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Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheese. Show all posts

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Long Day's Journey into Happiness at Savor Italy

Who doesn’t love a good plate of pasta? Or an antipasti with cheeses, meats and vegetables? I know, those aren’t legitimate questions because the answer is “Everyone!”

Italian dishes rank high on the short list of favorite food. A good Italian restaurant is a treasure in any neighborhood.

Recently I attended Savor Italy Los Angeles. The event was devoted not to a tasting of restaurant dishes but of products available for the home.  The one-day event was hosted by the IACCW (Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West) to promote imported Italian food and wine. For the 30+ purveyors, the event was an opportunity to interact with distributors and consumers. Most offered a tasting of their wines, olives oils, charcuterie and packaged baked goods.

With wine glass in hand, I joined the crowds at the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club waking past rows of tables. Many of the companies had local distributors, but not all as the signs on their tables said, “Looking for Distributors.”

A catered buffet lunch was another way to shine a spotlight on Italian products with large platters of charcuterie, cheeses, olives, crackers, breads and olive oil catered by the attentive Elisabetta Ciardullo Criel of Think Italian Events. I filled my plate with Italian ham, mortadella, paper-thin flat breads, Gorgonzola, burrata and Castelvetrano Green olives while I looked for a nice glass of wine to go with my lunch-snack.

The fun of the event was not only in sampling wines and snacking on Italian taste treats but in talking with the people who were there to represent their products.
It was early in the day so I thanked Gian Mario Travella for the offer to taste his Freccianera Prosecco. Near closing time I did return to sample the amber colored, barrel-aged Grappa Invecchiato. Very delicious.

With a smile Andrea Grondona offered a taste of Grondona Pasticceria’s pan dolce (sweetened bread with bits of fruit) and the Baci di Dama (chocolate ganache filled cookies). Full of flavor and moist, I was impressed that packaged baked goods could taste so fresh.

A few steps away, Leo Melgar and Giancarlo Rosito stood behind the Rosito Bisani table with machines used in an Italian restaurant kitchen--a panini press, deli slicer, hard cheese grater for Parmesan and a pasta extruder. They had one home machine, The Reale 1 Compact Espresso Machine.

With a butter cookie in hand, a last gift from Andrea Grondona, I explained how happy I would be to have an espresso to go with my cookie. Being a good Italian with a love of hosting, Rosito led me upstairs where the Reale was set up. His strong cup of espresso was the perfect accompaniment for my butter cookie.

Upstairs from the downstairs

A mezzanine meeting room was set aside for presentations about Italian wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In that quiet room, speakers talked about the terroir that gave their products their unique qualities.

Smartly dressed wait staff poured samples as speakers talked through their Power Point presentations.

“Ready for bubbles?”

I arrived as Laura Donadoni was describing the terroir and techniques of the Franciacorta winery located in the north of Italy. As a server poured a tasting of the La Valle “Primum” Brut (75 % Chardonnay; 20% Pinot Noire; 5% Pinot Blanc), I settled in behind a flight of six wine glasses.

Donadoni asked us to raise our glasses so we could appreciate the fine bubbles streaming from the bottom of the sparkling wine flute. 

She regaled the gathered group of aficionados with details of weather, soil quality and harvest particulars that created the distinctive qualities of half a dozen Franciacorta wines.

When I returned for the 6:00pm wine tasting, Laura Donadoni had returned to introduce wines from Lugana. Very different from the morning’s sparkling wines, I liked the 2013 Lugana Doc Vendemmia Tardiva, a light dessert white wine. With its ginger, lemon zest notes, for Donadoni, the wine would be perfect at the end of a meal with cheese or with a dessert like panna cotta.

After we had a sip of the Lugana Doc Riserva, Donadoni polled the gathered group, “What do you taste? What notes?” With noses in their glasses and swirling before tasting, people called out, “Watermelon” and “Jasmine.” 

“Everybody, each one of us, can feel what we taste and smell based on what we have lived in our lives. It is very individual. The difficult part is to connect a sensation with a name.  Ok, now we can drink it.” The 2015 Lugana Doc CONCHIGLIA (Citari) had a clean flavor, light, with more acidity than minerality. Very pleasurable.

The 2014 Lugana Doc Superiore CA LOJERA (Ca’ Lojera) was fermented in oak barrels and that gave the wine a spiciness. We took in the aroma and sipped as she talked about how we could taste “wood” and white clay in the wine with a little “apple” sweetness. 

While she was talking, the A/V went blank. “It is telling me, ok, Laura, time to stop.” 

