Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Gonzo for Fresh Garbanzos

"Try a fresh garbanzo bean! Garbanzos—right here!” called the woman at the Flora Bella Farm stand at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. She popped a green oval pod off the branch and showed customers how to break into it. Bright green, sweet and crunchy, the fresh bean bares little resemblance to the yellowy soft ones from a can.

J. snip, snip, snips

Fresh garbanzos come 1-2 per pod, and are usually sold in huge bunches, still on the stalk. For $5, we walked off with an enormous armload. With J's help, scissors made fast work of removing the pods from the stems. As you can see, we ended up with two huge bowlfuls--enough to freeze some, toss some in the fridge, and still eat a sizable portion that night.

J. is so helpful (because he's so damn hungry-shelling took awhile)!

Following the recommendation of the farm stand lady, we threw the garbanzos (with shell intact) on the grill, in a tinfoil packet with a liberal dose of salt, pepper and olive oil, for about 18 minutes. We let the packet cool and then popped the beans out of their shells.

We used the cooked beans in a grilled zucchini and tomato panzanella (basically, bread salad), enjoying the smoky grill flavor and the still present crunch.

You can also saute the buggers. Last night, after shelling, I added a large handful of beans to my pan full of cubed summer squash, potatos and fennel. After just 10 minutes over medium-high heat, they were good to go--similar in texture as when grilled, but without the smoky flavor. Next up I'm planning some "fresh" hummus....who knew?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Herbed Skillet Breads

Until my thumb turns greener (you don't want to know how many thyme plants I've killed), I'm stuck buying fresh herbs at the farmers' market, and I always end up with more than I need. Despite my best intentions, I rarely use up an entire bundle of herbs before it goes bad or dries out (as the fastly-filling baggie of dried rosemary in my cupboard attests).

Therefore, it is only because of my concern for waste (not my waist) that I'll be making these herb skillet breads as much as possible. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they're addictively crispy and fabulously carb-tastic. Nope. Nothing at all.

Herbed Skillet Breads
adapted from The Herbal Kitchen by Mark Traunfeld

2 1/2 c. flour, plus extra for dusting
1 c. boiling water
olive oil
4 cloves garlic, pressed
approx. 1/2 c. chopped fresh herbs (I used a mix of tarragon, sage and parsley)

Put the flour in a food processor and, with the motor running, pour in the boiling water. Process for about 15 seconds to knead the ball of dough that will form. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rest and cool for 30 minutes.

Heat 1/4 c. olive oil with the garlic in a small skillet over medium-low heat until the garlic cooks but does not brown. Set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and cut it into six equal pieces. Roll one of the pieces into a thin 9-inch circle, rotating it a quarter turn between rolls and using as much flour as needed to keep it from sticking.

my "circle" of dough

Brush the dough with some of the garlic oil and sprinkle it evenly with your herbs and a bit of salt. Roll up the circle from one end so you end up with a tube shape (like a jelly roll). I dipped my finger in some water and ran it lengthwise along the roll to help seal it. Next, coil your tube into a spiral like a snail, and fasten the loose end again (the water method comes in handy here too).

I had a hard time getting the end to attach back to the coil, and used water to "glue" it.

Roll the spiral into a flat cake about 7 inches in diameter; a few herb pieces may poke out of the dough and that's okay. Roll and fill the remaining pieces of dough in the same way.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Slip in one of the breads, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook until the underside is brown and the top puffs a little, approximately 1-2 minutes. Flip the bread and brown the other side. Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel. Repeat process with remaining breads, adding oil as needed. Sprinkle with a bit more kosher salt before serving if ya like.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bluebird Bakery

I stopped at this Culver City spot a month ago for cupcakes only, and wasn't very impressed. The outdoor patio, though, plus a hankering for someplace new brought me back for lunch. The short menu includes your typical cold sandwiches, paninis and salads--all at a comparable (if not a bit higher) price point to the nearby Cafe Surfas, but with lower quality ingredients and much less creativity.

I went for the soup (mushroom) , 1/2 sandwich (tomato, basil and mozzarella) and green salad combo for $9. As you can see, the sandwich was large--1/2 of what, exactly? Good cheese, ripe tomatos and ridiculous gigantic basil leaves that tasted so licoricy that I removed them. The soup, not too creamy, had a pronounced wild mushroom flavor--I should have asked what mushrooms were used. The salad, unfortunately, was flavorless--strangely, the tomatos on it were from a totally different planet than those in the sandwich.

Since our office is moving to Koreatown soon (yay!), I will likely never return to Bluebird and that's perfectly okay with me.

Bluebird Bakery
8572 National Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 841-0939

Erin's Kitchen Restaurant Index: West-ish

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ghetto Gourmet Report: Creating Community

our musical entertainment for the evening, and a glimpse of the Ghetto Gourmet flag

To my left, a college professor and radio producer; across the table a lawyer-turned-TV-writer and a fashion designer; to my right, the girlfriends of our musical entertainers, who thought they were just coming over for a house party. And they were--sort-of. There was food, there was booze--and 25 people Indian-style on the floor around doors-turned-tables, all of whom had paid $40 to sit with strangers and eat a five course meal prepared by chef Cynthia Washburn, in the smallest Silver Lake kitchen you can imagine.

According to our host, Jeremy, the Ghetto Gourmet began as a way for his brother, who'd been working in restaurants in San Francisco, to try out his own cooking without the crippling cost of opening an actual restaurant. What started as a dinner for a small group of friends who all split the grocery receipts has turned into an underground phenomenon in the Bay area, and this was its first venture to Los Angeles.

Dinner was yummy--not the most amazing food I've ever had, but a creative, well-executed meal--especially the grapefruit and jicama salad with sesame seeds and the chili-coconut crusted seared ahi. What was amazing was the live jazz, the stand-up comedy (!), the sense of community created by sharing a meal. Over the course of our three-hour meal, wine was shared, stories were swapped, friends were made. I highly recommend attending a Ghetto Gourmet dinner if you can--it makes ya feel a bit better about the human race.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Saito's Sushi

The strip mall at the corner of Sunset and Fountain in Silver Lake epitomizes what I love about Los Angeles. A laundromat, nail salon, and massage parlor all join yummy Indian (Agra Cafe), Thai (Nadpob), and sushi (Saito's Sushi) in ringing a tightly packed parking lot, with a 24-hour donut shop full of chess players tacked on the end for good measure.

J and I had not set foot in Saito's Sushi prior to last night, and as we discussed over some of the best albacore sashimi I've ever had, we've been missing out. Normally, I'm not much of a sashimi fan; I never had sushi or maki until I went to college and then I was mainly a California roll kinda gal. My palate has grown by leaps and bounds since then, but sometimes a whole plate of sashimi is just too much fish for me. Not Saito's albacore, though. This practically melted in my mouth, and I was immediately glad we took his recommendation that we start with it.

Saito is the lone sushi chef behind the bar, a smiling presence who chats easily about the latest World Cup scores while whipping up plate after plate of pristine fish for customers of his small but crowded restaurant. Eating at a one-man operation like Saito's seems to encourage patrons to relax, wait their turn and perhaps interact with their neighbors; also, I think it reminds us harried, demanding Western eaters to respect the craft of the person making our food.

After the sashimi, J and I sampled yellowtail sushi, a salmon roll, aji (spanish mackerel) sushi, and spicy tuna nigiri (handroll). Everything was as fresh and flavorful as our starting dish, presented carefully, and the portions were very large. Bowls of miso soup and a shared Sapporo rounded out our meal.

A word of caution: Saito's is not cheap. It was a bit of a jolt for both of us when the bill came -- $80, $65 of which was line itemed just as "sushi". There is no printed menu at Saito's, so you're in the dark on individual prices. I know compared to the Masa's and Urasawa's of the world, that's nothing, but it was more than we usually spend on a casual weeknight meal out. However, I think the price was reasonable considering the quality and the service, and compared to the couple next to us who ordered plate of sashimi after plate of sashimi after plate of sashimi, I'm sure we got outta there on the cheap end of things!

