Monthly Archives: August 2006

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: Chocolate Cake!

Hi everyone! Kt has sent me her review of Reichl’s Chocolate Cake – and a few really cool tidbits about her food experiences that are totally worth reading (and remembering that we don’t all live in a major metropolitan area that delivers the world to our doorsteps). Read all about it here!

A Sunday Supper

Last weekend, I visited my wonderful friends Justin and Brian at their home in West Hollywood. Whenver I’m there, we lounge around the house in our pajamas and sip champagne, we walk the dogs, we go to yoga and we shop. Most of all though, we cook and eat. They live off Melrose and Fairfax, so we’d walked by Lucques many times. I decided to take advantage of their location in early anticipation of October’s book selection, as well as reconnect with my college roommate, who was now living across the street. I apologize in advance for jumping the gun.

The ivy-overed building is understated, with a dark wood door. The bar and the main inside dining room have cozy looking mahogany or sage colored banquettes. The walls are brick, and the ceiling has exposed wooden beams. In the center of the room is a large fireplace. The main dining room opens into a covered patio with ivy covered high walls and a tree in the middle. How the tree photosynthesizes I have no idea.

As soon as we were seated, our waiter set down a basket of crusty levain bread and a little dish of oiled almonds and (you guessed it) lucques olives. I love lucques olives, especially the color, and these were the best I’d tasted. They were meatier and richer tasting – umami is how I would put it – than the other lucques olives I’d tasted before. I would be surprised if they did not cure their own. The almonds were okay, but really, marconas would have been better.

On Sundays, Lucques offers a $40 3 course prix fixe. Our first course was a “summer salad of Peter Schaner’s eggpland, cherry tomatoes, French feta and black olives.” I though it was going to be a light, mediterranean style salad. Actually, it was very rich and luxurious. Both the eggplant and the tomatoes were roasted. The eggplant tasted as if it might have been poached in olive oil, only not oily. And the little leaves of homegrown arugula offered a spicy counter to the richness of the eggplant.

We were offered a choice between pancetta-wrapped trout a la crema with shaved summer squash and young spinich, and duck braised in rose with rice soubise, tiny onions and spiced peach relish. Half of the table chose the trout, and the other half chose the duck. The trout, despite the pancetta and the cream, was very light and sweet. It did not have that earthy flavor that freshwater fish often do.

Although I had seared duck breast the night before, I opted for the duck, which was actually braised duck leg. The soubise is actually made with onion and arborio rice, except the rice is the binding agent and the onion is the main part of the dish. It was good, but very, very rich. The duck was braised perfectly, with the meat falling off of the bone. The onions offered sweetness, while the peach relish gave the dish tanginess.

When my friends saw the dessert on the menu, they were highly doubtful – chilled cavaillon melon soup with basil and last-of-the season strawberries. I knew, after as rich a meal as I had just eaten, that this would be perfect. It was light, tangy and refreshing.

All in all, an enjoyable meal. I must admit a certain Bay Area bias, with restaurants like Chez Panisse and French Laundry within my reach. I just don’t think any restaurants in LA compare. Still, it was wonderful to spend time and pass the end-of-summer twilight with old friends.

She Likes It! Hey Mikey! Spaghetti Carbonara

Well! I finally did it. Tonight I was rushed, harried, had a houseful of hungry people, and just happened to have in my kitchen a pound of spaghetti, a pound of bacon, some eggs, parmesan and garlic. What else could I do but make the Garlic & Sapphires Spaghetti Carbonara?

It was fantastic. It was delicious. Everyone loved it, although I suspect my Very Healthy Husband was biting his tongue at the combination of major cholesterol items all on one plate. The kids seemed shocked. My mother said, “Um, where’s the sauce?” I answered, “You just made it.” (she had been stirring the bacon pieces in the pan) I asked everyone, “Would you eat this again?” I got a resounding YES. (husband was washing the dishes, so he did not get to participate in the vote)

I have a confession to make. I was afraid of this egg business and worried that it would NOT get cooked by the hot pasta, that my pasta just would not be hot ENOUGH, and I would end up with slimey, not quite cooked egg all over my pasta. I added just a teensy bit of half and half to the beaten eggs on the bowl. As if that would somehow help? As if it would cut the degree of horribleness in case the eggs didn’t cook? I don’t know. So I did cheat a bit. But the eggs did cook, we all ate it with great gusto, and now I have something new and wonderful and EASY to make. Thank you Ruth Reichl, and thank you Eric for the assignment, and thank you Muffin Toppers for encouraging me to go for it.

Korean roasted salted laver

I love roasted salted laver, otherwise known as “gim” in Korean. Or maybe it’s more familiar if I call it “roasted salted nori.” On Japanese food packaging, I’ve seen it labelled, “Korean nori.” Food that is shared between Japan and Korea seems marked with battle over nomenclature, much like the battle over that sea between the two countries–is it an Asian Pear or a Japanese Pear? Or is it the East Sea or is it the Japan Sea?