But with a smile she continued because she loved the wine and its layers of flavors. “It has a sweet lemon and almond flavors and a beautiful finish of apricot with a touch of minerality. The wine can age another 5 years with great benefit" and with that she ended her presentation to the audience's applause.

Oil and Vinegar

The final guided tasting of the day was not about wine but “Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar, Modena.” U.C. Davis’ Orietta Gianjorio is a juror and author,  a 3rd level, Advanced Sommelier, Certified Olive Oil Taster and Member of the Italian Registry (also a 2nd Level Honey Taster, 2nd Level Chocolate Taster, a Delegate for the Academia Italiana della Cucina, and author and International Judge.) Given all her titles, you can tell that Italians take their food very seriously!

Her tasting was not only designed to give us a flavor experience but also to introduce us to the vocabulary we would use to describe that experience.

The olive oil tasting sheet listed disagreeable and agreeable qualities. DEFECTS, it said would be rancid, fusty, musty and winey. AROMAS like green, ripe, citrus, mint, hay-straw and almond are good. And then there was a question about BODY. We would taste for mild, medium or robust.

The same was going to be true of the balsamic vinegars she had brought with her. Balsamic had a different set of descriptive words to communicate quality: DENSITY (thick, fluid, inconsistent, lipid, slightly veiled, cloudy), COLOR (light brown, dark brown, Brown, Amber, Dark Amber); SMELL (Intensity, Persistency) with aromas of raspberries, apricots, plums, dates, figs, prunes, raisins, cassis, black currant, blackberry and so on.

Gianjorio loves what she does and with the short time available to her, she had much to share. “We have an hour or more but you tell me when you are tired. I will teach you how to evaluate your palate when you taste balsamic vinegars and olive oil. I do this every day so I am used to it.”

She explained that a taster has to have good taste buds but also must practice tasting to be good at it.

But before we could do our tasting, she talked about fundamentals.

Extra Virgin Olive Oils

“Extra Virgin,” she asked, “What does that mean?” She polled the group. After a lot of guesses, she explained that it does not mean “first press or cold press.” Today olives are not pressed. Olives are washed, defoliated, then ground up with hammers inside a closed container. The change from open grinding was to prevent the olives being exposed to oxygen because once oxidation begins, the quality of the oil decreases.

After grinding, the olive oil is “massaged” before being placed in a centrifuge which separates the water from the oil. The water is discarded. The oil is filtered and graded.

To be labeled “Extra Virgin” the product must be an oil that is produced only with olives and was extracted with a mechanical not chemical method at a specific temperature (80-86 degrees). After production, the olive oil cannot be mixed with any other oil. And the oil must all be “new” oil not a mixture of old and new.

But that is not the end of the story.

Before labeling, the oil must be laboratory tested for free fatty acids because that will tell whether or not the oil was oxidized which would give the oil a rancid taste. And, finally, the olive oil must go through a sensory advisory panel (8 people) who certify that the olive oil is free of defects.

So “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” is a label indicating a manufacturing process and the quality of the product.

I soaked up every detail of her talk. I tasted the olive oils and the balsamic vinegars and they were delicious.

At the end of the tasting, it was time to leave. Downstairs, the last of the tables had been stacked and ready to be loaded into trucks. People pushed brooms to sweep away the litter. Two people poured the last of a wine bottle into their glasses and saluted each other.

I walked out into the cool night air. What a good day spent enjoying so much great Italian food and wine.

What fun to “Savor Italy.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer Travel - Time to Plan a Picnic at 30,000 Feet




When you board an airplane and walk past the first-class passengers settling into their double-wide seats, it’s difficult to avoid feeling like a second-class citizen. The issue isn’t only personal space. As the curtain closes behind the lucky few, you know the crew is preparing a nonstop feast for those with plenty of disposable income.
You can almost see the French cheeses and crackers on a tray with glasses of bubbly Champagne, an opulent first course meant to stimulate the appetite before a gourmet entree — chateaubriand, perhaps, or line-caught salmon with roasted asparagus. If you listen closely, you can hear the flight attendant whispering to leave room for the hot fudge sundae with fresh whipped cream and toasted almonds.
In coach, nothing is free. Sure, for now the sodas, water, and coffee are still complimentary, but if you’re hungry, have your credit card ready. Alaska Airline’s cheeseburger with chips or the Chicken Bánh Mi Sandwich is a relative bargain at $7, but Delta charges $9.99 for a grilled chicken wrap, and a vending-machine-type pastrami and cheese (cheese on pastrami?) sandwich is $9.99 on American Airlines. Delta’s “Eats Treats” is a choice of three snack boxes with packets of easy to eat chips, cookies,  cheese spread, nuts and dried fruit for $5.99-$8.99.
You’ll do a lot better if you brown bag it and pretend you’re on a picnic.

