Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cardamom Almond Hot Chocolate

It's a strange concept, longing for something you've never known.  But that's how I feel about korsi.

Sunday night marks the winter solstice, the first night of winter, the longest night of the year.  It's a night that, among Persians, is celebrated, and is known as Yalda. As is pretty much always the case, you celebrate with food: on the night Yalda, you stay up late and eat bright, juicy, sweet things like pomegranate and watermelon, tightly holding on to the last bits of summer into the final moments before winter takes over.

We've had pretty much an entire year of summer here in Los Angeles, though, so I'm beyond ready to welcome winter.  So, as I read about Yalda, all those bright colors fade into the background, and only one word pops out, pulling my eyes to it:  korsi.

Korsi is to me the purest embodiment of coziness.  Imagine a small table, draped with a big, heavy blanket that fall long over the sides.  Underneath the table, a coal heater burns.  Everyone crowds around the table, sitting on the floor and tucking themselves under the blanket.  And then, all together, the korsi sitters, held together by the draw of warm, toasty feet, might share snacks, tell stories, smoke hookah, or play cards.  And on the night of Yalda, as if this vignette weren't charming enough, you stay up until the wee hours of the chilly night, choosing a page at random from a page of Hafez's poetry to take as your fortune for the days to come.

Korsi is something I've never experienced, but based on the stories I've heard from my parents, it's one of the things from Iran I have the most longing for -- I know I'd love it.  How could you not?

So, Yalda, you can keep your raging against the dying of the light, you can have your tight, needy grip on the summer's brightness.  As winter begins (and yes, winter in Los Angeles will probably be mostly sunny anyway), I embrace the coziness of Yalda.  And while I have no korsi to gather around, I can have that other thing that springs to mind when the nights turn cold and I'm seeking peak coziness: hot chocolate.

In addition to fruit, you'd typically find a bowl of ajeel, or mixed nuts, on the Yalda table, and as a nod to that, I'm flavoring my cocoa with almond extract.  I'm also adding a bit of cardamom to give it a distinctive Persian fragrance.

So, as the days grow longer, but the nights grow colder, in the absence of korsi, I'll find my warmth and coziness, and a bit of sweetness, elsewhere.  And I'll offer you this bit of wisdom from Hafez to get you through your own long Yalda night, with confidence that it's absolutely true for each of you, lovely readers: "I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

[Note: I didn't go the traditional route with my Yalda posts, but fortunately, a lovely group of Persian food bloggers have also participated in this Yalda feast with delicious dishes, history, and memories of their own (including a photo of a korsi in action in Coco's post).  Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the post for the full roundup.]

Cardamom Almond Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 servings

If you want to go a boozy route, you can replace the almond extract with 2 oz of almond liqueur. You can also replace some or all of the milk with almond milk to really drive the almond point home.

3 cardamom pods
2 1/4 C milk (2% fat or more)
2 heaping Tbs. cocoa powder
2 oz good-quality chocolate (I like 70%), broken into small pieces
1/2 - 1 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp almond extract
marshmallows for serving

Bash up cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle until the skin opens up and black seeds inside are exposed.  In a small saucepan, bring milk and cardamom to a boil over medium high heat.  Watch the pot, as it will quickly boil over.

Lower heat to low, and cocoa powder, sugar, chocolate, sugar, and salt.  Whisk vigorously to combine thoroughly, making sure to scrape from the bottom to fully incorporate chocolate as it melts.

Increase heat to medium, and bring back to a boil for about a minute.  Remove from heat and add almond extract.  Serve with a marshmallow in each mug.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Coconut Ginger Granola

I've been meaning to make granola for months.  Today I reached granola critical mass.

It's a four-day weekend and everyone's out of town.  After a seeming eleven months of summer, it's grey and raining outside.  A few weeks ago, when I made fesenjoon and had friends over to watch Bourdain in Iran (Did you watch it?  Did you also discover that it in fact was possible to love him more than you already did?  Did you watch Vice's even-more-awesome 3-part Munchies Guide to Tehran?), a friend brought me some homemade granola, and it reminded how satisfying homemade granola is.  Then, over at Sabzi, Sara wrote this evocative post, with those photos in that cozy cold-weather light.

