Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life goes on without me

I marked the anniversary quietly to myself, amid an otherwise totally unremarkable, glorious sunny day.  A dentist appointment for my daughter.  Basketball practice for my son. A pile of small issues at work.  A much needed stiff drink and highly caloric dinner out with my husband.

Just before we left the restaurant, I went to the bathroom. As I was washing my hands, I heard this refrain from the tinny speakers overhead:

Life goes on, without me.

It was Louis Prima, channeling Mom*.
Honestly. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

*Note the "I' sad and lonely!" refrain that repeats constantly, even though the song is relentlessly upbeat and cheerful.   I ask you, what is a person supposed to do with this information?  Vintage Mom.  That's how I knew for sure.  Subtle was never her style.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cheers to the freakin' weekend

If you have kids of a certain age, chances are good that you've been trapped in a car with KISS FM or its equivalent.  Which means there's way too much Rihanna going on.

This song, for example:

Cheers to the freakin' weekend 
I drink to that, yeah yeah 
Oh let the Jameson sink in 
I drink to that, yeah yeah

My maternal instinct kicks in as the kids belt out the chorus:

"I drink to tha-at!"

I give the obligatory speech about irresponsible celebrities glorifying bad behavior.
They roll their eyes.
Our respective jobs done, we all sing:

"Cheers to the freakin' weekend!*"  

I let the booze sink into my cake, too.  
After all,  Life's too short to be sittin' round miserable.

Yeah! Yeah!

Friday, March 16, 2012

You've lost, you just don't know it yet

"You've lost, you just don't know it yet." 
-- Josh Waitzkin in the 1993 film, Searching for Bobby Fischer

I think that's why they call it "Chess Pie*."

To paraphrase another famous line from the movie:

"This pie is better than I've ever been at anything in my life. It's better than you'll ever be, at anything.  This pie is a gift. It's a gift, and when you acknowledge that, then maybe we will have something to talk about."**

I tip my king to this pie.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cook My Mailbox Weekend I

I thoroughly enjoy* my daily scroll through the web**.
But I love my real mailbox more***. 

This weekend, I cooked an entire meal out of the glossy pages that have landed there recently.  The results?

Let's just say I'm definitely going to be doing that again****.

Cook My Mailbox- Weekend I
The Rules:  All dishes have to be from a physical magazine or newspaper.  Nothing from a blog, a website, or a cookbook.  I'll try to stick with (and refer you to!) the recipes as written, but I might cheat a little because I'm like that.  Most of the time the articles that accompany these recipes are well worth a read, so I'm not going to upstage the authors.  Instead, I'll just chime in with my humble opinion on the results.   Sound like a plan?


OK, then. 

The Menu: 
Homemade pizzas using No-Knead Pizza Dough from Bon Appétit
Kale Salad from the LA Times
Dorrie Greenspan''s Vanilla Bean Sablé Cookies from Fine Cooking.

The Pizza!
As soon as I saw the magazine cover, I knew I had to make this.  
Original article: Click here
My notes:  Start the dough the day before you plan to eat it, because it has to rise for at least 18 hours.  The good news is, you don't have to do anything except plan ahead.   The other good news is, it's so worth the wait. I modified the recipe so I could use my sourdough starter, and added some whole wheat flour.  I followed the rest of the instructions exactly as written. 

Sourdough No-Knead Pizza Dough

7 1/4  c. flour (1 used 2 c. white whole wheat, 2 c. all purpose, and 3 1/4 c. bread flour)
4 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. yeast
1/2 c. sourdough starter
2 1/2 c. cool water

Topped with a mix of romano, asiago, parmesan and fontina cheeses, pepperoni, kale and basil.

My review:  Probably the best homemade pizza crust I've ever had.  The texture was pretty much perfect...crispy but with enough heft to produce those great chewy bites of crust, and plenty of interesting bubbling up going on.  From my modification, there was a little sourdough tang along with the nutty wheat to add interest without taking a thing away from the toppings.  I'm all about those convenient $1.50 bags of dough from Trader Joe's, but this stuff is in an entirely different league.

The Salad!
My husband will tell you I've gone a little overboard with the kale.  And that was before I knew the secret.  (Hint:  Involves a rubdown with oil, always a good thing in my book).  Now he'll probably divorce me.

Original article:  Click here.

My notes:  Instead of using one of their recipes, I used their method, and tossed the newly-relaxed greens in my own balsamic dressing, along with shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, and blue cheese crumbles.  I also threw some on my pizza.  I think I heard my husband crying all the way in Mammoth.

Before the rubdown


My review:  Not only is this extremely therapeutic for you AND your kale, the results are truly magical. What a great trick!

The Sablé Cookies!
They had me at "vanilla bean".

Please, please, go read the original article.  It's Dorie Greenspan people!

