Archive for May, 2009

california dreaming

unedited, unadulterated beauty

unedited, unadulterated beauty

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figs with goat cheeseMy friend Becky is near and dear to my heart.  She is smart, compassionate, soulful, thoughtful – I’m thankful to know her.  She was born on Cinco de Mayo; we celebrated Cinco de Becky last week with “tapas” at her house.  It is so wonderful to know people who LOVE food.  It’s even better when these same people all bring food to a party. 

We ate so good.  SO GOOD.  We had so much food at this party that we didn’t end up cooking it all!  Lots of little crostinis, crispy with a creamy and delicious red pepper spread (I ate four pieces myself – FOUR), asparagus wrapped in serrano ham, tangy pork riblets, sweet and smoky Japanese style chicken and beef on skewers (who doesn’t love meat on a stick?), and tamarind margaritas (one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had). 

Being the quasi-purist that I am, I had to make things that seemed at least a little shroomsSpanish, so I made some mushrooms sizzled in a smoked chipotle and smoked paprika butter, little crostinis of serrano ham, manchego cheese and fig jam, and little crostinis of caramelized figs with goat cheese and basil. 

The shrooms will be soft and browned – the butter will give them this smoky richness that is outstanding.  The serrano ham marries so well with the assertive flavors of manchego and the sweetness of the fig jam.  The figs with goat cheese were kind of a last minute addition in an effort to use up some dried figs that were sitting in my pantry.  I reduced them down with some dry sherry, sherry vinegar and brown sugar.  W-O-W.  Those figs in combination with tangy goat cheese and the freshness of the basil will make you sing. 
ham and manchegoIt makes me happy to share these tasty little bites with you.  You should make them immediately and eat them.  Invite some friends over and ask them to make something extremely delicious and call it a party!





mushrooms sizzled in smoky spicy butter

  • a couple of tbsp of butter, softened
  • 1 heaping tsp of dried chipotle powder
  • 1 heaping tsp of smoked paprika
  • salt to taste
  • 12 oz or a few packages of whole mushrooms, either shitake or cremini (don’t use button mushrooms – they have too much water)
  • little wooden skewers if you’d like (be sure and soak them in water first)
  1. mix the spices with the softened butter to form a delicious, spiced compound butter
  2. gently sautee your mushrooms in a skillet or sautee pan over medium high heat until they have released their juices and are softened
  3. removed them from the pan and place into a bowl or on a plate and cover so that they can steam a little
  4. skewer them, if you want
  5. heat some of the butter over medium high heat and sizzle the mushrooms for two to three minutes, watching butter so that it doesn’t burn (if you are using skewers put the butter and shrooms in the pan in batches)

little serrano ham and manchego crostini with fig jam

  • one baguette
  • a few tbsp of fig jam
  • a small wedge of manchego cheese
  • 6 or 7 thin slices of serrano ham or prosciutto de parma
  1. cut the baguette on a bias and toast the slices under the broiler (spread with a little butter before going into the over if you’re feeling naughty)
  2. smear a thin layer of the fig jam on the toasted bread, top with a thin shaving of the manchego and a piece of the ham – could this be any easier? 

little crostinis with sherry glazed figs, goat cheese and basil

  • one baguette
  • a handful of dried figs
  • fresh goat cheese (I prefer a “log” for this)
  • a few leaves of basil, cut “chiffonade” style
  • about 1/2 cup of sherry, depending on how many figs you have
  • about 1/2 cup of good quality sherry vinegar, depending on how many figs you have
  • about 1/4 cup of brown sugar, packed
  1. bring figs, sherry, sherry vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to boil over medium high heat in a medium sized saucepan
  2. reduce and simmer over low heat until liquid is very syrupy and almost gone, careful to prevent burning (taste as you go and adjust the amount of sherry/vinegar/sugar to taste) – this will take about 25 to 30 minutes
  3. meanwhile, cut the baguette on the bias and toast the slices in the broiler
  4. top each piece of bread with a little medallion of goat cheese, a fig or two and a generous sprinkle of the basil

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the legend

the legend

Let me tell you about a place that I love with all of my heart – a place that makes my eyes water from nostalgic emotions and the spiciest mustard on the planet.  I love this place because it serves delicious food – I love it because it is historic and has a story and an identity – I love it because it is located in my sunny home state of California.  These are all things that speak the love language of my heart, but I love it mostly because it reminds me of my family.  This place is part of our story – part of our history and tradition.

