Thursday, May 31, 2012

Southern Vegetables

We couldn't resist the steam rising off tonight's dinner. James snapped this pic on the way to the table. A Southern style vegetable dinner, flavored -- to be more diet friendly -- with smoky flavored turkey bacon and chicken broth. Long cooking stewed green beans and potatoes, quickly sautéed bitter greens (turnip, radish, spring onions and mustard greens from our own garden) and buttery soft buttermilk cornbread for sopping up the flavorful "pot likker."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It All Started With A Broken Egg

Driving back into town for the ingredient I forgot (I promised to make pickled vegetables for my neighbor's party) it was very close to dinnertime and I had no idea what we were having. Lately I have had a hard time figuring out what to make for dinner and today was no different. Closer and closer to dinner hour it crept with nothing started. Suddenly, while driving to the store,  I thought of an egg I broke and tucked away in a plastic container in the fridge. Broken egg, boiled pasta . . . Carbonara.
Dinner from nothing, our favorite game.
In a small frying pan I sautéed pancetta, onions, garlic and crushed red peppers while the pasta water boiled. I quickly drained the spaghetti and put it back in the still warm pot along with the crisp pancetta mixture along with 1 beaten egg mixed with a splash of milk and grated parmesan cheese. I stirred everything together and the residual heat cooked the egg just enough to fashion a creamy, rich, ready in a minute sauce.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Could Be More American?

Hamburgers, hot dogs, apple pie . . . maybe -- but the truly all-American meal around here? Pizza. Tonight a farmer's market version topped with mushrooms, summer squash, sweet onions, prosciutto and of course cheese. Crispy crust for a post holiday workday dinner.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day With Emily

 Certain days, holidays especially, cry out for special foods. I'm not sure how. My mother certainly never made a rack of ribs. But somehow Memorial Day in my mind means two things: steamed crabs and barbecued ribs. Now that I am a West Coaster, crabs (now dungeness not blue) have become a winter favorite and steamed East coast blue crabs have become a get them when you can food (even while visiting in winter if need be) instead of being marked as a must have at the start of the summer calendar. That leaves ribs. Fatty, meaty, sticky, diet-unfriendly baby back ribs.
We've been here for about six months now but the barbecue is still not set up (a lot of things on the list before the BBQ) so I needed to make our ribs in the oven. But, my friend Emily was driving up for lunch and a visit -- her first time at our new place. This was a meal that had to be worth renting a car for. And yet, I decided to try a new recipe. I doused the ribs with olive oil and seasoned them, on both sides, with S&P and garlic powder. I didn't have the whole cloves the recipe called for so I sprinkled on ground cloves and then added about 8 whole allspice berries, I poured a bottle of beer over the ribs, sealed the pan with foil and baked them in a 300º oven for 2 hours. The meat came out super tender, already coming away from the bone, if not exactly picturesque. It was time for sauce.
The recipe I was following called for 1 cup of peach or apricot jam. But I zeroed in on this particular dish as an excuse to use up the half jars of jelly in my fridge. I mixed apple jelly, peach jam, and honey (to total 1 cup or so), 1 cup of ketchup, 3 TB of lemon juice, a heavy pinch of chiles, and the pan juices from the ribs in a saucepan and let it reduce down into a sticky irresistible sauce for about 20 minutes over medium high heat.
With the ribs meat side down I brushed a good quantity of he sauce over the bones and popped the sheet pan under the broiler for about 7 minutes. I turned the ribs over and brushed on half of the remaining sauce and broiled another 10 minutes. Lastly I brushed the rest of the sauce over the meat again and broiled another 10 minutes until the ribs were deeply browned and just a tad charred. Picture perfect sticky delectable ribs, and only two pans to clean.
"You'll be making those again," James declared.
Our first summer squash of the summer farmer's mart season was a quick braise with yukon gold potatoes, tomatoes and onion flavored with celery leaves, basil, and a few mustard greens from our garden. 
Though Emily is enviable thin she loves desserts. It'd be enough to make me lash out at her if she just weren't so darn nice and so much fun. Sigh. I had to make sure we had something worth the drive. Stone fruits are finally back in season after a long winter of apples and pears. I went a little crazy at the farmer's market so I had plenty of peaches, nectarines and apricots for this mixed fruit cobbler. I mixed 6 cups of chopped fruit with 1 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup flour and layered the mixture into a baking dish. For the batter -- I like a cake topped cobbler instead of the more common biscuit top -- I mixed 2 cups of flour, 1 cups of sugar, 1 melted stick of butter, 1 cup of milk with a splash of vanilla extract and covered the fruit completely. On top of the dough I sprinkled about 1 TB of sugar mixed with a pinch of nutmeg and, because they are in the same family and I thought it might be a tasty combo, slivered almonds. After baking for an hour at 350º we had a Southern style sweet dessert -- perfect for a picnic of barbecue -- starring fresh, ripe, juicy summer fruit.
I sent Emily home with cobbler to go.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shrimp For Supper

