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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Perfect Passover Dessert

Pulling together any dinner can be a challenge but Passover adds special obstacles. Besides preparing the dinner, there are the accoutrements for the service (the lamb shank, parsley, hard boiled egg, fresh horseradish etc) and making sure there are copies of the Passover service--the Haggadah--in the house. Since flour and cream can’t be used on Passover, favorite desserts can’t be called on. Dessert still needs to feels like a treat. At a time like this the simplest dessert--baked plums--satisfies completely.

I've posted this recipe before but it's worth repeating. Not in season from local providers, plums can be found in most markets. They can be served by themselves (they’re really that delicious), with freshly made whipped cream, or ice cream. An added benefit: they look good on the plate.

Baked Plums

4 ripe plums, washed, dried
1 teaspoon raw sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Quarter the plums, cutting out the little stem part and discarding the pit. Lay the sections on a silpat sheet or piece of tin foil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 30-45 minutes. The time is variable depending on how done you like the plums and how ripe they are. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

Preparation Time: 5 minues. Cooking Time: 30-45 minutes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Travel Makes Me Hungry

As the excellent magazine Saveur has proved, food and travel go together. When I'm traveling, I'll try out new restaurants and go to local markets as much as I'll visit historical sites and museums. Seeing what people eat and how they shop reveals as much about their world as their history and art.

But travel these days often means BYO because if you don't, you'll go hungry. Last month I talked about bringing food with you when you travel.

A good friend and well-known travel writer, Peter Greenberg, invited me to contribute some thoughts about food and travel. With generous help from Sarika Chawla who runs the site for Peter, the result is up now: A Food Lovers Five Easy Travel Tips. Take a look and let me know what you think. Peter's site is a must if you do any traveling.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Passing the Baton from Father to Sons

For my birthday my sons, Frank and Michael, paid me the best compliment: they wrote a remembrance of my cooking. As a dad I can honestly say that being appreciated is a great gift, worth all the blood, sweat and tears of parenting. For Michelle's birthday, they took their remembrance one step further: they cooked her a beautiful, multi-coursed dinner (I was happily included).

The quality of the food was impressive. So too were their organizational skills. Intuitively they knew that they had to divide up the work. In short order, they brought out starters: a selection of Italian cheeses, roasted red peppers, olives, grilled chicken wings, and bacon wrapped asparagus, mushrooms, and shrimp. Finished in the kitchen, they came out carrying platters of rosemary chicken, steak, carne asada, salsa, and a fresh fruit salad. "A Mexi-Italian feast," Michael called it.

As parents it's natural to worry about your kids. Will they achieve their goals, will they be happy, will they be safe? We also wonder if values we cherish will be as important to them. As Michael asked me, reacting to our oohs and aahs, "Aren't you glad you taught us how to cook?" Yes. Without a doubt.

Bacon Wrapped Appetizers

Simple and easy to make, the appetizers can be baked or grilled on the bbq.

12 asparagus, washed, white part trimmed off
12 pieces of bacon, cut into thirds
6 brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, cut in half
12 shrimp, washed, shelled, deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Toothpicks

Toss the asparagus, mushrooms, and shrimp in a mixing bowl with the olive oil seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wrap a piece of bacon around each, secured with a toothpick. Grill or bake in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes on each side. When the bacon crisps, the appetizers are ready to serve.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

With a Little Help from a Friend I Discovered Guidi Marcello's deli

Cooking is one of life's great pleasures. But routine can be its enemy. Always using the same recipes, the same ingredients, or shopping at the same markets will wear down even the most foodie of cooks. I'm very grateful when someone puts me onto a new direction that reinvigorates my cooking. My good friend, Alexandra, an expert in all things Italian, did just that when she told me about the wholesale/retail importer Guidi Marcello (1649 10th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404, 310/452-6277). The outside of the building is so nondescript I didn't find it at first. Inside is one of the best selections of affordable Italian imports in Los Angeles: cheeses (cow, sheep, goat), olives, cured meats, frozen desserts, pastas, olive oils, ceramics, breads, spices, chocolates...

There are so many great ingredients to try it's difficult to know where to begin. I started with the olives because I seem to be stuck in a routine of buying oil cured black and cracked green olives at Iranian markets. Guidi Marcello has rows of olives I hadn't seen before. One in particular looked intriguing: Castelvetrano green olives. Grown in Sicily, the olives are packed green and brine cured. The buttery flavor is quite surprising and delicious. Using them in a simple salad shows off their qualities.

Mozzarella Salad with Green Olives, Avocado, and Reduced Balsamic Dressing

For the dressing I like a simple mix of extra virgin olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. I've talked about making balsamic vinegar reduction in quantity but for one salad just reduce 4 tablespoons of vinegar to 1 on a low flame in a sauce pan. The vinegar turns sweet. Let it cool and drizzle it over the salad with the olive oil. You can buy the fresh mozzarella at Guidi's or around the corner at Bay Cities Deli where they also carry the extraordinary Felino salami.

2 large fresh Mozzarella pieces, dried, cut into 1" squares
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, cut up
15 green olives (Castelvetrano or any other good quality olive), pitted, quartered
6 slices salami (Felino or any other good quality salami), casing removed, julienned
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss. Serve with a fresh baguette and sweet butter.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes.