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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick and Easy Mac & Cheese Goes Au Naturel

I remember the "blond" stage of cooking for our sons. White bread, spaghetti with butter and that store-bought, powdered flavorless Parmesan cheese and, of course, Mac & Cheese. We kept boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese in the pantry so we could make the boys food whenever they wanted.

Once they graduated from high school and left for college, we stopped making Mac & Cheese. A few months ago, I was cleaning out the pantry and found a box pushed way to the back. I think it expired in 2007.

Last week we were invited to a pot luck dinner party. For no reason in particular, the dish we were to bring was Mac & Cheese.
As classic American dishes have gotten make-overs in the past decade, restaurants now serve Mac & Cheese with lobster, Dungeness crab, shrimp, truffles, artisanal cheeses, blue cheese, heritage bacon, gruyere béchamel sauce and gluten free pasta.

For the dinner party I wanted to make a Mac & Cheese that was close to the comfort food we served the boys with a few "adult" touches, but not so many that the dish lost it's identity.
I prepared the Mac & Cheese two ways. One, with charred shallots and kale added for color and texture. The second, I added slow roasted Roma tomatoes and thin sliced shiitake mushrooms along with the shallots and kale.

Mac & Cheese Au Naturel

To be "comforting," Mac & Cheese needs hot fats. Cheese alone won't be smooth enough, so I added heavy cream, whole milk and sweet butter. Not very dietetic but it tastes good. Serve the Mac & Cheese with a tossed green salad and fresh fruit for dessert and the calories will balance out.

For the cheese, use whatever kind you like. I used Kerrygold white cheddar and that worked well.

Serves 4

Time to prep: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 20 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes


1/2 pound small macaroni pasta
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/2 pound good quality white cheddar, shredded
1 cup kale, preferably curly green or purple Lacinato, washed, pat dried, leaves removed from rib and thin sliced
2 tablespoons shallots or 1/2 small yellow onion, washed, pat dried, skin and ends removed, thin sliced
1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs
2 large Roma tomatoes, washed pat dried (optional)
1/2 cup shiitake, brown or portabella mushrooms, washed, pat dried, thin sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)


1. If using Roma tomatoes (optional), preheat oven to 200F. Cut each tomato in half, slicing from top to bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat sheet or parchment paper. Place in oven. Roast eight hours. Remove. Let cool. Remove and discard skins. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Bring 1 gallon water with kosher salt to a boil. Add pasta. Stir well. Cook 8 minutes. When draining pasta, reserve 1 cup salted pasta water. Toss pasta and set aside.

3. Place a carbon steel pan or a sauté pan that can take high heat (not a non-stick pan) on the burner. Char the shallot or onion slices in a few drops of oil. Remove when edges are blackened being careful not to burn. Remove. Set aside. Do the same with the kale. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside. If using mushrooms (optional), add a few drops of oil to the hot pan. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside.

4. Melt butter in carbon steel or sauté pan. Add milk and heavy cream. Stir well. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

5. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

6. Break apart cooked macaroni and add to pan. Stir well to coat. Simmer 5 minutes.

7. Add charred shallots or onions and kale. Stir well. If using slow roasted Roma tomatoes, fine chop and add to pasta along with charred mushrooms.

8. Transfer cooked pasta to large bowl. Add shredded cheese. Toss well. If more sauce is desired add 1/4 cup pasta water, remembering that it is salty so use sparingly.

9. Transfer to decorative baking dish. Top with bread crumbs. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is gooey and bubbling. Serve hot.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2016 - Up Close and Personal with Chefs, Winemakers and Mixologists at the Lexus Grand Tasting

You may have heard of the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival but you might not have attended. The Festival celebrated food and wine in venues in and around Los Angeles for four days, August 25-28.

In its sixth year, the Festival expanded to the West Side with events at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica and the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport.

If you have attended Barney’s twice-annual sale at the Barker, you know the cavernous space. A football field sized interior without character was transformed for the Festival. Off-white fabric was draped along the walls, giving the warehouse the feeling of a very large, very elegant tent.

Because the venue was sponsored by Lexus, there were half a dozen beautifully polished cars outside and inside the hanger.

People were dressed like people always dress in LA. Casual, very casual and red carpet premiere chic.

Local chefs from the Los Angeles area were joined by chefs from as far away as Miami to celebrate the Festival. Walking from table to table, you could experience a variety of regional cuisines, American, Vietnamese, Peruvian, Italian, Thai, Mexican, to name a few. You could enjoy appetizers, entrées and desserts. And you could sample spirits, beers and a great many wines.

