, followed by the entire heads deep-fried (they looked a lot like the guy pictured up top, black eyes and all). I know for many folks this isn't remotely adventurous, but it was for me. One big crunchy bite, though, and I was hooked--the salty, shrimpy, crispiness--yum. After a bit more sushi, we finished with grilled yellowtail collar. This tender packet of meat was kept extremely moist inside the skin--just like cooking fish in parchment paper. With a few sips of Sapporo left, we sat sated, aglow in the romance of raw fish and shrimp heads.

Golden Gopher
417 W. 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014

132 S. Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Photo by Open Cage

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Make it Myself: Granola with Hazelnuts and Dried Blueberries

In high school, a close friend of mine was a 4H champion seamstress. Every time we went shopping, she couldn't resist: Why would I buy this when I could make it myself? Oh my god, this is so expensive, I could make it myself. The seams are crap, I could make this myself. It drove me crazy, and made me feel much guiltier (and more pathetic) for coveting that dress at Maurices.

Now, she is me. At least when it comes to food. Sunday, Trader Joe's: J throws a bag of granola in the cart. Me: Don't buy that sugary stuff, I can make it myself! Of course, just because I claim I can make it, doesn't mean it always happens. This weekend it did, however, and we've been enjoying bowls of granola with fresh berries in the morning. Of course, the dried blueberries in the actual granola, and the rasps and blacks on top make this breakfast a perfect candidate for Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday challenge. I made it myself!

Granola with Hazelnuts and Dried Blueberries

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup hazelnuts, crushed (I put 'em in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to smash)
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey and/or maple syrup (I use a mix, depending on what I have on hand)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 c. dried blueberries

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 300°F. Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey/syrup in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed.
Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Transfer sheet to rack; cool granola completely. Mix in blueberries, and store in an airtight container.

Erin's Kitchen Index: Cookies, Cakes, Breads and Other Treats

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Corn-less Sage and Feta Cornbread

Do you ever assemble most everything you need to make a recipe, go to the cupboard for the key ingredient--the one you know you have, so you didn't buy any more at the store, and then realize you don't have any? Say, for example, you want to make a fancy cornbread. You buy the sage, the feta, the buttermilk, thinking you have cornmeal at home. Whoops.

Luckily, you discover a bag of frozen sweet corn in your freezer, and all is not lost. While lacking crumbly, yellow flesh, the bread still managed to succeed as the side dish to a hearty veggie soup (superbly flavored by stock made from the frozen carcass of this dinner a few weeks ago.)

Sage and Feta "Cornbread"
accidentally adapted from The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, for the pan
18-20 large sage leaves
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 c olive oil
2 c. fresh or frozen sweet corn kernals
4 oz crumbled feta

Preheat the oven to 400. Smear butter on the inside of a 9-inch pie plate. Press the sage leaves into the butter in a circular diasy pattern, saving a few to press into the side of the pie plate (see the picture).

Stir the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together with a wire whisk in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and olive oil in a second bowl. Sitr the liquid into the dry ingredients until the lumps smooth out. Stir in the corn until well mixed. Stir in the cheese.

Pour the batter into the pie plate over the sage leaves. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the bread springs back in the middle when you press on it. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen the sides with a paring knife, then flip cornbread out onto a plate with the sage leaves on top. Serve while warm.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

SHF#16: Recipe for Love: Toasted Pain d'Epice with Jam

The theme for this month's Sugar High Friday--Recipe for Love. Appropriate for February of course, and a due a few days before Valentine's so you have time to woo your target of choice.

Interestingly, as I was researching aphrodisiac ingredients, I discovered that many are categorized also as cures for impotence. So perhaps its not that women through the ages felt they needed help to find a man, but that the men they found needed help??? Hmmm...

Regardless, I settled on Pain D'Epice, an Alsatian spice cake, whose aroma alone, seeping out of your kitchen, could lure a partner your way. Five key ingredients have love-creating qualities, according to The Cooking Couple's Aphrodisiacs A-Z and GourmetSleuth.

