Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mozza on My Birthday

I managed to get a riding lesson in before rushing home to shower and head out for our 8:45 reservation at Osteria Mozza on my birthday. Anticipation is a wonderful thing, and I've wanted to go the the restaurant since I first read about it in the building stages. I'm a huge fan of Nancy Silverton's breads from the La Brea Bakery and who doesn't enjoy watching Mario Batali on Iron Chef America?

First of all, the food and service at Osteria Mozza was wonderful. You could fill me up on the multi-grain bread any time. And the margarita, made with agave nectar, lime juice, and a pure agave tequila, hit me like a sledge hammer.

The decor was lovely. The sound, not so much.

As my friend had warned me, it is very noisy. When I'm spending that much for dinner (or watching someone else spend that much) I'd like to be able to talk to my dinning companion(s). It was almost impossible. I suppose if we were sitting next to each other at the mozzarella bar, we could have whispered in each others ears. But we were sitting opposite each other at a dining table. Pity. The sound was the only drawback to the evening.

I had the better view for watching what was going on in the room. The place was hopping and it served dinner quite late. If it weren't so expensive, it would be a good stop for those nights after a trip to the theater. The place is also quite hip, judging from the youngish crowd in cool clothing (where do they get the money?)

Dinner started with a complementary amuse bouche of heavenly ricotta on toast. Len ordered the burrata with bacon, marinated escarole, and caramelized shallots. Burrata is a very creamy, fresh mozzarella--and quite "in" these days. It was wonderful. I had the equally good prosciutto di Parma con melone--the melon tasted like a childhood memory. I would have ordered the mussels or something with eggplant, but I promised Len I would order food he would actually taste.

We split the egg and fresh ricotta raviolo in brown butter--a large raviolo with a whole egg nested in ricotta. This is a pretty impressive presentation and I marvel that it was done with the neither the pasta nor the egg yolk breaking, but I'm not sure I'd bother a second time. There were a number of pasta dishes I would like to try instead. For the main course, Len had the pan roasted pork loin and I had the crisp duck al mattone. His pork was fantastic. The duck skin was indeed crisp and wonderful, but I'm not sure I liked the duck flesh as much as I would have liked the striped bass or the grilled orata, neither of which Len would want to try. Next time. Whenever that is.

We didn't do dessert. We were too full from dinner and nothing appealed to me. I might be convinced to go by for coffee and dessert some time, just as I would like to try Pizzeria Mozza some night.

It was definitely worth the wait and I'd go back, but I wish Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton would turn down the noise. The room has lots of hard surfaces, which makes everything bounce around and contributes to the cacophony. I like quiet conversation with dinner, which was one of the big draws of the old Paul's Cafe in Sherman Oaks (in addition to its great food and low prices.)

Osteria Mozza is located on the southwest corner of Highland and Melrose Avenues in Hollywood. Pizzeria Mozza is located one door south on Highland. Reservations are definitely needed for the Osteria, but I don't think they are taken for the Pizzeria.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Strange Concepts

On the fourth week of Next Food Network Star, the contestants were given some god-awful choices of things to pull together for a meal. The winning dish wound up on the menu at Red Lobster. I had forgotten this until we got to Red Lobster for dinner with our friends, Harlan and Susan Ellison, and Dr. Who writer James Moran and his wife, opera singer Jody Kearns (I hope I spelled that correctly), on holiday from Britain. There on the menu was the Macadamia Crusted Tilapia in White Chocolate Beurre Blanc, which had been concocted by contestant Kelsey during the challenge.

Len nudged me into ordering it, when what I really wanted was the steamed lobster. He wouldn't order it because he won't eat white fish that could possibly have a pin in it. All I can say is that the other meals from that night's competition (some of which had to incorporate marshmallow creme or caramel) must have been pretty near inedible if this was the winning dish. Well, that's not all I can or will say.

The contrivance of having to add white chocolate is the downside of this dish. The fish itself, with the macadamia crust is pretty good. It's the buerre blanc that didn't work for me. If it had been a normal buerre blanc, with a goodly amount of lemon, or perhaps even a lemon caper sauce, I would have really enjoyed it. I did not like the sweetness at all, and it was an overly rich dish which sat heavily in my stomach for hours.

I really liked Kelsey, whose bubbling personality was absolutely engaging. She was the one contestant I thought I'd like to see on a repeating basis. But this dish is not one I'm going to make at home, ever. If you want to give it a try, the name links to the Food Network website with the recipe in full. Personally, I'd deep six the white chocolate and the coconut cream.