You guys, I ate so much in the last week.  It wasn't just Thanksgiving (though, my goodness was it Thanksgiving), it was amazing slices at Jim and Jason's newest Fairfax spot, Prime Pizza (followed by Scoops at Golden State, natch), it was three servings of truffle mac and cheese at work, it was In-n-Out for dinner, Grandma Nanny's apple pie for breakfast...just a bad scene.  An extremely delicious bad scene.

And in my case, this kind of marathon gorging leads to sore throat and Harvey Fierstein voice.  Really sexy.  Everything I read about what to eat to combat a sour stomach led me to two places: ginger and oatmeal.  And that's been guiding my diet the last few days:  ginger-miso soup with leftover turkey, chai-spiced oatmeal with fennel seed, ginger, and cardamom, and lots and lots of ginger tea.

And this.  Finally, today, I made granola.  I started with the Early Bird / Orangette recipe, the same one I was gifted, the same one Sara used, the same one I always make, because it's empirically the best.  But, I went a little "island" with it:  in addition to adding both fresh and powdered ginger, I replaced the olive oil with coconut oil, the brown sugar with coconut sugar. And I sprinkled the finished product with fresh lime zest.  A little "lime in the coconut" action.  And as usual, I left it in the oven as long as possible.  Admittedly, this technique leads to some casualties, but a couple pecan burn victims are well worth the deep flavor you get as the granola really browns.

The result was great.  It had all the familiar toastiness of the original recipe, with brighter pops throughout from the lime and ginger.  And the lime and ginger go really well with the coconut.  The best part of the process was adding the lime zest: it audibly sizzles and hisses (!!!) as it hits the hot granola.  I think the original recipe remains my go-to for every day, but when you need something special to brighten a grey day, throwing some ginger and lime flavors into a coconutty granola is a good way to go.

Coconut Ginger Granola
Makes about 7 cups.
Adapted from Orangette.

The coconut oil will solidify at room temperature, so once you've added it, keep the mixture moving, and get it to the baking sheet quickly.

3 C old-fashioned oats
1 C pumpkin seeds
1 C sunflower seeds
1 1/4 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1 1/4 C pecans, halved or chopped (I used a combination, as that's what I had on hand)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs ground flax meal (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C maple syrup
1/3 C coconut sugar
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
zest of one lime

Preheat oven to 300F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix first ten ingredients (oats through vanilla) to combine evenly.  Add maple syrup and coconut oil, and stir to thoroughly combine.

Spread mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet.  Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is deep brown, about 45 minutes.  Remove from heat, and add lime zest.  Allow granola to cool before stirring lime zest through.  Store in an airtight container.

A note on gluten: I've added the gluten-free label to this post.  If you avoid gluten, you'll know better than I do to read labels to be extra sure. But, if you make this with gluten-free oatmeal, then the recipe is gluten-free.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maple Apple Yogurt Cake

I think I'm gonna write a manifesto.  Mein Cake, maybe.

Hear me out. I feel like there are constantly people who are trying to tell you that you can muck around with recipes when you're cooking on the stove, but when you're baking, God help you if stray a hair from the recipe: your cake will explode, your friends will turn on you, and you'll have bad sex for seven years.

Enough of this dogma. There's a better way, people. I don't think I've ever followed a recipe verbatim, and I have a lot of reasons for this. For one, I feel like the pursuit of perfect recipe replication is flawed: your apples might be bigger, your salt might be saltier, and if your'e cooking in my kitchen, your oven will definitely be hotter than the recipe developer's.

The writer of the recipe likely doesn't know that I don't have scallions right now, but that a frizzy mess of chives is growing on my balcony. She doesn't know about the leftover brown rice wearing out its welcome in my fridge, and she'll never know when I replace her spinach with the gorgeous chard I found at the farmers market on Saturday.

She also didn't have my tastes in mind when she developed the recipe. I sneak in extra vegetables. I like more vanilla. I'll pull back heat. And when it comes to desserts, I like them knobby, dark with ingredients like brown sugar and whole wheat flour, and ugly: I'm not one for fussy pastry perfectionism (thought I'll gladly consume it if you make it for me).  I like my baked goods less sweet and more substantial.  Wholesome and haimish.

But most importantly, if I'm just going to clone something that already existed, I really don't see the point.  Tinkering in the kitchen is what makes cooking a creative process for me.  The point is to express a bit of myself in a dish.