Cloves--This spice, first used in China around 200 BC has always had a rep
uttion as a powerful love food.
Cardamom--Used in Indian herbal medicine. Supposedly, a nightcap of cardamom-flavored milk cures impotence.
Ginger--This root's been used for centuries as a cure for impotence. Also, in Europe (not sure where?) young maidens baked and ate gingerbread men believing the ritual would bring them a husband.
Honey--In ancient Egypt, cures for sterility and impotence were based on honey. Medieval seducers plied their partners with mead, a fermented honey drink. Lovers on their honeymoon drank mead to sweeten their marriage.
Nutmeg--Highly prized by Chinese women as an aphrodisiac, nutmeg in large quanities is a hallucinogen.

Toasting is a must--without that, I find the bready texture of the cake fairly dry and dense. But toasted, slathered with your favorite jam, eaten with your hands, it's divinely romantic.

Toasted Pain D'Epice
slightly adapted from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers cookbook

3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp. fresh, grated ginger

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter a loaf pan. In a large saucepan, bring the honey, brown sugar, and 3/4 c. water to a boil, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Immediately take off the heat. Sift in one cup of the flour, whisking constantly (A cooking partner is helpful for this). Set aside.

Sift together the remaining cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom.

Whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, ginger, and ginger juice. Whisk the honey mixture into the eggs. Slowly fold the remaining dry ingredients into the batter in three parts. Go slow to avoid lumps.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and bake 35-40 minutes, until the loaf is firm to the touch. Let cool completely before slicing.

For toasting: Slice your pain d'epice and butter both sides. Heat up a heavy cast iron skillet, or your broiler, and toast.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Saturday Night Soup and Salad

For Christmas, my vegetarian sister hooked me up with La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. This book, first published in 1927, is considered the bible of modern French home cooking, and was referenced by Julia Child as one of her inspirations. It was recently translated into English by Paul Aratow (one of the founders of Chez Panisse), and its chapters delight the reader, yet challenge the cook--this food is not simple.

I decided to start with something simple: Soupe a l'Oignon (Onion Soup). Her recipes focus heavily on technique, with strict instructions such as, Under no circumstances should you cut the onion while holding it up in the air between your fingers. Also, is absolutely essential to understand and establish that the onion, butter, and flour should never go beyond a light blond tint. Yes Ma'am!

Madame also recommends that for the perfect stringy, melty cheese on top, you must get a good Gruyere cheese, fresh and with a high fat content. I followed her instructions, and the cheesy croutons were the best part of the soup. However, she would be disappointed in my impatience with my onions. I added my water/stock before they were fully cooked (but I was so worried about overbrowning!), and the soup wasn't as rich as it should have been. Now, I feel ready to conquer her more complex recipes.

The soup was complemented by a very non-Madame grape, blue cheese, walnut salad with maple dressing. I had my first maple dressing at Cafe Surfas last week, and I was determined to make my own. It's very simple, and works wonderfully with the sweet grapes and tangy cheese.

Maple Dressing

1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup

In a small bowl, slowly emulsify the olive oil into the apple cider vinegar. Then slowly stir in the maple syrup. Add salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Monday Small Bites

Cafe Surfas (the offspring of kitchen supply warehouse Surfas) in Culver City is old news for most food-loving Angelenos (see here and here), but thought I'd throw in my two cents: it rocks. A few weeks ago I brought in this mix of lavender lemon bars, pear-walnut bars, and mini orange-corn cakes into my office--all were gone within a few hours. I've also sampled its Cobb Salad--full of chopped deliciousness--bacon, turkey, blue cheese, cranberries, sauteed leeks, tossed with maple dressing. As a bonus the salad came with a small side of mixed olives.

Good Food
Even if you reside outside of SoCal, due to the wonder that is podcasting, you have no excuse for not listening to local chef Evan Kleiman's weekly radio program, Good Food, broadcast on NPR affiliate KCRW. I savor her show via my ipod on my bus ride home from work--each show starts with the Market Report, highlighting what's in season, often with a recipe or two thrown in. The rest of the hour melds an eclectic mix of interviews--the best BBQ recipes, new French chocolates, global bug eating traditions, you name it. In the past month, she introduced me to the website of a LA-area food-loving cop, The Culinary Detective, and the story of a cyclist trekking through North and South America, looking for good food, and taking suggestions from locals, The Hungry Cyclist. He's currently in Mexico, so send him your tips!

