Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cherry Goodness

Though just the other night J and I were self-righteously congratulating ourselves for the lack of processed foods in our cupboards, I want to share two cherry (flavored) products that have won my heart (and stomach).

First, bourbon soaked cherries. Maker's Mark soaked to be exact. J's parents recently moved to Kentucky and we're the recipient of many a bourbon-flavored item--bourbon coffee, bourbon cookies, bourbon tea, bourbon balls. We keep asking for some bourbon-bourbon, but I think we'll have to pick that up ourselves when we visit in a few weeks.

These Maker's Mark cherries are disappearing fast in our fridge--mainly in my current favorite drink, old fashioneds, but I'm not ashamed to admit that sometimes I just spoon one out for a late night snack.

Second, and more concerning considering the recent New York Times report on the hip-bone-weakening effects of diet soda, I'm in love with Cherry Coke Zero. It's like diet, but zero (no, I don't really know the difference). It's delish. I know my late afternoon work break should consist of just two small, locally-grown walnuts, a blueberry for antioxidents, and a glass of tap water, but dammit, I want me some diet soda. And this stuff tastes like chemical laden cherries, but in a good way. Yum!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chopped Fennel, Beet, Pear and Endive
with Ginger-Lime Dressing

Ingredients: Fresh fennel, beets, pears, belgian endive, fresh ginger, lime juice, honey, sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper

After my pork extravaganza at Chung King, and a week on the road for work, last week I faced a veggie emergency. Hurry, hurry, get something healthy into her mouth--stat!

I had a vague recollection of purchasing some big ol' beets at the Larchmont Farmers' Market a few weeks ago, and sure enough, they were still languishing in my crisper. After a wash and a trim, I slicked them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, wrapped 'em in tinfoil and shoved them in a 425 degree oven for about 50 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, I diced a couple of fennel bulbs, chopped some belgian endive, and whipped up a ginger-lime dressing. For the dressing, you grate a 1 inch piece of ginger into a bowl, add three tablespoons of lime juice, a tablespoon of honey, and a splash or two of sherry vinegar and stir. Then slowly add 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking the entire time to emulsify. Then season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the beets finish roasting, remove from the tinfoil and let cool. Be patient, or your fingertips will regret it! When cool, the beet skins should slide right off with a little tug. Dice your beets the same size as the fennel, then dice your pears as well. On a plate, arrange a line of chopped fennel, about 1 inch wide. Next to it, arrange a line of pear. Then, a line of beets, followed by a line of endive, all the same 1 inch width. Drizzle your dressing over the top, and crunch away.

Photo at top, left to right: fennel bulbs by Year of Eats; beets by Fotodawg; pear by Geishaboy5000; endive by Marc Delhaye

Monday, March 26, 2007

Baby Artichoke Disappointment

baby artichokes by frangrit

Regular artichokes? I find them intimidating, despite excellent online "how to trim" tutorials. They're poky, full of hairy chokes, and I'm always disappointed by the small bit left after pulling off all the outer leaves.

Baby artichokes, on the other hand, couldn't be easier to prepare. Remove a few leaves, trim the tops, you're good to go (pictorial instructions here). I have fond memories of a crispy, sweet roasted baby artichoke dish I made last spring, but did I write it down? Note the website or cookbook where I found it? Of course not. Last night I searched and searched, but couldn't turn it up. I settled on Baked Baby Artichokes instead, and was very disappointed. Perhaps it was my 'chokes, perhaps the recipe, but it was blah, bland, and soggy.

Readers, any baby artichoke recommendations? Perhaps I'll try Spicetart's recipe with bacon and vinegar, or Words to Eat By's artichoke and parmesan salad, a simple, no-cook recipe.

PS--Reason why I love the Hollywood Farmers' Market #245: I get to buy my baby artichokes as this guy walks right by with his weekly produce.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Spice is Right at Chung King, San Gabriel

Chinese bacon with garlic greens. Mmmm...pork. All photos by Jill of Eye Level Pasadena.

Crispy rice with four delicacies (chicken, fish, mushrooms, ?). At your table, the waitress pours the brothy concoction over the fried chewy rice squares. Eat up quickly before the rice gets too soggy.

After just a few bites of the fried chicken with chilis, we were all sweating and another round of Tsingtaos was promptly ordered, but none of us could keep our chopsticks away from this addictive crispy, salty dish at Chung King, a Sichuan restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley.

fried peanuts and tiny fish (back), pig ear (front)

Other than the beer, the platter of fried peanuts with tiny fish helped mitigate the heat. This was one of multiple cold snacks available--your waitress takes your order for the hot dishes, but you head to the counter in the back of the room for a plate of pre-dinner munchies. The cold pig ears went over like a lead balloon at our table, but the peanuts and salt-laden tiny fish flew into our mouths.

