Friday, July 30, 2010

A wonderful, magical animal

Homer Simpson:  Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again?  What about bacon?
Lisa:  No.
Homer:  Ham?
Lisa:  No!
Homer:  Pork chops?
Lisa:  Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer:  Ooh...yeah...right, Lisa.  A wonderful, magical animal.*

It's true, Homer.  So magical, in fact, that you can even turn it into candy.

Homer:  Mmm, bacon brittle!

Mmm, Bacon Brittle

From a cookbook I just had to purchase because of the title, Everything Tastes Better with Bacon by Sara Perry.

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. butter
About 8 oz bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled to make around 1/2 c. bacon bits
1/2 c. chopped toasted pecans

Butter a large cookie sheet, and place into a warm oven to heat up.  The candy spreads more easily on a warm surface.  In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water over medium high heat.  Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil.

Attach candy thermometer to the pot and allow to cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 290.   The mixture will just be turning amber at the edges.

Remove from heat, and immediately stir in the salt, baking soda, vanilla, butter, bacon and pecans.

BE CAREFUL as the mixture will bubble up as soon as you begin to stir.   Working quickly, beat vigorously a few times until the mixture is smooth, and then pour out onto the prepared cookie sheet.  You can use a metal spatula if you need to in order to spread it as thinly as possible.

Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before breaking into pieces.    

It tastes even better than it looks.   Salty, a tiny bit smoky, buttery, crunchy and sweet.  Magic candy!

And get this...the suggested use case (besides scarfing it down) is to crumble it up into homemade peanut butter cookies.

All together now:  Mmm, bacon brittle peanut butter cookies!!!

* Click here to listen to the sarcasm for yourself.  From Season 7, Episode 5, "Lisa becomes a vegetarian".
** I am merely jumping on a foodie bandwagon with this sinful concoction.  In this month's LA Magazine's Best of LA feature, they highlight the following treats in the food section:  the Cochon Bourre cocktail (bourbon and bacon), at Church & State, the Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar at Animal, the Bacon Truffle Caramel Popcorn at Sweetsalt, Bacon-wrapped Bacon at Fig, and the Maple Bacon Donut at Nickel Diner.   Springfield, eat your heart out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Impatience is a virtue

To quote myself:

"Store, covered, in the fridge for a week or in the freezer until the tomato plants have all died and gone away."

You could definitely do that.  Or, you could just whip that jar right back out of the fridge and make the world's greatest (and easiest) pasta dinner in about 45 minutes.

Totally your call.   Me, I couldn't wait.

Pasta with Summer Tomato (and Sausage!) Sauce

1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pint Roasted Summer Tomato Sauce, or marina sauce of your choice
1/3 c. of red wine
1 Tbs. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes

Optional extra veggies*:
1/2 c. shredded carrots
1/2 c. shredded zucchini
1/2 c. chopped red bell peppers
1/2 c. finely chopped mushrooms

Heat a heavy pot over medium heat.  Remove the sausage from the casings, crumble, and add to the pot.  Cook until brown, and remove from the pot.  Pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the drippings.   Add the chopped onions and the garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.   If you are adding extra veggies, add those now and cook for another few minutes.   Return the sausage to the pot.   Add the tomato sauce, the wine, the herbs, salt, and peppers.   Keep the herbs and seasonings around, because as soon as the sauce is warm, taste and adjust the flavor as you like it.   Simmer, covered for another 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to blend nicely.

While sauce is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions.   Pick a shape that has lots of nooks and crannies for the sauce!  Finely grate some Parmesan cheese.     When all that's ready, put pasta into a shallow serving dish, cover with the sauce, sprinkle the Parmesan on top, and enjoy*.

We sure did.

* Add one, add a bunch, or skip 'em.  Again, it's your call.
** I recommend serving a salad with Noa's Caesar Dressing along with the pasta for a double whammy of weeknight supper goodness.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Harvest Day

We picked these from our backyard.

I had this for lunch.

And made this for later.  For when I want to remember exactly what today tasted like.

Roasted Summer Tomato Sauce

Based on a recipe from Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton Cook at Home, a must-have cookbook which seems to be out of print at the moment.

2 lbs. or so ripe summer tomatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. finely minced garlic
1 Tbs. fresh rosemary
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 6oz. can tomato paste
2-3 tsp. brown sugar, to taste

Pre heat oven to 300.  Cut tomatoes in half, and remove stems. Combine olive oil, garlic, herbs, sugar, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.

Add tomatoes and stir gently to coat completely.

