Sunday, December 30, 2012

Way Past the Last Minute Gift in a Jar

Shall we do bullet points again?
  • I am late for everything always, and am a bit lackadaisical when it comes to holiday obligations.  (I mean, there's something unfit about that phrase, 'holiday obligations', in the first place, don't you think?)
  • Hipsters love jam jars.  (A friend once said to me, without irony, "I kind of have a jar fetish."  Judge me if you want, but I kind of do, too.)
  • Everyone loves booze. (Unless you don't.  If so, sorry to exclude you.)
  • Hey, remember that gift in a jar thing we used to do around here in the early days?

With that, let's talk about Kentucky Egg Nog Spike.

This year, I was actually not at all lackadaisical about holiday gifts (just about sharing them here).  In fact, despite not having religious ties to the season, I felt the urge to seriously Christmas it up.   I put up the most adorable felt mistletoe, lit a tiny spruce-scented candle, and set off to buy a carton of egg nog.  Reading labels at the store, everything from Broguiere's with its hipster-magnet oldy-timey glass bottle, to the organic stuff, had weird ingredients.  Artificial flavors in one, unpronounceable mysteries in another.  Bummer.  This didn't stop me from picking up a carton anyway, but when I got home, I started researching recipes.  

What I learned: I will never make egg nog.  Doing so would put me eye-to-eye with the frightening mass of egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, and other incredibly unhealthy things that go into this sugary omelet-disguised-as-beverage, and I just don't have the courage for that.

However, amidst the nog search, I came across a recipe for something called Egg Nog Spike.  A combination of spirits infused with delicious warm spices, designed to add a little liquory life your groggy nog.  Mix together some brandy, bourbon, and dark rum, then throw in some vanilla beans, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cracked nutmeg.  Jar it up and let it sit for at least a week, up to months.  I put this together with a little arts and crafts project (the labels came together from an old brown bag, a black sharpie, and a pencil for drawing circles and lines), and thus came to be my very pretty 2012 holiday gifts.

 I know Hanukkah and Christmas are past, but this would be a lovely thing for a New Year's Eve host.  And it doesn't have to be relegated to nog:  I think it'd be great on the rocks with a little milk or cream white Russian style, or pour some in your coffee for a little bit of spiced Christmas magic to last into the new year. It's a great addition to some hot cider, too.

You can find the recipe here on Epicurious.  I made 4 batches, to fill 8 16-ounce jars.  And if you pour a tiny bit extra of each liquor, you'll have some left over at the bottom of the bowl to save for yourself, which I absolutely did do.  

I hope you all are having a cozy, warm holiday season, and I wish you guys a spirited and lovely 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

correspondence and cauliflower

Back before technology took over our lives, if you wanted to convey a message, you had only a few choices: You could either talk to a person on the phone, handwrite a letter, or actually converse face-to-face.  And that was pretty much it.  But, the options we have when it comes to communication have exploded in the last couple decades.  And though I'm sometimes at odds with the fast-paced correspondence of today, I recognize that each of these options has a distinct value.  

First came email.  I still live for long, meaty emails where I can unload paragraph after verbose, emotive paragraph -- ahh, sweet indulgence.  I love IM for covering the essentials of the day, cracking up in real time with far-away friends, sharing a quick link or dishing the latest gossip.  And then there's text, which I'll never fully embrace.  The world seems to enjoy its choppy shorthand, but for me, it's a little too impersonal, and often leaves me feeling estranged.  So, obviously Twitter is of little use to me either.  And there are all the new options that come from Facebook:  you can announce to the world that you're now In A Relationship, present your political stance, or share your favorite falling penguin video.  And let's not forget the fine art of the Facebook comment:  keep it light, get your point across quickly, and above all, be clever -- the world is reading!  (Not to mention its old offshoot, the Evite comment:  same deal, but for some reason, with added pressure.)  Across online media, there's the simple gesture of the 'like':  quickly give your acknowledgement, without committing so much as a single word -- it's like the digital equivalent of a nonchalant chin-nod.  

Not that you need words to communicate anymore:  you can post a photo to show how cool you are (or how adorable your kids are, or how amazing your morning smoothie looks).  Then apply a filter to make your yellow fluorescent-lit living room look retro-sexy, and add some blur to fuzz out those embarrassing magazines on the counter.  You can combine five photos together to pack even more information into a single image.  And then there's the amazing world of animated gifs.  Seems like hardly a coincidence that it sounds so much like 'gift', when it grants us gems like this:  

My medium of choice?  Bullet points.  I employ them at work, whenever I'm faced with the delicious task of technical communication*, and they're so effective there that of course they bleed into my regular life.