I did get to take home the leftover lobster from the table, which I turned into lobster salad sandwiches on Sunday night. It was pretty easy to do. I chopped up some fresh tarragon (do you know that means "dragon's tooth" in French) from my garden, finely diced two stalks of celery, added some scallions and mixed it together with a few tablespoons of mayo and sour cream. I think it may have needed a little more salt and some lemon, but it made a nice dinner on a really hot day.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I'm pleased to say my husband does read my blogs--all of them--and he's made a reservation to take me to Osteria Mozza on Monday for my birthday. While the menu looks like something you'd much rather have an expense account paying for, I refuse to feel guilty over a rare treat. Needless to say, I'll write about it next week.

Also coming up next week is our annual trek to San Diego for Comicon International. 125,000 fans looking for autographs and a chance to discuss the physics of Nightcrawler's "bamffing" ("we make this stuff up, there's no science involved" says the spouse, who created the blue-skinned one.) While Len gets to be "The Famous Len Wein" on the convention floor, I will engage in one of my favorite activities: checking out the tea rooms of San Diego.

For the past two years, the group of wives of the not-so-rich-but famous, have gone to Tea on Chatsworth for their unique offerings. This year, I'd like to try the newer tea room over on Del Coronado Island I've read about.

This all started when Len and I used to stay at the Horton Grand, an old Victorian Hotel which served a wonderful Victorian tea. I gathered up a group of friends and we went there for high tea annually for three or four years. The woman in charge of the service dressed and looked like Jean Marsh in Upstairs, Downstairs, the food was wonderful and the scones were great. Then, one year she was no longer there, the goodies were less good, and the service less transfixing. We went looking for other tea rooms. We did the Westgate Hotel one year and the U.S. Grant Hotel a time or two, but they didn't have the same cache we felt in the early years at the Horton Grand.

Ten years ago, we found a fantastic place in Carlsbad called "Ticky-Boo Tearoom," with a totally Victorian decor, including the dress of the servers. The scones were the best I've ever had, served hot from the oven. Before we left, my friends bought me the self-published cookbook with that recipe. We are all really glad they did.

I stopped at Ticky-Boo again about six months later on a pilgrimage to the Mary's Tack and Feed Annual February Sale in Del Mar (I also always go to Mary's during Comicon weekend because they have things I can't find in my local tack stores.) It was as wonderful as it had been the first time, with the added treat of a male server in a kilt (the owners were quite proud of their Scottish heritage.)

The next summer, the Comicon group made plans to go to Ticky-Boo. In fact, it was going to be a meet up for those of us who were already in San Diego and those who delayed the trip for a couple of days, since Carlsbad is about 30 miles north of San Diego, just off Interstate 5. To our horror, it was gone. According to other shop owners on the street, it disappeared literally over night! The original founder had died and left it to her two daughters to run. But running a food establishment is really hard work with long hours. After carrying on for several years, something went wrong. We still don't know what. But at least I've still got the recipe for the best scones ever, and so can you:

Ticky-Boo Scones

2 C. All-purpose Flour
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/3 C. Sweet Butter
1/4 C. Vegetable Shortening
1/3 C. Heavy Cream
Splash of Water

Place baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.
Sift the measured dry ingredients together, twice.
Dice fats into the dry ingreients, then lightly rub with cool fingertips or pastry blender. Make a well in center and stir in cream. Lightly mix with a fork untill a soft dough forms. If dough is dry, add water, sprinkling a little at a time until the dough is perfect for kneading.
Turn out on a well-floured board and knead very lightly for about 1/2 minute for a loose smooth dough. Roll out with a rolling pin or pat with hands to approximately 3/4" thick.
Stamp out with a cutter or cut into triangles with a sharp knife. Knead together any trimings and stamp out again, continuing until all the dough is used.
Lift with a spatula onto the preheated baking sheet, placing them 1" apart. Brush tops only with beaten egg or milk (optional--I don't.)
Bake toward the top of the oven for approximately 10-15 minues or untill well risen and golden brown. Remove and turn out onto a wire rack for cooling. Best served warm with clotted or Devon Cream and jam or curd.
This basic recipe may be adjusted to add currants, raisins, cheese with sage and walnuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, or any other spice or variety you choose.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hell's Kitchen Winner

Christina, my favorite contestant on Hell's Kitchen this season went home with the big prize: a job at London in Hollywood, Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant. She seemed to be the brightest and most diligent of this season's crop of chefs, even if she had less experience than most of them. As Ramsay said in his concluding remarks, she seemed to have the most potential. I'm sure she'll do just great.