These shrimp never see a grill or even a smoker but for some reason in New Orleans and across the south this dish is dubbed, barbecued shrimp. Really it's shrimp in a buttery, garlicky,  ready for crusty bread sauce. I start by melting, until foamy,  a stick of butter in an iron skillet, then I toss in chopped garlic and rosemary. A 1/3 cup of lemon juice (and slices of the juiced lemon too when I have them) and 1/3 cup of worcestershire sauce. I stir that together and add in the peeled shrimp. They only need about 3 minutes to turn pink and be ready to serve. A tasty quick supper that still feels special.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

All American Dinner

Steak, pepper-crusted filet mignon with red wine sauce, steamed broccoli, and baked potato.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Last Minute Frittata

I got home late last night. I've been out of town for more than a week.
"As soon as you're around I get hungry," James said while I was looking in the bare fridge for something to eat.
"How about scrambled eggs?"
"Do you have ingredients for that?" James shot back.
Going one better I turned what we did have -- eggs, the last bits of several cheeses, a box of mushrooms on it's last legs, and a bag of almost too old spinach into a late night, last minute frittata.
Broiled omelettes at bedtime.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Does My Garden Grow?

Even with the move and seemingly endless list of "ranch maintenance" chores, James wouldn't let me miss summer gardening and worked out (along with our friend and carpenter Dennis) these beautiful raised beds. So far we have planted eggplant, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans, arugula, lettuce, collard greens, chard, mustard greens, carrots, leeks, onions, and beets along with the potatoes planted in nearby towers. James says my plants are growing like weeds while I am out of town. I can't wait to cheek on their progress -- and start our harvest.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Was I Waiting For?

An epicenter of LA's Asian noodle scene JTYH, parked in a Rosemeade mini-mall. It seems like years since I first read rave reviews of the knife cut noodles at this unassuming, friendly place.
Much like I saw in China -- as we walked in a woman was dutifully rolling dumpling skins and filling delicious pockets we'd soon be thinking about ordering.

I was hoping for the crisp sesame seed covered buns I grew to love in Shanghai (still have not found them in the states). Eric, a wiling partner in a cuisine exploration -- especially if it involves noodles, and I started with these pan-fried buns. Other than delicious I am not at all sure what the crunchy crust was, but it made a welcome contrast to the doughy, somewhat wonder-bready exterior. Eric declared these the same as he had tasted in Vancouver (another city with great Asian food). The filling was flavorful and juicy but with so much dough it's hard to get a real taste of it. I am still searching for my Shanghai style dumplings.
Although we came for the noodles this spicy dish stole my heart. From the look of the other tables in the room, everyone felt the same. Crispy, piquant, barely meaty lamb ribs showered in scallions and chili peppers. Honestly this was a first for me and I am already craving a return visit. A dish worth traveling for. Delicious.
The house specialty, knife cut noodles. To creates this insanely popular dish a ball of dough is held over a pot while the chef shaves pieces off into the boiling water. The resulting fresh dumplings are generally stir-fried or served in soup. Eric and his wife Shari shared a dish of knife cut noodles with cumin while working in Vancouver and we have been on a search for a similar dish ever since. We have found the noodles, which were chewy and delicious, but the cumin sauce search continues. These noodles get high marks though -- great texture, taste, and just a bit of slip.
Onion pancake. A standard dish served in so many restaurants it's almost a test taste. Admittedly I skipped it -- I just couldn't stay away from the lamb ribs and noodles.
A little green for the table. Not remarkable but tasty "chinese vegetable." I'm not 100% sure what it was but the hint of bitterness was a nice contrast to the fattier dishes.
JTYH has been there waiting for me serving great food for a while. I'm not sure what took me so long. Maybe it's just so poplar with LA eaters I doubted it's greatness. But it is exactly the kind of place I love. No pretension, no fuss, just great food at the right price. Extravagant dinner for two (with food for 3 easily) $32. Thanks Eric.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quick, Simple Spaghetti