So, on with it.  Let's discuss last night's dinner.  It was too good not to share.  This recipe was inspired by:

  • This amazing-looking recipe for cauliflower and feta fritters.  I always feel an affinity for Smitten Kitchen's vegetably main course recipes (not that the margarita cookies are anything to scoff at).  Boiling, then mashing, then adding then egg, then frying seemed like way too many steps for me, but the combination of cauliflower and feta sounded awesome. 
  • The insanely delicious fried cauliflower at Sunnin Lebanese restaurant in Westwood.  We used to go here in college back when it was a tiny and brightly lit hole-in-the-wall.  Now they've got a big fancy dining room.  Not the same, but the cauliflower, deep fried until it's totally browned on the outside and served with tahini, is a revelation.  Who knew you could crave cauliflower?
  • The fact that I had a half a cauliflower in my fridge that was nearing its last days.  (the start of most recipes in my kitchen...just living the Everlasting Meal dream...)
  • The miracle of modern technology that is the 10-minute farro at Trader Joe's.  Have you had farro?  It's awesome.  It's a slightly sweet, flavorful grain with a bit of satisfying chewiness to it.  It makes great grain-based salads, both hot and cold.  Sadly, it takes about 45 minutes to cook, but the other day I discovered small bags of par-boiled farro at Trader Joe's that cook up in 10 minutes.  Tremendous.  

So, I put all these inspirations together, added in some other scroungy things from my kitchen -- fresh chives, dried mint that was once fresh, and some toasted slivered almonds from the freezer, and came up with a warm, filling, and balanced dinner salad.  As always with these saladbook guys, variations driven by what is in your kitchen and what is your flavor preference, are wildly encouraged.  Please share your findings!

* My friend Jon had a t-shirt that said "I know I'm efficient, tell me I'm beautiful."  In nerdy moments like these, that sentiment resonates like no other.

Warm Farro Salad with Cauliflower and Feta

This would be just as good cold (though I'd add an extra squeeze of lemon juice right before serving).

1/2 cup 10-minute farro
Olive oil
1/2 a head of cauliflower, split into florets (smaller florets are better, because you get more browny bits and it cooks faster, but whatev)
2 Tbs slivered almonds
Dried mint (or fresh)
2 Tbs crumbled feta
Chives, chopped
Lemon juice

Make the farro according to the package's 'simmer' instructions.  While it's simmering, heat a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add cauliflower and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Sautee for about 10 minutes, turning pieces occasionally so all sides have a chance to brown.  In the last minute or so, add the cumin, slivered almonds, and mint, and toss to combine.  (Note:  if your slivered almonds are raw or blanched, throw them in a couple minutes early so they have a chance to toast.)  Turn off heat under cauliflower.  Add farro, leaving any liquid in the pot.  Add feta, chives, and lemon juice, and toss to combine thoroughly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variations I want to try:

  • something sweet:  pomegranate, dried cranberries, raisins?
  • maybe broccoli instead of cauliflower, maybe roasted instead of fried (we like roasted broccoli around here.)
  • tahini in the dressing (that's what the amazing fried business at Sunnin is served with)
  • honey in the dressing
  • sunflower seeds or pine nuts instead of the almonds

Friday, September 07, 2012

fresh green garbanzo beans

Just because I'm not here doesn't mean I'm not thinking of you, neglected reader.  I'm filled with intent to write:  about lofty ideas like the intersection of simple offerings and true hospitality, about my strong (and might I add, correct) opinions regarding the kind of restaurant that Los Feliz really needs, about the amazing book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler and how it's changed my life.  I've wanted to write about summer, about newly teetering work-life balance and the mix of pride and ambivalence I feel about that, about an impromptu recipe for stuffed and fried squash blossoms that was at once crisp, vegetal, and meltingly creamy, about the three beautiful farmers markets that my neighborhood offers, about the perfection that is Proof Bakery, about how I've managed to distill down what I love in a restaurant, about how my apartment requires throughput in the form of dinner guests.

The ideas pile up, and they get a little oppressive.  Who can write under all that pressure?

But this post pretty much wrote itself.  Drew itself, really.  Fresh, green garbanzo beans impelled me to take their picture at every stage.  When you see an old, familiar ingredient in such a bizarre and otherworldly new light, you can't be flip about it.

A friend was out of town last weekend, and generously had me pick up her farmshare and use as much of it as I wanted.  Among a bounty of yellow zucchini, giant jalapeños, Swiss chard, strawberries, and more, I also got a massive bunch of fresh garbanzos.  And by bunch, I mean an unruly jumble of oversized, nappy branches, sprinkling tiny leaves wherever they passed.  And on each one was an abundance of adorable, fuzzy little pods.

It turns out that garbanzos are a slow food through and through.  Some might see it as a burden, but for me, sitting at my kitchen table, first snipping probably a hundred little pods off the branches, then splitting (some of) them open one by one, sent me right back to childhood.  My mom would always give me the task of pulling fava beans from their long fuzzy pods, or picking bitter seeds out of sticky dried lemons, and these manual tasks are as satisfying and soothing now as they were then.
2 chickpeas in a pod
As I said, I did harvest some of them from their tiny pods, to boil and add to a salad of kale, tomatoes, and fresh basil.  But I had another idea for the rest.  In keeping with the patience their preparation required, I wanted eating them to be slow, too.  I roasted them in a grill pan until their pods were slightly charred, to be peeled at the table:  a sort of cross between edamame and grilled shishito peppers.

It worked!  Though all of the seasoning goes on the chickpea's inedible skin, bits of salt and smoky char invariably end up on your fingers, and from there find their way into your mouth.  Totally satisfying.
the aftermath
Pan-grilled Green Garbanzo Beans

Obviously this won't work on a real grill, as the little guys will fall through!  But if you don't have a grill pan, I think any pan would work here.

Green garbanzo beans, still in the pod
Olive oil

Heat a grill pan over high heat.  Drizzle garbanzos with olive oil, toss to coat all of them.  Add to grill pan, and after a couple minutes, stir.  Try to allow both sides of each pod a chance to brown.  Once you've got some char, but before beans burn completely, remove from pan to a bowl.  Toss with salt, then cover with a plate to allow them to soften further from their own steam for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panacea: Ricotta Cheese

I was reminded recently that I never delivered on the promised Part II to this post.  Better late than never?

So, we made ricotta.  Though, as I read about ricotta, I get the sense that our ricotta is not really ricotta.  Ricotta is Italian for 'recooked'.  Because, evidently, it's traditionally made by reheating the whey left over from making some other cheese, adding in some acid to pull out the last remaining bits of protein and make them into something edible.  We are not the goddesses of efficiency that the ancient peasants of the Italian countryside were.  We buy our acid from Surfas.  We make our cheese from milk.

Regardless, though, making cheese at home is not hard at all, pretty inexpensive, and really satisfying.  In broad strokes, you heat up salted milk, add an acid (we used ascorbic acid in powder form, you can also use powdered citric acid or lemon juice (though I hear that the latter doesn't set up quite as well as the other two)), and watch as it curdles.  It's fascinating -- just like Little Miss Muffet, you end up with a pot of completely separate curds and whey.  Then, you scoop out the curds and drain them over some cheesecloth, and in the case of our recipe, mix in a bit of half and half to beef it up.  That's it.  Easy peasy, ricotta cheesy.

The end result was creamy, slightly spreadable, with a mild flavor that would go great with sweet or savory.  But then, wee took it one step further: we used some of the resulting cheese for a next-level cheese experience -- ricotta salata.  You take ricotta, add more salt, and press it in a cheese mold: in our case, a large clean tomato can with both ends removed.  After a couple days in the fridge, weighed down with a heavy jar, you get a more strongly flavored semi-hard cheese that you can grate or slice. 

I tend to fly fast and loose with dairy, and make substitutions based on texture.  Aside from classic uses like lasagne, cannoli, or just spreading on bread with whatever (I would choose honey), I could see sneaking ricotta into artichoke dip as a lower-fat alternative to sour cream or mayo.  And how good would it be mixed with some brown sugar and vanilla for a dip with fruit!  (I want that now.)  And the ricotta salata is great on a cheese plate or grated into a salad.

Two kinds of cheese and house-cured salmon, all in an afternoon.  Maybe we are goddesses of efficiency after all.

Our recipe came from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.  Smitten Kitchen has a more decadent take on ricotta.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Back to Whack: Miso Kale Stirfry

We all know that it's good to eat balanced meals, but here's the thing about balance:  when you've been eating in a balanced way, it makes sense to continue with the balance.  But when everything is out of balance, you kind of need to eat something unbalanced in the other direction, in order to restore the balance?  That's totally clear, right?

