Category Archives: food

ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – FRIDAY TRUCKIN’

Drawing: kathimitchell.com

Remember the time when food truck was synonym for “roach coach”? A greasy spoon to be found at amusement parks and construction sites? A place where you wouldn’t eat unless it was out of sheer necessity? How things have changed in the last half-dozen years. Fancy painted trucks specializing in Korean BBQ, Indian dosas and everything in between are a Los Angeles born and bred fad. And a pretty successful one at that.

Trucks named Garbage Plate or Schmuck Truck have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, location schedules and thousands of devotees.

A friend mentioned a lobster truck a few nights ago and, when a lobster roll craving struck, I braved the crowds, the trendiness factor and engaged in hand to hand combat to get a parking spot on Abbot Kinney in Venice on a Friday night where, between 6 and 9 pm, it’s food truck central.

I have come a long way from my first lobster, served to me at the age of 13 on a bateau mouche in Paris. The lobster and I had a pretty unfair fight, with instruments utterly unfamiliar to me and I ended up not knowing what a lobster tasted like until much later in life. And it wasn’t until a few years ago, on a trip to Rhode Island, that I was introduced to that Maine staple, the lobster roll. For those unfamiliar with it, the lobster roll is lobster meat sandwiched in a buttered and toasted hot dog bun, the meat typically having been mixed with celery and mayo, with small variations depending on where you are along the coast.

Tonight, miserable after my mother’s departure and dreading the empty house, I thought I deserved a roll or two. After securing a coveted parking spot, I walked to the very end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, to that space called the Brig, and tracked down the Lobsta truck, unmistakably red. All around it, the Kogi and Philly steak trucks were positively mobbed but I stuck to my plan. At the Lobsta truck, that also serves Clam Chowder and Crab Rolls, the roll comes with either butter or mayo and I opted for butter: large chunks of lobster with warm melted butter drizzled over it, inside a soft bun, lightly buttered and toasted. Pretty heavenly and $12.

On my way to the Brig, I also noticed the Roll ‘n Lobster Truck. Not content with just one roll and in the interest of research for you, my LA readers, I backtracked and ordered a roll from them too. $12 buy you smaller chunks of lobster, tossed with large rounds of celery and some mayo. The brioche bun was divine but, all in all, even if this version might be more traditional, I would go with just simple seafood and butter.

After two rolls, I managed to resist potato rounds on a stick, cupcakes, snow cones and everything else I walked by. All in all, $24 plus a soft drink could have bought me more than rolls eaten standing on the side of the road but, you know, when the craving strikes..

 

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LUCKY PEACH AND LUCKY US

 

My current fave

The word “foodie” irks me like no other. It has come to encompass anyone with a passing knowledge of things like lemongrass to those who go to a restaurant and take pictures of what they eat. But if you consider yourself a foodie, or just someone with a budding or already encyclopedic knowledge of anything edible, Lucky Peach is for you.

Since Gourmet folded, I haven’t bought or subscribed to another food magazine. I don’t care for quick, every day recipes I can easily get from the web and there is nothing out there that ever whetted my reading appetite. Until Lucky Peach, that is. Its by-line is: “a quarterly journal of food and writing”, and we are off to a good start as both are two passions of mine.

The brainchild behind this operation is David Chang, the Chef behind the Momofuku empire. Teaming up with other chefs, writers, journalists and the like, Mr. Chang has come up with a publication like no other that does indeed combine all things food with excellent writing.

Each issue is mono-thematic: the first one was dedicated to ramen and the current one to American food. As an example, the two premier food critics in the land debate the merits of ethnic cuisine in NY and LA, Harold McGee tells us all about eggs, Elvis Mitchell, the movie critic, talks with Anthony Bourdain about the movie Diner – you get the picture. There are recipes  and, because most of them are the offerings of professional chefs, they are neither quick nor necessarily precise, but enticing enough to make you want to spend your day off baking different loaves of rye bread to compare the results or making your own mayo for a fancy club sandwich.

Most of all, the writing is excellent, the graphics topsy-turvy and the articles unpredictable. I just hope against hope Mr. Chang and McSweeney’s (the editor) will be able to keep it going for a long time to come.

 

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WHEN HOME-MADE JUST CAN’T BE BEATEN

My pink lemonade

It took a long week-end, the first in many years, since working on a Saturday was par for the course of my job, to make me appreciate my lemon tree. I haven’t bought a lemon in the nine years I have lived in this house – this tree miraculously bears fruit twelve months a year and I typically step outside the kitchen and pluck one when needed, without giving it much thought. Until last Friday when, tired of the coyotes and other wildlife feasting on the lemons that fall to the ground, I set out to pick as many  ripe ones as I could. And, with all that bounty, I made lemonade.