Anyway, this is one of my favorite snack foods–gim has a savory flavor that is just so delicious, especially wrapped around a spoonful of rice. For many Koreans, some gim, rice, and kimchi makes for a wonderful and simple meal.

You can buy pre-prepared gim at Korean grocery stores, but what’s even better is buying untoasted laver and making the gim yourself–nothing tastes better than the freshly toasted stuff!

For years, I could not toast gim at home. Sadly, I owned an electric stove until recently when we purchased a six burner Wedgewood gas stove. Oh, that stove has opened up possibilities–and I just realized, also for toasting my own gim! It’s a simple enough process–take a square of laver (or nori), brush some sesame oil onto it, and then sprinkle salt (on a whim, I sprinkled on fleur de sel this morning to brilliant effect–but you can use Morton’s like my mother did).

Take that square of oiled, salted laver and wave it over the open flame of your stove. There are simple contraptions for keeping the square in place and keeping it flat (these tools resemble a grill basket that folds flat). Not using this contraption doesn’t affect the taste, but your laver will curl as it toasts. After your square is sufficiently toasted over the open flame, you may eat it! Cut it up in squares and use it to roll around white sticky rice, or eat it on its own, as my husband often does.

Update 9/17/06: After running around town at various Korean stores asking for “the thing you use when you roast gim,” I finally succeeded in procuring a suk-sae:

making gim (Korean roasted salted laver)

Garlic & Sapphires NY Cheesecake

So I finally got around to making half of my Garlic & Sapphires assignment: the New York cheesecake. I haven’t made a cheesecake in eons. The dinner reception I had last week was a perfect excuse to get a new springform pan and go for it.

As I was preparing the cheesecake, I started having major flashbacks to a cheesecake I learned to make from my college boyfriend’s mother. Mrs. Cohen was famous for her cheesecake. For the four years I was with her son, she always made me a cheesecake on my birthday. It was an amazing and decadent treat. I mostly remember the part about having to stand over the bowl with an electric mixer for a full thirty minutes, so that the filling was as creamy and fluffy as possible. Not a minute less than thirty! The ingredients looked VERY similar, so I checked back on the old notebook with the handwritten recipe from Mrs. Cohen. Same ingredients, but slightly different composition. Instead of the 24 oz. of cream cheese that RR uses, Mrs. Cohen used 32. And instead of putting the sour cream on top as a glaze, she mixed hers in with the cream cheese.

I think it came out very pretty looking, and it was rich, delicious, but somehow a little bland. I think that adding the sour cream into the mix gave it a bit more zing. I don’t know. People raved over it, and for the most part I think it was a huge success.

Now for the second half of my assignment: I picked Spaghetti Carbonara, but when I learned that it was “authentic” Carbonara, made with bacon and eggs (no cream), somehow I lost my appetite for it. (I am such a sucker for dairy products!) In fact, the idea of it kind of grosses me out. I am not sure I am going to be able to follow through on this one. Sorry, everyone!

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Roasted Rhubarb!

I must be on a roll today, I’ve posted my review of Roasted Rhubarb on Read.Cook.Eat.
Now this one I liked A LOT. Make this NOW. That’s all. 🙂

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Sort Of Thai Noodles!

Hi everyone! My review of the Sort Of Thai Noodles from Garlic and Sapphires is up on Read.Cook.Eat. Enjoy!

P.S. There’s more to come – I’ve got my Roasted Rhubarb and Matzo Brei to come!

Muffin Toppers, I Need Help

I am hosting a reception/party at my house on Thursday night. I’m expecting 40+ people. My anchoring items are two poached salmons from Market Hall Caterers. I need to round it out with a big salad (I can manage that; will make spinach salad with homemade candied pecans, blue cheese, red onions and raspberry vinaigrette) and a lot of appetizerish kind of things and dessert. It needs to be elegant but not too expensive or complicated. I have a few teen helpers who will be walking around with trays of appetizers. What would be impressive, yummy and fun? And what kinds of desserts? (I am thinking about Christine’s creamy lime bars, and maybe something chocolatey)

E-Z Food

It’s probably going to be either amusing (or disgusting) to follow up a post on such amazing haute causine with… easy, instant, time-saver cooking! Let’s just put this in the same category as the Spam and the ramen, okay?

A few years (?) ago, Christine invited me to a Pampered Chef party at her house. I am such a sucker for those things. I cannot resist people selling me things in other peoples’ living rooms. Anyway, the party Hostess whipped up this very pretty looking edible wreath, using Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh “dinner crescents” (ha). It had chicken and water chestnuts and broccoli and a bunch of other stuff in it. I remember thinking, THIS will impress the folks at home! Little did I know. I bought the round pizza stone, and shortly after that, I whipped up my own little concoction, calling it “chicken parmesan wreath.” (ingredients: chopped up cooked chicken, some pasta sauce and grated mozzarella cheese)

WELL. It was such a hit, and every time I make it, my kids act as if I’m Thomas Keller or something. They fall over and swoon and thank me a million times over. Their normal response to my dinners is a monotone, Dad-induced, “Thanks, Mom,” but when I pop the wreath out of the oven, they go completely berserk with happiness.

