Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lunch at TGI Fridays

Len called me yesterday to see if I'd like to meet him and Bob Skir for lunch. They get together for lunch every Wednesday and then head off to the comic book shop for their weekly fixes. The TGI Fridays was a bit out of their way, but close to my office and I agreed (even though it would never be my choice for a meal.)

I am pleased to report that TGI Fridays makes an excellent tomato basil soup, almost as good as the tomato soup I had at Angeli Cafe last year. It was the soup of the day and I had it as part of the Endless Lunch special, which included soup, salad, bread, and beverage for less than $10. I don't know if the tomato soup is served every day or every Wednesday, but it is definitely worth considering the next time you go to TGI Fridays.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking Tea

Susan Ellison (wife of Harlan) and Kathryn Drennan (wife of JMS) took me out for tea last Sunday. I thought we were going dutch, but it turned out they wanted to treat me because they felt they hadn't been able to do anything to help us with fire recovery. It was very sweet of them. They took me to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, where tea consisted of the lovely spread you can see in the photograph above.

Tea seatings start early at the Peninsula--around noon for the first seating, which was the one we attended. We enjoyed a glass of champagne (I wasn't driving, so it seemed like a good idea to me) and I tried the caviar treat, which was caviar and creme fraiche on a pumpernickel bread round. Good, but it added a disproportial expense to the tea.

There were lovely strawberries in cream before getting to the main meal: four kinds of savories and an equal number of sweets. The waiter suggested we eat the two kind of scones while they were still warm, and we did. They were served with clotted (or Devonshire--I don't remember which) cream and a choice of lemon curd or a chocolate-raspberry spread which was...unusual.

Susan and Kathryn like a smoky Russian tea, the name of which I cannot remember, and insisted we needed to drink the caramel-pear tea with the sweets. Both were quite good. I was a bit pedestrian with my choice of Earl Grey, which Susan finds "too fussy." I've been known to try a bit of rooibus tea, which I now know is the "bush tea" referred to in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I passed up on it last week.

We had a lovely time, and then went off to do a bit of retail therapy in Beverly Hills and at the Farmers' Market and the Grove. I was trying to locate La Creuset kitchen canisters in cobalt, but neither Williams-Sonoma nor Sur La Table carry them in that color. It looks like I'll have to buy them on-line.

While at the Farmers' Market, we felt the need to refresh ourselves with beverages and beignets at The Gumbo Pot, one of the few reliable places I know in Los Angeles to get New Orleans style food. The beignets were hot out of the oil, powdered with sugar, and tasted exactly like the ones at the Cafe du Monde in the Crescent City. It's been years since we were there, but we went every night of the week we were in town to cap off the day.

It's too bad that Susan and Kathryn don't go to San Diego Comic-Con, because there are several tea shops I'd like to take them to. We've decided to give Gordon Ramasy's restaurant at London West Hollywood a try for tea sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I'm going to reprint the recipes for the best scones ever. They came from the Ticky-Boo Tea Shoppe in Carlsbad, which went out of business virtually overnight much to our disappointment. I don't know what shape my cookbook from there is in, wherever it is in the warehouse, so I was thrilled to remember I had put it in to this blog early on. Enjoy:

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 ingredients, then lightly rub with cool fingertips or pastry blender. Make a well in center and stir in cream. Lightly mix with a fork until 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 trimmings 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 minutes or until 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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Rebuilding a Kitchen

In case you hadn't heard, our house caught fire on April 6, so blogging has fallen by the wayside. We're now somewhat settled in our rental house and making decisions about what to do (rebuild the old house the way it was and sell it or rebuild it so it meets our needs.) I have now truly come to appreciate what I need to have around in order to cook and what I can do without.

I can do without clutter. There are a number of items which were packed out of the fire-damaged house that I don't need again. There were other things we simply said "don't bother" at the time, so they were trashed. I don't need Tupperware or a lot of space-hogging plastic anymore, thank you very much. I am still trying to find nice ceramic or glass canisters for storing flour and sugar, but I really don't want plastic, which seems to attract grease and then refuses to ever get really clean again.

I do need a good selection of glasses. Most of my glassware is still at the packers because two of the boxes I expected to bring home with me got left behind. I had no stemware until yesterday, when I scored 8 Libby champagne flutes in cobalt at the $.99 Store. When we had the party to thank everyone who helped us through the fire, we had to use plastic cups for the margaritas my friend Michael whipped up. I don't think it changed the taste, but there's something really nice about having the correctly shaped glassware on hand.

