Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not Your Grandma's Brittle

'Tis the season for confections of all kinds, but let me turn you on to the most delectable ones I've come across this year. Echo Park-based chef Max Lesser updates the classic holiday peanut brittle with an artisinal hand and high-quality ingredients. His brittle branches out into new flavor territory such as Indian Curry and Pistachio; Cocoa Nib, Coffee Bean & Pecan; Chai Tea and Cashew (my personal favorite); New Mexico Chili and Pumpkin Seed; and Fleur de Sel and Peanut.

Max raises the bar and the results are delicious! If you're dying to try it, visit Morning Glory Confections on the web, or if in Silverlake, stop by the Cheese Shop on Sunset where they carry the locally made brittle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peck Nabs Brooklyn "Casserole King" Title With Cauliflower Clincher

Brooklyn is home to many, but there's only one King of Casseroles, and his name is Theodore Peck. On Monday evening in a heated competition, Peck took first place among 28 other casserole contestants in the fourth annual matchup of culinary grit.

EQ caught up with his highness to learn of the savory taste of victory -- and get the winning recipe for Peck's cauliflower, purple potato and bacon casserole.

EQ: When you heard the word "casserole" what was the first thing that popped into your mind?

Ted: Honestly I thought mushroom soup and cheese. You know, like most people try to put as much garbage like mushroom soup and cheese into a casserole. I thought, wow, there's gotta be a way to make it lighter. Casseroles don't need to feel heavy. So I decided to enter the competition with that goal in mind.

EQ: Was there any kind of cuisine or school of cooking in your approach to the casserole?

Ted: Seasonal, as you can imagine someone coming from the school of Dan Barber. I thought to myself, if Dan Barber made a casserole this is what it would be like. There's a different way of thinking about it when you are in a professional kitchen. So then I considered what I've been seeing at the farmer's maket. I've been eating a lot of cauliflower lately -- really digging it -- so I thought: This is it.

EQ: Were there any childhood casserole memories that inspired you?

Ted: What a charming question. I think a lot of people from the mid-west might have that, but I'm from New York, so no. The closest childhood memory I have to a casserole is potato dauphinois (said with tongue firmly in cheek and a French accent). It's sad, but it's actually true.

EQ: What was your reaction when you heard your name called out as the winner?

Ted: I never won anything in my life except for this contest. I think I almost went into cardiac arrest.

EQ: If you were invited to contend in the Iron Chef "casserole" battle, which Iron Chef would you challenge and how do you think you'd fare against him/her?

Ted: If I had to go into a Battle Royale, I think I could kick Bobby Flay's ass. Because I think Bobby Flay would make some mayonnaise-y chipotle casserole. Tostada, cumin, queso fresco -- it would be so easy to predict exactly what he would make. Basically, I think he'd be a dead man. He should just stay at home.

EQ: What's next for the Casserole King of Brooklyn?

Ted: You gotta take it one casserole at a time. But I will tell you this much: I see many culinary competitions out there in the future. I will happily enter into the Fondue Slam -- actually, Fondue Take-down -- in two weeks.

Caulifornication Casserole

by Theodore Peck

3 to 4 heads Cauliflower (Purple, Cheddar, or Regular)
2 ½ Cups Garlic Cloves, trimmed
1 ½ Cups Olive Oil
1 Lbs Bacon, cut into lardoons
4-6 ea Potatoes, waxy varieties
6 T Parsley, chopped
3 Cups Milk, whole
4 Sprigs Thyme
1 ea Apple, peeled, diced
1 T Honey
1 tsp Nutmeg, fresh grated
2 T Butter
1 to 2 Cups Shredded Cheese, like gruyer
½ Cup Shredded Parmesan
1 Cup Fried Onions
2 Cups Panko Crumbs
2 Cups Phyllo, shredded

Pre-heat oven to 350 and butter your Pyrex dish. Cut Cauliflower into small florets, trimmed of stems and place in large bowl. Take ½ Cup of garlic and slice lengthwise in half.
Place a generous cup of olive oil in a pan with the sliced garlic and heat over a low to medium-low heat until the garlic starts to brown (15 – 20 min).
With slotted spoon, remove garlic from oil (reserve the oil for use in topping) and place in the bowl with Cauliflower along with a couple of tablespoons of garlic oil, splashes of olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, toss, and let sit while you do some other stuff.

Slice the potatoes on a mandolin, not too thin, toss with oil and salt and scallop layer the bottom of your dish. Place in the oven till the potatoes are slightly crisp and brown on top.
Then place the cauliflower in a single layer on a sheet tray, use two if necessary, and roast in the oven until there is some browning, and some moisture has evaporated.

Fry bacon until almost crisp and drain.

