Archive for Bites

Farmers Market Fall Splendor

Farmers Market Fall Splendor

Pumpkins, apples, parsnips, oh my! Chilly autumn weather brings a whole new crop of produce to celebrate.

Santa Monica farmers market pumpkin

Pumpkins at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

With the last of the hot, dry days of summer, juicy peaches and floral strawberries came to an end. Fall brings around a whole new group of fruits and vegetables to the farmers markets. Old favorites preserve through the winter months, sharing tables with short-seasoned, lesser known varieties. From apples to persimmons to litchi-like longans, fall’s produce splendor is worth celebrating about and certainly cooking with.

winter squash

Winter Squash at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Chilly days mean root vegetables are coming into full flavor. “The freezing, frost gives a floral sweetness to root vegetables,” says farmer Alex Weiser, who sells beautiful parsnips, multicolored carrots, and fingerling potatoes. “It’s the terrior,” he says, meaning the vegetables gain their flavor specifically from their environment.

Weiser Family Farms parsnip

Parsnips from Weiser Family Farms

When it comes to persimmons, it’s just that frost that farmer Jeff Rieger worries about. This bright, orange fruit is available from mid October until the first freeze, when the fruit becomes soft and mushy. You can find several varieties at his Penryn Orchard stand, including fuyu, chocolate, maru, hachiya and the tanmopan, which have a strange acorn shape and are eaten when very soft. Penryn also has wonderfully tart and sweet pomegranates this time of year, available from September through November, although “they must be picked before the first rain or they will split and burst from juiciness,” says Rieger.

pomegranetes

Penryn Orchard Pomegranates

Not so commonly thought of as a fall fruit, this time of year look for Walter Hole variety of avocado, a Mexicola type. This very dark skinned avocado has the highest oil content of all avocados and you can eat the dark black skin, which has a fennel like flavor. They are available into December.

Another lesser known fall fruit is the longan. This small, round, brown shelled fruit is similar to a litchi in flavor and texture. Peel back the shell and eat the jelly like, clear fruit inside(be careful of the seeds). Available from the end of October through November, they are grown in tropical areas. Californians can find them from Ventura County’s Mud Creek Ranch.

Longan fruit from Mud Creek Ranch

Longan fruit from Mud Creek Ranch

Of course the iconoclast fall fruit are apples. See Canyon produces some of the best in the Los Angeles area, using dry farming methods so that the fruit only receives ocean air and rain water. This produces a high sugar content apple with a richer flavor profile. Each week, Sea Canyons choices are different, but favorites include the ginger gold, braeburn, and splendor varieties. The season usually runs from late August, sometimes into late February.

Sea Canyon apples

Fujui apples from Sea Canyon

Even with old fall favorites like apples and squash, a trip to the farmers market during the autumn months is sure to reveal a new variety, or better yet a new product. Head to your local market and ask farmers about a product you’ve never tried. In the colder months there is so much more to cook then plain old carrots and potatoes, just go see for yourself. And bring home some of that fall splendor to make dinner tonight!

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Sum(mer) time for Jam

Sum(mer) time for Jam

Even with the heat soaring, nothing’s better than juicy, sticky fruit thrown in a pot with sugar and cooked to a perfectly molten lava stage. Inspiration from the farmers market’s succulent peaches, tart plums and oh so sweet strawberries makes jam and jam means no more fruitless-winter blues. Even better is jamming with those who love jam, love fruit, and love the community.

This past Sunday, the Third Annual Publilc Fruit Jam celebrated all this and more with a bang. Neighbors from every corner of Los Angeles managed to find space in the Machine Project Gallery. Members of the Fallen Fruit Collective, a local art-activist group, brought along found fruits, sugar and pectin and the Jam was on. Jammers filled the space, cutting up fruit, veggies and herbs. Several bunsen burners slowly brought fruit to a boil, as participants stirred in sugar and pectin. Many followed the directions provided, groups gave advice and help to each other, and still others managed to figure out their jam decisions alone.

