Saturday, December 26, 2015

Coffee and Vanilla Bean Encrusted Tri-tip

Sweet Baby Jesus, I've found the perfect holiday rub. 

At once insanely savory and subtly sweet, this simple formula of coffee, vanilla bean, salt and pepper turns a modest Tri-tip roast into something celestial, cheery and warm. 

The rub lends a complex flavor profile and unique texture to this bottom sirloin cut that I've never experienced before -- resulting in utter tastebud titillation. If you want to surprise and tantalize the guests at your holiday table, this recipe is the new go-to.

Chiara Santi Conti, our fair Veronese friend and co-owner of Fabiolus Cucina Italiana Verona in Hollywood, introduced the recipe to me, which she sourced years ago in Food & Wine Magazine. Her execution of the dish is masterful and inspired. 

I could no longer find the original recipe online, but here is an adapted version: 

Coffee and Vanilla Bean Encrusted Tri-tip

1 3-to-6 LB Tri-tip roast
2 T Table salt
1 Vanilla bean
4 T Espresso or Dark Roast Coffee (never use instant coffee or espresso here)
1 T fresh ground black pepper

In a small mixing bowl put 2 tablespoons of table salt, open a vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife and scrap the seeds out with the help of the salt, by rubbing it against the small vanilla seeds to remove them.

Add 4 tablespoons of ground espresso coffee or dark roast coffee (NO INSTANT COFFEE), and 1 tablespoon of ground back pepper.

Trim the silver skin from the tri-tip roast, leave the bottom fat in place. 

Rub the tri-tip all over with the mixture, if you have some left put it on the fattest side of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight, if you have the time. Before cooking, remove from fridge and let the meat sit at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. 

Heat a large cast iron grill pan on stove to high heat. Sear the bottom fat side of the tri-tip roast for 4 minutes, then turn it over and immediately move to the oven. 

Roast the tri-tip for 10 minutes more per each pound (30 to 60 minutes more for a 3 to 6 pound tri-tip) or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.

Before carving, let the roasted meat sit for 10 minutes to redistribute juices & finish cooking.

Step 1: Incorporating the Vanilla Bean pod seeds into the salt.

Cover the tri-tip with the Coffee & Vanilla Bean rub.

Sear in grill pan, then roast.
Or just roast it in a roasting pan if you don't have a large grill pan.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Say It Ain't Gazpacho

A perfectly executed gazpacho is where Summertime's best bounty comes together in its starkest splendor. The ripest tomatoes, freshest cucumbers, most piquant peppers, sweetest onions when combined well and at the correct ratios can be a revelation.

Too often I've made gazpachos that lean too much toward the salsa-y or marinara-y or bland-y. It's made me abandon the pursuit for years at a time.

But when it happens just right you get ... velvet, an otherworldly orange pink sheen and a dynamite taste profile that bursts and bursts. That first sip of the tomato elixir is a heart breaker -- a life taker -- as any respectable '90s pop song will tell you.

Last week the NYTimes printed the definitive gazpacho recipe. In case you missed it, it really rocks.

One of the things I appreciate the most about it is the use of the unsung cubanelle pepper. Easily one of my favorites at the summer farmer's market, the elegant cubanelle has the perfect amount of heat that pretty much anyone can tolerate. I should also note that choice of quality olive oil and sherry vinegar goes a long way in this recipe.

BEST GAZPACHO by Julia Moskin


About 2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and roughly cut into chunks
1 Italian frying (cubanelle) pepper or another long, light green pepper, such as Anaheim, cored, seeded and roughly cut into chunks
1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 small mild onion (white or red), peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, more to taste
½ cup extra ­virgin olive oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling


Step 1 Combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender or, if using a hand blender, in a deep bowl. (If necessary, work in batches.) Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least 2 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Step 2 With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn bright orange or dark pink and become smooth and emulsified, like a salad dressing. If it still seems watery, drizzle in more olive oil until texture is creamy.

Step 3 Strain the mixture through a strainer or a food mill, pushing all the liquid through with a spatula or the back of a ladle. Discard the solids. Transfer to a large pitcher (preferably glass) and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.

Step 4 Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in glasses, over ice if desired. A few drops of olive oil on top are a nice touch.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Our neighborhood happens to be saturated with a host of walkable ice cream, gelato and frozen yogurt options. This is not the worst problem to have. The strident newcomer, Jeni's Ice Cream, recently brought top-dollar haute artisanal ice cream flavors -- $28 for 2 adults, 2 kids to lap up Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean, Wildberry Lavendar, Brown Butter Almond Brittle and a sundae -- along with snaking lines around the block at all hours of the day. Sure, it tasted great, but the overhead involved in the experience ruled it out as a high-frequency option for us.