Wines were poured from California, Spain and France.

How to Festival
After showing your ticket, you entered Barker. A friendly server approached you with a glass of wine. What an excellent way to begin!

If this was your first festival, hopefully someone told you to pace yourself. Eat every small plate you are offered and you wouldn’t make it half way around Barker.

The best way to experience a food festival is walk around before you eat anything.

At each table, a menu placard indicates the name of the chef, the restaurant, the dish being served and the ingredients. Write down which ones look good to you. When you have finished your survey of all the vendors, go back to the ones that looked good.

If you are like me, there were a lot of dishes you wanted to try. The next choice is, eat all of the small plate or take just a bite and move on until you have sampled all of the dishes that looked good to you.

At that point, you can return to those chefs whose dishes you really LOVED and eat an entire plate of their food.

Even though the plates are small, eat half a dozen and you will become very full.

You will discover that not all chefs are created equal. Some dishes are wonderful. Some not so much.

The best chefs understand that the festival is like a cocktail or wine party. Everyone eats standing up, holding a plate in one hand and a fork in the other.

One chef served a duck sausage bahn mi, an open faced version of the popular Vietnamese sandwich. The portion was generous but the design was not. The sausage was cut in half length-wise but the casing was left on. Eating the sausage without a knife and fork was difficult because your teeth could not cut through the casing.

The chefs

Homegating Slider Zone sponsored by the NFL Shop. After declaring your favorite NFL team (Go Patriots!),  you constructed a beef slider.  I customized mine with Cole slaw, sautéed onions, butter pickles with sriracha aioli.

To the right of Homegating was Eagle Rock Brewery Public House Restaurant which served a shrimp fry bread with pickled corn and okra small bite round. Great crunch and heat. A nice way to begin the festival.

Not just Los Angeles chefs made appearances. Chef Billy Ngo from Sacramento’s Kru served a crispy ball of white snow crab shushi-kani miso avocado mousse nori & arané (crumbled toasted rice crackers). Very tasty.

Robert Irvine from the Food Network cheerfully posed with fans who wanted to preserve the moment. It is a rare opportunity when the dining public can meet chefs who rarely stray from their kitchens. Even rarer when a chef performs their craft on television, so this was an exceptionally special moment for fans to meet a chef they love on TV.

For those who wanted to taste Irvine’s cooking, he served up a small plate of half a deviled egg and southern fried chicken seasoned with buttermilk and sriracha. The chicken was crisp and nicely seasoned with a good amount of heat.
Established restaurants used the Festival to feature their culinary point of view. Some chefs used the Festival like a soft opening. Chef Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla the partners behind Union in Pasadena and Bread downtown, plated an excellent octopus and garbanzo bean salad seasoned with a preserved lemon yogurt dressing a crunchy Egyptian dukkah (Sesame seeds, Coriander, pistachio and cumin). 
The dish was exceptionally good. The tasting was not only to illustrate the quality of the menu at Union and Bread, but also to announce their new restaurant in Culver City, slated to open in mid-2017.

Chef Tomas Mendez’s Peruvian restaurant Picca was represented by his ceviche criollo with seabass, rocoto, leche de tigre, choclo, canchas and a small cube of sweet potato. 
Illustrating the culinary influence on Peru from Spain, Japan, Italy and China, the dish was complex but thoroughly integrated. A lovely combination of sweet heat and fresh seafood. A key ingredient is Peruvan corn. Purchased dried, it is deep fried very quickly in hot oil. As Mendez joked, Peruvian pop corn. 

One of the most fun parts of the Festival is the accessibility of chefs. When I took a bite of Mendez’s ceviche, I was filled with questions. Happily, chef Mendez was standing at the front of the booth, readily available to talk. What fun!

For me, Mendez’s ceviche was the best dish in the Festival.

After walking around the hanger, one thing became very clear. Ceviche was popular.

One of the best, besides Picca’s, was from chef Brian Huskey of Orange County’s Tackle Box. His shrimp ceiche with jicama and cucumber was fresh tasting with good heat. He nicely sauced the ceviche so after the shrimp and vegetables were enjoyed, the Michelada flavored juice was the last part to be consumed along with the topping of crunchy tortilla chip strips with cilantro sprouts, cherry tomatoes, red onions.

