Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Being in the kitchen is a great escape from a contentious world. Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, gives me a lot of pleasure. Good food promotes good conversation and well-prepared dishes tell our friends that we care about them.
I like to have the meal completed before everyone arrives, but sometimes, like this New Year's Eve, I know I'll still be cooking. The best solution is a colorful cocktail that refreshes and entertains while I'm finishing dinner.
Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, including a spoon means the cocktail is a drink and an appetizer all in one.
Tropical Rum Cocktail
Cocktails, like pets, need to be named. I'd appreciate any and all suggestions.
Time: 10 minutes
1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes
Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.
Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.
Top with a fresh sprig of mint
Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste
Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons
Friday, December 18, 2009
I lived there many years ago, so I know that Rhode Island is in Southern New England, a couple of hours north of New York on I-95. Wedged between Connecticut and Massachusetts, it's easily reachable by car, Amtrak, ferry, or bus.
Called the Ocean State because it has hundreds of miles of coastline, Providence is the largest city and state capital, home to Trinity Repertory Theater, Brown University, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
All that I knew, but what I learned on a recent trip is that the state has become an amazing place to eat.
There's great fast-food, Providence-style--cabinets, New York style hot dogs, pizza strips, spinach pies, coffee milk--and fun summer shore food--stuffies, steamers, chowda, lobster rolls, raw oysters & clams--and there's a remarkable community of talented chefs turning out sophisticated fine dining, the likes of which you'd expect in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
In the summer, roadside stands are everywhere, filled with fresh corn, tomatoes, squash, peaches, and plums. In the fall, the stands have pyramids of pumpkins, baskets of local apples, and jugs of freshly squeezed apple cider.
When I lived in Rhode Island, I stayed close to Providence. On this trip, I wandered around the state, spending time in Newport, Block Island, Little Compton, Bristol, and South County.
I discovered what the locals know. There are hundreds of bike paths, walking trails, public parks, and nature preserves that make the state a paradise for those who enjoy connecting with nature. Block Island, a few miles off the southern tip of the state, is a refuge from city life, a place to ride around on your bike, stop for a lobster roll at a waterside restaurant, take a nap, read a book, and walk on the grass topped beaches.
I put together a travel gallery of Rhode Island for the New York Daily News web site. Later this month the profiles of the restaurants I visited on the trip will post on Peter Greenberg's web site.
I had a great trip and expect to be back. In the meantime, I have a lot of photographs to help me remember what a great time I had.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
For dinner on the first night of Hanukkah my mother always started with a romaine lettuce salad topped with scallions and Lawry's French Dressing. Then there was a brisket of beef with carrots and mushroom gravy. But the real stars of the meal were the latkes served with apple sauce and sour cream.
My mother's latke recipe was handed down from her mother: grated potatoes, eggs, flour, a little salt and pepper. She'd fry them in vegetable oil and serve them as soon as they were browned. So simple and yet the result was so soul-comforting: crispy on the outside, soft inside, with just the right amount of oil and salt. There are few dishes that are as satisfying as food and so emotionally evocative.
Like most kids, my sister, Barbara, and I waited eagerly at the table. As soon as the plate full of latkes was passed around, we emptied it. I kept count, because I didn't want her to have more than I did. They were that good. When my grandmother was in town, she and my mother made Hanukkah dinner together. Their relationship was competitive to say the least, so there was always considerable discussion about the right way to make the latkes: flour vs. matzo meal; onions or no onions. My grandmother liked to point out that she had given my mother her latkes recipe but my mom insisted that she hadn't remembered it correctly.
These days we look forward to celebrating all the nights of Hanukkah but the first night is special. That's when both our sons are certain to be home. Now that they're off on their own, we're happy when we can be assured they'll share a meal with us.
Michelle likes to make the Hanukkah latkes and they're always delicious. Her recipe is similar to my mother's. This year I asked her to make a small adjustment. I wanted her to use Yukon Golds instead of Russet potatoes because they're sweeter and less starchy.
After the first night's candle was lit and placed in the menorah, presents were given and opened. Then Michelle made latkes as fast as she could and they disappeared as soon as they arrived at the table. In the end, there were only two left. Michael ate those for a late night snack. The family's opinion was unanimous. The Yukon Gold latkes were a keeper.
Yukon Gold Latkes
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed
1/4 cup white all purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (optional)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup parsley, washed, finely chopped (optional)
4 tablespoons safflower or canola oil
Peel the potatoes and keep them covered in a bowl of lightly salted water so they won't discolor. Using the large holes, grate the potatoes by hand. Keep the grated potatoes submerged in the bowl of water.
Take a handful of grated potatoes. Gently squeeze out the water so they are "dry" but still light and fluffy. Put the grated potatoes into a second bowl and mix together with the eggs, flour, and olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the parsley and onions (optional). Mix well.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or griddle. Use a parsley leaf to test the oil. When it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Form the latkes and fry them in batches. With our griddle, that means we can make 4 or 6 at a time.
Each side will take 4-5 minutes. When they're golden brown on each side, remove them to a plate with several sheets of paper towels to drain off the excess oil. Finish with a light dusting of sea salt.
Serve with sour cream and apple sauce.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The result was a sweet-heat dish, a good companion for cocktails before dinner.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Most of the time I do the cooking since I work at home and because we have a kitchen the size of a New York closet. Thanksgiving is my wife's day and I happily step to the side, working as a sous chef, assisting her in executing a meal that usually serves between 15-20.
Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of work, the key is organization. Writing up a menu is the first step, then a shopping list, and finally a time-line for the day before Thanksgiving and the day of the meal.
Along with those first steps, we cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil so clean up after the meal is easier. Cleaning out the refrigerator makes room for the turkey after we pick it up from the grocery store and so there's space for all those delicious left-overs after the meal.
Besides shopping at the grocery store we visit our local farmers' market to pick up fresh vegetables for the sides dishes: beets, sweet potatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, corn, leeks, and onions.
But the most important part of the meal is the turkey and no turkey is complete without a great stuffing.
Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans
Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).
Yield: 15-20 servings
Time: 30 minutes
2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper
Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.
Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add stock and summer 15 minutes.
Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.
The most difficult part about cooking a turkey is size. Even a 15 pound turkey is larger than any roast you'll ever cook, so it's important to have somebody around to help strong-arm the turkey.
The rule of thumb about cooking time is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees but there are so many variables, you can also use a roasting thermometer and, our preferred method, jiggle-the-leg and if it almost comes off, the turkey's done.
There's a lot of talk about whether to brine or not to brine. In the Los Angeles Times, Russ Parsons argued for what he calls a "dry" brine, which means salting the turkey inside and out, then wrapping it in a sealable bag and refrigerating it for one to two days.
Yield: 20-25 servings
Time: 7-8 hours
1 turkey, 23-25 pounds
Sea salt and pepper
Unwrap the turkey. Remove the packet with the liver, neck, heart, and giblet. Use a pair of pliers to remove the piece of wire that holds the legs. It can be a real pain to get the wire off. Wash the turkey inside and out. Pat dry on the outside.
Reserve the liver to make a turkey chopped liver. Put the neck, heart, and giblet into a large saucepan with a lot of water, at least five inches higher than the turkey pieces. Replenish whatever water boils off. Simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat on the neck falls off if you touch it with a fork. Strain the stock and reserve to use for gravy. Pull the meat off the neck and save to make turkey soup. Use the giblets in the gravy.
The next step is easier with a friend. Drizzle olive oil on the outside of the turkey. Using your hands spread the oil over the entire bird, front and back. Sprinkle sea salt and black pepper inside the cavity and on the outside.
To put in the stuffing, either my wife or I holds the turkey upright and steady while the other loosely packs the stuffing inside the large cavity, one handful at a time.
Use 8-12 metal skewers and kitchen string to close the large cavity. Carefully turn the turkey over so you can put stuffing into the top area. Use 6-8 skewers and string to close that cavity.
Use any kind of roasting pan. Whether you use a disposable aluminum foil pan or an expensive stainless steel roasting pan from William Sonoma, the result will be the same. The important thing to remember is the pan must be at least 2" wider than the turkey, otherwise as the bird cooks, its juices will drip onto the bottom of your stove and make a mess. To insure that the turkey browns evenly, you'll need a wire rack.
Place the turkey on the rack, breast down and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.
After that, every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with the fat that drips down into the pan. If the skin starts to brown too quickly, put an aluminum tent over the top.
After 3 hours, turn the turkey over. With a large bird this is easier said than done because now the turkey is not only heavy, it's very hot.
Another set of hands is a big help here. My wife and I have choreographed this crucial moment. I lift the roasting pan with the turkey out of the oven, placing it on the cutting board. Michelle stands at the ready with a pot holder in each hand. As I lift the rack with the turkey, she removes the pan. I flip the rack with the turkey onto the cutting board, having first put a kitchen towel along the edge to prevent juices from falling to the floor.
We pour all the juices and fat from the pan into a basting bowl, scrapping off the flavor bits on the bottom of the pan to make gravy.
The rack goes back into the pan. The turkey goes onto the rack, breast side up. After a good basting, the turkey goes back in the oven, covered with an aluminum foil tent.
As the turkey continues to cook, if the wing tips and drumstick ends brown too quickly, wrap them in aluminum foil.
Continue basting every 30 minutes. When the turkey is finished, remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.
Carve the turkey on a cutting board, removing the wings first, then the legs, thighs, and the breasts. Either place the pieces on the platter whole, to be carved at the table, or sliced for easy serving. Open the cavities and spoon out the stuffing.
While the turkey is cooking, start the gravy.
Yield: 15-20 servings
Time: 30 minutes
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 turkey giblet, cooked, grizzle removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon, or Italian parsley
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, finely chopped or sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups turkey stock
Sea salt and pepper
Saute the giblet, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add turkey stock and the flavor bits you scraped off the roasting pan, simmer and reduce by 1/3. Taste and adjust the flavors. If too salty, add more stock and a pat of sweet (unsalted) butter.
Reheat before serving.
When you're eating Thanksgiving dinner, odds are you aren't thinking about your next meal, but I am. Admittedly, it's a bit obsessive, but before I sit down to join the dinner, all the bones and scraps go into a large pot filled with water. By the time we're clearing the table, the stock is finished.
Turkey stock is rich and flavorful. Perfect for making soups, stews, and pasta sauce, and like chicken stock, freezes beautifully.
Yield: 15-20 servings
Time: 1 hour
1 turkey carcass, skin, scraps
Put the carcass into a large pot. If any of stuffing makes it into the pot, all the better for flavor and richness. Cover the bones with water. Simmer 1 hour. Strain and refrigerate. Pick the meat off the bones to use in a soup or stew.
The stock keeps in the freezer for six months.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Given their location on the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, both hotels are a good stop for anyone pursuing business or pleasure in the area. They offer conveniences expected of luxury hotels but their approach to their customers are wildly different.
At Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles, the lobby is dark, backlit, and mirrored, the better to flatter the hotel's patrons with classic Hollywood-style glamor. The rooms, as in all Sofitel's, are devoted to comfort with a French appreciation of spare elegance.
The hallway to the right of the concierge desk leads to the intimate Stone Rose Bar and LA Simon. If you want a designer cocktail in a subdued setting, the Stone Rose Bar is for you. There are enough Martini varieties to keep a conversation going until the wee hours of the morning.
If you're hungry, Chef Kerry Simon serves what he calls "Modern American comfort food with a flair." That means crab cakes with Asian slaw, classic Caesars, freshly made pizzas, roasted chicken, meatloaf, surf and turf, spaghetti with meatballs and a 20 oz. bone-in rib eye so big they call it the "cowboy". Desserts hit high notes on all the standards: creme brulee, apple tart, dark chocolate mousse cake, beignets, and a "junk food sampler" that will take you on a sugar-rush back to your childhood as you eat gourmet versions of cotton candy, cracker jacks, Rice Krispie treats, cupcakes, snowballs, a peanut butter sundae, vanilla bean milkshake, and assorted cookies.
Whether you're a guest or a day-tripper, a great way to enjoy the pleasures of the hotel is to have a Spa-and-Dinner. One of the best dates my wife and I ever had was to arrange simultaneous massages at LeSpa, with a private session in the NanoSpa Immersion Therapy room, as a prelude for a leisurely dinner at LA Simon. Being so perfectly relaxed was a great way to enjoy Chef Simon's food.
The SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is as elegant and pampers its guests as well but the approach is completely different. From the outside the hotel would appear to be just another large hotel on a busy street, but one step inside the lobby alcove and you know you're not in Kansas any more. The monkeys on the hotel's crest are a pretty good give-away.
SLS prides itself on being witty, hip, and clever. You get that from the way they twist-and-flip their "SLS" moniker which can mean "Style Luxury Service," "Start Living Smartly," "Society's Latest Scandals," or "Shoes Love Shining."
Even before you enter the lobby, you're confronted by larger-than-life flower pots and a silver tea pot. Philippe Starck designed the interiors and much of the art. His playful touch is felt everywhere in the hotel.
An interesting fact about SLS is that only registered guests can enter the hotel lobby. Which is nice if you're a power-broker, politician, athlete, or starlet who wants privacy while you wheel-and-deal in LA.
The lobby has all the creature comforts associated with a luxury hotel but those familiar elements are redesigned with an elegant subversiveness.
A long communal dining table shares the space with a club-like bar area where you can order drinks and appetizers. The bar is off to the left of the entrance where the bartenders work in a room-sized cubbyhole servicing customers seated in the lounge or at the long table. Entering the elevator on your way to your Phillipe Starck-designed room, you appear to join a party already in progress. The walls are lined with back-lit, full-sized photographs of beautiful, hip, stylish, and, presumably, interesting people.
On the roof-top pool, the cabanas and chaise lounges are so over-sized, the feeling you're left with is that you are forever-young, or at least, a child in a Magritte landscape. Sometimes, especially in the rooms, you might confront the dark side of witty-design when you try to sit in a beaded chair or you stumble over something that is sticking out where it shouldn't but overall the effect is delightful.
The rooms are chock-filled with high-tech toys, geared to the iPhone-iPod aficionado. Usually when I arrive at a hotel, when the bellman deposits me in my room I don't take him up on his offer to explain how everything works. In this case, definitely ask, "How do I turn on the lights? Where's the TV?"
There is no question that SLS is in the business of reinventing the hotel experience. They do a great job of making travel fun again.
But there is more. SLS wants the public to visit. If the lobby is off-limits, that's not true of the Bazaar.
The Bazaar was created to house the imagination of chef Jose Andres. Like a culinary Cirque de Soleil, the Bazaar has a lot going on. There is an upscale bar--with those over-sized chairs that make you feel like a kid in a candy store--a very expensive retail store selling art and household objects selected by Philippe Starck, 2 restaurants (Rojo and Blanco), 1 dessert bar, and a dining room reserved for private parties.
Jose Andres' menu is probably one of the most complex and original offerings in Los Angeles. There are traditional Spanish dishes like seared piquillo peppers, toasted bread with fresh tomatoes and Manchego cheese, paella, stuffed green olives, and the best ham you've ever eaten. But Andres trained with world-renowned chef Ferran Adrian so he also offers chemically marvelous creations like liquid olives that are actually olive-essence turned into a gel by the magic of alginate. For those who can afford a playful hit on decadent treats like foie gras, chef Andres serves a cube of that delightfully delicious indulgence on a stick, wrapped inside an airy globe of cotton candy.
At the Bazaar you can have almost anything your heart desires, just be prepared to pay for it. The restaurant is not inexpensive but you'd never know that from the crowds that pack the restaurant every night.
Staying at either hotel is a win-win proposition. There are many luxury hotels in Los Angeles but the Sofitel Hotel and SLS Hotel are unique unto themselves in their very different ways.
This is a dedicated TravelingMom post.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Over the years I tried dozens of recipes with varying results. When I finally settled on a recipe that worked there was still something missing. Sure I wanted the crust to be light and flaky with a buttery flavor and a little sweetness, all of which nicely framed the flavors of the apple filling but I still felt something was missing.
I wanted the crust to add to the flavors of the apple pie, not just frame them. That’s when I hit on using crystallized ginger to add sweet-heat to the crust.
Apple Pie with Crystallized Ginger Crust
You can use any tart apple or, as we prefer, one with more flavor like a Fuji.
Yield: 6-8 slices
Time: 90 minutes
6 large sized apples, washed, peeled, sliced 1/2” thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden raisins
5 large pieces crystallized ginger
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons raw sugar
2-3 tablespoons ice water
1 egg white
Make the pastry first. Hand chop the crystallized ginger as fine as possible. Put the flour, butter, sea salt, 2 teaspoons of raw sugar, and the crystallized ginger into a food processor and pulse until well-blended. While the food processor is running, slowly add water until the dough forms a ball.
Sprinkle flour onto a cutting board. Remove the ball of dough, divide into two pieces, put onto the flour and flatten into two 6” disks. Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 60 minutes.
Prebake the bottom crust.
On the floured cutting board, remove one disk from the plastic wrap and roll out the dough so it covers a 9” pie dish. Gently lay the dough over the pie dish and press down to fit. Trim the excess dough off the edge with a sharp paring knife. Make a dozen holes in the bottom of the dough. Weigh down the dough with ceramic pastry balls, uncooked rice, or beans and bake 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Remove. Let cool on a wire rack. Remove the weights.
For the filling, put the lemon juice, raisins, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Toss the apple slices in the mixture so the apples don’t discolor. Using a rubber spatula put the slices and juice in the prebaked crust.
Roll out the top crust on the floured cutting board as before. Lay the pastry on top of the pie. Trim away the excess and press together the edges of the top and bottom crusts. Use a paring knife to make half a dozen slits in the top pastry to allow steam to escape.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Lightly beat the egg white with 1/2 teaspoon of water. Brush the pastry with the egg white and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of raw sugar over the top. Return to the oven for an additional 25-35 minutes or until the crust is nicely brown.
Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
We visited our favorite branch of Il Fornaio (1551 Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/451-7800) across from the Santa Monica pier to have this month's selection from the Piemonte region, bordered by France, Lombardia, and Switzerland. Befitting an area with a colder climate, the dishes are comforting and savory, perfect for fighting off the mountain chill.
We happily started with the Potato and Leek Soup (Zuppa di Patate Porcini e Porri), served hot with a toasted disk of Il Fornaio's country white bread topped with a thick coating of melted fontina cheese. Finely chopped sauteed porcini mushrooms supplied the sweetness, complimenting the salty broth. A glass of Gavi, Patasiolo (2008) was the perfect companion.
For our pasta, we ordered the Cheese Ravioli with Porcini Sauce (Agnolotti di Fonduta ai Porcini). With the first bite, the porcinis dominated, suggesting that this was one of those dishes where the pasta was merely a delivery system for a richly flavored sauce. But the agnolotti were an amiable partner in this marriage of equals. With just a hint of white truffle oil--which is all too often applied with a heavy hand, the better to trumpet a restaurant's grand largess--the mild ravioli stuffed with fontina acquired a light but determined accent of roasted nuts.
For the main course, we had our choice of a Breaded Chicken Breast with ham and fontina cheese (Suprema di Pollo Ripiena), Roast Pork Loin with Figs and Sage (Maiale alla Piemontese), or Wild Seabass with Sauteed Vegetables and Mashed Potatoes (Filetto di Branzino all'Uva).
We were in the mood for a lighter dish, so we chose the seabass with the accompanying sauteed whole stems of broccoli-rabe, mashed potatoes, baby carrots and yellow squash. Halved green grapes and musky thyme complimented the sweet, moist fish, served in a delicate Champagne vinegar sauce.
To finish the meal, we treated ourselves to the regional dessert, an Amaretto-Coffee Custard (Bonet Classico), served with a caramel-coffee-creme anglaise sauce, the perfect ending to a delicious meal.
The Piemonte Regionale is served from November 2-15. If you're going to the American Film Market or Cirque du Soleil across the street or if you're just out on the town looking for an delicious, affordable meal, it's easy enough to stop by Il Fornaio in Santa Monica.
For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica
Friuli-Venezia Giulia at Il Fornaio