Upon witnessing Jeni's auspicious launch, we shuddered to think how the other local establishments might fare against such stalwart artistry in a hipster hood, but so far each shop seems to be different enough to hold its own. Froyo Life wins huge with the family sect offering a large selection of frequently updated flavors, toppings, ample space/seating & free toys/board games to occupy the ankle biters while adults peruse their large selection of current magazines. Gelato Bar is a well turned-out traditional Italian gelateria experience with classic flavors as well as sorbetto and a few frozen Greek yogurt options. 

Then the high-drama began. After such gleaming fanfare, Jeni's was suddenly shuttered for weeks with no notice save for a handwritten sign posted by a neighbor urging the business to fess up to having a product riddled with Listeria that risked the health of the 'hood. It reopened and the long lines reappeared, but only for a short time before they closed again. This second Listeria outbreak scare was widely reported and even made the national news. Now it was very easy not to crave the high-priced, not-worth-the-wait dessert. 

Cut to last weekend at the Barnsdall Art Park Friday Night free-for-all (not) when I succumbed to the child pleading for an ice cream from the Jeni's Ice Cream food truck. Here I stood, only 3 people deep in the line, but still flashing back to the pre-Listeria days and excrutiating wait times. When I finally arrive at the window, I've already accepted the $5.50 cost for a child's 2-scoop ice cream, but am now greeted with a new offense: the $1.00 extra charge to have your ice cream put on a cone.

Where does Jeni get the balls to charge an extra dollar so your kid can have an ice cream cone?! $6.50?? Retreating with ice cream bowl in fist-clenched hand, I swore, Never again, Jeni.

How I longed for simpler times and the reasonable yet delicious suburban ice cream stand of my youth.

Then today, when and where I was least expecting it, I happened upon the answer to my local ice cream angst. A frozen gem a mere 3 blocks north of all this fierce competition: Little Dom's Deli. Although a limited flavor selection, Little Dom's Deli has gelato and frozen yogurt for $3.00 and comes with a cone. But not just any out-of-the-package cone -- our esteemed local pastry chef at Lil' Dom's, Katherine Anne, handmakes small-batch fresh waffle cones on a pizzelle griddle. All I can say is thank you ... and Little Dom's Deli wins!

Here's a recipe from to make your own waffle cones on a nifty pizzelle griddle at home:

Pizzelle Waffle Cones 
1 ⁄2 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar 
3 eggs 
1 1 ⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 ⁄2 tsp. baking powder 
1 ⁄4 tsp. kosher salt 
1 ⁄4 cup whole milk 
1 tsp. lemon zest 
1 ⁄2 tsp. almond extract 
1 ⁄2 vanilla bean, scraped, seeds only reserved 
10 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled 

Using an electric hand mixer, beat sugar and eggs in a bowl until pale yellow and thick, about 4 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in 3 tbsp. milk, the lemon zest, almond extract, and vanilla seeds. 

Gently fold in flour mixture until just incorporated, followed by the remaining milk and 7 tbsp. melted butter. Let batter rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Heat a pizzelle iron. Working in batches, brush iron with some of the remaining butter and add 1 heaping tbsp. batter to each mold. Close cover; cook until wafers are golden, 1 - 1-1⁄2 minutes. Wrap each wafer into a cone shape and let harden on a baking sheet, seam side down. Serve immediately, or store in an air-tight container for 1-2 days.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Pickle Potion

I'm always on the lookout for a killer quick pickle recipe for cukes and veggies alike. Lately I've been using Alice Waters' method from the Art of Simple Cooking, but here's something new from the Keller crew via Yahoo Food.

Blue Ribbon Pickles

Makes 6 liters

Even someone as distinguished as Chef Keller knows that the best recipes are the ones passed down from generation to generation. These pickles come courtesy of Betty Breeden, who happens to be the grandmother of The French Laundry’s Chef de Cuisine David Breeden. She used to make them without a recipe at home in Greenville, Tenn., where she still lives. Breeden put it in writing, and Keller’s restaurants have been using the recipe for eight years.

4 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
5 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon Tellicherry peppercorns
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon star anise
1 teaspoon coriander 
2 stalks celery, sliced to fit in pickling jars
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
3 sprigs dill
2 pounds cucumbers, washed well, blossom-end removed

In a large pot, bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar and salt.
Add the remaining ingredients and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

Cover cucumbers in liquid and let sit for at least 5 days. Best after 3 weeks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Golden Snapper in Cartoccio

After diving into this dish I declared we'd never eat anything but the whole fish from here on out. Exceptionally fresh, sweet and succulent, my dinner companions questioned if the golden snapper wasn't a poorman's lobster.

Scattered aromatics of leeks, fennel, parsley, and lemon adorned the sea specimen before we packed it into its parchment paper package to roast for roughly 10-15 minutes on 400 degrees.