Jonathan Gold, the fabled restaurant guru of the LA Weekly describes Chung King's Sichuan cuisine as such:
The Western Chinese cooking, sizzling with four or five different kinds of chiles, vibrating with the flavors of extreme fermentation and smacked with the cooling, numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns, lies halfway between dentist’s-chair Novocain and the last time you could afford a lot of blow. It never fails to leave visitors exhausted, narcotized and happy, drenched in foul, garlic-laced sweat.
Though a stranger to the numbing effects of blow, I certainly left in a spice-induced daze. Not a bad way to start the weekend. There's a small parking lot out back, and street parking is plentiful. Expect a short wait on a Friday night, and the place seemed to close up shop around 10 or so. Also, it's cash only.

Chung King
1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dominick's Sunday Supper

Something strange happens when you travel west of La Cienega Boulevard here in LA--the blondes get less natural, the girls look like they could use a steak (or 2 or 3 or 4), and the boys put a lot more gel in their hair (though unlike my eastside neighborhood, no one's pretending they didn't spend hours getting ready).

Though we had to navigate our way through the skinny, blonde, gel-laden crowd at Dominick's to get to our lovely table on the twinkling patio last night, the trek was worth it. The $15 Sunday Supper was such a deal, I felt a little guilty as we paid our tab. Our succulent bbq'd duck legs fell apart at the touch of a fork, and everyone at our table eagerly eyed the extra spoonfuls of creamy polenta left on the family-style serving platter that bore the ducks. And though the shells of the tartuffos (small scoops of vanilla ice cream in hard chocolate shells, with a cherry center) were so difficult to cut into, we were afraid of a Pretty Woman-like food-flying incident, they were cool and refreshing on an unseasonably hot spring day.

Next Sunday, Dominick's is serving up fennel and parmesan salad, tortiglioni with sausage and peppers, and blood orange sorbet, so make your online reservation while you can, and be sure to request a table on the patio.

8715 Beverly Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mozza with Moguls

After receiving fabulous news on Tuesday, J and I decided to brave Mozza, the insanely popular Batali-Silverton pizza joint, with no reservations in hope of a seat at the bar. After a mere 1/2 hour wait, prosecco in hand, we settled into our corner seats and realized that none other than Michael Eisner was holding court nearby, surely there to toast my success.

Since nearly every single other food blogger in LA has written about Mozza, I'll keep it short: you should go. It's fantastic. Order the guanciale (cured pork cheek), egg and bagna cuda (anchovy-based sauce) pizza, tastes like carbonara on a perfect crust. The egg yolk is nice and runny, so you can spread it over the pizza yourself. Decadent. For dessert, you must try the fig and fennel biscotti, basically fennel fig newtons. Also, the meyer lemon gelato pie--as fabulous as it sounds. For pictures, visit all those other food blogs I linked above.

Yes, its crowded beyond belief. Waiting for a bar seat? Totally worth it. And the price tag? Really reasonable in my opinion--$12-14ish dollars for an artisanal pizza with excellent ingredients? I'm more than happy to pay that.

641 N Highland
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Monday, March 05, 2007

Asparagus, Three Ways

While J's aunt just spent 4 days without power, buried in an Iowa snowstorm, spring has just barely sprung here in sunny SoCal. Two signs: I was able to wear my shorts home from the gym tonight without a chill, and the farmers' markets have begun bursting with all sorts of asparagus, fat, thin and everything in between.

This asparagus-leek soup, which I made and ate plain last Tuesday, had a long life. On Saturday it was mixed with some chicken stock and used in a risotto, on Sunday, the leftover risotto became fried risotto cakes. Using the soup in the risotto, in place of the plain stock, was an experiment with decent results. Due to the beans I'd used in the soup, the risotto was extra starchy and started to thicken before the rice was completely done. A vigorous stir and some extra time on the burner ensured it wasn't goopy, but it was thick, all the better for the next day's fried risotto patties. Just mix your leftover risotto with an egg or two, some breadcrumbs, shape into patties and fry in olive oil until crisp. Fellow bloggers Stephen Cooks and Morels&Musings have their own drool-worthy risotto cake recipes as well.

Asparagus-Leek Soup
adapted from The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

1 large leek, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 c. chicken or veggie broth
3-4 sprigs thyme, tied together with twine
2 bunches thin stalked asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2-3/4 cup cannelini beans, canned (I had leftovers that had been sauteed with chard and onions--I threw the whole lot in)
salt and pepper
splash or two of cream, optional

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring from time to time, until the soften but don't color. Add the broth. Add the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove thyme leaves.

Stir the asparagus into the soup and cook at a low boil for 4-5 minutes. The asparagus should be tender but bright green. Add the beans and stir.

Puree the hot soup in two batches in a blender until very smooth. Be careful not to overfill the blender. Return the soup to the pan and reheat it. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Mix in the cream if you wish.