My notes: I followed the recipe exactly except that I did add 1 tsp. of vanilla paste as well as the vanilla sugar, because my vanilla beans, instead of being "plump and soft" were more "withered and brittle".  Kind of like red vines that aren't so fresh, if you know what I mean.  I didn't want to take any chances.  I used Kerrygold Irish Butter, and raw turbinado sugar to finish the cookies.  I also adjusted the baking time down to 15 minutes.

My review:  These are simply amazing.  I mean, I intellectually believed when I read the article, but I was spiritually converted when I ate one.  That's how good they are.

* As my ever-growing "recipes to try" Pinterest board can attest.  Pinterest, btw, is a total chick thing.  I was at a board meeting the other day and not a single guy in the room had used it.  In fact, they looked scared when I brought it up.
** Today was a good one:
There were the resignation rants.
There was type made from hands via always-cool Colossal.

There was this collection of negative reviews of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (hilarious)
There were confessions of a cookbook ghostwriter in the NY Times. (and a series of tweets from Rachel Ray, flatly denying she uses ghostwriters)
And a long article about how people no longer actually put recipes in cookbooks anyway.
*** Previously noted here and here.
**** Hence that odd Roman numeral "I" in the title of this post.

My stash of dough for later

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I'm also big on the "takeout-to-table" movement

The whole "farm-to-table" thing?

Adore the whole concept.
Huge fan.
Haven't quite gotten there*.

"Stuff from Trader Joe's-to-table" cooking?
Nailed it**.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bravo Birthday Cake

OK, I totally admit that the whole premise behind this one is completely mock-able.
That many people will be appalled by my behavior, and think less of me for it.
I know full well how this looks to the rest of the world.
I get it, guys.
This is absurd, genuinely disturbing, "Do I really even know you?" kind of stuff. In fact, I almost decided to just post the recipe without any explanation at all.

But I'm not going to do that.
I'm owning this.

Because it was friggin' awesome.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigadge - Episode 28: Bonus Pie Visit

Enough with the semifreddos and ginger bark.
After our upscale lunch, we wanted a good old fashioned dessert, so FG6 and I headed over to The Pie Hole.

Located across from Wurstküche in the downtown arts district, The Pie Hole had been in my dreams since reading this review.

 Imagine our distress when we saw this sign out front!
But then the proprietress said they could get us slices to go.  Yes!!

On the left, maple custard.  On the right, Mexican chocolate.

To quote Agent Dale Cooper*:
"This must be where pies go when they die."

"Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee. Like this." - Another one from Agent Cooper

Or pie like this.


* Having a Twin Peaks moment here.
Sheriff Truman: Lucy, you'd better bring Agent Cooper up to date.
Lucy Moran: Leo Johnson was shot, Jacques Renault was strangled, the mill burned, Shelley and Pete got smoke inhalation, Catherine and Josie are missing, Nadine is in a coma from taking sleeping pills.
Dale Cooper: How long have I been out?
Sheriff Truman: Six hours.
-- From Episode 8

Shelly: Would you like some pie?
Shelly: Do you want some more pie? A whole pie?
-- From Episode 25

For more quotes, click here and here.
** Not just for the silky smooth, intense cinnamon-laced chocolate with espresso whipped cream on top, or the sweet custard heaven that is that maple slice.  They are really nice people.  When we tapped on the door of the shop after we swooned over the pie, there were mops everywhere, and the woman in the pink sweater came out looking stressed.

Us:  We just wanted to tell you that was probably the best pie we've ever eaten.  Thank you so much!
Her:  Oh my god.  Can I hug you?

Damn fine pie.

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 28

Top 10 signs that you are at a buzzed-about new restaurant in LA:

10. Lots of reclaimed wood, exposed brick and/or visible ceiling ducts
9. Chalkboards with the menu written on them, even though there are actual menus saying the exact same thing*
8. Brown butcher paper
7. The chef/owner has a cult following from his/her prior buzzed-about restaurant(s) in LA
6. "Artisan" sodas, often "house made", and cocktails with vegetables, especially peppers and cucumbers
5. Presumed customer familiarity with the names of organic ranchers
4. You are nowhere near the valley
3. At least one non-breakfast item comes with a perfectly fried egg
2. Glowing reviews circulating wildly online

And the number one sign that you are at a buzzed-about new restaurant in LA:

1. The Foodie Girls are there, and I have my camera.

Episode 28 - Bäco Mercat: Hard to pronounce**, easy to love
Let's work backwards through the list:

#1. Presence of FGs and camera.
Three of us met downtown (#4!) on Friday. And I had my camera.

