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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Grand Central Market Changing Quickly as the New Pushes out the Old

Last year I wrote about the Grand Central Market to describe the mix of old vendors and the new, upscale stalls that had opened over the previous year. Yesterday I stopped at the Market to pick up pork ramen ($5.50 for a large bowl) from Bento Ya, one of my favorite stalls selling inexpensive Japanese food to be eaten there or taken home.  Having read about new businesses that were coming in 2016, I expected to see some change. What I saw was much more radical change than I expected.

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market reflects the changes sweeping over Downtown Los Angeles. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the Downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















The shoppers who filled the aisles, bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .


The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world.
And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell. Anyone who needed an old-school Chinese-American food fix could eat at China Cafe and Broadway Express.
Today, some of the vendors have been at the Market for generations. On the Broadway side, you can't walk by Las Morelianas without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made mini-tortilla. A personal favorite, to the moist meat I add  mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce all freshly made.
I first visited the market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and the ready to use mole paste at the very misnamed A&B Coffee where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. The tortillas were good, but, I had to confess,  the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today the market still has families doing their daily shopping but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the newly arrived vendors who have set up shop and added new flavors and culinary experiences.
To keep that new population updated, LA food blogs track the latest the developments at the Market. Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have opened stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at McConnell's Ice Cream, Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Egg Slut and Wexler's Deli. Compared to the original vendors, the new comers are definitely more upscale and more expensive.

Judging from a recent trip to the market, the old vendors are disappearing rapidly. Only one vegetable and fruit vendor remains. All the fresh fish purveyors are gone.

At the market, I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at A&B Coffee (ask for a taste and find the one you like), pork ramen at Bento Ya, the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Las Morelianas with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables and the beef at Belcampo Meat Co. (terrific although pricey, Jared Standing, Head Butcher suggested I try one of the less expensive cuts, the chuck eye steak and it was delicious!).

A balancing act

At this moment in time, the Market still balances the new and the old so that I can indulge my passion for affordable ethnic food and quality products from specialty purveyors. But the market feels like it has reached a tipping point when as the new pushes out the old.

The mash up of new and old reflects what's happening Downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Before that rediscovery, the Market had fallen on hard times. Local shoppers had turned to farmers markets for better produce. One by one stalls closed for lack of customers. The grit and grime of the city settled heavily onto the walls and floors. The Market had grown sad and forlorn.
But today, the Market is one of the most frequented Downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed with families and professionals enjoying a taco plate from Sarita's Pupuseria and pulled pork at Las Morelianas on Broadway.

Inside the market Wexler's house smoked lox on a freshly baked bagel, freshly made seafood at Mark Peel's Bombo and Bento Ya's $5.50 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. Happily, there is 90 minutes parking inside the Market building for $2.00. The entrance is on the Hill Street side, almost to 2nd street.

On the weekend, the open air parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

The market is changing so quickly, I would encourage you to visit as soon as you can so when people talk about the way it used to be, you will know what they are talking about.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), Sunday-Wednesday 8:00am-6:00pm, Thursday-Saturday 8:00am-9:00pm (selected vendors only open past 6:00pm).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

You are Busy and Hungry, What is There to Eat? An Easy to Make Pasta is the Answer with Chorizo, Green Beans, Scallions and Anchovies

Maybe you are rushed because your work day is long or you are preparing a big meal for a party of relatives who are coming the next day. Taking care of yourself is important. A well-made, hot meal on a cold, wet and windy night is essential.

One of the easiest meals to prepare is pasta which cooks al dente in about ten minutes. In that short amount of time you can make one dish that will be a full meal if you include not just sauce but lots of good vegetables and proteins.

So no excuses about being too rushed or too tired.

Cook, eat and be merry
Tonight I used what I had in the refrigerator. Luckily I had some very good ingredients. I used green beans I bought at an Asian market in Little Saigon 30 minutes south of Los Angeles International Airport. I don't know why but the green beans I buy anywhere other than an Asian market are not good. Even at farmers markets.

At any rate, I had green beans because I like to make a salt-boiled green bean salad with shallot slices charred in a carbon steel pan. That was for tomorrow night. Tonight, I used a handful of the green beans, but if I had kale, spinach, broccoli or broccolini, I would have used those. The point is to use a "green" vegetable because it helps balance the richness of the chorizo and butter (which is optional but adds a wonderful silky sweetness).
The chorizo was a doggie bag treat that I brought home from a lovely lunch at chef Jason McLeod's Ironside Fish & Oyster restaurant in San Diego's Little Italy (1654 India Street, San Diego). Several years ago I met chef McLeod when he was in charge of the kitchens at the Toronto Four Seasons when I was producing an ABC pilot. He was kind enough to let me take over a station in his kitchen so I could cook for our lead actors and my fellow producers. The experience was fun and good relief from an arduous shoot. I learned an important lesson on that show. When you get really cold, like when you have been scouting a roof-top location at night in Toronto during the winter and the wind blows across a very frozen Lake Ontario, you will find it very difficult to get warm. Not a hot bath. Not several layers of clothing could get me to stop shivering. I think I finally got warm by standing next to a fireplace and drinking a tall whiskey.

