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.