Served with two veggie sides: a lightly crushed fingerling potatoes, white bean and Swiss chard sautée (inspired by Lucques) and quick braised fennel and asparagus.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last Days of Duck

If you inhabit the Golden State and can't imagine a special occasion without fois gras or shudder at the thought of no longer being able to douse your frites in duck fat, then you'd better get thee to thine nearest specialty supplier to stock up on all (finer) things duck before they disappear from local shelves.

On Sunday, July 1st, these products will be officially banned and no longer available for purchase legally in stores or in the finest restaurants of CA.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bloomin' Herbs

At the Echo Park farmers' market this week in Los Angeles, many of the stands showcased flowering edibles that were new to me. Blooming arugula, watercress, black radish were among the standouts. Also the petals of vibrant calendula flowers can be plucked and scattered on salads. Ready for snipping into herbaceous florid salads, the delicate blooms delight the eye and palate.

Flowering Watercress

Flowering Black Radish


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Don't Bite the Hand of Buddha...

That is, unless its peel has been sufficiently candied. This exotic citrus fruit infused and adorned my pre-anniversary dinner libation at Lucques -- where the mixologists deliver drinks that transport you.

The seasonal cocktail named the "Three-Two-Three" is made of buddha's hand infused vodka and orange liqueur with jalapeño, ginger and tangerine. I was amazed by the gangly, grotesque looking fruit with a pugent lemony odor that could easily beat any lemon-scented chemical cleaner. There's mostly pith and little to no pulp rendering it inedible. But in a cocktail, it is Nirvana.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pie All-Nighter, Prize Winning Day

Our favorite Runaway Mormon Girl Elizabeth Lovins introduced two new lookers at the KCRW "Good Food" Pie Contest Sunday at LACMA — The Black Betty Berry and The Saucy Suzy Chick. As a returning 2010 finalist in the Cream pie category (Coco Chanel Coconut Cream Pie), Lovins' venture into the crowded Fruit category and the Savory gamut required months of study and strategic consultation with the best of local purveyors to fill her pies with distinction. In fact, it took the village of Los Feliz to turn out these two special pies.

Lovins loves her morning Gibraltar coffee and baking banter with pastry goddess Katherine Anne at the Deli at Little Dom's. Here she learns the key to the tender, flaky crust she so desires after test rounds of recipes by Thomas Keller, Nigella Lawson, and Alice Waters -- 25% lard and 75% butter. But not just any butter. It had to be Beurremont or nothing, which she finally stumbles upon across the street at McCalls.

When Lovins tells proprietor Nathan McCall that she's interested in a blackberry pie, he steers her to the Padwill Farms stand at local farmers markets, swearing upon their sweetness. To enhance the berries and deepen the flavor, she visits our Barnsdall-Friday-night-heavy-pour pals at Silver Lake Wine for a cabernet sauvignon recommendation (Cannonball) to macerate the berries in, along with lime zest, lime juice, Nielsen-Massey vanilla paste, sugar and freshly powdered ginger from the Spice Station on Sunset.

The Spice Station also provides the tapioca pearls that Lovins experiments with as a thickening agent. The tapioca starch proves to be fatally soupy while the tapioca pearls leave gelatinous gobs throughout the pie. None of this will do. Corn starch might result in a thick, cloying filling, so she decides to go with instant tapioca for the competition. The pie needs 6 hours to cool down and set up after baking, so she begins the Black Betty Berry process at 3 am on Sunday as the pies need to be delivered between 11am - 1pm that day. 

The transition from an auspicious Saturday evening of art openings in Chinatown to late night pie workhorse is smoothed by a midnight-hour cup of coffee with friends and side of mashed potatoes at the Brite Spot.

At the same time, Lovins begins the stock for her chicken pot pie. The Saucy Suzy Chick is based on Thomas Keller's chicken pot pie recipe in the Ad Hoc cookbook. Again, Nathan McCall provides the chicken source and code for the stock — chicken carcass (cook 40-50 minutes), then add the breasts (cook 15-20 minutes more), then two legs (another 15-20 minutes). He also recommends a saucy modification on TK's bechamel in the pie -- substitute 1 of the cups of milk with chicken broth.

By 8 am the blackberry pie is cooling and now it's time to make the chicken pot pie. Enter yours truly to provide sous-chef support and coffee. The mandolined potatoes and carrots have been parboiled separately in TK's court boullion, celery blanched in salted water and sitting in ice bath, white and dark meat cooked and cooling, so I start on the pearl onions around 9:30 am using TK's method. Cut to 10:30 am when I've now managed to peel and parboil the pear onions per TK. Lovins tends to the bechamel, which is taking forever to thicken. This pie needs about 1 hour to bake and we've got a lot to assemble before we get into the oven. 