It was great to see that Corey was able to overcome her own disappointment at not being a finalist to dig in and make a big effort to see that Christina won. This was in sharp contrast to Jen, who wound up on the other team (thank goodness) and couldn't get past her resentment at not being the winner. She even had the nerve to ask for a letter of recommendation from Chef Ramsay while she was supposed to be working.

I'd love to try the restaurant, but I expect that reservations are hard to come by right now.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Corn Crazy Redux

I am happy to report that the recipe for Roasted Corn Dip was a huge success at the July 4th barbecue at my friend Gillian's house. I prepared everything up to the point of putting it into the oven to heat at home, and when I got to Gillian's house we heated it to bubbling and everyone dug in with tortilla chips. Trader Joe's roasted frozen corn worked really well and shortened the preparation time.

The fresh roasted corn that Gillian served was also really good. She had leftovers. I suggested she use them to make another batch of the corn dip.

Gillian had specifically requested that I bring macaroni salad, because she likes the way I make it. It really comes out a little differently each time I make it, depending on what's in the kitchen or what I remember to pick up at the store. The basics are:

1 lb. dry, small elbow macaroni, cooked in salted water, drained and cooled
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 C. finely chopped white onion
2 T. sliced green onion tops
1 C. diced sweet peppers (I like to use several colors)
1/2 C. drained, pitted and sliced black olives
1/2 C. diced celery
1/2 C. shredded or diced carrots
3/4 C. mayonnaise
Salt & black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and add additional mayonnaise until the desired consistency is reached. All measurements are approximate. I generally just fiddle around with the basics until the color and mix tastes right. I also usually make this for a crowd, so I'm starting with 2 pounds of dried pasta and upping the other ingredients accordingly. If I've got the right kind of bowl, I might slice some eggs to decorate the presentation and sprinkle paprika and more sliced olives on top of everything.

This couldn't be easier and beats the hell out of anything you'll find at a grocery store deli. I like having the leftovers for lunch or dinner on these hot summer days. You could toss in some drained, canned tuna or cooked salmon to add some more protein.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Corn Crazy

Corn is definitely one of my favorite things. I remember happy moments when I was growing up in the Catskills where we'd head off to Jackson's Farm to buy corn which would be pulled off the stalks while we waited and then we'd run home to a boiling pot of water to toss it in.

I'm not happy to learn that most of it is being planted for fuel these days. What a scam. I've had to buy ethanol when I've been in Iowa (my sister and nieces used to live there) and my mileage wasn't any better and the price wasn't any lower. I'm worried about world wide famine being increased because food corn is being repurposed.

I'm nuts for fresh or green corn tamales. It's a treat I discovered after I moved to Los Angeles. I can't remember if it was a night we went to El Cholo with our friends Karen and Michael or a night at El Coyote with Harlan and Susan Ellison. As good as those tamales are (and El Cholo claims to have originated them), it wasn't until I tasted the green corn tamales from Corn Maiden at a farmer's market that I found food for the gods. For one thing, Corn Maiden does not stick cheese or peppers in the green corn tamales (except for the ones sold at grocery stores.) I usually eat mine with a mild tomatillo sauce and it is just heavenly.

Corn Maiden has a booth at most of the larger farmer's markets in Los Angeles. It has booths at Calabassas on Saturday and Studio City on Sunday. There is always a Corn Maiden booth at the Sunday morning farmer's market in Hollywood (see picture), which I attend regularly (there's also a place selling roasted corn on the food concession row.) I like to eat mine while I shop, but I sometimes buy them for the freezer and steam them at home. While I've got a recipe, it's a labor intensive affair that I doubt I will ever try. It is so much easier to buy them, and Corn Maiden does have an on-line mail order business in Culver City.

(I will note that El Torito markets a packaged corn cake mix to which you add a can of creamed corn. It tastes very much like a green corn tamale and will do in those moments when I've just got to have one. I try to keep a package on hand for just such emergencies. I can find it in the Mexican food section of some of my local grocery stores, such as Von's.)

