Friday, August 29, 2008

Perfect Late Summer Ice Cream

It's good to know someone is reading my blog, Steve S. (keep the comments coming everyone!). I mentioned goat cheese ice cream with caramelized figs on Wednesday and I thought I'd post the recipe.

We made this in culinary school and at first glance I thought it was so odd. I was just warming up to goat cheese and putting it in ice cream wasn't my idea of tasty. I couldn't have been more wrong. The tartness of the cheese with the sweet ice cream creates a perfect balance. If goat cheese is not your thing, Creme Fraiche would be a great substitute. Top it with caramelized figs and it is a perfect dessert. The ice cream recipe is courtesy of the amazing Catherine Pantsios, my teacher at the time.

Now, the question of an ice cream maker. I have this little Krups machine and I love it. I don't know why but, it is really hard to find these days.
Cuisinart makes another compact machine. We used it to make ice cream in the kitchens of the Food Network and it also works well. With both machines, you need to keep the canister in your freezer at least 24 hours ahead of time so, I just leave mine in there all the time. Who thinks a day ahead anyways?! If you want a hand crank machine, I am not the one to ask. At $49 for the Cuisinart, I doubt you'd find a manual machine that does as good of a job for such a reasonable price.

So, now you have the right machine, here is the ice cream recipe (and the figs, below). I've got tons more so keep checking back and I'll keep posting them.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream

2 cups cream
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
one 3-inch piece cinnamon stick
7 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
4 ounces fresh goat cheese (or creme fraiche)

Place cream, milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil and turn off the heat. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Whisk yolks and sugar in a bowl. Whisk hot cream mixture into yolks, very slowly at first, until incorporated. Return mixture back into saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, just until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Immediately strain into a clean bowl and stir in goat cheese until in melts. Cool mixture. When mixture is cool, pour into ice cream freezer and churn until frozen, according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you like your ice cream more solid, put it in the freezer for 4-6 hours after it comes out of the machine.

Caramelized Figs

4 T. butter
3 T. brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 pint (about 2 cups) fresh figs, stemmed and halved

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and melt. When the butter is melted, stir in the brown sugar and mix gently until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the salt and stir to combine. Add the figs and stir gently to coat with the sauce. Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, just until the figs are starting to soften. Remove from the heat and spoon over ice cream.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

I can't believe summer is coming to an end. By the time I post 'What I'm Reading' next week, school will be back in session and reality will certainly have kicked in. Ahhh....enjoy your last days of freedom.

In today's LA Times, I'm reminded that last August and early September are prime time for sweet fresh tomatoes. This recipe for Fresh Tomato Soup looks simple, light and delicious. With a hint of gin, it has a nice twist to it too.

Things are getting even more local at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. Eatwell Farms now sells their wheat berries and will grind them into flour for you right then and there. I am not the best bread maker in the world but, I love to do it. I can't wait to go try this out. Plus, kudos to Eatwell-as per the article in the SF Chronicle, "
The wheat berries are actually a by-product of Eatwell's chicken and egg production. With 2,600 hens in his flock, Walker was looking for a more local supply to augment the animal feed that is shipped from faraway places such as China. So he converted a field to wheat and has a small percentage left over to share with farmers' market customers."

What does it mean when the late summer tomatoes are around? Figs are right behind them. I love fresh figs in savory and sweet cooking and am always keeping my eyes open for new recipes. I have caramelized them and put them over goat cheese ice cream (it really is amazing) and have braised them with juicy chicken thighs. If you're on the hunt for all things fig, check out this section of the NY Times website. You'll find a recipe for grilled lamb and figs on rosemary skewers, a recipe for a dessert fig vinaigrette, and lots more.

My love of going out for an old school breakfast stems from my dad taking us to Chace's Pancake Corral when we were kids. In addition to amazing pancakes and hot chocolate topped with fluffy whipped cream, they made an amazing hashed brown omelette! Good hashed browns-you know, the shredded kind that are crispy all over, folded inside of an airy blanket of scrambled eggs. The Corral is celebrating it's 50th anniversary ,as noted in today's Seattle Times, so if you're anywhere in the area, go have an omelette and say congratulations. Places likes this are hard to find.