Once the bechamel is complete, Lovins rolls the dough for the crust while I gingerly (with care not spice) combine the seasoned sauce with the veggies and then with the chicken and then combine those two. By the time we egg wash the bottom crust to seal it from sogginess, put in the filling, get the crust on top and finally pop the potpie into the oven, it's 11:30 am. This leave us one hour on the nose for baking and then speed to LACMA like lunatics to get the pies there by the 1 pm entry cut-off time. 

We realize there is a flaw in this plan -- the contest entry states no "hot" pies will be accepted. We're gonna have one steaming mother on our hands. Enter Brett Cody. We task him to make a pie transporter with a built in cooling-system. No problem! He locates a milk crate, fits cardboard on the bottom and lays ice packs from the mini-cooler along the bottom. He then places the wire cooling rack on top of that and zip-ties it to the crate to stabilize it. A kitchen towel goes on top of that so the pie dish won't slide around. Voila! 

It's now clear this is going to have to be a pie shuttle situation. The first shuttle leaves with The Black Betty at 12:25 pm while The Saucy Suzy Chick follows behind in Car Number 2 at 12:35 pm. We each race down 6th Street at top-speed and get there with minutes to spare. Saucy Suzy is pretty hot still but there's a long line that gives us 30 minutes more of cooling time -- directly on top of the ice packs. 

The competition is fierce this year as the number of entrants and pies seem to have tripled from 2010. In the end, Evan Kleiman does not call out "Lizzie," Betty or Suzy's name, but with all the new learning, local expertise and friends behind her there's no question that Elizabeth Lovins is winning.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mer e Terra

This weekend's fall dinner party menu mixed French and Italian. A fine combo -- we'll hang out near the French/Italian border anytime, especially the environs of Roquebrune or Cap Martin.

The raw materials:

Scallops from McCalls in Los Feliz and Butternut Squash from a local farmer's market.

The result:

Baby Romaine Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Salt & Pepper Seared Sea Scallop (U8)

Fresh Pappardelle with Melted Leeks, Roasted Butternut Squash in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Recipes follow.

Salade //

Baby Romaine Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Salt & Pepper Seared Sea Scallop

Toast 1/3 c. whole hazelnuts (in toaster oven or iron skillet on stove top or in oven) until fragrant, browned, but not burnt. Let cool slightly.

Place hazelnuts in plastic bag and pound with mallet until coarsely chopped. Put in bowl, add 1/2 tsp finely diced shallot, then add 2 tsp Sherry Vinegar. Let sit for 5 minutes so the flavors combine. Add about 1/2 cup olive oil (to taste really) & then mix with a fork. The vinaigrette should appear broken and loose, not emulsified. Put aside until ready to compose salad.

Wash/soak baby romaine or any other mild market lettuce with ice cubes in water to crisp (1-3 mins), then remove cubes and spin dry. Pat dry gently with paper towel or tea towel to remove any moisture. Put dried lettuce in bowl and toss with spoonfuls hazelnut vinaigrette until salad is nicely dressed, but not drenched. Plate the salad on individual plates, as you want each serving ready to be crowned with a seared scallop.

Put iron skillet on high heat. Add olive oil. Rinse scallops and pat completely dry. Season each side w/ kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. When oil is smoking, add scallops to the pan, but space them far apart as possible. You may need to cook them in two batches if you have more than 4 or 5 scallops. Cook for 2-3 minutes on first side to get a nice caramelized, crusty sear, then flip with thongs to the other side. Cook for 2 minutes or less. Immediately transfer each scallop to the awaiting salad plate and place on top at an appealing angle.

Primi //

Fresh Pappardelle with Melted Leeks, Roasted Butternut Squash in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and cut butternut squash into bite-sized cubes. Put cubes in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, and fresh grated nutmeg. Place butternut squash cubes on baking sheet and roast about 30 minutes.

While the butternut squash cooks, begin the leeks. Cut the white part of 2-3 leeks into 1/8-inch thick discs. Rinse in a bowl of water to remove any dirt between layers. Melt 3-4 Tbsp unsalted butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add leeks to melted butter & season with salt & pepper, fresh thyme leaves if you have them. Cook until they begin to wilt, 5-10 minutes, then add 3 Tbsp water. Once liquid boils, lower heat and cook until liquid is almost evaporated and leeks are very soft, another 10 minutes. Remove from heat, place leeks in a bowl and set aside until later.

Begin cooking water for pasta, lightly salted.

Cut sheets of fresh pasta (I had 8 sheets) into wide pappardelle ribbons. Set aside.

Check butternut squash after 20-25 minutes to see how done it is and turn with spatula. Remove from oven when soft & slightly caramelized, but not burnt. Save for later.