Another very good ceviche was served at the Stella Artois booth. Chef Marcel Vigneron from Wolf served two ceviches. One he called “Laughing Bird Ceviche” with melon, tomato, puffed quinoa and leche de tigre. The other he made with Hamachi, seasoned with Vietnamese nuos cham, watermelon radish and puffed rice.

Not just wine
I confess I was not able to taste the wines that were being served. If I had sampled the ones that looked interesting, I would have gotten too inebriated to have completed my circuit around Barker.

I limited myself to samples at the Hendrick’s gin, Owl Brew and Soyelent booths.

Hendrick’s went all out with two mixologists pouring two different cockatils in a bar set up backed by a vintage car decorated in wildly fun graphics. The two cocktails were good. 
One was a riff on a familiar cocktail called the Unusual Negroni (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Lillet Blanch, 1 part Aperol). The other was an entertaining refreshment called the Tropic of Capricorn (1 part Hendrick’s Gin, 1 part Kiwi Green Tea, ½ part fresh lemon juice, 12 part simple syrup, ¼ part pear juice, Peychaud’s Bitters to taste, 1 part soda water).

So if you missed this year’s festival, you really must put into your calendar that you will attend the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival in 2017.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Egg Salad You Will Ever Make

My mother and grandmother disagreed about many things as mothers and daughters do. They especially disagreed about the proper way to make egg salad.

Real egg salad, my grandmother said, was made with hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper. My mother used those ingredients as a starting point. To her egg salad she added finely chopped celery and, sometimes, scallions. My grandmother thoroughly disapproved.
As a kid, I often found myself caught between the two of them. Siding one time with my mother, another time with my grandmother.

About egg salad, I definitely agreed with my mother. Chopped hardboiled eggs and mayonnaise cried out for more flavor and texture. The celery and scallions were a good start but, ultimately, I decided there were so many more ingredients that would improve egg salad why not add whatever you wanted, as long as the ingredients did not over power the eggs.

I tried lots of ingredients. Mango chutney (not good), raisins (not good), pitted green olives (very good) and pepperocini (very good) to name a few.
Right now I'm happy with adding charred carrots, onions and corn kernels tossed with fresh Italian parsley. The crunch of carrots and corn contrasts with the soft, creamy eggs and mayo. Italian parsley adds a fresh element. A dusting of cayenne or Korean pepper flakes adds a pleasing heat.

For special occasions, I also like to mix in chopped up charred shrimp, crab or lobster. Using a carbon steel or cast iron pan makes charring the vegetables very easy.

I'm pretty certain my mom would approve. I am as certain, my grandmother would not.

The Best Egg Salad

Yield: 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes


4 eggs, farm fresh, large or extra large
1/2 cup corn kernels, about 1 ear of corn
1 medium carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small yellow onion, washed, peeled, ends removed, small diced
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Best Foods
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon blended oil (70% canola oil, 30% olive oil)
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Pinch cayenne (optional)


Put kosher salt into quart sized pot filled with water.
Place eggs into water. Put flame onto medium-high.

After water boils, leave eggs in uncovered pot 5 minutes, then turn off heat and cover for 10 minutes.

Remove cover, pour out hot salted water and fill pot with cold water. Allow eggs to cool.

Peel eggs and reserve.
Place carbon steel or cast iron pan on a high heat. When metal smokes, add blended oil and vegetables. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until vegetables are charred. Remove from stove and cool.

Finely chop hardboiled eggs and place into large bowl.

Add cooled charred vegetables and mix well.
Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne (optional). Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add Italian parsley. Mix well.
Add mayonnaise. Mix well. Refrigerate.

Serve with crackers, bread or romaine leaves.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer's Best Dishes - Gazpacho and Pork Ribs

Now that summer is in full swing, it's time to enjoy favorite dishes, perfect for a lunch or dinner on the patio. For me, that's pork ribs and any number of dishes made with ripe, delicious tomatoes.

For Zester Daily I wrote a recipe for easy-to-make dry rub pork ribs. Here's how easy: 1) clean the ribs, 2) layer on dry rub, 3) put into a 250 F oven when you go to bed and 4) wake up, remove the ribs and enjoy!
For tomatoes, we go to our favorite farmers market. Ever since it opened, the Pacific Palisades farmers market has been as much a part of our Sundays as the New York Times. This past Sunday the market relocated to a parking lot at the high school because the street used by the market is undergoing a two year long redevelopment. In the new location, the market feels less cozy, but no matter. We love that the market is still part of our Sunday routine.
Last Sunday, we had our pick of ripe, dark red beef steak tomatoes, oblong Roma tomatoes, red and orange cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes in a multitude of shapes and colors.