Anyone know where to get real hashed browns in San Francisco?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Top Ten Things NOT to Love about L.A.

I had to do it. I loved a lot about L.A. this summer-way more than I expected. That said, I still had a few pet on.

10. Getting Ripped off: "Have you been to Capo?" "You have to go to Capo!" "It's expensive but, SO worth it." "It is my favorite restaurant in L.A." Seriously? Not. I could live for a year on the shrimp tostadas at La Playita for what we paid for a good, not out of the park, meal at Capo.

9. Universal Studios (or 'getting ripped off-again'): I'd never been but the husband had fond memories of being in the back lot when he was a kid. Not so much anymore. A lame studio tour and tons of 3-D virtual reality "rides". If you're 12 and into things like Revenge of the Mummy and Terminator Two, check the place out-you'll love it.

8. Smoking: I thought people stopped smoking cigarettes? Never liked it (much) and still don't. Apparently, it is still all the rage down here.

7. Cooking Classes: They SUCK down here! I went to two different schools and took the worst cooking class of my life. One school was ok but the other, I couldn't believe people paid money to put pesto on pasta and top it with tomatoes!! Only made me realize even more that Tante Marie's is not only a great place to work but the best place to take cooking classes, anywhere. PS...the new schedule of classes is out at TM-sign up now.

6. Traffic: 'Nuf said.

5. Fake Boobs: Do I hate them? No-some actually look damn good. It is just such a cliche L.A. thing and, trust me, they are everywhere.

4. Itsy-Bitsy-Teeny-Weeny-Bikinis: Where can a mom find a bathing suit around here??

3. Things Kids Say: So, little 'T' was at camp for a week. The kids were 6-12 and some of the things he came home with cracked me up: "One kid told me his parents were 20 years apart", "That kid is 7 and he has his own iphone", "He's 6 and he has TONS of rated R movies. I want to see Blade Runner now", "Did you know movies could be rated X and double X?", "See that billboard (for Knotts Berry Farm)-I go to camp with that kid". So very Los Angeles....

2. Doggie Bags: No, not the kind you use for dinner. I'm talking the kind you use to pick up after your dog. Could one of my dog-savvy friends from San Francisco please come to Venice and show the dog owners how to pick up after their pets?! I feel like I'm in Paris with all the poop around here.

1. Our Garage Door: The first week here I was shutting our giant sliding garage door that is on a track behind our house (manual). The thing came off the track and fell on me! I managed to skid back into the alley so the monster only landed on my ankle. But, the 'cement burn' on my back will long remind me why someone invented automatic garage door openers.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Top Ten Things to Love about L.A.

Believe it or not, there are 10 things to love about L.A. (probably even more than that). Before I got here, I wouldn't have believed it either but, I've been convinced. These aren't really in any order, with the exception of No. 1.

10. The restaurants. L.A. is no San Francisco or New York. But, there is a good food here. Great food, as a matter of fact. My favorites: Lucques, A.O.C., Gjelina, and Pizzeria Mozza. Even La Playita, the taco shack on Lincoln, has the most amazing shrimp tostada for $3.50 (thanks Rob!)

9. The pedestrian friendly drivers. Who knew? In the land of freeways and traffic, people actually stop for pedestrians and wait until they are all the way across the cross walk to drive through. I don't even do this (here or at home)! They don't look put out and they seem to go out of their way to do it.

8. Beach cruisers. I didn't even know I could still ride a bike! Venice is made for beach cruisers and these bikes, with their pedal breaks and minimal (if any) gears, are the perfect way to ride along the ocean, grab a bite to eat, or avoid parking your car. They'd hate the hills in S.F. or I'd be bringing one home.

7. A Front Porch. Sitting on the porch, having a glass of wine, reading a book or just chillin' out, people say 'hi'. This neighborhood is full of houses with front porches and they are so conducive to creating community. Walking up and down the streets, you get to the know people simply by seeing them on their porch.

6. The Beach. I don't know if it is an unusual year or global warming but, the Pacific Ocean is warm! Your inner kid can't avoid coming out when you walk to the beach and jump in the waves. We should all do it a little more often.

5. Sunday Dinners. Maybe we just have great friends but, we have had amazing Sunday dinners every week we have been here. Kids, wine, potluck, bbq, ice cream, pizza, more wine, and happy people. Everyone should have at least one Sunday dinner a month where you open your kitchen and eat with friends (it doesn't even have to be on a Sunday). Sharing food like this is a key part of life.

4. Celeb Sightings. Yes,'s obnoxious and I'm supposed to think it is no big deal to see a tv, movie or music star just hanging out somewhere. I will say, this place gives you the real perspective that just because you've seen someone on the big screen, they still go to the park, drop their kids at camp and hang at the farmer's market. People here are very chill about it but, me, I still get really excited (I know...I'm a geek).

3. The Generosity of Friends and Strangers: The first week we were here, I had a little run in with a garage door (see 10 things I Don't Love about LA in a few days...). As bad as the incident was, it was nice to know that I had the support of my friends and neighbors. Within minutes, a friend called and offered Vicodin. The neighbor rushed out and offered me codeine. Even the guy I saw two days later at Staples told me he had something for the pain if I needed it. I didn't end up needing anything but, nice

2. The attitude-free farmer's markets. You can find a farmer's market here every day of the week. The produce is gorgeous, the prices are resonable, the samples are plentiful and the patrons are free of any 'I'm a bigger foodie than you are' attitude. Ferry Plaza, take note!

1. This will come as a surprise to no one but, the best thing about L.A. is the weather. Especially near the beach, summer temps hover in the high 70s, the sun shines and people are just happier because of it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Well, time is winding down here in So Cal and the north is calling. I've still got the grill going so, in these last days of summer, here's what I'm reading (and hopefully cooking).

Rob, you can thank me for this one later. Maple Bacon Biscuits in the LA Times . One of my favorite combos-bacon and maple syrup. Put it in a biscuit and call the cardiac police. YUM!

A summer cocktail party is a perfect way to entertain and the SF Chronicle walks through all the steps to make it easy (in fact, this article reads like someone took my 'Art of the Cocktail Party' class. Hmmm....). I should be flattered, right? In any case, I love the idea of mini-Cuban sandwiches.

Things must be hot in New York because the NY Times has a list of tasty summer drinks to cool you off. Watermelon Cucumber Refresher sounds amazing!!

It's not everday you read the Seattle Times and find a recipe from the Tante Marie's Cooking School Cookbook. At first I thought someone ripped off something else from one of my classes but, I read the recipe credit for the Fillet of Salmon with Vegetables and Citrus Oil and felt better. I've made this recipe in class a lot-it's beautiful, light and very tasty (a little dated, but still good).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Banana Bread

My mom made a lot of delicious banana bread when I was growing up. In her typical fashion, she never made the same recipe twice so, while I can't remember a bad loaf, she doesn't have her 'signature' recipe. I do the same thing-constantly tweaking recipes and making substitutions but, when it comes to my banana bread, I've got a recipe that works and I'm sticking to it.

The first version of the recipe came from this Martha Stewart Cookbook, published 13 years ago. It has evolved from its original state and I love where it has ended up.

The recipe makes one loaf but, it doubles just fine. I find bringing a fresh baked loaf to a dinner party as a 'hostess gift' scores you big points.

Whenever I have bananas getting a little too ripe, I throw them in my freezer. They'll turn dark brown on the outside but, they are perfect for banana bread. Just take them out to thaw on the counter and you're ready to go. If you love good chocolate, you can also try the recipe with chopped up chunks of Scharffen Berger chocolate...mmm...that's good!

Banana Bread

½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1½ cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
½ cup sour cream or buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans or chopped Scharffen Berger chocolate (at least 62% cacao-that's dark!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts, and pour into prepared pan.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Burrata, Burrata Everywhere!

