Monday, July 25, 2011

The River Café's Strawberry Lemon Sorbet

On a weekend with no set plans, it is always a good idea to come up with a project. Now, that was not always the case, but since we have a toddler in our midst we must be prepared to be terrifically entertaining at all times. Baking cookies is a hit with Fe., but who wants to turn on the oven in the middle of summer?

Not I, said the fly.

An equally thrilling -- and I don't use the word lightly -- kitchen adventure is to mix up a vat of ice cream. There literally were squeals of delight throughout Sunday's frozen dessert caper. This is what people call a win-win situation, because Fe. was beside himself and I finally have my very first dessert to tell you about.

Hurray! It's about time.

So this wasn't technically ice cream. There wasn't any dairy in sight. It was sorbet, and a genius sorbet at that.

I recently stumbled across an exciting new column on Food 52 called Genius Recipes. The idea is to share recipes that are the best of the best, recipes that change how we cook and how we view cooking altogether. The first column touts the Strawberry Lemon Sorbet from The River Café Cookbook as life changing.

And it is, even if just for getting me to make my first batch of sorbet ever. It's also pretty stunning that just three ingredients -- strawberries, lemon and sugar -- can produce something so wholly marvelous. There is a bit of washing up afterwards, but really the process is a cinch. Fe. got to participate throughout. I now see pushing the pulse button on the food processor in an entirely different light.

One whole lemon (pith and peel included, just no seeds, please) and 2 whole cups of sugar (yikes!) are whizzed in the food processor to form a puckery slush, worthy of many finger dips. The mixture gets scraped into a bowl, and then the strawberries get their chance with the pulse button. The purée is added to the slush to the sound of many gleeful yelps. You taste for acidity and add the juice of one to two lemons depending on your appreciation of sour and sweet.

The dazzling red soup is poured into the ice cream maker and in about twenty-five minutes you have a frosty sweet strawberry summer treat. The flavor is banging strawberry with just a hint of tart lemon (I used the juice of two). I felt quite grateful for the zesty lemon, because this sorbet is sweet. Honestly, I'd like to try the recipe again with slightly less sugar, but it really is pretty terrific as is.

The River Café's Strawberry Lemon Sorbet

3 lemons
2 cups sugar
2 pounds strawberries, hulled

Chop one lemon into chunks, removing any seeds, and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add two cups of sugar and pulse, until well mixed. Scrape mixture into a large bowl.

Add the strawberries to the food processor and purée. Add the strawberries to the lemon mixture along with the juice of one lemon. Stir. Taste for acidity and lemon flavor. Add more lemon juice if you like.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn until frozen.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dinner Diary: 7/23/11 -- Swordfish with Tomato Olive Vinaigrette

  • Pan-Seared Swordfish with Tomato Olive Vinaigrette
  • Harry's Berries Yellow Wax Romano Beans Sautéed in Olive Oil and Chopped Garlic
  • Finley Farms Baby Kale Sautéed with Chili and Slivered Garlic
  • Rockenwagner Olive Ciabatta

I was sitting on the floor in my parent's kitchen only half paying attention to what Fe. was saying, trying to figure out what on earth to do with the swordfish I'd picked up at Santa Monica Seafood, when it hit me. Tomatoes and olives! Both perfectly suited to swordfish's hearty steak-like flesh. There are cherry tomatoes a plenty in the garden right now. I had olives, capers, parsley, spring onions, and beautiful garlic from the farmers' market on hand. What would hold those tasty bits together?

A vinaigrette.

Perhaps one of the best sauces going -- and certainly the easiest -- vinaigrettes are obvious for salads, but they make spectacular sauces for fish, vegetables and chicken. Come to think of it, meat too. For what is Chimichurri, if not a vinaigrette?

To complement the swordfish and the strong flavors of the olive, caper, onions and garlic, I opted for red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil (a good one). I had the whole thing put together in about ten minutes.

You can easily use a whole tomato. I used the salty, wrinkly Moroccan black olives, but my preference would be kalamatas. Spring onions are what I had available, but a shallot or green onions would work great. I was feeling parsley in the end, but I was very tempted by fresh basil. The recipe is absolutely flexible. You taste your way through the preparation.

The easiest ratio for wine vinegar vinaigrettes is two parts vinegar to five parts oil. So I used two tablespoons red wine vinegar and five tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. So simple.

I haven't purchased, prepared, or eaten swordfish in ages. I love it, but it was overfished and it is no good for pregnant or nursing mamas, not to mention that it is expensive. Yep, $27.99/pound at the fish market. I just cannot justify that. So when I saw the decidedly unglamorous end pieces going for $14.99, I decided to go for those. I wasn't too worried about appearances, because it would just be A. and me for a quiet Saturday night at home.

It turns out this was all good thinking, because I felt rather proud of the meal. Super summer fare.

Tomato Olive Vinaigrette

15 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon capers, chopped
1 large handful parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the first six ingredients together in a bowl. Add the vinegar and stir. Drizzle in the olive oil, stiring. Taste for salt and pepper.

Spoon over fish, chicken, or vegetables.

Serves 3-4

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's In the Box?

A big box was delivered today!

I've been waiting for a month.

My very own vinegar barrel!

In just about four months time, there will be a post about glorious home made wine vinegar.

Woohoo! I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Madhur Jaffrey's Ground Lamb with Tomatoes & Peas

I've been stuck in a bit of a rut lately. The food has been good over here, yes, but I've been itching for something different. It's been all slow braises and roast vegetables and steaks and roast meats and sautéed greens. I'm not complaining, but when I look at what I was eating one year ago and it's almost identical to what I had two nights ago, I realize it's time to shake things up.

Part of the problem is that being a mother of a two and a half year old means that the days of lazing around finding inspiration in cookbooks and culinary magazines and food blogs are -- at least for now -- long gone. I miss that.

The other issue is that I'm trying to get in tip-top shape. I'm eating more healthily (trying to!), running five times a week and going to boot camp. We're considering another kiddo, and I'd like to start out on better footing this time around, especially since last time I gained 50 pounds! All of that makes being a diverse cook and food blogger somewhat challenging.

Last night, quite accidentally, things took a turn towards the more exotic. I had purchased some ground lamb, knowing that I'd be able to -- flying by the seat of my pants -- whip something up with what I had in the pantry. Skimming through cookbooks, I realized I wasn't really in the mood for the usual meatballs or lamb burgers.

I randomly yanked Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking off the shelf and lo and behold, under the rather unassuming name, Ground Lamb with Tomatoes and Peas, was exactly what I was looking for. And serendipitously I had ever single ingredient on hand. Things are looking up, folks.

I have no idea why I don't cook more Indian food at home. It's a big mistake not to. I was so excited about last night's dinner that I'm up at 6:30 in the morning writing about it. The smell of the onion, garlic and ginger frying in the pan was enough to sell me on the dish, but then add the whole coriander and cumin seed, turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala (finally using my little stash!) and then fresh cilantro. The mix of aromas and flavors was fantastic, with two tablespoons of lemon juice brightening the whole affair brilliantly.

Just a quarter cup of plain yogurt (I used nonfat with no complaints, but whole would probably be even better), one chopped tomato, and a cup of water turn heavily spiced onions into an effortless and impressive Indian sauce for the ground lamb and peas (frozen are fine here). The lamb is a bit soupy, which really appeals to me and just begs to be spooned over a heap of rice.

Feel free to go nuts on the heat in this dish. I used a very scant half teaspoon of cayenne and a smallish fresno chile, because that's what we have growing in the garden right now. The heat was just warming really, not at all over the top. You could easily -- and I think appropriately -- use a serrano or two for those of you (I mean us) who like it really hot.

Plus, Jaffrey isn't kidding when she says quick and easy. The ground lamb with tomatoes and peas requires very little chopping. You can actually whiz the onions, garlic, and ginger in the food processor (slightly more washing up) to obtain the fine chop you need. The rest is sautéing in a pan and then an extended simmer. Make a pot of basmati rice and perhaps one additional vegetable -- if you're compulsive about vegetables like I am -- and dinner is done. I added sliced mango, because it's my favorite and fresh mango and Indian food are made for each other.

Ground Lamb with Tomatoes & Peas

1 small onion (about 4 ounces), peeled and coarsely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 medium-sized tomato (about 7 ounces), chopped
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 1/4 pounds ground lamb
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons store-bought garam masala
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 fresh, hot green chili, chopped (do not remove seeds)
6 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

Place the onion, ginger, and garlic into the container of a food processor and pulse until you achieve a fine chop or simply chop the onion, ginger, and garlic finely yourself.

Pour the oil into a wide, nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and ginger mixture. Fry, stirring until it is moderately browned. Add the cayenne, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and turmeric, stirring. Add the yogurt and tomato, and adjust the heat to high. Stir frequently until the tomato is soft. Add the lamb, salt, and garam masala. Stir until you have broken up the lumps. Add 1 cup of water. Stir and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice, green chili, cilantro and peas, stirring. Bring to a simmer and cover, cooking over low heat to meld the flavors for an additional 10 minutes.

Serves 4-6

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dinner Diary: 7/18/11 -- Making The Most of Your Oven

  • Roasted Coho Salmon in Irish Butter & Shallots
  • Cucumber, Garlic, Yogurt Sauce
  • Baked Sweet Potato
  • Roasted Cauliflower with Whole Garlic Cloves
  • Arugula & Mushroom Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Perhaps making the most of your oven in the middle of a heat wave is foolish. I was thinking more about mess and cleaning up last night. Almost everything was thrown in the oven for simplicity's sake.

I usually roast salmon, but I never bother adding shallots. It's actually a pretty good idea. Heat a baking dish (pyrex or ceramic) containing about 3 tablespoons butter in the oven. When melted and foamy, toss in a couple tablespoons chopped shallot (some fresh herbs would also be nice) and add a salmon fillet or two, seasoned with salt and pepper. Spoon the melted butter over and if needed add a few slivers more butter on top. Squeeze lemon juice over the fish. Roast until medium rare. I had the oven up to 475 degrees. The fillet was one pound. I cooked it for about 10 minutes. Should have pulled it out 2 minutes earlier. Still delicious.

Roasted cauliflower! Do this. High heat. Olive oil, whole garlic cloves, and salt and pepper. A squeeze of lemon to finish. Cook until tender and dark brown here and there.

One last thought. Garlic, lemon, salt and yogurt (especially whole milk Greek) make a great sauce for lots of things. I added chopped cucumber last night, and I've also added ginger and cucumber to really jazz things up. You could certainly add additional spices or vegetables, like curry or tomato and red peppers for a different take.

Dinner Diary: 7/17/11 -- Ribeye Steak

  • Pan-Seared & Oven-Roasted Ribeye Steak
  • Roasted Fresno Chiles from Fe.'s Garden
  • Steamed Green Beans with Irish Butter & Lemon
  • Romaine, Arugula, Radish Salad with Lemon & Garlic Vinaigrette

Just a wee tip. If you're cooking a nice thick steak like the beauty I bought at Cookbook on Sunday, searing it in the pan and finishing it in a hot oven is a smart idea. Use a cast-iron skillet, and heat until very hot (about 3 minutes), add oil or butter (I tend to use grapeseed or canola oil) and sear the steak until deep brown with perhaps a little char on both sides. Since I don't know the size or thickness of your steak or how you like your meat cooked, all I can say is a few minutes per side for medium rare, which is how I tend to like steak cooked. When deeply colored, throw the pan in a 400 degree oven for a two or three more minutes. Presto, beautifully cooked steak. I know it isn't as simple as that. It takes a bit of checking and practice to nail it, so don't be afraid to make a little incision and take peek.

This method produces a much nicer steak than searing the hell out of the meat for the entire cooking process. Just remember to start with a really hot pan, so you can achieve the color you desire.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Paris - La Régalade Saint-Honoré

In 2003, my sister and I went to Paris to visit our darling friend Brian, a foodie par-excellence and quite a stellar chef, to boot. We had the most indulgent vacation. Lots and lots of eating. Two pairs of Louis Vuitton shoes! We were high on lights and wine and the scintillating sensation of running wild in one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

The evening to beat all evenings was the one we spent at La Régalade, way out in the 14th arrondissement. I have vivid memories of the older French couples at the table next to us -- who were getting completely sauced -- flirting shamelessly with all of us. The meal was one of the top five meals of my life. The food was exquisite rustic French and I have never experienced such convivial ambiance before or since. I remember hearing Francis Cabrel on the radio in the cab after dinner and dissolving into a happy emotional mess from the sheer satisfaction of the entire experience.

So you can imagine that I was hoping to return to La Régalade. When I went back to Paris in 2005 with A., things didn't pan out. A. was not feeling game and I was sorely disappointed. In 2011, things would be different. We were going to La Régalade.

But then I started reading all the blog entries and the Chowhound posts and I began to feel discouraged. It was no longer Yves Camdeborde's restaurant. Now there were two La Régalade. How would I know which to pick? I mentioned my phone bill to France. No fewer than seven of those $3.25/minute calls were to Les Régalades. I had a miserable time getting through. The connections were always crackly and disjointed at best, and my French was terrible. I think the folks at La Régalade in the 14th, must have hung up on me twice in dispair.

I managed to get through to La Régalade Saint-Honoré and was able to secure a reservation for our Tuesday evening meal. Then the nerves starting kicking in. Would it live up to my expectations? I had read enough positive feedback to have hope. But then I started worrying that A. wouldn't like it, that he would doubt me, that the whole thing would be a flop.

And you know what? Being A., he did doubt me a little bit before we got there. Asking questions, like what makes you think it's going to be any good? My husband is loaded with skepticism. Loaded. But you know what else? When you're dealing with a skeptic like A., there is nothing sweeter than a success.

And that's what we had on the Tuesday night at La Régalade Saint-Honoré. A big fat success. It didn't matter that we were stuck along the wall with all the other Americans (isn't that the worst?), or that the space itself is not nearly as charming and old-school French as the original. It didn't matter a wit, because the service was spot-on and the food was divine.

Just as with my previous experience, the meal began with terrine à volonté and a mason jar of vinegary cornichons and pickled onions. The country-style poultry terrine was a delicious and warm welcome to the evening. I love that style of generosity. It conveys kind hospitality and it is how you would greet friends and loved-ones.

I chose the gambas sautées ail et persil, jambon d'Espagne, risotto crémeux à l'encre de seiche (sautéed shrimp with garlic and parsley, Spanish ham, and risotto with squid ink). A. selected the petite lasagne de légumes confits, mozzarella di buffala, jambon cru et basilic (lasagna of confit vegetables, buffalo mozzarella, raw ham and basil). Honestly, I was thinking to myself that A. was crazy to order Italian food when we had only barely arrived in France, but as is usually the case, he was absolutely right with his selection.

But so was I.

The dish was scattered with toasted garlic slivers. The shrimp were succulent and sweet. So often I can take or leave risotto, and for the most part I have been relatively indifferent to squid ink, but this risotto sung of the sea and salt and was indeed miraculously crémeux. The Spanish ham added a subtle porkiness that enriched the flavor of the dish. I'm searching for the right adjectives and embarrassing terms like heaven-on-Earth are coming to mind. Sorry!

The lasagna that A. ordered was a revelation. Showered in fresh herbs the entire dish had an emerald green flavor. The pasta was nearly transparent, the mozzarella luscious. The pesto and tomato sauce celebrated summer deliciously. This was lasagna, yes, but it was also anything but, in the sense that it transcended lasagna completely.

I'm pretty sure that I managed to order the richest dish on the menu, if not the richest in Paris. The poitrine de cochon fermier moelleuse de chez Ospital, la couenne croustillante, lentilles vertes du Puy cuisinées comme un petit salé (Ospital Farm pork belly with crispy pork rind and lentils du Puy) was a salty and fatty heart-attack in a soup plate. I mean that in a good way.

There was absolutely no way -- even with A.'s help -- that I could finish that massive hunk of pork belly surrounded by froth and crispy nuggets of pork rind. The earthy lentils helped to anchor the dish, yet it was still deathly rich, and entirely perfect. The dish embodied a traditional petit salé, but managed to elevate the pork to an entirely new plane of porcine pleasure.

A. had a hankering for the John Dory, but apparently so had the other patrons that evening. None left. He settled on the pavé de cabillaud de Bretagne demi-sel cuit dans un bouillon de poule, pousses d'épinards ravigotées, pignons de pin et vinaigrette de soja (filet of salt-cooked (not positive exactly what they mean here) cod in chicken bouillon with warmed spinach leaves, pine nuts, and soy vinaigrette).

The presentation was beautiful, lots of vivid green herbs and spinach contrasting white flesh and brick-red oven-roasted tomatoes. The pine-nuts provided a pleasantly subtle crunch. I liked his dish fine, but I'm not wild about cod or about uncooked spinach, so this was not my favorite of the evening.

