Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sage Wine and Flowers

I know I'm probably sounding like a broken record, but I love summer. Like, really, really love it. And while when I was a kid, there was nothing more summery than spending the day in the pool, these days, I can't ask for better than eating and drinking outdoors, a beautiful table set with candles and flowers, and dishes and cocktails featuring bright summery fruits.

Now, among my friends, an all-girls summer potluck is not macaroni salad out of a tub and weird casseroles. No, we really indulged ourselves: starting with heirloom tomato caprese and pancetta crisps with goat cheese and pear, onto a main course of fish baked atop zucchini and tomatoes, and topping it all off with an apricot sachertorte covered in silky ganache (and including even more delicious courses that I'm too overwhelmed to mention here). We even drank within the summer theme, with sage-infused rosé and apricot sangria.

My contribution was a crudo* of tuna and nectarines. It was inspired by that awesome amberjack and nectarine poke** I'd had recently at animal. Not only did it seem infinitely summery, it gave me an excuse to go to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and pick up the three most perfect nectarines I could find (not to mention the best melon I've ever eaten). I was a little nervous, as this was my first time serving raw fish to anyone but myself, so, just in case, my recipe included ample amounts of ginger juice (not to disparage the ginger juice: it doesn't just cover up fishiness; it also adds awesome flavor and heat in its own right). I shouldn't have worried though: I got small packages of cubed tuna from Mitsuwa, and they were totally fresh. The dish was a huge hit: light, fruity, with enough tang from lemon and ginger juices to cut the richness of the fish. Such a hit in fact, that the first wave of guests finished off the whole dish before the second set even showed up. What can I say, for all our girliness, we eat voraciously.

So, we ate, and drank, and laughed a lot. We even danced a bit (or rather, others danced while I applauded their performance while melting into the couch). And then, on that same couch, I fell asleep. Ah, summer.

* Crudo is an Italian dish of raw fish dressed with olive oil, citrus juice, and sea salt.
** Eating LA has a photo of that pretty dish here.

Tuna Crudo with Nectarines

Freshness is the key to this recipe. Buy the best fish you can find the day you are serving it, and don't make it more than a few hours ahead. I served this dish in a large bowl, but individual servings, drizzled with a bright olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt, would make a refined first course.

3 large nectarines, 1/2 inch dice
1 lb sushi-grade tuna, 1/2 inch dice
2-inch knob ginger
juice of one lemon
fruity extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt

In a large bowl, mix together nectarines and tuna. Extract juice from ginger by peeling and grating it on a ginger grater, then squeezing out the juice with your fingers. Add ginger juice to fish and fruit; mix again. At this point, you can chill the dish in a tightly covered container.

To serve, drizzle generously with olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt, and stir to combine.

Monday, July 21, 2008

the thing about sorbetto

here's the thing about this sorbetto business. so, the story goes, starbucks goes to italy, discovers this new authentic amazing drink -- or smoothie...or chilly bliss...whatever, i get tired trying to figure out what it is -- and starbucks is so giddily excited about its italian discovery that it has to immediately come back home and install it behind every counter.

i don't buy this. because, see, there already is this other chilly bliss that the italians call 'sorbetto', and this weird odd cup-o-pinkberry-and-pink-stuff ain't it. it's not new, we've known about it for years.  here in the states, we call it 'sorbet', and it doesn't come with a straw.

at the very least, you'd think they'd come up with a name for this thing they plucked right out of italia that didn't already apply to something we're already fully aware of.  insulting to our intelligence much?  yep, little bit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

could someone just have a barbecue already?

so i can have an excuse to make fresh mint ice cream? we're pushing august here, people!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What I Learned at Wine Camp

I drink a lot of wine, but aside from the late-night Spanish wine tips I used to get from Raul and Kenny at Bodega de Cordova, I'm pretty remedial at fancy wine savvy. So, a few Sundays ago, I took a 'wine camp' class offered by Learn About Wine, and it was delightful. In an airy loft Downtown, long tables were set to seat about 50 students. Each setting had 3 small wine glasses and a booklet with the day's lesson, as well as plates of crackers, cheeses, cured meats, and fruit to nibble (to prevent overdoing it on the sauce), and of course, a trusty discard bucket. Ian Blackburn, the owner of the business, drew on his broad experience in the restaurant, wine, and hospitality industries, and his formal training as a wine educator, to lead us through over 2 solid hours of tasting and learning. And learn I did -- there were lots of 'who knew?' moments:

  • You don't actually have to be fancy to be interested in wine. My classmates included teachers, families, pharmacists, architects, and of course, entertainment industry people.
  • The days of meat with red and fish with white are long gone. Try dusting that scallop with dried porcinis and see how well it goes with a Pinot Noir.
  • Organic wines don't age well -- buy them to drink right away, or don't buy them at all. On the other hand, wines made from organic grapes (or better yet, grapes from biodynamic or self-sustaining vineyards), are a good, good thing.
  • Whatever Paul Giamatti might have to say about it, I actually really like Merlot.
  • For a sure bet, just buy from Costco. Apparently their wine buyer cultivates a really great selection.
  • On the other hand, be wary at Trader Joe's. You might think you see a familiar label there, but look closely: some wine producers create exclusive blends for TJs from a broader, and so less distinct, region.
  • It's a good idea to break tradition when it comes to packaging. Time to throw out that chunk of tree bark and replace it with a reliable screwcap. And while we're at it, why not do away with heavy-to-ship, fragile glass? Instead, how about just taking your own jug to the local wine shop for a refill retro-styles? I like this idea.
  • You can taste an entire country in a bottle of wine. A California Chardonnay and a French Chablis may come from the same type of grape, but expect a subtle, mineral flavor from the rainy French countryside, and a sweeter, bolder wine from sunny Cali. (Is our wine betraying our state's inherent obnoxiousness?)
  • Wine camp is fun, but I have much to learn: a few popular French and California wines barely scratches the surface. I'm very much looking forward to my wine education.
Wine camp takes place on the first Sunday of each month. Learn About Wine offers all sorts of other classes and events, too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Joyeux 14 Juillet

Bastille Day Festival, West Hollywood Park

the girls of body city

What you're not seeing:  sandwiches of freshly grilled merguez on fresh baguette with mustard; tiny glasses of Ricard pastis, turned from crystal clear to cloudy and pale yellow upon being cut with water; peach gazpacho from Little Next Door; a game of guess-who's-French played with a friendly Belgian dude with funky glasses; the musical stylings of the Fishtank Ensemble, a group possibly designed expressly to feed my geeky obsession with all things gypsy and remotely klezmer and a little bit French; the charming Alex of Hot Knives, whose demonstrated expertise in the fields of beer and cheese make me want to crash his parties.  

Friday, July 04, 2008

cheese love

The conversation was between me and Dileep, a friend who is, after years of normal mundane existence, on the brink of becoming a movie star. We were in the car with our friend Nick, driving to Scoops. The conversation went like this:

tannaz: So, are you rich now?

dileep: Um, definitely not.

tannaz: But, like, you're doing ok, right?

dileep: Yeah, I've got money in the bank.

tannaz: So... can we go to dinner?

Now, this wasn't me gold-digging. Quite the opposite, actually. It's just that, on that particular night, I had been stewing around in the sad feeling that there were all these fancy dinners to be had, and all these other young angelenos were having them, and for some reason or another, I was not. The intention is always there in the back of my head, but somehow we always end up at Pho Cafe (not that there is anything wrong with Pho Cafe).

Dileep was kind enough to oblige my hankering for poshness that very night. To top off an evening of bizarro ice cream and cracking up uncontrollably over Nick's punny ways with gay horse jokes, we went to AOC for a glass of wine. Despite this place sitting less than half a block from my apartment, it was the first time I'd set foot inside. It was pretty delightful. We sat at the bar, tasted several delicious wines between the three of us, chatted up the bartender, and snickered as our future movie star got double-team-chatted-up by the redhead sitting next to him and her genteel southern mother.

And we ate cheese.

We chose three, but the only one that mattered was the robiola. Evidently it's an Italian cheese, a blend of goat's, sheep's, and cow's milk. I've had a lot of cheese (hoo boy, a lot of cheese), but this robiola has singlehandedly crystallized what makes, for me, the perfect cheese: light bloomy rind (not crazy thick and impenetrable like brie), heavy stink (in the best way), and so rich that as it sits at room temperature, it gets oozy enough to be sopped up with a little crust of bread. Good lord, people, this is the stuff.

The little bite that night was not nearly enough, and so in the past few days, I went to Whole Foods and picked up a little tub of La Tur. From the robiola family, it's a little tangier than what we had at AOC, but a small puddle of the stuff, along with a big bunch of grapes and a bit of bread, has made me many decadent, simple, dinners. And with all that available on my very own couch, who even needs fancy restaurants? (Well, maybe I do a little.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

bake sale: last post, i promise

so what's so good about a bake sale? well, there's the part where you sit at a friend's dining room table late at night, engaging in the best kind of multitasking. at once, you are drinking a mimosa, chopping shiitakes for an insanely delicious wild mushroom tart, being hand-fed the defective-looking, but perfect-tasting discards from a batch of lime glazed sugar cookies, and coming up with magical 'cures' to be offered the next day by test tubes filled with skittles (you know, 'photogenic for life', 'ability to understand animals', 'better kisser'... all very, very useful).

there's the part where, as you're helping your mom meticulously cut baklava, your dad walks into the kitchen, looks quizzically at a container of tiny brown pellets, hesitantly tries one, then spends the rest of the afternoon swilling cocoa nibs by the handful.

and there's the day itself: accepting piles and piles of homemade sweets (and some savories too!) -- some donations from friends and acquaintances, some from generous local businesses (like that last-minute donation of fudgy bundts from chrysta of kiss my bundt bakery -- bless her heart), and some from unsolicited strangers who heard about the sale and just felt compelled to contribute -- beautiful people, those (thanks carla and daisy!). and of course seeing all these goodies bought and eaten doesn't suck either -- donation jar full, fingers sticky with chocolate, smiles all around.

then, maybe it's that post-bakesale moment at pure luck: utterly spent and loopy from hours in the sun, finally sitting down over a cold beer (people, it's craftsman triple white sage season!) and some curry fries to watch out-of-town friends meet local friends and instantly connect.
counting the money! there's a great rush, even when the money doesn't belong to you, in stacking up bills and checks, counting, then counting again, and, after much effort by many people, seeing that over $2500 will be going towards feeding the kids who need it most through share our strength's programs.

(and it's here that i must mention the staggeringly generous monetary donation that tai kim, the owner of scoops ice cream shop, made to our bake sale. i really was beside myself when i read the check he handed me early saturday morning. you can chalk it up to tax write-offs if you want to be cynical, but why not attribute it to something we've known about for years: tai's unending magnanimity.)

seriously, once again, good vibes, a sense of community in our sprawling city, and all kinds of deliciousness ruled the day. thanks to the many many people who contributed their time and energy to this fun and super worthwhile event!

[thanks to heather taylor, nick confalone, and janet tomiyama for the photos]