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 Yelp.com.

For now, welcome to ChezMo, my culinary home.