Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I'm home alone tonight. Fe is here, but thankfully he is asleep.

When I'm alone, my meals fall into the same categories on a regular basis... Canned fish, toast, eggs, chicken, and lots of whatever vegetables are in the fridge.

That's a list that does not make for sexy food writing, but honestly I've been sick of sexy food writing since the 90's.

And to sidetrack for just a second... any food writing that even hints at any type of "goodness" gives me a strong gag reflex. What a hideously generic way to describe something... the cheesy goodness, the sticky goodness, or worse... the gooey goodness. Yuck.

These days my fridge is filled with vegetables, thanks to the CSA that I belong to. I'm almost struggling to keep our consumption of vegetables on track, so that we aren't dragging to finish the previous week's bounty.

Lots of dandelion greens and mizuna.

Mizuna is a japanese dandelion green that is less hardy and a fair bit less bitter. Unless dandelion greens are very young, they are really best cooked. Mizuna on the other hand does very well raw in salads, or cooked.

The preparation that I used tonight was so simple and probably not really worth reporting, but I can't help myself. It was really pretty great. You can do this with dandelion greens or mizuna. For some reason, I was just loving the moisture-filled stems of the mizuna tonight.

Sautéed Mizuna
Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add some chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Let it sizzle a bit, and then add a washed and chopped bunch of mizuna. Stir to coat the mizuna with the oil. Add some chicken stock and let simmer until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

I know, not even a recipe really.

So, to the menu tonight, add some leftover cumin and coriander roasted broccoli and whole grain toast with imported tuna and well, you get the idea... very in keeping with my usual Wednesday nights.

Stay tuned for a bit on our visit to Church and State in downtown Los Angeles, and very likely a short rib recipe. And, oh yes, carrots.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Braised Celery, Not an Entree

Braised celery is not the perfect dish to serve as an entree, even if you are tired and your husband is not that hungry.

Trust me. It may be delicious, but it looks lousy all by its lonesome on the plate with nothing to keep it company but a bowl of leftover carrot soup.

I tried to pull this off, and it is not a good idea.

The celery was going to be a side for some lamb chops, and that would have been a hit. I just didn't realize that I would be moving so slowly and that Molly Steven's dish from
All About Braising would take so long. Occasionally, I forget to read all the way to the end of the recipe...

Ah ha! The celery cooks for an hour and fifteen minutes!

So I short-changed the cooking time by about fifteen minutes. Sometimes I get sloppy and desperate at the end of the night. Be forewarned! I believe the fifteen minutes, and better stringing of the celery, would have made all the difference.

I also thought I had been so thorough with my handy paring knife. Nope. Next time –– and there will be a next time, because this dish is good –– I will use a peeler and get all of the fibrous strings off of those stalks. There is always so much to learn, even about something as basic and undervalued as celery.

Just a quick note. Molly Stevens is amazing and her book, All About Braising, is one of the books I use the most regularly with the most confidence. If you don't already own this book, please drop everything and pick up a copy.

Winter is the perfect time to start a relationship of this sort.

Braised Celery with Crunchy Bread Crumb Topping

2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 head celery (about 1 3/4 pounds)
1 large shallot or 1 small onion finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup grated Gruyere
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs made from day-old bread

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a large gratin or baking dish using half of the butter.

Wash and trim the celery . Tear the stalks from the head. you will need 10 to 12 large outer stalks. When you reach the tender stalks of the heart, stop tearing. Reserve the heart. Rinse the stalks thoroughly. Trim off the top part of each stalk where it branches into leaves. Set the tops aside with the heart. Using a vegetable peeler, thoroughly scrape away the outside of each stalk to remove all the fibrous strings. Cut the stalks into 4-inch lengths. Arrange the the celery in a single layer in the baking dish. Some overlapping is okay.

Finely chop the reserved celery and leaves. Melt the remaining butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, thyme, and chopped celery heart and leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half, not more, about another 4 to 6 minutes.

Pour the celery-shallot mixture over the celery stalks. Cover with foil and place in the middle of the oven for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The celery should have collapse and feel very tender when prodded with a knife.

Remove the celery from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the celery and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and top is crusty and brown, about 10 minutes more.

Serve hot or warm.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I've been wanting to join a C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) organization for at least a few years now. I've looked, but surprisingly here in sunny Los Angeles there were not many options.

Thankfully this has changed. C.S.A.s allow you to partake in a local farmer's harvest on a regular basis. You are essentially a shareholder in the harvest. You pay a set amount and receive a box or bag of produce on a regular basis.

I signed up with
Silver Lake Farms. That is about as local as you can get, considering we live in Echo Park. Friday was my first pickup. The haul was as follows:

arugula (my favorite!)
dandelion greens
green garlic
red onion

This is a lot of fun! You get a big surprise every week. It challenges you to use whatever is at hand. It's a way better deal than shopping at Whole Foods!

A fantastic book to have in your collection and at the ready after joining a C.S.A. is
Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. She organizes it by vegetable, so that you are able to simply flip to the Carrot section to find the perfect recipe to take advantage of the carrots, cilantro, and red onion from your C.S.A. sack.

So here we go: Carrot and Cilantro Soup.

I made this soup for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a perfect puree. Very smooth and carroty and the cilantro salsa that you garnish it with is bright and spicy. It is not too sweet as some carrot soups can be.

The version I made yesterday was perhaps a little too light on carrots and a little too heavy on potatoes. It was still delicious, but I've changed the recipe a little bit to help avoid yesterday's flaws.

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

1 white onion, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons butter
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
salt and pepper
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1/4 pound cilantro
1 small red onion
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers
juice of 1 lime

Stew the onions in the butter in a covered heavy pot over low heat. Once the onions are quite soft, add the carrots and potatoes, salt generously and continue to stew, covered, for an additional 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock to cover, and simmer until the vegetable are cooked through. Remove pot from the heat.

Reserve a handful of the cilantro for the salsa, and throw the rest into the pot. Puree the soup and strain it through a medium sieve. Do not leave out the straining step! It makes all the difference. Just ask Thomas Keller! Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Make a little salsa with the red onion, cilantro, peppers, and lime juice. Chop it all up and stir it together with a little salt.

Heat the soup until warm, ladle into bowls, garnish with salsa and serve.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Two Quick Bites

One good thing... My memory card for my new camera should be here tomorrow. That means pictures with the posts are coming shortly.

Something worth noting... Tonight I made Fe a scrambled egg in white truffle butter. He ate the whole thing. No complaints.

The kid has good taste.

2010 Saveur 100, #25

My absolute favorite issue of Saveur each year is the
Saveur 100. It sparks a crazy desire in me to consume, cook, and splurge on many of the items listed. How else would I have ended up with dried mulberries in my pantry? I forget which year that was...

This year did not disappoint. I must get a hold of #93, Lingham's Hot Sauce. I know with all certainty that I need flour sack towels, #60, so that I can finally dry my wine glasses lint-free.

I was especially delighted to stumble over #25,
The New York Times International Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. My mother has been cooking from that book for us my entire life.

When I went to college and first started to cook for myself, I wanted to follow in my mother's footsteps. She was my inspiration –– the best cook I knew. I scoured the used bookstores looking for her cookbooks.

I've had my own copy for years, copyright 1971. That's one year before I was born. It's categorized by countries and offers recipes from Barbados, Dahomey, France, Morocco, Trinidad and beyond.

Tonight I'm cooking from the Japan section... Beef Teriyaki I.

Perhaps the name won't win you over, but the simplicity of the recipe should. I've been eating it forever. Here's my take:

Beef Teriyaki I

1/3 cup sake or dry sherry
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. grated or minced fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. flank steak

Combine the sake, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and lemon and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the flank steak whole and marinate for a half hour or longer.

Take the meat from the marinade and pat dry.

Heat the marinade in a small pan. This will be your sauce. Don't be alarmed by how thin the sauce is. It will still be delicious.

Cook the meat under the broiler for approximately four minutes per side until meat is cooked no more than medium rare. If you are afraid of your broiler, like I am, feel free to cook in a pan on the stove. Hot pan, vegetable oil... four minutes per side until just past rare.

Slice against the grain and serve over rice with sauce.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Hungry Monkey

I'm trying to keep track of what I'm doing. Or what I'm trying to do.

I make a mental note to do at least one vegetarian meal a week or to braise some cabbage or to freeze a batch of pesto and –– poof! –– it's gone.

There are a lot of distractions around here. Two dogs, two cats, one husband, and a 13 month old. I lose my head so easily. Mental notes just do not work for me. The last post is dated about a year and a half ago. So yes... distractions.

Speaking of our 13 month old... I've been reading
Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton. (I want to instill our passion for food in our son.) This book is a fun quick read about Amster-Burton's experience feeding his young daughter.

I'll admit it. He inspired me.

I made his no-brainer recipe for chicken breast and mushrooms today. Big hit with me, but it was spit all over the kitchen by Fe. I'm super glad that I decided to feed him in just his diaper today (70+ degrees in L.A. today!). What a mess!

That's okay. I was also prepared to make Amster-Burton's recipe for carnitas. I was skeptical when the pork was first starting to simmer on the stove in its bath of tequila and chicken broth. It smelled, frankly, too porky and gamey.

Well, 2+ hours later, I was quite pleased with the tangy pig in the pot. I was enthused! Decided to share it with Fe for dinner. Ugh. So not interested. In fact he was quite the pain in the ass during his dinner this evening. Food everywhere. Humph and Gus were thrilled. I put the kid to bed.

I want more time to cook, more time with my son, and less time doing dishes. I need to develop a plan for efficiency. That plan is nowhere in sight at this point.

I did however manage to enjoy cooking this evening. The carnitas are nearly done, just need to do a last minute fry-job. I made Amster-Burton's recipe for rajas, but found it to be just roasted poblanos.

I pulled up a variation of Rick Bayless's rajas on the internet and put Amster-Burton's poblanos to good use along with some onions, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and chicken broth.

There is a small pot of black beans, onions, garlic, and cumin simmering on the stove waiting for a handful of chopped cilantro to bring it to life. The tortillas are waiting for some heat.

I'm drinking a little glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and I'm waiting for the screech of the gates outside to let me know that my man is home and that we can eat.


This dinner was fabulous! The carnitas recipe is spectacularly simple and the flavor is outstanding. My sister tried them the third day as leftovers and is now craving them. We may do a repeat on Wednesday night.

The rajas are a must. And just one last note... grease the corn tortillas up a little bit with olive or vegetable oil or the whole thing might seem a little dry.