In other words, when everything's out of whack, and you're trying to get yourself back to whack, you need kale.  The last couple days have been a bit of a gorgefest:  amazing homemade pasta at Osteria Mamma (get the pappardelle al fumo: it's insane) last night, leftover pappardelle for breakfast (don't judge), leftover gondi kashi from my parents' house for lunch yesterday.  And then today, at the lovely Lyric Cafe, they gave me a piece of banana walnut cake with Nutella and whipped cream, for free.  I had to eat it!  I had to eat all those things, actually -- none of these are things you say no to. 

So the idea of the saladbook recipes -- a quick, but balanced meal of vegetable, lean protein, and whole grain or legumes -- gets thrown out the window.  I'm not even hungry for all those things, I just need a little bit of vegetables.  And what kind of LA cliche would I be if the vegetable I turn to isn't kale? 

You could easily balance this out by adding some diced tofu after the kale has steamed, and serving it over some brown rice.  But for tonight, a totally unbalanced bowl of kale is all I need.

Miso Kale Stirfry
 White miso (it's actually more beige than white) comes in big tubs, and adds saltiness, a little nuttiness, and in general tons of savory flavor to everything you add it to.  (And if you are looking for some literary miso inspiration, check out the incredibly thorough treatment it receives in the second issue of Lucky Peach.)  Note that for this recipe, you will wash the kale after you've cut it.

2 cups unwashed raw kale, thicker stalks removed, leaves cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 tsp flavorless vegetable oil (canola, corn, peanut, grapeseed, etc.)
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tsp white miso
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp mirin
tiny dribble of toasted sesame oil
red chili flakes (optional, I opt against)
toasted sesame seeds to garnish

Rinse the cut kale, then place it in a colander to drain.  You want some water to stay on the kale -- you'll use this to quickly steam it before stir-frying.

Add oil and garlic off to one side of a pan over medium heat.  When the oil just begins to bubble, lower heat.  Add kale to pan, but do not stir in oil and garlic just yet.  Cover, and cook over medium-low heat until kale looks bright green and barely cooked through, about 2 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine miso, ginger, mirin, sesame oil and chili in a small bowl. 

Remove cover from pan, and increase heat to medium-high.  Toss kale to coat with oil and incorporate garlic.  After about 2 minutes, add miso sauce to kale and toss to distribute.  Cook another minute or so, until sauce is heated through.  Serve topped with sesame seeds.

Makes 1 main course serving on its own, or 2 servings as a side or part of a larger meal.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Train Runs Through It: Atwater Crossing Kitchen

What I miss the most from my old neighborhood is the Farmer's Market.  It offered this amazing space where you could be around people as you had a meal, but were also totally anonymous.  There was no table service, there was plenty of seating, you were in an airy environment that kind of even felt outdoor.  Once you got your food, you were pretty much on your own -- bring a couple magazines or a crossword puzzle and hang out all day if you wanted to.  I lived half a block away, and I miss it bad.

I'm surrounded by restaurants in Los Feliz (and the nearby neighborhoods), but sometimes nothing hits that sweet spot of casual, easy, anonymous, delicious.  Enter Atwater Crossing Kitchen.  Order your food at the counter, then hang out undisturbed in their summery courtyard dining area.

Atwater Crossing is a strange and wonderful place -- 2 blocks of industrial buildings house creative offices, artisanal manufacturing facilities, locations for photography and film shoots, and theaters, and the events there are eclectic and funky.  The area surrounding the Kitchen portion includes a small screening/performance room, a wine and beer bar, and that courtyard dining area with a couple communal tables, as well as a bunch of single-party ones. 
no train...