Citrus, 4 Ways
Finally, check out the variety of citrus I scored at the Sunday farmer's market. New to me are the Oro Blanco (far right), a mix between a Pomelo and a Grapefruit, and the Page Mandarin (second from left), a cross between a Minneola Tangelo and a Clementine Mandarin. Whoa. The Oro Blanco is just sweet enough that I would eat it out of hand, and it would mix nicely in a citrus salad of any sort. The Page (or at least this Page) is sweet and more dusky than your typical orange. The one with the green leaves is of course a Satsuma, which I officially declare The Best Citrus Ever. Easy to peel, no seeds and incredibly sweet. The large yellow guy--Meyer Lemon, which I first tasted a couple years ago, after discovering in a box outside an antique store in South Pasadena, selling for 10 cents a piece. Okay, I'll admit it, sometimes I really, really, really love living in California.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Even in shades of purple, orange and still tastes like cauliflower to me. In other words, it's not my favorite. But damn, it looks amazing. The green is actually romanesco, which is categorized as a broccoli or a cauliflower--there seems to be a debate according to this article. These brightly colored veggies are full of naturally occuring antioxidant anthocyanins, which help fight cancer. All came from the Hollywood Farmer's Market this morning.

I steamed small florets of all three, then tossed with a light dressing of lemon and olive oil, and a few handfuls of chopped fresh mint, pine nuts and yellow raisins. Packing servings of this for lunch this week will make me feel a bit better about sitting on my butt in front of a computer all day.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cranberry Meyer Lemon Compote

At the Ferry Building in San Francisco last week, I noted nearly every indoor stand sold some kind of fancy jam, compote, or preserves--they all looked delicious, and in most cases were unique combinations, handcrafted with top-of-the-line ingredients. Yet, I have a hard time not thinking I could make that at home for a lot less. Perhaps its my Protestant Midwestern heritage, or just the thought of the unending jars of my grandmother's strawberry freezer jam from childhood (it wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized anyone actually bought jelly or jam at the store), but rarely do I part with $5-6 for these types of treats. Of course, this reticence to buy doesn't mean that I'm constantly canning in our kitchen (usually grandma's efforts still grace our breakfast table), so after this trip I decide to stop merely thinking I could make it, and actually do it. Hence, this compote, the offspring of leftover holiday cranberries in the freezer and some citrus on my counter. It's equally great on an early morning english muffin, or a late night bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Cranberry Meyer Lemon Compote

4 cups of frozen cranberries
1/4 c. honey**
1/4 c. water
zest and juice of 1-2 Meyer lemons
zest and juice of 1-2 oranges or other citrus

Mix honey and water in heavy bottom saucepan over medium low. Stir until honey is dissolved. Stir cranberries, zests and juices into pan. Bring to a boil, than turn down to a slow simmer, cooking until most cranberries have popped and you've got a soft and spreadable mess. You may need to add a bit more water, depending how cooked down you'd like your compote. Store in the fridge.

**You could use white sugar instead, and if you're not a sour person, you may want more honey here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Easy Weeknight Meals: Resourceful Risotto

My first attempted risotto was a disaster. Figuring rice is rice is rice, I used plain white rice. The result? A crunchy yet weirdly glutinous mass, and an "I told you so" look on J's face. Now I am wise to ways of arborio rice, and risotto's a weeknight staple. I especially like any version featuring butternut squash (Milk and Honey posted a tasty-looking recipe recently), and I've also adapted Nigella Lawson's risi i bisi (a soupier pea risotto) as my own. However, my favorite risottos are usually flavored with bits of leftover produce (usually near, but not yet at, un-useableness) lurking in my crisper. This week, carrots, mushrooms and spinach made an appearance--I had just a tad of each item, worthless alone, but together a fantastic team. Forgive me, I've been reading too many management books lately, which are chock full of ridiculous teambuilding metaphors. (Though I don't think they refer to anyone alone as worthless.

