Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cooking as a Spectator Sport

Has cooking become a spectator sport? I'd like to recommend an article from the New York Times which suggests this and proposes we'd all be thinner if we took more time to cook for ourselves. I think he's on to something.

My husband and I are addicted to cooking shows. He actually does most of the cooking, because I'm the one with the traditional job these days and he works at home. But his idea of cooking is along the lines of "Semi-homemade." He's more than happy to use canned sauces for pasta, even though making them from scratch is fairly quick and easy. I'm reluctant to complain, because by the time I get home from work and the requisite trip to the Arabian Prince at the barn, I'm not in any shape to cook.

I am feeling somewhat inspired by Julie & Julia, and I think it would be so much more interesting and healthy to actually eat fresher things with fewer ingredients (a la Mark Bittman and Food Matters.)

So I think I'll challenge my other half to this: starting September 1 and going til the end of the year, I'll cook for the Sunday Super Supper Squad and one other night each week and you get to do the same three nights a week for the three of us, but the cooking can't use highly processed foods (that means canned or frozen things with more than the maximum requisite number of ingredients Mark Bittman writes about.) You can go back to Rachel Ray's books, which actually are pretty good about these things, or any other cookbooks on the shelf (Julia Child is still there, even though most of our cookbook collection is gone because of the fire.) I claim Marcella Hazan and the Silver Palate books.

Remember, we live in southern California, where the produce at a farmers' market is always wonderful and fish is readily available. And we've got a really nice grill in the back yard.

It will require planning on both of our parts, but we can do this. And we don't have to give up watching cooking shows while we do it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gordon Ramsay at London, West Hollywood

Len scored points for the second year in a row by taking me out to a special restaurant for my birthday. Last year it was the too noisy Osteria Mozza, disappointing because we could not carry on a conversation over the din of the music and hard surfaces. This year it was the pretty close to perfect Gordon Ramsay at the London, West Hollywood.

I wanted to take Len there for his birthday in June. He wasn't feeling well, so it didn't happen. We learned when we went on my birthday in July that Gordon Ramsay had spent the entire month of June at the restaurant, celebrating its first anniversary. As big fans of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and The F Word, we were most disappointed we had missed meeting him.
We decided to be adventurous and go with the seasonal chef's menu, a seven-course meal of modest sized portions. (I intended to post the actual names of the selections, but it was not available on-line and I didn't take notes at the time--I barely remembered to take pictures.) It was beautifully prepared and beautifully presented, starting with the amuse bouche of endive with a filling of duck confit and fruit and home made potato chips with creme fresch shown above. This was followed by focaccia and a savory sweet corn custard of Japanese influence, shown below.
The next course was a cured salmon with mushrooms...
followed by an amazing fois gras.
The only thing that Len wouldn't try was the seared scallops of the pasta course, served on fettuccini with a lobster bisque sauce and a decorative dollop of caviar. I finished off his scallops as well as mine and he ate the rest of the dish.
For the main course, Len chose the beef. It looked wonderful, but I no longer eat red meat. He said it was wonderful.
I ate every bit of the sea bass, and couldn't have been happier.
We paid for an upgrade which included a cheese course. I love blue cheeses and the one served was divine. I'd love to get the recipe for the fruit and nut bread which was toasted as an accompaniment to the cheese.
The dessert was a chocolate bavarian cream, followed by...
some meranguey cookies and chocolate. Unfortunately, they were made with peanuts, so I couldn't try them. When we asked for a box to take the cookies home so my son could have them, the restaurant included a box with four hand-made truffles.
When we finished eating, Len informed me that it was the most expensive meal he had ever paid for (and we didn't have any alcohol.) I told him it was by no means the most expensive meal I have ever eaten (which was probably one of those dinners a publisher-paid-for dinners in San Diego) but it was definitely one of the best meals I've ever had. I can understand why Gordon Ramsay has won so many Michelin stars for his restaurants. I'm hoping we go back for our anniversary in December to try the seasonal chef's tasting then.

Sunday with Julia

Run, don't walk, to see Julie & Julia, well written and directed by Nora, Ephron with wonderful performances by Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Adams. I've been looking forward to seeing this film for several months and I think that Meryl Streep is on her way to another Oscar nomination.

While I love good food, I've never been overly in love with French cooking. I generally do not go looking for French restaurants to try and, until recently, I haven't been tempted to try French cooking at home. I did buy a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I replaced a couple of what I consider cookbook staples after our house fire in April. the two volumes are still shrink-wrapped, whereas I've already used the most recent editions of The Joy of Cooking, The Silver Palate Cookbook, and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking already.

Marcella Hazan's books are my kitchen bibles, and I my original copies Classic Italian Cooking and More Classic Italian Cooking were worn and stained. I would be far more likely to recreate Julie Powell's year of Julia as a year of Marcella using Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as my guide. My husband and son would have no objection to that, I'm sure.

I did go through an intense period of baking right after the attacks on the World Trade Center because I had an incredible need to do homey things. Nancy Silverman's The La Brea Bakery Bread Book had been sitting on my shelf for several years, because I felt intimidated by it. It requires working with a sourdough starter. Every time I had ever tried to make a starter, it had failed miserably. In 2001, my grape vines were producing lovely clusters of grapes that were never exposed to pesticides. That allowed me to make a starter from scratch, using Nancy's detailed instructions. And, much to my surprise, it worked. It also became the source of much amusement and many jokes from my husband about the living thing we referred to as "Seymour" calling "feed me" every four hours. Following Nancy's recipes is a life-calling. Most of them require two days of work, and some even three, to properly raise and proof the doughs. They are wonderful and definitely worth the time. Sadly, I don't have the luxury of time (because of flexibility) I did when I was self-employed.

We came out of the movie with a need to find a good restaurant fast. Some people have referred to Julie & Julia as "food porn." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but much like Stanley Tucci's wonderful film Big Night which required finding an Italian restaurant at which to eat when the film ended, we decided that a French restaurant was in order. Fortunately, I remembered there was a place not far from the theatre about which I'd heard friends rave. We gave the others directions to the place.

Even though we couldn't remember the name, we knew it was next door to Earth 2, a comic book shop owned by a friend of Len's. Turns out the name is La Frite. The food was good and reasonably priced. We had to wait for a while to be seated, because the restaurant was packed. Probably with other people who had just been to see Julie & Julia.

Len, Lorien, and Becky all tried the baked crepes, Lisa went with the chicken cordon bleu, and I had the Sunday night special of swordfish brochette. Served with rice, green beans and a piquent salsa verde, the grilled fish was heavenly. I'd go back for it again. The gang decided it would be fun to go back for the cheese platter, some wine, and dessert.

I look forward to adding Julie & Julia to our film collection (and I've wanted to find a copy of Big Night for a long time.) If it were playing anywhere near my mother's, I'd like to take her to see it when I go back East this week. I'm sure she'd enjoy it. We all noticed that the audience was one of the oldest groups of people I've seen at the movies in a very long time. This is not a bad thing, just an unusual thing. I suspect that most of the people there usually don't go to a movie theatre any longer, but they came out because they remembered watching Julia Child on television.

I would recommend seeing Julie & Julia after you've gone to a good dinner, preferably French. If you are brave enough to go on an empty stomach, make sure you've made reservations for afterwards.