So, when I ended up with some apples, some yogurt, and a couple hours free a few Saturdays ago, I decided I needed to make an apple cake, recipe or no.  I wanted as much of the good stuff -- big chunks of apple and walnuts -- as possible, barely held together by a whole wheat batter sweetened with maple syrup and some coconut sugar I'd purchased for Corinne's recipe.

The end result totally hit the spot.  Moist, substantially apple-y, and just as good for breakfast as it was for a snack.  Baking tyrants, get out of the way.  The revolution is coming, and it smells a lot like cake.

First, an apology: This post was originally written as I was baking, straight from impulse, totally unforced, seemingly perfect, nearly ready to publish.  Then, an unfortunate keystroke in the blogger interface led to that perfect post being deleted forever in an instant, taking a little of my heart with it.  I was paralyzed with indignance, and the blog suffered for it.  I'm back.

Maple Apple Yogurt Cake
Loosely adapted from Bakeaholic Mama
Makes 8 servings

1 Tbs ground flax seeds
3 Tbs water
1/2 - 2/3 C walnut pieces
1/2 C applesauce OR 1/2 medium apple + 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 C yogurt
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C coconut sugar, or other sugar of your choice
1/4 C maple syrup
1 egg
1 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 C diced apple (I prefer Granny Smith or other tart, crisp variety)
butter or oil to grease pan

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix flax meal with water in a small bowl, set aside for at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast walnuts in a pan over medium heat, shaking or tossing frequently, until just fragrant.

If you are making applesauce, peel 1/2 apple and process in food processor with cinnamon to applesauce texture.

In a large bowl, mix applesauce, flax mixture, yogurt, sugar, maple syrup, olive oil, and egg to combine.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Stir to just combine.  Add walnuts and diced apples and incorporate evenly through batter.

Grease a standard loaf pan and pour batter into it.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harissa Cauliflower Sloppy Joe: Cooking with Corinne Rice

Have I got a treat for you today.

One of my favorite things to do through this blog is cook with others.  It's always a learning experience, it's a lovely way to socialize, and is the perfect antidote to screaming mouse syndrome.

I recently became part of a particularly awesome Facebook group called inspired women of los angeles.  It's a place where a photographer might seek a make-up artist for a shoot, an artist might ask if anyone knows of a space to show her work, where someone going through a rough patch might seek a little help, or someone feeling especially moved might offer some words of inspiration. The spirit of collaboration is strong with this group. So, when a member posted a few photos from her dabblings in food styling, and they were totally amazing and professional and gorgeous, I had to reach out.

I suggested a collaboration, and a few emails later, I was standing outside an apartment in Venice, groceries in hand, no idea who or what to expect.  I shouldn't have worried.  The door opened, and there was Corinne Rice -- line drawings tattooed on her arms, a mop of black curls, and a sparkly smile -- greeting me with a hug.

Corinne Rice does a lot of things. She is a mostly-vegan chef, with a deep emphasis on nutrition. She hosts pop-up dinners around Venice (with one coming up this Sunday.  Details at the end of the post), she does private health coaching, and is working on healthy living workshops and classes for busy moms to learn to make baby food and 10-minute meals (she's mom to a flirty one-year-old named Atlas herself). She's also self-publishing a cookbook, which will feature her plant-based recipes and will be filled with her gorgeous photos.  Look out for it in early 2015.

The recipe she chose for us to cook together was one from the upcoming cookbook.  We made a cauliflower-based sloppy joe, the foundation of its flavor being a fiery harissa.  As she described the recipe, as well as others she was developing, I at first had trouble wrapping my head around the flavors. Her cooking doesn't really sit in one cuisine or other: Middle Eastern flavors might share the plate with say, southeast Asian ones.  She uses a heavy hand with spice, and her unusual flavor combinations straddle sweet and savory.  By the end of the afternoon, though, I trusted that even her strangest-sounding ideas would taste great.