Place tomatoes, cut side down, on a shallow baking sheet.

Roast for 35-45 minutes, until tops have shriveled and bottoms are slightly caramelized.   Cool.

At this point, you can just serve these as a side dish, put them on toast with a smear of pesto sauce, chop and add to hot pasta, put on pizza, eat them...the list goes on.   But at least once, I recommend you keep going.

Place tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor and puree for several minutes until smooth.    Take a taste.   It will be pretty darn delicious, but wait!  There's more.

Get out a medium pot.  Add the tomato puree, the tomato paste, and a spoonful or two of brown sugar.  Heat over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes.   Now taste it again.   I told you, I told you, I told you!  SO GOOD!!!

When it's just right, remove from heat.  Strain the sauce to remove any seeds, herb bits and skin that remains.  

Store, covered, in the fridge for a week or in the freezer until the tomato plants have all died and gone away.   Use as a base for pizza or pasta. Stir into risotto, add to a soup, spread it on name it, you've now got summer in a spoon anytime you want.  

Onion variation:   Add one sweet onion, peeled and cut into wedges, to the olive oil mixture with the tomatoes.    This version is DELISH!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 18

Maybe we had Middle Eastern cuisine on the brain because one of our founding FG's was eating her way joyfully through Israel without us.  Perhaps we were swayed by the glowing review in the LA Weekly.   But I think, in my heart of hearts, that given our history with hot dogs, sausage-filled biscuits and bacon cheeseburgers, we were subliminally drawn to a place where there was zero possibility of ordering pork. 

Whatever the motivation, going to Sunnin Lebanese Cafe this week was a great call.

Episode 18 - Gunnin' for Sunnin

Like Iroha, this destination had a built-in fan base.    FG10 had suggested it, saying she and her husband had practically camped out at the cafe's old location when they lived nearby.
FG13 chimed in:  "We LOVE Sunnin! Been going there for years!"
FG2, MIA due to a family vacation, sent in a list of must order items, but had us steer clear of others:  "I don't love the lentils, flavorless."

Thus advised and enticed, four newbies and our resident expert sat down in a large, cheerful, and sunny cafe near the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica Blvd.  The restaurant had taken over the place earlier this year, moving from a cramped storefront across the street to this new location.   Our cheerful waiter helpfully walked us through the menu, and we spied a little guy in a Lakers jersey tailing another staff member, "helping" deliver huge platters of food.  This was clearly a family operation, and we felt right at home as we ordered what turned out to be a gigantic Lebanese feast.

We started with a round of small plates, mainly because the hunger factor soon outweighed the politeness factor and no-one wanted to wait for the latecomers.    Hommos, babaganouj (eggplant dip), warak enab (stuffed grape leaves), a combo plate of pastries (beef, spinach, and feta variants), moussaka and a fattoush salad soon arrived.   As did the final two FG's.   Free to go nuts, we added chicken kebabs, chicken and beef schwarma, a Greek salad, falafel and fried cauliflower to the list, and settled in to try everything.

The hommos, an almost ubiquitous dish of tahini and chickpeas, was luxuriously silky and smooth, with bright, clean flavor.   This was top-of-the line hommos, and we were putting it on everything in sight.   The babaganouj was, if possible, even better.  Bursting with spice and garlic, cool and almost creamy, it was everything a dip should be.    The grape leaves were briny and wonderful.    On the other hand, all the pastries were forgettable at best, and after an initial thrill over finding meatless moussaka on the menu, our vegetarian FG gave this version a big thumbs down, as did the rest of us.  It just didn't taste good.  

The salads were both delicious, particularly the fattoush salad, which was tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, pita crisps, sumak, and a piquant herb-lemon dressing that was utterly refreshing on a hot summer day. 

The best thing on the table by far was the flash-fried cauliflower.   A pile of golden brown florets on a plate, with a tahini dipping sauce on the side, the dish was beautiful to look at and a revelation to eat.   The inside of each piece was meltingly tender, almost sweet and a little bitter, and the outside was not exactly crunchy, but more like deeply roasted, caramelized and a tiny bit crispy.

Of the entrees, the clear winner was the chicken kebab plate.  The huge chunks of chicken breast were juicy, beautifully cooked, and full of citrus flavor.   The kebab was served with a pile of brilliant white lemony garlic paste on the side that the whole table immediately adopted as the condiment of choice.     The rice and salad that came with it were pretty much superfluous.   The other main dishes were nothing special.