Choose food with staying power

Pack food that travels well: trail mix, your own tea bags and sunflower seeds. Fresh fruit is good, but avoid berries that bruise easily. Carrot and celery sticks are great, as are sandwiches. One caveat: Remember that you can only take 3 ounces of any liquid through airport security, so go easy on the salad dressing or condiments you bring.

Assemble sandwiches carefully

Sandwiches are an easy-to-eat option for in-flight meals because everyone gets to choose what they want. There are an infinite number of combinations from ham and cheese on rye to grilled shiitake mushroom and watercress sandwich for vegetarians. Meat eaters in the family can go crazy and build a feast of turkey breast, salami and provolone on deli rye.
To keep your bread pristine, put the mayo or mustard (as well as tomatoes or lettuce) between the meat slices, not directly on the bread. Or, for really long flights, wrap the bread, meat and cheese in plastic wrap sealed in Ziploc bags and assemble the sandwich with condiment packets while you’re flying.
Avoid fillings that might disturb your fellow passengers. Overly messy food or condiments, like chopped liver and garlic paste are a bit too aromatic for an airplane’s close quarters.

Keep it fun for the kids

If kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, stop at a camping supply store and pick up a couple of refillable plastic tubes. The kids can choose their favorite peanut butter and jam and pre-fill the tubes at home. Now they have something to look forward to on the plane.

A salad bar in the air

Make carrot, potato or pasta salad at home and pack it in plastic containers. Keep a green salad fresh by assembling it when you’re ready to eat. (A tip: You can pick up a couple of the empty salad dressing containers at your grocery store’s salad bar.) At home, give everyone the chance to pack their favorite salad fixings. Besides lettuce or arugula, bring chopped tomatoes, scallions, croutons, olives, hardboiled egg slices, crumbled cheese, or carrot rounds — those salad-dressing containers work well for these items, too.
Want to make your salad even more delicious? Try this simple vinaigrette. Just heat ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar over a low flame until it’s reduced to a teaspoon, then mix it together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The reduced balsamic adds depth and natural sweetness to the dressing.

Let your deli do the work

To glam up your meal, nothing says classy like a charcuterie plate and nothing is easier to prepare. Pick up a selection of favorite meats, pâtés, cheeses, and a small baguette or a selection of rolls at your favorite deli. Bring along some olives, a few cornichons — those tart French pickles — and a packet of Dijon mustard, and you won’t care what the first-class passengers are eating.

Celebrate your sweet tooth

For dessert, go wild and stop at your favorite bakery. Fresh fruit tarts don’t travel well, but cookies, muffins, scones and even eclairs do quite nicely if packed in plastic containers, like the ones used at the deli or the lidded containers sold by Ziploc and Glad.

Don’t forget the basics

Bring paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils so you can feast in style. A plain kitchen towel makes a perfect airplane tray tablecloth and helps with spills. Pack everything in plastic containers. Be a good neighbor and carry plastic bags for easy clean up so you don’t leave any trash behind. Take along sea salt and freshly ground pepper in empty 35mm film canisters (remember those?) or even the plastic containers used for prescription medication.

Why we love flying

With all the inconveniences, we easily forget that flying is a manmade miracle. Think about it, a hundred-plus people and all their luggage powering through the sky above the highest clouds. Amazing. If only we didn’t feel so claustrophobically uncomfortable, we could return to the wonder we felt as kids when we pressed our noses against the window and looked down at the earth below.
We can’t regain that lost innocence, but enjoying a delicious home-prepared meal, maybe we can reconnect with the fun of flying. A really good sandwich, some olives, and a crisp Fuji apple from the farmers market can do that for you.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Infinitely Variable Omelet

Omelets are a great main course. Perfect for breakfast but also satisfying as lunch, dinner or a snack.

Easy to make, infinitely variable, filling, healthy and affordable, they are warming and delicious.

Just about any ingredients that can be sauteed can be used as a filling. (Why saute the fillings? To eliminate excess water and caramelize the ingredients.)  I like mine with cheese, but that's a matter of personal choice.

For breakfast this morning, I made my wife a vegetable omelet with spinach and shiitake mushrooms while I had a bit of bacon in mine.