To make the garlic cream: Place two cups of garlic cloves in a pot and cover in cold water and bring up to a simmer. Strain the garlic, return it to the pot and cover again in cold water bring to simmer and strain. Strain the garlic, return it to the pot, add the milk, apple, thyme, nutmeg, salt & pepper and bring to a simmer. Let it cool, remove the thyme sprig, and place the rest into a blender along with honey and butter, make a puree…

In large bowl combine the cauliflower, bacon, 3T parsley.

In a large saucepan, heat the garlic puree, add 1T butter, and whisk in 1-2 cups of shredded cheese until smooth and melted. Add the puree to the bowl with the cauliflower and stuff, and mix well. Place the mix into the Pyrex on top of the potatoes. Press the mix into the Pyrex using a spatula.

For the recipe that never ends: Now for the topping. Heat a pan and add 3 T garlic oil, two cups panko crumbs, 1T parsley, and salt. Toss and heat until toasted. Place in a bowl with the fried onions. Heat the pan again add 3T garlic oil, the phyllo, parsley, salt and toss until toasted. Place into the bowl. When the bowl cools, add ½ cup parmesean and toss. Press onto the casserole.

Bake at 350 until crust browns and there is some bubblin’.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chez Panisse + Dosa in Downtown LA

At the intersection of food and fashion this weekend were creations celebrating the local and artisinal alike. Housed in the airy loft space of fashion and housewares label, Dosa, artist/designer Christina Kim co-hosted an afternoon event with chef Alice Waters to benefit the Chez Panisse Foundation's Edible Schoolyard project.

Dosa showcased its discounted fall/winter "Casa Malatesta Franzini" traveler collection -- inspired by Kim's recent journeys and interaction with far-flung traditional cultures and craftsmanship -- while Waters held court and catered the party, bringing her trademark sustainable, local, and organic cuisine to a captive audience of Angelenos. It was a simple but visually stunning marriage of parallel approaches and philosophies to Waters and Kim's respective arts.

A small staff from Chez Panisse crafted an autumnal bounty gathered from local farmers' markets here on Saturday in Santa Monica and on Sunday in Hollywood. They staged a delectable still life of persimmons, pomegranates, apples, almonds, grapes, plums, and meyer lemons, plus a plate of fresh-pickled veggies including fennel, carrots, and radishes.

Chez Panisse servers emerged from the open kitchen with platters of rich farmer-fresh egg salad sandwiches, tangy watercress and cucumber sandwiches, and savory flat-pressed paninis with prosciutto, arugula and a fresh mozzarella made by a local gentleman who attended the event. A cleansing mint tea was offered to soothe and wash down the small bites.

The only imports on the menu were the roasted almonds from Chez Panisse's local provider in Berkeley, CA, reported the restaurant's general manager Jennifer Sherman, and the spectacular Fleur de la Terre cheese from Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, IN. Sherman lauded the Mid-Western diary's sustainable practices and 100% organic milk from grass-fed cows (no grain whatsoever), which produces a heavenly raw-milk, natural rind cheese.

For the eco-minded and taste-conscious, the event was not to be missed. Not to mention a chance to chat with the affable revolutionary and inspiration to many market-to-table cooks, chef Alice Waters.

- by Jennifer Eno

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night Nibbles

Since nervously gnawing on our fingernails could only get us so far, I decided to whip up some election night hors d'oeuvres for our viewing party. Working with only what was already on-hand, I drummed up a spontaneous stuffed mushroom concoction. The results were well received and seem worth noting, so here goes:

"Yes We Can" Stuffed Mushrooms With Scallops

12-15 whole baby Portobello or Crimini mushroom caps
Canola oil
8-10 large scallops, diced
a pinch of dried red chili pepper flakes
1 T fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, thinly slivered
1-1/2 c. fresh spinach, finely chopped
1/4 c. Mirin wine
Dash of soy sauce

Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel and trim the stems and cap area so it's primed for stuffing. Place mushroom caps in a glass Pyrex dish and drizzle with Canola oil, toss until they are lightly coated. Place in broiler to pre-cook for 5-7 minutes, just until they start to release a little liquid. Remove from broiler.

In a wok or skillet over medium heat, place 2 tablespoons of Canola oil and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Wait for oil to heat up and red chili flakes to begin to infuse the oil, then add ginger, garlic, scallions, gently stirring constantly with spatula for 1-2 minutes. Add diced scallops and continue to cook, gently stirring constantly until they start to turn opaque, 1-2 minutes. Then add spinach, cook stirring for 1 minute. Add Mirin wine and dash of soy, increase heat a little to cook wine off quickly until a loose reduced sauce remains, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use a teaspoon to place scallop stuffing mixture into partially cooked mushroom caps -- put enough so the cap is heaping with the stuffing. At this point you could sprinkle the top with Panko breadcrumbs, but I didn't have any.

Place Pyrex dish with stuffed mushrooms in preheated 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes more to reheat. Shout "YES! OBAMAAAAAAAA!!" and serve.