So, this humble post is dedicated to Philippe’s, home of the Original French Dip, and to my Mom for Mother’s Day (and also to my Aunt Valerie who is a mother and to Cecil who is their mother and really to Wayne too, who isn’t a mother but definitely deserves a special nod)…

Philippe’s was founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu.  After accidentally dropping a baguette into some beef pan drippings, the “Original French Dip” was born.  Praise the Lord for that.  There’s some controversy on the actual circumstances surrounding the fateful dropping of the bread and who actually subsequently requested the accidental sandwich, but who cares?  The most important thing is that we ended up with juicy, flavorful, meaty, sandwichy goodness. 

While Philippe’s was sold in 1927, it has been owned and operated by the same family since.  Not a lot else has changed

these prices are history

these prices are history

since then, either.  For instance, the floor is still covered in sawdust.  The coffee is still ten cents, the lemonade seventy cents.  The mustard is still so spicy that it will literally make you cry.  Ladies, called “carvers,” still take your order behind the counter and serve you almost immediately.  They wear the same uniforms.  Pickled beets, eggs and pigs feet are still offered, purple and ostentatious.  Potato salad, macaroni salad, tapioca pudding, fruit pies, pecan pies, cream pies – all of these remain on the menu.  Beef, lamb or pork sandwiches can be dipped or double dipped.  The lines continue to extend to the back of the room.  The only thing that seems to change are the articles and reviews of Philippe’s that are posted on the walls.  In accordance with the spirit of the place, history and stories surround you. 

You will make new friends in the line at Philippe’s.  Everyone is exited to tell their neighbor about how Philippe’s is their place.  They’re excited to share their personal story and offer a recommendation of what to order.  I used to think that our Philippe’s story was unique; that we’re the only ones that consider it sacred, sawdust-covered ground.  But I’ve discovered that almost everyone in the line has been there many times before.  Most likely,

hungry people

hungry people

they started coming with their parents or grandparents, just like me.  It’s a good thing that you will make friends in line, as you may be sitting next to these same folks at the communal tables that all diners eat at.  Sharing stories, tables and tasty, tasty food is a beautiful thing. 

In turbulent times, it’s nice to go to a place that seems significant and unchanged.  Philippe’s is a beacon – a reminder that good things can last through World War II and the Depression and whatever economic crisis we find ourselves in.  I know I’m giving a lot of existential meaning to a French Dip sandwich shop here, but the place has significance!  My grandpa, Wayne went there for years and years, then he took my grandma, Cecil, and they took my mom, Paula and her sister, Valerie.  Then they all took me, and later my cousin Gabriel.  Going to Philippe’s was a family outing; birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days.  When my Grandpa Wayne passed away, we went to Philippe’s in his honor.  When my Grandma Cecil passed away, off to Philippe’s to eat her favorite, a lamb sandwich.  Since then, I’ve insisted on sharing spicy mustard and pickled beets with Jon, my husband and Jason, one of my dearest friends.  Now they’re part of the story.  When I go, I get more than my regular double

the spread

the spread

dipped beef – I get to feel a connection to people that I love – people that I can’t necessarily hug or kiss or speak to anymore.  Instead, I do what I do best; EAT (with a lot of reminiscence on the side).  I can picture my young and dapper Grandpa ordering his favorite sandwich from his favorite Carver.  He would know her by name.  He would know her story and she would remember his regular order.  Again, I can blame the tears on the mustard.

Normally I love to get really passionate and intense about food and flavor, and there is definitely some delicious noshing to be had at Philippe’s, but here I would encourage you to head to there for other reasons.  I’m convinced that once you step through the door you will feel the connection with everyone else who has been going there for years.  You will definitely come back for the sandwiches, but you will also return to this historic place because it will be part of your story.  You can make it a tradition.  Let’s share a table. 