Bacon Omelet with Comte Cheese and Parsley

Use any kind of frying pan, but a nonstick pan makes everything easier and a nice crust forms on the outside of the omelet.

For a one-person omelet, use a 9" pan. An omelet for two requires a doubling of the recipe ingredients and a 12" pan.

Serves: 1

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 large or extra large eggs, farmers' market fresh
2 tablespoons milk, half and half or cream
2 teaspoons sweet (unsalted) butter
1 slice raw bacon, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup grated cheese (comte, cheddar, munster, or swiss)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

Beat the eggs with the milk and set aside.

Heat the nonstick frying pan on a medium flame, melt 1 teaspoon butter and saute the bacon, parsley and onion until lightly browned. With a silicon or rubber spatula, remove the sauteed vegetables and reserve.

Return the pan to the flame. Melt the other teaspoon of butter, add the eggs, swirling them over the bottom of the pan. Season with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle grated cheese on one half of the omelet. Spoon the sauteed vegetables over the cheese.

Let the eggs set and the cheese melt, about 2 minutes. Using the spatula, gently fold the "empty" side of the omelet onto the side that has the cheese and sauteed vegetables.

Slide onto a plate. Serve with toast or fresh fruit and a hot beverage.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eating in Amsterdam

A recent trip to Amsterdam has yielded several articles for Peter Greenberg.  The latest just posted, a piece about the local food scene.  

Dutch Food & the Amsterdam Restaurant Scene
Dutch food in AmsterdamMost travelers agree, you don't go to Amsterdam for the food. The museums, no question. The canals and parks, absolutely. The Red Light District and the "coffee shops," sure, if that's your thing. But the food? Not so much, right?

After all, is there really such a thing as Dutch cuisine, or even GOOD Dutch food? The answer might be ... yes. If you're a roving foodie like David Latt, part of the journey to any destination includes unexpected surprises, and Amsterdam didn't disappoint. Read on to find what he uncovered.

In Amsterdam, restaurant food tends to be hit-or-miss. Most dishes are under-seasoned, but that doesn't mean you won't eat well.

The fact is, you're likely to have good cafe food; meaning great sandwiches, delicious cheeses, excellent coffee, and plenty of good breads and pastries. Meanwhile, Amsterdam's various ethnic offerings continually surprise new visitors. The trick is knowing where to find these spots and getting the local experience while you're at it.

EATING AND DRINKING WHAT'S LOCAL

Interestingly, some Dutch export products consumed at home taste much better when you're in Holland. Heineken and Grolsch, for instance, seem to have more subtleties and depth of flavor.

Kaasland Singel CheeseGouda isn't generally regarded as a particularly interesting cheese, but stop by Kaasland Singel, west of Centraal Station, and have a sampling of the locally produced cheeses. You'll be surprised that the Gouda can have a creamy richness similar to French comte.

What's more, you know you're not in Kansas anymore when you taste Gouda made from cow's or goat's milk and flavored with any one of a dozen herbs and seasonings, including stinging nettle, cumin, pepper, mustard seed, garlic and onions, coriander, Italian herbs (garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and olives), walnuts, hot pepper, garlic, or basil.

Living on the edge of the North Sea, the Dutch have a love of seafood. Walk across the street from Kaasland Singel to the herring shack overlooking the canal for a uniquely Dutch experience: a plate of lightly pickled, raw herring.

Locals will tell you that the best herring is caught in the spring. Purists avoid the traditional condiments, onions and pickles, preferring to savor the fish au naturel. To eat them Amsterdam-style, order your herring whole, pick it up by the tail, tilt back your head, and let the fish descend into your mouth.
Don't miss David Latt's Amsterdam for Americans: In-Depth Amsterdam Travel Guide

Hutspot Dutch food at Five FliesIf you want to continue sampling traditional Dutch food, head to Spuistraat and visit D'Vijff Vlieghen(aka, The Five Flies) and its neighbor across the street, Restaurant Haesje Claes and order the Dutch stick-to-your-ribs classic, hutspot: mashed potatoes, carrots, and onions served with smoked pork sausage, thick bacon, and a super-sized beef meatball.

If you can't get a reservation at either restaurant, the locals know that you can order from the Haesje Claes menu at De Koningshut, the homey workingman's bar next door.

Whatever you try from the extensive menus should be accompanied by large quantities of Dutch beer or, an Amsterdam favorite, Jupiler from Belgium.

LIVE LIKE A LOCAL, EAT LIKE A KING

A good friend who has visited Amsterdam many times says that the best way to experience the city is to rent an apartment, cook your own food and live like a local.