As we cooked, we talked, and it was such a treat to be able to go deep on things I've always wondered about.  Corinne turned to nutrition as a way out of dark times, and since tackling addiction, she's immersed herself in that world.  Her knowledge of how what we consume affects our bodies is encyclopedic and thorough.  I asked about different ethnic diets purported to be the key to long life (real commonalities between high life-expectancy groups:  sweet potatoes, wine, self-love). I expressed how overwhelmed I can get with conflicting information about what to eat (her sage advice: every body is different, be mindful and intuitive and find what works for you).

Corinne moves easily in her narrow kitchen, jotting down every measurement as she develops a recipe, adjusting her notes as she tastes and polishes measurements. She's made great use of her space, adding shelves below the counter where she stores every spice imaginable in blue mason jars.

I'm no stranger to cauliflower as a meat substitute in recipes, as the delicious Buffalo cauliflower at Mohawk Bend has made me a believer.  Of course, beyond some nominal resemblances to traditional sloppy joe, there wasn't much similarity.  But, it didn't matter.  The dish had a complex flavor, with heat and brightness  from the harissa (her recipe included preserved lemon and fresh mint), and a rich, slightly sweet base of tomatoes and red bell pepper.  With beautiful millet bread from Culver City's Rising Hearts Bakery, it made a filling and satisfying meal.

Her styling is meticulous.  She places an old wood table in the light of a corner window in her bedroom, and fills it with beautiful things picked up from here and there:  vintage plates, an artfully placed cheesecloth, an air plant pulled from a hanging in the house.  With just the natural light and a tall tripod bought used, Corinne creates moody, lush images.

Aside from our main course, she was excited to share a green curry coconut latte with basil whip.  The  drink was at once familiar and strange, warm and comforting.  Corinne has a professional whipped cream dispenser bottle, and got downright giggly dispensing pale green basil-scented whipped coconut cream directly into our hands.  And rightly so: it was delicious.  Here's her photo of the lattes; recipe will be in the book.

First and last photo by Corinne Rice.

After cooking, we took baby Atlas up to the roof and dined, the sun warming us, and a wholesome hand-made meal nourishing us.

Here are some ways to keep up with Corinne:
 - Catch her pop-up supper club this Sunday. The menu is pretty mindblowing (fennel gelato, what?)
 - Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
 - Or just start at her website.

Harissa Cauliflower Sloppy Joe
Recipe by Corinne Rice
Makes 5-6 servings

3 oz dried chilis of your choice (chipotle works great; we used cascabel, and the skins were a little hard to break down)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons preserved lemon
3 Tablespoons mint
1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak the chilis for 3-4 hours. Strain and then remove the stems and seeds.

Toast the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds on a dry skillet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, swirling the pan constantly.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high powered blender until it forms a creamy paste.

Sloppy Joe
2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
3 cups tomato sauce (with no added sugar)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 head cauliflower, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup coconut sugar
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons steak seasoning
1/4-3/4 cups harissa paste (see note)
salt to taste
basil to garnish

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut oil, garlic, and onion. Sautee until onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook for about 30 minutes or until the cauliflower has become very soft, resembling a similar texture to ground beef.

Serve the sloppy joes over your favorite gluten free bread. Garnish with basil.

A note on harissa: Depending on how spicy your harissa paste is and how hot you want the sloppy joes, you may want to add more or less.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Jeweled Carrot Salad: The First International Mehregan Cyber-feast

You guys, I'm pretty excited today.  I feel like I've quietly made something happen, and this post marks it.  You see, I'm very proud of my little blog, but sometimes when I post here, I feel like a tiny mouse yelling out in a huge hall.  I might be saying something good, but who can hear?  

I've wanted to explore writing about Persian food more, and with cookbook dreams having lately re-emerged from deep hibernation (!!), I knew I need to establish expertise, and to find people who cared about it.  After my Thrillist post in July on LA's best Persian food, I started noticing that out in the world, there exists a network of Persian food bloggers. They're out there. I decided I wanted to be part of this world, but how could I do it with the little mouse voice?

Over the last few months, I made a couple one-on-one inroads: I started commenting back and forth with a grad student in Minneapolis named Sara with a blog called Sabzi (she'd found me through Bon Appétempt, bless her heart), and I had a few tentative Twitter interactions with Azita of Fig and Quince, an artist in Brooklyn whose comprehensive and sweetly rendered Norouz posts had caught my eye back in March.  Mouse voice rising.