Saito's Sushi
4339 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2111
(323) 663-8890

Erin's Kitchen Restaurant Index: Los Angeles: East-ish

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Apple is the New Jicama

Though I may not have looked hard enough, I couldn't find jicama, the crunchy, sweet root vegetable, at the farmers' market this weekend. Still wanting to add snap and sugar to my corn and black bean salad for my BBQ, I decided to grab some fuji apples instead. While sweeter but not quite as crisp as diced jicama, the apples still worked. Though the dressing is full of citrus, I recommend rubbing the apple pieces with a cut lemon as you dice to further slow the browning. The picture to the left was taken when I ate the salad as leftovers last night, and the apples were still holding up quite well. Also, rinsing your beans prior to mixing ensures that their blackish-brownish juices won't stain the entire salad, allowing the other summer colors to shine.

Corn, Black Bean and Apple Salad
adapted from Bon Appetit July '04 and enough for 8-10 people as one of many side dishes

4 ears of sweet corn, boiled or grilled
3 medium carrots, diced
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 fuji apples, diced
juice from 1 lime
juice from 1/2 lemon
2-3 big slugs of olive oil
small handful of fresh basil

Into a large bowl, using a sharp knife, scrape the corn kernals off the cobs. Add the carrots, green onions, beans and apples. In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over corn/bean mixture and stir. If you aren't ready to serve it yet, cover and put in the fridge at this point. When you want to eat it, take it out and let it warm up for 10-15 minutes on the table, then tear the fresh basil leaves into pieces over the salad and gently mix in.

Erin's Kitchen Index: Soups, Salads, and Veggies

Monday, June 19, 2006

A bit of navel-gazing

Well, inspired by the folks at Food Blog S'cool, I've updated my "About Me" section and you can now learn more than you really want to here.

Also, if you'd like to email me, I can now be reached at erinskitchen [[at]] gmail [[dot]] com.

Back to food shortly, I promise.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Boyfriend Chicken

Since I got this recipe from a friend of a friend, I can only speculate that this is called boyfriend chicken because any man who eats it will want to stay with you indefinitely, or at least until he can steal the recipe. It went so fast at today's BBQ, I didn't even remember to take a picture. Couple recommendations for full boyfriend-luring capabilities: make sure you marinate your chicken overnight, and it tastes much better if you eat it with your hands.

The BBQ aftermath...
Boyfriend Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

¼ coarse chopped parsley
¾ cup chopped cilantro
5 large garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp each:

  • Kosher salt
  • Paprika
  • Ground cumin

½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Place all ingredients except oil and lemon juice in food processor and process until a paste forms. Pour oil and lemon juice into processor as its running until well blended. Place marinade into sturdy ziploc bag with your chicken, put in the fridge until ready to grill.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Going Local: Massachusetts Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Maple-brined pork chops with strawberry-rhubarb compote and sage risotto

My vegetarian friend Emily kindly shared a jar of her homemade strawberry-rhubarb compote when I visited her in Massachusetts last month. Despite her generosity, I used the delicious concoction on none other than a pork chop, anathema to her anti-meat ways. She, too, has been bit by the eat-local bug--in a much more difficult clime than California. One of her solutions? Canning--with the help of the book Preserving the Harvest. Because there's no doubt this compote will taste even better in the middle of a Massachusetts winter!

To ensure your chops are moist through and through (even if you leave them on the grill a bit too long--oops!), I highly recommend brining them, which causes meat to absorb liquid, for at least 12 hours before grilling. I used this Maple Brined Pork Chops recipe courtesy of Epicurious.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Cooking Class Debate

My post last week on my disappointing experience at the New School of Cooking has sparked a bit of a conversation among readers. First off, I'm unfortunately not alone in my frustration with New School Classes.