If you do that, then you'll want to shop at the open air markets - the famous Northern Market (Noordermarkt), New Market (Nieuwmarkt), and Albert Cuypmarkt - here you can buy high-quality cheese (domestic and imported) meats, poultry, seafood, baked goods, and farm-fresh produce. The Markt near Vondelpark, located at Overtoom 21 25, reminds one of a smaller, more intimate Whole Foods, with an excellent section of seafood, organic meats, fresh produce, wine, and baked goods.
For more foodie adventures, visit our Culinary Travel section.

Open Air Dutch Market, AmsterdamFor your morning coffee and pastry, you'll want to find a bakery like Vlaamsch Broodhuys on Haarlemmerstraat, between Singel and Prinsengracht, where you can sit quietly, read the paper and start the day as slowly as possible.

In the afternoon or early evening, when you need a coffee, sandwich, or beer, stop by a brown cafe-so called because their interiors are almost entirely brown. Originally, the cafes earned their distinctive color not from paint, but years of accumulated cigarette smoke. Today, however, smoking is restricted to outdoor patios and the coffee shops that sell marijuana and hash.

On the other hand, if the weather is sunny, you will probably want to sit outside and people-watch.

Rembrandt Square (Rembrandtplein) is favored by tourists, with its large, Parisian-style cafes, while Leidsen Square (Leidseplein) at the juncture of Weteringschans, Marnixstraat, and Leidsestraat near the Singel canal is preferred by locals. In the summer when it doesn't get dark until 11 p.m., hundreds of people fill the cafes.

There are also smaller but still crowded cafes at the New Market, and a collection of bars and restaurants with outdoor seating where Spui, Spuistraat and Singel meet in front of the American Book Center and the Athenaeum Boekhandel.
For more, don't miss the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Crea Cafe AmsterdamIf you tire of all the hustle and bustle, there is Crea Cafe, part of the University of Amsterdam's cultural programming organization. The cafe, frequented by students, has a narrow outdoor patio where you can enjoy a coffee and sandwich and watch locals row by in their small boats.

Brasserie Harkema is another oasis of quiet, just a few minutes walk from crowded, noisy Dam Square. The simple bistro menu features comfort food like asparagus soup with ham and open faced BLTs with lots of smoked bacon. The small outdoor brick patio is the perfect place to chill out and sample their extensive wine list, the quiet disturbed only by the sound of passing bicycles and the occasional horse-drawn carriage.

Desserts are widely available, as are chocolates. A particular favorite is Puccini Bomboni with two locations: Staalstraaat 17 and Haarlemmerstraat 12.

Dutch chocolate at Puccini BomboniHere, the chocolates are laid out in great mounds, tempting innocents to lose their self-control. Anyone with a passion for high-quality chocolates should only enter the store with a companion whose assignment is to prevent excessive purchasing and consumption.

ETHNIC FOOD, AMSTERDAM-STYLE


If you're craving ethnic food, there are many Asian restaurants through out the city. Because of the Netherlands' colonial history, Indonesian restaurants serving rijsttafel (rice table) have long been popular. The always crowded, Restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger bills itself as an Indonesian restaurant, but the menu suggests a fusion of many Asian cuisines.

Zeedijk street, from Prins Hendrikkade in front of Centraal Station to New Market, along the western edge of the Red Light District, has dozens of restaurants serving the cuisines of many nations.

If you hunger for large platters of meat, there are Argentinean and Brazilian restaurants. For Asian cuisine, there is Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Nam Kee AmsterdamMany travelers I know insist on "going native," but sooner or later tire of the local cuisine and have an insatiable craving for Chinese food. Nam Kee is the most-recommended with its 17-page, encyclopedic menu offering rice, noodle, curry, meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. The waiters don't speak English, a rarity in Amsterdam, and they don't take American credit cards, which is true at most restaurants, so bring euros.

Besides the usual Mandarin and Cantonese menus, there is Suriname Chinese, another remnant of the Dutch colonial experience.

Ethnic restaurants are also found in De Pijp (the Pipe), especially on Albert Cuypstraat where you'll find the delightful Bazar. The Middle Eastern dishes are under-seasoned, but you'll spend hours happily talking and drinking, thoroughly enjoying the eccentric interior.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Open Faced Quesadillas

Traditionally quesadillas are a simple combination of a warm tortilla folded over hot melted cheese. When our kids were young, they made an easy to make after-school snack. By adding toppings the quesadilla turns into a fiesta of flavors. Since the quesadilla cooks quickly in a trying pan, the toppings should be pre-cooked, much the same way they are on pizzas.

