Saturday, October 30, 2010

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater Revisited

I don't know Peter.  Or the wife he couldn't keep.   I also don't think very highly of putting live people into pumpkin shells as a divorce prevention method.   What I am a fan of is pumpkin eating.   Specifically, pumpkin bar eating.

So let me rephrase:

Sharon, Sharon, pumpkin bakin'
Made these bars, and meant to take 'em
To the potluck, but she cheated:
Kept half the batch.  And those she eat-ed.  

Pumpkin Pie Bars
A recipe from my mom, who got it from a neighbor well over 20 years ago.  And yes, it has topping.

1 pkg yellow cake mix, less 1 c. reserved for topping
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350.  Reserve 1 c. of cake mix for topping.  Pour remaining mix into a bowl, add egg and butter. Mix well. Pat evenly into 13x9 pan.

1 c. canned pumpkin
2/3 c. evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt

Blend all ingredients well, and pour over crust.

Reserved 1 c. cake mix
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. cold butter, diced

Blend dry ingredients together, then cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork.  Sprinkle over filling.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, or until topping is golden brown and filling is set.  Cool, cut into bars, and serve.

I recommend serving these on a very nice platter with a good amount of space in between the bars.  It looks lovely, and no one will notice that you left quite a few of the pumpkin bars in the pan.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 21

For a bunch of moms driving cars that seat 5-7 adults comfortably, the FGs are doing pretty well at finding the right spots around town to park our large vehicles for a meal*. A few days ago, EaterLA published a Heat Map of "where to eat now" with a highly subjective list of the eight most buzzed about Los Angeles restaurants. We'd already been to one of them! And, the day the list came out, we went to another one (see below). I'd say that means that the FG's know where to eat before now.

At least 25% of the time.

Episode 21 - We linger at Tinga

After our outstanding lunch at Lazy Ox, FG 10 emailed to confess that she'd gone straight from rice pudding overload to a meeting over dessert (something with chocolate, olive oil and sea salt) with a client. Naturally, she came out of the meeting with new gourmet taco place for us to try. A friend had connections and the food was supposed to be terrific. When a glowing report came out of Jonathan Gold a week later, the die was cast. Ding-a-ling-a-ling-a, we were heading to Tinga!

The aforesaid connection was enough to get us a reserved end of the long communal table, and a super cheerful waitress named Ruth helping us order. It wasn't too hard. After all, there were eight of us and the menu was pretty compact.

"We'll take every taco you've got, the quesadillas, and that pupusa special. And the corn. Rice and beans, too. And guacamole all around. Did we miss anything?"

Given the amount of food that showed up, I doubt it.

The horchata is the creamy one in the middle. Tinga also makes their own watermelon lemonade, blueberry ginger lemonade, and jamaica. I loved all three, but if pressed would say the blueberry ginger was my favorite.

Ruth started us off with samples of their house made horchata, a cool, slightly sweet, creamy shot of cinnamon and vanilla. It was like liquid rice pudding...a very good thing in our book. They offer a "dirty" version with a hit of espresso thrown in that I imagine would be incredible. That one little sip told us just about everything we needed to know about Tinga -- what came out of the kitchen would be hand-crafted, made with great ingredients, thoughtfully prepared, and completely fresh.

The plates of chips, salsa and guacamole that came out next totally proved that point. The thick-cut chips were freshly fried, the guacamole sang with tangy lime juice and a bite of jalapeno, and the salsas, too, were bright and tasty.

The salsas on the side came in cunning little corn husk shells. Cuteness points.
The gourmet part came next, with the arrival of the quesadillas.

One was filled with a mix of mushrooms that had been cooked down to the point where their earthy flavor was concentrated into a pate...with jack cheese melted on a grilled, house-made flour tortilla with avocado sauce and crema. Yum! Rich, hearty finger food that was sophisticated at the same time. The other was filled with a mix of chorizo and goat cheese, a salty/spicy/pungent combination that really worked for some of us. It turns out that if you don't like goat cheese though, this will not be your favorite.