As I've long thought, I need to have my Cuisinart to feel that I'm in a useful kitchen. I also want to keep my Kitchen Aid Mixer close by. Surprisingly, the first electric tool I really needed was the blender. All of them got a great cleaning at the company that packed out the house.

We went out and bought a couple of good knives right away. And we bought a new storage system for our spices, since we no longer have the beautiful shelf unit which was built for our kitchen less than three years ago. Sniff. We also had to buy new cutting boards and a number of kitchen implements. I'm still looking for a good can opener because the one Len bought is awful.

I discovered it is good to have several sets of dishes, because I managed to stop the packers from taking my Stangl Country Garden stuff with them. I washed that myself, and some of it was quite close to the source of the fire. The packers took the Correlle, which Len was desperate to get back (he's got it now), the Sun and Moon informal stoneware, and the Noritake Adagio fine china for cleaning. The Stangl, made back in the 1950s and 1960s with different flowers on different pieces, was incredibly cheerful to use and put on display. I really needed cheerful during the first part of this disaster.

Good stainless beats the hell out of cheap stainless. I discovered that Oneida has discontinued the Act I pattern I've used for 25 years and we only got part of the set before the packers got the rest. I think I've now got most of it, but trying to buy more is problematic. I've seen prices high enough to put it in the range of my sterling pieces. Act I is a particularly nice, heavy stainless pattern, with a certain heft to it, which balances nicely in the hand. When I was young an foolish, I almost picked out a sterling pattern because there was a coordinating stainless pattern. I've held pieces of it and thank my lucky stars I didn't go that way--it's really uncomfortable to use.

Speaking of the sterling, it was a good thing it wasn't stored in the bedroom any longer. I got all of it out and with me unscathed. It could have wound up like my silver jewelery: in free-form puddles. I am going to make sure I've got an insurance floater on it now.

Good pots and pans are an absolute necessity. We finally got back most of the pieces of the Analon I bought for Len for Christmas and such, but before they came home I picked up a couple more pieces to carry us through. We cook a lot of pasta, and having big pots is critical. Good thing Sur La Table was having a sale. I also bought an enamel-coated cast-iron dutch oven, which is great for making sauce. I love cast iron. Len doesn't.

I miss my own range, which is sitting in a warehouse in Glendale along with our refrigerator. We hate the frige that the rental place sent. Neither Len nor I find it convenient to get to the lower shelves after several years of having a freezer in the bottom set up with our Maytag. On top of that, the rental unit is about 10 c.f. smaller than ours and, strangely, I haven't had my calls about this returned.

We're still waiting to hear how much it will cost to fix the dining room table leaves. The table itself is not a big deal, but the leaves (all six of them) were in my closet and half of them looked pretty bad when I saw them in the trash heap.

Since we entertain almost every Sunday, the first few weeks without appropriate serving dishes and utinsels were tough. It's much better now. I got some of my Nambe back and I picked up two new pieces at the Pasadena City College flea market yesterday. Nambe does not melt in fire or break in earthquakes, making it an ideal artform to have in Los Angeles. Things seem to be going for less on E-bay these days, so I got a few serving pieces, including a huge bowl, in Country Garden. Shipping is still a killer.

A really big inconvenience is the loss of the use of my cookbooks. They too have been taken away and I don't yet know if I'll be getting them back. I ordered a few necessities from Jessica's Biscuit, such as Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian omnibus (can't live without it), the most recent Joy of Cooking (although I really prefer the edition from the 1970s), the 25th Anniversary Silver Palate Cookbook, Mark Bittman's updated How to Cook Everything and Food Matters, and thought I'd give Julia Child a try. I miss my artisan bread book and Len misses all of his Rachael Ray books. I did pull out my little blue notebook with a few of my favorite recipes in it, but it is woefully inadequate. Len did not get his notebooks out, so he's struggling to remember a couple of his favorite recipes.

We're still missing most of my baking pans, but I think I could do a sit-down dinner with no trouble. The Belmont tea would have been a bit problematic, since my tea trays will be in storage until we have a new permanent home. Holding a barbecue is no issue, since we've got a really nice built-in grill and we brought our big grill down from the house to keep it safe. The 30 people who came for the thank you party seemed to enjoy themselves a lot, so I expect we'll be doing a lot of grilling this summer.

One item that is a new edition to the kitchen is a butter bell. I'd never heard of one before we stayed at our friend Gillian's during the days after the fire until we could move into the rental. It keeps a quarter pound of butter spreadable and safe by using water to form a barrier. They are available for under $10 at Ross and similar stores (more at places like Le Creuset, Sur La Table, or Williams Sonoma) and I can't recommend one enough. Try it, you'll like it.