Fruit and jam was traded amongst the crowd, nectarines for strawberries, lemon-fig-lavender jam for yellow peach-zucchini. Some of the fruit came from the nearby Vons, others brought farmers market wares, and some found their fruit, like kumquats from a tree in front of a participants office. Stone fruit and berries filled the tables, and cactus, green tomatoes, tomatillos, and sapotes found their way into jams as well.

Organizers checked in on the jam process, making suggestions, and asking for a donation of one jar from each group. Hundreds of mason jars quickly filled up with the sticky liquids, and many enjoyed their jam right away, toasting bread and having a snack at the event. Although the heat was high, the fruit sticky, and the room crowded, everyone made jam with a smile, helping each other out, and enjoying the fruits of the labor.

Jam this tasty can’t last long. Strawberry-plum-fig jam spread atop sweet toasted challah makes the perfect breakfast or night time snack. Here’s to more hot summer days of jamming for a fruit filled winter.

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Bastide, A Treat if You Please

Bastide, A Treat if You Please

Dining out has become a bit of a treat for me these days. The nights of my weekly restaurant reviews have passed and with them, sadly, the hours spent with college friends over bottles of wine and glorious food. Too little time(most now spent working) and too little money(most now spent on the sudden mass of post-college bills), means much too little eating out. And here in Los Angeles, glorious food is more likely to be found at a corner taco truck or tiny strip mall treasure then at the masses of highly celebrated restaurants too concerned with their A-list clientele than actual food . Even so, on the very rare evening off from work, the occasional fine dining experience is always a treat.

And at Bastide, dining certainly is a treat. Hidden away in the heart of West Hollywood, walking into this rare-for-LA culinary meccas feels as though you have arrived at a friend’s house for supper. A very wealthy friend indeed. The space is divided into several small rooms, each fitted with posh art deco furnishings, creating a warm but classy feel. Your server whisks you to a table as if he’s bringing you into his own home and the friendly sommelier places champagne at your seat. The scene is set.

Dessert Course at Bastide

Out comes the food. Chef Walter Manzke offers a five or seven pre-fixe tasting menu, each course titled by only an intriguing suggestion of what lays ahead. A refreshing ceviche of Nantucket baby bay scallops opens the palate topped with a citrus/lime sorbet. Uni flan with chicken broth and abalone is velvet, smooth and rich. And the beef course with melt in your mouth NY strip and braised short ribs with foie gras vies as a reason not to give up on Los Angeles cuisine. The meal comes to a sweet end with smooth caramel flan topped with pandan foam and rich chocolate souffle cake with chai ice cream(pictured above). While some of the courses feel sightly disconnected, perhaps afterthoughts, the meal and experience leaves you pleasantly content. And the bread service is simply sublime. There are perfectly-shaped crunchy french bread rolls, bacon brioche, rich and flaky, and wonderful fennel and potato rolls. Offered between almost every course, it’s hard not to fill up on the bread, and even harder not to want to go back the next day. Inspired by the breads created by pastry chef Marge Manzke, I tried French bread at home. Using a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I managed a nice crunchy crust, but the flavor left room for improvement. For now, I suppose I’ll to wait for another treat at Bastide.

French Bread. French Bread Out of the Oven

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A Sip of Inspiration

A Sip of Inspiration

Coffee and Cookies

Sitting in the fancy, plush, faux alligator skin chair, I stared down into what would be my first real cup of coffee. Steaming up out of it’s immaculate cup, the aroma tempted me as I pondered if this would be true love or sips of discontent. This was the best coffee I would ever drink, I had been told. The beans had been chosen from all over the world and treated with techniques and temperatures as if they were gold. Every element, from the triple filtered water down to the Japanese porcelain cup, had been thought about. Still, I had my doubts.

I had never been a coffee drinker. Growing up in Germany, family vacations were often visiting the coffee capital of the world, Italia. As my younger sister, barely a preteenager, threw back more espresso and cappuccino then even the most ardent adult coffee drinker would comfortably consume, I snubbed my adolescent nose at the beverage. Even in college, when coffee was the drink of choice to soothe harsh hang overs and pull fellow students through early morning classes, I stuck with other drinks.

And then one night, during a long road trip that began after working a busy evening shift, things changed in my coffee world. Sleepy eyes were drawn by the harsh glowing lights of a small highway gas station, and suddenly an English toffee latte was exactly what I needed. Sipping the overtly sweet and over flavored beverage, I spent the remaining driving hours not only wide awake but also realizing, that I might in fact, like coffee. Coffee has been consumed since the 9th century. Now in the 23rd, I would finally catch up with the trend.

Coffee shops became a thing of excitement. Hours of walking around were rewarded with a vanilla latte. A long day of errands ended sweetly with a mocha with skim milk. Of course straight coffee was out of the question. I had after all started this coffee attraction with an English toffee latte, created with more sugar and flavoring agents then coffee flavor. I needed the sweetness.

Then came the fateful day when I was introduced to my first cup. Sitting in LaMill Coffee Boutique, the new bistro where I would help recreate pastry chef Adrian Vasquez’s desserts, I looked down into the steaming cup of wonder my new bosses placed before me. No sugar, no flavoring powders or mixes, this was the real deal coffee. With one quick movement, I brought the cup to my lips and sipped. This coffee, I realized, I enjoyed quite a lot.

A few days later the coffee boutique opened it’s doors to the public, and this special coffee was unleashed to the world, of Silverlake Boulevard at least. Tucked back in the kitchen, waifs of the coffee aroma filled my pastry space as customers ordered Clover cups brewed to order. Coffee was on my mind as I plated desserts, as I watched barista’s artfully pour steamed milk into cups, and as I sipped lattes after my shifts. Coffee was now everywhere around me.

And so it came down to a new coffee creation. Some espresso added to a chocolate cookie recipe I wanted to try did the trick. A fudgey, rich cookie, these sweets take on a roasted flavor from the espresso and a floral hint from orange zest and juice. The first of many coffee inspirations, my new attraction to coffee is a welcome addition, not only as a beverage but also for recipes alla coffee.

Chocolate Orange Coffee Crackles(revised version of Bon Appetit’s Midnight Crackles)

260 grams unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
235 grams brown sugar
300 grams 64% chocolate
200 grams freshly squeezed orange juice, strained
Zest from 2 oranges
100 grams freshly made espresso(get this from local coffee shop like LaMill)

3 large eggs
450 grams All Purpose flour
30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a small, heavy bottomed sauce pot, melt butter, sugar and chocolate over low heat until just melted through completely.

2. Pour mixture into bowl of standing mixture with paddle attachment.

3. On low speed, slowly add the espresso, orange juice and eggs until completely combined.

4. Triple sift the dry ingredients together. Slowly add to the batter and mix just until combined.

5. Pour batter onto plastic wrap and cover into ball. The batter will be very wet. Refrigerate at least two hours.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove dough from the fridge and roll into 1″ balls. Place on parchment lined sheet tray and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the tray and continue to bake for 8 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

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Dining out: Do or die?

Dining out: Do or die?

Have you ever sat in a restaurant, the scene set for an incredible meal? The lights are dimmed, but it’s not too dark, illuminating your date across the table as you sit comfortably in the lush chairs. Although there are people all around you, you merely hear soft murmurs as you look over the enticing menu. In the simple, but elegantly designed dinging room you drink the crisp wine your waitress has suggested and bite into warm bread as you excitedly wait for you meal to arrive.