Clean 6-8 large sage leaves with a damp paper towel and then pat completely dry.

Next, cook the fresh pasta. Throw it in the boiling water for between 2-3 minutes -- but no more than 3 minutes! Drain & immediately put in large pasta serving bowl.

In a small saute pan or sauce pan, throw healthful caution to the wind and melt 2 sticks of unsalted butter. Watch the butter closely, once it start to slightly caramelize and turn brown, toss in the sage leaves (they will crackle and spatter in a lively manner), then quickly remove the pan from heat so the brown butter doesn't burn.
Remove the sage leaves with thongs and set aside on a small plate.

Pour the brown butter sauce over the pasta and toss gently until it is thoroughly coated. Add the melted leeks and butternut squash and toss again gently until evenly distributed. Crumble sage leaves over the top.

Enjoy. Start with a Chablis, end with a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and envision the Med.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lunch Hour: Smokin' Willie's BBQ Truck

There's nothing worse than showing up late to a barbecue because of a conference call that went too long, and having only scraps remain. (And missing the raucously fun live honky-tonk pop band to boot.)

Being such a lover of good 'cue, I was ready to hunker down and salvage the last savory bits of pork and potato salad. Luckily, Camille was there to save me from myself and point me in the right direction: Smokin' Willie's BBQ truck was parked just a few steps away down the patio ramp. Enter ray of hope!

The LA food truck sensation has been widely reported by my fellow food bloggers, and with all the local varieties out there we've nearly reached critical mass. So I guess I'm a little late to this party as well. Though I must admit, the Great Hot Dog Letdown of 2008 at the much-lauded Let's Be Frank truck in Culver City left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for "gourmet" mobile meals.

As I approached the truck, I saw a frenetic Willie drenched in sweat and working overtime to serve the lunch rush. People were no longer ordering, Willie was just maniacally tossing tacos, sliders, and sandwiches out his window. He gave me one look and shouted, "OK, she's gotta get my killer one!!"

What arrived was a no-frills BBQ Meatball Sandwich on a bun with two slices of mozzarella cheese. I appreciated that Willie's meatballs came lightly dressed in his signature tangy barbecue sauce and that the cheese wasn't melted. It was just the right balance for a hot day -- nothing too sticky, sloppy or unwieldy, and the flavors presented themselves in a bright clean way. The meatballs were dense and succulent, as one would hope.

Next up was a Pulled Chiptole Chicken Slider. The first bite had very surprising zingy citrus palate and made me realize what an over-chipotletized world we live in. Well done, Willie -- you've mastered that fine line between flavorful and flavor-overload.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Concept, High Spirits: Bar Bouchon

Today, I found myself in Beverly Hills before the lunch rush and decided it was high time to pay a visit to Thomas Keller's recently opened Bouchon Beverly Hills.

Thinking I'd try my luck for a lunch reservation or at the very least scope it out for a later date, I arrived to find an unexpected and even more enticing option for the solo patron: the Bar Bouchon wine bar.

Intimate, no reservations taken, a newly crafted small plates menu, and chic outdoor tables alongside a perfect European-inspired garden -- my heart quickened as I eyed up all the empty spaces.

After a quick tour of the stunning and grand bistro upstairs, I decided to grab a seat at the more casual wine bar for lunch.

Bar Bouchon is appointed with all the elements that characterize Bouchon Bistro (and the bistros of Lyon, France, for that matter): the pewter bar, classic bistro mirrors, chalkboard menus, gladiolas, vibrant floor tiles, as well as a window into the kitchen à la Bouchon Bakery.

The bar hosts a modest 8 chairs, plus 6 more at a side counter bar and probably 8 tables outside. The delectable creations by the pastry chef sit atop the end of the bar in glass cake plates near the kitchen. An abbreviated raw bar display of succulent pink shrimp and oysters on an ice bed rests below a variety of vegetables perfectly preserved in glass mason jars.

Dizzy with the thrill for this kind of food and its culture, I felt I had found a new home in LA.

Ryan, Bar Bouchon's manager, and Jesse who was manning the bar gave me the lowdown on Thomas Keller's new concept. Bouchon Bar is the more relaxed cousin (no bow-ties), but same high-quality food as Bouchon, and features a tapas-style menu of smaller plates. They've added a "Jardin" section of vegetable appetizers -- fennel, beets, cauliflower, etc -- and include some of Bouchon's greatest hits: olivade, salmon rillettes, macaroni gratin with truffles, tartines, salads, seafood raw bar, cheeses, charcuterie and special Plats du Jour. I opted for two items on the Plats du Jour menu: a chicken curry tartine and a bowl of cauliflower soup. Both were divine.