Our older son's birthday is coming up. For Franklin's birthday lunch, we'll have the ribs, fire up the BBQ to grill vegetables and enjoy a meal on the patio. Shaded by two giant Koelieuterias trees in back, the patio will be the perfect place to have a meal and hang out.

Gazpacho Takes on a Sweet Partner

For lunch we'll enjoy a new version of an old favorite. Growing up in Southern California, I always loved Mexican food, especially gazpacho, the cold tomato-vegetable soup served year round but especially delicious to have during the hot summer months.

On a trip to Switzerland recently, in Zurich I had a tasting at Rive Gauche, the casual dining cafe at the historic and beautiful Baur au Lac Hotel close to Lake Zurich.

I stayed at the hotel to write a profile for Luxury Travel Magazine. I was eating at Rive Gauche because I was going to do a video cooking demonstration with the chef, Olivier Rais, a delightful, talented chef who is passionate about cooking.
One of the dishes he wanted me to enjoy was his version of gazpacho, one that added watermelon juice to soften the acidity of the ripe uncooked tomato juice that is the basis of traditional gazpacho. I have certainly seen this hybrid dish before.
But I was particularly taken with chef Rais' version, a clarified liquid served in a glass. All the vegetable bits had been strained out with the result that the gazpacho became an exceptionally refreshing, summer beverage.

When I interviewed chef Rais, he had recently returned from Los Angeles where he spent time at Crossroads Kitchen, a well-regarded vegan restaurant, owned by Tal Ronnen.
Invited to a tasting dinner this week at Crossroads Kitchen, I had an opportunity to enjoy chef Ronnen's version of the watermelon gazpacho. Similar in flavors but different, chef Ronnen did not filter out the vegetable bits, giving his gazpacho a deliciously rustic taste.
For my version, I split the difference between the two chefs. I strained the tomato pulp but retained some of the texture.

I hope you have the opportunity to visit Rive Gauche in Zurich and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles to taste and compare their gazpachos. In the meantime, please try this very easy-to-make recipe.

Watermelon Gazpacho
Ripe tomatoes and a ripe watermelon are essential. Both should be sweet and full of juice.

If any watermelon juice is left over, make watermelon ice by gently heating the juice and reducing the liquid by a quarter. Cool, then pour into ice cube trays or a freezer-proof container. Freeze and use to sweeten vodka cocktails or lemonade. As the ice cubes melt, sweet watermelon juice releases into the drink. Delicious!
Serves 4-6

Total time to prepare: 20 minutes


2 pounds ripe tomatoes, washed, stems removed
2 pounds ripe watermelon, washed
1 ripe avocado
1 cup homemade croutons
1 ripe avocado, washed
5 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch cayenne
Sea salt to taste


Place a box grater over a non-reactive bowl. Grate the tomatoes and collect all the juice. Or, run the chopped tomatoes through a food mill and collect the juice. Scrape the pulp off the underside of the food mill sieve and add to the juice. Pour into a large container.

Add the dried spices to the tomato juice. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the watermelon rind. Press the flesh through a fine mesh sieve or through a food mill and collect all the juice. Pour into a large container and refrigerate.
Just before serving, peel the avocado, remove the pit and chop into dime-sized pieces. Pour the tomato juice through a sieve to remove the dried spices.
Combine equal amounts of seasoned tomato juice and watermelon juice and mix well.

Pour gazpacho into bowls or cups. Top with avocado and croutons. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For Manifesta 11, Swans Learn to Duck in Zurich

The world is in turmoil. There is an insane amount of violence. It's difficult to find relief. But when I was in Switzerland I had some great experiences that transported me away from all the stress. 

One particular moment stayed with me. When I was in Zurich, I was walking around the city. 
On the bank of the lake, the guide wanted us to see one of the Manifesta 11 installations. A bienniall European festival of contemporary art, Manifesta this year had as its topic "What People Do For Money." 
Some of the installations were small. Some were large. 
The one on the lake was an intimate amphitheater built onto a floating pier. Short films were screened that documented what people do for work. A small cafe/bar served drinks and snacks. The setting was very pleasant. When we visited, a short film documented firemen demonstrating fire fighting techniques. 
Leaving the amphitheater I noticed that a narrow bridge had been built from the shore to the floating pier. That bridge covered a watery path that water fowl use as they swim from Zurich Lake to the Limmat River. For the swans to pass under the bridge, they had to lower their necks. I know it's silly, but thinking that the swans had to learn how to duck struck me as really funny. 