Resourceful Risotto
obviously, the whole point of Resourceful Risotto is to use whatever leftover veggies you have on hand, so be creative

1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced (you could sub shallots here)
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1/2 a container of button mushrooms, diced and sauteed
1/4 of a bag of baby spinach
1 c. arborio rice
1/4--1/2 c. white wine
4-5 c. chicken or veggie stock, simmering on low
freshly grated parmesan
freshly ground pepper

Melt your butter and olive oil together over medium heat in an heavy-bottomed saucepan. Toss in your onions and and carrots, and sautee until onions are soft and golden. Pour in your cup of rice and stir until all grains are coated with butter/oil. Add wine, and stir until all wine is absorbed. Slowly add 1/2 cupfuls of stock, stirring and waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding the next (I sometimes cheat here and don't stir the whole time, but you have to keep an eye on it so it doesn't stick). When rice is just barely tender (you may not need all the stock), take off the heat and stir in mushrooms and spinach until spinach wilts. Mix in parmesan and pepper to taste.

Previous Easy Weeknight Meals

Mustard-Fennel Pork Loin
Almond Crusted Salmon
Zucchini & Black Bean Quesadillas

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just Decide Already: Zuni Cafe and Pesce, San Francisco

Visiting a city like San Francisco, it's hard not to become overwhelmed when choosing a spot to dine. There was a time when I'd just walk down the street and pop into the first place that looked inviting (that's how I found one of my favorite DC haunts, Bistro du Coin, which introduced me to mussels). Now, older, perhaps wiser, and with an increased awareness of resources out there that can help you find good eats hidden from the tourist eye, I rarely eat out when travelling without first checking Chowhound, the local food critic, a few blogs, and other best of lists. Often, this helps me. Yet sometimes, due to the sheer amount of info out there, I become paralyzed, particularly when there are conflicting opinions from multiple trustworthy sources. That's when I take a deep braeth, remind myself that it's only a meal, and just decide already. On the trip to SF, when we finally threw up our hands and just picked--we ended up at Zuni Cafe and Pesce, and all was right with the world.

Citrus Salad with Olives and Feta

Friday night, after long days of work in the East Bay, J and I checked into our Union Square hotel with no plan for dinner. We wanted walkable, cozy, and still bustling at 10 p.m. Zuni Cafe, a 25 year veteran of the San Francisco dining world, sounded like just the ticket, according to ChezPim and my favorite critic, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post. Zuni makes its home in a flat-iron-esque building, with big windows and lots of nooks and crannies for romantic dining (though not so private that we weren't attuned to every ridiculous make-out session of the couple two tables away). We started with a 1/2 dozen oysters, followed by a gorgeous, tart citrus salad with tiny olives for me and a frisee salad for J. We'd had a similar frisee salad the night before at a forgettable Italian place in Berkeley and it was interesting to compare--Zuni's was lightly dressed with tiny cubes of a robust parmesan, at the other place the greens were soaked in an oily dressing with a shower of shredded flavorless cheese.

For the main course, we both ordered the same dish--seared Bay scallops with wilted greens and shaved egg. The meaty scallops were perfectly cooked, and the shaved egg made the dish even more robust. We shared a half bottle of Montrachet; that plus the late hour and the rich meal made it impossible to stay for dessert.

Saturday night we headed to Russian Hill to Pesce, a seafood cicchetti (Venetian small plates) spot, found on the SF Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants list. Here we made a glorious mess sharing 1/2 a Dungeness crab, sauteed in butter and red pepper flakes. The crab was followed by squid ink risotto with calamari, tiny day boat scallops served with chanterelles, cream and truffle oil, and one more dish I can't remember. However, the memory of the scallops is still seared (harhar) on my brain--they were amazingly, meltingly delicious. An interesting contrast to the meatier Bay scallops we savored the night before. We finished by sharing a rich brownie sundae concoction, with the thought that we'd grab a nightcap at one of the charming-looking bars on the block that we'd passed on the way in. Little did we know, that in the time we'd eaten dinner, the charming bars had turned into packed warzones, full of trendoids drinking cosmos, so we hightailed it back to the Hilton and up to the 46th floor Cityscape bar. This place has cheeseball written all over it, but the view of the Bay Bridge was tremendous, the scotch list extensive, and they even threw a few jazzy tunes in with the 80s/90s hits, so we were able to end the night with a few turns around the dance floor.

Zuni Cafe
658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102-5949
(415) 552-2522
Cross Street: Gough Street
late night dining

227 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109-1815
(415) 928-8025
Cross Street: Vallejo Street

333 O'Farrell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 923-5002
Cross Street: Mason Street