The bar is stocked with artisanal and carefully curated spirits. You won't find Grey Goose, Belvedere or any of the well-known premium brands. Instead their vodka choices are Russian Standard and Charbay from California. Beers on tap include White Apron, made for French Laundry by Russian River Brewing Company and Blue Apron, made for Per Se by Brooklyn Brewery. Bar Bouchon also introduces the Vin de Carafe label -- a partnership between Keller's team and various producers and winemakers in the Napa valley -- at a very nice price point. I had the white Vin de Carafe with lunch, which was a very lively and yummy Chardonnay.

Keller opened Bar Bouchon three weeks ago and is testing the concept here in Los Angeles with hopes of expanding the brand and opening in more locations. I, for one, consider us extremely lucky!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chef Theo Peck's Cook-off Quest

Cooking competitions are all the rage among New York's young and hyper-social culinary enthusiasts, as reported in today's "Dining In" section of the New York Times.

EQ takes special interest as we covered the cook-off competition circuit in November 2008, interviewing the then newly crowned "King of Casseroles" Chef Theo Peck. The article, "In New York, the Taste of Victory," profiles Peck as the "man to beat," having since acquired three more championship titles and consistently ranking in the Top Two of all cook-offs he has entered.

Peck is characterized as something of a comeback kid as these sweet culinary victories follow a crushing defeat earlier in the Fall when his plans to open his first restaurant in Fort Greene Brooklyn were crushed as his funds fell victim to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. The Times reports:

Mr. Peck, 37, has spent most of his life around the restaurant business. His family owned Ratner’s, the venerable Lower East Side kosher dairy restaurant, where he often worked as a cashier. After college, he and a friend opened the Lansky Lounge in Ratner’s back room, briefly the hottest bar in the newly gentrified neighborhood. He ended up at the New England Culinary Institute and cooked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and at Hugo’s in Portland, Me.

He returned to New York last year, planning to open his own restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He acquired partners and was ready to put up his own money — money he had saved and invested. Unfortunately, he said, it was invested with Bernard Madoff.

“I was devastated,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Killing time online, he discovered the local competition scene. His girlfriend nudged him to participate.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just go and do this casserole contest and get your mind off it? You’ll get yourself back in the game a little.’ ”

So Mr. Peck showed up at the Fourth Annual Casserole Party — held last November in a Greenpoint bar — bearing a casserole he had prepared in his Stuyvesant Town apartment. It featured roasted orange cauliflower and thinly sliced purple potatoes, mixed with apples and bacon. He had bound the vegetables with garlic-infused cream and Gruyère, and covered the top with fried onions and crisp shredded phyllo sheets. It took first prize.

Ms. Erway proclaimed Mr. Peck “King of the Cauliflower Casserole.”

Having known Theo for many years, EQ is thrilled to see him in the spotlight. His passion and commitment to cuisine is in his blood. He is a gifted and visionary chef with a very bright future (not to mention highly personable, hilarious, exceptionally telegenic, and primed for a book deal).

Follow Chef Theo Peck on his food blog, Carnivore Hearts Herbivore. And if you're in NYC, don't miss Chef Peck's latest creations at the First Annual Brooklyn Beer Experiment -- a cook-off featuring dishes made with beer, as well as home brewing competition -- on June 7 at the Bell House.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Toronto's Top Locavore

We were doubly lucky in Toronto to attend the beautiful wedding celebration of our dear friends Jed and Jess, and then feast upon exceptional food at the reception from local purveyors prepared by top Canadian chef Jamie Kennedy.

During the cocktail hour, Jamie manned an open blini bar while chatting with wedding guests. He served up cured local salmon and whitefish on fresh-off-the-griddle blinis with a bed of pickled radishes and topped off with roe.

Jamie is known for being a fervent supporter of cooking with locally produced ingredients and the Slow Food movement in Canada. This is how he approached the wedding menu: everything including the wines (a Syrah and a Riesling) came from the Ontario region.

The dinner featured seasonal standouts including pickled heirloom beets with blue cheese and watercress, a Pistou soup studded with green garlic and fiddlehead ferns, a just-caught Georgian Bay Day Boat whitefish in a Spring herb migonette with leeks, green garlic, and new potatoes, and a roast galantine of capon with spring carrots, braised greens and chive mashed potatoes.

Similar to his wildly successful American celebrity chef counterparts there was evidence of the cottage industry of all things Jamie, from signature bottled water to crystal wine glasses etched with his logo.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

1 Birthday, 3 Cakes

This month, my adorable anti-blogging agent, aka "Baby Van," had his first birthday. Given our bicoastal collection of family and dear friends, he was thrown not one, not two, but three different parties to celebrate. Van had a kids patio party in Los Feliz, a family luncheon in Syracuse, NY, and a chic Upper East Side affair in NYC.