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day Deserves a Feast, Start with the Grill

Once again I will be out of town on Father's Day. I'll miss being with my sons on that special day. We already have a bealted-Father's Day date two weeks later when we will all be in town. I can hardly wait!

Since Father's Day coincides with the start of summer, grilling is the best way to celebrate male parenting.
For me, nothing is better than a platter of grilled Italian sausages with sautéed onions, deveined shrimp seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, corn on the cob, charred red peppers mixed with capers and garlic and lobsters split open and doused with pats of sweet butter.  With a tossed arugula and carrot salad, a loaf of freshly baked bread and a fresh fruit salad and I am happy.
The best grilling is the easiest kind. Buy good sausages, seafood and chicken, drizzle with olive oil, season with sea salt, pepper and any dried herb you fancy, put it on a hot grill, turn diligently to prevent burning and serve when it's done.

When the boys come to the house to celebrate a birthday, mother's day or father's day, they frequently take command of the grill. As my younger son, Michael, reminds me, they are my sons so of course they are good cooks. And that makes me very very happy.

Our other son, Franklin, doesn't regard a meal a proper meal unless there are appetizers. The secret to a great grilled meal is what's served on the side. My contribution to your Father's Day celebration are three of my favorite sides. 

All three are addictive so you may find you'll be eating them all summer long. They are all easy-to-make. The tapenade and lavash crisps can be made a day or two ahead. The grilled corn salsa is best made fresh.

Grilled Corn Salsa

Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa it’s distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels.
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.

Serves 4


1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8 oz basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)


Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot.

Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill.  Turn frequently to prevent burning.  Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.

Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.

Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).

Tapenade with Charred Garlic

A secret weapon in last minute cooking, tapenade brightens any meal either as an appetizer or a condiment. If you use pitted, canned olives, making tapenade will take 10-15 minutes.
The taste of your tapenade depends on the quality of the olives.

Serves 6-8


1 can pitted olives, drained weight 6 oz., preferably green or kalamata olives
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves with skins
¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper to taste


Skewer the garlic cloves on the end of a knife or a metal skewer and hold over a gas flame to burn off the outer skins. Let cool, remove any pieces of charred skin and roughly chop the cloves.

In a small blender or food processer, place the drained olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley and pepper flakes. Pulse until the olives are roughly chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the addition of black pepper, sea salt, pepper flakes and olive oil.

Pulse again until the tapenade achieves the desired texture. Personally I like a tapenade that has a rustic look with the olives coarsely chopped rather than puréed.

Refrigerate until ready to use and serve at room temperature.


 2 anchovies packed in oil, roughly chopped and added with the olives. If salted, rinse before adding.

1 tablespoon capers added with the olives.

Lavash Crisps

Served in the Middle East, lavash and pita are commonly used instead of bread. Flat, unleavened lavash has a delicious, lightly grilled flavor when fresh. Making crisps makes use of lavash that might otherwise have gotten stale and gone to waste.
Lavash crisps have more flavor and are more flaky than commercially manufactured chips. Serve them with salsa, tapenade, dips or thin slices of cheese.

The crisps will last for weeks if kept refrigerated in an airtight container. 

Serves 6-8


1 large or 2 small sheets of lavash
1 cup olive or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
5-6 paper towel sheets


Cut the lavash sheets into 2” squares by cutting the sheet in half, placing the halves on top of each other, cutting those in half and doing that again until the pieces are 2” wide. Cut the 2” wide strips into 2” squares and set aside. If not cooked immediately, store in an airtight container.

In a large frying pan or griddle, heat ¼ cup of the oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper and heat on a medium-low flame. Be careful not to burn the oil or cause it to smoke.

Lay a paper towel sheet on a large plate or baking sheet.

Add the lavash squares to the hot oil. Do not overlap. Using tongs, turn over the lavash when they are lightly browned and cook the other side. They cook quickly so watch them closely.

Remove the cooked crisps and place them on the paper towel. Cook another batch. Place a clean paper towel on top of each layer to absorb excess oil.

Replenish the oil in the frying pan as needed and season with sea salt and black pepper. Allow the oil to reach the proper temperature before adding more lavash.

Discard the paper towels when the crisps cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.