Everyone agreed that when coming back, the strategy would be to stick to the appetizers and salads.   The small plates section of the massive menu at Sunnin had enough selection and winning dishes to make many a memorable meal.

Yes, FG10, If I lived in the neighborhood, I might almost camp out here, too.

FG final verdict?  Sunnin Lebanese Cafe is ON the list!
Prices: Appetizers $5-10, Entree plates $9-12
FG Value rating:  Fair Deal!

Want to know where the FG's will strike next?  Visit our website and find out!  I'll give you a hint...there will be pork available, if only as a condiment.  Yum!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Everything's better as butter

When you own a house in LA, chances are it comes with fruit trees.   We've got lemons, oranges, and, due to my margarita/gin & tonic/mojito habit, a newly planted lime tree at our place.   We also have a peach tree.  The first year we lived here, the peach tree didn't do much.    Last year, as June rolled around, we noticed the branches were sprouting lots of little fuzzy nuggets.   Each week, they grew a little bigger, a little rosier, and my mind began imagining the cobblers, the pies, the slices with cinnamon for breakfast.   If you bake...heck, if you eat, you know that a ripe, fresh peach is like nature's ultimate foodie gift.

Pretty soon, I felt like the wicked witch in the Hansel and Gretel story.  The branches were chock full, almost mockingly loaded down.  Every day I went out to the yard, ready for my feast, and every day those peaches were hard as rocks.   I gritted my teeth and waited.   It had to be soon.

I think we might have gone away for the weekend.  Or maybe it did happen overnight.  All I know is I came out one morning and every single peach on that tree was gone.  It had been stripped bare.   Frantic, I searched under every leaf, on every branch of that now completely green tree.  Nothing!

Seething, I made a casual remark to the gardening crew.   Something along the lines of, "Did you happen to harvest several bushels of peaches for me last time you were here?"   They had not.

It was the f***ing squirrels.   They had some kind of inherent "ripeness radar" in those cute little heads of theirs, and it had gone off while I was asleep at the switch.   The fluffy-tailed thieves put the word out and had a big old peach eating hoe down.  They invited the whole family, their long lost cousins, and the guys down the block, too.   I'm sure it was the equivalent of a squirrel tweeting: "open season @#sharon's peach tree 1 nite only pass it on."   Damn them!

So you can imagine how I greeted the appearance of the precious fuzzy nuggets this year.   No way those furry little losers were going near my peaches.  I patrolled the perimeter.   Consulted experts*.   Made obscene, threatening gestures when one of those sneaky buggers crossed my path.  This was war.   And I was going to win.  

Saturday came.   I began my rounds.   The peaches were gorgeous.   The tree was almost groaning under their weight, leaning heavily on the support stakes we'd put up.    Just the sight of all that bounty made my heart beat faster. 

Then I heard it.   A scamper.  Rustling in the branches to my left.   The thud of hastily dropped fruit hitting the earth.   Quick as a wink four bushy tails flew off the tree and onto the nearby fence, where the advance raiding party proceeded to turn and chatter their tiny teeth at me. 

"GET AWAY FROM MY PEACHES YOU, YOU, YOU...NUT JOBS!!!"  I yelled, waving my arms and stamping my feet like a crazy person.   From inside the house, my husband and children, at first alarmed and then hysterical with laughter, began doing imitation "Mommy hates the squirrels" dance moves.

My method might be comical**, but it was effective.  I was alone with the tree.  I reached up, and sure enough, the nearest peach was warm from the sun, perfectly ripe and ready for the picking.  It dropped easily into my hand.   The skin was soft, the color a brilliant blend of red and pink and orange.    I brushed it off gently, closed my eyes and opened my mouth to take a bite of my luscious, marvelous prize.

Yech! Blah! Ugh! Crap!  It was AWFUL!!!  I couldn't spit the stuff out fast enough.  Utterly flavorless, mushy white flesh, oozing horrid juice all over the place.  Worse still, now there was a bitter aftertaste, without the wonderful rich tart-sweet tang I'd been fantasizing about all summer.    This was an absolutely horrible, horrible peach.  I threw it down in disgust, and picked up another one.   Ew!  This was even worse than the first one.    This stupid tree produced the worst excuse for peaches I'd ever eaten in my life!

More chattering from up on the fence.   These little jerks were clearly laughing at me, too***! Well, I would show them!   No matter how vile this fruit was, it was still my fruit.   I proceeded to pick a huge bucket of the things, motivated by pure, venomous, malevolent spite****.