Chef McLeod and I kept in touch for several years as he moved from Toronto to Whistler and then we didn't connect again until I happened to notice he had opened Ironside Fish & Oyster in San Diego. When I saw him last week, we caught up and then my wife and I had lunch while chef went back to running a very busy kitchen.

He treated us to an amazing appetizer of sea urchin, which I love and which he is able to source locally in the waters off San Diego. We had fish and chips, which came with very good cole slaw and seafood paella, which normally includes a generous helping of sautéed crumbled chorizo. Since my wife is pescaterian, the chorizo came home with us.
Hence it's availability for the pasta.

If you don't have crumbled chorizo, use crumbled crisp bacon or any kind of Italian sausage you enjoy, but do remove the sausage from the casing so you can create a crumble when it cooks so it combines better with the sauce.

The butter is certainly optional as are the anchovies. But I would recommend both. The anchovies disappear in the sauce and reveal themselves combined with all the other flavors.

A Quick and Easy to Make Pasta with Anchovies and Chorizo

Choose whatever pasta you enjoy, but preferably a bite sized pasta like ziti, penne or bowties because they coat well.

Use homemade stock because canned and frozen stocks have a high sodium content. When you roast a chicken, boil the bones, strain and reserve the stock to freeze in pint and half pint sizes. When you make shrimp or lobster, boil the shells, strain and reserve the stock to keep in the freezer. That way you will have a ready supply of healthy broth to use for sauces, stews and soups.
If you have uncooked chorizo and sausage, remove the casing. Heat a sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Crumble the chorizo or sausage with your hands as you add it to the hot pan. Further crumble the meat with a fork as the sausage cooks. Remove when the sausage is lightly browned.

If using bacon, cook 6 pieces of bacon in a large frying pan, turning frequently until browned on both sides. Remove, drain and when cooled crumble.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

1 box pasta, preferably De Cecco, ziti, penne or bowties
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" lengths
8 medium sized shiitake mushrooms, washed, ends trimmed, thin sliced
4 shallots, washed, ends trimmed, peeled, roughly chopped
6 anchovies
1 cup homemade stock made from shellfish or chicken
2/3 cup cooked, crumbled chorizo or Italian sausage or 1/2 cup crumbled crisp bacon
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
1/2 cup pasta water
2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" long sections
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne to taste (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Directions:

Boil a large pot of water with kosher salt. Add the pasta and stir well. Cook approximately 10 minutes or until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat a large sauté or carbon steel pan on a medium flame. Add the olive oil and sauté the green beans, mushrooms and shallots until the beans are tender.

Add the anchovies. Use a fork to mash the anchovies against the bottom of the pan to break them apart.

Add stock and stir well to dissolve the anchovies. Cook and reduce the liquid by half.  Add the cooked chorizo or sausage. If using cooked bacon, do not add until just before serving to preserve the crispness.

Check the pasta. If it is al dente, get ready to strain out the water. Put a heat proof container in the sink. As you pour the pasta through a strainer, capture 1/2 cup of pasta water in the heat proof container and reserve.

Set pasta aside while you finish the sauce.

If the sauce is too thin, raise the heat and reduce the liquid. If there isn't enough sauce, add some of the pasta water and stir well. If using sweet butter, add and stir to dissolve.

Separate the individual pieces of pasta if they stick together and add to the pan.  Stir to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the flavor with sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Add more pasta water if you want more sauce.

Add scallions, toss well.

Serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Snapshot of Havana on a Recent Trip

Talk about destinations with a difference. I was lucky enough to spend a week in Amsterdam with its canals, brisk cool air and fabulous museums and then a week later to travel to Havana to enjoy warm weather, an exciting art scene and long walks around the city.

I came back from Havana filled with impressions and ideas. I want to sort through my notes and write about the trip but it will take a while. In the meantime, here are photographs, a snap shot of Havana experienced over a week.