Besides being easy and quick to make, quesadillas are also a great way to use left-overs. Roast chicken, steak, fish fillets, and grilled vegetables work well under a thin layer of melted cheese.

By only using one side of the quesadilla, you save on calories and improve the flavor.

Open Faced Quesadillas

The basic quesadilla is a toasted tortilla topped with melted cheese, with hot sauce or salsa added for flavor.  Kids love them, so do adults.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

4 tortillas, corn or flour
1/4 pound cheese, cheddar, muenster, jack
2 scallions, washed, ends removed, finely chopped (optional)

Method

Heat a frying pan or griddle on a medium-high flame. Cut each tortilla into quarters. Put each piece on the griddle, topped with thin slices of cheese. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil or a lid for 5 minutes.

Remove, sprinkle with chopped scallions (optional), and serve with hot sauce or salsa.

Quesadillas with Toppings

We've tried Italian sausage rounds, grilled vegetables (carrots, broccoli, and corn), shredded roast chicken, grilled sliced shrimp, thin slices of tomato, thin slices of steak... Just about any cooked meat or vegetable could be put on a quesadilla.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Putting Romaine Lettuce's Feet to the Fire

Going out to eat has many pleasures, not the least of which is learning a new trick to add to your own repertoire at home.

Last year, we had dinner at the charming Barbrix (242 Hyperion Avenue, Silver Lake 90027, 323/662-2442) where we discovered chermoula sauce. Easy to make, I promptly put it to use in my own kitchen flavoring fish, chicken, and vegetables.

Recently at Il Fornaio, during the Lazio Regionale, we had Lattuga Romana alla Griglia or lightly grilled hearts of romaine topped with shaved pecorino pepato and Il Fornaio's creamy house dressing. The rest of the menu was terrific, but the real stand out was the deceptively simple grilled hearts of romaine.

The dish is easy to make at home. So easy, in fact, you can serve it on the spur of the moment because it takes barely fifteen minutes to prepare.

Grilled Hearts of Romaine

If you can buy your romaine from a farmers' market, all the better to ensure freshness. At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market we buy ours from Gloria's Fruits and Vegetables. At the Sunday Palisades Market, John of Sweredoski Farms sells large, well-formed lettuces.

Romaine will keep fresh in the refrigerator for a week or more when wrapped in a damp cloth kitchen towel and placed in a plastic bag.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 large romaine lettuces
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 slices pecornio pepato or pecorino Romano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Peal off the 4-5 outer leaves of each romaine and discard. With a sharp paring knife, cut off the end of the stem so it's even with the remaining leaves. Wash the inside of the leaves to remove grit, being careful to leave them attached to the stem. Shake off excess water.

Using a sharp knife, cut each romaine the long way. Then cut each half again so one romaine makes 4 sections that look like long watermelon slices.

Heat a bbq grill or preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Pour the olive oil on a flat plate and season with sea salt and pepper. Dredge all sides of each romaine section in the seasoned olive oil and place on the grill for 3-4 minutes or put on an aluminum lined roasting pan and place in the oven. Turn over and continue cooking another 3-4 minutes or until the top edges of the cut side of the romaine are browned.

Remove from the oven. Place on a serving plate. Lay a thin slice of pecorino along the length of each piece of romaine. Everyone will need knives and forks. Serve warm.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Chef's Gathering in Support of Foie Gras

Last week I was in London and Paris, writing an article for Peter Greenberg's travel site. In Paris my friend Randa was my guide, taking me to her favorite markets and shops. My trip was a whirlwind of activity, walking miles every day, taking photographs, eating wonderful meals, tasting chocolates, cheese, and wines, and catching up with Randa.

Paris was wonderful, but I was there such a short amount of time, I didn't have the

time to sit in a cafe, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and while away the day talking.


I knew I was going to bring back food that would memorialize the trip. Stopping in Randa's favorite cheese shop, I wanted to take arm loads of cheese, but I consoled myself with large pieces of Comté and Gruyère. From Le Bon Marché I bought two jars of Rillettes de Canard aux Olives and a large bottle of duck confit. From Goût, Thé et Chocolat near the Marché d'Aligre, a box of handmade chocolates.


Back in Los Angeles, it took me 3 days to get over a debilitating case of jet lag and when I did our friend and neighbor Norm invited me to join him at the Chef Gathering & Tasting Event.