I made it home in time to make a quick spaghetti for visiting friends. The cupboards were pretty bare. When I'm low on ingredients I usually turn to pasta. Served simply with olive oil and garlic or layered in elaborate sauces, spaghetti always feels like a homemade meal.
All I found in the fridge was a handful of fresh green beans. I set a pot of water on the stove to boil while I snapped the beans planning to cook them along with the spaghetti (I added them in for the last 5 minutes of pasta cooking time). Meanwhile I reached for one of the jars of tomatoes I canned from last year's plants. and simmered a quick, flavorful, pantry ingredient sauce from red wine, olive oil, oregano, chili peppers, garlic and caned tomatoes. One of our friends is a vegan or else I might have finished the sauce with a dollop of butter. Instead I served up two versions of our hasty supper one with spaghetti, green beans, and hearty tomato sauce the other topped with zesty fresh goat cheese and grated parmesan.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back To Being Me

Today, with a little time to wander I strutted off the San Telmo looking for a place real Argentines eat. Enough of white tablecloth dinners at the high dollar restaurants by my hotel. Enough of being catered to. Enough of elegance and Buenos Aires with "airs".
Desnivel is a simple, dare I say it, no frills restaurant where local families and friends out to share a meal together gather. This is not the white glove service offered in the more exclusive restaurants in town but simple, homey, and -- by the way--  delicious fare offered at reasonable prices for working people -- and anyone who loves good food.
Right by the door, where you will be waiting for a table if you arrive anywhere near meal time, is the mammoth grill that fires many of Desnivel'd entrées and feeds a small counter for fresh made grilled meat sandwiches. The heartbeat of this friendly place and a pretty warm place to stand --- even on a crisp fall Buenos Aires day.
It's probably not much to look at. The decor is pretty much a rag-tag collection of old flags, posters, and an odd photo collection of Argentine film stars, comedians, and soccer players. None of them signed as if they had been customers, just dusty old photos covering a little space on the walls. The food, placed on the red checkered (covered in vinyl) tablecloths with a hurried smile, is the real decor here.

I started with the classic Argentine appetizer and evidence of the food genius of this food centric country, Provoletta. A thick slab of grilled provolone cheese flavored lightly with spices and olive oil. Fondue at it's most elemental taste, Raclette with no potatoes. Thick, oozy, flavorful cheese. I've got to remember to make this at home.

Although I was tempted by the delicious looking special of baked lamb, I felt compelled to compare and contrast. It was my last day, my last Argentine meal for a while after all. I went to order my usual collection of grilled offal -- sweetbreads, intestines, blood sausage. My waiter, though hurried (not at all unpleasant) with many tables to serve, pointed out the restaurant's mixed grill platter. "Less expensive that way." he advised. I ordered the platter and for less money added grilled kidneys to my dinner.
I have a new favorite place. The meats were perfectly grilled. Tender, crispy, delicious. The chimicurri sauce -- the argentine condiment of choice -- was peppery and vinegary and the perfect foil to the fatty, rich-tasting organ meats. Desnivel is my new must visit in BA. It has everything I look for in a bustling, vacation restaurant. Great food, friendly people, and a full menu of dishes you want to try. In spite of the long line on anxious patrons waiting for tables you never feel rushed, always welcome to linger and be one of the restaurant's family.
I'll be back for the baked lamb.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This simple little cookie is an Argentine obsession. Generally two shortbread cookies sandwiched with creamy dulce de leche (a thick milk custard served one everything from ice cream to breakfast pastries) -- although other flavors exist. They come covered with chocolate or meringue, packed in boxes or as single servings. The most famous brand is from the chain of Havanna stores but every cafe offers a version and finds plenty of takers. I brought a box home for James.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Menu Oddity