Asparagus photo by Sarah Baker

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Il Capriccio Pizzeria's First Pie, Los Feliz

Il Capricco on Vermont is my favorite any-night-of-the-week restaurant within walking distance of my apartment, and I've been awaiting its new woodfired pizza joint down on Hollywood with bated breath. Thanks to the magic of flickr, we can all drool over the very first pizza coming out of its oven--the owner seems to be not only a successful restauranteur, but a excellent photographer as well. According to him, we only have to wait one more week to try the pies!

il Capriccio Pizzeria
4518 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

photo by flickrwhikr

Elf Cafe, Echo Park

Our starter, a crock of lentils with carmelized onions and mushrooms. Yum!

Now I love my veggies and cook meatless meals frequently, but a vegetarian restaurant usually sends me scurrying in the other direction. All-vegetables conjurs up images of the spots in my college town of Northampton, MA, earnest but tasteless, or the scary raw/vegan joint in New York that cost an arm and a leg, though I had to bus my own plate because "we're all equal."

Thankfully, the newish Elf Cafe in Echo Park has erased those memories. The menu of this cozy, tiny organic veggie spot, run by local band Viva K, tends toward the Middle Eastern/Persian, and when you step in the door you're enveloped in the scent of fragrant spices and simmering onions. The friendly staff welcomes you with glasses of cucumber water and a ramekin of just-pungent-enough potato-garlic spread and toasts, gratis (pictured, left). As we settled into our corner table and perused the menu, my vegetarian dining companions remarked upon the pleasure of not having to settle for the lonesome veggie item on a regular restaurant menu. Some Chowhounders have complained about "hipstery pretentiousness" but either they're overly sensitive, or I've become a pretentious hipster--I thought it was easy-going and welcoming.

Elf serves up multiple savory tarts served on a bed of greens and a fairly large selection of pressed sandwiches. I went with the special, a hearty vegetarian kibbe (pictured, right). Kibbe is a Middle Eastern meatloaf, full of cinnamon, pine nuts, and of course, beef or lamb. This version was made with potatos, layered with the spice/nut mix, and I gobbled most of it up. The side of green beans in tomato sauce paled in comparison, not bad, but nothing exciting either.

Elf is only open Wednesday thru Saturday, beginning at 6 pm. No liquor license yet, so head to the spot a few doors east (next to the Burrito King) to pick up Trader Joe's-esque wine (though not TJ's prices) and pay the $5 corkage. Also, as ApronNapkin noted, it's very warm inside, so dress accordingly.

More reviews from Epicurean Quest (a haiku!) and Metroblogging LA.

Elf Cafe
2135 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
No phone

Photos by the always awesome Jill

Friday, March 02, 2007

Food By Mail: Steaks, Olive Oil and Spices

From left to right: Penzey's Spices, Alejandro and Martin Olive Oil, Montana Legend Steak

Thanks to the magic of the internet, just about any food item I could dream of can land on my doorstep within days--even supposedly outlawed items like absinthe. However, I can't say that there's much I long for here in Los Angeles that I can't get within a 20 mile radius of my apartment. Surfas and the farmer's markets alone cover most of the bases, and you can't turn the corner in this city without running into a great ethnic market--be it Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Armenian, Korean, French or Thai.

Recently, I've sampled some fancy food products available by mail, and though I liked them all, other than the incomparable Penzey's Spices, I'm afraid I won't be inclined to order them
until I move from LA to a remote cabin in the northwoods of Wisconsin.

Montana Legend Steaks: Tannaz of All Kinds of Yum was kind enough to invite me to a sponsored steak-tasting BBQ last weekend. The steaks from this over 100 year-old ranch were tender and tasty, especially the dry-aged ones. Though not officially organic, Montana Legend cows are humanely raised on all natural grassfeed and finished with they call "granola" but is basically corn as far as I can tell. They don't use antibiotics. Though yummy, I'll stick with my local farmer, Greg Nauta of Rocky Canyon Farms.

Alejandro and Martin Olive Oil: Though when tasting these olive oils I refused to aerate them in my mouth as the packaging suggested, it was quite the eye opener to sample the four oils that came in my complimentary gift box (mild and delicate-France; fragrant and fruit-Greece; Olivey and Peppery-Italy; green and grassy-Australia) then taste my everyday cooking Trader Joe's extra virgin olive oil. Blech. The Trader Joe's stuff tasted like motor oil. These oils are great for salads and dipping bread and I'm impressed with the range in flavors. I would definitely send these as gift for a fellow food-loving friend.

Penzey's Spices:
The low prices and the ridiculously huge scope make Penzey's a winner in my book. I wrote about my first ever order here, and my sister was kind enough to treat me to their Baker's Gift Pack recently. I've got big plans for the Ceylon Cinnamon this weekend, and was thrilled with the extra bay leaves they tucked into the packaging--they always seem to include an extra treat or two.

Photos from each company's website.