Don’t laugh. I took immense pleasure in juicing lemons, finding the right proportion of simple syrup to please my palate and, finally, adding some end of Summer cherries to make pink lemonade.

Home-made noodles

The same pleasure that I took in watching my mother make pasta and meat sauce, the way the universe intended it to taste. Or slicing some perfect tomatoes from McGrath Farms and let them roast on a ricotta tart.

Tasty tomatoes

Somebody asked me this morning if I did anything fun over Labour Day Week-end. As a matter of fact, I did and it involved lounging around on the patio, consuming large quantities of ice-cold lemonade and steaming home-made pasta. And I didn’t even bother working out.

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DUTCH BABY

Photo credit: bluejeangourmet.com

It was a friend from Portland who, a few years ago, promised to come over to cook me breakfast and, upon arriving, uttered “Do you like Dutch Baby?”. Dutch what?

It has since become a breakfast item I like to make for guests as few people are familiar with it and it tastes spectacular just out of the oven.

Essentially it’s a cross between a giant popover and a pancake and it has its roots in German pancakes. According to a Wikipedia entry, it was first introduced in Seattle (where it remains immensely popular)  early 1900’s. To my knowledge, there is nothing Dutch about it but, if you know any different, please let me know.

What I most love about this dish is that it’s served with a sprinkle of lemon which doesn’t make it as sweet as a traditional pancake. And it’s also much lighter.

The recipe I have been using for years was originally sourced from Gourmet magazine but I reworked it taking away vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and substituting lemon sugar for powder sugar and lemon juice.

RECIPE – Yields 4 to 6 servings

1/3 C Powder Sugar (or less, according to taste

1 Lemon

3 Eggs

2/3 C Whole Milk, possibly room temperature

2/3 C AP Flour

1/8 ts Salt

2 oz Butter (half a stick)

 

  1. Put a 10” cast iron pan (or other skillet) in the oven and pre-heat at 450F
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer (or in a blender) until pale and frothy, then add the milk, flour and salt. Beat until smooth. The batter will be thin.
  3. Remove the pan from the oven and put the butter in it, swirling the pan to melt it. Add batter and immediately return the pan to the oven. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20/25 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some lemon juice all over it and sprinkle with powder sugar. Serve immediately.

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MAKING YOUR VERY OWN LOX

Photo credit: trissalicious.com

Colazione is Italian for either breakfast or lunch. That there isn’t a proper word for breakfast befits most Italians’ habit of gulping down an espresso or cappuccino while munching on some carbs, possibly a croissant, a cookie or some toast with jam. Even the introduction of breakfast cereals hasn’t done much to change ingrained habits. Pancakes, waffles and eggs in general are most definitely not a breakfast item. My mother still curiously peeks at me when I poach eggs at 7 am. Which is why I decided to introduce her to all manners of Anglo-Saxon breakfast goodies. Pancakes were a hit but no surprises there, they are carbs. But even lox and eggs, a very Jewish dish, went down very well.

Like most people, I tend to buy lox at the market – it’s not cheap and I always intend to cure my own but I never do. Like most people. Yet, it is so simple.
Start with a piece of raw salmon. I will not give measured ingredients as it all depends on how big your salmon piece is.
Mix 1 part kosher salt to 2 parts sugar and add your spirit of choice, usually vodka. To infuse the lox with other flavors, you can use flavored vodka but I stick to regular one. Mix with your hands – you want a sandy consistency, like a paste, and you want enough to cover both sides of the fish evenly. To this paste you can add herbs, like thyme for instance.
Coat the salmon on both sides, covering it completely with the sugar/salt/vodka mix. Place it on a perforated pan (like the top of a roasting pan) so it can drain while it cures. Cover it with a flat pan, like a baking pan, on which you will place something heavy, for instance,  a few cans of whatever is in your pantry. Refrigerate for 3 days. On day 2, flip the salmon. On day 3, you will  see how it has cured and acquired that shiny patina and deeper color we associate with lox. Remove whatever paste is still on it, slice it and reach for the bagels.