The first time I saw it I assumed it was a fluke. Chicken "Maryland,"  a dish I've now seen on several Argentine menus, combines the poultry with peppers, corn, ham, and banana sauce. As a native of "The Old Line State" I certainly saw lots of ham and peppers and corn growing up, and of course the Delmarva area is, locally famous for chickens. But, I never recall seeing a banana sauce, much less a banana growing in my home state.
I haven't had the nerve to order this particular Argentine invention yet.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

El Mirasole

Although I usually make the effort to cross town to track down some regional specialty or hidden local treat, some nights a simple place I can walk to is in order. Luckily in Buenos Aires you don't have to go very far. Less than 3 blocks away from my hotel is El Mirasol, one of a small chain (5 locations) in BA serving grilled meats and multiple varieties of fried empanadas.
A bit more expensive than many of the excellent parillas (grill restaurants) in the capitol city, El Mirasol's locations are a favorite lunch spot of businessmen and diplomats -- and open early for dinner (many restaurants don't even open the doors until 8 pm or later), handy for visitors not accustomed to Argentina's late night dinner hour.

The namesake flower on the restaurant's napkins. White tablecloths and careful, formal, French style service are the norm at Argentina's traditional, better restaurants. The informality of cheerful servers introduced by name has, perhaps mercifully, not caught on here.

I started with a "gaucha" (cowgirl) salad, a mix of potatoes, broad beans, beets and tomatoes all tossed in olive oil dressing. Delicious with just a sprinkle of salt.

I started, as I generally do, with grilled sweetbread -- mojellas. These were crisp and sweet and delicious -- though maybe not the mind-blowing flavor of La Brigada's version.

Another of my usual standbys. chinchulines -- grilled intestine. Though super tasty these didn't have quite the exterior crunch I crave. I think this is one dish perhaps better served in the back alley dives and lower end restaurants. It needs no dressing up.

Entraña. Grilled skirt steak. A little rare for my taste but packed with flavor.

After. Again.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Happy Neighborhood Spot

El Sanjuanino is  place that'd be easy to miss (though no one does) if you didn't know what was hidden behind the rustic front doors. Just a short stroll from my hotel is a place generally regarded as making some of the best empanadas in Buenos Aires. And, believe me, there is a lot of competition.
I slipped in and took a chair at the last empty table.
At about $2 each these empanadas -- big pockets of flaky dough stuffed with tasty, homemade fillings -- are some of the best buys in a city bursting with food deals. I started with Carne Picante. Not nearly spicy enough for me but I can't deny the delight I felt at biting in and finding a whole un-pitted olive. El Sanjuanino revels in it's rustic nature, in both decor and recipes.
The Argentines use a knife and fork but I couldn't resist picking up the meaty pie.
 I followed my "spicy" meat empanada with an "empanada frita" -- fried not baked in the blisteringly-hot wood oven and literally bursting with juice in every bite (messy but worth it) and an onion and cheese pie practically overflowing with molten cheese.
As I marveled in the perfectly formed seals of crust a non-stop flow of locals waited at the tiled counter for endless carry out boxes of the beautifully formed pies.
 Fiercely proud of it's traditional regional dishes, El Sanjuanino features locro, a thick corn (maybe hominy) and pork stew originally from the Andes mountain range and now eaten throughout the country, especially to commemorate the anniversary of the May revolution. I hate to miss a specialty (especially a unique regional one) so I dug into a bowl thickened with beans and cornmeal and flavored by smoked meats and Argentine chorizo. This is deep, rich, almost funky strong flavor that cries out for a winter day. Not for the meek but not to be missed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again? Or Mistaken Ordering?

 I am no vegetarian.
My last trip to Argentina I had a mind-blowingly delicious steak at tourist and local stalwart La Brigada. Delicious though it is, La Brigada is not generally the kind of restaurant I frequent. It is fairly expensive in a country where good, affordable, delicious food is everywhere. The menu has an English translation (which generally sends me running for the hills). La Brigada is not a secret dive. The waiters are all charming, serve with a flourish and generally speak English. More strikes against it.
But, even Anthony Bourdain could not argue with the beef I remember from my last trip.
 Seated for an early lunch I quickly perused the near endless list of beef, lamb, goat cuts and offal available.
Mojellas, Argentine style grilled sweetbreads, are the food I crave and can rarely find outside of the land of the gaucho. These are maybe the best I have ever had -- and believe me, I've had them everywhere. Crisp exterior, delicate creamy interior, brought to life with just a squeeze of lemon. I think my eyes rolled back in my head after just one bite.