Each of the cakes were delicious and very different -- a marble cake molded in a classic Wilton Winnie-the-Pooh cake pan, a rich carrot cake with tangy cream cheese frosting, and a black and white triple layer cake with fresh strawberry filling and whipped cream frosting. See if you can match each cake to its respective party.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Feast

Care to eat like the most awesome leader to grace the free world who will change the face of our planet as we know it? Here's what Barack Obama is having for his first meal as 44th President of the United States.

(recipes to follow)

Seafood Stew

paired with Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

A Brace of American Birds (Pheasant and Duck)

served with Sour Cherry Chutney and Whipped Molasses Sweet Potatoes
paired with Goldeneye, 2005 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake
and Sweet Cream Glacé
paired with Korbel Natural Special Inaugural Cuveé, California Champagne


+ RECIPES, courtesy of the Joint Congressional Committe on Inaugural Ceremonies

First Course

Seafood Stew
Yield: 10 servings
6 (1 Lb) Maine lobsters
20 medium size Sea scallops
36 Large shrimp, peel, cleaned and tail removed, aprox. 2 lbs.
10 (1 oz) pieces of black cod
1/2 cup small dice carrots
1/2 cup small dice celery
1/2 cup small dice leek
1/2 cup small dice Idaho potato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper or black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup dry vermouth (can be made without)
10 (5 inch) puff pastry rounds

10 (3 1/2 inch) terrines/ramekins or serving dish of your choice

1. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil; poach lobsters, then shrimp, then black cod and last scallops. After seafood is cooked, remove from water; reserve water and bring to boil.
2. Cook all vegetables in liquid that was used for the seafood, remove vegetables when tender. Allow the liquid to continue to boil until only 1qt of liquid remains. This will be the base for the sauce.
3. Bring seafood liquid back to a boil and add the vermouth and heavy cream and reduce by half, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. You have reached your desired thickness when the sauce will cover the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
4. Cut Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops into bite size pieces.
5. Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees.
6. Fold seafood and vegetables into cool sauce, being careful not to mix too much as this will break up the seafood. Scoop mixture into terrines or oven proof baking dish of your choice.
7. Cover terrines with puff pastry rounds, brush them with egg wash and bake them until golden brown about 8-10 minutes, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. You can cook this 2-3 hours ahead of time and keep warm at 150 F degrees.
* All seafood can be substituted with other favorite options of your choice and availability.

Second Course

Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney
Yield: 10 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Scant 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper (1/2 medium)
1 plum tomato, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 can (3 cups) Bing cherries, quartered *Oregon brand
1/2 cup Golden Raisins
10 (6 oz.) boneless duck breasts with skin
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chives 

Method for chutney and glaze
Heat oil in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, garlic, and shallot, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste, black pepper, cumin, hot pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in wine, vinegar (to taste), and sugar and simmer approx 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, 1 1/2 cups cherries, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer 1 minute. Allow to cool slightly and reserve all but • cup of the mix to the side. Place1/4 cup mix in a blender and puree until very smooth, about 1 minute (use caution when blending hot liquids). Reserve for glazing duck. To finish the chutney, add the remaining 1 • cups of cherries, tarragon, chives and all the golden raisins. Can be prepared one day ahead.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Score duck skin in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife and season duck all over with salt and pepper.
Heat water in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over low heat until hot, then add duck, skin side down. Cook duck, uncovered, over low heat, without turning, until most of fat is rendered(melted) and skin is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Transfer duck to a plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Brush duck all over with cherry glaze and return to skillet, skin side up.
Roast duck in oven until thermometer registers 135°F, about 8 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Holding a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, cut duck into slices. Serve with cherry chutney and molasses whipped sweet potato.

Herb Roasted Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing

Yield: 10 portions
10 Pheasant breast, boneless, remove tenders and reserve for stuffing, cut small pocket in side of breast for stuffing
1/2 cup Olive oil with chopped rosemary, thyme and sage
1 lb. Wild rice, long grain
2 quarts Chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 Carrots, diced
1/2 Onion, diced
1/2 cup Dried apricot, small diced
1 Tablespoon Salt and pepper mix
2 Tablespoons Garlic, roasted

1. Boil the rice with the chicken stock, cook until soft and most of the liquid is gone.
2. Add the onion, carrot, garlic and apricot. Cook until the vegetables are soft and all liquid has been absorbed. Refrigerate rice mixture until cold.
3. In a food processor, puree pheasant tenders to a paste consistency to use as a binder for rice mix.
4. When rice is cool, add the pheasant puree to the rice until well mixed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and return to refrigerator until ready to stuff.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
6. Make 10 small football shaped patties of the rice mix, stuff inside the pheasant, being careful not to overstuff the pheasant. Rub herb/oil mixture on top and bottom of the pheasant, season with salt and pepper. Place the pheasant on a heavy gauge roasting pan and then in a preheated oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with lid or foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve over sauté of spinach.
*Pheasant can be substituted with chicken.