My husband:  Honey, why is there a pile of bad peaches on the counter in the kitchen?
Me: Because I'm going to make something with them. 
My husband:  Uh huh.  What can you make out of bad peaches?
Me:  Alcohol or butter.   I'm online trying to decide which way to go with this batch.
My husband:  OK, well, you're the expert.
Me:  I'm going to go with butter.  It's a shame to waste good vodka on these things.
My husband:  I couldn't agree more.

I peel the peaches.  I slice the peaches.  I crush the peaches with a potato masher.  It looks like someone threw up in the bowl.

My son:  Mom, it looks like someone threw up in there.   You know that, right?
Me:  It'll be fine, trust me.
My son:  I'm just saying!

I get out the food processor.   I put the slimy, mashed up bad peaches in and puree them into a smooth, barf-colored liquid. 

My daughter:  Mom, what is that?  It looks like barf.
Me:  It's peach butter.  Just not yet.
My daughter:  Seems more like peach vomit to me.

I add lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, apricot nectar, almond extract and brown sugar.   Now it looks like dirt is getting mixed into the vomit.    No one bothers speaking to me about this.   I load the whole mess into the crock pot, set it on high, and walk away.

My husband, a few hours later:  What smells good? Is it the peach vomit?
Me:  Yes, but it's not peach vomit.  It's peach butter.

My son, a few hours after that:   Hey! The peach vomit looks less like fresh puke now.   The color is more like old puke.
Me:  It's peach butter.  And the correct phrase for that color is golden brown.
My son:  Call it what you want, Mom.  It's still not even close to appetizing.  You know that, right?

My daughter, several hours later:  Hey, Mom! Can I stir the peach vomit this time?  Seems like it's almost ready!
Me:  [Sigh] Yeah, go ahead.

After leaving it to cook down through the night, in the morning I have a crock pot full of thick, deep orange, spicy-tangy-sweet, absolutely delicious peach butter.     I pull out my jars, fill them to the brim, and with a satisfying twist of the lid, my victory....over the rascally varmints, over that skanky tease of a tree, is sealed.

Later that day I go out to the yard.   I stand on the lawn and speak loudly and clearly:


A symbolic reenactment of the peach tree truce.  Thank you to my dog for the loan of his squeaky squirrel.  None of the ones in the yard would pose for me.

* The experts say pie tins. Hang pie tins.
** OK, definitely comical.
*** The family was now cracking up over the many faces of horror and revulsion I was making along with with my solo performance piece, "Random furious hurling and spitting."
**** I now have an intensely personal understanding of the Bill Murray character's motivation in Caddyshack.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Special DC Cupcake Edition

This just in from FG4, who recently relocated to the Washington D.C. area.  In true FG fashion, she managed to take one for the team* in the midst of all the packing boxes and an unbearable heat wave.   We salute you, FG4!

We passed by a cupcake shop in the middle of downtown Bethesda (about 10 minutes from our new house) with a line of people out the door.  Line of people...for cupcakes????  I was a bit mystified. After dinner we walked over to said cupcake shop and got in the line (nothing better to do, and we assumed these must be some pretty awesome cupcakes for people to line up like this...).  While we waited they passed out pink balloons with their logo on them, along with glasses of ice water (did I forget to mention this line-up was happening during 95-degree heat?!) They got points for that.  After chatting with people in line I find out that we have stumbled upon none other than the cupcake shop featured in tonight's premiere episode of "DC Cupcakes" on TLC (a reality show about their bakery).  Better yet, today was free cupcake day.  Count me in!  They handed out beautiful 8" x 8" heavy cardstock 2-sided menus to look over while you wait in their signature hot pink and black colors. More points for those - really nicely done, and tasty sounding treats, I gotta say!

30 minutes later we finally got into the shop, and it was clearly an overwhelming day for this satellite store (the main one is in Georgetown and this second shop is in Bethesda).  They had lovely three-tier displays of all today's cupcakes and one wall full of pink cupcake boxes for your future order. Cupcakes were around $2.75 each, with 6 for $15.  $15?????!!!!!  Okay *sigh* count me in...I've waited for this long and I don't think I'll be doing it again soon. I placed my order:

2 lemon blossom (light lemon cupcake with a lemon cream cheese frosting topped with a candied lemon)
2 lava fudge (Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a rich fudge core topped with vanilla icing with a fudge star drizzle)
1 vanilla & chocolate (classic Madagascar bourbon vanilla cupcake with a whipped callebaut chocolate frosting topped with a fondant flower)
1 chocolate pb chip (valrhona chocolate cupcake baked with peanut butter chips topped with a peanut butter frosting and a chocolate ganache drizzle)
For my free cupcake I chose chocolate (complete with a "DC cupcake" decoration on it.)