Philippe’s – The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Let it be known that Philippe’s is actually pronounced like “Fil-eeeps” – we, however incorrectly, call it “Fil-ip-eees.”  Way better.   

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common sense - more to come“… historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than bological necessity.  Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity.  As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has about biology.”

– from “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan

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moroccan-stewWow.  I have been away for a while.  I feel distant from my little blog space and from my kitchen.  We’ve been slowly reconnecting since my time in Orange County; I’ve been sleepwalking through my house the last few days and enjoying my own food in a dream-like state.  Ahhhhh…

Anyway, I’m back and I want to share this easy and fabulous Moroccan stew.  I made it just before I left for my event in So Cal; I felt so comforted and joyful and delightfully global while eating it – I was transported from my deadlines and pile of work to food fantasy land.  It is the FIRST thing I made when I got home.  It is warm and beautifully spiced and fragrant and very healthy and extremely delicious.  How can something be comforting and sensual and exotic all at once?  This is how.  This dish.  I know I get very intense and dramatic about food, but please, make this and go there with me.  It is so, so good. 

I originally came across the inspiration for this dish on Gourmet’s website, but I’ve changed it so much that I’m just warm-spices giving you my version below.  The dish departs from the traditional couscous and is made with quinoa, which is actually an ancient Incan grain and is extremely nutritious.  I love nutty and tender quinoa, which is what originally caught my eye; the warm addition of spices is what inspired me to try it immediately.  You can be very flexible with this – adjusting, eliminating or adding spices to your liking; all of my measurements are estimates since I tend to just spoon and pinch into the pot.  If you want to go vegetarian, add chick peas instead of chicken.  The first time I made it without the dried prunes and it was savory and spicy tomato-y goodness.  The second time I added the prunes which gave the dish a sweeter dimension.  I liked both ways so much that I think I’ll keep switching it up.  This could serve two to four depending on the amount of quinoa you prepare – I made enough “stew” for four and quinoa for two – we just ate extra veggies and sauce.

Soft and nutty quinoa, toasted almonds, tender chicken, sweet carrots and earthy turnips, warmly spiced sauce, bright and green little onions or parsley – all so tasty and so good for you, too!  I’m in love with this dish – I will make this over and over again.

Sit down at the table and inhale the lovely fragrance of the spices – take time and enjoy the flavor in every bite – imagine that you are wandering the narrow aisles of a souk in Morocco with the intense aromas of steaming tagines, the colors of the market and the sounds of music and humanity joyfully confronting your senses.

warm moroccan stew

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of slivered almonds, toasted
  • one red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • one tbsp of tomato paste
  • one heaping tsp of paprika
  • one half to one tsp of cumin
  • half tsp of dried ginger
  • one half to one tsp of cinnamon
  • one half to one tsp of corriander
  • pinch of clove
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (use aleppo if you have it)
  • two cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • one skinless, boneless chicken breast or a half pound of skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into one inch cubes
  • two to three carrots, sliced about a quarter of an inch thick on the diagonal
  • one large turnip, peeled and cut into eight wedges
  • two thirds of a cup of pitted, dried prunes, halved
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • quinoa (or other grains such as bulghur or rice if you don’t have quinoa – but I suggest you get some and keep it as a pantry staple)
  • a couple of fresh green onions or fresh flat leaved parsley for garnish
  1. heat oven to 350 degrees and toast almonds for about 5 minutes or until fragrant – remove from oven and set aside
  2. meanwhile, prepare quinoa or grains according to package instructions, typically two cups of water to one cup of grains, simmered or steamed for added fluffiness
  3. heat olive oil in a larger saucepan over medium high heat, add onions and saute with some salt and pepper until soft, about six to eight minutes
  4. add the tomato paste and cook for about one minute more, stirring well to combine
  5. add your spices and cook for about one minute more, adding a little chicken broth if things are getting too brown
  6. add the veggies, chicken, prunes (if using) and broth and cook, covered for about 15 to 20 minutes
  7. ladle the stew over the quinoa and top with the toasted almonds and fresh green onions or parsley – serve with some harissa paste if you want a lot of heat and spice

I always freeze tablespoons of tomato paste in separate bags so that the entire can doesn’t go to waste after one use

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