And then the meal arrives. And the experience is for naughtt. The mushrooms are undercooked and poorly handled, rendering them a soggy mess a top what should have been your wonderful pasta. The gnocchi are gooey and flavorless, drenched in a one dimensional sauce of overpowering hickory flavoring. The wait for entrees is a hopeful one. Sipping wine and biting more warm bread, hopes rise that the food of the restaurant can catch up with feel of it. But the main courses arrives and hope is once again lost. Sauces comprised almost entirely of demi glace lace both plates. An over sized portion of rabbit draped in bacon looses all flavor but that of overly salted pork, served atop lumpy polenta. Venison, rare enough to be confused with seared tuna, is served with chestnuts so dry they take your breath away, all on a cold plate.

And the bite into sweets is little better. Chocolate ganache so thick and heavy it can hardly be cut with fork is served inside a chocolate shell that is for some reason crunchy, making it even more difficult to eat. As the last of the wine is finished and the bill is the paid, the glowing candle illuminates the beautiful interior of the restaurant, making earlier expectations once again clear and all at once very lost in the evening.

And thus the challenge of the restaurant industry. Creating a space that will entice your guests, one with comfort and elegance, and one that compliments your food. Training your wait staff to provide for your guests without being overbearing, designing a wine program to offer the best you can, and hiring the kind of people who will make the best restaurant possible. Creating a menu that will entice your customers,and marketing those customers. And then most importantly, executing that menu. Some restaurants have one or two of these elements down pact, some more than others, some none at all. Some have it all. As a diner, restaurants are for the hope of when the beauty of the place, the glow of the wine, and the excitement of the menu are all realized in that first bite. When the meat melts in your mouth, the flavors pop, the sauce excites, and you dream about the dish for days, weeks, and even years after. As a cook restaurants are the challenge to create dishes that give this experience. To make sure that every single thing under your watch is seasoned properly, cut properly, cooked properly, and plated properly so that the absolute meaning of what the chef wants to serve is given to the customer. Because if it’s not, if it is off, even by a minuscule hair, all the other elements don’t matter and the experience is forever ruined.

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Walking the Streets of Venice: Abbot Kinney Festival

Abbot Kinney Festival

The end of September means the 23rd annual Abbot Kinney Festival and a sunny day to walk around the streets of California beach town Venice. Founded in the 1890’s by tobacco mogul Abbot Kinney, Venice beach was originally built up as the “Venice of America.” Kinney’s dream included recreating the canals , gondolas, and architecture of Venice, Italy and the canals that still run between Venice boulevard and Washington Avenue remind visitors of the cities’ background daily. Each year, the Festival takes over Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and celebrates the lively neighborhood and community the founder created.

The Festival jams Abbot Kinney Boulevard with people. Some are on foot, some pushing strollers or walking dogs, and some are slowly riding bicycles through the pack. All along the street, vendors of all types set up shop. Tents line the middle of the street as guests walk down it sides, moving around one another and the bicycles that are parked in every spot possible. The vendors offer a little of everything, from food and drink to clothes, necklaces and earrings to art, to even vintage glasses and pet adoptions. People enjoy walking around, stopping for food, and each other’s company. The street is full of smiles.

Bicycles on Display

The Festival houses three music stages set up throughout its lengthy path, which stretches from Venice Boulevard to Main Street. Reggae music blasts as visitors shop and eat, walking along the path. In the late afternoon, a Brazilian dance group and band parade through the street, clapping and performing for the crowd. Even the oldest grandmother enjoys herself, joining in to dance around and clap with the group.

Parade

All around, people walk drinking coconut milk from fresh coconuts and eating roasted corn right on the cob. Food stalls are set up throughout the festival, and people sit and eat on the sidewalk, taking a break from the artwork and shopping to relax. All the best traditional street fair food can be found here: hot dogs, French fries, lemonade, kettle corn, and of course funnel cake. The pulled pork barbecue sandwich is tasty, with a smoky barbecue sauce. And the Italian sausage and pepper sandwich is even better. The sausage is juicy and tender, with a spicy fennel flavor.