#2. Glowing reviews circulating online. 
I'm not sure how much glowier a review you can get than having a signature dish named the best sandwich in Los Angeles:

" ... bäcos are wrapped in soft, pita-like bread and filled with intriguing flavor combinations...The Original, with crunchy yet tender chunks of fried pork belly and a garlicky, almondy salbitxada (a Catalan sauce), is the restaurant's namesake. But the best bäco is the Toron. A generous scoop of oxtail hash rests on a pancake of shredded potato that would make bubbe proud, topped with melted cheddar and a mess of tartly dressed sprouts and greens. It's the sandwich ne plus ultra: meaty, bready, melty and brilliant." - LA Weekly 

Naturally, I'd emailed the FGs immediately.

#3. Perfectly fried egg.  
The menu features a fried egg on flatbread at lunch, and with chicken and waffles at dinner. We didn't order it, but they had it.  Instead, we ordered the hamachi crudo with avocado and hash browns, and caesar brussels sprouts to start off.  The hamachi was FANTASTIC! Cubes of meltingly tender fish in a light vinaigrette with black sesame seeds met a spicy, textured avocado puree, and they hung out on top of a crispy disc of fried potatoes.  Not only was it gorgeous to look at, the combination of tastes and textures made each of us spontaneously gasp when we took our first bite.

#4. Not in the valley.
See #1. So I'll use this space to tell you about the caesar brussels sprouts. The first forkful is a surprise, as the salad is warm. The brussels sprouts are shaved into tender ribbons, tossed with crispy radishes, torn croutons, and a tangy, very light anchovy dressing. It's an unexpected, yet somehow successful combination. Another winner.

#5. Presumed familiarity with ranchers.
NA. However, it did presume familiarity with things like salbitxada and lebni. And even terms that sounded familiar, like "cream of mushroom", appeared in unfamiliar places. The "coca" (aka crispy flatbread pizza) section of the menu, for example. Brilliant. The crust was topped with a mushroom-sage pesto, then covered with more roasted oyster mushrooms, grated pecorino and a few scattered chives. Simple idea, but such complex, earthy flavors! We inhaled it.

#6. "Housemade" sodas and cocktails with veggies.
The longest discussion we had with our excellent waiter was about their sodas. Although the explanation was difficult to follow, it was earnest and helpful, and the upshot of it was that I had something made with vinegar, fresh lime and red pepper flakes that was unbelievably refreshing, and FG6's Tangerine Szechuan was excellent, too.

#7. Rock star chef.
Chef Josef Centeno also helms one of our other FG favorites, Lazy Ox Canteen. The story is that he made these inventive sandwiches for the staff at his prior gigs, but never put them on the menu. We were still on a bit of a hamachi/mushroom pizza high when our highly-anticipated bäcos arrived, but the Toron rose to the challenge. The rightfully famous pillowy, chewy bread was wrapped around rich, tender, deeply seasoned oxtail hash, a layer of potato pancake, briny pickles a peppery green and some melting cheddar cheese. The balance was impeccable, and the textures just worked wonderfully.

The crispy shrimp version was less successful.  All the components were good, but we felt this one would have been better as a real taco than a bäco.

#8. Butcher paper.

#9.  Chalkboards that say the same thing as the menu.
True for the beverages.

#10. Wood, brick, ducts.
Check, check and check. Although I forgot to take a photo to prove it. How about another one of that hamachi instead?

You may have that noted that having excellent food is not part this Top 10 list, an unfortunate fact of dining out in LA.  However, it's #1 for the FGs. Given how much we loved almost every bite of our lunch, there's not even a question.

FG final verdict? Bäco Mercat is ON the list!
Pricing Info:  Smaller plates $6-14, bäcos: $10-16, cocas: $11-18
FG value rating: Fair Deal, verging on Get Real
Our lunch was $29 apiece, including tax and tip.

* These menus will be made from distressed recycled paper, and will use an interesting font.  See photo for #8.
** Here's how: It rhymes with Taco Fur Tot, disturbing as that image may be.

Friday, March 2, 2012

This year's Black Beans

I made these for extra credit.*

Domo Arigato, Lomo Saltado*

On the one hand, it's pretty disappointing that an absurdly expensive private high school would stoop to re-using curriculum.

On the other hand, I love this assignment.

Now that we are in Spanish 3, it was instructive to note that at least one of us has matured substantially since the fabled Cuban Dinner Crisis of Spanish 2. 

He chose the dish he wanted to make, before I even had a chance to give him some of my ideas all by himself ahead of time*.  I stayed out of his way until I couldn't help myself and grabbed the knife before he lost a finger he asked me for help. The dinner was delicious, the dessert was even better, and he did all the dishes and cleaned up the whole kitchen except for the half-empty Vitamin Water bottle that was left on the coffee table that he said was his sister's from before and therefore was not his problem afterward.

I gave him an A+ anyway.