You've had it, right? It is EVERYWHERE these days. Burrata crostini, burrata pizza, burrata and eggs, burrata and pasta....the list goes on. It is the 'it' cheese right now and I don't think it's going anywhere for a while.

I first had Burrata at A16. They serve an amazingly simple dish of crostini, burrata, olive oil and sea salt. If you want to get the real essence of burrata, this is the way to do it.

Burrata is to mozzarella what a marbled prime rib is to a piece of turkey. Both are good, both have their place but, when its time to indulge, the latter is less appealing. Imagine a ball of perfectly silky fresh mozzarella. Now, cut it down the middle only to find it filled with soft mozzarella and cream ('panna'). Hello?! It's soft texture melts in your mouth and the added cream makes it almost sweet. It is highly perishable so, if you haven't had it yet, it may just be that you don't live close enough to to a creamery that is making it.

I prefer it pretty naked, hence I love the version at A16. If you haven't tried it yet, find your favorite cheese monger, ask for a ball of the 'good stuff' and take it home. Toast some rustic Italian bread, get out your best olive oil and sea salt, and go to town...mmm-that's good!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

This is far from a food post but, I had to pass it along.

I just finished one of the best books I've ever read.

I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I read it about seven years ago and haven't read a better book since. Until now. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is fantastic.

I am not a dog person but some of the main characters in this story are dogs. Not just any kind of dog either (I'll leave it at that...). If you are like me, and the idea of reading a book about dogs doesn't sound all that appealing, get over it. I did and it was worth it.

It's not just dogs either. It is about farms, death, family, friendship, sadness, joy, and feelings way outside one's self.

I read fast and am a self admitted skimmer at times. This is not a book to be skimmed. The author, David Wroblewski, doesn't fill the pages of this debut novel with any fluff. There is nothing you wont want to read. You know those books that you read r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y at the end because you just don't want them to be over? This is one of those books.

Buy it, enjoy it, and pass it along to a friend. You will be glad you did.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Grilled Cheese Night

C' know it sounds great, right? I don't care if you're four, fourty, or four hundred...a grilled cheese sandwich is always a good thing.

Last night I had dinner at Campanile. Thursdays there are "Sandwich Night" but, they've become known as Grilled Cheese Night. In addition to the regular menu, the sandwich menu offers a classic grilled cheese and eleven other amazing sounding concoctions. I was there with 10 people so I figured we'd see them all but, at least half had the burrata sandwich (with fresh chickpeas, cherry toms, prosciutto and crispy garlic), a couple had the classic with grainy mustard, and then there was a croque monsieur and my sandwich-braised lamb with feta, cherry toms and harissa. I think I tried everything but the croque and can safely say-YUM! The bread was of course from La Brea Bakery (next door) and it was grilled perfectly-toasty and glistening with good olive oil. The classic grilled cheese with grainy mustard was so simple but just amazing-the best Gruyere and the best mustard+fresh rustic bread=perfection.

The other sandwiches were served tartine style, open faced to eat with a fork and knife. The burrata...what do I need to say about burrata? But the fresh chick peas on top plus the crispy garlic created a really nice textural contrast. My sandwich was SO filling but, the half that I ate was out of this world too.

I can't really say if Campanile in general is the bomb. We didn't get past the sandwiches (ok, with the exception of a few bottles of Rose) but if they are indicative of everything else in their kitchen, the place rocks.

Next time you're in LA on Thursday, do as Rob and Demi did in "About Last Night" and have a sandwich night. Hopefully it'll work out better for you than it did for them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

It's 80 degrees (again), spent the morning at the Hollywood Bowl and then lunch at the original Farmer's Market. Let's just say LA isn't so bad...

Here's what I'm reading today:

I've been making great banana bread for a long time (I'll post the recipe one of these days). Today's LA Times had a recipe for Banana Cake...let's face it, they're really the same thing, right? Well, this one gilds the lily with cream cheese frosting....yum!

Fresh Romano Beans are in season and I LOVE them. If you go to your farmer's market, look for the long, flat, wide green beans. These are not al dente beans-you want to cook them, a lot, and you'll really appreciate their delicousness. The New York Times has a simple and amazing looking recipe today. If you haven't braised Romano Beans before, now is the time to try.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles the 20 visionary Bay Area chefs. Congrats to my friend Craig and the rest of the list. As for recipes, the fruit crisp (surprise surprise) caught my eye. Not that it is particularly innovative but, the crisp part of the recipe is a great pantry staple. Here's what you do: make the recipe times four and put it in a large zip-top bag. Keep it in your freezer and anytime you've got summer berries or fruits lying around, you can throw them in a baking dish, large or small, top them with a layer of the crisp mixture and pop it in the oven-instant dessert!!

Up at the Seattle Times, it is blueberry season. Glazed Blueberry Poundcake is a great way to use those lovely little gems.

Happy reading and happy cooking!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dinner w/a Side of "Come Out With Your Hands Up"

Lots of people in L.A. say they prefer the food in S.F. but, since L.A. is where the action is, they stay here. After dinner at Lucques last night, I can say our meal was easily up to S.F. standards, if not beyond and, the action clearly is here!

is not new. On Melrose, in West Hollywood, it's held its own for a long time. Suzanne Goin, the chef and owner, did her time at Chez Panisse and her cooking sensibility reflects that. The menu is spot on in terms of seasonal ingredients. With six starters and nine entrees it was hard to decide where to begin.

We shared the 'summer fruit with jamon serrano, seal bay triple cream, and local pistachios'. Doesn't sound all that sexy but I just knew it would have the best of everything. This dish was the perfect example of taking ingredients that are stellar and creating a very simple dish. Peaches, summer melon, plums and figs were gently tossed with a pistachio vinaigrette, scattered over the jamon and a few dandelion greens and cozied up with a wedge of a rich triple cream cheese. A bite of everything together was out of this world. Fresh, sweet, salty, savory, and creamy....

This kitchen has a gift for balance in their dishes. Our main courses reflected this too. Crispy pork belly with peaches, saba, crushed pine nuts and shards of ricotta salata. "Crispy" was the key word-this pork was cooked to perfection with a crunchy exterior and a melt-in-your mouth interior. The peach-saba-cheese combination was, again, balanced so well. Our other entree was a signature dish of the restaurant: braised short ribs with sauteed baby swiss chard, meltingly tender cippolinis and horseradish cream. Get to the bad part of that one??

Churros y Chocolate sounded delish but, we opted for something a little less mainstream for dessert: sweet corn panna cotta topped with a crispy tuile cookie, and blackberry sorbet. It was sweet and savory at the same time, creating a dessert that wasn't too rich-but it totally hit the spot.

After dessert we walked out to get to our car and this is where the 'action' part comes in...The entire street was littered with police cars. The sheriff blocking the side walk where we were told us there was a 'disturbance' up the street and we couldn't get to our car (all this with his pistol drawn at his side). After walking down the back alley, thinking we could sneak to our car, we chatted up another cop. He told us that the owner of the store across from our car was being held by gunpoint! OK-so we're not going anywhere for a while. After watching another cop point his rifle at two people who tried to walk down the street and hearing the 'Come Out With Your Hands Up' warning, we snuck back into the restaurant and had a glass of wine while we waited it out. The street finally opened, hopefully the store owner was fine, and we were full and tired.

The verdict? Lucques holds a candle to the best restaurants I've eaten at, anywhere. The action? This IS where its at.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I'm Reading Today

Today will be brief...enjoy!

Los Angeles Times: I don't know if this Tuna Conserva holds a candle to Pizzeria Delfina's version but, Russ Parson's writes fantastic recipes so I'd give it a try. If you're not a fan of canned tuna, you'll love this home made version.

San Francisco Chronicle: I love corn chowder with fresh sweet corn. This version, Corn Chowder Topped with Corn Fritters, sounds decadent. If you're visiting your local farmer's market, now is the time to get your corn!

New York TImes: I am always asked if it is possible to make ice cream without an ice cream maker. I generally say 'no' but, food science genius Harold McGee debunks my answer with this recipe for Ice Cream in a Bag. It looks like a little more work that pouring the mixture into your handy machine but, sounds like a fun project to do if you've got the time.

Seattle Times: Sadly, today's Seattle Times published the article from the San Francisco Chronicle on Kitchen Essentials. This may be a repeat but, the content here is slim today.

Happy Reading and happy cooking!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The World's Best Bar Cookies

You saw the cover of this month's Gourmet, right? If it made your mouth water anything like it did mine, you are in for a treat.

The gorgeous picture is exactly what your bars will turn out like if you follow the recipe. There is nothing difficult, it just takes time. I made my bars in a baking sheet (jelly roll pan) and added another 1/3 of the ingredients to the crust and 1/3 to the topping. Once the filling was poured onto the cooked crust, they baked a little quicker than the recipe said (about 25 minutes).

I'd bought gorgeous black and raspberries the farmer's market so I combined the two for the topping. Rather than topping the bars then cutting them, I cut them first then spooned the berries on each piece. I almost 86'd the mint but, trust me, it makes all the difference. Also, there was no salt in the recipe so I added a pinch each to the crust and topping.

Two of my favorite desserts in the world are cheesecake and blackberry pie. This bar satisfies all my sweet cravings with a nutty caramelized crust, a rich, creamy topping, and bright fresh berries.

This will become a staple recipe in my kitchen. Let me know if you love it too!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

L.A. with a side of S.F. at Gjelina

I can't really say I've tried enough restaurants here in LA to make any sweeping judgments. Pink's was, well... hot dogs. Axe was fresh, a little severe, but absolutely delicious. Besides the local coffee shop, I've eaten twice at only one restaurant-Gjelina.

Gjelina opened just under a week ago on Abbot Kinney in Venice. The front of the menu screams "EAT LOCAL" and when you look at what's for dinner, you realize they take this mantra seriously. Unlike most SF restaurants, the dishes are described simply with out the requisite three-adjective-family tree description for each ingredient. You can share lots of smaller dishes or pick a starter and a larger plate. A good option for people who are over the whole "tapas of the world" thing.

My friend W and I went one night and were seated outside on the patio. The wooden walls and overhangs, marble and iron tables, and very-LA couches and candles gave the place an urban-cool vibe without being pretentious. Service was a little slow but, the dishes came out paced well and almost everything was tasty. The vegetables really shine here and the ones we ordered benefited from their time in the wood oven-roasted baby artichokes with cipollini onions and gremolata as well as eggplant with tomato confit and Parm. Seasoned perfectly, both dishes were nicely caramelized without being charred and very straight forward, letting the veggies shine without too much else. The pizza took took a turn in the wood oven too, creating a crisp crust, California style-not too thin, not to thick with a bit of blistering around the edges. Ours had Gruyere, caramelized onions and arugula. We also had the white prawns with chili, lemon, and mint-served in their own cast iron dish (also from the wood oven), these didn't quite hit the mark. The shrimp were fresh but, the we didn't detect the chili and the dish just fell a little flat. The net? I made a reservation on the way out so I could return a few nights later.

Flash forward to tonight. I went back with my husband and two friends we hadn't seen in ages. We were lucky to get a seat on the patio again. I had talked up my last meal so much, we ended up trying a lot of the same dishes. In addition, we had the mussels with ale, tomato and garlic bread, the sea bass with farro and the sweet pea and creme fraiche ravioli. The mussels came in a generous bowl with crusty bread for the broth. I didn't try them but, it seemed like a bottomless dish and it was getting rave reviews. The sea bass had a gorgeous crispy skin and it was just the right size, a really beautiful piece of fish. The ravioli...not so good. The pasta was on the thick side and the filling tasted of too much mint rather than peas or creme fraiche. The flavor combination sounded so yummy, we were sad it didn't live up to our expectations. Dessert-butterscotch pots de creme (with creme fraiche on top!) and a nectarine almond galette. I think we were so full we couldn't dive in too deep here. The pots de creme had a silky texture and was not too sweet, something that often happens with butterscotch. The tart was a little soft-the crust seemed to have gotten soggy somewhere along the way and the nectarines were no where near as sweet as the ones I've been getting at the farmer's market.