Everyone who visits Havana is struck by the great number of 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s American cars on the road. Some are beautifully restored. Others are rust buckets clearly held together by wires and ingenuity. For many visitors they are a source of fun and nostalgia. Tourists pay handsomely to be driven around the city in beautiful 1961 Ford Fairlane convertibles as we were as a special treat one night during the Havana Film Festival.

The cars are still running around Havana because of the half century long embargo. What happens after relations between the U.S. and Cuba normalize is anyone's guess, but the cars will definitely survive having been established as part of Havana's look, as distinctive as the colonial architecture.

I hope you will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and Havana. With the way things are changing, that will be a good deal easier very soon. Last week direct charter flights began between Los Angeles and Havana. By the middle of 2016 it is very likely most U.S. carriers will begin direct flights to Cuban airports.

In the meantime, if you would like a preview, I posted photographs on  FLICKR.

In no particular order, here are some of the cars we saw during the trip.





















Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pears & Pomegranate Seeds Make a Delicious Thanksgiving Dessert

A last minute dessert suggestion before Thanksgiving. Poach pear sections in a lemony-brown sugar liquid and add pomegranate seeds for a pleasing crunch to counterpoint the soft, sweet pears. Serve the pears as a small plate dessert or as a topping for ice cream or yogurt.
For our meal, I'll make whipped cream to put on top of a bowl with the pears and pomegranates with a few tablespoons of the poaching liquid.

Sweet and Lemony Poached Pears with Pomegranates 
Serves 8

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 5 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds unblemished small Bosc pears, washed
1 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions

Peel the pears. Discard the peels and the stems. Cut each pear length-wise into four pieces. Cut and discard the inner stem and seeds. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, over a medium flame, heat the golden brown sugar and lemon juice. Stir and heat until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pear sections to the saucepan. Stir well to coat with the sugar mixture. Cover.
Check ever 2 minutes to stir the pears so they cook evenly and are well coated with the poaching liquid.

After 5 minutes, remove the lid and set aside. Add the pomegranate seeds and stir well.
If making the pears a day or two ahead, transfer the pears, pomegranates and poaching liquid to an air tight container and refrigerate.

The pears can be served cold, hot or at room temperature, depending on taste.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon golden raisins to the poaching liquid and simmer 5 minutes before adding the pears.

Add 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger to the poaching liquid along with the pears.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Spice Up Thanksgiving with a Side Dish Straight Out of Mexico

On Thanksgiving I like the side dishes as much as the turkey. Maybe even more. Cranberry sauce, stuffing with dried apricots, pecans and sausage with fennel, Brussels sprouts with charred onions and almonds....I'm getting hungry thinking about those delicious dishes.
And yet.

As much as I'm looking forward to the sides we have every year, I also want to bring something new to the table. A dish that fits in and yet has a new flavor, something that surprises.

For Zester Daily, I interviewed chef Keith Stich in the Red O Santa Monica kitchen, across from the Santa Monica Pier. He did a video cooking demonstration of an easy-to-make succotash that he created for Thanksgiving.
Red O Santa Monica is part of a group of restaurants in Southern California, Chicago and the east coast created by Rick Bayless who has spent his career popularizing the foods of Mexico. His restaurants serve well-prepared, quality dishes with clean, fresh flavors.
At the Red O Santa Monica restaurant, my wife and I are big fans of his menu. We especially enjoy the ceviche, which may be the best we've eaten. The squid, shrimp and fish are fresh tasting. The sauce is lime-tart and hot in just the right way. And the plantain chips are crisp and delicious. I'm getting hungry again as I think about the ceviche.
Ok, back to Thanksgiving.

As part of the Red O menu, Stich serves Mexican street corn as a side dish. If you've traveled in Mexico you've seen street vendors selling corn on the cob from their carts. Charred and covered with flaky cotija cheese and eaten either in a paper tray or on the end of a stick, the corn has a wonderful smoky, salty flavor.
Stich took the kernels off the cob to serve the corn as a side dish to go with a menu focused on seafood and steaks. For a Thanksgiving side, he combines the ideas of Mexican street corn with a fall classic, succotash. Switching out the beans that are traditionally in the dish, he added butternut squash and he included poblano chiles to amp up the latin flavors.

Helpfully, most of the recipe can be prepared the day ahead which eases the craziness of Thanksgiving day.

Please take a look at the article and video on Zester Daily. The dish is really delicious and chef Stich is fun to watch in the kitchen.

Have a great holiday.

Adding Mexican Spice to Thanksgiving Succotash

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Passion Fruit Custard - Easy to Make, Delicious to Eat

Passion fruit are in season.  The small fruit packs a big flavor when added to cocktails, sauces and custards.

When our son lived in Rio, we visited Brazil for ten days. In the time he had spent there going to college, he had become fluent in Portuguese. With him as our guide, we experienced the city the way locals do. We had several meals at his apartment. One of his signature cocktails was a caipirinha made with cachaça, lime, sugar and lots of ice. To a regular caipirinha, Franklin added fresh passion fruit. The cocktail was delicious.
When he came back to Los Angeles, he continued to serve caipirinhas. To make the drink, he would strain out the seeds and add only the juice from the fruit. He would toss the seeds and husks into our compost bin. We used the compost in the vegetable garden and after a few months we had dozens of passion fruit plants growing along the fence. Ever since, we have had passion fruit vines trellised on the fence.
Some years we had a bumper crop of several dozen passion fruit. Other years, like this past summer, the plants produced only a handful. In any case, flavoring the custard takes only two, so we had enough from the garden to make passion fruit custard for dinner last night. And it was delicious.

Passion Fruit Custard
An easy to make custard requiring a minimum of effort. Use quality fresh ingredients, farmers market eggs and good heavy cream. To my knowledge only Trader Joe's sells a heavy cream without additives or preservatives.

The custard tastes the best when it is only 1" deep. Creating a taller custard means the top and bottom will cook but not the middle.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Passion Fruit seeds and pulp soak overnight in custard

Baking time: 45-120 minutes depending on the size of the baking dish
Ingredients

2 extra large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
2 fresh passion fruit, washed

Method

Cut open the passion fruit. Use a small spoon to remove the seeds and any pulp. Set aside. Discard the husk.

Beat together the eggs and white sugar. Add the cream and passion fruit to the sugar-egg mix. Stir well. Cover in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator over night.

In the morning, pour the custard through a strainer and into a bowl. Remove the passion fruit seeds. Use a rubber spatula to scrape off the custard on the bottom of the strainer and add to the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Pour the custard into a large 9" round oven-proof baking dish or 6 porcelain ramekins. Prepare a water bath by pouring 1" of water into a baking pan larger than the baking dish by several inches.

Bake for 45 minutes (the ramekins) or 90 minutes (the baking dish). Every 15 minutes rotate the baking dish and ramekins so they cook evenly. If the custard is browning too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top.

The custard is done when it doesn't jiggle when moved. Depending on your oven, the baking time could be as much as 2 hours or even longer.

Serve at room temperature.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Having a Very Good Time in New York State's Finger Lakes

Last month I went on a road trip in the Finger Lakes. Flying to Rochester, I rented a car. For the next three days I drove south, then east, then north until I dropped the car off in Syracuse. With guides from the county tourism boards, I saw as much as I could on a too-short trip. I had a great time enjoying the lakes, visiting with farmers, looking at the beautiful countryside and meeting people who have lived their whole lives in this very special part of the country.
The focus of the trip was distilleries. Specifically, those distilleries on orchards. These are family owned farms. Those farms were allowed to produce distilled spirits because of law that was passed by the state of New York in 2007.
The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its vineyards. Now there are good products originating in the orchards. For the most part, that means apples. All kinds of apples, which are used to make hard cider. In the past when I tried hard cider, I didn't enjoy the sweetness. The hard ciders I tasted at Apple Country SpiritsEmbark Craft  Ciderworks both in Williamson, the orchard collective at Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken and 1911 Spirits at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard outside of Syracuse were dry and light like champagne.
The real surprise was when I tasted the vodka, gin and brandies made from the products of those orchards. At Apple Country Spirits, I had Tree Vodka, Apple Jack and brandies made from cherries, plums and pear. At 1911 Spirits, I had 1911 Gin and 1911 Vodka. All were very good.
The vodka and gin at both distilleries were made from apples. That doesn't mean the spirits tasted like apples. They were delicious clean tasting and mild.

At the end of the trip, on my last night in Syracuse, I visited Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge in the downtown area. The bar is relatively new but looked and felt as if it had been there since the turn of the 20th century. Tall ceilings. Brick walls. A pool table in the back. A lounge with leather couches and chairs. And a 35 foot long wooden bar backed by floor to ceiling shelves filled with bottles of spirits. The bar list is as thick as the phone book for a small city.
After a very busy trip, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I wanted a cocktail. One made with a local product. The way it works at Al's is instead of reading through a cocktail menu, you tell the bartender how you are feeling, which in my case was tired and what kind of spirit you like, which in my case was either vodka or gin, whichever was local.
The result was a very delicious cocktail made with Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard's 1911 Gin. I wrote up the recipe for Zester Daily. Please take a look. I think you'll want to make the cocktail for yourself. It is that good!

Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin