Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Local Report - Auntie Em's Kitchen

4.2 miles, about 12 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

I like my neighborhood. It feels like a neighborhood. In Los Angeles that's saying something. Neighborhoods here can comprise large geographical areas. Maybe they're actually more 'areas' than neighborhoods. I've lived in other areas of L.A.: the Fairfax district, Hollywood, West Hollywood. I moved to the eastside of Los Angeles in 1999; to Silver Lake. I quickly fell into the whole scene, the Silver Lake vibe. It reminded me of San Francisco, the East Village in New York: it wasn't L.A. Funky, more laid back, more creative, more mixed: socially, economically, racially. I'd found my L.A. home. It all worked for me. I now live in Atwater Village -- really just Silver Lake adjacent. Still quite happy in the neighborhood.

One of the reasons I like my 'hood so much is the preponderance of locally owned and operated businesses: cafes, restaurants, bars, stores and shops. Auntie Em's Kitchen is one such local business. Located in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood to the east of Atwater Village, it's a longtime fixture in the Eastside dining establishment. Owned by the indefatigable Chef Terri Wahl, the food is local, seasonal and prepared and served with a down home spirit that makes the dining experience fun and relaxing.

Robert and I had lunch there the other day. The place reminded me so much of the funky, vegetarian, hippy places I used to see all along Haight Street in San Francisco in the early 80s. Things at Auntie Em's are loose around the edges, very laid back. Want coffee? Go to the self-serve coffee island and help yourself. The room we were seated in had a reach-in refrigerator that the cooks came to for supplies. In the back was a refrigerator case full of cheeses for sale. Not only does Auntie Em's have a cafe and bakery but they also cater, sell housewares, condiments, sweets and cheese, and they recently began a farmer's market produce delivery service. I signed up for the produce delivery and I love it. Terri and her staff keep a keen eye out for whatever is fresh and seasonal. They shop at the local farmer's markets, and they work with local farmers and purveyors to keep up with what is seasonably available. The restaurant's menu changes according to what is fresh and available.

We both ordered salads; Robert had the Tossed Cobb -- chicken breast, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, blue cheese, egg, tomatoes, scallions and romaine lettuce tossed with a house dressing. I had the Grilled Steak -- thinly sliced marinated skirt steak, tomatoes, carmelized onions and blue cheese served on baby greens. The waitress told us that the first thing they were famous for was the cobb salad. The next thing was the red velvet cupcake -- a mini one of which came with the check gratis.

Auntie Em's Kitchen is a full-service fresh, organic, local and sustainable operation. My kind of place. I am glad it's part of my neighborhood.

My Status: enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Recipe: Padrón Peppers

Are they Italian or Spanish? I was *confused and still am. I first had something like
pimientos del Padrón in Ravello, Italy while on a three week trip to France and Italy with my friend, Chef Jeremiah Tower. We spent the day driving along the Amalfi Coast stopping in at all the beautiful towns along the way. On our way back to our apartment further south along the Campania coast, we decided to drive over the mountains that hug the Amalfi Coast and stop in Ravello. Ravello sits high up in the mountains overlooking the Amalfi Coast. After a winding drive up the mountainside we pulled into the town square and, as always, I was hungry. We went into the first ristorante we saw, sat down at the bar and ordered drinks. I looked over the menu and noticed something that said fried green peppers. They sounded interesting so I ordered them. A few moments later they were placed on the bar before us: a plate full of freshly fried small green peppers, stems attached. They were about the size of a jalapeño but didn't have that kind of heat. There was just a hint of heat. They were lightly salted. Perfect bar food. We gobbled them down with our drinks. And I wanted more. But we didn't order more. I have wanted more ever since.

Flash forward to my recent trip to France and Spain with Robert. We're sitting in
Cervecería Ciudad Condal on our first night in Barcelona and I see on the table next to us a plate of fried green peppers. They looked exactly like the peppers I remember eating in Italy. I quickly scanned the menu and there they were, 'pimientos del Padrón' -- they were a Spanish tapas dish. They were lovely, and wonderful, and delicious: fried perfectly in Spanish olive oil, dusted with large-grain salt. Grabbed by their little stems, bitten into and pulled off with your teeth, an explosion of crispy skin, salt crunch, slightly bitter pepper taste, a little fire, and olive oil. Drop the stem on your plate, grab another one, repeat. Of course they were gone too soon. I wanted more. I ALWAYS want more of delicious things. Just the kind of eater I am but we moved on to all the other amazing food we ordered. We spent two more nights in Barcelona and we had pimientos del Padrón at each of those meals.

Like I tend to do with my crazy delicious food experiences I have been dreaming about eating those peppers again since I've been home. I did a little Internet research and found out that they come from
Padrón, a municipality in the area of northwest Spain called Galicia. They are grown and harvested from June to September, and eaten all over Spain. What I didn't know about them is that they are also known as 'Russian roulette peppers,' in that one in ten can be extremely hot. As in you bite into it and immediately the heat sears your tongue and mouth, smoke comes out of your ears like in the cartoons, and you think you'll die. When we ate them in Barcelona they were all fairly mild; neither of us came across any with super-fire. I found out that as the season progresses, the hotter they get. August and September peppers are much hotter than early season peppers. I also found out that they are difficult to find in the U.S. however, one company, La Tienda, does sell them via mail order. La Tienda is based in Virginia, and specializes in Spanish food products. Their website states that Virginia is on the same latitude as Galicia so it's perfect for growing these peppers. They grow them from seeds that came from a pepper farmer in Padrón. I placed an order. Three weeks later one pound, or about one hundred peppers, arrived via U.P.S. in a styrofoam container with an ice pack.

When my Spanish friend,
Júrgio (pronounced 'sure-show'), heard that I had pimientos del Padrón he was quite surprised. Júrgio, who is Galician and knows Padrón and the peppers well, has lived in Los Angeles for a number of years and has never seen them here. We made a dinner date for the following night to cook them. Júrgio helped me make them and I am glad he did. From watching his mother cook them as a child, he knew things about preparing them that I did not. He told me there are pepper sellers in Padrón, little old Spanish ladies, who can tell how hot the peppers are just by looking at them. When you shop for them there, they ask how much heat you want. Júrgio, his partner Kevin, Robert and I ate all one hundred of them in a matter of a few minutes. There was no Russian roulette for us however. We didn't get any really hot ones. So I've still not eaten one that sends me shooting out of my chair and into the fountain in the square outside. An experience for another day. Lack of heat aside, Júrgio approved; they tasted just like they do in Spain. I was so happy to eat them again!

*Coda: I have yet to figure out how the Italian peppers we ate differ from, or are similar to, the
pimientos del Padrón. If anyone knows, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll do more research and write about what I find in a future post.

Here's how we made them:

Pimientos del Padrón


1 lb.
Padrón peppers (80-100 peppers)
3-4 cups olive oil
Salt, large grain rock, Kosher, sel de mer, etc.

Clean the peppers by rinsing them lightly. Dry them completely so they won't splatter when they hit the hot oil. Leave the stems attached.

Place the olive oil in a large skillet suitable for deep frying, like a cast iron skillet. You may also use any other type of deep fryer you have on hand. Allow the olive oil to heat on medium to high heat. It will take awhile to get to the right temperature. When you think the oil is close to being the right temperature, place a small piece of bread in it. When the bread begins to bubble and crisp up, the oil is ready.

Place all of the peppers in the heated oil; it will take a moment or two for them to begin cooking. Stir or turn with a metal slotted spoon or sieve. Once they are bubbling and boiling in the hot oil watch for the skins to start puffing and wrinkling. This should only take a few minutes.

Remove the cooked peppers from the oil and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain off excess oil.

Place on a serving platter, and sprinkle generously with the salt.

My Status: it's still hot in Los Angeles - upper 90s, summer is really here; enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Gardening & Auntie Em's Produce Delivery

Me, age 2 1/2, helping water Grampa Rollie's garden, Arroyo Grande, California, March 1962.


Gardens were a big part of my childhood. As long as they were alive my great-grandparents, Rolla and Ora Goodman, had a bountiful garden. Lucky for me they both lived until I was in my teens. The garden I remember the most, and spent the most time in, and ate the most food from, was the one they had at their modest little home in Orcutt, California, along the Central Coast of California. Each visit my sister, Traci, and I would spend hours down in the garden; eating strawberries right off the vine, pulling up carrots for the mid-day meal, helping Grampa Rollie water or weed. I learned a tremendous amount about gardening from them, and from helping out in their garden.

When I was around eleven or twelve my mother let me plant a few rows of vegetables in our backyard. We were living in San Luis Obispo, also on the Central California Coast, not far from my great-grandparents, and I wanted to apply what I had learned from them. I think I planted some zucchini, Swiss chard and tomatoes, maybe a few other things. And I believe I was able to get a small harvest from it. Our neighbors, across Pismo Street, were Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, and he was quite the gardener. I spent a lot of time with him in his garden. He had the touch; his plants were healthy and very productive. He sent me home with zucchini, tomatoes and any other surplus he had each time I crossed the street to visit him. He also came over and offered his advice about my fledgling few rows. After my first few successes, and after eating my own home grown vegetables, gardening really got under my skin.

Then I grew up. I went to live in Europe, then San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. Gardening quickly took a back seat to living life in the big city. To work, school, and a busy social life. I lived in apartments not in houses with yards; there was no real property to plant a garden. I currently live in a condo with little available outdoor space. A poor excuse, I know that many people find ways to plant vegetables in very small areas but it's my excuse nonetheless. I replaced 'garden fresh' with 'farmer's market fresh' and at least I had that. Enter Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock, California -- a mere 4.2 miles, 12 minute drive from my home in Atwater Village.

Auntie Em's Organic Produce and Dinner Delivery

Auntie Em's is quite the food enterprise. Located on Eagle Rock Boulevard, there's a cafe and bakery that serves fresh, healthy food using 'seasonally available fruit, vegetables, meats, poultry and fish'. The cafe menu and bakery items offered change according to what is seasonally available. My kind of place! They also have a marketplace that offers cheeses, condiments, sweets, Auntie Em's frozen dishes, tableware and gift baskets; and they offer full catering services. Their newest venture is a farmer's market produce delivery service: 'Auntie Em's Organic Produce and Dinner Delivery'. The service brings 'locally grown, organic, seasonal produce and heatable meals and baked goods to your doorstep'. I am in my third week. And I love it.

They go around to local farmer's markets, gather whatever is fresh, seasonal and wonderful, and deliver it to my doorstep once a week. The produce they have chosen has been top notch: fresh and full of flavor. It lasts longer than anything I buy in a grocery store. Some of the local farms that the produce comes from are Wieser Farms, South Central Organic Farms, McGrath Family Farms, K and K Farms, Jiminez Farms, Tutti Frutti Farms and Finley Farms. My delivery arrives on Monday afternoons but on Sunday an e-mail arrives with a list of the items to expect; often there are notations about a specific item, a way to prepare it, or store it. Usually there's a suggested recipe for one or two of the items. Have I said I love this? It's almost like having my own garden -- okay, okay, I did say 'almost.' Another reason I like it is I had been finding it difficult to get to my local farmer's market on a regular basis depending on what else was going on in my life. It has been a perfect solution. I have yet to try the heatable meals and baked goods as the produce is more than enough to feed me for a week but I will try them soon.

Week #1 produce delivery: Candy Striped Beets, Red Carrots, Red Butter Lettuce, Lemon Cucumbers, Leeks, Green Beans, Purple Pole Beans, Saturn Peaches, Majestic Pearl White Nectarines, Black Plum Cherry Tomatoes, Purple Cherokee Tomatoes, Red Onions, Ronde Nice Zucchini, Chiles

Last week's e-mail had an additional touch: a story written by Auntie Em's owner, Terri Wahl, about her gardening trials and tribulations over the years. I found it so interesting and charming that I asked her if I could re-post it, and she agreed. As you will see gardening is not always easy but as both Teri and I know it is immensely satisfying. When the carrot you put in your dinner salad comes out of the garden your hands planted, there's no feeling, or tatse, quite like it.

In Terri Wahl's own words...

I have such a giant respect for farmers -- especially organic farmers after the trials and tribulations with my own garden. I have had a garden every year, in every apartment, duplex and now the house that I live in. When I was eighteen, I moved out of my parent's house, into a 4-plex. I was on the second story. I started a little garden in pots on the balcony. Herbs, cherry tomatoes and carrots. The carrots didn't do too well, the herbs did pretty well, and the cherry tomatoes grew like weeds. My mother was always an avid gardener. She had compost piles before it was the cool thing to do. She explained to me that the things that I planted in pots would do much better if they were in the ground. More nutrients, more water, more sunlight. I dug up parts of yards in rented apartments to plant my little gardens (boy were the landlords pissed). I tore out the ugly perennials the gardeners planted in front of another apartment I lived in and planted away (not enough sun there). But I never gave up.

There were successes along the way, even great veggies that I grew. Back then if you saw mold on the leaves of a zucchini plant or motes on the underside of the leaves of a tomato plant, it was fine to blast them with some crazy toxic anti bug spray. Back then it was also fine to sprinkle everything with some kind of powder that would make everything grow huge. But over the years we have all learned that these pesticides and sprays were harmful, and not the proper way to garden or eat. In the house my husband and I live in now I have had an organic garden plot in four or five different places on our hillside backyard. One place was too shady, one place smack in the way. THEN three years ago, the attack of the gophers. I really thought I'd found the absolute perfect spot. My pastry chef, Michael, and I dug it over, added organic Amend and compost, measured out the perfect rows, and planted every row from seed: heirloom carrots, heirloom beets, Easter egg radishes, leeks, Little Gem lettuces, and rows of different herbs.

I really thought that this was going to be the best and most prolific garden yet. We did everything right. I had plans to use all the produce at the restaurant, and to eat from the garden at home and not buy produce for months, and then we would turn the soil and rotate the crops! Oh yeah, I had it down. I thought I was such a pro. The garden was growing beautifully. Giant green carrot fronds; the beet greens above ground looked so tender and tasty. Then all of a sudden there were two or three carrots, or radishes gone from the end of the rows. The next morning more were gone. I thought my dogs might be digging them up but there were no digging holes. I picked some of the other carrots to see what was up, and all that came out were the green fronds -- no carrots attached. Same with the beets and radishes. SOMETHING was eating them from underneath. My mom came over and saw the little gopher hole about five feet away right away. I got a hose and filled up every hole with water. Flood them out! To no avail. I went online and looked up 'humane' ways to trap them. Not one thing worked. I was so pissed that I stormed down to Home Depot and bought six packs of these crazy big fire cracker-looking things that you're supposed to light and shove down the holes to smoke them out. I would stop at nothing to get them. I paid some 'gopher guy' hundreds of dollars to trap them. Nope! Nothing worked. It was definitely a 'Caddy Shack' situation in my yard. I sadly let my garden die from no water. They were not going to have my lovely garden.

Two sad years went by, and I refused to plant a vegetable garden. This year my husband suggested a new location up and away from all the gopher activity. So I planted another garden. Skeptical at first, but I took the precautions just in case they decided to come up hill to have a nibble on my new garden. I wrapped roots in wire mesh, and the garden started to grow. I had the humane trap guy come back (I negotiated a lower price) and set kill free traps. SO far so good. The score is even though. They ate a zucchini plant and eggplant plant. They literally sucked the whole thing underground, top leaves and all. Gone! But when they started to nibble on two tomato plants, I caught them. I covered their holes, and ruined their tunnel. So I saved those. Everything looks like it is thriving. I check daily (sometimes two or three times). So a tip of the hat to the organic farmers that do this for a livelihood. They battle this problem a hundred fold and have to use non-commercial, humane and organic ways to deal with all pests. It's hard and frustrating. They always seem so positive and upbeat, and I am always so excited to taste and see their bounty.

Reprinted courtesy of Terri Wahl, Auntie Em's Kitchen, Eagle Rock, California

My Status: it's still hot in Los Angeles - upper 90s, summer is really here; enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'. Pimientos del Padrón: a recipe and pictures from a weekend pepper cooking session with my Galician friend, Júrgio.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Local 100 (Redux)

Needing to take a quick, deep breath (to do some food research and recipe testing), and also wanting to go back in time a bit, I am re-posting a previous blog post. I started this blog on January 30, 2009; as I am nearing the six month mark I thought I'd take a moment to pause and focus on why I started it. The post below was not my first post but it is the post where I explain why I started '100 Miles', and what I hope it will accomplish. I've been posting recently about a great trip Robert and I took to Europe, and while all those posts were food-related, I now want to circle back around to the origins of the blog, and to more of the themes and activities that 'living life locally' engenders.

My great-grandmother, Ora Goodman, standing in her garden in Orcutt, California

This is a re-post from February 3, 2009.

Victory gardens. A White House farmer. The Slow Food movement. Eating local and organic. One hundred miles from where you live. The idea of keeping life local intrigues me. Not only as it regards food and eating but for living life in general. If we all lived our lives locally how different would they be? Quite different in my view. More intimate. Possibly more rewarding. None of these ideas are necessarily new. American chefs have been pushing ‘local’ for years. And I have no political agenda in writing this blog. Yes, living life locally will help the carbon footprint but I am not advocating total abstinence from living life – one should still travel to overseas locations, take trips by car and airplane, do the things that make life pleasurable. I just wonder -- if our lives were consciously more intimate might they be more fulfilling?

As I mention in my blog description, my great-grandmother lived her life locally but it was by dint of circumstance not of choice. She and my great-grandfather were not rich people yet they lived an abundant life. Somehow they didn’t need a lot to survive. My great-grandmother’s backyard garden fed a family of four plus any and all visiting relatives for many years. My great-grandfather fished local waters, hunted with my great-uncle in local mountains, and grew fruits and vegetables in the garden. I learned very valuable lessons from them about living a simple yet satisfying life.

My great-grandparents, Rolla and Ora Goodman's garden in Orcutt, California.

The idea for this blog actually came to me through a friend, Martine Rothstein, who makes every attempt to live her life locally. Her company, Burden Free Foods, uses only local ingredients in all its products. On a recent visit we were discussing buying and cooking with local ingredients only. Through her work with her company she has sourced many local New Jersey farmers and purveyors for both her business and her family. She mentioned trying to keep it all within a 100-mile radius. It made a lot of sense to me. I began to think about it as a way of life.

I live in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles -- a small 3-block ‘village’ with restaurants, cafes, hair salons, a taco stand, yoga and dance studios, and various shops. On one end is a Starbucks, and in the middle is Kaldi Coffee & Tea, a small independent coffee house that roasts its own coffee beans. I am currently re-training myself not to automatically go to Starbucks (not a big fan anyway) but to go to Kaldi instead – a local business that needs my support. My partner, Robert, and I often walk from my condo to eat at one of the restaurants; we try to get to the weekly farmers market; and I recently started getting a haircut at Salon Mix, a local Atwater Village hair salon. All efforts to localize my life.

It is 100 Miles as a concept that I will explore in this blog. As well as a place where I will put down on paper memories of my experiences working in the food industry, of other foodies, chefs and friends I have met along the way. Old and new discoveries made. Places visited and recipes prepared. Amazing meals I have had. All with the idea that living closer to home as much as possible is ultimately better for the spirit.

One hundred miles from home.

Charles G. Thompson
February 3, 2009

End of re-post.

My Status: it's been hot in Los Angeles, summer really is here (finally!); enjoying all the summer produce; writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Barcelona - Eats!

Tapas! Cervecerias! Tortillas! Patatas bravas! Pimientos del padrón! Montaditos! Jamón ibérico! Delicous eats of Barcelona. I feel I have slighted Spain and Barcelona in recent blog posts. They've all been about our incredible time in the Languedoc. Well, now it's time to give Barcelona a bit of face time. And to tell you about some of the amazing eats we had while there.

In a previous post I talked about how I'd never really made it down to Spain during my many trips to Europe; how I didn't really know it like I do France, Italy, and Great Britain. I have over the years heard raves about Barcelona and had always wanted to go. I'd say my expectations for the place were pretty high; we've all had those kinds of expectations, the ones so high that reality never quite measures up. I was afraid this might be the case but it was not. My expectations were exceeded. Barcelona is a magical place. Almost as if there's something in the air. There is something indescribable about it. It is in part: the geography - the sea on one side, mountains rising up on the other; the architecture and culture - Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia, the Modernist movement; the warm, easy going people - helpful, friendly, outgoing; the food - vibrant, bold and direct. But there is also that something that can't quite be put into words. So I think I'll stop trying. But let's do talk about the food!

I have to admit that I had always been a bit of a snob when it came to Spanish food. I'd eaten my share of tapas, and Spanish food here in the States; I'd also eaten it in Spain but it never really grabbed me the way French food did. The Spanish way of eating is so very different from the French; they eat later, often many small plates, or tapas, and often hopping from one place to the next. These concepts were opposite to my habits of sitting at table, whether at home or out, and eating several courses in a row. But I quickly embraced the Spanish way of eating on this trip. I understood it and enjoyed it for the first time.