Oh! And said dining area is situated right next to a railroad track. So, every once in a while, a train chugs by right next to you! It's the coolest thing ever.
The food isn't bad, but it still needs some tweaks.  They capitalize on a wood-burning oven for flatbread pizzas that often have a Middle Eastern bent.  I had a sujuk pizza that had tons of flavor, but it was greasy and soggy in the middle, and the fresh arugula on top should have been picked through for yellow leaves.  The menu's a little weird, too:  on weekends they serve breakfast until 3, which is awesome, but you can't get anything off the lunch/dinner menu (say for example, a salad) other than pizza until after 3.  It's kind of a bummer to sit in the sunny courtyard, and not be able to enjoy a fresh, light lunch. (UPDATE:  The kind folks at Atwater Crossing itself commented below to note that lunch is in fact served before 3 now.  Awesome!)
yes, that's my finger.  hi.
Overall, though, I'm totally stoked that this place exists.  The courtyard is perfect for lunch on a sunny day, but now that the days are getting longer, I can't wait to go there for an evening glass of wine.  I know I started off singing the praises of the place's anonymity, but I just changed my mind.  Atwater Crossing Kitchen is actually totally awesome and neighborhoody; of course I want to be its friend!

Atwater Crossing Kitchen is at 3245 Casitas Ave.

Friday, March 09, 2012

How I Saved Little Dom's Deli from Imminent Destruction

You guys, I basically saved the universe the other night.  I mean, I generally don't think of myself as a hero, but sometimes the shoe just fits. I know, to most people, I just look like your average little brown girl who can't stop picking at any bowl of anything that is placed in front of her, but friends, I am here to tell you that were it not for me, there would be a giant pile of ashes where Little Dom's Deli once stood.

A couple Saturdays ago, I had some early evening downtime, and I was hongry.  I needed a sandwich.  Fortunately, I live a block from Hillhurst Avenue, which may as well be called Sandwichhurst*.  I decided on the Deli at Little Dom's, a thimble of a place perfectly designed to make you feel like you're in the Norman Rockwell version of a New York Italian deli.  I managed (somehow, inexplicably) to resist the tiny jam jars of vanilla panna cotta, stared down the pistachio shortbread (I mean, those two words:  Pistachio.  Shortbread.  Hello?), and in the end, gathered myself and ordered a sandwich.  "How's the tuna melt?" I asked.  "Amazing," he said. The guy behind the counter described their Sicilian tuna melt to me with a smile:  a salad of poached tuna from Little Dom's proper next door, capers, and herbs, no mayo; Fontina cheese; all grilled panini-style on whole grain bread.  Sold.

I sat down and waited for him to do his panini magic.  I was the only one in the little shop, and I could see that they were using some of the deli space to hold the prep stuff for dinner service at the restaurant.  A narrow shelf against one wall held table linens, a bunch of lit tealights, and a grey plastic tub filled with silverware.  I looked up from iPhone futzing and noticed that one of the tealights actually had fire on the outside of it.  Um.

The tealight had melted the corner of the plastic tub, and a little puddle of hot plastic had caught fire.  Fire!  I yelled out to my tuna melt friend, he doused the fire with a cup of ice water, thanked me profusely.  Disaster averted, he saw me out with my sandwich in a white paper bag and tons more thank-yous.

When I got home, tucked into the bag with my incredible tuna melt, I found a pistachio shortbread and a sweet blueberry and pear focaccia.  I'm here to tell you this:  it pays to be a superhero.

* I've recently been thinking of doing a sandwich crawl down Hillhurst Ave, though technically, it being a downhill slope, it'd be a Sandwich Roll (see what I did there?).  Between Little Dom's Deli, Community (the restaurant that used to be Papa's Place), Mustard Seed, Alcove, Gelato Bar, Home, and Gastronomico, oh, the sandwich fun we'd have!

The Deli at Little Dom's is at 2128 Hillhurst Ave., just north of Avocado Ave.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

links links links!

Sometimes (and by 'sometimes', I mean every single day), there is so much amazingness on the internet that I'm overwhelmed with the task of keeping up.  Here are some awesome things I've found recently.

A Cross-stitched Skillet:  Would you like some embroidered toast with that?  (Note:  Colossal is one of the best blogs ever.  Art and design, excellently curated, always awesome.)

Anissa in Iran: We talked a bit about Anissa Helou's videos of breadbakers in Iran.  She's posted quite a few more gems from her time there.  So much good stuff.  (Also, her Saveur spread is incredible:  beautiful photos, lots of stories, and a book's worth of recipes.)

this LA Times article: I suppose an article about the trials and tribulations of being Bill Chait, a top LA restaurant entrepreneur, is interesting to some folks, but the real nugget in this article (to me) is hidden in the middle of page 2: There are plans to replace the Louise's on Hillhurst with something called Mess Hall: "higher energy, simpler food, with a modern twist."  2 blocks from my apartment in Los Feliz!  Woop woop!