We left the store with my little while logo bag, complete with pink box of cupcakes.  I only had a short walk back to the car, and then the A/C was on until we got home...but there was still some melting/slippage that took place so when I opened my box, it was a bit of a mess.  Undaunted, I proceeded to sample (in the name of research, or course).

My review:

Lemon blossom: nice light, delicate lemon flavor -- too much frosting  - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lava fudge: Gooooooey center, made a tasty mess, again a bit heavy on the frosting.  Good for the chocoholics among us - 4 out of 5 stars

Vanilla and chocolate:  nice flavor for both cupcake and frosting - but again, too much frosting so the balance was off.  Still a tasty cupcake (and the little flower was tasty and soft - I thought it would be hard and crunchy so that was a pleasant surprise). 4.5 out of 5 stars

Chocolate pb chip (got full, so will try tomorrow -- looks good though - but a lot of frosting...)  -- review pending

I would have liked to try the cinnamon (cinnamon cupcake topped with cinnamon buttercream frosting and a fondant heart) and their red velvet cupcakes (Georgetown Cupcake's signature cupcake - classic red velvet cupcake with a vanilla cream cheese frosting topped with a red fondant heart), and the carrot (classic cinnamon apple carrot cake with a vanilla cream cheese frosting and topped with a fondant carrot or bunny).  I'm also curious about their toffee crunch (toffee cupcake with a toffee-infused vanilla frosting topped with crushed heath bar).  I think the one I missed out most on was the salted caramel (caramel cupcake with a salted caramel-infused buttercream frosting topped with a caramel drizzle).  Except for the red velvet - which they had but I opted to try another time, all these others are baked on different days of the week, so they weren't available today.

While I ate the cupcakes I tuned in to watch the show and that was the only disappointing thing about this entire adventure.  The show was really quite bad (even for a reality show), and I'd give it 1 out of 5 stars.  Oh well, just skip the show, bring a book for the line, and get the lemon blossom cupcakes.  


* What a champ!  She took these fab photos, too!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the Brick house

It was a gorgeous, perfect afternoon...almost enough to make you forget that the Seattle we saw outside the restaurant's giant picture windows would normally be a shroud of dreary gray clouds and people clutching coffee mugs close to their raincoats.     Instead, the water was sparkling, the streets were full of happy tourists, kites were flying, and the sun was shining down on everything.   As we settled into the booth at Etta's, putting our shopping bags down and picking up our menus, the four of us sat back to enjoy the view.  

Then the naked guy on a bicycle went by.

Ugh.   We went back to deciding what to order.

We wanted to try everything, partially because it was 2pm and we were just getting around to lunch, but mostly because there was so much good stuff to choose from.   With some guidance from our extremely helpful waiter, we decided on mini crab cakes, an ahi sashimi salad with green onion pancakes, steamed clams in a curry broth, the signature grilled salmon and a Brick.   We ordered that last one, a brunch dish with poached eggs, half in jest, after I went on and on about the brick at the Buttermilk Truck here.  What are the odds, we laughed, that we'd find another edible brick in our lifetimes?    Much merriment ensued.  

It must have been obvious to our waiter that we all planned to try everything, because he proceeded to deliver the meal in courses, one dish at a time.  An absolutely lovely way to do lunch.   The food was lovely, too.   The mini crab cakes, almost bursting with fresh crab meat, came with a remarkably delicious green tomatillo cocktail sauce.  The tuna on the salad was cut beautifully thin, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and served with spicy mixed greens, a salty-sweet dipping sauce, and hot crisp-chewy scallion pancakes.  The broth that the clams came in was so fantastic that we went through almost a whole loaf of sourdough bread getting every last drop.   The salmon looked wonderful, and tasted fine, but we moved on quickly.   We moved on to The Brick. 

The not so gorgeous but super tasty Brick. Photos of the lovely tuna salad and salmon dish were in my earlier post.

It was not photogenic.  Far from it.  Two poached eggs, covered with a bright red-orange sauce, on top of a slab of grits, formed into a cake and fried to a golden brown.   There were some forgettable braised collard greens on the side, but enough about that.  This Brick was UNBELIEVABLE!   The gravy was like the best of summer and winter all in one, with the pungent sweetness of tomatoes and onions, laced with a warm, hearty smokiness that we couldn't put a finger on.  Mixed with the richness of the eggs, it was a tremendous thing to scoop up with a fork.   The grit cake was just crazy good.  Full of butter and cheese and chunks of salty ham hock, each bite soaked up the egg and the gravy and WOW!   Mmm, mmm, good!

While we were eating, a strange clown stopped at the picture window and began doing a bad mime routine for a couple in the restaurant.    Clearly, the sun was having some odd effects on this town.

When we finally pushed our empty plates away, I shamelessly began begging the waiter to see if the chef would possibly tell us the secret of The Brick.   The soul of politeness and solicitude, he said he would ask, but that we shouldn't get our hopes up.   So much did we trust him that we forgot all about it until a new guy appeared at the table.

Him:  Hi there!  I'm Joe.  I'm the chef here, and I'm told you loved The Brick.
Us:  [Mouths open in amazement at this development, such an improvement over the bicyclist and the clown]  We did!  Everything was great, but The Brick!  Incredible!  How'd you do it?

Joe proceeded to tell us all about it.  The gravy being Tom's (the founding chef's) old family recipe, and something he's used in every restaurant he's ever had.   The grit cake being Joe's own invention.  How much he enjoyed cooking for us.   And then, he gave us the secret of The Brick.   It was a surreal, marvelous conversation, and a major highlight of our trip.  The sunny day magic had struck again!

And, since the odds of the sun shining on Etta's if you visit are slim to none, I will pass the secret on to you.

Joe's Brick with Tom's Red Eye Gravy
The gravy is from the owner's wonderful cookbook, Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen.  The portions for The Brick here are what Joe uses in the restaurant.  Cut down accordingly when you make it at home.

The Gravy

2 Tbs. bacon fat
2/3 c. chopped onions
1 1/2 c. canned diced or crushed tomatoes
1 c. canned tomato sauce
1 to 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp. sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbs. cold water

Heat up a large skillet, and add the bacon fat (if you are making breakfast anyway, fry your bacon and just use the same skillet).   Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and the tomato sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.   Remove the tomato gravy from the pan and coarsely puree in the food processor or blender.  Return to the pan and season with the Tabasco, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.  Add the dissolved cornstarch to the gravy and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

The Brick

Start by making a ham stock:

1 gallon water
3 ham hocks

Cook together for a couple of hours, until the meat literally falls off the ham bones.  Remove meat, tear into chunks, and set aside.

Add to ham stock:

2 c. chopped scallions
1/4 c. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. red chili flakes

Cook for a bit, until stock is nice and flavorful.

Whisk in 1 quart of cornmeal, instant grits, or polenta (ratio is 4 parts liquid to 1 part grits).  Cook for 10-20 minutes (depending on what you used) stirring frequently.   When thickened, remove from heat, stir in 3 c. shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, such as Beecher's Flagship.  Fold in ham hock meat.  Grease a baking pan, and pour the mixture in.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, heat up a frying pan, and add just a little bit of butter.  Cut grits into slices, then fry until hot and the "brick" is golden brown on all sides.  Serve with poached eggs and Tom's gravy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spouseless in Seattle

It has been a while since I was in college.   In fact, there's an algebraic equation for just how long it's been:

Let y equal the number of years since I was a freshman
Let x equal the number of years until my son will be a freshman
y > 25
x < 5
y = 7x

Now try this one:

Let x equal the number of friends from my freshman year who met in Seattle this weekend
Let y equal the number of husbands and children who came with us
Let z equal how much fun we had

x = y + 4
z = x/y
Hint:  y also equals how much time we felt had passed since our days in the dorm together.

Answer:  Four friends, zero family, infinite fun.   Oh, and there was great food, too.

 The glorious freshness of the Pike Place market stalls

The incredible baked goods across the street.  Hand formed Russian piroshky, baskets of delicate french pastries, and, not pictured, hot savory pork bao and melt-in-your mouth Chinese almond cookies

Artisan cheese made in front of your eyes.  Spices from around the world, ground to order.

Lunch at Etta's (another post coming soon with a great story and recipe)
Dinner at Wild Ginger (that's ginger ice cream folks, and it rocked!)
The decadent mac & cheese at Bennett's

 One of many consumed during our evenings of catching up

Eighteen again, if only for the weekend!

* Or, delight your kids by giving this to them as an extra credit problem.   Nothing quite says "summer fun" like doing algebra with your teenager.  Unfortunately, I know what I'm talking about here.  And, by the way, x = 4, and y = 28.