Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I entered a lentil recipe contest. There'll be pictures of other eats here, as soon as I find my camera. For now, enjoy the lentils.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The best of this, the worst of that _ it feels like most of what you read this time of year are these superlative sorts of arguments that take place in polar realms. Nothing like a good list, I suppose. Maybe that's why I was really excited to see an especially listy gift come into play at our annual office giftswap. We have this really fun tradition of stealing eachother's bounty -- there are a lot of rules that you don't need to know to understand that I swooped in and stole a cookbook today from a sweet man who works in the back office. He looked fairly shocked that I robbed him. Don't worry, he got another gift.

And I got the new Food & Wine cookbook, which takes the BEST recipes from the 25 BEST cookbooks of the year and compiles them all into a very attractive cookbook. That's a double-best, for those keeping score. No more than a few Food Network cookbooks made the list (Emeril, Bobby Flay and the Neelys), and they are on equal footing with recipes from Thomas Keller, Lidia Bastianich and Gerald Hirigoyen (whose tapas book has made me swoon at the store a number of times, though I have yet to buy it).

Some recipes that have already caught my eye:
7 1/2 Hour Lamb Malbec with Rosemary and Lemon
Thomas Keller's buttermilk fried chicken (honest to goodness, the picture made me a little weak-kneed)
Quinoa Paella with Chicken & Chorizo
Cafe Au Lait Creme Brulee
Cinnamon & Cardamom Buns

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The fruitcake has always offended me. Those strange, chewy, brightly colored bits inside that dry brick of so-called cake. I like fruit. I like cake. People shouldn't do such things to things I like.

That said, fruit desserts are frequently a disappointment in my thinking. In the sacred hierarchy of the course eaten last, I'm a custard/panna cotta/flan fan first, a chocolate fan second and somewhere down the line, close to last, I am a fruit dessert fan. I feel fairly certain I could go the rest of my life without eating another piece of apple pie and be quite content.

But I've been messing around with that orange cake recipe I found in Saveur, which I thought might make a good cake base for pineapple upside down cake. I had a mango that I thought I'd try as a cake topping instead of pineapple, but the mango I poked at for days went from hard and unripe to rotten in the space of what must have been one golden hour, so I missed my shot. Instead I segmented an orange and added some currants and golden raisins to a bit of melted butter and brown sugar in the bottom of the pan. I should have used more oranges, but I was timid because I feared they might burn or stick or something. But they worked out really nicely. And I think I've got a nice fruit dessert recipe that I'll keep.

Orange cake, with currants, golden raisins and orange segments.

I also tried to make kimchi again. I didn't have an Asian pear, so I added a couple sliced red bell peppers for a bit of sweetness and crunch. Otherwise, I followed this recipe to a T.

I tasted it today and the cabbage hadn't softened quite enough to meet my liking, so I added a bit more rice wine vinegar. I suspect that the "quick" style recipe means there's not going to be as much fermentation as I'd like. We'll see.
I feel completely certain now that the croque madame is not a chicken sandwich.

The only Food Network show that I DVR is "Alex's Day Off." (I'm pausing for applause. That there's only one DVR commitment to this channel is something of an achievement for me.)

This morning, I found that she does the croque with a fried egg, too! Her sandwich is, of course, a touch fancier than my little open-faced eggy sammy, but not by much. She basically makes a cheesy bechamel to put inside two slices of bread, along with sliced ham. And on top, along with more bechamel and gruyere, she likes a perfectly fried egg.

There's no sign of a couple ingredients I tossed in, but I do like my Dijon mustard and lemon on this sandwich, so maybe I'll incorporate those into my bechamel instead of bay leaves like Alex does... Hm, actually, I wonder if lemon juice would curdle the bechamel or something.

One thing for certain: she also makes a champagne cocktail called a French 75 (a raw sugar cube, splash of gin, orange juice, lemon juice and champagne). I want one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"And the winner is: lowered taxes and more spending. Wait, that wasn't an option. That would be like 'Hey, you know how we'll all get in shape after New Year's? Laziness and bacon.'"
-- Jon Stewart (Daily Show, Dec 7, 2010)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In a rare break from a recent spate of Zone bar and instant ramen meals, I went to Loteria Grill tonight before we went to a show in Hollywood.

The Michelada Clasica made me swoon. I love Mexican food and beer, and I especially love it when my beer tastes like Mexican food. The Michelada is a beer cocktail served on ice in a salt-rimmed pint glass, and it should always be served the way Loteria Grill does it: with Worcestershire sauce, Tapatio, Maggi (which I had to Google: it's boullion!) and fresh lime juice. It really hits the spot on a hot August day, but the spicy-ness of the Tapatio warmed me up tonight.

The tacos I chose from the broad-ranging menu were easily the tamest: shredded beef and carnitas. I prefer the carnitas at Yuca's but the beef at LG was juicy and tender. On the way home, I told myself that next time I'm getting a shredded beef burrito _ which is something I never order. Though, I might be too curious to order something I've already tried.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In images: Munzallet Bi Aswad

Step 1: Bake a layer of eggplant. I think next time I'll use split Japanese eggplants for this.

Step 2: layers of ground beef, fresh tomato slices, green bell peppers. And under it all, half-baked eggplant.

Out of the oven, served on (overcooked, oops) rice.

Extreme close-up: the eggplant mushed up a lot.

I topped the whole thing with a mess of pomegranate seeds, scallions and fresh mint.
Just got back from Jon's Marketplace, this crazy multi-ethnic grocery store at Hollywood and Vermont.

It's in an interesting borderland of hospitals, an art park and the big Scientology center, a swath of land that lies between the snazzy, celebrity packed Los Feliz neighborhood and the interesting side of Hollywood (with Zankou, Arclight, Amoeba...).

Shopping carts are not allowed to leave the store, which means they don't need to have employees lurking in the parking lot gathering them, and they don't need to worry about people taking them beyond the lot itself. There are a few homeless people in that part of the neighborhood.

The employees speak no English and are extremely nice. Everyone in the store is a little older, a little foreign-er and the stuff in there is considerably cheaper than your average grocer. The bell peppers are also a little smaller, the meat displays are at least 30 years old and today's promotional sample was Hot and Spicy Ramen bowls. I was served by a very bored young woman who was slapping around a small microwave next to a stack of styrofoam bowls. The cheap, awkward to eat soup was hot and spicy, and each bowl is 440 calories. I took 2 for a dollar.

Today's finds at the store are all the things you could find in my mom's kitchen growing up: barbari bread, pita bread, Persian sour cherry jam, pomegranate syrup, bulgarian feta cheese, royal basmati rice, dried fava beans, Lea&Perrins. There's also King Kelly California Orange Marmalade, which I accept no substitute for now that I'm back in California and spoiled for access. It's less bitter, fresher and more local than Dundee's.

There's also a slew of Goya products that make me feel like I'm back in New York: their Manzanilla olives are small, firm, green and perfectly briny but not too salty. Capers and roasted peppers, to stock the pantry.

I realized recently that hummus is the only Arab food that I regularly make, though my Persian pantry should be amenable to a lot of crossover. I have this really beautiful cookbook called "The Arab Table," and in it was a recipe I've been wanting to try because it uses one of my favorite ingredients: eggplant.

The Munzallet Bi Aswad seemed like it might be a forgiving recipe because author May Bsisu says it's "prepared slightly differently from one country to the next." The version she makes (and I made this afternoon) is the Syrian version, which is flavored with pomegranate syrup and served over white rice.

Basically, I roasted some eggplant, topped it with browned ground meat, onions and garlic, on top of that a layer of tomato slices, and on top of that sliced green bell peppers. Cover it all with blend of beef stock and pomegranate syrup. Bake in the oven for an hour, which is what I'm doing now. I'll post pictures after it's ready for supper.

(Update: I messed with the recipe, adding 2 tsp pomogranate syrup and 2 tbsp tomato paste, inspired by my friend Amanda's recent story about a fix her mom suggested to a completely different recipe. Gave sauce much more body and flavor. )

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a less ambitious night: I made a sandwich favored by a certain girl detective, grabbed a handful of olives and quit the kitchen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter treats

Went to Trader Joe's to pick up my groceries for page 70 of the May 2010 Saveur tonight... came home with a few stowaways.

They didn't have fresh okra (or carrots, strangely), so I'm going to stew eggplant instead. I picked up some holiday delights -- gingerbread coffee is already scooped into the coffeemaker, set timer to one happy morning. Bring it, Tuesday. I also picked up a holiday sweet: the Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows were winking at me.

I got together a bunch of things for the Saveur recipes, and a few staples, but as I wandered the uncharacteristically clear aisles at the Silver Lake store, I realized that I was really craving something special. Something fast and easy. I tossed some of their cave-aged Gruyere and a loaf of the cracked wheat sourdough into my cart and decided that tonight's the night that I perfect the croque madame.

I had always understood this French dish to be your basic piece of buttered toast with gruyere and a sunny side-up egg. But to be sure of proportions and to read up on tips, I went to the bookshelf. I pulled down my French heavy-hitters: Feast of France and Jacques Pepin's Table. Though FoF has a recipe for nettle soup and pig knuckles, nothing on the eggy sammy du jour. And the Pepin book only had a recipe for croque monsieur with a note about how it could be turned into a madame by adding chicken.

Say what? I always thought the croque madame was a bit of an inside joke, with the eggs being symbolic of bosoms. I guess I could look it up now on the interwebs, but who cares. My croque will have no coq in it. I make the calls in my kitchen.

I didn't give up until I crossed poultry in a croque again in one of my weirder cookbooks, "The Best of Bon Apetit." The book was published the year of my birth: 1979.

The following things appear on its cover:
A roaring fire. A basket of green and red apples. A massive ladle. Large silver bowls of tomato soup with lemon slices floating in the middle. A bowl of clean white button mushrooms. The fixings for BLTs in a glass tray. Suspiciously light colored wine. An earthenware jug.

In case that doesn't paint a picture:
Peeshie gives an approving sniff.

So I gave up and improvised. It came out really great.

Croque Madamoiselle Chezmo
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Melt 1 pat of butter in frying pan, toast 1 slice sourdough bread. Set aside on oven sheet.
3. Fry egg in a little more butter.
4. Before yolk sets up too much, slip egg onto piece of toast.
5. Grate gruyere and parmesan with small grater, mix in half a teaspoon of Dijon and a big squirt of lemon juice. Sprinkle over egg, toast.
6. Put under broiler for a few minutes.

It was awesome with a cucumber-tomato salad.

Then I got ambitious. I made the Saveur Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake tonight, the first of four dishes I was hoping to make from that particular page I liked in the May 2010 issue. It's making the house smell so awesome _ which almost makes me forget that I'm the horrible sort of baker who had to fish an eggshell out of the batter right before it went into the oven. Sigh. Hopefully the cake is not crunchy.

Is it supposed to be so tall?

Do you see the face of Papa Smurf on this thing?

The cake is cooling now. A last glaze of orange juice mixed with confectioner's sugar is supposed to go on in 15 minutes. I'm thinking of adding one tiny touch my own: sliced almonds on top.

(Update: cake is pretty great tasting! I think I should have let it cook a bit longer for a drier crumb. Next time 45-48 minutes at 350.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sometimes, my favorite foods are prepared little salads out of things hanging around the house. It feels nice to use up the pantry stuffs, and it tends to be fairly healthy. It also feels nice to just chop through a bunch of stuff sometimes. Roughly, of course.

Tonight's odds and ends salad was awesome. Combined a couple pantry items from Trader Joe's: a package of prepared beluga lentils and yellowfin tuna in olive oil (drained). Added chopped celery ribs and leaves, persian cucumber, scallions, italian parsley, green olives, lemon juice, cooked green peas and grated parmesan.
Served with toasted barbari and sangak bread, feta cheese, cardamom-black tea with lemon.

Oh, and I made a grocery list for page 70 of May's Saveur. I'm thinking the okra would be pretty great over polenta. And maybe the orange scented olive oil cake would be a good alternative base for a pineapple upside-down cake. And what if it was mango upside-down cake? Hm.
I've been lucky enough to spend a little bit of time in Italy.

The summer after eighth grade my family went to Italy for the summer, for a reunion of my dad's family. It may seem extravagant, but everyone agreed it was necessary -- the family had dispersed to many corners of the world and, after decades apart, was losing touch. My grandfather and aunt came from Tehran. Two of my uncles came from Sweden and France. My cousins came from Canada. And we all converged on my uncle's home in the outskirts of Valdottavo, a small town in the Italian countryside.

