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.