Still, Gjelina is a great spot. The crowd is smart, the space is cool and the food is fresh. The service needs some help (please don't take the dinner dishes from the table until everyone is done eating!) but, their commitment to seasonal, local food is clear. The menu rings of San Francisco but the space is definitely L.A.

Friday, August 1, 2008

To Marinate or To Brine....

...that is the question. The answer? It depends.

I think a lot of people believe the act of marinating something helps tenderize it. For the most part, this is an old wives tale. When you marinate something the ultimate goal is to infuse it with big flavor (for the purpose of today, 'it' = protein). Neutral flavored meats love marinades-they can amp up the taste and create seasonings that take your meals to another level.

The marinade itself should be bold, usually a bit salty, and somewhat acidic. The acid ingredient (vinegar, wine, lemon juice, etc.) will effect the texture of your meat to some extent. It will begin to break down the tough fibers in the meat, allowing the seasoning to penetrate from the outside in. You can over-do the acid-too much will create a mushy consistency and we all know meat that has the texture of thick oatmeal is pretty darn nasty. An overdose of acid can also begin to cook your protein. Think ceviche-it's fish that is essentially 'cooked' in acid (usually lime juice). If you're marinating a thin cut of meat or a piece of fish, don't use too much acid and keep the marinating time to a minimum. My favorite marinade is a balsamic soy combination and it's perfect with a flank steak that 's headed for the grill. Recipe is below.

Tenderizing a protein is a different story. Here the goal is to soak the meat in a liquid that will help retain juices and keep it from drying out. This is where brining comes in. A brine is not unlike a marinade in that it does season and can impart some flavors but, the basic brine ingredients are salt and water. The purpose of the brine is really two-fold: to season the meat inside and out and to help it retain moisture. Bruce Aidells, the king of brining, said (in Cooking Light) "
The concentration of water and salt is greater in the brine than it is in the meat; the meat absorbs the brine until the concentration of water and salt is equal in the brine and in the meat. Once inside the meat, the salt causes the proteins to unwind, become tangled, and trap moisture. This creates a barrier to prevent moisture loss during cooking; the result is a succulent, juicy piece of meat."

When you're thinking proportions, I usually stick with 2 cups water for every Tablespoon of kosher salt. For a whole chicken or four large bone-in pork chops you're probably looking at at least 8 cups water to 1/4 cup salt. Let the salt dissolve in the water then, if you like, season it up-crushed garlic cloves, sugar (I like brown sugar), bay leaves, rosemary or thyme sprigs, honey, etc...Large cuts of meat with the bones-in can brine 12-24 hours. Smaller cuts, especially boneless ones, will benefit from just 4-6 hours in the brine. Always brine your meats in the fridge and rinse them before you cook (pat them dry with paper towels after their rinse). I swear by brining when I cook whole chickens, pork of any kind, and my Thanksgiving turkey.

So, next time you're staring at a piece of meat you've brought home from the market, don't hesitate to marinate or brine it. If it's a big lean cut, go for the brine. If it's a smaller richer protein, give it a big marinade.

Marinated Flank Steak anyone?

I've been using this marinade for years and, honestly, have no idea where the original recipe came from. I think it's morphed from its original state so hopefully I am safe calling it my own. Enjoy!

1 large flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 large shallots, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Pat the steak dry and season it well with salt and pepper. Put the shallots in a dish large enough to hold the steak. Stir in the ginger, vinegar, brown sugar and soy sauce. Add the steak to the dish, turning it several times to coat on all sides. Cover the dish and refrigerate at least 2 hours, up to 2 days. Remove steak from the fridge at least 30 minutes before grilling and wipe any excess marinade off before cooking (or the shallots will burn). An average flank steak (about 3/4-1 inch thick) will take about 5 minutes per side to cook to medium rare. Enjoy!
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