What I am willing to try is a recipe for a Roasted Corn Dip. It seems like a swell idea to take to a 4th of July party this weekend. We had a wonderful Roasted Corn Dip provided by Bite Catering Couture at Larry Niven's birthday party two weeks ago. While I didn't ask for their recipe, I found the one below at Emeril Lagasse's website. It reads like it will taste very much like the one I had (although I don't recall the olives.) I'm a little lazy, so I plan to use some of Trader Joe's wonderful frozen roasted corn (thawed, of course), which will make things go a little faster:

Roasted Corn Dip

  • 4 medium ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1/4 cup small diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup small diced yellow bell pepper
  • 1 medium jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 cup homemade mayonnaise
  • 1/2 pound grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, (green part only)
  • 1/4 cup chopped black olives

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rub each ear of the corn with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the corn on the grill or either on a open flame. Cook the corn for 1 minute on all sides. Remove from the heat and cool. Using a sharp knife, remove the kernels from the cob. In a large saute pan, melt the butter. Add the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the corn and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Add the jalapenos and garlic. Continue to cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Turn the vegetable mixture into a mixing bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise and half of the cheese. Mix well. Stir in the green onions. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a greased 6 cup ovenproof oval baking dish. Spread evenly and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until bubbly. Garnish the dip with the chopped olives. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hell's Kitchen Nightmares

We are addicted to cooking shows. Before there was the Food Network, our Saturday default was the PBS cooking line-up. Now we've got all food, pretty much all the time.

It took me a while to start watching Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen show. Len had watched it for a while, but I don't think I watched the show until last season's finale. Between then and now, I got hooked on Kitchen Nightmares (both the BBC America version and the FOX Americanized version) and The F-Word (thanks to my friend Gillian.)

Gordon Ramsay is probably an acquired taste. While the "F" in the television show stands for "food," the "F" coming out of his mouth in his various shows is bleeped and blurred. I've always found that Brits have a lot less trouble with that word than we do here, but I guess you don't say "bloody" in polite company over there. Ramsay is a perfectionist and quite brutal to those working around him. It doesn't surprise me at all that there are often tears on his shows.

Kitchen Nightmares is a show which can really put you off from eating out. Some of the kitchens Ramsay's visited are nothing short of disgusting. One wonder where the food inspectors are. Here in L.A. we can decide if we want to go into a "C" or "B" rated restaurant, but that doesn't seem to be the case in New York or Great Britain. Ugh. Many of the restaurants in the American version of Kitchen Nightmares were shot in the greater Los Angeles area: one was in Moorpark, one in Burbank, and one in Pomona. The one I was most interested in visiting, because it is in an area where we used to visit a row of antique shops, closed before the show aired. It had lost too much money to survive the nice makeover. The pizza place in Burbank had an owner whose attitude just put me off. We did wonder we should find the place and see if the changes had been kept. The place in Moorpark is out of the way of our usual travels, so I haven't suggested we try it.

So this season, I was ready and waiting for season four of Hell's Kitchen to start. I am totally invested and I am dying to try Gordon Ramsay's new L.A. restaurant, London. (But not before I get to Mozza.)

Last night was the penultimate episode in the series. It's down to a 47-year old man and a 25 year old culinary school graduate who's won 9 of the competitions, either alone or with her team. That's a record for the show. She's smart and hard working. Last week, when the remaining three chefs were surprised by a visit from family and a meal prepared by Ramsay, she was the only one who realized there was something afoot and she and her mother both worked on figuring out what ingredients were in the dish. The other two contestants were oblivious. She did win, and I'm rooting for her to win the whole thing. She may be young, but she's got what it takes to survive in a business that's got something like a 98% failure rate in the first two years.

I found that most of the men in the competition were obnoxious, sexist pigs. You'd think we'd be past that, but no. The word "bitch" was used a lot. Of the women, there was one who was so obnoxious that we rooted for her to lose despite some of her obvious competencies. I was extremely disappointed that all of the chefs seem to smoke. Much as I can't understand why Liza Minnelli would risk ruining her voice by chain smoking, I can't understand why a chef would destroy his or her palate by smoking. I also fear finding cigarette debris in my food.

The show ended last night with the choice of the final cooking team members up in the air--the six most recently eliminated chefs were brought back to help in the kitchen. The 47-year-old Petrozza had first pick and they are now down to the guy who had something of a nervous breakdown and the woman I'm afraid will try to sabotage Christina.

So, if you need to speak to me next Tuesday, don't call while the show is on. It's almost as exciting as the last episode of The Amazing Race.

Despite my reservations about what the Brits know about food (except for high tea), I'm intrigued by Gordon Ramsay's insistence that the chefs he helps look for local, fresh ingredients. So, for Len's birthday, I bought him a copy of Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food. I haven't had a chance to actually go through it myself, but I'm looking forward to a few minutes alone with it this weekend while Len's out of town.