Secondly, commenter Terila mentioned wanting more demonstration, less participation in cooking classes, and her difficulty finding that formula in Los Angeles. Personally, I usually prefer participation--as long as I'm interacting closely with the instructor, getting constructive criticism, and learning new techniques, not just following a recipe alone as I would in my own kitchen. In fact, my major complaint about my class at the New School wasn't that we all participated, but the kind of participation we engaged in. I wanted to debone my own chicken, dammit (and the description led me to believe I would)!

Finally, I wanted to highlight Chefs Inc, mentioned by Terila, and then represented by Helena in the comments. It's a school I hadn't heard of, but looks to have classes with a good mix of participation and demonstration. Anyone taken a class there? Or have other schools they'd recommend? As I've noted before, I'm a big fan of Be Gourmet in Silver Lake.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weekend Small Bites

Indian Wedding 101: Even without the delicious chaat (savory snacks--including addictive sweet/spicy corn samosas) at the Friday night Raas Garba dance (with sticks!), the wedding we attended this weekend wins the prize for best wedding food ever due to the mango ice cream served during the hot and sunny outdoor ceremony. It tasted like a frozen mango lassi.

New Gelato in Los Feliz: At today's Los Feliz Street fair, had some free samples from the Hollywood Gelato Co, opening in July on Hillhurst Ave, just north of Franklin. Tried hazelnut and tequila lime--they also had mango and chocolate. My gelato expertise is non-existant, but on hot days this summer, the hazelnut especially will induce me to stop by.

Brunch with a New Friend: Cafe Chloe in San Diego is the perfect place to talk politics and sip coffee with a foodblogging friend. J and I met up with the delightful Rorie of Milk and Honey and her husband Matt for brunch at this sunny spot, thoroughly enjoying both the food (and more importantly) the company. I had poached eggs on toast with wild mushrooms, a buttery, rich, yummy mess. The menu's quite extensive and more sophisticated than your usual brunch fare--cheese plates, fruit plates, fresh fruit bread pudding. The coffee (the most important part of brunch--we all agreed) was good and refills were plentiful, as we kvetched about apathetic voters and savored our meal.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Going Local: Dr. Bob's Ice Cream

Dr. Bob's Tahitian Vanilla ice cream with nectarines

In the summer, my favorite dessert is simply fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream--preferably consumed outdoors. While nothing will ever beat Herrell's malted vanilla, numerous pints of which I consumed during my college days, Dr. Bob's Tahitian Vanilla comes close.

Dr. Bob, a professor at Cal-Poly Pomona, began selling his ice cream in the late 1990s, and the high butterfat treat, simply but intensely flavored, made with high quality ingredients has been a local sensation ever since. He has a "dipping store" in Upland, CA, east of Los Angeles, near Pomona, but you can find pints of his ice cream at many retail locations around California, including Gelson's, Bristol Farms, and other smaller markets. For those of you outside of Cali, he also offers overnight delivery.

At $4.99 a pint, it's of course pricier than Ben and Jerry's or other high-end brands, but the difference in taste is night and day. Dr. Bob's tastes fresh and thick and custardy, sweet but not achingly so. You taste the milk and the cow and the summer.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mixology Monday: The Minty Citrus

Oddly-yet-endearingly-named drink blog, Kaiser Penguin, has started Mixology Mondays, and the theme for this week is mint. Having just picked up another huge bunch of the herb at the market this weekend, I'm anxious to see what other folks concoct. Meanwhile, I'll share a recent creation of J's--his cocktails are becoming a Sunday night tradition 'round these parts.