Ruth and friends were back, this time with cups of our favorite item of the day: the elote special side order: Grilled corn, with creamy lime, chili and poblano puree. The corn had been roasted so there were nice brown bits full of caramelized sweetness, and that dressing had heat, tang and something else that brought all those flavors together. We could not stop eating it, even though there was a suspicious parade of taco plates leaving the kitchen and heading our way. Thank goodness for that long communal table!

After the winning first rounds, the tacos were a bit disappointing. Not that they weren't very good. The flank steak was well seasoned. The chicken had been marinated in something yummy. The condiments, like pickled onions, shaved avocado, bright green mint/tomatillo sauce, and a meaty dipping gravy, were uniformly tasty and definitely all made from scratch. The corn tortillas, too, were hand-formed and full of flavor. But memorable, like that corn, or the horchata? Not really. The only exception was the conchita pibil, made from pork long marinated in Seville orange juice and chiles, slow roasted in a pit, redolent of spice and almost baby-food tender. Fabulous!

We almost, but not quite, forgot that we'd ordered the pupusa special, another dish where chorizo was the star. At first bite, this was wonderful, too, but almost immediately we decided it was far too salty to finish. We may also have been predisposed to forgo any more food by Ruth's promise to bring us dessert. I am a big fan of this new trend of people just bringing us dessert!
"Me, too!" says one of the hundreds of stuffed crows hanging around the place in honor of Halloween
Dessert came, and it was GOOD! Dulce Nachos: warm tortilla chips smothered in a rich, sweet/salty caramel sauce, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon, with vanilla ice cream on top. What's not to love about that?

When we finally arose, groaning, from our stools, there were smiles all around and a big cheer for Ruth, who was awesome.

The bill was steeper than one would expect for a taco lunch, about $30 per person including tax and tip. With the taco plates starting at $6.50, and the quesadillas at $10, plus $5 per side, you are definitely putting your money where your mouth is here. But in a town that now seems to have a $12 burger joint on every corner, this may just be par for the course in this new way of eating. I'd say that the venerable Mr. Gold got this one exactly right when he said, essentially, that there's a place in the pantheon of LA Mexican food for "artisanal tacos, which is to say expensive, clean-tasting, carefully crafted tacos served in design-intensive dining rooms, and made with first-rate ingredients." It's a far cry from the hallowed street taco vendors, but a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

FG Final Verdict? Tinga is ON the list.
Pricing Info: Tacos : $6.50-9.50, quesadillas $9-11, small dishes about $5.
FG Value Rating: Verging on Get Real.

* And to our credit as eco-conscious Angelenos who are nervous about getting lost going to all these new places, we almost always carpool. So all those extra seats come in handy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Mom will be praying on Tuesday

Mom asked me this morning what I thought about the upcoming election, and after our mutual "tut-tutting" over the horrible ads and out-of-control spending on the governor's race, talk turned to the overall mood of the country, and how vicious the attacks on the president have become.

Mom:  Can you believe this, Sharon?  Don't these people know how bad things would have been if McCain and that Sarah Palin were in charge?   I mean, look at Michelle.   Everything she's done for the country.    A billion dollars of business, of jobs, and stimulus for everyone, created from nothing, right there, and no one gives her credit.  It's like they have blinders on or something.

Me:  No, they sure don't give her enough credit.  Wait.  What?

Mom:  They say that people have spent over a billion dollars to dress the way she does.  And that's in less than two years!  And you know why?  Because she dresses so nicely.  Classy.  Simple.  Affordable.   She puts on an outfit, and it sells like hotcakes.  Tell me Sarah Palin or that Cindy McCain could do that!

Me:  They couldn't.  You are totally right.

Mom:  I'm telling you.   The woman is a boon to the entire nation, and all they can do is tear her husband down.   And don't get me started about that garden and the obese children.   I mean honestly.  Would Sarah take time to think about anything organic?  Please.  So, I've just been saying my prayers for Barack and hoping people will stop and think a little before they vote on Tuesday.

You heard her, folks.  Stop and think a little before you vote on Tuesday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not the band, the muscle spasm or the House episode. The other kind.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Jerk may refer to:
Jerk may also refer to:
  • The second phase of the "Clean and jerk", a weightlifting exercise
  • Hypnic jerk, an involuntary muscle twitch during the transition from wakefulness to sleep
  • Jamaican jerk spice, a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meats are dry-rubbed with a fiery spice mixture
  • Jerkin', a 2000's dance
  • Soda jerk, a person who operates a soda fountain
In this case, it's the Jamaican usage I'm going for.

Jerk-Marinated Pork Tenderloin
from Seriously Simple, by Diane Worthington

6 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 jalapeno, serrano, or Scotch bonnet chiles, seeded and finely chopped (to taste...I used 1 jalapeno)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. packed brown sugar
3 Tbs. canola oil
1/4 c. fresh lime juice

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb. each
2 Tbs. canola or olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
3 Tbs. coconut milk (I didn't have this, so used regular cream instead)
2 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro
In a food processor or a blender, combine all marinade ingredients.

Put the tenderloins in a Ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Zip closed, then massage a little to make sure the pork is completely coated. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.

Preheat oven to 375. In a large oven-proof skillet, heat the canola/olive oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Remove pork from marinade, scraping to remove any that may still be coating the pork. Pour marinade into a bowl and add 1/4 c. of chicken stock and set that aside for a minute. Season the pork lightly with salt and pepper, then add to hot pan and sear until just lightly brown on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. Add the reserved stock/marinade mixture to the pan (it will sizzle), and put the whole thing into the oven.

Roast for 20-25 minutes, until oven thermometer registers 160 degrees. Check every so often to make sure the pan liquid doesn't burn. If it looks like it might, add a little water. Don't overcook, as the pork will continue to roast a bit as it rests. Remove the pork to a serving platter and cover with foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes, and then slice.

Meanwhile, put the skillet back on the stove and add the remaining 3/4 c. chicken stock, the lime juice, and the coconut milk/cream. Cook over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Pour over the pork slices, and serve immediately. This went really well with mashed potatoes at our house, since it gave us something else to put this yummy sauce on.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    When bad ideas go good

    It is usually a good idea, on the morning of a Foodie Girl lunch, to get some exercise and have a very light breakfast. 

    Like eating a protein bar and a Smart Water, maybe, followed by an hour of kickboxing.   Or, chasing your kids around the house trying to get them out the door, whilst eating a small banana and chugging a double espresso.  You could even do some flow yoga after a nice pot of herbal tea and dry wheat toast, if your husband will stop mocking you long enough.  This one's unlikely if he is aware you're going out to lunch later.

    It is a bad idea to bake.  It is a particularly bad idea to bake something like these little morning miracles.

    But I had people coming.   I had to.

    Pecan Pie Muffins
    Discovered via the Tasty Kitchen Blog, adapted from a recipe by this home chef.  They had me at the tag line:  It's pecan pie.  In a muffin.  AND IT IS!!!  You won't believe it until you eat one, and then you will wonder where these have been your whole life.

    1 c. brown sugar, packed
    1/2 c. flour
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 c. pecans, chopped (I made mini muffins, so I really chopped 'em up good)
    2/3 c. butter, softened*
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 tsp. vanilla

    Pre heat the oven to 350, and spray 12 muffin tins or 24 mini muffin tins with cooking spray.  Set aside.   In a nice-sized mixing bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour, salt and pecans until combined.
    In a smaller mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, butter, and vanilla, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until combined.

    Fill prepared muffin tins 2/3 full.   I find an ice cream scoop to be an incredibly helpful tool for doing this, by the way.   Once you try it, you'll never go back.

    Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.   The muffins will not puff up a lot, but more rise a bit in the center while leaving a toasty, crispy edge.  Don't worry, you did it right.

    Allow to cool for just a bit, then serve.  When you bite into one and get that caramelized crusty outside and the warm, nutty inside, you will be SO glad that you had people coming.   I was.   As were all the other starving Foodie Girls who scarfed down the leftovers before we went to lunch.

     *I will point out that the original recipe calls for softened butter, which I used.  The photos on the blog post showed melted butter, which is more commonly used in muffins.  I have to say, they came out wonderfully as directed, but feel free to do what you want.   Since I will probably be making these again very, very soon, I'll try it the other way and report back.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Special Cooking Class Edition

    I'm going to have to rethink my nomenclature soon if we continue to stray from the lunch path like this, but for now, welcome to another FG "Special Edition"!