Eating in Barcelona was easy. There are cervecerias and cafes on every corner. When we went out to eat at 9:30 or 10:00 o'clock at night most places were full, crowds spilling out onto the streets. Once we were seated we ate course after course of tapas. I was a quick convert to this way of eating. Two of my favorite things were patatas bravas and pimientos del padrón. Patatas bravas are olive oil fried potatoes served with spicy red sauce and garlic mayonnaise; now who doesn't like garlic mayonnaise with a spicy kick to it eaten with fried potatoes? I was in love. Pimientos del padrón are green peppers fried in olive oil and sprinkled with ground rock salt. The padrón peppers are native to Galicia; they are small in size, about as big as a thumb, and only one in ten has any heat. The act of popping one in my mouth - a slight pepper kick, the crunch of the salt, the taste of olive oil - sent me deeper in love. What potatoes? All the peppers we ate were mild but apparently you can get one with some real heat and it can be quite a surprise. Like biting into a fried jalapeño pepper. A sort of pepper roulette the Spanish like to play. Then of course, there was the ham. Lots and lots of wonderful ham. And more delicous ham. Did I mention the ham?

One of our favorite meals was the lunch we ate in La Boqueria, Barcelona's daily open air market, just off the Ramblas. I'd read in our guide book about a place in the market called Bar Pinotxo. The bar and the owner, Jaunito, are legends in Barcelona. It was among the best food experiences we had. Robert deftly scored us two seats at the small, crowded bar. People stood behind us waiting for a chance to sit. Over a glass partition in front of us was the tiny kitchen where Jaunito and his staff of four worked miracles. There was no menu; there were items in containers behind the glass partition we could look at. There were also dishes being prepared that we checked out. The young man behind the counter couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. After we got our drinks we watched, we asked, he told us and suggested items. The food was fresh, clean and so tasty. We ate squid with white beans, grilled shrimp, oxtail in a red wine reduction sauce, garbanzo beans with Catalan sausage, and a codfish salad with peas. We watched as each dish was prepared three feet away. The flavors of Spanish food pop in one's mouth. They're loud but not in an obnoxoius way. One tastes each ingredient seperately then together. Fish, meat, olive oil, garlic, salt, spices. Textures; soft, crunchy, smooth, liquid. It's a circus of sensual experiences. Our lunch at Pinotxo supplied it all. When I go back to Barcelona I will absolutely be stopping into La Boqueria for another lunch at Bar Pinotxo.

Now there's a whole level of cooking going on in Spain that I have not written about. The molecular, El Bulli-influenced movement that has swept through the country, remains an institution there, and has come to the States as well. Unfortunately our time was brief, we were in Barcelona as tourists, being the first time for both of us, so we didn't experience fully this style of cooking. We did venture into one of Ferran Adrià's acolytes restaurants but the experience was so unpleasant that I'm not going to write about it. The restaurant and service were fine but unfortuanately neither of us enjoyed our meal. I really did want to have the Adrià-molecular experience too. So next time, now that we are no longer tourists, we'll be better equipped to jump into the molecular culinary fray. Who knows maybe we'll even dine at El Bulli!?

A final note: at breakfast we both adopted the popular tortilla, a type of potato fritatta. A slice of that with cafe con leche, and we were ready to start the day. Here's a recipe from Saveur Magazine.

¡Buen provecho!

Tortilla Española

From Saveur Magazine

Serves 4 - 8


  • 3/4 cup Spanish olive oil
  • 6 medium russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 6 eggs
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 10" sauté pan. Add potatoes and onions and cook, lifting and turning, until potatoes are soft but not brown, about 20 minutes.

Beat eggs in a large bowl until pale yellow. Transfer sautéed potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon to beaten eggs. Reserve oil.

Heat 1 tbsp. reserved oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add egg and potato mixture, spreading potatoes evenly in the pan. Cook uncovered until the bottom is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Gently shake pan so tortilla doesn't stick, then slide a spatula along edges and underneath tortilla. Place a large plate over pan and quickly turn plate over so tortilla falls onto plate. Add 1 tsp. reserved oil to pan, slide tortilla back in (uncooked side down), carefully tuck in sides with a fork, and continue cooking over medium heat until eggs are just set, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

My Status: well, it's post 4th of July so summer is really here; enjoying all the summer produce, the great Southern California weather, writing, cooking, blogging and eating!