So you can imagine my delight when recently, I was brought into a Persian Food Bloggers' group.  To learn that there are women and men (well, one man) all over the world who like me, coo over their mothers' old-school cooking practices, get teary-eyed over a whiff of onions sizzling away with saffron, or squeeze in time in an incredibly hectic schedule for preparing elaborate rice dishes just because -- well, these are pretty exciting revelations.  And for these nostalgic diaspora cooks, some of whom even listen to Jason Bentley while they're at it, to bring me into their fold feels pretty awesome.  I decided I wanted something, wasn't sure how to get it, I kept at it, and it found me.

So, I'm beyond proud that today, I'm taking part in a very special event organized by this group: The First International Mehregan Cyber-feast. Mehregan is an ancient Persian festival that marks the fall harvest and honors friendship, affection, and love.  Admittedly, my family never celebrated it, so I don't know what exactly what it involves.  Here at All Kinds of Yum, though, we're big fans of friendship, affection, and love.  And I will always take an opportunity to feast on Persian food (or even just digitally pretend to).  Today, nearly 30 Persian food bloggers all over the world are posting dishes marking this festive day (and I've linked to all of them below!).  They even have a hashtag.  See, here it is:  #mehregan2014. They're very organized, these Persian food bloggers.

For my contribution to this lavish cyber-banquet, I'm riffing off a particularly opulent Persian dish called jeweled rice ("morassa polo"), stealing some of its flavors for a carrot salad.  Pomegranate adds its translucent charm, each seed seeming to be glowing from within.  I was lucky to get my hands on some fresh pistachios, picked right from the tree on a farm in Bakersfield, and added those as well as roasted pistachios and threads of orange zest.  The salad's dressing features orange juice, saffron, and honey, making it lightly sweet and super fragrant.  Overall, the dish feels like fall in Los Angeles: vaguely autumnal, but mostly just bright and sunny.

So, happy Mehregan to you all, and here's to friendship, affection, and love.  This little mouse is roaring with pride, and also very, very hungry.

[Note: Be sure to scroll all the way down and check out some of the tasty treats that Persian food bloggers all over the world have prepared for this day!]

Jeweled Carrot Salad
Makes 4 servings.

Zest of one orange (see note)
Juice of one orange, about 1/4 cup, pulp strained
3 teaspoons champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon pistachio oil (or olive oil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Tiny pinch saffron (see note)
Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch discs
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats, shelled and roasted (I used purchased roasted and salted pistachio nutmeats)
seeds from 1 pomegranate, about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup fresh shelled pistachios (optional)

Prepare vinaigrette: In a bowl, whisk together orange juice, orange zest (if grated), honey, oils, saffron, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.  You'll end up with more than you need, but you can keep it refrigerated and use it for other salads.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add carrots and cook until they are just barely tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain carrots and allow them to cool.

Combine carrots, orange zest, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and about half of vinaigrette in a bowl.  Adjust seasoning.

A note on orange zest: You can zest your orange 3 ways:
 - With a potato peeler, strip off thin pieces, avoiding the bitter white pith, then cut them into tiny strips with a sharp knife.  Most labor-intensive, but no fancy gadgets necessary.
 - With a zester with 4-5 circular holes, create long skinny strips of zest.
 - With a microplane grater, create a fine mince of zest.

With the first two ways, add the zest directly to the carrots.  With the last, add it to the vinaigrette.

A note on saffron: You can pulverize the strands in a mortar and pestle with a bit of sugar for added abrasion, or in a clean coffee grinder.  Not worth it if you’re just using a bit, though:  just put the strands directly into the honey, rubbing them first between your fingers a bit.

Here are all the participants in the Mehregan Cyber-Feast.

Ahu Eats: Badoom Sookhte Torsh
All Kinds of Yum: Jeweled Carrot Salad
Bottom of the Pot: Broccoli Koo Koo
Cafe Leilee: Northern Iranian Pomegranate Garlic and Chicken Stew
Coco in the Kitchen: Zeytoon Parvardeh
Della Cucina Povera: Ghormeh Sabzi
Family Spice: Khoreshteh Kadoo | Butternut Squash Stew
Fig & Quince: Festive Persian Noodle Rice & Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Yummies for Mehregan
Honest and Tasty: Loobia Polo | Beef and Green Bean Rice
Lab Noon: Adas Polo Risotto Style
Lucid Food: Sambuseh
Marjan Kamali: Persian Ice Cream with Rosewater and Saffron
My Caldron: Anaar-Daneh Mosamma | Pomegranate Stew
My Persian Kitchen: Keshmesh Polow | Persian Raisin Rice
Noghlemey: Parsi Dal
Parisa's Kitchen: Morasa Polow | Jeweled Rice
Sabzi: Yogurt Soup with Meatballs
The Saffron Tales: Khorosht-e Gheimeh
Simi's Kitchen: Lita Turshisi | Torshi-e Liteh | Tangy Aubergine Pickle
Spice Spoon: Khoresht-e-Bademjaan | Saffron-scented Aubergine Stew
Turmeric & Saffron: Ash-a Haft Daneh | Seven Bean Soup
The Unmanly Chef: Baghali Polow ba Mahicheh
ZoZoBaking: Masghati

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Second Annual Stone Fruit Feastival and Tournament

[Before we begin, a wildly exciting announcement: this post contains an animated gif!  That I made!  You'll have to get to the bottom of the post to get your treat, by ohhh boy will it be worth it.  Now then.]

Though the temperature in LA is going to peak at over 90 degrees this week, I can finally feel a bit of autumn chill in the air, and I'm excited about it.  Last night I wore long pants to bed for the first time in months, and after this year's unprecedented heat wave, it felt pretty amazing.

I'll always be a summer girl though, and I can proudly say that I did summer right this year.  So many meals were had outside -- under twinkly lights, preceding concerts at the Bowl, at Echo Park lake, on the roof of the Ace (ok, by 'meal' I mean piña colada on that one). I witnessed two gorgeous weddings and sang in one of them (!!), had amazing beach days, just sucked out every juicy bit of summeriness I could.

Fortunately, I have friends who are equally as crazy about summer as I am, specifically about summer fruit.  Last year, some of the same awesome characters who brought us Club Sandwich decided that summer stone fruit is so monumentally important that it deems its own celebration, and thus the Stone Fruit Feastival and Tournament came to be. The grounds are simple: we get together in a shady spot in Griffith Park, people bring food that features stone fruit, we eat and eat, then vote for our favorite savory and sweet dish.

Rachel and I show up early in the morning (she spares me the early shift) to stake out a spot.  It's nice to spend a few quiet minutes in the park setting up, surrounded by trees, as sparse sets of hikers walk by.

Eventually the friends start rolling in.  One of the fun things about the Feastival is that it's an opportunity to mix old friends with new, meet friends of friends I've only heard about, and take some time away from cars and buildings and laptops to slow things down, listen to some stone-fruit themed tunes (oh yes), and enjoy some simple good times.  A lot of these friends happen to be toddlers, and several, like this heartbreaker, have only come to exist since last year's tournament.

People take the competition quite seriously, and this year's offerings were a true feast(ival) of diverse and creative stone fruit dishes.  They included peach pulled pork sliders, a roasted peach and tomatillo salsa and a plum one, a ricotta apricot pie, a nectarine slab pie, two different kinds of paletas, two different chilled stone fruit soups, fudgy cherry brownies (the sweet winner), a Syrian dish of orzo and chicken with apricot sauce (the savory winner), and tons more.  

Oh, and there was a three-legged race.

For my part, I made a sandwich.  I have been dreaming of making Martha Stewart's pressed picnic sandwich for at least 7 years.  I finally realized it'd only happen if I doctor it (like I do every recipe), and fit it to this rare picnic opportunity.  I started by layering some sandwich ingredients inside a ciabatta, veering Italian -- creamy goat cheese, salty prosciutto, peppery salami, and some bright arugula.  But, I added complexity in two stone fruit ways.  First, thin slices of white nectarine added crisp texture and some subtle sweetness.  Then a plum mostarda upped the ante: this tangy-sweet condiment really elevated the sandwich's flavor.

Images 7-11: Michelle Stark

I didn't win this year, but I'm telling you now that third annual is all mine.  For that, I'd appreciate your stone fruit suggestions.  Competition is steep, and I can use all the help I can get.

Pressed Picnic Sandwich with Plum Mostarda
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 10 servings

4 plums
1-3 tsp sugar
2-4 Tbs red wine vinegar
1-3 Tbs whole grain mustard
salt, to taste

1 ciabatta loaf
6 oz goat cheese
3 oz arugula (about half a typical supermarket bag)
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
6 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/4 lb peppered salami

To make mostarda, peel plums and cut into chunks (to make peeling easier, you can cut a small 'x' into the end of the plum and put it in boiling water for about 20 seconds).  Place plums in a small saucepan over medium heat with 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp sugar, 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, and 1 Tbs mustard.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until plums have fallen apart.  Taste, and adjust sugar, vinegar, and mustard as necessary to create a balanced, tangy, and not-too-sweet condiment.  Add salt to taste.

To construct sandwich, slice ciabatta horizontally in half.  Remove soft crumb.  Place bottom crust in the center of a piece of plastic wrap large enough to wrap around entire sandwich.  Spread half of mostarda on bottom crust.  Dot with goat cheese.  In a bowl, toss arugula with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and layer over goat cheese.  Add a layer of nectarine slices, then prosciutto, then salami.  Spread top crust with remaining mostarda and place on top of sandwich.

Wrap sandwich tightly with plastic wrap and press by placing under a stack of plates or heavy skillet, or at the bottom of a full picnic basket, for at least an hour.  Cut into ten slices to serve.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wexler's Deli at Grand Central Market

A lot has happened since we last checked in at Grand Central Market.  Let's take a peek, shall we?

The Market as a whole was named one of Bon Appetit's ten best new restaurants and New York Times coffee authority Oliver Strand deigned to name G&B's iced latte, made not with dairy but with house-made almond-macadamia milk, the best in the country.  The market has gotten a butcher shop, a juice bar, a kombucha bar (did I just say that?), and outposts of Silver Lake's Berlin Currywurst, West Third's Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria, and Santa Barbara's McConnell's Ice Cream.  The long lines multiply and grow, as does the buzz.

And tucked among the shiny new eateries and GCM stalwarts is Wexler's Deli.  LA was a little slow to pick up the trend of nouveau Jewish delis that pay homage to their predecessors, but Wexler's has come to fill that gap.  By necessity, the menu is small, and thanks to chef Micah Wexler's formal training, as much of it as possible is made in that tiny kitchen.  There are a few sandwiches (corned beef, egg salad, tuna salad), house smoked salmon and sturgeon on bagels from Brooklyn Bagels, and occasional black and white cookies and chocolate babka.

But what everyone wants to know is, how's the pastrami?  And more to the point, is it better than Langer's?  Let's talk it out.

Langer's is a civic institution, and with good reason: their delectable pastrami is arguably the best not just in LA, but in the entire country.  I'm glad to report that there's no sense of competitive one-upmanship at Wexler's.  Instead, Wexler, an LA native, has imbued his deli with a respectful reverence for Langer's -- evidenced by the MacArthur Park sandwich, an edible homage to the #19, with its cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing -- coupled with a soft-spoken confidence rooted in his own high-quality product.

The pastrami at Wexler's is very, very good.  They make it right there in the tiny kitchen, unlike Langer's, who parses out the work to an off-site facility (and purportedly uses liquid smoke in their recipe.  Shudder). Its peppery seasoning is properly biting; its smokiness is just right.  The meat is sliced thick, and balances fat and lean well.  The coleslaw on the Macarthur Park is excellent: its fresh brightness not dimmed by too much tangy dressing.  The rye bread isn't perfect -- it's a little dry, and doesn't have the toasty crust of they rye at Langer's -- but it's still perfectly serviceable.

In any city without a pastrami titan looming over it, Wexler's would be a star.  But, and I'm a little relieved to say this, the sum of the parts of the Langer's sandwich still  somehow come together more harmoniously.  Maybe it's the softer bread, which seems to hold the sandwich's ingredients together in a gentle hug, or maybe it's just the alchemy of a recipe that's stood the test of decades.  But my Wexler's sandwich didn't lead to the tears-in-my-eyes ecstasy that the Langer's sandwich reliably delivers.

But, let's not miss the point here: this rookie player in the LA deli game is no slouch.  We've got a solid contender here.

Wexler's Deli is in the Grand Central Market, at 317 S. Broadway.