Set up in the open-air courtyard of the Bel-Air Bay Club, the gathering was a celebration of fine food and wine. A who's-who of LA's gourmet chefs were there to taste generous offerings of foie gras from Rougié, Gourmet Imports amazing selections of cheese, smoked salmon and caviar from Universal Seafood, wines from W.J. Deutsch and Sons, Pommery champagne, and Yvan Valentin's petit fours and hand-made truffles.

Following Norm's lead, I filled my plate with foie gras in every form imaginable, duck prosciutto, smoked salmon with caviar, a piece of Puits d'Astie (a sheeps milk cheese from the Auvergne that Gourmet Imports ha

s just recently imported) and a slab of the very runny Snowdrop (a goats milk cheese from Boulder, Colorado

made by Haystack Mountain), petit fours, and handfuls of Yvan Valeni's truffles.


After we found a place to sit, Norm and I had the chance to enjoy the food, drink a glass of Pierre Sparr

Pinot Blanc from W.J. Deutsch and Sons, return for more samples of the foie gras and cheese, and because his good friend Pierre Sauveget (Executive Chef, Bel-Air Bay Club) had joined us, a parade of chefs stopped by to chat. Finally I was enjoying my Parisian experience, albeit only half a mile from our house.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sofitel in London and Chef Albert Roux

A major figure in the world of English cuisine, Chef Albert Roux created two signature restaurants for Sofitel at their London St. James and Heathrow hotels. A chef of incredible energy--witness his involvement in many restaurant ventures--he is also a man of exceedingly good humor.

We were enjoying lunch at his Brasserie Roux at the London St. James Sofitel and I had the opportunity to be introduced to him. He was sharing with a friend a samplings of his cheese and dessert service. I explained that I was writing about the Sofitel for Peter Greenberg and that I also had a food web site and enjoyed cooking. He patted my stomach and said that I still had some way to go. I didn't know if he meant that as a cook or as an eater-of-fine food. (I don't remember having a slight paunch when I left LA three days ago.)

Chef Roux's attention to detail has influenced many of the chefs who have worked with him, including his talented brother and son, Michael.

What I found so enjoyable about the meals we had at the Brasserie Roux and the night before at Heathrow, was his light touch. Freshness is all important in his cuisine. The preparation, presentation, and saucing of each dish is designed to pull the best from all the ingredients.

As a signature feature of the lunch service a 4 course meal is offered at all the Sofitel Hotels. Chef Roux's take on the meal is a French riff on the Japanese bento box. 4 plates share a tray offering an appetizer, 2 entrees, and a dessert. Our lunch had a perfect balance of rich (Ballottine of foie gras), spare (Scallops, pea puree), comforting (Guinea fowl with mushrooms and tarragon sauce), and sweet (Lemon tart). Just as the 4 dishes counterpointed each other, so the flavors within each dish were perfectly balanced.

The savory tarragon sauce with chanterelle mushrooms drifted down over the chicken breast and shared the bottom of the plate with a helping of mashed potatoes and sauteed savoy cabbage. After the fullness of the appetizer and entrees, the lemon tart finished the meal on the perfect note.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

From Los Angeles to UC Davis with a Stop at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

On our way to UC Davis for our son Michael's freshman orientation, we first went to San Francisco. Taking I-5 we drove straight up the Central Valley with its seemingly endless miles of rich farmland, passing truck after truck filled to overflowing with California's bounty: tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, lettuce, onions... Like most Californians we love being on a road trip but nowadays we don't have the luxury of time so we usually fly when we travel. For this trip we had set aside five days and we relished a rare opportunity to get in the car and hit the road.
In San Francisco we stayed with Michelle's cousin Marii, her husband Ron, and their daughter Claire. Their house is in the Marina so we could take walks along the Bay within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ron is a great cook and we decided that one night he, Michelle, and I would cook dinner for Michael, Marii, and Claire.
Saturday morning, while Michael slept in, we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market to prep the meal.

The last time I shopped at the market I was working for San Francisco based DotComix, a web animation site that imploded when the internet bubble popped in 2000. At that time, the farmers' market was across the street from the Ferry in a small parking lot. Now the market encircles the Ferry building and fills the Plaza on the southern end, giving the shoppers a clear view of the Bay Bridge.

For an appetizer Ron was going to barbeque skewers of Wagyu beef he'd ordered on-line from ADiRECT Foods. The night before we'd eaten at a neighborhood Japanese-fusion restaurant called Umami. We talked a lot about what created that extra flavor ("umami") that is neither sweet, bitter, sour, salty but something more. We knew using mushrooms was one way to create that extra flavor. At the market he found fresh morels that he wanted to try with the beef. For our part Michelle and I wanted to keep dinner as summer-friendly as possible so we focused on buying ingredients we could grill and use for salads. Dessert would be a Banana-Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake I'd made at home.