Upcoming Posts: The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Recipes from the Languedoc

Fourth of July weekend is the 'official-official' start of summer for a lot of Americans. Memorial Day sneaks up and, if you live on the East Coast, always seems to be either still wet, cold or both. The fourth is far enough into the summer to actually be summer. So let the summer eating and celebrating begin. Now it's really time to fire up the grill and to eat outdoors.

As promised in the last post, here are two recipes from our 'Menu for a Friday Evening at Soustres'; these spare ribs are a perfect summer dish. And there's nothing wrong with making a printanier of summer vegetables to go with them. The spare ribs, or coustillous, are part of the meat for the mixed grill we ate in France. They can be eaten alone, or you may do as we did and add chicken and sausage. The coustillous recipe is provided by Anne de Ravel of Saveur Languedoc and can also be found on her blog and website. The recipe includes harissa, a wonderful hot chili sauce of North African origins that I adore. It is the go-to hot sauce for the French, and quite different from most other hot sauces I have tasted. If you can locate some, you should give it a try. Most specialty food stores should carry it. If you are really adventurous, make a batch yourself! (Try a Google search for a recipe.)

Spare Ribs, or Coustillous

Provided by Anne de Ravel, Saveur Languedoc

Serves 6

Preparation time - 2-1/2 hours

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 scallions, green and white part, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon balm, minced, or 1 stalk lemon grass, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped coarsely
  • 1-2 tsp. harissa paste, or to taste (see note)
  • 3 Lbs. slab spare ribs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl. Wisk together. Place the spare ribs in a shallow glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the meat, and turn to coat all sides evenly. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

When to ready to cook, preheat grill to medium hot, or check to be sure coals on a barbecue are medium hot (coals white in color). Remove the ribs from the refigerator, uncover and shake each piece gently to allow excess liquid to drain off. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of the ribs. They should be fully cooked yet still juicy. Remove from the grill, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: harissa is a Morrocan chili paste made from hot peppers and spices. If unavailable, you may use your favorite hot sauce to taste.

Printanier of Artichokes, Fava Beans and Peas

A printanier is a braise of vegetables. The vegetables used can vary; the one we made in France included artichokes, fava beans and peas. This was due in part to the fact that these vegetables were in abundant supply at the open air market when we went shopping for our meal. Artichoke season is just ending so be careful when buying fresh artichokes. The recipe can easily be altered using other seasonally available vegetables.

Adapted from 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking'

Serves 6 to 8

Preparation time - 2 to 2-1/2 hours


  • 6 large artichokes
  • 1 1/2 lbs. of fresh peas
  • 2 lbs. of fava beans
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 6 Tbsp. of olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Fresh herbs; thyme, rosemary, or parsely, chopped fine
  • Chives, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Rinse the artichokes. You will only be using the hearts of the plant; using a sharp knife cut 3/4 of an inch off the leaves thus removing the sharp stickers from the tips. Peel away most of the outer leaves until you expose the inner white parts. Cut the stem off completely at the base then cut each artichoke in half. Remove the fuzzy parts at the center with a knife. Peel down any remaining leaves. The goal is to end of up with the hard inner part, the heart, only. Cut the halves into about three lengthwise pieces each (see photo for size needed). Put all the pieces into a bowl with lemon juice and water. The acid keeps the artichokes from turning brown. Set aside.

Remove the fava beans from their outer pod. Blanch the beans in boiling water for a few minutes. Rinse with cold water, once cool enough to handle remove the peas from their outer shell by slitting the skin with a knife, or your finger nail, and gently squeezing the bean out. Set aside.

Shell the peas and set aside.

Using a large casserole, cook the onions slowly for 5 minutes in the olive oil without letting them color. Stir in the garlic. Arrange the artichokes in the casserole and baste with the onions and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and cook slowly for 10 minutes not allowing the artichokes to brown.

Pour in the vinegar and wine. Raise heat and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Next pour in the water. Add the herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole and place in the middle of a preheated oven. Casserole should simmer for 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, or until liquid has almost entirely evaporated. To prevent over cooking, half way through the baking process add the fava beans and peas to the casserole and stir gently together. Before removing from the oven poke an artichoke with a knife; it should give easily. If it doesn't let bake a little longer.

Before serving sprinkle the dish with the chopped chives.

Happy 4th and bon appétit!

My Status: home, blogging, cooking, missing Paris, eating, blogging, missing the Languedoc, dreaming of Barcelona... (yes, still!)

Upcoming Posts: Spain: yes, finally blog posts about Spain. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.

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