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 2 quarts
3 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
3. Peel the skin off of the sweet potatoes while still hot.By hand or mixer, smash potatoes until all large chunks are gone. Combine the potatoes, butter, salt, orange juice, brown sugar, ground cumin, molasses and maple syrup in a large bowl. Continue to mix all together until all lumps are gone. Adjust any of the seasonings to your specific tastes. Can be made the day before.

Winter Vegetables

Yield: 10 servings
2 bunches Asparagus, green, bottom 1/3 of stem removed
2 lbs. Carrots, peeled, cut oblong or large dice
1 lb. Baby Brussel Sprouts, fresh,cleaned or frozen can be used
1 lb. Wax Beans, ends snipped
2 oz Butter
1 each Zest from orange
4 oz. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Asparagus: preheat grill or large heavy bottom sauté pan. Rub 2 oz of olive oil on asparagus and season with pinch of salt and pepper. Lay flat on grill or sauté pan until lightly browned. Using long fork or tongs, rotate the asparagus to brown other sides. Usually 2 or 3 minutes per side. The asparagus is done when you can use a fork to cut through. Do not overcook, this will cause asparagus to become stringy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Carrots: bring 3 qt salted water to a boil, add carrots to water and cook until fork tender, meaning a fork will easily pass through the carrot. Drain the water from the pot and toss 1 oz butter and zest of orange and mix until carrots are coated. Season with pinch of salt and enjoy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Brussel Sprouts: For Fresh: Bring 3 qt salted water to a boil, cut into the stem of the sprout with a pairing knife to create an X on the bottom, this will allow the stem to cook more evenly. Place sprout in boiling water and allow to cook until bottom of sprout is tender and easily cut with a knife. Preheat a heavy bottom sauté while the sprouts are cooking. Remove sprouts from water and allow all water to drain completely. Add 2 oz oil to sauté pan and add the sprouts, season with salt and pepper while tossing the sprouts around to evenly brown in the pan. If sprouts are too big, you can cut them in half, keep warm until ready to serve.
For Frozen: Bring 3 qt salted water to a boil and drop frozen brussel sprouts into water, these are precooked so you are only thawing them out. Remove from water and sauté as above.
Yellow Wax beans: bring 3 qt salted water to boil, add snipped wax beans to water and allow to cook until fork tender or to your liking of doneness. Remove from water and toss with 1 oz butter and season with salt and pepper.

Third Course

Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake
Yield: 10 servings
Apple Filling
4 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bread Crust

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melt 10 of tablespoons
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
34 slices brioche bread (or white bread)

10 Ceramic baking ramekins or metal molds (3” diameter)

2 cups caramel sauce(store bought)
2 cups granny smith apples, peeled, cored, diced small
Pinch sugar
Pinch cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Ice Cream
1 quart vanilla ice cream

1. Melt butter 
1. Melt butter in 6-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add apples and caramelize, add water, cook, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are completely soft. Remove cover and add sugar, nutmeg and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring apples frequently, until liquid has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, apple sauce and vanilla. Set aside to cool while making crust. The filling can be made one day ahead.
Making crust and assembly
1. Position oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Grease 8 ceramic dishes with 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle sugar in dish and tilt to coat bottom and sides. Tap out excess sugar and set aside.
2. Using a bread knife, remove crusts from bread. Center the bottom of mold over one of the bread squares. Cut around mold to form circle to use as the top. Make a total of 20 of these round pieces. Ten will be for the bottom and 10 will be used for the top. Dip each one in melted butter and place at the bottom of mold.
3. Cut each of the 15 remaining slices of bread into four rectangular pieces. Dip one side of each strip in the melted butter and arrange strips, upright, around the inside of molds, buttered-sides against mold and overlapping by about 1/2” to completely line mold. Use 6 rectangles to line the mold.
4. Spoon the apple filling into bread-lined molds, mounding it slightly in center.
5. Take the remaining ten rounds of bread and dip pieces of bread into the melted butter and place on top of filling, buttered-sides up. Press down lightly.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, then cover top loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until top is deep golden brown and side slices are golden brown (slide a thin-bladed knife between bread and pan to check). Remove from oven, uncover, and let rest for 15 minutes on wire rack. Run thin-bladed knife around edges of molds to be able to flip the mold out onto serving plates.
7. For the apple cinnamon caramel sauce, sauté 1 cup of peeled and diced Granny Smith apples in butter, add a pinch of sugar and cinnamon. Allow to cook until apples are lightly browned and all sugars have dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 cups caramel sauce to the apples and stir to coat apples.
To Assemble: Pour caramel apple sauce over warmed apple cakes and serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream.