Saturday, August 15, 2015

In Search of Hatch Chiles

Hatch Chile Bushel Boxes
 Ever since my friend Melinda Snodgrass has been spending more time in Los Angeles again, I've listened to her bemoan the fact that it is impossible to find Hatch green chiles in any form out here. Apparently, it is a necessary food group in New Mexico. The Hatch green chile salsa I found at Trader Joe's was a failure.
Fresh Green Hatch Chiles
A few weeks ago, I saw an article from the L.A. Times announcing that the annual roasting of Hatch chiles would be occurring at grocery stores all over the county for a few short weeks. I was surprised, but at that point my husband said, oh, yeah, they do that every year at a nearby Alberton's (not on the first list I saw, but now it says August 29.) The chiles are brought in from the area of New Mexico where they are grown (like champagne or Parmesan cheese, the location of origin is very important: other variations of green chile peppers do not taste the same) and purchase can be made by the bushel (or smaller amounts, it turns out.)

 The boxes of chiles are opened into a drum roaster, where the chiles are continuously turned until charred all over. The green chiles need to be charred, stemmed, peeled, and seeded before they are used. Freezing them after they are charred makes the peeling of the outer skin much easier (I've read and been told.)
Roasted Hatch Chiles
So last week I went to the Gelson's in La Canada-Flintridge that was supposed to be holding a Hatch chile event. The listing was incorrect, and the other places in the article were terra incognito to me. Fortunately, I did ask at the information desk at the grocery and they told me that it would happen this Saturday instead.
Hawking Hatch Chiles
The stifling heat almost discouraged me. It was 85 degrees when I left the house at 9:45 this morning, and it felt much hotter.

The drive was uneventful, and I had the benefit of knowing where I was going this time. When I pulled into the parking lot, a tent and roasting area were set up outside the entrance to the Gelson's. The smell of roasting chiles perfumed the air.
Shoppers ISO Hatch Chiles

The chiles were available fresh, roasted, dried, ground, and in salsas. There were cookbooks available for sale and samples of food using both the mild and the hot chiles. I'm a coward, I only tried the mild offerings and I still had the taste in my mouth when I got home.
Hatch Chiles in a Roasting Drum
 I'm not complaining, especially because the potato salad I tried was really good. They also had chile chocolate chip cookies. My sister would like that.
Chocolate Chip Hatch Chile Cookies
When I saw how large a full bushel of the roasted chiles was, I knew I did not have enough room in my freezer for that many.
Worker with a Box of Roasted Hatch Chiles
Plus, I planned to buy some for Melinda's freezer as well, and I knew she'd want the hot chiles. Fortunately, they were selling smaller quantities  of the chiles in the kind of containers in which stores sell roasted chickens. Weighing a little less than 3 pounds each, they were a more manageable size.
Container of Hatch Chiles--Hot
 I gave Melinda a call to confirm what she wanted and told her I'd put the chiles in freezer bags in smaller quantities. She asked for a container of hot and a container of mild. I bought a second container of the mild for myself.

When I got home, I found that four or five chiles would store in a single layer of a quart freezer bag. Each store container filled five or six quart bags and they are now freezing flat. I'll move them out to Melinda's the next time I go check her mail.
Roasted Chiles Ready for Peeling
Now I'm trying to figure out how many chiles to add to a vinaigrette to make a warm potato salad.

Check out the article from the L.A. Times (above) if you are interested in purchasing Hatch chiles. They will be available for about a month at selected grocery stores. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Special Meal in San Diego

There are years when I get to San Diego more than once, and it is always a welcomed trip, but there is always the annual trek for San Diego Comic-con International, which was slightly earlier in the summer than usual this year. Consequently, unlike most years, my birthday was not involved.

Also different than previous years, neither tea nor crab cakes were part of any meal. I did have the unexpected pleasure of meeting Alton Brown, who had an invitation to my favorite party of the convention, and finally getting a chance to eat at Top Chef Richard Blais' restaurant in San Diego, Juniper and Ivy.

My husband saw Alton hiding under a baseball cap when he entered the party area. Len called me over and we introduced ourselves to one of our favorite Food Network personalities. When Len started to explain who he was, Alton said "You don't have to do that. I know who you are." Len was tickled pink. We had a very pleasant conversation, eventually interrupted by the arrival of William Shatner, who must know Alton from a brief stint as the "Chairman" of an early edition of the U.S. version of Iron Chef. Before that happened, I mentioned that I had been following Richard Blais' tweets from Comic-con and that I hoped to get a chance to try his restaurant. Alton endorsed the choice, saying he had had an excellent dinner there the night before.
Alton Brown the night we saw him at the TV Academy several years ago.
So when I ran into our friend Gillian Horvath (very jealous that I had met Alton Brown) and she said she was looking for a way to kill some time before heading back to L.A. on Sunday night, I suggested we do dinner at Juniper and Ivy. She agreed, and I made reservations for us. We took a taxi rather than getting a car out and fighting for parking, but on a good day we might have been able to walk the distance from the harbor hotels.

The restaurant is located on the edge of San Diego's Little Italy, almost underneath the Freeway. The name comes from the nearby cross-streets, although neither factors into the actual address of the building (2228 Kettner.) The restaurant is large--something like 300 seats--and even on a Sunday night it is crowded and loud. (There is some outdoor seating, but it was so hot we weren't interested in being outside where conversation would have been interrupted by the jets coming in for a landing at the nearby airport.) I was glad I made a reservation.

The menu is pretty diverse, and, like many restaurants these days, encourages sharing. The small plates go nicely with Len's reduced appetite.

The restaurant is famous for its buttermilk biscuit with smoked butter. We ordered one to share, but I wish we had ordered a second. It was delicious, and the presentation is worth the experience. The cast-iron baking dish is delivered in a cloche, and when it opens, the most delicious smoke escapes. A still photograph cannot do this justice, so check out the Vine of it here.
Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter
I know that Gillian ordered the poke as an appetizer, but I forgot to photograph that. She ordered the bone marrow as her main course, which arrived served on a wooden platter.
Bone Marrow with Spaetzle
Sadly, it did not come with a marrow spoon (only someone like Gillian or me who collects antique silver would even know of such an implement these days) which made it a little difficult to get to the marrow. We finally got a server to find a demitasse spoon, which made an acceptable alternative. Gillian was very happy with her choice and I enjoyed a sampling of the spaetzle.

I decided to try the Kurobuta pork short rib with fig barbeque sauce on creamed corn. If this is what heritage pork tastes like, I don't know why we've allowed selective breeding to eliminate fat from our pigs. It was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful. Kurobuta is as highly prized in Japan as Kobe beef, and I can understand why.
Kurobuta Pork Short Rib
If you are looking for this kind of pork, look for meat from Berkshire Black hogs. (Snake River Farms is a source.)

Len went with a lobster mushroom pasta for his main course, which he thoroughly enjoyed (after his initial concern that it might have actual lobster in it.)
Pasta with Lobster Mushrooms
I don't usually go for dessert these days, but Gillian convinced me to try the melon sorbet, which was a nice way to close out dinner.
Melon Sorbet
If you happen to like chocolate or Hostess, the menu has a dessert called "Yodel," which may be exactly what you are looking for.

I am pretty sure I can convince Len to go to Juniper and Ivy the next time we are in San Diego. I have no doubt that I'd be able to get Gillian to go with me if he won't.

Richard Blais has a cookbook, Try This at Home, but it doesn't include a recipe for those biscuits. Sniff.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Sunday Supper I Did Not Make

On Friday, I got email from my friend Janis Ian telling me she was flying into Los Angeles on Sunday to do a guest appearance on an HBO series. She was very excited about playing an actual role (she studied with Stella Adler for 10 years) plus the series was going to use several of her songs, which she would either sing or lip-synch. I called her up and told her Len and I could come to her hotel and we would take her out to dinner. And we did.

My first thought was to go to a lovely Italian restaurant Len and I had found the last time Janis played here. She did an appearance at Cal Tech, and the restaurant we stumbled on was on Lake (Street, Avenue, or Boulevard.) I tried to find out the name and the address, but the place that seemed to fit my memory closed in January. Darn.

Well, the nice thing about Pasadena is that I figured we could always go to Il Fornaio, if nothing else seemed to work out. It's a chain Italian I like, and I've eaten at them in Pasadena, Beverly Hills, and Carmel. Food and service are always good and they do monthly focuses on regional cooking of Italy. It's a good, safe bet.

But I didn't stop there, and in my research I found great reviews of Union, at 37 East Union, in the Old Towne area of Pasadena. It was convenient to Janis' hotel, and if the menu didn't appeal, Il Fornaio was less than two blocks away. Win-win.

The restaurant is small--50 seats said the reviews, but I wouldn't necessarily believe that number. It opened at 4 and we arrived before 5 on a Sunday and it was already jumping. I would have preferred a place with less ambient noise to preserve Janis' voice, but they were able to seat us at a four-up just inside the door (every thing else was reserved, apparently) and we decided to give it a try.

The reviews did not lie. The food was simply amazing, beautifully cooked and presented. The waitress recommended sharing dishes. The appetizers were on the small side, she said, but the main courses were quite substantial. So we started with a caprese (the colors look less like the Italian flag than traditional, but the tomatoes were so much better than most of the red ones we see) and Janis added an order of some small, grilled Japanese peppers that were usually mild, but every once in a while, there would be a real kick. (She's spent a lot of time in Japan and said that only recently has she noticed the peppers on menus in the U.S.)
Caprese Salad
 The caprese was made with heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and a few bits of garnish appeared to have been fried. We each took one of the slices of tomato and a slice of the mozzarella, and then divided the rest of the tomato piece and cherry tomatoes among us. Perfect.
Mushroom Risotto
 Len decided to order the risotto with mushrooms (might have been wild mushrooms, I don't remember.) He dug in to serve before I could get the camera out. It may be the best risotto I've eaten outside of Italy.
Sea Bass
Janis ordered the sea bass, which the waitress and the restaurant manager told us was fresh to the restaurant either that morning or the day before. It was incredible. Again, we split it up, but Janis said she would have been happy to order it over and over again. It was served with a fennel and baby lettuce/herb salad and a nutty grain of some sort (perhaps wheat berries or faro) and a green sauce.
Duck Breast
I ordered the duck breast, which came on a bed of polenta, corn, and grilled fennel. Lovely to look at, and even better to eat. Janis and I enjoyed it, and were very happy that Len just won't eat duck. His loss.

Len ordered the Milanese-style pork chop. There is no photograph because I could not get to the camera fast enough. It had a lovely, crispy crust of bread crumbs, cheese, and herbs, and was topped with a baby greens salad dressed in a tangy vinegarette. I was the one who grabbed the bone to gnaw after everyone had cut away as much of the meat as they could. Janis told me the Yiddish word for doing that, but I can't remember it.

There are also no photographs of the chocolate-hazelnut budino or the panna cotta we shared, because eating them seemed to be the priority. I'm not big on desserts these days, but they were definitely worth it.

I am sure the people waiting outside were thrilled when we left. I'd go back again, but I would be sure to make a reservation next time.

We gave Janis a brief tour of Pasadena and stopped at the monstrous Whole Foods so she could pick up a few things to have in the refrigerator. As we were driving, her song "Play Like a Girl" came on my iPod, and a few bars into it she had a cute recognition moment. "That's me!" Yes, indeed.

Chef & owner of Union, Bruce Kalman, recently opened another restaurant at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Finally, a Triple Crown Party

The 2015 Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown Tea Party.
Since about 2002 or 2003, I've thrown a tea party to watch the Belmont Stakes. It's a great opportunity to get together with other women, play dress-up, and eat rich food. I did it for Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Mine that Bird, and California Chrome. This year, I got another chance when American Pharoah took the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. I cancelled my plans for a whale watching trip and sent out invitations as soon as the results of the Preakness were finalized.

It's a mixed crowd: a few people from work, some TV writers, a few novelists, many of whom don't know each other except for this party. Altogether, it runs about two dozen people, some who come every time, some for whom it is the first time, some who have no interest in the horses at all, but all looking for a pleasant afternoon.

This year we had the added thrill of an actual Triple Crown winner when American Pharoah pulled five and a half lengths ahead of his nearest rival to cross the finish line.
Erin Maher took time from her busy schedule working on Scream to provide horse cookies.
I saw the great Secretariat win the Belmont in 1973 on a black and white TV. Ditto for Seattle Slew in 1977. I don't remember watching Affirmed in 1978. After so long a drought, I wasn't sure we'd ever see another horse pull it off. Now, we know it is still possible.

The menu for the tea varies from year to year. There are always scones, lemon curd, and when possible, Devon cream for which we pay dearly. I gave half a thought to trying to make it myself, but I decided to spring for the stuff in the refrigerator section of Gelson's instead. Lemon curd isn't that hard to make, but I've been lucky to have Susan Ellison make it for me in the past. This year, she couldn't make the party, but I found some so I could concentrate on making sure I got the Ticky-boo scones made. They were lovely as always.

Leek quiche and some cucumber, ham, and salmon tea sandwiches.
I made cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches, and ham and radish sandwiches. Then I had my sister make what Dani Dornfeld dubbed "T Sandwiches ala Chris," a stacked delight of a slice of baguette, mozzarella cheese, grilled eggplant, and tomato, with a bit of pesto between the layers. While I often make my own pesto, we used Costco's refrigerated basil pesto to save time.

T Sandwiches ala Chris on the lower left, along with some other selections of sandwiches and a Tia Maria cake.
My friend Susan Avallone brought her justifiably famous smoked turkey spread to be use on toast rounds. Karen Bailey brought two different kinds of stuffed eggs as well as some lovely tea sandwiches. Maria Rodriguez brought leek quiche and quiche Loraine. I was worried we'd be light on desserts, but I should not have been. Kim Gottlieb-Walker came through with her Tia Maria cake, a decadently deep chocolate confection best served with whipped cream.

Susan's smoked turkey spread in the lower part of the photograph.
There have been some cries that we need to do this every week. I'm not one of those calling for weekly teas because I'd be big as a house and totally stressed out if it was to be in my home. But once in a while, it's the very best way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And it is even better if a horse wins the Triple Crown.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thanksgiving, 2014

Thanksgiving was a great success, again. For the first time ever, I had my sister to help with things, which was just great. The table got set up on Wednesday night, and was fully set by Thursday morning. We didn't have to go digging through everything to find the right dishes at the last minute. We got the serving pieces out and all the glassware ready to be filled with ice for water (sparkling or flat) and a variety of wines or non-alcoholic bubbly drinks.
 The table set for dinner for 14 in the living room. Lots of space with only 14.
One place-setting without the glassware. Noritake Adagio china, Gorham Etruscan flatware.

Setting the table early made me feel a whole lot more relaxed. In our old house, it was impossible to get the table up early because Thanksgiving required moving furniture into the yard to make way for the make-shift folding table extravaganza that was needed for up to 23 people to eat. Not much room for moving around, either. I am very happy this is no longer the case.

One roasted 23 pound turkey, stuffed.

We stuffed the turkey. Because it was a frozen bird, I felt no need to brine it. I did, however, cook one more turkey this week. It was a fresh turkey, so I mixed up a dry brine of 1/3 cup kosher salt with 1 tablespoon of sugar, and sprinkled the mix all over and inside the bird. You can leave it on for 8-24 hours, but I had only about 15 hours before it had to go into the oven. I did rinse it before I cooked it. There seems to be some disagreement about whether that is necessary, but I'm pretty sure it is. We also roasted it for the first couple of hours with the breast down (we did that with the Thanksgiving bird as well) and that did result in faster cooking and moister breast meat. Dry brining is a whole lot easier than wet brining.

My friend Jim made wild mushroom turnovers for appetizers. They were delicious, both on Thanksgiving and for leftovers after. The recipe is definitely a keeper and I'd like to get it from him.

My sister (right) did the very Italian thing of baking pasta as a side.

Now it is time to plan for Christmas and our Twelfth Night Party. Christmas will be six people, but Twelfth Night (except it's on January 3) will be a whole lot more. I see panettone in my future. Falalalala, lalalala.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Probably All about the Pie, But...

It is the day before Thanksgiving. The turkey's been thawing in the refrigerator since last Thursday, so I hope it is ready to have the wrappings removed for an uncovered night in the box, which Alton Brown says makes the skin crisp.
Alton Brown at the TV Academy
I've got some shopping to do today before I get home, mostly fresh vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, and sweet potatoes or yams. I don't have to do the mashed potatoes this year (yay) because a guest volunteered. I really hate the hours of peeling potatoes. Well, it feels like hours.

My husband makes the stuffing. It bears no relationship to the stuffing I would make (I'm not into raisins in my stuffing), but it makes him happy. It's a big bird, and with sit-down scheduled for 5 o'clock, Len will have to get up earlier than he likes to on Thursday morning to get his part done. I suggested he do his prep work today, but I doubt very much he will.

I'll be baking tonight. Pumpkin pie is a must, because it is my son's favorite. Len won't eat pumpkin. More for us. A friend is bringing an apple pie, and I might consider baking one as well.