The Minty Citrus (for two)

large handful of mint leaves, rinsed and dried
juice of 5-6 blood oranges
1-2 tbsp. simple syrup (if your oranges are really sweet, you don't need this)
2 shots vodka
cocktail shaker

Reserve two mint leaves for garnish; muddle the rest in your cocktail shaker (I use the end of a wooden spoon). Add ice, vodka, blood orange juice, syrup if using and shake, shake, shake. Strain into two glasses, garnish and enjoy.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nothing New at the New School of Cooking

$75, and one so-called Chicken Fundamentals class at the New School of Cooking in Culver City, and I can't tell ya much I didn't already know about cooking said bird. Sure, now I know the difference between a poussin (baby) and a capon (old rooster), but I did not "learn how to cut up a whole bird and how to debone breasts" as the class description promised. I got to watch our instructor do it once, quickly, but there was no actual practice. Instead, our class of 14 got paired up, each pair was assigned one of a handful of different recipes, handed a tray with our ingredients, and told to go to it. We did get a brief description of each cooking technique before starting (grilling, frying, sauteing, roasting and braising), but only the most basic gloss. The two instructors walked around the kitchen area as we cooked, ready to give advice, but seemed most interested in making sure we all finished our recipes in the time allotted for class.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. This was the most expensive of the cooking classes I've taken in LA (I've also taken classes at Be Gourmet and HipCooks), and ostensibly one of the most professional schools, yet it was the worst "class" I've had. Really, it was just cooking in a nice kitchen with nifty equipment, not learning. The recipes were all decent, and I actually really liked what I made (sauteed chicken with snowpeas and shitakes), but nothing I couldn't have picked up from a cookbook or magazine.

In an attempt to feel I'd gotten my money's worth, tonight I used a recipe from the class at home: Grilled Chicken with Mediterranean Herb Paste. Verdict? Lots o' work for not much reward. The recipe will work best if your grill isn't too hot, and if you have a long-handled basting brush (otherwise you risk your arm hair). Personally, I'd prefer a marinade with these flavors for the grill, otherwise I'd use the paste as an under-skin rub when roasting a chicken, substituting butter for the olive oil.

Mediterranean Herb Paste
enough for 8-10 pieces of chicken (mix of thighs, legs, breasts)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
handful of sage leaves
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 small bunch parsley, trimmed
zest of two lemons
1/2 c. olive oil
salt and pepper

Whir all ingredients in food processor or blender. According to class instructions, baste onto chicken 5 minutes before chicken is ready to come off the grill, so the paste doesn't burn (hence lower temp and long brush). According to me, add some lemon juice to the mixture and turn it into a marinade, brushing the larger pieces of herbs off the chicken before putting it on the grill. Or, sub butter for the olive oil and use as an under-skin rub for a roasted bird.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ghetto Gourmet, Coming to LA

So there's a guy in Berkeley/Oakland that likes to host yummy dinner parties with talented chefs, for the public, at private homes. Unlike LA's snooty Secret Restaurant, anyone can sign up on the email list and if you pay before they're sold out, you're in.

You can read about the fab meals here in the San Francisco Chronicle.

They're coming to LA in a few weeks with events in Silverlake, the Valley and Mid-Wilshire. In Silverlake, $40 bucks gets ya a 4 course meal, but you gotta bring your own booze. J and I'll be there--we hope to see you too. You can find details and RSVP here.

Going Local: The End of the Beginning

Well, it's been quite a month. The Eat Local Challenge has been both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Harder, in that it takes a lot of planning, investigation and willpower (getting home late from work, I succumbed to eating out more than I would like to admit). Easier, in that California has seemingly endless bounty, and I liked the taste of my salads and leftovers for lunch a hell of a lot more than the frozen Trader Joe's entrees I usually snarf down while sitting at my desk.

This month I've eaten more fresh vegetables than ever before--sugar snap peas, carrots, artichokes, asparagus, and radishes have all graced my table in one form or another every week. While I never wrote about it, I've made multiple loaves of homemade bread, and stocked my freezer with pasta dough.

And as the title of this post indicates, the month may be over, but, for me, eating locally is not. The combination of the challenge and reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma made me realize this is not only something I should do, but also something I can and want to do. Plus, there's so many things I didn't get to--a visit to a local farm, making my own ricotta, the art of canning. It's going to be a fun summer.