Bon Iver's 'Towers' video: The music of Bon Iver has had my heart for a couple years now.  I couldn't tell you what his lyrics are about, but the perfectly blended harmonies and twangy acoustic guitar make for a sound evocative of cold places, quiet rivers, sturdy old cabins, grizzled faces, wary smiles.  The video for 'Towers', from his newest, eponymous album captures all of that.  (PS: Think of this video when Pixar's Brave comes out and you see the gorgeous short, La Luna, that opens for it: to me, anyway, there are strange little parallels.)

Vermont introduces monumental GMO labeling legislation:  Hell yeah, Vermont!  Rest of US, please take note.  This is huge. 

Banksy on advertising:  What he says is absolutely right, and really important to remember. 

The LowLine: Were it to exist, the Lowline would sort of be the upside down cousin to Chelsea, New York's awesome High Line park.  An indoor, underground park, built in an old trolley terminal on the Lower East Side, using solar technology to to generate enough light to grow trees.  This makes me love the world.  (Watch the video!) 

Little red cake:  Apollinas makes cakes that are inspired by dresses (and sometimes shoes!), and they are amazing.  Here is a Valentino little red dress in cake form.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Hollywood Reservoir

Would you believe this is Los Angeles?

This isn't about food.  But, it's so beautiful I had to share.  Did you know that up in the hills above the most cloyingly Hollywoodish part of Hollywood, right in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, there is a huge and beautiful reservoir?  You drive up from Gower, then let yourself get totally turned around as you wind through tiny residential streets (lined with an amazingly eclectic set of houses). The city slowly fades away, and you end up in this lush green oasis with very little foot traffic (and an odd tendency towards Europeans among the small crowd who was there).  The Hollywood Reservoir is beautiful.
There's a dam with weird little bear's heads sticking out below its walkway.  There's a wide path, perfect for walking or biking, and the air smells cleanly of evergreens.  The path doesn't go all the way around: it ends where it meets residential Tahoe Street.  You could keep going on Tahoe at this point; you'd end up near Universal City (yes, the reservoir is that big).

Here's a Google Map of the reservoir.  We drove to Weidlake Drive, and parked where it meets Montlake Drive and Lake Hollywood.  You enter the premises there, and are met first with the dam.  You should go; it's lovely.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Panacea: Gravlax

 On a perfectly crisp day during winter break, I was at a fancy craft fair in a backyard in Angelino Heights, a block away from Carroll Avenue (one of those amazing secret treasures of Los Angeles that you really ought to see), with my friends Rachel and Jodi.  Rachel turned to us and said one of those things that, in normal circles, would be totally weird, but among us is perfectly normal.  Par for the course, actually.  All excited, she said, "You guys!  We should start a club where we cure things! Like, make sausages, and gravlax, and stuff like that!  Wouldn't that be awesome?!"  And supportive friends that we are, we totally agreed.  Of course it would be awesome.
As we browsed the crafts, we fleshed this idea out, and eventually I even came up with a name for our club: Panacea.  Because, you see, we cure all.  And on new year's eve day, our planacea became reality.
Our first project was gravlax:  a Swedish dish of salmon cured with a sugar and salt mixture and aromatic herbs.  After a few days wrapped tightly in the fridge, you wipe all that stuff off the fish's surface, and end up with a salty-sweet, flavorful product, ready to be sliced thin and eaten on dark bread (or whatever you want).
Guided by a great book called Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, the three of us took a few slow-foodish hours, and in the end, were on our way to having created something that felt really substantial.  Using recipes in the book, we made two varieties of gravlax:  one classic, packed with lots of fresh dill, and the other, with fresh fennel and orange zest.
I come from a long line of women who crowd into kitchens together, and have had a good share of girly dinner parties with my own friends, too.  There's an efficient, perfect rhythm to women cooking together.  The three of us worked so well with each other:  sharing tasks, cleaning as we went along.  We shared the same space gracefully, all the while gabbing, catching up, laughing a lot.
Things went so well that we even DIY'ed a batch of ricotta cheese once the gravlax were prepped.  But that's a story for another day.   For now, gravlax.  And Murray.
oh, hello, Murray
PS It's Rachel's birthday today!  Happy, happy birthday, Rachel!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

LudoBites 8.0

It may seem counter to my bloggerly being, but until this latest round, I'd never attended LudoBites.  Something about all the frenzy that surrounds it makes me want to run in the other direction.   Between the phone-in hoops you have to jump through to get a reservation, and the gaggle of female bloggers who, under the 'Ludobitches' moniker, have branded themselves as groupies of happily married chef Ludo Lefebvre, it all just sounded like a scene I'd rather not deal with.   It's like my reaction to Downton Abbey -- when everyone is freaking out about something, I decide I'm too cool.  But then, one night in late January, a friend's plus-one bailed and I was invited to sit in.  And I couldn't deny my giddiness.  I got in to LudoBites!  With zero effort!  And as will no doubt be the case when I finally break down and watch Downton Abbey, I totally ate my words and thought it was amazing.

LudoBites is a really fun concept: at his whim, Chef Lefebvre takes over the kitchen at some restaurant for a very limited time, and creates a full menu of shareable items, all with his signature mix of the best ingredients combined in unexpected ways.  When I got there, the air seemed charged with the collective excitement of all the diners who made it into the fleeting pop-up.  The T-shirt-clad waitstaff provided excellent service, and affordable carafes of tasty house wine (in addition to a list of wines and beers) made you feel that, despite the high caliber of the food being served, this wasn't an ostentatious meal.  Our group of six ordered everything on the menu, and were treated to a string of strange and wonderful tastes and textures.
The meal started off with pure indulgence: chicken tandoori crackling, followed by brioche with yuzu seaweed butter.  The former, the creamiest chicken liver mousse dolloped on a square of crisp chicken skin.  Salty, fatty, mineraly goodness; tastebuds piqued, big-time.  The latter, a fluffy, buttery brick of brioche so comforting that a child would swoon over it, but spread generously with a decidedly grown-up compound butter with the bright Asian notes of yuzu and salty seaweed.  I seriously spent the rest of the meal contemplating getting an order (or nine) of the brioche to go.

One of the most elegant dishes of the night was simply called 'Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black truffles' (first photo), a combination of soft, mellow flavors, punctuated with dots of an herb sauce and pops of briny roe.  One of the most challenging was Uni Crème Brûlée, a bizarre combination of sea urchin, sweet custard, a hint of coffee, and salty salmon roe.  Once you got past the initial shock of completely uncharted culinary territory, it was actually quite delicious.

Raw beef has surely never looked as beautiful as it did in a dish of Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel.  Thin slices of radish and tart green apple, and a blood-red beet puree offset the richness of the meat. 

Opulence came in the form of soup.  Based on its looks, I expected the dish of Foie Gras, Tamarin, Turnips, Daikon to be a ramen-like broth, characterized by fattiness and salt.  So, I was totally shaken by the first spoonful, with its intense tamarind sourness.  I was also taken aback by the amount of foie gras in the dish: I don't know, it was just...a lot.  Not my favorite, but others at the table loved it. 

OK, that's enough.  I realized when I wrote two epic posts on the Istanbul Eats walking tour that I don't particularly like writing posts that are endless lists of every bite.  I get bored, so I suspect you guys do, too (correct me if I'm wrong?).  Sure, there were more outstanding dishes --  an excellent red wine braised duck, perfectly cooked John Dory, and a kooky take on lemon meringue pie that tasted as delicious as it looked whimsical were just a few.  So, I offer you a link to the rest of the photos from the night, artfully shot by my date, Erin Ramos.  And instead of the itemized list, I leave you with this.

The best part of the night for me (aside from the part where in my head I decide that Chef Ludo himself designed the night's awesome 90s-hip-hop playlist) was my vantage point.  Overall, I wasn't thrilled with the space:  Lemon Moon is a cafeteria in an office complex, and the ambiance of its bright, spacious dining room just didn't match the excitement of the night.  But it has an open kitchen, and from my seat, I could watch as one chef prepped plate after plate, using an empty glass display case as his work station.  He was meticulous about every detail, and I watched as Chef Ludo peered intently over his shoulder, hanging on every drop of sauce, making sure each dish was just perfect.  In that moment, all the LudoBites fanfare made sense: every item I was served was at the highest level.  Chef Ludo and his team took great pains to achieve harmony from a wild array of complex flavors, to make every plate beautiful.  A world of mindful effort is behind every bite.  He's pulling out all the stops, putting all he has out there.  In that moment, I totally got the LudoBitches.  There is most definitely something hot about a man who works so hard to ensure that I, that all of us there, feel taken care of (and seriously, the French accent doesn't hurt, either).  This meal made me feel taken care of -- how can I dare act too cool for that?

LudoBites' last night is tomorrow night!  Get there!