There were stand-outs at the market: large bunches of watercress from White Crane Springs Ranch, peaches and nectarines from Frog Hollow Farm, and Ella Bella Farm's broccoli di cicco (sprouted broccoli). We also bought corn, tomatoes, arugula, and Italian parsley. The market is such a treat. Even if you didn't need to shop, walking through the crowds and enjoying the visual experience of the waterfront setting is more than enough reason to come to the market.

Ironically we would have missed one of the best parts of the market if the forest fires weren't raging in California and Nevada. We were just about finished shopping when we were surprised to see our friends Val and Florence. They live a block away from us in LA. Florence is one of the most accomplished cooks I know. There was no one better to give us tips about the market. They were two days into a week-long vacation in Reno when the forest fires came close enough that they had to leave, as Val put it, "because it was raining ash." Having traveled frequently to San Francisco, Florence knew where to buy the best peaches--Frog Hollow Farm--and which vendors had the best prepared food.

We hadn't planned to eat at the market because we were on our way to Sausalito to have lunch with friends, but Florence insisted that we couldn't leave without sampling her favorites. Luckily there were four of us to share. There was lox, cream cheese and a slice of thick-cut tomato on sourdough bread topped with red onions and lavender sea salt from Cap'n Mike's Holy Smoked Salmon, toastadas de ceviche with shrimp and avocado from Primavera, and RoliRoti's porchetta sandwich, the crispy pork sliced to order by chef-owner Thomas Odermatt. Florence told us that the porchetta sandwich was just like the ones she loved in Rome. For us the porchetta sandwich was a highlight of our trip. With napkins in hand and our stomachs full, we thanked Florence and Val for their much-appreciated advice.

Claire had patiently endured our extra time at the market. We owed it to her to finish shopping quickly. While she ate a breakfast muffin from Downtown Bakery, I picked up a chicken from the Golden Gate Meat Company and a piece of Capricious cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company.

Later that afternoon Ron, Michelle, and I cooked our dinner, which included grilled chicken, sausages, and vegetables; a summer drink of white rum, mint, and limes that combines the best of a Mojito and a Caipirinha; Ron's skewers of Wagyu beef and morels were amazing, the morels' earthiness perfectly complimented the meat's buttery sweetness; chopped liver and egg salad; grilled lavash; arugula and carrot salad; chopped salad; watercress with grated Capricious cheese; and the banana chocolate chip walnut cake.
We had a wonderfully leisurely dinner with time to catch up about family, tell jokes, and talk about favorite movies. As a reward for my helping cook dinner, Claire made me a drawing in recognition of my "hard work and generosity." Appreciation is a great gift for anyone who cooks.

Of all the dishes we made, what Marii liked best was the chopped salad with grilled vegetables and Italian parsley. There will be more about the rest of the dinner in subsequent posts, but I wanted to start with Marii's favorite dish.

Summer's Best Chopped Salad

A salad with an infinite number of variations.

Yield 4 servings
Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 bunches Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems)
1 large avocado (peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
4 carrots (washed, peeled, cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs)
2 scallions (washed, ends trimmed)
4 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1/2 pound broccoli (washed, ends trimmed, stems peeled, florets cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs; if using sprouted broccoli grill whole)
1/2 pound string beans (washed, ends trimmed)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the chopped parsley and avocado into a large mixing bowl. Heat a barbecue grill. Drizzle olive oil on the vegetables, season with sea salt and pepper. Grill 5-10 minutes until lightly brown. If you don't have a grill, you can accomplish a similar result in a 350 degree oven. Turn frequently in either case so the vegetables don't burn. Remove and let cool.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on a low flame until you have a quarter of the original volume. The vinegar will become sweet.

Finely chop the grilled vegetables, add to the parsley, drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and transfer to a salad bowl.

Variations

Keep the salad vegetarian and grill any vegetable you enjoy, like squash, asparagus, onions or mushrooms, chop, and add to the salad.
Add grilled meats like Italian sausage or chicken or shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab.

Add cheese such as crumbled feta, finely chopped comte, mozzarella, Swiss or cheddar.
Add chopped olives.
Add chopped salami.
Add chopped grilled eggplant.

Add chopped artichoke bottoms.

Add chopped hardboiled eggs.

Add homemade croutons.

Add chopped roasted beets.