Today was my elder’s First Day of School and First Day of Crew Practice, and so I pulled out the pizza stone to give her something happy to come home to. She just called. “What’s for dinner?” “The wreath.” “OMG MOM, THANK YOU, I AM SOOOOOOOO HAPPY!”

Not haute cuisine, but if it makes them happy, it makes me happy. And it’s not so bad either.

Whites with slight wood

I’m almost finished with Heat, and it’s driving me a little crazy. Last Thursday, Zack proposed that we eat at Tomatina, the local pasta joint around the corner from my house. I’d been craving Italian, but not just any Italian would do. See, when I go out and wind up eating bad pasta, it really bothers me. Actually, I get really angry. It fills me with rage, because it’s really easy to execute adequate pasta at home. Cook the pasta al dente, cook the sauce a little with the pasta plus some pasta water and bingo! A satisfying and adequate pasta dish. Executing it and elevating it into the stratosphere is another matter entirely, though. I wanted handcrafted pasta and maybe house cured salumi. I even wanted bistecca fiorentina. Since Babbo was over 2500 miles away and Tuscany would require crossing the Atlantic, I pondered the closest facsimiles. We’d eaten at Trattoria la Siciliana not long ago, and Pizzaiolo only offers two or three pasta dishes. Besides, both places were always packed and neither took reservations for two. It suddenly occurred to me… Oliveto! I’d picked up a sandwich downstairs for lunch before, but I’d always wanted to try their slightly more formal dinners upstairs. I love both of (former head chef) Paul Bertolli’s cookbooks (Chez Panisse Cooking and Cooking by Hand), and we’ve been snacking on his new line of salumi. From what I’d heard, the cooking hadn’t changed much since he’d departed last July. Plus, Oliveto (drum roll please) not only handcrafts its own wide selection of pastas, but they also cure their own salumi! I was also dying to try the ice cream down the street at Ici, run by Mary Canales (formerly of Oliveto and Chez Panisse, and the current head chef’s wife).

I was able to score an 8:15 dinner reservation, so off to Rockridge we went. There was a very slight delay in getting seated (walk-ins were being told there was an hour and a half wait), but the hostess was gracious and friendly. By all accounts, Oliveto’s service has been everything from frigid to pretentious. I wasn’t fazed, especially when I saw the menu.

Here’s what we ordered:

Salad with green beans, frisee, smoked paprika and almonds

Antipasti platter with olives, marinated zucchini, lonza wrapped grissini and agrodulci onion

Tagliatelle with sage and crimini mushrooms

Farro fettucini with pigeon liver, pancetta, marsala and thyme.

We drank a small carafe of 2003 Willamette Valley Freja Cellars Pinot Noir
and finished the meal with plum ice cream sandwiched between gingersnap cookies, drizzled with plum caramel sauce and sprinkled with candied ginger (ici still isn’t open yet.)

The salad and the antipasti with both good. The grean beans were perfectly cooked, and the antipasti was an excellent representation of sour, salty, sweet and bitter. I especially liked the lonza. But what I really chose Oliveto for was the pasta. The tagliatelli was barely dressed with browned butter and a whisper of sage. When I bit into a forkful of pasta and discovered a crisped sage leaf hidden between the folds, it shattered into an explosion of I dunno, saginess, that I wanted more of. At the same time, though, I realized that more sage would have overwhelmed the dish. The pasta itself was so delicate and thin, and the mushrooms were reduced and browned (how Buford describes cooking mushrooms) to an intesity that matched perfectly with the sage. The farro fettucini was bathed in just the perfect amount of marsala sauce. The pigeon livers were cooked to a perfectly pink and tender medium rare – they had none of the grainy ashiness you might associate with overcooked liver. Instead, they were sweet and barely solid. The farro pasta’s earthiness matched really well with the liver, and the pancetta made a crisp and salty counterpoint.

Zack and I agreed that the food was indeed excellent. It was very simple in the Daniel Patterson Chez Panisse hatin’ way but simple is what we want, especially when it comes to Italian food. Zack, who’s more of a stickler about these things, said that the service was a bit pretentious, but I was too busy enjoying my food to notice.

*the title, BTW, comes from the wine list, which classifies them under such descriptions as “medium bodied whites… with slight wood,” “rich, full-bodied whites with wood,” “medium-bodied neutral wines in neutral wood,” etc. Zack, upon noticing my snickering, simply said, “You are easily amused.”