I should have stopped there.
 Next from the a la carte menu of grilled delights, chinchulines de cordero -- grilled lamb's intestines. Why did I decide to branch out? I usually order the beef version of these crispy, fatty, crunchy oddities and love them. The lamb version, at least as served at La Brigada,  just don't have the same depth of flavor, the same ratio of chewy to brittle, the same overwhelming whoosh of delight.
Clearly I was flustered when the waiter questioned my choice to not order, as he called it, "meat." I capitulated and allowed him to steer (no pun intended) me towards bife de chorizo, a monster sized strip loin steak.  I know better. This more than man-sized cut did not have the toothsome flavor of thinner or more exercised Argentine cuts I prefer (and will be tasting soon). In fact -- in a first for any steak I have had in this beef loving country -- La Brigada's offering was actually dry and chewy. I was so shocked I left it standing on the plate. Another first.
I blame myself. Like a restaurant rookie I ordered fast and -- in a hurry to get to an afternoon meeting, didn't order well. I'll go back to La Brigada and try again. In the meantime I will linger in the memory of the most delicious sweetbreads ever -- and make sure to order them again.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Baked Stuffed Potatoes

Delicious oven-baked potatoes layered with chopped ham, broccoli and milky, creamy Teleme cheese.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Simple Dinner Salad

There was so much going on today at the house I couldn't be sure when James would be ready for dinner. I needed something hearty (lots of digging and trenching) that could still be put together on short notice -- and didn't need to be hot so I could get dinner prepped in advance. I settled on a dinner salad with lentils, arugula, goat cheese, and butternut squash roasted with olive oil, S&P and a sprinkle of chili powder. When James came in I mixed all the prepared ingredients together, sprinkled a little mint on top and tossed his salad in a tangy balsamic, oregano vinaigrette.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring Spaghetti

Finally. Relief from the endless stream of winter vegetables. We love broccoli, cauliflower and kale but come this time of year I am anxious to see a glimpse of spring in the market -- tender fresh peas and finally crisp green asparagus.
I started with chopped onion sautéing in a good quantity of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Next I tossed in the cut asparagus and about 1/2 tsp of crushed red chiles. After another 5 minutes the asparagus was barely tender and I added in the drained pasta, a splash of pasta cooking water,  a couple tablespoons of fresh goat cheese, and fresh thyme. After a few turns in the pan the cheese melted into a creamy, delicate sauce.
A simple dish to highlight the flavor of spring.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Middle Eastern Meatballs?

James would probably have been just as happy -- or maybe even happier -- with a plain old burger. But I get bored and have to branch out now and then. Tonight it was just a small stretch. Kefta, Middle Eastern fried meat patties made with seasoned beef or often lamb. I mixed cumin, parsley, coriander, cayenne, S&P, grated onion and a pinch of cinnamon into ground beef and formed oblong patties to pan fry in a combination of olive oil and butter. I served the crisped kefta on top of saffron scented rice with a cucumber celery salad, hummus, and, slipping just a little further East, spicy Harissa, a tunisian fiery flavorful hot sauce.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rainy Day Soup

It's a little cold and drizzly up here today. The dogs are laying around the house keeping warm and dry. We are too.
Nothing warms up a day like homemade soup.
There was a small head of cabbage in the fridge and that seemed like a good place to start a hearty vegetable soup. I started by sautéing chopped onion and garlic in olive oil. Next I tossed in diced celery and carrots and let all the vegetables soften in the pan.Shredded cabbage went in next and then I added in cooked white beans (I had some tucked away in the freezer) and a good quantity of chicken broth and several large handfuls of chopped spinach. All of that simmered away for about 30 minutes and then I added in about a cup of fregola, the Sardinian rolled and toasted pasta. After 20 more minutes the pasta was tender and the soup ready for a rainy afternoon.