Plus, other friends are bringing something from Carrara's Pastries, my very favorite place to buy desserts. It always reminds me of my many cousins back East, and how they'd bring wonderful things upstate with them from Italian bakeries in Brooklyn. If you happen to be in Agoura Hills or Moorpark, they also sell wonderful gelato.
A Treat from Carrara's Pastries
Tomorrow, I'll be making a sweet potato souffle, a recipe I found about a half-dozen years ago which is a successful replacement for the marshmallow-topped casserole everyone thinks they want for Thanksgiving. Ugh.

 Sweet Potato Souffle
I've long given up on green been casserole, which sits like a lump in my stomach and then gets thrown out when it isn't eaten as leftovers. (I even tried to fix that by making it completely from scratch, and it wasn't any more successful.) Brussels sprouts will be cooked with currents and chestnuts (I found peeled chestnuts for a bargain at Super King a few weeks ago, must less than the $10/jar I've had to pay in the past if I wanted to avoid the slow and dangerous process of roasting and peeling them.)

My favorite part of this holiday is actually getting to use all my best china and silver. We'll have 14 at the table tomorrow, at least 4 fewer than I thought I would have, so there will be plenty of room to spread out and do elaborate place settings.
Thanksgiving Past, 2013
It's not a lot of fun to clean up when things have to be hand washed, but I save that for Friday, when I'm also swapping out my regular dishes for my Christmas china for six weeks. I am addicted to buying dishes.
 What My Kitchen Looks Like on Friday Morning
Here are some photographs of previous turkeys and previous dinners.Some of our friends are no longer with us, some have moved elsewhere, some have had a bad year. I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving, free of stress, and surrounded by friends.

 Practice Bird, 2009

Actual Thanksgiving, 2009
 David Wise, Audry, Liz Mortensen2010
Len Wein, 2010
Sara Katz-Scher, Sam, Harlan Ellison, 2011
Len Wein, Ed Green, Liz Mortensen, 2011
Liz's Salad, 2013
Liz Mortensen, Susan Ellison, Harlan Ellison, 2013

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Special Summer Dinner

I don't usually cook during the summer for the Sunday Super Supper Squad, but sometimes I get tired of grilled meat patties on bread or I find something interesting at the store. Recently, that was a bone-in pork shoulder, which made a fantastic, low-
maintenance main dish.

It weighed about 11 pounds. I cut the fat cap/skin into a diamond pattern (sort of, because none of my knives was really sharp enough and I wound up using the kitchen shears, so not so pretty.) Then I made a rub of fresh herbs: rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, mixed with garlic cloves and kosher salt. This I rubbed all over the meat. Then it went into a very hot oven (450 degrees F) for 45 minutes, until the fat cap was browned. I added some carrots and a couple of cups of chicken stock to the pan, put it back into the oven, turned the heat down to 225 degrees F and pretty much ignored the roast for the next 8 hours or so. I did occasionally baste and turn it, and about an hour before it was done I threw in some lemon soda (to make up for the alcohol I try not to use when I expect some of my friends to attend dinner; I would have used apple juice if I had any.)
The roast in progress.

When the roast was done, I took it out of the oven, removed the fat cap, covered the roast and let it sit while I crisped up the cracklings (cut them into pieces and put them back into a 400 degree F oven for a short while) and strained and reduced the pan drippings for a very tasty gravy.

I also threw several pounds of "baby" carrots in the crock pot with some salt, brown sugar, and butter, and let them cook on high for about four hours for an easy vegetable side. I made baby white potatoes by covering them whole in olive oil, garlic, salt, and rosemary and roasting them for about an hour at 400 degrees F.
Carrots before cooking in the crock pot.

While the roast was being ignored for so many hours, I made my first batch of Sorbet in my new Cuisinart Supreme Ice Cream Freezer. This one has a built-in condenser and can make 1-1/2 quarts of ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, or frozen drinks at a time. First up, raspberry-peach sorbet. I've been increasing my reference cookbooks to make the best use of this wonderful new toy. It has a large footprint, but more than makes up for the fact that I never have room in any of my freezers for the two quart tub that needs chilling before I can use my other ice cream maker.
 Raspberry and peach purees.

Mix the two purees with simple syrup and chill well before churning.

It takes about an hour in the ice cream churn 
(add frothed egg-white about 15 minutes before finish) 
for lovely, not so sweet as store-bought, sorbet.

I got an amazing deal on the Cuisinart Supreme at Tuesday Morning: $100. It usually runs $199.99 there, but it was half-prince for the end of summer clearance. The same machine will cost anywhere from $200 to $500 and change on-line, so it is one of my better recent finds at Tuesday Morning.