    Dateline: Breadbar, a well known local artisan bakery/bistro in the the heart of the edge of Beverly Hills
    The scene:   A packed house of people here not for baguettes and boules, but for the restaurant's latest pop-up* In the Making event:

    The menu: (in case you can't read the fine print there)

    Appetizer - Crispy Shrimp Cakes with Plum Sauce 
    Mains - Pineapple Red Curry, Thai Roasted Chicken, Roti Paratha
    Dessert - Cheesecake "Maki-Sushi"

    The cast: Four FGs, two big time chefs, Jet Tila, and Sara Steele, from Vegas** (yeah, baby!)  a warm and welcoming staff, and a bunch of other classmates who also couldn't think about anything else but that maki sushi cheesecake thing.

    Watch what happened:

    They fed us right away. Love that! This is a shrimp cake with the special secret ingredients:Pork and sugar.

    Time seems to flow backwards, as we watch the shrimp cake being made.  Turns out the meatball, like the tortilla, is a food that knows no national boundaries. 

    This is how to make a chicken look good raw.  It requires a cleaver and a smooth talking guy doing the cleaving.

    No matter what, though, it's gonna look much better cooked.  Especially after a few days in a bath of ginger, lemongrass, garlic, cilantro and coconut milk and some time in a very hot oven. Our favorite dish of the night.

    Curry fixin's, and a curry factoid:  Indian curries use dry spice mixtures.  Thai curries use fresh herb mixtures. Seen here: kafir lime leaves, basil, onion, bamboo shoots and coconut milk. Fish sauce, curry paste, and sugar are hanging out in the back.

    Here's the pineapple part. Nice, huh? The curry was served with puffy paratha bread made entirely without butter.

    The Sara show begins with a frozen roll of cheesecake. This whole demo is phallic, so just accept that and move on.

    After spearing a 6-8 inch section of the firm log with a sharp stick (but not too far up there!), coat lightly with tempura batter, using smooth strokes up and down.Submerge in boiling oil. Meanwhile, time for garnishes.

    Sushi rolls would not be sushi roles without wasabi...or in this case, melted white chocolate, green food coloring, and a little bit of cool water to make it "seize" and become a horseradish paste doppelganger.

    Next, peel a banana (I know! I know!) and slice very thin.

    This does require a blowtorch, but I'm told they're readily available at Home Depot.

    The "maki" cheesecake - a cross section view.

    Ready for its close up, and our tummies.

    Chef Jet, relaxing after class and a glass of wine. On top of cooking us an awesome meal, he was funny, informative, and a really nice guy.

    The verdict:  The FG crew had a fantastic evening.  We can't wait for the next one!

    Chef Jet's Thai Style BBQ Chicken
    1 3 1/2 lb. chicken, backbone removed, laid flat with wing tips tucked under
    2 Tbs. ginger root, crushed
    2 Tbs. lemongrass, crushed
    1 Tbs. corriander root or cilantro leaves, minced
    2 Tbs. garlic, crushed
    2 tsp. black or white pepper
    1/4 c. thin soy sauce (a Chinese style that is lighter that traditional soy)
    1 Tbs. sugar
    2 Tbs. curry powder
    1 c. coconut milk

    Combine all ingredients (except chicken) in a blender and blend until smooth.   In a dish that is deep enough for the chicken to be completely submerged, pour marinade over the chicken to coat evenly.   Rub the chicken all over to make sure it's nice and flavorful before you set it, covered, in the refrigerator for at least four hours or as long as three days.

    Remove the chicken from the marinade, and scrape off any excess.  Roast at 400 for 45 minutes, or until liquids run clear from the thigh when pierced.  You can also finish the chicken on the grill, or grill the chicken from the beginning.   Delish!

    * Given the frenzy over pop-ups, I'm instituting a new dinner policy here at home.  I may or may not cook.   You will only know that I am cooking if you follow me on twitter (@momsmakingtacosagainsayitaintso), AND sign up on my secret website by noon.  I will only make enough for three, so someone is always left out, but the family members who do eat are in for a real treat.
    ** And the classy part of Vegas at that!  Wynn, baby!