You may have noticed that I don't often write about desserts. In fact you won't find a single dessert recipe on this blog (something to work towards!). The only time I've had a sweet-tooth was when I was pregnant and for a bit while I was nursing. I've developed an appreciation for sweets, but not much of a craving. That being said, I got cozy -- real cozy -- with desserts in Paris. We indulged almost every single night.

At La Régalade, we consumed more desserts in one night than I normally eat in one month. We ordered the soufflé chaud au Grand Marnier (warm Grand Marnier soufflé) and the fraîcheur de rhubarbe et fraises, fromage blanc et marscarpone à la vanille (rhubarb compote with strawberries, fromage blanc, and vanilla marscarpone). Apparently the chef felt that the soufflé was dragging its feet, so he sent out the petits pots de crème à a vanille gelée de fruits de la passion (vanilla pots de crème with passion fruit gelée). Only thirty seconds later did the souflé arrive. I'll confess with no shame that we ate every drop of all three desserts.

I have never in my life had a soufflé that captures the true meaning of the word soufflé so well. The Grand Marnier soufflé was indeed as light as a breath. Certainly, I've enjoyed soufflés in the past. We used to make the chocolate variety in Santa Cruz, but they were as dense as a pudding compared to this whiff of a dessert.

The other two desserts were all dreamy creaminess. I adore pots de crèmes, be they chocolate, vanilla, pistachio or caramel. These did not disappoint. The vanilla was potent and the bright acidic flavor of the passion fruit was a smart juxtaposition. The textures of cream and gelée also played off of each other superbly.

Rhubarb and strawberry are a classic combination for a reason. Throw in cream and vanilla and then a little crumble over the top for crunch and you've pretty much got my favorite dessert. Another hit!

Add a glass of Armagnac and I was over the moon.

I cannot recommend La Régalade Saint-Honoré enough. Chef Bruno Doucet is doing a swell job. It's definitely not haute-cuisine. Think elevated rustic French and you're in the right ballpark. At 35 euro for the three course prix-fixe, this is without a doubt one of the better deals in Paris. In the end what can I say? A. & I had a thoroughly marvelous time. You shouldn't miss this.

La Régalade
Saint- Honoré
123 rue Saint-Honoré, 75001
1st Arrondissement
01 42 21 92 40

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dinner Diary: 7/12/11 -- Summer Fare

  • Roasted Salmon in Butter and Lemon with Peach & Cilantro Salsa
  • Sautéed Chinese Long Beans
  • Roasted Beets with Walnut Oil & Aged Sherry Vinegar
  • Charred Shishito Peppers from Fe's Garden with Soy
  • Heirloom Tomatoes with Basil from Fe's Garden

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Yuzu Kosho

My housemates back in college used to talk about suffering from condimentia. When it comes to spicy, so do I. And how. The fridge is loaded with Sriracha, harissa, Tapatio, Korean pepper paste and Thai chile sauce.

You know I like spicy. The hotter the better is my quiet motto. I don't just sprinkle crushed red pepper on my pizza, I am compelled to add habanero flakes. I'd like to eat at Jitlada and Chung King on a weekly basis, just to satisfy my heat needs.

So when I find a new condiment that satisfies my cravings for fire, I am pretty well delighted. This time, I can thank the Japanese. Yuzu Kosho or yuzu pepper paste isn't punishingly hot. The heat of green chile is balanced by the citrusy tang of yuzu and an ample dose of salt. Yuzu-Kosho has a slow savory burn.

I picked up a little jar of the paste at McCall's Meat & Fish Company in Los Feliz a few months ago. I'm now well into my third. I see you can purchase it on Amazon, but I can't vouch for the brand simply because I haven't tried it. No doubt you'll find it at thoroughly stocked Asian markets.

The pickle-green condiment would be stunning in ceviche. It really is gorgeous on fish. I roasted some Bass coated with olive oil, lemon juice, and Yuzu Kosho on high heat and it turned out beautifully. You don't want to overdo it with the pepper paste, so as to avoid overwhelming the delicate flavor of the fish. Very nice on chicken too!

In the end, my favorite way to enjoy Yuzu Kosho is with beef. The bloody meat is carried to an entirely new level thanks to the salt, heat and acid of the pepper paste. I liberally spoon it onto rare steaks, and -- this may sound nuts -- I love it on hamburgers. A couple dollops right on the charred meat, just below the grilled onions. Divine.