Also on the finger food menu that night:
+ Terikayi Tri-Tip
+ Roasted Asparagus Spears with Ponzu sauce

3 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Blue Curacao

Chill, stir, pour into martini glass. Watch the red states turn blue!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Desperate Times Call for More Frugal Ingredients

Time to save those truffle shavings for another day. Tonight we're gonna menu plan like it's 1929! Here are my Top 5 austerity budget meals.

1. Tomato Bread Soup
Don't let that day old baguette go to waste. Also, it's still high season for tomatoes at the farmers' markets here in the Southland.

2. Arroz con Pollo
This dish makes great use of the cheaper (and tastier) cuts of chicken: thighs and legs.

3. Pasta with Tuna, White Bean, Arugula
Might be a bit of a stretch given the arugula factor, but hopefully you can find a bunch for $2.00 or less at your farmer's market.
Note: Just add a can of cannelli beans when the recipe calls for adding the tuna.

4. Red Snapper Livornese
I recently found great quality snapper fillets at our local fishmongers, Santa Monica Seafood and Fish King in Glendale, CA, for around $7.99/pound. Capers and olives are always on hand in my fridge or pantry.

5. Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino
A deliciously minimal dish that brings big returns on flavor, if properly executed. Some believe this dish to be the benchmark of a cook's competency in Italian cuisine.

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 peperoncino (dried red chili pepper), seeded and torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a small pan, add the garlic and chili and cook over low heat for a few minutes until the garlic is golden brown. Season lightly with salt, remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente, then drain, toss with the garlic and chile oil.

Tell us about your favorite financial meltdown meals in Comments.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Looking for Lobster Rolls

On our recent trip to Montauk, Long Island, NY, the local East-Enders led us to the Chowder House for what they consider to be the best lobster roll in Montauk.

What makes for a number one lobster roll? In my opinion, scant mayo is key -- only for loosely binding nearly a pound of sweet succulent lobster meat. Then just a touch of celery, parsley and perhaps a squeeze of lemon. Best served at room temperature with a crisp cool leaf of romaine lettuce.

The roll needn't be fancy. A classic hotdog bun works far better than more gourmet interpretations such as toasted brioche rolls.

West Lake Chowder House
352 West Lake Drive
Montauk, NY

(631) 668-6252

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ad Hoc Inspiration

Whenever I would head over to the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC, I'd first stop at Union Square Café to check out their menu for the latest seasonal ingredients and preparations. Armed with inspiration, I'd then tackle the farmers' produce stands.

Now that I live in LA, my strategy must come from a different source. Lucky for me, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc Restaurant in Yountville, CA, recently started sending out their daily menu to email subscribers. Ad Hoc serves a daily single prix fixe menu of four courses featuring standout seasonal ingredients -- sometimes from the French Laundry garden itself.

Ad hoc's family-style approach makes for more straightforward (yet still sublime) dishes from Keller's arsenal. Great ideas abound -- but how you go about executing them is up to you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wild Rocky Mountain Asparagus

On a recent trek to the Harvey Gap Reservoir in Silt, Colorado, my father-in-law found himself in a patch of wild asparagus. Naturally, it ended up on the dinner table that night. His method: steamed and served with lemon butter.

As it's high season for this vegetable, the recently posted its compendium of asparagus recipes. One of my favorites is the asparagus risotto from Mark Bittman in 2007.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Want Scandi

My latest guilty TV pleasure is New Scandinavian Cooking on local SoCal PBS affiliate KLCS. In episodes titled "Food Where the Lilacs Bloom," "Seabed Soil," and "The Lure of the Mountain," Danish chef Claus Meyer transports us to Denmark on his local ingredient purveying adventures. He plucks just-ripe fruit off treetops and grabs still-slithering eels out of a fishmongers' net with his big bare hands boatside from his sea kayak. It is, in a word, awesome.

Chef Claus is passionate and brutal in his delivery when telling his audience how to cook something -- especially when talking about "apple must" or commanding us to "Skin," "Scrub" or "Slice." His stripped down recipes simply instruct: "This is how you do it...." For me, the novelty of his approach is endlessly entertaining.

Once he seeks out the necessary ingredients, Claus wastes no time and immediately assembles an IKEA-esque cooking station on location -- be it on the seashore among the craggy rocks or in the midst of an orchard, marshlands or open meadow -- and begins to prepare his meal. It's like the "man in the wild" of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man meets the stark storytelling (and production values) found in a Lars Von Trier Dogme film. At the same, New Scandinavian Cooking leaves me reeling from peals of laughter over Chef Claus' uber dry cooking-related jokes. Chef Claus is truly a breath of fresh air from the rampant Rachel Ray-ification of cooking shows.


+ Shrimp Sandwiches with Mayonnaise and Dill

+ Halibut with Leeks in Caper Vinaigrette

+ Pot-roasted grouse served in its own sauce with mountain berries

+ Celery root baked in straw and clay on a campfire

+ Apple punch

+ Syllabub with marinated berries and raspberry liquor