My uncle Dariush, the oldest brother in my father's large family, lives there in a 3-story house he built himself, high up on a hill among olive trees. He is a painter, though he went to Italy to study to become an architect (and has degrees to that effect). Among us were the bits of family we'd collected along the way. We met Dariush's daughter Lucia, a gorgeous child of three or four, who was learning many languages at once but didn't know any very well yet. We met Lucia's mother, a German tai chi instructor who had asked my mother to buy Grateful Dead albums for her (which my mother did, cringingly, at Costco). Her brother came along for the ride, and slept in a tent. We traveled all over Italy, spent a week in Florence, a week in Venice, nights in Lucca at a restaurant my uncle had designed. They had the most delicious pasta. Other days were spent at the beach, or making tiramisu with family friends.

But I digress. I tried foods that seem absolutely common now, but which were totally new to me. Panini. Gelato. Prosciutto. Fresh mozzarella. These weren't foods that we trafficked in, in my very sheltered upbringing in the Southern California suburbs. There were no drive-thrus in Italy. There was no orange cheese, but my mother prepared for this event by bringing a loaf of Tillamook (also a Costco purchase), packed in ice, which was disparagingly ballyhooed by my uncle who lives in Southern France. He ate the smelliest, runniest cheese I'd ever seen.

Memories of that summer, and the subsequent short trips I've made to Italy, form my understanding of Italian food. The rustic, non-spaghetti house variety. And I like non-dinner Italian meals -- any place that doesn't serve a fantastic Italian breakfast (not that I want to give Pizza Hut or Olive Garden any ideas) is not a place I want to eat Italian. That's why I love Little Dom's in Los Feliz. This morning, after reading the paper at the bar while sipping a spicy, vegetable-y virgin bloody mary, I had the perfect breakfast. I'll tell you what I had, but I'll preface it by saying this: it doesn't matter. Everything there makes me happy because they take all the extra steps of making their own bread, their own wine, their own pastas... Anyways, I got the poached eggs al funghi, which have chewy, rehydrated porcinis and herb-y hollandaise. And a side of their thick wild boar bacon -- I would not want to wrestle with the tough beast that must have given his life for that chewy bit. As my friends said: it tastes almost like ribs. And I was there with people who'd never been there before, so there were tastes of rice balls and the wood-fired potatoes. Dreamy.

And now, I'm engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: leafing through cookbooks and magazines while C-SPAN is on. The fireplace is on, with its soft gas hiss, and my vain cat is admiring herself in the mirror. I recently dug up a 6-month old issue of Saveur. On the cover there's a plate of golden, crusty macaroni and cheese that is much more appetizing now, in November's chill, than it was in May. We've even had rain this Thanksgiving.

I'm thinking that I'd like to make every recipe on page 70 of this issue:
_ Tuscan Bean Soup
_ Stewed Okra (but I don't think it's in season... maybe I could make eggplant with this recipe)
_ Artichauts A La Barigoule (artichoke hearts stewed in olive oil)
_ Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake

maybe that'll be my assignment this week. Or maybe I should open to a page in the Frankie's cookbook... options. options.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's a rare occasion that I invent a new dish. Even less often, I'll attempt a terribly difficult culinary feat. Typically, I don't deviate much from tried and true recipes dug out of my cookbooks and magazines. That, or sandwiches. And living on a writer's salary means I don't get to dine out as often as I like, or go to all the fanciest spots when I do.

So, why would I start a food blog?

In part, I'm hoping the blog will be a memory aid. I'd like to remember all the things I've savored and the gray file upstairs has proven unreliable. And all the matchbooks or receipts or little bits of clutter I've collected over the years ends up tucked into forgotten drawers and dusty bowls. And it never jogs the ol' brains. So, with this blog, maybe I'll finally be able to keep track of the great little ramen spot in little Tokyo, with the name I always forget. Or the wonderful sushi place I like to go to when I visit Portland, Oregon. I also hope to develop and record my house's recipes and methods, my traditions and rituals. Every woman who takes pride in the kitchen she keeps has her traditions, be it licking peanut butter off a silver spoon over the sink after a bad day at work, or brewing 8 cups of coffee a day for a one-resident home.

The blog might amount to the marginalia in my cookbooks. Scattered thoughts and observations. Truly random observations that leave important things out. And I figure there will be some unflinching reviews of results in my kitchen and the kitchens of others. Though typically, I only really get inspired to write up raves, like I have on and off over the years on

For now, welcome to ChezMo, my culinary home.