Food Vendors

Italian Sauage SandwhichFunnel Cake

The festival has something for everyone. A family section includes pony rides, a mini ferris wheel, and a large slide. Children with faces painted into animals and superheros run from one ride to the next. The spirits section allows for those alcohol inclined to drink up. And a local shop offers $15 haircuts, so you can look just as awesome as the festival makes you feel. Walking along the street, seeing the local vendors mix with the locals and those who have traveled from the east sections of Los Angeles, you really get the sense of the community of Venice. And even if it’s just for the day of the festival, you feel like part of that community. And if you don’t actually live in Venice, there’s always next year’s festival.

 

Venice Street Artwork

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The Cook as The Customer

The Cook Dines Out

I haven’t dined out very often in the year since I moved to Los Angeles. Sure there’s the late night runs to Canter’s for pastrami on rye at 2 am after work with the gang or the quick bite to eat at the beach on my days off. But between the busy life of a pastry cook, the exploration of a new city and life on a tight budget, dining out is not part of my life the way it used to be.

Simply put, eating out, grabbing a bite to eat, quick fixes, all these easy ways we fill our bodies with food on a daily basis are simply no comparison to a true dining experience. An experience with it all: service, ambience, attitude, poise, emotion, all the elements that may make or break the meal. That ten dollar plate of sushi from the food court at Westfield’s is nothing compared to the sushi chef winking at customers in Little Tokyo as he expertly slices a rainbow roll. Skipping the quick bite on the go to savor the experience can be all the more worth while.

I found myself lucky enough to be sitting not once but twice this month in restaurants for what seemed to be the first time in months. Sure I’ve been to diners and cafes, had stops along the way and the quick fixes, but these were the real deal. Fraiche in Culver City, the brain child of Chef Jason Travi and The Foundry on Melrose, West Hollywood’s home to Chef Eric Greenspan, both finally offered me Los Angeles dining experiences.

What really struck my attention most about these restaurants, besides the thoughtful food and tasteful ambiance, was how important it really is for food industry workers to dine out. When dining out, you can place your experience under a microscope, and thus you begin to understand the nature of the experience you are trying to create yourself. I really enjoyed learning that Oscar was the name of the man filling our water glasses at the Foundry. I felt this allowed the customer a familiarization with the restaurant. And when two of the items we had hoped to order were no longer available at Fraiche, I realized how different the perception of “86”ing an item is for a customer versus the relief it sometimes brings a line cook.

Experiencing for yourself the efforts that you try to present every night allows you to view the way you work in a new light. The braised short ribs of Fraiche melted in my mouth. Instead of merely adding sautéed apples, pops of crisp fresh apples garnished the plate as well, along with peppery grits, tucked underneath the short ribs. The thoughtfulness of the plate help me understand the importance of thoughtfulness in every aspect of my own work.

Braised Shortribs at The Foundry

The service at the Foundry was impeccable; nothing made me realize more just how important good service really is. Not only is it important to dine out to realize what you are doing and why you are doing it, but also to understand what to look for in the future. I always say “in my restaurant” this or that, and dining out is a way to find out those standards. New silverware was placed for every course, a manager brought out most of our courses, and we felt very taken care of, without feeling stifled.

The experience must be also for ideas, to understand what is going on in the industry. The fragrant scallops of Fraiche, the floral orange zest warming every bite of perfect pasta and tender scallops. A simple speck, mission fig, and mozzarella salad at Fraiche, fresh flavors brought together in the best way. Crab cannelloni at the Foundry, a mix of woody roasted and fresh fennel, topped with crunchy gratin breadcrumbs. The amaretto shot to finish a stone fruit cobbler at the Foundry, cool and complete.

Working so hard, day in, day out, sometimes it is hard to see exactly what it is you are doing. Experiencing food yourself, having a dining experience, makes you realize just what you are working so hard for each day. It makes you realize what makes a great restaurant great and what you need to do to make that great restaurant for yourself.

Stone Fruit Cobbler at The Foundry

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