Photo credit: kitchenrap.blogspot.com

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CITRUS OLIVE OIL BUNDT CAKE

cooking

Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Honey Ice-Cream, Pistachio Dust and Berry Caramel

I never thought the day would come I would astound my mother with my cooking abilities. She knew I had been working in a professional kitchen for the last eight years but never saw me in action for the limited time she would come here for and, when I was vacationing in Italy, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking and, especially, making cakes. Now that she is here for a solid two months, I have been making food for her and she is most impressed with my desserts, asking me to write down recipes, watching me as I work dough and quizzing me on ingredients. What I make at home is all fairly easy so who knows what she would think if she saw some of the stuff we make at work.  I have clearly been on a cake binge recently, mainly for  her sake.

The following recipe was also a mainstay in our restaurant for quite some time. The original recipe (at this point heavily re-worked) came through the husband of a former chef. Don’t be put off by the idea of using extra virgin olive oil in the cake – it adds flavour and wonderful moisture and it won’t taste as if you were eating salad. My advice is to use a mild tasting extra virgin olive oil, more on the fruity side. Pastry flour is highly recommended to keep the batter light.

The version in the photograph came about thanks to some pretty sunflower molds that I was given and was inspired to use. The recipe will yield one bundt cake (with a little bit of batter left over) or 10 small ones.

RECIPE

2C + 2 T Pastry Flour

1 1/2 C Sugar

1/2 ts each Finely zested rind of Tangerine, Lemon and Orange (microplane zesters work best)

1 ts Baking Soda

1 ts Baking Powder

1 1/2 ts Salt

A few drops Lemon, Orange and Tangerine Oils* (optional)

3 Eggs

1 1/2 C Milk

1 C Canola or Corn Oil

1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. Begin by combining the finely grated citrus zest with the sugar. Mix using your hands and allow the flavours to infuse while measuring the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Combine and sift dries (including sugar) in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine wet ingredients with a whisk in another bowl.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dries slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, but do not whisk too vigorously.
  5. Pour into very well sprayed bundt pan(s), filling about halfway.
  6. Bake at 325F if using a convection oven (about 20 minutes for individual, around 1 hour for a large bundt) or 350F if using a still oven (it will take a bit longer). Check cakes about halfway through baking time and rotate the pans.
  7. Bake until lightly golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted.

* Citrus oils can be purchased at gourmet food stores or on-line.

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BLUEBERRY (OR ANY OTHER FRUIT) PIE

 

Baking

Blueberry Pie

It’s Summer. It must be pie season. Pies, cobblers and the like are probably my favourite American desserts and I embraced them wholeheartedly. A flaky, barely sweetened crust enhances any fruit. Once a basic crust is mastered, the rest is easy. Any impromptu dinner invitation or friends dropping by are a perfect excuse for a pie – it looks great and it only takes 30 minutes to put together.

Last week-end I had some blueberries in the fridge so that’s what went in the pie but any fruit combination will do. I didn’t have any tapioca flour, my thickener of choice, and I used old plain cornstarch (which I don’t love because it can often be tasted). Served with slightly sweetened whipped cream, it made everyone smile.

RECIPE

For the crust (makes 2 9” disks)

2 1/2 C AP flour

16 T Butter (2 sticks), cut into small cubes and kept cold

1 ts Salt

1 ts Sugar + more for sprinkling

A/N Ice Water

1 Egg

 

  1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a food processor). Mix on low.
  2. Add the butter all at once and mix on medium until the dough is crumbly, with butter pieces no bigger than a pea.
  3. Keeping the mixer running on low, start adding the ice water, about 1/4 cup or until the dough comes together. It shouldn’t be too sticky or too dry.
  4. Remove the dough from the bowl, divide it into two disks, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate.

For the filling

2 pints of blueberries (or other berries or Summer fruit)

1/2 C Sugar

1/4 C Cornstarch

2 T Brandy (optional)

  1. Place the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, with enough water to make a slurry. Heat the mixture on low, whisking until smooth.
  2. Pour all the blueberries in the pan, mix until combined and remove from heat. Add the brandy if using.
  3. Roll the first disk of dough to 1/4” thickness and lift it, using the rolling pin, and fit it into a 9” pie plate. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the bottom crust from the fridge, fill it with the blueberry mixture and place it back in the fridge while you roll the top crust. If you wish, use cookie cutters to cut decorative shapes or, else, place it on top of the pie, joining the edges and crimping them with your fingers. With a sharp knife, make three long cuts in the center.
  5. Mix the egg with a fork and brush it all over the top crust. Sprinkle some sugar on top (Demerara looks prettier) and bake at 425F for about 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350F and keep on baking for another 30 minutes or until the crust looks golden and the fruit mixture is bubbling.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

 

 

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